Health Desk

No one predicted the Ebola epidemic before it burst forth in 2014 and continued to claim lives throughout 2015. And so, as 2016 begins, readers might well wonder what biological culprits — parasites, bacteria and viruses — are lurking out there, ready to unleash another outbreak of something terrible on an unsuspecting world.

We put the question to four infectious disease experts: What are your best educated guesses about the big global health stories in 2016?

When she first heard that California's new aid in-dying law was signed, Dr. Carin van Zyl was relieved to hear that assisted death would be an option for her if she ever needed it herself. But as a palliative care doctor at the University Of Southern California Keck School Of Medicine, she's worried the law might lead people to consider lethal medications over other options that may better accommodate their wishes.

Losing your ability to think and remember is pretty scary. We know the risk of dementia increases with age. But if you have memory lapses, you probably needn't worry. There are pretty clear differences between signs of dementia and age-related memory loss.

After age 50, it's quite common to have trouble remembering the names of people, places and things quickly, says Dr. Kirk Daffner, chief of the division of cognitive and behavioral neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

There's growing evidence that a lack of sleep can leave the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease.

"Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage" for dementia, says Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during sleep, Iliff explains. And, at least among research animals that don't get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain.

Medical researchers are in a constant search for truth. Each study is supposed to be another step toward that goal. But it's pretty obvious that many studies just don't hold up. Think about the contradictory advice about what you should eat or drink. We've heard that coffee is bad for you, then sometimes it's good for you. Same goes for soy and even eggs, which have been in and out of favor. Scott Hensley, host of NPR's Shots blog, talked with Rachel Martin about the year in health and medical research.

It's tough to talk about football without talking about concussions. Deep into the NFL season now, viewers continue to hear about these injuries on a near-weekly basis, as they regularly sideline stars and journeymen alike, regardless of position.

How Uganda Came To Earn High Marks For Quality Of Death

Jan 3, 2016

Food coloring, water, a preservative and a pound of morphine powder. These are the ingredients in Dr. Anne Merriman's recipe for liquid morphine.

One thing we've learned here at Goats and Soda is that the world of global health and development is swimming in abbreviations/initialisms. We try not to use them in the blog because let's face it, dear readers, if you saw a story about NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) trying to improve BHS (basic health services), you'd probably click over to a video of RCC (really cute cats).

Global health and development abbreviations do have their defenders. They are a convenient shorthand for people who work in the field.

Although not everyone is a fan.

When East Cleveland's emergency medical squad gets called to treat a man with a severe nosebleed, it's a pretty run-of-the-mill case.

The patient walks woozily out to the ambulance from a tan house on a tree-lined street. Anthony Savoy, the head medic, calls ahead to University Hospitals, which has the closest emergency room. Savoy wants to make sure the ER has space for the patient.

Talking about grief and the loss of a loved one isn't typically dinner conversation. Many people, even those struggling to cope with loss, will avoid talking about such heavy topics, especially over supper.

But a fledgling nonprofit designs dinners specifically for young adults to get together and talk about their experiences with loss.

In cities across the country, the group The Dinner Party advises 20- and 30-somethings on how to arrange these gatherings.

I'm often asked for medical advice by friends, family members, even new acquaintances: What about this diet? What should I do about this symptom? What about this medication?

Butter-flavored popcorn oil is in high demand at Oasis Foods, a manufacturer of cooking oils, mayonnaise and other products that restaurants and distributors often purchase by the ton.

"We get a rush this time of year with all the movie-going at the holidays," says Duke Gillingham, president of Oasis, at his factory in Hillside, N.J., just west of Newark Liberty Airport.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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When a poor country is hit with a sudden catastrophe — say, an earthquake or a tsunami — the world is quick to send aid.

But a slow-moving disaster, the kind that unfolds over weeks or even months, is another story. There are no immediate, dramatic TV images, no screaming headlines.

And that means it's really tough for aid groups to raise the money needed.

Just ask John Graham. He's the head of the aid group Save the Children, and he's watching a slow-moving disaster unfold in Ethiopia as the world remains largely oblivious.

Bingeing has become many people's favorite way to consume television. But marathon-viewing doesn't just change how we watch, it also affects how we eat.

While the culture of the Netflix all-nighter is relatively recent, researchers have been studying the links between TV viewing and mindless eating for years. And the news isn't good for our waistlines.

Nepal's Gurung Community Says Goodbye To A Trying Year

Dec 31, 2015

At a New Year's celebration in Kathmandu, people are munching water buffalo dumplings and sipping moonshine while looking back on a tough year.

"So many people died in the earthquake, so many houses went down," says Dil Bahadur Gurung, 45, who ran a food stall at the Lhosar festival — the name of the Tibetan New Year.

Tampon or pad? That's all you get when you stroll through the feminine care aisle of any big supermarket chain.

But times are a changin'.

This year has been epic for menstruation, with news and social media catapulting the once hush-hush topic into the open.

There's the woman who ran the London marathon without using feminine hygiene products, and the #PeriodsAreNotAnInsult hashtag that erupted after presidential candidate Donald Trump referred to GOP debate moderator Megyn Kelly as having had "blood coming out of her wherever."

Editor's note: This story was first published in December 2014.

The first time I ever got tipsy was during a champagne toast at a cousin's wedding reception.

All was good, until the room started spinning — and the sight of my cousin's bride dancing in her wedding dress was just a whirl of lace.

Of course, if you're an uninitiated teenager, any amount of alcohol can go straight to your head. But, decades later, bubbly wine still seems to hit me faster than, say, beer. It turns out there's a reason.

It's been another year of reporting on deadly diseases and lifesaving cures, girls and boys, changes in the cultural and physical climate, goats

Health insurers in several big cities will take some pain out of doctor visits in 2016. The plans will offer free visits to primary care doctors in their networks.

You read that right. Doctor visits without copays. Or coinsurance. And no expensive deductible to pay off first either.

In Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Miami and more than a dozen other markets, people seeking coverage through the insurance exchanges can choose health plans providing free doctor visits, a benefit once considered unthinkable.

Editor's note: A version of this story first ran on Sept. 23, 2015. It has been updated to reflect the current ages of the subjects.

When doctors told Robert Madison that his wife had dementia, they didn't explain very much. His successful career as an architect hardly prepared him for what came next.

How safe is it in the United States to be born someplace other than a hospital? The question has long been the focus of emotional debate and conflicting information. Now, Oregon scientists and health workers who deliver babies have some research evidence that sheds a bit more light.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 19,000 people died from prescription opioid overdoses last year. The drug epidemic has so rattled the country, it's become a topic on the presidential campaign trail.

"Dry" is a tiny word with many interpretations: a well-made martini, a fluffy towel after a hot bath, a subtle wit.

Editor's note: This story first ran on Jan. 16, 2015, as part of NPR's Invisibilia podcast. It's about a man who decided he no longer wanted to be ruled by fear. Without realizing it, he used a standard tool of psychotherapy to help him stop dreading rejection.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

When Anthony McCann opened a thick manila envelope from the Department of Veterans Affairs last year, he expected to find his own medical records inside.

Instead, he found over 250 pages of deeply revealing personal information on another veteran's mental health.

"It had everything about him, and I could have done anything with it," McCann said in an interview.

An inherited disorder that stems from a problem in the way the body handles iron in the blood has been called a "Celtic Curse" because of the condition's high prevalence among people with ancestry in the British Isles and Ireland.

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