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Apr 30
Simple ways to tackle seasonal allergies
One sinus expert at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) said despite a late spring, the summer allergy season will be strong.

To take on the days ahead, Richard Waguespack, M.D., clinical professor and newest addition to the UAB Division of Otolaryngology, said avoidance is the best line of defense.

"When it is reasonable and consistent with your lifestyle, if you have outdoor allergies, you should stay indoors when everything is in bloom," Waguespack advised, adding that checking the pollen counts online before heading out can help with decision-making.

Other ways to battle allergies: Keep windows shut at night, use Non-sedating, over-the-counter (OTC) antihistamines like loratadine, cetirizine, or fexofenadine, a visit to the doctor.

"Visiting your family doctor or an ear, nose and throat specialist when allergies are not readily treated with OTC medications is vital for reduction of symptoms," Waguespack said.

An effective way to deal with a commonly occurring allergy issue - nasal congestion - is an inhaled nasal steroid, something a physician may prescribe when appropriate for the patient. But some symptoms may point to a bigger problem.

"Sometimes a patient can confuse allergies with a sinus infection or upper respiratory infection, which is why it`s so crucial that patients come in for a check-up - so the proper diagnosis and best treatment can be rendered," Waguespack said.
For allergies that will not respond to treatment or occur year round, Waguespack suggested that a patient discuss allergy testing with their physician to determine exact causes.

Apr 30
Drug-resistant malaria parasites found in Cambodia
Scientists have identified new drug-resistant strains of the parasite that causes malaria.

They found malaria-causing parasites in western Cambodia that are genetically different from other strains around the world.

These parasites could also withstand treatment by artemisinin - a frontline drug in the fight against malaria, the researchers found.

Reports of drug resistance in the area first emerged in 2008. The problem has since spread to other parts of South East Asia.

"All the most effective drugs that we have had in the last few decades have been one by one rendered useless by the remarkable ability of this parasite to mutate and develop resistance," the BBC quoted Dr Olivo Miotto, of the University of Oxford and Mahidol University in Thailand as saying.

As part of the study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, scientists sequenced the genomes of 800 malaria-causing parasites (Plasmodium falciparum) collected from around the world.

"When we compared the DNA of the parasites in Cambodia, they seem to have formed some new populations that we have not really seen elsewhere," Dr Miotto said.

The international team found three distinct groups of drug-resistant parasites present in the area.

The researchers said they did not yet understand what genetic mutations had occurred that enabled the parasites to withstand artemisinin treatment.

But they said that understanding their genetic fingerprint would help them to quickly spot and track these strains if they spread further.

Apr 29
Lack of sleep may reduce a man`s sperm count
Sleep problems can drastically lower the fertility among young men, a study has warned.

Scientists at the University of Southern Denmark examined nearly 1,000 men in their late teens or early 20s about to do military service gave sperm samples and answered questions about how well they slept.
Questions included how often the men slept badly and how often they found it difficult to nod off.

They were also asked if they woke up regularly during the night and if they found it difficult to go back to sleep.

The study found that those who frequently retired late, woke many times in the night or struggled to nod off in the first place; had a sperm count 25 per cent lower than those who had no trouble, News.com.au reported.

The report said that the frequency of sleep disturbances increased in the industrialised world during the past few decades, a period in which a decline in semen quality has also been reported.

The researchers explained that the men who sleep less tend to have unhealthier lifestyles and weigh more, drink more alcohol and were more often smokers.

The study has been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Apr 29
One-third of patients suffer depression after stroke
A study by Loyola University Medical Center physicians have found that about one-third of patients suffer depression following a stroke, and depression in turn increases the risk of stroke.

Antidepressant medications known as SSRIs, such as fluoxetine ( Prozac), sertraline ( Zoloft ), and escitalopram (Lexapro), are effective when given to stroke patients as a preventive measure, the physicians said.

Murray Flaster, MD, PhD, who specializes in stroke care, and psychiatrists Aparna Sharma, MD, and Murali Rao, MD, who specialize in depression are authors of the study.

Mental disorders are common after stroke. They include anxiety, irritability and agitation, uncontrollable crying, apathy, delusions and hallucinations. But the most common disorder is depression, either major or minor.

