DNA Technology to Change Newborn Screening for Cystic Fibrosis

shutterstock_245684617(1)Cystic fibrosis is the most common fatal genetic disease in the country. However, advances continue to be made in screening and care. For example, Stanford University scientists recently announced that they have devised a DNA test that is more accurate and comprehensive in screening newborns for the disease.

What is Cystic Fibrosis?

Cystic fibrosis is a condition that causes mucus to build up in the lungs and pancreas as well as in other organs. This leads to frequent lung infections and often results in the need for lifetime treatment. Cystic fibrosis affects one in every 3,900 American babies, and the average lifespan of someone living with cystic fibrosis is 37.

Screening For Cystic Fibrosis

Newborns are screened for cystic fibrosis in every state, but screenings aren’t always accurate, which means that missed cases do occur. A baby that is misdiagnosed as not having cystic fibrosis won’t be treated, which means that the baby is at risk of dying because they weren’t properly diagnosed. According to researchers, the new method of screening for cystic fibrosis will not only be more efficient, but also more cost-effective. There’s also a chance that this new method will help improve screening for non-white babies, who are typically much more difficult to diagnose.

The disease is caused by a defect in the CFTR gene. The CFTR gene is what regulates the movement of water and salt from the cells of the body. Current genetic screens in the state of California look for 40 of the most common CFTR gene mutations in newborns, but there are at least 2,000 known mutations that could result in the development of cystic fibrosis.

The new screening method looks at the entire CFTR gene instead of just selected mutations. The test can be done by using a small amount of blood drawn from the newborn heel stick test that is already used for other disease screenings, thereby helping to reduce testing times and costs.

New screening methods could help cut down on missed cases of cystic fibrosis. Visit us at the Benefits Store today for more health news and for health insurance advice.

FDA Alert: Cosmetic Clay Presents Lead Poisoning Risk

lead poisoning chemicalIt is currently Poison Prevention Month, which was put into place in order to raise awareness of poisonous substances, thereby improving the ability to prevent and treat poison exposures such as lead poisoning. According to a recent alert released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), one consumer product recently discovered to be a poison risk is a cosmetic clay called Bentonite Me Baby.

Bentonite Me Baby Could Cause Lead Poisoning

Bentonite Me Baby is a cosmetic clay that is sold online as well as at major retail outlets throughout the country, including Amazon.com and Target. According to the producer of Bentonite Me Baby, Alikay Naturals, the cosmetic clay is supposed to purify and clarify skin and hair. It is produced from aged volcanic ash and is supposed to be applied to the face once a week and to the hair no more than twice a month. Tests done by the FDA revealed that the clay contained high levels of lead. As a result, the FDA warns consumers against using the product.

Lead poisoning can cause damage to the central nervous system, the immune system and the kidneys. Children that are exposed to lead poisoning may suffer from behavioral and thinking problems. The FDA was warned of the potential high level of lead in the cosmetic clay by the Minnesota Department of Health. So far, there have been no cases of lead poisoning involving the clay.

Contacting a Poison Control Center

There are 55 poison control centers located around the country, all of which are supported by the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Anyone who is worried about having used the Bentonite Me Baby cosmetic clay can call a poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for free and confidential medical advice. The service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is a great resource for obtaining information about poisoning and can also help reduce costly hospital visits by providing in-home treatment advice.

Here at the Benefits Store, we strive to provide California residents with up-to-date news and information that could affect their health in addition to professional health insurance advice.

Prevention and Detection: Tax-Related Identity Theft

identity theft picThe final deadline for filing your tax returns is coming up soon. Before you file your taxes, make sure that you are taking precautions against identity theft. Tax-related identity theft continues to be a problem that the IRS is attempting to deal with. They have taken numerous steps to help protect taxpayers and assist victims of identity theft and refund fraud.

How Does Tax-Related Identity Theft Occur?

If your social security number is stolen by someone, then that person can use the number to file a fraudulent tax return in order to claim a refund. Your social security number can be stolen in several different ways, such as via a computer hack, a data breach or even through the physical theft of your social security card. Identity theft only affects a small percentage of tax returns, but if it occurs, it can cause a significant delay in your rightful tax refund.

How Can You Prevent Tax-Related Identity Theft?

