<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2018http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usSun, 22 Jul 2018 21:51:28 -0400Sun, 22 Jul 2018 21:51:28 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[40 Hospitalized in Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Raw Turkey]]>Fri, 20 Jul 2018 14:38:57 -0400https://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 14:12:51 -0400https://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 19:07:14 -0400https://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 20:03:30 -0400https://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 16:08:59 -0400https://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[NBC 4 New York & NY Giants Health & Fitness Expo]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 18:17:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/225*120/300x160_HFE.jpg]]><![CDATA[Baltimore Bans Sodas, Sugary Drinks From Kids' Menus]]>Thu, 19 Jul 2018 08:59:50 -0400https://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 23:23:15 -0400https://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 12:30:09 -0400https://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 23:49:00 -0400https://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 18:50:30 -0400https://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]]>Sat, 14 Jul 2018 00:32:21 -0400https://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 14:28:46 -0400https://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 23:43:38 -0400https://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 10:12:44 -0400https://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 10:15:10 -0400https://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 23:21:02 -0400https://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 10:28:09 -0400https://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 19:41:11 -0400https://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 02:22:16 -0400https://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 01:18:51 -0400https://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 11:42:30 -0400https://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 11:13:37 -0400https://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 10:39:40 -0400https://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 09:13:13 -0400https://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 05:27:23 -0400https://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 23:23:06 -0400https://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 22:50:07 -0400https://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 23:41:06 -0400https://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 09:07:11 -0400https://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 09:05:07 -0400https://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 06:24:32 -0400https://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 20:44:38 -0400https://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 13:03:09 -0400https://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 04:28:59 -0400https://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 11:40:09 -0400https://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 11:10:42 -0400https://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 10:05:40 -0400https://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 04:13:32 -0400https://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 06:48:43 -0400https://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 ]]>
<![CDATA[Exercise on the Rise in US, But So Is Obesity, Survey Finds]]>Thu, 28 Jun 2018 07:00:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18177793898643-Running-Philadelphia.jpg

It may seem like a contradiction, but more adults in the U.S. say they are exercising at the same time more of them are becoming obese.

About 24 percent of adults last year said they exercise enough each week to meet government recommendations for both muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise, according to a large annual health survey. That was up from 21 percent in 2015.

The same survey says 31 percent of adults indicated they were obese last year, up slightly. Another, more rigorous government study has also found adult obesity is inching up.

So if more Americans are exercising, how can more also be getting fatter?

Some experts think the findings may reflect two sets of people — the haves and have-nots of physical fitness, so to speak.

"It's possible the people becoming more active are already normal weight," said John Jakicic, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Physical Activity and Weight Management Research Center.

The numbers come from an in-person annual national survey that for more than 60 years has been an important gauge of U.S. health trends. Roughly 35,000 adults answer the survey every year, including questions about how often, how long and how vigorously they exercise in their leisure time.

The survey gives a good sense of trends, but it's not perfect. People generally overstate how much they exercise, just as they overstate their height and lowball their weight, Jakicic said.

Ten-year-old federal recommendations say adults should do weightlifting or other muscle-strengthening exercise at least twice a week. They also advise adults to do at least 75 minutes a week of high-intensity aerobic activity, such as running, or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, or a combination of the two.

In a report being released Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at survey responses from 2010 through 2015 and found that level of leisure-time exercise was more common in some states than others.

Nearly a third of non-elderly adults in Colorado, Idaho, and New Hampshire met exercise guidelines. Only about one-seventh in Mississippi, Kentucky and South Carolina did.

Higher levels of exercise were more common in people who were working than those who weren't, the study also found.

Nationally, exercise levels were flat during the years covered by the CDC report. But more recent data show more adults said they were exercising at recommended levels in 2016 and 2017.

It's not clear why, said Jena Shaw Tronieri, a University of Pennsylvania weight-loss expert.

One possibility: Many adults exercise to manage stress, and the last two years have seen increasing political and social turmoil.

"I don't know if that will explain the increase recently, but we know those situational factors are part of the context," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Abortion Rights Advocates Sound Alarm on Kennedy Exit]]>Thu, 28 Jun 2018 07:36:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/062718kennedy.jpg

Upon news of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, fear for the future is spreading among abortion rights advocates, NBC News reported. At the same time, anti-abortion groups predicted a once-in-a-generation opportunity to remake the court. 

Kennedy was a swing vote who sometimes sided with the liberal wing of the court on social issues.

President Donald Trump has long vowed to nominate justices to the Supreme Court who would work to overturn Roe vs. Wade, a landmark case that legalized abortion nationwide. Now, he has his chance to nominate someone to help make that happen. 

The "right to access abortion in this country is on the line," the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said.

Kennedy's retirement "marks a pivotal moment for the fight to ensure every unborn child is welcomed and protected under the law," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, whose political action committee backs anti-abortion-rights candidates.

It remains unclear, though, whether opponents of abortion rights would actually have the votes to overturn Roe, regardless of Kennedy's replacement. 

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[New, Fast-Acting Flu Drug Gets Priority FDA Review]]>Wed, 27 Jun 2018 11:41:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18040745360696-Flu-Season.jpg

A pill that is touted to help rein in flu symptoms with a single dose is getting a speedy review from the Food and Drug Administration, NBC News reported.

The pill's manufacturer, Genentech, said Tuesday that the FDA granted a priority review to baloxavir marboxil, with approval possible by the end of the year.

Flu viruses have long been resistant to the first two antiviral flu drugs, and a new flu drug hasn't hit the U.S. market in years.

This drug, already approved in Japan, helps stop viruses replicating earlier in the process than drugs like Tamiflu and is "going to be more convenient ... because it works after a single dose," Genentech vice president Mark Eisner said.

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Invasive Bufo Toads Pose a Deadly Threat to Pets]]>Tue, 26 Jun 2018 12:01:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CTScanetoad.jpg

One of Dr. Ian Kupkee’s colleagues took her dog, Finn, out in mid-June when it suddenly sprinted into the backyard. The South Florida veterinarian’s co-worker noticed the 4-month-old Australian Shepherd was eyeing a toad and started smacking its lips.

Within minutes, the dog started showing signs of “being drugged,” Kupkee said, so she rushed it to the animal clinic. During the car ride, the pet began having seizures.

Upon arriving at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic in Kendall, Florida, the dog received fluids and three separate doses of anti-seizure medication. Ice packs helped bring the animal’s temperature down.

The incident is a common occurrence when dogs and Bufo toads interact, Kupkee said. The poisonous amphibian secretes a toxic white, gummy-like substance from glands behind its head when it feels threatened. Curious dogs intending to play with the toads may get taught a deadly lesson.

"Toads are bad news for dogs," Kupkee said. “The trick is these are not frogs. Toads look warty. Assume every toad is poisonous to your dog.”

Also known as Cane toads, the Bufo toad is not native to the U.S. The species was introduced to Florida’s sugar cane fields to control pests in 1936. Intentional and accidental releases caused them to spread. Those scattered throughout Florida’s panhandle escaped from a zoo, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Pet dealers accidentally released them in South Florida, the Florida Wildlife Extension reported.

Bufo toad sightings have been reported in Hawaii, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the USGS reported. Kupkee said the toads, which flourish in warm, humid climate, are also likely to be found in Georgia and Texas.

They often emerge after heavy rainfall and lay their eggs in still or slow-moving water.

And while this invasive species of amphibians pose no major threat to humans, it presents a danger to beloved pets, Kupkee said. Exposure to the toxin it produces can cause symptoms ranging from drooling and head-shaking to loss of coordination and convulsions. It can also kill your dog.

“If you catch it early, the chances of a successful recovery are very high,” Kupkee said. “The heartbreaking truth is people who leave their dog outside all day will come home to a dog that’s no longer with us. There’s the chance of heat stroke [or] a potential toad.”

Kupkee notes that the first symptoms of a toxic toad encounter can be evident within five to 10 minutes of exposure.

He advises pet owners who suspect their dog may have been poisoned by a toxic toad to rinse the animal's mouth out with water and wipe the substance away from its lips and tongue. Dog owners should watch for panting, disorientation and dilated eyes — signs of toxicity — and get the pet to a doctor.

Pet owners, especially those living in areas where Cane toads are prevelant, should avoid low branches, long grass, letting their dog out without a leash and leaving food outside, Kupkee warned. They should also keep their dog away from objects that accumulate water, such as plant pots. He advised to keep dogs on a retractable leash, even while roaming the backyard.

"Dogs find the scent of this thing very attractive," Kupkee said. "The best preventive is don’t leave the dog unattended."

Photo Credit: Ian Waldie/ Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Try Using Poliovirus to Attack Brain Tumors]]>Tue, 26 Jun 2018 08:51:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/polio-virus.jpg

One of the world's most dreaded viruses has been turned into a treatment to fight deadly brain tumors. Survival was better than expected for patients in a small study who were given genetically modified poliovirus, which helped their bodies attack the cancer, doctors report.

It was the first human test of this and it didn't help most patients or improve median survival. But many who did respond seemed to have long-lasting benefit: About 21 percent were alive at three years versus 4 percent in a comparison group of previous brain tumor patients.

Similar survival trends have been seen with some other therapies that enlist the immune system against different types of cancer. None are sold yet for brain tumors.

"This is really a first step," and doctors were excited to see any survival benefit in a study testing safety, said one researcher, Duke University's Dr. Annick Desjardins.

Preliminary results were to be discussed Tuesday at a conference in Norway and published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.


Brain tumors called glioblastomas often recur after initial treatment and survival is usually less than a year. Immunotherapy drugs like Keytruda help fight some cancers that spread to the brain but have not worked well for ones that start there.

Polio ravaged generations until a vaccine came out in the 1950s. The virus invades the nervous system and can cause paralysis. Doctors at Duke wanted to take advantage of the strong immune system response it spurs to try to fight cancer. With the help of the National Cancer Institute, they genetically modified poliovirus so it would not harm nerves but still infect tumor cells.

The one-time treatment is dripped directly into the brain through a thin tube. Inside the tumor, the immune system recognizes the virus as foreign and mounts an attack.

When doctors explained the idea to Michael Niewinski, it seemed a feat "like putting a man on the moon," he said. The 33-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, was treated last August, and said a recent scan seemed to show some tumor shrinkage.

"I'm pain-free, symptom-free," he said.


The study tested the modified poliovirus on 61 patients whose tumors had recurred after initial treatments. Median survival was about a year, roughly the same as for a small group of similar patients given other brain tumor treatments at Duke. After two years, the poliovirus group started faring better.

Follow-up is continuing, but survival is estimated at 21 percent at two years versus 14 percent for the comparison group. At three years, survival was still 21 percent for the virus group versus 4 percent for the others.

Eight of the 35 patients who were treated more than two years ago were alive as of March, as were five out of 22 patients treated more than three years ago.

Stephanie Hopper, 27, of Greenville, South Carolina, was the first patient treated in the study in May 2012 and it allowed her to finish college and become a nurse. Scans as recent as early June show no signs that the tumor is growing back, she said.

"I believe wholeheartedly that it was the cure for me," she said. Her only lasting symptom has been seizures, which medicines help control. "Most people wouldn't guess that I had brain cancer."


The treatment causes a lot of brain inflammation, and two thirds of patients had side effects. The most common ones were headaches, muscle weakness, seizure, trouble swallowing and altered thinking skills. Doctors stressed that these were due to the immune response in the brain and that no one got polio as a result of treatment.

One patient had serious brain bleeding right after the procedure. Two patients died relatively soon after treatment — one from worsening of the tumor and the other from complications of a drug given to manage a side effect. The planned doses had to be reduced because there were too many seizures and other problems at the higher doses initially chosen.

One independent expert, Dr. Howard Fine, brain tumor chief at New York-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine, said it was disappointing to see no improvement on median survival, but encouraging to see "extraordinary responders, a small group of patients who have done markedly better than one would expect."

The numbers in the study are small, but it's unusual to see many alive after several years, and suggests the approach merits more and bigger studies, he said.


The National Cancer Institute manufactured the modified virus. Federal grants and several charities funded the work. Some study leaders have formed a company that licenses patents on the treatment from Duke.

Duke has started a second study in adults, combining the poliovirus with chemotherapy, to try to improve response rates. A study in children with brain tumors also is underway, and studies for breast cancer and the skin cancer melanoma also are planned.


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[Medical Milestone: US OKs Marijuana-Based Drug for Seizures]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2018 22:32:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuanamedicineAP_18107496857650.jpg

U.S. health regulators on Monday approved the first prescription drug made from marijuana, a milestone that could spur more research into a drug that remains illegal under federal law, despite growing legalization for recreational and medical use.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the medication, called Epidiolex, to treat two rare forms of epilepsy in patients 2 years and older. But it's not quite medical marijuana.

The strawberry-flavored syrup is a purified form of a chemical ingredient found in the cannabis plant — but not the one that gets users high. It's not yet clear why the ingredient, called cannabidiol, or CBD, reduces seizures in some people with epilepsy.

British drugmaker GW Pharmaceuticals studied the drug in more than 500 children and adults with hard-to-treat seizures, overcoming numerous legal hurdles that have long stymied research into cannabis.

FDA officials said the drug reduced seizures when combined with older epilepsy drugs. FDA chief Scott Gottlieb said his agency had supported research on cannabis-derived products "for many years."

"This approval serves as a reminder that sound development programs that properly evaluate active ingredients contained in marijuana can lead to important medical therapies," Gottlieb told reporters.

The FDA has previously approved synthetic versions of another cannabis ingredient for medical use, including severe weight loss in patients with HIV.

Epidiolex is essentially a pharmaceutical-grade version CBD oil, which some parents already use to treat children with epilepsy. CBD is one of more than 100 chemicals found in marijuana. It doesn't contain THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana its mind-altering effect.

Physicians say it's important to have a consistent, government-regulated version.

"I'm really happy we have a product that will be much cleaner and one that I know what it is," said Dr. Elaine Wirrell, director of the Mayo Clinic's program for childhood epilepsy. "In the artisanal products there's often a huge variation in doses from bottle to bottle depending on where you get it."

Side effects with the drug include diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue and sleep problems.

Several years ago, Allison Hendershot considered relocating her family to Colorado, one of the first states to legalize marijuana and home to a large network of CBD producers and providers. Her 13-year-old daughter, Molly, has suffered from severe seizures since she was 4 months old. But then Hendershot learned about a trial of Epidiolex at New York University.

"I preferred this to some of those other options because it's is a commercial product that has gone through rigorous testing," said Hendershot, who lives in Rochester, New York.

Since receiving Epidiolex, Hendershot says her daughter has been able to concentrate more and has had fewer "drop" seizures — in which her entire body goes limp and collapses.

CBD oil is currently sold online and in specialty shops across the U.S., though its legal status remains murky. Most producers say their oil is made from hemp, a plant in the cannabis family that contains little THC and can be legally farmed in a number of states for clothing, food and other uses.

The immediate impact of Monday's approval on these products is unclear.

FDA's Gottlieb warned about the use of CBD products with "unproven medical claims."

"The promotion and use of these unapproved products may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases," Gottlieb said.

The FDA previously issued warnings to CBD producers that claimed their products could treat specific diseases, such as cancer or Alzheimer's. Only products that have received formal FDA approval can make such claims, typically requiring clinical trials costing millions.

Most CBD producers sidestep the issue by making only broad claims about general health and well-being.

Industry supporters downplayed the impact of the FDA approval.

"I don't know a mom or dad in their right mind who is going to change what's already working," said Heather Jackson, CEO of Realm of Caring, a charitable group that supports access to CBD. "I really don't think it's going to affect us much."

Jackson's group estimates the typical family using CBD to treat childhood epilepsy spends about $1,800 per year on the substance.

A GW Pharmaceuticals spokeswoman said the company would not immediately announce a price for the drug, which it expects to launch in the fall. Wall Street analysts have previously predicted it could cost $25,000 per year, with annual sales eventually reaching $1 billion.

For their part, GW Pharmaceuticals executives say they are not trying to disrupt products already on the market. The company has pushed legislation in several states to make sure its drug can be legally sold and prescribed.

The FDA approval for Epidiolex is technically limited to patients with Dravet and Lennox-Gastaut syndromes, two rare forms of epilepsy for which there are few effective treatments. Patients experience frequent, severe seizures, in some cases more than 100 per day.

But doctors will have the option to prescribe it for other uses.

The new medication enters an increasingly complicated legal environment for marijuana.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. Another 20 states allow medical marijuana, but the U.S. government continues to classify it as a controlled substance with no medical use, in the same category as heroin and LSD.

Despite increasing acceptance, there is little rigorous research on the benefits and harms of marijuana. Last year a government-commissioned group concluded that the lack of scientific information about marijuana and CBD poses a risk to public health.

Before sales of Epidiolex can begin, the Drug Enforcement Administration must formally reclassify CBD into a different category of drugs that have federal medical approval. That decision is expected within 90 days.

GW Pharmaceuticals makes the drug in the U.K. from cannabis plants that are specially bred to contain high levels of CBD. And the company plans to continue importing the medicine, bypassing onerous U.S. regulations on manufacturing restricted substances. European approval is expected in early 2019.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kathy Young/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Store Owners Try Blue Lights in Bathrooms to Deter Drug Use]]>Mon, 25 Jun 2018 08:16:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bathroom-blue-light.jpg

Colored bulbs cast an eerie blue glow in the restroom of a Pennsylvania convenience store where people who inject heroin and other drugs have been seeking the relative privacy of the stalls to shoot up.

The blue lights are meant to discourage people from using drugs in store bathrooms by making it more difficult for them to see their veins. It's an idea that's been around for years but is getting a fresh look as a result of the nation's opioid epidemic.

"The hardest-core opiate user still wants to be accurate. They want to make sure the needle goes in the right spot,'' said Read Hayes, a University of Florida researcher and director of the Loss Prevention Research Council, a retail industry-supported group that is looking at the lights' effectiveness. The purpose of the blue light is to "disrupt that process'' and force people to go somewhere else to take drugs, he said.

Turkey Hill Minit Markets, a 260-store chain based in Lancaster, is one of two convenience store chains and a supermarket chain working with the loss prevention group to field-test the blue bulbs. Hayes, whose group devises methods to combat theft and violent crime at stores, said that the study is still in its infancy, but that initial feedback from stores that have been using them has been positive.

Earlier studies have questioned the lights' deterrent effect, with people who use opioids telling researchers they'd shoot up in blue light if it meant avoiding withdrawal symptoms. Many public health experts oppose the practice, saying blue lights make people more likely to hurt themselves and stigmatize those in the grips of addiction.

And, for people accustomed to injecting themselves, there are ways around the lights.

Someone in withdrawal who obtains heroin is "going to want to use as soon as possible, even if the location is not optimal,'' said Brett Wolfson-Stofko at the National Development & Research Institutes, who has studied injection drug use in public bathrooms.

Store owners say they have to do something.

In Luzerne County, where Turkey Hill has installed blue lights at a store in Wilkes-Barre, Coroner William Lisman said people have died from overdoses in the public bathrooms of fast-food restaurants, big-box stores and other retailers.

"It can very easily go unnoticed until somebody else wants to use that restroom,'' he said. "Other patrons realize they can't get in, the manager opens up and we find people deceased.''

At some Turkey Hill locations in hard-hit neighborhoods, store workers would often find used needles or even people slumped over from an overdose, said Matt Dorgan, the chain's asset protection manager.

 "We realized we need to do something to protect our associates and our customers,'' he said.

The blue lights were part of a broader set of security measures at Turkey Hill that included brighter exterior lighting, new window signage to make store exteriors more visible from inside, and security training for store workers.

More than six months after the chain began using the blue lights in as many as 20 stores, "we're not finding hardly anything anymore,'' Dorgan said. "It's a pretty dramatic reduction. We haven't had a single overdose.''

Last fall, Sheetz, a convenience-store chain with more than 500 stores in six states, installed a new lighting system in the restroom of its New Kensington store, about 20 miles outside Pittsburgh. The blue lights are "designed to help our customers and employees avoid dangerous situations,'' said company spokesman Nick Ruffner.

Sheetz, he said, has seen "positive steps in the right direction,'' and has since installed the blue bulbs at a store in Huntington, West Virginia.

Some health experts encourage interventions that don't involve blue lights.

Installation of needle disposal containers can help protect store employees, the public and people who use drugs, while stall doors that swing outward can make it easier to reach someone who has overdosed and is in need of medical help.

Stores can also work with law enforcement, social service agencies and addiction services to tackle the problem a step that Hayes, at the loss prevention council, said retailers are looking to take.

Retailers aren't the only ones experimenting with blue lights.

The city of Philadelphia began distributing kits to residents that include a blue bulb for the front porch, no-trespassing signs, a tool to pick up used syringes, a needle disposal box and contact information for social services.

The city, where overdose deaths, fueled by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, surged more than 30 percent to 1,200 last year, has given out more than 100 kits since January.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Baby Boom Sets Record at Texas Hospital With 42 Deliveries in 48 Hours]]>Sat, 23 Jun 2018 03:02:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/211*120/Photo0000411.jpg

A new record was set this week at Baylor University Medical Center Dallas when a baby boom hit Tuesday morning.

Over a 48 hour period, doctors and nurses delivered 42 babies.

“We’ve had a ton of people come in in active labor. Some come in for inductions and some come in at 10 centimeters ready to have a baby, and it’s just been crazy,” said chief-resident Shannon Miller.

Within hours, nearly all of the rooms were full. Residents kept moving, sometimes even running room to room.

“We’re like what’s going on? Everyone around here’s going into labor. Someone said, ‘Ok. We’ve got a patient here who’s seven centimeters.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. I just checked her in.’ And they said, ‘No. This is a different one,'” said first-year resident Dana Potter.

By Wednesday afternoon, more mothers were arriving. It all culminated around 4 p.m. when resident Jenny Uremovich, who was running the board, noticed nine patients were ready to deliver at one time.

“We were just passing each other in the halls, pointing to which rooms we thought were going to deliver next. Sometimes the moms have to push for a while, but it seemed like nobody, especially these nine babies, nobody even pushed for a long time. It was just like boom, boom, boom. Babies everywhere.”

Those nine babies were delivered in just 40 minutes. And by the end of the day, history had been made with 42 deliveries over 48 hours, in a hospital that averages 12 a day.

“You realize how much coordination is required among all staff members. Whether it be resident physicians, attending physicians, the nurses, the people that clean the rooms so that patients can continue to move in, it’s just a really smooth orchestra that took place in the last 48 hours,” said third-year resident Emily Spurgin.

As they got a chance to recover from the excitement and sheer exhaustion, the question of ‘why’ started to come up. What happened nine months ago to result in a baby boom?

“I don’t know. We’ve thrown out a couple of ideas amongst the residents,” said Spurgin.

“I think I’ll have to go with the natural disaster or something going on nine months ago,” said Potter.

After all, it’s been about nine months since both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria ravaged American soil.

“When there’s emotional events; when there’s news and stories like 9/11; or natural disasters and other things, then typically around 9 or 10 months later we get a baby boom. I don’t know if it’s just families looking at what’s important and reevaluating life. We’ve just kind of had that cycle for years,” said nurse manager of labor and delivery Kristine Debuty.

In Debuty’s 24-year career, she’s never seen a boom like this one. That is why she is calling this week’s newborns the Baylor 42, as they take their place in the hospital’s history.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Watch This Baby Smile When She Hears Sound for the 1st Time]]>Fri, 22 Jun 2018 23:59:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/BabyVideoScreenshot.jpg

One-year-old Ayla Esler burst into a smile after hearing sound for the first time Tuesday, thanks to cochlear implants installed in the toddler’s ears last month at the Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas.

The moment was caught in a Facebook video posted by the hospital and viewed at least 60,000 times. The mom, Anna Esler, is seen tearing up as she watches her daughter, who was born with profound hearing loss, react to noise in the room.

“I was really overwhelmed,” Anna told NBC. “We had waited a long time, just to see her respond. I was just so incredibly thankful. It was just beautiful to see her hear for the first time.”

The video shows the rest of the family standing by as an audiologist activated Ayla’s implants Tuesday. Ayla’s dad said the toddler was able to hear him sing for the first time the next day. 

“Wednesday morning, I put the implants on and she was fussing with the adjustment,” Will Esler said. “I started singing to her and she calmed down.”

When Ayla failed her newborn hearing test, the family went through a long process to determine the extent of her hearing loss, her father said.

“If they’re in that severe to profound range, hearing aids don’t work well,” said Dr. Lisa Christensen, an audiologist at Cook Children’s Hospital. “They need something stronger, so we move to the cochlear implant.”

During the procedure, a surgeon inserts an electrode array into the cochlea, a structure in the inner ear. An external device converts noise into electrical impulses and sends them to the electrodes. Christensen said recent advances have allowed wearers to perceive more natural-sounding speech.

Ayla is still adjusting to the implants and will continue learning how to use them in weekly therapy sessions. Her parents said they were surprised the video had spread so far and hoped it would help other parents deciding to “go the cochlear route for their kids.”

Photo Credit: Cook Children's]]>
<![CDATA[House Passes Massive Package to Address Opioid Crisis]]>Fri, 22 Jun 2018 13:27:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/974323458-Paul-Ryan-Opioid-Overdose.jpg

The House of Representatives on Friday passed the largest legislative package on opioids in recent history, NBC News reported.

The package, made up of 58 bills, would direct federal agencies to prioritize training, support recovery centers and conduct research to help combat the growing epidemic, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says killed 42,000 people in 2016.

Among the provisions: requiring medical records list a patient's addiction history, change how prescription pills are distributed and direct the National Institutes of Health to develop non-addictive painkillers.

The package passed 396-14 after months of debate and now heads to the Senate.

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Evidence Suggests Viruses May Play Role in Alzheimer's]]>Thu, 21 Jun 2018 12:45:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18099561437927.jpg

Viruses that sneak into the brain just might play a role in Alzheimer's, scientists reported Thursday in a provocative study that promises to re-ignite some long-debated theories about what triggers the mind-robbing disease.

The findings don't prove viruses cause Alzheimer's, nor do they suggest it's contagious.

But a team led by researchers at New York's Mount Sinai Health System found that certain viruses — including two extremely common herpes viruses — affect the behavior of genes involved in Alzheimer's.

The idea that infections earlier in life might somehow set the stage for Alzheimer's decades later has simmered at the edge of mainstream medicine for years. It's been overshadowed by the prevailing theory that Alzheimer's stems from sticky plaques that clog the brain.

Thursday's study has even some specialists who never embraced the infection connection saying it's time for a closer look, especially as attempts to block those so-called beta-amyloid plaques have failed.

"With an illness this terrible, we cannot afford to dismiss all scientific possibilities," said Dr. John Morris, who directs the Alzheimer's research center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. He wasn't involved in the new research but called it impressive.

The study also fits with mounting evidence that how aggressively the brain's immune system defends itself against viruses or other germs may be riskier than an actual infection, said Alzheimer's specialist Dr. Rudolph Tanzi of Massachusetts General Hospital. With Harvard colleague Dr. Robert Moir, Tanzi has performed experiments showing that sticky beta-amyloid captures invading germs by engulfing them — and that's why the plaque starts forming in the first place.

"The question remained, OK, in the Alzheimer brain what are the microbes that matter, what are the microbes that trigger the plaque?" explained Tanzi, who also had no role in the new research.

The team from Mount Sinai and Arizona State University came up with some viral suspects — by accident. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, wasn't hunting viruses but was looking for new drug targets for Alzheimer's. The researchers were using complex genetic data from hundreds of brains at several brain banks to compare differences between people who'd died with Alzheimer's and the cognitively normal.

The first clues that viruses were around "came screaming out at us," said Mount Sinai geneticist Joel Dudley, a senior author of the research published Thursday in the journal Neuron.

The team found viral genetic material at far higher levels in Alzheimer's-affected brains than in normal ones. Most abundant were two human herpes viruses, known as HHV6a and HHV7, that infect most people during childhood, often with no symptoms, and then lie dormant in the body.

That wasn't unusual. Since 1980, other researchers have linked a variety of bacteria and viruses, including another type of herpes that causes cold sores, to an increased risk of Alzheimer's. But it was never clear if germs were merely bystanders, or actively spurring Alzheimer's.

The new study went farther: Researchers used computer models to check how the viral genes interacted with human genes, proteins and amyloid buildup, almost like the viruses' social media connections, Dudley explained.

"We're able to see if viral genes are friending some of the host genes and if they tweet, who tweets back," Dudley said.

They found a lot of interactions, suggesting the viruses could even switch on and off Alzheimer's-related genes. To see if those interactions mattered, the researchers bred mice lacking one molecule that herpes seemed to deplete. Sure enough, the animals developed more of those amyloid plaques.

"I look at this paper and it makes me sit up and say, 'Wow,'" said Alzheimer's Association scientific programs director Keith Fargo.

He said the research makes a viral connection much more plausible but cautioned that the study won't affect how today's patients are treated.

If the findings pan out, they could change how scientists look for new ways to treat or prevent Alzheimer's, said Dr. Miroslaw Mackiewicz of NIH's National Institute on Aging. Already, NIH is funding a first-step study to see if an antiviral drug benefits people who have both mild Alzheimer's and different herpes viruses.

Just having a herpes virus "does not mean you're going to get Alzheimer's," Mass General's Tanzi stressed. It may not even have penetrated the brain.

But in another study soon to be published, Tanzi showed biologically how both HHV6 and a cold sore-causing herpes virus can trigger or "seed" amyloid plaque formation, supporting the Mount Sinai findings.

Still, he doesn't think viruses are the only suspects.

"The Mount Sinai paper tells us the viral side of the story. We still have to work out the microbe side of the story," said Tanzi, who is looking for bacteria and other bugs in what's called the Brain Microbiome Project. "The brain was always thought to be a sterile place. It's absolutely not true."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA['Gaming Disorder' Revives Medical Debate on Addiction]]>Thu, 21 Jun 2018 09:55:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18171603823902.jpg

Now that the world's leading public health group says too much Minecraft can be an addiction, could overindulging in chocolate, exercise, even sex, be next?

The short answer is probably not.

The new "gaming disorder" classification from the World Health Organization revives a debate in the medical community about whether behaviors can cause the same kind of addictive illness as drugs.

The strictest definition of addiction refers to a disease resulting from changes in brain chemistry caused by compulsive use of drugs or alcohol. The definition includes excessive use that damages health, relationships, jobs and other parts of normal life. Brain research supports that definition, and some imaging studies have suggested that excessive gaming might affect the brain in similar ways.

Under a looser definition, addiction is considered "a disease of extreme behavior. Any behavior carried to extreme that consumes you and keeps you from doing what you should be doing becomes an addiction as far as life is concerned," said Dr. Walter Ling, a UCLA psychiatrist.

In its widely used manual for diagnosing mental illness, the American Psychiatric Association calls excessive video gaming a "condition" but not a formal diagnosis or disease, and says more research is needed to determine if it qualifies as an addiction.

Certain drugs including opioids and alcohol can over-activate the brain's reward circuit. That's the system that under normal circumstances is activated when people engage in "behaviors conducive to survival" including eating and drinking water when thirsty, explained Dr. Andrew Saxon, chairman of the association's addiction psychiatry council. The brain chemical dopamine regulates these behaviors, but narcotic drugs can flood the brain with dopamine, encouraging repeated use and making drug use more rewarding that healthy behaviors, Saxon said. Eventually increasing amounts are needed to get the same effect, and brain changes lead to an inability to control use.

Caffeine is a stimulant and also activates the brain's reward system, but to a much lesser degree than addictive drugs. The "reward" can make people feel more alert, and frequent users can develop mild withdrawal symptoms when they stop, including headaches and tiredness. Caffeine-containing chocolate may produce similar effects. Neither substance causes the kinds of life problems found in drug addiction, although some coffee drinkers develop a tolerance to caffeine and need to drink more to get the same "buzz" or sense of alertness.

The World Health Organization recognizes caffeine "dependence" as a disorder; the American Psychiatric Association does not and says more research is needed.

"The term 'addiction' is tossed around pretty commonly, like 'chocoholic' or saying you're addicted to reality TV," said Dr. Ellen Selkie, a University of Michigan physician who studies teens' use of digital technology. But addiction means an inability to control use "to the point where you're failing at life," she said.

The only behavior classified as an addiction in the American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual is compulsive gambling. To be diagnosed, gamblers must have several symptoms including repeatedly gambling increasing amounts of money, lying to hide gambling activity, feeling irritable or restless when trying to stop, and losing jobs or relationships because of gambling. Research suggests excessive gambling can affect the brain in ways similar to addictive drugs. Since the diagnostic manual was last updated, in 2013, studies have bolstered evidence that excessive video gaming may do the same thing, and some experts speculate that it may be added to the next update.

The manual doesn't include sex addiction because there's little evidence that compulsive sexual behavior has similar effects on the brain.

Many excessive gamblers, gamers and sex "addicts" have other psychiatric conditions, including anxiety, attention deficit disorder and depression, and some mental health specialists believe their compulsive behaviors are merely symptoms of those diseases rather than separate addictions.

The World Health Organization's decision to classify excessive video gaming as an addiction means "gaming disorder" will be added to this year's update to the organization's International Classification of Diseases. Doctors worldwide use that document to diagnose physical and mental illnesses. Insurers, including Medicaid and Medicare, use billing codes listed there to make coverage decisions. The American Psychiatric Association's manual is widely used for defining and diagnosing mental disorders. If conditions aren't listed in these documents, insurance coverage for treatment is unlikely.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ahn Young-joon/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Family Separations at the Border Alarm Child-Welfare Experts]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:59:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18170053185783.jpg

The sights and sounds are wrenching: A boy's cries of "Papa! Papa!" for the father he had been separated from. Youngsters placed in chain-link cages in an old Texas warehouse. Parents begging to know what will happen to their children.

Child welfare has always been a challenging profession; state and local agencies across America make difficult decisions every day to separate children from their parents. But those agencies have ways of minimizing the trauma that aren't being employed by the Trump administration in separating immigrant families at the Mexican border.

"There are no principles of good child welfare that are being used in this process," said Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers.

Among other things, child welfare agencies often try to arrange visits between parents and children and keep communication open.

McClain and many of his professional colleagues nationwide are alarmed by what is happening at the border, citing research demonstrating that family separation can cause long-term trauma for children, including depression, anxiety, feelings of insecurity and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Their worries center on the more 2,300 children who have been separated from their parents this spring as part of a Trump administration effort to deter illegal border crossings. Federal officials have not specified how long the youngsters will be held.

McClain knows child welfare intimately. He spent five years in a foster-care group home in Texas as a teen, then went on to become a child abuse investigator in that state.

"After we removed children from their homes, I would visit them every day in their foster home," he said. "I was the link back to their parents — I'd get messages back and forth. We had ways to mitigate the trauma."

As soon as feasible, parent-child visits were arranged. And parents could offer advice to the children's caregiver — their food preferences and bedtime rituals, for example.

The wave of family separations at the border, undertaken as part of the Trump administration's "zero tolerance" policy toward those caught illegally trying to enter the country, is not facilitating any continued parent-child communication.

The best option is to keep a fragile family together in the first place, said Mike Arsham, a senior official at New York City's child-welfare agency.

If that's not possible — for example, when a single parent is jailed — the agency tries to find relatives who could care for the children until they are reunited with their parents.

"We give the child whatever reassurance we can that this separation will be as temporary as possible, without giving them false promises," Arsham said. "They want to know if they can still have their circle of friends and their most treasured belongings."

If there are no relatives available, the next option is to find a foster family willing to take the child, he said. Larger group facilities are generally considered the last resort.

The entire child-welfare system in the U.S. purports to be guided by the principle of "the best interests of the child." Ashram, however, said it is clear to him that the family-separation policy at the border "is not primarily motivated by the well-being of the children."

Oversight of the separated children is being handled by the Department of Health and Human Services, which has defended its operations.

Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS' Administration for Children and Families, said younger children under HHS care are being placed in "permanent shelters" where they receive education, clothing, medical and mental health services, and recreational and entertainment opportunities.

"They're under constant supervision and observation, so that we can address any health or medical concerns that arise while they're in our care," he said.

However, the separation policy was branded "wrong and immoral" in a joint statement Tuesday from 14 prominent charitable and social service organizations, including Catholic Charities USA, Girl Scouts of the USA, United Way Worldwide and the YWCA.

The groups called on HHS to restore connections between the children who are in custody and their family members who are awaiting processing by immigration authorities.

"The standards of care for these children must be equal to that expected in our current child welfare system," the groups said.

Among the child welfare experts dismayed by the separations is Sandy Santana, executive director of Children's Rights, a watchdog organization that has successfully sued numerous states to force improvements in their child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

Under longstanding practice in the U.S., children should be removed from their home only if a parent is unfit or poses a danger to the child, Santana said. Neither of those circumstances seems prevalent in the wave of border separations, he said.

Under normal practice, Santana said, the goal of a child welfare agency should be to minimize harm to the child in cases where separation is deemed necessary.

"The trauma can have life-long consequences for these kids, so a good system tries to return the child to the parent as soon as possible when safety is not an issue," he said.

Even a substandard agency would be expected to draw up a plan addressing foster children's eventual reunification with their parents.

"The federal government has no plan for reuniting the children with their families," Santana said. "It is deliberately inflicting trauma on children to punish their parents."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Lower Costs, Fewer Benefits in New Health Insurance Option]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 18:09:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061918trumop.jpg

The Trump administration's new health insurance option offers lower premiums for small businesses and self-employed people, but the policies are likely to cover fewer benefits.

Another caveat: if healthy people flock to the new plans as expected, premiums will rise for those who need comprehensive coverage.

President Donald Trump and Labor Secretary Alex Acosta rolled out their final blueprint for "association health plans" on Tuesday, with Trump promising a small-business group that "you're going to save massive amounts of money and have much better health care."

Democrats decried it as "junk insurance," and some patient groups warned it could undermine coverage for people in poor health. Republicans and some small-business groups said the administration is providing needed flexibility in the face of rising premiums.

Independent experts said the administration is setting up a parallel insurance market — with different rules — alongside the Affordable Care Act, the Obama-era law Trump has been unable to repeal.

Initial estimates by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office forecast modest changes, not a seismic shift.

The new plans created under the administration's regulation incorporate the same protections for employees with pre-existing conditions that large-company plans now have, Acosta said.

The Labor Department said association plans could be offered to employers in a city, county, state or a metro area that includes several states. Plans within a particular industry — real estate, for example — can be marketed nationwide. Sole proprietors and their families could join an association plan.

Trump has long asserted that promoting the sale of health insurance across state lines can bring down premiums without sacrificing quality. But many experts aren't convinced because medical costs vary greatly according to geography.

Currently, plans for small businesses are required to cover the ACA's 10 categories of "essential" benefits, from prescription drugs to maternity and mental health. Under the new approach, small employers could get coverage that comes with fewer required benefits, said Gary Claxton of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Ultimately, the idea's success depends on buy-in from plan sponsors, consumers, insurers and state regulators. No major consequences are expected for people covered by large employers.

Acosta cited CBO estimates that predict a modest impact: about 4 million people covered by the plans within five years but only some 400,000 who would have been uninsured. Compare that to the total number of about 160 million covered by job-based insurance.

After Republicans hit a dead end trying to repeal the Obama health law, the Trump administration has pushed regulatory actions to loosen requirements and try to lower premiums for individuals and small businesses.

"They are providing insurance options that have fewer benefits and fewer requirements than ACA-compliant plans," Claxton said. "That will have a tendency to pull healthier people away because they are more attracted to plans with fewer benefits."

Another major initiative is expected later this summer when the administration eases rules for short-term health plans lasting less than a full year that could be purchased by individuals. Those plans wouldn't have to cover people with pre-existing conditions but would offer healthy people much lower premiums.

Critics say the administration's approach will draw healthy people away from the health law's insurance markets, raising the cost of coverage, which is subsidized by taxpayers.

About 11 million people are covered by HealthCare.gov and state markets, but the administration's priority is to try to lower premiums for an additional 7 million or so who buy their coverage directly and don't get any help from the government.

State insurance regulators have been concerned about association health plans because similar plans in the past had problems with financial solvency and fraud. Administration officials said Tuesday that states and the federal government would share regulatory oversight of the plans, with states retaining their current authority.

The new plans will be phased in, starting in September.

A small business group called Job Creators Network welcomed the Trump administration's move. President Alfredo Ortiz said it "will create more options, more competition, and lower costs for Main Street small businesses."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images (Pool)]]>
<![CDATA[Smoking Hits New Low: About 14 Percent of US Adults]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 06:13:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/599144440-Cigarette-Butt.jpg

Smoking in the U.S. has hit another all-time low.

About 14 percent of U.S adults were smokers last year, down from about 16 percent the year before, government figures show.

There hadn't been much change the previous two years, but it's been clear there's been a general decline and the new figures show it's continuing, said K. Michael Cummings of the tobacco research program at Medical University of South Carolina.

"Everything is pointed in the right direction," including falling cigarette sales and other indicators, Cummings said.

The new figures released Tuesday mean there are still more than 30 million adult smokers in the U.S., he added.

Teens are also shunning cigarettes. Survey results out last week showed smoking among high school students was down to 9 percent, also a new low.

In the early 1960s, roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked. It was common nearly everywhere — in office buildings, restaurants, airplanes and even hospitals. The decline has coincided with a greater understanding that smoking is a cause of cancer, heart disease and other health problems.

Anti-smoking campaigns, cigarette taxes and smoking bans are combining to bring down adult smoking rates, experts say.

The launch of electronic cigarettes and their growing popularity has also likely played a role. E-cigarettes heat liquid nicotine into a vapor without the harmful by-products generated from burning tobacco. That makes them a potentially useful tool to help smokers quit, but some public health experts worry it also creates a new way for people to get addicted to nicotine.

There was no new information for adult use of e-cigarettes and vaping products, but 2016 figures put that at 3 percent of adults.

Vaping is more common among teens than adults. About 13 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes or other vaping devices.

The findings on adult smokers come from a national health survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 27,000 adults were interviewed last year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
<![CDATA[Compulsive Video-Game Playing Now New Mental Health Problem]]>Mon, 18 Jun 2018 08:17:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/video-games.jpg

For video game addicts, it might soon be "game over."

In its latest revision to a disease classification manual, the World Health Organization said Monday that compulsively playing video games now qualifies as a new mental health condition. The statement confirmed the fears of many parents but led some critics to warn that it may risk stigmatizing young video players.

The U.N. health agency said classifying "Gaming Disorder" as a separate condition will "serve a public health purpose for countries to be better prepared to identify this issue."

Dr. Shekhar Saxena, director of WHO's department for mental health, said WHO accepted the proposal that Gaming Disorder should be listed as a new problem based on scientific evidence, in addition to "the need and the demand for treatment in many parts of the world."

Dr. Joan Harvey, a spokeswoman for the British Psychological Society, said only a minority of gamers would be affected by the disorder and warned that the new designation might cause unnecessary concern among parents.

"People need to understand this doesn't mean every child who spends hours in their room playing games is an addict, otherwise medics are going to be flooded with requests for help," she said.

Others welcomed WHO's new classification, saying it was critical to identify video game addicts quickly because they are usually teenagers or young adults who don't seek help themselves.

"We come across parents who are distraught, not only because they're seeing their child drop out of school, but because they're seeing an entire family structure fall apart," said Dr. Henrietta Bowden-Jones, a spokeswoman for behavioral addictions at Britain's Royal College of Psychiatrists. She was not connected to WHO's decision.

Bowden-Jones said gaming addictions were usually best treated with psychological therapies but that some medicines might also work.

The American Psychiatric Association has not yet deemed Gaming Disorder to be a new mental health problem. In a previous statement, the association said it's "a condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion" in its own diagnostic manual.

The group noted that much of the scientific literature about compulsive gamers is based on evidence from young men in Asia.

"The studies suggest that when these individuals are engrossed in Internet games, certain pathways in their brains are triggered in the same direct and intense way that a drug addict's brain is affected by a particular substance," the association said in a 2013 statement. "The gaming prompts a neurological response that influences feelings of pleasure and reward, and the result, in the extreme, is manifested as addictive behavior."

Dr. Mark Griffiths, who has been researching the concept of video gaming disorder for 30 years, said the new classification would help legitimize the problem and strengthen treatment strategies.

"Video gaming is like a non-financial kind of gambling from a psychological point of view," said Griffiths, a distinguished professor of behavioral addiction at Nottingham Trent University. "Gamblers use money as a way of keeping score whereas gamers use points."

He guessed that the percentage of video game players with a compulsive problem was likely to be extremely small — much less than 1 percent — and that many such people would likely have other underlying problems, like depression, bipolar disorder or autism.

WHO's Saxena, however, estimated that two to three percent of gamers might be affected.

Griffiths said playing video games, for the vast majority of people, is more about entertainment and novelty, citing the overwhelming popularity of games like Pokemon Go.

"You have these short, obsessive bursts and yes, people are playing a lot, but it's not an addiction," he said.

Saxena said parents and friends of video game enthusiasts should still be mindful of a potentially harmful problem.

"Be on the lookout," he said, noting that concerns should be raised if the gaming habit appears to be taking over.

"If (video games) are interfering with the expected functions of the person — whether it is studies, whether it's socialization, whether it's work — then you need to be cautious and perhaps seek help," he said.


Cheng reported from London.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Why Fecal Bacteria Sometimes Takes Over Jersey Shore Beaches]]>Tue, 19 Jun 2018 06:25:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jersey+beach+10+cropped.jpg

The cloud of fecal bacteria that lingered off New Jersey beaches last week is a reminder of a grim truth on the Shore: The water is not safe after it rains.

