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Reading Room

The reading room includes articles and videos of potential interest to consumers and medical professionals. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the NC Medical Board, its members and staff. Note: Some links may require subscriptions.

Bird flu researchers turn to Finland’s mink farms, tracking a virus with pandemic potential

August 11, 2023
When infectious disease specialist Tarja Sironen and her colleagues went to a farm in Finland housing foxes and mink last week, the normal shrieking of the birds around the barns was gone. Dead gulls littered the ground. Foxes weren’t barking. In the near-silence, they were seeing the reach of the highly pathogenic avian influenza, H5N1, moving beyond millions of domestic and wild birds to outbreaks among mammals at a scale previously unseen. That includes mink, foxes, and raccoon dogs on Finnish fur farms.

“How is it mutating? That is the key question,” Sironen said. The H5N1 virus does not infect people easily right now, but, as STAT’s Andrew Joseph writes, “trying to predict an H5N1 pandemic is almost like warning about an earthquake. It could very well happen, perhaps next year, or in five years, or who knows when.”

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A new clue to the reason some people come down with long COVID

August 8, 2023
Stéphanie Longet is an immunologist and a COVID researcher at the University of Saint-Etienne in France, and just like 10-20% of adults who were infected with the virus, she continues to have symptoms well after her infection has resolved – a condition known colloquially as long COVID.

“I got COVID one year ago and I developed some persistent symptoms,” she says. “I cannot work too long. My legs are quickly exhausted. In the morning it feels like I had run a marathon during the night, and I didn’t do anything, I just slept.”

Longet and other scientists don’t exactly know why some people develop long COVID while others don’t, but preliminary research released in medRxiv in July suggests that genetics plays a role.

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As wildfires burn, scientists race to understand the health dangers of prolonged exposure

July 31, 2023
More than 120 million Americans — one-third of the U.S. population — have been living under air quality alerts this summer, with citizens in New York City, Chicago, and Detroit at times experiencing some of the unhealthiest air in the world. The hazy conditions, fed by an unprecedented surge in Canadian wildfires likely fueled by climate change, has grounded planes, canceled outdoor sporting events, and filled emergency rooms with asthma patients.

Although some cities are experiencing relief this week, the 1,000-plus blazes raging in boreal forests from British Columbia to Nova Scotia mean that Americans in the Midwest and eastern United States can expect more waves of eye-stinging, throat-burning smoke.

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An ultra-processed diet made this doctor sick. Now he’s studying why

July 24, 2023
Eating processed food is nothing new. Humans have been crushing grains to make bread for thousands of years. But in recent decades, our food supply has shifted, with an increasing number of ultra-processed products made with fillers, additives, stabilizers and synthetic ingredients that our grandparents wouldn’t recognize.

A recent analysis by the Access to Nutrition Initiative finds about 70% of food products sold in the U.S. are unhealthy — and much of the food can be classified as ultra-processed.

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8 mistakes to avoid if you’re going out in the heat

July 12, 2023
It’s hot — which shouldn’t come as a surprise in July. But this summer’s heat is breaking records around the world, and in the U.S. this week, a heat dome is afflicting the Southwest with ultrahigh temperatures. The East Coast is expected to be steamy, and parts of Southern California could hit 106 degrees by Saturday in what the National Weather Service has dubbed a summer of “excessive” weather.

Of course, it’s summer and you have things to do outdoors, from festivals to barbecues to mowing the lawn. We get it. But the heat can take a toll on your body, and you need to plan ahead when the temperature rises to extreme heat. “Don’t overdo it,” warns John Schumann, a primary care physician in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “Heat can envelop and pummel you.”

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How a human smell receptor works is finally revealed

May 1, 2023
For the first time, researchers have determined how a human olfactory receptor captures an airborne scent molecule, the pivotal chemical event that triggers our sense of smell.

Whether it evokes roses or vanilla, cigarettes or gasoline, every scent starts with free-floating odor molecules that latch onto receptors in the nose. Multitudes of such unions produce the perception of the smells we love, loathe or tolerate. Researchers therefore want to know in granular detail how smell sensors detect and respond to odor molecules. Yet human smell receptors have resisted attempts to visualize how they work in detail — until now.

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