U.S. cases of vaping-related illness rise to 530 as outbreak widens

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – U.S. health officials said on Thursday there are now 530 confirmed and probable cases and seven deaths from severe lung-related illnesses tied to vaping, and there are no signs that the outbreak is easing.

That’s up from 380 cases reported a week ago.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is now investigating 150 products and substances and said it has activated its criminal investigations arm to explore the supply chain of vaping products and identify the cause of the outbreak. No individual vapers will be targeted, Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

Zeller said no single substance or compound, including THC or Vitamin E acetate, has been linked to all of the cases so far.

Seven people have died from vaping-related illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said. The deaths were reported in California (2), Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Oregon.

Illinois has reported an 8th death related to the outbreak, state epidemiologist Dr. Jennifer Layden said on a conference call with reporters. The CDC has not yet confirmed that death.

Layden said Illinois has now reported 69 cases, up from 52 a week ago, and the state continues to get reports of new cases daily.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

California settles decades-long lawsuit over lead paint, but outcome is bittersweet

Ashley Avila, 11, plays with her nephew Alexander Avila, 3, outside of their home where Alexander was lead poisoned by lead-based paint in Oakland, California, U.S. June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

By Joshua Schneyer

OAKLAND, Calif. (Reuters) – When Californian counties and cities first sued paint makers in 2000, they wanted the companies to pay billions to remove dangerous old lead paint from hundreds of thousands of homes.

After a 19-year legal struggle, they have finally succeeded in getting the companies to fund a remediation program, albeit on a much smaller scale. Sherwin-Williams, Conagra Brands Inc and NL Industries have agreed to a $305 million settlement, according to a filing in Santa Clara County Superior Court in California on Wednesday.

The resolution marks a rare success for a public nuisance claim, under which counties and municipalities can sue corporations for past activities – including those conducted decades ago – they say have harmed communities.

High-profile public nuisance claims have proliferated in recent years in the United States as local governments try to use the courts to make corporations pay for societal ills like lead poisoning, the opioid addiction crisis and climate change.

Yet the glacial pace and complex twists in California’s lead paint case highlight just how difficult it can be to use the public nuisance strategy against corporations, even in a state whose courts are particularly consumer-friendly.

A trial judgment in 2014 ordered the paint companies to pay $1.15 billion, but an appeals court decision led to the amount being slashed by more than half in 2017. Once the companies had exhausted the appeals process, they threatened to sue individual property owners who received help cleaning up their properties, by claiming they had failed to properly maintain their housing.

“This landmark settlement will allow thousands of homes to be remediated, and as a result, current and future generations of California children will no longer face the threat of lead poisoning,” said James Williams, County Counsel for Santa Clara County, where the lawsuit was first filed.

“We’re pleased that we’ve been able to hold lead paint manufacturers accountable and responsible,” he said.

The defendant paint companies did not admit any wrongdoing under the settlement.

One of the companies said the agreement would limit its liability.

“Sherwin-Williams is pleased to have reached an agreement to resolve this litigation, and it will continue to vigorously and aggressively defend against any similar current or future litigation,” the company said in a written statement.

BITTERSWEET VICTORY

The number of U.S. children poisoned by lead has fallen sharply since the United States banned the toxic metal from residential paint and gasoline, during the 1970s and 80s.

But for California districts like Oakland and Los Angeles, where childhood lead poisoning still exacts a heavy toll, the outcome of the legal struggle is bittersweet.

In the decades it took the local governments to prevail, tens of thousands of more children in California have been exposed to dangerous levels of lead, state public health data shows.

In Alameda County, for example, some zip codes have lead poisoning rates higher than those found in Flint, Michigan, at the peak of that city’s water contamination crisis.

County inspectors found dangerous paint dust in the East Oakland home of 3-year-old Alexander Avila, who tested with lead levels more than five times the elevated standard of five micrograms per deciliter set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

When a reporter visited the nearly century-old home last month, Alexander was a ball of hyperactive energy. His mother Stephanie, 26, said he is able to speak few words and has trouble engaging with other kids at preschool. She fears his past lead exposure will affect him for life.

