<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2019http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usSat, 20 Apr 2019 16:28:33 -0400Sat, 20 Apr 2019 16:28:33 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Syphilis Is Invading Rural America]]>Sat, 20 Apr 2019 14:54:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/syphisScreen-Shot-2019-04-20-at-2.47.37-PM.jpg

When Karolyn Schrage first heard about the "dominoes gang" in the health clinic she runs in Joplin, Mo., she assumed it had to do with pizza.

Turns out it was a group of men in their 60s and 70s who held a standing game night — which included sex with one another. They showed up at her clinic infected with syphilis, NBC News reported.

That has become Schrage’s new normal. Pregnant women, young men and teens are all part of the rapidly growing number of syphilis patients coming to the Choices Medical Services clinic in the rural southwestern corner of the state. She can barely keep the antibiotic treatment for syphilis, penicillin G benzathine, stocked on her shelves. 

Public health officials say rural counties across the Midwest and West are becoming the new battleground. While syphilis is still concentrated in cities such as San Francisco, Atlanta and Las Vegas, its continued spread into places like Missouri, Iowa, Kansas and Oklahoma creates a new set of challenges. Compared with urban hubs, rural populations tend to have less access to public health resources, less experience with syphilis and less willingness to address it because of socially conservative views toward homosexuality and nonmarital sex.

In Missouri, the total number of syphilis patients has more than quadrupled since 2012 — jumping from 425 to 1,896 cases last year — according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of new state health data. Almost half of those are outside the major population centers and typical STD hot spots of Kansas City, St. Louis and its adjacent county. Syphilis cases surged at least eightfold during that period in the rest of the state.

Photo Credit: Bruce Stidha/Kaiser Health News via NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Measles Count Rises in NY County at Heart of Outbreak ]]>Sat, 20 Apr 2019 09:13:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tlmd-sarampion-aumentan-555.jpg

The measles outbreak in Rockland County is continuing to grow, with 194 confirmed cases as of Friday, according to data posted by the county. 

Earlier this week county officials outlined a new plan to combat the measles outbreak the area has been grappling with for months.

More than 80 percent of the cases have impacted those 18 years of age or younger. However, officials say they believe there are many more that are unreported.

Officials announced Tuesday the new order that calls for anyone who contracts measles or who is unvaccinated and exposed to measles to stay home for a determined amount of time, while being banned from public indoor and outdoor places. If they violate this order, they could be subject to a $2,000 per day fine.

According to officials, there have been a number of complications related to the disease. Five people are in intensive care, including an infant, due to the measles. Additionally, officials say, there has been one premature birth due to the disease.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day enacted a 30-day order on March 26 that banned unvaccinated people under 18 from gathering places including schools, stores and churches.

A state judge issued a preliminary injunction against the county's emergency order April 5.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How Many Cherries in Frozen Pie? FDA May Soon Drop Rules]]>Fri, 19 Apr 2019 12:59:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cherypieGettyImages-94286766.jpg

President Donald Trump may soon be able to claim a sweet victory for his deregulation push, with officials preparing to get rid of the decades-old rules for frozen cherry pies.

Emails show the Food and Drug Administration planned to start the process for revoking the standard for frozen cherry pies this week, followed by a similar revocation of the standard for French dressing. Plans to get rid of the obscure rules had been tucked into the Trump's administration's deregulation agenda.

Standards for an array of foods including cottage cheese and canned peas were put in place decades ago partly to ensure a level of quality. They spell out how products with specific names can be made, including ingredients that are required or not allowed. The rules for frozen cherry pies say they must be 25% cherries by weight with no more than 15% of the cherries being blemished.

It's not always clear why some food terms have standards and others don't. The rules are seen as arcane by many and are a sore spot in the food industry, with companies saying they prevent innovation or prompt lawsuits. The FDA under Trump has said it plans to update the standards.

Lee Sanders of the American Bakers Association said she's hopeful the cherry pie standard will finally be revoked, but that it would not make a big difference for the industry.

"I feel confident our members are producing cherry pies with more than enough cherries," she said.

The FDA also plans to take another look at milk, which federal regulations define as coming from a cow. The dairy industry has called for a crackdown on soy, rice and almond drinks makers that use the term.

While any changes to the milk rule are likely to be contested, getting rid of the standard for frozen cherry pie is unlikely to be controversial.

The frozen cherry pie standard is an outlier because other fruit pies don't have similar rules. The same is true for French dressing: The Association for Dressings and Sauces, which once went after a vegan spread for violating the mayonnaise standard, notes other dressings are not subject to such standards.

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, who stepped down this month, said in an October tweet that it was among the FDA's priorities to "de-regulate frozen cherry pie." He apparently wasn't entirely joking.

In a June email , the FDA noted plans to post a proposal to revoke the frozen cherry pie standard on April 18. It said the proposal to revoke the French dressing standard would be posted May 3.

In a statement this week, the FDA said the dates were for "long range internal planning purposes" and that the timing could shift. Updates to the standards will be publicly noted, the agency said. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jin Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Current, Two-Wave US Flu Season Is Now the Longest in 10 Years]]>Fri, 19 Apr 2019 12:16:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/1045628626-Flu-Needle-.jpg

Three months ago, this flu season was shaping up to be short and mild in the U.S. But a surprising second viral wave has made it the longest in 10 years.

This flu season has been officially going for 21 weeks, according to reports collected through last week and released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That makes it among the longest seen since the government started tracking flu season duration more than 20 years ago.

Some experts likened the unusual double waves to having two different flu seasons compressed, back-to-back, into one.

"I don't remember a season like this," said Dr. Arnold Monto, a University of Michigan researcher who had been studying respiratory illnesses for more than 50 years.

The previous longest recent flu season was 20 weeks, which occurred in 2014-2015.

Flu can cause a miserable, relatively mild illness in many people and a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. Flu vaccinations are recommended annually for all but the very young.

The current season began the week of Thanksgiving, a typical start time. At the beginning, most illnesses were caused by a flu strain that tends not to cause as many hospitalizations and which is more easily controlled by vaccines.

But in mid-February, a nastier strain started causing more illnesses and driving up hospitalizations.

Not helping matters: The harsher bug is not well matched to the vaccine, said the CDC's Lynnette Brammer, who oversees flu tracking.

Still, this flu season is not nearly as bad as last winter's 19-week season, the deadliest in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last season.

The CDC is estimating that flu-related deaths this season in the range of 35,000 to 55,000.

More good news: Brammer said that although the virus is notoriously unpredictable, signs suggest this flu season should be over soon.

"It's on the verge" of being over, she said. "If nothing changes."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Nationwide Recall of Blood Pressure, Heart Drugs Expanded]]>Fri, 19 Apr 2019 10:44:36 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bloodpressurerecall11.jpg

A multibillion-dollar pharmaceutical company has expanded its national recall of a prescription drug used to treat high blood pressure and congestive heart failure for the fourth time since December after trace amount of a possible carcinogen were detected, federal officials announced Thursday. 

Torrent Pharmaceuticals, based in India, expanded its U.S. recall to include thousands upon thousands more losartan potassium and losartan potassium/hydrochlorothiazide tablets due to the detection of an "unexpected impurity"  -- N-Methylnitrosobutyric acid (NMBA) -- in an active ingredient.

NMBA, a potential cancer-causing impurity, was found at levels above the acceptable daily intake recommendations of the FDA, Torrent said. No adverse health effects related to the recall have been reported, the company said. 

Click here to see the lengthy list of recalled products and learn more about the previous recalls connected to this expansion. 

Consumers taking the affected medication should speak with their doctors to discuss the recall before they stop taking the drug, or if they have experienced any adverse effects that may be related to the drug.

Losartan is used to treat high blood pressure, left ventricle-heart conditions and nephropathy in Type 2 diabetic patients, among other conditions. Losartan potassium and hydrochlorothiazide tablets are also used to treat high blood pressure and heart issues, but are not used to treat nephropathy.

Other manufacturers have recalled losartan in recent months, but some have involved different potential contaminants. Be sure to contact your health care provider or pharmacy if you have any questions about losartan overall. 

Anyone with questions about the latest recall may call Torrent Pharmaceuticals at 1-800-912-9561 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![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[4 More Schools Close Amid NYC Measles Outbreak: Officials]]>Thu, 18 Apr 2019 19:37:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Third_Case_of_Measles_Confirmed_in_Connecticut.jpg

Four additional schools in New York City will close and three people will face fines for failing to comply with health commissioner's emergency order during the measles outbreak, the city's Health Department announced Thursday.

To stop the spread of measles in the city, the Health Department ordered April 9 that adults and children ages 6 months and older who live, work or go to school in ZIP codes 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249 receive a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine within 48 hours.

City officials said those who were non-compliant and went unvaccinated as of April 12 would be issued a civil summons.

After the emergency vaccination order went into effect on April 12, an investigation by the Health Department found three people who were still unvaccinated, and as a result they were issued fines of $1,000.

Additionally, health officials announced four more school sites will close due to not complying with the orders imposed to control the measles outbreak. The schools or pre-schools are located at: 68-84 Harrison Ave.; 241 Keap St.; 590 Bedford Ave. and 720 Wythe Ave.

The Health Department also announced that the United Talmudical Academy in Williamsburg, reopened Thursday after it was closed on Tuesday for failing to provide access to vaccination and attendance records. Health officials say they will continue to monitor the school.

As of Monday, 329 cases of measles have been confirmed since the outbreak began last October, with 44 additional cases added since last week’s emergency order, health officials say. The majority of cases are children under 18 years of age. 

Although there have been no deaths associated with the outbreak, there have been complications, including 25 hospitalizations and six admissions to the intensive care unit, according to the city's health department.

In one such case, a 43-year-old flight attendant remains hospitalized in a coma in Israel, suffering complications from measles, after she fell seriously ill following her El Al flight out of John F. Kennedy Airport last month, officials and reports say.

New York City is not the only area grappling with a months-long measles outbreak. 

Rockland County Executive Ed Day enacted a 30-day order on March 26 that banned unvaccinated people under 18 from gathering places including schools, stores and churches.

A state judge issued a preliminary injunction against the county's emergency order April 5.

Supreme Court Justice Rolf Thorsen ruled in favor of several dozen parents challenging Day's order, part of efforts to stop a measles outbreak that has infected more than 165 people people since October.

Officials in Rockland County plan are moving forward in appealing the judge's order. Day says he plans to issue a new executive order once the 30 days of the initial one run out on April 25. The current court-ordered injunction would not apply to another order.

On Tuesday, Rockland County officials outlined a new plan to combat the measles outbreak.

<![CDATA[Doctors Discover 'Bubble Boy' Breakthrough]]>Thu, 18 Apr 2019 12:10:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_bbthumbnail.jpg

A gene therapy developed at St. Jude's Children's Hospital has cured 10 infants born with a rare genetic disease called SCID-X1, also known as "Bubble Boy Disease," which is named for the way kids have to be protected from germs.]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Use HIV in Gene Therapy to Fix 'Bubble Boy' Disease]]>Thu, 18 Apr 2019 13:29:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/boyAP_19106755435789.jpg

They were born without a working germ-fighting system, every infection a threat to their lives. Now eight babies with "bubble boy disease" have had it fixed by a gene therapy made from one of the immune system's worst enemies — HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

A study out Wednesday details how scientists turned this enemy virus into a savior, altering it so it couldn't cause disease and then using it to deliver a gene the boys lacked.

"This therapy has cured the patients," although it will take more time to see if it's a permanent fix, said Dr. Ewelina Mamcarz, one of the study leaders at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

Omarion Jordan, who turns 1 later this month, had the therapy in December to treat severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome, or SCID.

"For a long time we didn't know what was wrong with him. He just kept getting these infections," said his mother, Kristin Simpson. Learning that he had SCID "was just heartbreaking ... I didn't know what was going to happen to him."

Omarion now has a normal immune system. "He's like a normal, healthy baby," Simpson said. "I think it's amazing."

Study results were published by the New England Journal of Medicine. The treatment was pioneered by a St. Jude doctor who recently died, Brian Sorrentino.

SCID is caused by a genetic flaw that keeps the bone marrow from making effective versions of blood cells that comprise the immune system. It affects 1 in 200,000 newborns, almost exclusively males. Without treatment, it often kills in the first year or two of life.

"A simple infection like the common cold could be fatal," Mamcarz said.

The nickname "bubble boy disease" comes from a famous case in the 1970s — a Texas boy who lived for 12 years in a protective plastic bubble to isolate him from germs. A bone marrow transplant from a genetically matched sibling can cure SCID, but most people lack a suitable donor. Transplants also are medically risky — the Texas boy died after one.

Doctors think gene therapy could be a solution. It involves removing some of a patient's blood cells, using the modified HIV to insert the missing gene, and returning the cells through an IV. Before getting their cells back, patients are given a drug to destroy some of their marrow so the modified cells have more room to grow.

When doctors first tried it 20 years ago, the treatment had unintended effects on other genes, and some patients later developed leukemia. The new therapy has safeguards to lower that risk.

A small study of older children suggested it was safe. The new study tried it in infants, and doctors are reporting on the first eight who were treated at St. Jude and at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco.

Within a few months, normal levels of healthy immune system cells developed in seven boys. The eighth needed a second dose of gene therapy but now is well, too. Six to 24 months after treatment, all eight are making all the cell types needed to fight infections, and some have successfully received vaccines to further boost their immunity to disease.

No serious or lasting side effects occurred.

Omarion is the 10th boy treated in the study, which is ongoing. It's sponsored by the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities, the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine, the Assisi Foundation of Memphis and the federal government.

"So far it really looks good," but patients will have to be studied to see if the results last, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped develop the treatment. "To me, this looks promising."

Rights to it have been licensed by St. Jude to Mustang Bio. Doctors say they have no estimate on what it might cost if it does become an approved treatment. They say they also hope to try it for more common problems such as sickle cell disease.


The Associated Press Health and 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[NY County at Heart of Measles Outbreak Reveals New War Plan]]>Tue, 16 Apr 2019 19:38:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tlmd-sarampion-aumentan-555.jpg

Rockland County officials have outlined a new plan to combat a measles outbreak the area has been grappling with for months.

Officials announced Tuesday the new order that calls for anyone who contracts measles or who is unvaccinated and exposed to measles to stay home for a determined amount of time, while being banned from public indoor and outdoor places. If the violate this order, they could be subject to a $2,000 per day fine.

Additionally, the new order also stipulates that all schools in two zip codes to exempt children from school who are not vaccinated and do not have a valid medical or religious exemption. This is already state law, but was not being implemented.

As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed cases is 186, with roughly 84 percent of the cases impacting those 18 years of age or younger. However, officials say they believe there are many more that are unreported.

Officials recommend that parents must get their children vaccinated to prevent new cases and complications.

According to officials, there have been a number of complications related to the disease. Five people are in intensive care, including an infant, due to the measles. Additionally, officials say, there has been one premature birth due to the disease.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day enacted a 30-day order on March 26 that banned unvaccinated people under 18 from gathering places including schools, stores and churches.

A state judge issued a preliminary injunction against the county's emergency order April 5.

Supreme Court Justice Rolf Thorsen ruled in favor of several dozen parents challenging Day's order, part of efforts to stop a measles outbreak that has infected more than 165 people people since October.

Officials in Rockland County plan are moving forward in appealing the judge's order. Day says he plans to issue a new executive order once the 30 days of the initial one run out on April 25. The current court-ordered injunction would not apply to another order.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Measles Cases Soar, New York at Epicenter of Outbreak]]>Mon, 15 Apr 2019 17:35:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Measles-vax.jpg

U.S. measles cases have surged again, and are on pace to set a record for most illnesses in 25 years.

Health officials on Monday said 555 measles cases have been confirmed so far this year, up from 465 as of a week ago.

While 20 states have reported cases, New York has been the epicenter. Nearly two-thirds of all cases have been in New York, and 85% of the latest week's cases came from the state. Most of the New York cases have been unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities.

The 2019 tally is already the most since 2014, when 667 were reported. The most before that was 963 cases in 1994.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children get two doses of measles vaccine.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency last Tuesday amid the worst outbreak in New York City since 1991.

The declaration came the day after the New York City Health Department ordered all ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools in a neighborhood of Brooklyn to exclude unvaccinated students from classes during the current measles outbreak.

The health department previously said that any yeshiva in Williamsburg that does not comply will face fines and possible closure.

The emergency order, which will take effect immediately, states that people living in four zip codes in Williamsburg — 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11237 — must get vaccinated or face fines up to $1,000.

New York City was not the only location that implemented an emergency order.

Rockland County Executive Ed Day enacted a 30-day order on March 26 that banned unvaccinated people under 18 from gathering places including schools, stores and churches.

A state judge issued a preliminary injunction against the county's emergency order April 5.

Supreme Court Justice Rolf Thorsen ruled in favor of several dozen parents challenging Day's order, part of efforts to stop a measles outbreak that has infected more than 165 people people since October.

Civil rights lawyer Michael Sussman called Day's action "arbitrary and capricious."

Officials in Rockland County plan to appeal a judge's order that lifted the ban on unvaccinated children in public places.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has since weighed in on the measles outbreak saying legislation that would end the ability of parents to object to vaccinations for their children on religious grounds is "legally questionable."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Mainstream Retailers Embrace CBD Despite Murky Status]]>Mon, 15 Apr 2019 06:44:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CBD-AP_19094657263222.jpg

Mainstream retailers are leaping into the world of products like skin creams and oils that tout such benefits as reducing anxiety and helping you sleep.

The key ingredient? CBD, or cannabidiol, a compound derived from hemp and marijuana that doesn't cause a high.

Retailers are taking advantage of the booming industry even as its legal status and health benefits remain murky. And the flood of products is only testing how federal regulators can police it.

Retail sales of CBD consumer products in 2018 were estimated to reach as much as $2 billion, according to Cowen & Co. By 2025, that figure could hit $16 billion in retail sales, the investment firm predicts.

CBD has been cropping up in everything from dog treats to bath balms in the past few months. Domestic diva Martha Stewart is working with Canada's Canopy Growth Corp. to develop new CBD products. And the nation's largest mall owner Simon Property Group has hooked up with a cannabis goods maker to open roughly 100 kiosks at its U.S. malls by mid-summer.

Authentic Fitness is planning to sell CBD foot creams, oils and soaps under the Nine West brand starting this fall. And CVS Health is beginning to sell CBD-infused creams, sprays, lotions and salves at more than 800 stores in seven states; drug store rivals Walgreens and Rite Aid are now following suit.

Even high-end retailers are getting in on the action, charging anywhere from $12 to $150 an ounce. Barneys New York has opened a shop in Beverly Hills, California, that sells CBD-infused creams along with hand blown glass bongs and other accessories, while Neiman Marcus is now offering an array of CBD-infused beauty products from balms, lotions soaps and masks in five of its stores.

"There's definitely a huge opportunity for expansion," said Matthew Mazzucca, creative director at Barneys New York.

He acknowledged, however, the legal hurdles are still hard to navigate and companies should take it slow.

Indeed, some are doing just that. Walmart says it doesn't have plans to carry CBD-infused products at this time and Target, which in 2017 sold hemp extract products on its website but then quickly yanked them, said it's monitoring the situation.

Meanwhile, online behemoth Amazon is staying clear of the stuff. Spokeswoman Cecilia Fan says the company prohibits the sale of products that contain CBD and will remove them from its site if it sees them.

CBD's ubiquity persists despite very little evidence for all the health claims the industry touts. If you believe in the hype, CBD treats pain, reduces anxiety and helps you sleep and keeps you focused. But most claims are based on studies in rats, mice or in test tubes. Human research has been done but on small numbers of people.

Only drugs that have been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as safe and effective can make claims that they treat or prevent diseases or medical conditions. Many CBD producers try to get around that by using vague language about general health and well-being.

That seems to be good enough for at least some shoppers eager to calm their nerves.

"We are a more anxious society and people are looking for cures," said Kit Yarrow, a consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. "There's a growing distrust in business and pharma and so people are wanting to find cures that seem more real and wholesome."

Amy Nichols, a former food scientist from Indianapolis, reflects that distrust. Nichols, 46, who's been battling symptoms from autoimmune illness, has been using CBD oils by a brand called Recept that she sticks under her tongue.

"For me, this is a more natural solution to treating symptoms that I am having instead of taking pain killers," said Nichols, who now works as a sales representative for Recept. "I have more energy. I get more done. I am in less pain. I am more active."

CBD is operating within a patchwork of regulations that vary by cities and states. In New York City, regulators are prohibiting outlets to sell CBD-infused food and beverages, threatening them with fines. Other states like Ohio and California are taking similar action. Maine's governor, on the other hand, signed an emergency bill in late March allowing CBD in food products after state inspectors warned stores to pull them from shelves earlier in the year.

The farm bill, passed late last year, gave states and the U.S. Department of Agriculture authority to regulate industrial hemp, a type of cannabis that is high in CBD. That opened the door to hemp-derived CBD products.

But the farm bill gave the FDA authority over the food supply and the agency recently warned that it's illegal to add CBD or THC — the compound that gives marijuana its high — to human or animal food and beverages and transport it over state lines. Dietary supplements using CBD are also illegal.

Bigger players like CVS and Walgreens are sticking with skin creams and lotions where the FDA hasn't specifically expressed concern. Others are "rolling the dice" and selling CBD-infused drinks and supplements anyway in hopes of a profit, said Whitt Steineker, a Birmingham, Alabama, attorney who advises the hemp industry.

"They have determined the reward is worth the risk," Steineker said.

With rules and guidance still being written, the landscape is highly uncertain but Steineker expects that to improve.

"Now that hemp is legal, I think the USDA and state departments of agriculture are interested in seeing what type of crop it will be and what its applications are," he said. "They'll move with the speed governments often move with ... (but) by the 2020 growing season, people will have a better understanding how to operate within the law."

AP Medical Writer Carla K. Johnson contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Carlos Osorio/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Study Finds Diabetes Drug May Prevent, Slow Kidney Disease]]>Sun, 14 Apr 2019 20:35:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dIABETES10.jpg

A drug that's used to help control blood sugar in people with diabetes has now been shown to help prevent or slow kidney disease, which causes millions of deaths each year and requires hundreds of thousands of people to use dialysis to stay alive.

Doctors say it's hard to overstate the importance of this study, and what it means for curbing this problem, which is growing because of the obesity epidemic.

The study tested Janssen Pharmaceuticals' drug Invokana. Results were discussed Sunday at a medical meeting in Australia and published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

About 30 million Americans and more than 420 million people worldwide have diabetes, and most cases are Type 2, the kind tied to obesity. It occurs when the body can't make enough or properly use insulin, which turns food into energy.

This can damage the kidneys over time, causing disease and ultimately, failure. In the U.S., it's responsible for nearly half a million people needing dialysis, and for thousands of kidney transplants each year.

Some blood pressure drugs lower this risk but they're only partially effective. The new study tested Invokana, a daily pill sold now to help control blood sugar, to see if it also could help prevent kidney disease when added to standard treatments.

For the study, about 13,000 people with Type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease from around the world were to be given Invokana or dummy pills. Independent monitors stopped the study early, after 4,400 people had been treated for about 2.5 years on average, when it was clear the drug was helping.

Those on the drug had a 30% lower risk of one of these problems — kidney failure, need for dialysis, need for a kidney transplant, death from kidney- or heart-related causes, or other signs that kidneys were failing.

For every 1,000 people taking the drug for 2.5 years, there would be 47 fewer cases of one of these problems, researchers estimate.

Rates of serious side effects were similar in the drug and placebo groups including leg, foot or toe amputations, a concern raised by a previous study of Invokana. One side effect, when the body can't produce enough insulin, was more frequent among those on Invokana but rare overall.

Janssen, which is part of Johnson &amp; Johnson, sponsored the study and many authors work or consult for the company. The drug costs about $500 a month in the U.S. Out-of-pocket costs for patients may be different, depending on insurance.

The importance of this large and well-done study "cannot be overstated," Drs. Julie Ingelfinger and Clifford Rosen, editors at the medical journal, wrote in an accompanying article.

In recent years, several studies have found that Invokana and some similar drugs can lower heart risks. The new results, showing that Invokana also may stall or prevent kidney failure, expand the potential benefits of the drug.

The Associated Press Health and 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: Rich Pedroncelli/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Swallowed Toys, Coins, Batteries Spark Rise in Tot ER Visits]]>Fri, 12 Apr 2019 10:02:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/toys-and-coins.jpg

The number of young kids who went to U.S. emergency rooms because they swallowed toys, coins, batteries and other objects has more than doubled, a new study says.

In 2015, there were nearly 43,000 such visits among kids under 6, compared with 22,000 in 1995, according to the study published Friday in the journal Pediatrics. The rate jumped from almost 10 per 10,000 ER visits to 18 per 10,000.

The increase "rang some alarms," said Dr. Danielle Orsagh-Yentis, the lead author and a gastrointestinal physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Orsagh-Yentis noted that an increasing number of consumer products use potentially dangerous button-sized batteries, including TV remotes, digital thermometers and remote-controlled toys, which likely contributed to the increase.

She said her interest in studying the trend began during her training, "when we were all being called in in the middle of the night at odd hours to remove foreign bodies from either the esophagus or stomachs of children."

Her research team analyzed a nationwide database of non-fatal emergency room visits for children younger than age 6. Almost 800,000 children were treated during the study years after swallowing foreign objects. Coins, batteries and toys accounted for most of the visits.

While 90% of treated children were sent home without hospitalization, severe internal injuries and deaths have been reported. Batteries and small high-powered magnets often marketed as desk toys for adults are among the most dangerous objects.

When kids swallow more than one powerful magnet, the objects can attract each inside the intestines, boring holes into the abdomen that can lead to life-threatening blood poisoning.

In recent years, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued safety warnings and orders to stop sales of some magnets, citing dozens of hospitalizations and at least one toddler death.

The agency also has warned about dangers from button-sized batteries, which when swallowed can trigger a chemical reaction that can burn holes through tissue inside the throat.

Children who swallow batteries or magnets may vomit or complain of abdominal pain. They "should be brought to the emergency room as quickly as possible," Orsagh-Yentis said.

Morag Mackay of Safe Kids Worldwide, an injury prevention advocacy group, called for more research to understand why the incidents are on the rise. She said parents and caregivers need to be vigilant.

"Try to see the world from a child's point of view by getting on the floor so that you are at your child's eye level. Keep small objects such as coins, batteries, magnets, buttons or jewelry out of reach and sight," Mackay said.

The Associated Press Health and 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]]>
<![CDATA[NASA Twins Study Explores Space, the Final Genetic Frontier]]>Thu, 11 Apr 2019 14:51:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nasaAP_19101585898117.jpg

From his eyes to his immune system, astronaut Scott Kelly's body sometimes reacted strangely to nearly a year in orbit, at least compared to his Earth-bound identical twin — but newly published research shows nothing that would cancel even longer space treks, like to Mars.

The good news: Kelly largely bounced back after returning home, say scientists who released final results from NASA's "twins study," a never-before opportunity to track the biological consequences of spaceflight in genetic doubles.

It marks "the dawn of human genomics in space," said Dr. Andrew Feinberg of Johns Hopkins University. He led one of 10 teams of researchers that scrutinized the twins' health down to the molecular level before, during and after Kelly's 340-day stay at the International Space Station.

More importantly, the study "represents more than one small step for mankind" by pointing out potential risks of longer-duration spaceflight that need study in more astronauts, said Markus Lobrich of Germany's Darmstadt University and Penny Jeggo of the University of Sussex, who weren't involved in the work.

The findings were published in Friday's edition of the journal Science, on some notable space anniversaries — when Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space in 1961, and the first launch of the space shuttle in 1981.

NASA already knew some of the toll of space travel, such as bone loss that requires exercise to counter. This time, NASA-funded scientists looked for a gamut of physiologic and genomic changes that Scott Kelly experienced in space, comparing them to his DNA double on the ground, former astronaut Mark Kelly. Some results had been reported in February.

Possibly the weirdest finding had to do with something called telomeres, the protective ends of chromosomes. Those tips gradually shorten as we get older, and are thought to be linked to age-related diseases including some cancers.

But in space, Scott Kelly's telomeres got longer. "We were surprised," said Colorado State University telomere expert Susan Bailey. She can't explain it although it doesn't mean Kelly got younger. Back on Earth, his telomeres mostly returned to preflight average although he did have more short telomeres than before.

Next, Kelly's DNA wasn't mutated in space but the activity of many of his genes — how they switch on and off — did change, especially in the last half of the voyage, which ended in March 2016.

Immune system genes especially were affected, putting it "almost on high alert as a way to try and understand this new environment," said study co-author Christopher Mason, a Weill Cornell Medicine geneticist in New York.

Again, most gene expression returned to normal back home, but some of the immune-related genes were hyperactive six months later.

Other findings:

—Some changes in the structure of Kelly's eye and thickening of his retina suggested that, like about 40% of astronauts, he experienced symptoms of "spaceflight-associated neuro-ocular syndrome." It may be caused by fluids shifting in the absence of gravity.

—He experienced some chromosomal instability that might reflect radiation exposure in space.

—A flu shot given in space worked as well as one on Earth.

—Kelly aced cognitive tests in space but slowed down after his return, maybe as more things competed for his attention.

Researchers needed months' worth of blood, urine and fecal samples, along with cognitive and physical tests and ultrasound scans. That meant getting creative: Some blood samples required analysis so rapidly that Kelly would time collection so the blood could travel on Russian Soyuz capsules carrying other astronauts back to Earth.

That wouldn't be an option on a three-year trip to Mars. One of the study's technological advances: Portable DNA-sequencing equipment that will let astronauts run some of their own genomic analyses on future missions, said Weill Cornell's Mason.

Studying one pair of twins can't prove risks of spaceflight, researchers cautioned. And longer missions, to the moon or Mars, will mean greater stress and radiation exposure.

Colorado State's Bailey plans to study 10 additional astronauts on year-long missions, using the twin findings as a road map.

"We need to get outside of low-Earth orbit and we need for the astronauts to spend longer periods of time to really evaluate some of these health effects," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Pat Sullivan/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Ohio Governor Signs Ban on Abortion After 1st Heartbeat]]>Thu, 11 Apr 2019 17:21:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ohioGettyImages-1072290324.jpg

A bill imposing one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation was signed into law in Ohio on Thursday, banning abortions after a detectable heartbeat in a long-sought victory for abortion opponents that drew an immediate constitutional challenge.

In signing the heartbeat bill, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine broke with his predecessor, Republican John Kasich, who had vetoed the measure twice on grounds that it was unconstitutional.

But DeWine defended Ohio Republicans' decision to push the boundaries of the law, because "it is the right thing to do."

"Taking this action really is a kind of a time-honored tradition, the constitutional tradition of making a good faith argument for modification or reversal of existing legal precedents," he said. "So that is what this is."

He said it's the government's job to protect the vulnerable. The bill outlaws abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which doctors say can be as early as five weeks into pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

Ohio's closely divided politics had slowed the progress of the bill as it has caught momentum elsewhere , forcing years of debate in the state where the movement originated. Of five previous states that have passed heartbeat bills, three have seen their laws struck down or blocked by the courts, another faces a legal injunction and the fifth is awaiting governor's action.

DeWine's action came a day after the latest version of the bill cleared the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Even before the bill was signed, the ACLU of Ohio said it was preparing a constitutional challenge to the law on behalf of Pre-Term Cleveland and three other Ohio abortion clinics.

The legal challenge is what the bill's backers have always wanted. They hope to provoke a legal challenge with the potential to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion up until viability, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

"The heartbeat bill is the next incremental step in our strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade," said Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis. "While other states embrace radical legislation to legalize abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy, Ohio has drawn a line and continues to advance protections for unborn babies."

Kellie Copeland, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said lawmakers and the governor have plunged the state into "a dystopian nightmare where people are forced to continue pregnancies regardless of the harm that may come to them or their family."

The law makes no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

EMILY's List, a national group that supports candidates who favor abortion rights, also decried the Ohio bill, as did the Democratic National Committee.

DNC CEO Seema Nanda called it "the latest example of how the Trump administration's extremist, anti-women policies have emboldened legislators across the country to attack women's access to health care."

DeWine said his administration is committed to supporting pregnant women.

"I just want to make it very, very clear, our concern is not just for the unborn, our concern is for all individuals who need protection," he said. "It is our duty, I believe, and an essential function of government, to protect those who cannot protect themselves."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: LightRocket via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How Safe Is Running a Marathon? Heart Doctors Say It Depends]]>Thu, 11 Apr 2019 08:11:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marathonAP_19099550233818.jpg

It was the death heard 'round the running world.

In July 1984, acclaimed author and running guru Jim Fixx died of a heart attack while trotting along a country road in Vermont. Overnight, a nascent global movement of asphalt athletes got a gut check: Just because you run marathons doesn't mean you're safe from heart problems.

Fast-forward 35 years, and Boston Marathon race director Dave McGillivray is amplifying that message for marathoners, especially those who have coronary artery disease or a family history of it.

"Being fit and being healthy aren't the same things," McGillivray says.

He should know. Six months ago, the lifelong competitor underwent open-heart triple bypass surgery after suffering chest pain and shortness of breath while running.

As marathons, ultramarathons, megamile trail races and swim-bike-run triathlons continue to explode in popularity, doctors are re-prescribing some longstanding advice: Get a checkup first and talk with your primary care physician or cardiologist about the risks and benefits before hitting the road.

For McGillivray, 64, the writing was on his artery walls. Both of his grandfathers died of heart attacks; his father had multiple bypasses; his siblings have had heart surgery; and a brother recently suffered a stroke.

Neither McGillivray's marathon personal best of 2 hours, 29 minutes, 58 seconds, nor his decades of involvement in the sport could protect him.

"I honestly thought that through exercise, cholesterol-lowering medicine, good sleep and the right diet, I'd be fine," he says. "But you can't run away from your genetics."

Aerobic exercise such as running, brisk walking, cycling and swimming is known to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and certain types of cancer, and it's been a key way to fight obesity, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and more. Studies have shown those who exercise regularly are more likely to survive a heart attack and recover more quickly than couch potatoes.

But new research is providing a more nuanced look at "extreme exercise" and the pros and cons of running long.

In a study published in December in Circulation, the journal of the American Heart Association, researchers in Spain found signs suggesting that full marathons like Boston may strain the heart. They measured substances that can signal stress and found higher levels in runners who covered the classic 26.2-mile (42.2-kilometer) marathon distance compared with those who raced shorter distances such as a half-marathon or 10K.

Only about one in 50,000 marathoners suffers cardiac arrest, the researchers said, but a high proportion of all exercise-induced cardiac events occur during marathons — especially in men ages 35 and older. The Boston Marathon and other major races place defibrillators along the course.

"We typically assume that marathon runners are healthy individuals, without risk factors that might predispose them to a cardiac event during or after a race," writes Dr. Juan Del Coso, the study's lead investigator, who runs the exercise physiology lab at Madrid's Camilo José Cela University. Running shorter distances, he says, might reduce the strain, especially in runners who haven't trained appropriately.

Dr. Kevin Harris, a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, says he had a patient preparing for the Twin Cities Marathon who struggled to exceed 10 miles (16 kilometers) in training. The man's family doctor insisted he get a stress test, and he wound up needing double bypass surgery to detour around dangerous blockages in his arteries.

"Running is good, and we want people to be active. But your running doesn't make you invincible," Harris says. "The bottom line is that individuals with a family history — especially men who are older than 40 and those people who have symptoms they're concerned about — should have an informed decision with their health care provider before they run a marathon."

That family history is crucial.

Fixx, whose 1977 best-seller "The Complete Book of Running" helped ignite America's running boom, was 52 when he collapsed and died. An autopsy showed he had blockages in two of his heart arteries. He had a mix of risk factors. His father died at 43 of a heart attack, and although Fixx quit smoking, changed his eating habits and dropped 60 pounds, it turned out he couldn't outrun those risks.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's late husband, tech entrepreneur Dave Goldberg, was 47 when he died while the couple was vacationing in Mexico in 2015. Goldberg had been running on a treadmill when he fell, and an autopsy revealed he had undiagnosed heart disease.

Former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is 49, has said his own strong family history of heart disease is what motivates him to work out regularly and watch his diet. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather all died of heart attacks in their 50s.

"If you're going to take on strenuous exercise later in life, and especially if you have active heart disease, it's clearly in your interest to be tested and make sure you can handle it," says Dr. William Roberts, a fellow and past president of the American College of Sports Medicine.

McGillivray says his doctor has cleared him for Monday's 123rd running of the Boston Marathon, which he'll run at night after the iconic race he supervises is in the books. It will be his 47th consecutive Boston, and this time, he's trying to raise $100,000 for a foundation established in memory of a little boy who died of cardiomyopathy — an enlarging and thickening of the heart muscle.

"Heartbreak Hill will have special meaning this year," McGillivray says.

"My new mission is to create awareness: If you feel something, do something," he says. "You have to act. You might not get a second chance." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Challenge to NYC's Vaccination Order in the Works: Lawyer]]>Thu, 11 Apr 2019 03:56:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19098613292673.jpg

New York City's effort to halt a measles outbreak by ordering mandatory vaccinations in Brooklyn neighborhoods is facing opposition, with lawyers for parents opposed to vaccinations promising to file a lawsuit challenging the order by Friday, and it comes as the infection has spread to another area in the Empire State.

But city health officials say they have they have struck the right balance with the unusual order, and they hope a mixture of outreach and prodding will overcome resistance to vaccines in a slice of the predominantly Orthodox Jewish community hardest hit by the disease.

"The measles vaccine is highly effective," Dr. Herminia Palacio, the city's deputy mayor for health and human services, said Wednesday. "Measles is highly contagious. That combination means this is the right time for this measure."

Palacio spoke a day after she joined Mayor de Blasio and other officials in announcing the vaccine order affecting four ZIP codes in Williamsburg, Bushwick and Fort Greene sections of Brooklyn and threatening possible fines of up to $1,000 for noncompliance.

Civil rights attorney Michael Sussman called the order "an overreach of authority" and said a lawsuit challenging it will be filed this week.

Sussman also represented a group of parents in suburban Rockland County who challenged the county executive's order barring unvaccinated children from indoor public spaces. A state judge sided with the parents and issued a preliminary injunction against the emergency order last week.

New York City and Rockland County are both struggling to contain a measles outbreak that has mainly affected Orthodox Jewish families.

Some 285 measles cases have been identified in New York City since last fall, compared with two in all of 2017. There have been 168 cases reported in Rockland since the fall.

De Blasio said Tuesday that he was confident New York City's vaccination order would survive any legal challenge.

"This is a public health emergency," he said. "And the reason the city government is empowered in a public health emergency is to save lives."

Authorities will carry out the order by interviewing Williamsburg residents who have been diagnosed with measles and then interviewing everyone who those people have come in contact with.

"These are skills that we practice every day," Palacio said. "It's not just that they know what questions to ask. They actually do know how to work with people. They have experience gaining people's trust."

The health officials will try to persuade any unvaccinated person who has been exposed to measles to get the vaccine. People who refuse the vaccine or who refuse to get their children vaccinated could be fined, though de Blasio said he hoped to avoid levying any fines.

"Our goal is not to fine anyone," de Blasio said. "Our goal is to get people vaccinated. But we're also trying to help everyone understand there is urgency here."

The city believes an estimated 1,800 children in Williamsburg were not immunized as of December.

Health officials have made robocalls urging vaccination to more than 30,000 Williamsburg households and have stocked health care providers in the community with an ample supply of vaccine, Palacio said.

Officials said their efforts have paid off with 8,000 additional vaccinations in affected neighborhoods compared with the prior year. But they said they were taking additional steps to control the outbreak in advance of Passover, when some families may travel overseas to areas in Israel or Europe that are experiencing measles outbreaks.

Doctors who practice in Brooklyn's Orthodox Jewish communities say only a small number of people refuse inoculations outright because they believe erroneously that vaccines are harmful or that they violate Jewish law, but factors including large families may have helped the outbreak spread.

"There is an element of anti-vaccine supporters and sympathizers who do not want to get shots. It's a very small minority," said Dr. Jay Begun, a pediatrician in Williamsburg.

But Begun said a larger number may delay the first measles-mumps-rubella vaccine until 2 years of age instead of the recommended 1 year, vastly increasing the number of unvaccinated children who can be infected.

"Once you delay it a few months, you exponentially increase the vector for infection," said Begun, who said families of eight to 10 children are typical in his practice. "You have a larger pool of babies. The delay it is what's fueling this outbreak."

Begun said he believes the city's vaccination order will be effective. "I think it will help in getting the community covered," he said.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, officials in Westchester County announced measles has been confirmed in eight children who were apparently exposed to the highly contagious virus while visiting Rockland County or Brooklyn. Six of the children are siblings.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/File]]>
<![CDATA[Brain Scans May Reveal Concussion Damage in Living Athletes]]>Wed, 10 Apr 2019 23:24:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19100644106873.jpg

Researchers may be closing in on a way to check athletes while they're alive for signs of a degenerative brain disease that's been linked to frequent head blows. Experimental scans found higher levels of an abnormal protein tied to the disease in a study of former National Football League players who were having mood and thinking problems.

It's the first time a major study has tested these scans for detecting chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which is only diagnosed now after death, with brain autopsies.

Doctors are searching for a way to tell when players, veterans or others with concussions or other head injuries are at risk for permanent damage. It's too soon to know if the scans will enable that — so far they only show that these athletes are different as a group; they can't be used to say a particular player does or does not have CTE.

"We're not there yet," said Boston University neurologist Robert Stern. "It is not ready to be used for individual diagnosis in the clinic."

He led the study, published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

"It's an encouraging advance. It looks like they have detected CTE in living players," said Dr. Gil Rabinovici, a neurologist and imaging expert at the University of California, San Francisco, who is doing other research using the scans.

"It's hugely important to be able to detect the disease in living people" to know how common it is and to research treatments, he said.

The study was done in Boston and several cities in Arizona and involved 26 former NFL players with thinking, mood or behavior problems, and 31 similarly aged men without these symptoms or head injuries.

They were given positron emission tomography, or PET scans, in which a radioactive tracer is injected that binds to various substances and makes them visible on the scans. Several of these tracers are used now to look for a protein called beta amyloid in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease. An experimental tracer that doctors are testing binds to another protein, tau, which is the key one that's been implicated in CTE.

Men in the study had both types of tracers. Tau levels were higher in the players compared to the others, but their amyloid levels were similar, confirming that CTE is a different disease than Alzheimer's.

Researchers also saw a relationship to years of play.

"The more years of play in tackle football across all levels, the greater the amount of tau detected," Stern said.

However, there was no relationship between tau levels and the severity of mood and thinking symptoms. Researchers think the study may have been too small to detect a difference or that tau may not be the only factor involved.

"There's a lot more work to be done to develop a diagnostic" tool using these scans, said Dr. Michael Weiner an imaging expert at UCSF who is involved in other CTE research.

Government grants and Avid Radiopharmaceuticals, which makes the tracers, funded the study. Some authors work or consult for the company.

A larger study of former NFL and college football players is underway; first results are expected early next year.

Mike Adamle, a former running back for the Chicago Bears and sports announcer, has been told he has symptoms consistent with CTE, and has been evaluated by Stern at the Boston research center though he was not part of the current study.

"I had more than a few" concussions, Adamle said. "If you were running, everybody kind of led with their head. Back then, it was a test of your macho man stuff."

The illness has been devastating, said his wife, Kim. "He couldn't remember his lunch or he couldn't remember his lines on the air," and lost multiple jobs, she said.

If a test could have shown he was at risk and given him a chance to consider quitting play, "I would have definitely taken note," Mike Adamle said. 


The Associated Press Health and 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: The New England Journal of Medicine via AP]]>
<![CDATA[CDC: 465 Measles Cases Reported in U.S. for 2019]]>Wed, 10 Apr 2019 10:57:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_measles0409_1500x845.jpg

The measles outbreak has worsened in pockets of the United States. At least 465 cases of measles were reported so far in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control. ]]>
<![CDATA[How Measles Is Making a Return in New York and Elsewhere]]>Wed, 10 Apr 2019 07:41:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles6.jpg

New York City declared a public health emergency Tuesday and ordered mandatory vaccinations for measles in a part of Brooklyn that is home to a large Orthodox Jewish community.

The city took the unusual step amid a surge of 285 measles cases in the city since September, most in one densely packed neighborhood where people now have to get vaccines or risk a $1,000 fine.

In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported there have been 465 cases so far this year, two-thirds of them in New York state. That compares to 372 cases in the U.S. for all of last year. Besides New York, there have been outbreaks this year in Washington state, California. Michigan and New Jersey.

The disease was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, which means it was not being spread domestically.

But cases have been rising in recent years, in part the result of misinformation that makes some parents balk at a crucial vaccine.

Most of the reported illnesses are in children. The CDC says roughly 80% of the U.S. cases are age 19 or younger.

Here are some questions and answers about measles:

Q: How dangerous is measles?
A: Measles typically begins with a high fever, and several days later a characteristic rash appears on the face and then spreads over the body. Among serious complications, 1 in 20 patients get pneumonia, and 1 in 1,000 get brain swelling that can lead to seizures, deafness or intellectual disability.

While it's rare in the U.S., about 1 in every 1,000 children who get measles dies, according to the CDC.

Q: How does it spread?
A: By coughing or sneezing, and someone can spread the virus for four days before the telltale rash appears.

The virus can live for up to two hours in the air or on nearby surfaces. Nine of 10 unvaccinated people who come into contact with someone with measles will catch it. Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, recently called it "one of the most contagious viruses known to man."

Q: Is a problem outside of the U.S.?
A: Measles is far more common around the world — the World Health Organization said it claimed 110,000 lives in 2017. The WHO says there's been a 30 % increase in measles cases in recent years. Unvaccinated Americans traveling abroad, or foreign visitors here, can easily bring in the virus.

For example, a huge outbreak in Madagascar has caused more than 115,000 illnesses and more than 1,200 deaths since September. But you don't need to go as far as Madagascar — common tourist destinations like England, France, Italy and Greece had measles outbreaks last year. Nearly 83,000 people contracted measles in Europe in 2018, the highest number in a decade.

Q: How many U.S. children are vulnerable?
A: Overall about 92% of U.S. children have gotten the combination vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella, known as the MMR vaccine. Two shots are required, one around the first birthday and a second between age 4 and 6. Full vaccination is 97% effective at preventing measles.

But the CDC says 1 in 12 children do not receive the first dose on time, and in some places vaccination rates are far lower than the national average. For example, an outbreak in Washington state is linked to a community where only about 80% of children were properly vaccinated.

Q: Is the vaccine safe?
A: Yes. In the late 1990s, one study linked MMR vaccine to autism but that study was found to be a fraud. Later research found no risk of autism from the vaccine.

Q: Why isn't everyone vaccinated?
A: Some people can't be immunized for medical reasons — including infants and people with weak immune systems — and most states allow religious exemptions. But while vaccination against a list of contagious diseases is required to attend school, 17 states allow some type of non-medical exemption for "personal, moral or other beliefs," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Washington state, lawmakers are debating ending that personal or philosophical exemption, as are several other states. California ended a similar exemption in 2015 after a measles outbreak at Disneyland sickened 147 people and spread across the U.S. and into Canada.

Q: Why so many cases in New York's Orthodox Jewish communities?
A: Most families in Brooklyn's Orthodox enclaves do have their children vaccinated, and most rabbis say there is no religious reason not to get them. But anti-vaccine propaganda has found an audience among a larger than usual percentage of parents in a community used to cultural clashes with city officials. It is also a community whose members travel frequently to other countries where measles is more prevalent.


AP Medical Writers Lauran Neergaard in Washington and Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this story.

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[These Are the ZIP Codes Affected by the NYC Measles Mandate]]>Wed, 10 Apr 2019 12:14:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP+MEASLES+NYC.jpg

In a rare order, New York City is requiring residents who live in four Brooklyn ZIP codes, including one that covers the heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg, to be vaccinated for measles. Now the question is how to enforce it.

The affected ZIP codes include 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11249, which cover neighborhoods including Fort Greene, Bushwick and Williamsburg. Children older than 6 months old who live in those areas or go to day care or school there must get at least an initial dose of the vaccine or they can't attend, the city says.

While other Brooklyn neighborhoods are covered under the emergency declaration, Williamsburg, with its strong Orthodox community, is likely most affected. The city believes an estimated 1,800 children in Williamsburg hadn't been immunized as of December.

So how will enforcement work? Authorities plan to start by asking people sickened in the city's biggest measles outbreak since 1991 about where they've been and whom they've encountered.

Then officials want to interview those contacts, aiming to persuade them to get inoculations if they aren't already vaccinated or immune from having had the disease. The city says it's ready to help arrange the shots - but also to fine people as much as $1,000 if they refuse.

"Our goal is not to fine anyone," Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. "Our goal is to get people vaccinated. But we're also trying to help everyone understand there is urgency here."

Tuesday's emergency order revives a public-health strategy that experts say hasn't been used in the U.S. in recent memory: commanding people to get vaccinations or face fines. It's meeting a mixed reaction in the Brooklyn neighborhood affected by the order and raising red flags among civil liberties advocates.

De Blasio acknowledged it's "an unusual action," saying it's motivated by "the sheer extent of the crisis."

Some 285 measles cases have been diagnosed in the nation's biggest city since last fall, compared to two in all of 2017, officials said.

It's among outbreaks that have spurred 465 measles cases around the country this year, the second-greatest number in any year since measles was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000.

At Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov school, Rabbi David Oberlander said administrators had taken pains to make sure children with measles weren't in school.

"We try to control our school, and we really strive to comply 100% with the Department of Health," he said. "But we don't control the parents, and we don't intend to control the parents."

Some Williamsburg residents - even those who support vaccination - said Tuesday they felt uncomfortable about the city pushing inoculations on people who don't want them.

Others remain convinced, against expert assurances, that vaccines are unsafe.

"It's true that a lot of people have measles, and measles are not a very good thing, said resident Aron Braver, but he thinks the vaccine is "also not a very good thing."

"And it's everybody's option to do what he wants. What he decides," Braver added.

The New York Civil Liberties Union also questioned the city's emergency order requiring vaccinations for all. Executive director Donna Lieberman called it "an extreme measure" that "raises civil liberties concerns about forced medical treatment."

De Blasio, a Democrat, said officials were confident the order would withstand legal scrutiny.

U.S. cities have fined residents before for not being vaccinated, but "not in our modern history," said Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown Law professor specializing in public health law.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld such an order in a 1905 case involving smallpox vaccinations in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But over time, public health officials focused more on requiring children to be vaccinated to attend school.

New York's suburban Rockland County, which has logged 168 measles cases since last fall, tried banning unvaccinated children from public places last week. A judge halted the order.

County Executive Ed Day, a Republican, said Tuesday that Rockland planned to appeal and is crafting a new order designed to isolate people exposed to measles.

Overall, U.S. vaccination rates remain high, but the percentage of kids under 2 who haven't gotten their shots is growing, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC attributes the trend partly to lack of health insurance.

Some experts also point to anti-vaccine campaigns that have gained some traction in recent years, helped by social media. New York City officials blamed the spike there partly on "anti-vaxxers" spreading misinformation that inoculations are dangerous.

The National Institutes of Health says reports of serious reactions to vaccines are rare: about one in every 100,000 vaccinations.

Measles is highly contagious, spreading through coughs and sneezes. It can cause pneumonia and brain swelling that can lead to seizures, deafness or intellectual disability.

The CDC recommends all children get two doses of the measles vaccine. It says the vaccine is 97% effective.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Heated Debate Over High Drug Costs Returns to Capitol Hill]]>Tue, 09 Apr 2019 21:57:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Drugs14.jpg

Patient bills, competition and secrecy shared the spotlight Tuesday as pharmacy benefit managers testified before Congress about prescription drug prices.

Members of a Senate Finance Committee investigating drug costs pushed the benefit managers to explain why they can't do more to control prices and to reveal the details behind the contracts they negotiate. The hearing was the committee's third so far this year focused on the high cost of prescriptions.

Executives from CVS Health, UnitedHealth Group's OptumRx and Cigna testified. Here are some key points about the issue:

Pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, run prescription drug coverage for employers, insurers, unions and other clients. They set up lists of covered drugs that are often broken into tiers with different pricing levels for the patient. They negotiate rebates for some drugs to help offset high initial or list prices.

Three PBMs dominate the U.S. market. CVS Health's Caremark business, UnitedHealth's OptumRx and Cigna's recently acquired Express Scripts each process over a billion prescriptions annually.

The trio controlled about 76 percent of the market last year, according to the research firm Drug Channels Institute.

Critics see PBMs as middlemen who add costs to an already expensive system for prescription drugs.

Drugmakers point to the rebates as part of the problem.

They say they have to offer them to land some of their products on a PBM's list of covered drugs or a less-expensive tier, and this contributes to higher list prices. High list prices hurt patients who have to pay a big deductible when they fill a prescription.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., criticized the companies for "gouging" their customers by charging them higher drug prices than what they negotiated with drugmakers. He also said the companies guard their operations "with greater secrecy than HBO is guarding the ending of 'Game of Thrones.'"

"Whether pharmacy benefit managers bring any real value to taxpayers is a mystery," Wyden said.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, questioned whether PBMs prefer high-cost drugs that come with big rebates over cheaper drugs.

PBMs say they do several things to help control costs, but drugmakers are the only ones responsible for setting their initial prices.

When drugmakers produce competing products to treat the same condition — like with hepatitis C drugs — PBMs use that competition to wrangle price breaks in exchange for coverage.

They use the leverage that comes from all the prescriptions they process to negotiate rebates, and they urged lawmakers to make it easier for patients to get access to lower cost drugs like generic medications.

"When we have competition, we can bring down drug prices," said CVS Health's Derica Rice, a former executive with the drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co.

PBMs say they only offer rebates on around 8% of the prescriptions they process, and they pass along most of those discounts to payers like insurers or large employers. They said they want to offer more of those rebates directly to patients when they buy the drugs, an upfront approach to the discounts favored by President Donald Trump's administration.

PBM executives also said they can't make the details of their negotiations with drugmakers public because that would hurt their leverage for getting future discounts.

Senators have already grilled pharmaceutical leaders about prescription drug prices and heard testimony from people affected by the soaring cost of insulin for patients with diabetes. Members of the House of Representatives also are looking into drug costs.

Grassley and Wyden have said they are working to look for ways to bring down high prescription drug costs

Democrats want Medicare to leverage its purchasing power and directly negotiate prices with the industry, a step most Republicans oppose. Grassley has called for a greater public accounting of how drug prices are set.

The Associated Press Health and 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: Susan Walsh/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Feds Charge 2 Dozen in Billion-Dollar Medicare Brace Scam]]>Tue, 09 Apr 2019 18:19:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medicare-fraud.jpg

Federal agents on Tuesday broke up a billion dollar Medicare scam that peddled unneeded orthopedic braces to hundreds of thousands of seniors. Two dozen people were charged, including doctors accused of writing bogus prescriptions.

The Justice Department said the scheme relied on overseas call centers to pry Medicare numbers from beneficiaries. Authorities also announced charges against owners of call centers, telemedicine firms and medical equipment companies that shipped unneeded back, shoulder, wrist and knee braces.

Profits from the scheme were laundered through offshore shell companies and then used to buy high-end cars, yachts and luxury homes here and abroad, officials said.

Medicare's anti-fraud unit said it's taking action against 130 medical equipment companies implicated. The companies billed the program a total of $1.7 billion, but not all of it was paid out.

The loss to Medicare was estimated at more than $1.2 billion.

The Health and Human Services inspector general's office said the fast-moving scam was fueled by kickbacks among the parties involved. The FBI, the IRS and 17 U.S. attorney's offices took part in the crackdown.

"The telemedicine we are talking about is basically a tele-scam," said Gary Cantrell, who oversees fraud investigations for the HHS inspector general's office. "We are not talking about the use of advanced technology to provide better access to care."

Officials said the scam was detected last summer as complaints from beneficiaries poured in to the Medicare fraud hotline.

They said telemarketers would reach out to seniors offering "free" orthopedic braces, also touted through television and radio ads. Interested beneficiaries would be patched through to call centers, part of what officials described as an "international telemarketing network" with operations in the Philippines and throughout Latin America.

After verifying Medicare coverage, the seniors would be transferred to telemedicine companies for consultations with doctors, who wrote prescriptions for orthopedic braces, regardless of whether the patients needed them or not. Sometimes the same patient would get several braces.

The call centers would collect prescriptions and sell them to medical equipment companies, which would ship the braces to beneficiaries and bill Medicare. Medical equipment companies would get $500 to $900 per brace from Medicare and would pay kickbacks of nearly $300 per brace.

Officials said it's one of the biggest frauds the inspector general's office has seen. Charges were being brought against defendants in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Cantrell said federal agents had gained cooperation from people familiar with the various schemes.

"The breadth of this nationwide conspiracy should be frightening to all who rely on some form of health care," IRS criminal investigations chief Don Fort said in a statement. "The conspiracy ... details broad corruption, massive amounts of greed and systemic flaws in our health care system that were exploited by the defendants."

Attempts to reach defendants named by the Justice Department were unsuccessful. In several cases telephone numbers associated with the individuals were disconnected. Others did not respond to messages.

The investigation is continuing. Authorities asked doctors who have been involved with telemedicine and medical equipment fraud to voluntarily come forward.

Health care fraud is a pervasive problem that costs taxpayers tens of billions of dollars a year. The true extent of it is unknown, and some cases involve gray areas of complex payment policies.

Experts say part of the problem is that Medicare is required to pay medical bills promptly, which means money often goes out before potential frauds get flagged. Investigators call that "pay and chase."

In recent years, Medicare has tried to adapt techniques used by credit card companies to head off fraud. Law enforcement coordination has grown, with strike forces of federal prosecutors and agents, along with state counterparts, specializing in health care investigations.

Officials said the government has options to recoup at least some of the money lost to Medicare, including seizing fraudsters' assets and accounts, as well as property purchased with the proceeds of the scam.

The Medicare beneficiaries drawn into the orthopedic braces scam didn't have to pay anything up front, but Cantrell said they have been harmed as well: A beneficiary's private information, once in the hands of fraudsters, can be resold for many illegal purposes.

Additionally, if a beneficiary whose information was misused ever does need an orthopedic brace, he or she may encounter waiting periods from Medicare. The program limits how often it pays for certain supplies and equipment.

"It can be very attractive to receive equipment," Cantrell said. "But after giving out your identifying information, it could be compromised to perpetuate additional fraud. There is no fraud without the ID number of a Medicare beneficiary."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General via AP]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Declares Public Health Emergency Over Measles Outbreak]]>Wed, 10 Apr 2019 12:19:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles+outbreak+ny+update.jpg

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency Tuesday amid a measles outbreak — the worst outbreak in New York City since 1991.

The declaration comes after the New York City Health Department ordered all ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools in a neighborhood of Brooklyn on Monday to exclude unvaccinated students from classes during the current measles outbreak.

The health department said that any yeshiva in Williamsburg that does not comply will face fines and possible closure.

The emergency order, which will take effect immediately, states that people living in four zip codes in Williamsburg — 11205, 11206, 11211 and 11237 — must get vaccinated or face fines up to $1,000.

"We have a very dangerous situation on our hands," De Blasio said Tuesday. "We cannot allow this dangerous disease to make a comeback here in New York City. We have to stop it now."

City health officials said the measles outbreak among Orthodox Jewish communities continues to increase "at an alarming rate."

Officials say 285 cases have been confirmed in New York City since the beginning of the outbreak in October. Most cases have been reported from Williamsburg and Borough Park - two Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Orthodox Jewish populations, in which vaccination rates tend to be lower.

New York City accounted for about two-thirds of all U.S. measles cases reported last week. But areas outside the city are also seeing a surge in cases.

Last week, a state judge issued a preliminary injunction against a Rockland County emergency order banning children from public places unless they've been vaccinated against measles. Civil rights lawyer Michael Sussman called the order "arbitrary and capricious."

The county had enacted the 30-day emergency order to fight a measles outbreak that has infected at least 166 people since October. Rockland's outbreak has most heavily affected Orthodox Jewish communities.

Health officials say the best way to stop the disease's spread is a vaccination rate in the community of 92 to 95 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children get two doses of measles vaccine. It says the vaccine is 97% effective.

Mayor de Blasio will hold a press conference Tuesday to make an announcement on the growing measles outbreak across the Big Apple. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cancer ‘Vaccine’ Shows Promise in Human Trial]]>Mon, 08 Apr 2019 16:35:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cancer9.jpg

An experimental cancer “vaccine” showed promising results in a small clinical trial of patients with lymphoma, according to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Medicine.

Researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital tested the treatment in 11 patients with lymphoma. Their results were successful enough to warrant another clinical trial in March on lymphoma patients as well as breast and head-and-neck cancer.

Researchers said some patients in the initial human trial went into full remission for months or even years.

The treatment “has broad implications for multiple types of cancer,” said lead author, Dr. Joshua Brody, director of the lymphoma immunotherapy program. “This method could also increase the success of other immunotherapies such as checkpoint blockade.”

They refer to it as a vaccine because it causes a person’s immune system to fight the disease, though it’s not preventive like the flu shot. In this case, the treatment teaches the body to recognize tumors and attack them.

Researchers created the treatment directly inside the tumor. To do this, they injected one tumor with a stimulant to recruit immune cells, treated the tumor with a low dose of radiation then injected it with a stimulant to activate immune cells. These activated immune cells then travel throughout the body, killing tumors wherever they find them.

In three of the patients, the treatment shrunk not only the tumor that was treated but also other ones throughout the body, putting these patients into remission.

“It’s really promising, and the fact you get not only responses in treated areas, but areas outside the field [of treatment with radiation] is really significant,” said Dr. Silvia Formenti, chairwoman of radiation oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian, who was not involved in the study and is working on a similar treatment.

While promising, the effect was observed in only three people and will need to be tested in larger trials before even going before the Food and Drug Administration for review.

Dr. Eric Jacobsen, clinical director of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s lymphoma program, said the results are exciting but cautioned more research needs to be done. Jacobsen was not involved in the study.

“It’s definitely proof of concept, but larger studies are definitely needed and additional strategies to try to get more than three out of 11 patients to respond,” said Jacobsen, who is also developing a lymphoma vaccine, though with a slightly different approach.

Researchers for decades have tried but failed to create cancer vaccines. New research on immunotherapy, or training a person’s immune system to fight disease, has reinvigorated their efforts.

The vaccine activates dendritic cells, which are responsible for initiating immune responses. These cells then instruct T-cells to attack tumors in a person’s body, like generals instructing soldiers how to fight.

“Generals don’t really fight wars, they make the plans,” Brody said.

The research was funded by The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, the Cancer Research Institute and Merck. Celldex and Oncovir provided the materials for the clinical trial and the lab work.

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

Photo Credit: American Cancer Society/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Vaccines Were Blocked as Yemenis Died in Cholera Outbreak]]>Mon, 08 Apr 2019 10:56:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_YemenCholera_19051481046267.jpg

In July 2017, a plane chartered by the United Nations idled on the tarmac at an airport in the Horn of Africa as officials waited for clearance to deliver half a million doses of cholera vaccine to Yemen. Amid the country's ruinous war, the disease was spiraling out of control, with thousands of new cases reported each day.

The green light for the plane to head to northern Yemen never came. The U.N. wasn't able to distribute cholera vaccines in Yemen until May 2018 and the outbreak ultimately produced more than 1 million suspected cholera cases. It is the worst cholera epidemic recorded in modern times and a calamity that medical researchers say may have been avoided if vaccines had been deployed sooner.

U.N. officials blamed the canceled flight on the difficulties in distributing vaccines during an armed conflict. But officials with knowledge of the episode told The Associated Press that the real reason was that the Houthi rebels who control northern Yemen refused to allow the vaccines to be delivered, after spending months demanding that the U.N. send ambulances and other medical equipment for their military forces as a condition for accepting the shipment.

The cancellation of the shipment was just one of the setbacks that aid agencies faced in battling the cholera epidemic that has left nearly 3,000 Yemenis dead.

Relief workers and government officials said they have seen repeated indications that insiders in both the Houthi government in the north and the U.S.-backed government in the south have skimmed off money and supplies from cholera vaccination and treatment efforts. In some cases, treatment centers for people who had contracted cholera existed only on paper even though the U.N. had disbursed money to bankroll their operations, according to two aid officials familiar with the centers.

The AP's examination of the efforts to fight the disease in Yemen drew on confidential documents and interviews with 29 people, including aid officials previously based in the country and officials from health ministries run by both the Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized government in the south. Almost all of these individuals — including six relief and health officials who say the Houthis were responsible for cancellation of the 2017 vaccine shipment — spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Ali al-Walidi, the deputy health minister in southern Yemen, and Youssef al-Hadri, the spokesman of the Houthi-run Health Ministry in the north, both deny there were delays in getting cholera vaccines into Yemen at the start of the outbreak.

Al-Hadri said claims that the Houthis blocked the shipment of vaccines into Yemen are false. "This is all baseless, and I challenge the agencies to say this officially," he said.

Geert Cappelaere, the Middle East Director for UNICEF, the U.N. children's relief agency, declined to blame any particular group for halting the 2017 shipment.

"What is important is that the vaccines that needed to get in have ultimately gone in and have reached the people who needed to be vaccinated," he said. "Has this been simple and easy? Absolutely not. Each shipment has been problematic to get in because of the long approval time" and because of "skepticism among the authorities on both sides" about the value of cholera vaccines.

Cholera spread across Yemen in late 2016 and throughout much of 2017 and 2018. It ebbed late last year, but has again picked up in 2019. A new surge in the disease has produced roughly 150,000 suspected cholera cases and nearly 300 deaths since the start of this year. The first cholera vaccine drives in Yemen didn't start until May 2018 in the south and August 2018 in the north, aid and health officials told the AP.

More than 19 million of Yemen's 29 million people don't have access to adequate health care, and more than 17 million don't have clean water, according to the U.N. Those are prime conditions for the spread of cholera, a disease caused by feces-tainted water and food. Cholera can kill swiftly if untreated, its victims drained by diarrhea, vomiting and fever.

Some 2.5 million doses of the cholera vaccine have been transported into Yemen by the U.N. since mid-2018. It's unclear how many of them have been administered to people in target populations. Two Houthi officials confirmed to the AP that nearly 1.2 million doses remain stored in warehouses in Sanaa, the rebels' capital. The Health Ministry there plans to distribute those doses soon in two northern districts, one of the officials said.

Hager Taher, a 27-year old mother of two, was one of hundreds who died from cholera in the months after the July 2017 vaccine delivery had been called off. Taher was in the last days of pregnancy, living in the village of al-Ghareb, in the Houthi-controlled northern province of Hajjah, when she began vomiting and showing cholera-like symptoms.

Taher was sent to a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in the city of Abs. Soon she developed complications and was moved to another hospital nearby. It was there, in September 2017, that she died. Her child was born alive but died four days later.

"It's God's will," her husband, Mohammed Hassan, told the AP. "There's nothing to do." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Hani Mohammed/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Smoking Pot vs. Tobacco: What Science Says About Lighting Up]]>Mon, 08 Apr 2019 13:40:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/blunt5.jpg

As more states make it legal to smoke marijuana, some government officials, researchers and others worry what that might mean for one of the country's biggest public health successes: curbing cigarette smoking.

Though there are notable differences in health research findings on tobacco and marijuana, the juxtaposition strikes some as jarring after generations of Americans have gotten the message that smoking endangers their health.

"We're trying to stop people from smoking all kinds of things. Why do you want to legalize marijuana?" a New York City councilman, Republican Peter Koo, asked at a recent city hearing about the state's potential legalization of so-called recreational pot use.

Marijuana advocates say there's no comparison between joints and tobacco cigarettes. A sweeping federal assessment of marijuana research found the lung-health risks of smoking weed appear "relatively small" and "far lower than those of smoking tobacco," the top cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Unlike for cigarettes, there's evidence of certain health benefits from marijuana, such as easing chronic pain. And marijuana can be used without smoking it. Most states now have legal medical pot programs; 10 states and the District of Columbia have approved recreational use.

"They're different products, and they need to be treated differently," says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project.

At the same time, studies have shown crossover between marijuana and tobacco use. And while smoking cannabis may be less dangerous than tobacco to lung health, pot doesn't get an entirely clean slate.

Some health officials and anti-smoking activists also worry about inserting legal marijuana into the growing world of vaping, given uncertainties about the smoking alternative's long-term effects.

Here's a look at the issues, science and perspectives:

While cigarette smoking is the top risk factor for lung cancer, some of scientific evidence suggests there's no link between marijuana smoking and lung cancer. That's according to a 2017 federal report that rounded up nearly two decades of studies on marijuana, research that's been limited by the federal government's classification of marijuana as a controlled substance like heroin.

While cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart disease, the report concluded it's unclear whether marijuana use is associated with heart attacks or strokes.

But there's strong evidence linking long-term cannabis smoking to worse coughs and more frequent bouts of chronic bronchitis, according to the report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

The report also looked at other effects, finding a mix of possible risks, upsides and unknowns. For example, the report said marijuana can ease chemotherapy-related nausea and adults' chronic pain but also found evidence the drug is linked to developing schizophrenia and getting in traffic crashes.

In recent weeks, studies have echoed concerns about high-potency pot and psychosis and documented a rise in marijuana-related emergency room visits after legalization in Colorado.

Tobacco and marijuana use can also go together. Blunts — marijuana in a cigar wrapper that includes tobacco leaves — have gained popularity. And studies have found more cigarette smokers have used pot, and the other way around, compared to nonsmokers.

"One substance reinforces the use of the other, and vice versa, which can escalate a path to addiction," says Dr. Sterling McPherson, a Washington State University medical professor studying marijuana and tobacco use among teens.

The National Academies report found pot use likely increases the risk of dependence on other substances, including tobacco.

To some public health officials, it makes sense to legalize marijuana and put some guardrails around it.

"For tobacco, we know that it's inherently dangerous and that there is no safe amount of tobacco to use," says the New York City Health Department's acting director of tobacco policy, Dr. Achala Talati. Whereas with marijuana, her colleague Rebecca Giglio added, "we see this as an opportunity to address the harms of criminalization while also regulating cannabis."

But health department opinions vary, even within the same state: New York's Association of County Health Officials opposes legalizing recreational weed.

Vaping — heating a solution into a vapor and inhaling it — has been pitched as a safer alternative to smoking.

Experts have said vaping pot is probably less harmful to the lungs than smoking it, though there's little research on the health effects over time, and they worry about its potency when vaped.

The American Lung Association is concerned that vaping will ultimately prove damaging to lung health and is alarmed about a surge in underage e-cigarette use. And adding legal marijuana to the picture "only makes it a more complicated issue," says Erika Sward, an assistant vice president.

Others, though, think policymakers should view vaping as a relatively safe way to use pot.

"I would say the risks are going to be less with that form of consumption," says Rebecca Haffajee, a University of Michigan health policy professor who co-wrote a 2017 piece calling for recreational marijuana programs to allow only nonsmokable forms of the drug.

Meanwhile, some local governments have adjusted public smoking bans to cover both vaping and pot. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors tweaked its prohibition just last month.

As a former cigarette smoker, New Yorker Gary Smith is dismayed that his home state might OK smoking pot.

He knows research hasn't tied smoking marijuana to lung cancer, which killed three cigarette smokers in his family and struck him 20 years after he quit; he's been treated. But he fears the respiratory risks of marijuana smoking aren't fully known.

"It's crazy that the government, in order to raise (revenue from) taxes, they're permitting people to suck this stuff into your lungs," says Smith, 78, an accountant from Island Park.

Hawaii physician and state Rep. Richard Creagan feels no less strongly about cigarettes. The ex-smoker and Democrat from Naalehu this year unsuccessfully proposed all but banning them by raising the legal age to 100.

Meanwhile, he'd like Hawaii to legalize recreational marijuana, an idea that fizzled in the state Legislature this year.

Creagan, 73, thinks pot benefits people's well-being more than it risks their health, and he expects non-smoking alternatives will reduce the risks. Plus, he figures legal marijuana could replace cigarette tax revenue someday.

"That coupling," he says, "was sort of in my head."

CORRECTION (April 8, 2019, 1:37 p.m. ET): The Associated Press erroneously attributed a portion of a comment from the New York City Health Department. The official who said there was "no safe amount of tobacco to use" was the department's acting director of tobacco policy, Dr. Achala Talati, not drug policy analyst Rebecca Giglio. The story also erroneously reported the university where Sterling McPherson is a professor. It is Washington State University, not the University of Washington.


Peltz is a member of AP's marijuana beat team.  

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Telemedicine Tied to More Antibiotics for Kids, Study Finds]]>Mon, 08 Apr 2019 06:15:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/antibiotics-AP_19096812059538.jpg

Sniffling, sore-throated kids seen via telemedicine visits were far more likely to be prescribed antibiotics than those who went to a doctor's office or clinic, according to a new study.

Many of those prescriptions disregarded medical guidelines, raising the risk they could cause side effects or contribute to the rise of antibiotic-resistant germs.

"I understand the desire for care that's more convenient and timely," said the study's lead author, Dr. Kristin Ray of the University of Pittsburgh. "But we want to make sure that we don't sacrifice quality or safety or effectiveness in the process."

The study was being published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Ray and her colleagues looked at more than 340,000 insured children who had acute respiratory illness medical visits in 2015 and 2016.

Children received prescriptions for antibiotics more than half the time during telemedicine visits, compared with 42% at urgent care clinics and 31% at doctors' offices.

While overprescribing can help germs build resistance to antibiotics and mutate into untreatable superbugs, they also can add a needless cost to medical bills and even cause serious side effects, said Tim Landers, an Ohio State University expert on antibiotic-resistant infections.

"These are not harmless drugs," Landers said, who was not involved in the study.

The researchers also found that in looking at telemedicine doctors' decisions about whether to prescribe or not prescribe antibiotics, 4 out of 10 failed to meet medical guidelines on matching treatment to diagnosis. That mainly had to do with doctors prescribing bacteria-fighting drugs to treat viral illnesses, such as colds and flus, that are unaffected by antibiotics.

In comparison, 3 out of 10 urgent care clinic decisions were inappropriate, and about 2 out of 10 doctors' office decisions were.

The researchers also found telemedicine physicians appeared to be ignoring other guidelines. For example, doctors are supposed to take a throat swab and run a lab test before diagnosing strep throat. But that rarely happened in telemedicine visits, Ray said.

A large recent study on antibiotic prescribing patterns for adults found little difference between telemedicine and office visits. But there has been little study of the issue in children.

During telemedicine visits, patients interact with doctors and nurses through video or audio calls. They can be less expensive and easier than trying to get in at a pediatrician's office or hauling kids to an urgent care center.

Some doctors and hospital systems use the technology for consultations, but the study focused on direct-to-consumer telemedicine programs that someone can call up without talking to their regular doctor. Only about 1 percent of the sick kids in the study were seen through such visits.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, which publishes the journal, encourages parents not to use such direct-to-consumer programs. Academy officials say limited physical examinations and lack of access to patient records can harm care.

But telemedicine seems to be catching on, especially among employers who believe it can save money, said Jason Doctor, a University of Southern California health policy and economics researcher.

Doctor is examining ways to improve antibiotic prescribing at telehealth firms. It's an important issue, he said, because "telemedicine is going to grow. It's going to become a more routine part of people's medical care."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Hospital Issues Apology After 50 More Women Claim Secret Recording]]>Sun, 07 Apr 2019 01:46:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Sharp-Grossmont-Hospital-Night-Lawsuit.jpg

Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa, California issued an apology Friday after 50 more women, in addition to 81 who filed a lawsuit last week, came forward with claims they were recorded in secret during gynecological surgeries.

Motion-detecting cameras, the hospital said, were meant to catch an alleged anesthesia drug thief.

In its apology letter, Sharp officials said that person has been caught and the videos are in a secured safe, according to an inewsource.org report.

Eighty-one women sued the hospital last week nearly three years after a class action lawsuit was first filed.

Sharp Grossmont Hospital released the following statement:

“Although the cameras were intended to record only individuals in front of the anesthesia carts removing drugs, others, including patients and medical personnel in the operating rooms, were at times visible to the cameras and recorded.”

Patient Melissa Escalera, who was secretly recorded while giving birth by emergency caesarean section in September 2012 at Sharp Grossmont, filed a claim against the hospital in May 2016 for what she alleged was a “systemic and shocking breach” of her patient privacy rights.

Escalera’s claim said the hospital recorded approximately 15,000 videos of patients during surgery. It then turned some of the video over to other people, including attorneys and security guards, according to the claim.

Escalera told NBC 7, her 3-year-old daughter was born under emergency circumstances. Her water broke and her baby presented in a breech condition.

“When I arrived in an ambulance and was wheeled into the operating room on a gurney, my concern was with my daughter who was in distress and coming six weeks early,” Escalera said. “I was not planning on having a baby that September 4th day. It was a highly stressful and emotional time for my family and my doctor. No one ever asked me to record one of my most tender, life-changing moments. I would have never agreed to be recorded in that vulnerable moment.”

“These video clips show Defendants’ female patients unconscious, undressed on operating room tables and undergoing medical procedures,” the claim stated. “Because of the nature of these procedures, the video captured women while they were emotionally and physically exposed, often naked with their most genital areas visible.”

The hospital indicated patients consented to the video recordings through a generic patient admissions agreement since the issue involved patient safety.

Numerous lawyers not involved in the case told NBC 7, the agreement doesn’t circumvent the patients’ constitutional rights to privacy.

“Triggered by motion-detecting sensors, these cameras began recording events in these operating rooms whenever any person entered the room,” the claim stated. “These videos captured images of caesarean births, birth complications, dilation and curettage to resolve miscarriages, hysterectomies and sterilization procedures. Patients were undressed, exposed and at their most vulnerable during these procedures.”

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[E. Coli Outbreak Sickens 72 People in 5 States, CDC Says]]>Fri, 05 Apr 2019 16:50:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Ecoli.jpg

Health officials are investigating an E. coli outbreak that has sickened 72 people across five states, federal health agencies said Friday.

The reported cases were in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement announcing the outbreak. Eight people have been hospitalized, the CDC added.

The agency is working with the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to investigate the outbreak. They have not yet pinpointed a specific food, grocery store or restaurant chain that’s responsible for the infections. As a result, the CDC is not recommending people avoid a particular food.

E. coli O103 is the particular strain involved in the cases, which were reported between March 2 and March 29, the CDC said. The people infected range between the ages of 1 to 74, with 17 being the median age.

Symptoms of E. coli include severe stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea, according to the CDC. Most people get better within five to seven days, though the illness can be severe and in some cases even life-threatening, the CDC said.

Last year, an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce sickened 62 people across 16 states and Washington, D.C.

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

Photo Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Vaccine Wars: Social Media Battle Outbreak of Bogus Claims]]>Fri, 05 Apr 2019 11:31:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vaccinesAP_19094584032371.jpg

Like health officials facing measles outbreaks, internet companies are trying to contain vaccine-related misinformation they have long helped spread. So far, their efforts at quarantine are falling short.

The digital scrapbooking site Pinterest — which has been a leading online repository of vaccine misinformation — in 2017 took the seemingly drastic step of blocking all searches for the term "vaccines," affecting even legitimate searches for information. It was part of the company's enforcement of a broader policy against health misinformation.

But it's been a leaky quarantine. Recently, a search for "measles vaccine" still brought up, among other things, a post titled "Why We Said NO to the Measles Vaccine," along with a sinister-looking illustration of a hand holding an enormous needle titled "Vaccine-nation: poisoning the population one shot at a time." Search results for "vaccine safety" and "flu vaccine" can turn up posts with scientifically debunked information.

Facebook, meanwhile, said in March it will no longer recommend groups and pages that spread hoaxes about vaccines — and that it will reject ads that do this. This appears to have filtered out some of the most blatant sources of vaccine misinformation, such as the website Naturalnews.com, which had regularly posted anti-vaccine propaganda and showed up high in Facebook searches about the topic.

But even after the changes, groups — such as one with 197 members and more than 10 posts a day seeking to "discuss the dangers of vaccination" was among the first results for a search on "vaccine safety." A more generic "vaccine" search, meanwhile, turns up the verified profile of Dr. Christiane Northrup, a high-profile physician who's outspoken about her misgivings about — and at times opposition to — vaccines. On Facebook's Instagram, hashtags such as "vaccineskill" and accounts against vaccinating children are easily found with a simple search for "vaccines."

In social media's battle against misinformation, bogus claims about the dangers of vaccines are the next target. With some dangerous childhood diseases making a comeback due to lower vaccination rates, Facebook, Pinterest and others are trying to put the genie back in the bottle, even as they are hesitant to acknowledge responsibility for spreading falsehoods.

"There has been hesitancy about vaccines as long as vaccines have existed," said Jeanine Guidry, professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who studies social media and vaccines. Such sentiment, dating back to the 1700s, was once confined to towns and local communities. Online, it dates back long before Facebook and Twitter. A 2002 study on Google search results found that 43% of the sites surfaced after searches for "vaccination" and "immunization" were anti-vax.

Still, experts in online misinformation say the impact of social networking and its unfiltered, algorithmically boosted dissemination of the most "engaging" posts — whether true or not — have fueled a much broader spread of anti-vaccination propaganda. Richard Carpiano, a professor of public policy and sociology at the University of California, Riverside, who studies vaccine trends, said there is a "disproportionate" number of websites on the topic with misinformation, peddled by "anti-vax activists" and parent bloggers. Researchers have even found Russia-linked bots trying to sow discord by amplifying both sides of the vaccine debate.

"It's completely understandable why parents would seek out this stuff," he said. The problem is, they spend a lot more online than they do in a doctor's office where they are much more likely to receive accurate information.

The bogus notion that vaccines cause autism — kicked off by a now disproven study from 1998 — didn't start on social networks but it has certainly spread there. Health care officials and experts worry about the echo chambers of misinformation on social media that have become prevalent in the past decade and their role in pushing parents who are on the fence into the anti-vax camp.

While headlines in the past two years have largely focused on fake political news proliferating on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, large swaths of people (along with bots) are also sharing concerns and bogus "research" about the perceived dangers of vaccinating children.

Guidry said social media amplifies these conversations and makes it easier for people to have such conversations in echo chambers that can reinforce misinformation. Her research found that that Pinterest — popular with women — has been especially susceptible to vaccine falsehoods. Nearly 75% of vaccine-related "pins" (the visual posts on the service) were against immunization in her 2015 study, compared with roughly a quarter on Twitter (based on another study). While Pinterest has strengthened its systems against such posts since, Guidry notes that stuff still gets through the filters.

Misinformation on Facebook is more difficult to study since a lot of it isn't public, especially when people post in hidden or secret groups — where much of the hoaxes and false claims are spread. In such groups, like-minded people congregate to share their views and receive support from their peers. Facebook's new policies mean fewer people will find those groups, but the company is not going so far as banning them altogether.

Carpiano said it is difficult to study the actual impact social media has had on vaccine uptake, but "we do see decrease in coverage and rise in gaps of coverage," as well as the clustering of vaccine-hesitant people. This, he said, has correlated with the rise of lots of different sources of information people now have at their fingertips. Despite high-profile outbreaks , overall vaccination rates remain high in the U.S. according to the Centers for Disease Control. But the percentage of kids under 2 who haven't received any vaccines is growing

Fake news about health and medicine often follows a similar trajectory as fake news about politics. Some of it is for financial gain, some is intended to wreak havoc in the public discourse, some is spread by people who might genuinely believe it. InfoWars, the conspiracy site run by Alex Jones, routinely pushes anti-vax agenda and stories of "forced inoculations," even as it peddles bottles of "Survival Shield" iodine. Natural News, meanwhile, has built a business on unproven health claims and selling $29 jars of "organic apple peel powder."

Carpiano noted that even with anti-vaccination activists getting a large share of the public's attention, much more common are parents who are merely hesitant or concerned about immunization. Understandably, they seek out information — and a lot of what they find is false.

"It is a misinformation campaign," he said. "Often couched in 'oh we are for choice, understanding, education,'" he said. "But fundamentally it is not open to scientific debate."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[CVS Spreads Same-Day Prescription Deliveries to 36 States]]>Thu, 04 Apr 2019 12:06:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CVSGettyImages-53139961.jpg

CVS Health is expanding same-day prescription deliveries nationwide in the latest push by drugstores to keep customers who don't want to wait and are doing more shopping online.

The drugstore chain says it can deliver medications and other products within a few hours to homes or offices from 6,000 locations. The company started this service, which comes with a fee, in late 2017 in New York and expanded it to several cities last year.

Rival Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. also offers same-day deliveries in major cities and plans to expand this year. It has a partnership with FedEx Corp. to provide next-day deliveries as well.

Drugstores have been dealing with competition from online giant Amazon.com, which offers its Prime customers same-day delivery for detergent, toothpaste and 3 million other products nationwide. Amazon also bought last year the online pharmacy PillPack, which provides home deliveries. But the retailer has yet to detail what it plans to do with that business.

CVS and Walgreens built thousands of drugstores nationwide to get closer to customers before online shopping exploded in popularity and started hurting their in-store business. They've since pivoted to adding more health care services and higher-margin beauty products to their stores while also trying to make their business more inviting to shoppers who buy online without leaving home or work.

Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health Corp. said Thursday that customers will be able to order the same-day service through the company's app, or by sending a text or calling the pharmacy. Aside from prescriptions, customers also can have items like cold remedies, vitamins and baby products delivered.

CVS will provide the service through the delivery company Shipt in 36 states and Washington, D.C. It costs about $8, or a few more dollars than an option the company also offers nationally to have things delivered in one to two days. For same-day deliveries, orders have to be placed a few hours before the store closes.

A CVS Health spokeswoman said Shipt will deliver the prescriptions in secure packaging to assure privacy.

Aside from running drugstores, CVS Health also fills more than a billion prescriptions annually for employers, insurers and other clients as one of the nation's biggest pharmacy benefit managers. The company also spent about $69 billion to buy Aetna, a health insurer that covers more than 22 million people.

AP Retail Writer Joseph Pisani contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Plant-Based Meat Sales Rise, Fueled by Carnivores]]>Thu, 04 Apr 2019 14:47:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ImpossibleBurgerMeat.jpg

From soy-based sliders to ground lentil sausages, plant-based meat substitutes are surging in popularity. And carnivores — not vegans or vegetarians — are among the biggest consumers.

Growing demand for healthier, more sustainable food is one reason people are seeking plant-based meats. That's also the reason behind rising sales of oat milk, cauliflower pizza crust and even coconut oil-based makeup.

"There's a lot of messaging that plants are powerful. It feels like something that gives you a quick fix, something is really good for you," said Melanie Bartelme, a global food analyst with the consulting firm Mintel.

Better technology and marketing wizardry is also fueling sales. Newer startups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat — both backed by investments from Microsoft founder Bill Gates — have won over carnivores with plant-based products that look and taste like meat.

"Meat lovers don't love the fact that their meat comes from dead animals. They love it because of the sensory pleasures and the familiarity," said Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown. "If we can provide the things they value and make it from plants, not only will meat lovers be willing to buy it, but they will prefer to buy it."

Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat is sold alongside regular meat in the grocery store, not shuffled into freezers or natural food aisles like traditional veggie burgers. It's also served at juicy burger chains like Carl's Jr. as well as TGI Friday's.

Impossible Foods, which is based in Silicon Valley, introduced its burgers three years ago at trendy restaurants like New York's Momofuku Nishi. That led to partnerships with more than 5,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Asia, including the White Castle chain.

Earlier this week, Burger King became the first global quick-service restaurant to embrace the Impossible burger. It's testing an Impossible Whopper this spring at 59 restaurants in St. Louis.

Burger King already has a veggie burger on its menu, a MorningStar Farms patty made from carrots, mushroom, oats, and other ingredients. But Chris Finazzo, president of Burger King's North American division, said that primarily appeals to vegans and vegetarians.

Burger King's research indicated that 9 percent of people buying plant-based meat are vegetarian, but 90 percent are meat eaters looking for healthier options.

"There's a lot of people who want to eat a burger every day but don't necessarily want to eat meat every day," Finazzo said.

Bartelme notes that only around 7% of the U.S. population is vegan or vegetarian and that hasn't changed significantly in recent years. Instead, she says, many people are becoming "flexitarians," picking and choosing from various diets.

The Impossible Whopper is healthier on some counts but not on others. It's 630 calories, compared to 660 calories for a meat-based Whopper. It's lower in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. But it's higher in sodium and carbohydrates. The burgers have about the same amount of protein.

MorningStar's veggie burger, on the other hand, has 390 calories, less fat and cholesterol, but a similar amount of sodium and carbohydrates as a regular Whopper.

There are other benefits to meatless burgers. Beyond Meat says it takes 99% less water, 93% less land and 50% less energy to make plant-based burgers. They also emit 90% fewer greenhouse gases.

The North American Meat Institute, a lobbying group for the meat industry, counters that livestock production in the U.S. accounts for just 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions. And U.S. meat consumption was expected to reach a record high in 2018 because of the strong economy.

Still, U.S. sales of plant-based meat are rising faster than sales of regular meat. Nielsen says annual U.S. sales of plant-based meats jumped 42 percent between March 2016 and March 2019 to a total of $888 million. Traditional meat sales rose 1 percent to $85 billion in that same time frame.

Bartelme doesn't see that trend slowing down. Over last five years, there's been a 25 percent increase in the number of meat alternative products launched, like pinto bean-based "bacon bits" from Cool Foods.

Going forward, some smaller brands could get gobbled up by larger rivals, she said. She also wonders if there will be consumer backlash against companies that rely on slick chemistry to make their meats. Impossible genetically engineers yeast to make heme, the molecule found in both plants and animals that gives burgers their meaty flavor. Memphis Meats, another California startup, is growing meat from actual animal cells.

"Is that going to turn off someone who is looking for very unprocessed foods? Maybe there will be a resurgence in old-school burgers made of beans and vegetables," Bartelme said.

But Brown says that would be a mistake, because science is everywhere in the food chain.

"Pretty much everything that's in the world's diet is not something that just fell off the tree," Brown said. "The foods we eat are products of nature combined with science, research and ingenuity."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Nati Harnik/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Investigates Seizure Risk With Electronic Cigarettes]]>Wed, 03 Apr 2019 10:06:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ecigsAP_19092760217198.jpg

U.S. health officials are investigating whether electronic cigarettes may trigger seizures in some people who use the nicotine-vaping devices.

The Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday it has reviewed 35 reports of seizures among e-cigarettes users, mainly in young people. Regulators stressed it's not yet clear whether vaping is responsible. But they said they're concerned and encouraged the public to report information about the issue.

These cases warrant "investigation into whether there is in fact a connection," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement. Gottlieb is stepping down on Friday after nearly two years heading the agency.

Cases go back to 2010 and were reported to the FDA or poison control centers around the country. Regulators said they detected an uptick in reports beginning mid-2018. While they represent a tiny fraction of Americans who have used e-cigarettes, many safety issues with foods, supplements and other consumer products can go unrecognized because reporting is voluntary.

Most e-cigarettes heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor. The battery-powered devices have grown into a multibillion dollar industry though there are few standards, including how much nicotine they deliver. Additionally, many refillable e-cigarettes can be used with nicotine formulas of varying strength.

Nicotine poisoning can cause seizures, convulsions, vomiting and brain injury. The FDA has previously warned of potentially fatal nicotine poisoning in infants and children who accidentally swallowed nicotine solutions.

Seizures usually last a few seconds or minutes and rarely cause permanent injury. But they can be a sign of underlying neurological disorders that need medical attention.

The agency said the handful of seizure reports often lack information about the brand of e-cigarette or whether users had a medical condition that might have contributed. In some cases, e-cigarettes were being used with drugs like marijuana and amphetamines. Some seizures were reported after just a few puffs of the device, others after a day of use.

The FDA is asking consumers to report problems to an online site. The agency is seeking details about vaping brands and models and whether users who have experienced problems were also taking medications, supplements or other drugs.

It's not the first time the FDA has flagged a potential health hazard with vaping devices — the agency has warned of rare burns and explosions related to overheating of batteries that power the devices.

The latest concern comes amid a nationwide push to fight underage use of e-cigarettes, which have surged in popularity among high school and middle school students. Last month the FDA outlined new restrictions on retail and online sales of most flavored e-cigarettes. Meanwhile, local and state officials are considering age restrictions, taxes and flavor bans to keep the products away from teenagers.


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: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Patients]]>Wed, 03 Apr 2019 08:10:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_pancreaticcancer0402_1500x845.jpgDoctors are treating the notoriously deadly cancer in a new way, allowing patients to live much longer than expected. ]]><![CDATA[Trump Defers Push for Health Plan After GOP Resistance]]>Tue, 02 Apr 2019 15:36:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_Trump_19087855710065.jpg

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell warned President Donald Trump to hold off action in Congress to replace the Affordable Care Act, telling him to instead take it on the road as a 2020 campaign issue.

The two spoke Monday ahead of Trump's evening tweets suggesting he had moved off his push for a big new health care bill.

"I made it clear to him that we were not going to be doing that in the Senate," McConnell told reporters Tuesday.

Asked if there was any difference between the two of them, the Republican leader said, "not any longer."

McConnell said Trump told him he "accepted" the situation "would be developing a plan that he would take to the American people during the 2020 campaign." Trump indicated the new proposal would be what he "would be advocating in a second term if there were a Republican Congress."

McConnell added, "So we don't have a misunderstanding about that."

Trump's latest tweets punted the promise of a new GOP bill, which ran into stiff resistance from Republicans in Congress.

They encouraged him to focus instead on bipartisan health care changes they could accomplish with Democrats — including lowering prescription drug prices — rather than an overhaul of the "Obamacare" law that's proved futile. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made it clear Republicans should instead spend their time attacking the Democrats' "Medicare for All" proposals.

Trump's shift — he tweeted Congress will vote on a GOP plan after the elections "when Republicans hold the Senate &amp; win back the House" — makes it clear the health care debate will be left for voters to decide during the race for the White House.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Tuesday that Trump "wants to talk about the principles."

"He wants to work with Congress in order to come up with the right health care plan," Sanders said.

Republicans have been speaking publicly and privately to Trump since he surprised them last week with an unexpected pledge that the GOP will be "the party of health care." They don't yet have a comprehensive proposal to replace the ACA law and had no big plans to unveil one.

Trump's Monday night admission that a health care vote would not happen until after the elections came after he heard from lawmakers that it wasn't the right time to pivot to the issue, said a person familiar with the conversations who was not authorized to speak publicly.

McConnell told Trump during their conversation Monday that the president needed to listen to what he was saying, said a Republican familiar with their talk and granted anonymity to discuss it. And he did, the person said.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans were relieved. The No. 2 Republican, Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, said the president "has some big ideas and, to his credit wants, to solve problems."

But Thune said, "you run into that wall of reality," of a divided Congress with Democrats in control of the House, which requires bipartisanship.

"Trying to convey what the obstacles are to getting what he wants to get done in the next two years is something I think a number of our members conveyed to him," Thune said.

Trump's effort to repeal former President Barack Obama's 2010 health care law narrowly failed in the Senate in 2017. And while Republicans gained Senate seats last fall, GOP senators — particularly those up for re-election next year — weren't looking for another fight over the law.

Health care, especially protections for people with pre-existing conditions, resonates with voters and helped Democrats in the November elections.

Democrats were quick to pounce Tuesday after Trump's retreat.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump will "hold Americans hostage through 2020" on an issue that affects millions of people. He said that when Trump "insists he has a magic plan that we can see if only the American people re-elect him," it isn't true.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said Democrats' health care battle with Trump is "a values fight."

Unveiling a plan for a Medicare-like public option to be offered under the Affordable Care Act, Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., called the president's tweeting "a classic Trump mis-direction."

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., said Trump has failed to deliver on a promise for quality, affordable health care for everybody.

"His record is going to be very clear as he runs," said Bennet. Republicans don't have a plan besides trying to "blow up" the ACA, he said.

According to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters nationwide, nearly 4 in 10 Democratic voters identified health care as the most important among a list of key issues. A Quinnipiac University poll last week found 55% of Americans supporting the improvement and not the replacement of the nation's health care system.

With Democrats controlling the House, any attempt to dismantle the law could not pass Congress.

Still, Trump last week appeared to commit his party to a new push for a plan to replace the health law.

"We are working very hard on that," Trump said as he was heading out to a Michigan rally.

He said Republicans "are going to work together to come up with something that's really spectacular."

In his late-Monday tweets, Trump claimed Republicans are developing a plan with cheaper premiums and deductibles that "will be truly great HealthCare that will work for America."

Challenges to the 2010 law are making their way through courts.

Last week, the Trump administration told a federal appeals court it wants the entire Affordable Care Act struck down, an outcome that could leave millions of people uninsured.


Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Alan Fram, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Health Officials Alarmed by Paralyzing Illness in Kids]]>Tue, 02 Apr 2019 13:55:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_ParalyzingIlnness_19089032064756.jpg

One morning last fall, 4-year-old Joey Wilcox woke up with the left side of his face drooping.

It was the first sign of an unfolding nightmare.

Three days later, Joey was in a hospital intensive care unit, unable to move his arms or legs or sit up. Spinal taps and other tests failed to find a cause. Doctors worried he was about to lose the ability to breathe.

"It's devastating," said his father, Jeremy Wilcox, of Herndon, Virginia. "Your healthy child can catch a cold — and then become paralyzed."

Joey, who survived but still suffers some of the effects, was one of 228 confirmed victims in the U.S. last year of acute flaccid myelitis, or AFM, a rare, mysterious and sometimes deadly paralyzing illness that seems to ebb and flow on an every-other-year cycle and is beginning to alarm public health officials because it is striking more and more children.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it may bear similarities to polio, which smoldered among humans for centuries before it exploded into fearsome epidemics in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Fauci, who published a report about the disease Tuesday in the journal mBio, said it is unlikely AFM will become as bad as polio, which struck tens of thousands of U.S. children annually before a vaccine became available in the 1950s.

But he warned: "Don't assume that it's going to stay at a couple of hundred cases every other year."

While other countries have reported cases, including Canada, France, Britain and Norway, the size and pattern of the U.S. outbreaks have been more pronounced. More than 550 Americans have been struck this decade. The oldest was 32. More than 90% were children, most around 4, 5 or 6 years old.

Most had a cold-like illness and fever, seemed to get over it, then descended into paralysis. In some cases, it started in small ways — for example, a thumb that suddenly wouldn't move. Some went on to lose the ability to eat or draw breath.

Many families say their children have regained at least some movement in affected limbs, but stories of complete recovery are unusual. Health officials cannot say how many recovered completely, partly or not at all, or how many have died, though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says deaths are rare.

Scientists suspect the illness is being caused chiefly by a certain virus that was identified more than 55 years ago and may have mutated to become more dangerous. But they have yet to prove that.

And while doctors have deployed a number of treatments singly or in combination — steroids, antiviral medications, antibiotics, a blood-cleansing process — the CDC says there is no clear evidence they work.

Many parents say that when they first brought their child to the emergency room, they quickly realized to their horror that the doctors were at sea, too.

"Everyone is desperate for some magical thing," said Rachel Scott, a Tomball, Texas, woman whose son Braden developed AFM in 2016 and has recovered somewhat after intensive physical therapy but still cannot move his right arm and has trouble swallowing and moving his neck.

A growing number of experts agree that physical therapy makes a difference.

"These kids can continue to recover very slowly, year over year. ... It's driven by how much therapy they do," said Dr. Benjamin Greenberg of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, one of the nation's foremost experts on the condition.

Wilcox, Joey's father, said his son made huge improvements that way. Joey can run and use his arms. Still, muscle tone is weak in his right leg and shoulder, and he still has left-side facial paralysis. "He can't completely smile," his dad said.

Other stories are more tragic.

Katie Bustamante's son Alex developed AFM in 2016. The suburban Sacramento, California, mother realized something was wrong when she asked the boy, then 5, why he wasn't eating his yogurt. Alex replied that his thumb had stopped working and he couldn't hold his spoon.

That morning was the start of 17 months of hospital stays, surgeries, therapy, and struggles with doctors and insurers to find a way to restore his ability to breathe. It ended one morning last May, when the Bustamantes woke up to find Alex had died.

Government officials need to step up, Bustamante said.

"I want them to research it and find the cause, and I want them to find a way to prevent it," she said. "This is growing. This shouldn't be happening."

More and more experts feel certain the main culprit is an enterovirus called EV-D68, based on the way waves of AFM have coincided with spikes of respiratory illnesses caused by EVD-68. Enteroviruses are a large family of viruses, some of which, such as polio, can damage the central nervous system, while many others cause mild symptoms or none at all.

In the U.S., doctors began reporting respiratory illnesses tied to EV-D68 in 1987, though usually no more than a dozen in any given year.

Then, in what may have been one of the first signs of the AFM waves to come, a 5-year-old boy in New Hampshire died in 2008 after developing neck tenderness and fever, then weakened arms and deadened legs. The boy had EVD-68, and in a report published in an obscure medical journal, researchers attributed his death to the virus.

The first real burst of AFM cases hit in 2014, when 120 were confirmed, with the largest concentrations in California and Colorado.

What ensued was an even-year, odd-year pattern: Cases dropped to 22 in 2015, jumped to 149 in 2016, and fell again, to 35 in 2017. Last year they reached 228, a number that may grow because scores of illnesses are still being investigated.

In keeping with the cyclical pattern, just four cases have been confirmed this year so far.

CDC officials consider an illness AFM based on scans and other evidence showing a certain kind of damage to the spinal cord. Proof of an enterovirus infection is not required for a case to be counted, mainly because such evidence has been hard to come by. So far, CDC investigators have been able to find evidence of enteroviruses in the spinal fluid of only four of 558 confirmed cases.

Scientists are using more sensitive spinal-fluid tests in hopes of establishing the connection between AFM and EV-D68 more firmly. That, in turn, could spur more focused work on treatments and maybe even a vaccine.

Meanwhile, Fauci's agency has put out a call for researchers to apply for federal funds, and is tapping a University of Alabama-anchored network of pediatric research centers to work on the illness.

The CDC is pledging a greater focus, too. Parents have accused the agency of doing little more than counting cases and have complained that when they tried to contact CDC, they encountered only automated phone trees and form responses.

CDC officials have begun holding meetings and calls with families, set up a scientific task force and working to monitor cases more closely.

Fauci suggested it would be a mistake to assume that surges will take place every other year forever. The next one "may be in 2019, for all we know," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Experts Reviewing Low-Carb, Other Diets for Guidelines]]>Tue, 02 Apr 2019 11:07:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19086522059732-Steak-Grill-Carb.jpg

With keto-friendly recipes sweeping social media, some followers of low-carb eating are hoping for a nod of approval in the upcoming U.S. dietary guidelines that advise Americans on what to eat.

It may seem minor, but backers say low-carb's inclusion could influence nutrition advice that doctors give and help shape government food programs like school lunches. Currently, the guidelines cite the Mediterranean, vegetarian and other diets as examples of healthy eating.

"The main point is to get away from a one-size-fits-all diet," said Nina Teicholz, who has written about low-carb diets.

Last year, U.S. health officials said low-carb diets will be reviewed along with other eating styles for the 2020 update to the guidelines. Backers are hopeful because the panel of experts selected to review the evidence includes members nominated by Atkins Nutritionals and a beef industry group. The group had its first meeting last week and is expected to issue a report to help shape the guidelines by next year.

Low carb's consideration comes amid skepticism of nutrition research for producing confusing advice. Low-carb supporters say rising obesity rates show conventional wisdom about nutrition, reflected in the guidelines, doesn't work for everyone.

Some nutrition experts caution that evidence for low-carb diets is new and that it's unclear what the long-term effects might be. They say criticism of the guidelines is overblown, and blame the food industry for distorting messages to market low-fat snacks full of sugar and massive portions. They note the guidelines have cautioned against sugar since they were introduced in 1980 , and that key recommendations have been largely consistent and remain sound.

Low-carb diets generally limit foods like bread, pasta and sugar to less than 30 percent of calories, or around 750 calories for someone eating 2,500 calories a day. The idea of restricting carbohydrates has been around for decades, and many remember the Atkins craze. The ketogenic diet has been used to treat people with epilepsy and has resurfaced as a very low-carb diet embraced by celebrities.

Charles Garrison, a mortgage officer in Florida, decided to try the keto diet, including food like waffles made with almond flour.

"I don't plan on being super strict about it forever," he said.

Low-carb diets can work well for people with type 2 diabetes who are more sensitive to carbohydrates. But the benefits of low-carb can also be overblown, and people still have to make sure their overall diet is healthy, said Kevin Hall of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Some nutrition experts say sticking to low-carb diets can be hard, and that people should make changes that can last. Marion Nestle, a nutrition researcher who helped write the 1995 guidelines, said she prefers guidance that encourages healthy habits, such as the types of food to eat or limit.

"People don't eat nutrients, they eat food," she said.

Adding low-carb diets could further muddle messages. The guidelines, now more than 120 pages, also advise people to limit the saturated fat commonly found in meat and butter — foods many link with low-carb diets.

Instead of adding another diet to the mix, simplifying the guidelines would be more useful, said Stanford University health policy researcher John Ioannidis.

"If we eat more, that will make us obese. That's 100% correct," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[New York State Poised to Raise Smoking Age From 18 to 21 ]]>Mon, 01 Apr 2019 17:11:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-954517084+resized.jpg

The Democrat-controlled New York Senate passed legislation Monday putting the state a step closer to joining seven others where the legal age for buying cigarettes and electronic cigarettes has been raised from 18 to 21.

The state Assembly, also controlled by Democrats, passed its own legislation last month.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo also supports raising the age to 21 for purchasing cigarettes and is expected to sign the legislation. Once that happens, the new law will take effect in 120 days.

"The lifelong health effects of tobacco cannot be overstated and in New York we are committed to doing everything in our power to keep tobacco products out of the hands of young people," Cuomo said in a statement after the Senate passed the bill.

The measure will prohibit cigarette sales to anyone under 21. Seven states and hundreds of U.S. municipalities already have similar laws in place. In New York state, 21 is the minimum age for buying cigarettes in 15 counties and New York City.

The Senate legislation is sponsored by Diane Savino, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Staten Island. The measure was sponsored in the Assembly by Linda Rosenthal, of Manhattan.

Before her measure was brought to a vote, Savino told Senate colleagues how she began smoking at age 12, sneaking in a pack of cigarettes for herself when she was sent to a store near her family's Queens home to buy smokes for her mother, father and grandfather.

"No one thought there was anything wrong with a 12-year-old buying cigarettes," said Savino, who no longer smokes. "Smoking will kill you if you start."

The move toward raising the legal age of purchase to 21 in New York drew praise from anti-smoking advocates and tobacco industry lobbyists alike.

Julie Hart of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network called the move "a no-brainer" given national studies have shown 95 percent of smokers start before they're 21.

"Our companies have long supported legislation to prevent underage access to tobacco products," Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes and other tobacco products, said in a statement.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Federal Study Gives New Options for People With Rare Cancers]]>Mon, 01 Apr 2019 14:11:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19088597431661-Rare-Cancers.jpg

People with rare cancers have been out of luck — not only do most lack good treatments but drug companies also don't pursue them because of small potential sales. Now, a federal study that pools these folks gives them strength in numbers and new options.

The first results from this novel effort were revealed at an American Association for Cancer Research conference in Atlanta on Sunday. They suggest that for people with one of these unusual diseases, there seems to be a way to predict who will benefit from a drug combo that boosts the immune system and who will not.

"For the patients that it works for, it's phenomenal, it's life-changing ... but it's not for everybody," said one study leader, Dr. Sandip Patel of the University of California, San Diego's Moores Cancer Center.

Brigitte Sagasser, 54, of San Marcos, California, is one study participant who seems to be benefiting. Her tumors have been shrinking since starting the treatment a year ago for a rare type of ovarian cancer that defied surgeries, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

"I've tried all kinds of stuff before and nothing really helped in the long run," she said. "I felt like I was kind of out of choices on what could be done."

Rare cancers individually affect fewer than 6 in 100,000 people a year, but collectively make up 22% of all cancer cases. They include tumors in the brain, blood, glands, bones, and skin, and there's often not even a study that patients can join to test an experimental drug or therapy.

"We're trying to fill that gap" by funding the federal study, said Dr. Elad Sharon of the National Cancer Institute.

It has enrolled more than 550 patients in the U.S. and Canada since it started in 2017. Currently, it's testing a combo of two immunotherapy drugs, Opdivo and Yervoy — in people grouped into "buckets" according to their tumor type. The drugs' maker, Bristol-Myers Squibb, is donating them for the study.

One of these buckets just reached critical mass to yield results — neuroendocrine tumors, which can form many places in the body but often in the lungs or digestive tract. Biopsies when the disease is diagnosed classify the cases as high, low or intermediate grade according to how aggressively the cells seem to be growing.

In the study of 32 patients, the drug combo only worked for high-grade tumors. Eight of the 18 patients saw their tumors significantly shrink. None of the others did.

In the high-grade group, survival at six months without worsening disease was 31% — better than the 10% that doctors historically have seen for such patients, said Patel, who has been a paid adviser to Bristol-Myers and several other companies.

"It gives us a glimpse into what can happen," said another study leader, Dr. Razelle Kurzrock at the San Diego cancer center. "If we get it right, maybe we can get it to work in more patients."

About one-quarter of all patients had symptoms typical of immune system therapies — effects on the liver, fatigue, nausea — and 6% had colitis, gut inflammation. But side effects were manageable and not severe, Patel said.

Identifying which patients are likely to benefit from these drugs spares others these side effects, expense and false hope.

Sagasser developed a problem from Yervoy, but continues to get Opdivo every two weeks. She is looking forward to next year, when it will be 20 years since she was first diagnosed.

"It will be a party next year, believe me," she said. "I expect to be cancer-free by then and for good."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Courtesy Brigitte Sagasser via AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Measles Cases Surpass Last Year’s Total in Just 3 Months]]>Mon, 01 Apr 2019 12:30:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/1022296370-Measles-MMR-vaccine.jpg

Measles continues to spread across the U.S. with outbreaks in four states infecting more people in the first three months of 2019 than all of last year, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC has confirmed 387 cases across 15 states from Jan. 1 through March 28, compared with 372 cases all last year. The health agency updates the statistics weekly. There are now six outbreaks, defined as three or more cases, across four states: New York, Washington, New Jersey and California, according to the CDC.

This year is shaping up to be the worst year for measles since at least 2014 and is already the second-worst since the virus was declared eradicated from the U.S. in 2000. Measles has been making a comeback as parents increasingly refuse to vaccinate their children and unvaccinated travelers bring back the disease from other countries. In 2014, there were 667 confirmed cases, according to the CDC.

New York’s Rockland County last week took the extraordinary step of banning unvaccinated children from public places such as schools, restaurants, malls and places of worship. There have been 157 confirmed cases of measles in the county, with the overwhelming majority of people having not received the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, according to the county.

Cheryl Healton, dean of New York University’s College of Global Public Health, said she has some sympathy for the county health department in taking this action. However, she worries it could embolden parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, known as anti-vaxxers.

“It’s a carrot or a stick. They chose the stick. There’s a lot of evidence the carrot works better than when you use the stick, that’s why it’s not used. You can get a better response by appealing to people’s higher nature,” she said.

The MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, is the best way to protect against measles. Two doses, the recommended amount, provides 97 percent protection against measles. Yet some parents refuse to vaccinate their children, citing religious reasons or false information that vaccines cause autism.

Measles is highly contagious, infecting up to 90 percent of unvaccinated people who are exposed to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The virus can live in the air for up to two hours after an infected person coughs or sneezes, according to the CDC, meaning people can be exposed to it without ever knowing. People can be infected for days before showing signs of the virus, such as a fever, runny nose or a rash.

Measles can be especially dangerous for young children, the CDC says. It can lead to pneumonia, brain swelling and even death. The CDC recommends children get their first dose MMR vaccine at between 12 and 15 months old and a second dose when they’re between 4 and 6 years old.

The CDC says the current measles outbreaks in the U.S. are mostly linked to people traveling internationally to countries like Israel and Ukraine that are experiencing large outbreaks. It’s spreading quickly in close-knit religious communities, such as New York’s Orthodox Jewish community, where many people choose not to get vaccinated.

Public health officials are desperately trying to assure parents that vaccines are safe and are the best way to protect their children from dangerous and potentially deadly diseases like measles. The anti-vaxxing movement, which advocates against vaccination, has been pushing now debunked studies that falsely suggested there was a link between vaccines and autism.

Most recently, a study of more than 650,000 children from 1999 to 2010 found no link between autism and the MMR vaccine.

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

Photo Credit: Courtney Perry/For the Washington Post, File
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<![CDATA[Quit Smoking, 'Live Long and Prosper']]>Mon, 01 Apr 2019 09:52:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2019-04-01+at+9.35.35+AM.png

The family of Leonard Nimoy is carrying Mr. Spock's message to "live long and prosper" with a new anti-smoking ad campaign from the CDC. ]]>
<![CDATA[Emails Show FDA Worry With Growers After Romaine Outbreaks]]>Fri, 29 Mar 2019 14:54:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lettuceGettyImages-115237040.jpg

After repeated food poisoning outbreaks tied to romaine lettuce, a U.S. food safety official shared his concerns in an internal email, saying the produce industry's water testing "failed in an epic and tragic way."

How the industry tests water to grow leafy greens is "unacceptable" and needs to change, James Gorny, a senior adviser for produce safety at the Food and Drug Administration, wrote to agency leaders.

The message last November, obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request, came days before the agency warned people to avoid romaine ahead of Thanksgiving. Just months earlier in April, another E. coli outbreak linked to romaine had sickened more than 200 and killed five. That was later linked to an irrigation canal near a massive cattle lot in Arizona; the fall outbreak was linked to a water reservoir in California. In both cases, regulators never confirmed how the water became contaminated.

Though the FDA has publicly called on the leafy greens industry to step up safety, the emails offer a stark view of the agency's longstanding frustrations with continued outbreaks. They also show how the agency leveraged the crisis to pressure for voluntary changes, even as it tries to figure out its own water testing rules.

In a statement, the FDA said it has been working with growers and state agencies to improve safety since the outbreaks, including testing of romaine. The agency said new regulations that include farm inspections and sanitary rules for workers also should help stem outbreaks.

Industry groups said they're expanding existing safety practices for their members. Joining the industry agreements is voluntary, however, and a farm linked to the fall outbreak was not a member.

Food poisoning outbreaks tied to leafy greens have been an ongoing concern for health officials. The failure of industry measures to stop outbreaks shows the lack of a clear solution, and even regulators aren't sure how to fix the problem, said Timothy Lytton, a food safety expert at Georgia State University.

This month, the FDA delayed a regulation requiring produce growers to test water for E. coli — which is how the leafy greens industry has been monitoring its water. The presence of E. coli doesn't necessarily make people sick, but can signal potentially harmful strains. The agency said it needs more time to consider whether it's the most practical option.

"That's essentially just stepping back and asking industry to take responsibility for public safety," said Sarah Sorscher of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Gorny's emails came during the fall outbreak tied to California growing regions. In a message in late November, he noted additional, recent illnesses with a strain similar to the earlier spring outbreak.

The FDA said it never tied those additional illnesses to a food. But at the time, Gorny called it a "near miss" that shows the problem wasn't fixed.

Sorscher said the lack of a solution is concerning, but lettuce is still a healthy food and the "odds are very good that you won't get sick."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Hawaii Weighs Nation's First Statewide Ban on E-Cigarette Flavors]]>Fri, 29 Mar 2019 09:47:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19088037145054-Vaping-Honolulu.jpg

The first state to limit tobacco and electronic cigarette sales to people 21 and older is contemplating a new nicotine crackdown: outlawing flavored electronic cigarette liquids and flavored tobacco to combat a spike in teenage vaping.

Hawaii would be the first state to adopt such a ban under a bill before the Legislature. San Francisco was the first U.S. city to do so.

The proposal would ban flavored e-cigarette liquids such as Maui Mango and Cookie Monsta, along with cloves and other flavored tobacco products, but it would exempt menthol cigarettes and vaping liquids.

Supporters aim to make e-cigarettes less alluring to teenagers as studies show increasing numbers of high school and middle school students are becoming addicted to nicotine through vaping.

"They look at cigarettes and they say, 'Cigarettes are disgusting. Tobacco is disgusting,'" said Trish La Chica, an advocate and lobbyist for the Hawaii Public Health Institute. "So take away the cotton candy, take away the flavors that look like they belong in an ice cream shop, and they wouldn't be attracted to start in the first place."

Battery-powered e-cigarettes typically heat flavored nicotine solutions into an inhalable vapor. They're more popular among teens than regular cigarettes, and most experts agree they're less harmful than cigarettes because the vapors don't contain tar and other cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco.

But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of the chemicals in the vapor, some of which are toxic. And some researchers believe vaping will make kids more likely to take up cigarettes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month proposed restricting sales of most flavored tobacco products to stores that verify the customer's age upon entry or include a separate, age-restricted area for vaping products. The FDA said it would prioritize removing vaping products that clearly appeal to kids, such as those with packaging that resembles juice boxes, candy or cookies.

Students testified to Hawaii lawmakers last week that their classmates were vaping in bathrooms and isolated corners of campus. Some teens post social media videos of themselves exhaling plumes, the students said.

"I can't keep on walking into the bathroom at school and get hit in the face with a vape cloud that smells like cotton candy and not be able to work the rest of the day because of a headache," said Paige McCurdy, a sophomore at Kapolei High School near Honolulu, in testimony at the Legislature. "It is affecting students, and it just needs to stop."

A 2017 Hawaii Health Department study found 16 percent of middle schoolers and 26 percent of high school students were current users of e-cigarettes. The number of high school students experimenting with vaping jumped four-fold between 2011 and 2015, the study said.

The National Youth Tobacco Survey found youth vaping surged 78 percent between 2017 and 2018 across the U.S.

Hawaii's health agency said teen vaping is particularly concerning because nicotine in adolescents can disrupt the growth of brain circuits that control attention and learning and lead to increased impulsivity and mood disorders.

A House committee exempted menthol from the bill because prohibiting the flavor would dramatically reduce the tax revenue the state brings in from menthol cigarettes. Rep. John Mizuno, chairman of the House Health Committee, said such a ban would cut $15 million in revenue that goes toward ambulance services statewide and another $15 million toward a hospital trauma center. His Senate counterpart, Sen. Roz Baker, said she opposes that change.

Bill opponents say e-cigarettes play an important role in helping smokers of traditional cigarettes reduce or stop smoking. They cite a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine showing e-cigarettes were nearly twice as effective as nicotine gums and patches at helping people quit.

Scott Rasak, vice president of sales and marketing at VOLCANO Fine Electronic Cigarettes, said a flavor ban would encourage those who vape to revert to traditional cigarettes.

"Is this bill worth pushing 75 percent of the adult vaping community back to smoking cigarettes?" he said.

He predicted the bill would "annihilate" Hawaii-owned independent retailers like his, which has 16 stores and 100 employees on three islands.

Trevor Husseini, a 30-year-old software engineer, said he was a pack-a-day smoker for over 10 years and wanted to quit but couldn't find anything that worked until he tried vaping. Since switching, he's been gradually been lowering his nicotine intake with the aim of not vaping at all.

He believes the ban would open a black market as people order online from mainland companies.

"They're still going to get their juice," he said.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. contributed $12 million to an unsuccessful effort to persuade San Francisco voters to reject its flavor ban last year. Hawaii's proposal isn't up for a public referendum, so such spending hasn't been seen here. But there have been ads opposing the bill. Juul Labs Inc., the nation's leading e-cigarette maker, registered as a lobbyist at the Hawaii State Capitol for the first time this year.

A separate bill would bring taxes on e-cigarette sales in line with traditional cigarettes.

"By taxing them in a way similar to tobacco, we're hoping that we can keep more young people from trying it, getting hooked on it, staying on it," said Baker, lead author of the second bill.

About 10 states already tax e-cigarettes, according to the Public Health Law Center, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization. Mark Meaney, an attorney at the center, said taxes are one of the most effective ways to discourage tobacco use.

The state Senate has passed versions of both bills. Both measures must pass the House Finance Committee by April 5 to advance to the full House.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Audrey McAvoy/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Trump's Small-Business Health Insurance Plan Struck Down]]>Fri, 29 Mar 2019 07:37:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19088016778151-Trump-Rally.jpg

A federal judge has struck down a small-business health insurance plan widely touted by President Donald Trump, marking the second setback in a week for the administration's health care initiatives.

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates wrote in his opinion late Thursday that so-called "association health plans" were "clearly an end-run" around consumer protections required by the Obama-era Affordable Care Act.

On Wednesday, another federal judge blocked the Trump administration's Medicaid work requirements for low-income people.

The plans at issue in Bates' ruling Thursday allow groups of small businesses and sole proprietors to band together to offer lower-cost coverage that doesn't have to include all the benefits required by the ACA, often called "Obamacare." They also can be offered across state lines, an attempt to deliver on a major Trump campaign promise.

