Flu virus spread by breathing, study finds

Published: Friday, January 19, 2018 @ 1:06 PM

New Study Finds the Flu is Spread by Breathing

Most people believe that the influenza virus is spread through the coughs and sneezes of infected people, but new research published Thursday suggests that the flu virus is spread more easily than previously thought.

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Medical professionals believe that the virus is spread most often by “droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But researchers studying how the virus spreads recently found large amounts of the virus in the breath of people suffering from the flu, according to the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health.

>> Related: Influenza surveillance map: Where is the flu in my state? 

The researchers -- from the University of Maryland, San Jose State University, Missouri Western State University and the University of California, Berkeley -- published their findings Thursday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We found that flu cases contaminated the air around them with infectious virus just by breathing, without coughing or sneezing,” said Donald Milton, professor of environmental health in the University of Maryland School of Public Health and lead researcher for the study.

Milton and his team examined the virus content in the breath of 142 people who were diagnosed with flu as they were breathing normally, speaking, coughing and sneezing. Researchers found that a majority of those who participated in the study had enough of the infectious virus in just their regular, exhaled breath to possibly infect another person.

A review of the data collected from the coughs and sneezes of infected participants showed that neither action appeared to have a large impact on whether or not the virus was spread.

>> Related: 11 things parents need to know about the flu, the vaccine, how long kids need to stay out of school  

“People with flu generate infectious aerosols (tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air for a long time), even when they are not coughing and especially during the first days of illness,” Milton said.

The study’s authors said the results highlighted how necessary it is for people who have the flu to stay at home.

>> Related: What is the H3N2 flu and how bad is flu season this year? 

“The study findings suggest that keeping surfaces clean, washing our hands all the time, and avoiding people who are coughing does not provide complete protection from getting the flu,” said Sheryl Ehrman, the dean of the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering at San Jose State University. “Staying home and out of public spaces could make a difference in the spread of the influenza virus.”

<p>5 Reasons to get a Flu Shot</p>(Bryan Erdy/News | WHBQ)

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Sweet dreams: How to conquer your nightmares 

Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2018 @ 3:02 PM

The American Sleep Association estimates that up to 90% of people have nightmares.

You're asleep, right? You can hardly be expected to control your actions, much less your thoughts. But if bad dreams are ruining your sleep (and affecting your waking moments), you can work to eliminate or minimize them, according to psychologists and sleep experts.

»RELATED: Want better sleep? Write a to-do list, study says

How nightmares work 

"One way of thinking about dreams is that they're part of the same problem-solving processes that we use during the day time," Gregory White, a California-based clinical psychologist and psychology professor at National University, told U.S. News and World Report. "If you're really distressed, you're more likely to have distressing dreams." 

In turn, a night of bad dreams can leave you feeling depressed or angry the next day, and repetitive sleep loss can cause a slew of negative side effects, from poor performance to obesity. Long-term sleep loss can even lead to mental illness.

(jhorrocks/Getty Images)

Tore Nielsen, a professor of psychiatry, who directs the University of Montreal's Dream and Nightmare Laboratory, told U.S. News about his research, which showed excessive numbers of nightmares are frequently linked to mental health problems including anxiety disorders, PTSD, depression and even a higher risk of suicide.

"Fortunately, there are effective treatments for nightmares," he added, like rehearsing the "bad dream script" with a more positive ending, or treating nightmares and anxiety disorders simultaneously.

Know the ordinary causes

According to Psychology Today, nightmares occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and result in feelings of extreme fear, horror, distress or anxiety. "This phenomenon tends to occur in the latter part of the night and often awakens the sleeper, who is likely to recall the content of the dream," according to PT, which detailed these common causes:

  • Anxiety or stress. "In 60 percent of cases, a major life event precedes the onset of nightmares." The death of a loved one is a common trigger.
  • Illness with a fever
  • An adverse reaction to a prescription drug
  • Recent withdrawal from a drug, especially from sleeping pills
  • Excessive alcohol consumption or abrupt alcohol withdrawal
  • A breathing disorder during sleep, e.g. sleep apnea
A sleep study from January suggests having sex actually helps you sleep better.

