TIME Infectious Disease

MERS Could Be Airborne, Research Indicates

The disease has already claimed 288 lives

Findings from a scientific paper published Tuesday indicated that Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) may be able to spread through the air.

A research team in Saudi Arabia collected air samples from a camel barn that the virus had previously plagued. Their analysis of the air sample tested positive for a strain of MERS RNA, CNN reports.

The possibility of MERS as an airborne illness has been previously floated after reports said that some of those infected previously had close contact to fellow MERS patients. The disease has claimed at least 288 live, according to the World Health Organization.

However, scientists are hesitant to jump to conclusions from these findings. “What they say is that virus particles can be airborne, but it’s premature to conclude that MERS is transmitted through aerosols,” said Dr. Mark Denison, a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine professor.

“Do we still need to consider the possibility of airborne transmission?” Denison added. “Yes, of course.”

[CNN]

TIME Stress

Burnout in the Hospital: Why Doctors Are Set Up for Stress

Every job can lead to burnout, but what happens when it strikes doctors, who make decisions that can affect their patients' lives?

Some experts call physician burn out “inevitable,” given the high-pressure environment in which they must make potentially life-saving, and almost always life-altering, choices on a constant basis. Research shows that up to 40% of U.S. doctors experience emotional, physical, and psychological burnout from their jobs, and the consequences are no different for them than they are for people in other occupations — substance abuse and cutting corners.

In the premiere issue of the journal Burnout Research, which is dedicated to research on the topic, Anthony Montgomery, an associate professor in the Psychology of Work and Organizations in the University of Macedonia in Greece, focused on physician burnout, and argues that the way doctors are trained may set them up for a career of frustrations and high-stress situations. And the consequences may be hurting the care they provide patients.

He says that while doctors interact with people on a daily basis, their training and their worth as physicians are focused almost entirely on their technical capabilities, leaving them with few tools for understanding and navigating social interactions and for collaborating as part of a larger team or organization.

Montgomery argues that most medical students are chosen because of their high test scores, so medical school becomes like an extension of school. They then become residents, thrown into a more social environment in which they are expected to interact with patients, hospital staff and colleagues in ways they may not have expected to or been prepared to do. It’s assumed they have the leadership skills and the proper emotional capacity to guide patients through extremely stressful and often traumatic experiences, but not having the tools to manage these situations can be stressful on the doctors themselves. While burnout among physicians is widespread, some studies have shown surgeons and OBGYNs can be at a particularly high risk.

“The irony is that doctors are the one group of people we don’t want to be stressed, yet we are increasing the possibility for them to make mistakes,” says Montgomery. “Doctors understand that their job is to be the best doctor they can, but [they do] not necessarily [understand] their part in helping the hospital as a whole better serve the community.” In his practice, for example, Montgomery says that his colleagues admitted to learning skills like communication and teamwork on the job, after they left medical school.

And that’s not just a problem for the medical community. The more doctors feel stressed about their jobs, the more they feel burned out and defeated by the health care system, leading to less motivation to improve conditions, both for themselves and for patients. A 2012 study published in Archives of Internal Medicine reported that nearly 1 in 2 U.S. physicians report at least one symptom of burnout, like losing enthusiasm for their work, or growing cynical. Forty percent of doctors reported being unsatisfied with their work-life balance and that they did not have time to devote to their families or their personal lives. And in a 2013 study published in JAMA, the consequences of that burnout started to emerge — only 36% of 2,556 surveyed physicians believed doctors had a major responsibility in reducing health care costs, despite the fact that they prescribe the drugs, tests and procedures that can escalate costs. Other studies also link burnout to poorer quality care and increased rates of medical errors.

What can be done to alleviate some of the pressure on physicians? Montgomery cites revisiting the way doctors are educated in order to arm them with stronger social and leadership skills, as well as some untraditional strategies, including teaching mindfulness. Improving the doctor-patient relationship may also help, so physicians and patients collaborate in their care rather than perpetuate a hierarchical system which neither doctor nor patient finds satisfying. He writes: “The uncomfortable truth is that we may need to reimagine healthcare in a way that views some errors as unavoidable, demystifies the physicians as superheroes, engages real patient participation and steers healthcare professionals away from cultures of self-preservation.” In other words, making health care more satisfying for physicians and patients may be a group effort, and that’s something that doctors aren’t quite used to yet.