Trump has eagerly talked up the plans, saying they're doing record business by offering "tremendous health care at very small cost." But the Labor Department regulation authorizing them only took effect last summer, and they don't seem to have made a major impact on the market. Initial estimates said 3 million to 4 million people eventually would enroll, compared with more than 160 million Americans covered by current employer plans.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who joined other Democratic state officials in suing the Trump administration, said the judge "saw past the Trump administration's transparent effort to sabotage our health care system and gut these critical consumer protections in the service of its own partisan agenda."

Many state officials see federal insurance regulation of small-business plans as infringing on their own traditional authority.

The Trump administration, unable to repeal "Obamacare" in Congress, has tried to use its rule-making powers to open up a pathway for alternatives. In the case of small-business plans, the administration's regulation granted them similar flexibility on benefits as enjoyed by big companies. Most large employer plans are not subject to state regulations, and the Obama law did not make major changes to them either.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP]]>
<![CDATA[NY Measles Outbreak Worsens Amid Emergency, Exposure Risk Up]]>Fri, 29 Mar 2019 18:21:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles+outbreak+ny+update.jpg

The Rockland County declaration of a measles state of emergency has had a positive impact — although the number of confirmed cases continues to rise, officials announced Friday.

The number of confirmed cases of measles in Rockland County rose to 157,  Rockland County Commissioner of Health Patricia Ruppert said Friday. The increase in numbers comes mere days after the county declared a state of emergency and banned children who are unvaccinated against the measles from public places.

According to Ruppert, there are recent cases of public exposure from the last few confirmed cases, including an Uber that traveled from Monsey Hub Shopping Plaza in Monsey on March 20 from 1:20 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and a Nyack taxi that traveled from the same plaza also on March 20 from 2 p.m. to 2:10 p.m. with the risk of exposure until 4:10 p.m. Additionally, there is a risk of exposure at the Rockland Kosher Supermarket in Monsey that occured on Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m., as well as in a La Familia taxi that initially traveled from Rockland Kosher Supermarket from 3 to 3:05 p.m. with the risk of exposure until 5:05 p.m.

The local outbreak of the measles entered its 26th week this week — the longest since the disease was eradicated in the United States in 2000, according to officials in the New York. 

The ban went into effect at midnight, Wednesday, barring anyone younger than 18 who is unvaccinated against the measles from public places until they receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The ban expires in 30 days.

Those unable to be vaccinated for documented and confirmed medical reasons are exempt from the declaration. 

Anyone found in violation could face six months in jail and/or a $500 fine.

According to County Executive Ed Day the declaration has been having an impact, saying Friday in a press conference that “we have heard of crowded doctors’ offices."

He said the declaration came just in time for the Easter and Passover holidays, when families get together to celebrate. 

"The goal is to get as many people immunized as possible — we want people to enjoy the upcoming holy days," he said, adding that since the declaration Tuesday almost 500 vaccines have been administered on top of the thousands that have been given since the outbreak started in October.

Day said that Rockland County is ahead of the curb in comparison to other localities that are also dealing with measles outbreaks.

"I want to point out where we are here in Rockland County and why we are ahead of the curb," Day said. "Other localities, in Brooklyn, for example just reported 31 new measles cases this past week — 31 in a week. This is not going to happen here in Rockland County. The reason why we took action in Rockland is because it became very apparent that the trajectory of success was starting to alter." 

The outbreak started after seven unvaccinated travelers with measles entered the county in early October, health officials said. Rockland County has been grappling with a measles outbreak in recent months affecting residents in Spring Valley, New Square and Monsey. Officials had previously asked students who are unvaccinated not to attend school. 

As of March 27, there have been 214 confirmed cases of measles in Brooklyn and Queens since October, according to the New York City Department of Health. Most of these cases have involved members of the Orthodox Jewish community. Williamsburg saw 31 new cases this past week, while Midwood/Marine Park and Borough Park saw one new case each this past week. 

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[60 Days in Bed Pays $19K and a Chance to Protect Astronauts]]>Fri, 29 Mar 2019 00:23:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ESA-Bedrest-Study.jpg

Imagine lying in bed for weeks on end, eating and sleeping without getting up — and being paid handsomely for your trouble.

What sounds like a dream job to some is actually the setup of a new experiment being conducted by NASA and the European Space Agency, NBC News reported. The study, which kicked off Monday in Cologne, Germany, aims to assess the health effects of long-duration spaceflight by limiting participants' movements for two months.

Called Agbresa (for Artificial Gravity Bed Rest—European Space Agency), the study will also explore the potential benefits of artificial gravity in helping to keep astronauts healthy on missions to Mars and other far-flung destinations. It’s the first such collaboration between the space agencies, and the first to use a space-age “human centrifuge” to create artificial gravity.

The study “offers space researchers from all over Europe and the U.S.A. the opportunity to work together and jointly acquire as much scientific knowledge about human physiology as possible,” Hansjörg Dittus, a board member at the German Aerospace Center, said in a statement.

Photo Credit: ESA]]>
<![CDATA[New York Sues Billionaire Family Behind OxyContin]]>Thu, 28 Mar 2019 17:13:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19085514548577.jpg

New York is suing the billionaire family behind the company that created OxyContin, joining a growing list of state and local governments seeking to hold not only the firm but its owners accountable for the nation's opioid crisis.

The state, which averages nine opioid-related deaths per day, on Thursday expanded an existing lawsuit against pill maker Purdue Pharma to add members of its controlling Sackler family as defendants. Five other companies that produce opioid painkillers and four drug distributors, which buy medications in bulk and sell them to pharmacies, were also added as defendants.

"This is an extensive lawsuit that leaves no stone unturned," New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, said at a news conference.

While other states and localities have filed similar suits, New York is taking some novel approaches, such as seeking to bar the companies from marketing and distributing painkillers in New York unless they abide by strict safeguards.

The suit claims drug manufacturers collaborated to falsely deny the serious risks of opioid addiction, and it accuses drug distributors of saturating the state with opioids while overlooking red flags.

But at the heart of the case are Purdue and the Sacklers, whom James called "the masterminds behind this crisis."

The suit, like others filed elsewhere, alleges aggressive marketing of OxyContin beginning in the mid-1990s led to massive overprescribing and a scourge of dependency, addiction and death. Once the pills ran out, the lawsuit alleges, many patients craving the same effects turned to cheaper, more potent alternatives: heroin and fentanyl.

Representatives for Purdue and Sackler family members said the suit misleadingly blames them for a problem that's far bigger than OxyContin.

"The state is seeking to publicly vilify Purdue" and the Sacklers with ill-supported claims about a drug that currently accounts for under 2 percent of all opioid prescriptions, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company said in a statement.

The Sackler relatives named in the suit — all former Purdue board members who remain shareholders — said in a statement issued through a spokeswoman that they "have always acted properly."

They and the company said they would fight the new allegations, which come two days after Purdue and the Sacklers agreed to pay $270 million to the state of Oklahoma to settle an opioid lawsuit there. In settling the case, Purdue denied any wrongdoing.

It was the first settlement in a recent wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits that the company says could push it into bankruptcy.

James, the New York attorney general, said Thursday that she was open to settlement talks but hadn't been approached. In addition to potentially banning the companies from selling the drugs, her lawsuit seeks penalties and damages that could add up to tens of millions of dollars and a dedicated fund to curb the opioid epidemic.

Since 2013, opioid-related deaths statewide have more than doubled, and there's been a 30-fold increase in fentanyl-related deaths in New York City, according to the lawsuit. It accuses the companies of deliberately betraying their duties under state drug laws "in order to profiteer from the plague they knew would be unleashed."

New Yorker Justin Sangeorge says he experienced that plague firsthand after having a dental procedure, getting an opioid prescription and becoming addicted.

"I couldn't believe how readily available pharmaceutical drugs were," said the social worker, who has gotten treatment, is now recovering and spoke at a news conference with James.

"We hold accountable drug dealers, drug traffickers, I know, but the pharmaceutical companies hide behind this legitimate enterprise, and as far as I'm concerned, are just as guilty as a drug trafficker or a drug cartel," Sangeorge said.

The suit accuses Purdue in particular of downplaying addiction risks and pushing doctors to increase dosages even as the dangers became known, the lawsuit said. Some of the company's marketing tactics included hiring a respected New York City doctor to tout the drug and sending representatives on more than a million sales visits to doctors' offices, the lawsuit said.

Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, proudly told the audience at an OxyContin launch party in 1996 that it would create a "blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition," the lawsuit said.

Purdue and the Sacklers have said they're committed to trying to stem opioid addiction, including through the Oklahoma settlement. It includes $75 million from the Sacklers, though they weren't personally sued in that case.

Nearly $200 million of the money will go toward establishing a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa.

The Sacklers have given tens of millions of dollars to New York City cultural institutions. Several members of the family own multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartments. One has a $5 million Long Island estate.

In the past few weeks, as the accusations against the family have mounted, the Tate museums in London and the Guggenheim Museum in New York have cut ties with the family, and other institutions have come under pressure to turn down donations or remove the Sackler name.

The other defendants in New York's lawsuit are: Johnson &amp; Johnson and Janssen Pharmaceuticals; U.K.-based Mallinckrodt plc, which has an opioid manufacturing plant in Hobart, New York; Dublin-based Endo and Allergan; Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva and the drug distributors McKesson, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and Rochester Drug Cooperative Inc.

Endo said in a statement that it denies the allegations in the lawsuit and intends to vigorously defend itself.

Cardinal Health said it has a "rigorous system" to track pharmacy orders and has stopped suspicious orders for hundreds of millions of painkiller pills over the last decade. In a statement, the Dublin, Ohio-based company said: "Our people operate in good faith, and our goal is to get it right."

McKesson had no specific response to the New York suit but said it has "strong programs" to try to prevent opioid abuse.

The other companies declined comment or did not immediately respond to requests for it.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Johns Hopkins Begins Transplants From Living Donors With HIV]]>Thu, 28 Mar 2019 10:44:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19085791714264.jpg

Surgeons in Baltimore have performed what's thought to be the world's first kidney transplant from a living donor with HIV, a milestone for patients with the AIDS virus who need a new organ. If other donors with HIV come forward, it could free up space on the transplant waiting list for everyone.

Nina Martinez of Atlanta traveled to Johns Hopkins University to donate a kidney to an HIV-positive stranger, saying she "wanted to make a difference in somebody else's life" and counter the stigma that too often still surrounds HIV infection.

Many people think "somebody with HIV is supposed to look sick," Martinez, 35, told The Associated Press before Monday's operation. "It's a powerful statement to show somebody like myself who's healthy enough to be a living organ donor."

Hopkins, which is making the transplant public on Thursday, said both Martinez and the recipient of her kidney, who chose to remain anonymous, are recovering well.

"Here's a disease that in the past was a death sentence and now has been so well controlled that it offers people with that disease an opportunity to save somebody else," said Dr. Dorry Segev, a Hopkins surgeon who pushed for the HIV Organ Policy Equity, or HOPE, Act that lifted a 25-year U.S. ban on transplants between people with HIV.

There's no count of how many HIV-positive patients are among the 113,000 people on the nation's waiting list for an organ transplant. HIV-positive patients can receive transplants from HIV-negative donors just like anyone else.

Only in the last few years, spurred by some pioneering operations in South Africa, have doctors begun transplanting organs from deceased donors with HIV into patients who also have the virus, organs that once would have been thrown away.

Since 2016, 116 such kidney and liver transplants have been performed in the U.S. as part of a research study, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which oversees the transplant system. One question is whether receiving an organ from someone with a different strain of HIV than their own poses any risks, but so far there have been no safety problems, said UNOS chief medical officer Dr. David Klassen.

Hopkins' Segev said Monday's kidney transplant was a world first. Doctors had hesitated to allow people still living with HIV to donate because of concern that their remaining kidney would be at risk of damage from the virus or older medications used to treat it.

But newer anti-HIV medications are safer and more effective, Segev said. His team recently studied the kidney health of 40,000 HIV-positive people and concluded that those with well-controlled HIV and no other kidney-harming ailments like high blood pressure should face the same risks from living donation as someone without HIV.

"There are potentially tens of thousands of people living with HIV right now who could be living kidney donors," said Segev, who has advised some other hospitals considering the approach.

Generally, kidneys from living donors last longer, added Dr. Niraj Desai, the Hopkins surgeon caring for the recipient. And if more people living with HIV wind up donating, it helps more than HIV-positive patients who need a kidney.

"That's one less person waiting for a limited resource," Desai said. "That helps everybody on the list."

Martinez, a public health consultant, became interested in living donation even before HIV-to-HIV transplants began. Then last summer she learned that an HIV-positive friend needed a transplant, and tracked down Segev to ask if she could donate.

Her friend died before Martinez finished the required health tests but she decided to honor him by donating to someone she didn't know.

A runner who plans on making this fall's Marine Corps Marathon, "I knew I was probably just as healthy as someone not living with HIV who was being evaluated as a kidney donor," Martinez said. "I've never been surer of anything."

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: Johns Hopkins Medicine via AP]]>
<![CDATA[NY County Bans Unvaccinated Kids From Public Over Measles]]>Wed, 27 Mar 2019 08:55:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles+outbreak+ny+update.jpg

Rockland County has declared a state of emergency and banned children who are unvaccinated against the measles from public places after a local outbreak entered its 26th week — the longest since the disease was eradicated in the United States in 2000, according to officials in the New York.

The ban went into effect at midnight, Wednesday, barring anyone younger than 18 who is unvaccinated against the measles from public places until they receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. The ban expires in 30 days.

Those unable to be vaccinated for documented and confirmed medical reasons are exempt from the declaration. 

"We believe this to be the first such effort of this kind nationally and the circumstances we face here clearly call for that," said Rockland County Executive Ed Day at a Tuesday press conference. "Rockland will lead the way in service and safety to the people here."

The outbreak started after seven unvaccinated travelers with measles entered the county in early October, Day said. As of Tuesday, there were 153 confirmed cases.

Rockland County has been grappling with a measles outbreak in recent months affecting residents in Spring Valley, New Square and Monsey. Officials had previously asked students who are unvaccinated not to attend school. 

Still, Day said county officials have been met with "pockets of resistance" from people unwilling to comply with health department advice and this played a part in the decision to enact a ban.

Anyone found in violation could face six months in jail and/or a $500 fine, Day said. However, he added that the county is not looking to arrest people, but rather a means to grab the public's attention.

Measles is a highly contagious disease. Young children, the immunocompromised and non-immune pregnant women are at highest risk for severe complications. Measles is transmitted by airborne particles, droplets and direct contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person. 

Measles typically presents in adults and children as an acute viral illness characterized by fever and generalized rash. The rash usually starts on the face, proceeds down the body and may include the palms and soles. The rash lasts several days. Infected individuals are contagious from four days before rash onset through the fourth day after the rash appears.

Rockland officials encourage everyone to be up-to-date with the MMR vaccine to help protect them in case of any future exposure to measles in Rockland. 

Rockland health officials have urged those who are ill with a fever, rash, or conjunctivitis (red watery eyes) to stay home, not have visitors and not go out in public.

To further prevent the spread of illness, the Rockland Health Department said individuals who have symptoms consistent with measles should contact their health care provider, a local clinic or local emergency department before going in person to prevent exposing the illness to others.

The Rockland County Department of Health is coordinating its response with the New York State Department of Health. The Department of Health will also host free MMR vaccination clinics Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m. One in Pomona and another in Spring Valley.

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Renews Fight Against Obamacare]]>Tue, 26 Mar 2019 17:52:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Trump160326_1080-155363571718500002.jpg

President Trump is renewing a familiar fight over health care.

In a new court filing, the Justice Department says it now supports the full dismantling of the Affordable Care Act, a move that would end Obamacare and risk leaving millions of people without health insurance.]]>
<![CDATA[Health Tip: Eliminating Allergy Triggers]]>Mon, 04 Mar 2019 17:35:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/Health+Tips_4_A_Allergies.jpg

Learn how to minimize your allergies this Spring.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Maker of OxyContin Reaches $270M Settlement in Oklahoma]]>Tue, 26 Mar 2019 18:12:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19072774574037.jpg

The maker of OxyContin and the company's controlling family agreed Tuesday to pay a groundbreaking $270 million to Oklahoma to settle allegations they helped create the nation's deadly opioid crisis with their aggressive marketing of the powerful painkiller.

It is the first settlement to come out of the recent coast-to-coast wave of nearly 2,000 lawsuits against Purdue Pharma that threaten to push the company into bankruptcy and have stained the name of the Sackler family, whose members rank among the world's foremost philanthropists.

"The addiction crisis facing our state and nation is a clear and present danger, but we're doing something about it today," Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter said.

Nearly $200 million will go toward establishing a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa, while local governments will get $12.5 million. The Sacklers are responsible for $75 million of the settlement.

In settling, the Stamford, Connecticut-based company denied any wrongdoing in connection with what Hunter called "this nightmarish epidemic" and "the worst public health crisis in our state and nation we've ever seen."

The deal comes two months before Oklahoma's 2017 lawsuit against Purdue Pharma and other drug companies was set to become the first one in the recent barrage of litigation to go to trial. The remaining defendants still face trial May 28.

Opioids, including heroin and prescription drugs like OxyContin, were a factor in a record 48,000 deaths across the U.S. in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Oklahoma recorded about 400 opioid deaths that year. State officials have said that since 2009, more Oklahomans have died from opioids than in vehicle crashes.

Other states have suffered far worse, including West Virginia, with the nation's highest opioid death rate. It had over 1,000 deaths in 2017.

In a statement, Purdue Pharma said the money that will go toward addiction studies and treatment in Oklahoma will help people across the country. CEO Craig Landau said the company is committed to "help drive solutions to the opioid addiction crisis."

Plaintiffs' attorney Paul Hanly, who is not involved in the Oklahoma case but is representing scores of other governments, welcomed the deal, saying: "That suggests that Purdue is serious about trying to deal with the problem. Hopefully, this is the first of many."

But some activists were furious, saying they were denied the chance to hold Purdue Pharma fully accountable in public, in front of a jury.

"This decision is a kick in the gut to our community," said Ryan Hampton, of Los Angeles, who is recovering from opioid addiction. "We deserve to have our day in court with Purdue. The parents, the families, the survivors deserve at least that. And Oklahoma stripped that from us today."

Purdue Pharma introduced OxyContin in the 1990s and marketed it hard to doctors, making tens of billions of dollars from the drug. But the company has been hit with lawsuits from state and local governments trying to hold it responsible for the scourge of addiction.

The lawsuits accuse the company of downplaying the addiction risks and pushing doctors to increase dosages even as the dangers became known. According to a court filing, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, proudly told the audience at a launch party for OxyContin in 1996 that it would create a "blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition."

Earlier this month, Purdue Pharma officials acknowledged that they are considering bankruptcy . But Oklahoma's attorney general said the company gave assurances it will not take such a step in the near term. And he said the settlement money is "bankruptcy proof" — that is, "it's not at risk in the event Purdue declares bankruptcy."

Lance Lang, a 36-year-old recovering user from Oklahoma City, said he is glad some of the settlement will go toward helping those still suffering from addiction.

"My heart breaks for those that we've already lost. I've buried several myself," said Lang, who now helps recovering users find housing. "But I also know we have waiting lists of dozens and dozens for our facilities, and the state has waiting lists of hundreds and hundreds of people who need help right now."

But Cheryl Juaire, whose 23-year-old son Corey died of an overdose in 2011, said she was devastated to hear about the settlement.

Jauire, who lives in Marlborough, Massachusetts, had been organizing a group of hundreds of mothers to go to the first day of the trial and stand outside with photos of their dead children. She said a complete airing of the facts is the only way to fully hold Purdue to account.

A settlement is "a huge disservice to the tens of thousands of families here in the United States who buried a child," she said. "That's blood money from our children."

Members of the Sackler family are defendants in some of the lawsuits but were not actually parties to the Oklahoma case. The company said the family nevertheless voluntarily contributed to the settlement. "We have profound compassion for those who are affected by addiction," the family said in a statement.

The Sacklers are major donors to cultural institutions, and the family name is emblazoned on the walls at many of the world's great museums and universities. In the past few weeks, as the accusations have mounted, the Tate museums in London and the Guggenheim Museum in New York have cut ties with the family, and other institutions have come under pressure to turn down donations or remove the Sackler name.

A Massachusetts court filing made public earlier this year found that Sackler family members were paid at least $4 billion from 2007 until last year.

Purdue Pharma has settled other lawsuits over the years, and three executives pleaded guilty to criminal charges in 2007. But this is the first settlement to come out of the surge of litigation in the past few years that focuses largely on the company's more recent conduct.

More than 1,400 federal lawsuits over the opioid crisis have been consolidated in front of a single judge in Cleveland who is pushing the drug makers and distributors to reach a nationwide settlement. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Democrats See Opening in Trump's Push to Quash 'Obamacare']]>Tue, 26 Mar 2019 19:41:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trump-pelosi-03-26-19.jpg

President Donald Trump is calling on Republicans to revive the effort to quash the Affordable Care Act, handing Democrats an opportunity to unite in defense of the law as they try to move past the Russia investigation and win the White House in 2020.

Trump's administration is asking a federal appeals court to strike down the entire health care law. The president vowed on Tuesday to make the GOP the "party of health care" and told Senate Republicans to lean into their own agenda on the issue as they head into next year's election.

The moves could help Trump rally his conservative base as he celebrates Attorney General William Barr's summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report that said there was no evidence that the president or his associates colluded with Russia in the 2016 campaign. But the push also poured political kerosene on an issue that many Democrats credit with powering their midterm election victories in November.

Top Democrats, including presidential candidates, said health care is an issue that resonates with voters more than the Mueller investigation.

"This is something that Americans care deeply about," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a White House hopeful. "I may not have been asked about the Mueller report at town hall meetings, but I was sure asked about health care."

Other Democrats appeared to relish the chance to shift to health care. Asked if the Trump administration's court filing allowed Democrats to turn the page on Mueller, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would have been talking about health care no matter what.

"We have been dealing with health care constantly," the California Democrat said. "The public attention has been on the Mueller report, but we have been focused on health care."

Another 2020 contender, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, said if Trump "wants to have a fight on health care, it's a fight we're willing to have. And it's a fight he is going to lose."

That confidence is in part because health care was a big political winner for Democrats last year. According to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 115,000 midterm voters nationwide, nearly 4 in 10 Democratic voters identified health care as the most important among a list of key issues including immigration, the economy and the environment. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found 55 percent of Americans supporting the improvement and not the replacement of the nation's health care system.

The Supreme Court has twice upheld President Barack Obama's health care law, known as "Obamacare." Five justices — a majority — who upheld the law in 2012 are still on the bench.

Trump's effort to repeal Obamacare narrowly failed in the Senate in 2017. Nearly two years later, it's unclear where the White House plans to focus its health care efforts. Trump's most recent budget backs one piece of the legislation that stalled in the Senate.

Republicans gained Senate seats last fall, but there's no indication that GOP senators want another fight over repealing Obamacare — particularly not those up for re-election next year. The GOP also lost control of the House, which means any attempt to dismantle the law could not pass Congress.

One White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to address still-early talks, said discussions are ongoing with Pelosi's office on legislation to lower prescription drug prices, but no substantive path forward for a broader health care bill has emerged.

As the debate plays out on Capitol Hill, the White House made a surprising legal argument for eliminating the health care bill. In a Monday court filing, the administration said the entire health care law should be struck down as unconstitutional after Congress repealed fines on people who remain uninsured.

That's at odds with previous statements by leading congressional Republicans who said they didn't intend to repeal other parts of the law when they cut out its fines, effective this year. It's also a departure from the administration's earlier stance in a lower court, where it had argued that only federal safeguards for people with pre-existing medical conditions and limits on premiums charged to older, sicker people should be struck down.

Repeal of Obamacare in its entirety would risk making more than 20 million people uninsured. That includes some 12 million low-income people covered through its Medicaid expansion and some 11 million purchasing subsidized private health insurance through HealthCare.gov and state-run insurance markets.

Some Republicans say that wouldn't happen because the Trump administration's "repeal and replace" plan would send grants to states for them to run their own health insurance programs. However, during the 2017 congressional debate over repealing the health law, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated the GOP replacement plans would result in steep coverage losses.

Several GOP senators said Tuesday that Trump told them to ensure those with pre-existing conditions stayed protected as they work on an Obamacare replacement. Republicans appeared ready to back up the president on health care for now.

Trump is "thinking that's the issue that defines us as conservatives," Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., told reporters after the president addressed a closed-door meeting of GOP senators.

Rep. Steve Scalise, the House minority whip, said Democrats have "misled" voters about the benefits of Obamacare.

"They were misled about collusion with Russia," said Scalise, R-La. "The same people that have been misleading on all those other issues want to try to mislead people on health care costs."

The sudden focus on the health care law comes as Democratic presidential candidates have embraced a move toward a single-payer health care system known as "Medicare for All." The momentum for that effort could wane if congressional Democrats instead have to focus on defending Obamacare.

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act and expand enrollment to millions more people.

"For (Trump) to bring this back up is traumatic, and it shines a real light on what the contrast is going to be between him and whoever the Democratic nominee is," said Andrew Bates, a spokesman for the Democratic group American Bridge. The group's planned $50 million investment in deterring swing-state voters from backing Trump in 2020 will focus in part on health care, as well as other economic issues, Bates said.

Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Zeke Miller, Kevin Freking, Mark Sherman and Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Experts: Too Soon to Pull Breast Implants Tied to Cancer]]>Mon, 25 Mar 2019 21:50:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/breast1.jpg

Government medical advisers said Monday it's too soon to ban a type of breast implant that has recently been linked to a rare form of cancer, saying more information is needed to understand the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration panel didn't recommend any immediate restrictions on breast implants after a day reviewing the latest research on the risks of the devices, which have been subject to safety concerns for decades.

The FDA has been grappling with how to manage emerging science that shows the implants can trigger a rare form of lymphoma that grows in the scar tissue surrounding the breasts. The agency identified about 450 cases of the cancer worldwide, including 12 deaths. Almost all of the cases involve a type of textured implant that is designed to stop implants from slipping and to minimize scar tissue.

But the majority of the 19 panelists — including plastic surgeons and cancer experts — said it was too soon to remove the products from the market.

"Do we want to get into the situation where we pull one sweetener and the replacement is even worse?" said Karla Ballman, a biostatistician at New York's Weill Cornell School of Medicine. "I think a knee jerk reaction of just pulling something without knowing what the replacement will be might get us into more trouble."

Estimates of the frequency of the disease range from one in 3,000 women to one in 30,000. It grows slowly and can usually be successfully treated by removing the implants. The FDA said it has also received reports of the disease in smooth implants — which account for most of the U.S. market.

Another panelist said a ban on textured implants would be an "extraordinary overreaction."

But that opinion wasn't unanimous. The panel's consumer representative stressed the risk to women who get implants for reconstructive purposes after breast cancer surgery and could face a second cancer.

"I think that's so much of a risk that they need to be taken off the market," said Roberta Brummert. Her comments set off cheers from dozens of women who attended the hearing.

In the U.S., roughly 400,000 women get breast implants each year; 100,000 women get them after cancer surgery.

On Tuesday, the same FDA panel will make recommendations on studying and defining the risks of long-term chronic conditions with breast implants. Thousands of women have blamed their implants for a host of other chronic ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue and muscle pain.

Patients and advocates have used the recent scrutiny to call for new warnings and restrictions on implants.

"Don't ignore us. We are real," said Holly Davis, of Charleston, South Carolina.

Davis, 60, said she experienced chronic pain, hair loss, rashes and memory loss after receiving silicone gel-filled implants following a double mastectomy in 2002. Davis said she learned her implants had ruptured when they were removed in 2017; her symptoms have since resolved.

She and other patients want the FDA to require manufacturers to give standardized risk disclosure information to all women considering implants.

"We need to know what we're signing up for — it can't be a surprise down the road," Davis said.

In the U.S., most women choose silicone implants, which are considered more natural looking than saline implants. Both types have a silicone outer shell.

The panelists also heard from researchers who theorize, based in part on animal studies, that silicone that leaks from implants can trigger or exacerbate immune system disorders in certain patients.

In 1992, the FDA temporarily pulled silicone gel implants from the market because of fears they might cause breast cancer, lupus and other disorders. But when studies seemed to rule out most of the disease concern, regulators returned them to the market in 2006.

But critics of that research noted its shortcomings at Monday's meeting.

"The studies at that time were not very good and did not have the statistical power to determine rare diseases," said Diana Zuckerman, president of the nonprofit, National Center for Health Research, which published an analysis of more than 20 breast implant studies last year. The group concluded that virtually all were too small or too short or didn't focus on patients who had their implants long enough to develop problems.

The FDA says on its website there is no "apparent association" between breast implants and chronic, debilitating diseases, such as connective tissue disease.

However, earlier this month, the FDA appeared to signal a shift in its thinking. The agency said it would begin studying whether certain materials used in breast implants, metal hips and other devices can trigger health problems in patients.

"We believe the current evidence, although limited, suggests some individuals may be predisposed to develop an immune-inflammatory reaction when exposed to select materials," the agency said in a statement.

The Associated Press Health and 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: Donna McWilliam/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Marijuana ER Visits Climb in Denver Hospital Study]]>Mon, 25 Mar 2019 21:30:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuana25.jpg

Five years after Colorado first legalized marijuana, a new study shows pot's bad effects are sending more people to the emergency room.

Inhaled marijuana caused the most severe problems at one large Denver area hospital. Marijuana-infused foods and candies, called edibles, also led to trouble. Patients came to the ER with symptoms such as repeated vomiting, racing hearts and psychotic episodes.

The study, published Monday in Annals of Internal Medicine, stemmed from tales of tourists needing emergency care after gobbling too many marijuana gummies.

"It was hard to know if these were just anecdotes or if there was a true phenomenon," said lead author Dr. Andrew Monte of UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Three deaths in Colorado tied to edible products also prompted the study.

Emergency room records from Monte's hospital show a three-fold increase in marijuana cases since the state became the first to allow sales of recreational marijuana in January 2014. Nearly a third of patients were admitted to the hospital, evidence of severe symptoms, Monte said.

In 2012, the ER saw an average of one patient every other day with a marijuana-caused problem. By 2016, the count was two to three per day.

That's not enough to swamp the emergency department, Monte said, but it stresses an already burdened system.

Most people can use marijuana safely, Monte said, but with its increased availability and higher THC concentrations, "we may be seeing more adverse drug reactions," he said.

THC is the part of marijuana that gets people high.

A growing cannabis industry promotes the drug as a cure-all while downplaying dangers, said Dr. Erik Messamore, a psychiatrist at Northeast Ohio Medical University who wasn't involved in the research. More than 30 states now allow marijuana for at least medical use. New Jersey is debating becoming the 11th state to approve recreational pot. The U.S. government considers marijuana illegal.

"You can't trust the people who sell the drugs to be upfront with the risk," Messamore said, calling for warning labels similar to those on tobacco products.

The analysis confirmed edibles are trouble. Statewide, they made up less than 1 percent of total cannabis sales, measured by THC content. Yet 11 percent of ER visits were triggered by edibles.

Monte said edibles are too dangerous to be part of the recreational marketplace. Slow to kick in, their effects last too long for a good party drug, he said. They work better for those who want to use them as medicine.

Yet information on safe dosing is lacking, as Denver resident Arlene Galchinsky learned. She took a marijuana gummy for pain on top of a prescription narcotic, becoming so disoriented her husband called paramedics. Galchinsky, 79, didn't go to the ER, but the experience shook her up.

"It was extremely scary," she said of the feeling. "When was this going to go away? It was so frightening."

In the state-funded study , there were 2,567 emergency visits at the Denver hospital caused by marijuana from 2012-2016. It's not just tourists; 9 out of 10 cases were Colorado residents.

Seventeen percent of the visits were for uncontrolled bouts of vomiting. It was most often from inhaled marijuana, not edibles.

Twelve percent of the cases were for acute psychosis, where people without a history of mental disorders lose touch with reality. That was more frequently seen with edibles.

Intoxication and heart problems were other common complaints.

In an editorial, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, called for more research on the benefits and harms of marijuana. She and co-author Ruben Baler wrote there is an "urgent need" for greater oversight of manufacturing and labeling as marijuana use increases with state legalization.

Monte, an ER doctor who specializes in toxicology, doesn't use marijuana. "I'm too busy," he said. "I can't spend time being high."

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: Tony Dejak/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Bingo and Bongs: More Seniors Seek Cannabis for Age-Related Aches]]>Mon, 25 Mar 2019 11:58:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Seniors-and-weed-AP_19075024841690.jpg

The group of white-haired folks — some pushing walkers, others using canes — arrive right on time at the gates of Laguna Woods Village, an upscale retirement community in the picturesque hills that frame this Southern California suburb a few miles from Disneyland.

There they board a bus for a quick trip to a building that, save for the green Red Cross-style sign in the window, resembles a trendy coffee bar. The people, mostly in their 70s and 80s, pass the next several hours enjoying a light lunch, playing a few games of bingo and selecting their next month's supply of cannabis-infused products.

"It's like the ultimate senior experience," laughs 76-year-old retired beauty products distributor Ron Atkin as he sits down to watch the bingo at the back of the Bud and Bloom marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana.

Most states now have legal medical marijuana, and 10 of them, including California, allow anyone 21 or older to use pot recreationally. The federal government still outlaws the drug even as acceptance increases. The 2018 General Social Survey, an annual sampling of Americans' views, found a record 61 percent back legalization, and those 65 and older are increasingly supportive.

Indeed, many industry officials say the fastest-growing segment of their customer base is people like Atkin — aging baby boomers or even those a little older who are seeking to treat the aches and sleeplessness and other maladies of old age with the same herb that many of them once passed around at parties.

"I would say the average age of our customers is around 60, maybe even a little older," said Kelty Richardson, a registered nurse with the Halos Health clinic in Boulder, Colorado, which provides medical examinations and sells physician-recommended cannabis through its online store.

Its medical director, Dr. Joseph Cohen, conducts "Cannabis 101" seminars at the nearby Balfour Senior Living community for residents who want to know which strains are best for easing arthritic pain or improving sleep.

Relatively little scientific study has verified the benefits of marijuana for specific problems. There's evidence pot can relieve chronic pain in adults, according to a 2017 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, but the study also concluded that the lack of scientific information poses a risk to public health.

At Bud and Bloom, winners of the bingo games take home new vape pens, but Atkin isn't really there for that. He's been coming regularly for two years to buy cannabis-infused chocolate bars and sublingual drops to treat his painful spinal stenosis since the prescription opiates he had been taking quit working.

It was "desperation" that brought him here, he said, adding that his doctors didn't suggest he try medical marijuana. But they didn't discourage him either.

The dispensary is filled with the 50 people from the bus as they peruse counters and coolers containing everything from gel caps to drops to cannabis-infused drinks, not to mention plenty of old-fashioned weed.

Adele Frascella, leaning on her cane, purchases a package of gummy candies she says helps keep her arthritic pain at bay.

"I don't like to take an opioid," said Frascella, 70.

Fashionably dressed with sparkling silver earrings, Frascella confirms with a smile that she was a pot smoker in her younger days.

"I used to do it when I was like 18, 19, 20," she said. "And then I had a baby, got married and stopped."

She took it up again a few years ago, even investing in a "volcano," a pricey, high-tech version of the old-fashioned bong that Gizmodo calls "the ultimate stoner gadget." But these days, like many other seniors, she prefers edibles to smoking.

Renee Lee, another baby boomer who smoked as a youth, got back into it more than a dozen years ago after the clinical psychologist underwent brain surgery and other medical procedures that she said had her taking "10 meds a day, four times a day."

"And I wasn't getting any better," she said, adding that she asked her doctors if she might try medical marijuana as a last resort. They said go ahead and she found it ended her pain.

In 2012 she founded the Rossmoor Medical Marijuana Club in her upscale San Francisco Bay Area retirement community.

"We started with 20 people, and we kept it really quiet for about a year and a half," she said, noting that although California legalized medical cannabis in 1996, it was still seen in some quarters as an outlaw drug.

Her group has since grown to more than 1,000 members and puts on regular events, including lectures by pro-cannabis doctors and nurses.

People Lee's age — 65 and over — are the fastest-growing segment of the marijuana-using population, said Dr. Gary Small, professor of psychiatry and aging at the University of California, Los Angeles.

He believes more studies on the drug's effects on older people are needed. And while it may improve quality of life by relieving pain, anxiety and other problems, he said, careless, unsupervised use can cause trouble.

"We know that cannabis can cause side effects, particularly in older people," he said. "They can get dizzy. It can even impair memory if the dose is too high or new ingredients are wrong. And dizziness can lead to falls, which can be quite serious."

Richardson said Colorado saw an uptick in hospital visits by older users soon after the state legalized cannabis in 2012. The problem, he said, was often caused by novices downing too many edibles.

That's a lesson Dick Watts, 75, learned the hard way. The retired New Jersey roofing contractor who keeps a winter home at Laguna Woods Village began having trouble sleeping through the night as he got into his 70s. He attended a seniors' seminar where he learned marijuana might help, so he got a cannabis-infused candy bar. He immediately ate the whole thing.

"Man, that was nearly lethal," recalled Watts, laughing.

Now when he has trouble sleeping he takes just a small sliver of candy before bed. He said he wakes up clear-headed and refreshed.

"And I have it up on a shelf so my grandkids can't get to it," Watts said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jae C. Hong/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Hackers Could Take Over Some Implanted Defibrillators: FDA]]>Mon, 25 Mar 2019 06:44:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Medtronic-AP_100824155145.jpg

The world's largest medical device company has acknowledged that many of its implanted cardiac defibrillators use an unencrypted wireless protocol that could allow an attacker to change the settings of the lifesaving devices, NBC News reported.

The vulnerability affects more than 20 defibrillator models, monitors and programmer units made by Medtronic Inc. of Fridley, Minnesota. The devices include implantable cardioverter defibrillators, or ICDs, which can correct dangerously fast or irregular heartbeat, and cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillators, or CRT-Ds, which essentially are pacemakers that deliver small electrical charges to help keep the heart's ventricles pumping in sync.

In a bulletin issued late last week, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, assigned the flaw a vulnerability score of 9.3 — near the top of its 10-point scale. It said the flaw could allow a bad actor of "low skill level" to read and write any memory location on the implanted devices.

Medtronic acknowledged in a statement that the flaw could allow an unauthorized individual to gain access to the equipment's settings — and possibly change them. But the company and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised patients to continue using the devices while a fix is developed, adding that no one is known to have successfully exploited the flaw.

Photo Credit: Jim Mone/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Failed Alzheimer’s Trial Leaves Families Heartbroken]]>Sat, 23 Mar 2019 21:13:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Alzheimers5.jpg

Every month, a car would pick up Jeff Borghoff at his home in Forked River, New Jersey, and drive him to the Advanced Memory Research Institute of New Jersey. There, doctors would help him settle into a comfortable chair and hook him up to an IV.

For the next 40 minutes to an hour, an experimental treatment aimed at slowing Alzheimer’s disease called aducanumab would flow into Borghoff’s veins. He would post a picture online encouraging other Alzheimer’s patients to enroll in clinical trials. Doctors would check for any side effects before sending Borghoff back home.

This was Borghoff’s routine for nearly three years. He and his wife Kim felt like the treatment was working. Then on Thursday, Borghoff received a Facebook message from one of his friends who was also enrolled in the aducanumab trial asking if he had heard the bad news.

“I just knew right away. It was a gut feeling, sixth sense kinda thing,” said Borghoff, 54, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 51.

The bad news was the companies developing aducanumab, Biogen and its partner Eisai, announced earlier that day that they halted two late-stage trials of the experimental drug after an independent group’s analysis showed that the trials were unlikely to “meet their primary endpoint.”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech giant joins a long list of companies in the last decade that have failed to find a treatment for Alzheimer’s, a progressive and debilitating disease that often affects a person’s memory, thinking and behavior.

Biogen and Eisai lost billions of dollars in market value. The scientific community viewed the announcement as a setback after spending billions to research and develop possible treatments — with almost nothing to show for it. Patients and families living with the disease who had pinned their hopes on aducanumab were heartbroken.

This failure is just the latest in a string of experimental treatments targeting a protein-fragment in the brain known as beta amyloid. Many scientists and drugmakers think it plays a prominent role in the devastating disease by eroding synapses between nerve cells. Some trials are already underway to test other ways of attacking Alzheimer’s.

Salim Syed, senior biotech analyst at Mizuho Securities who covers the stock, said Biogen’s failure was a shock to many as the Alzheimer’s treatment showed promise and followed the widely accepted theory that beta amyloid was responsible for the disease.

“The challenge now is we’re back to the drawing board when it comes to Alzheimer’s,” Syed contended.

Alzheimer’s disease can cause people’s memory and mind to deteriorate to the point where they cannot function on their own and eventually die. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S., and the Alzheimer’s Association estimates 5.8 million Americans are living with the disease.

More than 16 million Americans care for someone with Alzheimer’s disease without pay, an experience that can be intensive and emotionally taxing. This year alone, Alzheimer’s and other dementias will cost the U.S. $290 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Associations.

Despite the disease being common and its effects and challenges being well-documented, scientists don’t know much about it. They don’t know what causes Alzheimer’s nor do they understand how exactly the disease works, making it challenging to find ways to treat or cure it.

The FDA has approved four Alzheimer’s drugs, all of which are aimed at helping symptoms, not actually reversing or slowing the disease itself. That’s not to say people aren’t trying. The National Institutes of Health alone expects to invest $1.46 billion on Alzheimer’s research this year, almost three times the $562 million spent in 2014.

“Our brain is a complex organ and this is a complex disease,” said Heather Snyder, senior director of medical and scientific operations for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Kim Borghoff wanted her husband Jeff to screened for the disease after he started “zoning out” for no apparent reason, she said. His father, uncle and other relatives had Alzheimer’s and she wasn’t buying his diagnosis of epilepsy. She called Columbia University Medical Center every day, twice a day until she got an appointment, having already tried other hospitals.

They ran numerous tests. About 18 months after first trying to get a diagnosis, Kim finally had the answer. She was sitting at her desk when the doctor called.

“She said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you, Jeffrey has Alzheimer’s. All the tests came back and he’s early in the stages. Get your affairs in order,”’ Kim recalls the doctor saying.

She drove home and on the way back called Jeff to tell him they were going to the park. She told him not to ask any questions or say anything to his mother, who was living with them and caring for her husband who had Alzheimer’s. They drove to the park and sat on a bench where she told him the news.

“He broke down. I broke down. Then he said i’m going to fight this and he’s been fighting this ever since,” she said. That was three years ago.

From 1998 to 2017 there have been about 146 unsuccessful attempts at developing drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, the industry’s main trade group. That means for every research project that succeeded to yield a new medicine, about 37 failed.

Major drug companies such as Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly and Merck have ended their attempts to treat Alzheimer’s by targeting beta amyloid after failing to produce good results. In January, Swiss drugmaker Roche announced that it was ending two-late stage trials for Alzheimer’s that also targeted beta amyloid. It’s still testing another amyloid drug at a higher dose.

Dr. Richard Mohs, a former head of Eli Lilly’s Neuroscience Clinical program, said “as a field, we may need to move on and look at other scientific plausible ways to try and treat the disease” besides amyloid-targeting drugs.

“It’s been difficult,” said Mohs, who is working on another clinical trial focusing on tau, an Alzheimer’s protein that is believed to be closely linked with the onset of symptoms. The Biogen trial was “well designed and well executed.”

Jeff Borghoff was gardening, his new hobby after he had to leave his job as an IT architect, one day when his new neighbor walked over. Jeff mentioned his Alzheimer’s diagnose and his neighbor said sure enough, his wife had just started working for the Advanced Memory Research Institute.

Once Jeff connected with the center, researchers determined he was eligible for the aducanumab trial. Jeff and Kim were “so excited,” she said. The first 18 months was a double-blind placebo study, meaning Jeff didn’t know whether he was getting the treatment or the placebo.

Then they revealed he was receiving the treatment. He and Kim felt like it had slowed the progression of the disease, though they have not seen any of the results. Jeff knew that since this was an experiment, the treatment could fail and the drugmaker could end the trial at any point.

Still, he and his family were not quite prepared for it to really end.

Even though recent experimental treatments haven’t produced any new drugs, they still have helped researchers learn more about the brain and the disease, Snyder said. Scientists are starting to understand that a person’s brain starts to change about a decade or so before they’re diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

“We are absolutely committed to making sure no stone is left unturned and that all avenues are pursued,” Snyder said. “We are optimistic that as our understanding of the science continues to grow and go forward, our ability to both target the different biologies but also combining some of those pieces together expands.”

The Borghoffs called a family meeting Thursday night. Jeff, positive as always, said he wanted to find another clinical trial to enroll in so he could help scientists find a treatment or a cure that might help his kids or grandkids.

Kim wants him to try medical marijuana or CBD oil. She hopes these options might quell the anxiety and anger Jeff increasingly experiences. However, neither have been approved by the FDA to treat or manage Alzheimer’s or other dementias, nor have they been evaluated in clinical trials. It’s also unclear how people with dementia would respond to the psychoactive effects of marijuana or how it would interact with the other drugs used to treat the desease.

“I’m still looking at all of the possibilities and all of the angles. I’m of the philosophy that a box has six sides and I can only see three sides at a time,” Jeff Borghoff said. “There are other perspectives to look at and other things to take into consideration.”

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

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<![CDATA[CVS to Sell CBD Products in 800 Stores in 8 States]]>Fri, 22 Mar 2019 01:48:41 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cvsGettyImages-885651418.jpg

CVS Pharmacy announced Wednesday it will begin selling hemp-derived CBD products in eight states.

The national drug store chain will be marketing the topical cannabidiol products, such as creams, sprays and roll-ons, as an “an alternative source of relief,” CVS said in a statement to NBC News

The items will be sold in Alabama, California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland and Tennessee.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Kentucky Governor Says He Exposed His Children to Chickenpox]]>Thu, 21 Mar 2019 12:53:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bevin1.jpg

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin said in a radio interview that he deliberately exposed his children to chickenpox so they would catch the highly contagious disease and become immune.

During a Tuesday interview on Bowling Green radio station WKCT, Bevin said his children were "miserable for a few days" after contracting chickenpox but said "they all turned out fine."

"Every single one of my kids had the chickenpox," Bevin said in the interview. "They got the chickenpox on purpose because we found a neighbor that had it and I went and made sure every one of my kids was exposed to it, and they got it. They had it as children."

Bevin and his wife, Glenna, have nine children, four adopted.

Public health authorities strongly discourage the practice of deliberately exposing children to chickenpox, a medical expert said Wednesday.

"It's unfortunate and not an example for any of us," said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

"We should vaccinate all our children. It's a great triumph of public health in the United States. Let's not take a step backward," he added in a phone interview.

Bevin's office did not immediately respond to an email request for additional comment Wednesday. Bevin is seeking a second term as governor in this year's statewide elections in Kentucky.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that parents worried about chickenpox should have their children vaccinated. But he suggested that government shouldn't mandate the vaccination.

"Why are we forcing kids to get it?" Bevin said in the interview. "If you are worried about your child getting chickenpox or whatever else, vaccinate your child. ... And in many instances, those vaccinations make great sense. But for some people, and for some parents, for some reason they choose otherwise."

Kentucky requires that children entering kindergarten be vaccinated for chickenpox, but parents may seek religious exemptions or provide proof that a child already had the disease.

Bevin's comments followed reports this week of a chickenpox outbreak at a Kentucky Catholic school.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends two doses of chickenpox vaccine for children, adolescents and adults who have never had chickenpox and were never vaccinated, according to its website. Children are routinely recommended to receive the first dose at 12 through 15 months old and a second dose at 4 to 6 years old, it said.

"What the governor and other like-minded folks are unaware of is that there are potentially serious complications of chickenpox," Schaffner said.

Complications from chickenpox can include bacterial infections, pneumonia and encephalitis — inflammation of the brain, according to the CDC. Complications aren't common in healthy people with the disease, it says, but high risk groups for complications due to a serious case of chickenpox can include infants, adolescents, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Kale Now One of the Most Pesticide-Contaminated Vegetables]]>Wed, 20 Mar 2019 18:14:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kaleGettyImages-951534146.jpg

Often touted for being highly nutritious, kale has joined the list of 11 other fruits and vegetables known to be “dirty,” according to an analysis by the Environmental Working Group.

The watchdog group publishes its “Dirty Dozen” list annually, in which it ranks the 12 produce items that contain the highest amount of pesticide residues. The group analyzes data from the Department of Agriculture’s regular produce testing to determine the list.

Ranked alongside kale on the list are strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes.

The last time kale was included in the USDA’s produce tests was 2009 and it ranked eighth on the Dirty Dozen list.

“We were surprised kale had so many pesticides on it, but the test results were unequivocal,” said EWG Toxicologist Alexis Temkin in a release.

More than 92 percent of kale had residue from at least two pesticides after washing and peeling the appropriate vegetables, according to the report. Some had up to 18. Almost 60 percent of the kale samples showed residual Dacthal, a pesticide that is known as a possible human carcinogen.

Pesticides help protect crops against insects, weeds and infections, but research has shown a correlation between chemicals and health complications.

The group releases its “Clean Fifteen” list as well, highlighting the 15 produce items with the least amount of pesticide residue detected. It includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, frozen sweet peas, onions, papayas, eggplants, asparagus, kiwis, cabbages, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms and honeydew melons. 

Consumers should buy organic produce whenever possible to avoid pesticides, according to the report. But that shouldn’t deter people who can’t afford it from eating these items.

“The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure,” EWG Research Analyst Carla Burns said in a release.

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

Levi Strauss prices IPO at $17 a share

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Dow drops more than 100 points

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<![CDATA[FDA Issues Warning to Two Breast Implant Makers]]>Wed, 20 Mar 2019 13:31:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/implantAP_061211066347.jpg

Less than a week before a major hearing on breast implant safety, the FDA issued two warning letters to implant manufacturers, citing their failure to do proper safety studies.

The letters sent to Mentor and Sientra warned that certain implants could be pulled off the market if the companies didn’t fulfill the agency’s requirements, which ask that manufacturers continue safety studies even after the devices are approved.

"Post-approval requirements are critical to ensuring the safety and effectiveness of the medical products we regulate and we'll continue to hold manufacturers accountable when they fail to fulfill these obligations," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

According to the letters, Mentor failed to enroll enough people in these studies. Sientra had poor follow-up rates.

Photo Credit: DONNA MCWILLIAM/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Smoking Strong Pot Daily Raises Psychosis Risk, Study Finds]]>Wed, 20 Mar 2019 12:51:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/519734020-Marijuana.jpg

Smoking high-potency marijuana every day could increase the chances of developing psychosis by nearly five times, according to the biggest-ever study to examine the impact of pot on psychotic disorder rates.

The research adds to previous studies that have found links between marijuana and mental health problems, but still does not definitively pinpoint marijuana as the cause.

Psychotic disorders — in which people lose touch with reality — are typically triggered by factors including genetics and the environment. But experts say the new study's findings have implications for jurisdictions legalizing marijuana, warning they should consider the potential impact on their mental health services.

"If we think there's something particular about (high-potency) cannabis, then making that harder to get a hold of, could be a useful harm-reduction measure," said Suzanne Gage, of the University of Liverpool, who was not connected to the new study.

Researchers at King's College London and elsewhere analyzed data from a dozen sites across Europe and Brazil from 2010 to 2015. About 900 people who were diagnosed with a first episode of the disorder at a mental health clinic, including those with delusions and hallucinations, were compared with more than 1,200 healthy patients. After surveying the patients about their use of cannabis and other drugs, researchers found daily marijuana use was more common among patients with a first episode of psychosis compared with the healthy, control group.

The scientists estimated that people who smoked marijuana on a daily basis were three times more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis compared with people who never used the drug. For those who used high-potency marijuana daily, the risk jumped to nearly five times. The paper was published online Tuesday by the journal Lancet. It was paid for by funders including Britain's Medical Research Council, the Sao Paulo Research Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

"If you decide to use high-potency marijuana, you should bear in mind: Psychosis is a potential risk," said Dr. Marta Di Forti, of King's College London and the study's lead author. She said it was unknown how frequently people could smoke lower-potency marijuana without raising their likelihood of psychosis, but that less than weekly use appeared to pose no risk.

Di Forti and colleagues estimated that in Amsterdam, about half of new psychosis cases were associated with smoking high-potency pot.

Gage noted that it was possible that people with a family history of psychosis or other risk factors might be more susceptible to developing problems like psychosis or schizophrenia if they used cannabis.

"That could be the thing that tips the scale for some people," she said. "Cannabis for them could be an extra risk factor, but it definitely doesn't have to be involved. If you use cannabis, it doesn't mean you are definitely going to develop psychosis."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Jury Finds Monsanto Was a Factor in Calif. Man's Cancer]]>Wed, 20 Mar 2019 04:58:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19053726114698.jpg

A jury in federal court in San Francisco has ruled that Roundup weed killer was a factor in causing a California man's cancer in a weeks-long trial that started last month.

Edwin Hardeman of Sonoma County, 70, is the second plaintiff to go to trial of thousands around the country who claim agribusiness giant Monsanto's weed killer causes cancer. Hardeman won the first liability phase, proving that the Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The second phase of the trial will involve discussing punitive damages, his lawyers said.

Monsanto says studies have established that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is safe.

A San Francisco jury in August awarded another man $289 million after determining Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A judge later slashed the award to $78 million, and Monsanto has appealed.

The outcome of bellwether cases can help attorneys decide whether to continue fighting similar suits in court or settle them. A jury verdict in favor of Hardeman and the other test plaintiffs would give their attorneys a strong bargaining position in any settlement talks for the remaining cases before Chhabria, said David Levine, a professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law who has followed the Roundup litigation.

Thousands of other Roundup lawsuits are pending in state courts around the country.

Many government regulators have rejected a link between cancer and glyphosate. Monsanto has vehemently denied such a connection, saying hundreds of studies have established that the chemical is safe.

Monsanto developed glyphosate in the 1970s, and the weed killer is now sold in more than 160 countries and widely used in the U.S.

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.

Lawsuits against Monsanto followed. Monsanto has attacked the international research agency's opinion as an outlier. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says glyphosate is safe for people when used in accordance with label directions.

Hardeman started using Roundup products to treat poison oak, overgrowth and weeds on his 56-acre Sonoma County property in the 1980s and continued using them through 2012, according to his attorneys. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2015.

Another trial against Monsanto's Roundup is expected to begin Monday in Oakland. Alva Pilliod and his wife, Alberta, are also alleging that long term exposure to herbicide caused them to develop non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Reed Saxon/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves Drug for Treating Postpartum Depression]]>Wed, 20 Mar 2019 08:08:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fdaAP_19039756529088.jpg

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug specifically developed for severe depression after childbirth.

The agency on Tuesday approved Sage Therapeutics' Zulresso, an IV drug given over 2 ½ days.

Sage said Zulresso will cost $34,000 without insurance, plus costs for staying in a hospital or infusion center. Whether the treatment gets covered by insurance is determined by each insurance company, which also sets the out-of-pocket costs, depending on the plan.

In a company-funded study of new mothers with moderate or severe postpartum depression, half the women given Zulresso had depression end within 2 ½ days, about double the rate of those in a comparison group given dummy treatments.

Postpartum depression affects about 400,000 American women a year. It often ends on its own within a couple weeks, but it can continue for months or even years. It can be treated with antidepressants, which can take six to eight weeks to work and don't help everyone, or with counseling.

"Postpartum depression is a serious condition that, when severe, can be life-threatening," Dr. Tiffany Farchione of FDA's Division of Psychiatry Products said in a statement. "Women may experience thoughts about harming themselves or harming their child,"

Zulresso's active ingredient, brexanolone, mimics a derivative of the naturally occurring hormone progesterone, levels of which can plunge after childbirth. The infusion helps restore normal levels and emotions, according to Sage Chief Executive Dr. Jeff Jonas.

The drug's most common side effects were sleepiness, dizziness and headaches. A few women had more-serious problems, such as fainting and loss of consciousness.

Because those risks could result in injury, the FDA said it is restricting Zulresso's use to certified health care facilities where patients can be closely monitored throughout the infusion.

Zulresso appears safe for breastfeeding, said Dr. Kimberly Yonkers, a psychiatrist specializing in postpartum depression who heads Yale Medical School's Center for Wellbeing of Women and Mothers.

She expects the drug will be used to treat serious cases and patients not helped by antidepressants.

"It's going to depend on patient willingness to go into an infusion center and insurers being willing to pay for this," Yonkers added.

Sage plans to begin selling the drug in late June.

It's developing a second, similar treatment in pill form, and Marinus Pharmaceuticals is testing both a pill and IV therapy.  

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Cat Cannibalism: Report Discloses 'Questionable' Gov't Animal Experiments]]>Tue, 19 Mar 2019 11:53:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/usda-feline-cat.jpg

U.S. government scientists bought hundreds of dead dogs and cats from "Asian meat markets" and conducted experiments that included feeding their remains to healthy lab cats for needless research, according to a disturbing watchdog report being released Tuesday.

Other experiments at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's lab in Maryland included feeding dog remains to cats and injecting cat remains into mice, the report by the White Coat Waste Project found. The group is a non-profit that combats wasteful government spending on animal testing.

"It's crazy," Jim Keen, a former USDA scientist, told NBC News, which obtained a copy of the report. "Cannibal cats, cats eating dogs — I don't see the logic."

The experiments — some of which the agency said in scientific reports were aimed at studying different forms of a parasite that causes the food-borne illness toxoplasmosis — are believed to have been conducted between 2003 and 2015.

The USDA, which did not respond to requests for comment, has defended the cat testing in the past, calling it "life-saving research."

Photo Credit: White Coat Waste Project via NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[Daily Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attacks No Longer Recommended]]>Mon, 18 Mar 2019 13:26:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-57083359.jpg

Taking a low-dose aspirin daily to prevent a heart attack or stroke is no longer recommended for adults age 70 or over, according to new guidelines released Sunday, NBC News reported. 

The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association reversed previous guidance that recommended adults over the age of 50 take a baby aspirin a day to prevent cardiovascular problems. 

The change comes after a large international study found that routinely taking low-dose aspirin may actually be harmful for older people with no prior history of heart attack or stroke. The groups also agreed that the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding outweighs any heart benefits.  

The ACC and AHA reminded individuals that a healthy lifestyle is the most important way to prevent the onset of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Group With Consumer-Friendly Vibe Pushes Drugmakers' Message]]>Mon, 18 Mar 2019 10:00:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/drugs10.jpg

As ominous music plays in the background, the narrator of a radio ad echoes objections from drugmakers by warning that a Trump administration proposal to apply international pricing to certain Medicare drugs would be a nightmare for seniors.

The one-minute spot is the handiwork of the Alliance for Patient Access, a nonprofit group that gives off a consumer-friendly vibe but is bankrolled by the powerful pharmaceutical industry. It's also closely aligned with a Washington lobbying and public relations firm, Woodberry Associates, whose president, Brian Kennedy, is the nonprofit's executive director.

As Congress and President Donald Trump's administration aim to lower prescription drug costs, outside groups like the Alliance for Patient Access are seeking to sway the outcome. But not all of these organizations are clear about who they actually represent. Their names can obscure the source of the message, and they're cagey about where they get their funding.

Yet even a small degree of separation can be valuable for pharmaceutical companies at a time when the industry faces stiff political headwinds. Drug prices may provide a rare bipartisan issue on which Congress and the White House could collaborate on legislation ahead of the 2020 elections. In a prelude of sorts, the Senate Finance Committee last month grilled drug company executives over the cost of their products.

Anger is bubbling up from their constituents. A February poll by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found nearly one in four Americans taking prescription drugs have difficultly affording their medications. Although majorities of the public trust pharmaceutical companies to develop new and effective drugs, only 25 percent trust them to price their products fairly — down from 41 percent in 2008.

Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the Alliance and Woodberry, described the nonprofit as "a national network of physicians that advocates for patient access to the medicines they prescribe."

Through the Alliance, she said, doctors "can share their perspectives about the benefits of respecting the physician-patient relationship, clinical decision making and personalized, patient-centered health care." It's no surprise, Hepworth said, that the group's backers include companies that manufacture medicines.

She declined to answer questions about the radio ad. The one-minute spot singles out for criticism a Trump administration proposal to gradually shift Medicare payments for drugs administered in doctors' offices to a level based on international prices.

Prices in other countries are lower because governments directly negotiate with manufacturers. But drugmakers have assailed the Trump plan, arguing it smacks of government price-setting and would lead to socialized health care.

The Alliance's radio spot makes the same argument, using nearly identical language. Under the Trump proposal, the ad says, "cancer treatment would be paid based on rates from countries with European-style health care, where access to new medicine is rationed and patients often wait months for care."

