Congo: Confirmed Ebola Deaths Near 2,000, Cases Over 3,000

Congo’s National Ebola Response Committee says confirmed Ebola deaths in the east of the sprawling African nation are nearing 2,000 and confirmed cases of the virus have exceeded 3,000.The committee released the latest numbers Friday after a discussion in Goma by the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church about efforts to help stem the spread of Ebola in communities. A mistrust of health workers and widespread security issues still threaten the fight against the second deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history in a region where armed groups have fought for decades over the mineral-rich land.The committee reported 3,002 confirmed Ebola cases with 1,974 deaths.
The World Health Organization said Friday they recorded the lowest weekly incidence of Ebola since March 2019 with 40 new cases, but said it was unclear if this positive trend would continue. 

Changes in Vapers’ Lungs Similar to Changes in Smokers’ Lungs

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reports 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping. The agency Friday also confirmed six deaths because of e-cigarettes.Until recently, most teens weren’t concerned about vaping. In fact, one brand of e-cigarettes, Juul, advertised that vaping was safer than regular cigarettes, but vaping is what sent Adam Hergenreder to the hospital.“I’m 18 years old and my lungs are like a 70-year-old’s,” he said.Vaping products for sale are seen at a shop in New York, Sept. 10, 2019.Many teens have no idea what chemicals they are inhaling, according to Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician.“Every time they vape, and bring this aerosol into their lungs, it’s not water vapor,” he said, “it has chemicals, including aldehydes and special alcohols that are produced as a result of heating these solvents that are in the vaping liquids.”In looking at 150 different e-liquids, scientists found about 200 different chemicals. The effect on the body is unknown. The chemicals are approved by a government agency, but they are approved for consumption, not for inhaling.A study at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that vaping causes changes in the lungs similar to the changes found in smokers with emphysema.Professor Robert Tarran led the study. Tarran said he found proteins called proteases in the lungs of some vapers. “The best way to describing them are they are molecular scissors, so proteasers are proteins that cut up other proteins,” Tarran said by Skype.Having some proteases in the lungs is normal. But Tarran says proteases increase with lung damage.“What we found is that these protease levels were up to the same amount in vapers’ lungs as in smokers’ lungs.”Tarran said nicotine in the vape liquid is connected to high protease levels in the lungs.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, left, and acting FDA Commissioner Ned Sharpless speak with reporters after a meeting about vaping with President Donald Trump at the White House, Sept. 11, 2019, in Washington.It’s too soon for studies to determine the long-term effects of vaping, or whether teens, whose lungs are still growing, are more vulnerable to bad outcomes than adults who vape.In the meantime, the CDC says “people should consider not using e-cigarette products” while it investigates the soaring number of illnesses and the deaths.Other medical groups are using stronger language. The American Medical Association is urging the public to avoid the use of e-cigarette products.And the National Association of County and City Health Officials is calling for swift action to eliminate youth vaping.

Changes in Vapers’ Lungs Resemble Changes in Smokers’ Lungs

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reports 380 confirmed and probable cases of lung disease associated with e-cigarette use, or vaping. The agency has also confirmed six deaths because of e-cigarettes. These latest figures were released Friday. Although vaping was once advertised as a better alternative to cigarettes, VOA’s Carol Pearson reports studies have increasingly been showing that e-cigarettes can be deadly.