“People just don’t know what’s in their own houses, or the dangers their kids can face,” she said.

A county program helped fix lead paint hazards at the home, but public funds are scarce to repair housing before it can harm children.

In nearby Hayward, California, another predominantly working-class city in the San Francisco Bay Area, five members of the Mariscal family, including two children, were poisoned by lead paint at their old home during 2017 and 2018, county health data and inspection reports show.

Three-year-old Isaac, who tested at levels more than twice the CDC’s elevated threshold, suffered anemia – a common symptom of lead exposure – and, like Alexander, has also had speech problems.

The CDC says there is no safe level of lead in children’s blood. At least 4 million U.S. children remain at risk of exposure from chipping paint or lead dust in their housing, the agency says. Lead paint doesn’t pose an immediate danger unless it is deteriorating.

Many of the 10 counties and cities that brought the lawsuit have tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, of older housing units. Neutralizing lead paint hazards in a single home can cost thousands of dollars, so the settlement money may only cover the clean-up of a fraction of homes that need work.

“The litigation money can only go so far, but it’s a start,” Larry Brooks, director of Alameda County’s lead poisoning prevention program, said in an interview last month.

More than 6,300 children have been exposed to elevated lead levels in his county since 2000, when the litigation began, according to county health data.

Although the United States banned lead paint sales in 1978, most old housing still contains it, and thousands of U.S. neighborhoods still have alarming poisoning rates, Reuters found in a series of articles in 2017.

NEW LEGAL PRECEDENT?

California jurisdictions are the first to have a public nuisance verdict upheld against former lead paint manufacturers. Several lawsuits in other states have failed since 2000, from Illinois to Missouri and Rhode Island.

The California case may set a new legal precedent for seeking remediation. Legal scholars say it could encourage new lawsuits against paint companies, and Californian local governments report receiving inquiries from counterparts in other areas of the country interested in bringing their own nuisance claims.

In product liability lawsuits, attorneys must prove harm to individual plaintiffs. In public nuisance cases, the plaintiffs don’t have to prove harm to specific people. Instead, they can claim that the defendants’ activities impeded broad community rights, such as the public right to enjoy property.

In California, the plaintiffs argued the companies were responsible for creating a public health threat and knew of the toxic dangers of lead paint when they marketed it, without properly warning consumers, for decades before the U.S. government banned its use in homes.

The paint companies argued that they stopped marketing lead paint products once risks became known. They contended that homeowners were responsible for preventing any poisoning hazards in their living spaces.

Santa Clara County recently filed another public nuisance case against opioid pill manufacturers, and similar cases are popping up with increasing frequency nationwide.

Many of these suits share a common goal: making big business pay to fix high-cost societal burdens that their profit-making activities may have left behind.

Corporate defense attorneys worry that more wins for local governments under the public nuisance doctrine could saddle businesses with huge and unpredictable liabilities, in some cases for decades-old actions they thought were safe at the time.

WHY SETTLE NOW?

The California local governments and the companies settled after a marathon legal battle that saw both sides suffer setbacks.

Beyond seeing the earlier $1.15 billion judgment sharply cut back by an appeals decision, the plaintiffs were concerned with court-imposed restrictions on how the money could be used.

For instance, the terms had limited the remediation program to housing built before 1951, and only indoor paint hazards could be fixed. The local governments also faced a tight, four-year window to complete the program, after which any unspent funds would be returned to the paint companies.

As recently as January, court filings from the case show, lawyers for the paint companies vowed to sue California property owners who sought to use the remediation funds. Counties were concerned the mere specter of these suits would have a chilling effect on the remediation program, which will rely on housing owners’ voluntary participation.

It was an unusually bold move, legal scholars say.

“Talking about suing property owners is an aggressive tactic,” said Bob Rabin, a tort law specialist at Stanford University.

“I can’t think of another public nuisance judgment where defendants turned around and said recipients of the damages should be disqualified because they are to blame,” he said.

With the settlement in place, these threats and court-imposed limitations on how the money can be spent will now be lifted.

