TIME ebola

Ebola Cases Reach Over 20,000

Health workers push a gurney with a dead body at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district Eastern Sierra Leone on Dec. 19, 2014.
Baz Ratner—Reuters Health workers push a gurney with a dead body at a Red Cross facility in the town of Koidu, Kono district Eastern Sierra Leone on Dec. 19, 2014.

There's close to 400 new cases in just four days

Cases of Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea have reached over 20,000.

New numbers released from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday show Ebola has infected 20,081 people and killed 7,842. That’s nearly 400 new cases of the disease in just four days.

Despite missions launched by countries and international groups like the United States and United Nations in the last few months, the disease continues to spread. Sierra Leone has passed Liberia in number of cases. Many are anxiously awaiting a vaccine that’s been estimated to become available in the early part of the new year and researchers are also working on developing drugs to treat Ebola.

Some experts believe the epidemic will last a full second year.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

TIME Infectious Disease

Text Messages Ensure Kids Get Full Flu Vaccine

Flu vaccines
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Text messages may be a simple way doctor’s offices can ensure their young patients are adequately protected against the flu.

In a new study from Mailman School of Public Health and Columbia University Medical Center, researchers looked at 660 children between 6 months through 8 years old. Kids in that age range require two doses of the influenza vaccine. The first dose primes the immune system, and the second dose offers immune protection. Kids who do not get both doses, which are given at least 28 days apart, are not fully protected. However, it can be hard for families to bring in their children twice for vaccination.

The researchers developed a new strategy of sending educational text message reminders for the second dose. They split the participants into three groups. One group received an educational text message (the text included info on why the second dose is important), one group received a conventional reminder text message and the last group received a written reminder only.

The results, published in the journal Pediatrics, show that the kids whose families received the educational text message were much more likely to get their second dose at 72.7%. In comparison, 66.7% of kids in the conventional text group got their second flu shot, and 57.1% of kids in the written reminder group got theirs.

Families viewed the text messages as helpful, and a sign that someone cared. Nearly 61% of parents said the texts were either the primary reason or part of the reason they brought their children in for the second dose, and slightly over 70% said it was one of the reasons they brought their kids in sooner.

If text messages really are more successful than more traditional medical reminders, it might be time for wider adoption.

TIME ebola

FDA Approves Roche’s Ebola Test

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A fast-acting Ebola test gets a green light for emergency use

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved pharmaceutical company Roche’s fast-acting Ebola test for emergency use.

It can take almost a full day to get results from Ebola tests on the market, but Roche’s new LightMix Ebola Zaire rRT-PCR Test provides results in just over three hours. Reuters reports that the test had been used temporarily by some labs in the U.S. and other countries to identify the strain of Ebola spreading in West Africa. The test is still not approved for general use.

Early diagnosis can lead to faster response and treatment. So far, 7,693 people have died of Ebola in West Africa and 19,695 have contracted the disease. The test is used on patients who begin to exhibit symptoms of the disease.

[Reuters]

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Why Yoga Should Be Your New Year’s Resolution

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New research puts yoga on the same benefits level as cycling or brisk walking

Still searching for a New Year’s resolution? New research suggests that adopting a yoga practice can do wonders for your health.

The research, published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, reviewed 37 randomized controlled trials — the gold-standard of study designs — including 2,768 people and a nearly even gender split.

Compared to people who don’t exercise, those who did yoga showed significant improvement in their BMI, blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol, the review found. In fact, yoga performed just as well as exercise, like cycling or brisk walking, at weight loss and blood pressure measures.

How much you need to practice to reap the benefits remains unclear, the study authors note, as does the mechanism. But they think they may have an inkling: the authors credit stress reduction as one potential way that yoga improves metabolic and heart function, as well as inflammation.

MORE: You Asked: Is Hot Yoga Good For You—And For Weight Loss?

As yoga captures the minds and bodies of more and more people around the world, there’s a real need for more rigorous research, the study authors write. “This review demonstrates the potential of yoga to have an impact on concrete, physiological outcomes that represent some of the greatest health burdens today.”

