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Study Suggests Wolves Show Empathy Through Yawning


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Not only are wolves social animals, similar in some ways to humans and chimpanzees, but according to a new study, they may also share a propensity for contagious yawning, just like primates.

According to the study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, wolves do yawn contagiously, but perhaps more interestingly, they are more prone to do so around other wolves with which they are closely bonded. Researchers at the University of Tokyo said that this could be a sign that wolves show empathy by yawning.

The study also found that female wolves were quicker to yawn and yawned more frequently when around a yawning "friend." Male wolves only yawned more frequently. Perhaps, researchers suggest, female wolves are more attuned to social clues.

The study also suggests that empathy may have existed farther back in mammalian history than previously known.

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A Look Inside a Slum Cut Off by the Ebola Outbreak


Dr. Richard Besser/ABC News(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK by ABC News' Dr. Richard Besser

The streets outside West Point are empty of pedestrians. Shops normally bustling with activity are boarded up. This poor community in the capital of Liberia, one of four West African countries affected by the worst-ever Ebola outbreak, has been quarantined – barricaded off from the rest of the region by barbed wire fences patrolled by police and military personnel.

"It looks like it did during the war," one resident told me, referring to the decades-long civil war that ended in 2003.

Desperate residents peered out from their homes and shops, eager to share their stories across the barrier. I met Steven, a 30-year-old tailor. His life has been halted by Ebola. His stepmother and father have died from the disease and three of his siblings are in a treatment center. He has no idea how they’re doing.

Steven became trapped inside West Point in a stroke of bad luck. He had been sleeping in his shop outside the slum for two weeks to avoid the crowded alleys amid the deadly outbreak. He returned to check on his family last Tuesday, and when he awoke Wednesday, the quarantine was in place. He couldn't leave. The military agreed to let him step outside the barricade for our interview and then he had to retreat. His face showed his anguish.

As we spoke, trucks exited West Point loaded with water. "Why is the water coming out?" I asked. "They have raised the prices," Steven told me. "We cannot afford the water. Many can't buy the food."

Faced with a health crisis, governments sometimes feel that action – no matter how absurd – is better than no action. A quarantine is absurd. It can’t control Ebola, it can only worsen lives that are already filled with despair. While some people within the cordoned-off community have the virus, most do not. Outside the fence, it’s the same. By erecting barriers, they stigmatize residents, destroy trust in the government and disrupt access to food and supplies.

"They deliver rice and beans," Steven told me. "But how do we eat it without coal to burn to heat the water?"

The quarantine affects people on both sides of the barrier. I met a young man who lives outside the perimeter who has no electricity in his home. He has been trying to pay his electric bill for days, but the electric company is located within the isolation zone.

Inside the barrier, there is desperation. Behind the gate of a three-story apartment complex, 20 people pleaded with me to share their story. We have nothing to eat, nothing to drink, no medical care, they said. We have children, they told me. They have been told they are under quarantine for 21 days to make sure they don't have Ebola. This makes no sense.

"Please let people know we are here," said a man concerned that his children have nothing to eat. "We only have tea."

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Surgeons Get 'Dress Rehearsals' with 3D-Printed Body Parts


Courtesy Boston Children's Hospital(BOSTON) -- Though doctors spend decades perfecting their crafts, they don’t exactly get dress rehearsals when it comes to performing complex surgeries on one-of-a-kind patients.

Enter the 3D printer.

At Boston Children’s Hospital, doctors perform practice surgeries with replicas of their patients’ body parts. Though the hospital has had a simulation program for about a decade, it started 3D-printing children’s body parts about a year ago, said Dr. Peter Weinstock, director of the hospital’s simulator program.

“They perfect what they want to do before ever bringing the child into the operating room or putting them to sleep,” Weinstock said.

The models are also used to help parents understand their children’s surgeries before the operation and to educate students afterward, Weinstock said.

