TIME Infectious Disease

Remember MERS? Scientists Want Treatments to be Ready, Unlike Ebola

MERS is another disease with no cure or vaccine--can scientists get ahead while there's still time?

Do you remember MERS? That’s right, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus infection (MERS or MERS Co-V). It may seem like a disease of the past now, but there was a time only months ago that we had similar if not equally overreactive fears about whether the disease–which was spreading primarily in the Middle East–could spread through the United States.

In fact, there were a few cases of MERS in the U.S. in May. The CDC told Americans that: “In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS Co-V to make it to the United States.” And though the virus is a very different disease from Ebola, it similarly transmits between humans only via direct contact–making health care workers the most at risk. And like Ebola, there is no vaccine or cure.

Right before MERS slipped off our collective radars only to be replaced by the deadly Ebola virus one continent over, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported in July that it had received reports of 837 laboratory-confirmed cases of infection with MERS-CoV including at least 291 related deaths.

So, why is no one talking about MERS right now? Cases and deaths appear to have leveled off for now, which is leading researchers–who are very much still paying attention to the disease–to believe that perhaps it’s seasonal, like the flu. “It appears we are dropping out of MERS season,” says study author Darryl Falzarano, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). “It could be happening again in the spring. It’s possible that MERS could be more chronic, and Ebola is more sporadic.”

In a recent paper, a team of National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists, including Falzarano, report that they’ve concluded that marmosets are the best animal model for testing potential treatments for MERS. The team has tested its fair share of critters, starting with small rodents like hamsters and ferrets, and eventually landing on another type of money called the rhesus macaques.

The trouble with finding the right animal is that viruses react differently depending on the host, and sometimes the cells won’t accept the virus, making testing useless. Though the rhesus macaques were able to contract MERS, their symptoms only grew to that of a humans’ mild to moderate symptoms, which is not as critical for testing as severe.

Now, the finding–published in the journal PLoS Pathogens– is by no means groundbreaking. But it highlights just how difficult and time consuming it can be to develop a drug or vaccine for an uncommon virus. One of the primary topics of debate during the current Ebola outbreak is whether experimental drugs should be used. The two now-recovered American Ebola patients received an experimental drug called ZMapp, and WHO is in the process of developing guidelines for how such treatments should be used. But the inconvenient truth is that even if a drug for Ebola is available, and most manufacturers only have limited amounts, we really have no idea whether they could work. It might just be too late for this outbreak.

But what about MERS?

“You cannot expect magic bullet types of cures off the bat,” says study author Vincent Munster, chief of the Virus Ecology Unit at NIAID. “The viruses we work with are really niche viruses, so there’s not a lot of interest from pharmaceutical companies. But I think this outbreak could propel some recent developments and vaccines.”

There are currently drugs and vaccines in the pipeline undergoing testing for MERS, and like in the current outbreak, they could be considered for last-ditch efforts. Scientists are not just studying how to develop methods to treat MERS, but they’re also trying to determine how it transmits from what appear to be camels, to people, plus whether or not there’s potential it could become airborne. The hope is that as our world continues to become more and more connected, there will emerge an incentive to develop and produce treatments for deadly diseases that we still don’t fully understand.

Thankfully, it appears we have some time when it comes to MERS–at least until spring.

TIME Opinion

Scooby Doo and the Unfortunate Case of Fat Shaming

The latest Scooby Doo film "curses" Daphne by turning her from a size 2 to an 8

+ READ ARTICLE

Tuesday marked the release of Frankencreepy, Warner Bros.’s latest straight-to-video Scooby Doo feature. But it turns out the real villain in the kid’s flick isn’t the monster. It’s Warner Bros. Here’s why.

The movie begins innocently enough. Velma inherits her uncle’s haunted castle, unleashing a curse on the Mystery Gang that makes them lose what they “hold most dear.” Scooby, for example, loses his snacks. And what fate, pray tell, befalls stylish and slender Daphne? She transforms from a size 2 to… a size 8.

