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US to Test Ebola Vaccine Amid Growing Outbreak in West Africa


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. scientists will begin testing an Ebola vaccine in humans next week, health officials announced Thursday. But it could take 11 months to learn whether the vaccine is safe as the virus’ toll in West Africa continues to rise.

More than 3,000 people have contracted Ebola since March, a number projected to swell to 20,000 in the next six months, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus has killed at least 1,500 people in Ebola Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The experimental vaccine, co-developed by the National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline, “performed extremely well in protecting nonhuman primates from Ebola infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s infectious disease branch, said.

Now it will be tested in 20 healthy adults to make sure it’s safe and effective in mounting an immune response.

“A vaccine will ultimately be an important tool in the prevention effort,” Fauci said in a statement, adding that the phase 1 study is “the first step in a long process.”

The 20 subjects will be followed for 48 weeks but initial safety results are expected later this year, according to an NIH statement.

The vaccine works by delivering fragments of genetic material from two Ebola strains into a healthy person’s cells. The cells then transform that genetic material into a protein found on the virus, and that protein triggers an immune response that should fend off the infection.

“It is important to know that the Ebola genetic material contained in the investigational vaccine cannot cause a vaccinated individual to become infected with Ebola,” the NIH said in a statement.

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What Ebola Survivors Reveal About the Virus, ZMapp


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The outbreak spreading through West Africa has a 53 percent fatality rate, according to the World Health Organization, meaning 47 percent of people survive the gruesome infection. And experts say those people could hold clues to Ebola’s weakness.

“There’s something to be gained from understanding why certain people survive,” said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist studying Ebola at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.

But studying survivors is a tall order in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria --  countries simultaneously plagued by Ebola and a dearth of medical infrastructure. “The number one priority for health care workers in this chaotic situation is stopping the outbreak, not a scientific study looking at survivors,” Geisbert said.

No one knows why some people recover from Ebola, but there are theories. It could be that they have a smaller viral load -- fewer deadly pathogens streaming through their bodies. It could also be that their immune systems are more adept at attacking the virus, which uses spike-like protrusions to invade cells and replicate. The immune response theory is supported by studies of Zmapp, the experimental Ebola drug given to American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.

The drug is a cocktail of three synthetic antibodies -- immune proteins that attack the virus’ cell-splitting spike, according to Geisbert.

“It’s a very specific response,” Geisbert said, explaining that antibodies that target other parts of the virus are thought to be less effective at slowing it down.

But no one knows whether ZMapp, which has only been tested in monkeys, helped Brantly and Writebol survive the virus. Of the six people known to have received it, four have lived and two have died. Brantly also received blood from an Ebola survivor -- blood that likely contained natural antibodies to the virus.

A 2009 study of blood samples collected during three Ebola outbreaks in Gabon found that antibody levels peaked 30 days after exposure and “declined slowly over several years.” But again, there’s no way to know if the blood helped Brantly.

A CDC study of blood samples collected during a 2000 Ebola outbreak in Uganda found that people who survived tended to have smaller viral loads and altered levels of immune biomarkers compared to people who perished. “That’s valuable information because it gives you insight into the immunobiology of the disease,” said Geisbert. “Then you can try to dissect what it means and look at treatments or interventions that mimic the response of a survivor.”

Geisbert said the best way to stop the current outbreak is “good old-fashioned epidemiology and outbreak control,” and the best way to prevent future outbreaks is a vaccine.

The first phase 1 safety study of an Ebola vaccine is set to start next week, the National Institutes of Health announced Thursday. “I really hope that the next time we’re talking about this, those vaccines are across the finish line,” Geisbert said.

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Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water Supply


iStock/Thinkstock(BATON ROUGE, La.) -- Louisiana officials have cautioned residents to be careful after a deadly brain-eating amoeba was found in a parish water supply.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced that the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in the water system of St. John the Baptist Parish.

The microscopic amoeba can be deadly if contaminated water travels through the nose to the brain. The microscopic pathogen can cause a deadly form of meningitis that or a swelling of the brain and surrounding tissues.

The amoeba cannot be contracted from drinking contaminated water, officials said.

The water system where the amoeba was found serves 12,577 people in three Louisiana towns.

While the source of the contamination was not found, officials said that they found the water supply did not have the required level of chlorine disinfectant and was vulnerable to contamination from Naegleria fowleri.

There have been no reports of infections from the amoeba in the area.

