Following on from our post last week on what to expect during a physical examination, today’s blog will explain some of the laboratory and screening tests you may also undergo. Now it’s important to note that there are no standard laboratory or screening tests during a physical exam, so what you are advised to have will depend on your physician and health history. Laboratory tests during a physical exam The main laboratory tests you are likely to undergo during a physical exam are: – Complete blood count (CBC) – A CBC is a blood test that helps evaluate your overall health and detect a wide range of conditions, including anemia, infection and leukemia. – Chemistry panel – A comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP) will include an electrolyte panel (which measures levels of sodium, chloride, potassium and bicarbonate), kidney function tests, liver function tests and also measures glucose and calcium. – Blood glucose – To look for signs of diabetes or pre-diabetes. – Urinalysis – Using a sample of your urine, this test can detect a range of conditions, including urinary tract infections, kidney disease and diabetes. – Fecalysis – A stool sample test (fecalysis) can detect certain conditions affecting your digestive tract, including parasites, viruses, bacteria, poor nutrient absorption and even cancer. Screening tests during a physical exam In addition to the laboratory tests outlined above, you may also undergo the following screening tests: For women: – Mammogram – A screening test for breast cancer, usually recommended for women 40 and over – Pap smear – A screening test for cervical cancer, usually recommended for women 21 and older For men: – Prostate exam – A digital rectal exam is the most common method used for physically checking your prostate, while a PSA test measures the level of prostate-specific antigen in your blood – both of which can flag early signs of prostate cancer. – Testicular exam – A physical exam that checks both testicles for signs of abnormality, including lumps, changes in size, and tenderness. – Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) screening – This simple ultrasound looks for a bulge or swelling in the aorta, and is usually recommended for men 65 and over, as they are most at risk. Both men and women: – Cholesterol test – Also called a ‘lipid panel’, this checks your cholesterol levels to see if you are at risk of heart attack or stroke. – Osteoporosis - A bone density scan can help reveal potential issues relating to weak bones. – Hepatitis – Everyone should be tested for hepatitis C at least once to find out if they have ever been infected with the virus. – Colorectal – A colonoscopy is usually used to check for colorectal cancer and other abnormalities in your colon. If you are a smoker, or have a family history of certain conditions, your physician may also recommend further tests in addition to those above. * Image by Ernesto Eslava from Pixabay
If you're one of those people who picks their nose, or aggressively plucks any hairs you find there, new research may provide you with a reason to stop. According to a study in mice, the results of which are published in Scientific Reports, such habits as those outlined above may increase your risk of developing Alzheimer's Disease. That's because Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria can easily travel along a nerve running from the nasal cavity into the brain. From there, the bacteria were seen to infect the mice's central nervous system. When the bacteria invade the brain, they display a key marker of Alzheimer’s disease. “We’re the first to show that Chlamydia pneumoniae can go directly up the nose and into the brain, where it can set off pathologies that look like Alzheimer’s disease,” study coauthor James St John, PhD, head of the Clem Jones Centre for Neurobiology and Stem Cell Research at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, said in a statement. “We saw this happen in a mouse model, and the evidence is potentially scary for humans as well,” Dr. St John said. In the mouse studies, the Chlamydia pneumoniae bacteria were found to have traveled to the mice's brains within 72 hours, but this was witnessed to be even faster among mice whose nasal passages were damaged. “Picking your nose [or] plucking the hairs from your nose is not a good idea,” St John said. “We don’t want to damage the inside of our nose, and picking and plucking can do that.
People with poor dental hygiene are 21% more likely to develop dementia in later life, new research suggests. According to the study, recently published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, poor oral health and tooth loss increased the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The study authors said their findings emphasize the importance of monitoring, as well as management of “periodontal health in the context of dementia prevention”. They added that because of this finding, dental professionals are in a great position to track and intervene should a patient's periodontal health begin to deteriorate. “Our mouth is full of bacteria (good and bad). We need these bacteria to live in equilibrium and when our dental hygiene is missing, the bad bacteria can overcome and install in our gums. There is evidence that bacteria can travel to the brain and participate with neurodegeneration that will ultimately decline our cognitive health,” she told Healthline. “Oral health is important for our overall quality of life. Taking care of our mouth is as important as taking care of our body. Our mouth is more exposed to the environment, and it is the entrance to our entire body,” she added. The research has spoken: Brush your teeth two to three times a day and visit a dentist twice a year as routine, or sooner if you notice a change in your dental health. *Image by Reto Gerber from Pixabay
Our gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, fungi, viruses and germs that live in our digestive tracts – is hugely important when it comes to health, influencing our immune systems, as well as our physical and mental states. But while we know that certain foods, such as fermented produce, yogurts, and non-starchy vegetables can help boost gut health, little is known about how many immune-boosting microorganisms people actually eat on a day-to-day basis as part of their diets. To investigate, researchers estimated the number of microorganisms per gram in more than 9,000 food items, including those high in such organisms, like yogurt, pickles, and kimchi. Then, to see how many people ate foods packed with microorganisms, the researchers took a detail look dietary data collected from 2001 to 2018 for almost 75,000 adults and children. Overall, 26% of adults and 20% of children consumed foods with high levels of microorganisms, researchers reported in The Journal of Nutrition. "When we think of microbes in our food, we often think of either foodborne pathogens that cause disease or probiotics that provide a documented health benefit," study co-author Colin Hill, PhD, of APC Microbiome Ireland at University College Cork, said in a statement. "It is very timely to estimate the daily intake of microbes by individuals in modern society as a first step towards a scientific evaluation of the importance of dietary microbes in human health and well-being," he added. *Image by rhys jung from Pixabay