That’s right, it is a “curse” to be a size that’s considerably smaller than the national average, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates at 5’4″ and 166 pounds. Cue the tears, screams and shattered cartoon mirrors! Because according to this supposedly feel-good-flick, weight gain is the ultimate horror.

This screengrab from the film shows how “cursed” Daphne is portrayed in the film. Which is still below the average size of an American woman:

Scooby Doo: Frankencreepy

Here’s a self-reported actual size 8, exhibited by the beautiful Mariska Hargitay:

Haley & Jason Binn Host A Memorial Day Party
Mariska Hargitay attends Haley & Jason Binn’s Memorial Day party Johnny Nunez—Getty Images

And here’s Christina Hendricks, another redheaded icon who displays her reported size-14 curves with pride:

Cast member Christina Hendricks poses at the premiere for the seventh season of the television series "Mad Men" in Los Angeles, California April 2, 2014.
Cast member Christina Hendricks poses at the premiere for the seventh season of the television series “Mad Men” in Los Angeles, California April 2, 2014. Mario Anzuoni—Reuters

But back to Daphne:

Scooby Doo: Frankencreepy

We don’t need to call the Mystery Gang to figure out where kids pick up unrealistic body expectations and weight stigma.

“It’s sad to think that my daughter can’t even watch a cartoon about a dog solving mysteries without negative body stereotypes being thrown in her face,” blogger Tom Burns wrote. And for a mere $3.99 on Amazon Prime, you too can subject your elementary-school-age daughter to an early dose of fat shaming

In a statement to the Huffington Post, however, Warner Bros. said that while Daphne does lose “her good looks (mainly her figure and her hair)”— implying that an actual realistic figure isn’t, in fact, an attractive one — the message is one of empowerment since Daphne realizes she was being superficial and Fred still thinks she’s hot.

While Daphne is at first upset by the sudden change, there is a touching moment where Fred points out that he didn’t even notice a change and that she always looks great to him.

At the end, when Velma explains how they figured out the mystery, she points out that the curse actually DIDN’T take away what means the most to each of them: their friendship.

The loss of Daphne’s regular appearance is proven to be a superficial thing, and not what actually matters the most to her.

There’s a good message for your 10-year-old. Not having an almost unattainably perfect figure doesn’t matter “the most.” It just matters a lot.

Jeepers.

(Warner Bros is owned by Time Warner, which spun off TIME parent company Time Inc earlier this year.)

TIME Infectious Disease

How Some People Are Surviving the Deadliest Ebola Outbreak in History

Kent Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, stands with wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Aug. 21, 2014.
Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus, stands with wife Amber during a press conference at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta on Aug. 21, 2014 Tami Chappell—Reuters

Two Americans who contracted Ebola in Liberia have been declared virus-free

Ebola is a nasty virus, but contracting it isn’t always a death sentence.

The current outbreak is immense — the worst in recorded history — and aid organizations in West Africa are stressing the need for more people on the ground, not to mention additional supplies and space.

But in a rare instance of positive news on Thursday, it was announced that two Americans who became infected in Liberia and were evacuated to an Atlanta hospital for treatment had been discharged and are now virus-free. One of them, Dr. Kent Brantly, appeared healthy while speaking at a press conference.

Ebola’s fatality rate in the current outbreak is slightly over 50% — with 2,473 cases and 1,350 deaths — and previous outbreaks have hovered up to 90%. So it may seem hard to understand how someone can survive the disease, which attacks people’s organs and thins blood vessels. But the physicians at Emory University Hospital, where the American patients were treated, tell TIME that even though Ebola’s death rates are frankly terrifying, it’s key to remember that those are in countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — with comparatively weak health care systems. Multiple patients are kept together in a single space and health care workers have neither enough protective equipment nor resources to provide the supportive care that patients need — like isolation, clean linens and replenished fluids and electrolytes.

Still, some people in the U.S. and elsewhere manage to survive the deadly disease.

