<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2018http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usMon, 19 Nov 2018 12:38:54 -0500Mon, 19 Nov 2018 12:38:54 -0500NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Limiting Screen Time for Kids Is Harder Than It Looks]]>Mon, 19 Nov 2018 12:02:28 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18299067016337-Growing-Up-Digital-Sceen-Time.jpg

It is Saturday morning, and 10-year-old Henry Hailey is up at the crack of dawn. Still in PJs, his microphone-equipped headphones glowing blue in the dim basement, he fixates on the popular online game "Fortnite" on a large screen.

"What?! Right as I was about to finish it, I died," he calls out disappointedly to his friend Gus, a fellow fifth-grader playing the game from his home just a few blocks away. "Dude, I should NOT have died."

The digital battles resume, and Henry's enthusiasm never wanes. Would he play all day if his parents let him? "Probably," he concedes with a slight grin.

But they do not. Like many other parents, the Haileys are on a reinvigorated mission to limit screen time for Henry and his 15-year-old brother, Everett. For some parents, it feels like an exercise in futility. They are busy, overwhelmed and tired of the fight against increasingly omnipresent screens.

Getting Henry off screens has been a constant battle, his parents say. "Then once he's off, there's a lot of complaining and grumpiness for a while as we try to coax him to do something else," says his mom, Barb Hailey. "He's upset. Mom is a crank. What is it all for?"

The goal, experts say, should be to help kids learn to manage their own time as they get older and to stay physically active and socially connected as much offline as on. But parents in many American households are finding the power struggles — tantrums, withdrawal and, in some cases, even school and discipline problems — difficult, especially as more kids get access to screens at younger and younger ages.

A survey of 13- to 17-year-olds released this fall by the nonprofit Common Sense Media found that 95 percent of U.S. teens have their own mobile device. Seventy percent of them check social media several times a day, up from 34 percent in 2012. More than half say that their devices distract them from homework or the people they're with.

Some tech companies now at least acknowledge concerns about over-use and outright abuse of digital media. Apple instituted a "Screen Time" function in its latest iPhone software. It monitors app use and allows users — or their parents — to establish limits. Google For Families and Google Play, found on Android phones, and various independent apps also allow parents to monitor and set some restrictions.

But those features aren't enabled by default, so new limits can come as a shock to those on the receiving end.

That happened late this summer in the Hailey household on Chicago's North Side after dad, Allen Hailey, began watching the amount of time elder son Everett was spending on Wi-Fi. The teen was clocking more than four hours a day on sports videos, games and chats with friends on social media.

"I don't think he had any idea how much time he was spending online," says the father, who decided to block both boys from Wi-Fi during certain hours. He tested it out one night without warning.

One minute, Everett was talking to a friend on social media. "Then it went out," says the teen, who immediately complained aloud about the injustice of it all. Dad held firm and told him he needed to read a book or go outside to shoot hoops.

"I didn't do anything wrong to deserve that," Everett still insists. "If I get my work done, I think I should have my own time."

Researchers who study these trends generally refrain from using the word "addiction" when it comes to screens, as it's not an official diagnosis in the mental health world. But this summer, the World Health Organization added "gaming disorder" to its list of afflictions. That is gaming that severely interferes with relationships, school and work. The diagnosis is still under review by U.S. health authorities.

Sometimes, experts say, digital immersion exacerbates an existing condition, such as depression, anxiety or issues with body image. That's why teens who attend treatment at Newport Academy, a residential rehab and mental health program with sites across the country, must check their digital devices at the door when they arrive.

"Almost always, one of the symptoms is an excessive amount of time on smartphones," says Heather Senior Monroe, a Newport Academy administrator and licensed clinical social worker. "And it's usually a large symptom."

A small number of facilities have sprung up or added programs to specifically address the abuse of digital media. And in Washington state, a hub of high tech, there's a 12-step group called Internet & Tech Addiction Anonymous.

From Henry and Everett's perspective, the real problem is that their parents seem stricter than most.

Like a lot of teens, Everett often uses multiple screens in the evening. He saved his own money to buy himself an older-model iPhone — "to fit in," he says — and also uses a Chromebook laptop for homework. At his age, his mom says, his screen habits may be "a lost cause."

But she keeps working on limits for Henry. Games are not allowed on weekdays. And he gets screen time only if all his homework is done.

Experts say time limits can help but are sometimes a moot point given how deeply technology is "embedded in our daily life," says Sarah Domoff, a psychologist at Central Michigan University.

Instead she asks parents: How are your children doing in school? Are they active and physically healthy? Are they connecting with others in positive ways?

She does have a few basic rules, including limiting screen time for younger kids to the educational stuff. She also suggests making bedrooms "screen-free zones," even for teens. (Other experts, at the very least, advise keeping devices out of rooms overnight to avoid late-night shenanigans or other sleep interruptions.)

The Haileys sheepishly note that Everett routinely multitasks in his room with one eye on the Chromebook and often the other on his phone. "I think we're kind of wimps," Barb Hailey says. Henry doesn't have a phone — yet.

But phones and other screens are not allowed during meals — a limit both boys seem to appreciate. Everett says when they go out to eat, he happily leaves his phone in the car and marvels at the number of other families who are at the table with screens. "That just looks bad," he says.

Managing all this is no easy task, even for experts such as Sierra Filucci, executive editor of parenting content at Common Sense Media, an organization that helps families navigate the digital world.

Her own 12-year-old son, like Henry, is a fan of "Fortnite." She's witnessed the "bad attitude" when he's asked to get off the game and take out the garbage or find something to do that doesn't involve a screen. But she also sees the positives — connections he's made with new friends at school, for instance. For her, the question is: "How do we help him self-regulate?"

Some parents simply put off getting their kid a phone. Jacqui Koch, a college professor and mother in Wilmette, Illinois, had her sixth-grade daughter sign a pledge to wait until eighth grade for a smartphone — part of the national "Wait Until 8th " movement. Her daughter didn't put up much fuss, in part because mom has limited tech use for years.

"We are definitely not the norm of what we're surrounded by," Koch says, noting that she saw a "huge uptick" of kids with phones in fifth grade. Now some parents she knows are trying to backpedal, "and that's hard," she says.

The idea is that Wait Until 8th and events such as the National Day of Unplugging, an annual event in March, will make screen limits more socially acceptable and less like an adult-world imposition on kids.

Another key: Parents setting limits with their own devices.

When Allen Hailey is on his phone while watching a football game, Everett is quick to tell him that he's on his phone too much. "He gets really mad," Everett says.

When mom comes home, she says she tries to put down her phone, though it's hard not to check emails for work. "Let me just check in," she'll say — and before long finds herself on Instagram and Facebook.

"You can go down the rabbit hole so easily," Barb Hailey says. "Then you get it thrown back in your face."

It's not an easy balance to strike, but all the Haileys are trying. "We may not like it," Everett says, as his little brother nods. "But we know it's for the best."

Their dad still wants his boys to read 30 minutes a day. After he put the limits on the Wi-Fi, Everett went out and bought two books, then texted Dad photos of them to prove he'd done it.

The boys do regularly hang out with friends in person, and both play soccer. Everett plays the saxophone. Henry plays trumpet and recently took up the drums.

Mom laughs: "So when we say, 'Get off the screen' and he goes and plays the snare drum, we have to live with that decision."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Martha Irvine/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Florida Sues Walgreens, CVS Over Opioid Sales]]>Mon, 19 Nov 2018 09:12:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1302.jpg

Florida is suing the nation's two largest drugstore chains, Walgreens and CVS, alleging they added to the state and national opioid crisis by overselling painkillers and not taking precautions to stop illegal sales.

Attorney General Pam Bondi announced late Friday that she has added the companies to a state-court lawsuit filed last spring against Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, and several opioid distributors.

Bondi said in a press release that CVS and Walgreens "played a role in creating the opioid crisis." She said the companies failed to stop "suspicious orders of opioids" and "dispensed unreasonable quantities of opioids from their pharmacies." On average, about 45 people die nationally each day because of opioid overdoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We will continue to pursue those companies that played a role in creating the opioid crisis," said Bondi, who has been mentioned as a possible replacement by President Donald Trump for recently ousted U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. "Thousands of Floridians have suffered as a result of the actions of the defendants."

CVS spokesman Mike DeAngelis called the lawsuit "without merit" in a statement Saturday. He said the company trains its pharmacists and their assistants about their responsibilities when dispensing controlled substances and gives them tools to detect potentially illegal sales.

"Over the past several years, CVS has taken numerous actions to strengthen our existing safeguards to help address the nation's opioid epidemic," DeAngelis said.

Walgreens said Saturday it doesn't comment on pending lawsuits.

Until a law enforcement crackdown at the beginning of the decade, Florida was known for its so-called pain mills. Drug dealers from throughout the country would send associates to store-front clinics where unscrupulous doctors would write opioid prescriptions for bogus injuries and illnesses. At one point, 90 of the nation's top 100 opioid prescribers were Florida doctors, according to federal officials.

After receiving the prescriptions, the phony patients would buy the pills from Florida pharmacies — state law says pharmacists must refuse to fill prescriptions they suspect are not for a valid purpose. Most of the opioids would then be taken out of state to be resold illegally at huge markups, creating a drug crisis in many communities throughout the Eastern United States.

According to the lawsuit, Walgreens has dispensed billions of opioid dosages from its Florida pharmacies since 2006. The Illinois-based chain is the nation's largest drugstore chain and has more than 13,200 stores globally.

The company distributed 2.2 million opioid tablets from its store in Hudson, a Tampa-area town of 12,000, and in one unidentified town of 3,000, sold 285,000 pills in a month, the lawsuit says. In some stores, its opioid sales jumped six-fold in two years. The company paid $80 million five years ago to resolve a federal investigation that centered on inadequate record keeping of its Florida opioid sales that allowed the pills to reach the black market.

Florida's accusations against CVS were more general, saying it sold 700 million opioid dosages between 2006 and 2014, including outsized sales in Hudson and two other nearby towns. The Rhode Island-based chain has more than 9,800 stores.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[Why a Salmonella Outbreak Shouldn't Ruin Your Thanksgiving]]>Sun, 18 Nov 2018 13:44:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1034225338+%281%29.jpg

There's no reason to skip Thanksgiving dinner because of a salmonella outbreak linked to raw turkey.

That's according to health officials who've been monitoring the year-old outbreak. But they say it's a reminder to properly prepare your holiday bird. Cooking kills salmonella.

The ongoing outbreak and recall last week of ground turkey may nevertheless leave you with a few questions when reaching for a plate of turkey.

Salmonella is considered widespread in poultry, and it's perfectly legal for supermarkets to sell raw turkey that has the bacteria. Part of the rationale for allowing salmonella is that people don't eat chicken medium rare, said Timothy Lytton, a Georgia State University law professor. In 1974, a court said that "American housewives and cooks normally are not ignorant and stupid" and that they know how to prepare food so people don't get sick.

Even though salmonella is not prohibited in raw meat or poultry, regulators check to make sure the number of samples at processing plants that test positive for the bacteria is within standards. Rules are tighter for whole turkeys, and the industry says the chances of finding salmonella in whole birds are "exceedingly low."

The turkey industry cites steps it takes to reduce risk, such as the use of antimicrobial rinses.

The rules differ for other products. For instance, salmonella is not allowed in packaged foods that aren't cooked to kill germs.

Since it began last year, the outbreak linked to raw turkey has caused one death and 164 reported illnesses in 35 states. Until last week, regulators hadn't been able to tie any cases to a specific product or supplier. That's even though investigators said 29 unidentified slaughtering and processing plants tested positive for the salmonella strain involved.

The recall could be confusing because federal regulations are contradictory. The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't prohibit salmonella but can ask companies to recall products once they are clearly shown to be responsible for illnesses. The USDA's Carmen Rottenberg said the agency can't take action until it has enough evidence.

According to the USDA, the people who got food poisoning reported eating different kinds of turkey products and brands. Cases also included people who handled raw turkey pet food or worked with live turkeys.

Salmonella spreads through animal feces. It is blamed for an estimated 1 million cases of food poisoning a year, with symptoms including diarrhea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Whether someone gets sick depends on the strength of the strain, the amount and the person's susceptibility, the USDA notes. But the agency says cooking should kill salmonella.

The USDA tied one illness in Arizona to Jennie-O ground turkey meat. The recall by Jennie-O was limited to turkey from a single day's production in September from a manufacturing line in Wisconsin. The packages had use-by dates of early October but could still be in freezers.

Regulators say more products from other companies could still be linked to the illnesses. Parent company Hormel Foods Corp. said it owns five of the 29 plants that tested positive for the germ.

The ongoing outbreak doesn't necessarily mean there's more food poisoning from salmonella. Improved detection might just be discovering outbreaks that in the past might have seemed like unrelated cases, said Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"It's shedding a light on a longstanding problem," she said.

Health officials say proper handling and cooking should kill any salmonella. A few points to remember:

— It seems counterintuitive, but don't rinse raw turkey — that can spread any germs.

— Clean hands and cooking surfaces that come into contact with raw turkey.

— Cook birds to an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees.

Hormel's Richard Carlson stressed salmonella in turkey is not unusual and that proper handling and cooking should get rid of it — even in the Jennie-O ground turkey recalled last week. Regulators, though, say to throw it out.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Announces Crackdown on Cigarettes]]>Fri, 16 Nov 2018 09:47:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_tobacco1115_1500x845.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration is making moves against the tobacco industry in an effort to crack down on smoking in teens, saying it is working to ban menthol and mint in all cigarettes, as well as flavored cigars. The agency also announced it will limit the sales of flavored e-cigarettes to youths, both in stores and online.]]>
<![CDATA[Smoke Spreading From California Fires Sparks Health Concerns]]>Fri, 16 Nov 2018 05:55:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/LAAP_18319814218322.jpg

Smoke masks. Eye drops. No outdoor exercise. This is how Californians are trying to cope with wildfires choking the state, but experts say an increase in serious health problems may be almost inevitable for vulnerable residents as the disasters become more commonplace.

Research suggests children, the elderly and those with existing health problems are most at risk.

Short-term exposure to wildfire smoke can worsen existing asthma and lung disease, leading to emergency room treatment or hospitalization, studies have shown.

Increases in doctor visits or hospital treatment for respiratory infections, bronchitis and pneumonia in otherwise healthy people also have been found during and after wildfires.

Some studies also have found increases in ER visits for heart attacks and strokes in people with existing heart disease on heavy smoke days during previous California wildfires, echoing research on potential risks from urban air pollution.

For most healthy people, exposure to wildfire smoke is just an annoyance, causing burning eyes, scratchy throats or chest discomfort that all disappear when the smoke clears.

But doctors, scientists and public health officials are concerned that the changing face of wildfires will pose a much broader health hazard.

"Wildfire season used to be June to late September. Now it seems to be happening all year round. We need to be adapting to that," Dr. Wayne Cascio, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cardiologist, said this week.

In an overview published earlier this year, Cascio wrote that the increasing frequency of large wildland fires, urban expansion into wooded areas and an aging population are all increasing the number of people at risk for health problems from fires.

Wood smoke contains some of the same toxic chemicals as urban air pollution, along with tiny particles of vapor and soot 30 times thinner than a human hair. These can infiltrate the bloodstream, potentially causing inflammation and blood vessel damage even in healthy people, research on urban air pollution has shown. Studies have linked heart attacks and cancer with long-term exposure to air pollution.

Whether exposure to wildfire smoke carries the same risks is uncertain, and determining harm from smog versus wildfire smoke can be tricky, especially with wind-swept California wildfires spreading thick smoke hundreds of miles away into smoggy big cities.

"That is the big question," said Dr. John Balmes, a University of California, San Francisco, professor of medicine who studies air pollution.

"Very little is known about the long-term effects of wildfire smoke because it's hard to study populations years after a wildfire," Balmes said.

Decreased lung function has been found in healthy firefighters during fire season. They tend to recover but federal legislation signed this year will establish a U.S. registry tracking firefighters and potential risks for various cancers, including lung cancer. Some previous studies suggested a risk.

Balmes noted that increased lung cancer rates have been found in women in developing countries who spend every day cooking over wood fires.

That kind of extreme exposure doesn't typically happen with wildfires, but experts worry about the kinds of health damage that may emerge for firefighters and residents with these blazes occurring so often.

Whether that includes more cancer is unknown. "We're concerned about that," Balmes said.

Regular folks breathing in all that smoke worry about the risks too.

Smoke from the fire that decimated the Northern California city of Paradise darkened skies this week in San Francisco, nearly 200 miles southwest, and the air smelled "like you were camping," said Michael Northover, a contractor.

He and his 14-year-old son have first-time sinus infections that Northover blames on the smoke.

"We're all kind of feeling it," Northover said.

The smoke was so thick in San Francisco, the skyline was barely visible from across the Bay. The city's iconic open-air cable cars that are popular with tourists were pulled off the streets Thursday because of the bad air.

An Environmental Protection Agency website said air quality in Sacramento was "hazardous" Thursday and San Francisco's was "very unhealthy." Many people walking around the cities wore face masks.

Most schools in San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland and Folsom said they would be closed Friday. At least six universities in Northern California canceled classes Thursday.

At Chico State University, 11 miles (18 kilometers) from Paradise, ash fell this week and classes were canceled until after Thanksgiving.

"It's kind of freaky to see your whole town wearing air masks and trying to get out of smoke," said freshman Mason West, 18. "You can see the particles. Obviously, it's probably not good to be breathing that stuff in."

West returned home this week to Santa Rosa, hard hit by last year's wine country fires, only to find it shrouded in smoke from the Paradise fire 100 miles (160 kilometers) away. West's family had to evacuate last year for a week, but their home was spared.

"It's as bad here as it was in Chico," West said. "It almost feels like you just can't get away from it."

Smoke has been so thick in Santa Rosa that researchers postponed a door-to-door survey there for a study of health effects of last year's fire.

"We didn't feel we could justify our volunteer interns going knocking on doors when all the air quality alerts were saying stay indoors," said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, a public health researcher at the University of California, Davis. The study includes an online survey of households affected by last year's fire, with responses from about 6,000 people so far.

Preliminary data show widespread respiratory problems, eye irritations, anxiety, depression and sleep problems around the time of the fire and months later.

"Conventional thinking is that these effects related to fires are transient. It's not entirely clear that's the case," Hertz-Picciotto said.

Researchers also will be analyzing cord blood and placentas collected from a few dozen women who were pregnant during the fire, seeking evidence of stress markers or exposure to smoke chemicals.

They hope to continue the study for years, seeking evidence of long-term physical and emotional harms to fire evacuees and their children.

Other studies have linked emotional stress in pregnant women to developmental problems in their children and "this was quite a stress," Hertz-Picciotto said.

It's a kind of stress that many people need to prepare for as the climate warms and wildfires proliferate, she said.

"Any of us could wake up tomorrow and lose everything we own," she said. "It's pretty scary."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP
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<![CDATA[NBC 4 New York & NY Giants Health & Fitness Expo]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 17:17:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/225*120/300x160_HFE.jpg]]><![CDATA[FDA Restricts Most Flavored E-Cig Sales to Fight Teen Vaping]]>Thu, 15 Nov 2018 17:17:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/844304082-E-Cigarette-fashion-week.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration will restrict sales of most flavored e-cigarettes to age-restricted stores and pursue bans on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigarettes as it tries to control what Commissioner Scott Gottlieb describes as an "astonishing" surge in teen e-cigarette use that is reversing years of progress in fighting youth tobacco addiction.

Gottlieb in a statement Thursday outlined a slew of policies and essentially threatened to pull products from the market if manufacturers do not follow them. He cited data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention's National Youth Tobacco Survey, expected to be released in its entirety later Thursday, showing that 3.6 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes.

"These increases must stop," Gottlieb said in a statement. "And the bottom line is this: I will not allow a generation of children to become addicted to nicotine through e-cigarettes. We won't let this pool of kids, a pool of future potential smokers, of future disease and death, to continue to build. We'll take whatever action is necessary to stop these trends from continuing."

The announcement comes just over two months since Gottlieb ordered manufacturers to fix what he called "epidemic" levels of teens using e-cigarettes and specifically instructed five brands — Juul, British American Tobacco's Vuse, Altria's MarkTen, Imperial Brands' Blu E-cigs and Japan Tobacco's Logic — to submit plans detailing how they will prevent teens from using their products. He gave them 60 days, with the deadline passing on Sunday.

FDA targets fruity flavors
The FDA will require all types of flavored e-cigarettes, excluding menthol, to be sold by retailers that altogether prohibit people under the age of 18, the federal minimum age to buy tobacco products, or have a section of the store that bars minors. This policy effectively bans most flavored products from convenience stores and gas stations while permitting them in the roughly 10,000 tobacco and vape shops.

The agency will allow mint- and menthol-flavored e-cigarettes to continue to be sold at all retailers until it removes menthol cigarettes from the market. Officials worry that in removing menthol e-cigarettes from places where menthol cigarettes are sold, consumers might opt for conventional cigarettes. However, Gottlieb said the agency will reconsider the exemption if data show kids are using these products.

"America's youth are facing a public health crisis that threatens an entire generation: skyrocketing use of nicotine products, brought on by access to flavored products in particular," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

E-cigarette manufacturers that wish to sell flavored products more broadly in the future must first submit the products to the FDA to review and authorize. The FDA will require products that are found illegally being sold in stores to undergo review and would be pulled from the market until the agency completes the application process and clears it, which it may not. In the process, known as a premarket tobacco application, products must prove they deliver a net public health benefit.

All e-cigarettes currently on the market will eventually go through this process. Products that were on the market before Aug. 8, 2016, were supposed to start undergoing review this year until Gottlieb extended the deadline until Aug. 8, 2022, so manufacturers would have more time to file complete applications.

Companies who do not comply with new FDA-mandated age verification guidelines for online sales or are marketed to children, including by using popular children's cartoons or names of kid-favorite products like brands of candy or soda, would lose this extension and be required to undergo review.

Gottlieb said the FDA will explore how to accelerate the process for new technologies that prove they can keep kids from using them. Fontem Ventures, a unit of Imperial Brands and maker of blu e-cigarettes, and Juul have both said they plan to test new connected devices outside of the U.S.

Some manufacturers have already started taking action on flavors. Altria said it will voluntarily remove its MarkTen pod-based products from the market and will stop selling all flavors except for menthol or tobacco in its "cig-a-like" products until the FDA reviews and clears them.

Juul, the clear e-cigarette market leader, on Tuesday stopped accepting retail orders for its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods from the more than 90,000 convenience stores, vape shops and other retailers that sell them, CEO Kevin Burns said Tuesday in a blog post on the company's website. Juul plans to resume sales to retailers that are legally allowed to sell flavored e-cigarettes and adopt the company's new age restrictions and verification system, though it's unclear when sales could resume.

FDA to pursue ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars
The FDA will also advance rules to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, Gottlieb said Thursday.

In 2009, the FDA banned certain flavors in cigarettes, but menthol was excluded, as were other tobacco products. Critics have begged the agency to reverse these exemptions in the years since.

This spring, the FDA took the first step toward implementing a new rule on flavors in tobacco products. The comment period closed in July. On menthol specifically, the FDA started the process of issuing a rule in 2013, which may allow the agency to speed up a process that can take years to finalize and implement.

More than half of youth smokers between the ages of 12 and 17 use menthol cigarettes, compared with less than one-third of adult smokers 35 and older, Gottlieb said. Among African-American youth, data show 7 out of 10 smoke menthol cigarettes, he said.

"Now, armed with the additional years of data, comments from the public – and with the perspective of our Comprehensive Plan and its implementation – the FDA will accelerate the proposed rulemaking process to ensure that our policies on flavored tobacco products protect public health across the continuum of risk," Gottlieb said.

Menthol cigarettes represent 35 percent of total industry volume, Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog wrote Monday in a note to clients. A ban on menthol cigarettes could slice into British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands and Altria sales.

Data Show Surge in Teens Using E-Cigarettes
More than 3.6 million middle and high school students reported being current e-cigarette users in 2018, according the CDC's National Youth Tobacco Survey.

The number of high school students who reported being current e-cigarette users, meaning they used the product within the past 30 days, increased 78 percent between 2017 and 2018. That equates to 3.05 million high school students, or 20.8 percent of this group. Among middle school students, current e-cigarette use increased 48 percent between 2017 and 2018, equaling 570,000, or 4.9 percent of middle school students.

"These data shock my conscience," Gottlieb said.

Of current high school e-cigarette users, 27.7 percent regularly used the product on 20 or more days in the past month, and 67.8 percent used flavored e-cigarettes, Gottlieb said, citing the survey data.

Researchers suggest the popularity of "certain types of e-cigarettes, such as JUUL" likely caused the surge in e-cigarette use.

"The markedly accelerating rate of e-cigarette use among U.S. youth within the past year is a cause for grave concern," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

The spikes in e-cigarette use also cause overall tobacco product use to increase. Among high school students, 27.1 percent said they used any tobacco product, a 38 percent rise from the previous year. Among middle school students, 7.2 percent said they used one, a 29 percent year-over-year increase.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

Photo Credit: Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AFP/Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Record Number of Tick-Borne Diseases Reported in 2017: CDC]]>Wed, 14 Nov 2018 13:55:10 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/957346856-Deer-Tick.jpg

U.S. health officials say a record number of tick-borne diseases were reported last year.

The 2017 tally of more than 59,000 cases is a 22 percent increase from the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers Wednesday.

Lyme disease accounted for nearly three-quarters of the illnesses. That's about 43,000 cases.

Traditionally about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease were reported to the government each year, but experts believed there was underreporting and thought the actual number was more like 300,000.

Experts say better reporting may be a reason for recent increases, but scientists have also discovered more diseases transmitted by ticks. Researchers also note that disease-spreading ticks have been seen over a wide range of states.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: John Ewing/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Neanderthal Life Not Especially Risky, Skull Analysis Shows]]>Wed, 14 Nov 2018 14:04:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/neanderthal4.jpg

Life as a Neanderthal was no picnic, but a new analysis says it was no more dangerous than what our own species faced in ancient times.

That challenges what the authors call the prevailing view of our evolutionary cousins, that they lived risky, stressful lives. Some studies have suggested they had high injury rates, which have been blamed on things like social violence, attacks by carnivores, a hunting style that required getting close to large prey, and the hazards of extensive travel in environments full of snow and ice.

While it's true that their lives were probably riskier than those of people in today's industrial societies, the vastly different living conditions of those two groups mean comparing them isn't really appropriate, said Katerina Harvati of the University of Tuebingen in Germany.

A better question is whether Neanderthals faced more danger than our species did when we shared similar environments and comparable lifestyles of a mobile hunter-gatherer, she and study co-authors say in a paper released Wednesday by the journal Nature.

To study that, they focused on skull injuries. They reviewed prior studies of fossils from western Eurasia that ranged from about 80,000 to 20,000 years old. In all they assessed data on 295 skull samples from 114 individual Neanderthals, and 541 skull samples from 90 individuals of our own species, Homo sapiens.

Injury rates turned out to be about the same in both species.

That questions the idea that the behavior of Neanderthals created particularly high levels of danger, Marta Mirazon Lahr of Cambridge University wrote in an accompanying commentary.

But the new study is not the final word on Neanderthal trauma, she wrote. It didn't include injuries other than to the skull. And scientists still have plenty of work to do in seeking the likely cause of injuries and evidence of care for the injured, which could give insights into the behavior of both Neanderthals and ancient members of our species, she wrote.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Gene-Edited Food Is Coming, Regulatory Questions Remain]]>Wed, 14 Nov 2018 01:16:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/geneeditedfoodAP_18317727243007.jpg

The next generation of biotech food is headed for the grocery aisles, and first up may be salad dressings or granola bars made with soybean oil genetically tweaked to be good for your heart.

By early next year, the first foods from plants or animals that had their DNA "edited" are expected to begin selling. It's a different technology than today's controversial "genetically modified" foods, more like faster breeding that promises to boost nutrition, spur crop growth, and make farm animals hardier and fruits and vegetables last longer.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has declared gene editing one of the breakthroughs needed to improve food production so the world can feed billions more people amid a changing climate. Yet governments are wrestling with how to regulate this powerful new tool. And after years of confusion and rancor, will shoppers accept gene-edited foods or view them as GMOs in disguise?

"If the consumer sees the benefit, I think they'll embrace the products and worry less about the technology," said Dan Voytas, a University of Minnesota professor and chief science officer for Calyxt Inc., which edited soybeans to make the oil heart-healthy.

Researchers are pursuing more ambitious changes: Wheat with triple the usual fiber, or that's low in gluten. Mushrooms that don't brown, and better-producing tomatoes. Drought-tolerant corn, and rice that no longer absorbs soil pollution as it grows. Dairy cows that don't need to undergo painful de-horning, and pigs immune to a dangerous virus that can sweep through herds.

Scientists even hope gene editing eventually could save species from being wiped out by devastating diseases like citrus greening, a so far unstoppable infection that's destroying Florida's famed oranges.

First they must find genes that could make a new generation of trees immune.

"If we can go in and edit the gene, change the DNA sequence ever so slightly by one or two letters, potentially we'd have a way to defeat this disease," said Fred Gmitter, a geneticist at the University of Florida Citrus Research and Education Center, as he examined diseased trees in a grove near Fort Meade.

Farmers have long genetically manipulated crops and animals by selectively breeding to get offspring with certain traits. It's time-consuming and can bring trade-offs. Modern tomatoes, for example, are larger than their pea-sized wild ancestor, but the generations of cross-breeding made them more fragile and altered their nutrients.

GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are plants or animals that were mixed with another species' DNA to introduce a specific trait they're "transgenic." Best known are corn and soybeans mixed with bacterial genes for built-in resistance to pests or weed killers.

Despite international scientific consensus that GMOs are safe to eat, some people remain wary and there is concern they could spur herbicide-resistant weeds.

Now gene-editing tools, with names like CRISPR and TALENs, promise to alter foods more precisely, and cheaply without necessarily adding foreign DNA. Instead, they act like molecular scissors to alter the letters of an organism's own genetic alphabet.

The technology can insert new DNA, but most products in development so far switch off a gene, according to University of Missouri professor Nicholas Kalaitzandonakes.

Those new Calyxt soybeans? Voytas' team inactivated two genes so the beans produce oil with no heart-damaging trans fat and that shares the famed health profile of olive oil without its distinct taste.

The hornless calves? Most dairy Holsteins grow horns that are removed for the safety of farmers and other cows. Recombinetics Inc. swapped part of the gene that makes dairy cows grow horns with the DNA instructions from naturally hornless Angus beef cattle.

"Precision breeding," is how animal geneticist Alison Van Eenennaam of the University of California, Davis, explains it. "This isn't going to replace traditional breeding," but make it easier to add one more trait.

The Agriculture Department says extra rules aren't needed for "plants that could otherwise have been developed through traditional breeding," clearing the way for development of about two dozen gene-edited crops so far.

In contrast, the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 proposed tighter, drug-like restrictions on gene-edited animals. It promises guidance sometime next year on exactly how it will proceed.

Because of trade, international regulations are "the most important factor in whether genome editing technologies are commercialized," USDA's Paul Spencer told a meeting of agriculture economists.

Europe's highest court ruled last summer that existing European curbs on the sale of transgenic GMOs should apply to gene-edited foods, too.

But at the World Trade Organization this month, the U.S. joined 12 nations including Australia, Canada, Argentina and Brazil in urging other countries to adopt internationally consistent, science-based rules for gene-edited agriculture.

The biggest concern is what are called off-target edits, unintended changes to DNA that could affect a crop's nutritional value or an animal's health, said Jennifer Kuzma of the Genetic Engineering and Society Center at North Carolina State University.

Scientists are looking for any signs of problems. Take the hornless calves munching in a UC-Davis field. One is female and once it begins producing milk, Van Eenennaam will test how similar that milk's fat and protein composition is to milk from unaltered cows.

"We're kind of being overly cautious," she said, noting that if eating beef from naturally hornless Angus cattle is fine, milk from edited Holsteins should be, too.

But to Kuzma, companies will have to be up-front about how these new foods were made and the evidence that they're healthy. She wants regulators to decide case-by-case which changes are no big deal, and which might need more scrutiny.

"Most gene edited plants and animals are probably going to be just fine to eat. But you're only going to do yourself a disservice in the long run if you hide behind the terminology," Kuzma said.

Uncertainty about regulatory and consumer reaction is creating some strange bedfellows. An industry-backed group of food makers and farmers asked university researchers and consumer advocates to help craft guidelines for "responsible use" of gene editing in the food supply.

"Clearly this coalition is in existence because of some of the battle scars from the GMO debates, there's no question about that," said Greg Jaffe of the food-safety watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest, who agreed to join the Center for Food Integrity's guidelines group. "There's clearly going to be questions raised about this technology."

Gene-editing can't do everything, cautioned Calyxt's Voytas. There are limitations to how much foods could be changed. Sure, scientists made wheat containing less gluten, but it's unlikely to ever be totally gluten-free for people who can't digest that protein, for example — or to make, say, allergy-free peanuts.

Nor is it clear how easily companies will be able to edit different kinds of food, key to their profit.

Despite her concerns about adequate regulation, Kuzma expects about 20 gene-edited crops to hit the U.S. market over five years — and she notes that scientists also are exploring changes to crops like cassava that important in the poorest countries.

"We think it's going to really revolutionize the industry," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Federica Narancio/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Juul Temporarily Suspends Retail Sales of Most Flavored E-Cigarettes]]>Tue, 13 Nov 2018 14:37:13 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/juulGettyImages-1032883954.jpg

Juul said it will stop selling most of its flavored nicotine pods for its e-cigarettes in retail stores — though only temporarily — as it tries to appease federal regulators who have ordered the company to help reduce "epidemic" levels of teen use.

The company on Tuesday stopped accepting retail orders for its mango, fruit, creme and cucumber pods to the more than 90,000 convenience stores and other retail shops, CEO Kevin Burns said in a blog post on the company's website. Consumers will still be able to buy all of Juul's flavors on its website and its four tobacco and menthol-flavored pods in retail stores, Burns said.

The company plans to resume sales to retailers that adopt the company's new age restrictions and verification system. Juul is banning sales to anyone under 21, even in states where the legal age is lower.

The new policy doesn't go as far as expected. A person briefed on the company's plan told CNBC last week that Juul would stop all retail sales of flavored pods. There was no mention of resuming sales at any point. It's unclear when sales could resume.

Burns also said the company won't sell flavored pods to retailers that aren't legally allowed to sell them to the public, leaving the door open if federal regulators follow through on plans to restrict those sales to vape shops.

The Food and Drug Administration this week plans to restrict sales of cartridge-based flavored e-cigarettes to places like vape and tobacco shops, senior administration officials have told CNBC.

Retailers that want to sell the flavors will need to comply with Juul's new distribution system and age restrictions. Clerks must electronically scan IDs and verify consumers are older than 21, regardless of local laws. The sale quantity will also be limited to prevent bulk purchases.

Juul is already dominating the e-cigarette industry, just three years since its popular nicotine pods hit the market. The company, valued at $16 billion, captured 75 percent of the market in the period ended Nov. 3, according to Nielsen data compiled by Wells Fargo analyst Bonnie Herzog.

But the e-cigarette's appeal among teenagers has undermined Juul's success and threatened its future.

After months of parents and lawmakers begging the Food and Drug Administration to do something, Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb in September ordered Juul and four other e-cigarette makers to fix what he labeled "epidemic" levels of teens using e-cigarettes. He said preliminary federal data show a more than 75 percent surge in high school students regularly using e-cigarettes.

That means roughly 3 million, or about 20 percent of high school kids, are using e-cigarettes, up from 1.73 million, or 11.7 percent in last year's National Youth Tobacco Survey. The complete data set is expected to be published this month.

"We're in alignment with [Gottlieb] that we need to take action and we need to get this category in a better position," Juul CEO Kevin Burns told CNBC in an October interview. The company declined to make Burns available for an interview Tuesday.

This week, the FDA will release its own proposal, which includes to restrict sales of cartridge-based flavored e-cigarettes to places like vape and tobacco shops that tend to enforce age restrictions better, senior FDA officials told CNBC last week. The agency also plans to ban online sales until manufacturers implement FDA-mandated guidelines for age verification, the FDA officials, who asked not to be named because the proposal is not yet public, said.

Some other e-cigarette makers have publicly shared their plans to the FDA. Altria said it will voluntarily remove its MarkTen pod-based products and will stop selling all flavors except for menthol or tobacco in its "cig-a-like" products until the FDA reviews and approves them. The company said it also supports federal legislation to make 21 the minimum age to buy tobacco products.

Fontem Ventures, a unit of tobacco company Imperial Brands and maker of blu e-cigarettes, said it will raise the minimum age requirements to buy pods on its website to 21 across the U.S. and review its packaging and product descriptions.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

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<![CDATA[FDA Gives 2 Years to Purge Six Artificial Flavors From Food]]>Tue, 13 Nov 2018 12:53:27 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18312850787176.jpg

Six artificial flavors are being ordered out of the food supply in a dispute over their safety, but good luck to anyone who wants to know which cookies, candies or drinks they're in.

The dispute highlights the complex rules that govern what goes in our food, how much the public knows about it, and a mysterious class of ingredients that has evolved over decades largely outside of public view.

On food packages, hundreds of ingredients are listed simply as natural flavor or artificial flavor. Even in minute amounts, they help make potato chips taste oniony or give fruit candy that twang.

"The food system we have is unimaginable without flavor additives," said Nadia Berenstein, a historian of flavor science based in New York.

The flavors are also at the center of a dispute over how ingredients should be regulated.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is giving companies two years to purge their products of six artificial flavors — even though the FDA made clear it believes the ingredients are safe in the trace amounts they are used.

The six artificial flavors in question, with names like methyl eugenol, benzophenone, ethyl acrylate and pyridine, are used to create cinnamon or spicy notes, fruity or minty flavors, or even hints of balsamic vinegar.

The FDA and the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association, an industry group, did not respond when asked for examples of products the six ingredients are used in. But they noted in statements that the compounds have natural counterparts in foods like basil, coffee, grapes and peppermint, and that the action does not affect the naturally derived versions.

The FDA said it had to order the artificial versions out of the food supply because of a lawsuit brought by consumer advocacy groups that cited a 60-year-old regulation known as the Delaney clause. The rule prohibits additives shown to have caused cancer in animals, even if tested at doses far higher than what a person would consume.

In a statement, the flavor industry group said the Delaney Clause doesn't allow regulators to assess an ingredient's risk based on modern scientific understanding, but that changing it would require an act of Congress. As far back as 1981, the Government Accountability Office issued a report saying the clause should be re-examined because of its inflexibility.

Christopher Kemp, a professor of cancer biology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, doesn't think the rule is necessarily too strict a threshold. He said animal studies provide the strongest evidence about cancer risk in humans, and that it is better to err on the side of caution.

Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that sued over the six ingredients, said it's also unknown what effect they might have when used in combination with other ingredients. And since they're listed only as "artificial flavor," he said people don't know in what concentrations they're used in particular products.

"It's all secret. You can't pick up an ice cream or chewing gum or a baked good and have any idea what chemicals are in there," he said.

Berenstein, the flavor science historian, said the ingredients in flavors don't have to be specified in part because regulators decided long ago that listing the names of compounds on packages might just confuse people. And she stressed that flavors are used in infinitesimal amounts. In 2015, the flavor industry estimates just 40 pounds of one of the now banned artificial ingredients was produced.

But Bernstein said a more robust regulatory system might inspire greater public confidence about flavors.

In a separate but related lawsuit, the FDA is also facing a challenge over its oversight of the universe of ingredients companies can put into foods, including artificial flavors.

New flavors, sweeteners and other ingredients can go through an FDA petition process to be approved as food additives. But another option lets manufacturers deem their own ingredients to be "generally recognized as safe."

There's no clear rule for when ingredients should take one path or the other. The artificial sweetener Splenda is an approved food additive. Another sweetener, stevia, was declared GRAS by manufacturers.

The six artificial flavors in question were approved food additives, along with dozens of other synthetic flavors . The flavor industry group also regularly declares other ingredients like them to be GRAS, without formal review by the FDA.

Critics say GRAS determinations were meant for basic ingredients like salt and vinegar, not highly engineered ingredients. The advocacy groups suing the FDA say the GRAS option has turned into a loophole that lets companies approve all sorts of ingredients without public scrutiny, including artificial flavors.

In September, a judge allowed the legal challenge to move forward.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Patrick Sison/AP]]>
<![CDATA[New Exercise Guidelines: Move More, Sit Less, Start Younger]]>Mon, 12 Nov 2018 09:34:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/510751355-Kids-Exercising.jpg

Move more, sit less and get kids active as young as age 3, say new federal guidelines that stress that any amount and any type of exercise helps health.

The advice is the first update since the government's physical activity guidelines came out a decade ago. Since then, the list of benefits of exercise has grown, and there's more evidence to back things that were of unknown value before, such as short, high-intense workouts and taking the stairs instead of an elevator.

"Doing something is better than doing nothing, and doing more is better than doing something," said Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a preventive medicine expert at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Only 20 percent of Americans get enough exercise now, and the childhood obesity problem has prompted the push to aim younger to prevent poor health later in life.

Highlights of the advice released Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

The biggest change: Start young. Guidelines used to begin at age 6, but the new ones say preschoolers ages 3 through 5 should be encouraged to take part in active play throughout the day. They don't call for a certain amount but say a reasonable target may be three hours of various intensities. That's consistent with guidelines in many other countries and is the average amount of activity observed in kids this age.

From ages 6 through 17, at least an hour of moderate-to-vigorous activity throughout the day is recommended. Most of it should be aerobic, the kind that gets the heart rate up such as brisk walking, biking or running. At least three times a week, exercise should be vigorous and include muscle- and bone-strengthening activities like climbing on playground equipment or playing sports.

Duration stays the same — at least 2½ to 5 hours of moderate-intensity or 1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours of vigorous activity a week, plus at least two days that include muscle-strengthening exercise like pushups or lifting weights.

One key change: It used to be thought that aerobic activity had to be done for at least 10 minutes. Now even short times are known to help. Even a single episode of activity gives short-term benefits such as lowering blood pressure, reducing anxiety and improving sleep.

Sitting a lot is especially harmful.

The advice is similar for older adults, but activities should include things that promote balance to help avoid falls.

Targeting young children is the goal of a project that Dr. Valentin Fuster, a cardiologist at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital, has worked on for years with the Heart Association and Sesame Workshop, producers of television's "Sesame Street."

At the heart conference, he gave results of an intensive four-month program to improve knowledge and attitudes about exercise and health among 562 kids ages 3 to 5 in Head Start preschools in Harlem.

"It was really successful," Fuster said. "Once they understand how the body works, they begin to understand physical activity" and its importance.

When brains are young, "it's the best opportunity" to set health habits that last, he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Big Studies Give Mixed News on Fish Oil, Vitamin D]]>Sat, 10 Nov 2018 20:02:10 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fishoilGettyImages-624914280.jpg

Taking fish oil or vitamin D? Big studies give long-awaited answers on who does and does not benefit from these popular nutrients.

Fish oil taken by healthy people, at a dose found in many supplements, showed no clear ability to lower heart or cancer risks. Same for vitamin D.

But higher amounts of a purified, prescription fish oil slashed heart problems and heart-related deaths among people with high triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood, and other risks for heart disease. Doctors cheered the results and said they could suggest a new treatment option for hundreds of thousands of patients like these.

Up to 10 percent of U.S. adults take fish oil. Even more take vitamin D, despite no major studies to support the many health claims made for it.

"Those who peddle it promote it as good for everything," but in this definitive test, vitamin D "showed a big nothing," said Dr. James Stein, a heart specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He had no role in the studies or ties to the companies involved.

Results were revealed Saturday at an American Heart Association conference in Chicago and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

These oils, also called omega-3 fatty acids, are found in salmon, tuna and certain other fish. They reduce triglycerides and inflammation and may have other effects. There are different types, including EPA and DHA.

One study tested 4 grams a day of Amarin Corp.'s prescription Vascepa, which is concentrated EPA, in more than 8,000 patients with high triglycerides and a greater risk of heart problems for various reasons. All were already taking a statin such as Lipitor or Zocor to lower cholesterol. Half were given Vascepa and the rest, mineral oil capsules as a comparison.

After five years, about 17 percent of those on Vascepa had suffered one of these problems — a heart attack, stroke, heart-related death or clogged arteries requiring medical care — versus 22 percent of the others.

That worked out to a 25 percent reduction in risk. Looked at individually, heart attacks, heart-related deaths and strokes all were lower with Vascepa. Only 21 people would need to take Vascepa for five years to prevent one of the main problems studied — favorable odds, Stein said.

Side effects may be a concern: More people on Vascepa were hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat — 3 percent versus 2 percent of the comparison group. Doctors say that's puzzling because other research suggests fish oil lowers that risk.

The concern with the heart rhythm problem is that it can raise the risk of stroke, but there were fewer strokes among those on Vascepa, said study leader Dr. Deepak Bhatt of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Vascepa costs around $280 a month; many insurers cover it. Amarin sponsored the study and some study leaders work or consult for the company.

The other study tested a lower 1 gram daily dose of a different type of fish oil — an EPA/DHA combo sold as Lovaza or Omacor and in generic form — in 26,000 people with no prior heart problems or cancer.

After about five years, rates of a combined measure of heart attacks, strokes and other problems were similar for fish oil users and a comparison group. Cancer rates and deaths also were similar.

There were fewer heart attacks in the fish oil group — 145 versus 200 in the comparison group. The study leader, Dr. JoAnn Manson at Brigham and Women's, called that "a substantial benefit," but several independent experts disagreed because of the way the study was set up to track this and certain other results.

"These findings are speculative and would need to be confirmed in a separate trial," said the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Steven Nissen.

Both studies share a problem: the oils used for the comparison groups, which may not have been true placebos. The Vascepa study used mineral oil, which interferes with statin drugs, raises cholesterol, and might have made the comparison group fare worse and made Vascepa look better than it truly was.

The other study used olive oil, which might have helped that comparison group do better, possibly masking any benefit to the others from fish oil.

Leaders of both studies say any effect from the comparison oils isn't enough to alter the main results, and independent experts agreed. But Nissen, who is leading another fish oil study, is using corn oil as a comparison.

Manson's study also tested vitamin D, which the skin makes from sun exposure. It's tough to get enough from foods like milk, eggs and oily fish, though many foods now are fortified with it. Some studies have found that people with lower levels of D are more likely to develop cancer, but it's not known if supplements alter that risk.

Study participants took 2,000 international units of D-3 (the most active form of vitamin D, also called cholecalciferol) or fake vitamin pills for five years.

Vitamin D did not affect the odds of having a heart attack or stroke or developing cancer. After excluding the first two years of use, researchers saw fewer cancer deaths among those on the vitamin — 112 versus 149 in the placebo group.

"Cancer can take years to develop" so a difference may not show up right away, Manson said. "This looks promising" and people will be studied longer to see if the trend holds up, she said.

Several other experts said these numbers just hint at a possible benefit that needs more study.

"These 'positive' results need to be interpreted with caution," Dr. Clifford Rosen of Maine Medical Center Research Institute and Dr. John Keaney Jr. of the University of Massachusetts wrote in a commentary in the medical journal.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Medicare Expands Access to in-Home Support for Seniors]]>Fri, 09 Nov 2018 08:36:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18312567718147-Medicare-Benefits-Book.jpg

In a harbinger of potentially big changes for Medicare, seniors in many states will be able to get additional services such as help with chores, safety devices and respite for caregivers next year through private "Medicare Advantage" insurance plans.

The shift reflects a growing recognition that simple help at home can have a meaningful impact on patients' well-being — and reduce some costs for taxpayers. A couple of hundred dollars to install grab bars in the shower can prevent a fall leading to a broken hip, a life-changing injury.

The newly covered services are similar to what people might need if they required long-term care, said Howard Gleckman, a senior researcher at the nonpartisan Urban Institute think tank. "It begins to break down the wall between long-term care and Medicare, which with very few exceptions, has never paid for long-term care."

Change is starting slowly. The services will be offered by some Medicare Advantage plans in about 20 states next year, expected to grow over time.

There has to be a health-related reason to qualify, and costs will vary among plans. In some plans, there's no added cost. But limits do apply. For example, a plan may cover one day per week at an adult day care center.

Nearly 23 million Medicare beneficiaries, or more than 1 in 3, are expected to be covered by a Medicare Advantage plan next year. The private plans generally offer lower out-of-pocket costs in exchange for limits on choice of doctors and hospitals and other restrictions such as prior authorization for services. It's a growing business for insurers.

Medicare Advantage open enrollment for 2019 ends Dec. 7. But it's not easy to use Medicare's online plan finder to search for plans with expanded benefits, so beneficiaries and their families will have to rely on promotional materials that insurers mail during open enrollment.

For years, Medicare has permitted private plans to offer supplemental benefits not covered by the traditional program. Think free gym memberships, transportation to medical appointments or home-delivered meals following a hospitalization.

The new benefits take that to a higher level, with Medicare's blessing.

"It is a big concept, in the sense that it is officially encouraging plans to get across the line into the many, many things that affect the health and well-being of beneficiaries," said Marc Russo, president of insurer Anthem's Medicare business. "I, for one, who have been in and around Medicare for decades, believe it pays."

Insurers under Anthem's corporate umbrella are offering different packages in 12 of 21 states they operate in. They can include alternative medicine, like acupuncture, or adult day care center visits or a personal helper at home.

Other major insurers like UnitedHealthcare and Humana are participating.

Still, Medicare's opening is no substitute for full long-term care coverage, which many people need for at least part of their lives and remains prohibitively expensive. Seniors trying to get long-term care through Medicaid — the program for low-income people — must spend down their life savings.

"Medicare policy has not kept up with the times," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., one of the authors of bipartisan legislation seen as a catalyst for expanded services through Medicare Advantage.

Wyden said he's working to bring similar options to traditional Medicare, which is still the choice of 2 out of 3 seniors. "Clearly this is going to have to be an effort that is going to have to be built out," he added.

The changes represent a rare consensus at a time when health care issues are among the most politically divisive. Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as Seema Verma, the Trump administration's Medicare chief, are pulling in the same direction.

The idea of broader services through Medicare Advantage was embodied in a bipartisan Senate Finance Committee bill to improve care for chronically ill seniors. The legislation got spliced into a massive budget bill passed earlier this year. The Trump administration issued regulations in the spring trying to accelerate the changes.

According to Medicare, 12 insurers will be offering expanded supplemental benefits next year through 160 plans in 20 states. In four other states and Puerto Rico, such benefits may be available to seniors with certain health conditions.

"The guidance came out fairly late in the annual planning process, and that's one reason why some of these benefits may start out small," said Steve Warner, head of Medicare Advantage program development for UnitedHealthcare.

Medicare estimates that some 780,000 beneficiaries will have access to the new benefits next year. In-home helpers and support for caregivers are the most popular.

Consumer advocates recommend that seniors carefully weigh whether Medicare Advantage is best for them. If they don't like it, they can go back to traditional Medicare, but those with a pre-existing condition may not be able to buy a "Medigap" policy to help cover out-of-pocket costs. They can also switch to another Medicare Advantage plan.

Medicare doesn't pay the insurers more for offering added benefits. Under a complex formula, they're primarily financed out of the difference between bids submitted by insurers and Medicare's maximum payment to plans. If the companies bid below Medicare's rate, they can return some of that to beneficiaries in the form of added benefits. Costs for beneficiaries may vary. Some will face no added costs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Plans Limits on Sale of Flavored E-Cigarettes: Report]]>Fri, 09 Nov 2018 01:01:53 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ecigarettesAP_18313147982108.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration plans to require strict limits on the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes, including age verification controls for online sales, in an effort to curtail their use among children and teenagers.

FDA officials told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday the actions are expected to be announced as early as next week. The move is an attempt to curb what many are saying is an epidemic of underage vaping.

"What I can't tolerate is another year of this level of growth," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in an interview Wednesday.

The new policy will apply to flavored cartridge-style vaping products like Juul that have become popular among youths, not the open tank-style systems sold in vape shops and mostly used by adults, officials said.

No retail outlets will be allowed to carry them unless it restricts minors from entering the store or creates an off-limits area.

Since 2017, FDA officials had discussed e-cigarettes as a potential tool to wean adult smokers off cigarettes, but in September the FDA reversed course and warned the industry to address the problem of surging teenage e-cigarette use or risk having their flavored products pulled off the market.

Gottlieb said then that the agency did not predict an "epidemic addiction" among youth, mainly driven by flavored products.

The FDA's new restrictions were earlier reported by The Washington Post.

Also Thursday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration announced plans to ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes as soon as next year, possibly making his state the first to prohibit such vaping products often marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Surgeon Mistakes Woman's Kidney for Tumor During Back Surgery, Removes It]]>Wed, 07 Nov 2018 21:28:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/110718+wellington+regional+medical+center.PNG

A Florida surgeon removed a woman's healthy kidney while she was undergoing back surgery because he believed the vital organ was a cancerous tumor.

The Palm Beach Post reported last week that Maureen Pacheco has sued Ramon Vazquez and two other surgeons for malpractice. Vazquez was responsible for cutting Pacheco open in 2016 so two orthopedic surgeons, Dr. John Britt and Dr. Jeffrey Kugler, could perform the back operation.

Pacheco's attorney, Donald J. Ward, says she didn't get a say in the removal. The lawsuit was settled in September. Vazquez's attorney Mark Mittelmark says the blame lies with Wellington Regional Medical Center, which didn't tell his client that Pacheco had a pelvic kidney.

The Florida Department of Health has filed an administrative complaint with the Board of Medicine against Vazquez.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[With Poo on a Pedestal, Bill Gates Talks Toilet Technology]]>Tue, 06 Nov 2018 08:28:41 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gates-poop.jpg

Placing a jar of feces on a pedestal next to him, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates made a plea Tuesday for the safe disposal of human waste as he kicked off a "Reinvented Toilet" Expo in China.

"You might guess what's in this beaker — and you'd be right. Human feces," the former CEO of software giant Microsoft said. "This small amount of feces could contain as many as 200 trillion rotavirus cells, 20 billion Shigella bacteria, and 100,000 parasitic worm eggs."

He went on to say that pathogens like these cause diseases that kill nearly 500,000 children under the age of 5 every year.

More than 20 companies and academic institutions are exhibiting new toilet technologies at the three-day expo in Beijing, from self-contained toilets to a small-scale, self-powered waste treatment plant called the Omni Processor.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that Gates co-founded with his wife has spent more than $200 million since 2011 to stimulate research and development of safe sanitation technology.

"The technologies you'll see here are the most significant advances in sanitation in nearly 200 years," he said, according to a text of his prepared remarks.

UNICEF estimates that 4.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to safely managed sanitation, and that 480,000 children under 5 die every year from diarrhea, primarily in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. There is an economic cost too: Poor sanitation cost the world nearly $223 billion in 2015, according to a study by Oxford Economics and Japanese toilet maker Lixil.

Gates left the feces on display for about 10 minutes before removing it, his point made.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mark Schiefelbein/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Don't Spank: Pediatricians Warn Parents of Long-Term Harms]]>Mon, 05 Nov 2018 15:55:36 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/babycryingGettyImages-53312738.jpg

The nation's leading pediatricians' group has strengthened its advice against spanking and other physical punishment because of the potential for long-term harm. 

In an updated policy released Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics says that can include aggression, brain changes, substance abuse and suicidal behavior in adulthood. 

The academy says research since its 1998 discipline policy led to the update. It says spanking is falling out of favor among parents, especially those with young children. While some parents still believe it can lead to short-term improvements in behavior, studies show spanking is no more effective than non-physical punishment, including timeouts, setting firm limits and establishing unwanted consequences. 

The group also suggests putting favorite toys away or reducing screen time. 

"Although many children who were spanked become happy, healthy adults, current evidence suggests that spanking is not necessary and may result in long-term harm,'' the academy advises. 

Studies published in the past two decades have bolstered evidence that spanking can make young kids more aggressive and defiant. 

Other studies have linked physical punishment in childhood with later brain changes in young adults including reduced gray matter and elevated levels of stress hormones. Suicidal behavior, substance abuse and anger are among other potential long-term consequences of spanking, studies have suggested. 

The academy also warns against harsh verbal abuse including shaming kids, citing research linking it with depression and behavior problems in teens.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David Silverman/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Earth's Ozone Layer Is Healing, UN Report Says]]>Mon, 05 Nov 2018 07:48:33 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ozone.jpg

Earth's protective ozone layer is finally healing from damage caused by aerosol sprays and coolants, a new United Nations report said.

The ozone layer had been thinning since the late 1970s. Scientist raised the alarm and ozone-depleting chemicals were phased out worldwide.

As a result, the upper ozone layer above the Northern Hemisphere should be completely repaired in the 2030s and the gaping Antarctic ozone hole should disappear in the 2060s, according to a scientific assessment released Monday at a conference in Quito, Ecuador. The Southern Hemisphere lags a bit and its ozone layer should be healed by mid-century.

"It's really good news," said report co-chairman Paul Newman, chief Earth scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "If ozone-depleting substances had continued to increase, we would have seen huge effects. We stopped that."

High in the atmosphere, ozone shields Earth from ultraviolet rays that cause skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Use of man-made chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which release chlorine and bromine, began eating away at the ozone. In 1987, countries around the world agreed in the Montreal Protocol to phase out CFCs and businesses came up with replacements for spray cans and other uses.

