TIME public health

Here’s What Foods Are Most Likely To Have E. Coli or Salmonella

'For more than a decade, our fragmented federal food safety system has been in need of dramatic reform'

More than 80% of the reported E. Coli illnesses were traced to beef and vegetables, according to a new report on foodborne illness. Salmonella, meanwhile, is transmitted in many different kinds of foods, including seeded vegetables, eggs, fruits, chicken, sprouts, beef and pork.

The report, the result of collaboration between three federal agencies that handle food safety, examined nearly 1,000 instances of patient infection with foodborne illness to provide a reliable understanding of how pathogens spread. Researchers hope the findings will “enhance efforts to inform and engage stakeholders, including industry and consumers, about food safety strategies,” the report says.

The news comes as members of Congress push for new federal laws to strengthen food safety. More than 9 million people are infected with foodborne illness every year, and more 50,000 people are hospitalized, according to the report.

“For more than a decade, our fragmented federal food safety system has been in need of dramatic reform,” wrote Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro of Connecticut in an op-ed in The Hill last month. “This leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to foodborne illness and contamination, whether intentional or unintentional.”

The pair noted that 15 federal agencies are responsible for monitoring the food supply, diminishing their effectiveness. (Among them are the three organizations behind the report—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service).

DeLauro and Durbin have proposed legislation to consolidate the food safety organizations into one agency. Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York has proposed requiring grocery stores to contact customers individually who have purchased recalled items.

TIME public health

Majority of Americans Favor Vaccinations, Poll Says

The results come amid a measles outbreak in the U.S.

Nearly 80% of Americans support vaccinations, according to a new poll.

The Reuters/Ipsos survey comes amid a measles outbreak in the U.S. that recently reached 154 cases and the death of a toddler in Berlin, who was not vaccinated for the highly contagious virus. Only 13% of survey respondents opposed vaccinations while 78% said that all healthy, medically eligible children should be vaccinated.

Forty-four percent of respondents said parents should be mandated to vaccinate their child, while 38% favored some parental choice. The survey also showed a generational difference in vaccination support with younger Americans more in favor of it.

 

The issue flared in the Republican presidential campaign recently when candidates split on whether vaccines should mandatory.

[Reuters]

TIME Infectious Disease

What You Need to Know About the California ‘Superbug’

The CRE bacteria kills up to half of infected patients

A Los Angeles hospital revealed Wednesday that more than 100 patients may have been exposed to a deadly “superbug” while being treated at the facility between October and January. Two have been reported dead already at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the hospital announced Wednesday.

So what is the ominous-sounding bacteria, and just how dangerous is it? Here’s a quick guide:

What is this “superbug”?
The term superbug refers to microbes that have become resistant to the antibiotics typically used to treat bacterial infections. In the most recent case, in Los Angeles, the term refers to the bacteria called Carbapenem-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE). Once the antibiotic-resistant bacteria gets into the bloodstream or bladder, it causes infections that are difficult to stop. It also transfers its anti-biotic resistant properties to other germs so they can also resist medicine.

How do you catch it?
CRE infection typically occurs in hospitals or other medical care facilities. This is largely because its spread requires close contact between the bacteria and a vulnerable part of the body, something like an open wound. In the most recent case, as in others in the past, patients were infected due to medical instruments that were improperly sanitized.

How deadly is it?
Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), called it a “nightmare bacteria” in 2012, and with good reason—it kills up to half of infected patients.

Read more: New Antibiotic Could Help Fight ‘Superbugs’ of the Future

How is it treated?
Doctors can try some antibiotics that may still work despite CRE’s resistance, but it can be difficult to treat, sometimes impossible.

How can it be kept from spreading?
The CDC provides health care facilities with more than 30 pages of guidelines on how to prevent CRE from spreading. Separating patients with CRE from other patients, tracking CRE patients’ movements between hospitals and strong enforcement of protocols to prevent the spread of infection count among the report’s most important recommendations.

Should I be worried about other superbugs?
You probably should, yes. CRE is one of a number of antibiotic resistant bacteria that pose a serious public health concern. MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), for example, kills about 64% more people than those infected with a non-resistant form of the disease. A 2014 study projected that, if governments worldwide don’t act, “superbugs” could kill an extra 10 million people a year by 2050 — making them deadlier than cancer.