There’s no cure or treatment for Ebola, but some drugs are being tested. That includes ZMapp, which Brantly and Nancy Writebol received in Liberia. But, their physicians say since they were the first human patients to get the drug, there’s no way to tell what impact it had.

Experimental drugs aside, what doctors can provide Ebola patients is supportive care, like monitoring their heart rate, blood pressure and breathing, as well as replenishing fluids, which can help keep the body as stable as possible so it can fight the virus. (A lack of protective equipment and high demand make this type of care difficult in some of the hardest-hit areas of the outbreak.)

When a person is infected with a virus, their immune system starts to create antibodies to attack it. If the person is strong enough and their body sustains that strength long enough, their immune system can eventually neutralize and clear the virus on its own. Ebola can be detected through blood tests, the results of which only take a day or two to get back. The doctors at Emory said they were able to determine through both blood and urine-diagnostic tests — and with the help of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — that the virus was no longer in the patients’ systems and that they were both symptomless for at least two or three days.

Now there are questions about whether they are carriers, or if they could relapse, or whether they are still infectious. The doctors have confidently said no to all those questions. “The general experience is that once they have survived — especially this far into the disease — they are not contagious, they don’t relapse and they don’t spread the virus to anyone else,” Dr. Bruce Ribner of Emory University Hospital said in the press conference. “We have no evidence of a carrier state for this disease … We anticipate [they will have] immunity to this virus.”

Thanks largely to the quality of care they received, Brantly and Writebol are alive, giving hope that the virus can be conquered in patients with pointed care. But that type of assistance isn’t always available in the areas where Ebola is spreading fastest. “Please, do not stop praying for the people of Liberia and West Africa,” Brantly said on Thursday, in a plea for the public not to forget those who won’t have a recovery similar to his.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Breakfast Might Not Help You Lose Weight

Bowl of colorful breakfast cereal with spoon
Getty Images

Breakfast can be a solid nutritional dividing line. Cross into the realm of whole grains and eggs, and you feel great about embracing what we’ve come to know as the “most important meal of the day.” Abstain, and you’re in for some skipped-breakfast shame.

But researchers are questioning the merits of the morning meal, according to two rigorous trials in which people were randomly assigned to eat breakfast or not, appearing in the August issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The two studies explored the main claims made about the benefits of breakfast—that it helps with weight loss and boosts metabolism. James Betts, one of the study’s authors and a senior lecturer in nutrition and metabolism at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, decided to look into the research more closely after a colleague criticized his habit of skipping breakfast. He found very little. As a scientist, I was quite shocked actually at how sparse the evidence base was,” he says.

In one study from the University of Bath, researchers instructed 33 lean adults to either eat nothing in the morning or a 700-calorie breakfast of their choice. After six weeks of the intervention, researchers found that eating breakfast didn’t rev metabolism—instead, the participants’ resting metabolic rates remained the same. Skipping breakfast didn’t prompt the volunteers to gorge at lunchtime either, another common claim. So in these people, having a smaller appetite wasn’t a byproduct of breakfast.

But breakfast eaters didn’t lose more weight. That’s perhaps not surprising, given that the study lasted only a few weeks, but the other larger, longer study in the same issue came to a similar conclusion. Researchers from several institutions assigned about 300 overweight and obese people to one of three groups for 16 weeks: those instructed to eat breakfast, those told to skip it, and a control group vaguely told to have a healthy diet. “What we found was absolutely no difference in the change of weight among the three groups, severely calling into question the idea—at least among ordinary adults—that it’s important to eat a good breakfast every day for the purposes of weight control,” says David Allison, one of the study authors and distinguished professor and director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Still, there were some distinct perks to taking the time to eat breakfast. Breakfast eaters moved more, burning away 442 calories more than the non-breakfast group. “That’s equivalent to running on the treadmill for an hour or so for many people,” Betts says, “and that was just accumulated from being generally more active throughout the day.” Breakfast eaters also maintained steadier blood sugar levels and Betts is studying what breakfast foods are most likely to promote these healthy effects.

