Roundup: CDC Warns of Record-High STDs; Dog Ownership Linked to Better Health; and Diet's Effect on Depression

Public Health Officials Warn of ‘Severe Health’ Issues from Record High STDs

U.S. public health officials are warning adults of dramatic increases in confirmed cases of sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

For the fifth straight year, combined cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis have risen in the United States, and last year reached a record high of 2.4 million infections.

The rise in STDs can have “severe health consequences,” the CDC states in its new report. Among the most serious consequences are newborn deaths related to congenital syphilis, which increased 22 percent from 2017 to 2018 (from 77 to 94 deaths). Overall, syphilis cases among newborns increased 40 percent to more than 1,300 cases.

Congenital syphilis – syphilis passed from a mother to her baby during pregnancy – can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, newborn death, and severe lifelong physical and neurological problems, the CDC says. If left untreated, STDs can be transmitted to others and produce adverse health outcomes such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increased HIV risk.

“STDs can come at a high cost for babies and other vulnerable populations,” said Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. “Curbing STDs will improve the overall health of the nation and prevent infertility, HIV, and infant deaths.”

The CDC says that several factors are contributing to the overall increase in STDs, including:

  • Drug use, poverty, stigma, and unstable housing, which can reduce access to STD prevention and care;
  • Decreased condom use among vulnerable groups, including young people and gay and bisexual men;
  • Cuts to STD programs at the state and local level. In recent years, more than half of local programs have experienced budget cuts, resulting in clinic closures, reduced screening, staff loss, and reduced patient follow-up and linkage to care services.

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Owning a Dog Can Help You Live Longer After Heart Attack or Stroke, Research Finds

Dog ownership is associated with living longer, especially if you’ve survived a heart attack or stroke and you live alone, according to a new study and a separate meta-analysis published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a journal of the American Heart Association.

The latest finding confirms what previous studies have determined — that dog ownership is linked to a reduction in factors that contribute to heart disease and related events, such as heart attacks.

While the new studies cannot “prove” that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to living longer, “these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this,” says Glenn N. Levine, M.D., chair of the writing group of the American Heart Association’s scientific statement on pet ownership.

Previous studies have found that dog ownership “alleviates social isolation, improves physical activity and even lowers blood pressure — leading researchers to believe dog owners could potentially have better cardiovascular outcomes compared to non-owners,” says the American Heart Association (AHA).

Researchers in the new studies compared the health of dog owners and non-owners after a heart attack or stroke using health data provided by the Swedish National Patient Register. Patients studied were Swedish residents, ages 40-85, who suffered a heart attack or ischemic stroke from 2001 to 2012.

Compared to people who did not own a dog, researchers found that dog owners who were heart attack patients living alone after hospitalization had a 33 percent lower risk of death, with a 15 percent lower risk for those living with a partner or child. The risk of death for dog owners who were stroke patients living alone after hospitalization was 27 percent lower, and 12 percent lower for those living with a partner or child.

“The lower risk of death associated with dog ownership could be explained by an increase in physical activity and the decreased depression and loneliness, both of which have been connected to dog ownership in previous studies,” the AHA states.

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A Healthier Diet Can Help Treat Depression in Young Adults, Study Finds

Eating a healthy diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables and low in processed foods and “added sugars” can help reduce symptoms of depression, especially in young adults, new research finds.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, found that symptoms of depression diminished sharply in a group of young adults, ages 18 to 35, after they followed a Mediterranean-style pattern of eating for three weeks. Study participants were given a depression “score” that dropped from the “moderate” range down to the “normal” range. They also reported lower levels of anxiety and stress too.

In contrast, the depression scores among the group of participants who didn’t change their diets did not change. These participants continued to consume a diet higher in refined carbohydrates, processed foods and sugary foods.

A typical Mediterranean diet spotlights meals low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat, while recommending significant portions of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also promotes the “good” fats from olive oil or fish.

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