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Report Says Kuwaitis Abuse Health System

KUWAIT CITY, Aug. 11 (UPI) — Kuwaitis are allegedly abusing their healthcare system, which pays all expenses for treatment abroad for the patient and companions, a doctor charged.

“If you analyze them, you will find about only 15 percent deserve to go abroad,” Dr. Mohammed Shamsah, the secretary-general of the Kuwait Medical Association told The National, a United Arab Emirates newspaper.

Some Kuwaitis are flying to Europe’s top tourist destinations during the summer months for plastic surgery, he said.

The applications “don’t say it’s for aesthetic reasons, they say, reconstructive breast surgery.”

Shamsah criticized the country’s politicians for the system that encourages many to abuse it.

Kuwait’s Ministry of Health spends millions of dollars and sends more than 2,000 Kuwaitis a year for treatment abroad, the paper said. Similar health programs are also run by the country’s military and police forces, the paper said.

Each patient requiring treatment abroad can be accompanied by their children, a caregiver and two family members. All receive plane tickets, a daily allowance, and in some cases travel in a private jet, the report said.

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U.S. Demonstrates Translation Devices

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) — U.S. researchers say they’re working on smartphone-based translation programs that could aid American soldiers dealing with civilians in Afghanistan.

Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology have demonstrated speech translation devices that could translate between English and Pashto, an official language of Afghanistan, an institute release said Saturday.

Traditionally, the military has used human translators for communicating with non-English speakers in foreign countries, but the job is dangerous and skilled translators often are in short supply, the institute said.

In the new devices, an English speaker talks into the phone, and speech recognition software generates a text file that another program translates to the target language.

Text-to-speech technology then converts that text file into an oral response in the foreign language.

This process is reversed for the foreign language speaker.

Pashto, a native Afghan tongue, is the current focus of research but NIST says it has also assessed machine translation systems for Dari—also spoken in Afghanistan—and Iraqi Arabic.

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U.S. to Allow Medical Pot for Some Vets

DENVER, July 24 (UPI) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will permit use of medical marijuana at its hospitals and clinics in states where it is legal, an official said.

The department is expected to issue a directive next week clarifying policy on medical pot, The New York Times reported Friday. The policy will not authorize doctors to prescribe medical marijuana but it is expected to provide some protection for military veterans against losing access to pain medication for using pot, the newspaper said.

Dr. Robert Jesse, the principal Veterans Department deputy under secretary for health, told the Times the department is “beholden to federal law” even though some states have legalized pot.

“We didn’t want patients who were legally using marijuana to be administratively denied access to pain management programs,” he said.

Fourteen states permit medical use of marijuana but it remains illegal under federal law.

The policy will permit doctors to modify treatment plans for veterans who use marijuana and will not be required to prescribe pain medicine if drug interaction is a potential problem, the newspaper said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Death Risk Double for Obese Men at Age 20

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, July 15 (UPI) — Obese 20-year-old men have a lifelong doubling of premature death risk, researchers in Denmark say.

Study leader Esther Zimmermann of the Institute of Preventive Medicine, Copenhagen University Hospital and the Institute of Biomedical Sciences at University of Copenhagen in Denmark says obesity at age 20 can have a constant effect on death up to 60 years later.

She said more research is needed to determine whether the lifelong effect is due to being obese at 20 or because obesity is often a lifelong condition.

The researcher tracked 5,000 military conscripts age 20 up to age 80.

“It is the first study with such a long follow-up time and thus the first study to investigate the lifelong effect,” Zimmermann said in a statement.

The researchers compared mortality in 1,930 obese men versus mortality i 3,601 non-obese men. Body mass index calculated using height and weight at ages 20, 35 and 46 measured obesity.

During the study period, 1,191 of the men had died.

The study found that at any given age, an obese man was twice as likely to die as a man who was not and that obesity at age 20 years had a constant effect on death up to 60 years later.

“At age 70 years, 70 percent of the men in the comparison group and 50 percent of those in the obese group were still alive and we estimated that from middle age, the obese were likely to die eight years earlier than those in the comparison group,” Zimmermann said.

The findings were presented at the International Congress on Obesity in Stockholm.

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Solar-powered Plane in Record Attempt

FARNBOROUGH, England, July 14 (UPI) — A British solar-powered aircraft will attempt a non-stop, day and night endurance record flight lasting two weeks, observers say.

