U.S. vaping-related deaths rise to 12, illnesses climb to 805

FILE PHOTO: A man uses a vaping product in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

(Reuters) – U.S. health officials on Thursday reported 805 confirmed and probable cases and 12 deaths so far from a mysterious respiratory illness tied to vaping, with the outbreak showing no signs of losing steam.

Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 530 cases and seven deaths due to severe lung illnesses.

U.S. public health officials have been investigating these illnesses, but have not linked it to any specific e-cigarette product.

As of Sept. 24, the confirmed deaths were reported in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oregon, the CDC said.

The House of Representatives began public hearings about the illness this week while Massachusetts imposed a four-month ban on sales of all vaping products, including those used for tobacco and marijuana, which is legal in the state.

Investigators have, however, pointed to vaping oils containing marijuana ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or vitamin E acetate, a substance used in some THC products, as a possible cause of these illnesses.

The increased scrutiny also prompted leading e-cigarette maker Juul Labs to suspend all broadcast, print and digital product advertising in the United States and bring in a longtime Altria Group Inc executive as its CEO.

Altria owns a 35% stake in Juul.

Public health officials have advised consumers to quit vaping and urged those who continue using the devices to avoid buying such products on the street, using marijuana-derived oil with the products or modifying a store-bought vape product.

(Reporting by Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Shounak Dasgupta)

Fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic at stake as St. Louis judge holds hearing

A banner stating "STILL HERE" hangs on the side of the Planned Parenthood Building after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant

(Reuters) – The fate of Missouri’s only abortion clinic will be at stake on Tuesday when a St. Louis judge hears arguments in Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit aimed at forcing state health officials to renew the facility’s license to perform the procedure.

Planned Parenthood sued Missouri last week after state health officials refused to renew the license of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood in St. Louis because, they said, they were unable to interview seven of its physicians over “potential deficient practices,” according to court documents.

Abortion is one of the most socially divisive issues in U.S. politics, with opponents often citing religious beliefs to call it immoral. Abortion-rights advocates say the bans amount to state control of women’s bodies.

St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Michael Stelzer intervened on Friday before the clinic’s license to perform abortions was set to expire at midnight. He issued a temporary restraining order against the state at the request of Planned Parenthood, allowing the clinic to continue offering the procedure.

Stelzer will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning on motions filed by Planned Parenthood in its request for a preliminary injunction that would keep the clinic open longer. He could schedule more hearings or rule on the request.

If the facility’s license is not renewed, Missouri would become the only U.S. state without an abortion clinic since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy.

The legal battle in St. Louis began after Missouri Governor Mike Parson, a Republican, signed a bill on May 24 banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy, making Missouri one of nine U.S. states to pass anti-abortion legislation this year.

Anti-abortion activists say they aim to prompt the newly installed conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade by enacting laws such as the one recently passed in Missouri that are virtually assured of facing court challenges.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in CHICAGO; Editing by Paul Tait)

Current Ebola outbreak is worst in Congo’s history: ministry

FILE PHOTO - Workers fix an Ebola awareness poster in Tchomia, Democratic Republic of Congo, to raise awareness about Ebola in the local community, on October 9, 2018. Picture taken October 9, 2018. WHO/Aboulaye Cisse/Handout via REUTERS

KINSHASA (Reuters) – The current Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo is the most severe in the country’s history with 319 confirmed and probable cases, the health ministry said late on Friday.

The hemorrhagic fever is believed to have killed 198 people in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, where attacks by armed groups and community resistance to health officials have complicated the response.

FILE PHOTO: A Congolese health worker prepares to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: A Congolese health worker prepares to administer Ebola vaccine, outside the house of a victim who died from Ebola in the village of Mangina in North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo, August 18, 2018. REUTERS/Olivia Acland/File Photo

Congo has suffered 10 Ebola outbreaks since the virus was discovered near the eponymous Ebola River in 1976.

“The current epidemic is the worst in the history of DRC,” Jessica Ilunga, a spokeswoman for the ministry told Reuters.

With over 300 cases the epidemic also ranks as third worst in the history of the continent, following the 2013-2016 outbreak in West Africa where over 28,000 cases were confirmed and an outbreak in Uganda in 2000 involving 425 cases.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday that security represented the primary challenge in the current epidemic, followed by community mistrust.

“When there is an attack, the operation actually freezes. So we hold the operation. And when the operation stops, the virus gets advantage and it affects us in two ways,” he told reporters in Kinshasa.

“And one is catching up on the backload. Because when operations are stopped, there is always a backload of vaccinations or contact tracing. And the other, the second problem, is that more cases are generated because we can’t vaccinate them,” he said.

The confirmation of new cases has accelerated in the last month and an emergency committee of World Health Organization experts said in October that the outbreak was likely to worsen significantly unless the response was stepped up.

(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Fiston Mahamba; Editing by Alessandra Prentice and Hugh Lawson)

More locally transmitted ZIKA in U.S. expected

Aedes aegypti mosquitoes are seen inside Oxitec laboratory in Campinas, Brazil,

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States will likely see more cases of local Zika virus transmission going forward, a U.S. health official warned on Sunday, although it is unlikely to turn into a broader situation as seen in Brazil or Puerto Rico.

The comments comes after Florida authorities on Friday reported the first sign of local transmission in the continental United States, concluding that mosquitoes likely infected four people with the virus that can cause a serious birth defect.

“We definitely don’t take this lightly. This is something we always anticipated and prepared for the worst,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during CBS’ “Face the Nation” program on Sunday. “But we do not feel this is going to turn into that broadly disseminated situation that we’ve seen in Brazil or that we’re seeing in Puerto Rico.”

He added that this is in “stark contrast” to Puerto Rico, where conditions will lead to a major outbreak.

Fauci said that health authorities are working to reduce mosquitoes in affected areas, and encouraged individuals to stay indoors, cover up and use insect repellant.

He added that “phase one” trials of one contender of the Zika vaccine will likely start in coming weeks. If that’s successful, there will be wider trials beginning early 2017.

(Reporting by Catherine Ngai; Editing by Sandra Maler)