Entries in WHO (10)


WHO Recommends Earlier HIV Treatment

Bananastock/Thinkstock(GENEVA, Switzerland) -- The World Health Organization announced on Sunday that it is recommending earlier treatment for people who are HIV-positive.

According to WHO, if people in the developing world who are HIV-positive are given lifesaving drugs earlier it could potentially avert an additional 3 million deaths and prevent 3.5 million more new HIV infections by 2025.

A single pill combining three drugs would be given to those people much earlier, when their immune systems are still strong. Evidence shows that earlier treatment keeps patients healthier and lower the amount of virus in the blood, which in turn reduces the risk of spreading the virus to someone else.

“These guidelines represent another leap ahead in a trend of ever-higher goals and ever-greater achievements,” says WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. “With nearly 10 million people now on antiretroviral therapy, we see that such prospects – unthinkable just a few years ago – can now fuel the momentum needed to push the HIV epidemic into irreversible decline.”

Implementation would add 10 per cent to the overall bill for treatment of HIV/AIDS in the developing world, but WHO is convinced the idea is cost effective in the long run.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New Bird Flu Crosses Strait to Taiwan

STR/AFP/Getty Images(TAIPEI, Taiwan) -- A Taiwanese man has contracted a deadly strain of bird flu once confined to mainland China, health officials said Wednesday.

The man, 53, is thought to have imported the H7N9 virus to his native Taiwan after travelling to China's Jiangsu Province, where bird flu has sickened at least 24 people and killed three, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He is said to be in "severe condition."

The latest case as lifted the tally of virus victims to 109, 22 of whom have died, according to the World Health Organization. It has also flamed fears that the deadly virus could spread beyond East Asia.

"Given the extent of global travel, I expect that we will see cases in the United States," ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said. "It's so important that people who become ill tell their doctors if they have been traveling."

The Taiwanese man developed flu symptoms April 12, three days after returning to Taiwan from Shanghai, health officials said. He was hospitalized four days later. But initial tests for H7N9 were negative, with official confirmation from Taiwan's National Influenza Center coming more than two weeks after his trip April 24.

"Physicians are once again reminded to report suspected cases to the health authority within 24 hours of detection according to the relevant regulation," the Taiwanese CDC said in a statement, noting that suspected cases with severe respiratory infections should be hospitalized in isolation.

The H7N9 virus is thought to pass from birds to humans. But many of its victims, including the Taiwanese man, reported no contact with birds, and few birds are testing positive for the disease.

"There are so many unanswered questions about this disease," Besser said. "Could there be another route of transmission? Are some people becoming infected from exposure to infected people?"

Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center has obtained a list of 139 people who came into contact with the Taiwanese man, including 110 health care workers. Three health care workers who developed symptoms of an upper respiratory infection are being closely monitored, health officials said.

WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl last week said there was no evidence of "sustained human-to-human transmission," adding that "the only instances where there might have been human-to-human transmission are between two close family members."

"The main thing now is to figure out how this virus spreads and where it lives," Hartl said. "Until then, we're shooting in the dark."

In the meantime, Taiwanese health officials are urging travelers to mainland China to avoid direct contact with birds or their droppings, consume only thoroughly cooked poultry and eggs, wash their hands often and wear a protective mask.

U.S. health officials are also bracing for bird flu by preparing a vaccine, a process expected to take six months. In the meantime, they, too, are urging travelers to China to steer clear of birds, practice good hygiene and report any and all flu-like symptoms to a doctor upon return.

"The CDC has developed a diagnostic test for H7N9 flu so that travelers who develop symptoms can be tested," Dr. Besser said.

U.S. doctors are urged to promptly report suspected bird flu cases to their state health departments.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


It’s World Tuberculosis Day: 5 Things You Didn't Know About TB

Duncan Smith/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The lung disease Tuberculosis kills nearly 1.5 million people each year, mostly in developing countries. World Tuberculosis Day is observed on March 24 to "raise awareness about the burden of tuberculosis (TB) worldwide and the status of TB prevention and control efforts," according to the World Health Organization. With that in mind, here are five things you might not have known about this deadly disease.

