Posts tagged with "EurekAlert"

Keeping the home fires burning? Wildfires don’t deter Americans from moving to at-risk regions

December 9, 2022

The climate crisis has motivated people to move both within their countries of origin and across borders. Indeed, according to a study led by Mahalia Clark at the University of Vermont (UVM), the United States has experienced numerous destructive and deadly weather events recently–but, despite the threat, more people are moving to areas nationwide that are at serious risk of wildfires, reports EurekAlert.

“Our original motivation was the increasing number of headlines each year about record breaking heat waves, hurricanes, and wildfires,” said Clark, a researcher at UVM’s Gund Institute for Environment. “I had been studying natural amenities—features of the climate and environment that are attractive to movers—but I began to wonder if the threat of these hazards might have a deterring effect on migration.”

Clark and her team created a dataset that combined census data from 2010-2020 with data on temperature, weather, landscape, demographic variables, and socioeconomic factors. They focused particularly on the availability of natural amenities, although they suspected that in metropolitan areas, these would be less influential. The data agreed: economic factors played a larger role in migration decisions around built-up areas than natural amenities.

Natural hazards affect different regions differently. This is particularly true for heatwaves, because dangerous temperatures depend on how acclimatized the population is and the availability of mitigations like air conditioning. However, the effects of natural hazards can be underestimated outside key areas. The authors found that people moved away from areas with frequent hurricanes but towards areas with higher year-round temperatures and a higher wildfire risk. 

“This suggests that people may be drawn to the very landscapes that are most prone to wildfires, which is concerning given that wildfires are expected to increase in frequency and intensity with climate change,” said Clark. “We also found increased migration into metropolitan areas with relatively hot summers, where heat will grow deadlier with climate change.”

Some risk is dependent on preparation and planning. Long-term residents may have acclimatized to local hazards, while newcomers may not be aware of or may have discounted the dangers. They may also have decided that the risk of wildfire is worth it to live somewhere desirable— or they may not be able to leave.

Clark and her team point out that their analysis is necessarily incomplete. The team could not include data on family ties, professional networks, housing values, and the cost of living, which also play a part in migration. There is also no data yet on how the rise of remote work will affect people’s choices about where they live.

“I hope our work will increase people’s awareness of their exposure to wildfires,” said Clark. “Americans tend to think of wildfires as something affecting the West, but they are also a threat across large swaths of the South and even the Midwest.

Our findings highlight the need for policymakers in affected areas to prioritize sufficient firefighting and fire prevention resources for a growing population, to increase public awareness and preparedness, and perhaps even to discourage new development in areas where fires are most likely or most difficult to fight.”

The study results have been published in the December edition of the  journal, Frontiers in Human Dynamics.

Research contact: @EurekAlert

Take your best shot: Studies show that steroid injections worsen knee arthritis

November 30, 2022

Two studies comparing injections commonly used to relieve the pain of knee osteoarthritis have found that corticosteroid injections are associated with the progression of the disease. Results of both studies were presented this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Indeed, EurekAlert reports, osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis—affecting 32.5 million adults in the United States. Knee osteoarthritis is a chronic, degenerative, and progressive condition with an estimated incidence of 800,000 patients each year. More than 10% of patients with knee osteoarthritis seek noninvasive treatment for pain relief through corticosteroid or hyaluronic acid injections.

Researchers in both studies chose cohorts from the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a multicenter, longitudinal, observational study of nearly 5,000 participants with knee osteoarthritis currently in its 14th year of follow-up.

In the first study, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco included 210 Osteoarthritis Initiative participants, 70 of whom received intraarticular injections, and a control group of 140 who did not receive injections during a two-year period. Of the 70 patients who received injections, 44 were injected with corticosteroids; 26 were injected with hyaluronic acid. The treatment and control groups were matched by age, sex, body mass index, pain, physical activity scores, and severity of disease.

MRI was performed on all patients at the time of the injection and two years before and after. The MRI scans were assessed using whole-organ magnetic resonance imaging score (WORMS), a grading system for knee osteoarthritis that focuses on the meniscus, bone marrow lesions, cartilage, joint effusion and ligaments. The researchers identified osteoarthritis progression by comparing the imaging scores from the initial scans and two-year follow-up scans.

