Review Category : Health

Illinois Man’s MERS Test Was a ‘False Positive’

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — An Illinois man who tested positive for MERS after shaking hands with an infected business associate never had the deadly virus, health officials said on Wednesday. Rather, he received a “false positive” test result, raising new questions about the transmissibility of MERS and the tests used to spot it.

The man, whose name has not been released, tested positive for antibodies to the MERS-causing coronavirus on May 16, two weeks after a health care worker from Saudi Arabia dubbed the “Indiana patient” became the first person with MERS on U.S. soil.

“Our experts have now concluded that the Indiana patient did not spread the virus to the Illinois resident,” Dr. David Swerdlow, associate director for science in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a media briefing Wednesday.

The Illinois man never developed symptoms and tested negative for viral DNA on May 5, but parts of a second “serological” test came back positive, Swerdlow said. The serological test looks for antibodies to the virus in the blood.

“The results from these tests are not black and white but require interpretation,” Swerdlow said. “It’s our job to move quickly when there’s a potential threat. We will continue to err on the side of caution.”

The news of the false positive means that the only two known U.S. MERS cases were imported from Saudi Arabia, where 186 people have died from the infection.

“Real risk is a virus that has a 30 percent mortality rate,” Swerdlow said, defending the CDC’s decision to announce the Illinois man’s preliminary test results. “You really can’t take any chances.”

The possibility that the Illinois man had become infected after a 40-minute business meeting sparked fears that the virus could spread more easily than previously thought.

“There is good news here,” said Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News’ chief health and medical editor. “It was concerning that this man supposedly got infected through minimal contact — a couple of meetings and a handshake. Now that it’s clear that he was not infected, we’re back to a situation where those who have been infected have either been health care workers caring for MERS patients or close contacts, often family members.”

Besser stressed that “no blood test for an infectious disease is perfect,” adding that “all are at times falsely positive and falsely negative.”

The CDC will continue to monitor the close contacts of the Indiana patient and the country’s second MERS patient, an Orlando, Florida, man, who is also a health care worker in Saudi Arabia. The agency has contacted “almost all” of the people who shared flights with the men, according to the media briefing.

“We remain aware that MERS-CoV [coronavirus] can and likely will enter our country again,” Mark Pallansch, director of CDC’s division of viral diseases, said on Wednesday.

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Do Animals Get Depressed?

Courtesy Animal Place(NEW YORK) — Mr. G the goat was feeling bad until being reunited with his best bud, a burro named Jellybean.

The two were separated for six days after being rescued from an animal hoarding situation in Southern California. Once the staff at the Animal Place Sanctuary in Grass Valley, California, realized how much Mr. G missed his friend, a volunteer agreed to drive 14 hours to bring the two together.

Mr. G sure seemed mopey and down in the dumps during his separation from Jellybean. But do animals really get depressed?

Possibly, but scientists don’t like using the word depressed when talking about animals, Olivier Berton, an assistant professor of neuroscience in psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, says.

“We prefer the term depression-like behavior,” he explained.

Berton, who studies social behavior in rodents and sheepishly admits that he has no experience with goats, says it’s hard enough to pin down a definition of depression in humans let alone animals because it’s such a subjective emotion.

Animals can’t communicate what they’re feeling so it’s difficult to say why they behave as they do in certain situations, he explained. The only thing researchers can do is observe their behavior and then make inferences about what their furry subjects might be going through.

In Berton’s studies, when rats and rodents are isolated, separated from their social group or forced to live with larger animals that bully them, they stop exercising and eating — just like their human counterparts. While they’d normally do just about anything for a taste of something sweet, they’re no longer willing to press a lever or run through a maze to gain access to junk food treats.

Berton’s work also shows that the brains of rodents who exhibit depression-like symptoms shrink in the areas associated with pleasure and reward and grow in areas associated with negative emotions and stress.

As for goats, Deanna Clark, who raises milking goats on her farm in Boring, Oregon, and is known around town as “The Goat Expert,” says the bearded beasts do have the capacity to feel blue.

“They are highly intelligent animals that bond strongly with each other, other species and sometimes even inanimate objects like rocks or wheelbarrows,” she said.