Some patients recover over time, while others move in and out of depression. For some patients, depression doesn`t develop until up to two years after the stroke.

Post-stroke depression (PSD) is linked to worse functional outcomes and increased risks of suicide and mortality.

Women are more likely to suffer PSD. Other risk factors include living alone and away from family members, higher levels of education, changes in lifestyle or marital status and degree of functional impairment. Depression, in turn, is a risk factor for stroke and stroke recurrence, even after controlling for other risk factors.

Given the severe effects of PSD, doctors should take an aggressive approach. Timing of medication may be crucial, with early treatment perhaps advantageous.

In addition to helping relieve depression, antidepressants also have been shown to improve cognitive and functional recovery. Recent evidence also shows that SSRIs are helpful in motor recovery (improved movement and coordination).

"Taken together, the available data make a strong case for the prophylactic use and effectiveness of antidepressants post stoke," the researchers said.

The finding was reported in the journal Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation.

Apr 27
Fast twice a week to live a longer life
Fasting twice a week could be the key to a longer life by slashing the risk of a host of killer diseases, a new study has revealed.

Research shows dramatically cutting the amount of calories you eat for two days can keep obesity, heart disease and diabetes at bay, the Daily Express reported.
The revolutionary weight-loss plan restricts calorie intake for 48 hours, like the 48 Hour Diet by top nutritionist Amanda Hamilton, published last week.

She shared her easy to follow plan which promises to not just shift the pounds but improve general health and mental wellbeing.

Researchers have backed her methods of intermittent fasting and say it is as effective as weight loss surgery, without the cost or risk.

The scientific review suggests fasting diets may help those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

A review published in the British Journal of Diabetes and Vascular Disease by a team led by James Brown from Aston University in the West Midlands highlights evidence from clinical trials which shows fasting can limit inflammation, improve levels of sugars and fats in your circulation and cut blood pressure.

By fasting, the body is more efficient in selecting which fuel to burn, improving metabolism.

The plan is to restrict calories on alternative days or on two specific days each week which are classed as "fasting days".

On these, women usually aim to consume less than 500 calories and men less than 600.

This type of intermittent fasting has been shown in trials to be at least as effective as counting calories every day to lose weight.

Scientists have known since the 1940s that intermittent fasting can cut the incidence of diabetes after trials on animals.

But recent studies have also confirmed that cutting calorie intake could reverse Type 2 diabetes in some people.

It could also help fight conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer`s disease.

Researchers measured improved pancreatic function and found fewer fatty deposits associated with insulin resistance present in those fasting.

Scientists say it has some cardiovascular benefits that appear similar to exercising, such as improving blood pressure and heart rate and lowering cholesterol.

Apr 27
Regular exercise may help reduce risk of liver cancer
Regular exercise may help reduce the chance of developing liver cancer, a study has said.

The research involved two groups of mice that were fed a control diet and a high fat diet, which were then divided into separate exercise and sedentary groups.

The exercise groups were made to run on a motorised treadmill for 60 minutes per day, five days a week.

After 32 weeks of regular exercise, 71 percent of mice on the controlled diet developed tumours larger than 10mm versus 100 percent in the sedentary group.

The mean number and volume of HCC tumours per liver was also reduced in the exercise group compared to the sedentary group.

EASL`s Educational Councillor Prof. Jean-Francois Dufour said that the data showed significant benefit of regular exercise on the development of HCC and exercise reduced the level of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in mice receiving a high-fat diet.

Dufour said "The results could eventually lead to some very tangible benefits for people staring down the barrel of liver cancer and I look forward to seeing human studies in this important area in the future.

"The prognosis for liver cancer patients is often bleak as only a proportion of patients are suitable for potentially curative treatments so any kind of positive news in this arena is warmly welcomed," he added.

Apr 26
Binge drinking in college can cause heart disease later in life
Regularly consuming multiple drinks in a short window of time can cause immediate changes in circulation that increase an otherwise healthy young adult`s risk of developing cardiovascular disease later in life, a new research has found.