“This is the first direct comparison of corticosteroid and hyaluronic acid injections using the semi-quantitative, whole-organ assessment of the knee with MRI,” said Upasana Upadhyay Bharadwaj, M.D., a research fellow in the Department of Radiology at University of California-San Francisco.

Statistical analysis showed that corticosteroid knee injections are significantly associated with the overall progression of osteoarthritis in the knee—specifically, in the lateral meniscus, lateral cartilage, and medial cartilage.

Hyaluronic acid knee injections were not significantly associated with the progression of osteoarthritis in the knee. Compared to the control group, the group who received hyaluronic injections showed a decreased progression of osteoarthritis, specifically in bone marrow lesions.

“While both corticosteroid and hyaluronic acid injections are reported to help with symptomatic pain relief for knee osteoarthritis, our results conclusively show that corticosteroids are associated with significant progression of knee osteoarthritis up to two years post-injection and must be administered with caution,” Dr. Upadhyay Bharadwaj says. “Hyaluronic acid, on the other hand, may slow down progression of knee osteoarthritis and alleviate long term effects while offering symptomatic relief.”

In the second study, researchers at the Chicago Medical School of Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science conducted a case-control study comparing the radiographic progression of osteoarthritis in patients who received injections of corticosteroids and hyaluronic acid.

“While these injections provide some patients with short-term pain relief, the effects of the injections on the progression of the disease are unknown,” said researcher and medical student Azad Darbandi.

Darbandi’s team selected a cohort of 150 patients with similar baseline characteristics from the Osteoarthritis Initiative database—including 50 patients who received corticosteroid injections, 50 who received hyaluronic acid injections, and 50 who were not injected over a 36-month time period. The groups were matched by sex, body mass index and X-ray findings.

Patients underwent X-ray imaging of the knee at baseline and two years later. The researchers analyzed the X-ray imaging, including joint space narrowing, formation of bone spurs, and bone thickening around the knee cartilage.

Compared to patients who received an injection of hyaluronic acid or no treatment at all, patients injected with corticosteroids had significantly more osteoarthritis progression, including medial joint space narrowing, a hallmark of the disease.

“Even though imaging findings for all patients were similar at baseline, the imaging hallmarks of osteoarthritis were worse two years later in patients who received corticosteroid injections compared to patients who received hyaluronic acid injections or no treatment at all,” Darbandi says. “The results suggest that hyaluronic acid injections should be further explored for the management of knee osteoarthritis symptoms, and that steroid injections should be utilized with more caution.”

“Knowing the long-term effects of these injections will help osteoarthritis patients and clinicians make more informed decisions for managing the disease and the pain it causes,” Dr. Upadhyay Bharadwaj adds.

Research contact: @EurekAlert

Wearable air sampler assesses personal exposure to COVID-19

January 13, 2022

Masks, social distancing, proper hygiene, and ventilation can help reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in public places—but even with these measures, scientists have detected airborne SARS-CoV-2 in indoor settings, EurekAlert reports.

Now, researchers from Yale University School of Engineering and Applied Science and Yale University School of Public Health—working on behalf of the American Chemical Society—say they have developed a passive air sampler clip that can help assess personal exposure to SARS-CoV-2 that could be especially helpful for workers in high-risk settings, such as restaurants or healthcare facilities.

Reporting in the January 12 edition of ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology Letters, the researchers note that COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through the inhalation of virus-laden aerosols and respiratory droplets that infected individuals expel by coughing, sneezing, speaking, or breathing.

To date, active air sampling devices to detect airborne SARS-CoV-2 have been used in indoor settings; however, these monitors are typically large, expensive, non-portable and require electricity. To better understand personal exposures to the virus, lead author Krystal Pollitt and colleagues wanted to develop a small, lightweight, inexpensive and wearable device that doesn’t require a power source.

The researchers developed a wearable passive air sampler, known as the Fresh Air Clip, that continually adsorbs virus-laden aerosols on a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) surface. The team tested the air sampler in a rotating drum in which they generated aerosols containing a surrogate virus, a bacteriophage with similar properties to SARS-CoV-2. They detected virus on the PDMS sampler using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), showing that the device could be used to reliably estimate airborne virus concentrations.

