Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[News release] Astrology and celebrity: Seasons really do influence personality

Astrology and celebrity: Seasons really do influence personality.

From the 15 May 2015 University of Connecticut news release

People’s personalities tend to vary somewhat depending on the season in which they are born, and astrological signs may have developed as a useful system for remembering these patterns, according to an analysis by UConn researcher Mark Hamilton. Such seasonal effects may not be clear in individuals, but can be discerned through averaging personality traits across large cohorts born at the same time of year. Hamilton’s analysis was published in Comprehensive Psychology on May 13.

Psychologists have known that certain personality traits tend to be associated with certain birth months. For example, people born in January and February tend to be more creative, and have a higher chance of being diagnosed with schizophrenia, than people born at any other time of year. And people born in odd-numbered months tend to be more extroverted than those born in even-numbered months.

So it wasn’t unprecedented when a paper appeared in 2013 in the Journal of Social Sciences linking birth month with the likelihood of becoming a celebrity. What was unusual, though, was that one of the authors was an astrophysicist, and the paper’s introduction included an explanation of the physics behind the astrological calendar. The authors argued that astrological ‘signs’ are merely an accident of the sun’s location in the cosmos, but that analysis shows certain zodiac signs have a curious correlation with fame.

The next year, a psychologist published a paper in Comprehensive Psychology purporting to debunk the first paper’s astrological findings. The author claimed that relative age among all the children in the same school grade could explain the zodiac effect, with children who were born earlier in the year, and were comparatively more mature, having more positive experiences overall.

UConn’s Hamilton, a social scientist in the Department of Communication, was unconvinced. He had reviewed the original paper for the Journal of Social Sciences, and considered the data and analysis to be sound. So he set out to debunk the debunking, examine some of the traditional astrological explanations, and see if they could be aligned with known psychological findings.

UConn communication researcher Mark Hamilton has found a connection between season of birth and the chance of becoming a celebrity. (iStock Image)

Traditional Western astrology uses elements (water, earth, air, and fire), sign duality (bright/dark), and sign qualities (cardinal, mutable, and fixed) to describe and categorize seasonal effects on personality. It considers late December through early March as a “wet” time of year, and connects wetness with creativity, for example. “Fixed” signs are said to be more stubborn and persistent than others.

Hamilton looked at the same data from the original paper, a set of 300 celebrities from the fields of politics, science, public service, literature, the arts, and sports. He found that celebrities’ birth dates tended to cluster at certain times of the year. “Wet” signs were associated with a larger number of celebrities, as were signs classified as “bright” and “fixed”.

“Psychologists want to dismiss these astrological correlations,” says Hamilton, “but there are seasonality effects that we have yet to explain.” Hamilton is not arguing that heavenly bodies are the true source of these effects; rather that astrological aspects are just useful tools, or heuristics, that help people remember the timing and patterns of nature.

Hamilton found that relative age of children in a school cohort did have some effect on propensity to become a celebrity. Children who spend their school years slightly older than the average among their peers are somewhat more likely to become famous, perhaps because they have more early success and so have better self-esteem into adulthood.

But Hamilton found that the relative age effect was dwarfed by the effect of being born under a wet astrological sign such as Aquarius or Pisces. Being born under a fixed quality sign – Aquarius, Taurus, Leo, or Scorpio – also increased a person’s chances of achieving celebrity to about the same degree as being older than average in his or her school cohort. In addition, being born under a “bright” sign increased a person’s chances of finding fame.

Hamilton is currently working with other researchers on an analysis of 85,000 celebrities dating from 3000 B.C. to the present era. He says the seasonality effect on celebrity appears to hold true even in this large data set that stretches across millennia and cultures.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News release] E-skin and pocket-sized diagnostic machines give patients the power back

E-skin and pocket-sized diagnostic machines give patients the power back.

From the May 2015 Elsevier news release 

New bio-sensing technologies give us cheap, fast and convenient health data

Amsterdam, May 12, 2015

Wearable E-skin that can measure heart rate and blood pressure, and paper diagnostic machines the size of a credit card that can give instant readings on blood and saliva samples are two new bio-sensing technologies presented at Elsevier’s 4th International Conference on Bio-Sensing Technology in Lisbon, Portugal on 12 May 2015.

