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Teens see mental health benefits with less screen time, more sports, art

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Walking away from TV, laptops and cellphones and spending more time in sports and other extracurricular activities boosts teens’ mental health, Canadian researchers say.

Spending less than two hours a day browsing the internet, playing video games and using social media was linked to increased levels of life satisfaction and optimism and lower levels of anxiety and depression, especially among girls, the study found.

“Although we conducted this study before the COVID-19 pandemic, the findings are especially relevant now when teens may be spending more time in front of screens in their free time if access to extracurricular activities, like sports and arts programs, is restricted due to COVID-19,” said lead author Eva Oberle, an assistant professor with the Human Early Learning Partnership at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

“Our findings highlight extracurricular activities as an asset for teens’ mental well-being,” she said in a university news release. “Finding safe ways for children and teens to continue to participate in these activities during current times may be a way to reduce screen time and promote mental health and well-being.”

For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 29,000 seventh-graders.

They found that:

  • Teens who took part in extracurricular activities were less likely to engage in screen-based activities for two or more hours after school.
  • More than two hours a day of screen time was linked with lower levels of life satisfaction and optimism, and higher levels of anxiety and depression.
  • Longer screen time negatively affected girls’ mental health more than boys’.

“We do know that some forms of screen time can be beneficial, like maintaining connections with friends and family members online if we cannot see them in person, but there are other types of screen time that can be quite harmful,” Oberle said. “There are many nuances that are not well-understood yet and that are important to explore.”

The findings were recently published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

More information

For more on teens’ mental health, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Moderna says data show COVID-19 vaccine almost 95% effective

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Nov. 16 (UPI) — The COVID-19 vaccine under development by U.S. biotech firm Moderna is 94.5% effective in preventing infection, according to interim data the company published Monday.

Moderna said early analysis from its late-stage “COVE” clinical trial for its mRNA-1273 vaccine candidate was based on nearly 100 COVID-19 cases.

“This is a pivotal moment in the development of our COVID-19 vaccine candidate,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a statement. “Since early January, we have chased this virus with the intent to protect as many people around the world as possible. All along, we have known that each day matters.

“This positive interim analysis from our Phase 3 study has given us the first clinical validation that our vaccine can prevent COVID-19 disease, including severe disease.”

Moderna said its COVE trial has found no serious side effects from the mRNA-1273 vaccine.

Bancel said the company will apply for emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to distribute the vaccine once it finishes compiling safety data later this month.

“These are obviously very exciting results,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Monday. “It’s just as good as it gets — 94.5% is truly outstanding.”

Moderna’s results are similar to those published last week by drugmaker Pfizer, which said its vaccine has shown to be about 90% effective.

Other vaccines are being tested in late-stage trials by Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and Novavax.

Fauci said last week a vaccine could be available to the most at-risk populations before the end of the year.



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Experimental herpes vaccine shows promise in lab trials

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Scientists are reporting early success with an experimental herpes vaccine that uses a genetically modified version of the virus.

The gene edit prevents the virus from performing its normal evasive maneuver: hiding out in nervous system cells in order to elude the immune system.

So far, the vaccine has only been tested in lab animals. But scientists hope the genetic tweak will eventually allow the vaccine to succeed where past ones have failed.

The target is herpes simplex virus, or HSV, which in humans includes HSV-1 and HSV-2. Both can cause genital herpes, though HSV-1 is best known for triggering cold sores.

Globally, a half-billion people aged 15 to 49 have a genital herpes infection, according to the World Health Organization.

Those figures alone show there is a “huge need” for a vaccine, said Gary Pickard, one of the researchers on the new study.

But beyond that, once HSV invades the body, it’s there to stay, said Pickard, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

To evade the immune system, the virus works its way into nerve cells and remains there in a dormant state. It can periodically become active again, traveling to the skin and causing sores and other symptoms.

In addition to those flare-ups, HSV infection can sometimes lead to complications. Pregnant women can, rarely, pass it to their newborns, who can become very sick or die, said Terri Warren, a registered nurse and medical advisor to the American Sexual Health Association.

Genital sores, and active HSV infection, also leave people more vulnerable to contracting HIV.

“In some places,” Warren said, “it accounts for many cases of HIV.”

Genital herpes also exacts a psychological toll, she explained, because it’s a lifelong infection that people can transmit to their partners, even when they are symptom-free.

