North Korea Implies South Korean Balloons Caused COVID Outbreak

All, News

Weeks after acknowledging its first coronavirus infections, North Korea appears to be blaming the outbreak on balloons sent by defector-activists in South Korea.

North Korean officials said Friday they traced the outbreak to an inter-Korean border region, where an 18-year-old soldier and a 5-year-old child came into contact with “alien things” in early April.

The statement, published in the state-run Korean Central News Agency, did not specify what the objects were, but later warned residents to be on the lookout for balloons and other “alien things” in the area.

North Korean officials have long warned the coronavirus could enter the country through novel means, including through migratory birds, snow, air pollution or anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets sent by South Korean activists.

Earlier this week, South Korea-based defector Park Sang-hak said he launched 20 balloons with COVID-19 medical supplies, including masks, pain relievers and vitamin pills.

North Korea, an authoritarian state that prevents its citizens from accessing outside information, despises the balloon launches. In the past, it has used them as an opportunity to direct anger, and pressure, at South Korea.

Friday’s statement did not direct any anger toward South Korea. But some analysts said it could be part of an effort to keep North Koreans away from border areas.

On May 12, North Korea acknowledged for the first time that it is dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak. The admission came more than two years into a worldwide coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, North Korea has said its COVID-19 situation has vastly improved, though outside experts emphasize that even Pyongyang may not know the true extent of the outbreak.

Instead of reporting confirmed coronavirus cases, North Korea has posted daily counts of “fevered persons,” possibly because the country does not have enough COVID-19 testing supplies.

In total, North Korea has reported 4.74 million fever cases but only 73 deaths. If the fever cases were counted as confirmed COVID-19 cases, that would mean North Korea has achieved the world’s lowest COVID-19 fatality rate by far.

North Korea has an antiquated and poorly resourced medical system. It has rejected most international offers of pandemic aid, though it is thought to have recently accepted some vaccines from China.

In a statement Thursday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry slammed U.S. and Western offers of COVID-19 aid, calling them a “clumsy farce” and insisting that its own pandemic situation is rapidly improving.

In an unusually blunt statement last month, the World Health Organization said it assumes North Korea’s COVID-19 situation “is getting worse, not better.”

your ad here

WHO: COVID-19 Cases Rising Nearly Everywhere Around World

All, News

The number of new coronavirus cases rose by 18% in the last week, with more than 4.1 million cases reported globally, according to the World Health Organization.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly report on the pandemic that the worldwide number of deaths remained similar to the week before, at about 8,500. COVID-related deaths increased in three regions: the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas.

The biggest weekly rise in new COVID-19 cases was seen in the Middle East, where they increased by 47%, according to the report released late Wednesday. Infections rose by about 32% in Europe and Southeast Asia, and by about 14% in the Americas, WHO said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said cases were on the rise in 110 countries, mostly driven by the omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5.

“This pandemic is changing, but it’s not over,” Tedros said this week during a press briefing. He said the ability to track COVID-19’s genetic evolution was “under threat” as countries relaxed surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts, warning that would make it more difficult to catch emerging and potentially dangerous new variants.

He called for countries to immunize their most vulnerable populations, including health workers and people older than 60, saying that hundreds of millions remain unvaccinated and at risk of severe disease and death.

Tedros said that while more than 1.2 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered globally, the average immunization rate in poor countries is about 13%.

“If rich countries are vaccinating children from as young as 6 months old and planning to do further rounds of vaccination, it is incomprehensible to suggest that lower-income countries should not vaccinate and boost their most at-risk [people],” he said.

According to figures compiled by Oxfam and the People’s Vaccine Alliance, fewer than half of the 2.1 billion vaccines promised to poorer countries by the Group of Seven large economies have been delivered.

Earlier this month, the United States authorized COVID-19 vaccines for infants and preschoolers, rolling out a national immunization plan targeting 18 million of the youngest children.

American regulators also recommended that some adults get updated boosters in the fall that match the latest coronavirus variants.

your ad here

US Supreme Court Limits EPA in Curbing Power Plant Emissions

All, News

In a blow to the fight against climate change, the Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation’s main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

By a 6-3 vote, with conservatives in the majority, the court said that the Clean Air Act does not give the Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that contribute to global warming.

