TIME Disease

New Study Identifies 9 Risk Factors for Alzheimer’s Disease

The risk factors, which include obesity, low educational attainment and depression, might be preventable

Two-thirds of Alzheimer’s cases could be attributed to nine risk factors that are potentially fixable, according to a new study released Thursday.

Researchers linked obesity, carotid artery narrowing, low educational attainment, depression, high blood pressure, frailty, smoking habits, high levels of homocysteine (an amino acid), and type 2 diabetes in the Asian population to about two-thirds of global Alzheimer’s cases in a recent analysis of existing data. The study, published online in the Journal of Neurology Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, is purely observational but the researchers think its findings could help medical professionals prescribe specific lifestyle changes that could have a targeted effect at reducing the number of Alzheimer’s cases around the world.

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, the broad term for the deterioration of memory and mental abilities. There is currently no cure for dementia, which impacts 1 in 14 people over age 65, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

For the study, researchers pooled and analyzed data from over 300 studies to identify the most common risk factors for the disease. Researchers also found evidence that some hormones, vitamins and drugs to reduce high blood pressure can help lower the risk of developing the disease while homocysteine and depression were associated with heightened risk.

Read next: How Exercise Helps Curb Alzheimer’s Symptoms

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TIME public health

The Stylish Way Indian Women Are Fighting Iodine Deficiency

Bindis getting iodine added to adhesives.
Courtesy of Grey for Good By simply adding iodine to a bindi adhesive, rural Indian women are able to fight iodine deficiency.

The Life Saving Dot is easy, cheap, and requires no behavioral change.

In India, a popular accessory may provide a wearable solution for a medical problem. A bindi—the traditional dot Hindu women wear on their forehead to signify the third eye of intuition–may soon become a much-needed source of iodine.

Grey for Good, the philanthropic arm of the agency Grey Advertising, is fueling the grassroots effort to provide women in India with a bindi that doubles as an easy, inexpensive way to get more iodine through skin absorption. The project, called the Life Saving Dot, is testing the bindis on women in rural parts of the west Indian state of Maharashtra.

The idea came to Ali Shabaz, chief creative officer of Grey Singapore, when he was thinking about new uses for wearable technology. Shabaz is originally from India and familiar with the practice among Indian women of wearing bindis. “Wouldn’t it be great if, in some way, this thing that women wore on their head could be useful?” Shabaz recalls thinking.

He also knew iodine deficiency was a problem in India. Iodine, a trace element which is most often associated with salt intake and found in seafood, is an important nutrient; without it, people can suffer from goiter, hyperthyroidism, stunted growth or intellectual disabilities—all preventable diseases. But iodine isn’t easy for some populations to get. Remote mountainous regions often have soil that is iodine-poor, and the consumption of seafood is frowned upon in some societies.

India is one country where iodine deficiency is a real threat. Many of its residents are vegetarian, and the soil is notoriously poor in the mineral. This combination of factors means that rural women in particular are at risk of suffering from iodine deficiency.

So Shabaz came up with an idea: to supercharge the bindi into a nutrition supplement.

Grey for Good teamed up with Talwar, a prominent bindi distributor, and Neelvasant, an NGO doing extensive work in rural areas of the western Indian state of Maharashtra, five months ago. The group came up with a standard scarlet bindi with a twist: Each bindi’s adhesive came covered with 150-200 micrograms of iodine. Throughout the day, a woman wearing the iodine bindi absorbs on average 12% of their daily requirement of iodine, a marked improvement from before.

The Life Saving Dot uses the same technology and design as nicotine patches, and it’s cheap; production costs are minimal, Shabaz says, and are affordable at just two rupees per pack. (The rural Maharashtrian women Grey for Good worked with earned an average of 20-30 rupees per day.) Plus, wearing the iodine-infused bindi requires no behavioral change.

The campaign hopes to spread awareness about iodine deficiency, a problem that even the most vulnerable populations don’t always know exists.

Initial tests have been positive; of the approximately 150 women who have been given the bindis to wear, none have reported negative side effects and many have reported decreases in headaches, a common side effect of iodine deficiency.

“We’ve done allergy tests, which was important to us since this is right on the skin,” Shabaz said. “There were no side effects. What we’re running very soon is a sample size that’s much larger than before and across more varied age groups.”

There are still some shortcomings. Since bindis are worn by the country’s dominant Hindu majority, rural women of other religions aren’t going to reap the benefits. And while women face the brunt of iodine deficiency—pregnancy and birth often exacerbate symptoms and effects, making women particularly susceptible to the consequences of iodine deficiency—men are affected by the lack of nutrient in their diets, too.

