U.S. CDC reports 186,101 coronavirus cases, 3,603 deaths

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Wednesday reported 186,101 cases of coronavirus, an increase of 22,562 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 743 to 3,603.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 p.m. ET on March 31 compared to its count a day ago.

The CDC figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty)

CDC reports 1,678 coronavirus cases, death tally of 41

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Friday reported 1,678 cases of the coronavirus, an increase of 414 cases from its previous count, and said that the number of deaths had risen by 5 to 41.

The agency said the cases had been reported by 46 states and the District of Columbia, up from its previous report of 42 states and the District of Columbia.

The CDC reported its tally of cases of the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, caused by a new coronavirus, as of 4 pm ET on March 12.

The CDC tally includes 49 cases among people repatriated from Japan and Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began.

The figures do not necessarily reflect cases reported by individual states.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Trump says coronavirus risk in U.S. is low; CDC confirms first case of unknown origin

By Jeff Mason and Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Americans on Wednesday that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low,” and placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. response to the looming global health crisis.

At a White House briefing, Trump defended his administration’s handling of the crisis and said health experts were “ready, willing and able” to move quickly if the virus spreads.

Trump made his comments as public health officials warned Americans to prepare for more coronavirus cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed an infection of the new coronavirus in California in someone who had not traveled outside the United States or been exposed to a person known to have the virus, a first for the country.

How the person was infected was not known. It brought the total number of cases in the United States to 15, according to the CDC.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called on the government to help the city obtain 300,000 extra protective masks. There were no confirmed cases in the city but de Blasio announced plans to provide up to 1,200 hospital beds if needed.

U.S. stock markets fell for the fifth consecutive day on investors’ alarm about the respiratory disease spreading.

At the White House, Trump said he was not ready to institute new travel restrictions for countries such as South Korea and Italy that are dealing with outbreaks – although he could not rule it out. The State Department raised its travel alert level for South Korea and urged Americans to reconsider going there.

The CDC has advised Americans to not visit China and South Korea, and on Wednesday stepped up travel warnings for Iran, Italy and Mongolia.

“The risk to the American people remains very low,” Trump said, flanked by Pence and public health officials.

He said the spread of the virus in the United States was not “inevitable” and then went on to say: “It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens we’re totally prepared.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases, said that while the virus was contained in the United States, Americans must prepare for a potential outbreak as transmissions spread outside of China.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the United States has 59 coronavirus cases, including 42 American passengers repatriated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan.

‘POSSIBILITY OF PANDEMIC’

“We have to be alert to the possibility of a pandemic,” Peter Marks, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in an interview.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said in a statement that the Trump administration “has mounted an opaque and chaotic response to this outbreak.”

She said the House would put forward a “funding package with transparency and accountability that fully addresses the scale and seriousness of this public health crisis.”

Trump is seeking $2.5 billion from Congress to boost the government’s virus response, an amount Democrats said falls far short of what is needed. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer called for $8.5 billion to prepare.

Global stock markets have slumped in recent days due to worries over a prolonged disruption to supply chains and economies from the virus, which has infected about 80,000 people and killed nearly 3,000, mostly in China.

U.S. stocks turned lower in afternoon trading – the S&P 500 index fell for a fifth straight day and the Dow Jones Industrial Average <.DJI> ended down 123.77 points, or 0.46%. [.N]

Trump, who is running for a second term in the November election, has been increasingly alarmed by the drop in U.S. stock markets, which he considers a barometer of the health of the American economy and sees as important to his re-election.

He told reporters at the White House that fears of the coronavirus had hurt the stock markets. But he also blamed the Democratic presidential candidates for spooking investors.

“I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves,” Trump said in reference to debates among the Democratic contenders vying for the right to challenge him.

