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by Randy Dotinga

Health Highlights: July 27, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Doctor Working in Liberia Is Infected With Ebola
An American physician who was helping Ebola victims in the West African country of Liberia has himself become infected, the aid organization he was working with said on Saturday.
According to the Associated Press, Dr Kent Brantly, 33, has tested positive for the highly contagious, often fatal viral disease and is currently being treated in a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. The North Carolina-based aid agency Samaritan's Purse announced his illness in a news release issued Saturday, the AP said.
Brantly, who previously worked at a family practice in Fort Worth, Texas, has been working in Liberia since October of 2013 and is the medical director for Samaritan's Purse's case management center in Monrovia.
Group spokeswoman Melissa Strixkland said that Brantly's wife and children had been living with him in Africa but they are currently back in the United States.
The Ebola outbreak has killed 672 people in several West African nations so far this year, the AP said.
by Randy Dotinga

Wives' Higher Education May Not Affect Divorce Rate

Couples with equal levels of academic achievement less likely to split than if husbands have more, study finds
SUNDAY, July 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Couples aren't more likely to get divorced if the wife has more education than the husband, new research finds.
The study only looks at trends in marriage, it doesn't prove that education levels play a direct role in affecting whether couples stay together or get divorced.
Still, "our results speak against fears that women's growing educational advantage over men has had negative effects on marital stability," Christine Schwartz, lead author of the study, said in an American Sociological Association news release.
"Further, the findings provide an important counterpoint to claims that progress toward gender equality in heterosexual relationships has stalled," said Schwartz, who is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
The study also found that "couples in which both individuals have equal levels of education are now less likely to divorce than those in which husbands have more education than their wives," Schwartz said.
"These trends are consistent with a shift away from a breadwinner-homemaker model of marriage toward a more egalitarian model of marriage in which women's status is less threatening to men's gender identity," she noted.
The research focuses on heterosexual marriages in the United States from 1950 to 2009. Women began to finish college at higher levels than men in the 1980s, according to the study. Since that time, the wife has more education in a growing percentage of couples.
"Rather than doggedly adhering to norms that wives should have lower status than their husbands, men and women are increasingly forming relationships in which women have the educational advantage -- so much so that it is now more common for wives to have more education than their husbands than the reverse pattern," Schwartz said.
"The relationship between one's educational attainment, marriage formation, and risk of divorce appears to suggest that couples are adapting to the demographic reality that women have more education than men," she noted.
Couples married in the 1950s were just as likely to divorce whether the husband and wife had the same level of education or the husband had more. But more recently, married couples were one-third less likely to divorce if they had the same level of education compared to marriages where the husbands had more education.
The study appears in the August issue of the American Sociological Review.
More information
The National Women's History Museum (https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/education/introduction.html ) has more on how societal views on women and education have changed over time.
SOURCE: American Sociological Association, news release, July 27, 2014
by Randy Dotinga

