Health Headlines

mseidelch/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Despite the pressing health concerns associated with climate change, only about half of 101 countries surveyed by the World Health Organization had national plans in place to address those problems, and fewer than 20% of those plans have been put into action.

In the face of that inaction, climate change continues to wreak havoc on world health, according to a report published Wednesday in The Lancet. Not only was 2018 the fourth-hottest year on record, it was a year of prime weather conditions for disease transmission.

As temperatures continue to increase, so do accompanying health problems, including the risk for infectious diseases and exposure to wildfires.

2018 saw the ideal conditions for the transmission of dengue, a mosquito-transmitted disease, as well as conditions suitable for diarrhoeal disease, a major killer of young children in areas that lack clean drinking water and sufficient sanitation.

At the same time, 152 countries saw a noticeable increase in their population’s exposure to wildfires, and 220 million additional older adults were exposed to heatwaves, compared to baseline levels.

Despite increasing public and political attention, such as heightened interest around school climate strikes, "the world is yet to see a response from governments which matches the scale of the challenge," the report’s authors wrote. "The health implications of this are apparent today and will most certainly worsen without immediate intervention."

The report builds on much of what already know about climate change and related health issues from years past.

Extreme weather, a predicted effect of climate change, is linked to health problems like heat stroke, dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. Air pollution, which is associated with respiratory illnesses, heart disease, stroke and cancer, kills more than 7 million people around the globe each year, according to the World Health Organization.

And in a world where hurricanes, floods and wildfires are more frequent, political instability and mental health problems can be downstream consequences of catastrophic weather events.

In addition to anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists preterm birth, low birth weight and maternal complications as potential consequences of "intensely stressful" exposure to extreme weather.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Photo Credit: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(NEW YORK) -- More people in the United States are dying from antibiotic-resistant infections than previously believed, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report out on Wednesday.

The latest data in the AR Threats Report showed that antibiotic-resistant fungi and bacteria cause more than 2.8 million infections each year. It also found that there are 35,000 antibiotic-resistant infection deaths each year.

The CDC pointed to "data sources not previously available" for the updated information. The altered figures show nearly twice as many annual deaths from antibiotic-resistant infections than the agency reported in 2013.

Since that time, the CDC says, prevention efforts have reduced deaths by 18 percent. But, according to a press release, "without continued vigilance...this progress may be challenged by the increasing burden of some infections."

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(Credit: Rochelle Steffen/Macs Mission) Narwhal, a 10-week-old rescue puppy with an extra tail on his forehead, was found in rural Missouri by Mac's Mission.(JACKSON, Mo.) -- Meet Narwhal, a perfectly healthy rescue puppy with a surprising physical feature that makes him extra special.

The 10-week-old furball who was rescued by Mac's Mission -- a nonprofit dog rescue that predominately helps pups with special needs -- has a small tail-like growth on his forehead.

Founder Rochelle Steffen told ABC News that they found the adorable light brown dog at a dump site in rural Jackson, Missouri, where she said "hundreds" [of dogs] have been dumped.

"He had x-rays and a vet visit yesterday and is a perfectly healthy puppy, with an extra tail on his face," she explained. "There is no medical need to remove it currently and it is a third the size of his actual tail."

The adorable light brown boy with a black nose and big brown eyes is thought to be a Daschund and Beagle mix, Steffen said.

"He is in no pain and plays for hours," she added.

Mac's Mission focuses on helping dogs with deformity, clefts and trauma "since those get euthanized far more than any others and there is a great need to give them a chance," Steffens said. "We give them that chance."

Because the nonprofit life-saving efforts are strictly grassroots through social media, Steffens explained that Narwhal's story getting so much attention has been "majorly epic for so many new folks to find out about our little awesome rescue."

"We really love our little Narwhal and the others he is helping here with the attention!"

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MarianVejcik/iStock(GENEVA) -- The world's first Ebola vaccine is finally approved, a critical move that opens the door for its use in countries at high risk for the infectious disease.

Just 48 hours after the European Commission granted marketing authorization for the vaccine, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday that it had also pre-qualified the vaccine, meaning it meets the WHO's quality, safety and efficacy standards.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO's director-general, called the approval "a historic step" toward making sure people who need the vaccine most have access to it.

"Five years ago, we had no vaccine and no therapeutics for Ebola," he said in a statement. "With a pre-qualified vaccine and experimental therapeutics, Ebola is now preventable and treatable."

Ebola, which is spread through contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person, is rare, but frequently fatal. Death rates among those who contract Ebola range from 25 percent to 90 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

The vaccine, known as Ervebo, which is manufactured by U.S. drug-maker Merck, is currently being used in a "compassionate use" capacity in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the site of an ongoing Ebola outbreak. That outbreak is the second-largest, second-deadliest Ebola outbreak on record.

