They are known to be able to sniff out illegal drugs and even cancer, but now a new study suggests sniffer dogs can also detect COVID-19 among airline passengers. Perhaps even more remarkable is the study, conducted by researchers in Finland, also found that once trained, dogs are as acuurate at sniffing out COVID-19 as a PCR nose and throat swab test. "Our preliminary observations suggest that dogs primed with one virus type can in a few hours be retrained to detect its variants," added Anu Kantele, a professor of infectious diseases at the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, Finland, and colleagues. For the study, the researchers took four dogs previously trained to detect illegal drugs, dangerous goods and cancers, and trained them to recognise SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19. To do so, the study team used swab samples from 114 people who had tested positive for the virus on a PCR swab test, including 28 with no symptoms, and from 306 negative tests. Remarkably, the dogs were able to successfully detect 92% of infected people and 91% of uninfected people. The dogs' noses were then put to the test in a live environment at Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport in Finland between September 2020 and April 2021. The dogs correctly identified 296 (99%) of 300 passengers with negative PCR results. Read the full release at BMJ Global Health. *Image: Sniffer dogs at Melbourne Airport doing a demonstration, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
Good news for pet lovers as a new study shows that having a long-term furry companion may delay memory loss and other kinds of cognitive decline. According to the preliminary study by researchers at the University of Michigan, pet ownership was especially beneficial for working verbal memory, such as memorization of word lists. The new data is expected to be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 74th Annual Meeting in Seattle in April. In a press release, Dr. Tiffany Braley of the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who authored the study, said: “Prior studies have suggested that the human-animal bond may have health benefits like decreasing blood pressure and stress.” However, she added, “our results suggest pet ownership may also be protective against cognitive decline.” Owning a pet for five or more years was linked to delayed ageing in the brain of adults around 65 years old. While owing a dog was found to be most beneficial, followed by owning a cat, people who cared for rabbits, hamsters, birds, fish and reptiles can also reap benefits. The bottom line is the Michigan researchers found that cognitive scores decreased at a slower rate in pet owners than non-pet owners over the six-year period. *Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay
The unprecedented events of the last two years have certainly taken their toll on people's mental health. An ongoing health pandemic, disrupted lives and sporadic lockdowns have led to heightened levels of stress and anxiety. Now, new research reveals how owning a dog can has been beneficial to many people's mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak. According to the study by a team of researchers from Nestlé Purina Research in Saint-Louis in Missouri, United States, dog owners reported less depression and felt they had more social support compared with a control group during the COVID-19 pandemic. Speaking with Medical News Today, Dr. Francois Martin, lead author and section leader of the Behavior and Welfare Group at Nestlé Purina Research, said: “The context of the COVID-19 pandemic offered a unique opportunity to better understand how dogs may provide social support for their owners, buffer heightened symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, and contribute to happiness.” The researchers say their study shows that owning a dog helped protect pet owners from some of the negative psychological impacts of the pandemic. They also say that it adds to the scientific evidence that dogs provide positive support to their owners during hard times. “We also found that dog owners had significantly lower depression scores than potential dog owners, but the two groups had similar anxiety and happiness scores,” Dr. Martin added. The results from this observational study appear in the journal PLOS ONE. *Image by Sven Lachmann from Pixabay
Consuming even small amounts of red and processed meat each day can increase a person’s risk of bowel cancer, a new study has found. According to the research led by Oxford University and funded by Cancer Research UK (CRUK), just one rasher of bacon per day can increase the risk of bowel cancer. Eat three rashers per day (around 50g) and the risk of bowel cancer rises by 20%. While meat is a good source of protein, vitamins and minerals, the Department of Health in England advises that anyone who eats more than 90g of red and processed meat a day should reduce their consumption to 70g, the average daily amount consumed in the UK. Processed meat, in particular, has previously been linked to a high likelihood of causing cancer. So foods like bacon, salami, hotdogs and some sausages should not be eaten too much on a daily basis. Also, high temperature cooking, such as on a barbecue, is also thought to increase a person’s risk of cancer due to the carcinogenic chemicals that are created during the cooking process. For the research, the study team analysed health data from almost half a million people in the UK. Speaking about the findings of the research, Emma Shields, information manager at CRUK, said “This study shows the more meat you eat, the higher your risk of getting cancer and obviously the reverse is true - the less you eat the less likely you are to get bowel cancer.”
A major study has found that eating processed meat, like bacon and sausages, may raise the risk of breast cancer in women. According to the review of studies involving more than one million women, eating higher levels of processed meat could result in a 9% greater risk of developing breast cancer. The research by a team from Harvard University’s T H Chan School of Public Health reviewed 15 related studies. It supports previous findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO) which suggest processed meats cause cancer. However, while the study has identified a potential link between processed meat and breast cancer, there is no clear evidence to show these types of foods are actually the cause. Furthermore, as outlined by the study authors in the International Journal of Cancer, their findings only relate to processed meat, not red meat. Bacon, sausages, salami, ham, hot dogs and corned beef are all examples of processed meat. And while it is not fully known why these foods are associated with a greater risk of cancer, it is thought that preservatives, like salt, may react with protein in the meat turning it carcinogenic. But rather than eliminating processed meat from your diet completely, the advice is simply to cut down. At present, current NHS guidelines recommend eating no more than 70g of red and processed meat a day. If you’re eating more than that on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to make some dietary changes.
