A blood test could lead to new treatments for depression

By Dr. Michael Macintyre

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Depression is among the leading causes of disability worldwide, with more than 300 million people suffering from this mental illness, according to the World Health Organization.

Despite how common depression is, scientists still have a lot to learn about it.

Among what is known is that depression is not a single disease but a variety of feelings and behaviors that may have different underlying causes.

“Depressive disorders can present differently in different people. What is known now is that depression affects not just the brain but the whole organism,”said Natalie Rasgon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University.

But a new study of which Rasgon is a senior author finds evidence of a possible biomarker for major depressive disorder, which could lead to better treatments for this sometimes crippling disease.

The study by a group of researchers from around the U.S. and in Sweden finds that a specific, naturally-occurring chemical, called acetyl-L-carnitine, or LAC, is lower in the blood of people suffering from depression. The research was published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Previous animal studies convincingly showed the role of LAC in models of depression. This study is the first confirmation of the results from animal studies in human subjects with depression,” Rasgon told ABC News.

Levels of the chemical were lower among people with more severe depression

Researchers measured LAC levels in the blood of 116 participants, and found that those with depression had significantly lower levels of the chemical than healthy individuals. Two groups of people at two different hospitals were examined, with the same results.

LAC levels were especially low among people whose depression was more severe, who began suffering from the disease at an earlier age or who had a history of childhood trauma. Levels were lowest among females whose depression did not get better with medications or therapy, known as “treatment-resistant depression,” and who had suffered childhood trauma or neglect.

The human body naturally produces LAC from a nutrient called carnitine, but researchers found that carnitine levels were the same in people with and without depression. This suggests that differing levels of LAC can be attributed to depression and not to diet.

What do we know about this chemical?

LAC performs a number of important tasks, including regulating how the brain and nervous system use energy. It also can interact with DNA to change how certain genes are expressed.

In previous studies, LAC has been shown to effectively and rapidly improve symptoms of depression in mice.

A review of multiple studies published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine in 2017 showed that acetyl-L-carnitine may be better than a placebo in treating depression and may be as effective as common antidepressants but with fewer side effects. The review authors noted the studies were very small and larger trials are necessary to confirm any benefit.

There is a LAC supplement that has been used for dementia, but a 2003 review from Cochrane found it is unlikely to be of benefit for this purpose. Some studies suggest a benefit for a type of nerve pain called neuropathy.

But it is important to note this study did not test if LAC can be used for the treatment of depression.

“We are at the very beginning of this discovery and can’t recommend people to buy this supplement at the GNC store,” warned Rasgon.

How further research might lead to possible treatments

LAC has potential to be a biomarker, something measurable in the body that reflects the presence of a disease. As such, it could potentially be used to screen for and diagnose severe or treatment-resistant depression and allow for earlier and more aggressive treatment.

Researchers hope future studies could shed light on whether physical activity, dietary habits, and sleep may affect LAC levels.

This study also found that people on antidepressant drugs still had lower levels of LAC in their blood, suggesting that taking supplements of the chemical might be helpful or possibly even necessary to fully benefit from a medication.

This research, together with prior studies, suggests that correcting a deficiency in LAC could be a step toward more targeted treatments of depression, especially for those who suffered childhood trauma or began having depression at an early age.

“We are excited with these results and are working on extending them to further understand the role of LAC in patients receiving treatment for depression,”Rasgon said. “It is one of the pieces of a very large puzzle that constitutes depressive disorders as an illness.”

While this study has important implications in understanding depression, Rasgon cautioned that it requires larger studies to confirm the findings. “There are many questions to be answered – who will ultimately benefit from taking this supplement, what is the right dose, what is the appropriate duration of use.”

The study was a collaboration between researchers at Stanford, Rockefeller University, Duke University, Weill Cornell Medical College, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.

Michael MacIntyre is a psychiatry resident working with the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Moms being shamed for leaving kids unattended ignites heated parenting debate

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- A New York Times article is sparking an online debate about why leaving your children unattended has become taboo.

In the essay, "Motherhood in the Age of Fear," author Kim Brooks details the stories of six mothers who "paid the cost of parenting" after they left their kids behind while running errands.

"We now live in a country where it is seen as abnormal, or even criminal to allow children to be away from direct adult supervision, even for a second," Brooks wrote.

