Review Category : Health

How Suicide Hotline Operators Talk Callers Down from the Edge

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Suicides are more common on a Monday than on any other day of the week.

“If we go with the triggers of loss and change, Mondays have a higher rate than the end of the week,” John Plonski, a suicide hotline supervisor with 30 years of experience, told ABC News.

He also cited the “common misconception” that there is a spike in suicides around the holidays.

“Springtime is where the number of suicides actually increases,” Plonski said.

But it’s a year-round issue as National Suicide Prevention Week starts Monday, witnessed by the recent high-profile suicides of pop singer Simone Battle and actor Robin Williams.

For suicide prevention hotline operators like Plonski, they follow a set of cues when trying to determine a caller’s risk level: whether they’ve experienced a recent loss or change, and the start of a new time of year — or even week — all come up as contributing factors in suicides.

Plonski, who’s director of virtual crisis supervisors at the Kristin Brooks Hope Center, a Washington, D.C.-based suicide prevention charity and hotline, said he has spoken to a “few thousand” distressed individuals over various hotlines since his first call on July 7, 1984.

More than 800,000 people worldwide commit suicide every year, with about 39,000 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most callers to hotlines, Plonski said, do not immediately start talking about their suicidal thoughts, leading to a longer, more incremental conversation.

“One woman one time called me from the other side of the country and talked about breaking a nail,” Plonski said. “I’m saying ‘OK, breaking a nail isn’t a big thing for me, but what else is going on?'”

The woman went on to explain how she was cleaning her house after hosting the reception following her slain son’s funeral, and broke a nail in the process, serving as a proverbial breaking point.

“The whole idea was she wanted to be with her son,” Plonski said. “She didn’t initially identify [as suicidal]. You want to engage the person, you want the person to trust you, you want the person to be able to share with you.”

Talking through issues, specifically addressing the reasons callers feel like they want to end their lives, is an important role of the crisis operator. That step is largely skipped, however, when the caller says there is a reason to believe his or her life is in danger by, for example, saying that he or she has a gun or has swallowed pills.

“That’s not a crisis situation, that’s not intervention; that’s an emergency,” he said. “We need to get a mobile crisis unit out there immediately.”

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New Survey Looks at American Eating Habits

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Forget about money and sex, food is our real passion, judging by a new poll in Parade magazine.

The “What America Eats” survey is chock full of tidbits from “What We Pack In Our Kids’ Lunch Boxes” (mainly sandwiches, salty snacks and fruit drinks) to “The Most Popular Celeb Chef” (Rachael Ray crushes Gordon Ramsay, 29 percent to 16 percent.)

Other notable revelations:

  • Twenty-five percent of Americans now eat organic food, double that from a decade ago.
  • Pizza is the number one fast food.
  • Seven percent say they eat breakfast on the run.
  • Iced coffee is ordered with five percent of all breakfast meals.
  • Forty-one percent of Americans claim they’ve been on a diet in the past year while 30 percent say they’ve gone on a diet.
  • When it comes to washing produce before eating it, 30 percent say they always, 41 percent say every chance they get and 15 percent will wash produce if it looks like it needs washing.
  • Forty percent of all snacks consumed are either eaten with or instead of a main meal.

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Unidentified Respiratory Virus Likely to Hit Kids Across Country

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A respiratory illness that has already sickened more than a thousand children in 10 states is likely to become a nationwide problem, doctors say.

The disease hasn’t been officially identified, but officials suspect a rare respiratory virus called human enterovirus 68. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the virus is related to the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold.

According to Mark Pallansch, director of the Division of Viral Diseases at the CDC, similar cases to the ones in Colorado have been cropping up across the U.S. At least 10 states — Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Georgia — have reported suspected outbreaks of human enterovirus 68 and requested CDC support.

“Viruses don’t tend to respect borders,” ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser said. “It is only 10 states now, but it’s going to be across the country. So if your state doesn’t have it now, watch for it, it’s coming.”

Doctors say they are not even sure yet how this particular virus spreads, though the back-to-school season is a normal time for illnesses to spread among children.

“This is a very common time for outbreaks. Kids come back to school, they like to share things, they bring them home to their little brothers and sisters, and enteroviruses tend to occur in the summer,” Besser said. “But this one, this particular Enterovirus 68, is very rare and they have no idea why it showed up this year.”

At Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver, officials say that between Aug. 18 and Sept. 4, doctors saw more than 900 pediatric patients with symptoms of the respiratory virus in the emergency room. Of those who came in, 86 were admitted into the hospital and a handful ended up in the intensive care unit.

“It can start just like a cold — runny nose, sneezing, coughs — but it’s the wheezing you have to watch out for,” Besser said.

Dr. Christine Nyquist, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said the virus usually ends up appearing similar to a severe cold but can be particularly dangerous for children with asthma because of how it affects the respiratory system.

“The kids are coming in with respiratory symptoms, their asthma is exacerbated,” Nyquist said. “Kids with no wheezing are having wheezing.”

At Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, Dr. Raju Meyappan, a pediatric critical care physician, said he’s seen at multiple children end up in the pediatric intensive care unit after being infected with the virus and that children under the age of 5 or those with asthma appear to be most at risk.

In one particularly severe case, Meyappan said a 13-year-old asthmatic patient ended up in the emergency room just one day after showing basic cold-like symptoms, including cough and runny nose.

His asthma became so severe on the second day the teenager turned blue and was rushed to the emergency room, where doctors gave him an emergency breathing tube.

The patient was one of multiple asthmatic pediatric patients who ended up sedated in the intensive care unit with a breathing tube, Meyappan said. Patients who needed breathing tubes spent between four to seven days sedated and intubated as they recovered, he said.

“As a pediatric ICU doctor, we try our best not to intubate kids with asthma at any point in time,” said Meyappan, who added that only the most severe cases warranted intubation. “They all needed it. The onset [of the virus] is severe.”

Meyappan said currently four patients were in the pediatric ICU recovering.

There are multiple reasons why the outbreak was hitting Denver now, instead of later in the fall or winter when infections start to rise, Nyquist said.

In addition to school starting, Nyquist said, some children with asthma could have seasonal allergies that are exacerbated by the virus.

“Any kind of viral infection can kick off wheezing and asthmas,” she said. “People with asthma know what triggers their asthma. A viral infection is one thing and this is the one that is circulating.”

To stay healthy, the CDC recommends basic sanitary practices to avoid spreading the virus, including washing hands, avoiding those who are sick, and covering the nose and mouth during sneezes or coughs.

Meyappan said parents of asthmatic children should make sure that their children’s inhalers are easily accessible and that there is a treatment plan in place if an asthma attack continues to get worse.

“Make sure [parents] talk to all their caregivers about what to do if [the child has] an asthma attack and where to go if they need help,” Meyappan said. “I think having a game plan in place helps.”

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American Doctor with Ebola ‘Slightly Improved’

iStock/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) — The latest American doctor to be infected with Ebola in West Africa is “slightly improved,” his wife said after visiting him in a Nebraska hospital Saturday.

SIM missionary Dr. Rick Sacra, who contracted EbolaVirus Disease in Liberia, arrived in Nebraska Friday and was brought to the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

His wife, Debbie, and her oldest son Maxwell, 22, visited Sacra — isolated in the hospital’s biocontainment unit — for about 25 minutes over a video link.

“Rick is very sick and weak, but slightly improved from when he arrived yesterday,” Debbie Sacra said. “He asked for something to eat and had a little chicken soup.”

She said he did not remember much from the trip, and that the priority now is for him is to rest.

She said she was “relieved to see his face and hear his voice again.”

Debbie Sacra added that and her husband were most interested in keeping the focus on the Ebola crisis in West Africa.

“We don’t want this story to be about Rick,” she said. “The story is the crisis in West Africa. That is what is most important. The world is coming to this fight late.”

Sacra, 51, was treating pregnant women in the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, when he became infected with the deadly virus, according to SIM, an international, interdenominational Christian organization based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Sacra, an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School, was not treating Ebola patients in the hospital’s separate Ebola isolation facility, the group said, adding that it was unclear how he contracted the virus. All infected U.S. health workers were working at the ELWA hospital when they contracted the virus.

He was isolated in the ELWA Ebola ward after becoming infected.

Sacra specializes in family medicine and practices in Worcester, Massachusetts, but he traveled to Liberia in August.

