U.S. vaping-related deaths rise to 42, cases of illness to 2,172

U.S. vaping-related deaths rise to 42, cases of illness to 2,172
(Reuters) – U.S. health officials on Thursday reported 2,172 confirmed and probable cases and 3 more deaths from a mysterious respiratory illness tied to vaping, taking the death toll to 42, so far this year.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 2,051 confirmed and probable U.S. lung injury cases and 39 deaths associated with use of e-cigarettes, or vaping products.

As of Nov. 13, 42 deaths have been confirmed in 24 states and the District of Columbia, the agency said. (http://bit.ly/2NrLYXW)

Health officials last week also dubbed the discovery of Vitamin E acetate — believed to be used as a cutting agent in illicit vaping products containing marijuana components — in all lung samples from 29 patients as a breakthrough in their investigation.

Investigators have not linked the cases to any specific product or compound, but have pointed to vaping oils containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, as being especially risky.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta)

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)

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)

Trump signs measure to permanently extend compensation for Sept. 11 responders

U.S. President Donald Trump pumps his fist during a signing ceremony for the "Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act" in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Calling emergency first responders “heroes,” U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law a measure authorizing permanent benefits for police, firefighters and others suffering from illnesses connected to their work reacting to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

The legislation, known as the “Never Forget the Heroes Act,” approves federal funding through 2092 for an estimated 18,100 people who are likely to qualify for benefits, according to government estimates.

First responders who rushed to the site of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York following their destruction in the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks, and others who worked for months cleaning up, were exposed to toxic chemicals despite early government statements that the site was safe.

The fund compensates those people, or their relatives if they have since died, for economic and other losses. Trump hailed the men and women who rushed to the site in hopes of rescuing survivors and finding remains of victims.

“Today we come together as one nation to support our September 11 heroes, to care for their families, and to renew our eternal vow: never, ever forget,” Trump told a crowd at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, which he said included more than 60 of the first responders.

Without the legislation, passed in the U.S. Senate last Tuesday, victims would have seen reduced benefits because of a lack of funding.

The attacks on the United States using four hijacked planes killed more than 2,900 people and injured over 6,000. Of those, more than 2,600 people were killed in New York.

Former New York businessman Trump said he visited the World Trade Center site in the aftermath.

“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder, but I was down there,” Trump said.

The remark drew the ire of some Twitter users who recounted Trump’s comments at the time on the towers’ destruction, including one on WWOR-TV about a 72-story building he said he owned in lower Manhattan – “and now it’s the tallest.”

Lawmakers attended the ceremony along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was in office at the time of the attacks and was praised for his leadership then. Giuliani is now an attorney for Trump.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; editing by Grant McCool)

Emirates plane quarantined in New York with sick passengers: airline

The emergency services are seen, after the passengers were taken ill on a flight from New York to Dubai, on JFK Airport, New York, U.S., September 05, 2018 in this still image obtained from from social media. Larry Coben/via REUTERS

NEW YORK (Reuters) – An Emirates airline flight from Dubai was quarantined at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday morning after passengers became ill during the flight, the airline and New York news media said.

Emirates flight 203, a double-deck Airbus A388 carrying about 500 passengers, landed shortly after 9 a.m. EDT (1300 GMT), according to an airlines spokeswoman.

The emergency services are seen, after the passengers were taken ill on a flight from New York to Dubai, on JFK Airport, New York, U.S., September 05, 2018 in this still image obtained from from social media. Larry Coben/via REUTERS

The emergency services are seen, after the passengers were taken ill on a flight from New York to Dubai, on JFK Airport, New York, U.S., September 05, 2018 in this still image obtained from from social media. Larry Coben/via REUTERS

The spokeswoman said 10 passengers fell ill on the flight from Dubai to New York. New York media outlets had earlier put the number at about 100 passengers.

“Emirates can confirm that about 10 passengers on board flight EK203 from Dubai to New York were taken ill,” the spokeswoman said. “On arrival at JFK, as a precaution, they were immediately checked by local health authorities and those needing medical attention will be attended to.” She said all other passengers would be allowed to leave the plane shortly.

