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Health

Maybe it was last January's big measles outbreak at Disneyland that scared more California parents into getting their kids vaccinated. Or maybe health campaigns have become more persuasive. Or maybe schools getting stricter about requiring shots for entry made a difference.

Whatever the reasons, childhood vaccination rates last fall went up in 49 of 58 counties in California, according to data released Tuesday by state health officials.

Butte is an old mining town, tucked away in the southwest corner of Montana with a population of about 34,000. Locals enjoy many things you can't find elsewhere — campgrounds a quick drive from downtown and gorgeous mountain ranges nearby. But in Butte, as in much of rural America, advanced medical care is absent.

People in Butte who experience serious trauma or need specialty care rely on air ambulance flights to get them the help they need.

When Cathy Fields was in her late 50s, she noticed she was having trouble following conversations with friends.

"I could sense something was wrong with me," she says. "I couldn't focus. I could not follow."

Fields was worried she had suffered a stroke or was showing signs of early dementia. Instead she found out she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

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Addicted to prescription painkillers after a high-school sports injury, Cameron Burke moved on to heroin, which was cheaper and more easily accessible. His parents tried everything, more than once sending him out of state for treatment.

"It was never enough," Jennifer Weiss-Burke of Albuquerque, N.M., told a local TV reporter last year. "Thirty days here, 30 days there, maybe detox for five days. It was never long-term, and that's what he needed. Recovery from heroin addiction requires long-term treatment."

MetLife says it's planning to break off part of its business that sells life insurance to U.S. households because of stiffer federal regulations regarding the amount of capital the company is expected to hold.

In a statement, MetLife said it is "currently evaluating structural alternatives for such a separation, including a public offering of shares in an independent, publicly traded company, a spin-off, or a sale."

Many women in the U.S. are waiting longer than ever to have their first child.

Fifteen years ago, the mean age of a woman when she first gave birth was 24.9 years old. In 2014, that age had risen to 26.3.

Lower-back pain is very democratic in the people it strikes.

"It's a universal experience. You'd be a really uncommon person never to have had an episode of back pain," says Chris Maher, a physical therapist turned health researcher at the University of Sydney in Australia. "It's a common problem across the whole of the globe," he says, whether it's North America, sub-Saharan Africa or rural India.

Former United Nations bioweapons inspector Rocco Casagrande has a Ph.D. in experimental biology from MIT. He's got a rational, science-loving mind, so he's not the kind of guy you'd expect to have a big picture of a tarot card over his office desk.

"I like what it symbolizes," says Casagrande, hastening to explain he doesn't believe in tarot. He just thinks that this particular card, known as the Hanged Man, illustrates something important for solving problems.

In the 10 years he spent driving an ambulance in Atlanta, former paramedic Kevin Hazzard rescued people from choking, overdoses, cardiac arrest, gunshot wounds and a host of other medical emergencies.

Insurance policies that pay a lump sum if workers get cancer or another serious illness are being offered in growing numbers by employers. Companies say they want to help protect their workers against the financial pain of increasingly high deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs. But it's important to understand the limitations of these plans before buying.

Critical illness plans have been around for decades, but they've become more common lately as employers have shifted more health care costs onto their workers' shoulders.

When East Cleveland's emergency medical squad gets called to treat a man with a severe nosebleed, it's a pretty run-of-the-mill case.

The patient walks woozily out to the ambulance from a tan house on a tree-lined street. Anthony Savoy, the head medic, calls ahead to University Hospitals, which has the closest emergency room. Savoy wants to make sure the ER has space for the patient.

There's growing evidence that a lack of sleep can leave the brain vulnerable to Alzheimer's disease.

"Changes in sleep habits may actually be setting the stage" for dementia, says Jeffrey Iliff, a brain scientist at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland.

The brain appears to clear out toxins linked to Alzheimer's during sleep, Iliff explains. And, at least among research animals that don't get enough solid shut-eye, those toxins can build up and damage the brain.

Losing your ability to think and remember is pretty scary. We know the risk of dementia increases with age. But if you have memory lapses, you probably needn't worry. There are pretty clear differences between signs of dementia and age-related memory loss.

After age 50, it's quite common to have trouble remembering the names of people, places and things quickly, says Dr. Kirk Daffner, chief of the division of cognitive and behavioral neurology at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Butter-flavored popcorn oil is in high demand at Oasis Foods, a manufacturer of cooking oils, mayonnaise and other products that restaurants and distributors often purchase by the ton.

