TIME animals

Millions of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes Could Be Released in Florida

Jason Garcia
Jason Garcia, a field inspector with the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, tests a sprayer that could be used in the future to spray pesticides to control mosquitos in Key West, Fla., on Oct. 4, 2012 Wilfredo Lee—AP

"This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease"

Scientists could release millions of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys in an attempt to kill off insects that spread the diseases dengue and chikungunya — if their proposal wins regulatory approval.

The male mosquitoes, created by British biotech firm Oxitec, are engineered to keep their partners from producing offspring when they mate in the wild, the Sun Sentinel reports. The number of mosquitoes capable of spreading the diseases would be reduced if enough wild mosquitoes mate with the genetically modified population.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, told the Sun Sentinel.

Despite the benefits of reducing incidences of dengue and chikungunya, two viral diseases that cause a number of uncomfortable conditions, many are wary about releasing genetically modified organisms into the wild. More than 130,000 people have signed a Change.org petition opposing the release of the mosquitoes in the Florida Keys.

[Sun Sentinel]

TIME ebola

WHO Chief Unveils Reforms After Ebola Response Criticized

WHO Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola at the WHO headquarters in Geneva
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan addresses the media during a special meeting on Ebola at the WHO headquarters in Geneva on Jan. 25, 2015. Pierre Albouy—Reuters

"The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings"

The head of the UN’s global health agency has laid out a set of reforms to better and more quickly fight disease outbreaks, in a frank acknowledgement that the organization struggled to confront the scale of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that killed more than 8,600 people.

“This was West Africa’s first experience with the virus, and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises,” said World Health Organization (WHO) director General Margaret Chan in a speech on Sunday. “The world, including WHO, was too slow to see what was unfolding before us.”

The needed changes, she said, include country-specific emergency workforces trained with “military precision”; a strengthened team of epidemiologists for detecting disease and a network of other providers to allow responders to reach “surge capacity.”

“The Ebola outbreak revealed some inadequacies and shortcomings in this organization’s administrative, managerial, and technical infrastructures,” she said, calling for a “dedicated contingency fund to support rapid responses to outbreaks and emergencies.”

The remarks came as the WHO’s executive board prepared to meet in Geneva to discuss reform proposals that many in the international community consider to be overdue. The response to Ebola by the UN’s health agency was seen by many as slow and ineffectual.

Indeed, Sunday’s speech did not mark the first time Chan acknowledged her organization’s shortcomings. In October, she told TIME that “the scale of the response did not match the scale of the outbreak.”

TIME Exercise/Fitness

The Best Workout Move You’re Not Doing

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Doing this move may help you get more speed and power

Want to take your workout to the next level? Consider adding deadlifts to your strength routine.

A new study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that folks who performed the exercise twice weekly for 10 weeks experienced an uptick in torque capacities in both knee extensors and flexors, which were associated with improvements in vertical jump height. In other words, they got faster and had more power when performing explosive movements.

HEALTH.COM: 5 Fat-Burning Plyometric Exercises

What’s more, “improving maximal force output with large muscle mass exercises is likely to have carryover to other dynamic movements such as sprinting and box jumps,” explains study author Matt Stock, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health, Exercise & Sport Sciences at Texas Tech University in Lubbock—which is great news if you’ve been working to master plyometric moves.

Performing a deadlift isn’t just good for putting some power behind your next sweat session. “It has huge allover benefits,” says Faheem Mujahid, owner and master trainer at Influence Atelier in Miami. “Not only does the majority of the exercise isolate and target the glutes and the hamstrings, but the quadriceps are involved as well, by helping to extend the knee joint. Plus, it is one of the few exercises that works the adductor magnus, which helps provide leg stability.”

HEALTH.COM: 24 Easy Ways to Flatten Your Belly

Stock adds: “It is particularly useful because it relies heavily on our often forgotten about muscles of the ‘posterior chain’—the hamstrings, glutes, and spinal erectors. Ignoring these muscles within an exercise program has potentially dangerous consequences, particularly as we age and for knee health during sports.”

Effective as they may be, deadlifts can wreak havoc on your back if done incorrectly. The key to getting them right: Really working to engage the transverse abdominis muscles. “If that’s not happening, all the pressure will hit the spine, which is a big no-no,” says Mujahid. “When the transverse abs are engaged properly, it automatically engages the thoracic lumbar fascia [muscle in the lower spine] at the same time, which offers spine protection.”