TIME public health

People Who Sext Are More Likely to Text While Driving

texting while driving
Getty Images

'Technological deviance' may be the reason why

More than a quarter of American adults admit to texting while driving, but not everyone is equally likely to engage in the dangerous practice, finds a new study published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. People who text and drive are more likely to be white than nonwhite, men than women and sexters than the sext-abstinent.

“In modern social life, we are tethered to our devices,” says study author Steven Seiler, assistant professor of sociology at Tennessee Tech University. “When we’re driving, we’re simply taking the norms that we have in other areas of life.”

The study evaluated survey data from more than 2,200 American adults and found that more than 27% of drivers admitted to texting while driving. The practice seemed to be fueled by a sense of constant connection to others. What the authors call “technological deviance,” a disregard for social norms around technology, may help explain why sexting was an associated behavior.

Read More: How Your Cell Phone Distracts You Even When You’re Not Using It

Even though a majority of states ban texting while driving, Seiler says he is skeptical that such laws are the most effective way to stop the practice. New Jersey, a state that keeps extensive records on texting-while-driving enforcement, enacted strict laws to ban the practice more than five years ago, but hasn’t seen a decline since, Seiler says.

“When there’s laws prohibiting mobile phones, rather than keeping the mobile phones near their face, they’ll keep it in their lap,” he says. “The change has to occur on a cultural level, not simply stricter laws.”

Much like state laws, simple restrictions aren’t likely to change culture. Students who attend a school that bans mobile phones from the classroom are more likely to engage in texting while driving, Seiler says he found in an forthcoming study. “They’re catching up on that time lost,” he says. “This goes back to how integrated cell phones are with our relationships.”

To truly eradicate the practice, Seiler says the dangers of texting while driving need to be ingrained in a child early in their socialization. Parents need to monitor their children’s texting, and texting while driving should have consequences, he says.

Traffic safety campaigns should try to spread the message in every way possible, much like the seatbelt campaign of the 1990s, he says. In the United States in 2012, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving accidents, which include talking on the phone and texting while driving.

Read more: Why People Text And Drive Even When They Know It’s Dangerous

TIME Pakistan

In Pakistan, Vaccinating Children Has Become A Deadly Battle

In this Feb. 16, 2015 photo, a Pakistani health worker gives polio vaccine to a child in Rawalpindi, Pakistan
B.K. Bangash—AP In this Feb. 16, 2015 photo, a Pakistani health worker gives polio vaccine to a child in Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Polio is endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned inoculations

(PESHAWAR, Pakistan) — While vaccine distrust has sparked debates amid a measles outbreak in the United States, Pakistan is in a deadly battle to wipe out polio.

Long eradicated in the West, polio remains endemic in Pakistan after the Taliban banned vaccinations, attacks targeted medical staffers and suspicions lingered about the inoculations.

The persistence of this crippling, sometimes fatal virus shows just how difficult wiping out a disease can be, even amid campaigns seeing thousands of vaccinators go into the field to offer polio drops to children, sometimes under armed guard.

“When we leave in the morning, we do it at the risk of our life,” vaccinator Rubina Iqbal said. “We don’t know whether we will come back alive or not.”

Polio is a highly contagious virus generally transmitted in unsanitary conditions. There is no cure for the virus, which mostly affects children under 5, though it can be prevented with a vaccine.

In the U.S., polio terrified mothers and fathers as outbreaks caused more than 15,000 cases of paralysis each year until Dr. Jonas Salk invented a vaccine in the 1950s. After eradicating smallpox in 1980, authorities turned their attention to polio. In Pakistan, the disease — and the backlash against vaccinations — is mostly in its northwest and the port city of Karachi, although the vaccination drive is country-wide.

The scope of the vaccinators’ efforts in Pakistan is impressive. In January, officials targeted some 35 million children during a nationwide campaign, said Dr. Rana Muhammad Safdar, who oversees the country’s polio emergency operations center. Smaller campaigns are held more frequently in areas where the virus is believed to be especially prevalent. Workers at central bus stops and train stations also vaccinate child travelers.

