The Check-Up: Electronic Nose to Detect Heart Failure

Plus how your dryer vents might be hurting you and the comeback of the bird flu—all in today's top health headlines

Shut up—this could soooo be a heart-failure-sniffing nose.

• Those Germans—they’re so clever. WebMD reports that German researchers are “a step closer to developing an electronic nose that can distinguish between people who have heart failure and those who don’t.” This news comes on the heels of my report two weeks ago that Germans have trained dogs who can sniff out lung cancer. So much German-backed sniffing! In the current study, the electronic nose used odorous molecules in sweat to correctly identify 89 percent of the people who had heart failure and 84 percent who didn’t. There’s no photo to go with this story (which, so far, is my biggest sadness of the day), so I’m left to imagine that the device is some sort of strap-on contraption that a doctor could wear, akin to those black-rimmed Groucho Marx glasses with the nose and attached mustache? Anyone else? Hello? [Cue crickets.]

• Hate to break it to you, but that fresh, clean dryer-vent smell that gives you the warm and fuzzies might actually be really bad for you. New research out of the University of Washington found that household dryer vents spit out some nasty chemical pollutants, including two—acetaldehyde and benzene—classified as carcinogens. The problem is that these kinds of emissions aren’t monitored or regulated, and manufacturers aren’t required to disclose ingredients in their products.  Your best bet? Use unscented products—it’s the fragrances that seem to be causing most of the trouble.

• A bit of a warning as we go into flu season: Bird flu is back. This time, it’s an even “deadlier foe,” reports The strain is H5N1—as opposed to the H1N1 that had us all worried a few years back—and experts fear that it may have mutated and that the new form might spread more easily to humans. As it stands, the strain primarily impacts wild birds and poultry, but people in Asian countries have become infected with it from eating improperly prepared and contaminated poultry. It waned for a few years when farmers were more vigilant about culling herds, but certain Asian countries have reported an uptick in cases recently—which is why public health officials are sounding the alarm. How’s this for ominous?

Health authorities aren’t sure how the new strain will impact the upcoming flu season, but in an earlier statement on the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s website, [Juan] Lubroth noted, “The general departure from the progressive decline [in H5N1 cases] observed in 2004-2008 could mean that there will be a flare up of H5N1 this fall and winter, with people unexpectedly finding the virus in their backyard. Preparedness and surveillance remain essential. This is no time for complacency. No one can let their guard down with H5N1.”