TIME public health

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria From Texan Cattle Yards Are Now Airborne, Study Finds

A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas
Tom Pennington—Getty Images A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas

Researchers say the bacteria are capable of "traveling for long distances"

A new study says the DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in American cattle yards has become airborne, creating a new pathway by which such bacteria can potentially spread to humans and hinder treatment of life-threatening infections.

Researchers gathered airborne particulate matter (PM) from around 10 commercial cattle yards within a 200 mile radius of Lubbock, Texas over a period of six-months. They found the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria and a “significantly greater” number of microbial communities containing antibiotic-resistant genes. That’s according to the study to be published in next month’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

“To our knowledge, this study is among the first to detect and quantify antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes…associated with airborne PM emitted from beef cattle feed yards,” said the authors, who are researchers in environmental toxicology at Texas Tech University and at a testing lab in Lubbock.

Co-author Phil Smith told the Texas Tribune that the bacteria could be active for a long time and “could be traveling for long distances.”

His colleague, molecular biologist Greg Mayer, told the paper that some of the study’s findings “made me not want to breathe.”

Because antibodies are poorly absorbed by cows they are released into the environment through excretion. Once in the environment, bacteria will undergo natural selection and genes that have acquired natural immunities will survive.

The genes that have gone airborne are contained in dried fecal matter that has become dust and gets picked up by winds as they whip through the stockyards.

The Texas Tribune reported that representatives from the Texas cattle industry (estimated to control around 14 million beef cows) criticized the study, saying it portrayed the airborne bacteria as overly hazardous to human health.

But the mass of PM2.5 particles (the kind that can be inhaled into lungs) released into the atmosphere is eye opening, with the study estimating the total amount released by cattle yards in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas exceeds 46,000 lbs.(21,000 kg) per day.

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial DNA is already known to be transferable to humans if ingested via water or meat.


TIME HIV/AIDS

HIV Triggers a Public Health Emergency in Indiana

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence responds to a question during a news conference, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind.
Darron Cummings—AP Indiana Gov. Mike Pence responds to a question during a news conference, March 25, 2015, in Scottsburg, Ind.

Intravenous drug use identified as the source of infections

Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency Thursday in south Indiana’s Scott County, which has seen a large HIV flare-up from intravenous drug use.

At least 79 HIV confirmed cases have been tied to the southern Indiana country since January, up from fewer than five new cases in a typical year, and the state expects that figure to rise as officials scramble to alert up to 100 people linked to those newly infected. Intravenous drug use has been named as the primary infection source in every confirmed case.

“This is all-hands-on-deck. This is a very serious situation,” Pence said at a news conference on Thursday.

The emergency order will set up a command center to coordinate HIV and substance abuse treatment. Pence also authorized a temporary needle-exchange program, on recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the governor had previously said he opposed the practice.

“Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,” the Governor said in a statement. “ I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks.”

Read next: This Map Shows the Deadliest Counties in the U.S.

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

 

TIME public health

What Ebola Taught the World One Year Later

On March 5, Liberian physicians discharged Beatrice Yardolo, an English teacher, from the hospital, hoping that she would be their last Ebola patient. Unfortunately, last Friday another person in Liberia tested positive for the disease that has killed more than 10,000 people in West Africa.

The bad news was a reminder that the world must remain vigilant and insist that we get to zero Ebola cases everywhere. We also must support Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in their efforts to build back better health care systems to prevent the next epidemic.

Beatrice survived Ebola but she and the other survivors have paid dearly because of the outbreak. She lost three of her 10 children to Ebola, her home was encircled in quarantine, and she’s been unable to work. She and her country face a daunting road back to recovery and they remain at risk of Ebola as long as there is a single case in the region.

It didn’t have to be this way. The first global alert on the Ebola outbreak came one year ago, when its spread was still relatively limited to forested areas in southeastern Guinea. Once we recognized the severity of the epidemic, the World Bank Group committed more than $500 million to the three governments to help finance their immediate response. Although we disbursed the money in record time, it started flowing about eight months after the outbreak began because we and the rest of the international community failed to react sooner.

