TIME Infectious Disease

Don’t Worry, There’s Probably No Bubonic Plague on NYC Subways

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The findings of a widely publicized study may have been overblown

If you gave up riding the New York City subway after a study suggested it might be hosting bubonic plague, then it’s time to buy yourself an MTA card — the study’s conclusion has been walked back by its authors.

The research, which was published in February in the journal Cell Systems, suggested that there were possible traces of bubonic plague and anthrax on New York City subways in addition to other microbes. In a correction added to the study on July 29, the researchers underline the very speculative nature of their findings.

In reference to the bubonic plague and anthrax findings, the researchers write, “there is minimal coverage to the backbone genome of these organisms, and there is no strong evidence to suggest these organisms are in fact present, and no evidence of pathogenicity.”

When the researchers’ findings were first published several months ago, medical experts at the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the New York City Department of Health took issue and publicly called them into question. In the wake of the study’s release, the researchers admitted they could not be completely certain the bacteria they found was indeed bubonic plague, but the findings were not updated until last Wednesday.

Despite the correction, the research has not been retracted.

TIME Infectious Disease

What to Know About Legionnaires’ Disease

Four people in New York City have died from Legionnaires’ disease. Here's everything to know about the outbreak:

How serious is this outbreak?
The latest numbers suggest there are now around 65 cases of the disease reported in the South Bronx area of New York City, and four fatalities.

What is Legionnaires disease and how does it spread?
Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial ailment classified as a type of pneumonia. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Legionnaires’ can be contracted by breathing in water mist that contains the bacteria but does not spread person-to-person.

The New York City Department of Health says the disease is generally traced to plumbing systems like hot tubs, humidifiers, cooling towers and large air conditioning systems. In this case, authorities have determined the disease has spread via five local cooling towers.

How common is it?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 8,000 to 18,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease each year. Those most at risk of infection are men and women over age 50, smokers, people with chronic lung disease and those with weak immune systems, according to the NIH. The New York Times reports that cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the city increased to 225 in 2014 compared to 73 cases reported in 2004.

Can it be treated?
Yes. Most people recover with antibiotics, but the disease can be severe, and in some cases, fatal. The fatality rate for the disease can be as high as 30% depending on the outbreak, according to the CDC.

What’s it like to have Legionnaires’ disease?
Most people who are infected will not get sick, but those who do can experience respiratory issues like fever, cough and chills. Symptoms of the infection usually do not emerge until two to 10 days after exposure. The Health Department has warned New Yorkers who experience these symptoms to seek medical attention.

How can I protect myself?
Be wary of sources of water vapor. Hot tubs are one of the more common carriers of Legionnaires’ bacteria, and the CDC recommends hot tub owners be especially diligent about disinfecting their tub’s water. The Times reports many New Yorkers in the affected area are drinking bottled water, though the city has said tap water is safe.

TIME Heart Disease

Here’s How Much You Should Stand Each Day

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More evidence suggests getting off your seat and moving around is good for your health

We know that the amount of time we spend sitting each day wreaks havoc on our health, and in a new paper, researchers show that spending just two hours standing or moving around instead of sitting may have a real positive impact on our health.

In the new study published Thursday in the European Heart Journal, researchers had 782 men and women wear activity trackers 24 hours a day for seven days. The monitors tracked how much time the men and women spent stepping, sitting, standing, sleeping or lying down. The participants also provided blood samples and other measurements like blood pressure and weight.

With the data gathered from the trackers, the researchers used a mathematical model to estimate how the allotted time in each condition would impact the men and women’s health. Interestingly, they found that spending two extra hours a day standing instead of sitting was linked to better blood sugar levels and lower levels of fat in the blood (triglycerides). Specifically, more time spent standing was associated with a 2% lower average blood sugar levels and a 11% lower levels of triglycerides. Cholesterol levels showed improvement as well.

The findings also showed that spending an extra two hours moving instead of sitting was linked to a significant lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.

The study cannot definitely prove that these tweaks to the amount of time spent sitting directly causes improvements in health markers, but the researchers note that the findings do fall in line with what’s known about the impact on the body of being active (or at least not being sedentary).

More research is still needed, but the findings support the longstanding advice that moving around is better for our health than lounging around, and suggest that any decisions to purchase a standing desk are not made in vain.

