This year’s flu season is barely over but a new analysis predicts that next fall’s flu vaccine is likely to be just as ineffective as this year’s. The study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases estimates that next fall’s flu vaccine will be only 20 percent effective against the dominant strain of influenza A. However, that’s better than nothing, so health officials are likely to say a flu shot is still worth it. Researchers say mass production of the vaccine produces mutations cutting its effectiveness by nearly 30 percent.
A lot of people take calcium supplements for bone health. But a new study finds that calcium may increase the risk of one kind of colon polyps that can later turn cancerous. The study in the journal Gut shows that calcium supplements raise the risk of sessile serrated polyps in the colon. Researchers say the increased risk is greatest in smokers and those with a previous history of polyps in the colon.
And finally, researchers say that the world’s supply of chocolate is in danger. It’s all because of a group of viruses in the six West African countries that produce 70 percent of the world’s cocoa. A study in the Virology Journal finds that the mysterious viruses can kill trees in less than a year. However, farmers are reluctant to take down diseased trees if they’re still bearing pods and that spreads the disease quickly. scientists hope to use gene editing to develop virus-resistant plants.
Melanoma carries a poor prognosis when it’s not caught early, but a common, inexpensive drug could boost the effectiveness of immunotherapy to treat it. Current immunotherapy treatments have a response rate of less than 35 percent but a study in the journal OncoImmunology finds that the addition of pan beta blockers increases it substantially. In the study, 70 percent of patients receiving pan beta blockers with immunotherapy were still alive after five years versus about 25 percent of those who did not receive them.
If you’re sick, other people can tell it with just a glance. Researchers writing in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B injected half of a group of people with bacteria that produce flu-like symptoms, then photographed all of the subjects two hours later. The pictures were shown for no more than five seconds each to another group who were able to pick out who was well 70 percent of the time.
Going to religious services can be good for your health. A study in the journal PLOS One finds that people who attend religious services at least once a week receive a substantial amount of protection against mortality. Even those who attended less frequently suffered less mortality than those who didn’t attend at all. Religious affiliation made no difference. Scientists say health behaviors can explain some of it—those who attend services are less likely to smoke or drink, and more likely to exercise and get health screenings.
And finally, scientists may have discovered why some women stay away from particular college majors or career paths—the perception that you have to be brilliant to succeed in them. Researchers say girls begin to associate “smartness” with boys by the time they’re six years old, and their study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology finds that those stereotypes persist over time. so women are less likely to think they’ll fit in if it takes being really smart to succeed.
Synopsis: The 2014-2015 flu season started much earlier than normal and so far has been much more severe than usual. Experts explain how this year’s mismatch occurred between the flu vaccine and the predominant strain of flu, and how people can protect themselves in spite of the ineffective vaccine.
Host: Nancy Benson. Guests: Dr. Helmut Albrecht, Chief, Division of Infectious Diseases & Heyward Gibbes Professor of Internal Medicine, University of South Carolina. Dr. William Schaffner, Professor of Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.