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Asthma: A Persistent Threat

Twenty-five million Americans -- including 1 in 10 children -- have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But even as treatments for asthma have improved, total numbers of those affected by the chronic disease haven't declined over the past decade. Today we take a look at why asthma is so hard to defeat, and what the latest research suggests as a way forward.

SF Pledges Extra $1.2M to Cut Number of New HIV Cases to Zero

San Francisco wants to become the first city in the world to bring the number of new HIV infections and deaths to zero. On Thursday, the city said it's putting up another $1.2 million to do so. A key element is the HIV prevention pill Truvada, though it's been somewhat controversial.

PBS NewsHour

Meningitis strikes 3 U.S. college campuses in recent weeks

A colony of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis, a rare, but serious disease. Since the beginning
         of 2016, there have been four confirmed cases of meningitis on U.S. college campuses. Image courtesy of CDC

A colony of bacteria called Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis, a rare, but serious disease. Since the beginning of 2016, there have been four confirmed cases of meningitis on U.S. college campuses. Image courtesy of CDC

Meningitis has surfaced on three U.S. college campuses in the last few weeks, infecting four students and blamed for the death of a university employee, Inside Higher Ed reported.

Three Santa Clara University students fell ill in late January from meningitis-causing bacteria, spokeswoman Deepa Arora told the NewsHour. As a result of the bacterial infection, two students developed meningitis, which affects the lining of the brain and spinal cord. A third student developed septicemia, an infection of the bloodstream.

All three have been released from the hospital, she said.

The disease, which is rare, can cause severe neurological damage and death.

Most college students routinely get vaccinated against four forms of the disease, but not against a bacterial form known as “serogroup B,” which all three Santa Clara students caught. The Food and Drug Administration authorized vaccines for that particular strain in 2014, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended vaccines against this serogroup only for specific high-risk groups, including people facing an outbreak.

Santa Clara University has held four free vaccination clinics in the past week, including on Monday, vaccinating about 4,300 of its 9,000 students.

Meningitis, which is usually caused by either bacteria or a virus, spreads through close contact with an infected person. Coughing, kissing or sharing a drink can spread the disease. Symptoms include neck pain, fever, nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light, according to the CDC.

An employee at Argosy University in Alameda, California, died from the disease in late January. Although the small, for-profit college’s campus lies less than an hour’s drive from Santa Clara, an Argosy spokeswoman told the local CBS affiliate Thursday that the two campuses’ brushes with the disease were unrelated.

“Because bacterial meningitis is typically contracted through direct, close contact with someone who is infected, we have been advised that there is no indication of a significant health risk to the broader community,” spokeswoman Sherri Willis told the CBS station.

She added that the deceased employee had a different strain of the disease from students at Santa Clara.

A 19-year-old student at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, contracted a bacterial form of the disease and is now recovering, according to a statement released Thursday from the Zanesville-Muskingum County Health Department.

At all three campuses, those who had “direct contact” with an infected person – being within three feet of them for eight or more hours – were treated with preventive antibiotics.

The post Meningitis strikes 3 U.S. college campuses in recent weeks appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

News Wrap: CDC plays down major Zika outbreak risk in U.S.

Anne Schuchat (L) of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Anthony Fauci (R), director
         of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, speak with reporters during a press briefing about the Zika
         virus at the White House in Washington February 8, 2016.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  - RTX261DW

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

GWEN IFILL: Good evening. I’m Gwen Ifill.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And I’m Judy Woodruff.

GWEN IFILL: On the “NewsHour” tonight: countdown to the New Hampshire primary. We hear the candidates’ final pitches one day before voting.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Also ahead: why NATO and the U.S. plan on beefing up military forces against Russia.

GWEN IFILL: And Miles O’Brien on the ground in Brazil, the center of the Zika virus outbreak.

DR. ADRIANA SCAVUZZI, Obstetrician, IMIP: Try to solve the medical problem won’t be enough. You have to change the quality of people’s life. Otherwise, you will not solve this problem.

JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s “PBS NewsHour.”


And in the day’s other news, President Obama says he will ask Congress for more than $1.8 billion to fight the Zika virus. It’s to be part of the budget he rolls out tomorrow. But top health officials today played down the chances of a major Zika outbreak inside the United States.

At a White House briefing, Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counseled calm.

