Hyena Identity Linked to Odor Molecules Made by Bacteria

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Bacteria in the human gut may help fight off disease, but the bacteria living in hyenas may serve a different purpose entirely.

Microbes living in a hyena's scent pouch may actually be responsible for how it smells, as well as signaling its identity to other animals, according to microbiologists at Michigan State University.  The research was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kevin Theis, lead author of the research paper, said that hyenas use smell to communicate with one another through an action known as pasting.

"Their scent pouch is between their butt and their tail," he told ABC News.

A pasting hyena extrudes its scent pouch outwards and drags it across a stalk of grass, leaving behind a thin layer of secretion in its wake.

"Some people say it smells like cheap soap, but it smells more like mulch to me," Theis said.

The distinct odor of hyena paste is likely a collaborative effort between the hyena's bodily chemistry and the bacteria living within its scent pouch.  To support this theory, Theis collected 40 different samples of hyena paste in the Kenyan wilderness and sent it back to Michigan State University for further analysis.

Though there was a significant difference between the pastes of spotted and striped hyenas, Theis observed that there was more information hidden both in the bacterial and chemical makeup of those pastes.  For example, hexanoic acid and a strain of bacteria known as OTU-1 are found in different concentrations between males, lactating females and pregnant females.  In a similar vein, if two paste samples had the same bacterial profile, they would also have the same odor profile.

But is it the bacteria that causes the odor, or do specific odors naturally attract specific types of bacteria?  Theis believes that the former is more likely.

"The types of chemicals that we studied are known to be results of bacterial fermentation," he said.  However, he added that he still plans to verify this hypothesis by manipulating bacteria in a lab setting.

These types of elaborate scent profiles may offer an explanation as to how hyenas reinforce their elaborate and somewhat unusual social structure.

"All adult female hyenas as well as their kids are dominant to all of the adult males," said Theis.  "They exhibit low rates of aggression among themselves, so it's interesting to see if scent mediates this relationship."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Three Guys, Three Days to Build a Better Obamacare Website

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Three 20-something programmers did something in three days that 55 U.S. government contractors couldn’t do in more than two years: Build a workable healthcare.gov website.

HealthSherpa lets users quickly shop for health insurance plans by ZIP code, and calculates their federal tax subsidy eligibility.  Unlike the federal and state exchange websites, the site does not force users to go through a lengthy sign up and application process to get their information.  Instead, users can find what they need by clicking through a few clean, Google-like screens.

Nig Liang said he created the site with his friends George Kalogeropoulos and Michael Wasser, working part time in about three days.  Their goal, he said, was to make Obamacare benefits easily understandable to consumers.  Beyond hosting fees, the site cost next to nothing to build and maintain.

Unlike everyone else though, Liang said the HealthSherpa team does not wish to disparage the government’s efforts.

“They did the hard part like pulling all the data together and coordinating all the state exchanges,” he explained.  “All we did was put a better face on what they’ve already done.”

Liang, who met Kalogeropoulos and Wasser through a community of programmers, also said that the government’s project had a lot of competing aspects, which could explain why the user interface got the short shrift.

He admitted HealthSherpa isn’t perfect either.  It doesn’t calculate things like co-pays, maximum out-of-pocket expenses or deductibles.  But Liang said those should be added by the end of the week.

The site has its share of minor glitches too, like not returning any info for certain ZIP codes.  Liang said the threesome is focusing on fixing the errors.

“Every time someone sends us a comment we correct it as fast as we can,” Liang said.  “We’re working around the clock to get things right.”

So far, no one from healthcare.gov has reached out to ask the trio for advice, Liang said.  But the site, which went up last week, has already racked up more than 1,500 mostly satisfied customers.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Japanese Car Makers Getting to the Heart of the Matter

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The car of the future is once again being crafted by Japanese engineers, and this one is really impressive.

Researchers at Nippon Medical School are working on a model that will be able to warn a driver that a heart attack is looming or even tip off the motorist well in advance of possible heart disease.

The car’s steering wheel will be set up for electrocardiographic monitoring as well as detecting pulse waves when blood flows from the heart.  Essentially, the car will send an audio instruction to pull the car over if a driver is exhibiting symptoms of a heart attack.

Takao Kato, a professor emeritus at Nippon Medical School, says, “We want to reduce the number of unfortunate accidents,” and, “If the pattern can be detected, heart attacks can be anticipated to some extent.”