 

TIME

3 Skin Products You Need to Stop Using

Girl with skincare product
Marili Forastieri—Getty Images

You may think that as long as an item is on store shelves, it’s got a proven health and safety record. But the truth is, the long-term impact of personal-care creations aren’t always fully understood until years after they go to market.

That’s the case with several high-profile health and beauty products on the market today: Doctors and scientists are discovering that despite their popularity and “healthy” image, they may not be so good for us, or for the planet. So we asked Lisa Donofrio, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University, for her take on the recent headlines. Here’s her advice on which ingredients to avoid, plus her recommended alternatives.

Health.com: 15 Biggest Sunscreen Mistakes

Antibacterial soaps and body washes
Liquid hand and body soaps that boast “antibacterial” claims often contain an ingredient called triclosan, which has been linked to antibiotic resistance and hormone disruption. (Triclosan is also present in some toothpastes and cosmetics.) “It gets into the water supply and kills off beneficial bacteria,” says Dr. Donofrio. Plus, she adds, research hasn’t shown a true health benefit to antibacterial products. “We need to be a little dirty; it’s good to give our immune systems something to do so they don’t turn on us.”

The FDA has warned manufacturers that in the coming years, they’ll need to prove that products containing triclosan are more effective in preventing illness and reducing the spread of infection than regular soap and water, or they’ll have to reformulate their products. And Minnesota recently issued a ban on triclosan, which will go into effect in 2017.

Antibacterial bar soaps can contain a similar chemical, called triclocarban, that should be avoided as well. Instead, says Dr. Donofrio, choose bars, liquid soaps, and body washes with natural antimicrobials (she likes formulas that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulphur, which are gentler on the environment and don’t foster drug resistance), or use an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your hands when you’re not near soap and water.

Health.com: 16 Hair Myths You Should Stop Believing

Face and body scrubs with microbeads
These tiny plastic beads are added to face and body washes as an exfoliant, and they help scrub away dead skin. The problem is, recent studies have shown that they also slip through water filtration systems and are making their way into our streams and oceans, potentially hurting fish and wildlife. The synthetic ingredient was recently banned by Illinois, and several other states are following suit.

In light of this news, a “natural” exofoliant may seem like the way to go—but Dr. Donofrio cautions against face and body washes that contain ground up pieces of nuts, seeds, and pits, which can have jagged edges and scratch or irritate skin. Her best alternative? “A coarse washcloth is a great exfoliator, as are scrubs that contain fine sea salt or sugar.”

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You

Anything with parabens
These preservatives are found in everything from shampoos to soaps to lotions, and are used to prevent bacteria growth and extend shelf life. But they are also absorbed into our bodies, and research suggests that they may be tied to hormone disruption and certain cancers. “They bind to estrogen receptors and pose a potential health risk since they are stored in body fat,” says Dr. Donofrio. “Since we are uncertain if they pose a real or theoretical health problem, why tempt fate?”

Parabens are listed on ingredient labels—as methylparaben, propylparaben, or other words ending in -paraben—so it’s easy to choose products that don’t contain them, says Dr. Donofrio, or to limit your exposure by keeping their use to a small amount of skin area. Preservative-free products, or those with natural preservatives (such as grapefruit-seed extract, rosemary extract, or citric acid), likely won’t last as long, but if you use them regularly you should still finish them before their expiration date.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME neuroscience

A ‘High’ From Marijuana Is Really the Opposite in Your Brain

Daily Life In South Africa
A youth smokes marijuana in Soweto township, near Johannesburg, on July 2, 2013 Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

Marijuana dulls your response to dopamine

A new study suggests marijuana blunts the brain’s reaction to dopamine, making users less responsive to the chemical responsible for feelings of reward and pleasure.

In the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers studied the brains of 24 marijuana abusers — that is, people who smoked multiple times a day — and how they reacted to methylphenidate, a stimulant often used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Using personality tests and brain imaging, the researchers found the pot users had blunted behavioral, cardiovascular and brain responses to methylphenidate compared with control participants. Marijuana abusers scored lower on tests of positive emotional activity and higher on negative emotional reactions.

The researchers believe that pot not only dampens the brains’ dopamine reaction to stimulants but also influences the area of the brain involved in reward processing. The participants had lower reward sensitivity, higher levels of irritability, and likely more depression and anxiety.