Still, initial data from the Life Saving Dot have been promising for rural women—a group that is often ignored in Indian healthcare initiatives. Grey for Good is trying to attract the attention of the country’s political leadership to incorporate the bindis into their health initiatives and to help in distribution across the country. The creators of the Dot expect that sometime in 2016, rural Indian women can go to their corner shop, choose an infused bindi and fight iodine deficiency without a second thought.

TIME Cancer

Black Men are Twice as Likely to Die of Prostate Cancer as White Men

White man's risk of getting prostate cancer is approximately 1 in 8, whereas for black men the risk was 1 in 4

Black men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with and die from prostate cancer as white men, according to a new study.

The study, published online in BMC Medicine, looked at incidence and mortality data from Public Health England and found that in the U.K., a white man’s lifetime risk of being diagnosed with prostate cancer was approximately 1 in 8, whereas for black men the risk was 1 in 4. Asian men fared the best, with a 1 in 13 risk for diagnosis.

Each group was equally likely to die from the disease once they were diagnosed, so proportionally more black men die from prostate cancer than white or Asian men.

The research does not determine why there are these differences in ethnic groups, but Alison Cooper of Prostate Cancer UK, the lead author of the study, told the Guardian, “The study also provides important absolute-risk figures to help black men better understand their risk of developing prostate cancer. These figures can be used for targeted awareness-raising and to help them make an informed decision about whether or not to have a prostate specific antigen test.”

Prostate cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK.

TIME

A Brain-Eating Parasite Has Killed a 21-Year-Old California Woman

80121543
Mark Newman—AP 'Do Not Allow Water To Enter Your Nose' Amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) warning sign at thermal pool, Roger's Spring, Lake Mead, Nevada, U.S.A.

This is the second such fatality in the U.S. to occur in the last year

Public health officials have confirmed that a brain-eating amoeba caused the death of a 21-year-old woman in eastern California last month, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The woman contracted the parasite on private property in the town of Bishop, about 60 miles southeast of Yosemite National Park. She awoke from a nap last month with flu-like symptoms; physicians at Northern Inyo Hospital initially diagnosed her with meningitis. When her symptoms worsened, she was transported to a hospital in Reno, where she ultimately died of cardiac arrest.

Naegleria fowleri, as the amoeba is officially known, can thrive in warm freshwater and soil; infections result when contaminated water enters the nose, allowing the parasite to travel to the brain. It manifests itself first in flu-like symptoms — fever, vomiting, headaches — before inducing hallucinations, seizures, and, in more than 95 percent of instances, death.

This is the second naegleria fowleri-related fatality in the U.S. to occur in the last year. In July 2014, nine-year-old Hally Yust died from the infection after water skiing in a contaminated lake in Kansas. The majority of cases in the country have been in the southeast.

Health officials are eager to note, however, that the occurrences of the amoeba are rare and infections even rarer.

“I want to emphasize that there have been no evident cases of amoeba contamination in the U.S. in well-maintained, properly treated swimming pools or hot springs,” Richard Johnson, a public health officer in Inyo County, California, told the Times.

TIME vaccines

Why Jerry Brown Was Right to Sign the California Vaccine Bill

Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The governor had a chance to protect thousands of children—and he did

Updated: June 30, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

California does not often make common cause with Mississippi and West Virginia. America’s blue-red divide doesn’t come any wider than it does between the liberal laboratory of the Pacific West and the conservative cornerstones of the old south. But with a single signature on a single bill, California Gov. Jerry Brown ensured that the largest state in the nation joined the two far smaller ones in what ought to be a simple, primal mission: keeping children healthy.

The law, which passed the California legislature with bipartisan majorities, does a straightforward job—removing the religious and personal belief exemptions that allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. The legislation leaves standing the medical exemption—the waiver families receive when a child has a manifest medical condition like a compromised immune system that would make vaccines dangerous. Under the new rules, families without the medical waiver face a choice: get your kids the shots or prepare to home-school them, which ensures they get an education but protects other children from whatever pathogens they may be carrying.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states in the country that currently have such no-nonsense rules and they’ve got the stellar vaccination rates to prove it: fully 99.9% of the states’ kids are up to date on all their shots. California was right to follow the example of those southern-fried smarts. Only 90.4% of the Golden State’s kindergarteners had their full complement of vaccinations in the 2014-2015 school year. The worst offenders are the parents in the too-rich, too-famous, too-smart by half provinces of Silicon Valley, where vaccination rates in some day care centers struggle to crack the 50% mark.

