TIME Infectious Disease

Bill Gates Thinks This Is the Deadliest Threat to Humankind

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at a breakfast meeting with the theme "Dialogue: Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Future" during the Boao Forum For Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Qionghai city, south Chinas Hainan province, 29 March 2015.
Cui hao—Imaginechina/AP Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, speaks at a breakfast meeting with the theme "Dialogue: Technology Innovation for a Sustainable Future" during the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2015 in Qionghai city, China's Hainan province, on March 29, 2015

He says it could kill tens of millions

In the next 20 years, is it likely that nuclear war, gigantic earthquakes or asteroids could kill 20 million people? Bill Gates doesn’t think so.

But he did tell Vox that that such numbers could be felled by a major outbreak of disease — something the 59-year-old billionaire believes has a “well over 50%” chance of happening in his lifetime.

“The Ebola epidemic showed me that we’re not ready for a serious epidemic, an epidemic that would be more infectious and would spread faster than Ebola did. This is the greatest risk of a huge tragedy,” Gates said, claiming that a serious epidemic could kill more than 10 million people a year.

Read more at Vox.

TIME Disease

Bird Flu Spreading as Scientists Look Everywhere for Clues

Could it be blowing from farm to farm in the dirt? Could determined starlings and pigeons be carrying it into poultry houses on their feet? Is it spreading in feed, or being carried on truck tires?

Federal agriculture officials are looking everywhere they can think of for H5N2 bird flu, which has spread to poultry flocks in 14 states and killed or forced the slaughter of more than 39 million birds.

Highly pathogenic avian influenza has never spread like this before in the United States, and it’s flummoxed the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmers and scientists alike …

Read the rest of the story at NBCNews.com

TIME Disease

How Dog Owners Can Keep Pets Safe From Canine Flu

Dog
Getty Images

Kennels can be hotbeds for the illness

An outbreak of dog flu in Chicago, Illinois continues to plague pet owners there, and new cases have been reported in as many as 10 other states.

Much like influenza in humans, symptoms of the dog flu H3N2 include runny noses, coughing and fever—and in some dogs, even pneumonia and death. The number of dogs affected is impossible to gauge since there’s no organized system for testing and reporting this kind of pet illness, says Edward Dubovi, PhD, professor of virology at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. There are likely many more than the 1,000 estimated cases in Chicago, he says, since many veterinarians stop sending in samples for testing after they’ve confirmed cases in the neighborhood.

Many of the states to which the virus has spread have seen only one confirmed case, often from a dog that recently visited Chicago. So while it’s not necessarily cause for major alarm, “that’s not to say there isn’t the possibility of independent introduction of this virus in other areas,” Dubovi says.

Humans are not at risk for the disease, but in areas like Illinois where the virus is most problematic, people can take steps to protect their pets from the flu.

Keep your dog out of close quarters. High-population areas like kennels, shelters and doggy daycare centers are hotbeds for the virus. And though we think about flu being a cold-weather disease, the warm weather may actually be part of the problem in this case, since vacationing dog owners often board their dogs in kennels. Dubovi says we need more information before drawing a definitive seasonal link, but just as a crowded plane can expose passengers to human flu, kennels can exposes pets to the virus. When possible, dog owners should try to avoid putting their pets in these cramped conditions in affected areas.

Put Fido on a leash. If dogs in your neighborhood are sick, make sure your pet isn’t able to come into physical contact with them, reports USA TODAY. Vaccination may be a good option, depending on your veterinarian’s advice.

If you’re a veterinarian, practice good hygiene. To protect against spreading the virus from one sick dog in the clinic to other healthy dogs, vets and their staff should be extra vigilant about maintaining clean hands, clothing and equipment. He also advises veterinarians to try to find out where the dog has recently been to help determine how the disease is spreading.

“Unfortunately with influenza virus, you can’t predict what it’s going to do,” Dubovi says. But as people become more cautious, “we may see an end to it,” he says.

TIME Innovation

This Simple Procedure Can Give Amputees Bionic Limbs

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. With a simple procedure, amputees can have brain-controlled bionic limbs.

By Eric Sofge in Popular Science

2. Is Starbucks helping to rebuild America’s middle class?

By Amanda Ripley in the Atlantic

3. Now a satellite can tell you when a bridge is about to fail.

By the European Space Agency

4. We can get cheaper wind power from bladeless, vibrating turbines.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Can learning machines predict the next pandemic?

By David Schultz in Science

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Giving Antibiotics to Infants is Strongly Related to Illness In Adulthood

Many red and transparent medical capsules, filled with yellow medicine, pouring out of a brown bottle, displayed on a white table n Wuerzburg, Bavaria, Germany in December 2014.
Getty Images

By altering infant gut bacteria, the antibiotics make us more vulnerable to disease

Illness may appear in adulthood because of antibiotic resistance we develop when doctors prescribe us antibiotics as newborns and infants, researchers say.

The antibiotics may alter infant gut bacteria, which are tied to everything from allergies and obesity to infectious diseases, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Cell Host & Microbe.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota found that antibiotics eliminated bacteria in the gut that enabled the growth of allergen-fighting immune cells. Antibiotics were also found to alter critical gut microbiota that determine our vulnerability to a number of infectious diseases.

“Over the past year we synthesized hundreds of studies and found evidence of strong correlations between antibiotic use, changes in gut bacteria, and disease in adulthood,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Dan Knights.

Antibiotics remain the most prevalent drug prescribed to children, accounting for approximately a quarter of all childhood medications. However, around 30% of prescriptions are deemed unnecessary.

“We think these findings help develop a roadmap for future research to determine the health consequences of antibiotic use and for recommendations for prescribing them,” Knights added.