Bio-sensors can detect and analyze data to give patients information on their heart rate and blood pressure, blood sugar and hormone levels, and even test whether they are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This detection technology is a step forward in personal medicine, giving patients real-time information about how their bodies are functioning and suggesting the most suitable treatments.

Professor Anthony Turner, Head of the Biosensors & Bioelectronics Centre at Linköping University, Sweden, has developed an instrument the size of a credit card that can analyse blood and saliva samples. It is simple to use: you switch it on by pressing a button, then apply your sample to a circle in the bottom right corner and wait for a digital reading to be displayed and even sent to your mobile phone.

The whole instrument is printed on the card using a screen-printing technique. It could be used to monitor diabetes, kidney disease and heart disease, or to detect cancer. This, says Professor Turner, could turn a 2500-year-old paradigm on its head and put the power in the patient’s hands.

This means they have the potential to provide patients and doctors in developing countries with accessible, affordable medical tests. For example, the printed card could be made part of the packaging of antibiotics, helping determine which antibiotic would be best to treat a patient’s infection.

Such printable devices could also be worn like plasters or contact lenses, transmitting information to mobile phones. Similarly, e-skin devices are also designed to be wearable and portable, and to transmit data about how a patient’s body is functioning.

Professor Ting Zhang, from Suzhou Institute of Nano-Tech and Nano-Bionics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, is presenting a new kind of e-skin at the Conference. E-skin is developed based on flexible electronic technology and nanotechnology; because of its unique ability to detect tiny changes in pressure, e-skin can be used to monitor blood pressure, heart rate and wrist pulse.

….

Bio-sensing technologies are gaining momentum in areas like health, the environment and security. The conference brings together leaders from industry and academia to exchange and share their experiences, present research results, explore collaborations and spark new ideas, with the aim of developing new projects and exploiting new technology for bio-sensing applications.

—-

Presentation details:
“The Paper Potentiostat” by Professor Anthony Turner and “Flexible Nanoelectronic Skin for Wearable/attachable Health Applications” by Professor Ting Zhang are being presented on 12 May 2015 at Elsevier’s 4th International Conference on Bio-Sensing Technology in Lisbon, Portugal.

 For more information, contact Elsevier’s Newsroom at newsroom@elsevier.com or +31 20 4853564.

About the 4th International Conference on Bio-Sensing Technology
Following the success of the first 3 conferences, the 4th International Conference on Bio-Sensing Technology will continue to bring together leaders from industry and academia to exchange and share their experiences, present research results, explore collaborations and to spark new ideas, with the aim of developing new projects and exploiting new technology for bio-sensing applications. www.biosensingconference.com.

For more information go to: Elsevier Connect
http://www.elsevier.com/connect/how-printable-testing-kits-could-turn-healthcare-upside-down

– See more at: http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/e-skin-and-pocket-sized-diagnostic-machines-give-patients-the-power-back#sthash.QxvjdTSs.dpuf

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] New device provides chikungunya test results in an hour

New device provides chikungunya test results in an hour.

From the 11 May 2015 item at Entomology Today

By Ed Ricciuti

Scientists at a U.S. Army research center have modified an assay that tests whether or not a sample of mosquitoes harbors the virus responsible for the disease known as chikungunya (CHIKV), long a problem in the Old World tropics but recently established in the Americas.

…“Chikungunya” is a term used by people of the Makonde Plateau, between Tanzania and Mozambique, where the disease was discovered in 1952. It means, “that which bends up,” referring to the way arthritis caused by the disease crooks posture of the victim’s body. Symptoms of chikungunya can be as brutal as its name is to pronounce, although it is seldom fatal. Victims experience fever and pain and swelling of muscles and joints. Headache and rash may occur. The disabling impact can last for months.

