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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(2):204

There might be a miniature ecosystem living in your pillows. A study from the University of Manchester shows the average household pillow can play host to up to 16 kinds of fungi. Researchers took samples from 10 pillows (five synthetic, five feather) that had been used for 18 months to 20 years. All of the pillows had evidence of fungi, with four to 16 species on each. Synthetic pillows had particularly high amounts of the fungus Aspergillus fumigatus, which invade the lungs and can exacerbate asthma. Researchers say the fungi feed on skin cells and dust mite feces found on the pillows. They recommend disinfecting pillows and buying feather pillows to reduce exposure to the fungi. (Allergy, January 2006)

Could working with your boss be killing you? According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, employees who feel they are treated unfairly on the job have a 30 percent higher risk of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) than those who report being treated fairly. British men in civil service who self-reported high levels of justice at work (i.e., their bosses listened to their viewpoints, included them in decision making, and generally respected them) had lower instances of stress, absenteeism, and negative emotions. Men who reported a low or intermediate level of justice had a higher risk of developing CHD. The study results did not differ significantly when adjusted for characteristics that cause heart disease. (Arch Intern Med, October 24, 2005)

Playing video games may be a new way to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in soldiers. At least one in six soldiers returning from active duty in Iraq has symptoms of PTSD, and many are unwilling to seek treatment. Psychiatric News reports that a new virtual reality system may be the best way to get soldiers to participate in treatment. Wearing virtual reality goggles and headphones, soldiers play a game that mimics the combat environment and can “teleport” them to certain situations relevant to their specific combat experience. Researchers say the idea is to gradually reintroduce patients to sources of trauma until those memories no longer incapacitate them. Creators of the game hope that war veterans will be more willing to use it than traditional therapy methods. (Psychiatr News, October 21, 2005)

Can early retirement mean early death? The authors of a study in the British Medical Journal say that employees who retire at 55 years of age double their risk of death before reaching 65 years compared with persons who work past 60 years of age. The authors analyzed survival data of oil company employees in the United States actively working between 1973 and 2003. Of employees who retired at 55, 60, and 65 years of age, the average ages at death by the end of the study were 72, 76, and 80 years, respectively. The risk of dying early after retiring early was 80 percent higher for men than women. The explanation for longer life is unclear. The study shows that retiring early does not improve survival rates and, conversely, that retiring at 65 years of age does not increase the risk of death. (BMJ, October 21, 2005)

Take two sticks of gum and call me in the morning.” According to the American College of Surgeons, chewing gum for a few minutes each day can help patients with laparoscopic colectomy leave the hospital sooner and save millions of dollars a year in hospital costs. Study patients who chewed gum for 15 minutes four times a day reduced postoperative ileus and went home in an average of 4.4 days compared with 5.2 days for patients who did not chew gum. Physicians are still investigating why the method is successful. They say spending less than a dollar on a pack of gum to discharge a patient earlier will save $500 to $750 per day not spent in the hospital. (ACS news release, October 18, 2005)

Parents interested in knowing what their child’s adult height will be may have some help, according to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics. Physicians in Canada have come up with a method to use current height and biologic maturity to predict a child’s future height. All children go through a growth spurt during which they reach 92 percent of their final height. Using height and weight measurements, the method can predict the length of time until the growth spurt occurs in children eight to 16 years of age and can then calculate final height. The method is accurate within 2.10 inches in boys and 2.68 inches in girls 95 percent of the time. (J Pediatr, October 2005)

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