iStock/Thinkstock(TUCSON, Ariz.) — It turns out that man’s best friend could also hold a key to lessening those pesky allergic reactions.

Researchers from the University of Arizona are launching a new study to see if bacteria found on dogs (and their saliva) can help lessen the sneezing, itching and hives of an allergic reaction and other immune responses. The 12-week study plans to see if a dog’s microbiome, or normal bacteria ecosystem, can help its human owner’s immune system.

The upcoming study will match people between the ages of 50 and 60 with dogs and then measure to see if their immune responses are affected by the presence of the dog over 12 weeks, the researchers told ABC News on Thursday.

In theory, the dog’s microbiome would beneficially influence the human’s microbiome, which would affect the human’s immune system response.

Dr. Charles Raison, a professor of psychiatry at University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and lead researcher, said the dog could potentially work almost as a “probiotic” and help build healthy bacteria colonies in the human owner.

“We’re not really individuals, we’re sort of like communities [with bacteria],” Raison told ABC News. “These bacteria can powerfully impact brains and [immune health.]”

Raison said allergy and immunologist researchers have been searching for why certain immune diseases, including allergies and asthma, have increased in the Western world. One theory has been that human microbiomes have been depleted by less exposure to certain harmless bacteria. A dog could, in theory, help restore that balance.

“If the dogs and human owners look similar microbiota-wise…then it means dogs are basically having probiotic-enhancing microbiota of human owners,” Raison said.

The study is just the first step to investigating how dogs and their bacteria can affect immune health, he said, noting that he next wants to do another study with children.

Dr. Donna Hummell, a clinical director of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology at Vanderbilt University, told ABC News that earlier studies found that infants born to a household with dogs had lower rates of allergies and asthma and she’s interested to see if this study can shed light on what is happening on a bacterial level.

“Dogs spread their bacteria around more than cats do, particularly because dogs like to lick things and lick people and lick themselves in the process,” said Hummell, who is not involved with this study. She noted it could explain “what is happening with bacteria when [people are] living with an animal.”

Researchers have found positive news that introducing healthy bacteria in the gastrointestinal system seems to help other inflammatory gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease but that the research on bacteria’s influence on our immune system is new, Hummell said.

“Influence of bacteria on immune system on the individual [we’re] just beginning to dissect and sort out,” she said.

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Matt Howell(NEW YORK) — Matt Howell thought he would become a professional tennis player until he watched his career aspiration fall short while in college.

Once freed from the dietary and training rigors of collegiate tennis life, Howell, now a 39-year-old high school teacher in Grenada, Mississippi, let himself go.

“I wanted to live a little and I lived a lot until I was 37 years old,” Howell told ABC News. “I got big really fast and then just maintained that weight for the next 15 or 20 years.”

Howell eventually picked up tennis again, along with the extra pounds that left him weighing around 320 pounds. When he was at that weight, in 2014, Howell’s wife, Sabrina, gave him as a birthday present the chance to play tennis with the likes of Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe at a competitive tennis circuit match in Nashville, Tennessee.

“After we played, Ivan said to me, ‘You would have been a really good tennis player if you weren’t so big,’” Howell recalled. “At first I was so angry and then later on I realized he was really paying me a compliment.”

“I just had that initial shock when someone tells you the truth and you don’t want to hear it,” he said.

Lendl’s remark combined with a physical at which he learned he had “everything you could possibly imagine that would lead to an early death” pushed Howell to make a change.

In April 2014, Howell says he underwent a vertical sleeve gastrectomy, a surgery that leaves you with a stomach about the size of a banana, according to the National Institutes of Health. One month after the surgery, while out to dinner with friends, Howell got the final motivation he says he needed to lose the weight on his own and for good.

“I was sitting at dinner and two of my friends were talking about doing an obstacle course and they didn’t even think to include me,” Howell said. “That hammered it home.”

“I said to myself, ‘Come hell or high water you will not go back to that life. We are done,’” he said.

Howell, the married father of two daughters, ages 4 and 3, worked with a friend who is both a triathlete and a doctor to plan a diet that would fuel his body.