The researchers have apparently thought of everything.  Since many people drive with just one hand on the wheel, electrodes will also be added to the driver's seat to measure electrocardiograms.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Bad Diets Linked to a Lack of Education and a Lot of Movement

iStock/Thinkstock(BERLIN) -- Eating foods rich in fats and sugars -- in other words, the stuff that’s not good for you -- might have to do with how physically active you are.

That level of activity also seems to tie in to the amount of education one has had, according to researchers at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

Study author Jonas Finger says that previous studies have shown those of lower economic status, typically with less schooling, often have poorer diets than other income groups.

By looking at a wide swath of the German population, Finger said that in addition to eating more unhealthy, calorically dense foods, adults in the lowest income brackets were also more physically active.

Therefore, the study suggests they eat more foods rich in sugars and fats in order to keep up their energy levels.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Changes in Labeling Have Reduced Toddler Trips to the ER

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Fewer toddlers are winding up in hospital emergency rooms due to accidental overdoses of cough syrup geared for children.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that manufacturers took action in 2007 to re-label their products with warnings that their medicines were only for children 4 years old and over.

As a result, the number of ER visits involving toddlers and infants mistakenly given cough syrup and other over-the-counter products has fallen dramatically during the past six years.

But even as drug makers do their part, Skyler Kalady, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital, says parents also have to be more vigilant.

Kalady told ABC News, "We want all medications and all cleaning supplies stored high and locked, so a toddler could never get into them in a brief, unsupervised period of time."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Typhoon Corpses Horrifying, But Not a Disease Threat

Jeoffrey Maitem/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Corpses are lying where they died in areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, bloating and decomposing because no one is available to remove them.

The sight may be horrifying, but for years people have assumed that they cause disease -- a fact doctors say is simply not true.

Although infectious diseases like smallpox used to occasionally spread from the dead to the living, it's unlikely that corpses can trigger infectious disease epidemics if people died of trauma, doctors say.

"Corpses themselves -- other than their ghoulish aspect or their psychological implications -- are not per se hazardous to people," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.

Dr. James Wilson, who directs the National Infectious Disease Forecast Center, agreed.

"This is a myth that occasionally appears even in [World Health Organization] statements," Wilson said.

The main health concern associated with corpses is that bacteria from their decomposing gastrointestinal tracts can seep into the drinking water supply, in which case they can spread E. coli, norovirus or other gastrointestinal bugs, Schaffner said. But this would be a concern even without mass casualties because natural disasters tend to disrupt waste disposal, allowing sewage to get into drinking water.

"It's paradoxical," Schaffner said. "This is a disaster caused by wind and water, but you don't have safe water."

Norovirus is especially likely because only a low dose is needed to get someone sick, he said. And since norovirus is characterized by vomiting and diarrhea, it causes dehydration, which is especially troublesome when the water is unsafe to drink.

Fortunately, the World Health Organization is practiced at making sure victims get water with electrolytes and giving them intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration, said Dr. Ethan Leonard, an infectious disease expert at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

Other potential health concerns after a disaster like this include mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue fever; tetanus exposure, from people stepping on sharp unseen objects as they wade through floodwaters; and transmission of respiratory illnesses like the flu as people huddle in shelters, Wilson said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Transgender Veterans Fight for Military Paperwork to Match New Gender

Courtesy of LGBT Bar Association(NEW YORK) -- Paula M. Neira thrived in the U.S. Navy for six years, serving at home and at sea in mine warfare combat during Operation Desert Storm, culling numerous awards.

After leaving the military in 1991, she went to law school and then went on to become a registered nurse and educator at a major hospital in Maryland.

But Neira is transgender, and during those years of decorated service she was known as Paul, and all her military records reflect that name.

Today she lives openly as female, but her name and physical appearance don't match her discharge paperwork, or what the U.S. Department of Defense calls the DD-214.

That paperwork is used to obtain employment preferences, as well as medical, dependent, funeral and other veterans' benefits.

"It opens you up to abject discrimination," said Neira. After giving up her naval career and transitioning to a woman, she had two job offers rescinded from potential employers who learned about her gender change.

And now, at age 50, Neira worries that when it comes time to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with both her parents, her tombstone will not reflect her true identity.

"When I die, I want my correct name on my tombstone," she told ABC News. "I can clearly see some bureaucrat saying, 'Well the name on the DD-214 is Paul,' when my survivors have to demonstrate my eligibility to be there."

Neira and others are calling on the Obama administration to allow transgender military veterans an opportunity to change their DD-214 to reflect their current legal name and gender.

