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Current News in Health

Medicare and Dental Care

Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are age 65 or older or who have disabilities (i.e. Medicare insures the elderly and the disabled, who are also known as Medicare beneficiaries). Medicare covers a wide range of healthcare services like hospital stays, hospice care, and doctor visits. Without it, Medicare beneficiaries, who tend access healthcare more often than other Americans, would have to pay a lot for healthcare.
However, Medicare doesn't cover dental care. Most Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay out-of-pocket for dental checkups, dentures, and teeth extraction, all of which are expensive procedures. To avoid this, tens of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries go to Mexico every year for dental care, which costs much lower than dental care in the United States.
Almost one in five of America's elderly (65 years and older) have lost all their teeth. Half of Medicare beneficiaries have periodontal disease (infection of structures around their teeth, e.g. their gums). Yet, they're unable or hesitant to seek out expensive dental care.

FDA OKs 23andMe home breast cancer DNA test, with warning

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved an at-home test that consumers can buy to assess their risk of developing breast cancer. This test, provided by 23andMe, can be obtained without a prescription. Consumers simply need to collect a saliva sample, and the reports will show whether females will have an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer, or whether males will have an increased risk of breast or prostrate cancer. Although this test will aid in the early detection or awareness for the risk of breast cancer, the FDA and National Society of Genetic Counselors warn that this should not replace the need to see a professional for screenings. This test only detects three mutations of the thousands that could cause breast cancer, and having a negative result does not mean that a consumer will not be at risk. The FDA will be setting up special controls to ensure the tests' safety and accuracy.

From: NBC

Hot tea is linked to esophageal cancers in smokers, drinkers

In a recent study published by the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers found that drinking "hot" or "burning hot" tea correlated to a 2 to 5-fold increase in esophageal cancer in those who either smoke or drink alcohol. As the eight most common cancer in the world, esophageal cancer is thought to occur through repeated injury to the esophagus which can be caused commonly by smoke, alcohol, acid reflux, and now hot liquids. This 9.5 year study had participants drink tea on a weekly basis and discovered that the increase to cancer is only for those who smoke or drink. It is thought that very temperate drinks makes the esophagus more vulnerable and could irritate the lining which leads to increase inflammation and more rapid turnover of the cells.

From: CNN

New antibiotic family discovered in dirt

Scientists at New York's Rockefeller University have found a new family of antibiotics in soil called malacidins. Initial tests in rats show that malacidins are effective in treating several bacterial diseases, such as MRSA, that are resistant to other types of antibiotics. Researchers are hopeful that this discovery will offer hope in the antibiotics arms race as drug-resistant diseases are one of the biggest threats to global health. Other researchers, however, are still skeptical as malacidin only treats gram-positive bacterial diseases, leaving gram-negative diseases, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and other increasingly antibiotic resistant diseases, unaffected.

From: BBC

How loud noise exposure is linked to heart disease

Studies over the years have shown a link between high decibel levels and high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stroke, and heart failure. Researchers state that noise induces stress responses and drives metabolic abnormalities, which can eventually lead to vascular damage. Chronic noise is not only annoying, but it constantly puts the body on alert by forcing the sympathetic nervous system to dominate. So you may consider getting some noise-canceling headphones!

From: TIME

This blood test may be able to detect 8 types of cancer, study says

An experimental blood test called CancerSEEK has recently been developed that can detect the presence of early-stage tumors in the ovary, liver, stomach, pancreas, esophagus, colorectum, lung, and breast.  This case-controlled study was published last week in the journal Science, and the test could potentially cost less than $500.  The sensitivity of the test varies for different cancers; it was 98% accurate in detecting ovarian cancers, but only 33% effective in detecting breast cancer.  Although this study shows promising results, more research still needs to be done before it could be a widely used diagnostic treatment.

From: CNN

This year's awful flu season, mapped

If you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, you may want to consider getting it. The flu is widespread in nearly every state, with 32 states reporting high flu patient traffic in outpatient clinics. Furthermore, over 90% of flu cases involve the H3N2 strain, which hits people harder than other seasonal strains. While the flu vaccine is generally only 33% effective against the H3N2 strain, it can reduce your risk of hospitalization and prevent other infections.