The lessons from the Ebola outbreak are clear, and more to the point, they are not new. With every previous outbreak—SARS, Avian flu and others—the global community has committed to building better systems that would be capable of stopping the next epidemic. The political will to do so lasts a few months, but then we forget.

This time, we must not forget and we should turn each of the lessons below into a clear plan to finally build a pandemic response capacity that is equal to the challenge.

First, we must ensure that every country has a robust and resilient health system. This means a system that can deliver quality, essential health care and preventative services to everyone. Countries also need effective disease surveillance and diagnostic capabilities to rapidly identify, treat, and contain outbreaks. The Ebola crisis has made clear the significant economic downsides of failing to invest adequately in the health sector: These three countries have lost at least $1.6 billion in income.

Second, communities must be empowered to serve as the front line for disease prevention and response. We know, for example, that a major driver of this epidemic was unsafe burials. It was only when traditional and faith leaders led the messaging and response that aggrieved family members and communities embraced safe practices. The substantial investments that have been made during the response in community health workers and community mobilization efforts should now be strengthened.

Third, the Ebola crisis exposed the fragility of these countries. A health crisis became a development crisis. That’s why, for example, we are providing more than 10,000 tons of maize and rice seeds to more than 200,000 farmers across the three countries in time for the April planting season. We also know without investments in safe schools, roads, electricity and telecommunications, countries won’t be able to provide effective basic health services or contain the next outbreak.

Last but not least, the global health system is ill-equipped both in terms of outbreak preparedness and response. A speedy response can save thousands of lives and potentially trillions of dollars. To help do this, the World Bank Group is developing the concept of a global pandemic emergency facility.

Our goal is to work with partners to create a new financial instrument that can rapidly disburse a large amount of funds within eight hours, not eight months, of an outbreak. We need strong technical coordination led by a much bolstered World Health Organization; timely interventions involving corps of medical professionals, logistics experts, transport, pharmaceutical and communications companies; and financial support from public and private financial institutions.

If we had this in place, Ebola might never have reached Beatrice Yardolo’s village. Her health would have been strong, her job secure, and all of her children thriving. We must do better next time. We owe it to Beatrice and to the thousands of other Ebola survivors to stop the next epidemic in its tracks, before it robs nations of hope and opportunity. As an infectious disease physician and president of the World Bank Group, I promise to do everything in my power to support the building of a global pandemic response capacity that can protect people and the global economy. This time, all of us must insist that we don’t forget.

Jim Yong Kim, MD, PhD, is president of the World Bank Group. He is a co-founder of Partners in Health and formerly directed the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department.

 

TIME public health

5 Ways to Celebrate World Water Day

water
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A holiday for H2O

Sunday is World Water Day, a United Nations initiative to celebrate clean water and bring attention to those who don’t have enough of it. A new report released ahead of World Water Day warns about a looming shortage, and centers on this year’s theme: water and sustainable development.

Here are five ways to celebrate World Water Day

Learn about poop water

First charcoal juice becomes a thing, and now poop water? Hey, Bill Gates drinks it—thanks to a new machine called the Omniprocessor that literally transforms waste into water through a steam engine. On his blog, Gates writes about drinking a “delicious” fresh glass of it and marvels at the possibilities to improve sanitation in low-income countries. “The processor wouldn’t just keep human waste out of the drinking water; it would turn waste into a commodity with real value in the marketplace,” Gates writes.

Take a break from meat

Showering and hydration are hardly your main uses of water—but food is. The average American uses 7,500 liters of water each day, according to the U.N. If you’re eating meat, your water usage shoots way up; a steak dinner for two requires 15,000 liters of water for the meat alone. Eating more meat and dairy has been the single greatest factor for water consumption in the past 30 years, says the group—so going vegetarian, even temporarily, can make a difference.

Wash your hands the right way

Only 5% of Americans do, according to a study of men using public restrooms. (If you need a refresher on proper technique, you should use soap and water and wash for at least 15 seconds.) Sounds gross—and it is a public health hazard, according to UNICEF, organizers of Global Handwashing Day, another water-related holiday worth celebrating. “Handwashing with soap prevents disease in a more straightforward and cost-effective way than any single vaccine,” supporter UNICEF writes.

