Monthly Archives: May 2017

Next Stop for Researching Parkinson’s Disease

In an effort to find new treatments for Parkinson’s disease, researchers are sending their experiments to space.

This Monday (Aug. 14), researchers will launch a key Parkinson’s disease protein, called LRRK2, to the International Space Station (ISS). The microgravity conditions in space should offer a better test environment for their experiments with this protein, the researchers said.

The materials for their experiments will travel aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule as part of a mission to send supplies and science experiments to the ISS.

The work is a collaboration between The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research and the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS).

LRRK2 is a type of protein that modifies other proteins. Mutations in the gene that codes for LRRK2 are thought to cause Parkinson’s disease in some people. Researchers have hypothesized that developing drugs to inhibit LRRK2, or block its activity, could help prevent Parkinson’s or slow its progression. [10 Celebrities with Chronic Illnesses]

But before scientists can develop a drug to inhibit LRRK2, they need to know the precise structure of this protein. One way to get a detailed view of its structure is by growing crystals of LRRK2 in lab dishes. However, on Earth, gravity can interfere with the growth of these crystals, and keep them small.

“The quality of our crystals is just not good enough [on Earth],” Sebastian Mathea, a researcher at the University of Oxford who is involved in the LRRK2 project, said during a news conference about the project Tuesday (Aug. 8).

This is where the ISS research comes in: Researchers hope that themicrogravity conditions in space will allow the crystals to grow bigger with fewer defects. The scientists can then get a sharper view of the crystal structure.

Scientists will grow the LRRK2 crystals for about a month in space. Then, the crystals will be sent back to Earth, where they will be analyzed with high-energy X-rays, Mathea said.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive neurological disorder that affects people’s movement abilities, and can result in symptoms such as tremors, slowed movements and muscle stiffness. There are currently no treatments to stop or reverse the progression of the disease, according to The Michael J. Fox Foundation.

Why Does The Hot Weather Make You Feel Tired?

If you’re out and about on a sweltering day, it probably won’t be long before you start to feel tired and sluggish. But why does being out in the heat bring on feelings of drowsiness?

The reason for this lethargy is simple: Your body is working hard to keep you cool, and this extra labor makes you feel tired, said Dr. Michele Casey, the regional medical director at Duke Health in North Carolina.

“Your body, especially in the sun, has to work hard to maintain a consistent, normal, internal temperature,” Casey told Live Science. [What Would Happen If You Fell Into a Volcano?]

On a hot day, your body makes several adjustments to maintain its temperature. For instance, it dilates your blood vessels, a process known as vasodilation, which allows more blood to flow near the skin’s surface. This allows warm blood to cool off, releasing heat as it travels near the skin, Casey said.

This increased blood flow near the skin explains why some people look redder when they’re feeling hot, according to the BBC.

In addition to vasodilation, the body secretes sweat onto the skin. This sweat then cools the skin as it evaporates, Casey said. But in order to do this extra work, your heart rate increases, as does your metabolic rate (the number of calories your body needs to function), she said.

“All that work — increasing your heart rate, your metabolic rate — eventually makes you feel tired or sleepy,” Casey said.

Furthermore, most people spend their lives slightly dehydrated. Being hot and sweaty only worsens that dehydration, and a symptom of dehydration is fatigue, she noted.

Getting skin damage from the sun can also heighten dehydration. When the sun’s rays beam down on your skin, it can cause pigmentation changes, wrinkles and burns. “These chemical changes actually cause fatigue,” Casey said. “That’s because your body is working to repair the damage.”

Sunburns impair your body’s ability to regulate its temperature, she said. What’s more, when you sunburn, your body diverts fluid from the rest of the body toward the burn in an attempt to heal the skin. This diversion means you have less fluid overall for sweating, which can lead to more dehydration and fatigue, Casey said.

Often, people who are feeling hot might try to cool down with a cool drink, such as alcohol. But alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it may only increase dehydration, Casey said. Coffee, on the other hand, is actuallynot a diuretic, according to recent studies. But the best way to fight dehydration is with water and a salty snack, such as pretzels or baked potato chips, Casey said.

She advised people to be aware of the symptoms of heat exhaustion: sweating heavily, having a rapid pulse and feeling faint or sleepy. “If that happens, we recommend you get somewhere cool, drink water and see a physician if the symptoms don’t improve within about an hour,” Casey said.

Heat stroke is a more serious condition, in which the body’s core is 104 degrees Fahrenheit (57.7 degrees Celsius) or hotter. This condition requires emergency treatment, as it can lead to damage to the brain, heart, kidneys and muscle. Symptoms include high body temperature, nausea, vomiting, headache and changes in behavior, such as confusion, agitation or irritability. Other symptoms are slurred speech, seizures or coma.

To cool down, Casey advised going to a cooler environment, such as the shade or an air-conditioned area, especially during the hottest hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. local time. It’s also important to stay hydrated, she said.

Bacteria That Cause Disease Outbreaks Found in Arizona Flea

Fleas carrying the plague have been found in some parts of Arizona, according to health officials.

On Friday (Aug. 11), the Navajo County Health Department (NCHD) announced that fleas collected in the town of Taylor, Arizona, had tested positive for Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague.

The department “is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease,” officials said in a Facebook post.

Separately, officials in nearby Coconino County also warned of fleas carrying plague in that area. [10 Bizarre Diseases You Can Get Outdoors]

The plague is perhaps best known for killing millions of people in Europe in the 1300s in a pandemic called the Black Death. Today, the infection is relatively rare in the United States, but it still occurs, mainly in the Southwest — in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Earlier this year, New Mexico officials reported that three people in the state had been infected with plague.