Approximate distribution of Aedes aegypti (left) and Aedes albopictus in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The chikungunya virus belongs to a group known as alphaviruses, at least 30 of which can infect humans and other vertebrates, causing diseases such as equine encephalitis and a variety of rash-accompanied fevers. CHIKV is transmitted by mosquitoes of the genus Aedes, chiefly Aedes aegypti, the bane of humans in the tropics because it also carries viruses responsible for yellow fever and dengue fever. Scientists have identified three different lineages — genetically-related groups — of CHIKV linked to geographical areas: Asia, West Africa, and East/Central/South Africa. All of the lineages exist outside the geographical areas after which they are named. A member of the Asian lineage, for example, has infected people in the Americas.

Like many tropical diseases, chikungunya has been rampant in the developing world for many years, but only became the focus of intensive research after it threatened western nations. An outbreak on Reunion Island, a French Department in the Indian Ocean, during 2005 and 2006 attracted attention largely because it’s a hot tourist destination for Europeans. Perhaps not by coincidence, the first transmission from mosquitoes in the Americans occurred in December 2013, on the French half of St. Martin, and island in the Caribbean. Reported cases in the Americas have now passed 1.5 million.

It began to show up in the United States during 2014, with nearly 2,500 cases reported from 46 states. Nearly all, however, were in travelers who picked up the infection in the tropics. Eleven people on the U.S. mainland, all in South Florida, contracted the disease directly from mosquitoes in the U.S.

During 2014, more than 4,500 people in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were infected by mosquitoes, although the number may have been higher because chikungunya was not officially reportable to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention until this year. There have been 77 chikungunya cases reported this year — as of April 7, from 21 states — but all were contracted out of the country.

To date, tests for CHIKV require expensive equipment in a laboratory setting and technicians who have undergone extensive training. Not so the dipstick test. It can be done on site by a neophyte and, importantly, does not require electricity. The dipstick involved is not the kind used to check oil in an automotive motor. It’s a small strip, usually paper-like nitrocellulose, a compound that is used in gunpowder, nail polish, laboratory filter paper, and other products. On the surface of the stick are reagents that will react to CHIKV antigens if the virus is present in the test sample, which is in a liquid solution.

– Immuno-chromatographic wicking assay for the rapid detection of chikungunya viral antigens in mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae)


Ed Ricciuti is a journalist, author, and naturalist who has been writing for more than a half century. His latest book is called Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle(Countryman Press, June 2014). His assignments have taken him around the world. He specializes in nature, science, conservation issues, and law enforcement. A former curator at the New York Zoological Society, and now at the Wildlife Conservation Society, he

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , | Leave a comment

[Editorial] Medical journals should not avoid political issues that have a bearing on health

Medical journals should not avoid political issues that have a bearing on health.

From the 12 May 2015 British Medical Journal editorial

Criticism of the Israeli government does not necessarily equate with antisemitism

In April, Reed Elsevier, publishers of the Lancet, received a complaint written by Professor Mark Pepys and signed by 396 physicians and scientists, including five Nobel Laureates.1 They protested that the Lancet was being used for political purposes and for “publication of deliberately false material which deepens polarization between Israelis and Palestinians.”

The most recent example of what was termed this “political vendetta” was the July publication, during the latest Israeli assault on Gaza, of an “Open letter for the people in Gaza.”2 They wrote that the letter “contains false assertions and unverifiable dishonest ‘facts,’ many of them libellous,” and that its authors had failed to declare possible conflicts of interest. The complaint insisted that the July letter be retracted (disagreeing with the Lancetombudsman’s decision3) and that it contravened the code of the Committee on Publication Ethics (disagreeing with a former chair of the committee4). It asked for the support of all scientists and clinicians “on whom they [Reed Elsevier] depend for their business,” adding “none of us is under any obligation to submit and review material for publication in their journals or to serve on their editorial or advisory boards.”

An email chain soliciting support for this complaint was more explicit.5 In it Pepys accused the July letter of “viciously attacking Israel with blood libels echoing those used for a thousand years to create anti-Semitic pogroms” and being “written by dedicated Jew haters.” He suggested that the letter “would have made Goebbels proud” and that “anybody who was not a committed anti-Semite would firstly not have published Manduca [lead author of the July letter] and secondly would have retracted instantly when her long track record of blatant anti-Semitism were [sic] exposed.” Two days before the complaint, the title of the email chain was modified to read “DO NOT CITE The Lancet in your work—Their content includes fraudulent data.”6

The July letter included a UN estimate of the number of Gazan children killed up to that date during the Israeli bombardment,7 which the Pepys email implied was exaggerated.