HEALTH.COM: 25 Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

How do you know if you’ve got a handle on your core? Try this trick that Mujahid uses with his clients: “I tie a piece of yarn or a pair of shoelaces in a knot around my client’s waist. Whenever the core isn’t engaged, my client will feel pressure from the string,” he explains. “Feeling that contraction against the core gives them a little reminder to pull in that belly button.”

HEALTH.COM: 7 Moves for a Better Butt

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Davos

Bill Gates: HIV Vaccine a Reality by 2030

Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gestures next to his wife Melinda French Gates during the session 'Sustainable Development: A Vision for the Future' in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos
Bill and Melinda Gates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015. Ruben Sprich—Reuters

New drugs would significantly impact the global struggle against the virus which has claimed the lives on millions over the past 30 years

Philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes an HIV vaccine, as well as new intensive drugs to combat the disease, will be available by 2030. That would significantly impact the global struggle against the virus which has claimed the lives of millions over the past 30 years.

Speaking the World Economic Forum in Davos, the billionaire founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the two “miracles” were within reach. “We’re pretty optimistic in this 15-year period we will get those two new tools,” he said. The Gates Foundation, founded fifteen years ago, spends tens of millions of dollars on medical research.

A vaccine is seen as pivotal in preventing new infections, while drug treatments would do away with the need for life-long treatment, he added.

[The Guardian]

TIME measles

Anti-Vaxxers Fingered in Disney Measles Outbreak

Doctors group urges measles shots as Disneyland outbreak spreads

A spokesman for the California state health department has told Reuters that he believes “unvaccinated individuals have been the principal factor” in a mid-December measles outbreak at Disneyland that has infected more than 70 people in six western states and Mexico, including five Disney employees.

The outbreak of the respiratory disease, which is caused by a highly communicable virus, has increased the focus on parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. Measles was thought to have been eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning the disease is not native to the U.S. (Nonetheless, 644 measles cases were reported in America in 2014.) But it is not uncommon in the rest of the world, and healthcare officials presume an infected foreigner brought the virus to Disneyland or the accompanying Disneyland Adventure Theme Park in Anaheim, Calif., between Dec. 15 and 20.

Of the 34 California measles victims whose vaccination history could be ascertained, 28 had not received the measles shot. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control recommend that children first receive the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine at the age of 12-15 months and then again between their fourth and sixth birthdays.

[Reuters]

TIME Diet/Nutrition

3 Ways to Sneak Vegetables Into Breakfast Foods

vegetables-table
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It's a lot easier than you think

Eat more vegetables, eat more vegetables, eat more vegetables—this is the advice we hear constantly. But how? There are only so many meals and snacks in a day.

First off, let’s go over how much of the green (and red, yellow, white…) stuff you’re supposed to be eating. The USDA recommends at least 2 ½ cups per day for women ages 19 to 50, and 2 cups if you’re 51 or older. (That’s if you aren’t active. Since you probably are, you can have more; though the USDA doesn’t specify how much.) It takes 2 cups of leafy greens to equal a cup. Or think of it this way (from the USDA’s chart): ½ cup equals 1 medium carrot or 6 baby carrots, a large rib of celery, a small bell pepper, or half of an acorn squash.

Now for many of us, breakfast is a missed opportunity to get some green—fruit seems to get all the love in that a.m. meal. But there are some simple (and delicious!) ways to incorporate all-important vegetables into breakfast. Read on for some of my favorites.

HEALTH.COM: The 20 Best Foods to Eat for Breakfast

Eggs

There’s a reason (many, actually) why eggs are classic breakfast fare. They’re quick, versatile, satisfying, and they may help with weight loss, too. They’re also a perfect way to sneak some veggies into your morning meal. Mushrooms, spinach, bell peppers, onions, even kale—so many vegetables go beautifully in scrambled eggs. Use up those leftovers from last night’s dinner, or grab a handful of mushrooms or spinach in the morning and toss them in the skillet for a few minutes before adding beaten eggs. (If you’re chopping an onion at night, set aside a tablespoon or two for your morning eggs. Cover tightly and refrigerate.)

If mornings are too tight to cook up a scramble, try making a batch of vegetable-filled mini frittatas in a muffin tin over the weekend. Then you just warm them up on busy weekday mornings. (Or not—I’ve eaten them cold, and they’re still delicious).