Working with the National LGBT Bar Association, these transgender veterans are making a formal request to the Department of Defense to change the gender and the name on their own DD-214s.

"It is the record of your active duty service," said Neira. "It lists your military specialties and qualifications, any military awards … and displays the characteristics of your service, honorable or conditions other than honorable."

The association argues that veterans may be denied access to benefits and services when there are discrepancies between what appears on the DD-214 and on court orders, state identification cards and revised birth certificates.

They say there may also be "embarrassing" encounters in which transgender veterans have to "out" themselves to officials.

"I believe this is a no-brainer," said D'Arcy Kemnitz, executive director of the LGBT Bar Association. "I believe the Department of Defense wants to do everything possible for those who have worn the uniform with honor and distinction and have sacrificed for our country."

She said transgender veterans should be able to make a name change on any legal document that requires their name. "It's simple, and there is less paperwork."

Kemnitz said women like Neira have served their country well: "Paula is a very modest woman. She drove ships in the Navy and then went to law school and was one of the top in her class. … She is an extraordinary example of a veteran of the armed services, and now she is using her nursing degree to help people."

But Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Cathy Wilkinson said in an email to ABC News that there are "no plans at this time" to make changes to its policy.

"It's a historical document that reflects a summary of military service," she said.

The military does not allow those who are transgender to serve openly.

But Kemnitz said veterans are asked for the DD-214 "at every turn," unlike college transcripts or other documents. "Every single time you go to avail yourself of something, it shows you have been in the armed services. It's evidence."

Already the Air Force allows such revisions, though the other branches do not, according to Kemnitz.

"They have set the right tone and the way forward," she said. "We want the other branches to do it -- one uniform way."

An estimated 140,000 of the nation's 26 million veterans may be transgender, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.

It is hard, though, to determine exact numbers, because so many transgender Americans are closeted, according to the LGBT Bar Association. But the 2011 National Transgender Survey estimates 700,000 Americans are transgender, and about 20 percent of those interviewed said they had been in the military at some point in their lives.

"Frankly, we don't know how many they are," said Kemnitz. "But we know in the armed services there are a disproportionate number of individuals [who are transgender]. If you are questioning your gender, where else do you find clarity?

"If you are a woman in the military, they tell you how to wear your hair," she said. "If you are a man, they tell you how long it has to be and if you can have facial hair. They tell you what your gender is."

When Neira graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and went on active duty in 1985, she was "questioning" her gender but not her commitment to military service.

As a lieutenant, she received three Navy commendation medals, an achievement medal and other service ribbons in a warfare task group cleaning out sea mines in the northern Persian Gulf.

"I knew something was different -- I had an inkling," she said. "I felt female, but was not ever able to accept it."

Neira said she came to realize while on active duty that she would have to start dealing with her gender nonconformity, but knew she would be thrown out of the Navy.

"You are going to be discharged," said Neira. "You don't have the ability to ask for help. You have to hide it from the government."

In the 1980s women were not allowed to serve on the destroyers and frigates where Neira worked, but that law changed in the 1990s.

Even the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, which allows gays and lesbians to serve in the military, could not have helped her.

Being transgender, or what the military calls a "psychosexual condition," is considered a medical disqualification.

Neira transitioned at the age of 28 after she left the military with an honorable discharge. With her law degree, she went on to fight for the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell and now works to ban discrimination in the military she loved so much.

"The hardest decision I ever made was leaving the Navy," she said. "Accepting myself as a female and dealing with transition was easier than having to give up my calling."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


ABC News’ Amy Robach Reveals Breast Cancer Diagnosis

ABC/Ida Mae Astute(NEW YORK) -- By ABC News’ Amy Robach

I remember exactly where I was when I got the call from a Good Morning America producer. I was about to interview Marie Monville, the wife of the Amish school shooter, in the bucolic setting of Lancaster, Pa. She was speaking out about the senseless horror that happened in the most unlikely of places.

I was focused on what was about to be an emotional interview regarding life after tragedy, when our producer asked me if she could make a sensitive request: “Amy, next week we’d like you to do the first ever live television mammogram for GMA Goes Pink day. You’re 40, the age women should start getting mammograms. Would you even consider it?”

It felt like a strange thing to consider given where I was and what I was about to do, but oddly now, it all feels connected.

For the past 20 years, sadly, a large part of my job deals in tragedy -- other peoples’ tragedies -- but never my own.