Health Experts Back Treatment for Kids With Peanut Allergy

Government experts Friday backed an experimental treatment for children with peanut allergies that could become the first federally approved option for preventing life-threatening reactions.The treatment is daily capsules of peanut powder that gradually help children build up a tolerance.The outside panel of advisers to the Food and Drug Administration voted overwhelmingly in favor of the treatment from Aimmune Therapeutics. The nonbinding vote amounts to an endorsement for approval.The FDA is expected to make its final decision by January.Important optionThe panelists said the medication was an important option for parents and children dealing with peanut allergies. However, several also said they had concerns because the pill has to be taken continuously to maintain its effect.An estimated 1.6 million children and teenagers in the U.S. would be eligible for the medication, to be sold as Palforzia, which is intended for ages 4 to 17.Peanut allergy is the most common food allergy in the country and the standard treatment involves strictly monitoring what children eat. That approach doesn’t always work and accidental exposure is common, sending 1 in 4 children with peanut allergies to the emergency room every year.’Peace of mind … invaluable’Parents at Friday’s meeting urged approval of the drug, describing the anxiety of watching their children’s diet and daily routine, even avoiding public places and transportation because of possible peanut residues.“These are constant and real fears with extreme consequences,” said Cathy Heald of Dallas, whose 12-year-old son Charlie took part in a study of the treatment.Heald said her son’s improved tolerance allowed him to travel overseas by himself for the first time.“The peace of mind this treatment brings is invaluable,” said Hill, whose trip to the meeting was paid by Aimmune.Risks of treatmentAfter one year, about 66% of study participants who took the pills could tolerate the equivalent of three to four peanuts, compared to just 4% of patients who received a dummy treatment. At the beginning of the study, most participants could not tolerate even a minuscule amount of peanuts.But the benefits of the treatment came with risks. More than 9% of patients taking the pills reported severe allergic reactions, more than twice the number in the placebo group. And 11% of patients dropped out of the company’s study because of side effects.“The effectiveness of the treatment has, in fact, not been demonstrated,” said Dr. John Kelso, of Scripps Clinic in San Diego, who voted against the treatment.The California-based company has previously said it expects the first six months of treatment to cost $5,000 to $10,000 and $300 to $400 a month after that. The company declined to elaborate on price earlier this week.Aimmune is pursuing other treatments for common food allergies, including eggs. The company does not yet have any products on the market.

Kenya 3rd African Country to Roll Out New Malaria Vaccine

Kenya has become the third African country to roll out the world’s first malaria vaccine. Young children in eight western Kenyan counties will receive the RTS, S malaria vaccine, developed by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.Africa continues to bear the greatest brunt of malaria globally and the introduction of the vaccine in parts of Africa is seen as a possible game changer in the fight against the killer disease.Mothers and children lined up at a health center in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay County, on Friday to receive their first injection of the RTS,S malaria vaccine.The vaccine will be administered in four doses to children between six months and two years old.The program is being facilitated by Kenya’s Ministry of Health in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the global nonprofit PATH and other partners.A clinic handbook is given to new mothers free of charge upon delivery at health facilities all over the country. The book contains vaccination schedules and information materials. (R. Ombuor/VOA)Scott Gordon, director for the malaria vaccine implementation program at PATH, was present at the launch and spoke to VOA by phone.“Given the malaria burden here in Kenya where it’s one of the leading causes of childhood killers as well as the burden in the other countries, today’s launch is a tremendous step.  It means we have a tool that can be used in selected areas in Kenya to combat malaria and ensure that children are able to benefit from the broader portfolio of tools for malaria,” Gordon said.Malawi, Ghana and Kenya are participating in the malaria vaccine implementation program coordinated by the WHO.At least 360,000 children are expected to receive the vaccine each year in the three countries.The Homa Bay County minister for health, Richard Otieno Muga, says the vaccine will be one more tool for fighting malaria.“Introduction of vaccines is one of the interventions but already we have insecticide treated nets, we also have indoor residual spraying in which we carry out to be able to fight Malaria which is a major killer for most of our children,” Muga said.The WHO says Africa accounts for 90 percent of malaria cases and deaths globally.  The program will run through 2022, with scientists studying the rollout to gauge the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

Cameroon Pharmacist Creates Device to Detect Fake Drugs

Each year, tens of thousands of people across Africa die or get sick from ingesting counterfeit drugs. But Franck Verzefé, a Cameroonian pharmacist, has developed a device that uses artificial intelligence to determine if a medicine is fake or the real thing.  Moki Edwin Kindzeka narrates this report by Anne Nzouankeu in Douala, Cameroon.

US Biologists Eye Unusual Deaths of Alaska Seals

U.S. marine mammal biologists have declared an “unusual mortality event” in the deaths of nearly 300 ice seals off Alaska’s northwest coast.The cause of the deaths is not known.The fisheries arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the declaration covers ringed, bearded and spotted seals. All three types of seals use sea ice in varying ways.NOAA Fisheries has received reports of 282 dead seals in the Bering and Chukchi seas since June 1, 2018.That’s nearly five times the average number of reported seal strandings.The deaths have mostly occurred from June to September in both years.Declaration of an unusual mortality event allows the agency to use more resources to investigate the deaths.