The court’s ruling could complicate the administration’s plans to combat climate change. Its proposal to regulate power plant emissions is expected by the end of the year.

President Joe Biden aims to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade and to have an emissions-free power sector by 2035. Power plants account for roughly 30% of carbon dioxide output.

The justices heard arguments in the case on the same day that a United Nations panel’s report warned that the effects of climate change are about to get much worse, likely making the world sicker, hungrier, poorer and more dangerous in the coming years.

The power plant case has a long and complicated history that begins with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. That plan would have required states to reduce emissions from the generation of electricity, mainly by shifting away from coal-fired plants.

But that plan never took effect. Acting in a lawsuit filed by West Virginia and others, the Supreme Court blocked it in 2016 by a 5-4 vote, with conservatives in the majority.

With the plan on hold, the legal fight over it continued. But after President Donald Trump took office, the EPA repealed the Obama-era plan. The agency argued that its authority to reduce carbon emissions was limited and it devised a new plan that sharply reduced the federal government’s role in the issue.

New York, 21 other mainly Democratic states, the District of Columbia and some of the nation’s largest cities sued over the Trump plan. The federal appeals court in Washington ruled against both the repeal and the new plan, and its decision left nothing in effect while the new administration drafted a new policy.

Adding to the unusual nature of the high court’s involvement, the reductions sought in the Obama plan by 2030 already have been achieved through the market-driven closure of hundreds of coal plants.

Power plant operators serving 40 million people called on the court to preserve the companies’ flexibility to reduce emissions while maintaining reliable service. Prominent businesses that include Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Tesla also backed the administration.

Nineteen mostly Republican-led states and coal companies led the fight at the Supreme Court against broad EPA authority to regulate carbon output.

your ad here

Fears of Cholera Outbreak Surface in Ukraine

All, News

As Russia pounds Ukrainian cities to rubble, water and sewer systems have broken down in some places. The British Defense Ministry says Mariupol is at risk of a major cholera outbreak. Just how big the threat is, though, is not clear. Scientists disagree over where the strains of cholera that can cause a major outbreak come from, and whether they are present in Ukraine currently. Producer:  Steve Baragona

your ad here

US Officials Announce More Steps Against Monkeypox Outbreak 

All, News

Reacting to a surprising and growing monkeypox outbreak, U.S. health officials on Tuesday expanded the group of people recommended to get vaccinated against the monkeypox virus. 

They also said they are providing more monkeypox vaccine, working to expand testing, and taking other steps to try to get ahead of the outbreak. 

“We will continue to take aggressive action against this virus,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, who has also been playing a role in how the government deals with monkeypox. 

The administration said it was expanding the pool of people who are advised to get vaccinated to include those who may realize on their own that they could have been infected. That includes men who have recently had sex with men at parties or in other gatherings in cities where monkeypox cases have been identified. 

Most monkeypox patients experience only fever, body aches, chills and fatigue. People with more serious illness may develop a rash and lesions on the face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body. 

The disease is endemic in parts of Africa, where people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals. It does not usually spread easily among people. 

Last month, cases began emerging in Europe and the United States. Many — but not all — of those who contracted the virus had traveled internationally. Most were men who have sex with men, but health officials stress that anyone can get monkeypox. 

Case counts have continued to grow. As of Tuesday, the U.S. had identified 306 cases in 27 states and the District of Columbia. More than 4,700 cases have been found in more than 40 other countries outside the areas of Africa where the virus is endemic. 

There have been no U.S. deaths and officials say the risk to the American public is low. But they are taking steps to assure people that medical measures are in place to deal with the growing problem. 

One of the steps was to expand who is recommended to get vaccinated. Vaccines customarily are given to build immunity in people before they are ever infected. But if given within days or even a few weeks of first becoming infected, some vaccines can reduce severity of symptoms. 

A two-dose vaccine, Jynneos, is approved for monkeypox in the U.S. The government has many more doses of an older smallpox vaccine — ACAM2000 — that they say could also be used, but that vaccine is considered to have a greater risk of side effects and is not recommended for people who have HIV. So it’s the Jynneos vaccine that officials have been trying to use as a primary weapon against the monkeypox outbreak. 