More is being discovered all the time about the significant role of the bacteria, fungi and other microbes that live in our stomachs and intestines when it comes to our health. Now, the largest study of its kind to date has confirmed the link between the gut microbiome and the response to cancer immunotherapy therapy for melanoma. The study, the findings of which are published in the journal Nature Medicine, was co-ordinated by King's College London, CIBIO Department of the University of Trento and European Institute of Oncology in Italy, University of Groningen in the Netherlands and funded by the Seerave Foundation. Dr Karla Lee, clinical researcher at King's College London and first author of the study, said: "Preliminary studies on a limited number of patients have suggested that the gut microbiome, as an immune system regulator, plays a role in the response of each patient to cancer immunotherapy, and particularly in the case of melanoma. This new study could have a major impact on oncology and medicine in general." It's known that dietary changes can alter the microbiome, as can next generation probiotics and faecal transplantation. This change is in turn modifying the microbiome's action on the immune system. With this new understanding of the microbiome's impact on cancer therapy effectiveness, clinicians can potentially look to alter a patient's microbiome before beginning treatment. This is potentially important because less than 50% of immunotherapy patients respond positively to treatment for melanoma. *image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license
Authorities in China have stepped up precautions after a person in the country’s Inner Mongolian region was diagnosed with bubonic plague. According to state reports, the Bayannur patient is in quarantine and in a stable condition. A second suspected case involving a 15-year-old girl is currently being investigated. While it remains unclear how either patient contracted the disease, the young girl is said to have been in contact with a marmot (pictured), a species of giant squirrel. Once the world’s most feared disease, bubonic plague is easily treated nowadays using antibiotics. Nevertheless, the herdsman’s diagnosis will cause concern given the impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic globally. Bubonic plague is caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria that live in some animals (mainly rodents) and their fleas. As a result of the bubonic plague discovery, a level 3 alert, which bans the hunting and eating of animals that could carry the disease, has been implemented until the end of the year. It is worth noting that these new cases are nothing out of the ordinary. From 2010 to 2015, 3,248 cases of bubonic plague were reported worldwide, including 584 deaths. Speaking about the recent bubonic plague outbreak in China, Dr Matthew Dryden, consultant microbiologist at the University of Southampton in the UK, told BBS News: “It is good that this has been picked up and reported at an early stage because it can be isolated, treated and spread prevented. “Bubonic plague is caused by a bacterium and so, unlike Covid-19, is readily treated with antibiotics. So although this might appear alarming, being another major infectious disease emerging from the East, it appears to be a single suspected case which can be readily treated.”
It’s impossible to turn on the news at the moment and not be greeted with updates about the coronavirus disease, COVID-19. The problem, however, with so much news coverage is that it can be difficult to discern which pieces of information are true and which are simply myths. To help provide some clarity, we have compiled this list of coronavirus myths: Myth 1. Children cannot catch the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) While the majority of coronavirus cases have been in adults, people of any age can become infected with SARS-CoV-2. What is true is that adults with several pre-existing health conditions are more likely to become severely ill. Myth 2. COVID-19 is just like the flu While COVID-19 causes many symptoms that could be described as ‘flu-like’ and both illnesses can lead to pneumonia, the overall profile of COVID-19 is more serious than ordinary flu. While the actual mortality rate of COVID-19 remains unclear, it is expected to be many times higher than that of seasonal flu. Myth 3. Antibiotics kill coronavirus COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2, a virus. Antibiotics only kill bacteria, so they are all but useless against the new coronavirus. Myth 4. Thermal scanners can diagnose coronavirus The only thing that thermal scanners can detect is an elevated body temperature (a fever). While this is one of the symptoms of COVID-19, it cannot be used to diagnose the disease alone. Myth 5. Face masks protect against coronavirus Wearing a face mask is not guaranteed to protect you from SARS-CoV-2 – especially if the face mask is ill-fitting. Where face masks can make a real difference is when they are worn by people with the virus, as they can help prevent others from becoming infected. [Related reading: A lesser known COVID-19 symptom to look out for]
The current COVID-19 pandemic has triggered many people to start doing something they should have already been doing on a regular basis: washing their hands. But while keeping your hands clean and observing social distancing rules are two of the best ways to protect yourself from this horrible virus, there is another fundamental part of your daily life that could be leaving you vulnerable and that’s your cellphone. Cellphones – particularly their touchscreens – can be a haven for bacteria, viruses and fungi. Most worrying of all, though, is the fact that SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – is detectable for up to three days on plastic and stainless steel. Now, obviously you can’t wash your cellphone under the tap with soap, so what’s the answer? First and foremost, before you attempt to clean your cellphone, consult the manufacturer’s website. It should contain directions on how to safely clean your phone. Apple, for example, has cleaning recommendations and guidelines on its website [here]. How often should you clean your phone? If you’re diligent about washing your hands regularly, you can probably get away with cleaning your cellphone once or twice a day. But if it’s frequently placed down on potentially dirty surfaces, you should probably be doing so more often. However, according to Dr. David Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences at Missouri University of Science and Technology, you should clean your cellphone immediately if you have been near someone who was coughing and sneezing.
The Mediterranean diet, which features plenty of vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans and whole grains, has long been lauded for its heart health benefits. But now a new study shows that it could also improve brain function in elderly people, even when only eaten for a year. According to the research published in the BMJ, following a Mediterranean diet for just 12 months can inhibit production of inflammatory chemicals in elderly individuals that can lead to loss of cognitive function, as well as prevent the development of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and atherosclerosis. For the study, 612 elderly people from France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom has their gut microbiome analysed. Then, 323 of them were put on a special diet, based on Mediterranean principles, for one year, while the rest were asked to eat as they normally would. After 12 months, all of the study participants had their gut microbiome re-analysed. Those who had followed the Mediterranean diet saw beneficial changes to the microbiome in their digestive system. The rate at which bacterial diversity was lost slowed and the production of potentially harmful inflammatory markers was reduced. Furthermore, there was also a growth of beneficial bacteria linked to improved memory and brain function. So-called “keystone” species, critical for a stable “gut ecosystem”, were also boosted, helping to slow signs of frailty, such as walking speed and hand grip strength. “Our findings support the feasibility of changing the habitual diet to modulate the gut microbiota which in turn has the potential to promote healthier aging,” the study authors said.
