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New test to predict dementia 9 years before diagnosis

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New Delhi, June 6 (IANS) In a significant finding, UK researchers have developed a new test that can predict dementia — affecting over 55 million people worldwide — nine years before a diagnosis.

The new test is 80 per cent more accurate than the commonly used methods like memory tests or measurements of brain shrinkage, said researchers at the Queen Mary University of London.

The test is based on analyses of functional MRI (fMRI) scans and detects changes in the brain’s ‘default mode network’ (DMN) — which connects regions of the brain to perform specific cognitive functions.

DMN is the first neural network to be affected by Alzheimer’s Disease.

Charles Marshall from Queen Mary’s Wolfson Institute of Population Health called the predictive test “vital for developing treatments that can prevent the irreversible loss of brain cells that causes the symptoms of dementia.”

To estimate the effective connectivity between ten regions of the brain that constitute the default mode network, the team used fMRI scans from over 1,100 volunteers.

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The findings, published in the journal Nature Mental Health, showed that the model had accurately predicted the onset of dementia up to nine years before an official diagnosis was made and with greater than 80 per cent accuracy.

In the cases where the volunteers had gone on to develop dementia, it was also found that the model could predict within a two-year margin of error exactly how long it would take that diagnosis to be made.

Further, the researchers found that genetic risk for Alzheimer’s was strongly associated with connectivity changes in the DMN.

They also found social isolation can affect connectivity in the DMN and raise the risk of dementia.

–IANS

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Experts express concern over bird flu spread in house mice, domestic cats in US

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New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) The H5N1 virus, or bird flu virus, has raised fresh concerns for humans with reports of spillover to mammals like domestic cats and mice, infectious disease experts said on Wednesday.

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), on Wednesday, reported 36 more H5N1 avian flu detections in house mice and four more virus detections in domestic cats — from New Mexico county.

“This is indeed concerning, although there is no immediate threat. The longer-term problem is that the more a virus spreads, the more it gets chances to mutate or recombine,” Dr Anurag Agarwal, Dean, BioSciences and Health Research, Trivedi School of Biosciences, Ashoka University, told IANS.

“This alone is modestly concerning in terms of future human risks. However, when the spread is occurring in animals that are present in human houses, as seen here, the concern level is higher,” he added.

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Biologist Vinod Scaria, in a post on X.com, said it “is concerning as the virus is moving to domestic animals with human contact”.

The bird flu virus H5N1 is seen a significant increase in spillover to mammals in recent years. The virus killed a record number of birds in 2023.

It spread to otters, sea lions, minks, foxes, dolphins, and seals, among others.

The virus also killed 29 cats in Poland and 38 of 40 shelter cats in South Korea. Meanwhile, in separate incidents, the bird flu virus also affected several humans in China, Chile, the US, and India.

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday confirmed a human infection with bird flu caused by the H9N2 virus in a four-year-old child in West Bengal.

It is the second human infection of H9N2 bird flu from India, with the first in 2019, the agency said.

The virus in the child was detected by health authorities in Australia’s Victoria.

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In late March, H5N1 infected dairy cows in the US, and subsequently, at least three humans in Texas and Michigan have reportedly contracted the virus from sick cattle. More recently, a 59-year-old man in Mexico died after being infected with H5N2 bird flu, a strain not previously seen in humans.

“Bird flu, or avian influenza, is a viral illness that mainly infects birds. However, there’s a chance it can jump to humans and other mammals who come into close contact with infected birds,” Dr. Swati Rajagopal, Consultant – Infectious Disease and Travel Medicine, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, told IANS.

“The strains H5N1, H7N9, and H5N6 have raised the most concern recently due to their potential for human transmission. These infections in humans typically occur through direct contact with sick animals or contaminated environments, such as poultry farms,” she added.

Avian influenza in humans can range in severity from mild, resembling a common head cold, to life-threatening. Beyond respiratory problems, symptoms of bird flu can include eye inflammation (conjunctivitis), stomach and intestinal issues (gastrointestinal symptoms), and even brain inflammation (encephalitis) and brain dysfunction (encephalopathy).

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In some special cases, some people exposed to bird flu, particularly the H5N1 strain, show no symptoms at all.

“Influenza pandemics are regarded as the most important threats to human health. H5N1 influenza, spilling over from birds to humans, could be a possible origin of the next major pandemic,” Gautam Menon, Dean of Research and Professor of Physics and Biology at Ashoka University, told IANS.

He called for OneHealth approaches that focus on human, animal, and environmental health together, to tackle the rising threat.

–IANS

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Why are autoimmune diseases more prevalent in women?

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New Delhi, June 12 (IANS) Age, genetic and hormonal factors may explain why women are disproportionately affected by autoimmune diseases than men, said experts on Wednesday.

Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. Studies show that the condition affects approximately 8 per cent of people worldwide, of which 78 per cent are women.

Dr Rajeev Gupta, Director – Internal Medicine at the CK Birla Hospital (R), Delhi told IANS that hormonal influence and chromosomal differences are the two main reasons why autoimmune diseases are more common in women.

“Women experience significant hormonal fluctuations throughout their lives, particularly during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. These changes, especially in oestrogen levels, may influence the immune system and make women more susceptible to mistakenly attacking healthy tissues (autoimmunity),” the doctor said.

Regarding chromosomes, women have two X, while men have one X and one Y.