Neighboring India was declared polio-free in 2014 — a massive logistical feat for the country of 1.2 billion people. Many experts thought success was near in Pakistan in 2012 but then the number of cases shot up last year.

But instead of parents’ groups worried about autism and celebrities relying on a discredited scientific article like in the U.S., Pakistan’s anti-vaccine campaign has been waged at the end of the barrel of an assault rifle. The Pakistani Taliban banned vaccinations in 2012 after U.S. Navy SEALs launched a raid in Abbottabad in 2011 that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden. Ahead of the raid, the CIA sent in a local doctor who claimed to be conducting a hepatitis vaccine program to collect DNA from children at bin Laden’s home. That sparked widespread distrust, in a country where many also fear the inoculations are a plot to sterilize Muslim children.

By December 2012, militant gunmen began targeting vaccination teams in what became a “horrendous serial killing,” said Elias Durry, the World Health Organization’s point person in Pakistan on polio. An estimated 75 people involved in Pakistan’s vaccination efforts have been killed since, Safdar said. On Tuesday, authorities in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province found the bullet-riddled bodies of four people who disappeared Saturday while preparing for a polio campaign.

Infected children and others who travel outside of the region can lead to fresh outbreaks in cities — and even other countries — where polio has already been wiped out. Outside of Pakistan, only Afghanistan and Nigeria are countries where polio remains endemic.

To fight polio, Pakistan’s government has created emergency operations centers in Islamabad and provincial capitals where officials meet daily, a tactic that helped immensely in Nigeria. In certain high-risk areas they introduced a longer-lasting, injectable vaccine instead of oral drops.

A Pakistani military operation launched in June in the North Waziristan tribal area also allowed vaccinators to finally access children there after hundreds of thousands of people fled the region and settled elsewhere in Pakistan. Vaccinators in November also started going door-to-door in South Waziristan for the first time in two years, and the intensity of attacks against vaccination teams has slowed, Safdar said. The number of people outright refusing the vaccine has dropped, officials say.

Officials also have implemented new security strategies to protect vaccinators.

“By this time last year, nobody could go to North Waziristan. … Vaccinators were being killed left and right,” Durry said. “So those issues are improving, and have improved dramatically.”

Vaccinators say they use their own arguments to convince reluctant residents, such as talking about how they give the drops to their own children. However, they can also quickly recall stories of being harassed on the job. In northwest Pakistan many people are suspicious of women working outside the home.

Bureaucratic challenges also beset the vaccination drive. Vaccinators complain they don’t get paid on time. Polio workers in the Bajaur tribal area recently protested, saying they hadn’t been paid for five months.

To change that, paychecks are now deposited directly into vaccinators’ bank accounts, Safdar said. But delays still happen, he said.

Pakistani officials also are reaching out to the religious community for help convincing people to take the vaccine. Imams like Mohammad Israr Madni, who teaches at the influential Haqqania religious school in the northwestern city of Nowshera, are part of those efforts.

“I want to reach every madrassa, every mosque, to convince (Muslim scholars) and pave the way for awareness among people,” Madni said.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

2,500 Tons of the Food We Eat is Fake

olive oil pouring
Getty Images

Fake alcohol was the biggest offender

Do you really know what’s in your cheese?

New evidence may cast some doubt on the purity of your favorite foods. Interpol, the international criminal police organization, announced that it seized thousands of tons of fake food in a joint operation with Europol over the past two months—including seemingly benign mainstays like mozzarella, eggs, bottled mineral water, strawberries, cooking oil and dried fruit—in 47 countries.

Adulterations cut across all kinds of categories. In Italy, 31 tons of seafood were labeled as “fresh” but had actually been previously frozen, then doused with a chemical containing citric acid and hydrogen peroxide to hide that it was rotting. At an Italian cheese factory, officers found expired dairy and chemicals used to make old cheese seem fresh. They also found that mozzarella was being smoked in the back of a van with burning trash as a heat source.

Egyptian authorities seized 35 tons of fake butter and shut down an entire factory producing that was sold as tea. In Thailand, officials destroyed 85 tons of meat that had made its way into the country without health and safety testing. And in the U.S., the FDA found that illegal dietary supplements were being sent through the mail.