“It’s just good food and the right amounts of vegetables and proteins and oils,” Howell said of his 1,400 to 1,700 calorie daily diet that typically includes two protein shakes and a meal balance of 80 percent vegetables and 20 percent protein.

The former collegiate athlete, and tennis director at his local country club, who now weighs 164 pounds, also introduced activity back into his life in the form of walking and then jogging and weightlifting.

“Once I started becoming more active on a regular basis, that’s when I noticed the change in what my body was craving,” Howell said. “Meats made me feel heavy and my body responded to a vegetable-heavy diet.”

“I think a big thing too was that I did not know portion control and had no idea what a true portion is,” he said. “That takes an adjustment period to figure out.”

Now Howell, the same guy who was once excluded by his active friends, is an obstacle course-junkie who has already completed one race and has three more in the books. He does 100 push-ups daily, runs at least five times per week and hits the gym at least four times per week.

The 5’9″ Howell went from a 3XL shirt to a small or medium, a 50″ waist in pants to a 30″ and dropped one shoe size.

Howell says what worked for him was to find the “switch” in his life, the motivating factor that pushed him to reinvent his lifestyle.

“Whatever makes you make the change is the most important thing and that takes a lot of self-reflection,” Howell said. “For me, I see it in my kids’ faces. I see it in my wife’s face.”

“When my little girl comes down the stairs and says, ‘I love you dad,’ and hugs me, that just throws me out the door to go for my run or to the gym,” he said.

Howell was urged by his high school students — whom he says do a double-take when they see him in the hallway — to post his story on Reddit. He has already received, and responded to, hundreds of comments from inspired readers since posting it Tuesday.

“You have to believe you can do it, and you can do it,” Howell said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(CARSON CITY, Nev.) — A new bill introduced in the Nevada state legislature earlier this week would allow owners to give their ailing pets medical marijuana.

Many owners across the country said it’s about time, and that “pot for pets” should be legal everywhere.

Becky Flowers, a California ranch owner, said she gave her mare Phoenix regular doses of medical marijuana for several years to help ease the pain of a degenerative joint condition. The horse could barely walk due to extreme swelling in her front legs that traditional and herbal medications didn’t seem to help, Flowers said.

“She would lay there for days and she wouldn’t eat or drink,” Flowers told ABC News.

Flowers said she considered having the animal euthanized but decided as a last ditch effort to give her some of marijuana legally prescribed to her husband who is a paraplegic. In less than an hour, the horse was up and moving, Flowers said.

Flowers began giving Phoenix about a tablespoon of medical marijuana in oil every day, she said, noting that the horse lived largely pain-free for two more years before dying in her late 20s. Since then, Flowers has given marijuana to some of her other horses and has recommended it to other horse owners as well.

Medical marijuana does show some promise for easing the pain and suffering in animals, but veterinarians and owners should proceed with caution, said Dr. Robert Silver, president of the veterinary botanical medical association.

“There needs to be a lot more research and education taking place before we introduce this to pets,” said Silver, who is a veterinarian in Colorado, a state where both medical and recreational marijuana are legal for people.

Studies show that dogs in particular react differently than humans to THC, one of marijuana’s active ingredients, Silver said. Because they have a high concentration of THC receptors in the back of their brains, they are susceptible to severe neurologic effects and toxic reactions, he added. States where medical or recreational use is legal have seen an increase in canine emergency room admissions associated with the drug, Silver said.

The American Veterinary Medical Association does not have an official stance on the use of medical marijuana with pets but suggests that vets make treatment decisions based on sound clinical judgment that stay in compliance with the law. They note that even in states where medical marijuana is legal, it is still a Class I narcotic under federal law which means vets are not legally allowed to prescribe it to their patients.

If passed, the Nevada law would allow animal owners to get marijuana for their pet if a veterinarian certifies the animal has an illness that might be helped by the drug. The proposal is in its earliest stages and faces numerous legislative hurdles before it could become law. It’s part of a larger bill that would refine the state’s existing medical marijuana law by clarifying penalties for drivers under the influence and allowing the resale of marijuana dispensaries.