“One theory suggests that the process of inactivating one X chromosome in each female cell might be incomplete sometimes. This could lead to an overabundance of certain genes on the active X chromosome, potentially triggering an overactive immune response and autoimmunity,” Dr Rajeev said.

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“Autoimmune disorders in women may be due to the silencing of their second X chromosome by molecules leading to a confusing immune system. This can explain why conditions like multiple sclerosis and lupus are more common in women than men,” added Dr Yathish G C, Lead Consultant – Rheumatology, Aster Whitefield Hospital, Bengaluru.

Commonly, autoimmune diseases become more prevalent after a woman’s thirties, coinciding with hormonal changes associated with ageing.

However, some autoimmune diseases can occur at any age.

“Some like multiple sclerosis usually begin between the ages of 20 and 40 years whereas others such as rheumatoid arthritis start manifesting later in the 40s or early in 50s,” Dr Yathish told IANS.

Dr Harman Singh, Consultant Rheumatologist, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan noted a dramatic rise in autoimmune illnesses, notably among women aged 50 and above.

The experts called for adopting healthy lifestyle practices such as a balanced diet, stopping smoking, avoiding alcohol, stress reduction techniques, being physically fit, and avoiding environmental pollutants.

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–IANS

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Celine Dion says she went from 2 mg to fatal 90 mg of Valium during health struggles

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Los Angeles, June 12 (IANS) Singer-songwriter Celine Dion looked back at her health journey through a lens of gratitude after managing undiagnosed stiff-person syndrome symptoms for 17 years.

The music superstar opened up about the symptoms that began manifesting in the mid-2000s, including muscle spasms, difficulty breathing and singing, reports People magazine.

She spoke about her “crisis” episodes during which her entire body locked up which caused pain. The first time she felt a spasm nearly 20 years ago, she was in Germany on tour.

She told People: “I had breakfast, and I suddenly started to feel a spasm. My vocal exercise made it worse.”

The singer is set to give fans an in-depth look at her fight against stiff-person syndrome in an emotional new documentary, ‘I Am: Celine Dion’.

As per People, the singer tried remedies ranging from steam showers to over-the-counter medications and made appointments with ear, nose and throat physicians and ophthalmologists, all of which were unfruitful.

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As her symptoms intensified, the ‘My Heart Will Go On’ singer, beloved for her vocal precision and inimitable stage presence, was advised to take prescription medications, including muscle relaxants like Valium.

“We started with two milligrams to see if it would help, and then 2.5, and then three, and 15 and 50,” she said noting the medication began wearing off so quickly that at one point she took 90 milligrams of Valium to power through a performance.

“It could have been fatal. I did not question the level because I don’t know medicine. I thought it was going to be okay. It worked for a few days, for a few weeks, and then it doesn’t work anymore,” she said.

“I did not understand that I could have gone to bed and stopped breathing. And you learn — you learn through your mistakes.”

Currently, the singer is “very, very happy and fortunate” that she’s able to share her learnings with others.

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–IANS

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Weight loss surgery can stop prediabetes in its tracks: Study

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New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) People with prediabetes and severe obesity who underwent metabolic and bariatric surgery were 20 times less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, claimed a new study on Tuesday.

The study showed that only 1.8 per cent of patients progressed to diabetes in five years after weight loss surgeries like Roux-en-Y gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy.

The numbers rose to 3.3 per cent in 10 years and 6.7 per cent after 15 years, according to researchers from the Geisinger Medical Center in Pennsylvania, US.

The team found that the protective effect against diabetes is higher among gastric bypass patients. On the other hand, nearly a third (31.1 per cent) of patients with no prior metabolic surgery saw their prediabetes develop into diabetes within five years, which increased to 51.5 per cent and 68.7 per cent at 10 and 15 years, respectively.

“This is the first study to analyse the long-term impact of metabolic and bariatric surgery on the potential progression of prediabetes and the impact is significant and durable,” said David Parker, co-author and a bariatric surgeon at Geisinger.

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“It demonstrates that metabolic surgery is as much a treatment as it is a prevention for diabetes.”

Prediabetes is a serious condition that occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be considered type 2 diabetes. For the retrospective, 1,326 patients with prediabetes before undergoing either Roux-en-Y gastric bypass or sleeve gastrectomy between 2001 and 2022, were matched with non-surgical controls from a primary care cohort.

The study was presented at the ongoing American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) 2024 Annual Scientific Meeting in San Diego.

–IANS

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Prataprao Ganpatrao Jadhav takes charge as MoS for Health, Ayush Ministry

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New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) Prataprao Ganpatrao Jadhav on Tuesday took charge as Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare, the ministry announced.

He will also work as the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) for the Ministry of Ayush.

Before taking charge, “Jadhav planted a sapling at his residence. After assuming charge, he also took a pledge to donate his organs,” the ministry said.

Jadhav had previously represented the people of Maharashtra in various capacities, including as a Member of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly for three terms and as a State Minister for Sports, Youth Welfare and Irrigation.

He was elected to the Lok Sabha from the constituency of Buldhana in 2009, 2014, 2019, and again in 2024. He was also the State Minister for Sports, Youth Welfare & Irrigation, Government of Maharashtra from 1997 to 1999.

In Lok Sabha, he has held key positions such as Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Rural Development and Panchayati Raj and Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Communications and Information Technology.

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–IANS

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