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Study Finds Premature Babies Harbor Drug-Resistant Bacteria

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Bacteria have gotten a lot of press in the last few years, in part because we’re rapidly learning just how powerful they can be. Researchers have recently learned that premature babies are already infected with drug-resistant bacteria. The results of their study were published in the journal Nature Microbiology.

You have microbes all over your body, inside and out. The name for your personal collection of bacteria, fungi, and viruses is the microbiome. A healthy microbiome is balanced and diverse, and helps keep your body running.

As you’ve probably heard, some bacteria species are better for you than others. Scientists and doctors are particularly worried about drug-resistant bacteria—species that have evolved a resistance to antibiotics. It’s a sort of arms race in which humans attempt to develop drugs faster than bacteria develop resistance to them.

A large part of the problem is our overuse of antibiotics. The more antibiotics we ingest, the more our bacteria can adjust and learn to overcome them. And we’re ingesting a lot of antibiotics. Public health officials worry about what they call “nightmare bacteria,” which infect more than 2 million Americans each year. 

Among the infected are some of our most vulnerable: preterm babies. Researchers collected more than 400 fecal samples from 84 preemies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. They found that the babies’ gut microbiomes were dominated by drug-resistant bacteria, including Escherichia coli (E. coli), Klebsiella, and Enterobacter. Sequencing the DNA of these bacteria revealed 794 different genes that boost antibiotic resistance. Of those genes, 79 percent had never before been associated with antibiotic resistance. 

Pablo Tsukayama

How and why were these babies infected so quickly and so thoroughly? Drugs. Current medical protocol for premature infants often involves giving them a number of antibiotics, regardless of whether or not the babies actually have bacterial infections. The medicine is supposed to keep them safe, but it may be having the opposite effect; the babies who had been given the most medication were the ones with the least-diverse gut bacteria. Taken as a whole, the premature babies studied had 10 times less bacterial diversity than babies born at term.

The prevalence of harmful bacteria in their bellies could explain why preemies are so often sick. 

"Our study demonstrates that even well-studied bacteria—the ones that we know cause disease or their close relatives—have many genes associated with antibiotic resistance that have not been characterized before," senior author Gautam Dantas said in a press statement. "Premature babies do not always get bacterial infections that need treatment, but we have known for a long time that they are at higher risk for infection than babies born full term. Now, we know that preterm-infant guts are attracting exactly the wrong kinds of bacteria."

"Extremely preterm infants often have multiple medical problems, with symptoms of prematurity overlapping with other conditions like infection," added co-author Barbara B. Warner. "The conventional wisdom has been antibiotics can't hurt and they might help. But our new study demonstrates that wide-scale use of antibiotics in this population does not come without cost." 

Dantas envisions a shift from outright antibiotics to aiming for drugs that disable the bacteria's disease-causing properties. "If we can stop these bacteria from producing toxins, rather than kill them outright, we won't see the same selection pressure," he said. "We don't necessarily need to kill these bacteria; we just need to stop them from killing us."

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Sorry, Kids: Soda is Now Banned From Children's Menus in Baltimore
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The war on sugary drinks continues. Following several cities that have passed laws allowing them to collect substantial sales tax on sodas and other sweetened beverages, Baltimore is taking things a step further. A new ordinance that went into effect Wednesday will prohibit restaurants from offering soda on their kids’ menus.

Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, told the Associated Press that the ordinance was enacted to “help families make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Instead of soda, eateries will be expected to offer milk, water, and 100 percent fruit juices.

If you’re wondering what will stop children from sipping soda ordered by an adult escort, the answer is—nothing. Business owners will not be expected to swat Pepsi out of a child’s hand. The effort is intended to get both parents and children thinking about healthier alternatives to sodas, which children consume with regularity. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 30 percent of kids aged 2 to 19 consumed two or more servings a day, which can contribute to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cavities, and other adverse effects.

Businesses in violation of this kid-targeted soda prohibition will be fined $100. Baltimore joins seven cities in California and Lafayette, Colorado, which have similar laws on the books.

[h/t The Baltimore Sun]

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7 Reasons Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Bored This Summer
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No matter how excited kids are for summer break, after a few weeks without school, they can start to feel a little bored. But as a parent, you shouldn't drive yourself crazy scheduling playdates, lessons, and other organized activities for your restless progeny. Instead, turn off the iPad, put down the camp brochure, and let them sit around the house moaning “I'm bored”—it can be good for them.

1. BOREDOM PROMOTES CREATIVITY ...

Research suggests the experience of boredom can lead to greater creativity because it allows minds to wander. In one 2014 study, researchers asked a group of participants to undertake boring activities like copying down telephone numbers from a directory. Then, they were tested for creativity—they had to come up with as many uses for a pair of foam cups as they could think of. The participants who had endured the boring tasks ended up thinking up more uses for the cups than those who hadn't. Boredom, the researchers wrote, "can sometimes be a force for good."

This isn't an entirely new idea. Another study conducted in Canada in the 1980s provides further evidence that boredom isn't always a bad thing: It found that kids who lived in towns with no televisions scored higher on imagination-related tests than kids who had TVs. Imagine what disconnecting from all of the screens available now could do for a kid's creativity.

2. ... AND MAKES THEM MORE INDEPENDENT.

Boredom can force kids to generate their own ideas about what they'd like to do—and what's feasible—then direct their own activities independently. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves," Lyn Fry, a child psychologist, told Quartz in 2016. "Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant."

3. BOREDOM FOSTERS PROBLEM SOLVING.

In The Boredom Solution: Understanding and Dealing with Boredom, teacher and author Linda Deal advises that it's important to let kids learn to deal with their boredom themselves because it helps them learn to make decisions about how to use their free time. They need to learn to "see the problem of boredom as one within their control," she writes, which can help them come up with constructive ways to solve it rather than simply getting hopeless or angry about it, as kids sometimes do in situations they don't have control over. Kids learn that boredom isn't an insurmountable obstacle.

4. IT MOTIVATES THEM TO SEEK NEW EXPERIENCES.

In a 2012 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers sought to define what, exactly, boredom is. "At the heart of it is our desire to engage with the world or some other mental activity, and that takes attention," co-author Mark Fenske, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, explained at the time. "When we cannot do this—that seems to be what leads to frustration and the aversive state we call 'boredom.'" When kids (and adults) are bored, especially with activities that were once engaging, they're motivated to try new things.

5. BOREDOM CAN HELP THEM MAKE FRIENDS ...

According to a pair of psychologists from Texas A&M University, boredom might have a social role. They argue that it "expresses to others that a person is seeking change and stimulation, potentially prompting others to respond by assisting in this pursuit." Being bored can push kids to go out and be more social, and have fun through activities. When there's not much to do, hanging out with the new kid down the block (or even your little brother) suddenly seems a lot more appealing.

6. ... AND FIGURE OUT THEIR INTERESTS.

Both at school and at home, kids are often required to participate in a range of activities. Having the time and space to do nothing can help kids figure out what they actually like to do. "Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves," psychologist Vanessa Lapointe writes at the Huffington Post. This downtime allows kids to direct their own activities without adult input. Pressed to come up with their own entertainment, they might discover a love of writing plays, baking cookies, biking, crafting, or perfecting their jump shot.

7. IT CAN HELP THEM FIND MEANING IN THEIR LIVES.

According to one 2011 study, boredom forced people to reflect on meaning in their lives, prompting them to seek out meaningful activities like donating blood. While the study only examined adults, who may be more inclined to search for purpose, boredom can nonetheless push kids to undertake activities they might otherwise find unappealing—whether that means helping out with the dishes or agreeing to go volunteer for the day—or could even inspire them to make the world a better place.

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