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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(ATLANTA) -- A rare parasitic infection called Chagas disease has been gaining headlines in recent weeks after cases of the infection were reported in at least five states, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chagas disease, which can cause long-term cardiac damage, is mainly found in rural Central and South America, but some experts are concerned that cases are beginning to rise in southern U.S. states. Infections have been reported in Arkansas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Texas, according to the CDC.

The disease is caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite and is spread almost exclusively through bites from the triatomine insect, also called the "kissing bug," since it usually bites around the eyes and mouth, usually when they come out to feed at night.

In rural Central and South America, the bugs are often found in the walls of homes made from mud, adobe or straw. The insect has also been found in other U.S. states but that does not necessarily mean the bugs carry the parasite, experts said.

Once in the body, the parasite can remain hidden for years, or even decades, eventually resulting in serious heart disease, including stretching of the heart muscle called cardiomyopathy or irregular heartbeat. Other early acute symptoms include fever, fatigue, body aches, headache and rash.

While the disease can lead to serious complications, the vast majority of those infected will likely not show any symptoms, according to the CDC, which estimated that 300,000 people with Chagas disease live in the United States. A spokeswoman for the CDC said the agency does not have data on how many people are infected within the U.S. versus those infected before they arrive.

Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said since the virus can remain in the body for decades, it's extremely difficult to tell when a person was infected and that most people in the U.S. with the disease were likely infected before arriving in the country.

"Once the bug gets into you, it goes throughout the body and sets up quiet housekeeping ... in particular in the heart," Schaffner said. "It smolders there for many years, anywhere from 20 to 30 years."

The parasite resides in the insect's intestinal tract and can enter a human bloodstream if a person scratches a bite and the parasite enters through the scratches. The disease is not spread from person to person.

In previous decades, cardiologists almost never saw the infection, Schaffner said, but anecdotally infectious disease doctors and cardiologists are encountering the rare infection more and more.

Patients in the U.S. may have been infected years before they arrived and as they age their immune system gets weaker, and they "may develop these illnesses of cardiomyopaty or arrythmia," Schaffner said, noting the patients "had parasite silently traveling with them."

While transmission in the U.S. is rare, Schaffner said that epidemiologists are on the lookout for a rise of the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite or the triatomine insect as temperatures rise due to climate change.

"That is a smoldering concern," Schaffner said. "We're concerned that the ecology will change and as we get warmer climates ... we may see some more of certain kinds of infections and this might well be one of them."

The infection can be treated with medication, but if there is tissue damage to the heart, that has to be treated with supportive therapies, he said.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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IPGGutenbergUKLtd/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Thanksgiving holiday often means spending time with family, watching football or parades, and eating turkey dinner until your pants are at risk of splitting. But if you're concerned about literally busting a gut, we've compiled a few helpful tips on enjoying your Thanksgiving meal without the gluttony.

Should you eat a delicious turkey dinner with candied yams, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy, bread and butter and a slice (or two) of pecan pie? Maybe not after realizing that you'll be consuming at least 1,813 calories, according to the USDA.

And that number excludes all the hors d'oeuvres and alcohol factored in. A single deviled egg can add another 77 calories in just a few quick bites and a glass of red wine means another 125 calories, based on USDA estimates.

A hearty Thanksgiving meal will likely come in at 2,092 calories, more than the 2,000 calories recommended per day for a moderately active woman between the ages of 26 and 45. For a moderately active man between the ages of 26 and 45, the recommended daily calorie allowance is 2,600.

Jessica Bennett, an registered dietitian at Vanderbilt University, said what she finds most concerning is that many people use the Thanksgiving feast as a way to kick off a holiday season of eating.

"What I see a lot is they enjoy it and make excuses all throughout the holiday and then want to start something drastic in January," said Bennett.

She said there are a few ways to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner without feeling stuffed. Bennett recommends looking at the entire buffet before going in and only picking the foods you're most excited about.

She also cautioned against waiting to eat until the big meal is served.

"I would recommend having a small to medium size breakfast and lunch and having a healthy snack and some fruit and nuts," Bennett said. "Drinking water is another trick to help."

Bennett also recommends eating slowly, which can help your body signal fullness.

"If you eat fast you’re not going to get the signal that you're full," Bennett said. "Eating with your non-dominant hand can help you slow down."

Bennett said holiday weight gain is real and that people gain on average of one to two pounds per holiday season.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The number of babies who die because of crib bumpers appears to have increased in recent years, despite warnings from pediatricians, according to a new study.

Data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission show 48 deaths attributable to the comforter-like padding from 1985-2012. If you divide that 28-year span into four equal time periods, the first three show an average of eight deaths, while the last -- 2006-2012 -- shows 23 deaths.

The danger is suffocation, and most of the deaths were determined to have been preventable had a crib bumper not been used.