Then, the researchers distributed Fresh Air Clips to 62 volunteers, who wore the monitors for five days. PCR analysis of the clips detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in five of the clips: Four were worn by restaurant servers and one by a homeless shelter staff person. The highest viral loads (more than 100 RNA copies per clip) were detected in two badges from restaurant servers.

Although the Fresh Air Clip has not yet been commercialized, these results indicate that it could serve as a semiquantitative screening tool for assessing personal exposure to SARS-CoV-2, as well as help identify high-risk areas for indoor exposure, the researchers say.

Research contact: @EurekAlert

New symptoms identified could help doctors diagnose pancreatic cancer earlier

November 9, 2021

Pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival among all common cancers, with the five-year survival rate pegged at about 7% in the United Kingdom. The reason: Unfortunately, most people with pancreatic cancer are diagnosed at a late stage.

 But researchers at the University of Oxford now have identified a series of symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer, including two previously unrecognized warning signs—feeling thirsty and having dark urine—they announced in a study presented at Europe’s largest annual cancer conference, the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) Festival on Monday, November 8, reports EurekAlert.

 The study has confirmed a further 21 signs of pancreatic cancer and shown that patients often have some symptoms of the disease up to a year before their cancers are diagnosed, and other alarming symptoms three months before diagnosis.

 The researchers hope their findings could improve survival by helping GPs diagnose the disease earlier, especially when patients present with several seemingly non-specific symptoms.

 Dr. Weiqi Liao, a data scientist at the University of Oxford, and his colleagues looked at data from 24,236 patients who were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in England between 2000 and 2017 using a large electronic database (QResearch). The researchers looked at patients’ symptoms at different time points before they were diagnosed with cancer and compared them to other patients’ symptoms who were not diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

 Yellowing of the skin (jaundice) and bleeding in the stomach or intestine were the two serious symptoms most associated with being diagnosed with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), the most common type of pancreatic cancer, and in pancreatic neuroendocrine neoplasms (PNEN), a rarer form of pancreatic cancer. In addition, researchers identified thirst and dark urine as previously unknown symptoms for PDAC.

 Dr. Liao said: “When pancreatic cancer is diagnosed earlier, patients have a higher chance of survival. It is possible to diagnose patients when they visit their GP, but both patients and GPs need to be aware of the symptoms associated with pancreatic cancer.”

 The research, which is the largest study of its kind, found 23 symptoms linked with the diagnosis of PDAC (yellowing of the skin, bleeding in the stomach or intestine, problems swallowing, diarrhea, change in bowel habits, vomiting, indigestion, abdominal mass, abdominal pain, weight loss, constipation, fat in stool, abdominal swelling, nausea, flatulence, heartburn, fever, tiredness, appetite loss, itching, back pain, thirst, and dark urine).

 Nine symptoms were linked with PNEN (yellowing of the skin, blood in stool, diarrhoea, change in bowel habits, vomiting, indigestion, abdominal mass, abdominal pain, and weight loss).

 While most symptoms were not specific to pancreatic cancer and could be due to other benign conditions, the researchers found patients diagnosed with pancreatic cancer had a higher chance of experiencing some of these non-specific symptoms one year before diagnosis.

 Dr Liao said: “These new findings enable us to conduct further work on understanding symptoms that could suggest pancreatic cancer. This will help GPs to make decisions about who to refer for urgent tests, especially when patients have several seemingly non-specific symptoms.”

 The study ahs been published in the September 21, 2021 edition of the British Journal of General Practice.

 Research contact: @EurekAlert

More power to you: High intensity training is best for older people

October 9, 2020

A study conducted by the Cardiac Research Group (CERG) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) has determined that twice-a-week high intensity interval training provides the most health benefits for people aged 70-79, EurekAlert reports.

“First of all, I have to say that exercise in general seems to be good for the health of the elderly. And our study results show that on top of that, training regularly at high intensity has an extra positive effect,” says Dorthe Stensvold, a CERG professor who has been looking forward to sharing the results of the Generation 100 study for a while now.

