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Health Highlights: April 7, 2015

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Plague Found in Arizona Prairie Dogs

Infestations of plague-carrying fleas have been found among prairie dogs in Arizona, officials say.

An investigation was launched after officials were told about a prairie dog burrow in Picture Canyon, near Flagstaff, with an unusually large number of dead or dying prairie dogs. Tests on several surrounding burrows revealed the presence of plague bacteria in fleas, United Press International reported.

In an effort to prevent an outbreak, nearby burrows are being cleared and disinfected.

Signs have been posted at trailheads in Picture Canyon to warn visitors of the presence of plague, which can be carried by rodents such as prairie dogs, rabbits, ground squirrels, rats and mice, UPI reported.

Plague has been firmly established in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico for some time and most of the small number of plague cases that occur in the United States each year are in one of those three states.


PET Scans Detect Signs of CTE: Study

There has been progress in efforts to develop a test to detect a degenerative brain disease associated with repeated head trauma in people while they're alive, according to a new study.

Currently, the only way to identify people with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is after they're dead.

This study of 14 retired professional football players with symptoms of CTE found that PET scans could reveal tau protein deposits in their brains, a sign of CTE. The distribution of tau in their brains was consistent with those found in autopsies of former football players with CTE, The New York Times reported.

The findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"There seems to be an emerging new pattern we haven't seen in any known forms of dementia, and it is definitely not normal," said study co-author Dr. Julian Bailes, chairman of neurosurgery at NorthShore Neurological Institute in Evanston, Ill., The Times reported.


Climate Change a Threat to Americans' Health: Obama

Climate change is a threat to Americans' health, not just their environment, President Barack Obama will emphasize Tuesday.

Increases in asthma attacks, allergic reactions and injuries from extreme weather are among the ways that climate change will affect people's health, Obama will warn, the Associated Press reported.

He'll make that point while announcing a number of measures that private companies such as Google and Microsoft are launching to help the nation's health systems prepare for the health effects of climate change.

Google has pledged to donate 10 million hours of advanced computing time on new tools, such as risk maps and early warnings for events like wildfires and oil flares using the Google Earth Engine platform, the AP reported.

Also, the camera cars used by Google for its "Street View" functions will begin measuring methane emissions and natural gas leaks in some cities this year.

Microsoft will develop a prototype for drones that can collect mosquitoes and digitally analyze their genes and pathogens in order to provide early warnings about climate change-related outbreaks of infectious diseases, the AP reported.

Obama was also to announce measures the federal government will take to increase preparedness, such as increasing access to data to predict and reduce the health threats from climate change.

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