That’s why researchers have been trying for years to create a preventive vaccine — with no success thus far.

As Pickard explained, one issue is that some candidate vaccines use only a subset of HSV components, or antigens, to try to generate an immune response. And that may not be enough: One vaccine with that design failed to prevent HSV-2 infection in a clinical trial involving thousands of young women.

Some other experimental vaccines have used a live, weakened form of HSV, but have run into similar issues.

“They’ve essentially made the virus so ‘sick’ that it can’t illicit a strong immune response,” Pickard said.

The new approach, recently described in the journal npj Vaccines, might circumvent those problems.

For the study, the researchers tested a vaccine made with a live, weakened form of HSV-1 that has a key genetic edit: It prevents the virus from advancing into the nervous system, while allowing it to replicate outside nerve tissue, to draw an immune response.

In lab experiments with guinea pigs, the tactic showed promise.

Of 12 animals given skin injections of the vaccine, only one developed sores after being exposed to HSV-2. In contrast, sores cropped up in 10 of 12 guinea pigs given no vaccine, and in five of 12 given the vaccine that failed in the earlier, human clinical trial.

In addition, the modified vaccine cut the viral shedding period by more than half, from 29 days to about 13. That’s important, Pickard said, because in humans it’s the viral shedding that can transmit the infection, even when there are no sores present.

“The findings on viral shedding are positive,” agreed Warren, who was not involved in the research.

She said a big question is whether a version of the vaccine that uses HSV-2 — rather than HSV-1 — can be shown effective in animals.

The researchers are working on that. Pickard said they are encouraged by the fact that the current vaccine showed “cross-protection” against HSV-2: If anything, they anticipate that an HSV-2 version will be more effective.

The road to an approved vaccine, however, is a long and very expensive one.

The hope is to have a vaccine ready for initial, phase I human testing within a few years, according to Pickard.

More information

The American Sexual Health Association has more on herpes.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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New procedure shows promise for pain relief in shoulder, hip arthritis

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Nov. 16 (UPI) — A method of “stunning” nerves reduces pain by at least 70% in people with moderate to severe arthritis in their hip and shoulder joints, a study presented Monday during the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America found.

In the method, called cooled radio-frequency ablation, needles are placed on the main sensory nerves around the shoulder and hip joints, the researchers said.

The nerves, which cause the body to feel pain, are then treated with a low-grade current known as radio frequency that “stuns” them, slowing the transmission of pain to the brain, they said.

The procedure could help the need for potentially addictive opioid-based pain relievers in people with moderate to severe arthritis pain, the researchers said.

“We’re just scratching the surface here,” study co-author Dr. Felix M. Gonzalez said in a statement.

“We would like to explore efficacy of the treatment on patients in other settings like trauma, amputations and especially in cancer patients with metastatic disease,” said Gonzalez, a professor of radiology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Historically, people with moderate to severe pain related to osteoarthritis have had limited treatment options — including the injection of corticosteroids into the affected joints — that tend to grow less effective as the arthritis progresses and worsens, according to Gonzalez and his colleagues.

“Usually, over time patients become less responsive to these injections,” he said.

Without pain relief, patients with this form of arthritis face the possibility of joint replacement surgery, but many aren’t candidates for these procedures due to other, underling health reasons, the researchers said.

For this study, 23 people — 12 with shoulder pain and 11 with hip pain — with osteoarthritis underwent treatment, the researchers said.

All 23 study participants had pain become unresponsive to anti-inflammatory and corticosteroid treatment, they said.

After receiving cooled radio-frequency ablation, the participants completed surveys to measure their function, range of motion and degree of pain prior to and at three months following the procedure.

No procedure-related complications occurred, and participants in the hip and shoulder groups reported significant reductions in pain with corresponding increases in joint function after the treatment, the researchers said.

Based on survey responses, participants with shoulder pain reported an 85% decrease in pain and a 74% increase in function, on average, Gonzalez said.

Those with hip pain reported a 70% reduction in pain and a 66% gain in function, he said.

“Until recently, there was no other alternative for the treatment of patients at the end of the arthritis pathway who do not qualify for surgery or are unwilling to undergo a surgical procedure,” Gonzalez said.

“This procedure is a last resort for patients who are unable to be physically active and may develop a narcotic addiction,” he said.



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