Archive for May, 2009

Genetic Link Found Between Gum Disease and Heart Disease

Teeth and gumsA genetic link between a severe form of gum disease (periodontitis) and heart disease has been found by German researchers. The association between the two diseases has been known for years, but a genetic connection hadn’t been confirmed until this most recent discovery. 

Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth and is a major cause of tooth loss in adults. Because gum disease is usually painless, you may not know you have it.

Periodontal disease is caused by plaque which is a sticky film of bacteria that constantly forms on the teeth. The bacteria create toxins that can damage the gums.

Gingivitis is the early stage of periodontal disease. In this stage, the gums can become red, swollen and bleed easily. At this point, the disease is still reversible and can usually be treated by daily brushing and flossing.

Periodontitis is the more advanced stage of periodontal (gum) disease when the gums and bone that support the teeth can become seriously damaged. The teeth can become loose, fall out or have to be removed by a dentist.

Early preventive measures are very important when it comes to taking care of your teeth and gums.   Brushing at least twice daily and flossing once daily, are important steps to protect your teeth and gums. Regular visits to the dentist are essential to monitor for tooth decay as well as to detect any other serious conditions such as periodontitis.  Eating a well-balanced diet is also important.  Choose a variety of foods from the basic food groups, such as whole-grain breads, cereals and other grain products; fruits; vegetables; meat, poultry and fish; and dairy products, such as milk, cheese and yogurt.

Healthy gums are firm and pale pink. If you chronically have bad breath or your gums are puffy, dusky red and bleed easily, or show other signs or symptoms of periodontitis, see your dentist right away. The sooner you see receive dental care, the better your chances of reversing damage from periodontitis and preventing other serious health problems.

Source: European Society of Human Genetics, news release, May 25, 2009
Source:  American Dental Association, ADA.org: Gum Disease (Periodontal Disease)
 

 

Almonds May Improve Immune Health

AlmondsAlmonds appear to enhance immune health and reduce inflammation, according to researchers  from the Institute of Food Research, Norwich, UK.  The results of their research were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Philadelphia.

Almonds have also been found to be a high-fiber food and are quite heart healthy.  They’re a good snack with a lot of nutrition packed into a convenient package.  About a handful of almonds provides an excellent source of vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, monounsaturated fat, protein, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and iron.

Source: Institute of Food Research, Norwich, UK, May 2009

Ginger Relieves Nausea Due to Chemotherapy

Ginger Half a teaspoon of ground ginger a day can significantly reduce the nausea associated with chemotherapy, according to researchers from the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine.   In a recent randomized controlled trial, researchers found that ginger reduced nausea by 40%, when taken along with standard antinausea medications, in patients undergoing chemotherapy.

In the study the participants took the spice in capsules, but it should “theoretically” also work in cookies or soft drinks — as long as the ginger flavor isn’t artificial. The optimal dose of ginger was 1.0 gram per day in this trial, which is equivalent to about half a teaspoon of ground ginger, dried or fresh. 

The rhizomes and stems of ginger have had significant roles in Chinese, Japanese, and Indian medicine since the 1500s.  In the U.S., ginger tea and ginger ale, has long been used as a folk remedy for upset stomach and diarrhea.  It is also frequently found in over-the-counter digestive products, as well as antitussive, antiflatulent, laxative, and antacid products.   

The herb is believed to affect receptors in the digestive tract for the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is the action similar to conventional antinausea drugs, according to the leading researcher Dr.  Suzanna Zick. “Ginger has been shown to be effective in a number of clinical trials against nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, pregnancy, and postoperative recovery,? said Dr. Zick in an article on the website of the National Cancer Institute. Some researchers discourage large doses of ginger during pregnancy, however, due to concerns about mutations or abortions.

Caution: Ginger can be a problem for those on the anticoagulant warfarin (Coumadin). The herb increases the anticoagulation of Coumadin which could increase the bleeding risk.

Source: “ASCO: Ginger Eases Chemo-Related Nausea”, MedPage Today, May 14, 2009
Source: “ACP: Garlic, Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba, and Ginger All Bad Actors with Coumadin”, MedPage Today, April 9, 2006

 

Swine Flu Outbreak Prompts More School Closings

School blackboardA new flareup of the swine flu virus has recently struck New York city schools, sending an assistant school principal to the hospital in critical condition. He apparently had an underlying condition that may have worsened his illness, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.  The city has closed three schools because of “unusually high levels” of flu-like illness, according to the mayor.  There have been a total of 320 students reporting illness.

As of today  at 11am, the CDC reports 4,714 confirmed or probable cases of swine flu in 47 states and the District of Columbia.  There have been 4 deaths attributable to swine flu. 

There is still “great uncertainty” about how the H1N1 flu outbreak will evolve, the director-general of the World Health Organization has recently stated. 
 