To kill the dangerous pathogens the department will flush the system with extra high levels of the chlorine for 60 days to kill any lingering amoebas in the system. The water will still be safe to drink.

While the amoeba is extremely rare, the pathogen was responsible for at least three deaths in Louisiana parishes since 2011. Last year a 4-year-old boy from St. Bernard Parish was killed after contracting the infection from using a slip-in-slide.

This summer a 9-year-old girl from Kansas died after being infected with the amoeba.

"Families can take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure to this ameba, the most important being to avoid allowing water to go up your nose while bathing or swimming in a pool," said Louisiana State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry. "It is important to remember that the water is safe to drink; the ameba cannot infect an individual through the stomach."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control the symptoms of an infection from Naegleria fowleri include headache, fever and nausea. As the disease progresses, infected people can have seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and slip into a coma.

The disease is almost always fatal. In the U.S. between 1963 and 2013, just three people out of 132 managed to survive the infection, according to the CDC.

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How to Do the Most for Your Child's Education


iStock/Thinkstock(AMES, Iowa) -- If parents leave it up to schools to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to educating their kids, then they’re not doing all they can to help their children succeed academically, according to an Iowa State University study.

Study author Kimberly Greder says there are numerous things parents should be doing to give their youngsters as much as an advantage as possible in an increasingly competitive world with the school year having started or about to begin.

Among other things, parents should create a good learning environment at home, according to Greder, while setting reasonable expectations for their children.

Involvement in a child’s education also includes regularly asking them what happened at school and taking an interest in their homework. Visiting teachers and counselors to talk about a student’s progress is also on Greder’s list.

While all youngsters will benefit from such parental involvement, Greder says taking these steps is especially important for those kids at the greatest risk of dropping out.

These children typically come from homes in low income neighborhoods with minority populations where the parents may have struggled during their school years.

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Social Media Users Shy Away from Controversial Postings


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- One of the big complaints about social media is that people seem all too willing to share every opinion they have with the world.

But a new Pew Research Center poll in conjunction with Rutgers University challenges that view, at least when it comes to controversial political issues.

In a survey of 1,800 adults, Facebook and Twitter users more times than not won’t express an opinion on matters that come up on talk radio or cable TV.

Pew researchers think these social media sites inadvertently encourage people to exercise self-censorship unless they're pretty sure that most who read their opinions agree with them.

Therefore, talking about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is pretty safe, compared to expressing views on abortion or immigration.

While Pew found that 86 percent of Facebook or Twitter users would be willing to discuss an issue such as government surveillance at a town hall meeting or at some other event with friends, less than half that number would feel comfortable talking about it on social media.

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Couples Who Smoke Pot Less Inclined Toward Violence


iStock/Thinkstock(BUFFALO, N.Y.) -- A controversial new study suggests that married couples who get high on marijuana are less inclined to be involved in domestic violence than people who eschew the drug.

University of Buffalo researchers came to that conclusion after interviewing 600 couples about their lifestyle habits, which included marijuana use.

In fact, couples who smoked grass more frequently than others reported the lowest rates of domestic violence.

Study researcher Kenneth Leonard explains, “It is possible, for example, that -- similar to a drinking partnership -- couples who use marijuana together may share similar values and social circles, and it is this similarity that is responsible for reducing the likelihood of conflict.”

However, Leonard also stressed that the study was not endorsing marijuana use as a way to achieve marital bliss and asserted that researchers would like to expand it beyond heterosexual couples who had only been married once.

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Study Suggests Wolves Show Empathy Through Yawning


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Not only are wolves social animals, similar in some ways to humans and chimpanzees, but according to a new study, they may also share a propensity for contagious yawning, just like primates.

According to the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, wolves do yawn contagiously, but perhaps more interestingly, they are more prone to do so around other wolves with which they are closely bonded. Researchers at the University of Tokyo said that this could be a sign that wolves show empathy by yawning.

The study also found that female wolves were quicker to yawn and yawned more frequently when around a yawning "friend." Male wolves only yawned more frequently. Perhaps, researchers suggest, female wolves are more attuned to social clues.

The study also suggests that empathy may have existed farther back in mammalian history than previously known.

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A Look Inside a Slum Cut Off by the Ebola Outbreak


Dr. Richard Besser/ABC News(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK by ABC News' Dr. Richard Besser

The streets outside West Point are empty of pedestrians. Shops normally bustling with activity are boarded up. This poor community in the capital of Liberia, one of four West African countries affected by the worst-ever Ebola outbreak, has been quarantined – barricaded off from the rest of the region by barbed wire fences patrolled by police and military personnel.