At its worst in the late 1990s, about 10 percent of the upper ozone layer was depleted, said Newman. Since 2000, it has increased by about 1 to 3 percent per decade, the report said.

This year, the ozone hole over the South Pole peaked at nearly 9.6 million square miles (24.8 million square kilometers). That's about 16 percent smaller than the biggest hole recorded — 11.4 million square miles (29.6 million square kilometers) in 2006.

The hole reaches its peak in September and October and disappears by late December until the next Southern Hemisphere spring, Newman said.

The ozone layer starts at about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above Earth and stretches for nearly 25 miles (40 kilometers); ozone is a colorless combination of three oxygen atoms.

If nothing had been done to stop the thinning, the world would have destroyed two-thirds of its ozone layer by 2065, Newman said.

But it's not a complete success yet, said University of Colorado's Brian Toon, who wasn't part of the report.

"We are only at a point where recovery may have started," Toon said, pointing to some ozone measurements that haven't increased yet.

Another problem is that new technology has found an increase in emissions of a banned CFC out of East Asia, the report noted.

And the replacements now being used to cool cars and refrigerators need to be replaced themselves with chemicals that don't worsen global warming, Newman said. An amendment to the Montreal Protocol that goes into effect next year would cut use of some of those gases.

"I don't think we can do a victory lap until 2060," Newman said. "That will be for our grandchildren to do."


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Heroin, Fentanyl Remain Biggest Drug Threat to US, Feds Say]]>Fri, 02 Nov 2018 11:47:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_180237383992511.jpg

Drug overdose deaths hit the highest level ever recorded in the United States last year, with an estimated 200 people dying per day, according to a report by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Most of that was the result of a record number of opioid-related deaths.

Preliminary figures show more than 72,000 people died in 2017 from drug overdoses across the country. About a week ago, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said overdose deaths, while still slowly rising, were beginning to level off, citing figures from late last year and early this year.

The DEA's National Drug Threat Assessment, which was released Friday, shows that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the highest drug threat in the nation. But federal officials are concerned that methamphetamine and cocaine are being seen at much higher levels in areas that haven't historically been hotspots for those drugs. The DEA is also worried that people are exploiting marijuana legalization to traffic cannabis into the illicit market or to states that don't have medicinal or recreational-use marijuana laws, according to the report.

The preliminary data also showed 49,060 people died from opioid-related overdose deaths, a rise from the reported 42,249 opioid overdose deaths in 2016.

President Donald Trump has declared the U.S. opioid crisis as a "public health emergency" and just last week pledged to put an "extremely big dent" in the scourge of drug addiction.

Fatal heroin overdoses rose nationwide between 2015 and 2016, with a nearly 25 percent increase in the Northeast and more than 22 percent in the South. Most of the heroin sold in the U.S. is being trafficked from Mexico, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers seize the most amount of heroin along the Mexico border, near San Diego, California, the report said.

Fentanyl and other related opioids, which tend to be cheaper and much more potent than heroin, remain one of the biggest concerns for federal drug agents.

The DEA has said China is a main source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids that have been flooding the U.S. market. China has pushed back against the characterization, and U.S. officials have stressed they work closely with their Chinese counterparts as they try to stem the flow of drugs.

Legislation that Trump signed last week will add treatment options and force the U.S. Postal Service to screen overseas packages for fentanyl.

Azar said in a speech last week that toward the end of 2017 and through the beginning of this year the number of drug overdose deaths "has begun to plateau." However, he was not indicating that deaths were going down, but that they appear to be rising at a slower rate than previously seen.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released preliminary figures that appear to show a slowdown in overdose deaths from December to March. In that period, the figures show that the pace of the increase over the previous 12 months has slowed from 10 percent to 3 percent, according to the preliminary CDC figures.

Even if a slowdown is underway, no one is questioning the fact that the nation is dealing with the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history. While prescription opioid and heroin deaths appear to be leveling off, deaths involving fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamines are on the rise, according to CDC data.

The DEA's report also noted that methamphetamine is making its way into communities where the drug normally wasn't heavily used, the report said. Chronic use of meth, a highly addictive stimulant, can cause paranoia, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions, studies have shown.

As the government enacted laws that limited access to cold medicines containing pseudoephedrine — the ingredient used to cook meth with other household chemicals — or required the medications to be placed behind pharmacy counters, officials discovered the number of meth labs began to drop.

But the DEA has found the gap is being filled by Mexican and Latin American drug cartels that had primarily dabbled in heroin and cocaine trafficking. A saturated market on the West Coast is now driving the cartels to peddle methamphetamine into the Northeast, using the same routes they use for heroin and other drugs.

Officials also warn that because of more cocaine production in South American countries including Colombia, they expect to see larger shipments at the Mexican border.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Federal Health Care Website Up and Running After Slow Start]]>Thu, 01 Nov 2018 11:24:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18304546448456.jpg

The federal website where consumers can get health insurance under the Affordable Care Act was up and running Thursday after a slow start as sign-up season for 2019 opened days before the midterm elections.

During early morning hours, people accessing the site were directed to a screen that said work was underway. A recording at the HealthCare.gov call center conveyed a similar message. Things seemed to be running normally by about 9 a.m. EDT.

With health care a major issue in Tuesday's elections, this sign-up season under the Trump administration is getting close scrutiny.

In earlier years, technical problems with the site created major headaches for the Obama administration. Some Democrats cited HealthCare.gov's meltdown after its 2013 debut as one of the reasons they lost control of the Senate the following year.

Since those initial problems were fixed, the website serving people in 39 states has worked fairly smoothly, first under President Barack Obama and now under Donald Trump. The rest of the states and the District of Columbia run their own sign-ups.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Thursday morning that HealthCare.gov was open for business.

Before the site went live for sign-ups at the start of a new coverage year, technicians had to load up details on thousands of changes in plans and premiums.

"Prior to every open enrollment, final preparations must take place ahead of the start of the open enrollment period to ensure the website runs smoothly for consumers," said a statement from the agency. The statement said the agency's commitment had been that the site would be ready "in the morning."

The health law's sixth sign-up season began with stabilizing premiums and more choice for consumers.

Nationally, average premiums are going up only by low single-digit percentages for 2019. In some states, and for some types of plans, premiums will decline. Fewer areas will see increases. Insurers also are expanding their participation.

But Republicans have not backed off their pledge to fully repeal the health law, despite failing to do so in Trump's first year. Still, other changes by the GOP-run Congress and the administration for next year may result in fewer people signing up.

Congress did get rid of the unpopular requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines, starting Jan. 1. The administration has opened the way for insurers to offer alternatives to the law's comprehensive coverage, including plans that don't have to cover pre-existing conditions.

Democrats have made maintaining protections for pre-existing conditions a major issue in the elections, forcing Republicans on the defensive. They also accuse Trump of trying to "sabotage" the health law, and a core group of former Obama administration officials has kept close tabs on sign-up season.

Despite all the political drama, enrollment has remained remarkably stable.

About 10 million people have private policies through HealthCare.gov and state-run insurance markets, with roughly 9 in 10 getting taxpayer-financed help to pay their premiums. An estimated 12 million more are covered through the law's Medicaid expansion, aimed at low-income adults.

Income-based subsidies that protect consumers from high premiums remain available for next year, as has been the case since the overhaul went into effect. Open enrollment ends Dec. 15 for coverage starting Jan. 1.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]]>
<![CDATA[Studies: Appendix Removal Linked to Lower Parkinson's Risk]]>Wed, 31 Oct 2018 13:17:17 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18303758160613.jpg

Scientists have found a new clue that Parkinson's disease may get its start not in the brain but in the gut — maybe in the appendix.

People who had their appendix removed early in life had a lower risk of getting the tremor-inducing brain disease decades later, researchers reported Wednesday.

Why? A peek at surgically removed appendix tissue shows this tiny organ, often considered useless, seems to be a storage depot for an abnormal protein — one that, if it somehow makes its way into the brain, becomes a hallmark of Parkinson's.

The big surprise, according to studies published in the journal Science Translational Medicine: Lots of people may harbor clumps of that worrisome protein in their appendix — young and old, people with healthy brains and those with Parkinson's.

But don't look for a surgeon just yet.

"We're not saying to go out and get an appendectomy," stressed Viviane Labrie of Michigan's Van Andel Research Institute, a neuroscientist and geneticist who led the research team.

After all, there are plenty of people who have no appendix yet still develop Parkinson's. And plenty of others harbor the culprit protein but never get sick, according to her research.

Doctors and patients have long known there's some connection between the gastrointestinal tract and Parkinson's. Constipation and other GI troubles are very common years before patients experience tremors and movement difficulty that lead to a Parkinson's diagnosis.

Wednesday's research promises to re-energize work to find out why, and learn who's really at risk.

"This is a great piece of the puzzle. It's a fundamental clue," said Dr. Allison Willis, a Parkinson's specialist at the University of Pennsylvania who wasn't involved in the new studies but says her patients regularly ask about the gut link.

Parkinson's Foundation chief scientific officer James Beck, who also wasn't involved, agreed that "there's a lot of tantalizing potential connections."

He noted that despite its reputation, the appendix appears to play a role in immunity that may influence gut inflammation. The type of bacteria that live in the gut also may affect Parkinson's.

But if it really is common to harbor that Parkinson's-linked protein, "what we don't know is what starts it, what gets this whole ball rolling," Beck said.

For years, scientists have hypothesized about what might cause the gut-Parkinson's connection. One main theory: Maybe bad "alpha-synuclein" protein can travel from nerve fibers in the GI tract up the vagus nerve, which connects the body's major organs to the brain. Abnormal alpha-synuclein is toxic to brain cells involved with movement.

There have been prior clues. People who decades ago had the vagus nerve cut as part of a now-abandoned therapy had a reduced risk of Parkinson's. Some smaller studies have suggested appendectomies, too, might be protective — but the results were conflicting.

Labrie's team set out to find stronger evidence.

First, the researchers analyzed Sweden's huge national health database, examining medical records of nearly 1.7 million people tracked since 1964. The risk of developing Parkinson's was 19 percent lower among those who had their appendix surgically removed decades earlier.

One puzzling caveat: People living in rural areas appeared to get the benefit. Labrie said it's possible that the appendix plays a role in environmental risk factors for Parkinson's, such as pesticide exposure.

Further analysis suggested people who developed Parkinson's despite an early-in-life appendectomy tended to have symptoms appear a few years later than similarly aged patients.

That kind of study doesn't prove that removing the appendix is what reduces the risk, cautioned Dr. Andrew Feigin, executive director of the Parkinson's institute at NYU Langone Health, who wasn't involved in Wednesday's research.

So next, Labrie's team examined appendix tissue from 48 Parkinson's-free people. In 46 of them, the appendix harbored the abnormal Parkinson's-linked protein. So did some Parkinson's patients. Whether the appendix was inflamed or not also didn't matter.

That's a crucial finding because it means merely harboring the protein in the gut isn't enough to trigger Parkinson's, Labrie said. There has to be another step that makes it dangerous only for certain people.

"The difference we think is how you manage this pathology," she said — how the body handles the buildup.

Her team plans additional studies to try to tell.

The reservoir finding is compelling, Feigin said, but another key question is if the abnormal protein also collects in healthy people's intestines.

And Penn's Willis adds another caution: There are other unrelated risks for Parkinson's disease, such as suffering a traumatic brain injury.

"This could be one of many avenues that lead to Parkinson's disease, but it's a very exciting one," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Van Andel Research Institute via AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Steps Up Scrutiny of Funds for Asbestos Exposure Victims]]>Wed, 31 Oct 2018 01:00:15 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dojAP_18303858528439.jpg

The Trump administration has stepped up scrutiny of asbestos trust funds, concerned that the pots of money intended to help people exposed to the hazardous substance are being depleted by fraudulent claims, harming victims, businesses and the government.

The Justice Department in the last two months has demanded trust documents as part of a civil investigation, opposed the creation of another trust it said lacked sufficient safeguards, and argued against the appointment of a lawyer it said was too conflicted to represent victims.

The actions take aim at a system that over decades has paid out billions of dollars to the sick and cancer-stricken, but that critics say is opaque and prone to fraud and manipulation by well-connected lawyers. The government's intervention aligns it with business groups who have long complained about the process.

"We have an interest in fraud and consumer protection, so if there is fraud happening out there that is cognizable under federal law, that's the type of thing the Justice Department tends to get interested in," acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio said in an interview.

But plaintiffs' lawyers and asbestos victims' advocates say there's scant proof of widespread fraud, particularly for a system that has accommodated millions of claims. And University at Buffalo law professor S. Todd Brown said the additional government oversight, while not a bad idea, "could lead to money going to complying with this oversight rather than going to the victims."

The trusts started emerging in the 1980s, formed by makers of asbestos-containing products who sought bankruptcy protection in the face of lawsuits from people who feared they had been exposed. The maneuvering enabled the companies to shield themselves from lawsuits while setting aside money to pay pending and future claims for asbestos, an environmental hazard once found in everyday products that can lead to the deadly mesothelioma cancer and other illnesses.

The model flourished. A 2011 Government Accountability Office report identified 60 trusts formed between 1988 and 2010 that it said had paid about 3.3 million claims valued at more than $17 billion.

Lawyers for asbestos victims say the process enables people to obtain compensation for catastrophic illness without drawn-out lawsuits.

"There is incredible irony in the fact that an industry that covered up the dangers of a known carcinogen for decades, leading to the ongoing deaths of 15,000 Americans a year, is now claiming that its victims are committing systemic fraud against the trusts — even though no court has ever found evidence of such fraud," Peter Knudsen, spokesman for the plaintiffs' lawyers group American Association for Justice, said in a statement.

Business groups and defense lawyers contend otherwise.

They say weak oversight allows people to collect payments with minimal evidence they were harmed by a particular company's product, and for illnesses far less serious than mesothelioma and lung cancer. They argue trust overseers are often tied to well-connected plaintiffs' firms, raising concerns of favoritism and cronyism.

And they say the meager amount of publicly available information makes it hard to know how decisions on payments are made, how much a given individual is receiving or whether the exposure evidence submitted to one trust is consistent with what's submitted to others.

In 2014, a judge in the bankruptcy case of an asbestos gasket maker described a "startling pattern of misrepresentation" by alleged victims and their lawyers. The judge found that plaintiffs repeatedly told Garlock Sealing Technologies that it was responsible for their exposure and struck large settlement agreements with the company, only to later file claims with multiple other trusts over injuries and exposures they hadn't previously disclosed.

Plaintiffs' lawyers say asbestos victims are routinely sickened by multiple companies, often making it hard to pinpoint precisely who's to blame and leaving them with no choice but to seek compensation from anyone who may have harmed them.

The Justice Department stepped up its oversight in the last few months.

In September, it challenged the creation of a new trust it said lacked details about how it would guard against fraud and abuse. The department said in a letter to state attorneys general that "it would object to plans for asbestos trusts that fail to include critical information on how asbestos claims will be evaluated, paid and reported" or that don't do enough to prevent fraud.

It later challenged a different trust, Duro Dyne, over the appointment of a lawyer it said was too conflicted to represent interests of people who may later become ill. A judge rejected that request, and Jeffrey Prol, an attorney for the trust, said he was taken aback by what he called the department's effort to make "this bankruptcy case a referendum on the asbestos trust system."

At least one trust, DII Industries, has disclosed receiving an administrative subpoena, to produce records of settlements as part of an investigation into whether Medicare is being properly reimbursed for trust payments. A trust spokesman said it was complying.

Harold Kim, executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, a pro-business legal organization, said the system has long been "broken."

"Having more oversight and taking a closer look in terms of how these trusts operate and whether they're violating federal law will hopefully keep these trusts honest." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: J. David Ake/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Halloween Can Be Deadly for Pedestrians, Traffic Study Says]]>Wed, 31 Oct 2018 07:10:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/childwitchGettyImages-1616984.jpg

Trick-or-treaters beware: Halloween can be deadly for pedestrians and children face the greatest danger.

Research published Tuesday found a 43 percent higher risk of pedestrian deaths on Halloween night than on other nights near that date.

The study was based on four decades of U.S. traffic data, including 608 pedestrian deaths on 42 Halloweens.

Canadian traffic researchers launched the study after noticing advertisements for Halloween parties posted to lampposts in their country. That got them thinking about a dangerous witches' brew: holiday revelers driving away from bars mixed with "legions of kids roaming the streets" in costume, said lead author Dr. John Staples of the University of British Columbia.

Canada celebrates Halloween, too, but U.S. traffic data is remarkably complete, so Staples and colleagues focused their analysis south of their border. The study appears in JAMA Pediatrics.

Using National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, the researchers compared pedestrian deaths on Halloween nights with deaths on two evenings the week before and the week after. They found car-pedestrian accidents kill four more people on average on Halloween than on other days.

The findings echo a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of 1975-1996 data from the traffic safety agency.

Kids aged 4 to 8 faced the highest risks in the new study: There were 55 Halloween deaths in this age range compared with just 11 on control days.

"That age group is maybe particularly excited about Halloween and maybe in the midst of that excitement loses track of the very real danger that vehicles pose," Staples said. "They may be unaware that drivers aren't able to see them."

Deaths peaked near dusk, around 6 p.m.

Dr. Donald Redelmeier, a study co-author, works at Canada's largest trauma hospital and recalls treating a pedestrian injured on one Halloween.

Staples offered some common sense advice: Attach reflective patches to costumes, carry a flashlight or glow stick to be more visible, make sure masks don't obstruct vision, and look both ways before crossing the street.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Gum, Bottled Water, Pizza Bagels want to be Called 'Healthy']]>Tue, 30 Oct 2018 12:12:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18300856495582.jpg

Pizza bagels, chewing gum and bottled water want to play a starring new role in our diets: Foods that can be called healthy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is revamping its definition of healthy to reflect our changing understanding of nutrition science. The push is fueling debate about eating habits and what the new standard should say.

Frozen food-makers are seeking special rules for "mini meals," citing little pizza bagels and dumplings as examples that might qualify. Chewing gum and bottled water companies say they should no longer be shut out from using the term just because their products don't provide nutrients. Advocacy groups and health professionals are also weighing in, raising concerns about ingredients like sugar.

Some say the word healthy is inherently misleading when applied to a single product instead of an overall diet.

"The problem is that healthy is relative," said Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins. Subsisting on broccoli alone, for instance, wouldn't be healthy.

The federal standards for use of the word "healthy" on labels was established in 1994 and set limits on total fat and cholesterol.

Susan Mayne, who heads the FDA's food labeling division, said the definition reflects decades-old understanding of nutrition and needs to be updated.

With the revamp, she said people will be able to trust the word "healthy" is based in science, unlike many other terms on packages.

"This is one that the federal agencies will stand behind," she said.


The government's dusty definition of healthy came under scrutiny in late 2015, when the FDA warned Kind that its snack bars had too much fat to use the term. Kind pushed back, saying the fat came from nuts.

Since the rule was established more than two decades ago, nutrition experts have drawn a greater distinction between "good fats" like those found in nuts and "bad fats" like the trans fats in oils that are partially hydrogenated, an industrial process that gives foods a longer shelf life.

The link between dietary cholesterol and heart disease is also no longer clear.

Separate U.S. dietary guidelines , which are updated every five years, no longer set limits on total fat or cholesterol. They still recommend avoiding trans fats and limiting saturated fats, such as those found in meat and milk. But even the link between saturated fats and heart disease is now questioned .

Now sugar has become more of a concern, with some health experts saying our past fear of fat led to people gobbling up low-fat products high in sugar.

The shifting views reflect the pitfalls of nutrition science. Most food studies are based on links between what people say they eat and their health, which leaves the door open for flawed conclusions . Pinning down cause-and-effect relationships is harder.

It's why the effort to redefine "healthy" invites such debate. After launching the push in late 2016, the FDA received more than 1,140 public comments on the matter.

The next step is for the FDA to propose a new definition, which would be subject to another round of public comment. The agency won't say when it expects to establish a final rule with the new definition.


"Healthy" was once just another generic marketing term, like "wholesome" or "like momma used to make," said Xaq Frohlich, a professor of food history at Auburn University.

After a proliferation of products making claims about health and disease, the FDA set ground rules for the word.

"The reason why 'healthy' is getting attention is because a broad part of the American public really wants their food to be healthy," Frohlich said.

But beyond the regulatory definition, what people consider healthy varies. Among the notable dietary tribes today: Adherents of paleo, gluten-free, organic and vegan diets. Some of their views are reflected in comments to the FDA last year.

The Sierra Club wants "healthy" to exclude foods made with genetically engineered and artificial ingredients. The National Pasta Association wants to the option to call gluten-free pasta healthy. Right now, it says some gluten-free pastas fall shy of nutrient requirements.

In addition to limiting fat and cholesterol, the current standard requires the presence of a nutrient like calcium, fiber, iron or vitamin C. It's partly why bottled water and sugar-free gum companies say they're unfairly excluded from using the term.

Richard Mann, a lawyer for the International Chewing Gum Association, said sugar-free gum doesn't have any of the nutrients people are supposed to limit.

"It doesn't have fat. It doesn't have sugar. It has virtually no calories," he said.

Some question whether an updated definition will make a difference. The American Academy of Pediatrics says companies will likely just reformulate snacks to meet the new rules.

Companies may have added incentive to do so: The FDA is also considering a symbol that would make it easier for people to identify products that meet the new definition.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/ Mark Lennihan]]>
<![CDATA[Trump: New Proposal Will Lower Some US Drug Prices]]>Thu, 25 Oct 2018 23:22:03 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trumpAP_18298685465135.jpg

Less than two weeks before the midterm elections, President Donald Trump on Thursday announced a plan to lower prices for some prescription drugs, saying it would stop unfair practices that force Americans to pay much more than people in other countries for the same medications.

"We are taking aim at the global freeloading that forces American consumers to subsidize lower prices in foreign countries through higher prices in our country," Trump said in a speech at the Department of Health and Human Services.

"Same company. Same box. Same pill. Made in the exact same location, and you would go to some countries and it would be 20 percent of the cost of what we pay," said Trump, who predicted the plan will save Americans billions. "We're fixing it."

But consumers take note:

  • The plan would not apply to medicines people buy at the pharmacy, just ones administered in a doctor's office, as are many cancer medications and drugs for immune system problems. Physician-administered drugs can be very expensive, but pharmacy drugs account for the vast majority of what consumers buy.
  • Don't expect immediate rollbacks. Officials said the complex proposal could take more than a year to put into effect.

In another twist, the plan is structured as an experiment through a Medicare innovation center empowered to seek savings by the Affordable Care Act. That's the law also known as "Obamacare," which Trump is committed to repealing.

Trump has long promised sweeping action to attack drug prices, both as president and when he was running for the White House. He made his latest announcement just ahead of the Nov. 6 elections, with health care high among voters' concerns.

Under the plan, Medicare payment for drugs administered in doctors' offices would gradually shift to a level based on international prices. Prices in other countries are lower because governments directly negotiate with manufacturers.

Drugmakers immediately pushed back, arguing the plan amounts to government price-setting.

"The administration is imposing foreign price controls from countries with socialized health care systems that deny their citizens access and discourage innovation," Stephen Ubl, president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said in a statement. "These proposals are to the detriment of American patients."

Trump is linking the prices Americans complain about to one of his longstanding grievances: foreign countries the president says are taking advantage of U.S. research breakthroughs.

Drug pricing expert Peter Bach of Memorial Sloan Kettering's Center for Health Policy and Outcomes called the plan "a pretty substantive proposal" but one that faces "serious political challenges."

"The rhetoric about finally dealing with foreign freeloading suggests that we are going to take steps to get other countries to pay their fair share for innovation," Bach added. But that's "quite literally the opposite of what is being proposed. What is being proposed is that we freeload off of other countries' ability to negotiate more effectively."

Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill were dismissive. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California said if Trump wants to save seniors money he should seek congressional approval for Medicare to negotiate prices for its main prescription drug program, "Part D." Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said "it's hard to take the Trump administration and Republicans seriously about reducing health care costs for seniors two weeks before the election."

The health insurance industry, at odds with drugmakers over prices, was pleased with the administration's action.

Matt Eyles, president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans, said: "Drug prices are out of control, and we commend the Administration for its continued commitment to reduce drug prices."

As an experiment, the proposal would apply to half the country. Officials said they're seeking input on how to select the areas that will take part in the new pricing system. HHS Secretary Alex Azar said politics would have nothing to do with it.

In advance of Trump's speech, HHS released a report that found U.S. prices for the top drugs administered in doctors' offices are nearly twice as high as in foreign countries. The list includes many cancer drugs. Medicare pays directly for them under its "Part B" coverage for outpatient care.

Physician-administered drugs cost Medicare $27 billion in 2016. HHS says the plan would save Medicare $17.2 billion over five years. Beneficiaries would save an estimated $3.4 billion through lower cost-sharing.

The plan could meet resistance not only from drugmakers but from doctors, now paid a percentage of the cost of the medications they administer. However, HHS officials said the plan is designed so it would not cut into doctors' reimbursements.

Azar said more plans are being developed on drug costs.

"This is not the end of the road, the end of the journey," he said. "There is more coming."

Trump has harshly criticized the pharmaceutical industry, once asserting that the companies were "getting away with murder." But it's largely been business as usual for drugmakers even as Trump has predicted "massive" voluntary price cuts.

A recent Associated Press analysis of prices for brand-name drugs found far more increases than cuts in the first seven months of this year. The analysis found 96 price hikes for every price cut. The number of increases slowed somewhat and they were not quite as steep as in past years, the AP found.

The Trump administration proposal is open for public comment for 60 days.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Susan Walsh/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Approves First New Type of Flu Drug in 2 Decades]]>Wed, 24 Oct 2018 19:54:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-72494366+edited.jpg

U.S. health regulators have approved the first new type of flu drug in two decades.

Wednesday's approval of Xofluza for people age 12 and older comes ahead of the brunt of this winter's flu season.

Xofluza is a pill that can reduce severity and shorten duration of flu symptoms after one just dose. It was developed by the Roche Group and Shionogi & Co.

It works about as well as Tamiflu, Roche's older flu treatment, which is also available in cheaper generic versions. Tamiflu is taken twice daily for five days.

Health officials have said an estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter, the disease's highest death toll in at least four decades. The severe flu season increased demand for Tamiflu and led to spot shortages.

Roche's Genentech unit plans to launch Xofluza within a few weeks. It will cost $150 without insurance.

The need for only one dose is an advantage since patients don't always take all their medicine, said Dr. Mark Eisner, Genentech's head of development of infectious disease medicines.

Each year, flu typically kills about 12,000 to 56,000 Americans and up to 650,000 people worldwide.

"With thousands of people getting the flu every year, and many people becoming seriously ill, having safe and effective treatment alternatives is critical. This novel drug provides an important, additional treatment option," said U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

In company testing on 1,064 people, Xofluza ended coughing, sneezing and fever, or greatly reduced symptoms, in just over two days on average. A comparison group given Tamiflu fared similarly. While Xofluza didn't work faster than Tamiflu, it did reduce the level of the virus in patients' nose and throat quicker.

Further testing is planned to determine whether Xofluza is better than Tamiflu for preventing spread of the flu to others and for treating patients at high risk for hospitalization and pneumonia, such as people with diabetes or lung disease, pregnant women, young children and the elderly.

"We think this can be important for patients, important for public health," Eisner said.

Xofluza side effects were mild -- diarrhea, nausea, headaches and bronchitis -- and occurred at about the same rate as study participants given Tamiflu or placebo pills.

Flu treatments generally work best if taken within 48 hours of symptoms beginning, and health officials encourage vaccination, preferably by the end of October. Relenza inhalers and Rapivab injections also are available for treating flu.

Xofluza, also known as baloxavir marboxil, worked against both Type A and B flu strains. The pill was initially developed by Shionogi of Japan, where it's already approved. Roche has the rights to market Xofluza everywhere but Japan and Taiwan.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Young People Back Single-Payer Health Care, Poll Finds]]>Wed, 24 Oct 2018 07:32:17 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/health-care-photo.jpg

Large majorities of young Americans want to see an expansion of government services, including a single-payer health care program, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MTV.

According to the poll, 69 percent of young Americans between the ages of 15 and 34 favor a national health plan, known as a single-payer program. Eighty-eight percent of young Democrats and 40 percent of young Republicans favor a government-run health insurance program, according to the poll. Roughly two-thirds of young independents are in favor.

Young Americans called health care a very important issue in deciding how to vote. Sixty-two percent of those who will be old enough to vote in the midterms rated it as such. That's the most who said the same of any issue in the poll, including immigration and the economy.

Thirty-three-year-old Jasmine Miller, of Detroit, said that she pays $800 a month for health insurance to cover herself and her son. Miller, who describes herself as a humanitarian, said that health care is among the issues she cares about most.

"It should be a universal standard for health care," said Miller, who prefers Democrats. "If we do have to pay deductibles, at least let our premiums be lower."

Christopher Edwards, 28, of Columbia, Missouri, said health care was among the most important issues for him as he looks ahead to the midterms.

"People sometimes get sick, and sometimes medicine is what they need," said Edwards, who described himself as a moderate Democrat.

Majorities of young Americans also favor other types of expansion of government service, including free public college and trade school. Sixty-six percent of young Americans say they support free public college tuition. Seventy-nine percent of young Democrats and 39 percent of young Republicans are in favor. Among independents, 72 percent said they supported free tuition.

Younger people typically do not turn out for midterm elections in great numbers. According to the new poll, more than half of young voters say voting in the upcoming midterms is very important, but just 32 percent of those who will be old enough say they're certain to cast a ballot.

Jannette Ramirez, 27, of Winter Haven, Florida, said she would "probably" vote in November's elections, but she was unsure how much impact her vote would have.

"I can vote all day long, every day, 30 times a day and still my opinion wouldn't matter," said Ramirez, who described herself as a political moderate.

Liberal Democrats are more excited than other young people about participating in the political process, according to the poll. Seventy-six percent said they are reading and watching news about November's elections, compared with 58 percent of young Americans overall. Similarly, 71 percent of liberal young Democrats called voting in the midterms very important, compared with 54 percent of young Americans overall.

Miller, who is a tax preparer, said that while she will absolutely vote in November's election, she's frustrated by the tone of politics today.

"It's more like a big high school argument," she said.


The AP-NORC and MTV poll of 1,052 young Americans age 15-34 was conducted Sept. 20 to Oct. 8, 2018. The poll was conducted using NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Health Care Prices Vary Widely Across US, Study Finds]]>Thu, 25 Oct 2018 13:15:17 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/emergency2.jpg

A patient receiving health care services in one part of the United States could pay twice as much as a patient living elsewhere, according to a new study.

Prices were highest in San Jose and lowest in Baltimore in 2016 for privately insured patients, the Health Care Cost Institute found.

The Washington-based nonprofit group analyzed nearly 1.8 billion health insurance claims filed between 2012 and 2016. It then calculated a nationwide average for health care prices and ranked 112 metros against that average.

Although prices generally were well above average on the West Coast and the Northeast, regional patterns broke down elsewhere.

Across the Midwest, prices were below the national average in most cities, including Chicago, Indianapolis and Cleveland. But Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wis., were the fourth and fifth most expensive areas nationwide, just behind San Francisco and ahead of San Diego.

“It reinforces this idea that all health care is local,” said Bill Johnson, a senior health researcher with the institute.

There is little logic to health care prices within regions. Metros with professional fees near the national average sometimes have very high hospital prices and vice versa.

In Los Angeles, professional fees are 5 percent below the national average while prices for inpatient (hospital) stays and outpatient services (emergency room and procedures such as colonoscopies) are 28 percent and 30 percent above the national average respectively.

Green Bay has the fifth highest health costs in the nation — 14 percent above the national average. But it’s too simple to say that health care is expensive in Green Bay. Inpatient and outpatient costs are below the national average there while professional fees are 43 percent above the national average.

Kevin Kennedy, a researcher at the institute, said that examples like this “help direct attention to what the right question is to ask.”

For example, in Dayton, Ohio (health care costs 11 percent below the national average), inpatient charges are 18 percent above average. In Boston (health care costs 3 percent above the national average), professional fees are 22 percent above average. In San Jose (health care costs 65 percent above the national average), outpatient charges are a whopping 117 percent above average.

“It seems like there’s a different reason (for high costs) for every area,” Kennedy said.

“Health care isn’t one big problem,” Johnson said. “It’s a series of little problems.”

The institute plans additional reports to see how usage and competition affect the price of health care.

The group analyzed health claims data from four major insurers — Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser Permanente — representing more than 50 million individuals.

Photo Credit: jdoms - stock.adobe.com]]>
<![CDATA[6 Kids Dead, 12 Sick in 'Severe' Viral Outbreak at NJ Center]]>Tue, 23 Oct 2018 23:45:08 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/adenovirus+nj.png

Six children at a long-term care medical facility in New Jersey have died after a “severe outbreak” of adenovirus, a family of viruses that can cause mild illness, while 12 others have been infected, according to the state's Department of Health.

New Jersey Department of Health officials said children were recently infected with adenovirus at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation in Haskell, Passaic County. The medical institution houses the Pediatric Center.

The facility has been instructed not to admit any new patients until the outbreak ends and they are in full compliance, the DOH says.

Adenoviruses are common viruses that can cause a range of illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The viruses cause cold-like symptoms, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, diarrhea, and pink eye. Adenoviruses can pose serious complications to certain people, particularly those with weakened immune systems, respiratory issues and cardiac disease.

That is the case at the Wanaque Center, health officials said. 

"Unfortunately, the particular strain of adenovirus (#7) in this outbreak is affecting medically fragile children with severely compromised immune systems," the New Jersey Department of Health in a statement. "This strain has been particularly associated with disease in communal living facilities."

According to the CDC, adenoviruses are typically spread from an infected person to others through: close personal contact such touching or shaking hands; through the air by coughing and sneezing; or by touching an object or surface with adenoviruses on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands.

Health investigators visited the facility over the weekend as part of their probe, officials said.

The state Department of Health further said that it is monitoring the situation “very closely” and has been in contact with the staff at the center “providing guidance on infection control and cleaning procedures.”

The Wanaque Center is a for-profit facility that, according to its website, works with "with medically fragile children" from newborn to 22 years of age. The center also serves as an adult nursing home and rehabilitation center for short- and long-term care.

A spokesperson for the Wanaque Center did not respond to repeated request for comment.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement on the adenovirus outbreak saying that he is "heartbroken by the news that several children have lost their lives."

"I have been briefed by [Commissioner of Health] Dr. [Shereef] Elnahal, who has assured me that the Department of Health has recommended vital measures to enhance protections against the further spread of infection and will continue its active on-site surveillance," Murphy says in his statement. "I am confident that the steps being taken by state and local officials will minimize the impact to all those who remain at the facility, including patients and employees.”

The cause of the outbreak remains unclear.

Photo Credit: News 4 NY]]>
<![CDATA[GoFundMe Means Big Bucks for Dubious Care, Study Finds]]>Tue, 23 Oct 2018 11:44:50 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18292524650791-Cancer-Cure-GoFundme-Video.jpg

People seeking dubious, potentially harmful treatment for cancer and other ailments raised nearly $7 million over two years from crowdfunding sites, a study found.

Echoing recent research on campaigns for stem cell therapies, the findings raise more questions about an increasingly popular way to help pay for costly, and sometimes unproven, medical care.

Soliciting money on GoFundMe and other sites eliminates doctors, hospitals, insurance companies and other "gatekeepers" that can be a barrier to expensive treatment, said lead author Dr. Ford Vox, an ethicist and brain injury expert at Shepherd Center rehabilitation hospital in Atlanta. He calls it "the democratization of economic power through social media" but says it can pose an ethical dilemma.

Online fundraising "has a big bright side" when it helps patients pay for legitimate care, he said. "Communities are really being able to rally around people in rough times. That's fantastic, but there is this very clear dark side" when treatments sought are worthless or even dangerous.

His study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

GoFundMe says campaigns for medical care are increasing and are among the most numerous on its site. They include solicitations for conventional treatment and for unproven alternative therapies.

"We always encourage people to fully research whatever it is they are raising money for and to be absolutely transparent on their GoFundMe page, so donors can make an informed decision on what they're donating to," GoFundMe said in an emailed statement.

The researchers examined campaigns posted from November 2015 through mid-December 2017, mostly on GoFundMe. They focused on five treatments sought in about 1,000 campaigns: homeopathy or naturopathy for cancer; hyperbaric oxygen for brain injuries; stem cells for brain or spinal cord injuries; and long-term antibiotics for persistent Lyme disease.

While some patients swear they've benefited from some of the treatments, there is no rigorous scientific evidence that any of them work for the conditions involved, the researchers said.

The most numerous were solicitations for homeopathy or naturopathy for cancer — 474 requests seeking more than $12 million. About one-quarter of that was raised.

Homeopathic products typically contain heavily diluted drugs, vitamins or minerals said to promote healing, although some have been found to contain toxic amounts. Naturopathy, another alternative medicine practice, sometimes uses homeopathic products, herbs and dietary supplements or body cleanses.

Michelle Drapeau has raised about $7,000 on GoFundMe for homeopathy and other alternative remedies since being diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer in February 2017. The 45-year-old investment banker from West Palm Beach, Florida, credits them with keeping her alive since she stopped chemotherapy over a year ago.

"I wanted to make sure I explored every and all options," Drapeau said. "It's vital for everyone to have that opportunity."

Dr. Leonard Lichtenfeld, the American Cancer Society's deputy chief medical officer, said it's important to consider what may drive some patients to turn to unproven remedies. U.S. health care costs are exorbitant and many patients run out of money trying to pay them.

And despite considerable progress against cancer and other illnesses, conventional treatment can't cure every patient, he noted.

"We should not be judgmental and come out and say this is terrible," Lichtenfeld said.

"No one wants to hear, 'You have cancer,' and especially no one wants to hear that there's no treatment available that can help you," he said. "You begin to understand why people may turn to unproven treatments and you can understand why others reach out to try to support them."

"What we need to do is to better inform, even better care for our patients and their families, so they don't feel this is what they need to do."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Michelle Drapeau via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Honey Smacks Returns to Shelves With New Recipe After Recall]]>Tue, 23 Oct 2018 08:42:17 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honey-smacks.jpg

Kellogg's Honey Smacks is returning to shelves following a voluntarily recall after salmonella infected 100 people in 33 states.

The company announced on Monday the cereal will return next month in limited quantities with "a simpler, updated recipe." The company says production was moved to a "trusted and tested Kellogg-owned facility that has been reliably producing cereal for decades."

The recall was issued in June. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at least 30 of the people infected in the outbreak were hospitalized.

Salmonella usually causes fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Probes More Cases of Polio-Like Syndrome AFM]]>Tue, 23 Oct 2018 06:56:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-460492806+%281%29+edited.jpg

Federal health officials now have reports of 155 possible cases of acute flaccid myelitis, a polio-like syndrome that mostly affects children and that causes muscle weakness and paralysis, federal health officials said on Monday.

The latest update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows no change in the number of confirmed cases — 62 cases in 22 states, NBC News reported. But state health departments have reported another 28 suspected cases.

The CDC urges parents to get kids to an emergency room quickly if a child has the following symptoms: difficulty moving the eyes or drooping eyelids, facial droop or weakness, difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech, or sudden arm or leg weakness.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA['Obamacare' Shapes Opioid Grant Spending: Analysis]]>Mon, 22 Oct 2018 06:30:08 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18276774517702-Opioid-Epidemic-Treatment-Dollars.jpg

With Republicans and Democrats joining forces again in a bipartisan effort to target the U.S. opioid crisis, an Associated Press analysis of the first wave of emergency money from Congress finds that states are taking very different approaches to spending it.

To a large extent, the differences depend on whether states participated in one of the most divisive issues in recent American politics: the health overhaul known as "Obamacare."

The AP analysis found states that expanded Medicaid under President Barack Obama's health overhaul reported spending their allocations more slowly than states that didn't expand the health insurance program to poor, childless adults.

Why? In states that expanded Medicaid, the insurance program already covers addiction treatment for nearly everyone who is poor and needs it.

Medicaid allows states to go beyond the basics with the grant money, while non-expansion states have to fill in for basic needs with fewer dollars, said Brendan Saloner, an addiction researcher at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In effect, Medicaid expansion states had a running start on the opioid crisis, while states without the extra Medicaid funding hastened to catch up.

"Non-expansion states are dealing with populations more likely to be uninsured and more likely to need coverage for addiction treatment," Saloner said. In contrast, states with Medicaid expansion can use the grants to create new infrastructure, "asking providers to take risks by investing in new personnel, new systems and new ways of doing things," Saloner said. "The puzzle is how to keep momentum going after the funds are gone."

The Medicaid insurance expansion gives states a head start because they have "a coordinated, reliable and consistent source of coverage" for a demographic group hit hard by addiction, said Trish Riley, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy. "It's not grant funded. It's not stopgap," Riley said.

"Coverage matters, period," Riley said.

Thirty-three states have expanded Medicaid, receiving enhanced federal funding to cover poor adults. Historically, Medicaid has covered a large share of all addiction treatment in the U.S., more than all private insurance combined. Medicaid covers 4 out of 10 adults under age 65 with opioid addiction.

On Election Day, voters in Idaho, Nebraska and Utah will decide whether their states should expand Medicaid. Montana voters will decide on maintaining that state's expansion.

The emergency money from Congress was part of a two-year, nearly $1 billion grant program. It was distributed according to a formula favoring states with more overdose deaths and treatment needs. California received nearly $45 million. Texas got $27.6 million. Florida got $27.2 million.

States spent the money at different paces and on different services, the AP found. In total, states used the money to provide treatment to nearly 119,000 people with opioid addiction, including nearly 3,000 pregnant women. More than 33,000 people received recovery services, such as training and housing.

In Massachusetts, with Medicaid expansion already paying for treatment, the grant goes largely toward such recovery services. Phillip Oliver, a 48-year-old who has struggled with addiction since his early teens, is training to work in the restaurant industry; his tuition is covered by the grant.

Michael Robinson, who is in recovery from heroin addiction, got a care services coordinator, a $500 benefit and a six-week training program in construction. Two months ago, the 25-year-old became a union carpenter and has been working on building projects across the Boston area since.

"It's a great thing they're doing," Robinson said. "The reason a lot of people stay getting high is they have nothing to look forward to. They don't have the jobs skills and the streets are all they know."

Tennessee, which has not expanded Medicaid, is spending its grant at a quicker pace than most other states, filling empty slots at treatment facilities that were instantly ready for more clients. One is Buffalo Valley Inc. with 14 locations around the state.

Thanks to the federal grant, Buffalo Valley is treating an additional 1,000 people a year with opioid addiction and without insurance. People like Tim Nolen, 36, of Nashville.

"I see it as a blessing," said Nolen, who after years addicted to pain pills is making progress with medication and counseling. "The biggest thing for me was, not having insurance, I could still get help and I didn't have to go bankrupt to get it."

The AP obtained the spending data via a Freedom of Information Act request filed with federal health officials.

The 12 months of spending totaled $270 million, a portion of the $1 billion Congress approved in 2016 to address opioid addiction under the 21st Century Cures Act.

To compare states, AP obtained year-end reports and analyzed actual expenditures from May 2017 through April 2018. States were required to report on money actually spent, not what they intended to spend.

In some states, structural delays — choosing contractors through competitive bidding, for example — led to less time for invoices to be submitted and paid by the end of the period. California officials said such processes and a deliberate effort to build an entirely new treatment structure explain why the state still had $41 million of its grant left after the first 12 months.

The AP analysis found:

—States that did not expand Medicaid spent $2,645 per patient on opioid addiction treatment on average. Expansion states spent $1,581 per patient for treatment.

—States that did not expand Medicaid spent $1,170 per person served on recovery support services. Expansion states spent $446 per person served on recovery.

—States that did not expand Medicaid spent 71 percent of their grant money in the first year. Expansion states spent 59 percent of their grant money. States can get permission to carry over unspent money into the next year.

Virginia and Maine were counted as non-expansion states in AP's analysis because neither state's expansion was implemented in time to affect grant spending.

Federal officials said states had some leeway in how they categorized money spent but also got some guidance. For instance, states were instructed to categorize the opioid overdose drug naloxone under the "treatment" category.

It's too early to pinpoint whether the spending may be helping solve the crisis. The Trump administration has said a recent survey shows efforts are working. Fewer people used heroin in 2017 for the first time than the previous year. Fewer were misusing or addicted to prescription opioid painkillers. And more people were getting treatment for heroin and opioid addiction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released preliminary figures that appear to show a leveling off in overdose deaths.

In the shadow of the bitter fight over Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation, Congress passed the bipartisan Support for Patients and Communities Act, which includes multiple provisions to address the opioid crisis and reauthorizes the Cures Act grants through 2021. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the measure.

Debbie Hillin of Buffalo Valley in Tennessee said she worries Congress won't continue the grants beyond that.

"It's an overwhelming concern. I still got people calling every day that I can't get into treatment services," Hillin said.

Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP]]>
<![CDATA[2.4M Pounds of Taquitos Recalled Over Salmonella Concern]]>Sun, 21 Oct 2018 16:46:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1005726022.jpg

More than 2.4 million pounds of ready-to-eat taquitos have been recalled due to possible contamination with salmonella and listeria, the Food Safety and Inspection Service announced.

The recall includes meat and poultry taquitos produced between July 1 and Oct. 10, 2018, by Ruiz Food Products, according to a Friday press release from the FSIS. The affected products are 4.5-pound cases of Go-Go Taquitos in “Beef Taco & Cheese Taquitos," “Buffalo Style Cooked Glazed Chicken Taquitos" and “Chipotle Chicken Wrapped in A Battered Flour Tortilla." The items were shipped nationwide.

There have been no confirmed reports of illness from customers eating the food. But the FSIS said people should not eat taquitos already purchased and to throw them away. The agency encouraged people to contact their healthcare providers if they are concerned.

Ruiz Food was notified on Oct. 16, 2018, that the diced onions used in the taquitos were being recalled by their supplier because of possible contamination.

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Diagnosing the illness requires a blood or stool sample, as other illnesses cause similar symptoms.

Listeria can cause diarrhea, fever and other similar foodborne illness symptoms.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Medicaid Expansion Becomes Key Issue in GOP-Leaning States]]>Sun, 21 Oct 2018 13:09:53 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18290648140559.jpg

For nearly a decade, opposition to former President Barack Obama's health care law has been a winning message for Nebraska Republicans.

It's helped them win every statewide office, control the Legislature and hold all the state's congressional seats. So it was something of a surprise for Bob Tatum when he set out to ask his fellow Nebraskans if they would back a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid, one of the pillars of Obama's health overhaul.

"There seems to be a lot more support than I anticipated," said Tatum, who lives in a remote town near the Colorado border.

It took him little more than a week to gather over 100 petition signatures in Perkins County, where roughly 70 percent of the 1,963 registered voters are Republicans. Tatum, 66, also is a Republican but differs from most of his party's elected officials. He supports the Medicaid expansion because his job as an ambulance driver brings him into frequent contact with working people who can't afford insurance but earn too much to qualify for regular Medicaid.

"When I was circulating petitions, pretty much everyone signed it without objection," Tatum said. "I didn't expect that to be the case in rural Nebraska."

Nebraska isn't the only conservative state where residents are bypassing a legislature that has refused to expand Medicaid.

Voters in two other Republican-dominated states, Idaho and Utah, also will decide in November whether to expand the health insurance program to more lower-income Americans. Another ballot initiative, in Montana, seeks to raise a tobacco tax to keep funding a Medicaid expansion that is set to expire.

It also has become a focal point in numerous governor's races.

The election-year push in conservative-leaning states for one of the main aspects of Obama's health care law has surprised many Republican lawmakers after they spent years attacking it.

Most GOP lawmakers in Idaho staunchly opposed expansion efforts there and cast it as a welfare program that would deepen the state's reliance on the federal government. Supporters responded by gathering more than 75,000 petition signatures, far exceeding the minimum threshold to qualify for the ballot.

Expansion advocates launched a petition drive in Utah after continued resistance from the Republican-dominated Legislature. Utah lawmakers did expand coverage to about 6,000 of the state's neediest residents last year and approved another expansion measure with work requirements, but the federal government hasn't yet accepted that plan. Expansion advocates say it still leaves tens of thousands of people without insurance.

Other states have seen Medicaid expansion become a top issue in their governor's race, with Democratic candidates forcing Republicans to defend their opposition.

In Tennessee, Democratic contender Karl Dean argues that the state already has lost out on $4 billion in federal money by refusing to participate.

"That money is being spent in other states," Dean said in a recent debate. "We need to get our Medicaid dollars back here."

His Republican opponent, Bill Lee, noted that Tennessee had expanded its Medicaid program long before Obama was even in office, but rolled it back in 2003 to balance the budget.

"We expanded Medicaid before, and it ended up failing and it almost broke the state," he said.

Democrat Stacey Abrams is promoting expansion as a way to improve health care access in rural parts of Georgia where hospitals have closed, partly due to the expense of caring for the uninsured. Republican Brian Kemp said Abrams wants to "double down on big government programs that cost too much and fail to deliver."

Medicaid expansion also has been in the spotlight in the Florida, Kansas and Wisconsin governor's races.

About 12 million Americans have gained coverage under the expansion in the 33 states that opted for it under the Obama health care reforms. The program extends Medicaid to cover more low-income adults, including those with no children at home, and the federal government picks up most of the cost.

A government report released this past week found that lower-income people in states that did not broaden access to Medicaid were much more likely to skip needed medical care than people in states that did.

In Nebraska, Amanda Gershon is among those who went without.

As a single, childless adult, she wasn't eligible for regular Medicaid after a series of autoimmune disorders in 2013 rendered her too sick to work. The Lincoln resident remained uninsured for two years before she qualified for Social Security disability benefits that allowed her to receive coverage. Even then, the enrollment process took nine months.

Without the prescription drugs, tests and surgeries that could have helped her earlier, Gershon said she suffered needlessly and wasn't able to hold a job.

A co-sponsor of the petition drive to qualify the initiative, she said she grew frustrated with lawmakers who opposed the Medicaid expansion because none of them proposed alternatives that would have helped her.

"It's hard to understand," said Gershon, now 36. "They are there to represent the people, and it does seem like a majority of people see this as a good thing."

Kathy Campbell is among the few Republicans who were not surprised by the citizen effort to circumvent the Legislature. As a state lawmaker, she had pushed repeatedly for Medicaid expansion before being termed out of office last year.

"People want good health care policy," she said. "They're much more informed about it than you might think. I think that's why you had so many people sign the petition."

Politicians who steadfastly opposed the Medicaid expansion in Nebraska say the initiative's supporters don't understand the consequences.

"I don't believe anybody (in the Legislature) who voted against it is really opposed to helping people," said Sen. Mark Kolterman, a Republican. "But how are we going to pay for it?"

The estimated annual cost of expanding the program in Nebraska is $40 million to $69 million, roughly 1 percent of the state budget.

State Sen. John Stinner, a Republican who heads a budget committee, cited voter frustration that so many people lack health care as a driving force behind the initiative.

"Believe me, I'm frustrated with it, too," he said. "I don't want to be insensitive to people out there in that Medicaid expansion group. I just don't think this is sustainable."

If passed, the measure would add about 90,000 Nebraskans to the Medicaid rolls. Organizers with Insure the Good Life, a Nebraska group formed to back the expansion, said many of those people work in jobs with no health benefits, such as in hotels, restaurants and construction.

"Almost every single person in Nebraska probably knows somebody who's directly affected by the unaffordability of health care," said Meg Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life.


Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone in Boise, Idaho, Kimberlee Kruesi in Nashville, Tennessee, and Lindsay Whitehurst in Salt Lake City contributed to this article. Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Nati Harnik]]>
<![CDATA[Breakfast Club Helps Former NFL Players Get Healthy Together]]>Fri, 19 Oct 2018 07:05:09 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Breakfast-Club-Football.jpg

Kevin Mawae played 16 seasons in the NFL, earning eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro honors. Yet the former offensive lineman found himself struggling to walk in the summer of 2017.

With each step came stabbing pains because of severe plantar fasciitis.

The Breakfast Club came to his rescue by figuring out what caused his pain instead of focusing only on the symptoms.

"I started through the program, and it turns out for me I just got to stretch and take care of my body instead of being complacent in that area," Mawae said.

The Breakfast Club is a free six-week program for former players with at least two credited seasons at EXOS workout facilities or YMCAs, bringing them together for three workouts a week, along with physical therapy and a nutritionist. The club started in February 2015 in Arizona through The Trust, which developed out of the 2011 labor agreement following a lengthy lockout. The Trust was created to help players transition to non-football lives once their careers end.

Mawae, a former president of the NFL Players Association, joined such former players as Pittsburgh linebacker Levon Kirkland and long snapper Jason Kyle, who played for four teams, in the club session in Scottsdale, Arizona. Mawae also spent four weeks with the club this summer before reporting for fall practice in August in his new job as a quality control analyst at Arizona State for coach Herm Edwards.

The man who played center his final 14 years in the NFL had a simple issue: He never stretched.

"So to finally get from where I could barely touch my shins to where I can put my hands on the ground now in a straight-legged stretch, that's a huge accomplishment for me," Mawae said.

A nutritionist also helps each player with an individual eating plan and teaches them how to pick healthy foods when shopping. They also get a cookbook developed to assist with making better choices.

Support comes from The Trust, which assists former players with career counseling, finances and education. Connecting former players and helping them take care of their bodies is where the Breakfast Club comes in. Bahati Van Pelt, executive director of The Trust, credits former player Aaron Taylor for creating the group workout concept by asking if EXOS could provide a workout plan if he got 10 players together in San Diego.

The concept quickly grew from a couple groups to five a year, then 12, and now through expansion with about 400 former players have taken part.

The Breakfast Club has been in the Dallas area; Miami; Tampa; Birmingham, Alabama; Jacksonville, Florida; Brentwood, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; and New Orleans. Van Pelt said they went to New Orleans last year because several former players reached out to Tulane, a medical partner of The Trust, when they had a large enough group for a Breakfast Club.

"Anytime we can have a player-driven, organized community that players are willing to buy into and incorporate and be active in, a part of that's a no-brainer for us," Van Pelt said.

With so many former NFL players in the Atlanta region, The Trust needed another gym option in areas without EXOS facilities. That led to the YMCA, where a free one-year membership is renewable and keeps former players working out once the club's six-week sessions end.

Former players only have to register with The Trust, which is identifying more cities to host future Breakfast Clubs. The current club started Oct. 8 in Carlsbad, California, near San Diego, with players including former offensive tackle Vaughn Parker, now 47 who played 10 of his 11 NFL seasons with the Chargers.

The biggest benefit may be recreating the locker room vibe that disappears after football. Van Pelt said they've had former players ask when the club is coming back to their towns.

"It brought back that feeling of being in the locker room, of having a workout in your position group and having an accountability partner with your wellness," Van Pelt said. "So if I don't come work out on a Monday and Wednesday, I have teammates that are going to check in on me and find out what's going on and make sure I'm there on Friday."

Getting moving again with a routine matters most for players accustomed to living by practice and meeting schedules through high school, college and the NFL.

But Mawae said no former player wants to be a statistic, and the club can help men live longer, healthier lives.

"It doesn't mean you can't have a drink every now and then, you can't indulge in sweets or candies or whatever, you can't just relax for a week. That just means you don't live a sedentary lifestyle where all your previous injuries can pile up and debilitate you," Mawae said.

"And unfortunately for a lot of the players that retire, that's exactly what happens."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Gregory Bull/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Dieting Is Out, Posing a Problem as Weight Watchers Rebrands]]>Thu, 18 Oct 2018 10:16:29 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-512022306.jpg

Traces of the name "Weight Watchers" have been scrubbed from the company's headquarters on Manhattan's Avenue of the Americas.

Purple letters — WW — now hang from the lobby announcing the $4.6 billion diet giant's new name that it unveiled in September along with its purpose: "We inspire healthy habits for real life. For people, families, communities, the world — for everyone."

The cosmetic changes are the final touches on the 55-year-old company's new plan: Sell wellness instead of weight loss to its 4.5 million subscribers.

CEO Mindy Grossman, who took the helm last summer, is tasked with maintaining a balance between WW's status as a weight-loss leader while trying to attract new subscribers who don't want to lose weight. She also has to persuade existing members to stay after reaching their goal.

Weight Watchers had weathered threats over the decades from the likes of Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and fad diets like Atkins. But its biggest competition in recent years hasn't been from any of its rivals, and it was coming from all directions.

Free apps like MyFitnessPal allowed consumers to track their calories without committing to a diet. People started to give up processed foods and grains in favor of cleaner, gluten-free options. Members stopped coming to meetings. Its revenue, which climbed almost every year since its 2001 IPO, peaked in 2012 at $1.83 billion, according to data compiled by FactSet. Its sales hit decade-lows of about $1.16 billion in 2015 and 2016 before starting to rebound under Grossman's watch last year.

Investors lost confidence in 2015 after its membership, which accounts for about 80 percent of its annual revenue, slid almost 20 percent during the post-Thanksgiving period, its biggest diet season of the year. Its first-quarter numbers in 2015 showed that it lost about 700,000 members over the year, from 3.6 million in the beginning of 2014 to 2.9 million. Its stock hit $3.67 a share, an all-time intraday low, on July 7, 2015.

People wanted to eat healthier but didn't want to diet. For a company named Weight Watchers, that posed a problem.

