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Monday
Aug252014

No Shots Could Mean No School Amid Ohio Mumps Outbreak

iStock/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- Unvaccinated students could be asked to stay home from school amid a mumps outbreak in Ohio, health officials said.

The message comes one week before the start of the school year in Columbus, Ohio, where roughly 479 people have contracted mumps since March, according to Jose Rodriguez, a spokesman for Columbus Public Health.

“Typically we see only one case a year,” Rodriguez told ABC News.

Mumps, a virus that causes fever, aches and swollen glands, spreads through tiny droplets exhaled during sneezes, coughs and conversations, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The MMR vaccine is the best way to prevent mumps, according to the CDC, with two doses guarding 86 percent of kids from the disease. But some kids are excused from the shot, which is required by Ohio public schools, for religious or personal beliefs. In 2012, only 90 percent of the state's kids received one more or doses of the vaccine, according to CDC data -- down from 93 percent in 2011.

While most of the Ohio mumps cases have occurred in vaccinated individuals, health officials suspect that unvaccinated people are helping to spread the virus.

“We believe a few unvaccinated individuals put the whole community at risk,” Rodriguez said.

To help curb the outbreak, officials are asking unvaccinated kids to stay home from school for at least 25 days after a reported mumps case in their community. The 25-day period was chosen based on the incubation period of the virus, Rodriquez said.

“Some kids whose parents chose not to get them vaccinated at first have now vaccinated because of the outbreak and because of the risks,” he added. “That’s encouraging.”


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug252014

American Heart Association Says E-Cigarettes Can Help Smokers to Quit

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- According to the American Heart Association, e-cigarettes may actually help smokers to quit, though they should still be kept out of the hands of children.

According to an AHA statement published in the journal Circulation, e-cigarettes can be helpful in the right situations. "If a patient has failed initial treatment, has been intolerant to or refuses to use conventional smoking cessation medication, and wishes to use e-cigarettes to aid quitting, it is reasonable to support the attempt." The AHA said that e-cigarettes may even be as effective as nicotine patches for helping smokers to quit.

E-cigarettes have grown in popularity in recent years, with the industry reaching $2 billion in annual sales. The products are banned in Canada and other countries, but legal in the United States.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug252014

Parents of Overweight Children More Likely to Consider Kids Healthy Than in Past

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Parents of overweight children are more likely than they ever have been before to consider their children "healthy," despite the fact that childhood obesity has nearly tripled in recent decades.

Researchers looked at data from a pair of national surveys, one conducted between 1988 and 1994 and the other between 2005 and 2010. Parents were approximately 24 percent less likely to recognize their six- to 11-year-old children as overweight in the more recent study. The figure is even more stark among low-income households, where parents are most likely to consider their overweight children "healthy."

Researchers cited the stigma attached to obesity, increased social pressures and parents' comparing their children with their childrens' peers.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Monday
Aug252014

Researchers Say Early School Start Times Hinder Teens' Academic Performance

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  A new report published by the American Academy of Pediatrics says that schools may be starting too early, and may in turn hinder teenagers' education.

The report, published in the journal Pediatrics, cites previous studies which showed that when teens have to wake up earlier for school, they are often sleep deprived and perform worse in school. In fact, researchers say, schools with delayed start times show better grades and fewer students being involved in car accidents.

Other obstacles the researchers cited as causes for teenagers failure to get sufficient sleep include electronics, biological changes and caffeine.

The AAP recommended, based on the report, that pediatricians support school policy changes that would move back school start times.



Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Aug242014

The Answer to the Obesity Problem Might Be in the Bugs in Our Stomachs

amanaimagesRF/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Scientists conducting a series of experiments in Sweden over the past five years have made a discovery that could make a profound contribution to the fight against global obesity.

The scientists, led by Fredrik Backhed of the University of Gothenburg, were studying mice that had been raised in a germ-free environment, and were thus lean and healthy. But when they were fed a "fecal pellet," which is just what it sounds like, from an obese human the mice quickly became obese, although exercise and their food availability remained unchanged.

All it took was a dose of microbes from the gut of an overweight human to make the mice prefer the fattier and sweeter morsels over the healthier foods.

After analyzing that, and numerous other recent experiments, scientists from three universities have made a bold proposal:

The single-celled organisms that live in our guts and help us digest our food and fight off diseases may have ulterior motives. Maybe they want to be in charge.

Not just of our gastrointestinal track. They want control of our diets, even if that makes us fat and unhealthy, they want to move our lives in directions that are good for them even if bad for us, and they may even want to take over our brains.

In fact, they may have already done that.

Is it possible that the bacteria we depend on in the symbiotic relationship between us and them are clever enough to make us love the taste of seaweed?

Well, that's already history, at least in Japan.

"That's the science fiction part of this," evolutionary biologist and psychologist Athena Aktipis said in a telephone interview. "But I think it's really compelling."

Aktipis, who is now with Arizona State University, began an intriguing research project while she was at the University of California, San Francisco.

Joined by colleagues Carlo C. Maley of UCSF and Joe Alcock of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, the trio set out to see if evidence in the scientific literature supports the idea that our bodies may indeed be at war with our own guts, even over control of our brains, and whether that would partly explain the obesity epidemic that is sweeping much of the world.

This is new stuff. We've known for many years that we have good bacteria and bad bacteria in our guts, some helping and some hurting as we move through life, but recently experts have begun wondering if that's all there is to it.

Does some of that bacteria in your gut fight to serve its own agenda to meet its own needs, not those of their host -- which is you?

How could something that small be a threat? They may be tiny, but your gut is home to trillions. You are one individual, and their genes outnumber yours 100 to one.

They have access to the vagus nerve, which connects 100 million nerve cells in the gut to the base of the brain. They can influence our sense of taste, they can produce toxins to make us feel bad, and they can put is in a good mood, wanting more of whatever they need for themselves.

The researchers have put together a plausible argument, published in the journal BioEssays, suggesting that's exactly what's happening, even if it sounds like science fiction.

But they also argue that we could turn this thing around and put ourselves back in total control, curing illnesses and making us much healthier along the way.

The microbes constitute "a whole ecosystem, and it's evolving on the time scale of minutes," Maley said in releasing the study. Just changing the diet can alter the entire colony of microbes, called the "microbiome," in 24 hours, he said.

The scientists are building on research by others suggesting we have a war going on in our guts.

- Microbes can affect behavior in vertebrates, as evidenced by research showing one species of microbe "suppresses rats' normal fear of cat smells, often to the detriment of the rats, but to the benefit of the microbes that are ingested into their new feline host," the study says.
- Many bacteria found in the human gut can manufacture dopamine, the feel-good hormone linked to drug and alcohol addiction, so they can have a dramatic impact on moods. Other microbes can make us crave fats and sugars, contributing to obesity.
- "Specialist microbes that digest seaweed have been isolated from humans in Japan," the study notes. "African children raised on sorghum have unique microbes that digest cellulose." So some microbes know what they need and may change their host's taste to be sure they get it.

The list goes on and on, sometimes disturbingly.

It's possible that "the obesity epidemic could be contagious as a result of obesity-causing microbes transmitted from person to person," the study says.

That might partly explain why obesity affects entire families, and close friends. The microbes might do that by generating a preference for foods rich in what the microbes are seeking, like fats and sugars.

At this point, the conclusions by the researchers are still in the theoretical stage, but that may change quickly.

"This has been really a blind spot because we tend to think about our bodies as made up just of ourselves," Aktipis said, but a large amount of work in the last five years has been devoted to the possible split-personality of the human microbiome.

We have known for many years that the universe of tiny critters in our guts play an important role in human health, both for good and bad, "but the idea that it would be playing an active role where there would be different interests in different species of microbes competing with us is a new way to think about the nature of our bodies," Aktipis added.

It may not take much to nail this down. The contents of the human gut can be determined through several non-invasive techniques. A mouth swab tells which microbes are at work there.

For researchers who want the "big picture," a stool sample would work, although as Aktipis noted, "some people don't like the idea of giving up their poop."

Physicians treat obese patients all the time, so why not determine the composition of their entire microbiome at the same time? That data from across the country could be fed into a data bank telling which microbes are associated with which public health issues. In time we would have a much better idea of who the enemies are.

After all, this is warfare.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Aug232014

California Officials Issue Arrest Warrant for Tuberculosis Patient 

iStock/Thinkstock(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) -- Officials in Santa Barbara, California, are asking for the public's assistance in locating a 24-year-old man who poses a "serious health risk" to the public.

Law enforcement issued an arrest warrant for Agustin Zeferino, who has a contagious case of tuberculosis.

Zeferino is a threat to those who come in close contact with him, officials said in a statement Friday.

The warrant comes after he received "extensive information and medical consultation about his health condition," but still discontinued treatment.

“With appropriate treatment tuberculosis can be cured. Without treatment, it is often fatal and poses a public health threat due to airborne transmission," said Health Officer Dr. Charity Thoman. "This is particularly true for drug-resistant cases. If Mr. Zeferino is contagious and he is out in our community, it is a public health emergency.”

Individuals with information on Zeferino are asked to contact local law enforcement and avoid close contact.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Aug232014

Why There's No Viral Fundraiser to Help Fight Ebola

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- During the worst-ever Ebola outbreak in West Africa, a viral fundraiser has encouraged people to donate millions to combat another deadly yet rare disease.

That disease is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gerhig’s disease.

For Ebola there has been no massive influx of donations to help respond to the outbreak that has infected 2,615 and killed 1,427 in four West African countries.

Compared to past natural disasters such as Typhoon Haiyan, relief agencies say the response to the Ebola outbreak has been much more tepid.

