December 6, 2007, 7:56 PM CT
Software for detection of infectious disease outbreaks
A newly released software program will let health authorities at the site of an infectious disease outbreak quickly analyze data, speeding the detection of new cases and the implementation of effective interventions.
The program, called TranStat, was developed by a team of epidemiologists and computer researchers from the Models of Infectious Disease Agent Study (MIDAS), an international program supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build computational models for studying disease spread.
A main goal of MIDAS is to make the models developed by the scientists available to the public health community and policymakers, said Jeremy M. Berg, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the NIH component that funds MIDAS. TranStat is a great example of how MIDAS is providing tools to help communities prepare for emerging infectious disease outbreaks.
Available for free and downloadable at http://www.midasmodels.org, TranStat can be used by public health officials to systematically enter and store infectious disease data. These data include details about the infected individuals, such as their sex, age, and onset of symptoms; their close contacts; and any interventions they might have received. The program also prompts the field personnel to enter details about exposed but uninfected individuals. The system does not collect names or other personally identifying information.........
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December 6, 2007, 3:22 PM CT
Fresh-cut produce washing practices
Scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently examined the safety and quality of "wash techniques" used in the production of packaged produce. The study, reported in the October 2007 issue of HortScience, simulated washing techniques to learn more about how industry practices affect quality and safety of pre-cut lettuce.
Yaguang Luo, PhD, Research Food Technologist at the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Produce Quality and Safety Laboratory, headed the study of produce wash techniques used in the commercial preparation of pre-cut fruits and vegetables. Luo explained that recent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses linked to the consumption of fresh-cut produce underscored the importance of ensuring food safety of these packaged convenience foods.
He noted that washing the produce is an important step usually employed by the industry to maintain the quality and safety of fresh and fresh-cut produce. Previous to the study, however, little information existed about how wash operation and water re-use techniques affected the water quality, the efficacy of sanitizers on the reduction of microorganisms, or the quality and shelf life of packaged products. Luo explained: "The main objective of the research was to examine the dynamic interactions among wash operation, water quality, and sanitizer efficacy and product quality. We investigated the effect of produce washing techniques, including simulated water re-use, and the ratio between product weight and wash water volume on the water quality and effectiveness of sanitizers used to reduce microorganisms".........
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December 6, 2007, 2:55 PM CT
Miscarriage Myths Persist
More than a third of women surveyed about their beliefs surrounding miscarriage and birth defects said they thought that a pregnant woman's foul mood could negatively affect her baby.
One in four of these women thought a pregnant woman's exposure to upsetting situations could hurt her unborn child, and one in five believed excessive exercise could cause a woman to miscarry.
Despite those beliefs, relatively few of the women surveyed blamed mothers for a poor pregnancy outcome. Ten percent suggested pregnant women are responsible for their miscarriages, and 3 percent said mothers should be blamed for their babies' birth defects. Women with less formal education were more likely to hold mothers responsible for bad pregnancy outcomes.
The recent Ohio State University study points to the persistence of folklore surrounding pregnancy despite advances in medical interventions and evidence that most miscarriages and defects result from circumstances beyond a woman's control, said study author Jonathan Schaffir, a clinical assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State.
"The survey shows that a sizable proportion of the population believes maternal thoughts and actions contribute to adverse fetal outcomes - but despite these feelings, few assign responsibility to the mother," Schaffir said. "I think it's kind of amazing that people out there still believe that a pregnant woman seeing something frightening could cause her baby to have a birthmark. That was an 18th-century belief and it's still circulating, even today.........
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December 5, 2007, 8:46 PM CT
Gene that influences alcohol consumption
A variant of a gene involved in communication among brain cells has a direct influence on alcohol consumption in mice, as per a new study by researchers supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the U.S. Army.
Researchers do not know yet whether a similar gene variant, with a similar effect on alcohol consumption, exists in humans.
Known as Grm7, the gene encodes a receptor subtype that inhibits the release of glutamate and other neurotransmitter molecules that brain cells use to communicate with one another. Scientists identified a gene variant, or polymorphism, that reduces the abundance of Grm7 messenger RNA (mRNA) in brain tissue. mRNA is the molecular intermediate between a gene and its protein product. Mice that possess this gene variant drink more alcohol than do mice with higher brain levels of Grm7 mRNA. A report of the study appears as an online Article in Press in Genomics.