Clark says you really can’t have a solo goat. In a case like Mr. G’s, she might have tried to introduce a buddy goat to cheer him up.

Berton pointed out that vets often put dogs and cats that show signs of depression on antidepressants. Treatment does seem to help, he said, but more large-scale studies need to be done to know for sure.

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Study Claims Wikipedia Medical Entries Filled with Errors

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — If you’re feeling sick, checking Wikipedia first for medical advice is probably not the best way to handle your health.

According to a report published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, there are many errors in 90 percent of Wikipedia’s health entries.

And yet amazingly, 70 percent of physicians and medical students have consulted Wikipedia, the 10 researchers involved in the study discovered.

The researchers examined articles from April 2012 about the most costly conditions in the U.S., including osteoarthritis, back problems and asthma, and found that nine-in-ten gave conflicting information from the latest medical research.

As a result, lead author Dr. Robert Hasty of the Wallace School of Osteopathic Medicine in North Carolina says the best way to get an answer about what ails you is from a medical professional.

Responding to the study, Wikipedia suggested the small sample size may not be enough to make definitive conclusions about the accuracy of the medical entries.
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Cat People and Dog People Are Different Animals

iStock/Thinkstock(WAUKESHA, Wis.) — People with a different preference in pets may not fight like dogs and cats but they often don’t share the same personalities.

That’s according to Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin, psychology professor Denise Guastello, who analyzed the differences between so-called “dog people” and “cat people.”

After surveying 600 college students to ask whether they loved dogs or cats, Guastello found that those with a fondness for dogs showed more extrovert tendencies, such as loving the outdoors and interacting more with others.

“Dog people” also seemed less likely to break rules.

On the other hand, “cat people” were more introvert and sensitive.

About six in 10 surveyed put themselves in the dog-lover category while 11 percent were cat lovers.

Although Guastello focused on college students, other studies done on the subject appears to verify that “dog people” are more outgoing and enjoy companionship. “Cat people” seem to crave affection from their pet.

Guastello says her research may help facilitate better pairings of humans and animals who take part in pet therapy.

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Diet Soda Better for Diets than Water? Controversial Study Says Yes

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — After years of getting harangued about their favorite beverage, it appears diet beverage drinkers have finally gotten the last laugh.

But don’t get too cocky.

A new study says that diet drinks were shown to be more efficient at helping people lose weight than drinking water.

In the 12-week experiment involving 300 participants, people who drank diet soda or tea lost an average of 13 pounds while the water drinkers lost nine pounds on average. Furthermore, 64 percent of the diet beverage drinkers shed 5 percent of their body weight, an important step to preventing heart disease and diabetes, compared to 43 percent of water drinkers.

However, there are a bunch of caveats, according to researcher Judith Wylie-Rosett from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York.

For one thing, the study was funded by the American Beverage Association and two of its researchers received consulting fees from the group.

Wylie-Rosett says the experiment also did not reveal what other foods were consumed by the participants and in what amounts. She also expressed some skepticism about the short duration of the research, suggesting that a more long-term study would be needed to determine if diet beverages are really better than drinking water when trying to lose weight.

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Most American Children Are Physically Unfit

Polka Dot Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The majority of American children are physically unfit according to research done by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Researchers at the agency put a representative sample of 600 children between the ages of 12 and 15 on a treadmill in an effort to gauge their cardiorespiratory fitness and found that just 43 percent of participants were physically fit. That figure is well below the 52 percent that similar research deemed physically fit in 1999.

Girls were less likely to be deemed “physically fit” than boys, however, there was no significant difference in fitness between children of varying ethnicities or income levels.

Perhaps not surprisingly, researchers also determined that obese children were less likely to be physically fit.

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Younger Women Having Fewer Children than Ever

Creatas/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — In a preliminary report on Birth Statistics in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that younger women are having fewer babies than ever.

The report shows that teen birth rates are at their lowest point ever — down 10 percent from 2012 and 57 percent since 1990. Additionally, fewer women in their early 20s (between the ages of 20 and 24) are having children as well.

Interestingly, women over the age of 35 are having more children than anytime in the last 40 years. Women above 45 gave birth to seven percent more children in 2013 than in 2012.

