TIME Infectious Disease

University of Maryland Confirms Meningitis Cases

The University of Maryland has confirmed an unknown number of meningitis cases among its students.

“There are confirmed and suspected cases of viral meningitis and viral syndromes on campus, and they are being tracked carefully by the University Health Center in partnership with the Prince George’s County Health Department,” University Health Center Director Dr. David McBride said in a statement sent to TIME on Thursday. “We have reached out to the organizations that are primarily affected with information about the condition and what to do in the event that they are feeling unwell.”

Viral meningitis is less severe than bacterial meningitis, but it can still cause stiff necks, nausea and fever. There’s no specific medication for the illness, but most people recover within seven to 10 days. Hospitalization may be necessary in particularly severe cases.

College students are thought to be at a greater risk for viral meningitis than the general population due to the closeness of college life, like sharing cups, living with roommates and eating in dining halls.

TIME ebola

#TheBrief: What Are the Rights of People Quarantined for Ebola?

The term "quarantine" goes back to the Bubonic Plague epidemic. How has it evolved since then?

A tense waiting game ended this week for family and several others who had come into contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient to be diagnosed in the U.S. with Ebola and who died of the virus on Oct. 9. All received a clean bill of health after being closely monitored for signs of infection and kept in isolation for three weeks.

But while many in Dallas breathed a sigh of relief, fears sparked anew in New Jersey when an airline passenger showing signs of fever arrived from Liberia, one of the countries hit hardest by the current outbreak, and was sent to a medical center in case he might have contracted Ebola. With more people facing the possibility of detainment as a precaution, it’s important to get all the facts on what it actually means to be quarantined.

Watch this brief history on how outbreaks have been handled since the plague days, as well as a primer on what kinds of rights you have while being held and monitored for symptoms.

TIME Cancer

Here’s How Well Your Genes Can Predict Your Breast Cancer Risk

Researchers say genetic sequencing can predict breast cancer risk better than previously thought

Your genes have a lot to say about who you are and how healthy you are. But for certain diseases, including cancer, so many genes are likely involved that it’s hard for doctors to come up with a useful, reliable way to turn your DNA information into a precise risk score.

But in a paper published in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers say that combining the known genetic players in breast cancer can predict with much higher accuracy a newborn girl’s theoretical risk of developing the disease.

MORE: Angelina Jolie’s Surgery May Have Doubled Genetic Testing Rates at One Clinic

Alice Whittemore, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Stanford University School and Medicine, and her colleagues included 86 known genetic variants that have been associated with breast cancer—including BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are relatively rare but confer a very high risk of disease compared to those that have a smaller contribution—and created a computer model that took into account the rates of breast cancer among 120,000 women who had these genetic variants.

This model served as a predictor for breast cancer based on womens’ genetic makeup. When researchers looked at the top 25% of risk scores, they found that these would account for about half of breast cancer cases in the future. Using previous models, genetic variants could account for only 35% of future cancer cases.

“Our results are more optimistic than those that have been previously published,” says Whittemore, “because we took 86 known genetic variants associated with breast cancer, and took what was in the world’s literature about how common those variants are, and by how much a factor they increase risk. And the more genetic variants that are identified, the better we will get at this.”

MORE: BRCA Gene Can Be A Cancer Triple Whammy, Study Finds

Since the paper was submitted, several new genetic variants have been linked to breast cancer, and adding those to the model, says Whittemore, could make it more effective.

But just because a woman may have been born with a high genetic risk for breast cancer doesn’t mean that she can’t change that risk. The model found that lifestyle factors, which are in a woman’s control, can generally lower the genetic risk by half. And the higher a woman’s genetic risk, the more she can reduce it with healthy behaviors. So avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol and smoking, or maintaining a healthy weight, for example, can bring a genetic risk of 30% down to around 15%, while a woman with a 4% genetic risk of developing breast cancer can reduce her risk by 2%.

“The news is that even if you are at high genetic risk of developing breast cancer, it’s all the more reason to do what you can to modify your lifestyle to lower your risk by changeable factors even if your genes aren’t changeable,” says Whittemore.

TIME Healthcare

Need Your Flu Shot? Just Call an Uber

Uber Taxi App In Madrid
In this photo illustration the new smart phone taxi app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location next to a taxi lane on October 14, 2014 in Madrid, Spain. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

The one-day program is available in three U.S. cities

Uber on Thursday launched a one-day pilot program to deliver free flu shots and flu prevention packs in three major U.S. cities.

The UberHEALTH service will be available only Thursday in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C., between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET, according to Uber’s blog. The service can be requested while ordering a ride on the Uber app, after which a registered nurse will administer flu shots and distribute materials for up to 10 people at no additional cost.

