Roundup: An 'Aerobic Fitness Check' Could Help Prevent Heart Attacks; Zika Virus Can Replicate Up to 7 Months After Infection, CDC Finds

Actor Alan Thicke’s sudden death from a fatal heart attack this week at the age of 69 is shedding new light on cardiovascular screenings that could prevent such a tragedy from happening.

Just last month, the American Heart Association (AHA) issued a scientific statement suggesting that aerobic fitness should be considered a vital sign of health routinely checked by doctors — just as body temperature, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and breathing rates are now. Thicke was playing hockey with his youngest son in Los Angeles when he suffered a heart attack. He was best known for playing the beloved father on the “Growing Pains” sitcom, which aired from 1985 to 1992.

The statement from the AHA emphasizes that fitness can be as good an indicator, if not a better one, of someone’s risk for heart disease and early death than such standard risk factors as smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. The authors recommend that every adult should have aerobic fitness assessed as part of regular medical checkups. If fitness levels are found to be on the poor side, physicians should advise patients to start exercising regularly in a monitored program, the AHA states.

It’s unclear what symptoms and risk factors Thicke had, if any, before his heart attack. But it is not uncommon for some people to have a heart attack — even if there were no symptoms leading up to the event. Thicke was conscious when was loaded into an ambulance and rushed to a hospital. Thicke reportedly started vomiting before he needed assistance. Nausea or vomiting are often over-looked warning signs of a heart attack.

“Women, in general, have more atypical heart attack symptoms than men so they are more at risk for a ‘silent’ heart attack,” says Curtis Hamburg, M.D., a cardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “But anyone with heart disease or risk factors for it – even if they have had no symptoms – needs to be closely followed by a physician.”

Aerobic, or cardiorespiratory, fitness is a measure of how well your body can deliver oxygen to tissues. A heart attack occurs when the blood flow that brings oxygen to the heart muscle is severely reduced or cut off completely.

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Zika Virus Can Replicate Up to 7 Months After Infection, CDC Finds

The Zika virus can replicate itself for up to seven months after the mother is infected — and the virus can linger even after birth, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new findings seem to bolster previous conclusions from case studies indicating that the mosquito-borne Zika virus can grow in fetal brains and women’s placentas.

The CDC researchers also found evidence of the Zika virus replicating in an infant with microcephaly who died two months after birth. Microcephaly is the condition where babies are born with smaller brains that might not have developed properly. The levels of genetic material from Zika were about 1,000 times higher in the infants’ brains than in the women’s placentas, according to the study published this week in CDC’s Emerging Infectious Diseases journal.

“Our findings show that Zika virus can continue to replicate in infants’ brains even after birth, and that the virus can persist in placentas for months – much longer than we expected,” said Julu Bhatnagar, Ph.D., lead of the molecular pathology team at CDC’s Infectious Diseases Pathology Branch and the study’s lead author.

Dr. Bhatnagar added that researchers don’t know how long the virus can persist, “but its persistence could have implications for babies born with microcephaly and for apparently healthy infants whose mothers had Zika during their pregnancies.” More studies are needed to fully understand how the virus can affect babies, the study’s authors concluded.

The study also sheds light on how the virus can cross the placenta and infect the fetus’s brain.

The CDC researchers tested tissues from 52 patients with suspected Zika virus infection, including brain tissues from eight infants who had microcephaly and later died. They also tested placental tissues from 44 women: 22 who had adverse pregnancy or birth outcomes (miscarriage, elective termination, stillbirth or babies born with microcephaly) and 22 who had babies who appeared healthy. Most of the women were U.S. residents who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks during their pregnancies. The eight infants with microcephaly who died were from Brazil and Colombia.

Meanwhile, Florida health officials last week cleared South Beach as an area of active Zika transmission. Officials said factors contributing to the success in containing the local transmission of the virus include the beginning of South Florida’s milder and drier season which suppresses disease-carrying mosquito populations, along with aggressive mosquito control measures.

Isolated Zika infections remain under investigation in Miami-Dade County. Florida Health Secretary Celeste Philip says officials expect travelers to continue bringing Zika into the state. Pregnant women should continue to exercise caution. Information on Zika testing can be found here.

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Anesthesia, Sedation Drugs Could Be Harmful to Children Younger Than 3

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that “repeated or lengthy (more than three hours)” use of general anesthetic and sedation drugs may harm the developing brains of children younger than 3 years and pregnant women in their third trimester.

The agency, which said its warning is based on a comprehensive analysis of the latest research, issued a “drug-safety communication” to inform health-care providers, parents and pregnant women about these risks. The agency also ordered manufacturers to add warnings to their products’ labels.

“We recognize that in many cases these exposures may be medically necessary and these new data regarding the potential harms must be carefully weighed against the risk of not performing a specific medical procedure,” the FDA says in a statement.

More than 1 million children under age 4 require anesthesia for surgery in the United States each year, often for conditions such as congenital heart defects or pyloric stenosis, which refers to the narrowing of the opening from the stomach into the small intestine.

The FDA emphasized that published studies in pregnant animals and young animals have shown that the use of general anesthetic and sedation drugs for more than 3 hours caused widespread loss of nerve cells in the brain. Studies of young animals indicate these changes result in long-term effects on the animals’ behavior or learning capabilities.

“Consistent with animal studies, recent human studies suggest that a single, relatively short exposure to general anesthetic and sedation drugs in infants or toddlers is unlikely to have negative effects on behavior or learning,” the FDA noted.

However, further research is needed to “fully characterize how early life anesthetic exposure affects children’s brain development,” the agency added.

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