Health Desk

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OK, Google, Where Did I Put My Thinking Cap?

3 hours ago

Take a look at this question: How do modern novels represent the characteristics of humanity?

If you were tasked with answering it, what would your first step be? Would you scribble down your thoughts — or would you Google it?

Terry Heick, a former English teacher in Kentucky, had a surprising revelation when his eighth- and ninth-grade students quickly turned to Google.

"What they would do is they would start Googling the question, 'How does a novel represent humanity?' " Heick says. "That was a real eye-opener to me."

U.S. health experts cautioned Friday that the apparent discovery of the Zika virus in saliva and urine from people in Brazil does not necessarily mean the virus can be spread by more casual contact with infected people, such as through kissing.

"I think we need to be careful that don't we jump to any conclusions about transmissibility," Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during an interview on NPR's Morning Edition.

The cystic fibrosis drug Orkambi can help people with specific genetic mutations breathe better, but treatment with the pill comes with a hefty sticker price — $259,000 a year.

Orkambi, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last July, is expected to take almost $36 million from California's general fund this fiscal year and next. That cost estimate doesn't include any discounts the state may receive from drug manufacturers.

The Zika virus has gone from an obscure disease to an international public health emergency.

Genetics researchers often discover certain snips and pieces of the human genome that are important for health and development, such as the genetic mutations that cause cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia. And scientists noticed that genetic variants are more common in some races, which makes it seem like race is important in genetics research.

U.S. officials say there's no need for alarm over reports from Brazil out Friday that active Zika virus has been found in saliva and urine samples. Mosquitoes remain the primary source of Zika, and there's no proof that saliva and urine can transmit the virus, even if it is present there. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, talks with Mary Louise Kelly about how the Zika virus may spread.

Members of Congress at a Thursday hearing wrestled with questions about why the prices of some old drugs are rising so fast.

Much of the session held by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was dominated by Martin Shkreli, the bad-boy former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who earned notoriety by raising the price 5,000 percent for the drug Daraprim, a treatment for toxoplasmosis.

Florida is one of several U.S. states now reporting a few isolated cases of people infected with the Zika virus. In response, Florida's Gov. Rick Scott has declared a public health emergency in five counties in hopes of getting ahead of the virus's spread.

So far, just 12 cases of the mosquito-borne illness have been reported to health authorities in Florida, all of them among travelers who contracted the disease outside the U.S. But Scott figures it's only a matter of time before the virus starts showing up among mosquitoes in some regions of the state, too.

For the past two years, Joseph Richardson has been trying to figure out how to keep young black men with knife and gunshot wounds from turning up again with similar injuries at Prince George's Hospital Trauma Center outside Washington, D.C.

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There was a time when the Pentagon went to the private sector for the latest technology. Now Defense Secretary Ash Carter is looking to high-tech companies for insights on something else - recruiting and retaining women. NPR's Tom Bowman has more.

New advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at preventing fetal alcohol syndrome has created quite a stir.

The CDC estimates that about 3 million women "are at risk of exposing their developing baby to alcohol because they are drinking, sexually active and not using birth control to prevent pregnancy."

For Carnival in Brazil, lots of women don giant feather headdresses and skimpy bikinis.

But for a pre-Carnival event, Elaine Cuoto is dressed as a mosquito — complete with a long proboscis and gossamer wings.

She is part of a group of health workers dancing by a metro station in a working-class neighborhood of Rio's north zone. A few others are wearing mosquito costumes as well. And they're singing a catchy tune:

"If Zika attacks, use this number to report it, 7-4-6. Pay attention!"

I'm from a football family. The guys all play, including my dad, my brother, my uncle and me. I was even named after a former 49ers player, Garrison Hearst.

My parents were at every game I played. From the field, if I looked toward sidelines, they'd be there, either cheering or taking pictures. My mom took lots of videos on her iPhone from the bleachers at one of my games.