Penicillin was discovered by chance in 1928 when Alexander Fleming noticed it had powerful antibacterial properties. Fast forward to the 1940s and penicillin was being commonly used in the fight against deadly infections. But penicillin is not for everyone and some people are allergic to the popular antibiotic. If someone has ever had a reaction to the drug, their medical records usually contain a note of this “fact”. However, new research suggests that many people who believe they are allergic to penicillin may have outgrown their allergy, or they may not have been allergic in the first place. In fact, the research shows that as many as nine in 10 people who think they are allergic to penicillin may not be. Speaking at the ACAAI Annual Scientific Meeting 2019 in Houston, TX, the researchers added that some patient’s penicillin allergies remain on their medical records even if they test negative later in life. “Our study found that of the 52 patients who tested negative to penicillin and were interviewed, 98% understood they were not allergic to penicillin,” said lead author, Dr. Sonam Sani, an allergist, immunologist, and fellow of the ACAAI. “Of those, 29% still had a penicillin allergy label in their electronic medical record, and 24% still carried the label in their pharmacy records,” she added. The research is important because it highlights just how easy it is for someone to assume they have a penicillin allergy when, in fact, they don’t. Many penicillin alternatives are more expensive, have lower efficacy, and risk boosting antibiotic resistance.
Some species of bacteria are stripping off their outer layers in an attempt to evade antibiotics and survive. It’s a reality that could explain why some infections keep coming back. According to researchers at Newcastle University in the UK, the bacteria are “undressing” and removing their cell walls – the very part of them that some antibiotics target. The cell walls of some bacteria are made from sugars and amino acids. While they give the bacteria shape and protection, these walls provide a weak spot that can be exploited by antibiotics. Penicillin, the first antibiotic to be discovered and the most widely used in the world, works by disrupting the cell wall and causing the bacteria to burst. The study, which is published in the journal Nature Communications, found that bacteria associated with recurring urinary tract infections in elderly patients slipped out of their cell walls to avoid the effect of the antibiotics. It’s the first time that research has shown bacteria using this method to survive antibiotic treatment and while not all survive – most get taken care of by the body’s immune system - it does offer some explanation as to why certain infections come back again and again. The discovery could pave the way for new treatments to be developed, including combination therapies that target both the bacteria’s cell wall and inner workings.
The method via which a baby is born has a dramatic impact on its gut bacteria and could explain why babies born by Caesarean section are more likely to experience health problems later in life, a new study has found. The study by Wellcome Sanger Institute, UCL, and the University of Birmingham – the largest of its kind – looked at babies’ microbiomes (the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our guts) to see if they formed differently depending on how a baby was born. For the research, samples were taken on a regular basis from the nappies of 600 babies in their first month of life. The results showed that vaginally born babies got most of their first bacteria from their mothers. However, babies born via Caesarean section showed high levels of hospital bugs, with some having as much as 30% of their total microbiomes made up by such bugs. It’s a reality that could explain why babies born by Caesarean section are more susceptible to certain conditions when they are older, like allergies, asthma and type 1 diabetes. Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Trevor Lawley, from the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “What surprised me and scared me was the amount of healthcare bugs showing up in these children. “But what excites me is we have an amazing body of data now that we can build on, to think about how to properly establish the human ecosystem, starting at birth.”
Drinking red wine (in moderation) could be good for your gut, according to researchers from the UK. The team from King’s College London says red wine contains compounds that help increase the number of different types of bacteria that live in the gut. The micronutrients, known as polyphenols, are more abundant in red wine vs. beer, cider and white wine, and act as fuel for microbes living inside the bowel. Polyphenols are found in many fruits and vegetables, including the grapes used to make red wine. The researchers say even just one glass of red wine a fortnight can make a difference, but warn that their findings should not be used as an excuse to binge drink. Publishing its research in the journal Gastroenterology, the team said the “friendly” bugs in our gut help keep us healthy. Even small changes in our gut microbiota – the community of bugs that live there – can make us more susceptible to conditions like obesity, heart disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The gut microbiota of people who drink red wine was found to be more diverse than that of those who do not drink wine. Furthermore, the more wed wine consumed, the greater the levels of diversity – although it’s important to note that nobody involved in the trial was a heavy drinker. Speaking about the findings of their research, Dr Caroline Le Roy said: “If you must choose one alcoholic drink today, red wine is the one to pick as it seems to potentially exert a beneficial effect on you and your gut microbes, which in turn may also help weight and risk of heart disease.”
The humble garden snail could provide us with some ammunition in the fight against aggressive bacteria, according to two researchers from the United Kingdom. Intrigued how garden snails spend their lives sliding over dirt and coming into contact with deadly bacteria, yet don’t seem affected, Sarah Pitt, Ph.D. and Alan Gunn set out to discover why. It seems the answer lies in the mucus snails excrete. After analysing snail mucus, Pitt, principal lecturer in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Science at the University of Brighton, and Gunn, subject lead for biosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University, discovered four new previously unknown proteins. What’s more exciting is that two of these proteins appear to have strong antibacterial properties – especially against aggressive strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that causes dangerous lung infections in people who have cystic fibrosis. Speaking about the findings of their research, which appears in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, Pitt said: “In previous work, we found that the mucus consistently and convincingly inhibited the growth of one species of bacterium P. aeruginosa, a tough bacterium that can cause disease, but it did not seem to work against other bacteria. “So, in this study,we tried all the control strains of P. aeruginosa we had available in the lab here at the university as well as five strains taken from patients with [cystic fibrosis] who had lung infections with this bacterium.” The new discoveries could open up new possibilities in the fight against bacterial infections.
