Review Category : Health

Blood From Ebola Survivors Eyed as Weapon Against Virus

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The mounting death toll from the worst-ever Ebola outbreak has health officials eyeing a radical remedy: blood from Ebola survivors.

The World Health Organization on Friday announced that the use of blood therapies should be “considered as a matter of priority” amid the outbreak that has killed more than 2,100 people.

“There is a real opportunity that a blood derived product can be used now and this can be very effective in terms of treating patients,” Dr. Marie Paule Kieny, the agency’s assistant director general, said at a press briefing Friday.

The idea is not as bizarre as it might sound. A viral infection triggers an immune response — an attack by the body against its microscopic intruder in the form of antibodies. Those antibodies block the virus from infecting new cells, and they linger in the blood long after the infection.

Dr. Kent Brantly, an American aid worker infected while working with a missionary group in Liberia, reportedly received a blood transfusion from a child who survived the virus. He also received the experimental drug ZMapp, which is a cocktail of three synthetic antibodies designed to mimic an immune response. No one knows what role — if any — the treatments played in Brantly’s recovery.

There is evidence, however, that antibodies against Ebola linger in the blood of survivors. A 2009 study of blood samples collected during three Ebola outbreaks in Gabon found that levels peaked 30 days after exposure and “declined slowly over several years.” But not all antibodies are created equal, according to Thomas Geisbert, a virologist studying Ebola at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.

“It’s possible that some people have antibodies that are directed against more important parts of the virus in terms of slowing it down. It could vary from person to person,” he said, explaining how different antibodies hone in on different parts of the sly virus. “In an outbreak scenario, it may difficult to identify who the best donors would be. It would have to be studied in a lab.”

And that’s what WHO officials intend to do, explaining that such studies in West Africa “should be based on the aim to learn as much as we can as fast as we can without compromising patient care or health worker safety.”

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Millenials May Be Most Distrusting of All Generations

iStock/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) — Millennials have definite views of the world they live in and they’re apparently not very positive in a study by San Diego State University researcher Jean Twenge.

Back in the mid-1970s when Baby Boomers were still young, about a third of high school seniors agreed that most people could be trusted even after Watergate and the Vietnam War.

Flash forward to present day and just 16 percent of high schoolers in 2012 said most people could be trusted.

Twenge, author of the book, Generation Me, maintains that, “Young people today feel disconnected and alienated,” which could be due a litany of reasons, including the Great Recession, dysfunction in Washington and public figures from sports and the arts who can’t stay out of trouble.

Just 22 percent of high school seniors in 2012, compared to 49 percent in 2000-2002, felt that Congress was doing a “good” or “very good” job.

Millennials’ attitudes are also less positive than Boomers or Gen Xers on a host of other institutions as well, including corporations, universities, religions and the media.

Twenge’s study will appear in the journal Psychological Science later this month.

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Does the Alcohol Industry Really Advocate Responsible Drinking?

iStock/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE, Md.) — The alcohol industry may claim to look out for the best interests of consumers but a new study charges the opposite is actually true.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health claim the brief public service messages at the end of beer or liquor ads that say “drink responsibly” or “enjoy in moderation” aren’t very effective at all.

Study leader Katherine Clegg Smith contends the problem is that the alcohol industry doesn’t define what entails responsible drinking nor does it inform consumers about the health risks that come with drinking too much.

The Johns Hopkins team says that about 87 percent of alcohol ads that appeared in magazines from 2008 to 2010 did convey a message of responsibility. However, there was not once instance of what that meant or how and when to abstain from drinking.

Furthermore, the font size of the message was smaller than the ads’ slogans or taglines 95 percent of the time. In addition, the researchers felt that 88 percent of the ads advocating responsibility were actually promoting the product since photos depicted the fun people were having with alcohol.

As a result, health experts believe that the ads should contain “real warnings about the negative effects of excessive alcohol use.”

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Situations Often Prevent Families from Sitting Down for Dinner

Fuse/Thinkstock(RALIEGH, N.C.) — So much has been reported on the benefits of families sitting around to home-cooked meals that researchers have ignored the downside of trying to get everyone together at the dinner table for what’s supposed to be good conversations and nutritious servings of food.

And yes, North Carolina State University researchers do say that gathering family members for a meal is often easier said than done and just as often, can make the situation at home more stressful.

After interviewing female caregivers with kids averaging two to eight years old, the consensus was that middle-class, working class and poor families have similar problems.

Study co-author Dr. Sinikka Elliott said that “Mothers from all backgrounds reported difficulty in finding time to prepare meals that everyone in the family would be willing to eat.”