Earlier in the day, Trump accused two cable TV news channels, CNN and MSNBC, of presenting the danger from the virus in as bad a light as possible and upsetting financial markets.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Jonathan Allen; additional reporting by Steve Holland, Makini Brice, Susan Heavey and Michael Erman; Writing by John Whitesides and Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Bill Berkrot and Grant McCool)

CDC confirms second U.S. case of Wuhan coronavirus

(Reuters) – The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday confirmed that a second case of Wuhan coronavirus in the United States had been detected in Chicago, and said as many as 63 people were being monitored as the virus spreads around the globe.

The infected person had traveled to Wuhan, China recently. The woman, 60, had not taken public transportation and was not ill when she traveled, Chicago health authorities said on a conference call.

Of the 63 people under investigation from 22 states, 11 tested negative, CDC said in a conference call with reporters.

The newly discovered virus has killed 26 people and infected more than 800, but most of the cases and all of the deaths so far have been in China, where officials have imposed restrictions on travel and public gatherings.

The CDC said it believes the immediate threat to U.S. residents remains low.

The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the virus an “emergency in China”, but stopped short of declaring it a global health emergency.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

Ohio doctor charged with 25 counts of murder for giving fatal opioid doses

(Reuters) – An Ohio doctor was charged with 25 counts of murder for administering high and sometimes fatal doses of opioid painkillers to dozens of very sick patients, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The doctor, William Husel, turned himself in to Columbus police following a six-month-long investigation into what Mount Carmel Hospital called his administration of “inappropriate” doses of fentanyl to patients, Franklin County prosecutor Ron O’Brien said at a news conference.

He became the latest in a wave of U.S. doctors charged for their role in a public health crisis that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said led to a record 47,600 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017.

If convicted, Husel faces 15 years to life in prison for each count.

“By giving fentanyl at these levels, we were comfortable with the information we had that it was a sufficient amount that the only rational purpose could be to shorten a person’s life,” O’Brien said.

Fentanyl, often given for intense pain associated with cancer, is 100 times more powerful than morphine.

Husel’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The murders Husel is charged with committing spanned from February 2015 to November 2018, according to the court docket. O’Brien said Mount Carmel Hospital suspects Husel in 35 patient deaths.

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

U.S. life expectancy fell in 2016 as opioid overdoses surged: CDC

A used container of the drug Narcan used against opioid overdoses lies on the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Life expectancy in the United States dipped in 2016 as the number of deaths due to opioid drug overdoses surged and total drug overdose deaths rose 21 percent to 63,600, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday.

Life expectancy fell to 78.6 years, a decrease of 0.1 year from 2015, the second annual decline in a row and the first two-year decline since a drop in 1962 and 1963.

Opioid-related overdose deaths have been on the rise since 1999, but surged from 2014 to 2016, with an average annual increase of 18 percent, to become a national epidemic. From 2006 to 2014 the rise was only 3 percent annually on average and between 1999 to 2006 averaged 10 percent per year.

In 2016, 42,249 people died from opioid-related overdoses, up 28 percent from 2015, while the number of deaths from synthetic opioids other than methadone, such as fentanyl and tramadol, more than doubled to 19,413, the CDC said.

The 2016 rate of overdose deaths was up across all age groups but was highest rate among people aged 25 to 54.

West Virginia, Ohio, New Hampshire, the District of Columbia and Pennsylvania had the highest age-adjusted drug overdose death rates in 2016.

The number of drug overdose deaths involving natural and semisynthetic opioids, which include drugs like oxycodone and hydrocodone, was 14,487 in 2016.

As the U.S. opioid addiction epidemic has worsened, many state attorneys general have sued makers of these drugs as they investigate whether manufacturers and distributors engaged in unlawful marketing behavior.

President Donald Trump in October declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, which senior administration officials said would redirect federal resources and loosen regulations to combat abuse of the drugs. However, he stopped short of declaring a national emergency he had promised months before, which would have freed up more federal money.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Jonathan Oatis)

Opioid abuse crisis takes heavy toll on U.S. veterans

Needles used for shooting heroin and other opioids along with other paraphernalia litter the ground in a park in the Kensington section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. October 26, 2017.

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Opioid drug abuse has killed more Americans than the Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam wars combined, and U.S. veterans and advocates this Veteran’s Day are focusing on how to help victims of the crisis.

Veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of the highly addictive painkillers, a rate that reflects high levels of chronic pain among vets, particularly those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to federal data.

U.S. government and healthcare officials have been struggling to stem the epidemic of overdoses, which killed more than 64,000 Americans in the 12 months ending last January alone, a 21 percent increase over the previous year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. About 65,000 Americans died in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

President Donald Trump named opioids a national public health emergency and a White House commission last week recommended establishing a nationwide system of drug courts and easier access to alternatives to opioids for people in pain.

“Our veterans deserve better than polished sound bites and empty promises,” said former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a recovering addict and a member of the president’s opioid commission.

Kennedy said in an e-mail that more funding was needed for treatment facilities and medical professionals to help tackle the problem.

One effort to address the issue has stalled in Congress – the proposed Veterans Overmedication Prevention Act, sponsored by Senator John McCain. That measure is aimed at researching ways to help Veterans Administration doctors rely less on opioids in treating chronic pain.

“The Veterans Administration needs to understand whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid pain-killers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths,” McCain, one of the nation’s most visible veterans, said in an e-mail on Thursday. He noted that 20 veterans take their lives each day, a suicide rate 21 percent higher than for other U.S. adults.

The VA system has stepped up its efforts to address the crisis, having treated some 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction since March, said Department of Veterans Affairs spokesman Curtis Cashour.

The department’s Louis Stokes VA Center in Cleveland has also begun testing alternative treatments, including acupuncture and yoga, to reduce use of and dependency on the drugs, the VA said.

A delay in naming a Trump administration “drug czar” to head the effort, however, has fueled doubts about immediate action on the opioid crisis. Last month the White House nominee, Representative Tom Marino, withdrew from consideration following a report he spearheaded a bill that hurt the government’s ability to crack down on opioid makers.

 

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Dan Grebler)

 

CDC director calls Zika in Puerto Rico a ‘challenge and crisis’

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (Reuters) – During a tour of Zika preparations in Puerto Rico, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called Zika a “tremendous challenge and crisis” and said protecting pregnant women from the virus is a top priority.

In Brazil, Zika has been linked to a spike in cases of microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size and underdeveloped brains.

“Until a few months ago, no one had any idea that Zika could cause birth defects,” Frieden told reporters Tuesday at a briefing in Puerto Rico’s health department.

Frieden has been working with CDC staff and the Puerto Rican government on strategies to protect pregnant from becoming infected with the mosquito-borne virus, which Frieden called a top priority.

In Puerto Rico, the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Zika is widespread, and Frieden said controlling it will require a multi-pronged approach involving government, municipalities, neighbors, families and society at large.

Cases of Zika are doubling weekly in Puerto Rico, and the CDC expects hundreds of thousands of individuals will become infected, including thousands of pregnant women.

To protect pregnant women, Frieden recommended using insect repellent daily and reliably.

He also suggested adding window screens and air conditioning, where possible. And he called for reducing standing water in and around homes to eliminate mosquito breeding habitats.

Frieden’s comments, delivered mostly in Spanish, followed two days of briefings with staff at the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center in San Juan. CDC researchers are monitoring the outbreak and studying the best ways to prevent Zika infections through education campaigns, and the distribution of Zika prevention kits for pregnant women.

Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly in babies. Brazil said it has confirmed more than 640 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,200 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.

At the CDC’s Dengue Branch in Puerto Rico, scientists are conducting research on the most effective mosquito control measures, and processing diagnostic tests from blood samples delivered daily to the laboratory.

Dr. Jorge Munoz, branch director, said in an interview they are capable of processing 400 to 500 blood samples a week. Scientists at the laboratory developed a triple test that can detect Zika, dengue and chikungunya – three different viruses carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that is endemic in Puerto Rico.

The test will be crucial in helping to quickly sort out whether Zika was the cause of an infection or whether it was dengue and chikungunya, which also cause infection and illness.

“Puerto Rico is in a very different situation from the rest of the United States,” Frieden told the briefing.

