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Mon, 29 Aug 2016
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Swine Flu Peaked in Most Southern Countries, Symptoms Mild, WHO Says

The swine flu outbreak seems to have peaked in most of the southern hemisphere, the World Health Organization said in a statement on its Web site today.

Chile, Argentina, New Zealand and Australia "appear to have passed their peak of influenza activity," according to the statement. South Africa and Bolivia are still seeing higher levels of flu than normal, the Geneva-based United Nations agency said in its weekly update on the spread of the virus.

In North America, Europe and Central Asia, flu activity remains low, with some countries experiencing localized outbreaks, according to the statement. Countries in the northern hemisphere, where the flu season gets under way in the fall, are being advised to prepare for a second wave of pandemic spread, the WHO said in a separate report today.

The "overwhelming majority" of patients continue to experience mild illness, and there's no sign that the virus has mutated into a more virulent form, the agency said. The virus, which is also known as H1N1, is now the dominant influenza strain in most parts of the world, the WHO said.

Radar

Feelings Of Hopelessness Linked To Stroke Risk In Healthy Women

Healthy middle-aged women with feelings of hopelessness appear to experience thickening of the neck arteries, which can be a precursor to stroke, according to new research out of the University of Minnesota Medical School.

The study, published online August 27 in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, found that hopelessness - negative thinking and feelings of uselessness - affects arteries independent of clinical depression and before women develop clinically relevant cardiovascular disease.

Researchers looked at 559 women (average age 50, 62 percent white, 38 percent African American) who were generally healthy and did not show signs of clinical cardiovascular disease.

Evil Rays

Senate Hearing On Brain Cancer Risks From Cell Phone Use Nears As New Study Is Released

Senate Hearing On Brain Cancer Risks From Cell Phone Use Nears As New Study Is Released

Senator Ted Kennedy's brain cancer could have been prevented if he had not used his cell phone so much. At least that is the argument being raised by health advocates who released a new study that concludes that too much cell phone use could lead to brain cancer.

The study, "Cellphones and Brain Tumors: 15 Reasons for Concern, Science, Spin and the Truth Behind Interphone" was released by the International EMF Collaborative this week to counter another study funded by cell phone industry giants (The Interphone study), which minimizes the risk of cell phone use.

The International EMF Collaborative claims that the Interphone study, which begun in 1999, was "intended to determine the risks of brain tumors, but its full publication has been held up for years. Components of this study published to date reveal what the authors call a 'systemic-skew', greatly underestimating brain tumor risk."

Arrow Down

Trace Mineral Lithium Substantially Reduces Suicides when Present in Local Water

Trace amounts of lithium in drinking water may reduce a population's suicide rates, according to an analysis conducted by researchers from the universities of Oita and Hiroshima, Japan, and published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.

But mental health advocates warned against adopting plans to add the element to public drinking water supplies, as in controversial water fluoridation programs.

Lithium is a naturally occurring element that has long been used for the treatment of bipolar disorder. Unlike conventional antidepressants, lithium stabilizes moods at both extremes of the spectrum -- depression and mania. Research conducted on data collected in the 1980s has previously suggested that communities with higher concentrations of lithium in their tap water might have lower suicide rates than communities with lower levels.

To follow up on this research, scientists measured the levels of lithium in the drinking water of 18 different municipalities in the Japanese prefecture of Oita, finding concentrations ranging from 0.7 to 59 micrograms per liter. They then compared these numbers with the suicide rates in each community.

Magnify

New Genes Give Gut Bacteria Antibiotic Resistance

Study also finds that the same genes can lead to resistance when inserted into E. coli.

© A. Canossa, M. Sommer and G. Dantas
This illustration depicts a hypothetical situation in which disease-causing bacteria (with spiky green coats) could acquire resistance to the antibiotic penicillin by exchanging DNA (red helical ribbon) with harmless bacteria living in the human gut (blue rounded chains). Penicillin (white and green balls) would have no effect on microbes with the penicillin resistance gene (spiky blue coat).
The human gut is a reservoir of antibiotic resistance. And the bacteria residing there could bequeath their gift of resistance to more harmful microbes under the right conditions, researchers report in the August 28 Science.

Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found more resistance genes in indigenous gut bacteria than were known to exist. So far, the team has identified more than a hundred new genes conferring resistance to up to 13 antibiotics. All of these genes retain that role when inserted into E. coli bacteria, the authors say.