The reason why is pretty easy to understand, but the solutions are harder to envision here in the most developed U.S. state, where one out of every eight square feet of land cannot be penetrated by water because of a manmade structure.

Shopping malls, restaurants, parking lots and roofs of every shape and size prevent rainwater from soaking into the soil and naturally filtering down into the water table.

Instead, for every inch of rain that falls on a typical neighborhood, tens of thousands of gallons of rain are funneled through the streets and sewers.

It's on this journey where the rain absorbs bacteria from bird, dog and (occasionally) human waste before the now-tainted rain is discharged out into nearby streams and rivers, which then feed all of that pollution into the bays and ocean.

The Shore needs to restore some semblance of the natural order, in which water soaks into the ground where it lands rather than being funneled elsewhere, experts say.

"That's tough, tough, tough to do when the area is already urbanized,'' said Susan Libes, director of the Environmental Quality Lab at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

The big question: Is it safe for you and your kids to splash around in the ocean on a sunny Saturday after a downpour the previous night?

The Asbury Park Press took that query to the head of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's coastal water watchdog.

Bacteria levels on most Shore beaches after a storm are not truly dangerous, even if they are above the safe-swimming standard, said Bruce Friedman, director of the state DEP's Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

Local officials always have the power to shut down their beaches for public health reasons, he added.

Still, Friedman said he'd wait a while before wading.

"I wouldn't be concerned 24 hours after a rain event to swim at the beaches in New Jersey,'' said Bruce Friedman, director of the state DEP's Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

On Tuesday, the state announced 47 Jersey Shore beaches were under bacteria advisories after testing on Monday revealed an excessive amount of enterococcus, a bacteria that grows alongside feces in the guts of warm-blooded animals, including mammals, birds and humans.

When its numbers climb high enough, enterococcus is considered a red flag that dangerous pathogens are also present in the water.

Nearly all of those beaches were cleared for swimmers by Wednesday afternoon, but the worst day for Shore beaches in at least 13 years revived memories from the 1970s and 1980s, before environmental regulations cleaned up our waters.

This doesn't just happen in New Jersey. Most any seaside town in Texas, Florida, Hawaii, New York, California and elsewhere all have similar issues _ practically all are even worse than what the Shore deals with, according to available U.S. EPA data.

"There is a web app here that you can use to get a prediction of what the bacteria levels are going to be and it's largely based on the rain forecast,'' said Libes, of Coastal Carolina University. "So we understand pretty well that this storm runoff is a pretty big player.''

As a general rule, Forrest Bell, a scientist who runs an environmental consultancy that specializes in stormwater management in New England, says you should avoid beaches near the mouths of rivers, streams and any other conduit that transports urban stormwater.

"I would not allow my children to swim or play in those waters as there is certainly a much higher risk of contact with pathogens,'' Bell told the Press. "However, there are often areas at a beach that have much lower counts and are safer to swim at than other areas.''

"Impervious surface'' is a term in hydrological lingo for things like roads, parking lots, driveways, sidewalks and roofs.

Experts say that when impervious surfaces make up 8 percent or more of the total landscape, waterways are at greater risk of degradation.

New Jersey, as a whole, reached that threshold in 2011, according to the National Land Cover Database. No other state has a higher share.

The most recent statewide figure is somewhere north of 12 percent, according to a 2016 analysis by the Rutgers Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program.

 The program looked at a few coastal towns in Monmouth County in 2016. The results weren't pretty.

 Even parts of western Monmouth County, which is less densely populated than the coastal communities, is far more waterproof than it should be.

 Lowering the share of land that is impermeable is the answer to the problem, but it's not practical to expect developers to replace relatively new parking lots with something more friendly to stormwater, according to Chris Obropta, head of Rutgers Water Resources Program.

 "As people redevelop or fix developments, you can ask them to do just a little bit more, do their share,'' he said in a 2016 community meeting.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Should Pull 'Sunscreen Pills' From the Market: Schumer]]>Mon, 18 Jun 2018 00:34:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1200.jpg

A handful of pills that markets themselves as alternatives to sunscreen should be pulled from shelves due to their misleading and potentially hazardous claims, Sen. Chuck Schumer said.

The Food and Drug Administration recently warned consumers that so-called "suncreen pills" are fakes that don't actually provide the same benefits and protection as sunscreen

Schumer on Sunday said the FDA should go one step further and ask retailers to pull the companies’ products from the market.

“The FDA should be burning mad at the handful of companies marketing shady pills and capsules as a new alternative to long-tested SPF sun protection,” Schumer said.

“Failing to effectively rein in these marketing attempts would be a glaring error by the FDA and so they must turn up the enforcement heat before consumers literally get burned," he added.

The FDA specifically called out Sunsafe Rx pills, Solicare pills — which can be purchased at Walmart — Sunergetic pills and Advanced Skin Brightening Formula pills.

Sunsafe Rx’s Instagram ads depict sunbathers “basking at beaches and pools, amongst other places, while being ‘protected’ by the pills,” Schumer’s office said.

The FDA should either permanently remove the companies’ products from the market, or remove them until the companies “clean up their act[s], especially on social media,” his office added.

In a statement on Sunday, Napa Valley Bioscience, the company that develops Sunsafe Rx, maintained some people use the product for "supplemental protection," while some people with "very sensitive skin" use it to "help them prevent some of their adverse reactions to sunlight."

"We don't market Sunsafe Rx as a sunscreen and we certainly don't tell consumers that they don't need any other protection from the sun or that they don't also need to use a topical sunscreen," the company said.

The three other companies cited by the FDA didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. 

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[State Appeals Court Reinstates California's Right-to-Die Law]]>Sat, 16 Jun 2018 04:19:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/California_s_Right-to-Die_Law_Now_in_Limbo.jpg

A state appeals court has reinstated — at least for now — California's law allowing terminally ill people to end their lives.

The Fourth District Court of Appeals in Riverside issued an immediate stay Friday putting the End of Life Option back into effect. The court also gave opponents of its decision until July 2 to file objections.

The law allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined that they have six months or less to live.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia declared the law unconstitutional last month, stating that it had been adopted illegally because lawmakers passed it during a special Legislative session called to address other matters.

Ottolia didn't address the issue of whether it's proper for people to end their lives.

Right-to-die advocates hailed Friday's action.

"This stay is a huge win for many terminally ill Californians with six months or less to live because it could take years for the courts to resolve this case," Kevin Díaz, national director of legal advocacy for Compassion & Choices, said in a statement.

"Thankfully, this ruling settles the issue for the time being, but we know we have a long fight ahead before we prevail."

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who had asked the appeals court to stay Ottolia's ruling, also praised the decision.

"This ruling provides some relief to California patients, their families, and doctors who have been living in uncertainty while facing difficult health decisions," Becerra said. "Today's court ruling is an important step to protect and defend the End of Life Option Act for our families across the state."

Patients Rights Action Fund, which opposes laws allowing people to take their lives, did not respond to a message placed after business hours Friday. In previously discussing the law, the group's executive director, Matt Valliere, said, "The people of California, especially the vulnerable, deserve protection and support, not assisted suicide."

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians were among those who sued to have the law overturned.

Their lawsuit, Ahn vs. Hestrin, claims the law violates the due process and equal protection guarantees of the U.S. and California constitutions because it fails "to make rational distinctions" between terminally ill adults "and the vast majority of Californians not covered by the act."

The suit also claims the Legislature did not have authority to pass the law during a special session limited to other issues.

Becerra argued that the law, which took effect in 2016, was legitimately passed during a special legislative session dedicated to health issues.

California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016, and made the option legal in the nation's most populous state.

Oregon was the first to provide the option in 1997. It also is allowed in Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii and Washington D.C.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

<![CDATA[Ex-Hospice Manager Pleads Guilty in $60M Fraud Scheme]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 22:28:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/20160329_210408520_iOS.jpg

A former manager of a North Texas hospice has pleaded guilty to health care fraud, admitting her role in a $60 million scheme that involved drugging patients to “hasten their deaths," according to court documents.

Jessica Love was the registered nurse case manager and regional director for Novus Health Services from 2012 until 2014. She faces up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Love is now expected to testify against Novus’ owner, Bradley Harris, and 13 others, including four nurses and five doctors who also were charged in the FBI investigation. Agents searched Novus' Frisco offices in September 2015.

Love said Harris, an accountant with no medical training, gave orders about which drugs patients should receive, how much, and when they should die.

Love detailed her role in a court document known as a factual resume. She accused Harris of personally directing patient care.

"These directions included Bradley Harris instructing nurses to intentionally over-medicate beneficiaries with medications such as hydromorphone and morphine with the intent to hasten their deaths," Love said. "Harris ordered these increases in medication because he wanted the beneficiaries to die."

Medicare and Medicaid pay more for patients who are on 24-hour "continuous care," but according to a complicated formula, hospice owners lose money if patients remain on continuous care too long.

Love explained how doctors she recruited participated in the scheme by signing blank prescription forms and falsely claiming they had seen patients face-to-face.

Love’s admission included quotes of text messages between her and another nurse who was known to "do it right" when Harris wanted a patient to die.

Love admitted her orders to the nurse included "turning off the beneficiary’s oxygen, increasing the Ativan and Morphine, and turning the beneficiary on their left side."

Love said in a text message, the technique "works like a little charm," the document said.

The patient died within five hours, according to Love’s admission.

The court document quoted the nurse texting Love: "Ya know, I was thinking, (patients) are sometimes on (continuous care) for days before I come in. And they almost always pass before my first shift ends. What does that say about me? Lol."

Love responded: "That your (sic) a great nurse," adding a symbol for a smiley face.

The court document also details how Harris and his wife Amy, who also is charged, kept blank "Do Not Resuscitate," or DNR, forms, so they wouldn’t have to pay for an ambulance if someone called 911.

Love is the second defendant in the case to plead guilty. Just last month, former Novus operations director Melanie Murphy admitted her role.

The others have pleaded not guilty. A trial in federal court in Dallas is scheduled for January. Love's sentencing date hasn't been set. 

The FBI search warrant on Novus’ offices said Harris, the owner, once texted a nurse, "You need to make this patient go bye-bye."

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News
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<![CDATA[NIH Ends Alcohol Study, Cites Funding and Credibility Issues]]>Fri, 15 Jun 2018 23:33:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061518winegeneric1.jpg

The U.S. government is shutting down a study that was supposed to show if a single drink a day could prevent heart attacks, saying ethical problems with how the research was planned and funded undermine its credibility.

The National Institutes of Health used money from the alcohol industry to help pay for a study that ultimately was expected to cost $100 million. It's legal for NIH to use industry money in addition to taxpayer dollars for research as long as certain rules are followed. The problem: An NIH investigation concluded Friday that a small number of its employees had close contact with industry officials that crossed those lines.

Some of those interactions "appear to intentionally bias" the study so that it would have a better chance of showing a benefit from moderate alcohol consumption, said NIH Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

Those employees, from the NIH's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, then kept their interactions with industry secret, he said, even after the NIH started the normal process for asking companies or other outside groups to help fund a research project.

Those actions cast "doubt that the scientific knowledge gained from the study would be actionable or believable," Tabak told a meeting of the NIH director's advisers.

Another concern: Some outside experts who had reviewed the study plans raised concerns that it was too small and too short to address the potential problems of a daily drink — such as an increased risk of cancer or heart failure — and not just potential benefits such as a lowered risk of a heart attack.

"Purely on scientific grounds, I never really quite understood why this trial was being done," Dr. M. Roy Wilson of Wayne State University told NIH Director Francis Collins after hearing the investigation's conclusions. People who have a glass or two of wine — himself included, he said — "don't do it for health reasons."

The research was supposed to track 7,800 people who were assigned to take either a drink a day, or totally abstain, for several years. Only 105 people had enrolled by last month, when Collins temporarily suspended the study after a New York Times article first raised questions about the funding policy violations.

On Friday, Collins announced he was completely shutting down the research. "This is a matter of the greatest seriousness," he said.

The study was being led by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, which said in a statement that it was "deeply committed to ensuring the scientific and ethical integrity of any research study involving our investigators" and would review NIH's findings.

Aside from how alcohol can impair behavior and judgment, scientists have long debated if drinking various amounts can truly translate into a specific health benefit. What the NIH's alcohol research agency calls "low-risk" drinking is no more than seven drinks a week for women and no more than 14 drinks a week for men.

Asked if it would be possible for NIH to try to answer some of those health questions after the financial controversy, Tabak responded: "It would not be an easy study to conduct."

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: Daniel Zuchnik/Getty Images for NYCWFF]]>
<![CDATA[Honey Smacks Cereal Recalled Over Salmonella Outbreak: FDA]]>Fri, 15 Jun 2018 12:37:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/honey+smacks+recall.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating a multi-state outbreak of infections possibly linked to Kellogg's Honey Smacks cereal, officials say. 

The sweetened puffed wheat cereal is a likely source of the Salmonella Mbandanka illness reported by 73 people in 31 states so far. There have been 24 hospitalizations and no deaths, the CDC says.

Kellogg has voluntarily recalled the Honey Smacks cereal, which was distributed across the U.S. Customers should not eat any of the recalled cereal. 

The FDA is inspecting the facility that manufactures the Honey Smacks ceral and is working with Kellogg in its investigation.

The states where the outbreak occurred are Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Read more here

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Fewer US Teens Smoking, Doing Drugs: CDC Report]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 19:23:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061418highschoolkids.jpg

Fewer U.S. teens are smoking, having sex and doing drugs these days. Oh, and they're drinking less milk, too.

Less than one-third of high school students drink a glass of milk a day, according to a large government survey released Thursday. About two decades ago, it was nearly half.

Last year's survey asked about 100 questions on a wide range of health topics, including smoking, drugs and diet. Researchers compared the results to similar questionnaires going back more than 25 years.

One trend that stood out was the drop in drinking milk, which started falling for all Americans after World War II. In recent decades, teens have shifted from milk to soda, then to Gatorade and other sports drinks and recently to energy drinks like Monster and Red Bull.

The survey showed slightly fewer kids are drinking soda and sports drinks now, compared to the last survey in 2015.

One caveat: Most students were not asked about energy drinks so how many kids drink them now isn't known. A study from a decade ago estimated that nearly a third of kids between the age of 12 and 17 were regularly drinking energy drinks.

Kids have shifted from a dairy product rich in calcium and vitamin D to beverages laden with sugar and caffeine, which is likely contributing to the nation's obesity problem, said Barry Popkin, a University of North Carolina researcher who studies how diets change.

"This is not a healthy trend for our long-term health," he said.

For teens, the government recommends 3 cups daily of dairy products — milk, yogurt or cheese.

The survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conducted every two years. About 15,000 students at 144 high schools were surveyed last year. The surveys are anonymous and voluntary, and there's no check of medical records or other documents to verify answers.

Some of the findings:

— Not as many teen are having sex, although there wasn't much change from the 2015 survey results. Last year, about 40 percent said they'd ever had sex, down from 48 percent a decade ago.

— There was no substantial recent change for cigarette smoking, either. About 9 percent are current smokers, down from more than 27 percent when the survey started in 1991. Ditto alcohol, with 30 percent saying they currently use alcohol, down from 51 percent in 1991.

— Marijuana use seems to hovering, with about 36 percent of students saying they had ever tried it. But overall, illegal drug use seems to be falling, including for synthetic marijuana, ecstasy, heroin, inhalants, and LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs. For the first time, the survey asked if they had ever abused prescription opioid medications. About 14 percent did.

— Another first-time question: Have you had a concussion from a sport or physical activity at least once in the previous year? Nationally, 15 percent said they had. The finding may sound high but it's not far off from what's been reported by some other researchers, said Michael Collins, who runs a University of Pittsburgh-affiliated sports concussion program.


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: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[High Vitamin D Level Might Decrease Colon Cancer Risk: Study]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 23:50:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/061418sunset.jpg

A higher vitamin D level might decrease the risk of developing colon cancer, particularly for women, according to new American Cancer Society research.

NBC News reported that colon cancer, the third-most common form of cancer in men and women, was more likely to be found among people with lower levels of vitamin D than recommended. The study focused on 12,000 people in the U.S., Asia and Europe.

“Participants who had vitamin D levels that were higher than the recommended levels had a statistically significant 22 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer,” said Marjorie McCullough, senior scientific director at the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Zhaoping Li, director at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, said she recommends taking at least 1,000 international units of vitamin D every day. Exposure to sunlight also helps the body produce vitamin D. 

Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[US Renews Call for Cuba to Probe Cause of Health 'Attacks']]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 20:53:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/USEmbassyCuba.jpg

The United States on Thursday renewed calls for the Cuban government to determine the source of health "attacks" on U.S. diplomats in Cuba that have affected some two dozen people. Cuba again denied any involvement or knowledge of any such attacks.

At a senior-level meeting with Cuban officials in Washington, the State Department said it had again raised the issue, which has prompted a significant reduction in staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Havana. It reiterated "the urgent need to identify the source of the attacks on U.S. diplomats and to ensure they cease."

"We also reiterated that until it is sufficiently safe to fully staff our embassy, we will not be able to provide regular visa services in Havana," the department said in a statement.

Cuba has denied any knowledge of the source or cause of the incidents that have sickened at least 24 diplomats since late 2016, leaving some with brain damage. Two other diplomats suffering similar symptoms in Cuba were sent to medical specialists at the University of Pennsylvania for evaluation, U.S. officials disclosed last week.

Cuba says it has been informed of only one other American that has been evacuated and that it was informed on May 29th that the incident had occurred two days earlier.

Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, the top Cuban official at the talks on Thursday, told The Associated Press that his delegation had objected to the U.S. description of what had happened to the Americans as "attacks." He noted that neither American nor Cuban experts had been able to determine what caused the symptoms. He renewed concerns that the Trump administration is using the incidents as an excuse to roll back U.S.-Cuba rapprochement started under the Obama administration.

"We challenged them on the use of the word 'attack,'" he said in an interview. "There is no evidence of a weapon, there is no evidence of a source, nobody can point to motivation and yet they continue to use the word 'attack.' We see it as politically motivated."

In a statement, the Cuban foreign ministry said it urged the U.S. government "to desist from the continued political manipulation of the alleged health cases." Its delegation also demanded the lifting of what it described as an "arbitrary" travel warning which it said hinders scientific, academic, cultural, religious and entrepreneurial exchanges, and visits by Americans.

The potential new cases in Cuba have come as the U.S. has begun issuing health alerts to Americans in China after a worker at the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou reported symptoms and strange sounds and was flown to the U.S. That worker was then medically confirmed to have "suffered a medical incident consistent with what other U.S. government personnel experienced in Havana, Cuba," the department has said.

The confirmed Cuba patients have been found to have a range of symptoms and diagnoses including mild traumatic brain injury, also known as concussions. Unexplained sounds and vibrations that accompanied the symptoms initially led investigators to suspect a sonic weapon, though an interim FBI report in January said no evidence had been uncovered that sound waves could have damaged the Americans' health, the AP has reported.

The department also voiced concern Thursday about the "arbitrary detention of independent journalists and human rights defenders" in Cuba.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]]>
<![CDATA[Demand for Blood Drops, But Need for Donors Remains]]>Thu, 14 Jun 2018 07:46:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Blood-donationGettyImages-548001551.jpg

The American Red Cross, America’s Blood Centers and similar agencies are not shy about getting the word out for blood donors — their ads are everywhere,  and workers are constantly visiting high schools and college campuses to hold blood drives.

But despite their persistence, the number of donors is dwindling.

The number of blood donors for the American Red Cross has dropped by a little more than 1 million since 2009, and the organization — along with others — has issued pleas for people to turn out to give blood. The agency points out that just 3 percent of the United States’ population donates blood.

"Every day thousands of patients across the United States rely on generous blood donors for critical blood transfusions," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross, in a recent press release, announcing an initiative to encourage people to donate. "However, we have seen a troubling decline in the number of new blood donors. We urge the public to roll up a sleeve and fill the missing types before these lifesaving letters go missing from hospital shelves."

According to America’s Blood Centers, 40,000 pints of blood are needed per day. But while that number may seem high, the demand for blood has actually dropped in recent years. The fall in demand came about thanks to a number of technological and medicinal advancements in recent years that have helped doctors to improve the utilization of blood products in patient care — especially when it comes to transfusions. 

Despite a drop in demand, blood collection centers are still desperate for donors, and experts say people shouldn't be fooled: blood donations are still critical to the health industry, and there is still immense need for more donors. 

“What interests me about blood donation is that there’s been a lot of changes over the last 10 years that have affected both the supply and the demand,” said Dr. Eric Gehrie, an assistant professor of Pathology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

For instance, studies done in recent years have shown that patients who have been treated with a more conservative transfusion policy versus those who have been treated with a more liberal transfusion policy have done either the same or better with a more conservative policy, Gehrie said. 

And because of medical advancements, doctors are also able to better guage nowadays whether a patient needs a transfusion, he added. Rather than transfusing someone, doctors may, for example, give them medication that can help them. 

Gehrie pointed to the Hippocratic Oath that doctors live by in his explanation of the ways in which doctors have shifted from blood transfusions to other methods of care. 

"If there's something that we can do less of, like transfusion, that will actually improve people's outcomes or not expose them to a blood donor if they don’t need to be exposed, and we can simplify care by doing it — we're very motivated to do that," he said. 

Nevertheless, he said, blood donations are crucial. And even with alternative forms of care driving down the demand for blood, there is still a desperate need for it. 

The American Red Cross’ annual reports show that blood donations began to fall after 2009. And according to Chris Hrouda, president of blood services for the American Red Cross, 2009 was when the organization hit a peak number of transfusions, the “most we’ve transfused ever,” he said.

Since then, yearly blood donors have dropped steadily from 3.8 million people in 2009 to 2.7 million people in 2017, which is the most recent data the organization has released.

“Hospitals have invested a lot in technology,” Hrouda said in a recent phone interview. "Everything from robotic surgeries to better IT systems…around patient outcomes for various things in the health care system, including transfusions.”

It’s a welcome advancement by those in the medical field, but it hasn’t come without drawbacks. 

Hrouda said it may be hard for people to understand, since demand has decreased, but there is still an absolute need for blood, which means there’s an absolute need for donors.

“We’ve continued to reduce our collections to manage with demand declines,” he said, adding that because of the decreased demand, people have the perception that they don’t need to donate as frequently.

But they do.

As recently as last summer, the Red Cross issued a plea for blood donors, citing a “critical blood shortage” which was due, in part, to the season — blood donations tend to fall during the summer.

“The decline in summer donations is causing a significant draw-down of our overall blood supply, and we urgently need people to give now to restock hospital shelves and help save lives,” said Shaun Gilmore, president, Red Cross Biomedical Services said in the July 2017 press release. “Every day, patients recovering from accidents or those receiving treatments for cancer or blood disorders rely on lifesaving blood products regardless of the season.”

Every two years, the Department of Health and Human Services conducts a study into blood collection and use in the United States. The most recent report, published in September 2016, shows data from the year 2013 that represents a 4.4 percent decline in the number of blood units transfused as compared to 2011.

The study also confirms what blood collection agencies have said: both blood collection and use fell.

“The gap between collection and utilization is narrowing,” the study says. “As collections decline further and hospitals decrease transfusions and manage products more efficiently, the decline in surplus inventory may be a concern for disaster preparedness or other unexpected utilization needs.”

This year, the Red Cross is working to target this issue in an effort to avoid running into the same problem.

Earlier this week, the organization launched an initiative called the “Missing Types Campaign,” meant to “ illustrate the need for new blood donors to ensure lifesaving blood is available for patients,” according a press release from the organization.

To promote the campaign, the letters A, B and O — which are the main blood types — will be taken out of corporate logos, brands, social media pages and websites, in an effort to show the vital role of blood donors.

Also on Monday, the New York Blood Center declared a “blood emergency” in the New York area, calling on people to donate.

“We’re calling on everyone to do what they can to spread the word, host a blood drive or simply take an hour out of their day to donate,” said Andrea Cefarelli, Senior Executive Director of Donor Recruitment for New York Blood Center, in a press release.

The push for donors aligns with World Blood Donor Day, celebrated on June 14. Spearheaded by the World Health Organization, it’s a day meant to both honor blood donors for their efforts, and to raise awareness about the necessity of blood donations.

But even as collection agencies make their pleas for donors heard, experts can’t point to a singular reason for the drop in donors; they say it can be attributed to a number of factors.

One possible reason is tighter guidelines on who can donate blood, which adds to the elimination of a number of donors, Hrouda said. One example of this, he said, is testing hemoglobin in donors.

Hemoglobin is a protein that has iron and carries oxygen to tissues in someone’s body, according to the Red Cross. If the levels in those results for males are too low, they’re deferred for six months, while females are deferred for one year.

“We are decreasing eligibility,” he acknowledged.

Gehrie, who also serves as the medical director of the blood bank at Johns Hopkins, said the safety of the blood supply is another key issue that can affect who donates.

“Part of keeping the blood supply safe is making sure that the only people who go to donate blood are people who feel good and healthy, and choose on their own to donate blood,” he said.

And while donation centers want to encourage as many people as possible to donate, they don’t want people to feel pressured to donate, he said, because the reality is that they need donors who are healthy and meet the standards required to donate.

Dr. Timothy Hilbert, director of NYU Langone’s Blood Bank, also noted the change in criteria as one possible reason, and raised the issue of consistent donors beginning to age out.

“It’s always easier to collect blood from a donor you have established a relationship with,” he said.

Hilbert, who is also an assistant professor of pathology at NYU, added that there seems to be fewer opportunities for people to donate blood, as some donor centers have closed down. Many hospitals, for example, used to house their own blood donor centers, he said, but several have been shuttered.

“On the whole, people have fewer opportunities to donate than they did years ago,” he said.

Another reason for the drop could be generational, experts speculate. But there’s no way to tell for sure.

“People of a certain generation, in their mind, donating blood was sort of a civic responsibility that they would do…it was viewed as a positive thing to do,” Gehrie said. “Whereas now, I think people are aware that it’s a little more complicated than that.”

Hrouda echoed that sentiment, saying that the “greatest generation” — the World War II generation — has been a very strong donor base for the Red Cross. But there isn’t strong data to tell whether blood donation falling is truly a generational issue or not.

One thing that is for sure, though, is that blood donation centers are working to appeal to younger generations. Both Hilbert and Hrouda pointed to marketing as a key component of driving donors to collection centers.

“All of these collection agencies have tried to create a social media presence,” Hilbert said, adding that they are “aware that the way people relate to their communities has changed and they’re trying to keep up with that.”

“People will say donor centers aren’t doing enough, but I believe they are,” Gehrie said. “I do think that they are really trying.”

Hrouda acknowledged that the Red Cross is working to keep up with the way younger generations through social media and other creative campaigns.

“There is still a constant need for blood and I wouldn’t want anybody to walk away from this story thinking they don’t need to donate blood anymore,” Gehrie added. “Because we need it.”

Photo Credit: Thomas Fredberg/Science Photo Library/Getty Images, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Bacteria in Kitchen Towels May Lead to Food Poisoning: Study]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 15:12:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Kitchen_Towels_Likely_Packed_with_Bacteria.jpg

A new study suggests kitchen towels may be breeding grounds for bacteria that can lead to food poisoning.

Researchers from the University of Mauritius, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, performed tests on 100 cloth towels they collected from participants after one month of use.

Forty-nine of the samples came back positive for bacterial growth, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus.

Benjamin Haynes, a spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, did not comment on the study. But he said the bacteria can cause food poisoning when people eat contaminated food. 

"E. coli spreads when you swallow something that has poop on it, such as contaminated food," he said in a written statement. "Staph can be found on healthy people but can contaminate food if they don’t wash their hands before touching it."

The study found bacterial contamination is more common in multi-use and damp towels. Using a participant questionnaire, researchers discovered certain lifestyle factors also increased the type and amount of bacteria present in the towels. 

“Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen,” said Dr. Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, lead author of the study.

There were also higher rates of Staphylococcus aureus in towels used by low-income families. Both Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were significantly more prevalent among non-vegetarian families.

“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a statement

Haynes recommended the public follow standard food safety protocol to avoid the spread of food-borne illness.

"People should make sure to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water before handling and preparing food, avoid preparing food if you are sick, and keep raw food separate from ready-to-eat food," he said. "It’s also important to cook foods to the appropriate temperature and refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours."

Undergraduates used “standard biochemical tests" on the towels and published the preliminary findings in an abstract they presented last week to the American Society for Microbiology’s annual conference.

A new study suggests contaminated kitchen towels could lead to food poisoning.


Researchers from the University of Mauritius, an island nation off the southeastern coast of Africa, performed tests on 100 cloth towels they collected from participants after one month of use.


Forty-nine of the samples came back positive for bacterial growth, including Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus, the pathogen that causes Staph infection. Esherichia coli or E.coli exists naturally in the intestine and in human waste, according to Mayo Clinic, but some strains may induce cramping, diarrhea and vomiting when ingested through accidental contamination.


The research indicates that contamination is more common among multiuse and humid towels. Researchers also used a participant questionnaire to link certain lifestyle factors, with the type and amount of bacteria present in each of the samples.


“Bigger families with children and elderly members should be especially vigilant to hygiene in the kitchen,” said Dr. Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, lead author of the study.


There were higher rates of Staphylococcus aureus in towels used by low-income families. Both Escherichia coli and Staphylococcus aureus were significantly more prevalent among non-vegetarian families.


“The data indicated that unhygienic practices while handling non-vegetarian food could be common in the kitchen,” Biranjia-Hurdoyal said in a statement. “The presence of potential pathogens from the kitchen towels indicates that they could be responsible for cross-contamination in the kitchen and could lead to food poisoning.”


Undergraduates used “standard biochemical tests,” and published the preliminary findings in an abstract they presented last week to the American Society for Microbiology’s annual conference.





<![CDATA[Massachusetts Sues Opioid Maker, Executives Over Drug Crisis]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 19:31:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Healey+612.JPG

Massachusetts has sued the maker of OxyContin over the deadly opioid crisis and has become the first state to also target the company's executives.

Attorney General Maura Healey on Tuesday announced the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and 16 current and former executives and board members, including CEO Craig Landau and members of the Sackler family, which owns the company.

The suit alleges Purdue misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioids and "peddled falsehoods" to sell more drugs and boost profits.

"I promised to find out what these companies knew and when they knew it and the extent to which they misled patients into think their drugs were actually safe," Healey said. "We found that Purdue misled doctors, patients and the public about their dangerous opioids, including OxyContin."

Healey said the Connecticut-based company's "illegal business model" has left a "path of devastation and destruction."

Multiple states have filed lawsuits against Purdue Pharma for their alleged part in fueling the opioid crisis, but Massachusetts is the first state to name the company's executives personally in their lawsuit. 

According to Healey, the investigation showed Purdue Pharma engaged in a multibillion dollar enterprise marketing opioids under the oversight and direction of 16 current and former executives and directors named in the complaint.

"Their strategy was simple. The more drugs they sold, the more money they made, and the more people died," Healey said.

In the past decade, over 670 people in Massachusetts who were prescribed Purdue Pharma opioids have died, according to Healey.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker said the lawsuit and identifying those people who died will force Purdue Pharma to "own up to the decisions they made and the wreckage they left behind."

Purdue Pharma issued the following statement in response to the Massachusetts lawsuit.

“We share the Attorney General’s concern about the opioid crisis. We are disappointed, however, that in the midst of good faith negotiations with many states, the Commonwealth has decided to pursue a costly and protracted litigation process," the statement said. "We will continue to work collaboratively with the states toward bringing meaningful solutions. We vigorously deny the Commonwealth’s allegations and look forward to presenting our substantial defenses to these claims.”

Last month, the state Department of Public Health said deaths related to opioid overdoses in Massachusetts were on the decline.

For all of 2017, the state reported 2,016 confirmed or estimated deaths, 133 fewer than in all of 2016. The report pointed to an ongoing decline in prescriptions written by doctors for opioid-based medications.

Baker said those numbers reflect the success of a prescription monitoring program implemented by the state.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC Boston]]>
<![CDATA[Mayors of 7 US Cities Where Marijuana Is Legal Form Group]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 11:16:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Weeeed.jpg

Mayors from seven U.S. cities in states with legal marijuana said Monday they have formed a coalition to push for federal marijuana policy reform just days after President Donald Trump expressed support for bipartisan congressional legislation to ease the federal ban on pot.

Mayors from Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and West Sacramento — all in marijuana-friendly states — sponsored a resolution at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Boston that asked the U.S. government to remove cannabis from a list of illegal drugs, among other things.

It was approved unanimously by the broader gathering Monday, Larry Jones said, a spokesman for the conference.

Mayors from Oakland, California and Thornton, Colorado weren't sponsors but pledged to advocate for federal reforms.

"As mayors of cities that have successfully implemented and managed this new industry, we have hands-on experience that can help Congress take the right steps to support other local governments as they prepare to enter this new frontier," said Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock, who led the coalition. "We all face common challenges."

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said marijuana businesses employ thousands of people and generate millions of dollars in Oregon.

"Cannabis prohibition has failed. It has failed to keep our children safe, it has failed law enforcement, and it has especially failed communities of color disproportionately targeted and prosecuted for low-level drug offenses," he said in an email Monday.

"Eventually, legalization will come to every state — and we want to make sure it's done so safely and effectively."

The resolution comes after Trump said he would "probably" back a bipartisan congressional effort to ease a U.S. ban on the drug that about 30 states have legalized in some form. The bill supported by both parties was introduced June 7 and would dramatically reshape the nation's legal landscape for pot users and businesses.

The federal ban that puts marijuana on the same level as LSD and heroin has created a conflict with states that have legalized pot in some form, creating a two-tiered enforcement system at the state and federal levels.

The legislation with four sponsors, including Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, would ensure states have the right to determine the best approach to marijuana within their borders. Some U.S. restrictions would remain, however, including sales of non-medical pot to people under 21.

"I support Senator Gardner. I know exactly what he's doing," Trump told reporters in Washington, D.C., on Friday, when asked about the legislation. "We're looking at it. But I probably will end up supporting that, yes."

The mayors' resolution adopted Monday asks Congress, among other things, to:

  • remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act
  •  allow employers in the marijuana industry to take tax deductions similar to those allowed in other businesses
  • provide guidance to financial institutions that provide banking to cannabis businesses
  • extend legal access to medical marijuana for U.S. veterans

The resolution's approval means that the U.S. Conference of Mayors as an organization will now create federal policy recommendations to submit to Congress starting next year.

CORRECTION (June 12, 2018, 8:16 a.m. PT): An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect number of mayors who formed a coalition to push for federal marijuana policy reform. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Don Ryan/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[NYC, Accused of Neglect, to Spend $2B on Public Housing]]>Mon, 11 Jun 2018 20:09:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nycha+lead.jpg

New York City will likely pay $2 billion to settle claims that the nation's largest public housing agency has too often left tenants to contend with lead paint, malfunctioning elevators and rats.

The city agreed in a consent decree in Manhattan federal court to pay $1 billion over four years and $200 million annually until problems are overcome. The deal also calls for the appointment of a monitor to oversee the city-run public housing authority during the 10-year span of the agreement.

“NYCHA fails to provide “decent, safe, and sanitary” housing because of systemic lead-paint violations, pervasive mold, widespread lack of heat in winter, infestations of rats, mice, and roaches, and chronic elevator outages in high-rise buildings,” according to the U.S. Attorney's Office complaint against NYCHA.

The news comes more than six months after the first scandal erupted that NYCHA has failed to conduct mandatory led paint inspections.

The consent decree says the New York City Housing Authority admits wrongdoings including not complying with lead regulations or telling the U.S. Housing and Urban Development about children with elevated levels of lead in their blood.

The NYCHA also admits to underreporting cases of mold, having hundreds of thousands of insufficient heating complaints, malfunctioning elevators, pest infestations, a backlog of work orders and providing staff with "quick fix tips" to improve HUD inspection scores. According to the decree, some of these tips included replacing damaged ceiling tiles with "painted cardboard."

“The problems at NYCHA reflect management dysfunction and organizational failure, including a culture where spin is often rewarded and accountability often does not exist,” the U.S. Attorney's Office complaint says.

The settlement calls for federal monitoring to oversee the fixes and that there will be money allocated to resolve these issues, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a Monday press conference, adding that the NYCHA's actions have put families at risk.

In a seperate press conference Monday afternoon, Mayor Bill de Blasio said when he heard that NYCHA workers were trying to trick HUD inspectors, he felt sick to his stomach.

As a result of the settlement, NYCHA will now have to create three new departments: one for compliance, one for environmental health and safety, and one for quality assurance.

According to Berman, the issues are not a result of federal funding, but of NYCHA mismanagement.

However, de Blasio contended that mismanagement is the issue, but rather the lack of funding is to blame.

Though the U.S. Attorney's Office agrees not to seek criminal charges against NYCHA, Berman said there is a chance that individuals could be prosecuted.

Paul Compton, the general counsel at the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that the agreement between NYCHA and the state of New York is the first of its kind for HUD.

The agency's operating budget is $2.3 billion for public housing where nearly 400,000 low- and moderate-income residents live.

Tenants pay an average of $522 a month in rent, with the U.S. Housing and Urban Development subsidizing the rest.

While Blasio blamed the issues on previous administrations, he also acknowledged the federal investigation found rampant misconduct in the past five years as well.

"We can't hold ourselves blameless either," he said.

In an initial statment following the settlement, de Blasio said that “decades of divestment by the federal and state governments and decades of neglect by New York City government have pushed our public housing system to the brink," adding that “by further acknowledging and providing solutions to a decades-old pattern of mismanagement, divestment and neglect, I am confident this settlement will be a turning point for our public housing system."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Red Cross Launches #MissingTypes Campaign to Recruit Donors]]>Tue, 12 Jun 2018 09:49:36 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Red+Cross+blood+donation+0718.jpg

The Red Cross is in need of blood donations and has launched a new campaign to attract the attention of donors. 

As part of the campaign dubbed Missing Types, the letters A, B, and O — symbols of the main blood groups — will disappear from corporate logos, brands, social media pages and websites to illustrate the critical role every blood donor plays.

"Every day thousands of patients across the United States rely on generous blood donors for critical blood transfusions," said Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross. "However, we have seen a troubling decline in the number of new blood donors. We urge the public to roll up a sleeve and fill the missing types before these lifesaving letters go missing from hospital shelves."

In fact, over the past four years, the Red Cross has seen the number of new donors decline by about 80,000 a year. With only 38 percent of the population eligible to give blood, and just 10 percent of those actually giving blood yearly, that's only 3 percent of the population, NBC News reported. 

U.S. health officials say they need to collect more than 13 million blood units annually to meet the needs of patients. The Red Cross provides around 40 percent of that total.

According to the America's Blood Centers, a network of non-profit community blood centers, U.S. hospitals need 40,000 pints of blood daily for accident victims, cancer patients, those undergoing surgeries and people treated for inherited blood disorders. All blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.  

A recent Red Cross survey found a disconnect between the public's perception of blood donations and the realities of patient transfusion needs. Nearly 75 of those surveyed underestimated how frequently blood transfusions occur and more than one third of never considered that blood may not be available when they or a loved one need it. 

That's what happened when 12-year-old Tymia McCullough, who is battling sickle cell disease, arrived at a South Carolina hospital last year for a blood transfusion — her blood type was not available.  

"It was the scariest, most frightening moment of a mother’s life, because I thought that she would not be able to get it," McCullough's mother, Susie Pitts, told the Red Cross. "In that moment, in that experience, I was very afraid. I was scared for my daughter’s life — what was going to happen if she didn’t get the blood she needed?"

With no widely used cure, McCullough relies on regular blood transfusions to treat her sickle cell disease, an inherited disease that causes red blood cells to form an abnormal crescent shape. 

After eight hours, the hospital was able to get the needed blood supply for McCullough's transfusion. 

"Blood shortages are not uncommon in the United States and can only be prevented when more people roll up a sleeve to give," the Red Cross said in a news release. 

The Red Cross campaign comes ahead of World Blood Donor Day on Thursday, June 1. Among the companies joining the #MissingTypes campaign are Adobe, Anheuser-Busch, Google, PayPal, Mastercard and Oreo. Celebrities are also bringing attention to the need of blood donors, tweeting their names with the missing letters.

To learn more about how to donate blood or to find a drive near you visit www.redcross.org/give-blood.

Photo Credit: Jody Lane/American Red Cross
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<![CDATA[Tyson Foods Inc. Recalls Frozen Chicken Products]]>Sun, 10 Jun 2018 12:26:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Tyson-Foods-generic.jpg

Tyson Foods Inc. - one of the nation's top chicken and beef processors - is recalling more than 3,000 pounds of frozen breaded chicken products that may be contaminated, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced on Friday.

The frozen, uncooked and breaded chicken tenderloins being recalled, which may be contaminated with blue and clear soft plastics, were produced on May 17, 2018. The affected products include 12-pound boxes of 3-pound plastic bags of tenderloins, with the lot code 1378NLR02.

There have been no confirmed reports of adverse reactions from eating the chicken, the USDA said.

Those concerned about an injury or illness are encouraged to contact a healthcare provider. The affected products should be thrown away.

The USDA is also "concerned that some product may be frozen and in freezers at food service institutions and could be served." the agency urged companies that have purchased the affected products not to serve them. 

CORRECTION (June 9, 2018, 9:30 a.m.): A previous version of this story reported a recall from June 2017. The story has been updated to reflect the June 2018 recall.

Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Season Was One of the Deadliest for US Children]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 14:59:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18040559764205.jpg

The past flu season was the deadliest for U.S. children in nearly a decade, health officials said Friday.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said they had received reports of 172 pediatric flu deaths since October. That surpasses the 2012-2013 flu season, when there were 171. An average season sees about 110.

There were more deaths in 2009-2010, but that was when a rare flu pandemic occurred involving a new strain. More than 300 children died that season.

Besides that pandemic year, this past winter had the most pediatric flu deaths since the CDC started counting them in 2004.

The past flu season wasn't a pandemic, but it was long — 19 weeks. It also was unusually intense, with high levels of illness reported in nearly every state for weeks on end.

The season peaked in early February. It was mostly over by the end of March, although some flu continued to circulate. The most recent pediatric death occurred in late May.

The season 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.

Making a bad year worse, the flu vaccine didn't work very well.

Flu vaccinations are recommended annually for all Americans who are 6 months old or older.

Some of the children who died this past year were too young for the shots. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has vaccination information on only about 140 of the children who died who were old enough to be vaccinated. Of those, only about 1 in 5 received the vaccine before they became ill, CDC officials said.

About half the children who died were previously healthy — they didn't have a diagnosed health condition that might have made them more vulnerable to the flu, the CDC said.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness, spread by a virus. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications.

The CDC doesn't keep an exact count of adult flu-related deaths, but it has estimated there were 12,000 to 56,000 in recent seasons.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman,File]]>
<![CDATA[How Can You Help Someone Struggling? Ask, Listen, Call]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:46:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-894377512.jpg

Amid the recent reporting on suicides, including the deaths of TV host Anthony Bourdain and fashion designer Kate Spade, people are wondering how to help a friend who might be in crisis.

People who have survived their own suicide attempts say there are things others can do to help a person who might be at risk: ask and listen. And one psychiatrist adds that it's OK to talk to someone if they're having suicidal thoughts and the conversation won't magnify the idea, NBC News reported.

But one survivor and activist advises not to offer advice or try to cheer people up, because she says those who are struggling can't see the bigger picture being painted.

Also, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) not only offers instant access to help for people who are struggling with thoughts of dying, but it also offers help for people who care about them. If you are looking for help or are worried about someone else, call the hotline.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Texas Officer Sits in Hot Car for 45 Minutes to Teach a Lesson]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 06:17:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Policeofficerpic.jpg

A North Texas police officer took on the Texas heat to show others just how dangerous it can be.

Hickory Creek Police Officer Lane sat in a hot car for 45 minutes as an example of how quickly temperatures inside a vehicle can turn deadly, KRLD reported.

A fellow officer documented the experience on Facebook Live. Lane said his vision was wobbly and he had a headache by the end of it.

"I'm seeing colors," he said on the video. "I feel like I'm about to black out."

The police department hopes the video will show people how serious extreme heat can be for anyone.

Two children have died this year so far in Texas. Both were less than a year old.

Noheatstroke.org has safety recommendations for parents:

  • Never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, not even for a minute.

  • Be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Don't overlook sleeping babies.

  • Always lock your car and ensure children do not have access to keys or remote entry devices. Teach children that vehicles are never to be used as a play area.

  • If a child is missing, always check the pool first, then the car, including the trunk.

  • Keep a stuffed animal in the carseat and when the child is put in the seat, place the animal in the front with the driver. Or place your purse, briefcase or cell phone in the backseat as a reminder that you have your child in the car.

  • Make "look before you leave" a routine whenever you get out of the car.

  • Have a plan that your childcare provider will call you if your child does not show up for school.

Photo Credit: Hickory Creek Police Department
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<![CDATA[Vaping Essays: E-Cigarette Sellers Offering Scholarships]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 13:18:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18157694248408.jpg

A growing number of e-cigarette and vaporizer sellers have started offering college scholarships as a way to get their brands listed on university websites and to get students to write essays about the potential benefits of vaping.

The tactic is taken from a method that was once believed to improve a site's ranking in search results, and it has successfully landed vaping brands on the sites of some of the nation's best-known universities, including Harvard. It also has drawn criticism that the scholarships are a thinly disguised ploy to attract young customers.

