In Brief


April 27, 2009

Taking a bite out of the bed-bug problem

With bed-bug infestations on the rise across the country, the Baltimore City Health Department has begun a campaign to increase awareness of the problem.

The department's Healthy Homes Division began conducting bedbug inspections in December and has been working with the city Housing Authority to respond to complaints and minimize infestations, says Assistant Health Commissioner Madeleine Shea. Shea says the city's 311 nonemergency number last year received 26 times more calls for bed-bug problems that it did four years ago.

To help combat the problem, the city has developed brochures and public service announcements and met with school health officials, In June, health workers will be conducting a door-to-door campaign to educate residents about the problem.

Bed bugs are small, wingless insects that feed only on blood. They prefer the blood of humans but also feed on the blood of other animals, including the family pet. Medical conditions associated with bed bugs include multiple itchy bites and inflammation, secondary skin infection, a minor potential for anemia from blood loss, minor risk of anaphylaxis, stress, anxiety and sleeplessness.

Residents who suspect infestations should report them immediately, Shea says. To prevent infestations in the first place, residents should never pick up discarded sofas or mattresses, she adds.

Baltimore Sun staff

Students and gum

Studies have suggested that something about chewing gum reduces stress, improves alertness and relieves anxiety. But most of this research has been found in a laboratory setting. Now, the first study in people also supports the idea that chewing gum boosts academic performance.

The study was conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and was sponsored by the Wrigley Science Institute. The study included 108 students, ages 13 to 16, who were assigned to either chew sugar-free gum during math class, while doing math homework and during math tests or to refrain from gum-chewing. After 14 weeks, the students took a math test and their grades were assessed.

Those who chewed gum had a 3 percent increase in standardized math test scores and had final math grades that were significantly better than the other students. Teachers observed that those who chewed gum seemed to require fewer breaks, sustain attention longer and remain quieter.

"We did not explore the mechanism behind this relationship. However, there is research demonstrating an increase in blood flow in the brain during chewing," Dr. Craig Johnston, the lead author of the study, said in an e-mail.

The study was presented at the Annual Meeting of Experimental Biology 2009 last week in New Orleans.

Los Angeles Times

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