Pixland/Thinkstock(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) -- A mystery illness has sickened seven people in southeastern Alabama, killing two of them, according to the state Health Department, but it's not clear whether the patients -- or their symptoms -- are connected.
"At this time, there is no epidemiological link between these patients," an Alabama health department document states in bold type.
The patients' ages range from their mid-20s to their late 80s, Dr. Mary McIntyre, who is leading the investigation, told ABCNews.com in an email. Location aside, McIntyre said the patients had no commonalities other than that the "majority" of them had "co-morbidities like smoking, COPD, morbid obesity."
"Temporal clustering can make something look like an outbreak," said Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News. "Good science will tell you whether it is."
The illnesses started with common flu-like symptoms -- shortness of breath, a cough and a fever. But both patients who died had come down with pneumonia, McIntyre said.
Besser said most pneumonia patients are never tested to determine what caused their infection, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could offer "state of the art" diagnostic testing to explain the Alabama cases. Health officials will also question the patients' families and friends to determine common exposures and whether the patients ever had contact with one another.
The first three cases were reported to the health department on May 16 because the patients were on ventilators but had no known cause for their illnesses, according to a health department document. The most recent case was reported May 19.
One of the patients tested positive for H1N1, the "swine flu" that began in spring 2009 and peaked the following October, according to a health department document. Another patient tested for a strain of influenza called AH3.
It's not yet clear whether either flu played a role in this cluster of illnesses, the document states. The five patients who are still living seem to be getting better, McIntyre said. One of them was released Tuesday.
ULTRA F/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Though the practices of yoga and meditation have their roots in ancient cultures, they’ve both become modern day movements. More than 20 million Americans meditate regularly, according to the 2007 National Health Interview Survey. More than 13 million do yoga.
To explore the health benefits of meditation and yoga, Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical correspondent for ABC News, hosted a tweet chat Tuesday. He invited experts from top hospitals and research centers, including the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, the University of Wisconsin, the Cleveland Clinic and Harvard Medical School, as well as respected yoga authorities from the Krapula Yoga Center in Stockbridge, Mass., and West Hartford Yoga in Connecticut. Click here for the full transcript of the chat. Read on for the highlights.
What is meditation and what does the science say about its benefits for the brain and body?
Many forms of meditation evolved from ancient religious and spiritual traditions, said the NCCAM. Although practices vary today, most meditation techniques aim to train attention and awareness to help bring thoughts under control.
Studies show how helpful a regular meditation practice can be for relieving pain, anxiety and stress. Although a series of University of Wisconsin studies have found meditation can benefit patients with chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, more research is needed to understand its role in the treatment of chronic health conditions.
What is yoga and how can a regular practice help me keep healthy?
There are more than 200 schools of yoga taught throughout the world. All of them aim to connect the mind and body through careful breathing and movement.
As with meditation, studies find that regularly doing downward dogs and warrior poses can help manage stress and anxiety. There’s even some evidence that yoga can help fight cancer-related fatigue, manage high-blood pressure and ease chronic pain, especially joint pain. For example, studies by the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle found that after several weeks of taking yoga classes, subjects reported fewer backaches and greater lower-back mobility.
Any advice for yoga newbies?
Don’t let an instructor push you past your comfort zone. Listen to your body. All our experts agreed that's the most important advice for yogis at any level. If you’ve got any sort of chronic medical condition, are pregnant or haven’t done any sort of exercise in a while, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before taking up a yoga practice.
For people who are stressed out by tragic events in the news like the tornado that ripped through the Moore, Okla., can meditating help?
Since meditation – and yoga for that matter – promote relaxation, it can definitely help manage the emotions that bubble up after hearing bad or disturbing news. There’s some evidence that a few moments of quiet reflection is especially helpful for people who suffer from anxiety and depression to begin with. And the group dynamic of a yoga class can bring people together and not feel so alone after a tragedy.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(POTOMAC, Md.) -- When Clay Metro was 3, he nearly died after falling into a pool.