This is a noteworthy contribution, especially since identifying genes that predispose to alcohol-related behaviors is such an arduous task, says NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D.
Researchers have long known that genes account for a significant proportion of the risk for alcoholism. However, the fact that there are multiple such genes that interact with each other and with multiple environmental factors to influence drinking behavior has hampered studies aimed at isolating individual genes.........
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December 4, 2007, 10:40 PM CT
Waistline growth on high-carb diets
Experts have been warning for years that foods loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and other processed carbohydrates are making us fatter. Now, a University of Wisconsin-Madison study has uncovered the genetic basis for why this is so.
Writing in the recent issue of Cell Metabolism, a team led by biochemistry and nutritional sciences professor James Ntambi reports that a gene in the liver, called SCD-1, is what causes mice to gain weight on a diet laden with carbohydrates. The gene encodes the enzyme SCD, whose job is to synthesize fatty acids that are a major component of fat.
When the researchers fed a starch- and sugar-rich diet to mice lacking SCD-1 in the liver, the extra carbohydrates were broken down rather than being converted into fat and stored - keeping the mice skinny. Meanwhile, control mice with normal gene activity grew plump on the same food.
"It looks like the SCD gene in the liver is responsible for causing weight gain in response to a high-carbohydrate diet, because when we take away the gene's activity the animals no longer gain the weight," says Ntambi. "These findings are telling us that the liver is a key tissue in mediating weight gain induced by excess carbohydrates".
The results could have implications for stemming the skyrocketing obesity problem in people, Ntambi adds. He explains that people pack on pounds in two ways, one of which is to eat extra fat, which then accumulates in adipose, or fat, tissue. But the main cause of weight gain is excess carbohydrates, because they trigger the body to produce new fat.........
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December 4, 2007, 10:37 PM CT
Why do high school seniors drink?
Most high school seniors drink because they want to experiment with alcohol, some drink for the thrill of it, and others because it helps them relax. A new study finds that a fourth group of high school students share all those reasons for drinking, but they also drink to get away from problems and to deal with anger or frustration issues.
Kids with multiple reasons to drink, including reasons correlation to coping with life, show the heaviest and most problematic drinking behaviors, as per the study reported in the recent issue of Prevention Science, a peer-evaluated journal of the Society for Prevention Research. The data for the study came from 1,877 students from the national Monitoring the Future survey conducted annually.
Our study observed that for the graduating class of 2004, students who had multiple reasons to drink, including reasons correlation to coping, were also more likely to begin drinking at an earlier age, more likely to be drunk in the past year and more likely to drink before 4:00 pm, in comparison to students who drank to experiment with alcohol, to experience the thrill of drinking or just to relax, as per Donna Coffman, Ph.D., of Penn State.
It is important to know why high school seniors drink so parents, teachers and high school counselors can pay special attention to the needs of the small but high-risk group of seniors who offer multiple reasons for drinking and who also have anger or frustration issues. Research shows that drinking patterns established during adolescence are likely to continue through adulthood, as per Coffman.........
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December 4, 2007, 10:33 PM CT
Common treatments for sinus infections may not work
A comparison of common therapys for acute sinusitis that included an antibiotic and a topical steroid found neither more effective than placebo, as per a research studyin the December 5 issue of JAMA.
Acute sinusitis (sinus infection) is a common clinical problem with symptoms similar to other illnesses, and is often diagnosed and treated without clinical confirmation. Despite the clinical uncertainty as to a bacterial cause, antibiotic prescribing rates remain as high as 92 percent in the United Kingdom and 85 percent to 98 percent in the United States, as per background information in the article. Because there are no satisfactory studies of microbiological etiology from typical primary care patient practices, wide-scale overtreatment is likely occurring, the authors write. Concerns about wide-spread antibacterial use include increasing antibiotic resistance in the community. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as topical steroids are also used as a therapy and may be beneficial, but there has been limited research.