Besides the high density of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, Puerto Rico has a lot of housing without window screens or air conditioning.

“The combination of those two things, when you add Zika in, means the likelihood of a very large number of cases,” Frieden said.

“In rest of the United States, we may see clusters,” he said. But if Zika behaves the way chikungunya and dengue have, “we will not see widespread transmission.”

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Oregon to release soil test results in pollution scare this week

PORTLAND, Ore. (Reuters) – Oregon officials this week will release test results on soil from neighborhoods near two Portland glass factories accused of spewing toxic metals into the air for years, a revelation that has led to a class-action suit and demands for more oversight.

The results of the testing could heighten suspicions from residents and environmental advocates that emissions of arsenic and cadmium from the two plants exposed residents to much higher levels of the heavy metals than have been told.

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a public health scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the scare demonstrates the need for closer federal oversight.

“Communities are left testing their soil, testing their children, testing their homes and saying, well, how come I see these contaminations?” she said. “That’s not how it should be.”

There is already ample evidence from tests conducted by the U.S. Forest Service of airborne contamination near the factories, as well as signs that the metals may have settled into the soil.

The Forest Service tests, conducted on moss growing on trees near one of the factories, found levels of arsenic 150 times higher and cadmium 50 times higher than Oregon safety benchmarks. Near the second factory, cadmium levels were found to be similarly elevated.

Long-term arsenic exposure is linked to skin cancer and cancers of the lung, bladder, and liver as well as skin color changes and nerve damage, according to information posted on the Oregon Health Authority website. Long-term cadmium exposure is linked to lung and prostate cancer, as well as kidney disease and fragile bones, according to the site.

The state has not received any reports of people being treated or hospitalized as a result of exposure to the metals released in emissions by the glass companies, according to Jonathan Modie, a spokesman for the Oregon Health Authority.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who lives near one of the hot spots, describes the situation in the state’s largest city as a public health emergency. He told Reuters on Friday that he had asked the Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency to provide “experts on the ground” when the soil tests are released to “help us get at the core facts.”

This comes after revelations in Flint, Michigan, that a switch in the city’s water source to save money corroded its aging pipes and released lead and other toxins into its drinking water. That crisis has emerged as a rallying point for Democrats as the U.S. presidential election approaches.

Even if the soil tests in Portland show low levels of the heavy metals, residents who live near the factories fear the exposure may be more widespread, extending beyond the hot spots that are being tested.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” said Kerry Ryan, a Portland resident who lives five blocks from one of the factories.

Ryan, who now has an 11-month-old daughter whom she is breastfeeding, said she is arranging to have herself tested for exposure to the metals.

According to the Oregon Health Authority’s website Q&A, arsenic and cadmium can be found in breast milk and may contribute to low birth weight.

Bullseye Glass Co officials did not return a call seeking comment. Officials with Uroboros Glass Studio declined to comment.

Last month, Oregon public health officials advised residents to stop eating vegetables grown in gardens within a half mile of the so-called pollution “hot spots,” or areas where the pollution appears to be concentrated.

On Thursday, about 50 residents mounted a protest in downtown Portland, chanting “clean air now” and delivering boxes of rotting produce harvested from their gardens to the state’s environmental quality offices.

Arsenic and cadmium contamination, confirmed by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, occurred near Bullseye Glass, located in a middle-class neighborhood near public schools and a city park.

Cadmium contamination was confirmed near Uroboros Glass, located in an industrial section of a residential neighborhood near the Willamette River.

Both plants have voluntarily halted the use of the metals, used to create color for stained glass, according to the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, which is conducting the soil tests that are set for release this week at the request of Gov. Kate Brown

Last week attorneys for seven residents filed a class action lawsuit against Bullseye, alleging the company was negligent and reckless in burning heavy metals without adequate pollution controls.

Bullseye was in compliance with state regulations under a loophole that Wyden called “the size of a lunar crater” during a press conference in February.