The following are steps that you can take in order to prevent your social security number from being stolen and used for tax-related identity theft:

  • Never carry your social security card or any documents that contain your social security number on your person—even if it’s in your wallet. Leave it at home in a safe place and only bring it with you if it is needed for a specific reason. The same goes for your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number.
  • Be very careful about giving out your social security number or your Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. Just because a business asks for it doesn’t always mean you need to give it out.
  • Go over your credit report every year to make sure there are no discrepancies.
  • Use firewalls and anti-virus software to protect your computer against hacks.

If more than one tax return was filed on your behalf, if you owe additional tax, or if IRS records state you received more wages than you earned, you may be a victim of tax-related identity theft. Be sure to protect yourself against identity theft with our ID Shield, available at our Benefits Store.

Yolo County: Confirmed Case of Zika Joins Others in California

shutterstock_363993479For those who don’t know, there has been an outbreak of a new virus known as Zika throughout many parts of the world. The Zika virus is spread via infected mosquitoes belonging to the Aedes species. While being infected with the Zika virus is rarely deadly—in fact, symptoms can be relatively mild—it has been discovered that pregnant women who are infected give birth to babies with serious neurological birth defects. Although the Zika outbreak has occurred mostly in Brazil, a recent Zika case was confirmed in Yolo County.

Yolo County Zika Case

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that an individual recently tested positive for the Zika virus after returning to Yolo County from another country. Many health professionals have recommended that pregnant women avoid traveling to areas where the Zika virus has been found; however, people are now beginning to worry about the virus spreading from Latin America into parts of California.

Adding to that particular worry is the fact that the Los Angeles Daily News recently reported that the Southern California mosquitoes, which are small black and white striped mosquitoes, can carry the Zika virus as well. Even though these mosquitoes are found across the state and despite the fact that a Zika virus case was recently reported, health officials still believe that an outbreak of the Zika virus throughout the state of California is highly unlikely.

Safety Precautions

Even though a Zika virus outbreak is reported to be highly unlikely, it is still a good idea to take precautions. Women who are pregnant should reconsider traveling to areas where Zika outbreaks have been reported. Zika outbreaks have occurred throughout South America as well as Mexico. Anyone that has traveled to these locations and has shown symptoms of the Zika virus, which include mild fever, joint pain, rash, headaches and conjunctivitis, should be tested as the Zika virus can be sexually transmitted as well.

Here at the Benefits Store, we aim to provide California residents with up-to-date information about important health news in addition to providing health insurance advice.

New Electrical Forehead Patch Could Treat PTSD

shutterstock_256470055It was recently discovered in a new trial that a treatment called eTNS (external trigeminal nerve stimulation) used for epilepsy and depression could potentially help to reduce the severity of chronic PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). eTNS is a wearable electrical brain stimulator—basically a patch that is worn on the forehead powered by a 9-volt battery.

The way the eTNS works is that it sends a weak electrical current through the patch while the patient is sleeping. The current helps to stimulate the cranial nerves running through the forehead. This, in turn, results in signals being sent to the parts of the brain that control thinking, behavior and mood. These parts of the brain also include the amygdala, the autonomic nervous system and the medial prefrontal cortex, all of which display abnormal activity in patients suffering from PTSD.

Promising Trial Results

The trial consisted of 12 patients with the average age of 53 suffering from PTSD. These patients were survivors of domestic abuse, car accidents, rape and other traumatic events. They underwent eight weeks of eTNS outpatient treatment by wearing the patch for eight hours every night as they slept. These patients continued previous treatments of their PTSD as they underwent the trial—treatments that included medication, psychotherapy or both. The patients completed a questionnaire before and after the trial that the researchers could use in order to assess how severe their symptoms were prior to the eTNS treatment and compare them to their symptoms following the treatment. They found that, on average, their symptoms were reduced by more than 30 percent, and the severity of their depression was reduced by more than 50 percent.

Following the success of the first trial, researchers are planning to collaborate with the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System to conduct a trial consisting of 74 veterans.

Results of the trial to treat patients suffering from PTSD using eTNS proved successful and could provide a new way to help PTSD patients. Be sure to visit us at the Benefits Store today to keep yourself informed about new medical news and healthcare information.