DR. ANNE SCHUCHAT, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: We do expect to see infection in people who have traveled and are returning home, but we aren’t expecting large-scale amounts of serious Zika infection. The recommendations for pregnant women were so that we could reduce the chances that pregnant women would unknowingly step into harm’s way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The virus is suspected of causing birth defects in Brazil and is spreading across Latin America. And there was word today that the U.S. Olympic Committee is now advising athletes that they should bypass the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro if they’re worried about Zika.

GWEN IFILL: The political shockwaves from North Korea’s latest missile launch are still reverberating. This Japanese TV footage shows the missile in flight shortly after Sunday’s launch. But in comments aired today, President Obama told CBS that it came as no surprise.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I think that we have been concerned about North Korea’s behavior for a while. This is an authoritarian regime. It’s provocative. It has repeatedly violated U.N. resolutions.

GWEN IFILL: North Korea says it placed a satellite in orbit. U.S. officials say it’s really cover for efforts to develop missiles that can carry nuclear warheads.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Rescuers in Taiwan have pulled four more survivors from the wreckage of Saturday’s earthquake. At least 38 people died in the quake that was centered in Southern Taiwan. More than 100 others are still missing. Two of those carried to safety today were 8-year-old-girl and her aunt who spent more than 60 hours trapped in a toppled apartment building.

GWEN IFILL: There’s been more tragedy in the Aegean Sea. Turkish officials say 27 people died in a shipwreck off Northwestern Turkey. The country’s coast guard recovered many of the bodies, with coffins waiting ashore for the victims. More than 370 people have died since January 1 trying to make the crossing to Greece.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A new Syrian government offensive is driving thousands more refugees toward Turkey. The Syrians advanced again today, north of the city of Aleppo, with the help of Russian warplanes and Iranian fighters.

Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News filed this report from inside Turkey. Some of the images may be disturbing.

JONATHAN RUGMAN, ITN: It was just after this Syrian child had been carried in an ambulance in Aleppo yesterday that another bomb fell.

The bombs don’t discriminate, and the fighting for Aleppo is now so intense that the Turks say up to 30,000 Syrian refugees are now camped out along their border. From the Turkish side, we can’t see any of them. What we can see are tents and aid going across and ambulances coming out.

Turkish hospitality appears to have reached its limit, though the cross-border trade in coffins could become even busier. Well, the Turks are certainly letting these aid trucks into Syria. They’re just not letting the Syrian refugees come out.

The Turks say they are full to capacity, that they’re trying to prevent an even bigger refugee exodus. But there may be another motive at work here, because, by keeping Syrian civilians inside the Syrian border, the Turks are effectively creating a buffer zone between the Turks and Syrian government forces and Kurdish forces and so-called Islamic State.

Of course, millions of Syrians were given sanctuary here before the border shut. They had assumed their relatives could join them, and now they can’t. Syrian rebels are sending reinforcement also, but they now claim that government forces are just 16 miles from the Turkish border.

And though the rebels are themselves using heavy weapons, Turkey and its Western allies are laying blame for the latest exodus firmly at the door of Russian airstrikes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the leaders of Germany and Turkey agreed today to make new diplomatic efforts to end the fighting at Aleppo. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she is — quote — “not just appalled, but horrified” at the toll taken by Russian bombing.

GWEN IFILL: Back in this country, Wall Street started the week with a new sell-off, as bank and tech stocks led the way down. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 178 points to close at 16027. It had been down as much as 400 earlier in the day. The Nasdaq fell 79 points, and is now off 20 percent from its peak last year. And the S&P dropped 26.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos returned to the Mile High City today, this time as Super Bowl champions. The Broncos used a punishing defense to beat the Carolina Panthers 24-10 on Sunday. TV ratings show almost 112 million Americans tuned in for what was the third Super Bowl victory in the Broncos’ history.

Still to come on the “NewsHour”: Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders court the middle class; campaign representatives and our Politics Monday duo break down what’s at stake in New Hampshire; Brazil battles Zika amid Carnival; plus, what could be the biggest military buildup in Eastern Europe since the Cold War.

The post News Wrap: CDC plays down major Zika outbreak risk in U.S. appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

In Brazil, a race to solve the mysteries of Zika virus


Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

Recife, Brazil, is the epicenter of an outbreak of the Zika virus, which has its origins in Africa and is spreading globally — fast.