1.    Tuberculosis Is Caused by Bacteria and Spread Through the Air

According to the World Health Organization, "when people with lung TB cough, sneeze or spit, they propel the TB germs into the air. A person needs to inhale only a few of these germs to become infected."

The symptoms include fever, bloody cough and fatigue.

2.    Tuberculosis Is Growing More Resistant to Treatment Worldwide

Although TB is curable, the treatment regimen requires patients dutifully to take multiple antibiotics daily for several months, and if there are any deviations from protocol or incomplete courses, the bacteria can easily develop a resistance to the drugs.

The WHO estimates that about 5 percent of the cases of this disease are multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. Known as MDR-TB, these bacteria have developed resistance to two of the first-line tuberculosis drugs, isoniazid and rifampicin. An even more resistant strain of TB exists.  XDR-TB was first reported in 2006 and are resistant to several types of drugs. While MDR-TB is difficult and costly to treat, XDR-TB is even harder.

3.    Tuberculosis Is Global Threat

Tuberculosis kills at least 1.34 million people each year worldwide. And now the disease, once curable with antibiotics, is becoming resistant to multiple drugs.

Although most cases of TB and multidrug-resistant TB are found in developing countries, the disease, which kills at least 1.34 million people worldwide each year has been found in developed country as well. According to WHO data, 92 cases of multidrug-resistant TB were reported in the United States in 2011.

4.    People With Weak Immune Systems Are More Susceptible to Getting TB

People with weak immune systems or those who have HIV are at greater risk in contracting TB. It is the leading killer of people with HIV, according to WHO. Additionally, according to the WHO, smoking and tobacco use make people more susceptible to TB, and their data says that more than 20 percent of TB cases globally are attributable to smoking.

5.    Drug-Resistant TB Could Bring Back Sanatoria, Secluded Hospitals

Before the advent of antibiotics, people with infectious diseases like tuberculosis were sent to sanatoria, secluded hospitals that healed through good food, fresh air and sunlight. The isolated buildings also quarantined infected patients, thwarting the spread of contagious and dangerous diseases. Before the advent of the drug rifampicin in the 1960’s, some sanatoria housed several thousand patients at once.

Now, in regions of the world increasingly burdened by drug-resistant TB, sanatoria might be coming back. But the recent emergence of new, antibiotic-resistant strains of the disease-causing bacteria in South Africa has prompted a call for the return of sanitoria.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


WHO: Antibiotic Resistance Could Bring ‘End of Modern Medicine’

John Foxx/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(COPENHAGEN, Denmark) -- As bacteria evolve to evade antibiotics, common infections could become deadly, according to Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization.

Speaking at a conference in Copenhagen, Chan said antibiotic resistance could bring about “the end of modern medicine as we know it.”

“We are losing our first-line antimicrobials,” she said Wednesday in her keynote address at the conference on combating antimicrobial resistance.  “Replacement treatments are more costly, more toxic, need much longer durations of treatment, and may require treatment in intensive care units.”

Chan said hospitals have become “hotbeds for highly-resistant pathogens” like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, “increasing the risk that hospitalization kills instead of cures.”

Indeed, diseases that were once curable, such as tuberculosis, are becoming harder and more expensive to treat.

Chan said treatment of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis was “extremely complicated, typically requiring two years of medication with toxic and expensive medicines, some of which are in constant short supply.  Even with the best of care, only slightly more than 50 percent of these patients will be cured.”

Antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella, E. coli and gonorrhea have also been discovered.

“Some experts say we are moving back to the pre-antibiotic era.  No.  This will be a post-antibiotic era.  In terms of new replacement antibiotics, the pipeline is virtually dry,” said Chan.  “A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it.  Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched knee could once again kill.”

The dearth of effective antibiotics could also make surgical procedures and certain cancer treatments risky or even impossible, Chan said.

“Some sophisticated interventions, like hip replacements, organ transplants, cancer chemotherapy and care of preterm infants, would become far more difficult or even too dangerous to undertake,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Global Abortion Estimates Show Increase in Unsafe Procedures

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The abortion rate around the world has apparently stalled for now, but the number of people having unsafe abortions is rising, new research shows.

Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization (WHO) found that the global abortion rate per 1,000 women ages 15-44 had fallen from 35 to 29 between 1995 and 2003. However, in 2008, increasing global population was cause for the 2.2 million more abortions (43.8 million) compared to 2003 (41.6 million).

What is perhaps most alarming is the continued increase in unsafe abortions globally. The rate at which women had undergone unsafe abortion procedures rose from 44 percent in 1995 to 49 percent -- nearly half -- in 2008.

The research findings, published Wednesday in Lancet, also show that abortions in developing countries have increased by 2.8 million since 2003.  Abortions have fallen during that same time in the developed world, the report says.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Swine Flu Strain Keeps Health Officials on Alert

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- A new swine flu strain has infected 10 Americans since the summer, and health authorities, both here and abroad, are on the alert for more cases.

The new flu strain combines parts of a rare influenza virus -- H3N2 -- circulating in North American pigs, and the H1N1 virus from the 2009 worldwide flu outbreak. New flu strains develop when flu viruses combine in new ways. They can pose health risks because people haven’t yet developed immunity to them.

Since July, nine U.S. children and a 58-year-old U.S. man have been sickened by the new swine flu strain -- S-OtrH3N2 -- which picked up a gene from the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, according to the CDC.

“Everybody is watching,” Jeff Dimond, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, said Tuesday.

Hong Kong’s Center for Health Protection will follow ongoing U.S. surveillance and heed any advice from the World Health Organization, according to a statement issued Tuesday. WHO is currently working on a public health response should the virus continue spreading.

The new swine flu strain has drawn particular interest because none of the Iowa children sickened last month -- all of whom have recovered and are doing fine -- nor their families had known contact with pigs, suggesting person-to-person transmission.

“That’s the mystery of it,” said Dimond. “Flu, by its definition, is unpredictable. That’s one of the vexing characteristics of the virus.”

But so far, he said, “the virus has not shown any sustained human-to-human transference. We’re keeping an eye on it” as the Iowa Health Department leads the investigation.

Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security and environment, told CBC News that WHO wants to be prepared, but doesn’t want to cause undue alarm when global spread isn’t a certainty. “We’re very aware that we don’t want to overplay or underlay,” Fukuda told the CBC.

International health officials need to strike a delicate balance: If they warn of pandemics that don’t pan out, as when the 2009 H1N1 pandemic barely affected Europe, they risk criticism for inciting panic and look ineffectual.

As part of routine preparedness to counter pandemic threats from new flu viruses, the CDC said it had developed a “candidate vaccine virus” that could be used to make a human vaccine against S-OtrH3N2 viruses, and has sent it to vaccine manufacturers.

CDC scientists said they expected this years’ seasonal flu vaccine to provide adults with limited protection from the new flu virus, but that it wouldn’t help children. They recommended that doctors who suspect swine flu infections in their patients treat them with Tamiflu where appropriate, obtain nose and throat specimens and send them to state public health labs, which should report them to CDC. The CDC also encourages anyone who has contact with pigs and develops flulike symptoms to get tested.

“In the meantime, the most important things people can do are wash their hands with warm soap and water,” Dimond said. “If not, use hand sanitizer.” And, he said, avoid touching your eyes or mouth with your hands, as that can spread germs.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Bird Flu is Back, FAO Warns

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(ROME) -- A new strain of avian H5N1 influenza, also known as bird flu, has surfaced, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said Monday.  The vaccine-resistant viral strain has shown up in flocks of poultry in both China and Vietnam, the FAO said, according to MedPage Today.

"In Vietnam, which suspended its springtime poultry vaccination campaign this year, most of the northern and central parts of the country -- where H5N1 is endemic -- have been invaded by the new virus strain, known as H5N1-," FAO cautioned in a statement Monday.

While cases of human infection have not been reported, according to the World Health Organization, the FAO warned that spread of the strain could present "unpredictable risks to human health," MedPage Today reports.

Cases of the bird flu epidemic were cut down in 2008 after countries impacted by the virus slaughtered scores of afflicted poultry flocks.  But new flare-ups surfaced, causing numbers of cases to jump to almost 800 in January 2010 from 300 in 2008, Medpage reports.