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."
New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association shows that waist-to-hip ratio is a better heart attack predictor than body mass index (BMI), with so-called “apple shape” women at greater risk than their male counterparts. According to the research from the George Institute for Global Health, waist-to-hip ratio is an 18% better heart attack predictor than BMI in women and 6% in men. However, the research also found that BMI was linked to heart disease risk in both sexes. For the research, the team from the George Institute in Oxford interviewed nearly 500,000 UK adults aged 40 to 69. They found women who had bigger waists relative to their hips are at more risk of heart attacks than men with similar body shapes. Speaking about the findings of the research, Ashleigh Doggett, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: "Considering the large amount of UK participants, this is a very interesting study which highlights that obesity remains a risk factor for heart attacks in both men and women. "Interestingly, it suggests that those of us who are 'apple' as opposed to 'pear' shape, especially women, may be at higher risk of a heart attack.” The researchers say their findings suggest the differences in the way men and women store fat may affect their risk of heart disease. While more research is needed, these findings do support the notion that being “apple shape” (having proportionally more fat around the abdomen) is more hazardous for your health than being “pear shape” (having proportionally more fat stored around the hips. The full findings of the research can be found in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
People who are overweight or obese will often do anything to help them lose weight and that includes taking food supplements, slimming teas and other so-called weight loss drugs. But now the UK’s medicines watchdog has issued a warning against the use of slimming pills bought online as they can cause serious health problems. A survey of 1,800 slimmers by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) and Slimming World found that one in three had bought weight loss pills online and two-thirds had experienced side-effects. When quizzed about why they had purchased such drugs online, 40% said it was because they had not wanted to speak to a GP or pharmacist. Some of the side-effects associated with slimming bills bought online include heart problems, blurred vision and diarrhoea. Some even contain banned ingredients. The MHRS has stressed that people should always go to their GPs for advice in the first instance. As part of its #FakeMeds campaign, the agency has also warned that buying from websites also increases the risk of being ripped off or having their identity stolen. MHRA senior policy manager Lynda Scammell said: "Quick fixes for losing weight may have serious health consequences in the short or long term, including organ failure and death. "It's essential you know what you're buying online and what the risks are. "If you don't, your weight could end up being the least of your worries."
Depression affects around 6.7% of US adults every year. On a global level, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 300 million people are currently living with the disorder. When it comes to treatment, medication, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy or a combination of these approaches is usually used. But new research adds weight to the argument for regular exercise as a depression treatment. Australia-based non-profit group Black Dog Institute conducted an analysis of data collected from 33,908 Norwegian adults who were followed over an 11-year period. Publishing their results in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the team, led by Prof. Samuel Harvey from the Black Dog Institute, found that not only does a little exercise bring substantial benefits, but a lack of exercise actually contributes to depression. Individuals who didn’t undertake any physical activity were found to be 44% more likely to develop depression than those who did just 1 or 2 hours per week. As a result, the authors concluded that approximately 12% of depression cases could have been prevented if the individual did at least 1 hour of exercise per week. "We've known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventive potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said Prof. Harvey.
Parents should be proactive in preventing their children from bingeing on the internet during the summer holidays. That’s the plea from the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, as she launches a campaign to help parents regulate their children’s internet use. With web usage at an all-time high among children, Longfield has criticised the methods used by social media giants to draw children into spending more time staring at tablets and smartphones. She said: "It's something that every parent will talk about especially during school holidays; that children are in danger of seeing social media like sweeties, and their online time like junk food. "None of us as parents would want our children to eat junk food all the time. "For those same reasons we shouldn't want our children to do the same with their online time." According to industry watchdog Ofcom, last year, the internet overtook television as the most popular media pastime for children in the UK, with kids aged five to 15 spending 15 hours a week online. Longfield added that when smartphones, games and social media make us feel worried, stressed and out of control, it means we haven’t got the balance right.
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.
We recently informed you about how researchers from Cambridge University believe a chemical compound found in dogfish sharks could be used to potentially halt the onset of Parkinson's Disease (here). Now scientists in Australia hope a drug that mimics part of a shark's immune system could be used to help treat an incurable lung disease in humans. People with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) - a condition that scars lung tissue - find that their breathing becomes progressively harder and they develop a persistent dry cough. At present, there is no cure for IPF, so treatment focuses on symptom relief and slowing the progression of the disease. Initial tests with the drug, AD-114, showed that it can successfully kill the cells that cause fibrosis. Researchers hope that human trials with AD-114 can commence as early as next year. Dr Mick Foley, from the La Trobe Institute for Molecular Science, was keen to stress that no sharks were harmed during the research, and just a single blood sample was taken from a wobbegong shark at Melbourne Aquarium for the tests. "It would be very nice to say one day that 'this person is alive because of what the sharks told us,'" Dr Foley said. IPF is a disease that kills more than 5,000 people in the UK alone every year, according to the British Lung Foundation.