Another 146 non-fatal suffocation incidents happened during the 28-year span due to crib bumpers. The average age of those who died was 4.6 months; in non-fatal incidents it was 7.4 months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended against crib bumper use since January 2008, and safety requirements have been in place for safe bumper design and use. Even then, deaths have not decreased and bumpers remain widely available and advertised.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Pediatrics, goes on to recommend that the only way to prevent suffocation and near suffocation in children is to have the CPSC ban traditional bumpers for sale in the U.S. at a national level.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Hosting Thanksgiving dinner this year? Before you start cooking, make sure your hands are clean to avoid contaminating the food with any bacteria.

This is especially important after handling a raw turkey.

"[Y]ou want to make sure you wash your hands for a full 20 seconds," says food safety expert Chris Bernstein from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As for the turkey itself, washing it won't make it any safer, Bernstein says.

"You should never wash a turkey or any meat for that matter before cooking. It's nearly impossible to wash bacteria off poultry, not just turkey," he explains.

Another tip to reduce the chance of contamination: Keep raw food away from cooked food. Make sure to use separate cutting boards and plates, and clean utensils, Bernstein says.

When it's time to serve the turkey, make sure the meat has been properly cooked before bringing it out to your guests.

"For the turkey, that is 165 degrees and it should be checked in the inner most part of the breast, inner most part of the thigh and the inner most part of the wing," Bernstein notes.

And if there are any leftovers, put them away in the fridge within two hours to make sure that no new bacteria grows, he says.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Fuse/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

There are many types of birth control pills, so how do you know if you're taking the right one for you?

While they all serve the same purpose, not all oral contraceptives are created equally. Combination pills contain both estrogen and progestin -- the same hormones your body makes, just in different amounts.

Whether you're on a generic or brand name version, you should look for two key things on the package: The dose of estrogen and the type of progestin.

To find the estrogen dose, look at the numbers. There will be a higher number, like 20, 25 or 30. I recommend trying the lowest number possible.

Next, look for the progestin. Ones starting with the letter "N" or the letter "L" have the lowest associated clotting risk.

Keep in mind that as a method of contraception, the pill has an 8 percent failure rate with typical use, so condoms are key if you don't want to get pregnant.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- An E.coli outbreak that has sickened 19 people in seven states was linked to rotisserie chicken salad from Costco, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report from the CDC -- which says people fell ill between Oct. 6 and Nov. 3 -- says five of those who have become ill have been hospitalized. Two people have developed a type of kidney failure associated with E.coli infection, the CDC said.

Although the investigation is ongoing, 14 people purchased or ate rotisserie chicken salad from Costco in the week before illness started, according to the CDC.

The CDC also said that it is not yet known which specific ingredient in the chicken salad is linked to the illnesses.

Consumers are advised to throw out any rotisserie chicken salad purchased before Nov. 20 bearing the label "Chicken Salad made with Rotisserie Chicken" with item number 37719, according to the CDC.

Costco did not immediately return request for comment.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two new studies are adding to a growing body of evidence that breast-feeding is both good for the baby and for the mother.

The studies, which focused on diabetes and cancer, found that women who breast-feed cut their risk of diabetes and cancer compared to women who did not breast-feed.

One study published this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine studied 1,035 women who had developed gestational diabetes while pregnant. The condition is associated with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes post pregnancy. The women in the study, however, were up to 50 percent less likely to develop diabetes later on if they breast-fed their child.

The study's authors explained that lactation improves both insulin sensitivity and metabolism, which could reduce the risk of diabetes.

The study authors said women who breast-fed with "higher intensity and longer duration of lactation," were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes two years later.

Another study published last month in the Annals of Oncology found that women who breast-fed appeared less likely to develop certain kinds of breast cancer.

Researchers looked a compilation of 27 medical studies to see how often women who had breast-fed developed certain types of breast cancer. They found that women who breast-fed were 20 percent less likely to develop “triple negative” breast cancer, a form of cancer that has none of the common hormone markers, such as estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors and human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2).

Dr. Marisa Weiss, senior author on the cancer study and director of breast health outreach at Lankenau Medical Center in Philadelphia, said researchers are still unsure why breast-feeding seems to protect women from breast cancer but that doctors have theorized that the breast is not fully developed until a woman breast-feeds.

"It's immature," Weiss told ABC News, referring to the breast. "It takes a first full-term pregnancy for it to finally grow up and mature on the inside and take on capability to make milk."

Weiss said while breast-feeding has long been associated with better outcomes for infants, experts are also emphasizing how it can help mothers.

"It’s clearly an important opportunity," Weiss said of hospitals explaining to new moms about the benefits of breast-feeding. "It’s better for the baby and better for the mom."

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breast-feed for at least six months if possible and notes that "each year of breast-feeding has been calculated to result in a 4.3 percent reduction in breast cancer."