How to fight nightmares

Writing in Physchology Today, Susan Krauss Whitbourne looks at recent nightmare research and recommends the following steps for those suffering from nightmares:

  • Put your worries to rest before bedtime. It's a good idea to clear your head of your day's annoyances and unpleasant events. Instead, focus on the positive events that happened to you during the day.
  • Avoid ruminating on negative experiences. If you tend to dwell on the negative, try to stop this habit, Whitbourne advised. "Catch yourself when you're envisioning worst-case scenarios or when you're starting to get down on yourself for feeling the way you do. Reducing your negative emotions while you're awake can make it easier for you to engage in Step 1 of putting them on hold when you're ready to go to sleep."
  • When you do have nightmares, don't catastrophize them. "Catastrophizing" is the psychological term for imagining the worst possible outcome of a negative experience. As a result, the "magnitude of the experience skyrockets beyond its original negative impact," Whitbourne explained. "The nightmares that stick with you the following day may contain horrendous images. Dreams do not predict the future. If you worry that the bad things you dreamt about will happen, you will only increase your negative mood state." 
  • Learn to distinguish an actual dream from a waking nightmare. Sometimes you may actually be half awake when you think you're asleep. Recognizing this may help you see that you're allowing your negative emotions to cascade.
  • Watch what you eat. Probably the best known cause of bad dreams (and the fuel for many a cartoon and sitcom plot) is the link between indigestion and nightmares. This really is a thing, according to  Woman's Day, which recommended avoiding foods that could cause indigestion near bedtime. For rest that's more peaceful all around, eat dinner at least two hours before bedtime, and choose nighttime snacks wisely, including no milk products for the lactose intolerant and no caffeine after 2 p.m.

»RELATED: 5 easy ways to improve your sleep (without sleeping longer)

In addition to these steps, Gregory White suggests breathing exercises. While holding on to the memory of the bad dream, take a deep breath and then release it very slowly "so that you decondition" the anxious feeling you've associated with the dream. He also recommended getting out of bed quickly, since movement tends to disrupt the ability to remember dreams.

And if you've taken all these steps and still feel distressed? It may be time to seek help. "For anything that's consistent or very troubling and you're not getting far from it," White said, "go see a therapist."

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Aimovig: New migraine prevention drug approved by FDA

Published: Monday, May 21, 2018 @ 6:23 AM

Migraines Could Be Triggered By Gut Bacteria

If you suffer from chronic migraines, relief is here.

According to The Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration last week approved Aimovig, a monthly shot that aims to reduce migraines. The drug, developed by Amgen Inc. and Novartis AG, is "injected monthly just under the skin using a pen-like device," the AP reported. Its price tag: $6,900 annually before insurance.

>> On ActionNewsJax.com: New drug could reduce migraines

But how does Aimovig work? The FDA said it blocks "the activity of calcitonin gene-related peptide, a molecule that is involved in migraine attacks." Amgen researchers said participants in one study saw their migraines reduced by half and experienced "minor side effects" like colds, the AP reported.

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If Aimovig doesn't sound right for you, you're still in luck: Three similar shots and various pills to combat migraines are in the works.

Read more here.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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New autism research could predict whether children as young as 3 months old are at risk

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 6:05 AM

New Autism Research Could Determine Which Children Are At Risk

A groundbreaking study is being done at Boston Children's Hospital that researchers say could potentially predict whether a child as young as 3 months old is at-risk for developing autism.

>> Watch the news report here

Right now, most children can't receive a reliable diagnosis until they are at least 1 year old. 

Chase Minicucci and his mother, Hillary Steele Minicucci, regularly go to Boston Children’s to track his development. Chase seems to be a typically developing toddler, and he’s learning to point and use words to express his needs.

>> Could blood and urine test be used to diagnose autism?

However, Chase has been identified as at risk because his older brother, who is 7, has autism.

“We did the testing, and one day after his 4th birthday … the doctor said, ‘so your son has autism,’” said Hillary Steele Minicucci. 

Hillary and her husband also have a 6-year-old daughter who does not have autism, but autism is more prevalent in boys. 

Research shows one in five children whose siblings have autism will also be on the spectrum. Hillary spent the first year of Chase's life watching his behavior closely and worrying.

“I was literally making myself crazy over it,” she said. 

Hillary was able to find a spot for Chase in a study at Boston Children's Cognitive Neuroscience Lab, involving 99 siblings of children with autism.

Infants as young as 3 months old and toddlers up to 36 months old spend only a few minutes wearing a cap with more than 100 sensors. While wearing it, they watch a T.V. showing cartoons, which is also an eye tracker.

Boston Children's Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director Dr. Charles Nelson said by studying their EEG signals, the electrical activity in the brain, they can predict which infants are likely to develop autism.