Trump EPA Throws Out Obama-Era Clean Water Protections

The Trump administration has thrown out Obama-era rules that expended federal protection of waterways from pollution, a move environmentalists say they will challenge in court.Getting rid of the 2015 Waters of the United States Act “puts an end to an egregious power grab, eliminates an ongoing patchwork of clean water regulations, and restores a longstanding and familiar regulatory framework,” Environmental Protection Agency Chief Andrew Wheeler said Thursday.He added that it fulfills one of President Donald Trump’s “key promises.”Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler speaks at a news conference in Washington, Sept. 12, 2019.Wheeler made his announcement at the Washington headquarters of the National Association of Manufacturers, whose members have been lobbying against the clean water regulations.The WOTUS rule protected wetlands and streams from pollution by pesticides, mine waste and fertilizers. It solidified what waterways fell under the landmark 1972 Clean Water Act.Opponents of the Obama administration rules say the regulations created confusion, and likened them to a federal land grab of private property. Farmers and others complained the act also applied to small ponds that do not flow anywhere, leaving them wondering whether they could work their land without violating federal law.Wheeler says the EPA will now redefine which waterways are subject to federal regulation.Planned lawsuitEnvironmentalists say they will take the EPA to court. They said Thursday that throwing out the 2015 rule means unsafe drinking water, a higher risk of floods when wetlands are destroyed and less wildlife habitat.”The Clean Water rule represented solid science and smart public policy,” the Natural Resources Defense Council said Thursday.Betsy Southerland, a top EPA official during the Obama years, calls the repeal a “victory for land developers, oil and gas drillers, and miners.”

Jolting Discovery: Powerful New Electric Eel Found

Researchers report two newly discovered species of electric eels in South America, one of which can deliver a bigger jolt than any other known animal.The researchers collected 107 eels in four countries and found differences in their DNA, along with minor physical variations.One species had the ability to generate 860 volts of electricity, more than the 650 volts discharged by the only previously identified type of electric eel.While 250 species of fish in South America generate electricity, only electric eels use it to stun prey and for self-protection.Study leader C. David de Santana of Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History says the discovery illustrates the importance of protecting and studying the Amazon rainforest area.The study was published this week in the journal Nature Communications.