HEALTH.COM: 5 Ways to Prep Healthy Breakfasts Ahead of Time

Smoothies

No doubt you’ve heard about green smoothies, and perhaps you’ve tried one already. If not, here’s what I like to do: Just toss a handful of frozen organic spinach or kale into whatever I’m making. One of my favorites is a frozen banana, a handful of frozen berries, a handful of frozen kale, hemp seeds (or your favorite protein powder instead, if you like), maca powder (optional; I like it as a nutrient source and energy booster. Try Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Maca Powder, $17.09 for 16 oz., amazon.com), and water.

Sometimes I add a spoonful or two of cacao powder for a chocolate fix (and a couple of dates for sweetness), or a spoonful of almond butter. But you can pretty much toss a handful of greens into any smoothie you like; it won’t affect the taste, and you get all the benefits of those great greens without having to break out the salad bowl. (Warning: The greens can make smoothies look pretty weird. But that seems like a small price to pay.)

Remember, too, that greens aren’t the only vegetables that go well in smoothies. One of my all-time favorite vegetables is pumpkin (I loved it before it was so trendy, just saying). Pumpkin is super-healthy, and so sweet and luscious, it feels indulgent, though it’s loaded with vitamin A and other nutrients. Imagine pumpkin pie in smoothie form—delicious. I also love it thicker, as a use-a-spoon smoothie bowl. Keep in mind that vitamin A is fat soluble, so you need a little fat to absorb it. Be sure there’s some nut butter, full fat milk or yogurt, or some other source of fat to get the most from all that beautiful orange pumpkin.

HEALTH.COM: 26 Easy Smoothie Recipes

Pancakes

Yes, you can add veggies to this classic breakfast food, too. The easiest way is to swap the same amount of pumpkin (or mashed butternut squash) in your favorite recipe that calls for mashed banana. So if your recipe calls for 1 cup of mashed bananas, simply use 1 cup of pumpkin. If your family doesn’t want to abandon banana, swap in half. Even if you don’t get a whole serving of vegetables into your meal, every bit helps.

Savory vegetable pancakes are also a tasty departure for breakfast. A few I’ve made recently include zucchini-scallion pancakes and carrot pancakes with salted yogurt. You can make them for dinner and save extras for breakfast—or cook a batch specially for mornings.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Ways to Cut 500 Calories a Day

On their own

Finally, a simple way to add vegetables to breakfast is to just…eat some. Have a salad for breakfast (it’s not weird! People in Israel do it all the time). The Kitchn has 5 great tips for how to do it well. Once you try it and see how much energy it gives you, you might get hooked. Another way I eat vegetables for breakfast is to nibble while doing other things. (Not ideal, I know, since we should all be sitting down and mindfully eating our meals—but weekday mornings are just too busy, at least in my house.)

So I peel one carrot for my daughter’s lunch, and another one for me to munch on while I’m packing the rest of her lunch. Or if I’m cutting up half a yellow bell pepper or slicing some cucumber for her, I eat some as I go. We’ve all nibbled at our kids’ leftover mac and cheese (right? Tell me it’s not just me…), so we might as well do the same with the vegetables we feed them.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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 Mental Health/Psychology

17 Ways to Age-Proof Your Brain

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Sharpen your memory with these surprising anti-aging tricks

What’s good for your body is good for your brain. That means eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and veggies and not much sugar, saturated fat, or alcohol, as well as getting enough exercise and sleeping about eight hours a night. But evidence is accumulating that a whole host of other activities can help keep our brains young even as we advance in chronological age. There is no one magic activity that you need to take on, but trying a handful of the following will help.

Take dance lessons

Seniors who danced three to four times a week—especially those who ballroom danced—had a 75% lower risk of dementia compared with people who did not dance at all, found a 2003 landmark study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Why? “Dancing is a complex activity,” says study lead author Joe Verghese, MD, chief of geriatrics at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “It’s aerobic so it improves blood flow to the brain which has been shown to improve brain connections. It also provides mental challenges.” While it can be hard to prove cause and effect (people with dementia may cut back on activities), the study enrolled people without dementia and followed them over time.

Play an instrument

Whether it’s the saxophone, the piano, or a ukulele, researchers found that playing an instrument for 10 or more years was correlated with better memory in advanced age compared to those who played music for less than 10 years (or not at all). Other research shows that even listening to music can help boost your brainpower. A study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that listening to baroque music (Vivaldi, Bach) leads to changes in the brain that help with attention and storing events into memory.

