• Sharing of research data, findings should be the norm in public health emergencies

    Opting in to data sharing should be the default practice during public health emergencies, such as the recent Ebola epidemic, and barriers to sharing data and findings should be removed to ensure those responding to the emergency have the best available evidence at hand, experts say.

  • Toxins found in fracking fluids and wastewater: Study

    In an analysis of more than 1,000 chemicals in fluids used in and created by hydraulic fracturing (fracking), researchers found that many of the substances have been linked to reproductive and developmental health problems, and the majority had undetermined toxicity due to insufficient information. The researchers say that further exposure and epidemiological studies are urgently needed to evaluate potential threats to human health from chemicals found in fracking fluids and wastewater created by fracking.

  • Gov. Brown declares emergency in wake of massive L.A. natural gas leak

    California governor Jerry Brown on Wednesday declared an emergency in a Los Angeles neighborhood where a natural gas well has been spewing record amounts of stinking, global-warming methane gas. Energy experts said the breach at the natural gas storage reservoir, and the subsequent, ongoing release, are the largest known occurrence of its kind.

  • Drought, heat deleterious for global crops

    Drought and extreme heat slashed global cereal harvests between 1964 and 2007 — and the impact of these weather disasters was greatest in North America, Europe, and Australasia. At a time when global warming is projected to produce more extreme weather, a new study provides the most comprehensive look yet at the influence of such events on crop area, yields, and production around the world.

  • Identifying areas of plague risk in Western U.S.

    Plague was first introduced into the United States in 1900, by rat–infested steamships which had sailed from affected areas. Epidemics occurred in port cities, with the last urban plague epidemic in the United States occurring in Los Angeles from 1924 through 1925. Researchers have identified and mapped areas of high probability of plague bacteria in the western United States. The findings may be used by public health agencies to aid in plague surveillance.

  • Global reductions in mercury emissions should lead to billions in economic benefits for U.S.

    Mercury pollution is a global problem with local consequences: Emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources travel around the world through the atmosphere, eventually settling in oceans and waterways, where the pollutant gradually accumulates in fish. Consumption of mercury-contaminated seafood leads to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cognitive impairments. A new study reports that global action on reducing mercury emissions will lead to twice the economic benefits for the United States, compared with domestic action, by 2050. However, those in the United States who consume locally caught freshwater fish, rather than seafood from the global market, will benefit more from domestic rather than international mercury regulations.

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  • Study links insurgency phase of Iraq War to higher PTSD rates

    Guerilla tactics such as suicide attacks and roadside bombs may trigger more posttraumatic stress than conventional warfare, suggests a Veterans Affairs study of 738 men and women who served in Iraq. The study found that among the men — about half the overall group — the insurgency-phase veterans were more than twice as likely to have a diagnosis of PTSD, compared with those who served in either of the other two phases.

  • Making mobile health more secure

    With Internet-connected medical technology and digitized health records on the rise, cybersecurity is a growing concern for patients and hospitals alike. For example, a patient’s insulin pump may accept dosage instructions from unauthorized smartphones that have been infected with malicious software, or a patient’s fertility-tracking app could expose itself to nearby strangers by probing for a Bluetooth device to connect with. One research team is taking a holistic approach to strengthening the medical system’s security — from the computer networks that support hospitals, to the cloud, to the smart phone in your pocket.

  • Climate-induced disasters linked to food security across time and place

    Teams of researchers in the American Southwest and North Atlantic Islands have found that historic and prehistoric peoples in these regions who had created vulnerabilities to food shortfall were especially susceptible to impacts from climate challenges. Their “natural” disasters were human made in conjunction with climate challenges.

  • “Kill switches” shut down engineered bacteria

    Many research teams are developing genetically modified bacteria that could one day travel around parts of the human body, diagnosing and even treating infection. Before such bacteria can be safely let loose, however, scientists will need to find a way to prevent them from escaping into the wider environment, where they might grow and cause harm. To this end, researchers have developed safeguards in the form of two so-called “kill switches,” which can cause the synthetic bacteria to die without the presence of certain chemicals. This synthetic biology technique could make it safer to put engineered microbes to work outside the lab.

  • Wild bee decline threatens U.S. crop production

    About 39 percent of U.S. croplands depend on pollinators — from apple orchards to pumpkin patches. Between 2008 and 2013, the number of bees in the contiguous United States declined in 23 percent, creating a mismatch between rising demand for pollination and a falling supply of wild bees. The first national study to map U.S. wild bees suggests they are disappearing in many of the country’s most important farmlands — including California’s Central Valley, the Midwest’s corn belt, and the Mississippi River valley. If losses of these crucial pollinators continue, the new nationwide assessment indicates that farmers will face increasing costs — and that the problem may even destabilize the nation’s crop production.

  • U.S. facing looming grain failures

    Across the United States, record quantities of corn and soybeans have been harvested in recent years. However, according to new research, this trend may soon change. “By midcentury,” the interdisciplinary team reports, “temperatures in Illinois will likely be closer to those of today’s mid-South, and precipitation will range somewhere between that of today’s East Texas and that of the Carolinas.” In the face of a rapidly changing climate, the researchers call for a U.S. Midwest field research network to address crucial agricultural challenges.

  • Studying gun violence is the only way to figure out how to stop it – but we don’t

    There are about 32,000 gun deaths a year in the United States. There are another 180,000 or so people injured by firearms annually in the country. These numbers far outstrip the consequences of firearms among our peer high-income countries, with stricter gun regulations. One factor that has inhibited the discussions in the public space over gun violence is the relatively limited data we have available about firearms and firearm violence. Gun violence is a public health problem, but it is not studied the same way other public health problems are. The reason: In 1996 the NRA pushed Congress to prohibit the use of funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be used to advocate or promote gun control. The CDC broadly interpreted this as a bar on firearms research, with other federal funders following suit. This has had a chilling effect on gun research. Because of the bar on research, our understanding of the real consequences of the firearm epidemic is surface deep. The United States has had enormous success in responding to other challenges to public health, including, for example, motor vehicle safety, through gathering data that understands the challenge and implementing structural changes to mitigate the potential harm. On the issue of firearm violence, we are not even at the first step.

  • FDA clears military traumatic wound dressing for use in civilian population

    Early control of severe bleeding may prevent shock and may be life-saving., as 30 to 40 percent of civilian deaths by traumatic injury are the result of hemorrhaging. Of those deaths, 33 to 56 percent occur before the patient reaches a hospital. Last week the FDA cleared the use of the XSTAT 30 wound dressing, an expandable, multi-sponge dressing used to control severe, life-threatening bleeding from wounds in areas that a tourniquet cannot be placed (such as the groin or armpit) in battlefield and civilian trauma settings.

  • Flu season likely to peak in February

    According to the CDC, seasonal influenza affects up to 20 percent of people in the United States and causes major economic impacts resulting from hospitalization and absenteeism. The flu season will likely peak in February in most parts of the United States, according to a model developed by scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Using historical data, a mathematical representation of how flu spreads through a population, and data for the current flu season provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the scientists were able to create a probabilistic model forecasting the flu season.