Support a future female farmer

Most of the world’s hungry are women, says the U.N.’s new report, and most don’t own land—or even have time to make an income, since 25% of their day is spent collecting drinking water. “With equal access to resources and knowledge, female farmers, who account for the majority of all subsistence farmers, could produce enough additional food to reduce the number of the world’s hungry by 150 million,” the report says. Investing in water and sanitation actually helps improve equality, which helps stimulate the economy—every dollar invested yields between $5-28, the UN estimates.

Give better water to the world

A new report from WaterAid America found that one in five babies born in the developing world dies during its first month of life because of a lack of clean water. And 35% of facilities in middle- and lower-income countries didn’t have water and soap for hand-washing, another report from the World Health Organization found.

John Green, author of The Fault In Our Stars, recently teamed up with Bill Gates to raise money for clean, safe water in Ethiopia. You can donate to water.org here.

TIME public health

Scathing Report Calls Lab Safety at CDC ‘Insufficient’

The Centers for Disease Control Buildings in Atlanta on June 20, 2014.
Tami Chappell – Reuters The Centers for Disease Control Buildings in Atlanta on June 20, 2014.

A new public report from outside experts assessing laboratory safety at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) comes down severely on the government agency.

In 2014 and early 2015, the CDC was the site of a series of mishaps, from a lab technician the agency thought was potentially exposed to live Ebola virus through an accidental tube swap to the possible release of anthrax. In response, the agency formed an external laboratory safety workgroup to assess the CDC’s internal protocols and provide advice and recommendations. The CDC just publically posted the report, which describes the CDC’s commitment to safety as “inconsistent and insufficient at multiple levels,” to its website.

“Safety is not integrated into strategic planning and is not currently part of the CDC culture, enterprise-wide,” the report says. “Interviews and surveys demonstrated that many employees neither understand the agency’s response to accidents nor how that information is communicated to the larger agency community outside immediately affected labs.”

The authors write that “disturbingly” many of these responses were among people who work in the CDC’s highest biosafety level labs. “Laboratory safety training is inadequate,” the report authors write, adding that across the CDC, workers say they fear negative repercussions for reporting instances where there may have been an exposure to hazardous material. Staff at the CDC view the Environment, Safety, and Health Compliance Office (ESHCO)—the office meant to protect CDC workers and create a safe working environment—as having “inadequate expertise” in lab safety, the report says.

The report makes recommendations, like “staffing [ESHCO] with scientists with professional qualifications in research and/or laboratory safety” and establishing consistent safety practices across the agency.

“CDC concurs with these recommendations, has made progress towards implementing them, and will soon report on that progress,” the CDC says in a statement on its website. “CDC’s aim is to improve the culture of laboratory safety across the agency and minimize the risks associated with laboratory work.”

“It should be noted that although the [workgroup] presented its findings to the full committee in January, it began its review of CDC’s laboratories last August and did the bulk of its assessment at CDC in August and September,” CDC spokesman Tom Skinner told TIME. “So the said report reflects observations of the workgroup made several months ago.”

Skinner the CDC has made progress, and is implementing actions to “address the root causes of recent incidents and to provide redundant safeguards across the agency.” Some of these changes include establishing new positions for lab safety oversight and implementing new training procedures and safety protocols.

TIME public health

WHO Urges Mass Measles Vaccinations in Ebola Regions

Guinea Ebola Vaccine
Youssouf Bah—AP A health worker, right, cleans a man's arm before injecting him with a Ebola vaccine in Conakry, Guinea, March 7, 2015.

The risk for diseases like measles has risen amid Ebola

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging mass vaccination for preventable diseases like measles and whooping cough in Ebola-affected countries.

The organization says the risk for additional outbreaks is high due to interrupted immunization practices in the area. The agency is calling for an “intensification” in routine vaccinations, and a measles vaccination push in countries that no longer have Ebola cases.

In Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia resources and personnel shifted away from usual immunizations to tackling the Ebola outbreak which has infected more than 24,700 people and killed more than 10,190.