“What we've seen is at 3 months of age, we've seen patterns of brain activity that basically predict who, three years later, will develop autism,” said Nelson. 

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One of the big unknowns is when does autism develop, and Nelson said the study is shining light on whether it happens before or after birth. 

“It's very unlikely that brain development was perfectly normal until birth and then something happened. The fact that we see it so early, just at 3 months, makes me think that it started before birth. But what derailed brain development, we don't know,” he said. 

Dr. Nelson stressed the medical community is not at the point yet where a 3-month-old could receive a diagnosis, but the child could be flagged. The next step is developing early intervention strategies for that age group.

As for Chase, his mother said that right now, he doesn't seem to be exhibiting some of the warning signs, which has given her some much-needed reassurance.

“I can start to enjoy my baby now,” she said. 

The study is ongoing and open to three groups of children: 

  • Babies with older siblings with ASD
  • Babies with no family history of autism who failed an autism screening
  • Typically developing babies
Because the EEG caps are relatively inexpensive, Nelson hopes someday soon every local pediatrician's office could have one and all infants could be identified within a critical window of time.

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Major depression diagnoses on the rise in the U.S., study finds

Published: Monday, May 14, 2018 @ 6:59 AM

10 Signs of Depression

Over the past five years, diagnoses of major depression in the United States have risen by at least 33 percent.

>> On AJC.com: People with depression are more likely to use certain words — here’s how they express themselves

That’s according to a new report from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, for which analysts assessed the BCBS Health Index built from billions of claims for more than 41 million commercially insured Americans annually.

>> Read more trending news 

The index, which quantifies how more than 200 diseases and conditions affect quality of life, showed that major depression is the second most significant condition on overall health in America. The first is hypertension, or high blood pressure.

According to the report, those diagnosed with major depression are nearly 30 percent less healthy on average than those without the condition. Such a decrease in overall health may mean a loss of nearly 10 years of healthy life for both men and women.

>> On AJC.com: Why are Americans so lonely? Massive study finds nearly half of US feels alone, young adults most of all

More than 9 million commercially insured Americans in the index are affected by major depression. The rate of diagnosis in the country is 4.4 percent. But while diagnoses are up 33 percent since 2013 overall, the rate is even higher among teens and young adults − 47 percent. For teen girls, specifically, the rate has risen by 65 percent.

"The high rates for adolescents and millennials could have a substantial health impact for decades to come," Trent Haywood, senior vice president and chief medical officer for BCBSA, said in a statement. "Further education and research is needed to identify methods for both physicians and patients to effectively treat major depression and begin a path to recovery and better overall health." 

Analysts also found that overall, women are more than twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with major depression (6 percent compared to 2.8 percent, respectively).

>> On AJC.com: Depressed? Reduce your symptoms with this type of exercise

Geographically, 49 of the 50 states saw rising diagnosis rates between 2013 and 2016. Hawaii was the only state that experienced a slight decline (a rate of less than 2 percent). Communities in New England, the Pacific Northwest and areas throughout the South and Midwest had higher rates of major depression compared to the rest of the country.

Rhode Island had the highest diagnosis rate with 6 percent. However, the authors noted that differences in efforts to screen for major depression can result in varying diagnoses rates across states.

“While major depression is the second most impactful health condition for the nation, it is complicated by an increased likelihood of overlapping diagnoses of other chronic, behavioral health and pain-related conditions,” authors of the report wrote.

In fact, of the 9 million Americans diagnosed with major depression in 2016, only 15 percent were diagnosed with depression alone. Eighty-five percent, according to the analysis, were diagnosed with an additional health condition.

>> On AJC.com: 5 signs you should ask your doctor about depression

In addition to a lower quality of life, those diagnosed with major depression are more likely to use more healthcare services, resulting in more than twice the spending.

It’s important to note that the report’s findings, based on people with BCBS commercial health insurance, are likely an underestimate. Most Americans are covered by a commercial health plan, but many who report symptoms of depression say they have not been diagnosed or received treatment for the condition.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people of all ages suffer from depression, and it’s the leading cause of disability worldwide.

>> On AJC.com: The suicide rate for teen girls is the highest it’s been in 40 years — Is social media to blame? 

Additionally, approximately 800,000 people die of suicide each year; that’s one person every 40 seconds. In the U.S., between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate rose by 24 percent. And, according to recent data released from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates among 15- to 19-year-old girls doubled between 2007 and 2015, reaching a 40-year high.

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