By Serusha Govender and Sara Cheshire
(CNN) -- Do you tend to forget things when you're stressed? Like when you're late for a meeting and can't remember where you left your car keys? Or when you have to give a big presentation and suddenly forget all your talking points seconds before you start?
There's nothing like stress to make your memory go a little spotty. A 2010 study found that chronic stress reduces spatial memory: the memory that helps you recall locations and relate objects.
Hence, your missing car keys.
University of Iowa researchers recently found a connection between the stress hormone cortisol and short-term memory loss in older rats. Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience this week, showed that cortisol reduced synapses -- connections between neurons -- in the animals' pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that houses short-term memory.
But there's a difference between how your brain processes long-term job stress, for example, and the stress of getting into a car accident. Research suggests low levels of anxiety can affect your ability to recall memories; acute or high-anxiety situations, on the other hand, can actually reinforce the learning process.
Acute stress increases your brain's ability to encode and recall traumatic events, according to studies. These memories get stored in the part of the brain responsible for survival, and serve as a warning and defense mechanism against future trauma.
If the stress you're experiencing is ongoing, however, there can be devastating effects.
Neuroscientists from the University of California, Berkeley,found that chronic stress can create long-term changes in the brain. Stress increases the development of white matter, which helps send messages across the brain, but decreases the number of neurons that assist with information processing.
The neuroscientists say the resulting imbalance can affect your brain's ability to communicate with itself, and make you more vulnerable to developing a mental illness.
Defects in white matter have been associated with schizophrenia, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Research on post-traumatic stress disorder further shows that it can reduce the amount of gray matter in the brain.
The Berkeley researchers believe their findings could explain why young people who are exposed to chronic stress early in life are prone to learning difficulties, anxiety and other mood disorders.
To reduce the effects of stress, the Mayo Clinic recommends identifying and reducing stress triggers. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep and participating in a stress-reduction activity such as deep breathing, massage or yoga, can also help.
Stress may harm the brain, but it recovers.
By Val Willingham and Miriam Falco
(CNN) -- Chikungunya -- a tropical disease with a funny name that packs a wallop like having your bones crushed -- has finally taken up residence in the United States.
Ever since the first local transmission of chikungunya was reported in the Americas late last year, health officials have been bracing for the arrival of the debilitating, mosquito-borne virus in the United States. Just seven months after the first cases were found in the Caribbean, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreported the first locally acquired case of chikungunya in Florida.
Even though chikungunya is not on the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System list, 31 states and two U.S. territories have reported cases of the disease since the beginning of the year. But only Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands reported locally acquired cases. All the other cases were travelers who were infected in countries where the virus was endemic and were diagnosed upon returning to the United States.
That ended Thursday, when the CDC reported a man in Florida, who had not recently traveled outside the country, came down with the illness.
As of right now, the Florida Department of Health confirmed there are at least two cases. One case is in Miami Dade County and the other is in Palm Beach County.
Its arrival did not surprise the chair of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control Board.
"It was just a matter of when. We are prepared in the Keys and have been prepared for some time to deal with chikungunya," Steve Smith said. "From what I am seeing, I'm sure there are more cases out there that we don't know about. It's really a matter of time."
The CDC is working closely with the Florida Department of Health to investigate how the patient came down with the virus. The CDC will also monitor for additional locally acquired U.S. cases in the coming weeks and months.
The virus, which can cause joint pain and arthritis-like symptoms, has been on the U.S. public health radar for some time.
Usually about 25 to 28 infected travelers bring it to the United States each year. But this new case represents the first time that mosquitoes themselves are thought to have transferred the disease within the continental United States
"The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens," said Roger Nasci, chief of CDC's Arboviral Diseases Branch. "This emphasizes the importance of CDC's health security initiatives designed to maintain effective surveillance networks, diagnostic laboratories and mosquito control programs both in the United States and around the world."
