Review Category : Health

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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Drowning Child’s Rescue Caught on Police Body Camera

iStock/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) — Ismael Quintana pumps on the boy’s chest, trying frantically to restore the child’s heartbeat. The 2-year-old’s aunt, Cynthia O’Connor, kneels beside him, breathing air into his mouth.

The boy had climbed into a backyard pool June 17 and was found underwater, Cleveland police said. So Officer Quintana performed chest compressions, pushing down, again and again, an incident captured on the officer’s body camera in video released Wednesday.

The body cameras are being used by the city’s police as part of a pilot program, a way to document crime scenes and interactions with suspects.

But sometimes rescue efforts are captured, too. In the case of the boy, the water eventually gushed out of his mouth and nose and he began breathing again, shallow breaths, before being rushed away for further care.

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If You’re Gonna Sit, Be Physically Fit, Say Researchers

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(DALLAS) — For years, studies have pointed out the health dangers of sedentary behavior — that is, doing a lot of sitting around and not much else.

However, while scientists don’t dispute the various side effects that sedentary behavior can have, which include obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, there hasn’t been much research about how sitting affects those who are physically fit.

That is, until now. Researchers at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society and the University of Texas, examined the fitness of 1,300 men in relation to their sedentary behavior beginning in 1981.

What they found is, men who are considered physically fit really only have to worry about high triglycerides, which can lead to hyperglycemia, if their lifestyle also involves a lot of sitting.

Just the same, a report from the Mayo Clinic last week suggests that two hours of sitting can have adverse effects on one’s health, which would basically cancel out the benefits of 20 minutes of exercise.

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The Religions Americans Warm Up To

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Which religions do Americans feel most warmly about?

Using a scoring system with zero being the coldest and 100 the warmest, a Pew Research survey lumps three very close together. Among 3,217 randomly selected adults, Jews ranked number one with an overall score of 63, followed by Roman Catholics with 62 and evangelicals right behind at 61.

Other religions aren’t quite as warmly received in the Pew poll. For instance, Hindus and Mormons scored 50 and 48, respectively.

Interestingly, atheists outpaced Muslims, 41 to 40.

Pew also found that Americans of a particular faith tend to be most accepting of those sharing the same religion.

For instance, Catholics give themselves a score of 80, while evangelical Christians gave their fellow evangelicals a 79.

Outside their faith, white evangelicals feel most warmly about Jews, with a score of 69, while Jews only rated evangelicals a 34.

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All Concussions Carry Long-Term Risk

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Any kind of concussion, no matter how minor, can have serious ramifications despite the speed of recovery, according to a new study.

It’s not just severe traumatic brain injuries that affect thinking skills over a period of time, says researcher Andrew Blamire from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom, but even concussions considered mild or moderate.

Blamire and his colleagues compared the differences between healthy people and those with mild or moderate concussions by examining brain imaging studies and thinking tests, noting that injured people scored 25 percent lower than those absent any brain trauma.

While the scores appeared to even out a year later, the researchers still found evidence of brain damage on imaging tests of the concussion victims.

The study concluded it’s an important finding since nine out of ten concussions are considered mild or moderate.

Dr. Michael O’Brien, director of the sports concussion clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, who was not part of the study, adds that people who’ve suffered any sort of brain trauma should be made aware of the structural damage a year after a concussion since it might explain continued difficulties in school performance, physical performance and even social issues.

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The Religions Americans Warm Up To

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Which religions do Americans feel most warmly about?

Using a scoring system with zero being the coldest and 100 the warmest, a Pew Research survey lumps three very close together. Among 3,217 randomly selected adults, Jews ranked number one with an overall score of 63, followed by Roman Catholics with 62 and evangelicals right behind at 61.

Other religions aren’t quite as warmly received in the Pew poll. For instance, Hindus and Mormons scored 50 and 48, respectively.

Interestingly, atheists outpaced Muslims, 41 to 40.

Pew also found that Americans of a particular faith tend to be most accepting of those sharing the same religion.

For instance, Catholics give themselves a score of 80, while evangelical Christians gave their fellow evangelicals a 79.

Outside their faith, white evangelicals feel most warmly about Jews, with a score of 69, while Jews only rated evangelicals a 34.

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