However, the greatest strain seemed to be felt by moms with minimal finances who said they usually couldn’t afford fruits and vegetables, transportation to grocery stores or even standard kitchen utensils.

Co-author Dr. Sarah Bowen called for creative solutions to bring parents and the kids together for dinner because as it stands, “This idea of a home-cooked meal is appealing, but it’s unrealistic for a lot of families.”

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Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff While Wearing Polyester

iStock/Thinkstock(GHENT, Belgium) — One of life’s rules of thumb is “Never let them see you sweat.” If that’s impossible, especially after a workout, the next rule would be “Try not to smell so bad when you do sweat.”

Again, that might be asking too much, but scientists at Ghent University in Belgium think they can at least help make your sweaty odor less offensive by steering you to the right kind of shirt to wear.

That would be cotton more so than polyester, according to study author Chris Callewaert, who had a panel of smell experts sniff 26 shirts worn by bicyclists following a 60-minute ride.

It seems that bacteria molecules known as micrococci thrive in polyester’s fabric compared to cotton. Therefore, these shirts stink more than ones made from natural fibers.

Of course, cotton won’t eliminate odors, just mask them a little better. For people with really strong body odor, Callewaert is having some success with a process that entails the skin coming in contact with non-smell-producing microbes.

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Latest American Ebola Patient Arrives in Nebraska for Treatment

iStock/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) — The latest American doctor to be infected with Ebola in West Africa has arrived in the United States for treatment, authorities said.

Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, arrived in Nebraska on Friday, with his plane landing at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha. He will receive treatment at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

Sacra 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.

“I just had a call from the doctor who put Rick on a plane to come to the United States,” his wife, Debbie Sacra, said at a news conference, her voice breaking. “He said that Rick is clearly sick, but that he was in very good spirits.”

“He walked onto the plane, so we are really encouraged by that news and looking forward to reuniting with him,” she added.

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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Potassium-Rich Foods May Lower Stroke, Death Risk in Older Women

William Brady/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Women who eat foods high in potassium may be less likely to suffer from strokes, according to new study from the American Heart Association.

Researchers looked at more than 90,000 post-menopausal women ages 50 to 79 over the course of 11 years, analyzing their potassium intake and medical history.

Participants who ate the most potassium were 12 percent less likely to have a stroke and 16 percent less likely to suffer from an ischemic stroke (an instance when blood is not supplied to the brain).

The study also found that the same women were 10 percent less likely to die than those who ate the least.

“Our findings suggest that women need to eat more potassium-rich foods. You won’t find high potassium in junk food,” said study senior author Sylvia Wassertheil-Smoller, Ph.D. “Some foods high in potassium include white and sweet potatoes, bananas and white beans.”

The World Health Organization recommends a daily potassium intake of 3,510 milligrams, while the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls for 4,700 mg a day. Still, experts say patients should consult their doctors.

More studies are needed to determine whether the same effect is found in men and younger individuals. Researchers added that sodium intake was not considered, highlighting the importance of a balance between sodium and potassium.

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Study: Disparities Remain in US Obesity Rates

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Obesity rates in children and adults may be tapering off after rising for years, according to a new study, but economic and ethnic disparities remain.

The “State of Obesity,” from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that trends are stabilizing, though rates still remain high.

Figures have topped 30 percent in 20 states, with most of them in the South. Mississippi and West Virginia are tied for the highest adult obesity rate at 35.1 percent — the first year that any state has had a rate over 35 percent, according to Ginny Ehrlich, director of the foundation’s Childhood Obesity Portfolio.

Adult numbers increased in six states since last year: Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Wyoming. No state experienced a decline in rates.

Two out of three American adults are obese or overweight, though figures for African-Americans came at the top of the list at 40 percent in 10 states, and those for Latinos exceeded 35 percent in five states.

“We are continuing to see troubling racial and ethnic disparities in this epidemic,” Ehrlich said. “Obesity rates remain higher among African-Americans, Latinos and people who are living on limited incomes.”

Outlooks are more promising for children, according to the report. Nearly 17 percent of American children are obese, and 31 percent are obese or overweight, but the numbers are decreasing in areas with access to healthy food options and exercise opportunities.

“In cities and states that have taken comprehensive steps to address this epidemic, their hard work’s paying off and we’re seeing rates going down in a number of places,” Erlich added.

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Latest American Ebola Patient Headed to Nebraska Hospital for Treatment

iStock/Thinkstock(OMAHA, Neb.) — The latest American doctor to be infected with Ebola in West Africa is on his way to the United States for treatment at Nebraska Medical Center.