Medicine cannot avoid politics

These events raise two issues. The first is the appropriateness of medical journals discussing political issues that have bearing on health, including civilian mortality and morbidity.

The second issue is the similarity between this complaint’s attempt to stifle coverage of the conflict in Gaza and previous examples of writing campaigns provoked by articles in medical journals critical of Israeli policies, including allegations of hyperbole, accusations of antisemitism, and threats of boycott.


The reports published by the UN and others all point to the need for an independent investigation into the conflict by international teams of humanitarian, arms, and legal experts to determine whether and by whom—from either side of the conflict—violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed. The effect of this war on civilian mental health, morale, and assets is magnified by the cumulative burden of still destroyed houses and livelihoods dating from previous conflicts. As a deputy editor of The BMJ has pointed out, “Future generations will judge the journal harshly if we avert our gaze from the medical consequences of what is happening to the occupants of the Palestinian territories and to the Israelis next door.

 

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Public Health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News release] Long-term study on ticks reveals shifting migration patterns, disease risks

Long-term study on ticks reveals shifting migration patterns, disease risks.

From the 11 May 2015 Indiana University news release

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Over nearly 15 years spent studying ticks, Indiana University’s Keith Clay has found southern Indiana to be an oasis free from Lyme disease, the condition most associated with these arachnids that are the second most common parasitic disease vector on Earth.

He has also seen signs that this low-risk environment is changing, both in Indiana and in other regions of the U.S.

A Distinguished Professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Biology, Clay has received support for his research on ticks from over $2.7 million in grants from the National Science Foundation-National Institutes of Health’s Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program and others.

Tick infographic

Clay’s lab has found relatively few pathogens in southern Indiana ticks that cause common tick-borne diseases compared to the Northeast and states like Wisconsin and Minnesota.

But Lyme disease has been detected just a few hours north of the region around Tippecanoe River State Park and Lake Michigan’s Indiana Dunes, and Clay said the signs are there that new tick species, and possibly the pathogens they carry, are entering the area.

“Just in the past 10 years, we’re seeing things shift considerably,” Clay said. “You used to never see lone star ticks in Indiana; now they’re very common. In 10 years, we’re likely to see the Gulf Coast tick here, too. There are several theories for why this is happening, but the big one is climate change.”

A vector for disease

The conclusions are drawn from years of work spent mapping tick boundaries and disease risks, but the exact cause of the shifting borders is not clear. In addition to changing temperatures, Clay references changes in animal populations, including deer, which provide large, mobile hosts for the parasites.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | environmental health | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[News article] Why excess iron can be dangerous

Why excess iron can be dangerous.

From the 15 January 2015 article at The Conversation

Campaigns tell us to eat red meat to keep our iron levels up – but what if we have too much? tarale

Many people are aware that low levels of iron in their body can lead anaemia, with symptoms such as fatigue. But few realise that too much iron can result in a potentially fatal condition.

Normally, if we have enough iron in our body, then no further iron is absorbed from the diet, and our iron levels remain relatively constant.

But the body also has no way of excreting excess iron. In a condition called hereditary haemochromatosis, the most common cause of iron overload, the mechanism to detect sufficient iron in the body is impaired and people can go on absorbing iron beyond the normal required amount.

Untreated, haemochromatosis can result in scarring to the liver (cirrhosis), liver cancer, damage to the heart and diabetes. These problems are the result of excess iron being deposited in the liver, heart and pancreas. Haemochromatosis can also cause non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, loss of libido and arthritis. In some, it results in a shortened lifespan.

The most common cause of hereditary haemochromatosis is a mutation received from both parents, in a gene called HFE.

Around one in every 200 Australians of European heritage have a double dose of this gene fault and are at risk of developing the disorder. Haemochromatosis is much less common among people who aren’t of European ancestry.

Approximately 80% of men and 60% of women who have inherited this gene fault from both parents develop high iron levels. And of those who do, up to 40% of men and 10% of women will develop health problems.