TIME Japan

Japan Orders Chicken Cull Amid Another Bird-Flu Outbreak

It's the second time in two weeks

Local authorities in Japan’s Miyazaki prefecture have begun slaughtering 42,000 chickens after dead fowl at a poultry farm tested positive for the highly pathogenic H5 strain of the bird-flu virus.

The case comes less than two weeks after the virus was confirmed at another farm in the same prefecture, prompting the cull of 4,000 birds, Kyodo news agency reports.

Sterilization points have been set up on roads around the newly affected farm. Poultry within a radius of 3 km of the farm cannot be transported and shipments of another 1.93 million birds to areas lying within 10 km of the property have been halted.

“Unlike the first case, the bird flu this time will involve far bigger numbers of chickens and farms. We need to move quickly,” Miyazaki Governor Shunji Kono said on Sunday.

Miyazaki prefecture experienced a mass bird-flu outbreak in 2011, leading to the cull of more than a million chickens.

A prefectural official said it is not clear whether the two recent cases are connected.

[Kyodo]

TIME Research

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Being a Woman

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Being a woman carries a host of health and body payoffs

Members of the so-called weaker sex, listen up. Thanks in part to the protective benefits of female hormones, as well as the lifestyle choices women tend to make, you’re afforded a host of body payoffs guys don’t get. “Men notoriously pay less attention to their health and prefer to take a macho approach rather than go to the doctor to get things checked out,” says J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society. The following 10 ways women come out on top health-wise will make you glad you were born with two X chromosomes.

Women blow out more birthday candles

When it comes to longevity, chicks rule. A girl born in 2012 (the most recent year statistics are available) can expect to live until age 81.2; a boy is likely to hit 76.4, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Researchers aren’t entirely sure what accounts for those extra four years. “It might have to do with the fact that women have lower rates of heart disease compared to men, though women are catching up,” explains Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the women’s heart program at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “But it may be a result of women maintaining stronger social ties to friends and family, because social ties are linked to longevity.

Women have a higher pain tolerance

The notion that men face pain with unflinching stoicism while women are more sensitive to every ache is not exactly reflected in research. Though the jury is still officially out, numerous studies back up the fact that women appear to have a higher pain threshold than men, says Dr. Goldberg, with pain threshold defined as the amount of pain it takes to register in the body. Of course, it makes sense that females need to be able to withstand pain, considering how much of it is typically experienced during childbirth. “Women have to be able to sustain the agony during labor and delivery,” says Dr. Goldberg.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Things That Mess With Your Period

Head and neck cancers strike more men than women

The statistics tell the story: the National Cancer Society estimates that this year, about 30,000 men will be diagnosed with oral cavity or pharynx cancer, while just 12,000 women will. And when it comes to esophageal cancer, 14,000 men can expect to develop it this year, compared to only 3,000 women. Why do head and neck cancers discriminate so openly based on sex? Cancers that occur in these body areas are strongly linked to tobacco and alcohol use. “Though women are catching up, men still indulge is smoking and drinking in higher numbers, so they develop these cancers in higher numbers too,” says Dr. Lichtenfeld.

Melanoma rates are lower in older women

Before age 45, rates of melanoma—the least common yet deadliest form of skin cancer—are higher in women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. It’s a trend researchers attribute to the popularity of tanning indoors and out. But after that point, it’s men who bear the brunt of the disease in more significant numbers. “It’s unusual for melanoma to strike at a young age, and by the time they reach their 50s and 60s, we start to see high numbers of white men with it, probably due to accumulated skin damage over time after decades of working outside, or playing outdoor sports, without the benefit of sunscreen,” says Dr. Lichtenfeld.

HEALTH.COM: 20 Weird Facts About Sex and Love

Women have a keener sense of smell

No wonder candles, soaps, detergents, and perfumes cater to female noses. Compared to men, women appear to have a sharper odor detection, with women having up to 50% more cells in their olfactory bulb (the first region of the brain to receive signals about odors), according to a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE. The study lends weight to the idea that women are superior sniffers, but it doesn’t explain why. One theory: a keener sense of smell helps women detect the pheromones that help her pick the right mate; another postulates that being able to detect rancid odors helps a woman protect her offspring from infection and disease.