So is it better to eat breakfast or skip it? More trials are needed—especially longer ones, and those studying the type of breakfast consumed—but a morning meal doesn’t appear to be a weight-loss silver bullet, even though it may help you move more.

Betts says the new research can be helpful no matter where you fall on the breakfast spectrum. “If you’re like me and you skip breakfast, you can just use this information to be aware that you may not be as active as you otherwise would be,” he says. “So you should consciously think, don’t be lazy today.” And if you are a fan of the morning meal, then you can be satisfied that you’re more likely to be physically active during the day — something that most doctors agree is a good thing.

TIME Research

Why Some Catholics Won’t Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Concerns raised about stem cell research

Not everyone is jumping to take part in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which has gone viral and raised millions for research into Lou Gehrig’s disease. Following the Archdiocese of Cincinnati’s decision to ban its schools from donating to the ALS Association and a widely read blog post by a Catholic priest, some Catholics are questioning the ethics of contributing to ALS charities that fund research with embryonic stem cells.

“We deeply appreciate the compassion, but there’s a well established moral principle that goods ends are not enough. The means must also be morally licit,” said Cincinnati Archdiocese spokesperson Dan Andriacco.

Father Michael Duffy, whose blog post on the issue has been shared on Facebook more than 100,000 times, said he started hearing chatter online two weeks ago suggesting that donations to the ALS Association might be used for embryonic stem cell research, which conflicts with Catholic doctrine. When he was nominated for the challenge himself, he looked into it and discovered that the ALS Association did in fact fund embryonic stem cell research.

Catholic church doctrine holds that life begins at conception. Because embryonic stem cells come from very early-stage embryos, the church holds that destroying the embryo is akin to taking a life.

ALS Association spokesperson Carrie Munk acknowledged that the organization currently funds one study using embryonic stem cells, but added that donors can ask that their money not be used for this purpose.

Duffy said that option isn’t sufficient.

“I would still have trouble with that because you’re supporting an organization that is taking someone’s life,” he said.

Instead, he suggested an alternative charity, the John Paul II Medical Research Institute, which advocates for stem cell research using adult stem cells. In Cincinnati, the Archdiocese has taken Duffy’s recommendation and asked its schools to direct their funds there if they want to participate in the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Apparently, Duffy’s recommendation is working. The John Paul II organization said it has received dozens of donations per hour in recent days and that its website crashed because of the influx in traffic. Typically, the organization only receives a couple donations each day.

But despite the questions from some Catholics, the ALS Association continues to rake in cash. It’s raised $41 million since July 29, compared with just over $2 million in the same period last year.

TIME Infectious Disease

1,400 Are Dead From Ebola and We Need Help, Says Doctors Without Borders President

Workers prepare the new Doctors Without Borders (MSF), Ebola treatment center on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. Tents at the center were provided by UNICEF.
Workers prepare the new Doctors Without Borders, Ebola treatment center on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. Tents at the center were provided by UNICEF. John Moore—Getty Images

The epidemic won't be contained without more treatment centers, coordinated action, logistical assets and health workers 

Entire families are being wiped out. Health workers are dying by the dozens. The Ebola outbreak raging in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone has already killed more people than any other in history, and it continues to spread unabated.

And the death toll is being exacerbated by an emergency unfolding within an emergency.

People are also dying from easily preventable and treatable diseases like malaria and diarrhea because fear of contamination has closed medical facilities, leading to the effective collapse of health systems. While I was in Liberia last week, six pregnant women lost their babies over the course of a single day for lack of a hospital to admit them and manage their complications.

Over the past two weeks, there have been some welcome signs but not enough action: the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” and announced additional funds to fight the disease; the World Bank announced a $200 million emergency fund; and the UN Secretary General appointed a special envoy for Ebola.

But 1,350 lives have already been lost. To prevent more deaths, these funding and political initiatives must be translated into immediate, effective action on the ground.