Diagnosis

Actual blood iron levels are generally normal in those with haemochromatosis, as excess iron in the body is stored in tissues like the liver. So haemochromatosis is diagnosed by testing blood iron indices called transferrin saturation and serum ferritin levels.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News | | Leave a comment

[News release] Miscarriage misunderstood, often leaves women with guilt

Miscarriage misunderstood, often leaves women with guilt.

May 8, 2015

By Tara Haelle
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, May 8, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Misconceptions about miscarriages are common, and those mistaken beliefs can make the experience even more painful for those who suffer through it, a new survey reveals.

More than half of the 1,000 adults who responded to the survey incorrectly believed miscarriages are rare, and many thought they could occur for reasons that actually don’t affect miscarriage risk at all.

In reality, miscarriages are not that uncommon, yet almost half of those women who have suffered a miscarriage have felt guilt and a sense of isolation about what happened, the researchers said.

“A striking finding from the study is the discrepancy between what medicine and science teach us about miscarriage and what people believe,” said study co-author Dr. Zev Williams, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

“Miscarriage seems to be unique in medicine in being very common yet rarely discussed, so that you have many women and couples feeling very isolated and alone,” Williams said.

Another expert was also disturbed by the findings.

“I was surprised to learn how much false information our patients have, and how this information led the patients in the study to feelings of guilt and remorse,” said Dr. Iris Dori, medical director at the Center for Women’s Health at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City.

Among the respondents — roughly half women and half men — 15 percent reported that they or their partner had experienced at least one miscarriage.

But over half of the respondents believed miscarriages occur in less than 6 percent of all pregnancies. Men were more than twice as likely as women to think miscarriages were rare, the survey found.

Most of the adults (74 percent) correctly believed that genetic or medical problems most often caused miscarriages, but they also incorrectly believed in other causes, the investigators found.

http://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-05-miscarriage-misunderstood-women-guilt.html

May 17, 2015 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

[News release] WSU ecologist warns of bamboo fueling spread of hantavirus

WSU ecologist warns of bamboo fueling spread of hantavirus.
(Mack stresses that a bamboo-mouse-hantavirus outbreak is only a possibility)

From the 7 May 2015 news release

By Eric Sorensen, WSU science writer

deer-mouse-Wikimedia-from-Seney-Natural-History-AssociationPULLMAN, Wash. – Washington State University researchers say the popularity of bamboo landscaping could increase the spread of hantavirus, with the plant’s prolific seed production creating a population boom among seed-eating deer mice that carry the disease.

Richard Mack, an ecologist in WSU’s School of Biological Sciences, details how an outbreak could happen in a recent issue of the online journal PLOS One (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0124419).

Prolific seed cycles

Bamboo plants are growing in popularity, judging by the increased number of species listed by the American Bamboo Society. Some grow in relatively self-contained clumps, while other so-called “running bamboos” can spread rapidly by underground stems called rhizomes, making them difficult to contain.

Bamboo-Wikimedia-by-Rana-Anees
Bamboo. (Wikimedia photo by Rana Anees)

They have extremely intermittent flowering cycles but when they flower, or mast, they produce huge amounts of seed over as many as 18 months. During that time, deer mice can undergo several reproductive cycles. When the seed is gone, the mice will go looking for new food sources in and around human homes and other dwellings.

More than one in 10 deer mice carry hantavirus, which is spread through contact with their urine, droppings or contaminated dust. People who catch the disease typically have a few days of flu-like symptoms followed by respiratory and pulmonary complications. Roughly one in three cases is fatal, according to the state health department.

Quarantine changes recommended

Mack stresses that a bamboo-mouse-hantavirus outbreak is only a possibility but notes that such a rapid spread and increase in abundance of a non-native plant bears similarities to other biological invasions. Some imported bamboos would do well in the Northwest’s coniferous forests, and deer mice in the bamboos’ naturalized range can breed year-round.

As a precaution, Mack is recommending a change in U.S. and Canadian plant quarantine policies to eradicate aggressively spreading non-native bamboo on public lands, as is already the practice in U.S. national parks. He also suggests that regulators consider evaluating bamboo plants’ flowering intervals and seed palatability before letting them into the U.S.

May 17, 2015 Posted by | environmental health | , , | Leave a comment

   

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