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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(3):521-522

Years later, the memory of war may still affect people's emotional health, but not their physical health. A study of over 4,700 pairs of identical and fraternal twin brothers who were exposed to combat in Vietnam found that the psychologic trauma of combat had only a minor role in later health problems, such as hypertension, respiratory problems and gastrointestinal disorders. According to findings published in Psychosomatic Medicine, genetics and environmental factors unrelated to combat are responsible for more than 90 percent of reported health problems. The main problems attributable to combat are hearing difficulties and skin problems.

There's nothing like eating a good baked potato—and ending up in the emergency room with botulism. In El Paso, Tex., a 1994 botulism outbreak was caused by potatoes baked in aluminum foil, according to researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Potato skin is covered in Clostridium botulinum spores. In the sealed environment created by foil wrapping, the skin of the potato doesn't get hot enough to eliminate botulism, and with the lack of air the spores germinate on the skin of the cooling potato. Baking a potato without aluminum foil and eating it before it has a chance to cool are ways to avoid botulism, reports the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Do babies know the difference between correct and incorrect grammar? Results of an experiment by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore suggest that they do. The Brain in the News reports that children will listen longer to speech using correct grammar than to speech using incorrect grammar. Within months of birth, babies have started to memorize words without knowing what they mean, at eight months a child can distinguish word boundaries and by 10 months to one year of age, children are already beginning to distinguish among the spoken words of their native language and to ignore foreign sounds.

Need a more entertaining workout? A new touchscreen computer will allow people to do their work during their workout. Since many people quit their exercise program because it is too boring, Netpulse should come in handy. Netpulse attaches right to exercise machines, such as stationary bikes, and gives the exerciser access to the Internet and e-mail just by touching the screen. It also includes a built-in fitness monitor to track the exerciser's workout, including his or her heart rate, reports USA Today.

Participation in high school sports may raise self-esteem in students, helping them earn better grades and stay out of trouble. Researchers at the University of Arizona report that students who are active in high school athletics are more likely than students who aren't involved in organized sports to stay in college and earn higher grades, although they're also more likely to use drugs and alcohol. Young women involved in sports have sex later and less frequently than nonathletic women, according to a researcher at the State University of New York at Buffalo, cited in Psychology Today.

You don't have to be a narcissist to feel the “spotlight effect.” Psychologists say the spotlight effect is that familiar feeling we have that the whole world is watching our every move. Researchers who have studied the spotlight effect have found that people just don't notice us as often as we think they do. When we focus on ourselves, we assume that everyone else is focused on us, when in fact others are often too concerned about their own problems to notice us, reports Psychology Today.

Alcohol seems to create greater memory loss in college-age drinkers than in slightly older adults. Researchers at Duke University studied the effect of alcohol on memory in six persons 21 to 24 years of age and six persons 25 to 29 years of age. Each of the study participants consumed two drinks within a one-hour period and were then given a memory test. The younger group did 30 percent worse than the older group when trying to recall words from a list that was read aloud 20 minutes earlier, although there was no difference between the two groups in blood alcohol levels or alcohol metabolism, reports Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

What do vampires and Old Yeller have in common? They both had rabies, according to an article in Neurology. A researcher has suggested that the vampire legend may have begun after the occurrence of an epidemic of rabies in Hungary from 1721 to 1728—both the time and place where the legend began. Twenty-five percent of men with rabies have a tendency to bite people. They develop insomnia and the tendency to wander, and they become hypersexual. Men with rabies are overly sensitive to stimuli such as water, light, odors or mirrors, and react to such stimuli with facial and vocal muscle spasms, causing bared teeth, hoarse sounds and frothing at the mouth with bloody fluid.

You're being paid to do what at the office? Power naps are suddenly in vogue, now that companies are seeing the connection between sleep deprivation and reduced productivity, which costs U.S. businesses an estimated $18 billion per year. Many companies provide napping facilities, and some airlines and trucking companies allow supervised napping. Studies on power napping show that well-rested employees are more alert and have faster reaction times, improved problem-solving skills and increased creativity. According to Psychology Today, one California firm that implemented napping reported a 30 percent decrease in expenditures on caffeinated soda and coffee.

A new kind of DNA sampling may be able to help scientists give an exact cause for gene damage. DNA strands can sometimes break as a result of exposure to radiation, drugs, environmental exposures or other factors. Researchers are hoping that a new assay will help them pinpoint which genes are broken and why. In the test, a DNA sample is mixed with a genetically engineered antibody that attaches itself to radiation-damaged DNA. Then a second antibody, with a fluorescent tag, is added that will attach itself to the first antibody as a marker. The sample is then passed through a tube and excited by lasers; the more light that emanates from the sample, the more damage to the DNA. According to Business Week, researchers say they can alter the test to identify gene damage from specific conditions.

Pesky telemarketing may no longer be a problem, if a new service offered by one Midwestern telephone company becomes popular. Ameritech's “Privacy Manager” service will intercept most calls from telemarketers before the phone even rings. How does it work? Callers whose numbers register as “unavailable” or “unknown” on Caller ID will be asked by a recorded message to identify themselves. If the caller does so, the phone will ring, a recording will identify the caller and the recipient of the call is given three choices: accept the call, decline it or decline it with a message to the caller that he or she should not call back, reports Physicians Financial News. Product testing has shown that 70 percent of unidentified callers will hang up before the phone rings.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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