According to the Portland Oregonian newspaper, the firm Weitz & Luxenberg is also meeting with area residents. The firm is currently working with environmental activist Erin Brockovich to seek redress for residents whose health may have been harmed by a massive natural gas leak in Southern California.

(Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; Editing by Sara Catania, Steve Gorman and Diane Craft)

Zika response in focus with new evidence of birth defect link

GENEVA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Evidence mounted on Friday linking Zika to the birth defect microcephaly, and the U.N. health agency set a review of travel advice related to the outbreak of the virus while U.S. officials planned strategy to control the mosquitoes that spread it.

The virus is capable of rapidly infecting and harming developing fetal brain cells, scientists said in a study that provided insight into how the virus might cause microcephaly in fetuses.

The researchers said the study, published on Friday in the journal Cell Stem Cell, does not prove a direct causal link between Zika and microcephaly in newborns, a condition defined by unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems. But they said it does identify where the virus may be inflicting the most damage in developing fetuses.

Zika has been linked to numerous cases of microcephaly in Brazil, where the current outbreak began. The virus is spreading rapidly in Latin America and in Caribbean nations, prompting the World Health Organization last month to declare a global public health emergency.

The WHO on Friday said there is accumulating evidence of a link between the virus and microcephaly as well as a rare disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome in which the immune system attacks part of the nervous system.

The WHO’s Emergency Committee will meet Tuesday to review “evolving information” and its recommendations on travel, trade and mosquito control in what is thought to be high season for transmission of the virus in the southern hemisphere.

The WHO last month advised pregnant women to consider delaying travel to areas where Zika is spreading.

Travel to Brazil has been a particular concern because the Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janeiro in August.

Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO’s executive director for outbreaks and health emergencies, said recently published studies in the Lancet medical journal on microcephaly and by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Guillain-Barre had strengthened the case that Zika is responsible.

The White House and the CDC will bring together U.S. state and local officials on April 1 for a summit at the CDC’s Atlanta headquarters to urgently craft a plan to attack the hard-to-control mosquito that spreads the virus.

The White House is inviting officials involved in mosquito control and public health to discuss how best to track and control the spread of the virus and respond when people are infected.

U.S. federal health officials expect the first locally transmitted cases of the Zika virus in the continental United States by June or July.

“We can’t say for sure that we’re not going to have a major outbreak in the United States. I do not think we will, but we will be prepared for it anyway,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at an event presented by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in collaboration with Reuters.

MICROCEPHALY OUTSIDE BRAZIL

There were fresh signs on Friday of Zika-linked microcephaly cases outside Brazil. The first microcephaly case linked to Zika was reported in Colombia.

In addition, doctors in Venezuela reported their first suspected Zika-linked microcephaly case in a fetus that died whose mother likely was infected with the virus.

Much remains unknown about Zika, including whether the virus actually causes microcephaly. Brazil said it has confirmed more than 640 microcephaly cases and considers most to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating more than 4,200 additional suspected microcephaly cases.

The study in Cell Stem Cell showed that Zika infects a kind of neural stem cell that gives rise to the cerebral cortex, the brain’s outer layer responsible for intellectual capabilities and higher mental functions.

These cells, exposed to the virus in laboratory dishes, became infected within three days, turned into “virus factories” for viral replication and died more quickly than normal, the researchers said.

Florida State University researcher Hengli Tang, the study’s lead author, told Reuters the study suggests the virus would be capable of doing the damage seen in microcephaly.

French scientists, in a retrospective study of a 2013-2014 Zika outbreak in French Polynesia, said last week they had proved a link between Zika and Guillain-Barre, suggesting countries hit by the Zika outbreak will see a rise in the neurological condition.

“The important thing is the data is moving in one direction. And that’s the reason we’ve asked the Emergency Committee again next week to convene and look at these data,” the WHO’s Aylward said, referring to a group of independent experts chaired by David Heymann.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Additional reporting by Andrew M. Seaman and Bill Berkrot in New York, Alexandra Ulmer and Corina Pons in Caracas and Julia Symmes Cobb in Bogota; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Leslie Adler)