So far, the government has deployed more than 9,000 doses of vaccine. U.S. officials on Tuesday said they are increasing the amount of Jynneos vaccine they are making available, allocating 56,000 doses immediately and about 240,000 more over the coming weeks. They promised more than 1 million more over the coming months. 

Another change: Until now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised that vaccines be given after exposure to people whom health officials identify as close personal contacts of cases. But on Tuesday, CDC officials say they are expanding the recommendation to people who were never identified but may realize on their own that they may have been infected. 

“It’s almost like we’re expanding the definition of who a contact might be,” said the CDC’s Jennifer McQuiston. If people have been to a party or other place where monkeypox has been known to spread “we recommend they come in for a vaccine,” she said. 

The CDC’s expansion follows similar steps taken in New York City and the District of Columbia. 

 

your ad here

WHO: Monkeypox is Not a Global Health Emergency

All, News

A World Health Organization independent committee of experts says the spread of monkeypox in a number of countries around the world is worrisome but does not constitute what the WHO calls a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

In early May, the World Health Organization was alerted to an outbreak of monkeypox in countries outside Africa, where this deadly disease has been circulating for decades. Since then, more than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have been reported in more than 50 non-African countries. This has set alarm bells ringing as, until now, only sporadic cases of monkeypox have occurred outside Africa.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus calls the current outbreak an evolving health threat, noting the rapid spread of the disease into new countries and regions. He says the committee has agreed to reconvene another emergency meeting if appropriate.

WHO spokesman, Christian Lindmeier tells VOA the committee has drawn up a list of factors that could trigger a reassessment of the event.

“Evidence of an increase in the rate of growth of cases reported in the next 21 days, including significant spread to and within additional countries. Also, if we see an increase in endemic countries. So, evidence also of increased severity or a change in the viral genome associated with or leading to an end of transmissibility,” he said.

Monkeypox is a rare disease similar to smallpox. The virus causes rashes and flu-like symptoms. It is spread mainly through human contact with infected rodents but sometimes can be spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person.

The disease is mainly found in Central and West Africa. This year, WHO reports there have been nearly 1,500 suspected cases of monkeypox and around 70 deaths primarily in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Cameroon.

Lindmeier says cases of Monkeypox have spread to the European region, to the Americas, as well as the Eastern Mediterranean and West Pacific regions.

“At this point, it is mainly in the newer countries affecting the community of the LGBTQ-Plus community of men having sex with men. But in the endemic countries, we have seen also children and women infected and deaths occurring in the weaker communities and weaker populations,” he said.

While questions regarding the monkeypox outbreak remain unresolved, WHO urges nations to remain vigilant and strengthen their ability to prevent transmission of the disease.

The WHO expert committee advises countries to step-up surveillance, improve diagnostics, and when appropriate to use therapeutics and vaccines. It also recommends affected communities to implement public health measures including contact tracing and isolation.

your ad here

US Abortion Foes, Supporters Map Next Moves After Roe Reversal

All, News

A Texas group that helps women pay for abortions halted its efforts Saturday while evaluating its legal risk under a strict state ban. Mississippi’s only abortion clinic continued to see patients while awaiting a 10-day notice that will trigger a ban. Elected officials across the country vowed to take action to protect women’s access to reproductive health care, and abortion foes promised to take the fight to new arenas.

A day after the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade ended the constitutional right to abortion, emotional protests and prayer vigils turned to resolve as several states enacted bans and both supporters and opponents of abortion rights mapped out their next moves.

In Texas, Cathy Torres, organizing manager for Frontera Fund, a group that helps pay for abortions, said there is a lot of fear and confusion in the Rio Grande Valley near the U.S.-Mexico border, where many people are in the country illegally.

That includes how the state’s abortion law will be enforced. Under the law, people who help patients get abortions can be fined and doctors who perform them could face life in prison.

“We are a fund led by people of color, who will be criminalized first,” Torres said, adding that abortion funds like hers that have paused operations hope to find a way to safely restart. “We just really need to keep that in mind and understand the risk.”