The virus is not deadly, but it can be extremely painful, with symptoms lasting for weeks. Those with weak immune systems, such as the elderly, are more likely to suffer from the virus' side effects than those who are healthier. About 60% to 90% of those infected will have symptoms, says Nasci. People infected with chikungunya will often have severe joint pain, particularly in their hands and feet, and can also quickly get very high fevers.
The good news, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert with Vanderbilt University in Nashville, is that the United States is more sophisticated when it comes to controlling mosquitoes than many other nations and should be able to keep the problem under control.
"We live in a largely air-conditioned environment, and we have a lot of screening (window screens, porch screens)," Shaffner said. "So we can separate the humans from the mosquito population, but we cannot be completely be isolated."
Mosquito-borne virus worries CDC
Chikungunya was originally identified in East Africa in the 1950s. Then about 10 years ago, chikungunya spread to the Indian Ocean and India, and a few years later an outbreak in northern Italy sickened about 200 people. Now at least 74 countries plus the United States are reporting local transmission of the virus.
The ecological makeup of the United States supports the spread of an illness such as this, especially in the tropical areas of Florida and other Southern states, according to the CDC.
The other concern is the type of mosquito that carries the illness.
Unlike most mosquitoes that breed and prosper outside from dusk to dawn, the chikungunya virus is most often spread to people byAedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which are most active during the day, which makes it difficult to use the same chemical mosquito control measures.
These are the same mosquitoes that transmit the virus that causes dengue fever. The disease is transmitted from mosquito to human, human to mosquito and so forth. A female mosquito of this type lives three to four weeks and can bite someone every three to four days.
Shaffner and other health experts recommend people remember the mosquito-control basics:
-- Use bug spray if you are going out, especially in tropical or wooded areas near water.
-- Get rid of standing water in empty plastic pools, flower pots, pet dishes and gutters to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.
-- Wear long sleeves and pants.
Three more people in Colorado have been diagnosed with the plague after coming in contact with an infected dog whose owner contracted a life-threatening form of the disease, state health officials said on Friday.
In all, four people were infected with the disease from the same source, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a statement.
Last week the department said a man in an eastern Colorado county whose dog died of the plague had been diagnosed with pneumonic plague, a rare and serious form of the disease.
The man remains hospitalized, but authorities have not released his condition.
The three people in the latest reported cases had "mild symptoms" and have fully recovered after being treated with antibiotics, the department said, adding that they are no longer contagious.
Two of the patients in the new cases contracted pneumonic plague, the department said.
Pneumonic plague is the only form of the disease that can be transmitted person-to-person, usually through infectious droplets from coughing.
The bacteria that causes plague occurs naturally in the western United States, primarily in California, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The infected canine in Colorado likely contracted the disease from prairie dogs or rabbits, which are the primary hosts for fleas that carry the bacteria.
When an infected animal dies, the fleas spread the disease when they find another host.
Colorado has seen a total of 12 cases of humans infected with the plague over the last decade, said Jennifer House, the department's public health veterinarian.
"We usually don't see an outbreak like this related to the same source," House said.
Colorado had not had a confirmed human case of pneumonic plague since 2004, she said.
By NPR Staff
As hearing aid technology has improved, so has health reporter Kathleen Raven's confidence.
When she was 5 years old, she found out she had a hearing problem. Complications during her birth led to damage in her inner ear.
"I couldn't hear water dripping from a faucet. I couldn't hear crickets on a summer night," she tells NPR's Kelly McEvers. "I couldn't hear sirens, couldn't hear fire alarms in our school fire drills, so I did a lot of watching other people."
The diagnosis was moderate to severe loss of high- and low-frequency hearing. When it comes to speech, certain sounds are out of range for her. Sounds like "ch," "sh" and "th" blend together.
Raven says she reads lips "religiously," but when she can't see a person's lips, she can understand maybe every third word — that is, without a hearing aid.
She got her first hearing aids — a large, clunky set — back when she was 5 in 1993.