“I knew he needed to go,” Debbie Sacra said, adding that he knew there was a risk he would contract Ebola but he wanted to help people with malaria and pregnant women amid the outbreak.

“He is not someone who can stand back when there is a need that he can take care of,” she said.

Sacra is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and spent nearly two decades working in Liberia, according to the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Sacra’s colleagues at the medical school called him a “gifted physician” who took on extra work to treat pregnant women in the rural country.

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New Drug Could Fight Flu in One Dose

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Doctors could soon have a new weapon to fight one of the deadliest viruses in the United States after researchers announced the latest drug to treat the flu.

Peramivir, which only needs to be administered once as an intramuscular shot, could be safe and effective at alleviating most flu symptoms, including fevers — if taken within 48 hours of contracting the flu — according to Doctor Rich Whitley of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, who led the research on the new drug.

“If we don’t get immunized and we get influenza or if we get immunized and we still get influenza, we need to have anti-viral drugs available for the purposes of therapy and the goal is to keep people out of the hospital and to keep people from dying,” Whitley said.

Approximately 36,000 people die and 200,000 are hospitalized because of the flu every year in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While vaccines are an effective way of controlling the virus’ spread, the formation of new viral strains can outpace the creation of new vaccines.

Whitley’s study of 427 adults with flu symptoms found that a single dose of Peramivir significantly reduced flu symptoms within 22 hours and reduced fever within 24 hours, according to a statement released by the American Society for Microbiology.

These results show that Peramivir could be a potentially exciting alternative to existing flu treatments. Tamiflu and Relenza, the two current FDA-approved flu treatments, require two doses per day for five days to do the same thing.

The drug is only in clinical trials and has not yet been approved by the FDA. But doctors are hopeful it can be a powerful weapon against the flu.

The drug “would be a terrific boon … a wonderful addition that we could have for the amelioration of influenza and its complications,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University.

“It would give us the opportunity to initiate treatment very, very early. That is one of the hang-ups that we currently have,” he said.

If approved, Peramivir would be the first single-dose flu treatment in the United States, but it has already been approved in some countries.

Peramivir was approved in Korea and Japan in 2010. It is estimated that 1 million Japanese patients have received the drug, according to the American Society for Microbiology.

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Child Cancer Survivor Takes Message of Support, Hope for Cure on the Road

iStock/Thinkstock(RALEIGH, N.C.) — In August 2010, Ashley Burnette was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer that begins in immature nerve cells. She was 7.

“I went through many, many treatments,” said Ashley of Raleigh, North Carolina. “It was just very hard for me and my family. … Now I am happy to say I am cancer free and I’ve been that for two years now.”

Ashley said she has been on a daily medication, but should be finished this month.

These days, the 11-year-old spends her time speaking as a national youth ambassador for Hyundai Hope on Wheels, a nonprofit organization that raises money for childhood cancer awareness and seeks out advocates to share its message.

“I travel all across the country and spread awareness for cancer and I pretty much just meet kids and go to children’s hospitals and make them feel comforted because, I mean, they are going through a lot right now,” she said.

The group’s 2014 goal is to award $13 million in pediatric cancer research grants. Car dealerships and Hyundai Motor America make a contribution to Hope On Wheels each time a new Hyundai is sold in the U.S.

“Childhood cancer affects not only the patients. It affects families, friends, doctors, nurses. It affects everybody and that’s really why we need to find a cure. … That’s why I’m so supportive of this organization,” Ashley said. “I just want to try to find a cure someday. I hope that day will be soon.”

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What Happens When a Plane’s Cabin Depressurizes

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It is still unclear why the pilot of a turboprop plane flying from Rochester, New York, became unresponsive during flight, eventually crashing off the coast of Jamaica on Friday.

One possible scenario is that the cabin may have lost air pressure for some unknown reason, incapacitating all on board.

Aviation expert and ABC News consultant John Nance said the pilot’s requests to air traffic controllers to get to a lower altitude and his subsequent debilitation “clearly shows a progressive hypoxic situation,” a condition in which the body does not get an adequate supply of oxygen.

The pilot was refused permission to fly lower because of traffic below him, but when asked by air traffic controllers if he wanted to declare an emergency – which would have given his request priority – the pilot said it was not necessary. Moments later the pilot passed out.