From: Vox

The Horses on Standing Rock Get a Checkup

Volunteer veterinarians from the Rural Veterinary Experience Teaching and Service program and the University of California, Davis, provided care to horses in North Dakota at the Standing Rock Reservation. Care delivered included trimming hooves, treating wounds, and gelding stallions. The director of the program hopes that the experience provided his students a glimpse of rural practice and that their visit inspired the youth at the reservation to pursue veterinary medicine.

From: New York Times

Here's a new reason you should worry about Antibiotics

A study in mice recently showed that not only does frequent antibiotic use increase resistance, but it can also increase the risk for developing colitis, a type of inflammatory bowl disease (IBD). Researchers found that the effects antibiotics had on bacteria in the gut and other areas in mothers were also passed down to their offspring.

From: TIME

FDA approves pill with digital tracking device you swallow

A new form of medication has just gained approval by the US Food and Drug Administration where a built-in digital tracking device is now incorporated into a pill. The first pill to have this embedded ingestible sensor is called Abilify MyCite (a form of aripiprazole) and was made by the Japan-based Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. The pill is to treat schizophrenia, bipolar I disorder and depression in adults. The idea of this new form of pill is meant to improve a patient's compliance with their medication regimen. The way that this works is that the Abilify MyCite system sends a message from the pill's sensor to a patch worn on the patient's skin. When the pill comes into contact with the fluids and contents of the stomach, the sensor will activate and communicate to the patch that the medication has been taken.

From: CNN Health News

Experimental technology can 'smell' disease on your breath

An experimental technology called the "Na-Nose" is able to identify 17 potential diseases with an 86% accuracy, according to researchers. These diseases include Parkinson's disease, various cancers, kidney failure, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease. It is able to diagnose diseases by distinguishing the chemical signature of each disease from our own unique chemical "fingerprints". Several companies have licensed this research to develop a commercial product, although with further testing and regulation requirements it is not a product that will be coming to market anytime soon. If developed, it would be a non-invasive screening procedure that is equal, if not better, than current invasive procedures.

Don't accidentally overdose on black licorice this Halloween, the FDA warns

If Halloween is your excuse for endlessly indulging in candy (and of course it is), go slow on the black licorice.  The reasoning? Too much of the old-fashioned favorite can cause health problems such as irregular heart rhythm, especially in people over 40.  Black licorice contains a sweetening compound called glycyrrhizin, which can cause a drop in potassium levels. With low levels, some people might experience high blood pressure, swelling and even congestive heart failure, the FDA says.

Stress may harm gut health as much as junk food

In a recent study, researchers have induced stress in female mice and found physiological changes in their gut microbiota. The gut microbiota contains a community of microorganisms in the intestine. It is a common idea that stress can have negative implications on our emotional, physical and mental health and can appear in different forms such as work pressures, relationship problems, etc. The new study has found that these negative implications also affect the health of our gut microorganism. In order to test the correlation between stress and our gut health, researchers tested a large group of male and female mice where half of each sex were fed a high-fat diet while the other had a standard diet. Both groups were subjected to mild stress. In the end, researchers concluded that stress had induced significant changes to the gut microbiota of the mice for both diets.

From: Medical News Today

NIH researchers uncover drain pipes in our brains

The lymphatic system acts as our body's sewage system, transporting waste products such as cells, viruses, bacteria, and excess fluid from from our tissues to the blood stream for filtration and excretion through the kidneys. Lymphatic vessels are involved in this transport system and play an important role in the immune system. Modern studies had not reported presence of lymphatic vessels in the brain until recently. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found evidence of lymphatic vessels in the meninges of the human brain using MRI techniques. These findings may provide insight on diseases and disorders pertaining to the immune system, such as multiple sclerosis.

From: National Institutes of Health

DOI: 10.7554/eLife.29738

Gene editing could make wheat bread safe for celiacs

Celiac disease is a genetic autoimmune disorder in which the consumption of gluten triggers an immune response that attacks the small intestines.  Researchers at the Institute for Sustainable Agriculture in Spain are developing strains of wheat that do not produce the forms of gluten that trigger an immune response for people with celiac disease.  Using CRISPR gene editing, scientists have successfully disabled 35 of the 45 copies of problematic genes.  Currently, the genetically modified wheat has reduced immunoreactivity by 85% in patients.