The printer is precise, with a resolution of between 16 and 32 microns per layer. That means each layer is about the width of a “filament of cotton,” Weinstock said. And since the printer can print multiple resins or textures, doctors can work on replicas that model different tissue types, like brain matter and blood vessels.

The printer only takes a few hours to do their work once CT scans and other forms of imaging are collected and rendered into 3D models. A child’s finger might take three hours to print, but a chest replica they made last week took longer, Weinstock said.

The team has already printed about 100 body parts over the last year and demand is growing, Weinstock said, adding that the printer is running around the clock.

Dr. Ed Smith, a pediatric neurosurgeon at Boston Children’s, said he recently used several different 3D models to perform brain surgery on a 15-year-old patient with an abnormal cluster of veins above his optical nerve. One wrong maneuver and the patient could have gone blind.

He even used a see-through replica of the patient’s skull on a light box in the operating room as a reference.

“It’s kind of like being superman with X-ray vision where you can actually hold this up and see right through it,” Smith said.

The surgery, which would have normally taken five or six hours, wound up clocking in at 2 hours and 20 minutes, Smith said.

Though Boston Children’s hasn’t conducted any formal studies of how the models help surgeons, Smith said he’s heard anecdotally that they result in shorter surgeries because doctors know what to expect.

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Obese Boys Start Feeling Bullied at Age 6


iStock/Thinkstock(ROTTERDAM, Netherlands) -- The social problems for kids who are overweight or obese include bullying, which many assume begins in later grades of primary school or in high school.

However, Dutch researchers from Erasmus University Rotterdam contend that obese boys who are bullied and those who become bullies are actually stigmatized starting at around age 6.

Lead researcher Pauline Jansen looked at 1,300 children, both normal weight and overweight, to assess when bullying occurred and the forms it took such as physical and verbal abuse.

What Jansen and her team learned is that problems often exist before a child enters school and that bullied boys who don’t know how to deal with the teasing and abuse they receive from being obese will cope with it by turning their anger against others.

While the findings pertain to children in the Netherlands, Jansen believes her study is also applicable to youngsters in the U.S.

As for how to lessen the chances of being bullied, parents are advised to teach obese kids coping skills while building up their self-confidence.

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Short Sleepers Aren't Short on Happiness


iStock/Thinkstock(SALT LAKE CITY) -- Six hours of sleep a night doesn’t sound like a lot, especially when health experts say that adults should get at least seven or eight hours of shuteye to be at their best the next day.

Wishful thinking perhaps, since an estimated 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia.

However, there are people who not only function on a regular six hours of sleep but actually demonstrate no problems at all.

Researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine describe them as “short sleepers. They only make up about .5 percent of the population but those who do don’t suffer from irritability, apathy and drowsiness like other people who complain about a lack of sleep."

What’s more, researcher Christopher R. Jones, says “short sleepers” are generally happy and outgoing, which he believes might be in their genes. If that’s the case, Jones says that they may help scientists to understand why others suffer from bipolar disorder and even obesity.

Of course, “short sleepers” are born, not made, so Jones strongly advises everyone else to try and get as much sleep as possible.

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Toddlers' Brains Grow Faster than Other Body Parts


iStock/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Kids grow up so fast, the old saying goes, but that’s not really the case if you compare them to other mammals. However, one part of the body that seems to be on overdrive in the growth department is the brain, according to Northwestern University researchers.

They’ve concluded the reason why the body takes its time reaching its maximum height -- usually age 18 for males, 16 for female -- is because the brain requires more energy to grow.

For instance, a five-year-old’s glucose intake is twice that of an adult while during the growth peak, it means the brain will actually burn through two-thirds of the body’s calories when at rest.

As study co-author Christopher Kuzawa explains, “Our bodies can't afford to grow faster during the toddler and childhood years because a huge quantity of resources is required to fuel the developing human brain.”

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Invasive Surgery Not the Answer for Some with Knee Pain


iStock/Thinkstock(HAMILTON, Ontario) -- Oh, your aching knee!