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CDC Updates Number of Cases in Foster Farms Salmonella Outbreak

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an updated number of consumers who have fallen ill due to the salmonella outbreak in Foster Farms brand chicken that began last year.

According to the CDC, 574 people have fallen ill in 27 states and Puerto Rico since March 1, 2013. Approximately 37 percent of cases have required hospitalization. Doctors say there are at least seven outbreak strains. Nearly 80 percent of the cases have been reported in California.

The CDC says it continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the outbreak, which prompted a pair of recalls in October 2013. In separate recalls on October 12, 2013 and October 17, 2013, a Costco store in South San Francisco recalled over 23,000 units of the Foster Farms chicken.

The CDC continues to advise consumers to follow food safety tips to prevent salmonella infection.

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Twice the Tamoxifen Backed for Breast Cancer Patients

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — One of the top cancer groups in the U.S. is urging breast cancer patients to take the drug tamoxifen for 10 years after treatment with surgery, chemo or radiation – effectively doubling the previously recommended five years on the drug.

Tamoxifen targets the hormones estrogen and progesterone, which are important in the development of many breast cancers. The recommendation by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) follows two large studies over the last year suggesting that women who take the drug for 10 years may lower their risk of early death and recurrence compared with those who take it for five years.

The women in these studies who took tamoxifen for 10 years cut their risk of dying early by 3 percent, their risk of recurrence by 4 percent, and their risk of cancer in the remaining breast by 12 percent.

Dr. Harold Burstein, co-chair of ASCO’s expert panel that wrote the guideline, said the sheer size and duration of the new studies was exactly what was needed to justify this new recommendation.

Burstein added that the new recommendations may be particularly important for younger women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Premenopausal women are not candidates for the other anti-estrogen medications that post-menopausal women are,” he said. “Now instead of waiting for them to transition to menopause, which could happen years after their initial five-year tamoxifen course, we can offer uninterrupted continuation of therapy.”

ASCO President Dr. Clifford Hudis, who is also chief of breast cancer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, said the new recommendations underscore tamoxifen’s importance in breast cancer treatment.

“Tamoxifen may be more responsible for saving more lives than any other cancer drug,” Hudis said. But, he added, “this doesn’t mean every woman should take ten full years of therapy. Doctors still need to use judgment and consider the risks and benefits of extended therapy.”

Among these risks, according to the guidelines, are a higher chance of endometrial cancer, blood clots, pulmonary embolism and uterine cancer.

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Canines Help Soldiers Connect and Heal in Counseling

Michael Koenigs/ABC News(NEW YORK) — At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Lexy, a 5-year-old German shepherd, is successfully persuading soldiers home from the war to come in and stick with counseling.

Staff Sgt. Dennis Swols said he originally wasn’t interested in therapy at all, and certainly didn’t believe that having a dog at his counseling sessions would help.

Swols, who has completed seven tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder so severe that he experienced seizures. He said even his kids knew not to sneak up on him from behind.

“I can say the first time I killed someone, I cried,” Swols said. “And I never went and got help.”

It took the friendship of military therapy dogs like Lexy to get Swols to see past his pride and agree to work with his therapist. The dog lies next to him during his sessions, and pulls even closer when the conversations get difficult and Swols is stressed. He said Lexy has made a difference in his life.

“Without a doubt, without a doubt,” Swols said. “I could tell a story. I could cry. I could do anything and she’s not going to judge me.”

Today there are 2,500 dogs trained in the armed services but Lexy and the dogs at the Canine Warrior Connection in Brookville, Maryland, are among the first to be used to help soldiers heal their minds.

At the Canine Warrior Connection facility, Rick Yount begins training therapy dogs when they’re puppies. They learn to sense a soldier’s distress.

“We know that emotions have a chemical component to them,” Yount said. “These dogs are basically able to detect through scent, your emotional state.”

In Bethesda, Maryland, 3-year-old Labrador retriever mix Ron has been trained to bring soldiers both tissues and comfort during therapy sessions. The work these dogs do is so important that the armed services gives these canines military ranks. Lexy is a Lt. Col. and Ron is a one-star general.

“It can comfort them [the soldiers.] Get them through the hard stuff,” said psychiatrist Maj. Christine Rumayor who works with Lexy at Fort Bragg. “So they can keep talking and work through their issues.”

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