TIME Disease

Food Supply Threatened in Ebola-Ravaged West Africa, Says U.N.

Resident of the West Point neighbourhood, which has been quarantined following an outbreak of Ebola, receives food rations from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Monrovia
A resident of the West Point neighborhood, which has been quarantined following an outbreak of Ebola, receives food rations from the U.N. World Food Programme in Monrovia, Liberia, on Aug. 28, 2014 Reuters

The disease-stricken region is facing a fresh crisis, as it contends with meager food supplies and sky-high prices

The Ebola epidemic that has killed some 1,550 people in West Africa since March is now expected to whittle the region’s food supply, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on Tuesday.

The FAO is warning that food prices in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea — the three countries most stricken by the disease — are projected to rocket, in part because of restrictions on movement throughout the afflicted region, Reuters reports. Those restrictions, while attempting to keep the lethal epidemic contained, are also preventing vital supplies from getting where they need to go.

Quarantines designed to prevent the disease’s spread have also curtailed supplies in some West African communities, spurring terrified households to rush on food stores and pushing commodity prices ever higher, the FAO said.

Harvests of rice and maize — the production season for both is just weeks away — is expected to be less than usual, since the same movement restrictions will also prevent farms from acquiring the required labor, the FAO said.

Meanwhile, migration restrictions have also precluded some traders from putting their goods on the market, leaving both farmers and middlemen without cash to feed their families.

“Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the most affected areas were spending up to 80% of their incomes on food,” Vincent Martin, head of an FAO unit in Dakar, Senegal, said in a statement. “Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.”

The price of cassava at one market in Monrovia, Liberia, sprung upward 150% in the first weeks of August, the FAO said.

For short-term relief, the U.N. World Food Programme and FAO are expected to launch an emergency program to deliver 65,000 tons of food to 1.3 million people in the affected region.

[Reuters]

TIME Cancer

How Diet Can Lower Risk of Prostate Cancer

Tomato and bean consumption helps prevent the disease

Consuming more than ten servings a week of tomatoes and beans lowers the risk of prostate cancer, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Bristol.

The findings expand on previous research and suggest that men should consume foods rich in lycopene and selenium, which are found in tomatoes and beans respectively, to help prevent the onset of a disease that kills about 30,000 men in the United States each year.

The study compared the diets of more than 1,800 men between the ages of 50 and 69 who had prostate cancer to the diets of more than 12,000 of their cancer-free peers.

While the study’s conclusions provide some dietary guidance, researchers say more work needs to be done to develop further dietary guidelines.

“Our findings suggest that tomatoes may be important in prostate cancer prevention. However, further studies need to be conducted to confirm our findings, especially through human trials,” said Vanessa Er, a researcher at the University of Bristol who led the study. “Men should still eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight and stay active.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Senegal Confirms Country’s First Ebola Case

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Colorized transmission electron micrograph of the Ebola virus. Getty Images

The often-fatal disease has spread to a fifth West African country

Add Senegal to the four other West African countries—Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria—with recorded cases of Ebola.

Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck told reporters Friday that a young, infected Guinean man crossed the border into Senegal, the Associated Press reports. Senegal closed its border to its southeastern neighbor last week over fears that the often-fatal disease might spread into the country.

The World Health Organization announced Thursday that there have been 430 deaths from Ebola in Guinea alone. The United Nations agency reported that disease has been spreading more rapidly recently, with more than 40% of the total number of cases—3,069—occurring within the past 21 days.

The WHO has created a “roadmap” to stop the transmission of Ebola within nine months, while acknowledging that the disease could spread and infect over 20,000 people during that time.

Officials in the Democratic Republic of Congo recently said an Ebola outbreak has stricken that country as well, though they deny it’s connected to the one affecting West Africa.

[AP]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: August 27

1. A reimagined NATO – with rapid response capability – could balance the Putin doctrine.

By David Francis in Foreign Policy

2. Hold the bucket: Focusing on a single disease isn’t a good use of philanthropy dollars.

By Felix Salmon in Slate

3. The Navy’s audacious plan for a new warfighting vessel was too good to be true. The result is a ship that meets none of our needs well. Cancel the Littoral Combat Ship.

By William D. Hartung and Jacob Marx at the Center for International Policy

4. The conventional wisdom is that social media stimulates debate, but self-censorship online actually leads to a ‘spiral of silence.’

