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Health

The history of science is full of happy accidents — most folks have heard that penicillin was discovered in 1928, when a few mold spores landed on some neglected petri dishes in a London lab. But sometimes serendipity's role is a bit less ... mainstream.

The World Health Organization announced Monday a public health emergency. The cause for alarm is the cluster of birth defects among babies born to mothers infected with the Zika virus, which has spread rapidly through Brazil and much of Latin America since 2015.

The World Health Organization has declared the cluster of microcephaly associated with the spread of the Zika virus to be a public health emergency of international concern — a designation reserved for an"extraordinary event" that is "serious, unusual or unexpected."

Dr. Margaret Chan, the WHO's director-general, said during a press briefing Monday that an international coordinated response was needed to improve mosquito control as well as to expedite the development of tests that detect the Zika virus.

Babies get a lot from their mothers. But babies born by cesarean section don't pass through the birth canal and miss out on the benefits from picking up Mom's microbes on the way out.

Researchers studying the human microbiome have asked: Could there be a way to fix that? If so, it might help restore the microbes a baby naturally gets that help fight off disease and foster normal development.

Any day now, Ben Lecomte will plunge into the Pacific Ocean off a Tokyo beach toward San Francisco. He wants to become the first person to swim across the Pacific. He's already the first person to free swim across the Atlantic Ocean, without a kickboard.

No one knows how the physical feat of swimming 5,500 miles will affect Lecomte's heart, but cardiologists are anxious to find out. His swim offers a rare opportunity to study whether extreme athletic performance has a harmful effect on the heart.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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When Elizabeth Estes's dog, Ollie, started coughing last year, she didn't think he was seriously ill at first. But then the 3-year-old Jack Russell-chihuahua mix got much worse.

"All of a sudden, he couldn't breathe and he was coughing. It was so brutal," says Estes, who lives in Chicago. "The dog couldn't breathe. I mean, could not breathe — just kept coughing and coughing and coughing and gasping for air."

Federal health officials have this message for people who want health insurance: Don't wait.

There are just four days left to sign up for an insurance plan under the Affordable Care Act, and officials from the Department of Health and Human Services are stressing that they won't extend the enrollment period this year beyond Jan. 31.

Private health plans invoiced the state of California $387.5 million to cover high-cost hepatitis C treatments in Medi-Cal between July 2014 and November 2015, when just 3,624 patients received the treatments, according to the California Department of Health Care Services.

Just 1 percent of doctors are linked to nearly one-third of all paid malpractice claims, an analysis by researchers at Stanford finds. And the physicians who account for an outsize share of the claims have a set of distinctive characteristics.

The researchers said that the claim-prone physicians were disproportionately male (82 percent) and were older, rather than younger. More than half the claims were by doctors in four areas: internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, general surgery and general practice/family medicine.

The World Health Organization says it expects the Zika virus to spread to every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada.

It says the virus has already "spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas."

"Canada is off the list simply because it's too cold for the type of mosquito that transmits the Zika virus," NPR's Jason Beaubien reports to our Newscast unit.

If you pictured a dancer, you probably wouldn't imagine someone with Parkinson's disease. Worldwide, there are 10 million people with the progressive movement disorder, and they struggle with stiff limbs, tremors and poor balance.

Stillbirth remains largely hidden from society, and the tragic loss of a fetus late in pregnancy remains far too common.

A collection of research published Monday in The Lancet pulls back the curtain on the often-ignored subject and gives a global snapshot of the countries making the most progress to lower death rates.

Meeting girls at the bar didn't come as easily for Adrial Dale as it did for his friends. Standing on the sidelines, Dale watched his pals saunter up to women, cool and confident, perfect for the pickup scene.

But Dale could never bring himself to do it. He was terrified about having to reveal a secret, one that had brought him shame for years.

Editors' note, Feb. 1, 2016: On Jan. 20, we reported on a statement from the American Psychological Association that a research paper, "Chronic Adolescent Marijuana Use as a Risk Factor for Physical and Mental Health Problems in Young Adult Men," had a statistical error. The APA now says that statement, which was titled "APA Corrects Article Regarding Teen Marijuana Use," should not have said there was an error in the paper. Jim Sliwa, a spokesman for the APA, told NPR: "There was no error.

Maybe it was last January's big measles outbreak at Disneyland that scared more California parents into getting their kids vaccinated. Or maybe health campaigns have become more persuasive. Or maybe schools getting stricter about requiring shots for entry made a difference.

Whatever the reasons, childhood vaccination rates last fall went up in 49 of 58 counties in California, according to data released Tuesday by state health officials.

Butte is an old mining town, tucked away in the southwest corner of Montana with a population of about 34,000. Locals enjoy many things you can't find elsewhere — campgrounds a quick drive from downtown and gorgeous mountain ranges nearby. But in Butte, as in much of rural America, advanced medical care is absent.

People in Butte who experience serious trauma or need specialty care rely on air ambulance flights to get them the help they need.

When Cathy Fields was in her late 50s, she noticed she was having trouble following conversations with friends.

"I could sense something was wrong with me," she says. "I couldn't focus. I could not follow."

Fields was worried she had suffered a stroke or was showing signs of early dementia. Instead she found out she had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Addicted to prescription painkillers after a high-school sports injury, Cameron Burke moved on to heroin, which was cheaper and more easily accessible. His parents tried everything, more than once sending him out of state for treatment.

"It was never enough," Jennifer Weiss-Burke of Albuquerque, N.M., told a local TV reporter last year. "Thirty days here, 30 days there, maybe detox for five days. It was never long-term, and that's what he needed. Recovery from heroin addiction requires long-term treatment."

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