"They were about 2 inches long and very thick, and they connected to a very large ear mold inside my ear," she says. "They call them flesh-colored, but they're not the color of anyone's flesh." Her young classmates teased her.
But the technology kept changing. Every few years, her parents would shell out $4,000 to $5,000 on each new device. By the time she got to high school, she had her first completely inside-the-ear hearing aid. That changed everything.
"I just became more confident walking into crowds. I didn't try to hide, I didn't arrange my hair to cover my ears. I started being more talkative, going out with my friends more," says Raven. "I didn't realize how much that fear had impacted me until I got completely in-the-ear hearing aids."
She went on to college and started pursuing her dream of reporting.
"I encountered a few raised eyebrows along the way," she says. "Why do you want to make a living of hearing people when that's a challenge for you?"
She pushed past the skeptics and became a reporter. Today she writes about oncology forBioPharm Insight.
As years passed and the technology progressed, Raven thought her hearing had maxed out. But with each upgrade, she discovered more sounds. Two years ago, she received her latest pair, which cost $7,000.
When her audiologist put them in her ears, she heard an unfamiliar noise. "I just happened to smack my lips together, like you're tasting something," she recalls. "It's just such a simple sound, but it was earth-shattering."
Her audiologist put on Beethoven, and she heard new instruments and trills. "It was like seeing the world in 3-D, or hearing the world in 3-D for the first time," Raven says.
These latest hearing aids are basically invisible. Even still, now she tells people about her hearing loss.
"Five years ago, I still was not ever telling people unless it was absolutely necessary. And now I do work it into conversation in the first five minutes or so," she says. If she needs to ask someone to repeat something, she'll just add, "I have a hearing problem."
"That phrase was impossible for me to say for the first 20 years of my life," Raven says. "Now I think it's very important for hearing loss to be accepted for younger people, of course, and also for older people."
Pregnancy, or the desire to become pregnant, often inspires women to take better care of themselves — quitting smoking, for example, or eating more nutritiously.
But now many women face an increasingly common problem: obesity, which affects 36 percent of women of childbearing age. In addition to hindering conception, obesity — defined as a body mass index above 30 — is linked to a host of difficulties during pregnancy, labor and delivery.
These range from gestational diabetes, hypertension and pre-eclampsia to miscarriage, premature birth, emergency cesarean delivery and stillbirth.
The infants of obese women are more likely to have congenital defects, and they are at greater risk of dying at or soon after birth. Babies who survive are more likely to develop hypertension and obesity as adults.
To be sure, most babies born to overweight and obese women are healthy. Yet a recently published analysis of 38 studies found that even modest increases in a woman’s pre-pregnancy weight raised the risks of fetal death, stillbirth and infant death.
Personal biases and concerns about professional liability lead some obstetricians to avoid obese patients. But Dr. Sigal Klipstein, chairwoman of the committee on ethics of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, says it is time for doctors to push aside prejudice and fear. They must take more positive steps to treat obese women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant.
Dr. Klipstein and her colleagues recently issued a report on ethical issues in caring for obese women. Obesity is commonly viewed as a personal failing that can be prevented or reversed through motivation and willpower. But the facts suggest otherwise.
Although some people manage to shed as much as 100 pounds and keep them off without surgery, many obese patients say they’ve tried everything, and nothing has worked. “Most obese women are not intentionally overeating or eating the wrong foods,” Dr. Klipstein said. “Obstetricians should address the problem, not abandon patients because they think they’re doing something wrong.”
Dr. Klipstein is a reproductive endocrinologist at InVia Fertility Specialists in Northbrook, Ill. In her experience, the women who manage to lose weight are usually highly motivated and use a commercial diet plan.
“But many fail even though they are very anxious to get pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy,” she said. “This is the new reality, and obstetricians have to be aware of that and know how to treat patients with weight issues.”
The committee report emphasizes that “obese patients should not be viewed differently from other patient populations that require additional care or who have increased risks of adverse medical outcomes.” Obese patients should be cared for “in a nonjudgmental manner,” it says, adding that it is unethical for doctors to refuse care within the scope of their expertise “solely because the patient is obese.”
