February 21st, 2012
By Monica DyBuncio
Brain scans of infants may predict high risk for autism, new research shows. While symptoms of an autism spectrum disorder usually appear before age three, they are typically not identified until after a child’s first birthday.
The new study – published in the Feb. 17 edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry – looked at the brain development of 92 high-risk infants ages 6 to 24 months. The babies were considered high-risk because they all have older brothers or sisters who have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, said the researchers from the Infant Brain Imaging Study network.
The infants underwent a type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging at 6 months, 1 year and 2 years of age. With the repeated scans, researchers created 3D pictures that showed changes in white matter – the part of the brain embedded with nerve fibers that help different areas of the brain connect with one another.
What did they find? Researchers saw differences in the brain matter of children who were eventually diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder by age 2. These children were more likely to show thicker, denser nerve-fiber readings at 6 months – but thinner white matter at age 2.
“These findings raise the possibility of developing imaging markers that could detect risk for autism in advance of actual symptoms, and [to] begin treatment before symptoms begin,” study author Geri Dawson, chief science officer at Autism Speaks, told HealthDay.
Study authors caution the findings do not mean that autism can be diagnosed with brain scans, but the research is a step in earlier treatment.
January 25, 2012
Users of tablet computers should place their device on the table and tilt its screen, rather than have it flat on their lap, to avoid potentially painful hunching of the neck, a study suggested Wednesday.
“Tablet users may be at high risk to develop neck discomfort based on current behaviours and tablet designs,” it warned.
A team led by environmental health researcher Jack Dennerlein of the Harvard School of Public Health asked seven men and eight women who were experienced tablet users to carry out tasks on an iPad2 and a Motorola Xoom.
Using a motion-analysis system, the team filmed the 15 volunteers as they worked on the tablet in four common configurations.
In the first position the tablet was not placed in its proprietary case but held on the lap in one hand while the other was used to touch the screen.
In the second the tablet was placed on the lap, but stayed in its case. The user worked with both hands on the screen.
In the third, the tablet was set up in its case on a table, with its screen set at a lower angle, and the user worked with both hands.
The last configuration, dubbed “table-movie,” entailed placing the tablet on the table in its case, tilted at a higher angle. The user did not work on the screen and instead watched movies or other programming on it.
The experiments showed the angle of the head and neck varied hugely across the four configurations and between the iPad and the Xoom.
April 25th, 2011
The Raw Story
By: Kase Wickman
A massive leak of more than 700 military documents, attributed to infamous transparency group WikiLeaks, was released Sunday night. Much of the new information deals with detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, records that begin immediately after the September 11 terrorist attacks and range to 2009, including documents relating to 172 prisoners still held at the controversial detention facility.
Here are seven shocking revelations about Guantanamo Bay and the practices there.
One hundred twenty-seven “high risk” prisoners remain at Guantanamo Bay, but almost as many “high risk” prisoners have been released to other countries or freed, despite being described as “likely to pose a threat.” Of the 600 detainees known to have been transferred out of the prison since 2002, 160 fell under the “high risk” categorization, according to NPR. At least two dozen transferred “high risk” prisoners have been linked to terrorist activity since their Gitmo exit, including two Saudis who became leaders of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
“There’s a group there that we all agree never gets let out, and then there’s the rest,” Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) said of Guantanamo detainees at a recent congressional hearing. “As you close on that number of folks who should not ever be let go, then you run the risk of letting somebody go who shouldn’t be.”
Officials aren’t sure what they’re doing. In 704 leaked documents assessing detainees, the word “possibly” appears 387 times, “unknown” 188 times and “deceptive” 85 times. Two conflicting committees from the Department of Defense worked at the facility and clashed frequently over how to classify prisoners’ threat levels and the quality of information they shared.
While some “high risk” prisoners have returned to terrorism, still others have become U.S. allies. A former Gitmo detainee whose files identify him as “a probable member of al-Qaeda,” Abu Sufian Ibrahim Ahmed Hamuda bin Qumu, is now a key figure on the rebel side of the Libyan revolution, a leader of a rebel brigade in the northern part of the country. When Qumu was captured in Pakistan shortly after 9/11, he was considered an enemy of the United States. Now, he and the U.S. have a goal in common: unseat Gaddafi.
Instead of getting closer to catching Osama bin Laden, the documents show that the focus has broadened from catching key al-Qaeda operatives, noting information about other foreign operations. One captive was sent to Gitmo so officials could glean any information he had on the Bahraini court, and another was interrogated about any knowledge he had of Uzbekistan’s secret service.
Officials took note of every possible piece of evidence, in hopes of building mosaics of information — even evidence as trivial as origami art. McClatchy reports:
Guards plucked off ships at sea to walk the cellblocks note who has hoarded food as contraband, who makes noise during the Star Spangled Banner, who sings creepy songs like “La, La, La, La Taliban” and who is re-enacting the 9/11 attacks with origami art.