MORE: Why West Africa Might Soon Have 100,000 More Measles Cases

“Any disruption of immunization services, even for short periods, will result in an increase in the number of susceptible individuals, and will increase the likelihood of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks,” the WHO said in a recent letter to officials in susceptible West African countries.

The announcement comes after researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published a study earlier in March in the journal Science predicting that there could be an outbreak of up to 100,000 measles cases over the next 18 months in Ebola-affected areas if nothing is done to amend disrupted vaccine programs.

“When there’s a disruption of medical services, measles is always one of the first ones in the door,” study author Justin Lessler told TIME.

Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone are rolling out immunizations for several preventable diseases in regions of the countries that are Ebola-free. Liberia and Guinea have targeted children under the age of five for measles vaccinations since they are at a high risk for infection.

Read more about the risk for measles amid Ebola here.

TIME Aging

Old People Should Be Part of NYC Workforce: Report

'Many of the older adults that we speak with want and need to work'

A skilled-labor shortage has left small businesses across the country scrambling to fill positions and New York City health organizations say there’s a simple solution: hire older workers.

“Hiring, retaining and using older workers strategically can solve a variety of pressing problems that employers in our city face,” said Shauneequa Owusu, a health policy expert at the New York Academy of Medicine, which co-produced a new report with the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center at Columbia University and the Mayor’s office’s Age-Friendly New York City.

Read more: The New Age of Much Older Age

The report, published Wednesday, suggests that workers 55 or older can bring skill and expertise while only requiring minimal adjustment on the part of small businesses (technology training can get older workers up to speed quickly, the report found). At the same time, research suggests the workplace can benefit from age diversity, too. “There is evidence that mixed age teams in the workplace are more productive than teams of workers of the same age,” the authors write.

“Many of the older adults that we speak with want and need to work. Furthermore, there’s growing evidence that it’s helpful to their healthy aging and wellbeing to continue working,” said report author Ruth Finkelstein at Columbia’s aging center. Recent research points to a clear association between being employed and improved mental, physical and emotional health, she said.

The finding comes as more and more Americans want to avoid a traditional work-free retirement. According to the new research, 700,000 workers are older than 55 in New York City alone, and many say they do not plan to retire conventionally.

TIME Smoking

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Tobacco

cigarette pack smoking kills
Getty Images

Smokers lit up more than 5.8 trillion cigarettes in 2014

Despite killing 6 million people each year, tobacco use is still rampant worldwide, according to the new edition of the Tobacco Atlas, a report from the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation. Drawn from the report, here are five startling tobacco facts worth knowing.

Smokers lit up more than 5.8 trillion cigarettes in 2014.

People have consistently been smoking fewer and fewer cigarettes for the last several decades in Europe and the Americas, but that improvement has been offset by growth of cigarette consumption in China. The average adult there smoked more than 2,000 cigarettes in 2014.

Tobacco kills at least half of its users.

People tend to think that lung cancer is responsible for tobacco-related deaths. It’s true: the disease kills more than a million smokers around the world every year. But lung cancer is just one of many tobacco-related ailments that can kill. Stroke, heart attack, bronchitis and emphysema are other top killers. And even if a smoker doesn’t get a disease caused by tobacco, smoking reduces the chances of surviving other conditions.

The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars annually promoting itself.

From charitable donations to lobbying, the tobacco industry spends heavily to win over users and supporters. In the United States, for instance, the tobacco industry has more than 150 lobbyists in Washington at an annual cost of more than $26 million, the report notes, and companies also donate millions to charities to improve their public image. But all of that pales in comparison to the money spent on traditional marketing campaigns, like billboards and magazine advertisements. The tobacco industry spends $900,000 every hour on advertising in the U.S., the report says—so if you spend five minutes reading this article, the tobacco industry will have spent $75,000 on marketing.

Cigarette manufacturers target the already vulnerable.

As people in developed nations like the U.S. increasingly realize the risks of smoking, the tobacco industry has invested resources in getting people in the developing world to adopt the habit. Faced with less regulation, the report says, marketing feeds the perception that smoking is not only “cool” but also provides health benefits. Smokers often ignore essentials to pay for their cigarette habit, finds the report. In high-income countries like Canada and France, nearly a third of male smokers are spending money on cigarettes and skimping on essentials like food. Nearly three-quarters of male smokers do the same in middle-income countries like Brazil and Thailand.