Obstetricians should discuss the medical risks associated with obesity with their patients and “avoid blaming the patient for her increased weight,” the committee says. Any doctor who feels unable to provide effective care for an obese patient should seek a consultation or refer the woman to another doctor.
Obesity rates are highest among women “of lower socioeconomic status,” the report notes, and many obese women lack “access to healthy food choices and opportunities for regular exercise that would help them maintain a normal weight.”
Nonetheless, obese women who want to have a baby should not abandon all efforts to lose weight. Obstetricians who lack expertise in weight management can refer patients to dietitians who specialize in treating weight problems without relying on gimmicks or crash diets, which have their own health risks.
Weight loss is best attempted before a pregnancy. Last year, the college’s committee on obstetric practice advised obstetricians to “provide education about possible complications and encourage obese patients to undertake a weight-reduction program, including diet, exercise, and behavior modification, before attempting pregnancy.”
An obese woman who becomes pregnant should aim to gain less weight than would a normal-weight woman. The Institute of Medicine suggests a pregnancy weight gain of 15 to 25 pounds for overweight women and 11 to 20 pounds for obese women.
Although women should not try to lose weight during pregnancy, “a woman who weighs 300 pounds shouldn’t gain at all,” Dr. Klipstein said. “This is not harmful to the fetus.”
Dr. Klipstein also noted that obesity produces physiological changes that can affect pregnancy, starting with irregular ovulation that can result in infertility.
Obese women are more likely to have problems processing blood sugar, which raises the risk of birth defects and miscarriage. There is also a greater likelihood that their baby will be too large for a vaginal delivery, requiring a cesarean delivery that has its own risks involving anesthesia and surgery.
The babies of obese women are more likely to develop neural tube defects — spina bifida and anencephaly — and to suffer birth injuries like shoulder dystocia, which may occur when the infant is very large.
High blood pressure, more common in obesity, can result in pre-eclampsia during pregnancy, which can damage the mother’s kidneys and cause fetal complications like low birth weight, prematurity and stillbirth.
It is also harder to obtain reliable images on a sonogram when the woman is obese. This can delay detection of fetal or pregnancy abnormalities that require careful monitoring or medical intervention.
By Rossalyn Warren
When Bethany Townsend snapped herself on holiday with two of her colostomy bags visible, she didn’t expect the photo to be seen by more than 9 million people.
But since her photo went viral, hundreds of other people who live with Crohn’s disease are sharing photos of themselves with their colostomy bags on show.
Those who uploaded the photos are also speaking out about their illness with their stories of support and survival.
When Joseph Hendy shared his story, people commented on his photo saying what an inspiration to others he was, adding: “I hope everybody with the same illness reads your story and takes the same positive attitude as yourself.”
AnneMarie said that the campaign made her feel brave enough to share her own photo. She wrote on Facebook: “By seeing these posts by so many brave people who have gone through the same, it has inspired me to take my very first photo of me and my stomach.”
Tina, shown in the middle here, said: “It’s really great to see so many people sharing their personal and difficult experiences publicly. An inspiration to all. Well here’s my pic, Hope it helps someone somewhere.”
Laura said she was proud to join the campaign, saying: “We have suffered in silence and been hiding behind this horrible condition for long enough!! Proud to be a part of it! Get ur belly out people!!!!”
By Robin Erb
DETROIT — Technology originally designed for the U.S. military now has a second use: helping those with tremors eat and live better.
A high-tech spoon — fitted with a tiny computer and sensors such as those in a camera or cellphone — softens the effect of essential tremors by sensing their direction and strength and moving the device in the opposite direction.
"In some ways, it seems too simple to be true," said Dr. Kelvin Chou, a University of Michigan neurologist and essential tremors specialist whose patients helped test the device.
For essential tremor patients, simple daily activities — eating, applying makeup — can be impossible.