Officials noted that information from some unstable prisoners may be faulty or untrue, but used it anyway. Yasim Mohammed Basardah, a detainee who gave information about 60 other prisoners, was noted as being unreliable, and his file stressed that information he shared should be independently verified. However, he was also given a “high” intelligence value, and his threat level was lowered from high to medium in exchange for his cooperation. He was resettled in Europe in 2010. According to the documents, eight prisoners have revealed information about 235 others.
Suspects were nabbed and shipped to Gitmo because they wore cheap watches. A specific model of watch — a Casio style released in the 1980s — was suspected to be used as a timer by al-Qaeda operatives. People in Afghanistan were seized and sent to the detention facility because they were wearing the watches, but most have been quietly released because of a lack of evidence.
February 15th, 2011
By: Lindsey Tanner
Most medical devices recalled in recent years because of deaths or life-threatening problems were cleared for approval under less stringent regulations that don’t require human testing, an analysis found.
The report comes as the Food and Drug Administration is reviewing sweeping proposals to revise the medical device approval process. The studied devices fell under rules for products similar to ones on the market, not regulations for brand new ones, which call for more extensive testing.
Thousands of deaths or serious medical problems occurred in patients with the recalled devices, which included external heart defibrillators, brain shunts and implanted pumps that deliver cancer drugs, the researchers said.
Device makers say the new data are flawed and conflict with previous reports.
For their analysis, the researchers looked at the FDA’s list of high-risk devices that were recalled from 2005 through 2009.
Of the 113 highest-risk recalled devices, 71 percent, or 80 devices, had been approved through the less stringent regulation. Only 19 percent, or 21 devices, were approved under a stricter process for brand new products that involves inspections and human testing. Eight were registered with the FDA but exempt from regulation.
“Because so many medical devices are not being held to a higher safety standard, people are dying who wouldn’t otherwise die and who don’t have to die, and people are being harmed who don’t have to be harmed,” said study co-author Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Research Center for Women & Families, a Washington-based health advocacy group.
FDA spokeswoman Karen Riley said the study’s findings aren’t new and noted that the recalls it highlighted represent a small portion of the more than 19,000 devices cleared through the less strict standard during those years.
The report appears in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine. An editorial says the analysis shows that “millions of Americans may be at risk for device-related injuries and recalls from high-risk devices that were cleared by FDA without any supporting clinical trial data.”
“The public deserves better protection,” the editorial said.
The researchers didn’t include a tally of all deaths and injuries linked with the recalled devices. They noted that in 2006 alone, the FDA received reports of 2,830 potential device-related deaths and more than 100,000 injuries. More than half of the deaths were linked with devices approved under the less rigid process.
AdvaMed, a medical device makers trade group, said the analysis conflicts with other reports — including one with industry ties — showing devices cleared through that process have a good safety record.
Under the FDA’s 510(k) process, new devices can be approved without human testing if they are similar to devices already on the market. A stricter category, the pre-market approval process, requires scientific evidence, typically extensive testing that is similar to what is required of new medicines.
The 510(k) process is “a short-cut backdoor approach” stemming from a 1976 law, when there weren’t many implanted devices meant to sustain life, said study co-author Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.
He and Zuckerman are among FDA critics who’ve urged the agency to subject such devices to more rigorous testing, which device makers oppose.
The FDA has said it is awaiting input from the Institute of Medicine, an independent government advisory group, before making a final decision on revisions to the device approval process.
January 25th, 2011
By: Charles B. Stockdale, Michael B. Sauter, Douglas A. McIntyre
Some parts of the United States have begun to run low on water. That is probably not much of a surprise to people who live in the arid parts of America that have had water shortages for decades or even centuries. No one who has been to the Badlands in South Dakota would expect to be able to grow crops there.
The water problem is worse than most people realize, particularly in several large cities which are occasionally low on water now and almost certainly face shortfalls in a few years. This is particularly true if the change in global weather patterns substantially alters rainfall amounts in some areas of the US.
24/7 Wall St. looked at an October, 2010 report on water risk by environmental research and sustainability group, Ceres. We also considered a comprehensive July, 2010 report from the National Resources Defense Council which mapped areas at high risk of water shortage conflict. 24/7 Wall St also did its own analysis of water supply and consumption in America’s largest cities, and focused on the thirty largest metropolitan areas. One goal was to identify potential conflicts in regions which might have disputed rights over large supplies of water and the battles that could arise from these disputes. And, 24/7 Wall St. examined geographic areas which have already been plagued by drought and water shortages off and on.
The analysis allowed us to choose ten cities which are likely to face severe shortages in the relatively near-term future. Some of these are likely to be obvious to the reader. The area around Los Angeles was once too dry to sustain the population of a huge city. But, infrastructure was built that allowed water to be pumped in from east of the region. Las Vegas had similar problems. It was part of a great desert until Lake Meade was created by the Hoover dam built on the Colorado river.
Severe droughts that could affect large cities are first a human problem. The competition for water could make life in some of America’s largest cities nearly unbearable for residents. A number of industries rely on regular access to water. Some people would be out of work if these industries had poor prospects for continued operation. The other important trouble that very low water supplies creates is that cities have sold bonds based on their needs for infrastructure to move, clean, and supply water. Credit ratings agencies may not have taken drought issues into account at the level that they should. Extreme disruptions of the water supply of any city would have severe financial consequences.
