Public health

  • EbolaImproved protective suit for Ebola caregivers

    An advanced protective suit for health care workers who treat Ebola patients, devised by a Johns Hopkins University team, is one of the first five awardees in a federal funding contest aimed at quickly devising new tools to combat the deadly disease. The JHU prototype is designed to do a better job than current garments in keeping health care workers from coming in contact with Ebola patients’ contagious body fluids, both during treatment and while removing a soiled suit. In addition, it is expected to keep the wearer cooler — an important benefit in hot, humid regions such as West Africa.

  • Public healthPreventing animal-borne diseases from affecting humans

    Roughly 75 percent of newly emerging diseases are zoonotic, which means that they can spread from animals to humans. Incredibly damaging, these diseases usually wreak havoc on humans, who rarely have natural defenses to protect them against such strains. About 2.7 million people die each year from zoonotic diseases. It is estimated that between 1997 and 2009, the cost of dealing with and treating these types of diseases around the world amounted roughly $80 billion. Scientists hope that by connecting human medical and veterinary science, and by organizing and establishing different medical professionals along a spectrum of disease detection, it would be possible to thwart the outbreak of another zoonotic disease.

  • Public healthMurder charges against leaders of compounding company whose adulterated product killed 64

    In the fall of 2012, 751 people in twenty states fell ill and sixty-four died from a fungal meningitis outbreak shortly after receiving injections of preservative-free methylprednisolone acetate produced at the New England Compounding Center (NECC), a Massachusetts-based compounding pharmacy. Fourteen people connected to NECC are facing a 131-count indictment, with Barry Cadden, co-founder of the company, and Glenn Adam Chin, a pharmacist who ran the sterile room, facing second-degree murder charges.

  • Hazy hajjMecca faces severe air pollution during annual pilgrimage

    Dangerously high levels of air pollutants are being released in Mecca during the hajj, the annual holy pilgrimage in which millions of Muslims on foot and in vehicles converge on the Saudi Arabian city, according to findings of a new study. “Hajj is like nothing else on the planet. You have 3 to 4 million people — a whole good-sized city — coming into an already existing city,” said one researcher. “The problem is that this intensifies the pollution that already exists. We measured among the highest concentrations our group has ever measured in urban areas — and we’ve studied seventy-five cities around the world in the past two decades.”

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  • Radiation risksU.S. Army seeking to end environmental testing at Indiana nuclear firing range

    The U.S. Army wants to end its Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) license at the Jefferson Proving Ground in southern Indiana. The Army’s appeal comes after years of water and soil testing at the site. Currently, an estimated 162,040 pounds of depleted uranium projectiles and shows are still on the firing range. The site was last used in 1995. Uranium munitions, specifically the kind used to penetrate armor during Operation Desert Shield, were used there throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

  • Public healthLink between power lines and ill-health called into question

    Several past studies have suggested that the magnetic fields created by phones, high-voltage power lines, and other electrical equipment are harmful for humans. Research first carried out in the 1970s and again subsequently, found an association between people living near overhead power lines and an increased risk of childhood leukemia, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has categorized low frequency magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic.” A mechanism for this association has never been found, and now a research team studying the effects of weak magnetic fields (WMFs) on key human proteins, including those crucial for health, found that they have no detectable impact.

  • CybersecurityCan a hacker stop your car or your heart? Security and the Internet of Things

    By Temitope Oluwafemi

    An ever-increasing number of our consumer electronics is Internet-connected. We’re living at the dawn of the age of the Internet of Things. Appliances ranging from light switches and door locks, to cars and medical devices boast connectivity in addition to basic functionality. The convenience can’t be beat, but the security and privacy implications cannot and should not be ignored. There needs to be a concerted effort to improve security of future devices. Researchers, manufacturers and end users need to be aware that privacy, health and safety can be compromised by increased connectivity. Benefits in convenience must be balanced with security and privacy costs as the Internet of Things continues to infiltrate our personal spaces.

  • EbolaTexas Ebola task force calls for revamping state’s preparations for epidemics

    The Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Responsehas called for the establishment of two specialized Ebola treatment centers in Texas, and for new methods to monitor vulnerable health care workers, especially those returning from West Africa.The state acknowledges that it alone is unable to handle an infectious disease outbreak like Ebola. The task force wants federal health and disease authorities to provide actionable information during disease outbreaks.

  • Public healthWorld can be separated into seven regions for vectored human diseases

    Researchers have for the first time mapped human disease-causing pathogens, dividing the world into a number of regions where similar diseases occur. The findings show that the world can be separated into seven regions for vectored human diseases — diseases which are spread by pests, like mosquito-borne malaria — and five regions for non-vectored diseases, like cholera.

  • EbolaWorld's response to Ebola slow, inconsistent, inadequate: Médecins sans Frontières

    The NGO Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) has harshly criticized the international community for its slow and inconsistent response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa. MSF says the world’s response risks creating “a double failure” because ill-equipped locals in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea have been left to run hospitals and treatment centers. MSF international president, Dr. Joanne Liu, said it was “extremely disappointing that states with biological-disaster response capacities have chosen not to deploy them.”

  • EpidemicsSatellites help assess risk of epidemics

    Changes in the environment, global trade, and travel are all factors in the ever-increasing numbers and movement of pests. Identifying and predicting the distribution of existing local species as well as the spread of new exotic ones are essential in assessing the risk of potential epidemics. Researchers have developed Vecmap — an all-encompassing software and services package including a smartphone app for field studies with a time and location information system, all linked to an online database. The database pools satellite information with results from field research, and satnav adds location information. The new approach greatly reduces the complexity of tracking species compared to traditional methods.

  • EbolaPortable, fast Ebola test kit in trials in Guinea

    Scientists say that early diagnosis is key to surviving Ebola once a person has been infected. Roughly 50 percent of those known to be infected with Ebola have died, but scientists hope to reduce the number as a new test designed to diagnose the Ebola virus in humans in under fifteen minutes will be tried out at a treatment center in Conakry, Guinea. The test is six times faster than tests currently used in West Africa.The mobile testing device is one of six projects jointly funded by Wellcome and the U.K.’s Department for International Development under the 6.5 million pounds Research for Health in Humanitarian Crises initiative.

  • EbolaNIAID/GSK experimental Ebola vaccine appears safe, prompts immune response

    An experimental vaccine to prevent Ebola virus disease was well-tolerated and produced immune system responses in all twenty healthy adults who received it in a phase 1 clinical trial conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health. The results from the NIH Phase 1 clinical trial will support accelerated development of candidate vaccine.

  • Emerging diseaseDeveloping a global workforce to tackle emerging pandemic threats

    When a new pandemic threat like this year’s Ebola outbreak emerges, the importance of preventing and limiting disease spread becomes apparent. Well-trained global health professionals play a key role in preventing and responding to emerging zoonotic disease. Under a new 5-year award of up to $50 million, the University of Minnesota and Tufts University will be part of an international partnership of universities to strengthen global workforce development against emerging pandemic threats.

  • EpidemicsPublic health officials work to ensure that the lessons of Ebola are not forgotten

    Hospitals find it difficult to remain fully prepared for disease outbreaks because they rarely occur and preparation and frequent training are expensive. Public health professionals and infectious disease experts are working to ensure that lessons learned and protocols put in place in response to the Ebola outbreak will be used to prevent and respond to future virus and disease outbreaks.