Brooks also described how she was faced with charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor (her son), after a stranger had reported her to police for leaving him in the car while she went into a store.

The charges were dismissed after Brooks completed 100 hours of community service.

Julie Koehler, another parent who was interviewed for Brooks' article, had a similar story.

In 2016, Koehler of Illinois, left her three daughters in her minivan while she grabbed coffee.

"I saw the police officer walk up to the car and start questioning my children and I thought nothing of it until my kids started to cry," Koehler said on "Good Morning America." "And at that point I walked out and he turned on me and asked me where I was."

Koehler, who works as a senior public defender, said she defended her actions.

"He accused me of abandoning my children and I just laughed at him," Koehler recalled. "He had picked on the wrong mother because I actually know my rights."

Koeler said that no charges were pressed against her, but that something needs to change.

"We need to fight back against this judgment, this shaming of mothers," she explained. "It's got to stop and it stops with us."

Researchers at University of California, Irvine, have studied just how people reacted to this topic by using short descriptions in which a parent left a child unattended. Participants were then asked to estimate how much danger they felt the child was in.

The study found that the participants’ assessment of the child’s danger depended on how "morally offensive they found the parent’s reason for leaving," according to the Times piece.

"What has changed seems to be social norms, moral judgments, the idea that children should never be left alone and that a parent who leaves a child alone is negligent or abusive," Barbara W. Sarnecka, a cognitive scientist at the University of California, Irvine, told "GMA."

In Brooks' piece, she said that no mom is safe from this criticism.

"We're contemptuous of 'lazy' poor mothers. We're contemptuous of 'distracted' working mothers. We're contemptuous of 'selfish' rich mothers."

But readers had mixed feelings about the New York Times article, which has garnered nearly 2,000 comments.

One wrote, "Intervene when children are in real danger. Mind your own business when they are not."

Another said, "You should stop listening to the small voice in your head and start paying attention to the law -- there's a reason 19 states make the act of leaving a toddler alone in a locked, parked car illegal. It's wrong."

On May 8, a new law legalizing so-called "free-range parenting" officially went into effect in Utah.

The law rewrites the state's definition of "neglect," so that kids can participate in some unsupervised activities without their parents being charged, a representative from the state confirmed to ABC News at the time.

Dr. Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, explained that those who are considering free-range parenting should take everything on a "case by case basis."

"If your 12-year-old is capable of walking home from the bus stop by themselves, that's something that you might make a decision about where another 12-year-old may be too impulsive," Anderson explained on Good Morning America in March after the free-range parenting bill was initially signed.

Monday on GMA, ABC News' senior legal correspondent and analyst Sunny Hostin stressed that there are state-by-state differences when it comes to laws on leaving a child unattended.

"I think we need to take care of our children, but I also think as parents we need to know the law," Hostin said. "There's no federal law, but there are certainly laws in about 19 states and there are different age groups...figure out what the law is in your state, but err on the side of protecting your child."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Study shows cellphones in classrooms contribute to failing grades

By Dr. Kevin Riutzel

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Cellphones and laptops can be distracting for students in classrooms, and new research also shows that using electronic devices can even lower students’ grades.

Scientists who studied the effects of divided attention in people know that when attention is divided between two tasks, fewer items regarding those tasks may be recalled later -- a concept called “retention” in psychology.

Additional research on electronic devices shows that smart phones can reduce the ability to think to a person’s full potential, and additional research from Stanford University reveals that intense multitasking decreases the efficiency of completing a given task.

While previous studies demonstrated that divided attention may induce poor performance on exams, two researchers from Rutgers University sought to dive deeper.

Dr. Arnold Glass, the lead researcher for the study and a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, told ABC News that he's long been intrigued by the notion of technology-enhanced classrooms.

"I was always interested in using technology in the classroom before it existed, but when it became apparent that it was affecting the classroom, it raised the question [of] what effect this was having,” he said.

In a study published in the journal Educational Psychology, the two researchers divided 118 upper-level college students into two groups -- each enrolled in the same course, taught the same material by the same instructor, in the same classroom at roughly the same time of day.

The difference? One group was allowed to have laptops and cell phones open for non-classroom purposes, and the other group wasn't.