Food writer Bee Wilson has a message of hope for parents struggling to get their children to eat their veggies: "As parents, we have a far greater power than we think we have to form children's tastes," Wilson tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

In her new book, First Bite, Wilson examines how genetics, culture, memory and early feeding patterns contribute to our food preferences. She says that a child's palate can be formed even before birth. And this insight can be helpful for parents who want their children to eat well and healthfully.

Employers are pushing workers to get in shape and become more fit through workplace wellness programs. But if employers use body mass index as a yardstick for health, then that could unfairly penalize millions of Americans, a study finds.

Doctors contend that BMI's usefulness ends at a rough indication that a patient should be checked for things like high blood pressure or cholesterol.

Martin Shkreli, the former pharmaceutical executive who inspired wrath when he raised the price of a life-saving drug by 5,000 percent, appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday for a hearing on prescription drug prices.

But his testimony was far from fruitful.

Unpaid Water Bills In Flint Could Hinder Repairs

Feb 4, 2016

High levels of lead in their drinking water have Flint, Mich., residents relying on cases of bottled water for just about everything. So it may come as no surprise that thousands of them have stopped paying their water bills.

Lynna Kaucheck of the not-for-profit group Food and Water Watch delivered 21,000 signatures to the Flint mayor's office last week calling for a moratorium on drinking water bills.

"All of this is a lot for people to handle, and enough is enough," she said. "Flint residents need relief."

"If you are a woman who is pregnant living in the U.S., there's one really important thing you need to know: You shouldn't go to a place that has Zika spreading."

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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is proposing that $30 million in state funds be used to help pay Flint residents' bills for the city's lead-tainted water.

This comes after a growing outcry from Flint residents about having to pay for water that isn't safe to drink. Residents have been relying on donated bottled water.

Michigan Radio's Kate Wells tells our Newscast unit how Snyder's proposal would work:

Mice were much healthier and lived about 25 percent longer when scientists killed off a certain kind of cell that accumulates in the body with age.

What's more, the mice didn't seem to suffer any ill effects from losing their so-called senescent cells.

Famous for its high peaks and wind-whipped prayer flags, Hindu-majority Nepal used to be a nation unreached by Christianity.

Now the country has one of the fastest-growing Christian populations in the world, according to the World Christian Database, which tracks global trends in Christianity.

Editor's note: This post was updated Feb. 3, 2016, at 12:25 pm to include a statement from the Food and Drug Administration and a comment from Mark Sauer.

Would it be ethical for scientists to try to create babies that have genetic material from three different people? An influential panel of experts has concluded the answer could be yes.

A patient acquired Zika virus in the U.S. through sex with a person who had traveled to a place where the virus is circulating, Dallas County, Texas, health officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

This is not the first time that the virus has been sexually transmitted, and it most likely isn't the first time it's been sexually transmitted in the U.S.

Amid growing questions over the future of Obamacare exchanges, the head of California's marketplace said the nation's largest private health insurer should take responsibility for nearly $1 billion in losses and stop blaming the federal health law.

Health officials have confirmed that someone in Dallas County, Texas, contracted the Zika virus through sexual contact.

It's the first U.S. case related to the recent Western Hemisphere outbreak to be acquired through sex. Until now, experts have focused on transmission of the virus through mosquito bites.

Dallas County Health and Human Services says the patient, who remains anonymous, became infected after having sexual contact with someone who was ill and had returned from a country where the Zika virus is present.

How much harm can the Zika virus do?

That's the question that is bedeviling researchers in Brazil. It's not just the matter of a possible link to brain damage in babies born to mothers who contracted the virus during pregnancy. There have also been suspected cases of adult patients who suffered temporary hearing loss.

Researchers are trying to make sense of it all, and yet they lack very basic information. Even the number of cases and the degree to which it has spread are unknown.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Saru Jayaraman may be restaurant obsessed, but don't call her a foodie. She's the founding director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a national organization that advocates for better wages and working conditions for restaurant workers. She's also published several studies in legal and policy journals as director of the Food Labor Research Center at the University of California-Berkeley.

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