HDL cholesterol levels are higher in women

HDL cholesterol, the good kind, is associated with strong heart health. It’s credited with preventing plaque buildup in the arteries of premenopausal women and protecting them from the early heart disease that may already be developing in men in the same age group. “Estrogen raises good cholesterol throughout a woman’s childbearing years, when estrogen production peaks,” says Goldberg. Estrogen output drops off following menopause, and HDL cholesterol goes with it. But if you continue to eat nutritiously, stay at a healthy weight, and have your cholesterol tested regularly, your HDL cholesterol numbers can continue to stay in a healthy range so you can maintain that estrogen-fueled head start against heart disease.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

The female brain has better recall

Several scientific studies suggest what a lot of women already know anecdotally: women are simply better at remembering things. A 2014 Norwegian study of about 37,000 people from the journal BMC Psychology bears this out: though older people in general had more memory issues, men of all ages, young and old, were more forgetful than their female counterparts. Why that is isn’t exactly clear, but previous research has suggested that it may be due to brain degeneration caused by cardiovascular disease or high blood pressure, both of which strike more men than women.

Women are less likely to become alcoholics

“Men are up to twice as likely to develop alcoholism as women are,” explains Holly Phillips, MD, New York City women’s health specialist and medical contributor for WCBS News. One reason for a guy’s increased risk of addiction to booze has to do with the brain chemical dopamine, says Dr. Phillips. A recent study of male and female social drinkers found that men had a greater dopamine release than women in an area of the brain called the ventral striatum, which is strongly associated with pleasure, reinforcement, and addiction formation. There may be a psychological component as well. “While women are more likely to become depressed than men in response to common environmental triggers such as illness or grieving a death—a process some psychologists see as turning pain inward—men may be more likely to numb the pain with substances,” adds Dr. Phillips.

HEALTH.COM: 18 Habits of the Happiest Families

Women tend to accumulate less belly fat

Instead of bemoaning the fact that you tend to pack extra pounds on your butt, hips, and thighs, be happy about it—it means your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic diseases is lower than if fat tended to develop across your midsection, as it generally does in men. “Apple-shaped bodies, which more men have, hold more fat around the heart and upper abdomen, increasing heart disease risk,” says Dr. Phillips. “Pear shaped bodies keep fat away from the heart, which is a good thing.” Fat around the middle can also increase the risk of certain cancers, says Dr. Lichtenfeld. Researchers are learning that belly fat is metabolically active, producing hormones that cause a chain reaction in the body, resulting in higher levels of inflammation and insulin resistance, which leads to disease.

Women have a delayed heart attack risk

While a man’s odds of developing heart disease and having a major coronary begin in his 40s or even earlier, says Dr. Phillips, a woman’s risk doesn’t really begin until after she hits 50 and goes through menopause—giving women some extra time before being susceptible to the number one killer of both men and women. “Women have their first heart attack a full 10 years after men do,” says Dr. Goldberg. A younger woman’s better cholesterol profile plays a role, but estrogen or lifestyle choices, such as eating healthier, seems to have additional protective benefits, such as keeping blood pressure down (high blood pressure is a heart attack risk factor). However, things change after menopause. “After 50, a woman’s vulnerability to heart disease begins to resemble that of males,” says Dr. Phillips.

HEALTH.COM: 13 Everyday Habits That Are Aging You

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

7 Psychology Tricks to Make Your Resolutions Stick

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One goal, 365 days. Science says you've got this

You know the old goal-setting adage: Don’t bite off more than you can chew (especially if your goal is to lose weight). But if that were all it took, you’d have nailed last year’s plan—and the year before last’s. But plenty of new research into modern psychology and the science of goal-setting and willpower offer some surprising non-cliché tips for making your resolutions work for you.

1. Start on a Monday.

The turn of another year tricks us into seeing our big-picture selves, our slates wiped clean. Take advantage of it. People commit to their goals more fiercely after a major benchmark like New Year’s Day. If you are an I-don’t-believe-in-resolutions person who nonetheless wants to break a bad habit, wait for a Monday. It’s the most popular day of the week for starting diets and stopping smoking, studies show.