The scholarships, ranging from $250 to $5,000, mostly involve essay contests that ask students to write about the dangers of tobacco or whether vaping could be a safer alternative. At least one company asks applicants to write about different types of e-cigarettes and which one they recommend. Some seek papers in support of medical marijuana.

Over the past two years, the grants have been posted online by e-cigarette retailers and review websites such as Slick Vapes, SmokeTastic and DaVinci Vaporizer.

Robert Pagano, owner of the Las Vegas-based review site Vapor Vanity, said he was offering new scholarships of up to $1,500 this year. He acknowledged it's partly a marketing tool, but he also says many in the industry are former smokers and want to help teens avoid tobacco.

"It's a little bit of being genuine, a little bit of self-interest," said Pagano, whose company does not sell vaping products. "This is probably the best way to get people to actually focus on the issues that we're trying to write about."

Days after Pagano was interviewed by The Associated Press, the scholarships were removed from his site without explanation. He did not return calls or emails seeking further comment.

The grants have emerged as high schools struggle to rein in booming teen use of the devices, sometimes threatening students with suspensions or installing alarms that can detect the devices' discreet vapor. Federal agencies have attempted to crack down on underage sales and are investigating marketing efforts by the brand Juul, which has become especially popular among teens.

Although some of the scholarships are limited to students 18 and older — the nation's legal age to buy vaping products — many are open to younger teens or have no age limit.

Most companies behind the essay contests did not return calls or declined interview requests. But the American Vaping Association trade group defended the practice, saying it allows companies to boost their brand while offering college students a helping hand.

The head of the association, Gregory Conley, compared it with scholarship programs that have long been offered by alcohol makers like Anheuser-Busch, which distributes tens of thousands of dollars each year for minority students.

Some anti-tobacco groups were unaware of the scholarships until asked about them by the AP, but they sharply criticized efforts to get teens writing in favor of vaping.

"They're trying to use youth as their marketing surrogates," said Gregg Haifley, director of federal relations for the American Cancer Society's lobbying arm in Washington. "They can gussy it up any way they want, try to put lipstick on that pig, but this is about marketing."

Opponents say the scholarships could test federal rules forbidding tobacco and e-cigarette companies from marketing to minors. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees regulation of e-cigarettes, declined to comment on the issue but said in a statement that businesses "have an obligation to act responsibly to protect youth from the dangers of these products."

Most medical experts agree that vaping is safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, but little is known about its long-term health effects.

Manufacturers often say vaping products are meant only for adults trying to quit smoking, and some of the essay contests note that they aren't meant to promote vaping. But some anti-tobacco groups say there's no other reason the companies would reach out to young people.

"Most of these kids are not smokers," said Robin Koval, president of the Truth Initiative, a Washington-based nonprofit that opposes the tobacco and vaping industries. "What they're saying and what they're doing don't seem to agree here. But that's not surprising."

It's unclear how many — if any — of the scholarships have been awarded. Several websites promise to publicize winners and their essays, but it doesn't appear any have done so. None of the 15 companies contacted by the AP would disclose winners, and only one agreed to an interview.

Marketing experts say the vaping industry isn't the first to use college scholarships as a form of cheap advertising. The internet is teeming with similar offers from websites that sell weight-loss pills and protein powders, as well as payday lenders and companies that pay cash for gold.

The tactic was created years ago, at a time when websites thought getting their link on a college or government site would boost their rankings in Google search results. Some created scholarships purely to get their links on university financial-aid pages.

"This is almost a backdoor way to get your name on a university website, and from the point of view of the student, it would look like the university is supporting this effort," said Ron Berman, who teaches marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's business school.

The tactic worked. Vaping scholarships have ended up on financial-aid directories compiled by Harvard, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Pittsburgh and others, including institutions that have taken a stance against e-cigarettes.

Harvard and California State University at Long Beach immediately removed the listings after being asked about them by the AP, saying they had been posted inadvertently.

"We're not interested in being a platform for tobacco or vaping," said Jeff Bliss, a spokesman for CSU Long Beach.

Some marketing firms advise against the strategy, calling it outdated. Google has updated its algorithm to defeat similar tactics, and it penalizes sites that try to manipulate search rankings.

Wil Reynolds, founder of the Philadelphia-based marketing agency Seer Interactive, said his company employed the strategy years ago for clients connected to the education world, but he abandoned it after other industries started exploiting it.

"It is a shady practice when you really can't back it up with a legitimate reason," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Frank Franklin II/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Live Poultry Sickens 124]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 12:07:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-659477980.jpg

A salmonella outbreak linked to live poultry has sickened people in 36 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Friday.

The outbreak is linked to people's contact with live poultry in backyard flocks, according to the CDC. As of June 1, a total of 124 people have been infected.

The illnesses began between February and May, and 21 people were hospitalized. The CDC said no deaths have been reported.

California, Massachusettes, Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia are among the states where cases have been found.

"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.

"People reported obtaining chicks and ducklings from several sources," the CDC said, "including feed supply stores, websites, hatcheries, and from relatives."

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 5 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[Suicide Rates Rose by Nearly 30 Percent Since 1999]]>Fri, 08 Jun 2018 11:27:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/Screen+Shot+2018-06-08+at+11.22.15+AM.png
The death of designer Kate Spade was just the latest in a disturbing trend - a nearly 30-percent rise in suicides since 1999 in a newly released report from the CDC. Only about half of those people had a diagnosed mental health condition. Many who died by suicide had been struggling with substance abuse, finances, stable housing or personal relationships.
<![CDATA[Justice Department Says Heart of Health Law Unconstitutional]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 23:36:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/healthcare-dot-gov1.jpg

The Trump administration said in a court filing late Thursday that it will no longer defend key parts of the Affordable Care Act, including the requirement that people have health insurance and provisions that guarantee access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions.

The decision, announced in a filing in a federal court in Texas, is a rare departure from the Justice Department's practice of defending federal laws in court. Texas and other Republican-led states are suing to strike down the entire law because Congress recently repealed a provision that people without health insurance must pay a fine. The repeal takes effect next year.

Texas says that without the fine in place the requirement to have health insurance is unconstitutional and that the entire law should be struck down as a result.

The administration said it agrees with Texas that the so-called individual mandate will be unconstitutional without the fine. It also said that provisions shielding people with medical conditions from being denied coverage or charged higher premiums and limiting how much insurers can charge older Americans should fall as well.

But it said the rest of the law, including Medicaid expansion, can remain in place.

In many ways, the lawsuit, filed in February, is a replay of the politically divided litigation that ended with the Supreme Court upholding the health care overhaul in 2012. In the new suit, California is leading a group of Democrat-led states in defending the law.

The major difference is that the Justice Department under President Donald Trump has largely switched sides.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a letter to Congress on Thursday that Trump, who campaigned on repealing the law and nearly did so his first year in office, approved the legal strategy.

Donald Verrilli Jr., President Barack Obama's top Supreme Court lawyer who defended the law, called the decision "a sad moment."

"I find it impossible to believe that the many talented lawyers at the department could not come up with any arguments to defend the ACA's insurance market reforms, which have made such a difference to millions of Americans," Verrilli said.

Shortly before the government's court filing, three career lawyers at the Justice Department withdrew from the case and were replaced by two political appointees, according to court filings.

Timothy Jost, law professor emeritus at Washington and Lee University in Virginia said the Trump administration is trying to persuade the court to do what it was unable to achieve in Congress last year — essentially, repeal key parts of the Obama health law.

Jost said it's telling that three career Justice Department lawyers refused to support the administration's position.

"It's just one more part of the story of trying to politicize the Justice Department," said Jost, a supporter of the health law.

Despite the Justice Department position, the Health and Human Services Department has continued to apply the health law. Indeed, sign-up season for 2018 under the Trump administration resulted in only a slight enrollment drop-off from Obama's last year.

Insurers are now finalizing their premium requests for 2019, and Jost said the Justice Department filing may prompt jittery carriers to seek higher rates.

"The question is, what does this do to insurance markets now?" said Jost.


Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[Kid Vaping Numbers Aren't Up, Study Says, But Some Skeptical]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:24:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/060718vapingstory1.jpg

Vaping held steady last year in high school students and declined in middle school kids, according to new government data, but some researchers are skeptical because the survey may have missed out on a booming e-cigarette brand.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey did not specifically ask about Juul e-cigarettes, and research suggests some kids don’t equate the trendy devices with other types of e-cigarettes.

Given that omission and the skyrocketing sales of Juul last year, the survey may be missing a big part of what’s going on, said Jidong Huang, a Georgia State University researcher.

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices that provide users with aerosol puffs that typically contain nicotine, and sometimes flavorings like fruit, mint or chocolate. They’re generally considered a less dangerous alternative to regular cigarettes, but health officials have warned nicotine is harmful to developing brains.

The new CDC study is based on a questionnaire filled out annually by roughly 20,000 students in grades 6 through 12. The study focused on “current users” — defined as kids who said they had used a tobacco product in the previous 30 days.

The CDC survey, and others, have shown a general decline in the use of tobacco products.

A new U.S. government survey found vaping rates are steady or declining among school kids. But some are cautious about the results.

But the level of vaping soared until 2016, when there was a puzzling and dramatic drop, from 16 percent to 11 percent of high school students. That translated to a decline in teen vapers from 3 million to 2.2 million in just one year.

Experts at the time attributed the decline to public health warnings, sales restrictions and the possibility that fewer kids saw e-cigarettes as being novel.

The new CDC study, released Thursday, found high school vaping was at about the same level last year as it was in 2016, about 11 percent. That translates to about 1 in 9 students, meaning it continued to be the most commonly used product.

Cigarette use continued to fall, though slightly, and last year dropped into a tie with cigars for second place. That marks the first time cigars have been smoked as commonly as cigarettes among children.

Among middle schoolers, about 1 in 30 said last year that they had recently vaped. That was a decrease from the year before, when the figure was about 1 in 23.

Brian King, who oversees the CDC’s tobacco survey work, said he believes the survey captures a sizable proportion of kids who are using Juul e-cigarettes, but he acknowledged there could be “some under-estimation.” He said there are plans to add questions about Juul, but those likely won’t appear until next year’s survey.

Similar plans are being made for an annual University of Michigan survey of adolescent tobacco use, said Richard Miech, who leads that study. Because kids currently aren’t being asked about Juul specifically, researchers can’t say for sure if vaping is increasing or decreasing, he said.

Juul e-cigarettes first went on sale in 2015. They look like computer flash drives, can be recharged in computer USB ports and have prefilled cartridges containing nicotine. They also offer kid-friendly flavors like fruit and creme brulee, and teens can smoke them discreetly, even in class.

Last year, Juul became the top-selling e-cigarette brand, with more than $650 million in retail sales. That’s due at least partly to aggressive marketing through Instagram and other social media, Huang noted in a recent article in the journal Tobacco Control.

More data is needed to see how much of those sales were to kids, he said in an interview.

“But looking at the sales data, I think it’s hard to say the use of e-cigarettes among teens is steady or declining,” he said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been targeting Juul. In April, the agency issued warnings to retailers about sales to children. The FDA also asked the manufacturer, Juul Labs of San Francisco, to turn over documents about the devices’ design and marketing.

Juul Labs has said it’s trying to combat teen use of its products. Company officials this week said they are launching a new ad campaign aimed at answering parents’ questions about the devices.


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

<![CDATA[Superbug Infections Rising Among Injection Drug Users]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 14:03:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/212*120/NeedlesSuperbug.jpg

One type of superbug bacteria is increasingly spreading among people who inject drugs, according to a new government report.

Users of heroin and other injection drugs were 16 times more likely than other people to develop severe illnesses from MRSA, said the report published Thursday.

"Drug use has crept up and now accounts for a substantial proportion of these very serious infections," said Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, one of the study's authors.

The U.S. is in the midst of its deadliest drug epidemic ever. While overdose deaths have been the main concern, some studies have noted HIV and hepatitis C infections are spreading among drug users. The authors say the new report is one of the first — and the largest — to highlight how superbug bacterial infections are spreading, too. 

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. 

Public health efforts have focused on MRSA's spread in hospitals and nursing homes, and infection-control campaigns have been credited for recent drops in MRSA infections at health care facilities.

But as that success story has unfolded, MRSA infections tied to illicit drug use have risen.

The opioid epidemic began with abuse of prescription pain pills, but in recent years has shifted to heroin and other injectable drugs. 

MRSA "is on the skin, and as the needle goes into the skin it brings the bacteria with it," explained Dr. Isaac See of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, another of the study's authors.

The proportion of invasive, bloodstream-infecting MRSA cases that occurred among injection drug users more than doubled in five years, the study found. In 2011, 4 percent of those MRSA cases involved injection drug users; in 2016, the proportion was 9 percent.

The report is based on infections diagnosed at hospitals across Connecticut and in parts of California, Georgia, Minnesota, New York and Tennessee. Data were collected from 2005 through 2016.

About 39,000 invasive MRSA cases were reported, including about 2,100 among people who inject drugs

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Charles Krupa/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Overdose Antidote Naloxone Recalled by Maker]]>Thu, 07 Jun 2018 12:03:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_294616548084.jpg

Some of the opioid overdose antidote Naloxone has been recalled by its maker, Hospira, over the potential presence of particulate matter, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

Two lots of Naloxone are being recalled because there may be "embedded and loose particulate matter on the syringe plunger," the FDA said in a notice. If injected with the medicine, a patient has a "low likelihood of experiencing adverse events ranging from local irritation, allergic reactions, phlebitis, end-organ granuloma, tissue ischemia, pulmonary emboli, pulmonary dysfunction, pulmonary infarction, and toxicity."

The recall affects single-use cartridge units of Naloxone Hydrochloride Carpuject Injection with lot numbers 72680LL and 76510LL. They were distributed to wholesalers, distributors and hospitals in the United States, Puerto Rico and Guam from February 2017 to February 2018.

Hospira has not received reports of adverse effects from the affected Naloxone.

Pfizer, the parent company of Hospira, confirmed in a statement to NBC that there is no shortage, as Naloxone is also currently available in vials. Pfizer added that the recall does not affect any Naloxone products sold under the brand name Narcan, which includes a nasal spray that is available with a prescription and that many law enforcement agencies and hospitals use. Narcan is also available over the counter in most states

Hospira has notified wholesalers, distributors and hospitals of the contaminated lots, and it is encouraging others to discard affected lots, the FDA said. 

The recall affects an older version of the drug that may still be in atomizer kits that were distributed into communities. Those with older kits should contact the business or institution that distributed them and get replacements.

"This is not a product for use by consumers. Training is required to use it appropriately," Pfizer explained. "Therefore, it is for use by medical professionals or first responders such as police officers who have been trained in its use."

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mel Evan, File]]>
<![CDATA[Some Brazil 'Zika Kids' Try School, Others Fight to Survive]]>Wed, 06 Jun 2018 08:41:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18156752541751-Zika-Baby-Brazil.jpg

On Tuesdays, 18-month-old Joaquim Santos spends an hour sitting by himself in a corner of a special needs classroom in this small city in northeast Brazil, one of the country's poorest regions and one hit hard by the Zika virus.

Two harried teachers look on as other toddlers play around Joaquim, who has severe developmental delays after being born with a small head.

As limited as Joaquim is in the early education classroom, his family and doctors say he is lucky to be there.

"When Joaquim was born I thought he was going to be in a vegetative state forever," said his mother, Maria de Fatima Santos, who must take the boy to therapy sessions and medical appointments most other days of the week. "I thought my life was going to be in a hospital."

Three years ago, an outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil's impoverished northeast led to thousands of babies being born with a birth defect called microcephaly. The virus is spread by mosquito, and scientists determined that it could lead to congenital defects in fetuses of mothers who were infected during pregnancy.

Today, some of the children born during the outbreak are trying school for the first time — in very limited capacities — while others have died or are struggling to survive, hindered by health and developmental problems.

Dr. Epitacio Rolim of the Getulio Vargas Hospital in Recife, where many children with Zika-related birth defects are treated, said there are still myriad unknowns.

"How much they will learn or live, unfortunately, is a huge question mark," said Rolim, who during a recent afternoon spent hours injecting babies with Botox to ease muscle spasms.

Beyond developmental delays, around 40 percent of the children with microcephaly treated at the hospital started showing new physical problems by the time they reached their first birthdays, including dislocated hips, which needed to be repaired surgically.

"I only know of four who are walking," said Rolim.

Zika began spreading in Latin America's largest nation in April 2015 and exploded in 2016, with more than 260,000 cases of virus that year, according to the Health Ministry. In 2015, there were 960 confirmed cases of microcephaly and just over 1,800 the next year, the majority in the northeast.

Then, thanks to what scientists call "herd immunity" in hard-hit areas and public awareness campaigns, the number of cases of Zika and microcephaly plummeted. In 2017, there were fewer than 18,000 Zika cases and fewer than 300 children born with microcephaly. So far this year, Brazil has seen about 2,200 cases of Zika and 20 cases of microcephaly and other developmental abnormalities.

For doctors, researchers and therapists, the Brazilian toddlers born with microcephaly a few years ago represent by far the largest pool in the world for them to observe and learn from.

Seeing the children in school helps provide a window into the challenges children with microcephaly may face as they grow, but the institutions receiving them are often ill-equipped to meet their needs.

Vaneide Campos, the principal where Joaquim attends school in Frei Miguelinho, a city of 13,000 in the Brazilian drylands, said she had to rejigger an already-tight budget to get a second special needs teacher.

Joaquim has shown modest development. He can hold a pen and scribble on paper. He hears classmates recite letters of the alphabet, though he can't speak. He has also been included in school plays, all more than many other children with microcephaly.

"We have had more goodwill than training here," Campos said. "We were not ready, but we knew we needed to offer a chance."

Schools and daycares at the Zika epicenter face similar issues, with teachers and principals learning as they go.

Jose Wesley Campos, who will be 3 years old in September, attends school in the city of Bonito, in the state of Pernambuco, two days a week. He and three other children with disabilities are in a room with 14 normally developing toddlers.

"He was our first case with microcephaly. It was scary, and we didn't know what to do," said deputy principal Viviane Simon, who has worked at the school for 20 years. "But now we learn more from him than he learns from us."

Still, because teachers are not equipped to provide nursing skills, Wesley's mother goes to class with him.

"He needs double the attention," said Simon, explaining that Jose is fed through a tube and his mouth needs to be cleaned.

Like many others, Jose must spend much of each week getting treatments in Recife, the state capital that is a few hours drive away.

Dr. Liana Ventura, who runs the Altino Ventura Foundation in Recife, said more than 150 of the children with microcephaly getting treatment at the clinic are stable and healthy enough to be candidates for school.

"But we can see schools are not prepared; they need caretakers that families can trust and materials geared toward inclusion," said Ventura, whose family helped found the clinic opened in 2014.

Ventura also said there are 130 children waiting to get eye exams, glasses or other optical treatments, key for being able to attend school. But budget shortfalls have made it impossible to hire more doctors or buy supplies.

For many children, going to school is out of the question.

In the state of Pernambuco, 159 of the 2,513 children diagnosed with microcephaly have died, according to health figures. Paraiba, a neighboring state that was also hit hard, does not have current figures, but local specialists estimate that 10 percent of children born with microcephaly have died.

Those numbers are much higher than Brazil's infant mortality rate, which was 14.4 deaths per 1,000 births in 2016, the most recent year available.

Sophia Donario, one of the more recent cases of Zika-caused microcephaly, was only 5 months old when she passed away earlier this year.

Yara da Costa says her daughter came down with pneumonia on a Monday evening. She took the baby to a local hospital in Lagoa Seca, a small poor city in the middle of Paraiba. She was then transferred to a hospital in Campina Grande, one of the state's largest cities.

A bed couldn't be found for her in the intensive care unit until Wednesday. On April 1, Easter Sunday, she died.

"Until then, she was doing very well. Some kids can't feed themselves, but she could. I could breastfeed her," Sophia's mother said through tears.

A unique case of a mother who nearly three years ago gave birth to one normally developing twin and the other with Zika-caused microcephaly shows just how stark the differences can be.

The boy, Edson Junior, runs around with the exuberant energy while his sister, Melissa Vitoria, born with microcephaly, has sight problems and stiff muscles that limit her movements.

"It was a shock for me. I had no idea this was even possible" to have one healthy twin and the other with microcephaly, said mother Cassiana Severina, who lives in a home with crumbling walls on the outskirts of Recife.

While Severina wants to send Junior to school, she has no such plans for his sister, who can't even sit up.

"Everything she does is a victory with her, that's why I call her Melissa Vitoria (Victory in Portuguese)," said Severina. "Maybe one day she will win by going to school."

Back in Frei Miguelinho, the mother of Joaquim, Maria de Fatima, says she is also hopeful.

"I hope he gets a diploma one day," she said during a recent physical therapy session in Recife. "If I have a diploma earned by Joaquim to hang on my wall, any diploma, that is good enough for me."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Eraldo Peres/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Medicare Will Run Out of Money in 2026, Trustees Forecast]]>Wed, 06 Jun 2018 08:10:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/691715656-Health-Care-Cost.jpg

Medicare will run out of money sooner than expected, and Social Security's financial problems can't be ignored either, the government said Tuesday in a sobering checkup on programs vital to the middle class.

The report from program trustees says Medicare will become insolvent in 2026 — three years earlier than previously forecast. Its giant trust fund for inpatient care won't be able to fully cover projected medical bills starting at that point.

The report says Social Security will become insolvent in 2034 — no change from the projection last year.

The warning serves as a reminder of major issues still languishing while Washington plunges deeper into partisan strife. Because of the deterioration in Medicare's finances, officials said the Trump administration will be required by law to send Congress a plan next year to address the problems after the president's budget is submitted.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that there's time to fix the problems. "The programs remain secure," Mnuchin said. Medicare "is on track to meet its obligations to beneficiaries well into the next decade."

"However, certain long-term issues persist," the statement added. "Lack-luster economic growth in previous years, coupled with an aging population, has contributed to the projected shortages for both Social Security and Medicare."

Social Security recipients are likely to see a cost of living increase of about 2.4 percent next year, said government number-crunchers who produced the report. That works out to about $31 a month.

At the same time, the monthly Medicare "Part B" premium for outpatient care paid by most beneficiaries is projected to rise by about $1.50, to $135.50.

Both the cost-of-living increase and the Medicare outpatient premium are not officially determined until later in the year, and the initial projections can change.

More than 62 million retirees, disabled workers, spouses and surviving children receive Social Security benefits. The average monthly payment is $1,294 for all beneficiaries. Medicare provides health insurance for about 60 million people, most of whom are age 65 or older.

Together the two programs have been credited with dramatically reducing poverty among older people and extending life expectancy for Americans. Financed with payroll taxes collected from workers and employers, Social Security and Medicare account for about 40 percent of government spending, excluding interest on the federal debt.

But demands on both programs are increasing as America ages.

Unless lawmakers act, both programs face the prospect of being unable to cover the full cost of promised benefits. With Social Security that could mean sharply reduced payments for retirees, many of whom are already on tight budgets. The report said the total annual cost of Social Security is projected to exceed total annual income in 2018 for the first time since the Reagan era, meaning the program will have to tap into reserves.

For Medicare, insolvency would mean that hospitals, nursing homes and other providers of medical care would be paid only part of their agreed-upon fees.

Medicare is widely seen as a more difficult problem that goes beyond the growing number of baby boomers retiring. It's also the unpredictability of health care costs, which can be jolted by high-priced breakthrough cures, and which regularly outpace the overall rate of economic growth.

The Cabinet secretaries for Treasury, Health and Human Services, and Labor usually participate in the annual release of the report, along with the Social Security commissioner, and take questions from reporters. None of those top officials was present Tuesday; an aide cited scheduling conflicts.

The four top officials serve as the Social Security and Medicare trustees, along with two independent trustees who are supposed to represent the public. The public trustees are usually more candid, but those posts remain unfilled.

President Donald Trump campaigned on a promise not to cut Social Security or Medicare, but he hasn't offered a blueprint for either program.

Democrats, meanwhile, want to extend the social safety net by spending more on health care and education. Advocates for the elderly said Tuesday there should be no cuts to Social Security benefits.

But federal deficits keep rising, and the recent Republican tax-cut bill is expected to add to the debt.

Last year's tax law, which cut taxes on Social Security benefits, helped exacerbate the shortfall. So too did repeal of the individual mandate in so-called Obamacare, which promises to increase the number of people without health insurance and therefore Medicare payments for uncompensated medical care.

Higher deficits mean less maneuvering room for policymakers when the day of reckoning finally arrives for Social Security and Medicare.

In principle, the U.S. is supposed to be paying forward its Social Security and Medicare obligations by building up trust funds to cover future costs. That money is invested in special government securities, which also collect interest. But when the money is actually needed to pay for benefits, economists say a government deep in debt could be hard-pressed to make good.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[NY Man Sues CVS for Blabbing to Wife About Viagra Use]]>Wed, 06 Jun 2018 10:44:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/VIAGRA+AP.jpg

A Long Island man is suing CVS after a pharmacist allegedly blabbed about his use of an erectile-dysfunction drug to his wife.

The New York Post reports Michael Feinberg had a prescription for Viagra that he would pay for himself and worked for it not to go through his insurance.

When Feinberg’s wife called the pharmacy chain’s Merrick store to get word on one of her own prescriptions she had filed, the employee opened up about her husband’s secret, the Post reported, citing the lawsuit.

Feinberg claims the pharmacy chain violated his privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Now that word has leaked to his wife, Feinberg told the Post that his marriage is breaking down.

He is seeking unspecified damages for negligence.

A spokesman for CVS told the Post the chain has “the highest priority on protecting the privacy of those we serve.”

Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Supreme Court Sides With Trump Admin. in Pregnant Teen Case]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 12:03:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/801354822+Supreme+Court.jpg

The Supreme Court is rejecting a suggestion by the Trump administration that lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union might deserve to be sanctioned in the case of a pregnant immigrant teen it helped obtain an abortion.

But the court on Monday sided with the government in wiping away a lower court decision in favor of the teen, who had been held in government custody after illegally entering the country. The justices ruled that vacating a lower court decision in favor of the teen was the proper course because the case became moot after the teen obtained an abortion. The decision is about the teen's individual case, however, and doesn't appear to disrupt ongoing litigation about the ability of immigrant teens in government custody to obtain abortions.

Government lawyers had complained that ACLU lawyers didn't alert them that the teen's abortion would take place earlier than expected and told the court that it might want to issue an order "to show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken" against ACLU lawyers. The administration said that deprived its lawyers of the chance to ask the Supreme Court to block the procedure, at least temporarily. The ACLU said its lawyers did nothing wrong.

The Supreme Court declined to wade into the finger-pointing between the sides.

"Especially in fast-paced, emergency proceedings like those at issue here, it is critical that lawyers and courts alike be able to rely on one another's representations. On the other hand, lawyers also have ethical obligations to their clients and not all communications breakdowns constitute misconduct," the justices wrote in an unsigned opinion, adding that the court "need not delve into the factual disputes raised by the parties" in order to vacate the decision for the teen.

The teen at the center of the case entered the U.S. illegally in September as a 17-year-old and was taken to a federally funded shelter in Texas for minors who enter the country without their parents. The unnamed teen, referred to as Jane Doe, learned while in custody that she was pregnant and sought an abortion. A state court gave her permission, but federal officials — citing a policy of refusing to facilitate abortions for pregnant minors in its shelters — refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her for the procedure.

The ACLU helped the teen sue the Trump administration, and after a federal appeals court sided with her, the government was preparing to ask the Supreme Court to step in and block the procedure, at least temporarily.

But the teen, allowed out of the shelter by court order, had an abortion first, about 12 hours after a court gave her the go-ahead. In response, the Trump administration, in a highly unusual filing with the Supreme Court, cried foul. The ACLU has defended its attorneys actions, saying government lawyers made assumptions about the timing of the teen's abortion and argued that the decision should stand.

Even though Jane Doe was able to get an abortion, the lawsuit that began with her has continued and could return to the Supreme Court at a later date. Scott Lloyd, the director of the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors, has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

And since the Jane Doe case was filed, several other pregnant teens in his agency's care have come forward seeking abortions and been represented by the ACLU. In two cases, the young women were released from custody and able to seek the procedure on their own while in another case the teen, a 17-year-old rape victim, got a court order allowing her to obtain an abortion and the government stopped attempting to block the procedure.

In March, following a request from the ACLU, a judge barred the Trump administration from interfering with the ability of any pregnant immigrant teens in its custody to obtain abortions while a class action lawsuit against the administration goes forward.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the Trump administration to post notices in government-run shelters that tell pregnant women that they have a right to decide whether to have the baby or to end their pregnancy. The notice gives teens a person to call if they are having difficulty getting an abortion or if they are being pressured not to have an abortion. Chutkan, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, is also requiring minors in shelters to be given the notice in English and Spanish and that the information be included in an orientation for minors entering the shelters. The government is appealing. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Eric Thayer/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Skimping Seniors Still Face Higher Med. Costs: Gov't Report]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 13:25:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18152807912373-Medicare-PPills.jpg

Medicare recipients filled fewer prescriptions for pricey brand-name drugs — but spent more on such meds anyway, says a government report released Monday. It blames rising manufacturer prices for squeezing older people and taxpayers.

The Health and Human Services inspector general's office says it found a 17 percent drop in the overall number of prescriptions for brand-name medications under Medicare's "Part D" drug program over a recent five-year period.

But beneficiaries' costs for branded drugs went in the opposite direction. From 2011 to 2015, their share of annual costs rose by 40 percent, from $161 in 2011 to $225 on average. Data for 2011-2015 were the most recent available for the analysis.

"Increases in unit prices for brand-name drugs resulted in Medicare and its beneficiaries paying more for these drugs," said the report. Rising Medicare payments for brand-name drugs "will continue to affect Part D and its beneficiaries for years to come."

Although new drugs priced at $100,000 a year or more grab headlines, the report emphasized that the most persistent problem for Medicare beneficiaries is the high cost of maintenance medications for common chronic conditions like diabetes. Total out-of-pocket costs for patients were highest for brand-name insulin, cholesterol drugs and asthma inhalers.

The affordability of maintenance medications "directly impacts Medicare beneficiaries and their ability to access the prescription drugs they need to stay healthy," Ann Maxwell, assistant inspector general, said in an interview. "This has an immediate direct impact on their quality of life and their health."

The data driving the report predate the Trump administration, but its conclusions dovetail with how officials view the problem. HHS Secretary Alex Azar says two of the main issues for the U.S. are high list prices for drugs and high out-of-pocket costs, especially for Medicare beneficiaries.

The administration has proposed a long list of measures to increase competition, shed light on pharmaceutical pricing and straighten out industry and government practices seen as artificially raising costs. But drug pricing is cryptic and complex; it remains unclear how long the administration will take to put plans in place, and how dramatic an impact that would have.

President Donald Trump seems to be itching for something more immediate. He recently hinted that major drug companies will soon announce "voluntary massive drops in prices." No details were forthcoming.

About 43 million Medicare beneficiaries have prescription coverage under a Part D plan, according to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, with premiums that vary widely, averaging $41 a month this year. The benefit is subsidized by taxpayers and administered through private insurers, which are supposed to act as negotiators for beneficiaries and Medicare.

Initially the program was credited for encouraging a frugal shift to generic drugs, but in recent years spending has accelerated. Polls regularly find that the public is alarmed about the cost of prescription drugs, and that voters regardless of political affiliation want government action.

Among other findings from the report:

  • Drugmakers raised prices more rapidly for the most commonly used brand-name medications, with the highest demand among Medicare patients. Average costs for the 200 drugs with the most prescriptions in 2015 rose at nearly double the rate of increase for branded drugs as a whole.
  • The share of Medicare enrollees spending $2,000 a year or more of their own money for brand-name drugs nearly doubled over the five years studied, reaching 7.3 percent in 2015.
  • Total program spending for brand-name drugs increased by 77 percent from 2011 to 2015, from $58 billion to $102 billion. That statistic is a measure of taxpayers' growing exposure.
  • Rebates paid by manufacturers didn't seem to make a huge dent in costs. After accounting for rebates, Medicare reimbursement for branded drugs still increased by 62 percent. That was the case even though total rebates more than doubled, from $9 billion in 2011 to $23 billion in 2015.

Drugmakers often pay rebates to middlemen called pharmacy benefit managers, or to insurers. The payments are tied to expected sales of a drug and other factors. Insurers say they use the money to keep monthly premiums in check. But the Trump administration wants some of the rebates to be paid back directly to patients when they purchase medications.

The pharmaceutical industry says its prices reflect the challenges of developing new drugs and shepherding them through government approval, a years-long process that involves research, experimentation and extensive testing.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Many Breast Cancer Patients Can Skip Chemo, Big Study Finds]]>Mon, 04 Jun 2018 18:35:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/breast-cancer-studyAP_18149669861546.jpg

Most women with the most common form of early-stage breast cancer can safely skip chemotherapy without hurting their chances of beating the disease, doctors are reporting from a landmark study that used genetic testing to gauge each patient's risk.

The study is the largest ever done of breast cancer treatment, and the results are expected to spare up to 70,000 patients a year in the United States and many more elsewhere the ordeal and expense of these drugs.

"The impact is tremendous," said the study leader, Dr. Joseph Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Most women in this situation don't need treatment beyond surgery and hormone therapy, and "the rest of them are receiving chemotherapy unnecessarily."

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, some foundations and proceeds from the U.S. breast cancer postage stamp. Results were discussed Sunday at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago and published by the New England Journal of Medicine. Some study leaders consult for breast cancer drugmakers or for the company that makes the gene test.


Cancer care has been evolving away from chemotherapy — older drugs with harsh side effects — in favor of gene-targeting therapies, hormone blockers and immune system treatments. When chemo is used now, it's sometimes for shorter periods or lower doses than it once was.

For example, another study at the conference found that Merck's immunotherapy drug Keytruda worked better than chemo as initial treatment for most people with the most common type of lung cancer, and with far fewer side effects.

The breast cancer study focused on cases where chemo's value increasingly is in doubt: women with early-stage disease that has not spread to lymph nodes, is hormone-positive (meaning its growth is fueled by estrogen or progesterone) and is not the type that the drug Herceptin targets.

The usual treatment is surgery followed by years of a hormone-blocking drug. But many women also are urged to have chemo to help kill any stray cancer cells. Doctors know that most don't need it, but evidence is thin on who can forgo it.

The study gave 10,273 patients a test called Oncotype DX, which uses a biopsy sample to measure the activity of genes involved in cell growth and response to hormone therapy, to estimate the risk that a cancer will recur.


About 17 percent of women had high-risk scores and were advised to have chemo. The 16 percent with low-risk scores now know they can skip chemo, based on earlier results from this study.

The new results are on the 67 percent of women at intermediate risk. All had surgery and hormone therapy, and half also got chemo.

After nine years, 94 percent of both groups were still alive, and about 84 percent were alive without signs of cancer, so adding chemo made no difference.

Certain women 50 or younger did benefit from chemo; slightly fewer cases of cancer spreading far beyond the breast occurred among some of them given chemo, depending on their risk scores on the gene test.


All women like those in the study should get gene testing to guide their care, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer of the oncology society. Oncotype DX costs around $4,000, which Medicare and many insurers cover. Similar tests including one called MammaPrint also are widely used.

Testing solved a big problem of figuring out who needs chemo, said Dr. Harold Burstein of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Many women think "if I don't get chemotherapy I'm going to die, and if I get chemo I'm going to be cured," but the results show there's a sliding scale of benefit and sometimes none, he said.

Dr. Lisa Carey, a breast specialist at the University of North Carolina's Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, said she would be very comfortable advising patients to skip chemo if they were like those in the study who did not benefit from it.

Dr. Jennifer Litton at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, agreed, but said, "Risk to one person is not the same thing as risk to another. There are some people who say, 'I don't care what you say, I'm never going to do chemo,'" and won't even have the gene test, she said. Others want chemo for even the smallest chance of benefit.

Adine Usher, 78, who lives in Hartsdale, New York, joined the study 10 years ago at Montefiore and was randomly assigned to the group given chemo.

"I was a little relieved. I sort of viewed chemo as extra insurance," she said. The treatments "weren't pleasant," she concedes. Her hair fell out, she developed an infection and was hospitalized for a low white blood count, "but it was over fairly quickly and I'm really glad I had it."

If doctors had recommended she skip chemo based on the gene test, "I would have accepted that," she said. "I'm a firm believer in medical research."

Kay Austin, of the Dallas-area, scored low on her genetic test when she was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer last fall.  

She says she was elated to learn that she wouldn't need chemotherapy.

"I had known other women who had chemotherapy lost their hair, had no energy, was just down. That was the greatest fear," says Austin.

Dr. Deepna Jaiswal, oncologist and hematologist at Medical City Arlington expects the news to have an immediate impact on her patients.

"If you can have good results that can be achieved from a pill, with much less side effects, why you wouldn't want that? This study helps show that you can achieve just as good results without chemotherapy," says Dr. Jaiswal.

NBC 5’s Bianca Castro contributed to this report

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kathy YoungAP]]>
<![CDATA[Growing Number of Fatal Crashes Linked to Drug Use: Study]]>Sun, 03 Jun 2018 06:22:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-6837401591.jpg

A new study finds that a growing number of drivers involved in deadly accidents are testing positive for drugs, especially opioids and marijuana, NBC News reported. It is unclear, though, whether the drugs are actually the culprit in those crashes.

The group that released the study, the Governors Highway Safety Association, cautions that it is difficult to fully understand the extent to which “drugged driving” is becoming a problem.

“Drugs can impair, and drug-impaired drivers can crash,” said report author Dr. Jim Hedlund, a former senior official with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “But it’s impossible to understand the full scope of the drugged driving problem because many drivers who are arrested or involved in crashes, even those who are killed, are not tested for drugs. Drivers who are drug-positive may not necessarily be impaired.”

The findings come at a crucial time, as the U.S. faces an opioid epidemic, and more and more states are legalizing marijuana.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cultura RF, File]]>
<![CDATA[Scottish Hospital Is Ready to Treat Cryptocurrency Addicts]]>Sun, 03 Jun 2018 05:39:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bitcoin-GettyImages-919078630.jpg

A Scottish hospital is ready to begin treating people with cryptocurrency addictions, NBC News reported.

Castle Craig Hospital, a residential rehab center that treats alcohol, drug, behavioral and gambling addictions will now treating crypto-addiction within its gambling program, the center’s website says. The compulsive need to check the price of cryptocurrency or to make trades can turn into an all-consuming addiction, and has the potential to have a disastrous impact on peoples’ finances, while also affecting their lives, the center said in a news release.

Jeremy Gardner, managing partner at Ausum Ventures, who runs the Crypto Castle, a San Francisco residence serving as a hub for blockchain startups and crypto investors, told NBC he sees how a crypto-rehab program could benefit some. 

"The 24/7, ultra-volatile nature of cryptoasset markets compounded with the highly social nature of the crypteconomy provide a rush unlike few other financial markets, and certainly has the potential to be addicting," he said. "I've met too many people who have sacrificed their mental and physical well-being for this pursuit, and I can see how an attempt at taming their passion might be healthy."

Photo Credit: Chesnot/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[4 More Deaths Linked to Romaine Lettuce Outbreak]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 15:43:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/950400894-Romaine-Lettuce.jpg

Four more deaths have been linked to a national food poisoning outbreak blamed on tainted lettuce, bringing the total to five.

Health officials have tied the E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona. The growing season there ended six weeks ago, and it's unlikely any tainted lettuce is still in stores or people's homes, given its short shelf life. But there can be a lag in reporting, and reports of illnesses have continued to come in.

In an update Friday on the nation's largest E. coli outbreak in a decade, health officials said 25 more cases have been added, raising the total number of illnesses to 197 in 35 states. At least 89 people were hospitalized.

Previously one death had been reported, in California. On Friday, health officials said they had learned of four more — in California, Arkansas, Minnesota and New York.

The first illnesses occurred in March, and the most recent began on May 12, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many of the new cases were people who became ill two to three weeks ago, when contaminated lettuce was still being sold. Some said they did not eat romaine lettuce but were in close contact with someone who got sick after eating it.

Most E. coli bacteria are not harmful, but some produce toxins that can cause severe illness. People who get sick from toxin-producing E. coli come down with symptoms about three to four days after swallowing the germ, with many suffering bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Iowa Fetal Heartbeat Abortion Law Being Temporarily Blocked ]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 11:35:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/plannedparenthoodAP_18135658626517.jpg

A judge will temporarily block the most restrictive abortion law in the country from taking effect in Iowa next month under an agreement between lawyers for the state and abortion rights groups.

Attorneys for the state and Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds agreed Friday to prevent the law from taking effect on July 1 after discussions with the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, Planned Parenthood Federation of American and the Emma Goldman Clinic.

The advocacy groups have sued the state to block the law, which bans most abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

An attorney for the state says the goal is to quickly get the case before a judge to argue the law it's constitutional.

Judge Michael Huppert said during a court hearing Friday that he'll issue a temporary injunction later in the day.

Reynolds signed the law May 2, two days after lawmakers approved it.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Charlie Neibergall/AP]]>
<![CDATA[UN Health Agency Backs Away From Call to Tax Sugary Drinks]]>Fri, 01 Jun 2018 11:30:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18152508307778.jpg

An independent World Health Organization panel is backing away from the U.N. health agency's own call two years ago to tax sugary drinks, in a new report on diseases like cancer, obesity and diabetes that some experts slammed as being "conspicuously limp."

International health experts said the decision was especially baffling, given the rising obesity crisis worldwide and WHO's own previous attempts to curb sugar consumption.

In 2016, the U.N. health agency urged countries to tax sugar-laden drinks like sodas and sport drinks as a way to fight obesity and diabetes. Back then, it said a 20 percent price increase in such drinks would dramatically cut consumption.

But in a report published Friday, although WHO recommended taxes on tobacco and alcohol, experts pointedly dropped any recommendation to tax sugary beverages. The experts wrote instead that, regarding sugar taxation, "some views were conflicting and could not be resolved."

Dr. Sania Nishtar, co-chair of the recently created independent commission on non-communicable diseases behind the report, said most of its 26 members supported a tax on sugar sweetened beverages. But one commissioner — whom she did not identify — hampered drafting stronger language, mainly over the effectiveness of the sugar tax that has been introduced in some countries.

"The introduction of the tax (on sugary drinks) is fairly recent, and the data that we have relates to a decrease in consumption," Nishtar told reporters at WHO headquarters.

She said "the objection was that ... we should not make a bold recommendation." She said the commissioner did not believe there was enough health data on this yet — a point later disputed by WHO's own director-general, Tedros Ghebreyesus.

While the sweetened-drink industry has come out strongly against any such tax, Nishtar said she was not aware of any industry lobbying of the commissioners.

Instead of explicitly recommending a sugar tax, WHO is leaving such decisions up to countries.

"When engagement with the private sector fails to contribute to the achievement of public health goals, governments should employ their regulatory and legislative powers to protect their populations," the report says.

Jack Winkler, an emeritus professor of nutrition policy at London Metropolitan University, said there is now convincing evidence that taxing sugary drinks works, citing, among other work, a recent article in the journal, The BMJ. He said policies recently adopted in Britain show that taxing sugar-loaded drinks not only spurred manufacturers to reformulate their products but that "it has made the healthy choice the cheaper choice."

He said WHO's own acknowledgment that progress on combating obesity and other non-communicable disease has been slow makes their refusal to endorse sugar taxes outright especially unfortunate.

"When WHO doesn't pick up on a practical solution that also raises money, it is particularly absurd," he said.

In its new report, WHO also recommended governments prioritize measures to restrict junk food advertising.

"WHO should explore the possibility of establishing an international code of conduct on this issue...while acknowledging the need for partnerships based on alignment of interests," experts wrote.

Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the failure of WHO's commission to reach an agreement on sugar taxes was "difficult to fathom."

He noted that since this was the only the first report from WHO's expert commission, they might still revise their advice in later reports.

"It would be very disappointing if this issue remained unresolved in its next report," McKee said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Frank Augstein, File]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer Group Says Colon Screening Should Start at 45, Not 50]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 12:07:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/42301616611_d33b1c01d4_k.jpg

New guidelines released Wednesday recommend U.S. adults start colon cancer screening earlier, at age 45 instead of 50.

The American Cancer Society's advice puts it out of sync with guidelines from an influential government advisory group, which kept the age at 50 in an update two years ago.

Cancer society officials acknowledge the shift to 45 could cause confusion for doctors and patients but felt strongly that they needed to act now. The advocacy group was influenced by its study, published last year, that found rising rates of colon cancer and deaths in people younger than 50. Experts aren't sure why there has been a 50 percent increase in cases since 1994.

The guidelines are for men and women ages 45 to 75 of average risk for colon cancer; recommendations are different for people with certain conditions, like Crohn's disease, or a family history of colon cancer. The group endorses six kinds of screening exams, from inexpensive take-home stool tests performed every year to colonoscopies done every 10.

"All of these tests are good tests, and the choice should be offered to patients," said the cancer society's Dr. Rich Wender. "The best test is the test that gets done."

The same tests are recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel that reviews evidence and issues advice for a variety of screenings and treatments. It updated its colon cancer guidelines in 2016 and its next review isn't expected until around 2021.

That panel's recommendations drive what screening is covered by insurance under the Affordable Care Act, although 20 states have laws that link coverage to the cancer society guidelines. It's not uncommon for groups to have slightly different guidelines although those for colon cancer have been about the same for decades.

