TIME Research

There’s a New Way to Predict West Nile Virus Outbreaks

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Scientists are working on a promising new model

It’s peak mosquito season in the United States, which means the risk for the mosquito-borne West Nile is up. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency sees the most cases of the disease between June and September.

As of July 21, 2015, the CDC reports that 33 states have reported West Nile in people, mosquitoes or animals and there have been 23 cases of West Nile in humans. Though many people with West Nile will not develop symptoms, the disease can cause inflammation of the brain or inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal chord. Only about 1% of people will develop neurological illness from the virus. Unfortunately there are no drugs or vaccines for West Nile. Cases have been reported in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii.

Given the fact that there’s no cure or vaccine for West Nile, being able to predict when and where the disease could spread in the U.S. before it happens would be a boon for public health experts, and researchers are getting closer to that possibility. In May, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their recent findings that showed links between the weather and incidence of West Nile virus nationwide.

MORE: You Asked: Why Do Mosquitoes Always Bite Me?

The researchers analyzed associations between temperature and precipitation and higher prevalence of West Nile virus disease in the U.S. from the years 2004 to 2012. The found notable and consistent patterns among different regions in the U.S. For instance, in the East, a drier than normal fall and spring was associated with an above average number of outbreaks. But patterns looked different in the West. Weather may influence breeding patterns as well as other vectors of the disease like birds.

The researchers are now in the process of using their findings to build a model using climate data to predict the risk of West Nile Virus transmission across the U.S. “If we can predict [West Nile virus] outbreaks, we can target public health messages to high risk regions of the country. And counties will have additional information to use for deciding about when, where, and if they should do mosquito control,” says researcher Micah Hahn a scientist at NCAR and CDC.

According to NCAR scientists Andrew Monaghan and Mary Hayden, who are also working on the model, additional data sets are being considered and implemented to help the model predict the number of cases expected in each U.S. county, including land use data, demographic data, and mosquito maps.

The hope is that the CDC will eventually adopt the model. According to Monaghan, having this information could help the CDC allocate resources to places that are likely going to be the most affected. The researchers want the model to be both informative and easily digestible to the average person. It’s also possible that the model could one day be translated to work for other mosquito-borne diseases in the United States besides West Nile.

Some researchers estimate that a functioning system will be available in about a year. Others involved are more broad in their estimations: “We continue to work on it but it may be several years before we have a validated model that we can use, if we get there at all,” says Dr. Marc Fischer of the CDC. Still, those in the community remain optimistic that such a system is possible, and may be available sooner rather than later.

TIME cyberattacks

Planned Parenthood Targeted by Hackers

"We are taking every measure possible to mitigate these criminal efforts"

Planned Parenthood says it has informed the FBI and Department of Justice of a malicious attack on its servers by activist hackers who are threatening to leak the personal data of its staff.

The activists have “called on the world’s most sophisticated hackers to assist them in breaching our systems and threatening the privacy and safety of our staff members,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president at PPFA.

The hack, originally reported by the Daily Dot, appears to have been motivated by anti-abortion sentiment. “Trying to mold an atrocious monstrosity into socially acceptable behaviors is repulsive,” one of the supposed hackers told the website. “Obviously what [Planned Parenthood] does is a very ominous practice. It’ll be interesting to see what surfaces when [Planned Parenthood] is stripped naked and exposed to the public.”

Laguens called the hackersextremists who oppose Planned Parenthood’s mission and services” and said Planned Parenthood was “working with top leaders in this field to manage these attacks.”

The reported breach comes as the organization defends itself against videos from an anti-abortion group that show Planned Parenthood officials negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood has said the videos are edited and are part of a “smear campaign.”

TIME weather

Oklahoma Hit By 4.5 Magnitude Earthquake

The state had two earthquakes in one day

Residents of Oklahoma experienced an earthquake on Monday, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

At around a little past 1 p.m., the state experienced a 4.5 magnitude earthquake near Crescent, Oklahoma in Logan County, local news reports. A 4.0 earthquake was also reported slightly earlier at 12:49 p.m.

Residents in several states reportedly felt the shake, including Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas, the Weather Channel reports.