The Zephyr, build by British company Qinetiq, is set to take off from a United States military base this week, the BBC reported Wednesday.

Qinetiq, a defense and research company, has already flown the unmanned Zephyr on flights as long as 83 hours, the BBC said.

A solar-powered vehicle, which can recharge its batteries during daytime flight to stay aloft through the night, can circle over a particular area for extended periods.

Such craft could have a wide range of applications in the future, the BBC said.

Military applications could include reconnaissance and communications missions. Civilian and scientific programs could employ them for Earth observation duties, the BBC said.

“We now have an aircraft that we believe is capable of actually fulfilling missions for the military or the civil user,” Zephyr project manager John Saltmarsh said.

“We would offer it as a service. We would provide a ‘hook in the sky’ that you could put a payload on to, and we will guarantee to keep it up there 24 hours a day for a couple of months,” he said.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Woman Ill After Sex with Vaccinated Man

ATLANTA, July 1 (UPI) — A woman who had sex with a member of the U.S. military vaccinated against smallpox subsequently contracted a related virus, health officials say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released Thursday said despite the patient’s exposure history, sex with a person vaccinated against smallpox, and clinical presentation, genital lesions, the diagnosis of vaccinia virus was not initially considered by the patient’s doctor.

“Healthcare providers caring for U.S. military personnel or their contacts should consider vaccinia virus infection in the differential diagnosis of clinically compatible genital lesions,” the report said. “Healthcare providers should educate vaccinees and any contacts with unexplained lesions about methods to prevent transmission and inadvertent autoinoculation.”

No more cases have been reported, the report said.

Vaccinia virus is used in the live-virus vaccine against smallpox but the vaccinia virus vaccine cannot cause a smallpox infection because it does not contain the smallpox virus.

The World Health Organization’s Smallpox Eradication Program used the vaccinia virus in the vaccine that eradicated smallpox disease.

Due to the threat of bioterrorism, the vaccine is administered to the U.S. military.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Caregiving: Fireworks and PTSD

ALBANY, N.Y., June 30 (UPI) — Memorial Day may be the beginning of summer, but Independence Day is the unofficial beginning of firecracker season, which can be hard on military veterans, the elderly and pets.

Many vets experience terror from thunderstorms, construction blasts and fireworks, which can bring back painful memories, according to Katherine Smythe, a social worker at VA Medical Center in Buffalo, N.Y.

Although the scheduled fireworks sponsored by municipalities can sound like a firefight, some veterans say it is the individual firecrackers and noisemakers that continue during summer weekends that are the worst: They sound like gunfire and they’re unexpected.

“When you’re sitting on a blanket with your family with a cold drink in your hand and you’re watching fireworks there’s no mistaking where you are,” a retired U.S. Army colonel who used to jump out of airplanes told UPI’s Caregiving. “But it does bother some of my friends; it can be unnerving.”

Dogs, cats and humans are subject to the startle response, according to Dr. Larry Lachman, a licensed clinical psychologist who practices cognitive-behavioral therapy for patients with PTSD.

“A person with post-traumatic stress disorder is exposed to a traumatic event that either involved the threat of death or great bodily injury to another or themselves — from war, mugging, cancer, car accident,” said Lachman. “The person’s reactions involve fear, helplessness or horror.”

PTSD generally involves some combination of the following: intrusive recollections, distressing dreams, feeling the trauma is recurring, difficulty falling or staying asleep, irritability and outbursts of anger, hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response.

Exposure to fireworks/firecrackers that sound like gunshots can lead to a relapse or exacerbation of those symptoms, Lachman said.

“Remember that PTSD is an exaggerated and sustained enhanced fight-flight survival response that is conditioned to ‘stay on’ following day-after-day death, destruction, gunshots, bombs and explosions, which require the soldiers to be on constant hypervigilance to survive,” Lachman said.

“That type of behavioral conditioning won’t go away quickly or by itself when returning home, especially if the veteran is exposed to cues that trigger the body and mind’s conditioned response for survival and fighting and being alert.”

Combat is not the only source of sensitivity. A couple of weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, police in Albany, N.Y., were inundated with calls — many from the elderly — because they thought a village outside the state capital was under attack.

