Health briefs: MERS drugs show promise

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BETHESDA, Md. -- A combination of two well-known antiviral drugs protects monkeys against MERS and could potentially be used to save humans from the lethal disease, scientists said Sunday.

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases gave the drugs, ribavirin and interferon, to half of six rhesus monkeys eight hours after they were infected with the virus, now known as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus.

The three that got the two-drug cocktail had less virus in their blood, no breathing difficulties and only minimal X-ray evidence of pneumonia, while the untreated animals became very ill, said the authors of the study published by Nature Medicine.

There have been 108 known human cases of MERS since it emerged in 2012, of which 50 have been fatal, according to the World Health Organization.

MERS was isolated only last year, but may have infected humans many times before without having been recognized. Scientists believe that it originated in bats.

Happiness gap narrows

LOS ANGELES -- Single mothers are less happy than other American women. But over time, the happiness gap has shrunk, with single mothers saying they are happier than their counterparts from decades ago, a new study shows.

The report, published online in the Journal of Happiness Studies, tracks how women answered questions on a nationally representative survey between 1972 and 2008. When the researchers tried to tease out what made single mothers less happy, they found that the biggest factor was being single.

But over time, single mothers became happier as other women became somewhat less so, narrowing the gap between them, said Homa Zarghamee, assistant professor of economics at Barnard College. The exception was among married mothers: The "happiness deficit" between single and married moms did not change enough for the shift to be statistically significant.

The researchers weighed possible explanations of why single moms might be closing the happiness gap. They suggested that single mothers may face less stigma than in the past. It might also be possible, they speculated, that more single mothers are having their children by choice as birth control became more widely available.

Child-bearing age increases

LOS ANGELES -- The average age of women giving birth in America rose last year as the nation's birthrate held steady after several years of decline, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The birthrate among teens and women in their early 20s hit historic lows in 2012, according to a new report released Friday by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. Meanwhile, the proportion of women in their 30s and early 40s who had babies rose. The birthrate for women in their late 40s held steady.

Americans have been giving birth to fewer babies every year since 2007, a trend that has been linked to the onset of the Great Recession. But now that decline seems to have stabilized.

-- Compiled from news services

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