The group using devices scored about a half a letter grade lower on exams -- the difference between passing or failing for some students. Of note, students who didn’t use a device but were in the same classroom with those who did also scored lower. This was likely due to distraction from surrounding devices.

The researchers noted that this study shows the minimum reduction in exam performance, because this particular course used in-class questions to help students remember course material instead of just passive listening.
So it’s possible that students could do even worse in other courses, depending on how the class is taught and whether they're using electronic devices for non-classroom purposes.

Is this research applicable to high school, middle school or even meetings?

“No doubt,” Glass told ABC News. “Absolutely for sure.”

“These findings," he added, "should alert the many dedicated students and instructors that dividing attention is having an insidious effect that is impairing their exam performance and final grade."

Given the effects electronics have on students who were in the classroom but not using the devices themselves, Glass said in a press release that teacher need to "... explain to students the damaging effect of distractions on retention -- not only for themselves, but for the whole class."

Dr. Kevin Riutzel is a family medicine resident physician based out of Irvine, California and a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Study shows dogs will go out of their way to help owners in emotional distress

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It's no surprise to dog owners, but now it's scientifically sound: Dogs will go out of their way to help their owners when their humans are upset.

In a new study with the Lassie-inspired title Timmy’s in the Well: Empathy and Prosocial Helping in Dogs, Johns Hopkins University researchers positioned 34 dogs, one at a time, behind a door closed by magnets. On the other side was a given dog's respective owner.

Their owners were asked to either sing You Are My Sunshine or to feign crying. When the owners "cried," the pooches pawed the doors open faster.

Scientists had thought dogs would only try to open the door only when the owners were crying, but that turned out not to be the case; however, they did open the doors three times faster than the dogs with the singing owners. In some cases, the sound of their owners crying made some dogs freeze.

"We found dogs not only sense what their owners are feeling -- if a dog knows a way to help them, they’ll go through barriers to provide to help them," which was a discovery for the scientists, according to lead author Emily Sanford, a graduate student in psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins University.

“Dogs have been by the side of humans for tens of thousands of years, and they’ve learned to read our social cues. Dog owners can tell that their dogs sense their feelings. Our findings reinforce that idea and show that, like Lassie, dogs who know their people are in trouble might spring into action."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Bayer to no longer sell permanent birth control implant Essure 


(NEW YORK) -- Bayer Pharmaceuticals announced that it will no longer sell the permanent birth control implant Essure starting at the end of this year.

Essure has courted controversy since it hit the market in 2002. It was initially marketed as the only permanent birth control method that did not require a surgical incision.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that patients must be given an in-depth checklist prior to receiving the implant.

“We’ve been closely evaluating new information on the use of Essure, and based on our review of a growing body of evidence, we believe this product requires additional, meaningful safeguards to ensure women are able to make informed decisions about risk when considering this option,” FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement in April.

Women who say they have experienced adverse side effects from the contraceptive have also convened in a series of Facebook groups -- some of which have exploded in popularity -- where they share their experiences and warn other women considering the procedure. Some groups have garnered tens of thousands of members.

On the Facebook pages, many women advocate against its use, citing pain and bleeding. In some cases, they reported experiencing perforation of the uterus or tubes after insertion.

Bayer has maintained that its decision to pull the product -- effective Dec. 31 -- was solely based on business reasons, citing declining sales in recent years.

In a statement to ABC News, Bayer said "the positive benefit-risk profile of Essure has not changed and has been demonstrated in extensive clinical trials, post-approval studies and analyses of real-world evidence over the past 20 years."

The statement added that the "FDA continues to believe that Essure’s benefit-risk profile remains positive and unchanged."

To receive the implant, a health care provider inserts a small implant made of flexible coils via a video-assisted device through the vagina into the fallopian tubes, the tubes that carry eggs to the uterus, or womb.

After a few months, scar tissue develops as a barrier to prevent the eggs from ever meeting sperm and the woman from becoming pregnant.

Dr. Ronald Johnson, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, told ABC News that he has used it often in practice -- but not recently.

“I used it a significant amount, and it was a device that was well thought-out. The idea was quite sound. It had great efficacy,” he told ABC News, saying that all other options for permanent contraception are done by laparoscopic surgeries.

Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive technique where small surgical incisions are made on the skin so that surgical tools with cameras can be inserted to navigate inside the abdomen.

Patients who benefited from Essure were usually those who couldn’t have abdominal surgeries, such as people with morbid obesity, multiple prior surgeries or other internal abdominal issues.

“It was a very clever tool to have in our quiver,” Johnson added. “If the protocols were followed properly, it had a group of patients it was uniquely advantageous to.”

However, Johnson said he believes complications were more often from improper practitioner use rather than the Essure device itself, because of procedure complexity.

In fact, he described one woman where an unknown provider had inserted multiple devices in both tubes because, presumably, the provider had been unable to see the originals and thought the woman needed more. Unfortunately, the device had actually gone through the walls of her uterus and tubes.

“From about 2002 to 2016, I never had a single person come back complaining of pain or requesting removal," Johnson said. "But, in the last year and a half, I’ve removed five or six."

Johnson said he's unsure if it's internet awareness or an actual association of the device with problems, but from his experience, the "vast majority work without a complication,” which is consistent with patient satisfaction ratings from FDA clinical trial participants after five years, according to the statement from Bayer.

For those who do end up having complications, removal may be the answer. However, people should speak with their physicians about it.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Pediatricians raise concern about health effects of some food coloring, additives

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The American Academy of Pediatrics says that chemicals in food additives like food coloring and preservatives are bad for children and that parents should limit their exposure to processed foods, according to a new study published by the group this week.

The report, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, also said that parents should avoid heating up food in plastic containers because the chemicals released can be harmful to children. The report looked at research into chemicals used to treat packaging for food products, like BPA, which is used in resin coatings that prevent metal corrosion, and chemicals called PFC's that are used to waterproof paper or cardboard.

BPA can disrupt hormones in the body and cause fertility problems, according to the report, and PFCs can reduce immunity, metabolism, and cause developmental problems. The report also reviewed studies that found that decreased intake of food coloring could be associated with improved symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, known as ADHD, but there isn't enough evidence in that research to show a definite connection between the two.

"Potentially harmful effects of food additives are of special concern for children, according to the AAP. Children are more sensitive to chemical exposures because they eat and drink more, relative to body weight, than adults do, and are still growing and developing," the Academy said in a statement.

Some chemicals used in the process of packaging or preparing foods fall under an FDA rule called "Generally Recognized as Safe," which means that any substance added to food must be reviewed by the FDA unless the substance is "generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use."

The Academy says in its policy statement that many of these substances were grandfathered in for approval because they were "Generally Recognized as Safe" during the 1950's and that the process doesn't include the impact of chemicals that can be absorbed by food indirectly through packaging or dyes. The group is calling for a more rigorous process that includes testing chemicals before they are allowed to be used and re-testing chemicals that were previously approved to make sure they aren't toxic, which could require Congress to specifically allow the FDA to review data on additives that are already on the market.

American Academy of Pediatrics council on environmental health member Dr. Leonardo Trasande said there are "critical weaknesses" in the process to regulate chemicals added to food and that the government doesn't do enough to ensure all chemicals added to foods are safe.

"As pediatricians, we’re especially concerned about significant gaps in data about the health effects of many of these chemicals on infants and children," Trasande said in a statement.

ABC News Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said the effects of chemicals like BPA have been known for years but that the American Academy of Pediatrics report looked at the best available evidence about additives and chemicals in food containers to spread awareness of the issue.

"I think all of us need to eat from the farm, not the factory. We need to try and minimize our consumption of processed foods. In general the containers tend to be an issue, so if you can use glass and not plastic, and stainless steel. Don't reheat those things unless it's glass and limit the processed foods," Ashton said on Good Morning America.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed meat, avoid microwaving food in plastic and try to avoid putting plastics in the dishwasher.

The Food and Drug Administration declined to comment on the report but a spokeswoman said they are reviewing it as part of the body of evidence about the issue. Spokeswoman Megan McSeveney said in a statement that the agency looks at whether substances are not harmful when used as intended, including if they are in the "Generally Recognized as Safe" category or are used in packaging or the manufacturing process.

"Food safety is at the core of the agency’s mission to protect and promote public health for our nation’s consumers. We take seriously our commitment to the consumers and industry who look to the FDA for important guidance when it comes to our nation’s food supply, including the safety of substances used in food," McSeveney said in a statement.