"It looks like it did during the war," one resident told me, referring to the decades-long civil war that ended in 2003.

Desperate residents peered out from their homes and shops, eager to share their stories across the barrier. I met Steven, a 30-year-old tailor. His life has been halted by Ebola. His stepmother and father have died from the disease and three of his siblings are in a treatment center. He has no idea how they’re doing.

Steven became trapped inside West Point in a stroke of bad luck. He had been sleeping in his shop outside the slum for two weeks to avoid the crowded alleys amid the deadly outbreak. He returned to check on his family last Tuesday, and when he awoke Wednesday, the quarantine was in place. He couldn't leave. The military agreed to let him step outside the barricade for our interview and then he had to retreat. His face showed his anguish.

As we spoke, trucks exited West Point loaded with water. "Why is the water coming out?" I asked. "They have raised the prices," Steven told me. "We cannot afford the water. Many can't buy the food."

Faced with a health crisis, governments sometimes feel that action – no matter how absurd – is better than no action. A quarantine is absurd. It can’t control Ebola, it can only worsen lives that are already filled with despair. While some people within the cordoned-off community have the virus, most do not. Outside the fence, it’s the same. By erecting barriers, they stigmatize residents, destroy trust in the government and disrupt access to food and supplies.

"They deliver rice and beans," Steven told me. "But how do we eat it without coal to burn to heat the water?"

The quarantine affects people on both sides of the barrier. I met a young man who lives outside the perimeter who has no electricity in his home. He has been trying to pay his electric bill for days, but the electric company is located within the isolation zone.

Inside the barrier, there is desperation. Behind the gate of a three-story apartment complex, 20 people pleaded with me to share their story. We have nothing to eat, nothing to drink, no medical care, they said. We have children, they told me. They have been told they are under quarantine for 21 days to make sure they don't have Ebola. This makes no sense.

"Please let people know we are here," said a man concerned that his children have nothing to eat. "We only have tea."

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Surgeons Get 'Dress Rehearsals' with 3D-Printed Body Parts


Courtesy Boston Children's Hospital(BOSTON) -- Though doctors spend decades perfecting their crafts, they don’t exactly get dress rehearsals when it comes to performing complex surgeries on one-of-a-kind patients.

Enter the 3D printer.

At Boston Children’s Hospital, doctors perform practice surgeries with replicas of their patients’ body parts. Though the hospital has had a simulation program for about a decade, it started 3D-printing children’s body parts about a year ago, said Dr. Peter Weinstock, director of the hospital’s simulator program.

“They perfect what they want to do before ever bringing the child into the operating room or putting them to sleep,” Weinstock said.

The models are also used to help parents understand their children’s surgeries before the operation and to educate students afterward, Weinstock said.

The printer is precise, with a resolution of between 16 and 32 microns per layer. That means each layer is about the width of a “filament of cotton,” Weinstock said. And since the printer can print multiple resins or textures, doctors can work on replicas that model different tissue types, like brain matter and blood vessels.

The printer only takes a few hours to do their work once CT scans and other forms of imaging are collected and rendered into 3D models. A child’s finger might take three hours to print, but a chest replica they made last week took longer, Weinstock said.

The team has already printed about 100 body parts over the last year and demand is growing, Weinstock said, adding that the printer is running around the clock.

Dr. Ed Smith, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Boston Children’s, said he recently used several different 3D models to perform brain surgery on a 15-year-old patient with an abnormal cluster of veins above his optical nerve. One wrong maneuver and the patient could have gone blind.

He even used a see-through replica of the patient’s skull on a light box in the operating room as a reference.

“It’s kind of like being superman with X-ray vision where you can actually hold this up and see right through it,” Smith said.

The surgery, which would have normally taken five or six hours, wound up clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, Smith said.

Though Boston Children’s hasn’t conducted any formal studies of how the models help surgeons, Smith said he’s heard anecdotally that they result in shorter surgeries because doctors know what to expect.

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Obese Boys Start Feeling Bullied at Age 6


iStock/Thinkstock(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) -- The social problems for kids who are overweight or obese include bullying, which many assume begins in later grades of primary school or in high school.

However, Dutch researchers from Erasmus University Rotterdam contend that obese boys who are bullied and those who become bullies are actually stigmatized starting at around age 6.

