What Were the Juiciest Health Stories this Month?

October 6, 2011 at 11:41 am , by

Every month our friends at Yahoo! send us a snapshot of the month’s top health searches. I used to expect not to be surprised by what makes the list. After all, I spend a fair amount of time reading health news. The nerd in me likes to try to predict what people were most interested in. Usually I get some right (always on the list: bedbugs), but every month I find a few things that make me think, “What is that about?” Here are the most interesting terms from September’s batch, all of which fell in the top three when Yahoo! looked at what women were digging for.

3. Babesiosis
I definitely never would have guessed this one because I’ve never heard of it. But I’m betting that’s exactly why it was near the top—no one had heard of it, until a recent study in the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases found that it’s on the rise, made some headlines and sent everyone to their search bars to learn more.

So what is it? Unfortunately it is not a mutant bacterium that will turn you into a total babe, as I was hoping. It’s a parasite that attacks your red blood cells. Like Lyme disease, babesiosis is spread by deer ticks, and it can cause similar symptoms including high fever, headache and muscle aches. But it’s much harder to diagnose because there’s no telltale rash, and many people who are infected have no symptoms at all. While it is treated with antibiotics, it can be fatal in people with compromised immune systems, like if you have cancer or you’ve had your spleen removed. Treatment isn’t necessary if you’re not experiencing symptoms, but what’s startling is babesiosis’ potential to spread through donated blood. There isn’t a screening test yet, so people could be passing the parasite along unknowingly at local blood drives. And because blood is donated most often to people in a compromised state, this could be really dangerous.

2. Listeria
Okay, this one I could guess. It’s really a big story this month. Listeria is the bacteria behind the most recent food-borne illness outbreak. This time the culprit was Colorado cantaloupes, and so far more than 100 illnesses and 18 deaths have been reported, according to the CDC. Although it’s less common than E. coli and salmonella, listeria is more deadly. By now, all of the tainted cantaloupe should be out of the food supply, since the farm stopped shipping them on September 10. But the bacteria can remain in your system for up to 70 days, so see your doctor if you experience diarrhea that leads to fever and muscle aches.

What’s odd is that listeria isn’t usually found in produce. More often, an outbreak stems from meats and unpasteurized dairy, though outbreaks in produce are growing. Fruits and vegetables can be contaminated by bacteria in water in the soil, manure used in fertilizer or during processing. The FDA still has not pinpointed how this outbreak started. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is wash produce thoroughly. Be sure to rinse melons and other fruits before slicing into them because a knife can transfer bacteria to the inside. You might also start checking the FDA’s recall updates at FoodSafety.gov to stay abreast of any future outbreaks.

1. Sjögren’s Syndrome
When Venus Williams announced she’d be sitting out this year at the U.S. Open due to her recent diagnosis with Sjögren’s syndrome, searches spiked 1,129 percent for the little-known disorder, according to Yahoo! data. Sjögren’s (pronounced SHOW-grins) is an autoimmune disease that causes your body to attack the moisture-producing glands, such as the ones that make your saliva and tears. The hallmark symptoms are dry eyes and dry mouth, but it also causes fatigue, swelling and joint pain. Nine out of 10 sufferers are women, according to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation.

“I had swelling and numbness and fatigue, which was really debilitating. I just didn’t have any energy. And it’s not that you don’t have energy; you just feel beat up,” Williams told Good Morning America last month. As we saw with our last batch of Yahoo! health searches, a celebrity can make a huge difference in bringing much-needed attention to health issues.

Photo by alisdair via flickr

2 Responses to “What Were the Juiciest Health Stories this Month?”

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