We need medical and emergency relief workers to trace those who may be infected, to educate people about protection measures and to work in treatment centers. Many more people are needed in the field, right now.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams have treated more than 900 patients in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. We have 1,086 staff operating in these countries and we have just opened a 120-bed treatment center in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, making it by far the largest Ebola center in history. But it is already overwhelmed with patients and we simply do not have additional response capacity. Others must enter the breach.

In Kailahun, Sierra Leone, 2,000 people who came into contact with Ebola patients must be urgently followed up. But we have only been able to trace about 200 of them.

Health promotion campaigns and body collections are stalled for lack of vehicles or fuel. Epidemiologists are unable to work because of a lack of logistical support. And pervasive fears among communities that had never encountered Ebola have provoked riots against health workers.

The epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment on the ground. WHO in particular must step up to the challenge. And governments with the necessary medical and logistical resources must go beyond funding pledges and immediately dispatch infectious disease experts and disaster relief assets to the region.

Additional resources are needed to properly map the epidemic, implement efficient general hygiene measures in all medical and public places, run safe treatment centers, trace suspected cases, train health workers, set up functioning alert and referral systems and, crucially, spread accurate information about how people can protect themselves from infection.

Equally important is fighting fear. Quarantines and curfews will only breed more of it. People need to have access to information, otherwise distrust of health workers will only increase and provoke further violence. Communities and governments need to work together to control the epidemic and care for the sick.

Some measure of humanity must also be restored in the fight against Ebola.

As doctors, we have been forced to provide little more than palliative care because of the sheer number of infected people and lack of an available cure. The extreme measures needed to protect health workers, including wearing stifling protective suits, also means we cannot remain bedside with patients to ease their suffering, or allow family members to do so. In their final hours, many people are dying alone.

While we try to find creative solutions to enable families to communicate with their sick relatives, they should at minimum be supported to participate safely in the burials of loved ones. This would also help rebuild trust between communities and those trying to contain the epidemic.

At the same time, additional support is needed to prevent health systems in Liberia and Sierra Leone from further collapse. After years of civil war, these countries already struggle to meet the basic health needs of their people, let alone cope with a public health emergency of this magnitude. Sierra Leone and Liberia, for instance, have just 0.2 and 0.1 doctors per 10,000 people, respectively (a rate 240 times less than in the United States).

Last week, all of Monrovia’s hospitals were at one point closed. There is no surgical care available in the entire country right now. Pregnant women cannot receive emergency C-sections. Health facilities must be re-opened or established to treat common illnesses. We will otherwise face a second wave of this health catastrophe.

Slowing and then halting this outbreak requires much more than money and statements. The only way to contain the epidemic is to increase the response capacity in affected areas, not by closing borders and suspending air travel.

Meaningful and coordinated action is needed on the ground today if we don’t want to be reduced to counting the dead for many weeks to come, whether from Ebola or other far less sinister diseases.

Dr. Joanne Liu is the international president of Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).

TIME

This Berry Is Causing A Super-Food War Between America and Canada

A fruit picker holds a quart basket of Saskatoon berries at G&S Orchards in Walworth, N.Y. on June 26, 2013 .
A fruit picker holds a quart basket of Saskatoon berries at G&S Orchards in Walworth, N.Y. on June 26, 2013 . Jim Ochterski—AP

Americans haven't warmed to the name. How about "juneberry" instead?

“One berry, two berry, pick me a…Saskatoon berry?!” The name of this little-known purple fruit doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. No marketer’s dream here. And now some Canadians who have long cultivated the tiny super-food are crying foul over a quiet U.S.-led push to re-brand it: from saskatoon to juneberry. And there’s no truce in sight.

Thanks to its powerful anti-oxidant properties and to the entrepreneurial efforts of a handful of commercial growers, this under-the-radar berry has garnered a new wave of interest in parts of the U.S. Some think this delicious fruit–it tastes like a mixture of cherries, almonds and grapes– could be on its way to hit the super-fruit jackpot, a market which altogether will be worth $10 billion by 2017, predicts research firm Euromonitor International.