Tyler Harden, Mississippi director for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said she spent Friday and Saturday making sure people with impending appointments at the state’s only abortion clinic — which featured in the Supreme Court case but is not affiliated with Planned Parenthood — know they don’t have to cancel them right away. Abortions can take place until 10 days after the state attorney general publishes a required administrative notice.

Mississippi will ban the procedure except for pregnancies that endanger the woman’s life or those caused by rape reported to law enforcement. The Republican speaker of the Mississippi House, Philip Gunn, said during a news conference Friday that he would oppose adding an exception for incest.

“I believe that life begins at conception,” Gunn said.

Harden said she has been providing information about funds that help people travel out of state to have abortions. Many in Mississippi were doing so even before the ruling, but that will become more difficult now that abortions have ended in neighboring states. Florida is the nearest “safe haven” state, but Harden said, “we know that that may not be the case for too much longer.”

At the National Right to Life convention in Atlanta, a leader within the anti-abortion group warned attendees Saturday that the Supreme Court’s decision ushers in “a time of great possibility and a time of great danger.”

Randall O’Bannon, the organization’s director of education and research, encouraged activists to celebrate their victories but stay focused and continue working on the issue. Specifically, he called out medication taken to induce abortion.

“With Roe headed for the dustbin of history, and states gaining the power to limit abortions, this is where the battle is going to be played out over the next several years,” O’Bannon said. “The new modern menace is a chemical or medical abortion with pills ordered online and mailed directly to a woman’s home.”

Protests broke out for a second day in cities across the country, from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City to Jackson, Mississippi.

In the LA demonstration, one of several in California, hundreds of people marched through downtown carrying signs with slogans like “my body, my choice” and “abort the court.”

Turnout was smaller in Oklahoma City, where about 15 protesters rallied outside the Capitol. Oklahoma is one of 11 states where there are no providers offering abortions, and it passed the nation’s strictest abortion law in May.

“I have gone through a wave of emotions in the last 24 hours. … It’s upsetting, it’s angry, it’s hard to put together everything I’m feeling right now,” said Marie Adams, 45, who has had two abortions for ectopic pregnancies, where a fertilized egg is unable to survive. She called the issue “very personal to me.”

“Half the population of the United States just lost a fundamental right,” Adams said. “We need to speak up and speak loud.”

Callie Pruett, who volunteered to escort patients into West Virginia’s only abortion clinic before it stopped offering the procedure after Friday’s ruling, said she plans to work in voter registration in the hope of electing officials who support abortion rights. The executive director of Appalachians for Appalachia added that her organization also will apply for grants to help patients get access to abortion care, including out of state.

“We have to create networks of people who are willing to drive people to Maryland or to D.C.,” Pruett said. “That kind of local action requires organization at a level that we have not seen in nearly 50 years.”

Fellow West Virginian Sarah MacKenzie, 25, said she’s motivated to fight for abortion access by the memory of her mother, Denise Clegg, a passionate reproductive health advocate who worked for years at the state’s clinic as a nurse practitioner and died unexpectedly in May. MacKenzie plans to attend protests in the capital, Charleston, and donate to a local abortion fund.

“She would be absolutely devastated. She was so afraid of this happening — she wanted to stop it,” Mackenzie said, adding, “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that this gets reversed.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling is likely to lead to abortion bans in roughly half the states.

Since the decision, clinics have stopped performing abortions in Arizona, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Women considering abortions already had been dealing with the near-complete ban in Oklahoma and a prohibition after roughly six weeks in Texas.

In Ohio, a ban on most abortions from the first detectable fetal heartbeat became law when a federal judge dissolved an injunction that had kept the measure on hold for nearly three years.

Another law with narrow exceptions was triggered in Utah by Friday’s ruling. Planned Parenthood Association of Utah filed a lawsuit against it in state court and said it would request a temporary restraining order, arguing it violates the state constitution.

Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota, where abortion remains legal, signed an executive order shielding people seeking or providing abortions in his state from facing legal consequences in other states. Walz also has vowed to reject requests to extradite anyone accused of committing acts related to reproductive health care that are not criminal offenses in Minnesota.

