TIME Infectious Disease

WHO Says All Men Who Have Sex With Men Should Take Antiretroviral Drugs

A nurse takes blood for a free HIV test, during an HIV/AIDS awareness rally on World AIDS Day in San Salvador
A nurse takes blood for a free HIV test during an HIV/AIDS awareness rally on World AIDS Day in San Salvador on December 1, 2011. Luis Galdamez—Reuters

Warns of 'exploding epidemics' of HIV among gay men

The World Health Organization has suggested for the first time that all men who have sex with men should take antiretroviral medicine, warning that HIV infection rates among gay men are exploding around the world.

In guidelines published Friday, it said that it “strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection.” Similar guidelines were issued by the U.S. in May.

Gottfried Hirnschall, the head of WHO’s HIV department, says that infection rates among homosexual men are increasing again 33 years after the epidemic hit, partially because the infection doesn’t hold as much fear to a younger generation with access to drugs that enable users to live with AIDS.

“We are seeing exploding epidemics,” Hirnschall told reporters in Geneva.

Although HIV infection rates did drop by a third between 2001 and 2012, Hirnschall characterized progress as “uneven.”

[AFP]

TIME States

Alaska to Put Free Pregnancy Tests in Bar Restrooms

The program will help combat the state's high rate of fetal alcohol syndrome

The University of Alaska is leading a state-funded program to put free pregnancy tests in the bathrooms of 20 bars and restaurants across the state starting this December.

The two-year, $400,000 program is designed to combat Alaska’s rate of fetal alcohol syndrome, which is the highest of any state in the country, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Women of child-bearing age in Alaska are 20 percent more likely to binge drink in comparison to the national average.

“This is not a strategy for the chronic alcoholic who is drinking regardless of whatever message they see,” said Jody Allen Crowe, who founded a Minnesota organization that leads a similar program and is helping with the project. “This is really focused on the 50 percent of unexpected pregnancies, to find out they are pregnant as early as possible.”

Republican Senator Pete Kelly, who has said before that birth control is for women who “who don’t want to act responsibly,” first proposed the program.

[Anchorage Daily News]

TIME Environment

Carbon Regs Will Help Your Health More Than the Planet’s

EPA coal pollution
Carbon dioxide is the chief target of EPA regulations, but they'll also help curb conventional pollutants Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Public health—through cleaner air—will benefit more from EPA carbon rules than climate change, and that's O.K.

When the White House rolled out the proposed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations on power-plant carbon emissions on June 2—regs that will reduce emissions 30% below 2005 levels—President Barack Obama attended a conference call with a number of public health groups, including the American Lung Association. Obama talked about the importance of treating carbon as a pollutant, of investments in energy efficiency that would cause electricity bills to shrink, of the momentum behind the move to a low-carbon economy.

But he spent much of his time talking about the health benefits that would come as the regulations cracked down on coal plant pollution:

“I got a letter from Dian Coleman, who is a mother of four. Her three kids have asthma. [...] She keeps her home free of dust that can trigger asthma attacks. Cigarettes aren’t allowed across the threshold of her home. But despite all that, she can’t control the pollution that contributes potentially to her kids’ illnesses, as well as threatening the planet. We’ve got to make sure that we’re doing something on behalf of Dian, and doing it in a way that allows us also to grow the economy and get at the forefront of our clean energy future.”

Carbon dioxide isn’t a pollutant—at least, not in the sense that breathing it in damages health. (If it were, trees would be a lot more dangerous.) CO2 does cause climate change, which in turn can directly threat health by increasing ozone levels, intensifying heat waves and floods and even worsening allergies, all of which the White House detailed in a new report out today. But Obama and his officials have been talking up a different sort of public health benefit that will come with the regulations: the reduction of dangerous, conventional pollutants like nitrous oxides, sulfur dioxide and simple soot. “Our role in this initiative is to protect public health and the environment,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told me in an interview last week. “It’s key in this rule that when we lower carbon, we reduce traditional pollutants.”