Settlement Money Won’t Restore Ohio City Upended by Opioids

The tentative settlement involving the opioid crisis and the maker of OxyContin could mean that thousands of local governments will one day be paid back for some of the costs of responding to the epidemic.But for public officials in Akron, no amount of money will restore the families and institutions that were upended by prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl.“The overwhelming sense of hopelessness that took over this community in 2016, you can’t monetize that,” former Assistant Summit County Prosecutor Greta Johnson told lawyers in a deposition in January. “Every single day the newspaper was reporting on the overdose death rates. You could not go into a community setting where there were not weeping mothers talking about their children.”OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma struck a proposed deal Wednesday with about half the states and thousands of local governments over its role in the crisis. But criticism by several state attorneys general clouded prospects for an end to litigation against the company and the family that owns it.Some people in Akron say the once-proud rubber capital of the world will never be the same. Hundreds of overdose deaths shattered families, orphaned children, exhausted first responders and drained government resources. At one point, city officials needed a mobile morgue to house all the corpses.Ohio’s fifth-largest city, home to NBA legend LeBron James, and surrounding Summit County, population 540,000, were scheduled to be the first of some 2,000 governments scheduled to go to trial against drugmakers next month. Local officials sought damages from the manufacturers they hold responsible.Overdose deaths — which hit 340, or nearly one a day, in 2016 — took a toll on the county medical examiner’s budget and her staff. At the height of the scourge, they often had to perform two or more drug-related autopsies in an average day.Dr. Lisa Kohler, the county’s chief medical examiner, recalled “the mental stress of dealing with repeated cases of having multiple deaths in the same families over a period of weeks to months.”The calls about overdose deaths were constant, and “it just felt like it was never going to stop,” Kohler said.The need for the mobile morgue laid bare the devastating extent of the crisis. The trailers were originally intended for a mass-fatality event, such as a natural disaster, plane crash or terrorist attack.Narcotics detective Will Pfeiffer displays an evidence bag containing methamphetamine before it is destroyed in Barberton, Ohio, Sept. 11, 2019.Akron Fire Chief Clarence Tucker said it sometimes felt as if his community was under attack.“We handle 45,000 calls a year, and it just kept climbing and climbing,” he said. The fire department had to accelerate maintenance schedules on vehicles, mobilize off-duty paramedics and cope with staff burnout.“You can get a call someone has overdosed and you get there, you can bring them back with Narcan. Then you’ll go to the same address in the afternoon,” Tucker said. “Or you go to that address in the morning and the two parents have overdosed and there’s a child there. It’s just horrible. It really is.”Summit County’s estimated payout from the $12 billion tentative Purdue settlement was estimated at $13.2 million. Akron would receive about $3.7 million. Barberton, the county’s second-largest city, would receive $492,000.Those dollars are intended to compensate for the many financial effects of opioids, including not only the demands on fire, police and medical services, but the crowded jails, the bulging foster-care system, the bursting drug-court dockets, the overloaded addiction programs and the inundated emergency rooms.Summit County Common Pleas Judge Joy Malek Oldfield sees about 50 felony offenders in her drug court every Monday morning. It’s one of two drug-court dockets totaling 80 to 100 people, about double the number before the crisis.“We’re nearing capacity for both dockets, and most of them are opiate-dependent,” Oldfield said.In the past, most drug offenders used crack cocaine or marijuana, and “the treatment was tailored to those users,” Oldfield said. “If someone had a bad day and relapsed, they didn’t die.” But opioid addiction requires residential treatment, the judge said.By October 2017, the opioid outlook was so bad that County Executive Ilene Shapiro declared an emergency, noting in her proclamation that “local response efforts have been exhausted and local resources in Summit County have been overwhelmed, and capabilities have been exceeded.” That year, the county saw another 269 overdose deaths.For police officers, the crisis meant a slew of extra duties beyond fighting crime, said Barberton Police Chief Vincent Morber.“They’ve had to be everything. Not just law enforcers, but social workers and drug counselors, trying to hook everybody up with resources,” Morber said. “These poor young officers have done more death notifications in their short time span in 10 years than I have done my whole career.”Thomas Heitic, chef and general manager of the Green Diamond Grille and Pub, said he hoped the settlement would offer more money for addiction counseling.“Any of this money that goes towards awareness to me is a joke. We’re all aware of what’s going on. Our medical examiner had to bring in refrigerated trucks because the bodies were piling up. We’re constantly aware of this problem. We need to focus, use that money to focus on treatment.” 

Trump Administration to Ban Flavored E-Cigarettes

U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday announced action against flavored electronic cigarettes, which have been linked to breathing problems, lung damage and death. Vaping has become popular, as many considered it healthier than smoking. Flavors such as mint, bubble gum or ice cream attracted young people. But a spike in serious lung problems and deaths linked to vaping have alarmed officials. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the Trump administration is preparing a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes.

Scientists Create Two Northern White Rhino Embryos

Scientists have created two embryos of the nearly extinct northern white rhino, part of an effort to pull the species back from the brink. 
“Today we achieved an important milestone on a rocky road which allows us to plan the future steps in the rescue program of the northern white rhino,” said Thomas Hildebrandt of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany. 
The institute is part of a team of international scientists and conservationists racing to save the rare giants. 
The eggs were harvested from the last two living females. They were injected with the frozen sperm of dead males.    
The embryos will be transferred into a surrogate mother, a southern white rhino. 
The conservationists hope to create a herd of at least five animals that can be introduced back into the wild in Africa. 
The last male northern white rhino, Sudan, died last year at age 45. He gained international fame in 2017 when he was named the “The Most Eligible Bachelor in the World” on the Tinder dating app as part of fundraising effort. 
“Five years ago, it seemed like the production of a northern white rhino embryo was almost an unachievable goal, and today we have them,” said Jan Stejskal, director of communication at the Dvur Kralove Zoo in the Czech Republic, where the last two surviving females were born.