"We get a rush this time of year with all the movie-going at the holidays," says Duke Gillingham, president of Oasis, at his factory in Hillside, N.J., just west of Newark Liberty Airport.

Guinea is set to celebrate with concerts and fireworks Wednesday, following the World Health Organization's announcement that the country is now officially Ebola-free.

On Tuesday, WHO declared that after two years and over 2,500 deaths, the Ebola epidemic in Guinea has officially ended. The announcement marks the passing of two 21-day incubation periods since the last person to have contracted Ebola — a baby girl called Noubia — was cured of the virus.

About 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, the latest statistics suggest, and it's probably about as common on Native American reservations as anywhere else. But a diagnosis in Indian Country is rarer, say mental health workers. That's likely at least partly because of a cultural belief — many Native American communities don't recognize dementia as a disorder.

There's finally some good news about childhood asthma in the United States: After rising for decades, the number of children with the breathing disorder has finally stopped increasing and may have started falling, according to a government analysis.

"That was a big surprise," says Lara Akinbami of the National Center for Health Statistics. "We were expecting the increase to kind of continue. But in fact we saw the opposite."

Sarah Jackson had quit abusing drugs and had been sober for six months when she found out she had hepatitis C.

"That was weeks of not sleeping and just constant tears," she says. "I had already put a lot of that behind me and had been moving forward with my life and this was just a major setback."

To get rid of the infection, her doctor prescribed Harvoni, one of the new generation of highly effective hepatitis C drugs. But Jackson never started the treatment because her insurance, Indiana's Medicaid, refused to pay for it.

I first came across the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald through his collection Six Tales of the Jazz Age and Other Stories. The slim volume, with its bright purple cover, called to me from the cluttered end cap of a secondhand bookshop. I cracked it open, sat, and read through "The Jelly-Bean" right there on the dusty floor.

Hearing loss can have a negative impact on work. It can lead to social isolation. It can even contribute to dementia. And one-third of Americans 65 and older have some level of hearing impairment. Typically they wait years to get tested.

But there's a scientifically validated hearing test that you can take over the telephone in the privacy of your home for just 5 bucks.

On the northern Virginia farm where Helen Downs spent her childhood, Christmas meant a freshly butchered hog and an epic family meal. When she had her own children, Helen brought this spirit of abundance to their home.

In 2008, Army Reserve Capt. LeRoy Torres returned home to Robstown, Texas, after a tour in Iraq. He went back to work as a state trooper with the Texas Highway Patrol.

Torres was a longtime runner. So when a suspect took off on foot one morning, Torres sprinted after him. But something was wrong. A burning sensation in his chest hurt so bad, it almost knocked him down.

The world has made a big commitment in recent years to treat and prevent infectious diseases like tuberculosis, AIDS and malaria. But another threat to global health is on the rise: Cancer rates are going up in the developing world.

Growing up as the son of a pathologist, Thomas Laqueur says, his father would leave the dinner table to conduct autopsies. Sometimes Laqueur would watch his father prepare pathological samples that he had taken from the bodies.

"I lived in a family in which the dead were present," Laqueur explains to Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "My father regarded the dead very routinely, in a way a mortician might regard them. He was interested in them scientifically."

Taking antidepressants during the second or third trimester of pregnancy may increase the risk of having a child with autism spectrum disorder, according to a study of Canadian mothers and children published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

But scientists not involved in the research say the results are hard to interpret and don't settle the long-running debate about whether expectant mothers with depression should take antidepressants.

There are a number of options for women when they learn they have breast cancer in its earliest stages, when the tumor is relatively small and has not yet spread.

Each option is similarly effective when it comes to killing cancer cells and preventing the disease from returning.

With sexually transmitted diseases on the rise, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago think they might have a powerful new weapon to fight their spread: Google searches.

The company behind the Web's leading search engine has quietly begun giving researchers access to its data troves to develop analytical models for tracking infectious diseases in real time or close to it. UIC is one of at least four academic institutions that have received access so far, along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Google said.

Improper access to the medical information of celebrities and people in the news has been a bane of health systems around the country for years. The proliferation of electronic medical records systems has made it easier to track and punish those who peek in records for no legitimate reason.

Below is a partial list of high-profile breaches and the consequences that followed, compiled from news reports.


"PPL WORLD WIDE," the Facebook post shouted, using text-speak for the word "people." "FRANCES ... IS HPV POSITIVE!"

The public missive from January 2014 gave Frances' full name, along with the revelation that she had human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease that can cause genital warts and cancer. It also included her date of birth and ended with a plea to friends: "PLZ HELP EXPOSE THIS HOE!"

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