Paint companies have agreed not to target property owners with lawsuits, cities and counties can take as much time as they need fixing homes, and housing built through the 1970s when lead paint was still being sold are also eligible for help, including on exterior walls.

(Reporting By Joshua Schneyer; Editing by Michael Williams and Ross Colvin)

U.S. measles cases in 2019 highest since 1992

FILE PHOTO: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo/File Photo

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 971 cases of measles in the first five months of 2019, surpassing the total for any year since 1992, which was before the disease was declared eradicated in the country, federal officials said on Thursday.

The United States declared measles eradicated from the country in 2000, but officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Thursday that the country risks losing its measles elimination status.

There were a total of 2,126 U.S. cases of measles in 1992, the CDC said in a statement.

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated.

Public health officials blame the resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines. A vocal fringe of parents opposes vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.

“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

“Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism,” Redfield said.

When measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, it meant the virus was no longer continually present year-round although outbreaks have still happened via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

Communities in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and Rockland County, an area of New York state about 30 miles (50 km) north of Manhattan, are dealing with measles outbreaks that have lasted nearly eight months.

Other measles cases have occurred in Oklahoma and Washington state.

Decades ago, before widespread use of the measles vaccine, about 3 million to 4 million people a year became sick with the disease in the United States with 400 to 500 deaths a year.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)

Measles outbreak spreads to Oklahoma as U.S. reports 41 new cases

FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella virus (MMR) vaccine is pictured at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson/File Photo/File Photo/File Photo

(Reuters) – The worst measles outbreak in the United States in 25 years has spread to Oklahoma, federal health officials said on Monday as they reported 41 new cases nationwide, raising the total number sickened this year to 880 people.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 4.9% increase in the number of measles cases from May 10 to May 17 in an outbreak that has now reached 24 states. The agency has been providing weekly updates every Monday.

The CDC said there had been one confirmed case in Oklahoma.

Most of the new cases were in New York, CDC spokesman Jason McDonald said, with 21 cases recorded in New York City and nine in Rockland County.

Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease. A vocal fringe of U.S. parents, some in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, cite concerns that the vaccine may cause autism, despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.

Although the virus was eliminated from the country in 2000, meaning the disease was no longer a constant presence, outbreaks still happen via travelers coming from countries where measles is still common, according to the CDC.

Experts warn that the outbreak is not over as the number of cases approaches the 1994 total of 958. That was the highest number since 1992, when the CDC recorded 2,126 cases.

More than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the United States from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York, Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. measles outbreak raises questions about immunity in adults

FILE PHOTO: An illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle studded with glycoprotein tubercles in this handout image obtained by Reuters April 9, 2019. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) – Adults in the United States who were vaccinated against measles decades ago may need a new dose depending on when they received the shot and their exposure risk, according to public health experts battling the nation’s largest outbreak since the virus was deemed eliminated in 2000.

Up to 10 percent of the 695 confirmed measles cases in the current outbreak occurred in people who received one or two doses of the vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The figure illustrates what can happen when a large number of individuals, even those who have been vaccinated, are exposed to the measles. CDC recommends that people who are living in or traveling to outbreak areas should check their vaccination status and consider getting a new dose.

Dr. Allison Bartlett, an infectious disease expert at the University of Chicago Medicine, said the “continued vulnerability to infection” is why high-risk adults such as healthcare workers are routinely advised to get a second dose of the measles vaccine if they have not had one.

But knowing your vaccination status can be tricky, experts said.

“It’s complicated and often futile because it’s very difficult to resurrect those old records,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

People vaccinated in the United States since 1989 would most likely have received two doses of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot under federal guidelines, and that is still considered the standard for protection.

Anyone vaccinated between 1963 and 1989 would likely have received only one dose, with many people immunized in the earlier years receiving an inactivated version of the virus. Americans born before 1957 are considered immune as they would have been exposed to the virus directly in an outbreak.

Merck & Co Inc is the sole U.S. provider of the MMR vaccine. The company said in a statement that it has “taken steps to increase U.S. supply” of the vaccine due to the current outbreak.

HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS

The measles virus is highly contagious and can cause blindness, deafness, brain damage or death. It is currently spreading in outbreaks in many parts of the world.

According to the World Health Organization, 95 percent of a population needs to be vaccinated to provide “herd immunity,” a form of indirect protection that prevents infection in people too young or sick to be vaccinated. U.S. public health officials have blamed the current outbreak in part on rising rates of vaccine skepticism that have reduced measles immunity in certain communities.

For travelers to outbreak areas abroad, the CDC recommends adults consider getting another dose of MMR unless they have proof of receiving two prior doses, take a blood test showing immunity, or were born before 1957.

In general, the CDC says two doses of the measles vaccine should provide 97 percent protection; one dose should offer 93 percent protection. However, immunity can wane over time.

This has occurred even in adults with two documented doses of the vaccine, said Dr. Michael Phillips, chief epidemiologist at NYU Langone Health, which serves parts of New York City, a hot spot in the U.S. outbreak.

He said in kids, “the vaccine is really effective,” but in some adults, memory T-cells, which recognize and attack germs, do not fight the virus as effectively as they once did.

Rapid blood tests are available that can detect whether a person is immune based on the level of measles antibodies, but the tests are not 100 percent reliable.

Adults who have any doubt about their immunity should get another dose, Schaffner said: “It’s safe. There’s no downside risk. Just roll up your sleeve.”

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Additional reporting by Mike Erman and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Some 156 people in 10 states infected with E. coli from ground beef: CDC

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – A total of 156 people in 10 states have been infected with E. coli after eating tainted ground beef at home and in restaurants since the beginning of March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Tuesday.

No deaths have been reported but 20 people have been hospitalized after they were infected with the strain E. coli O103 since March 1, the CDC said on its website.

The agency said an investigation is ongoing to determine the source of the contaminated ground beef that was supplied to grocery stores and restaurants.

“At this time, no common supplier, distributor, or brand of ground beef has been identified,” the CDC said.

The investigation began on March 28, when officials in Kentucky and Georgia notified the CDC of the outbreak. Since then, some 65 cases have been reported in Kentucky, 41 in Tennessee and another 33 in Georgia.

E. coli cases have also been reported in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio and Virginia.

The CDC said that illnesses after March 26 may not have been reported yet because the lead time is two to three weeks.

People infected with the bacteria get sick two to eight days after swallowing the germ, and may sometimes develop a type of kidney failure.

Many of the infected people had bought large trays or chubs of ground beef from grocery stores and used the meat to make dishes like spaghetti sauce and Sloppy Joes, the agency said.

The regulator said it is not recommending that consumers avoid eating ground beef at this time, but said that consumers and restaurants should handle ground beef safely and cook it thoroughly to avoid foodborne illnesses.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Wis.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Matthew Lewis)

U.S. records 71 new measles cases in week as outbreak spreads

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 71 new measles cases last week, a 13 percent increase as the country faces its second-worst outbreak of the disease in almost two decades, federal health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had recorded 626 cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease in 22 states as of April 19, the highest rate of infection in five years.

The CDC had previously reported 555 cases in 20 states between Jan. 1 and April 11. The current outbreak will likely surpass the 2014 outbreak in number of cases, the CDC said on Monday.

Iowa and Tennessee were the two states that joined the CDC list with new measles cases.

More than half the cases recorded this year occurred in New York City, primarily in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The U.S. outbreak is part of a worldwide rise in the once nearly eradicated disease. The World Health Organization reported last week that global cases had risen nearly four-fold in the first quarter of 2019 to 112,163 compared with the same period last year.

A vocal fringe of parents in the United States oppose vaccines believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in them can cause autism or other disorders.

(Reporting by Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Maju Samuel and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. sees surge of nearly 20% in confirmed cases of measles, CDC reports

FILE PHOTO: A sign warning people of measles in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community of Williamsburg, two days after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a public health emergency in parts of Brooklyn in response to a measles outbreak, is seen in New York, U.S., April 11, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

(Reuters) – The number of confirmed cases of measles in the United States this year jumped by nearly 20 percent in the week ended April 11 in the country’s second-worst outbreak in nearly two decades, federal health officials reported on Monday.

As of April 11, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded 555 cases of the disease since the beginning of the year, up from 465 cases confirmed by April 4. The cases were found in 20 states spanning the country.

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo

The measles virus is highly contagious and can lead to deadly complications, particularly in children. The CDC report did not say whether there have been any fatalities.

A growing and vocal fringe of parents in the United States oppose measles vaccines believing, contrary to scientific evidence, that ingredients in the vaccines can cause autism or other disorders.

The United States declared that measles had been eliminated from the country in 2000, meaning the virus is no longer present year-round. But outbreaks still happen each year, typically when unvaccinated people travel to the country from parts of the world where the disease is still common.

New York City has recorded at least 285 cases of measles since October, according to local health officials, the large majority among members of the Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio declared the outbreak a public health emergency last week and ordered unvaccinated people in the affected parts of Brooklyn to get the vaccine or face a fine. It is the worst outbreak seen in the city since 1991, the mayor said.

Most of the Brooklyn cases are among children. Several people had to be hospitalized but no fatalities had been reported as of last week.

New York health officials said the Brooklyn outbreak was caused by an unvaccinated child returning from a trip to Israel, which is also grappling with an outbreak.

Health officials say they have seen anti-vaccination pamphlets containing misinformation being distributed in the affected parts of Brooklyn.

Another outbreak has hit Orthodox Jewish families in New York’s Rockland County. Officials there banned children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces last month.

That order was overturned by a state judge, a decision being appealed by Rockland officials.

(Reporting by Tamara Mathias in Bengaluru and Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Bill Trott)

Don’t eat romaine: U.S., Canada warn on E.coli in lettuce

FILE PHOTO - Romaine lettuce grows near Soledad, California, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Fiala

(Reuters) – Public health officials in the United States and Canada on Tuesday warned against eating romaine lettuce while they investigate an outbreak of E. coli that has sickened 50 people in the two countries, including 13 who were hospitalized.

The alerts, issued as millions of Americans plan their Thanksgiving Day menus, covered all forms of romaine, including whole heads, hearts, bags, mixes and Caesar salad.

Officials were uncertain of the source of the tainted lettuce.

“Consumers who have any type of romaine lettuce in their home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said in its food safety alert.

Refrigerator drawers and shelves where romaine lettuce had been stored should be sanitized, the CDC said.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, which is investigating 18 of the E. coli cases, directed its romaine lettuce alert at consumers in Ontario and Quebec.

In the United States, the CDC said the outbreak affected 32 people in 11 states between Oct. 8 and 31. No deaths have been reported, it said.

Symptoms of the infection often include a moderate fever, severe stomach cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, which is often bloody, the CDC said. Most people get better in five to seven days, but it can be life-threatening, it said.

The agency said the current outbreak is unrelated to another multi-state rash of E. coli infections related to romaine lettuce earlier this year that left five people dead and sickened nearly 200.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the CDC traced the origin of that contamination to irrigation water in the Yuma, Arizona, growing region.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

Walmart to restrict opioid dispensing at its pharmacies

The Walmart logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

(Reuters) – Walmart Inc said on Monday it would restrict initial acute opioid prescriptions to no more than a seven-day supply as the retailer aims to curb an opioid epidemic that has plagued the United States.

The supply limit will begin within the next 60 days, the company said.

In January , Walmart said it would provide its customers filling prescriptions for opioids with a packet of powder that would help them dispose of leftover medication.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 115 Americans die on average every day from an opioid overdose.

The company also said on Monday that from Jan. 1, 2020 it would require e-prescriptions for controlled substances, noting that these prescriptions are proven to be less prone to errors and cannot be altered or copied.

The initiatives apply to all the pharmacies of Walmart and its Sam’s Club unit in the United States and Puerto Rico.

(This story has been corrected to add dropped words “initial acute” in first paragraph)

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)