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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While the United States contends with one of the worst flu seasons in years, South Korea is grappling with a very different type of virus. Just days before the Olympics Opening Ceremony, 32 cases of norovirus have been confirmed among private security personnel, resulting in the deployment of 900 military personnel to take their place.What is norovirus?Norovirus is an extremely contagious virus that causes gastroenteritis or inflammation of the stomach and intestines. In other words, this is what most people call "the stomach flu" or even "food poisoning." But the virus is to blame and it can be found in vomit and stool.How is norovirus spread?Generally, it’s from contacting norovirus on a surface (such as: touching a surface contaminated with an infected person's liquids) and getting it into your body by touching your hand to your mouth. It can also spread by touching your mouth after direct physical contact with an infected person or consumption of contaminated food or water. It's one of the reasons restaurants have the "employees must wash hands" signs in the bathrooms, so to get any viruses off the hands.What are the symptoms of norovirus?Common symptoms include nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea, with other symptoms including dehydration, fever, headache, and body aches. These symptoms typically develop 12 to 48 hours after you are exposed to the virus, and can last for one to three days.Dehydration is the most concerning symptom -- especially in children, the elderly, and those with chronic diseases. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, decreased urination, and feelings of dizziness or lightheadedness when standing, with severe dehydration requiring hospitalization.How is norovirus treated?There are no medications that target norovirus. Symptoms usually go away by themselves after one to three days, but the most important thing you can do is stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of fluids, including over-the-counter "oral rehydration fluids" can keep water in the body. If you are severely dehydrated, you may need to be hospitalized in order to get IV (intravenous) fluids.How long am I contagious for if I’ve had norovirus?Norovirus can be found in the stool for two weeks after symptoms go away. While ill and for at least two days after, it's advised to stay home from work, limit direct contact with others, and not share food with others.How can I protect myself from norovirus?Wash your hands with flowing water and soap for at least 30 seconds -- alcohol-based sanitizers are not as effective. Always wash your hands after using the bathroom and before handling food. In the kitchen, cook food thoroughly and make sure you wash and peel fruits and vegetables. It's also a good idea to clean and sanitize knives, cutting boards, and contaminated surfaces. Also, it's important to refrain from sharing utensils. Outside of the kitchen, you should make sure you wash soiled laundry thoroughly.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- A nationwide flu outbreak is showing no sign of easing up as at least four more deaths have been reported in the past few days, including three children.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta said 14,676 people have been hospitalized with influenza since the flu season began in October, double the number from all of last year and the highest ever recorded.In New York City, health officials confirmed Tuesday that two children had died. One was identified as 8-year-old Amely Baez of Queens, who died Monday shortly after she was rushed to a hospital with flu symptoms, health officials said.Dr. Mary Bassett, the New York City health commissioner, said 6.5 percent of all patients seen at hospitals in the city in the past few days were for flu-related symptoms."That's the highest we've seen in the last four years," Bassett said at a news conference Tuesday to remind workers to take advantage of the city's sick pay law and stay home if they are not feeling well.The CDC's latest influenza report shows that at least 53 children have died from the flu this season, including 16 just last week.CDC officials said most flu seasons last up to 20 weeks and they expect to see increased flu activity for another several weeks.Savanna Jessie, 7, of Columbus, Indiana, died on Friday, just one day after she tested positive for flu, strep and scarlet fever, her relatives said."Everybody is devastated. You never expect it to happen to you," Savanna's aunt, Courtney Hargett, told "Good Morning America."Heather Holland, a 38-year-old second-grade teacher from Weatherford, Texas, died from flu complications early Sunday. The Weatherford School District sent a letter to parents telling them of Holland's death."She was a very, very kind lady, very good teacher. Everybody thought very highly of her, so it's really tough," Lindsay Larossa told ABC station KTRK-TV in Dallas.In one Atlanta, Georgia, suburb, 50 school bus drivers and monitors called in sick, forcing staff at the Coal Mountain Elementary School in Cumming to drive the buses to get children to school, officials said.And in Aurora, Illinois, a Catholic school is closed for the rest of the week due to the flu, according to ABC station WLS-TV."We have 26 [percent] of the student population out today with more sick children going home as the day has progressed," Holy Angels Catholic School posted on Facebook. "In an effort to try and minimize the exposure to the flu, we will be closing school for the rest of the week."
