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Can you ‘catch’ stress from other people?



Stress is something a majority of people will experience at some point in their life. According to the World Health Organization (opens in new tab), stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. There are numerous events or experiences that can catalyze periods of stress, from starting a new job to having a child, but is it possible to catch stress from someone else?

A 2014 paper in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology (opens in new tab) made headlines after its authors suggested that stress can be contagious. The authors wrote that just seeing another person in a stressful situation can make our own bodies release cortisol, a hormone involved in the stress response. This phenomenon, dubbed “empathic stress,” tends to be more prevalent when seeing a loved one or a close friend in distress, the researchers suggested, but it can also occur when seeing a stranger suffering.

“It’s definitely possible to [subconsciously] perceive another person’s emotions, especially negative ones,” Tara Perrot (opens in new tab), a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Canada, told Live Science. “This would have been selected for in our evolutionary past as it would provide a non-verbal way to communicate danger and fear.”

Tara Perrot


Tara Perrot is a professor of psychology and neuroscience. She received her undergraduate degree in psychology and her doctorate in neuroscience from Western University in Canada. Her research focuses on understanding how events early in life shape adult stress-related behaviour and underlying neural mechanisms.

Emotions can “spread” from one person to another via “mirror neurons”, according to a 2013 review in the journal Current Biology (opens in new tab). These are brain cells that activate upon seeing someone perform a particular action — a yawn, for example — and trigger a response that encourages reciprocation. This means that, if a person sees someone looking tired, they may begin to feel tired, and if they see someone looking stressed, they may unintentionally adopt their stressed state of mind.

Transmitting emotions is an important survival mechanism, Herbert said. “It activates responses in others that may help resolve not only a personal issue, but a more general one.” For example, if one person detects a dangerous situation and responds emotionally, then this signals and alerts others, he said.

“If someone panics, they are in a stressed state,” said Joe Herbert (opens in new tab), a professor of neuroscience at the University of Cambridge in the U.K. “Panic can spread throughout a community, as can fear or anxiety, irrespective of whether there is a genuine cause,” he told Live Science.

This transference of emotions is a subconscious act, according to Perrot, and is not a solely human experience. “Other animals can perceive the emotions of members of their species,” Perrot said. “For example, rats that observe another rat undergoing a stressful experience show increases in stress hormone levels even without direct experience.”

While stress is something that most people attempt to avoid, it plays an important role for both humans and animals. However, as Perrot said, not all stress is equal. “The stress response is hugely beneficial,” she said. “It prepares our bodies and brains to deal with the stressor at hand. If a lion runs at you, you want to mount a strong stress response that liberates glucose from stores, increases heart rate, and decreases non-essential functions like digestion.”

However, Perrot said, in modern humans, the stress response is often activated by psychological stressors, leaving stress hormones around for too long. “There are many daily hassles that people end up perceiving as stressful and the stress response can occur too often, which can be damaging to the body and brain,” she said.

A 2014 study in the journal Interpersona (opens in new tab) found that stress can, in some circumstances, be contagious, and concluded that a single stressed individual has the capacity to “infect” an entire office. So, is it possible to avoid catching another person’s stress? According to Perrot, it is all a matter of how someone approaches and assesses a given situation.

“Every stress response begins with perception of the stressor,” Perrot said. According to Healthline (opens in new tab), activities such as getting fresh air, doing breathing exercises and working out can all help to overcome, or at least reduce, the impact of appropriating someone else’s stress.

Herbert believes that the key is seeing stress as divided into two components.

“The stressor is the external or internal, for example a financial demand or an illness,” he said. “The stress response is how the individual reacts — both emotionally, but also physiologically (hormones, blood pressure etc).” The stress response is adaptive, Herbert said, and learning to control this could be the key to protecting oneself from another person’s stress.

“High empathy will increase the awareness of another’s emotion,” he said. “How this affects the onlooker will depend on circumstance. It might just elicit aid, but it could be stressful depending on the demand it causes on the second person. Good leaders and even parents can learn to not catch the stress of others, and instead simply deal with the situation at hand.”


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What made Beethoven sick? DNA from his hair offers clues



By analyzing seven samples of hair said to have come from Ludwig van Beethoven, researchers debunked myths about the revered composer while raising new questions about his life and death.SUSANNA SABIN/The New York Times News Service

Nearly 200 years after Ludwig van Beethoven’s death, researchers pulled DNA from strands of his hair, searching for clues about the health problems and hearing loss that plagued him.

