Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Monday, June 26, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
It was the last day of high school. With one exam left to go, a group of us were sitting in the senior class hangout, some watching Netflix, some cramming for the test. I was braiding my friend Jackie Acierno’s hair. I’d gotten midway down her back when I started to feel dizzy.
I had been having similar spells for about six months, and though I’d run through the gamut of tests—ruling out low blood pressure and a brain tumor, among other things—my doctors still weren’t sure what was causing my occasional lightheadedness.
“Don’t worry. This happens to me,” I said, as I slumped onto the carpet. “Don’t call an ambulance.”
Jackie ignored my request. She immediately ordered someone to call 9-1-1 and asked someone else to go get the campus nurse. “I remember thinking: it’s better to be embarrassed for having overreacted than embarrassed for having done nothing,” Jackie says now. So when my pulse started to fade, my eyes rolling back into my head and my body completely limp, Jackie again sprung into action. Rather than wait “even five Mississippi seconds” for the paramedics to arrive, Jackie says, she started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)—something she’d learned at an EMT training class.
She sat beside me on the floor and, with one hand on top of the other, her fingers interlocked, Jackie started pumping her fists into my chest to the rhythm of, yes, “Stayin’ Alive.” It’s a form of hands-only CPR that leaves out the mouth-to-mouth part most people associate with the practice, and it’s what many major health groups encourage people to try in events such as this. Studies show it’s just as effective at saving lives, and it’s much easier to do, too.
Jackie kept at it until the school nurse, Pat Neary, made it to us with an automated external defibrillator (AED)—an electronic device that can be used to shock the heart back into action. Grasping the handles of the AED, the nurse applied a first shock to my heart. Nothing. Then she applied a second. Nothing. One more…still silence. Finally, on the fourth shock, my heart began to beat again.
By that point, a police officer was also on the scene. In the 25 more minutes it took for an ambulance to show up, they managed to keep my heart beating using only their hands. Ultimately, their quick thinking—and the CPR they performed—saved my life.
But here’s the thing: While they remain my personal heroes, there isn’t much to the physical act of performing CPR. It’s an arm workout, but it isn’t rocket science. In fact, you probably picked it up by reading through this article (but if you want a primer, read this).
What’s harder is doing what Jackie did: springing into action when someone falls to the ground. And while it may seem risky, there’s little reason to hesitate performing hands-only CPR on someone who may need it. First of all, it’s harder to break someone’s ribs than you think. And second, it’s better to risk doing unnecessary CPR than do nothing—and watch someone die.
But you have to move fast. Most experts agree that after just six minutes, a brain deprived of oxygen can be irreversibly damaged. If another four minutes go by, death is nearly certain. That means that if Jackie had waited for the paramedics, I likely wouldn’t be alive—and I’d almost certainly be brain-dead.
There are many causes of cardiac arrest—ranging from existing heart arrhythmia to being hit in the chest with a baseball. But regardless of the underlying condition, without CPR, 92% of people experiencing cardiac arrest die, and every minute that CPR is delayed, the survival rate decreases.
It’s been five years since my cardiac event, and my life feels far less fragile than it once did. After many more tests, doctors determined that my attack stemmed from a rare but manageable medical condition called hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT), and I’ve had two successful surgeries to ensure it won’t happen again.
But no matter how secure I feel, there’s rarely a day that I wake up without thinking about Jackie and how her hands saved my life.
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This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Last summer, public health experts were on high alert due to the rapid spread of the Zika virus, which has now been proven to cause birth defects and other health problems in infants. Today, experts know far more about the virus than they did at the start of the outbreak. Here’s what you need to know now about Zika.
Should pregnant women worry about Zika while traveling?
Short answer: yes. “Our general advice is that if you are pregnant, you should not go to places where Zika virus transmission is ongoing,” says Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It’s all a matter of risk. Obviously, if you are staying in an air-conditioned hotel, your risk may be less. However, are you willing to take that risk? We know the consequences of infection of the fetus are huge and lifelong.”
