TIME ebola

Here’s What Would Happen if Ebola Was Stolen From a Lab

Biohazard sticker on laboratory window
Adam Gault—OJO Images RF/Getty Images

The virus is considered a bioterrorism agent. But massive fines, jail time and a risk of deadly exposure may be enough of a deterrent

Scientists routinely study deadly pathogens like Ebola in order to find ways to fight them and discover potential cures. But what would happen if a sample of Ebola was taken from a lab illegally?

Under federal regulations, Ebola is considered a “select agent and toxin” that has the “potential to pose a severe threat to public health and safety,” and it’s illegal to possess, use or transfer a deadly pathogen to another individual without a certificate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, says John Kraemer, an expert on infectious diseases and the law at Georgetown University’s Department of Health Systems Administration. Obtaining that certificate requires meeting a set of biosafety and biosecurity requirements. And the penalties for failing to do so can be steep.

The government has levied fines of hundreds of thousands of dollars to laboratories that have violated the select agent regulations. In 2008, HHS docked Texas A&M University $1 million for safety violations at its biodefense lab. Individuals who steal a disease sample could face similarly steep fines and time behind bars. Under federal law, HHS can fine a person up to $250,000 for each violation and can recommend imprisonment of up to five years.

But there is an additional layer of sensitivity to handling Ebola. The CDC considers viral hemorrhagic fevers, which includes Ebola, a Category A bioterrorism agent. And since 2001, several bioterrorism laws have strengthened criminal penalties against those who attempt to commandeer them. The Patriot Act in 2001 created a provision banning the transfer of a select agent like Ebola, and the Bioterrorism Act of 2002 gave more authority to the HHS to regulate those agents and diseases.

In September, the Obama administration issued new regulations for federally funded labs that work with contagious diseases like Ebola. Some researchers have criticized the guidelines as not being strong enough over fears that the pathogens, which are often made stronger in a lab, could potentially be used as bioweapons.

Kraemer says two scenarios could likely play out if Ebola samples fell into the wrong hands. If a researcher acquired Ebola for misguided research, for example, then they would likely get fined by HHS and could be sentenced to five years in prison.

“If however someone broke into a hospital to steal Ebola for some other reason, it’d be at least 10 years,” Kraemer says. “If someone acquires Ebola with an intent to weaponize it, then they can get life in prison. And, of course, if you actually use Ebola as a weapon, you can be prosecuted under federal anti-terrorism laws, with penalties up to the death penalty.”

Given the security required at labs authorized to handle potential biological weapons, as well as the risk that someone stealing a pathogen may also become infected by it, those latter scenarios are highly unlikely.

“Stealing an Ebola sample would be extremely dangerous because the thief would face a significant risk of exposure,” says Robert Field, a professor of law at Drexel University. “Other pathogens would be safer to steal because protection is easier.”

Like, for instance, anthrax.

TIME Infectious Disease

Amber Vinson’s Family Says She’s Ebola Free

Amber Vinson Courtesy of the Vinson family

“Officials at Emory University Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control are no longer able to detect the virus in her body,” Vinson's family said in a statement

Amber Vinson, one of two health care workers based out of Dallas that contracted Ebola while caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, is reportedly cleared of the virus.

“Officials at Emory University Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control are no longer able to detect the virus in her body,” her family said in a statement released Wednesday. Vinson is reportedly still under treatment in the Serious Communicable Diseases Unit, but has been approved for transfer from the isolation unit.

Officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Emory University Hospital have not yet confirmed to TIME that Vinson is cleared of the virus, but in a recent image sent to TIME, Vinson can be seen smiling and looking alert.

Vinson’s mother Debra Berry said in a statement that she and the family are “ecstatic to receive this latest report on her condition.”

“We all know that further treatment will be necessary as Amber continues to regain strength, but these latest developments have truly answered prayers and bring our family one step closer to reuniting with her at home,” Berry said.

