Friday, November 14, 2008

Google tool uses search terms to detect flu outbreaks: CNN

By Elizabeth Landau

(CNN) -- If you have a fever, headache and runny nose, you might go to Google and type the words "flu symptoms" to see whether you've come down with influenza.

Google knows that you might do something like that, and it also knows which U.S. state you're in. Now, it's putting that information together in a tool that Google says could detect flu outbreaks faster than traditional systems currently in use.
Google's new public health initiative, Google Flu Trends, looks at the relative popularity of a slew of flu-related search terms to determine where in the U.S. flu outbreaks may be occurring.
"What's exciting about Flu Trends is that it lets anybody -- epidemiologists, health officials, moms with sick children -- learn about the current flu activity level in their own state based on data that's coming in this week," said Jeremy Ginsberg, the lead engineer who developed the site.
The tool, which launched Tuesday, operates on the idea that there's likely to be a flu outbreak in states where flu-related search terms are currently popular. Watch's Elizabeth Landau explain how Google Flu Trends works »
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention collaborated with Google on the project, helping validate and refine the model, and has provided flu tracking data over a five-year period, said Dr. Joseph Bresee, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch in the CDC's influenza division.

For more on this article, please click on the following link: Google tool uses search terms to detect flu outbreaks: CNN

When Alzheimer's Hits at 40: WSJ

Early-Onset Sufferers Juggle Children, Job and Dementia

Brian Kammerer, the 45-year-old chief financial officer of a small hedge fund, called his wife one day from a cellphone in the men's room of his Manhattan office building. A colleague had just asked him for something, he whispered, but he had no idea what it was.

"It clicks and it holds papers together," he said.
"A stapler?" Kathy Kammerer asked.
"I think that's what it's called," he replied.
Soon after that exchange in early 2003, the father of three was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, capping nearly five years of uncertainty and fear about his increasing forgetfulness and difficulty with language.

While most people who get Alzheimer's are over 65, Mr. Kammerer is one of about 500,000 Americans living with Alzheimer's or other dementias at an atypically young age. Alzheimer's takes a long time to develop -- usually, it isn't diagnosed until 10 years after the first symptoms appear -- but more Americans are identifying it early, thanks in part to aggressive screening programs pushed in recent years by groups including the Alzheimer's Foundation of America, a national alliance of caregivers.

The disease can be especially torturous when it creeps up on those in their 30s and 40s. As these patients move through Alzheimer's early stages, they are forced to cope with the dread of not knowing what is happening to them, often in the years when they're raising young children and building financial security. As the disease progresses, there are slip-ups to cover, appearances to keep up. When these "early onset" Alzheimer's sufferers are finally diagnosed, they face hard questions -- whom to tell and when, and what these divulgences mean for their jobs and health insurance.

Overall, an estimated 5.2 million Americans have Alzheimer's, with as many as 10% diagnosed under the age of 65 -- the definition of early onset, according to the Alzheimer's Association, a national research organization. As the population ages, the number of individuals with Alzheimer's is expected to hit 7.7 million in 2030.

There are no Alzheimer's cures now on the market. Current medications mitigate some symptoms but don't slow or halt the disease's progression. Pharmaceutical companies are working on new therapies that reduce or remove amyloid, a sticky substance in the brain thought to play a role in the disease. There are more medicines in development for Alzheimer's than any other neurologic disease except pain, according to Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the industry trade group. It will likely be years before a new generation of drugs makes it to market.

For more on this article, please click on the following link: When Alzheimer's Hits at 40: WSJ

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Statins May Halve Heart-Attack Risk: Time

By Alice Park

MedicalRF / Getty

A much-anticipated study released Nov. 9 at the American Heart Association's annual meeting confirms what doctors have long suspected: that inflammation may be as critical a predictor for heart-disease risk as is a patient's cholesterol score.

The study's results suggest that using statins to treat the symptoms of inflammation, an oft-overlooked condition, may nearly halve people's risk of future heart attack, stroke and heart-related death.

Led by Dr. Paul Ridker at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, the study tracked about 17,800 people in 26 countries. Participants included men ages 50 and older and women ages 60 and older, who had high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) but normal cholesterol levels and no history of heart disease. Half the participants were given rosuvastatin (Crestor), and half were given a placebo daily for just under two years. The statin group reduced their CRP levels by 37%; their LDL, or bad cholesterol, levels dropped 50% to about 55 mg/dL. Among the 8,901 statin-takers, 31 suffered a heart attack and 33 suffered a stroke. When compared with the placebo group, those figures translated to a 54% lower risk of heart attack and a 48% lower risk of stroke in people taking a statin for inflammation — double the reduction of risk in patients who lower their cholesterol alone.

For more on this article, please click on the following link: Statins May Halve Heart-Attack Risk: Time