Petersen recommends people check the CDC website for guidance on what locations have active Zika transmission. The CDC updates this list regularly, sometimes on a daily basis. If an area is no longer on the list, Petersen says it’s considered safe to travel. Currently, the CDC recommends that if a pregnant woman or her partner travel to an area with Zika, the couple should use condoms every time they have sex or avoid sex for the rest of the pregnancy, even if they do not have symptoms of Zika.
Should women who plan to get pregnant avoid traveling to places with Zika?
Women who are planning to get pregnant, and their partners, should also pay attention to where they are traveling. The first trimester, during which women may not know they are pregnant, appears to be the most risky time when it comes to Zika-related health complications for infants down the line.
The CDC recommends that women who travel to areas with Zika who want to get pregnant in the near future wait at least eight weeks after their last possible exposure to the virus before trying to conceive. For male partners, the CDC advises waiting six months after the last possible exposure before trying to conceive. Using condoms is also recommended for the waiting period.
What if I am invited to a destination wedding in a place with Zika? Should I not go?
It may be challenging to get a firm yes or no from your doctor about whether or not you should travel for a major event, though the recommendations are not to go to places with active Zika transmission if you’re pregnant or want to be soon. “My job is to give guidance; I never tell people what to do,” says Dr. Richard Beigi, the chief medical officer of the Magee-Womens Hospital of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “But I think the travel warnings are there for a reason, and nothing has changed from last year other than the fact that we have more information that has validated that Zika causes congenital health problems. The overall risk is the same.”
Deciding to travel despite the risk is ultimately a personal decision. “I ask my patients, ‘Do you really need to go?’ For some people, the answer to that is yes, and that’s fine, and I give them the best advice I can,” Beigi says.
Should I worry about traveling to places that have the types of mosquitoes that can spread Zika?
The CDC recently reported that the types of mosquito that carry Zika, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are appearing in more counties in the southern U.S. where they haven’t been before. But unless the mosquitoes are transmitting Zika, there’s a “very, very, very low risk,” Petersen says. “In all of the places where we have this kind of mosquito that can spread Zika virus, we also see the kinds of mosquitoes that can spread West Nile and other diseases,” says Petersen. “General mosquito precautions in the summer are important for everybody—not only pregnant women.”
How likely is it that I will get Zika?
Experts can’t give a definitive answer to a person’s chances of getting Zika if they travel to a place that has reported spread of the disease. But experts are getting closer to understanding the likelihood of adverse events should a pregnant woman get infected.
A recent study found that one in 10 pregnant women in the U.S. with a Zika infection had a baby with brain damage or other serious birth defects. The first trimester was the most critical time: 15% of women with confirmed Zika infection in the first trimester had babies with birth defects. Another study found similar numbers for women in U.S. territories, revealing that during their first trimester, nearly 1 in 12 had a baby or fetus with Zika-associated birth defects.
“Out of the data collected, it appears that 5-10% of the time a woman gets Zika during her pregnancy, there will be in impact,” says Beigi. “Most of the impact is a malfunction; some of it is miscarriage. Probably the absolute risk of you having a problem is not very big, but it’s not zero, and it’s hard to know.”
How bad will Zika get in the U.S. this summer?
It’s unclear how many cases of Zika will be expected in and outside the U.S. this summer, though experts say it could be lower than last year. “Based on historical evidence, we would expect that outbreaks this year throughout the Western Hemisphere are going to be less than they were the year before,” says Petersen. “It’s not going away, but since a lot of people have already been infected and are no longer susceptible to infection, it will lower the number of cases over time.”
So far in 2017, about 650 Americans have gotten Zika, though that it is considered an underestimate. Most people do not experience symptoms and will not know they have the virus.
