TIME Solutions That Matter

See How Robotics Is Changing What It Means to Be Disabled

At the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) in Pittsburgh, Pa., veterans, engineers, doctors and researchers are working together to improve the lives of people with disabilities. Since 1994, Dr. Rory Cooper and his team have been solving everyday problems of people with disabilities and inventing new technologies to change the way people with disabilities interact with and experience the world around them

TIME public health

Kroger Recalls Spices Due to Possible Salmonella Contamination

Grocery stores in 31 states are affected

National supermarket chain Kroger Co. is recalling four of its house line of spices, which could be contaminated with salmonella.

The recall includes Kroger Ground Cinnamon, Kroger Garlic Powder, Kroger Coarse Ground Black Pepper and Kroger Bac’n Buds.

The FDA found traces of salmonella in spices at a store in North Augusta, S. Carolina. The recall affects not only stores in South Carolina but also locations in 31 states under other Kroger franchises, such as Fred Meyer, Food 4 Less and Foods Co., among others. A full list of store locations can be found here.

There have been no reports of illness related to the spices, according to the FDA.

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 Healthcare

Hospitals Have Reduced Deaths, Hospitalizations, and Costs Among Medicare Patients

"It's a jaw-dropping finding"

American hospitals have reduced deaths, hospitalizations, and costs among people over the age of 65 in the past couple of decades, according to a new report released Tuesday.

“We didn’t expect to see such a remarkable improvement over time,” said Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Krumholz and his colleagues looked at over 68 million Medicare beneficiaries between 1999 and 2013. The group was chosen for their “fee-for-service” structure, where doctors and hospitals would be paid per procedure or visit.

They found that hospitalization rates for this group plummeted 24%, saving more than 3 million people unnecessary hospital visits. Their chance of survival and recovery had improved from less than two decades ago: patients were 45% less likely to die during their stay, 24% less likely to die within a month of being admitted, and 22% less likely to die within the year.

Deaths among the group fell 16%, meaning 300,000 lives were saved in the 14-year span, according to the report. Patients who visited the hospital also saw a 15% drop in their bills compared to 1999.

Krumholz said that better training for hospital staff led to many of the improvements.

“There has been tremendous focus on making sure that our hospitals are safer and that treatments are more timely and effective,” Krumholz told USA Today.

People are also living healthier, longer lives—smoking less, breathing cleaner air, and able to take advantage of scientific breakthroughs in medicine.

Despite doing so well, Krumholz doesn’t think it’s time for hospitals to get lax.

“The things we’re trying to do to make things better are working,” Krumholz noted. “Rather than wave the victory flag, we want to see that trend continue. There’s no reason to take our foot off the pedal.”

 

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.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Weird Cooking Method Helps Lower Arsenic Levels in Rice

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Alex Ortega—EyeEm/Getty Images

You'll need one unexpected piece of kitchen equipment

High levels of arsenic can naturally occur in rice, making the food dangerous to consume in too-great quantities. But an unconventional cooking method might help reduce the risk.

Researchers knew that the standard method of boiling rice in a pot or rice cooker only fixes the arsenic to the grain. But a different preparation method could wash away some of the dangerous chemical element.

So they tried cooking it in a coffee maker, which not only distilled the cooking water (which can also contain arsenic) through the steaming process, but also allowed excess liquid to drip through the filter, removing more arsenic. This method effectively reduced the level of arsenic by about half.

The researchers do not expect most people to start cooking their rice in their percolators, but they do hope that the proof encourages manufacturers to develop new rice cookers that operate on the principle.

[Scientific American]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

A New Taste Has Been Added to the Human Palate

TIME.com stock photos Food Snacks Chips Cheetos
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Say hello to the taste of pure fat

We classify food as sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami, but a new paper published in the journal Chemical Senses argues that we’re missing another basic taste: fatty.

It’s called oleogustus, and it’s the unique taste of fat, says Richard D. Mattes, distinguished professor of nutrition science at Purdue University and one of the authors of the study. “I can’t use any words that exist, so we’re forced to make it up,” Mattes says. (The Latin translation of oily or fatty taste is “oleogustus.”)