Weight Watchers tapped Oprah Winfrey in 2015 as an advisor. It added flexible meal plans and overhauled its digital app, among other changes. Last spring, it hired Grossman. A "friend of Oprah," she had proven she could modernize a legacy brand at the Home Shopping Network. She also had successful runs as a top executive at Ralph Lauren and Nike.

Wellness cruises

The company already had been inching closer toward becoming a lifestyle brand over the previous few years.

But the 61-year-old Grossman is extending its new wellness mantra into everything the company does: wellness-themed Caribbean cruises, cookware and removing artificial sweeteners from its line of snacks. It's adding a rewards system with WW swag and prizes from trendy names like Rent the Runway and ClassPass to keep people engaged.

So far, these changes are paying off. More people are subscribing to WW now than ever before and they're staying with the program longer. Wall Street has rewarded the company, sending its stock price to a record intraday high of $105.73 on June 20. Its shares have tumbled to $68 a share since then, but the stock is still up by more than 50 percent this year, and the company has a market value of $4.5 billion.

"Everything we try and do, I try to look through the lens of we need to be surprising yet familiar," Grossman told CNBC in an interview this month at WW's headquarters. "We will never not celebrate and believe that our heritage and everything we do is important. So we're not going to take a sharp left, but we have to be relevant. We have to understand that people need different things."

Executives are targeting $2 billion in annual revenue by the end of 2020. Last year, revenue reached $1.31 billion, up 12.2 percent from $1.16 billion in 2016. They want to add new members and improve retention to fuel the growth.

WW needs to keep the momentum alive to convince shareholders it can achieve these goals.

Investors quickly soured in August when the company said the number of subscribers slipped to 4.5 million at the end of June from 4.6 million three months before. The company's shares fell nearly 15 percent. Some members want Weight Watchers to stick to weight-loss programs.

Keeping it off

Few companies have changed so many lives in such profound ways as Weight Watchers.

It's hard to pinpoint how many members the company has served since Jean Nidetch founded it in 1963 because millions of people have cycled in and out of the program.

The points system has made it easy for people to evaluate how nutritious foods are since being formally introduced in 1997 as the "1-2-3 Success Plan." The company has tweaked the system over the years as science has evolved and consumers have demanded more flexibility, but it's still the cornerstone of the program.

So is the sense of community that Nidetch built Weight Watchers on. Members can attend in-person meetings where they weigh themselves and discuss problem issues, such as strategies for handling the food-temptation-filled holidays like Thanksgiving. Members can also opt for the online-only program where they can track foods on the app and connect with other members there, too.

One of Weight Watchers' struggles has been that while people lose weight on the program, they tend to gain it back.

"This is a universal challenge that people generally speaking are much more successful in achieving initial weight loss than maintaining weight loss," said Dr. Kevin Volpp, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and director of the Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics. "I think a lot of people get frustrated and move on to something else."

Michael Schildt, 48, has tried Weight Watchers five or six times over the past 20 years. He said he would lose weight, the most being 125 pounds in 1998, then get bored.

First he would become less vigilant in monitoring what foods he was eating. Then the portion sizes. Then he would stop losing weight. Then he would gain a pound or 2, a dreaded experience that would cause him and countless other members to skip in-person meetings so they would not have to step on the scale.

Earlier this year, Schildt rejoined WW. Now about eight weeks in, he said he's lost 57 pounds, down to 434.5 pounds from 491.5 pounds. This time, he's determined to stick with the program.

"People take it for granted to just go to the supermarket," he said. "I need two knee replacements, and seven weeks ago, I couldn't walk into the grocery store. I would walk 20 feet, and I was in so much pain I had to turn around. I went into Whole Foods just now to buy some fruit, and I can actually go into stores and walk around."

WW wants Schildt and its millions of other members to stay around this time. A key component of the company's new strategy is to become a lifetime health partner rather than a diet.


Turnover can be costly to the business. WW has improved its member retention to "well over nine months," a 15 percent increase from three years ago, Chief Financial Officer Nicholas Hotchkin told analysts on a call discussing its second-quarter earnings results. Grossman wants that to one day be measured in years, not months.

WW recently introduced WellnessWins, a program that rewards members for engaging with the app, whether that's tracking the food they eat or the activity they've completed.

"To be able to do that, we have to keep providing more and more value, more and more tools, more and more community and support so people feel that we are a really key component in having what they consider their success to be. We don't dictate that. They do," Grossman said.

Since joining the WW board in 2015, Winfrey has appeared in ads promoting WW as a lifestyle, not a diet. It's a striking shift for the company and Winfrey, who has publicly struggled with her weight for years.

"Healthy is the new skinny," Winfrey, spokeswoman and investor, proclaimed on stage at a WW event unveiling its new vision in February.

With WW's new tagline, "wellness that works" the company is pinning weight loss to overall health, not dress size. Grossman says WW will never abdicate its status as the leader in weight loss, but it wants to be more than that.

WW is adding meditation content from Headspace to its own app. Members can access free fitness activities like entry to rock 'n' roll marathons and fitness classes from ClassPass as part of the new WellnessWins program.

Artificial sweeteners, flavors, colors and preservatives will be removed from WW's meal replacements and snacks.

Workshops over meetings

Even meetings, the bedrock of WW, are changing. They'll now be called workshops. Leaders are coaches. Receptionists are guides. The actual content will change, too. Executives declined to describe what those changes will look like, but they hinted at making them more interactive and to focus on other aspects of health in addition to weight.

One Saturday morning in October, Schildt attended a workshop where the group discussed tai chi and other breathing exercises. That was new to him. He said meetings typically had focused on weight loss or exercise.

"In general, the weight-loss industry has gone toward a more holistic approach to weight loss," said Linda Bolton Weiser, an analyst at D.A. Davidson & Co. "My theory is this is positive for the industry because it gives women permission to spend money on a weight-loss brand."

More people are signing up for less expensive digital memberships, which Bolton Weiser said may dampen the revenue but has helped WW improve its gross margin.

Of the total 4.5 million current subscribers, 1.6 million attend in-person meetings for about $45 a month while 2.9 million have access only to online features for about $20 a month. But it costs less to run an app than the meetings, and the savings have shown up in its profit margins. Last year, WW's gross profit margin increased to 53 percent, up from 50.3 percent in 2016.

Partying WW style

A group of women snapped pictures holding pillows flecked with white, gold and purple sequins spelling the letters WW at a party in Brooklyn on Oct. 4. More women took turns posing for photos in front of a wall of red, orange, yellow and white lights pointing to a bright circle surrounding the letters WW.

If someone had unknowingly walked in, they might not realize this party was for Weight Watchers — at least until they saw servers carrying hors d'oeuvres with signs displaying their point values. A slice of avocado toast with watermelon, radish, lime, cilantro and 12-grain toast equaled 4 points. A vodka and tonic from the bar? Six points.

Here at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, executives were celebrating Weight Watchers' transformation into WW. The party was built for Instagram. Bruno Mars, the night's headliner, was the ideal person to celebrate a 55-year-old company trying to balance decades of history with its quest to attract newer, younger members.

Grossman recognizes the challenge. She joined the company after helping turn around the Home Shopping Network. Similar to Weight Watchers, the channel shortened its name to HSN.

It's too early to tell whether the company can convince people this brand is different than the one they tried decades ago or the one they grew up watching their parents use.

"They have to do physical things that show this is something deeper than a name change," said Oliver Hahl, assistant professor of organizational theory and strategy at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business. "Will this be enough to fully embrace weight as wellness and not just weight for weight's sake?"

Some members aren't entirely sold.

Wayne Muhlstein has been a Weight Watchers member since 1968. Then 13, his parents sent him to a meeting because they didn't want him looking "chubby" in his bar mitzvah pictures. In 1984, he became a leader and taught for "31 wonderful years" before retiring in 2015.

Muhlstein praises the company for enduring all these years but cautions WW against moving too far away from weight loss.

"If I want yoga, I go to my yoga studio," he said. "If I want a massage, I go to a massage therapist. If I need a shrink, I go to a shrink. If I want to lose weight, I go to Weight Watchers. And there's nothing wrong with that."

At the party, Grossman put on a captain's hat and smiled for pictures in front of a green screen promoting WW cruises. She sat and watched celebrity chef Cat Cora tell the crowd about creating a menu for the new cafe.

Grossman admired the wall behind Cora decorated with posters of WW spokespeople, including Winfrey. She smiled softly and turned her attention back to the moment.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:


Photo Credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Despite the Science, Cities Are Removing Fluoride From Water]]>Wed, 17 Oct 2018 06:36:50 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/140806786-Faucet-bathroom.jpg

Fluoride prevents cavities and tooth decay, something confirmed by numerous studies, yet a small but vocal minority has gotten dozens of cities to remove the naturally occurring compound from the water supply, NBC News reported.

"Anti-fluoridationists" blame fluoride for lower IQs and diseases, despite long-established science. The American Dental Association says that 74 cities have voted to remove fluoride from their drinking water in the last five years, and proposed bans are on the ballot in two more cities this November.

"You cannot tailor public health to the whims of a small group of people," said Dr. Johnny Johnson, a retired pediatric dentist who leads the nonprofit American Fluoridation Society. "If you are doing that, you are harming a large group of people."

While nearly 75 percent of the United States gets fluoridated water, more than 80 percent of New Jersey residents do not, and the Texas Republican Party now opposes water fluoridation as well.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
<![CDATA[Cases of Mysterious Paralyzing Illness Reported in 22 States]]>Tue, 16 Oct 2018 17:57:55 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/generic-doctor1.jpg

U.S. health officials on Tuesday reported a jump in cases of a rare paralyzing illness in children, and said it seems to be following an every-other-year pattern.

At least 62 cases have been confirmed in 22 states this year, and at least 65 additional illnesses in those states are being investigated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Similar waves of the same illness occurred in 2014 and 2016.

NBC News did its own unofficial survey of state health officials, finding 87 confirmed or suspected cases in 26 states. 

CDC officials say they haven't found the cause. Some possible suspects, such as polio and West Nile virus, have been ruled out. Another kind of virus is suspected, but it's been found in only some of the cases.

"This is a mystery so far," the CDC's Dr. Nancy Messonnier said in a call Tuesday with reporters.

About 90 percent of the cases are children who have suffered muscle weakness or paralysis, including in the face, neck, back or limbs. The symptoms tend to occur about a week after they had a fever and respiratory illness.

It is "a pretty dramatic disease," but fortunately most kids recover, Messonnier said.

Health officials call the condition acute flaccid myelitis. The CDC would not release a list of the states reporting probable or confirmed cases. But some states have previously announced clusters, including Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, New York and Washington.

The cases in 2014 and 2016 were partly attributed to particular strains of respiratory germs called enteroviruses, which spread the most in the summer and fall.

Most people infected with enteroviruses suffer only minor symptoms like cough and runny nose. And though enteroviruses have been detected in some paralysis cases, it hasn't been found in others, CDC officials say.

Lacking an established cause, health officials confirm cases through a review of brain scans and symptoms.

About 120 confirmed cases were reported in 2014. Another 149 were reported in 2016. In 2015 and 2017, the counts of reported illnesses were far lower.

The cases this year seem to be spread across much of the country, as were the earlier two waves. But mysteriously no other country has reported the emerging every-two-years pattern seen in the U.S., Messonnier said.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Miami Police to Offer Opioid Addicts Rehab Instead of Jail]]>Tue, 16 Oct 2018 11:49:33 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1302.jpg

Officials in Miami are hoping police officers will be able to steer opioid addicts into to treatment rather than jail.

A plan announced Monday will offer addicts an opportunity to go into rehabilitation. The Miami Herald reports Miami police will use $1.6 million in federal grants to develop a pre-arrest diversion program where people with small amounts of opioids can enter a one-year outpatient treatment program.

They are working with Jackson Behavioral Health Hospital, the South Florida Behavioral Health Network, the University of Miami Health system and other agencies to develop the program.

The plan includes anti-addiction medication, social services, mental health counseling and general medical care.

Dr. Patricia Ares-Romero of the Behavioral Health Hospital says the program could treat about 100 people over the three-year life of the grant.

"This will serve as a potentially life-saving resource for those who need it most," City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez wrote in a tweet announcing the program.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that drug overdoses killed a record 72,300 Americans in 2017, about 10 percent more than in 2016. The majority of the deaths involved opioids. But a growing number of them are from illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, rather than prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report found opioids were identified as either the cause of death or were present in the decedent's system in 3,037 cases between January and June in 2017, a 20 percent increase from the same time period in 2016. The figures for the second half of 2017 are still being compiled.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA['Patients Deserve to Know': US Wants Drug Prices in TV Ads]]>Tue, 16 Oct 2018 03:42:59 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/drugpricesAP_18288613969544.jpg

The federal government said Monday that it wants to force drugmakers to disclose prices for prescription medicines in their TV commercials.

The drug industry's main trade group said drug companies are only willing to disclose the prices on their websites, not in commercials, and they'll start doing that next spring.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar unveiled a proposal that would apply to all brand-name drugs covered by the Medicare and Medicaid programs, which is most medicines.

"Patients deserve to know what a given drug could cost when they're being told about the benefits and risks it may have," Azar said in prepared remarks. "They deserve to know if the drug company has pushed their prices to abusive levels. And they deserve to know this every time they see a drug advertised to them on TV."

Most Americans don't pay the full price for prescriptions — one reason drugmakers have opposed disclosing the list prices, arguing that would just confuse the public. But insurance plans base their copayments on the list price set by drugmakers. And patients with high-deductibles plans or no insurance sometimes pay full price.

President Trump has long promised to bring down drug prices, and in May, his administration released a "blueprint" with vague proposals for doing so, including exploring listing prices in TV commercials.

Hours before Azar's announcement, the trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, said its 33 member companies agreed to include in commercials a website that would give the drug's list price, the range of likely out-of-pocket costs and any available financial assistance. The group also plans its own website, where patients could look up drugs by name and find similar information.

"We appreciate their effort," Azar said. "But placing information on a website is not the same as putting it right in an ad."

PhRMA CEO Stephen J. Ubl and others in the trade group said they believe requiring list prices in ads would violate the companies' First Amendment free speech rights. But Azar, speaking at a National Academy of Medicine conference, said there is precedence for such a move, pointing out that federal law requires automakers to disclose sticker prices for cars.

Direct-to-consumer advertising of drugs has been allowed in the U.S. for two decades. Ads are required to list side effects but not prices.

Many details of the proposed rule still must be worked out, including whether it should be expanded to cover radio, print or internet ads. According to the proposal, TV commercials would have to state in legible type the list price set by the manufacturer for all drugs costing more than $35 per month or for a standard course of treatment, such as for an antibiotic.

If the rule is adopted after a 60-day public comment period, Azar's department plans to publicize the names of drugmakers that don't comply and could take legal action against them.

Drugmakers generally can charge as much as the U.S. market will bear because the government doesn't regulate medicine prices, unlike most other developed countries.

List prices have long been closely guarded, and those prices are the starting point for drugmakers' price negotiations with middlemen, such as insurance companies and prescription benefit managers.

According to the government, the list prices for the top 10 prescription medicines advertised on TV range from $535 to $11,000 for a month or course of treatment.

Pfizer's heavily advertised nerve pain drug Lyrica has a monthly list price of $669. Humira, AbbVie's treatment for immune system disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, has a list price of $4,872 per monthly injection. Both have nearly doubled in four years.

Patients for Affordable Drugs, an advocacy group funded by foundations, called PhRMA's website choice "a transparent attempt to pre-empt full disclosure of list prices in ads," adding that it doesn't think disclosing list prices will reduce patients' costs. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Virtual Reality Simulation Shows What It's Like to Die]]>Sat, 13 Oct 2018 03:36:05 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/BOST_000000018887814.JPG

A new virtual reality simulation is helping hospice workers and medical students see what it's like to die.

An end-of-life simulation by Embodied Labs is now educating staff and students at the Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough, Maine. It's also a required experience for medical students at the University of New England. Grant money awarded to UNE paid for the simulation technology.

"It was amazing," said Hospice of Southern Maine CEO Daryl Cady. "I was pretty skeptical in the beginning. It's very unique and very emotional as it's happening."

The simulation lasts about 30 minutes and follows a cancer patient named Clay. The participant sees how Clay is struggling to have conversations with his family, suffers a fall and ends up in the E.R., and eventually transitions into hospice care. The experience shows how his skin changes and senses dull.

"His eye sight gets really dim as the end of life process is coming to a close," said hospice nurse Kate Henderson. "That was a little bit surreal."

Second-year UNE medical student Victoria Nguyen thought the simulation was very moving.

"Just seeing the family hit hard," she said. "It's definitely really emotional." She now wants to study old age with gerontology and thinks she may want to work in the hospice field.

"Everyone dies," she said. "I think making it easier is what is going to help the most."

Cady said the module will help staff empathize with their patients, and provide emotional support for their family members. When they build a new facility, Hospice of Southern Maine plans to have a simulation center where more staff and members of the community can experience the virtual reality.

"It's difficult to have conversations about end of life," Cady said. "This is an opportunity to learn about it before they really need us."

Photo Credit: necn]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Child Hospitalized After Venomous Caterpillar Sting]]>Sat, 13 Oct 2018 02:22:52 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/caterpiller-kid-new.jpg

Lauren Chambers didn’t know what to think when she received a call from her daughters’ daycare that 5-year-old Adrie couldn’t move her arm after getting stung by a caterpillar.

“They said that she had been stung by the most poisonous caterpillar in the United States,” said Chambers.

Daycare workers believe the woolly looking caterpillar fell from a tree above Adrie as she was playing outside.

“It was burning,” said Adrie.

After she told them it felt like it was stuck in her arm, they did a quick search to learn it was a Southern Flannel Moth Caterpillar or an asp with venomous spines buried beneath its hair.

“How does that happen? We have those here in Texas? I mean I never even heard of those before yesterday,” said Chambers.

Michael Merchant, an entomologist with Texas A&M University says they’ve received more calls about the bugs this year though they don’t know why.

“They’re common on a lot of trees and plants we have in North Texas… on oaks, yaupons, even rose bushes,” said Michael Merchant.

He said it’s a series of spines hidden below the caterpillar’s distinctive hair that are filled with venom and responsible for the painful sting that can last up to 12 hours.

“Different people react in different ways, feeling pain in different parts of the body. I had one friend who actually felt like he was having some heart trouble or something after he got stung. So it’s not a pleasant experience,” said Merchant.

Adrie’s bite led to pain, swelling and an upset stomach. But had her teachers not thought to quickly remove the spines from her arm with tape, doctors tell Chambers it could’ve been much worse.

“They said if that had not happened it could actually cause her whole body to go numb and start shutting down,” said Chambers.

According to Merchant, the caterpillars should start to disappear in the next couple of weeks as they prepare their cocoons for winter. Once they hatch as moths in the spring, he says they’re no longer have their harmful spines.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[NBC New York and Hackensack Meridian Health Launch the Health Hub]]>Wed, 17 Oct 2018 10:40:00 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/announcement-hackensack.jpg

The following content is created in consultation with Hackensack Meridian Health. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC New York’s editorial staff. Click here to learn about Hackensack Meridian Health.

In the coming months, Hackensack Meridian Health experts will be sharing exclusive health and wellness tips as featured guests on NBC programming including Sports Final and New York Live. You will also have a chance to hear from Hackensack Meridian Health experts during Facebook Live sessions covering important health topics for you and your family.

Hackensack Meridian Health is committed to providing our community with a range of resources to keep you on a GamePlan for Health. Please click here to download your personalized GamePlan containing recommended health screenings, exercise regimens, nutritional tips and more.

Hackensack Meridian Health’s Health Hub offers the latest health and wellness news from expert physicians throughout our health network. The Health Hub is continuously updated with helpful wellness tips, nutritional advice, testimonials and other resources to keep you on your health journey.

<![CDATA[NYC Hospital Creates Life-Saving Spotify Playlist ]]>Thu, 11 Oct 2018 12:09:30 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CPR+training.jpg

Perhaps you’re familiar with the rumor that humming “Stayin’ Alive” while doing chest compressions is the best way to perform CPR on someone. Some of you might even remember when Michael Scott memorably sang the Bee Gees’ hit when learning CPR with his co-workers on "The Office."

While chaos ensued in the rest of that episode, this CPR secret can still be beneficial to incorporate in everyday life, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital is here to help you do that.

The top-ranked NYPH created a Spotify playlist and shared it via Twitter to help raise awareness about effective CPR, and help everyday individuals easily remember how to time chest compressions.

"Only about 46 percent of cardiac arrest victims receive bystander intervention before EMS arrives and women are even less likely to receive intervention," Lauren Browdy, a spokesperson from NYPH, says. "But for every minute without CPR, the survival rate decreases by 10 percent."

Although released last March as part of a #HandsOnlyCPR campaign, the playlist has recently gained traction and has been increasingly shared throughout Twitter within the last few days. The NYPH staff, and specifically Dr. Holly Andersen, a cardiologist, have worked hard to raise more awareness on bystander CPR, and believe this playlist helps make situations like that less scary so that bystanders are more likely, and able to jump in and help.

"Dr. Holly Anderson has been advocating for everyone to learn Hands Only CPR with three easy steps: Check, Call, Compress," Browdy says. "Her goal is to teach everyone to not be afraid to jump in.'

Comprised of 40 songs at 100 BPM, each track consists of the optimum beat to time CPR compressions, so that 100 chest compressions are done per minute.

With songs like “Dancing Queen” by ABBA and “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, to current hits like “Sorry” by Justin Bieber and “Closer” by The Chainsmokers, there’s a song for everyone to learn how to effectively and simply save a life in a time of need.

Check out the rest of the tracks here, and check out more about the Hands Only CPR campaign here, which has instructional videos so you can learn at home.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Toxic Metal Cadmium Found in National Chain Stores' Jewelry]]>Thu, 11 Oct 2018 09:48:39 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jewelryAP_18268701424191.jpg

Jewelry with the toxic metal cadmium is showing up on the shelves of national retailers including Ross, Nordstrom Rack and Papaya, according to newly released test results.

Analysis done for the nonprofit Center for Environmental Health revealed some jewelry sold with women's dresses and shirts was nearly pure cadmium, which can cause cancer and reproductive harm after prolonged exposure.

Consumer advocates were hopeful cadmium had disappeared from the U.S. jewelry market following changes prompted by a 2010 Associated Press investigation that found Chinese manufacturers were using the metal to make kids' jewelry. States including California outlawed cadmium in children's jewelry, and testing by the center found the chemical had virtually disappeared from jewelry by 2012.

No laws address cadmium in adult jewelry, however, and last year the center decided to check those products. Lab testing found 31 adult jewelry items purchased from retail stores were at least 40 percent cadmium, and most were more than 90 percent, according to results shared exclusively with the AP.

California's law allows no more than 0.03 percent cadmium in children's jewelry. The precise health risk from the tested jewelry is unclear because researchers did not assess whether small amounts shed when the jewelry is handled and worn.

Over time, cadmium accumulates in the body and can damage the kidneys and bones. Most exposure happens by ingesting small amounts or by breathing it, most commonly through tobacco, which can contain cadmium. Researchers also have documented some absorption through skin contact, though the phenomenon is not well-studied.

Michael Harbut, a practicing doctor who as a university professor has researched cadmium's cancer-causing properties, noted that contact can trigger skin rashes including psoriasis.

"Cadmium is bad," said Harbut, who teaches at Michigan State University's College of Human Medicine. "Given a choice between wearing something with cadmium in it, or wearing something without cadmium in it, I would take the product without cadmium."

The Oakland-based nonprofit bought all the test samples in the San Francisco Bay Area this year or last. The extent to which contaminated jewelry is in stores elsewhere isn't clear, though a national retailer would not typically limit a product to just one region.

The center said the problem should not be underestimated because of the limited market sampling.

"If you're the person that buys and is wearing that jewelry, you don't really care whether it's a common problem or a rare problem," said Caroline Cox, senior scientist at the center. "You have a problem."

Brent Cleaveland, executive director of the Fashion Jewelry and Accessories Trade Association, said he does not believe the test results suggest a larger problem. Most major retailers have a stringent system for testing and analyzing what they sell, he said.

Most of the tainted items were sold at Ross, which operates more than 1,400 stores in 38 states. One pendant from a necklace chain was 100 percent cadmium, according to the testing.

In a written statement, Ross said it is committed to protecting its customers and has "addressed this issue with our supplier." The retailer would not say whether it pulled suspect jewelry from stores.

The brands found with high cadmium levels in Ross stores include Tacera and Vibe Sportswear.

Xinwei Xie, chief executive officer at Trend Textile Inc., which owns Tacera, declined to comment when reached by phone. The Skate Group Inc., which owns Vibe Sportswear, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Papaya said it considers cadmium in its products a serious problem. It operates more than 100 retail locations nationwide.

Steven Kim, an attorney representing Papaya, said the company has recalled the products where contamination was found and stopped buying from the manufacturer in China.

"Our manufacturers are required to represent and warrant that their products are in legal compliance," Kim said. "Papaya is very strict and stops doing business with any manufacturer which fails to comply."

Nordstrom spokeswoman Emily Sterken said the company is "reaching out to these vendors to make them aware of the situation and get more information on these items."

The Center for Environmental Health has long used California law to force companies to reduce levels of harmful materials in consumer products, including cadmium and lead in jewelry.

Under the state's Proposition 65, businesses must inform consumers about significant exposures to chemicals that cause cancer or other reproductive harm. The nonprofit has settled Proposition 65 claims against 36 companies, including Gap Inc. and Target Corp., which agreed to not sell jewelry with more than 0.03 percent cadmium.

That limit for children's jewelry took effect after the AP reported in 2010 that some Chinese jewelry manufacturers were substituting cadmium for lead, the use of which Congress clamped down on following a string of imported-product safety scandals.

The jewelry industry helped write voluntary U.S. standards following the AP investigation, but the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission did not mandate any cadmium limits.

Associated Press writer Justin Pritchard contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Center for Environmental Health via AP]]>
<![CDATA[When Pumpkin Spice is Not So Nice]]>Wed, 10 Oct 2018 13:44:34 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/When_Pumpkin_Spice_is_Not_So_Nice_OUT-153919065893900002.jpg

An expert warns that pumpkin spice flavoring is nowhere near as healthy as pumpkin itself.]]>
<![CDATA[DOJ Approves $69B CVS Health-Aetna Merger, With Conditions]]>Wed, 10 Oct 2018 10:33:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_Aetna_18283545667050.jpg

The proposed $69 billion merger between CVS Health and Aetna is getting a greenlight from the Department of Justice, with some conditions.

The Justice Department on Wednesday approved the deal on the condition that Aetna moves ahead with its plan to sell its Medicare Part D prescription drug plan business, resolving some anti-monopoly issues.

Aetna announced last month it'd sell the business for an undisclosed amount.

CVS announced plans to buy Hartford, Connecticut's Aetna late last year. The deal is expected to give the Woonsocket, Rhode Island, drugstore chain a bigger role in health care, with the companies combining to manage care through CVS stores, clinics and prescription drugs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Bill Sikes/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Baby Who Underwent Surgery While in Womb Is Doing 'Great': Mom]]>Wed, 10 Oct 2018 17:37:54 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Fetal+Surgery+100818.jpg

At 19 weeks pregnant, Sarah Prowell learned her unborn son had spina bifida. 

Spina bifida is a birth defect caused when the spine and spinal cord do not form properly, in many cases leaving a portion of the spine exposed. 

Without medical intervention, the condition causes differing levels of disability, which can include paralysis and lifelong bladder issues.

The Terrell mom was referred to Dr. Timothy Crombleholme, director of the newly opened Fetal Care Center at Medical City Children's Hospital in Dallas.

"The open fetal surgery opens up the opportunity for us to intervene at a time when things are not irreparable. We can intervene and save the baby's life or prevent unknown injury to the baby's organs," Crombleholme said.

Prior to Crombleholme's arrival to North Texas earlier this year, families of babies diagnosed with the most common and severe form of spina bifida, called myelomeningocele, had to travel elsewhere for open fetal surgery.

Because spinal cord damage is progressive during gestation, prenatal repair of myelomeningocele may prevent further damage.

"A few years ago, if they came to our practice with this spina bifida problem, they would have had to travel to the east coast, Houston or the west coast to have this surgery," said Dr. Kevin Magee, maternal and fetal medicine at Medical City Children's Hospital.

Crombleholme is one of only a handful of surgeons nationwide qualified to perform open fetal surgery and he is widely recognized for his skill and successful surgical outcomes. 

Baby Uriah became his first North Texas patient on June 25, 2018. Now, at almost two months old, Uriah is kicking his legs, signaling early success from leading-edge surgery for spina bifida. 

"He will have lifelong difficulties, but it's not going to slow him down," Uriah's father, Sean Kirby, said.

"He's doing so good, better than we thought he'd be," Sarah Prowell said. "I think he'll be very determined. I think he will impress us and everyone else, like he has so far."

You can follow his progress here.

Fetal surgery for spina bifida is not a cure, but studies show that it repair can lead to better results than traditional repair surgery after a child is born. 

The surgery greatly reduces the need to divert fluid from the brain, improves mobility and improves the chances that a child will be able to walk independently, doctors said.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Rare, Polio-Like Condition Appears in US Again]]>Tue, 09 Oct 2018 18:20:10 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-685025333.jpg

A puzzling condition that causes partial paralysis in children is back on the uptick in parts of the U.S., with six cases under investigation in Minnesota and 14 reported in Colorado, health officials said Monday.

The children have acute flaccid myelitis or AFM, a weakening of the nerves that resembles polio. It was first widely recognized in 2014, when 120 children were diagnosed, NBC News reported.

So far this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there have been 38 confirmed cases of the polio-like condition across 16 states.

Photo Credit: Kateryna Kon/Getty Images/Science Photo Libra]]>
<![CDATA[LaCroix Faces Suit Alleging It's Mislabeled as 'Natural']]>Sat, 06 Oct 2018 12:06:17 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lacroixGettyImages-614915466.jpg

Popular sparkling water company LaCroix is facing a lawsuit that alleges its products are mislabeled as "all-natural," and the allegations are weighing on the shares of its parent company National Beverage.

The lawsuit, filed in a Cook County, Illinois, circuit court, claims that LaCroix contains ethyl butanoate, limonene, linalool and linalool propionate — ingredients it says are non-natural and synthetic compounds. Linalool is an aromatic oil often found in cockroach insecticide, and many of the reports about the suit have touted this fact.

The suit also says limonene is known to cause kidney toxicity and tumors, while linalool propionate is used to treat cancer.

However, a report in Popular Science raises doubts about the claims that the chemicals technically qualify as synthetic or dangerous. The report says limonene is a "naturally occurring chemical" and a "major component of oil extracted from citrus peels." It is commonly used to give food a lemony flavor and fragrance, according to Popular Science.

Linalool and linalool propionate (also known as linalyl propionate) are also naturally occurring and derived from plants. Although linalool is used in insecticides, that doesn't mean it's poisonous to humans, according to Popular Science. Their report claims the only real risk to humans is a mild skin or eye irritation, mostly from the chemical's use in aerosol forms. Additionally, the report claims that linalool and linalyl propionate may help fight cancer.

Shares of National Beverage, LaCroix's parent company, were trading down nearly 3 percent on Friday.

On Monday, National Beverage posted first-quarter earnings for the 2019 fiscal year, which showed that revenue grew 12.6 percent, largely driven by the growth of LaCroix. The sparkling-water brand has benefited from a consumer shift away from traditional cola drinks to drinks perceived to be more healthy.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of plaintiff Lenora Rice, by the law firm Beaumont Costales in Chicago. It said, "Thousands of consumers purchase Defendant's water under the mistaken belief that it conforms with the representations made by Defendant on LaCroix's packaging and advertisements, i.e., it is 'all natural' and/or '100% natural.'"

The lawsuit does not explain how the product was tested for the presence of these chemicals.

National Beverage said it "categorically denies all allegations in a lawsuit filed [Monday] without basis in fact or law regarding the natural composition of its LaCroix Sparkling Water."

"Natural flavors in LaCroix are derived from the natural essence oils from the named fruit used in each of the flavors. There are no sugars or artificial ingredients contained in, nor added to, those extracted flavors," the company said in a statement.

National Beverage declined our request for further comment. Lawyers at Beaumont Costales couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

Photo Credit: Randy Shropshire/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Therapy Dogs Can Spread Superbugs to Kids, Hospital Finds]]>Fri, 05 Oct 2018 13:33:44 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18277512893965.jpg

Therapy dogs can bring more than joy and comfort to hospitalized kids. They can also bring stubborn germs.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore were suspicious that the dogs might pose an infection risk to patients with weakened immune systems. So they conducted some tests when Pippi, Poppy, Badger and Winnie visited 45 children getting cancer treatment.

They discovered that kids who spent more time with the dogs had a 6 times greater chance of coming away with superbug bacteria than kids who spent less time with the animals. But the study also found that washing the dogs before visits and using special wipes while they're in the hospital took away the risk of spreading that bacteria.

The results of the unpublished study were released Friday at a scientific meeting in San Francisco.

One U.S. health official said the findings add to the growing understanding that while interactions with pets and therapy animals can be beneficial, they can also carry risk.

"Whether covered in fur, feathers or scales, animals have the potential to carry germs that make people sick," said Casey Barton Behravesh of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pet therapy can help people recover from a range of health problems. Past studies have shown dogs or other animals can ease anxiety and sadness, lower blood pressure and even reduce the amount of medications some patients need.

But there have been episodes of the superbug MRSA riding around on healthy-looking therapy dogs.

MRSA, or methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, often live on the skin without causing symptoms. But they can become more dangerous if they enter the bloodstream, destroying heart valves or causing other damage. Health officials have tied MRSA to as many as 11,000 U.S. deaths a year.

The bacteria can spread in daycares, locker rooms and military barracks, but public health efforts have focused on hospitals and nursing homes.

The Baltimore study looked at 45 children who interacted with the four dogs — petting, hugging, feeding or playing with them — over 13 visits in 2016 and 2017.

Among kids who had no MRSA, the researchers found the superbug on about 10 percent of the samples taken from those kids after the dog visits. They also found MRSA on nearly 40 percent of the samples from the dogs. The researchers also determined that the more time someone spent with the animals, the greater the chance of ending up with the bacteria.

The researchers think the dogs were generally clean of MRSA when they first came to the hospital, but picked it up from patients or others while they were there, said one of the authors, Meghan Davis.

"Our hypothesis is it's really person-to-person transmission, but it happened through contact with the fur," said Davis, a Johns Hopkins public health researcher and veterinarian.

Under hospital protocols, therapy dogs must be bathed within a day of a visit and are checked for wounds or other health problems. Children who see them are supposed to use hand sanitizer "but that wasn't strictly enforced," said Kathryn Dalton, another one of the researchers.

Later in the study, the researchers asked the dogs' owners to bathe the animals with a special shampoo before the visits. They also had the dogs patted down every five to 10 minutes with disinfecting wipes at the hospital.

Those steps dramatically decreased the bacteria level on the dogs, Dalton said.

She hopes further study will show that such cleanings can reduce any risk of superbug infection.

"I really had the opportunity to see how important these dogs were to the patients," Dalton said. After the sessions with the dogs, the kids "would say how much this made their day."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Meghan Davis/Johns Hopkins University via AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Military's Bug Gene-Altering Program: Boon or Bioweapon?]]>Fri, 05 Oct 2018 07:10:00 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18277661309243-Corn-Aphids-Insect-Allies-Military.jpg

A research arm of the U.S. military is exploring the possibility of deploying insects to make plants more resilient by altering their genes. Some experts say the work may be seen as a potential biological weapon.

In an opinion paper published Thursday in the journal Science, the authors say the U.S. needs to provide greater justification for the peace-time purpose of its Insect Allies project to avoid being perceived as hostile to other countries. Other experts expressed ethical and security concerns with the research, which seeks to transmit protective traits to crops already growing in the field.

That would mark a departure from the current widely used procedure of genetically modifying seeds for crops such as corn and soy, before they grow into plants.

The military research agency behind the project says its goal is to protect the nation's food supply from threats like drought, crop disease and bioterrorism by using insects to infect plants with viruses that protect against such dangers.

"Food security is national security," said Blake Bextine, who heads the 2-year-old project at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense.

The State Department said the project is for peaceful purposes and does not violate the Biological Weapons Convention. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said its scientists are part of the research, which is being conducted in contained labs.

The technology could work in different ways. In the first phase, aphids — tiny bugs that feed by sucking sap from plants — infected plants with a virus that temporarily brought about a trait. But researchers are also trying to see if viruses can alter the plant's genes themselves to be resistant to dangers throughout the plant's life.

Still, the research is raising concerns.

"They're talking about massive release of genetic modification by means of insects," said Gregory Kaebnick, an ethicist at the Hastings Center bioethics research institute in Garrison, N.Y., who has studied genetic modification. He wasn't part of the Science paper but said Insect Allies technology could end up being destructive.

Kaebnick questioned how well the viruses and insects carrying them could be controlled. "When you are talking about very small things — insects and microbes — it might be impossible to remove them" once they are introduced into farmers' fields, he said.

Dr. David Relman, a professor of medicine and microbiology at Stanford who has advised the Obama administration on bio-defense but is not part of the DARPA research, said the project could play into longstanding fears among countries that enemies might try to harm their crops.

Still, Relman said the technology could potentially help farmers fight a "bad plant virus moving across the plains" or protect crops from bioterrorism. Since insects often spread crop diseases, Relman said DARPA is trying to use the bugs' own biology to "recruit them as allies" in spreading protective traits.

Though it's not a household name, DARPA helped develop the Internet and its mission is to research potentially pivotal new technologies. The agency announced the Insect Allies project in 2016.

Guy Reeves, a co-author of the Science paper and a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Germany, says the technology is more feasible as a weapon — to kill plants — than as an agricultural tool. As a result, he said DARPA could be sending an alarming message regardless of its intentions.

"It's really about how it's perceived," he said.

The papers' European authors say the mere announcement of the program may have motivated other countries to develop their own capabilities in the arena. They say the project also underscores the need for greater discussion of the regulatory and ethical concerns of such developing technologies.

Todd Kuiken, a senior research scholar at North Carolina State University, said he doesn't think the military intends to attack another country with insects. But he said it looks bad that DARPA is funding the project.

"The pure fact that this is a military program would naturally raise these sorts of questions," said Kuiken, who last year raised concerns similar to those published in Science.

Tom Inglesby, a professor of environmental health and engineering at Johns Hopkins, said the technology is being developed specifically to protect crops. But he acknowledged it could be misused.

Concerns that a new technology could be weaponized are to be expected, even if that's not the intention, said Paul Thompson, a professor of agriculture and ethics at Michigan State University who is on an advisory board for DARPA.

"Once you make those kinds of breakthroughs, you are in a new world. It's a morally ambiguous place. You wonder, 'Is this something that we should never do?'" he said.

Some experts have questioned whether the project's ambitious goals are even achievable.

North Carolina State University entomologist Fred Gould, who chaired a National Academy of Sciences panel on genetically modified food and is not part of the DARPA research, said too many biological interactions would need to be perfectly manipulated, so the chance of it working is "pretty close to zero."

It may not ever work, but Relman said that's DARPA's role: Exploring the "bleeding edge of challenging work" to anticipate future threats.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Meena Haribal/Boyce Thompson Institute via AP]]>
<![CDATA[1 in 3 US Adults Eat Fast Food Each Day, Study Says]]>Wed, 03 Oct 2018 07:39:58 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-921741316.jpg

A government study has found that 1 in 3 U.S. adults eat fast food on any given day. That's about 85 million people.

It's the first federal study to look at how often adults eat fast food. An earlier study found a similar proportion of children and adolescents ate it on any given day.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the numbers Wednesday. It's based on a survey of about 10,000 adults over four years.

The study did not find a difference between men and women. But higher-income families ate fast food more often than lower-income families, and blacks ate it more than other racial or ethnic groups.

Health officials say too much high-calorie fast food can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other health problems.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Two Studies Look to Prevent Alzheimer's Before Symptoms Show]]>Tue, 02 Oct 2018 17:56:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18256018577029.jpg

It may be too late to stop Alzheimer's in people who already have some mental decline. But what if a treatment could target the very earliest brain changes while memory and thinking skills are still intact, in hope of preventing the disease? Two big studies are going all out to try.

Clinics throughout the United States and some other countries are signing up participants — the only studies of this type enrolling healthy older people.

"The excitement in the Alzheimer's field right now is prevention," said Dr. Eric Reiman, executive director of the Banner Alzheimer's Institute in Phoenix, which is leading the work.

Science so far has failed to find a drug that can alter the progression of Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia; 146 attempts have failed over the last decade, a recent industry report found. Even drugs that help remove the sticky plaques that clog the brains of people with the disease have not yet proved able to stave off mental decline.

It may be that they were tried too late, like lowering cholesterol after someone has suffered a heart attack whose damage can't be undone, Reiman said.

"What we have been learning, painfully, is that if we really want to come up with therapies that will modify the disease, we need to start very, very, very early," said Dr. Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the National Institute on Aging.

His agency is funding the prevention studies with the Alzheimer's Association, several foundations, and Novartis and Amgen, makers of two experimental drugs being tested.

The goal is to try to block the earliest steps of plaque formation in healthy people who show no symptoms of dementia but are at higher risk for it because of age and a gene that makes it more likely.

To participate, people must first join GeneMatch, a confidential registry of folks interested in volunteering for various Alzheimer's studies who are ages 55 to 75 and have not been diagnosed with any mental decline.

They are checked for the APOE4 gene, which doesn't destine someone to develop Alzheimer's but raises that risk. About one in four people have one copy of the gene and about 2 percent have two copies, one from each parent.

More than 70,000 people have signed up since the registry began three years ago, said Jessica Langbaum, one of the Banner study leaders.

"Most of them have been touched by the disease personally," either by having a family member or close friend with it, she said.

Langbaum's 67-year-old mother, Ivy Segal, gave a DNA sample through a cheek swab and joined the registry in August. Her father was a patient at Banner and died of Alzheimer's in 2011 at age 87. Watching him go from a mild-mannered man whose smile could light up a room to what he was like when he died was devastating, she said.

Being in GeneMatch doesn't necessarily mean you'll find out if you have the gene — folks with and without it may be contacted about various studies. But to be in one of the two prevention studies, people must agree to learn their APOE4 status and have at least one copy of the gene.

Participants get periodic brain scans and memory and thinking tests every six months. They are given experimental drugs or placebo versions of them for several years.

One study is enrolling people with two copies of the gene. They are given either shots every few months of a drug intended to help the immune system clear plaque from the brain or daily pills of a drug intended to prevent first steps of plaque formation, or placebo versions of these experimental treatments.

The other study is in people who either have two copies of APOE4 or one copy of the gene plus evidence on brain scans of plaque starting to build. They will get one of two doses of the drug to prevent plaque formation or placebo pills.

Larry Rebenack, 71, of the Phoenix suburb of Surprise, Arizona, joined GeneMatch in August.

"I have a lot of friends and acquaintances I've seen deteriorate," including one who started blowing through stop signs on a route to a golf course they had safely traveled for years, and another who forgot not only where he had parked his car but even what kind of car it was, Rebenack said. "It's a disease that takes a little part of you away each day."

Rebenack has decided to learn whether he has the gene if researchers give him the chance to find out.

"It's like any other piece of information. It helps you plan your life and you owe it to all your loved ones, too."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt York/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[EPA Radiation Rollback Proposal Veers From Mainstream View]]>Tue, 02 Oct 2018 12:24:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/radiation.jpg

The Trump administration is quietly moving to weaken U.S. radiation regulations, turning to scientific outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you — like a little bit of sunlight.

The government's current, decades-old guidance says that any exposure to harmful radiation is a cancer risk. And critics say the proposed change could lead to higher levels of exposure for workers at nuclear installations and oil and gas drilling sites, medical workers doing X-rays and CT scans, people living next to Superfund sites and any members of the public who one day might find themselves exposed to a radiation release.

The Trump administration already has targeted a range of other regulations on toxins and pollutants, including coal power plant emissions and car exhaust, that it sees as costly and burdensome for businesses. Supporters of the EPA's new proposal argue the government's current no-tolerance rule for radiation damage forces unnecessary spending for handling exposure in accidents, at nuclear plants, in medical centers and at other sites.

"This would have a positive effect on human health as well as save billions and billions and billions of dollars," said Edward Calabrese, a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts who is to be the lead witness at a congressional hearing Wednesday on EPA's proposal.

Calabrese, who made those remarks in a 2016 interview with a California nonprofit, was quoted by EPA in its announcement of the proposed rule in April. He declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press. The EPA declined to make an official with its radiation-protection program available.

The regulation change is now out for public comment, with no specific date for adoption.

Radiation is everywhere, from potassium in bananas to the microwaves popping our popcorn. Most of it is benign. But what's of concern is the higher-energy, shorter-wave radiation, like X-rays, that can penetrate and disrupt living cells, sometimes causing cancer.

As recently as this March, the EPA's online guidelines for radiation effects advised: "Current science suggests there is some cancer risk from any exposure to radiation."

"Even exposures below 100 millisieverts" — an amount roughly equivalent to 25 chest X-rays or about 14 CT chest scans — "slightly increase the risk of getting cancer in the future," the agency's guidance said.

But that online guidance — separate from the rule-change proposal — was edited in July to add a section emphasizing the low individual odds of cancer: "According to radiation safety experts, radiation exposures of ...100 millisieverts usually result in no harmful health effects, because radiation below these levels is a minor contributor to our overall cancer risk," the revised policy says.

Calabrese and his supporters argue that smaller exposures of cell-damaging radiation and other carcinogens can serve as stressors that activate the body's repair mechanisms and can make people healthier. They compare it to physical exercise or sunlight.

Mainstream scientific consensus on radiation is based on deceptive science, says Calabrese, who argued in a 2014 essay for "righting the past deceptions and correcting the ongoing errors in environmental regulation."

EPA spokesman John Konkus said in an email that the proposed rule change is about "increasing transparency on assumptions" about how the body responds to different doses of dangerous substances and that the agency "acknowledges uncertainty regarding health effects at low doses" and supports more research on that.

The radiation regulation is supported by Steven Milloy, a Trump transition team member for the EPA who is known for challenging widely accepted ideas about manmade climate change and the health risks of tobacco. He has been promoting Calabrese's theory of healthy radiation on his blog.

But Jan Beyea, a physicist whose work includes research with the National Academies of Science on the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant accident, said the EPA proposal on radiation and other health threats represents voices "generally dismissed by the great bulk of scientists."

The EPA proposal would lead to "increases in chemical and radiation exposures in the workplace, home and outdoor environment, including the vicinity of Superfund sites," Beyea wrote.

At the level the EPA website talks about, any one person's risk of cancer from radiation exposure is perhaps 1 percent, Beyea said.

"The individual risk will likely be low, but not the cumulative social risk," Beyea said.

"If they even look at that — no, no, no," said Terrie Barrie, a resident of Craig, Colorado, and an advocate for her husband and other workers at the now-closed Rocky Flats nuclear-weapons plant, where the U.S. government is compensating certain cancer victims regardless of their history of exposure.

"There's no reason not to protect people as much as possible," said Barrie.

U.S. agencies for decades have followed a policy that there is no threshold of radiation exposure that is risk-free.

The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements reaffirmed that principle this year after a review of 29 public health studies on cancer rates among people exposed to low-dose radiation, via the U.S. atomic bombing of Japan in World War II, leak-prone Soviet nuclear installations, medical treatments and other sources.

Twenty of the 29 studies directly support the principle that even low-dose exposures cause a significant increase in cancer rates, said Roy Shore, chief of research at the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, a joint project of the United States and Japan. Scientists found most of the other studies were inconclusive and decided one was flawed.

None supported the theory there is some safe threshold for radiation, said Shore, who chaired the review.

If there were a threshold that it's safe to go below, "those who profess that would have to come up with some data," Shore said in an interview.

"Certainly the evidence did not point that way," he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which regulates electronic devices that emit radiation, advises, broadly, that a single CT scan with a dose of 10 millisieverts may increase risks of a fatal cancer by about 1 chance in 2,000.

The EPA tucked its proposed relaxation of radiation guidelines into its "transparency in science" proposal in April. The proposal would require regulators to consider "various threshold models across the exposure range" when it comes to dangerous substances.

While the EPA rule change doesn't specify that it's addressing radiation and chemicals, the EPA's official press release announcing the change does.

Supporters of the proposal say it's time to rethink radiation regulation.

"Right now we spend an enormous effort trying to minimize low doses" at nuclear power plants, for example, said Brant Ulsh, a physicist with the California-based consulting firm M.H. Chew and Associates. "Instead, let's spend the resources on minimizing the effect of a really big event."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Makes Surprise Inspection of E-Cigarette Maker Juul]]>Tue, 02 Oct 2018 10:52:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/890546208-juul-ecig-vape.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration seized "thousands of pages of documents" in a surprise inspection of e-cigarette maker Juul's San Francisco headquarters last week, the agency said Tuesday.

The FDA is looking into the company's marketing practices as Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calls teen use of nicotine vaping devices an "epidemic."

It builds on the agency's request in April for company materials related to how Juul products appeal to kids. The most recent inspection, conducted Friday, "sought further documentation related to Juul's sales and marketing practices, among other things," FDA said in a statement.

Juul did not immediately have comment.

The inspection comes weeks after the FDA announced a crackdown that requires e-cig manufacturers, including Juul, to submit plans to address youth use of their products within 60 days. The agency also threatened to ban some flavored nicotine liquids, which critics say attract kids to e-cigarettes.

Juul has been at the center of the FDA's attention this year as e-cigarette use soars among teens.

Over the past year, the number of high school students who have used e-cigarettes in the past 30 days has skyrocketed by about 75 percent, preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual National Youth Tobacco Survey show, according to people familiar with the data. They asked not to be identified because the report isn't yet public.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:


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<![CDATA[Trump Emissions Rule Would Cause More Illness, Death: Study]]>Tue, 02 Oct 2018 01:50:44 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/emissionsAP_18264674993328.jpg

An official environmental analysis by the government found that as many as 299 premature deaths annually by mid-century would be the result of President Donald Trump's weakening of pollution and fuel-efficiency standards for new cars, NBC News reported

Additionally, the proposed change in standards, which rolled out in August, would cost Americans nearly 17,000 days of work a year, due to increased illnesses.  The emissions rule would do nothing to rein in the potentially catastrophic global warming either, according to the analysis by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The likely negative health impacts from allowing more pollution are outlined in a chart deep in the NHTSA’s environmental impact statement. It predicts 199 additional cases of acute bronchitis a year, 62 added emergency room visits from respiratory distress annually and a total of 16,819 missed work days per year. The premature death total of 299 annually would come under one predictive model, while another model suggests premature deaths would top out at 134 a year.

The Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[80,000 People Died of Flu Last Winter in US, CDC Says]]>Wed, 26 Sep 2018 14:58:35 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18040559764205.jpg

The U.S. government estimates that 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — the disease's highest death toll in at least four decades.

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, revealed the total in an interview Tuesday night with The Associated Press.

Flu experts knew it was a very bad season, but at least one found size of the estimate surprising.

"That's huge," said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert. The tally was nearly twice as much as what health officials previously considered a bad year, he said.

In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to — in the worst year — 56,000, according to the CDC.

Last fall and winter, the U.S. went through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly.

The season peaked in early February. It was mostly over by the end of March, although some flu continued to circulate.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn't work very well. Experts nevertheless say vaccination is still worth it, because it makes illnesses less severe and save lives.

"I'd like to see more people get vaccinated," Redfield told the AP at an event in New York. "We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu."

CDC officials do not have exact counts of how many people die from flu each year. Flu is so common that not all flu cases are reported, and flu is not always listed on death certificates. So the CDC uses statistical models, which are periodically revised, to make estimates.

CDC officials called the 80,000 figure preliminary, and it can be slightly revised. But they said it is not expected to go down.

It eclipses the estimates for every flu season going back to the winter of 1976-1977. Estimates for many earlier seasons were not readily available.

Last winter was not the worst flu season on record, however. The 1918 flu pandemic, which lasted nearly two years, killed more than 500,000 Americans, historians estimate.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman,File]]>
<![CDATA[Number of Babies Born With Syphilis Has Hit a 20-Year High]]>Tue, 25 Sep 2018 16:13:36 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OB-office.jpg

The number of babies born with syphilis has doubled since 2013 and is at a 20-year high, federal health officials said Tuesday.

More than 900 U.S. babies were born infected with syphilis in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

It’s easy to cure a syphilis infection with antibiotics, but the sexually transmitted infection often does not cause immediate symptoms and people may not know they have it, NBC News reported.

It can kill babies, however. The CDC says 40 percent of babies infected with syphilis are stillborn or die soon after they are born. Others are born prematurely.

Those who survive can develop deformed bones, severe anemia, meningitis, blindness and deafness.

Photo Credit: Teresa Crawford/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Pills for Appendicitis? Surgery Often Not Needed, Study Says]]>Tue, 25 Sep 2018 13:05:07 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/appendicitis.jpg

When emergency tests showed the telltale right-sided pain in Heather VanDusen's abdomen was appendicitis, she figured she'd be quickly wheeled into surgery. But doctors offered her the option of antibiotics instead.

A new study from Finland shows her choice is a reasonable alternative for most patients with appendicitis. Five years after treatment with antibiotics, almost two-thirds of patients hadn't had another attack.

It's a substantial change in thinking about how to treat an inflamed appendix. For decades, appendicitis has been considered a medical emergency requiring immediate surgery to remove the appendix because of fears it could burst, which can be life-threatening.

But advances in imaging tests, mainly CT scans, have made it easier to determine if an appendix might burst, or if patients could be safely treated without surgery.

The results suggest that nearly two-thirds of appendicitis patients don't face that risk and may be good candidates for antibiotics instead.

"It's a feasible, viable and a safe option," said Dr. Paulina Salminen, the study's lead author and a surgeon at Turku University Hospital in Finland.

Her study in adults is the longest follow-up to date of patients treated with drugs instead of surgery for appendicitis and the results confirm one-year findings reported three years ago.

Research has also shown antibiotics may work for some children with appendicitis.

The Finnish results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A journal editorial says "it's a new era of appendicitis treatment."

Appendix removal is the most common emergency surgery worldwide, with about 300,000 performed each year in the United States alone, said Salminen. She said the results from her study suggest many of those surgeries could be avoided.

U.S. doctors have started offering antibiotics instead of surgery and Salminen says she occasionally does too. The journal editorial says appropriate patients should be given that option.

The study involved about 500 Finnish adults who had CT scans to rule out severe cases.

Half were treated with antibiotics; the others had surgery.

Among the antibiotics patients, 100 ended up having surgery within five years of treatment — most for a suspected recurrence of appendicitis in the first year. Seven of them did not have appendicitis and likely could have avoided surgery. The results suggest the success rate for antibiotic treatment was almost 64 percent, the authors said.

About 1 in 4 surgery patients had complications, including infections around the incision, abdominal pain and hernias, compared with only 7 percent of antibiotics patients. Antibiotic patients had 11 fewer sick days on average than the surgery group. In the first year, their treatment costs were about 60 percent lower. A cost analysis for the full five years wasn't included in the published results.

Surgery patients in the Finnish study all had conventional incisions rather than the less invasive "keyhole" surgeries that are more common for appendix removal in the United States. The non-surgery patients received three days of IV antibiotics in the hospital, followed by seven days of pills at home.

Dr. Giana Davidson, a University of Washington surgeon, is involved in a similarly designed multicenter U.S. study that may answer whether similar benefits would be seen for antibiotics versus "keyhole" surgery.

Davidson called the Finnish study "a critical piece to the puzzle but I don't think it answers all of the questions."

Heather VanDusen was treated at the University of Washington in 2016. She said she chose antibiotic treatment partly to avoid surgery scars, and now offers advice to patients for Davidson's study.

"I knew the worst case scenario was ending up back in the hospital so why not try antibiotics first," said VanDusen, who works in university communications.

She said she has done well since her treatment, but that the biggest drawback "is wondering, with every episode of stomach or bad gas, if it could happen again."


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: UIG via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Drug Prices Going Up Despite Trump Promise of 'Massive' Cuts]]>Tue, 25 Sep 2018 08:08:44 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1302.jpg

President Donald Trump made reducing drug prices a key promise during his election campaign, repeatedly accusing drugmakers of "getting away with murder." At the end of May, he promised that drug companies would be announcing "massive" voluntary drug price cuts within two weeks.

That hasn't happened, and an Associated Press analysis of brand-name prescription drug prices shows it's been business as usual for drugmakers, with far more price hikes than cuts. The number of increases slowed somewhat and were not quite as steep as in past years, the AP found.

Over the first seven months of the year, there were 96 price hikes for every price cut, the AP found. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, the administration's point person for efforts to lower drug prices, conceded in a recent AP interview that it will be a while before drug prices fall. He noted the complexity of the medicine market and its incentives for drugmakers to boost prices so they and middlemen make bigger profits.

"I am not counting on the altruism of pharma companies lowering their prices," said Azar, who was a senior executive in Eli Lilly & Co.'s U.S. business for a decade when it dramatically raised prices for its insulin products.

The AP analyzed 26,176 U.S. list price changes for brand-name prescription drugs from Jan. 1 through July 31 in the years 2015 through 2018, using data supplied by health information analytics firm Elsevier. The AP focused its analysis on the first seven months of each year because of the seasonality of price changes and to make meaningful year-to-year comparisons.