Most colon cancer occurs in adults 55 and older, and the good news is rates of cases and deaths have been falling for decades. Colon cancer, combined with rectal cancer, is the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. This year, more than 140,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with it, and about 50,000 will die from it.

Doctors will probably look to specialty medical societies to sort out the different guidelines, said Dr. Marcus Plescia, of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. But it may take a little while before they offer clear advice.

Some experts have worried about pre-50 risks of colon cancer in some racial and ethnic groups, and at least one specialty society for gastroenterologists has urged screening of black adults starting at age 45.

Others argue that instead of lowering the age for routine screening, more effort should be put into getting more people tested. Only about two-thirds of people 50 and older have been following screening guidelines.

"It's hard enough to get people to do it at all," Plescia noted.

Dr. Andrew Wolf, the lead author of the latest guidelines, said they considered and rejected that reasoning.

"We should be able to do both," said Wolf, a University of Virginia internist.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NCI Center for Cancer Research/NIH]]>
<![CDATA[This Woman Lives Life With Dozens of Personalities ]]>Wed, 30 May 2018 21:24:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Multiple-Personality-Disorders.jpg

"Autumn" was a little girl who endured horrifying abuse, both sexually and physically for most of her formative years. The violent trauma caused her mind to fragment into multiple personalities, like a fractured mirror in dozens of pieces. She refers to them as her "alters."]]>
<![CDATA[Birth Control Sample Packs Recalled for Out-of-Order Pills]]>Tue, 29 May 2018 15:13:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/recalled-pills.jpg

Allergan recalled Tuesday nearly 170,000 packs of Taytulla birth control pills given out by doctors as samples because of a possible packaging error that may lead to the risk of an unintended pregnancy. 

The company issued the voluntary recall of one lot of the pills after a physician reported that four placebo capsules were placed out of order in a sample pack of the oral contraceptive. The packs consist of 24 "active" pink softgel capsules and four maroon placebo softgel capsules. 

In the affected sample, the first four days of therapy had non-hormonal placebo capsules instead of active capsules. 

"The reversing of the order may not be apparent to either new users or previous users of the product, increasing the likelihood of taking the capsules out of order," the recall notice on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website said. "If patients have concerns regarding the possibility of an unintended pregnancy they should consult their physician." 

Lot No. 5620706 was distributed to healthcare providers nationwide and contained nearly 170,000 sample packs, the company confirmed to NBC. The pill packs have a May 2019 expiration date. 

The FDA's recall notice said Allergan was notifying customers by letter of the potential issue. Customers with the recalled pills should contact their physician to return the pills. 

In a statement, Allergan said an investigation at the packaging site found no units with the defect. 

Consumers can contact Allergan at (800) 678-1605 on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET for more information.

Photo Credit: FDA]]>
<![CDATA[Sunscreen Pills Are Fake Medicine: FDA]]>Wed, 23 May 2018 18:53:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sunbathe.jpg

So-called sunscreen pills are fakes and people should not fall for the scam, the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday, NBC News reported.

“There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen,” FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

The agency specifically called out the companies that make Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare and Sunergetic, saying they should stop claiming people are protected from the sun's rays.

None of the companies contacted by NBC News for comment responded immediately.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Use of Forced Rehab on the Rise in Opioid Addiction Battle]]>Wed, 23 May 2018 07:34:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18137706975073-Pat-Cronin-Northeast-Addictions-Treatment-Center.jpg

The last thing Lizabeth Loud, a month from giving birth, wanted was to be forced into treatment for her heroin and prescription painkiller addiction.

But her mother saw no other choice, and sought a judge's order to have her committed against her will. Three years later, Loud said her month in state prison, where Massachusetts sent civilly committed women until recent reforms, was the wake-up call she needed.

"I was really miserable when I was there," the 32-year-old Boston-area resident said. "That was one bottom I wasn't willing to revisit again."

An Associated Press check of data in some key states has found that the use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising. And in many places, lawmakers are trying to create or strengthen laws allowing authorities to force people into treatment.

But critics, including many doctors, law enforcement officials and civil rights advocates, caution that success stories like Loud's are an exception. Research suggests involuntary commitment largely doesn't work and could raise the danger of overdose for those who relapse after treatment.

And expanding civil commitment laws, critics argue, could also violate due process rights, overwhelm emergency rooms and confine people in prisonlike environments, where treatment sometimes amounts to little more than forced detox without medications to help mitigate withdrawal symptoms.

At least 35 states currently have provisions that allow families or medical professionals to petition a judge, who can then order an individual into treatment if they deem the person a threat to themselves or others. But the laws haven't always been frequently used.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last year allowing police officers to civilly commit a person into treatment for up to three days. In Washington state, legislation that took effect April 1 grants mental health professionals similar short-term emergency powers. In both states, a judge's order would still be required to extend the treatment.

Related bills have also been proposed this year in states including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts, where involuntary commitment has emerged as one of the more controversial parts of Republican Gov. Charlie Baker's wide-ranging bill dealing with the opioid crisis.

Massachusetts already allows for judges to order people to undergo up to three months of involuntary treatment, but lawmakers are considering giving some medical professionals emergency authority to commit people for up to three days without a judge's order.

The proposal is a critical stopgap for weekends and nights, when courts are closed, said Patrick Cronin, a director at the Northeast Addictions Treatment Center in Quincy, who credits his sobriety to his parents' decision to have him involuntarily committed for heroin use almost 15 years ago.

But giving doctors the ability to hold people in need of treatment against their will, as Massachusetts lawmakers propose, will burden emergency rooms, which already detain people with psychiatric problems until they can be taken to a mental health center, said Dr. Melisa Lai-Becker, president of the Massachusetts College of Emergency Physicians, an advocacy group.

"We've got a crowded plane, and you're asking the pilots to fly for days waiting for an open landing strip while also making sure they're taking care of the passengers and forcibly restraining the rowdy ones," Lai-Becker said.

Baker's administration stressed the proposal wouldn't take effect until 2020, providing time to work out concerns.

Even without the state legislative efforts, use of involuntary commitment for drug addiction is rising, according to information the AP obtained from states that have historically used it the most.

Florida reported more than 10,000 requests for commitment in both 2016 and 2015, up from more than 4,000 in 2000, according to court records.

Massachusetts reported more than 6,000 forced commitments for drug addiction in both fiscal years 2016 and 2017, up from fewer than 3,000 in fiscal year 2006.

In Kentucky, judges issued more than 200 orders of involuntary commitment for alcohol or drug abuse in the last calendar year, up from just five in 2004, according to court records. The state has so far reported nearly 100 such commitments this year.

But researchers caution there hasn't been enough study on whether forced treatment is actually working. And many states don't track whether people are being civilly committed multiple times, let alone whether they get sober for good, the AP found.

In Massachusetts, where fatal overdoses dropped for the first time in seven years in 2017, state public health officials don't credit increased use of civil commitment, but rather better training for medical professionals, tighter regulations on painkillers, more treatment beds, wider distribution of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and other initiatives.

A review published in the International Journal of Drug Policy in 2016 found "little evidence" forced treatment was effective in promoting sobriety or reducing criminal recidivism.

Another 2016 study by Massachusetts' Department of Public Health found the involuntarily committed were more than twice as likely to die of an opioid-related overdose than those who went voluntarily, but those findings shouldn't be viewed as an indictment of the process, argues Health and Human Services office spokeswoman Elissa Snook.

"Patients who are committed for treatment are among the sickest, most complex and at the greatest risk for an overdose," she said. "Involuntary commitment is an emergency intervention, to help individuals stay alive until they are capable of entering treatment voluntarily."

Most states send the civilly committed to treatment facilities run or contracted by public health agencies. The costs generally fall on patients, their families or insurance providers.

Massachusetts stands out because, until recently, it sent those civilly committed for drug addiction to prisons. That decadeslong practice ended for women in 2016, but many men are still sent to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center, which is housed in a minimum-security prison in Plymouth, near Cape Cod.

Patients wear corrections-issued uniforms and submit to prison regulations like room searches and solitary confinement. They also aren't given methadone or buprenorphine to help wean off heroin or other opioids, as they might in other treatment centers.

Michelle Wiley, whose 29-year-old son David McKinley killed himself there in September after he asked her to have him civilly committed for the third time, said she isn't opposed to expanded use of the practice as long as those with addiction aren't sent to places like Plymouth.

In the days before he hanged himself in his room, Wiley said, her son had complained to her about dirty conditions, poor food and not enough substance abuse counselors while he went through withdrawal.

"You think it's going to be helpful until you hear what it's like," she said. "If I had to do it over, I wouldn't send him to that place."

The corrections department has since taken steps to improve conditions, including more frequent patrols by prison guards and extended hours for mental health professionals, department spokesman Jason Dobson said.

As for Loud, the Massachusetts woman civilly committed while pregnant, she said she has found peace.

After briefly relapsing following her son's birth, she has been sober for about a year and a half. She focuses her energies on raising her son, attending regular support meetings and pursuing a passion sidelined by her addiction: competitive Muay Thai fighting. Her fourth bout is in July.

Loud has also reconciled with her mother. The two now live together, along with her son.

"It took me a long time to understand what she was going through," Loud said. "She was just trying to save her daughter."

On opposite sides of the county jail, a mother and her son chat about school, girls, birthday gifts — and their future together. They aren't allowed to see each other face-to-face, so the inmate and the fifth-grader connect by video.

"Hi, Mommy," 10-year-old Robby says to Krystle Sweat, clutching a phone in the visiting room as he looks at his mother on a screen, sitting in her cell.

Robby hasn't hugged her since Christmas 2015, just before Sweat wound up back behind bars. He shifts his weight from one leg to another and says that on the day she's released, he wants to show her how he can ride no-hands on his bike.

For years now, Sweat has cycled in and out of jail, arrested more than two dozen times for robbery and other crimes — almost all related to her drug addiction that culminated in a $300-a-day pain pill habit. She's tried to quit, but nothing has worked. Now she says she's ready to make the break when she's paroled, possibly this summer.

"I'm almost 33," she says. "I don't want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on."

Tucked in a remote corner of Appalachia, the Campbell County Jail offers an agonizing glimpse into how the tidal wave of opioids and methamphetamines has ravaged America. Here and across the country, addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.

Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population in America. The numbers rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women, while it doubled for men. Opioid abuse has exacerbated the problem.

More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in the Campbell County Jail. Now the population is routinely around 60. Most are arrested on a drug-related charge. Many also are addicted. They receive no counseling, and eventually are released into the same community where friends — and in some cases, family — are using drugs. Soon they are, too.

And the cycle begins anew: Another arrest, another booking photo, another pink uniform and off to a cell to simmer in regret and despair.

Sarai Keelean is back in for violating probation for possessing meth; she'd been using the drug and also selling it to buy opioids. Locked up for almost three years, she longs for freedom but is terrified, too. "You're afraid that you're going to mess up," she says.

Blanche Ball, who has been using, cooking or selling meth for 15 of her 30 years, has been in jail several times. "I know I could have done something more with my life," she says, but: "Once you're like this for so long, you don't know another way to be."

Her two oldest children are being raised by family, and she doesn't want to see them until she's confident she'll remain in their lives. The two youngest were adopted. "That wound is so bad," she says, "I try to block it out all the time."

In 2015, Campbell County had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person of all U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounted to more than five times the national average.

Mayor E.L. Morton blames the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, and two lawsuits against opioid makers are pending on behalf of the county and its 40,000 residents. Meth is also a problem.

"Throw a rock, hit a house, and there's drugs," says Keelean, the 35-year-old inmate.

The county has struggled for decades. Its tobacco farms and once-flourishing coal industry disappeared long ago, wiping out jobs and solid incomes. Some factories remain, but more than 1 in 5 residents are poor. Nowadays, as much as 90 percent of the crime in a five-county district that includes Campbell is connected to drugs, the local prosecutor says.

Tennessee doesn't have enough psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses or residential drug treatment in rural areas — and Campbell County has no such programs, says Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services. "It's unrealistic for people to travel 700 miles for treatment because that's where there's an open bed," she adds.

Salter also says drug treatment is often costlier and more complicated for women because many have experienced trauma and abuse as children or adults and may be slower to seek help because they fear losing their children.

"Women are the caregivers of their families," she says. "They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It's a horrible choice."

There are roads to recovery here. A drug court, which provides supervision for up to two years, has a 70 percent graduation rate. And a new program just for women, begun last year, takes offenders jailed on misdemeanor drug charges before sentencing and moves them into short- or long-term residential treatment. In both cases, treatment takes them to other counties or out of state.

Krystle Sweat says that when she's paroled, she wants to enter a faith-based recovery program. Her parents, who have raised Robby since he was about 3, have promised to help.

As Robby's visit ends this day, he and his mother blow each other kisses.

"I'm so thankful that he still loves me," she says, returning to her bunk where she keeps a photo of her son. "He's disappointed in me. .... He doesn't say that he is, but I know he is."

AP Photographer David Goldman contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Congo Announces 6 New Confirmed Cases of Ebola Virus]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 21:26:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/congo-ebola-bucket.jpg

Congo's health ministry announced six new confirmed Ebola cases and two new suspected cases Tuesday as vaccinations entered a second day in an effort to contain the deadly virus in a city of more than 1 million.

Dozens of health workers in the northwestern provincial capital, Mbandaka, have received vaccinations amid expectations that some will be deployed to the rural epicenter of the epidemic. Front-line workers are especially at risk of contracting the virus, which spreads in contact with the bodily fluids of infected people, including the dead.

"In the next five days 100 people must be vaccinated, including 70 health professionals," Health Minister Oly Ilunga said. "The priority of the government is to ensure that all these brave health professionals can do their job safely."

Congo's health ministry said there are now 28 confirmed Ebola cases, 21 probable ones and two suspected. The six new confirmed cases were in the rural Iboko health zone, it said. Of the confirmed Ebola cases, 14 are in Iboko, 10 are in Bikoro where the outbreak began and four are in the Wangata area of Mbandaka.

The death toll from hemorrhagic fever stands at 27, with three of them confirmed as Ebola. Two of the Ebola victims were nurses, one in Iboko and the other in Bikoro.

"Concerned about Iboko as access remains difficult," Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's emergency response chief, said Tuesday on Twitter. Roads in the region are unpaved and infrastructure is poor.

The WHO said 33 people received the first vaccinations Monday, including a few people in two communities of Mbandaka. More than 7,500 doses are available in Congo, WHO said Monday, and another 8,000 doses will be available in the coming days.

Allowing Congolese to watch health officials receive vaccinations is crucial, health worker Ezela Elange told The Associated Press.

"Our hope is that ... the sick will heal, the whole province will be healed," Elange said.

The vaccination campaign eventually will move to cover the two other health zones where confirmed cases have been reported. A major challenge will be keeping the vaccines cold in this vast, impoverished, tropical country where electricity is patchy.

The vaccine, provided by U.S. company Merck, is still in the test stages but it was effective toward the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016.

Those who are vaccinated in outbreak areas still will have to strictly follow infection-control measures, especially since the vaccine doesn't protect immediately. It takes a week to 10 days, said Dr. Pierre Rollin, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a veteran of more than a dozen Ebola outbreaks.

Rollin warned that the large geographic area between Mbandaka and the remote towns where the outbreak's first cases were reported must be scoured for the infected and the people who have come into contact with them.

"Travel from Mbandaka to Bikoro can take four hours to four days" depending on transportation and if it's raining, he said. "Before making any assumption we're going to have to look along this road and all the villages."

The U.S. Agency for International Development on Tuesday said it was contributing another up to $7 million to combat the outbreak on top of the $1 million it committed last week.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Congo warned that the outbreak is far from over. It said it will expand operations for community-based surveillance and safe burials.

"The risk of spreading within the country and to neighboring nations remains real," said Dr. Fatoumata Nafo-Traore, IFRC's regional director for Africa.

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. While all of the outbreaks were based in remote rural areas the virus has twice made it to Kinshasa, the capital of 10 million people, but was effectively contained.

Mbandaka is an hour's flight from Kinshasa and several days' travel by barge.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

Associated Press video journalist John Bompengo and writers Lauran Neergaard and Matthew Lee contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Louise Annaud/Medecins Sans Frontieres via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Rallies Abortion Opponents to Vote for Republicans]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 21:23:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tump-anti-abortion.jpg

President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a rallying call to opponents of abortion, encouraging them to head to the polls to elect conservative lawmakers.

Speaking at the Susan B. Anthony List's annual "Campaign for Life Gala," Trump took a victory lap for his anti-abortion policies and nominations of conservative justices to federal courts. But he warned the group that they must show up at the polls to preserve their gains under his administration.

"Every day between now and November we must work together to elect more lawmakers who share our values, cherish our heritage, and proudly stand for life," Trump said. He summed it up for the roomful of enthusiastic supporters: "The story is, '18 midterms, we need Republicans."

Trump has long been an unlikely sweetheart for conservative and evangelical voters. But now, in the lead-up to the midterm elections, the thrice-married former Democrat who used to describe himself as "very pro-choice" has been offering catnip to conservatives.

Last week, the administration unveiled a new push to strip funding from Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics. The initiative, which was formally unveiled Tuesday, is aimed at resurrecting parts of a Reagan-era mandate banning federally funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, or sharing space with abortion providers.

And it arrived just in time for Trump to highlight it Tuesday at the gala. The speech, said one administration official, had been aimed at a core constituency of conservative activists who are seen as key to energizing the party entering the fall midterm elections.

Trump, for his part, promised a "massive campaign" to assist Republicans this fall, and highlighted his role contributing toward the Republican National Committee's fundraising haul.

"Your vote in 2018 is every bit as important as your vote in 2016," Trump said, reading off a teleprompter. He paused before telling the crowd, "I'm not sure I really believe that.

"I don't know who the hell wrote that line," he said, prompting laughs.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, branded Trump "the most pro-life President in history" at the Gala, and told the AP the move "will help tremendously" in the midterms.

It's also the latest evidence that as he frets over the Russia investigation and prepares for a planned summit with North Korea, Trump has also been focused on fulfilling campaign promises and tending to issues that galvanize his base: holding a series of events to rail against the dangers of illegal immigration, pulling out of the Iran-nuclear deal and wading anew into the fight over abortion rights.

Trump is far from a natural fit for conservative voters. He recently admitted to reimbursing his lawyer for paying pay hush money to a porn star who claimed she had sex with Trump (a charge that he denies). And Trump has bragged about groping women without their permission. During the campaign, he sometimes had trouble articulating his views on abortion, at one point suggesting women should be punished for having abortions. His campaign later walked back the statement, saying that if abortion were ever outlawed, he believed that doctors who perform them should be punished.

Nonetheless, white evangelical voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016, and that support has only grown. A PRRI survey released last month found white evangelical support for Trump at an all-time high, with 75 percent of those polled holding a favorable view of the president and just 22 percent holding an unfavorable view. Support for Trump within the general population in the poll stood at just 42 percent.

Religious groups like the Catholic Medical Association approve of a series of actions Trump has taken, beginning with his appointment of judges who oppose abortion rights, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Trump's reinstatement of the global "gag rule" that bars federal funding for nongovernmental organizations that provide abortion referrals.

The White House also points to the administration's support for religious objectors in court and Trump's efforts to bring religious groups "back into the fold by ensuring religious groups and their partners are critical participants in the policy making process."

Dannenfelser, whose group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion, is planning to raise and spend $25 million this cycle, up from the $18 million the group spent in the lead-up to the 2016 elections.

She said the president's latest move would play especially well with voters in states like Missouri, where Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley is challenging Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, one of the Senate's most vulnerable incumbents, as well as in Indiana and North Dakota, where Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer is challenging Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp.

Abortion rights activists, meanwhile, argue that Trump's moves on the issue will only embolden women to turn out at the polls, just as they took to the streets in marches after Trump's election.

"It's going to cost this administration at the ballot box in November," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Kevin Griffis.

"We have to fight back in the best way we know how," the group Emily's List wrote in a fundraising email, "electing pro-choice Democratic women who will always protect reproductive freedom."

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Ken Thomas and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Most Docs Say Emergency Rooms Not Prepared for Disaster: Survey]]>Tue, 22 May 2018 21:20:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/emergency+waiting+room+composite.jpg

Ninety-three percent of doctors say their emergency departments are not fully prepared for a surge of patients in the event of a disaster, according to a new poll by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

The poll released Tuesday also revealed that less than 50 percent of emergency physicians believed they were even somewhat prepared for an emergency that require drastically increased patient capacity, whether due to a natural disaster or man-made event like a mass shooting.

The study polled more than 1,300 emergency physicians from both urban and suburban hospitals from April 25 to May 6. The survey had a response rate of 18.6 percent and a 2.7 percent margin of error. 

Only six percent of respondents answered that their emergency departments were fully prepared and, on the other end of the spectrum, 17 percent said their departments were not at all prepared.

"Emergency physicians are concerned that our system cannot even meet daily demands, let alone during a medical surge for a natural or man-made disaster," said ACEP President Dr. Paul Kivela in a release.

In another striking finding, 90 percent of about 250 doctors polled said there was a shortage or absence of critical medication in their emergency rooms and that over the last year those shortages have increased, according to the poll.

Dr. Karl Marzec, an emergency medicine specialist with Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, said he is often prompted to use a different medication, which may not be his first line of treatment, due to the shortage. 

"Over the last six months, there's been prolonged shortage of critical medications that we use on a daily basis, so we've been having to go to alternative medications," Marzec said. "Some of them work just as effectively but we are also in shortage of these backup alternative medications that we're using."

Marzec said pain medication, nausea treatments and saline — all of which help patients recover — are in short supply and that could slow down patient care in a mass casualty event. 

The respondents were also asked whether their hospital re-evaluated procedures in light of recent events. Thirty percent of physicians said they had not really or not at all re-evaluated, while 44 percent of emergency rooms did somewhat evaluate their procedures. 

Marzec said his hospitals do prepare by thinking about what type of emergencies could occur in San Diego County, like fires, earthquakes and shootings. 

"If there's large fires throughout the county, we'd be thinking, 'What are our burn facility capabilities,'" Marzec said. 

ACEP said a coordinated approach to preparedness, including a region-wide data management system and tracking of resources, is key to ensuring preparedness in a mass emergency.

The organization is working to get a bill approved by Congress that could increase oversight of medical resources, allowing for better tracking and ensuring supplies are there when needed, Marzec said. 

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Nurse Dead in Congo as Ebola Vaccination Campaign Starts]]>Mon, 21 May 2018 15:23:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/961020376-WHO-Vaccinations-Ebola-Congo.jpg

Congo began an Ebola vaccination campaign Monday in a northwest provincial capital in a major effort to stem an outbreak that has already made its way from rural towns into a city of more than 1 million people.

The campaign comes a day after the health ministry announced that a nurse has died from Ebola in Bikoro, the rural northwestern town where the outbreak began and was first announced in early May. The death toll is now 27.

There are 49 hemorrhagic fever cases: 22 confirmed as Ebola, 21 probable and six suspected, according to Health Minister Oly Ilunga.

"We have established surveillance mechanisms and are following all cases and contacts," he said. "The response is well-organized because we have also put in surveillance measures at the entry and exit points of Mbandaka."

In a hopeful sign, two patients who were confirmed as positive for Ebola have recovered, and are returning to their homes though they will be monitored, Ilunga said. They have left the hospital "with a medical certificate attesting that they've recovered and can no longer transmit the disease because they have developed antibodies against Ebola," he said.

Ebola, however, does in many cases remain longer in semen, and therefore can be transmitted through sexual contact for some months after recovery.

Congo's health delegation, including the health minister and representatives of the World Health Organization and the United Nations, have arrived in Mbandaka, the northwestern city of 1.2 million where Ebola has spread, to launch the vaccination campaign Monday.

Dr. Eric Ekutshu, a doctor in the Wangata health zone in Mbandaka, received the vaccine Monday as part of a ceremony presided over by officials.

"I'm glad I have received the vaccine against Ebola," he said. "I ask the others (contacts and nursing staff) to get vaccinated to protect themselves. Everyone must adhere to this vaccination campaign with the goal of protection."

Guillaume Ngoie Mwamba, director of the Expanded Program on Immunization, was the first Congolese to receive the vaccine in Mbandaka.

"This is to give a message of safety and assurance to all of the population exposed to the epidemic," he said.

Two dozen vaccinators, including Congolese and Guineans who administered the vaccine in their country during the 2014-2016 outbreak, are in Mbandaka to start injecting the 540 doses that have arrived, the health minister said.

It will take five days to vaccinate about 100 registered patients, including 73 health care staff, who have had contact with patients and their relatives in the Wangata and Bolenge health zones of Mbandaka, he said.

The vaccination campaign will then move to the other two affected areas, the Bikoro and Iboko health zones.

More than 7,500 doses are available in Congo, WHO said Monday, adding that an additional 8,000 doses will be available in the coming days.

The vaccine, provided by U.S. company Merck, is still in the test stages, but it was effective toward the end of the Ebola epidemic that killed more than 11,300 people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia from 2014 to 2016. A major challenge will be keeping the vaccines cold in this vast, impoverished, tropical country where infrastructure is poor.

Congo President Joseph Kabila and his Cabinet agreed Saturday to increase funds for the Ebola emergency to more than $4 million. The Cabinet also endorsed the decision to provide free health care in the affected areas and to provide special care to all Ebola victims and their relatives.

The U.S. Agency for International Development has said that it has provided an initial $1 million to combat the Ebola outbreak. The funds are going to WHO in support of its joint strategic response plan with Congo's government.

The spread of Ebola from a rural area to Mbandaka has raised alarm as Ebola can spread more quickly in urban centers. The fever can cause severe internal bleeding that is often fatal.

"It's concerning that we now have cases of Ebola in an urban center, but we're much better placed to deal with this outbreak than we were in 2014," WHO's director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus, said at the U.N. health agency's annual meeting in Geneva on Monday. "I am pleased to say that vaccination is starting as we speak today."

Tedros said he is "proud of the way the whole organization has responded to this outbreak, at headquarters, the regional office and the country office."

This is Congo's ninth Ebola outbreak since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys. It is spread via contact with the bodily fluids of those infected.

While Congo has contained several Ebola outbreaks in the past, all of them were based in remote rural areas. The virus has twice made it to Kinshasa, Congo's capital of 10 million people, but was effectively contained.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

AP writers Carley Petesch and Geir Moulson contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Junior KannahaAFP/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Revolving Door of Despair: Drugs Land More Women Behind Bars]]>Mon, 21 May 2018 08:39:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18136204700355-Campbell-County-Jail-Jacksboro-Tennessee.jpg

On opposite sides of the county jail, a mother and her son chat about school, girls, birthday gifts — and their future together. They aren't allowed to see each other face-to-face, so the inmate and the fifth-grader connect by video.

"Hi, Mommy," 10-year-old Robby says to Krystle Sweat, clutching a phone in the visiting room as he looks at his mother on a screen, sitting in her cell.

Robby hasn't hugged her since Christmas 2015, just before Sweat wound up back behind bars. He shifts his weight from one leg to another and says that on the day she's released, he wants to show her how he can ride no-hands on his bike.

For years now, Sweat has cycled in and out of jail, arrested more than two dozen times for robbery and other crimes — almost all related to her drug addiction that culminated in a $300-a-day pain pill habit. She's tried to quit, but nothing has worked. Now she says she's ready to make the break when she's paroled, possibly this summer.

"I'm almost 33," she says. "I don't want to continue living like this. I want to be someone my family can count on."

Tucked in a remote corner of Appalachia, the Campbell County Jail offers an agonizing glimpse into how the tidal wave of opioids and methamphetamines has ravaged America. Here and across the country, addiction is driving skyrocketing rates of incarcerated women, tearing apart families while squeezing communities that lack money, treatment programs and permanent solutions to close the revolving door.

Women in jail are the fastest-growing correctional population in America. The numbers rose from 13,258 in 1980 to 102,300 in 2016, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Between 1980 and 2009, the arrest rate for drug possession or use tripled for women, while it doubled for men. Opioid abuse has exacerbated the problem.

More than a decade ago, there were rarely more than 10 women in the Campbell County Jail. Now the population is routinely around 60. Most are arrested on a drug-related charge. Many also are addicted. They receive no counseling, and eventually are released into the same community where friends — and in some cases, family — are using drugs. Soon they are, too.

And the cycle begins anew: Another arrest, another booking photo, another pink uniform and off to a cell to simmer in regret and despair.

Sarai Keelean is back in for violating probation for possessing meth; she'd been using the drug and also selling it to buy opioids. Locked up for almost three years, she longs for freedom but is terrified, too. "You're afraid that you're going to mess up," she says.

Blanche Ball, who has been using, cooking or selling meth for 15 of her 30 years, has been in jail several times. "I know I could have done something more with my life," she says, but: "Once you're like this for so long, you don't know another way to be."

Her two oldest children are being raised by family, and she doesn't want to see them until she's confident she'll remain in their lives. The two youngest were adopted. "That wound is so bad," she says, "I try to block it out all the time."

In 2015, Campbell County had the third-highest amount of opioids prescribed per person of all U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That amounted to more than five times the national average.

Mayor E.L. Morton blames the pharmaceutical industry and doctors, and two lawsuits against opioid makers are pending on behalf of the county and its 40,000 residents. Meth is also a problem.

"Throw a rock, hit a house, and there's drugs," says Keelean, the 35-year-old inmate.

The county has struggled for decades. Its tobacco farms and once-flourishing coal industry disappeared long ago, wiping out jobs and solid incomes. Some factories remain, but more than 1 in 5 residents are poor. Nowadays, as much as 90 percent of the crime in a five-county district that includes Campbell is connected to drugs, the local prosecutor says.

Tennessee doesn't have enough psychiatrists, social workers, counselors and nurses or residential drug treatment in rural areas — and Campbell County has no such programs, says Mary-Linden Salter, director of the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug & Other Addiction Services. "It's unrealistic for people to travel 700 miles for treatment because that's where there's an open bed," she adds.

Salter also says drug treatment is often costlier and more complicated for women because many have experienced trauma and abuse as children or adults and may be slower to seek help because they fear losing their children.

"Women are the caregivers of their families," she says. "They get blamed and shamed for not taking care of their children. But they get blamed and shamed for not being in recovery. It's a horrible choice."

There are roads to recovery here. A drug court, which provides supervision for up to two years, has a 70 percent graduation rate. And a new program just for women, begun last year, takes offenders jailed on misdemeanor drug charges before sentencing and moves them into short- or long-term residential treatment. In both cases, treatment takes them to other counties or out of state.

Krystle Sweat says that when she's paroled, she wants to enter a faith-based recovery program. Her parents, who have raised Robby since he was about 3, have promised to help.

As Robby's visit ends this day, he and his mother blow each other kisses.

"I'm so thankful that he still loves me," she says, returning to her bunk where she keeps a photo of her son. "He's disappointed in me. .... He doesn't say that he is, but I know he is."

AP Photographer David Goldman contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Congo's Ebola Risk 'Very High' as Confirmed Virus Cases Rise]]>Fri, 18 May 2018 08:47:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_181375547663241.jpg

Congo's latest Ebola outbreak now has 14 confirmed cases as health officials rush to contain the often deadly virus in a city of more than 1 million. The World Health Organization was holding an experts' meeting Friday to determine whether the epidemic warrants being declared a global health emergency.

WHO now calls the risk to the public in Congo "very high" and the regional risk high, with the global risk low. The Republic of Congo and Central African Republic are nearby.

Vast, impoverished Congo has contained several past Ebola outbreaks but the spread of the hemorrhagic fever to an urban area poses a major challenge. The city of Mbandaka, which has one confirmed Ebola case, is an hour's flight from the capital, Kinshasa, and is located on the Congo River, a busy travel corridor.

"The outbreak is potentially a public health emergency because many of the criteria have been met," said Dr. David Heymann, a former WHO director who has led numerous responses to Ebola.

For a health crisis to constitute a global health emergency it must meet three criteria stipulated by WHO: It must threaten other countries via the international spread of disease, it must be a "serious, unusual or unexpected" situation and it may require immediate international action for containment.

Ebola has twice made it to Congo's capital in the past and was rapidly stopped. Congo has had the most Ebola outbreaks of any country and Heymann said authorities there have considerable expertise in halting the lethal virus.

The latest outbreak tests the new experimental Ebola vaccine, which proved highly effective in the West Africa outbreak a few years ago, although the vaccine was used long after the epidemic had peaked. More than 4,000 doses have arrived in Congo this week, with more on the way, and vaccinations are expected to start next week. One challenge will be keeping the vaccine cold in a region with poor infrastructure and patchy electricity.

Just one Ebola death in the current outbreak has been confirmed so far. Congo's health ministry late Thursday said the total number of cases is 45, including 10 suspected and 21 probable ones.

The health ministry said two new deaths have been tied to the cases, including one in a suburb of Mbandaka. The other was in Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week. It is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Mbandaka.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak," Dr. Peter Salama, WHO's emergency response chief, warned on Thursday after the first urban case was announced. "Urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do."

Until now, the outbreak had been confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread via contact with bodily fluids of those infected, travels more slowly.

Doctors Without Borders said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people were being monitored. WHO said it was deploying about 30 more experts to Mbandaka.

Amid fears of the outbreak spreading to neighboring countries, the U.N. migration agency said Friday it would support the deployment of Congolese health teams to 16 entry points along the nearby border with the Republic of Congo for infection control and prevention.

The U.N. children's agency said it was mobilizing hundreds of community workers to raise awareness on protection against the disease.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mark Naftalin/UNICEF via AP]]>
<![CDATA[It's Safe to Eat Romaine Lettuce Again, CDC Says]]>Thu, 17 May 2018 10:26:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/950400894-Romaine-Lettuce.jpg

Romaine lettuce grown near Yuma, Arizona, is believed to have sickened 172 people in 32 states, killing one person, but it's unlikely to do so any more, NBC News reported.

Any romaine lettuce that's now in stores is very likely not from the Yuma region, meaning it's unlikely to carry the E. coli bacteria linked to the outbreak, according to an update from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

More cases may still be reported but the lettuce has a 21-day shelf life and the lettuce's harvest season in Arizona ended in mid-April.

"The most recent illnesses reported to CDC started when romaine lettuce from the Yuma growing region was likely still available in stores, restaurants, and in peoples’ homes," according to the CDC update.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves 1st Nonopioid Drug to Ease Withdrawal Symptoms]]>Thu, 17 May 2018 10:03:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Lucemyra.jpg

Federal regulators on Wednesday approved the first nonopioid treatment to ease withdrawal from quitting addictive opioids.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration expedited approval of Lucemyra to help combat the U.S. opioid epidemic. Two-thirds of drug overdose deaths in 2016 involved opioids, mostly fentanyl, heroin and prescription painkillers.

The pill was approved to treat adults for up to two weeks for common withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and agitation. It is not an addiction medicine but can be part of a longer-term treatment plan, according to the FDA.

People going through detox are usually given a safer opioid medicine like methadone, which eases the cravings without an intense high.

"The fear of experiencing withdrawal symptoms often prevents those suffering from opioid addiction from seeking help," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

In two studies of 866 adults, those given Lucemyra reported less severe withdrawal symptoms when they abruptly stopped taking opioids, compared to those who were given dummy pills.

Side effects included low blood pressure, dizziness, sleepiness, slow heart rate and, in a few people, fainting.

The FDA is requiring drugmaker US WorldMeds of Louisville, Kentucky, to conduct more studies in teens and newborns of opioid-addicted mothers and for possible longer-term use in people tapering off opioids.

Privately held US WorldMeds said it had not yet set a price for Lucemyra.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: US WorldMeds]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Crisis Makes More Organs Available: Researchers]]>Thu, 17 May 2018 08:36:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-724243309.jpg

America's opioid epidemic is making more organs available for lifesaving transplants, researchers reported Wednesday.

Close to 14 percent of people who donated an organ in 2016 — 1,029 donors — had died of a drug overdose, the team of experts reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. That compares to just 1 percent in 2000, or 59 donors.

And the transplants are safe. Organs donated by people who have died of drug overdoses are not dangerous because most traces of the drug are gone by the time the organ is removed, said Dr. Josef Stehlik of the University of Utah, who also signed the letter. The report added that there is "no significant difference in survival after transplantation."

"The drugs are metabolized and excreted from the donor body by the time the transplant would take place (in brain-dead donors body functions — such as kidney and liver function — continue during preparation for transplant)," Stehlik told NBC News by email.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Libra, File]]>
<![CDATA['Major, Major Game-Changer': Ebola Spreads to Big Congo City]]>Thu, 17 May 2018 19:27:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18137554766324.jpg

Congo's Ebola outbreak has spread to a crossroads city of more than 1 million people in a troubling turn that marks the first time the vast, impoverished country has encountered the lethal virus in an urban area.

"This is a major, major game-changer in the outbreak," Dr. Peter Salama, the World Health Organization's deputy director-general of emergency preparedness and response, warned on Thursday.

A single case of Ebola was confirmed in Mbandaka, a densely populated provincial capital on the Congo River, Congo's Health Minister Oly Ilunga said late Wednesday. The city is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Bikoro, the rural area where the outbreak was announced last week.

Late Thursday, Congo's Ministry of Health announced 11 new confirmed Ebola cases and two deaths tied to cases in the country's northwest, none of which were in Mbandaka.

A total of 45 cases of Ebola have now been reported in Congo in this outbreak: 14 confirmed, 21 probable and 10 suspected, the ministry said, after results from lab tests returned Thursday.

There has been one new death in Bikoro, where the first death took place. That new death had epidemiological ties to another case. The other death was a suspected case in Wangata, the ministry said.

Only one of the 25 dead has been confirmed as Ebola, it said, adding that no new health professionals have been contaminated. One nurse had died, and three others were among suspected cases since the outbreak began.

Medical teams have been rushing to track down anyone thought to have had contact with infected people, while WHO is shipping thousands of doses of an experimental vaccine.

Until now, the outbreak was confined to remote rural areas, where Ebola, which is spread by bodily fluids, travels more slowly.

"We're certainly not trying to cause any panic in the national or international community," Salama said. But "urban Ebola can result in an exponential increase in cases in a way that rural Ebola struggles to do."

Mbandaka, a city of almost 1.2 million, is in a busy travel corridor in Congo's northwest Equateur province and is upstream from the capital, Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million. It is an hour's plane ride from Kinshasa or a four- to seven-day trip by river barge.

Salama also noted Mbandaka's proximity to neighboring countries, including Central African Republic and Republic of Congo.

"The scenario has changed, and it has become most serious and worrying, since the disease is now affecting an urban area," said Henry Gray, emergency coordinator in Mbandaka for Doctors Without Borders.

The aid organization said 514 people believed to have been in contact with infected people are being monitored. WHO said it is deploying about 30 more experts to the city.

Those exposed will for the first time in Congo receive Ebola vaccinations, the health minister said. WHO has sent 4,000 doses to Congo and said it will dispatch thousands more in the coming days as needed.

"This is a concerning development, but we now have better tools than ever before to combat Ebola," Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, said of the new urban case.

The vaccine has been shown to be highly effective against Ebola. It was tested in Guinea during the outbreak that killed more than 11,300 people in West Africa from 2014 to 2016.

WHO has said it will use the "ring vaccination" method. It involves vaccinating contacts of those feared infected, contacts of those contacts, and health care and other front-line workers.

This is the ninth Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976, when the disease was first identified. The virus is initially transmitted to people from wild animals, including bats and monkeys.

There is no specific treatment for Ebola. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle pain and at times internal and external bleeding. The virus can be fatal in up to 90 percent of cases, depending on the strain. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mark Naftalin/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Shorter Drug Treatment OK for Many Breast Cancer Patients]]>Wed, 16 May 2018 22:25:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Herceptin.jpg

Many women with a common and aggressive form of breast cancer that is treated with Herceptin can get by with six months of the drug instead of the usual 12, greatly reducing the risk of heart damage it sometimes can cause, a study suggests.

It's good news, but it comes nearly two decades after the drug first went on the market and many patients have suffered that side effect.

The study was done in the United Kingdom and funded by UK government grants. Results were released Wednesday by the American Society of Clinical Oncology and will be presented at the group's meeting next month.

Herceptin transformed care of a dreaded disease when it was approved in 1998 for women with advanced breast cancers whose growth is aided by a faulty HER2 gene, as 15 percent to 20 percent of cases are. It was later approved for treatment of those cancers in earlier stages, too, based on studies that had tested it in patients for 12 months. That guess, that the drug should be taken for a year, became the standard of care.

But the drug can hurt the heart's ability to pump. That often eases if treatment is stopped but the damage can be permanent and lead to heart failure.

Some studies tested shorter use, but results conflicted. The new study is the largest so far, and involved more than 4,000 women with early-stage cancers who were given usual chemotherapy plus Herceptin for either six or 12 months.

After four years, about 90 percent of both groups were alive without signs of the disease. Only 4 percent on the shorter treatment dropped out due to heart problems versus 8 percent of those treated for a year.

"It's great news" for patients, said the study leader, Dr. Helena Earl of the University of Cambridge in England. Earl has consulted for Herceptin's maker, Roche. The company had no role in the study.

"There's no reason to not immediately change practice. The findings are persuasive," said Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer for the oncology society. Most of Herceptin's cancer-fighting benefit seems to come in the early months of use, he said.

Others said that because so few women have died or relapsed after being treated with the drug, longer followup may be needed to make sure the findings hold up before guidelines should be changed. Doctors also want to see results published, and to study them to see if certain groups of women need longer treatment.

Herceptin is given through an IV every three weeks; a year of it costs $34,000 to $40,000 in England and about $70,000 in the U.S. In December, a copycat competitor known as a biosimilar was approved in the U.S. and already is used in some other countries.

Dr. Harold Burstein, a breast cancer expert at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said shorter treatment may increase access to the drug in countries where many women can't afford it now, but that in the U.S., "my guess is that people will continue to aim for a year of treatment" because of lingering concerns that longer use is better, as a smaller, previous study suggested.

Dr. Jennifer Litton, a breast specialist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, said Herceptin was a true breakthrough, but scaling back treatment whenever possible is just as important to patients. She said the results show how important it can be to study drugs already on the market, and that drug companies alone should not be relied on to do studies like this.

"It's really important that we continue to have public funding for trials so we can continue to ask all of these questions for our patients," she said.

Herceptin's developer, Genentech, now part of Roche, said in a statement that the new study must be viewed along with several smaller previous ones that found one year to be best. The goal of treatment "is to provide people with the best chance for a cure," so women need to talk with their doctors about how best to reach that goal, the statement says.

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association issued its first statement on the heart effects of cancer drugs, saying women should consider carefully the risks and benefits of any therapies that may hurt hearts.


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: F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd via AP]]>
<![CDATA[More Kids, Especially Girls, Are Attempting Suicide: Study]]>Wed, 16 May 2018 11:01:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_teensuicide0515_1500x845.jpg

More kids are attempting suicide or thinking about it, according to a new study out Wednesday.

The rate of children's hospitalizations for suicidal thoughts or activity doubled from about 2008 to 2015, researcher Dr. Gregory Plemmons of Vanderbilt University told NBC News.

The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at data from 49 children's hospitals. It found that girls made up nearly two-thirds of cases.

What's behind the uptick isn't clear to the researchers — "I don't have any one magic answer that explains why we're seeing this," Plemmons said.

SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

<![CDATA[School Stress May Be Cause of Rising Teen Suicide Attempts: Study]]>Wed, 16 May 2018 11:00:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_teensuicide0515_1500x845.jpg

New research shows a growing number of young people are thinking about taking their own lives, and the study suggests school stress may play a role. Vanderbilt University researchers say the rates of children and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts have doubled since 2008, and the problem seems to spike in the fall.]]>
<![CDATA[Judge Tosses California Law Allowing Life-Ending Drugs]]>Tue, 15 May 2018 20:53:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/righttodieAP_17167670687250.jpg

A California judge on Tuesday threw out a 2016 state law allowing the terminally ill to end their lives, ruling it was unconstitutionally approved by the Legislature.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Daniel Ottolia said lawmakers acted illegally in passing the law during a special session devoted to other topics, said lawyers for supporters and opponents. He did not address the legal issue of whether it was proper to allow people to take their own lives, and gave the state attorney general five days to appeal.

Attorney General Xavier Becerra's office did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, American Academy of Medical Ethics and several physicians challenged the law, which allows adults to obtain a prescription for life-ending drugs if a doctor has determined they have six months or less to live. The plaintiffs say the law lacks safeguards to protect against abuse.

California health officials reported that 111 terminally ill people took drugs to end their lives in the first six months after the law went into effect June 9, 2016, and made the option legal in the nation's most populous state. Oregon was the first to provide the option in 1997. It also is allowed in Washington, Vermont, Colorado, Hawaii and Washington D.C.

Compassion & Choices, a national organization that advocated for the law, estimated that in its first year 504 Californians requested prescriptions for medical aid in dying, but had no further update Tuesday. The next report on how many people took the drugs is due in July.

"Our supporters, they've frankly expressed shock at this outcome. They're disappointed that this end of life option could be taken away," said John Kappos, an attorney representing Compassion & Choices.

Alexandra Snyder, an attorney and executive director of Life Legal Defense Foundation, said the judge ruled that lawmakers effectively "hijacked" a special legislative session that was called to address access to medical care and used it to pass their bill.

"Access to health care has no relationship to assisted suicide," she said, saying it set a dangerous precedent that undermines the legislative process.

Opponents have argued that hastening death is morally wrong, puts terminally ill patients at risk for coerced death by loved ones and could become a way out for people who are uninsured or fearful of high medical bills.