Since August 2018, more than 3,000 people in DRC have tested positive for Ebola virus, according to Congolese health officials. More than 2,000 people have died from the disease during that time. Over the last year, more than 250,000 have been vaccinated against Ebola in the DRC, using the Merck vaccine.

A second experimental vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, which requires two doses, is expected to be deployed in the 2 million-person city of Goma soon, according to Congolese health officials.

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Sergey Mikheev/iStock(HAMILTON, Ohio) -- A Catholic high school in Ohio will drug test all of its student beginning in January 2020.

Stephen T. Badin High School, located in the city of Hamilton, will launch the required testing as part of its health and wellness initiative to keep the campus and students drug free, according to a letter from the school on Tuesday.

"Given the great pressure our students face, now is the time to take an even more aggressive stance against the threat of drug use," the letter read.

The school will only release the results of positive tests to a student, a student's parents or guardians and, depending on the circumstances, medical or counseling personnel for substance abuse screening with the parent's permission.

If a student refuses, the test will be treated as a positive test.

"Every student who attends this school, as well as his/her parent(s) or guardian(s), freely and willingly consent to allow the student to undergo drug testing," according to the letter.

Disciplinary actions will vary depending on if it is a student's first offense, and they have not been caught otherwise with substances on campus, or if there have been multiple offenses.

If more than one offense is registered, it could "jeopardize the student's enrollment at the school and could result in dismissal," according to the letter.

A comprehensive intervention plan will also be developed on a second offense.

Badin High School will let students know what tests, which will be administered by Great Lakes Biomedical, will be conducted and the results.

Each student will be tested at least once annually and may also be tested if "a member of the faculty, staff or administration suspects them of being under the influence of a controlled substance."

Students may be tested at random and there is no maximum number of times a student may be tested, the letter states.

Parents who think their child's test has resulted in a false positive can request an immediate second test.

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ABC(NEW YORK) -- When 20-year-old Disney Channel star Cameron Boyce died unexpectedly in early July, fans were stunned to learn it was from having a seizure in his sleep.

Just four months after his death, his family and friends are coming together for a PSA to shine a light on the condition.

"We don't want anybody to lose their child to anything," Cameron Boyce's father, Victor told ABC News' Good Morning America. "'Cause this feeling is just the worst. And, you know, no parent should have to go through this."

In August, Victor and his wife, Libby, opened up to Good Morning America and revealed that Cameron had epilepsy, a neurological disorder that actively affects about 3.4 million people in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

His mother said that he had his first seizure at the age of 16 1/2.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, a person is diagnosed if they have "two unprovoked seizures (or one unprovoked seizure with the likelihood of more)." It affects men and women of all ages and can be caused by many factors, including trauma to the head, a stroke, a brain tumor, certain infectious diseases or electrolyte abnormalities.

And according to the CDC, around 1 in 1,000 people in the U.S. die every year from Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy.

"We never felt like it would take his life," Victor said of his son's condition. "We just thought it was something you have to manage."

In their PSA, Victor and Libby are trying to raise awareness -- and raise funds for more research into epilepsy.

"We could have had a lot more education, and people need education," said Libby Boyce. "We're glad that Cameron is bringing this to the world, for people who have epilepsy to go check with their doctor and be more assertive and ask them for information. … It's a very serious disease."

Victor and Libby have teamed up with Sally Schaeffer, the Institute Director for SUDEP, who also lost her 7-year-old daughter five years ago after she suffered a rare form of epilepsy in her sleep.

"I am a mom who lost my little girl, and I'm ... I'm mad," Schaeffer told Good Morning America. "I'm mad and I'm angry 'cause I don't have her here anymore, and I live with that every single day."

Like the Boyces, Schaeffer never imagined losing her daughter to SUDEP.

"There's times I still hold so much guilt that what else could I have done? What else could I have done or should have done?" she said.

So Schaeffer helped bring awareness about the disease through the SUDEP institute. When Schaeffer heard about Cameron's story, it resonated with her and she reached out to the Cameron Boyce Foundation that Victor and Libby began after Cameron's death.

"As I told Victor and Libby when we met, it is so sad why we're all sitting here," Schaeffer said. "But taking Cameron's legacy and bringing this awareness is going to move mountains. I truly believe it's going to move mountains in terms of awareness of epilepsy and definitely SUDEP."

Since Victor and Libby started the Cameron Boyce Foundation in August, they've learned that more people are going to their physician's offices actively seeking education and awareness about epilepsy.

They hope that their new partnership with the Epilepsy Foundation SUDEP Institute will raise more awareness.

"We want to shine more light on epilepsy, get more funding, get more research, get more people involved," Victor added. "And we hope that Cameron's reach can do that."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Courtesy Romar Lyle(NEW YORK) -- Romar Lyle’s dream job was becoming a police officer, and now thanks to a nearly 200-pound weight loss, his dream has become a reality.

