Say Mutt??? Owning a Dog Can Make You Feel Younger

iStock/Thinkstock(FIFE, Scotland) -- Dog owners know they have to be on their toes if their pets are particularly perky.

And while having a pooch can sometimes be exhausting, a researcher at St. Andrews University in Scotland says it can help people feel younger, especially if they’re 65 or older.

Dr. Zhiqiang Feng isn’t ready to say that owning a dog is an automatic fountain of youth. However, he does contend that all the physical activity that goes into caring for a furry friend helps elderly folks act as if they’re ten years younger.

Feng conducted an experiment with about 550 people aged 65, tracking their movements with an accelerometer for a week. Although only nine percent owned dogs, Feng discovered that they were 12 percent more active than the rest of the group.

In addition to the cardiovascular and other advantages of all that activity, Feng also speculates that dog owners benefit in social development as well, another factor that seems to slow the aging process.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


It Takes More than Practice to Make Perfect

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Practice improves performance, but it may not be enough to get you to the point of perfection.

That’s the conclusion of a joint study by researchers from Rice University, Princeton University and Michigan State University, who looked into why repeated practice by those in sports, the arts, education and other professions catapults only a limited number to the very top of their fields of endeavor.

On the upside, Fred Oswald, chair of psychology at Rice, says those who engage in structured activities created specifically to improve performance -- that is, deliberate practice -- tended “to perform at a higher level than people who practice less.”

Still, the meta-analysis of 88 previous studies that Oswald and his colleagues examined also determined that one’s basic abilities are just as important as deliberate practice.

The researchers did not discount the importance of practice because it does make nearly everyone better. Yet, being gifted as well is the variable that separates the exceptionally good from the merely very good.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Thirdhand Smoke Is the New Secondhand Smoke

iStock/Thinkstock(YORK, England) -- Yes, there is such a thing as thirdhand tobacco smoke, and yes, it’s considered as dangerous as inhaling smoke, either firsthand or secondhand.

That’s according to various researchers, including Jacqueline Hamilton at the University of York, who maintains the danger of carcinogens from cigarettes doesn’t disappear when the last puff is drawn.

Hamilton maintains, "Non-smokers, especially children, are also at risk through contact with surfaces and dust contaminated with residual smoke gases and particles.”

Hamilton and her team collected dust samples of thirdhand smoke and discovered that the cancer risk exceeded the EPA recommended limit in 75 percent of smokers’ homes and in two-thirds of non-smokers’ home.

How did carcinogenic materials wind up in the homes of non-smokers?

Alastair Lewis of the National Center for Atmospheric Science explains it comes from shared contact with smokers, “for example between clothes and surfaces and also enter homes via airborne transport of cigarette smoke.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Unsubstantiated Fears Thwart Organ Donations

iStock/Thinkstock(LONDON, Ontario) -- There are a number of reasons why people don’t want to register to become organ donors, including a concern that their doctors will be less committed to treating a life-threatening condition.

The ill-conceived logic is that physicians are somehow more interested in helping a patient in need of an organ transplant rather than the donor.

However, Alvin Ho-ting Li from Western University in London, Ontario, contends this fear is unjustified because in reality, doctors are more likely than the general public to be registered for organ and tissue donations, at least in Canada.

Li and his team found this out by going through multiple databases. As a result, he says, “showing that many physicians are registered for organ donation themselves could help dispel” the notion that doctors won’t do their all to save a registered donor who might be in grave condition.

In the U.S., there are 100 million people registered as organ, eye, and tissue donors in state donor registries, with 79 transplants performed daily. However, 18 people also die each day waiting for a transplant.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Many Americans Adults Still Living with Their Parents, Study Says 

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Despite the end of the recession, many American adults are still living under their parents' roofs, a new study says.

The Pew Research Center details the prevalence of "multi-generational homes," with a record 57 million Americans (18.1 percent of the population) living with extended family members in 2012. The figures double the number of individuals living in such households in 1980.

By 2012, one-in-four young adults ages 25 to 34 have lived in multi-generational households. Young men are more likely than women to be in such environments, but as the age groups increase, women's likelihood in sharing living quarters with family increases as well.

But it's not just young people living with mom and dad, according to Pew Senior Economist Richard Fry. Many elderly parents are also moving in with their adult children.

"This is a reflection of a less-than-vigorous job market," Fry said, putting the state of the country's employment situation delicately. "Household income, again, has still not picked up."

Experts also attribute increased immigration to the trends, as they say racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in familial arrangements.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


First US-Acquired Chikungunya Cases Reported in Florida

iStock/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Florida officials confirmed the first locally acquired cases of mosquito-borne virus chikungunya Thursday, seven months after the virus first arrived in the United States from the Caribbean and Central America.

The cases came out of Miami Dade County and Palm Beach County, with one man saying he had not traveled outside of the country recently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working closely with Florida's Department of Health to investigate how patients acquired the virus.

“The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens,” said Roger Nasci, chief of CDC’s Arboviral Diseases Branch. “This emphasizes the importance of CDC’s health security initiatives designed to maintain effective surveillance networks, diagnostic laboratories and mosquito control programs both in the United States and around the world.”

While the United States has seen 28 "imported" cases of chikungunya per year since 2006, the new incidents mark the first time that mosquitoes have spread the virus within the country.

The disease is transmitted by infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, and is not contagious from person to person. The virus is not life-threatening and "will likely resolve on its own," according to officials.

The Department of Health will continue statewide monitoring for local cases.

Symptoms include fever, joint pain, headaches, swelling, or rash. Officials are advising residents protect themselves with insect repellent, window and door screens, and long-sleeved clothing. For more information on chikungunya, visit the CDC website.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


How Hotter Summers Are Putting Swimmers at Risk

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As families flock to pools and lakes to cool off, experts are warning about a risky consequence of climate change: waterborne disease.

Just last week, a 9-year-old girl from Johnson County, Kansas, died from primary amoebic meningoencephalitis, an extremely rare but almost invariably fatal brain infection caused by the freshwater amoeba Naegleria fowleri.

“It’s a heat-loving amoeba,” said Michael Beach, associate director for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s healthy swimming program. “Naegleria is kind of a classic climate change indicator.”

Once limited to the southern states -- particularly Texas and Florida -- Naegleria fowleri has been moving north.

“It’s a pretty dramatic shift,” Beach said, citing recent cases in Minnesota and Indiana. “As water temperatures climb, we expect to see infections moving northwards.”

There have been 132 known cases of primary amoebic meningoencephalitis in the U.S., with the average number of cases per year growing from 2.3 before 1998 to 3.7 after, according to CDC data.

Seven of the 10 warmest years on record for the contiguous 48 states have occurred since 1998, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The warmer weather also means more people swimming, raising the risk of bacterial, viral and parasitic infections transmitted through feces, according to Beach.

There were 81 recreational water-associated disease outbreaks reported in 2009 and 2010, according to the latest CDC data. Forty-five of them were caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. That’s up from 39 outbreaks in 1999 and 2000, 20 of which were associated with pathogens, the agency said.

“Swimming is a communal bathing activity, and a lot of this [disease outbreaks] can be about who you’re swimming next to,” said Beach, describing how pathogens lurking in trace amounts of diarrhea on the skin or in kids’ diapers can get unwittingly swallowed by other swimmers.

This week, health officials in Kitsap County, Washington, closed a lake after more than 200 swimmers reported stomach cramps, nausea and diarrhea. The outbreak has been called “norovirus-like” pending lab test results.

But lakes and rivers aren’t the only source of waterborne infections. The leading cause of recreational water illness, a parasite called cryptosporidium, is “very tolerant to chlorine disinfection,” according to the CDC. That means pools can spread illness, too.

“We’re not saying to not swim. But because you do it with other people, make sure you’re healthy before you get in,” Beach said, stressing the importance of showering before and after swimming. “And minimize how much water you swallow.”

The CDC recommends the following tips for safe summer swimming:

  • Avoid getting water up your nose when swimming in warm, freshwater.
  • Keep poop, pee and germs out of the water.
  • Don't swim if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower with soap before taking a dip.
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.
  • Don't swallow the water.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Boy Who Got Unapproved Drug Heads Home to Virginia

Aimee Hardy(NEW YORK) -- Josh Hardy, the boy whose parents successfully fought to get him an unapproved drug to save his life last March, is heading home to Virginia after spending months living in Tennessee to be near St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.

“Glory to GOD!” his mother, Aimee Hardy, wrote on the Save Josh Facebook page. “We are going home!!!! Leaving today. After 6 1/2 months, Josh finally gets to be in his house.”

Josh Hardy, 8, has beaten cancer four times, his parents said. But the treatments left his immune system so weak that a common virus became life-threatening.

The Hardy family said that their best hope for Josh’s survival was an unapproved antiviral drug called brincidofovir, but the company that makes the drug at first refused to give it to him. The Hardys started several online petitions to change the company’s mind.

"Having survived four diagnoses of cancer, it would be an absolute travesty for him to meet his demise from a virus," Aimee Hardy told ABC News in March. "Especially knowing there is a medicine in someone’s hands that can rid of this virus."

Josh received his first cancer diagnosis when he was just a baby: Aggressive rhabdoid tumors in both kidneys, Hardy said. He went through surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, but the cancer returned in his thalamus gland and then his lung.

Then, after nearly four years of being cancer-free, Josh received bad news in November 2013, Hardy said. He had myelodysplastic syndrome, the same precancerous bone marrow disorder that ABC News anchor Robin Roberts was diagnosed with in 2012. It can be caused by cancer treatments.

Josh underwent a bone marrow transplant to remedy the disorder, but he developed graft-versus-host disease, meaning the new immune cells started to attack his body, Hardy said.

"He was in complete heart failure and kidney failure and went into the ICU on January 14," Hardy said.

To stop the attack, Josh’s doctors at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Tennessee suppressed his immune system with drugs, allowing his heart and kidneys to start healing. But with a weakened immune system, Josh came down with adenovirus, a common virus that causes colds but can also be much more serious, Hardy said.

In Josh’s case, reawakening his immune system to fight the virus could bring back his graft-versus-host disease, so doctors gave him an antiviral medicine to get rid of the adenovirus. But the drug was toxic to his kidneys and wasn’t working, Hardy said.

"He’s at a physical standstill," Hardy said at the time.

That was when Josh’s doctor at St. Jude suggested brincidofovir, a drug that researchers at Chimerix, a small North Carolina drug company, have been developing for the past 14 years. St. Jude had been involved in a clinical trial of brincidofovir in which children who had undergone bone marrow transplants and had early adenovirus infections took the drug and were able to decrease the amount of virus in their bodies.

But Dr. Hervé Momméja-Marin, Chimerix vice president of clinical research, said the drug has not been proven to do this in more advanced adenovirus cases, like Josh’s. Chimerix President and CEO Kenneth Moch said giving the drug to Josh would mean they would have to give the drug to the hundreds of other patients hoping to get it under the Food and Drug Administration's compassionate use rules, which allow patients to get drugs even if they aren’t enrolled in clinical trials.

"We all have great compassion for this child," Moch told ABC News on March 11. "We spent our lives trying to develop new medications for patients just like Josh…We need to make sure to get this drug available as soon as possible to as many people as possible."

But the following day, Chimerix announced that Josh’s story accelerated talks with the FDA, allowing it to launch a 20-patient open-label clinical trial. Josh was the first patient enrolled.

Moch resigned from his position in April, Chimerix announced.

After months in the hospital, Josh was discharged in April. But persistent problems with his kidney, lung and heart function and the need for several blood transfusions kept the family in Tennessee. Now that those problems are resolved, the family can return to Fredericksburg, Virginia.

“And with a lot of hard work his strength will return,” Aimee Hardy wrote. “He can walk a nice distance holding my hands. And we anticipate the return of his immunity in a few months.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


Exclusive: Feds Struggling to Cope with Medical ‘Breakdown’ at the Border

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The federal government is so overwhelmed by the current tide of migrants crossing the border it can’t provide basic medical screening to all of the children before transporting them -- often by air -- to longer-term holding facilities across the country, ABC News has learned.

The director of refugee health in the federal Health and Human Services Department “has identified a breakdown of the medical screening processes at the Nogales, Arizona, facility,” according to an internal Department of Defense memo reviewed by ABC News.

Inside the government, officials are sounding alarms, fearing that they and their teams who come in contact with the sick children face potential exposure to infectious diseases from chicken pox to influenza, including rare cases of H1N1, more commonly called swine flu.

Two unaccompanied children were flown from Nogales to California despite having 101-degree fevers and flu-like symptoms, according to the Department of Defense memo. Those children had to be hospitalized.

The memo said pointedly that officials in charge of moving the immigrants from Border Patrol processing centers to Health and Human Services facilities are “putting sick [fevers and coughing] unaccompanied children on airplanes inbound for [Naval Base Ventura County] in addition to the chicken pox and coxsackie virus cases.”

The document said three other kids were in the ICU at local hospitals in California, and two of them were diagnosed with strep pneumonia.

Less than a week later, that same Ventura Naval Base suffered an outbreak of pneumonia and influenza among the unaccompanied minors inside the shelter.

“Preliminary reports indicate that several unaccompanied minors in the shelter had become ill with what appears to be pneumonia and influenza,” according to a statement from the Administration for Children and Families at Health and Human Services.

HHS told ABC News the children were supposed to be screened for sickness before leaving the Border Patrol screening centers.

“When the children arrive at U.S. border stations,” the ACF statement read, “they are screened for health problems and given medical treatment if needed.”

But, according to the memo ABC News reviewed, “Curi Kim [the HHS director of the Division of Refugee Health] has identified a breakdown of the medical screening processes at the Nogales, Arizona, facility.  The  [unaccompanied children] were initially screened and cleared upon entry into that facility with no fever or significant symptoms.  They were not however re-screened and cleared for travel and placement at a temporary shelter.”

While confirming to ABC News the outbreak occurred, HHS would not respond to inquiries about the DOD memo showing sick children were knowingly sent to Naval Base Ventura prior to the outbreak.