If only Americans could pronounce its name. Or spell it. (Canadians, of course, have no diction problems since the name is derived from the city in the Saskatchewan province, Saskatoon.)

Jim Fang, saskatoon berry expert and professor—he fittingly hails from the University of Saskatchewan—is in the midst of establishing the fruit’s precise health effects, which compare to those of the blueberry, the superfruit darling of the past. His prediction: “The saskatoon berry will be offered as an alternative to the blueberry.” The two fruits even look alike.

But Canadian cultivators are a few steps ahead of their southern counterparts: Growers there scooped up 575 tons of the berry last year — dwarfing the United States’ production which is estimated at four tons — and have just begun a promising harvest that will span August.

And the fruit is so popular in Canada it has even shaped the country’s geography. Stroll the streets of Saskatoon, population 200,000, and you’ll run into a 4-meter tall bronze sculpture capturing the city’s berry-driven founding myth. It depicts a Native American chief pointing to the town’s future location while an explorer to his side dubs it the saskatoon, named after the berry long-known by the indigenous population. Canadians kept the moniker.

Yet, many Americans haven’t taken to the name. Maybe because we’re still grappling with the acai berry pronunciation.

“There are certain things that Canadians and Americans do differently and names on things happen to be one of those,” says Jim Ochterski, agriculture issues leader at Cornell University’s Cooperative Extension. The institution has championed the berry stateside by introducing it to cultivators. “We decided to predominantly call them juneberries.”

When a berry is in a pickle

Some Canadians are offended by the name change — to the extent Canadians can get offended.

Sandra Purdy, president of the Saskatoon Berry Council of Canada, the trade group representing the industry, is the de facto saskatoon berry queen of Canada. At a time when funding was flowing to Silicon Valley tech start-ups, she pitched the project of building a saskatoon business empire on the television show “Dragon’s Den,” the Canadian equivalent of “The Apprentice.” An equity firm eventually took the bait and Purdy’s company, Prairie Berries, has grown into one of the largest saskatoon berry producers in Canada.

Purdy says she felt “slighted” when, earlier this summer, she received an email from Cornell’s Cooperative Extension suggesting that Canadian growers use juneberry instead of saskatoon berry “to help overall marketing of the berry.”

“That won’t happen,” she said, “Especially given that they got those plants from Saskatchewan and our Canadian-grown berries.”

The berry is such a source of pride in Canada that it drives a few thousand enthusiasts each year to gather in the town of Mortlach, Saskatchewan, for the Saskatoon Berry Festival — a get together that centers around gobbling the berry in large quantities. (A recent slogan of the gathering: “2,500 people with purple teeth can’t be wrong…”)

One berry, two countries

Still, Americans are indebted to Canadians when it comes to this tongue-tying fruit.

When Cornell Cooperative Extension began growing juneberry in 2010, it brought in its plants from Canada, where a domesticated cultivar grows more berries per bush than any of its cousins across North America.

But Ochterski and his group from Cornell Cooperative Extension followed the money trail. When their market research revealed that Canada’s saskatoon berries seduced the palate of U.S. consumers, but the name didn’t resonate nearly as well as ‘juneberry’ did, which is what the variety found in the Northeast is called, they switched.

“It’s not the Canadian name but it’s the name that seems to sell,” says Ochterski.

It’s not a unanimous stance, however. “I just think ‘saskatoon’ has a sexier name to it than a ‘juneberry,’” says Steve Fouch, one of the founders of a group of growers in Michigan assembled under the Saskatoon Berry Institute of North America.

True to their reputation, Canadians have striven for a compromise. The packages of frozen berries Purdy exports to the U.S. were originally only labeled as ‘saskatoon berries.’ Prairie Berries now offers to its U.S. customers adding, ‘aka june berry’ – but “only… if the customer we are selling to specifically requests us to label it as such,” said Purdy.

Upon hearing about the disagreement, Faye Campbell, the village administrator in Mortlach, Canada where the Saskatoon Berry Festival took place earlier this month, attempts to reach a middle ground. “I guess we might have to change the name of the festival?” she said. “Or not?”