So far there are no reports of major damage.

The Rocky Mountain region is infrequently hit by earthquakes, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which will be monitoring any further seismic activity.

TIME Research

That Makeup Ad Is Probably Lying to You

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New study reveals how many ads for cosmetics are inaccurate or false

Only 18% of all claims made in commercials for cosmetics are generally trustworthy, according to new research released Monday.

Cosmetics firms often use advertising verbiage like “clinically proven” or “inspired by groundbreaking DNA research.” But researchers combed through these claims and found that the majority were vague and many are outright lies, according to a new study published in the Journal of Global Fashion Marketing.

The researchers assessed 289 cosmetic ads, including ads for products like make-up, skincare and fragrance, featured in magazines like Vogue and Marie Claire. They then separated the various claims into different categories, including environmental claims, endorsement claims and scientific claims. The researchers rated them as “acceptable,” “vague,” “omission” or “outright lie.”

The study authors conclude that claims of “well-being and happiness” are usually not substantiated. “Those who back the claims with scientific evidence and consumer testing often use questionable methodologies for their substantiation,” the authors wrote.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

FDA Wants Nutrition Labels to Include More Detail on Added Sugars

Americans could know more about the amount of added sugar in their food

Federal officials want to give Americans more information about the amount of sugar added to their food, and what those amounts mean.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it has revised its proposal for nutritional labels to not only include the amount of added sugars in grams (something the FDA recommended in 2014), but also to list the percent Daily Value (% DV) of those added sugars, in the same way that other items are currently listed.

The intent of the change is to not only show buyers how much sugar is in their food, but to indicate how that amount compares to the recommended daily limit on sugar consumption. Officials recommend that people not consume more than 10% of their daily calories from added sugar.

“Scientific data shows that it is difficult to meet nutrient needs while staying within calorie requirements if you consume more than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugar,” writes Susan Mayne, the FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, in a blog post about the proposed change. “FDA’s initial proposal to include the amount of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts label is now further supported by newly reviewed studies suggesting healthy dietary patterns, including lower amounts of sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, are strongly associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.”

The FDA recommends that adults and children age 4 and older not consume more than 50 grams of added sugars per day. For kids ages 1 through 3, the recommended limit is 25 grams of sugar.

For context, the FDA provides the example of a consumer drinking a 20-oz. sugary beverage. That contains about 66 grams of added sugar, according to the FDA, which would be listed on the label as 132% of the Daily Value.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Kids Are Unhappy With Their Bodies as Young as Age 8

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By age 14, 39% of the girls in the study said they had dieted in the last year

Boys and girls as young as age eight can experience dissatisfaction with their bodies that can predict their risk for eating disorders later in life.

A new U.K. study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry followed about 6,000 children until they were 14 years old and discovered a pattern of poor body image at a young age and eating disorder behaviors later on. The researchers found that at age eight, 5% of girls and 3% of boys were unhappy with their bodies. When the children reached age 14, 39% of the girls said they had dieted in the last year and 8% said they had binged. Among boys, 12% had dieted in the last year and 3.5% had binged.

“We were surprised about how body dissatisfaction at that young age tracked into eating disorder behaviors at 14 years,” says lead study author Nadia Micali, a senior lecturer and honorary consultant psychiatrist at the University College London Institute of Child Health.

Other factors seemed to influence a child’s body image and eating patterns; the study shows that nearly a fifth of girls reported feeling “quite a lot” or “a lot” of pressure from the media to lose weight. A mother’s history of anorexia, bulimia or both was also predictive of high levels of body dissatisfaction among girls and dieting behaviors among boys. The researchers also found that the among boys, high levels of body dissatisfaction and high BMI were linked to a higher prevalence of eating disorder thoughts and behaviors.

The researchers say the findings speak to a need for interventions early in life. High self-esteem was linked to lower levels of eating disorder behaviors, and the effect was stronger among boys. The researchers write that their findings suggest that some children might be more vulnerable to feeling pressure from media, family and peers than others.