Source: “WHO Head Says H1N1 Outbreak Not Over”, MedpageToday, May 15, 2009
Source: “H1N1″, CDC, May 15, 2009

Bad Dreams Help Us Deal with Unpleasant Emotions

A woman asleepBad dreams are extremely common. In fact, studies show that most of our dreams are not happy ones. Unpleasant dreams may be the brain’s way of helping us process our stressful thoughts and emotions, according to researchers from Yeshiva University in New York. 

Emotional regulation may be the primary function of REM sleep, the sleep stage during which most dreams occur. In a typical dream, bits of our memories “get thrown into a room together and jumbled around,” the researchers say.  This puts the memories in a new context and diffuses the fear attached to them.

On the other hand, a nightmare may occur when that emotion-regulating process goes wrong.  With nightmares, the dreamer wakes up, disrupting normal emotion processing.  Waking up is a relief for the moment, but it interrupts the brain’s self-regulating process and may ultimately serve to “reinforce” the feeling that the threat was real, according to the researchers.

Most people have the occasional nightmare, particularly during stressful times.  But people who tend to have trouble with anxiety in response to stress are more prone to have recurrent nightmares. Also, some people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder tend to have trouble with repeated nightmares.  Their terrifying and bizarre nightmares may lead to more distress in waking life, which may in turn spur more nightmares, the researchers point out.

The good news is that there is help for those who suffer from repeated nightmares.  It’s been found that while awake, the person can imagine the dream and then voluntarily change the context or the outcome.  In some studies, the person changes the scenario of a recent nightmare any way he or she wishes, writes down the improved version, then mentally rehearses it in a relaxed state.  This technique, called imagery-rehearsal therapy, has been proven to be highly effective.  

Source: Current Directions in Psychological Science, April 2009.
Source: “Imagery Rehearsal Can Control PTSD-Related Nightmares”, Psychiatric News September 21, 2001
 

 

Swine Flu Cases Continue to Spread

Woman looking through microscopeThe CDC reports 2532 cases and 3 deaths, as of May 10, 2009 at 11am. 

In Florida, there are now 20 probable cases of swine flu, but only five confirmed cases.  Pinellas County has 1 confirmed case and Hillsborough County has six probable cases. Florida state health officials have set up a hot line where citizens can call for more information and learn about acquiring masks and antiviral medication.

Source:  CDC, May 10, 2009
Source: St. Petersburg Times Online, May 10, 2009

 

Why this Swine Flu Outbreak is Concerning

Pig farmThe virus that caused the widespread epidemic of 1918 is thought to be caused by a swine flu virus. It was the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history and was caused by an exceptionally virulent strain of the flu which infected 28% of all Americans and a fifth of the world’s population.  During the worst of the epidemic, the virus moved quickly, killing young and healthy people within hours of the onset of symptoms.   Although the current outbreak is also due to a swine flu virus, so far this particular circulating strain lacks certain features that would make it extremely virulent.  However, experts are concerned that it could still mutate and change to a more virulent strain. 

Another concerning feature of this swine flu outbreak is that the virus appears to not only be jumping from pigs to humans and back to pigs, but it appears to be efficiently spread in the new population of humans. This suggests that the virus is not going to fade away, according to experts.  The last time a swine flu jumped to human and was efficiently spread in the new host was in 1918.

This is a virus that “no one in the population has seen before and therefore everyone is immunologically vulnerable, “  Chris Smith, a flu virologist at Cambridge University in England, recently told the Associated Press.   ”Therefore it’s highly likely that once it starts to spread, people will catch it. And since the majority of the world’s population are in contact with one another, you’re going to get quite a lot of spread.”  Up to 2 billion people could be infected by swine flu if the current outbreak turns into a pandemic lasting two years, the World Health Organization said today.  This is one-third of the world’s population which is consistent with the historical record of flu pandemics.   Independent experts agreed that the estimate was possible.

Another dangerous characteristic of this swine flu outbreak is that the median age of hospitalized individuals with swine flu is 15, which is younger than occurs with regular seasonal flu, said Dr. Richard Besser, during a news conference on May 6th.  This is a concerning fact that scientists will be watching.

 At this point in early May, it has already moved into the southern hemisphere. Suspect cases have been reported in Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand, where the flu season is just beginning.  The virulence of the swine flu may well reveal itself during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, according to Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Scientists will be watching this virus closely to see whether it disappears as the swine flu scare did in 1976, becomes the dominant flu strain, or mutates into a deadlier illness that returns to the Northern Hemisphere and causes a pandemic in the fall similar to that of 1918.

Source: “Swine H1N1 Transmission From Human to Swine“, Recombinomics, Commentary 07:10, May 3, 2009
Source: Journal of Virology, May 2009
Source: “Swine Flu Travels to Poland as 1,893 Confirmed Ill”, Bloomberg.com, May 7, 2009 
Source: “WHO says up to 2B people might get swine flu “, Associated Press, May 7, 2009

 

 

How Many People are Infected with the Swine Flu?