2. Don’t just wing it.

How’s this for a terrible irony: the more you want your goal, the less you’re likely to plan for it, according to a forthcoming paper in the journal Behavioral Science and Policy. That’s because we tend to think good intentions are enough, but an actual plan prevents procrastination. People with plans stick to their goals way more often than those who wing it.

3. Do not have a Plan B.

Backup plans backfire by zapping your desire to chase your main goal. In a series of new studies, people who were told to think up a Plan B were less likely to attain their main objective. Researchers suspect that having backup goals may make failure feel somehow more acceptable.

4. Pick a round number.

George Wu, professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, and his colleagues recently looked at marathon runners at the bitter end of their races. A huge number of people finished in times that clustered around round numbers, the researchers discovered—like a 4-hour marathon. “Marathon runners feel a lot worse just missing these really arbitrary reference points: the round numbers,” Wu says. So when people are really, really close to just missing their round-number goal, they’re much more likely to speed up at the painful end to beat it. People who are projected to beat it comfortably, however, actually slow down.

5. Put cash on the line.

In a 2008 study, the most effective weight-loss plan was one in which people had to fork over cash if they didn’t meet their goal. After 16 weeks, those with financial incentives lost 14 lb. more than those who just weighed in. Try it at stickK.com, a site designed by behavioral economists who will gladly donate your cash to a recipient of your choice if you fail.

6. Chop it up.

You know how good it feels to tick off an item from your to-do list. Put that to work by hacking a massive goal (reading 24 books a year, say) into parts (two per month). It’s more gratifying than working away at one big goal, says George Wu, professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

7. Conserve your willpower.

Think of willpower as your greatest natural resource, but know that it’s also a finite one, some experts say. Every time you engage your willpower for one task—saying no to a glass of wine, passing up the free cookies at work—you have less to resist other temptations. Since willpower is the secret ingredient to meeting your goals, use it wisely.

 

TIME Infectious Disease

How To Prevent The Flu This Winter

Getting a flu shot tops the list

Flu season may begin as early as October, but it really heats up in December. To stay healthy and enjoy the holidays, follow these basic flu prevention tips.

Get a flu shot

You should have done this months ago, but it’s not too late. This year’s flu shot may not have been the most effective, but the vaccine is the best protection against the disease, which, it bears reminding, is not just a couple of days feeling woozy—some people have to miss work (and play) for weeks when the virus hits. Look for a place that’s still offering the shot and get vaccinated.

Wash Your Hands

The guidelines are pretty simple. Put soap on your hands and wash them with hot water for 20 seconds. Still, more than 95% of people don’t meet this standard, according to a 2013 study. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you wash your hands frequently, including but not limited to when you eat, sneeze, touch garbage and use the restroom.

Avoid Sick People

This one is obvious. Leave the area if you see someone who looks feverish and is sneezing or coughing. Stay home if you have flu symptoms yourself.

Go to the Gym

Exercise boosts your immune system and makes you less likely to catch the flu. Exercising at least 2 and a half hours a week reduces the likelihood that you’ll catch a flu-like ailment by about 10%, according to a study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Get Sleep

Your immune system will function best when you’re well rested. Adults typically need 6 to 8 hours each night. If you’re getting less than 6, you may want to rethink your habits.

TIME medicine

The Surest Way to Cure Your Hangover

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The holidays. A new year. There’s a lot to celebrate, so don’t ruin it with a hangover or a food coma. Here's how to avoid both

A night of too much booze often comes with a side of queasiness and a pounding headache. We’ve all heard rumors about what helps, from hot sauce to burnt toast to more alcohol, but here’s what doctors say really works as a morning-after remedy.

First, it’s important to recognize what your hungover body is trying to tell you. Alcohol makes you urinate more, and that depletes your body of much-needed fluids. At the same time, impurities in the fermenting alcohol essentially flood your body with toxins, causing those painful side effects.

It’s not always easy in practice, but the best way to avoid that nasty hangover in the first place is to alternate your alcoholic drinks with water.

Too late for that? On the morning after, the very best way to ease your stomach is to drink water. Water will rehydrate you, dilute the toxins that have built up overnight and flush them out.