Tax filings for 2015 through 2017, the most recent available, show the Alliance has paid Woodberry's consultants more than $1 million. Brendan Fischer of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center said the transactions may raise red flags.

"Nonprofits are supposed to promote social welfare, not operate to provide a private benefit to any person or entity," Fischer said. "A nonprofit could run afoul of tax law if it is substantially benefiting a nonprofit officer's for-profit consulting firm."

Hepworth said Woodberry is a consultancy with a division that specializes in nonprofit coalition management and that the money paid to the firm's people represents a small amount of the Alliance's expenditures for those years.

The Alliance "files all of the appropriate paperwork with the IRS and takes the extra step of making available on its website a current list of its supporters," according to Hepworth. The link to this list takes a bit of searching to find, however.

The Alliance's money comes from more than three dozen associate members and financial supporters, which include several of the largest pharmaceutical companies. Among them are AbbVie, manufacturer of Humira, the blockbuster drug for immune system conditions; AstraZeneca, maker of the cholesterol drug Crestor; Bristol-Myers Squibb, maker of the blood thinner Eliquis; and Pfizer, maker of Lyrica for nerve pain.

The group's leaders are medical doctors based outside of Washington; those identified in the tax records as directors aren't paid for the one hour per month, on average, of work they do for the nonprofit. But several of them have earned tens of thousands of dollars in consulting and speaker fees from the health care industry, including companies that back the Alliance.

For example, Dr. Jack Schim, a neurologist in California and an Alliance director, was paid nearly $329,000 between 2015 and 2017, with the bulk of the money coming from Allergan, maker of wrinkle treatment Botox, according to a database maintained by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Schim was one of the top-ranking physicians in his specialty for these payments.

While the Alliance names its supporters, it doesn't disclose how much each has contributed. Federal rules permit groups structured as tax-exempt social welfare organizations to say little about their benefactors.

Social welfare organizations like the Alliance also may engage in limited political activities so long as politics isn't their primary focus. Known by their IRS designation as 501(c)(4)s, they typically are civic-minded groups such as homeowner associations and volunteer fire departments.

The Alliance spent $13.6 million in 2015 and 2016 on awards to recognize dozens of members of Congress who, according to Hepworth, "have championed patient access in the Medicare program." The lawmakers, who are barred by ethics rules from accepting monetary gifts, are presented with a plaque and are praised in press releases and advertisements. Recent recipients include Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Tax records for the drugmakers' influential trade association, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, provide a bit of insight into the Alliance's finances. The association, known as PhRMA, identifies the recipients of its grants and contributions. It donated more than $1.8 million to the Alliance between 2009 and 2016 and since 2016 gave another $215,000 to two smaller offshoots — the Institute for Patient Access and the Global Alliance for Patient Access.

PhRMA's largest single contribution, $1.4 million, came in 2016 when Trump, then a candidate for president, and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton rattled drug companies with their pledges to take aggressive steps to bring down prescription medication costs.

"Groups like the Alliance for Patient Access often act as foils for the pharmaceutical industry instead of advancing patient interests," said Steven Knievel of the nonpartisan watchdog group Public Citizen. "They advocate for policies where industry and patient interests align. But any time drug prices are on the table, they toe the line of their corporate backers."

Kennedy, a former top official at the Republican Governors Association, registered the Alliance in June 2006 in Iowa; he lists an address in Bettendorf on the certificate. He registered Woodberry Associates as an LLC nearly five months later, also in Iowa. Kennedy is the Alliance's executive director and Woodberry's president. The nonprofit and the business share an office in downtown Washington.

The bulk of the more than $1 million paid to Woodberry between 2015 and 2017 was for consulting services that Hepworth said ranged from managing Alliance working groups to the development and promotion of white papers, podcasts and social media posts. Kennedy also received more than $457,000 in reimbursements for travel, hotels and catering contracts.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Adobe]]>
<![CDATA[Apple Watch May Spot Heart Problem But More Research Needed]]>Sat, 16 Mar 2019 20:49:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AppleWatchHeart.JPG

A huge study suggests the Apple Watch can detect a worrisome irregular heartbeat at least sometimes — but experts say more work is needed to tell if using wearable technology to screen for heart problems really helps.

More than 419,000 Apple Watch users signed up for the unusual study, making it the largest ever to explore screening seemingly healthy people for atrial fibrillation, a condition that if untreated eventually can trigger strokes.

Stanford University researchers reported Saturday that the watch didn't panic flocks of people, warning just half a percent of participants — about 2,100 — that they might have a problem.

But even among those flagged, "it's not perfect," cautioned Dr. Richard Kovacs of the American College of Cardiology, who wasn't involved with the study.

People who received an alert were supposed to consult a study doctor via telemedicine and then wear an EKG patch measuring cardiac activity for the next week to determine the watch's accuracy. Some skipped the virtual check-up to consult their own doctors; overall, about 57 percent sought medical attention.

Among those who got EKG monitoring through the study, a third had atrial fibrillation, according to preliminary results being presented at an American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans.

A-fib tends to come and go, and a week of monitoring might have missed some cases, said Stanford lead researcher Dr. Mintu Turakhia. But if the watch detected another irregular heartbeat while someone was wearing the EKG patch, 84 percent of the time it really was a-fib, he said.

"This study we believe provides very encouraging evidence that a device, the Apple Watch, can be used to detect a-fib and to point out to people when additional monitoring or testing may be needed," said Dr. Lloyd Minor, Stanford's dean of medicine.

Other cardiac experts said the study, which was funded by Apple, suggests screening with wearable technology might be technically feasible eventually, but needs lots more research.

"I would not advise this to the overall general population," said Dr. Valentin Fuster, director of Mount Sinai Heart in New York and a former American Heart Association president, who wasn't involved with the study. Instead, he'd like to see it tested in seniors with risk factors like high blood pressure.

A-fib occurs when the heart's top chambers, called the atria, get out of sync with the bottom chambers' pumping action. Sometimes patients feel a flutter or a racing heart but many times they're not aware of an episode.

Sometimes the heart gets back into rhythm on its own. Other patients get an electric shock to get back into rhythm, or are prescribed blood thinners to counter the stroke-causing blood clots that untreated a-fib can spur. A-fib causes 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S.

A-fib is most common in older adults, and other risks include high blood pressure or a family history of arrhythmias. But routine screening isn't recommended for people without symptoms. Studies haven't yet proved that early detection from screening would prevent enough strokes to outweigh risks from unnecessary testing or overtreatment.

A mobile app uses the optical sensor on certain versions of the watch to analyze pulse rate data. If it detects enough variation from beat to beat over a 48-hour period, the user receives a warning of an irregular heart rhythm.

The latest version of the Apple Watch also allows wearers to push a button to take an EKG and share the reading with doctors. Saturday's study didn't include watches with that capability.

No. The study was designed to tell how the watch compared to a week of standard EKG monitoring — not if the wearer's health improved because the screening uncovered the arrhythmia. To prove if detecting a-fib early lowers risk of stroke would require years of study.

And since the study didn't have a comparison group getting routine EKGs, there's no way to know if the watch missed heartbeat problems, giving a false sense of security, Kovacs said.

The puzzling low numbers of alarms might be because most participants were young or middle-aged, not the seniors who are most at risk for a-fib, he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Measles Outbreak in NJ Sickens at Least 3: Officials ]]>Sun, 17 Mar 2019 09:12:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles4.jpg

A third person contracted measles in Ocean County in a new outbreak and health officials are warning others who may have been exposed. 

The New Jersey Department of Health said Friday that the person visited several locations in Lakewood from March 9 to March 14. Anyone who has been exposed should call a doctor immediately. Those exposed could develop symptoms through April 7. 

Measles is a highly contagious disease, and symptoms include rash, high fever, cough and red, watery eyes.

The Health Department says anyone who visited the following locations in Lakewood may have been exposed:

Congregation Bais Tefilla, 33 East 8th St.


  • March 9, 2019 from 8:30 a.m. and 1:45 p.m.
  • March 10 from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • March 11 from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • March 13 from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • March 14 from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.


Beth Medrash Govoha, Bais Yitzchok Hall


  • March 10 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • March 11 from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • March 13 from 12:45 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.


Beth Medrash Govoha, Yoshon Hall


  • March 10 from 4:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • March 11 from 4:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • March 12 from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. 


Beth Hamedrash Zichron Binyomin, 701 Princeton Ave.


  • March 9 from 3:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
  • March 10 from 9:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. (March 11)
  • March 11 from 9:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. (March 12)
  • March 13 from 10:45 p.m. to 1:15 a.m. (March 14)


Lake Terrace Hall, 1690 Oak St.


  • March 11 from 10:00 p.m. to 12:45 a.m. (March 12)


Kol Shimshon, 323 Squankum Rd.


  • March 12 from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
  • March 12 from 9:00 p.m. to 11:15 p.m.

Photo Credit: CDC via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Are Eggs Good or Bad for You? New Research Rekindles Debate]]>Fri, 15 Mar 2019 15:45:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/eggsGettyImages-103647421.jpg

The latest U.S. research on eggs won't go over easy for those can't eat breakfast without them.

Adults who ate about 1 ½ eggs daily had a slightly higher risk of heart disease than those who ate no eggs. The study showed the more eggs, the greater the risk. The chances of dying early were also elevated.

The researchers say the culprit is cholesterol, found in egg yolks and other foods, including shellfish, dairy products and red meat. The study focused on eggs because they're among the most commonly eaten cholesterol-rich foods. They can still be part of a healthy diet, but in smaller quantities than many Americans have gotten used to, the researchers say.

U.S. dietary guidelines that eased limits on cholesterol have helped eggs make a comeback.

The study has limitations and contradicts recent research, but is likely to rekindle the long-standing debate about eggs.

The new results were published online Friday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and elsewhere pooled results from six previous studies, analyzing data on almost 30,000 U.S. adults who self-reported daily food intake. Participants were followed for roughly 17 years, on average.

The researchers calculated that those who ate 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily — about 1 ½ eggs — were 17 percent more likely to develop heart disease than those who didn't eat eggs.

The researchers based their conclusions on what participants said they ate at the start of each study. They took into account high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and other traits that could contribute to heart problems. Risks were found with eggs and cholesterol in general; a separate analysis was not done for every cholesterol-rich food.

Dr. Bruce Lee of Johns Hopkins University, said nutrition studies are often weak because they rely on people remembering what they ate.

"We know that dietary recall can be terrible," said Lee. The new study offers only observational data but doesn't show that eggs and cholesterol caused heart disease and deaths, said Lee, who wasn't involved in the research.

Senior author Norrina Allen, a preventive medicine specialist, noted that the study lacks information on whether participants ate eggs hard-boiled, poached, fried, or scrambled in butter, which she said could affect health risks.

Some people think '"I can eat as many eggs as I want'" but the results suggest moderation is a better approach, she said.

Eggs are a leading source of dietary cholesterol, which once was thought to be strongly related to blood cholesterol levels and heart disease. Older studies suggesting that link led to nutrition guidelines almost a decade ago that recommended consuming no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol daily; one egg contains about 186 milligrams.

Newer research questioned that relationship, finding that saturated fats contribute more to unhealthy levels of blood cholesterol that can lead to heart problems.

The latest U.S. government nutrition guidelines, from 2015, removed the strict daily cholesterol limit. While eating as little cholesterol as possible is still advised, the recommendations say eggs can still be part of a healthy diet, as a good source of protein, along with lean meat, poultry, beans and nuts. Nutrition experts say the new study is unlikely to change that advice.

Dr. Frank Hu of Harvard University noted that most previous studies have shown that eating a few eggs weekly is not linked with risks for heart disease in generally healthy people.

"I don't think that this study would change general healthy eating guidelines" that emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans and limiting processed meats and sugar, Hu said. Eggs, a breakfast staple for many, can be included but other options should also be considered, "like whole grain toast with nut butter, fresh fruits, and yogurt," Hu said.

Dr. Rosalind Coleman, a professor of nutrition and pediatrics at the University of North Carolina, offered broader advice.

"The main message for the public is not to select a single type of food as 'bad' or 'good' but to evaluate your total diet in terms of variety and amount."

"I'm sorry if it seems like a boring recommendation," she added, but for most people, the most important diet advice "should be to maintain a healthy weight, to exercise, and to get an adequate amount of sleep."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Johnson & Johnson Ordered to Pay $29M in Baby Powder Case]]>Thu, 14 Mar 2019 09:00:51 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/babypowderGettyImages-998013112.jpg

Johnson & Johnson must pay $29 million to a woman who claimed its baby powder gave her terminal cancer, a California jury ruled Wednesday.

A Superior Court jury in Oakland found the world's largest health care company mainly liable for Teresa Leavitt's mesothelioma. The verdict said that the baby powder was a "substantial contributing factor" in her illness.

Her suit is one of many that link cancers to asbestos in Johnson & Johnson's talc-based products and contend that the company concealed the health risk for decades.

Requests for comment from the New Jersey-based comment were not immediately answered.

Johnson & Johnson is facing some 13,000 similar lawsuits around the country.

The company has insisted that its talc-based products are demonstrably safe but it has lost a string of court cases.

Last year, a Los Angeles jury awarded $25.7 million to a woman who blamed her cancer on the powder.

A jury in Missouri last year awarded $4.69 million to 22 women.

Johnson & Johnson's stock price dropped nearly 2 percent after hours on Wednesday before recovering to close at $139.41.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Environment a Hot Mess, But All Is Not Hopeless, UN Report Says]]>Wed, 13 Mar 2019 08:43:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/un-environmental-report.jpg

Earth is sick with multiple and worsening environmental ills killing millions of people yearly, a new U.N. report says.

Climate change, a global major extinction of animals and plants, a human population soaring toward 10 billion, degraded land, polluted air, and plastics, pesticides and hormone-changing chemicals in the water are making the planet an increasing unhealthy place for people, says the scientific report issued once every few years.

But it may not be too late.

"There is every reason to be hopeful," report co-editors Joyeeta Gupta and Paul Ekins told The Associated Press in an email. "There is still time but the window is closing fast."

The sixth Global Environment Outlook, released Wednesday at a U.N. conference in Nairobi, Kenya, painted a dire picture of a planet where environmental problems interact with each other to make things even more dangerous for people. It uses the word "risk" 561 times in a 740-page report.

The report concludes "unsustainable human activities globally have degraded the Earth's ecosystems, endangering the ecological foundations of society."

But the same document says changes in the way the world eats, buys things, gets its energy and handles its waste could help fix the problems.

The report is "a dramatic warning and a high-level road map for what must be done to prevent widespread disruption and even irreversible destruction of planetary life-support systems," said University of Michigan environment dean Jonathan Overpeck, who wasn't part of the report.

Several other scientists also praised the report, which draws on existing science, data and maps.

"This report clearly shows the connections between the environment and human health and well-being," said Stuart Pimm, a Duke University ecologist.

Gupta and Ekins, environmental scientists in Amsterdam and London, said air pollution annually kills 7 million people worldwide and costs society about $5 trillion. Water pollution, with associated diseases, kills another 1.4 million.

The scientists said the most important and pressing problems facing humankind are global warming and loss of biodiversity because they are permanent and affect so many people in so many different ways.

"Time is running out to prevent the irreversible and dangerous impacts of climate change," the report says, noting that unless something changes, global temperatures will exceed the threshold of warming — another 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) above current temperatures — that international agreements call dangerous.

The report details climate change impacts on human health, air, water, land and biodiversity. Almost all coastal cities and small island nations are increasingly vulnerable to flooding from rising seas and extreme weather.

"A major species extinction event, compromising planetary integrity and Earth's capacity to meet human needs, is unfolding," the report says, listing threats to ecosystems, fisheries and other major systems. It notes conservationists are divided on whether Earth is in a sixth mass extinction.

Not only are millions of people dying each year, but unhealthy air especially hurts "the elderly, very young, ill and poor," the report says.

While 1.5 billion people now get clean drinking water they lacked in 2000, water quality in many regions has worsened, the report says.

Plastics and other litter have invaded every ocean at all depths, the report says.

People getting sick from diseases caused by antimicrobial resistant bacteria in water supplies could become a major cause of death worldwide by 2050, unless something can be done about it, the report says.

Land is getting less fertile and useful. The report says degradation "hot spots," where it's difficult to grow crops, now cover 29 percent of all land areas. The rate of deforestation has slowed but continues.

"The report provides a roadmap to move beyond 'doom and gloom' and rally together to face the challenges and take the future in our hands," said former U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco, who wasn't part of the report. "This is an all-hands-on-deck moment."


The Associated Press Health and 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[Pillsbury Flour Sold at Winn-Dixie, Publix Recalled Over Salmonella Fears]]>Tue, 12 Mar 2019 10:20:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pillsbury.jpg

Hometown Food Company has recalled select Pillsbury Unbleached All Purpose Flour products because they may be contaminated with salmonella, NBC News reported.

The flour products were sold at a limited number of stores nationwide, including Publix and Winn-Dixie, which posted the voluntary recall on its website. About 12,185 cases of flour were affected, according to the notice on the Publix website. 

The affected flour comes in five-pound bags and has a "better if used by" date of April 2020.

There have not been any reports of illnesses. 

Photo Credit: USDA
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<![CDATA[‘Meatless Mondays’ Program Expands to NYC Public Schools ]]>Mon, 11 Mar 2019 14:20:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-57138369+resized.jpg

“Meatless Mondays” will expand to all New York City public schools, city officials announced Monday.

The program, which was first piloted in 15 schools in Brooklyn in spring 2018, will become a citywide initiative beginning in the 2019-2020 school year, at which point all schools will serve vegetarian menus on Mondays.

"Meatless Mondays" is a national initiative that focuses on healthy, environmentally friendly meal options. According to the city, this past fall, the pilot was brought to schools citywide in order to evaluate student feedback on a broader scale. The decision to implement "Meatless Mondays" across city schools came following an evaluation of participation metrics and student feedback.

City officials say the expansion will be cost-neutral, and the Department of Education’s Office of Food and Nutrition Services will meet with students to get qualitative feedback before the menu for fall is finalized.

“Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers' health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We're expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come.”

Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza shared similar sentiments.

“Meatless Mondays are good for our students, communities, and the environment,” Carranza said in a statement. “Our 1.1 million students are taking the next step towards healthier, more sustainable lives.”

According to the city, "Meatless Mondays" builds on the city’s efforts to provide free, healthy meals to all students and will form part of the city’s Free School Lunch for All, which launched in the 2017-18 school year and provides free, nutritious, healthy breakfast and lunch to all participating public schools.

In the 2017-18 school year, more than 150 million breakfasts and lunches were served free of charge. Additionally, each summer, the DOE provides free breakfast and lunch to any New Yorker under 18 through the Summer Meals program, according to city officials.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tired? It's National Napping Day]]>Mon, 11 Mar 2019 11:30:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-1022892316.jpg

If you’re dying to catch some Z’s, Monday’s national “holiday” is for you.

March 11th is National Napping Day. The unofficial holiday falls (appropriately) the day after Daylight Saving Time this year.

While falling asleep at work or school is never a good idea, you can rest assured in the fact that people across social media are also struggling with the time change.

Chugging down coffee and shots of cafecito seems to be a coping mechanism for many tired worker bees. But some organizations took it upon themselves to educate the public about the benefits of naps.

Southern New Hampshire Health shared a graphic about the perks of napping, saying a 20-minute snooze can help relieve stress, increase alertness and revive energy.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, napping can also have psychological benefits. Scheduled napping can even help those suffering from the sleep disorder known as narcolepsy.

Of course, overindulgence is never a good thing. The foundation warns that too much napping can have a negative effect on nighttime sleeping patterns, and may lead to feelings of disorientation and grogginess upon waking up. The organization notes that this “sleep inertia” doesn’t last long, but can be detrimental when one needs to focus or perform a task after waking up.

For more information about napping, click here.

Photo Credit: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Unvaccinated Oregon Boy Almost Dies of Tetanus: CDC]]>Sat, 09 Mar 2019 17:00:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tetanusGettyImages-81593288.jpg

An unvaccinated 6-year-old Oregon boy was hospitalized for two months for tetanus and almost died of the bacterial illness after getting a deep cut while playing on a farm, according to a case study published Friday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 2017 case is the first case of pediatric tetanus in Oregon in more than 30 years and alarmed infectious disease experts who said tetanus is almost unheard of in the U.S. since widespread immunization began in the 1940s.

The child received an emergency dose of the tetanus vaccine in the hospital, but his parents declined to give him a second dose — or any other childhood shots — after he recovered, the paper said.

"When I read that, my jaw dropped. I could not believe it. That's a tragedy and a misunderstanding, and I'm just flabbergasted," said Dr. William Schaffner, an expert in infectious diseases and chair at the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

"This is an awful disease, but ... we have had a mechanism to completely prevent it, and the reason that we have virtually no cases anymore in the United States is because we vaccinate, literally, everyone."

Doctors in Portland, Oregon, who treated the child declined to provide any further information about the family at a news conference Friday, citing medical privacy laws.

It was the first time that Dr. Judith Guzman-Cottrill, the pediatric infectious disease expert who treated the child, had ever seen tetanus because of widespread vaccination against it in the U.S.

When the boy arrived at the emergency department, his muscle spasms were so severe he could not talk, could not open his mouth and was struggling to breathe, she said.

"We had a hard time taking care of this child — watching him suffer — and it is a preventable disease," Guzman-Cottrill said.

News about the tetanus case comes as lawmakers in Oregon and Washington are considering bills that would end non-medical exemptions for routine childhood vaccines as the Pacific Northwest weathers its third month of a measles outbreak. Seventy people in southwest Washington, most of them unvaccinated children, have been diagnosed with the highly contagious viral illness since Jan. 1, as well as a handful of people in Portland, Oregon.

Unlike measles, which is a virus, someone who has survived a case of tetanus is not immune and can get the illness again if they remain unvaccinated. Tetanus also isn't transmitted person-to-person by sneezing or coughing like the measles, but instead comes from bacterial spores that are found in the environment.

Tetanus spores exist everywhere in the soil. When an unvaccinated person gets a deep, penetrating wound, those spores can invade the cut and begin producing the bacteria that causes the illness.

The tetanus bacterium secretes a toxin that gets into the bloodstream and latches onto the nervous system.

Anywhere from three to 21 days after infection, symptoms appear: muscle spasms, lockjaw, difficulty swallowing and breathing and seizures. The disease can cause death or severe disability in those who survive, Schaffner said.

About 30 people contract tetanus each year nationwide, according to the CDC, and 16 people died of it between 2009 and 2015. It's rare among children; those over 65 are the most vulnerable.

In the case in Oregon, the boy cut himself on the forehead while playing, and his family stitched up the wound themselves. Six days later, he began clenching his jaw, arching his neck and back and had uncontrollable muscle spasms.

When he began to have trouble breathing, his parents called paramedics and he was transported by air to Oregon Health & Science University's Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland. When he arrived, he asked for water but could not open his mouth.

The child was sedated, put on a ventilator and cared for in a darkened room while wearing earplugs because any stimulation made his pain and muscle spasms worse. His fever spiked to almost 105 degrees (40.5 Celsius), and he developed high blood pressure and a racing heartbeat.

Forty-four days after he was hospitalized, the boy was able to sip clear liquids. Six days later, he was able to walk a short distance with help. After another three weeks of inpatient rehabilitation and a month at home, he could ride a bike and run — a remarkable recovery, experts said.

The child's care — not including the air ambulance and inpatient rehabilitation — cost nearly $1 million, about 72 times the mean for a pediatric hospitalization in the U.S., the paper noted.

"The way to treat tetanus is you have to outlast it. You have to support the patient because this poison links on chemically and then it has to be slowly metabolized," Schaffner said.

Cases of tetanus have dropped by 95 percent in the U.S. since widespread childhood vaccination and adult booster shots became routine nearly 80 years ago; deaths have dropped 99 percent.

The CDC recommends a five-dose series of tetanus shots for children between the ages of 2 months and 6 years and a booster shot every 10 years for adults.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David Greedy/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Japanese Woman Honored by Guinness as Oldest Person at 116]]>Sat, 09 Mar 2019 01:59:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/worldsoldestAP_18208336216688.jpg

A 116-year-old Japanese woman who loves playing the board game Othello was honored Saturday as the world's oldest living person by Guinness World Records.

The global authority on records officially recognized Kane Tanaka in a ceremony at the nursing home where she lives in Fukuoka, in Japan's southwest. Her family and the mayor were present to celebrate.

Tanaka was born Jan. 2, 1903, the seventh among eight children. She married Hideo Tanaka in 1922, and they had four children and adopted another child.

She is usually up by 6 a.m. and enjoys studying mathematics.

The previous oldest living person was another Japanese woman, Chiyo Miyako, who died in July at age 117. The oldest person prior to Miyako was also Japanese.

Japanese tend to exhibit longevity and dominate the oldest-person list. Although changing dietary habits mean obesity has been rising, it's still relatively rare in a nation whose culinary tradition focuses on fish, rice, vegetables and other food low in fat. Age is also traditionally respected here, meaning people stay active and feel useful into their 80s and beyond.

But Tanaka has a ways to go before she is the oldest person ever, an achievement of a French woman, Jeanne Louise Calment, who lived to 122 years, according to Guinness World Records.

Guinness said the world's oldest man is still under investigation after the man who had the honors, Masazo Nonaka, living on the Japanese northernmost island of Hokkaido, died in January at 113.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Flu May Have Peaked, But Experts Eye Jump in Nastier Strain]]>Fri, 08 Mar 2019 16:43:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Flu9.jpg

There's a strong chance this flu season has peaked, but health officials are watching a recent wave of illnesses from a nastier flu strain.

Flu was reported to be widespread in 48 states last week, down from 49 the week before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday in its latest report on this winter's flu season. The federal agency's flu forecasters think there's a 90 percent chance the flu season has peaked.

But experts also are monitoring an increase in illnesses from a kind of flu virus that tends to cause more hospitalizations and deaths, especially in the elderly.

It's not unusual for several flu strains to spread around the country at the same time, but one kind usually predominates.

This season, a milder strain has been the most common cause of flu illnesses. But for the last two weeks, more illnesses have been tied to a strain that tends to cause more deaths.

Last week, about 60 percent of the flu virus samples tested were the more troublesome strain, known as Type A H3N2.

Uncertainty about what kind of H3N2 will be spreading later this year recently led the World Health Organization to postpone its decision on which strains should go into the flu vaccine for next season.

Last season, an estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications, the disease's highest death toll in at least four decades. In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000, according to the CDC.

CDC officials estimate there have been somewhere around 20,000 to 30,000 flu-related deaths so far this winter.

They also think there have been around 300,000 flu-related hospitalizations and around 25 million flu illnesses.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/ Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Possible Hepatitis A Exposure at LI Convenience Store]]>Mon, 11 Mar 2019 12:50:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/close-up-doctor-health-42273+doc+and+steth+pexels.jpg

Nassau County officials are warning of a potential Hepatitis A exposure at a convenience store in North Merrick.

An employee, who is a food handler at a 7-11 store located on Jerusalem Avenue in North Merrick, is a confirmed case of Hepatitis A, according to the Nassau Health Department.

Any customer who ate food or used the restroom between Feb. 1 and March 6 may have been exposed.

The Nassau County Department of Health will be providing vaccinations for people who were potentially exposed. The first free vaccination event is taking place Sunday afternoon at Nassau County Community College. Another vaccination event is scheduled for Monday from 1 to 6 p.m. at the Nassau County Department of Health. 

"Anyone who may have been exposed by using the toilet, drinking liquid, beverages, eating food from the 7-11 might benefit from this protective vaccination," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said. "The county is being protective and proactive by offering this free vaccination to those who may have been at risk."

Commissioner of Health Dr. Lawrence Eisenstein classified the risk as low.

"The risk is low. This is not a cause for panic, but people should take precautions and protect their health," he said. 

According to the state's Department of Health, "Hepatitis" is an inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the Hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months.

Hepatitis A virus is usually spread when a person ingests fecal matter - even in microscopic amounts - from contact with objects, food, or drinks contaminated by feces or stool from an infected person, according to the state's Department of Health. Contamination of food can happen at any point: growing, harvesting, processing, handling, and even after cooking.

Not everyone who is exposed to Hepatitis A develops symptoms, however, if they do, the symptoms usually appear two to six weeks after exposure and can include fever, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, grey-colored stools, dark urine, joint pain and jaundice, health officials say. 

Symptoms are more likely to occur in adults than in children.

According to the state's health department, the best way to prevent Hepatitis A is by getting vaccinated. Frequent handwashing with soap and water also helps prevent the spread of Hepatitis A.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[Stroke Prevention Tips: Don't Think You're Too Healthy]]>Fri, 08 Mar 2019 19:43:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-956352932.jpg

The death of "Beverly Hills, 90210" star Luke Perry this week from a massive stroke at the age of 52 is drawing attention to the risks for men of all ages.

Men under 65 tend to fall behind other demographic groups in treatment and control of risk factors, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Strokes among men in this age group may be more common than you think.  On average, men in the U.S. have their first stroke at the age of 66.  But nearly one in four strokes occur before then.

Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death for Americans. 

Experts have found that stroke-related hospitalizations doubled since 1995 among men 18 to 44, and the stroke risk among men 45 to 54 years increased from 24 percent to 44 percent. Economic stress, drug abuse, low access to preventive medicine, bad diets and the obesity epidemic have all contributed to the rise, according to Dr. Larry B. Goldstein, of the University of Kentucky and a volunteer medical expert for the American Heart Association.

Most importantly, according to the CDC, 80 percent of all strokes can be prevented. Here is what everyone can do to avoid getting a stroke.

Healthy living
Key to prevention is a combination of a healthy diet, a healthy weight, physical activity and avoiding smoking and excess consumption of alcohol. If you are a man, you are likely to be at risk: 3 of 4 American men are overweight, only 1 in 4 gets enough physical activity, and men are more likely to smoke than women. 

This is what the CDC, the American Stroke Association, and the Heart and Stroke Foundation say you should do. Limit salt to avoid increased blood pressure and avoid foods with saturated fat to keep your cholesterol in check. Do not eat more than the equivalent of 12 teaspoons of added sugar a day. Avoid sugary drinks. Excess sugar causes diabetes, another health factor that increases the risk of getting a stroke. Eat one or more fruits and one or more vegetables a day. Cook at home more often.

"People who follow a healthy lifestyle have 80 percent lower risk to having a stroke," Goldstein said.

Do at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, and to make it more fun, look for opportunities to do physical activities in your community. Monitor your weight, quit smoking, sleep fully every night, and avoid having more than two drinks a day. Ask your family doctor to guide you toward a healthier lifestyle.

A recent study also suggested that vaping and hookah smoking, now popular among young people, increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks, Goldstein said. Results showed that e-cigarette users had 71 percent higher risk of stroke than non-users.

Know if you are at risk, control your physical condition, take your medicine
Don't let young age, feeling good, doing exercise and being perfectly in shape fool you. You may be genetically prone to strokes. Luke Perry's father, for example, died of a heart attack when Perry was 14.

Blacks are twice as likely to get a stroke than whites. The American Heart Association has reported that there may be a gene that makes African-Americans much more sensitive to the effects of salt, which in turn increases the risk for developing high blood pressure.

So go to the doctor. The CDC and the National Stroke Association suggest you get checked for key medical risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. If anything comes up, go for regular checkups and follow treatments with discipline. Take your medicines.

Goldstein said that if you cannot afford to go to the doctor for preventive care, there are two ways you can detect medical risk factors for free. Go to any drug store and check your blood pressure. You can also put your thumb on your wrist and feel your pulse. If it's not regular, seek medical care.

Know the symptoms
Whether you survive a stroke or not will depend on how fast you get to the hospital. Getting to the emergency room within three hours of the first symptoms will reduce the likelihood of a disability after a stroke. The American Stroke Association recommends knowing the key warning signs. They are:


  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face arm or leg, especially on side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.


You should also be attentive to a special category of stroke, called Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA). TIAs are also known as mini strokes. The episodes are brief and you may not be aware you are having them, unless you pay attention to the symptoms. These include fainting and tingling in the arms and legs. A report by Harvard University Medical School recommends not ignoring these symptoms or attempting self-diagnosis.

"The best action is to be evaluated at a hospital," the report said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Library]]>
<![CDATA[Monthly Shots Control HIV as Well as Pills in 2 Big Studies]]>Fri, 08 Mar 2019 08:05:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HIV-T-Cell.jpg

Monthly shots of HIV drugs worked as well as daily pills to control the virus that causes AIDS in two large international tests, researchers reported Thursday.

If approved by regulators in the United States and Europe, the shots would be a new option for people with HIV and could help some stay on treatment. Instead of having to remember to take pills, patients instead could get injections from a doctor or nurse each month.

"Some people will be thrilled" at the convenience, said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC, an AIDS advocacy group.

Condoms remain the most widely available and inexpensive form of HIV prevention. Pills taken daily can keep HIV levels so low the virus is not transmittable to sex partners, but not everyone takes them as prescribed.

The shots could improve how well some people stick to treatment, perhaps helping those who have trouble remembering to take daily medicine to keep infection at bay.

There are other potential benefits. Getting shots at a clinic can lend more privacy to patients worried about the stigma of filling an HIV prescription at a pharmacy, said Dr. Susan Swindells of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, who presented results Thursday at an HIV conference in Seattle.

Cost will be an issue "to make sure that everyone has access to this medication," said Dr. Hyman Scott of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, who was not part of the study. It's not clear how much the shots would cost. HIV pills can cost a patient up to thousands of dollars monthly , depending on the drug combination, insurance coverage, rebates and discounts.

And there will be concerns about patients missing a monthly shot, which could lead to drug-resistant strains of the virus. It will be "a good option for some people," Scott said.

Whether monthly shots will also work to protect users' sex partners hasn't been studied yet, but there is reason to think they will, said experts at the conference.

The shots are a long-acting combo of two HIV drugs — rilpivirine, sold as Edurant by Johnson & Johnson's Janssen, and ViiV Healthcare's experimental drug known as cabotegravir.

ViiV Healthcare paid for the research. The drugmakers are seeking approval later this year in the United States and Europe.

One study included 616 people who were taking pills to treat their HIV infection. The other study enrolled 566 people who hadn't yet started treatment, so they first got pills to get the virus under control.

In each of the studies, half the participants switched to the shots while the rest stayed on pills. After nearly a year, 1 to 2 percent of people in both groups had traces of virus in their blood, whether they got shots or pills. That shows the shots worked as well as the standard pill therapy. A few people withdrew from the studies because of pain after the injections.

The studies were done in Europe and North America and in nations including Argentina, Australia, Russia, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Japan and Mexico.

"We don't have experience rolling out an injection in the real world," said Warren, the AIDS advocate. He said the next challenges will be how to deliver the shots and whether patients will remember to come back monthly. "These are big questions."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer, Austin Athman/National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases/NIH ]]>
<![CDATA[Facebook Cracks Down on Vaccine Misinformation]]>Thu, 07 Mar 2019 16:32:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vaccineGettyImages-462294288.jpg

Facebook announced on Thursday new policies to reduce the visibility of vaccine misinformation on its platform, including rejecting advertising and excluding groups and pages from search results that spread “vaccine hoaxes.”

The announcement comes after weeks of criticism from public health advocates and lawmakers who have called for action to curtail inaccurate information about vaccines, which have led to a resurgence of childhood diseases that had effectively been eradicated.

“We are fully committed to the safety of our community and will continue to expand on this work,” wrote Monika Bickert, Facebook’s vice president of global policy management, in a blog post announcing the change.

The anti-vaccination community is united by the unscientific theory that vaccinations are toxic and cause myriad illnesses, including autism, and misguidedly believe a conspiracy helmed by the government and the pharmaceutical industry is keeping the truth about vaccines from the public.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[At Least 16 Diagnosed With Mumps at Temple University]]>Thu, 07 Mar 2019 15:50:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/templeAP_17283669647902.jpg

Health officials say at least 16 cases of mumps have been confirmed at Temple University, the most cases in the city since 2011.

The Department of Public Health for Philadelphia said Thursday the effectiveness of the mumps vaccination tends to wane over time so it's not necessarily a case of unvaccinated people.

Spokesman James Garrow says the outbreaks tend to be more common on college campuses where people are more closely in contact.

There is no cure for mumps. Symptoms include feeling tired, fever and swollen salivary glands on the side of the face.

Garrow said the outbreak probably won't increase in number since Temple health officials are being told to treat the virus instead of testing.

The city's public health department said in 2017, there were eight confirmed cases in Philadelphia.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt Rourke/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Juul Is Pitching Its E-Cigarette as an Anti-Smoking Tool]]>Thu, 07 Mar 2019 14:45:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/juulGettyImages-997165908.jpg

Juul has a new program to pitch its e-cigarette to companies and insurers who want to help their employees stop smoking cigarettes as the company continues to stave off criticism that its product has caused an epidemic in teen smoking. 

CNBC has learned that the company hired former Cardinal Health executive Douglas Roberts in the fall to lead its new “enterprise markets team,” which is focused on striking deals with health plans, providers, self-insured employers and the public sector. 

The team now includes 17 employees, Roberts told CNBC.

In an interview, Roberts said he decided to take the job with Juul because it was clear to him that large hospitals across the country were looking at ways to make a big impact across their patient population and the role felt like a “natural opportunity” to do that. He has spent the past few months meeting with potential customers, including large employers in the private and public sector, though he declined to name them. 

“It’s pretty consistent what we’re hearing, which is what’s out there today is not working, and people are really looking to get their arms around how do they provide alternatives to large groups and large masses of people who really haven’t had effective alternatives,” he said.

Roberts said it’s still early, but Juul is planning to design a program to help smokers switch from combustible cigarettes to e-cigarettes. He acknowledged that Juul’s device has not been evaluated as a smoking cessation tool and therefore can’t market itself as one like nicotine gums or patches.

Juul said its program will involve sending a survey to identify eligible participants, creating a unique website where participants can sign up and buy discounted devices and nicotine pods and offering coaching and other support like educational articles and instructional videos.

The company has seen its fair share of criticism since introducing its vapes and fruity nicotine pods in 2015. Outgoing Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has blamed the teen vaping epidemic on Juul. The company over the past year has tried to overhaul its image and prove that it’s really a health-focused company that wants to “improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers by eliminating cigarettes,” as its website claims.

Smoking-related illness in the U.S. costs more than $300 billion between direct medical costs and lost productivity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Employers footing the bills are searching for ways to get their employees to give up cigarettes. Of adult smokers who try to quit, just about 7.4 percent succeed, according to CDC survey data. 

E-cigarettes are billed as a way for people to get their nicotine fix without all the harm that comes with inhaling burned tobacco. The United Kingdom has aggressively encouraged smokers to switch to the devices, citing research showing they’re significantly less riskier than combustible cigarettes. But doctors and health experts in the U.S. have been wary of recommending people switch to the devices, citing the unknown long-term risks. 

Juul is hoping to sway its critics. It has started presenting results from clinical trials and publishing research in peer-reviewed journals.

“Many employers have embraced cessation as a benefit as it’s one of the top areas where they repeat benefits for employees,” said Wende Hutton, a general partner at Canaan and investor in Chrono Therapeutics, a company developing a digital nicotine replacement therapy. "And employees who smoke and are able to quit see health impacts very quickly." 

But not everyone is convinced that employers will bite. 

“I don’t think they want solutions that’ll move employees from smoking to e-cigarettes,” said Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health, which represents large employers.

Marcotte also said that while smoking cessation programs are important, and many employers already offer one, so finding alternatives isn’t a top priority. Employers are more focused on curbing pharmacy costs and finding support for workers’ mental health, he said.

Juul will also need to change minds that its e-cigarettes can actually be helpful. Taking a $12.8 billion investment from Altria, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes might hurt Juul’s credibility. Although Juul might soon sell more than e-cigarettes and introduce other products like nicotine gum and counseling services.

The company has not announced any partnerships so far, though it’s in active conversations with private and public employers and multiple large veterans organizations.

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

Photo Credit: Gabby Jones/Bloomberg via Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Mind-Altering, Ketamine-Like Drug OK'd for Severe Depression]]>Mon, 11 Mar 2019 18:02:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ketamine+.jpg

A mind-altering medication related to the club drug Special K won U.S. approval Tuesday for patients with hard-to-treat depression, the first in a series of long-overlooked substances being reconsidered for severe forms of mental illness.

The nasal spray from Johnson & Johnson called Esketamine is a chemical cousin of ketamine, which has been used for decades as a powerful anesthetic to prepare patients for surgery. In the 1990s, the medication was adopted as a party drug by the underground rave culture due to its ability to produce psychedelic, out-of-body experiences. More recently, some doctors have given ketamine to people with depression without formal FDA approval.

The Food and Drug Administration approved Spravato as a fast-acting treatment for patients who have failed to find relief with at least two antidepressants. Up to 7.4 million American adults suffer from so-called treatment-resistant depression, which heightens the risk of suicide, hospitalization and other serious harm, according to the FDA.

The drug will cost between $590 and $885 depending on the dosage and before various insurance discounts and rebates.

There have been no major pharmaceutical innovations for depression since the launch of Prozac and related antidepressants in the late 1980s. Those drugs target the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, and can take weeks or months to kick in.

Ketamine and J&J's version work differently than those drugs, targeting a chemical called glutamate that is thought to restore brain connections that help relieve depression.

When the drug works, its effect is almost immediate. That speed "is a huge thing because depressed patients are very disabled and suffer enormously," said Dr. John Mann, a psychiatrist and researcher at Columbia University. If the drug doesn't work, physicians can quickly switch to other options, he noted.

The FDA approved Spravato, known chemically as esketamine, based on study results that showed patients taking the drug experienced a bigger improvement in their depression levels than patients taking a sham treatment, when measured with a psychiatric questionnaire.

The drug is designed to be lower-dose and easier to use than ketamine, which is normally given as an intravenous infusion.

Robin Prothro, 60, began taking antidepressants more than 20 years ago. But she says none of the five medications she tried relieved the depression that has stymied her personal and professional life.

Since enrolling in a Spravato trial two years ago, Prothro says her depression has lifted and she's returned to hobbies she abandoned years ago, like gardening.

She takes the drug every two weeks at her psychiatrist's office while reclining in a comfortable chair.

"You can feel it coming on, it's a strong drug," she said, describing colors and shapes that drift before her eyes. "I just let the drug work. I close my eyes and my mind is amazingly quiet."

The ketamine-like drug is the first of several psychoactive substances making their way through the U.S. regulatory process as physicians search further afield for new therapies. Researchers are conducting late-stage trials of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, and MDMA, a euphoria-inducing club drug, as potential treatments for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Substantially different agents are only rarely appearing from pharmaceutical companies or other laboratories," said Dr. Paul Summergrad, a psychiatrist at Tufts University. "That's prompting people to investigate other compounds."

Unlike ketamine, psilocybin and MDMA have no legal medical use. Classified in the same category as heroin and LSD, they are tightly restricted by the federal government. But the FDA's approval of esketamine could smooth their path.

Depression is among the leading causes of disability in the U.S. and is being closely monitored by health authorities amid rising suicides nationwide. In 2017, the U.S. suicide rate rose to 14 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest rate in at least 50 years, according to federal records.

Government officials haven't suggested an explanation for the trend, though academic researchers point to the nation's widening income gap, financial struggles and divisive politics.

J&J's drug will be subject to a number of restrictions due to its abuse potential, side effects and lingering safety questions.

The drug will only be given by accredited specialists who must monitor patients for at least two hours after administration, due to its trippy, disorienting effects. Additionally, all patients will be tracked in a registry to monitor long-term safety and effectiveness.

The immediate impact of ketamine is thought to last just four to seven days and there's no consensus yet on how long patients can benefit from ongoing treatment.

Still, there are few other options for patients who fail to respond to antidepressants. The most effective treatment in such cases, electroshock therapy, requires patients to be fully sedated and can cause persistent memory loss.

Wall Street has high expectations for J&J's medication, with analysts predicting more than $600 million in annual sales by 2022. But J&J will face competition in the marketplace.

A decades-old drug, ketamine is already used off-label to treat depression by some doctors. At least 150 clinics around the U.S. provide treatment with various forms of the drug, which is available as a low-cost generic. Patients often pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for intravenous infusions of the drug over several weeks or months. Such therapies are generally not covered by insurance because they haven't been approved as safe and effective by FDA regulators.

Some doctors plan to offer both ketamine and the new J&J drug.

Dr. Steve Levine says having FDA-approved standards for dosing and administering the new drug should raise standards in the field and drive out some of the bad actors who are not qualified to treat depression.

"This is going to bring in some standards, regulation and it's going to make it safer and more accessible to patients," said Levine, who serves as vice president of the American Society of Ketamine Physicians, a group representing doctors, nurses and others using ketamine for treating depression or other nonapproved uses.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Warns of Asbestos in Claire's Makeup; Company Disputes]]>Tue, 12 Mar 2019 07:55:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/clAP_18078752220233.jpg

U.S. regulators on Tuesday warned people not to use certain Claire's makeup products after samples tested positive for asbestos, but the retailer disputed the findings.

The Food and Drug Administration said it issued the warning because it said Claire's refused to comply with its request for a recall, and that the agency doesn't have the power to force one.

In a statement, Claire's noted that it removed the three products identified by the FDA from its stores "out of an abundance of caution," and that it's also removing any remaining talc-based cosmetics. But the company said the FDA's test results mischaracterize fibers as asbestos. It said it tried to discuss the matter with the FDA, but the agency moved ahead with its warning.

The FDA conducted the tests after learning of reports of asbestos in products sold by retailers Claire's and Justice in 2017. A Justice representative noted that it quickly recalled products in 2017. Justice said one set of its tests showed no evidence of asbestos, while a second round of testing showed trace amounts. Claire's removed products from stores but didn't issue a recall. The FDA said Tuesday its tests, conducted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and AMA Analytical Services, confirmed asbestos in three Claire's products and one Justice product.

The FDA said the three products people shouldn't use are Claire's Eye Shadows, batch/lot No: 08/17; Claire's Compact Powder, batch/lot No.: 07/15; and Claire's Contour Palette, batch/lot No.: 04/17.

The agency said it was not aware of anyone being sickened by the makeup. Asbestos fibers can get stuck in the lungs and it can cause cancer, but the greatest risk is to people with frequent, long term exposure to it.

Cosmetics do not have to be reviewed or approved by the FDA. On Tuesday, the agency said it plans to collect information on how companies ensure the talc they use is free from asbestos.

The FDA also asked companies to register their products and ingredient lists on its website, but noted that doing so is not required.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Seth Wenig/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Certain Birth Control Pills Recalled Over 'Packaging Error']]>Wed, 06 Mar 2019 10:55:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Birth-Control-Pill-recall.jpg

Thousands of drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol birth control packages are being recalled over a "packaging error" that could have women taking pills off the medication's schedule.

The Apotex Corp. recall covers 3 mg / 0.03 mg drospirenone and ethinyl estradiol tablets that feature the NDC number 60505-4183-3 on the outer and inner cartons. The packaging may have an incorrect tablet arrangement or an empty slot for a tablet, meaning a patient may take the wrong pill, varying the dosage.

Apotex said in its recall notice that it's received no reports of pregnancies or adverse events due to the issue. Anyone with affected tablets should speak with their pharmacy and health care provider; they should also continue their therapy or use a non-hormonal method of birth control, according to the recall notice.

"As a result of this packaging error, where a patient does not take a tablet due to a missing tablet or that a patient takes a placebo instead of an active tablet, loss of efficacy is possible due to variation in the dosage consumed," Apotex said in a statement.

The affected pills were distributed to wholesalers and distributors nationwide, according to the recall notice. The affected lot numbers are 7DY008A through 7DY011A, with expiration date 8/2020.

A representative for Apotex said that 82,705 packages are being recalled.

Any consumers with questions can reach Apotex by calling 1-800-706-5575 between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays or by emailing UScustomerservice@Apotex.com.

Photo Credit: Apotex Corp. via FDA]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Chief Scott Gottlieb Steps Down After Nearly 2 Years]]>Tue, 05 Mar 2019 23:34:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18064843321016-Scott-Gottlieb.jpg

Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb is stepping down after nearly two years leading the agency's response to a host of public health challenges, including the opioid epidemic, rising drug prices and underage vaping.

Gottlieb cited "the challenge of being apart from my family" in Connecticut when announcing his departure Tuesday in a note to FDA staff. He'll leave next month.

President Donald Trump tapped Gottlieb in 2017 to "cut red tape" at the FDA. But Gottlieb bucked expectations by pushing the agency to expand its authorities in several key ways, including an unprecedented effort to make cigarettes less addictive by requiring lower nicotine levels .

The 46-year-old physician and former conservative pundit advanced his agenda while managing to maintain the support of the president, Republicans and key Democrats in Congress.

Still, he departs with his most sweeping plans unfinished, including the initiative to make cigarettes less addictive.

"Scott deserves very strong credit for his stance on tobacco, I only wish he would have seen some of those efforts through to fruition," said Dr. David Kessler, who led the FDA from 1990 to 1997. "In the end you have to bring those things home."

Harvard University professor Daniel Carpenter said Gottlieb benefited from comparisons with more unconventional, anti-regulatory Trump appointees.

"He could govern from a place of moderation and get all the more credit because so many other agencies and positions under the Trump administration were either falling apart or vacant," said Carpenter, who has written extensively on the FDA.

In recent months, Gottlieb has come under fire for not acting more forcefully to address an explosion in teenage use of electronic cigarettes, especially those with candy and fruit flavors. Under Gottlieb, the FDA has emphasized vaping as a potential tool to wean adult smokers off traditional cigarettes. And in a widely criticized move, Gottlieb delayed key regulations on vaping devices until 2022, in part, to avoid over-regulating the industry.

Anti-smoking groups are now suing the agency to begin reviewing all e-cigarettes. While the FDA has proposed steps to keep e-cigarettes away from teenagers, including tightening restrictions on convenience store sales, it's unclear whether they will be enough to reverse the trend.

The pushback against FDA's approach to vaping threatens to overshadow what is by far Gottlieb's most far-reaching plan. Gottlieb announced in July 2017 the FDA would seek to require tobacco companies to drastically cut nicotine in cigarettes, in a bid to help adult smokers quit. The agency has had the authority to regulate nicotine levels since 2009, though no previous FDA commissioner tried to use it. The agency is still in the early stages of writing regulations that would standardize nicotine in cigarettes.

Dr. Peter Lurie, a former senior FDA official under President Barack Obama, said Gottlieb embraced the agency's regulatory powers where other Trump appointees tried to weaken their agencies.

"He tried to use its authority in an appropriate fashion," Lurie said, noting the FDA's recent announcements on dietary supplements and work to continue food inspections during the government shutdown.

Elsewhere, Gottlieb targeted drug industry tactics used to maintain sky-high prices on older drugs, calling them "shenanigans" and "deceptions." For decades, FDA commissioners steered clear of the issue, noting that the FDA has no direct role in regulating U.S. medicine prices, which are set by drugmakers. But Gottlieb said the agency could help spur competition and reshuffled its review procedures to speed up approvals of lower-cost generic drugs.

Early in his tenure, Gottlieb identified the epidemic of opioid abuse and overdoses as the "biggest crisis facing the nation." But there have been few clear victories against the problem for either the FDA or the Trump administration.

Drug overdose deaths hit their highest level on record in 2017 — the most recent year for which federal data is available. Fatal overdoses are largely driven by illegal opioids including fentanyl and heroin, though the epidemic was trigged by legal prescription painkillers like OxyContin.

As FDA Commissioner, Gottlieb boosted the agency's inspectors at U.S. mail facilities to try and intercept illegal opioid shipments from China and other nations. It's not yet clear whether that effort has reduced drug abuse or overdose rates.

Trump tweeted that Gottlieb "has done an absolutely terrific job," adding "he and his talents will be greatly missed."

On FDA's more day-to-day responsibilities, Gottlieb continued a multi-decade, bipartisan shift toward faster, more streamlined product reviews for drugs and medical devices. That issue has long been the top priority for the powerful pharmaceutical and device industries, which spend millions lobbying Congress and the federal government annually to ensure speedy market access for their products.

FDA approvals for first-of-a-kind drugs, generic drugs and medical devices hit all-time highs last year.

Gottlieb has long been a favorite of the industry, due to his focus on cutting unnecessary regulations and speeding product approvals. He served in the FDA under George W. Bush and then spent nearly a decade as a conservative commentator at the American Enterprise Institute, while also working as a venture capitalist and industry consultant.  

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kathy Young/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Teen Tells Senate Why He Defied His Mom to Get Vaccinated ]]>Tue, 05 Mar 2019 18:14:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/teen-vaccine.jpg

An Ohio teen defied his mother's anti-vaccine beliefs and started getting his shots when he turned 18 — and told Congress on Tuesday that it's crucial to counter fraudulent claims on social media that scare parents.

Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, said his mother's "love, affection and care is apparent," but that she was steeped in online conspiracies that make him and his siblings vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases like the ongoing measles outbreaks.

"I grew up under my mother's beliefs that vaccines are dangerous," Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He'd show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that "instill fear into the public."

Last December, despite his mother's disapproval and realizing that "my school viewed me as a health threat," Lindenberger began catching up on his missed immunizations. He told lawmakers it's important "to inform people about how to find good information" and to remind them how dangerous these diseases really are.

This year is shaping up to be a bad one for measles as already, the U.S. has counted more than 200 cases in 11 states — including about 70 in an outbreak in the Pacific Northwest.

Measles is one of the most contagious viruses, able to be spread through coughs and sneezes for four days before someone develops the characteristic rash. It's dangerous: 1 in 20 patients get pneumonia, and 1 in 1,000 get brain swelling that can lead to seizures, deafness or intellectual disability. While deaths are rare in the U.S., measles killed 110,000 people globally in 2017 — and unvaccinated Americans traveling abroad, or foreign visitors here, can easily bring in the virus.

The vaccine is highly effective and very safe, John Wiesman, Washington state's health secretary, told the Senate Health, Education, Labor &amp; Pensions Committee.

In fact, a massive 10-year study of more than 650,000 children born in Denmark offered fresh reassurance that there's no risk of autism from the measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR, vaccine. An autism-vaccine link was long ago exposed as a fraud but still is cited by vaccine opponents. In Annals of Internal Medicine on Tuesday, researchers compared vaccinated and unvaccinated tots and concluded: "Our study does not support that MMR vaccination increases the risk for autism, triggers autism in susceptible children or is associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination."

In the U.S., more than 90 percent of the population nationally is properly vaccinated but there are pockets of the country, including in Wiesman's hard-hit state, where fewer children get immunized on time or at all. They in turn are a hazard to people who can't get vaccinated — babies who are too young or people with weak immune systems.

Vaccination against a list of diseases is required to attend school, but 17 states, including Ohio, allow some type of non-medical exemption for "personal, moral or other beliefs," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The hearing came a day after the American Academy of Pediatrics urged the CEOs of Facebook, Google and Pinterest to better counter vaccine misinformation spread through their sites.

"We have an opportunity, and in my view, an obligation, to work together to solve this public health crisis," wrote Dr. Kyle Yasuda, the group's president.

Lindenberger created national headlines after he posted on Reddit several months ago that, "my parents think vaccines are some kind of government scheme" and "god knows how I'm still alive." He asked how to go about getting vaccinated on his own.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a how-to-list for youths ages 7 to 18 who've missed childhood shots.

Lindenberger's mother, Jill Wheeler, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that that she was proud of how her son carried himself even though "I didn't agree with anything he said." Wheeler said she feared her children having a bad reaction if they were vaccinated, and questioned why a teen was given a national platform to discuss the topic. "They've made him the poster child for the pharmaceutical industry," she said.

Tuesday, the high school senior told the Senate panel that parents aren't the only ones who need better education. "Most of my friends didn't even understand they could get vaccinated despite their parents' wishes," Lindenberger said. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Experts: Freezing Eggs Offers Women Hope, But Not Everyone Wins]]>Tue, 05 Mar 2019 15:34:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/IVF.jpg

In the past decade, egg freezing has undergone major technological improvements. But experts are still raising concerns that the technology may not be keeping up with expectations as an ever-increasing number of women in the United States turn to it, NBC News reports

“One of the fantasies is that when a woman is ready to have a child, that science will make it possible for them,” said Tanya Selvaratnam, an activist and author of “The Big Lie: Motherhood, Feminism, and the Reality of the Biological Clock.” “The reality is that it won’t work out for every woman.”

According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 21 percent of Assisted Reproductive Technology cycles among patients using their own frozen eggs ultimately ended in live births. The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, which uses a slightly different metric than the CDC, showed odds that top out around 11 percent, depending on age.

But for Emily Goulet, an infertility specialist who used her frozen eggs to conceive, her 10-month-old son Charlie was worth the expensive gamble that included multiple rounds of IVF hormone shots and tens of thousands of dollars.


“He is my motivation,” Goulet said. “Even those mornings when I wake up at 5:45 and I want to sleep five more minutes, I say, ‘No, I need to get out there and help other women have a baby like him.’”
Elizabeth Chuck
Elizabeth Chuck is a reporter for NBC News.

“He is my motivation,” Goulet said. “Even those mornings when I wake up at 5:45 and I want to sleep five more minutes, I say, ‘No, I need to get out there and help other women have a baby like him.’”

Photo Credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[OxyContin Maker Purdue Pharma Exploring Bankruptcy: Source]]>Tue, 05 Mar 2019 11:33:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1458.jpg

OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma is exploring filing for bankruptcy as one of its options to address potentially significant liabilities from thousands of lawsuits alleging the drug maker contributed to the deadly opioid crisis sweeping the U.S., NBC News confirmed through a source familiar with the matter. 

The deliberations show how Purdue and its wealthy owners, the Sackler family, are under pressure to respond to mounting litigation accusing the pharmaceutical company of misleading doctors and patients about risks associated with prolonged use of its prescription opioids.


Purdue denies the allegations, arguing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels for its opioids carried warnings about the risk of abuse and misuse associated with the drugs.


Purdue denies the allegations, arguing that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved labels for its opioids carried warnings about the risk of abuse and misuse associated with the drugs. The Stamford, Connecticut, drug maker has not made any final decisions and could instead continue fighting the lawsuits, sources told NBC News.

"As a privately held company, it has been Purdue Pharma’s longstanding policy not to comment on our financial or legal strategy," Purdue said in a statement. "We are, however, committed to ensuring that our business remains strong and sustainable."

Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[1st Man Cured of HIV Has Words of Support for 2nd Patient]]>Tue, 05 Mar 2019 11:16:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2019-03-05+at+10.00.16+AM.png

Timothy Brown, the Berlin man known to be the first person cured of HIV, has words of support and encouragement for a second patient that scientists say are free of the disease after a successful stem cell transplant.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

<![CDATA[Survey Finds Few Seniors Are Getting Routine Memory Checkups]]>Tue, 05 Mar 2019 08:25:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18256018577029.jpg

Few seniors get their thinking and memory abilities regularly tested during check-ups, according to a new report from the Alzheimer's Association that raises questions about how best to find out if a problem is brewing.

Medicare pays for an annual "wellness visit" that is supposed to include what's called a cognitive assessment — a brief check for some early warning signs of dementia, so people who need a more thorough exam can get one.

But doctors aren't required to conduct a specific test, and there's little data on how often they perform these cognitive snapshots.

About half of seniors say they've ever discussed thinking or memory with a health care provider, and less than a third say they've ever been assessed for possible cognitive problems, according to an Alzheimer's Association survey being released Tuesday.

Even fewer, 16 percent, said they get regular cognitive assessments — a stark contrast to the blood pressure and cholesterol checks that just about everyone gets routinely. Just 1 in 3 knew cognition is supposed to be part of the annual wellness visit.

Even though many older adults say they've noticed changes in their mental abilities, "the majority of the time seniors are waiting for the physician to bring it up," said Alzheimer's Association chief program officer Joanne Pike.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common type, affecting 5.8 million people in the U.S. The disease takes root in the brain decades before symptoms appear. There is no cure, and today's treatments only ease symptoms, not blocking the disease from gradually worsening.

Still, it's important to be alert to signs of mental decline. Some slowing of memory is a normal part of aging, like temporarily misplacing your keys. But more significant declines in memory, thinking skills or behavior can require medical care.

It might be something treatable like sleep apnea, depression or a side effect of medication.

But if someone is developing dementia, knowing early allows people time to plan for their future care — and to participate in research studies of possible new treatments, Pike said.

The doctor looks for any signs of impairment as the check-up gets under way, asks the patient directly about any changes over time, and asks any family members who came along for the visit if they have concerns.

Then the doctor sometimes, not always, administers a test, such as telling the senior to remember a short list of words or to draw a clock showing a certain time.