Around 9 p.m., fireworks began at the nearby golf course. We found out the next day that a wedding, planned long before the attacks on New York City and Washington, had included fireworks. There had never been fireworks at the golf course before and never since, and people living nearby said they sounded like bombs. The police switchboard was tied up for hours.

People and animals react differently to the sound of fireworks. I once sat with a Labrador outside in a crowd, and he was not bothered by the fireworks’ noise, but my border collie/Doberman mix, an otherwise fearless dog, could only moan during thunderstorms and fireworks. Last summer our feral kitty shuddered each time a firecracker exploded.

In Albany, fireworks are included for numerous holidays including Father’s Day, but for those wanting to escape the clamor, Lachman recommends an air-conditioned noisy movie theater or a camping trip or hotel far from major firework displays.

Veterans can find assistance through PTSD veterans’ groups, hospital programs, psychologists or doctors who, if necessary, can prescribe short-term medication, according to Lachman.

(This column originally ran July 5, 2006)

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Colo. Calls for Meningitis Vaccinations

DENVER, June 30 (UPI) — Colorado health officials are calling for more vaccinations following an outbreak of meningococcal disease that has killed three people and infected two others.

Joni Reynolds, director of immunization for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said the deaths of two Fort Collins men this month, and the April death of a Metropolitan State College of Denver student may have been prevented, had the men been vaccinated, The Denver Post reported.

State health officials said Tuesday people ages 11 to 18 and people in communal-living situations such as college dorms or members of the military are at higher risk for the disease and should be vaccinated.

“The vaccine has not historically been pushed by pediatricians and the medical community, compared to traditional immunization, such as measles, mumps, rubella and whooping cough,” said Steve Monaco, director of health services for the Metropolitan State College of Denver, Auraria, campus.

Meningococcal disease can occur as either viral or bacterial. The bacterial form is more severe and can develop into meningitis, an infection of the tissue surrounding the brain and spinal cord; pneumonia, an infection of the lung; or sepsis, an infection of the blood.

The Colorado health department says coughing and kissing are common ways of spreading the disease, as well as any type of direct contact with mouth and nasal fluid, the Post reported.

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Soldiers with Migraine May Sleep Poorly

TACOMA, Wash., June 23 (UPI) — The many soldiers who suffer with migraine may also be poor sleepers, U.S. researchers suggest.

Researchers at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., say 19 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq have migraine, and migraine is suspected in an additional 17 percent of them.

The researchers say despite a well documented prevalence of migraine among the U.S. military, little is known about sleep quality in soldiers with chronic headaches such as migraine and post-traumatic headache. The researchers found treatment can help.

“We found that three months after initial treatment, those with post-traumatic headache reported significantly improved sleep quality and sleep onset than baseline, although their nightmares and interrupted sleep were not significantly changed,” study lead author Dr. Cong Zhi Zhao says in a statement.

The study findings, presented at the American Headache Society’s annual scientific meeting in Los Angeles, emphasize treatment, including education, can improve headache and poor sleep quality.

“The research sought to determine if treatment for headache and insomnia could improve sleep quality among our patients with post-traumatic headaches,” the study says.

Copyright 2010 United Press International, Inc. (UPI). Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI’s prior written consent.

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Homeland Security Gets a New Tool

WASHINGTON, June 9 (UPI) — U.S. security experts say they’ve developed a 360-degree surveillance system using image-stitching technology to create detailed edge-to-edge views.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate said the system solves a problem inherent in existing security cameras, in that it presents a detailed clear view despite zooming close to a target.

Called the Imaging System for Immersive Surveillance, the video signal is made from a series of individual cameras stitched into a single, live view — described as being similar to a high-resolution video quilt.

“Coverage this sweeping, with detail this fine, requires a very high pixel count,” said program manager John Fortune of the directorate’s Infrastructure and Geophysical Division. “ISIS has a resolution capability of 100 megapixels.” That, he added, is as detailed as 50 high-definition TV movies playing at once, with optical detail to spare, while any focal point of choice can be magnified.

Many of the ISIS capabilities were adapted from technology previously developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory for military applications. With the help of the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, MIT built the current system, which is now involved in a pilot study at Logan International Airport in Boston.

If that trial is successful, officials said IRIS could be soon deployed to protect other critical venues.

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