Officials from the Port Authority Police Department and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were on scene, according to news station WNBC, but did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The mayor’s office also did not respond to requests for comment.

Larry Cohen, who identified himself as one of the passengers aboard the plane, uploaded photos on Twitter showing dozens of police and emergency vehicles waiting outside the plane on the tarmac.

“All we have been told is that there are some sick passengers and that we need to remain on board,” Cohen told Reuters via Twitter messaging.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus and Alexander Cornwell in Dubai; editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

Cuba says cause of illness in U.S. diplomats remains a mystery

A vintage car passes by in front of the U.S. Embassy in Havana, Cuba, January 12, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba said on Sunday it remained baffled by health issues affecting U.S. diplomats, after the U.S. State Department reported two Cuba-based functionaries had symptoms similar to previous cases that began in late 2016.

The State Department said on Friday the cases were similar to those of 24 diplomats and family members taken ill through 2017, leading to a drawdown of personnel in Havana to a skeleton staff and the expulsion of 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington.

The United States also issued a travel warning for its citizens.

Sunday’s foreign ministry statement termed those actions politically motivated, pointing out that “after more than a year of investigations by Cuba and the United States … there are no credible hypotheses nor scientific conclusions that justify the actions taken by the U.S. government against Cuba.”

The statement said Cuba was informed of one case in late May where “a functionary of the (U.S.) embassy on the 27th of the same month had reported health symptoms as a result of ‘undefined sounds’ in her residence.”

The statement said an exhaustive search of the area around the residence had turned up nothing out of the ordinary and its specialists had been denied access to the functionary.

Cuba said it remained ready to work with the United States to determine what, if anything, was causing the illnesses after its own investigation had uncovered no evidence of foul play.

U.S. experts have yet to determine who or what is behind the mysterious illnesses.

The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which has partly rolled back a detente with Cuba, first charged diplomats were the victims of “sonic attacks” and Cuba as the host country was at a minimum responsible for their safety.

Symptoms suffered by the diplomats have included hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, headaches and fatigue, a pattern consistent with “mild traumatic brain injury,” State Department officials have said.

In April, Canada, whose personnel were also stricken, said it would remove families of diplomats posted at its embassy in Cuba as information from medical specialists has raised concerns of a new type of brain injury.

The U.S. State Department said on Wednesday it has brought a group of diplomats home from Guangzhou, China, over concern they were suffering from a mysterious malady that resembles a brain injury and has already affected U.S. personnel in Cuba.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Tick, mosquito-borne infections spiking in United States: CDC

FILE PHOTO - A sign is displayed as San Diego County officials hand spray a two block area to help prevent the mosquito-borne transmission of the Zika virus in San Diego, California, U.S. August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Earnie Grafton

By Gina Cherelus

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The number of Americans sickened each year by bites from infected mosquitoes, ticks or fleas tripled from 2004 through 2016, with infection rates spiking sharply in 2016 as a result of a Zika outbreak, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that some 96,075 diseases caused by bites by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas were reported in 2016, up from 27,388 in 2004, in an analysis of data from the CDC’s National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.

Infections in 2016 went up 73 percent from 2015, reflecting the emergence of Zika, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and can cause severe birth defects. Zika was the most common disease borne by ticks, mosquitoes and fleas reported in 2016, with 41,680 cases reported, followed by Lyme disease, with 36,429 cases, almost double the number in 2004.

The increases may be a result of climate change, with increased temperatures and shorter winters boosting populations of ticks, mosquitoes and other disease-carrying creatures known as “vectors.”

“It enables these ticks to expand to new areas. Where there are ticks, there comes diseases,” said Lyle Petersen, director of the CDC’s Division of Vector-Borne Diseases.

Warmer summer temperatures also tend to bring outbreaks of mosquito-borne illnesses, Petersen said.

While Zika stood out as the latest emerging threat in the report, it also showed a long-term increase in cases of tick-borne Lyme disease, which can attack the heart and nervous system if left untreated.

Researchers warned that their numbers likely do not include every case as many infections are not reported.