Democratic Sen. Bill Monning of Carmel, who carried the original legislation, said the bill was properly considered in the special session and followed "every rule of transparency and openness." Lawmakers could try to pass it again if the law ultimately is rejected by the courts, he said.

So far, he said, there has been "not a single report of malfeasance or problems."

Kelly Davis' 41-year-old sister, Betsy Davis, was one of the first to use the law as she was dying of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, that slowly robbed her of her ability to use her muscles including to swallow and communicate. She held a two-day party in Ojai to celebrate the end of her life with about two-dozen friends, giving away her possessions and ordering her favorite foods.

"I keep thinking of all the people who are facing a terminal illness and they're considering the use of this law, and they're in limbo right now and this right might be taken away from them," Davis said. "It gave her back control of her life, it let her die on her own terms and if this had happened leading up to her death or when she thought she'd be able to use the law, she would have been devastated."

The state's attorney general's office said in court papers that medical professionals have the right to refuse to prescribe and dispense the drugs. Under the law, the terminally ill person must be able to self-administer the drugs.

Associated Press writer Julie Watson contributed to this story.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Amy Taxin/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Mom's Seeming 'Pregnancy Brain' Turns Out to Be Melanoma]]>Mon, 14 May 2018 13:11:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/skin-cancer-death-today-main-1-180511_442778c524777a13304ae8eb78074cb1.focal-1000x500.jpg

When Danielle Dick was frustrated at being unable to find the right words, her obstetrician told her it was probably "pregnancy brain" brought on by the twins she was carrying.

But "Today" reported that, when one day she wasn't able to speak at all, an emergency MRI revealed three masses nestled in her brain, which turned out to be melanoma.

She died less than a year later at 32, having delivered the twins at 29 weeks to allow them time to develop and her to undergo more aggressive treatment. Now her husband is raising awareness about the severity of skin cancer.

"I hope that people realize the importance of going to the dermatologist regularly. That is what she wanted people to know as well," Tyler Dick said.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Tyler Dick]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana Growers Diversify With Hemp Amid CBD Boom]]>Mon, 14 May 2018 12:07:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CannabisFieldFranceGettyImages-454183286.jpg

A glut of legal marijuana has driven Oregon pot prices to rock-bottom levels, prompting some nervous growers to start pivoting to another type of cannabis to make ends meet -- one that doesn't come with a high.

Applications for state licenses to grow hemp -- marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin -- have increased more than twentyfold since 2015, and Oregon now ranks No. 2 behind Colorado among the 19 states with active hemp cultivation. The rapidly evolving market comes amid skyrocketing demand for a hemp-derived extract called cannabidiol, or CBD, seen by many as a health aid.

In its purified distilled form, CBD oil commands thousands of dollars per kilogram, and farmers can make more than $100,000 an acre growing hemp plants to produce it. That distillate can also be converted into a crystallized form or powder.

"Word on the street is everybody thinks hemp's the new gold rush," said Jerrad McCord, who grows marijuana in southern Oregon and just added 12 acres of hemp. "This is a business. You've got to adapt, and you've got to be a problem-solver."

It's a problem few predicted when Oregon voters opened the door to legal marijuana four years ago.

The state's climate is perfect for growing marijuana, and growers produced bumper crops. Under state law, none of it can leave Oregon. That, coupled with a decision to not cap the number of licenses for growers, has created a surplus.

Oregon's inventory of marijuana is staggering for a state its size. There are nearly 1 million pounds of usable flower in the system, and an additional 350,000 pounds of marijuana extracts, edibles and tinctures.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which regulates the industry, says some of the inventory of flower goes into extracts, oils and tinctures -- which have increased in popularity -- but the agency can't say how much. A comprehensive market study is underway. 

Yet the retail price for a gram of pot has fallen about 50 percent since 2015, from $14 to $7, according to a report by the Oregon Office of Economic Analysis. Growers and retailers alike have felt the sting.

"Now we're starting to look at drastic means, like destroying product. At some point, there's no more storage for it," said Trey Willison, who switched his operation from marijuana to hemp this season. "Whoever would have thought we'd get to the point of destroying pounds of marijuana?"

That stark prospect is driving more of Oregon's marijuana entrepreneurs toward hemp, a crop that already has a foothold in states like Colorado and Kentucky and a lot of buzz in the cannabis industry. In Oregon, the number of hemp licenses increased from 12 in 2015 to 353 as of last week, and the state now ranks No. 2 nationally in licensed acreage.

Colorado, which is No. 1 in hemp production, and Washington were the first states to broadly legalize marijuana. Both have seen price drops for marijuana but not as significant as Oregon.

Like marijuana, the hemp plant is a cannabis plant, but it contains less than 0.3 percent of THC, the compound that gives pot its high. Growing industrial hemp is legal under federal law, and the plant can be sold for use in things like fabric, food, seed and building materials.

But the increasing focus in Oregon is the gold-colored CBD oil that has soared in popularity among cannabis connoisseurs and is rapidly going mainstream. At least 50 percent of hemp nationwide is being grown for CBD extraction, and Oregon is riding the crest of that wave, said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, a nonpartisan organization that advocates for pro-hemp legislation.

"There are a lot of growers who already have experience growing cannabis, and when you're growing for CBD, there are a lot of the same techniques that you use for growing marijuana," he said. "Oregon is definitely a hotbed of activity around this."

CBD is popping up in everything from cosmetics to chocolate bars to bottled water to pet treats. One Los Angeles bar sells drinks containing the oil, massage therapists use creams containing CBD, and juice bars offer the stuff in smoothies. Dozens of online sites sell endless iterations of CBD oils, tinctures, capsules, transdermal patches, infused chocolates and creams with no oversight.

Proponents say CBD offers a plethora of health benefits, from relieving pain to taming anxiety. Scientists caution, however, that there have been very few comprehensive clinical studies of how CBD affects humans -- mostly because the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration still considers cannabidiol a Schedule 1 drug, and the government requires special dispensation to study it.

Pre-clinical studies have shown promise for treatment of chronic pain, neuro-inflammation, anxiety, addiction and anti-psychotic effects in animals, mostly rodents, said Ziva Cooper, an associate professor of clinical neurobiology at Columbia University who focuses her research on the therapeutic potential of cannabis and cannabinoids.

The Food and Drug Administration next month could approve the first drug derived from CBD. It's used to treat forms of epilepsy.

Christina Sasser, co-founder of Vital Leaf, isn't waiting for government action to market CBD products in stores and online. She sells about 500 bottles of Oregon-sourced CBD oil a month and ships only to customers living in states with state-run hemp pilot programs, to better avoid the possibility that federal agents will go after her for selling something the U.S. government considers illicit.

"Everybody in the CBD world has recognized the risks involved, and I would say the vast majority of us really believe in the power of the plant and are willing to operate in this, sort of, gray area," she said.

Willison was selling marijuana clones to pot startups when he realized last spring he was selling way more clones than Oregon's market could support. The two-story building where he grew 200 pounds of weed a month sits nearly empty, and a greenhouse built to expand his pot business is packed with hemp plants instead.

He breeds hemp plants genetically selected for their strong CBD concentration, harvests the seeds and extracts CBD from the remaining plants that can fetch up to $13,000 per kilogram. His future looks bright again.

"The (marijuana) market is stuck within the borders of Oregon -- it's locked within the state," he said, as he took a break from collecting tiny grains of pollen from his plants. "But hemp is an international commodity now."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Nursing Homes, Senior Centers Find Bullying Has No Age Limit]]>Sat, 12 May 2018 22:12:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18103711230612.jpg

The unwanted were turned away from cafeteria tables. Fistfights broke out at karaoke. Dances became breeding grounds for gossip and cruelty.

It became clear this place had a bullying problem on its hands. What many found surprising was that the perpetrators and victims alike were all senior citizens.

Nursing homes, senior centers and housing complexes for the elderly have introduced programs, training and policies aimed at curbing spates of bullying, an issue once thought the exclusive domain of the young.

"There's the clique system just like everywhere else," said Betsy Gran, who until recently was assistant director at San Francisco's 30th Street Senior Center. "It's like 'Mean Girls,' but everyone is 80."

After the cafeteria exiles and karaoke brouhahas, the 30th Street Center teamed up with a local nonprofit, the Institute on Aging, to develop an anti-bullying program. All staff members received 18 hours of training that included lessons on what constitutes bullying, causes of the problem and how to manage such conflicts. Seniors were then invited to similar classes, held in English and Spanish, teaching them to alert staff or intervene themselves if they witness bullying. Signs and even place mats around the center now declare it a "Bully Free Zone."

"I think in the past I would have just stayed out of it," said Mary Murphy, 86, a retired real estate agent who took the classes. "Now I might be inclined to help."

Robin Bonifas, a social work professor at Arizona State University and author of the book "Bullying Among Older Adults: How to Recognize and Address an Unseen Epidemic," said existing studies suggest about 1 in 5 seniors encounters bullying. She sees it as an outgrowth of frustrations characteristic in communal settings, as well a reflection of issues unique to getting older. Many elderly see their independence and sense of control disappear and, for some, becoming a bully can feel like regaining some of that lost power.

"It makes them feel very out of control," Bonifas said, "and the way they sort of get on top of things and make their name in this new world is intimidating, picking on people, gossiping."

There is far less recognition of bullying as a problem among seniors compared with young people. Even among those who have been called bullies, many are unaware how problematic their behavior is until it's labeled. Campaigns around the country have sought to spread the word, including a booklet circulated last year by the National Center for Assisted Living.

"In the life cycle, it doesn't go away," said Katherine Arnold, a member of the city Human Rights Commission in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, which created a public service announcement on its community-access station that included a portrayal of a man who was excluded from a card game and became the subject of gossip by other seniors. "There's really not a lot of escape."

Most senior bullying isn't physical but rather involves name-calling, rumors and exclusion, said Pamela Countouris, a longtime schoolteacher who now runs a Pittsburgh-based consultancy that offers training on bullying. Women constitute the bulk of the bullies Countouris encounters among seniors, a reflection of lifespan disparities and the gender makeup of those who live at or participate in programs at senior facilities.

Countouris' business began with a focus on school bullying but now centers exclusively on seniors. In the next month alone, she has more than a dozen training sessions planned.

After four years immersed in the wrath of older bullies, Countouris has heard all manner of stories. At a senior high-rise, a woman who saw herself as the queen of the parking garage would key the cars of those who crossed her. Elsewhere, laundry rooms became vicious places where the bullied had their detergent stolen and their clothes thrown on the floor. Bingo rooms so often devolved into battlefields — with lucky newcomers badgered and accused of cheating by veteran players — she came to call it "the devil's game."

"I didn't realize it was an underground society where people could be mean to each other," Countouris said.

In the worst cases, bullying goes far beyond bingo squabbles. Marsha Wetzel moved into a senior apartment complex in Niles, Illinois, after her partner of 30 years died and her partner's family evicted her from the home the couple shared. At Glen St. Andrew Living Community, she said she was met with relentless bullying by residents mostly focused on her being a lesbian.

One man hit Wetzel's scooter with his walker and unleashed a barrage of homophobic slurs. A woman rammed her wheelchair into Wetzel's table in the dining room and knocked it over, warning "homosexuals will burn in hell." In the mailroom, someone knocked her in the head, and in an elevator, she was spit on.

"I'd just go in my room and barricade my door and just pray," said Wetzel, now 70 and living at a senior complex in Chicago. "I just felt like a slug, like I was nothing, like I wasn't even human."

Lambda Legal, which defends LGBTQ rights, took on Wetzel's case and sued Glen St. Andrew, claiming Fair Housing Act violations. A federal judge dismissed the suit last year. An appeals court decision is pending.

Wetzel had seen such bullying throughout her life. She dropped out of high school when she became a punching bag for the girls who learned she was a lesbian. As a senior, she said, it felt even more traumatic — and the bullies even more vicious. She had a view of a cemetery from her window and would stare at it, thinking maybe only when she arrived there would she find peace.

"I felt like a person in a pool of piranhas," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trans Fats Are Worldwide Health Crisis, UN Agency Says]]>Mon, 14 May 2018 13:33:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17101673232349-Trans-Fats.jpg

The World Health Organization has released a plan to help countries wipe out trans fats from the global food supply in the next five years.

The United Nations agency has in the past pushed to exterminate infectious diseases, but now it's aiming to erase a hazard linked to chronic illness.

In a statement Monday, the U.N. health agency said eliminating trans fats is critical to preventing deaths worldwide. WHO estimates that eating trans fats — commonly found in baked and processed foods — leads to the deaths of more than 500,000 people from heart disease every year.

"It's a crisis level, and it's major front in our fight now," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a news conference in Geneva on Monday.

Officials think it can be done in five years because the work is well underway in many countries. Denmark did it 15 years ago, and since then the United States and more than 40 other higher-income countries have been working on getting the heart-clogging additives out of their food supplies.

The WHO is now pushing middle- and lower-income countries to pick up the fight, said Dr. Francesco Branca, director of the WHO's Department of Nutrition for Health and Development.

Artificial trans fats are unhealthy substances that are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it solid, like in the creation of margarine or shortening. Health experts say they can be replaced with canola oil or other products. There are also naturally occurring trans fats in some meats and dairy products.

The WHO recommends that no more than 1 percent of a person's calories come from trans fats.

"Trans fats are a harmful compound that can be removed easily without major cost and without any impact on the quality of the foods," Branca said.

Countries will likely have to use regulation or legislation to get food makers to make the switch, experts said.

At the WHO news conference Monday, a representative from a leading food industry trade group said companies are working to reduce trans fats in their products.

"We call on food producers in our sector to take prompt action and we stand ready to support effective measures to work toward the elimination of industrially produced trans fats and ensure a level playing field in this area," said Rocco Rinaldi, secretary-general of the International Food and Beverage Alliance.

Dr. Tom Frieden, a former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who worked with WHO officials on the call to action, called its move unprecedented.

"The world is now setting its sights on today's leading killers — particularly heart disease, which kills more people than any other cause in almost every country," said Frieden, president of Resolve to Save Lives, a New-York-based project of an organization called Vital Strategies.

In the U.S., the first trans fatty food to hit the market was Crisco shortening, which went on sale in 1911. Trans fatty foods became increasingly popular beginning in the 1950s, partly because experts at the time thought they were healthier than cooking with butter or lard.

Food makers liked artificial trans fats because they prolonged product shelf life. They used them in doughnuts, cookies and deep-fried foods.

But studies gradually revealed that trans fats wreck cholesterol levels in the blood and drive up the risk of heart disease. Health advocates say trans fats are the most harmful fat in the food supply.

In the U.S., New York City in 2006 banned restaurants from serving food with trans fats. The same year the FDA required manufacturers to list trans fat content information on food labels.

Many manufacturers cut back, and studies showed trans fat levels in the blood of middle-aged U.S. adults fell by nearly 60 percent by the end of the decade.

In 2015, the FDA took steps to finish the job of eliminating trans fats, calling for manufacturers to stop selling trans fatty foods by June 18, 2018 — a deadline that arrives next month. FDA officials have not said how much progress has been made or how they will enforce their rule against food makers that don't comply.

"The removal of trans fats from the food supply as an additive counts as one of the major public health victories of the last decade," said Laura MacCleery, policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Dima Gavrysh/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Lays Out Plan for Lowering Drug Prices]]>Sat, 12 May 2018 05:06:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18129675600281.jpg

President Donald Trump's long-promised plan to bring down drug prices would mostly spare the pharmaceutical industry he previously accused of "getting away with murder." Instead, he focuses on private competition and more openness to reduce America's prescription pain.

In Rose Garden remarks at the White House Friday, Trump called his plan the "most sweeping action in history to lower the price of prescription drugs for the American people." But it does not include his campaign pledge to use the massive buying power of the government's Medicare program to directly negotiate lower prices for seniors.

That idea has long been supported by Democrats but is a non-starter for drugmakers and most Republicans in Congress. Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Texas dismissed Trump's plan as "a sugar-coated nothing pill."

The administration will pursue a raft of old and new measures intended to improve competition and transparency in the notoriously complex drug pricing system. But most of the measures could take months or years to implement, and none would stop drugmakers from setting sky-high initial prices.

"There are some things in this set of proposals that can move us in the direction of lower prices for some people," said David Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs. "At the same time, it is not clear at all how they are going to lower list prices."

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

Trump's list of 50 proposals, dubbed American Patients First, includes:

— A potential requirement for drugmakers to disclose the cost of their medicines in television advertisements.

— Banning a pharmacist "gag rule," which prevents druggists from telling customers when they can save money by paying cash instead of using their insurance.

— Speeding up the approval process for over-the-counter medications so people can buy more drugs without prescriptions.

— Reconsidering how Medicare pays for some high-priced drugs administered at doctors' offices.

Those ideas avoid a direct confrontation with the powerful pharmaceutical lobby, but they may also underwhelm Americans seeking relief from escalating prescription costs.

Democrats pounced on Trump for not pursuing direct Medicare negotiations, an idea he championed before reaching the White House.

"This weak plan abandons the millions of hard-working families struggling with the crisis of surging drug prices," said Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, in a statement.

Pharmaceutical investors and analysts expressed relief after the announcement, and shares of most top drugmakers rose Friday afternoon, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Eli Lilly.

"Trump had a choice today: to seek disruptive fundamental reform or to embrace more incremental steps," wrote Terry Haines, a financial analyst, in an investment note. "Trump chose the incremental over the disruptive."

Some parts of the plan were previously proposed in the president's budget proposal sent to Congress, including providing free generic drugs to low-income seniors and sharing rebates from drugmakers with Medicare patients. Other parts could be implemented directly by the administration.

A majority of Americans say passing laws to bring down prescription drug prices should be a top priority for Trump and Congress, according to recent polling by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

As a candidate, Trump railed against the pharmaceutical industry. But as president, he has shied away from major changes and has staffed his administration with appointees who have deep ties to the industry. They include Health Secretary Alex Azar, a former top executive at Eli Lilly and Co., who joined Trump for Friday's announcement.

Azar and other Trump officials have hinted for weeks that the plan would, in part, "dismantle" the convoluted system of rebates between drugmakers and the health care middlemen known as pharmacy benefit managers, which negotiate price concessions for insurers, employers and other large customers.

Trump called out those companies in his speech: "Our plan will end the dishonest double-dealing that allows the middleman to pocket rebates and discounts that should be passed onto consumers and patients," Trump said.

Azar later told reporters that the administration would "seek input" on doing away with drug rebates in the Medicare system to encourage more direct discounts. He gave no timeframe for more concrete steps.

"It took decades to erect this very complex, interwoven system," Azar said in a briefing following the speech. "I don't want to overpromise that somehow by Monday there's going to be a radical change, but there's a deep commitment to structural change."

Public outrage over drug costs has been growing for years as Americans face pricing pressure from multiple sources: New medicines for life-threatening diseases often launch with prices exceeding $100,000 per year. And older drugs for common ailments like diabetes and asthma routinely see price hikes around 10 percent annually. Meanwhile, Americans are paying more at the pharmacy counter due to health insurance plans that require them to shoulder more of their prescription costs.

America has the highest drug prices in the world.

The U.S. spent $1,162 per person on prescription drugs in 2015, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That's more than twice the $497 per person spent in the United Kingdom, which has a nationalized health care system.

Trump's speech singled out foreign governments that "extort unreasonably low prices from U.S. drugmakers" using price controls and said U.S. trade representatives would prioritize the issue in trade deals.

But experts are skeptical the U.S. can pressure foreign governments to pay more for drugs.

"It's hard to know why Germany or France or Australia would agree to something like that," said Professor Jack Hoadley of Georgetown University's Health Policy Institute.

In the U.S., Medicare is the largest purchaser of prescription drugs, covering 60 million seniors and Americans with disabilities, but it is barred by law from directly negotiating lower prices with drugmakers.

Allowing Medicare to negotiate prices is unacceptable to the powerful drug lobby, which has spent tens of millions of dollars since Trump's inauguration to influence the Washington conversation around drug prices, including a high-profile TV advertising campaign portraying its scientists as medical trailblazers.

The drug industry's top lobbying arm, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, spent nearly $26 million to sway federal decision makers last year, according to records tallied by Center for Responsive Politics. The annual total was the group's highest since the 2009 congressional fight that led to Obamacare.

The group's chief executive, Stephen Ubl, said in a statement that some Trump proposals could help patients afford their medicines, but "others would disrupt coverage and limit patients' access to innovative treatments."

Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Catherine Lucey, Tom Murphy and Linda A. Johnson contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File]]>
<![CDATA[Removing Doctors' Implicit Bias Could Save Black Mothers]]>Fri, 11 May 2018 10:40:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-694024327.jpg

Each year in the United States, about 700 women die as a result of pregnancy or delivery issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Black women are three to four times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes nationwide. Some theorize the racial disparity in U.S. maternal mortality rates is at least partly caused by institutional racism in our society and health care system, conscious or unconscious.

For example, Alia McCants gave birth via cesarean section in 2014 and later hemorrhaged, NBC News reported. She recalled her obstetrician was dismissive of her desire to avoid a C-section. And most crucially, a doctor was short with her while explaining warning signs of hemorrhaging, leaving her not immediately able to recognize the danger she was in when the bleeding started.

One approach to combat this in hospitals and medical schools is training providers on implicit bias — the deeply ingrained stereotypes that everyone has.

Experts want to target discrimination and "microaggressions" health care workers may not realize they put out. Thirty-two percent of black women feel they’ve been discriminated against in physicians’ offices.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Blend Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Nasal Spray Addiction Is Real and a Risk]]>Thu, 10 May 2018 11:57:03 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_nasalspray0509_1500x845.jpgNasal sprays have been on the market for years and provide instant relief for millions of Americans who get nasal congestion from colds or allergies. But for some, that relief can turn into an addiction.

<![CDATA[Northwest, Southwest Most Challenging for Spring Allergies]]>Thu, 10 May 2018 06:59:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pollenGettyImages-168997935.jpg

The most challenging cities to live with spring allergies are mostly located in the northwest and southwest of the country, NBC News reported.

The finding comes in a recently study by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, which also says climate change is to blame for this year’s more intense pollen counts.

Among the study's rankings of the 18 most challenging cities to live with spring allergies are Louisville, Kentucky; Providence, Rhode Island; Springfield, Massachusetts, and Richmond, Virginia. McAllen, Texas, is ranked as the most challenging city, while Youngstown, Ohio, is the least challenging. 

According to researchers, this year’s intensified allergy season may be the result of warmer, wetter winters.

Photo Credit: Philippe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[What to Do When EpiPens Are in Short Supply]]>Wed, 09 May 2018 12:56:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16238410648858.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration added EpiPens, generic epipens and Adrenaclick autoinjectors to its list of drug shortages. This doesn't mean people cannot get EpiPens or generics, the FDA said, but they may have to look harder or turn to a different brand, such as Auvi-Q by Kaleo. 

To stay prepared during the shortage, don't wait for an emergency and check your autoinjector supply now, NBC News reported. After checking the injectors and their expiration dates, search for alternative brands.

Also, it's important to understand how to use a different brand from the one you're used to. Each brand functions a little differently and the methods for injecting may vary. The stress of an allergic reaction is not the best time to learn how to use a new injector.

There's a number for patients to call if they have trouble finding the injectors. "Patients who are experiencing difficulty accessing product should contact Mylan Customer Relations at 800-796-9526 for assistance in locating alternative pharmacies," the FDA said.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark Zaleski, File]]>
<![CDATA[EpiPen Shortage Declared by FDA]]>Wed, 09 May 2018 12:01:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epipen3.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration says there is a shortage of EpiPen auto injectors, which are used to treat severe allergic reactions.]]>
<![CDATA[US Panel Leaves Prostate Screening Up to Men, Their Doctors]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 14:26:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/prostate.jpg

Whether to get screened for prostate cancer is a question that men aged 55 to 69 should decide themselves in consultation with their doctors, according to finalized guidance issued Tuesday by an influential panel of health care experts.

New evidence suggests that PSA blood tests can slightly reduce the chances of dying from the disease for some men, so those decisions may be a little easier. Though screening can sometimes lead to drastic, needless treatment, the panel says that can sometimes be avoided with close monitoring when cancer is detected.

The government-appointed U.S. Preventive Services Task Force had earlier opposed routine screening. Its new guidance, echoing other groups' advice and affirming its draft recommendations issued last year, was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The guidance says it's important to weigh the potential benefits and harms of screening. The test looks for elevated levels of a protein in the blood that may signal cancer but can also be caused by less serious prostate problems.

A key question is whether the patient has a higher-than-average risk for developing prostate cancer, says Dr. Michael Munger, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. These men include African-Americans and those with a family history of prostate cancer, especially if a father or brother developed the disease before age 70. These men would be the best candidates for screening.

Other important questions that should be part of the doctor-patient conversation:

—The risks of screening: Elevated PSA levels don't always signal cancer but they require a biopsy to be sure, which carries the risk of infection. If cancer is detected, patients must weigh risks of treatment, which may include radiation and surgery, sometimes resulting in incontinence and impotence.

—Whether to choose treatment if cancer is detected. The panel said there's evidence that "active surveillance," which involves repeated PSA testing and close monitoring, can help men diagnosed with cancer avoid harsh treatment or at least delay it.

—The risks of not screening, including a small chance of developing prostate cancer that could grow so slowly, patients would likely die of something else.

—Age: The panel says men aged 70 and up should not be screened. For these patients, risks of screening outweigh benefits because even if prostate cancer is found, they're more likely to die from other causes. The guidance doesn't apply to men younger than 55 because they are considered low risk.

"It's an awful lot to think about," said Munger, adding that he has these complicated conversations with patients every day. "It really depends on what their feelings are and what their values are."


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]]>
<![CDATA[Bogus Medical Treatments Dupe Patients on Crowdfunding Sites: Study]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 12:18:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18124681230653-Bogus-Crowdfunding-Medical-Treatment.jpg

They're the tech-age version of donor jars at the diner: crowdfunding websites that aim to link ailing people with strangers willing to help pay for medical treatment. But new research suggests duped patients sometimes crowdfund to pay for bogus stem cell treatments.

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association focused on for-profit clinics that use direct-to-consumer advertising for costly unproven stem-cell treatments for conditions including chronic lung disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis and arthritis. Treatments are often marketed as cures or with a promise for vastly improved health.

Patients who believe the hype sometimes turn to crowdfunding websites when their health insurance won't pay. The study looked at GoFundMe, one of the most popular online sites for personal fundraising, and YouCaring, a similar site that GoFundMe acquired last month. Over four months last year, the researchers found 408 pleas involving stem cell treatment that got pledges for nearly $1.5 million from 13,050 donors.

Most of the campaigns echoed the companies' claims, inadvertently spreading potentially misleading messages, the researchers said. Some clinics encourage patients to use crowdfunding, and crowdfunding sites recommend sharing pleas on social media to help raise funds, said study lead author Jeremy Snyder, a bioethicist at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. Their often desperate personal stories give clinics an additional advertising boost, he said.

The study didn't examine how many patients eventually underwent stem cell treatment or how those who did fared, but deaths and permanent injury including blindness from unproven stem cell treatments have been reported.

The study highlights a phenomenon that has gotten little attention, and Snyder said he was "surprised by the scope of it."

"There's no blame for the individuals. They're kind of trapped," he said. "They want to believe a lot of the times that this is going to really cure me. It's absolutely a heartbreaking situation."

Part of the problem is clinics that manage to skirt regulatory scrutiny, Snyder said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has the authority to regulate stem cell products and pledged last year to crack down on doctors selling risky, unproven treatments.

Stem cells have the ability to reproduce and to regenerate tissue. They are being studied as a potential way to treat many diseases but are approved in only a few medical procedures, including stem cells from donor bone marrow to treat leukemia and other blood diseases.

The study highlights treatments that involve taking stem cells from patients' own fat or blood, processing them in the lab and returning them to the body via injection or infusion.

Pete Canfield, of Spokane, Washington, has an incurable lung condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He said he read up on blood stem cell treatments offered by the Lung Institute, a Scottsdale, Arizona clinic, and believed claims that they would ease his breathing difficulties.

He waged a GoFundMe campaign seeking $10,000 when his health insurer refused to pay, writing that the treatment "has the potential to add several years to my life." He raised $1,050, mostly from relatives.

Canfield, 65, said he maxed out his credit card to cover the rest, and had the treatment in April 2017. He said blood was withdrawn from an arm, processed somehow and re-injected back into the same arm.

"They claim that when they insert the stem cells they will automatically go to the organ that needs it the most," Canfield said. "I was a little skeptical of that part of the claim, but I'm not a scientist."

He ended up being unimpressed by the results.

"I don't think it did anything to improve my physical well-being," he said.

Canfield said his disease has since worsened and he now uses an oxygen machine nearly round-the-clock. He declined the clinic's offer to do a second procedure, saying, "I'm not going to waste my money or my time."

The Lung Institute did not respond to several phone and email requests for comment.

In a written statement, GoFundMe said it removes any campaigns that violate the site's service terms but that it allows pleas for funding medical treatment that is experimental and part of legitimate research. The company says it refunds donors if misuse is detected.

GoFundMe campaigns have raised more than $5 billion since the site launched in 2010. More than one-third of money raised last year went to medical campaigns.

Adrienne Gonzales, a writer who started the GoFraudMe Facebook page and website after reading about scammers using GoFundMe to fleece donors, said crowdfunding serves an important purpose but that "it's kind of the wild west out there."

Requiring patients to provide a verification letter from their doctors would be unfair, but "at the same time these are people asking the whole internet for money," she said.

Dr. Jeremy Sugarman, a Johns Hopkins University bioethicist, said crowdfunding sites might be able to help rein in some of the problem by recommending that patients and families seeking funds consult with their doctors about treatment claims, or refer them to other reputable resources.

Sugarman works with the ethics and policy committees at the International Society for Stem Cell Research, which offers online guidance for patients considering stem cell treatment, including:

  • What are the possible benefits? What are the risks?
  • What is the scientific evidence that the procedure will work?
  • How many people have gotten better from this treatment and how many haven't?

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Courtesy Pete Canfield via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Teen Wakes From Coma as Parents Prepare to Donate His Organs]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 10:12:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tdy_news_melvin_miracle_boy_180508_1920x1080.jpg

Just when his parents signed papers allowing his organs to be donated to other children, 13-year-old Trenton McKinley began to stir from his coma, "Today" reported.

The Alabama boy was injured in a go-carting accident two months ago, rushed to a hospital with seven skull fractures.

"They told me I'd be a vegetable," Trenton told "Today" after he had regained consciousness hours before his family was prepared to take him off life support.

Now the teenager is able to talk and walk: "I don't really seem like a vegetable, do I?"

Photo Credit: "Today"
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<![CDATA[Coffee in California Must Be Served With Cancer Warning, Judge Affirms]]>Tue, 08 May 2018 08:29:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/171213-rosebud-coffee.JPG

A court ruling that gave coffee drinkers a jolt earlier this year was finalized Monday when a Los Angeles judge said coffee sold in California must carry cancer warnings.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle said Starbucks Corp. and other roasters and retailers failed to show that benefits from drinking coffee outweighed any risks from a carcinogen that is a byproduct of the roasting process. He had tentatively made the same written decision in March.

A nonprofit group sued about 90 coffee companies, including Keurig Green Mountain Inc. and Peet's Operating Co. Inc., under a state law that requires warnings on products and in places where chemicals that can cause cancer are present.

The coffee industry did not deny that the chemical acrylamide was found in coffee. But they argued it was at harmless levels and their product should be exempt from the law because the chemical results naturally from cooking necessary for flavor.

The final ruling clears the way for the Council for Education and Research on Toxics to seek a permanent injunction that would either lead to ominous warning labels or a commitment by the industry to remove the chemical from their product — as the potato chip industry did years ago when sued by the same group.

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who represents the nonprofit, said he hopes mediation will lead to some settlement of the case that has been brewing for eight years. If no agreement is reached, another phase of trial would determine civil penalties as high as $2,500 per person exposed each day since the suit was filed in 2010.

"In all the years I've been practicing, I've never had a case that got to this point," Metzger said. "They've lost all their defenses and we proved our case. The only issues left are the nature and form of the injunction and the amount of penalties to be assessed. It's not a pretty place for them to be."

Berle had ruled about two years ago against the industry's best defense before issuing the tentative decision March 29 that rejected a secondary defense.

At the time, the coffee industry said it was considering all options, including appeals. It said that cancer warnings would be misleading and said numerous studies have shown health benefits of drinking coffee.

The industry and lawyers in the case did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment sent after business hours.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV ]]>
<![CDATA[Calorie Disclosure Rule Goes Into Effect for US Restaurants]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 16:22:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mcdonalds-menu1.jpg

After years of delays, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has introduced a law requiring restaurants and other food outlets with 20 or more locations to post calorie counts.

In anticipation of the law, big firms like McDonald's and Starbucks have already introduced the calorie information on their menus and menu boards.

For example, a Big Mac Meal at McDonald's with regular fries and a full-sugar coke contains 1,120 calories, and that information is now posted clearly in the chain's restaurant locations.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, women are likely to need between 1,600 and 2,400 calories a day, and men from 2,000 to 3,000.

The food labeling rule had an original compliance date of 2015, but that was extended three times to help the industry understand and prepare for the rules.

Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Expands Dietary Supplement Recall Over Salmonella Fears ]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 11:57:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fda+logo.JPG

Badger Botanicals is recalling four different dietary supplements that may have been contaminated with salmonella, the Food and Drug Administration said on its website Friday.

The recall affects consumers who purchased Green Suma, Red Suma, Green Hulu 2 and Red Hulu 2 kratom dietary supplements in pouches of 250 grams through the Utah-based company’s website from Jan. 1 through April 12 of this year, the FDA said.

One possible illness has been reported in connection with the recall, according to the FDA. Salmonella symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramping and fever, the agency noted.

The recall comes less than a month after the FDA announced that it was investigating a "multistate outbreak" of Salmonella linked to products that contain kratom — a plant native to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papau New Guina, according to the agency's website. 

The agency hasn’t approved any uses for kratom, and has gotten "concerning reports about the safety of kratom, including deaths associated with its use," it said last month.

"The FDA advises consumers to avoid kratom in any form,” it said on its website. “In addition to the public health concerns raised by this outbreak, there is strong evidence that kratom affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine and appears to have properties that expose people who consume kratom to the risks of addiction, abuse and dependence."

Anyone who bought the supplements included in the recall should stop using them. Unused supplements can be returned, the FDA said.

Consumers with questions can call Badger Botanicals at 1-385-325-0875.

<![CDATA[US Abortion Clinics Face Surge of Trespassing, Blockades]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 10:17:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18124540524878-Kentucky-Abortion-Protest.jpg

America's abortion clinics experienced a major upsurge in trespassing, obstruction and blockades by anti-abortion activists in 2017, according to an annual survey by an industry group.

The National Abortion Federation report chronicled a litany of actions that ranged from coordinated trespassing efforts by abortion opponents, repeated brick-throwing at windows of a Cleveland clinic and an attempted bombing in Illinois.

The report found that there was an overall decrease in acts of vandalism against clinics but a significant increase in activities aimed at disrupting services and intimidating patients and providers. Acts of trespassing increased from 247 in 2016 to 823 in 2017, instances of obstruction tripled to 1,704 and threats of death or other harm nearly doubled to 62.

"The protesters are feeling emboldened by the political environment and seeing what they could get away with," said the federation's president, Vicki Saporta. "They want to make it more difficult to provide care, without going to very extreme forms of violence."

The federation based its findings on monthly reports filed by its members who make up the vast majority of abortion clinics nationally.

Many clinics across the U.S. routinely are targeted by legal picketing near their premises. But in some cases, the protests escalated and led to intervention by federal and law enforcement agencies.

At least 10 people were arrested last May when anti-abortion activists blocked the entrance to the EMW Women's Surgical Center in Louisville, Kentucky — the last abortion clinic still operating in the state. Saporta said the protesters, organized by the militant anti-abortion group Operation Save America, were emboldened by Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin's high-profile efforts to shut down the clinic.

As a result of the blockade, a federal judge established a buffer zone outside the clinic to keep protesters from assembling in front of the entrance.

Among those arrested in Louisville was Operation Save America's national director, Rev. Rusty Lee Thomas. While awaiting trial, he said abortion should be outlawed, declaring "Our justice system is committing another grave injustice by arresting the wrong people."

Elsewhere, several trespassing arrests occurred during coordinated actions by anti-abortion protesters in Virginia, Michigan and other states. Activists entered clinics, conveyed their anti-abortion views to patients, and refused to leave when told to do so by law enforcement.

Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, a group headed by Roman Catholic theology professor Monica Migliorino Miller, described the incursions as "an act of nonviolent defense of unborn children about to be aborted." Miller was among those arrested in Michigan, and in February was convicted of trespassing.

The one attempted bombing in 2017 involved a pipe bomb that did not explode after being placed in an abortion clinic in Champaign, Illinois, in November. The three men charged by federal authorities are allegedly part of a militia group called the "White Rabbits" who also have been charged in the bombing of a Minnesota mosque last year.

A clinic in Cleveland incurred more than $32,000 in damages because of repeated brick-throwing attacks on its windows.

The report does not include a violent case in February when — according to prosecutors — a Massachusetts man deliberately crashed a stolen truck into a Planned Parenthood clinic in New Jersey, injuring three people, including a pregnant woman. That was the first major violent attack on a U.S. abortion clinic since 2015, when a man killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic during a shooting attack in Colorado.

The picketing in 2017 often was more aggressive than in recent years, according to the Feminist Majority Foundation, which operates a national clinic access program.

"They're telling us they've never seen this level of intensity," said the foundation's executive director, Kathy Spillar.

The threat of attacks and vandalism can significantly boost clinics' costs, notably to provide security for facilities and staff. Some clinics have faced extra legal costs challenging state laws aimed at restricting abortions.

In part, because of the legal and financial challenges, the number of abortion clinics in the U.S. has been declining. As of 2014, when the last comprehensive tally was made, there were 788 clinics.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Dylan Lovan/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Saturated Fat Should Be Less Than 10 Percent of Diet: WHO]]>Fri, 04 May 2018 13:55:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Fat-guy1.jpg

The World Health Organization is taking on the battle of the bulge, saying that saturated fats shouldn't make up more than 10 percent of a person's diet.

In its first draft guidelines on fat intake, the U.N. health agency said to avoid piling on the pounds, both adults and children should ensure that no more than 10 percent of their calories come from saturated fat. That type of fat is found butter, milk, meat, eggs, and chocolate, among other items.

WHO said only 1 percent or less of calories should be from transfats, commonly found in baked and fried foods, processed foods and cooking oils.

WHO's draft advice largely matches similar nutritional guidelines in Britain and the U.S. The agency says it will consider external comments before the recommendations are finalized.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File]]>
<![CDATA[Hawaii Poised to Ban Sale of Some Sunscreens That Harm Coral]]>Thu, 03 May 2018 11:43:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18122709722070-Sunscreen-Ban-Coral.jpg

Many sunscreen makers could soon be forced to change their formulas or be banned from selling the lotions in Hawaii.

State lawmakers passed a measure this week that would ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate by 2021 in an effort to protect coral reefs. Scientists have found the two substances can be toxic to coral, which are a vital part of the ocean ecosystem and a popular draw for tourists.

Consumers would only be allowed to buy sunscreen with the chemicals if prescribed by a health care provider, though the measure itself doesn't ban online purchases or tourists from bringing their own to Hawaii.

It would become the first state to enact a ban on the chemicals if Democratic Gov. David Ige signs the bill; he has not indicated whether he will.

Similar legislation failed last year, after it pitted environmental scientists against businesses and trade groups that benefit from the $2 billion market for sun care products in the U.S.

This is "a first step to help our reef and protect it from deterioration," said Hawaii state senator Donna Mercado Kim, a fellow Democrat who introduced the measure. Although other factors contribute to reef degradation, "hopefully, other jurisdictions will look at this legislation and follow suit."

"This is the first real chance that local reefs have to recover," said Craig Downs, a scientist whose 2015 peer-reviewed study found oxybenzone was a threat to coral reefs. "Lots of things kill coral reefs, but we know oxybenzone prevents them from coming back." It also affects sea urchins and kills algae, a source of food for sea turtles, he said.

He found as much as 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion ends up in coral reefs annually.

Opponents are skeptical of the science.

"What we're really concerned with is that there aren't very many independent studies out there that have gone for peer review," said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii. She said the ban might discourage people from buying sunscreen products from local brick-and-mortar stores. The American Chemistry Council also opposed the bill, citing concerns over the dangers of sun exposure.

"It's a feel good measure," said Democrat Sharon Har, one of four lawmakers who voted against the bill. "Yes, we must protect the environment -- it is our number one resource -- but at the end of the day, studies have pointed to global warming, human contact, coastal development" as other significant threats to coral.

Many manufacturers already sell "reef-friendly" sunscreens, and companies can deplete current inventory ahead of the ban in 2021, Downs said.

Edgewell Personal Care, which makes Banana Boat and Hawaiian Tropic sunscreen lotions, said it makes products free of the two chemicals. The company "will continue to ensure we comply with all relevant regulations concerning oxybenzone and octinoxate."

"We have so many problems with coral bleaching, and there is already so much contamination," said Dr. Yuanan Lu, a professor and director of the environmental health laboratory at the University of Hawaii, who applauded the passage. "We have so many people who come to Hawaii, and some of the sunscreen ingredients can be toxic, harmful to marine systems."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP]]>
<![CDATA[1st Death Reported in Romaine Lettuce E. Coli Outbreak ]]>Wed, 02 May 2018 16:59:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-695558316.jpg

The first death has been reported in a national food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce.

The death was reported in California, but state and federal health officials did not immediately provide any other details.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its numbers on the outbreak Wednesday, revealing that 121 people had gotten sick in 25 states. At least 52 people have been hospitalized, including 14 with kidney failure, which is an unusually high number of hospitalizations.

The CDC also added Kentucky, Massachusetts and Utah to the states with reported cases.

Health officials have tied the E. coli outbreak to romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona, which provides most of the romaine sold in the U.S. during the winter.

The growing season in Yuma ended about a month ago, said the University of Arizona's Russell Engel, the director of Yuma County's cooperative extension service.

But even if no one is eating tainted lettuce now, case counts may still rise because there's a lag in reporting. The first illnesses occurred in March, and the most recent began on April 21, the CDC said.

Most E. coli bacteria are not harmful, but some produce toxins that can cause severe illness. People who get sick from toxin-producing E. coli come down with symptoms about three to four days after swallowing the germ, with many suffering bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

Most people recover within a week, but some illnesses can last longer and be more severe. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Unusual Cases of Rare Eye Cancer Puzzle Doctors in 2 States]]>Wed, 02 May 2018 09:02:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2018-05-02+at+9.00.36+AM.png

A rare eye cancer has cropped up in dozens of people in two Southern states, mainly women in their 20s and 30s, NBC News reported.

Doctors are puzzled by the ocular melanoma diagnoses in a group of graduates from Auburn University in Alabama and people from Huntersville, North Carolina.

The cancer is rare, usually affecting just six in a million people.

Doctors are so far reluctant to call it a cancer cluster, as no common thread or cause has been found, but researchers are studying the groups to see if there's a link between them.

Photo Credit: NBC News
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<![CDATA[Liquid Nicotine Packets Resemble Juice Boxes, Candy]]>Wed, 02 May 2018 08:05:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/juice-box.jpg

Liquid nicotine products that look like juice boxes, candies and other kids' snacks came under government scrutiny Tuesday, as health authorities warned they could pose a danger to children.

The Food and Drug Administration issued more than a dozen warnings over the illegal packaging practice, saying it can lead to poisoning if children mistakenly drink the liquids, which are intended for use with e-cigarettes and vaping devices. Exposure to nicotine, even in small amounts, can cause seizures, coma and fatal heart problems in children.

Some of the packages targeted by regulators look like fruit juices, Warhead candies and Nilla Wafers. The FDA collaborated on the action with the Federal Trade Commission, which polices deceptive advertising.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that vaporize flavored liquid, which typically contains nicotine. Calls to poison control centers about nicotine formulas have increased in recent years, according to the FDA, with more than 8,000 cases involving children between 2012 and 2017.

No deaths have been reported with the products highlighted by Tuesday, regulators said.

"These are preventable accidents that have the potential to result in serious harm or even death," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a statement. "Companies selling these products have a responsibility to ensure they aren't putting children in harm's way or enticing youth use."

Warnings were issued to 13 manufacturers, distributors and sellers. Six of the companies were cited for illegally selling the products to minors. Such warnings are not legally binding but the government can take companies to court if the issues are ignored.

Under federal law, people must be at least 18 years old to purchase vaping products. In some states, the requirement is 21 and older.

The action comes one week after the FDA disclosed a nationwide crackdown on underage sales of Juul e-cigarettes, which have become popular among some teenagers as a way to vape at school and in public. The FDA issued warnings to about 40 gas stations, convenience stores and other retailers for selling the devices to minors. Additionally, the agency asked manufacturer Juul Labs to turn over information about how it markets and designs its products, which resemble computer flash drives and work with nicotine flavors like mango, and "cool cucumber."

The FDA gained authority to regulate e-cigarettes in 2016, but anti-smoking advocates have criticized the agency for not working more aggressively to stop companies from appealing to underage users.


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[US Wants 1 Million to Share DNA, Health Habits for Science]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 05:49:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18115555238760-DNA-Test.jpg

Wanted: A million people willing to share their DNA and 10 years of health habits, big and small, for science.

