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Monthly Archives: March 2017

Cell Phone Bad for Kids ?

Gone are the days of kids stretching the cord of the one house phone into a quiet corner to have some privacy while chatting with friends. Now kids as young as 5 years old are using cell phones.

Aside from concerns that cell phones give kids more phone privacy than you might be comfortable with, some parents are worried that cell phone radiation could be causing them physical harm. Cell phones emit low levels of electromagnetic radiation, and some are concerned that this can increase the risk for cancer and other health problems — and that children may be more vulnerable than the adult population because their brains are still developing. Also, over the course of their lifetime, they could be exposed to radiation for many more years than adults who started using cell phones much later in life.

Although several studies have been done on adults (and only adults), the results have been mixed and none has yet given a definitive answer to the question of whether cell phone use increases cancer risk. Even the largest study done to date couldn’t conclude that cell phones increase the incidence of tumors, but more, wider research is already in the works. Also, one large study involving children is under way.

What is a parent to do in the meantime? First, consider the existing research, and then make a game plan.

Cell Phone Radiation: The Research

In a recent, large study, researchers interviewed 5,117 adults in 13 countries with two of the most common types of brain tumors about their cell phone use. They found no increase in risk for brain tumors among people who used cell phones. Although those who had the highest exposure to cell phones may have had a higher risk for one particular type of brain tumor, the study authors said study biases and errors could have contributed to the results and they found it to be inconclusive.

Other studies have taken different approaches. “The best evidence comes from a surprising type of study,” says Anatoly Belilovsky, MD, medical director of Belilovsky Pediatrics in Brooklyn, N.Y. Most people have a favorite side to hold their cell phone, and researchers have compared the incidents of tumors on the favorite vs. the other side, he says. Having a tumor on the favorite side was anywhere from 1.3 to 6 times higher, Dr. Belilovsky reports. While 1.3 times is a very small increase in risk, 6 times higher is substantial, he adds. The findings also seem to suggest that people who use cell phones the most have a slightly higher risk of cancer on the same side they use it, he says.

The problem with cell phone studies is that there are so many other factors that cell phone use may be linked to and that could cause an increased cancer risk, such as job stress or being a business frequent flyer, which also exposes you to radiation, Belilovsky says.

Protect Your Kids From Potential Cell Phone Dangers

With so many unknowns, how do you answer your tween or teen’s plea for a cell phone? Here are some guidelines for parents:

Wait for a good reason to give kids their own cell phones. The age at which you give your kids phones depends on a lot of factors — need, affordability, and, yes, even how many of their friends have one.

The most important reason may be for safety. Gary Baker, a communications director in New York City, gave his twin boys cell phones in seventh grade when they were 11 and started taking public buses to school.

If there’s not a pressing reason, waiting may be a good idea. “You don’t want to leave them completely outside of their social group,” Belilovsky says. But it’s also not a good thing for them to develop a callus on their outer ear, he adds.

Allow texting. Actually talking on a cell phone is old-school for many kids. They’ve switched to texting, and that’s a good thing, Belilovsky says, because it keeps the phone away from their head.

Get a hands-free device. A cell phone emits radiation from its antenna, which is on the handset. Using a hands-free device will ensure that your kids aren’t putting the antenna next to their head when they talk.

Limit their minutes. Unlimited minutes may not be the best cell phone plan to choose if you’re concerned about health risks. It’s like giving your kids an open invitation to permanently attach the phone to their ear.

Put the cell phone to bed every night. One way to cut down on the amount of time your kids spend on the cell phones (and to help them get more sleep) is to make a rule that the phones go on a charger at bedtime. And make sure the charger is outside of their rooms. That’s what Baker did for his twin boys (who are now 12) when late-night phoning and texting started to become a problem.

Keep a land line at home. It may be a good rule of thumb to hold long conversations on a land line and tell your kids the cell phone is only to be used when they’re on the go or making a quick call.

Although results have been inconclusive, there’s no doubt that researchers will continue to study the potential effects cell phone radiation may have on kids’ brains. In the meantime, enforcing judicious cell phone use may be the best protection.

Cell Phones Affect Brain Activity

Holding a cell phone to your ear for a long period of time increases activity in parts of the brain close to the antenna, researchers have found.

Glucose metabolism — that’s a measurement of how the brain uses energy — in these areas increased significantly when the phone was turned on and muted, compared with when it was off, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“Although we cannot determine the clinical significance, our results give evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of radiofrequency-electromagnetic fields from acute cell phone exposures,” co-author Dr. Gene-Jack Wang of Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, where the study was conducted, told MedPage Today.

Although the study can’t draw conclusions about long-term implications, other researchers are calling the findings significant.

