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October 6, 2017
Digest
Exposure to Pet, Pest Allergens During Infancy Linked to Reduced Asthma Risk

Robotic Exoskeleton Offers Approach to Alleviate Crouch Gait in Kids with Cerebral Palsy
PHOTO: LSOPHOTO/ISTOCK

Children exposed to high indoor levels of pet or pest allergens during infancy have a lower risk of developing asthma by 7 years of age, new research supported by NIH reveals. The findings, published Sept. 19 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, may provide clues for the design of strategies to prevent asthma from developing.

While previous studies have established that reducing allergen exposure in the home helps control established asthma, the new findings suggest that exposure to certain allergens early in life, before asthma develops, may have a preventive effect. The observations come from the ongoing Urban Environment and Childhood Asthma study, funded by NIAID through its Inner-City Asthma Consortium.

“We are learning more and more about how the early-life environment can influence the development of certain health conditions,” said NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci. “If we can develop strategies to prevent asthma before it develops, we will help alleviate the burden this disease places on millions of people, as well as on their families and communities.”

Gulf Spill Oil Dispersants Associated with Health Symptoms in Cleanup Workers

Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to NIH scientists. The study appeared online Sept. 15 in Environmental Health Perspectives and is the first research to examine dispersant-related health symptoms in humans.

Oil dispersants are a blend of chemical compounds used to break down oil slicks into smaller drops of oil, making them easily degraded by natural processes or diluted by large volumes of water. The study estimated the likelihood of exposure to dispersants, based on the types of jobs the workers did and where. Individuals who handled dispersants, worked near where dispersants were being applied or had contact with dispersant equipment reported the symptoms they experienced during oil spill cleanup as part of the Gulf Long-term Follow-up (GuLF) study.

The research team found that workers exposed to dispersants were more likely to experience certain symptoms—cough, wheeze, tightness in the chest and burning in the eyes, nose, throat or lungs—than those who were not exposed.

Dr. Dale Sandler, GuLF study leader at NIEHS, said the findings only apply to workers involved in the cleanup effort and not the general public.

“The health effects that we see in the workers don’t necessarily apply to the community at large, although many of the workers live in affected areas,” Sandler said.

Life-Saving Post-ER Suicide Prevention Strategies Are Cost Effective

Three interventions designed for follow up of patients who are identified with suicide risk in hospital emergency departments save lives and are cost effective relative to usual care. A study led by researchers at NIMH modeled the use of the approaches in emergency departments and found that all three interventions compare favorably with a standard benchmark of cost-effectiveness used in evaluating health care costs.

One intervention, sending caring postcards or letters following an emergency visit, is more effective and less expensive than usual care. The report appeared in the Sept. 15 issue of the journal Psychiatric Services.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States; 44,193 people died by suicide in the U.S. in 2015 (the most recent year for which statistics are available). One approach to reducing the suicide rate is to direct prevention strategies at high-risk groups or settings. An example is emergency departments, which according to the CDC, treat more than 500,000 people each year for self-harm injuries.

“In the face of a gradually rising suicide rate, the need for effective prevention strategies is urgent,” said NIMH director Dr. Joshua Gordon. “These findings of cost-effectiveness add to the impetus for implementing these life-saving approaches. Importantly, they also make a strong case for expanding screening, which would allow us to reach many more of those at risk with life-saving interventions.”

Researchers Turn to Creative Approaches to Battle Kidney Stones

Can a high-tech water bottle help reduce the recurrence of kidney stones? What about a financial incentive? Those are questions NIH-funded researchers will seek to answer as they begin recruiting participants for a 2-year clinical trial at 4 sites across the country. Scientists will test whether using a smart water bottle that encourages people to drink more water, and therefore urinate, will reduce the recurrence of urinary stone disease, commonly referred to as kidney stones. NIDDK is supporting the trial.

photo of woman drinking water
PHOTO: ICONOGENIC/ISTOCK

The randomized trial, known as the Prevention of Urinary Stones with Hydration study, or PUSH, will enroll 1,642 people, half in an intervention group and half in a control group. The study’s primary aim is to determine whether a program of financial incentives, receiving advice from a health coach and using a smart water bottle will result in reduced risk of kidney stone recurrence over a 2-year period. The water bottle, called Hidrate Spark, monitors fluid consumption and connects to an app.

Those in the intervention group will be asked to drink a specific quantity of fluids based on each person’s urine output. They will also be given financial incentives if they achieve their fluid targets. They will also meet with a health coach who will help identify barriers to drinking more liquids and help solve them.

In the United States, the prevalence of urinary stones has nearly doubled in the past 15 years, affecting about 1 in 11 people. Little high-quality research exists about how to prevent stones and most therapies treat people with the condition only after they are in excruciating pain.

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