TIME Infectious Disease

Polio’s Two Vaccines Are More Effective When They’re Combined

For decades, there’s been a tug-of-war between the oral and inactivated polio vaccines over which is more effective at preventing the paralyzing disease. Researchers have now resolved the dispute and say that pairing them are better than either alone

When it comes to fighting a virus, having as many weapons as possible, especially in the form of vaccines that can prevent infection, is certainly welcome. And that’s always been the case with polio, which has not one but two effective immunizations that can stop the virus from causing debilitating paralysis. Which is more effective in preventing illness and which is better at stopping transmission of the virus? Scientists report in the journal Science that neither is ideal, but that together, the vaccines are powerful enough to achieve both results. The results “revolutionize our thinking about how to use polio vaccines optimally,” says Hamid Jafari, director of polio operations and research at the WHO, who led the research.

Recent efforts to erradicate polio has pitched the two vaccines against each other. Developed in the 1950s and 1960s, one was made by Jonas Salk using killed polio virus, and the other, developed by Albert Sabin, uses a weakened but still live virus that could replicate in the human gut to deliver immunity. Jafari and his colleagues, report that children vaccinated with the oral polio vaccine who then received a boost of the Salk vaccine showed the lowest amount of virus in their feces—one of the primary ways that the virus spreads from person to person—and excreted these viruses for a shorter period of time than children who had been immunized with the oral vaccine and received a boost with an additional dose of the same oral vaccine.

MORE: WHO Declares Health Emergency on Polio

The WHO’s global effort to eradicate polio has relied heavily on the oral vaccine, because it’s a liquid that can be eaily given to children orally, and it’s cheaper. Plus, the oral vaccine, because it contains a weakened virus that can reproduce in the human gut, helped to reduce the volume of virus excreted in the feces, and thus lower the chances that others coming in contact with the feces could get infected.

But in places where polio infections were rampant, such as northern India, the oral vaccines didn’t seem to be doing much good at reducing the burden of disease. Even when children were getting the recommended three doses, rates of infections remained high. “The transmission pressure was extremely high in these areas that were densely populated, had a high birth rate, poor sanitation and high rates of diarrhea,” says Jafari. In those regions, it took an additional 10 to 12 vaccination campaigns—about one a month to provide children with additional doses on top of the recommended three doses—to finally control the disease and limit spread of the virus. It turns out that the immunity provided by the oral vaccine wanes over time.

In order to eradicate the disease, public health officials knew they had to do better. So they tested whether adding in the inactivated vaccine would help. And among 954 infants and children aged five years to 10 years who had already received several doses of oral vaccine, adding a shot of the inactivated vaccine did help them to shed less virus compared to those who received another dose of the oral vaccine.

PHOTOS: Endgame for an Enduring Disease? Pakistan’s Fight Against Polio

With polio currently endemic in Pakistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Syrian Arab Republic, the WHO declared the spread of polio a public health emergency of international concern, and issued temporary recommendations for all residents and long-term visitors to those countries to receive a dose of either the oral or inactivated vaccine before traveling out of the country. In other countries where polio has been found, such as in some sewage samples and fecal samples from residents in Israel, health officials have also advised residents living in those regions to receive a dose of inactivated polio vaccine in order to limit spread of the virus.

“The inactivated polio virus vaccine is becoming an important tool in preventing international spread of polio,” says Jafari. Whenever outbreaks of the disease occur, health officials are now recommending that even vaccinated individuals who could be infected but not get sick, receive an additional shot of the inactivated vaccine in order to limit the amount of virus they shed and spread to others.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Consumer Reports Says Pregnant Women Should ‘Avoid All Tuna’

Standards For "Dolphin-Safe" Tuna Label Upheld In Federal Court
Cans of tuna are seen on a shelf August 12, 2004 in a grocery store in Des Plaines, Illinois. Tim Boyle—Getty Images

A new report analyzes the mercury levels in fish

In a new analysis of government data on mercury levels in fish, Consumer Reports suggests that pregnant women should “avoid all tuna” — particularly if it comes in a can.

