In Brief: Auto safety

The Baltimore Sun

Whiplash risk cut by head restraint

Whiplash is one of the most common injuries resulting from automobile crashes, affecting about 1 million Americans each year. But adjusting your car's head restraint properly can minimize the risk of injury, according to a new study.

Using a computer model, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin showed that positioning the head restraint very close to the back of the head - no more than 2.4 inches away from it - provides the best protection.

Brian Stemper, an assistant professor of neurosurgery at the college and lead author of the study, says that researchers have only recently begun to learn more about how whiplash injuries occur. More recent video and computer analysis shows that, as a vehicle is struck from behind, the chest initially moves forward while the head is stationary. This sheering motion between head and chest causes injury to the ligaments and discs of the spine.

Positioning the head restraint to within 2.4 inches minimizes the sheering motion and keeps the ligament stretch within a range that would prevent injury, according to the study in the journal Accident Analysis and Prevention.

Unfortunately, Stemper adds, "Most of the time people don't adjust their head restraint at all."



Multiple Iraq tours increase stress

American soldiers who serve repeated tours of duty in Iraq are more likely to suffer from acute stress in Iraq, according to an Army mental health survey released this week.

Overall, 13.6 percent of soldiers reported suffering from acute stress in late 2005, when the survey was undertaken. Among soldiers serving their first tours, 12.5 percent reported suffering such stress. But among soldiers on their second tour of duty, the number reporting acute stress jumped to 18.4 percent.

"There is a sense that the yearlong deployments are challenging even if morale is good," said Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, the Army surgeon general. "The normal things - births, first steps, birthdays - those are missed. When soldiers are on second or third tours, my sense is they feel that a bit more."

The adverse effects of multiple, long deployments is a critical factor for military leaders as they consider increasing the number of soldiers in Iraq. If the White House orders a surge in troop numbers in a bid to control sectarian violence, the military likely would have to extend the tours of thousands of combat soldiers, keeping them in Iraq longer than a year.

Col. Edward O. Crandell, who helped oversee the survey, said it was too early to know for sure why soldiers on second tours had higher stress levels. But he said the higher stress may be helpful - a way to stay sharp in a dangerous situation.


Ear infections

Drops better than oral drugs

Antibiotic ear drops are a better remedy than oral medication for children using ear tubes to treat ear infections, according to a study by the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Researchers said drops cleared up ear drainage three to five days faster and resulted in more clinical cures - 85 percent for those taking drops as compared with 59 percent for those using oral antibiotics. The results apply only to children with ear tubes.

Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, a consultant on the American Academy of Pediatrics' guidelines on treating ear infections, cautioned that the research does not address the larger question of whether doctors should treat ear infections with antibiotics.

"You want to give it a few days to run its course," said Rosenfeld, who is also director of pediatric otolaryngology at Long Island College Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y.

"The only reason to use antibiotics is if your child is very uncomfortable, and it's not going away after the child's cold goes away."



Digestive microbes may affect weight

The size of your gut may be partly shaped by which microbes call it home, according to new research linking obesity to types of digestive bacteria. Obese mice - and people - had more of one type of bacteria and less of another, according to two studies published yesterday in the journal Nature.

Obese humans and mice had a lower percentage of a family of bacteria called Bacteroidetes and more of a type of bacteria called Firmicutes, according to Jeffrey Gordon, lead author and director of Washington University's Center for Genome Sciences.

The researchers aren't sure whether more Firmicutes makes you fat or if people who are obese grow more of that type of bacteria. But growing evidence of the link gives scientists a potentially new and still-distant way of fighting obesity: changing the bacteria in the intestines and stomach. It also may lead to a way of fighting malnutrition. "We are getting more and more evidence to show that obesity isn't what we thought it used to be," said Nikhil Dhurandhar, an obesity researcher at Louisiana State University who was not involved in the study. "It isn't just [that] you're eating too much and you're lazy."


Mental health

41% of women stressed by holidays

Nearly half of all women in the United States suffer from increased stress during the holidays, a condition that contributes to rising levels of comfort eating, drinking and other coping mechanisms that can lead to weight gain, according to a survey of 786 people conducted by the American Psychological Association.

Forty-one percent of women in the survey agreed that they eat for comfort during the holidays, compared with 31 percent during the rest of the year. Among men, 25 percent report holiday comfort eating, compared with 19 percent during the year.


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