New Test Can Differentiate Between Tick-borne Illnesses

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Time is of the essence in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Fortunately, one new test may be able to help. A report on the test was published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Ticks and the diseases they carry are on the rise. One 2016 study found deer ticks—the species that carries Lyme disease—in more than half of the counties in the United States.

The two most common tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. are Lyme disease and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). Although their initial symptoms can be the same, they’re caused by different pathogens; Lyme disease comes from infection with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi. We don’t know what causes STARI.

"It is extremely important to be able to tell a patient they have Lyme disease as early as possible so they can be treated as quickly as possible," microbiologist and first author Claudia Molins of the CDC said in a statement. "Most Lyme disease infections are successfully treated with a two- to three-week course of oral antibiotics." Infections that aren't treated can lead to fevers, facial paralysis, heart palpitations, nerve pain, arthritis, short-term memory loss, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

But to date, scientists have yet to create an accurate, consistent early test for Lyme disease, which means people must often wait until they’re very ill. And it’s hard to test for the STARI pathogen when we don’t know what it is.

One team of researchers led by experts at Colorado State University was determined to find a better way. They realized that, rather than looking for pathogens, they could look at the way a person’s body responded to the pathogens.

They analyzed blood samples from patients with both early-stage Lyme disease and STARI. Their results showed that while all patients’ immune systems had mounted a response, the nature of that response was different.

"We have found that all of these infections and diseases are associated with an inflammatory response, but the alteration of the immune response, and the metabolic profiles aren't all the same," senior author John Belisle of CSU said.

Two distinct profiles emerged. The team had found physical evidence, or biomarkers, for each illness: a way to tell one disease from another.

Belisle notes that there’s still plenty of work to do.

"The focus of our efforts is to develop a test that has a much greater sensitivity, and maintains that same level of specificity," Belisle said. "We don't want people to receive unnecessary treatment if they don't have Lyme disease, but we want to identify those who have the disease as quickly as possible."

Doctors at a British Hospital Are Now Prescribing Houseplants for Depression

Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images
Halfpoint/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t have to take a trip to the countryside to reap the mental health benefits of being around nature—a single plant might just do the trick (as long as you can keep it alive).

Fast Company reports that the Cornbrook Medical Practice in Manchester, England, is one of the first in the country to prescribe houseplants to help treat anxiety and depression. It’s part of a horticultural therapy program led by a local nonprofit called Sow the City, which leads initiatives to foster community gardens in Manchester.

It’s just as much about building a sense of community through gardening as it is about the therapeutic advantages of caring for your own house plants. “There’s evidence that people who are socially isolated have worse health outcomes,” Sow the City director Jon Ross told Fast Company. The organization has also assisted Cornbrook Medical Practice in establishing its own herb garden, which patients are welcome to help maintain. Ross and his team work closely with doctors at different offices to optimize each garden for its particular clientele—sometimes, that means building a small, flora-filled sanctuary that’s just for rest and relaxation.

Other times, it’s a fully-fledged vegetable garden. For a “Hospital Beds” program at another hospital, Sow the City installed raised vegetable beds where long-term mental illness patients can soak in some sunlight, socialize with each other, and take pride in seeing the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors flourish. There’s an added physical health benefit, too: The patients get to eat the produce. “We really don’t have good food in our public hospitals,” Ross said.

Sow the City also makes sure that no green thumbs are necessary to participate in any gardening party. Its members populate the gardens with already-healthy, easy-to-tend plants, and they’ll even train patients on how to care for them.

If you’re thinking a garden might improve your own quality of life—doctor’s orders or not—here are 10 easy-to-grow plants for first-time gardeners.

[h/t Fast Company]

You’re Probably Brushing Your Teeth All Wrong

busracavus/iStock via Getty Images
busracavus/iStock via Getty Images

No matter how much you hate brushing your teeth, there's no getting around it: Regular brushing helps you maintain a healthy mouth as well as a healthy heart. But even if you've been doing it since you were tall enough to reach your bathroom sink, there's a chance you're not brushing your teeth properly. Fortunately, improving your brushing habits can be as simple as tweaking your technique and taking an extra minute out of your day.

According to Popular Science, the key to productive brushing is duration. Both the American Dental Association and the British Dental Association recommend brushing for at least two minutes at a time twice a day—usually in the morning and at night. Two minutes may not sound like a long time, but unless you're counting down the seconds, it's hard to know exactly how long you've brushed. The easiest fix for this is setting a timer: That way, you can brush mindlessly without worrying about when to stop.

That's not to say every brushing session that hits the two-minute mark will have the same results. When you brush, your goal should be to clean every tooth without abusing your gums. That means gently sweeping the bristles in short, back-and-forth motions at a 45-degree angle to your gums. If your gums feel sore, even after you switch to a gentler technique, the problem may lie in the brush itself. Make sure you choose a tool with soft bristles, as stiff bristles will only cause damage to the sensitive areas of your mouth.

Sometimes even setting a timer, upgrading your toothbrush, and improving your technique isn't enough to combat the central problem of oral hygiene: It isn't very exciting. The more you dislike brushing your teeth, the less likely you are to do it, so you should find any opportunity you can to make it a more rewarding experience. One trick is listening to your toothbrush sounds: Research has shown that people who listened to audio of their brushing played back to them felt cleaner and more accomplished afterwards.

[h/t Popular Science]

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