MicroscopeToday the CDC reports 896 confirmed cases and 2 deaths in the U.S., but this is far from the whole story. 

In the U.S., state labs have been struggling with huge backlogs of untested flu samples.  The Texas State Lab, for instance, currently has tested only 13 percent of the 6,677 samples received. Test kits were finally delivered May 5 to laboratories in all 50 states and Puerto rico. The test kits were shipped internationally as well. This increase in testing capacity is likely to result in a sudden increase in the number of reported confirmed cases in this country, which should provide a more accurate picture of the extent of the spread.

The virus does appear to be spreading with ease.  In two weeks, swine flu jumped from isolated reports in the U.S. and Mexico to a widening circle of infections in Central America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand.  The WHO is on the verge of declaring a pandemic.  In fact there is significant concern that the “swine flu may affect at least one-third of the world’s 6 billion population within the next year”, said Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general of health, security and environment, in a video broadcast today. 

Source: “Swine Flu Travels to Poland as 1,893 Confirmed Ill”, Bloomberg.com, May 7, 2009
Source: Source:  “Reporter tries to get tested for swine flu“, Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2009

Full Extent of Swine Flu in U.S. is Not Known

Laboratory testing of swine flu is inadequate in the U.S. The ongoing outbreak of swine flu (H1N1) continues to grow in the United States and internationally.  Currently the CDC continues to report only 400 cases confirmed, with another 700 probable cases in 44 states.   But does the CDC’s running tally truly represent the number of swine flu cases in existence? 

Apparently not.  Some state labs are ramping up testing but reports are surfacing that authorities are far from having enough resources to test everyone.  In fact some labs are limited to testing as few as 2 swabs per day while the remaining specimens are put on hold, adding to the backlog of untested samples.  The Federal Government is working to expand capacity for testing around the country, but at this point the full extent of the outbreak is not being reported.

The Federal Government and manufacturers have begun developing a vaccine against the H1N1 swine flu virus.  Making a completely new influenza vaccine can take five to six months, according to the WHO.

Source:  “Reporter tries to get tested for swine flu“, Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2009
Source: CDC Press Briefing May 5, 2009 1:30pm

Could the Swine Flu be Worse than the Bubonic Plague?

The 1918 flu epidemic killed millions of peopleYes it could, although the good news is the outbreak appears to be declining, and right now it doesn’t contain the features seen in much more severe flu strains.   

The bad news is the H1N1 virus could return with a vengeance in the Fall, as the deadly Spanish flu did in 1918. It started with milder cases in the spring, seemingly disappeared over the summer, and then returned as a much more virulent and deadly strain in the fall.  In the Northern hemisphere, the weather is most conducive to the usual seasonal flu virus during the winter months.  Thus the virus tends to disappear by April and re-emerges in November.

The 1918 pandemic is cited as the most devastating epidemic in recorded world history. It was caused by an exceptionally virulent strain of the flu which eventually infected 28% of all Americans and a fifth of the world’s population.  It claimed the lives of 20 million to 50 million people worldwide.  More died of influenza in a single year than in four-years of the Bubonic Plague. 

The flu of 1918 was most deadly for people ages 20 to 40, which was different than the usual pattern of morbidity for the seasonal flu which is usually a killer of the elderly and young children.  The influenza virus of 1918 ”had a profound virulence, with a mortality rate at 2.5% compared to the previous influenza epidemics, which were less than 0.1%. The death rate for 15 to 34-year-olds of influenza and pneumonia were 20 times higher in 1918 than in previous years (Taubenberger).” (virus.stanford.edu/uda/) 

In 1918, “People were struck with illness on the street and died rapid deaths. One anectode shared of 1918 was of four women playing bridge together late into the night. Overnight, three of the women died from influenza (Hoagg). Others told stories of people on their way to work suddenly developing the flu and dying within hours (Henig). One physician writes that patients with seemingly ordinary influenza would rapidly ‘develop the most viscious type of pneumonia that has ever been seen’ and later when cyanosis appeared in the patients, ‘it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate,’ (Grist, 1979). Another physician recalls that the influenza patients ‘died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth,’ (Starr, 1976).” (virus.stanford.edu/uda/)

On the other hand, the past two pandemics - in 1957 and 1968 - were relatively mild. This flu could be a catastrophe as in 1918 or it could fizzle out as in 1957 and 1968.  Nobody knows, but they do know preventive measures, such as getting a flu shot and frequent handwashing, make a huge difference.  The CDC says that ’the genes of all of the viruses we have examined to date are 99 to 100 percent identical. This means that it will be somewhat easier for us to produce an influenza vaccine.”

Also, avoid the numerous scams that are surfacing in an attempt to take advantage of the current concern over the flu.  The U. S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission warned consumers Friday to avoid Internet sites and other promotions that offer products claiming to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure the swine flu virus. 

Read more About Influenza and How to Prevent It

Source: CDC, May 4, 2009
Source: Stanford online, http://virus.stanford.edu/uda/