The data included more than 97 percent of price changes during those periods and, for many drugs, several dosages and drugs forms, such as pills, liquids and injectable drugs. (In the 3 percent of cases not analyzed, the AP couldn't determine how the new price compared with the previous one or whether it was for a product new on the market.)

Among the AP's findings:

—There were fewer price increases this year from January through July than in comparable prior-year periods, but companies still hiked prices far more often than they cut them. This year through the end of July, there were 4,412 brand-name drug price increases and 46 price cuts, a ratio of 96-to-1.

—In June and July, right after Trump's price cut prediction, there were 395 price increases and 24 decreases. The two dozen cuts were up from the 15 decreases in those same two months last year, but increases still outpaced decreases by a ratio of 16.5-to-1.

—The median price increase, meaning half were higher and half lower, was 5.2 percent in June and July of 2018, down from 8 percent in that period in 2017.

—The median price cut this June and July was 11 percent, much smaller than in comparable periods in prior years.

The AP also asked 24 large drug companies this summer if they planned to cut drug prices. None said they did, though some didn't answer. Drugmakers typically say they need to keep raising prices of existing drugs to pay for costly, lengthy research to develop new medicines, though industry critics dispute that.

Dr. Peter Bach, who heads the Center for Health Policy and Outcomes at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, said the AP's analysis shows there's been no big move to decrease prices.

"We have a broken pricing system," he said.

In the U.S., drug pricing is far from transparent. Manufacturers typically set high list prices but then negotiate rebates and discounts with middlemen, such as prescription benefit managers, to get preferential insurance coverage for their products. Many consumers never see the list price, though rising drug prices generally put pressure on insurers to raise rates. Patients with high-deductible or no insurance often get stuck being charged the full list price.

Elsevier drug pricing expert Kay Morgan said the data indicate companies are being more cautious about price increases, but Trump's criticisms are just one factor.

"It's everyone saying, 'This has got to stop,'" Morgan said.

She cited frequent media coverage, patients and their advocacy groups pressuring members of Congress to fight high drug prices, and Congress holding hearings on huge price increases. Those include hikes for EpiPen emergency allergy shots and the actions of disgraced former pharma executive Martin Shkreli, who hiked the price of an old infection treatment from $13.50 to $750 per pill overnight.

"The rate of increases has slowed down, but prices haven't decreased," said Stephen Schondelmeyer, a University of Minnesota professor of pharmaceutical economics who runs its research program on drug prices and public policy. He noted such temporary pricing restraint occurs periodically, around elections and other times when the issue is hot, but then companies go back to raising drug prices.

Edward Jones drug analyst Ashtyn Evans said, "companies are self-policing more." She noted many firms are now taking one price hike near 10 percent once a year, instead of two or three smaller hikes each year.

"That started before Trump was even elected," she said.

Pfizer, the biggest U.S. drugmaker, angered Trump by raising prices on July 1 for 40 medicines and vaccines, totaling more than 100 products, with some increases hitting 9 percent. Pfizer had already hiked list prices in January for all but two of those medicines, most by 9 percent to 9.5 percent, according to Elsevier's data.

"Pfizer & others should be ashamed that they have raised drug prices for no reason. ... We will respond!" Trump tweeted . After a call with Trump, Pfizer executives reversed those price hikes until January at the latest.

Seven other major drugmakers, perhaps hoping to avoid their own Twitter spanking by Trump, have since said they wouldn't increase prices for the rest of the year. All of them had already taken price hikes on many of their products in January.

Meanwhile, 77 percent of Americans consider U.S. prescription drug costs "unreasonable" and fewer than a quarter approve of how Trump is addressing the problem, according to a mid-August national poll of 1,002 adults from West Health Institute, a nonpartisan health care research group.

Just this month, a fresh controversy over price hikes erupted, triggering criticism of Nostrum Laboratories. The tiny Kansas City, Missouri-based generic drug company posted a 404 percent increase, to $2,392.32 per bottle, for its generic version of a 65-year-old liquid antibiotic for bladder infections, nitrofurantoin.

Nostrum's product and competitors had been off the market since January after federal regulators required that they be reformulated. Nostrum now is relaunching its version amid limited competition. Chief executive Nirmal Mulye told the AP that the maker of the brand-name version, Casper Pharma, hiked its price to $2,800, so Nostrum was "obligated" to maximize its own profit to keep the company afloat after years of losing money.

Experts don't expect drugmakers to slash prices soon, if ever.

Trump's "blueprint" for reducing drug prices, released on May 10, has no provisions for reducing prices of the costliest new brand-name drugs, which won't face competition for years, Bach said.

Schondelmeyer predicts drugmakers "will wait to see if this blueprint is going to do anything." If it doesn't bring substantive policy changes, they won't alter their pricing strategy, he said.

Azar acknowledged there's no "overnight solution," but he said the administration is making progress on blueprint proposals like increasing generic competition for old drugs and giving government prescription programs more negotiating power.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[2 Die as Human West Nile Cases Reach Record Highs in NJ]]>Mon, 24 Sep 2018 13:31:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Hospital_generic_shutterstock_104336624.jpg

Nearly three dozen human cases of West Nile virus, two of them fatal, have been reported in New Jersey so far this year, authorities said Monday. 

Both victims who died -- a 62-year-old man and an elderly woman -- were from Bergen County and died this month. New Jersey reported two West Nile-related deaths in 2017, two in 2016 and three in 2015. None of those were in Bergen County. In total, the state has seen 31 cases in 2018, up from just eight human cases in 2017 -- a spike health officials attribute at least in part to the hot and wet summer weather being prime conditions for mosquitos. 

"The number of human West Nile Virus cases is the highest we’ve seen since 2012, and the season is not over yet,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement.

West Nile is most commonly spread to humans through bites from infected mosquitoes. The most common times for transmission to humans are the summer through fall, and there are no vaccines or medications to treat it when contracted by humans. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in five people who are infected develop a fever or mild symptoms like body aches and heache. Roughly one in 150 people develop a serious, sometimes deadly illness; severe symptoms could include high fever and brain swelling that may lead to coma and convulsion. Most infected people, though, show no symptoms at all. The CDC recommends using bug repellent and wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants when outside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes.

Elnahal says Bergen County officials have been proactive in spraying the highest-risk areas; he added that the health department is working with local agencies statewide who "monitor and initiate rsponses as appropriate." 

<![CDATA[Flea, Tick Pills Can Cause Nerve Reactions in Pets: FDA]]>Thu, 20 Sep 2018 18:52:19 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-175854393.jpg

Chewable products that protect dogs and cats against fleas can cause neurological problems such as stumbling or seizures, and pet owners need more warning, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The FDA issued an alert to owners and veterinarians and said it was requiring clearer labels on the products, NBC News reported.

The flea pills and chews all contain a pesticide called isoxazoline, the FDA said. They include products sold under the brand names Bravecto, Nexgard and Simparica.

"Another product in this class, Credelio, recently received FDA approval. These products are approved for the treatment and prevention of flea infestations, and the treatment and control of tick infestations," the FDA said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[New FDA Campaign Hopes to Scare Teens Away From E-Cigarettes]]>Wed, 19 Sep 2018 06:07:07 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18260466488784-Vaping-Teens.jpg

The federal government is hoping it can scare American teens away from e-cigarette use.

The Food and Drug Administration is rolling out a new campaign of videos aimed at graphically illustrating the dangers of e-cigarettes and so-called “vaping.”

Teen e-cigarette use rose to 12 percent in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which found that more than 2 million middle and high school students used the devices that year, making them the most popular cigarette problem in the group for the fourth straight year.

The campaign, called "The Real Cost," will feature posters in school bathrooms and advertisements on social media sites popular among children, like YouTube and Facebook. The FDA's Kathy Crosby said it would be "snarky and irreverent," with messages like, "Strangely enough, some kids come here to put crap into their bodies," according to NBC News.

The JUUL brand e-cigarettes have grown especially popular among teens, in part because of the easy to hide design and fruit-flavored liquid nicotine. That popularity led to a nationwide blitz by the FDA on retailers who sell to teens. The agency issues monetary penalties and sent warning letters to more than 1,300 retailers nationwide who sold to children, including eight in Connecticut.

Wolcott mom Christy Bisaillon says she’s encouraged her teen daughters not to try vaping, despite what their classmates are doing and the misconception among some teens that vaping is less harmful than traditional cigarettes.

“Say no just like a regular drug. It’s still nicotine no matter what it is” said Bisaillon. “They think it's not addicting. They think it's not ruining their health. I’m just hoping they stay away from it.”

Even as this anti-vaping campaign rolls out, the clock is still ticking for the makers of e-cigarettes. Last week the FDA gave the five major manufacturers of e-cigarettes two months to come up with a plan to keep their products away from kids.

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Scared of Heights? Spiders? Virtual Reality Therapy May Help]]>Tue, 18 Sep 2018 08:43:43 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18248608330021-Virtual-Reality-Phobias.jpg

Dick Tracey didn't have to visit a tall building to get over his fear of heights. He put on a virtual reality headset.

Through VR, he rode an elevator to a high-rise atrium that looked so real he fell to his knees.

"I needed to search with my hand for something solid around me," he said.

He told himself, "I must look stupid. Let's just stand up. Nothing's going to happen."

Virtual reality therapy can help people like Tracey by exposing them gradually to their greatest terrors. The technology is just now reaching the mainstream after 20 years of research. Equipment is lighter and more affordable, with tech advances spilling over from the gaming industry to help people fight disabling fears of flying, heights, spiders or dogs.

And the surge in products is bringing VR to more therapists' offices. Experts predict people with mild phobias will treat themselves successfully at home.

Research shows VR therapy can lead to real-world gains for people with phobias, and works as well as traditional exposure therapy, which slowly subjects patients to what causes anxiety for them.

For Denver librarian Nick Harrell, VR was a booster shot after traditional therapy for fear of flying. Panic drove him off a flight to Paris two years ago, forcing him to abandon a vacation with his girlfriend.

"I don't like being locked in the metal tube," Harrell explained. "I couldn't breathe. My chest was pounding."

With help from a therapist, Harrell first faced his fears through exposure therapy. Elevators, buses and trains were good practice for airplanes.

"Within a matter of months, I was flying again," Harrell said.

With VR recently added to his therapy, Harrell keeps fears in check. His health insurance covers the cost with a small copay.

But few people with phobias seek treatment. Too embarrassed to get help, many plan their lives around avoiding their fears.

Tracey of Oxfordshire, England, avoided heights, from ladders to breathtaking vistas. Escalators gave the 62-year-old retiree heart palpitations. His wife walked between him and steep slopes.

Tracey's VR therapy was part of a study. He was one of the first to try a VR world with an animated virtual coach. University of Oxford psychology professor Daniel Freeman developed the program for an Oxford spin-off with support from the National Health Service.

Freeman's team is now at work on a VR world where people with schizophrenia can practice being in a cafe, elevator or store.

"Many of our patients are withdrawn from the world," Freeman said. The fear-of-heights VR program shows you can automate treatment.

What is VR? Put on a headset and look around. You'll see a simulation of an interactive, three-dimensional environment. Look up and you'll see the sky; look down and your own hands and feet may come into view.

With exposure therapy, a therapist can accompany a person who's afraid of heights to a tall building. With VR, a patient learns to feel safe on a virtual high-rise balcony, without leaving the therapist's office.

Exposure works by gradually taking the oomph out of panic. Sweaty palms and pounding hearts ease. Fears shrink to manageable levels. By riding it out, a person learns the feelings are survivable.

The best studies on VR exposure therapy have been small with fewer than 100 patients. Increasingly VR therapy will be delivered at home via the internet, a still largely unstudied area, said Katharina Meyerbroker, a researcher at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, who has published reviews of research done in the field.

Harrell's therapist is helping field-test VR content for a company called Limbix, an arrangement between the company and the National Mental Health Innovation Center at University of Colorado's medical school.

Such ties are important for VR companies, which need scientific credibility to sell their products to therapists. Researchers gain too.

"We've all been piggybacking on this technology that was initially developed for video gaming," said Hunter Hoffman, a research scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle who developed an early VR therapy called Spider World two decades ago. He didn't license his arachnophobia project like other early researchers who've teamed up with companies to sell VR platforms and content.

Children may someday use VR to learn to cope with anxiety, said Stephen Whiteside, director of the Mayo Clinic Pediatric Anxiety Disorders Clinic, where a study targets kids with schoolwork anxieties.

In the VR scenario, a classroom teacher hands back a school paper with a bad grade.

"You hear the voices of other kids laughing and saying you didn't do so well," Whiteside said. "When I first watched it, I had a visceral response myself. It made you nervous."

The Mayo researchers say children prefer the VR experience to traditional exposure therapy. Next they'll test whether it works as well.

Whiteside said VR researchers everywhere must demonstrate benefits that outweigh treatment costs, which can reach $200 per session in some specialty clinics.

"The cheaper and more accessible it gets," Whiteside said, "the easier that will be."

VR therapy made life simpler for Tracey. After seven VR sessions, he now easily parks his car atop a multi-story garage. He stood on the flat roof of his house to clean his carport.

"I would never have dreamed of doing that before," he said. "I now know how much the fear of heights restricted my everyday life."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Oxford VR via AP]]>
<![CDATA[2 Million US Teens Are Vaping Marijuana, Survey Finds]]>Mon, 17 Sep 2018 11:05:37 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18260466488784-Vaping-Teens.jpg

A school-based survey shows nearly 1 in 11 U.S. students have used marijuana in electronic cigarettes, heightening concern about the new popularity of vaping among teens.

E-cigarettes typically contain nicotine, but results published Monday mean 2.1 million middle and high school students have used them to get high.

The devices are generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, despite little research on their long-term effects including whether they help smokers quit.

The rise in teenagers using them has alarmed health officials. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration gave the five largest e-cigarette makers 60 days to produce plans to stop underage use of their products.

Nearly 9 percent of students surveyed in 2016 said they used an e-cigarette device with marijuana, according to Monday's report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. That included one-third of those who ever used e-cigarettes.

The number is worrying "because cannabis use among youth can adversely affect learning and memory and may impair later academic achievement and education," said lead researcher Katrina Trivers of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Students who said they lived with a tobacco user were more likely than others to report vaping marijuana.

It's unclear whether marijuana vaping is increasing among teens or holding steady. The devices have grown into a multi-billion industry, but they are relatively new.

It was the first time a question about marijuana vaping was asked on this particular survey, which uses a nationally representative sample of students in public and private schools. More than 20,000 students took the survey in 2016.

A different survey from the University of Michigan in December found similar results when it asked for the first time about marijuana vaping. In that study, 8 percent of 10th graders said they vaped marijuana in the past year.

"The health risks of vaping reside not only in the vaping devices, but in the social environment that comes with it," said University of Michigan researcher Richard Miech. Kids who vape are more likely to become known as drug users and make friends with drug users, he said, adding that "hanging out with drug users is a substantial risk factor for future drug use."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Watchdog: Foster Kids Are Overprescribed Psych Drugs]]>Mon, 17 Sep 2018 11:38:07 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/drugs10.jpg

Thousands of foster children may be getting powerful psychiatric drugs prescribed to them without basic safeguards, says a federal watchdog agency that found a failure to care for youngsters whose lives have already been disrupted.

A report released Monday by the Health and Human Services inspector general's office found that about 1 in 3 foster kids from a sample of states were prescribed psychiatric drugs without treatment plans or follow-up, standard steps in sound medical care.

Kids getting mood-altering drugs they don't need is only part of the problem. Investigators also said children who need medication to help them function at school or get along in social settings may be going untreated.

The drugs include medications for attention deficit disorder, anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Foster kids are much more likely to get psychiatric drugs than children overall.

"We are worried about the gap in compliance because it has an immediate, real-world impact on children's lives," said Ann Maxwell, an assistant inspector general.

Among the situations investigators encountered was the case of a 6-year-old boy diagnosed with ADHD, learning and speech disorders, outbursts of temper and defiance, and hair-pulling disorder. He had been put on four psychiatric drugs.

But a medication review questioned the need for some of the medications. Of the four, two were discontinued and one was reduced in dosage, investigators said. Two different medications were prescribed.

Investigators found no evidence that a treatment plan for the boy had been developed in the first place, before starting him on medication.

In another case, an 11-year-old boy had been put on two medications after being diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and behavior problems. But over a three-month period his foster mother had problems getting prescription refills. By the fourth month, the boy's life was out of control. His decline included stealing, lying, bullying and an in-school suspension.

Investigators found there was no requirement in that state for case workers to follow up with foster parents about medications. The lack of effective follow-up contributed to the boy's downward spiral.

"These children are at greater risk of not getting the medications they need, but equally important, they are at risk of getting powerful medications that they do not need," Maxwell said.

The inspector general is recommending that the HHS Administration for Children and Families develop a strategy to help states meet their existing requirements for prescribing psychiatric drugs to foster children, and to generally raise standards for case-by-case oversight.

In a formal response to the report the children's agency said it may need additional legal authority. The agency also said it is committed to making sure foster children get psychiatric medications only when medically appropriate. Officials noted that the inspector general's findings covered just five states.

Foster children come into the mental health system with added complications. Their most basic connections in life have been stressed or severed. They may have suffered neglect or abandonment. They may have witnessed or been a victim of abusive behavior or violence.

A 2010 study from the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute found that estimated rates of psychiatric drug use among youth in foster care are much higher (13 percent to 52 percent) than among youth overall (4 percent).

Compounding the challenge for foster children is the fact that responsibility for their well-being is often divided among foster parents, birth parents, relatives and case workers. That can increase chances for miscommunication and conflict, not to mention everyday problems going unaddressed until they escalate.

Caring for foster kids is a shared responsibility of state, local and federal agencies. The federal government provides grants to state programs and also covers health care for foster children through Medicaid, which spends hundreds of millions of dollars annually on psychiatric drugs. Nationally, it's been estimated that about 120,000 children in foster care take at least one such medication.

The inspector general scrutinized a sample of 125 cases from each of five states with the highest overall percentages of foster children treated with psychiatric drugs. Those states were Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Virginia. The cases covered the period from October 2014 through March 2015. Investigators looked at each state's compliance with its own particular requirements for treatment planning and follow-up.

Maxwell said the finding that 34 percent of children did not have either treatment plans or follow-up monitoring translates to about 4,500 children in the five states examined. She said the national number would certainly be higher but the design of the inspector general's review did not allow for a simple extrapolation. Even among the five states cited there were wide differences.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: sharky1 - stock.adobe.com]]>
<![CDATA[Puerto Rican Government Abandons Bottled Water, Citing Taste]]>Wed, 19 Sep 2018 09:37:11 -0500Telemundo Puerto Rico shows what appears to be hundreds of boxes of water abandoned on a naval runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The water delivery, which was a surplus from FEMA, allegedly stalled due to complaints of the smell and taste. ]]>Telemundo Puerto Rico shows what appears to be hundreds of boxes of water abandoned on a naval runway in Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The water delivery, which was a surplus from FEMA, allegedly stalled due to complaints of the smell and taste. ]]>https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pr_waterbottles.jpg

Puerto Rican government officials resorted to mass finger-pointing after CBS News recently reported that thousands of water bottles were abandoned on the taxiway of a naval base in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.

In a Facebook post written in Spanish, Thomas Rivera Schatz, Puerto Rico’s Senate president, called out Wanda Vázquez, the island’s secretary of the Department of Justice.  

"The discovery of a shipment of boxes containing potable water going to waste out in the open on Ceiba’s naval base possibly did not even provoke an investigation from the Department of Justice,” Rivera Schatz wrote on his Facebook page.

The Senate president also said it's necessary for someone to file a complaint regarding the incident.

"We are waiting for the great explanation ‘someone’ will offer, in some moment, that will justify everything,” he continued.

Viral images on social media show hundreds of boxes of water abandoned outside at the naval base Roosevelt Roads in Ceiba.

Following Hurricane Maria’s landfall last September, many residents were left without clean drinking water for weeks.

After falsely counting the death toll in the wake of the hurricane as 64, the government has since acknowledged the storm caused the deaths of almost 3,000 people on the island.

Clinicians linked 26 of those deaths to leptospirosis, a bacterial illness spread through contaminated water and soil, according to an investigative piece by CNN and the Centro de Periodismo Investigativo. That’s double the amount of deaths the illness caused in Puerto Rico in 2016.

As peak hurricane season approaches, Rivera Schatz said Puerto Ricans are once again preparing for the worst.

“This week, the people have massively resorted to buying potable water before the possible passage of a tropical storm that could become a hurricane, while there [on the naval base] waste thousand and thousands of bottles of water," the Senator leader added. "It is a real shame that this is occurring."

Puerto Rico’s Administrator of the General Services Administration, Ottmar Chávez, and Secretary of the Department of Public Safety Héctor Pesquera offered explanations about the situation.

“The Federal Agency for Emergency Management reported that it had an excess of bottled water in April 2018, and GSA made an application to take custody that was approved and executed upon in May 2018 through the U.S. GSA Surplus Property program,” Chávez explained during a press conference.  

In total, the administration requested about 20,000 pallets of the undistributed excess water, according to a press release written by a spokesperson for the Puerto Rican government.

“GSA took control of the inventory in May 2018 before I took over the agency's functions,” Chávez added. “Deliveries to two municipalities and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Puerto Rico began that same month and continued through August 2018.”

Chávez said that after his agency delivered more than 700 pallets, recipients from the municipality of Barceloneta and the Corporation for Public Dissemination began sending complaints regarding the water’s smell and taste.

“Based on those complaints, we contacted FEMA to return the water to the federal GSA inventory,” the GSA administrator continued. “The secretary of the [Department of Public Safety] specified that, based on the compiled documentation, in no moment during the digital communication about the surplus water was it evident that the bottled water was spoiled.”

The DPS secretary further highlighted the island government’s lack of information regarding how FEMA stored and distributed the water.

“When GSA performed its merchandise survey, U.S. GSA photographs appeared to show bottled water in a warehouse,” Pesquera said. “We do not know when FEMA moved the inventory to the Roosevelt Roads Base in Ceiba.”

The secretary of DPS further explained that “the Government of Puerto Rico never received the water from FEMA for distribution during the emergency, and it was not until April 2018 that we were notified of its availability.”

Chávez has ordered an administrative investigation to analyze the internal processes associated with this matter and to discuss possible follow-up measures.

In a Facebook Live video, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello also questioned FEMA’s handling of the water and the distribution delay.

“If we had the water supply available since January, why was it not declared until months later, when the bottles of water could possibly be contaminated due to having them exposed outside of a warehouse for so long?” he asked. “The question is should these containers have been kept in some sort of warehouse or storage facility and if they distributed potentially contaminated water?”

Ultimately, the governor believes FEMA is responsible for causing the water to possibly spoil.

“I demand answers from FEMA, because the evidence establishes that this was water that belonged to FEMA, and they left out in the open for so long and did not make it available to those who needed it until a few months later,” Rosselo said. “I guarantee to the public of Puerto Rico that we are in a constant investigation of these events and there will be significant consequences.”

FEMA Spokesperson Lenisha Smith responded to Rosselo’s claims by saying the decision to store the water at the naval base aligned with the agency’s goal of providing “the maximum support to disaster survivors, while also being mindful of our responsibility as stewards of taxpayer dollars.”

Smith claimed placing the water on the tarmac resulted in “millions of dollars of savings.”

“FEMA announced that the water would be available to any agency that needed it, and placed the water at the taxiway of Roosevelt Roads where it could be stored in an area that was free and secure,” Smith wrote in the statement. “The P.R. General Services Administration showed interest in this inventory and requested that it be transferred. Once the transfer of water took place, the water became property of the government of Puerto Rico.”

Photo Credit: Telemundo Puerto Rico]]>
<![CDATA[Active Shooter Study: Semi-Automatic Rifles Deadlier ]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 11:14:55 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18249701961288-Active-Shooter-Study.jpg

Active shooters with semi-automatic rifles wound and kill twice as many people as those using non-automatic weapons, although chances of dying if hit in either type of assault are the same, a new analysis shows.

Researchers examined FBI data on nearly 250 active shooter incidents in the United States since 2000. Almost 900 people were wounded and 718 were killed.

One in four of these attacks involved semi-automatic rifles. These weapons automatically load each bullet after firing although firing requires pulling the trigger for each round.

Recent attacks involving semi-automatics include the shootings at Parkland High School, Orlando's Pulse night club and Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Semi-automatics, which include some assault weapons, often are thought of as being more lethal. Since they can fire rapidly, chances of being hit in those circumstances are high, the study shows.

But in active shooter attacks, which tend to occur in confined spaces and with an intent to kill, the results suggest all types of guns can be equally deadly, said lead researcher Dr. Adil Haider, a trauma surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

Overall, 44 percent of people hit in active shooter attacks involving semi-automatic weapons died, the same as those wounded in non-automatic weapon attacks, showing that "the death rate if you got hit by a bullet was the same," Haider said.

"Active shooters are hell-bent on killing people," he said. "The big difference — and this is not such a big surprise — is if you give them a semi-automatic, they're able to shoot twice the number of people."

The average number of people wounded in semi-automatic attacks totaled nearly six, versus about three in attacks with a non-automatic weapon. Roughly four people were killed on average in semi-automatic attacks, compared with about two in other attacks, the study found.

The results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Haider said the study highlights a need to better track details on types of weapons used in active shooter attacks; FBI figures do not detail whether weapons used were semi-automatic so the researchers got that information from court and police documents and news media reports.

Semi-automatic rifles cause more deaths and injuries, but "firearms in general, regardless of the type, are extraordinarily lethal weapons," said Dr. Cassandra Crifasi, deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, who was not involved in the research.

A longtime gun owner and sports shooting enthusiast, Crifasi said her understanding of gun culture brings a different perspective to gun research and safety. "The main thing is that there are gun owners like me ... who support common sense solutions to reducing gun violence," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Gave No Reason for 1/3 of Opioid Prescriptions: Study]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 09:20:26 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1251.jpg

New research shows that about one-third of doctors who prescribed opioids in the buildup to the opioid overdose epidemic gave no reason for doing so, according to NBC News.

In 29 percent of cases between 2006 and 2015, doctors's opioid prescriptions had no explanation for why they were written, a team from Harvard Medical School and the Rand Corp. reported Monday.

"Whatever the reasons, lack of robust documentation undermines our efforts to understand physician prescribing patterns and curtails our ability to stem overprescribing," said Dr. Tisamarie Sherry, who worked on the study, in a statement.

Federal agencies have said that inappropriate prescribing practices contributed to the crisis that saw 42,000 people die in 2016 alone. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been encouraging doctors to prescribe opioids only when necessary.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[GOP Lacks Votes — and Appetite — to End 'Obamacare']]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 01:37:58 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jkAP_18253844547904.jpg

Arizona's new senator says he'd vote to repeal the nation's health care law. That's one additional Republican ready to obliterate the statute because his predecessor, the late Sen. John McCain, helped derail the party's drive with his fabled thumbs-down vote last year.

It could well be too little, too late.

After years of trying to demolish former President Barack Obama's prized law, GOP leaders still lack the votes to succeed. Along with the law's growing popularity and easing premium increases, that's left top Republicans showing no appetite to quickly refight the repeal battle.

"I'm not going to be asking for another vote on that this year," No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said last week when asked if he favored reopening the issue in a postelection lame duck session. No. 3 House leader Steve Scalise, R-La., said, "We need to win this election and then get more seats next year." Each is their party's chief vote counter.

That means any serious push to annul the statute would almost certainly hinge on Republicans retaining House control and adding Senate seats in November's elections, neither of which is assured. If either goal eludes them on Election Day, President Donald Trump's ability to deliver on one of his top campaign promises would have to wait for a second term, if he gets one.

Republicans seemed to gain ground last week when Sen. Jon Kyl replaced McCain, who died in August from brain cancer. Kyl said in a brief interview that he would have backed the measure that McCain opposed, a pivotal vote that would have sustained the repeal drive.

"It seems to me that would have been a useful thing to do," Kyl said.

That bill failed 51-49. A "yes" from McCain would have meant a 50-50 tie that Vice President Mike Pence could have broken by casting his own vote.

Yet the two other GOP senators who also voted no, Maine's Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, haven't relented. With Republicans controlling the Senate 51-49, the GOP remains short of the 50 votes they'd need.

"I would still oppose outright repeal," Collins said in a short interview last week. In a written statement, aides said Murkowski "is not interested in another rushed, partisan process in the absence of a quality, comprehensive replacement" for the law.

Republicans have one fewer seat this year because Alabama Democrat Doug Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore in a December special election. Moore had defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Luther Strange in a party primary.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has ruled out revisiting the health care fight before November's midterm elections, citing the crush of spending and other bills facing Congress. He's displayed little desire to revisit the issue, which many Democrats are using in their election campaigns because Obama's law is widely accepted, especially provisions like requiring insurers to cover people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Returning to the health care fight is a decision "I don't have to reach anytime soon and don't have time to facilitate, even if I was so inclined," McConnell told reporters last week. He has said he doesn't want to resume the fight unless he can win, and his House counterpart is also showing his focus is elsewhere.

"I haven't even thought about it," said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

A lame-duck session would last barely over a month and likely be absorbed with lingering budget disputes and picking the new Congress' leaders.

That would leave scant time for health care work, such as resolving intractable disputes about what a replacement bill would look like.

Then they'd need an official cost estimate of any bill from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which could take weeks. They'd also have to take procedural steps to protect their bill from a Senate Democratic filibuster, which would otherwise essentially kill the measure by requiring Republicans to garner 60 votes to succeed.

"There's still a process that we have to go through, and people have to be aware of it," said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who opposes the health care program. "You don't just drop it from heaven like manna."

Explaining the diminished urgency, Cornyn cited Congress' repeal last December of the tax penalty on people who don't buy individual insurance. That requirement, aimed at prodding healthier people to buy coverage and stabilize health markets, was one of the law's least popular provisions.

Cornyn also mentioned Trump administration rules making it easier for people to buy short-term health care policies or association plans offered by groups of small businesses or self-employed people. Such packages could offer lower premiums but cover fewer benefits, and Democrats criticize them as undermining the consumer protections Obama's law was designed to enshrine.

Also easing pressure on Republicans to act are indications that insurance premiums, a major vexation for voters, are growing more slowly.

An analysis by the consulting firm Avalere Health and The Associated Press last week found a 3.3 percent average increase in proposed or approved premiums across 47 states and Washington, D.C., for 2019. The average increase nationally this year was about 30 percent.

Meanwhile, the House plans to vote this week on a bill easing requirements the law imposed on employers. The measure would make it easier for companies to provide health insurance for fewer workers, refund tax penalties firms paid for not covering employees and postpone a levy on expensive policies companies provide workers.

Further underscoring the effort's lack of traction, that measure seems certain never to emerge from Congress.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Nutritionist-Approved Frozen Meals]]>Mon, 10 Sep 2018 12:49:11 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/stirfryGettyImages-112856093.jpg

If you're picking up a frozen meal from the grocery store, there are a few things you want to look for before stocking up, according to NBC News.

A meal that has less than 500 calories and no more than 600 milligrams of sodium is your best option. It should also have at least 10 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber. This will ensure you stay full longer and won't be looking to snack a few hours later. 

Read the ingredients list. The first ingredient should be a whole food, for example, a protein like chicken, a fruit or vegetable or a whole grain. Avoid trans fats.

Here are seven nutritionist-picked meals to consider:


  • Sweet Earth Curry Tiger Bowl
  • Luvo Chicken Harissa Chickpeas
  • Evol Vegetable Enchiladas
  • Amy's Kitchen Brown Rice & Vegetables Bowl
  • Caulipower Margherita Pizza
  • Trader Joe's Wild Salmon
  • Gardein Asian Style Chick'n Fried Rice

Photo Credit: Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Explore Lifting Barriers to Living Organ Donation]]>Mon, 10 Sep 2018 06:53:22 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18250590512164-Living-Organ-Donors.jpg

Surgeons turned down Terra Goudge for the liver transplant that was her only shot at surviving a rare cancer. Her tumor was too advanced, they said — even though Goudge had a friend ready to donate, no matter those odds.

"I have a living donor — I'm not taking away from anyone. I'm trying to save my own life," she pleaded. Finally, the Los Angeles woman found a hospital on the other side of the country that let the pair try.

People lucky enough to receive a kidney or part of a liver from a living donor not only cut years off their wait for a transplant, but those organs also tend to survive longer. Yet living donors make up a fraction of transplants, and their numbers have plateaued amid barriers that can block otherwise willing people from giving. Among them: varying hospital policies on who qualifies and the surprising financial costs that some donors bear.

Now researchers are exploring ways to lift those barriers and ease the nation's organ shortage.

"We just want people to be given the chance to at least entertain this as a possibility," said Dr. Abhinav Humar, transplant chief at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, where Goudge ultimately received part of friend Amy Aleck's liver.

Thousands of people die each year waiting for an organ transplant. Nearly 14,000 are on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Of 8,082 transplants last year, just 367 were from living donors, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which oversees the nation's transplant system. Living kidney donations are more common but still not enough to meet the need. About 95,000 people are on the kidney waiting list. Of 19,849 transplants last year, 5,811 were from living donors.

Also troubling, black and Hispanic patients are less likely than whites to receive a kidney from a living donor, and a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year found the disparity is growing.

One hurdle is economic. The transplant recipient's insurance pays the donor's medical bills. But donors are out of work for weeks recuperating. The U.S. Labor Department last month made clear that a donor's job can be protected under the Family Medical Leave Act. But that's unpaid leave — and donors lose income if their employer doesn't allow some form of paid time off. They also may have other expenses such as travel and hotel bills for visits to a far-away transplant center.

One study found more than a third of living kidney donors reported lost wages in the first year following donation. The median amount was $2,712, particularly difficult if asking economically disadvantaged friends or family for an organ.

"It's a strange thing to tell you that donors have to pay for the privilege of donating their kidneys. I think most of us would agree that's just fundamentally wrong," said Dr. Paige Porrett, a surgeon with the University of Pennsylvania.

Penn is one of half a dozen transplant centers testing whether reimbursing a donor's lost income could shorten the wait for a kidney.

"The community's in a real bind about how we can help them," Porrett said. "It's a fine line that it doesn't get misconstrued that we're paying people for their organs."

Another challenge: Living donation too often is considered as a last resort rather than a first choice, said Pittsburgh's Humar — especially for liver transplants. His hospital is trying to change that and last year performed more adult liver transplants from living donors than deceased ones, a milestone.

The liver is unique, able to regenerate a few months after donors give a piece. But it is a larger and riskier operation than donating a kidney.

And that sparks an ethical debate: Many people with failing livers aren't allowed onto the national waiting list for organs from deceased donors. That's because the scarce supply is rationed, given only to those with the best survival chances. But what if patients who don't qualify find a living donor? Should the donor be allowed to undergo a risky surgery if the recipient's predicted survival isn't quite as good?

Goudge, the California patient, had been fighting a rare condition called fibrolamellar hepatocellular carcinoma since 2001. A variety of treatments kept her cancer in check for years but eventually it overwhelmed her liver. While Goudge's condition isn't as aggressive as typical liver cancer, it was more advanced than transplant waiting list rules allow — and the first surgeons she consulted said living donation wasn't an option either.

Then she stumbled onto Pitt's program. Humar says living donation could allow transplants for many patients who otherwise would never get one — either because too many people are ahead of them on the waiting list or because they weren't listed. After extensive evaluation of both patient and would-be donor, Humar decided Goudge had a good enough shot at prolonged survival to justify the risk to her friend. In April, his team replaced Goudge's liver with a healthy piece of Aleck's. Both recovered well.

"She is truly a walking miracle for me," Goudge said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Family Photo via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Calif. Mom Shares Warning After Finding Glass Shards in Kid's Burrito]]>Tue, 11 Sep 2018 10:54:31 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Santee_Mom_Claims_Glass_Found_in_Burrito.jpg

A Santee, California, mother is warning people about a potential hazard after finding glass shards in her daughter's frozen burrito.

Tracey Brintle's daughter, Kayla, was eating a Tina's Beef and Bean Burrito that she bought from a local 99ȼ Only Stores about two weeks ago when she suddenly heard a crunching noise.

"It's a beef and bean burrito so you shouldn't be hearing anything," Brintle said. "And I saw what's left on her plate and I saw that there was glass."

Brintle immediately rushed her daughter to the emergency room, but her daughter was OK. Brintle reached out to both 99ȼ Only Stores in Santee, where she bought the burritos, as well as the maker of the burritos.

A representative from Tina's Burritos had told Brintle the company would send her a box to ship the burrito back to the company so it could test the food. The company has not sent the box since that conversation, though the company did call her again Friday to say a box was on its way.

Brintle said she wants to warn parents about the potential hazard because she doesn't want what happened to her daughter to happen to another child. She said she doesn't want to wait for the company to complete its testing before deciding to pull the batch from shelves.

"I'm sure that batch is still available in stores because I only bought it in the middle of August," Brintle said. "And it needs to be pulled off the shelves."

A spokesperson for Tina's said Brintle's incident was their only known complaint. 

"The matter has been escalated to the highest levels of our company. We are currently engaged in the process of a full and detailed investigation which we conduct in the case of receiving feedback of this nature," Customer Service Manager Lee Ann Vasquez said. 

The company's testing process includes both the burrito in question, once retrieved from the consumer, and other burritos in the same production run, Vasquez said. So far, their testing has not found any other problems. 

In addition to 99ȼ Only Stores, Tina's Burritos is also available at other grocery store chains, such as Smart & Finals, Food 4 Less and Vons.

The 99ȼ Only Stores in Santee said it's started the recall process but the company. Tina's has not recalled any burritos. 

<![CDATA[Convenience Shops Go Healthy as Millennials Choose Wellness]]>Sun, 09 Sep 2018 09:36:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18226715867958.jpg

In convenience stores spawned by the wellness wave, kombucha slushies take the place of corn-syrupy treats infused with red dye, tortilla chips are made of cassava flour instead of corn and there are vegan ice cream bars and a dizzying selection of organic produce and craft beer on tap.

Traditional corner markets have been notching up their healthier options in recent years, selling pre-made salads, nut milks and organic yogurts.

But a new crop of niche stores aimed at millennials who can afford to pay more have completely overhauled the shelves, making gluten-free and organic products their staples, not just the side dish, along with compostable straws and on-demand delivery. These shoppers also like to see their stores support what they consider worthy causes.

"We think of our stores as a human recharging station as opposed to the traditional convenience store, which tears down your health," said Lisa Sedlar, who's about to open her fourth Green Zebra Grocery in Portland, Oregon.

The store sells so much kombucha that it recently launched its own line of kombucha slushies with flavors including pineapple ginger and marionberry mint. It also offers itself as a pickup spot for customers who have pre-ordered weekly boxes of fresh produce from local farms.

There's even a store on Portland State University campus to satisfy late-night dorm cravings. That store attracts about 1,500 visits a day with coconut sugar and gluten-free flour in bulk bins, and other health-oriented goods.

Analysts say millennials, who are willing to pay a premium for higher-quality ingredients and want to support companies in line with their values, are a driving force behind the trend for stores that are popping up around the country from Los Angeles to Philadelphia.

A 2018 report from EuroMonitor says convenience stores are changing their image to appeal to a more health-conscious generation, stocking up on gluten-free, grass-fed and organic products.

While "portability and grab-and-go convenience remain critical, millennial dietary habits stand to revolutionize a channel that has been anything but health-conscious in the past," the report says.

At least 200 stores fall into this category in the United States, said Jeff Lenard, a vice president with Advancing Convenience & Fuel Retailing. And while that's still a small segment of the 154,000 convenience stores in the U.S., he said it's likely to grow.

Everything at The Goods Mart in Silver Lake, California, is free of artificial flavors and dyes, nitrates and genetically modified ingredients. Customers choose from healthy snacks, $4 breakfast burritos and ugly fruit provided through a partnership with a local farmer, including avocados that cost only 50 cents.

There are no single-serve plastic bottles or plastic straws. Instead the coffee and slushies come in recycled paper cups with compostable paper straws, although many customers buy metal or glass straws at the cash register.

Customers can also donate up to 5 percent of their bill to charity, including a local homeless mission, says founder Rachel Krupa.

Experts predict those layered missions will give green convenience stores staying power.

"I don't believe it's a passing fad," said David Portalatin, food industry adviser for trend group NPD. "People bring the same demand for convenience but with a whole new set of food values to go along with it."

Choice Market in Denver even created its own delivery app for consumers who want their gourmet sandwich, organic produce and craft beer on demand. About 30 percent of the store's sales are delivery.

"It's such a big piece of our target market and how they shop," said CEO Mike Fogarty, who donates leftovers to a local food bank.

The response has been so strong that construction has started on two additional stores, including one in partnership with the Denver Housing Authority to service low-income neighborhoods lacking nearby grocery stores with healthier foods and fresh produce and to hire at-risk youth.

The checkout counter at Mendez Fuel in Miami is filled with the expected cigarettes, lottery tickets and mini bottles of whiskey, but there's also a large selection of high-end dark chocolate. Behind the cafe counter sits a massive prep bowl of leafy greens next to a woman pouring filling into handmade vegan empanadas.

A large line has formed waiting for orders off a menu that includes smoothies with algae, bee pollen, matcha and other superfoods. They also serve house-made, organic, cold-pressed juices and have a vast selection of craft beer.

Jay Mayorga, a 25-year-old barber who works nearby and follows a paleo diet, stops in about four times a week for a green smoothie or acai bowl and he usually grabs some jerky or a protein bar.

"Paleo is hard to find so I like that," he said.

The store has a large selection of vegan, paleo, keto and other healthy snacks including specialty nut butters, non-dairy cheeze puffs and grain-free tortilla chips.

Mendez Fuel owner Michael Mendez made an effort to stock the shelves with hard-to-find specialty diet items, including a $15 jar of dairy-free yogurt with 400 billion live probiotic cultures, $19 jars of high-end nut butters and $4 collagen protein bars.

"We're becoming a destination," Mendez said. "People are going out of their way to come to us because we have products that they can't find anywhere else."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Lynne Sladky]]>
<![CDATA[Modest Premium Hikes as 'Obamacare' Stabilizes, Data Show]]>Fri, 07 Sep 2018 10:39:56 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Healthcare.gov-website.jpg

Millions of people covered under the Affordable Care Act will see only modest premium increases next year, and some will get price cuts. That's the conclusion from an exclusive analysis of the besieged but resilient program, which still sparks deep divisions heading into this year's midterm elections.

The Associated Press and the consulting firm Avalere Health crunched available state data and found that "Obamacare's" health insurance marketplaces seem to be stabilizing after two years of sharp premium hikes. And the exodus of insurers from the program has halted, even reversed somewhat, with more consumer choices for 2019.

The analysis found a 3.6 percent average increase in proposed or approved premiums across 47 states and Washington, D.C., for next year. This year the average increase nationally was about 30 percent. The average total premium for an individual covered under the health law is now close to $600 a month before subsidies.

For next year, premiums are expected either to drop or increase by less than 10 percent in 41 states with about 9 million customers. Eleven of those states are expected to see a drop in average premiums. In six other states, plus Washington, D.C., premiums are projected to rise between 10 percent and 18 percent.

Insurers also are starting to come back. Nineteen states will either see new insurers enter or current ones expand into more areas. There are no bare counties lacking a willing insurer.

Even so, Chris Sloan, an Avalere director, says, "This is still a market that's unaffordable for many people who aren't eligible for subsidies."

Nearly 9 in 10 ACA customers get government subsidies based on income, shielding most from premium increases. But people with higher incomes, who don't qualify for financial aid, have dropped out in droves.

It's too early to say if the ACA's turnabout will be fleeting or a more permanent shift. Either way, next year's numbers are at odds with the political rhetoric around the ACA, still heated even after President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans failed to repeal the law last year.

Trump regularly calls "Obamacare" a "disaster" and time again has declared it "dead." The GOP tax-cut bill repealed the ACA requirement that Americans have health insurance or risk fines, effective next year. But other key elements remain, including subsidies and protection for people with pre-existing conditions. Democrats, meanwhile, accuse Trump of "sabotage," driving up premiums and threatening coverage.

The moderating market trend "takes the issue away from Republican candidates" in the midterm elections, said Mark Hall, a health law and policy expert at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. "Part of the mess is now their fault, and the facts really don't support the narrative that things are getting worse."

Market stability also appears to undercut Democrats' charge that Trump is undermining the program. But Democrats disagree, saying the ACA is in danger while Republicans control Washington, and that premiums would have been even lower but for the administration's hostility.

"Voters won't think that the Trump threat to the ACA has passed at all, unless Democrats get at least the House in 2018," said Bill Carrick, a strategist for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., whose re-election ads emphasize her support for the health law.

As if seconding Democrats' argument, the Trump administration has said it won't defend the ACA's protections for pre-existing conditions in a federal case in Texas that could go to the Supreme Court. A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Americans regardless of partisan identification said those protections should remain the law of the land.

In solidly Republican Arkansas, Democratic state legislator and cancer survivor Clarke Tucker is using the ACA in his campaign to try to flip a U.S. House seat from red to blue. Tucker, 37, says part of what made him want to run is the House vote to repeal the ACA last year and images of Trump and GOP lawmakers celebrating at the White House.

Business analysts say the relatively good news for 2019 is partly the result of previous premium increases, which allowed insurers to return to profitability after losing hundreds of millions of dollars.

"They can price better, and they can manage this population better, which is why they can actually make some money," said Deep Banerjee of Standard & Poor's.

Repeal of the ACA's requirement to carry insurance doesn't seem to have had a major impact yet, but Banerjee said there's "a cloud of uncertainty" around the Trump administration's potential policy shifts. Yet some administration actions have also helped settle the markets, such as continuing a premium stabilization program.

April Box of Spokane Valley, Washington, lives in a state where premiums could rise substantially since insurers have proposed an 18 percent increase. In states expecting double-digit increases, the reasons reflect local market conditions. Proposed increases may ultimately get revised downward.

Box is self-employed as a personal advocate helping patients navigate the health care system. She has an ACA plan, but even with a subsidy her premiums are expensive and a high deductible means she's essentially covered only for catastrophic illness.

"I'm choosing not to go to the doctor, and I'm saying to myself I'm not sick enough to go to the doctors," Box said. "We need to figure out how to make it better and lower the price."

Now in her 50s, Box was born with dislocated hips. She worries she could be uninsurable if insurers are allowed to go back to denying coverage for pre-existing conditions. She might need another hip surgery.

"It needs to be a level playing field for everybody," said Box. "We need to have universal coverage — that is really the only answer."

Tennessee is a prime example of the ACA's flipped fortunes.

Last year, the state struggled to secure at least one insurer in every county. But approved rates for 2019 reflect an 11 percent average decrease. Two new insurers — Bright Health and Celtic— have entered its marketplace, and two others —Cigna and Oscar— will expand into new counties.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander called that a "welcome step," but argued rates could have been even lower if congressional Democrats had supported a market stabilization bill. Democrats blame Republicans for the failure.

To calculate premium changes, Avalere and The Associated Press used proposed overall individual marketplace rate filings for 34 states and D.C., and final rates for 13 states that have already approved them. Data was not available for Massachusetts, Maryland and Alabama. The average rate change calculations include both on-exchange and off-exchange plans that comply with ACA requirements. The government isn't expected to release final national figures until later this fall.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov]]>
<![CDATA[Hospital Groups Launch Own Company to Make Generic Drugs]]>Thu, 06 Sep 2018 05:17:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/civicaGettyImages-730138169.jpg

Several major hospital groups Thursday launched their own generic drug company to tackle chronic shortages and high prices.

The new company, Civica Rx, plans to start with 14 widely used hospital drugs long in short supply. The company isn't disclosing the drugs' names for competitive reasons, but they include a mix of generic pills, patches and injectable drugs for treating infections, pain and heart conditions, board chairman Dan Liljenquist said.

"The mission of Civica is to make sure these drugs remain in the public domain, that they're available and affordable to everyone," he said.

Drug shortages have been widespread for more than a decade, particularly for inexpensive generic drugs, due to manufacturers consolidating, stopping production of low-profit medicines and having to fix manufacturing problems.

Hospitals are particularly hard hit and frequently must scramble to find scarce medicines, often at huge price markups, or come up with workarounds that may not be as effective or safe for patients.

Besides creating a reliable supply for its 500 hospitals, Civica aims to reduce drug prices by about 20 percent. The drugs will be sold to nonmember hospitals as well, at slightly higher prices, Liljenquist said.

The company, based in the Salt Lake City area, plans to make some of the generics itself and hire companies to produce others, he said. It is aiming to get its first medicines on the market by mid- to late 2019.

Civica was founded and funded by three health foundations and seven hospital groups, among them Intermountain Healthcare, a 23-hospital system based in Salt Lake City where Liljenquist is chief strategy officer. Veterans Affairs and the American Hospital Association also are participating.

Chief executive of the not-for-profit company will be Martin VanTrieste, the retired head of manufacturing quality at biotech drugmaker Amgen.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Fact Check: Kavanaugh on the Affordable Care Act]]>Wed, 05 Sep 2018 20:10:25 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18247564205902-Kavanaugh-Hearing.jpg

Several Democratic senators have claimed that Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh’s history shows he would be a danger on the court to the Affordable Care Act. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Aug. 28 on the Senate floor: “Judge Kavanaugh has written opinions skeptical of our health care law, reproductive rights, and even the contraception coverage requirement.”

The criticisms have focused on two dissents Kavanaugh wrote in cases challenging the constitutionality of the individual mandate, and a third dissent in a case challenging the ACA’s contraception coverage accommodations for certain religious organizations. Also, Democrats have repeatedly stressed that a case in District Court in Texas could reach the Supreme Court and affect preexisting condition protections in the health care law. We’ll look at the facts.

What Democrats are saying: "There’s a Texas case where that’s being challenged right now, that’s moving up, it could likely go before the Supreme Court. Well knowing your record, it is right that these Americans, so many of them with preexisting conditions are asking whether the Supreme Court will be an institution that affirms and protects the rights of people with access to healthcare,” Sen. Cory Booker said during the first day of the confirmation hearings on Sept. 4. “We all know too many people who have set aside prescription drugs because they’re too high, because of what corporations are doing there. People who have put off going to see the doctor because a visit is too expensive, that is in the balance with this nomination.”

“Judge Kavanaugh, you wrote, for example, in Seven-Sky v. Holder that a president can disregard a law passed by Congress if he deems it to be unconstitutional, even if a court has upheld it,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar said in the Sept. 4 hearing.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a July 9 tweet: “Judge Kavanaugh’s own writings make clear that … he would welcome challenges to the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.”

Also in a July 9 tweet, Sen. Elizabeth Warren described Kavanaugh as being “hostile to health care for millions.”

What Kavanaugh’s record shows: As an appellate judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, Kavanaugh issued dissents in two cases that challenged the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which requires most people to have health insurance or pay a penalty on their tax returns. (The Republican tax law signed in December 2017 eliminated the tax penalty, effective for the 2019 tax year.)

Seven-Sky v. Holder, 2011. The appeals court rejected this challenge to the ACA’s individual mandate. Kavanaugh dissented, but his objection concerned the jurisdiction of the court, not the constitutionality of the health care law.

Kavanaugh wrote that the court shouldn’t have heard the case because the Anti-Injunction Act said a tax must be assessed and collected before a suit against it could be decided. (The individual mandate didn’t go into effect until the 2014 tax year.)

He argued that what the law referred to as “penalties” were to be “assessed and collected in the same manner as taxes.” And he said he would “leave these momentous constitutional issues for another day – a day that may never come.”

Kavanaugh dissent, Seven-Sky v. Holder, 2011: Between now and 2015, Congress might keep the mandate as is and the President may enforce it as is. If that happens, the federal courts would resolve the resulting constitutional case by our best lights and would not shy away from a necessary constitutional decision. But history tells us to cross that bridge only if and when we need to. Unlike the majority opinion, I would adhere to the text of the Anti-Injunction Act and leave these momentous constitutional issues for another day – a day that may never come.

There are differing views on what Kavanaugh’s lengthy dissent may say about his stance on the ACA.

The Federalist, a conservative online publication, published opposing takes in early July.

One commentator called it a “roadmap to save Obamacare,” noting that Kavanaugh wrote that “this case could disappear by 2015 because, by then, Congress may fix the alleged constitutional shortcoming and ensure that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate provision fits comfortably within Congress’ Taxing Clause power.” In fact, the Supreme Court in 2012 in NFIB v. Sebelius upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate under the taxing clause.

But on July 3, The Federalist published a second analysis that said the “roadmap” claim was “nonsense.” Justin Walker, a former law clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy and Kavanaugh, and an assistant professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, wrote in that piece that Kavanaugh’s dissent was actually a “roadmap” for the Supreme Court dissenters in the NFIB v. Sebelius case.

Another former clerk for Kavanaugh, Sarah E. Pitlyk, wrote in the National Review that Kavanaugh said in his dissent that the taxing clause “has not traditionally authorized a legal prohibition or mandate.” And while “he ultimately determined that a challenge to Obamacare had to be brought later,” she said, “he left no doubt about where he stood.”

But Timothy S. Jost, an emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law and an expert on health care, wrote in a July 16 analysis of Kavanaugh’s record for the Commonwealth Fund that the Supreme Court nominee didn’t show “strong opposition” to the health care law in this case, or the one we’ll examine next.

“After a long discussion of the Tax Anti-Injunction Act in Seven-Sky, Kavanaugh concluded his opinion by musing about the possible invalidity of the mandate under Congress’s commerce power,” Jost wrote. “On the one hand, he entertained arguments that the mandate encroached on state authority and individual rights, but on the other, he suggested that it was a novel approach to providing safety-net services through the private sector. Seeing both sides of the argument, he concluded that the court should avoid a constitutional ruling until the case was properly before it.”

Klobuchar, and other Democrats, have highlighted one line in particular from Kavanaugh’s dissent, where he says: “Or the President might not enforce the individual mandate provision if the President concludes that enforcing it would be unconstitutional.” In a footnote, Kavanaugh says: “Under the Constitution, the President may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the President deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional.”

Klobuchar framed this as an executive power issue, not explicitly a health care issue.

Jost told us in a phone interview that it’s “not unprecedented” for a president to take the position that a law is unconstitutional, but it is “very controversial” to hold that a president can refuse to enforce a statute after a court has upheld its constitutionality.

Our fact-checking colleagues at PolitiFact.com spoke with several legal experts about this issue, finding: “Experts generally agree that a president is not bound by a lower court’s decision when deciding a law is unconstitutional but diverge on whether the Supreme Court has the final say.”

Abbe R. Gluck, a professor of law and the faculty director of the Solomon Center for Health Law and Policy at Yale Law School, told us in an email: “[T]hat is indeed a very controversial position to take, one that embraces what I would say is a dangerously broad view of presidential power, especially in the case where a court has upheld the law in question.” But Kavanaugh’s statement doesn’t reveal much about his views on the ACA, she said, noting that “the footnote was dropped in the very same case in which Judge Kavanaugh actually rejected an early major constitutional challenge to the ACA.”

Sissel v. HHS, 2015. Schumer’s July tweet included a graphic that cited this case, saying: “Judge Kavanaugh argued that the D.C. Circuit Court should consider a claim that the ACA was unconstitutional. His fellow judges described it as a ‘flawed’ ‘misread’ of SCOTUS precedent.”

In Sissel v. HHS, an Iowa artist named Matt Sissel argued that the Affordable Care Act was unconstitutional because it violated the origination clause of Article 1, which says that legislation that raises revenue must originate in the House of Representatives. The three-judge panel for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled against Sissel, and he requested the court reconsider the case en banc, meaning the full court would hear the case.

The appeals court again rejected the claim, saying, “The purpose of the ACA was to overhaul the national healthcare system, not to raise revenue.”

Kavanaugh dissented, joined by three other judges. He said the ACA was indeed “a revenue-raising bill subject to the Origination Clause.” But, he said, the ACA complied with the clause. “Although the original House bill was amended and its language replaced in the Senate, such Senate amendments are permissible under the Clause’s text and precedent,” Kavanaugh wrote.

He said he would grant the en banc hearing — so, Schumer is technically correct that Kavanaugh “argued that the D.C. Circuit Court should consider a claim that the ACA was unconstitutional.” But that ignores the fact that Kavanaugh went on to argue that the court should “rule for the Government on the ground that the Affordable Care Act originated in the House and thereby complied with the Origination Clause.”

The court’s opinion also did say that Kavanaugh’s reading of Supreme Court precedent was “flawed” — but Kavanaugh, along with his fellow dissenters, described the panel opinion as “flawed” as well. The disagreement was over whether the origination clause applied in the case, not whether the ACA was constitutional.

Kavanaugh argued that not ruling on the case would raise constitutional questions about the origination clause and the balance of power between the House and the Senate.

The Harvard Law Review wrote of the case: “Sissel sends a very strong message regarding the constitutionality of the ACA under the Origination Clause. Even the four dissenting judges reached the conclusion that the ACA is constitutional, likely indicating unanimity across the D.C. Circuit.”

The Texas case and preexisting conditions. As we wrote this summer, in their opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination, Democrats have highlighted a case filed in District Court in Texas, and the Trump administration’s decision to not defend the federal government in that case.

The Texas suit, filed by that state and 19 others, points to the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that the ACA’s individual mandate to have health insurance was lawful under Congress’ power to tax. Since Congress has now eliminated the tax penalty associated with the individual mandate (starting in tax year 2019), the suit argues, the mandate itself is unconstitutional. Without the mandate, the suit says, “the remainder of the ACA must also fall.”