“Clearly there is an acute effect, and the important question is whether this acute effect is associated with events that may be damaging to the brain or predispose to the development of future problems such as cancer as suggested by recent epidemiological studies,” Dr. Santosh Kesari, director of neuro-oncology at the University of California San Diego, said in an e-mail to MedPage Today and ABC News.

There have been many population-based studies evaluating the potential links between brain cancer and cellphone use, and the results have often been inconsistent or inconclusive.

Most recently, the anticipated Interphone study was interpreted as “implausible” because some of its statistics revealed a significant protective effect for cell phone use. On the other hand, the most intense users had an increased risk of glioma — but the researchers called their level of use “unrealistic.”

But few researchers have looked at the actual physiological effects that radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from the devices can have on brain tissue. Some have shown that blood flow can be increased in specific brain regions during cell phone use, but there’s been little work on effects at the level of the brain’s neurons.

So Dr. Volkow and colleagues conducted a crossover study at Brookhaven National Laboratory, enrolling 47 patients who had one cell phone placed on each ear while they lay in a PET scanner for 50 minutes.

The researchers scanned patients’ brain glucose metabolism twice — once with the right cell phone turned on but muted, and once with both phones turned off.

There was no difference in whole-brain metabolism whether the phone was on or off.

But glucose metabolism in the regions closest to the antenna — the orbitofrontal cortex and the temporal pole — was significantly higher when the phone was turned on.

Further analyses confirmed that the regions expected to have the greatest absorption of radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields from cell phone use were indeed the ones that showed the larger increases in glucose metabolism.

“Even though the radio frequencies that are emitted from current cell phone technologies are very weak, they are able to activate the human brain to have an effect,” Dr. Volkow said in a JAMA video report.

The effects on neuronal activity could be due to changes in neurotransmitter release, cell membrane permeability, cell excitability, or calcium efflux.

It’s also been theorized that heat from cell phones can contribute to functional brain changes, but that is probably less likely to be the case, the researchers said.

Dr. Wang noted that the implications remain unclear — “further studies are needed to assess if the effects we observed could have potential long-term consequences,” he said — but the researchers have not yet devised a follow-up study.

“The take-home message,” Dr. Kesair said, “is that we still don’t know, more studies are needed, and in the meantime users should try to use headsets and reduce cell phone use if at all possible. Restricting cell phone use in young children certainly is not unreasonable.”

Medical Leech Linked to Infection

A resistant Aeromonas infection transmitted by a medicinal leech developed in a man undergoing reconstructive surgery of the jaw, leading to total failure of the graft, investigators reported.

“Leech therapy is the most effective nonsurgical management of soft-tissue venous congestion,” explained Dr. Brian Nussenbaum, of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and colleagues.

However, because a bug — Aeromonas hydrophila — lives in the gut of leeches where this bacteria aids in the digestion of blood, infections can occur in as many as 20 percent of patients treated with medical leeches, according to a report in the February Archives of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

So to prevent infection, researchers are recommending that when medical leeches are used, patients should be given antibiotics, preferably Cipro (ciprofloxacin) or Septra (trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole).

The patient was a 56-year-old man undergoing a reconstructive procedure for a large benign tumor in his jaw. He was given ampicillin-sulbactam as prophylaxis.

Approximately 24 hours after the surgery, he developed a condition called acute venous congestion, meaning a lack of blood supply that turns skin and tissue blue, in the area of the surgery.

In preparation for revision of the surgery, which revealed widespread clot formation, the patient was given 400 mg of intravenous ciprofloxacin and three leeches were applied to the area.

The surgery appeared to have been successful, but despite maintenance therapy with ciprofloxacin, 48 hours later purulent secretions appeared, and cultures with sensitivity testing identified a strain of A. hydrophila that was resistant to both trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and ciprofloxacin.

Ciprofloxacin was withdrawn and the fourth-generation cephalosporin, cefepime, was prescribed.

The wound did not heal completely and eight months later the patient required a second reconstruction eight months later.

To determine the source of this resistant infection, Nussenbaum’s group conducted a two-part investigation.

First, to see if the infection was acquired within their hospital, they performed cultures on samples of water from their leech tank — and found that all samples were susceptible to multiple antimicrobials, including ciprofloxacin and trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole.

They also noted that no other resistant Aeromonas infections had been seen at their institution.

“This practice-based investigation suggests that this strain was not acquired within our hospital,” they stated.

They then conducted a broader investigation, contacting various organizations including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Emerging Infections Network, finding that no other cases of similar resistant infections associated with medical leeches had been reported.

The leech supplier also reported careful maintenance of holding tanks, although antibiotic resistance tests were not routinely done.

The investigators found, however, that ciprofloxacin-resistant strains of Aeromonashad been identified from environmental sources such as drinking water in Turkey, a lake in Switzerland, and the Seine River.

These isolates contained a plasmid encoding fluoroquinolone resistance, which had previously only been found in Enterobacteriaceae.