"Not being able to feed yourself or groom yourself — that takes a big emotional toll," said Anupam Pathak, CEO of Lift Labs, a California-based start-up company that makes the device.
The idea ignited after Pathak began as a doctorate student in engineering at the University of Michigan. He had been working on research to help stabilize military equipment for U.S. soldiers in the middle of combat, and over time, he began wondering whether the technology could help those whose hands tremble.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health, Pathak developed the LiftWare, a device that assesses movements thousands of times in a single second.
To test it, he turned to the university, where doctors at the U-M Health System treat 400 to 500 patients a year for hand shakes caused by essential tremor, a common movement disorder. It is estimated that 1 in 20 people worldwide have a degree of essential tremor.
Chou said the spoon worked surprisingly well for the 15 adults who tested it.
All had moderate essential tremor.
He said the results were "amazing," especially considering how socially limiting essential tremors can be. Patients often stop eating in front of others and no longer go out with friends and loved ones.
In the worst cases, they cannot feed themselves at all. Just 10% are candidates for surgery that treats the tremors.
"One of the worst things about essential tremor is that people feel like they have to be alone. This changes things for people," Chou said.
The device may not work for everyone with tremors. With many patients with Parkinson's disease, for example, the tremor improves when they are performing a task such as eating. However, those whose tremors interfere with eating stand to benefit from the device, Chou said.
The spoon and its advanced microelectronic technologies come with a hefty price tag: $295. Lift Labs and the International Essential Tremor Foundation have established a campaign to give the spoons to those with limited income.
Chou and Pathak said the same technology could be fitted with pieces to help those with tremors execute other daily activities, such as applying makeup or using hand tools. A fork and a soup spoon attachment will be available in the coming months, Pathak said.
By Joan Raymond
Today's expectant moms and their doctors have decided it's not nice to fool Mother Nature. Rather than inducing labor, they're letting nature take its course, with the length of pregnancies in the U.S. on the upswing, according to a new study by the CDC.
The study released Wednesday tracks labor started through surgical or medical means during the years 2006 through 2012. The researchers found that induction rates at 38 weeks — once considered full-term gestation but now called an early-term gestation — declined for 36 states and the District of Columbia during this six-year period. Declines ranged from 5 percent to 48 percent.
Geography didn’t seem to matter. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia posted declines of at least 10 percent. The researchers did find that trends in induction rates at each week from 35 weeks, considered late pre-term, to 38 weeks, varied by maternal age. At 38 weeks, though, induction rates declined for all maternal age groups under 40, dropping 13 percent to 19 percent for women in their 20s and 30s.
This is a sharp reversal of trends tracked from 1981 through 2006 in which the proportion of babies born at less than 39 weeks gestation increased nearly 60 percent, while births at 39 weeks or more declined more than 20 percent.
“We were surprised that the overall induction rate went down,” says lead researcher Michelle Osterman, a health statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics, which is part of the CDC.
And it is welcome news, too. “For years we were taught that the 37th or 38th week of pregnancy was full term, but we did not appreciate the neonatal outcomes,” says ob/gyn Dr. Nancy Cossler, vice chair for quality and patient safety at University MacDonald Women’s Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio.
“It was an ingrained part of our culture that 37 weeks is OK, but it’s not necessarily OK for the baby,” she says, citing issues such as hypothermia, feeding difficulties and respiratory distress among infants born early.
Historically, MacDonald Women’s Hospital had a rate of about 11 percent for labor induction for non-medical reasons among patients who were 37 to 38 weeks pregnant. Today, it’s nearly zero. In 2013, only one birth among the 37 to 38 week gestational age was done through induction. The patient had metastatic breast cancer, which is not among the usual listed criteria for medical induction, and needed to start chemotherapy and needed an early delivery, says Cossler.
