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The shrew behind mysterious brain inflammation

As scientists try to identify a new respiratory illness in China we report on another medical mystery. German researchers who looked at the brains of people who died of encephalitis – an inflammation of the brain – found that they were infected with the same Borna virus carried by wild white-toothed shrews. They think that humans might catch the virus when their cats catch the rodents and bring them home.

A new smartphone app is helping families and medical staff to understand the discomfort experienced every day by people living with inflammatory bowel disease. Patients with conditions like Crohns disease often need to get to a toilet quickly - so the charity Crohns and Colitis UK developed the app In My Shoes. Our reporter has tried it out along with staff from Southampton General hospital.

We tend to think of students as being healthy - but a few years ago there were outbreaks of bacterial meningitis in colleges and universities across the UK. It’s spread by close physical contact including kissing and students are now encouraged to have a vaccine. But now a team of British researchers is developing an extra layer of protection - nose drops laced with friendly bacteria.

Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond

Producer: Paula McGrath

(Image: Bicolored White-toothed Shrew. Photo credit: CreativeNature nl/Getty Images.)

The importance of play in childhood

Parents all over the world worry about their children’s development and wellbeing. But how much thought do they give to play? Psychologists believe it’s crucial for our development and social skills.

The new Play Well exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London looks at the significance of play in childhood and across society as a way of learning, expressing emotions and building empathy. Two schoolgirls give Claudia their verdict on the exhibition.

Children from the Indian cities of Delhi and Mumbai reveal what they like to play – and how it’s changed over the years.

We hear from researchers about how much children’s letters to Father Christmas in the UK reveal about the history of play and how differently mothers and fathers play with their children.

And how to solve the thorny issue of getting children off their computers and out to play – we hear evidence on how a balance can be achieved and some of the best ways to play to stimulate a child’s imagination and resilience.

Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond

Producer: Geraldine Fitzgerald

(Photo credit: hadynyah / Getty Images) 

Malnutrition – you can be fat or thin

The word 'malnutrition' makes most people think of a thin child, starving because of famine. Aid agencies have helped to reduce the number of people who don’t have enough food to eat in developing countries. But the starchy foods which are available to them at low cost – plus the emergence of cheap junk food – is fuelling another form of malnutrition: obesity. A series of papers in the Lancet urge action on the issue before it’s too late.

Climate change is beginning to be linked with changing patterns of weather. A doctor working on the west coast of Ireland noticed how storms prevented some of his patients from getting to appointments. He thought that drone technology might provide an alternative way of getting vital drugs out to his patients – such as diabetics who rely on insulin.

Women weren’t allowed into the magicians’ club – the Magic Circle - until 1991. But as well as being a male-dominated industry, there’s an extra obstacle in the path of women conjurors – the way the minds of those in the audience work. We hear from a researcher from Goldsmiths University of London who’s analysed reactions to magicians – depending on whether they were women or men.

(Photo credit: Golero/Getty Images.)

Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond

Producer: Paula McGrath

Mobile phones and head injuries

Are you reading this on your mobile phone, whilst walking down the street? One American doctor who treats some of the head and neck injuries sustained by people distracted by their phones wants us to stop using them on the go. He’s seen cuts, broken noses, smashed jaws and even brain damage in patients – injuries which have become much more common since the arrival of smartphones.

The world’s largest medical gallery has opened at the Science Museum in London. Exhibits include some of the shock tactics used in public health campaigns – to encourage people to have safe sex, stop smoking and get vaccinated against dangerous diseases. As long ago as the 1950s the power of celebrity was evident when the take-up of the polio vaccine increased following the death of Birmingham and England footballer Jeff Hall.

There are fears that there might soon be a global shortage of the blood-thinning drug heparin. It’s given to prevent clots during surgery – as well as to some pregnant women and people with cancer. The situation is so bad that the World Health Organisation wants governments to stockpile the medication. We hear how the supply issue originates from a surprising source: pigs.

(Photo credit: Martin Dm/Getty Images.)

Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond

Producer: Paula McGrath

Risk of depression higher in LGBT teens

A new British study indicates that half of lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans (LGBT) teenagers are experiencing depression. Despite the improvement of equality for LGBT people in some countries stigma and bullying is still common and affects mental health. Another study carried out in the US city of Texas also showed that 1 in 4 adolescents at an inpatient unit were LGBT – a higher level than you’d expect by chance.

Researchers in the US are trying to find out if a practice called vaginal seeding might help to reduce food allergies in babies born by caesarean section. When a baby is delivered via the vagina it will come into contact with potentially-useful bacteria. So vaginal seeding aims to replicate that process. We hear from one family who have volunteered to take part in the study in New York.

Past studies on fish oils and their impact on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have been contradictory. New research carried out in Taiwan has shown that children with low levels of fish oils who took high-dose supplement saw an improvement in their ability to concentrate. The researchers say fish oils should only be taken under medical supervision.

(Photo: Two people holding hands. Credit: fizkes/Getty Images.)

Health Check was presented by Claudia Hammond

Producer: Paula McGrath

5 episodes