Learn a foreign language

Being bilingual may help delay the onset of dementia. Individuals who spoke two languages developed dementia an average of four and a half years later than people who only spoke one language in a 2013 study published in the journal Neurology. Other research shows that people who speak more than one language are better at multitasking and paying attention. Experts say the earlier you learn, the better—growing up speaking two languages is optimal—but that it’s never too late and every little bit of language learning helps.

Play chess

Playing chess, bingo, checkers, and card games may help keep your brain fit. A 2013 French study found a 15% lower risk of dementia among people who played board games versus those who did not. And the effects seemed to last over the study’s 20-year follow-up. “The idea is that this helps build cognitive reserve,” says Dr. Verghese, whose study also found benefits to playing board games like Monopoly. “The more these activities buffer against the disease, you may be able to mask the effects of the disease for longer periods of time. It buys you extra time.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

Read more of less

Reading, in general, is good for the brain. But reading fewer books and articles so you can give them each of them more focused attention may be even better. “Our brain doesn’t do very well with too much information. The more you download, the more it shuts the brain down,” says Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, director of the Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas at Dallas. “It’s better to read one or two good articles and think about them in a deeper sense rather than read 20.”

Change your font

Next time you have to read through some documents for work, consider changing the typeface before you print them out. Chances are, the docs came to you in an easy-to-read font like Arial or Times New Roman, but switching it to something a little less legible like Comic Sans or Bodoni may improve your comprehension and recall of the information, according to a small study out of Harvard University. Likewise, a study at a Ohio high school revealed that students who received handouts with less-legible type performed better on tests than the students who were given more readable materials. It’s a version of the no-pain-no-gain phenomenon: When you exert more effort, your brain rewards you by becoming stronger. But make sure you keep things new by changing fonts regularly.

Single-task

If you think your ability to multitask proves you’ve got a strong brain, think again. “Multitasking hijacks your frontal lobe,” says Chapman, who is also the author of Make Your Brain Smarter. The frontal lobe regulates decision-making, problem-solving, and other aspects of learning that are critical to maintaining brain health. Research has shown that doing one thing at a time—not everything at once—strengthens higher-order reasoning, or the ability to learn, understand, and apply new information.

HEALTH.COM: 25 Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease

Write about your stress

In one study, college students who wrote about stressful experiences for 20 minutes three days in a row improved their working memories and their grade point averages. Students who wrote about neutral events saw no such improvements. “We hypothesized that stress causes unwanted, intrusive thoughts,” says study co-author Adriel Boals, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Texas in Denton. “Writing gets rid of intrusive thoughts then working memory increases.” If something’s bothering you, don’t bottle it up.

Take up knitting

Activities that put your hands to work, like knitting, crocheting, and gardening, are proven stress relievers, and they may also keep your brain young. In a 2013 survey of about 3,500 knitters around the world, there was a correlation between knitting frequency and cognitive function; the more people knitted, the better function they had.

Find your purpose

People who feel they’ve found their purpose in life have lower rates of depression and tend to live longer. Studies also show that this positive outlook also benefits the brain. In one study, those who reported having a strong purpose in life were more than twice as likely to stay Alzheimer’s-free than people who did not profess a purpose. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you have at home or at work. You could also try volunteering for a cause that’s meaningful to you.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways to Improve Your Concentration at Work

Be social

Spending lots of time with friends and family, especially as you get older, may be one of the best buffers against mental decline. In one study, people who participated in social activities more often and who felt that they had ample social support did better on several measures of memory, as well as mental processing speed. “Social engagement is linked with mental agility,” says Carey Gleason, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison.

Play a video game

Companies like Lumosity charge you a monthly fee for brain-training games, but playing puzzle games on your kid’s Xbox may have the same effects—and depending on what you play, may be even more effective. In a Florida State University study, subjects either played games on Lumosity.com or played Portal 2, a popular action-puzzle game for computers, Playstation, and Xbox. Those who played Portal 2 scored better on problem solving, spatial skill, and persistence tests. Other research shows that playing Tetris may increase gray matter in the brain.