“My husband and I had gone for a run. We were at the beach at my dad’s house by his community pool,” Clay’s mother, Laura Metro of Potomac, Md., told ABC News Wednesday. “Some friends were watching Clay....We believe that Clay tripped on a towel and fell into the deep end. There were about eight or so other people at the pool and no one saw.”
Metro said that as she and her husband returned, her daughter ran out of the pool area, saying, “I think Clay died.”
Clay had been under the water for just a few minutes.
“He was blue. He had no life,” Metro said. “As bad as you think it was, it was worse.”
On Wednesday, the Consumer Product Safety Commission pleaded with parents as the Memorial Day weekend and the start of the summer season approached, to teach children how to swim and to put fences around pools.
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According to the commission, an average of 290 kids under age 5 drown each year. And more than half drown in their family pool. The largest group of victims are just 2 years old.
As Metro and her family waited for the paramedics to arrive, a friend performed CPR on Clay. He was flown by Medivac to a children’s hospital in Wilmington, Del., where he remained in a coma for two days.
Two years later, at the age of 5, Clay is mostly recovered with a few lingering effects — and Metro is now an advocate for pool safety.
Inez Tenenbaum, the commission’s chair, said that simple steps, such as never leaving a child unsupervised near a pool, making sure children learn how to swim, putting fences around pools and learning CPR, could save lives.
The recommendations and warnings are not new but unfortunately the numbers have remained steady.
“Children are drowning,” Tenenbaum said. “It is silent. It’s quick. Someone is at the bottom of the pool and they have been there for a few minutes and you can’t resuscitate them unless you know CPR on the spot.”
Metro said that even though Clay had taken two semesters of swim classes before the incident, he had not learned how to float on his back. She said parents should make sure children learn how to float during swim lessons.
“The bottom line is, he fell in and he sank,” she said. “I wasn’t aware of the dangers. I didn’t know what drowning looked like. I didn’t know it was as fast as it is.”
Olympic swimmer Cullen Jones was underwater for about 30 seconds and nearly became a statistic at the age of 5.
“They had to pull me out and resuscitate me, and my mom got me into swimming lessons really quickly after,” he said.
Now the 2008 gold medal winner says he is trying to inspire and teach children about the importance of knowing how to swim through USA Swimming’s Make a Splash.
“There’s a simple cure: Getting swim lessons is the answer to drownings. It’s just like riding a bike,” he said. “You never forget how to do it....Swimming is fun.”
iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Teens on Facebook are increasingly friending other social media sites as their enthusiasm for the service wanes, according to a new survey.
A Pew study shows that teenage users have been moving some of their online sharing to other social media services like Twitter and Instagram to escape the "drama and pressure" of Facebook. The study does still list Facebook as the most often-used service (81 percent of teens answered this way) and number one for active accounts (94 percent of teens said they currently have a Facebook profile).
Of the teens surveyed, 26 percent said they have a Twitter account, but only 7 percent said it's their most used profile. Still, Pew shows that, among their sample, active teen Twitter accounts have grown 14 percent from the year earlier (12 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2012), while Facebook only grew 1 percent (93 percent in 2011 to 94 percent in 2012).
"The [social media] platform transitions story is a really interesting one," Mary Madden, senior researcher with the Pew Internet Project, told ABC News. "Our findings suggest that teens are supplementing their Facebook use and shifting their energies, rather than completely abandoning the site."
Madden explained that teens have traditionally been the early adopter demographic, but Twitter was first colonized by adults. Now teens seem to be looking to other platforms to find a break from the "social burden" of Facebook, showing services like Twitter a bit more attention.
Eleven percent of teens said they now have an account with social photo sharing community Instagram (the service didn't appear on the 2011 Pew survey) and 5 percent have a Tumblr media blog account (up from 2 percent in 2011). Madden also said that messaging service Snapchat was mentioned "repeatedly" in focus groups related to the survey.