“My office has been and will continue to be a firewall against legislation that would reverse reproductive freedom,” he said.

In Fargo, North Dakota, the state’s sole abortion provider faces a 30-day window before it would have to shut down and plans to move across the river to Minnesota. Red River Women’s Clinic owner Tammi Kromenaker said Saturday that she has secured a location in Moorhead and an online fundraiser to support the move has brought in more than half a million dollars in less than three days.

Republicans sought to downplay their excitement about winning their decades-long fight to overturn Roe, aware that the ruling could energize the Democratic base, particularly suburban women. Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said she expects abortion opponents to turn out in huge numbers this fall.

But Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, said Saturday he believes the issue will energize independents and he hopes to translate anger over Roe’s demise into votes.

“Any time you take half the people in Wisconsin and make them second-class citizens,” Evers said, “I have to believe there’s going to be a reaction to that.” 

your ad here

WHO Says Monkeypox Not a Global Health Emergency

All, News

The World Health Organization’s chief said Saturday that the monkeypox outbreak was a deeply concerning evolving threat but did not currently constitute a global health emergency.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus convened a committee of experts Thursday to advise him whether to sound the U.N. health agency’s strongest alarm over the outbreak.

A surge of monkeypox cases has been detected since early May outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,200 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the WHO from more than 50 countries this year.

“The emergency committee shared serious concerns about the scale and speed of the current outbreak,” noting many unknowns about the spread and gaps in the data, Tedros said. 

“They advised me that at this moment the event does not constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), which is the highest level of alert WHO can issue but recognized that the convening of the committee itself reflects the increasing concern about the international spread of monkeypox.”

Tedros said the outbreak was “clearly an evolving health threat” that needed immediate action to stop further spread, using surveillance, contact-tracing, isolation and care of patients, and ensuring vaccines and treatments are available to at-risk populations.

‘Intense response’ needed

“The vast majority of cases is observed among men who have sex with men, of young age,” chiefly appearing in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks,” according to the WHO report of the meeting.

While a few members expressed differing views, the committee resolved by consensus to advise Tedros that at this stage, the outbreak was not a PHEIC.

“However, the committee unanimously acknowledged the emergency nature of the event and that controlling the further spread of outbreak requires intense response efforts.”

They are on standby to reconvene in the coming days and weeks depending on how the outbreak evolves.

The committee recommended that countries improve diagnostics and risk communication.

It noted that many aspects of the outbreak were unusual, while some members suggested there was a risk of sustained transmission due to the low level of population immunity against the pox virus infection.

Knowledge gaps

The committee that considered the matter is made up of 16 scientists and public health experts and is chaired by Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, a former director of the WHO’s Vaccines and Immunization Department.

Thursday’s five-hour private meeting was held in person at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters and via video conference.

The committee discussed current observations of plateauing or potential downward trends in case numbers in some countries; difficulties in contact tracing due to anonymous contacts, and “potential links to international gatherings and LGBTQ+ Pride events conducive for increased opportunities for exposure through intimate sexual encounters.”

They were also concerned that the potential stigmatization of affected groups could impede response efforts.

There are knowledge gaps on transmission modes, the infectious period, as well as over access to vaccines and antivirals and their efficacy, they said.

Blistery rash

The normal initial symptoms of monkeypox include a high fever, swollen lymph nodes and a blistery chickenpox-like rash.

Initial outbreak cases had no epidemiological links to areas that have historically reported monkeypox, suggesting that undetected transmission might have been going on for some time.

Few people have been hospitalized to date, while 10 cases have been reported among health care workers.

The WHO’s current plan to contain the spread focuses on raising awareness among affected population groups and encouraging safe behaviors and protective measures.

There have been six PHEIC declarations since 2009, the last being for COVID-19 in 2020 — though the sluggish global response to the alarm bell still rankles at the WHO HQ.