Use your time efficiently

Don’t spend an hour doing something that should take you 10 minutes. Conversely, don’t spend 10 minutes on something that deserves an hour. In other words, calibrate your mental energy. “Decide from the get-go how much mental energy you are going to spend on a task,” says Chapman. “Giving your full forceful energy all the time really degrades resources. You need to know when to do something fast and when to do something slow.”

HEALTH.COM: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Miss

Write by hand

Sure, typing is faster, but writing longhand may be better for your brain. Studies have shown that students learn better when they take notes by hand because it forces them to process the information as they take it in. The cursive you learned in elementary school may be particularly useful. First graders who learned to write in cursive scored higher on reading and spelling than peers who wrote in print.

Take naps

Go ahead, sneak in a super-quick catnap: it’ll recharge your brain. One group of German researchers saw improvements in memory among people who dozed for as little as six minutes, although the results were even better among those who napped longer. Conversely, problems sleeping, including sleep apnea and insomnia, are associated with dementia. That research is still early (people with dementia have disturbed sleep), but bear in mind that sleeping seven to eight hours a night may help you live longer and, hopefully, healthier.

Wash the dishes

It may be easier than you think to get the optimal amount of physical activity. According to one study, washing the dishes, cooking, and cleaning can add to our daily activity total and are linked with a reduced risk of dementia. In the study, people with the least amount of total physical activity were more than twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s compared with people reporting the most activity. Even playing cards and moving a wheelchair counted.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Ramp it up

Whether it’s physical activity or mental activity, you need to keep pushing your limits in order to reap the benefits. “You need to challenge yourself to the next level so you get the benefits,” says Verghese. Don’t be satisfied with finishing Monday’s easy crossword puzzle. Keep going until you master Saturday’s brainteaser as well. The same with walking: keep lengthening your distance.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME global health

This Species Is Close to Extinction and That’s a Good Thing

This July 28, 2004 picture shows volunteers Moises Matos and Helen Hand help assemble medical kits to fight Guinea worm disease at a warehouse in Atlanta.
Volunteers Moises Matos and Helen Hand help assemble medical kits to fight Guinea worm disease at a warehouse on July 28, 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia. John Bazemore—AP

The disappearance would mark the scouring of a disease from the face of the earth

WSF logo small

The Guinea worm is inching ever closer to extinction, but unlike just about every other endangered species, no one is going to try to save it, least of all scientists. On the contrary, the worm’s disappearance would mark the scouring of a disease from the face of the earth—a feat humanity’s only been able to celebrate twice before, with the end of smallpox in 1980 and of the cattle disease rinderpest in 2011. (Polio, despite the fact that a vaccine’s been around for more than half a century, has managed to hang on by its microscopic threads.)

What Is Guinea Worm Disease?

The Guinea worm is a parasite that enters the human body when the unwitting host-to-be drinks water contaminated with tiny water fleas in which Guinea worm larvae lurk. Once ingested, the fleas die and the Guinea worm larvae enter the host’s abdominal cavity and, unbeknownst to the host, begin maturing into a worm or worms that grow up to three feet in length. After about a year a painful blister forms on the host’s skin accompanied by itching and a burning sensation. Within about 10 to 15 days, one or more worms erupt from the person’s skin in a painful and drawn-out process. The emergence can occur from different parts of the body, including the roof of the mouth, the genitals, or the eye sockets, but around 90 percent of the worms emerge from the lower legs, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). (There are plenty of videos of Guinea worm extractions on YouTube, but be warned they’re quite unsettling.)

While the disease rarely kills, it can leave the host debilitated and weakened for a short or long period of time.

“The lesions caused by the worms often develop secondary bacterial infections that migrate all along the tract where the worm was,” says Ernesto Ruiz-Tiben, the director of the Carter Center’s Guinea worm eradication program. “The pain and agony can last for weeks.”

To alleviate the pain, the infected person often dips the part of the body from which the worm has emerged into water, where the female worm that is emerging can lay more larvae, and begin the process anew.

A Disease on the Decline

Thanks in large part to the work of the Carter Center, the incidence of Guinea worm disease (also known as dracunculiasis, which is Latin for “affliction with little dragons”) has plummeted in recent years, falling from an estimated 3.5 million cases worldwide in the mid-1980s to just 148 in 2013 and 126 in 2014, according to the WHO.

How has such success been achieved? It’s taken the concerted effort of all involved—the scientists who have figured out how to contain it, community organizers who have helped spread the word on preventative solutions, and the people in areas where Guinea worm disease has been a big problem who are implementing the necessary changes to keep the parasite at bay.