Lyle grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and said he and his friends sometimes would have their possessions stolen.

Whenever that happened, Lyle said he felt "hopeless" and wanted to learn why people do such things. Therefore, he went for a degree in psychology and criminal justice. After graduating, he sought a master’s degree in investigative forensics.

While studying for his master's, he began working as a resident director helping students with mental health incidents, sexual assault and other issues on campus. He began riding along with university police officers and decided he wanted to become an officer after graduating. There was one thing in the way of obtaining his dream job -- his weight. Lyle weighed 405 pounds and knew that would be a problem meeting the physical demands of the job.

“When I was doing my master's I knew I was overweight,” he said. “I knew I needed to lose weight, but it was just so hard.”

In late 2015, Lyle said his supervisor told him about a CrossFit gym he went to that was five minutes from campus and invited him along. Lyle said he had hesitations about going because he felt uncomfortable about his weight. However, he went, but told himself he wouldn’t stick with it.

“I’ll never forget that first workout,” Lyle said. “We had to run 400 meters and instead I just ran 100 meters. By the time it took me to get there the people had already run the 400 meters and were on their way back. I wanted to cry.”

But he got cheers from his gym classmates.

“I remember saying to myself, ‘Wow nobody’s laughing.'" Lyle said. "Everyone was encouraging.”

With the support of his trainers and fellow gym goers, Lyle soon started going to CrossFit every day. The change of lifestyle also brought a change of perspective.

“I kept going, and I started to love it. It wasn’t even about weight loss anymore. I genuinely had fun working out and trying to build a better life,” Lyle said. “Before, I knew I couldn’t work in law enforcement, but the more time went by the more I thought, ‘Wait, this is actually possible.’”

Lyle earned his master's in 2017 and had lost enough weight to get into the police academy. The academy -- seven months of physical and mental training -- proved to be Lyle’s biggest challenge.

“It was so challenging and draining, but I kept trying to push myself each day,” Lyle said. “One of the other recruits said, ‘You motivate me to do this every day.’ It was just having that support to keep going that got me through. Every day is a new day to be a lot healthier for me than that day I was before.”

By the time he graduated from the academy, Lyle had lost 183 pounds.

For anyone who feels their weight is holding them back from their goals, Lyle says it’s all about “baby steps.”

“Start to make different choices and don’t go cold turkey. It’s a small step and eventually it will click. It just gets better and better from there,” Lyle said. “It doesn’t happen all in one day. It’s a lifestyle change. Find people who support you in that change and focus on what you want to do.”

Now weighing just 222 pounds and working as an officer, Lyle says he is “exactly where he needs to be.”

“I’m in a good place where I feel happier and healthier,” Lyle said. “I can’t wait to see where I can go from here.”

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Molly DeFrank(FRESNO, Calif.) -- When a Fresno, California, mom's children were acting up, she, at first, wasn't quite sure what was behind it.

"Was it sugar or lack of sleep?" Molly DeFrank asked herself.

DeFrank then notice they were particularly grumpy when it came time to turning off their screens. And then one day, it was the final straw.

"I came home and the first thing my son said to me was 'can I play on your phone?'" the mom of five told ABC News' Good Morning America. "That was it."

Over dinner, DeFrank and her husband broke the news to their kids: There would be a 30-day ban on screens.

That was nine months ago.

"What started as a 30-day detox became a complete technology overhaul for our home," she said. "I wish we had done it sooner."

The kids were initially upset by the news. But, they adjusted quickly, DeFrank said.

They built more couch forts and played more LEGOs, she said. They fought less and read more.

At first, DeFrank said, they looked to their parents for entertainment.

"I just thought about what I did during my childhood," she told GMA. "I told them 'go climb a tree or collect bugs. And if you're still bored I have piles of laundry for you to fold.'"

The kids, ages 4 to 10, get along better and DeFrank said she's been able to spot their interests.

"My daughter is just reading non-stop," she said. "And I found out my son loves non-fiction. I never knew that before."

Now, the family will gather to watch a movie once in awhile and the kids have one hour of screen time on Sundays.

DeFrank said it's something she and her husband are continuously evaluating. After all, she doesn't believe technology is bad; far from it.

"We just want to remain in a place where technology works for us," DeFrank said. "And not the other way around."

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peterspiro/iStock(DETROIT) -- A Michigan teen was facing "imminent death" when he received a historic double lung transplant as a result of a vaping-related illness, doctors said.

A Michigan teen was facing "imminent death" when he received a historic double lung transplant as a result of a vaping-related illness, doctors said.