The Department of Justice has sided with the plaintiffs, but disagrees that the entire health care law must be eliminated. Instead, the DOJ said a finding that the mandate were unconstitutional would mean ACA preexisting condition provisions — provisions guaranteeing that those with medical conditions won’t be denied coverage or charged more based on health status — would have to be eliminated as well.

The case has a long way to go before the Supreme Court would have any potential impact. It would need to make its way through the District Court in Texas, which began hearing oral arguments on Sept. 5, then through an appeals court and then to the Supreme Court.

What Democrats are saying: “And he would not uphold the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate,” Sen. Bernie Sanders claimed this summer.

What Kavanaugh’s record shows: Kavanaugh sided with religious organizations in a case challenging the ACA’s requirement that insurance policies include coverage of birth control. There’s some nuance, though, to this dissent as well.

Priests for Life v. HHS, 2015. The plaintiff — a Catholic anti-abortion rights group — challenged the Obama administration’s accommodation to the ACA’s contraception mandate for religious employers. That accommodation, which pertained to nonprofits with religious affiliations and closely-held for-profit companies, said that women working for those groups could get contraception coverage paid for by the insurers, instead of their employers, if the employers notified the insurance companies or the Department of Health and Human Services of their religious objections.

The appeals court rejected the plaintiffs’ request for a rehearing en banc. Kavanaugh dissented, saying he would “rule for the plaintiff religious organizations.” But he also said that the Supreme Court ruling in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case “strongly suggests that the Government has a compelling interest in facilitating access to contraception for the employees of these religious organizations.” However, Kavanaugh said, the accommodation for the religious groups “is not the Government’s least restrictive means of furthering its interest.”

Jost, writing for the Commonwealth Fund, said that Kavanaugh acknowledged this “compelling interest” and “argued only that the government could have fulfilled that interest through an approach less restrictive of the rights of religious organizations.”

In addition to these cases, Jost includes one on abortion and another on Medicare coverage in his full analysis, finding that “[i]n none of these cases did Kavanaugh stake out a strong ideological position, for example, opposing abortion or the ACA. … This is not to say, however, that as a Supreme Court justice Kavanaugh might not effectuate major changes in law affecting controversial health policy issues.”

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Major Opioid Maker to Pay for Overdose-Antidote Development]]>Wed, 05 Sep 2018 14:26:43 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1251.jpg

A company whose prescription opioid marketing practices are being blamed for sparking the addiction and overdose crisis says it's helping to fund an effort to make a lower-cost overdose antidote.

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma announced Wednesday that it's making a $3.4 million grant to Harm Reduction Therapeutics, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, to help develop a low-cost naloxone nasal spray.

The announcement comes as lawsuits from local governments blaming Purdue, based in Stamford, Connecticut, and other companies in the drug industry for using deceptive marketing practices to encourage heavy prescribing of the powerful and addictive painkillers. Last week, the number of lawsuits against the industry being overseen by a federal judge topped 1,000.

The Cleveland-based judge, Dan Polster, is pushing the industry to settle with the plaintiffs — mostly local governments and Native American tribes — and with state governments, most of which have sued in state court or are conducting a joint investigation. Hundreds of other local governments are also suing in state courts across the country.

The sides have had regular settlement discussions, but it's not clear when a deal might be struck in the case, which is complicated by the number of parties and questions on how to assign blame.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that drug overdoses killed a record 72,000 Americans last year, about 10 percent more than in 2016. The majority of the deaths involved opioids. But a growing number of them are from illicit synthetic drugs, including fentanyl, rather than prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin.

Governments are asking for changes in how opioids are marketed, and for help paying for treatment and the costs of ambulance runs, child welfare systems, jails and other expenses associated with the opioid crisis.

Polster is expected to rule in coming weeks on motions from drugmakers, distributors and pharmacies to dismiss the claims. Trials in some of the cases — being used to test issues common to many of them — are now scheduled to begin in September 2019.

Purdue agreed to pay $634 million in fines back in 2007 to settle charges that the company downplayed the risk of addiction and abuse of its blockbuster painkiller OxyContin starting in the 1990s.

It's facing similar accusations again.

Earlier this year, the privately held company stopped marketing OxyContin to doctors.

The naloxone grant is a way the company can show it's trying to help stem the damage done by opioids. "This grant is one example of the meaningful steps Purdue is taking to help address opioid abuse in our communities," Purdue President and CEO Craig Landau said in a statement.

Paul Hanly, one of the lead lawyers for plaintiffs in the lawsuits, said having more access to an overdose antidote would be good, but he questioned Purdue's motives.

"I think it's just a strategic move on their part to curry favor with the judge, and the public," he said.

Naloxone is seen as one major piece in overdose prevention strategies. Over the past several years, most states have eased access to the antidote for laypeople. First responders, drug users and others have taken to carrying naloxone to reverse overdoses. But the price of the drug has been a problem for state and local governments.

Pittsburgh-based Harm Reduction Therapeutics says it is trying to get its version to the market within two years.

"Combatting the ongoing crisis of opioid addiction will require innovative approaches to both prevention and medication-assisted treatment," Harm Reduction co-founder and CEO Michael Hufford said in a statement, "but it all starts with making sure lives are not lost from overdose."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[Pediatricians Recommend Flu Shot Versus Nasal Spray]]>Tue, 04 Sep 2018 18:11:28 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fluvaccineGettyImages-92811553.jpg

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends flu shots for children of all ages, citing higher effectiveness of the shot versus nasal spray. But for children who refuse needles, FluMist nasal spray is available. 

Additionally, some evidence suggests Flucelvax and FluBlok, the only two egg-free vaccines on the market, may work better than the older vaccines grown in eggs. Dr. Richard Zimmerman, who advises the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Influenza Committee, said the major hospital group will only be buying egg-free formulations this year.

"The egg-free vaccines appear to have perhaps a 10 percent higher effectiveness over the traditional egg-based vaccines,” Zimmerman said in an interview with NBC News. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone over the age of six months get a flu vaccine but they "do not recommend one flu vaccine over another."

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[More Sick in Honey Smacks Salmonella Outbreak: CDC]]>Tue, 04 Sep 2018 16:36:49 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honeysmacks.jpg

Another 30 people have been reported sick due to an outbreak of salmonella linked to Honey Smacks cereal, and federal health officials said Tuesday that some stores are still selling the recalled product, NBC News reported.

No one should be buying or selling any form of Honey Smacks, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Consumers should check their homes and throw away any Honey Smacks cereal, the FDA reiterated.

“Since the last update on July 12, 2018, 30 more illnesses have been reported, bringing the total to 130 cases from 36 states,” the CDC said in a statement.

Thirty-four were sick enough to be hospitalized, although no deaths have been reported. Three more states have been added to the list of places where cases have been reported: Delaware, Maine and Minnesota.

In July the Food and Drug Administration said despite the wide-ranging recall, some boxes were still sitting on store shelves.

Kellogg's, who produces Honey Smacks, issued a voluntary recall in June for the cereal that was distributed across the U.S.

After the CDC found salmonella in Honey Smacks samples, customers were warned that they should avoid all Honey Smacks. The CDC tweeted, "Do not eat this cereal." The agency advised people to stop eating the cereal and throw it out, regardless of its package size or expiration date. It also advised retailers to stop selling and serving all Honey Smacks.

Salmonella is a common cause of food poisoning and it can live and grow even on dry foods such as breakfast cereal.

People usually get sick 12 hours to three days after they eat something contaminated. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.

Consumers seeking more information, including images of these products, can visit kelloggs.com/honeysmacksrecall or call 1-800-962-1413 from Monday – Friday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET as well as Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. ET.

To report adverse reactions or other problems with FDA-regulated products, contact the FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator for the state in which you reside. Please Note: There is not a Consumer Complaint Coordinator in each state. Please visit the FDA site for more information.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Trump's Pollution Rules Rollback to Hit Coal Country Hard]]>Mon, 03 Sep 2018 09:30:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18225531605518-coal-fired-power-plant.jpg

It's coal people like miner Steve Knotts, 62, who make West Virginia Trump Country.

So it was no surprise that President Donald Trump picked the state to announce his plan to roll back Obama-era pollution controls on coal-fired power plants.

Trump left one thing out of his remarks, though: northern West Virginia coal country will be ground zero for increased deaths and illnesses from the rollback on regulation of harmful emission from the nation's coal power plants.

An analysis done by his own Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the plan would lead to a greater number of people here dying prematurely, and suffering health problems that they otherwise would not have, than elsewhere in the country, when compared to health impacts of the Obama plan.

In Grant Town, Knotts, a coal miner for 35 years, isn't fazed when he hears that warning, a couple of days after Trump's West Virginia rally. He says the last thing people in coal country want is the government slapping down more controls on coal — and the air here in the remote West Virginia mountains seems fine to him.

"People here have had it with other people telling us what we need. We know what we need. We need a job," Knotts said at lunch hour at a Circle K in a tiny town between two coal mines, and 9 miles down the road from a coal power plant, the Grant Town plant.

The sky around Grant Town is bright blue. The mountains are a dazzling green. Paw Paw Creek gurgles past the town.

Clean-air controls since the 1980s largely turned off the columns of black soot that used to rise from coal smokestacks. The regulations slashed the national death rates from coal-fired power plants substantially.

These days pollutants rise from smoke stacks as gases, before solidifying into fine particles — still invisible — small enough to pass through lungs and into bloodstreams.

An EPA analysis says those pollutants would increase under Trump's plan, when compared to what would happen under the Obama plan. And that, it says, would lead to thousands more heart attacks, asthma problems and other illnesses that would not have occurred.

Nationally, the EPA says, 350 to 1,500 more people would die each year under Trump's plan. But it's northern two-thirds of West Virginia and the neighboring part of Pennsylvania that would be hit hardest, by far, according to Trump's EPA.

Trump's rollback would kill an extra 1.4 to 2.4 people a year for every 100,000 people in those hardest-hit areas, compared to under the Obama plan, according to the EPA analysis. For West Virginia's 1.8 million people, that would be equal to at least a couple dozen additional deaths a year.

Trump's acting EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist whose grandfather worked in the coal camps of West Virginia, headed to coal states this week and last to promote Trump's rollback. The federal government's retreat on regulating pollution from coal power plants was "good news," Wheeler told crowds there.

In Washington, EPA spokesman Michael Abboud said Trump's plan still would result in "dramatic reductions" in emissions, deaths and illness compared to the status quo, instead of to the Obama plan. Obama's Clean Power Plan targeted climate-changing carbon dioxide, but since coal is the largest source of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, the Obama plan would have curbed other harmful emissions from the coal-fired power plants as well.

About 160 miles to the south of Grant Town, near the state capital of Charleston, shop owner Doris Keller figures that if Trump thinks something's for the best, that's good enough for her.

"I just know this. I like Donald Trump and I think that he's doing the right thing," said Keller, who turned out to support Trump Aug. 21 when he promoted his rollback proposal. She lives five miles from the 2,900-megawatt John Amos coal-fired power plant.

"I think he has the best interests of the regular common people at the forefront," Keller says.

Trump's Affordable Clean Energy program would dismantle President Barack Obama's 2015 Clean Power Plan, which has been caught up in court battles without yet being implemented.

The Obama plan targeted climate-changing emissions from power plants, especially coal. It would have increased federal regulation of emissions from the nation's electrical grid and broadly promoted natural gas, solar power and other cleaner energy.

Trump's plan would cede much of the federal oversight of existing coal-fired power plants and drop official promotion of cleaner energy. Individual states largely would decide how much to regulate coal power plants in their borders. The plan is open for public review, ahead of any final White House decision.

"I'm getting rid of some of these ridiculous rules and regulations, which are killing our companies ... and our jobs," Trump said at the rally.

There was no mention of the "small increases" in harmful emissions that would result, compared to the Obama plan, or the health risks.

EPA charts put numbers on just how many more people would die each year because of those increased coal emissions.

Abboud and spokeswoman Ashley Bourke of the National Mining Association, which supports Trump's proposed regulatory rollback on coal emissions, said other federal programs already regulate harmful emissions from coal power plants. Bourke also argued that the health studies the EPA used in its death projections date as far back as the 1970s, when coal plants burned dirtier.

In response, Conrad Schneider of the environmental nonprofit Clean Air Task Force said the EPA's mortality estimates had taken into account existing regulation of plant emissions.

Additionally, health studies used by the EPA looked at specific levels of exposure to pollutants and their impact on human health, so remain constant over time, said Schneider, whose group analyzes the EPA projections.

With competition from natural gas and other cleaner energy helping to kill off more than a third of coal jobs over the last decade, political leaders in coal states are in no position to be the ones charged with enforcing public-health protections on surviving coal-fired power plants, said Vivian Stockman of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition.

"Our state is beholden to coal. Our politicians are beholden to coal," Stockman said outside Trump's West Virginia rally, where she was protesting. "Meanwhile, our people are being poisoned."

And when it comes to coal power plants and harm, Schneider said, "when you're at Grant Town, you're at Ground Zero."

Retired coal miner Jim Haley, living 4 miles from the town's coal-fired power plant, has trouble telling from the smokestack when the plant is even operating.

"They've got steam coming out of the chimneys. That's all they have coming out of it," Haley said.

Parked near the Grant Town post office, where another resident was rolling down the quiet main street on a tractor, James Perkins listened to word of the EPA's health warnings. He cast a look into the rear-view mirror into the backseat of his pickup truck, at his 3-year-old grandson, sitting in the back.

"They need to make that safe," said Perkins, a health-care worker who had opted not to follow his father into the coal mines. "People got little kids."

AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed from Washington.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: J. David Ake/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Amid Opioid Crisis, Researchers Aim to Put Pot to the Test]]>Mon, 03 Sep 2018 03:45:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-99037655+%281%29+weed+edited.jpg

Despite anecdotal and historical accounts of pot’s painkilling properties, scientific evidence that it works better than traditional painkillers is hard to come by. But Dr. Jeffrey Chen, director of UCLA's Cannabis Research Initiative, wants to change that, NBC News reported

The United States classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug with no medical use, like heroin and cocaine. And as a 2015 article in the journal Current Pain and Headache Reports points out, high-quality clinical studies of pot’s effectiveness are limited. 

"The public consumption of cannabis has already far outpaced our scientific understanding," Chen said. “We really desperately need to catch up.”

Now, with one of the first academic programs in the world dedicated to the study of cannabis, researchers hope to conduct a high-quality study using opioid patients. The study aims to find out which combination “produces the most good,” according to Edythe London, a distinguished professor of psychiatry and pharmacology at the UCLA school of medicine who designed the study.

Photo Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[1 in 10 Kids Diagnosed With ADHD: Study]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 17:35:27 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/anonymous-kid-toy-trucks.jpg

More than 10 percent of U.S. kids have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), up from 6 percent 20 years ago, researchers reported Friday.

It’s not clear why, but it’s startling, said Dr. Wei Bao of the University of Iowa, who helped lead the study.

“It is very common now – one in 10 kids,” Bao told NBC News.

The team used surveys covering more than 180,000 children aged 4 to 17 between 1997 and 2016. The surveys were in-person with a parent or guardian and asked whether the child had ever been diagnosed with ADHD.

“Over the 20-year period from 1997 to 2016, we found a significant increase in the prevalence of diagnosed ADHD from 1997-1998 to 2015-2016,” they wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s JAMA Open Network.

Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Pediatricians Change Guidelines for Babies in Car Seats]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 16:39:32 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/carseatGettyImages-127238301.jpg

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued new guidelines for young children in car seats: They should remain rear-facing until they reach the maximum height and weight allowed by the car seat manufacturer.

The update is a departure from the previous recommendation that babies remain rear facing until the age of 2. Because the new guidelines are now based on the size of the child, some children will remain rear facing even after turning 2.

The AAP said all infants and toddlers should ride in rear-facing car seats for "as long as possible, until they reach the highest weight or height allowed" by the seat's manufacturer.

While there is new research on car safety for children, the guideline that has not changed is rear facing is safer. 

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Ominous FDA Update on Blood Pressure, Heart Drug Recalls]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 11:05:27 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/080618bloodpressire.jpg

The head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the agency has launched a "major operation to investigate and address" the "troubling" finding of a cancer-causing agent that may be contaminating a growing number of medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

In a joint statement Thursday, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb and Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER), said they have developed a multidisciplinary task force to investigate trace amounts of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," detected in some generic versions of the medication valsartan.

The initial recall in July has now been expanded to include five manufacturers and other companies who repackage the affected valsartan products under a different name, and officials warned Thursday more products may need to be recalled. A third-party supplied the valsartan contained in the recall. The FDA recently updated the list of products affected and the list of those unaffected

"At the same time, the FDA is working to make certain that patients have access to the treatment that they need," the joint statement said. "Currently, more than half of all valsartan products on the market are being recalled. But prescribers can find a similar replacement product within the same class to substitute for patients who require this medication."

The FDA said it is working with companies to take "swift action" to pull any products found with unacceptable amounts of NDMA from the U.S. market. The agency also said manufacturers would not have been testing for NDMA in valsartan because there was no anticipation such levels would be evident. 

"Recognizing these risks is based on a deep understanding of the chemistry involved in drug manufacturing, and the theoretical risk that an impurity could be a by-product of an essential step used in the manufacture of an active ingredient," the statement said. "When these impurities are identified, there are ways to re-engineer manufacturing processes to find pathways that don’t create these by-products."

It continued: "As we develop a better understanding of the root cause of NDMA formation, and develop a way to detect NDMA in valsartan or other ARBs, we can ensure that appropriate testing is performed in the future."

The FDA also said that while millions of Americans take blood pressure medication, the risk of many of them developing cancer because of the NDMA exposure is fairly low. CDER toxicologists and chemists estimated that if 8,000 people took the highest valsartan dose from NDMA-affected medicines every day for four years, which is the period of time officials believe the affected products have been on the U.S. market, there may be one extra case of cancer beyond the regular average cancer rate of Americans. 

Patients are urged to look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottles to determine whether a specific product has been recalled. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine to find out the company name.

If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines, they should follow the recall instructions each specific company provided, which are available on the FDA’s website.

If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, he or she should contact his or her health care professional to discuss treatment options, which may include another valsartan product this recall doesn't affect or an alternative option.

The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

In the meantime, the FDA said it will continue to improve its procedures for guarding against such impurity risks. 

"We will use the information that we learn from our investigation into valsartan to strengthen our oversight," the statement said. 

Read more about the agency's probe and NDMA here. 

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cheese and Yogurt Help Protect Against Dying, Study Finds]]>Fri, 31 Aug 2018 06:28:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/910571610-Yogurt-Cheese.jpg

Eating dairy products, especially cheese and yogurt, is linked with a lower mortality rate, according to a new study reviewed by NBC News.

Consuming any dairy was associated a 2 percent lower risk of death by any cause, while dairy diets of mostly cheese was associated with an 9 percent lower risk, according to the research presented Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology. Dairy consumption also slightly lowered the risk of death by stroke.

The researchers reviewed data from U.S. federal health and nutrition surveys conducted between 1999 and 2010.

"This was a study of an eating pattern — which is really what we need to be focusing on, eating patterns as opposed to individual foods or food groups," said University of Alabama at Birmingham nutrition science professor Beth Kitchin in an email. She was not affiliated with the study.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Johner RF]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Nurse Fired Over Post About Young Measles Patient]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 15:24:39 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles-vaccine.jpg

A Houston nurse who posted protected health information about a young patient with measles to a Facebook page related to the anti-vaccine movement is no longer employed at Texas Children’s Hospital, the facility said in a statement Thursday.

The nurse, who has not been identified, posted to the page that despite the fact that the young patient was “super sick,” was admitted to the ICU and "looked miserable," the nurse was still opposed to vaccines, NBC News reported.

The nurse was investigated and ultimately dismissed for privacy violations, but her anti-vaccine stance concerns others in the medical field.

Dr. David Persse, director of the Houston Health Department, was dismayed that a medical professional would be opposed to childhood vaccinations. "She is one of the few people who has seen firsthand how devastating these diseases can be, and she has still taken this position against vaccines," Persse said in an interview.

Measles has been eliminated in the United States through vaccination, but every year, cases are imported from other countries. People who are not vaccinated or who are incompletely vaccinated can become infected and carry the virus with them. It will spread if there are pockets of other unvaccinated people.

Photo Credit: Leo Correa/AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Hundreds of Nasal Products for Kids, Adults Recalled]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 10:09:53 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ucm616192.jpg

An over-the-counter health and beauty product manufacturer supplying medicines to retailers across the country has expanded its voluntary nasal product recall to include all nasal products and baby oral gels -- amounting to hundreds of items -- over concerns of microbial contamination that could pose life-threatening infection risk for vulnerable users.

Product Quest, which first announced a recall of some bottles of CVS Health's 12 Hour Sinus Relief Nasal Mist, said this week it was pulling all lots of nasal treatments and baby oral gels made in its Florida facility. The recall amounts to hundreds of nasal allergy and congestion treatments used by both children and adults.See the full 65-page list of recalled items here.  

Product Quest recalled the items as a precaution after finding Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a kind of bacteria, in some of its CVS products. Frequent use of the contaminated product could result in infections, which could be life-threatening for users with cystic fibrosis or people who are immuno-compromised, according to the FDA.

Product Quest said there is no known microbial contamination associated with the nasal products and gels added to the recall, but it was pulling them out "an abundance of caution" and said retailers who shelve the products should dump them as well. There have been no reports of illnesses connected to the recall, "to the best" of the manufacturer's knowledge, a statement said. 

Product Quest says it is notifying its customers by oral and written communication and is arranging for return and or replacement of all recalled products. Consumers/distributors/retailers that have a recalled product should stop using it immediately and return it to the place of purchase. 

Consumers with questions can contact Product Quest Manufacturing LLC at 704-939-4342, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., EST. Consumers should contact their physicians or health care providers if they have experienced any problems that may be related to taking or using these drug products.

Photo Credit: Food and Drug Administration ]]>
<![CDATA[Rubber Critter Toys Recalled for Excessive Lead Paint Levels]]>Thu, 30 Aug 2018 09:54:35 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rubber-critters-recall.jpg

Tens of thousands of rubber critter toys in the shapes of animals are being recalled for excessive lead levels in their orange and yellow paint. 

BSN Sports sold the 31,200 recalled units nationally through catalogues and online at Amazon.com, Athleticconnection.com, Bsnsports.com, Esportsonline.com and Usgames.com from February 2017 to June 2018, according to a recall notice posted Wednesday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. 

The toys, which the notice says are "primarily used to play physical education tossing games," are shaped like an octopus, alligator, chicken, frog, pig, penguin or cow.

"Consumers should immediately take the recalled rubber critter toys away from children," the recall notice said.

Lead is especially dangerous to children because their bodies absorb the toxic element more than adults' bodies do, and a child's nervous system is also more sensitive to lead's effects, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The toys, which were made in China and imported and distributed by BSN Sports, sold for about $10 for an individual rubber critter or up to $145 for a set, according to recallrt.com/rubbercritters. Sets ranged from two to 24 critters. 

BSN Sports said it was contacting all known purchasers directly but those who bought the critters can also request a merchandise credit by calling 1-888-847-8816 between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. CT on weekdays. Those who want refunds can also register at recallrtr.com/rubbercritters.

Photo Credit: BSN Sports]]>
<![CDATA[Legal Marijuana Industry Tries to Shake 'Stoner' Stereotypes]]>Wed, 29 Aug 2018 10:05:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18239772786553.jpg

Michelle Janikian, who writes about marijuana for publications like Herb, Playboy and Rolling Stone, says after she tells someone what she does for a living, she usually spends the rest of the conversation "trying to act so friendly and mainstream" so they don't think she's stoned.

Adam Salcido relates that after he went to work a couple of years ago for a Southern California company that helps organize weed-infused events like Hempfest and Cannabis Cup, he had to reassure his family he wouldn't turn into a drug addict.

Stoner stereotypes die hard.

But with a multibillion-dollar industry beginning to flower — marijuana is now legal in some form in 30 states — cannabis advocates are pushing to dispel the idea that people who toke up still live on the couches in their parents' basements and spend their waking hours eating Cheetos and playing video games.

MedMen, a flashy, upscale chain of dispensaries that brands itself as the Apple store of pot shops, recently rolled out a $2 million ad campaign that, for lack of a better description, might be called the "anti-stoner offensive."

Photos of 17 people — including a white-haired grandmother, a schoolteacher, a business executive, a former pro football player and a nurse — are being splashed across billboards, buses and the web by the company that has dispensaries in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York. Each photo has the word "stoner" crossed out and in its place a description of their job.

People can find their biographies on the website www.forgetstoner.com, where they can also learn why they use weed. Reasons range from treatment of medical conditions like migraines and anxiety to simply enjoying the high.

"What we're saying is the very definition of a stereotype is defining a person by one bad mention," says Daniel Yi, MedMen's senior vice president of communications and a former Los Angeles Times reporter. "They're also a grandmother. They're also a father, a son, a brother."

Judd Weiss, CEO and founder of cannabis company Lit.Club, believes the industry needs to do still more. He suggests marketing products in a way that makes them look more than just respectable, but as the herbal equivalent of a fine bourbon or scotch.

Thus, he says, Lit.Club's vape pens are packaged in a way "that won't embarrass you at the opera." They look sleek and stylish, with inspirational phrases like "Light A Path" printed on each one. He compares the aroma and flavor of his company's pre-rolled joints to something similar to a fine brandy.

"Very much like the Tesla, we want to be seen as luxury quality but affordable," he said.

The website Leafly, which is sometimes called a Yelp for discerning potheads, has taken out ads in The New York Times and staged promotional events at gatherings like the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, to extol the virtues of marijuana. Better sex and better health are two claims it focuses on.

Still there is pushback from some who believe realities about pot are being glossed over by slick marketing.

"It is not a controversial claim to say that marijuana could be addictive for some people, that it could produce mental illness, that it's tied to impaired driving, that it makes you not motivated, that you're more likely to drop out of school if you're a kid using," said Kevin Sabet, president of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana and a former drug policy adviser to presidents Clinton, Obama and George W. Bush.

Sabet accuses the cannabis industry of enticing children with edibles and cookies in an attempt to become another "Big Tobacco," although he also acknowledges there is evidence that marijuana has some medicinal value.

It was edibles that brought Cindy Paul of Billings, Montana, to a Portland, Oregon, pot shop a few weeks ago to sample marijuana for the first time in 25 years. A casual if closeted smoker during her school days, Paul, 55, said she decided to indulge again while vacationing with her daughter in a state where it's legal and where she can acquire it in a form she doesn't have to inhale.

"I do think it has medicinal qualities," she said, adding, "I'm not using it for that. I'm using it to have a good time. I don't think it's any different than having a beer."

To bring more people like Paul into the fold, branding expert Robert Miner says the marijuana industry needs to use movies and TV shows to change negative perceptions.

Those lovable stoners Cheech and Chong were fine back in the day when it came to rebuffing the idea that anybody who smoked pot was headed for Reefer Madness. But the mainstreaming of marijuana, he said, demands a new message.

"For that larger portion of the cannabis-consuming population, that same silly bumbling stereotype that led to a wider acceptance is now an impediment to their being open about their cannabis consumption," said Miner, whose firm, Miner & Co. Studio, works with TV networks and other media in image building.

One show that presents a more modern take on marijuana is HBO's "High Maintenance." It features a bicycle-riding pot dealer who interacts with a variety of average New Yorkers, from empty-nesting Boomers to workaholic Millennials. The only thing any have in common is they buy marijuana from him and, as they do, pull him into their daily lives.

It's one of Janikian's favorite shows, and she'd like to see more like it. But for now the writer who divides her time between New York and Mexico will continue to remain circumspect about her marijuana use.

She sometimes uses a topical cream to curb anxiety and after a hard day's work she likes to smoke a joint to unwind like any "random normal person" would have a glass of wine.

But she knows those random normal people are often skeptical.

"It's like, 'Oh, you just want to smoke weed,' " she says, laughing. " 'Stop lying.'"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/AP]]>
<![CDATA[STDs Set New Record, Continuing Rapid Rise in US, CDC Says]]>Tue, 28 Aug 2018 12:35:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/475150913-Condom-Safe-Sex.jpg

Nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were diagnosed in the United States last year, far more than the STD record set in 2016, NBC News reported.

The new data come from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which said Tuesday that the number of cases in 2017 surpassed the previous record by more than 200,000.

There have been recent increases in STDs among heterosexual men and women and among pregnant women and their babies, said Dr. Gail Bolan, head of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention.

"Usually there are ebbs and flows, but this sustained increase is very concerning," Bolan said. She and others suspect that newer drugs that made HIV less lethal and infectious may have contributed to declining condom use.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF]]>
<![CDATA[50 Adult Meds Added to National Recall With 32 Kids' Items]]>Tue, 28 Aug 2018 10:27:53 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Dr+King+Bio+Recall.jpg

King Bio has announced it is pulling all of its water-based products across all brands, amounting to more than 50 products intended to treat virtually every ailment from migraines to allergies, amid a national recall over concerns about possible purity issues.

The company's founder, Frank King, announced the expanded recall in a statement on the website Monday. Nearly three dozen children's medicines have already been recalled over the microbial contamination fears. 

King Bio, a North Carolina-based company that makes homeopathic drugs, first said last week that a small percentage of its products produced between Aug. 1, 2017 and April 2018 tested positive for the microbial contamination.

The company said use of the medicines could result in increased or life-threatening infections. There have been no reports of illnesses, according to the FDA, and King Bio issued the recall "out of an abundance of caution."

There were still no reported illnesses as of Monday, and King Bio said it was notifying its distributors and customers by letter to arrange for return and/or replacement of all the affected medicines.

The recalled products are used to treat dozens of conditions, including allergies, migraine, anxiety, bed wetting, chicken pox, common colds, nosebleeds, sore throat and teething. Products meant for use on pets are also being recalled. They were sold nationwide between August 2017 and July 2018.

"We are truly sorry for the inconvenience or concern our recall may have caused, but we felt this was the right thing to do to maintain your trust," King said in a statement. "Thank you for your continued loyalty and confidence in our King Bio products."

Customers are urged to stop using the affected products immediately and contact King Bio by email at recall@kingbio.com or call the company at 866-298-2740, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. ET to 3:30 p.m. ET. Consumers who believe they may have been sickened by one of the recalled products should contact their physician or healthcare provider. 

See a list of 32 the affected kids' medicines below. For a complete list of UPC and Lot numbers click here. Find all the recalled adult medicines here.

• DK Attention & Learning Enh.
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief
• Children's Appetite & Weight
• Children's Appetite Enhance
• Children's Cough Relief
• Children's Fever Reliever
• Children's Growth & Development
• DK Newborn Tonic
• DK Nosebleed Relief
• TonsilPlex
• Children's Ear Relief Formula
• DK Teething
• DK Colic Relief
• Tummy Aches
• Kids Multi-Strain Flu Relief
• Kids Stress & Anxiety
• Kids Sleep Aid
• Kids Bed Wetting (NP)
• Kids Candida - 4-ounce bottle
• Kids Attention & Learning (SCRX)
• Bed Wetting Prevention (SCRX)
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief (SCRX)
• Childrens Cough (SCRX)
• Children’s Ear Formula (SCRX)
• Children’s Fever Reliever (SCRX)
• Children’s Growth & Development (SCRX)
• Colic Relief (SCRX)
• Newborn Tonic (SCRX)
• Teething (SCRX)
• Tummy Aches (SCRX)
• Children’s Apetite & Weight (SCRX)
• Children’s Appetite Enhancer (SCRX) 

Photo Credit: Dr. King's by King Bio]]>
<![CDATA[Cigarette Butts Are Biggest Source of Ocean Trash: Advocates]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 08:07:59 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/680792025-cigarette-butts-beach.jpg

As coastal cities ban plastic straws and California and Hawaii consider following suit, activists are trying to raise awareness about cigarette butts, a much greater source of ocean pollution, NBC News reported.

The filters have been the most-collected item on the world's beaches for 32 consecutive years of the Ocean Conservancy's annual beach cleanup, more than plastic wrappers, eating utensils, bottles and containers combined.

Among those arguing that cigarette butts should be banned are the international Surfrider Foundation, a California lawmaker and leading tobacco industry academic Thomas Novotny.

"It's pretty clear there is no health benefit from filters. They are just a marketing tool," said Novotny, a professor of public health at San Diego State University. "It's also a major contaminant, with all that plastic waste. It seems like a no-brainer to me that we can't continue to allow this."

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra, File]]>
<![CDATA[Aspirin Disappoints for Avoiding First Heart Attack, Stroke: Study]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 06:56:00 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/689227195-Aspirin-.jpg

Taking a low-dose aspirin every day has long been known to cut the chances of another heart attack, stroke or other heart problem in people who already have had one, but the risks don't outweigh the benefits for most other folks, major new research finds.

Although it's been used for more than a century, aspirin's value in many situations is still unclear. The latest studies are some of the largest and longest to test this pennies-a-day blood thinner in people who don't yet have heart disease or a blood vessel-related problem.

One found that aspirin did not help prevent first strokes or heart attacks in people at moderate risk for one because they had several health threats such as smoking, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Another tested aspirin in people with diabetes, who are more likely to develop or die from heart problems, and found that the modest benefit it gave was offset by a greater risk of serious bleeding.

Aspirin did not help prevent cancer as had been hoped.

And fish oil supplements, also tested in the study of people with diabetes, failed to help.

"There's been a lot of uncertainty among doctors around the world about prescribing aspirin" beyond those for whom it's now recommended, said one study leader, Dr. Jane Armitage of the University of Oxford in England. "If you're healthy, it's probably not worth taking it."

The research was discussed Sunday at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich. The aspirin studies used 100 milligrams a day, more than the 81-milligram pills commonly sold in the United States but still considered low dose. Adult strength is 325 milligrams.

A Boston-led study gave aspirin or dummy pills to 12,546 people who were thought to have a moderate risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke within a decade because of other health issues.

After five years, 4 percent of each group had suffered a heart problem — far fewer than expected, suggesting these people were actually at low risk, not moderate. Other medicines they were taking to lower blood pressure and cholesterol may have cut their heart risk so much that aspirin had little chance of helping more, said the study leader, Dr. J. Michael Gaziano of Brigham and Women's Hospital.

One percent of aspirin takers had stomach or intestinal bleeding, mostly mild— twice as many as those on dummy pills. Aspirin users also had more nosebleeds, indigestion, reflux or belly pain.

Bayer sponsored the study, and many researchers consult for the aspirin maker. Results were published by the journal Lancet.

People with diabetes have a higher risk of heart problems and strokes from a blood clot, but also a higher risk of bleeding. Guidelines vary on which of them should consider aspirin.

Oxford researchers randomly assigned 15,480 adults with Type 1 or 2 diabetes but otherwise in good health and with no history of heart problems to take either aspirin, 1 gram of fish oil, both substances, or dummy pills every day.

After seven and a half years, there were fewer heart problems among aspirin users but more cases of serious bleeding, so they largely traded one risk for another.

The same study also tested omega-3 fatty acids, the good oils found in salmon, tuna and other fish. Supplement takers fared no better than those given dummy capsules — 9 percent of each group suffered a heart problem.

"We feel very confident that there doesn't seem to be a role for fish oil supplements for preventing heart disease," said study leader Dr. Louise Bowman of the University of Oxford.

The British Heart Foundation was the study's main sponsor. Bayer and Mylan provided aspirin and fish oil, respectively. Results were published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Other studies are testing different amounts and prescription versions of fish oil, "but I can't tell people go spend your money on it; we think it's probably better to eat fish," said Dr. Holly Andersen, a heart disease prevention specialist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell who was not involved in the study.

The new research doesn't alter guidelines on aspirin or fish oil, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an American Heart Association spokeswoman. They recommend fish oil only for certain heart failure patients and say it's reasonable to consider for people who have already suffered a heart attack.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[THC Found in Breast Milk Up to 6 Days After Pot Use: Study]]>Mon, 27 Aug 2018 08:55:18 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuanaAP_18235522395657.jpg

Marijuana's main mind-altering ingredient was detected in nursing mothers' breast milk in a small study that comes amid evidence that more U.S. women are using pot during pregnancy and afterward.

Experts say the ingredient, THC, has chemical properties that could allow it to disrupt brain development and potentially cause harm, although solid evidence of that is lacking.

The new study involved 50 nursing mothers who were using pot and provided breast milk samples to researchers at the University of California, San Diego. Lab testing found small amounts of THC, the psychoactive chemical that causes marijuana's "high," in 34 of 54 samples up to six days after they were provided. Another form of THC and cannabidiol, a pot chemical touted by some as a health aid, were detected in five samples.

The study authors said "it is reasonable to speculate" that exposing infants to THC or cannabidiol "could influence normal brain development," depending on dose and timing.

The results echo findings in case reports from years ago, when pot was less potent than what's available today, said study co-author Christina Chambers, a pediatrics professor. It's not known if the amounts detected pose any risk, but she said her research team is studying children whose moms' were involved to try to answer that question.

Two small studies from the 1980s had conflicting results on whether pot use affects breastfed infants. One found no evidence of growth delays; the other found slight developmental delays in breastfed infants, but their mothers had used pot during pregnancy too.

Most pediatricians encourage breastfeeding and its health benefits for infants, but "they're stuck with a dilemma" with infants whose mothers use pot, Chambers said.

A new American Academy of Pediatrics report recommending against pot use while pregnant or nursing acknowledges that challenge.

"We still support women breastfeeding even if using marijuana but would encourage them to cut down and quit," said Dr. Seth Ammerman, a report co-author and Stanford University pediatrics professor.

"In counseling patients about this, it's important to be nonjudgmental but to educate patients about the potential risks and benefits," Ammerman said, to ensure "a healthy outcome for themselves and their baby."

The study and report were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has similar advice.

The academy report says its advice is based on theoretical risks to developing brains, but it acknowledges conflicting evidence and a dearth of research. Some studies have linked pot use during pregnancy with lower birth weights or preterm birth, along with developmental delays and learning difficulties in older children. But additional factors including women's use of other drugs during pregnancy complicated the results, the report says.

Marijuana is legal for recreational use in nine states and Washington, D.C., and for medical use in 31 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

As more states legalize marijuana, its use is increasing along with the "false impression" that it is safe, the academy's report says. Ammerman said caution makes sense, given the uncertainties.

According to U.S. government data, about 1 in 20 women report using marijuana during pregnancy. Estimates for use among breastfeeding mothers vary, but a study in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, put the number at almost 20 percent among women in a government supplemental food program.

The report, study and a journal editorial all said more research is needed.

Last year, a federal advisory panel said lack of scientific information about marijuana poses a public health risk.

Research has been hampered by federal government restrictions based on its view that marijuana is an illegal drug.

That has contributed to a stigma and shaded doctors' views, said Keira Sumimoto, an Irvine, California, mother who used marijuana briefly for medical reasons while pregnant and breastfeeding. She said smoking a joint daily helped her gain weight when she was sick before learning she was pregnant, and eased childbirth-related pain, but that she quit because of backlash from marijuana opponents.

She said her daughter, now 8 months old, is healthy and advanced for her age.

Sumimoto runs @cannabisandmotherhood, an Instagram account that she says aims to present truthful information about marijuana so women can make their own choices.

She said she agrees with advice to be cautious, but that the academy's stance is "is just a little too much."

"The fear is taking over and the need and want to understand this plant is being ignored by the stigma," Sumimoto said. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Weight-Loss Drug Seems Safe for Heart, Study Finds]]>Sun, 26 Aug 2018 10:13:11 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WeightAP_18093712630899.jpg

For the first time, a drug has been shown to help people lose weight and keep it off for several years without raising their risk for heart problems — a safety milestone that may encourage wider use to help curb the obesity epidemic.

The drug, Belviq, has been sold in the United States since 2013 and is the first of several new weight-loss medicines to complete a long-term heart safety study now required by federal regulators to stay on the market.

"Patients and their doctors have been nervous about using drugs to treat obesity and for good reason. There's a history of these drugs having serious complications," said study leader Dr. Erin Bohula of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

With this study, Belviq has been convincingly shown safe for the heart, she said.

Although Belviq did not raise heart risks, it didn't lower them either, as many had hoped it would. The weight loss it produced was fairly modest — after 40 months, Belviq users had shed 9 pounds (4 kilograms), twice as much as those on dummy pills.

It may be that weight loss alone is not enough to lower heart risks, or that there needs to be more to do that, some doctors said.

Results were discussed Sunday at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Munich and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Belviq's maker, Eisai Inc., sponsored the study and many of the researchers consult or work for the company.

Worldwide, 13 percent of adults are obese and 39 percent are overweight, raising their risk for a host of health problems. Diet and exercise are the first steps doctors recommend, but medicines also can be considered for people with dangerously high weight who cannot drop enough pounds by other means.

Several popular diet medicines were previously withdrawn from sale after they were found to raise the risk for heart valve damage, suicidal thoughts or other problems, prompting the new requirement for heart safety studies.

Belviq is an appetite suppressant that works by stimulating brain chemicals to give a feeling of fullness. It costs roughly $220 to $290 a month in the United States.

Researchers tested it in a study of 12,000 people who were either obese or overweight with heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. They were given Belviq or dummy pills to take twice a day and offered lifestyle and diet advice.

At one year, 39 percent on Belviq and 17 percent on dummy pills had lost at least 5 percent of their starting weight. Several previous studies also found the drug effective for weight loss.

After about three years, 6 percent of each group had suffered a heart-related problem or death.

Fewer people on Belviq developed diabetes — 8.5 percent versus 10.3 percent on dummy pills.

Serious side effects were similar, but more on Belviq stopped taking their pills because of them — 7 percent versus 4 percent. Common side effects included dizziness, fatigue, headache and nausea.

Dangerously low blood sugar happened in 13 people on Belviq versus four in the other group; all but one case involved people also taking diabetes medicines, which lower blood sugar.

Tests for heart valve damage were done on 3,270 participants but no big differences in rates were seen. Suicidal thoughts or behavior were reported in 21 people on Belviq versus 11 on dummy pills, but more on the drug had a history of depression and the difference was so small it could have been due to chance, Bohula said.

In a commentary, two of the journal's editors, Drs. Julie Inglefinger and Clifford Rosen, said there might be alternatives to Belviq. Liraglutide, when used to treat diabetes, also causes weight loss and lowers heart risks, though it hasn't been tested for cardiac safety at the dose used for weight loss.

For now, Belviq "may be best used on a cautious basis, according to the needs of individual patients," they write.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Sison]]>
<![CDATA[Have Food Poisoning? Here's When to See a Doctor]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 14:13:50 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/FOODPOINSONING.jpg

If you eat contaminated food, symptoms may not show up for hours or days. Here's when you should go see a doctor.]]>
<![CDATA[No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe, Health Experts Warn]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 10:19:34 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/183*120/GettyImages-719519832.jpg

So much for a glass of wine a day for your health's sake — all alcohol consumption is bad for you, according to a damning report. 

The global study, which claims to be the most comprehensive of its kind, pours cold water on previous reports that espouse the protective effects of alcohol under some conditions. 

While researchers acknowledged that moderate drinking can protect against heart disease and diabetes, they said that the risks of cancer and other illnesses outweigh those benefits and have called for a change in medical guidance. 

"The widely held view of the health benefits of alcohol needs revising," said the report published in The Lancet medical journal. 

The majority of national guidelines suggest that one or two glasses of wine or beer per day are safe for an adult's health. However, the report's authors said, "Our results show that the safest level of drinking is none." 

The study, which was carried out by researchers at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle, looked at levels of alcohol use and its health effects on those aged between 15 and 95 in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. 

It found that alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016 and was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49, accounting for 10 percent of all deaths. 

The greatest proportion of alcohol-related deaths among young people were tuberculosis, road injuries and self-harm, the report found. Meanwhile, for those aged over-50, the biggest killer was cancer, particularly among women.

Current drinking habits pose "dire ramifications for future population health," the reports authors said, urging people to rethink their approach to drinking alcohol.

The study claims to go beyond prior research because of the range of factors considered, including insights from 592 studies and 28 million people worldwide. 

It forms part of a wider Global Burden of Diseases study, a research project based at the University of Washington that compiles data on the causes of illness and death in the world.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[23andMe Will No Longer Let App Developers Read Your DNA Data]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 09:33:27 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/23andme.jpg

23andMe, which provides DNA testing kits for consumers, is telling outside app developers that they'll no longer have access to the company's raw genomic data. 

Developers of health apps, weight loss services and quantified self tests have been able to use 23andMe's anonymized data sets since 2012, when the company announced the opening of its application programming interface (API). The idea was to "allow authorized developers to build a broad range of new applications and tools for the 23andMe community," the company said at the time

But on Thursday, 23andMe sent an email to developers, informing them that the API was being disabled in two weeks and that apps will only be able to use reports generated by the company and not the hard data. 

"We're updating our API program to focus on apps that build on the interpretations and results we provide to our customers," 23andMe said in the email, which was viewed by CNBC. 

23andMe is one of the largest makers of at-home DNA tests, which start at $199. More than five million people have sent in a spit sample in exchange for information about their ancestry, as well as some personalized health reports, like whether they're at greater risk of developing breast cancer. 

The company works with pharmaceutical developers aiming to use genetic information to identify new drugs, and with academic researchers on genetics studies. 

The API is currently being used by dozens of developers, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named because the information is confidential. It's caused controversy for 23andMe in the past. In 2015, Wired reported on an application that was using the API to block people from websites and apps based on personal characteristics like their gender and ancestry. 

Developers will now be much more limited in how they access 23andMe's rich data and potentially in the services they can offer consumers. The company acknowledged changes to the program in an email to CNBC. 

"Moving forward, we will only partner with developers building applications that leverage the data based on 23andMe reports," the company said. "Our hope is to bring added value to customers' overall experience. We're notifying existing developers and any impacted customers now in order to help them prepare for the changes to our program." 

Raw data will still be available to research partners. 

Privacy concerns
23andMe hasn't said if the move is designed to retain control over its data or in response to concerns about user privacy. The company had plans several years ago to launch an app store, according to two people familiar with the matter, but opted not to move forward with the project because of challenges with vetting third-party developers. 

At-home DNA testing companies have been at the center of a privacy firestorm in recent months. 

Earlier this year, police arrested a suspect in the decades-old Golden State Killer case based on genetic information, when investigators used an open-source service called GEDmatch to look for potential matches to DNA samples from the crime scene. The case involves 12 deaths and at least 50 rapes in California between 1974 and 1986. 

23andMe customers can still choose to upload their genetic information to a service like GEDmatch and share it online or with a particular developer.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC:

Photo Credit: AP, File
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Fertility Doctor Who Used Own Sperm Surrenders License]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 07:32:45 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18051840147764.jpg

A retired Indianapolis fertility doctor who lied about using his own sperm to impregnate possibly dozens of women surrendered his medical license Thursday to a state board that also barred him from ever seeking its reinstatement.

After an attorney for Dr. Donald Cline surrendered his expired license to the Indiana Medical Licensing Board, the 7-member panel voted to prohibit the 79-year-old Cline from ever applying for a license in Indiana again.

Indiana's supervising deputy attorney general, Laura Iosue, asked the board before the vote to consider the impact of Cline's actions.

"It's particularly egregious. The important thing is that Dr. Cline doesn't practice anymore," she said.

Cline, who retired from practice in 2009, was given a one-year suspended sentence in December after pleading guilty to two counts of obstruction of justice. He'd used his own sperm to impregnate as possibly dozens of women after telling them the donors were anonymous.

No other charges were filed against Cline because Indiana law doesn't specifically prohibit fertility doctors from using their own sperm.

Cline was charged after lying to investigators, and he had faced up to three years in prison on each count. The charges stemmed from two confirmed cases of paternity, but children of women treated by Cline have said DNA tests show he's likely the biological father of as many as 20 of them .

Cline apologized "for the pain my actions have caused" during his December sentencing, although he didn't specify how often he used his own sperm in procedures. But court documents state that he told one of his biological daughters, Jacoba Ballard, that he had done so about 50 times in the 1970s and 1980s.

Ballard said at Thursday's hearing that Cline's actions have "affected me in every possible way."

"He's portrayed as this man that's remorseful," she said.

A total of 10 people who believe Cline is their biological father attended Thursday's hearing with their mothers.

Many of Cline's former patients and their children are now focusing on persuading Indiana lawmakers to pass a measure that would deem a fertility doctor's use of his own sperm as a crime.

Matt White, who learned as an adult that the "anonymous" sperm donor who impregnated his mother was actually Cline, called the surrender of Cline's already expired license "a slap on the wrist." But he said he appreciated the board barring Cline from ever seeking to seek reinstatement of his license.

"That was a small victory," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Marion County, Ind. via AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Friday Night Lights Start to Dim on High School Football]]>Fri, 24 Aug 2018 08:30:16 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/849343576-High-School-Football.jpg

Fewer high school students are joining football teams, even though more students are playing high school sports on the whole, NBC News reported.

Participation in football has declined 7 percent since the 2009-2010 school year, after the dangers of concussions started to be reported, and the decline has accelerated in recent years, according to new data from the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Even in Texas, where high school football stadiums can dwarf other states' college stadiums, parents are having doubts about their kids playing the game, and enrollment is down slightly from its peak seven years ago.

"When you sit there and the doctor's doing the test and he's having a hard time repeating back basic numbers," said the father of a boy who quit the team at Carroll High School near Dallas, "I mean, that's certainly eye-opening as a parent."

Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Russians Pushed Divisive Content Over Vaccines: Researchers]]>Thu, 23 Aug 2018 16:54:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/VaccineRussia.jpg

Russian trolls weren’t just trying to cause division in U.S. politics. A new study shows they were also trying to sow discord in one of the country's most heated debates around public health: vaccinations.

NBC News reports Russia-linked social media bots pushed divisive rhetoric and misinformation on Twitter on both sides of the vaccine debate, according to research led by George Washington University and published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

"These trolls seem to be using vaccination as a wedge issue, promoting discord in American society," the study's authors said.

Photo Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster, File]]>
<![CDATA[Pot Vs. Pills for Pain Relief ]]>Thu, 23 Aug 2018 12:34:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_potpain0823_1500x845.jpg

Medical marijuana could be the answer to overcoming the nation's opioid epidemic, but so far the only evidence cannabis can relieve pain comes from patients. That's because the federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, highly restricting research. ]]>
<![CDATA[32 Children's Medicines Recalled Over Contamination Concerns]]>Thu, 23 Aug 2018 14:48:49 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/King+Bio+Recall.jpg

King Bio is recalling 32 children's medicines due to a possible microbial contamination.

The North Carolina-based company, which makes homeopathic drugs, announced Wednesday that a small percentage of its products produced between Aug. 1, 2017 and April 2018 have tested positive for the microbial contamination.

The company said use of the medicines could result in increased or life-threatening infections. There have been no reports of illnesses, according to the FDA, and King Bio issued the recall "out of an abundance of caution."

The recalled products are used to treat dozens of conditions, including bed wetting, chicken pox, common colds, nosebleeds, sore throat and teething, and were sold nationwide between August 2017 and July 2018. 

Customers are urged to stop using the affected products immediately and contact King Bio by email at recall@kingbio.com or call the company at 866-298-2740, Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. ET to 3:30 p.m. ET., to make arrangements for a return and replacement of the product. Consumers who believe they may have been sickened by one of the recalled products should contact their physician or healthcare provider. 

All of the recalled products listed below come in 2-ounce bottles except for Kids Candida, which comes in a 4-ounce bottle. Products marked "SCRX" are only used by professionals. For a complete list of UPC and Lot numbers click here

• DK Attention & Learning Enh.
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief
• Children's Appetite & Weight
• Children's Appetite Enhance
• Children's Cough Relief
• Children's Fever Reliever
• Children's Growth & Development
• DK Newborn Tonic
• DK Nosebleed Relief
• TonsilPlex
• Children's Ear Relief Formula
• DK Teething
• DK Colic Relief
• Tummy Aches
• Kids Multi-Strain Flu Relief
• Kids Stress & Anxiety
• Kids Sleep Aid
• Kids Bed Wetting (NP)
• Kids Candida - 4-ounce bottle
• Kids Attention & Learning (SCRX)
• Bed Wetting Prevention (SCRX)
• Chicken Pox Symptom Relief (SCRX)
• Childrens Cough (SCRX)
• Children’s Ear Formula (SCRX)
• Children’s Fever Reliever (SCRX)
• Children’s Growth & Development (SCRX)
• Colic Relief (SCRX)
• Newborn Tonic (SCRX)
• Teething (SCRX)
• Tummy Aches (SCRX)
• Children’s Apetite & Weight (SCRX)
• Children’s Appetite Enhancer (SCRX) 

Photo Credit: Dr. King's by King Bio]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Extends EpiPen Expiration to Cover Shortages]]>Wed, 22 Aug 2018 06:01:53 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epiAP_16272622879970.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that people can use some expired EpiPens for a few months longer to help cover spot shortages that have put some parents into a panic at the beginning of a new school year, NBC News reported.

Some batches of the devices, which inject lifesaving medication to stop severe allergic reactions, can be used for four months beyond their expiration, the FDA said. The affected devices hold the 0.3-milligram dose. The FDA said it reviewed data from Mylan, which sells EpiPen, showing that the product is still effective beyond the expiration date.

"We are doing everything we can to help mitigate shortages of these products, especially ahead of the back-to-school season," the FDA’s Dr. Janet Woodcock said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Suit: Hospital Honored Patient's Request for No Black Nurse]]>Sun, 19 Aug 2018 12:44:17 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nurseGettyImages-97769656.jpg

A nurse is suing a Michigan hospital for allegedly honoring a patient's request to not be cared for by a black woman.

Teoka Williams filed a federal lawsuit Monday against Beaumont Hospital in Dearborn, alleging that the health system violated federal and state civil rights laws by barring her from caring for a patient because of her race.

Williams, who has worked as a registered nurse at Beaumont for 10 years, said she overheard a patient in October 2017 request to not have a black woman as a caregiver. Williams said she reported the comment to her clinical manager, who then restricted her from caring for the patient.

Williams' suit contends that she complained to the hospital's human resources department about the issue. Williams alleges she was told that "patient requests are honored all the time and the next time it happens she would simply be taken off the assignment altogether."

Beaumont Hospital declined to comment on pending litigation. But the health system issued a statement saying that its "highest priority is providing a safe environment that is free from discrimination for both our patients and staff, and delivering care with compassion, dignity and respect."

Williams' attorney Julie Gafkay said health care institutions shouldn't accommodate patients' requests at the expense of employees' civil rights.

Gafkay said the lawsuit "is about being denied the opportunity to do your job duties based on your race, and being segregated from your job duties based on your race." She said the health system "accommodated racism and allowed a patient to discriminate against a very good and valuable employee."

The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[EpiPen Shortage Has Parents Struggling as Schools Open]]>Fri, 17 Aug 2018 18:40:21 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epiAP_16272622879970.jpg

Brenda Thiel and Alyssa Wachtler live on opposite sides of the country. But they've got at least one thing in common: both have sons with severe nut allergies. And when they made their usual back-to-school trips to the pharmacy to procure their EpiPens for the new year, they were told the same thing.

"The pharmacist literally walked up to me and said, 'I'm really sorry, we do not have any epinephrine here,'" Thiel, who lives in Tucson, Arizona, told CNBC. "He said there's a shortage, and you're not going to be able to find EpiPens anywhere."

The lifesaving allergy medicine has had manufacturing disruptions since May, but allergy sufferers and caregivers may find it especially hard to find now, as parents try to stock up to send their kids back to school. EpiPen prescriptions typically spike in August, when parents buy multiple packs to give to their kids' teachers, nurses and sports teams.

"In my busy pediatric clinic, we've noticed there are a number of patients calling in wondering where they can procure their EpiPens, since most pharmacies are having trouble keeping them in stock," said Dr. Stacy Dorris, of the department of pediatric allergy and immunology at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

It's a problem across the country. CNBC called two dozen pharmacies, from Boston to San Francisco, and nearly each one said it had no EpiPens, or very few, in stock. Some said the back-order date keeps getting pushed back, while others said it wasn't clear when more would be made available.

Patient advocacy group FARE, or Food Allergy Research & Education, said it heard from 600 people in 43 states in a survey about EpiPen availability, and more than 80 percent indicated they either couldn't fill or could only partially fill their prescriptions.

"We've heard there are widespread shortages of EpiPen," said Wells Fargo analyst David Maris, who estimates the product drew $1 billion in revenue in 2016 for drugmaker Mylan. (The company now reports financial results differently, making it difficult to ascertain how the EpiPen is performing, he said.)

"It's clearly a headwind," Maris said. "And no one's talking about how soon it will be cleared up."

New Jersey-resident Wachtler, whose 6-year-old son, Hudson, is starting first grade this year, is among parents who struggled to secure an EpiPen. She said she had to call eight to 10 local pharmacies before she found one that had a set of EpiPens in stock that were covered by her insurance.

"I said, 'Put it on hold! I will be there in the morning!'" Wachtler told CNBC. "And I rushed over and got the last box."

While EpiPen is marketed by Mylan, it's manufactured by a subsidiary of Pfizer. Mylan says it's "exploring several options with Pfizer that would help stabilize supply," while Pfizer cites "delayed shipments due to process changes," and the supply of "third-party components" for the disruptions.

