TIME ebola

Doctors Without Borders Sees Fewer New Ebola Cases

SWITZERLAND-HEALTH-EBOLA-REDCROSS-AID-TRAINING
Health workers of the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) and medical charity Doctors Without Borders take part in a pre-deployment training for staff heading to Ebola areas on Oct. 29, 2014 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

“We are on the right track," said Brice de la Vingne, the group's director of operations

The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), says it’s seeing declines in new cases of Ebola in its centers in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

There are just over 50 patients currently in MSF’s Ebola treatment centers across the three countries, the organization announced on Monday.

“This decline is an opportunity to focus efforts on addressing the serious weaknesses that remain in the response,” Brice de la Vingne, MSF director of operations said in a statement. “We are on the right track, but reaching zero cases will be difficult unless significant improvements are made in alerting new cases and tracing those who have been in contact with them.”

There is still work to do on that score; in Guinea and Liberia only half of the new cases are people who are known contacts of people with Ebola. Since just a single case can spur an outbreak, more contact tracing is needed.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

In Sierra Leone, incidences of Ebola have dropped to their lowest levels since August, though there are still hot zones like the country’s capital of Freetown. Guinea’s caseloads are also dropping, but more cases are coming from regions that were previously thought to be leveling out. Liberia has experienced some of the greatest drops out of all three countries. MSF says that on Jan. 17, there were no Ebola cases at the organization’s ELWA 3 Ebola management center in the capital city of Monrovia, and currently there are only two patients.

The latest case numbers from the World Health Organization (WHO) show cases have reached 21,724 with 8,641 deaths.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Unintended Pregnancies Decline Across the U.S.

TIME.com stock photos Pregnancy Test
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Though some states are doing better than others

The rates of unintended pregnancies have fallen in most U.S. states since 2006, according to a new report — though rates remained steady in a dozen states.

Between 2006 and 2010, 28 states out of 41 with data available experienced a drop in their unintended pregnancy rate of 5% or more, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute. Twelve states’ rates remained unchanged, and one state—West Virginia—had an increase of 5% or more.

MORE: The IUD: Why The Best Form of Birth Control is One No One is Using

The report notes that in 2010, more than half of all pregnancies in 28 states were unintentional and that the minimum rate for any state was 36%.

The states with the highest unintended pregnancy rates were Delaware, Hawaii, and New York, though the South tended to have higher rates in general. New Hampshire had the lowest rates.

“The decline in unintended pregnancy rates in a majority of states since 2006 is a positive development,” study author Kathryn Kost, a senior research associate for Guttmacher said in a statement. “However, rates remain twice as high in some southern and densely-populated states compared with those in other states—a variation that likely reflects differences in demographic characteristics and socioeconomic conditions across states.”

MORE: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed

There’s been an increased use of the most effective contraceptives, like the intrauterine device (IUD), which has contributed to the drop in pregnancies. The report underlines double-digit drops in unintended pregnancy rates in Colorado, Iowa and Missouri, after conducting campaigns to promote the use of long-acting methods like the IUD and implant.

In 2010, publicly-funded family planning services also helped prevent 2.2. million unintended pregnancies, according to prior Guttmacher research.

TIME ebola

Two Ebola Vaccines Are Heading to Trials in Liberia

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing on the U.S. public health response to the Ebola outbreak in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2014.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee hearing on the U.S. public health response to the Ebola outbreak in Washington, D.C., Oct. 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Two vaccines will start trials in February

The long-awaited vaccine for Ebola is heading to clinical trials in Liberia.

Two vaccines, with the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) support, will start efficacy testing in Liberia in the beginning of February.

The NIH is launching the trial in collaboration with the Liberian Ministry of Health. The trial will test two vaccines against a placebo. People in Liberia who agree to participate in the trial will be split evenly into three groups. Two groups will test separate vaccines and the third group will be given a placebo. The trial will take place in Montserrado County, which includes the capital Monrovia, one of the country’s hardest-hit regions.

