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Gamblers and Pigeons Don't Know When to Fold Them


iStock/Thinkstock(COVENTRY, England) -- One of the slang meanings of “pigeon” is someone who can be easily duped.

Perhaps then it’s no surprise that British researchers have determined that people who like to gamble exhibit the same tendencies as pigeons when it comes to decisions that involve risk.

Psychology expert Dr. Elliot Ludvig of the University of Warwick asserts that “Both humans and pigeons were shown to be less risk averse for high rewards then they were for low rewards and this is linked to our past memories and experiences of making risky decisions.”

Never mind that human have brains that are so much more advanced than any other species. According to Ludvig, the same mental processes drive gamblers and pigeons when they’re faced with risk.

So why does this happen?  Ludvig says it may have to do with “shared common ancestry or similar evolutionary pressures.”

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Parents and Babies Should Live Life on the Babble


iStock/Thinkstock(IOWA CITY, Iowa) -- Before babies learn to speak, they babble, which is actually a form of baby-speak.

Although parents think babbling is cute, it’s also an opportunity for mom and dad to communicate with their infants and consequently, accelerate their vocalization.

A new study out of the University of Iowa and Indiana University says that it’s all about how a parent responds to baby that holds the key to facilitating their language and communication.

Researcher Julie Gros-Louis says 12 mothers and their eight-month-old children were observed interacting over a period of six months and the chief finding was that moms who actively try to understand what their babies say and respond in kind will boost developmentally advanced vocalizations.

Furthermore, babies with interested moms also directed more of their babbling to them.

On the other hand, mothers who weren’t as engaged and tried to divert their infants' attention away from babbling did not improve their babies’ language and communications skills as quickly.

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Introverts Spend Most Time on Facebook


Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(HUNTSVILLE, Ala.) -- You're never going to get back all the time you spend on Facebook but most users probably don’t care, especially those who log on longer than anyone else.

Dr. Pavica Sheldon of the University of Alabama in Huntsville conducted research to find out who spends the most time on the social media website. Turns out it’s not extroverts, narcissists or those who post a million photos of themselves.

Sheldon contends it's people who are considered introverts who are most addicted to Facebook at least in terms of time spent on the site, often because it can help them to forget their loneliness.

Even so, they’ll reveal less personal information, including photos and subsequently, won’t reap the same relationship benefits as others.

Sheldon calls it the “rich get richer” hypothesis, in that people who are more socially outgoing in real life also tend to keep those relationships going online while forming new ones.

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How the HIV Cure That Wasn't May Hold a Positive Lesson After All


Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say that even though a baby in Mississippi who was initially thought to have been cured of HIV later relapsed, there may have been important information gleaned from the case.

The unnamed girl, dubbed the "Mississippi baby," was born to an HIV-positive mother in 2010. After being treated with high doses of antiretroviral medication, she was deemed cured, but four years later, detectable levels of HIV were found in her blood. Still, researchers said, they learned from that.

The girl's relapse helped to support the theory that CD4 memory T cells, a specific type of immune cell, harbors the latent virus. Potential treatments, they note, could be aimed at reducing the number of those specific cells.

The article, published in the journal Science, also looked at two other patients who had been deemed "cured" before relapsing.

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Obese Mothers Can Beat Baby Weight Using Conventional Weight-Loss Methods


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers say that obese women, who have even more reason to try to limit weight gain during pregnancy, can do so by using conventional weight-loss methods.

The study, published in the journal Obesity, looked at 114 obese pregnant women. Half of the subjects received one counseling session on keeping a healthy diet, while the other half attended weekly support meetings and behavioral and dietary counseling, and kept a food and exercise journal. After 34 weeks of pregnancy, the women in the latter group had gained just 11 pounds on average -- at the lower end of the recommended weight gain for obese mothers by the Institute of Medicine.

Women in the control group, on the contrary, had gained an average of 18 pounds through 34 weeks.

Limiting weight gain among obese mothers can help to limit both complications during delivery and the future risk of obesity for the child.

The study found that participants in the more intense intervention group weighed six pounds less two weeks after giving birth than they did when they entered the study, while those in the control group weighed three pounds more. Those in the intervention group also were significantly less likely to give birth to babies deemed large for gestational age.

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Why You Could Be Eating Trans Fat Without Knowing It


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Experts say that even if the nutritional label on your food may not indicate that it contains trans fat, it may still be leading you to eat trans fat.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in their study, published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, that a number of products featured misleading nutritional labels. Researchers looked at the ingredients and labels of 4,340 packaged foods and found that many items contained partially hydrogenated oils, which are themselves trans fats. Yet, 84 percent of those items that contained partially hydrogenated oils claimed to contain zero grams of trans fat.

