Check in with us as we feature the latest trends, research and news in medicine, health and science. A team of Star Tribune staffers will aggregate updates from news wires, websites, magazines and medical journals.

Rare respiratory illness has hit a dozen states

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 16, 2014 - 1:52 PM

The rare respiratory illness affecting children has now been confirmed in a dozen states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

The two newest states with confirmed cases: Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, which join a growing roster of states that officially have cases of enterovirus 68, a rare virus strain that can cause severe breathing problems.

Hospitals around the country are seeing an increase in the number of children dealing with respiratory illnesses. Testing has shown that many of these children are suffering from this enterovirus strain. Enteroviruses are quite common, causing between 10 million and 15 million infections each year, but this particular strain has not appeared very often since it was first isolated in California in 1962.

So far, the other states with confirmed cases are Alabama, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri and New York. There have been 130 confirmed cases, the CDC says, but the number of actual cases is likely much higher.

Public health officials continue to warn that other states are presumably going to join this list, with cases expected to be confirmed in other places where there have been clusters of children suffering from respiratory illnesses.

Read more from Washington Post.

How heroin kills

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 4, 2014 - 5:07 PM

Using heroin can kill you, but it may not be in the way you think.

Drug overdose deaths in the United States have risen steadily since 1970. Painkillers actually kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control, but heroin is still among the main killers of illegal drug users. One in 10 heroin overdoses ends in death.

In 2011, 4.2 million Americans over the age of 11 had tried heroin at least once, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. An estimated 23% of them will become addicts. And it's addicts who die more frequently than new users, studies show.

Heroin in the body turns into morphine. Morphine has a chemical structure similar to endorphins -- the chemicals your brain makes when you feel stressed out or are in pain. Endorphins inhibit your neurons from firing, so they halt pain and create a good feeling.

Morphine, acting like your endorphins, binds to molecules in your brain called opioid receptors. When those receptors are blocked, that creates a high. Most people die from heroin overdoses when their bodies forget to breathe.

"Heroin makes someone calm and a little bit sleepy, but if you take too much then you can fall asleep, and when you are asleep your respiratory drive shuts down," said Dr. Karen Drexler, director of the addiction psychiatry residency training program and an associate professor in Emory University's psychiatry and behavioral sciences department.

"Usually when you are sleeping, your body naturally remembers to breathe. In the case of a heroin overdose, you fall asleep and essentially your body forgets."

A heroin overdose can also cause your blood pressure to dip significantly and cause your heart to fail.
Studies show intravenous heroin users are 300 times more likely to die from infectious endocarditis, an infection of the surface of the heart.

Read more from CNN

Smoking banned in most U.S. homes

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: September 4, 2014 - 3:22 PM

The percentage of U.S. homes with smoke-free rules increased from 43 percent in 1992-1993 to 83 percent in 2010-2011, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the same period, the study found that among households with no cigarette smokers, the national percentage of smoke-free home rules increased from 56.7 percent to 91.4 percent. The increase was even more dramatic among households with one or more adult smokers; the national percentage of smoke-free home rules increased nearly five-fold, from 9.6 percent to 46.1 percent.

However, the fact that less than half of all households with smokers have adopted smoke-free rules is still a concern, because nearly all nonsmokers who live with someone who smokes inside the home are exposed to secondhand smoke. The home is a major source of secondhand smoke exposure, especially for children. Exposure to secondhand smoke causes more than 41,000 deaths among nonsmoking adults each year, and causes respiratory problems and SIDS among children.  
Read more from CDC.

E-cig start is linked to switch to regular cigarettes

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: August 26, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Youth who had never smoked conventional cigarettes but who used e-cigarettes were almost twice as likely to intend to smoke conventional cigarettes as those who had never used e-cigarettes, a new study shows. 

More than a quarter million youth who had never smoked a cigarette used electronic cigarettes in 2013, according to a new CDC study. That is up from about 79,000 in 2011.

Among nonsmoking youth who had ever used e-cigarettes, 43.9 percent said they intended to smoke conventional cigarettes within the next year, compared with 21.5 percent of those who had never used e-cigarettes.

There is evidence that nicotine’s adverse effects on adolescent brain development could result in lasting deficits in cognitive function.  Nicotine is highly addictive.  About three out of every four teen smokers become adult smokers, even if they intend to quit in a few years.

The CDC study was published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Read more at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Massive red tide threatens Florida

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: August 11, 2014 - 3:50 PM

The largest red tide bloom seen in Florida in nearly a decade has killed thousands of fish in the Gulf of Mexico and may pose a greater health threat if it washes ashore as expected in the next two weeks.

The patchy bloom stretches from the curve of the Panhandle to the central Tampa Bay region. It measures approximately 80 miles (130 km) long by 50 miles (80 km) wide.

Red tide occurs when naturally occurring algae bloom out of control, producing toxins deadly to fish and other marine life. The odorless chemicals can trigger respiratory distress in people, such as coughing and wheezing.

"It could have large impacts if it were to move inshore," said Brandon Basino, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). "It has been killing a lot of marine species, especially fish, as it waits offshore."

The agency has received reports of thousands of dead fish, including snapper, grouper, flounder, crabs, bull sharks, eel and octopus. This is the largest bloom seen since 2006.

The phenomenon has existed for centuries, but such a large bloom is being closely monitored in Florida because it could impact beach tourism and commercial fishing.

A smaller red tide bloom, closer to shore, contributed last year to a record number of deaths among Florida manatees, an endangered sea mammal.



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