Don't Let Kids Drink Pool Water

Expert offers tips for spotting chlorine poisoning, bacterial infection, secondary drowning in kids
SATURDAY, July 26, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Pools can provide much-needed relief from the summer heat, but kids can make themselves sick if they swallow too much chlorinated water, experts warn.
Amid the splashing and excitement, it's common for little ones to get water in their mouth. Some kids may even take a drink from a pool, despite warnings from their parents.
Although swallowing a small amount of pool water is harmless, it's important for parents to realize that ingesting too much can lead to chlorine poisoning or so-called recreational water illness, according to Dr. Sampson Davis, an emergency room physician at Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in New Jersey. Kids can also inhale water into their lungs, Davis added, which can lead to a serious condition called secondary drowning.
Recreational water illnesses can also be serious. Pool water contains chlorine -- a chemical used to help get rid of bacteria such as E. coli and parasites. Chlorine may not eliminate all of these germs, so if children swallow pool water they could become sick, Davis said.
If parents and caregivers are aware of these risks, they can take steps to prevent them from happening. By being aware, parents can also recognize warning signs and seek immediate medical attention, Davis added.
To help parents protect their children, Davis advised parents to watch out for the following symptoms that could develop within a few hours or up to 72 hours after swimming:
The first signs of trouble usually include:
Upset stomach and vomiting Persistent cough Trouble breathing Fatigue
As the hours pass, recreational water illness, chlorine poisoning and secondary drowning become more distinct conditions with more specific and severe symptoms, noted Davis.
Recreational water illness and chlorine poisoning may lead to digestive distress, such as abdominal cramping and diarrhea. These conditions may seem like a bad case of food poisoning or stomach flu.
Chlorine poisoning may also cause symptoms in the nervous and respiratory systems. Children may experience trouble with their vision. Swelling and burning may also develop in their eyes, throat, nose and ears.
Secondary drowning has a greater effect on the respiratory system. Children will experience trouble breathing and have heavy, wet-sounding, persistent coughs. They will also develop uncontrollable shivering as well as hot and cold flashes.
Children who have any of these symptoms should be taken to an emergency room immediately.
Davis offered the following tips for warding off trouble:
Once a child is finished swimming, check for redness and irritation around the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. This could be a sign that chlorine levels were too high. Listen for a nagging cough. If a child who has been swimming develops a cough that does not go away, it could be a sign that the child swallowed too much water or inhaled it. Be on alert for flu-like symptoms. If a child develops symptoms of the flu or food poisoning after swimming, seek immediate medical attention.
More information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about swimming pool safety (http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssafeswimmingpool/index.html ).
SOURCE: Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center, news release, June 30, 2014
by Randy Dotinga

Lift U.S. Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men, Experts Say

American Red Cross, other groups also urge easing restrictions due to better blood screening
FRIDAY, July 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The United States should repeal a 30-year policy that bans blood donations from gay and bisexual men, according to a team of medical and legal experts writing this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Currently, a man who has ever had sex with another man cannot donate blood in the United States -- a lifetime ban that has been in place since 1983.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration adopted this policy at the dawn of the AIDS crisis. However, changing times and technological advances have rendered the decades-old ban obsolete, said JAMA article co-author Glenn Cohen, who directs Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics.
"We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it's out of step with peer countries, it's out of step with modern medicine, it's out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic," said Cohen, who co-wrote the article with Jeremy Feigenbaum of Harvard Law School and Dr. Eli Adashi of Brown University's medical school.
The lifetime ban for gay or bisexual men stands in contradiction to other FDA policies regarding people considered high-risk donors due to their sexual behavior, Cohen noted.
For example, there currently is a maximum one-year ban in the United States for blood donations by men who have had sex with an HIV-positive woman or commercial sex workers. The same goes for women who have had sex with HIV-positive men.
By implementing a lifetime ban on donation from sexually active gay or bisexual males, "you're giving a 'scarlet letter' of sorts to these men," Cohen said.
The policy also stands in stark contrast to recent advances in gay rights, and could be open to a legal challenge, given that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, he said.
Other countries have already moved to limit their bans on blood donations from gay men in recent years. Canada has changed its policy to a five-year ban, there's a one-year ban in place in the United Kingdom and a six-month ban in South Africa.
None of these countries has experienced any increase in HIV-positive blood donations, noted Dr. Steven Kleinman, a senior medical advisor to the AABB, an international non-profit blood bank association.
Current technology allows accurate detection of HIV in the bloodstream within weeks of exposure, Kleinman said. Changing the ban to six months or a year remains a conservative approach that still allows officials to prevent contamination of the blood supply, he said.
"It's correct to say that countries have made changes and so far we haven't seen any adverse effects," Kleinman added.
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Rodriguez said that the agency is open to changing the lifetime ban and is awaiting the results of new research that will provide additional evidence.
An advisory committee to the FDA in 2010 voted in favor of retaining the existing policy. But it also found that the ban might be keeping some low-risk donors from contributing to the nation's blood supply, she said.
The committee also recommended looking at the results of studies that have been undertaken by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The studies are aimed at reviewing rates of transfusion-transmitted infections and investigating whether another screening strategy for gay men could maintain the safety of the nation's blood supply, the HHS said.
Officials at HHS said the results of this research should be available by the end of 2014.
"When the results and data from the studies are available and potential policy revisions are brought forward for consideration, HHS intends to provide opportunities for discussion in a public forum," Rodriguez said.
The American Red Cross and the AABB both advocate changing the U.S. policy on donations by gay men to a one-year ban -- on par with donation policies for other high-risk groups.
But Cohen wants to go further, advocating an "assess and test" approach, in which restrictions are placed on potential blood donors based on their personal sexual practices.
Italy adopted such an approach in 2001, and "Italian data suggests there's no disproportionate increase in the number of HIV-positive donors getting into the blood supply," he said.
The AABB does not support that approach at this time, although even a one-year ban amounts to a requirement that gay men abstain from sex to be eligible to donate, Kleinman said.
"We're not requiring anyone else to be abstinent from their sexual partners of choice," he said, noting that lesbians can donate freely. "But we still find that the risk factor that accounts for the greatest proportion of cases are males who have sex with other males. That's an epidemiological fact at this point."
More information
For more on the U.S. policy on blood donations from gay men, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (http://www.fda.gov/BiologicsBloodVaccines/BloodBloodProducts/QuestionsaboutBlood/ucm108186.htm ).
SOURCES: Glenn Cohen, J.D., director, Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, Harvard Law School, Cambridge, Mass.; Steven Kleinman, M.D., senior medical advisor, AABB; Jennifer Rodriguez, spokeswoman, U.S. Food and Drug Administration; July 23, 2014, Journal of the American Medical Association
by Randy Dotinga