A PHEIC was declared after a third emergency committee meeting Jan. 30. But it was only after March 11, when Tedros described the rapidly worsening situation as a pandemic, that many countries seemed to wake up to the danger.

your ad here

US Supreme Court Ruling Could Trigger Anti-Abortion Laws in at Least 13 States

All, News

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which has guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion for almost 50 years, is set to activate anti-abortion laws in at least 13 states.

While some of the so-called “trigger laws” have been in place for years, others have been enacted more recently. Some states could activate their anti-abortion laws immediately, with others following shortly thereafter.

The 13 states that have laws that would ban or halt abortions with the Supreme Court’s overturn Friday of Roe are Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

your ad here

US Health Officials Ban Juul E-Cigarettes Tied to Teen Vaping Surge

All, News

Federal health officials on Thursday ordered Juul to pull its electronic cigarettes from the U.S. market, the latest blow to the embattled company widely blamed for sparking a national surge in teen vaping. 

The action is part of a sweeping effort by the Food and Drug Administration to bring scientific scrutiny to the multibillion-dollar vaping industry after years of regulatory delays. 

The FDA said Juul must stop selling its vaping device and its tobacco- and menthol-flavored cartridges. Those already on the market must be removed. Consumers aren’t restricted from having or using Juul’s products, the agency said. 

To stay on the market, companies must show that their e-cigarettes benefit public health. In practice, that means proving that adult smokers who use them are likely to quit or reduce their smoking, while teens are unlikely to get hooked on them. 

The FDA noted that some of the biggest sellers like Juul may have played a “disproportionate” role in the rise in teen vaping. The agency said Thursday that Juul’s application didn’t have enough evidence to show that marketing its products “would be appropriate for the protection of the public health.” 

Juul said it disagrees with the FDA’s findings and will seek to put the ban on hold while the company considers its options, including a possible appeal and talking with regulators. 

In a statement, the FDA said Juul’s application left regulators with significant questions and didn’t include enough information to evaluate any potential risks. The agency said the company’s research included “insufficient and conflicting data” about things like potentially harmful chemicals leaching from Juul’s cartridges. 

“Without the data needed to determine relevant health risks, the FDA is issuing these marketing denial orders,” Michele Mital, acting director of the FDA’s tobacco center, said in the statement. 

The agency has granted some e-cigarette applications. Since last fall, the agency has given its OK to tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes from R.J. Reynolds, Logic and other companies. 

But industry players and anti-tobacco advocates have complained that those products account for just a tiny percentage of the $6 billion vaping market in the United States. 

Regulators repeatedly delayed making decisions on devices from market leaders, including Juul, which remains the best-selling vaping brand although sales have dipped. 

Last year, the agency rejected applications for more than a million other e-cigarettes and related products, mainly due to their potential appeal to underage teens. 

The American Lung Association called Thursday’s decision “long overdue and most welcome,” and cited Juul for stoking youth vaping. 

E-cigarettes first appeared in the U.S. more than a decade ago with the promise of providing smokers a less harmful alternative. The devices heat a nicotine solution into a vapor that’s inhaled, bypassing many of the toxic chemicals produced by burning tobacco. 

But studies have reached conflicting results about whether they truly help smokers quit. And efforts by the FDA to rule on vaping products and their claims were repeatedly slowed by industry lobbying and competing political interests. 

The vaping market grew to include hundreds of companies selling an array of devices and nicotine solutions in various flavors and strengths. 

The vaping issue took on new urgency in 2018 when Juul’s high-nicotine, fruity-flavored cartridges quickly became a nationwide craze among middle and high school students. The company faces a slew of federal and state investigations into its early marketing practices, which included distributing free Juul products at concerts and parties hosted by young influencers. 

In 2019, the company was pressured into halting all advertising and eliminating its fruit and dessert flavors. The next year, the FDA limited flavors in small vaping devices to just tobacco and menthol. Separately, Congress raised the purchase age for all tobacco and vaping products to 21. 

But the question of whether e-cigarettes should remain on the market at all remained. 

The FDA has been working under a court order to render its decisions; anti-tobacco groups successfully sued the agency to speed up its review. 

FDA regulators warned companies for years they would have to submit rigorous, long-term data showing a clear benefit for smokers who switch to vaping. But all but the largest e-cigarette manufacturers have resisted conducting that kind of expensive, time-consuming research. 