"While Facebook is still deeply integrated in teens' everyday lives, it is sometimes seen as a utility and an obligation rather than an exciting new platform that teens can claim as their own," said Madden.
"We are always focused on making Facebook a great experience; and we're gratified that more than 1 billion people, including enormous numbers of young people, are using Facebook to connect and share," a spokesperson for Facebook told ABC News.
The Pew survey also asked teens who they "friend" online and if they prefer to keep their posts private.
Of those surveyed, 60 percent of teen Facebook users said they keep their profiles private. Seventy percent admitted to being Facebook friends with their parents, and only 5 percent said they filter which posts their parents can see.
Only 24 percent of teen Twitter users said they keep their tweets private.
Another trend in the study linked the number of Facebook friends a teen has with the likelihood he or she is using additional social networking services. Thirteen percent of teen Facebook users with fewer than 150 friends also had a Twitter account, and of those with more than 600 Facebook friends, 46 percent had a Twitter account.
"Ultimately, teens, like adults, are finding ways to "diversify" their social media portfolio for different purposes," Madden said. "In some cases, it helps them to compartmentalize smaller groups of friends and certain kinds of interactions. In other cases, the newer platforms are appealing for the features and functionality they offer."
Ralph Orlowski/Bloomberg via Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Autism advocates are praising a German software company for its plan to hire people with autism as software testers, programmers and data quality assurance specialists.
SAP, which employs more than 65,000 people worldwide, said it sees a "potential competitive advantage to leveraging the unique talents of people with autism, while also helping them to secure meaningful employment." It will partner with Specialisterne – Danish for "The Specialists" – to recruit people on the autism spectrum.
"By concentrating on the abilities that every talent brings to the table, we can redefine the way we manage diverse talents," SAP executive board member Luisa Delgado said in a statement. "With Specialisterne, we share a common belief that innovation comes from the 'edges.' Only by employing people who think differently and spark innovation will SAP be prepared to handle the challenges of the 21st century."
Autism affects one in 50 children, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And while many children often qualify for special services, advocacy groups say adults often struggle to find the support they need.
"There's a significant need to provide better services and more support for children with autism transitioning into adulthood," said Peter Bell, executive vice president for programs and services at Autism Speaks. "We're thrilled that a major global company such as SAP has made this kind of announcement, which sounds like firm commitment to really address a major need in the autism community."
"We're looking forward to seeing how this plays out and whether other companies follow suit," Bell added.
For Specialisterne, a company that primarily employs people on the autism spectrum, the SAP partnership is an important first step in changing the perception of autism as a disability in the workforce.
"We are very excited by this opportunity to enable SAP global access to a huge pool of untapped talent and therefore, help strengthen SAP's position as a global leader in innovation," Specialisterne founder Thorkil Sonne, who has a son with autism, said in a statement. "The partnership will position SAP as thought leader and motivate the ecosystem to follow its example."
The partnership will help overcome one of the biggest obstacles for a person with autism in search of a job: the interview.
"Oftentimes it requires what we call 'soft skills,' like the ability to interact and communicate, and those might not be the skills necessary for the job," said Bell. "I think having someone in the middle to help facilitate the process and prequalify people could be very helpful."
Anka Wittenberg, SAP's chief diversity and inclusion officer, called the hiring plan a "win-win" for the company and the autistic community, stressing that a diverse workforce boosts innovation among employees. And in her experience, people with autism tend to boost morale, too.
"Autistic people don't understand sarcasm and they always speak the truth. Well, really everybody likes that," she said, describing a pilot project conducted last year in Bangalore, India, that served as inspiration for the new hiring plan. "It really helped to improve the climate and culture in the team. The turnover rate went down, employee engagement went up, and we got really positive feedback."
SAP plans to roll out their hiring plan in Germany and extend it to North America later this year. They hope to have people with autism make up 1 percent of their workforce by 2020.
"We're creating win-win situations, and that's what sustainable," Anka said.