Vinson, along with Nina Pham, were infected with the deadly virus while caring for the first patient to be diagnosed with Ebola on U.S. soil during the current outbreak. According to the Dallas Morning News, about 108 people in Dallas are being monitored by the CDC for signs of Ebola, though some 66 people have already been cleared.

TIME movies

Avengers Film Trailer Leaks on Web Briefly

Moviestills DB/Marvel

"Dammit, Hydra"

Fans of the Avengers franchise got a sneak peak of the latest film way ahead of schedule on Wednesday, when full trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron leaked online.

The Verge reports the trailer was scheduled for release during Agents of Shield next Tuesday, but a grainy version of the upcoming film offered potential viewers a glimpse. But, alas, moviegoers will have to hold off until the trailer’s official release as the video was removed from the web late Wednesday.

Marvel Entertainment handled the leak like champs on social media, sending out the following tweet:

The official film will hit theaters in May 2015.

[The Verge]

TIME celebrities

Beyoncé and Jay-Z Renew Vows Amid Divorce Rumors

Beyonce and Jay-Z perform during the "On The Run Tour: Beyonce And Jay-Z" at the Stade de France on Sept. 12, 2014 in Paris.
Beyonce and Jay-Z perform during the "On The Run Tour: Beyonce And Jay-Z" at the Stade de France on Sept. 12, 2014 in Paris. Myrna Suarez—Getty Images

Rejoice, Beyhive!

Superstar couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z have renewed their vows, despite rumors that the two were on the road to Splitsville.

During the Carters’ summer-long “On The Run” tour, the Beyhive was on edge, People reports. Worries about an imminent divorce gained momentum following the infamous elevator incident earlier this year, in which Beyoncé’s sister Solange appeared to attack Jay-Z in TMZ-leaked security footage.

Yet now the two seem happy in the wake of the tour, gallivanting throughout Europe with baby Blue Ivy in tow. The entertainers and proud parents may also be looking to make a home across the pond—they’ve reportedly been house hunting in Paris.

[People]

TIME South Korea

South Korea Dismantles ‘Propaganda’ Christmas Tree Tower

A giant steel Christmas tree lit up at the western mountain peak known as Aegibong in Gimpo, South Korea on Dec. 21, 2010.
A giant steel Christmas tree lit up at the western mountain peak known as Aegibong in Gimpo, South Korea on Dec. 21, 2010. Lee Jin-man—AP

North Korea, which is officially atheist, had long seen the tower as religious propaganda

A South Korean Christmas tree tower that shone near the border of North Korea has been taken down, about a week after officials from the two countries convened for the first time since 2007.

The tower, which stood approximately 2 miles from the North Korean line, was first mounted in 1971, the BBC reports. The North Korean government, which is officially atheist, had long seen the tree as religious propaganda, because South Koreans often lit the tree up during the Christmas season and mounted a cross at its peak.

South Korea stopped lighting the tower in 2004 as relations between the North and South improved, the Guardian reports. In 2010 and 2012, however Christian groups again lit the tree tower in the wake of attacks that killed 50 South Koreans.

South Korean officials, however, said the tree was not taken down to reconcile differences between North and South Korea, but rather as a precaution because it could collapse.

[BBC]

TIME

Mark Zuckerberg Gives Q&A in Chinese

"My Chinese is very bad"

Mark Zuckerberg spoke Chinese throughout a Q&A in Beijing Wednesday, barely unable to suppress a smile as murmurs of surprise and excitement rippled through the audience.

The billionaire CEO and social media guru discussed “connecting the world, Internet.org, innovation and the early days of Facebook” at Tsinghua University, where Zuckerberg recently joined the School of Economics and Management Advisory Board, according to his Facebook page.

 

Zuckerberg posted a video of his “first ever public Q&A in Chinese” on his Facebook page. In this clip he self-deprecatingly says, “My Chinese is very bad.”

TIME ebola

Obama ‘Cautiously More Optimistic’ About Ebola

President Barack Obama speaks to the media after holding a meeting with his newly-appointed 'Ebola Response Coordinator' Ron Klain, along with other members of the team coordinating the Obama administration's ebola response efforts, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 22, 2014.
President Barack Obama speaks to the media after holding a meeting with his newly-appointed 'Ebola Response Coordinator' Ron Klain, along with other members of the team coordinating the Obama administration's ebola response efforts, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington on Oct. 22, 2014. Jim Lo Scalzo—EPA

"If people want to make sure that... their families are safe, the very best thing they can do is make sure that everybody in their family is getting a flu shot"

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he is “cautiously more optimistic” about efforts to keep Ebola from spreading in the United States as his administration looks to centralize its response to the disease.

Speaking to reporters following a meeting with aides, including his new “Ebola Response Coordinator” Ron Klain, Obama expressed relief that many of those who were potentially exposed to the first U.S. victim, Thomas Eric Duncan, have made it through the 21-day incubation period without contracting symptoms.

“What we’re seeing is that the public health infrastructure and systems that we are now putting in place across the board around the country should give the American people confidence that we’re going to be in a position to deal with any additional cases of Ebola that might crop up without it turning into an outbreak,” Obama said, reiterating that “the prospect of an outbreak here is extremely low.”

“If people want to make sure that, as we go into the holiday season, their families are safe, the very best thing they can do is make sure that everybody in their family is getting a flu shot, because we know that tens of thousands of people will be affected by the flu this season, as is true every season,” Obama said.

Obama’s comments come a day after U.S. officials required all travelers from West Africa to fly through one of five U.S. airports where enhanced screening procedures have been implemented. On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that it would begin monitoring all travelers from West Africa for 21 days.

Klain, a longtime Washington political operative, began working in the West Wing Wednesday to lead the administration’s response to the epidemic in West Africa and efforts to keep it from U.S. shores. He is reporting to National Security Advisor Susan Rice and Obama’s Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor Lisa Monaco.

Obama referenced the two Dallas nurses who contracted Ebola after treating Duncan, noting they appeared to be recovering. “Again, we’re cautiously optimistic,” Obama said. “They seem to be doing better. And we continue to think about them.” The president highlighted new CDC standards for personal protective equipment which were put in place following those infections.

“We’re going to systematically and steadily just make sure that every hospital has a plan, that they are displaying CDC information that is currently been provided so that they can take step-by-step precautions when they’re dealing with somebody who might have Ebola,” Obama said.

TIME Food & Drink

Starbucks’ New Chestnut Praline Latte Will Save Us From the Pumpkin Spice Latte

Pumpkin Spice Latte Starbucks
Starbucks

Get ready for the coffee chain's newest seasonal beverage

Ladies and gentleman, take heart, the Pumpkin Spice Latte’s reign of terror is coming to an end.

Your knight in shining armor is the Starbucks’ new-nationwide Chestnut Praline Latte, slated for release at Starbucks locations across the country this fall.

The impending national release of the Chestnut Praline Latte (from here on out referred to as ‘CPL’) is consequential because, as an overly sweet, holiday-themed liquid dessert disguised as a coffee drink, the CPL is poised to displace the Pumpkin Spice Latte in the hearts of bros, basics and whoever else drinks those things everywhere.

The Chestnut Praline Latte has the advantage of being named for two actual ingredients — criteria the Pumpkin “Spice” Latte cannot claim to meet.

Lest the import of this news not resonate with you, consider the hysteria that has gripped America as we have grappled with life in the age of Peak Pumpkin. Just days ago in Washington, D.C., I spotted a sign for pumpkin mussels. Granted, the chef had the courtesy not to advertise “pumpkin spice” mussels, but my PSL-weary brain filled in the phrase nonetheless.