The Pfizer subsidiary, Meridian Medical Technologies, received a warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration in September, citing "significant violations of current good manufacturing practice requirements" at its Missouri plant. Pfizer spokesman Steven Danehy said that the warning letter didn't restrict supply at the time it was received, but that "there has been some impact on manufacturing capacity" as a result of new processes it put into place to fix the issues the FDA cited.

The EpiPen isn't the only option for allergy sufferers, though it is by far the most dominant. There is an identical authorized generic version also sold by Mylan, but at half the price, but it too faces manufacturing issues.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals makes the Adrenaclick, a similar epinephrine auto-injector, while private drugmaker Kaleo makes the Auvi-Q, a smaller, rectangle-shaped device that talks the user through how to use it.

The Adrenaclick faced its own manufacturing issues earlier this year, but Amneal spokesman Mark Donohue said this week that the epinephrine auto-injectors are available. The Adrenaclick is also made by Pfizer, he said.

"While we experienced intermittent supply of products from our third-party manufacturer throughout the second quarter and during the month of July, we are receiving shipments," Donohue said.

The Auvi-Q hasn't had similar manufacturing problems, but it has another characteristic that may make it hard for some patients to procure: a list price of $4,500 for two auto-injectors. If it's covered by insurance, many can get the device without a copay. But it's not always covered.

That was the case for Thiel. Her 12-year-old son, Dylan, just started seventh grade, and is carrying his own epinephrine auto-injector for the first time.

After fruitlessly calling multiple local pharmacies to try to find the EpiPen, Thiel said she asked her pediatrician to write a prescription for the Auvi-Q. But her insurance, provided by the government as her husband has retired from the military, doesn't cover it. Finally, after an appeal, Thiel said the insurer agreed to cover it just one time.

"This has been about a month of me calling and asking and trying to get help," Thiel said. "Just trying to make sure I can have his medicines for him to go to school."

Back in New Jersey, Wachtler said she could also get the Auvi-Q, but that the staff members at her son's school aren't trained on how to use it.

"I feel most safe sending my son to school with the EpiPen or the EpiPen generic, knowing that the faculty is trained in how to administer that medication in case of an emergency," Wachtler said.

Mylan supplies EpiPens to schools through its EpiPen4Schools program. But even that system may face delays in supply, Mylan spokeswoman Lauren Kashtan said.

Just this week, a new competitor to the EpiPen was cleared to enter the U.S. market : a directly substitutable generic copy from Israeli drugmaker Teva Pharmaceuticals. It will be the first direct generic competitor sold by a company other than Mylan. (Mylan introduced the authorized generic in late 2016 after an uproar over the escalating price of the branded EpiPen, and it now commands about half the U.S. market, according to data from Wells Fargo. Mylan's branded EpiPen holds another 25 percent.)

It's unlikely, though, that the new competitor will solve the problems parents are facing as they send their kids back to school. Teva said in a statement that it's applying its "full resources to this important launch in the coming months." It didn't specify a launch date, or a price.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt's Dorris notes that in a bind, recently expired EpiPens can be used in an emergency situation, though it's not recommended if nonexpired products can be obtained.

And she stressed that, though many may feel concerned about their ability to obtain an EpiPen, it's not a good idea to hoard them.

"On each epinephrine auto-injector, there is an expiration date," Dorris said. "If it's not expiring soon, it's probably best to wait and not rush the pharmacies right this moment. Give people time and space to get the epinephrine auto-injector they need for school."

"It's something just as a culture, as Americans," she concluded, "we need to do for each other right now."

This story first appeared on CNBC.com More from CNBC:

*NYU will offer a free ride to all medical students

*'Ambien tweeting' is becoming a popular excuse

*Thyroid medication recalled after failed inspection at Chinese manufacturer

Photo Credit: AP
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<![CDATA[Weed Killer in Your Cereal? Maybe, But Don't Panic]]>Fri, 17 Aug 2018 10:13:04 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cereal2.jpg

Social media feeds have been swamped by news that the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group found traces of the pesticide glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, in certain popular breakfast cereals like Cheerios. While the headlines have alarmed parents, there are several reasons not to panic, NBC News reported.

Research by the EWG, which actively campaigns against glyphosate, was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, the amounts found were far below the allowable limits, and most experts in the field say there’s very little evidence that glyphosate causes cancer or any other health problems.

Glyphosate also made headlines because a California jury ordered Roundup maker Monsanto to pay $290 million in damages to a groundskeeper with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Still, American juries do not necessarily rule based on scientific evidence, and they are not required to.

Click here for the full story on NBCNews.com

Photo Credit: PA Images via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Any Given Sun Day: NFL Tackles Skin Cancer With Sunscreen Drive]]>Fri, 17 Aug 2018 07:18:27 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18216532311043-NFL-Skin-Cancer-Initiative.jpg

The toughest opponent for many NFL players and coaches during the blazing hot days of training camp sits far above the football field.

The sun's powerful ultraviolet rays are a leading cause of skin cancer, and shade is rare at most practice sites. So, slathered-on sunscreen, big bucket hats, long-sleeved T-shirts and slick sunglasses serve as lead blockers.

"I do it regularly, being red-haired with freckles, Irish heritage," Dolphins offensive tackle Sam Young said of using sunscreen. "I go to a dermatologist once a year to make sure everything is good."

Young doubles up on the protection by also wearing long sleeves during practice, despite steamy conditions that are more suited for lounging at the beach than playing on a football field.

"To me, it's not worth the risk," said Young, who grew up in South Florida and has family members who have had skin cancer. "I try to be as practical as I can about it. Sleeves mean one less thing to have to worry about."

And, there are plenty of concerns for those who spend so many hours on sun-splashed fields.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. The organization estimates there will be 5.4 million new cases of non-melanoma this year among 3.3 million people, and 91,270 new cases of melanoma — a more serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanoma is usually curable, however, when detected in its early stages.

The NFL and American Cancer Society teamed up this summer to launch an initiative as part of its "Crucial Catch" campaign in which free sunscreen is being provided to players, coaches, fans, team employees and media at camps around the country. Some sites — such as at Jets and Giants camp — have several receptacles where people can get sunscreen from a dispenser, while packets of lotion are being handed out at others.

"One of the things we try do here that we haven't done before (is) to look at the skin cancer part of it," first-year Lions coach Matt Patricia said, "and see if there's anything you have questions about as a person, 'Hey, this doesn't look right,' or, 'What do you think about this?'"

Falcons coach Dan Quinn said he's had a spot "removed or checked on" in annual skin cancer checks during physical exams. He and some of his assistants normally wear long shirts under their T-shirts during practice — despite the Georgia heat and humidity.

"We all remind one another," Quinn said. "For the players and for the coaches, we always have the lotion that we need or the spray to use. They're pretty mindful."

Well, some are.

Plenty of players acknowledge they often hit the field focused more on picking up blocks than putting on sunblock.

"I probably should, but I'm just too lazy," said Washington rookie wide receiver Trey Quinn, who was "Mr. Irrelevant" as the last player selected in this year's draft. "Hopefully my mom doesn't see this. She'd probably recommend with my pale skin to wear a little sunscreen, but it's available to us and it's up to us to be adults and make decisions for ourselves."

Most players and coaches don't usually reapply sunscreen during practice, although the American Cancer Society recommends doing so after two hours in the sun.

Jets defensive end Henry Anderson usually remembers to put lotion on his arms before practice — not that it stays on long.

"Sometimes, I'll get a little red because O-linemen are rubbing your arms and rubbing your skin and stuff," he said. "I guess it does the job. I still get kind of burned here and there, but I just don't really want to wear sleeves out to practice in this weather."

The American Cancer Society says the lifetime risk of melanoma is higher for people who are white, especially those with fair skin that freckles or burns easily. But people of all skin colors are vulnerable, and sun damage can occur at any time of year.

Broncos linebacker Justin Simmons, who is black, recently wore tights and a long-sleeve shirt while practicing in the elevated altitude of Colorado. He also regularly wears sunscreen.

"When you're out here, yeah, you have to," Simmons said. "I just tan easy — very rarely does my skin break. But you have to put it on. You're so much closer to the sun. It may feel a little bit more humid, like where I'm from in South Florida, and may not feel as humid here. But you're so much closer and the sun is beaming on you.

"You have to protect your skin."

Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, Texans owner Bob McNair and Jaguars coach Doug Marrone are among some in the NFL community who have been successfully treated for melanomas.

But there have also been several who have been devastated by skin cancer, including former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who lost his wife Kaye to melanoma in 2010. Former NFL assistant coach Jim Johnson died from that form of cancer in 2009, while former coach Buddy Ryan and former NFL player and coach Jack Pardee also dealt with it.

"Down in Houston with Mr. McNair, he would always remind us, 'Hey, make sure you put sunscreen on. It's important,'" said Titans coach Mike Vrabel, a Texans assistant the past four seasons. "It's something that he went through, and as you're out there every single day, just being conscious of it."

Vrabel's quarterback certainly is. Marcus Mariota grew up in Hawaii, so he's used to sunny days.

He doesn't use sunscreen, but wears a long-sleeved hoodie at practice, something he started doing last year.

"But today was a steamer," Mariota said recently. "I did consider putting on sunscreen. It's just slippery and messy. I'm not a big fan."

That's a common sentiment among players, particularly in the heat and humidity of training camp.

"I don't like doing it," Giants backup quarterback Davis Webb said. "I don't want it slipping on my hands, so I am not putting it on at practice. When I golf or I'm at the beach, I like to throw it on."

Dolphins rookie kicker Jason Sanders grew up in sunny Orange County, California, but is using sunscreen this summer for the first time in his football career.

"I get my upper arms to prevent the farmer's tan, and my neck, too," he said. "I get it on my ears and neck, but stay away from my face because I sweat a lot out here. I would say two out of three days I put sunscreen on. Some days when I kick, I don't want to be all lathered up. You can feel it when you're sweating this much. I don't want to get it anywhere near my eyes."

Just as long as it gets on every other exposed area.

Between blocks and screens, NFL players and coaches are doing everything under the sun to protect themselves.

"I think we can always get more information on all of that topic in general," Patricia said. "But (it's) something we have to be conscious about when we're out in the sun that long."

AP Pro Football Writer Teresa Walker and AP Sports Writers Tom Canavan, Pat Graham, Larry Lage, Brett Martel, Charles Odum, Stephen Whyno and Steve Wine contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves Teva’s Generic EpiPen After Yearslong Delay]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 13:35:25 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/EpiPen+May+14+2018.jpg

U.S. regulators cleared the first generic competitor to Mylan's EpiPen, after a yearslong delay that many said contributed to the emergency allergy drug's rapid rise in price. 

Teva Pharmaceuticals received Food and Drug Administration approval for generic versions of both the EpiPen and EpiPen Jr, the agency said in a statement Tuesday. 

The products are the first competitors cleared by the FDA that are direct generic copies of the EpiPen and could be substituted for the brand-name product by a pharmacist. Other versions of epinephrine auto-injectors, such as the Adrenaclick and Auvi-Q, are on the market, but aren't considered EpiPen generics. 

Teva shares rose 6 percent to $37.66 on the news. 

"This approval means patients living with severe allergies who require constant access to life-saving epinephrine should have a lower-cost option, as well as another approved product to help protect against potential drug shortages," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in the statement. 

Mylan introduced its own authorized generic form of the EpiPen in late 2016, after an uproar about the branded version's price, which rose more than 400 percent over a decade. The authorized generic, identical to the original except without the brand name, cost half the price: $300 for a two-pack. 

Teva could seek to compete by pricing its generic version even lower; typically, it takes multiple generic copies of a medicine entering the market to see prices collapse substantially. 

The Israeli company's application for a generic EpiPen was rejected by the FDA in early 2016, just before the rising price of Mylan's product exploded into a major news story heading into back-to-school season, when parents often stock up for kids with allergies. 

Though the key ingredient in the EpiPen, epinephrine, has been available for decades and is no longer covered by a patent, generic copies of the device have struggled to reach the market because the product is technically a drug-device combination, and the delivery device proved hard for generic competitors to copy to a degree that would satisfy regulators. 

The FDA issued guidance in November 2017 to try to make it easier for generic copies of complex medicines like the EpiPen to reach the market, saying some design differences may be approved as substitutable products, as long as those differences don't affect patients' ability to use the product the way it's intended. 

The FDA said Teva's generic products are expected to produce the same clinical effect and have the same safety profile as the EpiPen and EpiPen Jr. There are small differences in design, the regulator said, but they won't affect safety or efficacy.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. Here is more from CNBC: 

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<![CDATA[Smokers Better Off Quitting, Even With Weight Gain: Study]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 12:02:45 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/874373226-Cigarette-butts.jpg

If you quit smoking and gain weight, it may seem like you're trading one set of health problems for another. But a new U.S. study finds you're still better off in the long run.

Compared with smokers, even the quitters who gained the most weight had at least a 50 percent lower risk of dying prematurely from heart disease and other causes, the Harvard-led study found.

The study is impressive in its size and scope and should put to rest any myth that there are prohibitive weight-related health consequences to quitting cigarettes, said Dr. William Dietz, a public health expert at George Washington University.

"The paper makes pretty clear that your health improves, even if you gain weight," said Dietz, who was not involved in the research. "I don't think we knew that with the assurance that this paper provides."

The New England Journal of Medicine published the study Wednesday. The journal also published a Swedish study that found quitting smoking seems to be the best thing diabetics can do to cut their risk of dying prematurely.

The nicotine in cigarettes can suppress appetite and boost metabolism. Many smokers who quit and don't step up their exercise find they eat more and gain weight — typically less than 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms), but in some cases three times that much.

A lot of weight gain is a cause of the most common form of diabetes, a disease in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal. Diabetes can lead to problems including blindness, nerve damage, heart and kidney disease and poor blood flow to the legs and feet.

In the U.S. study, researchers tracked more than 170,000 men and women over roughly 20 years, looking at what they said in health questionnaires given every two years.

The people enrolled in the studies were all health professionals, and did not mirror current smokers in the general population, who are disproportionately low-income, less-educated and more likely to smoke heavily.

The researchers checked which study participants quit smoking and followed whether they gained weight and developed diabetes, heart disease or other conditions.

Quitters saw their risk of diabetes increase by 22 percent in the six years after they kicked the habit. An editorial in the journal characterized it as "a mild elevation" in the diabetes risk.

Studies previously showed that people who quit have an elevated risk of developing diabetes, said Dr. Qi Sun, one the study's authors. He is a researcher at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

But that risk doesn't endure, and it never leads to a higher premature death rate than what smokers face, he said.

"Regardless of the amount of weight gain, quitters always have a lower risk of dying" prematurely, Sun said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[How to Ease Kids' Anxiety About School Safety]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 11:07:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_113156084.jpg

Given the number of high-profile school shootings last year, both children and adults may be feeling anxiety about school safety. As many kids head back to school, knowing how to speak with them is key in helping to alleviate fear and worry about their personal safety. Here’s where to start, according to Parent Toolkit.

Create a sense of normalcy and return to a routine. Children can feel safer when things are "normal" and they may open up about their thoughts. If they don't open up, encourage them with open-ended questions and let them lead the conversation. Know their concerns and worries are valid and recognize them.

As most schools have active shooter drills or other safety practices, discuss with children why this is necessary and identify any adults they can turn to in those moments. 

Remember to keep these discussions age-appropriate. For elementary school kids, stay brief and simple and remind them they will be OK. For middle schoolers, prepare for more specific questions. For high schoolers, be ready to discuss more opinions and identify reputable online sources to seek information.

<![CDATA[How to Pack a Stress-Free School Lunch]]>Thu, 16 Aug 2018 08:13:33 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cafeteria1.jpg

With the school year starting again, it’s time to start to think about the routine of packing school lunches. For many time-pressed parents, this is a formidable task.

But it doesn’t need to be. I’m a registered dietitian and a clinical instructor at Georgia State University, and I have a few easy suggestions. The first has to do with the food itself, and the others are about organizing the meal.

Packing a powerful lunch
Research has shown that a balanced lunch of complex carbohydrates and protein offers children energy and brain fuel to help them get through a day of learning. For the main course, pair a complex carbohydrate, such as whole grain breads, crackers, pasta, beans, fruit, milk and yogurt, with a protein as your child’s main course. Some examples include a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread, beans with rice and salsa, peanut butter and jelly, tuna salad on crackers, yogurt and granola or cottage cheese with fruit.

When considering complex carbohydrates, look for three to five grams of fiber per serving. Two slices of whole wheat bread usually contains three grams of fiber or more. A piece of fruit is a good way to get in complex carbohydrates, satisfy a sweet craving and avoid sweets with added sugars. Keep in mind that research suggests children should eat less than 25 grams of added sugar per day.

Next, concentrate on selecting fruits and vegetables that are in season. The U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that school-aged children have at least two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables per day. In-season fruits and vegetables, which are at their taste peak and are more abundant, are good choices. Choose fruits and vegetables that will not brown quickly or get smashed in the lunch bag.

Include a few snacks that your child can eat along with lunch or during snack time at school. Good snack choices include easy-to-open items such as granola bars, trail mixes, string cheese with a piece of fruit, individual yogurts or cottage cheeses, and pretzels and hummus. Be sure to check for added sugars in yogurts and trail mixes, keeping in mind the recommendation for less than 25 grams.

Do not forget hydration. A water bottle for the day along with milk or a low-sugar – 10 grams or less per serving – juice box or pouch is a good option. Many juice companies offer options that are lower in sugar or include a serving of vegetables blended in with 100 percent fruit juice.

The logistics of lunches
Start your kids off early by involving them in the planning and shopping for the ingredients needed to pack their school lunches. Allow young packers to grab the side items to go into their lunch, such as fresh fruit and granola bars, while you pack the main, more labor-intensive food items.

Utilize the time to role-model healthy nutrition by packing your lunch for work with your child. Set aside time in your daily routine for lunch-packing so that it doesn’t creep up during stressful times such as running out the door in the morning. Assembly lines are a fun way to involve the whole family in packing lunches. A job can be created for all ages and cooking abilities.

Invest in reusable lunch containers. They may have more upfront cost, but overall the containers reduce waste and save money otherwise spent on lunch baggies. Firmer plastic or glass containers can also help to prevent browning and smashing of lunch items. Kids can have an added allowance opportunity of cleaning out their lunch boxes and containers to have them ready for the next day!

When shopping for lunch items, shop in bulk for nonperishable items such as granola bars, crackers and snacks and look for buy-one-get-one-free deals at your local grocery store. If concerned about fruits browning or bulk items going to waste, consider the cost benefit of prepackaged items that have longer expiration dates and will not brown. Examples include fruit squeeze pouches, single guacamole or hummus packets, peanut butter packet and yogurts.

Do not feel like your child needs something different each day. School is often a stressful time, and the lunch period is usually 20 minutes or less with the focus being on little talking and more eating so that kids can get back to learning on a full stomach. Often, lunch is “comfort food” from home for kids, and they enjoy having a routine lunch that they can count on during their school day.

If shopping, preparing and packing lunches is too overwhelming, you cannot go wrong with the National School Lunch Program. Often, you can save money and have more nutrition than packing a lunch from home. Farm-to-school initiatives and better overall nutrition have made school lunches a healthy, affordable option for families. When considering the financial impact of packing lunch from home versus buying school lunch, be sure to fill out your federal eligibility application for free or reduced meal eligibility.

This article was originally published on The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts. Read the original article here

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Measles Sickens 107 From 21 States in First Half of Year]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2018 15:00:42 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-927424104.jpg

More than 100 people from 21 states were reported to have contracted measles in the first half of 2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says on its website.

There have been a total of 107 cases of measles between Jan. 1 and July 14, 2018. The cases were reported in D.C. and states including California, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas.

The majority of people who have contracted measles were unvaccinated, the CDC says

Because measles is common in other parts of the world, including some countries in Europe and Asia, travelers with measles can bring the disease in the U.S. The disease can spread within the U.S. when it reaches a community with groups of unvaccinated people.

Symptoms of measles include high fever, cough, runny nose and red, watery eyes. A rash also forms three to five days after symptoms begin. The disease very contagious and can spread through coughing and sneezing

The U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases in 2014 with 667 reported cases from 27 states. It was the greatest number of cases since elimination of the disease was documented in the U.S. in 2000.

There was also a large, multi-state outbreak in 2015. It was linked to an amusement park in California, likely originating from a traveler who got infected abroad before visiting the park. A total of 188 people from 24 states and D.C. were reported to have gotten measles.

In 2017, 118 people from 15 states and D.C. A total of 86 people from 19 states contracted the disease in 2016.

Photo Credit: Karl Tapales/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Adele Shares Story of Friend Who Had Postpartum Psychosis]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2018 11:14:58 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17043839922714.jpg

Adele had a message for new moms when she shared the story of her best friend, who suffered a serious mental illness after giving birth to her first child.

In a Tuesday Instagram post, the singer urged new moms to "talk about how you’re feeling because in some cases it could save yours or someone else’s life."

Adele offered the advice with a photo of herself and the friend, new mom Laura Dockrill. She said Dockrill suffered from postpartum psychosis after childbirth, which Adele wrote was "the biggest challenge of her life in more ways than one."

Postpartum psychosis is a rare mental illness that can affect women after childbirth, according to the U.K.'s National Health Service. Symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, mania, depression, restlessness and confusion.

It is unlike postpartum depression or other mood changes that can come after giving birth. The NHS says postpartum psychosis should be treated as a medical emergency, and going without treatment could lead to the mother neglecting or harming herself or her baby.

Postpartum psychosis affects 1 to 2 in 1,000 women after childbirth, according to the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health in Boston.

In a candid blog post that Adele shared on her Instagram page, Dockrill described her time with the disease as "hell" and said that after she returned home with her newborn, "I felt like I had pushed out my personality as well as a baby."

She suspected something was wrong but encouraged herself to "stridently continue" anyway.

Still, she wrote, "I didn’t recognise myself and I felt like an intruder in my own life, like a fraud and a complete failure. ... I thought I was going to hurt myself in some horrendous way and I was doing everything to try and avoid that plus I didn’t want my family to see me crumble away before their eyes and watch me turn into an anxious wreck."

Dockrill said she couldn't eat or drink, her skin became "so pale it looked blue" and she suffered from severe anxiety attacks.

In an interview with BBC's Radio 1 Newsbeat, Dockrill said it was Adele who called attention her severe symptoms.

"She recognised it in me," Dockrill told the station. "I was on the phone FaceTiming her and she was the first one to detect what I might have."

With the help of "family, an incredible psychiatrist, medication ... and psychotherapy," Dockrill said she is "healed and recovering more and more each day."

"I am happy, confident and strong," she wrote. "I am myself."

Along with Adele's advice, Dockrill offered her own: "Take care of yourselves, be patient with others and above all be kind. If anybody is suffering don’t delay on talking to somebody, it can escalate and easily get out of hand."

She warned that "mental health is no joke" and that mental illness is "nothing to be embarrassed about."

Photo Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File
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<![CDATA[FDA Recalls Are Reminder China Controls Much of Drug Supply]]>Wed, 15 Aug 2018 11:41:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/140409167-Generic-drug-generic.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration has recalled certain drugs in recent days, one out of precaution and one due to possible contamination, and the warning has served as a reminder of a drug market that's increasingly outsourced to other countries, NBC News reported

Recent recalls include blood pressure drug Valsartan and thyroid medications Levothyroxine and Liothyronine. The FDA said some Valsartan batches around the world have been contaminated with a potentially cancer-causing chemical. No product sold in the U.S. has been found to be contaminated, but the generic versions could have the potential to generate the chemical. Still, the danger only lies in lifetime exposure and patients can continue taking the drug until they confirm its unaffected or they switch to an alternative.

But the case does illustrate the challenges the FDA must overcome in regulating the drug market and how vulnerable the U.S. is when it depends on other countries, especially China, to make essential drugs. The FDA has ways of ensuring product safety, such as regularly sending inspectors to scrutinize Chinese facilities. The thyroid medications were recalled out of precaution over what the FDA said were deficiencies in the manufacturer's practices.

However, no inspection would have found the potentially cancer-causing chemical, a byproduct of processing foods such as bacon as well as a water contaminant.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Toxic Compounds Showing Up in Public Water Systems]]>Mon, 13 Aug 2018 04:14:40 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PAAP_18222604883108.jpg

Lauren Woeher wonders if her 16-month-old daughter has been harmed by tap water contaminated with toxic industrial compounds used in products like nonstick cookware, carpets and fast-food wrappers. Henry Betz, at 76, rattles around his house alone at night, thinking about the water his family unknowingly drank for years that was tainted by the same contaminants, and the pancreatic cancers that killed wife Betty Jean and two others in his household.

Tim Hagey, manager of a local water utility, recalls how he used to assure people that the local public water was safe. That was before testing showed it had some of the highest levels of the toxic compounds of any public water system in the U.S.

"You all made me out to be a liar," Hagey, general water and sewer manager in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Warminster, told Environmental Protection Agency officials last month.

At "community engagement sessions" like the one in Horsham, residents and state, local and military officials are demanding that the EPA act quickly — and decisively — to clean up local water systems testing positive for dangerous levels of the chemicals, perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.

The Trump administration called the contamination "a potential public relations nightmare" earlier this year after federal toxicology studies found that some of the compounds are more hazardous than previously acknowledged.

PFAS have been in production since the 1940s, and there are about 3,500 different types. Dumped into water, the air or soil, some forms of the compounds are expected to remain intact for thousands of years; one public-health expert dubbed them "forever chemicals."

EPA testing from 2013 to 2015 found significant amounts of PFAS in public water supplies in 33 U.S. states. The finding helped move PFAS up as a national priority.

So did scientific studies that firmed up the health risks. One, looking at a kind of PFAS once used in making Teflon, found a probable link with kidney and testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypertension in pregnant women and high cholesterol. Other recent studies point to immune problems in children, among other things.

In 2016, the EPA set advisory limits — without any direct enforcement — for two kinds of PFAS that had recently been phased out of production in the United States. But manufacturers are still producing, and releasing into the air and water, newer versions of the compounds.

Earlier this year, federal toxicologists decided that even the EPA's 2016 advisory levels for the two phased-out versions of the compound were several times too high for safety.

EPA says it will prepare a national management plan for the compounds by the end of the year. But Peter Grevatt, director of the agency's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, told The Associated Press that there's no deadline for a decision on possible regulatory actions.

Reviews of the data, and studies to gather more, are ongoing.

Even as the Trump administration says it advocates for clean air and water, it is ceding more regulation to the states and putting a hold on some regulations seen as burdensome to business.

In Horsham and surrounding towns in eastern Pennsylvania, and at other sites around the United States, the foams once used routinely in firefighting training at military bases contained PFAS.

"I know that you can't bring back three people that I lost," Betz, a retired airman, told the federal officials at the Horsham meeting. "But they're gone."

State lawmakers complained of "a lack of urgency and incompetency" on the part of EPA.

"It absolutely disgusts me that the federal government would put PR concerns ahead of public health concerns," Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens declared.

After the meeting, Woeher questioned why it took so long to tell the public about the dangers of the compounds.

"They knew they had seeped into the water, and they didn't tell anybody about it until it was revealed and they had to," she said.

Speaking at her home with her toddler nearby, she asked, "Is this something that, you know, I have to worry? It's in her."

While contamination of drinking water around military bases and factories gets most of the attention, the EPA says 80 percent of human exposure comes from consumer products in the home.

The chemical industry says it believes the versions of the nonstick, stain-resistant compounds in use now are safe, in part because they don't stay in the body as long as older versions.

"As an industry today ... we're very forthcoming meeting any kind of regulatory requirement to disclose any kind of adverse data," said Jessica Bowman, a senior director at the American Chemistry Council trade group.

Independent academics and government regulators say they don't fully share the industry's expressed confidence about the safety of PFAS versions now in use.

While EPA considers its next step, states are taking action to tackle PFAS contamination on their own.

In Delaware, National Guard troops handed out water after high levels of PFAS were found in a town's water supply. Michigan last month ordered residents of two towns to stop drinking or cooking with their water, after PFAS was found at 20 times the EPA's 2016 advisory level. In New Jersey, officials urged fishermen to eat some kinds of fish no more than once a year because of PFAS contamination.

Washington became the first state to ban any firefighting foam with the compound.

Given the findings on the compounds, alarm bells "should be ringing four out of five" at the EPA, Kerrigan Clough, a former deputy regional EPA administrator, said in an interview with the AP as he waited for a test for PFAS in the water at his Michigan lake home, which is near a military base that used firefighting foam.

"If the risk appears to be high, and you've got it every place, then you've got a different level" of danger and urgency, Clough said. "It's a serious problem."

Problems with PFAS surfaced partly as a result of a 1999 lawsuit by a farmer who filmed his cattle staggering, frothing and dying in a field near a DuPont disposal site in Parkersburg, West Virginia, for PFAS then used in Teflon.

In 2005, under President George W. Bush, the EPA and DuPont settled an EPA complaint that the chemical company knew at least by the mid-1980s that the early PFAS compound posed a substantial risk to human health.

The EPA in the past "didn't have much of a hammer to come down on a bad existing chemical," said Lynn Goldman, the agency's assistant administrator over toxic substances in the 1990s, now dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.

But Congress has boosted the agency's authority to regulate problematic chemicals since then. That includes toughening up the federal Toxic Substances Control Act and regulatory mandates for the EPA itself in 2016.

For PFAS, that should include addressing the new versions of the compounds coming into production, not just tackling old forms that companies already agreed to take offline, Goldman said.

"Otherwise it's the game of whack-a-mole," she said. "That's not what you want to do when you're protecting the public health." 

Associated Press video journalist Joseph B. Frederick contributed to this report. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP]]>
<![CDATA[436 Confirmed Sick After Eating McDonald's Salad]]>Fri, 10 Aug 2018 10:33:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1260.jpg

The CDC is now reporting that 436 people have been diagnosed with an intestinal illness after consuming salads at McDonald’s restaurants. 

The laboratory-confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis have been reported in 15 states after customers ate salads at the restaurant’s locations.

In its initial announcement July 13, the CDC reported 61 cases. As of last week, there were 395 cases. 

Over 200 cases have now been reported in Illinois and Iowa alone, with 219 cases confirmed in Illinois.  

The most common symptom of the illness is watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include appetite loss, intestinal pain, nausea, and fatigue.

McDonald's released a statement regarding the outbreak, saying "McDonald's is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control." 

Earlier this summer, McDonald’s removed the lettuce blend from 3,000 identified restaurants and distribution centers that had received it.

Affected restaurants were located in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri. 

Reported illnesses started on or after May 20. 

In an update Thursday, the CDC said "at this time, there is no evidence to suggest that this cluster of illnesses is related to the Cyclospora outbreak linked to Del Monte fresh produce vegetable trays."

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[EPA Broke Law, Ignored Science on Harmful Pesticide: Court]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 23:28:18 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ag-workers-pesticides.jpg

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Trump administration endangered public health by keeping a widely used pesticide on the market despite extensive scientific evidence that even tiny levels of exposure can harm babies' brains.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to remove chlorpyrifos from sale in the United States within 60 days.

A coalition of farmworkers and environmental groups sued last year after then-EPA chief Scott Pruitt reversed an Obama-era effort to ban chlorpyrifos, which is widely sprayed on citrus fruit, apples and other crops. The attorneys general for several states including California, New York and Massachusetts joined the case against EPA.

In a split decision, the court said Thursday that Pruitt, a Republican forced to resign earlier this summer amid ethics scandals, violated federal law by ignoring the conclusions of agency scientists that chlorpyrifos is harmful.

"The panel held that there was no justification for the EPA's decision in its 2017 order to maintain a tolerance for chlorpyrifos in the face of scientific evidence that its residue on food causes neurodevelopmental damage to children," Judge Jed S. Rakoff wrote in the court's opinion.

Michael Abboud, spokesman for acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, said the agency was reviewing the decision, but it had been unable to "fully evaluate the pesticide using the best available, transparent science."

EPA could potentially appeal to the Supreme Court since one member of the three-judge panel dissented from the majority ruling.

Environmental groups and public health advocates celebrated the court's action as a major success.

"Some things are too sacred to play politics with, and our kids top the list," said Erik Olson, senior director of health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The court has made it clear that children's health must come before powerful polluters. This is a victory for parents everywhere who want to feed their kids fruits and veggies without fear it's harming their brains or poisoning communities."

The attorneys general of California and New York also claimed victory.

"This is one more example of how then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt skirted the law and endangered the health of our children — in this case, all because he refused to curb pesticide levels found in food," Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California said in a statement.

Chlorpyrifos was created by Dow Chemical Co. in the 1960s. It remains among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with the chemical giant selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year through its subsidiary Dow AgroSciences.

Gregg Schmidt, a spokesman for Dow, said chlorpyrifos is a critical pest management tool used in countries around the world.

"We will continue to support the growers who need this important product," Schmidt said.

Chlorpyrifos belongs to a family of organophosphate pesticides that are chemically similar to a nerve gas developed by Nazi Germany before World War II.

As a result of its wide use as a pesticide over the past four decades, traces of chlorpyrifos are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of the pesticide.

Under pressure from federal regulators, Dow voluntarily withdrew chlorpyrifos for use as a home insecticide in 2000. EPA also placed "no-spray" buffer zones around sensitive sites, such as schools, in 2012.

In October 2015, the Obama administration proposed banning the pesticide's use on food. A risk assessment memo issued by nine EPA scientists concluded: "There is a breadth of information available on the potential adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children as a result of prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos."

Federal law requires EPA to ensure that pesticides used on food in the United States are safe for human consumption — especially children, who are typically far more sensitive to the negative effects of poisons.

Shortly after his appointment by President Donald Trump in 2017, Pruitt announced he was revering the Obama administration effort to ban chlorpyrifos, adopting Dow's position that the science showing chlorpyrifos is harmful was inconclusive and flawed.

The Associated Press reported in June 2017 that Pruitt announced his agency's reversal on chlorpyrifos just 20 days after his official schedule showed a meeting with Dow CEO Andrew Liveris. At the time, Liveris headed a White House manufacturing working group, and his company had written a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump's inaugural festivities.

Following the AP's report, then-EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman said that March 9, 2017, meeting on Pruitt's schedule never happened. Bowman said the two men had instead shared only a "brief introduction in passing" while attending the same industry conference at a Houston hotel and that they never discussed chlorpyrifos.

However, internal EPA emails released earlier this year following a public records lawsuit filed by The Sierra Club suggest the two men shared more than a quick handshake.

Little more than a week after the conference and before Pruitt announced his decision, the EPA chief's scheduler reached out to Liveris' executive assistant to schedule a follow-up meeting.

"Hope this email finds you well!" wrote Sydney Hupp, Pruitt's assistant, on March 20, 2017. "I am reaching out today about setting up a meeting to continue the discussion between Dow Chemical and Administrator Scott Pruitt. My apologies for the delay in getting this email into you — it has been a crazy time over here!"

Subsequent emails show Hupp and Liveris' office discussing several potential dates that the Dow CEO might come to Pruitt's office at EPA headquarters, but it is not clear from the documents whether the two men ever linked up.

Liveris announced his retirement from Dow in March of this year.

Pruitt resigned July 6 amid more than a dozen ethics investigations focused on such issues as outsized security spending, first-class flights and a sweetheart condo lease for a Capitol Hill condo linked to an energy lobbyist.

Bowman, who left EPA in May to work for GOP Sen. Joni Ernest of Iowa, declined to comment on her earlier characterization of the March 2017 interaction between Pruitt and Liveris or what "discussion" the internal email was referring to.

"I don't work for EPA anymore," Bowman said.

Current EPA spokesman James Hewitt said, "We stand by our statement from last year."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Damian Dovarganes/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Told of Patient's Fatal Overdose Prescribe Fewer Opioids, Study Says]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 13:21:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1251.jpg

In a novel experiment, doctors got a letter from the medical examiner's office telling them of their patient's fatal overdose. The response: They started prescribing fewer opioids.

Other doctors, whose patients also overdosed, didn't get letters. Their opioid prescribing didn't change.

More than 400 "Dear Doctor" letters, sent last year in San Diego County, were part of a study that, researchers say, put a human face on the U.S. opioid crisis for many doctors.

"It's a powerful thing to learn," said University of Southern California public policy researcher Jason Doctor, lead author of the paper published Thursday in the journal Science.

Researchers used a state database to find 861 doctors, dentists and others who had prescribed opioids and other risky medications to 170 people who died of an overdose involving prescription medicines. Most states have similar databases to track the prescribing of dangerous drugs, where doctors can check patients' previous prescriptions.

Most of the deaths involved opioid painkillers, many taken in combination with anti-anxiety drugs. On average, each person who died had filled prescriptions for dangerous drugs from five to six prescribers in the year before they died.

Half the prescribers received letters that began: "This is a courtesy communication to inform you that your patient (name, date of birth) died on (date). Prescription drug overdose was either the primary cause of death or contributed to the death."

The letters offered guidance for safer prescribing. The tone was supportive: "Learning of your patient's death can be difficult. We hope that you will take this as an opportunity" to prevent future deaths.

Then the researchers watched what happened over three months.

Letter recipients reduced their average daily opioid prescribing — measured in a standard way, morphine milligram equivalents — by nearly 10 percent compared to prescribers who didn't get letters. Opioid prescribing in the no-letter group didn't change.

Recipients put fewer new patients on opioids than those who didn't get letters. They wrote fewer prescriptions for high-dose opioids.

The strategy is original, helpful and could be duplicated elsewhere, said pain medicine expert Dr. David Clark of Stanford University, who wasn't involved in the study. He was surprised the letter's effect wasn't larger.

"It may have been easy for physicians to feel it was somebody else prescribing who got the patient in trouble," Clark said, adding that changing even one patient's care takes time, requiring "very difficult conversations."

Opioid prescribing has been declining in the U.S. for several years in response to pressure from health systems, insurers and regulators.

Yet deaths keep rising. Nearly 48,000 Americans died of opioid overdoses last year, according to preliminary numbers released last month, a 12 percent increase from a year before.

Now illegal fentanyl, another opioid, is the top killer, surpassing pain pills and heroin. Lead author Doctor said reducing the number of prescribed opioids will, over time, close off a gateway to illicit drugs by shrinking the pool of dependent people.

The study didn't analyze whether the deaths were caused by inappropriate prescribing or whether the prescribing changes resulted in patients doing better or worse.

That's a flaw in an otherwise careful study, said addiction researcher Dr. Stefan Kertesz of University of Alabama at Birmingham, who has raised red flags about policies that cause doctors to take patients off opioids too fast and without a plan for treating addiction.

Patients can fall into despair or contemplate suicide if they are involuntarily tapered off opioids without support, he said.

"What actually happens to patients should be our concern, rather than just making a number go down," Kertesz said.

Study co-author Dr. Roneet Lev, chief of emergency medicine at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, discovered her own name in the data.

Lev prescribed 15 opioid pain pills to an ER patient with a broken eye socket, without knowing the patient got 300 painkillers from another doctor a day earlier. Lev didn't get a "Dear Doctor" letter because the patient's death fell outside the timeline of the study, July 2015-June 2016.

Still, she felt the impact and believes she could have done better. Said Lev: "It was an opportunity to look at all the records on that patient and say, 'Wow, I'm really worried about you.'"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[Amazon Has Plans to Open Its Own Health Clinics for Seattle Employees]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 12:10:06 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/amazAP_17349203322627+copy.jpg

Amazon's ambitious plan to bring down the costs of health care is getting an early test in a familiar place: its Seattle headquarters. 

The company is in internal discussions to open primary care clinics in its main headquarters, according to two people familiar with the matter. The early plan is to hire a small number of doctors to start a pilot clinic later this year for a select group of employees and then expand it to more workers in early 2019, said the people, who asked not to be named because the plans are confidential. 

Amazon is taking a leading role among American companies in pushing for ways to bring down health costs, which are skyrocketing as insurers pass on the expenses associated with emergency room visits and providers that overcharge. By steering workers to urgent care and preventative care and by offering guidance on diet and exercise, companies are hoping to keep their employees healthier and out of the hospital. 

In January, Amazon announced a partnership with J.P. Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to improve the quality of care and bring down costs. To run the joint venture, the group recently appointed Atul Gawande, who has spoken out about the importance of "regular, ongoing care," calling it "the greatest source of value in modern medicine," in a 2017 report

Amazon was previously looking to outsource its clinics and brought vendors in to pitch their services. After numerous rounds of discussions, Amazon ultimately decided to develop clinics internally, one of the people said. Providers including Crossover Health and One Medical offer on-site or nearby services for other companies, including those in the technology sector. 

An Amazon spokesperson declined to comment. 

The move would echo Apple, which is developing clinics for its employees and their dependents. An Apple subsidiary called AC Wellness Network has already hired more than 40 people for those clinics. 

Amazon started its effort by hiring primary care experts, beginning last year with Christine Henningsgaard, who was previously vice president of operations at One Medical. In January, the company brought in Martin Levine from Iora Health, a primary care group with clinics in Seattle. 

Amazon could be using the local clinics to create a prototype before expanding them outside its employee base, said Michael Yang, a health investor at Comcast Ventures. Amazon has a history, Yang said, of testing new ideas with its own workers before scaling them out. The Amazon Go store, a small grocery in downtown Seattle that lets shoppers put items in their bag and walk out without waiting in line, is one example. Amazon has recently announced plans to open stores in Chicago and San Francisco. 

A big question with clinics, Yang added, is whether Amazon will make them available to its many thousands of warehouse workers, who have separate needs from the company's high-paid engineers and salespeople. 

"Dropping a package on your foot or throwing out your back after manual labor is a very different set of issues from the employee working at headquarters," he said. 

Disclosure: Comcast Ventures is a division of Comcast, the owner of NBC Universal, parent of CNBC and CNBC.com.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. More from CNBC: 

Photo Credit: Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP, File
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[CVS Health Nasal Sprays Recalled Due to Contamination]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 10:52:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ucm616192.jpg

Certain bottles of CVS Health’s 12 Hour Sinus Relief Nasal Mist have been recalled after they were found to have had a microbiological contamination, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

The nasal mist, manufactured by Product Quest, was found to have Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Frequent use of the contaminated product could result in infections, which could be life-threatening for users with cystic fibrosis or people who are immuno-compromised, the FDA said on its website.

"To the best of Product Quest’s knowledge, the company has not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall," the FDA said.

The affected nasal sprays come in .5-ounce white bottles. They are packaged in a carton with expiration date September 2019 and lot number 173089J printed on the side. The products have orange labels with “Sinus Relief” in white letters and “CVS Health” in the left corner.

The FDA urges customers with the recalled product to return it to the store where it was purchased or to discard it.

Photo Credit: Food and Drug Administration ]]>
<![CDATA[Inducing Labor at 39 Weeks Reduces Risk of C-Sections: Study]]>Wed, 08 Aug 2018 22:33:43 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pregnancyGettyImages-136810371.jpg

Inducing healthy first-time mothers at 39-weeks pregnant instead of waiting for them to go into labor does not raise the risk of a cesarean delivery, according to a new study. In fact, it lowers it.

The results of the study, to be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, overturn the longtime view that inducing labor raises the risk for a C-section, and prompted two leading OB-GYN doctor groups to say it's now reasonable to offer women like those in the study that option.

As NBC News reports, the notion that inductions can lead to C-sections was based on past data comparing a woman who goes into labor spontaneously with a woman who is induced at the same point in her pregnancy — which could be before the 39th week, if complications developed, or when the woman was overdue and had gone past 40 weeks.

For the new study, more than 6,100 women at 41 hospitals were randomly placed in two groups: one had labor induced at 39 weeks; the other waited for labor to start on its own and were induced only if a problem developed or they hadn't delivered by 42 weeks.

Those induced at 39 weeks had lower rates of maternal and fetal complications, including fewer C-sections (19 percent vs. 22 percent); lower frequent preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy condition, and hypertension (9 percent vs. 14 percent); and fewer newborns who needed respiratory support (3 percent vs. 4 percent).

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Mom Fails Drug Test After Eating Poppy Seed Bagel]]>Thu, 09 Aug 2018 14:22:31 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_poppyseedbagelmom_1920x1080.jpg

Some of you may remember the claim that when you eat poppy seeds, your drug test comes back positive. One Maryland woman paid the price for her breakfast choice the morning her daughter was born. WBAL's Theo Hayes reports]]>
<![CDATA[Could EPA Proposal Lead to New Uses for Asbestos?]]>Wed, 08 Aug 2018 04:56:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/asbestosGettyImages-53246562.jpg

Decades-old research has identified asbestos as a dangerous carcinogen, but the Environmental Protection Agency is now proposing a framework that could allow new uses for the toxic chemical in manufacturing, NBC News reported

The proposal, known as a "significant new use rule," was released in June. It details how companies can find new ways to use asbestos that will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some of the products that could now involve it include adhesives, sealants and pipeline wraps. 

Asbestos-related disease advocacy groups have come out as strongly critical of the proposal, arguing that use of the chemical is undeniably dangerous. The EPA said the new rule "would prohibit companies from manufacturing, importing, or processing for these new uses of asbestos unless they receive approval from the EPA."

Strict regulations on asbestos have been imposed in the United States, rather than a ban — a move made by dozens of other developed nations. The chemical was used in construction until the 1970s, when research linked it to lung cancer and mesothelioma, among other diseases. 

Photo Credit: Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Experts Question Benefits of Fluoride-Free Toothpaste]]>Tue, 07 Aug 2018 12:17:21 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/toothbrush1.jpg

Dental health experts worry that more people are using toothpaste that skips the most important ingredient — fluoride — and leaves them at a greater risk of cavities.

Most toothpastes already contain fluoride. While health authorities recognize fluoride as a cavity blocker, the internet is dotted with claims, often from "natural" toothpaste marketers and alternative medicine advocates, that fluoride-free toothpaste also prevents cavities.

Dental authorities disagree.

"It's really important to debunk this idea that brushing your teeth stops decay. You need to have the fluoride," said Damien Walmsley, a scientific adviser to the British Dental Association and dentistry professor at the University of Birmingham.

That view was underscored this week by an article in the dental journal Gerodontology that reviewed the scientific literature on cavities. Its primary conclusion is that, without fluoride, oral hygiene efforts have "no impact" on cavity rates.

The idea that just brushing teeth doesn't stop cavities has largely been accepted among individual researchers for decades, but not always by the public. Dentists generally recommend fluoride for cavity fighting, but even some of them continue to believe that the mechanics of wiping your teeth clean of plaque also reduces cavities. The review findings, published Monday, gave pause to at least one dentist.

"It violates certain principles we've been taught and that we teach and that we believe," said Richard Niederman, a dentist and professor at New York University who saw an advance copy of the study and found the findings credible. "What it says to me is that the toothbrush is just a delivery system."

Few studies of the question have been carried out in recent years because the value of fluoride has been widely accepted for decades. In the review, University of Washington researchers looked for high-quality studies since 1950 and found just three. They were carried out in the U.S. and Great Britain and published from 1977 to 1981. They involved a total of 743 children aged 10 to 13 years who flossed and brushed for up to three years.

When the studies were evaluated statistically as a whole, there was no significant cavity reduction from simply brushing or flossing without fluoride.

Dentist J. Leslie Winston, oral care director for Crest-toothpaste maker Procter & Gamble, said the review "serves as an important reminder."

"Despite a large body of scientific evidence, there are growing numbers of consumers who believe that all toothpastes are the same and that as long as you clean your teeth effectively with a toothbrush or other device which cleans in-between the teeth, you can prevent decay," he said in a statement.

The market share for fluoride-free toothpaste is closely held company data. Industry sources estimate it at no more than 5 percent of all toothpaste sold, but with projected growth of over 5 percent annually. On Monday, Tom's of Maine antiplaque and whitening toothpaste, which is fluoride-free, was listed as the second-best selling toothpaste on Amazon's online buying platform.

Paul Jessen, a brand manager at Tom's of Maine, said "the products that don't contain fluoride that we offer do not promise that benefit" to fight cavities. He said his company's customers generally understand this.

Yet customer comment on Amazon's website sometimes indicates otherwise, with many reviews insisting that the company's fluoride-free toothpaste does fight cavities. "If you brush regularly with or without fluoride, you reduce the risk of cavities," asserts one customer.

Oral care companies themselves also stray into such claims. The website of Revitin non-fluoride toothpaste says it "strengthens your teeth against tooth decay."

Gerald Curatola, the dentist who founded Revitin and now serves as chief science officer, called the review "misleading." He said that the latest science suggests that a healthy mix of oral bacteria is key to dental health. "I don't think fluoride makes a difference at all," he said.

However, referring to his company's decay-fighting claim, he added: "After this call, I'm probably going to remove that from the website, because I don't think that should be on there, because I didn't know that was on there."

Jeff Davis, the CEO of Sheffield Pharmaceuticals that sells toothpaste with and without fluoride, said it's "pretty established" that fluoride is what helps reduce cavities. But he said some people worry about the harmful effect of too much fluoride and so choose fluoride-free toothpaste.

Even without fluoride, dentists say there's some value in brushing. Philippe Hujoel, the dentist and University of Washington professor who led the dental review, said oral hygiene without fluoride might produce real cavity-fighting effects too small to detect in a study, or adults might conceivably benefit where the children in the studies did not.

And toothbrushing did reduce swollen gums in Hujoel's review. Brushing the teeth may also dislodge stuck food and help patients recover from oral surgery.

Dentist Matthew Messina, a spokesman for the American Dental Association, said mechanical brushing can also help avoid decay that sometimes forms, especially in older people, at the normally hidden roots of teeth, which was outside the scope of this review.

"The study is important," he added, "because the study is supporting what we've been contending for a long time." The ADA recommends using fluoride toothpastes.

The review also cited a 2009 analysis of studies involving 60,000 people that found fluoride rinse prevents cavities about as well as fluoride toothpaste.

In 2016, The Associated Press reported on the poor scientific evidence for the benefits of flossing. As a result, the federal government removed its long-standing flossing recommendation from Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The review raises questions about how cavities form. Cavities have long been thought to develop in a poorly cleaned mouth when acids left by food start to wear away tooth enamel. The idea is that clean teeth do not decay. This review, though, argues for an alternate model: cavities grow in tiny crevices in the enamel that can't easily be reached with a toothbrush or dental floss alone.

Despite the clear benefit of fluoride, some studies have also challenged the belief that fluoridated drinking water stops dental decay as well as fluoride toothpaste or rinses. In any event, it makes sense to combine fluoridated water and dental products for amplified protection, said Niederman, the NYU dentist.

Some dentists also said the most effective way to prevent cavities is simply to reduce sugars in the diet. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Expands Recalls of Blood Pressure, Heart Drugs]]>Mon, 06 Aug 2018 12:34:45 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/080618bloodpressire.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expanded its voluntary recall of several medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure over concerns that an active ingredient in the drugs could be contaminated with a cancer-causing agent.

The agency reported that traces of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," was found in the active ingredient valsartan in the recalled products. The FDA noted not all products containing valsartan are contaminated and being recalled. A third-party supplied the valsartan contained in the recall. 

The FDA updated the list of products included in the recall and the list of those unaffected

"FDA is working with drug manufacturers to ensure future valsartan active pharmaceutical ingredients are not at risk of NDMA formation," the FDA said. "The agency reminds manufacturers to thoroughly evaluate their API manufacturing processes, and changes to those processes, to detect any unsafe impurities."

Patients are urged to look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottle to determine whether a specific product has been recalled. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine to find out the company name.

If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines, they should follow the recall instructions each specific company provided, which will be available on the FDA’s website.

If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, they should contact their health care professional to discuss their treatment options, which may include another valsartan product this recall doesn't affect or an alternative option.

The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

"The FDA’s review is ongoing and has included investigating the levels of NDMA in the recalled products, assessing the possible effect on patients who have been taking them and what measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate the impurity from future batches produced by the company," the FDA said in a news release.

The presence of NDMA is "thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured," the agency said.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2 Injured at Gordon Ramsay's Las Vegas Restaurant]]>Sat, 04 Aug 2018 11:01:33 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/RamsayBoltonRestaurant.jpg

Two patrons of chef Gordon Ramsay's newest restaurant on the Las Vegas Strip were taken to a hospital for treatment for injuries involving a drink.

Caesars Entertainment confirmed to The Associated Press Friday that two people were injured at Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen Thursday.

"The particular type of specialty drink served at Hell’s Kitchen is served at the finest restaurants worldwide without incident. But, out of an abundance of caution, Hell’s Kitchen has removed the drink item at issue from the menu" said a statement from Caesar's Palace.

The company would not specify the drink. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports it was a flaming tiki-style cocktail called Rum Donkey.

The online menu shows the ingredients are Cruzan Single Barrel Rum, falernum, brown sugar, ginger beer and torched passion fruit.

Clark County Fire Deputy Chief Jon Klassen says the department transported two people to the hospital, but firefighters didn't have to extinguish any fire. He had no information on the extent of the customers' injuries or status.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Evan Agostini/Invision for Chase Sapphire Preferred, File]]>
<![CDATA[Rat Lungworm Parasite Infected 12, Including Toddlers: CDC]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 14:50:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/t-gondii.jpg

Twelve people in the continental U.S., including some toddlers, have been infected in recent years by a parasite called rat lungworm, which has the capacity to get into people’s brains, federal health officials said Thursday.

Because the parasite can be found across several states and often doesn’t cause severe symptoms, some additional cases might have gone unreported, NBC News reported.

After rat lungworm infected two people in China who ate raw centipedes last month, the parasite made headlines. People in the U.S. can catch it by eating snails or vegetables out of a home garden, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Six of the cases identified by the CDC since 2011 were in people living in the southern U.S., including Texas, Tennessee and Alabama, the CDC said. The rest were in travelers who may have eaten the parasite overseas.

Photo Credit: CDC/ Dr. L.L. Moore, Jr.]]>
<![CDATA[Man's Limbs Amputated After Contracting Infection From Dog Saliva ]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 16:24:32 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Dog+Lick+Amputation.jpg

A Wisconsin man had part of his arms and legs amputated after a medical emergency caused by a bacteria found in dog and cat saliva.

Greg Manteufel began feeling ill in late June and within hours went into septic shock, according to a GoFundMe account created to raise money to help the family through his recovery. 

He was admitted to the hospital, where doctors said Manteufel had contracted an infection caused by bacteria commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats, called Capnocytophaga canimorsus.

His wife, Dawn Manteufel, told a local news station her motorcycling-riding, loving 48-year-old husband had been around dogs his entire life, but that doctors suspect a lick may have caused the infection.

Though the bacteria is most often transmitted to humans through dog bites, the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health reported rare cases where scratches, licking or other contact with dogs or cats transmitted it.

The bacteria seeped into Manteufel's bloodstream and caused sepsis, or blood poisoning from the infection, and within days of being admitted to the hospital, doctors were forced to amputate both of his feet, the GoFundMe page details.

A second surgery removed more of Manteufel’s legs, up to his kneecaps. He then later lost both of his hands up to his mid-forearm.

Dawn Manteufel reported her husband told doctors to “take what you need but keep me alive.”

Manteufel will need several more surgeries, but family members reported he was "so thankful to be alive today and is taking one day at a time."

The GoFundMe page for the Manteufel family has raised over $67,000 of its $100,000 goal as of Thursday morning. It notes that the recovery will be a long process, including months of surgeries and the need for prosthetics.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes adults 40 years old and older are more likely to contract an infection, and risk factors include alcoholism and weak immune system related to cancer, HIV and diabetes. Another key risk factor is not having a spleen.

The agency also reported that Capnocytophaga can cause serious illness in pregnant women and their fetuses. Infection during the last few weeks of gestation can lead to inflammation of the membranes surrounding the fetus, and sepsis, a bacterial infection in the bloodstream or body tissues, in the newborn. It has also been linked to low birth weight.

Capnocytophaga infections are rare, and doctors told Dawn Manteufel her husband's case is a "crazy fluke," The Washington Post reported.

Photo Credit: Dawn Manteufel via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Google Glass Helps Kids With Autism Make Eye Contact: Study]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 09:16:05 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/autism-google-glass-study.jpg

Most children with autism who wore Google Glasses equipped with facial expression-interpreting software made improvements in holding eye contact with their families, according to a study published Thursday.

The lead author of the Stanford University School of Medicine study, Dennis Wall, told NBC News that the Superpower Glass trial — the first outside of a laboratory — used technology that turns emotion reading into a game that's "an opportunity for fun and engagement."

Donji Cullenbine said her 9-year-old son Alex didn't make much progress through therapy. But when he took part in the trial, he was suddenly making frequent eye contact.

"It was thrilling," she said. "I tried to incentivize him to look at me for so many years, but had no movement. Then in two weeks, it was like a flip switched. He said, 'Mommy, I can read minds.'"

Photo Credit: Steve Fisch/Stanford University School of Medicine]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Reminds People Condoms Aren't Meant to Be Reused]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 08:03:39 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-73504525.jpg

Health officials are reminding people that condoms are not reusable.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tweeted on its sexually transmitted disease site that condoms are for single use. Officials say they needed to tweet the message because people are washing or reusing condoms instead of throwing them away.

The agency also says condoms have expiration dates.

The CDC says correctly using condoms can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. They also can protect against other diseases that may be transmitted through sex, such as the Zika virus.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Image Source, File
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Abortion-Rights Activists Brace for New Wave of Restrictions]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 06:49:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18208525938212-abortion-rights-protest-supreme-court.jpg

Abortion-rights advocates are intensifying efforts to make it easier for women to get abortions amid a new wave of state-level bans and restrictions expected to occur under a reconfigured U.S. Supreme Court.

