Health Flash

Health Flash: 3.9.16

cold or flu?
If you have to ask, it isn’t the flu, says SLUCare physician Dr. Donald Kennedy, professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University. “A cold is just a runny nose,” Kennedy says. “But influenza is an entirely different story.” While colds know no season, he says the flu tends to appear for six to eight weeks between October and February. Because the flu infects 60 to 70 million people in the U.S. each year and kills an estimated 40,000, protecting people from the virus is a significant public health initiative of SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development. Influenza is transmitted, Kennedy says, when the droplets from someone’s cough or sneeze land in the mouths or noses of someone nearby, or through hand-to-hand contact. He says you can shorten flu’s duration by 24 hours if you call your doctor for a prescription of an antiviral medication at the first sign of symptoms. Getting a flu vaccine will reduce your odds also of being laid up for days. Kennedy adds that going to work with a cold is OK provided you wash your hands and bring tissues. “But with flu, you feel like you can’t get out of bed.”

it’s a brain matter
According to new research at Washington University School of Medicine, early childhood depression alters brain development. In studies of 193 children (90 of whom had been diagnosed with depression as preschoolers), researchers were able to see that the gray matter of the depressed preschoolers was lower in volume and thinner in the cortex, a part of the brain important for processing emotion. Gray matter is the connective tissue involved in seeing, hearing, memory, decision-making and emotion. “Our research is showing that actual experience—negative moods, exposure to poverty and a lack of parental nurturing—has a material impact on brain growth and development,” says Dr. Joan L. Luby, the Samuel and Mae S. Ludwig professor of child psychiatry. Luby and her team plan to conduct brain scans on even younger children to determine whether early intervention might shift the trajectory of brain development and revert it to a more typical and healthier path.

a $2.2 million cure
John Tavis, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at Saint Louis University, says his team has built a ‘warhead’ that will kill the hepatitis B virus. Now they need a ‘cruise missile’ to deliver it. “We’re done with the proof-of-principle part of the work,” Tavis says. “Now we need an inhibitor safe enough and good enough to give to people.” A new $2.2 million grant from the NIH will help Tavis and his team take a step closer toward drug development. According to SLU, more than 350 million people worldwide are chronically infected with the hepatitis B virus. Of those, up to 1.2 million die of liver failure and liver cancer each year. Tavis has been working on a cure for 25 years.

an ‘off switch’
Blocking pain before it starts is the goal of a new wireless technology being developed by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and the University of Illinois. “We hope to blunt pain signals in patients who have pain unmanageable with standard therapies,” says Robert W. Gereau IV, Ph.D., cosenior investigator and director of the Washington University Pain Center. The flexible, implantable devices contain microLED lights that can activate specific nerve cells, Gereau says. Because they are soft and stretchable, they can be implanted into parts of the body that move, and according to John A. Rogers, Ph.D., professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois, may have potential uses in or around the bladder, stomach, heart and other organs. Older devices had to be anchored to bone.