Some written tests excel at spotting subtle problems, but they're too simplistic to rule out trouble in high-functioning people. Nor does a poor score mean there's really a problem, just that more sophisticated testing is required.

Medical guidelines don't say everyone needs a formal assessment with those memory quizzes, cautioned Dr. Sumi Sexton of Georgetown University's School of Medicine and editor of the journal American Family Physician, who wasn't involved with the survey.

In fact, you might be getting assessed and not realize it, she said. Maybe a conversation with the doctor shows that you're pretty active and doing well. Or maybe the doctor spots that you're taking medications that can impede cognition — and changes your prescription, waiting to see if that solved any problem before looking for other potential causes.

"We are all attuned to memory issues," said Sexton, who tends to screen frequently — but wasn't surprised at the report's low screening numbers, because a discussion about cognitive impairment takes time in an already crammed check-up.

And it's hard for patients to bring up, said Jim Gulley, 69, who was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's in 2015. He marked "memory issues" on a check-up questionnaire but then crossed it out — only to have his longtime doctor insist on a discussion.

"I was definitely afraid," said Gulley, of Penfield, New York. His father had had dementia, and he knew "the stigma is not dead." But after Gulley told his church about his diagnosis, he was inundated with help — and with other seniors asking how to know if something's wrong. He now counsels people to talk to their doctors early.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matt York/AP, File ]]>
<![CDATA[New Ways of Studying Individual Cells Offer Scientific 'Breakthrough']]>Mon, 04 Mar 2019 12:17:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19052782785711-Genetic-Frontiers-Single-Cells.jpg

Did you hear what happened when Bill Gates walked into a bar? Everybody there immediately became millionaires — on average.

That joke about a very rich man is an old one among statisticians. So why did Peter Smibert use it to explain a revolution in biology?

Because it shows averages can be misleading. And Smibert, of the New York Genome Center, says that includes when scientists are trying to understand the basic unit of life, the cell.

Until recently, trying to study key traits of cells from people and other animals often meant analyzing bulk samples of tissue, producing a mushed-up average of results from many cell types. It was like trying to learn about a banana by studying a strawberry-blueberry-orange-banana smoothie.

In recent years, however, scientists have developed techniques that let them directly study the DNA codes, the activity of genes and other traits of individual cells. The approach has become widely adopted, revealing details about the body that couldn't be shown before. And it has opened the door to pursuing an audacious goal: listing every cell type in the human body.

"Single-cell analysis is crucial for a comprehensive understanding of our biology and health," Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, declared recently.

In fact, the journal Science named the techniques that allow single-cell tracking of gene activity over time in developing organisms and organs as its "breakthrough of the year" for 2018. Its announcement declared, "The single-cell revolution is just starting."

Even complicated animals like us are really just massive communities of cells, each taking on a particular role and working with its neighbors. An average adult human has 37 trillion or so of them, and they're surprisingly varied: the inner lining of the colon, for example, has more than 50 kinds of cells.

It was just five years ago that methods for decoding of DNA and its chemical cousin RNA from individual cells became broadly accessible, according to the journal Nature Methods. New techniques are still being developed to pry more and more secrets out of individual cells.

The single-cell approach is leading to a slew of discoveries. In just the past year, for example:

  • Scientists closely tracked gene activity within fish and frog embryos, a step toward the longstanding goal of understanding how a single fertilized egg can produce an animal. One study compiled results from more than 92,000 zebrafish embryonic cells.
  • Other researchers revealed details of the physical connection between pregnant women and the fetus, giving potential clues for understanding some causes of stillbirth.
  • A study found a pattern of gene activity in some melanoma cells that let them resist immunotherapy, the practice of unleashing the body's immune system on cancer. That might lead to finding a way to render those cells vulnerable.

And a pair of other studies may affect research into cystic fibrosis, the genetic disease that causes lung infections and limits breathing ability. Scientists have long known that the disease stems from a faulty version of protein called CFTR. The studies identified a type of rare cell in the airway that makes large amounts of CFTR, surpassing earlier but only dimly understood indications that such cells existed.

The discovery offers great potential for guiding the development of new treatments, said Dr. William Skach, senior vice president of research affairs for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Single-cell techniques will be important in studying them further for coming up with new therapies, he said. (Two co-authors of one paper are from the foundation).

At the MD Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas, Nicholas Navin uses single-cell DNA studies to reveal different patterns of mutations in various cells of a single tumor. That lets him reconstruct when and where those mutations appeared as the tumor evolved from benign cells. And he can identify cells that contain combinations of mutations that make them the most lethal.

Someday, such research should indicate what treatments to use for particular patients, or which patients have the highest risk of the disease progressing, he says. It might also allow doctors to check how well their treatments are working against a cancer over time. A decade or two from now, it might let doctors detect cancers very early by picking up and analyzing the DNA of rare cells in blood tests, he says.

Meanwhile, the ability to produce single-cell results for hundreds of thousands of cells at a time has opened the door to a huge effort to catalog every cell type in the human body. More than 1,000 scientists from 57 countries have joined the Human Cell Atlas Consortium, which estimates it will eventually profile at least 10 billion cells found in both healthy and sick people.

Why do this? It's a natural follow to the big project that catalogued all the human genes, says co-organizer Aviv Regev, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and researcher at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. (Her salary is paid by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which also supports The Associated Press Health & Science Department.)

The gene map led to identifying thousands of genetic variants that raise or lower the risk of many diseases. But to turn that into therapies, scientists have to know in which cells those variants act, she said. And to run down those cells in the human body, "we have to map all of them."

Some cells are rarer than others, but these can be just as critical for a functioning body as their more plentiful neighbors, she said.

She hopes for a first draft of the cell atlas in about five years, focused on certain organs and tissues of the body. To finish the job might take about a decade, she figures. Regev won't hazard a guess about how many cell types will be found for the entire human body.

"This is not going to cure all disease immediately," she said, but "it is a critical stepping stone."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Malcolm Ritter/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves Six-In-One Vaccine]]>Mon, 04 Mar 2019 08:51:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_newvaccine0301_1500x845.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new combination vaccine called Vaxelis designed for children ages 6 weeks to 4 years old. The FDA says it keeps them from contracting diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, hepatitis B and invasive disease due to haemophilus influenzae type B.]]>
<![CDATA[DNA Test Results Could Affect Your Life Insurance Coverage]]>Fri, 01 Mar 2019 16:47:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/dnaDiptych.jpg

Family intrigue led Larry Guernsey to buy his wife a DNA test kit for the holidays.

"She’s always been interested in genealogy," Guernsey said.

The $99 AncestryDNA test uses a saliva sample to unlock your lineage.

"A simple test can reveal your ethnic mix. Like, if you're Irish or Scandinavian - or both," a commercial for the company says.

For the Guernseys, the test was supposed to be fun.

But their curiosity twisted to suspicion when they read the fine print.

By taking the test they were giving Ancestry a “perpetual, royalty-free worldwide transferable license” to use their DNA, according to the company's contract.

"That entire phrase ‘perpetual, royalty-free, worldwide, transferable’ it just sounds like they’ve left it open to do anything that they want with it," Guernsey said.

Guernsey worried the results could put his family’s DNA into the hands of an insurance company that might deny them coverage over a gene that carried the risk of a life-threatening illness or condition.

"You could get into some really weird science fiction scenarios," he said.

Under federal law, companies are not allowed to use your genetic information against you for things like health insurance or a job.

But that protection does not apply to things like life insurance or long-term care insurance, and the laws are constantly changing.

Privacy is a big concern because many genetic testing companies sell their information to drug companies and others for research.

And what would happen if the databases were hacked?

All the big companies have safeguards in place, but more than 92 million accounts from the genealogy and DNA testing service "MyHeritage" were found on a private server last summer.

Although no DNA data was breached, it showed the potential risk.

Hank Greely is a professor at Stanford University who writes books about the intersection of bio-technology and the law.

His advice is simple: "If it bothers you, if it offends, if you’re worried about what might be in there, then you shouldn’t sign this contract."

Both AncestryDNA and 23andMe say they will destroy your DNA test results if you ask them. There's an online setting to make the request.

All this week News4 is looking into home DNA test kits. Watch News4 at 5 and 6 p.m. on Friday for more on the future of DNA testing.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[New Recall for Losartan Blood Pressure, Heart Disease Medication]]>Fri, 01 Mar 2019 10:44:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/649855748-Generic-blood-pressure-losartan.jpg

Thousands of bottles of a prescription medicine for treating high blood pressure and congestive heart failure have been recalled over the detection of trace amounts of a possible carcinogen.

About 56,000 bottles of losartan tablets were recalled by Camber Pharmaceuticals on Thursday, the latest in a series of losartan-related recalls. No one has reported any adverse affects from the drug in Thursday's recall, the company said in a notice posted on the Food and Drug Administration's website.

Losartan tablets in 25, 50 and 100 mg doses are being recalled by Camber. They were distributed nationwide.

Consumers should speak with their doctor to discuss the recall before they stop taking the drug, or if they have experienced any adverse effects that may be related to the drug.

The identifying NDC numbers in the recall are Losartan 25 mg 31722-700-90, 31722-700-05, 31722-700-10; Losartan 50 mg 31722-701-30, 31722-701-90, 31722-70-10; and Losartan 100 mg 31722-702-30, 31722-702-90, and 31722-702-10. See a more detailed list, with lot and expiry numbers, here.

Trace amounts of N-Nitroso N-Methyl 4-amino butyric acid were found as an impurity or contaminant in an active ingredient. That compound is a potential human carcinogen, according to the recall notice.

Other manufacturers have recalled losartan in recent months, but Thursday's recall is for a different potential contaminant. Those recalls were made over detection of N-nitrosodiethylamine.

Anyone with questions about the latest recall may call Camber Pharmaceuticals at 866-495-1995 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on weekdays.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto | Camber Pharmaceuticals]]>
<![CDATA[Oprah's Stake in Weight Watchers Falls by $48M in Minutes]]>Wed, 27 Feb 2019 10:00:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/oprahGettyImages-1127617505.jpg

Oprah Winfrey’s stake in Weight Watchers fell by almost $48 million, at least on paper, after the dieting company released a weak earnings results Tuesday.

Shares of the company cratered 30 percent after it reported disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and gave investors a weak outlook for 2019. Winfrey owns more than 5 million shares of Weight Watchers, or about 8 percent of the company, according to FactSet. 

Winfrey’s stake in Weight Watchers was valued at $160.18 million when the markets closed Tuesday. It quickly plunged when the company released its earnings after the markets closed, falling to $112.1 million, erasing $48 million in value within minutes of after-hours trading.

Winfrey’s original investment, however, is still in the black. She bought 6.4 million shares of Weight Watchers at $6.79 a share in October 2015, worth $43.2 million at the time, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. She also joined the company’s board of directors. 

Last year, Winfrey sold some of her stake in the company. She now holds 5.4 million Weight Watchers shares, according to a January SEC filing.

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

Photo Credit: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[S. Carolina Pediatrician Stops Taking Unvaccinated Patients]]>Tue, 26 Feb 2019 09:51:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_vaccinepolicy0225_1500x845.jpg

A South Carolina pediatrics office is turning away unvaccinated patients, citing the health and safety of other immunocompromised children who are in danger of catching contagious diseases in the waiting room. Parents say their choices for their unvaccinated children are shrinking. ]]>
<![CDATA[States Mull Murder Charges for Drug Dealers Amid Opioid Crisis]]>Mon, 25 Feb 2019 09:51:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19053835651794-OVERDOSES-CRIMINAL-CHARGES-.jpg

Having lost his 29-year-old son to a fentanyl overdose, Dean Palozej believes dealers who peddle drugs that kill should be locked up for a very long time — for the rest of their life, in some cases.

A Connecticut state representative who heard the story felt the same way. With a piece of legislation introduced this year, he joined lawmakers around the country who have been pushing for murder or manslaughter charges in a get-tough campaign against people who supply drugs that cause fatal overdoses, in efforts to curb the opioid overdose crisis.

Spencer Palozej died Feb. 1, 2018, one day shy of his 30th birthday, at his home in Manchester. In frequent pain from injuries and surgeries, he would occasionally buy oxycodone pills from an acquaintance but received fentanyl-laced pills in his last purchase instead, Dean Palozej said. No arrests have been made.

"If they're dealing fentanyl ... they're just pumping poison out into the streets," Dean Palozej said. "I'd like to see these guys on a first offense get three to five years. The second offense, charge them with murder. This is going on way too much. People are dying."

Lawmakers in Connecticut, Hawaii, Mississippi and Virginia have proposed murder and manslaughter charges for overdoses this year. Several states passed such laws over the past two years, while others have taken to charging drug deaths under murder and manslaughter statutes that don't specifically mention overdoses.

Twenty states now have so-called "drug-induced homicide" laws that carry the same sentences as murder and manslaughter, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit drug policy organization based in New York.

Federal law has included a penalty of 20 years to life in prison for providing drugs that cause fatal overdoses since Congress passed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, spurred by the cocaine overdose death of basketball star Len Bias that year.

There is a debate, however, about whether such laws are good policy. Supporters say the laws are needed to properly punish and deter dealers and others who supply drugs that kill. Opponents argue those laws are not a deterrent, discourage people from calling 911 for help for overdose victims and help fuel higher arrest rates of minorities.

"Supply-side tactics really haven't been proven to work over the past five decades they've been implemented," said Lindsay LaSalle, director of public health law and policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. "I think the focus needs to be on the demand."

Statistics on murder, manslaughter and homicide prosecutions involving overdoses are not widely available because few state and local government agencies keep track. But from 2011 to 2016, the number of news stories about people charged with or prosecuted for drug-induced homicides increased from 363 to 1,178 — more than a 300 percent increase that corresponds with the rise of opioid-related deaths, according to the alliance.

Around 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017, a 13 percent increase compared with 2016 and more than 2½ times as many as the 18,515 opioid deaths in 2007, federal data shows. The rise of the highly potent fentanyl is the reason, law enforcement officials say.

Connecticut state Rep. Kurt Vail, a Republican who represents Dean Palozej's hometown of Stafford, introduced the proposed law in their state in January after talking with Palozej after Spencer's death. The law would make it murder to supply drugs that cause a fatal overdose, and conviction would bring a prison sentence of up to 60 years.

"I think it was kind of time to up the punishment and make it more of a deterrent to deal to these people that are using opioids," said Vail, a former correctional officer. "Those people who are taking advantage of these people who are addicted, they are scumbags."

A similar bill proposed by Vail in 2017, in response to increasing overdose deaths in his district, died in committee.

Legislation treating overdoses as murder or manslaughter also was introduced this year in Hawaii, Mississippi and Virginia. The Mississippi bill died in committee, while the others remain pending.

Police have not made an arrest in connection with Spencer Palozej's death but have been keeping tabs on a suspect, Dean Palozej said. Shortly before his death, Spencer Palozej texted the suspect to bring him "just the regular," Dean Palozej said.

Manchester Detective Lt. John Rossetti, whose department has been investigating Spencer Palozej's death, said it often is difficult to charge someone who supplies drugs that cause an overdose. The main obstacles are finding the dealers, catching them with drugs and proving those drugs are the same ones that killed the overdose victims, he said. He declined to comment on the Spencer Palozej investigation.

Dean Palozej is upset that no arrests have been made more than a year after his son's death.

"We cry everyday all of us. It truly broke all our hearts," he said. "We have to get some laws in place that lock these guys up."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Dave Collins/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Boston Market Frozen Meals Recalled]]>Mon, 25 Feb 2019 07:49:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/new-boston-market-recall.jpg

Boston Market pork rib frozen meals have been recalled after extraneous material was found inside the meat.

Bellisio Foods, based in Jackson, Ohio, recalled more than 173,000 pounds of the "Boston Market Home Style Meals boneless pork rib shaped patty with BBQ sauce and mashed potatoes" after consumers complained of finding glass or hard plastic in the rib shaped patty.

The 14 ounce cardboard box packages have "best by" dates of:

  • 12/07/2019 - lot code 8341
  • 01/04/2020 - lot code 9004
  • 01/24/2020 - lot code 9024
  • 02/15/2020 - lot code 9046

There have been no confirmed reports of injuries due to consumption of these products.

The product should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Bars Clinic Referrals, Setting Up Abortion Obstacles]]>Sat, 23 Feb 2019 08:10:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Trump-Abortion.jpg

The Trump administration on Friday set up new obstacles for women seeking abortions, barring taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from making abortion referrals. The new policy is certain to be challenged in court.

The final rule released Friday by the Health and Human Services Department also would prohibit federally funded family planning clinics from being housed in the same locations as abortion providers, and require stricter financial separation.

Clinic staff would still be permitted to discuss abortion with clients, along with other options. However, that would no longer be required.

The move is the latest in a series of Trump administration efforts to remake government policy on reproductive health. The American Medical Association warned it could have an impact far beyond abortion, potentially affecting access to health care services now provided to low-income women by the clinics, including birth control, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. By law, the family planning program does not pay for abortions.

"This is the wrong prescription and threatens to compound a health equity deficit in this nation," AMA president Barbara L. McAneny said in a statement. "Women should have access to these medical services regardless of where they live, how much money they make, their background, or whether they have health insurance."

It could be some time before women served by the federal family program feel the full impact. Women's groups, organizations representing the clinics, and Democratic-led states are expected to sue to block the policy from going into effect. Administration officials told abortion opponents on a call Friday that they expect legal action, according to a participant.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.

Planned Parenthood, whose affiliates are major providers of family planning services as well as abortions, said the administration is trying to impose a "gag rule," and launched a full campaign to block it. Congressional supporters of the organization said it receives about $60 million a year from the federal program.

"I want our patients to know this — we will fight through every avenue so this illegal, unethical rule never goes into effect," said Planned Parenthood's president, Dr. Leana Wen.

She said the new policy would prevent doctors from referring women for abortions "even if your life depended on it."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., declared: "Republicans must end their relentless assault on women's health care and rights."

New York State Attorney General Letitia James called the new rules "dangerous & unnecessary" in a tweet. She said the state will sue on behalf of New Yorkers and Americans the rules put at risk.

Planned Parenthood and other groups representing the clinics say the new requirements for physical separation of facilities would be costly and all but impossible to fulfill. Planned Parenthood said the administration is making another attempt to drive it out of business, after efforts to deny funding failed in Congress.

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway scoffed at that argument. "They've been saying for years they don't co-mingle their funds, so this should be easy for them," she told reporters at the White House. "Physically separate and financially separate."

Religious conservatives see the administration's action as a way to break down what they call an indirect taxpayer subsidy of abortion providers.

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, called it "a major step toward the ultimate goal of ending taxpayers' forced partnership with the abortion industry."

The regulation was published Friday on an HHS website. It's not official until it appears in the Federal Register and the department said there could be "minor editorial changes." A department official confirmed it was the final version.

Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women annually through independent clinics, many operated by Planned Parenthood affiliates, which serve about 40 percent of all clients. The grant program costs taxpayers about $260 million a year.

Leaders of health associations representing black and Latino health care providers and patients joined Wen at a news briefing to decry the new rule They said women from their communities make up more than half the beneficiaries of Title X grants and would be disproportionately harmed by the changes.

But abortion opponent Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the administration rule "does not cut family planning funding by a single dime, and instead directs tax dollars to entities that provide health care to women but do not perform abortions." Her organization is a political advocacy group that backs anti-abortion candidates.

An umbrella group that represents family planning clinics broadly, not only those affiliated with Planned Parenthood, said the administration was acting based on ideology and not in the best interests of patients.

"This rule intentionally strikes at the heart of the patient-provider relationship, inserting political ideology into a family planning visit, which will frustrate and ultimately discourage patients from seeking the health care they need," Clare Coleman, head of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said in a statement.

Although abortion remains politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report. Polls show most Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

The Trump administration's policy echoes a Reagan-era regulation that barred clinics from even discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled it was an appropriate use of executive power.

The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule took effect requiring "nondirective" counseling to include a full range of options for women.

The Trump administration is now rolling back the Clinton requirement.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Johnson & Johnson Subpoenaed in Talc Powder Asbestos Probe]]>Fri, 22 Feb 2019 14:55:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/998003060-Johnson-Johnson-Baby-Powder.jpg

Johnson & Johnson acknowledged Wednesday that it was subpoenaed by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission over litigation involving alleged asbestos contamination in its talc powder, Reuters reported.

The disclosure, made in the company's annual report, is the company's first admission that it's received subpoenas from federal agencies over its Baby Powder line. The company faces lawsuits from thousands of plaintiffs who say the talc products caused cancer, though the company said Wednesday that independent tests have shown the product is safe.

The Justice Department and SEC did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

Reuters reported in December that Johnson & Johnson knew from tests between the 1970s and early 2000s that small amounts of asbestos, a carcinogen, were occasionally found in its talc and powder products, but did not disclose that information to regulators or the public.

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Tooth Fairy Is Drawing Purse Strings Tighter, Survey Finds]]>Fri, 22 Feb 2019 10:54:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/611248466-Tooth-Fairy.jpg

Kids are getting less money from the tooth fairy these days, NBC News reported.

Parents — er, make that the tooth fairy — paid out $3.70 per tooth in 2018, down 43 cents from the year before and even more from 2016, according to an annual survey conducted by Delta Dental Plans Association.

The dental insurance collective said Thursday that the trend in payouts continues to follow the movement of the S&P 500.

Kids in the West made the most bank, averaging $4.19 per tooth, while Midwestern kids made the least, at $2.97.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Young Blood Company Halts Treatments After FDA Warning]]>Wed, 20 Feb 2019 14:13:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-1128097083.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on Tuesday that there's no proof that blood plasma infusions from younger donors can treat diseases, prompting one company that charges thousands of dollars for the service to halt the treatments, NBC News reported.

The company, Ambrosia, wrote in a statement on its website that it had "ceased patient treatments." It has been charging $8,000 for a liter of blood donated by people 16 to 25 years old during a clinical trial.

The FDA had said there is no proof behind companies' claims that young donors' plasma can treat conditions like Parkinson’s disease, dementia, or multiple sclerosis. But they may be dangerous, as they are associated with risks of infection or allergic reactions.

Plasma is the liquid in blood. It helps blood clot and carries antibodies and other important proteins.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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<![CDATA[US Mining Sites Dump 50M Gallons of Fouled Wastewater Daily]]>Wed, 20 Feb 2019 11:37:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mining-impact-AP_19050680111071.jpg

Every day many millions of gallons of water loaded with arsenic, lead and other toxic metals flow from some of the most contaminated mining sites in the U.S. and into surrounding lakes and streams without being treated, The Associated Press has found.

That torrent is poisoning aquatic life and tainting drinking water sources in Montana, California, Colorado, Oklahoma and at least five other states.

The pollution is a legacy of how the mining industry was allowed to operate in the U.S. for more than a century. Companies that built mines for silver, lead, gold and other "hardrock" minerals could move on once they were no longer profitable, leaving behind tainted water that still leaks out of the mines or is cleaned up at taxpayer expense.

Using data from public records requests and independent researchers, the AP examined 43 mining sites under federal oversight, some containing dozens or even hundreds of individual mines.

The records show that at average flows, more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of contaminated wastewater streams daily from the sites. In many cases, it runs untreated into nearby groundwater, rivers and ponds — a roughly 20-million-gallon (76-million-liter) daily dose of pollution that could fill more than 2,000 tanker trucks.

The remainder of the waste is captured or treated in a costly effort that will need to carry on indefinitely, for perhaps thousands of years, often with little hope for reimbursement.

The volumes vastly exceed the release from Colorado's Gold King Mine disaster in 2015, when an EPA cleanup crew inadvertently triggered the release of 3 million gallons (11.4 million liters) of mustard-colored mine sludge, fouling rivers in three states.

At many mines, the pollution has continued decades after their enlistment in the federal Superfund cleanup program for the nation's most hazardous sites, which faces sharp cuts under President Donald Trump.

Federal officials fear that at least six of the sites examined by AP could have blowouts like the one at Gold King.

Some sites feature massive piles or impoundments of mine waste known as tailings. A tailings dam collapse in Brazil last month killed at least 169 people and left 140 missing. A similar 2014 accident in British Columbia swept millions of cubic yards of contaminated mud into a nearby lake, resulting in one of Canada's worst environmental disasters.

But even short of a calamitous accident, many mines pose the chronic problem of relentless pollution.

In mountains outside the Montana capital of Helena, about 30 households can't drink their tap water because groundwater was polluted by about 150 abandoned gold, lead and copper mines that operated from the 1870s until 1953.

The community of Rimini was added to the Superfund list in 1999. Contaminated soil in residents' yards was replaced, and the EPA has provided bottled water for a decade. But polluted water still pours from the mines and into Upper Tenmile Creek.

"The fact that bottled water is provided is great," said 30-year Rimini resident Catherine Maynard, a natural resources analyst for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Where it falls short is it's not piped into our home. Water that's piped into our home is still contaminated water. Washing dishes and bathing — that metal-laden water is still running through our pipes."

Estimates of the number of such abandoned mine sites range from 161,000 in 12 western states to as many as 500,000 nationwide. At least 33,000 have degraded the environment, according to the Government Accountability Office, and thousands more are discovered every year.

Officials have yet to complete work including basic risk analyses on about 80 percent of abandoned mining sites on federal lands. Most are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which under Trump is seeking to consolidate mine cleanups with another program and cut their combined 2019 spending from $35 million to $13 million.


Problems at some sites are intractable.

Among them:

  • In eastern Oklahoma's Tar Creek mining district, waterways are devoid of life and elevated lead levels persist in the blood of children despite a two-decade effort to clean up lead and zinc mines. More than $300 million has been committed since 1983, but only a small fraction of the impacted land has been reclaimed and contaminated water continues to flow.
  • At northern California's Iron Mountain Mine, cleanup teams battle to contain highly acidic water that percolates through a former copper and zinc mine and drains into a Sacramento River tributary. The mine discharged six tons of toxic sludge daily before an EPA cleanup. Authorities now spend $5 million a year to remove poisonous sludge that had caused massive fish kills, and they expect to keep at it forever.
  • In Colorado's San Juan Mountains, site of the Gold King blowout, some 400 abandoned or inactive mine sites contribute an estimated 15 million gallons (57 million liters) of acid mine drainage per day.

This landscape of polluted sites occurred under mining industry rules largely unchanged since the 1872 Mining Act.

State and federal laws in recent decades have held companies more accountable than in the past, but critics say huge loopholes all but ensure that some of today's mines will foul waterways or require perpetual cleanups.

To avoid a catastrophe like Gold King, EPA officials now require advance approval for work on many mining sites. But they acknowledge they're only dealing with a small portion of the problem.

"We have been trying to play a very careful game of prioritization," said Dana Stalcup, deputy director of the Superfund program. "We know the Superfund program is not the answer to the hundreds of thousands of mines out there, but the mines we are working on we want to do them the best we can."

To date, the EPA has spent an estimated $4 billion on mining cleanups. Under Trump, the agency has identified a small number of Superfund sites for heightened attention after cleanup efforts stalled or dragged on for years. They include five mining sites examined by AP.

Former EPA assistant administrator Mathy Stanislaus said more money is needed to address mining pollution on a systematic basis, rather than jumping from one emergency response to another.

"The piecemeal approach is just not working," said Stanislaus, who oversaw the Superfund program for almost eight years ending in 2017.

Democrats have sought unsuccessfully to create a special cleanup fund for old hardrock mine sites, with fees paid by the mining industry. Such a fund has been in place for coal mines since 1977, with more than $11 billion in fees collected and hundreds of sites reclaimed.

The mining industry has resisted doing the same for hardrock mines, and Republicans in Congress have blocked the Democratic proposals.

Montana Mining Association director Tammy Johnson acknowledged abandoned mines have left a legacy of pollution, but added that companies still in operation should not be forced to pay for those problems.

"Back in the day there really wasn't a lot known about acid mine drainage," she said. "I just don't think that today's companies bear the responsibility."

In 2017, the EPA proposed requiring companies still operating mines to post cleanup bonds or offer other financial assurances so taxpayers don't end up footing cleanup bills. The Trump administration halted the rule, but environmental groups are scheduled to appear in federal court next month in a lawsuit that seeks to revive it.

"When something gets on a Superfund site, that doesn't mean it instantly and magically gets cleaned up," said Earthjustice attorney Amanda Goodin. "Having money immediately available from a responsible party would be a game changer."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Matthew Brown/AP, FIle]]>
<![CDATA[Health Depends on Where You Live]]>Thu, 21 Feb 2019 19:03:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_168196575.jpg

Your neighborhood could hurt your health.

People who live on the South Side of Chicago are as much as 14 times more likely to have diabetes than residents near Wrigley Field.

In the Dallas area, the risk of stroke is much higher in the south than the north. Just 2 percent of Plano adults have a history of stroke, but the rate exceeds 7 percent in south Dallas.

Coronary heart disease is three times more prevalent among some residents of Staten Island than in parts of midtown Manhattan.

That's according to the 500 Cities Project, a joint effort of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 500 Cities provides a close-up view of the health of 100 million Americans living in 27,000 neighborhoods in all 50 states.

500 Cities assesses each neighborhood's health by measuring unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, conditions like high blood pressure and preventive services like annual checkups.

Lorna Thorpe, an epidemiologist at NYU School of Medicine, said there are clear geographic patterns in the data.

"On average, cities in the West have lower rates of obesity, hypertension, smoking, binge drinking and diabetes compared to cities in other regions and the U.S. as a whole," Thorpe said.

Thorpe gave the example of diabetes: "In the 50 cities with the lowest rates, less than 7 percent of adults have diabetes, while in the 50 cities with the highest rates, 14 percent or more have the condition."

An analysis by the NBC Owned Television Stations showed that cities in the West and near universities ranked among the 25 healthiest in most categories. At the top: four California cities – Irvine, Redondo Beach, San Ramon and Mountain View, followed by Provo, Utah. Irvine and Provo are both college towns. Two other college towns, Boulder, Colorado, and College Station, Texas, were in the top 10.

The five least healthy were all in the Midwest: Flint and Detroit, Michigan, followed by Gary, Indiana, and Youngstown and Cleveland, Ohio

We ranked cities by counting the number of times they appeared among the healthiest or unhealthiest 25 cities for five unhealthy behaviors and 13 health outcomes. Irvine appeared 16 of a possible 18 times on the list of most healthy cities. Flint and Detroit each appeared 16 of 18 times on the list of least healthy cities.

"Place matters. Disease is no different," said Kevin Fitzpatrick, a sociologist at the University of Arkansas.

"Health care providers need to be way more sensitive to the geography of their patients," Fitzpatrick said. "It can provide a history of exposure, social injustice (and) inadequate care." He said doctors should ask patients for their Zip code when they take a medical history to get "a glimpse of their exposure to risks as well as protections."

History and economics help explain why some neighborhoods fare worse than others, Thorpe said.

"The historical disinvestment in some neighborhoods, combined with a selection process that sorts lower- and higher-income individuals into different parts of the city, leads to geographic disparities," Thorpe said.

The data shows that behavior has a big impact on health, said Shelley Liu, an assistant professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York.

"Good health doesn't just depend on good healthcare," Liu said. "We have to focus on reducing unhealthy behaviors like smoking, binge drinking and lack of physical activity.

"Even if we are good at using preventive care, like going to annual screenings and checkups, unhealthy behaviors are still pretty bad for us, and we can prevent some chronic disease outcomes by reducing unhealthy behaviors."

About the story

This story is based on the 500 Cities Project, a database created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the CDC Foundation.

500 Cities takes information from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, an annual phone survey of 400,000 households. It joins this data with the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which collects demographic, social and economic data from nearly 3 million households each year.

Through statistical modeling 500 Cities then makes estimates at the census tract level for the following:

  • Five unhealthy behaviors: binge drinking, current smoking, no leisure time physical activity, obesity and sleeping less than seven hours per day.
  • 13 health outcomes: arthritis, high blood pressure, cancer (except skin cancer), asthma, coronary heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease, history of stroke, loss of all teeth, mental health poor for 14 of the previous 30 days and physical health poor for 14 of the previous 30 days.
  • Nine preventive services: current lack of health insurance, annual visit to a physician for a checkup, annual visit to a dentist or dental clinic, taking medication for blood pressure control (if diagnosed with high blood pressure), periodic cholesterol screening, mammogram screening for women aged 50 to 74, Pap smear for women aged 21 to 65, periodic colon screening for adults aged 50 to 75 and preventive screening for older adults.

The 500 Cities Project covers the nation’s 497 largest cities, ranging from New York (population 8.2 million) to Schenectady, NY (population 66,000), plus three smaller cities in order to extend coverage to all 50 states: Cheyenne, Wyoming, Charleston, West Virginia, and Burlington, Vermont.

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<![CDATA[Flu Vaccine Doing a Relatively Good Job This Season]]>Thu, 14 Feb 2019 14:49:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19043699400612-Flu-Vaccine.jpg

The flu vaccine is doing a relatively good job this season, protecting about half the people who got it, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

Preliminary figures suggest the vaccine is 47 percent effective in preventing flu illness severe enough to send someone to the doctor's office. Health officials are generally pleased if a flu vaccine works in 40 to 60 percent of people.

"These are early estimates, but they are encouraging," said Dr. Alicia Fry of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Somewhere between 10,000 and 16,000 people have died from flu and its complications so far this season, according to new estimates released Thursday.

Last winter was dominated by a nasty kind of flu, and the vaccine's weakness against it was one reason it was the deadliest flu season in at least four decades. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications.

This winter, in most parts of the country, most illnesses are being caused by a somewhat milder virus that vaccines tend to perform better against.

Overall, flu is widespread in 47 states, according to the most recent CDC data. Health officials don't know if flu season has peaked yet, Fry said.

They also are seeing evidence that a more severe flu virus is spreading to more states.

It's unusual to see a later surge of nastier illnesses in a season initially dominated by a milder flu bug, and it's not clear why that's happening, said Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious diseases expert.

The early estimates on the vaccine's potency offer only a fuzzy picture. For example, there weren't enough sick patients of different ages to produce a reliable estimate of how it did in the elderly, who are at greater risk from flu and its complications.

Some other types of vaccines — like the one against measles, mumps and rubella — are far more effective in preventing people from getting sick than the flu vaccine. But experts say flu is a quick-changing and elusive target.

A flu vaccine that works around half the time "is the best that science can produce at the current time," Schaffner said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Source of Fall Romaine Outbreak a Mystery, US Regulators Say]]>Thu, 14 Feb 2019 07:37:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lettuce-AP_18332749239541.jpg

U.S. food regulators say they weren't able to identify a contamination source for a food poisoning outbreak that prompted them to warn people to avoid romaine lettuce this fall.

The Food and Drug Administration says it wasn't able to determine how a water reservoir on a Santa Barbara County, California, farm became contaminated with E. coli. It also says the water reservoir doesn't explain how lettuce from other farms may have been contaminated.

The FDA says leafy greens' short shelf-life makes it difficult to investigate such outbreaks. It notes food safety has been a longstanding issue with leafy greens, and that the industry should review operations to minimize risk.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there is always risk of foodborne illness when eating raw produce. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Are You Showering Wrong? (Yes, There Is a 'Right' Way)]]>Wed, 13 Feb 2019 15:48:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_showering0212_1920x1080.jpg

According to one dermatologist, there are four things you need to be doing in the shower to lower your risk of infection, itching, acne and dry skin. KPRC's Haley Hernandez reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Amid Measles Outbreak, People Are Getting Long-Delayed Vaccines]]>Tue, 12 Feb 2019 09:27:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/1033431920-Measles-Vaccine.jpg

People, including some teenagers, are getting their first vaccinations amid a measles outbreak in 10 states, NBC News reported.

Eighteen-year-old Mayci from Augusta, Georgia, said her mother raised her to believe "vaccines are bad, this is something we don't do," but changed her mind after going on Reddit for advice when she heard about the outbreak.

Georgia is one of 17 states that allows students to attend school with non-medical exemptions from vaccinations. Experts believe measles outbreaks are linked to the anti-vaccine movement, but the recent one has spurred people to get vaccinated.

This January, health officials in Washington state saw a more than 400 percent increase in measles immunizations compared to last year.

Photo Credit: Leonard Ortiz/Digital First Media/Orange County Register via Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[CDC Blames Spike in Teen Tobacco Use on Vaping]]>Mon, 11 Feb 2019 14:34:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/180835753-e-cigarette-vaping.jpg

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is blaming nicotine vaping devices like Juul for single-handedly driving a spike in tobacco use among teens, threatening to erase years of progress curbing youth use.

Over the course of a year, the number of high school students using tobacco products, which include e-cigarettes, increased by about 38 percent, the CDC found in its annual National Youth Tobacco Survey released Monday. That translates to about 27 percent of high school teens using tobacco products in 2018, the CDC said.

Of all the tobacco products the CDC surveys students about, including cigarettes and hookah, only e-cigarettes saw a meaningful increase in use. Among high school students, e-cigarette use surged nearly 78 percent. In 2018, nearly 21 percent of high school students vaped, up from nearly 12 percent in 2017.

In 2018, 1.5 million more middle school and high school students vaped than in 2017, up to 3.6 million from 2.1 million, according to the survey.

While the survey did not specifically ask teens about Juul, Brian King, deputy director for research translation in the CDC's Office on Smoking and Health, said the increase in e-cigarette use coincides with the rise in sales of Juul's products.

Teens are also vaping more frequently than before. About 28 percent of teens who are vaping are doing it 20 or more times per month, a 39 percent increase from the 20 percent of teens who were defined as frequent users in 2017, the CDC said.

About 40 percent of high school students who said they used tobacco said they used two or more types of products, a 23 percent increase. About 15 percent of them vaped and smoked cigarettes, according to the survey.

The data confirms anecdotal reports that more and more teens have started to use e-cigarettes, particularly Juul. Public health officials, including the CDC, the Food and Drug Administration and the Surgeon General, have warned the trend could reverse two decades of driving down teen smoking rates.

"The skyrocketing growth of young people's e-cigarette use over the past year threatens to erase progress made in reducing youth tobacco use," CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement. "It's putting a new generation at risk for nicotine addiction."

Among other tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars, the CDC did not find any significant change. That means e-cigarettes were the sole driver of the increase in overall tobacco use, the agency said. E-cigarettes surpassed cigarettes to become the most commonly used form of tobacco among middle school and high school students in 2014.

Cigarette smoking among high school students ticked up to 8.1 percent from 7.6 percent. It's not a statistically significant increase, but it still has some concerned.

"These survey results are deeply troubling," Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids President Matthew Myers said in a statement. "They add to mounting concerns that the rise in youth use of e-cigarettes, especially Juul, is vastly expanding the number of kids addicted to nicotine, could be leading kids to and not away from cigarettes, and directly threatens the decades-long progress our nation has made in reducing youth smoking and other tobacco use."

Surgeon General Jerome Adams has declared youth e-cigarette use an epidemic. The FDA is trying to limit illegal sales to minors. The agency is drafting new rules that would limit flavored nicotine pods to age-restricted stores like vape shops. The agency plans to publish the proposed regulation within the next month, Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told CNBC last week.

Gottlieb said Monday the agency is also exploring possible civil and criminal enforcement tools "to target potentially violative sales and marketing practices by manufacturers as well as retailers.

"These trends require forceful and sometimes unprecedented action among regulators, public health officials, manufacturers, retailers and others to address this troubling problem," Gottlieb said in a statement.

Juul spokeswoman Victoria Davis said the company is "committed to fighting underage use of vaping products, including Juul products."

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

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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    <![CDATA[FDA Cracks Down on Illegal Marketing of Dietary Supplements]]>Mon, 11 Feb 2019 14:12:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/659112420-Supplements.jpg

    Federal officials are sending warning letters and advisories to manufacturers of supplements which claim the products can treat diseases like Alzheimer's, cancer and diabetes, NBC News reported.

    Among the products hit with warnings for illegal marketing are fish oil, green tea extracts and melatonin. See the full list here.

    The crackdown from the the Food and Drug Administration comes as it announced a sweeping modernization of dietary supplement regulation and oversight. The agency says three in four American adults take some form of dietary supplement, as do one in three children.

    "As the popularity of supplements has grown, so have the number of entities marketing potentially dangerous products or making unproven or misleading claims about the health benefits they may deliver," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a statement.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
    <![CDATA[Washington Lawmakers Weigh Vaccine Bill Amid Outbreak]]>Sat, 09 Feb 2019 12:58:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measlesAP_19039637607497.jpg

    Amid a measles outbreak that has sickened more than 50 people in the Pacific Northwest, Washington lawmakers heard testimony Friday on a bill that would remove parents' ability to claim a personal or philosophical exemption to opt their school-age children out of the combined measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

    Hundreds of people opposed to the measure lined up more than an hour before the start of the hearing before the House Health Care and Wellness Committee, many wearing stickers with the bill number, HB 1638, within a crossed out circle.

    The bill comes as health officials have reported at least 52 known cases in Washington state and four in Oregon. Most of the Washington cases are concentrated in Clark County, just north of Portland, Oregon. The measure is sponsored by a lawmaker from that region, Republican Rep. Paul Harris of Vancouver, and has the support of the state medical association and Gov. Jay Inslee. Inslee declared a state of emergency last month.

    Harris said people in his area are "concerned about our community, its immunity and the community safety."

    The measure does allow proof of disease immunity through laboratory evidence or history of disease to substitute for immunization.

    Currently, the state allows school-vaccination exemptions for children at public or private schools or licensed day-care centers based on medical, religious and personal or philosophical beliefs. Unless an exemption is claimed, a child is required to be vaccinated against or show proof of acquired immunity of nearly a dozen diseases — including polio, whooping cough and mumps — before they can attend school or a child care center.

    John Wiesman, the secretary of the state Department of Health, said the effort to limit exemptions is "about safe schools and protecting vulnerable children."

    Wiesman told the panel that compared to other outbreaks in the state in the past decade, "the outbreak we are dealing with right now is larger and infecting people faster than recent history."

    Opponents testifying against the bill included environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who questioned safety standards around vaccines.

    Susie Corgan, with Informed Choice Washington, said after the hearing that parents who are worried about their children having adverse reactions to vaccines have a right to philosophical exemptions.

    "Where there is risk, there must be choice, and there is risk with this vaccine as there is with any other medical procedure," she said.

    Four percent of Washington secondary school students have non-medical vaccine exemptions, according to the state Department of Health. Of those, 3.7 percent of the exemptions are personal, with the remainder being religious exemptions. In Clark County, 6.7 percent of kindergartners had a non-medical exemption for the 2017-18 school year, according to health officials.

    Washington is among 17 states, including Oregon, that allow some type of non-medical exemption for vaccines for "personal, moral or other beliefs," according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    Legislation introduced in Washington state in 2015 that would have removed the personal or philosophical belief allowance for an exemption to childhood vaccines never made it to the House floor for a vote after it faced stiff opposition.

    Both the WSMA and Inslee also support a broader bill that was introduced in the Senate earlier this week. That measure, which has not yet been scheduled for a hearing, would not allow personal or philosophical exemptions to be granted for any required school vaccinations.

    California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015, after a measles outbreak at Disneyland sickened 147 people and spread across the U.S. and into Canada. Vermont also abandoned its personal exemption in 2015.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Ted S. Warren/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Supreme Court Blocks Louisiana Abortion Clinic Law]]>Thu, 07 Feb 2019 22:57:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_187531836-supreme.jpg

    The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked Louisiana from enforcing a law that women's groups said would leave only a single doctor legally allowed to perform abortions in the state.

    By a 5-4 vote, the court said the restrictions must remain on hold while challengers appeal a lower court decision in favor of the law.

    It was the Supreme Court's first significant action on the hot-button issue of abortion since President Donald Trump's nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, replaced Anthony Kennedy, who generally voted with the court's liberals to uphold abortion rights, NBC News reported.

    The vote was not a ruling on the legal merits of the Louisiana restriction, but the decision to keep the law on hold signals that a majority of the justices have doubts about its constitutionality.

    <![CDATA[Tests Suggest Scientists Achieved 1st Gene Editing in the Body]]>Thu, 07 Feb 2019 13:23:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17317776550106-Gene-Editing-UCSF-Hunter-Syndrome.jpg

    Scientists think they have achieved the first gene editing inside the body, altering DNA in adults to try to treat a disease, although it's too soon to know if this will help.

    Preliminary results suggest that two men with a rare disorder now have a corrective gene at very low levels, which may not be enough to make the therapy a success.

    Still, it's a scientific milestone toward one day doctoring DNA to treat many diseases caused by faulty genes.

    "This is a first step," said Dr. Joseph Muenzer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who helped test the treatment. "It's just not potent enough."

    He gave the results Thursday at a conference in Orlando, Florida, and has consulted for the therapy's maker, California-based Sangamo Therapeutics. Researchers are working on a stronger version of the treatment.

    Gene editing is intended as a more precise way to do gene therapy, to disable a bad gene or supply a good one that's missing. Trying it in adults to treat diseases is not controversial and the DNA changes do not pass to future generations, unlike the recent case of a Chinese scientist who claims to have edited twin girls' genes when they were embryos.

    Sangamo's studies involve men with Hunter or Hurler syndrome, diseases caused by a missing gene that makes an enzyme to break down certain sugar compounds. Without it, sugars build up and damage organs, often killing people in their teens.

    In 2017, Brian Madeux of Arizona became the first person to try it. Through an IV, he received many copies of a corrective gene and an editing tool called zinc finger nucleases to insert it into his DNA.

    Results on him and seven other Hunter patients, plus three with Hurler syndrome, suggest the treatment is safe, which was the main goal of these early experiments. Three problems — bronchitis, an irregular heartbeat and a hernia — were deemed due to the diseases, not the treatment.

    Tissue samples showed evidence of gene editing at very low levels in two Hunter patients who were given a middle dose but not in one given a low dose. Tests are expected later this year on patients who received the highest dose and on Hurler patients.

    Blood tests detected slightly higher levels of the missing enzyme in a few of the Hunter patients but none of them reached normal levels. One patient had a larger increase but also showed signs that his immune system might be attacking the therapy. He was treated for that and symptoms resolved.

    More encouraging results were seen in Hurler patients — enzyme levels rose to normal in all three after treatment, tests on certain blood cells showed.

    "This is very promising" for Hurler patients, said Dr. Paul Harmatz of UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, who presented those results.

    None of the patients with either disease showed a sustained decline in urine levels of the troubling sugar compounds, though, and some other tests also did not detect intended effects of the therapy.

    The key test will be stopping the patients' weekly enzyme treatments to see if their bodies can now make enough of it on their own. Three have gone off treatments so far and one was recently advised to resume them because of fatigue and rising levels of the sugar compounds. The others have not been off long enough to know how they will fare.

    "It looks like it's safe ... that's a very positive sign," said one independent expert, Dr. Kiran Musunuru of the University of Pennsylvania. He called the early results promising but said "it's hard to be sure it's doing any good" until patients are studied longer.

    "What they're trying to do with gene editing is very challenging," he said. "It's much harder to make a correction or insert a gene" than to disable one.

    Dr. Tyler Reimschisel of Vanderbilt University agreed.

    "It's not discouraging, it's just early and on a small amount of people," he said. "This is definitely a novel and innovative treatment" but it's not clear if it's going to help.

    Sangamo's president, Dr. Sandy Macrae, said a more potent version is being manufactured. Because the treatment seems safe, regulators recently agreed to allow teens with Hunter syndrome to join the study. The ultimate goal is to treat children at a young age, before the disease causes much damage. He said the company will wait for more results on current patients before deciding how to proceed.

    "We've done something important" by achieving gene editing, he said. "There is a foundation to build on."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[NJ Warns of Potential Hepatitis Exposure at Dunkin' Donuts]]>Thu, 07 Feb 2019 02:20:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18096405291353.jpg

    New Jersey health officials say people who visited a Dunkin' Donuts in Ocean City may have been exposed to hepatitis.

    The Cape May County Health Department says a person who worked at the store tested positive for hepatitis A and was there while he was potentially infectious between Jan. 27 and Jan. 31. Officials say risk is low, but are recommending anyone who visited the location during the time period should receive a vaccine.

    Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that results from infection with the hepatitis A virus. It can range in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a severe illness lasting several months, including symptoms like fever, vomiting and jaundice.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP/File]]>
    <![CDATA[US Attorney in Philadelphia Sues Over Safe Injection Site]]>Wed, 06 Feb 2019 19:38:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_190376274639081.jpg

    The top federal prosecutor in Philadelphia has filed suit to stop a nonprofit from opening a first-in-the-nation supervised drug injection site to address the city's opioid problem.

    The lawsuit pits U.S. Attorney William McSwain's stance on safe injection sites against those of Philadelphia's mayor, district attorney and a former Pennsylvania governor. McSwain believes supporters should try to change the laws, not break them.

    "Normalizing the use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl is not the answer to solving the epidemic," McSwain said at a Wednesday news conference, while protesters gathered outside his Independence Mall office.

    They said thousands of people could die of overdoses in Philadelphia in the time it might take to change the law.

    Philadelphia has the highest opioid death rate of any large U.S. city. Mayor Jim Kenney and some city officials have said they'd support a private entity operating and funding safe injection sites. A likely location is the Kensington neighborhood, north of downtown, where so-called "drug tourists" flock to buy high-grade heroin and city librarians have learned to use Naloxone to respond to bathroom overdoses.

    "We are not going to prosecute people who are trying to stop people from dying," District Attorney Larry Krasner said in response to McSwain's remarks. "We had 1,200 people die last year. I think it is inexcusable to play politics with their lives."

    Krasner said he has visited a safe injection program in Vancouver to study the situation. The staff does not administer drugs, he said, but instead nudges users if they fall asleep or have trouble breathing and, as a last resort, administers Naloxone.

    Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a fellow Democrat, has joined the board of Safehouse, the nonprofit trying to raise $1.8 million to open an injection site, and has said he's willing to face arrest. He bucked similar regulations when he was Philadelphia mayor in the 1990s, sanctioning the city's first needle exchange program.

    "If I thought for a minute that safe injection sites would create new addicts, I wouldn't be a part of it. I see the ability to save lives and get people who are addicts exposed to treatment," Rendell said last fall.

    McSwain said he hopes the civil lawsuit - a pre-emptive strike of sorts - will prompt a federal judge to declare the plan illegal. For now, he is seeking only a ruling that the practice violates the 1986 "crack house statute," which was aimed at people running drug dens. His critics say the statute is being misapplied.

    "We are not arresting anyone," said McSwain, a President Trump appointee. "We're not trying to seize any property or do any thing heavy-handed at all. We're just asking the federal court to look at it."

    The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Gerald McHugh Jr., a West Philadelphia native appointed by President Obama.

    Protester Lisa Kelley, a 48-year-old artist, grew up in Kensington, known even then as a drug haven, if on a smaller scale. She believes the Safehouse program would help the neighborhood as well as users..

    "I absolutely believe it would help the community," said Kelley, who lost a friend, addiction activist Paul Yabor, to an overdose two years ago and has a foster son in recovery. "It would cut down on the needles found on the street, cut down on the number of people using on the street, cut down on the number of kids having to see that when they're walking to school in the morning."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Sex and Meds: 14 Charged With Running Philly 'Pill Mills']]>Wed, 06 Feb 2019 17:35:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628+%281%29+resized.jpg

    A Philadelphia doctor with a suspended medical license used his colleague as a go-between to get prescription drugs so he could exchange them for sex, the United States Attorney's Office announced Wednesday.

    The two doctors are among 14 people facing charges for illegally prescribing opioids to patients who didn't need the drugs in exchange for cash, the USAO said. Others include physician assistants and employees of urgent care facilities in the Philadelphia region.

    According to prosecutors, 78-year-old Dr. Murray Soss had his medical license suspended in April 2017, so he turned to Dr. Frederick Reichle, 83, for help. Prosecutors say Soss would have Reichle fill out oxycodone prescriptions and then Soss would exchange the pills for sexual favors from one of his patients.

    The indictment claims that when Reichle was not helping Soss to sexually exploit his patient, he was getting paid off to prescribe drugs for his colleague's other patients. Since his suspended medical license meant Soss wasn't allowed to prescribe meds, he allegedly paid Reichle to act as the middleman between people and drugs.

    Using this system, Soss got paid to accept new patients - at times receiving $2,500 per person - and then allegedly funneled those patients to Reichle, who would in turn provide the prescription. "Soss and Reichle charged the patients a fee to obtain oxycodone prescriptions, written by Reichle, that were not medically necessary," the District Attorney's Office said.

    They and the 12 other defendants are accused of issuing more than 3,600 illegal prescriptions between 2014 and 2017.

    "As alleged in these indictments, thousands of illegally prescribed pills flooded our streets because of the conduct of these defendants," U.S. Attorney William McSwain said in a news release.

    According to the USAO, the suspects routinely charged people an $80 to $140 office fee at any of four Advanced Urgent Care locations before prescribing them painkillers. Federal prosecutors say the suspects did this on a daily basis and ignored signs that patients were abusing the painkillers or even selling them off to others.

    Despite urine tests showing patients testing positive for drugs like meth, heroin and cocaine, the defendants continued to prescribe them opioids, prosecutors say. Other times, the defendants allegedly ignored tests that came back negative for any drugs, which would suggest people were selling off their prescription meds.

    The investigation, carried out federally by agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Drug Enforcement Administration; and locally by the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General and the Philadelphia Police Department, among others, found that the defendants exacerbated an opioid crisis already wreaking havoc on Pennsylvania.

    "The defendants issued 3,678 prescriptions which amount to hundreds of thousands of pills being used by addicted individuals," said Jonathan A. Wilson, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's Philadelphia Field Division.

    According to the DEA, opioids disproportionately contributed to the state's 5,456 overdose deaths in 2017. "The high availability and corresponding demand leading to the misuse of illicit and prescription opioids is a crisis without geographic, demographic, or socioeconomic boundaries in Pennsylvania," the agency concluded in a September 2018 report

    The 14 defendants are charged with distribution of oxycodone, conspiracy to dispense and distribute controlled substances outside the course of professional practice, health care fraud and related charges.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Trump Plan to Stop HIV Epidemic Targets High-Infection Areas]]>Wed, 06 Feb 2019 08:28:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Trump-Azar.jpg

    President Donald Trump is launching a campaign to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030, targeting areas where new infections happen and getting highly effective drugs to people at risk.

    Briefing reporters ahead of Trump's State of the Union speech, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and senior public health officials said the campaign relies on fresh insights into where about half of new HIV cases occur — 48 out of some 3,000 U.S. counties, and Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico and seven states with at-risk rural residents.

    "We've never had that kind of 'This is the target,'" said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's pre-eminent AIDS warrior and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. The government has "been trying to address HIV, but never in such a focused way," he said.

    HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

    "Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond," Trump said in his speech. He pledged funding in his upcoming budget, but did not say how much.

    Trump's move is being greeted with a mix of skepticism and cautious optimism by anti-AIDS activists. They're flagging his previous efforts to slash Medicaid health care for low-income people, and his administration's ongoing drive to roll back newly won acceptance for LGBTQ people.

    "We stand ready to work with him and his administration if they are serious," said a statement from AIDS United and other groups. "But to date, this administration's actions speak louder than words and have moved us in the wrong direction." AIDS United funds and advocates policies to combat AIDS.

    The ONE Campaign, the global anti-poverty group co-founded by rock singer Bono, called Trump's pledge a "welcome sign," but pointed out that the administration has also proposed deep cuts in U.S. funding for efforts to battle HIV in Africa.

    "While we might have policy differences with the president and his administration, this initiative, if properly implemented and resourced, can go down in history as one of the most significant achievements of his presidency," Michael Ruppal, executive director of the AIDS Institute, said in a statement.

    While Azar said significant new funding would be included in the president's budget, he also emphasized that the campaign is about making more efficient use of existing programs like the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which provides medical care and support services.

    "The tools are there," Azar said. "This is about execution."

    Today's HIV treatments work so well they not only can give people with the AIDS virus a near-normal life expectancy, they offer a double whammy — making those patients less likely to infect other people.

    At the same time, a longtime HIV medication named Truvada can prevent infection if taken daily by healthy people who are at risk from their infected sexual partners, a strategy known as "pre-exposure prophylaxis" or PreP.

    The people most at risk include men who have sex with men, minorities, particularly African-Americans, and American Indians/Alaska Natives. Azar said the administration's campaign would rely on public health workers to identify people at risk for HIV/AIDS, get them tested, and on medication.

    The 48 counties HHS is focusing on are mainly metro areas. The states are Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

    Researchers noted that will require working with groups that often shun health services, including injectable drug users.

    "Trust is a crucial weapon in our fight to eradicate HIV and it's necessary to encourage people from marginalized groups to get tested," said Dr. Albert Wu, an HIV researcher at Johns Hopkins University.

    The initial goal is to reduce new HIV infections by 75 percent in five years.

    There are about 40,000 new cases of HIV infections a year in the U.S. That's a dramatic reduction from the crisis years of the AIDS epidemic, but progress has stalled. More than 1 million Americans live with the disease.

    William McColl of AIDS United said the Trump administration's goal is "very doable," based on currently available technology and trends.

    "I think the HIV community would work with the administration on this issue if they're serious, but it's also going to take real action, including possibly regulatory and legislative changes to achieve the goal," said McColl.

    Azar said the idea for the new push came from within the ranks of HHS.

    "There was a recognition that we were facing a unique and historic moment where all the strands were coming together," said Azar. They took the idea to Trump. "President Trump is personally invested in this," said Azar.

    In recent years a number of health organizations, including the United Nations, have called for coordinated steps to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

    Trump's CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, told agency employees last March that it would possible to end the AIDS epidemic in less than seven years.

    Shortly after taking office in 2010, President Barack Obama outlined a national HIV strategy focused on lowering the infection rate and increasing access to care. The administration renewed the five-year plan in 2015, though it did not set a goal of stopping transmission or ending the epidemic.

    Associated Press writers Matthew Perrone and Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP | Getty Images ]]>
    <![CDATA[6 Tips to Prepare For an Ice Storm]]>Tue, 05 Feb 2019 14:48:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ice47.jpg

    Here are six simple tips to help be prepared in case an ice storm leads to power outages and dangerous conditions outdoors

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    <![CDATA[Study: Many Small Kids in US Are Using Too Much Toothpaste]]>Tue, 05 Feb 2019 13:52:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-7583103391.jpg

    Too many young kids are using too much toothpaste, increasing their risk of streaky or splotchy teeth when they get older, according to a government survey released last week.

    About 40 percent of kids ages 3 to 6 used a brush that was full or half-full of toothpaste, even though experts recommend no more than a pea-sized amount, the study found.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention findings were based on a survey of parents of more than 5,000 kids ages 3 to 15.

    Health officials recommend that all people drink fluoridated water, and that everyone 2 or older brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste.

    But the amount is important. Children under 3 are only supposed to use a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice. Kids 3 to 6 are supposed to keep it to a pea-sized amount.

    "Fluoride is a wonderful benefit but it needs to be used carefully," said Dr. Mary Hayes, a pediatric dentist in Chicago.

    Young kids may push for independence in brushing their teeth, but kids' toothpaste tastes sweet.

    "You don't want them eating it like food," Hayes said. "We want the parent to be in charge of the toothbrush and the toothpaste."

    Fluoride is a mineral found in water and soil. More than 70 years ago, scientists discovered that people whose drinking water naturally had more fluoride also had fewer cavities. That led to efforts to add fluoride to tap water, toothpaste, mouthwash and other products. Experts say fluoride had helped drive down rates of tooth decay in U.S. teens and adults.

    But too much fluoride when teeth are forming can lead to tooth streaking or spottiness — known as dental fluorosis. In extreme cases, teeth can be pitted by the mineral, though many cases are so mild only dentists notice it.

    Past studies have suggested fluorosis has been increasing for at least three decades, and can affect as many as 2 out of 5 adolescents.

    The new study did not follow the kids through time or try to determine how many developed streaked or spotty teeth as a result of using too much toothpaste.

    The authors acknowledged other limitations. Parents might have misremembered how much toothpaste kids used when they were younger. Also, the survey didn't ask specifically about what kinds of toothpaste were used; not all kinds of children's toothpaste have fluoride in them.

    The study found about 60 percent of kids brushed their teeth twice a day. It also found that roughly 20 percent of white and black kids, and 30 percent of Hispanic kids, didn't start brushing until they were 3 or older.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF]]>
    <![CDATA[Hawaii Considers Cigarette Sales Ban for Anyone Under Age 100]]>Tue, 05 Feb 2019 13:55:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/874373226-Cigarette-butts.jpg

    A Big Island lawmaker has proposed incrementally increasing the minimum age to buy cigarettes, leading to a practical ban across Hawaii.