Intervention won’t look the same for all children, Micali says. “The findings suggest that a blanket approach focusing on all adolescents or children might not be best, and that targeted prevention that focused on boys who are overweight/obese rather than all boys might be more useful,” says Micali. “I think that it is important that we adapt our interventions for younger children appropriately, as there is some evidence that for example ‘healthy eating’ classes that are not designed for younger children might be harmful, especially for those who do not have the cognitive ability to adequately process the information.”

More research is needed to understand the best approach. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), research is continuing to discover that eating disorders are highly complicated and can be caused by an interaction of genetic, biological, psychological and social factors.

TIME medicine

The First-Ever Malaria Vaccine Just Got a Big Break

Drugmakers received a thumbs up from European regulators, moving the vaccine closer to human use

After nearly 30 years of development and testing, the world’s first malaria vaccine got a major push forward on Friday morning.

Drug maker GlaxoSmithKline announced that a European Medicines Agency (EMA) committee has given a positive recommendation for the company’s vaccine for malaria called Mosquirix (scientifically known as RTS,S). The drug is intended for children ages six weeks to 17 months living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Because the vaccine is not intended for countries outside of Africa, the European regulatory agency is not “approving” the vaccine, but offering a positive opinion that the World Health Organization (WHO) will use to create its own recommendation for the vaccine’s use. Countries in Africa will then approve the vaccine through their own regulatory agencies.

Mosquirix is the first vaccine to prevent malaria in humans and was first created in 1987.

The data assessed by the EMA was primarily from a phase III clinical trial of the vaccine in about 16,000 kids in multiple African countries. After 18 months, GSK reported that the vaccine had about 46% efficacy against clinical malaria and 36% efficacy against severe malaria in kids ages five to 17 months. In babies ages six to 12 weeks, the drug had a 27% efficacy against clinical malaria and 15% against severe malaria.

The efficacy rates may seem low, but the researchers tell TIME that the vaccine is the only one available thus far and will save a significant number of lives that would be lost to the mosquito-borne disease. The vaccine also shows efficacy for a few years after initial vaccination. “Is there room for improvement? Yes. We can improve a lot,” says Moncef Slaoui, co-inventor of the vaccine and the Chairman of GSK Vaccines, in an interview with TIME. At the end of the study period, the researchers found that more than 6,000 cases of clinical malaria were prevented for every 1,000 children who were vaccinated in areas of high transmission. The efficacy of the vaccine was also assessed in a safe study context in which children slept with bed nets treated with insecticide, a measure not always taken.

According to data provided by GSK, there were 584,000 deaths worldwide from malaria in 2013, and 90% of those deaths took place in Sub-Saharan Africa. More than 80% of the deaths occurred in kids under age five.

Currently, the vaccine Mosquirix requires four doses. The first three happen a month apart from each other, and the fourth happens about 18 months later. Ensuring that parents get their children the full dosage can be challenging, but Slaoui notes that most infant vaccines require multiple doses, and while not ideal, there’s still a significant benefit with just three doses.

Slaoui says GSK also has a second generation version of the vaccine in the works—one that may have even better efficacy rates. “It’s a tweak of the current vaccine,” he says. “We know the next generation is close by.”

TIME Research

You Can Now Inhale Caffeine Instead of Drink It

Eagle Energy Vapor
Matt Lang—Eagle Energy Eagle Energy Vapor

A new e-cigarette-like inhaler gives users a boost of caffeine. But how safe is it?

Forget coffee and energy drinks—now you can inhale your caffeine.

Perhaps taking a cue from increasingly popular e-cigarettes, marketers have now created a way for people to vape their energy. The New York Times reported on Wednesday that products like Eagle Energy Vapor allow people to forgo their morning cup o’ joe and puff their caffeine instead. Each inhaler boasts a pretty small amount of caffeine, which the company says comes from natural sources like guarana, taurine, and ginseng (stimulants that are also common among energy drinks). As the Times describes it: “Think of it as a Red Bull for the lungs.”

No surprise, some experts in the medical community find this trend problematic. America is, evidently, a nation in need of a pick-me-up, at least if you consider the boom of products that contain caffeine, like energy drinks, caffeinated water and snacks and powdered caffeine. As I recently reported in TIME, the U.S. energy drink business is estimated to grow more than 11% by 2019 to an estimated $26.6 billion in yearly revenue.

