News Briefs: October 20, 2014

By Katherine La Puente

Recent updates on Ebola outbreak

  • Obama delivers speech Saturday to assuage growing public hysteria on recent Ebola cases in U.S.
  • Senegal is officially declared Ebola-free by World Health Organization (WHO) after an investigation of new incidents that lasted 42 days, twice the incubation period for the disease.
  • Two nurses affected with Ebola after caring for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the U.S., are now in the process of recovery. Many of those who have been exposed to these affected of Ebola are currently in a 21-day quarantine, either self-imposed or by government orders.
  • Many are calling for a travel ban for people coming from West African nations still experiencing the crises, primarily Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. Critics oppose as some believe such a ban would be ineffective, and in fact, cause worse consequences for the outbreaks in West Africa.
  • As of October 15, 2014, there are a total of 8,997 cases of Ebola; 5,006 laboratory-confirmed cases, and 4,493 total deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Pakistan reaches its highest number of polio cases in 15 years

Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio has not yet been eradicated, including Nigeria and Afghanistan. However, this year Pakistan has reached its record high since 1999, seeing 202 cases of polio thus far, in comparison to 13 cases this time last year. Despite leading efforts by countries such as India, who successfully eradicated polio in its own country in 2011, Pakistan is still struggling, as they continue to see poor vaccination rates nationwide. This is primarily due to health teams being targeted by militants for delivering vaccinations, viewing this as a mistrusted Western concept.

Supreme Court blocks Texas abortion law

House Bill 2, a bill in Texas signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry last year was blocked this week by the Supreme Court. This bill had banned abortions after 20 weeks and mandated costly regulations for clinics throughout the state that could not be afforded by the majority of abortion clinics, thus forcing them to shut down. Since the bill’s enactment, only 8 of the more than 40 clinics throughout the state were left open, leaving women with low access and sometimes having to travel over 150 miles to the nearest provider. Many of the previously closed clinics are now on their way to reopening and providing health services to women as the bill awaits further review of the constitutionality of some of the stringent requirements.

New study using stem cells shows improvement in patients’ visions

Results of a clinical trial now in its third year have been published with exciting results. The study focused on using stem cells to attempt to improve vision in patients suffering from degenerative diseases. Researchers used a small sample — only 18 patients, nine with atrophic age-related macular degeneration and Stargardt’s macular dystrophy. Following the patients over a period of 22 months, they have seen great improvement in pigmentation for 13 of their patients. Additionally, eight of their 13 patients had improvements in visual acuity, and all participants reported improvement in their general vision, according to a study published in The Lancet. Safety concerns of stem cells turning into tumors, differentiating into unwanted cell types, and possible immunological rejection did not result.

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