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House Finches Hate Getting Sick Too

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Next time you try to avoid a sick friend or refuse to hug a sick family member, don't feel bad—you're just doing it to protect yourself. And humans aren't the only ones who exhibit such behavior: House finches, which are normally very social creatures, go out of their way to avoid sick birds.

Similar behavior has been observed in lobsters and bullfrog tadpoles, but this is the first time researchers have seen birds acting in such a manner.

"In addition, we found variation in the immune response of house finches, which means that they vary in their ability to fight off infections," says Maxine Zylberberg of the California Academy of Sciences. And just like us, those with the weakest immune systems are the ones who are most cautious when it comes to avoiding their sick friends.

So the next time you dive into your supervisor's office just to avoid the sick guy two cubicles over, remember: you're only doing what comes naturally.

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Health
Growing Up With Headphones May Not Damage Kids’ Hearing
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A study published in the American Medical Association's JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery finds no increase in child and adolescent hearing loss despite a rise in headphone and earbud use.

"Hearing impairment in children is a major public health burden given its impact on early speech and language development, and subsequently on academic and workforce performance later in life," the authors write. "Even mild levels of hearing loss have been found to negatively affect educational outcomes and social functioning."

As portable music players continue to grow in popularity, parents, doctors, and researchers have begun to worry that all the music pouring directly into kids' ears could be damaging their health. It seems a reasonable enough concern, and some studies on American kids' hearing have identified more hearing loss.

To take a closer look, researchers at the University of California-San Francisco analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), collected from 1988 to 2010. They reviewed records from 7036 kids and teens between the ages of 12 and 19, checking each participant's hearing tests against their exposure to noise.

As expected, the authors write, they did find a gradual increase in headphone use and other "recreational noise exposure." And they did see an uptick in hearing loss from 1988 to 2008 from 17 percent to 22.5 percent. But after that, the trend seemed to reverse, sinking all the way down to 15.2 percent—lower than 1988 levels. They also found no significant relationship between noise exposure and hearing loss.

The results were not uniform; some groups of kids were worse off than others. Participants who identified as nonwhite, and those of lower socioeconomic status, were more likely to have hearing problems, but the researchers can't say for sure why that is. "Ongoing monitoring of hearing loss in this population is necessary," they write, "to elucidate long-term trends and identify targets for intervention."

Before you go wild blasting music, we should mention that this study has some major limitations. Hearing loss and other data points were not measured the same way through the entire data collection period. Participants had to self-report things like hearing loss and health care use—elements that are routinely under-reported in surveys. As with just about any health research, more studies are still needed to confirm these findings.

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Live Smarter
Check Out This Online Database to See Which Chemicals Are in Your Tap Water
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One of the responsibilities of the Environmental Protection Agency is imposing limits on the amount of harmful chemicals allowed in tap water. But sometimes these regulations aren't enough: In many of parts of the country, Americans are drinking water that passes the legal test but could still pose a threat to their health. Fortunately, checking local water contamination levels is easy for anyone with web access.

As Fast Company reports, the Tap Water Database from the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit, non-partisan environmental health organization, provides the public with water-quality information on 50,000 utilities around the country. Visitors to the website can search for their local water facilities by state or zip code. Once they find those, they're directed to a list of chemicals that exceed the limits set by health professionals. Common contaminants like chloroform, nitrates, and trichloroacetic acid increase the drinker's risk of cancer if they're exposed to them over extended periods. Each report also includes chemicals that are present in the water supply but conform to the recommended health guidelines.

The tool is the only comprehensive and fully accessible database of its kind. Earlier in 2017, the website was updated for the first time in eight years with information collected from 2010 to 2015. But even if the data is a couple of years old, the resource is valuable to people who rely on their local utility for drinking water. This is especially true for people living in low-income neighborhoods where contamination levels tend to be highest.

Identifying the unwanted chemicals in your water can also help you get smart about purifying it at home. Different home purifiers are built to filter out different chemicals, which makes understanding the quality of your tap water before purchasing one essential. Here's our guide to picking the best water filter for your home.

[h/t Fast Company]

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