TIME States

Iowa Declares State of Emergency Over Bird Flu

Iowa Freedom Summit Features GOP Presidential  Hopefuls
Scott Olson—Getty Images Iowa Governor Terry Branstad speaks to guests at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 24, 2015 .

"While the avian influenza outbreak does not pose a risk to humans, we are taking the matter very seriously," the governor said on Friday.

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad declared a state of emergency in his state on Friday to confront a spiraling bird flu outbreak.

Millions of birds across the country have been infected by the highly pathogenic H5 avian flu in the most recent outbreak, which could result in the biggest death toll in U.S. history according to Reuters.

“While the avian influenza outbreak does not pose a risk to humans, we are taking the matter very seriously and believe declaring a state of emergency is the best way to make all resources available,” Branstad said in a statement. “We’ll continue our work – as we’ve been doing since the first outbreak in Buena Vista County – in hopes of stopping the virus’ aggressive spread throughout Iowa.”

In Iowa, 21 sites have presumed or confirmed cases.

 

TIME ebola

WHO Has Acknowledged the Failings of Its Ebola Crisis Response

Health workers walk inside a new graveyard for Ebola victims, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia on March 11, 2015.
Abbas Dulleh—AP Health workers walk inside a new graveyard for Ebola victims, on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia on March 11, 2015.

“Our current systems ... simply have not coped”

Top leaders at the World Health Organization (WHO) have admitted to being “ill prepared” to handle the Ebola outbreak and released a comprehensive list of agency failings as well as suggested reforms they and global policymakers must realize moving forward.

“We can mount a highly effective response to small and medium-sized outbreaks, but when faced with an emergency of this scale, our current systems — national and international — simply have not coped,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, Deputy Director-General Anarfi Asamoa-Baah and the organization’s regional directors in a joint statement dated April 16.

The statement listed eight lessons WHO learned from the crisis, including “communicating more clearly what is needed.”

The statement also articulated nine remedies WHO must undergo to better handle large outbreaks in the future — such as intensifying “our advocacy with national authorities to keep outbreak prevention and management at the top of national and global agendas,” as well as establishing a “Global Health Emergency Workforce” and a contingency fund.

In a separate “situation report” dated April 15, WHO said there were 25,791 suspected Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone with 10,689 deaths.

TIME

Shorter People More at Risk From Heart Disease Says Study

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Roy Hsu—Getty Images/Uppercut Short business man standing next to tall man

"If you're 6ft 1in, you still need to stop smoking"

A study of nearly 200,000 men and women found that shorter people have a higher risk of heart disease than their taller counterparts.

Every 2.5 inches up reduce the risk of heart disease by 13.5 percent, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

Scientists have long considered there to be a link between height and heart health, but the latest research found that genes controlling height were directly linked to heart disease risks.

To be sure, height is only one of many factors that affect the level of risk.

“In the context of major risk factors this is small – smoking increases the risk by 200-300% – but it is not trivial,” Nilesh Samani, a professor of cardiology at the University of Leicester and lead author of the study, told the BBC News website. “If you’re 6ft 1in, you still need to stop smoking.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Mysterious Morgellons Disease Explained

Singer Joni Mitchell was rushed to the hospital on Tuesday. While what caused her to be found unconscious is still unknown to the public, the New York Times points out that Mitchell has said in the past she has a disease known as Morgellons. But what is it?

Morgellons is a syndrome where people feel like something is right under their skin, or trying to come out of it. People who have the disorder will describe pulling “fibers” and other tiny objects like “specks, granules, dots, worms, sand, eggs, fuzz balls and larvae” through their skin. This can leave lesions and scars on their body.

Morgellons is not very well understood and is controversial within the medical community. It’s clear people who say they have Moregellons are suffering from something, but many doctors think it’s a psychological rather than physical condition. Research trying to determine what the disorder is has been very inconclusive.

“I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it’s from outer space, but my health’s the best it’s been in a while,” Mitchell told the Los Angles Times in 2010. “Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer — a terrorist disease: it will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year.”

Mitchell said at the time that she planned to get out of the music business and help raise awareness—and gain credibility—for the disease.

In 2012, the CDC published a study that tried to determine what is going on. It was part of a $600,000 project launched in 2008 in response to massive interest in the syndrome. The researchers studied skin biopsies and urine and blood samples to see if they could determine a common cause. They basically concluded that they didn’t buy it: “No common underlying medical condition or infectious source was identified, similar to more commonly recognized conditions such as delusional infestation.”

The condition is rare, with the CDC determining that about 4 out of every 100,000 people in the 3.2 million person population they studied had it. Only 115 people were identified in that study with symptoms similar to the disorder.

It’s obvious that people with Morgellons are experiencing something that’s truly taking a toll on their quality of life. Not having answers and lacking credibility is a large part of the problem, and something Mitchell hoped to combat.

TIME Disease

Thousands of Geese ‘Fell Out of the Sky’ in Idaho

Disease kills birds in as little as six hours

At least 2,000 snow geese were found dead in Idaho over the weekend, many plummeting to the ground mid-flight, according to local officials.

The birds, which were migrating from Mexico to Alaska, “just fell out of the sky,” a spokesman for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game told Reuters.

The Fish and Game Department believes the birds died of avian cholera, a bacterial disease that can kill wildlife in as little as six hours.

Officials are burning the dead carcasses in hopes that other birds won’t pick up the disease. However, a group of 20 bald eagles has already been spotted near the carcasses and officials say it will be difficult to track the birds to see if they develop the disease.

While avian cholera can be fatal to birds, it poses little threat to humans, officials said.

[Washington Post]

 

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