On Sunday, the U.S. government will open nationwide enrollment for an ambitious experiment: If they can build a large enough database comparing the genetics, lifestyles and environments of people from all walks of life, researchers hope to learn why some escape illness and others don't, and better customize ways to prevent and treat disease.

"A national adventure that is going to transform medical care," is how Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, describes his agency's All of Us Research Program.

Congress has authorized $1.45 billion over 10 years for the project. It all hinges on whether enough people around the country will sign up, either online or through participating health centers.

There's already interest: More than 25,000 people got early entry to the project over the past year through an invitation-only pilot test run by participating universities and health providers.

Most of today's medical care is one-size-fits-all, based on what happened to the average person in short studies of a few hundred or thousand patients with a specific health condition.

And most people who volunteer for those studies are white, leaving questions about the best care for people of different races.

All of Us is part of a move toward "precision medicine," using traits that make us unique to forecast and treat disease. Learning enough to individualize care requires studying a massive number of participants: The healthy and not-so-healthy, young and old, rural and urban, blue-collar and white-collar -- and people of all races and ethnicities.

For now, participants must be at least 18. Later, the study will open to children, too.

While there are other big "biobanks" of genetic data from at least 100,000 people, the NIH project aims to be the largest and most diverse of its kind. At least half of the participants must be from groups traditionally under-represented in medical research, Collins stressed.

Sure, what genes you harbor can raise your risk for various diseases. But other factors can increase or reduce some genetic risks.

So first volunteers will share their electronic health records, and answer periodic questionnaires about their diet, sleep, environmental exposures and other lifestyle factors. They might wear fitness trackers and other sensors.

And they'll give a blood sample that later this year will undergo genetic testing, initially to look for so-called "variants" in DNA that affect disease risk, similar to what some private companies now sell, Collins said. Fully mapping the genetic code is too pricey now for a million people, but that more comprehensive approach eventually will be used with some participants, too.

Among the first lessons Collins hopes to learn is about resilience: Why do some people stay healthy despite smoking or pollution or poor nutrition?

"We have no idea how those people escape those odds," he said.

Unlike with most medical studies, participants can choose to see their own test results and share them with their physician long before the study reaches any big-picture conclusions. A caution: There are still many questions about how best to use the results of genetic tests. Still, "we will try to help their doctors sort through what it means," Collins said.

One result that might bring a quick benefit: Genetic variants can signal who is prone to side effects from more than 100 drugs, information that could be used to prescribe a safer drug if only their doctors knew, Collins added.

The privacy of DNA databases made headlines last week when investigators used a free genealogy website to track down a suspected California serial killer. That's pretty different than the security under which medical DNA must be handled.

NIH said it has taken as many steps as possible to safeguard against would-be hackers. Volunteers' medical data is stripped of identifying information and replaced with a code. Only scientists meeting specific security requirements will be cleared to study the data. NIH also said federal "certificates of confidentiality" prohibit disclosure to law enforcement.

Privacy wasn't a worry for Michelle McNeely, 41, an early participant at Dallas' Baylor Scot & White Health System. She underwent breast cancer treatment in 2016 and considers taking part in All of Us a way to give back.

"If they can use my genes and someone's genes in California and someone's genes in New York to find some common ground, to help discover some cure -- they can use my genes all day long," McNeely said.

For more information, visit Joinallofus.org.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: P. Solomon Banda/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Schools Fret as Teens Take to Vaping, Even in Classrooms]]>Sun, 29 Apr 2018 13:28:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vapeGettyImages-454245788.jpg

Sneaking a cigarette in the school bathroom? How quaint. Today's teens have taken to vaping, an alternative to smoking that's so discreet they can do it without even leaving the classroom.

Health and education officials across the country are raising alarms over wide underage use of e-cigarettes and other vaping products.

The devices heat liquid into an inhalable vapor that's sold in sugary flavors like mango and mint- and often with the addictive drug nicotine. They're marketed to smokers as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes, but officials say they're making their way to teens with surprising ease.

A new wave of smaller vapes has swept through schools in recent months, officials say, replacing bulkier e-cigarettes from the past. It's now common in some schools to find students crowded into bathrooms to vape, or performing vape tricks in class.

"We've seen significant increases across the student body," said Robert Keuther, principal at Marshfield High School on the south shore of Massachusetts. "This is not something specific to one group of kids. It's across all of my grades, nine to 12. It's all students."

Vaping devices are notoriously difficult to detect for schools, often leaving behind only a quick puff of vapor and a light fruity scent. Students get away with it in bathrooms, halls and even classrooms, where some say they exhale the vapor into their shirts.

Although buying e-cigarettes is illegal under age 18- and some states have bumped the minimum age to 21- students say they can buy them online or from older friends. Some say there are dozens available for sale in school hallways at any given time.

The rise of teen vaping has sparked concern among parents, politicians and federal health authorities, who on Tuesday announced a nationwide crackdown on underage sales of e-cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to retail stores as part of its new operation against illegal sales. It also requested marketing and design documents from the maker of the Juul, a popular vape product that is shaped like a flash drive. The agency says it's looking into whether certain features are specifically appealing to young people.

Some schools have been inundated by the Juul, which dispenses a flavored vapor containing higher concentrations of nicotine than tobacco cigarettes.

The device's maker says it's intended only for adults trying to quit smoking. Its website aims to block underage customers, and the company says it supports legislation to raise the minimum age for vaping products to 21 nationwide.

But critics say the Juul's sweet flavors and stealthy design seem to be aimed at kids. In an April 18 letter to the FDA, a coalition of medical and health groups called for a suspension of online sales until authorities create stronger rules against underage sales.

Similar measures have been backed by school leaders including Keuther, who oversees 1,300 students south of Boston.

"There's a reason why it's marketed that way," he said, referring to the Juul's concealable design."We wish there was a way to curb that, because the industry is clearly targeting younger kids."

Many schools are pushing back with education campaigns against vaping. Health and gym classes feature new lessons on potential risks. Teachers are being trained on what to look for. Schools are producing online videos on the dangers of e-cigarettes.

At some schools, vaping penalties have been raised to an automatic suspension. Several in New Jersey now require drug tests for offenders, partly because vapes can dispense marijuana.

New York's Plainedge High School was among the first to install new bathroom sensors that can detect e-cigarette vapor and immediately alert administrators. Few students have been caught so far, but officials say that isn't a sign of failure.

"The truth of the matter is the kids see it, they know what it is _ and it in itself is a deterrent," said Edward Salina, superintendent of Plainedge Public Schools.

Whether schools' efforts are making a broader difference has yet to be seen, though. Teen vaping decreased for the first time in 2016 after rapidly rising for years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated numbers are expected in June.

Medical experts are still trying to understand the potential risks tied to vaping. Most agree that it's safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, but little is known about long-term effects.

And while research has found trace amounts of chemicals like formaldehyde in many e-cigarettes, it's unclear whether they exist at levels that can cause health problems.

Some students say that it's better to be vaping than using cigarettes or other drugs. Cameron Uldricks says he vapes almost every day but has never smoked tobacco. And even though it landed him a suspension from his high school near Columbus, Ohio, the 17-year-old said he has no plans to cut back or quit.

"Honestly they treat it like frigging cocaine," said Uldricks, a sophomore at Worthington Kilbourne High School. "What would they rather have me do, smoke cigarettes or vape?"

While high schools have typically faced the widest problems, some districts say it's now spreading to middle schools.

At Chickamauga City Schools in rural Georgia, officials instituted a three-day suspension for vaping this year after catching several students doing it at the middle school. Superintendent Melody Day said it's still unclear whether the crackdown has worked.

North of New York City, officials at South Orangetown Middle School hosted a forum for parents last month after starting to see some cases. Students caught vaping go through counseling on risky behaviors, which officials hope will halt any escalation to further drug use down the line.

"They'll do that after taking the risk here," said Karen Tesik, principal at the middle school. "This is the age group that is the most at risk for taking that first step."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Health Care New Front for Transgender Rights Under Trump]]>Tue, 01 May 2018 09:51:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lambda-legal-AP_18117629747511.jpg

Military service. Bathroom use. Job bias. And now, health care.

The Trump administration is coming under fire for rewriting a federal rule that bars discrimination in health care based on "gender identity." Critics say it's another attempt to undercut acceptance for transgender people.

The Health and Human Services Department rule dates to the Obama administration, a time when LGBT people gained political and social recognition. But a federal judge in Texas said the rule went too far by concluding that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is a form of sex discrimination, which is forbidden by civil rights laws.

Instead of appealing the judge's injunction, the Trump administration has opted to rewrite the rule, which applies to health care providers and insurers receiving federal funds.

Roger Severino, head of the department's Office for Civil Rights, said the rewrite will address the "reasonableness, necessity and efficacy" of the Obama-era requirement. He refused to discuss specifics, as the revision is under White House review before its official release.

Groups representing transgender people expect the Obama protections to be gutted and are preparing to take the administration to court.

"The proposed rollback does fit into a pattern of transphobia and anti-LGBT sentiment in this administration," said Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a lawyer with Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization.

He ran through a checklist: President Donald Trump's call to bar military service by transgender people; Attorney General Jeff Sessions' memo concluding that civil rights laws don't protect transgender people from discrimination on the job; the override of Obama-era guidance that allowed transgender students to use school bathrooms that matched their gender identities.

Social and religious conservatives are one of the administration's most steadfast constituencies, and the White House has been out front championing their causes, including restrictions on abortion and legal protections for health care providers with moral and religious qualms about particular procedures.

Behind the latest health care dispute is a medically recognized condition called "gender dysphoria" — discomfort or distress caused by a discrepancy between the gender that a person identifies as and the gender at birth. Consequences can include severe depression. Treatment can range from sex-reassignment surgery and hormones to people changing their outward appearance by adopting a different hairstyle or clothing.

Under the Obama-era rule, a hospital could be required to perform gender-transition procedures such as hysterectomies if the facility provided that kind of treatment for other medical conditions. The rule was meant to carry out the anti-discrimination section of the Affordable Care Act, which bars sex discrimination in health care but does not use the term "gender identity."

In the Texas case, a Catholic hospital system, several states and a Christian medical association argued that the rule went beyond the law as written and would coerce providers to act against their medical judgment and religious beliefs.

That rule "would have forced doctors to perform gender transition procedures on children, even if that would be against their best medical judgment and they believed it would be harmful to the child," said Luke Goodrich, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is involved in the case.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that for children who have yet to reach puberty, gender transition does not involve any medical interventions but instead focuses on social changes such as clothing and calling the child by another name.

The Becket Fund responded that the Obama administration did not limit the application of its nondiscrimination rule to adults.

UCLA legal scholar Jocelyn Samuels oversaw drafting of the anti-discrimination rule while in the Obama administration and says it reflected established legal precedent that transgender people are protected under federal sex discrimination laws. "The case law on whether sex discrimination includes gender identity has been pretty clear for quite a while," said Samuels.

The original rule did not override either the medical judgment or religious beliefs of providers, said Samuels, arguing those are protected by other laws.

The timetable for the Trump administration's proposed changes is uncertain, but the rewrite isn't likely to settle the debate. The transgender controversy could follow the path of other Trump initiatives to the Supreme Court. ACLU attorney Joshua Block said five federal appeals courts have ruled that discrimination based on gender identity violates federal laws against sex discrimination.

In Congress, a GOP advocate for transgender rights is urging the administration to re-evaluate. Rep Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., came to the U.S. from Cuba as a child.

"I fled from a communist regime to come to this land of opportunity and freedom, where if you work hard and are a responsible member of society, you have the ability to get ahead," said Ros-Lehtinen. "That principle should apply to anyone, including transgender Americans. I urge the administration to guide its policies under the premise of freedom, opportunity and equality."

One of Ros-Lehtinen's children is a transgender man.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews, File]]>
<![CDATA[E. Coli Outbreak Booms to 98 Cases; 46 People Hospitalized]]>Fri, 27 Apr 2018 17:29:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-695558316.jpg

Don't eat the lettuce.

The E. coli outbreak linked to Romaine lettuce grown in Arizona continues to expand, with the case total climbing to 98 across 22 states and 46 people requiring hospitalization, 10 of them for a type of acute kidney failure, the Centers for Disease Control said Friday.

That's an increase of 14 cases in just the last two days -- and nearly a half-dozen more hospitalizations. Last week, the CDC expanded its warning and told people to avoid all kinds of romaine lettuce that may have been grown in Yuma, Arizona. It reiterated that plea in its advisory on Friday. 

Investigators still haven't been able to determine the original source of the outbreak, which has now affected people in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and a wide swath of the south and midwest. The most cases have been reported in Pennsylvania (18), followed by California (16) and Idaho (10). To date, New Jersey has seven cases, New York has two and Connecticut has two. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 13 to April 20. Sick people range in age from 1 to 88, with a median age of 31. Most of the victims have been female. Ten of the 46 related hospitalizations were for hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be a fatal form of kidney failure. 

Ninety six percent of 67 people interviewed in connection with the investigation reported eating romaine lettuce in the week before their illness started, the CDC said. Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. 

Photo Credit: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Restaurants Calm Customers, Say Their Romaine Is Safe]]>Fri, 27 Apr 2018 12:27:03 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Romaine2.jpg

Restaurants' advice to their customers? Romaine calm.

The government is still investigating how romaine lettuce from Yuma, Arizona, apparently became contaminated with E. coli bacteria. As of this week, at least 84 people in 19 states have gotten sick, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Growers in Yuma typically plant romaine lettuce between September and January. During the peak of the harvest season, which runs from mid-November until the beginning of April, the Yuma region supplies most of the romaine sold in the U.S. The outbreak came as the harvest of romaine was already near its end.

At many restaurants around the country, romaine is still on the menu. Both family-run operations and big chains say they've checked with suppliers and are confident their romaine comes from places that aren't affected by E. coli. If they're not sure, they're replacing romaine with iceberg and other lettuce varieties.

"We've got a lot of people asking where we get our lettuce from," said Armando Ayala, the manager of Cavatore, an Italian restaurant in Houston. Cavatore offers three dinner salads — including a Caesar made tableside — with lettuce from California and local farms in Texas.

As it turns out, a lot of romaine comes from California, which grows 74 percent of the nation's lettuce, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Even Salad and Go, a chain with 12 restaurants in Arizona, gets its lettuce from California.

Just Salad, which has 28 locations in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Chicago, says it saw a spike in business this week after a social media blitz to assure customers that its romaine comes from Salinas, California. Supply chain manager Janani Lee said Just Salad already carried five other types of lettuce, but it recently added iceberg for people who were still concerned.

Katie Calabrese and her friend, Amanda Larsen, both threw out romaine at home, but it didn't stop their salad cravings. On Thursday, they were waiting in a long line at a Sweetgreen restaurant in Philadelphia.

"I'm definitely making non-romaine choices," said Calabrese.

"I eat kale," Larsen said.

The CDC first announced a multistate outbreak of E. coli on April 10. By the end of last week, it was advising customers, grocers and restaurants not to eat whole heads of romaine or salad mixes that might contain romaine unless they knew they weren't grown in Yuma.

The government is still investigating this outbreak. But generally, E. coli is spread through human or animal feces, contaminated water or improper handling.

Salads UP, which has two restaurants in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, says it didn't have to get rid of much romaine, since it gets deliveries almost daily. For now, it has replaced romaine with iceberg, says Salads UP co-founder Robert Mayer.

"Customers don't mind the temporary solution, and in general they appreciate that we are taking precautionary steps," he said.

Burrito chain Chipotle also temporarily stopped serving romaine last weekend, but its California-sourced romaine was back on the menu by Monday.

McDonald's, Wendy's and Chick-fil-A say none of the romaine in their U.S. stores comes from Yuma. But Chick-fil-A says it's making some salads with other lettuces or not offering them at all because of a shortage of romaine.

Frog Holler, a produce wholesaler that distributes to restaurants in Michigan, says all of its romaine comes from California. But many customers weren't ordering it because of the scare. Iceberg orders increased slightly. Others would only take romaine with an official statement that it was safe, said Brittany Savela, an office assistant.

Then, for about a week, Frog Holler had to scramble when its own suppliers stopped shipping romaine.

"We just couldn't get our hands on it anymore," she said. But things are now returning to normal.

It could be difficult for farmers to make up for any shortfalls in romaine at this point in the season, since planting schedules have already been set.

On Thursday at the fifth-generation EG Richter Family Farm in Puyallup, Washington, workers were planting the first romaine crop of the season, which will be harvested around June 1. Tim Richter and his son Timothy grow romaine, red leaf, and green leaf lettuce along with other crops. They sell most of their lettuce to big grocery chains.

They hope the E. coli issue is cleared up soon and that people recognize the problem doesn't affect all romaine lettuce. The Richters say they use conventional fertilizers — not manure — and irrigate with well water to help keep their crops safe.

"The biggest testament is that we eat it," Timothy Richter said.

AP Writers Joe Pisani and Ally Villarreal and AP Photographer Ted Warren  contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Genetic Sleuthing Bolsters Food Poisoning Searches ]]>Thu, 26 Apr 2018 03:13:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/178*120/geneticfoodpoisoning_1200x675.jpg

Disease hunters are using genetic sequencing in their investigation of the ongoing food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, a technique that is revolutionizing the detection of germs in food.

The genetic analysis is being used to bolster investigations and — in some cases — connect the dots between what were once seemingly unrelated illnesses. It also is uncovering previously unfathomed sources of food poisoning, including one outbreak from apples dipped in caramel.

So far, most of the work has largely focused on one germ, listeria. But it is expanding. By the end of this year, labs in all 50 states are expected to also be using genetic sequencing for much more common causes of food poisoning outbreaks, including salmonella and the E. coli bacteria linked to recent lettuce outbreak.

That means the number of identifiable outbreaks are likely to explode even if the number of illnesses don't.

"There are a lot of outbreaks where they don't connect the dots. Now they're going to be connected," said Michael Doyle, a retired University of Georgia professor who is an expert on foodborne illness.

Not only that: The new DNA testing is enabling disease detectives to spot food contamination before anyone is aware of a resulting human illness — the equivalent of starting a murder investigation by finding a gun first and then looking for someone with a gunshot wound.

"It's turning around how outbreaks are figured out," said Bill Marler, a prominent Seattle lawyer who has made a business of suing companies whose products sicken people.

Marler added that the program is in its early stages and it's too early to call it a success. But he said the new approach has the potential to transform how and when outbreaks come to light.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is driving the program. It estimates that 48 million Americans get sick — and 3,000 die — from food poisoning each year.

The new technique relies on whole genome sequencing, which has been used in biology for more than two decades. The laboratory process determines nearly all of an organism's DNA, the genetic material needed to build and maintain an organism. And scientists use software to compare the DNA of specimens to see if they are the same strain and how resistant they are to current medicines.

The technique allows the analysis to become faster, cheaper and more automated, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, one of the CDC's leading experts on food poisoning.

Plans are to use the technology against several germs that cause food poisoning, but so far all the work has concentrated on listeria. The bacteria cause around 1,600 illnesses each year, a tiny fraction of U.S. foodborne disease diagnoses. But it is a particularly lethal infection, killing nearly one in five people who get it.

Historically, listeria-caused outbreaks were known as "the graveyard of epidemiology." It could take weeks for people to develop symptoms, meaning food evidence was discarded — and some of the patients were dead — by the time officials began to sort things out.

From 1983 to 1997, only five listeria outbreaks were identified in the United States. They were obvious and large — with a median of 54 cases per outbreak.

That's how it was with other food poisoning outbreaks, too.

"Most foodborne outbreaks were detected because it happened in one place," like in a town where a popular restaurant's customers grew ill, Tauxe said.

Outbreaks were investigated by asking people what they ate before they got sick, and then comparing notes to see what patients had in common.

The field took a big step in the 1990s, after a frightening outbreak erupted in the Seattle area. Four deaths and more than 700 illnesses in four states eventually were traced to undercooked Jack in the Box restaurant hamburgers contaminated with E. coli.

The outbreak prodded the CDC to develop a program that relied on a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis in which investigators could look at a germ's DNA in clumps. It helped health officials more easily link illnesses, but it was imperfect: It couldn't make exact matches and sometimes missed when cases were related.

Then came whole genome sequencing.

The CDC began using the technique in food poisoning investigations in 2013. Initially state labs sent samples to a CDC lab in Atlanta for testing. Now, the CDC is working to get labs in all 50 states up and running.

Last year, the federal agency awarded about $32 million to state and city health departments to work on foodborne, waterborne and fungal disease outbreaks. That included $12 million to help them set up whole genome sequencing technology.

Since whole genome sequencing began, the CDC says it's catching more listeria outbreaks with a food source identified. By that measure, the number rose from about two per year to an average of more than six per year from 2014 to 2016.

One of the first success stories came a couple of weeks after Halloween in 2014, when listeria cases began popping up in Arizona, New Mexico and the Midwest. Through whole genome sequencing, investigators discovered about three dozen people had been sickened.

In interviews, patients and their families didn't mention foods commonly associated with listeria. But most did say they had eaten packaged caramel apples.

Scientists hadn't considered them a threat, because apples and caramel aren't hospitable to listeria individually. But it turns out that putting a stick in a caramel-covered apple gives germs a door into tiny spaces between caramel and the apple's skin.

Besides fingering foods previously seen as unthreatening, whole genome sequencing has the potential to turn investigations around: In several outbreaks recently, germs found in food plant inspections prompted product recalls before anyone knew about an outbreak. Then whole genome sequencing helped find and confirm illnesses.

In 2015, state officials in South Carolina and Texas found listeria in tests of Blue Bell-brand ice cream products. Investigators used pulsed-field gel electrophoresis to find 11 illnesses with a similar genetic pattern, but whole genome sequencing definitively linked 10 and caused one to be tossed out as unrelated. Some of the illnesses had happened as far back as 2010.

"They're picking up cases that are five years old. This is revolutionary," Doyle said.

Whole genome sequencing is becoming increasingly important, but it's not yet the basis of outbreak solving. It was used in the current investigation of E. coli bacteria found in romaine lettuce grown in Arizona, which has sickened at least 84 people in 19 states, according to a CDC update released Wednesday. But "that's not how we first detected the outbreak," said Matthew Wise, a CDC food poisoning investigator.

It was more crucial in an investigation last year of a 21-state salmonella outbreak that ultimately was linked to ground beef. Whole genome sequencing allowed health officials to wade through a wave of cases to parse out the illnesses that were most closely matched and then look for a common origin, Wise said.

"Using our previous technology," Wise said, "we would have had a really difficult time solving that one."

AP video journalist Robert Ray in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/P. Solomon Banda]]>
<![CDATA[Don't Eat Lettuce: E. Coli Cases Boom to 84, 42 Hospitalized]]>Thu, 26 Apr 2018 06:41:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-695558316.jpg

The number of cases in the E. coli outbreak tied to Romaine lettuce grown in Arizona has boomed to 84 in 19 states, with 42 people requiring hospitalization, more than a half-dozen of them for a type of acute kidney failure, the Centers for Disease Control said Wednesday.

That's an increase of 31 people in 10 states just in the last week, when the CDC expanded its warning and told people to avoid all kinds of romaine lettuce that may have been grown in Yuma, Arizona. At first, the agency targeted chopped.

Investigators still haven't been able to determine the original source of the outbreak, which has now affected people in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, New York and a wide swath of the south and midwest. The most cases have been reported in Pennsylvania (18), followed by California (13) and Idaho (10). To date, New Jersey has seven cases, New York has two and Connecticut has two. No deaths have been reported.

Illnesses started on dates ranging from March 13 to April 12. Sick people range in age from 1 to 88, with a median age of 31. Most of the victims have been female. Nine of the 42 related hospitalizations were for hemolytic uremic syndrome, which can be a fatal form of kidney failure. 

Ninety six percent of 67 people interviewed in connection with the investigation reported eating romaine lettuce in the week before their illness started. Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting. 

Photo Credit: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Juul E-Cig Maker to Invest $30M to Combat Underage Vaping]]>Wed, 25 Apr 2018 13:32:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/890546208-Juul.jpg

The maker of a much-debated e-cigarette popular with teenagers says it will spend $30 million in an effort to keep its products out of the hands of children.

The announcement from Juul Labs comes one day after the Food and Drug Administration questioned the design and marketing of the company's small, sleek vaping devices.

The San Francisco company said the initial investment will fund research on vaping and the formation of an expert panel to combat underage use of Juul. That group will be led by Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

The company says it will also support state and federal legislation to raise the minimum age for vaping products to 21. Federal law sets the age at 18, though some states have higher requirements.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Warns Retailers Not to Sell Juul E-Cigarette to Kids]]>Tue, 24 Apr 2018 23:46:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/890546208-Juul.jpg

Federal health officials on Tuesday announced a nationwide crackdown on underage use of a popular e-cigarette brand following months of complaints from parents, politicians and school administrators.

The Food and Drug Administration issued warnings to 40 retail and online stores as part of a monthlong operation against illegal sales of Juul to children. Investigators targeted 7-Eleven locations, Shell gas stations and Cumberland Farms convenience stores as well as vaping shops.

FDA regulators also asked manufacturer Juul Labs to turn over documents about the design, marketing and ingredients of its product. The rare request focuses on whether certain product features are specifically appealing to young people.

The Vape Shop in Boston's Brighton neighborhood was one store that received a warning. Owner Jonathan Lau says e-cigarettes are popular with minors because they're small and odorless. Students can more easily get away with it in school.

Lau says he does his best not to sell to anyone underage.

"Before you even step into the shop, I have about three signs on the outside of the store that say '21 plus,'" he said. "But the ones that do gain enough courage to walk in without ID, we turn them away right away."

Like other e-cigarettes, Juul is an electronic device that turns liquid — usually containing nicotine — into an inhalable vapor.

Click here for the list of 40 stores that received warning letters.

Thanks in part to its resemblance to a small computer flash drive, Juul has become popular with some teenagers as a discreet way to vape at school and in public. Parents, teachers and principals say they are struggling to control the booming trend.

"The bathroom is the main source of it," said Maureen Byrne, the principal of Dublin High School near San Francisco. "As students become more comfortable, we have seen it in classrooms and on campus even out in the open."

Lau says he was surprised and angry after receiving a letter notifing him that his business was caught in an undercover sting selling devices like the Juul to a minor.

"After we got the letter from the FDA, the thoughts running through my head were, 'We need to ramp up our age verification process,'" Lau said.

Lau's store was one of 16 in Massachusetts to be warned by the FDA. Another was Mullaney's Variety in Quincy. Manager Zach Mullaney said employees will be retrained.

"Just cracking down," he explained. "If you sell any Juuls, make sure to ID them."

Health advocates have worried about the popularity of vaping products among kids and the potential impact on adult smoking rates in the future. A recent government-commissioned report found "substantial evidence" that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try cigarettes.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said the current "blitz" targeting Juul will continue through the end of the month, with additional actions in coming weeks.

"This isn't the only product that we're looking at, and this isn't the only action we're going to be taking to target youth access to tobacco products, and e-cigarettes, in particular," Gottlieb said in an interview. He named several other brands of concern, including KandyPens and myblu.

Juul sales have exploded over the past two years, accounting for 55 percent of the U.S. market for e-cigarettes, according to recent industry figures. That's up from just 5 percent of the market in 2016.

The San Francisco-based company said in a statement it agrees with the FDA that underage use of its products is "unacceptable."

"We already have in place programs to identify and act upon these violations at retail and online marketplaces, and we will have more aggressive plans to announce in the coming days," the statement read.

Juul Labs says it monitors retailers to ensure they are following the law. Its age verification system searches public records and sometimes requires customers to upload a photo ID.

E-cigarettes have grown into a $4 billion industry in the U.S. despite little research on their long-term effects, including whether they are helpful in helping smokers quit cigarettes.

That's the sales pitch made by Juul and many other e-cigarette manufacturers: "Juul delivers nicotine satisfaction akin to a cigarette in a format that's as simple and easy to use," states the company's website. A Juul "starter kit" can be ordered online for $49.99. The company's website is intended to only sell to customers ages 21 and up.

Chaz Nuttycombe, an 18-year-old who has never tried vaping, says it's prevalent at his school, Hanover High near Richmond, Virginia.

"They're not doing cigarettes because that's not really hip," he said. "I think my generation has been educated on what's in a cigarette, the poisons and whatnot."

Research shows that many e-cigarettes contain trace amounts of chemicals like formaldehyde, but it's unclear whether they exist at levels that can cause long-term health problems. Most researchers agree any risks of e-cigarettes do not approach the long-established harms of traditional cigarettes, which cause cancer, heart disease and lung disease.

The FDA gained authority to regulate e-cigarettes in 2016, but anti-smoking advocates have criticized the agency for not policing the space more aggressively to stop companies from appealing to underage users, particularly with flavors like mango, cool cucumber and creme brulee.

"These are very positive steps and demonstrate that FDA recognizes the problem of youth use is very serious," said Matthew Myers, of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "But they don't address the biggest issue that the FDA is not been enforcing its own rules."

Myers' group contends that Juul and several other e-cigarette companies have recently launched new flavors and varieties without seeking FDA authorization. That step is mandatory under the FDA regulations put in place during the summer of 2016.

AP writer Collin Binkley in Boston contributed to this story.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[These 30 NY, NJ Hospitals Got Highest Grades in Safety Study]]>Mon, 07 May 2018 11:55:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/baby-birth-born-734541.jpgYou may want to keep this list on hand when considering where to go for medical care in New Jersey or New York.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[NY, CT Hospitals Rank Among Lowest in U.S. for Safety: Study]]>Tue, 24 Apr 2018 11:13:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GENERIC+HOSPIAL+PEXELS.jpg

New York and Connecticut hospitals rank among the worst in the nation when it comes to safety ratings, while New Jersey fared much better, a new report released Tuesday finds.

Nonprofit Leapfrog Group just published its biannual report -- a comprehensive assessment grading nearly 2,500 hospitals across 50 states on an A through F scale. The grades are based on hospital errors, accidents and infections, among other factors. The report ranks states overall based on their hospitals and breaks down the individual facilities as well. 

New York came in at No. 48, dropping one spot since its last ratings back in the fall. Eight, or 5.84 percent of hospitals in the Empire State received “A” scores while five got an “F” score. A total of 137 hospitals in the state were assessed.

These New York hospitals got an "A": Mather Hospital in Port Jefferson, St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn, Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel, NYC Health Hospitals in New York City, Oneida Healthcare Center in Oneida, St. Joseph's Hospital Health Center in Syracuse, Highland Hospital of Rochester in Rochester, Catholic Health - Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Kenmore.

Five New York hospitals got an "F": One on Staten Island, three in Brooklyn and one on Long Island. Nationwide, just 1 percent of hospitals accessed received an “F” grade. Search the list on Leapfrog's website for more details.

Connecticut fared better than New York, but not by much. According to Leapfrog, that state ranked No. 46, down 16 spots since its fall score. Only two, 8.33 percent, of the 24 hospitals in the Constitution State accessed received “A” scores. No hospitals scored a "D" or an “F.”

These Connecticut hospitals got an "A": The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich and Bristol Hospital in Bristol.

New Jersey outscored the tri-state, and in a big way. The Garden State ranked No. 17 across the country, down six spots since its fall score despite 22 “A” grades this time around.

These New Jersey hospitals got an "A": Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, CarePoint Health-Bayonne Medical Center in Bayonne, Bayshore Medical Center in Holmdel, The Valley Hospital in Ridgewood, Clara Maass Medical Center in Belleville, Shore Medical Center in Somers Point, Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, Overlook Medical Center in Summit, Morristown Medical Center in Morristown, University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro in Plainsboro, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital at Hamilton in Hamilton, Capital Health Medical Center – Hopewell in Pennington, Virtua Voorhees Hospital in Voorhees, Virtua Marlton Hospital in Marlton, Inspira Medical Center Vineland in Vineland, Jefferson Stratford Hospital in Stratford, Jefferson Washington Township Hospital in Turnersville and Newton Medical Center in Newton.

One hospital in Newark received an “F.” See full state rankings here and use the search function to see all the hospitals ranked in your state.

The biannual Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades report shows the safety grades of many hospitals are improving.

"What we see in the new round of safety grades are signs of many hospitals making significant improvements in their patient safety record,” Leah Binder, president and CEO of Leapfrog, said in press release. “Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grades have definitely spurred these improvement efforts.”

Thirty percent of the hospitals accessed nationwide received an “A” score.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[Veteran Undergoes World's First Full Male Genital Transplant]]>Tue, 24 Apr 2018 13:17:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/johns+hopkisn.jpg

A veteran who was injured in Afghanistan has received the world's first total penis and scrotum transplant, Johns Hopkins Hospital announced Monday. 

A team of nine plastic surgeons and two urological surgeons performed the 14-hour surgery last month. The penis, scrotum and part of an abdominal wall came from a deceased donor, the hospital said. 

The patient has recovered from the surgery and is expected to be released this week, officials say. The hospital did not disclose in which branch of the military the patient served.

"When I first woke up, I felt finally more normal… [with] a level of confidence as well. Confidence… like finally I’m okay now," said the patient, who asked not to be identified. 

The hospital said many soldiers injured in blasts from improvised explosive devices come home with debilitating hidden injuries — like the loss of their genitals. 

"We are hopeful that this transplant will help restore near-normal urinary and sexual functions for this young man,” said W.P. Andrew Lee, M.D., professor and director of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

A hospital spokeswoman says doctors are hopeful the patient will have near-normal function in six months. 

The scrotum transplant did not include the donor's testicles, meaning reproduction won't be possible. "We just felt there were too many unanswered ethical questions" with that extra step, said Hopkins' Dr. Damon Cooney. 

The team that performed the surgery also performed the country's first bilateral arm transplant, in a wounded warrior.

Four other successful penis transplants have been performed, two in South Africa, one in China and one in Boston. But those transplants involved only the penis, not extensive surrounding tissue.

Photo Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine]]>
<![CDATA[Throw It Away: CDC Expands Warning on Romaine Lettuce ]]>Sat, 21 Apr 2018 00:34:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-695558316.jpg

The U.S. Centers for Disease expanded its warning Friday surrounding a multistate E. coli outbreak tied to tainted romaine lettuce from Arizona, which has now sickened more than 50 people.

The agency said information from new cases of illness prompted them to caution against eating any forms of romaine lettuce that may have come from Yuma. Previously, CDC officials had only warned against chopped romaine by itself or as part of salads and salad mixes. But they are now extending the risk to heads or hearts of romaine lettuce.

People at an Alaska correctional facility recently reported feeling ill after eating from whole heads of romaine lettuce. The vegetable was traced to lettuce harvested in the Yuma region, according to the CDC.

So far, the outbreak has infected 53 people in 16 states. At least 31 have been hospitalized, including five with kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

The CDC's updated advisory said consumers nationwide should not buy or eat romaine lettuce from a grocery store or restaurant unless they can get confirmation that it did not come from Yuma. Restaurants and retailers are also being warned not to serve or sell romaine lettuce from the area.

"Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick," according to the CDC. "Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown." 

According to the Produce Marketing Association, romaine grown in coastal and Central California, Florida and central Mexico is not at risk.

Yuma is roughly 185 miles southwest of Phoenix and close to the California border. The region, referred to as the country's "winter vegetable capital," is known for its agriculture and often revels in it with events like a lettuce festival.

Steve Alameda, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association which represents local growers, said the outbreak has weighed heavily on him and other farmers.

"We want to know what happened," Alameda said. "We can't afford to lose consumer confidence. It's heartbreaking to us. We take this very personally."

Growers in Yuma typically plant romaine lettuce between September and January. During the peak of the harvest season, which runs from mid-November until the beginning of April, the Yuma region supplies most of the romaine sold in the U.S., according to Alameda. The outbreak came as the harvest of romaine was already near its end.

While Alameda has not met with anyone from the CDC, he is reviewing his own business. He is going over food safety practices and auditing operations in the farming fields. 

Cases have been reported across the tri-state area, the most in New Jersey (7); New York and Connecticut have three cases each. Pennsylvania has the most (12) in this outbreak, followed by Idaho (10). Check the CDC's case count map.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Some GOP Officials Urge Charges for Women Who Get Abortions]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 19:17:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/abortionprotests_1200x675.jpg

Anti-abortion rhetoric is intensifying ahead of midterm elections as officials in Republican-dominant states push legislation that would punish both doctors and patients, even though such laws are likely unconstitutional.

In Idaho, Republicans competing in a crowded field for governor have made it a major campaign issue ahead of the May 15 primary. One candidate promised to back a long-shot effort that would allow women to be prosecuted for getting abortions, and another offered tepid support but doubted it would survive a legal challenge.

Politicians in states from Ohio to Oklahoma are pushing similar measures or promising to criminalize abortion as they seek office. It comes despite courts temporarily blocking stringent laws passed recently in Mississippi and Kentucky.

Targeting patients for punishment is a stance that traditionally has raised eyebrows even from staunch anti-abortion groups that tend to treat women as victims, not criminals, for choosing to end a pregnancy.

However, with President Donald Trump's administration embracing anti-abortion groups and promising to appoint federal judges who will favor efforts to roll back abortion rights, Republican state leaders have become more emboldened to support the idea without facing backlash from their conservative base.

Supporters of punitive legislation say that believing abortion is murder means the act must be punished as such, which could include life in prison or the death penalty.

The stance openly defies the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that a woman has the right to choose an abortion without "undue interference" from the state. It also conflicts with other anti-abortion advocates. Many Catholics, for example, oppose both abortion and the death penalty.

The high 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 would cast the deciding vote against it.

In the meantime, a push for legislation punishing women has taken hold in Idaho, which has passed anti-abortion measures almost every year. A handful of bills have failed to stand up to legal challenges.

This year, Idaho required women seeking abortions to be informed that the drug-induced procedures can be halted halfway, despite opposition from medical groups that say there is little evidence to support that claim.

The group Abolish Abortion Idaho has launched a ballot initiative seeking to charge abortion providers and women who end pregnancies with first-degree murder, but it doesn't appear it will qualify for the November ballot. The group has not yet submitted any signatures to be verified before an April 30 deadline.

Idaho candidates also have voiced their support for punishing women. This month, a GOP lieutenant governor candidate said during a forum that "anyone who has an abortion should pay."

State Sen. Bob Nonini later softened his position, clarifying that the threat of prosecution could drastically reduce abortion but he did not believe women would actually face the death penalty.

His comment attracted swift condemnation from groups who fight for abortion rights.

"What's pro-life about convicting women of first-degree murder for accessing abortion care? Absolutely nothing," national nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement. "It's no surprise that the party that claims to be pro-life supports a guy who wants to impose the death penalty on women accessing health care."

One of Nonini's Republican opponents, former state Rep. Janice McGeachin, responded at the forum that she opposed abortion but did not believe women should be killed for having the procedure.

Top Idaho GOP gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist said at another forum months earlier that he would support legislation allowing women to be prosecuted for abortions. He was responding to a question from a Republican lawmaker who wants to push such legislation but hasn't introduced it at the Statehouse.

Ahlquist's campaign has since reiterated his stance to The Associated Press, assuming lawmakers passed the measure.

His challenger, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, also said at the forum that he would like to sign such a measure into law but acknowledged that it might not stand up in court. Little also said he "probably would" support it but had not seen anything in writing.

"From my standpoint, my right-to-life voting record is clear, and I would have to look at it, obviously," he said. "We have passed some of those bills that have gone to be judicially overrode by a federal court and that would be the risk that would appear there (with this bill)."

Outside Idaho, such legislation also has taken hold in statehouses and on the campaign trail.

In Ohio, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would ban all abortions and allow prosecutors to charge doctors and patients who get the procedure, including the death penalty or life imprisonment with no exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the health of the woman.

Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Dan Fisher, a Republican, has described himself as the only candidate who would call for an emergency legislative session to criminalize abortion if elected.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer]]>
<![CDATA[Largest Cannabis Cultivation Facility in US Proposed for New Mexico]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 13:12:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuana-plants-generic.jpg

A project described as the largest cannabis cultivation facility in North America was proposed in New Mexico Thursday.

Ultra Health announced the acquisition of farmland while unveiling a three-dimensional rendering of what the facility will look like via social media.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile in Otero County. It will include 20 acres of indoor cultivation, 80 acres of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from an expanded medical marijuana market and legalized recreational use.

The company says the grow facility is expected to employ about 100 people.

Legalization is shaping up to be among the campaign issues in the gubernatorial race.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca is calling for the expansion of New Mexico's medical marijuana program and for the legalization of recreational use.

Apodaca released his plan Thursday, saying New Mexico is losing out on jobs and tax revenues that could be generated by the industry.

New Mexico's medical program has grown exponentially and now has more than 50,000 patients. Record sales were also reported in 2017.

At a recent forum, Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization.

Among the other Democratic candidates, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she would support a measure that includes adequate health and enforcement measures to prevent underage use and workplace problems.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state isn't ready yet to legalize.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Americans Filling Far Fewer Opioid Prescriptions: New Data]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 11:44:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/opioidspills_1200x675.jpg

The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell dramatically last year, showing their biggest drop in 25 years and continuing a decline amid increasing legal restrictions and public awareness of the dangers of addiction, new data show.

Health data firm IQVIA's Institute for Human Data Science released a report Thursday showing an 8.9 percent average drop nationwide in the number of prescriptions for opioids filled by retail and mail-order pharmacies. All 50 states and the District of Columbia had declines of more than 5 percent. Declines topped 10 percent in 18 states, including all of New England and other states hit hard by the opioid overdose epidemic, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"We're at a really critical moment in the country when everybody's paying attention to this issue," said Michael Kleinrock, the institute's research director. "People really don't want them if they can avoid them."

There was an even greater drop in total dosage of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017, down 12 percent from 2016. Reasons for that include more prescriptions being for a shorter duration, a 7.8 percent decline in new patients starting on opioid prescriptions and far fewer high-dose prescriptions.

Opioid doses are measured in "morphine milligram equivalents." (A standard Vicodin pill has the equivalent of 5 milligrams of morphine.) Prescriptions for dosages of 90 morphine milligram equivalents per day or more, which carry the highest addiction risk, declined by 16 percent last year, according to the report.

The U.S. is estimated to consume roughly 30 percent of all opioids used worldwide.

Opioid prescriptions and daily doses rose steadily starting in the 1990s, fueled by factors including marketing of new opioid pills such as Oxycontin. Use peaked in 2011 at levels far above those in other wealthy countries where national health systems control narcotics more aggressively.

The U.S. decline began after overdoses and deaths from prescription opioids and illicit narcotics soared, and multiple groups pushed back.

The federal government and about half the states have enacted restrictions, such as limiting the dose or duration of opioids that can be prescribed. Insurers and drug stores began imposing similar limits on opioid use for acute pain, as opposed to cancer and chronic pain patients. The Drug Enforcement Administration increased prosecution of heavy prescribers. And numerous medical groups have issued guidelines urging prescribers to offer other pain-management options when possible and to limit doses and duration of opioid prescriptions.

Despite those measures, deaths from drug overdoses have continued to increase in the U.S. and emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year, according to government data.

Doctors have been heeding the messages from medical groups, and some worry they'll be arrested or lose their license if they provide too many opioids, said Bob Twillman, executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, which represents doctors and others who treat pain patients and gets some funding from opioid makers.

"We get a lot of phone calls from patients whose primary care doctors have said they won't prescribe opioids at all," and want referrals to other doctors, Twillman said.

The opioid data are part of IQVIA's annual report on U.S. drug-spending trends. It noted that last year the total spent on prescription drugs, after multiple discounts and rebates drugmakers give to middlemen, was $324 billion, up 0.6 percent. The report forecasts that after such discounts, drug spending will rise by 2 percent to 5 percent annually for the next five years.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Suicide Risk Rises With Quick Repeat Deployments: Study]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 08:44:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-813583078.jpg

Soldiers are more at risk of suicide when they're repeatedly deployed with six months or less between rotations, and when they're sent to war too soon after they join the service, new research shows.

As NBC News reported, Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences wrote in the report published Wednesday that rates of suicidal behaviors "increased considerably" during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He and his team studied a group of 593 soldiers in the U.S. Army who had been deployed twice and who attempted suicide between 2004 and 2009. Getting a chance to prepare seemed to be key. 

"Those who served 12 or fewer months before their first deployment were approximately twice as likely to attempt suicide during or after their second deployment compared with those who had more time to train and acclimate to the military before initial deployment," Ursano's team wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Psychiatry.

Such quick turnarounds have become common as the U.S. sends combat troops to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. And suicide rates have soared among veterans. On average, 20 veterans a day died by suicide in 2014, and many more attempted suicide, the Veterans Affairs Department says.

Photo Credit: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Don't Eat the Lettuce: E. Coli Outbreak Booms to 53 Cases]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 13:41:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-generic.jpg

An E. coli outbreak that health investigators believe is linked to chopped romaine lettuce has expanded, with 53 cases now reported in 16 states, and nearly three dozen hospitalized, at least five of whom suffered kidney failure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added 18 more cases to the total in its update Wednesday, a marked increase since the prior update less than a week earlier, and said five more states reported sick people: Alaska, Arizona, California, Louisiana and Montana.

Officials believe the contaminated lettuce was grown in Yuma, Arizona, though they have not identified a grower, supplier, distributor or brand.

Cases have been reported across the tri-state area, the most in New Jersey (7); New York and Connecticut have three cases each. Pennsylvania has the most (12) in this outbreak, followed by Idaho (10). Check the CDC's case count map.

The CDC added nine more hospitalizations to its count from last week, bringing the total in this outbreak to 31. Five of those cases involved a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition caused by the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. No one has died.

Consumers who have bought romaine lettuce - including salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce - are advised to throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.