All of that fraudulent food was seized in markets, airports, seaports and shops between December 2014 and January 2015. The crackdown, known as Operation Opson IV, is the largest effort of the agencies to target such inappropriately or mislabeled food and ultimately removed 2,500 tons of food and 275,000 liters of tainted drinks out of the food supply, Interpol says. Last year, Operation Opson III seized about 1,200 tons of fake food in 33 countries.

Read more: Waiter, There’s Fox In My Donkey Meat: The Global Scandal of Food Fraud

The most counterfeited product of all was alcohol. In the U.K., officials ferreted out a plant distilling fraudulent brand-name vodka, made in antifreeze containers and treated to take out the chemical smell. Officials in Rwanda found a shop selling a local brew that had been poured into used brand-name bottles to pass it off as more expensive.

It isn’t new, but the practice of substituting a less expensive ingredient for a pricier one, or finding ways to dilute a product, is increasingly the subject of scrutiny. One 2014 study by Oceana found that 30% of shrimp sold in the U.S. are mislabeled, and Europe’s recent horse meat scandal has made people across the world second guess what’s on their dinner plate when they’re served beef.

“It is a problem everywhere,” says Markus Lipp, senior director for food standards at United States Pharmacopeia, a non-profit organization that develops standards for ingredients in pharmaceuticals, foods and dietary supplements and maintains a database of known instances of food fraud. (U.S. Pharmacopeia was not involved with the Interpol/Europol investigation.) “Too good to be true is actually a real thing,” Lipp says. “If I get something really, really cheap but it’s usually very expensive, it might not be the right thing.”

In countries with more effective regulatory agencies, food fraud happens less, but consumers can be smarter about their food purchases wherever they live, Lipp says. Buying the not-as-processed version of a food makes it less of a target. Whole coffee beans, for example, are more distinct in form and shape—and more difficult to adulterate—than the ground variety.

Same goes for ground brown burgers. “Everyone can tell a horse from a cow,” Lipp says. “But if it’s a patty, it gets much more difficult to tell horse meat from cow meat.”

The more intact our food, Lipp says, the more distinguishing features it has. Buying it in its natural state, or as close to that state as possible, “will aid us in helping to prevent adulteration or buying adulterated products,” he says.

TIME Research

Scientists Say Aggressive New HIV Strain Discovered in Cuba

Reports of people in Cuba infected by new strain developing AIDS in less than three years

A recently-discovered form of HIV in Cuba has been found to progress into AIDS some three times faster than the most common strains of the virus, according to a recent study.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Leuven in Belgium, followed several reports of HIV-infected people in Cuba developing AIDS in less than three years, far faster than the usual 10 years it typically takes. All patients infected with CRF19, a recently-discovered strain of the HIV virus, had higher levels of it in their body.

They were also more likely to have developed AIDS within three years, the study published in the journal EBioMedicine found. The researchers, who looked at 95 patients at various stages of infection, concluded that the strain must be “particularly fit.”

Approximately 35 million people worldwide are living with HIV or AIDS, and nearly 40 million have died of the disease since the 1980s. Drugs exist to keep the worst effects of the disease at bay, but this new strand threatens to take a toll on patients before they realize they need treatment.

TIME public health

Canada Has a Case of Mad Cow Disease

Cattle graze in a pasture in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta in 2006.
Patrick Price—Reuters Cattle graze in a pasture in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta in 2006.

One Alberta cow has been diagnosed

A beef cow in Canada was found to have mad cow disease, officials said Friday, the first case of the disease in the country since 2011.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is investigating the cow’s history, Reuters reports, and officials said the infected cow hadn’t been processed for consumption by humans or other animals. Cows are typically infected after eating materials from the brains or spinal cords of sick animals. When humans eat an infected cow, they can become ill with a variation of the disease.

Officials said this case should not impact Canada’s beef exports.

[Reuters]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Bill Could Help Veterans With Mental Health

Military uniform jacket
Getty Images

22 veterans commit suicide each day

Marine Clay Hunt received a hero’s welcome when he returned home to Texas after serving as a sniper in Afghanistan and Iraq. Struggling with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, the Purple Heart-winner became a widely-recognized advocate for veterans. In 2011, two years after leaving the Marines, the 28-year-old became one of the 8,000 veterans who commit suicide every year.