Now virus-stricken poultry cases have been reported in Bulgaria, Romania, Palestinian territories and Israel.

Human bird flu cases amount to 565 globally, with 331 deaths since 2003, according to the WHO.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Finds Cellphones May Cause Cancer, But Brain Cancers Have Not Spiked

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Though a World Health Organization study concluded cellphones may cause cancer, some are wondering why, if there truly is a link, has there not been a significant worldwide increase in brain cancers.

The World Health Organization (WHO), whose International Agency for Research on Cancer announced the results of its year-long study Tuesday, estimates that there are five billion cellphone users globally, representing nearly three-quarters of the world's population.

However, the incidence and mortality rate of brain and central nervous system cancers has remained virtually flat since 1987, according to data from the National Cancer Institute.

The most compelling evidence cited by the WHO is a multi-country study that found people who used cellphones most often, an average of 30 minutes per day over 10 years, had a 40-percent higher risk for a rare brain tumor called a glioma.

The WHO also considered not-yet-released papers showing increased risk for another kind of cancer, acoustic neuroma, in the parts of the brain where cellphone radiation is strongest.

Roughly 30 older studies have tried and failed to establish any link between cellphones and cancer. This conundrum has been a hot topic since shoe-sized phones hit the scene in the late 1970s. One study even found those who used cellphones occasionally had a lower cancer risk than those who used old-fashioned land lines.

So what about the lack of rising numbers of brain cancers? Time is a major issue. The tumors take years, even decades, to develop, and some researchers say too few people have used cellphones long enough to affect worldwide numbers.

"The long-term consequences of putting radiation into brain we don't really understand," Dr. Keith L. Black of the neurosurgery department at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles told ABC News.

The WHO decided, in effect, to err on the side of caution.

"[The] IARC is saying that we should be cautious and think through what we do when we regulate exposures from cellphones," Dr. Peter Shields, chief of Georgetown University Hospital's cancer genetics and epidemiology program in Washington, D.C. told ABC News. "They follow the precautionary principle and want to maximally protect public health."

Meanwhile, the science is advancing. Researchers at the University of Utah established that the radiation dose is much higher inside the brains of 5- and 10-year-olds than in adults, a major concern as more children adopt cellphones.

Regulations are trailing behind the science.  In the U.S., the FCC set a maximum limit of 1.6 watts per kilo of body tissue. However, they did not test phones being carried directly in a person's pocket, just inside of belt holsters. So far, the recommendation continues to be to hold your phone about an inch away from your body.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Smoking Will Kill Six Million People This Year, WHO Says

AbleStock[dot]com/Hemera Technologies(GENEVA) -- Six million people will die from tobacco this year, including 600,000 non-smokers from secondhand smoke, according to the World Health Organization.

These latest figures, released Tuesday, are huge and projections show they're heading upward.  The WHO says smoking could kill eight million a year by 2030.

The organization attributes the increasing number of deaths to governments not doing enough to get people to stop the unhealthy habit and not protecting the public from secondhand smoke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: Current Laws Do Not Keep Kids from Tanning Beds

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Indoor tanning beds are known to increase the risk for skin cancer and there are several laws warning the public about this. However, a new study from San Diego University reports that current laws are not effectively working to keep adolescents from indoor tanning.

Researchers interviewed 6,125 adolescents aged 14-17 years and their parents and asked them if they had used indoor tanning beds in the past 12 months. They also analyzed state indoor tanning laws and conducted interviews with enforcement experts in the 100 most populous U.S. cities.

Their analysis found that 17.1 percent of girls and 3.2 percent of boys had used indoor tanning facilities. Moreover, teens were 70 percent more likely to use a tanning facility if a parent had used it before. Residing in a state with youth-access laws that specify age restrictions or require parental consent also did not appear to decrease the number of teens going for tanning.

The study's authors conclude that current laws are ineffective in reducing indoor tanning and bans might be needed.  The report emphasized the need for stricter laws such as a ban on tanning for people under the age of 18 years as recommended by the World Health Organization.

The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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