Study Links Shift Work to Risk for Type 2 Diabetes

Researchers cite many possible reasons for the effect, including hormonal changes
THURSDAY, July 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Shift workers, especially men, may be at higher risk for type 2 diabetes compared to people not on such schedules, a new study suggests.
Also at special risk are shift workers who don't work on a set schedule, with shifts moving around at various times of the day.
The findings are "not at all surprising," said one expert, Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
"Physicians have long known that working shifts disrupts many key body chemicals, creating a ripple effect that can lead to ailments such as gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease and even cancer," he said. "Now type 2 diabetes can be added to this considerable list."
In the new review, researchers analyzed data from 12 international studies involving more than 226,500 people.
The study, led by Zuxun Lu of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, China, took several factors into account, such as workers' shift schedules, their body mass index (BMI, a calculation of height and weight), family history of diabetes and their level of physical activity.
Although the findings weren't able to show a direct cause-and-effect relationship, the researchers found that any amount of shift work was linked to a 9 percent greater risk for developing diabetes. Gender also played a role -- for men engaged in shift work, the risk jumped to 37 percent.
Although the reason why men are at greater risk than women isn't clear, the researchers believe that testosterone levels may play a role. Prior studies have pointed to an association between low testosterone levels and insulin resistance and diabetes, the researchers noted.
Daytime levels of this male hormone are regulated by the internal body clock, Lu's team explained.
Those whose shifts moved around through different periods of the day were especially likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who worked normal "office hours." The study found rotating shift work to be linked to a 42 percent greater risk for diabetes.
According to Lu's team, erratic working schedules make it more difficult for the body to establish a sleep-wake cycle, and poor sleep may worsen insulin resistance, a precursor to diabetes.
Previous studies have also linked shift work to weight gain and obesity, a big risk factor for type 2 diabetes. And the researchers note that shift work can also affect cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Another expert said other factors may be at play as well.
"Growth hormone, known to elevate blood glucose when present in excess, peaks at 1 a.m.," noted Dr. Gerald Bernstein, director of the Diabetes Management Program at Friedman Diabetes Institute at the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. "Shift work also often makes it more difficult to schedule regular meals and exercise."
Still, Bernstein said that "even with a strong risk for diabetes I would not discourage someone from taking a job that is based on shifts."
Instead, he said "it would be better to screen shift workers regularly for pre-diabetes and intervene to slow the progression to full-blown diabetes."
Manevitz agreed. "Those who must do shift work would be wise to consult their doctor, who can monitor cholesterol levels, blood pressure and insulin levels to detect if blood sugar levels are creeping up dangerously," he said. "Doctors may also be able to prescribe sleep aids to help shift workers get the proper amount of sleep, even if that sleep comes during odd hours."
The study was published recently in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.
More information
The American Psychological Association provides more information on the health effects of shift work (http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/01/night-work.aspx ).
SOURCE: Alan Manevitz, M.D., clinical psychiatrist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; Gerald Bernstein, M.D., director, Diabetes Management Program, Friedman Diabetes Institute, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York City; Occupational & Environmental Medicine, news release, July 24, 2014
by Randy Dotinga

