Health Buzz: Whooping Cough Epidemic Strikes California

Americans eating too much salt; vitamin D may do nothing to lower cancer odds.

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Whooping Cough Epidemic Strikes California

Whooping cough is being declared an epidemic in California, with state health officials saying the infection has sickened 910 children since January, four times the number of confirmed cases this time last year, the Los Angeles Times reports. The number could climb to more than 1,500 cases as local health departments continue to investigate.

Whooping cough, or pertussis, is a bacterial infection that causes a very distinctive cough and cold-like symptoms. A vaccine for pertussis has long held it in check. Within the last 30 years, however, U.S. pertussis cases have been increasing, according to a U.S. News report earlier this month. The infection is usually mild in adults and children, but in infants, pertussis may be life-threatening. Pneumonia, seizures, and brain damage are additional dangers. DTaP, a combination vaccine that also shields against tetanus and diphtheria, is given to children in five doses: once at ages 2, 4, and 6 months, once between 12 and 18 months, and once between 4 and 6 years old. Because the vaccine's benefits wane over time—and because infants under 2 months are not protected—adults and healthcare workers who are in regular contact with infants are advised to get a whooping cough booster, the Tdap, to avoid spreading the infection. [Read more: 7 Nasty Germs That Could Land Your Kid in the Hospital—and How to Avoid Them.]

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  • CDC Report Finds 90% of Americans Get Too Much Salt

    Nine out of 10 Americans eat too much salt, says a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But salt is tricky to avoid, experts say, since 80 percent of the sodium we consume comes from processed foods, HealthDay reports.

    How much salt is too much? In January, Walter Willett, U.S. News's Health Advice expert in nutrition, weighed in. Studies over the past decade have shown unequivocally that reductions in sodium will benefit almost everyone in the United States by lowering blood pressure, even if people do not technically have hypertension, Willett wrote.

    Because reductions in blood pressure reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, it is estimated that many tens of thousands of deaths could be prevented each year if Americans were to reduce their average intake from about 3,500 mg per day to the recommended upper limit of 2,300 mg per day for adults. This would mean reducing intake from about 1 1/2 teaspoons per day to 1 teaspoon per day. Unfortunately, Willett wrote, Americans don't see most of the salt they eat because it is added in the processing and preparation of foods. For example, the single greatest source of salt in the U.S. diet is bread, not usually thought of as a salty food. [Read more: The Skinny On Salt. How Much Is Too Much?]

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    • Vitamin D May Do Nothing to Lower Cancer Odds

      A new analysis suggests that while getting enough vitamin D is beneficial, it may not protect against certain cancers, as some had hoped. A study of more than 12,000 adults revealed that those with higher-than-normal blood levels of the vitamin were no less likely to develop some cancers, including those of the stomach, kidney, ovary, and pancreas, HealthDay reports. Low levels of vitamin D did not appear to boost cancer risk either, researchers reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

      Experts still don't agree on what an "optimal" level of vitamin D might be or whether raising levels actually prevents disease, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz wrote in March. Vitamin D researcher Robert Heaney, a professor of medicine at Creighton University in Nebraska, said most researchers agree that blood levels should be at least 30 nanograms/milliliter to protect bones, but some scientists think these levels should be higher—perhaps 40 ng/ml or more to provide protection against diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.