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Experts previously thought that 1 percent of children are affected by the serious, permanent consequences of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD).But they were underestimating it.A new multisite study released by The Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that FASD are up to 10 times more common than they thought -- perhaps as high as one in 10 children.Most people know that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have serious consequences for the baby; central nervous system damage and physical defects are key features of FASD. To see how many children actually have FASD, researchers looked at 6,639 first-grade children from a general population of 13,146 in four different United States communities (Rocky Mountain, Midwestern, Southeastern, Pacific Southwestern regions). In the study, experts diagnosed FASD according to standardized clinical criteria -- the child’s growth, physical features and deformities, neurodevelopmental testing, and mom’s report of prenatal alcohol exposure.They used these data to estimate how many children are affected nationally. A conservative approach suggests that 1 to 5 percent of children are affected; a less conservative approach suggests that 3 to 10 percent are affected.One of the study’s authors, Christina Chambers, Ph.D., said, “For many years, we’ve known that estimates of the prevalence of FASD were gross underestimates for a variety of reasons. To get a better sense of prevalence is labor-intensive and expensive to do. It was done in other countries [like] Italy and South Africa, but one had not been done in the United States. If this is an issue, we need to be able to demonstrate in a concrete fashion how common it is.”Only two out of 222 children with FASD in this study had been diagnosed before, indicating that underdiagnosis is a huge problem. A recent study published in Pediatrics estimated that 80 percent of FASD cases are missed and 7 percent are misdiagnosed as something else.Physical features of FASD can be subtle, which makes diagnosis difficult for a non-expert. “It’s not something that if you were walking through a grocery store, you’d say, ‘Oh, this child has fetal alcohol syndrome,’” Chambers said. She said that the most common FASD type has very subtle physical features, but significant neurobehavioral problems.She added, “There’s a reluctance on the part of the mom to admit to drinking, and on part of the pediatrician to ask. There’s the stigmatization of reporting it. It’s something we need to discuss.”With rates of binge drinking soaring among reproductive-age women, it’s a conversation that’s long overdue. According to data from the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions, women ages 18 to 44 years old are binge drinking significantly more over the 10 years from 2001 to 2002 to 2012 to 2013. In that period, women reporting binge drinking went from 14 to 37 percent. Binge drinking is defined as having four or more alcoholic drinks at a time.The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians all agree that there is no “safe” amount of alcohol in pregnancy, and drinking is particularly dangerous to the developing fetus in the first trimester.But Chambers was careful to advise, “You talk to women four weeks along and she says, ‘I’m really worried because I had a glass of wine.’ No one should say, ‘Oh my -- you’re at risk of having a child with FASD.’ The appropriate thing to say is, ‘Now that you know you are pregnant, it’s best to stop drinking.’“The challenge is that [alcohol] is a part of our social fabric and we have upward of 40 percent of women who drink. Fifty percent of pregnancies are unplanned. How do you deal with that?”
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The House passed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that, if passed by the Senate, would roll back regulations requiring how restaurants and other food establishments need to list calorie counts and other nutrition details on menus and websites.Critics say the bill would let restaurants and supermarkets mislead consumers.Approval of the Common Sense Nutrition Disclosure Act, which would limit requirements mandated under Obamacare, is a step towards victory for restaurants that say the existing rules create an expensive and "unrealistic" burden on business owners.A letter to Congress signed by a coalition of more than 150 food service industry organizations expressed support for the bill and concern over the current FDA guidance set to be enforced starting in May.Those FDA regulations say food retailers must add calorie counts to in-store menus, even for establishments where most business is done online or over the phone such as a pizza shop. Physical menus with a variety of combinations can list a range of calories, but must account for all available ingredients.This poses a challenge for some businesses depending on the nature of their products and business, such as pizza and sandwich shops where possible combinations can reach into the millions and most sales are conducted online or over the phone.Opponents of the current rules say creating such a physical menu with calorie ranges that include all possible combinations is a waste of money and an arduous task. They prefer to list the calorie counts of just standard food items on their websites.Supporters of the new bill include suppliers of local foods, who claim to lack the resources to conduct caloric analysis on items like fresh produce."The FDA’s one-size-fits-all approach places additional burdens on the backs of our nation’s small business owners without giving them the flexibility they need to actually comply with the regulations," said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.,who introduced the House bill.At least 86 Republicans and Democrats have signed on as co-sponsors.Critics are primarily taking aim at the bill's accuracy requirements that are written in somewhat vague language.Under the proposed law, calorie information would be considered reasonably accurate as long as any discrepancies are "including but not limited to variations in serving size, inadvertent human error in formulation or preparation of menu items, variations in ingredients, or other reasonable variations.”The Center for Science in the Public Interest called the bill an effort to "upend disclosure by letting restaurants invent misleading serving sizes, hide calories in hard-to-find places inside supermarkets and convenience stores, and remove calories from inside pizza chains," according to Margo Wooten, Vice President for Nutrition.While supporters of the bill say the current FDA rules leave well-intentioned food service providers vulnerable to penalties, CSPI argues that the FDA intends to focus on "technical assistance and education rather than enforcement in the beginning of implementation." The critics of the bill added that the FDA does not have the funds for enforcement.The Senate, where a similar bill sits in committee, has not yet scheduled a vote.
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The jackhammer outside the window, the honking horns -- for many of us, loud noise can be a source of stress or a frequent annoyance.Heavy road traffic, loud office conversations, live music concerts, noise from construction sites or even loud telephones can cause generalized discomfort, difficulty sleeping and irritation.Now, new research suggests that such noises might be linked to an increase in your risk of heart disease.A new study released Monday in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology shows that noise pollution may have a significant impact on cardiovascular health.Researchers in Germany and Denmark reviewed years of data and looked at former studies to determine if a link exists between noise and heart disease. People and animals who were exposed to frequent, loud noise had higher rates of heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar.The researchers believe that noise pollution causes a surge in stress hormones, which appear to have harmful effects on the arteries in the heart and the rest of the body. While this new research cannot prove that noise causes heart disease, it does provide convincing evidence that stress, especially when it is generated by noise, is linked to big consequences for our health.Lead author, Dr. Thomas Münzel from the University Medical Center Mainz Center of Cardiology explained that noise pollution should be considered a risk factor for heart disease, similar to that of high cholesterol or obesity.
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