Earlier this week, four years after Hunt’s suicide, the United States Senate unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, and President Barack Obama will likely sign it into law. Among other things, the new law would create a comprehensive outreach program to address veterans’ mental health and provide financial incentives to psychiatric doctors who work with veterans.

Read more: Why Can’t the Army Win the War on Suicide?

“While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” said Clay Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, in a statement.

The recently passed bill provides a good starting point to help an at-risk population, but it’s a small step forward in addressing a longtime problem that has only been growing in severity, experts say. Veteran suicide claims the lives of 22 veterans each day. At around 30 suicides per 100,000 veterans, the suicide rate is more than double the rate for the general population.

The reasons for the high suicide rates are not entirely clear, but researchers say that military life exposes soldiers to a series of risk factors that place them at a heightened suicide risk, even though someone in the military is usually healthier physically than someone in the general population.

“Going into the military isn’t going to increase your risk of suicide,” says Martha Bruce, professor of sociology in psychiatry at Cornell University. “It’s the experiences either during [service], or in the transition, or after.”

First and foremost, combat exposes soldiers to traumatic life and death situations, and depression and PTSD may result. Others soldiers return with brain injuries. All of these ailments have been linked to increased risk of suicide.

Read more: Killed in Action, Far From the Battlefield

Experts point out that even those who return from service mentally healthy and without injury issue face a tough life transition when they return home. Many cannot find immediate employment and struggle to adapt to the culture of civilian life more broadly. Only 72% of veterans of the last decade’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were employed in 2013, according to government statistics. Struggling to adjust, some turn to alcohol, which is another risk factor for suicide. One in four veterans exposed to heavy combat binge drinks at least once a week, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Shaped by the what Bruce calls the “self-reliant culture” of the military, veterans may be reluctant to seek help even when they recognize that they have a problem. “Culture plays a big role when it comes to not necessarily who gets distressed, but what people do in response to that,” says Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The culture in the military and, certainly with veterans, is a very stoic one traditionally.”

An Air Force anti-suicide program initiated more than a decade ago aimed to tackle the cultural issue by making service members feel comfortable reporting their conditions, Moutier says. And that’s a big part of what the recently passed Clay Hunt Act seeks to do. Peer support counselors will work with veterans in local communities to make addressing mental health issue feel more culturally acceptable.

Read more: Dangerous Cases: Crime and Treatment

“You have to go to where people are, both in physical location as well as in their mindset,” Moutier says.

Suicide researchers say the bill is a step in the right direction, but they also acknowledge that the complexity of the issue makes it difficult to know what the legislation’s long-term effect will be.

“There isn’t a panacea that’s going to reverse the trend,” says Mark Kaplan, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Suicide is one of the most complex public health problems out there.”

TIME Cancer

Lung Cancer Now Kills More Women Than Breast Cancer in Developed Countries

The lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic are partly driving the shift

For years, breast cancer has been the leading cause of cancer death among women in developed countries, but according to a new report on the incidence of cancer worldwide from the American Cancer Society, lung cancer now surpasses it.

A combination of early breast cancer detection efforts and the lingering effects of the tobacco epidemic drove the shift, says lead report author Lindsey Torre, an American Cancer Society researcher. The study, which was published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians and used data from 2012, reported that lung cancer killed 209,000 women in developed countries in 2012, while 197,000 women died of breast cancer.

“We know now that in a lot of developed countries among women, smoking is on the decline,” says Torre, noting that new lung cancer infections today are the result of habits formed decades ago. “The good news is that we can probably expect to see these lung cancer mortality rates peak and start to decline as times go by.”

Read more: The Cancer Breakthrough With Big Implications

The report emphasized the growing incidence of cancer in the developing world. Lung cancer was the leading killer of men in developing countries and breast cancer the leading cause of death for women.

In part, these growing numbers can be attributed to an aging population, a trend that is affecting the world at large. And as the developing world continues to westernize, people in developing countries are increasingly likely to smoke, be overweight and rarely engage in psychical activity, Torre says.

“We’re seeing the burden of cancer shift to developing countries, so they’re taking on an increasing portion of the global cancer burden,” she says.

Cancer killed 8.2 million people worldwide and 1.6 million in the United States in 2012.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser