TIME

A Brain-Eating Parasite Has Killed a 21-Year-Old California Woman

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Mark Newman—AP 'Do Not Allow Water To Enter Your Nose' Amoeba (Naegleria fowleri) warning sign at thermal pool, Roger's Spring, Lake Mead, Nevada, U.S.A.

This is the second such fatality in the U.S. to occur in the last year

Public health officials have confirmed that a brain-eating amoeba caused the death of a 21-year-old woman in eastern California last month, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The woman contracted the parasite on private property in the town of Bishop, about 60 miles southeast of Yosemite National Park. She awoke from a nap last month with flu-like symptoms; physicians at Northern Inyo Hospital initially diagnosed her with meningitis. When her symptoms worsened, she was transported to a hospital in Reno, where she ultimately died of cardiac arrest.

Naegleria fowleri, as the amoeba is officially known, can thrive in warm freshwater and soil; infections result when contaminated water enters the nose, allowing the parasite to travel to the brain. It manifests itself first in flu-like symptoms — fever, vomiting, headaches — before inducing hallucinations, seizures, and, in more than 95 percent of instances, death.

This is the second naegleria fowleri-related fatality in the U.S. to occur in the last year. In July 2014, nine-year-old Hally Yust died from the infection after water skiing in a contaminated lake in Kansas. The majority of cases in the country have been in the southeast.

Health officials are eager to note, however, that the occurrences of the amoeba are rare and infections even rarer.

“I want to emphasize that there have been no evident cases of amoeba contamination in the U.S. in well-maintained, properly treated swimming pools or hot springs,” Richard Johnson, a public health officer in Inyo County, California, told the Times.

TIME society

Utah Teen Bullied for Her Big Ears Gets Free Surgery

The teen said she was called names like "Dumbo"

A Utah surgeon gave free corrective surgery to a teen who was bullied for having big ears.

Isabelle Stark told PEOPLE kids in her high school would walk up to her and tug her protruding ears and call her “Dumbo.” But thanks to a surgeon who was no stranger to ear-related taunts while growing up, the 18-year-old was able to undergo a corrective procedure free of charge.

“I know what it’s like to be bullied about something you can’t control,” Steven Mobley, a Salt Lake City surgeon who runs a foundation that offers free ear-pinning surgery to low-income kids, told PEOPLE. “I’m really happy for Isabelle—now maybe she can move on to the next chapter of her life.”

Read more at PEOPLE.

Read Next: Nip. Tuck. Or Else

TIME public health

First Person Dies of Measles in U.S. Since 2003

The death is the first in Washington since 1990

(SEATTLE) — Washington state health officials say measles caused the death of a woman from the northwest part of the state in the spring — the first measles death in the U.S. since 2003 and the first in Washington since 1990.

The measles infection was discovered during an autopsy.

Washington State Department of Health spokesman Donn Moyer says the woman was hospitalized in Clallam County for several health conditions before being moved to the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, where she died. He says officials are withholding her age to protect her identity, but she wasn’t elderly.

Officials didn’t say whether the woman was vaccinated, but they did note she had a compromised immune system.

Moyer says the woman likely was exposed to measles at the Clallam County medical facility. Clallam County had an outbreak of five cases this year.

TIME vaccines

Jim Carrey, Please Shut Up About Vaccines

Actor Jim Carrey arrives at LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles.
Axelle/Bauer-Griffin—Getty Images Actor Jim Carrey arrives at LACMA's 50th Anniversary Gala at LACMA on April 18, 2015 in Los Angeles.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The erstwhile Ace Ventura sounds off about vaccines. Spoiler alert: he's wrong

Say this for the anti-vax clown car: it never seems to run out of new punchinellos to climb inside. If it’s not scientific fabulist Andrew Wakefield, he of the fraudulent study that got the whole vaccine-autism myth started, it’s Jenny McCarthy, she of the supposedly vaccine-injured son whose autism was cured in part by—yes!—a gluten-free diet because, um, gluten is bad, very bad.

After McCarthy, there was Saturday Night Live alum Rob Schneider—because when you’re looking for guidance on the wisdom of vaccines, who are you going to trust: the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Institutes of Health, or the man who gave us Deuce Bigelow, Male Gigolo? I mean, hello, the movie was huge.

Now, to this group of board-certified jesters add Jim Carrey—the ex-Mr. Jenny McCarthy—who rose on July 1 in all his orange-wigged, floppy-shoed, seltzer-down-the-pants fury to condemn California Governor Jerry Brown for the high crime of common sense, after Brown signed a law that requires virtually all kids in the state to be fully vaccinated as a pre-condition for attending public school. Carrey took—no surprise—to Twitter to air his peer-reviewed views.

