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From time to time, the inbox fills up with all sorts of interesting information that doesn’t quite fit into the Superior Telegram. Like today, the University of Wisconsin Medical School sent out its monthly health briefs. Rather than letting that sometimes valuable information vanish into electronic oblivion, I’ll post it here for readers who may find it interesting:

Research links malaria to Amazon forest clearing

Clearing tropical forest in the Amazon basin boosts the rate of malaria by nearly 50 percent, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reported recently.

The scientists combined information on the incidence of malaria in 54 Brazilian health districts with high-resolution satellite images of logging in the Amazon forest.

The forest clearing created conditions that favor malaria’s primary carrier in the region, the Anopheles darlingi mosquito, says Dr. Sarah Olson, lead author of the report and a fellow at the Nelson Institute, Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment.

“The deforested landscape, with more open spaces and partially sunlit pools of water, appears to provide an ideal habitat for this mosquito,” she says.

Relatively small alterations to the environment led to big health problems, says co-author Dr. Jonathan Patz, professor of population health sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health. A four percent change in forest cover was associated with a 48 percent increase in malaria incidence.

The take-home message, according to Patz and Olson, is that tropical forest conservation may benefit human health more than we realized.

History of poor mental health boosts pregnancy risks

A woman with a history of poor mental health is eight times more likely to have the problem occur during pregnancy, a recent study shows.

Dr. Whitney Witt and colleagues examined data on 3,051 pregnant women and found that those who had previous mental health problems – such as anxiety and depression – had the highest risk of experiencing poor mental health while they were expecting.

“This study shows that the mother’s previous mental health really matters,” says Witt, assistant professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

Other factors that increased the women’s risk included having poor physical health during pregnancy and being unmarried, which can indicate a lack of social support.

More attention should be paid to mental health screening for all women of reproductive age regardless of their pregnancy status, says Witt, “but especially for women before they become pregnant since it is such an important risk factor.”

Continuity of care is vital, she adds.

“Women’s mental health should be monitored and treated appropriately over the life course,” she says.

For many kids, homework is a big stress

As the school year arrives, parents should know that for some kids, even the most basic homework assignments can be a crippling source of stress and anxiety.

That’s what Dr. Marcia Slattery, a child psychiatrist at the University of Wisconsin, has found. Each year, she and her colleagues treat and counsel hundreds of children who are anxious about school-related issues, including homework.

Homework stress can affect any child, but it’s especially difficult for children who suffer from an anxiety disorder, the most common psychiatric problem that afflicts children, says Slattery. And homework issues can indicate problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or an undiagnosed learning disorder.

Slattery suggests parents follow a few guidelines:

Begin with consistency and find a specific time each day to sit down and study.

Designate a place for study, comfortable, but not too comfortable.

Get involved; parents should show an interest in their child’s homework.

“Parents can also be important models by engaging in things like reading or writing during their child’s homework time,” she says. “It sends a message that ‘homework time’ isn’t just for kids.”

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