MORE: TIME Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

The vaccines have already undergone early safety trials at various sites in the U.S., Europe, and in parts of Africa. “There were no significant safety concerns and [the vaccine] induced the type of response that was quite comparable to the animal response of the monkeys,” says Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Prior trials in monkeys had shown the vaccine made the animals immune to the virus.

Initially the target date for the vaccine trial in West Africa had been end of January, but some logistics still need to be worked out. Fauci told TIME that he can say with almost certainty that the trials will indeed launch in early February. “There are a couple of minor issues that we are just ironing out with regard to the protocol with the FDA,” says Fauci. “Nothing that’s a show stopper.”

One of the two vaccines being tested is a vaccine developed and tested by the NIH and pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and the other vaccine is coming from biotech company NewLink Genetics and the pharmaceutical company Merck.

When the trial starts, the vaccines will initially be given to 600 people to collect additional data on the vaccine’s safety. If all goes well, the second part of the trial will launch with 27,000 people.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Celiac Disease Among UK Kids Has Tripled

485215239
Getty Images

Over the last 20 years, celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to gluten, has tripled among children in the United Kingdom, a new study shows.

The new data, published in the journal Archives of Disease in Childhood, shows that while 1% of all kids in the U.K. have blood markers for the disease, there are socioeconomic disparities among who gets diagnosed.

Researchers looked at data from a U.K. database called the The Health Improvement Network (THIN) which collects public health records. The researchers looked at all children in the system from birth to age 18 with a general practitioner between the years 1993 and 2012. That came to a total of 2,063,421 kids, of which 1,247 were diagnosed with celiac. That came out to about one new case of the disease in every 10,000 kids every year.

Numbers of new diagnoses among infants remained low, but the data showed that among kids two years and older, the rate of diagnoses tripled during the time period. The spike was 53% greater among girls, and the overall rate of diagnoses between 2008 and 2012 was 75% higher compared to the rate between 1993 and 1997.

The researchers also noted that socioeconomically deprived children were only half as likely to be diagnosed with celiac compared to children who were better off.

MORE: Should You Eat Gluten-Free Bread?

Study author Laila Tata, an associate professor in epidemiology at the University of Nottingham, told TIME over email that while in theory the increases could be due to changes in risk factors like diet and a greater predisposition for the disease among the population, there was a lack of evidence to back that up. Another, more likely explanation is that a greater awareness of the disease and better medical means to diagnosis it could be contributing to the rise. “The differences we found relating to socioeconomic inequalities in diagnosis also support this rather than a true increase in the disease,” she says.

Tata says her team is now looking into whether there is a link between diagnoses and patient interactions with primary care doctors to determine if the socioeconomic inequalities could be due to a lack of patients seeking medical care.

“Another likely possibility is that ascertainment of disease varies, so awareness campaigns for clinicians and the general population may help to implement strategies for case-finding in all children and reduce this inequality,” says Tata.

TIME Research

What to Know About the Science of E-Cigarettes

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

A guide to understanding conflicting and ongoing research

Two Columbia University professors warned in a new study Thursday that the health fears over electronic cigarettes are hindering research. The very same day, another new study showed that smoking e-cigs, or “vaping,” can produce cancer-causing formaldehyde.

Clearly there’s some disagreement among scientists about the risks and benefits of a product that’s growing in popularity. Here’s what you need to know about the latest science.

What’s with the latest disagreement?

Columbia public health professors Amy Fairchild and Ronald Bayer argue in Science magazine that the staunchest opponents of electronic cigarettes are so concerned about the potential downsides that they advocate for an anti-e-cigarette regulatory and research approach that may be bad for public health. This approach of “deep precaution,” they argue, “has served as a kind of trump argument, hostile to the notion of trade-offs, seeing in them perilous compromise. Such a posture does not serve either science or policy well.”

MORE The Future of Smoking

It “may be years before the disagreements over the evidence” about the effects of electronic cigarettes can be resolved, Fairchild and Bayer wrote. On the one hand, electronic cigarettes may serve as gateway drugs for young people to start smoking cigarettes, and “dual” use of electronic cigarettes with tobacco cigarettes may stop some smokers from quitting. Electronic cigarettes may also carry unknown health consequences of their own. On the other hand, they may provide harm reduction for people who have been unable to quit any other way.