The reason for the misleading labels is a U.S. Food and Drug Administration policy, which allows food manufacturers to label products as having zero grams of trans fat if the serving size contains less than half a gram.

For example, even though a package of Chips Ahoy may be labeled as having no trans fat, for every three cookies you eat, you could be eating up to 0.5 grams of trans fat.

In 2013, the FDA issued a statement saying that partially hydrogenated oils should no longer be generally recognized as safe.

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Fictional Tearjerkers Can Be Powerful as True Stories


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Whether they want to admit it or not, just about everybody at one time has gotten a little choked up watching a movie that pulls on the heart strings.

However, the assumption that a true story carries more of an emotional wallop than a fictional tale is wrong, according to researchers at Brandeis University and NYU.

For instance, people who want to avoid getting upset may decide to read a fictional book filled with tragedy because they figure it won’t affect them nearly as much as a tragic true-life story.

Yet, what the researchers discovered was that “fictional nature does not alter the impact of the tragic story, leaving them more emotionally distraught than if they had read the true story instead.”

If that indeed is the case, then movie producers and book publishers should greenlight more fictional stories.

Although sales of true stories may be stronger, the researchers contend realism “does not necessarily increase satisfaction.”

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US to Test Ebola Vaccine Amid Growing Outbreak in West Africa


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. scientists will begin testing an Ebola vaccine in humans next week, health officials announced Thursday. But it could take 11 months to learn whether the vaccine is safe as the virus’ toll in West Africa continues to rise.

More than 3,000 people have contracted Ebola since March, a number projected to swell to 20,000 in the next six months, according to the World Health Organization.

The virus has killed at least 1,500 people in Ebola Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The experimental vaccine, co-developed by the National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline, “performed extremely well in protecting nonhuman primates from Ebola infection,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s infectious disease branch, said.

Now it will be tested in 20 healthy adults to make sure it’s safe and effective in mounting an immune response.

“A vaccine will ultimately be an important tool in the prevention effort,” Fauci said in a statement, adding that the phase 1 study is “the first step in a long process.”

The 20 subjects will be followed for 48 weeks but initial safety results are expected later this year, according to an NIH statement.

The vaccine works by delivering fragments of genetic material from two Ebola strains into a healthy person’s cells. The cells then transform that genetic material into a protein found on the virus, and that protein triggers an immune response that should fend off the infection.

“It is important to know that the Ebola genetic material contained in the investigational vaccine cannot cause a vaccinated individual to become infected with Ebola,” the NIH said in a statement.

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What Ebola Survivors Reveal About the Virus, ZMapp


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The outbreak spreading through West Africa has a 53 percent fatality rate, according to the World Health Organization, meaning 47 percent of people survive the gruesome infection. And experts say those people could hold clues to Ebola’s weakness.

“There’s something to be gained from understanding why certain people survive,” said Thomas Geisbert, a virologist studying Ebola at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas.

But studying survivors is a tall order in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria --  countries simultaneously plagued by Ebola and a dearth of medical infrastructure. “The number one priority for health care workers in this chaotic situation is stopping the outbreak, not a scientific study looking at survivors,” Geisbert said.

No one knows why some people recover from Ebola, but there are theories. It could be that they have a smaller viral load -- fewer deadly pathogens streaming through their bodies. It could also be that their immune systems are more adept at attacking the virus, which uses spike-like protrusions to invade cells and replicate. The immune response theory is supported by studies of Zmapp, the experimental Ebola drug given to American aid workers Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.

The drug is a cocktail of three synthetic antibodies -- immune proteins that attack the virus’ cell-splitting spike, according to Geisbert.

“It’s a very specific response,” Geisbert said, explaining that antibodies that target other parts of the virus are thought to be less effective at slowing it down.

But no one knows whether ZMapp, which has only been tested in monkeys, helped Brantly and Writebol survive the virus. Of the six people known to have received it, four have lived and two have died. Brantly also received blood from an Ebola survivor -- blood that likely contained natural antibodies to the virus.

A 2009 study of blood samples collected during three Ebola outbreaks in Gabon found that antibody levels peaked 30 days after exposure and “declined slowly over several years.” But again, there’s no way to know if the blood helped Brantly.

A CDC study of blood samples collected during a 2000 Ebola outbreak in Uganda found that people who survived tended to have smaller viral loads and altered levels of immune biomarkers compared to people who perished. “That’s valuable information because it gives you insight into the immunobiology of the disease,” said Geisbert. “Then you can try to dissect what it means and look at treatments or interventions that mimic the response of a survivor.”

Geisbert said the best way to stop the current outbreak is “good old-fashioned epidemiology and outbreak control,” and the best way to prevent future outbreaks is a vaccine.

