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Health Updates 19 June 2012

  • Cooling therapy for birth disorder boosts later survival: “A treatment that cools the bodies of infants who lack sufficient oxygen at birth brings benefits that last for years, a new study confirms.  Infants sometimes develop severe oxygen deficiency during the first process.  This condition – known as birth asphyxia or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy – can arise from blood loss and other complications during birth.  In severe cases, death rates can reach 50%.  Survivors often suffer from brain damage, which can lead to cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, or hearing and vision loss.  Even without detectable brain damage, children who’ve had birth asphyxia are at increased risk for learning disabilities, language delays and memory deficits later in life.  In 2005, an NIH-supported study found that a cooling treatment given to newborns with birth asphyxia reduced the risk of death and disability by ages 18 to 22 months compared to routine care.  The technique, called hypothermia treatment, involves placing the newborn on a waterproof blanket that contains cool circulating water.  The treatment reduces the infant’s temperature as low as 91.4 degrees F. and maintains it there for 72 hours.”  In the new study, researchers examined the long-term outcomes for 190 of the original study participants and found a significantly lower mortality rate in the hypothermia group compared with the usual care group.  The children who received the cooling were more likely to survive.  When survival rate and severe disability rate were combined, the cooling group had a significantly better results.  Many neonatal intensive care units  now use this approach for full-term infants who show signs of brain dysfunction from low oxygen. (NIH)
  • 18 million US cancer survivors expected by 2022: “There are now more than 13 million cancer survivors living in the United States and that number is expected to reach 18 million in just 10 years, a new report predicts.  This dramatic increase will be driven, in large part, by a combination of earlier diagnosis and better treatment of some of the most common cancers, according to the report from the American Cancer Societyand the US National Cancer Institute….Many people are surviving cancer because the number of people diagnosed with cancer is rising and because the size of this population, particularly older cancer survivors, is growing…in addition, survival for some of the most common cancers is increasing.  But, cancer survivors do have potential problems, including issues with quality of life and the need for both physical and psychological follow-up care.  ‘Cancer survival can affect one’s life long-term,’ [said study co-author Elizabeth Ward].  Cancer survivors shouldn’t feel abandoned after treatment has stopped.  People may have psychological concerns including fear of the cancer’s return.  ‘These patients are not alone.  There are lots of public and private support services available,’ Ward said….According to the research, although the rate of cancers is decreasing, the number of survivors is increasing as the population ages and grows….Other findings include:
    • About 45 percent of cancer survivors are aged 70 or older.
    • Only 5 percent of cancer survivors are under 40.
    • The average age at cancer diagnosis is 66.
    • There are more than 58,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the United States.  More than 12,000 children will be diagnosed with cancer this year.
    • 64 percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed five or more years ago.
    • 15 percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed 20 years ago or more. (HealthDay)
  • Worst summer yet for Lyme disease“The summer of 2012 may turn out to be the worst year ever for Lyme disease in the northeastern United States because of recent shifts in the acorn and white-footed mouse populations. even as researchers are making advances in the understanding and treatment of refractory cases.  Lyme disease results from the bite of a tick infected with the spirochete Borrelia burgdoferi.  It typically manifests at first with the expanding rash known as erythema migrans.  Many patients then develop a severe flu-like illness, with muscle aches, fever, chills, and lethargy.  It’s a complex ecological, molecular and immunological story.”  First, in 2010, the Northeast had the most abundant crop of acorns seen in more than 20 years.  Then, in 2011, thanks to plenty of tasty acorns for food, there came the highest population of white-footed mice seen in more than two decades – something that was great for the ticks and not so great for us.  “Tick survival is much higher when their food source is mice than if they feed on raccoons, opossums, squirrels, or birds, which are able to remove ticks during grooming.  After a dormant winter…larvae emerge between May and July, ‘and we’re right in the middle of the highest risk season for tick bites right now, and there’s a very high number of infected ticks’…”.  Treatment is available, but imperfect.  The main line of defense against Lyme disease remains tick avoidance.  Use good repellents on shoes, socks, and pant legs, and do full-body tick checks anytime you’ve been in the woods or fields.  Be very aware of any flu-like symptoms that may develop – flu is unlikely in the summer – and seek medical attention for symptoms such as fever and lethargy.  And check over pets carefully and often.   (Nancy Walsh, MedPage Today)
  • Competitors form partnership to develop autism drugs: “Two of the front-runners in the race to develop drugs to treat mental retardation and autism are joining forces, hoping to save money and get to the market sooner.  A deal, expected to be announced on Tuesday, will pool the resources of Roche, the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, and Seaside Therapeutics, a private 30-employee company based in Cambridge, Mass.  ‘This deal will establish the biggest effort to date’ in autism drugs, Luca Santarelli, head of neuroscience for Roche, said before the announcement.  Financial terms are not being disclosed.  There is rising excitement that drugs might be able to relieve some of the behavioral problems associated with autism and in particular a cause of autism and mental retardation known as fragile X syndrome.  About 100,000 Americans have fragile X syndrome.  Some parents of children being treated with new drugs in clinical trials have said they see positive changes in behavior….The mechanism that has perhaps shown the most promise, at least in mice, is in the brain by blocking a receptor called mGluR5.  Novartis is considered ahead in developing such a drug. Roche is next, having entered the midstage of clinical trials.  Seaside is further back but has patents covering the use of mGluR5 antagonists to treat neurodevelopmental disorders.”  The alliance between Roche and Seaside will pose a challenge to Novartis, sort of a number 2 and number 3 ganging up on number one type of situation.  (NY Times)
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