There are more than 376 million new cases of chlamydia, gonorrhoea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis among people aged 15-49 every year, according to figures recently released by the World Health Organization (WHO). That equates to over one million new cases of these sexually transmitted infections (STIs) every single day. It’s a reality, the WHO says, that should serve as a wake-up call – especially as such diseases can cause serious and chronic health effects like infertility, stillbirths, ectopic pregnancy, and increased risk of HIV. In 2016 alone, syphilis caused an estimated 200,000 stillbirths and newborn deaths globally. The figures show that one in 25 people, on average, has at least one of these STIs. However, many continue to live with multiple infections simultaneously. Sexually transmitted infections are predominantly spread through unprotected sexual contact, but chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and syphilis can also be passed from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth. The number one way to prevent STIs is to practise safe sex, which includes wearing a condom and having an understanding of sexual health education. People who are sexually active should also undergo regular STI screening to pick up any infections they might be carrying – sometimes completely obliviously. There is a wide variety of medications that can cure bacterial STIs. Speaking about the figures, Dr Peter Salama, Executive Director for Universal Health Coverage and the Life-Course at WHO, said: “This is a wake-up call for a concerted effort to ensure everyone, everywhere can access the services they need to prevent and treat these debilitating diseases.”
A British teenager has become the first person in the world to have a drug-resistant bacterial infection treated by genetically engineered viruses. Isabelle Holdaway, 17, was given just a 1% chance of survival after a double lung transplant to treat her cystic fibrosis left her with an intractable bacterial infection that could not be treated with antibiotics. Her arms, legs and buttocks had numerous big, black, festering lesions where the bacteria were pushing up through her skin. She finally ended up in intensive care after her liver began to fail. Every previous patient in Isabelle’s situation died – some within a year, despite aggressive treatment. Desperate for a solution, Isabelle’s mother researched alternative treatments online and came across phage therapy. It’s not new; doctors have been using it for nearly a century, but its use has been eclipsed by antibiotics because they are much easier to use. Isabelle’s care team at Great Ormond Street Hospital contacted Prof Graham Hatfull at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, in the US, who had the world's largest collection of phages (approximately 15,000). Hatfull and his team identified three potential phages that would be effective in tackling Isabelle’s bacterial infection and genetically modified two of them to make them more effective. Isabelle was injected with the cocktail of phages twice daily and they were also applied to the lesions on her skin. Within just six weeks, a liver scan showed that the infection had essentially disappeared. Phage therapy involves injecting bacteria-killing viruses into a patient’s body which track down, infect and ultimately kill bacteria. The phages hijack the bacterial cell and turn it into a phage factory until the viruses burst out of the bacteria killing it in the process. While Isabelle’s fatal infection has not been completely cured, it is under control and she is beginning to lead a normal life. She still has two infusions of phages every day and is currently waiting for a fourth phage to be added to the mix, which will hopefully clear the infection completely.
Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics is commonplace in the United States, a new study has found. According to the analysis of prescription data for 19.2 million people by researchers from Northwestern University in Chicago, IL; the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor; and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, MA, 23.2% of all antibiotic prescriptions written in 2016 were inappropriate. The findings of the research published in the British Medical Journal reveal that colds, coughs, and chest infections – all of which are usually caused by viruses - were the top conditions that antibiotics were inappropriately prescribed. Antibiotics are only effective when used to fight illnesses caused by bacteria, not viruses. The problem with taking antibiotics inappropriately is that it can lead to antibiotic resistance. This is where bacteria are able to survive drugs that once killed them. Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approx. 2 million people in the US every year acquire antibiotic resistant infections. As a result, more than 23,000 die. Speaking about the findings of the research, lead author Kao-Ping Chua, M.D., Ph.D., said “Antibiotic overuse is still rampant and affects an enormous number of patients. “Despite decades of quality improvement and educational initiatives, providers are still writing antibiotic prescriptions for illnesses that would get better on their own.”
The health benefits of eating fiber have long been hailed, but how much fiber should we all be eating to prevent chronic disease and premature death? A new study reveals just that… Commissioned by the World Health Organization (WHO), the research is the culmination of a meta-analysis of observational studies and clinical trials that took place over almost 40 years. The results appear in the journal The Lancet. One of the objectives of the research was to help in the development of new guidelines for dietary fiber consumption, as well as discover which carbs protect us the most against noncommunicable diseases. So how much fiber should we be eating? Well, the research found that a daily intake of 25–29 grams of fiber is ideal. People who consumed this amount of fiber each day were 15–30 percent less likely to die prematurely from any cause and had a 16–24 percent lower incidence of stroke, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and colon cancer. The researchers also say that consuming more than 29 grams of fiber per day could lead to even more health benefits. Speaking about the findings of the study, Professor Jim Mann, of the University of Otago, in New Zealand, said: “The health benefits of fiber are supported by over 100 years of research into its chemistry, physical properties, physiology, and effects on metabolism. “Fiber-rich whole foods that require chewing and retain much of their structure in the gut increase satiety and help weight control and can favorably influence lipid and glucose levels. “The breakdown of fiber in the large bowel by the resident bacteria has additional wide-ranging effects including protection from colorectal cancer.” Fiber-rich foods include vegetables, whole grains, fruit, and pulses, such as beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas. Are you consuming enough fiber?
Nobody likes to see a baby with a cold. After all, runny noses and a cough are bad enough when you’re fully grown, let alone when you’re still just an infant. But new research suggests that babies who are born with lots of different bacteria in their noses are more likely to recover quicker from their first cold and could help bolster the way we deal with colds going forward. The findings of the research are interesting because the common cold is caused by a virus, yet it would appear that bacteria found in the respiratory tract do play a part when it comes to recovery. Indeed, the researchers from the University Children's Hospital of Basel found that babies who have lots of different bacteria living in their nose tend to recover more quickly from their first respiratory virus. Moreover, babies with fewer different types of bacteria take longer to recover. Prof Tobias Welte, President of the European Respiratory Society, said: “There is an association between respiratory symptoms in babies in the first year of life and the development of asthma by school age. “We do not yet fully understand this link but the bacteria living in the upper airways could play a role.” He also welcomed further research to help determine the relationship between bacteria, respiratory infections and long-term lung health.