TIME Health Care

Many Teens Are Still Not Getting The HPV Vaccine

Even though the HPV vaccine prevents cancer, the number of teens who get vaccinated is still lower than desired

New federal data shows that despite public health efforts, the number of teen boys and girls receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine only increased slightly in 2014.

The new numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Thursday show that four out of 10 adolescent girls and six out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the HPV vaccination series. Without vaccination, young people are at a greater risk of developing HPV-related cancers down the line.

Overall, 60% of girls in the age group and 42% of boys have received one or more doses of the vaccine which the CDC reports is 3% higher for girls and 8% higher for boys compared to data from 2013.

Currently it is recommended by the CDC that girls and boys ages 11 to 12 get the HPV vaccine. While the new numbers are an improvement from prior years, medical experts would like to see greater HPV vaccine use, especially since the vaccine prevents cancer.

HPV is not an uncommon infection. Other data from the CDC shows sexually active men and women will get at least one type of the virus at some point during their lives. Each year around 27,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with HPV-caused cancer.

We are missing crucial opportunities to protect the next generation from cancers caused by HPV,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in a statement.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Foods That Taste Better Now Than They Will All Year

Here's what should be on your grocery list this month

Want to know what’s growing now? Let’s take it one month at a time, with TIME‘s Foods That Taste Better Now Than They Will All Year.

August is one of the best months for produce, according to Chris Romano, an associate produce coordinator at Whole Foods. “In summer there are a lot of good choices out there,” he says. Based on where you live in the U.S., your produce offerings can vary, but in August there are several fruits and veggies that are in-season and tasty nationwide.

Pluots: Summer is the season for stone fruit like plums, peaches cherries and pluots—which look like deep red or nearly forest green plums—are especially flavorful this month. “August is by far their peak,” says Romano. “They really sharpen in flavor and are very dramatic in color.”

Tomatoes: These need long, hot days to really develop in flavor, Romano says. “Heirlooms have gotten so popular in the last few years,” he says. To find the perfect tomato, our friends at Cooking Light recommend looking for one with bright, shiny, firm skin that has a little give when gently squeezed.

Grapes: Grapes need a many hours of sun and heat to develop their flavors, and they concentrate all their sugars in August, says Romano. “We will see all sorts of varieties from champagne to cotton-candy grapes.” A good way to select grapes is to pay attention to the color of the stem. If the stems are brittle it means they likely won’t last very long once you bring them home. Grapes with a flexible green stem are a good bet.

Melons: Though you can get a decent melon in the fall or even winter, summer is really their peak. “Whether it’s a melon with a white, deep orange, or a salmon flesh, there’s nothing better,” says Romano. To pick a good melon, look for symmetry, a heavy weight, and no bruising.

Okra: August is a good month to keep an eye out for okra. Look for small green pods and steer clear of bruising. In the United States, okra has become a Southern cuisine staple, but people living in other U.S. regions can enjoy it too. When okra is overcooked it can have a slimy texture, so be sure to look up a couple recipes before diving in.

 

TIME 2016 Election

Donald Trump Applied to Trademark ‘Trumpublican’ and ‘Trumpocrat’

The trademarks are currently classified as abandoned

Businessman and presidential hopeful Donald Trump wanted to add some new trademarks to his collection.

The Washington Post reports the Trump team filed applications to trademark “Trumpocrat” and “Trumpublican” earlier this year. The trademarks are currently classified as abandoned, but they can still be looked up through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database.

This isn’t the first time Trump has made use of the trademark office. The real estate magnate has already secured some notable trademarks through the years, the Post notes, including “The Board Room” and “Miss Photogenic Teen USA.”

Trump’s latest applications would have covered the use of the terms on a variety of items, from T-shirts to cufflinks.

[The Washington Post]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Science of Why You Crave Comfort Food

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It's not just because these foods are tasty. It's because they make us feel less alone

In mid-July, I was visiting my hometown in Minnesota when I happened upon the unmistakable scent of something deep-fried. I was at a concert, and no matter how off-brand a dietary choice of corn dogs and cheese curds may be for a health writer, I went for it. How could I not? I spent two thoroughly enjoyable summers during college working at the Minnesota State Fair, and that experience continues to make corn-and-grease-dipped hot dogs not only appetizing but somehow irresistible, too.

Summer is the season for nostalgic eating: Hot days in the park call for a trip to the ice cream truck, concerts call for corn dogs, baseball games call for hotdogs and beer, ice-cold movie theaters call for popcorn. And it’s not just me. Researchers suggest that when we associate foods with happy memories, the effects are profound, impacting how good we think foods taste as well as how good those foods make us feel.