If you’re in your 50s and suffering from age-related tears in the cartilage that cushions the knee joint, think twice about having arthroscopic surgery to correct the problem.

Doctors at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, warn that while the procedure, also known as meniscal debridement, is still regarded as minimally invasive, it doesn’t work for everyone and complications might occur.

Lead study author Dr. Moin Khan says that in observing more than 800 patients with an average age of 56, those who opted against surgery to repair the minor meniscus tear had no difference in pain or functioning six months-to-two-years later than people who underwent the procedure.

Khan recommend patients in that age group try anti-inflammatory medicine and physical therapy first, which have been shown to be just as effective. However, it’s a different story for people with acute tears of the meniscus.

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Feline Eating Disorders Can Be Psychological


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cats often exhibit behavior that is confounding to humans. Sometimes, though, they can be just like us, like at dinner time when the portion in front of them isn’t enough to satisfy their appetites.

Italian researchers decided to find out why it happens and studied an eight-month-old Siamese cat named Otto who was food obsessed.  After a series of tests ruled out a physical cause for this addiction, they reached the conclusion that Otto was afflicted with psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior.

Essentially, the cat’s insatiable appetite was caused by an emotional or psychological disorder and other cats may have it too.

A team of eight veterinarians then taught Otto’s owners how to cure his food cravings through a behavioral therapy program that was successful after five months.

Other cat owners are advised to see their vets if they suspect their pet is exhibiting psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior.

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Cardiovascular Trials May Be Skewed Towards Younger, Healthier Men


Ablestock.com/Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- According to researchers, the largest ongoing study on heart disease may be heavily tilted towards younger men, leaving out significant data on women, minorities and older people.

The report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at data from the American College of Cardiology's National Cardiovascular Data Registry, and found that many of the patients included in that study were younger men. The American College of Cardiology's study includes heart attack patients treated at 466 different hospitals between July 2008 and March 2011.

Patients included in medical trials for heart disease often were less likely to have previously been diagnosed with heart disease, had faster access to diagnostic testing and had the best health outcomes. Among patients not included in trials, the risk of dying of cardiovascular problems was nearly double.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Ebola Wards See Flood of Patients, Outflow of Bodies


Dr. Richard Besser/ABC News(MONROVIA, Liberia) – REPORTER'S NOTEBOOK by ABC News' Dr. Richard Besser

Blue steel gates guard the back entrance to an Ebola treatment center, where new patients flood in faster than bodies are removed. On Tuesday, I met a burial team tasked with collecting and burning the bodies – a dangerous but crucial job amid the worst-ever outbreak.

A guard opened the gates and motioned us inside. We found ourselves in the same courtyard where on Monday patients were sitting, waiting to be tested, and dying. Tuesday, the rain-soaked courtyard was active in a different way. Six workers wearing protective gear were standing at the back of a long blue flatbed truck, the front end of which was stacked with bodies in white bags. The back end was empty, but not for long.

"How many bodies have you collected here?" I asked one of the workers. Nine so far, he told me. Nine deaths in just one day. Just then, two more workers emerged from the isolation ward carrying a tenth body to the truck. I could see two faces looking out through a metal screen from the isolation ward. What could they be thinking? How do you maintain hope when you see so many dying around you?

On Monday, the ward housed around 60 patients. By Tuesday morning, there were 80, a guard told me. "We have no room for any more," he said. He had been working at the clinic since it opened less than two weeks ago and the toll was visible on his face. "See those people over there?" he said, motioning to a trio of people lying on the ground under a UNICEF shelter. "They have Ebola, but we have no room for them."

With no room in treatment centers, some people are dying in their homes. And one of the main ways that Ebola is spreading is through the ritual cleaning and touching of loved ones at funerals. To help curb the outbreak, burial teams are trying to quickly collect bodies from communities and send them for cremation. As hard as this is for families, it’s essential for disease control.

