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‘Pocket’ pets: Handle with care

Furry pocket pets like mice and hamsters can spread more than smiles and laughter through your household—they can also spread Salmonella, bacteria that causes abdominal cramping, diarrhea and high fever. Salmonella poisoning is usually caused by eating contaminated foods like poultry, eggs and meat or handling reptiles. However, other pets like rodents and birds have been found to spread Salmonella, too. The bacteria may live in the intestinal tracts of seemingly healthy animals and be shed in feces. While experts don’t say you must give up these pets, you do need to wash your hands well after handling or caring for animals, especially pet chicks, kittens, hedgehogs, mice, rats, hamsters and reptiles.

Detecting breast cancer in young women

A new test that uses electrical impedance scanning (EIS) is proving to be a promising tool for evaluating breast cancer risk in women younger than age 45. Researchers grouped more than 1,100 women according to their breast cancer risk based on clinical and biopsy findings and had them undergo EIS, which measures electrical signals as they flow through the breast. The scans were often positive for the women with the greatest cancer risk but rarely positive for those with the lowest risk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing the device used in the research.

Fibroids under pressure

High blood pressure may increase the risk for uterine fibroids, according to a report in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers studied data from more than 100,000 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II. Over a 10-year period, they found more than 7,000 cases of fibroids. After adjusting for age, race, weight and reproductive history, researchers concluded that for every 10-point increase in blood pressure, the risk of fibroids rose by 8 percent among those who did not take blood pressure medication and even more—10 percent—among those who did.

Need to work out? Get an exercise prescription

If you want to stick to your exercise regimen, have your doctor plan it. Researchers at Saint Louis University School of Public Health surveyed more than 270 people with diabetes and found that while physician advice alone didn’t increase physical activity, having a doctor plan the routine or follow-up did. Another factor that contributed to greater physical activity was living closer to parks, recreation centers, walking trails, schools and fitness clubs.

A new brain food?

Zinc, a mineral essential for growth, development and immune function, may help adolescents do better in school. In a 10-week study, more than 200 seventh-graders drank fruit juice supplemented with zinc, took various cognitive tests such as visual memory and word recognition and performed tasks that required attention and vigilance. Those who drank the zinc-supplemented juice scored better than those who had the regular juice. However, test performance did not improve significantly among kids who already met the recommended daily allowance for zinc. Researchers say these results may prompt a review of the recommended intake guidelines for adolescents because the teen years are a time of rapid growth and development. Good food sources of zinc include red meats, poultry, beans, nuts, whole grains and some seafood.

Solving pelvic pain

During their lifetime, nearly 40 percent of women suffer chronic pelvic pain, a loosely defined syndrome in which relief is often elusive. However, because roughly one-third of women with chronic pelvic pain also have a condition called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), researchers say treating the bowel condition may relieve many women’s pain. IBS is characterized by bloating, pain, constipation and diarrhea. Unfortunately, IBS often goes undiagnosed and untreated, says a report in Obstetrics and Gynecology. In a seven-year survey involving nearly 1,000 patients, researchers found 35 percent of the women met the standard criteria for IBS, yet 40 percent of them weren’t diagnosed with it. Of the women who were diagnosed with IBS, 67 percent didn’t get recommendations for IBS treatments from their doctors.

Why laughter is good medicine

Mental stress can take a toll on your health. So it stands to reason that having a good laugh may boost your health. In a study presented at a recent meeting of the American College of Cardiology, researchers tested the blood vessel health of 20 participants by using an arm cuff to constrict the vessels and then release. (Healthy blood vessels dilate more after release and are less likely to form blood clots.) Participants then watched scenes from the comedy “King Pin” and the tragic war movie “Saving Private Ryan” and underwent the blood vessel test after each movie. After watching comedy scenes, viewers’ blood vessels dilated more, whereas the war scenes led to more vessel constriction.

Early lung cancer not so silent

It’s long been thought that lung cancer in its early stages causes few, if any, symptoms. But some researchers have found that lung cancer does cause symptoms that should prompt you to see your doctor. According to a study in the journal Thorax, 22 lung cancer patients reported 30 different symptoms before their diagnosis and recalled having new symptoms for many months. The most common symptoms were cough, breathing changes, chest or rib pain, fatigue, lethargy and weight loss. But all the patients delayed seeing their doctors because they didn’t believe their symptoms were serious. A much larger study is planned to confirm the findings.