Binge drinking is neurotoxic and our data support that there may be serious cardiovascular consequences in young adults, said Shane A. Phillips, PT, PhD, senior author and associate professor and associate head of physical therapy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

College students age 18 to 25 years old have the highest rates of binge drinking episodes, with more than half engaging in binge drinking on a regular basis. Prior studies have found that binge drinking among adults age 40 to 60 years old is associated with an increase in risk for stroke, sudden cardiac death and heart attack, but the effect on younger adults has not been studied.

Researchers looked at two groups of healthy nonsmoking college students: those who had a history of binge drinking and those who abstained from alcohol. Binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more standard size drinks (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of 80 proof spirits or 8-9 ounces of malt liquor) in a two-hour period for males and four or more standard size drinks in a two-hour period for females.

On average, the students who binge drink had six such episodes each month over four years. Abstainers were defined as having consumed no more than five drinks in the prior year.

The study found that the binge drinkers had impaired function in the two main cell types (endothelium and smooth muscle) that control blood flow. These vascular changes were equivalent to impairment found in individuals with a lifetime history of daily heavy alcohol consumption and can be a precursor for developing atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and other cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack and stroke.

Binge drinkers were not found to have increased blood pressure or cholesterol, which are well-established risk factors for heart disease; however, both high blood pressure and cholesterol cause changes in vascular function similar to what the students demonstrated.

According to the investigators, more research is needed to determine if damage caused by binge drinking in young adulthood can be reversed before the onset of cardiovascular disease and to determine the timeframe for onset of disease.

The study has been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Apr 26
First vaccine developed to help control autism symptoms
University of Guelph researchers have created the first-ever vaccine for gut bacteria common in autistic children that may help control some autism symptoms.

Brittany Pequegnat and Guelph chemistry professor Mario Monteiro developed a carbohydrate-based vaccine against the gut bug Clostridium bolteae.

C. bolteae is known to play a role in gastrointestinal disorders, and it often shows up in higher numbers in the GI tracts of autistic children than in those of healthy kids.

More than 90 per cent of children with autism spectrum disorders suffer from chronic, severe gastrointestinal symptoms. Of those, about 75 per cent suffer from diarrhea, according to current literature.

"Little is known about the factors that predispose autistic children to C. bolteae," said Monteiro.

Although most infections are handled by some antibiotics, he said, a vaccine would improve current treatment.

"This is the first vaccine designed to control constipation and diarrhea caused by C. bolteae and perhaps control autism-related symptoms associated with this microbe," he said.

Autism cases have increased almost six fold over the past 20 years, and scientists don`t know why. Although many experts point to environmental factors, others have focused on the human gut.

Some researchers believe toxins and/or metabolites produced by gut bacteria, including C. bolteae, may be associated with symptoms and severity of autism, especially regressive autism.

Pequegnat, a master`s student, and Monteiro used bacteria grown by Mike Toh, a Guelph PhD student in the lab of microbiology professor Emma Allen-Vercoe.

The new anti- C. bolteae vaccine targets the specific complex polysaccharides, or carbohydrates, on the surface of the bug.

The vaccine effectively raised C. bolteae -specific antibodies in rabbits. Doctors could also use the vaccine-induced antibodies to quickly detect the bug in a clinical setting, said Monteiro.

The vaccine might take more than 10 years to work through preclinical and human trials, and it may take even longer before a drug is ready for market, Monteiro said.

But this is a significant first step in the design of a multivalent vaccine against several autism-related gut bacteria, he said.

The groundbreaking study appeared this month in the journal Vaccine.

Apr 25
Genes that pause pregnancy discovered
Researchers, led by an Indian-origin scientist, have identified genes which help female mice and some other mammals delay the onset of pregnancy.

Unlike in humans, the remarkable ability, known as embryonic diapause, is a temporary state of suspended animation that occurs when environmental conditions are not favourable to the survival of the mother and the newborn.

A new study, published in the journal Open Biology, reveals the molecular mechanism responsible for pausing and resuming a pregnancy.

After an egg is fertilised, it forms a cluster of cells known as a blastocyst, which implants in the wall of the mother`s uterus, `LiveScience` reported.