Earlier this summer, the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration suggested that women who are pregnant, want to get pregnant, or are breast feeding should eat up to 12 ounces of fish a week. While fish can be a good source of protein and provider of nutrients, Consumer Reports released an article Thursday warning vigilance given the high mercury level in many fish, including tuna.

“We’re particularly concerned about canned tuna, which is second only to shrimp as the most commonly eaten seafood in the United States,” said Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, in a statement. “We encourage pregnant women to avoid all tuna.”

While Consumer Reports identified 20 seafoods that can be eaten safely several times a week, the report reads:

“Consumer Reports disagrees with the recommendations from the FDA and EPA on how much tuna women and children may eat. (We don’t think pregnant women should eat any.) We also believe the agencies do not do enough to guide consumers to the best low-mercury seafood choices. To make decisions easier for consumers, our chart below gives advice about good low-mercury choices.”

The federal agencies and Consumer Reports agree that childbearing women and small children should avoid swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish due to mercury levels.

[Consumer Reports]

TIME Infectious Disease

Americans With Ebola Discharged From Atlanta Hospital

Dr. Kent Brantly seen working at an Ebola isolation ward at a mission hospital outside of Monrovia, Liberia.
Dr. Kent Brantly seen working at an Ebola isolation ward at a mission hospital outside of Monrovia, Liberia. Getty Images

Both patients are virus-free

Updated 12:10 p.m.

Two Americans who contracted Ebola while on an aid trip in West Africa have been discharged from Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital, officials said Thursday. Dr. Kent Brantly was released Thursday, while Nancy Writebol was released Tuesday, though her discharge wasn’t publicly known until now.

Dr. Bruce Ribner, an infectious disease specialist at Emory who was leading the patients’ care, said his team determined in conjunction with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Atlanta’s Health Department that the patients are virus-free and can return home with no public health concerns. Ribner also defended the choice to bring the two Ebola-stricken Americans to Emory for treatment.

“It was the right decision to bring these patients back to Emory to treat them,” Ribner said in a press conference Thursday. “What we learn from them will help advance the world’s understanding of how to treat Ebola virus infection, and help to improve survival in parts of the world where patients with Ebola are treated.”

Brantly, the more public of the two American Ebola patients, gave a public statement thanking both his organization Samaritan’s Purse and the medical team at Emory. The smiling doctor looked well, and thanked God multiple times for his recovery.

“Today is a miraculous day. I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family,” he said. “[In Liberia] I prayed that in my life or in my death, that [God] would be glorified. I did not know then, but have learned since that there were thousands, maybe millions of people around the world praying for me that week . . . I cannot thank you enough for your prayers and your support . . . I serve a faithful God who answers prayers. God saved my life.”

Writebol, the other American Ebola patient, asked for privacy and requested the hospital not give details about her recovery, which is why her discharge remained private. She did, however, ask Dr. Brantly to extend her thanks. “As she walked out of her isolation room, all she could say was, to God be the glory,” said Brantly. Both Writebol and Brantly said they will be spending time alone with their families for some time.

 

The pair were brought to Emory as the hospital has an infectious disease unit specially equipped for treating serious communicable diseases. There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, though the patients did receive a drug still in early stages of development. Dr. Ribner added that since the patients were the first humans to ever receive the drug, it is still unclear how it played a role in their recovery.

The team of doctors treating the patients previously told TIME that they hope what they learn from treating the patients can shed insight into the disease that can be shared with other physicians fighting Ebola, the latest global outbreak of which has claimed at least 1,350 lives, according to the latest World Health Organization numbers.

“We are mindful of all of those in West Africa that are still fighting for their lives against this threat, and those who are carrying for them, putting their own lives in danger,” said Dr. Ribner. The Emory medical team will be releasing guidelines for physicians in West Africa to provide insight into what worked during the Americans’ treatment.

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