Monthly Archives: August 2016

Hit men harder than women for a reason

It is now well established that many viruses wreak more havoc on men than on women. Examples: Men are five times as likely to develop cancer from HPV as women, twice as likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma from the Epstein-Barr virus, and 1.5 times as likely to die of tuberculosis, per New Scientist.

Scientists puzzling over why have suggested that women could have stronger immune systems, which would make sense from an evolutionary perspective given the importance of being able to bring offspring to term and nurse them through infancy.

But now researchers using mathematical modeling say it might be the viruses themselves that have evolved to behave differently in their hosts depending on sex, and that includes in other animals like chickens, they report in the journal Nature Communications.

Viruses spread between hosts by making more copies of themselves. But in doing so, they also make their hosts ill, which doesn’t actually behoove them. “That’s not something a pathogen particularly sets out to do because it’s shooting itself in the foot,” says one researcher.

Because a virus so easily jumps from mother to fetus or infant, women are the superior host, and thus there is evolutionary pressure to harm them less, Reason reports.

How a virus can determine the sex of its host is a mystery, though subtle differences in hormones and other pathways could play a role. If researchers can sort this out, they might be able to trick viruses into thinking they’re always infecting women, and get them to go easy on the men, too.

Human eyes are brown

Frank Sinatra crooned about blue skies, but it turns out Ol’ Blue Eyes was really Ol’ Brown Eyes. It turns out all human eyes are brown—or at least various shades of it.

It all comes down to melanin and how much of the pigment we have in our eyes, reports CNN. Blue eyes have the least amount of melanin, which explains why brown-eyed newborns can appear to have blue eyes as their melanin (melanocyte cells) forms, darkening the iris.

“Everyone has melanin in the iris of their eye … there’s really only (this) one type of pigment,” says Dr. Gary Heitling. Melanin levels also determine our skin and hair color.

While dark brown in color, melanin absorbs different amounts of light. The more light absorbed, the less light is reflected out, and the browner the iris appears.

Reflected light is what we see when we gaze into someone’s eyes. Blue reflects more light at a shorter wavelength of the visible color spectrum. If you think your sweetheart’s hazel eyes appear amber in the sunset, you’re not wrong.

Eye color can indeed change depending on the light, and hazel and green eyes are in the middle of the spectrum. “It’s an interaction between the amount of melanin and the architecture of the iris itself,” Heitling says.

This architecture is so unique, he adds, that it can act like a fingerprint. Migration from hotter to cooler climes by our ancestors could explain eye color evolution.

(More melanin protects against UV radiation.) Another theory is that a genetic mutation turned off melanin production in blue eyes. But don’t bet on two blue-eyed parents having a blue-eyed child; eye color is influenced by several genes.

Friends can help spot new moles

Melanoma survivors may want to enlist partners to help search their bodies for suspicious looking moles, according to new research.

The researchers previously found that skin cancer survivors and their partners could be trained to spot potentially cancerous moles by doing skin exams. The new report shows that during the two years, those same people had increasing confidence in their skills, with no increase in embarrassment or discomfort.

“There was concern that they might be embarrassed by examining areas of the body that aren’t normally seen close up,” said lead author Dr. June Robinson, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Melanoma survivors were previously told to use mirrors to check inaccessible areas of their bodies, she told Reuters Health.

“For example, men can’t see the top of their bald heads or the back of their necks or ears,” Robinson said.

The new study focused on 395 pairs of melanoma survivors who had received training in skin exams in the original study. The participants attended “booster” training sessions and completed surveys every four months for the next two years.

Overall, the trained group found 51 early melanomas during the study, compared to 18 melanomas found by a comparison group of patients and partners who didn’t receive training.

Among people who received the skin exam training, the researchers found a steep increase in their confidence at performing skin exams between the start of the study and four months later.

“Their confidence level goes up and plateaus at eight to 12 months, and it doesn’t go down,” said Robinson.

The exams didn’t become more embarrassing or less comfortable, either.

The new results show people can ask friends or relatives to help examine their bodies for suspicious moles, said Robinson.

“That’s a simple enough statement, and people are not put off by that,” she said.

Bringing this program into the mainstream presents some challenges, however. Each person in the study was trained on how to find melanoma and attended booster sessions every four months.

“We are now trying to see if people can learn, perform and have continuing confidence without the physician reinforcement,” said Robinson.