Indeed, there is a big push nationally for longer-term births, such as the large-scale educational program called the 39-Week Initiative, supported by the March of Dimes and other groups. It seeks to end non-medically indicated deliveries prior to 39 weeks. Last year, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine even recommended the label “term” in pregnancy, be replaced with categories based on gestational age. Today, babies born at 39 weeks through 40 weeks and six days of pregnancy are considered “full term.” Babies born at 37 to 38 weeks are now considered “early term.”
“I think this study is very positive since several of us have now provided evidence that babies have better outcomes (with longer term births),” says Dr. Kimberly Noble, assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics of 128,000 New York City public school children, Noble and her colleagues found that compared to children born at 41 weeks, those born at 37 weeks had a 33 percent increased chance of having third-grade reading problems, and a 19 percent increased chance of having moderate math issues.
But doctors do worry that the pendulum could swing too far and patients may be afraid of induced deliveries.
Our study “can’t differentiate between induction done for medical reasons and induction done for convenience, and if your doctor says this baby needs to come out at 37 weeks because of a problem, you need to trust your doctor,” says Noble, citing issues such as maternal or fetal distress as a cause for earlier delivery. What patients and doctors shouldn’t do is schedule an earlier delivery because of a vacation or other issue. “We know that 39 weeks and beyond is good for the baby,” she says.
By CHRISTINA FARR
SAN FRANCISCO, USA - For decades, medical technology firms have searched for ways to let diabetics check blood sugar easily, with scant success. Now, the world's largest mobile technology firms are getting in on the act.
Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics Co and Google Inc, searching for applications that could turn nascent wearable technology like smartwatches and bracelets from curiosities into must-have items, have all set their sites on monitoring blood sugar, several people familiar with the plans say.These firms are variously hiring medical scientists and engineers, asking U.S. regulators about oversight and developing glucose-measuring features in future wearable devices, the sources said.The first round of technology may be limited, but eventually the companies could compete in a global blood-sugar tracking market worth over $12 billion by 2017, according to research firm GlobalData.Diabetes afflicts 29 million Americans and costs the economy some $245 billion in 2012, a 41 percent rise in five years. Many diabetics prick their fingers as much as 10 times daily in order to check levels of a type of sugar called glucose.Non-invasive technology could take many forms. Electricity or ultrasound could pull glucose through the skin for measurement, for instance, or a light could be shined through the skin so that a spectroscope could measure for indications of glucose."All the biggies want glucose on their phone," said John Smith, former chief scientific officer of Johnson & Johnson's LifeScan, which makes blood glucose monitoring supplies. "Get it right, and there's an enormous payoff."Apple, Google and Samsung declined to comment, but Courtney Lias, director at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's chemistry and toxicology devices division, told Reuters a marriage between mobile devices and glucose-sensing is "made in heaven."In a December meeting with Apple executives, the FDA described how it may regulate a glucometer that measures blood sugar, according to an FDA summary of the discussion.Such a device could avoid regulation if used for nutrition, but if marketed to diabetics, it likely would be regulated as a medical device, according to the summary, first reported by the Apple Toolbox blog.The tech companies are likely to start off focusing on non-medical applications, such as fitness and education.Even an educational device would need a breakthrough from current technology, though, and some in the medical industry say the tech firms, new to the medical world, don't understand the core challenges."There is a cemetery full of efforts" to measure glucose in a non-invasive way, said DexCom chief executive Terrance Gregg, whose firm is known for minimally invasive techniques. To succeed would require "several hundred million dollars or even a billion dollars," he said.
Silicon Valley is already opening its vast wallet.
Medtronic Inc Senior Vice President of Medicine and Technology Stephen Oesterle recently said he now considers Google to be the medical device firm's next great rival, thanks to its funding for research and development, or R&D.
"We spend $1.5 billion a year on R&D at Medtronic - and it's mostly D," he told the audience at a recent conference. "Google is spending $8 billion a year on R&D and, as far as I can tell, it's mostly R."
Google has been public about some of its plans: it has developed a "smart" contact lens that measures glucose. In a blog post detailing plans for its smart contact lens, Google described an LED system that could warn of high or low blood sugar by flashing tiny lights. It has recently said it is looking for partners to bring the lens to market.