“Guinea worm eradication is like an orchestra: Every player has to play their own instrument but play from the same page of music,” says Ruiz-Tiben.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: The Rise of Preventable Illnesses

There’s No Cure for the Long-Lived Dracunculiasis, but Preventive Measures Are Finding Success

While it could disappear in the near future, dracunculiasis is a disease that has been around for centuries. It is believed to be the “fiery serpents” referenced in the Old Testament, and the calcified remains of a male Guinea worm were found in an Egyptian mummy.

The treatment has been around a long time too. A description found on an Egyptian papyrus from 1,500 BC outlines the treatment that’s followed today: Wind the worm around a stick as it emerges.

But unlike rinderpest and smallpox, Guinea worm disease cannot be vaccinated against. Preventing its infection is a matter of making sure people don’t drink the contaminated water. To that end, education and water filtration are key. Both cloth filters, used to filter large amounts of water in containers, and smaller pipe filters, used like a straw when drinking, can screen out the water fleas that carry the Guinea worm larvae. There are also ways of chemically treating water sources to reduce populations of water fleas, but the microorganisms eventually return.

“There’s no magic bullet against this disease,” Ruiz-Taben says. But “the more barriers we can put out there to interrupt the life cycle of this disease, the greater likelihood there is that we can interrupt transmission.”

Once spread across Africa, the worm is now holding on only in South Sudan, Mali, Chad, and Ethiopia. Stamping out those last few strongholds, says Ruiz-Taben, is just a matter of continuing the cooperative work that’s been going on since the 1990s. As the journalist Julius Cavendish wrote in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization this past December:

“Not only is guinea-worm disease relatively easy to control, in theory, but the benefits of eradication far outweigh the costs. … According to a 1997 World Bank study, the economic rate of return on the investment in Guinea-worm disease eradication will be about 29% per year once the disease is eradicated… removing guinea-worm disease translates into hundreds of thousands of communities better able to work their fields, send their children to school and escape the cycle of poverty and disease.”

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: How We Bounce Back: The New Science of Human Resilience

If Wiped Out, Could It Recrudesce?

If the number of cases drops to zero, there should be little chance of dracunculiasis coming back. There could be hurdles to its total annhilation, however. While Guinea worms (unlike Ebola) don’t seem to have a widespread tendency to hide out in animals when they’re not infecting humans, there have been a few reports of dogs with the worms reported in Chad; if this turns out to be a more common phenomenon, eradication efforts may have to turn to preventing those canine cases too. And if those countries that host the last areas of Guinea worm infestation were to suffer from war, famine, or other kinds of instability, that could slow the process of eradication. In Mali, for example, just seven cases were reported in 2012—but those numbers increased slightly in 2013 and 2014, when conflict with Islamist rebels hampered eradication efforts.

Still, the ultimate end looks to be within reach. Does Ruiz-Taben think he’ll see Guinea worm disease completely eliminated in his lifetime?

“I am very hopeful—more than hopeful,” he says.

WORLD SCIENCE FESTIVAL: What Will Happen to Your Body in 2015?

This article originally appeared on World Science Festival.

TIME Sex

How Birth Control Has Changed Over the Centuries

A history of contraception, in all its many forms

Birth control may still be a hot button issue today in some countries, but men and women have been using contraceptives for thousands of years, albeit with varied results.

In ancient China, a popular remedy involved drinking a cocktail of lead and mercury. In ancient Egypt, a paste made out of honey, sodium carbonate, and crocodile dung was a popular form of contraception.

However, not all historic forms of contraception were based on superstition. A prototype of the cervical cap has been in use since the 18th century, and cave drawings in France appear to show a version of a condom.

For much of the 19th and early 20th centuries women in the U.S. had a hard time getting their hands on effective contraception. Due to anti-obscenity laws, doctors were not allowed to spread information about birth control.

To compensate for the lack of official methods, household products like Lysol and Coca-Cola were often used, as they were believed to kill sperm.

In 1960 modern birth control was born, when the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive pill for women. Within 5 years, millions of American women had prescriptions for the pill. Today, 99% of women of child-bearing age say they have used some form of birth control.

However, universal access to birth control still does not exist worldwide. Some 220 million women from developing countries say they want to use birth control but don’t have access.

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