Germany after bird flu

About 30,000 turkeys and ducks were culled in Germany over the weekend after bird flu was found on two farms, authorities said on Monday.

Some 21,600 turkeys were culled on a farm in Soest in North Rhine Westfalia and 9,500 ducks were culled on a farm in Moeser in Saxony-Anhalt after the virulent H5N8 bird flu strain was discovered on both farms, regional authorities said.

The contagious H5N8 strain has been found in about 540 wild birds in Germany in recent weeks but few cases were found on farms as the crucial Christmas season for poultry sales starts.

The German government has introduced tougher sanitary rules to prevent infection by wild birds including orders to keep poultry indoors in high-risk regions plus immediate culling of birds on infected farms.

A series of European countries and Israel have found cases of H5N8 bird flu in the past few weeks and some ordered poultry flocks be kept indoors to prevent the disease spreading.

France has widened high-risk restrictions to the entire country after the detection of several cases of the H5N8 strain in farms. A case of H5N8 bird flu was also reported on a farm in Britain on Friday.

Overall, the trained group found 51 early melanomas during the study, compared to 18 melanomas found by a comparison group of patients and partners who didn’t receive training.

Among people who received the skin exam training, the researchers found a steep increase in their confidence at performing skin exams between the start of the study and four months later.

“Their confidence level goes up and plateaus at eight to 12 months, and it doesn’t go down,” said Robinson.

The exams didn’t become more embarrassing or less comfortable, either.

The new results show people can ask friends or relatives to help examine their bodies for suspicious moles, said Robinson.

“That’s a simple enough statement, and people are not put off by that,” she said.

Bringing this program into the mainstream presents some challenges, however. Each person in the study was trained on how to find melanoma and attended booster sessions every four months.

Woman receives lifesaving lung transplant

For two weeks, Caitlin O’Hara, 33, was on life support, in desperate need of a double-lung transplant. Then, she got an early holiday gift when the perfect pair of lungs became available on Dec. 17.

“Last week she was listed as the sickest person on the lung transplant list in the United States,” Caitlin’s father, Nick O’Hara, told Fox 25.

Caitlin was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at age 2. The life-threatening condition causes thickened mucus to form in the lungs and other organs, causing lung damage and making breathing difficult, according to the American Lung Association.

Nick told the news channel that Boston hospitals refused to put the Ashland, Pennsylvania, woman on transplant lists because she was high risk. Her petite stature— she’s 5 feet, 2 inches tall— and the general lack of donor lungs available didn’t help. According to the New England Organ Bank, more than 1,400 patients are waiting for lungs, and 200 of those will die waiting each year.

Caitlin was put on a transplant list in April 2014. Her supporters believe the power of prayer led to the transplant.

“The story has gone as far as China, so the story, yes I do believe that this energy surrounding Caitlin has made a difference,” family friend Laura Kelly told Fox 25.

Caitlin’s family encouraged others to consider organ donation.

“If you could do that for Christmas, they’d give themselves the best present ever. And if they could do that, it would help a lot of people,” Nick told Fox 25, noting the family’s immense gratitude toward the donor’s family.

Petroleum jelly may curb

Baby rashes are common, but atopic dermatitis—the most common type of eczema that typically starts in infancy—is associated with a rash of other problems, including asthma, allergies, hay fever, and sleep and weight problems.

And trying to treat it costs US consumers nearly $4 billion a year, reports the Huffington Post. Now a team of researchers at Northwestern is celebrating its findings that a daily full-body application of moisturizing cream for the first six months of a baby’s life can cost as little as $7 and appears effective at preventing the development of eczema in infants with close family members who have it.

“We could really save a lot of newborns—and save families—a lot of suffering,” says one of the researchers. “It’s also a pretty good deal in terms of cost.” There are still many unknowns.

It’s still unclear, for instance, what causes eczema in the first place, or how moisturizers appear to be preventing it, or even whether certain moisturizers are superior to others, reports Reuters.

The researchers treated all equally here, though they did sort out the cost of a six-month supply and found that Vaseline is the most affordable at 4 cents per application and $7.30 over six months, while Avinoply was the most expensive at $173 over over six months, the researchers report in JAMA Pediatrics.

Because petroleum jelly (Vaseline) is a byproduct of the oil refining process, the Huffington Post notes that those who prefer an alternative moisturizer might consider sunflower seed oil, the second cheapest option at $18.25 over six months.