FCC suggests ‘988’ as new suicide prevention hotline

FILE PHOTO: The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) logo is seen before the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington February 26, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

By Bryan Pietsch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Federal Communications Commission staffers recommended the agency designate “988” as a new phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in place of the current 10-digit number, the FCC said on Thursday.

The current phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. The 10-digit number received over 2 million calls in 2018, the FCC said.

A division of the FCC sent a report to Congress on Wednesday recommending the change to a shorter number because it “would likely make it easier for Americans in crisis to access potentially life-saving resources.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement that he intends to propose regulations to create the new phone number.

In 2017, 47,173 people in the United States died by suicide, the 10th highest cause of death, and more than 1.4 million adults attempted suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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)

U.S. abortion rate dropped sharply in decade ending 2015, CDC reports

An exam room at the Planned Parenthood South Austin Health Center is shown in Austin, Texas, U.S. June 27, 2016. REUTERS/Ilana Panich-Linsman

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Abortion rates among U.S. women in all age groups plunged to a decade low, with teens experiencing a greater decrease than older women, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.

Statistics for 2015, the most recent year for which data is available, show the abortion rate was 11.8 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. That is down 26 percent from 2006, when the study began and the rate was 15.9 abortions per 1,000 women.

Among teens aged 15 to 19, the rate decreased 54 percent from 2006 to 2015, the CDC said.

“This decrease in abortion rate was greater than the decreases for women in any older age group,” the CDC said in a statement.

The CDC did not provide any reason for the decline in the rates, but the drop comes amid efforts by many states to restrict a woman’s access to the procedure.

The total number of reported abortions fell to 638,169 in 2015, from 842,855 in 2006, a 24 percent decrease. In 2015, there were 188 abortions per 1,000 live births, compared with 233 abortions per 1,000 live births in 2006, a drop of 19 percent.

In 2015, all measures reached their lowest level for the entire period of analysis (2006-2015), the CDC said of the annual study, “Abortion Surveillance-United States 2015.”

Conservative state lawmakers are passing increasingly restrictive abortion laws in a challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark decision that established that women have a constitutional right to an abortion.

The Republican-controlled Ohio House of Representatives last week approved a measure that would ban abortions at six weeks, while an Iowa law banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected is tied up in a court battle.

Such laws are designed to be thrust into a Supreme Court that has become more conservative following President Donald Trump’s appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

The CDC study also showed nearly all abortions, 91.1 percent, performed in 2015 were in a woman’s first 13 weeks of pregnancy. There was also a shift toward earlier abortions, with the number performed at six weeks or less increasing 11 percent.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Florida has identified 10 more Zika cases; calls in feds for help

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen at the Laboratory of Entomology and Ecology of the Dengue Branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) – The state of Florida has identified 10 more cases of Zika virus caused by local mosquitoes and has asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to send in experts to help with the investigation of the outbreak.

The state now has a total of 14 cases of Zika caused by locally transmitted mosquitoes, according to a statement issued on Monday by Florida Governor Rick Scott.

The Florida Department of Health said it believes active transmission of Zika is restricted to one small area in Miami-Dade County, just north of downtown Miami.

The health department said six of the 10 new cases are asymptomatic and were identified through the door-to-door community survey and testing that it is conducting.

Scott said the state has called on the CDC to activate a CDC Emergency Response Team to assist the Florida Department of Health and other partners in their investigation, sample collection and mosquito control efforts.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Trott)

Zika virus confirmed in Texas traveler, health officials say

Health officials in one Texas county say they’ve received word that a traveler who recently visited Latin America contracted the Zika virus, a puzzling mosquito-borne illness that has collected lots of attention because it may be linked to a substantial rise in birth defects in Brazil.

Harris County Public Health & Environmental Services made the announcement Monday, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed the diagnosis.

Harris County encompasses Houston and is one of the country’s largest counties.

According to the CDC, the Zika virus is spread when an infected mosquito bites a person, usually triggering a mild illness that causes people to experience symptoms like fever, rashes and joint pain. Most people recover within a week, and there’s seldom any need for hospitalization.

However, the Brazilian Ministry of Health is currently investigating more than 3,000 cases of microcephaly, a disorder that causes children to be born with abnormally small heads. Brazil only saw 147 cases of microcephaly last year, but the numbers have surged since the Zika virus arrived in May and authorities are still working to see if there’s a direct link between the two.