Children are more prone to catching colds than adults. In fact, kids get around six to eight colds a year – that’s twice as many as adults. But what are the best remedies for youngsters with a common cold? Well, according to a review of over-the-counter treatments published in The BMJ, there’s little evidence that any of them work, and some, like decongestants, could actually do more harm than good. That’s because decongestants and combination drugs that contain decongestants can cause drowsiness, headaches, insomnia and upset stomach. Furthermore, if they are given to children under the age of 2, they can cause serious complications such as convulsions and rapid heart rate. In reality, there is no cure for the common cold. While it can cause irritating and uncomfortable symptoms, including a sore throat, cough, congestion, sneezing and a raised temperature, after a week or so, they usually go away on their own. So what’s the answer? Saline nasal washes, says Dr Rahul Chodhari, consultant paediatrician and spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. They can be applied several times a day, with zero side effects, and help to clear mucus from the nasal cavity, reducing congestion. Dr Chodhari advises that cough syrups are not recommended for children because they stop them coughing up mucus and getting rid of it. Also, because antibiotics only work to combat bacterial infections, they do nothing to relieve colds.
We recently wrote about how foods packed with good bacteria provide no benefits. Now, new research is dragging yoghurts under the spotlight because of the amount of sugar many contain. In fact, according to the research led by Leeds University in the UK, some yoghurts contain more sugar per 100g than cola. Publishing their findings in the journal BMJ Open, the team of researchers said that even organic yoghurts often contain way too much sugar. The only yoghurts, they said, that can be considered low in sugar are natural and Greek-style. For the research, the team analysed 900 different yoghurts on sale in supermarkets in the UK. Perhaps unsurprisingly, yoghurt deserts were found to contain the most sugar (an average of 16.4g per 100g). More surprising, though, are the findings relating to organic yoghurts. That’s because many people see them as a healthy option, not knowing they contain so much sugar. The UK government are trying to reduce the amount of sugar consumed by the public and yoghurts are one of the areas they want to see addressed. This new research underlines why. To be classed as ‘low sugar’ a product needs to contain no more than 5g of sugar per 100g. Just 9% of the yoghurts studied were found to be below this threshold. Dr Bernadette Moore, lead researcher of the study, said: “I think people, including parents, will be surprised to know just how much sugar there is in yoghurt. “My advice would be to buy natural yoghurt and mix in your own fruit.”
So-called ‘good bacteria’ that are contained in many popular probiotic drinks are “quite useless,” according to a group of scientists in Israel. Until now, probiotics have been seen as healthy and good for the gut, but the findings of the team from the Weizmann Institute of Science show otherwise. Their study is among the most detailed analyses to date of what happens when we consume probiotics. For their research, the team created a cocktail containing 11 common good bacteria and gave it to 25 healthy volunteers. Samples were then taken from each of the volunteer’s stomachs, as well as their small and large intestines. The scientists were looking to see where the bacteria successfully colonised and whether any changes in the activity of the gut were evident. Publishing their findings in the journal Cell, the scientists said that in half of cases the good bacteria literally went in one end and out the other, without providing any benefits whatsoever. In the rest, they hung around for a bit before being overwhelmed by the bacteria that commonly frequents our bodies. Speaking about the research, Dr Eran Elinav said people should not expect off-the-shelf products to provide them with definitive health benefits. He suggested that the future of probiotics lies in creating bacteria cocktails that are tailored to the specific needs of individuals. “And in that sense just buying probiotics at the supermarket without any tailoring, without any adjustment to the host, at least in part of the population, is quite useless,” he said.
Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease found in tropical and sub-tropical climates worldwide. Severe dengue is a leading cause of death and serious illness among children in Asian and South American countries. Unfortunately, there is no definitive medical treatment for dengue fever, but hope may be on the horizon. That’s because researchers in Australia say they have managed to eradicate dengue from an entire city using captive-bred mosquitoes. The captive-bred mosquitoes have the naturally-occurring bacteria Wolbachia, which hinders dengue transmission. The bacteria are spread as the released mosquitoes mate with local mosquitoes. As a result, the city of Townsville has been dengue-free since 2014. The researchers, all of whom are from Monash University, also believe the technique could be used to stop other mosquito-borne diseases like Zika and malaria. Speaking to the Guardian, Scott O'Neill, director of the World Mosquito Program, said: "Nothing we've got is slowing these diseases down - they are getting worse." "I think we've got something here that's going to have a significant impact and I think this study is the first indication that it's looking very promising." The results of the Australian researchers’ study were published in Gates Open Research. The next step is to trial the approach in Yogyakarta in Indonesia - a city of nearly 390,000.
The modern, germ-free lifestyles many children lead could be responsible for the most common type of cancer in children - acute lymphoblastic leukaemia - according to one of the UK’s most well-respected scientists. Professor Mel Greaves, from the Institute of Cancer Research, has been studying for 30 years how the immune system can become cancerous if it is not exposed to enough bugs early in life. Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia affects one in 2,000 children and is more common in advanced, affluent societies, suggesting cleaner modern lifestyles could play a defining role. Prof Greaves says the disease happens in three stages: a genetic mutation inside the womb, a lack of exposure to microbes in early life and an immune malfunction and leukaemia in childhood. He believes that it could be possible to prevent the condition. Prof Greaves said: "The research strongly suggests that acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has a clear biological cause and is triggered by a variety of infections in predisposed children whose immune systems have not been properly primed." Unfortunately, preventing the disease isn’t as simple as exposing children to dirt. They need, according to Prof Greaves, contact with beneficial bacteria. The best way to do this is to give them a safe cocktail of bacteria, such as in a yoghurt drink, that will help boost their immune system. [Related reading: Thumb-suckers and nail-biters less prone to allergies – study]
Cranberry juice has long been used by people to provide relief from and even treat urine infections. But new draft guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) say there is not enough good evidence, despite people’s experiences, to recommend it as a treatment. Even though some studies have concluded that cranberry juice may be beneficial for people with urine infections, NICE says people should drink plenty of water or fluids and take painkillers instead. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are caused by bacteria, which is why some people may be prescribed antibiotics to treat them, but these drugs are not always necessary. NICE says that when antibiotics are required, the shortest course possible should be prescribed to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance. Prof Mark Baker, director for the centre of guidelines at NICE, said: "We recognise that the majority of UTIs will require antibiotic treatment, but we need to be smarter with our use of these medicines. "Our new guidance will help healthcare professionals to optimise their use of antibiotics. "This will help to protect these vital medicines and ensure that no one experiences side effects from a treatment they do not need."
If you’re a regular cinema-goer, chances are you purchase some snacks and fizzy drinks to accompany each movie you watch. But our blog post today might make you think twice about ordering that fizzy drink on your next visit. That’s because an investigation by a UK TV programme has revealed that a startling number of cinema drinks in the country contain unacceptably high levels of bacteria. According to the investigation by BBC One’s Watchdog programme, fizzy drinks from seven out of 30 cinemas tested were found to have unacceptable bacteria levels. Even more concerning is that traces of the bacteria salmonella were discovered in two drinks served up by one of the cinema chains. Watchdog also says that ice containing unacceptable levels of bacteria was also found. Less than 1,000 units of bacteria per one millilitre of liquid is considered acceptable, but some of the ice tested in one particular cinema branch was found to contain a staggering 10 million bacteria in one millilitre of liquid. Speaking about the programme’s findings, Mr Lewis, head of policy at the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, said: "Ultimately, it's about people cutting corners and it's also about managers, owners of cinemas, managers of cinemas, not taking their responsibilities seriously and potentially keeping on top of the issues."
Individuals who routinely drink more than one alcoholic beverage every day have an overabundance of bad bacteria and less good bacteria in their mouths, a new study has found. Compared to their non-drinking peers, drinkers have less good, such as Lactobacillales that help protect your gums, and more bad bacteria, such as certain Actinomyces, Bacteroidales, and Neisseria species that can lead to gum disease, heart problems and even some cancers. [Related reading: Regular excess drinking found to shorten life expectancy] Publishing their findings in the science journal Microbiome, the study authors said the acids found in alcoholic drinks could make the oral environment hostile for certain bacteria to grow, hence the lower number of so-called good bacteria. For the study, a group of more than 1,000 individuals had their saliva tested. The group included 270 non-drinkers, 614 moderate drinkers and 160 heavy drinkers. The results show that the drinkers had more Bacteroidales, Actinomyces and Neisseria species of bacteria, all potentially harmful, as well as fewer Lactobacillales, a family of bacteria associated with a reduction of gum inflammation. Talking about the findings of the study, Jiyoung Ahn, the study's senior investigator and an epidemiologist at the NYU School of Medicine, said: "heavy alcohol intake is a known risk factor for multiple chronic diseases, including cancers (head and neck, esophagus, colon and breast), liver disease and cardiovascular diseases."
New figures show that rates of tuberculosis (TB) in England are at their lowest level in 35 years, having fallen by a third in the last six years. According to data from Public Health England, tuberculosis rates have declined by 38% since 2012. In fact, there was a 9.3% decline in 2017 alone, highlighting how the country’s efforts to eradicate the disease are proving effective. Improved diagnosis, treatment and awareness are being credited for the decline. However, despite the fall, England still has one of the highest rates of TB in Western Europe, with 5,200 people affected in 2017. Dr Sarah Anderson, head of the National TB Office at Public Health England, said: "People often think that TB is a Victorian disease that is no longer a problem in England, but in fact it still affects over 5,000 people a year and there is still a lot to do until the target to eliminate TB is met.” TB is a bacterial infection that primarily affects a person’s lungs and it is spread through coughs and sneezes. But despite its infectious nature, it is actually quite difficult to catch. Nevertheless, it can be fatal if left untreated. Another issue is that TB is becoming resistant to some of the major drugs used to treat it, which is why the BCG vaccine that offers protection against TB is recommended for babies, children and adults alike who are at risk of catching the disease.
Last month, we reported how scientists in the US had found superbug-killing antibiotics in soil. While that might have seemed an unlikely place to find something that has the potential to save countless lives, where scientists have now discovered powerful proteins capable of fighting superbugs is even stranger. Back in 2010, Australian scientists found that platypus milk contains a potent protein which is able to fight superbugs. As if Platypuses weren’t weird enough, what with their duck's beaks, venomous feet and the fact they’re mammals that lay eggs, their potentially beneficial milk only adds to their uniqueness. While it’s been years since scientists made the discovery, it’s only now that they understand why platypus milk is so good at fighting superbugs. Being monotremes, platypuses lay eggs and produce milk. However, they don’t have nipples and instead secrete milk through pores along their stomachs. It is this strange feeding system that is thought to give platypus milk its antibacterial properties, according to scientists. Dr Janet Newman, from Australia's national science agency CSIRO, said: “Platypus are such weird animals that it would make sense for them to have weird biochemistry.” While mammal milk is usually secreted via the animal’s nipples and remains sterile, platypus milk is decidedly dirtier. That’s why scientists think it contains unique antibacterial properties. Scientists hope the milk can be used to develop new antibiotics that can help fight superbugs.
Scientists in the United States have found a new family of antibiotics living in soil and early tests show they could be effective in killing several bacterial diseases that have become resistant to existing antibiotic treatments. The compounds, called malacidins, have been shown to kill the superbug MRSA, which is caused by a type of staph bacteria that has become resistant to many of the traditional antibiotics used to treat such infections. Experts say the finding holds a huge amount of promise in the global fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria. At present, they are estimated to kill around 700,000 people every year. Discovering new antibiotics in soil isn’t actually that rare. At any one time dirt is teeming with millions of different micro-organisms which produce an abundance of potentially therapeutic compounds, including new antibiotics. A team at New York's Rockefeller University, led by Dr Sean Brady, has been busy unearthing them using a gene sequencing technique to analyse soil samples taken from all over the US. The team had a hunch that malacidins might be important when they found them in many of the soil samples they analysed. Despite the potentially ground-breaking importance of the discovery, Dr Brady stressed there’s still a long way to go, saying: "It is impossible to say when, or even if, an early stage antibiotic discovery like the malacidins will proceed to the clinic. It is a long, arduous road from the initial discovery of an antibiotic to a clinically used entity."