Regulation and public awareness campaigns have worked.

The report found some good news, too: a combination of regulation and public awareness can decrease the prevalence of smoking. Cigarette tax increases, for example, have been shown to improve the odds that smokers will quit and discourage people from picking up the practice in the first place. Other efforts like public smoking bans and restrictions on advertising have also had success, the authors say. In New York City, where these practices have been adopted, the prevalence of smoking has declined by a third.

Read next: Watch John Oliver Burn Big Tobacco

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue

Loneliness solitude
Getty Images

Living alone is linked with increased chance of mortality

Loneliness kills. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Brigham Young University researchers who say they are sounding the alarm on what could be the next big public-health issue, on par with obesity and substance abuse.

The subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26%, according to the new study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation — or lacking social connection — and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29% and 32%.

“This is something that we need to take seriously for our health,” says Brigham Young University researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, an author of the study. “This should become a public-health issue.”

The researchers emphasized the difference between the subjective, self-reported feeling of loneliness and the objective state of being socially isolated. Both are potentially damaging, the study found. People who say they are alone but feel happy are at increased risk of death, as are those who have many social connections but say they are lonely. People who are both objectively isolated and subjectively lonely may be at the greatest risk of death, says Holt-Lunstad, though she notes that more data would be needed to know with certainty.

“If we just tell people to interact with more people, that might solve the social-isolation issue, but it might not solve the loneliness issue,” she said. “I think we need to acknowledge that both of these components are important.”

MORE: You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?

Many social scientists say technology and housing trends are increasing the risk of loneliness. More Americans are living alone than ever before, and technology like texting and social media has made it easier to avoid forming substantive relationships in the flesh and blood. Yet research shows that relationships can improve health in a variety of ways, by helping us manage stress, improving the functioning of the immune system and giving meaning to people’s lives.

Holt-Lunstad says that maintaining meaningful and close relationships, as well as a “diverse set of social connections” is key. Policy interventions for loneliness may be more difficult to imagine but could range from encouraging doctors to identify at-risk patients to rethinking the way neighborhoods are designed, Holt-Lunstad says.

“People’s response is oftentimes to say, ‘What are you going to do, tell everybody to give someone a hug?'” she says. “But there are many potential ways in which this could be implemented.”

Read next: 7 Timeless Ways to Be Happy at Any Age

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME public health

Nearly Half a Million Babies Die From Poor Hygiene

MSF Works To Reduce Maternal Mortality In Sierra Leone
Lam Yik Fei—Getty Images Doctors give emergency treatment to a new born baby at the Gondama Referral Centre on March 9, 2014 in Bo, Sierra Leone.

Two new reports show a lack of rudimentary sanitation in the developing world

Nearly half a million babies die every year from being raised in unhygienic conditions, according to a new report.

The briefing, from the non-profit organization WaterAid America, reveals that in the developing world one out of every five babies dies during their first month of life, but having clean water to bathe in could likely have prevented many of those deaths.

According to the data, babies born in Sub-Saharan Africa are 30 times more likely to contract an infection during their first month compared to babies in the developed world. In Sierra Leone, one out of every 21 women will have a child die from an infection during its first month of life. In the United States, that rate is one in 2,958 women.

One study the researchers reviewed showed that among 63 healthcare facilities with maternity units in Southern Nigeria, only one in five had soap near or in the delivery room.

The new WaterAid report comes on the same day the World Health Organization (WHO) released its own report on water, sanitation and hygiene. The WHO report, which looked at facilities in middle and lower income countries, shows that 38% don’t have access to an adequate water source, 19% don’t have sanitary enough conditions and 35% do not have water and soap for hand-washing.

That’s not good enough, WaterAid and the WHO both agree in their reports. When national and international governments develop plans to tackle public health problems like malnutrition, childhood diseases and newborn deaths, they need to also address basic hygiene services, the authors of the WaterAid report conclude.

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