At Least 10 Pregnant Women in Dallas Have Zika Virus, Officials Say

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By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, June 23, 2016 (HealthDay News) — At least 10 pregnant women in the Dallas area have been infected with Zika, Texas officials confirmed Wednesday.

All of the women contracted the mosquito-borne virus while traveling abroad, Dallas Health and Human Services officials told CBS News.

In related news, the U.S. House on Thursday approved a $1.1 billion funding package to combat the Zika threat, the Associated Press reported.

The bill still needs to be approved by the U.S. Senate, and it remains to be seen if President Barack Obama will sign it. Obama originally asked Congress for $1.9 billion, and Democrats and the White House have voiced opposition to certain provisions of the package.

Even though there have been no local transmissions of Zika reported yet in the United States, the number of cases of infection among pregnant women keeps climbing.

As of June 9, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there are 234 cases of pregnant women on the U.S. mainland who have been infected with Zika, which typically involves relatively mild symptoms in most adults. However, it can cause devastating birth defects in babies that include microcephaly, where an infant is born with an abnormally small head and brain.

In Latin America, thousands of babies have already been born with microcephaly. And researchers reported Wednesday that fears over Zika-related birth defects may be driving up abortion rates in Latin American countries affected by the virus.

In Brazil and Ecuador—where governments have issued health warnings on the danger to the fetus from maternal Zika infection—requests for abortion in 2016 have doubled from 2010 rates, the researchers reported.

The other 17 Latin American countries covered by the new study had their rates rise by more than a third during that time, according to the report in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers noted that because data on family planning in Latin America is often hard to come by, their numbers may underestimate the surge in abortions since Zika’s emergence.

“The World Health Organization predicts as many as 4 million Zika cases across the Americas over the next year, and the virus will inevitably spread to other countries,” noted study senior author Dr. Catherine Aiken, of the University of Cambridge in England.

But no nation has been more affected than Brazil. As a result of the Zika epidemic, almost 5,000 babies have been born with microcephaly there.

However, the CDC warned last Friday that infection rates are rising in Puerto Rico. Testing of blood donations in the U.S. territory—”our most accurate real-time leading indicator of Zika activity”—suggest that more and more people on the island have been infected, according to CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden.

“The real importance of this information is that in coming months it’s possible that thousands of pregnant women in Puerto Rico could become infected with Zika,” Frieden stressed. “This could lead to dozens or hundreds of infants being born with microcephaly in the coming year,” he added.

“Controlling this mosquito is very difficult,” Frieden said. “It takes an entire community working together to protect a pregnant woman.”

Because the virus remains largely undetected, it will be months before affected babies begin to be born, Frieden said. Some will have microcephaly or other brain-related birth defects. But many will appear healthy and normal, and there’s no way to know how they might have been affected, he explained.

Zika is typically transmitted via the bite of the Aedes aegypti mosquito. But, transmission of the virus through sex is more common than previously thought, World Health Organization officials have said.

Women of child-bearing age who live in an active Zika region should protect themselves from mosquitoes by wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants, using mosquito repellent when outside, and staying indoors as much as possible, according to the CDC.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on the Zika virus.

This Q&A will tell you what you need to know about Zika.

To see the CDC list of sites where Zika virus is active and may pose a threat to pregnant women, click here.


Also check out http://healthywithjodi.com

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The Ice Bucket Challenge Helped Researchers Find a Key ALS Gene

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It was two summers ago that our Facebook feeds were full of videos of friends and family dumping buckets of ice-cold water over their heads to raise money and awareness for ALS—Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis—also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Now we can officially say that the social media stunt has made a real-world difference. 

The ALS Association announced this week that scientists have discovered a new ALS gene, NEK1, that's one of the most common genes linked to the neurodegenerative disease, and a potential new target for treatment. This breakthrough research, published in the journal Nature Genetics, is part of Project MinE, which aims to sequence the genomes of 15,000 people with ALS—​an international effort that recieved $1 million in #IceBucketChallenge donations.

RELATED: The Story Behind the Ice Bucket Videos All Over Your Facebook Feed

“The sophisticated gene analysis that led to this finding was only possible because of the large number of ALS samples available,” said ALS Association chief scientist Lucie Bruijn, PhD, in a press release. “The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge enabled The ALS Association to invest in Project MinE’s work to create large biorepositories of ALS biosamples that are designed to allow exactly this kind of research and to produce exactly this kind of result.”

As the Ice Bucket Challenge began to sweep across the nation in 2014, it was criticized as a classic example of "slacktivism," or activism that requires little actual effort (like signing an online petition, for example, or championing a cause in your Facebook status). 

But in just eight weeks, donations to the ALS Association climbed to $115 million and generated worldwide awareness and support for people affected by the debilitating disease. Since that summer, researchers from all over the globe have identified several ALS genes thanks to funding from the ALS Association that resulted from the viral challenge.

RELATED: Why Everyone on Facebook Is Taking the #22Pushups Challenge

John Landers, PhD, one of the lead researchers on the new study called the discovery of NEK1 "a prime example of the success that can come from the combined efforts of so many people, all dedicated to finding the causes of ALS."

This August, the ALS Association is launching a new campaign to generate funds and awareness. Visit the site to learn more about Every Drop Adds Up.

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7 Things to Know Before You Donate Blood

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The summer’s no vacation for blood banks, and this one has been especially hard: Just after the fourth of July, the American Red Cross issued an emergency call for blood and platelet donations. This time of year, “blood donors are typically out of town and unable to give," explains Justin Kreuter, MD, medical director of the Mayo Clinic Blood Donor Center in Rochester, Minnesota; or they may not be eligible to donate after traveling to certain areas outside the United States. “It really hits us in the summer months,” Dr. Kreuter says. Your community needs your help now; here’s what you should know about pitching in.

