Originally created 01/18/01

Capsules



Breathing easier

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says 20 questions can help determine if you have asthma, which now affects an estimated 17 million Americans.

The college devised the test, called the Life Quality test or LQ Test, because many people are unaware they have the lung disorder.

Questions range from whether you have breathing problems when doing simple chores, to tightness in the chest, to waking up with coughing attacks. People who answer "yes" to many of the questions are at risk and should consult a physician. The test can be taken on the college's Web site (http://allergy.mcg.edu).

Reducing risks

If you already have your flu shot, pat yourself on the back: You may also be reducing your risk of having a heart attack.

A study of 218 heart patients found that those who had flu shots during the 1997-98 flu season had only one-third the risk of a second heart attack of patients who did not receive a shot, said Morteza Naghavi of the University of Texas-Houston Health Sciences Center.

Although the study involved heart patients, the potential protective effect could apply to people in general, Dr. Naghavi reported in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Flu shots may reduce the risk of a heart attack by preventing infection from reaching coronary arteries. Infections are now recognized as a potential cause of heart disease.

Pacifier problems

Long thought to be harmless, pacifiers may be contributing to the increase in a common childhood ear infection known as acute otitis media, Finnish researchers say.

A program designed by the researchers to get parents to restrict pacifier use to only a short period before sleep resulted in a 23 percent decrease in the infection, they reported in Pediatrics, a publication of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There were 24.5 million episodes of acute otitis media in the United States in 1990, a 250 percent increase since 1975. Although it is not known how pacifier use may increase the risk of ear infections, the researchers speculate that they may affect the function of the Eustachian tube, possibly allowing infections to take hold.

"As AOM is such a common disease during childhood, even small changes in children's everyday habits may have major effects on its occurrence," said Dr. Marjo Niemelaof Finland's University of Oulu.

Vital vitamin A

The right dose of a chemical cousin to vitamin A is crucial for an embryo's development, two new studies in mice suggest. Scientists have genetically engineered mice to lack an enzyme that controls the levels of retinoic acid. Without the enzyme, severe malformations resulted; in the worst cases, the mouse's back legs were fused together, forming a "mermaid" tail.

Two teams of scientists - one from Japan and Canada and the other from Canada and France - published the new research in the latest issue of Genes and Development.

Gene misspelling

Some early birds can chalk up their unusual sleep schedule to a gene that affects the body's daily rhythms, a new study suggests.

Scientists have discovered a genetic misspelling in a family full of people who fall asleep about 7:30 p.m. and wake up at about 4:30 a.m.

The misspelling lies in a gene called hPer2, one of several genes thought to contribute to the internal body clock that keeps track of the rising and setting of the sun. Discovery of the misspelling could tell scientists more about the effects of jet lag, shift work and other sleep disorders. The research, performed at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, appears in the latest issue of the journal Science.

Galactic study

Astronomers are learning about the Milky Way by photographing another galaxy - a spiral one, like our own - 2.5 million light-years away.

New pictures taken at radio wavelengths reveal the Pinwheel Galaxy, or M33, in greater detail than ever before. Astronomers used telescopes near Socorro, N.M., and in the Netherlands to record radio waves emitted by hydrogen gas in the galaxy's stars.

The image shows how the galaxy is rotating; red represents the side that is moving away from Earth and blue the side that is approaching Earth.

The scientists released the pictures last week in San Diego at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The Pinwheel is 60,000 light-years across, half the size of the Milky Way.