The efforts include boosting financial aid for women needing to travel long distances to get an abortion, and raising awareness about the option of do-it-yourself abortions.

The sense of urgency stems from the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who sometimes provided the decisive vote in support of abortion rights, and the possibility that Brett Kavanaugh, nominated by President Donald Trump to replace him, would give the court an anti-abortion majority.

Advocates anticipate new limits on abortion access in red states that are emboldened by the prospect of a more solidly conservative court. The Republican-led states want more latitude in the courts to impose far-reaching abortion restrictions while hoping that a lawsuit on the issue makes its way to the Supreme Court and is the case that ultimately overturns Roe v. Wade — the 1973 establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said that since Kennedy's retirement announcement on June 27, there has been a surge of donations to help the network assist low-income women in paying for their abortions. There are 70 funds in 38 states, currently assisting about one-fifth of the 150,000 women who inquire about assistance each year.

"Without a doubt we're moving into a bleaker time," Hernandez said. "People who haven't been paying attention are realizing what is at stake, and wanting to get involved."

If Roe were overturned, abortion-rights advocates anticipate that 20 or more states would ban most abortions. Women in those states might face long and costly interstate journeys to reach an abortion provider, or they could avail themselves of information about how to self-induce an abortion.

The two main abortion-inducing drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, are legally available only through authorized medical professionals in the U.S., and numerous states have placed restrictions on medical abortions. In many places abroad, misoprostol is widely available, even over the counter in pharmacies in some countries, and has been used extensively for self-induced abortions in countries such as Brazil that have restrictive laws.

For American women, the most likely means of obtaining misoprostol is via an online purchase from a foreign provider. That method is considered difficult to prevent, even in states with laws explicitly banning self-induced abortion.

A 2-year-old California-based organization, the Self-Inducted Abortion Legal Team, is expanding its operations this summer, convinced that the ongoing push for tougher abortion restrictions will prompt more women to consider the self-induced option.

Jill Adams, the team's founder and chief strategist, said a top priority is to provide legal advice and support for any women who face possible prosecution for do-it-yourself abortions. Her group plans to launch a help line this fall that will provide callers with basic advice and, if warranted, connect them with an attorney in their area.

Her team and its allies are advocating that states avoid such prosecutions, a goal recently backed by two major medical associations.

Dr. Jamila Perritt, a Washington, D.C.-based obstetrician-gynecologist who provides abortions, says she has counseled some women who opted for self-induced abortions, and is grateful that they now have relatively safe and effective means of doing that, thanks to the abortion pill.

"Whatever happens with the Supreme Court, there are safer options now that we didn't have 40 years ago," she said.

Anti-abortion leaders are troubled by the positive talk about self-induced abortion.

"This kind of effort is dangerous and highly irresponsible," said Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee. She evoked the potential difficulties of women who used that method and then suffered serious side effects.

Tobias said her organization does not favor criminal action against women who self-abort, and instead would prefer targeting those who make the medicine available.

Many of the abortion-related topics now being discussed in the context of the Supreme Court vacancy will be summarized in a book being written by journalist and activist Robin Marty, titled "Handbook for a Post-Roe America." It is scheduled for publication on Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision.

Marty describes the book as "a step-by-step guide explaining what any person can do once abortion becomes illegal or inaccessible in the U.S." It covers possible legislative action, ways of supporting women who need to cross state lines for abortions, and the key factors involved in considering a self-induced abortion.

"The internet will be a great way to find information, but it's a double-edged sword because it leaves a trail," Marty said. "How do you access these things online without being able to be tracked?"

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Undermining Obamacare Violates Constitution: Lawsuit]]>Thu, 02 Aug 2018 05:07:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/acaGettyImages-869078956.jpg

A new lawsuit being filed Thursday argues that President Donald Trump’s efforts to make good on his promise to "let Obamacare implode" on its own violate the U.S. Constitution, NBC News reported.  

Trump has “waged a relentless effort to use executive action alone to undermine and, ultimately, eliminate the law,” the complaint says, according to a draft obtained by NBC News. The lawsuit is being filed in Maryland federal court by the cities of Chicago, Columbus, Cincinnati and Baltimore.

The suit specifically argues that he is violating Article II of the Constitution, requiring the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Since his first executive order directing federal agencies to claw back as much of the Affordable Care Act as possible, Trump’s directives have increased health coverage costs and depressed enrollment, the complainants say.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Congo Announces 4 New Ebola Cases in Eastern Province]]>Wed, 01 Aug 2018 10:34:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18161484493496.jpg

Congo's health ministry says at least four new cases of Ebola have emerged in the country's east, just a week after an outbreak in the northwest was declared over.

The ministry says there is no indication the two epidemics separated by more than 2,500 kilometers (1,553 miles) are related.

The North Kivu health division notified the ministry on Saturday of 26 cases of hemorrhagic fever, including 20 deaths in North Kivu province. The ministry says four of six samples sent to the capital for analysis came back positive for Ebola.

The new cases are in eastern Mabalako health zone within the Beni region.

Congo on July 24 declared the end of an Ebola outbreak that began in May in northwest Equateur province. Those 54 Ebola cases included 33 deaths.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Sam Mednick, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Admin. OKs Short-Term Health Plans With Coverage Gaps]]>Wed, 01 Aug 2018 14:27:55 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/200*120/080118healthcvarefov.jpg

Consumers will have more options to buy cheaper, short-term health insurance under a new Trump administration rule, but there's no guarantee the plans will cover pre-existing conditions or provide benefits like coverage of prescription drugs.

Administration officials said Wednesday the short-term plans will last up to 12 months and can be renewed for up to 36 months. With premiums about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage, the option is geared to people who want an individual health insurance policy but make too much money to qualify for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

"We see that it's just unaffordable for so many people who are not getting subsidies and we're trying to make additional options available," said Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. "These may be a good choice for individuals, but they may also not be the right choice for everybody."

Buyers take note: Plans will carry a disclaimer that they don't meet the ACA's requirements and safeguards. And there's no federal guarantee short-term coverage can be renewed.

Democrats immediately branded Trump's approach as "junk insurance," and a major insurer group warned that consumers could potentially be harmed. Other insurers were more neutral, and companies marketing the plans hailed the development.

It's unclear how much mass-market appeal such limited plans will ultimately have. State insurance regulators also have jurisdiction, and many states may move to impose their own restrictions. Federal officials said they anticipate a slow take-up, not sweeping changes.

Unable to repeal much of "Obamacare," the Trump administration has tried to undercut how it's supposed to work and to create options for people who don't qualify for financial assistance with premiums.

Officials are hoping short-term plans will fit the bill. Next year, there will be no tax penalty for someone who opts for short-term coverage versus a comprehensive plan, so more people might consider the option. More short-term plans will be available starting this fall.

A major insurer group expressed strong concerns.

"The broader availability and longer duration of slimmed-down policies that do not provide comprehensive coverage has the potential to harm consumers, both by making comprehensive coverage more expensive and by leaving some consumers unaware of the risks of these policies," said Justine Handelman of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members are a mainstay of ACA coverage.

But President Donald Trump has been enthusiastic. "Much less expensive health care at a much lower price," he said, previewing the plans at a White House event last week. "Will cost our country nothing. We're finally taking care of our people."

The administration estimates that premiums for a short-term plan could be about one-third the cost of comprehensive coverage. A standard silver plan under the Obama law now averages $481 a month for a 40-year-old nonsmoker. A short-term plan might cost $160 a month or even less.

Short-term insurance has fewer benefits. A Kaiser Family Foundation survey of current plans found none that covered maternity, and many that did not cover prescription drugs or substance abuse treatment — required under the Obama law. They can include dollar limits on coverage.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Democrats will "do everything in our power" to block the administration. It wasn't immediately clear how that might happen.

Short-term plans have been a niche product for people in life transitions: those switching jobs, retiring before Medicare eligibility or aging out of parental coverage.

Azar said they're tailor-made for the "gig economy."

Some in the industry say they're developing "next generation" short-term plans that will be more responsive to consumer needs, with pros and cons clearly spelled out. Major insurer UnitedHealthcare is marketing short-term plans.

Delaware insurance broker Nick Moriello said consumers should carefully consider their choice.

"The insurance company will ask you a series of questions about your health," Moriello said. "They are not going to cover anything related to a pre-existing condition. There is a relatively small risk to the insurance company on what they would pay out relative to those plans."

Nonetheless, the CEO of a company that offers short-term plans said they're a "rational decision" for some people.

"It's a way better alternative to not being insured," said Jeff Smedsrud of Pivot Health.

Smedsrud said most plans restrict coverage for those who have sought treatment for a pre-existing condition over the past five years.

Short-term plans join "association health plans" for small businesses as the administration promotes lower-cost health care options that cover less.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that roughly 6 million more people will eventually enroll in either an association plan or a short-term plan. The administration says it expects about 1.6 million people to pick a short-term plan when the plans are fully phased in.

About 20 million are covered under the Obama law, combining its Medicaid expansion and subsidized private insurance for those who qualify.

Enrollment for the law's subsidized private insurance is fairly stable, and HealthCare.gov insurers are making money again.

But a recent Kaiser Foundation analysis found turmoil in the unsubsidized market after two years of double-digit premium increases forced many consumers to drop out or seek other coverage.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: HHS via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Mosquitoes in Yonkers Test Positive for West Nile: Officials]]>Wed, 01 Aug 2018 01:49:47 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/MOSQUITO+NY+ONLY+PEXELS.jpg

Health officials in Westchester County say mosquitoes in the area have tested positive for West Nile virus.

The Journal News reports the Westchester County Health Department confirmed two batches of mosquitoes collected in Yonkers tested positive for the virus. There were 134 batches tested in the county.

According to officials, there were three reported cases of West Nile virus in the county last year.

Westchester County Commissioner of Health Sherlita Amler said in a statement residents should remove standing water that sits near their homes. Amler added that people spending time outdoors should use repellents "from dawn to dusk."

Most people don't develop any symptoms, but those who do may have fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea. In rare cases, people develop severe illnesses like meningitis, which can be deadly.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA['Medicare for All' Would Cost $32.6T Over 10 Years: Study]]>Mon, 30 Jul 2018 12:13:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17265758349692-Bernie-Sanders-Medicare-for-All.jpg

Sen. Bernie Sanders' "Medicare for all" plan would boost government health spending by $32.6 trillion over 10 years, requiring historic tax hikes, says a study released Monday by a university-based libertarian policy center.

That's trillion with a "T."

The latest plan from the Vermont independent would deliver significant savings on administration and drug costs, but increased demand for care would drive up spending, according to the analysis by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Virginia. Doubling federal individual and corporate income tax receipts would not cover the full cost, the study said.

Sanders' plan builds on Medicare, the popular insurance program for seniors. All U.S. residents would be covered with no copays and deductibles for medical services. The insurance industry would be relegated to a minor role.

"Enacting something like 'Medicare for all' would be a transformative change in the size of the federal government," said Charles Blahous, the study's author. Blahous was a senior economic adviser to former President George W. Bush and a public trustee of Social Security and Medicare during the Obama administration.

Responding to the study, Sanders took aim at the Mercatus Center, which receives funding from the conservative Koch brothers. Koch Industries CEO Charles Koch is on the center's board.

"If every major country on earth can guarantee health care to all, and achieve better health outcomes, while spending substantially less per capita than we do, it is absurd for anyone to suggest that the United States cannot do the same," Sanders said in a statement. "This grossly misleading and biased report is the Koch brothers response to the growing support in our country for a 'Medicare for all' program."

Sanders' office has not done a cost analysis, a spokesman said. His 2016 presidential campaign website cites an estimated price tag of $1.38 trillion a year for an earlier version of the plan, but other studies have projected much higher costs.

Sanders' staff found an error in an initial version of the Mercatus report, which counted a long-term care program that was in the 2016 proposal but not the current one. Blahous corrected it, reducing his estimate by about $3 trillion over 10 years. Blahous says the report is his own work, not the Koch brothers'.

Also called "single-payer" over the years, "Medicare for all" reflects a longtime wish among liberals for a government-run system that covers all Americans. With Republicans in charge of Congress and the White House, it has little chance.

But Sanders' idea has broad rank-and-file support among Democrats, and polls show it also appeals to many independents. Looking ahead to the 2020 election, Democrats are debating whether single-payer should be a "litmus test" for national candidates.

The Mercatus analysis estimated the 10-year cost of "Medicare for all" from 2022 to 2031, after an initial phase-in. Its findings are similar to those of several independent studies of Sanders' 2016 plan. Those studies found increases in federal spending over 10 years that ranged from $24.7 trillion to $34.7 trillion.

Kenneth Thorpe, a health policy professor at Emory University in Atlanta, authored one of the earlier studies and says the Mercatus analysis reinforces them.

"It's showing that if you are going to go in this direction, it's going to cost the federal government $2.5 trillion to $3 trillion a year in terms of spending," said Thorpe. "Even though people don't pay premiums, the tax increases are going to be enormous. There are going to be a lot of people who'll pay more in taxes than they save on premiums." Thorpe was a senior health policy adviser in the Clinton administration.

The study found that the plan would reap substantial savings from lower prescription costs — $846 billion over 10 years — since the government would deal directly with drugmakers. Savings from streamlined administration would be even greater, nearly $1.6 trillion.

But other provisions would tend to drive up spending, including coverage for nearly 30 million uninsured people, no deductibles and copays, and improved benefits, including dental, vision and hearing.

The Mercatus study also takes issue with a key cost-saving feature of the plan — that hospitals and doctors will accept payment based on lower Medicare rates for all their patients. Medicare rates are currently about 40 percent less than private insurance, according to the analysis.

The study found lower U.S. health care spending under Sanders' plan would drop over time — about $300 billion lower in 2031.

However, the study found that potential savings would vanish if hospitals and doctors aren't willing to accept lower fees for patients who are now privately insured. In that case, the U.S. would spend about $400 billion more in 2031.

Costs have been a stumbling block for state efforts to enact a single-payer system, including in Sanders' own state of Vermont.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Teen Infested With Hookworms After Trip to S. Florida Beach]]>Sat, 28 Jul 2018 09:13:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072618+kelli+dumas+michael+dumas+hookworms.jpg

A Tennessee woman says her son became infected with hookworms after a visit to a South Florida Beach.

Kelli Dumas posted photos of her 17-year-old son Michael's infected feet to Facebook after he visited Pompano Beach during a mission trip last month. She said he was buried in the sand and became infected, along with four other people on the trip.

Hookworms are often contracted by coming into contact with soil that has been contaminated by animal feces. Walking on the soil barefoot can lead to contracting the hookworms, according to the CDC

"He was buried in the sand for fun and it has become our nightmare," she wrote.

The Florida Department of Health in Broward County on Friday said it launched an investigation after receiving four reports of animal-associated hookworm infections.

Kelli Dumas said the painful hookworms have required a number of medications that have cost more than $1,300. Her son has also had to visit a pediatrician four times as well as a dermatologist.

She told NBC 6 her son is still under doctor's care "and will be for a long time."

"Never be buried in sand or allow your children to be either! I am only showing a few pictures because it is so disturbing," she said. "He is in pain."

Photo Credit: Facebook/Kelli Dumas
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<![CDATA[Why the Food Recalls Might Not Stop With Goldfish and Ritz ]]>Mon, 30 Jul 2018 07:54:57 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072619recallsplit.jpg

Bill Marler arrived at his Seattle home one night this week and began searching through the cupboard for something to eat. Toward the back, the food poisoning attorney spotted a bag of Goldfish, then remembered news reports about a new recall. Sure enough, he owned one of the more than 3 million packages that had been recalled on Monday. 

The back-to-back recalls of household staples Goldfish and Ritz crackers, along with earlier recalls of the Kellogg's cereal Honey Smacks and other cases, have prompted social media users to question which snacks are safe to eat. The short answer: we don't know yet, though no one has fallen ill from consuming recently recalled snack products linked to one supplier of whey protein.

Pepperidge Farm issued its voluntary recall for four types of its Goldfish crackers after the whey powder manufacturer Associated Milk Producers Inc. (AMPI) announced a recall of its own due to the “possible presence” of salmonella. Another company, Mondelez, recalled several of its Ritz cracker products over the weekend for the same reason.

Last week, Flowers Foods recalled its Swiss Rolls sold under various brand names. The company mentioned the whey powder ingredient in a news release. A Hungry Man frozen dinner also used AMPI's recalled powder. 

AMPI spokeswoman Sarah Schmidt noted that "all products shipped into the marketplace tested negative for Salmonella as part of AMPI’s routine testing program.”

But because "additional product tested positive for Salmonella under AMPI’s routine test and hold procedures," the recall was a precautionary move. 

"At AMPI, we are dedicated to producing dairy products that meet the highest quality and safety standards," Schmidt said. "We will continue to work cooperatively with the FDA." 

In a high-profile recall not linked to AMPI, Kellogg's flagged Honey Smacks last month due to the possible presence of salmonella. Seventy-three people became ill after eating the cereal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Whey powder isn't an ingredient in Honey Smacks, Kellogg's said in an email to NBC. 

Marler, who represents some of the people who fell ill from salmonella after consuming Honey Smacks, said companies that alert customers before anyone gets sick have adopted the best approach to managing the issue.

With Ritz, Goldfish, Swiss Rolls and Hungry Man — products the FDA has linked to AMPI — there haven’t been any reported illnesses. Other manufacturers who use AMPI's whey powder might begin issuing recalls in the coming days, Marler predicted, based on how past recalls have played out. 

"I would expect it to be potentially dozens of products," Marler said. "This kind of recall is the system working properly. It's common and actually a good thing."

Here's how the system operates: ingredient and product testing is not regulated or required by the government. Companies often test their products according to their own food safety plans, said Martin Bucknavage, a senior food safety associate at Penn State’s college of agricultural sciences.

When an ingredient supplier identifies possible contamination, it contacts the manufacturers it works with. The supplier also files a report with the FDA explaining the recall using the agency's reportable food registry portal.  

In AMPI's case, the powder they provide for dairy and baked products is also a common ingredient used to coat cereals and other snacks, said Randy Worobo, a professor in Cornell’s department of food science. 

AMPI declined to release its complete list of whey powder customers,  confirming only that four manufacturers it works with have issued voluntary recalls as of Wednesday. It said it doesn't release proprietary customer lists.

An FDA spokesman said the agency had the list but wouldn't provide it. NBC has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to determine which companies receive whey powder from AMPI. 

Salmonella is a bacteria that causes 1.2 million illnesses and 450 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC. Food is the cause of 1 million of those illnesses and 380 deaths. 

In 2007 and 2008, Peanut Corporation of America discovered salmonella contamination in its ingredients that were used in other manufacturers’ products but didn’t immediately issue a recall, according to The New York Times. Nine people were killed and more than 700 were reported ill as a result.

Companies that issue voluntary recalls before anyone gets sick will likely be viewed by customers in a positive light, said Tom Meyvis, an NYU marketing professor who studies consumer behavior.

“There’s an advantage to [the recall being connected] to one supplier,” Meyvis said.

Marler, the food poisoning attorney in Seattle, said that between recalls for romaine lettuce and Del Monte vegetables and illnesses linked to McDonald’s salads, the number of food-related ailments this year is alarming.

The FDA disputes that characterization. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that there haven't been an increase in the number or scope of recalls.

"Our tools for detecting them are much better, and our policies for how and when we alert the public lean in the direction of more and earlier communication," Gottlieb said. 

The FDA recommends that people discard or return recalled products to the stores where they're purchased. 

Photo Credit: Pepperidge Farm/Getty Images/AMPI]]>
<![CDATA[Cheesecake Factory, Uno Dishes Earn 'Xtreme Eating' Awards]]>Fri, 27 Jul 2018 14:54:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/173*120/GettyImages-142585668.jpg

Imagine eating seven McDonald's Sausage McMuffins in one sitting. That's what it would be like to finish just one breakfast burrito from The Cheesecake Factory, and the massive meal has topped the 2018 list of "Xtreme Eating Awards."

The list, released Thursday from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, purports to highlight some of the most unhealthy dishes at popular restaurant chains. 

Cheesecake Factory's breakfast burrito, recognized for being the "Worst Way to Start the Day," comes in at 2,730 calories, 73 grams of saturated fat and 4,630 milligrams of sodium. It's stuffed with eggs, bacon, chicken chorizo, cheese, potatoes, avocado, peppers and onions and smothered in spicy ranchero sauce. Sour cream, salsa and black beans come on the side.

The Health Department's Dietary Guidelines recommend consuming less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. It also suggests consuming less than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars and less than 10 percent from saturated fats.

While daily calorie recommendations vary based on sex and age, a 1,800-calorie diet is suggested for 31- to 50-year-old females and a 2,200-calorie diet is suggested for males in the same age range.

The Cheesecake Factory defended its menu, saying customers don't have to eat its hearty meals if they don't want to.

"With more than 250 menu items, The Cheesecake Factory has always been about choices," the company said in a statement to NBC News. "Many of our guests come in and want to celebrate and not be concerned with calories… For our calorie-conscious guests, we have our award-winning Skinnylicious menu…"

The Chicken Parmesan "Pizza Style" from Cheesecake Factory also won an award: "Worst Adapted Pizza." Its 10-inch, circular chicken breast is breaded and covered in marinara sauce and cheese. Angel hair pasta in Alfredo sauce his piled on top, bringing the dish to a whopping 1,870 calories. 

The "Worst Visceral Effects" award went to Uno Pizzeria & Grill's Deep Dish Buffalo Chicken Mac & Cheese. The heaping bowl has 2,320 calories, 59 grams of saturated fat and 4,530 milligrams of sodium — nutritionally equivalent to three orders of cheese ravioli from Olive Garden.

"For those looking for lighter fare, we have a smaller version of this award-winning Mac & Cheese… at less than half the calories," Uno said in a statement to NBC News. "We offer over 100 menu options, from indulgent treats to more healthful choices, so our guests can have whatever they’re in the mood for…"

The Bavarian Legend Soft Pretzel from AMC  earned the "Worst Cinematic Snack" with 7,600 milligrams of Sodium, and the Peanut Butter S’mores Pizookie from BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse got the "Worst Makeup" award with an estimated 135 grams of added sugar. The latter is nutritionally equal to a 14-oz. container of Haagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream and two cups of marshmallow Fluff.

BJ's also cited its large menu as a reason for customers to enjoy its food, saying, "We have something for everyone."

"While our very popular ... dessert is high in calories, it ... is perfect for sharing and typically ordered for a party of two or more," the company said in a statement to NBC. "That said, we do offer our Guests a full menu of Enlightened Entree items that are low in calories and made with high-nutrition ingredients for those eating on the healthier side."

AMC did not immediately return requests for comment. Yard House, Chili's and Shake Shack dishes also received awards, and the companies did not immediately respond to requests for comments as well.

Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Superhero Masks Empower Young Cancer Patients]]>Fri, 27 Jul 2018 12:26:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_masks0726_1500x845.jpg

At the Proton Therapy Center in St. Louis, Missouri cancer is in for a fight. It's not 11-year-old William Cosby lying on the patient table, it's the Black Panther. Child Life Specialist Hannah Heimos wanted to empower kids who have to wear masks during proton therapy.

Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Eating 'Xtreme': Restaurant Excess Exposed]]>Fri, 27 Jul 2018 11:52:27 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/extreme-eating-thumb.png

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has released its annual "Xtreme Eating Awards" highlighting some of the most unhealthy menu options in America.]]>
<![CDATA[Nearly 300 Confirmed Sick After Eating McDonald's Salads]]>Thu, 26 Jul 2018 22:19:41 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18193696359447.jpg

The CDC is now reporting that nearly 300 people have been diagnosed with an intestinal illness after consuming salads at McDonald’s restaurants.

In a new report, 286 laboratory-confirmed cases of cyclosporiasis have been reported in 15 states after customers ate salads at the restaurant’s locations.

Over 200 cases have now been reported in Illinois and Iowa alone, with 123 cases confirmed in Illinois.  

The most common symptom of the illness is watery diarrhea. Other symptoms include appetite loss, intestinal pain, nausea, and fatigue.

McDonald's released a statement regarding the outbreak, saying "McDonald's is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control." 

Earlier this summer, McDonald’s removed the lettuce blend from 3,000 identified restaurants and distribution centers that had received it.

Affected restaurants were located in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Missouri. 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File]]>
<![CDATA[Backlash Builds Against Straw Bans]]>Thu, 26 Jul 2018 10:46:20 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_straws0726_1500x845.jpg

Cities and businesses across the U.S. are moving to ban plastic straws in an effort to ease the burden of plastic waste on the environment. But those bans may also make life more complicated for disabled people.

Photo Credit: NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Pepperidge Farm Recalls 4 Varieties of Goldfish Crackers]]>Thu, 26 Jul 2018 10:00:40 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PF-8548-GFFBXtraCheddar.jpg

Pepperidge Farm says it has been notified by one of its ingredient suppliers that whey powder in a seasoning that is applied to four varieties of crackers has been the subject of a recall by the whey powder manufacturer due to the potential presence of salmonella.

Pepperidge Farm initiated an investigation and, out of an abundance of caution, is voluntarily recalling four varieties of Goldfish crackers. The products were distributed throughout the United States. 

No illnesses have been reported. No other Pepperidge Farm products in the U.S. are subject to this recall.

The following four varieties with the indicated codes are subject to this recall:

  • Flavor Blasted® Xtra Cheddar
  • Flavor Blasted® Sour Cream & Onion
  • Goldfish® Baked with Whole Grain Xtra Cheddar
  • Goldfish® Mix Xtra Cheddar + Pretzel

Different packaging options are included in this recall. Consumers are encouraged to read this chart.

Consumers who have purchased these products should not eat them. Recalled products should be discarded or may be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may visit www.pepperidgefarm.com/GoldfishUpdate or call Customer Service at 800-679-1791, 24 hours a day, for more information.

Photo Credit: Pepperidge Farm]]>
<![CDATA[CDC: Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Backyard Chickens]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 10:57:31 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-659477980.jpg

A salmonella outbreak that has sickened more than 200 people in 44 states is linked to backyard chickens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.    

As of July 13, 2018, 212 cases of salmonella infections have been linked to contact with live poultry in backyard flocks, according to the agency. A quarter of the reported cases are children under the age of 5.

More than 70 percent of those sickened in this outbreak, which includes several strains of salmonella, reported coming into contact with chicks or ducklings in the week before their illness started, the CDC said. The live poultry was obtained from several sources, including feed supply stores, hatcheries, relatives and from online merchants. 

The illnesses began between Feb. 15 and June 21, and at least 34 people have been hospitalized. The CDC said no deaths have been reported.

"People can get sick with Salmonella infections from touching live poultry or their environment," the CDC said on its website. "These birds can be carrying Salmonella bacteria but appear healthy and clean and show no signs of illness."

Salmonella can cause diarrhea, fever and abdominal cramps. Diagnosing the illness requires a blood or stool sample, as other illnesses cause similar symptoms.

The CDC suggested tips for handling live poultry: Always wash your hands with soap and water after touching live poultry or their environment. Children under five years old should not touch live poultry without adult supervision. Wear separate shoes when caring for poultry, and leave them outside. Do not allow live poultry inside the house or around food.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Clean, Green Public Spaces Make Us Happier, Study Finds]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 11:39:32 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/earl_richardson_park2.jpg

People feel happier and less depressed when vacant lots in their neighborhood are cleared of trash or "greened up," according to what might be a first-of-a-kind study of public space's effects on mental health.

NBC News reported that Philadelphia residents who lived near vacant lots that were filled in with trees and grass or simply cleaned up reported to University of Pennsylvania researchers a decrease in feelings of depression, poor mental health and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.

Renee Holly, a 54-year-old custodian, is in charge of keeping her greened-up North Philadelphia lot in good condition after the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society cleaned it up.

"It's a beautiful thing to have a clean lot, it makes me happy," she said. "Now, our neighborhood kids don't have to play in a lot with glass and trash."

Photo Credit: Sarah Glover/NBC Philadelphia, File]]>
<![CDATA[A Parasite May Help Us Overcome Fear of Failure: Researchers]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 10:06:42 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/t-gondii.jpg

A parasite that makes rodents unafraid of cats could be giving people the courage to become entrepreneurs, researchers told NBC News.

People infected with Toxoplasma gondii were more likely to have majored in business and started their own business, according to a new paper published by University of Colorado management professor Stefanie Johnson and colleagues in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

People get the T. gondii parasite from handling cat droppings or eating poorly cooked meat. It's already linked to a greater risk of "car accidents, mental illness, neuroticism, drug abuse and suicide," according to the paper.

Johnson said she plans on studying the parasite further, to see "if all the businesses started by toxoplasma-positive people fail," among other things.

Photo Credit: CDC/ Dr. L.L. Moore, Jr.]]>
<![CDATA[Lowering Blood Pressure Helps Prevent Mental Decline: Study]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 09:01:21 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18204605262079-Blood-Pressure-Test.jpg

Lowering blood pressure more than usually recommended not only helps prevent heart problems, it also cuts the risk of mental decline that often leads to Alzheimer's disease, a major study finds.

It's the first time a single step has been clearly shown to help prevent a dreaded condition that has had people trying crossword puzzles, diet supplements and a host of other things in hope of keeping their mind sharp.

In the study, people treated to a top blood pressure reading of 120 instead of 140 were 19 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment. They also had fewer signs of damage on brain scans, and there was a possible trend toward fewer cases of dementia.

"This is a big breakthrough," said Dr. Jeff Williamson of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina. "It's more important than ever to work with your physician to ensure that you have good blood pressure control."

He led the study and gave results Wednesday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Chicago. They're considered preliminary until published, expected later this year.

Independent experts cheered the news.

"We have long known that high blood pressure is bad for your heart. Now we're also learning it's bad for your brain," said James Hendrix, director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer's Association.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type. There is no cure — current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just ease symptoms — so prevention is key.

Roughly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure under guidelines adopted last year that define it as a top number of 130 or more, rather than 140. Normal is under 120.

High pressure can damage blood vessels and has long been linked to a higher risk for dementia. But it's not been known if lowering pressure would reduce that risk or by how much. The federally funded study was designed to test this in the most rigorous way.

It involved more than 9,300 people with high pressure. Half got two medicines, on average, to get their top reading below 140. The rest got three drugs, on average, and aimed for 120. During the study, the top pressure averaged 121 in the intensive-treatment group and 135 in the other group.

The study was stopped in 2015, nearly two years early, when it became clear that lower pressure helped prevent heart problems and deaths. But tests of thinking skills continued for two more years, and these new results were revealed on Wednesday.

Researchers saw a 19 percent lower risk of mild cognitive impairment, or MCI, in the intensive-treatment group — 285 cases versus 348 in the higher pressure group. About half of people with MCI develop dementia over the next five years.

"It's really more important to prevent MCI than dementia in some ways. It's like preventing high cholesterol rather than a heart attack," Williamson said.

There also were fewer dementia cases in the intensive-treatment group but there were too few to say lower blood pressure was the reason. Dementia takes longer to develop than mild impairment does, so doctors think the difference may widen over time.

MRI scans on 454 participants showed that those in the lower pressure group had less white matter lesions — areas of scarring or damage from injury, such as inadequate blood supply.

"It matches" the other results on thinking skills and bolsters the evidence that lowering blood pressure helps, said Laurie Ryan, a dementia scientist at the National Institute on Aging.

This study's previous results led to last fall's guidelines change, setting high pressure at 130. Some doctors have criticized that as too aggressive, but the new results, showing benefits to the brain, "support and maybe even extend the guidelines," Williamson said. "The goal of below 130 is extremely important."

The study did not test specific blood pressure drugs. Instead, each participant's doctor chose which ones to use from the more than a dozen available.

When the heart results were announced a few years ago, doctors said that too-low pressure, fainting episodes and some kidney problems were a little more common in the intensively treated group but that those risks were considered worth the benefits of a lower risk of heart trouble and death.

Getting to the lower level meant using one more medicine, and "90 percent of these are generic and cost less than a dollar a day," Williamson said. "For a modest cost this has a tremendously important health benefit for people."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Allen G. Breed/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Recalled Over Botulism Risk]]>Wed, 25 Jul 2018 09:24:52 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/taco-bell-cheese-dip.jpg

The Kraft Heinz Company is recalling about 59,000 jars of its Taco Bell Salsa Con Queso Mild Cheese Dip that could potentially lead to botulism if eaten.

Kraft is voluntarily recalling 15-ounce glass jars with "best when used by" dates of Dec. 27, 2018, and Jan. 23, 2019. The affected items are showing signs of product separation, which can allow for the growth of the bacteria that causes botulism, the company said on its website.

Botulism is rare but can be fatal, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The illness can cause difficulty breathing and muscle paralysis. Symptoms include blurred or double vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, difficulty swallowing, a thick-feeling tongue, dry mouth and muscle weakness.

Kraft said there have been no complaints or reports of illness related to the products. The company said it is working with the Food and Drug Administration.

The affected items were produced and distributed by Kraft in the U.S. The company urged customers not to eat the dip and return it to the store for an exchange or refund.

Photo Credit: Kraft Heinz Company]]>
<![CDATA[Flowers Foods Recalls 2 Products; Milk Supplier Eyed]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 22:30:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fdaGettyImages-496532228.jpg

Flowers Foods is voluntarily recalling two of its bread products, the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday, the latest foods to be recalled in recent days due to concerns about salmonella in an ingredient from the same supplier.

Swiss rolls — sold under the brand names Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square and Great Value — and Captain John Derst’s Old Fashioned Bread are the recalled Flowers products, CNBC.com reported.

On Saturday, Mondelez issued a voluntary recall of some of its Ritz Cracker and Ritz Bits products. Pepperidge Farm, owned by Campbell Soup, recalled 3.3 million units of Goldfish Crackers on Monday.

Photo Credit: CQ-Roll Call,Inc.]]>
<![CDATA[Woman Likely Spread Ebola A Year After Infection]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 08:09:45 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072418ebolastrain.jpg

A Liberian woman who probably caught Ebola in 2014 may have infected three relatives a year after she first fell sick, doctors reported in a study published Monday.

There have been previous instances of men spreading Ebola to women via sexual transmission — the virus can survive in semen for more than a year — but the new case is the first time scientists have suggested that Ebola was spread from a woman after such a prolonged period.

The rare possibility of Ebola spreading long after infection highlights the importance of monitoring survivors, especially with the imminent end of the most recent flare-up of the disease in Congo.

That country's latest outbreak, announced in May, has so far recorded 38 confirmed cases, including 14 deaths. It is due to be declared contained on Wednesday, which will mark 42 days, or two incubation periods, since the last case was recorded.

"The Ebola virus hides in places where it can escape the antibodies from a body's immune system, so there is a need for vigilance," said Dr. David Heymann, a professor of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who was not linked to the new research.

The unusual cluster of cases in Liberia was identified after the woman's 15-year-old son was diagnosed with Ebola in November 2015.

Scientists then tested the rest of his family: the woman, her husband and their three younger sons.

The 15-year-old died a few days later. The father and an 8-year-old boy were positive for Ebola, but both recovered.

The couple's 5-year-old son wasn't infected.

Doctors found Ebola antibodies in the mother, her breast milk and her 2-month-old baby, suggesting a previous infection and the possibility she passed on protection to her infant son through breastfeeding.

Researchers reported genetic similarities between the viruses taken from the father, the two boys and the strain circulating during the 2014-15 outbreak across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which ultimately killed more than 11,000 people in the biggest Ebola epidemic in history.

Scientists discovered the woman had cared for her brother in July 2014, who died after suffering Ebola-like symptoms but before being tested for the disease. The woman later experienced a similar illness, but never sought care.

Several weeks after giving birth to a baby in September 2015, the woman developed problems including fatigue and breathing difficulties. Doctors say that because pregnancy lowers the body's immune defenses, that may have allowed for the Ebola virus to re-emerge.

"The suspicious illness she had following delivery may have been a re-activation of Ebola, but we have no confirmatory tests," said Dr. Emily Kainne Dokubo, who led the Ebola response in Liberia for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the study's lead author.

Dokubo said it was possible the woman infected her husband and two older sons with Ebola when they took care of her — the disease is normally spread through contact with an infected patient's blood or other bodily fluids.

The case report was published online Monday in the journal Lancet.

"There isn't complete evidence to reconstruct what happened, but this is the most likely scenario," said Lorenzo Subissi, an epidemiologist at Sciensano, a Belgian research institute, who was not part of the study.

Dokubo said such cases of Ebola re-emergence are exceptional, with only two reported instances: a Scottish nurse who developed meningitis caused by Ebola hidden in her brain and an American physician who had lingering virus in his eye. In those two cases, the virus did not spread any further.

"We don't want there to be a sense of complacency with people thinking that just because the outbreak is over, there's nothing more to be done," Dokubo said. "There is a risk of viral persistence and people should seek care immediately so that we can pick up any suspicious cases right away and stop a larger outbreak."


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Frederick Murphy/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Walmart Drug Program Often Cheaper Than Medicare: Study]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 06:45:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/140409167-Generic-drug-generic.jpg

It's often cheaper for some Medicare patients to buy prescription drugs through Walmart's $4 generic program than through their own health insurance, according to a study out Monday.

The study's lead author told NBC News it's more evidence that patients can't always rely on health insurance for reasonable prices on their prescriptions.

"Twenty percent of the time, at least, we should go to Walmart," said Dr. Joseph Ross of the Yale School of Medicine.

The study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was informed by discussion about pharmacy gag rules, Ross said. Those rules prevent pharmacists from telling patients about possible savings on drugs, like by not using health insurance.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[AIDS Drugs Show More Promise for Preventing New Infections]]>Tue, 24 Jul 2018 03:23:25 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medicationAP_18204652644285.jpg

New research shows more promise for using AIDS treatment drugs as a prevention tool, to help keep uninfected people from catching HIV during sex with a partner who has the virus.

There were no infections among gay men who used a two-drug combo pill either daily or just before and after sex with someone with HIV, one study found. In a second study, no uninfected men caught the virus if they had sex only with a partner whose HIV was well suppressed by medicines.

Both studies were discussed Tuesday at the International AIDS conference in Amsterdam.

The United States' top AIDS scientist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, called the results "very impressive" and "really striking."

About 36 million people worldwide have HIV and 1.8 million new infections occur each year, said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"The only way you're going to end the epidemic is by preventing additional cases of transmission," he said. The treatment drugs are "tools that, if widely implemented, theoretically could end the epidemic."

Expanding access to them is not only humanitarian but also smart policy, Fauci added.

"You get a twofer: You save the life of the person who's infected ... and you're making it virtually impossible for that person to transmit that infection to their sexual partner."

Until there's a vaccine, condoms are the best way to prevent HIV infection, but not everyone uses them or does so all the time, so other options are needed.

A two-drug combo used to treat people with HIV, sold as Truvada by Gilead Science and in generic form in some countries, has been shown to help prevent infection when one partner has the virus and one does not, but the evidence so far has been strongest for male-female couples.

A new study was designed as a real-world test in about 1,600 gay men in the Paris region who were at high risk of getting HIV because of many sex partners, reluctance to use condoms or other reasons. They were offered the preventive pills either for daily use, as is recommended in the United States, or "on demand" — before and after unprotected sex. A little more than half chose on demand, and have been tested every three months to see if they had caught HIV.

"Since we started a year ago, we have not seen a single infection," said the study leader, Dr. Jean-Michel Molina of Saint Louis Hospital in Paris. "On-demand seems to be at least as effective as daily when it's used in real life."

No one stopped using the drugs because of side effects.

"Now we can have just as much confidence in the power of treatment as prevention for gay male couples as we have had for heterosexual couples," said Dr. Linda-Gail Bekker, AIDS conference chief and deputy director of the Desmond Tutu HIV Center at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

The second study tested a different approach — keeping an infected partner's virus severely suppressed with HIV medicines, which is known to greatly reduce the risk of spreading it.

Dr. Alison Rodger of University College London led a study of 779 gay male couples in 14 European countries where one partner was uninfected and the other was taking drugs to suppress HIV. They were tested every six to 12 months to see if the infected partner still had the virus under control, and whether the other partner had caught it.

After a median of 18 months, none of the infected men spread HIV to their partner, despite about 75,000 sex acts without condoms. There were 17 new HIV infections among men who were uninfected when the study started; tests showed those infections were from sex with someone other than the partner in the study.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Health Care Industry Branches Into Fresh Meals, Rides to Gym]]>Mon, 23 Jul 2018 12:50:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18199570545155-Insurance-Covering-Working-Out.jpg

That hot lunch delivered to your door? Your health insurer might pick up the tab.

The cleaning crew that fixed up your apartment while you recovered from a stroke? The hospital staff helped set that up.

Health care is shifting in a fundamental way for millions of Americans. Some insurers are paying for rides to fitness centers and checking in with customers to help ward off loneliness. Hospital networks are hiring more workers to visit people at home and learn about their lives, not just their illnesses.

The health care system is becoming more focused on keeping patients healthy instead of waiting to treat them once they become sick or wind up in the hospital. This isn't a new concept, but it's growing. Insurers are expanding what they pay for to confront rising costs, realizing that a person's health depends mostly on what happens outside a doctor's visit.

"For many people, taking care of their blood pressure or their diabetes is not particularly high on their list when they don't know where their next meal is coming from," said Dr. Lori Tishler, vice president of medical affairs with the nonprofit insurer Commonwealth Care Alliance.

Some of this shift is driven by how health plans pay doctors and other care providers.

For decades, they've reimbursed mainly for each procedure or service performed, which limits the type of help a doctor can provide. But insurers are shifting more to reimbursement that centers on the patient's health. That often involves paying providers to coordinate all the help a patient needs to improve their health — and lower health care costs.

"You get a lot more attention to the sickest population," said Dr. Sam Ho, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare, the nation's largest insurer.

Beyond payment changes, insurers and care providers also are stretching their approach to helping patients, especially those with low incomes or chronic conditions.

Virta Woodard receives weekly calls from her care manager, Armando Contreras, and she gets rides to a fitness center, all covered under a program called "Togetherness" started last year by the insurer Anthem. The 56-year-old, who has diabetes and lives with chronic pain, has lost 34 pounds since joining the program.

"I don't cry every day like I used to because I don't want to be telling Armando that," the Long Beach, California, resident said. "I want to tell him I did something good."

The thinking behind this program is that people who are more engaged socially will become more involved keeping up their health, Anthem spokeswoman Jill Becher said.

Sharon Romano was feeling overwhelmed months after her stroke last year. In stepped social worker Alicia Velez.

Velez, from Mount Sinai Health Partners, spent several hours helping Romano sort through medical bills on her first visit. She also researched companies that could clean Romano's one-bedroom Manhattan apartment and remove clutter. Then Velez started calling weekly to check in with Romano.

"It gave me a little bit of hope that I can get through this," Romano said.

The Affordable Care Act expanded coverage to millions of people and increased recognition through the health care system that "just giving someone coverage is not going to be enough to ultimately improve health outcomes," said Samantha Artiga, a Kaiser Family Foundation researcher.

Only about 20 percent of the adjustable factors that determine a person's health come from care or access to it, according to a 2016 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Other factors — where a person lives, their income and their diet — combine to play a bigger role.

Delivered meals tailored to a person's medical condition can help keep patients out of the hospital, according to David Waters, CEO of Boston-based Community Servings, which provides food to people with serious or chronic illnesses. He said patients who are sick, don't speak English or have little money to buy fresh food often struggle to follow doctor orders on diets.

"We set people up to fail," he said.

Four years ago, no insurers covered meals prepared by Community Servings. They now cover about 20 percent, and Waters expects that to rise to around 50 percent over the next several years.

Commonwealth Care Alliance pays for the delivery of meals low in both potassium and salt to Sister Jeanne Hubert, an 88-year-old nun who must watch her diet after heart valve surgery. For a recent midday meal, that meant roast beef and rice with a side of carrots.

"I think it's wonderful," Hubert said. "I never heard of that much help from an insurance company."

Doctors also like the extra help. Dr. Michael Munger's practice in Overland Park, Kansas, gets additional revenue to manage care for many of his patients. That allows them to check in to see if anyone is having problems filling prescriptions or making appointments.

The president of the American Academy of Family Physicians said: "It's really allowed us to expand the care team and not think just about 'Who's next on my schedule?'"

The concept works, Munger said, as long as care is coordinated and the doctor remains in charge.

Success also depends on the patient being willing to accept help and on insurers waiting for the payoff. Near-term expenses from primary care visits or food services may rise, but the payoff — preventing a heart attack because of improved health — might be down the road.

Despite those challenges, health care researchers expect this trend to continue.

The U.S. health care system must be redesigned to get away from the idea that more health care equals better health, said Dr. Sanne Magnan, a senior fellow at the think tank HealthPartners Institute.

"We're spending all this money, but we're not getting good results," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Drug Overdoses Spike in Philly, 2 EMS Workers Attacked]]>Mon, 23 Jul 2018 10:01:15 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/198*120/Heroin+Baggie.JPG

Health officials are investigating a sudden spike in non-fatal drug overdoses in the Philadelphia area over the weekend.

Officials say more than 100 people were hospitalized between Friday and Saturday. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Tom Farley said the cluster was the largest he has seen in two years as head of the city's health department.

“Over a weekend we might expect 20 to 25 people to come in,” Dr. Farley said. “So to have 100 come in is a lot larger than normal.”

Farley says it's unclear whether the substance responsible was heroin, fentanyl or something else. Health officials are still waiting for results of tests of bags found in the hands of arriving patients.

Montgomery County officials say the drug may be “Santa Muerte," meaning “The Holy Death,” a batch of heroin adulterated with an anticholinergic agent. Sold on the street with the name “Perfect 10,” symptoms of the batch include agitation, combativeness, delirium, dilated pupils, seizures and hot, flushed and red skin.

Officials warned first responders that patients overdosed on Santa Muerte are typically extremely combative and agitated when being treated with the anti-opiate drug Narcan.

At least two female Philadelphia EMS workers who responded to reported overdoses Friday were hurt after being attacked by patients, according to officials.

“This is an important lesson for everyone on how dangerous it is to buy drugs on the street and use them,” Dr. Farley said.

Despite the rise in overdoses, officials say the batch didn't cause a spike in drug-related deaths over the weekend. Farely said seven people died of apparent overdoses between Friday night and Sunday morning, which is about the typical overdose death rate. 

Police and the health department are currently warning people about the issue as they continue to work to confirm what the drug actually is. They expect to complete their testing this week.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[40 Hospitalized in Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Raw Turkey]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:38:57 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072018CDC.jpg

Ninety people in 26 states have been infected with salmonella in the midst of an outbreak that has been connected to raw turkey products, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

There haven’t been any reported deaths, but 40 people have been hospitalized.

Salmonella cases have been reported in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, the CDC said in a news release.

While the outbreak hasn’t been linked to a single supplier, the salmonella strain has been found in samples of raw turkey products including pet food and live turkeys, the CDC said.

The agency hasn’t instructed retailers to stop selling raw turkey products and hasn’t told consumers to stop eating properly cooked turkey products.

To avoid being infected with salmonella, the CDC recommends frequently washing your hands, cooking raw turkey thoroughly and avoiding raw diets for pets.

“Always handle raw turkey carefully and cook it thoroughly to prevent food poisoning,” the CDC said in the release. “This outbreak is a reminder that raw turkey products can have germs that spread around food preparation areas and can make you sick.”

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Less Than Half of School Districts Test Water for Lead: US Survey]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 13:12:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/072018leadwater.jpg

A survey of school districts around the country finds that less than half test their water for lead, and among those that do more than a third detected elevated levels of the toxin, according to a federal report released this week.

Lead can cause brain damage and learning disabilities in children.

The report, released by the Government Accountability Office, is based on a survey of 549 school districts across the United States.

It estimates that 41 percent of school districts, serving 12 million students, did not test for lead in the water in 2016 and 2017.

Of the 43 percent that did test for lead, about 37 percent reported elevated levels. Sixteen percent of schools said they did not know whether they test for lead, the report says.

A 2005 memorandum signed by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides guidance to schools, including a testing protocol and suggestions for disseminating results, educating the school community about the risks and health effects of exposure and what actions should be taken to correct the problem.

But there are still major information gaps, the report says, and no federal law that requires schools to test for lead.

"Without information on key topics, such as a recommended schedule for lead testing, how to remediate elevated lead levels, and information associated with testing and remediation costs school districts are at risk of making misinformed decisions regarding their lead testing and remediation efforts," the report says.

More than half of the schools that didn't test for lead said they didn't identify a need for testing, and noted that they're not required to do so.

The report makes seven recommendations that include updating existing guidance to help schools choose a level that would trigger remediation, increasing collaboration between agencies and improving efforts to communicate to school districts the importance of lead testing and information about what actions to take if lead is detected.

EPA agreed with the report's recommendations, and the Education Department in its response agreed to improve its website to make information about lead testing more accessible.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Richard Drew/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Bayer to Stop Selling Essure Birth Control Implant in US]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 18:07:14 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18201562973055.jpg

The maker of a permanent contraceptive implant subject to thousands of injury reports and repeated safety restrictions by regulators said Friday that it will stop selling the device in the U.S., the only country where it remains available.

Bayer said the safety of its Essure implant has not changed, but it will stop selling the device at the end of the year due to weak sales.

The German company had billed the device as the only non-surgery sterilization method for women. As complaints mounted and demand slipped, it stopped Essure sales in Canada, Europe, South America, South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has placed multiple restrictions on the device following patient reports of pain, bleeding, allergic reactions and cases where the implant punctured the uterus or shifted out of place.

In May, the FDA said doctors must show women a checklist of the device's risks before implanting it.

More than 16,000 U.S. women are suing Bayer over Essure.

One of them, Amanda Rusmisell, of Charlotte, North Carolina, said she's "immensely thrilled" by Bayer's action. Rusmisell said she got the device in 2008 and developed severe pain and bleeding. She took part in patient-organized rallies accusing Bayer for not disclosing potential risks and said, choking back tears, "Our very grassroots effort has worked."

Bayer received FDA approval to sell Essure in 2002 and promoted it as a quick and easy permanent solution to unplanned pregnancies. Essure consists of two thin-as-spaghetti nickel-titanium coils inserted into the fallopian tubes, where they spur the growth of scar tissue that blocks sperm from fertilizing a woman's eggs.

Because of the reported complaints, the FDA added its most serious warning to the device in 2016 and ordered the company to conduct a 2,000-patient study.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Friday the agency would work with Bayer to continue the study, but noted "Bayer will not be able to meet its expected enrollment numbers" for new patients. The study was designed to follow patients for three years to better assess complications.

More than 750,000 women worldwide have received Essure. Demand has declined in recent years and plunged 70 percent after the 2016 boxed warning, the FDA said.

Gottlieb said the FDA will continue to monitor adverse events reported to its database after Essure is removed from the market.

"I also want to reassure women who've been using Essure successfully to prevent pregnancy that they can continue to do so," he said. Those who think it's causing problems, such as persistent pain, should consult with their doctors, Gottlieb added.

Essure's original label warned that the device's nickel can result in allergic reactions. Its current labeling lists hives, rash, swelling and itching as possible reactions.

But many women have attributed other problems to the implant, including mood disorders, weight gain, hair loss and headaches. Those problems are listed in the current FDA labeling for the device, with the qualifier: "It is unknown if these symptoms are related to Essure or other causes."

Informational material Bayer supplied to doctors and patients lists potential problems and says the devices are meant to be permanent. It also says removal may require complicated surgery, including a hysterectomy, that might not be covered by insurance.

Gottlieb noted that device removal "has its own risks."

Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit National Center for Health Research, said Essure is among medical devices approved without "clear evidence of safety or effectiveness."

"As a result, when thousands of women reported serious complications from Essure, there was no unbiased long-term research to refute or confirm those reports," Zuckerman said. "If patients had been listened to when the first clinical trials were conducted on Essure, better research would have been conducted to determine exactly how safe and effective Essure is."

Dr. Kristyn Brandi, a Los Angeles family planning specialist, called Bayer's move disappointing. She says most of her Essure patients have been satisfied.

"I would hope Bayer would use this opportunity to think about future research and product development," Brandi said. "Being able to offer women contraception that's permanent without surgery is a really great option."

Bayer spokeswoman Courtney Mallon said the company had no plans to re-design the device.

Kate Nicholson, of Dallas, got an Essure implant last year after she and her husband decided not to have children. She said she sympathizes with women who have had problems but said ending Essure sales is the wrong move.

"Pulling it from the market is yet another way to limit our choices about our own bodies," Nicholson said. "I personally always had horrible experiences with different versions of 'the pill,' but it's still on the market and many women swear by it."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Bayer Healthcare Pharmaceuticals via AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Crystal Geyser Charged With Illegal Toxic Waste Disposal]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 19:03:30 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CrystalGeyser.jpg

The California company that sells Crystal Geyser bottled water has been charged with illegally disposing of arsenic-tainted wastewater, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The charges don't allege that CG Roxane LLC sold tainted water, but that it illegally shipped and disposed of the toxic waste filtered from well water.

A 16-count indictment in Los Angeles federal court alleged that Crystal Geyser and two other companies failed to properly disclose the toxic material they shipped in May 2015 and disposed of at a facility not permitted to treat hazardous waste.

"Our nation's environmental laws are specifically designed to ensure that hazardous wastes are properly handled from beginning to end," U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said. "The alleged behavior of the three companies charged in this indictment undermines that important objective and jeopardizes the safety of our community."

Phone messages seeking comment was not immediately returned by a CG Roxane spokeswoman.

Naturally occurring arsenic was filtered out of water pumped from wells and later discharged in a pond near the company's Olancha facility in the Owens Valley, 160 miles north of Los Angeles.

The company stopped dumping the tainted water in the pond after the California Department of Toxic Substances Control found it contained hazardous waste in 2014, the prosecutors said.

In May of 2015, the company hired two firms in the Los Angeles area to drain and dispose of the water in the pond.

The three companies violated federal law by not disclosing in shipping documents that they were transporting hazardous waste that contained arsenic, the indictment said. Federal law requires that toxic and other hazardous waste be documented from "cradle to grave."

The material was taken to a facility in Fontana, about 45 miles east of Los Angeles, that wasn't approved to handle hazardous waste, prosecutors said.

If convicted of all counts, each company faces fines up to $8 million.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: George Rose/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Swiss Rolls Recalled Over Salmonella Concerns]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 15:08:59 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/0ce6b8dd-e353-4aaa-9d35-e9e7c063a211_1.jpg

A popular snack treat is being recalled nationwide over potential salmonella concerns.

Swiss Rolls, sold under a variety of brand names including H-E-B and Great Value, are being voluntarily recalled by the manufacturer over the possible presence of salmonella in one of the treat’s ingredients.

Mrs. Freshley’s, Food Lion, H-E-B, Baker’s Treat, Market Square, and Great Value brands are all impacted by the recall nationally, and several southern states are impacted under the Captain John Derst’s Hold Fashioned Bread brand name.

Salmonella can cause serious, or even fatal, infections in young children and the elderly. No human cases have yet been reported in connection with the recall.

For a full list of brand names, UPC label numbers, and Best By Dates, you can visit the Flowers Foods website, or use this list: 

Mrs. Freshleys -4 count/7.2 ounces 
UPC: 072250011907 
Best By Dates: Through 10/19/18 

Mrs. Freshley's - 6 count/12 ounces 
UPC: 072250903233 
Best By Dates:Through 10/14/18

Food Lion - 6 count/13 ounces
UPC: 035826092779
Best By Dates:10/16/18

H-E-B: 6 count/12 ounces 
UPC: 041220296483
Best By Dates:09/19/18

Baker's Treat:6 count/13 ounces 
UPC: 041498188382
Best By Dates:9/21/18 through 9/28/18

Market Square:6 count/12 ounces 
UPC: 087381760556
Best By Dates: 309 8194 B

Great Value: 6 count/13 ounces 
UPC: 078742147550
Best By Dates: 9/17/18 through 9/25/18

Captain John Derst's Old Fashioned Bread
UPC: 071316001180
Best By Dates: 7/16/18 through 7/28/18

Photo Credit: Walmart]]>
<![CDATA[Baltimore Bans Sodas, Sugary Drinks From Kids' Menus]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 07:59:50 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/509689170-soda-table.jpg

Restaurants in Baltimore are now officially barred from including sodas and other sugary drinks on kids' menus, according to a city ordinance that went into effect Wednesday.

Baltimore is now the biggest U.S. city and the first on the East Coast to pass this kind of measure, said Shawn McIntosh, director of the Sugar Free Kids Maryland advocacy group. Seven California cities and Lafayette, Colorado, have enacted similar ordinances, according to health officials.

Milk, 100 percent fruit juices, water and flavored or sparkling water without added sweeteners must now be the default beverages for kids' meals at Baltimore eateries. Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the legislation earlier this year.

The ordinance is intended to stop youngsters' overconsumption of sugary drinks, perceived as a key factor in high rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes.

"Taking out empty calories from sugary drinks is a powerful lifestyle change we can make to help our children to get and stay healthy. This law will help families make the healthy choice the easy choice," Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said in a statement.

One in four Baltimore children currently down at least one soda each day, according to Sugar Free Kids Maryland. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that one in three school-aged kids in the city is obese.

Baltimore restaurants that don't comply with the ordinance will be faced with a $100 penalty, McIntosh said. She said eateries "have hopefully gotten on board" already and changed their printed menus for kids, but they're not expected to have fully made that switch by Wednesday.

