PTSD Might Be Contagious

iStock.com/shironosov
iStock.com/shironosov

Traumatic events don’t just affect the people who experience them. They also affect the victim’s partner, parents, children, and friends. We know this intuitively, but Scientific American highlights new research showing that the impact of trauma goes even deeper: Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be passed from person to person.

By describing the traumatic event to another person, a form of secondary PTSD can be "caught" by someone who is close to the trauma victim, such as a parent, spouse, or even a therapist or emergency responder. According to Scientific American, recent research suggests that 10 to 20 percent of people who have a close relationship with someone who has PTSD could develop the condition themselves. One study from 2013 found that nearly one in five healthcare workers who had been helping members of the military with PTSD had developed “secondary trauma” [PDF].

Some of the symptoms they experienced included intrusions, or mental images, flashbacks, or nightmares of the traumatic event. Other symptoms were sleep disorders, feelings of hopelessness, stress-induced hyperarousal, and an overreactive fight-or-flight response.

Similar studies revealed that emergency responders, social workers, trauma therapists, and the wives of former prisoners of war are also at risk. Although the spouses or partners of war veterans are often affected, research from 2017 showed that the parents of veterans seemed unaffected, while the children of veterans occasionally showed symptoms, but not severe ones.

The definition of the disorder has even been amended to reflect these findings. According to the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, firsthand experience of a traumatic incident isn’t necessary to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Psychologist Judith Daniels of the University of Groningen in the Netherlands suggests there’s a physiological explanation for why secondhand trauma can seem so real and vivid to someone who never experienced the trauma itself directly. “The regions of the brain that proce[ss] visual imagery have a very strong overlap with regions that process imagined visual experience,” she tells Scientific American. It would seem that just hearing about the traumatic event is enough to produce PTSD-like symptoms.

Researchers also found that extremely empathetic people and people who don’t keep any “emotional distance” from the trauma victim (such as spouses) are at greater risk of developing secondary PTSD. That’s partly because they may internalize the trauma.

There may also be a genetic aspect that allows PTSD to be passed down from parent to child. A 2017 study suggests that one’s genetic biomarkers could denote a higher risk of PTSD, but researchers said further studies are needed to identify the specific genes involved, CNN reports.

[h/t Scientific American]

A Generic EpiPen Coming in Early 2019 Could Save You Money

Brand-name EpiPens at a Congressional hearing on the escalating cost of the drug in 2016
Brand-name EpiPens at a Congressional hearing on the escalating cost of the drug in 2016
Alex Wong/Getty Images

For an incredibly common, life-saving medication, EpiPens (epinephrine auto-injectors) are surprisingly difficult for many consumers to get ahold of. Their cost has skyrocketed in recent years from less than $100 for a pack of two to more than $600. They’ve gotten so expensive that some EMTs have resorted to using syringes to manually administer epinephrine rather than purchasing the standard auto-injectors, which are almost exclusively made by the pharmaceutical company Mylan. Generic options have been slow to come to market, but according to Business Insider, a recently approved EpiPen rival is coming in the first few months of 2019, and it could save consumers a significant chunk of change.

The drug’s developers have had an unusually hard time getting the new EpiPen alternative, called Symjepi, onto store shelves. The drug was approved in 2017, but the company, Adamis Pharmaceuticals, had trouble finding investors. Now, Novartis, the Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant that manufactures drugs like Ritalin, is releasing the drug through its Sandoz division (perhaps most famous for it role in discovering LSD in the 1930s).

Symjepi will cost $250 out-of-pocket for a pack of two doses. That’s 16.6 percent less than the Mylan-authorized generic EpiPen or Teva’s generic EpiPen, which both sell for $300. It differs a bit from its rivals, though, in that it’s a pre-filled, single-dose syringe rather than a spring-loaded auto-injector. Auto-injectors are plastic, pen-like devices that keep the needle shielded until the moment of injection, and are specifically designed to help make it easier for untrained (even squeamish) people to use in an emergency. With this version, patients will need to remove a needle cap and inject the needle. Just like the EpiPen, though, it’s designed to be injected in the upper thigh, through clothing if necessary.

If you have health insurance, the difference in cost may not matter as much for you as a consumer, depending on your plan. (I personally picked up a two-pack of Mylan-authorized generic Epipens at CVS recently for $0, using a manufacturer’s Epipen coupon to knock down what would have been a $10 copay.) But it will matter considerably for those with high-deductible plans and to insurers, which, when faced with high costs, eventually pass those costs on to the consumer either through higher co-pays or higher premiums. It also affects agencies that buy EpiPens for emergency use, like local fire departments. And since EpiPens expire after just a year, the costs add up.

However, there’s currently a shortage of EpiPens on the market, according to the FDA, making it more important than ever to have other epinephrine drugs available to those at risk for serious allergic reactions.

[h/t Business Insider]

Brain-Eating Amoeba Kills Seattle Woman Who Used Tap Water in Her Neti Pot

CDC/Dr. Govinda S. Visvesvara, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
CDC/Dr. Govinda S. Visvesvara, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

If you use a neti pot to clear out your sinuses, there's one important rule you should always follow: Don't fill it with tap water. Doing so could land you a sinus infection, or worse, a potentially fatal disease caused by a brain-eating amoeba. Although the latter scenario is exceptionally rare, a 69-year-old woman in Seattle died from doing just that, The Seattle Times reports. Experts are also warning that these infections could become more common as temperatures in the northern hemisphere continue to rise.

Physicians at Seattle's Swedish Medical Center initially thought the woman had a brain tumor. She was brought into the emergency room following a seizure, and a CT scan of her brain seemed to reveal a tumor-like mass. The only other known symptom she had was a red sore on her nose, which was previously misdiagnosed as rosacea. When surgeons operated on her the following day, they noticed that "a section of her brain about the size of a golf ball was bloody mush," neurosurgeon Dr. Charles Cobbs told The Seattle Times. "There were these amoeba[e] all over the place just eating brain cells. We didn't have any clue what was going on, but when we got the actual tissue we could see it was the amoeba."

She died a month later of an infection called granulomatous amoebic encephalitis (GAE), according to a recent case report published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases. The disease is caused by a single-celled amoeba called Balamuthia mandrillaris, and it's extremely deadly. Of the 109 cases between 1974 and 2016, 90 percent were fatal.

According to the FDA, some bacteria and amoebae in tap water are safe to swallow because acid in the stomach kills them. However, when they enter the nasal cavity, they can stay alive for long periods of time and travel up to the brain, where they start eating their way through tissue and cells. Another brain-eating amoeba called Naegleria fowleri can cause a similar disease, except it acts faster and can cause death in just a few days. Although it's also rare, it's usually found in warm freshwater, and infections start by getting contaminated water up one's nose while swimming or by using a nose irrigation device filled with tap water.

Dr. Cynthia Maree, an infectious disease doctor at the Swedish Medical Center, said the changing environment could facilitate the spread of these infections. "I think we are going to see a lot more infections that we see south (move) north, as we have a warming of our environment," Maree says. Researchers say these amoebae are still little-understood. Future studies would need to be conducted to learn more about the risk factors involved.

[h/t The Seattle Times]

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