The device, which uses tiny chips and sensors that resemble bits of glitter to measure glucose levels in tears, is expected to be years away from commercial development, and skeptics wonder if it will ever be ready.
Previous attempts at accurate non-invasive measurement have been foiled by body movement, and fluctuations in hydration and temperature. Tears also have lower concentrations of glucose, which are harder to track.
But the Life Sciences team in charge of the lens and other related research is housed at the Google X facility, where it works on major breakthroughs such as the self-driving car, a former employee who requested anonymity said.
Apple's efforts center on its iWatch, which is on track to ship in October, three sources at leading supply chain firms told Reuters. It is not clear whether the initial release will incorporate glucose-tracking sensors.
Still, Apple has poached executives and bio-sensor engineers from such medical technology firms as Masimo Corp, Vital Connect, and the now-defunct glucose monitoring startup C8 Medisensors.
"It has scooped up many of the most talented people with glucose-sensing expertise," said George Palikaras, CEO of Mediwise, a startup that hopes to measure blood sugar levels beneath the skin's surface by transmitting radio waves through a section of the human body.
The tech companies are also drawing mainstream interest to the field, he said. "When Google announced its smart contact lens, that was one of the best days of my career. We started getting a ton of emails," Palikaras said.
Samsung was among the first tech companies to produce a smartwatch, which failed to catch on widely. It since has introduced a platform for mobile health, called Simband, which could be used on smart wrist bands and other mobile devices.
Samsung is looking for partners and will allow developers to try out different sensors and software. One Samsung employee, who declined to be named, said the company expects to foster noninvasive glucose monitoring.
Sources said Samsung is working with startups to implement a "traffic light" system in future Galaxy Gear smartwatches that flashes blood-sugar warnings.
Samsung Ventures has made a number of investments in the field, including in Glooko, a startup that helps physicians access their patients' glucose readings, and in an Israeli glucose monitoring startup through its $50 million Digital Health Fund.
Ted Driscoll, a health investor with Claremont Creek Ventures, told Reuters he's heard pitches from potentially promising glucose monitoring startups, over a dozen in recent memory.
Software developers say they hope to incorporate blood glucose data into health apps, which is of particular interest to athletes and health-conscious users.
"We're paying close attention to research around how sugar impacts weight loss," said Mike Lee, cofounder of MyFitnessPal.
After decades of false starts, many medical scientists are confident about a breakthrough on glucose monitoring. Processing power allows quick testing of complex ideas, and the miniaturization of sensors, the low cost of electronics, and the rapid proliferation of mobile devices have given rise to new opportunities.
One optimist is Jay Subhash, a recently-departed senior product manager for Samsung Electronics. "I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it one of these days," he said. — Reuters
In a case weighing the government’s ability to require vaccination against the individual right to refuse it, a federal judge has upheld a New York City policy that bars unimmunized children from public school when another student has a vaccine-preventable disease.
Citing a 109-year-old Supreme Court ruling that gives states broad power in public health matters, Judge William F. Kuntz II of Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled against three families who claimed that their right to free exercise of religion was violated when their children were kept from school, sometimes for a month at a time, because of the city’s immunization policies.
The Supreme Court, Judge Kuntz wrote in his ruling, has “strongly suggested that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations.”
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Patricia Finn, said she plans to appeal the decision, announced this month. On Thursday, Ms. Finn asked the district court to rehear the case.
Amid concerns by public health officials that some diseases are experiencing a resurgence in areas with low vaccination rates, the decision reinforces efforts by the city to balance a strict vaccine mandate with limited exemptions for objectors. Pockets of vaccination refusal persist in the city, despite high levels of vaccination overall.
State law requires children to receive vaccinations before attending school, unless a parent can show religious reservations or a doctor can attest that vaccines will harm the child. Under state law, parents claiming religious exemptions do not have to prove their faith opposes vaccines, but they must provide a written explanation of a “genuine and sincere” religious objection, which school officials can accept or reject.