The researchers conclude that the way pot interferes with the brain may contribute to drug cravings. And that a “high” is really the opposite in the brain.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Athletes Should Not Play With Head Injuries, Say Doctors

Christoph Kramer of Germany receives a medical treatment during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro.
Christoph Kramer of Germany receives a medical treatment during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro. Shaun Botterill—FIFA/Getty Images

Germany’s decision to let midfield Christof Kramer keep playing in the World Cup final yesterday after being slammed in the head was understandable—if this were 1962, anyway. Back then, a little concussion wasn’t seen as much of a big deal.

That’s not true anymore, and given the fact that everyone from kids’ coaches to the NFL (if grudgingly) recognize that even mild head injuries can have serious consequences, that decision looks close to insane—especially given that Kramer “looked as if he was on another planet and had to be helped off the field,” as TIME’s Bill Saporito observed.

Of course, it’s possible that the German team didn’t realize that this sort of thing can cause permanent brain damage. Or maybe they think that what applies to American football is irrelevant to real football. Except that studies have shown that soccer players are equally at risk.

Clearly, they didn’t read the editorial in The Lancet Neurology published the day before the game reminding coaches and team officials that “cerebral concussion is the most common form of sports-related traumatic brain injury (TBI), and the long-term effects of repeated concussions may include dementia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, and other neurological disorders.” The decision to let players continue in a game, wrote these learned medical experts, should be made solely by doctors.

It turns out that FIFA doesn’t have any clear rules about what to do in case a player suffers an apparent concussion. But the fact that Kramer stayed in the game, no matter how important a World Cup final match might be, was at best highly questionable. “I can’t remember very much but it doesn’t matter now,” the dazed player reportedly said after the game was over.

If the medical professionals are right about how serious concussions can be, Kramer and his teammates might well have a different take on things a few years down the road.

TIME medicine

Study: Phones, Tablets May Irritate People With Nickel Allergies

Ken Miyauchi, vice president and chief operating officer of Softbank Corp., left, holds an Apple Inc. iPad Mini during a ceremony as the device goes on sale at the Softbank store in the Ginza district of Tokyo on November 30, 2012.
Ken Miyauchi, vice president and chief operating officer of Softbank Corp., left, holds an Apple Inc. iPad Mini during a ceremony as the device goes on sale at the Softbank store in the Ginza district of Tokyo on November 30, 2012. Bloomberg/Getty Images

One boy had skin rashes from his iPad

A nickel allergy is one of the most common types of skin allergies, causing many people to experience irritation from jewelry, for example. New research shows that nickel allergies are becoming more common among kids, with one case being triggered by exposure to an iPad tablet.

In a recent case study published in the journal Pediatrics, an 11-year-old boy with a history of skin rashes had a particularly persistent breakout that lasted over six months. The doctors ultimately determined the trigger was nickel in his family’s iPad. An iPad cover was added, the boy changed his diet, and the rashes improved.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment.

The report’s authors say dermatologists should be mindful that some electronic devices may cause irritation for people with nickel allergies. As the Associated Press reports, only about 25% of children tested for skin allergies are allergic to nickel. Individuals who have no problems when it comes to the metal — the majority of people — shouldn’t worry about the nickel in their gadgets.

 

TIME Research

The Alarming Reasons Infants Die in Bed

Teddy bears on crib
Image Source/Getty Images

New study reveals the greatest risks

Sharing a bed and objects in bed are the biggest risk factors for sleeping infants, according to a new study.

The study published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday found that babies aged 0-3 months were most likely to die as a result of bed-sharing. For older infants ages four months to a year, the greatest risk for sleep-related death is objects in the sleep environment, the study found.

The study relied on a database compiled between 2004 and 2012—using information from 24 states—by the National Center for the Review and Prevention of Child Deaths. Researchers analyzed 8,207 deaths in total.

Of the younger victims, 74% were sharing a bed at the time of their death. The study defines “bed-sharing” as sleeping with a person or an animal. Of the older victims, 39% of deaths happened in a sleep area containing an object such as a blanket or a pillow. And 18% changed their sleeping position from on their side or on their back to prone.

But the study makes it clear that it hasn’t uncovered any clear cause and effect. Instead it states its “objective was to determine any associations between risk factors for sleep-related deaths at different ages.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on safe sleep environments suggest placing babies on their back on a firm surface, in the same room as their parents, and with no soft objects or loose bedding until the age of one.