I spoke with Mark, the head of the burial team. "We are headed to a house in the community where we hear there are five bodies of Ebola victims,” he said. “Then we are heading to ELWA hospital to pick up from there." Mark heads one of just four burial teams in the area – not nearly enough to meet the demands of this deadly outbreak.

As we drove off, the big blue gates closed behind us. The rain kept coming down as the patients lay there waiting. Without more resources and support, without more medical services, more and more of them will be exiting in the big blue truck.

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Two African Ebola Patients to Be Discharged After Receiving Experimental Drug


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- Two African health workers who received doses of the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp are set to be discharged from the hospital later this week, a Liberian health official told ABC News Tuesday.

Three African health workers — two African doctors and one physician’s assistant — received the drug after contracting the virus earlier this month, according to Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who heads Ebola case management at Liberia’s health ministry.

Though they were all showing signs of improvement at first, one of the doctors died on Aug. 24. He also had diabetes and hypertension, Massaquoi said.

The remaining two patients improved soon after receiving the first of three doses of ZMapp — a cocktail of three antibodies meant to attack the virus. They are expected to be discharged on Friday.

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NFL, College Football Players to Utilize New Model of Helmet Intended to Reduce Concussion Risk


Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Football equipment manufacturer Riddell has released a brand-new model of football helmet that it says flexes to help absorb impact, helping to minimize concussion risk, and a number of NFL and college football players and teams will be using the new technology this year.

Riddell says its SpeedFlex helmets will be available in September and may be seen in use in the college football world as early as this weekend. A press release from the company describes the technology as ripples [force] outward instead of inward, reducing impact transfer to the athlete. The helmets also feature improved sightlines and a new style of chinstrap.

Riddell said Tuesday that over half of Football Bowl Subdivision teams will have at least one player wearing the new helmet, as well as 80 percent of NFL teams. Among those donning the SpeedFlex helmets will be players from last year's NCAA national champions Florida State University, as well as highly ranked college programs including Ohio State University, University of Florida, and the University of Texas, among others.

In the NFL, Riddell expects players from both of last year's Super Bowl teams, the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks, as well as members of the New York Giants and Jets, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, and more, to wear the helmets.

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Ebola-Stricken Countries Scramble to Build Treatment Centers


Courtesy Dr. Richard Besser(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- Aid groups in West Africa are scrambling to build treatment centers for the growing number of Ebola patients in the region.

The latest construction in Kenema, Sierra Leone, will house patients currently flooding the city's public hospital.

The Ebola outbreak continues to spread through Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, where at least 2,615 people have contracted the virus and 1,427 people have died, according to the World Health Organization.

Roughly 240 health care workers have been infected while working to curb the outbreak, according to WHO, 120 of whom have died.

Horror of #Ebola. As truck pulls out of treatment center w/ bodies of 10 who died, 3 new patients wait for to go in. pic.twitter.com/uWgi2usi1e

— Richard Besser (@DrRichardBesser) August 26, 2014

Ebola is a contagious virus that spreads through contact with body fluids. The best way to prevent its spread is to isolate patients until they're no longer showing symptoms such as fever, aches, diarrhea and vomiting.

But the unprecedented outbreak, that largest since the discovery of Ebola in 1976, has overwhelmed what little medical infrastructure existed before cases began to emerge in March 2014. Shuttered schools and buildings once reserved for cholera patients have been transformed into Ebola wards to keep up with the influx of patients.

In Liberia, new treatment centers are quickly filling up with previously unidentified Ebola patients leading health officials there to suspect an uncounted and untreated "invisible caseload," according to WHO.

Meanwhile, the outbreak is depleting resources needed to address other medical problems, according to ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, who is reporting from Monrovia, Liberia.

Just visited 2 large #ebola treatment centers: JFK Govt Ctr. Both are full- beyond capacity. Pts wait outside. pic.twitter.com/I5iByHnWnC

— Richard Besser (@DrRichardBesser) August 26, 2014

"The number of women who give birth without a trained attendant, the number of children with malaria who go untreated, and the number of people who die from trauma because there is no hospital willing or able to take them is unknown," Dr. Besser said.