The free flu shot service, which is a partner project with Vaccine Finder, is only the latest of Uber’s limited time specials. Uber has previously rolled out delivery services for air conditioners and diapers, and even its own Optimus Prime.

 

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s the Good-Bad News About Trans Fats

trans fat apple pie
Getty Images

We still need to slash trans fat consumption, a new study finds

We’re eating less trans fat than we did 30 years ago, but we haven’t cut it by enough. A new study in The Journal of the American Heart Association analyzed the types of fat 12,000 adults were eating through six surveys that were part of the Minnesota Health Survey.

Between 1980-2009, both men and women slashed their trans fat consumption by about a third—32% and 35%, respectively. That’s encouraging, but the study also found that 1.9% of men’s daily calories come from trans fat, while 1.7% of women’s calories do. Per American Heart Association guidelines, that number should be much smaller: no more than 1% of daily calories.

Saturated fat dropped too, but people still eat about twice as much as the American Heart Association thinks is healthy. Omega-3 intake didn’t change much, and the group thinks it should be higher.

That makes for a mixed report card on fat, and another recent study found that we eat way more trans fat than we think. It lurks in all kinds of packaged foods—even in the labels that read “0 grams of trans fat”—and is linked to a higher risk of heart disease. Last year, the FDA declared that it’s considering revoking trans fat’s classification as “generally recognized as safe,” or GRAS.

To steer clear of added trans fat, check ingredient labels for words like “partially hydrogenated oil.” Even a little goes a long way toward 1% of your daily calories.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Should I Eat Cheese?

Welcome to Should I Eat This?—our weekly poll of five experts who answer nutrition questions that gnaw at you.

should i eat cheese
Illustration by Lon Tweeten for TIME

4/5 experts say yes.

Science types are a rational folk. But dangle a block of cheese in front of them and, nutrition be damned, taste comes first.

“Good bread, good cheese, and good wine? The best,” says Dr. David Katz, MD, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “And frankly, pleasure is good for health.”

Meanwhile, Chuck Benbrook, research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, also gives cheese the thumb’s up—but with a caveat. He’s the author of several studies about dairy, including one from 2013 that found organic dairy has 62% more healthy omega-3s than conventional milk, partly due to the cow’s diet of fresh grass. Now, he’s a convert. “Pasture grasses and legumes provide milk cows with the building blocks for health-promoting omega-3 fatty acids, as well as the rich, earthy flavor in grass-fed whole milk,” he says. And he only eats full-fat cheese (so there’s your scientific blessing to skip the skim stuff).

Speaking of fat, there might be something unique about the kind that comes from dairy. Recent research linked French Canadians’ dairy consumption to better metabolic health. The study author Iwona Rudkowska, a researcher at the CHU de Québec Research Center, points out that dairy contains a fatty acid has been shown to have health-promoting effects on metabolic health, including diabetes, she says.

Cheese—well, the fat in cheese—even helps our bodies absorb more nutrients during digestion, says Sylvie Turgeon, researcher and professor in the food science department at Université Laval in Québec. (The Québecois, it seems, really love their fromage.)

But in the health department, cheese gets a demerit from Katz. “In addition to be highly concentrated in calories and saturated fat, cheese tends to be very high in sodium,” says Katz. “It’s a good protein source, but there are better ones that don’t have such baggage.”

Registered dietitian Lindsay Malone, from the Cleveland Clinic, agrees. “A better way to spice up your salad, sandwich or snack,” she says, is “nuts, nut butters or avocados.”

If the thought of a grilled-nut-butter-sandwich gets you down, don’t despair. You can—and probably should—eat cheese sparingly for its protein, calcium and vitamin D, Malone says. Two slices of Swiss pack 44% of your daily calcium and 15 grams of protein.

The results are clear: even nutrition buffs go weak in the knees for cheese.

Read next: Should I Eat Eggs?

TIME ebola

How Worried Are You About Ebola?

Electron micrograph of Ebola virus
NIAID/EPA

As the Ebola epidemic continues in West Africa, the U.S. and other countries could also see cases of the disease in coming weeks and months.

Tell us how you feel about the U.S.’s efforts to contain Ebola in this 10 question survey, and see how other responders rate the country’s preparedness.

TIME Research

6 Medical Breakthroughs That Matter

Medical research
Getty Images

Including an alternative cancer treatment

It’s not every day that you catch wind of a true health game changer. That’s because research is more often than not a long, slow process of trial and error, and for every bright idea there are a bunch that don’t pan out. Luckily, this year brought plenty of major steps forward, including a new cure for a deadly disease and innovative gadgets that zap your migraines. Here are the developments making a difference right now.