Given these two competing possibilities, the authors argued that the best formula for public health is to acknowledge the possibility for costs and benefits and to push for a regulatory scheme that is flexible enough to account for both outcomes. It is better to make public policy and execute scientific research under the assumption that e-cigarettes could bring good as well as bad.

But also on Thursday, the New England Journal of Medicine published a new study reporting that chemicals inside e-cigarettes—like propylene glycol and glycerol—can produce a type of the cancer-causing chemical called formaldehyde when heated during the vaping process. The researchers report that when testing samples of the aerosol from vaped e-cigs, they found that the e-cigs can contain formaldehyde-releasing agents slightly different from regular formaldehyde, and that the levels are especially high when a user vapes at high voltages. Scientists don’t yet know if formaldehyde-releasing agents carry the same risk as pure formaldehyde, but the researchers said in their report that if they assume the substances do carry the same risks, then long-term vaping could be associated with a significantly higher risk for cancer compared to long-term smoking. The researchers said formaldehyde-releasing agents may actually burrow into the respiratory tract more efficiently than regular formaldehyde, though the observation wasn’t confirmed.

Are there other reasons experts are concerned?

There’s also debate over the safety of the liquid nicotine inside e-cigarettes. In April 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report showing what they called a “dramatic” rise in e-cigarette-related calls to U.S. poison centers. Calls went from one a month in September 2010 to 215 calls a month in February 2014, and more than half of the calls involved children age five and under. Forty-two percent involved people age 20 and older. Symptoms of liquid nicotine ingestion are known to be vomiting, nausea and eye irritation.

Researchers are also wary of the long term effects of inhaling propylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in e-cigarettes. The jury is still out, but some physicians are concerned. “As for long-term effects, we don’t know what happens when you breathe the vapor into the lungs regularly,” Thomas Glynn, the director of science and trends at the American Cancer Society, told ABC News. “No one knows the answer to that.”

Are they really attracting young people?

Several recent—but fairly small—studies say yes. A December 2o14 study in the journal Pediatrics surveyed 1,941 Hawaii high school students and found that about 17% of the high schoolers smoked e-cigarettes only, 12% smoked both e-cigarettes and conventional cigarettes, and only 3% smoked conventional cigarettes. The findings suggested that kids who smoked e-cigarettes scored lower on outside risk factors to pick up a conventional smoking habit. “The fact that e-cigarette only users were intermediate in risk status between nonusers and dual users raises the possibility that e-cigarettes are recruiting medium-risk adolescents, who otherwise would be less susceptible to tobacco product use,” the authors wrote. Numbers released in 2013 from the National Youth Tobacco Survey showed that the percentage of middle school and high school students who have tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3% in 2011 to 6.8% in 2012.

What’s the argument in favor of e-cigarettes?

Some smokers use e-cigarettes to help them curb their traditional cigarette habit, or even quit. An August 2014 study that surveyed over 20,000 Americans showed that among adults who used a product to help them quit smoking, 57% chose e-cigarettes. That’s compared to the 39% who used prescription drugs like Chantix and the 39% who used other over-the-counter methods like patches or nicotine gum. Another study from July 2014, which reviewed 80 studies on e-cigarettes’ safety and their effects on users, revealed that not only can e-cigarettes help smokers quit, but they are less harmful to smokers and bystanders’ health compared to regular cigarettes.

What’s the FDA doing about it?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only regulates e-cigarettes that are marketed for therapeutic purposes, though the agency has proposed a rule that would give it more regulatory power over e-cigarettes but that has not yet been implemented. The FDA has suggested a ban on sale of e-cigarettes to minors, and admits that there is a lot consumers don’t know about the product like whether they attract kids and teens or just how much nicotine is inhaled when a person vapes.