That matters—a lot. When vaccine coverage falls below 95%, communities begin to lose what’s known as herd immunity, the protection a fully inoculated population provides to the relative handful of its members who can’t be vaccinated. California has suffered the consequences of that, with outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps across the state. Earlier this year, more than 100 cases of measles in California and Mexico were traced to a single unvaccinated visitor to Disneyland. That outbreak, at one of the state’s most iconic destinations, at last got Sacramento’s attention, and the new law, though hotly debated, passed.

Brown was vague at first about whether he would sign the bill and that left a lot of health policy experts worried. He had signed an earlier bill that preserved the personal belief exemption but at least made it harder for families to claim one. No longer could parents simply check a box on a form—an awfully easy thing to do without giving the matter much thought. Under the previous law, they would have to visit a health care provider who would sign a statement confirming that the parents had been informed of the benefits (too many to enumerate) and the risks (vanishingly small) of vaccination. Once they’re in the doctor’s office, plenty of parents come around. But Brown, a one-time Jesuit seminarian who has made no secret of his spiritual side over the years, carved out an exception in that law for religious beliefs.

He was right not to make the same mistake this time. There was a time when religious exemptions were no cause for worry. The share of Americans whose faith forbids vaccinations is exceedingly small, and as long as the herd remained intact, those kids would remain safe. But that was before the nonsense factory of the anti-vaccine community went into operation, churning out all manner of misinformation about autism and brain damage and big pharma conspiring with big government to inject unsuspecting children with toxins. The result: Vaccine rates have plummeted nationwide, and children have paid the price.

The tension between religious liberty and civic responsibility is hardly a new issue in the American system. If your religion does no harm to anyone else—least of all kids—you ought to be free to practice it in peace. But if that faith requires prayer to treat pediatric cancer or laying on of hands as a cure for severe pneumonia, the state ought to be able to intervene and provide proper care if you won’t and prosecute you if your child is injured or killed. In some states that’s indeed possible but in others it’s not, and a complex patchwork governs the level of care each state will or won’t mandate.

Mandatory testing for lead levels in blood? OK in most places, but not if you live in Delaware, Maine, Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, where religious exemptions are available. Mandatory eyedrops to help prevent blindness in newborns? An important preventive for kids born to mothers with certain kinds of STDs—but they may be out of luck if they’re born in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, or Pennsylvania.

The kids, it’s worth noting, did not choose to be born in states with weak protections. And they don’t choose either to be born to parents who look at vaccines and see in them something sinister or dangerous or strangely unholy.

Anti-vax parents came into a world of medically rational adults who had seen the wages of polio or diphtheria or smallpox or whooping cough and were grateful for a preventive that could eliminate those horrors. Jerry Brown himself came into that world too. Contemporary children deserve the same kind of wisdom and the same kind of care the grown-ups around them enjoyed. And California children deserve a governor who will see to it that that they get it.

Today Brown lived up to that responsibility.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Disease

South Korea Authorizes Prison Time for MERS Patients Who Break Quarantine

Quarantine tent in Seoul, South Korea
Chung Sung-Jun—2015 Getty Images Visitors wearing masks walk in front of a health advisory sign about the MERS virus at a quarantine tent for people who could be infected with the MERS virus at Seoul National University Hospital on June 2 in Seoul, South Korea.

The country is in the midst of the worst outbreak ever seen outside of Saudi Arabia

South Korea tightened quarantine restrictions on patients at risk of being infected with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus, declaring that those who defy orders or lie about their potential exposure are now subject to prison terms.

Health officials announced that violators could face up to two years in prison and a fine of 20 million won, or approximately $18,000. Currently, defying quarantine can result in a fine but not a jail sentence.

The new law, which grants greater authority to public health investigators, does not take effect for another six months. The latest tally for the disease reached 181 confirmed cases and 31 confirmed deaths since the outbreak began last month.

[New York Times]

TIME Yemen

Yemen Crisis: 21 Million People Now in Urgent Need of Food, Humanitarian Aid

A Saudi-led blockade on maritime traffic has limited commercial goods from entering Yemen, forcing prices of food and fuel to skyrocket

The U.N. envoy to Yemen said Wednesday that the conflict-torn nation was “one step away from famine,” with nearly 80% of its population — 21 million people — in need of humanitarian aid.