“California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in manditory [sic] vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped,” said the erstwhile Ace Ventura, Pet Detective. That was followed by:

“They say mercury in fish is dangerous but forcing all of our children to be injected with mercury in thimerosol [sic] is no risk. Make sense?” Which was followed by:

“I am not anti-vaccine. I am anti-thimerosal, anti-mercury. They have taken some of the mercury laden thimerosal out of vaccines. NOT ALL!”

And there was more too, but really, it doesn’t matter. Never mind that Carrey does not understand the difference between ethylmercury and methylmercury or the fact that there is virtually no mercury of any kind left in vaccines. Never mind that he doesn’t seem to know that to the extent that aluminum is in vaccines at all, it is there only as an adjuvant—or immune system stimulant—and is well-handled by the body, especially in the trace amounts that it’s found in vaccines. And never mind too that if you’re going for the ad hominem attack—a staple of anti-vaxxers—calling a man like Jerry Brown, better known as Governor Moonbeam, a “fascist” is a bit wide of the argumentative mark.

The anti-vax crowd has never been about reasoned argument or a cool-headed look at clinical science. They’ve been all about rage, all about echo-chamber misinformation. For every sensible action to boost vaccination rates, they have long been there, like a sort of perverse bit of Newtonian physics, with an equal and risible reaction.

Maybe that’s the reason they roll out pratfall comics like Schneider and Carrey to plead their case—a bit of misdirection to hide the tragicomedy of their message behind the larger comedy of the messenger. Or maybe they’re the best they’ve got.

That matters. A movement that begins with a study conducted by a doctor so thoroughly discredited that he’s not even allowed to practice medicine in his native United Kingdom anymore (Wakefield) and takes flight thanks to the prattlings of a Playboy model and talk show guest (McCarthy) ought not to have a chance against the informed scientific opinion of virtually every medical group on Earth. That it does says something about the hucksters’ ability to sell their nonsense and the human tendency to pay more attention to famous but wrong-headed people than to unglamorous but smart ones.

But that’s finally changing. The anti-vax act has at last gotten old, and it’s gotten tired and the cost—sick children, lost school days, outbreaks of diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough—has gotten too high.

Like all fringe groups eventually do, the anti-vaxxers are now entering their rump-faction stage, dwindling to an angry, dense, immune-to-reason core. Soon enough, they’ll be gone. The likes of Carrey—today’s foghorn, tomorrow’s footnote—will vanish with them. And America’s children—not for nothing—will be better for it.

Read next: California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Mandatory Vaccine Law

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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 public health

Now Blood Donors Can Get a Text When They Save Lives

blood donation
Getty Images

What we can learn from a revolutionary way Sweden is getting people to blood banks

The usual visit to a blood donation center goes something like this: you enter a sterile room, ease into a seat or lie down and have your blood drawn. Besides a handful of free cookies, you leave with nothing more than the noble sense of being a good citizen, and your part of the transaction is complete.

In Sweden, however, a simple text message is moving blood donation from an activity of the generous to a social media worthy event. Launched three years ago to combat paltry donation rates, the hospital using the pioneering text campaign, Sahlgrenska University Hospital in Gothenburg, Sweden, sends a text to a donor acknowledging their contribution. When the blood has been dispensed to someone in need, the clinic sends a follow-up text.

The system has seen a resurgence in attention thanks to a viral tweet from Swedish designer Robert Lenne:

The text program also includes a “nag me until I become a blood donor” option, reports Ragan’s Health Care Communication News. Choose it, and you’ll receive texts like “We won’t give up until you bleed” to (not so subtly) encourage you to donate.

It’s an attempt by Swedish blood banks—which are struggling with low blood donations—to connect with younger blood donors, reports The Independent.

In a post on behavioral economist Richard Thaler’s just-launched blog “Misbehaving,” Allison Daminger and Jamie Kimmel note the role of “nudges” in getting people to do otherwise mundane or uncomfortable tasks, like giving blood. The idea is simple, they write: offer potential donors proof that their contribution is going to a good use. The problem with blood donation, along with other acts of charity, is that if a donor doesn’t know the recipient of a gift, it’s harder to convince them that donating is beneficial, they write.

It’s not yet clear whether or not the campaign boosts donation rates, say Daminger and Kimmel. “There simply haven’t been many evaluations of similar programs,” they write.