Before purchasing romaine lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, confirm with the store or restaurant that it is not chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. If you cannot confirm the source of the romaine lettuce, do not buy it or eat it.

Restaurants and retailers are advised to take similar precautions.

Health officials say the outbreak started in late March. Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe diarrhea to nausea and vomiting. Usually, there is little or no fever present. E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

“Individuals with this infection usually get better within about 5 to 7 days, however, some illnesses can be serious or even life-threatening,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement last week. “Anyone experiencing symptoms of this illness should see a healthcare provider.”

<![CDATA[These Are the 30 Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Colleges in America]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 08:00:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/college+generic2.jpgFour tri-state area schools have landed on a new list of America's top bang-for-your-buck colleges and universities.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[2018's Best and Worst States for Kids' Health Care Revealed]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 11:36:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/pexels+baby.jpgWalletHub looked at 50 states and the District of Columbia across 30 indicators to determine the best and worst states for child health care.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[Ethicist Foresees Choosing Your Baby From Dozens of Embryos]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 06:17:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/ethicistAP_18051660302252.jpg

So you want to have a baby.

Would you like a dark-haired girl with a high risk of someday getting colon cancer, but a good chance of above-average music ability?

Or would you prefer a girl with a good prospect for high SAT scores and a good shot at being athletic, but who also is likely to run an above-average risk of bipolar disorder and lupus as an adult?

How about a boy with a good shot at having musical ability and dodging asthma, but who also would be predisposed to cataracts and type 2 diabetes?

Confused? You're just getting started. There are dozens more choices for which of your embryos should be placed in the womb to become your child.

That's the future a biomedical ethics expert envisions for 20 to 40 years from now — soon enough that today's children may face it when they start their own families.

"The majority of babies of people who have good health coverage will be conceived this way," predicts Henry Greely, a Stanford University law professor who works in bioethics.

You've probably read about concerns over "designer babies," whose DNA is shaped by gene editing. Greely is focused on a different technology that has gotten much less attention: In a startling bit of biological alchemy, scientists have shown that in mice, they can turn ordinary cells into sperm and eggs.

It's too soon to know if it could be done in people. But if it can, it could become a powerful infertility treatment, permitting genetic parenthood for people who can't make their own sperm or eggs.

It also would mean that a woman who wants to get pregnant could produce dozens more eggs per attempt than with the current procedure of harvesting some from her ovaries.

And that means a lot of choices.

Here's what Greely envisions: A man and woman walk into a fertility clinic. The man drops off some sperm. The woman leaves some skin cells, which are turned into eggs and fertilized with the man's sperm.

Unlike in vitro fertilization today, which typically yields around eight eggs per try, the new method could result in 100 embryos.

The embryos' complete library of DNA would be decoded and analyzed to reveal genetic predispositions, both for disease and personal traits. The man and woman would get dossiers on the embryos that pass minimum tests for suitability.

Out of, say, 80 suitable embryos, the couple would then choose one or two to implant.

The possibilities don't stop there. The technology might also help open the door to same-sex couples having children genetically related to both of them, though the additional twist of making eggs from men or sperm from women would be a huge biological challenge.

More worrisome is the so-called Brad Pitt scenario: We all shed a bit of sloughed-off DNA every day, like on the lip of a coffee cup. Such discarded material could be secretly snatched up to turn an unwitting celebrity into a genetic parent.

It is a long way in the future, but real life is already creeping toward it. Some scientists are trying to make human eggs and sperm in the lab. They are working with "iPS cells," which are ordinary body cells that have been morphed into a malleable state.

Amander Clark of the University of California, Los Angeles, says her goal is to aid basic research into why some people are infertile. She acknowledges the technique might itself be used to treat some infertility, particularly in young people made sterile by cancer treatments.

As for decoding the complete DNA library of embryos, Dr. Louanne Hudgins, who studies prenatal genetic screening and diagnosis at Stanford, says some pregnant patients there say they've already had fertility clinics do that. They didn't reveal why, Hudgins said.

Hudgins, who's president of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, said no national medical association has endorsed decoding all the DNA of a fetus, which is called its genome. So she believes no insurance company would pay for that now.

Greely, who lays out his ideas in a book called "The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction," calls his vision "easy PGD," or prenatal genetic diagnosis.

Ordinary PGD has been done for decades. When a couple is known to be at risk for having a child with a specific genetic disorder, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, the woman undergoes a procedure to remove some eggs. After fertilization, some cells are plucked from the embryos and examined to identify those without carry the disease-causing abnormality.

That procedure looks for a specific problem in a few embryos, not entire genomes from dozens of them. If a couple wants to select a "super baby," says Dr. Richard Scott Jr., a founding partner of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, "we tell them we can't do it."

In fact, Scott and others say, even wide-ranging analysis would not provide a precise forecast of how a child will turn out.

If DNA is the hardware, there's also the software: chemical modifications that determine when and where particular genes turn on and off. Much of this "epigenome" would develop after an embryo's genes are sampled, Scott said.

"Your child may not turn out to be the three-sport All-American at Stanford," because "the epigenome didn't work out," Scott said.

Greely agrees that predictions about behavioral traits like intelligence and athletic ability will be imprecise, because of epigenetics and because of basic uncertainties about what genes are involved and how they interact. And a person's upbringing and life experiences have a big effect.

Even if the predictions aren't perfect, would couples want to take steps to control their child's genetics? Many experts doubt it.

Only a "very small minority" seek a perfect baby, says Stanford's Hudgins. In her practice, she said she often finds women pass up all screening because they figure the baby's fate is "in God's hands."

Dr. James Grifo of the New York University Fertility Center also questions how popular the idea would be.

"No patient has ever came to me and said, 'I want a designer baby,'" said Grifo, who's performed in vitro fertilization since 1988.

Greely doubts that influencing brainpower or athleticism would be a major draw for parents. Instead, he thinks they would care most about avoiding awful diseases that strike in infancy or childhood. They'll probably be less concerned about illnesses that might show up later in life, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. For one thing, he says, parents-to-be may see them as becoming treatable by the time a child becomes vulnerable.

He thinks easy PGD is coming, and it would be better if properly handled. He says it should be proven safe, subsidized, monitored for long-term effects, and regulated so that parents can choose whether to use it and decide what embryonic traits to focus on. And he'd outlaw stealing somebody's DNA and unwittingly making them a parent.

Once the genetic profile is done, could it come back to haunt a child if, say, a life insurer or nursing home demanded to see it to assess disease risk? How would the large number of rejected embryos be handled ethically and politically?

Perhaps future regulation could limit the number of embryos created, as well as what traits a couple could select for, said I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard law professor.

Lori B. Andrews, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, summed up her views in a review of Greely's book.

"The idea of easy PGD," she wrote, "should make us uneasy indeed."

Still, even some who doubt the idea's feasibility say Greely is right to raise the issue.

"It's certainly something we have to take seriously and think through now," said Marcy Darnovsky, who writes on the politics of human biotechnology as executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California. "This is not just a technical or science question."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: ASRM via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Organs From Drug Overdoses Could Help Transplant Shortage]]>Tue, 17 Apr 2018 07:15:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OPIOID+DRUGS+PILL+BOTTLE+MEDICATION.jpg

Fatal drug overdoses are increasing organ donations, and researchers reported Monday that people who receive those transplants generally fare as well as patients given organs from more traditional donors.

The findings could encourage more use of organs from overdose victims. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found those transplants have jumped nearly 24-fold since 2000. That was before overdoses were making headlines or most transplant centers considered accepting such organs.

In 2016, there were 3,533 transplants using overdose-related donated organs, up from just 149 such transplants in 2000, the study found.

Deaths from overdoses are on the rise yet most occur outside hospitals, blocking organ donation. Still, those deaths now account for about 13 percent of the nation's deceased organ donors, up from 1 percent in 2000, the researchers calculated.

"This is not an ideal or sustainable solution to the organ shortage," lead researcher Dr. Christine Durand wrote in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

But with nearly 115,000 people on the national waiting list for a transplant, the Hopkins team concluded that use of organs from overdoses "should be optimized" because many transplant candidates could die waiting for another choice.

For Monday's study, the researchers used a U.S. registry to compare the outcomes of nearly 338,000 patients who received a transplant between 2000 and 2016, from either a donor who died of disease, trauma or an overdose.

In general, transplant recipients' survival was similar with an organ from an overdose victim. In fact, compared to donors who died of disease, they sometimes fared a little better because overdose donors tend to be younger and less likely to have had high blood pressure, diabetes or other ailments that can affect an organ's function, the researchers reported.

The study found that overdose-related organs are more likely than other donated organs to be classified as at "increased risk" of infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C. But the Hopkins team said with improved testing of all donated organs to uncover infections — and new, effective medications for hepatitis C — the overall risk for transplant candidates is low, and should be carefully weighed in determining the best option for individual patients.

"It's reassuring that these organs do work well and provide a lot of benefit," said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the U.S. transplant system. He wasn't involved in the research.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News, File]]>
<![CDATA[Feds: Increase Medication-Based Treatment for Opioids]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2018 05:42:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/opioidspills_1200x675.jpg

Deep within President Donald Trump's plan to combat opioid abuse, overshadowed by his call for the death penalty for some drug traffickers, is a push to expand the use of medication to treat addiction.

It's a rare instance in which Trump isn't trying roll back Obama administration policies, and where fractious Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together.

Trump declared last month that "we're making medically assisted treatment more available and affordable," even as Congress was working to approve $1 billion for a new treatment grant program for opioids as part of the massive spending bill to keep the government running.

Not to offer such treatment for opioid addiction is like "trying to treat an infection without antibiotics," new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the National Governors Association earlier this year.

Experts have long argued that medication-assisted treatment should be the standard of care for people addicted to heroin and other opioid drugs. But acceptance lags. Cost is a barrier, as are government regulations. Some of the treatment drugs are opioids themselves and there's no consensus on how long patients should remain in treatment.

In its final year, the Obama administration pushed through Congress $1 billion for opioid crisis grants to states. Of that, $500 million was to be released last year and the other $500 million this year. States had to show that their opioid programs are based on clinical evidence, so medication-assisted treatment got a big boost.

The 2018 spending bill provides another $1 billion.

"The government is talking about treatment and medication-assisted treatment in a way that the government has never done before," said Tom Hill, vice president of addiction and recovery at the National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for mental health and addiction treatment.

Overdose deaths from heroin, synthetics like fentanyl, and prescription painkillers, reached 42,000 in 2016, according to the latest statistics.

"This is being addressed as the illness that it is," said Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary of HHS for mental health and substance abuse. "Most definitely the government is acknowledging the disease of addiction as it pertains to opioids — and other substances as well — but opioids of course are an emergency."

Grants are awarded to states based on a variety of factors, including overdose deaths and the number of people who can't find treatment.

Vermont has been hard hit by the addiction epidemic and is one of the states that have gotten federal money for medication-assisted treatment. Its central goal is to improve access, according to a report on grant recipients released by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In Massachusetts, the plan is aimed in part on pregnant women and new mothers. Indiana wants to focus on rural residents.

A study looking at New England by the nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review found that every dollar invested in medication treatment would return about $1.80 in savings, when factoring in society's costs from lost productivity and crime.

One Vermont physician, Dr. Deborah Richter, says medications have helped her patients, especially when combined with counseling.

"People got back to what they were before the addiction seized them," she said.

As a doctor, "it was on a personal level so rewarding to save other mothers' children."

Skeptics of the government emphasis on medication-assisted treatment say it's not a cure-all.

Jonathan Goyer, manager of the Anchor recovery program in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, said he sees many patients who don't want to take medication, because they want to be free of drugs altogether.

"We should be increasing medication-assisted treatment," said Goyer. "But we should also be increasing everything else."

At the Neil Kennedy Recovery Centers in Youngstown, Ohio, outpatient director Pam Ramsey said her program emphasizes medication as an aid, not as the sole treatment.

"It really is an assist to the treatment," said Ramsey. Along with medication, treatment incorporates a version of the traditional 12-step approach to quitting, counseling sessions, group meetings, and follow-up. "Our goal is still abstinence."

Home remodeling contractor Rob Judy said he's wrestled with heroin addiction for more than 20 years. Medication alone did not keep him drug free, nor did a faith-based program.

Finally Judy signed up for comprehensive treatment at Neil Kennedy.

The medication puts out "the fire of active addiction, of having to wake up and use," said Judy. But he says that needs to be followed with counseling, peer support and follow-up care.

"I believe that addiction is based on and driven by loss, and at the core of it is pain," said Judy. "If you don't address those issues, sooner or later you're going to relapse."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/John Moore]]>
<![CDATA[Lettuce Named Likely Culprit in 11-State E. Coli Outbreak]]>Sat, 14 Apr 2018 18:54:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-generic.jpg

Health investigators have identified chopped romaine lettuce from Arizona as the probable culprit of an 11-state E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least seven people in New Jersey as well as people in New York and Connecticut.

The New Jersey Department of Health issued an update on the probe Friday, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration traced the likely source back to lettuce grown in Yuma, but neither agency has identified a grower, supplier, distributor or brand.

Consumers who have bought romaine lettuce - including salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce - are advised to throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.

"If you don’t know if the lettuce is romaine, throw it away. Before purchasing romaine lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, consumers should confirm with the store or restaurant that the romaine lettuce did not come from the Yuma, Arizona growing region," the NJ Department of Health said.

As of April 13, 35 cases have been reported in 11 states. Twenty-two people have been hospitalized, the CDC says. The seven cases in New Jersey include four in Hunterdon County and one each in Monmouth, Sussex and Somerset counties. The sick range in age from 12 to 84 and most are women.

There are eight cases in Idaho, two in Connecticut, nine in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in Ohio and one each in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia and Washington, the CDC says. Check the CDC's case count map here.

Health officials say the outbreak started in late March. Though no deaths have been reported, at least six people have been hospitalized with one developing hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe diarrhea to nausea and vomiting. Usually there is little or no fever present. E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

“Individuals with this infection usually get better within about 5 to 7 days, however some illnesses can be serious or even life-threatening,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. “Anyone experiencing symptoms of this illness should see a healthcare provider.”

<![CDATA[FDA Works to Pull Concentrated Caffeine Products off Shelves]]>Fri, 13 Apr 2018 11:28:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16159721727583.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration Friday declared concentrated, bulk caffeine products illegal and said it would act to get them off the shelves, NBC News reported.

"These products present a significant public health threat because of the high risk that they will be erroneously used at excessive, potentially dangerous doses," the FDA said in a statement. "Highly concentrated and pure caffeine, often sold in bulk packages, have been linked to at least two deaths in otherwise healthy individuals."

The FDA has been warning about powdered caffeine since 2014, when an Ohio teenager died after using it. One teaspoon of the powdered caffeine can deliver the equivalent of 20 or more cups of coffee, the FDA said. That's enough to kill, as too much caffeine can cause fatal heartbeat irregularities.

"Regardless of whether the product contains a warning label, such products present a significant and unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the consumer," the FDA said.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File, File]]>
<![CDATA[Closing Time? Study Says Limit Alcohol to 1 Drink a Day]]>Fri, 13 Apr 2018 07:42:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_83433594.jpg

Here's some sobering news: A large international study says adults should average no more than one alcoholic drink per day, and that means drinking guidelines in many countries may be far too loose.

The study found that people who down more than seven drinks a week can expect to die sooner than those who drink less.

"What this is saying is, if you're really concerned about your longevity, don't have more than a drink a day," said David Jernigan, a Johns Hopkins University alcohol researcher who was not involved in the study.

While the U.S. government currently recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, the recommendation for men is 14 drinks. That's because earlier studies found women are hit by the effects of alcohol at lower amounts than men for several reasons, including women weigh less than men on average and blood alcohol concentrations rise faster.

The new study estimates that 40-year-old men who drink as much as the current U.S. guidelines allow can expect to live one to two years less than men who have no more than seven drinks per week.

Canada and Sweden have guidelines similar to those in the U.S. set by the Department of Agriculture. Some countries have much higher ceilings. Spain and Romania set the upper limit for men at the equivalent of 20 drinks each week, for example.

British guidelines were like the U.S. standards until two years ago, when U.K. health officials brought the recommendation for men down to the level for women.

The study "is a serious wake-up call for many countries," Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation said in a statement. The group partly funded the study, which was published Thursday by the Lancet journal.

The research combined results from 83 studies conducted in 19 countries, tracking nearly 600,000 people who drank alcohol. The researchers focused on who developed — and died from — stroke and different forms of heart disease. They made a point of excluding people who had a known history of heart problems at the time they had entered a study.

About half the participants said they had more than 100 grams of alcohol a week. There's variation from country to country as to how many grams of alcohol are generally found in a standard drink. In Britain, that's about six pints of beer a week. But in the U.S., 100 grams is equivalent to what's in seven 12-ounces cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits.

The researchers found a higher risk of stroke, heart failure and other problems in that group of heavier drinkers. That may partly reflect that alcohol can elevate blood pressure and alter cholesterol levels, the researchers said.

Notably, the heavier drinkers were less likely to have a heart attack. But balanced against the increased risk of a stroke and other heart problems, the impact of drinking more than seven drinks a week is more bad than good, said the study's lead author, Dr. Angela Wood of the University of Cambridge in England.

Like most studies, this one has flaws. It's not built to make firm conclusions about cause and effect. Research that rolls together previous studies can be problematic if they aren't similar enough, though this one appears to have done a good job at overcoming that obstacle and combining comparable data, Jernigan said.

Researchers relied on what participants reported drinking at the start, recognizing that many people may be lowballing how much they actually down. And the study didn't account for any changes in their drinking habits.

At O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub, a watering hole in lower Manhattan, one patron shrugged off the study and its recommendation. Shawn Freeman, visiting from St. Louis, said other things influence how much he drinks, like his mood and whether he'll be driving.

Another patron, Jaussi Ruotsalainen, a tourist from Finland, said he rarely drinks because he has two young kids at home.

"That takes care of it," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Arina Habich/Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[In Opioid Epidemic, Some Cities Strain to Afford OD Antidote]]>Thu, 12 Apr 2018 14:09:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18031167711968-baltimore-opiod.jpg

On a Baltimore street corner, public health workers hand out a life-saving overdose antidote to residents painfully familiar with the ravages of America's opioid epidemic. But the training wraps up quickly; all the naloxone inhalers are claimed within 20 minutes.

"We could've easily handed out hundreds of doses today. But we only had 24 kits. That goes fast," said Kelleigh Eastman, a health department worker assisting the city's bluntly dubbed "Don't Die" anti-overdose campaign.

Cities like Baltimore are feeling the financial squeeze as they rely on naloxone to try and counteract rising overdose rates. Some hard-hit communities across the country are struggling to pay for dosages even at reduced prices.

With more overdoses driven by synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil — so potent it's used as an elephant tranquilizer — naloxone remains pricey enough that Baltimore's health department is rationing supplies, stretching a dwindling stockpile of inhalers. Last year, the city distributed more than 25,000 doses, up from about 19,000 in 2016.

"Every week, we count the doses we have left and make hard decisions about who will receive the medication and who will have to go without," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, who issued the city's innovative blanket prescription for the drug in 2015.

Numerous states have since passed laws — including bypassing prescription requirements and establishing community training programs — aimed at expanding use of the medication that restores a person's breathing while temporarily blocking the brain's opioid receptors.

"It's a bit of a pressure-cooker environment for Baltimore but also places in many other states that have been on the front lines of the overdose crisis and where the toll keeps rising. The challenge, on a structural level, is that there's no clear sustainable funding source for naloxone," according to Daniel Raymond, policy director for the National Harm Reduction Coalition.

In Charleston, West Virginia, the health department reported Monday that it has only 159 doses remaining, most allocated for community classes in coming days. Kanawha-Charlestown Health Department spokesman John Law said they've requested more naloxone auto-injectors from the company that's donated to them in the past "but we have had no response."

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued the office's first national public health advisory in 13 years, calling on more Americans to start carrying naloxone and urging more federal funds be dedicated to increasing local antidote access.

"Costs should not and, in the near future, will not be a barrier to accessing naloxone for anyone in America," Adams pledged.

A two-dose carton of Narcan — a brand name for naloxone inhalers — has list prices of about $125. First responders and community organizations can purchase Narcan at discounts of $75 per two-dose carton, according to manufacturer Adapt Pharma. The Evzio auto-injector from Virginia-based drugmaker Kaleo currently has list prices of roughly $3,800 for a box with two doses, up from about $690 in 2014. Last week, Kaleo announced a new initiative that will allow federal and state government agencies to make direct purchases of two-pack Evzio kits for $360 each.

The surgeon general's advisory was welcome in Philadelphia, where health officials have debated internally whether "rationing" accurately describes their naloxone situation. The city has one of the highest opioid death rates of any large U.S. metropolis and distributed 25,000 doses from July through December last year.

"Given the tremendous scope of the opioid epidemic and (our) anticipated 1,200 overdoses deaths in 2017, easier — and cheaper — access to naloxone for the general public and public safety agencies has the potential to save hundreds of lives," Philadelphia Health Department spokesman James Garrow said.

The stakes couldn't be higher. Growing anecdotal evidence shows that multiple naloxone doses are needed to reverse an overdose caused by synthetic opioids — more than the single dose to reverse a heroin overdose.

Baltimore Fire Deputy Chief Mark Fletcher said first responders have found it takes "two doses or maybe even three doses" to restore respiration if a person used heroin laced with fentanyl or carfentanil.

It's not yet clear how naloxone saturation is affecting overdose deaths overall. One 2017 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that laws boosting naloxone access are linked to as much as an 11 percent drop in fatalities.

In a gritty Baltimore neighborhood, Shane Shortt, who is addicted to heroin, said he's been able to revive five drug companions with Narcan over the past year and swears he never goes anyplace without an inhaler.

"You never know when you're going to have to use it. It was actually used on me like last week," Shortt said outside a Baltimore needle-exchange van where about a dozen people showing the ravages of long-term drug use lined up with a few younger people.

An addictions and recovery expert with the National Council for Behavioral Health, Tom Hill, said the bottom line is naloxone is just about "all we have" to battle overdoses.

"Anything to lower the costs of a life-saving drug is a very welcome thing," he said from Washington.

Wen, who is among the many officials calling on the Trump administration to directly negotiate the price of naloxone with manufacturers, was more blunt: "We are in the middle of a national epidemic. We should not be priced out of the ability to save lives."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Probes E. Coli Mystery Outbreak in NJ, CT, More States]]>Thu, 12 Apr 2018 03:13:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-generic.jpg

Health investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the mysterious E. coli outbreak that affected at least six people in New Jersey, one in Connecticut and 10 people in multiple other states, requiring a half-dozen hospitalizations. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an update on the investigation Tuesday, saying that public health investigators are still in the process of gathering information and “fingerprinting” the bacteria from those who were potentially infected with E. coli to determine if there is a common link in the bacteria strand.

Half a dozen cases of E. coli were reported in New Jersey’s Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties recently.

“Illnesses reported by investigators in New Jersey also included ill people who had a diagnostic test showing they were infected with E. coli bacteria. Laboratory testing is ongoing to link their illnesses to the outbreak using DNA fingerprinting,” the CDC said in a statement.

As of April 9, 17 people have been infected in seven states: New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and Washington. Those infected are between 12 and 84 years old, with the majority being female. 

Health officials say the outbreak started in late March. Though no deaths were reported, six people have been hospitalized with one developing hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

A specific food item, grocery store or restaurant chain has not been identified as the source of the illnesses and because of this “state and local public health officials are interviewing ill people to determine what they ate and other exposures in the week before their illness started,” the CDC says.

E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

Common symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

<![CDATA[Risk of Zika Infection Through Sex May Last Only a Month]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 17:33:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Mosquito-AP_750626106311.jpg

Signs of Zika infection can be seen in semen for as long as nine months, but the risk of sexual transmission appears to end in one month, according to a study published Wednesday.

The study suggests health officials have been overly cautious in advising couples to abstain from sex or to use condoms for at least six months after a male partner comes down with Zika.

The study's lead author, Dr. Paul Mead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the results are spurring work on new and better recommendations. But he said the study itself is not enough to change current guidelines yet.

The study was published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Zika infections swept across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2016, with a few very small outbreaks in the southern United States. The virus is mainly spread by tropical mosquitoes. But during the epidemic, scientists discovered some infections were spread through sex — in most cases by men infecting their partners.

In the U.S., 52 reported Zika cases have been attributed to sexual transmission, according to the CDC.

Most people infected with Zika don't get sick, while some suffer a mild illness with fever, rash and joint pain.

But infection during pregnancy can cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly, in which a baby's skull is much smaller than expected because the brain hasn't developed properly.

In the new study, health officials looked at semen and urine samples from about 180 U.S. men who were infected with Zika and developed symptoms. Most of them caught it in 2016 while traveling overseas to outbreak areas. The men were given a $50 gift cards per submission. They submitted more than 1,300 semen samples.

Sixty of the men had genetic evidence of Zika infection in their semen.

But genetic evidence of a past infection is different from infectious concentrations of virus. The researchers looked for that, and found three men who appeared to have levels that made them contagious. The infectious-level specimens from those three men were all taken within a month of their developing symptoms, Mead said.

The results may help tailor counseling for couples who are concerned about Zika, said Dr. Neil Silverman, a UCLA professor of obstetrics.

Two years ago, the risk of Zika caused panic in many couples, but the anxiety level has waned. Silverman said his clinic used to see 20 to 25 couples each month with Zika concerns, but now sees only three to five.

Though it's no longer causing large outbreaks, the virus still lurks in mosquitoes in many tropical locales and it remains an infection threat to visitors.

"Zika will be with us in the Americas. There's no particular reason to think it's going away," Mead 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[Insurers Look to Pass Drug Price Breaks Straight to Consumer]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 14:51:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pharmacisy_1200x675.jpg

Some major health insurers plan to take a little sting out of prescription drug prices by giving customers rebates at the pharmacy counter.

Aetna and UnitedHealthcare both say they will begin passing rebates they get from drugmakers along to some customers starting next year. They could spark a trend: The idea has been championed by President Donald Trump, and it's something other bill-payers like major employers might consider.

Rebates are a key cog in the largely secretive pricing agreements ironed out between drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, the companies that manage prescriptions for insurers and large employers. Rebates have become more common in recent years, and some critics point to them as a factor behind soaring drug costs. Aetna and UnitedHealthcare say they want to make prescription drug pricing more transparent and simplify the process for customers.

Here's a look at the issue.

Pharmaceutical companies offer rebates to benefits managers as a carrot to get their drugs included in formularies, or lists of covered drugs. These concessions are usually a percentage of the initial price set by the drugmaker, or the list price.

Pharmacy benefit managers typically pass rebates on to the insurers and large employers that hire them. Those clients often use the money to reduce their plan's spending on drugs or the cost of coverage. Only 4 percent said they passed rebates directly to customers at the point of sale, or when they buy the drug, the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute found in a 2017 report.

That's unlikely.

Aetna estimates that 3 million customers could receive rebates when it starts offering them next year, while UnitedHelathcare's plan will initially apply to over 7 million people. Those are big numbers but small slices of the more than 67 million U.S. customers these companies cover in total.

In addition, CVS Health's pharmacy benefits business offers point-of-sale rebates through plans that cover about 10 million of its 94 million customers.

More insurers or benefits managers could follow these examples, and big employers that pay their own health care bills also might start passing the rebates to people on their health plans, said Ana Gupte, an insurance industry analyst with Leerink.

Plus Trump has proposed giving rebates directly to Medicare prescription drug customers.

Rebates delivered directly to the consumer may be attractive to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers because they can help polish their image. Rebates give the companies a tangible benefit they can show consumers instead of saying generally that these refunds help keep overall coverage costs in check, noted Benedic Ippolito, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute.

"At a minimum, it sounds like insurers are trying to do something for consumers with high drug costs," he said.

It's hard to forecast how big the rebates will be. Experts say they could knock anywhere from a few bucks off your prescription bill to more than $100.

The rebates are generally not disclosed by companies, and their size depends on factors like competition and the amount of the drug sold.

Treatments that have competition may deliver the biggest rebates because pharmaceutical companies are jockeying to have their medicines included in formularies.

Discounts and rebates for high-cost specialty medicines usually are lower than those for more traditional drugs, according to the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which studies prescription drug spending.

The consumers who will benefit most are those who take prescription drugs regularly and pay a lot for their medicines out of pocket, or before insurance coverage starts.

"It reduces the cost of having a chronic illness somewhat," said Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

But there may be a price to pay: The cost of coverage could rise for everyone on a given health plan if rebates are no longer being used to keep overall plan expenses in check.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2018's 'Dirty Dozen': How Much Pesticide Is in Your Produce?]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 08:55:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bell-peppers-ewg.jpgThe Environmental Working Group has just put out its annual "Dirty Dozen" report, highlighting the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. Here they are, in reverse order.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Fake Pot Likely Tainted With Rat Poison Kills 3, Sickens 100]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 08:20:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/marihuana+sintetica+peligros.jpg

Fake marijuana likely contaminated with rat poison has killed three people in Illinois and caused severe bleeding in more than 100 others, including a few in four other states. 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has alerted doctors nationwide that patients with severe, unexplained bleeding may be additional cases. 

The CDC is helping Illinois authorities investigate the outbreak in that state, which began in early March. Illinois reported seven more cases on Tuesday, bringing the nationwide total to at least 116. 

Several patients and samples of so-called synthetic marijuana from Illinois have tested positive for a lethal ingredient often used in rat poison, the CDC and Illinois authorities said. 

Symptoms include coughing up blood, blood in the urine, severe bloody noses, bleeding gums and internal bleeding. CDC's alert says outside Illinois, emergency rooms in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Maryland have treated affected patients since March 10. 

Illnesses have been linked to fake marijuana before but this is the first outbreak involving rat poison contamination, said the CDC's Renee Funk. Those sickened require hospitalization and treatment with vitamin K to control bleeding, she said.

"This is an unusual outbreak,'' Funk said Tuesday, adding that is unclear how the contamination occurred. 

Fake marijuana, also called synthetic cannabinoids, contains man-made chemicals that produce a high similar to marijuana. It is sold in smoke shops and other stores as liquids that can be used in e-cigarettes or in dried plant material that can be smoked. Nicknames include K2, Spice and Kush. 

"The number of cases continues to go up each day,'' Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. "Synthetic cannabinoids in general are not safe and this is one example of not knowing what chemicals are in the product. We are telling people don't use synthetic cannabinoids." 

The federal government and many states have banned some of these products or specific ingredients, but the CDC says manufacturers skirt these laws by creating new products or labeling them "not for human consumption.'' 

Tests on fake pot bought at a Chicago convenience store by undercover agents detected the rat poison ingredient, the U.S. attorney's office said in a news release. Three store employees were arrested and face federal drug charges. 

Illnesses from fake marijuana have increased in recent years; a CDC report noted at least 456 cases between 2010 and 2015. The products are up to 100 times more potent than the active ingredient in marijuana and severe reactions have included seizures, coma and delirium.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[More Organic Than Thou? Rebel Farmers Create New Food Label]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 07:54:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18093666697839-Organic-Tomatoes-Labels.jpg

Was your tomato grown in dirt or water? Organic shoppers might notice additional labels this summer that will give them the answer — and tell them whether their choices align with what a rebellious group of farmers and scientists deem the true spirit of the organic movement.

About 15 farmers and scientists from around the country met in Vermont late last month to create the standards for an additional organic certification program, which they plan to roll out nationally to between 20 to 60 farms as a pilot this summer.

Under the current U.S. Department of Agriculture program, the organic label means that your tomato has been produced without synthetic substances — with some exceptions — and without certain methods, like genetic engineering. The additional label, which does not yet have a name or wording, would indicate that a tomato, for example, has been grown in soil, and that meat and dairy products came from farms that pasture their animals.

An inspector would certify that the farm has complied with the new standards, and the farms — not distributors — would add the label.

The move comes five months after the National Organic Standard Board, which advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture, voted against a proposal to exclude from the USDA's organic certification program hydroponics — raising plants with water but no soil — and aquaponics, in which plants and aquatic animals, such as fish, are grown within one system.

"I think that a lot of farmers, especially young farmers, feel that the organic label no longer describes the way they farm, and we're trying to recapture that," said Linley Dixon, a vegetable farmer in Durango, Colorado, and senior scientist for Cornucopia Institute, who is also on the standards board of the Real Organic Project.

The group creating the new label, which calls itself the Real Organic Project, said it has not abandoned the National Organic Program, which is the federal standard, and is not attacking organic farmers.

"Some of the cornerstones of what organic means are being taken away, and we're concerned about how creaky that makes the whole thing," said Dave Chapman, a member of the executive and standards board of the Real Organic Project and owner of an organic tomato farm in Thetford. He believes the cornerstone of being organic is growing in soil and improving its fertility.

To Dixon, "organic" means a very diversified operation, rotating animals and crops and planting cover crops to control erosion, increase organic matter in the soil and manage weeds, among other things.

The new label would exclude from certification hydroponic farming and large livestock farms that don't pasture their animals, known as contained animal feeding operations or CAFOs.

The hydroponic industry argues another label would mislead and confuse consumers and is a way for the traditional organic farmers to try to get a competitive edge.

"It's a competition because field farmers can't produce the volume that hydroponics can," said Dan Lubkeman, president of the Hydroponic Society of America.

While shopping at Hunger Mountain food cooperative in Montpelier, Jessica Manchester, of Worcester, agreed labeling is getting confusing for the average consumer but in the long run thinks it's good to know where food comes from. She said she prefers produce grown in soil.

"I'm just in favor of plants growing in their natural way and being in connection with the microbes in the soil and the interactions those microbes have with the plant roots," Manchester said.

But fellow shopper Laurie Griggs, of Calais, said she doesn't buy totally organic and doesn't mind if vegetables or berries are raised hydroponically.

"I just think we need new ways to grow things," she said. "We've got a lot of people and farming's really hard on the land, and if we can find ways to lighten our impact on the land and grow healthy food for people, I have no problem with it."

The farmers involved want a more transparent label and will not see an economic benefit at first, Chapman said. The program is now being funded by contributions. Farmers would pay a fee to be certified, but he doubts that would cover the cost of the program.

"I hope the day will come where there will be an economic benefit because I know that there are millions of people in the country who actually do care about whether food is grown in the soil and whether the animals have access to the pasture," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Lisa Rathke/AP]]>
<![CDATA[2018's 'Dirty Dozen': How Much Pesticide Is in Your Produce?]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 15:18:20 -040012. Sweet Bell Peppers: EWG says nearly 90 percent of conventional sweet bell pepper samples had pesticide residues. They may have less pesticide residue than other "Dirty Dozen" foods, but they are often more toxic, EWG says. ]]>12. Sweet Bell Peppers: EWG says nearly 90 percent of conventional sweet bell pepper samples had pesticide residues. They may have less pesticide residue than other "Dirty Dozen" foods, but they are often more toxic, EWG says. ]]>https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/agriculture-bell-pepper-capsicum-128536.jpg]]><![CDATA['Thunderclap' Headache Hits Man Who Ate Fiery Pepper: Docs]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 13:11:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Carolina_Reaper.jpg

The Carolina Reaper is billed as the world's hottest pepper, apparently so hot it may cause "thunderclap" headaches in people who eat one, NBC News reported.

That's based on a new medical journal write-up of the case of a 34-year-old man who was rushed to the hospital from a pepper-eating contest. He had an excrutiating headache triggered by an unusual blood vessel condition, reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. 

"His symptoms began with dry heaves but no vomiting immediately after participation in a hot pepper contest where he ate one 'Carolina Reaper,' the hottest chili pepper in the world," the doctors wrote in the publication British Medical Journal's Case Reports.

Thunderclap headaches come on vast and strong and doctors take them very seriously, since they can be a sign of stroke or brain hemorrhage. Doctors diagnosed the man with the blood vessel syndrome, which hadn't been linked to eating hot peppers before.

Photo Credit: Lui/Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[New Way of Defining Alzheimer's Aims to Find Disease Sooner]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 07:27:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18099575988767-Alzheimers-test.jpg

Government and other scientists are proposing a new way to define Alzheimer's disease — basing it on biological signs, such as brain changes, rather than memory loss and other symptoms of dementia that are used today.

The move is aimed at improving research, by using more objective criteria like brain scans to pick patients for studies and enroll them sooner in the course of their illness, when treatments may have more chance to help.

But it's too soon to use these scans and other tests in routine care, because they haven't been validated for that yet, experts stress. For now, doctors will still rely on the tools they've long used to evaluate thinking skills to diagnose most cases.

Regardless of what tests are used to make the diagnosis, the new definition will have a startling effect: Many more people will be considered to have Alzheimer's, because the biological signs can show up 15 to 20 years before symptoms do.

"The numbers will increase dramatically," said Dr. Clifford R. Jack Jr., a Mayo Clinic brain imaging specialist. "There are a lot more cognitively normal people who have the pathology in the brain who will now be counted as having Alzheimer's disease."

He led a panel of experts, working with the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging, that updated guidelines on the disease, published Tuesday in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common form. In the U.S., about 5.7 million have Alzheimer's under its current definition, which is based on memory problems and other symptoms. About one-third of people over 70 who show no thinking problems actually have brain signs that suggest Alzheimer's, Jack said.

There is no cure — current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. Dozens of hoped-for treatments have failed, and doctors think one reason may be that the studies enrolled patients after too much brain damage had already occurred.

"By the time that you have the diagnosis of the disease, it's very late," said Dr. Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the Institute on Aging.

"What we've realized is that you have to go earlier and earlier and earlier," just as doctors found with treating cancer, he said.

Another problem: as many as 30 percent of people enrolled in Alzheimer's studies based on symptoms didn't actually have the disease — they had other forms of dementia or even other medical conditions. That doesn't give an accurate picture of whether a potential treatment might help, and the new definition aims to improve patient selection by using brain scans and other tests.

Many other diseases, such as diabetes, already are defined by measuring a biomarker, an objective indicator such as blood sugar. That wasn't possible for Alzheimer's disease until a few years ago, when brain scans and spinal fluid tests were developed to do this.

They measure certain forms of two proteins — amyloid and tau — that form plaques and tangles in the brain — and signs of nerve injury, degeneration and brain shrinkage.

The guidelines spell out use of these biomarkers over a spectrum of mental decline, starting with early brain changes, through mild impairment and Alzheimer's dementia.

People may be worried and want these tests for themselves or a family member now, but Jack advises: "Don't bother. There's no proven treatment yet."

You might find a doctor willing to order them, but spinal fluid tests are somewhat invasive, and brain scans can cost up to $6,000. Insurance usually does not pay because they're considered experimental outside of research. A large study is underway now to see whether Medicare should cover them and when.

Anyone with symptoms or family history of dementia, or even healthy people concerned about the risk can consider enrolling in one of the many studies underway.

"We need more people in this pre-symptomatic stage" to see if treatments can help stave off decline, Masliah said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Teresa Crawford/AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Puts Restrictions on Birth Control Implant But No Recall]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 03:26:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bayerAP_18099625573970.jpg

U.S. health officials on Monday placed new restrictions on a permanent contraceptive implant that has been subject to reports of painful complications from thousands of women. But the metal implant, called Essure, will remain on the market.

The Food and Drug Administration said only women who read and have the opportunity to sign a brochure about the risks of the device will be able to receive the implant made by Bayer. The checklist of risks must also be signed by the woman's doctor.

The new requirement comes almost two years after the FDA added its strongest warning to Essure, citing problems reported with the nickel-titanium implant. The agency also ordered Bayer to conduct a study of the device's safety.

Patients have reported cases of pain, bleeding, allergic reactions and cases where the implant punctured the uterus or shifted out of place. Those reports are submitted to the FDA by patients, physicians and the manufacturer.

"Despite previous efforts to alert women to the potential complications of Essure, we know that some patients still aren't receiving this important information," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a statement. "That is simply unacceptable."

An agency spokeswoman said via email that the new requirements "ensure that the device continues to meet our standards for a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness."

In a statement after the announcement, Bayer said it will continue to tell health care providers about "the importance of appropriately counseling each patient on the benefits and risks of Essure."

Public health advocates questioned the FDA's new requirement, suggesting patients may not read the lengthy brochure.

"How many people do you know who would carefully read a 22-page document before signing it?" said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a consumer advocacy group. "In addition to being much too long and technical, the information provided will be confusing to many consumers."

Bayer received FDA approval to sell Essure in 2002 and promoted the product to women as the only non-surgical option for permanent birth control. Essure consists of two 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, Bayer was ordered to conduct a 2,000-patient study in 2016. Although the company is making "adequate progress," the FDA said Monday that it will require additional study sites to enroll more patients in the study. The agency notes that sales of Essure have fallen 70 percent since the previous FDA restrictions were announced.

Bayer faces lawsuits from approximately 16,000 U.S. women who have received Essure, according to the German conglomerate's latest annual report. While the company is insured against product liability lawsuits, the Bayer notes that the claims "exceed the available insurance coverage." The company stopped selling Essure outside the U.S. last year.

Last month, the FDA reported that it had received 12,000 reports last year about problems with Essure, 90 percent of which involved attempts to remove the device. The agency noted that most of the new reports came from attorneys representing patients suing Bayer.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Court to Decide if Drug Use While Pregnant Is Child Abuse]]>Mon, 09 Apr 2018 12:39:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_79101873.jpg

Pennsylvania's highest court will decide whether a woman's use of illegal drugs while pregnant qualifies as child abuse under state law.

The Supreme Court recently took up the case of a woman who tested positive for suboxone and marijuana at the time she gave birth early last year at Williamsport Hospital.

A county judge ruled that did not qualify as child abuse under the state's Child Protective Services Law, but the intermediate Superior Court said drug use while pregnant can make bodily injury to a child likely after birth.

Court records indicate the child spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug dependence, exhibiting severe withdrawal symptoms.

"Mother's actions were deplorable but this court must follow the law," wrote Clinton County Judge Craig Miller in May, ruling the county child welfare agency had not established child abuse occurred.

The mother's lawyers argue lawmakers never intended the child protection law to apply to acts during pregnancy.

"No one thinks using drugs while pregnant is good, but using the criminal justice system and the civil child abuse system to punish people for doing so just makes a bad situation much, much worse," said the woman's lawyer, David S. Cohen.

Amanda Beth Browning, lawyer for the Clinton County Department of Children and Youth Services, declined comment.

In a filing with Supreme Court, the woman's lawyers said most states, with a few exceptions, "have taken a non-punitive approach to the issue."

"Almost every major medical and public health organization has recognized that punishing women for drug use during their pregnancies is counterproductive to public and private health," wrote lawyers for the mother, identified by initials in court records.

"The rationale here is simple — women with a substance abuse disorder during pregnancy need treatment, both for their drug use and prenatal care, and the threat of being punished by the state will drive women away from treatment, thus risking their own and their child's health," her lawyers argued.

They warned that if the court expands child abuse's "recent acts" to include pre-birth activity, that could encompass a range of things, from smoking cigarettes to drinking water in an area without reliably clean water.

Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Moulton, in a Dec. 27 opinion, said a mother's substance abuse while pregnant "may constitute child abuse" if child welfare authorities can prove she "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused, or created a reasonable likelihood of, bodily injury to a child after birth." Moulton's opinion printed the word "after" in boldface.

Another judge said he agreed with Moulton's reading of the statute, but added he questioned "whether treating as child abusers women who are addicted to drugs results in safer outcomes for children."

States have rarely criminalized the exposure of an unborn child to illegal drugs, but it is common for child-welfare agencies to become involved when a newborn tests positive for exposure to opioids and other substances, said Meghan McCann with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"States are really grappling with this and states are sort of interested in what are the alternatives to a child abuse neglect case," McCann said, noting a strain on foster care systems. "How to keep the family together is of interest."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock ]]>
<![CDATA[Michigan to Stop Providing Free Water to Flint Residents]]>Mon, 09 Apr 2018 13:44:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_flintwater0409_1920x1080.jpg

Residents of Flint, Michigan, are frustrated and angry after learning the state will stop providing them with free bottled water. ]]>
<![CDATA[High School Football Player Debilitated by Concussion Gets $7.1M]]>Fri, 06 Apr 2018 08:07:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Rashaun+Council.jpg

A former high school football player and his family will receive millions of dollars after a civil suit settlement with a San Diego County school district over accusations of improper steps by the coaching staff to recognize and respond to concussion symptoms.

The suit stems from an October 2013 freshman football game at Grossmont Union School District's Monte Vista High School when 14-year-old Rashaun Council started feeling sick and confused.

A concerned teammate even told a coach about the star running and defensive back's odd behavior, but Council returned to the game and finished on the field according to his family's attorney.

Council was slumped over and throwing up in the locker room after the game, according to attorney Brian Gonzalez, but the coaches never called 911 and he didn't receive proper medical care until the boy's father took him to the hospital.

Council's brain had already started to swell, requiring emergency surgery, and he was later placed in a medically induced coma.

After taking a year off for treatment, Council is now 19 years old and preparing to graduate from Clairemont High School, which has a program for traumatic brain injury survivors.

Gonzalez says Council will likely never be able to drive, live by himself or pursue the career of his dreams due to the confusion and forgetfulness caused by the injury.

"Because of the delay in diagnosis, the delay in treatments, he is forever going to be in the condition he is," said Gonzalez. "They continued to play him cause they wanted to win this game. That type of reality should never take the place of protecting our kids."