Plague is carried by rodents and their fleas, and most often, the disease is transmitted to humans through fleabites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Arizona officials advised people to avoid rodent burrows and to keep dogs on leashes to avoid possible exposure to fleas with plague. In addition, people should avoid handling sick or dead animals, deflea their pets routinely and use insect repellent when visiting or working in areas where plague might be present, the NCHD said.

A sudden die-off of prairie dogs or other rodents also may be an indicator of plague, so people who notice a sudden die-off of rodents should contact the health department, the NCHD said.

Symptoms of the plague typically appear within two weeks of exposure and include fever, chills, headache, weakness, muscle pain and swollen lymph glands (called “buboes”), the NCHD said. The disease is curable with antibiotics if treated early.

Urinary Tract Infection Following Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

A urinary tract infection, or UTI, is a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, kidneys, ureters (tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder) and the urethra (the tube that allows the bladder to be emptied). Infections of the bladder or the urethra are the most common.

In the United States, about 8.1 million people visit the doctor due to a urinary tract infection each year,according to the American Urological Association.

Most often, a UTI occurs because bacteria enter the urethra and travel up to the bladder, where they multiply.

Bladder infections are typically caused by Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria, which are common bacteria in the human gut, according to the Mayo Clinic. Infections of the urethra can be caused by E. coli, or by sexually transmitted infections, such as herpes or chlamydia.

Bacteria in the bladder can also move up to the kidneys and cause a kidney infection (known as pyelonephritis), which can cause permanent kidney damage. An untreated UTI in the bladder can lead to such an infection.

According to the National Institutes of Health, symptoms of a UTI include:

  • A strong and frequent urge to urinate often, even after you’ve just emptied your bladder
  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or back (pelvic pain for women, rectal pain for men)

Signs of a kidney infection may include:

  • Chills or night sweats
  • Fever
  • Pain in the side, back or groin area
  • Flushed or reddened skin
  • Nausea and vomiting

In older adults, mental changes or confusion are often the only signs of a UTI, according to the NIH. For this reason, UTIs in the elderly are often missed, said Dr. Ketul Shah, a urologist from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. If an elderly patient comes to the hospital because they are confused and not feeling well, it’s important that doctors rule out common problems (such as UTI) first, before they start treatment for other, less common problems, Shah said.

Women are more likely than men to get a UTI. One reason for this is that women have a shorter urethra than men do, and it is closer to the anus. Both of these reasons explain why bacteria can reach the bladder more easily in women. Sexual activity also increases a woman’s risk of UTI.

The drop in estrogen levels that women experience after menopause also can make the urinary tract more vulnerable to infection, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Blockages of the urinary tract, such as those caused by a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate, can block the flow of urine and increase the risk of UTI.

People with an impaired immune system, such as those with diabetes and other conditions, have a decreased ability to fight off infections, which can increase the risk of UTI.

People who have a urinary catheter are also at increased risk for UTI.

People who hold their urine for long periods of time may also be at risk for a urinary tract infection, Shah said. Urine has a high amount of glucose and proteins, which can allow bacteria to grow, Shah said. “The bacteria has more time to multiply” when people hold their urine, Shah said.

To diagnose a UTI, doctors collect a urine sample to look for bacteria or byproducts from bacteria, such as red and white blood cells, Shah said. Doctors can also perform a urine culture — in which the urine sample is cultured in a lab to see if it grows bacteria — which takes about 24 to 48 hours, Shah said. The latter test can help doctors determine which antibiotics are most suitable to treat the infection, Shah said.

Usually, a urinary tract infection is treated with antibiotics to prevent the infection from spreading to the kidneys. Symptoms of a bladder infection usually go away within one to two days after starting antibiotics.

Patients who are prescribed antibiotics should take them exactly as it was recommended by your healthcare provider, and they should not stop taking the drug until your provider says it is safe to do so, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A recent opinion article published in The BMJ (British Medical Journal) hasquestioned the long-held advice of finishing a course of antibiotics even if a person is feeling better to prevent the relapse of an infection. The article suggests this advice might be contributing to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Women with recurrent UTIs — meaning having more than two or three UTIs in a year — may be told to take antibiotics after sexual activity to prevent infection. Longer courses of antibiotics, or stronger doses, also may be required for people with recurrent infections.

A more severe infection of the kidneys may require hospital treatment. Hospital treatment involves injecting fluids and antibiotics through a vein. Some people may need surgery if the infection is caused by a problem with the structure of the urinary tract, according to the NIH.

UTIs in children can be serious because the infection can sometimes affect the growth of the kidneys, Shah said. Children who have had a UTI may require further testing to make sure their urine is not traveling back up into the kidneys, Shah said.

Ways to help prevent UTIs include drinking plenty of water to dilute urine and flush out bacteria, and urinating after intercourse. Women who’ve gone through menopause may use estrogen cream around the vagina to reduce the risk of infections, the NIH says.

A 2012 review suggested that cranberries may help prevent UTIs, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Cranberries may interfere with the way bacteria attach to urinary tract cells.

The idea that cranberry juice can prevent UTIs is controversial, because although some studies show a benefit, other studies find little evidence of a benefit, or suggest that the benefit is a placebo effect, Shah said. Still, because cranberry juice is safe and not very expensive, Shah said he does recommend it as a way to help prevent UTI.