According to health officials at Public Health England, more patients should be advised to go home and get some rest, rather than be prescribed antibiotics. In fact, the health body says that up to a fifth of antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary and many conditions get better on their own. Overusing antibiotics runs the risk of bugs developing an immunity to certain drugs and developing into so-called superbugs in the future, which cannot be treated with current medicines. While antibiotics are, of course, vital for treating sepsis, pneumonia, bacterial meningitis and other severe infections, they are not essential for every illness. For example, common coughs and bronchitis can take up to three weeks to clear on their own and antibiotics only reduce that timeframe by literally a few days. Prof Paul Cosford, medical director at PHE, told the BBC: "We don't often need antibiotics for common conditions. "The majority of us will get infections from time to time and will recover because of our own immunity." He said patients should not go to their doctor "expecting an antibiotic". So don’t be surprised if your doctor isn’t quick to prescribe you antibiotics the next time you’ve got a cough or a cold. They will actually be doing you a favour in the long-run and helping to prevent the rise of drug-resistant superbugs that we all should be concerned about.
A new meningitis test that can provide results within 60 minutes, expediting diagnoses and saving more lives, has started to be used by an A&E department in a hospital in Northern Ireland. Researchers say that the new test will allow doctors at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children to treat patients fast and accurately, rather than "just in case". A positive meningitis diagnosis can take up to two days, yet infections can overwhelm a person’s body and kill in just hours, which is why fast treatment is so crucial. Furthermore, symptoms may not be obvious until it is too late. Doctors currently have to rely on clinical judging to decide whether antibiotics should be urgently administered and tend to err on the side caution, meaning some patients receive drugs that they don’t necessarily need. The rapid LAMP (Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification) test on blood, spinal fluid or nasal swab samples will be trialled over a two-year period at the hospital and used to help doctors see if their clinical hunches are correct. Antibiotics will also still be used during the pilot as an extra precaution when doctors determine they are needed. Researcher Dr Tom Waterfield from Queen's University, Belfast, said the LAMP test could also help spot less obvious cases that might otherwise slip through the net. "With the best will in the world you can still miss cases if a child looks quite well and you think it is viral rather than bacterial. "The test could also provide reassurance earlier to anxious parents that their sick child is getting the right treatment. Two days is a long time to wait for a confirmed diagnosis".
Scientists in the United States have re-engineered a crucial antibiotic in the hope that it will be able to wipe out some of the world’s most deadly superbugs. According to the PNAS journal, the new version of vancomycin is a thousand times more potent than the old drug and fights bacteria in three different ways, making it much more difficult for bugs to dodge. Despite the fact it hasn’t been tested on animals or people yet, the Scripps Research Institute team behind the drug hope it will be ready for use within five years if it passes more tests. The breakthrough is an important one as many experts have already warned we are on the verge of an “antibiotic Armageddon”, which could see some infections become untreatable with current drugs. One such hard-to-treat infection is vancomycin-resistant enterococci or VRE. While some antibiotics do work against it, 60-year-old drug vancomycin is now powerless. That’s one of the reasons the team from Scripps set out to boost its potency and killing ability. Prof Nigel Brown of the Microbiology Society said: "This development could be hugely important. "Vancomycin is an antibiotic of last resort against some serious infections. There has been great concern that resistance has been emerging."
People should be cautious when purchasing medications online after an investigation uncovered "widespread failings" at some Internet-based providers, the Care Quality Commission (CQC) has said. The independent regulator of health and social care in England inspected 11 internet prescription services in the country and found some "potentially presenting a significant risk to patients". Despite some providers being well-run, others were cutting corners, according to the CQC investigation. For example, two online providers - Treated.com and MD Direct - did little or no checking of patients' identities. In addition, they were guilty of inadequate prescribing and gave no assurances that the clinicians working behind the scenes had the qualifications or relevant skills for the roles they were performing. Talking to BBC Radio 5 Live, Prof Steve Field, the CQC's chief inspector of general practice, said: ""Some of these websites prescribed unlicensed medicines and - even more worryingly - medicines for diabetes, Parkinson's disease, heart disease and Lithium for bipolar disorder." The CQC has now drawn up a set of clear standards for online pharmacies. Going forward, all Internet-based providers must: verify that a patient is who they say they are, such as through a Skype check obtain a comprehensive and up-to-date medical history ensure patients truly understand what medicines they are being given seek permission to contact a patient's GP One of the biggest problems cited with antibiotics being sold online is that some people treat them like sweets. More discipline is needed if we are to prevent the so-called antibiotic apocalypse - where bacteria become resistant to more and more drugs - from happening.
A Mediterranean-inspired meal with lashings of virgin olive oil may help to protect your heart, according to new research. Cholesterol is carried around the blood by two different types of molecules called lipoproteins: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL). You'll most likely know LDL as "bad cholesterol". That's because high levels of LDL can lead to plaque building up in arteries, which can result in heart disease and stroke. HDL, on the other hand, the so-called "good bacteria", actually absorbs cholesterol and carries it to the liver where it is flushed from the body. That's why having high levels of HDL can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Previous research has shown that the Mediterranean diet can protect against the development of heart disease as it improves the lipid profile of HDLs. The new research - which was led by Montserrat Fitó, Ph.D., coordinator of the Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute in Barcelona, Spain - aimed to determine whether eating a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil or nuts over a long period of time would improve the beneficial properties of HDL in humans. Fitó's team randomly selected a total of 296 people who already had a high risk of heart disease and were participating in a separate study. They had an average age of 66 and were assigned to one of three diets for a year. They found that the individuals on the Mediterranean diet enriched with virgin olive oil had improved HDL functions. "Following a Mediterranean diet rich in virgin olive oil could protect our cardiovascular health in several ways, including making our 'good cholesterol' work in a more complete way," said Fitó.