Dr. Marjorie Greenfield, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, said the studies could help more women be informed about their choices.

"I think it’s one more piece of information and I think it’s particularly helpful for women who are overweight and have diabetes," said Greenfield.

She emphasized, however, that women need to be supported in their decision, whether that's breast-feeding or not.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Courtesy of Kristen Marie(PHILADELPHIA) -- An infant battling brain cancer, who famously was kissed by Pope Francis during the pontiff's historic visit to the U.S. this year, is responding to treatment, according to her parents.

Gianna Masciantonio, 1, was diagnosed with a rare form of brain tumor called systemic juvenile xanthogranuloma (JXG) months after being born, her parents said. Doctors spotted the inoperable tumor on her brain stem and told her parents she would likely not survive for more than a few weeks.

"Her life was a miracle," Gianna's father, Joe Masicantonio, told ABC News. "They told us to go home and spend days to weeks," with her.

Gianna had been in hospice care since shortly after she was born, and when the infant developed cysts, an 11-hour operation to drain the cysts led to the rare diagnosis of JXG. Though the tumor itself is benign, the location on the brain stem is potentially deadly because it can affect Gianna's ability to breathe and for her heart to beat, according to her mother Kristen Masciantonio.

Since the surgery, Gianna has been on multiple chemotherapy treatments to try and shrink the tumor, said her parents, who are devout Catholic.

The Masciantonio family celebrated when Gianna was kissed by Pope Francis during a parade in Philadelphia. Joe Masciantonio said the visit helped cement how important their faith was to them throughout this ordeal.

While Joe Masciantonio said Gianna's tumor shrunk after her papal visit, he said he did not want to call it "a miracle" and that he also wanted to draw attention to her doctors at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Texas Children's Hospital.

Kristen Masciantonio said the last courses of treatment occurred just before she got to meet Pope Francis. She said they were nervous about bringing her to the crowd but decided at the last minute to risk it.

"Pope Francis kissing her was my miracle, was the way of God telling me he was with us," Kristen Masciantonio said.

Joe Masciantonio said Gianna will continue to undergo chemotherapy and the tumor remains inoperable due to its placement on her brain stem. He said for now the family is enjoying all the time they have with her.

"She’s the toughest baby I’ve ever seen in my life," he told ABC News. "She’s our inspiration. She’s really the best little girl."

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two strangers from New Jersey have a Craigslist ad to thank for not only a kidney, but also a life-long friendship.

Glenn Calderbank, 39, of West Berlin, was scouring Craigslist for building supplies when he came across a misplaced ad written by Kay Saria, a man looking for a kidney for his wife Nina, Calderbank told ABC News Tuesday, and the ad was eerily similar to one he put out years earlier for his own wife Jessica.

“I was just like 'holy cow,'” Calderbank said. “I knew that Jessica, who I believe is my angel showing me the way, put that ad out there.”

In 2004, Calderbank's wife needed a new kidney because of diabetes, he said, so he took to his local newspaper for help. Jessica later received a kidney and a pancreas from a cadaver but after a year or two, had to go back on dialysis. She passed away in February 2011, Calderbank said.

He said his own story is what made him feel a connection to Nina Saria, 32, of Egg Harbor City. Saria found out in July 2014 that she had Microscopic polyangiitis, an autoimmune disease that would shut down her kidneys, and was put on emergency dialysis, Saria told ABC News today.

“Doctors were telling me that being on dialysis would not be good for me because I’m young and don’t have any other health issues,” Saria said.

After a year of failed attempts at finding a kidney donor, Saria said her husband suggested they try out Craigslist.

 The Sarias received Calderbank’s email a month after posting the ad and although Saria and her husband were skeptical, she said they agreed to go to the potential donor’s house, where Calderbank told them his story and showed them scrapbooks of his late wife.

“I told them, ‘Now you understand my intentions. I know [your husband] feels helpless, I know your life is not even living. I want to get tested for you,’” Calderbank said.

Nina Saria added: “It was so emotional because those words were something I was waiting for.”

While waiting for the results, the Sarias became good friends with Calderbank and his now-wife Sue and they often eat dinner together.

Then, after three months of testing, Calderbank said he was cleared to donate his kidney to Saria.

“She was speechless. I could tell she was tearing up a little bit on the phone when I told her,” Calderbank said.

Saria added: “They’re family who will stay with me until the end of my life.”

The surgery is scheduled for Dec. 1 at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Saria said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An 8-year-old Utah girl was diagnosed earlier this month with secretory breast carcinoma, a rare form of breast cancer.

According to a report in the Pediatric Surgery International Journal, secretory breast carcinoma is extremely rare. It accounts for less than 1 percent of all breast cancer cases.

Chrissy's mother, Annette Turner told ABC News that it was Chrissy who first found the tumor.