Eating is also key, whether you want to fight or prevent a hangover. Filling your stomach before you drink, especially with heavier, greasier foods, can line the stomach and slow down the absorption of alcohol. And noshing after a night out, even if it’s last thing you feel like doing, can replenish your body with nutrients so it starts to function better.

READ MORE Should You Eat Whatever You Want For The Holidays?

If you remember, try taking two aspirin before going to bed, and another couple when you wake up. That can ease some of the head pounding that comes from the drop in blood alcohol and being dehydrated from all that drinking.

As for overeating, it’s sometimes inevitable, especially at holiday feasts. Try to cut down on your portions, or at least eat more slowly. That can help your brain and body stay in sync and work together to determine when you’re no longer hungry. Extra points if you load up on high-fiber foods like whole grains, vegetables and nuts; they’ll make you evacuate your bowels more frequently and make you feel less uncomfortable. Just remember not to bring it up during one of those big meals.

TIME

7 Mental Health Resolutions for 2015

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Here's how to take care of your mind this new year

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, our self-improvement efforts often focus on getting a better body. And we ignore that other, equally important part of our wellbeing: our mental health.

Certain health hazards come with warnings, like cigarettes or alcohol, but less obvious ones, like loneliness and rejection, can take just as great toll, says psychologist Guy Winch, author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure and Other Everyday Hurts. Research shows social isolation is linked to shorter lifespans, yet we often ignore our emotional hygiene. “If our dental hygiene were as poor as our emotional hygiene, we’d be all gums and no teeth,” says Winch.

This year, prioritize your mind as well as your body, and make a resolution for better mental health. Here are some of Winch’s tips for prioritizing your emotional hygiene in the new year (and all year long).

1. Pay attention to emotional pain. Psychological pain is much like physical pain—if something hurts for more than a few days, you need to do something about it. If you experience rejection, failure, or have a bad mood that lingers too long, don’t ignore it.

2. Take action when you feel lonely. Chronic loneliness is devastating to your emotional and physical health because it increases your chances of an early death by 14%. Therefore, when you feel lonely, actions like reaching out to family members, connecting with friends or joining a dating website can help. Make a list of people who you’ve been close to in the past (use your phone book, social media friends, and email contacts) and reach out to one of them each day to chat or to make plans. It will feel scary and risky to take those kinds of steps, but that’s what you need to do to break the cycle of disconnection and end your emotional isolation.

3. Stop your emotional bleeding. Psychological wounds tend to create vicious cycles that get worse with time. Failure can lead to feelings of helplessness that in turn can make you more likely to fail again in the future. To break the negative cycle of failure, find ways to gain control of the situation. Our minds are not as reliable as we tend to think, so ignore misleading feelings from your gut that tell you to give up, and focus on the aspects within your control, such as your preparation, planning, effort and execution.

4. Protect your self-esteem. Your self-esteem is like an emotional immune system—it can increase your resilience and protect you from stress and anxiety. Good emotional hygiene involves monitoring your self-esteem and boosting it when it’s low. How? Avoid negative self-talk that damages it further—despite how tempting it might be to indulge these kinds of thoughts at times.

5. Revive your self-worth after a rejection. It’s very common to be self-critical after you get rejected. It’s an unfortunate reaction, since that’s when your self-esteem is already hurting. You’re most likely to call yourself names, list all your faults and shortcomings and generally kick yourself when you’re already down. The most important thing you can do after getting rejected is to treat yourself with the same compassion you would treat a good friend. Make sure your inner voice is kind, understanding and supportive.

6. Battle negative thinking. When something upsetting happens, it’s natural to brood over it. But replaying the scene over and over in your mind will not give you much insight or closure. The best way to break a brooding cycle is to distract yourself with a task that requires concentration, like a game on your cell phone, a quick run or a crossword puzzle.

7. Be informed on the impact of common psychological wounds and how to treat them. You know how to treat a cut or a cold, so you should also know how to treat rejection, failure, loneliness, guilt and other common emotional wounds. By becoming mindful about your psychological health and adopting habits of good emotional hygiene, you will not only heal your psychological injuries when you sustain them, but you will elevate your entire quality of life.

For more tips, watch Winch’s Tedx Talk on how to practice emotional hygiene.

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