Some states also let parents claim a philosophical exemption, though New York does not. Some parents refuse to have their children vaccinated because of a belief that vaccines can cause autism, though no link has ever been proved.
Two of the families in the lawsuit who had received religious exemptions challenged the city’s policy on barring their children, saying it amounted to a violation of their First Amendment right to religious freedom and their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law, among other claims. Their children had been kept from school when other students had chickenpox, their suit said.
The third plaintiff, Dina Check, sued on somewhat different grounds, saying that the city had improperly denied her 7-year-old daughter a religious exemption. She said the city rejected her religious exemption after it had denied her a medical exemption, sowing doubts among administrators about the authenticity of her religious opposition. But Ms. Check said the request for a medical exemption had been mistakenly submitted by a school nurse without her consent.
After the school barred her daughter, Ms. Check home-schooled her and then moved her to a private school that accepted her daughter without the vaccinations. State vaccination requirements cover public and private schools, but in New York City, private schools have more autonomy in handling exemptions.
Ms. Check said she rejected vaccination after her daughter was “intoxicated” by a few shots during infancy, which she said caused an onslaught of food and milk allergies, rashes and infections. Combined with a religious revelation she had during the difficult pregnancy, she said, the experience turned her away from medicine. Now she uses holistic treatments.
“Disease is pestilence,” Ms. Check said, “and pestilence is from the devil. The devil is germs and disease, which is cancer and any of those things that can take you down. But if you trust in the Lord, these things cannot come near you.”
In turning down all three families, Judge Kuntz cited a 1905 Supreme Court ruling that upheld a $5 fine for a Massachusetts man who disobeyed an order to be vaccinated during a smallpox outbreak, a case that helped establish the government’s right to require immunizations as a matter of public health.
Ms. Finn, the families’ lawyer, said that case should not be relevant. “There’s no way that court anticipated that children would be subjected” to the vaccines they must get today, she said.
In New York, the statewide mean religious exemption rate rose over the last decade, from .23 percent in 2000 to .45 percent in 2011, a 2013 study in the medical journal Pediatrics said.
New York City schools granted 3,535 religious exemptions in 2012-13, according to data from the state’s Health Department. Though city schools, public and private, have an overall immunization rate around 97 percent, according to the department, 37 private schools were below 70 percent. Health experts believe that above a certain immunization rate, outbreaks are limited because a disease cannot spread to enough people during its incubation period to sustain itself, a phenomenon known as “herd immunity.” For measles, which is highly contagious, that rate is believed to be 95 percent, according to Daniel Salmon, deputy director at the Institute for Vaccine Safety at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Though widespread vaccinations have practically eliminated diseases like measles and mumps from the United States, flare-ups have occurred. The 477 measles cases reported this year represent the worst year-to-date count since 1994, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the 25 people who contracted measles in New York City between February and April this year, two were school-age children unvaccinated because of parental refusal. When one of the children, who was being home-schooled, contracted the measles, city health officials barred that child’s sibling, who had a religious exemption, from attending school. The sibling eventually contracted measles as well. Health officials credited the decision to keep the second child out of school with stopping the spread of disease in that community.
Ohio, which granted more than three times as many religious and philosophical exemptions to kindergarten students last year as it did in 2000, is struggling to contain a measles outbreak that has recently spread to 339 Amish people who were largely unvaccinated, the state health department said.
Mr. Salmon said it can be difficult for states to balance an obligation to mandate vaccination with some leniency for families who have strong objections. Rules that force parents to articulate their beliefs and require public officials to educate them about the risks of exemption are states’ best defense against the spread of disease, he said.
Still, especially because parents who refuse vaccination tend to cluster geographically, it takes only a few unvaccinated children to start an outbreak, he said. At that point, even vaccinated children are at risk.
“Diseases have a way of finding our vulnerabilities,” Mr. Salmon said, “the kinks in our armor.”
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