Review Category : Health

Sister Reveals Autistic Twin Brother’s ‘Super Powers’

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — When Jenn Medvin asked her daughter, Avery, what she wanted to be as an adult, the 6-year-old gave a range of answers from doctor to princess. But when Medvin asked Avery what she thought her twin brother Xander would be, the 6-year-old paused for a second before saying her diagnosed-autistic brother could be “Spider-Man.”

“She said it’s because he has super powers and is very good at helping people,” said Medvin.

Xander was diagnosed on the autism spectrum at 18 months of age, but his twin sister has only ever viewed him as extraordinary, Medvin said.

“When you think about it, autistic people have super powers. They see things we don’t see and hear things we don’t hear,” said Medvin. “They are a lot more in tune with their senses.”

It was Avery’s view of her brother as “superhero” that lead Medvin to start working on a documentary about her twins. In part, the documentary was to show the twins’ strong bond and to give another perspective to the disorder.

Twins have long been studied by scientists for clues about why or how children develop the mysterious condition. Even fraternal twins like Xander and Avery can be more likely to have the condition if their twin is diagnosed.

Joachim Hallmayer, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at of Stanford University, said that, according to various studies, the chance of a fraternal twin having autism is anywhere between 10 to 30 percent if their sibling already has the condition.

“[It's] clearly higher than what you would see by chance,” said Hallmayer.

For Jenn Medvin, it became clear that Xander was facing clear developmental challenges at 18 months. While the twins had been similar in terms of development, suddenly Xander was falling behind, unable to walk as Avery started to speed around the house.

Medvin took both children to a regional center, where Xander was diagnosed as autistic.

Avery was initially diagnosed as autistic as well. But, in an unexpected turn, Medvin said, she believes her daughter was actually just imitating her brother when she was diagnosed.

“When he would flap his arms, she would flap back in response,” said Medvin. “As time went on, he seemed to stay in some senses around the same age [and] she was progressing…as a neurotypical child would. Now she doesn’t display any [autism] signs at all.”

Medvin, a registered nurse from Los Angeles, said that despite her training she felt crushed after hearing Xander’s diagnosis and initially thought there was some cause or reason.

However, experts say the disorder results from a complex mix of genetic or environmental factors that are not well-understood and likely specific for every child.

Hallmayer said twins both fraternal and identical have been studied by autism researchers as a way to try and figure out how much of the condition is genetic and how much is environmental. In a 2011 study led by Hallmayer, 54 pairs of identical twins and 192 pairs of fraternal twins were examined to try to determine the extent of environmental factors on autism.

In that specific study, genes only accounted for 38 percent of autism risk, with environmental factors resulting in 62 percent of risk.

But Hallmayer was quick to clarify he was talking about a specific single study and that the condition is “such a complex disorder.”

Xander’s autism has left him less verbal than his sister, although he is sometimes able to string together a few words.

Although he is not very verbal, Medvin said Avery can almost always decipher his needs. When Medvin tries to figure out what Xander wants or needs, she sometimes relies on Avery’s interpretation.

“They would share a look and she would turn to me and say, ‘Xander wants juice,’ or ‘Xander is hungry,’” said Medvin.

Medvin said one struggle has been to get Avery not to “mother” Xander so much, so that he can learn to clear his plate and ask for help on his own.

Last month, Medvin, also a filmmaker, started an online fund to raise additional money for the documentary about the twins. Titled, A Little Hero, the documentary will show Xander’s disorder through Avery’s perspective.

“I saw the exceptional bond that they had. I noticed the majority of the films out there were from parental or adult perspective,” said Medvin. “This was so innocent and sweet. This is her own words.”

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Many Americans Adults Still Living with Their Parents, Study Says

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Despite the end of the recession, many American adults are still living under their parents’ roofs, a new study says.

The Pew Research Center details the prevalence of “multi-generational homes,” with a record 57 million Americans (18.1 percent of the population) living with extended family members in 2012. The figures double the number of individuals living in such households in 1980.

By 2012, one-in-four young adults ages 25 to 34 have lived in multi-generational households. Young men are more likely than women to be in such environments, but as the age groups increase, women’s likelihood in sharing living quarters with family increases as well.

But it’s not just young people living with mom and dad, according to Pew Senior Economist Richard Fry. Many elderly parents are also moving in with their adult children.

“This is a reflection of a less-than-vigorous job market,” Fry said, putting the state of the country’s employment situation delicately. “Household income, again, has still not picked up.”

Experts also attribute increased immigration to the trends, as they say racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in familial arrangements.

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Many Americans Adults Still Living with Their Parents, Study Says

Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Despite the end of the recession, many American adults are still living under their parents’ roofs, a new study says.

The Pew Research Center details the prevalence of “multi-generational homes,” with a record 57 million Americans (18.1 percent of the population) living with extended family members in 2012. The figures double the number of individuals living in such households in 1980.

By 2012, one-in-four young adults ages 25 to 34 have lived in multi-generational households. Young men are more likely than women to be in such environments, but as the age groups increase, women’s likelihood in sharing living quarters with family increases as well.

But it’s not just young people living with mom and dad, according to Pew Senior Economist Richard Fry. Many elderly parents are also moving in with their adult children.

“This is a reflection of a less-than-vigorous job market,” Fry said, putting the state of the country’s employment situation delicately. “Household income, again, has still not picked up.”

Experts also attribute increased immigration to the trends, as they say racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to live in familial arrangements.

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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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