Rest easy, America. Hope is on the horizon. The CPL drops nationwide Nov. 12, reports The Huffington Post.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of what the CPL is likely to resemble, presumably taken last year when the CPL was released in selected test markets.

TIME Opinion

Think Tank Tells Women How to Avoid Sexual Assault: Stop Getting ‘Severely Intoxicated’

AEI

Video says it’s not what men put in women’s drinks, but how many drinks women have

In a vlog titled “The Factual Feminist,” Caroline Kitchens, a senior research associate at conservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, undertakes a MythBusters-style takedown of the threat posed by date rape drugs, suggesting that they are far less common than most women think. But it’s not her skepticism of Roofies that’s problematic — it’s the way she proposes women stop blaming these mythical drugs for the consequences of their own drunken decisions.

The video’s opening question — just how frequently drug facilitated sexual assault occurs — is a valid one. And Kitchens cites several studies that find the incidence to be quite low. Given the relative scarcity of sexual assaults that take place after a woman’s drink has been drugged, she says, “the evidence doesn’t match the hype.”

But it’s unclear exactly what hype Kitchens is referring to. The vast majority of messaging by sexual assault support and prevention groups resorts to awareness, not hysteria. RAINN, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, offers advice to help women protect themselves from sexual assault. Among the group’s suggestions are to “be aware of your surroundings” and “trust your instincts.” Not exactly the picture of fear-mongering. RAINN also suggests refraining from leaving your drink unattended and accepting drinks from strangers, but these tips constitute common sense more than, in Kitchens’ words, “conspiracy.”

Aside from this exaggerated depiction of widespread panic, Kitchens’ debunking of the rampant Roofies myth is largely harmless. That is, until she begins to search for a reason to explain this imbalance between perception and reality. “Most commonly, victims of drug-facilitated sexual assault are severely intoxicated,” Kitchens says, “often from their own volition.” Blaming date rape drugs, she suggests, is “more convenient to guard against than the effects of alcohol itself.” Women would rather blame a “vague, improbable threat,” she says, than take responsibility for their own actions.

It may be true that date rape drugs are used infrequently, but that does not give carte blanche to shift the blame from perpetrator to victim. No, women shouldn’t be unnecessarily panicked about the threat of date rape drugs. But neither should they be shamed for the size of their bar tabs. Because no matter how short her skirt or how strong her drink, a woman never asks to be raped. It takes a rapist to rape a woman.

TIME movies

Watch the Trailer for The Gambler with Mark Wahlberg

Mark Wahlberg plays a gambler in major trouble in the remake of the 1974 film

Mark Wahlberg has played a porn star, a fisherman and a Boston cop. With The Gambler, he adds gambling addict to the list. Directed by Rupert Wyatt, best known for 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Gambler offers a modern remake of the 1974 film of the same name, which starred James Caan. The original script was based on the experiences of screenwriter James Toback, and though the remake includes a new script by William Monahan, the narrative appears mostly unchanged. Wahlberg plays Jim Bennett, an English professor whose addiction has him pinned beneath the weight of his massive debt.

The expletive-laden Red Band trailer includes Jessica Lange as Bennett’s mother, Brie Larson as his girlfriend, and John Goodman as a loan shark. Martin Scorsese was originally attached to the project, with rumors of muse Leonardo DiCaprio starring, but Wyatt and Wahlberg picked it up when Scorsese left the project in 2012.

Though Wahlberg dropped 60 pounds for the role, he insists that his biggest challenge was playing a convincing professor, as the actor dropped out of high school and only recently completed his diploma online. “Being believable as a teacher was one of my greatest challenges and most rewarding,” he told USA Today. Of the role he played 40 years ago, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, Caan said, “It’s not easy to make people care about a guy who steals from his mother to pay gambling debts.” Sounds like a welcome challenge for Wahlberg, and big shoes to fill at that. We’ll see whether Wahlberg manages to breathe new life into the character when the movie hits theaters on Dec. 19.

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