“We’ve raised a tenth of donations we received following the typhoon in the Philippines,” said Kevin Allan, the senior vice president at the U.S. relief organization AmeriCares. “More resources are needed to do our work.”

One reason for the lack of donations is that images of an Ebola outbreak aren't as visually striking as scenes of destruction from natural disasters.

Jana Sweeney, spokesperson for the American Red Cross, said historically natural or man-made disasters usually lead to a high influx of donations.

“You see a lot of donor interest when you see something that is very visual,” said Sweeney. “Natural disaster threatens everyone. A disease that has been confined to Africa doesn’t [affect] people in the U.S. as much.”

Sweeney said people may also be less inclined to donate because they do not realize the countries affected have a severe lack of medical infrastructure.

“I think for Americans [with] health issues, they would think of as being handled by a ministry of health or a government,” said Sweeney.

Sweeney said the organization will let people donate to specific causes when they see an interest from people to do so. Due in part to the lack of interest and lack of need, Sweeney said the American Red Cross has no plans to create a designated donation page for Ebola.

If people want to donate specifically to the Red Cross response to the Ebola outbreak, they can download a form that allows them to specify where they want their money to go.

In addition to the Red Cross, one of the biggest international relief agencies on the ground in West Africa, Doctors Without Borders, is not accepting donations solely ear-marked to Ebola relief because it could hurt their ability to respond to disasters.

Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French initials MSF), said earmarked donations can slow down their disaster response as they have to wait for specific funds to come in rather than drawing from an overall pool of funds.

“We want to be able to have sufficient cash flow to respond to an emergency right away and not wait to have earmarked funding to come,” said Delauney.

In rare cases, Delaunay said the organization will set up a donation page for a specific event due to overwhelming interest, but even then the money can cause problems.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, Delauney said MSF received more than 110 million euros in just a few days. However, the organization quickly realized they could not use all of the money in response to the disaster, so they painstakingly contacted each person who donated to make sure the funds could be used elsewhere.

Delauney said part of the problem with the Ebola outbreak is that just raising money isn't enough. It is a complicated problem spanning multiple countries and governments. While the MSF have 1,000 people on the ground, they’re working on finding more people and supplies to treat the patients that are now overwhelming existing treatment centers.

“As soon as we expand our activity we need to be able to ensure the appropriate level for human resources there,” said Delauney. “I’m not worried about financial resources, I think we will get the support financially. From a human point of view, it’s more complex.”

Not all organizations have shied away from raising funds for Ebola. The University of California San Francisco is working to raise $100,000 for medical supplies to be sent to a clinic in Sierra Leone that was started by a UCSF professor.

An anonymous donor has agreed to match all donations more than $250 and up to $50,000.

In addition AmeriCares, the U.S. based non-profit emergency response and global health organization that distributed medical and humanitarian aid, is accepting donations pegged specifically to helping treat to treat the Ebola outbreak.

Donations to Doctors Without Borders can be made here.

Donations to the American Red Cross can be made here.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug222014

Ebola Outbreak Enters Sixth Month with No End in Sight

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Though two American aid workers have recovered from Ebola, the outbreak continues to spread in West Africa with no end in sight.

At last count, the virus had killed at least 1,427 people and sickened 1,188 more -- numbers thought to “vastly underestimate” the outbreak’s true toll, according to the World Health Organization.

The outbreak emerged in March and quickly became the deadliest on record. An estimated 46.5 percent of all Ebola deaths recorded since the virus's discovery in 1976 have occurred in the last five months, according to WHO data.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug222014

Toxic Tea Victim Continues to Improve

iStock/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) --  The Utah woman who burned her mouth and throat drinking iced tea made with a toxic cleaning agent is improving.

Jan Harding, 67, is slowly recovering at a Utah hospital, now able to speak, less than two weeks after nearly dying from a simple sip of ice tea, unknowingly laced with toxic industrial cleaner.

Now, Harding's attorney Paxton Guymon is claiming this wasn't the first such incident, alleging an employee at the Utah restaurant, Dickie's Barbeque Pit, also burned her tongue a month earlier on the same substance, a degreaser made up of sodium hydroxide or lye.

Guymon says the company could be held accountable, saying, "To me it means that the company was on notice that there was a hazardous substance that wasn't properly labeled, that wasn't properly controlled."


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Friday
Aug222014

Walgreen's Prescription Database Back Up After Temporarily Glitch

iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Walgreen's pharmacies nationwide were unable to fill prescriptions for part of the day Friday due to a technical problem.

A spokesman says Walgreen's was performing a maintenance update of the prescription database when they encountered a technical problem.   

They were forced bring the retail pharmacy system offline, impacting all 8,200 pharmacies nationwide.

The company didn't say how many customers were impacted while the problem was being fixed.  

The Illinois-based drug store announced after 1pm CT that all the pharmacies were back up and running.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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