She also said that the FDA has the authority to review substances that are recognized as safe if there is new information or if consumption habits have changed. For example, in 2015 the FDA determined that scientists no longer considered partially hydrogenated oils safe in foods, which means that they can no longer be added to products without a specific exemption. The FDA also issued warning letters to companies producing caffeinated alcohol products like Four Loko in 2010 after the agency found that adding caffeine to those products did not meet requirements to be considered safe. The manufacturers took those products off the market.

"The FDA’s regulations authorizing the use of food and color additives may specify the types of foods in which it can be used, the maximum amounts to be used, and how it should be identified on food labels. Where warranted, the FDA monitors the extent of Americans' consumption of new additives and results of any new research on safety to ensure an additive’s use continues to be within safe limits," McSeveney said in the statement.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard contracts hand, foot and mouth disease


(NEW YORK) -- New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard was recently placed on the disabled list because he contracted hand, foot and mouth disease.

It’s a short-term infection that’s mostly found in children younger than 5 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What is hand, foot and mouth disease?

Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is a common viral illness caused by several different types of viruses. It occurs mostly during the summer and early autumn.

How do people get sick?

Outbreaks of HFMD can occur in daycare centers, schools, or summer camps -- wherever people gather. It’s possible that Syndergaard got his infection when he was in the group environment of a children’s baseball camp last week.

One way it’s passed is like the flu -- through the air. A person may get it if they’re talking with someone who is sick with the disease and coughs or sneezes without covering their mouth.

It’s also transmitted by coming into close contact with someone who hasn’t washed their hands after using the bathroom.

What are the signs of an infection?

Symptoms typically start within three to five days of being in contact with someone who was sick.

The first signs usually are high fever, decreased appetite, sore throat, and an overall feeling of being tired and unwell.

Typically a few days after the fever, painful blisters can be seen in the mouth. This is called herpangina if it’s the only symptom, which can be the case for some small children.

At the same time, a skin rash can appear on the hands and feet, and sometimes even the buttocks in young children. The rash often looks like bright red dots, sometimes with clear blisters, which are contagious, and can be painful.

How do doctors treat it?

There's no way to attack the virus itself. The most important thing is hydration and pain control with over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen that both work equally well.

The mouth sores can be very painful, and aside from popsicles and ice cream to soothe the throat, “magic mouthwash” can help, too, for both children over 4 years old and adults.

The magic mouthwash is a mix of a half teaspoon antacid liquid -- like Maalox or Mylanta -- with a half teaspoon diphenhydramine (that’s the drug found in Benadryl). After mixing both together, swish the solution around in the mouth and then spit it out.

Adults can also use oral anesthetic sprays that help with pain by numbing the mouth and throat.

If the rash lasts longer than two weeks, or if there's only a rash on one side of the body, it may be another medical condition, so see a doctor.

How can someone avoid getting sick?

With these common viruses, good hand hygiene is always important.

Remind children to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds. Adults should take that advice as well, especially after using the restroom or changing diapers.

Avoid sharing utensils or drinks with someone who is sick.

The good thing is, if someone gets the disease, it doesn’t last longer than two weeks.

That's doubtless a relief for all the baseball fans who want to see Syndergaard back on the mound soon.

Dr. Stephanie Sophie Lee is a pediatrician and preventive medicine resident in South Carolina and a resident in the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


Florida tops list of worst places in America for shark attacks

DigtialStorm/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK)  -- New York may have been the site of two suspected shark attacks on Wednesday, but attacks by the creatures in these waters are so rare that there have been only 10 documented cases confirmed in nearly 150 years.

The worst place in America for shark attacks? Florida. Statistics from The International Shark Attack File, a database of shark attacks from around the world, show that Florida's coast has witnessed a total of 812 confirmed and unprovoked shark attacks since 1837, at least those that have been recorded.

That's because most sharks prefer warmer waters, said George Burgess, director emeritus of the International Shark Attack File maintained by the Florida Museum of Natural History. "The waters near the East Coast, in the northern states like New York are cool for most months of the year, and so it's only in the summertime when a few sharks arrive."

Which states are more vulnerable to attacks varies widely along the American coastline. Maine has one attack on record since 1837. California has 122. But the pattern is not random, says Burgess. The more coast, the more people and the warmer the waters, the more the attacks.