What it does do well, however, is to tap into the ultimate millennial form of flattery, they say—personal connection with a social media twist.

The U.S., too, offers some options to track blood donations. In 2014, they launched a Blood Donor App was to track the journey of the donation, according to Kara Lusk Dudley, public affairs manager in biomedical communications at the American Red Cross. The organization also emails donors when their donation is shipped.

But a text with a witty vampiric nudge? Not quite yet.

TIME employee benefits

Why Employers Are Offering More Generous Benefit Packages

Doctors Seek Higher Fees From Health Insurers
Adam Berry—Getty Images

Fewer workers are using nap rooms

Employers are offering more generous benefit packages, primarily driven by improvements in health care coverage.

Of the 402 human resource departments that responded to a survey from the Society of Human Resource Management, 35% said they were improving their benefits packages and 58% said they were keep them the same in 2015. Last year, only 28% of respondents said they were improving their packages.

Over the past five years, employers have especially improved mental health coverage, with 91% saying they would improve coverage in 2015, up from 82% in 2011. Over the same period, contraception coverage also improved, with 83% of employers making improvements this year, up from 69%, and the percentage of employers boosting critical illness insurance rising from 22% to 34%. Health savings accounts, which are tax-deductible accounts for medical expenses, have also seen an uptick, with usage rising 8% in the past five years.

As health care expenses rise for the majority of companies, many are offering preventative health benefits in order to tamp down spending in the long run, the study found. Those include health and lifestyle coaching, wellness programs, and smoking cessation programs, among others. Meanwhile, nap rooms, which were considered a preventative measure on the study, logged a 4% decrease in the past five years.

In terms of leave benefits, paid maternity and parental leave has increased in prevalence in the past five years. Flexibility is on the rise too: 56% of employers this year reported allowing workers to telecommute on an ad-hoc basis, compared to 42% in 2011.

According to the study, employers sink much of employee compensation in benefits that workers don’t notice in their paychecks: almost a third of private industry employee compensation came in the form of benefits in 2014. “In an environment with limited compensation growth in most sectors of the U.S. economy, a competitive benefits package can make the difference in attracting top talent to an organization,” the study said.

TIME vaccines

Why Jerry Brown Was Right to Sign the California Vaccine Bill

Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill
Rich Pedroncelli—AP Bad choice: Anti-vaxxers protesting the California vaccine bill

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

The governor had a chance to protect thousands of children—and he did

Updated: June 30, 2015, 2:32 PM EDT

California does not often make common cause with Mississippi and West Virginia. America’s blue-red divide doesn’t come any wider than it does between the liberal laboratory of the Pacific West and the conservative cornerstones of the old south. But with a single signature on a single bill, California Gov. Jerry Brown ensured that the largest state in the nation joined the two far smaller ones in what ought to be a simple, primal mission: keeping children healthy.

The law, which passed the California legislature with bipartisan majorities, does a straightforward job—removing the religious and personal belief exemptions that allowed parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. The legislation leaves standing the medical exemption—the waiver families receive when a child has a manifest medical condition like a compromised immune system that would make vaccines dangerous. Under the new rules, families without the medical waiver face a choice: get your kids the shots or prepare to home-school them, which ensures they get an education but protects other children from whatever pathogens they may be carrying.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states in the country that currently have such no-nonsense rules and they’ve got the stellar vaccination rates to prove it: fully 99.9% of the states’ kids are up to date on all their shots. California was right to follow the example of those southern-fried smarts. Only 90.4% of the Golden State’s kindergarteners had their full complement of vaccinations in the 2014-2015 school year. The worst offenders are the parents in the too-rich, too-famous, too-smart by half provinces of Silicon Valley, where vaccination rates in some day care centers struggle to crack the 50% mark.

That matters—a lot. When vaccine coverage falls below 95%, communities begin to lose what’s known as herd immunity, the protection a fully inoculated population provides to the relative handful of its members who can’t be vaccinated. California has suffered the consequences of that, with outbreaks of whooping cough and mumps across the state. Earlier this year, more than 100 cases of measles in California and Mexico were traced to a single unvaccinated visitor to Disneyland. That outbreak, at one of the state’s most iconic destinations, at last got Sacramento’s attention, and the new law, though hotly debated, passed.

Brown was vague at first about whether he would sign the bill and that left a lot of health policy experts worried. He had signed an earlier bill that preserved the personal belief exemption but at least made it harder for families to claim one. No longer could parents simply check a box on a form—an awfully easy thing to do without giving the matter much thought. Under the previous law, they would have to visit a health care provider who would sign a statement confirming that the parents had been informed of the benefits (too many to enumerate) and the risks (vanishingly small) of vaccination. Once they’re in the doctor’s office, plenty of parents come around. But Brown, a one-time Jesuit seminarian who has made no secret of his spiritual side over the years, carved out an exception in that law for religious beliefs.

He was right not to make the same mistake this time. There was a time when religious exemptions were no cause for worry. The share of Americans whose faith forbids vaccinations is exceedingly small, and as long as the herd remained intact, those kids would remain safe. But that was before the nonsense factory of the anti-vaccine community went into operation, churning out all manner of misinformation about autism and brain damage and big pharma conspiring with big government to inject unsuspecting children with toxins. The result: Vaccine rates have plummeted nationwide, and children have paid the price.

The tension between religious liberty and civic responsibility is hardly a new issue in the American system. If your religion does no harm to anyone else—least of all kids—you ought to be free to practice it in peace. But if that faith requires prayer to treat pediatric cancer or laying on of hands as a cure for severe pneumonia, the state ought to be able to intervene and provide proper care if you won’t and prosecute you if your child is injured or killed. In some states that’s indeed possible but in others it’s not, and a complex patchwork governs the level of care each state will or won’t mandate.

Mandatory testing for lead levels in blood? OK in most places, but not if you live in Delaware, Maine, Kansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island, where religious exemptions are available. Mandatory eyedrops to help prevent blindness in newborns? An important preventive for kids born to mothers with certain kinds of STDs—but they may be out of luck if they’re born in Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, or Pennsylvania.

The kids, it’s worth noting, did not choose to be born in states with weak protections. And they don’t choose either to be born to parents who look at vaccines and see in them something sinister or dangerous or strangely unholy.

Anti-vax parents came into a world of medically rational adults who had seen the wages of polio or diphtheria or smallpox or whooping cough and were grateful for a preventive that could eliminate those horrors. Jerry Brown himself came into that world too. Contemporary children deserve the same kind of wisdom and the same kind of care the grown-ups around them enjoyed. And California children deserve a governor who will see to it that that they get it.

Today Brown lived up to that responsibility.

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 Music

Avril Lavigne Is ‘Excited for Life After’ Lyme Disease

Avril Lavigne Celebrates 30th Birthday
Denise Truscello—WireImage/Getty Images Avril Levigne arrives at her 30th birthday celebration at the Bank nightclub in the Bellagio Hotel and Casino on September 28, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nev.

"It’s like a second shot at life”

Avril Lavigne has been candid about her struggle with Lyme disease, and the singer opened up even more about her illness in a new ABC News interview, in which she criticized doctors who didn’t take her health as seriously as they perhaps should have.

“I was seeing every specialist and literally the top doctors, and … they would pull up their computer and be like, ‘Chronic fatigue syndrome?’” a teary Lavigne said. “Or, ‘Why don’t you try to get out of bed, Avril, and just go play the piano?’ … This is what they do to a lot of people who have Lyme disease. They don’t have an answer for them so they tell them, ‘You’re crazy.’”

Lavigne was bedridden for multiple months, but is about halfway through her treatment now and says she is doing much better.

“I think for me it’s like a second shot at life,” she said. “I want to go out there and truly do what I love, so I’m excited for life after this.”

Watch the interview here.

This article first appeared on EW.com

TIME health

Why I Decided to Have Plastic Surgery at Age 11

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

"Plastic surgery does not make you weak, or mean you’re avoiding your feelings"

xojane

As a kid, I had an unfortunately large, hairy mole on the side of my face.

By hairy, I do not mean a few strands poking through it. It grew its own lock of hair that had to be routinely trimmed. If I had ever let it grow long enough, I could have had a tiny pony tail on the side of my face.

The mass itself was about the size of a dime. As a young child, I found it amusing more than anything else and toddler me giggled at it in the mirror. It was just a thing that was there, not gross or weird or any of the other adjectives I would hear later.

It wasn’t until around fourth or fifth grade that the mole became a source of insecurity. Kids noticed it, and unsurprisingly, kids can be dicks. It was right at the edge of my hairline and I was able to successfully hide it in my chin length haircut as long as my hair stayed in place, but I lived in constant apprehension of who would discover it.

It turned from a quirky birthmark to a source of shame. From ages five through twelve, I never wore my hair up. No ponytails. No buns. Girls in my class got to change their hairstyles while I frantically hid my face behind my hair.