While Juul remains a top seller, a recent federal survey shows that teens have been shifting away from the company. Last year’s survey showed Juul was the fourth-most popular e-cigarette among high schoolers who regularly vape. The most popular brand was a disposable e-cigarette called Puff Bar that comes in flavors including pink lemonade, strawberry and mango. That company’s disposable e-cigarettes had been able to skirt regulation because they use synthetic nicotine, which until recently was outside the FDA’s jurisdiction. Congress recently closed that loophole. 

Overall, the survey showed a drop of nearly 40% in the teen vaping rate as many kids were forced to learn from home during the pandemic. Still, federal officials cautioned about interpreting the results given they were collected online for the first time, instead of in classrooms. 

The brainchild of two Stanford University students, Juul launched in 2015 and within two years rocketed to the top of the vaping market. Juul, which is partially owned by tobacco giant Altria, still accounts for nearly 50% of the U.S. e-cigarette market. It once controlled more than 75%. 

On Tuesday, the FDA also laid out plans to establish a maximum nicotine level for certain tobacco products to reduce their addictiveness. In that announcement, the agency also noted that it has invested in a multimedia public education campaign aimed at warning young people about the potential risks of e-cigarette use. 

 

your ad here

US Advisory Panel Recommends Stronger Flu Shots for Seniors

All, News

An advisory panel for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Wednesday that people ages 65 years and older choose higher-dose flu shots or ones that include an ingredient to boost immune response.

The CDC commonly adopts the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, but in the past it has not advised older adults to get a particular flu shot.

The CDC says older people are both at a higher risk for more serious illness from the flu and tend to have a lower protective immune response.

The advisory committee said that while its preference is for the higher-dose shots or adjuvanted flu vaccines, if one of those options is not available, people age 65 and older should still be vaccinated with a standard flu vaccine.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press. 

your ad here

US Expanding Monkeypox Testing

All, News

The United States is expanding its capacity to test for monkeypox by shipping tests to five commercial labs.

The Department of Health and Human Services said Wednesday the effort will “dramatically expand testing capacity nationwide and make testing more convenient and accessible for patients and health care providers.”

Health care providers will be able to start using the labs to test for monkeypox by early July, the agency said.

As of Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there have been 142 reported monkeypox infections in the United States since the first in mid-May.

More than 30 countries where monkeypox is not endemic have reported cases.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters 

your ad here

US UN Ambassador Tests Positive for COVID-19

All, News

The U.S. mission to the United Nations said Wednesday that Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield tested positive for COVID-19.

Spokesperson Melissa Quartell said in a statement that Thomas-Greenfield is fully vaccinated and received a booster vaccination, and that she was “experiencing mild symptoms.”

Quartell said the ambassador would be working from home in accordance with guidance from health officials.

The statement also said Thomas-Greenfield encouraged all those eligible to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

your ad here

Nearly 1 in 5 Adults Who Had COVID Have Lingering Symptoms, US Study Finds

All, News

Nearly 1 in 5 American adults who reported having COVID-19 in the past are still having symptoms of long COVID, according to survey data collected in the first two weeks of June, U.S. health officials said Wednesday. 

Overall, 1 in 13 adults in the United States have long COVID symptoms that have lasted for three months or more after first contracting the disease and that they did not have before the infection, the data showed. 

The data was collected June 1-13 by the U.S. Census Bureau and analyzed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Long COVID symptoms include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, cognitive difficulties, chronic pain, sensory abnormalities and muscle weakness. They can be debilitating and last for weeks or months after recovery from the initial infection. 

The CDC analysis also found that younger adults were more likely to have persistent symptoms than older adults. 

Women were also more likely to have long COVID than men, according to the study, with 9.4% of U.S. adult women reporting long COVID symptoms compared with 5.5% of men. 

The survey found nearly 9% of Hispanic adults have long COVID, higher than non-Hispanic white and Black adults, and more than twice the percentage of non-Hispanic Asian adults. 