She says that high-intensity exercise has clear effects: “Among most 70-77-year-olds in Norway, 90% will survive the next five years. In the Generation 100 study, more than 95% of the 1,500 participants survived!” she said.

The five-year research initiative randomly divided healthy participants into three different training groups when the study started in 2012:

  • The first group was assigned to high-intensity training intervals according to the 4X4 method twice a week,
  • Group two was instructed to train at a steady, moderate intensity for 50 minutes two days a week. The participants could choose whether they wanted to train on their own or participate in group training with instructors.
  • The third group—the control group—was advised to exercise according to the Norwegian health authorities’ recommendations. This group was not offered organized training under the auspices of Generation 100, but was called in for regular health checks and fitness assessments.

Both physical and mental quality of life were better in the high-intensity group after five years than in the other two groups. High-intensity interval training also had the greatest positive effect on fitness,” says Stensvold.

But does this kind of exercise prolong life to a greater extent than moderate exercise?

In the interval training group, 3% of the participants had died after five years. The percentage was 6% in the moderate group. The difference is not statistically significant, but the trend is so clear that we believe the results give good reason to recommend high-intensity training for the elderly,” says Stensvold.

Among the participants in the control group, 4.5% had died after five years.

“One challenge in interpreting our results has been that the participants in the control group trained more than we envisioned in advance. One in five people in this group trained regularly at high intensity and ended up, on average, doing more high-intensity training than the participants in the moderate group,” says Stensvold.

This could also explain why this group ended up in between the other two groups in terms of survival.

“You could say that this is a disadvantage, as far as the research goes. But it may tell us that an annual fitness and health check is all that’s needed to motivate older people to become more physically active. In that case, it’s really good news,” says Stensvold.

As to the question of whether this study offers definitive proof that exercise prolongs life, Stensvold says, “I’d like to answer with a clear and unequivocal yes, because we believe that this is true. But training is probably not the only reason why so few of the Generation 100 participants died compared to what’s expected in this age group. The people who signed up to participate in Generation 100 probably had high training motivation to begin with. They also started with a relatively high level of activity, and most of them considered themselves to be in good health.

Stensvold points out that the participants in all three of the Generation 100 study groups managed to maintain their fitness levels throughout the five-year period. That’s quite unique for people in this age group, according to physician and PhD candidate Jon Magne Letnes.

“Normally we see a drop in fitness of 20% over a ten-year period for people in their 70s. The fact that the participants in Generation 100 have managed to maintain their strong fitness levels from start to finish indicates that all three groups were more physically active than is usual for this age group,” he says.

Letnes, who like Stensvold is affiliated with CERG at NTNU, refers to his own study which was published two weeks ago. It contains information on 1500 healthy men and women who tested their fitness level twice, at ten years apart, in connection with the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (Hunt3).

“We found that age has the least effect on fitness level for people who exercise regularly at high intensity. This group had a drop in fitness of 5% over ten years. By comparison, fitness levels dropped by 9% individuals who exercised regularly but not at high intensity. Those who were physically inactive lost as much as 16% of their physical conditioning over ten years,” says Letnes.

The decline in fitness was greater among the elderly than in younger people. Those who maintained their conditioning best also had the healthiest status when it came to risk factors for lifestyle diseases and poor health.

“Blood pressure, waist measurement, cholesterol and resting heart rate increased less in people who maintained their conditioning than in those who had a larger drop in fitness figures,” Letnes says.

Stensvold believes that the results from Letnes’ research support the most important findings in the Generation 100 study.

“In Generation 100, the high-intensity training increased participants’ conditioning the most after the first, third and fifth years. We know that better fitness is closely linked to lower risk of premature death, so this improvement may explain why the high-intensity group apparently had the best survival rate,” she says.

She ends by saying, “By high intensity we mean training that gets you really sweaty and out of breath. Now our hope is that the national recommendations for physical activity will be modified to encourage older people even more strongly to do high intensity training – either as their only form of exercise or to supplement more moderate training.”

The study was published in the medical journal, BMJ.

Research contact: @EurekAlert