A new treatment for early stage prostate cancer has been described as "truly transformative" by surgeons. The approach, which has been tested across Europe, uses lasers and a drug made from deep sea bacteria to eliminate tumours, without any severe side effects. The results of clinical trials on some 413 men, which were published in The Lancet Oncology, showed nearly half of them had no remaining trace of cancer. One of the biggest issues for men with early stage prostate cancer is that treatment often leads to lifelong impotence and incontinence. That's why many men choose the "wait and see" approach when they are diagnosed in the early stages and only opt for treatment if their cancer starts growing aggressively. These new findings turn that approach on its head and "change everything," according to Prof Mark Emberton, who tested the technique at University College London. The bacteria that the drug is made from live in total darkness and become toxic when exposed to light. This is how the new treatment works. Fibre optic lasers are inserted through the perineum (the gap between the anus and the testes) and into the cancerous prostate gland. When they are activated the drug kills the cancer and leaves the healthy prostate behind. While the fact that 49% of patients went into complete remission is remarkable in itself, the additional finding that impact on sexual activity and urination lasted for no more than three months makes the treatment even more amazing. Even though more research is needed, the findings of the study are being hailed as "truly transformative" for prostate cancer patients.
The fight against superbugs could have a new ally in predatory bacteria, according to researchers in the UK. Animal studies, the results of which were published in the journal Current Biology, showed that an injection of Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus acted like a "living antibiotic" to help clear an otherwise lethal infection. The studies also showed that there would be no side effects. Experts said the "unusual" approach should not be overlooked. Bdellovibrio is a fast-swimming bacterium that finds its way inside other bacteria and eats their insides, causing it to swell in size. Once it has finished gorging, Bdellovibrio replicates and bursts out of its now dead host. The research teams from Imperial College London and the University of Nottingham tested to see what impact Bdellovibrio would have on Shigella, a common cause of food poisoning which more than a million people each year die from. Their laboratory tests showed that Bdellovibrio devastated the population of superbug Shigella 4,000-fold. Commenting on the research, Dr Serge Mostowy, from Imperial College London, said: "It is definitely a creative approach and what is special is the inability of the host to develop resistance." Scientists continue to look for alternatives to antibiotics because of the growing levels of bacteria that are becoming resistant to them and to reduce our over reliance on them.
A new study by the University of Cambridge in the UK has found that viruses are more dangerous when they infect people in the mornings. In fact, the findings of the study, which were published in the medical journal PNAS, show that virus infections that occur in the morning can be up to 10 times more dangerous for the individual. For the study, the Cambridge researchers infected mice at different times of the day with either influenza or herpes. They then looked whether there was any correlation between the time of day when the infection occurred and the potency of the virus. Mice that were infected in the morning were found to have viral levels 10 times higher than those infected in the evening. Unlike bacteria or parasites, viruses rely on the cells of their host to replicate and grow. However, those cells change dramatically throughout the day as part of our 24-hour body clocks. The researchers say their findings could pave the way for stopping pandemics. For example, when faced with a pandemic, it could be life-saving for people to stay inside during the daytime. A virus infection in the evening is like someone trying to hijack a factory once all the workers have gone home. In other words, it's likely to be unsuccessful.
Chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infections in the world and, at present, there is currently no approved vaccine for human use, and condoms are the best form of protection. However, promising new research from Canada published in the journal Vaccine shows that a chlamydia vaccine prototype administered to mice helped the animals fight off the infection. The team of researchers from McMaster University in Ontario gave the mice two doses of the experimental vaccine via their noses. The animals were then exposed to chlamydia bacteria and the researchers found that the vaccinated mice had fewer instances replicating in their systems. Furthermore, the vaccinated mice were found to be less likely to get damaged fallopian tubes as a result of being infected with the bacteria. Prof James Mahony, from the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine at McMaster University, said the results were "very promising". "We will trial the vaccine on other animal models before moving on to human trials," he added. In 2015, there were more than 200,000 chlamydia diagnoses in the UK alone, and over half of those were in young people aged between 15 and 24. Chlamydia often doesn't cause any symptoms, so many people do not even know they have it. If left untreated, it can lead to significant long-term health problems, including infertility, which is why this new prototype vaccine is such an exciting breakthrough.
Most people get cravings for high-calories foods, such as chocolate and pizza, from time to time. But new research suggests that such cravings can be reduced by consuming a supplement called inulin-propionate ester. Researchers from Imperial College London and the University of Glasgow found that study participants who drank milkshakes containing the gut bacteria-based supplement were less likely to crave high-calorie foods. Presenting their findings in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the researchers said the supplement works by increasing the amount of propionate in the gut - a compound that is released naturally when a person consumes the fibre inulin, which is found in artichokes, bananas and asparagus. Inulin slows digestion, increase fullness and reduces appetite, and it is already used as a dietary supplement today. For the study, the researchers asked a group of 20 healthy men to drink milkshakes. Half of the group's milkshakes contained inulin-propionate ester, while the other half contained just inulin alone. The researchers then showed the men pictures of different foods; some high calorie, some low calorie. The study participants' brain activities were monitored throughout to see how they reacted to the various pictures. The group that drank the milkshakes containing inulin-propionate ester displayed reduced activity in their brains' reward centres - the caudate and the nucleus accumbens (both associated with food cravings) - but only when they were looking at images of high-calorie foods. In addition to being showed the food images, the men were then given equal-sized bowls of pasta and told to eat as much as they wanted. The inulin-propionate ester group consumed around 10% less than their inulin only counterparts. Dr. Douglas Morrison from the University of Glasgow, who co-authored the study, said that the research illustrates how important gut microbiota signals are for regulating appetite and influencing people's food choices.