That day, when I was asked to do something I really didn’t want to do, something I had put off for more than a year, I had no way of knowing that I was in a life-or-death situation.

Sitting in that kitchen with Marie Monville, I had cancer and didn’t know it. In fact, I would have considered it virtually impossible that I would have cancer. I work out, I eat right, I take care of myself and I have very little family history; in fact, all of my grandparents are still alive.

So in the days to follow, if several producers and even Robin Roberts herself hadn’t convinced me that doing this on live television would save lives, I would never have been able to save my own.

So on Oct. 1, I had my first mammogram, in front of millions of people.

After breathing a big sigh of relief once it was done, my breath was taken away only a few weeks later.

I thought I was going back in for a few follow-up images, only to find out in a matter of hours that I had breast cancer.

I was alone that afternoon, never thinking to bring anyone with me, never thinking that day would be life-altering. My husband was on a business trip and my parents live across the country, but that night everyone flew into New York City and we started gearing up for a fight.

On Thursday, Nov. 14, I will go into surgery where my doctors will perform a bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery. Only then will I know more about what that fight will fully entail, but I am mentally and physically as prepared as anyone can be in this situation.

And while everyone who gets cancer is clearly unlucky, I got lucky by catching it early, and there are so many people to thank for making sure I did. Every producer, every person who urged me to do this, changed my trajectory.

The doctors told me bluntly: “That mammogram just saved your life.”

I was also told this, for every person who has cancer, at least 15 lives are saved because people around them become vigilant. They go to their doctors, they get checked.

I can only hope my story will do the same and inspire every woman who hears it to get a mammogram, to take a self exam. No excuses. It is the difference between life and death.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Exercise During Pregnancy Can Boost Your Baby’s Brain

Courtesy University of Montreal(SAN DIEGO) -- For women who are pregnant, as little as 20 minutes of exercise three times per week can advance a newborn’s brain activity, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of Montreal presented these findings at the Neuroscience 2013 conference in San Diego on Sunday, providing moms-to-be with even more reasons to make exercise a priority.

In their study, the researchers randomly assigned 60 women to two groups: women who were provided with an exercise regimen, and those who were not.  The women kept daily logs of exercise, and pedometers and accelerometers allowed researchers to keep track of the women’s level of activity. Once the babies were born, the researchers recorded their brain activity levels at 8 to 12 days of life. They found that the babies of mothers who exercised had brains that were more fully developed.

Current recommendations by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists urge moderate exercise, about 30 minutes almost daily, during pregnancy. The guidelines are based on findings that moderate exercise can improve back aches, prevent pregnancy-associated diabetes and improve sleep.

This paper is the first of its kind to study the impact of exercise on the newborn, said study researcher Élise Labonté-LeMoyne of the University of Montreal.

“We measured directly the brain activity,” Labonté-LeMoyne said. “So it’s not a behavioral test or neuropsychologic test, it’s really specifically the brain that we were looking at.”

She added that the measurement of electrical brain activity is “the most indicative way to measure a newborn’s cognitive status.”

Women’s health experts not involved with the research said it provides yet another important reason for pregnant women to stay active.

“We know that aerobic exercise has an immediate result of increasing mitochondrial activity in the brain, but this study shows that this effect may in fact ‘cross the placenta’ and benefit the fetal brain as well,” said ABC News senior medical contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton, who is also a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist.  “More studies with larger numbers are needed and we also need to follow these fetuses through early life to see if these effects result in higher aptitude or accelerated development down the road.”

“This is yet another study showing the importance of staying active in pregnancy,” said ABC News medical contributor Dr. Jacques Moritz, a board-certified ObGyn at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York.  “And now another reason to exercise would be possibly to even make your baby smarter.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Multiple Births Can Be Five to 20 Times More Expensive Than Single Births

Moodboard/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As more and more women turn to assisted reproduction -- in vitro fertilization or drug-stimulated ovulation -- to get pregnant, the frequency of multiple births has also risen. A new study conducted by Merck found that multiple births often have more complications and cost more than single births.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that twin deliveries cost about five times more on average than single births, and multiple births can cost up to 20 times that of a single child. The study's authors suggest that government action could limit multiple births by limiting the number of multiple embryo transfers in in vitro fertilization.

About 40 percent of twin births and 80 percent of births involving three or more children are believed to be the result of assisted reproduction, the study says.

While limitations on embryo transfers would lessen the frequency of multiple births -- potentially cutting healthcare costs -- it would also give potential parents less control when starting a family.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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