    Democratic state Rep. Richard Creagan proposed legislation aimed at making the state the first in the country to ban the sale of cigarettes for everyone except people age 100 and over, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Sunday.

    Under his bill, the minimum smoking age would increase to 30 in 2020, to 40 in 2021, to 50 in 2022, to 60 in 2023 and to 100 in 2024.

    The measure would not apply to e-cigarettes, cigars or chewing tobacco.

    Creagan said taxes and other regulations have slowed down tobacco use, but have not stopped the problem.

    "Basically, we essentially have a group who are heavily addicted — in my view enslaved by a ridiculously bad industry, which has enslaved them by designing a cigarette that is highly addictive, knowing that it highly lethal. And, it is," Creagan said.

    Creagan said he started smoking as a teenager and did so regularly during his medical residency. The state is obligated to "protect the public's health," he said.

    "This is more lethal, more dangerous than any prescription drug, and it is more addicting," Creagan said. "In my view, you are taking people who are enslaved from a horrific addiction, and freeing people from horrific enslavement. We, as legislators, have a duty to do things to save people's lives. If we don't ban cigarettes, we are killing people."

    The measure is expected to be heard by a state House committee this week.

    Hawaii is one of only a few states that do not allow the sale of cigarettes to anyone under age of 21. 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Mother's Gut-Wrenching Post Credited With Saving Another Infant's Life]]>Tue, 05 Feb 2019 12:28:03 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trejo-family-fb-hsv-1-+%284%29.jpg

    A Fort Worth mother whose 12-day-old daughter died after contracting HSV-1 saved the life of another Texas infant with a powerful post she shared on Facebook.

    Herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, is what caused the death of Emerson Trejo, Presley Trejo's only daughter.

    Most commonly, HSV-1 causes sores around the mouth and lips, sometimes called fever blisters or cold sores.

    In newborns, it can cause serve complications, or even death, if left untreated.

    Trejo said in the first few days at home after Emerson's birth, she began to show signs of loss of appetite and abnormal fatigue.

    "She wouldn't cry in the middle of the night to eat. She was sleeping all through the night, all through the day. I was freaking out every single day," Trejo said.  

    She told NBC 5 that she warned doctors that Emerson had a small spot inside her mouth, but Trejo claimed they told her not to worry.

    On Emerson's 12th day of life, Trejo said she suffered a seizure. The Trejos returned to the hospital where doctors diagnosed the virus and said it had spread to the baby's organs, which were shutting down.

    Emerson died that same day.

    "It was traumatizing. Sickening. She never woke up again. She was gone," said Elias Trejo, Emerson's father.

    The Trejos still don't know how Emerson contracted the virus. 

    "I am grateful that she got to be with us and that she died in my arms. I am grateful for that, but we would much rather have her here," Presley recalled.

    Two months after Emerson's death, Presley shared her story on Facebook, including pictures of their final moments with Emerson.

    "Everyone needs to know about this virus and what it does to children and their families! PEOPLE!!!! STOP KISSING BABIES THAT ARE NOT YOURS!!!!! WASH YOUR HANDS WHEN YOU ARE AROUND NEWBORNS!!!!!" Presley wrote.

    Ashley Pool, of Bryan, Texas, was one of the more than 254,000 people (and counting) to have read Presley's story on Facebook.

    "I cried. I cried because I just had a baby," Pool said.

    One week after reading Trejo's post, she said she began to notice the symptoms of HSV-1 in her newborn. She rushed her daughter to the hospital, where doctors confirmed Pool's suspicion and started the baby on antivirals before the virus could spread.

    "I would have never thought anything was wrong with her if I hadn't seen Presley's post. It saved Reagan's life and I'm eternally grateful for that," Pool said.

    A few weeks later, Pool and Trejo were able to talk, via FaceTime.

    "I just want to tell you thank you so much. I can't imagine how hard it is to share so soon after it happened," Pool told Trejo.

    "I know for my husband and I, this is exactly what we wanted to do, whenever I posted this, so I'm just glad that I was able to help you and save a little baby," Trejo responded.

    Trejo, now pregnant with twin girls, hopes more families become aware of the danger posted by HSV-1 to newborns.

    "I'm so grateful for how her outcome turned out [with Ashley's daughter]. [It's] the outcome I would have wished for, for my daughter," Presley said.

    About one of every 3,500 babies born in the United States, or less than one percent, contracts herpes simplex virus each year, according to the March of Dimes.

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, from 2015-2016, 47.8 percent of the U.S. population between the ages of 14-49 carried HSV-1. The virus is a common, lifelong infection with often carries no symptoms. People with symptoms may have painful blisters or sores at the site of infection. The viruses are transmitted through contact with an infected person’s lesion, mucosal surface, or genital or oral secretions.

    Photo Credit: Trejo family
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    <![CDATA[Nearly Half of US Adults Have Heart or Blood Vessel Disease]]>Thu, 31 Jan 2019 12:08:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hearthealthGettyImages-481681919.jpg

    A new report estimates that nearly half of all U.S. adults have some form of heart or blood vessel disease, a medical milestone that's mostly due to recent guidelines that expanded how many people have high blood pressure.

    The American Heart Association said Thursday that more than 121 million adults had cardiovascular disease in 2016. Taking out those with only high blood pressure leaves 24 million, or 9 percent of adults, who have other forms of disease such as heart failure or clogged arteries.

    Measuring the burden of diseases shows areas that need to improve, the heart association's chief science and medical officer, Dr. Mariell Jessup, said in a statement.

    High blood pressure, which had long been defined as a top reading of at least 140 or a bottom one of 90, dropped to 130 over 80 under guidelines adopted in 2017. It raises the risk for heart attacks, strokes and many other problems, and only about half of those with the condition have it under control.

    Being diagnosed with high blood pressure doesn't necessarily mean you need medication right away; the first step is aiming for a healthier lifestyle, even for those who are prescribed medicine. Poor diets, lack of exercise and other bad habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure.

    The report is an annual statistics update by the heart association, the National Institutes of Health and others.

    Other highlights:

    —Heart and blood vessel disease is linked to 1 of every 3 deaths in the United States and kills more Americans than all forms of cancer and respiratory diseases like pneumonia combined.

    —Certain groups have higher rates than others; 57 percent of black women and 60 percent of black males.

    —Coronary heart disease, or clogged or hardened arteries, caused 43 percent of cardiovascular deaths in the U.S., followed by stroke (17 percent), high blood pressure (10 percent) and heart failure (9 percent).

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[E-Cigs Outperform Patches and Gums in Quit-Smoking Study]]>Wed, 30 Jan 2019 18:35:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cigAP_19030611561489.jpg

    A major new study provides the strongest evidence yet that vaping can help smokers quit cigarettes, with e-cigarettes proving nearly twice as effective as nicotine gums and patches.

    The British research, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, could influence what doctors tell their patients and shape the debate in the U.S., where the Food and Drug Administration has come under pressure to more tightly regulate the burgeoning industry amid a surge in teenage vaping.

    "We know that patients are asking about e-cigarettes and many doctors haven't been sure what to say," said Dr. Nancy Rigotti, a tobacco treatment specialist at Harvard Medical School who was not involved in the study. "I think they now have more evidence to endorse e-cigarettes."

    At the same time, Rigotti and other experts cautioned that no vaping products have been approved in the U.S. to help smokers quit.

    Smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable death worldwide, blamed for nearly 6 million deaths a year. Quitting is notoriously difficult, even with decades-old nicotine aids and newer prescription drugs. More than 55 percent of U.S. smokers try to quit each year, and only about 7 percent succeed, according to government figures.

    Electronic cigarettes, which have been available in the U.S. since about 2007 and have grown into a $6.6 billion-a-year industry, are battery-powered devices that typically heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor. Most experts agree the vapor is less harmful than traditional cigarette smoke since it doesn't contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco.

    But there have been conflicting studies on whether e-cigarettes actually help smokers kick the habit. Last year, an influential panel of U.S. experts concluded there was only "limited evidence" of their effectiveness.

    In the new study, researchers tracked nearly 900 middle-age smokers who were randomly assigned to receive either e-cigarettes or nicotine replacement products, including patches, gums and lozenges. After one year, 18 percent of e-cigarette users were smoke-free, versus 9.9 percent of those using the other products.

    "Anything which helps smokers to avoid heart disease and cancer and lung disease is a good thing and e-cigarettes can do that," said Peter Hajek, study co-author and an addiction specialist at Queen Mary University of London.

    The study was more rigorous than previous ones, which largely surveyed smokers about e-cigarette use. Participants in this experiment underwent chemical breath testing.

    Smokers in the e-cigarette group received a $26 starter kit, while those in the nicotine-replacement group received a three-month supply of the product of their choice, costing about $159. Participants were responsible for purchasing follow-up supplies.

    "If you have a method of helping people with smoking cessation that is both more effective and less costly, that should be of great interest to anyone providing health services," said Kenneth Warner, a retired University of Michigan public health professor who was not involved in the study.

    Several factors may have boosted the results: All the participants were recruited from a government smoking-cessation program and were presumably motivated to quit. They also received four weeks of anti-smoking counseling.

    The researchers didn't test e-cigarettes against new drugs such as Pfizer's Chantix, which has shown higher rates of success than older nicotine-based treatments.

    Funding for the study came from the British government, which has embraced e-cigarettes as a potential tool to combat smoking through state-run health services. Some of the authors have been paid consultants to makers of anti-smoking products.

    U.S. health authorities have been more reluctant about backing the products, in part because there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of chemicals in e-cigarette vapor, some of which are toxic.

    "We need more studies about their safety profile, and I don't think anyone should be changing practice based on one study," said Belinda Borrelli, a psychologist specializing in smoking cessation at Boston University.

    The American Heart Association backed e-cigarettes in 2014 as a last resort to help smokers quit after trying counseling and approved products. The American Cancer Society took a similar position last year.

    An editorial accompanying the study and co-written by Borrelli recommended e-cigarettes only after smokers have tried and failed to quit with FDA-approved products. Also, doctors should have a clear timeline for stopping e-cigarette use.

    Borrelli noted that after one year, 80 percent of the e-cigarette users in the study were still using the devices. Nine percent of the participants in the other group were still using gums and other nicotine-replacement products.

    No vaping company has announced plans to seek FDA approval of their products as a quit-smoking aid. Winning such an endorsement would require large studies that can take years and cost millions of dollars.

    The FDA has largely taken a hands-off approach toward vaping. It has not scientifically reviewed any of the e-cigarettes on the market and has put off some key regulations until 2022. FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has said he doesn't want to over-regulate an emerging industry that could provide a safer option for adult smokers.

    The delay has come under intense criticism amid an explosion in teenage vaping, driven chiefly by devices like Juul, which resembles a flash drive. Federal law prohibits sales to those under 18, but 1 in 5 high school students reported vaping last year, according to a government survey. It showed teenage use surged 78 percent between 2017 and 2018.

    Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids noted that the British study used so-called tank-based e-cigarettes, which allow users to customize their flavors and nicotine levels. Those devices have largely been overtaken in the U.S. by Juul and similar devices that have prefilled nicotine cartridges, or pods. Any benefit of e-cigarettes depends on the individual product and how it is used, he said.

    "It is a fundamental mistake to think that all e-cigarettes are alike," Myers said. "And in the absence of FDA regulation, a consumer has no way of knowing if the product they are using has the potential to help them or not."

    Myers' group is one of several anti-smoking organizations suing the FDA to immediately begin reviewing e-cigarettes.

    Ian Armitage was skeptical about e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking, saying he tried vaping several years ago but gave it up after experiencing twitching and shakes from nicotine withdrawal.

    "I tried it for a whole month, but it just wasn't doing it for me," said Armitage, an audio-visual technician in Washington. "I still wanted a cigarette afterward."

    Armitage, who has smoked for 15 years, said he also tried nicotine patches but found they irritated his skin. 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Food Industry Sway Over Public Health Gets New Scrutiny]]>Wed, 30 Jan 2019 11:30:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/sodaGettyImages-151960676.jpg

    The tweet from a group that finances development in Latin America was direct: Sodas do not offer beauty or joy, just a lot of sugar.

    There was one problem for the organization. Coca-Cola was a funder.

    The Inter-American Development Bank's management told Coke it hadn't been aware of the tweet, and subsequently invited the company to write a blog post explaining how the beverage giant was helping address obesity, according to an email by a Coke executive obtained by The Associated Press through a public records request.

    The exchange provides another glimpse of the food industry's pull in shaping messages about its products. With obesity becoming a more pressing global problem, two reports in science journals are calling for policies that limit industry influence and reviving debate about what role food companies should play in public health efforts.

    In the medical journal Lancet, a report says skepticism about the motives of ultra-processed food makers is justified, noting how sugary drink manufacturers have fought government efforts to reduce soda consumption. The report says reducing industry influence in policy development will help governments address the intertwined problems of obesity, malnutrition and climate change.

    A separate report in Milbank Quarterly depicts Coke's ties with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, relying partly on previously published emails obtained through records requests. In one exchange, a CDC official tells a Coke executive that her colleague is interested in working at the beverage company and passes along her resume. A CDC representative said the agency doesn't comment on personnel matters, but noted its resources on ethical issues for employees.

    The Milbank report says such exchanges underscore the need for greater transparency and conflict-of-interest guidelines at organizations involved in public health. It says there's still relatively little known about the extent of the food industry's influence, but that there is growing understanding of such dynamics.

    Gary Ruskin, one of the report's authors, said the increased awareness is partly the result of "the sheer enormity of the obesity epidemic."

    "We're just starting to grapple with it in a serious way," said Ruskin, who is also co-founder of U.S. Right to Know, an advocacy group funded by the Organic Consumers Association and others.

    Ruskin said Coke in particular has been the subject of many recent revelations because of the company's unusually far-reaching ties into regulatory and scientific matters. Earlier this month, research by a Harvard scholar traced how a group founded by a former Coke executive helped shape China's efforts to keep obesity in check.

    Still, Coke is far from alone. Many other food companies fund studies that are favorable to their products and become part of scientific literature. And last year, the University of California, San Francisco launched an archive of food industry documents for researchers, including records detailing the sugar industry 's role in shaping nutrition research.

    Yoni Freedhoff, who teaches family medicine at the University of Ottawa, said the food industry's public pledges on health matters should be viewed warily given its financial drivers.

    "It gives smoke and cover for the industry to try and pretend, 'Hey, we're on your team'," Freedhoff said.

    Not everyone thinks all industry ties should be dismissed. Bill Dietz, an author of the Lancet report and a researcher at George Washington University, cited the Partnership for a Healthier America's works with food companies on public health commitments as a worthwhile effort.

    "My worry is that this has become such a fraught issue that any relationship with industry is dismissed," said Dietz, who is on the board of Partnership for a Healthier America.

    As for the tweet by the Inter-American Development Bank, a representative for the bank said the message was deleted because it included an image with brand names in violation of its policies. The representative said Coke's post was published on the bank's blog for outreach and partners, and that the institution has continued to promote discussion about the health implications of sugar consumption.

    In a statement, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola said it has been working on being more transparent and to better understand how it can help address obesity.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Israeli Co. That Claims Cancer Cure Faces Years of Testing]]>Tue, 29 Jan 2019 19:22:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Science-tubes.jpg

    An Israeli biotech company said preliminary research on mice gives it hope of developing a cancer cure “within a year’s time” — but it still has years of testing ahead of it before it could get U.S. approval — even if it works for humans.

    Accelerated Evolution Biotechnologies (AEBi) told the Jerusalem Post it used peptides, which are a chain of amino acids, to target and kill cancer cells in mice.

    “We believe we will offer in a year’s time a complete cure for cancer,” the company’s chairman of the board of directors, Dan Aridor, told the Jerusalem Post in an article published Monday.

    The company, however, has only tested the treatment in mice so far and it can take six to seven years to bring cancer drugs from “mouse to market,” even when drugmakers receive special permissions from U.S. regulators to speed drug development, Les Funtleyder, health-care portfolio manager at E Squared Capital Management, told CNBC.

    “I mean, I’d love there to be a cure for cancer, but I do not believe them in the absence of good human evidence,” he said.

    The company has not yet published any clinical evidence showing this treatment works in humans. CEO Ilan Morad told the Jerusalem Post that AEBi has only finished its first exploratory mice experiment, which he claims inhibited cancer cell growth.

    The Food and Drug Administration, which declined to comment on the company’s treatment, has an extensive review process for drug approval in the United States: “Before a drug can be tested in people, the drug company or sponsor performs laboratory and animal tests to discover how the drug works and whether it’s likely to be safe and work well in humans. Next, a series of tests in people is begun to determine whether the drug is safe when used to treat a disease and whether it provides a real health benefit,” FDA says on its site.

    The company acknowledged in an email to CNBC that “complete cure for cancer meaning that we will have the complete solution ready for first tryout in humans. A solution that is supposed to finish the problem without it coming back. Even in the unlikely event that it comes back it can be re-administered\re-adjusted.”

    Aridor said the company’s first target is lung cancer and that it’s working on others.

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

    Pfizer’s earnings outlook disappoints after Viagra loses patent protection and Lyrica faces same fate

    Obamacare helps save low-income people from losing their homes, study shows

    Super Bowl ad for Michelob Ultra’s organic beer will bring a moment of calm to the Big Game

    Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
    <![CDATA[Research Team Targets Diseases With Mosquito Birth Control]]>Tue, 29 Jan 2019 10:39:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_mosquitos0128_1500x845.jpg

    Researchers at the University of Arizona are studying birth control for mosquitos in an effort to decrease the rate of mosquito-borne diseases transmitted to humans. ]]>
    <![CDATA[Prosecutor: Greedy Pharma Founder Bribed Doctors to Give His Drug]]>Mon, 28 Jan 2019 20:04:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/John+Kapoor.JPG

    The wealthy founder of a drug company plotted to bribe doctors across the country to prescribe a highly addictive fentanyl spray in order to outshine competitors and line his own pockets, a federal prosecutor told jurors Monday.

    Assistant U.S. Attorney David Lazarus said John Kapoor was so determined to make Insys Therapeutics Inc. a success that he turned it into a "criminal enterprise" to get the powerful painkiller in the hands of more patients.

    "This is not a complicated case. It's a case about greed — about greed and its consequences — and what happens when you put profits over people," Lazarus said as the closely-watched trial opened in Boston.

    Kapoor is the highest-level pharmaceutical figure to face trial amid the opioid epidemic that's claiming thousands of lives every year. His lawyers say Insys is not responsible for the drug crisis, noting that its medication makes up a small fraction of the prescription opioid market.

    The 75-year-old and four other former employees of the Chandler, Arizona-based company are accused of paying doctors millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks in order to boost sales for Subsys, which is meant for cancer patients with severe pain.

    The bribes were paid in the form of fees for sham speaking events that were advertised as educational opportunities for other doctors, prosecutors allege.

    Kapoor's lawyer told jurors that Insys was open about its speaker program and even reported payments to doctors online. Paying doctors to teach others about a medication is not illegal and is a practice widely used by pharmaceutical companies, Attorney Beth Wilkinson said.

    "There was nothing illegal about that and there was certainly nothing secret about that," Wilkinson said.

    She said Kapoor was motivated not by greed but by a desire to help people dealing with excruciating pain. Kapoor watched his wife suffer from breast cancer and was driven to provide other patients with a chance at relief, she said.

    "He did not want that to happen to anyone else," Wilkinson said.

    Wilkinson also sought to discredit the government's key witnesses: two former Insys executives who pleaded guilty and are cooperating with prosecutors.

    Former sales executive Alec Burlakoff was the one cutting "side deals" with doctors and is willing to say anything prosecutors want him to in order to help himself, she told jurors.

    Kapoor and the other executives are charged with racketeering conspiracy, which carries up to 20 years in prison.

    The case is being led by longtime federal prosecutor Fred Wyshak, who has won convictions against Boston crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger and other powerful mobsters.

    The trial could last more than three months.

    Several Insys employees and doctors have already been convicted in other cases of participating in a kickback scheme. A number of states have sued the company, which also agreed last year to pay $150 million to settle a federal investigation into inappropriate sales.

    Patients say in a slew of lawsuits filed against the company that they were given high doses of the potent narcotic even though they didn't have cancer, weren't warned of the risks and became addicted before suffering through withdrawal when they were cut off.

    Prosecutors say Insys executives targeted doctors at pain clinics known for operating "pill mills" and pushed physicians to prescribe the drug at ever-increasing doses. Insys employees who managed to get doctors to prescribe higher doses were rewarded with bonuses, prosecutors say.

    Kapoor "demanded success at all costs," Lazarus said. And when the drug wasn't doing as well as Kapoor wanted, "he decided to get the success he demanded by breaking the law," he said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Feds Tackle Opioid Epidemic, But Is It Helping?]]>Mon, 28 Jan 2019 08:39:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19017731002949-narcan-naloxone.jpg

    President Donald Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency and urged prosecutors to seek the death penalty against drug dealers. Congress has provided targeted grants for treatment, recovery and prevention and made numerous policy changes to help people struggling with addiction get access to services. From the National Institutes of Health to Veterans Affairs and the Agriculture Department, government agencies are deploying their own specialized skills. Still, the addiction crisis will not easily release its grip on the nation, even as progress is made providing resources and improving coordination.

    Here's a look at the extent of the epidemic, and what the federal government has been doing.

    Some 47,600 Americans died of opioid overdoses in 2017, according to federal numbers. That's more than die as a result of traffic crashes. Opioid deaths were 13 percent higher compared to 2016, up a notch in a 20-year onslaught. The street drug fentanyl — an extremely powerful opioid — is the top killer today, displacing heroin and pain pills. But prescription painkillers are still a problem, contributing to 14,495 deaths in 2017.

    It's too early to say for sure, but experts are watching a potential indicator that opioid overdose deaths may be peaking. Month-to-month data reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shown a leveling off in deaths, said Bob Anderson, a CDC senior statistician. However, those numbers are considered preliminary, because investigations have not been completed in all cases.

    "We may start to see a decline," Anderson said. "This reminds me of what we saw with HIV in the '90s." Final numbers for 2018 won't be available until the end of this year, and things could also get worse, not better.

    Although overdose deaths get the most attention, that's not the only way for users to die. People who inject drugs can get heart infections, HIV and hepatitis C. The risk of infection is higher than the chance of dying from an overdose.

    Counting all fatal drug overdoses, not just opioids, the CDC puts the number at 70,237 for 2017.

    Many people got started on the path to addiction with painkillers, prescribed by a doctor for treatment of injuries, post-surgical pain or a chronic condition — or purchased illegally from a dealer. Much of the heroin sold in the U.S. comes from Mexico, and the drug is more potent than in the 1970s, during a previous crisis. China is the major source of fentanyl, which is used as an additive in street drugs.

    The multitude of opioid drugs, the increasing lethality of some and their varied routes to market make the crisis especially challenging. Some effective responses can be surprisingly simple: In a recently reported experiment, doctors were sent a letter from the medical examiner's office telling them of a patient's fatal overdose. They responded by prescribing fewer opioids.

    Starting under former President Barack Obama, the government has been providing grants to states — to help treat people addicted to opioids and to prevent others from getting hooked. The expansion of the Medicaid health program under Obama's health care law has also played a role in financing treatment.

    With the exception of Medicaid expansion — which Trump and the Republican Congress unsuccessfully tried to repeal — the federal response to the opioid crisis has been bipartisan.

    Various federal agencies are bringing specialized expertise. CDC is closely tracking the epidemic's toll. NIH is researching pain management and ways to treat addiction. The Agriculture Department is focusing on opioid misuse in rural areas, where treatment resources are scarce. And Veterans Affairs maintains an opioid safety initiative dating to 2013 to help its doctors reduce unnecessary prescriptions.

    On the enforcement side, drug, cybercrime and money laundering sleuths are targeting major suppliers. In the 1980s, cocaine from Colombia was smuggled via speedboats, and bales of marijuana were flown in on small planes, but now fentanyl from China can be marketed online and shipped by mail. The Food and Drug Administration is deploying more inspectors at international mail facilities to intercept packages of fentanyl.

    It's difficult to get a complete and authoritative accounting, since spending is across many agencies and programs. That includes entitlements like Medicaid, that don't require annual funding approval from Congress, as well as dozens of other programs that do — in addition to specific grants. Experts say the government is spending billions of dollars, there's no doubt that's increasing, and it's still probably not enough.

    In its last year in office, the Obama administration secured a commitment to expand treatment, and Congress reserved $1 billion for grants to states . Last year, Congress provided another $1 billion to states under a new grant program. The Trump administration recently awarded those grants. That comes on top of nearly $1.9 billion for the government's main drug treatment, recovery and prevention program, according to the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors.

    Additional funding is allocated across other agencies and programs. A study sponsored by the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation highlighted Medicaid's role. It found that the federal-state health program for low-income people covers more than 1 in 3 of those with opioid addiction. Even before Medicaid was expanded, researchers estimated it spent more than $9 billion in 2013 on care for low-income people addicted to opioids.

    States are spending grant money on treatment, overdose antidote kits, recovery support services, training for doctors and public awareness campaigns. The goal is to get more people treated with medications for opioid addiction such as buprenorphine and methadone. There's solid evidence backing these medications, when they're used alongside counseling and ongoing support.

    States have started reporting back to the federal government that thousands of people have entered treatment as a result of grant money, including hundreds of pregnant women. Pennsylvania, for example, says it treated 11,423 people in FY2017, including 86 pregnant women. Michigan says it treated 2,974, including 30 pregnant women. Tennessee: 3,075, including 55 pregnant women.

    With little or no training, bystanders can reverse an opioid overdose with a naloxone nasal spray or by injection of the drug. States have handed out thousands of naloxone kits to first responders, schools, family members and drug users themselves.

    The Health and Human Services department has several programs to help states and communities pay for the antidote, but with overdose deaths still high, it's tough to say what the impact of naloxone has been. A 2017 working paper, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, suggests laws encouraging naloxone might be having a small effect on reducing fatalities.

    People dealing with the epidemic say deaths would be even higher without the antidote.

    Administration officials say they are making headway daily, deploying more resources and sharpening the coordination of government efforts among agencies. Some experts in the field debate the administration's role.

    "When you look at the administration's actions in the wake of that public health emergency, I was not overwhelmed by any of it," said Rebecca Farley David of the National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for organizations that provide addiction treatment.

    She singled out Trump's attempt to repeal the Medicaid expansion: "That would have had a devastating impact on people with addictions."

    But Jessica Hulsey Nickel, founder of the advocacy group Addiction Policy Forum, said, "Whether you are an 'R' or a 'D,' this administration has made sure every element of the government that has a role to play has been engaged."

    Trump's opioid commission delivered 56 recommendations, including more drug courts, training for doctors and wider use of treatment medications in the criminal justice system.

    In some ways the opioid epidemic is only the latest manifestation of drug problems deeply rooted in American history. Public health experts say one major difference today is that addiction is increasingly recognized by experts and lay people alike as a disease of the brain, not a moral failing. That could open the way for building an infrastructure for what's called the "continuum of care" — prevention, treatment and recovery.

    For many people, the road back from addiction is a yearslong journey, and relapse is common. Dr. Deborah Richter, a Vermont physician who treats addiction, says there's no fixed timetable for pronouncing a patient "cured." ''They're not ready unless they can say, 'I wouldn't know where to get heroin unless it bit me,'" Richter said.

    Getting tough has traditionally been part of the U.S. "war on drugs." Only recently has the importance of treatment been widely recognized.

    Former Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton supported the death penalty for drug kingpins in egregious cases. Reagan said that while he thought drug dealers deserved the death penalty, pursuing it could create counterproductive political divisions.

    Trump has speculated that countries like Singapore have fewer issues with addiction because they mete out harsh justice and has said he wants the Justice Department to seek the "ultimate penalty" when possible. The U.S. drug kingpin law already allows federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty in cases where someone is intentionally killed during a drug deal or in furtherance of a drug enterprise. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had vowed to seek the death penalty "wherever appropriate."

    Cautionary note: Many judges, prosecutors, crime experts and lawmakers of both parties now see the get-tough approach of the 1980s and 1990s as an overreach that landed too many people in prison with long sentences, especially African-Americans.

    "While it's important to make interdiction a priority, we need to make sure we don't criminalize the disease of addiction," said Jessica Hulsey Nickel of the Addiction Policy Forum.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Mary Altaffer/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Trump Rollbacks for Fossil Fuel Industries Carry Steep Cost]]>Mon, 28 Jan 2019 05:26:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/epa-AP_19023813204662.jpg

    As the Trump administration rolls back environmental and safety rules for the energy sector, government projections show billions of dollars in savings reaped by companies will come at a steep cost: more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, a jump in climate-warming emissions and more severe derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

    The Associated Press analyzed 11 major rules targeted for repeal or relaxation under Trump, using the administration's own estimates to tally how its actions would boost businesses and harm society.

    The AP identified up to $11.6 billion in potential future savings for companies that extract, burn and transport fossil fuels. Industry windfalls of billions of dollars more could come from a freeze in vehicle efficiency standards that will yield an estimated 79 billion-gallon (300 million-liter) increase in fuel consumption.

    On the opposite side of the government's ledger, buried in thousands of pages of analyses, are the "social costs" of rolling back the regulations. Among them:

    — Up to 1,400 additional premature deaths annually due to the pending repeal of a rule to cut coal plant pollution.

    — An increase in greenhouse gas emissions by about 1 billion tons (907 million metric tons) from vehicles produced over the next decade — a figure equivalent to annual emissions of almost 200 million vehicles.

    — Increased risk of water contamination from a drilling technique known as "fracking."

    — Fewer safety checks to prevent offshore oil spills.

    For the Trump administration and its supporters, the rule changes examined by AP mark a much-needed pivot away from heavy regulations that threatened to hold back the Republican president's goal of increasing U.S. energy production. But the AP's findings also underscore the administration's willingness to put company profits ahead of safety considerations and pollution effects.

    Siding with industry

    The AP found the administration has sought to bolster the changes by emphasizing, and sometimes exaggerating, economic gains while minimizing negative impacts.

    For example, when calculating future damages from greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants, the Trump administration looked only at U.S. effects, instead of globally. That drastically reduced the benefits of emission restrictions and allowed the administration to conclude the Obama-era rule was no longer justified, given costs to the coal industry.

    In another instance, the Environmental Protection Agency wants to stop considering secondary benefits of controlling mercury emissions — namely reductions in other pollutants projected to prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths.

    Last month, the AP revealed that the administration understated the advantages of installing better brakes on trains carrying crude oil and ethanol. Transportation Department officials acknowledged they miscalculated potential benefits by up to $117 million because they failed to include some projected future derailments.

    In explaining its actions, the Trump administration said in some cases that the previous administration understated the price tag on new industry restrictions. In others, it said President Barack Obama's administration had been overly expansive in how it defined benefits to society.

    Michael Greenstone, a University of Chicago professor who served as chief economist for Obama's Council of Economic Advisers, said the Trump administration was downplaying the health and environmental impacts of its actions.

    "When you start fudging the numbers, it's not that the costs just evaporate into thin air. We will pay," Greenstone said. "They are reducing the costs for industries where pollution is a byproduct."

    The rules being targeted were largely crafted under Obama in response to climate change, the disastrous 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, massive releases from coal ash dumps and fuel train explosions.

    Administration: Negligible risks

    Trump's administration has stressed that savings for companies were greater than any increased perils to safety or the environment.

    "We fully recognize every significant policy decision has a consequence and that those consequences can differ," acting U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told the AP. "I think when you look at the track record, holistically, what you see is our deregulatory efforts are still pretty protective."

    The AP's tally of savings was derived from government projections required under a 1993 executive order. Five of the rule changes are still pending.

    On rules for toxic coal ash, offshore safety and refinery pollution, the administration said companies would save hundreds of millions of dollars with little or no added risk — an assertion former federal officials and environmental groups have disputed.

    The potential industry savings were projected largely over the next decade.

    Sectors of the coal industry see lifting costly rules as a matter of survival because demand has plummeted as utilities switch to cleaner-burning fuels.

    For the oil and gas industry, with hundreds of billions of dollars in annual revenue, the economic impact of the Obama-era rules was comparatively small. But they were vigorously opposed as restrictions on business.

    "We need to make sure we're putting together rules that are flexible enough to apply the latest, greatest technologies," said Erik Milito, vice president for the American Petroleum Institute. He said the group focused on whether rules make sense, rather than cost savings.

    Critics say the impact on public health and the environment will be even worse than projected.

    "I don't think it's well understood what the death toll of these policies will be for the American people," said Paul Billings, of the American Lung Association.

    Obama Climate Agenda Assailed

    Two sweeping changes under Trump — the rollback of the Clean Power Plan that threatened to close many coal power plants and a reversal of plans to increase vehicle fuel efficiency standards — were centerpieces of Obama's climate change actions.

    Killing the power plan would save companies up to $6.4 billion, the EPA concluded.

    The trade-off is almost 61 million tons (55 million metric tons) annually of additional carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The administration calculated that those emissions carry a maximum of $3.2 billion in "social costs," such as flood damage and higher air conditioning costs.

    Since company savings outweighed pollution costs, the administration said scrapping the power plan was justified. That conclusion was possible largely because the EPA limited social costs to effects in the U.S., instead of globally as under Obama.

    EPA spokeswoman Enesta Jones said the analysis complied with a 2003 directive under President George W. Bush that said such reviews should focus on costs and benefits to people in the U.S.

    Joe Goffman, a former EPA official who helped create the clean power plan and now at Harvard Law School, said the omission of international impacts "doesn't track with reality" given that climate change is a worldwide problem.

    The Trump administration also limited pollution cost considerations in its proposal last month on mercury emitted by coal plants.

    When the mercury rule was finalized in 2012, the EPA projected up to $90 billion in benefits, including avoidance of up to 11,000 premature deaths from other power plant pollutants.

    Now, the EPA says those benefits could not be considered because they are not directly tied to mercury reductions. The only benefits that should be counted, the agency said, were improvements to IQ scores as a result of less mercury exposure, valued at up to $6 million annually.

    The National Mining Association had urged the change. Spokesman Conor Bernstein said Obama's EPA misused the concept of secondary pollution benefits to justify its actions.

    The rollback's impact is unclear since utilities already have spent an estimated $18 billion on new pollution controls.

    Fuel standards and drilling safety

    Some experts outside government take issue with the rationale for relaxing the fuel economy rule.

    The Trump administration says reducing standards would save as many as 1,000 lives annually and spare consumers and car companies hundreds of billions of dollars on vehicles with higher gas mileage. To reach that conclusion, officials lowered estimates of how many vehicles people would buy.

    But economists including from the nonpartisan National Bureau of Economic Research say that assumption was fundamentally flawed, since looser standards would make cars cheaper and therefore increase demand. The economists said the government used misleading findings to wipe out at least $112 billion in potential societal benefits while falsely claiming its change would save numerous lives.

    "Every change they made was made in the direction to make the standards look more expensive and the rollback to look cheaper and better," said Jeff Alson, who worked 40 years at an EPA lab in Michigan.

    Several rules reworked under Trump tie directly to worker and public safety.

    The administration rescinded requirements for improved fuel train brakes after determining the costs to industry would be higher than previously calculated. It acknowledged more spills from derailments would likely occur.

    After AP's story about the agency's $117 million benefits understatement, spokesman Bobby Fraser said the decision to rescind the Obama rule would stand because the costs were still greater.

    Two safety rules for offshore oil and gas drilling were adopted following the Deepwater Horizon accident, which killed 11 people and spilled 134 million gallons (507 million liters) of oil.

    The Interior Department now says less rigid inspection and equipment requirements would save drilling companies hundreds of millions of dollars with "negligible" safety and environmental risks.

    Lynn Scarlett, acting Interior Secretary under George W. Bush, said the changes ignore a government commission's findings on the Gulf spill.

    "You're removing a tool that was developed intentionally to help reduce the risks," Scarlett said. "The failure to have those protections raises the risk, such that actions can result in accidents like Deepwater Horizon."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Matthew Brown/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Measles Outbreak Grows in Northwest US, 31 Cases Reported]]>Sat, 26 Jan 2019 10:38:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measlesAP_19025711167120.jpg

    The number of confirmed measles cases near Portland grew to 31 on Friday — an outbreak boosted by lower-than-normal vaccination rates in what has been called an anti-vaccination U.S. "hot spot."

    Public health officials in southwest Washington, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon, said people may have been exposed to the dangerous disease at more than three dozen locations, including Portland International Airport, a Portland Trail Blazers game, an Amazon Locker location and stores such as Costco and Ikea.

    Twenty-six of the confirmed patients had not been vaccinated against measles, and the vaccination status of four others who were infected is unknown. One child has been hospitalized. Authorities say nine additional cases are suspected.

    One case also has been confirmed in King County, which is home to Seattle and one was confirmed Friday evening in Multnomah County, which is home to Portland.

    Most of the cases involved children younger than 10, the Clark County Public Health Department said in a statement. One adult is infected, and the rest are teenagers. Oregon officials didn't provide the age of the adult infected there.

    Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, declared a statewide public health emergency for his state on Friday. Authorities in neighboring Oregon and Idaho have issued warnings.

    Inslee said the number of cases "creates an extreme public health risk that may quickly spread to other counties."

    The measles vaccine has been part of routine childhood shots for decades, and measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000.

    But measles is still a big problem in other parts of the world. Travelers infected abroad can bring the virus into the country and spread it, causing periodic outbreaks.

    Last year, there were 17 outbreaks and about 350 cases of measles in the U.S.

    Officials still are not sure where this Pacific Northwest outbreak began. The first known patient sought medical care on Dec. 31, but it is unknown if other people may have gotten sick before that and did not seek treatment. Public health officials are focused for now on preventing more exposures.

    It could be weeks or even months before the "exquisitely contagious" virus runs its course in Washington, Dr. Alan Melnick, the Clark County health officer, said Friday.

    People who choose not to vaccinate their children are underestimating the dangers of the illness, said Melnick, who himself had measles as a child, before the vaccine was commonplace.

    Before the vaccine, 400 to 500 people died from the measles each year, 50,000 people were hospitalized and 4,000 people developed brain swelling that can cause deafness, he said. Between one and three cases out of every 1,000 are fatal, he said.

    "It's one of the most contagious viruses we have. It can have really serious complications ... and it's entirely preventable with an incredibly cheap and safe vaccine," Melnick said.

    Clark County has already spent more than $100,000 trying to contain the outbreak, and staff is being pulled from other duties, including restaurant inspections, he said.

    "It's all hands on deck. Clearly this is going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it wouldn't surprise me if we were in the seven figures by the time we're done here," he said. "These costs could have been prevented if we had everybody vaccinated."

    Clark County, which includes the Portland bedroom community of Vancouver, Washington, has a measles vaccination rate of 78 percent, well below the 92 to 94 percent rate required for so-called "herd immunity," said Marissa Armstrong, the department's spokeswoman. Herd immunity happens when unvaccinated individuals are protected from infection because almost everyone around them has been vaccinated and is immune to a disease.

    The measles vaccination rate for 2-year-olds in Multnomah County, home to Portland, was 87 percent in 2017, according to state data. The measles vaccine consists of two shots, one given by age 2 and the second usually between ages 4 and 6.

    Data on Portland's vaccination rate for both shots wasn't immediately available.

    Two doses of the vaccine in childhood are 97 percent effective and provide lifetime immunity. One dose is about 93 percent effective.

    Both Washington and Oregon allow vaccine exemptions for personal and philosophical reasons. The vaccine-exemption rate in Clark County for non-medical reasons was high, at 7.5 percent, Armstrong said.

    The incubation period for measles is seven to 21 days, which means that an unvaccinated person who has been exposed could be out in public for up to three weeks before getting sick. Patients remain contagious for four days after they develop the rash.

    The virus, spread by coughing or sneezing, can remain in the air for up to two hours in an isolated space. Ninety percent of people exposed to measles who have not been vaccinated will get it, public health officials said.

    Every time an unvaccinated person who has been exposed to measles goes out in public, "it starts that clock over again," Armstrong said.

    Earlier this week, authorities were successful in identifying several people who had been exposed but were not sick yet. Those people stayed home and later got ill, Armstrong said.

    Those who may have been exposed should watch for early symptoms of fever and malaise and then a rash starting on the head and moving down the body. Serious complications such pneumonia and brain infections can arise from the disease in some cases.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Support for 'Medicare-for-All' Fluctuates With Details, Poll Finds]]>Wed, 23 Jan 2019 13:45:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_BernieSanders_19023063227888.jpg

    "Medicare-for-all" makes a good first impression, but support plunges when people are asked if they'd pay higher taxes or put up with treatment delays to get it.

    The survey, released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, comes as Democratic presidential hopefuls embrace the idea of a government-run health care system, considered outside the mainstream of their party until Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders made it the cornerstone of his 2016 campaign. President Donald Trump is opposed, saying "Medicare-for-all" would "eviscerate" the current program for seniors.

    The poll found that Americans initially support "Medicare-for-all," 56 percent to 42 percent.

    However, those numbers shifted dramatically when people were asked about the potential impact, pro and con.

    Support increased when people learned "Medicare-for-all" would guarantee health insurance as a right (71 percent) and eliminate premiums and reduce out-of-pocket costs (67 percent).

    But if they were told that a government-run system could lead to delays in getting care or higher taxes, support plunged to 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively.

    "The issue that will really be fundamental would be the tax issue," said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health who reviewed the poll. He pointed out that state single-payer efforts in Vermont and Colorado failed because of concerns about the tax increases needed to put them in place.

    There doesn't seem to be much disagreement that a single-payer system would require tax increases, since the government would take over premiums now paid by employers and individuals as it replaces the private health insurance industry. The question is how much.

    Several independent studies have estimated that government spending on health care would increase dramatically, in the range of about $25 trillion to $35 trillion or more over a 10-year period. But a recent estimate from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst suggests that it could be much lower. With significant cost savings, the government would need to raise about $1.1 trillion from new revenue sources in the first year of the new program.

    House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., has asked the Congressional Budget Office for a comprehensive report on single-payer. The CBO is a nonpartisan outfit that analyzes the potential cost and impact of legislation. Its estimate that millions would be made uninsured by Republican bills to repeal the Affordable Care Act was key to the survival of President Barack Obama's health care law.

    Mollyann Brodie, director of the Kaiser poll, said the big swings in approval and disapproval show that the debate over "Medicare-for-all" is in its infancy. "You immediately see that opinion is not set in stone on this issue," she said.

    It's a key issue for Democrats going into the 2020 presidential election, but Republicans are solidly opposed.

    "Any public debate about 'Medicare-for-all' will be a divisive issue for the country at large," Brodie said.

    The poll indicated widespread support for two other ideas advanced by Democrats as alternatives to a health care system fully run by the government.

    Majorities across the political spectrum backed allowing people ages 50-64 to buy into Medicare, as well as allowing people who don't have health insurance on the job to buy into their state's Medicaid program.

    Separately, another private survey out Wednesday finds the uninsured rate among U.S. adults rose to 13.7 percent in the last three months of 2018. The Gallup National Health and Well-Being Index found an increase of 2.8 percentage points since 2016, the year Trump was elected promising to repeal "Obamacare." That would translate to about 7 million more uninsured adults.

    Government surveys have found that the uninsured rate has remained essentially stable under Trump.

    The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was conducted Jan. 9-14 and involved random calls to the cellphones and landlines of 1,190 adults. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[New Program Launched to Help Curb Teen Vaping Epidemic]]>Sun, 20 Jan 2019 04:06:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ecigarettesAP_18313147982108.jpg

    Struggling to grapple with the epidemic, the Food and Drug Administration is holding a public hearing Friday to solicit ideas on the best interventions to curb youth e-cigarette use, NBC News reports.

    Among the presenters at the forum in Silver Spring, Maryland, will be Truth Initiative, a nonprofit best known for its envelope-pushing anti-smoking ads aimed at teens and young people. The group has now created a first-of-its kind text messaging program designed to help young people quit vaping.

    "We started seeing more and more that people were posting that their New Year's resolution was to leave JUUL and to quit e-cigarettes, but they weren't finding any help," said Megan Jacobs, who works on Truth's innovations team and led the project. "So we said, 'Hey, we've got programs. We could adapt those programs to help people quit e-cigarettes as well as we could help them quit smoking.'"

    Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[In Limbo: Leftover Embryos Challenge Clinics, Couples]]>Fri, 18 Jan 2019 17:06:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/EmbryoFreezer.jpg

    Tens of thousands of embryos are stuck in limbo in fertility clinics, leftovers from pregnancy attempts and broken dreams of parenthood.

    Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and can't be found. In other cases, couples are struggling with tough decisions.

    Jenny Sammis can't bring herself to donate nearly a dozen of her extras to research. She and her husband agreed to do that when they made their embryos 15 years ago, but her feelings changed after using some of them to have children.

    "I have these two gorgeous, smart people who came from this process," Sammis said. "These embryos are all like seeds that could become potential people. That reality to me was all abstract when they were in the freezer."

    Tank failures at two clinics in Ohio and California last year revealed hidden issues with long-frozen embryos, including some from the 1980s when IVF began. A few years ago, medical groups developed sample consent forms clinics could use for new patients, spelling out what could happen to unused embryos. But that hasn't resolved what to do with ones made long ago.

    "It's a real dilemma for these clinics," said Rich Vaughn, a Los Angeles lawyer who headed the American Bar Association's assisted reproduction committee for many years. "We don't quite know what to do with them and everyone's afraid to act" for fear they'll be sued if people surface decades later and want their embryos.

    The number is growing as more couples try IVF and because of changes in how it's done. The old way was to mix eggs and sperm in the lab and transfer multiple fresh embryos to a womb, hoping at least one would lead to pregnancy. Now, couples usually freeze many embryos, test for health problems and transfer the most viable one at a time to avoid multiple births. That often means leftovers once the desired family is complete.

    How many embryos are in storage isn't known — centers don't have to report that. One study estimated there were 1.4 million in the U.S. Researchers think 5 to 7 percent are abandoned, though it's as high as 18 percent at some clinics. Some define that as a year of no contact or storage payments after reasonable efforts to find the owners; others draw the line at five years. Some clinics search social media and hire investigators to find owners when abandonment is suspected.

    "It has vexed our field" from the start, said Dr. Mark Sauer, a fertility specialist at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School who is on the ethics committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine.

    It also has vexed couples, many of whom never expected so many leftovers. Sara Raber of New York's Long Island had five extras after conceiving two children.

    "Your goal in the beginning is just to get pregnant," so making a lot of embryos seems necessary because you don't know how many tries it will take, she said. But disposing of extras brings a finality to family building that's different for IVF couples than it is for those who conceived naturally.

    "You're making a conscious decision not to have a baby anymore," said her husband, Howard Raber. "That's what makes it hard."

    Even after the Rabers agreed to donate theirs to research, which usually means to a fertility clinic to let staff practice IVF, the paperwork sat on her desk for months, Sarah Raber said.

    In Arlington, Virginia, Sammis is having a similar struggle. "I get to the point of signing the papers and I just can't deal with it," she said.

    Sammis said a friend who couldn't decide what to do with her embryos moved away and "didn't give the fertility center her forwarding address ... That was her way of dealing with it."

    When couples have abandoned embryos, "it was largely because they did not want to be responsible for making a very difficult decision. They would rather let the program do it," Sauer said.

    Andrea Braverman, a health psychologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, said it's not an easy choice. A study of 131 couples in Canada found that one third had not returned for frozen embryos after five years. Another study found that up to 70 percent of couples delayed a decision for at least five years and many changed their minds about what they thought they'd do after they had IVF.

    "This is a fluid decision. It is not a one-and-done," Braverman said.

    Dr. Craig Sweet, who runs a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Florida, knows the problem well. About 18 percent, or 300, of his clinic's frozen embryos are abandoned, some for 25 years. A study he did found that couples were more likely to abandon embryos if they had stored them a long time, had a low education level, already had many children or owed the clinic money.

    One of his patients with more than a dozen leftover embryos forged her husband's signature on forms giving permission to use them because she wanted more children and he did not. The plan fell apart when the clinic insisted on seeing him personally.

    "Things happen. Life happens, divorce happens, depression, financial changes" — many things can lead a couple to disagree about using embryos, Sweet said.

    The courts view an embryo as something between person and property, said Susan Crockin, a reproductive law expert at Georgetown University. When it's in the lab as opposed to being in a womb, "people have equal rights to it" and most courts will not allow one member of a couple to use an embryo over the other's objection, she said.

    The actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiancé Nick Loeb fought over frozen embryos they made, but a court said Vergara could not be forced to procreate against her wish and denied Loeb use of the embryos after the couple split.

    States may try to rewrite legal precedents. Last April, Arizona's governor signed legislation allowing one member of a divorced couple to use embryos created during a marriage even if the ex-spouse doesn't want a child.

    Clinics try to avoid being in the middle.

    "What we tell couples is that if you're divorced, nobody gets to transfer the embryos until we get something from a court" that says who has control of them, said Dr. Richard T. Scott Jr., scientific director of Reproductive Medicine Associates, one of the nation's largest clinics with centers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Florida.

    In 2005, Sweet began requiring patients to agree not to destroy unused embryos. He also started Embryo Donation International to provide embryos to couples willing to use them to have children. He accepts embryos from 62 facilities in North America and has more than 400 available; 50 to 60 were used in 2017, he said.

    "It just didn't make sense to us that people were discarding perfectly normal, useful embryos," he said.

    His IVF coordinator, Rebecca Ruano, had 18 leftover embryos after the birth of her twins, and agreed to donate the extras to people unable to have children. "I was not willing to destroy or donate them to science. We worked too hard for them," she said.

    Frozen embryos remain viable for decades as far as anyone knows. Last year, the National Embryo Donation Center in Tennessee reported a birth using an embryo that had been frozen for 24 years.

    Sweet supplied a Chicago woman an embryo that had been frozen for 17 years and made one request:

    "When the baby is born," he said, "I want you to see if you can register the kid to vote."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
    <![CDATA[No One Knows the Best Way to Stop Teens' Vaping Addictions]]>Fri, 18 Jan 2019 17:16:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/180835753-e-cigarette-vaping.jpg

    The nation's top health authorities agree: Teen vaping is an epidemic that now affects some 3.6 million underage users of Juul and other e-cigarettes. But no one seems to know the best way to help teenagers who may be addicted to nicotine.

    E-cigarettes are now the top high-risk substance used by teenagers, according to the latest U.S. figures, which show that Juul and similar products have quickly outpaced cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana and other substances that have been tracked over more than four decades.

    The handheld devices heat a liquid solution that usually contains nicotine into an inhalable vapor. Federal law prohibits sales to those under 18, though many high schoolers report getting them from older students or online.

    In recent months, government officials have rolled out a series of proposals aimed at keeping the products away from youngsters, including tightening sales in convenience stores and online. In November, vaping giant Juul voluntarily shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts and pulled several flavors out of retail stores.

    But there's been little discussion of how to treat nicotine addiction in children as young as 11 years old. While some adolescents should be able to quit unaided, experts say many will be hampered by withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, irritability, difficulty concentrating and loss of appetite.

    Physicians who treat young people now face a series of dilemmas: The anti-smoking therapies on the market — such as nicotine patches and gums — are not approved for children, due to lack of testing or ineffective results. And young people view the habit as far less risky, which poses another hurdle to quitting.

    The harshness of cigarette smoke often limits how much teenagers inhale, sometimes discouraging them from picking up the habit altogether. That deterrent doesn't exist with e-cigarette vapor, which is typically much smoother, according to experts.

    Kicking any addiction requires discipline, patience and a willingness to follow a treatment plan — something that doesn't come easily to many young people, experts said.

    "Teenagers have their own ideas of what might work for them, and they're going to do what they do," said Susanne Tanski, a tobacco prevention expert with the American Academy of Pediatrics. "But we desperately need studies to figure out what's going to work with this population."

    Since debuting in the U.S. in 2007, e-cigarettes and other vaping devices have grown into a $6.6 billion business. Driving the recent surge in underage use are small, easy-to-conceal devices like Juul, which vaporizes a high-nicotine solution sold in flavors such as creme, mango and cucumber. Despite industry worries of a crackdown on flavors, the FDA has taken no steps to ban the array of candy and fruit varieties that companies use to differentiate their offerings.

    E-cigarettes have become a scourge in U.S. schools, with students often vaping in the bathroom or between classes. One in 5 five high schoolers reported vaping in the last month, according to 2018 federal survey figures.

    Juul and other brands are pitched to adult smokers as a way to quit smoking, but there's been little research on that claim or their long-term health effects, particularly in young people. Nicotine can affect learning, memory and attention in the teenage brain, but there's virtually no research on how e-cigarette vapor affects lungs, which do not fully mature until the 20s.

    "It's frightening for me as a pediatrician because I really feel like there's this uncontrolled experiment happening with our young people," Tanski said. "They don't perceive the harm, and we can't show them what it's going to be."

    Tanski and other experts will meet this Friday at the Food and Drug Administration to discuss the potential role for pharmaceutical therapies and non-prescription medications such as nicotine gums and patches.

    Regulators acknowledge they are starting from square one: The FDA "is not aware of any research examining either drug or behavioral interventions" to help e-cigarette users quit, the agency noted in its announcement.

    The FDA will also hear from researchers, vaping executives, parents and teenagers.

    "We want to make sure our voices are heard and that — most importantly — our kids' voices are heard," said Meredith Berkman, who plans to speak at the meeting with her 10th-grade son.

    Berkman said she first realized her son and his friends were "Juuling" last year when she heard them repeatedly opening and closing his bedroom window. With two other New York City mothers, she formed the group Parents Against Vaping E-cigarettes, which is asking the FDA to ban all e-cigarette flavors.

    "Unless the flavors are off the market, kids are going to continue to be seduced by these highly addictive nicotine-delivery systems like Juul," Berkman said.

    Quitting smoking is notoriously difficult, even for adults with access to various aids and programs. More than 55 percent of adult smokers try to quit each year, yet only about 7 percent succeed, according to government figures.

    Nicotine gums, patches and lozenges are available over-the-counter for those 18 and older, and are occasionally prescribed "off-label" for younger patients. They provide low levels of nicotine to help control cravings. Prescription drugs include Zyban, an antidepressant, and Chantix, which blocks the effects of nicotine on the brain. But neither has shown positive results in teenagers, and both carry worrisome side effects, including suicidal thinking for Zyban and nausea and abnormal dreams for Chantix.

    That leaves counseling as the go-to option for teenagers trying to quit cigarettes.

    In November, Colorado dropped the minimum eligibility age for its quit-smoking hotline from 15 to 12, in response to the explosion in vaping among students as low as 6th grade. The state's underage vaping rate is the highest in the U.S., with 1 in 4 high school students reportedly using the products, according to federal data. The state's over-the-phone and online programs provide free coaching to help users create a quit plan, manage cravings and avoid relapse.

    But even counseling has shown only "limited evidence" in helping teenagers, according to an exhaustive review of the medical literature published in 2017.

    Still, addiction specialists see growing demand for such programs, particularly group sessions that often have the most promising results.

    Addiction psychiatrist Jonathan Avery says he gets four to five calls a week from pediatricians referring patients or asking about treatment options. One of the biggest problems is an education gap — many doctors haven't heard of Juul and don't even recognize the vaping devices brought in by parents.

    On the other side, teenagers are often "suspicious" when he informs them that they are inhaling a highly addictive substance, said Avery, of New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

    About two-thirds of U.S. teenagers do not realize that Juul contains nicotine, according to a recent survey by the Truth Initiative, an anti-smoking advocacy group.

    The U.S. Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, hammered that point home in a rare public advisory last month. He said even his 14-year-old son believed that e-cigarette vapor was essentially harmless.

    "Youth like my son have no clue what's in these products most of the time," he said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
    <![CDATA[New Documents in OxyContin Case Shed Light on Drug's Sales]]>Wed, 16 Jan 2019 15:08:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/oxycontinAP_18030107233349.jpg

    A member of the family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma told people at the prescription opioid painkiller's launch party in the 1990s that it would be "followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition," according to court documents filed Tuesday.

    The details were made public in a case brought by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey that accuses Purdue Pharma, its executives and members of the Sackler family of deceiving patients and doctors about the risks of opioids and pushing prescribers to keep patients on the drug longer. The documents provide information about former Purdue Pharma President Richard Sackler's role in overseeing sales of OxyContin that hasn't been public before.

    The drug and the closely held Connecticut company that sells it are at the center of a lawsuit in Massachusetts and hundreds of others across the country in which government entities are trying to find the drug industry responsible for an opioid crisis that killed 72,000 Americans in 2017. The Massachusetts litigation is separate from some 1,500 federal lawsuits filed by governments being overseen by a judge in Cleveland.

    But the company documents at the heart of the Massachusetts allegations are also part of the evidence exchanged in those cases. While the Massachusetts filing describes their contents, the documents themselves have not been made public, at the company's request.

    According to the filing, Richard Sackler, then senior vice president responsible for sales, told the audience at the launch party to imagine a series of natural disasters: an earthquake, volcanic eruption, hurricane and blizzard.

    "The launch of OxyContin Tablets will be followed by a blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition. The prescription blizzard will be so deep, dense, and white," he said, according to the documents.

    "Over the next twenty years, the Sacklers made Richard's boast come true," lawyers in the attorney general's office wrote. "They created a manmade disaster. Their blizzard of dangerous prescriptions buried children and parents and grandparents across Massachusetts, and the burials continue," they wrote.

    The complaint says the Sackler family, which includes major donors to museums including the Smithsonian Institution, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Tate Modern in London, was long aware its drug was dangerous and addictive but pushed more sales anyway.

    A memo among family members in 2008 warned of a "dangerous concentration of risk" for the family, the complaint says. Years earlier, Richard Sackler wrote in an email that the company would have to "hammer on the abusers in every way possible," describing them as "the culprits and the problem."

    Joanne Peterson, who runs a Massachusetts-based support network for the family members of people addicted to drugs, said Sackler's comments show a "blatant disregard for human life."

    "He certainly hammered them six feet under," Peterson said. "I've been to more funerals than I can count in the last 15 years."

    Purdue Pharma accused the attorney general's office of cherry-picking from millions of emails and documents to create "biased and inaccurate characterizations" of the company and its executives. The company said in a statement said it will "aggressively defend against these misleading allegations."

    The company also stresses that its drug is approved by federal regulators and prescribed by doctors; that it accounts for a small portion of opioids sold in the U.S.; and that illicit drugs including heroin and street fentanyl are causing most overdose deaths.

    "In a rush to vilify a single manufacturer whose medicines represent less than two percent of opioid pain prescriptions rather than doing the hard work of trying to solve a complex public health crisis, the complaint distorts critical facts and cynically conflates prescription opioid medications with illegal heroin and fentanyl," Purdue Pharma said.

    Messages seeking comment were left with a spokeswoman for the Sackler family.

    Massachusetts is the first state to personally name the company's executives in a complaint. It names 16 current and former executives and board members, including CEO Craig Landau, Richard Sackler and other members of the Sackler family.

    A suit filed by the New York County of Suffolk also names members of the family. A lawyer who filed that suit, Paul Hanly, said he expects the family to be named in further suits.

    Last year, Purdue halted efforts to market OxyContin to doctors.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Good Luck Making Sense of Your Hospital's Price List]]>Tue, 15 Jan 2019 21:45:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hospGettyImages-906006634.jpg

    Hospitals have posted the prices of their services, NBC News reported. Good luck making sense of them.

    Since Jan. 1, hospitals across the country have been publishing price lists online to comply with a new Trump administration rule.

    But the resulting documents, which can include as many as 60,000 items, are hard to decipher, with descriptions like “ABBOTT TECNIS TORIC ASPHERIC IOL ZCT300 21.0D SE 3.00 CYL.” and “FILL, PULL, VOID.” And if you're not a data analyst or a programmer, you might have trouble reading the files at all.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/Tetra images RF]]>
    <![CDATA[FDA Resuming Some Food Inspections Halted by Shutdown]]>Tue, 15 Jan 2019 08:22:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/992264322-Cheese-Production.jpg

    The Food and Drug Administration said it will resume inspections of some of the riskiest foods such as cheeses, produce and infant formula as early as Tuesday.

    The routine inspections had been briefly halted as a result of the partial government shutdown.

    FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Monday that the agency is bringing back about 150 unpaid employees for the inspections. Riskier foods account for about a third of the agency's roughly 8,400 routine inspections each year.

    Gottlieb told NBC News his staff put calls out to furloughed workers to gauge whether they would come back to work despite not getting paychecks.

    "We got an overwhelming response from our very dedicated and mission-driven field force who are coming back to work unpaid," he said.

