September 2004 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

Don't overload your kids' backpacks - it could cause nerve damage

Backpacks bursting with books and school supplies could lead to more than just good grades. Carrying overloaded backpacks could lead to Rucksack Paralysis - nerve damage caused by strain on the shoulders and arms - says Dr. Jay Cook, professor of neurology in the division of pediatric neurology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"It is far more common than is reported," Dr. Cook says. "Children generally do not complain that much and parents will ascribe any symptoms to other things."

Symptoms include pain and tingling in the hands and arms. The problem could become permanent if kids continue to sport packs that are too heavy. Dr. Cook suggests that parents should make sure the bag isn't heavier than the child can carry. If the child is straining or slouching, the pack's too heavy.

To distribute the load, choose backpacks with a waistband or use a rolling cart. Never carry the pack on just one shoulder.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem


With kids on the run, keep healthy snacks handy 

The new school year is well under way, and it seems that kids are always on the go. With rising obesity rates, it's important to closely monitor your child's nutrition - even as they are dashing out the door, says Dr. Laura Scalfano, assistant professor of pediatrics and an expert in childhood obesity at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Some kids and many teens skip breakfast, and a bag of chips is a common after-school snack," she says. "In the back-to-school rush, healthy snacks often give way to more convenient fast-food options but they don't have to."

Dr. Scalfano recommends these quick alternatives: a low-fat milk shake made with low-carb, or low-sugar, yogurt, skim milk and berries for a quick breakfast; and a handful of nuts, low-fat cheese, apples, berries, raw veggies, low-sugar nut butters, low-carb yogurt and lean luncheon meats are great for an afternoon recharge en route to extracurricular activities. And when thirsty, reach for water or skim milk.

Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem


For those who prefer fast food, a healthier meal now an option

Rather than super-size that next fast-food selection, think about ways you can include healthier options in those typically high-calorie, high-fat meals, says Dr. Jo Ann Carson, professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"Be proactive and more focused and selective when dining out, even at fast-food restaurants."

Several fast-food chains now offer fruits, vegetables and side salads (easy on the dressing) as an alternative to french fries, she says. In addition, more fast-food companies are providing orange juice and low-fat milk as additional beverage choices.  While low in fat, bean-laden chili can provide plenty of fiber. A small fruit yogurt parfait can be a snack or dessert that counts toward your daily servings of dairy and fruit.

Media Contact: Donna Hansard


Intimacy can return after breast cancer surgery

Resuming sexual intimacy following a mastectomy or other major breast cancer surgery can be very difficult - physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Studies indicate up to a third of breast cancer patients feel their disease and its treatment have a negative impact on their sexuality. This can range from problems with self-image to physical dysfunction, such as pain or desensitization.

"Since the female breast has always been intimately associated with fertility and the sexual experience, it's not surprising that diseases of the breast - particularly breast cancer - can affect a woman's sexual experience and function," says Dr. Susan Hoover, assistant professor of surgical oncology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "It presents very real issues that directly affect a woman's quality of life."

The key, according Dr. Hoover, is for breast cancer patients to accept their bodies. It may take a while for a positive self-image to form, and during this time, it would be wise to take things gradually and make adjustments as needed.

"It may be necessary to alter the routine of the sexual experience, redirecting the focus on more of the mental aspects rather than purely the physical act of intercourse," says Dr. Hoover. "Similarly, intercourse itself may need to be adjusted to accommodate both partner's altered needs and desires."

Counseling is an option for women having particular difficulty in resuming sexual intimacy. Numerous informational and support groups are available on the Internet and in the community.

Media Contact: Scott Maier


Summer may end, but not the menace of West Nile virus  

The end of summer heat doesn't mean the end of the mosquito menace, which carries with it the potential for the West Nile virus.

This year, the disease has crept across most of the West Coast.

"Children seem to be at decreased risk for contracting the virus as compared to the elderly," says Dr. Elizabeth Race, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and an infectious diseases specialist. "Persons older than 70 years of age are advised to take mosquito precautions seriously and limit or avoid gardening activities at dawn and dusk."

West Nile is spread to humans by mosquitoes - not from person to person or from birds to people. Some individuals will develop a mild-to-moderate flu-like illness. Symptoms include fever, headache and body aches. In a few people, the virus can attack the nervous system, causing muscle weakness and swelling the brain, and possibly leading to paralysis or death. Fatalities are rare.

To protect yourself, Dr. Race recommends using insect repellants containing DEET. Also, get rid of all standing water (including those in containers), change water in pet dishes, wading pools and birdbaths daily, and cover trash containers.

Media contact: Katherine Morales

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