They weren’t able to crack the case of the German composer’s deafness or severe stomach ailments. But they did find a genetic risk for liver disease, plus a liver-damaging hepatitis B infection in the last months of his life.

These factors, along with his chronic drinking, were probably enough to cause the liver failure that is widely believed to have killed him, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Current Biology.

This Sunday marks the 196th anniversary of Beethoven’s death in Vienna on March 26, 1827, at the age of 56. The composer himself wrote that he wanted doctors to study his health problems after he died.


“With Beethoven in particular, it is the case that illnesses sometimes very much limited his creative work,” said study author Axel Schmidt, a geneticist at University Hospital Bonn in Germany. “And for physicians, it has always been a mystery what was really behind it.”

Since his death, scientists have long tried to piece together Beethoven’s medical history and have offered a variety of possible explanations for his many maladies.

Now, with advances in ancient DNA technology, researchers have been able to pull genetic clues from locks of Beethoven’s hair that had been snipped off and preserved as keepsakes. They focused on five locks that are “almost certainly authentic,” coming from the same European male, according to the study.

They also looked at three other historical locks, but weren’t able to confirm those were actually Beethoven’s. Previous tests on one of those locks suggested Beethoven had lead poisoning, but researchers concluded that sample was actually from a woman.

After cleaning Beethoven’s hair one strand at a time, scientists dissolved the pieces into a solution and fished out chunks of DNA, said study author Tristan James Alexander Begg, a biological anthropologist at the University of Cambridge.

Getting genes out was a challenge, since DNA in hair gets chopped up into tiny fragments, explained author Johannes Krause, a paleogeneticist at Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

But eventually, after using up almost 3 metres of Beethoven’s hair, they were able to piece together a genome that they could “quiz” for signs of genetic disease, Dr. Krause said.

While researchers didn’t find any clear genetic signs of what caused Beethoven’s gastrointestinal issues, they found that celiac disease and lactose intolerance were unlikely causes. In the future, the genome may offer more clues as we learn more about how genes influence health, Mr. Begg said.

The research also led to a surprising discovery: When they tested DNA from living members of the extended Beethoven family, scientists found a discrepancy in the Y chromosomes that get passed down on the father’s side. The Y chromosomes from the five men matched each other – but they didn’t match the composer’s.

This suggests there was an “extra-pair paternity event” somewhere in the generations before Beethoven was born, Mr. Begg said. In other words, a child born from an extramarital relationship in the composer’s family tree.

The key question of what caused Beethoven’s hearing loss is still unanswered, said Ohio State University’s Dr. Avraham Z. Cooper, who was not involved in the study. And it may be a difficult one to figure out, because genetics can only show us half of the “nature and nurture” equation that makes up our health.

But he added that the mystery is part of what makes Beethoven so captivating: “I think the fact that we can’t know is okay,” Dr. Cooper said.



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Around 410 London, Ont. students remain suspended for lacking vaccine records



Around 410 London and Middlesex area students remain suspended from school as of Wednesday evening for lacking submitted immunization records with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

MLHU officials say that while over 1,100 students were set to be suspended Wednesday, that number had dropped to 675 by 11 a.m. and then again to 410 by 5 p.m. as parents submitted proper documentation.

The local health unit resumed suspending elementary or high school students in January for not having up-to-date immunization records.


Because there are so many students lacking documentation with the health unit, the suspensions are being done in seven different cohorts between January and the end of May. The suspensions this week are for the fourth cohort.

Dr. Alex Summers, the medical officer of health for Middlesex-London, says it is not a mandatory vaccination issue but instead a mandatory reporting issue.

“We know that there is probably a number of students out there that have received the vaccines, but we just don’t have their records,” said Summers.

Under the Ontario Immunization of Student Pupils Act, Grade 1-12 students are required to have up-to-date immunization reporting for nine preventable diseases. If a student’s vaccination or a valid exemption is not recorded, the local health has the authority to issue school suspensions.

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Students must be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease and whooping cough. Kids born in 2010 or later are also required to have the chickenpox shot.

Once a child is vaccinated, families are responsible for submitting the updated records to the health unit or submitting an exemption.

The health unit began the process of getting immunization records updated again a little under a year ago, sending out 42,000 letters last school year to families with missing records.

The first two cohorts in January and February had a combined 2,300 suspensions from 7,600 notices issued a month before the suspensions.