The EPA says that the regulations will reduce those conventional pollutants by more than 25% over the lifetime of the rules as a co-benefit. That in turn will avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and nearly 500,000 missed work or school days. That might just be the beginning—the more we learn about air pollution, the more dangerous it seems even at lower levels. A new study from the University of Rochester found that exposure to air pollution at a young age caused changes in the brains of mice, including an enlargement in the parts of the brain that is seen in humans with autism and schizophrenia. And air pollution is still a major problem in the U.S.—a recent report from the American Lung Association found that nearly 5 in 10 Americans live in places where the air can be dangerous to breathe.

There’s an added political value to the White House’s focus on the public health benefits of carbon regulations. Note the huge partisan gap on the issue in recent polls: climate change, unfortunately, remains an area where there is deep political division. But air quality and public health is something that Americans can get together on, at least somewhat, without the conversation turning into a debate over temperature trends and IPCC assessments. That could help these regulations, which are supported by a strong majority of Americans, overcome kneejerk Republican opposition. “You don’t need to have a debate over climate change,” says Jim Brainard, the Republican mayor of Carmel, Indiana and a member of the White House task force on climate change. “Who doesn’t want to breathe clean air?”

As I wrote last week, the EPA regulations by themselves will have only a small impact on total U.S. carbon emissions, and a negligible one globally. The hope is that these rules are just the beginning, that they will help prompt other countries to push their own carbon-cutting efforts further, and encourage businesses to find even better ways to accelerate the clean energy revolution. But countless Americans will breathe easier—literally—thanks in part to these rules. That’s reason enough to celebrate.

TIME States

Dengue Fever Infections in Florida Make Health Experts Wary of Mosquito-Borne Outbreak

Deadly disease on the rise in the Sunshine State

+ READ ARTICLE

After 42 Floridians came down with dangerous mosquito-borne diseases, state officials advised citizens on Wednesday to take steps to protect themselves against bug bites.

The Florida Department of Health announced 24 confirmed cases of dengue fever as of last week, and 18 confirmed cases of chikungunya, both viruses that do not have vaccines to prevent them and have not typically been found in North America, the CDC says.

All Floridians infected had traveled to the Caribbean or South America, and officials believe they may have contracted the diseases there, but epidemiologists worry that Florida mosquitos may be spreading the illnesses, which could lead to a potential outbreak, Reuters reports.

Dengue is a potentially fatal disease and both can cause long-term problems.

“The threat is greater than I’ve seen in my lifetime,” said Walter Tabachnick, director of the Florida Medical Entomological Laboratory in Vero Beach. “Sooner or later, our mosquitoes will pick it up and transmit it to us. That is the imminent threat,” he said.

[Reuters]

 

 

 

TIME cities

Washington D.C. Is The Fittest City In The U.S.

Lower death rates, ample parks and a healthy appetite for fruits and vegetables are just some of the factors that vaulted the nation's capital to the top of the list

Washington D.C. has topped a ranking of America’s 50 largest cities, arranged from fittest to flabbiest.

The new study, released on Wednesday by the American College of Sports Medicine, ranked the cities by two broad measures of public health: Personal health indicators such as prevalence of smoking and diabetes and the average city-dweller’s intake of fruits and vegetables, and environmental health, which included measures such as access to public parks, bike lanes and farmer’s markets. A panel of 26 health experts weighted the measures by importance, and voila, a health index was formed, allowing whole metropolises to size one another up like competitive weightlifters.

Washington D.C. topped the list, knocking Minneapolis-St. Paul’s off of its three-year winning streak (though the Twin cities came in a close second). Oklahoma City, Louisville, and Memphis rounded out the bottom of the list.

The authors stress that some of the rankings capture marginal differences between cities and that they all have areas of strength worth emulating and weaknesses worth addressing.

“We have issued the American Fitness Index each year since 2008 to help health advocates and community leader advocates improve the quality of life in their hometowns,” said Walter Thompson, chair of the AFI Advisory Board.

In other words, they’re all beautiful in their own way, and they all could use some work.

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