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Most Americans Support Vaccination

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Despite the misinformation being trumpeted by some very high-profile figures, a new report from the Pew Research Center finds that Americans remain largely in favor of measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccinations for schoolchildren.

Researchers collected survey responses from 1549 American adults hailing from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The participants were diverse in age, income, education, and cultural background. Some were parents, and others were not.

Cary Funk is lead author of the report and associate director of research at Pew. She emphasized the uniquely communal nature of immunization. “Public health benefits from vaccines hinge on very high levels of immunization in the population,” she said in a statement, “so it’s important to understand which group hold reservations about the MMR vaccine.”

By and large, the survey results were quite positive, with 82 percent of Americans agreeing that children attending public school should get the MMR vaccine. Around 88 percent felt that the benefits of vaccination outweighed any potential risks, and 73 percent said that medical scientists should have a major role in any policy regarding childhood vaccines.

Once the survey respondents were broken into smaller groups, philosophical disagreements emerged. Senior citizens (age 65 and up) were 90 percent in favor of school-based requirements for vaccination. This number dropped to 77 percent for younger adults (18 to 29). Young adults were less likely to trust that scientists understand the health effects of vaccination and less likely to understand that scientists are strongly in agreement that vaccines are safe.

The divide was even more apparent between parents and non-parents. Only 52 percent of parents of young kids agreed that there is a low risk of side effects from the MMR vaccine, compared to 70 percent of respondents with no small children. Three other groups were also less likely to trust the vaccine and vaccine scientists: people under age 30, African Americans, and people with a low understanding of science.

“Like many surveys, the findings raise a number of further questions to explore,” Funk told mental_floss. “Each of the groups with comparatively more concern about the MMR vaccine may have different underlying reasons for those concerns.”

She noted that parents of young children are actively facing the question of whether or not to vaccinate their kids on the recommended schedule.

“Yet, like other Americans,” she said in the statement, “they hold broadly positive views about medical scientists and their research on childhood vaccines.”

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Animals
Owning a Dog May Add Years to Your Life, Study Shows
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We've said that having a furry friend can reduce depression, promote better sleep, and encourage more exercise. Now, research has indicated that caring for a canine might actually extend your lifespan.

Previous studies have shown that dog owners have an innate sense of comfort and increased well-being. A new paper published in Scientific Reports and conducted by Uppsala University in Sweden looked at the health records of 3.4 million of the country's residents. These records typically include personal data like marital status and whether the individual owns a pet. Researchers got additional insight from a national dog registry providing ownership information. According to the study, those with a dog for a housemate were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or any other cause during the study's 12-year duration.

The study included adults 40 to 80 years old, with a mean age of 57. Researchers found that dogs were a positive predictor in health, particularly among singles. Those who had one were 33 percent less likely to die early than those who did not. Authors didn't conclude the exact reason behind the correlation: It could be active people are more likely to own dogs, that dogs promoted more activity, or that psychological factors like lowered incidences of depression might bolster overall well-being. Either way, having a pooch in your life could mean living a longer one.

[h/t Bloomberg]

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Live Smarter
Not Sure About Your Tap Water? Here's How to Test for Contaminants
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In the wake of Flint, Michigan's water crisis, you may have begun to wonder: Is my tap water safe? How would I know? To put your mind at ease—or just to satisfy your scientific curiosity—you can find out exactly what's in your municipal water pretty easily, as Popular Science reports. Depending on where you live, it might even be free.

A new water quality test called Tap Score, launched on Kickstarter in June 2017, helps you test for the most common household water contaminants for $120 per kit. You just need to take a few samples, mail them to the lab, and you'll get the results back in 10 days, telling you about lead levels, copper and cadmium content, arsenic, and other common hazardous materials that can make their way into water via pipes or wells. If you're mostly worried about lead, you can get a $40 test that only tells you about the lead and copper content of your water.

In New York State, a free lead-testing program will send you a test kit on request that allows you to send off samples of your water to a state-certified lab for processing, no purchase required. A few weeks later, you'll get a letter with the results, telling you what kind of lead levels were found in your water. This option is great if you live in New York, but if your state doesn't offer free testing (or only offers it to specific locations, like schools), there are other budget-friendly ways to test, too.

While mailing samples of your water off to a certified lab is the most accurate way to test your water, you can do it entirely at home with inexpensive strip tests that will only set you back $10 to $15. These tests aren't as sensitive as lab versions, and they don't test for as many contaminants, but they can tell you roughly whether you should be concerned about high levels of toxic metals like lead. The strip tests will only give you positive or negative readings, though, whereas the EPA and other official agencies test for the concentration of contaminants (the parts-per-billion) to determine the safety of a water source. If you're truly concerned with what's in your water, you should probably stick to sending your samples off to a professional, since you'll get a more detailed report of the results from a lab than from a colored strip.

In the future, there will likely be an even quicker way to test for lead and other metals—one that hooks up to your smartphone. Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old from Colorado, won the 2017 Young Scientist Challenge by inventing Tethys, a faster lead-testing device than what's currently on the market. With Tethys, instead of waiting for a lab, you can get results instantly. It's not commercially available yet, though, so for now, we'll have to stick with mail-away options.

[h/t Popular Science]

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