It makes intuitive sense that positive experiences with a given food could influence our craving for it later on, but recent research also suggests something else is at play, too: comfort foods remind us of our social ties, which means they may help us feel less lonesome when we feel isolated. In a recent July 2015 study, Jordan Troisi, an assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee, The University of The South, and his colleagues found that people with strong relationships preferred the taste of comfort food when they experienced feelings of social isolation.

“Comfort food seems to be something people associate very significantly with close relationships,” says Troisi. “This probably comes about by individuals coming to associate a particular food item with members of their family, social gatherings, and people taking care of them, which is why we see a lot of comfort foods [that are] traditional meals or things had at a party.”

Of course, what counts as comfort food is different person to person. When Troisi has asked people write about an experience they’ve had with a comfort food, essays have ranged from soup to kimchi. “It’s not just that ice cream, for instance, is really tasty. It’s that someone has developed a really significant meaning behind the idea of ice cream due to their relationships with others, and that’s what is triggering this effect,” he says.

Even the smell of a meaningful dish can elicit feelings of belonging, some research suggests. In a February 2015 study, Virginia Commonwealth University researcher Chelsea Reid and her colleagues had 160 people smell 12 different scents, including apple pie, cotton candy and baby powder and rate the extent to which the scent was familiar, arousing, autobiographically relevant, and the extent to which it elicited nostalgia. “Nostalgia can be evoked in different ways, but scents may be particularly likely to evoke nostalgia due to the strong link between scents and memory. The smell of pumpkin pie might bring all those holidays with family flooding back, or the smell of a familiar perfume might arouse memories with your partner,” says Reid.

Biologically speaking, scent and memory are closely tied. “Psychological research has demonstrated that smells are powerfully linked to memory, and to autobiographical memory in particular,” says Reid. “The olfactory bulb, which is involved in the sense of smell, is linked to areas in the brain associated with memory and emotional experiences.”

Humans have a fundamental need to belong, says Reid, and because nostalgia often centers around personal events involving people they care about, she sees the evocation of nostalgia as one way people can obtain a sense of belonging even when the people they are close to are not close by.

So while corn dogs in the summer may not be fine dining by any standard, for me, they trigger happy memories of summers long ago—and that’s a good thing. In moderation, of course.

Read next: 5 Foods That Taste Better Now Than They Will All Year

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is Why You’re a Total Sucker for Sweets

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It's true: smelling fatty food really does make you crave dessert

Bakeries may want to keep their doors open if they want to attract more customers; new research suggests that when people unconsciously smell a sweet and fatty odor—like the kind that emanates from a just-baked chocolate croissant—they’re more likely to choose to eat a high-calorie dessert.

In the new study published in the journal Appetite, researchers tested whether background cues, like sniffing something delicious, have an effect on a person’s food choices. Before the 147 people in the study even realized the experiment had begun, they were told to sit in a waiting room for 15 minutes. In one control group, they simply sat in a regular room. In another (luckier) group, they sat in a room in which the researchers had just baked pain au chocolat and activated a fragrance diffuser with the scent of the treat. The third group sat in an unscented room while a radio aired a piece about the nutritional dangers of fatty and sweet foods, and the final group experienced both the chocolate scent and the audio messages.

MORE: You Asked: Is Eating Dessert Really That Bad For Me?

Then, the people in the study were taken into a different room where they were asked to serve themselves a lunch of a starter, a main course and a dessert from a buffet.

People who had unwittingly smelled the sweet-fatty odor of the pain au chocolat were more likely to choose a high-calorie dessert, like a waffle, compared to people who hadn’t been exposed to the scented room. (Those people were more likely to choose the low-calorie dessert of applesauce.)

MORE: A New Taste Has Just Been Added To The Human Palate

Surprisingly to the researchers, the people who heard the nutritional messages also picked more high-calorie desserts that the control group, as did the group that experienced both the scent and the messaging. “We can assume that people who are faced with a complex and potentially overwhelming set of health messages every day do not pay attention to these messages,” the study authors write. “Consumers are exposed to hundreds of advertising messages per day and cannot pay attention to all of them.” Instead of taking away a healthy eating message from the radio, the researchers surmise that the men and women may have unconsciously focused on the words “fatty” and “sweet” instead.