New tech for migraine pain

Technology is opening up a new route to much-needed headache helpers. “Current drugs just don’t do the trick for many people,” says John Delfino, MD, a headache specialist at NYU Langone Medical Center. But the FDA recently approved two gadgets for migraines: Cefaly, a band that’s worn across your forehead for 20 minutes daily, and SpringTMS, a device you hold to the back of your head at the onset of pain. Both work by stimulating certain nerves deep in the head, using electrical signals (in the case of Cefaly) or magnetic energy (for the SpringTMS). There’s also new hope for debilitating cluster headaches in the form of an electrode that’s implanted behind the jaw and controlled by a remote. In the initial trial, 68% reported relief when they turned on the electrode during a headache, and of that group, over 80% had fewer episodes.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Signs You’re Having a Migraine

A watch that tracks your health

Say good-bye to your current fit tracker: The Apple Watch, when used with your iPhone, can log your steps and even your heart rate, giving you more feedback in one gizmo than ever. (Oh, and you can ask Siri for directions during your runs.) Available early next year, the watch will sync with the Health iPhone app, which you can get now. You can use Health to import your calorie, sleep, and fitness data from apps you already use, like Nike+.

An alternative cancer treatment

Everyone knows the storied side effects of chemotherapy: hair loss, diarrhea and more. That’s because chemo drugs destroy cells that multiply quickly, whether they’re cancerous or healthy. But scientists are finally finding success with a more selective approach: immunotherapy. These treatments harness your body’s natural defenses to beat cancer back. “What we’ve discovered is that cancer cells evade your immune system by putting it into overdrive, causing it to tire out and give up. The new drugs interrupt the cycle so your body can fight,” explains J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society. The results so far have been staggering: “It’s not an overstatement to say this is a turning point in cancer research, especially for patients with melanoma,” Dr. Lichtenfeld says. Treatments for cancers of the kidney, lung and pancreas could be up next.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Worst Things to Say to a Cancer Patient

A real cure for Hep C

Usually symptomless, hepatitis C kills 15,000 Americans a year. Until now, treatment helped a mere 30 to 40% of people with the virus, which is passed via infected blood and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer. But in December 2013, the FDA approved Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), a pill that cures up to 90% of hep C patients when used with another new drug, simeprevir. “Before, it was like fighting a war with flyswatters, but now the big guns have arrived,” says Douglas Dieterich, MD, professor of medicine in the division of liver disease at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, who also was involved in clinical trials of Sovaldi. More help is expected to be FDA-approved soon: ledipasvir, combined with sofosbuvir, for one form of hep C known as genotype 1, as well as a three-drug cocktail that has cured 90% of people treated with it.

HEALTH.COM: 8 Things You Didn’t Know About Hepatitis

A smarter pregnancy test

An upgraded pee stick from Clearblue not only tells you if you’re pregnant but also gives you an idea of how far along you might be, via an extra strip that measures the concentration (not just the presence) of human chorionic gonadotropin in your urine. “It doesn’t beat the tests your doctor will run. But it could help women with irregular periods (caused by, say, breast-feeding or polycystic ovary syndrome) begin prenatal care on time,” says Pamela Berens, MD, professor of ob-gyn at the University of Texas Health Science Center.

A new way to fight breast cancer

Women with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an abnormality that can become invasive breast cancer, or a strong family history of the disease are often prescribed tamoxifen to prevent it. “But many women won’t even start taking it, because they’ve heard of side effects like hot flashes and blood clots,” says Seema Khan, MD, of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. To see if there might be a better way, Dr. Khan prescribed tamoxifen in the form of either a pill or a gel applied to the breast to 26 women awaiting surgery for DCIS. Women who used the gel showed the same decrease in abnormal cell growth as the pill group—and they had no increase in blood markers linked to clots and other symptoms. The availability of the gel is still a few years away, but Dr. Khan says a topical gel might work for other drugs as well, suggesting that this is one discovery that could lead to many more.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Things That (Probably) DON’T Cause Breast Cancer

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Research

Aluminum May Reduce Sperm Count According to a New Study

The study, conducted jointly by researchers from France and the U.K., analyzed semen samples from 62 donors

Aluminum may be a major contributor to male infertility and reduced sperm counts, according to a new study released on Monday.

The study, published in the journal Reproductive Toxicology and conducted jointly by researchers at Keele University in the U.K. and the universities of Lyon and St.-Étienne in France, analyzed the sperm of 62 donors at a French clinic using fluorescence microscopy with an aluminum-specific stain. The researchers not only confirmed that semen does contain aluminum, but found that the sperm count is lowered as its aluminum content increases.

Professor Christopher Exley, an expert on human exposure to aluminum and the lead researcher in the study, said that endocrine disruptors and other environmental factors are generally blamed for the decline in male fertility that has been taking place over the past several decades.

“Human exposure to aluminum has increased significantly over the same time period and our observation of significant contamination of male semen by aluminum must implicate aluminum as a potential contributor to these changes in reproductive fertility,” he said.

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