By Keith Hampton, Lee Rainie, Weixu Lu, Maria Dwyer, Inyoung Shin and Kristen Purcell at the Pew Research Internet Project

5. Better living through design: Injectable, long-acting birth control will revolutionize family planning in the developing world.

By Heather Hansman in Pacific Standard

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

TIME viral

This Heartbreaking Ice Bucket Challenge Video Is the Best One Yet

Meet 26-year-old Anthony Carbajal, who was recently diagnosed with ALS

+ READ ARTICLE

Some skeptics have slammed the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, writing it off as a silly social media fad, a waste of water and just another example of “slacktivism” that allows people to feel good about themselves without really doing much.

If you agree with the critics, the video above might change your mind. It was created by 26-year-old Anthony Carbajal, who explains that amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) runs in his family. His grandmother had it, his mother currently lives with it, and he himself was diagnosed just five months ago.

In this very emotional video, Carbajal shows just how challenging and devastating life with this insidious disease really is as he takes care of his mom. His message for the haters and the skeptics? The Ice Bucket Challenge is actually an incredibly positive force.

“I promise your newsfeed will go back to cat videos and ‘Let It Go’ covers, but right now, the ALS community has the main spotlight,” Carbajal says into the camera with tears in his eyes. “And for once in my entire life, I’ve seen it in the forefront.”

We’ve reached out to Carbajal for comment and will update if he gets back to us.

TIME ebola

Spanish Priest Dies of Ebola Despite Z-Mapp Treatment

He had been working at a hospital in Liberia

+ READ ARTICLE

Spanish priest Miguel Pajares, the first European to contract the Ebola virus during the recent outbreak, died Tuesday at a hospital in Madrid.

Pajares was treated with ZMapp, an experimental drug that had not yet been tested on humans. Although Pajares’ condition stabilized after taking the drug, the disease hit his kidneys and heart, and he passed away around 3 a.m. Tuesday, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

Pajares had been working in a hospital in Liberia when he contracted the disease. He was 75 years old.

TIME Infectious Disease

Fear and Rumors Fueling the Spread of Ebola

The epidemic shows no sign of stabilizing as the death toll continues to rise

+ READ ARTICLE

As the death toll rises from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, confusion and rumor have made it harder for health care workers and government officials to combat the outbreak.

In the Liberian town of Bamudu, colleagues of Ingrid Gercama, education manager for the aid agency Africa Development Corps, were chased away by residents, who feared that the agency’s staff would take their infected relatives away for treatment. “Lots of people are really scared and not informed about what happens in the treatment centers,” says Gercama, a Dutch national currently on leave in Amsterdam. “They see people going into the hospitals and coming out in body bags.”

The only way to halt Ebola’s deadly march is to identify the infected, isolate them and track down anyone they’ve been in physical contact with. But this is easier said than done. “A lot of the messaging has been saying ‘there’s no cure, no treatment’ so people are saying, ‘why should I go to hospital?'” notes Sean Casey, the Ebola Emergency Response Team Director at International Medical Corps, a global aid agency now working in Sierra Leone.

Infected people will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid detection, including, Casey adds, changing their names. In Liberia, international non-governmental organizations are starting to realize their Ebola messaging may have added to the confusion, not cleared it up. “NGOs are now trying to spread a more positive message,” says Gercama. “Rather than saying Ebola is deadly, there’s no cure, you can’t protect yourself, they’re trying to emphasise the 40% who are surviving.”

But fear of the disease is widespread across West Africa. The Telegraph reported that in Guinea’s capital of Conakry, on August 7 emergency services let a man lie in the street for almost five hours after he collapsed. It wasn’t clear whether he had Ebola. In Liberia, unconfirmed reports came in from The Liberian Observer that people were poisoning water wells around Monrovia, while state radio claimed 10 died in Dolostown after drinking water that was supposedly poisoned. Though unsubstantiated rumor, the story hasn’t gone unnoticed. Liberians told Gercama the mysterious poisoners could be trying to raise the death toll and so gain more international aid. Others said it was a form of witchcraft to combat the epidemic.

In the afflicted countries some are turning to traditional healers rather than science in a bid to combat the disease. In Duala, a market area in Liberia, an exorcism was performed on an Ebola patient. “They brought him into a church and they all touched him and were chanting,” says Gercama whose colleague witnessed the exorcism. Other Liberian healers suggest rubbing the body with limes and onions to combat Ebola while unscrupulous merchants peddle “Ebola vaccinations” at extortionate rates, says Gercama.