Even when I played soccer and basketball as a kid, my hair stayed down no matter how much it got in my face or how much I sweated into it.

Despite my growing apprehension about it, I still lived with my mole without much ridicule until the summer I went into junior high. There were isolated incidents that were mildly embarrassing, but the worst one happened when I went swimming with two friends.

I wasn’t even thinking about the mole until the water swept my hair back behind my ears. The two girls I was with immediately pointed out my hideous secret with some less-than-sensitive exclamations of “EW what is THAT?” directed at the side of my face. It was mortifying and I wanted to cry.

I had started to become slightly self-conscious about it, but that was definitely the defining moment that made me feel truly isolated by the otherwise harmless growth on my face.

I was about to be a teenager, some of the most superficial and judgmental years of a person’s life. My mother had several small moles on her face that I knew bothered her as well, and even though none were as prominent as mine, she understood what I was going through. It’s painful to know your daughter feels she needs to constantly hide part of her face.

Shortly after the swimming pool incident, she finally suggested the option of consulting with a dermatologist and plastic surgeon and seeing what could be done. We both knew it had to go.

My mole was classified as congenital, which allowed its removal to be covered by our insurance despite being benign.

So at age 11, after being reassured by the plastic surgeon that I would not be left with any major scarring, I went under the knife.

I wanted acceptance. I wanted to be pretty. I wanted to like myself. I didn’t see how any of the above were possible with what in my mind was something as disgusting as a second head growing out of my face. While my mother brought the idea up in the first place, I never felt pressured by her to make the call. It was superficial and yet also completely necessary to me.

It’s easy to look back now and say I should have gotten over it. That I would have grown out of it. That someone should have told me I was beautiful the way I was and I should just be myself. (For the record, my mother has always told me that.) That teasing should never be a reason to be anesthetized and wake up with a part of your body physically missing.

We can talk forever about how unfair beauty standards are and their negative impact on young girls, but none of that would have changed my opinion. At the time, I saw removal as the only solution. I know, even today, that no amount of kind words would have made me feel differently.

When you truly dislike something about yourself, compliments sound hollow and patronizing. I regret none of it. I don’t want to know what I would be like now if I still had my mole. I was (and still am) lanky and weird enough without any added help.

My scar is faded now, but when it was still fresh classmates frequently pointed it out and asked about it and even that was painful for me. It triggered my paranoia over someone discovering my mole all over again. I would lie and say it was a scratch or a birthmark just to avoid the conversation.

Nowadays, at 22, I almost forget the mole ever existed. Outside of doctors’ appointments where I have to supply my medical history, it doesn’t cross my mind. Occasionally I tell new friends about it and joke about how “I’ve had a little work done.”

My scar is virtually undetectable but on the off chance someone notices, I do not feel like I need to lie about where it came from. (Clearly, I’ll even tell strangers on the Internet all about it.)

I know cosmetic surgery sometimes has negative connotations, especially when offered to someone so young, but I hardly think I am any worse off. If anything, my life improved significantly and my personality flipped around entirely.

It also isn’t a slippery slope, like so many entertainment news specials reporting on celebrities addicted to plastic surgery imply. I had another mole removed roughly a year after the first one, but have had no procedures since then.

There are plenty of physical features I don’t like about myself, but I have no desire to change them. I also don’t harbor any hard feelings toward the people who picked on me. Kids can be jerks. I can think of situations where I was too. That’s just a fact. (Although I’ll offer some general life advice: If you’re grossed out by someone’s face, keep it to yourself instead of pointing it out loudly like an asshole.)

I don’t want anyone to take my story the wrong way. I’m not advocating slicing off everything you hate about yourself and then feeling perfect forever. I’m just saying that plastic surgery does not make you weak, or mean you’re avoiding your feelings, or taking an “easy way out,” and anyone who feels that way needs to butt out of your personal choices.

I can wonder what I would be like if I hadn’t gone through with the surgery, but I cannot imagine it would have been happier than I am now. I ended up choosing a college nearly thousand miles away from home where I knew no one, something I doubt I would have pulled off if I was still hiding behind my own hair.

Paige Handley wrote this article for xoJane

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.

MONEY Tech

You’ll Need a Prescription to Get Google’s Cool New Wearable

It will take your pulse and track the environment — but you can't have one.

Google’s new wearable is something most people won’t get the chance to wear. Google X, the part of the company that innovates new technology, says the wearable will be used primarily as a health research tool. This device is to become “a medical device that’s prescribed to patients or used for clinical trials,” says Google’s Andy Conrad.

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