These increases are due to many factors, including growing populations of the insects that transmit them and increased exposure outside of the United States by travelers who unknowingly transport diseases back home.

The CDC said more than 80 percent of vector-control organizations across the United States lack the capacity to prevent and control these fast-spreading, demanding illnesses. Petersen said that federal programs are increasing funding for those organizations.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool)

Fourteen more fall sick from E. coli linked to romaine lettuce: CDC

Romaine lettuce grows near Soledad, California, U.S., May 3, 2017. REUTERS/Michael Fial

(Reuters) – Fourteen more sick people from eight U.S. states were added to an investigation of an E. coli outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday.

Three more states – Mississippi, Tennessee and Wisconsin – reported ill people, the CDC said.

Eighty-four people infected with a strain of E. coli have been reported from 19 states, the CDC had said on Wednesday, in an update to its investigation into the outbreak.

The regulator has advised people not to eat or buy romaine lettuce, commonly used in salads, unless they can confirm it is not from the Yuma, Arizona growing region.

Forty-two people had been hospitalized, including nine who had developed a type of kidney failure, the CDC said.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Sai Sachin Ravikumar)

Britain warns Russia over double agent’s mysterious illness

Sergei Skripal, a former colonel of Russia's GRU military intelligence service, looks on inside the defendants' cage as he attends a hearing at the Moscow military district court, Russia August 9, 2006. Picture taken August 9, 2006. Kommersant/Yuri Senatorov via REUTERS

By Toby Melville and Emily G Roe

SALISBURY, England (Reuters) – Britain warned Russia on Tuesday of a robust response if the Kremlin was behind a mysterious illness that has struck down a former double agent convicted of betraying dozens of spies to British intelligence.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson named Sergei Skripal, once a colonel in Russia’s GRU military intelligence service, and his daughter Yulia as the two people who were found unconscious on Sunday on a bench outside a shopping center in southern England.

Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter were exposed to what police said was an unknown substance in the English city of Salisbury. Both are still critically ill in intensive care, police said.

“We don’t know exactly what has taken place in Salisbury, but if it’s as bad as it looks, it is another crime in the litany of crimes that we can lay at Russia’s door,” Johnson told the British parliament.

“It is clear that Russia, I’m afraid, is now in many respects a malign and disruptive force, and the UK is in the lead across the world in trying to counteract that activity.”

If Moscow was shown to be behind Skripal’s illness, Johnson said, it would be difficult to see how UK representation could go to the World Cup in Russia in a normal way. A government source said that meant attendance of ministers or dignitaries.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Johnson’s comments were “wild”.

A previous British inquiry said President Vladimir Putin probably approved the 2006 murder of ex-KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko with radioactive polonium-210 in London. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in Litvinenko’s killing.

Litvinenko, 43, an outspoken critic of Putin who fled Russia for Britain six years before he was poisoned, died after drinking green tea laced with the rare and very potent radioactive isotope at London’s Millennium Hotel.

It took weeks for British doctors to discern the cause of Litvinenko’s illness.

His murder sent Britain’s ties with Russia to what was then a post-Cold War low. Relations suffered further from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its military backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels trying to topple him.

A police car is parked next to crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A police car is parked next to crime scene tape, as a tent covers a park bench on which former Russian inteligence officer Sergei Skripal, and a woman were found unconscious after they had been exposed to an unknown substance, in Salisbury, Britain, March 6, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

RUSSIAN DOUBLE AGENT

British authorities said there was no known risk to the public from the unidentified substance, but they sealed off the area where Skripal was found, which included a pizza restaurant and a pub, in the center of Salisbury.

Counter-terrorism police are now leading the investigation though they said they believe there no risk to the public. Samples from the scene are being tested at Porton Down, Britain’s military research laboratory, the BBC said.

Skripal, who passed the identity of dozens of spies to the MI6 foreign intelligence agency, was given refuge in Britain after being exchanged in 2010 for Russian spies caught in the West as part of a Cold War-style spy swap at Vienna airport.

The Kremlin said it was ready to cooperate if Britain asked it for help investigating the incident with Skripal.