Similar “cures” are sweeping through Nigeria. “An unfortunate thing happened overnight: some evil-minded persons … have been circulating through all available communication channels … that ordinary hot water and—if you add salt—will prevent Ebola virus disease,” said Onyebuchi Chukwu, Nigeria’s health minister on August 8. “This is a complete lie … We need to flush out these people and they have to be arrested – they will be prosecuted.” But Chukwu’s statement may have come too late for some. Two leading Nigerian newspapers, citing unnamed sources, reported that excessive salt consumption led to two deaths and 20 hospitalizations in Plateau state.

In countries where health care workers are fleeing the disease, those who claim to understand and defeat Ebola through non-scientific means might be appear to be a welcome alternative—or a last resort. “Doctors and nurses are leaving their posts,” says Casey, who is an American national now based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. “[Treating Ebola] is a serious undertaking.” In their absence, Sierra Leone’s main treatment center, Doctors Without Border’s 50-bed facility in Kailahun, only has about five beds available, according to Casey.

The situation is no better in Liberia says Gercama, the education manager for Africa Development Corps, which is working with UNICEF in the region. “There aren’t enough people to collect all the bodies, there are dead people lying in the streets.” Like Sierra Leone, health care workers are fleeing or thin on the ground. “A colleague of mine said in his community in Clara Town two people contracted the Ebola virus and died,” adds Gercama. “Their families contacted the health officials to collect the bodies but no one picked up. The corpses remained in the house for three days.” Even aid organizations are leaving. After two of their U.S. staff were infected, humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse handed over the running of their clinics in Liberia to Doctors Without Borders and the Liberian Ministry of Health.

Amidst the chaos, the disease continues to spread. Casey predicts Ebola will continue to claim lives in the region for “the next few months at least.” He noted that Ebola hasn’t stabilized in any of the infected countries. Though Guinea hasn’t reported any new cases, the tiny country, which has had the highest number of fatalities, announced four new deaths Friday.

In Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where hardly any areas have been left untouched, the word “Ebola” is on the lips of many, even if its not fully understood. In Nigeria however, the virus is unknown to some. “I was talking to a friend,” says Okocha J. U., a 44-year-old telecommunications gadgets trader. “He said ‘What is Ebola?’ I said, ‘You don’t listen to the news?'” His friend said no.

-Additional reporting by Maram Mazen / Lagos

TIME Infectious Disease

Ebola Patient in U.S.: ‘I Am Growing Stronger Every Day’

Kent Brantly is one of two Americans being treated for the ebola virus

Kent Brantly, one of two Americans being treated for the deadly Ebola virus in Atlanta, said in a Friday statement that he is “growing stronger every day.” In the message, released by international relief agency Samaritan’s Purse, Brantly also thanked God for aiding his recovery.

Brantly’s words come six days after he arrived in the United States from Liberia, where he was working as a doctor in a post-residency program.

“I am writing this update from my isolation room at Emory University Hospital, where the doctors and nurses are providing the very best care possible,” Brantly’s statement reads. “I am growing stronger every day, and I thank God for His mercy as I have wrestled with this terrible disease.”

The Ebola virus has killed more than 900 people in West Africa. On Friday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak an international health emergency.

For more about the Ebola outbreak, see TIME’s video above.

TIME Infectious Disease

9 Mosquito-Bite Facts You Need to Know

mosquito-human-skin
Getty Images

Thanks to West Nile virus, mosquitoes have been in the news lately—and likely all over your backyard—but how much do you really know about them and the risks they pose? We spoke with Jorge Parada, MD, medical director of the Loyola University Medical System Infection Control Program and advisor to the National Pest Management Association, and learned some surprising facts about summer’s least favorite insect and their bothersome bites.

Not all mosquitoes bite

There are about 170 different mosquito species in North America (and 3,500 worldwide), says Dr. Parada, but not all of them bite humans. Of those that do, it’s only the females who are bloodsuckers—they use the protein to produce eggs. There are two species responsible for spreading disease in the United States: the Aedes aegypti and the Aedes albopictus, the latter of which is commonly known as the Asian tiger mosquito because of its black and white stripes.