The CDC has said there hasn’t been any indication Zika has been contracted in the United States, though there have been multiple cases of people getting infected while visiting a foreign country and returning home. Officials didn’t indicate when or where this traveler got infected.

The virus has caused outbreaks in at least 12 countries in North and South America, according to the CDC, as well as many others in Africa and Southeast Asia. In late December, the CDC issued a travel notice for Puerto Rico after the island identified its first locally-acquired Zika infection.

The CDC asks people traveling to Puerto Rico — and other countries where Zika is present — to take proactive steps to safeguard themselves from mosquito bites, like wearing insect repellant and wearing long sleeves and pants. But the organization says the virus will likely continue to reach new territories because the specific kind of mosquitos that spread it live across the globe.

That type of mosquito — the Aedes species — are present in Harris County, according to the county Public Health & Environmental Service’s website. The agency echoed the CDC’s calls for travelers to take preventative steps when they’re traveling to nations where Zika is found.

There’s currently no vaccine against the virus, the CDC says.

Different Strain of Swine Flu Could Lead to New Pandemic, Study Shows

A strain of flu that has been circulating in pigs for decades is now capable of sickening humans and could cause to a pandemic similar to the one swine flu caused in 2009, a new study found.

A team of researchers from China and Japan recently found that a type of swine flu virus called EAH1N1 is now capable of sickening humans on a global scale, and published their discovery in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers wrote that the virus has been found in pigs since 1979, but “long-term evolution” in the animals have changed the virus and it’s now capable of not just making humans sick, but efficiently spreading between them.

The researchers warned EAH1N1 is now able “to cause a human influenza pandemic.” Their research indicated that several countries have already reported human cases of the illness.

The study “suggests that immediate action is needed” to prevent humans from getting the EAH1N1 virus, researchers wrote in the article’s summary, because of how it can spread and the fact that none of the humans they tested had developed antibodies for one particular flu strain.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the 2009 swine flu outbreak, caused by the different H1N1 virus, killed anywhere between 151,700 and 575,400 people.

The World Health Organization says pigs have been known to generate new flu viruses because they are capable of getting infected by several different animals and humans. The viruses blend together in pigs, creating new strains that can make humans sicker than the original viruses.

Hawaii Dealing with Rare Dengue Fever Outbreak

Health officials in Hawaii are currently investigating more than 100 cases of dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness that experts say can lead to potentially lethal complications in rare cases.

The Hawaii Department of Health says on its website that there were 122 confirmed dengue cases as of Wednesday. The disease isn’t endemic (regularly found) in Hawaii, it says, but it can occasionally be brought in from someone who traveled to an endemic region and got infected.

However, the department indicates this is a cluster of people who contracted the disease locally.

It’s the first such outbreak since a 2011 cluster of cases in Oahu, the department says. According to Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention records, only five people fell ill in that outbreak.

This cluster is on Hawaii Island, the big one. CNN reported that CDC officials were traveling to the island on Wednesday and bringing specially designed mosquito traps to help catch the bugs.

Of the 122 confirmed cases, the health department says 106 are residents of the island and 16 were visiting. Ninety three were adults and 29 were children. They began falling ill between Sept. 11 and Nov. 24. No deaths have been reported, but the disease has been known to kill.

The World Health Organization (WHO), an arm of the United Nations, says dengue causes a flu-like illness and is traditionally found in the tropics and subtropics. But it says the disease has rapidly spread to new areas in recent years and roughly half the world’s population is at risk.

The disease is carried by certain types of mosquitos and transmitted to humans through bites. Symptoms can include a high fever, severe headaches, swollen glands and joint and muscle pain.

Dengue itself is seldom deadly, according to the WHO, but in some instances it can lead to severe dengue. That can cause respiratory distress, severe bleeding and organ impairment.

About 500,000 people (most of whom are children) need to be hospitalized for severe dengue treatment every year, according to the WHO, and approximately 2.5 percent of those who develop the disease die. Severe dengue has been a major issue in Asia and Latin America, the organization says, and is one of the top causes of hospitalization and death for children there.

The WHO says detecting the disease early enough and having access to medical care facilities drops the dengue mortality rate below 1 percent. The Hawaii Department of Health says it’s still safe to travel to the state, and a CDC official told CNN that the overall risk of getting infected is low because mosquitos in the United States have not been known to transmit the virus well.