Researchers believe a chemical compound found in dogfish sharks may have the potential to reduce the formation of toxic proteins that are related to the development of Parkinson's disease. Publishing their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers from Cambridge University said Squalamine - which is found in the liver of dogfish sharks - not only prevents the formation of toxic plaques, known as Lewy Bodies, which accumulate in the brain of Parkinson's sufferers, but also stops them being as damaging once they’ve already formed. It's not the first time, though, that squalamine has been used for medical purposes. It has already featured in clinical trials for cancer and eye conditions in America. A trial now in Parkinson's Disease patients is also being planned by one of the researchers involved in the study. Parkinson's Disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system marked by tremor, muscular rigidity and slow, imprecise movement. At present, up to 1 million people in the United States alone are living with Parkinson's, while its precise causes remain unclear. The hope is that if further tests prove successful, a drug treating at least some of the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease could be developed from squalamine.
It is something many people will be considering in the New Year, but the plethora of diet advice available out there can be confusing and contradictory. That's why the Mayo Clinic in Arizona set out to see which of the so-called 'low-carb' diets in the weight loss market is the most effective and, more importantly, how safe they all are. They published the results of their study in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. Their analysis of some 41 trials that evaluated the weight loss effects of low-carb diets found that individuals lost between 2.5-9 more pounds than individuals who followed a low-fat diet. Dr. Heather Fields, an internal medicine physician at Mayo Clinic and lead researcher on the study, said that adhering to low-carb diets in the short-term appears to be safe and promotes weight reduction. "However, that weight loss is small and of questionable clinical significance in comparison to low-fat diets. We encourage patients to eat real food and avoid highly processed foods, especially processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, deli meats, hot dogs, and ham when following any particular diet," she added. This is the biggest warning to come out of the research and it's because when people are following low-carb diets they tend to eat more meat, and this could increase their risk of death from all causes, including cancer - especially if they consume a lot of processed meat. Nevertheless, the studies showed that compared with many other diets, low-carb ones were effective for weight loss without adverse effects on blood pressure, glucose, and cholesterol.
People have talked about the possible negative effects of processed meat for a long time and numerous studies linking high consumption of red and processed meats with higher risk of colorectal cancer have even influenced public health recommendations in some countries. But now a report compiled on behalf of the World Health Organisation by a working group of 22 experts from 10 countries around the world has concluded that there is an association with eating processed meats and colorectal cancer risks. The findings, published recently in The Lancet Oncology, said that 50g of processed meat a day, which is equivalent to less than two slices of bacon, increased a person’s chances of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. Furthermore, the study said that red meats were “probably carcinogenic, but there was limited evidence to comment further. However, despite these findings, the WHO also emphasised that there are still health benefits associated with eating meat. Cancer Research UK’s advice is that people should cut down on their consumption of red and processed meats, rather than give them up completely. In fact, the organisation said that the occasional bacon sandwich would do little harm. Processed meat is meat that has had its shelf life extended or its taste changed by means of smoking, curing, or adding preservatives or salt. Bacon, sausages, hotdogs, corned beef, salami, ham, beef jerky and other canned meats are all considered “processed”. Chemicals used during the processing of the meats are thought to be carcinogenic catalysts, as is high-temperature cooking such as on a barbecue. Dr Kurt Straif from the WHO said: “For an individual, the risk of developing colorectal (bowel) cancer because of their consumption of processed meat remains small, but this risk increases with the amount of meat consumed.”
When it comes to your child’s health, you can never be too cautious and now a French health watchdog is warning parents not to expose children under six to 3D movies, computers or video games. The French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) says that “pioneering” scientific research now shows that 3D imaging can be detrimental to the health of younger children. It’s not recommending that children under six should never play 3D games or watch 3D movies. Furthermore, ANSES is also advising that children under 13 should only have moderate access to such content. An explosion of 3D technology has meant that children can interact with it on a regular basis but the nature of 3D presentations means that a child’s eyes are required to focus in two different places at the same time. It’s this “vergence-accommodation” while a child’s eyes are still developing that can lead to a range of symptoms developing. Double vision, dry eyes, dizziness, headaches and reduced visual acuity are just some of the issues that young children may experience as a result of viewing 3D technology, says ANSES. ANSES acknowledges that further research is required but its advice should definitely be food for thought for parents in the meantime. This new advice further emphasises how seriously healthcare in France is taken; especially when it comes to children.