“She came to us on a Sunday afternoon, she said, ‘Mommy I have been scared and I have this lump,'" Turner recounted to ABC News. “It had been there for a while.”

So, "I was in shock," Chrissy's mother Annette Turner explained about her daughter's Nov. 9th diagnosis. "No child should ever have to go through cancer," she added.

Prior to this, Annette Turner was diagnosed with cervical cancer and her husband was diagnosed with non-Hodgikins lymphoma.

“My heart and thoughts are on my daughter and having her get better,” Turner said to ABC News.

"I was kind of scared to kind of figure out what it was," Chrissy told ABC News.

Although rare, doctors at the Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City said they are confident that it can be removed.

"It is very treatable," said Chrissy's physician Dr. Brian Bucher, at Primary Children's Hospital. "Chrissy will need to undergo a simple remove all the remaining breast tissue to prevent this cancer from coming back."

The family is currently raising money online to help fund treatment for Chrissy.

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iStock/ThinkstockBy DR. JENNIFER ASHTON, ABC News Senior Medical Contributor

Flying in a contained airplane can wreak havoc on your health.

From motion sickness to a cold or allergies, taking to the skies opens you up to lots of germs. So what should you do to prevent getting sick while you fly?

I like to bring sanitizing wipes with me when I fly. It might look strange, but when I get to my seat, I take one out and wipe everything down that I might touch during the flight.

I also bring an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to use before eating and as soon as I come out of the bathroom.

Another tip: Be respectful of fellow passengers and cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.

Other than that, the circulating air jet above your head can actually help blow germs away from you.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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Cultura RM Exclusive/Twinpix/Getty Images(CHICAGO) —While nobody likes to be lonely, a new study from the University of Chicago reveals loneliness can be downright deadly.

Researchers have found concrete proof that loneliness triggers actual physiological responses that can increase the risk of premature death by 14 percent.

UChicago psychologist and leading loneliness expert John Cacioppo's findings have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and they revealed being lonely triggers fight-or-flight responses in both humans and highly social primates.

These responses negatively affect not only the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, but also resulted in greater rates of inflammation, a key cause of heart disease, high blood pressure, and other serious health problems.  

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(AUGUSTA, Maine) -- Maine is looking to try to stop its obesity problem.

On Monday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services put forward a request to the government to ban candy and soft drinks from being purchased using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in the state.

“We truly believe this is the right area to start with to focus on soda, to focus on candy,” DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said during a press conference. “The money is still there, so it is freeing up resources to be better used within the food stamp program.”

She also said about 5 percent of SNAP benefits, around $20 million, are used to purchase soda and candy in the state.

"Maine is facing an obesity epidemic, especially among its low-income population, and we should be solving that problem rather than enabling it," said Mayhew.

According to a statement from DHHS, nine other states have also submitted similar waiver requests including New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Vermont, and Texas.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- If you can’t think of enough reasons to breastfeed, here is one more. 

A new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine shows that moms who have gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during their pregnancy can decrease their risk of developing lasting diabetes after the pregnancy by breastfeeding. 

Moms who breastfed with greater intensity and longer duration were nearly 50 percent less likely to develop diabetes in the two years after delivery, compared to mothers who primarily fed their infants with formula. 

"Women with a history of GDM are faced with an extremely high risk for type 2 diabetes; up to 50 percent diagnosed within 5 years after delivery. In our study, both higher lactation intensity and duration showed strong, graded protective associations with diabetes mellitus incidence, independent of risk factors," Erica Gunderson, PhD, and colleagues wrote.

This finding even held true after accounting for differences between the mothers in terms of education, ethnicity, weight, physical activity, and dietary factors.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Next time you visit the doctor’s office to refill your prescription, you may want to ask for the generic version. 

A new guideline published by the American College of Physicians in Annals of Internal Medicine recommends that doctors should be prescribing generic medications when possible, rather than their brand name equivalents. 

In the paper, the ACP found that the potential cost savings of prescribing eight common medication classes as generic equivalents could be more than $20 billion annually.  Plus, since generic drugs cost less, patients are more likely to pick them up from the pharmacy and more likely to adhere to their medication regimen. 

"While the use of generic drugs has increased over time, clinicians often prescribe more expensive brand name drugs when equally effective, well proven, and less expensive generic versions are available," said ACP President Wayne J. Riley, MD, MPH, MBA, MACP. "The use of generic drugs is a High Value Care way to improve health, avoid harms, and eliminate wasteful practices."

Most of the peer-reviewed evidence has found that generic drugs are equally as effective as their brand name counterparts.  Despite this, many physicians and patients still express a preference for brand name drugs. 

The rate of generic drug prescription could be increased through computer-automated reminders for physicians and by providing patients with free samples of generic drugs.

Copyright © 2015, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.





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