“My biggest concerns are with the health of these children,” said Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. “They are victims going through incredibly stressful circumstances and some will have health issues that need to be treated. Some come from countries that don’t vaccinate against pneumonia or meningitis. They need those vaccines.  Some come from countries where it is flu season. They need that vaccine, too. The big health risks are among these children, not to our communities.”

Once kids are in HHS custody they receive exams and vaccinations, and are screened for tuberculosis, according to ACF,  but more serious illnesses such as meningitis and polio are of little concern for causing an outbreak.

“Children from this region of the world participate in comprehensive childhood vaccination programs, similar to the United States, and are generally well protected from most vaccine-preventable diseases,” ACF said in a statement.

Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras each have rates of vaccination against preventable illnesses such as polio, tuberculosis, measles and pertussis consistent with the United States, according to the World Health Organization.

During congressional testimony the first week of July, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said: “We’ve already had one confirmed case of H1N1 in Texas, and have been informed by our federal partners of two additional cases of type A influenza that are likely to be H1N1, in addition to reports of other illnesses at other detention facilities.”

The Texas Department of Health confirmed to ABC News that there have been three flu cases, one confirmed H1N1 and two others being flu type A,  or presumptive H1N1.

According to the CDC, between April 12, 2009 and April 10, 2010, the height of swine flu in the U.S., approximately 60.8 million cases occurred, with 12,469 deaths.

The CDC website stated: The H1N1 virus that caused that pandemic is now a regular human flu virus and continues to circulate seasonally worldwide.

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Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio


How Scientists, Doctors Use Baby-Friendly Tricks to Study Infants

Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington(NEW YORK) -- For all the impressive advancements in medical technology, researchers and scientists still face a daunting challenge when they study the habits of infants.

In order to study infants without overwhelming them, scientists often try to mask the massive machines needed to view brain activity either by having the child sleep through it or by covering it in kid-friendly decorations. Other researchers have devised decidedly low-tech ways of reading an infant’s interest in a subject, even when they can’t say a single word.

In a study released Monday in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, doctors used a special machine to examine infant brain activity as they start to learn language skills.

Patricia Kuhl, a professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington and the lead author of the study, said the research indicated the area of the infants’ brain that controlled motor skills lit up when they heard certain words. The activity indicated that the infants are trying to mimic adults and speak much earlier before they say their first word.

However, Kuhl said, the study was important because of both the surprising findings and the way researchers were able to get them. To “read” the infant’s brain activity, they used the cutting-edge device called a magnetoencephalograph, that was quiet and nimble enough to read the chaotic world of infants’ brain activity.

Kuhl said unlike a MRI machine, which is extremely loud and requires a patient to be totally still, the magnetoencephalograph is nearly silent. However, the infants still had to be strapped into a chair, so to keep them entertained the researchers were tasked with making silly faces and holding up toys all in the name of science.

“You want them to like the lab,” said Kuhl. “It’s decorated with fish and it’s got little stickies [on it.] It’s...very baby friendly. We wave toys and we’re very aware and of their curiosity and of their desire to play. We do everything to make them comfortable.”

In a 2013 study published in Psychological Science, researchers used MRI machines to examine baby’s brain activity in response to different stimuli. However, to get the infants into a machine where they could not move, the researchers had the babies go in after they fell asleep naturally. They also used ear coverings so the loud MRI machine didn’t wake the infants.

MRI machines can be so distressing for patients because of claustrophobia or other fears about being in the hospital that a New York Hospital installed a pirate-themed scanner to put children (and some parents) more at ease.

“The genius is in this machine. ...There’s no noise and the baby can listen and can move,” said Kuhl of the magnetoencephalograph. “The ability for the first time to do this kind of recording in this kind of technical advanced machine...[it’s like] we’re putting [on] a stethoscope.”

Aside from technological advancements, researchers rely on some decidedly low-tech approaches when studying infants.

Fei Xue, a professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley, has done numerous studies examining how infants learn and react to new toys or information. She said researchers have plenty of tricks to keep babies focused on the tasks at hand.

Xue said most studies only last between 5-10 minutes because the infants will get bored if they're longer. If they want a baby to focus on an object, they darken the room and light up the object to draw the baby's attention.

“In a way, it’s easy to work with infants,” said Xue. “They’re very curious and they’re interested in the world.”

To measure if babies are interested in an object or scene without getting verbal confirmation, Xue and her fellow researchers simply follow the infant’s eye movement. While there are special computer programs, Xue said often it just comes down to a researcher holding a stopwatch and watching the infant through a monitor.

In spite of the infants’ inability to speak, Xue said, understanding their thought process can reveal how they learn, which could eventually help shape education programs.

“When they go to preschool and elementary school...they will help us to know how to structure the school system,” said Xue of her young subjects. “Understanding these really young humans is important.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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