FDA Approves New Tool for Detecting Bird Flu in Humans

Avian influenza, or “bird flu,” has ruffled quite a few feathers lately. The disease is usually limited to birds, poultry, ducks, and pigs, but there have been a growing number of human cases in recent years. Health experts also are concerned that the most common and most dangerous strain of the virus, H5N1, could transform itself and spread to humans.

While there is no vaccine yet, the battle against bird flu got some reinforcement this week with the approval of a new test for humans by the FDA. The test can detect the H5N1 strain in less than 40 minutes. If people have flu-like symptoms, a simple nose or throat swab can check to see if they are infected.

So far, human cases of bird flu have occurred primarily in Asia and Africa. Most infections happened after direct contact with poultry that were carrying the virus. Other ways of getting bird flu may include consuming poultry that isn’t thoroughly cooked or by coming in contact with another infected person.

Symptoms of bird flu are similar to signs of the regular flu, such as sore throat, fever, and muscle aches. The disease can make some people very sick or even be life-threatening.

Toughest Cities for Those with Asthma Revealed

Air is not created equal. For people with asthma or severe allergies, certain cities pose less of a breathing hazard than others. While this group of sufferers may have their own list of preferred places to live and visit, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) set out to discover which cities actually were the worst offenders.

Looking at factors such as air quality, public smoking laws, and pollen counts, the AAFA ranked 100 U.S. cities according to the comfort level of a resident with asthma. The top 10 worst cities for asthmatics are:

  1. St. Louis
  2. Milwaukee
  3. Birmingham, Alabama
  4. Chattanooga
  5. Charlotte
  6. Memphis
  7. Knoxville
  8. McAllen, Texas
  9. Atlanta
  10. Little Rock, Arkansas
Cities found to be the least challenging for those with asthma were:
  1. Cape Coral, Florida
  2. Seattle
  3. Minneapolis
  4. Colorado Springs
  5. Portland, Oregon
  6. Palm Bay, Florida
  7. Daytona Beach
  8. San Francisco
  9. Portland, Maine
  10. Boise City, Idaho

So, what can you do if you live in a city that is not asthma-friendly? Work with your doctor to create an asthma action plan. Take any necessary medications and follow other guidelines outlined by your doctor. Also, if your city does not have a ban on public smoking, get involved and encourage local leaders to take an important step in cleaning your city’s air.

ACSM Encourages Adults to Get Out and Play

Bored with your workout? Tired of being stuck indoors on the treadmill? Now that it’s spring, head outside and play.

To add some fun to your normal workout, recall your favorite activities from childhood. Did you look forward to dance class? Sign up for some hip-hop or aerobic dance classes at a local dance studio or gym. If you enjoyed playing on a school sports team, join an adult recreational league. Were you a restless kid that liked to explore and seek out adventure? Try rock climbing or going for a hike.

Experts from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) say adults need regular playtime as well. Taking a break can be good for your body and mind. For instance, instead of spending your lunch hour checking email or trying to get more followers on Twitter, grab some co-workers and head to the park. Play a game of catch or hang around on the monkey bars at the playground. Even 10 to 15 minutes of play can help you feel reenergized and ready to tackle the rest of your day.

FDA Warns Consumers to Stop Eating Pistachios

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer alert today for pistachios and all food items that may contain pistachios, such as pudding or ice cream. These products should be avoided until further notice due to a possible salmonella contamination.

Food safety experts say there may be an official recall of specific products, much like the recent recall of peanut butter and related items. The suspected company, Setton Pistachio in California, has voluntarily recalled any pistachios processed during the past year and also has shut down operations. The FDA is working with the pistachio industry to see how large of a recall will be necessary and will provide any new details as they become available. An updated list of recalled items is available on the FDA's site. A searchable database lets you look by brand name, product type, or UPC code.

Salmonella is the most common cause of foodborne illness. It can cause fever, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea. However, it can be life-threatening for some groups, including older adults, young children, and those with chronic medical conditions.

A Child’s Growth Spurt Might Lead to Having a Sweet Tooth

Cookies. Candy. Cupcakes. Childhood was filled with yummy desserts and goodies. New research suggests that children’s growing bones could be the reason they crave sweet treats.

In the study, children growing at a rapid rate had more of a sweet tooth than those developing at a slower pace. Researchers say that the findings are preliminary but may offer some insight into the fight against childhood obesity.

So how can you satisfy your little one’s sweet tooth? Fruit is a great option. It’s good for kids and has few calories but contains natural sugar. If your child doesn’t like eating whole fruit, consider making a smoothie, buying dried fruit, or chopping up fruit to put on toast or cereal. Other choices include using fruit spread on whole-grain bread or crackers or topping veggies with a sweet sauce or fruit-flavored vinaigrette.

If your child resists any of these new alternatives, keep trying. Experts say children often have to be offered a new food up to 15 times before they will try it.

Get on the Road to Healthy Eating with MyPyramid

Just like gas fuels a car, we need calories for energy. But we don’t come with a gas tank and can sometimes struggle with finding the right balance for our optimal performance.

According to a recent survey, 85% of adults did not know how many calories they should be eating each day. Your exact calorie need depends on several factors such as your age, activity level, and height.

Luckily, the USDA saves us from having to do math and figures out everything for us at http://www.mypyramid.gov/mypyramid/index.aspx. After plugging in some basic information and stats, you receive a personalized profile which includes your ideal number of calories, a breakdown of the food groups and your target servings, and helpful hints on hitting those targets. The site also offers other useful tools such as a meal planning worksheet, games and coloring pages for kids, and a more detailed assessment of your diet and physical activity level called the MyPyramid Tracker.

Shut Off the Lights This Saturday to Support the Planet

A little goes a long way. And when it comes to tackling the climate crisis, every little bit does in fact help.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) hopes to spread that message on Saturday, March 28, with Earth Hour 2009. For just one hour (at 8:30 p.m. your local time), millions of people, businesses, and organizations around the world will send their message of support for climate change action by turning off their lights and other power sources.

Last year’s event had more than 50 million participants, including about 400 cities on all seven continents. Such landmarks as the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the Coliseum in Rome, and the Sydney Opera House went dark.

To sign up, log onto www.earthhourus.org. If you are interested in getting co-workers, community groups, or your city to take part, the site offers tool kits to help you through the process. Participants are encouraged to turn off non-essential lighting, which may include computers, decorative lights, TVs, overhead lighting, and outdoor lighting that is not needed for safety reasons.

Through your support of Earth Hour 2009, the WWF says it plans to show government officials that action is needed to solve the climate crisis and that people all over the world have united to demand attention for this important global issue.