“These findings suggest the possibility of emerging ciprofloxacin resistance in environmental water supplies, which is concerning,” observed Nussenbaum and colleagues.

Limitations of the study included the investigators’ inability to culture the gut contents of other leeches from the same batch, and the lack of specimens that could be tested for the presence of the resistance-conferring plasmid.

The study suggests that, although resistance to trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole and ciprofloxacin is rare in A. hydrophila, it can occur and should be considered when antibiotic prophylaxis is undertaken, according to the investigators.

“Surgeons using leech therapy should be aware of this possibility and collaborate with infectious disease specialists in their hospital to determine appropriate antibiotic prophylaxis on local resistance patterns,” they cautioned.

Why You Need a Health Emergency Fund

Even with good health insurance, a health emergency or a prolonged illness can be a financial disaster. Health insurance deductibles, co-payments, emergency room costs, and other costs of illness can add up in a hurry.

A health savings account (HSA) is one way you can put aside tax-free money for a health emergency. HSAs were established in 2003. If you are covered by a type of insurance known as a high-deductible insurance plan, you can make tax-deductible contributions to an HSA. Your employer may also make tax-deductible contributions.

“An HSA account is very different from having a general emergency fund account,” says Joseph J. Porco, managing member of the Financial Security Group, LLC, in Newtown, Conn. “An emergency fund is about more than just out-of-pocket medical expenses. If possible, it’s a good idea to have both.”

How Much of an Emergency Fund Do You Need?

For an older adult, a health emergency might result in the need for long-term care, possibly for the rest of the senior’s life. For a young adult supporting a family, a medical emergency might be much more than just the cost of illness. Your health emergency could cause a disability that results in loss of income over an extended period. That means you should save enough to cover all your expenses.

“Most advisers would say you should have enough emergency funds saved to cover your family expenses for three to six months. I would recommend trying to put enough aside to cover all your expenses, not just health expenses, for 6 to 12 months,” says Porco.

How much you need for a health emergency and how much you can actually put into an emergency fund will depend on your family size, your income, your health status, and your age. But your first step is to understand your health insurance situation.

“The best way to start is to sit down with a financial adviser and figure out what your insurance actually covers and what it doesn’t cover. What are your insurance limits? What kind of medical bills might arise that you would be responsible for? Get some expert advice on how best to cover your actual needs,” advises Porco.

What Insurance May Not Cover

How much insurance companies actually pay for accidents, cancer treatment, or surgery depends on what kind of insurance you have, but there are usually limits. Here are some facts to consider:

  • Cost of illness. Most insurance companies have a cap on how much they will pay for a long-term illness. A recent survey found that 10 percent of people with cancer have hit their lifetime cap and are no longer covered by insurance. Looking forward, however, the new health care reform law will eliminate caps on lifetime insurance by 2014.
  • Emergency room cost. If you have an accident that requires emergency treatment and you end up in an emergency room outside your insurance network, you may not be covered. One study found that HMOs in California denied one out of every six claims for emergency room costs.
  • Surgical coverage. You may be surprised at what your insurance company considers non-covered surgery. There can be a big gray area between covered “reconstructive” surgery and uncovered “cosmetic” surgery. Even when surgery is covered, your deductible may be $500 or more, and you may still be responsible for up to 25 percent or more of surgical costs, depending on the specifics of your plan.

How to Save for a Health Emergency

Once you know what your insurance actually covers and how much you need to put away for an emergency, the next question is where to put it. “Money that you put aside for a health emergency needs to be liquid and secure,” says Porco. “That means you need to be able to get it when you need it.”

And your money needs to remain liquid. “Those who fail to set up an emergency fund may find themselves running up credit card debts to cover their expenses. The last thing you need is to be paying interest on your emergency,” warns Porco.

Examples of places to put your emergency fund include an interest-bearing checking or savings account, money market fund, or bond fund. Don’t tie your money up in anything that would penalize you for early withdrawals or any investment or account that has the potential for loss.

Practical Ways to Save

There are many different ways to approach starting — and adding to — your health emergency savings. “You can take advantage of a health savings account if this is offered at your job, but start a general emergency fund also,” suggests Porco.

Here are more health savings tips:

  • Put any money you get from a tax refund or earned income credit into your health savings fund.
  • Ask your bank or credit union to automatically transfer funds into your emergency account.
  • Explain the importance of an emergency fund to your family and get everyone involved in cutting back on unnecessary expenditures.

Remember, while HSA accounts are useful, a general emergency fund is equally important. Whether it is a health emergency that involves an uncovered emergency room cost or a prolonged illness like cancer, the actual cost of illness may end up being much more than your out-of-pocket health costs if you’re unable to work. Sit down with a financial adviser and find out what you can do to better insulate yourself from a health emergency.