From: Fox News Health

Water Contamination After Hurricane Harvey

On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey hit southeast Texas and flooded several communities. Environmental health experts tested the floodwaters of neighborhoods where Hurricane Harvey had destroyed waste treatment plants. They confirmed the presence of fecal bacteria and poisonous metals in flooded kitchens, living rooms, and streets. Residents returning to drain and rebuild their inundated homes were warned that they were at a high risk of infection.

From: New York Times

Every Childhood Vaccine May Go into a Single Jab

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed microscopic, vaccine-storing particles that can release an initial dose and booster shots at specific times. With these particles, the large amount of childhood vaccines could be reduced to one single shot. Unlike previous attempts in creating an all-in-one vaccine which slowly released medicine over a long period of time, this technology releases the vaccines in short, sharp doses which closely resemble current immunization programs. Thus far, the micro-particles have been shown to work in mice models, and more capsules designed to release vaccines at precise dates are in development.

From: BBC Health News

Killing cancer with vitamin C: Hype or hope?

Although the number of people who die from cancer annually has decreased, cancer is still the second-largest cause of death worldwide.  High-dose Vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, injections have been shown to be successful in treating a wide variety of cancers in clinical trials.  Its ability to target multiple types of cancer comes from its molecular function.  In one study, Vitamin C induced apoptosis of colorectal cancer cells through oxidative damage.  In another, it corrected a genetic control mechanism mutation that normally leads to leukemia.  Of course, not all studies that used Vitamin C resulted in successful treatment, especially since the effect of Vitamin C in combination with other cancer treatments is not yet well known.  However, the treatment does show promise for the future of cancer research.

From: Medical News Today 

Zika virus may be effective against brain cancer, researchers claim

Although the zika virus made headlines in causing birth defects in unborn children, researchers now believe it can be used to help fight the most common type of brain cancer, glioblastoma. So far, the virus has proven effective in mice by specifically targeting and killing patient-derived glioblastoma cells. Researchers believe it could potentially be a new form of treatment for those who are not responsive to chemotherapy and radiation.

From: Fox News Health

Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing

With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.  Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women -- close to 100 percent -- who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.  While the tests are optional, around 80 to 85 percent of pregnant women choose to take the prenatal screening test.

From: CBS Health News

Health Profession of the Week

Public Health

"Public health is concerned with protecting the health of entire populations. These populations can be as small as a local neighborhood, or as big as an entire country. Public health professionals try to prevent problems from happening or re-occurring through implementing educational programs, developing policies, administering services, regulating health systems and some health professions, and conducting research. Public health professionals also analyze the effect on health of genetics, personal choice, and the environment in order to develop programs that protect the health of your family and community.”

Medical Laboratory Scientist

Medical technology, also known as clinical laboratory science (CLS), is a healthcare profession in which practitioners help diagnose, monitor, and treat diseases by performing laboratory procedures including venipuncture and microscopic examinations. The field encompasses many disciplines, such as microbiology (isolating and identifying organisms and testing antimicrobial agents); immunohematology (blood banking); clinical chemistry (measuring chemical components of blood and bodily fluids); hematology and hemostasis (diagnosing disorders using a microscope and cell analyzers); and others (e.g., urinalysis, serology, immunology, molecular diagnostics). For more information, please visit PAC's Medical Technology page.

Pharmacist

Pharmacists specialize in the composition and interaction of drugs, including their physiological effects on humans. Traditionally, pharmacists dispense medications, but as the primary source of information on both prescription and over-the-counter medications, they also serve as a link between physician and patient. Pharmacists often decide on the form of medication, check for drug interactions, verify appropriate drug dosages and schedules, and advise patients in the proper use of medications. The ability to communicate effectively is critical, as pharmacists must be able to communicate with physicians in professional, scientific language as well as with patients in lay terms. For more information, please visit PAC's Pharmacy page.