The first phase 1 safety study of an Ebola vaccine is set to start next week, the National Institutes of Health announced Thursday. “I really hope that the next time we’re talking about this, those vaccines are across the finish line,” Geisbert said.

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Brain-Eating Amoeba Found in Louisiana Water Supply


iStock/Thinkstock(BATON ROUGE, La.) -- Louisiana officials have cautioned residents to be careful after a deadly brain-eating amoeba was found in a parish water supply.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals announced that the Naegleria fowleri amoeba was found in the water system of St. John the Baptist Parish.

The microscopic amoeba can be deadly if contaminated water travels through the nose to the brain. The microscopic pathogen can cause a deadly form of meningitis that or a swelling of the brain and surrounding tissues.

The amoeba cannot be contracted from drinking contaminated water, officials said.

The water system where the amoeba was found serves 12,577 people in three Louisiana towns.

While the source of the contamination was not found, officials said that they found the water supply did not have the required level of chlorine disinfectant and was vulnerable to contamination from Naegleria fowleri.

There have been no reports of infections from the amoeba in the area.

To kill the dangerous pathogens the department will flush the system with extra high levels of the chlorine for 60 days to kill any lingering amoebas in the system. The water will still be safe to drink.

While the amoeba is extremely rare, the pathogen was responsible for at least three deaths in Louisiana parishes since 2011. Last year a 4-year-old boy from St. Bernard Parish was killed after contracting the infection from using a slip-in-slide.

This summer a 9-year-old girl from Kansas died after being infected with the amoeba.

"Families can take simple steps to protect themselves from exposure to this ameba, the most important being to avoid allowing water to go up your nose while bathing or swimming in a pool," said Louisiana State Health Officer Jimmy Guidry. "It is important to remember that the water is safe to drink; the ameba cannot infect an individual through the stomach."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control the symptoms of an infection from Naegleria fowleri include headache, fever and nausea. As the disease progresses, infected people can have seizures, altered mental status, hallucinations and slip into a coma.

The disease is almost always fatal. In the U.S. between 1963 and 2013, just three people out of 132 managed to survive the infection, according to the CDC.

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How to Do the Most for Your Child's Education


iStock/Thinkstock(AMES, Iowa) -- If parents leave it up to schools to do all the heavy lifting when it comes to educating their kids, then they’re not doing all they can to help their children succeed academically, according to an Iowa State University study.

Study author Kimberly Greder says there are numerous things parents should be doing to give their youngsters as much as an advantage as possible in an increasingly competitive world with the school year having started or about to begin.

Among other things, parents should create a good learning environment at home, according to Greder, while setting reasonable expectations for their children.

Involvement in a child’s education also includes regularly asking them what happened at school and taking an interest in their homework. Visiting teachers and counselors to talk about a student’s progress is also on Greder’s list.

While all youngsters will benefit from such parental involvement, Greder says taking these steps is especially important for those kids at the greatest risk of dropping out.

These children typically come from homes in low income neighborhoods with minority populations where the parents may have struggled during their school years.

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Social Media Users Shy Away from Controversial Postings


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- One of the big complaints about social media is that people seem all too willing to share every opinion they have with the world.

But a new Pew Research Center poll in conjunction with Rutgers University challenges that view, at least when it comes to controversial political issues.

In a survey of 1,800 adults, Facebook and Twitter users more times than not won’t express an opinion on matters that come up on talk radio or cable TV.

Pew researchers think these social media sites inadvertently encourage people to exercise self-censorship unless they're pretty sure that most who read their opinions agree with them.

Therefore, talking about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is pretty safe, compared to expressing views on abortion or immigration.

While Pew found that 86 percent of Facebook or Twitter users would be willing to discuss an issue such as government surveillance at a town hall meeting or at some other event with friends, less than half that number would feel comfortable talking about it on social media.

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Couples Who Smoke Pot Less Inclined Toward Violence


iStock/Thinkstock(BUFFALO, N.Y.) -- A controversial new study suggests that married couples who get high on marijuana are less inclined to be involved in domestic violence than people who eschew the drug.

University of Buffalo researchers came to that conclusion after interviewing 600 couples about their lifestyle habits, which included marijuana use.

In fact, couples who smoked grass more frequently than others reported the lowest rates of domestic violence.

Study researcher Kenneth Leonard explains, “It is possible, for example, that -- similar to a drinking partnership -- couples who use marijuana together may share similar values and social circles, and it is this similarity that is responsible for reducing the likelihood of conflict.”

However, Leonard also stressed that the study was not endorsing marijuana use as a way to achieve marital bliss and asserted that researchers would like to expand it beyond heterosexual couples who had only been married once.

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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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