"This is the tip of the iceberg of what we will find when we start looking at all the bacteria in our gut that we mainly just ignore," says infectious disease physician Vincent Young of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

While some bacteria in the gut help people digest food, many are considered harmless freeloaders that have "found a good seat at the table," Young says. But just as pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, are developing immunities to antibiotics, the mostly harmless bacteria in the gut may be developing resistances as well.

Magnify

Girls Have Head Start on Snake and Spider Fears

Gut-wrenching fears of snakes and spiders may start early for many women. Before their first birthdays, girls but not boys adeptly learn to link the sight of these creatures to the frightened reactions of others, a new study suggests.

Neither infant girls nor boys link happy faces with snakes and spiders, reports study author David Rakison of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in an upcoming Evolution & Human Behavior. Youngsters of both sexes also don't tend to associate images of flowers and mushrooms with either fearful or happy faces, he finds.

In Rakison's tests, 11-month-old babies first looked at pairs of images - a happy or fearful cartoon face was paired with a snake, spider, flower or mushroom. After the first brief display, Rakison timed how long each child gazed at new pairs of images. A youngster who learned to associate two images, say a fearful face with a snake, would gaze longer at a violation of what he or she expected to see, such as a happy face with a snake, the researcher reasoned.

Only girls associated the snake or spider that they originally saw with a fearful reaction and then acted on that knowledge, looking longer at the unexpected appearance of a happy face with a new snake or spider, Rakison proposes. No other pair of images elicited longer gazes from girls or boys.

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Statins Cause Serious Structural Muscle Damage

If there is a super star in Big Pharma's list of money making drugs, it may well be the group of medications known as statins. The New York Times reported last year that statins are, in fact, the biggest selling drugs in the world. Their names, like Lipitor and Crestor, are familiar from countless television and magazine ads and almost everyone knows someone taking a statin. Promoted widely as safe, they are actually known to cause a litany of potential side effects. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) web site notes that about one in 1,000 of those taking statins suffer from muscle pain. Usually, these aches go away. But not always. And now new research shows that in some people statins cause serious structural damage to muscles.

The study, just published in CMAJ (the Canadian Medical Association Journal) suggests that patients who are taking statins and who complain to their doctors about muscle tenderness or pain could well be describing severe muscle problems due to the drugs. Although muscle damage is usually associated with elevated levels of an enzyme called creatine phosphokinase, the CMAJ research shows that's not always the case. And it may take muscle biopsies to show that underlying structural injury has occurred.

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Gene Associated With Language, Speech And Reading Disorders Identified

A new candidate gene for Specific Language Impairment has been identified by a research team directed by Mabel Rice at the University of Kansas, in collaboration with Shelley Smith, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Javier Gayán of Neocodex, Seville, Spain.

The finding, reported in the current issue of the Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders, was discovered by examining genes previously identified as candidate genes for reading impairments or speech sound disorders.

The results point toward the likelihood of multiple genes contributing to language impairment, some of which also contribute to reading or speech impairment.

A gene on Chromosome 6 - KIAA0319 - was associated with variability in language abilities in a study of children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) and their family members, as well as with variability in speech and reading abilities. Children with SLI who were selected for the study had no hearing loss, general intellectual deficit or autism.

Magnify

Brain can Cope with Emotions of Psoriasis

Psoriasis can lead to physical scars, but the emotional scars from the skin disease can run deeper.

The thick, red, scaly skin lesions that characterize the condition often influence how people with psoriasis feel about themselves and how others see them.

Now new early research suggests that the brains of some patients may actually adapt to cope with the body image and self-esteem issues that can accompany the skin disorder.

Using brain imaging focused on an area of the brain believed to control feelings and reactions to disgust, researchers in the U.K. showed that psoriasis patients tended to react less strongly to facial expressions registering disgust than people without the skin condition.

The study was small, with just 12 men with psoriasis and 12 men without the skin condition. But the findings suggest the brains of psoriasis patients eventually become rewired to protect against the negative emotional responses of others, researchers say.

Family

Heat Forms Potentially Harmful Substance In High-fructose Corn Syrup, Bee Study Finds

Image
© Credit: Wikimedia Commons
A new study shows that heat can produce a potentially toxic substance in high-fructose corn syrup that may kill honeybees.
Researchers have established the conditions that foster formation of potentially dangerous levels of a toxic substance in the high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that is often fed to honey bees. Their study, which appears in the current issue of ACS' bi-weekly Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, may also have implications for soft drinks and dozens of other human foods that contain HFCS. The substance, hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF), forms mainly from heating fructose.