Dr. Rick 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.

“I just had a call from the doctor who put Rick on a plane to come to the United States,” his wife, Debbie Sacra, said at a news conference, her voice breaking. “He said that Rick is clearly sick, but that he was in very good spirits.

“He walked onto the plane, so we are really encouraged by that news and looking forward to reuniting with him,” she added.

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.

Sacra was expected to arrive in Omaha, Nebraska, on Friday morning. He has been isolated in the ELWA Ebola ward.

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.

SIM is the same missionary group for which Nancy Writebol had been working when she contracted Ebola in July. Writebol and fellow U.S. Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, who worked for the aid group Samaritan’s Purse, were evacuated from Liberia to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment. They were declared virus-free after spending a few weeks in its isolation unit.

Writebol was discharged Aug. 19 and Brantly went home two days later.

Since March, the deadly virus has sickened more than 3,700 people, killing nearly 1,900 of them, according to the latest numbers from the World Health Organization.

The virus has sickened at least 240 health workers, half of whom have died, according to WHO.

“Ebola is taking its toll in many ways. It directly kills many who it infects, but indirectly it’s killing many more,” said ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, who just returned from reporting in Monrovia, Liberia.

Emergency rooms in the Ebola zone have been closed, as are many hospital wards, leaving people who are sick with heart disease, trauma, pregnancy complications, pneumonia, malaria and other everyday health emergencies with nowhere to go.

“I worry that this latest case, an American doctor contracting Ebola while caring for a maternity patient, will lead overseas groups that are providing non-Ebola support to question whether they can safely do so,” Besser said. “These countries need more medical support. Any further reduction would be disastrous.”

The Sacra family warned in its statement that, without doctors, the lack of health care in West Africa could become a crisis.

“There are many people in Liberia who are suffering in this epidemic and others who are not receiving standard health care because clinics and hospitals have been forced to close,” the statement read. “West Africa is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis and the world needs to respond compassionately and generously.”

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Diplomat Who Fled Quarantine at Center of Second Ebola Cluster in Nigeria

iStock/Thinkstock(LAGOS, Nigeria) — A Nigerian diplomat who fled quarantine is at the center of a second cluster of Ebola cases in Nigeria’s main oil hub.

The first cluster emerged in July, when an infected Liberian-American man named Patrick Sawyer flew into Lagos. Sawyer died within days of arriving and Nigerian officials tried to prevent an outbreak by quarantining his close contacts. But Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Health has confirmed that a diplomat with the Economic Community of West African States ignored that quarantine and traveled from Lagos to Port Harcourt after developing symptoms of the deadly disease.

The diplomat was treated at a hotel in Port Harcourt between Aug. 1 and Aug. 3, according to the World Health Organization. A doctor who treated him developed symptoms of the infection roughly 10 days later but continued to interact with family, friends and patients for two days, the agency said.

As his symptoms progressed, the doctor rested at home, where he was visited by friends and relatives to celebrate the birth of a baby. He was hospitalized on Aug. 16 but continued to be seen by dozens of community members, including church members who performed a “laying on of hands,” according to WHO. He was also visited by a majority of the hospital’s medical staff before he died on Aug. 22.

Officials with WHO and the Nigerian government are now monitoring more than 200 people that had contact with the doctor. At least 60 of those people are considered to have had high risk or very high risk exposure, including two patients that he operated on. The doctor’s wife and another patient at the hospital where he was treated have already tested positive for the disease, according to WHO.

The diplomat survived and returned to Lagos, where he remains in quarantine to ensure he’s no longer contagious, according to the country’s Federal Ministry of Health. Local reports suggest he could face manslaughter charges for evading quarantine and exposing others to Ebola.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical School, said the new cluster could represent a major setback in the fight to stop the outbreak.

“You’ll never be successful unless the population [understands,] unless they’re collaborating with the public health effort,” he said. “This is exactly the kind of thing that everyone is on tenterhooks about.”

Schaffner said this kind of cluster makes it more likely the virus will continue to spread throughout the region.

“The greatest concern is [not only] that this outbreak is going to continue in the three major countries already affected, but that the longer it goes on, the likelier [they are to] export the disease,” he said.

The virus has already killed at least 1,841 and infected a total of 3,685 people in West Africa, according to the latest numbers from WHO. Nearly all of those infected were in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

While government and aid agencies including WHO and Doctors Without Borders have deployed to Nigeria to fight the epidemic, public fear of Ebola is hampering aid efforts. According to the WHO, military escorts are being used to transport people in and out of isolation and treatment centers.

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