Following a briefing of the bloc’s Security Council in New York, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said a cease-fire was a priority and called on all parties involved to broker a truce before the end of the Islamic holiday of Ramadan on July 17, reports Agence France-Presse. Peace talks between Yemen’s political parties, mediated by Ahmed, collapsed last week in the Swiss city of Geneva.

“While we pursue a sustainable long-term cessation of violence, I called on all the relevant parties to agree without delay to a humanitarian truce,” said Ahmed.

Yemen descended further into chaos in March when a Saudi-led coalition began bombing sorties to stop an advance by local Shi‘ite Houthi rebels. They want to restore the former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to power, having driven incumbent President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi into exile.

Over the past three months alone, thousands of people have been killed or injured by air strikes and ground fighting, and 1 million more have been displaced, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Due to a coalition blockade of maritime traffic, commercial goods including food and medical supplies are only trickling into the country. Fuel and food prices have therefore skyrocketed, escalating the humanitarian disaster for Yemen’s citizens.

According to a joint survey by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme, 6 million people in the country are slipping toward severe hunger and desperately need emergency food and lifesaving assistance. A further 6.5 million people are facing a food security “crisis.”

Yemen officials in the southern port city of Aden have called on international aid organizations to deliver more medical supplies as more than 4,000 people have contracted the mosquito-borne and sometimes fatal disease dengue fever, reports al-Jazeera.

TIME National Security

Pentagon Adds U.K. to List of Countries Sent Live Anthrax

anthrax
Getty Images Anthrax Bacterium

68 labs in 19 states and 4 countries mistakenly received shipments

The Pentagon has added one laboratory in the UK and another in Massachusetts to a list of laboratories that recently received shipments of live anthrax samples from a U.S. Army facility.

These shipments may have been the inadvertent result of a quality control oversight at a U.S. Army facility in Utah, Reuters reports. The Dugway Proving Ground facility, which is working with the DoD to research potential bio-weapons, routinely uses radiation to permanently deactivate anthrax spores before sending them, but it is possible for some spores to remain alive through the treatment.

These new shipments bring the total number of laboratories to have received recent live anthrax shipments from Dugway to 68, located in 19 states and 4 countries, including Australia, Canada, South Korea and Britain. The first live sample was identified on the evening of May 27 at a laboratory in Maryland.

This is the second prominent accidental Anthrax scare in recent months; in 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that as many as 75 of its workers had been exposed to a live Anthrax sample after procedures to kill the bacteria were improperly executed.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pentagon are currently investigating the cause of these recent shipments.

[Reuters]

 

TIME South Korea

6 Dead, 87 Infected, 2,300 Quarantined: South Korea’s MERS Crisis

23 new cases were reported Monday

South Korea’s ongoing outbreak of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) claimed its sixth victim on Monday, with an 80-year-old man dying while being treated at a hospital there.

The country’s health ministry stated that the man had only been diagnosed with the deadly virus earlier in the day, state news agency Yonhap reported.

The ministry also reported 23 new cases, taking the total number of people affected by the disease to 87. Among these was a 16-year-old boy, the first minor to contract the virus since the outbreak began on May 20.

The South Korean government earlier closed thousands of schools and kindergartens in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“I’m cautiously predicting, but I think the peak was reached today,” Health Minister Moon Hyung Pyo said at a parliamentary hearing, according to Bloomberg. “It’ll hopefully start looking stable from tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.”

Ten of the people affected by the disease are in unstable condition, the ministry said, but the government remains hopeful about containing it since it has so far only been present in hospitals.

Acting Prime Minister Choi Kyung Hwan called the outbreak “controllable,” adding that “the government will take all preemptive measures necessary to minimize any negative impact on the economy.”

More than 2,300 South Koreans have so far been quarantined—either in hospitals or at home—and Reuters earlier reported that the government was tracking the cellphones of those under quarantine to ensure that they are complying with restrictions on their movement.

TIME neuroscience

Game-Changing Discovery Links the Brain and the Immune System

New research could affect how we approach everything from Alzheimer's to autism

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made a dazzling discovery, published this week in Nature: the brain is directly connected to the immune system by previously unknown vessels.

“The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks,'” Kevin Lee, chairman of the UVA Department of Neuroscience, told Science Daily. He added that the discovery “will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system.”

The discovery of these new vessels has enormous implications for every neurological disease with an immune component, from Alzheimer’s to multiple sclerosis. It could open up entirely new avenues for research and treatment alike, all stemming from the kind of discovery that has become extraordinarily rare in the 21st century.

“I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of. I thought the body was mapped,” said director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia Jonathan Kipnis, who worked on the research. “I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not.”

Read more at Science Daily

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