Lead researcher Pauline Jansen looked at 1,300 children, both normal weight and overweight, to assess when bullying occurred and the forms it took such as physical and verbal abuse.

What Jansen and her team learned is that problems often exist before a child enters school and that bullied boys who don’t know how to deal with the teasing and abuse they receive from being obese will cope with it by turning their anger against others.

While the findings pertain to children in the Netherlands, Jansen believes her study is also applicable to youngsters in the U.S.

As for how to lessen the chances of being bullied, parents are advised to teach obese kids coping skills while building up their self-confidence.

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Short Sleepers Aren't Short on Happiness


iStock/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- Six hours of sleep a night doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when health experts say that adults should get at least seven or eight hours of shuteye to be at their best the next day.

Wishful thinking perhaps, since an estimated 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia.

However, there are people who not only function on a regular six hours of sleep but actually demonstrate no problems at all.

Researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine describe them as “short sleepers. They only make up about .5 percent of the population but those who do don’t suffer from irritability, apathy and drowsiness like other people who complain about a lack of sleep."

What’s more, researcher Christopher R. Jones, says “short sleepers” are generally happy and outgoing, which he believes might be in their genes. If that’s the case, Jones says that they may help scientists to understand why others suffer from bipolar disorder and even obesity.

Of course, “short sleepers” are born, not made, so Jones strongly advises everyone else to try and get as much sleep as possible.

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Toddlers' Brains Grow Faster than Other Body Parts


iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Kids grow up so fast, the old saying goes, but that’s not really the case if you compare them to other mammals. However, one part of the body that seems to be on overdrive in the growth department is the brain, according to Northwestern University researchers.

They’ve concluded the reason why the body takes its time reaching its maximum height -- usually age 18 for males, 16 for female -- is because the brain requires more energy to grow.

For instance, a five-year-old’s glucose intake is twice that of an adult while during the growth peak, it means the brain will actually burn through two-thirds of the body’s calories when at rest.

As study co-author Christopher Kuzawa explains, “Our bodies can't afford to grow faster during the toddler and childhood years because a huge quantity of resources is required to fuel the developing human brain.”

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Invasive Surgery Not the Answer for Some with Knee Pain


iStock/Thinkstock(HAMILTON, Ontario) -- Oh, your aching knee!

If you’re in your 50s and suffering from age-related tears in the cartilage that cushions the knee joint, think twice about having arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem.

Doctors at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, warn that while the procedure, also known as meniscal debridement, is still regarded as minimally invasive, it doesn’t work for everyone and complications might occur.

Lead study author Dr. Moin Khan says that in observing more than 800 patients with an average age of 56, those who opted against surgery to repair the minor meniscus tear had no difference in pain or functioning six months-to-two-years later than people who underwent the procedure.

Khan recommend patients in that age group try anti-inflammatory medicine and physical therapy first, which have been shown to be just as effective. However, it’s a different story for people with acute tears of the meniscus.

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Feline Eating Disorders Can Be Psychological


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cats often exhibit behavior that is confounding to humans. Sometimes, though, they can be just like us, like at dinner time when the portion in front of them isn’t enough to satisfy their appetites.

Italian researchers decided to find out why it happens and studied an eight-month-old Siamese cat named Otto who was food obsessed.  After a series of tests ruled out a physical cause for this addiction, they reached the conclusion that Otto was afflicted with psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior.

Essentially, the cat’s insatiable appetite was caused by an emotional or psychological disorder and other cats may have it too.

A team of eight veterinarians then taught Otto’s owners how to cure his food cravings through a behavioral therapy program that was successful after five months.

Other cat owners are advised to see their vets if they suspect their pet is exhibiting psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior.

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Cardiovascular Trials May Be Skewed Towards Younger, Healthier Men


Ablestock.com/Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- According to researchers, the largest ongoing study on heart disease may be heavily tilted towards younger men, leaving out significant data on women, minorities and older people.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at data from the American College of Cardiology's National Cardiovascular Data Registry, and found that many of the patients included in that study were younger men. The American College of Cardiology's study includes heart attack patients treated at 466 different hospitals between July 2008 and March 2011.

Patients included in medical trials for heart disease often were less likely to have previously been diagnosed with heart disease, had faster access to diagnostic testing and had the best health outcomes. Among patients not included in trials, the risk of dying of cardiovascular problems was nearly double.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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