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Could Medical Marijuana Laws Cut Painkiller Deaths?


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- States that have legalized medical marijuana may be reaping an unintended benefit from easing up on restrictions: They appear to have nearly 25 percent fewer deaths from overdoses involving prescription painkillers, a new study found.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, comes at a time when the United States finds itself in the throes of a growing painkiller abuse crisis. About 100 Americans die every day from narcotic painkiller overdose, according to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The researchers behind the new study suggest that because legalizing medical marijuana makes it more available to chronic pain patients, it provides a potentially less lethal alternative to pain control on a long-term basis.

Three states had medical marijuana laws prior to 1999, and an additional 10 states passed laws providing some legal access to marijuana during the study period. Today, 23 states and the District of Columbia have laws allowing access to medical marijuana.

Lead study author Dr. Marcus Bachhuber said that while he and his team expected to find differences in painkiller-associated deaths among states with different medical marijuana laws, they did not anticipate such dramatic differences.

“We [found] it surprising that the difference is so big,” said Bachhuber, who is a physician and researcher at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bachhuber and his colleagues analyzed data on all 50 states from 1999 to 2010 and found that, while opioid overdose rates continued to climb across the United States, the numbers climbed much slower in states with medical marijuana laws. As a result, these states had 25 percent fewer deaths from opioid overdose.

Also, this effect increased in the years after the laws were enacted, suggesting the laws themselves may cause the difference.

“In my practice, I take care of a lot of people with chronic pain,” Bachhuber said. “Sometimes, people with chronic pain would say only marijuana worked or they tried marijuana as a painkiller and found it worked better than prescription pills."

“One day, talking with colleagues, we wondered how this would work in states where marijuana is legal,” he said.

The findings lend additional weight to the idea that medical marijuana legalization may protect some patients who take it from the potentially harmful side effects of other medications, experts not involved with the research said.

Dr. Igor Grant, chair of psychiatry at the University of California-San Diego and director of the Center for Medical Cannabis Research, said one possible explanation for the link seen in the new study is known as the “opioid-sparing effect.”

In other words, pain patients may benefit from combining opioid painkillers with less toxic medications that also provide pain relief.

“This isn’t a new idea,” Grant said. “Physicians have used combination drugs for a long time, such as acetaminophen with an opioid. By putting several different pain medications together, they are able to reduce the overall opioid dose, and thus decrease the risk of overdose.”

The other side of the coin to more permissive medical marijuana laws, however, is the effect it may have on recreational use of the drug. Research has shown that legalizing medical marijuana tends to increase use among adults.

Even study author Bachhuber agreed that this is a potential problem to consider.

“This study raises the possibility that there is an unintended public health benefit of medical marijuana laws, but we still need to collect more information to confirm or refute what we’ve found,” he said.

Grant, too, said legalizing medical marijuana comes with serious considerations. But studies like these suggest that there may be unanticipated benefits as well, he said.

“Not to say cannabis is trivial and couldn’t have a bad public health impact,” Grant said. “But, we shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”

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Don't Live in the Past at Work


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- At work, are you ruminator or a forward thinker?

As researchers from Florida State University and University of Arkansas point out, one is better than the other and it doesn’t really take much thought to guess the right answer.

In their survey of 600 white and blue collar workers, about two in ten could be considered ruminators while 40 percent fell in the other category. The rest of the respondents were a combination of both.

The drawbacks of being a ruminator, that is, someone who fixates on past transgressions, were pretty clear. Many complained of high stress levels, sleeping difficulties, strained relations with others and feeling isolated, alone or even depressed at work.

According to the researchers, ruminators need to let go of the past before they start thinking forward. Several suggested methods include allowing themselves a set amount of time to go over the day's events while associating themselves with forward-thinkers. They’re also advised to take whatever positive thing they can from an interaction and build upon it.

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