Still, despite how few attacks New York's coast has seen, there are enough species of sharks in these waters to prompt a few sightings, Burgess of The International Shark Attack File said.

Not all of them bite humans, not all are even big enough, but here's a list of the species shark-watchers in the state are more likely to encounter, ranked by how much of a threat they are to humans.

The list is not based on the actual number of attacks these species have already carried out, because that number is too small to analyze. Instead, it's based on the potential each species has to be a threat to humans along the coats of New York.

"Almost any shark that can grow to about six feet or two metres in length is a potential danger to humans," Burgess explains. "That's only because once they get to that size their teeth are sharp and they can cause damage"

1) High Threat: The 'surf zone' sharks

The Sandbar shark (up to about 6 feet long) and the Dusky shark (up to about 10 feet long) are both species that are much more comfortable in cooler water than other species of sharks, and they like to stay in the 'surf zone' - the part of the sea next to the shore within which waves break, and where beachgoers tend to stay. The Sand Tiger shark (up to about 10 feet long) swims a little further off but still in rleatively shallow waters, where divers often come across them in wrecks.

2) Medium Threat: The offshore sharks

"The south shore of Long Island faces an ocean, and so some species that can travel a little further north sometimes wander in from deeper waters to areas where humans are," said Burgess. The first of these species is the infamous White shark, better known as the Great White shark (up to about 23 feet in length). The other is the Blue shark (up to about 12 feet in length).

3) Low threat: The vegetarian shark and the sharks that are too small

Every once in a while, a Basking shark (up to about 30 feet in length) will be seen on the coastline or will wash up on the shore, and a lot of attention will be drawn to it because of its size, said Burgess. But this species couldn't hurt humans if it wanted to. Its teeth are flattened due to a sort of a plate-like surface, as it only feeds on plankton, and it is not at all aggressive, said Burgess. On the other end of the spectrum, the Spiny Dogfish shark (up to about 3 feet long) and the Smooth Dogfish shark (up to about 4 feet long) are both species that love cool waters, but are too small to cause any harm to humans.

But despite the existence of these species of sharks in the waters near New York, Burgess points out that relatively speaking, there's very little to fear. For example, between 1959 and 2010, there were three shark attacks in New York. All three of the victims survived. In comparison, there were 139 people who died due to lightning strikes.

Even if a shark were to attack a human, it's usually because they mistook the human for a fish, and they let go immediately, Burgess said.

"The shark interprets the kicking and walking movements of the human body in the water to be activities of a normal prey item," he said. "And of course in the surf zone, where visibility is poor as a result of the breaking waves, it will bite at things it can't see well. But it's usually just one quick bite and then it's gone, and so we call these hit-and-run attacks."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


New report from United Nations warns we have 'miles to go' in fight against HIV



(NEW YORK) -- Rates of HIV infection are on the rise in 50 countries with more than 1.8 million people becoming infected in 2017, a far cry from goals established for the near future, according to a new United Nations report.

The report, entitled Miles to Go, published earlier this week by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said the pace of progress in saving lives and preventing new infections is “not matching the global ambition” of cutting the infection rate to 500,000 a year by 2020.

While the death rate from AIDS-related illnesses -- 940,000 in 2017 -- is the lowest this century, it is still nearly double the goal of reducing AIDS-related deaths to 500,000 or fewer by 2020, according to the report.

”New HIV infections are not falling fast enough,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé wrote in the report. “HIV prevention services are not being provided on an adequate scale and with sufficient intensity, and are not reaching the people who need them the most.”

Vulnerable populations account for a large proportion of the new HIV cases and the deaths from the infection, according to the report. It said 180,000 children became infected in 2017, and 110,000 children died from AIDS-related illnesses. The goal of the agency was to eliminate new infections in children by 2018.

Other vulnerable populations also seem to carry an elevated portion of the burden -- including sex workers, gay men and other men who have sex with men, prisoners, migrants and refugees -- often spurred by “stigma and discrimination,” according to the report.

“The very people who are meant to be protecting, supporting and healing people living with HIV often discriminate against the people who should be in their care, denying access to critical HIV services, resulting in more HIV infections and more deaths,” Sidibé wrote. “It is the responsibility of the state to protect everyone. Human rights are universal.”