There were also differences based on U.S. states, with Kentucky and Alabama reporting the highest percentage of adults with long COVID symptoms, while Hawaii, Maryland and Virginia reported the lowest, according to the survey. 

your ad here

‘Black Death’ Likely Originated in Central Asia, Researchers Say

All, News

The Black Death, a plague that killed up to 60% of people in western Eurasia from roughly 1346 to 1353, likely originated in the Tian Shan mountains of central Asia, new research shows.

Scientists recovered two genomes of an ancient strain of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, from human remains buried in two 14th-century cemeteries in Kyrgyzstan. The strain is the ancestor of the microbes that caused the Black Death.

“The origin of the Black Death has been one of the most widely debated topics not only in medieval history, but I perhaps will not exaggerate if I say that it has been one of the most debated topics in history, period,” said historian and study co-author Philip Slavin of the University of Stirling.

There are many competing theories, he said, “but without ancient DNA, you wouldn’t be able actually to confirm one of those theories.”

Researchers reconstructed an ancient Y. pestis genome for the first time in 2011 using samples from a burial ground in London. Since then, a handful of additional Black Death genomes from western Eurasia and many more from modern Y. pestis strains carried by rodents and their parasites — the natural reservoirs of plague — also were sequenced.

But even with the new data, “it was still quite clear to us that this kind of research was not really telling us much about where it all started and when it all started,” said Maria Spyrou, a biologist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen and first author of the new study.

Spike in deaths

The wellspring of the Black Death wouldn’t be found in a European grave. But Slavin thought that two cemeteries near Lake Issyk-Kul in Kyrgyzstan looked promising. Based on tombstone inscriptions, the area saw a spike in deaths between 1338 and 1339. Some of those deaths were blamed on an unknown “pestilence.”

The researchers extracted and sequenced genetic material from seven teeth from seven individuals buried at the cemeteries. Human teeth are crisscrossed by a dense network of blood vessels, making them one of the best places in which to look for the centuries-old DNA of blood-borne pathogens like Y. pestis. Three of the seven individuals had plague DNA in their teeth, allowing researchers to reconstruct the genome of the strain that killed them.

In a genetic family tree of the plague, the new strain sits right at base of what Spyrou called an “explosion of genetic diversity” — a dramatic radiation of new strains including the ones that caused the Black Death. The origin strain’s closest modern cousins are carried by marmots in the surrounding Tian Shan area, so it seems to have developed locally.

“It started most likely in this Tian Shan region of central Asia,” said Spyrou. “But I don’t want to claim that we have found, I don’t know, a patient zero or outbreak zero, because this is almost impossible using the archaeological record.”

Sharon DeWitte, an archaeologist at the University of South Carolina, was excited by the results, but she noted that there’s still a small chance the Black Death reached central Asia from elsewhere.

“Yersinia pestis can travel pretty far without accumulating any genetic variation,” she said. “But that being said, there’s strong evidence that that general area was the origin.”

Why, how did it spread?

Finding where the Black Death began is a major step toward understanding why and how it spilled over from animals to humans and spread so catastrophically in the 14th century. Slavin suspects trade was an important factor.

“This community was situated right at the heart of long-distance trade routes known as the Silk Road,” he said. They were “extremely cosmopolitan, very multinational, very multiethnic, and [had] lots of geographic mobility.”

Graves contained pearls from the Pacific and Indian oceans, silks from China or Uzbekistan and shells from the Mediterranean, said Slavin.

Climate could also have been involved, said Spyrou and DeWitte. Future studies of historical climate events in central Asia could help explain the pandemic’s timing and spread. More ancient plague genomes from Asia also would help, but Slavin noted that finding similar archaeological sites or collections isn’t as straightforward as it sounds.

Plague still kills people every year. Because it evolves fast and jumps from animals to humans, it’s important to understand the conditions that make it dangerous and monitor it closely, according to DeWitte. And studying past pandemics can offer lessons for the present, too.

“The Black Death is basically a natural experiment where we are gathering a huge amount of data about the human populations affected, the animals that might have been involved, the bacterium that was involved, and climate conditions,” said DeWitte. “And I think all that’s really important in terms of building resilience for populations moving forward so that we don’t actually suffer from the worst possible outcomes of pandemic disease.”

your ad here