Popular People Get Flu First, Study Says
Perhaps popularity isn't all it's cracked up to be: Popular people tend to catch flu first, new research suggests. People with the most social connections came down with the virus earlier than their less-popular peers, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE. Researchers followed nearly 800 students at Harvard University throughout the 2009 flu season. Half were randomly selected; the other half were named as friends by those in the original group. The health of students in both groups was monitored through self-reporting and data from Harvard's health center. The social butterflies got flu two to six weeks earlier than the other group, depending on the method of flu detection used, The Wall Street Journal reports. "We think this may have significant implications for public health," study author Nicholas Christakis said in a Harvard press release. By monitoring the health of socially-connected people, experts could potentially predict how serious a flu outbreak will be, he says.
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Corn Industry Proposes Name Change for High-Fructose Corn Syrup
The Corn Refiners Association has petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to let manufacturers call high-fructose corn syrup "corn sugar" on food labels to clear up what the group says is confusion among consumers who believe it isn't as natural as sugar. The move comes as some food and soda makers have begun replacing high-fructose corn syrup with sugar out of concern about a link between the syrup and obesity. Sales of high-fructose corn syrup are at a 20-year low. Kraft Foods, for instance, has removed it from its Bull's-Eye Barbecue Sauce, most of its salad dressings, and nearly all varieties of Wheat Thins and Nabisco 100 Calorie Packs. Contrary to public perception, evidence does not suggest the sweetener is worse for the body than sugar, the Associated Press reports. However, some experts have linked full-calorie soda to obesity, and most of those drinks are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup. The FDA could take two years to decide on the name, but the Corn Refiners Association is already using "corn sugar" in its advertising.
Skip the PSA Test for Prostate Cancer?
Prostate cancer is more common than breast cancer is in women and poses a similar death risk, but women have pretty clear-cut recommendations about screening and treatment for breast cancer while men are often left with difficult and confusing choices. Several new studies don't exactly clarify matters, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz writes. One published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal found that the widely used PSA test, which measures the amount of prostate specific antigen in the blood, not only doesn't save lives but also increases the risk of being treated for cancers that aren't life-threatening. Two other studies, one in BMJ and another in the journal Cancer, suggest that regular PSA screening may be useful—but only in men determined to be at increased risk of prostate cancer.
"If all men get screened for prostate cancer and all of those with low-risk disease get treated, there's simply going to be too many treatments that are unjustifiable," says prostate cancer researcher Matthew Nielsen, assistant professor of surgery at UNC School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. That is why the American Cancer Society stopped recommending routine PSA screening more than a decade ago and last March declared that men should talk to their doctors about the pros and cons of PSA testing before choosing to be screened. The studies out this week suggest that men in their 50s might want to have a baseline PSA test to determine if they are candidates for routine screening. Those with somewhat elevated levels—which studies define as above 2 or 4 nanograms per milliliter—are more likely to develop life-threatening prostate cancers than are those with lower levels and may benefit most from yearly PSA testing to see if levels continue to rise. [Read more: Skip the PSA Test for Prostate Cancer?]
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