It’s unclear whether the bugs are attracted to blood type

“Studies have claimed that people with Type O blood get bitten more than people with Type A or Type B, but these findings have been disputed,” says Dr. Parada. There’s also little evidence that wearing dark clothing attracts more mosquitoes, as is commonly believed.

…But we know they like CO2

More likely, mosquitoes are drawn toward people who exhale higher levels of carbon dioxide—like pregnant women or beer drinkers, as some studies have suggested. “Mosquitoes find hosts by detecting body heat and chemical signals,” says Dr. Parada. “It is possible that these factors contribute to increased production of carbon dioxide, making it easier for mosquitoes to sense human presence.”

Some people itch more than others

Almost everyone will feel the itchy aftermath of a mosquito bite, says Dr. Parada, although it can be worse for certain people who tend to develop more pronounced bumps or hives. “The itchiness is due to histamine release in our bodies in response to the mosquito’s saliva that’s injected while they’re drinking our blood,” he explains.

Yes, scratching makes bites worse

If you can resist, try not to scratch those itchy bumps: It only stirs up the skeeter saliva and increases your body’s histamine response, therefore making the itching worse, says Dr. Parada. “Additionally, over-scratching might cause breaks in the skin that can leave room for an infection.”

OTC meds can help

After a mosquito run-in, the best course of action is to wash bites using mild soap and cold water, which can provide some relief and also help reduce infection risk. If the bites still itch, treat them with anti-inflammatories or topical antihistamines, like Benadryl gel or over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream.

They can spread a scary new virus

Chikungunya is a viral infection transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected mosquito and there is currently no vaccine or drug treatment. Although it was first reported in North America on the Caribbean islands, two cases in Florida were discovered in July. “It’s likely only a matter of time before more locally transmitted cases are reported in the United States,” says Dr. Parada.

Symptoms typically start four to eight days after being bitten, last about a week, and include severe joint pain and swelling, fever, and headaches. “Chikungunya is generally not fatal,” says Dr. Parada, “but the painful symptoms have led people to say ‘It won’t kill you, but it may make you wish you were dead!’”

West Nile is still a threat

If that’s not enough to worry about, mosquitoes in North America still carry West Nile Virus, as well. “The total number of cases is down this year compared to recent years, but the disease is still a threat, especially in late summer and early fall when mosquitoes are most active,” says Dr. Parada.

Most cases of West Nile are mild and people will recover completely, but older adults, diabetics, and people with compromised immune systems are at risk of developing serious infections from the virus. Anyone experiencing a high fever, severe headaches, muscle aches, and nausea or vomiting should seek immediate medical attention.

Not all repellants are equal

Topical products containing the insect repellant DEET have been shown to keep mosquitoes at bay, but the concentration of this ingredient can vary widely—anywhere from 4% to 100%. (Lower concentrations may need to be applied more frequently, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that amounts over 50% don’t offer additional protection.)

Alternatives to DEET include products containing picaridin (another synthetic compound) or oil of lemon-eucalyptus, says Dr. Parada. So-called “spatial repellants,” like citronella candles or coils, may also help clear the air of mosquitoes, but there aren’t any peer-reviewed studies to support those claims. And if those mosquito-repelling smartphone apps sound too good to be true, that’s because they probably are: There’s no evidence that the ultrasonic frequencies they emit will actually deter the bugs.

More on Health.com

Mosquito-Borne Chikungunya Virus May Be Headed for U.S.

Scientists Seek to Take Bite Out of Mosquito Problem

Asian Tiger Mosquito Could Spread U.S. Disease

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Infectious Disease

Nigeria Declares State of Emergency Amid Ebola Outbreak

The country has seven confirmed cases of the disease

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan declared a state of emergency Friday amid an Ebola outbreak plaguing West Africa, approving more than $11 million to fight the deadly disease. Jonathan’s move comes as the deadly disease has infected at least 1,700 people and left more than 900 dead, mostly in nearby Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

Nigeria, the most populous country in Africa, only has seven confirmed cases and two deaths, but health officials fear that the disease’s arrival there would drastically escalate the severity of the crisis.

Nigeria’s state of emergency declaration comes on the heels of the World Health Organization declaring the Ebola outbreak an international public health emergency, while Liberia and Sierra Leone have also declared similar national emergencies over the virus.

Want to know more about Ebola? Watch TIME’s explainer video above.

 

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