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ABC/Lou Rocco(NEW YORK) — Sam Smith is the British pop star who took home awards in four big categories at the Grammy Awards last month. But Smith is also losing big, revealing Tuesday on Instagram he shed 14 pounds in two weeks.

Smith, 22, said his relationship with food has been “completely transformed” and the secret to his weight-loss success is the book Eat. Nourish. Glow. by Amelia Freer, a British nutritionist to the stars.

In an interview with ABC’s Good Morning America, Freer said she doesn’t “advocate diets.”

Instead, she proposes 10 principles by which to live, including tips such as cutting out processed foods and sugar, stocking the refrigerator with fresh produce and lean proteins and creating one healthy habit at a time to avoid failure.

“So for me the key is about it being real, getting back in the kitchen, cooking from scratch, making sure they are not relying on junk processed convenience food,” Freer said.

Smith has been vocal about his struggle to lose weight in the past. He posted on Instagram a photo of chubby younger self from elementary school and joked that he was the “vision of health.”

And during one of the “Stay With Me” singer’s acceptance speeches, he said: “Before I made this record I was doing everything to try and get my music heard, I tried to lose weight and I was making awful music.”

Now, Smith is restarting his diet. He’s posting photos of his healthy meals and workout, and sharing the steps he took to lose the weight in a short time.

“It’s not even about weight loss it’s about feeling happy in yourself,” he posted in Instagram.

His transformation has some people wondering whether his approach is safe.

“Fourteen pounds in two weeks is not alarming unless a person losing that weight has any pre-existing medical problems,” ABC News medical contributor Dr. Jennifer Ashton said. “When you talk about eating properly, people who do have weight to lose will see dramatic results.”

Freer’s book, Eat. Nourish. Glow., is available now in the U.K. The nutritionist also shares recipes, videos and tips on her website, Ameliafreer.com.

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DeAgostini/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — A tiny parasite invades a species of Irish shrimp, turning them into zombies who voraciously eat their own babies, a new British research study found.

Millions of pleistophora mulleri parasites flood into the muscles of the gammarus duebeni celticus shrimp, turning their skin milky white and giving them an insatiable appetite for their young, according to the paper published in the latest issue of the journal, Royal Society Open Science.

On their best day, the shrimp are not entirely innocent of cannibalism, the researchers noted. Even uninfected shrimp routinely feast on their own offspring. But infected shrimp are some scary scampi, scarfing down twice the number of juveniles and much more quickly than individuals who escape the parasitic invasion, the authors wrote.

The shrimps’ awful parenting skills seem to be driven by muscle damage and a demand by the parasite for more food. Snacking on their own provides an easy meal for the shrimp and satisfies the parasite’s cravings, the researchers speculated.

“Nature is filled with parasitic horror stories,” noted Clive Shiff, a molecular microbiologist with Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, who was not associated with the study.

For example, Shiff described one species of flatworm that annexes a particular species of snail, commandeering its tentacles and blinding it so it no longer tries to hide. Now easy prey, birds swoop down, biting off the mollusks’ heads. This allows the worm to develop into the adult stage inside the bird, Shiff explained.

Another parasite, known as a hairworm, targets grasshoppers, Shiff said, with the larva taking over control of the insect’s brain and nervous system. When the worm reaches adulthood it instructs the grasshopper to commit suicide by jumping into water and drowning itself. There the worm emerges to search for a mate.

The British authors stressed that their research does not suggest any link between the crustacean devastation they describe in their paper and human cannibalism — though they do point out that over 300 species practice cannibalism, including humans.

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iStock/Thinkstock(TUCSON, Ariz.) — Nothing like starting your workday off with a nice, hot, heaping cup of germs.

Coffee drinkers who bring in their own mugs to work may or may not want to hear the findings of University of Arizona microbiologist Chuck Gerba, who has earned the nickname of “Dr. Germ” because of his field of concentration.

He tested a batch of workplace coffee mugs and the bad news is that 90 percent of them were tainted with various germs.

The worse news is that Gerba also found fecal bacteria on about 20 percent of the mugs.