Calling it a “tragic situation,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin had no information about the incident.

Asked to respond to British media speculation that Russia had poisoned Skripal, Peskov said: “It didn’t take them long.”

Russia’s embassy in London said the incident was being used to demonize Russia and that it was seriously concerned by British media reporting of the Skripal incident.

Russia’s foreign spy service, the SVR, said it had no comment to make. Russia’s foreign ministry and its counter-intelligence service, the Federal Security Service (FSB), did not immediately respond to questions submitted by Reuters about the case.

FROM MOSCOW TO SALISBURY

Skripal was arrested by the FSB in 2004 on suspicion of betraying dozens of Russian agents to British intelligence. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2006 after a secret trial.

Skripal, who was shown wearing a track suit in a cage in court during the sentencing, had admitted betraying agents to MI6 in return for money, some of it paid into a Spanish bank account, Russian media said at the time.

But he was pardoned in 2010 by then-president Dmitry Medvedev as part of a swap to bring 10 Russian agents held in the United States back to Moscow.

The swap, one of the biggest since the Cold War ended in 1991, took place on the tarmac of Vienna airport where a Russian and a U.S. jet parked side by side before the agents were exchanged.

One of the Russian spies exchanged for Skripal was Anna Chapman. She was one of 10 who tried to blend into American society in an apparent bid to get close to power brokers and learn secrets. They were arrested by the FBI in 2010.

The returning spies were greeted as heroes in Moscow. Putin, himself a former KGB officer, sang patriotic songs with them.

Skripal, though, was cast as a traitor by Moscow. He is thought to have done serious damage to Russian spy networks in Britain and Europe.

The GRU spy service, created in 1918 under revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, is controlled by the military general staff and reports directly to the president. It has spies spread across the world.

Since emerging from the John le Carre world of high espionage and betrayal, Skripal lived modestly in Salisbury and kept out of the spotlight until he was found unconscious on Sunday at 1615 GMT.

Wiltshire police said a small number of emergency services personnel were examined immediately after the incident and all but one had been released from hospital.

Skripal’s wife died shortly after her arrival in Britain from cancer, the Guardian newspaper reported. His son died on a recent visit to Russia.

A white and yellow police forensics tent covered the bench where Skripal was taken ill.

(Reporting by Toby Melville; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout, William Schomberg, Andy Bruce and Michael Holden in LONDON, Andrew Osborn, Polina Nikolskaya and Margarita Popova in MOSCOW and Mark Hosenball in WASHINGTON; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Gareth Jones)

U.S. officials warn ‘intense’ flu season to continue, urge shots

: A box of masks is shown in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – Adults who get a flu shot are 36 percent less likely to get the disease, while for children the figure was an unexpectedly high 59 percent, U.S. health officials said on Thursday, predicting that the current “intense” season could continue for weeks.

Anyone not already immunized should get a flu shot despite the lateness of the season, because “some protection is better than none,” one of the officials told a news briefing.

A total of 63 children in the United States have died of influenza this season, and three-quarters of them did not get a vaccine, said Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This flu season continues to be extremely challenging and intense, with very high levels of office visits for flu and hospitalization rates, all indications that flu activity is high and likely to continue for several more weeks,” Schuchat said.

Flu symptom rates are close to those seen in the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and for the past few weeks the whole country has been experiencing the flu, she said.

The current vaccine’s effectiveness rate is based on an interim study conducted nationally through Feb. 3 covering thousands of people, Schuchat said.

Effectiveness against the season’s dominant strain, the H3N2 strain, was lower at about 25 percent. It was better against the other viruses, at 67 percent against H1N1 and 42 percent against influenza B viruses, she said.

Getting the shot can mean the difference between a mild illness and a hospital stay, Schuchat said, particularly for people at higher risk such as children and the aged.

“There’s still plenty of time. Go get a flu shot. Do it for yourself, your family and your community,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the briefing.

As many as 646,000 people are dying globally from seasonal influenza each year, U.S. health officials said in December, a rise from earlier assessments of the disease’s death toll.

(Reporting by Eric Walsh in Washington and Stephanie Kelly in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)