    The FDA oversees packaged foods and produce. Meat, poultry and processed eggs are checked by the Department of Agriculture and have continued. States handle about half of the FDA's inspections and those haven't stopped. FDA inspections of imported foods and other core functions such as monitoring for food poisoning outbreaks have continued as well, the agency said.

    The FDA is required to inspect facilities that handle high-risk foods once every three years, and once every five years for other foods.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Democrats Roll Out Big Healthcare Proposals at State Level]]>Sun, 13 Jan 2019 09:34:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/201*120/GavinNewsomGovernor.jpg

    Riding the momentum from November's elections, Democratic leaders in the states are wasting no time delivering on their biggest campaign promise — to expand access to health care and make it more affordable.

    The first full week of state legislative sessions and swearings-in for governors saw a flurry of proposals.

    In his initial actions, newly elected California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans to expand Medicaid to those in the country illegally up to age 26, implement a mandate that everyone buys insurance or face a fine, and consolidate the state's prescription drug purchases in the hope that it will dramatically lower costs.

    Washington Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a public health insurance option for people who are not covered by Medicaid or private employers and have trouble affording policies on the private market.

    Democrats in several states where they now control the legislature and governor's office, including New Mexico, are considering ways that people who are uninsured but make too much to qualify for Medicaid or other subsidized coverage can buy Medicaid policies.

    And in the nation's most populous city, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a publicly run plan to link the uninsured, who already receive treatment in city hospitals, with primary care.

    It's all in keeping with the main theme Democratic candidates promoted on the campaign trail in 2018.

    They touted the benefits of former President Barack Obama's health overhaul — such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions, allowing young adults to remain on their parents' health insurance policies and expanded coverage options for lower-income Americans. At the same time, they painted Republicans as seeking to eliminate or greatly reduce health care options and protections.

    "Once you give something to somebody, it's pretty hard to take it away, and I think we see that with how the support for the (Affordable Care Act) has grown over the last two years," said Washington House Rep. Eileen Cody, who is leading the state's public option proposal.

    The actions also represent a pushback to steps taken by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to undermine the Affordable Care Act.

    The GOP tax law stripped away the individual mandate, which was intended to stabilize insurance markets by encouraging younger and healthier people to buy policies. And last summer, the Trump administration said it would freeze payments under an "Obamacare" program that protects insurers with sicker patients from financial losses. That move is expected to contribute to higher premiums.

    The Democratic proposals fall short of providing universal health care, a goal of many Democrats but also an elusive one because of its cost. In recent years, California, Colorado and Vermont have all considered and then abandoned attempts to create state-run health care systems.

    Still, many Democrats are eager to take steps that get them closer to that.

    "This is not just a moral right," Inslee said in announcing his public option proposal this past week. "It is an economic wisdom, and this is very possible."

    Some lawmakers in Colorado, where Democrats now control the legislature and the governor's office, are proposing a state-run health insurance plan similar to that announced by Inlsee. It would reach those who don't qualify for federal assistance or who live in rural areas with few health care choices.

    Both states plan to rely on their agencies that administer Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health coverage for roughly one-in-five Americans. Republicans are skeptical about whether the states can afford it, since they already pick up a portion of Medicaid costs.

    "This is about having the government competing in the private market. Medicare-for-all will be priced out," Washington state Rep. Joe Schmick said.

    Taking incremental steps to increase coverage options and make health care more affordable may be a smarter strategy than pursuing a costly and complicated all-or-nothing proposal for universal coverage, said Katherine Hempstead, senior policy adviser at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

    "Everybody wants to pay less for health care," she said.

    Democrats now have more leverage to experiment. Campaign messaging around health care helped them flip seven governor's seats to bolster their numbers to 23 across the country and win back several state legislative chambers. They gained full control of state government in several states, including New York and Nevada.

    That power will allow them to consider health care expansions that Republicans have resisted.

    In Nevada, for example, the state's Democratically controlled legislature passed a bill in 2017 that would have let anyone in the state buy into a Medicaid insurance plan, similar to the option being pushed in New Mexico. But former Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, vetoed it.

    The new governor, Democrat Steve Sisolak, is forming a committee to look at health care options, including the possibility of requiring everyone to have insurance. In addition to the California proposal, that mandate already is in place in Massachusetts and New Jersey, with Vermont following in 2020.

    It's a similar dynamic in New Mexico, where Democratic lawmakers have talked for years about allowing people, including non-citizens, to buy into Medicaid if they cannot afford insurance any other way.

    Colin Baillio, policy director for the advocacy group Health Action New Mexico, said a bill is being drafted with the goal of getting it adopted this year and implemented for 2020. The optimism comes because the new governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, is a Democrat.

    "Folks are going to need to have health care one way or another," he said. "We think health coverage is a good investment for our state."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[CDC Says It’s Another Severe Flu Season]]>Fri, 11 Jan 2019 15:31:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Giving_Flu_Shots_to_Thousands.jpg

    Flu seasons have been particularly bad in recent years and this one in no different. 

    An estimated 6.2 million to 7.3 million people in the United States have been sick with the flu since October, federal health officials said Friday. At least half of those people have sought medical care for their illness and 69,000 to 84,000 people have been hospitalized during the Oct. 1 to Jan. 5 period, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated. 

    This is the first time the CDC has provided such flu estimates for the 2018-2019 season. The estimates are extrapolated from data from about 27 million people, or about 8.5 percent of the U.S. population, federal health officials said. 

    While the numbers are milder than last season, the CDC’s “influenza like illness level” last week was elevated at 4.1 percent, almost twice national baseline. There were widespread flu outbreaks across 31 states, including New York, California and Florida, last week, the CDC said. It was widespread throughout almost every state during the same period last year. 

    The CDC hasn’t released data on the total number of deaths so far this season, saying 16 influenza-associated pediatric deaths have been reported to the agency this season. Reports of flu-related mortality are starting to come in across the country. The Oklahoma State Department of Health has attributed 13 deaths there to the flu since Sept. 1, two of them since the new year. 

    The City of El Paso Department of Public Health confirmed its first flu-related death Monday, a man in his 80s with other medical issues who hadn’t been vaccinated. The New Jersey Department of Health confirmed Tuesday that a child died of the flu, the first of the season, and said there were high levels of flu throughout the state. 

    The flu season typically runs from October to as late as May, with activity tending to peak between December and February, according to the CDC. The agency recommends getting vaccinated early, ideally by the end of October, before the flu starts spreading. 

    Babies older than 6 months should get vaccinated with a traditional shot. For toddlers age 2 or older a shot or a nasal spray called FluMist is recommended. 

    The CDC also recommends that people with a flu-like illness should stay home for at least 24 hours after the fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. 

    Thirty-seven percent of U.S. adults were estimated to have been vaccinated last flu season, down 6 percentage points from the previous year, according to the CDC. It estimates that the flu killed more than 80,000 people and caused more than 900,000 hospitalizations last year.

    —CNBC’s Angelica LaVito contributed to this report.

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

    <![CDATA[Starbucks Exploring Adding Needle-Disposal Boxes in Bathroom]]>Fri, 11 Jan 2019 06:43:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/starbucksbathroomblack-background.jpg

    Starbucks is exploring installing needle-disposal boxes in the bathrooms of certain stores to provide a safe way of throwing out syringes and other drug paraphernalia, NBC News reported.

    The company's announcement comes after more than 3,000 people signed a petition on Coworker.org calling on the coffee giant to provide a safe way of disposing of needles used for drugs that are left inside bathrooms.

    "These societal issues affect us all and can sometimes place our partners (employees) in scary situations," Starbucks said in a statement Thursday.

    The company announced in May a new policy that allows anyone to sit in their restaurants or use their bathrooms, regardless of whether they make a purchase.

    The online petition says, "Employees risk getting poked, and DO get poked, even when following 'protocol' of using gloves and tongs to dispose of used needles left in bathrooms, tampon disposal boxes, and diaper changing stations."

    Photo Credit: Ken Faught/Toronto Star via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[US Drug Overdoses Rose Most Among Middle-Aged Women: CDC]]>Thu, 10 Jan 2019 19:16:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18207034769345-Drug-Overdose.jpg

    Federal health experts reported Thursday that the U.S. drug overdose rate has soared for middle-aged women between 1999 and 2017, NBC News reported.

    It rose a startling 260 percent for women between 30 and 64 years old, according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of drug overdose deaths rose 492 percent for the same group over the same time period.

    "Prescription opioids clearly were overutilized for more than a decade," said Dr. Michael Lynch, medical director of the the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's poison center, who was not involved in the study.

    Last year, the government reported that overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans, driven most by opioid drugs like fentanyl.

    Photo Credit: Rick Bowmer/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Norovirus Outbreak Sickens 277 on Oasis of the Seas Ship]]>Thu, 10 Jan 2019 17:45:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-4572407661.jpg

    Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is returning to a Florida port a day early and giving passengers full refunds of their fare after 277 guests and crew members were hit with an outbreak of Norovirus as it sailed to Jamaica.

    Cruise line spokesman Owen Torres told The Associated Press "we think the right thing to do is get everyone home early rather than have guests worry about their health."

    He says the ship will return to Port Canaveral on Saturday. It sailed from there Sunday on a seven-day Caribbean cruise.

    Passengers took to social media on Wednesday, tweeting they were forced to stay onboard after docking in Falmouth, Jamaica, for what was supposed to be a day of excursions.

    Torres says returning a day early gives the cruise line "more time to completely clean and sanitize the ship" before it sails again.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Scientists Seek Ways to Finally Take a Real Measure of Pain]]>Thu, 10 Jan 2019 08:44:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18344718299328-Pain-o-Meter.jpg

    Is the pain stabbing or burning? On a scale from 1 to 10, is it a 6 or an 8?

    Over and over, 17-year-old Sarah Taylor struggled to make doctors understand her sometimes debilitating levels of pain, first from joint-damaging childhood arthritis and then from fibromyalgia.

    "It's really hard when people can't see how much pain you're in, because they have to take your word on it and sometimes, they don't quite believe you," she said.

    Now scientists are peeking into Sarah's eyes to track how her pupils react when she's hurting and when she's not — part of a quest to develop the first objective way to measure pain.

    "If we can't measure pain, we can't fix it," said Dr. Julia Finkel, a pediatric anesthesiologist at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, who invented the experimental eye-tracking device.

    At just about every doctor's visit you'll get your temperature, heart rate and blood pressure measured. But there's no stethoscope for pain. Patients must convey how bad it is using that 10-point scale or emoji-style charts that show faces turning from smiles to frowns.

    That's problematic for lots of reasons. Doctors and nurses have to guess at babies' pain by their cries and squirms, for example. The aching that one person rates a 7 might be a 4 to someone who's more used to serious pain or genetically more tolerant. Patient-to-patient variability makes it hard to test if potential new painkillers really work.

    Nor do self-ratings determine what kind of pain someone has — one reason for trial-and-error treatment. Are opioids necessary? Or is the pain, like Sarah's, better suited to nerve-targeting medicines?

    "It's very frustrating to be in pain and you have to wait like six weeks, two months, to see if the drug's working," said Sarah, who uses a combination of medications, acupuncture and lots of exercise to counter her pain.

    The National Institutes of Health is pushing for development of what its director, Dr. Francis Collins, has called a "pain-o-meter." Spurred by the opioid crisis, the goal isn't just to signal how much pain someone's in. It's also to determine what kind it is and what drug might be the most effective.

    "We're not creating a lie detector for pain," stressed David Thomas of NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse, who oversees the research. "We do not want to lose the patient voice."

    Around the country, NIH-funded scientists have begun studies of brain scans, pupil reactions and other possible markers of pain in hopes of finally "seeing" the ouch so they can better treat it. It's early-stage research, and it's not clear how soon any of the attempts might pan out.

    "There won't be a single signature of pain," Thomas predicted. "My vision is that someday we'll pull these different metrics together for something of a fingerprint of pain."

    NIH estimates 25 million people in the U.S. experience daily pain. Most days Sarah Taylor is one of them. Now living in Potomac, Maryland, she was a toddler in her native Australia when the swollen, aching joints of juvenile arthritis appeared. She's had migraines and spinal inflammation. Then two years ago, the body-wide pain of fibromyalgia struck; a flare-up last winter hospitalized her for two weeks.

    One recent morning, Sarah climbed onto an acupuncture table at Children's National, rated that day's pain a not-too-bad 3, and opened her eyes wide for the experimental pain test.

    "There'll be a flash of light for 10 seconds. All you have to do is try not to blink," researcher Kevin Jackson told Sarah as he lined up the pupil-tracking device, mounted on a smartphone.

    The eyes offer a window to pain centers in the brain, said Finkel, who directs pain research at Children's Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation.

    How? Some pain-sensing nerves transmit "ouch" signals to the brain along pathways that also alter muscles of the pupils as they react to different stimuli. Finkel's device tracks pupillary reactions to light or to non-painful stimulation of certain nerve fibers, aiming to link different patterns to different intensities and types of pain.

    Consider the shooting hip and leg pain of sciatica: "Everyone knows someone who's been started on oxycodone for their sciatic nerve pain. And they'll tell you that they feel it — it still hurts — and they just don't care," Finkel said.

    What's going on? An opioid like oxycodone brings some relief by dulling the perception of pain but not its transmission — while a different kind of drug might block the pain by targeting the culprit nerve fiber, she said.

    Certain medications also can be detected by other changes in a resting pupil, she said. Last month the Food and Drug Administration announced it would help AlgometRx, a biotech company Finkel founded, speed development of the device as a rapid drug screen.

    Looking deeper than the eyes, scientists at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital found MRI scans revealed patterns of inflammation in the brain that identified either fibromyalgia or chronic back pain.

    Other researchers have found changes in brain activity — where different areas "light up" on scans — that signal certain types of pain. Still others are using electrodes on the scalp to measure pain through brain waves.

    Ultimately, NIH wants to uncover biological markers that explain why some people recover from acute pain while others develop hard-to-treat chronic pain.

    "Your brain changes with pain," Thomas explained. "A zero-to-10 scale or a happy-face scale doesn't capture anywhere near the totality of the pain experience."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Liberals Dare Trump to Back Their Bills Lowering Drug Prices]]>Thu, 10 Jan 2019 14:52:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/1089974760-Prescription-Drugs.jpg

    Challenging President Donald Trump to make good on his pledge to cut prescription drug prices, congressional liberals proposed legislation Thursday to bring U.S. prices in line with the much lower costs in other countries.

    The Democratic bills stand little chance of becoming law in a divided government. But the effort could put Republicans on the defensive by echoing Trump's pledge to force drugmakers to cut prices.

    Democrats and Trump agree that people in the United States shouldn't have to pay more for their medications than do those in other economically advanced countries.

    The Trump administration has put forward its own plan for reducing drug prices, but industry analysts have seen little impact so far. The pharmaceutical industry said the Democratic bills would "wreak havoc on the U.S. health care system."

    The new legislation was offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and others. Cummings leads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which is expected to take a major role on drug pricing.

    The lawmakers want to:

    • Open up generic competition to patent-protected U.S. brand-name drugs that are deemed "excessively priced."
    • Allow Medicare to directly negotiate with drugmakers.
    • Let consumers import lower-priced medications from Canada.

    There was no immediate response from the administration.

    "Today I say to President Trump, if you are serious about lowering the cost of prescription drugs in this country, support our legislation and get your Republican colleagues on board," Sanders said at a Capitol Hill press conference.

    "No more talk. No more tweets," said Cummings. "The American people want action."

    Holly Campbell, a spokeswoman for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, said Sanders' plan would harm U.S. patients. The industry argues that government price regulation could limit access to some medicines, undermine financial incentives for research, and compromise safety standards. Sanders says drugmakers are primarily interested in protecting profits.

    As a presidential candidate, Trump initially called for Medicare to negotiate drug prices and favored allowing people to legally import lower-priced medications from abroad.

    But Medicare negotiation is a political nonstarter for most Republicans, who favor a free-market approach to the U.S. pharmaceutical industry and prize its capacity for innovation.

    As president, Trump has come out with a plan to lower drug costs that relies on dozens of regulatory actions. The goal is to eliminate incentives for drugmakers, pharmacy benefit managers and insurers to stifle competition at the expense of consumers. Independent experts say the administration proposals would have an impact, but not limit the ability of drug companies to set high prices.

    Time and again, Trump has complained that other countries where governments set drug prices are taking advantage of Americans. Indeed, one of his ideas would shift Medicare payments for drugs administered in doctors' offices to a level based on international prices.

    "We are taking aim at the global freeloading that forces American consumers to subsidize lower prices in foreign countries through higher prices in our country," the president said when he made that proposal shortly before last year's congressional elections.

    The Democratic bills would go far beyond Trump's approach.

    The newest idea would essentially apply to any U.S. patent-protected brand-name drug, whether or not government programs are bearing the cost. By comparison, Trump's international pricing proposal would not apply to retail pharmacy drugs purchased by Medicare beneficiaries or to medications for privately insured people. It's the result of a joint effort between Sanders and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif.

    Drugs found to be "excessively priced" by the government could face generic competition. A medication's cost would be deemed "excessive" if its price in the U.S. was higher than the median, or midpoint, price in Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, France and Japan.

    If the manufacturer was unwilling to cut its U.S. price, then the government could allow generic companies to make a more affordable version of the medication. Generic drugmakers would have to pay "reasonable" royalties to the company holding the patent.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
    <![CDATA[USDA: Food Stamps Will Be Funded Through February]]>Tue, 08 Jan 2019 20:38:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17076738181835_opt.jpg

    The Trump administration says benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, will be funded through February should the government shutdown continue.

    Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is asking states to issue the February benefits on or before Jan. 20 so that they can be paid to the nearly 40 million Americans in the program. SNAP is already fully funded for January.

    The USDA said it can fund SNAP through February thanks to the short-term funding bill that ran out on Dec. 22. That bill included a provision giving federal agencies the authority to make obligated payments to support certain programs for 30 days after its expiration date.

    Brandon Lipps, an acting deputy undersecretary, said other USDA programs will also be funded through February, including school lunches, food distribution programs on Indian reservations and child nutrition programs. The latter includes WIC, which provides nutritional assistance to pregnant women, mothers and babies.

    Under the provision, the SNAP program will operate as it normally does and without any lapse in service, but with an earlier deadline for states to request benefits through a process called early issuance. That process is typically used during natural disasters, Lipps said, enabling states anticipating hurricanes or other weather events to distribute monthly benefits ahead of time.

    Lipps said the USDA is sending letters to all state agencies to explain the process and will issue a blanket waiver of department regulations to allow for the early issuance.

    "We know this is a time of great uncertainty, and no doubt anxiety for people who rely on SNAP and are dealing with tough times," Lipps said. "I hope it's reassuring for us to make clear today that we're committed to maintaining service to SNAP clients without interruption to the extent possible under the law."

    The SNAP program will cost roughly $4.8 billion for February, and those funds have already been appropriated through the expired spending bill. But if the shutdown lasts until March, the USDA could be forced to dip into its reserves to help fund the program, and its $3 billion SNAP contingency fund won't cover a full month of benefits.

    Perdue is a strong proponent of scaling back the SNAP program, and publicly supported a GOP House measure to strengthen work requirements for food stamp recipients. The measure garnered no support in the Senate and didn't make it into the final farm bill, which President Donald Trump signed into law in December.

    The Trump administration has announced its intent to try and limit SNAP use through regulation, crafting a proposal to limit the ability of states to waive the program's work requirements.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Robert F. Bukaty/AP (File)]]>
    <![CDATA[NYC Guarantees Comprehensive Health Care for All]]>Wed, 09 Jan 2019 13:34:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mayor+announce.jpg

    New York City will begin guaranteeing comprehensive health care to every single resident regardless of someone's ability to pay or immigration status, an unprecedented plan that will protect the more than half-a-million New Yorkers currently using the ER as a primary provider, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. 

    It's not health insurance, his spokesman clarified after the surprise announcement on MSNBC Tuesday morning. 

    "This is the city paying for direct comprehensive care (not just ERs) for people who can't afford it, or can't get comprehensive Medicaid — including 300,000 undocumented New Yorkers," spokesman Eric Phillips tweeted.

    At a press conference Tuesday, de Blasio said the plan will provide primary and specialty care, from pediatrics to OBGYN, geriatric, mental health and other services, to the city's roughly 600,000 uninsured. 

    The city already has the foundation for such a plan — a public health insurance option that helps get direct care to undocumented residents. 

    That option will be expanded, the mayor said, and supported with the addition of a new program called NYC Care. Patients who seek health coverage through NYC Care will receive a card that allows them to see a primary care doctor and seek specialty care services, de Blasio said. 

    Those who can afford to pay will pay for services on a sliding scale, while those who can't will receive free coverage, he noted. 

    New Yorkers will be able to access the program through the city's website or simply by calling 311. There will be no tax hikes to fund it, the mayor said. 

    "The programs will include customer-friendly call lines to help New Yorkers — regardless of their insurance — make appointments with general practitioners, cardiologists, pediatricians, gynecologists and a full spectrum of health care services," his office said in a release. 

    NYC Care is expected to launch in the Bronx this summer and be available in the other four boroughs in 2021, the release said. 

    It'll cost at least $100 million, accordinng to the release. 

    "We'll put the money in to make it work; it's going to save us money down the line," de Blasio said on MSNBC. "We're already paying an exorbitant amount to pay for health care the wrong way when what we should be doing is helping them get the primary care."

    "This has never been done in the country in a comprehensive way," de Blasio said on MSNBC. "Health care isn't just a right in theory, it must be a right in practice. And we're doing that here in this city."

    Primary care doctors are already scarce in many areas, according to Dr. Tamara Moise, who runs an urgent care center in East Flatbush.

    "For the primary care doctors, we will have a large influx of people who did not have insurance who now will," she told News 4. "Will we have a large enough pool of primary care doctors to support that?" 

    Photo Credit: Kathy Willens/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Making Your Own Home-Cleaning Products? Some Pro Tips]]>Tue, 08 Jan 2019 12:37:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cleaning-solution.jpg

    To reduce waste and avoid unnecessary plastic bottles and chemicals — and to save money — many people are opting to make cleaning products from scratch at home. You can find an abundance of recipes for household cleaning products online, along with reusable glass spray bottles designed to hold them.

    But not all homemade cleaning products are created equal, and some simple concoctions can be downright dangerous.

    "To have an unlabeled cleaning product in a Mason jar with kids around can be a dangerous thing," warns Carolyn Forte, director of the home appliances and cleaning products lab at Good Housekeeping. "And be careful never to mix bleach with anything but water. Certain combinations can be toxic."

    Baking soda and vinegar also should not be combined. Mixed together they are ineffective at cleaning and, if contained in a jar, likely to explode, she warns.

    So when making your own cleaning mixtures at home:

    • Double check the safety of the combination you choose;
    • Keep all products out of reach of children or pets;
    • And list all ingredients clearly on the jar or spray bottle.

    Test your cleaning mixture before using it. "Making your own window cleaner may be OK, but years of chemistry and safety research have gone into products like laundry and dishwasher detergents and furniture polishes, and you don't want to risk accidentally damaging something that's precious to you," Forte says.

    Even so, it can be useful to know what to use in a pinch when you don't have time to rush to the store, says Stephanie Sisco, home editor at Real Simple magazine.

    And many homemade cleaning combinations do work, with far fewer chemicals than in many store-bought brands.

    To help people make gentle cleaning products at home, Mike and Martha Robinson founded Cleaning Essentials, which sells sturdy glass bottles in various colors and sizes, labeled with recipes for solutions that can be made using mostly vinegar, water and essential oils.

    "Sixty years ago our grandparents wouldn't have gone to the store for cleaners. They would have used vinegar, baking soda, some elbow grease, and been healthier for it," says Mike Robinson.

    Katy Kiick Condon, senior editor for home design at Better Homes & Gardens magazine, agrees: "Just steam, hot water and some elbow grease can accomplish a lot."

    Know the basics about the cleaning properties of various household products:

    • Baking soda is a great deodorizer and is useful as a mild abrasive;
    • Vinegar cuts grease, removes mineral deposits and has disinfectant qualities;
    • Lemon juice with some salt can remove rust stains.


    •  NEVER combine bleach with anything but water. And remember that baking soda and vinegar, while trusted standbys individually, are ineffective for cleaning if combined — and will bubble up explosively.
    • Don't use lemon on wood, since it can destroy protective finishes, says Sisco.
    • Don't overdo it with vinegar, which can dull surfaces, she says. There's a reason that cleaning-product recipes call for adding water.

    With the above basics in mind, here are a few recipes recommended by the pros.

    Window cleaner: For clean, streak-free windows, Condon, at Better Homes & Gardens, swears by the combination of 2 cups hot water, 1 tablespoon corn starch, 1/4 cup white vinegar and 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol. "I tested a bunch of recipes, and this one is hands-down the best for mirrors and windows," she says.

    All-purpose cleaner: Sisco, at Real Simple, recommends combining 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 cups of water and 1/2 teaspoon of castille soap, such as Dr. Bonner's. For a stronger cleaner, she recommends mixing 1/2 cup vinegar, 1/2 cup vodka, 10 to 20 drops of essential oil and 1 1/2 cups water.

    Carpet cleaner: Sisco recommends blotting the stain then saturating it with club soda. "The bubbles will work the stain to the surface," she says. Then coat it with a hefty dose of table salt, which will absorb the stain, she says. "Then just vacuum it up once it's dry, maybe 12 hours later. It's a good overnight cleaning solution, and great for wine and other stains. The key is to blot all excess stain before starting with club soda and salt." 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Handout via AP]]>
    <![CDATA[US Cancer Death Rate Hits Major Milestone: 25 Years of Decline]]>Tue, 08 Jan 2019 19:45:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_19005725993033-Chemotherapy-drug.jpg

    The U.S. cancer death rate has hit a milestone: It's been falling for at least 25 years, according to a new report.

    Lower smoking rates are translating into fewer deaths. Advances in early detection and treatment also are having a positive impact, experts say.

    But it's not all good news. Obesity-related cancer deaths are rising, and prostate cancer deaths are no longer dropping, said Rebecca Siegel, lead author of the American Cancer Society report published Tuesday.

    Cancer also remains the nation's No. 2 killer. The society predicts there will be more than 1.7 million new cancer cases, and more than 600,000 cancer deaths, in the U.S. this year.

    A breakdown of what the report says:

    There's been a lot of bad news recently regarding U.S. death rates. In 2017, increases were seen in fatalities from seven of the 10 leading causes of death, according to recently released government data. But cancer has been something of a bright spot.

    The nation's cancer death rate was increasing until the early 1990s. It has been dropping since, falling 27 percent between 1991 and 2016, the Cancer Society reported.

    Lung cancer is the main reason. Among cancers, it has long killed the most people, especially men. But the lung cancer death rate dropped by nearly 50 percent among men since 1991. It was a delayed effect from a decline in smoking that began in the 1960s, Siegel said.

    The report has some mixed news about prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

    The prostate cancer death rate fell by half over two decades, but experts have been wondering whether the trend changed after a 2011 decision by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to stop recommending routine testing of men using the PSA blood test. That decision was prompted by concerns the test was leading to overdiagnosis and overtreatment.

    The prostate cancer death rate flattened from 2013 to 2016. So while the PSA testing may have surfaced cases that didn't actually need treatment, it may also have prevented some cancer deaths, the report suggests.

    Of the most common types of cancer in the U.S., all the ones with increasing death rates are linked to obesity, including cancers of the thyroid, pancreas and uterus.

    Another is liver cancer. Liver cancer deaths have been increasing since the 1970s, and initially most of the increase was tied to hepatitis C infections spread among people who abuse drugs. But now obesity accounts for a third of liver cancer deaths, and is more of a factor than hepatitis, Siegel said.

    The nation's growing obesity epidemic was first identified as a problem in the 1990s. It can take decades to see how a risk factor influences cancer rates, "so we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effect of the obesity epidemic on cancer," Siegel said.

    There's been a decline in the historic racial gap in cancer death rates, but an economic gap is growing — especially when it comes to deaths that could be prevented by early screening and treatment, better eating and less smoking.

    In the early 1970s, colon cancer death rates in the poorest counties were 20 percent lower than those in affluent counties; now they're 35 percent higher. Cervical cancer deaths are twice as high for women in poor counties now, compared with women in affluent counties. And lung and liver cancer death rates are 40 percent higher for men in poor counties.

    Dr. Darrell Gray, deputy director of Ohio State University's Center for Cancer Health Equity, called the findings "important but not surprising."

    "We've known for some time that race is a surrogate" for other factors, like poverty and difficulty getting to — or paying for — doctor's appointments, he said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Gerry Broome/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[States Grapple With Setting Limits On Weed Use Behind Wheel]]>Fri, 04 Jan 2019 07:09:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Marijuanaleaf1.jpg

    It used to be the stuff of stoner comedies and “Just Say No” campaigns. Today, marijuana is becoming mainstream as voters across the country approve ballot questions for legalization or medical use.

    In response, state governments are testing ways to ensure that the integration of this once-illicit substance into everyday life doesn’t create new public health risks. These efforts are sparking a difficult question: At what point is someone too high to get behind the wheel?

    The answer is complicated. Brain scientists and pharmacologists don’t know how to measure if and to what extent marijuana causes impairment.

    The reason: Existing blood and urine tests can detect marijuana use, but, because traces of the drug stay in the human body for a long time, those tests can’t specify whether the use occurred earlier that day or that month. They also don’t indicate the level at which a driver would be considered “under the influence.”

    “It’s a really hard problem,” said Keith Humphreys, a psychiatry professor and drug policy expert at Stanford University in California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana and where recreational pot use among adults became legal in 2016. “We don’t really have good evidence — even if we know someone has been using — [to gauge] what their level of impairment is.”

    Marijuana is now legal for recreational use in 10 states and the District of Columbia — including Michigan, where a ballot initiative passed in November took effect Dec. 6. In New York, the governor said Dec. 17 that legalization would be a top priority for 2019. And nearly three dozen states have cleared the use of medical cannabis.

    For alcohol, there is a clear, national standard. If your blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08 percent or higher, you’re considered cognitively impaired at a level that is unsafe to drive. Extensive research supports this determination, and the clarity makes enforcement of drunken driving laws easier.

    Setting a marijuana-related impairment level is a much murkier proposition. But states that have legalized pot have to figure it out, experts said.

    “You can’t legalize a substance and not have a coherent policy for controlling driving under the influence of that substance,” said Steven Davenport, an assistant policy researcher at the nonprofit Rand Corp., who specializes in marijuana research.

    Marijuana, after all, weakens a driver’s ability to maintain focus, and it slows reflexes. But regulators are “playing catch-up,” suggested Thomas Marcotte, a psychiatry professor at the University of California-San Diego and one of a number of academics around the country who is researching driving while high.

    States have put forth a bevy of approaches. At least five have what’s called a “per se” law, which outlaws driving if someone’s blood level of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, exceeds a set amount. THC is marijuana’s main intoxicant.

    Colorado, where voters approved legalization of recreational marijuana in 2012, has this type of driving law on the books. It took three years to pass amid fiery debate and deems “intoxicated” any driver who tests higher than 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.

    Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Indiana are among states that forbid driving at any THC level. Still others say drivers should be penalized only if they are impaired by the chemical — a standard that sounds reasonable but quickly gets difficult to measure or even define.

    None of these approaches offers an ideal solution, experts said.

    “We’re still definitely evaluating which policies are the most effective,” said Ann Kitch, who tracks the marijuana and driving issue for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

    States that set a THC-level standard confront weak technology and limited science. THC testing is imprecise at best, since the chemical can stay in someone’s bloodstream for weeks after it was ingested. Someone could legally smoke a joint and still have THC appear in blood or urine samples long after the high passes.

    There’s general agreement that driving while high is bad, but there’s no linear relationship between THC levels and degree of impairment. States that have picked a number to reflect when THC in the bloodstream becomes a hazard have “made it up,” argued Humphreys.

    “The ones who wrote [a number] into legislation felt they had to say something,” he said. But “we don’t know what would be the analogy. Is the legal amount [of THC] equal to a beer? Is that how impaired you are? Is it a six-pack?”

    Roadside testing for THC is also logistically difficult.

    Blood, for instance, needs to be analyzed in a lab, and collecting urine gets … complicated.

    In Canada, which legalized recreational pot just this year, law enforcement will test drivers with a saliva test called the Dräger DrugTest 5000, but that isn’t perfect, either.

    Some private companies are trying to develop a sort of breathalyzer for marijuana. But Jonathan Caulkins, a drug policy researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, said, “There are fundamental issues with the chemistry and pharmacokinetics. It’s really hard to have an objective, easy-to-administer roadside test.”

    Some states rely on law enforcement to assess whether someone’s driving appears impaired, and ascertain after the fact if marijuana was involved.

    In California, every highway patrol member learns to administer “field sobriety tests” — undergoing an extra 16 hours of training to recognize the influence of different drugs, including marijuana. Because medical marijuana has been legal there since 1996, officers are “very used” to recognizing its influence, said Glenn Glazer, the state’s coordinator for its drug recognition expert training program.

    That kind of training is taking off in other states, too, Kitch said. Lobbying groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are pushing to bump up law enforcement training and rely on officers to assess whether a driver is impaired.

    These tests, though, risk their own kind of error.

    “They are subjective,” Rand Corp.’s Davenport warned.

    For one thing, officer-administered tests can be influenced by racial bias. Someone who has previously had poor experiences with law enforcement may also perform worse, not because of greater impairment but nervousness.

    Indeed, relying on more subjective testing is in some ways the direct opposite of conventional wisdom.

    “A general pattern of the last … 40 years is to try to take human judgment out of decision-making processes when possible. Because we fear exactly these issues,” Caulkins said. “The idea that you could come up with a completely objective test of performance … is ambitious.”

    Researchers like Marcotte are trying to devise some kind of test that can, in fact, gauge whether someone is showing signs of marijuana impairment. But that could take years.

    In the meantime, the public health threat is real. States with legalized pot do appear to experience more car crashes, though the relationship is muddled. “This is going to be a headache of an issue for a decade,” Caulkins said.

    Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

    Photo Credit: Mathew Sumner/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Phone Apps Could Monitor Depression, Mental Health in Teens]]>Thu, 03 Jan 2019 15:46:51 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-764786083.jpg

    Rising suicide rates and depression in U.S. teens and young adults have prompted researchers to ask a provocative question: Could the same devices that some people blame for contributing to tech-age angst also be used to detect it?

    The idea has sparked a race to develop apps that warn of impending mental health crises. Call it smartphone psychiatry or child psychology 2.0.

    Studies have linked heavy smartphone use with worsening teen mental health. But as teens scroll through Instagram and Snapchat, tap out texts or watch YouTube videos, they also leave digital footprints that might offer clues to their psychological well-being.

    Changes in typing speed, voice tone, word choice and how often kids stay home could signal trouble, according to preliminary studies.

    There might be as many as 1,000 smartphone "biomarkers" for depression, said Dr. Thomas Insel, former head of the National Institute of Mental Health and now a leader in the smartphone psychiatry movement.

    Researchers are testing experimental apps that use artificial intelligence to try to predict depression episodes or potential self-harm.

    "We are tracking the equivalent of a heartbeat for the human brain," said Dr. Alex Leow, an app developer and associate professor of psychiatry and bioengineering at the University of Illinois' Chicago campus.

    At least, that's the goal. There are technical and ethical kinks to work out — including privacy issues and making sure kids grant permission to be monitored so closely. Developers say proven, commercially available mood-detecting apps are likely years — but not decades — away.

    "People often feel that these things are creepy," because of the tech industry's surreptitious tracking of online habits for commercial purposes, said University of Oregon psychologist Nick Allen.

    Using smartphones as mental illness detectors would require informed consent from users to install an app, "and they could withdraw permission at any time," said Allen, one of the creators of an app that is being tested on young people who have attempted suicide.

    "The biggest hurdle at the moment," Allen said, "is to learn about what's the signal and what's the noise — what is in this enormous amount of data that people accumulate on their phones that is indicative of a mental health crisis."

    Depression affects about 3 million U.S. teens, and rates have climbed in the past decade. Last year, 13 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds had depression, up from 8 percent in 2010, U.S. government data show. One in 10 college-aged Americans is affected.

    Suicide has risen to the second leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34. Rates among teen girls doubled from 2007 to 2015, climbing to 5 per 100,000. And among boys, rates jumped 30 percent, to 14 in 100,000.

    A recent study suggested a parallel rise in smartphone use likely contributed.

    People with mental illness typically get treatment "when they're in crisis and very late in the course of an illness. We want to have a method to identify the earliest signs," in an objective way, Insel said.

    If smartphones prove to be accurate mood predictors, developers say the ultimate goal would be to use them to offer real-time help, perhaps with automated text messages and links to help lines, or digital alerts to parents, doctors or first responders.

    Facebook is already doing just that with what it calls "proactive detection." Last year, after a live-streamed suicide, Facebook trained its AI systems to flag certain words or phrases in online posts that could indicate imminent self-harm. Friends' comments expressing concern about the user's well-being are part of the equation.

    "In the last year, we've helped first responders quickly reach around 3,500 people globally who needed help," Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced in November. Facebook has not disclosed outcomes of those cases.

    The ongoing research includes:

    — A Stanford University study involving about 200 teens, including kids at risk for depression because of bullying, family circumstances or other life stresses. As part of the research, teens who have been tracked since grade school get an experimental phone app that surveys them three times daily for two weeks with questions about their mood.

    Researchers are combining those answers with passive smartphone data, including how active or sedentary kids are, to identify any changes that might be linked with future depression.

    Study participant Laurel Foster, 15, acknowledges feeling stress over academics and "the usual" teen friendship pressures and says depression is rampant at her San Francisco high school. She said using the smartphone app felt a bit like being spied on, but with so many online sites already tracking users' habits "one more isn't really a big difference."

    "I feel like it's good to actually find out what is stressing you," Laurel said, endorsing the idea of using smartphones to try to answer that question.

    — At UCLA, as part of a broader effort to battle campus depression launched in 2017, researchers are offering online counseling and an experimental phone app to students who show signs of at least mild depression on a screening test. About 250 freshmen agreed to use the app in the first year. Personal sensing data collected from the app is being analyzed to see how it correlates with any worsening or improvement in depression symptoms seen in internet therapy.

    Sophomore Alyssa Lizarraga, who had the app on her phone for about six months, said it was "a little like the Big Brother thing. Half of me felt that way. The other half felt like I hope it will be useful."

    Lizarraga, 19, has had depression since high school in Whittier, California. She has worried that she's "addicted" to her phone and spends a lot of time on social media sites. "People need to see the best side of me" there, she said, and comparing herself with others online sometimes gets her down.

    But using smartphones in a positive way for mental health might help nudge people to seek early treatment, if they could see how their phone use showed signs of depression, she said.

    — At the University of Illinois' Chicago campus, researchers studying depression and mania in bipolar disorder are using crowdsourcing to test their experimental phone app. Anyone can download the free app, and nearly 2,000 have so far, agreeing to let the researchers continuously track things such as typing speed, number of keystrokes and use of spellcheck. Participants include healthy people, and their data will help researchers zero in on changes in phone use that may signal onset of mood problems, said Leow, the psychiatry and bioengineering expert who helped develop it.

    The study is for ages 18 and up, but if proven to work, the technology could be used in kids too, Leow said.

    — Mindstrong, a Palo Alto, California, tech health company co-founded by Insel, the former NIH official, is testing a "digital phenotyping" app in several studies. Insel thinks the technology has promise to transform psychiatry, but that the most important question is whether it can be used to improve patient health.

    — Verily, a tech health arm of Google parent company Alphabet, is developing a similar app but declined to elaborate beyond a statement from its mental health leader, Menachem Fromer. He cited two key goals: making predictions about someone's mental health and their symptoms and "discovering new subtypes of disease that may inform treatment decisions."


    If you or someone you know needs help, call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text TALK to 741741.


    CORRECTION (Jan. 3, 2019, 2:45 p.m. ET): This story has been corrected to fix the company's name to Mindstrong, not Mindspring, and to fix the agenc's name to National Institute of Mental Health, not Mental Illness.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/Maskot, File]]>
    <![CDATA[More Blood Pressure Meds Recalled Over Cancer Concerns]]>Thu, 03 Jan 2019 12:13:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/080618bloodpressire.jpg

    Another drugmaker is recalling a medication used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure over concerns that tablets could be contaminated with a cancer-causing agent.

    Drug maker Aurobindo Pharma USA is voluntarily recalling 80 lots Amlodipine Valsartan Tablets USP, Valsartan HCTZ Tablets, USP and Valsartan Tablets USP.

    The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported that traces of N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), a "probable human carcinogen," was found in the active ingredient valsartan in the recalled products.

    The recalled medications were distributed nationwide. The New Jersey-based company has not received any reports of adverse effects related to the drugs as of Dec. 31, 2018, when the recall was announced, the FDA said.

    A full list of the recalled products is available here. Products can be identified by checking the product name, manufacturer details, and batch or lot number on the bottles. Expiration dates range from May 2019 to March 2021.

    Valsartan tablets are used to control high blood pressure and for treatment of heart failure. The FDA says patients who are prescribed Amlodipine Valsartan Tablets USP, Valsartan HCTZ Tablets, USP and Valsartan Tablets USP should continue taking their medication, “as the risk of harm to the patient’s health may be higher if the treatment is stopped immediately without any alternative treatment.”

    If a patient's medicine is included in the recall, they should contact their health care professional to discuss alternative treatment options before returning their medication.

    Consumers can contact the company at 1-866-850-2876 or by email at: pvg@aurobindousa.com.

    Aurobino’s recall follows a growing list of companies recalling their blood pressure medication in the last year. In November, Teva Pharmaceuticals voluntarily recalled two of its drugs over the same concerns. In July, the FDA announced a recall of several medicines containing valsartan due to traces of NDMA contamination. A month later, the agency expanded the recall list of medications that contained the active ingredient valsartan over concerns that it could be contaminated with the cancer-causing agent.

    "The agency continues to investigate and test all angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) for the presence of NDEA and N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and is taking swift action when it identifies these impurities that are above interim acceptable daily intake levels," the FDA said in a news release.

    The FDA also updated the list of valsartan products under the recall and the list of valsartan products not under recall.

    The agency encourages patients and health care professionals to report any adverse reaction to the FDA’s MedWatch program.

    Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Low Carb? Low Fat? What The Latest Dieting Studies Tell Us]]>Tue, 01 Jan 2019 15:14:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18355563951342.jpg

    Bacon and black coffee for breakfast, or oatmeal and bananas?

    If you're planning to try to lose weight in 2019, you're sure to find a fierce debate online and among friends and family about how best to do it. It seems like everyone has an opinion, and new fads emerge every year.

    Two major studies last year provided more fuel for a particularly polarizing topic — the role carbs play in making us fat. The studies gave scientists some clues, but, like other nutrition studies, they can't say which diet — if any — is best for everyone.

    That's not going to satisfy people who want black-and-white answers, but nutrition research is extremely difficult and even the most respected studies come with big caveats. People are so different that it's all but impossible to conduct studies that show what really works over long periods of time.

    Before embarking on a weight loss plan for the new year, here's a look at some of what was learned last year.


    It's no longer called the Atkins Diet, but the low-carb school of dieting has been enjoying a comeback. The idea is that the refined carbohydrates in foods like white bread are quickly converted into sugar in our bodies, leading to energy swings and hunger.

    By cutting carbs, the claim is that weight loss will be easier because your body will instead burn fat for fuel while feeling less hungry. A recent study seems to offer more support for low-carb proponents. But, like many studies, it tried to understand just one sliver of how the body works.

    The study, co-led by an author of books promoting low-carb diets, looked at whether varying carb levels might affect how the body uses energy. Among 164 participants, it found those on low-carb diets burned more calories in a resting state than those on high-carb diets.

    The study did not say people lost more weight on a low-carb diet — and didn't try to measure that. Meals and snacks were tightly controlled and continually adjusted so everyone's weights stayed stable.

    David Ludwig, a lead author of the paper and researcher at Boston Children's Hospital, said it suggests limiting carbs could make it easier for people to keep weight off once they've lost it. He said the approach might work best for those with diabetes or pre-diabetes.

    Ludwig noted the study wasn't intended to test long-term health effects or real-world scenarios where people make their own food. The findings also need to be replicated to be validated, he said.

    Caroline Apovian of Boston University's School of Medicine said the findings are interesting fodder for the scientific community, but that they shouldn't be taken as advice for the average person looking to lose weight.


    For years people were advised to curb fats , which are found in foods including meat, nuts, eggs, butter and oil. Cutting fat was seen as a way to control weight, since a gram of fat has twice as many calories than the same amount of carbs or protein.

    Many say the advice had the opposite effect by inadvertently giving us license to gobble up fat-free cookies, cakes and other foods that were instead full of the refined carbs and sugars now blamed for our wider waistlines.

    Nutrition experts gradually moved away from blanket recommendations to limit fats for weight loss. Fats are necessary for absorbing important nutrients and can help us feel full. That doesn't mean you have to subsist on steak drizzled in butter to be healthy.

    Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of international health at Johns Hopkins, said the lessons learned from the anti-fat fad should be applied to the anti-carb fad: don't oversimplify advice.

    "There's a constant look for an easy way out," Lee said.


    Another big study this past year found low-carb diets and low-fat diets were about equally as effective for weight loss. Results varied by individual, but after a year, people in both groups shed an average of 12 to 13 pounds.

    The author noted the findings don't contradict Ludwig's low-carb study. Instead, they suggest there may be some flexibility in the ways we can lose weight. Participants in both groups were encouraged to focus on minimally processed foods like produce and meat prepared at home. Everyone was advised to limit added sugar and refined flour.

    "If you got that foundation right, for many, that would be an enormous change," said Christopher Gardner of Stanford University and one of the study's authors.

    Limiting processed foods could improve most diets by cutting down overall calories, while still leaving wiggle room for people's preferences. That's important, because for a diet to be effective, a person has to be able to stick to it. A breakfast of fruit and oatmeal may be filling for one person, but leave another hungry soon after.

    Gardner notes the study had its limitations, too. Participants' diets weren't controlled. People were instead instructed on how to achieve eating a low-carb or low-fat in regular meetings with dietitians, which may have provided a support network most dieters don't have.


    In the short term you can probably lose weight by eating only raw foods, or going vegan, or cutting out gluten, or following another diet plan that catches your eye. But what will work for you over the long term is a different question.

    Zhaoping Li, director of clinical nutrition division at the University of California, Los Angeles, says there is no a single set of guidelines that help everyone lose weight and keep it off. It's why diets often fail — they don't factor into account the many factors that drive us to eat what we do.

    To help people lose weight, Li examines her patients' eating and physical activity routines to identify improvements people will be able to live with.

    "What sticks is what matters," Li said.


    The Associated Press Health and 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: Matthew Mead/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Judge Clears the Way for Appeal of Ruling Against Health Law]]>Mon, 31 Dec 2018 01:10:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ACAAP_18346561695404.jpg

    A federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas who recently declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional has stayed his ruling to allow for appeals.

    That means "Obamacare" remains in effect while litigation continues.

    In a ruling issued Sunday, Judge Reed O'Connor wrote that he stands by his earlier conclusion that the entire law is invalidated by congressional repeal of its fines on people who remain uninsured, like a house of cards collapsing.

    However, because "many everyday Americans would ... face great uncertainty" if that ruling were immediately put into effect, O'Connor issued a stay to allow for appeals.

    A group of Republican-led states brought the lawsuit. A coalition of Democratic state attorneys general, led by California's Xavier Becerra, intends to appeal. Congressional Democrats also plan to appeal.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais]]>
    <![CDATA[Neb. Center Monitors American for Possible Ebola Exposure]]>Thu, 03 Jan 2019 14:37:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ebolaGettyImages-453210018.jpg

    An American who was providing medical assistance in Congo may have been exposed to the deadly Ebola virus and is being monitored at a Nebraska medical center.

    The University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha confirmed Saturday that it was housing the person in a secure area that is not accessible to other patients or the public. Spokesman Taylor Wilson said the person arrived Saturday afternoon.

    The medical center is not providing any details to honor the person's request for privacy. The facility also is not identifying the person as a patient or when the person was in Africa.

    Officials say the person is not ill and has no Ebola symptoms but will be monitored for up to two weeks.

    The medical center has a dedicated biocontainment unit and treated three Ebola patients in 2014.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Center for Disease Control (CDC) via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Lawsuit Filed After Safety Issues Found at NJ Surgery Center]]>Sat, 29 Dec 2018 19:20:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Hospital-Generic.jpg

    State investigators say a New Jersey surgery center that may have exposed more than 3,000 patients to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C used poor drug storage methods, an outdated infection control plan and unacceptable sterilization practices.

    Operating rooms at the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook were not properly cleaned and disinfected between procedures, according to the report from the state Department of Health that was made public Friday.

    In one instance, an inspector saw a stretcher in a hallway with a blood-stained sheet that wasn't properly disinfected even after the inspector pointed it out to staffers.

    State surveyors also found the facility improperly stored sterilized items, jeopardizing their cleanliness, while other sterilized instruments revealed rust-like stains, the report said.

    During a news conference Saturday, facility representatives said an investigation determined that "a handful of people who have been removed" were mostly responsible for the lapses that occurred. Two employees were fired after revelations that thousands may have been exposed to the diseases.

    Nearly 3,800 former patients have been urged to get tested, but authorities say no illnesses have been reported. The health department says the risk of infection is low, noting the recommendation for testing was made out of "an abundance of caution."

    State health officials have said anyone who had a procedure performed at the center from January to Sept. 7 this year may have been exposed.

    The facility was shuttered for three weeks in September after the state Department of Health received a complaint.

    The center's nursing director resigned a day before the facility was shuttered. Mark Manigan, a Roseland attorney representing the center, declined to say if that was related to the complaint and closure. He said the center's administrator is not expected to resign.

    As part of a corrective plan implemented with the center's reopening, HealthPlus must conduct quarterly infection control audits and sterilization audits every six months.

    The people have been urged to get tested, but authorities say no illnesses have been reported.

    At Saturday's press conference, Manigan said 186 patients have been tested so far — one of whom received a preliminary result indicating he or she had chronic hepatitis. 

    The chronic nature of the hepatitis indicates a "preexisting condition" that the patient most likely had prior to treatment at the center, the attorney noted. 

    The center is already facing a proposed class action lawsuit filed by two Passaic County residents on Friday, one of whom received medical treatment at the center at some point between Jan. 1 and Sept. 7 of this year. 

    "As a result of [HealthPlus's] failures, individuals who sought medical treatment at HealthPlus, as well as their spouses, with whom they have been in close physical and sexual contact, were exposed to harmful and potentially fatal viruses, including but not limited to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C," the suit says. 

    "The plaintiffs and other similarly situated now live in fear of their exposure to these potentially fatal viruses," it adds. 

    Staff at the center said patients can see its plan of action and sign up to get tested on its website

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: File Photo]]>
    <![CDATA[NJ Warns of Possible Measles Exposure at Newark Airport]]>Fri, 28 Dec 2018 18:14:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/newark+airport+terminal+b.jpg

    Health officials are warning of a possible measles exposure at Newark Liberty International Airport over the busy Christmas travel days.

    The international traveler diagnosed with the highly contagious disease went through Terminal B on Christmas Eve on a flight from Brussels, but health officials warn that person could have passed through other areas of the airport as well.

    If you were in the airport on Dec. 24 between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m., you may have been exposed to measles and, if infected, could develop symptoms as late as Jan. 14, officials say. New Jersey residents identified as potentially exposed on the sick person's flights will be notified by their local health departments. 

    Anyone who suspects they've been exposed is urged to call a health care provider before going to a medical office to prevent additional spread of the disease, which is transmitted by airborne particles, droplets, and direct contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person. 

    Authorities say this case is unrelated to the ongoing outbreak in the state, which has 30 confirmed cases in Ocean County and three in Passaic County. Two doses of the measles vaccine are 97 percent effective in preventing measles, so health officials urge anyone who hasn't been vaccinated to do so.

    Young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at highest risk for severe complications, which can include pneumonia and encephalitis. 

    Symptoms include rash, high fever, cough and red, watery eyes. The rash usually starts on the face, proceeds down the body, and may include the palms and soles. The rash lasts several days. Infected individuals are contagious from four days before rash onset through the fourth day after rash appearance.

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Newly FDA-Approved Children's Vaccine Protects Against 6 Diseases]]>Fri, 28 Dec 2018 07:56:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/953760962-Sanofi.jpg

    A new pediatric vaccine that immunizes children against six diseases was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, French pharmaceutical company Sanofi said Wednesday.

    Reuters reported that the vaccine, Vaxelis, for children between 6 weeks and 4 years of age helps prevent diptheria, hepatitis B, pertussis, poliomyelitis, tetanus and invasive disease due to haemophilus influenza type B.

    Sanofi and its partner, Merck, aim to have the drug available in 2020 or later.

    Photo Credit: Eric Piermont/AFP/Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Confirmed Cases of Flu Rising Across New York State]]>Fri, 28 Dec 2018 02:23:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/close-up-doctor-health-42273.jpg

    The Cuomo administration says the number of confirmed cases of influenza is rising across New York state, with more than 5,400 people coming down with the illness so far this season.

    The state Department of Health says as of Thursday new cases of flu have been reported in 58 counties, including the five boroughs of New York City. Only Wyoming, Yates, Seneca and Hamilton counties are not reporting any cases yet.

    Officials say the number of people hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed flu was 363 this past week, a 41 percent increase over the previous week. So far this season more than 1,300 people have been hospitalized with the flu.

    Gov. Cuomo is urging flu vaccinations for all New Yorkers six months of age and older. 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
    <![CDATA[Ex-CEO of Insys to Plead Guilty in Major Opioid Case]]>Wed, 26 Dec 2018 22:52:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/judge6.jpg

    The former CEO of a drug company that produced a powerful and addictive painkiller containing fentanyl for cancer patients has agreed to plead guilty in connection with a scheme in which the firm's leaders bribed doctors in return for their prescribing the drug, court documents filed Wednesday show.

    Michael Babich, a former president and CEO of the Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics Inc., producer of the drug Subsys, will plead guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of mail fraud for his role in the alleged conspiracy, according to court documents.

    As NBC News reported, Insys executives allegedly defrauded insurance companies through their actions because the insurance providers made payments to doctors without knowledge of the bribes and kickbacks, according to court documents filed by the Andrew Lelling, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. 

    "The bribes and kickbacks took multiple forms," the prosecutor's motion filed Wednesday states. Babich and other company executives allegedly paid doctors fees that were purportedly for speaking engagements. They also allegedly hired and paid the salaries of some office staff for "certain targeted practitioners."

    <![CDATA[3,000+ NJ Patients Possibly Exposed to HIV, Hepatitis]]>Wed, 26 Dec 2018 21:18:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Hospital-Generic.jpg

    The New Jersey Department of Health says more than 3,000 patients at a surgery center may have been exposed to HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

    Officials say patients who had procedures done at the HealthPlus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook between January 2018 and Sept. 7, 2018 may have been exposed.

    Surgery center administrator Betty McCabe says the exposure was due to "deficiencies in infection control" involving the cleaning of instruments and injection of medications. McCabe says 3,778 patients are being urged to get their blood tested.

    The health department says the risk of infection is low, and no illnesses have been reported. The department called it "an abundance of caution" to suggest that people be tested.

    McCabe says the center is offering to pay medical costs associated with testing.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    <![CDATA[Secret Santas: Charity Buys and Erases Past-Due Medical Debt]]>Mon, 24 Dec 2018 21:00:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18358263508677.jpg

    Philip Sasser had a familiar, sinking feeling when he saw the yellow envelope in his mailbox. He figured it was another past-due medical bill, but it turned out to be quite the opposite.

    "I opened it up and it said these bills had been paid off," said Sasser, of Milton, Florida. "I didn't understand. It was out of the blue."

    Sasser is among the lucky recipients of a letter from RIP Medical Debt, a Rye, New York-based nonprofit that uses money from donors to eliminate crushing medical debt that threatens the financial well-being of hundreds of thousands of American families. The charity says it has erased $475 million in debt for more than 250,000 people since it was founded four years ago.

    "It's a random act of kindness, a no-strings-attached gift," said Craig Antico, RIP's co-founder and CEO.

    Antico and RIP co-founder Jerry Ashton spent decades as executives in the debt resolution business. Now they do the same thing debt collectors do — buy portfolios of past-due bills for pennies on the dollar. But instead of hounding people for payment, they send letters announcing their debt is now zero. Forgiven debts have ranged from $100 to over $250,000, Antico said.

    A $10 donation can buy — and eliminate — $1,000 in long-delinquent debt.

    "You get a lot of bang for your charity buck," said Judith Jones of Ithaca, New York. She and Carolyn Kenyon, members of a group advocating universal health coverage, raised $12,500 that RIP Medical Debt used to purchase a portfolio of $1.5 million in debts owed by 1,284 people.

    More than 43 million Americans have about $75 billion in past-due medical debt on their credit reports, according to Antico, Ashton and co-author Robert Goff's book, "End Medical Debt." They estimate a total of $1 trillion in reported and unreported unpaid medical debt, and say debt forgiveness is their best interim solution until a better financial structure is worked out for the U.S. health care system.

    "We're not the solution," Ashton said. "We're just dealing with the symptoms."

    Now they're trying to raise $50,000 for RIP to buy $50 million in medical debts owed by veterans.

    For Sasser, 45, the debt relieved was $1,200 not covered by his high-deductible insurance for his wife's debilitating medical condition she's been grappling with for six years. Sasser had to cut way back on his advertising and graphic design business to care for her and their two teenage boys.

    "To have these large bills looming and no way to pay was a source of constant stress," Sasser said. "When I opened that letter, it lifted a huge weight off."

    Reagan Adair, a fifth-grade teacher in Murchison, Texas, had $3,100 in debt erased by RIP. She was inspired to pay it forward by making a donation to the charity to help others struggling with medical bills.

    "The system is broken," Adair said. "We have a problem with our health care system. What we have now is not working."

    RIP Medical Debt has its origins in Occupy Wall Street. Ashton's office overlooked the park where social activists camped out in 2011 to protest income inequality and seek solutions.

    When people associated with the Occupy movement launched a project to buy debt and erase it, Ashton and Antico offered their expertise. They turned that project into RIP Medical Debt in 2014.

    It limped along until 2016, when HBO's "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" did a segment where they gave the nonprofit $60,000 to purchase $15 million in medical debt and wipe it out.

    Publicity from Oliver's segment was a game-changer. Donations went from less than $12,000 in 2015 to more than $2.4 million in 2017.

    In addition to individual donations, fundraising campaigns for RIP have been held across the country by health care groups, television stations and other organizations.

    In November, an anonymous couple donated $2 million to RIP to eliminate $250 million in medical debt.

    Because the nonprofit's model revolves around buying portfolios of bulk debt from hospitals or investors, it is unable, at this point, to abolish bills for specific individuals.

    "When we get these emails from people begging us for help, it would melt the heart of a stone statue," Ashton said. RIP's website has a registry where people can sign up in case the charity one day is able to help individual people. Ashton said there are more than 10,000 names.

    "My goal in life is to be able to help people who come to us," Antico said.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[FDA Says Teething Necklaces Should Be Avoided]]>Fri, 21 Dec 2018 18:26:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/amberteethingGettyImages-925809116.jpg

    The FDA issued a warning on Thursday to parents with teething babies: teething jewelry is dangerous. It can cause strangulation or choking.

    "There is no scientific information that teething necklaces are effective and safe. They are really quite dangerous," said Jennifer Hoekstra, an injury prevention specialist at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She's not with the FDA, but fully supports the warning, she said: "The American Association of Pediatrics does not recommend any teething jewelry."

    Those who dress their children in Baltic amber necklaces or bracelets believe that the amber releases succinic acid into the skin, acting as an analgesic, and thus diminishing pain. 

    The evidence does not support that theory. The FDA also received a report of one death after an 18-month old child was strangled by his amber teething necklace during a nap.

    Photo Credit: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[American Adults Getting Heavier, Staying the Same Height: CDC]]>Thu, 20 Dec 2018 09:37:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/183758075-Beam-Scale.jpg

    You don't need to hang the mistletoe higher but you might want to skip the holiday cookies.

    A new report released Thursday shows U.S. adults aren't getting any taller but they are still getting fatter.

    The average U.S. adult is overweight and just a few pounds from obese, thanks to average weight increases in all groups — but particularly whites and Hispanics.

    Overall, the average height for men actually fell very slightly over the past decade. There was no change for women.

    One factor may be the shift in the country's population. There's a growing number of Mexican-Americans, and that group tends to be a little shorter, said one of the report's authors, Cynthia Ogden of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    The findings come from a 2015-16 health survey that measures height and weight. More than 5,000 U.S. adults took part.

