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Health News Updates 8 October 2012

  • Officials seek people exposed to a tainted drug: “As the case count continued to rise in a multistate outbreak of meningitis linked to a tainted drug, federal health officials emphasized on Friday that it was absolutely essential to find everyone who may have been exposed to the drug, which was used in spinal injections for back pain.  ‘All patients who may have received these medications need to be tracked down immediately,’ Dr. Benjamin Park, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a statement. ‘It is possible that if patients with infection are identified soon and put on appropriate antifungal therapy, lives may be saved’.  Health officials said they were concerned that some patients who initially had mild symptoms did not realize they needed medical attention.  But this type of meningitis, caused by a fungus, can become very severe, so there is an urgent need for early treatment.  Doctors urged anyone who had a spinal injection for pain in the last few months to contact a doctor if they become ill, particularly with symptoms that include a new or worsening headache, fever, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea, slurred speech or loss of balance.  The medical name for the injections is a lumbar epidural steroid injection.  Fungal meningitis does not spread from person to person.  By Friday, there were 47 cases in seven states, including five deaths — an increase of 12 cases since Thursday.  Health officials say they expect more cases to occur because the illness has an incubation period that can be a month or possibly longer.  The contaminated medicine, a steroid called methylprednisolone acetate, was still being used in the third week of September, so there may be people who are infected but have not yet fallen ill.  Doctors want to treat sick people as soon as possible…”. (New York Times)
  • Clenched hand may prevent ‘choking’ under pressure: “Simply squeezing a ball or clenching their left hand can activate certain parts of the brain that may help some athletes boost their performance in high-pressure situations, new research indicates.  For the study, German researchers tested the skills of soccer players, judo experts and badminton  players during practice and then in stressful competitions before a large crowd or a video camera.  Right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their left hand before competition were less likely to choke under pressure than right-handed players who squeezed a ball in their right hand, according  to the study published recently online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.  For skilled athletes, movements associated with their sport become automatic with little conscious thought.  When they fail to perform well under pressure, it may be because they are focusing too much (ruminating) on their movements rather than relying on their motor skills developed through years of practice, explained lead researcher Juergen Beckmann, chairman of sports psychology at the Technical University of Munich.  ‘Rumination can interfere with concentration and performance of motor tasks,’ Beckmann said in a news release from the American Psychological Association.  ‘Athletes usually perform better when they trust their bodies rather than thinking too much about their own actions or what their coaches told them during practice’.  It is already known that the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body while the left hemisphere controls the right side.  And previous research found that rumination is associated with the brain’s left hemisphere, while the right hemisphere is linked with superior performance in the automatic movements of skilled athletes.  Beckmann and his colleagues theorized that squeezing a ball or clenching the left hand would activate the brain’s right hemisphere and reduce the risk of an athlete choking under pressure….The findings could prove important beyond athletics.  For example, elderly people who are afraid of falling often focus too much on their movement.  Right-handed seniors may be able to improve their balance by clenching their left hand before walking or climbing stairs…”. (HealthDay)
  • Lab Notes: Why does that make you nauseated? “Mechanisms underlying vomiting are well-recognized, but not so for its handmaiden, nausea.  ‘Disgusted’ rats might provide clues to the origin of nausea.  The sensation of nausea appears to originate with a burst of serotonin in a specific region of the brain’s insular cortex, according to a study of ‘disgusted’ rats.  In a series of experiments, investigators showed that modulation of serotonin release and activity in the insular cortex had different effects on the rat-equivalent of nausea, a disgust reaction known as gaping.  Serotonin depletion throughout the insular cortex caused reflexive gaping.  Blocking the receptors eliminated gaping reactions.  Better understanding the processes that cause nausea could lead to more effective treatment of conditions such as chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, according to an article published in the Oct. 3 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.  ‘We know about vomiting.  The vomiting reflex is very well characterized,’ senior author Linda Parker, PhD, of the University of Guelph in Ontario, said in a statement.  ‘But the experience of nausea is something that little is known about.  How is it generated?  Where is it generated?’.” (Charles Bankhead, MedPage Today)
  • Climate linked to California ER visits: The risk of heading to the emergency room for certain conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, kidney disease and low blood pressure rises slightly as temperature and humidity increase, according to a new study from California.  Researchers also found that for a few conditions, including aneurysm and high blood pressure, higher temperatures were tied to a drop in ER visits.  ‘What we know about climate change is that heat waves in California and throughout the world are going to become more severe and more intense’, said Rupa Basu, the study’s lead author and an epidemiologist at the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.   ‘With that, we’re realizing this might implicate more health effects’  from future temperatures.  That heat waves can lead to more deaths is already known, and one recent report predicts 150,000 additional heat-related deaths will occur in US cities by 2100 because of climate change.  Basu and her colleagues looked at the relationship between heat and specific health conditions, rather than deaths, during the warm seasons in California from 2005 to 2008.  During this period, there were 1.2 million visits to emergency rooms…Basu’s team divided the state into 16 climate zones and compared emergency room visits for a variety of conditions – from a 1.7 percent rise in ER visits for heart disease to a 4.3 percent rise in diabetes visits to a 12.7 percent increase in visits for low blood pressure.  Conditions diagnosed as heat illness or heat stroke rose nearly four-fold for every 10-degree climb of the thermometer, and dehydration visits increased by 25 percent.”  The researchers theorize that these results might be explained by the body’s response to heat.  They also found certain groups of people who appeared to be more vulnerable than others to the effects of heat.  “For instance, the increased risks of heading to the ER for ischemic stroke, heart disease, kidney failure and intestinal infections were higher among Hispanics than whites….Basu said it’s important to identify who might be more susceptible to heat waves, and in what ways, so that health officials can prepare for future events.” (Reuters Health)
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