Science correspondent Miles O’Brien traveled to Brazil this week, where he reports on the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the virus and the doctors and government health workers who are treating and tracking infant microcephaly, the neurological condition that might be linked to it. Microcephaly is a condition where a baby’s head is abnormally small. It often comes with permanent mental and physical problems.

At one hospital in the city, pediatric doctors would normally see about 10 cases of the condition a year. Since August, that number has jumped to 10 to 20 a month, he reports.

Health workers are searching for the smoking gun link between the virus and infant microcephaly, while troops attack mosquito breeding grounds and mothers of affected children face the long-term consequences, Miles reports. He also brings us to the labs where immunologists hope the Zika virus samples held in deep freeze will lay the groundwork for better diagnostic tests, therapies and maybe one day a vaccine.

Read the full transcript below:

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the growing effort to rein in the mosquito-borne Zika virus spreading through parts of South and Central America. It is suspected of being the cause devastating birth defects in children who are born to women who become infected during pregnancy.

Our science correspondent, Miles O’Brien, has been reporting on developments from Brazil, which has been hard-hit by the virus.

Tonight, he looks at ways doctors and scientists are racing to get ahead of the outbreak.

MILES O’BRIEN: It’s Carnival week in Brazil, the raucous run-up to Lent, when people take to the streets to party their worries away. But this year, it’s harder to mask reality, as a frightening epidemic also marches through the nation.

DR. ADRIANA SCAVUZZI, Obstetrician, IMIP: They come to us asking many questions, and we cannot say almost nothing with 100 percent sure. What we have to do is to support them. That’s all we have to do.

MILES O’BRIEN: Dr. Adriana Scavuzzi is an obstetrician at one of the largest hospitals in Recife, the epicenter of a fast-moving outbreak of the Zika virus, a flavivirus virus in the same family as yellow fever, West Nile and dengue.

In each case, the virus hitchhikes on a tenacious day-biting mosquito called Aedes aegypti that has origins in Africa and is now spreading throughout the globe. Two-month-old Nicollas Pereira has an abnormally small head, microcephaly.

Doctors at this hospital would normally see 10 cases like this a year. But starting in August, there were suddenly 10 to 20 a month.

Dr. Ana Van Der Linden is a pediatric neurologist. She says Nicollas must contend with an array of permanent mental and physical problems.

DR. ANA VAN DER LINDEN, Pediatric Neurologist, IMIP (through interpreter): With this impairment, we see that reflex reactions are good, but voluntary actions that depend on better brain development will be impaired. He will have bad motor skills and mental development. He can also have abnormal vision, hearing disorders and bone malformation.

MILES O’BRIEN: His mother, Elizangela, says she developed a rash while she was pregnant. As it turns out, she had the Zika virus, apparently after a mosquito bite.

ELIZANGELA PEREIRA (through interpreter): Sometimes, I worry. Sometimes, I wonder if he will survive, but I always believe that God will help. My only fear is losing him. But I’m at peace.

MILES O’BRIEN: Elizangela’s personal tragedy is part of an unprecedented global mystery.

DR. LAURA RODRIGUES, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine: I think this is one of the most unexpected epidemiological situations, maybe in decades.

MILES O’BRIEN: Laura Rodrigues is an epidemiologist with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who raced to her home country to help answer some questions in a hurry.

Even the numbers are a challenge. Brazilian government health workers are investigating more than four thousand suspected microcephaly cases that might be linked to Zika.

DR. LAURA RODRIGUES: There is so much we don’t know, and one of the things we don’t know is exactly how many babies are affected. Right now, there are pregnant women being exposed and possibly infected. It’s very difficult to predict.

MILES O’BRIEN: Zika’s enigmatic history offers us few clues. It was first isolated in Uganda in 1947. It circulated in Africa and a broad stretch of Asia, then popped up in the Pacific in 2007. The biggest outbreak, in 2013, was in French Polynesia, an estimated 19,000 cases.

But over the years, no one paid a lot of attention to Zika because the symptoms are generally mild. In fact, four out of five never know they have it. No one is sure why it took such a vicious turn.

DR. LAURA RODRIGUES: It could be biogenetic mutation of the virus, and it could be that just once they escaped Africa and got into urban, very densely populated areas, it was easier to transmit, or it could be something else, the mosquito maybe. It’s all happening very, very fast.

MILES O’BRIEN: Making a smoking gun connection between Zika in mothers and microcephaly in their unborn children is a challenge for scientists.