So what’s the big deal?

From a health perspective, caffeine is tricky business. Many experts are concerned about some caffeinated products—particularly energy drinks. One of the primary arguments is that unlike coffee or soda, many energy drinks (and the new caffeine inhalers) contain multiple stimulants aside from synthetic caffeine. How these ingredients interact in combination is largely unknown. In addition, many doctors and health watchdogs are dissatisfied with the way these products are regulated. Manufacturers can choose to market their products as dietary supplements or as beverages, neither of which require pre-market safety approval by the FDA or any other public-health agency. According to the Times, the FDA has not reviewed the new caffeine inhalers for safety, either.

The effects of inhaling caffeine are also a gray area. “The way our bodies handle caffeine that is inhaled can be very different from when caffeine is in our food or drink,” says Mary M. Sweeney, a postdoctoral research fellow at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Even if an inhaled product delivers the same dose of caffeine as a cup of coffee, it may have different subjective effects for people because the time-course might be different.”

In 2013, the FDA announced that amid a growing trend of manufacturers adding caffeine to food products (like gum, for example), the agency was launching a safety investigation into the matter. It’s now 2015, and that information is still not available to consumers. The FDA says it is continuing to look into it.

The Eagle Energy Vapor inhaler’s aesthetic similarities to e-cigarettes are undeniable. And while the jury is still out in regards to the overall danger of e-cigarettes, recent federal data has shown use tripled among middle and high school students in just one year. Could caffeine inhalers attract young people in a similar way? Are they as dangerous as medical experts believe other caffeinated products are? We don’t know. But what Americans should know is that just because a new caffeinated product is on the market doesn’t mean that it’s undergone a rigorous safety testing or approval process, or that doctors think it’s safe.

“What troubles me most about this particular product is that the flavor composition appears to be similar to candy; thus, it could be attractive to children and adolescents,” says Steven Meredith, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. “The long-term effects of caffeine on the developing brains of children and adolescents are still relatively unknown. But, caffeine consumption interferes with sleep, and sleep is necessary for learning. Thus, long-term cognitive effects of excessive caffeine consumption at a young age is certainly plausible.”

While the FDA says it’s continuing to investigate caffeinated products, it may be in your best interest to stick to stimulants that most medical experts can get behind: coffee.

TIME Infectious Disease

There’s Another Drug-Resistant Bacteria In Meat

A new study suggests meat sold in grocery stores could be carrying an overlooked pathogen

We’ve heard about listeria in ice cream and E. coli in spinach, but new research suggests there’s another bacterial strain that may be infecting consumers who handle or consume meat sold in grocery stores.

A new study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases shows turkey, chicken and pork sold in grocery stores can contain a bacteria called Klebsiella pneumoniae, which can cause illness in some people, and some strains of which are resistant to antibiotics. According to researchers, the new study is the first to suggest that meat may be a source of K. pneumoniae exposure for Americans. Currently the U.S. government does not routinely test food for that bacteria.

In the study published Thursday, researchers from the Milken Institute School of Public Health and elsewhere compared isolated samples of K. pneumoniae from meat products sold in Flagstaff, Arizona, and compared those to urine and blood samples from people with K. pneumoniae infections during the same time period. The samples were sequenced and the researchers found that 47% of the meat products tested had the bacteria, and some of the sequenced samples from the meat and samples from the humans were almost identical.

The findings underline the need for judicious use of antibiotics in livestock, since some of the strains of K. pneumoniae were discovered to be drug resistant.

The study cannot confirm for certain that the people in the study with Klebsiella pneumoniae got the infection from meat at a grocery store. “What we can say is that there are strains that were isolated from people and from meat that were nearly indistinguishable,” said lead study author Lance B. Price, a professor of environmental and occupational health at Milken Institute School of Public Health in an email.

The authors add that the findings are not necessarily reserved to Arizona where the study was conducted. Price says most of the products were produced outside of the state, which means contaminated meat could be in a variety of places country-wide.

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