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Cancer survivor inspires hope with global trek

NEW YORK --

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New vaccine could prevent thousands of childhood deaths

A new vaccine is safe and effective in preventing a deadly diarrheal disease that kills hundreds of children per day, according to a new large trial done in Africa.

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For whites across America, deaths of despair are rising

For many white Americans without a college degree, life in America has devolved in a few short decades from one that offered ample economic opportunity into a socioeconomic dead end.

That’s according to new research from Princeton economists Anne Case and Nobel Prize-winner Angus Deaton, who grabbed headlines in 2015 with their finding that the death rate for middle-aged white Americans had sharply risen. The new research adds color to their earlier findings, helping to explain what’s driving mortality rates for less educated whites beyond that of blacks and their counterparts in other developed countries. 

The problems don’t hold true for all white Americans, since those with a college degree are enjoying lower mortality rates, they note. Yet for white adults without that piece of parchment, the world has gotten tougher. Long gone are the days of a healthy labor market for high-school graduates and strong social ties through marriage, religion and child-rearing. 

Instead, less educated whites face tepid demand for their skills and stagnant wages, with the opioid crisis adding “fuel to the flames,” Case and Deaton write. 

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The spike in mortality rates started in the Southwest but has now spread across the country, affecting both cities and rural areas as well as men and women. 

“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high school educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline,” they wrote in a paper  published by The Brookings Institution.

While low wages and limited job opportunities are factors, the economists stress that the fundamental causes for rising death rates for less educated whites are globalization and automation. The impact of these forces has been widely debated, with some researchers finding that technology that replaces human labor  has already crimped the types of blue-color jobs that high-school educated whites traditionally held. 

President Trump campaigned on a platform that blamed globalization for the economic woes suffered by many of his supporters. Since taking office, he’s vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada and signaled his administration will pursue protectionist policies. 

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Whether those moves will create good jobs for less educated Americans remains uncertain, although some experts warn that increased U.S. manufacturing activity won’t necessarily revive blue-collar jobs. The evidence is already there: American manufacturing output has increased 20 percent since 2009, yet factory employment has risen over that time by only 5 percent, according to Five Thirty Eight

How sharply have the lives of white, less-educated Americans veered off track? In 1999, this demographic had mortality rates that were about 30 percent lower than those of African-Americans. But by 2015, their mortality rate had eclipsed that of blacks by 30 percent, Case and Deaton found. They blame the spike in death rates partially on alcohol and drug poisoning, suicide, and alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis. 

These “deaths of despair come from a long-standing process of cumulative disadvantage for those with less than a college degree,” they

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Common sciatica pain drug no better than placebo

The widely prescribed pain drug pregabalin (brand name: Lyrica) may be no better than a placebo when it comes to treating the back and leg pain known as sciatica, a new clinical trial suggests.

The study , published March 22 in the  New England Journal of Medicine , found that sciatica patients improved to the same degree whether they were given pregabalin or placebo capsules.

Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve, which branches from the low back through the hips and down each leg, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The pain typically shoots down the back of the leg, and some people also have numbness, tingling or muscle weakness.

The problem is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve — possibly from a herniated spinal disc.

Pregabalin is prescribed to treat various forms of nerve-related pain. In the United States, it’s officially approved for nerve pain related to diabetes or shingles, and certain other conditions.

Doctors also commonly prescribe pregabalin for sciatica. But the new study calls that practice into question.

“We do not recommend the use of pregabalin in people with sciatica,” said researcher Christine Lin, of the George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney in Australia.

Not everyone agreed, however.

Dr. Houman Danesh is director of integrative pain management at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. He said doctors should “be aware” of the study findings. But he was not ready to dismiss pregabalin as a sciatica option.

Most of the study patients had “acute” sciatica — which means they’d had symptoms for less than three months. Most people in the acute phase will, fortunately, improve with time.

“So these are the patients who are probably on their way to getting better anyway,” Danesh said.

It might be better, he said, to focus on patients who don’t improve and progress to chronic sciatica.

The study’s findings are based on more than 200 sciatica patients who were randomly assigned to take either pregabalin or placebo capsules for up to eight weeks. The starting dose of pregabalin was 150 milligrams per day. That dose was adjusted up to 600 mg daily, the study said.

At the outset, the intensity of their leg pain was just over a 6, on a scale of 0 to 10. That’s “severe” pain, Lin said.

At the end of the eight-week treatment period, patients in both groups were faring better. The average pain score in the placebo group had dipped to 3.1, versus 3.7 among pregabalin patients — a difference that was not statistically meaningful.

After one year, their pain was still hovering around a 3.

Pregabalin patients did, however, have more side effects while they were taking the drug. The main problem was dizziness, which affected 40 percent of people taking the drug.

What does it all mean for sciatica patients?

According to Lin, people who are already on pregabalin should talk to their doctor about what to do next.

“It is important

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Health care bill vote - latest developments

House Republican leaders are supposed to be voting on their

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