HealthWrap: Marriage, the true flu vaccine

By DAN OLMSTED, UPI Senior Editor  |  Nov. 8, 2005 at 7:00 PM
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Perhaps you've thought about stockpiling Tamiflu. Or avoiding birds of every feather. Or moving to a desert island. Nice tries -- but the best way to beat the flu may be a happy marriage.

British researchers reported Tuesday that among a group of people over 65 who got flu shots, those who said they were happily married had a much higher level of antibodies in their blood. The antibodies are a marker for how well the immune system is primed to fight off the flu.

Those who were single or unhappily married fared worse, the scientists at the University of Birmingham reported.

"This research shows that within that group, those that have been recently bereaved, or those that are single, divorced or widowed are more at risk than those who are in a happy marriage," lead researcher Dr. Anna Phillips told the BBC.

The idea that mind and body affect each other is nothing new. But with all the attention to the oncoming annual flu season -- and the heightened fears of a bird-flu pandemic that could kill us by the millions -- a reminder that good relationships help maintain good health seems especially well-timed.

The benefit may not be entirely psychic. A study in September found that women in satisfying marriages have a health advantage over single women or those who were unhappily married. Those researchers suggested happily married couples support each other in following healthy routines and tend to be more affluent and have better access to healthcare than singles.

Another study out today shows a surprising connection between health and race: A year after suffering acute heart problems, black Americans fare much worse in physical symptoms and quality of life than their white counterparts.

"This is the first study to examine racial difference in health status outcomes, including symptoms, function and quality of life, between whites and blacks; and it has found a significant difference, with blacks having more angina, physical limitations and poorer quality of life one year after an acute coronary syndrome than whites," said Dr. John Spertus, study author and a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

The researchers said they don't know what to make of the differences.

"This study suggests that current post-acute coronary syndrome health care is failing blacks," said Dr. John Rumsfeld of the Denver VA Medical Center, "but the reasons for these results remain unclear.

"Are blacks not getting the same level or quality of follow-up care? Are they not getting appropriate cardiac rehabilitation? Are they less likely to remain on guideline-indicated medical therapies? Are they getting the support necessary, medically and socioeconomically, to fully benefit from available therapies and not be left with poor health-related quality of life?"

There's an urgent need for more research to find answers, he said.

Other news from the consumer-health beat:

-- The American Medical Association is backing a national ban on smoking in workplaces.

-- Doctors are overprescribing antibiotics for sore throat, says a study in the new Journal of the American Medical Association.

-- Women who regularly drink coffee don't raise their risk of high blood pressure, another JAMA article reports.

-- A cannabis-based medicine reduces the pain of rheumatoid arthritis and suppresses the disease, according to a study in the journal Rheumatology. The difference was small but significant, the researchers said, and more study is needed to see if such a drug is worth developing.

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