"They have to at least put a sticker on, have signage. Their online menus have to be changed because that's an easy fix. So they're not expecting them to print all new menus by today," she said.

Youngsters can still drink soda at city restaurants if an accompanying adult orders it for them.

The "Healthy Beverages for Children's Meals" ordinance was opposed by the Restaurant Association of Maryland. In a Wednesday email, association vice president Melvin Thompson said "public policy that interferes with the minutiae of restaurant operations exacerbates the business challenges already facing city restaurants."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Deaths From Liver Disease Are Up, and Drinking Is to Blame]]>Wed, 18 Jul 2018 22:23:15 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-119707164.png

Deaths from liver disease have risen sharply in the U.S., and doctors say the biggest factor is drinking — especially among young adults.

A study published Wednesday found a 65 percent increase in deaths from cirrhosis of the liver since 1999, NBC News reported. The biggest increase is among millennials: the team found that deaths from cirrhosis are rising 10 percent a year among people aged 25 to 34.

People so young might not even realize that they can drink themselves to death so quickly, but they can, said liver specialist Dr. Haripriya Maddur of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“Surprisingly, it only takes about 10 years of heavy drinking to actually lead to cirrhosis,” said Maddur, who was not involved in the study.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Not 'Milk'? Soy, Almond Drink Makers May Need New Description]]>Wed, 18 Jul 2018 11:30:09 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/156509135-Curious-Cow.jpg

Soy and almond drinks that bill themselves as "milk" may need to consider alternative language after a top regulator suggested the agency may start cracking down on use of the term.

The Food and Drug Administration signaled plans to start enforcing a federal standard that defines "milk" as coming from the "milking of one or more healthy cows." That would be a change for the agency, which has not aggressively gone after the proliferation of plant-based drinks labeled as "milk."

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb talked about the plans this week, noting there are hundreds of federal "standards of identity" spelling out how foods with various names need to be manufactured.

"The question becomes, have we been enforcing our own standard of identity," Gottlieb said about "milk" at the Politico event Tuesday. "The answer is probably not."

Standards of identity have been the source industry spats as American diets have evolved, including fights about what gets to be called mayonnaise and yogurt. More recently, there are disagreements over what to call meat grown by culturing cells, a science that's still emerging.

The FDA can't just change the way it enforces a standard without warning, Gottlieb said. Since it plans to take a different approach to enforcement, he said the FDA will have to first develop guidance notifying companies of the change and ask for public comment. That guidance will probably be issued in a year, he said.

Gottlieb said the agency expects to get sued, since dictionary definitions are broader and say milk comes from a lactating animal or a nut.

The National Milk Producers Federation said it welcomes Gottlieb's recognition that the labeling practices of many "plant-based dairy imitators" violate federal standards. The industry group had recently renewed its push for the FDA to crack down on nondairy drinks calling themselves "milk."

The Good Food Institute, which advocates for plant-based alternatives, says the term "milk" should be permitted with modifiers for nondairy drinks.

"For the same reason that you can have gluten-free bread and rice noodles, almond milk and soy milk are the most clear and best terms for describing those products," said Bruce Friedrich, the group's co-founder.

The FDA declined to comment on whether the agency would enforce other standards, such as for yogurt.

U.S. regulators want to remove a health claim about the heart benefits of soy from cartons of soy milk, tofu and other foods, saying the latest scientific evidence no longer shows a clear connection.

Monday's announcement by the Food and Drug Administration marks the first time the agency has moved to revoke a health food claim since it began approving such statements in 1990. The claim that soy protein can reduce heart disease appears on about 200 to 300 products in the U.S., according to industry figures, including popular brands like Silk soy milk.

Calls to WhiteWave Foods Company, which markets Silk brand soy products, were not immediately returned Monday.

The FDA first approved the language about the benefits in 1999 based on studies suggesting soy protein lowered a type of heart-damaging cholesterol in the bloodstream. But some later studies have failed to show a clear link.

One 2005 study by the U.S. government's Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that soy products had little effect on bad cholesterol. The FDA began reevaluating the food claim in 2007 and said Monday "the totality of the evidence is inconsistent and not conclusive."

The agency will take comments on its proposal for 75 days before moving ahead. If the language is removed, companies may still be able to use a less definitive statement about soy's benefits by including a disclaimer or description of the mixed evidence.

Consumer advocates backed the proposal, arguing that earlier research misinterpreted soy's effect on cholesterol.

Bonnie Liebman, a nutrition scientist at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, explained that a person might benefit by replacing red meat with soy, but the benefit would be from the reduction in red meat, not because of anything special in the soy protein.

The FDA estimates it will cost companies between $370,000 and $860,000 in upfront costs to re-label their products, according to a federal filing posted online.

An industry group for soy manufacturers disputed the FDA's decision and pointed to 12 other countries, including Canada, that have approved health labeling claims making the link between soy protein and heart benefits. The group, Soyfoods Association of North America, said it would make its case to the FDA during the comment period.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
<![CDATA[1 Dead as Legionnaires' Outbreak Grows to 18 Cases: NYC]]>Tue, 17 Jul 2018 22:49:00 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_901873742060+edited.jpg

New York City health officials have confirmed that one person has died of Legionnaires' disease in a cluster of 18 cases in one Manhattan neighborhood.

The city Health Department said Tuesday that seven people remain hospitalized due to the outbreak in the lower Washington Heights area.

Health officials say they have inspected 20 cooling towers and ordered several building owners to increase their use of biocides to kill the bacteria associated with the disease.

Legionnaires' is a form of pneumonia contracted by breathing in water droplets contaminated with the bacterium Legionella. Most cases can be traced to plumbing systems where conditions are favorable for Legionella growth.

The disease is not passed from person to person.

The city sees an average of 200 to 500 Legionnaires' cases each year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Recalls Blood Pressure, Heart Drugs Over Cancer Concerns]]>Mon, 16 Jul 2018 17:50:30 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-6837401591.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a voluntary recall of several medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure over concerns that an active ingredient in the drugs could be contaminated with a cancer-causing agent.

The agency reported that traces of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," was found in the active ingredient valsartan in the recalled products. The FDA noted not all products containing valsartan are contaminated and being recalled. The valsartan contained in the recall was supplied by a third-party.

Companies that have recalled valsartan products are: Major Pharmaceuticals, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd. Additionally, Solco Healthcare and Teva Pharmaceuticals are also recalling medicines with the combination valsartan/hydrochlorothiazide.

"We have carefully assessed the valsartan-containing medications sold in the United States, and we’ve found that the valsartan sold by these specific companies does not meet our safety standards. This is why we’ve asked these companies to take immediate action to protect patients," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

Patients are urged to look at the drug name and company name on the label of their prescription bottle to determine whether a specific product has been recalled. If the information is not on the bottle, patients should contact the pharmacy that dispensed the medicine to find out the company name.

If a patient is taking one of the recalled medicines, they should follow the recall instructions provided by the specific company, which will be available on the FDA’s website.

If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, they should contact their health care professional to discuss their treatment options, which may include another valsartan product not affected by this recall or an alternative option.

The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

"The FDA’s review is ongoing and has included investigating the levels of NDMA in the recalled products, assessing the possible effect on patients who have been taking them and what measures can be taken to reduce or eliminate the impurity from future batches produced by the company," the FDA said Friday in a news release.

The presence of NDMA is "thought to be related to changes in the way the active substance was manufactured," the agency said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[61 Sick in Parasite Outbreak Linked to McDonald's Salads]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 23:32:21 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18193696359447.jpg

At least 61 people in seven states have been made sick in an outbreak of Cyclospora linked to McDonald’s salads, federal health officials said Friday.

The fast-food chain has stopped selling the salads, but more people may become sick, the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Salads at McDonald’s restaurants in at least 14 states may have been contaminated, the CDC and FDA said.

“We understand how important it is to quickly identify the cause of this foodborne outbreak to help reduce additional illness and we’re working closely with our colleagues at CDC and state partners to get more answers,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File]]>
<![CDATA[Honey Smacks Still on Store Shelves Despite Recall: FDA]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 13:28:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honeysmacks.jpg

Despite popular Kellogg's cereal Honey Smacks being linked to a salmonella outbreak that has infected 100 people in 33 states, the Food and Drug Administration says some boxes are still sitting on store shelves after a wide-ranging recall.

Kellogg's had issued a voluntary recall in June for the cereal that was distributed across the U.S. It initially recalled certain sizes of Honey Smacks packages with specific code dates. 

However, the FDA said Thursday that some retailers are still selling the cereal despite the recall, which the agency said affects all Honey Smacks packages. The FDA reiterated that "retailers cannot legally offer the cereal for sale and consumers should not purchase Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal."

The CDC found salmonella in Honey Smacks samples and told customers Thursday that they should avoid all Honey Smacks, tweeting, "Do not eat this cereal." The agency advised people to stop eating the cereal and throw it out, regardless of its package size or expiration date. It also advised retailers to stop selling and serving all Honey Smacks.

The CDC says at least 100 people have become sick between March 3 and July 2 in Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Florida, Illinois, Texas, California and other states. At least 30 of those people have been hospitalized.

Most people infected with salmonella develop a fever, cramps or diarrhea within 12 to 72 hours of being exposed to the bacteria, according to the CDC.

The FDA found that the salmonella was traced back to a third-party manufacturing facility. The facility is no longer producing Honey Smacks as of Thursday, the agency said.

"We continue to work with the FDA and the third-party manufacturer to determine how this happened to ensure it doesn't happen again," a spokesperson from Kellogg's said in an email to CNBC. "Kellogg is asking that people who purchased potentially affected product discard it and contact the company for a full refund."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Illinois Probes Intestinal Illness Linked to McDonald's Salads]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 22:43:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18193696359447.jpg

Nearly 100 cases of an intestinal illness connected to McDonald’s salads throughout Illinois, the state’s health department said Thursday.

Around 90 cases of cyclosporiasis, caused by the microscopic Cyclospora parasite, have been reported since mid-May, according to the Illinois Department of Health.

“The initial investigation indicates a link to consumption of McDonald’s salads produced for McDonald’s restaurants,” officials said in a statement Thursday. “Approximately one-fourth of Illinois cases reported eating salads from McDonald’s in the days before they became ill.”

The Iowa Department of Health has reported a similar increase in cases, Illinois officials said.

"Although a link has been made to salads sold in McDonald’s restaurants in some Illinois cases, public health officials continue to investigate other sources,” said Nirav D. Shah, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “If you ate a salad from McDonald’s since mid-May and developed diarrhea and fatigue, contact a health care provider about testing and treatment.”

Officials said the fast food chain is “fully cooperating” with state health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

“McDonald’s says it is in the process of removing these salads from its restaurants and distributions centers,” officials said. “McDonald’s say it is re-supplying restaurants with salads from other suppliers.”

McDonald's confirmed to NBC 5 the company had been in contact with public health authorities from both Illinois and Iowa regarding the illnesses.

"Out of an abundance of caution, we decided to voluntarily stop selling salads at impacted restaurants until we can switch to another lettuce blend supplier," McDonald's said in a statement. "We are in the process of removing existing salad blend from identified restaurants and distribution centers – which includes approximately 3,000 of our U.S. restaurants primarily located in the Midwest."

According to Illinois health officials, people can become infected by consuming food or water contaminated with feces that contains Cyclospora. The parasite is not spread directly from one person to another.

Symptoms usually begin about a week after exposure, official said, but some people who are infected may not have any. Symptoms may include:

  • Frequent bouts of watery diarrhea (the most common symptom)
  • Loss of appetite and weight
  • Cramping, bloating, and/or increased gas
  • Nausea (vomiting is less common)
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade fever

The infection can be treated with specific antibiotics, officials said. If not treated, the illness may last for a few days to a month or longer.

Previous cyclosporiasis cases have been linked to various types of imported fresh produce including raspberries, basil, snow peas and lettuce.

"McDonald’s is committed to the highest standards of food safety and quality control," the fast-food company said. "We are closely monitoring this situation and cooperating with state and federal public health authorities as they further investigate."

Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Dog Heart Disease Linked to Food, FDA Says]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 09:12:44 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/491435570-Dog-Food-Store.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration is warning that dogs are developing an unusual condition that can cause an enlarged heart after being fed food based on peas, lentils or potatoes, NBC News reported.

The condition, canine dilated cardiomyopathy, is turning up in breeds that don't usually get it, the FDA said, though it's not naming the breeds.

Symptoms of DCM include lethargy, weight loss and sometimes a cough, and the condition may be fatal. Hearts enlarged because of DCM can struggle to work properly and may fail.

"The FDA is investigating the potential link between DCM and these foods. We encourage pet owners and veterinarians to report DCM cases in dogs who are not predisposed to the disease," FDA Dr. Martine Hartogensis said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Ron Antonelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Jury Awards $4.7B in Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder Lawsuit]]>Fri, 13 Jul 2018 09:15:10 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18144773476902-Johnson-Baby-Powder.jpg

A St. Louis jury on Thursday awarded nearly $4.7 billion in total damages to 22 women and their families after they claimed asbestos in Johnson & Johnson talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer in the first case against the company that focused on asbestos in the powder.

The jury announced the $4.14 billion award in punitive damages shortly after awarding $550 million in compensatory damages after a six-week trial in St. Louis Circuit Court.

Johnson & Johnson called the verdict the result of an unfair process that allowed the women to sue the company in Missouri despite most of them not living in the state and said it would appeal, as it has in previous cases that found for women who sued the company.

"Johnson & Johnson remains confident that its products do not contain asbestos and do not cause ovarian cancer and intends to pursue all available appellate remedies," spokeswoman Carol Goodrich said.

Mark Lanier, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement that Johnson & Johnson had covered up evidence of asbestos in their products for more than 40 years.

Medical experts testified during the trial that asbestos, a known carcinogen, is intermingled with mineral talc, which is the primary ingredient in Johnson & Johnson's Baby Powder and Shower to Shower products. The plaintiffs' lawyers said asbestos fibers and talc particles were found in the ovarian tissues of many of the women.

"We hope this verdict will get the attention of the J&J board and that it will lead them to better inform the medical community and the public about the connection between asbestos, talc, and ovarian cancer," Lanier said. "The company should pull talc from the market before causing further anguish, harm, and death from a terrible disease."

During closing arguments on Wednesday, Lanier told the jurors this case was the first where jurors saw documents showing that Johnson & Johnson knew its products contained asbestos and didn't warn consumers, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

The company has been sued by more than 9,000 women who claim its talcum powder contributed to their ovarian cancer. Johnson & Johnson has consistently denied that its products can be linked to the cancer.

Goodrich said the verdict awarding all the women the same amount despite differences in their circumstances showed evidence in the case was overwhelmed by prejudice created when so many plaintiffs are allowed to sue the company in one lawsuit.

"Every verdict against Johnson & Johnson in this court that has gone through the appeals process has been reversed and the multiple errors present in this trial were worse than those in the prior trials which have been reversed," she said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said punitive damage awards are limited by state law to five times the amount of compensatory damages awarded and defense lawyers probably would file a motion to reduce the award.

Six of the 22 plaintiffs in the latest trial have died from ovarian cancer. Five plaintiffs were from Missouri, with others from states that include Arizona, New York, North Dakota, California, Georgia, the Carolinas and Texas.

One of the plaintiffs, Gail Ingham, 73, of O'Fallon, Missouri, told The Post-Dispatch that she was diagnosed with stage-3 ovarian cancer in 1985 and underwent chemotherapy treatments, surgeries and drug treatments for a year before being declared cancer free in the early 1990s.

Ingham, who used baby powder for decades, said she joined the lawsuit because women who use baby powder "need to know what's in there. They need to know what's going on. Women need to know because they're putting it on their babies."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Tingling in Woman's Legs Turns out to Be a Worm in Her Spine]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 22:21:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tapeworm1.jpg

A Frenchwoman whose symptoms started out as “electric shocks” in her legs got an even bigger shock when she found out that she had a tapeworm in her spine, NBC News reports.

The parasite caused enough swelling in the woman’s spine to affect her ability to walk and ride a horse, French doctors reported in Thursday’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“A 35-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with weakness, a feeling of electric shocks in both legs, and repeated falls,” Dr. Marine Jacquier and Dr. Lionel Piroth of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire in Dijon wrote.

"She reported that the symptoms had been progressing, and she noted that she had had difficulty riding her horse for the preceding three months.”

Photo Credit: New England Journal of Medicine]]>
<![CDATA[Leading E-Cig Maker Juul to Sell Lower-Nicotine Pods]]>Thu, 12 Jul 2018 09:28:09 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1172.jpg

Juul Labs is addressing one of the most common criticisms levied against the e-cigarette company: the amount of nicotine in its vaping liquids. 

The leading e-cig maker will soon introduce lower nicotine options for some of its flavor pods. A tiered approach to nicotine levels is thought to help people who are trying to quit smoking because they can gradually wean themselves off nicotine, the substance that makes cigarettes addictive. 

Under Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, the Food and Drug Administration has approached nicotine products as existing on a continuum of risk, where conventional cigarettes are the most harmful and alternatives like e-cigarettes are less harmful. Gottlieb has advocated to encourage smokers to switch to other products on the continuum, realizing that not everyone can or wants to quit. Juul has framed its e-cigarettes as an option for adults looking to switch. However, the product has been gaining in popularity among teens and people who never smoked. 

Juul currently does not offer different nicotine levels like some other e-cigarettes. Instead, all of its pods contain 5 percent nicotine, the equivalent to a pack of cigarettes. 

Starting in August, Juul will introduce 3 percent nicotine pods for its mint and Virginia tobacco flavors. They'll offer limited quantities at first with the intention to make them widely available in October. The lower-nicotine pods will cost the same as the traditional ones, $15.99. 

The two flavors are some of Juul's most popular ones, though they're not the most commonly criticized. Anti-tobacco advocates and lawmakers say fruity flavors like mango and creme brulee appeal to teens and mask the fact that each pod contains addictive nicotine. They've stepped up their attacks as more teenagers have started using the e-cigarettes. 

“JUUL Labs wants to meet the needs and preferences of adult smokers who are on their journey to switching from cigarettes, and we hope the availability of different nicotine strengths will continue to allow adult smokers the ability to explore what is best for them," CEO Kevin Burns said in a statement. 

Juul has become such a phenomenon that it's earned its own verb: Juuling. Sales have skyrocketed almost 800 percent over the past year, catapulting Juul to the clear market leading spot with 68 percent of share, according to recent Nielsen numbers compiled by Wells Fargo. 

The company has pledged $30 million over the next three years to research, youth and parent education, and community engagement efforts. In June, Juul said it would stop featuring models on its Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts and start featuring former smokers who have switched. 

Schools around the country have also begun to educate parents and students about e-cigarettes. 

Juul's fast growth has enticed some investors. It has raised $650 million of a $1.25 billion fundraising round, according to a regulatory form it filed this week. The round would value the start-up at $15 billion, people familiar with the matter told CNBC. 

Its growth has also attracted perhaps unwanted attention from regulators. The FDA took a rare move earlier this year in issuing a 904(b) letter, which refers to the section of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. It was the first time in three years that the FDA has sent such a letter. 

In its request, the FDA asked Juul for a slew of company materials, including marketing documents and research on whether certain products' design features, ingredients or specifications appeal to different age groups. Gottlieb has been vocal about his belief that e-cigarettes can help adult smokers switch to alternatives, but not at the expense of addicting a new generation to nicotine.

This story first appeared on CNBC.com. Read more from CNBC here:

Photo Credit: Press Herald via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Happy Couple Mulls Divorce to Pay for Daughter's Health Care]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 18:41:11 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tdy_news_gadi_healthcare.jpg

A couple in Texas is considering getting divorced just to be able to pay for their daughter's spiraling health care costs, "Today" reported.

Jake and Maria Grey of Sanger are happily married but his $40,000 salary means the family doesn't qualify for Medicaid, which they say is the only way they can afford treatments and care for their 6-year-old Brighton, born with the rare genetic disorder Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome.

Because of insurance limitations, the Grey's say they pay about $15,000 a year in out-of-pocket medical costs.  

"It's easier to say what they don't cover than what they do," said Jake Grey, an Army veteran.

After nine years of marriage, divorce is something they are considering. By doing so, Maria would qualify for Medicaid as a single, jobless mother of two.

"We've done everything we can do to try to keep her afloat, and we're going to reach a point where we can't do it and we won't have another option. We don't know what to do," said Jake Grey, an Army veteran.

His wife said they don't want donations, just to get the benefits from the state that they need.

Photo Credit: "Today"
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<![CDATA[Pfizer to Lower Drug Prices Following Talk With Trump]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 01:22:16 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pfizerGettyImages-655297240.jpg

Following a discussion with President Donald Trump, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announced Tuesday that it would roll back planned drug price increases for July, NBC News reported

The president said he met with Pfizer CEO Ian Read, as well as U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, to discuss Trump's "drug pricing blueprint" and came away with a vow from the company to roll back price increases "so American patients don’t pay more."

Pfizer in a statement said its prices would be "deferred" to levels seen 10 days ago, "as soon as technically possible, and the prices will remain in effect until the earlier of when the president’s blueprint goes into effect or the end of the year — whichever is sooner."

Trump praised the move, writing on Twitter, "We applaud Pfizer for this decision and hope other companies do the same. Great news for the American people!"

Photo Credit: Dominick Reuter/AFP/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Scientists Find Alzheimer's 'Big Bang': Study]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 00:18:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vlcsnap-2016-01-22-16h52m55s32.jpg

Despite billions of dollars spent on clinical trials through the decades, Alzheimer's disease remains one of the most devastating and baffling diseases in the world, affecting more than 5 million Americans alone.

But Dallas scientists say they've made a major breakthrough in the fight.

They have discovered a "Big Bang" of Alzheimer's disease — the point at which a healthy protein becomes toxic, but has not yet formed deadly tangles in the brain.

According to a study from UT Southwestern's O'Donnell Brain Institute, scientists found the shape-shifting nature of a tau molecule just before it begins sticking to itself to form larger aggregates. 

The tau protein is believed to be the key driver of Alzheimer's disease. 

The revelation offers a new strategy to detect the devastating disease before it takes hold and has spawned an effort to develop treatments that stabilize tau proteins before they shift shape. 

Doctors involved in the research call it the biggest finding in Alzheimer's research to date.

"New treatments have failed to stop the progression of Alzheimer's. What we are hoping to do is design a treatment that would actually stop the disease before it even manifests in a person," said Dr. Marc Diamond, director for UT Southwestern's Center for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases.

"In the case of other diseases that are due to a shape-shift protein, it's been possible to design a drug that is approved that helps prevent that shape shift from occurring. If it's been done in other diseases, it could possibly be done in Alzheimer's," Diamond said.

Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia, a general term for memory loss and other cognitive abilities serious enough to interfere with daily life. Alzheimer's disease accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Alzheimer's has no current cure.

Any drug resulting from the discovery of the disease origin would still be years away, Diamond said.

Taylor Parker, of Arlington, was diagnosed two years ago and is now supported by her husband Stan.

"After a while, I realized that I was slowly losing Taylor. Most days, I was okay. Some days, I was not okay. Some days, I cried," Stan Parker said.

Despite the fact that any possible drug likely won't help Taylor in time, they say they're happy that she's still able to enjoy life with as much joy as possible. Diamond's team's next steps are to develop a simple clinical test that examines a patient's blood or spinal fluid to detect the first biological signs of dementia.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[NYers Are Fatter and More Depressed Than Ever, Research Says]]>Wed, 11 Jul 2018 10:42:30 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Health+generic.jpg

Obesity, depression and difficulty sleeping are plaguing more New Yorkers now than in 2004, according to a new series of studies.

The studies also revealed that diabetes rates remain high, especially for people of color. On a more positive note, blood levels of lead and mercury have dropped due to increased awareness and reduced exposure, researchers found.

This series of studies was released by the Journal of Urban Health to investigate current mental and physical health trends in New York City between 2004 and 2014, based on data from the NYC Health and Nutrition Examination Survey

According to the study, the percentage of New Yorkers who could be classified as obese has increased from 27 percent to 32 percent; most of those who fell under that classification were men. The increase is less severe than what has been seen in national trends, but showed a great disparity when it came to education level, access to health insurance, and immigration status, the researchers said.

Despite no significant change in the amount of exercise New Yorkers have been getting over the past decade, the study found other factors that may have contributed to this apparent weight gain. This includes an increase in the average number of meals per week being ordered from restaurants rather than cooked at home from 2.7 to 3.8 and a 32 percent increase in the number of people spending more than 3 hours watching TV or online videos each day.

Weight gain is not the only health concern that the studies found to be common in NYC. The reputation of being the city that never sleeps has taken on a literal meaning, with 41 percent of New Yorkers reporting difficulty sleeping, a problem that has been tied to higher risk of disease and infection.

From a mental health standpoint, the study determined that more than half a million New Yorkers have symptoms of depression, and most of them are not receiving any form of counseling or treatment.

In general, these mental and physical health trends are similar to those currently being seen elsewhere across the country, researchers said.

The analysis, led by researchers from NYU’s School of Medicine and the NYC Health Department, was conducted based on a combination of physical examinations, laboratory testing, and interviews with more than 1,500 residents. The sample population was selected to represent every adult, gender, and race in the city’s five boroughs.

“This information is critical for physicians and policymakers to identify and address troubling trends, such as increasingly sedentary lifestyles, increases in screen time, more restaurant meals, and consumption of fewer fruits and vegetables,” says Lorna Thorpe, one of the principal investigators behind the research series. “Our study shows where we need to focus our resources to prevent and treat ill health.”

<![CDATA[Pain Patients Beg FDA for More Options, More Access to Opioids]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 10:13:37 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/864753692-Chronic-Pain.jpg

The Food and Drug Agency Administration, aiming to be more accommodating to chronic pain patients, held a meeting this week to hear people's stories about their pain, NBC News reported.

Several dozen people traveled to FDA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, and the room was full of very unhappy people. One lay on the floor, another eased her back on the wall, another paced.

"Suicide is always an option for us," said Mariann Farrell, a Pittsburgh resident who says she has multiple conditions, including fibromyalgia.

The agency is considering how to account for the needs of people with chronic, intractable pain while also dealing with the opioid addiction crisis.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Southwest Is Nixing Peanuts on All Flights, Citing Allergies]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 09:39:40 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/southwest-airlines-peanuts.jpg

Peanuts often come to mind as the quintessential airplane snack. But no more, Southwest Airlines announced.

The Dallas-based airline is ending the tradition on all flights beginning August 1, citing the need to keep passengers with peanut allergies safe.

“Our ultimate goal is to create an environment where all customers -- including those with peanut-related allergies -- feel safe and welcome on every Southwest flight,” the airlines said in a statement, in part.

Passengers can still snag free pretzels and other snacks on longer flights.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News | Southwest Airlines]]>
<![CDATA[Outsourcing School Lunch: Food Deliveries Are Remaking Meals]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 08:13:13 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18191393573969-Outsourcing-School-Lunches.jpg

Rachel Harrington wants her children to have nutritious packed lunches to enjoy at school but she gets frustrated trying to create them.

"Making lunches for my kids is one of my least favorite activities. I'd like to do it the night before, but that never happens," said the mother of two. "There are a lot of complaints."

It's a chore she's happy to outsource two days a week to a business in her hometown of Lexington, Massachusetts. "Having two days off is like a dream," she said. "Sometimes I forgot that it's a Red Apple Lunch day. When I realize I do not have to make lunches, I'm so happy."

Families around the country are finding new options for their children's midday meal thanks to a growing number of delivery options catering to students. Some deliver to the schools, others to homes. As for teens calling in their own food deliveries, some schools allow it and others don't.

Lisa Farrell launched Red Apple Lunch after market research confirmed her suspicion that lunch packing was a "stress point" for parents. "You only have so much time in the day," she said. "Some customers didn't like what was offered at school. Folks just needed another option."

She and her team pack healthy lunches, incorporating local food when possible, and deliver them to homes so that kids can take them to school the next two days. The company delivers two lunches on Monday and two on Wednesday.

Many of Farrell's clients also have the option of buying a hot lunch provided by their child's school, but not all schools offer that.

Kiddos Catering in Chicago has come up with a different twist: providing restaurant meals to schools that contract with it. Owner Michelle Moses and her staff work with area restaurants to create a variety of kid-friendly choices, and deliver the meals to the schools five days a week. Parents select the lunches from an online order form that lists the day's featured restaurant and its menu choices.

"Each day is a different restaurant with six to 10 menu options," she said. "It offers so much choice to kids."

The service appeals to parents because they think their children are less likely to toss out restaurant food than a packed lunch, Moses said. Sarah Goldman, who uses the program at Kipling Elementary School in Deerfield, Illinois, agreed.

"I know my kids are going to eat because they love it," she said. "I know they're finishing their lunch."

The schools appreciate that Moses handles the ordering, payment, pickup and food distribution in the cafeteria.

"Schools really want to be in the business of educating kids," she said. "They don't want to be in the food and beverage business."

That doesn't mean that schools always like it when teens (or parents) take it upon themselves to order food through phone apps. Many schools have banned that practice, citing safety concerns about delivery drivers showing up at school unannounced and the burden of tracking down students to alert them that their meals have arrived.

"These types of deliveries pose an unnecessary security risk for students and staff," said Bernard Watson, director of community relations for Gwinnett County Public Schools in Suwanee, Georgia. "In addition, our award-winning school nutrition program provides students with a wide variety of tasty, nutritious meals on-site, so there is no need to order food from outside."

But in places where there is no formal policy about restaurant deliveries, they can come in handy. When Spencer Wood's daughter forgot her lunch last spring, he arranged for the local Panera to deliver her a meal.

"I called the school to make sure it was OK, and they said families do it all the time," said Wood, of Canal Winchester, Ohio. "They were very helpful, telling me when to have it sent and reminding me to tip the driver. "

His 12-year-old daughter, Madison, loved the special delivery of macaroni and cheese, he said.

A restaurant meal is a nice treat, agreed Jacob Levin, a recent graduate of Bexley High School in Bexley, Ohio. He relied on a sub shop to deliver a sandwich to him during lunchtime meetings or other appointments that conflicted with his lunch period.

"It was a convenient option. In most cases, I would not have been able to eat at school if it weren't for the delivery option," he said. "Having a restaurant-quality sub also was much more enjoyable than cafeteria food."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Nam Y. Huh/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Where Does Trump's Supreme Court Pick Stand on Abortion?]]>Tue, 10 Jul 2018 04:27:23 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/roeAP_18191096666415.jpg

Many have voiced concern over the future of legal abortion in the United States following Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, but the president's nominee to fill Kennedy's seat, Brett Kavanaugh, has a relatively thin record of public comment and legal decisions on abortion rights, NBC News reported

Kavanaugh, a federal appeals court judge, is a solidly conservative jurist who is unlikely to side with the court's liberal wing on social issues. But with a limited amount of comment and legal decisions regarding abortion, it's hard to tell whether he would vote to overturn the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in 1973. 

In his confirmation hearing in 2006, however, he said he would follow Roe v. Wade "faithfully and fully" when asked by Sen. Chuck Schumer whether he considered the case to be an "abomination." When pressed by Schumer, he would not directly share his personal opinion on the case. 

Photo Credit: Cliff Owen/AP]]>
<![CDATA[1st Trial Over Roundup Weed Killer Cancer Link Claim Under Way]]>Mon, 09 Jul 2018 22:23:06 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/roundup-suit-0709.jpg

Lawyers for a school groundskeeper dying of cancer asked a San Francisco jury on Monday to find that agribusiness giant Monsanto's widely used weed killer Roundup likely caused his disease.

Dewayne Johnson's lawsuit is the first case to go to trial among hundreds of lawsuits saying Roundup caused non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Johnson sprayed Roundup and a similar product, Ranger Pro, at his job as a pest control manager at a San Francisco Bay Area school district, according to his attorneys.

He sprayed large quantities from a 50-gallon tank attached to a truck, his attorney, Brent Wisner, told jurors during his opening statement. When the wind was gusty, it would cover his face, Wisner said. When a hose broke once, it soaked his entire body.

Johnson read the label carefully and even contacted the company after developing a rash, but was never warned it could cause cancer, Wisner said. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2014 at the age of 42.

"The simple fact is he is going to die. It's just a matter of time," Wisner said, showing jurors photos of lesions on Johnson's body that he said were caused by cancer. Johnson sat nearby.

Wisner added, "Between now and then, it's just nothing but pain."

George Lombardi, an attorney for Monsanto, said non-Hodgkin's lymphoma takes years to develop, so Johnson's cancer started well before he began working at the school district.

Many government regulators have rejected a link between the active ingredient in Roundup — glyphosate — and cancer. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that glyphosate is safe.

"The scientific evidence is overwhelming that glyphosate-based products do not cause cancer and did not cause Mr. Johnson's cancer," Lombardi said during his opening statement.

The trial is expected to last about a month. Johnson is seeking unspecified damages against Monsanto.

The outcome of Johnson's case will not affect the hundreds of other lawsuits in state and federal courts, but it may serve as an indicator of how the others might go.

St. Louis-based Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s, and the weed killer is now sold in more than 160 countries. Farmers in California, the most agriculturally productive state in the U.S., use it on more than 200 types of crops. Homeowners use it on their lawns and gardens.

The herbicide came under increasing scrutiny after the France-based International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the World Health Organization, classified it as a "probable human carcinogen" in 2015.

A flurry of lawsuits against Monsanto in federal and state courts followed, and California added glyphosate to its list of chemicals known to cause cancer. Monsanto has attacked the international research agency's opinion as an outlier.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for humans when used in accordance with label directions. A draft report by the agency last year concluded the herbicide is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans. The report noted that science reviews by numerous other countries had reached the same conclusion.

A federal judge in Sacramento in February blocked California from requiring that Roundup carry a label stating that it is known to cause cancer, saying the warning is misleading because almost all regulators have concluded that there is no evidence glyphosate is carcinogenic.

Another federal judge presiding over hundreds of lawsuits like Johnson's is deciding whether the claim that Roundup weed killer can cause cancer is supported by good science.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Administration Takes Another Swipe at 'Obamacare']]>Sat, 07 Jul 2018 21:50:07 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18183672477010-Trump-White-House.jpg

The Trump administration is freezing payments under an "Obamacare" program that protects insurers with sicker patients from financial losses, a move expected to add to premium increases next year.

At stake are billions in payments to insurers with sicker customers. The latest administration action could disrupt the Affordable Care Act, the health care law that has withstood President Donald Trump's efforts to completely repeal it.

In a weekend announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration is acting because of conflicting court ruling in lawsuits filed by some smaller insurers who question whether they are being fairly treated under the program.

The so-called "risk adjustment" program takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to companies with sicker enrollees. Payments for 2017 are $10.4 billion. No taxpayer subsidies are involved.

The idea behind the program is to remove the financial incentive for insurers to "cherry pick" healthier customers. The government uses a similar approach with Medicare private insurance plans and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Major insurer groups said Saturday the administration's action interferes with a program that's working well.

The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, whose members are a mainstay of Affordable Care Act coverage, said it was "extremely disappointed" with the administration's action.

The Trump administration's move "will significantly increase 2019 premiums for millions of individuals and small business owners and could result in far fewer health plan choices," association president Scott Serota said in a statement. "It will undermine Americans' access to affordable coverage, particularly those who need medical care the most."

Serota noted that the payments are required by law and said he believes the administration has the legal authority to continue making them despite the court cases. He warned of "turmoil" as insurers finalize their rates for 2019.

America's Health Insurance Plans, the main health insurance industry trade group, said in a statement that it is "very discouraged" by the Trump administration's decision to freeze payments.

"Costs for taxpayers will rise as the federal government spends more on premium subsidies," the group said.

Rumors that the Trump administration would freeze payments were circulating late last week. But the Saturday announcement via email was unusual for such a major step.

The administration argued in its announcement that its hands were tied by conflicting court rulings in New Mexico and Massachusetts.

Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Seema Verma said the Trump administration was disappointed by a New Mexico court ruling that questioned the workings of the risk program for insurers.

The administration "has asked the court to reconsider its ruling, and hopes for a prompt resolution that allows (the government) to prevent more adverse impacts on Americans who receive their insurance in the individual and small group markets," she said.

More than 10 million people buy individual health insurance plans through HealthCare.gov and state insurance marketplaces. The vast majority of those customers receives taxpayer subsidies under the Obama-era health law and would be shielded from premium increases next year.

The brunt of higher prices would fall on solid middle-class consumers who are not eligible for the income-based subsidies. Many of those are self-employed people and small-business owners, generally seen as a Republican constituency.

The latest "Obamacare" flare-up does not affect most people with employer coverage.

More than 20 million people have coverage through former President Barack Obama's law. Close to half get subsidized private coverage that would be affected by Saturday's Trump administration announcement. The other half are covered by expanded Medicaid.

Trump came into office promising a swift repeal of "Obamacare," which he said he'd replace with a much better health plan. But the White House never produced a proposal, and legislation from congressional Republicans would have left millions uninsured, while undermining protections for people with pre-existing health problems.

The GOP repeal drive collapsed last summer after Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cast a crucial "no" vote, with a thumbs down gesture that's become a target of Trump criticism at campaign-style rallies.

Unable to totally repeal the law, the White House and the Republican-led Congress have taken a series of steps that make it harder for the ACA to work as intended. Among them:

— Repealing, effective next year, an unpopular requirement that most people carry health insurance, or risk fines. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that will raise premiums by about 10 percent.

— Eliminating another set of payments to insurers, which covered discounts that the companies are required to provide low-income people on their copayments and deductibles.

— Slashing the advertising budget for HealthCare.gov even as the sign-up window was shortened by half.

— Clearing the way for low-cost insurance plans that cover less and may siphon healthier customers away from ACA plans.

Even so, enrollment under the health law has remained remarkably steady. But premiums for people who buy individual coverage and are not eligible for ACA subsidies have continued rising by double digits.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Unsealed Lawsuit: Opioid-Maker Placed Profits Over People]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 22:41:06 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OxyContin-tabs.jpg

A newly unsealed lawsuit by Tennessee's attorney general says the maker of the world's top-selling painkiller directed its salesforce to target the highest prescribers, many with limited or no pain management background or training.

Citing the public's right to know, Attorney General Herbert Slatery said Thursday that OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma has dropped its previous efforts to shield details of the 274-page lawsuit in state court. The Tennessee Coalition for Open Government and the Knoxville News Sentinel had also requested that the lawsuit's records become public.

The lawsuit says Purdue violated a 2007 settlement with the state, placing profits over people with a deceptive narrative that claimed its opioids were safer than they actually were. The lawsuit also says the Stamford, Connecticut-based company targeted vulnerable people, including the elderly.

Purdue did so while relying on continued users and high doses, according to the lawsuit: 104.3 million OxyContin tablets were prescribed in Tennessee from 2008 to 2017, with 53.7 percent of them 40 milligrams or higher. And more than 80 percent of Purdue's business consistently came from continued users, the lawsuit says.

For example, Purdue called on two providers 48 times after law enforcement told Purdue the pair was responsible for significant interstate OxyContin diversion, the lawsuit says. The company called on another provider 31 times after the provider's license was place on restrictive probation related to high-prescribing of controlled substances, the lawsuit adds.

The state's lawsuit says Purdue kept pushing to sell its products despite a litany of red flags.

"Purdue continued to make sales calls in spite of credible reports of patient overdoses, indictments, adverse licensure actions, a provider admitting he was addicted to heroin, a knife fight outside a provider's office, muggings over controlled substances outside of a pharmacy linked to a specific provider, a clinic that had no examination tables or equipment, an admission by a provider that he was running a pill mill, a provider changing the name of his practice shortly after he was notified of a state investigation into his practice, a patient being coached in the waiting room about how to fill out intake forms, armed guards in provider waiting rooms, high numbers of patients who purchased OxyContin in cash, high numbers of out-of-state or out-of-county tags in providers' parking lots, accusations of insurance fraud, choreographed urine screenings and pill counts, standing-room-only waiting rooms, and additional signs of problematic high volume practices," the lawsuit states.

Purdue has denied claims in lawsuits nationwide over the scourge of opioid abuse, saying it will defend itself. In Tennessee, there were 1,631 overdose deaths in 2016, including 1,186 from opioids, according to the state Department of Health.

Tennessee filed its complaint last month at the same time Florida, North Carolina, North Dakota, Nevada and Texas brought similar lawsuits claiming unfair and deceptive trade practices.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Ohio Health Network Denies Liability for Damaged Embryos]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 08:07:11 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_embryos0309_1920x10801.jpg

A health care network responding to lawsuits says it wasn't liable for a storage tank malfunction that destroyed more than 4,000 eggs and embryos at its fertility clinic near Cleveland.

In court filings made public this week, attorneys for University Hospitals say patients were advised about risks involved with frozen specimens and signed related consent forms. The network says the problem wasn't caused by hospital negligence and suggests others might be responsible for what happened.

Those responses don't sit well with some affected patients. An attorney representing more than 100 families says it's a change from University Hospitals' previous apologies about what happened.

The health network acknowledges the situation has caused grief for patients and says it is required by the court to formally respond to the lawsuits.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Monica Robins, File]]>
<![CDATA[What Is Dry Drowning? Recognizing the Symptoms]]>Thu, 05 Jul 2018 08:05:07 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/10AdobeStock_147011167.jpgAccording to health authorities, every day about 10 people in the U.S. from drowning, including the strange phenomenon known as "dry drowning."

Photo Credit: pichitstocker/Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Fresh Grounds for Coffee: Study Shows It May Boost Longevity]]>Tue, 03 Jul 2018 05:24:32 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18180595093658.jpg

Go ahead and have that cup of coffee, maybe even several more. New research shows it may boost chances for a longer life, even for those who down at least eight cups daily.

In a study of nearly half-a-million British adults, coffee drinkers had a slightly lower risk of death over 10 years than abstainers.

The apparent longevity boost was seen with instant, ground and decaffeinated, results that echo U.S. research. It's the first large study to suggest a benefit even in people with genetic glitches affecting how their bodies use caffeine.

Overall, coffee drinkers were about 10 percent to 15 percent less likely to die than abstainers during a decade of follow-up. Differences by amount of coffee consumed and genetic variations were minimal.

The results don't prove your coffee pot is a fountain of youth nor are they a reason for abstainers to start drinking coffee, said Alice Lichtenstein, a Tufts University nutrition expert who was not involved in the research. But she said the results reinforce previous research and add additional reassurance for coffee drinkers.

"It's hard to believe that something we enjoy so much could be good for us. Or at least not be bad," Lichtenstein said.

The study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

It's not clear exactly how drinking coffee might affect longevity. Lead author Erikka Loftfield, a researcher at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, said coffee contains more than 1,000 chemical compounds including antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage.

Other studies have suggested that substances in coffee may reduce inflammation and improve how the body uses insulin, which can reduce chances for developing diabetes. Loftfield said efforts to explain the potential longevity benefit are continuing.

The researchers invited 9 million British adults to take part; 498,134 women and men aged 40 to 69 agreed. The low participation rate means those involved may have been healthier than the general U.K. population, the researchers said.

Participants filled out questionnaires about daily coffee consumption, exercise and other habits, and received physical exams including blood tests. Most were coffee drinkers; 154,000 or almost one-third drank two to three cups daily and 10,000 drank at least eight cups daily.

During the next decade, 14,225 participants died, mostly of cancer or heart disease.

Caffeine can cause short-term increases in blood pressure, and some smaller studies have suggested that it might be linked with high blood pressure, especially in people with a genetic variation that causes them to metabolize caffeine slowly.

But coffee drinkers in the U.K. study didn't have higher risks than nondrinkers of dying from heart disease and other blood pressure-related causes. And when all causes of death were combined, even slow caffeine metabolizers had a longevity boost.

As in previous studies, coffee drinkers were more likely than abstainers to drink alcohol and smoke, but the researchers took those factors into account, and coffee drinking seemed to cancel them out.

The research didn't include whether participants drank coffee black or with cream and sugar. But Lichtenstein said loading coffee with extra fat and calories isn't healthy.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Richard Vogel/AP Photo, File]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Family Tells of Firework Burning Baby in Stroller]]>Mon, 02 Jul 2018 19:44:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/baby+burned+fireworks+jala+smith.jpg

Thousands of people are hurt every year in fireworks-related accidents, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and as one Brooklyn family knows all too well — they don't all happen on the Fourth of July.

Jala Smith was only 1 month old when her family brought her to a block party in Brooklyn in September 2016. In a festive mood, someone at the party decided to light illegal fireworks.

"He lit the rocket. It went into the air but it didn't get all the way into the air," recalled Jala's mother, Quanisha Smith. "The wind must have shifted it because it went straight into the wall." 

The firework bounced off the wall, then screamed straight into Jala's stroller as she sat strapped inside. 

"It hit the stroller and I saw a spark," said Quanisha Smith. "The stroller is on fire with the baby in it, and it was just panic." 

Jala's legs were burnt: "They were black to a crisp," her mother said. 

Jala was rushed to Staten Island University Hospital Northwell Health, where Dr. Michael L. Cooper and his team cared for the baby at the burn unit. They also care for an average of 15 fireworks injury victims each year around the Fourth of July. 

"The dangers are there," said Cooper. "These are explosives, they can cause scars." 

"Sometimes these patients don't get back to work. Sometimes those patients will avoid going out because they're too self-conscious or emotional or traumatized by the disfigurement." 

Two years after being severely burned by the illegal firework, Jala is running around like any other toddler, smiling and laughing and telling her parents, "I love you." But not everything is normal. Jala still has pain, bears a scar, and her six brothers and sisters are also traumatized. 

"They're scared of fireworks now, so they don't even want to be around it," said Quanisha Smith. "They don't even want to hear it. When they hear it, they run and hide." 

Which is why Quanisha Smith wants to spread the message about fireworks on this July 4th holiday: "Please don't light it. Don't play with fireworks at all. Any bottle rockets, any fireworks. It is so dangerous to everyone." 

Photo Credit: News 4 NY]]>
<![CDATA[Mom Warns of Hot Playgrounds After Daughter Suffers Burns]]>Mon, 02 Jul 2018 12:03:09 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/playground+equipment+kshb.png

Warning: Images below are graphic and may be disturbing to some viewers.

A Missouri mom has a warning for parents about the hidden dangers of playgrounds in the heat.

With temperatures soaring in the Midwest, Dawna Wright thought back to Memorial Day, when she took her four-year-old daughter Asia to a splash park near their home.

"She saw a bunch of children playing on the play equipment and she kept wanting to go over there," Wright said in an interview with NBC affiliate KSHB last week.

"We went to go back to the water and she ran from me and went on the slide and that's when she instantly was burned."

Wright posted photos on Facebook of the back of her daughter's legs, showing second-degree burns from the dangerously hot slide. 

"You could tell that the skin was just gone. It just completely took her skin away," Wright said.

When checked, the temperature of the plastic slide in direct sunlight was more than 150 degrees.

With signs on the playground for proper attire and a warning of hot equipment, Wright said she has faced criticism for not monitoring her daughter more - but maintained that the incident could happen to many families.

"I just assumed that it was safe because all these children were playing and they were playing just fine," she said.

"I never would have that thought about that until now, so now I will definitely be more aware," echoed Rebekah Singh, another mother at the same park last week.

With plenty of hot weather to come this summer, Wright said she hopes other families learn from her story.

"I just hope and pray that no other baby gets burned like that because it's not fun at all," she said.

Photo Credit: KSHB
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<![CDATA[Collins Opposes a Nominee Who Would Overturn Abortion Ruling]]>Mon, 02 Jul 2018 03:28:59 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/susan-collinsAP_18171648417290.jpg

Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a key vote on President Donald Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, said Sunday she would oppose any nominee she believed would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

The White House is focusing on five to seven potential candidates to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote on the court. The Maine senator said she would only back a judge who would show respect for settled law such as the 45-year-old Roe decision, which has long been anathema to conservatives.

"I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law," Collins said.

Such a judge, she said, "would not be acceptable to me because that would indicate an activist agenda."

Trump spent the weekend at his New Jersey golf club conferring with his advisers, including White House counsel Don McGahn, as he considers his options to fill the vacancy that might make precedent-shattering court decisions on abortion, health care, gay marriage and other issues.

The president told reporters Friday that he was homing in on up to seven candidates, including two women, and would announce his choice on July 9.

Trump is expected to begin his search in earnest this week at the White House and said the process could include interviews at his golf club before he reaches a final decision following the Fourth of July holiday.

During his 2016 campaign and presidency, Trump embraced anti-abortion groups and vowed to appoint federal judges who will favor efforts to roll back abortion rights. But he told reporters on Friday that he would not question potential high-court nominees about their views on abortion, saying it was "inappropriate to discuss."

The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, but anti-abortion advocates hope Roe v. Wade will soon be overruled if Trump gets the chance to appoint a justice who could cast a potentially decisive vote against it.

Without Kennedy, the high court will have four justices picked by Democratic presidents and four picked by Republicans, giving Trump the chance to shift the ideological balance toward conservatives for years to come. Both Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's first pick to the high court, have indicated more broadly that they respect legal precedent.

On Sunday, Leonard Leo, an outside adviser to Trump on judicial nominations, said he expected Trump to select a nominee who is mindful of precedent but who is also more "originalist and textualist." That judicial approach typically involves a more literal interpretation of the Constitution as compared to broader rulings such as Roe.

Possible nominees being eyed include Thomas Hardiman, who serves alongside Trump's sister on the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Raymond Kethledge, a federal appeals court judge who clerked for Kennedy. Also of interest are Amul Thapar, who serves on the federal appeals court in Cincinnati; Brett Kavanaugh, a former clerk for Kennedy who serves on the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.; and Amy Coney Barrett, who serves on the federal appeals court in Chicago.

Echoing Leo's view, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he didn't think Trump would be overly focused on the Roe ruling.

"You don't overturn precedent unless there's a good reason," Graham said. "I would tell my pro-life friends: You can be pro-life and conservative, but you can also believe in 'stare decisis,'" he said, citing the legal term involving legal precedent that means "to stand by things decided."

Republicans hold a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate, and it's even closer because of the absence of ailing Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Even though McConnell changed Senate rules last year to allow confirmation by simple majority, if Democrats hold together, he cannot afford defections. Vice President Mike Pence can be called on to break a tie.

Collins appeared on ABC's "This Week" and CNN's "State of the Union," Leo spoke on "Fox News Sunday" and Graham was on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Iowa's 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion Blocked in Court]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 10:40:09 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18124738766462-Planned-Parenthood-Rally-Iowa-Statehouse.jpg

The Iowa Supreme Court on Friday blocked a law requiring a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion.

The court ruled that the law violates the Iowa Constitution, siding with a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Iowa and the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa. The organizations sued the state over the law approved by lawmakers last year.

A district court judge upheld the waiting period in September, but the Supreme Court blocked its implementation until it could hear arguments from both sides.

The waiting period is part of a law banning most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The 20-week ban is in effect and isn't part of the legal challenge.

Planned Parenthood argued that the court "should join the high courts in numerous other states that have found that the right to choose abortion warrants greater protection than has been afforded under the federal Constitution." The organization said supreme courts in 12 states had made such rulings.

The Iowa Supreme Court has recognized privacy as a fundamental right in previous cases. Planned Parenthood argued that the court should conclude, in this case, that abortion was a core privacy right and should be treated like other fundamental rights under the Iowa Constitution.

"Iowa has chosen to impose more severe burdens on women who choose abortion than almost all other states in violation of both the Iowa Constitution and federal law," the group's attorney, Alice Clapman, argued in court arguments.

Clapman said women who seek abortions in Iowa "already make careful decisions. They already contend with massive obstacles in carrying out their decision." The mandatory waiting period, also referred to as the informed choice provision, would make those obstacles far worse, she wrote.

Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson, who is defending the law for the state, argued that protecting unborn life is a state interest of the highest order. He said choosing to terminate a pregnancy is not a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution, and that the waiting period provides time for women to consider information about the procedure that abortion providers are required to provide, including an opportunity to view an ultrasound or hear a fetal heartbeat.

"The informed choice provision does not remove the ultimate decision from the woman. Rather, it reflects the hope of the legislature that after receiving the information and taking some time to consider it, some women will choose to continue a pregnancy that they might otherwise have terminated," he wrote in court documents.

Iowa lawmakers earlier this year also passed a bill prohibiting abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. That law also is on hold pending a legal challenge.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Barbara Rodriguez/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Childhood Cancer Rates Highest in Northeast: New CDC Map]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 10:10:42 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_354132073702-pediatric-cancer.jpg

A new government cancer map shows that rates of childhood cancer are highest in the Northeast United States and lowest in the South, NBC News reported.

Rates of pediatric lymphoma and brain cancer are higher in the Northeast while leukemia is more common in the West, according to the map.

It isn't clear why the rates vary and, since pediatric cancer is so rare, it's unclear what patients and parents should take away from the data. Its main value, according to the team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that wrote the report, is in keeping doctors, hospitals and the government vigilant on pediatric cancer.

It could simply be that some areas have better systems for detecting cancer, the team said.

Photo Credit: J Pat Carter/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Romaine Lettuce Outbreak Tied to Tainted Irrigation Canal]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 09:05:40 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/950400894-Romaine-Lettuce.jpg

Tainted irrigation water appears to be the source of a national food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, health officials said Thursday.

About 200 people were sickened in the E. coli outbreak and five people died. The outbreak, which started in the spring, is now over, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The outbreak sickened people in 36 states, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas and Virginia. Five deaths were reported in California, New York, Arkansas and Minnesota. The illnesses were previously traced to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, which provides most of the romaine sold in the U.S. during the winter.

On Thursday, officials said the outbreak strain of E. coli bacteria was found in an irrigation canal in the Yuma area. They are still investigating how the bacteria got into the canal and whether there was contamination elsewhere. They declined to give details about the canal, including its location, until a report can be completed.

"More work needs to be done to determine just how and why this strain of E. coli O157:H7 could have gotten into this body of water and how that led to contamination of romaine lettuce from multiple farms," said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in a statement.

Earlier, officials tied eight illnesses at a jail in Alaska to whole head romaine lettuce grown at Harrison Farms in Yuma. But they were unable to find a single farm or packaging or distribution site that could clearly be fingered as the source of contamination for the other cases.

The outbreak was the nation's largest E. coli food poisoning outbreak in more than a decade. Most of the people got sick in March and April, but new illnesses were reported as recently as early this month. Some of those who got sick didn't eat romaine lettuce but had been in close contact with someone who did.

The last large E. coli outbreak like this involved spinach grown in California in 2006. Officials suspect cattle contaminated a nearby stream, and wild pigs roaming the area spread it to fields.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Cyndi Lauper Unveils Report on LGBTQ Youth Homelessness]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 03:13:32 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cyndi-lauperAP_18180211343281.jpg

Years before reaching pop music stardom, Cyndi Lauper was down on her luck, broke and homeless.

She was in her late teens and ready to move out of her family's house, but her parents wouldn't sign a lease for her own place. She found a job at a restaurant, but that didn't pan out either and she ended up living on the streets and in a shelter in Vermont.

"I felt like a failure because I couldn't even be a good waitress," the singer recounted Thursday morning to a small group of journalists in the courtyard of a luxury hotel off the Sunset Strip.

She told her experience with homelessness, which came nearly a decade before she became a pop superstar in the early '80s, while unveiling a nationwide report on youth homelessness.

The interactive report ranks how states provide services such as housing and mental health for homeless youth based on a variety of criteria, including access to hormone therapy for transgender people and testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

It is a joint project between Lauper's True Colors Fund and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

Washington and Massachusetts ranked first and second on the list, with California and Connecticut tying for third. The lowest ranking states are South Carolina, Alabama, Arkansas and Wyoming.

The report found that even in the top-ranked states, there's room for improvement in the availability of services, such shelters, counseling and training for identifying LGBTQ persons. They also said laws should be changed to decriminalize truancy and other policy changes are needed to keep vulnerable youth out of the juvenile justice system.

Lauper said the report can be used as a tool for advocates to make a direct change in the way service providers across the country can assist and ultimately prevent youth homelessness.

The singer said the fund will update its research annually.

Lauper, 65, is best known for hits like "Girls Just Want To Have Fun", "Good Enough" and "Time After Time." Her debut album "She's So Unusual" had four top-five hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1984.

It was the singer's own experiences with homelessness that inspired her to want to improve conditions for displaced youth, especially those from the LGBTQ community. She created the True Colors Fund, which advocates for services providers, such as shelters and clinics for homeless youth, in 2008.

She also said she hopes the effort will inspire young people to contribute to the solution.

"I was brought up in the civil rights movement and I listened to Dr. King all the time," she said. "I know that it was all of us that was going to make a change, not some."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rebecca Cabage/Invision/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Charges Hundreds in Health Care Fraud, Opioid Crackdown]]>Fri, 29 Jun 2018 05:48:43 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628+edited.jpg

The Department of Justice on Thursday announced charges against 601 people, including doctors, for taking part in alleged health care frauds resulting in over $2 billion in losses and which, in some cases, contributed to the nation's opioid epidemic, Reuters reported

The department said the arrests are part of the the largest health care fraud takedown in U.S. history. It includes 162 doctors and other suspects charged for their alleged roles in prescribing and distributing addictive opioid painkillers. 

The fraud crackdown occurs every year, but this year, officials sought to emphasize their efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, which federal health officials say caused more than 42,000 deaths in the United States in 2016.

"Some of our most trusted medical professionals look at their patients — vulnerable people suffering from addiction — and they see dollar signs," U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said.

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, FIle ]]>