TIME Research

This Scent Can Help Heal Wounds, Study Says

Sandalwood
Getty Images

By activating olfactory receptors in your skin

Get a whiff of this: Skin cells have olfactory receptors, and when those receptors are exposed to sandalwood, a popular ingredient in perfumes and incense sticks, the resulting changes in cell activity could facilitate wound healing, says study author Dr. Hans Hatt of Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany. The research was published Wednesday in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

While people typically think of olfactory receptors as having to do with smell, this isn’t always the case. Humans have about 350 olfactory receptors in the nose, but previous studies have shown they also exist in sperm, in the prostate, in kidneys and in our intestine. This is the first time that olfactory receptors have been found in keratinocytes—cells that form the outermost layer of the skin. And Hatt’s team discovered that when those receptors in the skin—called OR2AT4—were in proximity to synthetic sandalwood, they became activated, prompting cell proliferation and cell migration.

Hatt said it was difficult to convince the scientific community of his team’s findings. “I feel a mission to convince my colleagues, and especially clinicians, that this huge family of olfactory receptors plays an important role in cell physiology,” says Hatt.

Hatt is curious about the other discoveries this research could lead to, including applications for cancer, because some cancer T-cells have olfactory receptors, as well as in cosmetic or wound-healing applications.

“It will be a lot of work to study the function of these receptors, but it may open an enormous group of exciting targets,” Hatt said.

TIME prostate cancer

Hypnosis Reduced This Person’s Hot Flashes By 94%

One man's hot flashes vanished with hypnosis

One man with terrible hot flashes—about 160 a week—found relief through hypnosis.

In a Baylor University case study recently published in the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, a 69-year-old man referred to as Mr. W underwent seven weeks of hypnotic relaxation therapy for hot flashes, and had positive results.

Although it’s less common, men indeed can get hot flashes, though they are typically less inclined to seek treatment for them. Unlike women, whose hot flashes are usually related to changes in estrogen, prostate cancer survivors can develop hot flashes as well. Hot flashes due to prostate cancer can actually be more severe and last longer than hot flashes among women.

“If a guy has hot flashes, you can’t say, ‘Well, why don’t we put you on estrogen?’ But it’s a pressing problem,” said study author Gary Elkins, director of Baylor’s Mind-Body Medicine Research Laboratory in a statement.

Mr. W, who was a prostate cancer survivor, went under both hypnosis with a therapist, and self-hypnosis. During the hypnosis, Mr.W imagined he was at his favorite fishing spot, sitting on a bucket between two trees on a long shore of grass, watching the water early in the morning. The hypnosis transcript would tell he would experience comfort and coolness, and that he would feel a cool breeze coming across the lake and would feel it on his face. Mr. W reported that he learned how to stop his hot flashes with self-hypnosis, and by the end of the sessions, he had a 94% decrease in hot flashes and a 87% increase in sleep quality.

The findings support earlier studies from the researchers on postmenopausal women and breast cancer survivors. People have varying responses to being hypnotized, but the researchers are hopeful, since it could be a cost effective way for people to deal with their symptoms themselves, without drugs.

TIME Pentagon

U.S. Military Sends Scouting Party Into the Twitterverse

The Twitter Inc. logo is shown with the U.S. flag during the company's IPO on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York
Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Pentagon wants to learn how to mold social media to prevent “adverse outcomes”

The first warriors fought on the ground. Then, someone hollowed out a log and naval warfare began. Aircraft came next, followed by space—and now, cyberspace. So it should come as no surprise that the exploding corner of cyberspace—social media—is the next battleground.

The fog of war now includes rolling clouds of Tweets, Facebook posts and Instagram photos that the Pentagon wants to filter, track and exploit. Enveloping the globe, from friends and foes alike, the torrent of data can serve as an early-warning system of trouble brewing—or a leading indicator of imminent action by a potential troublemaker.

That’s why the Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency has spent three years and $35 million, plumbing pixels as part of its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. Makes sense that DARPA’s in charge: the agency basically invented the Internet. “Events of strategic as well as tactical importance to our Armed Forces are increasingly taking place in social media space,” DARPA says. “We must, therefore, be aware of these events as they are happening and be in a position to defend ourselves within that space against adverse outcomes.”

Britain’s Guardian newspaper suggested Tuesday that the program might be connected to papers leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden showing “that US and British intelligence agencies have been deeply engaged in planning ways to covertly use social media for purposes of propaganda and deception.”