TIME Research

Study Questions Link Between Asthma and City Living

84754104
Getty Images

Poverty may be the greater factor as we spend more time inside

Research has long connected living in urban areas with a high risk for asthma. And it makes sense: Cities are polluted and pollution exposure is linked to a greater risk for asthma.

That’s why a new study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, is so surprising. The findings, which come from a study of 23,000 U.S. children, show that income and race are much greater risk factors for asthma than where a child lives. The greatest predictors of asthma risk, according to this research, are poverty and being African American or Puerto Rican.

“We didn’t go in looking to make this point at all,” says lead study author Dr. Corinne Keet, an assistant professor of pediatrics at John’s Hopkins Children’s Center. “We were somewhat surprised to find that living in a city didn’t seem to be a risk factor for asthma.”

To reach these findings, the researchers looked at data from 23,065 children, ages 6 to 17, who were part of the 2009-2011 National Health Interview Survey, and calculated the prevalence of asthma among the group. Their results showed that the prevalence of asthma among inner-city children was 12.9%, and 10.6% in non-inner city neighborhoods. But when the researchers accounted for race, ethnicity, geographic areas, sex and age, it was no longer significant.

Keet says she thought of looking into this while writing a grant proposal. She wanted to toss in a line about how inner-city children have more asthma, and couldn’t find the nation-wide evidence to back it up. She enlisted Dr. Elizabeth Matsui, another Johns Hopkins professor of pediatrics who has done several studies looking at the link between urban living and asthma. Keet learned from Matsui, who is a senior author of the study, that studies making the connection have primarily looked at individual cities, and that there was very little data looking at the effect nationwide.

The new findings still support pollution as a cause for asthma, but it suggests that indoor pollution may be doing more of the harm.

“A lot of what may make a difference is what happens inside the home than outside the home, especially as we spend so much time indoors these days,” says Keet. Allergen exposure from old housing materials, cockroaches and mice, mold pollution, cleaning supplies, and tobacco smoke may be heavy contributors.

Keet says other factors, like being born prematurely and second-hand smoke exposure, are also associated with both poverty and asthma. In addition, stress has been fingered as a possible contributor to asthma risk, and poverty is certainly a stressor for many families. When it comes to the race connection, Keet cites some research that has found genetic factors, especially among African ancestry, that’s associated with a greater risk. However, it’s very difficult to disentangle the genetics from the effects of other factors like socioeconomic status.

“[The study] turns 50 years of hypothesizing on its head,” says Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who was not involved in this study. “It seemed to follow logically that pollution in urban areas would contribute to asthma more so than in rural areas. I am more surprised by the rural numbers. But any young child who would have any wheezing episode should be seen and evaluated since pediatric asthma is not uncommon.”

It’s important to note that the new study was designed to look at overall prevalence of asthma, and not at the severity of a child’s asthma is. The researchers are already embarking on another study that looks at hospital and emergency room visits associated with asthma. Keet says they suspect that urban living may indeed exacerbate asthma.

“I think the takeaway is for policy makers — making sure we are not ignoring these pockets outside of cities,” says Keet. “A lot of work with great results has focused on children living in cities, and we just need to make sure we are not forgetting anyone else.”

TIME Bizarre

New Hampshire Lottery Releases Bacon-Scented Scratch Ticket

It'll certainly gives new meaning to the phrase "bringing home the bacon"

The New Hampshire state lottery is now offering a lottery ticket that smells like bacon.

The new tickets, which are scratch-n-sniff and read “I Heart Bacon,” were released Jan. 5. Winners can take home $1,000 and the odds of making at least a dollar are one in 4.12, the website says. Plus, you know, it just smells delicious.

To promote the new ticket, bacon trucks will visit various locations in the state, handing out free samples of applewood smoked bacon as well as offering lottery tickets.

Last week, around 700,000 tickets were sold, MarketWatch reports, making the bacon lottery the best selling $1 ticket.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

How Your Partner Can Help You Get Healthy

TIME.com stock photos Weight Loss Health Exercise Weights
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

When a partner achieves a health goal, you're inspired to do the same

If you want your healthy New Year’s resolutions to stick, get your partner to kickstart their health, too. According to a new study, men and women are more likely to make a healthy change if their partner also does it.