By the time infants are diagnosed, the virus is usually long gone. But here in Recife, the case grew stronger last week. At this government lab, researchers used a new test and found Zika antibodies in the spinal fluid of 12 babies with microcephaly, meaning the virus can reach the baby’s nervous system and brain in utero. Researchers believe the virus targets nerve cells as a fetus develops.

RAFAEL FRANCA, Immunologist: So this is where we keep the virus.

MILES O’BRIEN: Rafael Franca is an immunologist here. He showed me the deep freeze where they keep the Zika samples for research that will lay the groundwork for a better diagnostic test, therapies and maybe one day a vaccine.

RAFAEL FRANCA: I cannot say that we have the situation under control. I believe now the only way to control virus’ spreading is to eliminate the vector.

MILES O’BRIEN: That vector is the mosquito. In nearly every case, Zika is transmitted by a mosquito bite. The Brazilian government has deployed nearly 250,000 troops to wage war with the insects.

They have been spraying insecticides and adding larvicides to standing water where mosquitoes lay their eggs.

Gaspar Canuto is a Recife government health worker.

How much of this is to show the public you are doing something?

GASPAR CANUTO, Recife Public Health Worker (through interpreter): One hundred percent of this action is aiming to reduce the incidence of mosquitoes and also of the disease.

MILES O’BRIEN: Efforts like this, while well-intentioned, seem unlikely to stop the outbreak anytime soon in Brazil or in other countries hit by Zika, especially in Latin America.

The scale of this is pretty mind-boggling. A single female mosquito in her short lifetime will lay hundreds of eggs. And she’s looking for a place like this, standing water, not much more than a puddle. But what is really interesting is, that’s about al the water she needs.

With all this in mind, the Brazilian government is warning citizens that standing water can be dangerous. But in this slum in Recife, there is no running water.

DR. ADRIANA SCAVUZZI: Can you imagine a family that they don’t have even tap water? They have to keep water in the containers. So it makes the perfect environment for the mosquito. To try to solve the medical problem won’t be enough. You have to change the quality of people’s life. Otherwise, you will not solve this problem.

MILES O’BRIEN: Doctors here say the biggest frustration is they can’t fix what ails these babies, all because of a single mosquito bite. It has dramatically changed Elizangela’s life. She had to quit her job as a farmworker to care for little Nicollas.

ELIZANGELA PEREIRA (through interpreter): I think I will be here at the hospital forever. I do not know if he will be able to walk. I don’t know, but I believe that God will help me.

MILES O’BRIEN: One woman’s sad, but hopeful prayer this Carnival season. It’s still a time to try and forget your troubles, but in Brazil this year, a steady drumbeat of worry seems impossible to ignore.

Miles O’Brien, the PBS NewsHour, Recife, Brazil.

The post In Brazil, a race to solve the mysteries of Zika virus appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Obama asking Congress for emergency funding to combat Zika

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus.
         In an announcement Monday, the White House said the money would be used to expand mosquito control programs, speed development
         of a vaccine, develop diagnostic tests and improve support for low-income pregnant women. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama is asking Congress for more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding to help fight the Zika virus. In an announcement Monday, the White House said the money would be used to expand mosquito control programs, speed development of a vaccine, develop diagnostic tests and improve support for low-income pregnant women.

Zika virus disease is mainly spread by mosquitoes. Most people who catch it experience mild or no symptoms. But mounting evidence from Brazil suggests that infection in pregnant women is linked to abnormally small heads in their babies — a birth defect called microcephaly.

“What we now know is that there appears to be some significant risk for pregnant women and women who are thinking about having a baby,” Obama said in an interview aired Monday on “CBS This Morning.”

The White House said that as spring and summer approach, the U.S. must prepare to quickly address local transmission with the continental U.S. Obama added, however, that “there shouldn’t be a panic on this.”

The Pan American Health Organization reports 26 countries and territories in the Americas with local Zika transmission. To date, there has not been transmission of the Zika virus by mosquitoes within the U.S., but some Americans have returned to the U.S. with Zika infections from affected countries in South America, Central America, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 50 laboratory-confirmed cases among U.S. travelers from December 2015- February 5, 2016, the White House said.

So far, the only recent case that has been transmitted within the U.S. is believed to have occurred in Texas through sex.

Zika usually is transmitted through bites from infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are common in Florida, along the Gulf Coast and states that border Mexico.

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