“Rapidly, many of those students come off the suspension list because that due date really helps people move forward with submitting records or getting vaccinations done,” said Summers.

None of the students suspended in the first two cohorts remain away from school.

The third cohort, which had its suspensions begin on March 1, has had the vast majority of students return to school, with less than 60 continuing to be suspended from 3,300 notices.

A spokesperson for the Thames Valley District School Board says the board supports all students who are not able to learn in-person, no matter the reason.

“Educators post work in the digital classrooms and families can reach out to the school/educator directly for independent learning activities,” said the board in a statement in Global News.

The MLHU has run 28 special clinics since the start of 2023 to help students and parents catch up on vaccinations that may have been missed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 2,000 people have received over 4,000 vaccines during the special clinics.

Summers says catch-up clinics will continue to run into April to give families every opportunity to get caught up on vaccines. And while the issue is considered a documentation and not a vaccination issue, Summers says vaccines are essential to a healthy life.

“Because of the vaccines we have available to us, we have a much significantly higher quality of life than we used to a 100 years ago,” said Summers.

“Without high vaccination coverage in our region, we will see outbreaks locally.”


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‘Worsening spread’ of deadly fungal infection raising alarm in U.S.



Cases of a drug-resistant infection caused by the fungus Candida auris are on the rise in the United States, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The fungal infection has proved deadly, especially for those with compromised immune systems, and has demonstrated an ability to spread easily in health-care settings.

The CDC data was published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, amid an outbreak of fungal infections in long-term care facilities in Mississippi. The U.S. health agency found that cases of C. auris increased 95 per cent from 2020 to 2021 following a 44 per cent increase the year prior.

Preliminary figures estimate that there were 2,377 active C. auris infections across the U.S. in 2022, with 5,754 “colonization” cases. A colonization case denotes when a person has evidence of the fungus in their body without signs of an active infection.


Map showing the distribution of C. auris infections in the U.S. in 2022.


C. auris, a type of yeast that can infect the bloodstream, is resistant to multiple anti-fungal drugs and is estimated to kill about 40 per cent of people who become infected, according to Health Canada. Even when patients survive, they can remain “colonized” with the fungus for years after treatment, the CDC says, and potentially pass it along unsuspectingly.

These fungal infections are of most concern to people who have been hospitalized for long periods of time, are at high risk of infection, or have medical implants. The organism often causes no symptoms in healthy people.

C. auris was first detected in the U.S. in 2016, though case numbers remained low until the “dramatic increase in 2021,” the CDC report reads. The fungus was first discovered in 2009 in Japan and has since caused outbreaks in numerous countries around the world.

Rising cases of C. auris infections, “especially in the most recent years, are really concerning to us,” said the study’s lead author, Dr. Meghan Lyman, chief medical officer in the CDC’s Mycotic Diseases Branch. “We’ve seen increases not just in areas of ongoing transmission, but also in new areas.”

“There’s still a lot to learn about colonization patterns,” Lyman said. “While (medicine) may treat the infection, we don’t have evidence that it completely eliminates C. auris from their body.”

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Between 2012 and 2021, there were 31 cases of C. auris found in hospitalized patients in Canada, according to data from the National Microbiology Laboratory and Canadian Nosocomial Infection Surveillance Program.

The CDC’s warnings come as Mississippi battles an outbreak of the fungus.

At least 12 people in the state have been infected with the fungus with four “potentially associated deaths,” said Tammy Yates, spokesperson for the Mississippi State Department of Health. Both those numbers doubled since an earlier update on the outbreak in January. The first cases were noticed in the state last year in November.

Transmission of the infections occurred in two long-term care homes, with Yates noting that “multi-drug resistant organisms such as C. auris have become more prevalent” in such facilities and among “highest risk individuals.”

The World Health Organization ranked C. auris as one of the worst fungal threats facing humanity today, given its high mortality rate and resistance to treatment. Recent research suggests that serious fungal infections as a whole affect 300 million people worldwide and more than 1.5 million die from them each year.

Dr. Waleed Javaid, director of infection prevention and control at Mount Sinai Downtown in New York, said that the new CDC data on C. auris is “worrisome.”

“But we don’t want people who watched The Last of Us to think we’re all going to die,” Javaid said. “This is an infection that occurs in extremely ill individuals who are usually sick with a lot of other issues.”

Global News has reached out to Health Canada for further comment on the current status of C. auris infections in the country.



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