Researchers looked at data from 3,722 couples who were either married or living together and who were part of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. They found that when one partner made a healthy change—quit smoking, lost weight or exercised more, for example—their partner was more likely to make the same change.

Interestingly, when one partner was initially unhealthy but then became healthier, they had a strong influence on their less healthy partner. The researchers found that smokers or sedentary people whose partners got healthier were more likely to quit their bad habits. Overweight people were less likely to lose weight if their partner was a normal weight—unless their partner had once been overweight, too, and had worked to shed pounds while they were together. Having that history together was linked to a three times greater likelihood that the other partner would lose weight, too.

The researchers say the reason one healthy partner often influences their less healthy half is that the pair might make decisions to get healthy together. If partners are equally ready to make a change, prior data shows they are more likely to be successful than if one partner was more motivated. They may also be inspired by each other’s success and feel more inclined to reach a health goal that someone close to them already has.

The findings can be useful for public health interventions, researchers say. Losing weight with a coach or buddy can keep dieters on track, but the same strategy could be used to enhance other health-related programs, too.

TIME Crime

Doctor Shot at a Boston Hospital

"Situation under control," Boston police said on Twitter

A doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston was shot on Tuesday after an unnamed shooter asked for the physician.

The suspect shot the doctor on the second floor of the hospital, and was later found by police in an examination room with a wound which may have been self-inflicted. According to ABC News, the police do not think the shooter was a current patient. The doctor sustained life threatening injuries and is in serious condition.

The doctor, whose identity remains undisclosed was shot in the Carl J. and Ruth Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at the hospital.

The police had received a 911 call about the shooting around 11 a.m. “Situation under control,” the Boston Police Department said on its official Twitter feed.

There was a heavy police presence on Tuesday in the Longwood Medical area, reports the Boston Globe. Streets were ordered closed during the search and Metro service was shut in the area.

State Police said in a tweet they were assisting Boston police in a “reported shooting” but there was no further information available before noon on Tuesday.

[Boston Globe]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Older Adults May Be OK to Eat More Salt Than Previously Thought

New study takes a look at sodium recommendations

It’s currently recommended that adults aged 51 and older consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day for better heart health. Since that’s less than one teaspoon of salt, it can be hard to achieve if fast or processed food is part of their diets. But now a new study shows that consuming up to 2,300 mg of salt isn’t associated with greater mortality, cardiovascular disease, or heart failure in older adults.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, doesn’t refute Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations that older people should consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium a day, but it shows there also isn’t harm if people consume up to 2,300 mg (which is the CDC’s recommendation for the general population).

The authors note that a limitation of the study is that the amount of sodium consumed was self-reported, and people generally tend to underestimate their sodium consumption.

There did seem to be a greater risk for heart-related health problems among people who consumed more than 2,300 mg, but the numbers were not statistically significant.

To reach these findings, the researchers looked at the self-reported diets of 2,642 adults between ages 71 to 80, and followed-up 10 years later. The researchers found that 10-year mortality rates were 33.8% among people consuming less than 1,500 mg a day, 30.7% among people consuming 1,500 to 2,300 mg, and 35.2% among people consuming more than 2,300.

The CDC recommendations offer a bit more leeway for people two and older who are supposed to consume 2,300 mg of sodium or less. But the American Heart Association has a 1,500 mg a day recommendation for all ages. Both recommendations have been disputed, with some experts arguing there’s a lack of evidence that people really need to be aiming for that little sodium, and that it’s a goal that most people cannot realistically meet.

“In older adults it’s probably ok if you stick with the general recommendations of one teaspoon (2,300 mg),” said study author Dr. Andreas P. Kalogeropoulos of Emory University. “If you reach 70 and are free of cardiovascular disease or heart failure, these people are probably going to do ok with the standard recommendations. But know that anything over one teaspoon is bad for your health.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser