Health Highlights: Feb. 13, 2018

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Some Genes Remain Active After Death: Study

Some genes keep working after a person dies, researchers say.

They analyzed samples from a number of people within 24 hours after death and said their findings provide important data for other scientists and might lead to a new forensic tool for criminal investigations, BBC News reported.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

It’s not clear why some genes remained active after death, but one possible explanation was offered by study author Roderic Guigo, a computational biologist at the Barcelona Institute for Science and Technology in Spain.

“I would guess that one of the major changes is due to the cessation of flow of blood, therefore I would say probably the main environmental change is hypoxia, the lack of oxygen, but I don’t have the proof for this,” Guigo told BBC News.

He said much more work is needed before this research might prove useful in criminal investigations.

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Experts Slam Study Linking Ultrasound and Autism

There is significant controversy over a study that found a possible link between autism and ultrasounds during pregnancy.

The Boston Medical Center study included 107 children with autism and 313 without the disorder and found no association between autism risk and the number or length of ultrasounds the children’s mothers had during pregnancy, CNN reported.

But the researchers did say they found a statistical association between autism and deep ultrasound wave penetration during the first and second trimesters, according to the study published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“Depth of penetration has to do with the distance between the ultrasound transducer (probe) on the skin and the point at what you’re looking at on the ultrasound,” study co-author Dr. Jodi Abbott explained.

But depth of penetration is the farthest down the ultrasound beam reaches, according to an expert who was not involved in the study.

“It has nothing to do with where the fetus and his/her parts are. The depth could indicate 20 centimeters and the fetus be at 12 centimeters,” Dr. Jacques Abramowicz, chair of the safety committee of the World Federation of Ultrasound in Medicine and Biology, told CNN.

“As the ultrasound penetrates the tissues, it actually loses energy,” Abramowicz said. “The difference between the groups of children is minimal in terms of the depth. And clinically not significant.”

Study first author Dr. N. Paul Rosman, a pediatric neurologist, stressed that an association does not prove cause and effect, meaning that the study findings do not mean ultrasound causes autism.

He said the study should be viewed “critically” because it did examine a number of factors that might affect a fetus, including whether the mother became ill or smoked during pregnancy, CNN reported.

“We think this study was done well, but there are deficiencies, and that’s why we call for additional studies,” Rosman said.

Other experts said no firm conclusions can be drawn from the study because its methodology was not rigorous enough, CNN reported.

Other researchers say that the methodology of the study was not rigorous enough to draw firm conclusions and that pregnant women should not have concerns about undergoing a medically necessary ultrasound exam.

“Unfortunately, the authors do not appear to know what is meant by the ultrasound penetration depth. It does not relate to the amount of ultrasound entering the body,” Dr. Marvin Ziksin, a professor of radiology and medical physics at Temple University, told CNN.

“The factors that determine the amount of ultrasound entering the body, and what would affect the fetus, are the mechanical index, the thermal index, and ultrasound power and intensity, for which no significant differences were found,” Ziskin explained. “The amount of ultrasound imparted into pregnant patients has no association with autism spectrum disorder.”

The experts not involved in the research also took issue with the study authors’ claim that ultrasound technology is “minimally regulated,” CNN reported.

“It is extremely regulated, particularly in the United States, with the Food and Drug Administration looking very closely at the machines.” Abramowicz said.

It is true that the use of ultrasound is less regulated, but any patient whose ultrasound exam is done by a qualified medical technician is safe.

However, Abramowicz agrees with the American Pregnancy Association that pregnant women should never get a “keepsake” ultrasound from the growing number of services in shopping malls or other commercial locations in the U.S.

The new study does not provide “enough evidence to make a recommendation for or against ultrasound,” Thomas Frazier, chief science offers of Autism Speaks, told CNN.

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Opioid Painkiller Makers Gave Millions to Patient Advocacy Groups: Report

The United States’ largest makers of opioid painkillers paid patient advocacy groups millions of dollars to help promote use of the drugs, according to a Senate report.

It found that between 2012 and 2017, Purdue Pharma LP, Janssen, Mylan, Depomed and Insys paid nearly $9 million to 14 patient advocacy groups, CNN reported.

The US Pain Foundation received the largest amount, nearly $3 million, and the Academy of Integrative Pain Management and the American Academy of Pain Medicine each received about $1.2 million.

Purdue Pharma provided nearly half ($4.1 million) of the nearly $9 million in payments handed out by the opioid makers, CNN reported.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee report also said that the companies paid $1.6 million to physicians affiliated with the patient advocacy groups since 2013.

The report is the second in in a committee investigation into the marketing and sales practices of opioid manufacturers. The first report, released in September, said the drug makers falsified medical records, misled insurance companies and provided kickbacks to doctors, CNN reported.

The investigation is being led by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri.

“The pharmaceutical industry spent a generation downplaying the risks of opioid addiction and trying to expand their customer base for these incredibly dangerous medications and this report makes clear they made investments in third-party organizations that could further those goals,” McCaskill said in a statement.

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Sony Apologizes For Food Allergy Scene in ‘Peter Rabbit’

Sony Pictures has apologized for a scene in the movie “Peter Rabbit” that was widely condemned by parents of children with food allergies and allergy awareness groups.

In the scene, rabbits throw blackberries at a man who is allergic to the berries. He suffers a severe allergic reaction and has to use an adrenaline injector, NBC News reported.

The scene, which prompted some parents and allergy activists to boycott the movie and demand an apology from Sony, is a “socially irresponsible depiction in a movie aimed at children,” said Globalaai, an Australian not-for-profit charity for allergy awareness.

Sony Pictures and the filmmakers issued a joint apology on Sunday, NBC News reported.

“Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s archnemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way,” the apology states. “We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”

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Bogus Calls Are Claiming to Be From National Poison Help Hotline

Americans are being warned about unsolicited, bogus calls that claim to be from the National Poison Help Hotline.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) said it has received reports from Poison Control Centers across the country of individuals and healthcare providers receiving unsolicited calls from a caller ID badge identified as the National Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-2222, but these are not legitimate calls.

The AAPCC said the types of calls have included silence, robo-calls, aggression, and asking for money or personal information.

In some cases, the caller has identified himself as “Justin” or has been said to have a Caribbean-sounding accent. In many cases, the caller targets the elderly, suggesting that they have little time left to live, according to the AAPCC.

It said poison control centers never ask for personal information such as a social security number or credit card information and only call individuals to follow up on medical issues.

Anyone who receives this type of call should contact the National Poison Help Hotline at 1-800-222-1222 and provide as much detail as possible, the AAPCC said.

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