The study sample is small, and the researchers acknowledge that they weren’t able to examine other factors related to eating habits and preferences, like gender and age. Still, the study provides insight into cues we may not even realize are influencing the foods we choose.

TIME medicine

Watch This Amazing Child Get a Bilateral Hand Transplant

A child has successfully received two new hands

Surgeons have successfully performed the first ever bilateral hand transplant on a child.

In early July, surgeons at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia performed the complex surgery to attach two donor hands to Zion Harvey, an eight-year-old boy whose hands and feet were amputated several years ago after he caught a severe and unknown infection.

“I made the decision from a medical standpoint, but ultimately, to have the surgery was Zion’s decision,” says Zion’s mother Pattie Ray in an interview with TIME. “He wanted to do what other children can do without so much trouble.”

Since Zion had already undergone a kidney transplant, he was taking anti-rejection medication which increased his potential as a viable candidate for a pediatric hand transplant. The surgery was performed this month when there was a donor match (the precise date of the surgery is withheld to protect donors). Zion also has prosthetic feet.

As depicted in the video above, the medical team performing the surgery was split into four teams, with two focusing on the donor limbs and two focusing on Zion. The surgeons connected bones with steel plates and screws and then connected the arteries and veins. When the team had successful blood flow, they connected the muscles, tendons and nerves.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

“I was nervous and anxious during his surgery,” says Ray. “When they told me the surgery was successful I breathed a big sigh of relief. I could breathe again.”

Zion continues to undergo hand therapy multiple times a day, something he became accustomed to after his prior surgeries. “He’s improving every day,” says Ray. “Yesterday he held some pizza and put it in his mouth.”

Doctors say that after his rehabilitation, Zion will be able to throw a football among other daily activities that were previously more difficult.

Ray says that Zion wants to have a party to show off his new hands when he’s released from the hospital. “He hopes to inspire others and open doors,” she says.

 

TIME Research

There’s a New Way to Predict West Nile Virus Outbreaks

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Scientists are working on a promising new model

It’s peak mosquito season in the United States, which means the risk for the mosquito-borne West Nile is up. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency sees the most cases of the disease between June and September.

As of July 21, 2015, the CDC reports that 33 states have reported West Nile in people, mosquitoes or animals and there have been 23 cases of West Nile in humans. Though many people with West Nile will not develop symptoms, the disease can cause inflammation of the brain or inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal chord. Only about 1% of people will develop neurological illness from the virus. Unfortunately there are no drugs or vaccines for West Nile. Cases have been reported in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii.

Given the fact that there’s no cure or vaccine for West Nile, being able to predict when and where the disease could spread in the U.S. before it happens would be a boon for public health experts, and researchers are getting closer to that possibility. In May, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their recent findings that showed links between the weather and incidence of West Nile virus nationwide.

MORE: You Asked: Why Do Mosquitoes Always Bite Me?

The researchers analyzed associations between temperature and precipitation and higher prevalence of West Nile virus disease in the U.S. from the years 2004 to 2012. The found notable and consistent patterns among different regions in the U.S. For instance, in the East, a drier than normal fall and spring was associated with an above average number of outbreaks. But patterns looked different in the West. Weather may influence breeding patterns as well as other vectors of the disease like birds.

The researchers are now in the process of using their findings to build a model using climate data to predict the risk of West Nile Virus transmission across the U.S. “If we can predict [West Nile virus] outbreaks, we can target public health messages to high risk regions of the country. And counties will have additional information to use for deciding about when, where, and if they should do mosquito control,” says researcher Micah Hahn a scientist at NCAR and CDC.

According to NCAR scientists Andrew Monaghan and Mary Hayden, who are also working on the model, additional data sets are being considered and implemented to help the model predict the number of cases expected in each U.S. county, including land use data, demographic data, and mosquito maps.

The hope is that the CDC will eventually adopt the model. According to Monaghan, having this information could help the CDC allocate resources to places that are likely going to be the most affected. The researchers want the model to be both informative and easily digestible to the average person. It’s also possible that the model could one day be translated to work for other mosquito-borne diseases in the United States besides West Nile.

Some researchers estimate that a functioning system will be available in about a year. Others involved are more broad in their estimations: “We continue to work on it but it may be several years before we have a validated model that we can use, if we get there at all,” says Dr. Marc Fischer of the CDC. Still, those in the community remain optimistic that such a system is possible, and may be available sooner rather than later.

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