There’s no one definition for what makes something a basic taste, but Mattes thinks of it as meeting several categories: the stimulus should have a unique structure, it should bind or interact with a unique receptor, it should be carried by the taste nerves to the central nervous system where taste information is decoded, and it should have a particular function.

Mattes and his colleagues wanted to see if a group of people classified “fatty” as a taste that is unique from the basic tastes of sweet, sour, salty, bitter or umami. They fed people a series of solutions, plugged their noses to control for odor and asked them to sort them into similar or dissimilar taste categories.

People indeed separated fatty acids into a tight group; when they were given samples of bitter, umami and fatty tastes, they sorted fatty acids in a league of their own, even though there isn’t currently an accepted category or name for the taste.

“It’s been very difficult to figure out if people really view this as unique sensation, because we have no word for it,” Mattes says. “It’s pretty strong evidence that they are, in fact, perceptually distinct.”

But lest you associate the taste category with a delicious slice of greasy pizza, Mattes has some bad news. “Fatty acid taste is awful,” he says. “We think it’s more of a warning system.” We might be able to distinguish a fatty taste, but it’s not the type of fatty taste we know and love. The creaminess and viscosity we associate with fatty foods is largely due to triglycerides: a molecule with three fatty acids that isn’t a taste stimulus, but rather a mouthfeel, Mattes says. Triglycerides also deliver fat-soluble flavor compounds, Mattes says, but that flavor isn’t the true taste of fat.

To get a sense of what that tastes like, imagine heating your fryer for a good long time and tasting the food you cook in it, Mattes suggests. It won’t be pleasant, and you certainly won’t want to eat it. “The food industry has known about this for a very long time, and they go to great efforts to keep concentrations of these fatty acids below detection thresholds, because if you can detect them you’re likely not to eat the food,” he says. But in small concentrations below detection levels, the taste can be pleasant—just as we enjoy the bitterness of wine, chocolate and coffee, Mattes says.

Classifying a new taste could help us understand our food better, Mattes says. “If you understand the workings of a sensory system, you can use them for purpose,” he says. “Whether that’s to improve the quality of the food supply, the safety of the food supply, reduction of cardiovascular disease, treat taste disorders, there are any number of possibilities here.”

TIME MERS

There May Have Been a Major Breakthrough in MERS Treatment

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Researchers in Hong Kong have cured infected monkeys of MERS using existing drugs

Two existing and widely available drugs may prove to be effective treatments for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), new research published by the University of Hong Kong suggests.

According to the South China Morning Post, the medicines—lopinavir with ritonavir and a type of interferon—were tested on marmosets, small monkeys that a 2014 U.S. study concluded would be the best subject for MERS trials because of the way their reactions to the virus mimics human illness. The drugs, currently used to treat HIV and sclerosis, were found to be effective in curing MERS-infected marmosets.

The research is the first of its kind in the world.

“We would recommend doctors to start using both drugs immediately to treat MERS patients if they are critical,” said Jasper Chan Fuk-woo, one of the researchers, told SCMP. “The evidence in this study is quite strong in proving the effectiveness of these two drugs.”

Currently, there is no known cure for MERS.

Meanwhile, South Korea, which struggled with a MERS outbreak in May and June, has not reported any new MERS cases for 23 days and no deaths for more than two weeks. The country declared a “de-facto end” to its outbreak on July 28, although a spokesman for the World Health Organization told the BBC it would not declare an official end to the country’s outbreak until 28 days had passed with no new infections—twice the disease’s incubation period.

[SCMP]

TIME Infectious Disease

There Might Be Poop on Your Cilantro

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The FDA has banned some Mexican imports

Guacamole fans, beware: the FDA has banned the import of some fresh cilantro from Mexico after evidence showed the crop could be tainted with human feces.

Several farms in Puebla were linked to outbreaks of stomach illness in 2013 and 2014 in the U.S., the Associated Press reports. The FDA believes they may also have caused more recent outbreaks due to the presence of the cyclospora parasite.

Investigators found that some farms had no toilets for employees, and discovered feces and toilet paper in the fields. The resulting ban will impact shipments from April through August in the coming years unless farms in the region can show that conditions have improved.

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