Eligibility is always changing, and Zika’s a concern this year

The Red Cross maintains an alphabetical list of eligibility criteria for potential donors—from acupuncture (thumbs up) to Zika (thumbs down)—and can give you the latest information on whether or not you’re good to give. There have been no reported cases of Zika transmission via blood transfusion so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but there’s a strong possibility that the virus can be transmitted that way. “What we’re doing now, per the FDA, is deferring [donors who may have been exposed to Zika] for 28 days, which is twice the known period of infectivity,” Dr. Kreuter says. Because Zika can be transmitted by sexual contact (via semen) as well, women with male partners who have visited Zika-affected areas are deferred for three additional months.

RELATED: 4 Unexpected Benefits of Donating Blood

The FDA regulates donor blood just as aggressively as it regulates drugs

“It takes a lot of money to do the infectious-disease testing that we do [on donor blood], and when we create blood products out of the donation, that’s done to the same standards as any drug manufactured in this country. The FDA holds us to those same standards, so it’s a very high level of quality and also resources that are invested,” Dr. Kreuter explains. “These tests and high standards are what’s keeping the blood supply safe, so that if my wife or one of my daughters needs a blood transfusion, I can feel assured that I can just sit at their bedside and hold their hand rather than worry about what that might result [in] for them later down the road.”  

You’ll get a mini-physical before you donate

The flip side of donor blood screening (which ensures that it’s safe for the eventual recipient) is confirming the donor’s health (which ensures that the blood draw won’t have a negative effect on them). “We check blood pressure and pulse, we do a pinprick to check red blood cells to make sure they’re safe—we don’t want to make our donors iron deficient,” Dr. Kreuter says. He makes no specific suggestions about what you eat and drink prior to donation; just be sure you have breakfast and lunch under your belt, and take it easy on caffeine. “We all live on our daily espressos and whatnot, but we see donors who show up and haven’t eaten [meals] and they’ve only been drinking coffee, and they’re quite dehydrated. When you donate you’re losing circulating fluid, so the water that you drink before and after your donation is important.”

RELATED: 15 Signs You May Have an Iron Deficiency

You’ll hardly feel a thing—seriously

The needles used to collect blood are a bit larger than those you’d encounter when, say, receiving a flu shot, but the so-called ‘small pinch’ you feel at insertion is, truly, no big deal. “What we feel [at the start of a blood draw] is just on the surface of our skin. These needles have silicone on them, they’re made to glide and be quite comfortable. After that initial stick, you’re not going to feel anything,” Dr. Kreuter says. If needles give you the shivers, look away for the quarter-second in which yours is placed; then ask a staffer to cover up the insertion site for you. Since the "tough" part is already over, you can lie back and spend the next eight to 10 minutes zoning out.

It’s okay to have a cookie after you donate

“What’s healthy is to keep a balanced diet as you go forward in the day [after your donation],” Dr. Kreuter says. “We tend to stock our canteen area with things like water and juice and then salty snacks, because salt helps you retain a little more of the [water] volume that you’ve lost through donation. The cookies are there because [they’re] something the donor culture has grown up in—maybe not the healthiest option, but certainly an expectation. Believe it or not, I have meetings about cookies. I’ve seen shirts before that say ‘I donate for the cookies.’” Bottom line: Rewarding yourself with a treat isn’t going to do any harm, provided that you indulge in moderation.

Your blood could save patients who haven’t even entered the world yet

Though many of us are reminded of the importance of blood donation when tragedies happen, much of what we give does the quiet work of saving people who’ll never show up on the news. Since the need for blood doesn’t go away, the best way to save lives is to contribute regularly. “At Mayo, about 15% to 20% of our blood is going to trauma patients and being used in our ER; a lot of our blood gets used supporting patients through life-saving cardiac or cancer surgeries. Cancer patients [also need blood]—chemotherapy knocks down their ability to make their own red blood cells and platelets—and folks who have medical conditions like autoimmune diseases also need transfusions.”

Donations flow to delivery rooms, too: “If anemia is significant enough in utero we transfuse during pregnancy and sometimes immediately after delivery,” Dr. Kreuter explains. “A lot of kids need blood in the first couple of minutes of life. Sometimes with newborn babies an emergency platelet transfusion in the first few moments of life is absolutely necessary; in their situation the newborn brain is so delicate and fragile that having these platelets immediately available is the name of the game in order to prevent bleeding into their brains, which results in long-term disabilities.”

Note that platelets have a shelf life of just five days, while whole blood can be stored for up to six weeks. The immediate need for platelets—and platelet donors—is constant.

RELATED: 6 Iron-Rich Food Combos—No Meat Required

Donating your voice is vital, too

Those "Be nice to me, I gave blood today!" stickers aren’t merely a cute (and justified) humblebrag: They’re also a benevolent form of peer pressure, not unlike the "I voted" stickers we earn and wear on election days. “Hearing about blood donation from a friend or colleague is very motivating in getting [potential first-timers] to think about taking that next step,” Dr. Kreuter says. “Our donor population [in Rochester] has an older average age, and we’re trying to reach out to the younger generation to start having the same blood donation habits.”

Think about it this way: Taking your kids to see you strengthen your community’s heartbeat at a blood center is just as important as bringing them with you to the voting booth. Donate visibly, donate vocally, and donate as often as you can.

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