Nance said it wasn’t clear whether the pilot was incapacitated by the rapid depressurization of the cabin or fumes in the cockpit.

Under ordinary circumstances, most aircraft cabins, whether in a small plane or a large commercial jet, are pressurized to the equivalent of 8,000 feet above sea level or lower. At a pressure that is the equivalent of 8,000 feet, it lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood by about 4 percentage points, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine report. This may lead to some discomfort, but no ill health effects for a person in good health.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots lose decision making ability fairly quickly at higher altitudes.

“The ability to take corrective and protective action is lost in 20 to 30 minutes at 18,000 feet and 5 to 12 minutes at 20,000 feet, followed soon thereafter by unconsciousness,” the FAA states.

But if there was an air leak or the plane flew too high, it would have had detrimental effects, leading to an oxygen deficiency known as hypoxia, said Randy Padfield, a licensed pilot with more than 10,000 hours of flying experience and the chief operating officer of Aviation International News.

“What happens first is your brain is not as quick. You’d get very confused and stop thinking clearly,” he explained. “Then you’d fall asleep and eventually die due to lack of oxygen.”

Padfield said depressurization can happen quickly or slowly.

If it happens quickly, there is little time to react, although pilots are trained to keep an eye on cabin pressure and adjust the plane’s oxygen levels accordingly. Once pressure dips below acceptable levels, oxygen masks drop down and people put them on to breathe in pure oxygen for as long as it lasts. Protocol dictates that the pilot fly to a lower cruising altitude, usually below 10,000 feet, so that breathing would no longer be a problem for a healthy person.

If depressurization happened slowly, passengers might not notice right away, Padfield said. They might feel woozy and drift into unconsciousness. Anyone with asthma, a heart condition or who is elderly would feel the effects much sooner.

When a cabin depressurizes, the percentage of oxygen in the air stays about the same, but the molecules get further and further apart, Padfield explained.

“Imagine a balloon at sea level, then take it up to 10,000 feet. The balloon gets bigger because there is less pressure pushing in against it,” he said.

The aircraft’s engines pressurize the cabin with outside air, according to Air and Space magazine. Compressed air gets hotter and hotter as it runs through a series of fans and rotors. Some is diverted to de-ice the wings and the rest goes through a cooling system similar to a car radiator.

Then the air expands through an expansion turbine that cools air in the same way you can cool air by blowing it out of puckered lips. Finally, the air goes into a mixer, or manifold, and is recirculated through the cabin with a series of fans.

Padfield said that if a door or window blew out during flight, the cabin might be enveloped in a misty fog and loose articles like paper and small items might fly around the cabin. Passengers would presumably be wearing their seat belts and therefore be in little danger of being sucked into the sky.

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What Happens When a Plane’s Cabin Depressurizes

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — It is still unclear why the pilot of a turboprop plane flying from Rochester, New York, became unresponsive during flight, eventually crashing off the coast of Jamaica on Friday.

One possible scenario is that the cabin may have lost air pressure for some unknown reason, incapacitating all on board.

Aviation expert and ABC News consultant John Nance said the pilot’s requests to air traffic controllers to get to a lower altitude and his subsequent debilitation “clearly shows a progressive hypoxic situation,” a condition in which the body does not get an adequate supply of oxygen.

The pilot was refused permission to fly lower because of traffic below him, but when asked by air traffic controllers if he wanted to declare an emergency – which would have given his request priority – the pilot said it was not necessary. Moments later the pilot passed out.

Nance said it wasn’t clear whether the pilot was incapacitated by the rapid depressurization of the cabin or fumes in the cockpit.

Under ordinary circumstances, most aircraft cabins, whether in a small plane or a large commercial jet, are pressurized to the equivalent of 8,000 feet above sea level or lower. At a pressure that is the equivalent of 8,000 feet, it lowers the amount of oxygen in the blood by about 4 percentage points, according to a recent New England Journal of Medicine report. This may lead to some discomfort, but no ill health effects for a person in good health.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, pilots lose decision making ability fairly quickly at higher altitudes.

“The ability to take corrective and protective action is lost in 20 to 30 minutes at 18,000 feet and 5 to 12 minutes at 20,000 feet, followed soon thereafter by unconsciousness,” the FAA states.