Human Brain Has Coping Mechanism for Dehydration

The mind preserves oxygen to protect itself from the effects of too little fluid, research shows
FRIDAY, July 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The human brain can preserve oxygen to protect itself from the effects of dehydration, a new study finds.
Although dehydration significantly reduces blood flow to the brain, researchers in England have found that the brain compensates by increasing the amount of oxygen it extracts from the blood.
"This research has helped us understand a lot more about how the human brain responds to extreme exercise in extreme conditions," study first author Steven Trangmar, a researcher at Brunel University, said in a university news release. "We can now see that blood flow to this vital organ is significantly affected by dehydration. But we can also see that this is when the brain kicks in, preserving its own oxygen consumption to ensure it sustains its function."
This coping mechanism is likely what enables athletes who become dehydrated during exercise to keep going. The study authors cautioned, however, that their findings should serve as a reminder of the importance of proper hydration, noting that getting enough fluids is essential for athletes who want to maintain peak performance.
"These findings show that the brain has remarkable ways of protecting itself from extreme circumstances, however they also clearly substantiate the recommendation that people should ingest fluids during exercise to help optimize physiological function and performance," Jose Gonzalez-Alonso, a professor of exercise and cardiovascular physiology at Brunel University, said in the news release.
In conducting the study, the researchers inserted catheters in the brachial artery and internal jugular vein of 10 experienced male cyclists. Using the catheters and Doppler ultrasound technology, they measured the blood flow of the cyclists as they rode a bike to exhaustion in heat.
As they became dehydrated, the cyclists developed reduced body mass, brain blood flow and ability to exercise, as well as an increase in their internal body temperature.
The findings were published recently in the Journal of Physiology.
More information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers tips on how to prevent dehydration (http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/basics/water.html ).
SOURCE: Brunel University, news release, July 23, 2014
by Randy Dotinga

Anal, Throat Cancers on the Rise Among Young Adults, Study Finds

HPV is the main culprit, but vaccination can reduce the risk, experts say
FRIDAY, July 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Although cervical cancers are declining in the United States and Canada, other cancers linked to human papillomavirus (HPV) are increasing, a new study indicates.
HPV-related cancers of the anus and the base of the tongue and tonsils have increased over the past 35 years, especially among men and women younger than 45, the Canadian researchers report.
"The increases in the incidence of oropharyngeal [throat] cancer among younger men and of anal cancer among younger women are disturbing, because there are no screening programs for early detection of these cancers," said study co-author Dr. Lorraine Shack, an assistant professor of oncology at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine.
It's estimated that HPV, a sexually transmitted virus, may cause 5.2 percent of all cancers around the world. The link between HPV and cancers of the oropharynx and anal cancer was only recently confirmed, according to background information in the study, published recently in CMAJ Open.
The researchers used the Alberta Cancer Registry to analyze trends in HPV-related cancers diagnosed between 1975 and 2009. They identified 8,120 cases.
Of these, 56 percent were cervical cancers and 18 percent were oropharyngeal cancers -- cancers in the back of the mouth or throat.
Although most cases of HPV-related cancers involved people between the ages of 55 and 74, the greatest percentage increase in oropharyngeal cancers involved men younger than 45.
Meanwhile, anal cancer among women doubled, going from 0.7 to 1.5 per 100,000 people.
Alberta's publicly funded HPV vaccine program, introduced in 2008 and offered to all 5th grade girls, is expanding to include 5th grade boys in September.
In the United States, all boys and girls aged 11 or 12 should get vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination and education programs are necessary, said Dr. Harold Lau, a clinical associate professor of oncology at the University of Calgary.
"To have a large impact on the prevention of these HPV-associated cancers, vaccination programs should be considered for males as well as females, as has now been done in Alberta," said Lau, a co-author of the study. "Both oropharyngeal and anal cancers are associated with substantial side effects when treated; therefore, education and prevention programs, including the HPV vaccination program, are urgently required."
More information
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides more information on HPV-related cancers (http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/ ).
SOURCE: CMAJ Open, news release, July 22, 2014
by Randy Dotinga

