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Vol. LXIII, No. 12
June 10, 2011

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Study Shows 19 Percent of Young Adults Have High Blood Pressure

Exposure to secondhand smoke has a direct, measurable impact on the brain, according to a study funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Roughly 19 percent of young adults may have high blood pressure, according to analysis of an NIH-supported study.

Roughly 19 percent of young adults may have high blood pressure, according to an analysis of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which is supported by NIH.

The researchers took blood pressure readings of more than 14,000 men and women between 24 and 32 years of age who were enrolled in the long-running study. The analysis was conducted by scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the findings were published online in Epidemiology in late May.

The findings differ from those of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which reported high blood pressure in 4 percent of adults 20 to 39 years of age. The study authors were unable to pinpoint any reasons for the difference between the two studies.

“The Add Health analysis raises interesting questions,” said Steven Hirschfeld, associate director for clinical research at NICHD, which provides major funding for the study. “Investigations into the reasons underlying the reported differences between the Add Health and NHANES findings will no doubt yield additional insight into the measurement of high blood pressure in the young adult population.”

High blood pressure is a serious condition that can lead to coronary heart disease (also called coronary artery disease), heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and other health problems.

Scientists Find Genetic Basis for Key Parasite Function in Malaria

Snug inside a human red blood cell, the malaria parasite hides from the immune system and fuels its growth by digesting hemoglobin, the cell’s main protein. The parasite, however, must obtain additional nutrients from the bloodstream via tiny pores in the cell membrane. Now, investigators from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have found the genes that malaria parasites use to create these feeding pores.

The research was led by Dr. Sanjay A. Desai of NIAID’s Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research. In 2000, he co-discovered the primary type of feeding pore on parasite-infected blood cells, an ion channel known as the plasmodial surface anion channel (PSAC). Ion channels are pore-forming proteins that allow the movement of calcium, sodium and other particles into or out of the cell. A report of the team’s new findings, which build on this original discovery, appeared May 26 online in Cell.

“Despite recent progress in controlling malaria worldwide, the disease continues to kill more than 700,000 people, primarily young children, every year,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “Dr. Desai and his colleagues have discovered the genetic basis of a fundamental aspect of malaria parasite biology, and in doing so, they have opened up potential new approaches to developing antimalarial drugs.”

The NIAID team screened nearly 50,000 chemicals for their ability to block nutrient uptake by cells infected with either of two genetically distinct lines of Plasmodium falciparum malaria parasites.

The discovery of parasite genes required for PSAC activity opens up several new research directions, said Desai. For example, development of antimalarial drugs that target these channels could be accelerated.

Mexican Flu Pandemic Study Supports Social Distancing

Eighteen-day periods of mandatory school closures and other social distancing measures were associated with a 29 to 37 percent reduction in influenza transmission rates in Mexico during the 2009 pandemic. The research was carried out by scientists at the Fogarty International Center and published in PLoS Medicine.

The social distancing measures implemented by the Mexican health authorities in spring 2009 were effective in reducing disease transmission by more than one-third, the study found. Social distancing interventions can be implemented during unusual infectious diseases outbreaks and include school closing, closure of movie theaters and restaurants and the cancellation of large public gatherings. Mexico implemented a nationwide mandatory school closure policy during an 18-day period in late April and early May 2011. The United States implemented school closure interventions on a local basis during the 2009 pandemic, but the impact of these interventions has yet to be evaluated.

The study suggests that school closure and other measures could be useful to mitigate future influenza pandemics.

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