    CDC records date back to the early 1960s, when the average man was a little over 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 166 pounds. Now, men are almost 1 inch taller and more than 30 pounds heavier. But today's average height of 5 feet, 9 inches is about a tenth of an inch shorter than about a decade ago.

    The average woman in the early 1960s was 5 feet, 3 inches and 140 pounds. Now, women are a half-inch taller and about 30 pounds heavier, on average. The average height is about the same as it was a decade earlier: 5 feet, 4 inches.

    Other survey findings:

    • In the last decade, the average weight of men rose about 2 pounds, to 198. For women, it rose 6 pounds, to nearly 171.
    • Men have 40-inch waistlines, on average. Women's waistlines are a little under 39 inches.
    • The average height of black men and white men has been holding about steady, at a little under 5 feet 10.
    • Mexican-American and Asian-American men are roughly 3 inches shorter than whites and blacks, on average. There was a similar height gap in women.

    In 2016, about 18 percent of the nation's population was Hispanic, up from about 13 percent in 2000, according to U.S. Census figures. Mexican-Americans account for nearly two-thirds of the Hispanic population.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
    <![CDATA[Guns Kill Twice as Many Kids as Cancer Does, New Study Finds]]>Thu, 20 Dec 2018 09:18:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/907084844-Gun-Generic.jpg

    A new study out Wednesday found that nearly twice as many children died from gun injuries in 2016 than from cancer, making guns the second-leading killer of children in the U.S., NBC News reported.

    Only car crashes killed more children than guns, and the U.S. gun fatality rate for children — which rose 28 percent between 2013 and 2016 — is 36 times higher than in other developed nations, according to the study from a team at the University of Michigan's Injury Prevention Center .

    The nation is failing to protect children, wrote the executive editor of the New England Journal of Medicine in an editorial that accompanied the report.

    "Children in America are dying or being killed at rates that are shameful," Dr. Edward Campion wrote.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Getting Over 'Fortnite' Addiction]]>Wed, 19 Dec 2018 19:29:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_fortnite1217_1500x845.jpg

    Parents of "Fortnite"-addicted players are being urged to set limits for the wildly popular third-person shooter video game and learn how to spot signs of gaming addiction in their child. ]]>
    <![CDATA[Calif. Doctor Arrested After 5 People Overdose on Opioids]]>Wed, 19 Dec 2018 04:51:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/irvine-doctor-court-sketch.PNG

    A doctor who owns an urgent care facility in Irvine was arrested Tuesday on charges of illegally distributing opioids, including to a man charged with running over and killing an off-duty Costa Mesa fire captain riding his bicycle in Mission Viejo.

    Dzung Ahn Pham, 57, of Tustin, who owns Irvine Village Urgent Care at 15435 Jeffrey Road, was arrested on two counts of illegally distributing oxycodone, according to Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney's Office. Federal authorities said five people who received drug prescriptions from Pham have died of overdoses.

    Federal authorities also contend that Pham sent a text message expressing concern that Borderline Bar and Grill mass killer David Ian Long had prescription drugs in his possession that Pham had prescribed for someone else.

    Pham is accused of writing prescriptions to people without examining them, and he allegedly sold prescriptions to drug addicts or to dealers selling the narcotics on the black market, Mrozek said.

    Prosecutors allege Pham wrote "an extremely high amount'' of prescriptions over three years, so much so that a CVS pharmacy in Irvine stopped taking prescriptions from Pham more than five years ago.

    Over the summer, Drug Enforcement Administration agents conducted two undercover operations targeting Pham in which he allegedly steered the agents two a pharmacy in Irvine that filled many of his prescriptions, Mrozek said.

    Five people who obtained drugs from Pham from 2014 through last year overdosed and died, prosecutors said.

    Stephen Taylor Scarpa, 25, of Mission Viejo, who is charged with second-degree murder in the death of 44-year-old Costa Mesa fire Capt. Mike Kreza, was allegedly high on drugs from Pham at the time of the deadly collision on Nov. 3, Mrozek said. Prescription bottles with Pham's name on them were found in Scarpa's van after the collision, according to a DEA affidavit.

    Pham charged between $100 and $150 per office visit, Mrozek said. The doctor deposited over $5 million, mostly in cash, into his and his wife's bank accounts between 2013 and September of this year, according to the DEA affidavit. He also deposited about $1.7 million into a business bank account that investigators suspect came from insurance payments, Mrozek said.

    Photo Credit: Bill Robles]]>
    <![CDATA[Unemployment, Income Affect Life Expectancy, Data Show]]>Tue, 18 Dec 2018 09:48:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/157533457-Hospital-Gurneys-Generic.jpg

    Even your lifespan can be local.

    Researchers have long said that health disparities are heavily influenced by where you live. New data from the National Center for Health Statistics show just how much your neighborhood can impact the length of your life.

    In recent years, the U.S. has seen overall life expectancy decrease, from 78.7 years in 2015 to 78.6 years in 2017. Experts have pointed to opioid addiction and an increase in suicides as the main reasons.

    Behind that national average are American neighborhoods where recently born residents can expect to live much longer, or much shorter, lives.

    The Associated Press analyzed life expectancy and demographic data for 65,662 census tracts, which are geographic areas that encompass roughly 4,000 residents. The AP found that certain demographic qualities — high rates of unemployment, low household income, a concentration of black or Native American residents and low rates of high school education — affected life expectancy in most neighborhoods.

    An increase of 10 percentage points in the unemployment rate in a neighborhood translated to a loss of roughly a year and a half of life expectancy, the AP found. A neighborhood where more adults failed to graduate high school had shorter predicted longevity.

    New York state had the largest range for life expectancy among its neighborhoods, spanning 34.5 years. The places with the highest and lowest estimates are both in New York City. Children born between 2010 and 2015 in part of the northern half of Roosevelt Island have an estimated life expectancy of 59 years; a child born 6 miles away in Chinatown in lower Manhattan can expect to live 93.6 years.

    In one North Carolina neighborhood — Fearrington Village in Chatham County — a child born between 2010 and 2015 can expect to live 97.5 years, the highest estimated lifespan for any neighborhood in the U.S. A child in part of Stilwell in Adair County, Oklahoma, can expect 59 years on average, the nation's lowest.

    The AP analysis also found discrepancies among states. Life expectancy in Hawaii topped all other states at 82 years. Mississippi's estimate of 74.9 was the lowest, followed closely by West Virginia, Alabama, Oklahoma and Kentucky.

    The AP analyzed 88.7 percent of all U.S. census tracts. Maine and Wisconsin were excluded because some of their death records lacked home addresses of the deceased.

    The data is part of a new partnership between the National Center for Health Statistics, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), and the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Through the collaboration, researchers used six years of death records and demographic data to create a longevity estimate for nearly every census tract in the country.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[US Surgeon General Warns of Teen Risks From E-Cigarettes]]>Tue, 18 Dec 2018 08:47:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vaping1.jpg

    The government's top doctor is taking aim at the best-selling electronic cigarette brand in the U.S., urging swift action to prevent Juul and similar vaping brands from addicting millions of teenagers.

    In an advisory Tuesday, Surgeon General Jerome Adams said parents, teachers, health professionals and government officials must take "aggressive steps" to keep children from using e-cigarettes. Federal law bars the sale of e-cigarettes to those under 18.

    For young people, "nicotine is dangerous and it can have negative health effects," Adams said in an interview. "It can impact learning, attention and memory, and it can prime the youth brain for addiction."

    Federal officials are scrambling to reverse a recent explosion in teen vaping that public health officials fear could undermine decades of declines in tobacco use. An estimated 3.6 million U.S. teens are now using e-cigarettes, representing 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle schoolers, according to the latest federal figures.

    Separate survey results released Monday showed twice as many high school students used e-cigarettes this year compared to last year.

    E-cigarettes and other vaping devices have been sold in the U.S. since 2007, growing into a $6.6 billion business. Most devices heat a flavored nicotine solution into an inhalable vapor. They have been pitched to adult smokers as a less-harmful alternative to cigarettes, though there's been little research on the long-term health effects or on whether they help people quit. Even more worrisome, a growing body of research suggests that teens who vape are more likely to try regular cigarettes.

    Adams singled out Silicon Valley startup Juul. The company leapfrogged over its larger competitors with online promotions portraying their small device as the latest high-tech gadget for hip, attractive young people. Analysts now estimate the company controls more than 75 percent of the U.S. e-cigarette market.

    The surgeon general's advisory notes that each Juul cartridge, or pod, contains as much nicotine as a pack of cigarettes. Additionally, Adams states that Juul's liquid nicotine mixture is specially formulated to give a smoother, more potent nicotine buzz. That effect poses special risks for young people, Adams says.

    "We do know that these newer products, such as Juul, can promote dependence in just a few uses," Adams said.

    Juul said in a statement that it shares the surgeon general's goal: "We are committed to preventing youth access of Juul products."

    Last month, San Francisco-based Juul shut down its Facebook and Instagram accounts and halted in-store sales of its flavored pods. The flavors remain available via age-restricted online sales. That voluntary action came days before the Food and Drug Administration proposed industrywide restrictions on online and convenience store sales of e-cigarettes to deter use by kids.

    Adams recommends parents, teachers and health professionals learn about e-cigarettes, talk to children about the risks and set an example by not using tobacco products.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[After Judge's Ruling Against 'Obamacare,' What Happens Now?]]>Mon, 17 Dec 2018 18:04:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ACA1.jpg

    A federal judge's ruling would, if upheld, wipe away the entire Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama and twice sustained by the Supreme Court.

    Judge Reed O'Connor's opinion was issued late Friday, and supporters of the law vowed to appeal and take other steps to preserve health benefits in the law sometimes called "Obamacare."

    Some questions and answers about O'Connor's ruling:

    In a word, nothing. Although O'Connor said the entire law must fall, he did not grant a request from its opponents to have his ruling take effect immediately. That means that all the law's provisions remain in effect. The federal Health and Human Services Department put out a statement making clear that it "will continue administering and enforcing all aspects of the ACA as it had before the court issued its decision."

    The impact would go well beyond the more than 20 million people who are directly covered through Obamacare.

    More than 170 million Americans are covered by employers, and they could lose no-cost preventive care, from screening tests like colonoscopies to birth control for women. Employers would no longer be required to keep the young adult children of their workers covered up to age 26. Gone would be limits on annual out-of-pocket expenses, which provide greater financial protection for people with job-based coverage. Another kind of limit — lifetime caps on what insurance will pay for medical bills — could stage a comeback.

    Medicare would be affected because the ACA expanded no-cost coverage of preventive services and reduced the bills of seniors with high prescription drug costs. Program finances would also take a hit. Medicaid, the federal-state program for low-income people, was expanded under the ACA. So about 12 million people who gained coverage could be left uninsured. Efforts to counter the opioid epidemic would be dealt a severe blow since Medicaid has become a mainstay for treatment.

    HealthCare.gov and state insurance markets offering subsidized private insurance would disappear, potentially leaving 10 million people or more uninsured.

    And the list would go on. The health law made hundreds of changes.

    A key part of the Affordable Care Act that Obama signed into law in 2010 was the provision requiring people to have health insurance or pay a penalty if they refused. The Supreme Court upheld this individual mandate in 2012. Congress reduced that penalty to zero as part of the tax legislation it passed, and President Donald Trump signed, in 2017. That means that beginning in January, there no longer will be a penalty for not purchasing health insurance.

    O'Connor agreed with Texas and other Republican-led states that challenged the law that the elimination of the penalty rendered the requirement to have health insurance unconstitutional. In a crucial step in his logic, O'Connor then held that because the individual mandate is so important to the overall law, the whole thing can no longer stand. The legal explanation is that O'Connor found that the mandate could not be severed from the rest of the law, meaning he struck it down in its entirety.

    Even some opponents of the health care law, including The Wall Street Journal editorial page, have said O'Connor went too far and predicted he would be reversed in the appeals process. Congress did indeed render the individual mandate unenforceable when it reduced the penalty for not complying to zero. But that very same Congress left the rest of the law intact. What's more, Republican efforts to repeal the ACA failed in the same Congress. In addition, even if the federal appeals court that oversees Texas were to agree with O'Connor, it seems improbable at best that Chief Justice John Roberts, who twice wrote opinions upholding the law — in 2012 and 2015, would now strike it down.

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the leader of a coalition of states defending the law in court, already has promised to appeal. The process will take months at a minimum, even with the states pressing for a speedy resolution because of the uncertainty O'Connor's ruling creates and the potential effects on the insurance markets.

    If the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses O'Connor, chances that the Supreme Court would hear the case are slim. If the 5th Circuit agrees with O'Connor, high court review becomes very likely because the justices almost always weigh in when a federal law has been struck down. But even then, the Supreme Court wouldn't hear the case before the fall of 2019 at the earliest, with a decision unlikely before the spring of 2020 — amid the presidential and congressional campaigns.

    Democrats in the House say they plan to intervene in the defense of the law, joining Democrat-led states. In addition, expect hearings in the House to focus on Trump administration efforts that Democrats, who take charge of the House in January, say are intended to undermine the health care law. These include encouraging the use of low-cost short-term policies with limited coverage and cuts to government attempts to sign up beneficiaries.

    Rep. Frank Pallone, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Democrats are readying bills to curb the use of the short-term plans and bolster the Obama law's coverage of people with pre-existing conditions. The bill could also make federal subsidies for lower-earning beneficiaries more generous and shore up insurers for covering seriously ill customers with extremely high costs of care, he said.

    Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images (File)]]>
    <![CDATA[Startup's On-Demand Health Insurance Draws Attention]]>Mon, 17 Dec 2018 15:09:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18348760155126-Bind-Health-Insurance.jpg

    People with health insurance often pay for coverage they never use. A startup wants to shake that up.

    It's a radical idea: On-demand insurance that lets customers buy some of their coverage only if and when they need it, similar to how TV viewers might rent a new release from Amazon instead of paying every month for a pricey cable package they rarely use.

    This approach from Bind Benefits is one of the latest wrinkles in a yearslong push by companies and insurers to control costs and make patients smarter health care shoppers. And it's drawing attention from the nation's largest health insurer, UnitedHealthcare, and some sizeable employers.

    "It's the sort of thing we need entrepreneurs to be doing," said Robert Laszewski, a health care consultant and former insurance executive. "We haven't had a new idea in managed care in I don't know how long."

    Bind's plan draws concern from researchers worried about how this may hurt some pocketbooks, but it also has attracted employers hungry for a fresh way to tame expenses.

    School superintendent Barry Rose picked Bind as the only coverage option earlier this year for the Cumberland, Wisconsin, school district after cycling through numerous health plans in the last six years. Rose said about two-thirds of his workers use $500 or less in health care every year, and he didn't want to charge them premiums for care they weren't using.

    "We have quality health care. If people need it, great. If they don't, at least we're not soaking them for it," he said.

    Minneapolis-based Bind is not an insurer, but it designs health plans for big employers that pay their own bills.

    Here's how it works. Under Bind's plan, customers pay a base monthly premium that can be as much as 40 percent cheaper than other options their employer offers, the company says.

    That covers most care, like doctor visits, hospital stays, maternity care, cancer treatment and prescriptions.

    A patient can then buy additional coverage for some procedures that aren't urgent like a knee surgery or hip replacement. In these cases, the patient has time to plan for the care and look at different options for who performs it.

    The additional coverage comes with an extra premium and possibly a copayment, depending on the care provider and what is being purchased. In these cases, patients might get stuck paying more than $1,000 in additional costs.

    Users log onto Bind's website or app to see what is covered, what it will cost them. That can vary based on Bind's quality rating for a provider and how efficiently it provides care. Someone with an ear infection might pay nothing for a telemedicine visit. But a trip to an expensive emergency room for such a minor illness might cost a few hundred dollars.

    "If we get everyone buying better, we actually make the product more affordable for all of us," said Bind CEO Tony Miller.

    If patients stick to the plan's provider network in that core coverage, they will have one bill — a copayment. Miller said Bind avoids high deductibles or co-insurance payments that make it hard for some to understand how much care really costs.

    That simplicity helped Nancy Buchholz when she was trying to track her husband's expenses for cancer treatment last spring. She said he died six weeks after being diagnosed, and she became overwhelmed by billing notices from the hospital showing that care costs were approaching $300,000.

    But the only bill she had to pay for his hospital stay was the $1,900 copayment laid out in the insurance plan.

    "When you go through something that's emotionally devastating, the last thing you want to worry about is having to make sure something is paid for," said the Cadott, Wisconsin, resident, who got Bind coverage through her employer, Dove Healthcare.

    The potential for unexpected additional costs under Bind's system concerns Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown's Center on Health Insurance Reforms. She noted that older customers are more likely to wind up with these big bills because they tend to have more expensive procedures.

    "This gets close to the line if not a little bit over the line of being discriminatory because it would only be people who have certain health conditions that would face higher premiums," she said.

    Miller said his plans comply with federal anti-discrimination laws, and they provide all covered members the same benefit at the same cost.

    Bind started selling coverage this year and only has a few thousand people enrolled. But it is expanding nationally, with help from UnitedHealthcare, which covers more than 40 million people. UnitedHealthcare is offering Bind coverage to some employer customers for 2019.

    The company will need to offer big discounts to attract more business, said Laszewski, the health care consultant.

    He noted that customers are slow to accept new insurance ideas, and Bind relies on patients trusting its quality rating for the doctor they pick. That's a gamble in health care, where it's hard for people to understand and feel comfortable with those measurements.

    "If you're going to expect employers and consumers to take risks, they're going to have to see a premium up front," he said. "They're not going to buy the sales pitch."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Stacy Bengs/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Child Abuse Climbs After Friday Report Cards, Study Says]]>Mon, 17 Dec 2018 14:57:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/school+bus+generic+nbc+4+new+york.jpg

    Child abuse increases the day after school report cards are released — but only when kids get their grades on a Friday, a study in Florida suggests.

    The curious finding startled researchers, who had figured abuse might go up regardless of the specific day kids got their grades.

    But their study of reports to a child abuse hotline that included broken bones, burns and other confirmed abuse found otherwise. An increase only occurred on Saturdays after a report-card Friday. Though overall rates were small, there were almost four times more cases on those Saturdays than on other Saturdays. No apparent connection between report cards and abuse was found on other days of the week.

    "Anecdotally, we know a lot of parents will spank their children or use corporal punishment if they're unsatisfied with their school work," said University of Florida psychologist Melissa Bright, the lead author.

    That punishment may become abusive when kids don't have school the next day and parents think injuries might be more likely to go unnoticed, the researchers said, noting that teachers are required to report suspected child abuse. Or, it could be that severe punishment is less likely on weekdays when parents are too busy to focus on report cards, Bright said,

    But she acknowledged those theories are speculation and that the findings aren't proof.

    The study was published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics.

    The researchers reviewed calls to a Florida child abuse hotline and school report card release dates in most of Florida's 67 counties during the 2015-2016 academic year. Nearly 2,000 cases of physical abuse in kids aged 5 to 11, confirmed by child welfare authorities, were included.

    There was an average of slightly more than 0.6 cases of abuse per 100,000 children on Saturdays after a report-card Friday compared with slightly less than 0.2 cases per 100,000 children on other Saturdays. The average was less than one per day because so many days were included in the analysis. But in a state like Florida, with a school-age population of just over 3 million kids, this could amount to 19 cases of report card-related abuse compared to 5 on other Saturdays, the researchers said.

    Outside experts noted study limitations, including no evidence that kids who were abused had received poor grades and no information on when parents first learned of kids' grades. But they said the study was useful for highlighting that child abuse and corporal punishment are still too common even though rates have declined since the 1990s. Rates were 9 per 1,000 U.S. kids in 2016 compared with 13 per 1,000 in 1990.

    Dr. Robert Sege, a Boston pediatrician and Tufts University professor of medicine, said bad grades should be a time for parents to find out what's causing their childrens' struggles. "There's no place for corporal punishment for school failure because it doesn't work and misses the point."

    Sege is lead author of an American Academy of Pediatrics policy update released last month that recommends against corporal punishment and spanking.

    An editorial published with study said the United States deserves a C-minus "for effective discipline strategies."

    Changing a report card release day may reduce some abuse, the editorial said, "but it will not solve the larger issue: It is still socially acceptable to hit a child to correct their behavior."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Teen Vaping Boom Alarms Health Officials]]>Mon, 17 Dec 2018 11:37:37 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_teendrugs1214_1500x845.jpg

    Twice as many high school students have picked up a vaping habit compared to last year - a large, unprecedented jump that is alarming health officials who say teenagers do not realize there is nicotine in e-cigarettes. ]]>
    <![CDATA[Most Teen Drug Use Is Down, But Officials Fret Vaping Boom]]>Mon, 17 Dec 2018 11:34:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/vapingAP_18346804555667.jpg

    Twice as many high school students used nicotine-tinged electronic cigarettes this year compared with last year, an unprecedented jump in a large annual survey of teen smoking, drinking and drug use.

    It was the largest single-year increase in the survey's 44-year history, far surpassing a mid-1970s surge in marijuana smoking.

    The findings, released Monday, echo those of a government survey earlier this year. That survey also found a dramatic rise in vaping among children and prompted federal regulators to press for measures that make it harder for kids to get them.

    Experts attribute the jump to newer versions of e-cigarettes, like those by Juul Labs Inc. that resemble computer flash drives and can be used discreetly.

    Most vaping products, including Juul, use nicotine and students may not realize the product is addictive, NBC News reported. More than 25 percent claimed they vaped “just flavoring” in the past year, compared to 20.6 percent the prior year.

    Trina Hale, a junior at South Charleston High School in West Virginia, said vaping — specifically Juul — exploded at her school this year.

    "They can put it in their sleeve or their pocket. They can do it wherever, whenever. They can do it in class if they're sneaky about it," she said.

    Olivia Turman, a freshman at Cabell Midland High School in Ona, West Virginia, said she too has seen kids "hit their vape in class."

    The federally funded survey released Monday is conducted by University of Michigan researchers and has been operating since 1975. This year's findings are based on responses from about 45,000 students in grades 8, 10 and 12 in schools across the country. It found 1 in 5 high school seniors reported having vaped nicotine in the previous month.

    After vaping and alcohol, the most common thing teens use is marijuana, the survey found. About 1 in 4 students said they'd used marijuana at least once in the past year. It was more common in older kids — about 1 in 17 high school seniors said they use marijuana every day.

    Overall, marijuana smoking is about the same level as it was the past few years. Vaping of marijuana rose, however.

    More teens, however, are saying no to lots of other substances. Usage of alcohol, cigarettes, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy, heroin and opioid pills all declined.

    Experts say it's not clear what's behind those trends, especially since the nation is in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic ever.

    "What is it that we're doing right with teenagers that we're not doing with adults?" said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a federal agency that funds the Michigan study.

    One leading theory is that kids today are staying home and communicating on smartphones rather than hanging out and smoking, drinking or trying drugs.

    "Drug experimentation is a group activity," Volkow said.

    What about vaping? "Vaping mostly is an individual activity," said David Jernigan, a Boston University researcher who tracks alcohol use.

    The vaping explosion is a big worry, however. Health officials say nicotine is harmful to developing brains. Some researchers also believe vaping will make kids more likely to take up cigarettes, and perhaps later try other drugs.

    So far that hasn't happened, surveys show. But the Juul phenomenon is recent, noted Richard Miech, who oversees the Michigan survey.

    If vaping does lead to cigarette use among teens, that may start to show up in the survey as early as next year, he added.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File ]]>
    <![CDATA[Sign-Up Deadline Is Saturday for ACA Health Law Coverage]]>Sat, 15 Dec 2018 18:51:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ACAAP_18346561695404.jpg

    Saturday is the last day to sign up for health insurance next year under the Affordable Care Act in most of the country.

    For 2019, premiums are stable, more plans are available, and millions of uninsured people can still get financial help. But so far sign-ups have been lagging when compared to last year.

    Consumers can enroll online at HealthCare.gov or by reaching the federal call center at 1-800-318-2596.

    People can also sign up through approved community organizations, online insurance sellers, and insurance companies.

    The deadline is 12 a.m. Pacific time in states served by the HealthCare.gov website. A few states that run their own enrollment campaigns may have later deadlines. Consumer advocates say interested customers should check carefully and avoid procrastination.

    Coverage takes effect Jan. 1.

    The health care law still faces legal challenges, A conservative federal judge in Texas ruled the Affordable Care Act "invalid" Friday on the eve of the sign-up deadline for next year. But with appeals certain, even the Trump White House said the law will remain in place for now.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Ruling to Strike Down Health Law Puts GOP in a Quandary]]>Sat, 15 Dec 2018 19:59:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18349124253004.jpg

    A federal judge's ruling that the Obama health law is unconstitutional has landed like a stink bomb among Republicans, who've seen the politics of health care flip as Americans increasingly value the overhaul's core parts, including protections for pre-existing medical conditions and Medicaid for more low-income people.

    While the decision by the Republican-appointed judge in Texas was sweeping, it has little immediate practical impact because the Affordable Care Act remains in place while the legal battle continues, possibly to the Supreme Court.

    HealthCare.gov, the government's site for signing up, was taking applications Saturday, the deadline in most states for enrolling for coverage next year, and those benefits will take effect as scheduled Jan. 1. Medicaid expansion will proceed in Virginia, one of the latest states to accept that option. Employers will still be required to cover the young adult children of workers, and Medicare recipients will still get discounted prescription drugs.

    But Republicans, still stinging from their loss of the House in the midterm elections, are facing a fresh political quandary after U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor said the entire 2010 health law was invalid.

    Warnings about the Texas lawsuit were part of the political narrative behind Democrats' electoral gains. Health care was the top issue for about one-fourth of voters in the November election, ahead of immigration and jobs and the economy, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey for The Associated Press. Those most concerned with health care supported Democrats overwhelmingly.

    In his ruling, O'Connor reasoned that the body of the law could not be surgically separated from its now-meaningless requirement for people to have health insurance.

    "On the assumption that the Supreme Court upholds, we will get great, great health care for our people," President Donald Trump told reporters during a visit Saturday to Arlington National Cemetery. "We'll have to sit down with the Democrats to do it, but I'm sure they want to do it also."

    Economist Gail Wilensky, who oversaw the Medicare program for President George H.W. Bush, said the state attorneys general from GOP strongholds who filed the lawsuit really weren't very considerate of their fellow Republicans.

    "The fact that they could cause their fellow Republicans harm did not seem to bother them," said Wilensky, a critic of President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.

    "The people who raised it are a bunch of guys who don't have serious election issues, mostly from states where saber-rattling against the ACA is fine," she added. "How many elections do you have to get battered before you find another issue?"

    Douglas Holtz-Eakin, top policy adviser to Republican John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign, said he was struck by the relative silence from top Republicans after the ruling issued.

    A prominent example: "The House was not privy to this suit, and we are reviewing the ruling and its impact," said AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

    Republicans are "going to have to figure out what to do," Holtz-Eakin said. "If it's invalidated by the courts, it's not ... 'We're going to do it our way.' They're going to have to get together with the Democrats in the House."

    The GOP's failed effort last year to repeal the law showed there's no consensus within the party itself.

    Trump tweeted Friday night that "Congress must pass a STRONG law that provides GREAT healthcare and protects pre-existing conditions."

    "Get it done!" he told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is expected to be speaker in January. But Trump had no plan of his own to offer in the 2017 "repeal and replace" debate.

    Two top House Republicans issued diverging statements.

    Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said "Obamacare is a broken law," but added, "I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure America's healthcare system works for all Americans."

    The third-ranking GOP leader, Louisiana Rep. Steve Scalise, praised the judge's ruling and made no mention of working with Democrats, whom he accused of "running a fear-mongering campaign" to win control of the House last month.

    The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said that if the law is ultimately overturned, then members of Congress from both parties should start over, working together. He urged maintaining provisions such as protections for pre-existing medical conditions, no lifetime dollar limits on insurance coverage, and allowing young adults to stay on parental coverage until age 26.

    Democrats were united in condemning the ruling.

    Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said voters will remember. "What will stand is Republican ownership of such a harmful and disastrous lawsuit," Schumer tweeted.

    The next chapter in the legal case could take months to play out.

    A coalition of Democratic state officials led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra will appeal O'Connor's decision, most likely to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.

    "The legal merits of the case are frivolous," said University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley. "The notion that the unconstitutionality of an unenforceable mandate somehow requires toppling the entire ACA is bonkers." Bagley supports the law generally, but has been critical of how it has been put into effect.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Calif. Man Who Thought He Was 'Fat' Had a 77-Pound Tumor]]>Fri, 14 Dec 2018 23:20:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hernandez-gut-tumor-121418.jpg

    Hector Hernandez thought he was "fat." Then he received some shocking news: What he thought was stomach fat was actually a 77-pound cancerous tumor.

    "I just thought I was fat," said Hernandez of Downey, California. "I’ve always been a big guy, so I didn’t really put too much worry into it."

    Hernandez told NBC4 he would get a lot of stares in public because of his large stomach, which caused him to stop using the Metro.

    "I always wore big jackets. I got in the Metro, and a police officer came and tapped me on my jacket and asked me what I had in my jacket," Hernandez said. "He just looked at [my stomach] and kind of just felt bad and walked away."

    Hernandez began to exercise and started losing weight all over his body — except his stomach, which felt rock hard. But he said he did not feel any type of pain.

    "That’s when I knew there was something wrong," he said.

    Editor's note: An image of the removed tumor is at the bottom of this article. Viewer discretion is advised. 

    At the time, Hernandez had high blood pressure, shortness of breath and diabetes. His doctor performed an ultrasound, did a CT scan and some bloodwork in hopes of figuring out what Hernandez had. But despite all the tests, it still wasn't clear what was wrong.

    His local doctor referred him to surgical oncologist Dr. William Tseng at Keck Medicine of USC.

    Dr. Tseng told Hernandez that it was not weight gain. In fact, he had Retroperitoneal liposarcoma, a rare cancer formed in fat cells.

    "We don’t know what causes it," Tseng said. "It has nothing to do with obesity."

    He added that it can happen to anyone. 

    Tseng is one of the few people who specializes in treating sarcomas and said this type of rare cancer can actually develop anywhere in the body, and it does not come with specific symptoms.

    Hernandez’s tumor was in the back of the abdomen, Tseng said. He explained that because it was in that particular location, the body adapted to it as it grew.  It was able to grow to such a large size without the patient noticing because from the outside, it just appears as if the abdomen is bloated, or as Hernandez thought, it just looks like weight gain.

    Tseng added that doctors who are not specialized in this field can misdiagnose the tumor or even completely miss it.

    The surgical oncologist encounters this type of tumor on a regular basis and said Hernandez's wasn't anything out of the ordinary. But, it was "definitely the biggest one" he had come across.

    The removal of the 77-pound tumor required a six-hour surgery where Hernadez’s kidney had to be removed as Tseng couldn’t separate it from the tumor.

    Now, Hernandez says he feels more confident.

    "I’m glad my arms are back, my shoulders are back, my face is plump. I just couldn’t be any happier," he said, adding that when he began exercising and losing weight, his body was not proportional. 

    Hernandez has to get CT scans every four months along with frequent checkups.

    "Even though we got everything out completely, statistically it will come back in some point in his life," Tseng said.

    The sarcoma specialist told NBC4 that for the vast majority of patients, it does show up again. 

    "Because the tumors are so big, you really can’t get rid of the microscopic disease. There’s no way of getting all the cells out," he explained.

    If you would like to contribute to Hernandez’s medical expenses, you can do so here at his GoFundMe account. 

    Photo Credit: Courtesy Hector Hernandez
    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
    <![CDATA[Calif. Farm Linked to Tainted Romaine Recalls Other Products]]>Fri, 14 Dec 2018 16:06:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/531808415-Cauliflower.jpg

    U.S. health officials have traced a food poisoning outbreak from romaine lettuce to at least one farm in California, which voluntarily recalled red and green leaf lettuce as well as cauliflower because they may be contaminated with E. coli.

    Adam Bros. Farms in Santa Barbara County said Thursday it was issuing the new recall, for the listed products harvested between Nov. 27 and Nov. 30, "out of an abundance of caution."

    The Food and Drug Administration cautioned Thursday that other farms are likely involved in the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak and consumers should continue checking the label before purchasing the product.

    The Food and Drug Administration said 59 people in 15 states have now been sickened by the tainted lettuce. That's seven more cases than previously reported, but regulators said they are fairly confident that the lettuce which first triggered the outbreak has been removed from the market. The FDA told consumers to avoid romaine lettuce just before Thanksgiving.

    Officials said a water reservoir at Adam Bros. Farms in Santa Barbara County tested positive for the bacterial strain and the owners are cooperating with U.S. officials. Officials from the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have not determined how the water reservoir — which is used to irrigate lettuce — became contaminated.

    Adam Bros. said in a statement that "sediment from a reservoir near where the
    produce was grown tested positive for E. coli" but said that while harvested produce may have come into contact with filtered, treated water from the reservoir, none of that water tested positive for the bacteria.

    The company said that there have been no illnesses reported in the recall of red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce and cauliflower. Those products were distributed across the country; find identifying product information here.

    A man who answered the phone at Adam Bros. Farms Thursday said he could not comment on the government announcement. According to the company's website, it only grows vegetables products, including broccoli, cauliflower, celery and various types of lettuce. Not all Adam Bros. products have been recalled, according to the statement.

    E. coli can get into water and soil through multiple routes, including waste from domesticated animals or wild animals, fertilizer and other agricultural products.

    The FDA's Dr. Stephen Ostroff said investigators have linked the tainted romaine lettuce to multiple distributors and processors, suggesting it must have come from several farms.

    The government also narrowed the source of the outbreak to three California counties: Santa Barbara, Monterey and San Benito. That's down from six California counties under investigation when regulators began warning the public last month.

    Regulators said people should only buy romaine lettuce with a label listing where and when it was harvested. Lettuce from outside the three California counties that was harvested after Nov. 23 should be safe to eat.

    Romaine harvesting recently began shifting from California's Central Coast to winter growing areas, primarily Arizona, Florida, Mexico and California's Imperial Valley. Those winter regions weren't yet shipping when the illnesses began.

    E. coli, the bacteria often associated with food poisoning, usually causes sickness two to eight days later, according to health authorities. Most people with the infection get diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Some cases can be life-threatening, causing kidney failure and seizures.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto, File]]>
    <![CDATA[J&J Reportedly Knew for Years About Asbestos in Baby Powder]]>Fri, 14 Dec 2018 13:39:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16124554600374.jpg

    Johnson & Johnson knew for decades that its baby powder contained asbestos, Reuters said in a new report that drove the company's shares down nearly 11 percent Friday. 

    Reuters based its report on a review of documents and deposition and trial testimony. It said the review showed that from 1971 to the early 2000s, J&J executives, mine managers, doctors and lawyers were aware the company's raw talc and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos. Those involved discussed the problem but they did not disclose it to regulators or the public, Reuters' examination found. 

    By late morning Friday, J&J stock was down 10.8 percent, on pace for its worst day in more than a decade, when its shares closed down 15.85 on July 19, 2002. 

    On top of likely being the stock's biggest drop since 2002, the plunge was likely a shock for shareholders used to a boring consumer staple that moves in much steadier increments than the overall market and more volatile stocks. J&J's stock beta over the last five years is 0.72, meaning that it swings much less than the market on a daily basis (a beta of 1 would mean it moves equal to the market and greater than 1 means it is more volatile than the S&P 500). 

    "Plaintiffs' attorneys out for personal financial gain are distorting historical documents and intentionally creating confusion in the courtroom and in the media," Ernie Knewitz, J&J's vice president of global media relations, told Reuters in an email. "This is all a calculated attempt to distract from the fact that thousands of independent tests prove our talc does not contain asbestos or cause cancer. Any suggestion that Johnson & Johnson knew or hid information about the safety of talc is false." 

    J&J referred Reuters to its outside lawyers, who rejected Reuters' findings as "false and misleading."

    "The scientific consensus is that the talc used in talc-based body powders does not cause cancer, regardless of what is in that talc," Peter Bicks told Reuters in an email. "This is true even if — and it does not — Johnson & Johnson's cosmetic talc had ever contained minute, undetectable amounts of asbestos." He dismissed the tests cited in Reuter's article as "outlier" results, Reuters said. 

    The company has faced a wave of lawsuits alleging its talc baby powder products contain asbestos and caused ovarian and other cancers. Some juries have sided with J&J and others have been unable to reach verdicts. A Missouri jury in July ordered J&J to pay $4.9 billion in a case involving 22 women and their families. A judge affirmed the verdict in August and J&J vowed to appeal it. 

    J&J has filed thousands of documents in court proceedings, though most have been designated as confidential.

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


    Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File]]>
    <![CDATA[Know Where Your Romaine Is From: Health Officials]]>Thu, 13 Dec 2018 17:49:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-907729104.jpg

    Health officials on Thursday issued an update to their previous warnings about romaine lettuce, urging consumers to find out where their lettuce originated.

    In a statement Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises consumers to "not eat and retailers and restaurants not serve or sell any romaine lettuce harvested from certain counties in the Central Coastal growing regions of northern and central California."

    "If you do not know where the romaine is from, do not eat it," the statement says.

    Officials focused especially on three California counties — Monterey, San Benito and Santa Barbara — and warned the public not to "buy, serve, sell, or eat romaine lettuce" from those regions.

    Some romaine lettuce products are now labeled with a harvest location by region. Consumers, restaurants, and retailers should check bags or boxes of romaine lettuce for a label indicating where the lettuce was harvested.

    Read the full warning from the CDC here.

    Photo Credit: Aniko Hobel/Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Del Monte Recalls Cans of Corn Because They Could Spoil]]>Thu, 13 Dec 2018 10:54:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fiesta+corn+recall.jpg

    Del Monte has recalled more than 64,000 cases of corn because they could spoil and lead to life-threatening illnesses if eaten. 

    Cans of Fiesta Corn seasoned with red and green peppers were shipped to 25 U.S. states, including: Alaska, Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

    The cans of corn were under-processed during the sterilization process, which could result in contamination by spoilage organisms or pathogens. 

    The company has not received any reports of illness, according to Tuesday's announcement from the FDA, but consuming the product could result in a life-threatening illness.

    The affected cans are 15.24 ounces and have the number "24000 02770" printed on the label.

    Customers who purchased the product are encouraged to return it to the place they purchased it from for a full refund or exchange. 

    The cans were also shipped to 12 international locations. 

    <![CDATA[Curb Your Waistline and Avoid the 'Holiday Binge' with These 11 Tips]]>Thu, 13 Dec 2018 15:29:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/hmh-thanksgiving+binge.jpgWhen mass quantities of festive foods and delectable desserts nearly mask tabletops completely, it can be overwhelming. Check out these tips to curb your waistline and avoid the holiday binge. ]]><![CDATA[10 Tips to Keep Your Skin Soft and Hydrated this Winter]]>Thu, 13 Dec 2018 15:30:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/178*120/hmh-Keep+Your+Skin+Healthy-Glowing.jpgCold, winter weather can leave your skin feeling dry, itchy and irritated. Learn how to keep your skin soft and hydrated all winter long.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Health Officials Confirm Case of Measles in New York ]]>Thu, 13 Dec 2018 02:06:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1428.jpg

    Health officials in western New York say they've confirmed a case of measles.

    Now they're warning people who may have been exposed at several Buffalo-area locations over the past week to be aware of symptoms.

    The Erie County Health Department says a recent immigrant was recently diagnosed with the highly contagious virus at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital. The patient visited several venues between Dec. 4 and 11, including Catholic Charities and a county health clinic in Buffalo, Sweet Home High School in Amherst, and several stores in and around Buffalo.

    Authorities say the virus remains alive in the air and on surfaces for up to two hours.

    People who haven't been vaccinated should see a doctor if they develop a fever, watery eyes and a rash.

    Amid a measles outbreak in the Orthodox Jewish communities of Williamsburg and Borough Park in Brooklyn, the city health department is ordering unvaccinated students to stay home from school.

    And in New Jersey, health officials say 86 people who attended a private event may have been exposed to measles.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
    <![CDATA[Cuba Health Mystery: Diplomats Had Inner-Ear Damage Early On]]>Wed, 12 Dec 2018 22:59:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/US-embassy-cuba.jpg

    American diplomats affected by mysterious health incidents in Cuba showed damage in the inner ear shortly after they complained of weird noises and sensations, according to their earliest medical exams, publicized Wednesday.

    The detailed findings were published in a medical journal nearly two years after what the U.S. calls "health attacks" began — and they shed no new light on a possible culprit.

    "What caused it, who did it, why it was done — we don't know any of those things," said Dr. Michael Hoffer of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, who led the exams.

    The U.S. says since late 2016, 26 people associated with the embassy in Havana suffered problems that include dizziness, ear pain and ringing, and cognitive problems such as difficulty thinking — a health mystery that has damaged U.S.-Cuba relations.

    The Miami researchers examined 25 of those people, who reported hearing a piercing noise or experiencing a sensation of pressure before their symptoms began. The patients failed a variety of tests that detect inner-ear problems associated with balance, what's called the vestibular system — although there were no pre-symptom medical records to compare.

    Testing of 10 other people who were in the same building at the time of the incidents found they were fine, Hoffer reported in the journal Laryngoscope Investigative Otolaryngology. Hoffer also traveled to Cuba to check 100 other Americans stationed there, who also turned out to be healthy.

    Those inner-ear balance problems have been central to the government's ongoing health investigation. And earlier this year, a team of doctors at the University of Pennsylvania who also examined many of these patients, but months later, reported they suffered a concussion-like brain injury, despite no blow to the head.

    In a brief interview with The Associated Press, Hoffer said the two studies aren't contradictory, but they have different findings because patients were tested at different times and in different ways.

    "Is the brain affected from the ear? Is the brain affected directly? We don't know yet," Hoffer said at Wednesday's news conference.

    For doctors, Wednesday's paper adds specifics about the pattern of damage, abnormalities in structures involved with sensing gravity and acceleration, said Dr. Maura Cosetti of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai. She isn't involved with research related to the Cuba incidents.

    "This provides an important step in creating a picture of the injury that people sustained," she said. She added that often people with long-term balance problems also report a "brain fog."

    Cuba has adamantly denied any involvement, and even doubts there were attacks.

    "There's no evidence that can prove that something occurred in Cuba that could have damaged the health situation of a few U.S. diplomats," Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, Cuba's director-general of U.S. affairs, said Wednesday.

    The U.S. has not said what caused the incidents, although initial speculation centered on some type of sonic attack. The AP has reported that an interim FBI report last January found no evidence that sound waves could have caused the damage.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Desmond Boylan/AP (File)]]>
    <![CDATA[Jimmy Dean Sausage Links Recalled for Metal Pieces]]>Wed, 12 Dec 2018 11:36:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/jimmy-dean-photo.jpg

    Attention Jimmy Dean sausage lovers: check your freezer because your links might be under recall due to possible metal contamination.

    Kentucky-based CTI Foods LLC has recalled more than 29,000 pounds of frozen, ready-to-eat pork and poultry products that may be contaminated with metal pieces, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) said on Monday. 

    There haven't been any reports of "adverse reactions" thus far, but the government still classified the recall as a high health risk, defined as a "reasonable probability that the use of the product will cause serious, adverse health consequences or death." 

    Under recall are: 23.4-oz. pouches of “Jimmy Dean HEAT ’n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey” with a "use by" date of Jan. 31, 2019. The sausages have the case code A6382168, and a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49. The back of the packaging also includes the number “EST. 19085.” 

    The government was notified on Dec. 10 of five complaints of metal pieces found in the sausages. 

    Jimmy Dean said in a separate release about the voluntary recall that the consumers who complained had spotted small, string-like fragments of metal in the product.

    About 2,845 cases of the product were made at one plant location on Aug. 4.

    It's not immediately clear which retailers sold the potentially contaminated sausages. But Jimmy Dean said the product was sent from a Tennessee distribution center to 21 states: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

    Jimmy Dean spokesman Worth Sparkman said "there's always a little post investigation" and that the FSIS would eventually publish the list of retailers. A USDA spokeswoman confirmed that list will be posted on the FSIS website here when available. 

    Sparkman noted CTI Foods "wanted to get the news out" on the recall so that anybody who might have the product can look for it in their fridge and discard it.

    Consumers should throw away the affected sausages or return them to the store where they were purchased. 

    Those with questions can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101. The toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET on weekdays. 

    Photo Credit: Jimmy Dean]]>
    <![CDATA[Up to 86 Potentially Exposed to Measles at Private NJ Event]]>Mon, 10 Dec 2018 09:51:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ambulance-architecture-building-2634021.jpg

    Health officials in one New Jersey county say 86 people who attended a private event may have been exposed to measles.

    The Asbury Park Press reports the Ocean County Health Department is currently contacting the attendees of the invitation-only event.

    Officials have not said when or where the event happened.

    There are currently 18 confirmed measles cases and six suspected cases under investigation in Ocean County.

    Measles is a highly contagious disease, and symptoms include rash, high fever, cough and red, watery eyes.

    Health officials are urging schools to exclude students who haven't been vaccinated to help slow the spread of the virus.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
    <![CDATA[How a Teen Girl Got Sexual Consent to Be Taught in Md. Schools]]>Sat, 08 Dec 2018 10:57:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/maeve+testifying.jpg

    News about sexual assault in fall 2016 left then-12-year-old Maeve Sanford-Kelly disheartened. She was appalled by the crimes of Bill Cosby and Brock Turner, and how their victims were treated. 

    But, even at age 12, she wasn't surprised. 

    "My whole world and my whole life has been: This is what happens. This is how power dynamics play out," said Sanford-Kelly, a Bethesda, Maryland, resident who's now 14. 

    The middle-schooler considered what she could do to prevent sexual assault and landed on the concept of sexual consent education. She started locally, with help from her friends and her mother, Del. Ariana Kelly, who represents a portion of Montgomery County. Eventually, their efforts had a greater impact. 

    Maryland is now one of the 10 states, plus D.C., that requires public schools to include information on sexual consent in their sex ed curriculum.

    This is the story of how a teen girl and her middle school friends changed sex ed lessons for students statewide. 

    As of fall 2018, Maryland students in seventh grade and 10th grade are taught what consent is, how to respect others' boundaries and how to respect one's own. 

    Sanford-Kelly testified that this is crucial. 

    “Before we are taught about pregnancy prevention and STDs, we have to be taught about consent,” she said before the Montgomery County Delegation. 

    Maryland law defines consent as "the unambiguous and voluntary agreement between all participants in each physical act within the course of interpersonal relationships."

    Sanford-Kelly said her teachers at North Bethesda Middle School used an analogy about offering someone tea to teach about consent. Someone might want tea on Monday but not on Tuesday. They might want tea with honey but not sugar. Just as you wouldn't force someone to drink a cup of tea if they didn't want to, you wouldn't force them to have sex, the teen said she was taught. 

    The lessons were "really accessible" and "stick in your mind," Sanford-Kelly said. 

    She, her mother and her friends first wrote a bill about consent education and took it to the Montgomery County Delegation in December 2016. Sanford-Kelly and her friends testified for the passage of the bill.

    After the teens presented the idea at the local level, they decided to think bigger. 

    "I really felt empowered by the process," Sanford-Kelly said. 

    The group rewrote and expanded the bill and introduced it before the Maryland House of Delegates. 

    The bill later died in the State Senate because of a lack of support by Republicans and conservative Democrats.

    "I was crushed," Kelly said. "But Maeve said, 'We are coming back next year.'"

    Despite the failed statewide attempt, Montgomery County and Baltimore City schools voluntarily implemented the bill in 2017.

    When the #MeToo movement took hold in fall 2017, Kelly and the teens gained a second wave of support at the state level. In early 2018, their bill was approved in the House of Delegates and State Senate. Then, Gov. Larry Hogan signed consent education into law in May 2018.

    Kelly said she hopes Maryland will set a precedent for other states to follow.

    Maryland students learn about consent as middle schoolers and high schoolers. Some educators say the concepts should be introduced even earlier. 

    Irene van der Zande is the executive director and founder of Kidpower, a nonprofit that works with educators to teach personal safety to students of all ages. The group has collaborated with schools in several states and designed curricula to teach and reinforce skills for students to carry with them long after they leave the classroom. 

    Van der Zande urged schools to teach students about consent repeatedly. 

    “Raising awareness does not create competence,” she said. “Practice is key.”

    Sanford-Kelly said she thinks her efforts have already had an impact. Her classmates seemed to understand the allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination hearing. 

    "They were really able to take it in and register it," she said.

    Sanford-Kelly said she and her friends saw that they could create change, despite their youth. 

    "It made me look forward to the future. I'm excited for what it means for students and what it means for society," she said. 

    Photo Credit: Courtesy of family]]>
    <![CDATA[Seattle Woman Contracts Brain Infection From Neti Pot]]>Fri, 07 Dec 2018 22:10:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/netipotGettyImages-113112076.jpg

    Doctors believe a woman who died from rare brain-eating amoebas used tap water to rinse her sinuses.

    The 69-year-old Seattle resident died in February after undergoing brain surgery at Swedish Medical Center. Her doctor tells The Seattle Times there was "amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells."

    According to a study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, doctors believe the woman likely became infected when she used tap water in her neti pot, a teapot-like vessel used to flush out nasal passages.

    Health officials suggest using only distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to rinse sinuses. Tap water can contain tiny organisms that are safe to drink but could survive in nasal passages.

    Such infections are very rare. There were three similar U.S. cases from 2008 to 2017.

    A neti pot is a container designed to rinse debris or mucus from the nasal cavity. People use it to treat symptoms of nasal allergies, sinus problems or colds.

    1. Use distilled or sterile water. If using tap or filtered water, boil for several minutes and let cool until lukewarm.
    2. Tilt your head sideways over the sink and place the spout of the neti pot in the upper nostril.
    3. Breathing through your open mouth, gently pour the saltwater solution into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril.
    4. Repeat on the other side.
    5. Rinse the irrigation device after each use with similarly distilled, sterile, previously boiled and cooled, or filtered water and leave open to air-dry.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Tom Sumlin/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty Images]]>
    <![CDATA[Woman Dies From Brain-Eating Amoeba, Tap Water in Neti Pot Blamed]]>Fri, 07 Dec 2018 13:18:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/neti-pot.jpg

    Doctors believe a woman who died from rare brain-eating amoebas used tap water to rinse her sinuses.

    The 69-year-old Seattle resident died in February after undergoing brain surgery at Swedish Medical Center. Her doctor tells The Seattle Times there was "amoeba all over the place just eating brain cells."

    According to a study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, doctors believe the woman likely became infected when she used tap water in her neti pot, a teapot-like vessel used to flush out nasal passages.

    Health officials suggest using only distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to rinse sinuses. Tap water can contain tiny organisms that are safe to drink but could survive in nasal passages.

    Such infections are very rare. There were three similar U.S. cases from 2008 to 2017. 

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: MCT via Getty Images, File]]>
    <![CDATA[1st Baby Born Using Uterus Transplanted From Deceased Donor]]>Wed, 05 Dec 2018 22:48:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/babyAP_18338660378672.jpg

    Brazilian doctors are reporting the world's first baby born to a woman with a uterus transplanted from a deceased donor.

    Eleven previous births have used a transplanted womb but from a living donor, usually a relative or friend.

    Experts said using uteruses from women who have died could make more transplants possible. Ten previous attempts using deceased donors in the Czech Republic, Turkey and the U.S. have failed.

    The baby girl was delivered last December by a woman born without a uterus because of a rare syndrome. The woman — a 32-year-old psychologist — was initially apprehensive about the transplant, said Dr. Dani Ejzenberg, the transplant team's lead doctor at the University of Sao Paulo School of Medicine.

    "This was the most important thing in her life," he said. "Now she comes in to show us the baby and she is so happy,"

    The woman became pregnant through in vitro fertilization seven months after the transplant. The donor was a 45-year-old woman who had three children and died of a stroke.

    The recipient, who was not identified, gave birth by cesarean section. Doctors also removed the womb, partly so the woman would no longer have to take anti-rejection medicines. Nearly a year later, mother and baby are both healthy.

    Two more transplants are planned as part of the Brazilian study. Details of the first case were published Tuesday in the medical journal Lancet.

    Uterus transplantation was pioneered by Swedish doctor Mats Brannstrom, who has delivered eight children from women who got wombs from family members or friends. Two babies have been born at Baylor University Medical Center in Texas and one in Serbia, also from transplants from living donors.

    In 2016, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic transplanted a uterus from a deceased donor, but it failed after an infection developed.

    "The Brazilian group has proven that using deceased donors is a viable option," said the clinic's Dr. Tommaso Falcone, who was involved in the Ohio case. "It may give us a bigger supply of organs than we thought were possible."

    The Cleveland program is continuing to use deceased donors. Falcone said the fact that the transplant was successful after the uterus was preserved in ice for nearly eight hours demonstrated how resilient the uterus is. Doctors try to keep the time an organ is without blood flow to a minimum.

    Other experts said the knowledge gained from such procedures might also solve some lingering mysteries about pregnancies.

    "There are still lots of things we don't understand about pregnancies, like how embryos implant," said Dr. Cesar Diaz, who co-authored an accompanying commentary in the journal. "These transplants will help us understand implantation and every stage of pregnancy."  

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Top Tot Toys? Blocks, Boxes Over High-Tech Toys, Doctors Say]]>Mon, 03 Dec 2018 08:52:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18333628200853-Toys-for-Tots-APA.jpg

    Skip the costly electronic games and flashy digital gizmos. Pediatricians say the best toys for tots are old-fashioned hands-on playthings that young children can enjoy with parents — things like blocks, puzzles — even throwaway cardboard boxes — that spark imagination and creativity.

    "A cardboard box can be used to draw on, or made into a house," said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn, co-author of a new report on selecting toys for young children, up to around age 5.

    Many parents feel pressured by ads promoting tablet-based toys and games as educational and brain-stimulating but there's not much science to back up those claims, Mendelsohn said. Their main misconception: "The toy that is best is the one that is the most expensive or has the most bells and whistles or is the most technologically sophisticated."

    Simpler hands-on toys that parents and young children can play with together are preferable for healthy development, said Mendelsohn, a pediatrician at NYU Langone Health in New York.

    The report published Monday by the American Academy of Pediatrics cites studies suggesting that heavy use of electronic media may interfere with children's speech and language development, replace important playtime with parents and lead to obesity.

    Studies also have found that more than 90 percent of U.S. kids have used mobile devices and most started using them before age 1.

    The pediatricians' group recommends no screen time for children up to age 2, and says total screen time including TV and computer use should be less than one hour daily for ages 2 and older.

    "A little bit of screen time here and there is unlikely to have much harm if a child otherwise has other activity," Mendelsohn said. But he added that screen time can overwhelm young children and is difficult to limit and control.

    The academy's website offers suggestions on ideal toys for young children, including balls, puzzles, coloring books and card games.

    Shopping recently at Dancing Bear Toys in Asheville, N.C., a store that doesn't sell electronic toys, Leah Graham Stewart said she supports the academy's advice even if avoiding digital toys and games is tough.

    She said she's noticed her two young boys tend to misbehave after playing on an iPad she typically reserves for long airplane rides.

    "We try to keep it as minimal as possible," Graham Stewart said. "I just tell them to go outside and play."

    Erika Evers, Dancing Bear's co-owner, said the store's mission is to give kids an alternative to tech toys.

    "Not that video games and electronic toys don't have their place — in moderation, in our opinion," she said. "But we feel like kids really need opportunities to socialize and interact with their environment in a way that is hands-on and tangible."

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/AP, File]]>
    <![CDATA[NJ Elementary Student Diagnosed With Measles Amid Outbreak]]>Sat, 01 Dec 2018 18:36:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Second_Case_of_Measles_Confirmed_in_Lowell.jpg

    A student at a New Jersey elementary school was diagnosed with measles as the outbreak in Rockland County grew to 87 confirmed cases, officials said. 

    Parents were notified Friday that a child who attends Hempstead Elementary school was among those confirmed cases. 

    Although some unvaccinated children have been asked to stay home during the outbreak, officials said they learned of this case after the 21-day incubation period, so no further action was taken. 

    Parents were asked to monitor their children for symptoms and provide their immunization status. The school has previously had a high immunization rate, said John Lyon, spokesman for Rockland County Executive Ed Day. 

    Measles is highly contagious. Young children, the immunocompromised, and non-immune pregnant women are at highest risk for severe complications. Measles is transmitted by airborne particles, droplets, and direct contact with the respiratory secretions of an infected person.

    Measles typically presents in adults and children as an acute viral illness characterized by fever and generalized rash. The rash usually starts on the face, proceeds down the body, and may include the palms and soles. The rash lasts several days. Infected individuals are contagious from four days before rash onset through the fourth day after rash appearance.

    Rockland officials encourage everyone to be up-to-date with the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine to help protect them in case of any future exposure to measles in Rockland.

    To prevent the spread of illness, the Rockland County Health Department advises anyone who may have measles to contact their health care provider, local clinic, or local emergency department before going for care. This will help to prevent others at these facilities from being exposed to the illness.

    Rockland County is not the only local area dealing with a measles outbreak, as Ocean County and Brooklyn have faced confirmed measles cases in recent weeks as well.

    <![CDATA[Bloomberg Donating $50 Million to Fight Opioid Epidemic]]>Fri, 30 Nov 2018 14:12:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18333687340617-Michael-Bloomberg.jpg

    Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's charity has announced a $50 million donation to help fight the nation's opioid epidemic.

    Bloomberg Philanthropies said over the next three years it will help up to 10 states address the causes of opioid addiction and strengthen prevention and treatment programs. Its initiative involves a partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Johns Hopkins University and Vital Strategies.

    Bloomberg said on Friday during his keynote address at The Bloomberg American Health Summit in Washington that he believes "we can turn the tide on this epidemic."

    "And if we do," he said, "we can begin reversing the decline in life expectancy that has been happening across the country, thanks largely to opioid overdoses."

    Pennsylvania will be the first state to get funding and will receive at least $10 million. Pennsylvania had the highest number of drug overdose deaths in 2017 among all states and twice as many as in 2014. Nearly 5,400 Pennsylvania residents died of drug overdoses in 2017.

    Pennsylvania's rate of 44.3 drug overdose deaths per 100,000 residents is more than double the national average.

    Bloomberg has been considering a 2020 Democratic presidential bid, but a spokeswoman said there was "no stated link" between his political aspirations and the $50 million investment to fight opioids.

    Bloomberg's charity said CDC data shows there were more than 70,000 U.S. drug overdose deaths last year, including more than 47,000 from opioids, the highest numbers on record. It said those numbers are a leading factor in the decline of U.S. life expectancy over the past three years.

    Bloomberg called the sobering numbers part of "a national crisis."

    "For the first time since World War I, life expectancy in the U.S. has declined over the past three years — and opioids are a big reason why," he said. "We cannot sit by and allow this alarming trend to continue — not when so many Americans are being killed in what should be the prime of their lives."

    He said in a statement he hoped his charity's work in Pennsylvania, one of the states hardest hit by the opioids crisis, would lay the groundwork "for more effective action across the country."

    The partnership focuses on identifying new approaches to tackle opioids and plugging gaps in current treatment and prevention programs. Staff members from partner organizations will support state and local programs to reduce opioid-related deaths, and successful initiatives and guidelines will be replicated elsewhere, with the goal of creating a model for the rest of the nation.

    Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he was "deeply grateful" for the financial and technical resources his state will receive through the partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies.

    "From our first responders and health care professionals to teachers and social service providers, heroes across our commonwealth are saving lives and protecting residents in our communities every day from this awful scourge," Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement issued by the Bloomberg charity. "We are doing everything we can to help them, and I am confident that this partnership will mark a turning point in our efforts."

    The Drug Enforcement Administration said this month in its National Drug Threat Assessment that heroin, fentanyl and other opioids continue to be the highest drug threat in the nation.

    Bloomberg, who has been an independent, a Republican and a Democrat, declared lifetime allegiance to the Democratic Party and outlined an aggressive timeline for deciding whether to run for president in an interview with The Associated Press this month. He has regularly criticized President Donald Trump and spent a fortune to help elect Democrats in the midterm elections.

    Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

    Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP]]>
    <![CDATA[Men’s Health: Testicular and Prostate Cancers]]>Fri, 19 Apr 2019 15:59:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Cutdown_20SF_2090_20V2_1200x675_1499963971989.jpgMichael Stifelman, M.D., Chair of Urology and Director of Robotic Surgery, Hackensack University Medical Center and Professor and Founding Chair of Urology, Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine at Seton Hall University, and Harry Carson, Hackensack Meridian Health spokesperson and Pro Football Hall of Famer, discuss the risk factors of prostate and testicular cancers and the importance of annual screenings with host John Chandler.]]>