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Friday, June 23, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Understanding where new viruses come from is critical for preventing them from rapidly spreading among humans. When it comes to preventing the next pandemic, a new study suggests that bats may be public enemy number one.
In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers at the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance collected data on viruses known to infect mammals, which included about 600 viruses found in more than 750 species. They were then able to calculate the number of viruses from each species and identify characteristics that make the transmission to humans more likely. Living more closely to humans and being more closely genetically related to humans increased the odds of transmission.
Out of all the species assessed, bats carried the highest number of these viruses. Researchers are currently looking into why.
“A lot of people don’t realize that these viruses have been on the planet for a long time, and they are in populations of animals all around the world,” says study author Kevin Olival, associate vice president for research at EcoHealth Alliance. “What we did in this study is prioritize where we should look if we want to stop the next Ebola or Zika from emerging.”
All groups of mammals were found to carry viruses that can spread to humans, and areas around the world most at risk for carrying emerging viruses differed based on the mammal. For bats, these places are most common in South and Central America and areas in Asia. For primates, the areas with the higher risks are in Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
The study was funded as part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program, a project that seeks to identify new emerging infectious diseases that could become threatening to human health. Olival says his team hopes that scientists will use this research to identify regions and viruses to focus on for prevention efforts.
Bats don’t deserve all of the blame, however. The spreading of new diseases often involves activity from both animals and people, Olival points out.
“These diseases are not just randomly jumping into people,” he says. “We see time and time again that it is the human disturbances in the environment that are causing these diseases to emerge,” through activities like chopping down forest and hunting animals out of certain areas. “It is our interactions with these species that are causing diseases to jump.”
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Thursday, June 22, 2017
You know those people who always boast about having a perfect memory? Maybe they shouldn’t, because having total recall is totally overrated. That’s according to a new paper in the journal Neuron, which concludes that forgetting things is not just normal, it actually makes us smarter.
In the new report, researchers Paul Frankland and Blake Richards of the University of Toronto propose that the goal of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time. Rather, they say, it’s to optimize intelligent decision-making by holding onto what’s important and letting go of what’s not.
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“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world,” says Richards, an associate fellow in the Learning in Machines and Brains program.
The researchers came to this conclusion after looking at years of data on memory, memory loss, and brain activity in both humans and animals. One of Frankland’s own studies in mice, for example, found that as new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus—a region of the brain associated with learning new things—those new connections overwrite old memories and make them harder to access.
This constant swapping of old memories for new ones can have real evolutionary benefits, they say. For example, it can allow us to adapt to new situations by letting go of outdated and potentially misleading information. “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision,” says Richards.
Our brains also help us forget specifics about past events while still remembering the big picture, which the researchers think gives us the ability to generalize previous experiences and better apply them to current situations.
“We all admire the person who can smash Trivial Pursuit or win at Jeopardy, but the fact is that evolution shaped our memory not to win a trivia game, but to make intelligent decisions,” says Richards. “And when you look at what’s needed to make intelligent decisions, we would argue that it’s healthy to forget some things.”
So what does that mean for those of us who frequently forget things we just read, people we just met, and where we put our keys? For one, we should stop being so hard on ourselves, says Richards—to a certain extent.
“You don’t want to forget everything, and if you’re forgetting a lot more than normal that might be cause for concern,” he says. “But if you’re someone who forgets the occasional detail, that’s probably a sign that your memory system is perfectly healthy and doing exactly what it should be doing.”
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Especially in today’s computers-at-our-fingertips society, Richards says, our brains no longer need to store information like phone numbers and facts easily found on Google. “Instead of storing this irrelevant information that our phones can store for us, our brains are freed up to store the memories that actually do matter for us,” he says.
Richards also recommends “cleaning out” your memory system on a regular basis by doing regular gym workouts. “We know that exercise increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus,” he says. Yes, that may cause some memories to be lost, he says—“but they’re exactly those details from your life that don’t actually matter, and that may be keeping you from making good decisions.”
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