Dr. Elizabeth Lowenthal, research director for the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia's Global Health Program and pediatric clinical core director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for AIDS Research, told ABC News that it is important to look first at places where the goals have been met.

Lowenthal has provided care to children and families affected by HIV infection in Botswana, where there has been “very strong political commitment, administrative support, and partnerships with experts who can provide their clinical expertise and help identify key populations.”

Botswana is one of the six countries that have achieved what is known as the 90-90-90 targets -- 90 percent of people with HIV know they have HIV; 90 percent of those diagnosed are receiving treatment; and, of those receiving treatment, 90 percent have accomplished suppression of their viral load or the level of HIV virus that is detectable in their blood.

The UNAIDS report spoke of yet another important driver of the epidemic: violence against women and girls.

“Gender inequality, intimate partner violence, and parental and spousal consent laws leave women and girls vulnerable to HIV, other sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies and maternal mortality,” the report read.

Lowenthal said she sees this firsthand in her work.

“Women living with HIV infection who are victims of domestic violence or gender-based violence often can’t even tell people in their family they have HIV because of fear for their safety,” Lowenthal told ABC News.

For women suffering from violence, it can also be difficult to negotiate ways to protect themselves against HIV such as condoms, which Lowenthal said highlights the importance of “giving women more choices like PrEP,” or pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill containing combination HIV medications that can prevent HIV infection.

“As doctors caring for children with HIV, our goal is to put ourselves out of business, and there is no excuse for not achieving that goal,” Lowenthal said. “What is needed is a strong political commitment in both home and donor countries and implementation science research to clarify how we can bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be.”

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.


How a 3-year-old saved her dad's life by Facetiming her mom

(Courtesy Devon McCabe) Quick thinking by 3-year-old Molly McCabe helped save her father, who was suffering from an undiscovered blood clot inside his brain.(NEW YORK) -- When three-year-old Molly McCabe saw her dad fall off the couch and onto the floor, she thought it was just another one of the games they played together.

But minutes passed, and her father remained still, and the suddenly scared toddler began to cry and plead, "Daddy, get up. Daddy's what's wrong?"

That's when she picked up her father's cellphone and used FaceTime to call her mother at work.

"I answered and she was sobbing and crying. And she was just saying, 'Daddy, daddy, look at daddy,'" Molly's mother Devon McCabe told ABC News.

Then Molly turned the phone to face her father, and McCabe saw her husband Trevor collapsed on the floor of their Winchester, Virginia, home.

"I just started shaking all over from head to toe. Even though I'm an intensive care nurse, I couldn't even think straight. And Molly kept telling me, 'Mommy please come home.'"

McCabe comforted her distraught toddler as she called neighbors and friends, who rushed to Trevor's aid and took him to hospital.

It was there that doctors discovered Trevor had a clot in an artery in his brain that very few people survive from, and treated him for it.

Just over two weeks later, Trevor is on the way to recovery -- and McCabe calls her little daughter "the biggest miracle" that saved his life.

"I'm still shocked," she said of the July 4 incident. "I still can't believe everything that happened."

The feat by her daughter was especially remarkable because the little girl doesn't yet know how to read, and there's no picture of McCabe next to her contact information on Trevor's phone.

"So she knew which one to pick that called me. She recognized the letters that make up my name in my husband's phone," McCabe said. "She didn't call anyone else that day, it's not like she accidentally called me. And I wasn't the most recent call so it wasn't like she just picked my name off the top. So I think she just remembered that when daddy calls mommy, this is what the letters look like."

A few days later, as Trevor was set to undergo a procedure to fix the hole in his heart, McCabe's coworkers gifted McCabe and both her daughters, Molly and 2-year-old Maggie, superhero costumes to celebrate the fact that Molly rescued her father. The little girl loved it so much that she refused to take it off and even napped in it.

Molly is still somewhat traumatized by the experience, however, so the McCabes are considering therapy to get her through it. They are using a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Trevor's therapy, because both parents are on unpaid medical leave.

As for Trevor - McCabe posted a picture of him smiling on her Facebook page on Thursday, captioned, "And 15 days after I almost lost him, we headed to rehab <3."

Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

ABC News Radio