However, in diapause, the blastocyst is prevented from implanting and preserved in an dormant state until pregnancy resumes. How this process occurred was a mystery till now.

Researcher Sudhansu Dey, from Cincinnati Children`s Research Foundation, and colleagues were studying the process of embryo implantation in mice when they noticed that a gene called MSX1 was very active just before implantation.

They began to suspect that it might play a role in diapause, Dey said.

Researchers used hormones to induce pregnancy delays in mice, mink and Tammar wallabies to investigate further. During this delayed state, Dey`s team measured how active the MSX1 gene and other related genes were in generating protein-making instructions.

They imaged tissue from the animals to see where the gene was active. Finally, they tested whether these genes were being made into proteins.

Researchers found that the MSX genes were more active when pregnancies were delayed, and found this was true for all three animals.

The results are very exciting - they show that MSX genes, which are part of an ancient family of genes, have been preserved over much of evolutionary time, and play an important role in delaying pregnancy under harsh conditions, Dey said.

Dey wants to know whether the same genes may enable delayed pregnancies in other animals and ultimately, a deeper understanding of diapause could have implications for humans.

"If we keep MSX1 maintained at higher levels in human [women], maybe we can extend the receptive phase" for fertilisation, he said, though he added that such an extension may be many years away," he said.

Apr 25
H7N9 flu `one of the most lethal`, says WHO
International experts probing China`s deadly H7N9 bird flu virus said Wednesday it was "one of the most lethal influenza viruses" seen so far as Taiwan reported the first case outside the mainland.

China has confirmed 108 cases and 22 deaths since the first infections were announced on March 31 and Taiwan Wednesday confirmed its first infection in a man who had recently returned from working in eastern China where most cases have been reported.

"This is definitely one of the most lethal influenza viruses we have seen so far," said Keiji Fukuda, one of the leading flu experts for the World Health Organization, which has led a team on a week-long visit to China to study H7N9.

Fukuda told a news conference that the H7N9 virus was more easily transmissible than the more common H5N1 strain of bird flu. Experts had previously remarked on the "affinity" of H7N9 for humans.

"We think this virus is more transmissible to humans than H5N1," he said, referring to the strain the WHO estimates has killed more than 360 people globally since 2003.

"When we look at influenza viruses this is an unusually dangerous virus," he said, but he added: "We are really at the beginning of our understanding."

Taiwanese health authorities said their first case, a 53-year-old man who had been working in the eastern Chinese city of Suzhou, showed symptoms three days after returning to Taiwan via Shanghai.

Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta told reporters the patient said he had not been in contact with poultry or eaten under-cooked birds or eggs while staying in Suzhou.

The WTO team, however, said poultry were the likely source of the H7N9 outbreak as chickens, ducks and pigeons from markets had tested positive, but nevertheless warned over the potential for human-to-human transmission.

"So far no migratory birds or their habitats have tested positive for H7N9," said team member Nancy Cox, director of the influenza division at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"At least we can now understand that the likely source of infection is poultry, the virus originates from poultry," she said.

Experts have previously said the animal reservoir for H7N9 appeared to be unspecified birds.

There are worries over the prospect of such a virus mutating into a form easily transmissible between humans, which could then have the potential to trigger a pandemic.

But a statement released by the team, which includes Chinese experts, repeated that no human-to-human transmission has been discovered.

"No sustained person to person transmission has been found," it said. "What remains unclear is whether the virus could gain the ability to become transmissible between people."

A WHO official said last week more than 50 percent of those with the virus had remembered coming into contact with birds, raising questions over how the remaining cases became infected.

Chinese health officials have acknowledged so-called "family clusters", where members of a single family have become infected, but have so far declined to put it down to human-to-human transmission.

Such cases could be examples of what health officials call limited human-to-human transmission, in which those in close contact with the ill become infected, as opposed to widespread, or "sustained", transmission.

So far most H7N9 cases have been confined to the commercial hub Shanghai and nearby provinces in eastern China.

But the number of reported new cases in Shanghai has seen a "dramatic slowdown", Cox said, calling the reduction in the frequency of new cases "very encouraging".

Tuesday marked the fourth consecutive day where no new cases were reported in Shanghai.