And the worst of the worse news is that the fecal bacteria was more common on mugs used by people that were higher up the corporate ladder.

Without trying to explain this phenomenon, Dr. Germ has some recommendations to reduce the chances of your cup turning into a petri dish. For one thing, he advised people not to leave their mugs exposed on the desk where they can turns into magnets for germs and viruses. If you’re lucky enough to have a kitchen, wash mugs with soap and hot water, minus a sponge, and dry off with a paper towel.

Even better, Gerba suggests people bring their mugs home each night to be scrubbed, preferably with a thorough wash and dry in the dishwasher.

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Hemera/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — A glass of good wine might not be enough to give anyone a hangover although several glasses of the grape might leave you with a pounding headache the next day. Which begs the question: wouldn’t it be great to enjoy wine without worrying about a hangover?

University of Illinois researchers are working on trying to figure out how to make a wine that won’t leave people feeling lousy after a little overindulgence.

Basically, they’ve come up with something called a “genome knife” to genetically alter yeast. This would potentially allow scientists to eventually make healthier versions of wine as well as decrease the toxins that leave drinkers with hangovers.

But don’t get too excited. This ideal wine is probably years away from being perfected and on top of that, researchers can’t say for sure that just by removing toxins, they can guarantee a 100 percent hangover-free experience.

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iStock/Thinkstock(COLUMBIA, Mo.) — For all you do, this dog’s for you.

There’s nothing like coming home to a mutt that’s happy to see you after a long day at the office. If it was only possible to get that same kind of unconditional affection at work when times get stressful.

Well, Dr. Paul Rosch, who heads the non-profit American Institute of Stress, says it might be the release people need since “chronic job strain can put both your physical and emotional health at risk.”

New research out of the University of Missouri-Columbia says hormonal changes for the better occur when humans come in contact with dogs.

This, in turn, seems to help people deal with some stress-related disorders and even depression.

What’s more, and this is what the boss likes to hear, it improves productivity of workers.

So what are employers waiting for? Possibly programs that deliver pets to their door such as the one initiated by the Humane Society of Broward County, Florida, that asks for a $150 minimum donation to fill the office with cats and dogs for 90 minutes.

In this way, companies do a double-good deed since the fee goes to benefit homeless animals in the county.

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Catherine Yeulet/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new study indicates early imaging may not be beneficial for older patients suffering from back pain.

Researchers followed more than 5,000 patients over the age of 65 who had an initial primary care visit for back pain between 2011 and 2013. Of those patients, 1,174 had early radiographs, while 349 had early MRI or CT scans. Researchers say that as a result of those early scans, the patients were no better off one year later than the control groups who did not receive imaging.

What researchers say they did find was an increase in cost of care for those who underwent early imaging.

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iStock/Thinkstock(OLATHE, Kansas) — Health officials reported that eight percent of the students and staff at a Kansas high school have tested positive for a tuberculosis infection.

At least 27 people out of 300 tested at Olathe Northwest High School in Olathe, Kansas, tested positive for the infection, according to a statement from the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

The testing started after an active case of tuberculosis was reported on March 5, according to the local health department.

“The number of individuals with TB infection does not exceed what we would anticipate in this setting,” Lougene Marsh, director of the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, said in a statement. “Of course, we had hoped we wouldn’t find any additional TB cases, but we knew this was a possibility.”

The 27 infected do not have active tuberculosis, meaning they are not contagious. They do not feel sick and do not have tuberculosis symptoms, according to Marsh. Not everyone with a latent tuberculosis infection will get an active infection, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students and staff will also have a second round of testing in May, since it can take eight weeks for TB bacteria to show up in testing.

Tuberculosis is caused by a bacteria called mycobacterium tuberculosis, which normally attacks the lungs but can also attack the kidneys, spine and brain, according to the CDC. It’s normally spread when a person with an active infection coughs or sneezes in the air and the bacteria particles are breathed in by someone nearby.

While a latent TB infection is usually treated with antibiotics, those with an active infection can face six to nine months of medication, according to the CDC.

Calls to Olathe Northwest High School were not immediately returned.

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