Ian G. Williamson, M.D., of the University of Southampton, England, and his colleagues conducted a double-blind randomized placebo-controlled trial to determine the effectiveness of the antibiotic amoxicillin and topical steroid budesonide in acute maxillary sinusitis (rhinosinusitis; inflammation of the nasal cavity and sinuses). The study included 240 adults with acute nonrecurrent sinusitis treated at 58 family practices between November 2001 and November 2005. Patients were randomized to 1 of 4 therapy groups: antibiotic and nasal steroid (500 mg of amoxicillin 3 times per day for 7 days and 200 g of budesonide in each nostril once per day for 10 days); placebo antibiotic and nasal steroid; antibiotic and placebo nasal steroid; placebo antibiotic and placebo nasal steroid.........
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December 4, 2007, 10:31 PM CT
Fitness level, not body fat
Adults over age 60 who had higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness lived longer than unfit adults, independent of their levels of body fat, as per a research studyin the December 5 issue of JAMA.
Prior studies have provided evidence that obesity and physical inactivity each can produce a higher risk of death in middle-aged adults. Whether this is also true for elderly adults is uncertain, as per background information in the article.
Xuemei Sui, M.D., of the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and his colleagues examined the associations between cardiorespiratory fitness, various clinical measures of adiposity (body fat) and death in older women and men. The study included 2,603 adults age 60 years or older (average age, 64.4 years; 19.8 percent women) enrolled in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study who completed a baseline health examination during 1979-2001. Fitness was assessed by a treadmill exercise test and adiposity was assessed by body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and percent body fat. Low fitness was defined as the lowest fifth of the sex-specific distribution of treadmill exercise test duration. There were 450 deaths during an average follow-up of 12 years.
The scientists observed that those who died were older, had lower fitness levels, and had more cardiovascular risk factors than survivors. However, there were no significant differences in adiposity measures. Participants in the higher fitness groups were for the most part less likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as hypertension, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels. Fit participants had lower death rates than unfit participants within each stratum of adiposity, except for two of the obesity groups. In most instances, death rates for those with higher fitness were less than half of rates for those who were unfit.........
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December 4, 2007, 10:11 PM CT
Transcendental meditation reduces high blood pressure
People with hypertension may find relief from Transcendental Meditation, as per a definitive new meta-analysis of 107 published studies on stress reduction programs and high blood pressure, which would be reported in the recent issue of Current High blood pressure Reports.
The Transcendental Meditation technique produces a statistically significant reduction in hypertension that is not found with other forms of relaxation, meditation, biofeedback or stress management.
The new meta-analysis evaluated randomized, controlled trials of all stress reduction and relaxation methods in participants with hypertension that have been published in peer-evaluated scientific journals.
Blood pressure changes for the Transcendental Meditation technique included average reductions of 5.0 points on systolic blood pressure and 2.8 on diastolic blood pressure, which were statistically significant, as per the review. The other stress reduction programs did not show significant changes in blood pressure.
Blood pressure changes linked to Transcendental Meditation practice were consistent with other controlled studies showing reductions in cardiovascular risk factors, improved markers of heart disease, and reduced mortality rates among participants in the Transcendental Meditation program.........
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December 4, 2007, 9:48 PM CT
Protein controls blood vessel formation
After an injury, the body grows new blood vessels to repair damaged tissue. But sometimes too much growth causes problems, as when new blood vessels in the eyes leak, causing diabetic retinopathy and blindness if not treated.
A protein called CIB1 discovered by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine appears to play a major role in controlling new blood vessel growth, offering a target for drug therapys to help the body repair itself after injury and control unwanted blood vessel growth.
In the future, this knowledge may help our ability to control blood vessel growth in disease situations such as wound healing, retinal diseases and diabetes, said Leslie Parise, Ph.D., senior study author and professor and chair of biochemistry and biophysics in the UNC School of Medicine.
The results will appear in an upcoming print issue of the journal Circulation Research and were published online Nov. 1, 2007. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Parises lab first discovered the protein, called CIB1 in 1997. It was originally found in blood platelets. CIB1 keeps blood platelets from sticking together, acting as a natural anti-coagulant to prevent clots that might lead to heart attacks or strokes. But further research showed CIB1 appears in almost every cell type in the body, Parise said. For example, male mice bred without both copies of the CIB1 gene are infertile.........
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