But if there was an air leak or the plane flew too high, it would have had detrimental effects, leading to an oxygen deficiency known as hypoxia, said Randy Padfield, a licensed pilot with more than 10,000 hours of flying experience and the chief operating officer of Aviation International News.

“What happens first is your brain is not as quick. You’d get very confused and stop thinking clearly,” he explained. “Then you’d fall asleep and eventually die due to lack of oxygen.”

Padfield said depressurization can happen quickly or slowly.

If it happens quickly, there is little time to react, although pilots are trained to keep an eye on cabin pressure and adjust the plane’s oxygen levels accordingly. Once pressure dips below acceptable levels, oxygen masks drop down and people put them on to breathe in pure oxygen for as long as it lasts. Protocol dictates that the pilot fly to a lower cruising altitude, usually below 10,000 feet, so that breathing would no longer be a problem for a healthy person.

If depressurization happened slowly, passengers might not notice right away, Padfield said. They might feel woozy and drift into unconsciousness. Anyone with asthma, a heart condition or who is elderly would feel the effects much sooner.

When a cabin depressurizes, the percentage of oxygen in the air stays about the same, but the molecules get further and further apart, Padfield explained.

“Imagine a balloon at sea level, then take it up to 10,000 feet. The balloon gets bigger because there is less pressure pushing in against it,” he said.

The aircraft’s engines pressurize the cabin with outside air, according to Air and Space magazine. Compressed air gets hotter and hotter as it runs through a series of fans and rotors. Some is diverted to de-ice the wings and the rest goes through a cooling system similar to a car radiator.

Then the air expands through an expansion turbine that cools air in the same way you can cool air by blowing it out of puckered lips. Finally, the air goes into a mixer, or manifold, and is recirculated through the cabin with a series of fans.

Padfield said that if a door or window blew out during flight, the cabin might be enveloped in a misty fog and loose articles like paper and small items might fly around the cabin. Passengers would presumably be wearing their seat belts and therefore be in little danger of being sucked into the sky.

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Study: Lifetime of Outdoor Activity May Lead to Eye Disease

iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) — Spending prolonged hours in the sun can lead to a common eye disease, according to a new study.

Residential geography and sunglass use can help exlpain why individuals develop exfoliation syndrome (XFS), an eye condition that is linked to secondary open-angle glaucoma and an increased risk of cataract and cataract surgery complications.

The study, published Thursday in JAMA, Ophthalmology, explored the connection between residential history, solar exposure, and XFS.

Using participants in the United States and Israel, researchers examined the average latitude of their homes and the average number of hours a week they spent outdoors. Volunteers were all 60 years or older and white.

For each hour per week they spent outdoors during the summer, participants were associated with a 4 percent increased odds of XFS. However, sunglass use decreased the risk in the United States, though not in Israel.

“Lifetime outdoor activities may contribute to XFS,” said lead author Louis Pasquale. “The association between work over snow or water and the lack of association with brimmed hat wear suggests that ocular exposure to light from reflective surfaces may be an important type of exposure in XFS etiology. If confirmed in other studies, there could be reason to consider more widespread use of UV-blocking eyewear in these cases to help prevent XFS.”

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Bras Not to Blame for Breast Cancer Risk, Study Says

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Bra-wearing may not be linked to breast cancer risk in women, according to a new report.

The study, published Friday in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, found no link between bra cup size, bra band size, and the disease, among other factors.

“There have been some concerns that one of the reasons why breast cancer may be more common in developed countries compared with developing countries is differences in bra-wearing patterns,” said Lu Chen, researcher in the Public Health Sciences Division at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “Given how common bra wearing is, we thought this was an important question to address.”

“The risk was similar no matter how many hours per day women wore a bra, whether they wore a bra with an underwire, or at what age they first began wearing a bra,” said Chen.

Researchers asked more than 1,000 women between the ages of 55 and 74 of their undergarment habits. The participants had either one of two common types of breast cancer — invasive ductal carcinoma or invasive lobular carcinoma.

“The findings provide reassurance to women that wearing a bra does not appear to increase the risk for the most common histological types of postmenopausal breast cancer,” the authors added.

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