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report takes the following into account when assessing the likelihood of water shortages: “The risk to water sustainability is based on the following criteria: (1) projected water demand as a share of available precipitation; (2) groundwater use as a share of projected available precipitation; (3) susceptibility to drought; (4) projected increase in freshwater withdrawals; and (5) projected increase in summer water deficit.”
The ten cities on this list are the ones with the most acute exposure to problems which could cause large imbalances of water supply and demand. There are a number of metropolitan areas which could face similar problems but their risks are not quite as high. The water problem for US cities is, although it may not be evident, one of the largest issues that faces urban areas over the next ten years.
These are the ten largest cities by population that have the greatest chance of running out of water…
August 2nd, 2010
Researchers in the U.K. are questioning the effectiveness of a $387 million a year heart screening program started in the country back in 2008. According to a report published in the British Medical Journal on the issue, the money being spent on this program would be much better spent on patients who are actually at high risk of developing heart disease.
In most developed nations around the world, cardiovascular disease is the primary cause of death. According to reports, $46.4 billion is spent every year in the U.K. dealing with heart disease, and more than $503 billion is spent each year in the U.S. Many countries have been working on programs to help curb the disease.
But rather than screen basically everyone between the ages of 40 and 74 as is currently being done in the U.K., some experts are now suggesting that only people whose medical records indicate that they are at a “high risk” of developing heart disease be screened. And according to the research, following this approach, which is much less expensive than screening everyone, will achieve the same results.
“There are untreated patients at high risk of cardiovascular disease, most of whom can be identified from their electronic primary care records. We should act on this information,” explained Tom Marshall, a public health expert from the University of Birmingham, in a commentary on the study.
The research basically concluded that the government program to screen everyone was no more effective at preventing heart disease than a targeted, scientific approach that identifies people who are actually more susceptible to developing cardiovascular problems.
The team evaluated various alternative strategies including changing the screening age range, altering screening criteria, and using heart disease risk questionnaires, but the ultimately came to the conclusion that the government could save a lot of money by simply testing high-risk patients. In other words, it is wasting money on a program that is essentially useless.
“A universal screening program for cardiovascular disease might prevent an important number of new cardiovascular events…but it may be unrealistic to implement it in increasingly resource-constrained health systems,” explained Simon Griffin, author of the study.
Britain’s Conservative Party has indicated that it may get rid of the screening program but, thus far, the program is still in full operation.
December 8, 2009
by Philip Elliot
Pushing Americans to receive swine flu vaccinations, the Obama administration on Monday released a new slate of television and radio ads to counter an illness that already has infected millions.
The public service announcements target children and their parents, young adults and those in high-risk groups, such as people with asthma. The ads in English and Spanish come as a shortage of the vaccine is easing, with another 10 million doses expected to become available this week. The messages also are a shift from earlier efforts to teach Americans how to avoid spreading the illness, known also as H1N1.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was announcing the new ads Monday.
“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and your family against the H1N1 flu virus,” Sebelius said. “Fighting the flu is a shared responsibility and it is up to all of us to help prevent the spread of the flu in your community.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 22 million people have been infected with swine flu and 3,900 have died. Government tallies also include 98,000 swine flu-related hospitalizations.
The vaccine is becoming plentiful enough that some state and local governments are allowing everyone to get it, not just those in priority groups. There are 73 million doses available, roughly twice as many as there were a month ago, and another 10 million doses are expected this week, Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director, told reporters Friday.
Initially, limited supplies caused the CDC to advise state and local health officials to reserve doses for those at highest risk for severe complications from swine flu or those who take care of them.
Officials at the CDC said last week that it appears that a fall wave of swine flu infections has peaked. But flu is hard to predict, and health officials say they are worried of the possibility of a third wave this winter.
July 12, 2009
by David Smith
Cash machines offer an ever-growing menu of services beyond merely dispensing money. For tampering criminals, this now includes a squirt of pepper spray in the face .
The extreme measure is the latest in South Africa‘s escalating war against armed robbers who target banks and cash delivery vans. The number of cash machines blown up with explosives has risen from 54 in 2006 to 387 in 2007 and nearly 500 last year.
The technology uses cameras to detect people tampering with the card slots. Another machine then ejects pepper spray to stun the culprit while police response teams race to the scene.
But the mechanism backfired in one incident last week when pepper spray was inadvertently inhaled by three technicians who required treatment from paramedics.
Patrick Wadula, spokesman for the Absa bank, which is piloting the scheme, told the Mail & Guardian Online: “During a routine maintenance check at an Absa ATM in Fish Hoek, the pepper spray device was accidentally activated.
“At the time there were no customers using the ATM. However, the spray spread into the shopping centre where the ATMs are situated.”
In conjunction with the police, Absa is using the technology at 11 sites, identified as high-risk by branch managers.
If successful, it will be expanded to cash machines around the country.
Transporting money is one of South Africa’s most risky occupations. In May a Group 4 security guard was killed in Johannesburg when a gang used explosives to blow open a cash transit van. His partner was shot in the back as he tried to escape.