During the civil suit, Gonzalez discovered none of the freshman coaches on the 2013 Monte Vista Football Team had completed state-mandated concussion training because of a loophole that allowed them two years to complete it. He says the loophole is now closed and he hopes the story serves as a reminder to all youth coaches to take potential brain injuries very seriously.

According to a spokeswoman for the Grossmont Union High School District, the $7.125 million settlement is paid through the San Diego County Schools Risk Management Joint Powers Authority (JPA), of which it is a member.

The School Board ratified the settlement in March with a 5-0 vote.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Health Department Probes E. Coli Outbreak in 4 NJ Counties]]>Fri, 06 Apr 2018 02:21:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Parents_Concerned_After_E_Coli_Found_in_School_Water.jpg

New Jersey’s Health Department says it’s investigating a half-dozen cases of E. coli that may be linked to a restaurant chain in the state.

The six cases of E. coli were reported in Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties.

The department says it's in the process of gathering the food history of those who fell ill.

Health officials say they won't name the restaurant unless a link is confirmed.

"Individuals could have eaten a number of meals in a number of places before getting sick," a press release from health officials reads.

An investigation into the outbreak will happen in two parts, the Health Department says.

First, state lab tests will be done to determine if the strains of E. coli match. Then the CDC will do confirmatory tests.

Second, investigators will try to determine the common food source that made the people sick. The department said it will work with the FDA to trace the sources of the food eaten by those who fell ill, as well as the sources of the food delivered to the restaurant.

E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

Common symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

Photo Credit: NBC New York]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Investigating HIV Case Spike Among Mass. Opioid Users]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 21:25:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-909837320.jpg

Federal public health officials are joining Massachusetts health officials in investigating a large cluster of reported HIV cases in Lawrence and Lowell.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed to help the Massachusetts Department of Public Health with investigating the cases, which it said involves people who inject drugs and are homeless.

Preliminary data from DPH showed 52 new HIV cases in 2017 among those who use opioids, compared to 23 cases the year before.

The CDC's involvement in the investigation will bring resources to determine underlying factors in the infection clusters and why this spike is happening now after a decade of increasing intravenous drug use related to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

There will also be additional help with field interviews of those infected with HIV and their needle-sharing and sexual partners.

Assistance from the CDC is expected to begin later in April.

"The sooner we can discover why these infections are happening now, the sooner we can use the most effective prevention interventions based on the evidence," Dr. Al DeMaria, DPH's infectious disease medical director and state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

Dr. Thomas Stopka, who teaches at Tufts University School of Medicine and studies how one epidemic can lead to another, previously told NBC10 Boston he believed the presence of fentanyl in the Merrimack Valley could be a factor in the increase as addicts tend to use more because of its potency.

"If they're injecting more frequently, there's increased chance for syringe sharing," he said.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, according the CDC, and hepatitis C cases related intravenous drug use have increased by 300 percent across the country.

Meanwhile, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has issued his office's first national public health advisory in 13 years after recommending Americans carry the overdose antidote naloxone, commonly referred as Narcan, on Thursday.

"You don't have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life," he said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Surgeon General Urges Americans to Carry Overdose Antidote]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 14:00:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Surgeon-General.jpg

The nation's chief doctor wants more Americans to start carrying the overdose antidote naloxone to help combat the nation's opioid crisis and save lives.

Speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Thursday morning, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued his office's first national public health advisory in 13 years.

Adams said he hopes those who are at risk — as well as their friends and family members — will keep the antidote on hand and learn how to use it.

"You don't have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life," said Adams, who pointed out that more than half of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. occur at home.

According to federal data, more than 42,000 Americans suffered fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, more than double the number who died in 2010.

Naloxone can restore a person's breathing after it is injected or sprayed in the nostrils, quickly bringing overdose victims back from near-death.

The drug, which is often referred to by the brand name Narcan, is available without a prescription in most states and is regularly used by first responders across the country. Another product, Evzio, is available with a prescription and delivers naloxone via a hand-held auto-injector.

Adams said 95 percent of all insured Americans are covered to purchase naloxone. Narcan nasal spray, one of the most widely available products, can cost around $80 for one dose. Generic, injectable versions of naloxone are cheaper.

For those who are uninsured, the antidote is often available at little or no cost through local public health programs, Adams said. He also wants more federal funds dedicated to increasing naloxone access on local levels.

"Costs should not and, in the near future, will not be a barrier to accessing naloxone for anyone in America," Adams said.

As of July 2017, all 50 states have passed laws improving naloxone access, according to The Network for Public Health Law, a nonprofit that helps government agencies.

Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the push, arguing that naloxone doesn't treat addiction and merely discourages people from seeking treatment by essentially offering a safety net if they do overdose.

Proponents, however, argue that greater access to naloxone doesn't draw people to illegal drug use or foster an addiction.

Adams said naloxone will not single-handedly solve the opioid crisis and should instead be used "in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment."

"There are people out there who think naloxone doesn't make a difference: you're just going to go on and misuse substances again," Adams said. "That would be like me saying I'm not going to do CPR on someone having a heart attack because if we save them, they're just going to go out there and eat fast food and be back here all over again."

Adams' recommendation for more people to possess naloxone comes a month after Philadelphia's health department urged residents to do the same.

Prior to his current role, Adams had been Indiana's health commissioner, where he promoted needle-exchange programs aimed at stemming the spread of diseases among intravenous drug users.

The last surgeon general public health advisory was issued in 2005 and focused on prenatal alcohol exposure.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Addiction Costs Employers $2.6B a Year for Care]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 11:10:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1127.jpg

A new report shows large employers spent $2.6 billion to treat opioid addiction and overdoses in 2016, an eightfold increase since 2004. More than half went to treat employees' children.

The analysis released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds such spending cost companies and workers about $26 per enrollee in 2016.

Employers have been limiting insurance coverage of opioids because of concerns about addiction. The report finds spending on opioid prescriptions falling 27 percent from a peak in 2009.

Researchers analyzed insurance claims from employers with more than 1,000 workers. Most are self-insured, meaning they assume the financial risk.

Workers share the costs. Steve Wojcik of the National Business Group on Health says for every $5 increase, employers typically cover $4 and pass $1 to workers.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Drug-Resistant 'Nightmare Bacteria' Pose Growing Threat: CDC]]>Wed, 04 Apr 2018 08:29:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Pseudomonas-aeruginosa.jpg

"Nightmare bacteria" with unusual resistance to antibiotics of last resort were found more than 200 times in the United States last year in a first-of-a-kind hunt to see how much of a threat these rare cases are becoming, health officials said Tuesday.

That's more than they had expected to find, and the true number is probably higher because the effort involved only certain labs in each state, officials say.

The problem mostly strikes people in hospitals and nursing homes who need IVs and other tubes that can get infected. In many cases, others in close contact with these patients also harbored the superbugs even though they weren't sick — a risk for further spread.

Some of the sick patients had traveled for surgery or other health care to another country where drug-resistant germs are more common, and the superbug infections were discovered after they returned to the U.S.

"Essentially, we found nightmare bacteria in your backyard," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These verge on untreatable infections" where the only option may be supportive care — fluids and sometimes machines to maintain life to give the patient a chance to recover, Schuchat said.

The situation was described in a CDC report.

Bugs and drugs are in a constant battle, as germs evolve to resist new and old antibiotics. About 2 million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die, Schuchat said.

Concern has been growing about a rise in bacteria resistant to all or most antibiotics. Last year, public health labs around the country were asked to watch for and quickly respond to cases of advanced antibiotic resistance, especially to some last-resort antibiotics called carbapenems.

In the first nine months of the year, more than 5,770 samples were tested for these "nightmare bacteria," as CDC calls them, and one quarter were found to have genes that make them hard to treat and easy to share their resistance tricks with other types of bacteria. Of these, 221 had unusual genes that conferred resistance. The cases were scattered throughout 27 states.

"Even in remote areas" this threat is real, because patients often transfer to and from other places for care, said Dr. Jay Butler, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska and past president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Others in close contact with the infected patient then were tested, and 11 percent were found to be carrying the same superbugs even though they were not sick. This gives the bugs more of a chance to spread.

What to do? CDC suggests:

  • Tell your doctors if you recently had health care in another country.
  • Talk with them about preventing infections, taking care of chronic conditions to help avoid them, and getting vaccines to prevent them.
  • Wash your hands regularly and keep cuts clean until healed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: CDC]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Issues Mandatory Recall of Some Kratom Products]]>Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:05:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kratom-file.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration ordered the mandatory recall Tuesday of kratom products distributed by one company that may be contaminated with salmonella.

The FDA said it’s the first time it has used its mandatory recall power for a food product after first trying to get the company to voluntarily take the products back. The agency has been criticized for years by consumer advocates and some members of Congress who say it moves too slowly to recall potentially contaminated foods, NBC News reported.

Tuesday’s mandatory recall affects Triangle Pharmanaturals, which bills itself as a consultant and packager of supplement products.

Kratom is a plant supplement sold to treat pain, to help people stop using opioids or as a stimulant. The FDA has been warning against its use in general and later issued a large voluntary recall notice after some samples were found to be contaminated with salmonella and sickened 87 people.

Photo Credit: AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Midlife 'Wealth Shock' May Lead to Death, Study Suggests]]>Tue, 03 Apr 2018 11:56:36 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/money25.jpg

A big financial loss may shorten your life, a new study suggests.

Middle-aged Americans who experienced a sudden, large economic blow were more likely to die during the following years than those who didn't. The heightened danger of death after a devastating loss, which researchers called a "wealth shock," crossed socio-economic lines, affecting people no matter how much money they had to start.

The analysis of nearly 9,000 people's experiences underscores well-known connections between money and well-being, with prior studies linking lower incomes and rising income inequality with more chronic disease and shorter life expectancy.

"This is really a story about everybody," said lead researcher Lindsay Pool of Northwestern University's medical school. Stress, delays in health care, substance abuse and suicides may contribute, she said. "Policymakers should pay attention."

Overall, wealth shock was tied with a 50 percent greater risk of dying, although the study couldn't prove a cause-and-effect connection. The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed two decades of data from the Health and Retirement Study, which checks in every other year with a group of people in their 50s and 60s and keeps track of who dies.

About 1 in 4 people in the study had a wealth shock, which researchers defined as a loss of 75 percent or more in net worth over two years. The average loss was about $100,000.

That could include a drop in the value of investments or realized losses like a home foreclosure. Some shocks happened during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Others happened before or after. No matter what was going on in the greater U.S. economy, a wealth shock still increased the chance of dying.

Women were more likely than men to have a wealth shock. Once they did, their increased chance of dying was about the same as the increase for men. Researchers adjusted for marital changes, unemployment and health status. They still saw the connection between financial crisis and death.

The effect was more marked if the person lost a home as part of the wealth shock, and it was more pronounced for people with fewer assets.

The findings suggest a wealth shock is as dangerous as a new diagnosis of heart disease, wrote Dr. Alan Garber of Harvard University in an accompanying editorial, noting that doctors need to recognize how money hardships may affect their patients.

The findings come at a time when U.S. life expectancy has dropped for two straight years.

"We should be doing everything we can to prevent people from experiencing wealth shocks," said Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health, who was not involved in the study.

What exactly to do, however, may take more research, said Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at University of Chicago, who also was not involved in the study.

"We don't yet know whether policies that aim to protect people's savings will have a direct effect on mortality or not," Baicker said. "But that's not the only reason to try to protect people's savings." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Old, New Drugs Mix to Raise Death Tolls in Ohio]]>Mon, 02 Apr 2018 15:05:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/609868084-Fentanyl-Ohio.jpg

New surges in use of methamphetamine and cocaine mixed with a powerful synthetic opioid are contributing to rising drug overdose death tolls in already hard-hit Ohio.

As county coroners have begun releasing their 2017 tallies, a trend has emerged of more deaths involving meth or cocaine mixed with fentanyl, the painkiller blamed for increasing U.S. fatalities in recent years as authorities focused on reducing heroin overdoses.

U.S. authorities say illicit fentanyl made in China has flooded in while there is increased availability of meth and a rebound in cocaine. All have been contributing to the national rises in overdose deaths and are increasingly being seen in lethal mixes. Authorities say many drug users may be unaware they are taking fentanyl or have any idea how much is in what they're taking.

States as different as New Hampshire, West Virginia and Florida have seen rising overdose death rates in recent years. The problem is particularly acute in Ohio, where overdose death rates have been climbing steadily this decade.

Spreading fentanyl and increased meth use "have turned an already bad situation into something far worse," Butler County coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix said recently while announcing a fifth straight record overdose toll in the southwest Ohio county just north of Cincinnati. At 232 deaths, it was up 21 percent over 2016, and Mannix said meth-related deaths quadrupled last year and have soared from one in 2014 to 46 last year. Cocaine-related deaths have doubled in Butler over five years from 28 to 56 in 2017.

Mannix said the cocaine and meth deaths predominantly involved fentanyl mixes.

"It shows the ebb and flow of drugs," said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, who's on the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition. "They fade out and come back with dealers always trying to find ways to make it more potent, more addictive ... more money."

Hamilton County's coroner recently reported seeing more cases of cocaine mixed with illegally manufactured fentanyl as the Cincinnati-based county's toll jumped 31 percent over 2016 to 529 overdose deaths overall.

The Franklin County coroner, based in the capital of Columbus, earlier said overdose deaths for the first nine months of 2017 had already topped full-year totals for 2016, with increases in cocaine- and meth-related deaths.

Preliminary numbers from Cuyahoga County showed 349 cocaine-related deaths in 2017, up from 115 in 2015, with most involving fentanyl mixes. The overall estimate for the year was 822 overdose deaths, up from 666 in 2016 in the Cleveland-based county.

Combining opioids and stimulants isn't anything new: The comedian John Belushi died in 1982 from a cocaine-heroin "speedball" mixture. But using fentanyl, which authorities say can be 50 times or more stronger than heroin, has heightened the danger.

"Today it is more lethal than it ever was, because now many times it does have this fentanyl mixed in, so it's really a new concoction," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said about increased cocaine and meth. "People don't really know how potent it is."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Ohio's 4,329 drug overdose deaths in 2016 gave it the second-highest age-adjusted death rate after West Virginia, among 63,600 people dying nationwide from overdose. The Ohio health department reported last year that cocaine-related deaths rose 62 percent to 1,109 in 2016, with the majority involving fentanyl and related opioids. West Virginia health authorities say preliminary figures show meth-related deaths jumped to 187 last year from 107 in 2016, with a smaller increase in cocaine-related deaths, and that most involved multiple drugs.

Ohio's statewide numbers for 2017 haven't been released yet, but preliminary CDC estimates showed a 36 percent rise in Ohio deaths in the 12-month period ending August 2017.

Coping with the emerging mixes of fentanyl with meth or cocaine adds to the frustration for those on the front lines of the drug crisis.

"As soon as we come up with a program and we try to work on one drug, then another drug comes up," said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ty Wright for The Washington Post via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Legalizing Medical Marijuana May Cut Opioid Abuse: Study]]>Mon, 02 Apr 2018 14:17:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17348734046110.jpg

Making medical marijuana available might help reduce opioid prescriptions a little, researchers reported Monday.

They found states that legalized the medical use of marijuana saw small reductions in opioid prescriptions for Medicare and Medicaid patients, NBC News reported.

Since opioid prescriptions are considered to be a major driver of the opioid abuse epidemic, the researchers said, medical marijuana laws could be a part of the solution.

“State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing,” wrote Hefei Wen of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and Jason Hockenberry of the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health.

Photo Credit: Eric Gay/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Why Parents and Doctors Are So Worried About Teens 'Juuling']]>Mon, 02 Apr 2018 13:55:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/890546208-Juul.jpg

Juul is a sleek, discrete brand of e-cigarettes that's become a hit for teenagers and a concern for families, teachers and doctors, "Today" reported.

Each Juul pod contains an equivalent amount of nicotine to a pack of cigarettes, according to the manufacturer.

Some doctors are concerned that teens believe e-cigarettes are safe when they have been found to deliver cancer-causing chemicals. Fruity flavors, like those you can buy for Juuls, were found to be the worst offenders, according to research published in March.

Among those concerned doctors is Jenni Levy, who found out her 18-year-old daughter was "juuling" when her husband found an unusual cartridge in the laundry in their Pennsylvania home. "My biggest concern is she's sucking in vapor and we don't know what that does," she said.

Photo Credit: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Govt. Can't Block Immigrant Teens From Abortion: Court]]>Fri, 30 Mar 2018 21:44:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gavel+generic1.jpg

A federal court in Washington told the Trump administration Friday that the government can't interfere with the ability of pregnant immigrant teens being held in federal custody to obtain abortions.

A judge issued an order Friday evening barring the government from "interfering with or obstructing" pregnant minors' access to abortion counseling or abortions, among other things, while a lawsuit proceeds. The order covers pregnant minors being held in federal custody after entering the country illegally.

Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, have said the department has a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions. And the director of the office that oversees the shelters has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit on behalf of the minors, which the judge overseeing the case also Friday allowed to go forward as a class action lawsuit.

"We have been able to secure justice for these young pregnant women in government custody who will no longer be subject to the government's policy of coercion and obstruction while the case continues," said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri after the judge's order became public.

The government can appeal the judge's order. A Department of Justice spokesman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Friday evening.

The ACLU and Trump administration have been sparring for months over the government's policy. In a high profile case last year, the ACLU represented a teen who entered the U.S. illegally in September and learned while in federal custody in Texas that she was pregnant. She obtained a state court order permitting her to have an abortion, but federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her to get the procedure. The teen was ultimately able to get an abortion in October as a result of the lawsuit, but the Trump administration has accused the ACLU of misleading the government during the case, a charge the ACLU has denied.

The ACLU has since represented several other teens who have sought abortions while in custody, but the organization doesn't know of any others actively seeking abortions, Amiri said Friday night. The judge's order now covers any teens currently in custody or who come in to custody while the lawsuit goes forward.

In a deposition taken in December as part of the litigation, Scott Lloyd, the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors, said that pregnant teens in his agency's care have no right to abortion under the Constitution. Lloyd, who has written about his own opposition to abortion, said he had not approved any abortions since becoming director in March 2017. That included refusing the abortion request of a teen who had been impregnated as a result of rape.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said in ruling Friday that Lloyd and his office are "certainly entitled to maintain and interest in fetal life, and even to prefer that pregnant" minors in their custody "choose one course over the other," but the government can't create or implement a policy that strips minors "of their right to make their own reproductive choices."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NJ Man's 'Beer Belly' Turns Out to Be 30-Pound Tumor]]>Fri, 30 Mar 2018 15:52:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kevin+daly+before.jpg

A New Jersey man was so bothered by his growing gut -- something friends, family and even doctors dismissed as a natural "beer belly" -- that he persisted in getting it checked out, and eventually made the shocking discovery of what was actually in his stomach. 

Kevin Daly, a 63-year-old financial planner, underwent open heart surgery in December 2015 and then noticed that his stomach was protruding out of proportion to his normally fit physique, according to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he'd later undergo surgery.

He was told repeatedly it was simply visceral fat, a normal part of aging, but Daly still felt something wasn't right.

Responding to Daly's concerns about his belly, his cardiologist, Dr. Varinder Singh, advised him to lose weight. Despite Daly shedding 34 pounds in about six months, his large belly stuck around. 

"He did everything that was prescribed," Singh said on a recent appearance on Megyn Kelly TODAY along with Daly. "He exercised, he went on a diet, and he lost a lot of weight." 

"When he came to me and he said, 'Doc, there's something going on here,' I actually told him, 'Kevin, it's probably visceral fat,'" said Singh. "But ... He knew. And patients know their bodies better than anybody. And as medical professionals, we have to listen to them within reason."  

Recognizing that Daly had taken his advice on shedding weight and was still worried, Singh ordered a CAT scan, though Daly's insurance company initially did not want to pay for it because it did not see a valid reason for the procedure.

But when the scan was finally taken, doctors were shocked to find a huge tumor taking up the majority of space in Daly's abdomen. They estimated it was about 12 pounds and quickly scheduled him for surgery in December 2017. 

Doctors were shocked again when they opened him up. The surgeons found a much bigger and more complex tumor than they'd expected: a 30-pound mass wrapped around one of his kidneys.

His chief surgeon, Dr. Julio Teixeira, said it was the largest mass he has ever removed, and it took two residents to hold up the tumor in surgery while Teixeira cut off the blood supply.

Doctors also had to remove the kidney entangled in the mass.

The surgery was successful, and three months later, Daly is down to 178 pounds and has his flat stomach back. He wanted to share his story to show how important it is for people to be their own health advocates. 

He told Kelly that he looks at the photo of his tumor every day because he's still shocked and wonders how it grew inside him. 

Daly is still being monitored and will continue to be monitored for the next 10 years or so, since the recurrence of these types of tumors are high. His organs displaced by the tumor have now returned to their proper positions. 

Photo Credit: Lenox Hill Hospital/Kevin Daly
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<![CDATA[California Judge: Coffee Needs Cancer Warnings]]>Thu, 29 Mar 2018 20:38:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/coffee19.jpg

A Los Angeles judge ruled that California law requires coffee companies to carry an ominous cancer warning label because of a chemical produced in the roasting process.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle wrote in a proposed ruling Wednesday that Starbucks and other coffee companies failed to show that the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group, sued Starbucks and about 90 other companies, including grocery stores and retail shops, under a state law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, a carcinogen present in coffee.

"While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants' medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation," Berle wrote. "Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health."

The coffee industry claimed the chemical was present at harmless levels and should be exempt from the law because it results naturally from the cooking process necessary to make the beans flavorful.

Lawyers for Starbucks, the lead defendant, and the National Coffee Association industry group did not immediately return phone messages or emails seeking comment.

The ruling came despite eased concerns in recent years about the possible dangers of coffee, with some studies finding health benefits.

In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer — the cancer agency of the World Health Organization — moved coffee off its "possible carcinogen" list.

Studies indicate coffee is unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and it seems to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers, the agency said. Evidence is inadequate to determine its effect on dozens of other cancer types.

The California legal case has been brewing for eight years and is still not over. A third phase of trial will later determine any civil penalties that coffee companies must pay.

With potential penalties up to $2,500 per person exposed each day over eight years, that figure could be astronomical in a state with close to 40 million residents, though a massive figure is unlikely.

The lawsuit was brought under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, passed by voters as Proposition 65 in 1986. It allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties.

The law has been credited with reducing chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects, such as lead in hair dyes, mercury in nasal sprays and arsenic in bottled water. But it's also been widely criticized for abuses by lawyers shaking down businesses for quick settlements.

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who brought the lawsuit and drinks a few cups of coffee a day, said he wants the industry to remove the chemical from its process. Coffee companies have said that's not feasible and would make their product taste bad.

Metzger's group brought a similar case later taken up by the state attorney general that resulted in potato-chip makers agreeing in 2008 to pay $3 million and remove acrylamide from their products rather than post startling warnings that can be found throughout California and are largely ignored.

Parking garages, for example, post signs saying, "This area contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm."

Regulations adopted in recent years now require more specific warnings that list the chemical consumers may be exposed to and list a website with more information. Parking garages, for example, will have to post that breathing air there exposes drivers to carbon monoxide and gas and diesel exhaust and that people should not to linger longer than necessary.

Many coffee companies have already posted warnings that specifically say acrylamide is found in coffee and is among chemicals that cause cancer. However, many of those warnings are posted in places not easily visible, such as below the counter where cream and sugar are available.

In the first phase of the trial, Berle said the defense failed to present enough credible evidence to show there was no significant risk posed by acrylamide in coffee.

The law put the burden on the defense to show that the level of the chemical won't result in one excess case of cancer for every 100,000 people exposed. Berle said the epidemiology studies presented were inadequate to evaluate that risk.

Having failed to show there was no significant risk to drinking coffee, the second phase of trial let the industry put on a backup defense. It had to show that there should be a less strict level set for coffee because of health benefits from drinking it.

Berle said the coffee companies failed to show that.

The judge has given the defense several weeks to file objections to the proposed ruling before he makes it final. California judges can reverse their tentative rulings, but rarely do.

Nearly half of the defendants in the coffee case have settled at some point during the long legal process and agreed to post warnings, Metzger said. About 50 defendants remain.

Among the latest to settle was 7-Eleven, which agreed to pay $900,000. BP West Coast Products, which operates gas station convenience stores, agreed to pay $675,000. Yum Yum Donuts Inc. agreed to pay about $250,000.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Say They've Discovered a New Human Organ]]>Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:17:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/humanskeleton_1200x675.jpg

In a study published this week, scientists said they may have come across an unknown organ in the human body that could advance the understanding of cancer and other diseases, NBC News reported.

The research suggests the network of connective tissues called the interstitium is a complete organ, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The report additionally suggests that the interstitium is one of the biggest organs in the human body, NBC News reported. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Chung Sung-Jun]]>
<![CDATA[Selfie Medicine: Phone Apps Push People to Take Their Pills]]>Wed, 28 Mar 2018 06:12:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/selfiemedicineAP_18079015888894.jpg

Take two tablets and a selfie? Your doctor's orders may one day include a smartphone video to make sure you took your medicine.

Smartphone apps that monitor pill-taking are now available, and researchers are testing how well they work when medication matters. Experts praise the efficiency, but some say the technology raises privacy and data security concerns.

Selfie medicine works like this: Open an app on your phone, show your pills, put them in your mouth and swallow. Don't forget to show your empty mouth to the camera to prove today's dose is on its way. Then upload the video proof to the clinic.

Fans say the technology addresses a big problem: About half of drugs for chronic conditions aren't taken as prescribed because of cost, side effects or patient forgetfulness.

With treatment for opioid addiction, a skipped dose can mean a dangerous relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is funding research to tailor a smartphone app for those patients and see if they'll use it.

"If we can keep patients engaged, we can keep them in treatment longer," said lead researcher Dr. Judith Tsui of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

The next phase of her research will compare a group of patients who use the monitoring app called emocha (ee-MOH-kuh) with those who don't to see if there's a difference.

At one Tennessee treatment center, some patients with opioid addiction are already using the app to upload selfies of their daily dose and answer questions about how they're doing.

"Every time they sign on, it allows us to capture data. Are they having cravings? Suicidal tendencies?" said Scott Olson, CEO of Dallas-based Pathway Healthcare, which is trying the app at its Jackson, Tennessee, site. "Maybe a phone call from a counselor might make the difference between staying clean and a relapse."

Olson thinks insurers will pay for the service with more evidence. For monitoring tuberculosis patients, health departments pay roughly $35 to $50 per patient each month for systems that include encrypted data storage. A small health department might pay as little as $500 a month.

The idea of watching someone take their medicine — called directly observed therapy or DOT — has roots in tuberculosis where one person's forgetfulness can be serious for everyone. If patients don't take all their antibiotics, their infectious TB germs can get stronger, developing drug resistance and endangering the broader community.

But taking a handful of pills daily for up to a year is difficult, so public health departments traditionally sent workers to people's homes and workplaces to watch them take their doses. Today, many TB patients prefer remote monitoring. Nurses like it too.

Nurse Peggy Cooley has used Skype for years to chat live with patients taking TB medicine.

"We can accomplish in a two-minute phone call something that might have taken an hour to do and most of that hour was in the car," said Cooley, who works for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington state.

The new uploaded selfies don't need an appointment. They are a daily routine for many tuberculosis patients in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, where savings on mileage and worker time amounted to $100,000 in a recent year.

In Boston, Albuquerque and five other cities, researchers are studying whether the technology works for hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that's surging among a new generation of injection drug users. New drugs for hepatitis C can cure, but they're expensive — $75,000 for a 12-week course of treatment — so insurers want to make sure patients take them.

"I think it holds a lot of promise," said researcher Dr. Alain Litwin of University of South Carolina School of Medicine, who's testing whether patients do better when someone watches them take their pills.

What's next? An insurer in Maryland plans to use the technology in diabetes and high blood pressure to make sure Medicare and Medicaid patients take their medicine. Startups selling the apps say they could be used by faraway adult children monitoring an elderly parent's daily pill-taking.

Experts worry about privacy, data security and penalties for poor pill-taking.

"That's the biggest ick factor," said Carolyn Neuhaus, a medical ethicist at the Hastings Center in New York. "You can imagine a program where benefits are tied to compliance and the insurer says, 'We won't pay for medication anymore unless you're taking it correctly.'"

Globally, the rapid spread of smartphones creates an opportunity to eradicate TB, say the app developers.

But eliminating TB may take simpler, cheaper technologies that can be scaled for millions of cases, said Dr. Daniel Chin, who leads TB efforts for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The group supports research in China and India on two homegrown technologies. China's tool, about the size of a child's shoebox, reminds patients to take their pills and saves data for review. In India, the government favors a blister pill pack printed with phone numbers; a patient punches out a daily pill, then calls the revealed number.

Worldwide, TB kills more than 1.6 million people annually, even though most deaths are preventable with treatment.

"If we are going to eliminate the disease, we need technology," said Dr. Richard Garfein of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, who helped develop one of the smartphone apps, SureAdhere.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Manuel Valdes/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Yucky Ducky? Study Reveals Bath-Time Friends' Dirty Secret]]>Tue, 27 Mar 2018 16:44:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rubber-ducky.jpg

Scientists now have the dirt on the rubber ducky: Those cute yellow bath-time toys are — as some parents have long suspected — a haven for nasty bugs.

Swiss and American researchers counted the microbes swimming inside the toys and say the murky liquid released when ducks were squeezed contained "potentially pathogenic bacteria" in four out of the five toys studied.

The bacteria found included Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that is "often implicated in hospital-acquired infections," the authors said in a statement.

The study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, ETH Zurich and the University of Illinois was published Tuesday in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes. It's billed as one of the first in-depth scientific examinations of its kind.

They turned up a strikingly high volume — up to 75 million cells per square centimeter (0.15 square inch) — and variety of bacteria and fungus in the ducks.

Tap water doesn't usually foster the growth of bacteria, the scientists said, but low-quality polymers in the plastic materials give them the nutrients they need. Bodily fluids — like urine and sweat — as well as contaminants and even soap in bathwater add microbes and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus and create balmy brine for bacteria.

"We've found very big differences between different bath animals," said microbiologist and lead study author Lisa Neu, alluding to other types of bath toys — like rubber crocodiles — that also were examined. "One of the reasons was the material, because it releases carbon that can serve as food for the bacteria."

While certain amounts of bacteria can help strengthen children's immune systems, they can also lead to eye, ear and intestinal infections, the researchers said. Among the vulnerable users: Children "who may enjoy squirting water from bath toys into their faces," a statement from the institute said.

The scientists, who received funding from the Swiss government as part of broader research into household objects, say using higher-quality polymers to make the ducks could prevent bacterial and fungal growth. The Swiss government isn't making any recommendations at this stage.

Known for their squeaks and eulogized in a Sesame Street song on TV, rubber duckies have been a childhood bath-time staple for years. Online vendor Amazon.com lists one such offering — advertised as water-tight to prevent mildew — among the top 10 sellers in its "Baby Bath Toys" category.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tank Failure Affects More Patients, Fertility Clinic Says]]>Tue, 27 Mar 2018 09:39:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_embryos0309_1920x10801.jpg

The number of frozen eggs and embryos a Cleveland fertility center says were lost in a tank failure has doubled since the incident was first reported earlier this month, NBC News reported.

The hospital is now blaming human error for the loss of 4,000 eggs and embryos, and it told nearly 1,000 patients that it is unlikely any egg or embryo is viable.

NBC News has also uncovered a history of malfunctions from the manufacturer, Custom Biogenic Systems, which declined to comment.

British regulators issued a warning about the company's freezers in 2003 after Custom Biogenic Systems reported knowing about 21 incidents. The alert was later withdrawn as upgrades were made, but at least one problem was reported subsequent to the alert, in Florida.

Photo Credit: WKYC]]>
<![CDATA[Dentist Group Puts Teeth in Push to Curb Opioid Painkillers]]>Mon, 26 Mar 2018 12:00:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628+1.jpg

The American Dental Association wants dentists to drastically cut back on prescribing opioid painkillers.

The group on Monday said it is pressing for limiting prescriptions to a week and mandatory education for dentists that encourages using other painkillers that are not addictive.

Dentists write fewer than 7 percent of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. But new research shows that practice has increased in recent years, despite evidence that ibuprofen and acetaminophen work just as well for most dental pain and are less risky.

Dentists are the leading prescribers of opioids for teens. Opioids are usually prescribed for short-term pain after procedures including removal of wisdom teeth and other tooth extractions.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Bill Would Ban Smoking While Walking on NYC Sidewalks]]>Sun, 25 Mar 2018 17:57:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CIGARETTE+2.jpg

New York City smokers may have something else to grumble about in addition to $13 packs of cigarettes.

A bill introduced in the City Council would ban smoking while walking on the city’s sidewalks.

City Council Member Peter Koo, a Democrat serving Flushing, Queens, introduced the legislation at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

In a press release, Koo said he’s seen “too many mothers with strollers, and parents holding hands with their children, walking behind smokers who are blowing clouds of smoke behind them.”

The law would prohibit smoking while walking on sidewalks, as well as adjoining parks, squares and public places, including pedestrian pathways, park strips, medians, malls and parking lots.

“In a perfect world, every smoker would have the self-awareness to realize that smoking and walking down a crowded sidewalk subjects everyone behind you to breathing in the fumes,” Koo said.

The councilman said smokers should stand off to the side if they want to smoke, but it’s unclear exactly what constitutes walking while smoking and if smokers would have to remain completely stationary to avoid the risk of getting fined $50.

Sidewalks remain one of the last public places where smoking is allowed in New York City. It’s already banned in parks, pools and beaches, as well as most indoor places, including restaurants, bars, offices and clubs. Using e-cigarettes is prohibited in the same places. 

The bill, if passed, would take effect 120 days after being signed into law.

Photo Credit: NBC New York]]>
<![CDATA[Kimmel Gets 1st Colonoscopy With Help from Couric]]>Wed, 21 Mar 2018 08:55:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Kimmel-Couric-Split.jpg

Katie Couric just took Jimmy Kimmel for his first colonoscopy.

The late-night host shared the experience on Tuesday's episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Kimmel turned 50 in November, which is the recommended age for adults to start getting screenings. So when Couric asked Kimmel if she could accompany him for his first, he couldn't refuse.

"It seemed to be an unusual request, but I know that this is something Katie is passionate about and it's an important thing to do," Kimmel said. "So, with that said, we're about to watch a camera go where no camera has ever gone before."

Jimmy Kimmel on How He and His Wife Dealt With Their Son's Surgery: There Were Secrets We Kept From Each Other

Fighting colon cancer is near to Couric's heart. Her first husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998. To help encourage others to get colonoscopies, Couric underwent a live screening on Today nearly two decades ago.

Couric guided Kimmel every step of the way. She mixed him a pre-screening "cocktail" to clear out his colon, drove him to the hospital and gave him a pep talk before the procedure.

Of course, the comedic host managed to keep things light. He changed into a formal gown instead of a hospital gown before the colonoscopy and made his doctor play a round of Operation to test her skills.

"That was good. I feel comfortable now," Kimmel said after his doctor successfully extracted a butterfly from the body of the Hasbro game.

Jokes aside, Kimmel took the colonoscopy seriously and underwent the procedure. So, did the doctors find anything alarming?

"We found your keys, some [toy] soldiers--you've been looking for those haven't you?" Couric teased, showing him the loose items. "And best of all, look, we found your harmonica, Jimmy."

Thankfully, Kimmel's colon was free of any polyps and he won't have to have another screening for about 10 years.

"Thank you, Katie, for invading my colon," he said.

Couric teased she had a "colonoscopy mystery date" before Tuesday's episode.

"I should never have swiped left on Tinder," Kimmel teased.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[New Male Birth Control Pill Is Safe, Researchers Say]]>Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:48:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-891341512.jpg

The latest effort to come up with a male birth control pill has found a formulation that appears to be safe, researchers at the University of Washington said.

NBC News reported that Stephanie Page and her team are testing dimethandrolone undecanoate, a tweaked version of previous failed efforts to develop a male pill. Possibly the best hope yet for a non-permanent male contraceptive, it's being developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

But the experimental pill has at least one of the same problems that plague female birth control pills: it caused the men to gain weight. And after just a few weeks of testing, it’s also not yet clear how well it works.

Even though the researchers said they were “very excited” by the results, they haven’t been testing it long enough to show whether it decreases sperm production, and they haven’t shown whether it stops couples from conceiving.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Judge Temporarily Blocks New Miss. 15-Week Abortion Ban]]>Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:36:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/abortionAP_576194127607.jpg

A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a new Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks' gestation — the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.

The law took effect as soon as Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed it Monday. The state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, quickly sued the state, arguing the law is unconstitutional because it bans abortion weeks before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves heard arguments Tuesday before granting the clinic's immediate request for a temporary restraining order that would block the law during the legal fight.

"The Supreme Court says every woman has a constitutional right to 'personal privacy' regarding her body," Reeves wrote in a brief decision that quoted previous legal rulings on abortion. "That right protects her choice 'to have an abortion before viability.' States cannot 'prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision' to do so."

Reeves said in court that the "ultimate question" is whether a state can ban abortion before viability. He asked: "Does the state have the right to trump the woman's right to have control over her decisions, over her body?"

Reeves did not rule from the bench but granted the temporary restraining order about an hour later, noting that lawyers for the clinic said a woman who is at least 15 weeks pregnant was scheduled to have an abortion Tuesday afternoon.

One of those lawyers, Rob McDuff, said the woman's next available appointment would be March 28 because physicians travel from out of state to work there. He said the clinic does not perform abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy, and March 28 would put her beyond that.

The law and responding challenge set up a confrontation sought by abortion opponents, who are hoping federal courts will ultimately prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable. Current federal law does not.

Some legal experts have said a change in the law is unlikely unless the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court changes in a way that favors abortion opponents.

Dr. Sacheen Carr-Ellis, medical director of Jackson Women's Health Organization, argues in the lawsuit that viability varies from pregnancy to pregnancy depending on the health of the mother and the fetus, but that "no fetus is viable after 15 weeks of pregnancy."

Paul Barnes, a special assistant state attorney general, argued that the law serves Mississippi's "interest in protecting maternal health and the state's interest in protecting unborn life." He said medical advances and legal decisions continue to define viability earlier. He said viability was considered to be around 28 weeks when the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide was handed down in 1973, and it was defined as being about 23 or 24 weeks in more recent court cases.

Reeves said in his order that the Mississippi law "places viability at 15 weeks — about two months earlier than where the medical consensus places it."

McDuff said the law keeps women "from making their own decisions about whether to bear children."

"There has been no case in which a law like this setting a ban at some point prior to viability has been upheld on the merits in the face of a constitutional challenge," McDuff said.

The law's only exceptions are if a fetus has health problems making it "incompatible with life" outside of the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest aren't exempted.

Mississippi previously tied with North Carolina for the nation's strictest abortion limits, at 20 weeks. Both states count pregnancy as beginning on the first day of a woman's previous menstrual period, meaning their restrictions kicked in about two weeks before those of states whose 20-week bans begin at conception.

The lawsuit opposing the 15-week ban argues that it violates other federal court rulings that have said a state can't restrict abortion before a child can survive on its own outside the womb.

The suit says the clinic performed 78 abortions in 2017 when the fetus was identified as being 15 weeks or older. That's out of about 2,500 abortions performed statewide, mostly at the clinic.

Carr-Ellis, in a sworn statement, said the law would strip her of her Mississippi medical license if she continued to provide abortions to women past the 15-week ban. She said women shouldn't be forced to carry their pregnancies to term against their will or leave the state to obtain abortions.

Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Docs Show Trump Admin.'s War to End Teen Pregnancy Program]]>Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:00:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/71656346-Department-of-Health-and-Human-Services.jpg

When the Trump administration abruptly canceled a federal teen pregnancy prevention program last year, it did so over the objections of career experts in the Department of Health and Human Services, according to internal notes and emails obtained by NBC News.

Three political appointees with pro-abstinence beliefs guided the process in spite of the the objections, according to the cache of documents. The notes show that Evelyn Kappeler, the $213 million Teen Pregnancy Program's long time administrator, appears out of the loop on decisions and describes being "so rattled" at one point that her reaction "was to cry."

Many medical professionals credit the program, which had bipartisan support in Congress, with lowering the national teen pregnancy rate to its lowest point. An outside group claims the effort to end it violated a federal law.

The department has claimed the program was ineffective and also did not conform to President Donald Trump's proposed budget. It did not respond to emails or answer questions about who was responsible for ending the program, instead directing NBC News to a fact sheet and announcement on the agency's website that says most of the projects that received funding "had no impact or had a negative impact on teen behavior."

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Want to Avoid the Flu While Flying? Try a Window Seat]]>Mon, 19 Mar 2018 17:40:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AirplaneSeatFile.JPG

Worried about catching a cold or the flu on an airplane? Get a window seat, and don't leave it until the flight is over.

That's what some experts have been saying for years, and it's perhaps the best advice coming out of a new attempt to determine the risks of catching germs on an airplane.

It turns out there's been little research on the risks of catching a cold or flu during air travel. Some experts believed that sitting in a window seat would keep a passenger away from infectious people who may be on the aisle or moving around.

The new study, published Monday, came to the same conclusion.

For somebody who doesn't want to get sick, "get in that window seat and don't move," said the study's lead researcher, Vicki Stover Hertzberg of Emory University in Atlanta.

The study was ambitious: Squads of researchers jetted around the globe to test cabin surfaces and air for viruses and to observe how people came into contact with each other.

But it also had shortcomings. In a total of 10 flights, they observed only one person coughing. And though the experiment was done during a flu season five years ago, they didn't find even one of 18 cold and flu viruses they tested for.

It's possible that the researchers were unlucky, in that they were on planes that happened to not have sick people on them, Hertzberg said.

The new study was initiated and funded by Boeing Co. The Chicago-based jet manufacturer also recruited one of the researchers, Georgia Tech's Howard Weiss, and had input in the writing of the results. "But there was no particular pressure to change stuff or orient it one way or the other," Hertzberg said.

The article was published electronically by a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers did some mathematical modeling and computer simulations to determine how likely people were to come close to a hypothetical infectious passenger sitting in an aisle seat on the 14th row of a single-aisle airplane. They concluded that on average, only one person on a flight of about 150 passengers would be infected.

Researchers who were not involved said it would be difficult to use the relatively small study to make any general conclusions about the risks of an airline passenger getting a cold or flu, let alone other diseases like measles or tuberculosis.

But it's a novel study about a subject that hasn't been well researched, they said. Studies have looked at how respiratory viruses spread in labs and in homes, but "this is the first time I've seen it done for airplanes," said Seema Lakdawala, a University of Pittsburgh biologist who studies how flu spreads.

She and others not involved in the research were intrigued by the study's findings about how people moved about the cabin and came in contact with each other.

It found:

— About 38 percent of passengers never left their seat, 38 percent left once, 13 percent left twice, and 11 percent left more than twice.

— Not surprisingly, a lot of the people getting up had an aisle seat. About 80 percent of people sitting on the aisle moved at least once during their flights, compared with 62 percent in middle seats and 43 percent in window seats.

— The 11 people sitting closest to a person with a cold or flu are at the highest risk. That included two people sitting to their left, the two to their right, and people in the row immediately in front of them and those in the row behind.

A lot of frequent fliers will be interested in the study's results, said Edward Pizzarello, an investor in a Washington-area venture-capital firm who also writes a travel blog .

"It's absolutely a fear I hear from people all the time. They just believe that they're going to get sick from going on an airplane, or they got sick from being on an airplane," he said.

Pizzarello said he's an aisle person, because he doesn't want to feel trapped in the window seat if he needs to get up.

Will he now go for the window?

Maybe, he said, if a sick person sits next to him.

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.

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 (File)]]>
<![CDATA[San Francisco Fertility Clinic Sued Over Embryo Tank Failure]]>Fri, 16 Mar 2018 11:24:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/187*120/fertility+embryos-generic.jpg

A San Francisco fertility clinic is facing two lawsuits over the possible destruction of thousands of frozen eggs and embryos in a storage tank that malfunctioned.

A Sacramento-area couple, Jonathan and Megan Bauer, sued Pacific Fertility Center in federal court on Thursday. Their attorney, Adam Wolf, says the couple lost all eight embryos they were keeping at the center when the nitrogen level in a storage tank dropped in a March 4 malfunction.

The Bauers had been storing the embryos for several years, and the woman was set to undergo an implantation in April, Wolf said. The couple are now in their late 30s — potentially reducing the chance of pregnancy. They also are not sure they can afford additional fertilization procedures, Wolf said.

"Our clients' embryos as well as their dreams of future children were irrevocably destroyed," he said.

And an unidentified woman sued the center on Tuesday after she said her eggs were also destroyed.

A call to Pacific Fertility was not immediately returned.

The malfunction occurred the same day a storage tank at a fertility clinic in suburban Cleveland failed, potentially destroying as many as 2,000 eggs and embryos, but there is no known connection between the two.

The clinic in suburban Cleveland run by University Hospitals is also facing lawsuits.

The Bauers' lawsuit accuses Pacific Fertility Center of negligence, saying it could have prevented the damage if it had "an adequately operating monitoring system" to catch the rising temperature in the tank.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent other people affected by the Pacific Fertility Center failure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[A Perfect Match: Husband Donates Kidney to Wife]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 14:36:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+NAT+KIDNEY+TRANSPLANT+THUMB.jpg

A man gave his wife the ultimate wedding anniversary present: his kidney. After the wife was diagnosed with a disease and found out she needed a kidney transplant, doctors determined that her husband was a perfect match.]]>