But Peter W. Singer, a strategist with the independent New America Foundation, sees it more as Defense Department due diligence. It appears to be “a fairly transparent effort, all done in the open, following academic research standards, aiming to understand critical changes in the social, and therefore, emerging battlefield, environment,” Singer says of DARPA’s efforts. “I am not deeply troubled by this—indeed, I would be troubled if we weren’t doing this kind of research to better understand the changing world around us.”

DARPA says researchers have to take steps to ensure that “no personally identifiable information for U.S. participants was collected, stored or created in contravention to federal privacy laws, regulations or DoD policies.” It issued a statement Wednesday declaring it was not involved in the recent Cornell University study of Facebook users, and that the work it has funded “has focused on public Twitter streams visible and accessible to everybody.”

The program’s aims, according to DARPA:

  • Detect, classify, measure and track the (a) formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes), and (b) purposeful or deceptive messaging and misinformation.
  • Recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities.
  • Identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns.
  • Counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.

The goal is to win without firing a shot. The agency cited, without elaboration, an incident that it said occurred solely on social media as an example of what it wants to do:

Rumors about the location of a certain individual began to spread in social media space and calls for storming the rumored location reached a fever pitch. By chance, responsible authorities were monitoring the social media, detected the crisis building, sent out effective messaging to dispel the rumors and averted a physical attack on the rumored location. This was one of the first incidents where a crisis was (1) formed (2) observed and understood in a timely fashion and (3) diffused by timely action, entirely within the social media space.

DARPA’s lengthy research roster (at least those publicly available; there’s no link to IBM’s Early Warning Signals of System Change from Expert Communication Networks, for example) doesn’t detail anything about waging war. It’s all about tapping into those who use social media, how to figure out who their leaders are, and perhaps sway their thinking. Academics and computer scientists, working for major universities and outfits like SentiMetrix (which says its “sentiment engine has been proven to work in predicting election outcomes, conflicts, and stock price fluctuations”) have written more than 100 papers on a wide range of topics:

Cues to Deception in Social Media Communications

Well-crafted deceptive messaging is difficult to detect, a difficulty compounded by the fact that people are generally naïve believers of information that they receive. Through studying modern forms of communication, as that found in social media, we can, though, begin to develop an understanding of how users’ expectations lead them to detect deception and how deception strategies are exhibited through linguistic cues.

The Language that Gets People to Give: Phrases that Predict Success on Kickstarter

Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter—where entrepreneurs and artists look to the internet for funding—have quickly risen to prominence. However, we know very little about the factors driving the “crowd” to take projects to their funding goal. In this paper we explore the factors which lead to successfully funding a crowdfunding project. We study a corpus of 45K crowdfunded projects, analyzing 9M phrases and 59 other variables commonly present on crowdfunding sites. The language used in the project has surprising predictive power— accounting for 58.56% of the variance around successful funding.

Understanding Individual’s Personal Values from Social Media Word Use

The theory of values posits that each person has a set of values, or desirable and trans-situational goals, that motivate their actions. The Basic Human Values, a motivational construct that captures people’s values, have been shown to influence a wide range of human behaviors. In this work, we analyze people’s values and their word use on Reddit, an online social news sharing community. Through conducting surveys and analyzing text contributions of 799 Reddit users, we identify and interpret categories of words that are indicative of user’s value orientations.

The Digital Evolution of Occupy Wall Street

We examine the temporal evolution of digital communication activity relating to the American anti-capitalist movement Occupy Wall Street. Using a high-volume sample from the microblogging site Twitter, we investigate changes in Occupy participant engagement, interests, and social connectivity over a fifteen month period…the Occupy movement tended to elicit participation from a set of highly interconnected users with pre-existing interests in domestic politics and foreign social movements. These users, while highly vocal in the months immediately following the birth of the movement, appear to have lost interest in Occupy related communication over the remainder of the study period.

A Computational Approach to Politeness with Application to Social Factors

We use our framework to study the relationship between politeness and social power, showing that polite Wikipedia editors are more likely to achieve high status through elections, but, once elevated, they become less polite.

If it seems difficult to discern a pattern here, that’s because the agency engages in basic research. It only builds the tools that others will use to build the next war (or disinformation) machine. There’s no telling which of these reports—if any—contains a glimmer of military utility. The only way to find out is to continue such research until it yields a breakthrough, or until the Pentagon goes broke.

 

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