Diet Changes Can Alter Gut Bacteria, Study Says

Researchers monitored stool samples of two people for a year
FRIDAY, July 25, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Dietary changes can dramatically alter the balance of bacteria in the gut on a daily basis, according to a new study.
These fluctuations could lead to monitoring systems that might help detect and ease flare-ups for people with certain chronic illnesses, such as inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease), the researchers said.
Trillions of bacteria live in the digestive tract, but their effect on human health isn't well understood, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) scientists noted.
To better understand the role of bacteria in the body, the research team monitored changes in the bacteria of two people over the course of one year. Stool samples were collected daily to monitor the amount and types of bacteria present.
The participants also used an iPhone app that tracked lifestyle factors -- such as diet, sleep, mood and exercise -- that could have an impact on their gut bacteria.
Both people experienced an event during the study period that had a significant impact on their gut microbiome, or the number and types of bacteria in their digestive tract.
One developed diarrhea while on a two-week trip to a developing nation. This person had significant changes in the balance of gut bacteria. After returning home to the United States, however, the gut bacteria returned to normal, according to the study published in the July 25 issue of Genome Biology.
Meanwhile, the other participant developed food poisoning from salmonella. As a result, gut salmonella jumped from 10 percent to nearly 30 percent. Moreover, populations of helpful bacteria nearly disappeared. After the person recovered from food poisoning, the beneficial bacteria rebounded to about 40 percent of the total microbiome. But the researchers pointed out that most of the strains were different from those originally present.
"On any given day, the amount of one species could change manyfold, but after a year, that species would still be at the same median level. To a large extent, the main factor we found that explained a lot of that variance was the diet," study senior author Eric Alm, an associate professor of biological and environmental engineering, said in an MIT news release.
Looking ahead, the researchers said they plan to explore why gut bacteria tend to return to their normal levels after fluctuating widely.
More information
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about the human microbiome (http://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/overview ).
SOURCE: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, news release, July 24, 2014
by Randy Dotinga

Health Highlights: July 25, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
CDC Resumes Transfer of Biological Samples Between Labs
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that it would allow the first transfer between its labs of potentially hazardous biological material since a ban on such shipments was put in place earlier this month.
The ban followed revelations of recent incidents involving mishandling of potentially dangerous samples of anthrax, botulism bacteria and the H5N1 flu virus, the Washington Post reported.
So far, resumption of sample transfers is only happening at the CDC's tuberculosis laboratory, and involves the movement of inactivated TB bacteria to lower-level CDC labs for DNA analysis, according to an agency statement. The ban is still in place at the agency's other laboratories, pending a safety review, according to CDC spokesman Tom Skinner.
In addition, the CDC has also appointed an 11-member external laboratory safety group to advise CDC officials on what safety improvements are needed at agency labs, the Post reported.
On Tuesday, the director of the CDC laboratory implicated in the anthrax incident, Michael Farrell, tendered his resignation, Skinner announced.
by Randy Dotinga

Health Tip: Easing Headache Pain

Use an ice pack or heat wrap
(HealthDay News) -- Headache symptoms vary, from a sharp pain to a dull throb. Remedies to treat these symptoms are similarly numerous.
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers these suggestions for managing and preventing headaches:
Apply an ice pack or a heat wrap to your head or neck. Take a hot shower. Take a break from anything stressful. Don't skip breakfast or any other meals. Get plenty of regular exercise. Follow a consistent sleep schedule.

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