"This teenager faced imminent death had he not received a lung transplant," Hassan Nemeh, surgical director of thoracic organ transplant at Henry Ford Hospital, said at press conference Tuesday. "His lung damage was like nothing I have ever seen, and I’ve been doing lung transplants for 20 years."

Nemeh did not disclose what substance the teen was vaping or for how long, but he said the illness left him with thick, damaged lung tissue that had no chance of healing.

"This is an evil that I haven’t faced before," Nemeh, who helped perform the transplant along with a team of experts in Detroit, said. "The damage that these vapes do to people’s lungs is irreversible. Please think of that -- and tell your children to think of that."

Public health departments in 24 states have confirmed at least 40 deaths linked to vaping and the CDC said it is aware of more than 2,051 probable cases of illness related to vaping. Henry Ford doctors have not been able to pinpoint exactly what's causing the injuries, but the hospital said its firm recommendation is that vaping products should not be used.

The Michigan teen's case began on Sept. 5 when he was admitted to St. John Hospital with symptoms of what appeared to be pneumonia. As his ability to breathe became worse, he was intubated a week later.

He was transferred to Henry Ford in critical condition on Oct. 3 and placed on the organ transplant waiting list on Oct. 8, doctors said. The lung damage due to vaping was so severe -- and he was so close to death -- that he immediately shot to the top of the transplant waiting list, which ultimately led to the successful transplant on Oct. 15.

The hospital did not reveal any information about the identity of the teen or his donor, but said he was taken off the ventilator on Oct. 27 and is now working on walking again and regaining his strength. He was still in the hospital as of Tuesday and is expected to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility soon.

"This is a preventable tragedy and we have so much respect for this family for allowing us to share their pain to prevent the same from happening to others," Nemeh said.

The teen's family, which said he developed the illness at the age of 16, said he was a healthy, active and athletic kid before "the horrific life-threatening effects of vaping" took affect.

"He has gone from the typical life of a perfectly healthy 16-year old athlete -- attending high school, hanging out with friends, sailing and playing video games -- to waking up intubated and with two new lungs, facing a long and painful recovery process as he struggles to regain his strength and mobility, which has been severely impacted," the family said in a statement shared by the hospital. "We are forever grateful to the organ donor and their compassionate family for making the selfless decision to donate the gift of life."

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ClaudioVentrella/iStock(NEW YORK) --  Multiple strains of bacteria can combine to create a potentially deadly flesh-eating infection, according to a newly published case by researchers.

When a patient arrived at a hospital with necrotizing fasciitis, a flesh-eating infection, doctors did not know that the infection in question compromised multiple strains of bacteria. To save the patient's life, doctors had to perform a quadruple amputation.

The case, detailed in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday, explains the rapid progression of the patient's infection. The study's findings could have implications for the general public.

Necrotizing fasciitis is serious, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection, with one out of three people dying from the infection, even with treatment.

"Initially, nobody really knew that there were different strains of the bacteria," explained Ashok Chopra, co-author of the study and a microbiologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Based on a reliable test, everyone presumed there was one bacteria involved.

"When we started doing further investigation, we found that there were different strains," Chopra said.

It's an important distinction, since different strains of bacteria can have different antibiotic-resistant patterns. One strain could be sensitive to certain antibiotics, while another strain is not, meaning that the resistant strain could continue to multiply and cause disease.

To treat multiple strains and administer the best possible treatment to patients, researchers need better diagnostic tools. Traditional diagnostic techniques could take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours before doctors know exactly what kind of infection they're dealing with, Chopra explained.

If that diagnostic period, including differentiating between strains, was reduced to three or four hours, it would be a game-changer.

"I think we could save many more lives if we know exactly what kind of a treatment has to be given," Chopra said.

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PavelKant/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump has indicated that he may be open to stepping back from a full ban on flavored vaping products, saying on Twitter that he will meet with pro-vaping advocates and others to discuss plans after the White House canceled meetings with them last week.

Trump said on Friday the administration would announce the next steps in its action to curb youth use of the devices this week, including raising the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. A tweet from the president on Monday made it unclear when that will move forward.

Trump tweeted, “Will be meeting with representatives of the Vaping industry, together with medical professionals and individual state representatives, to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma. Children’s health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!"

Will be meeting with representatives of the Vaping industry, together with medical professionals and individual state representatives, to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma. Children’s health & safety, together with jobs, will be a focus!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2019

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Trump announced in September the administration's move to ban all flavored e-cigarette or vape products that were not tobacco-flavored. At the time, Trump said "we are going to have some very strong rules and regulations" to prevent teenagers from becoming addicted to nicotine.

Sweet flavors mimicking candy, fruit, or mint are popular among teenagers and are seen as one of the factors in the growing number of young people using e-cigarettes or vapes to smoke nicotine. The policy would only apply to nicotine products on the market, which are currently regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products containing THC, which the CDC has identified as a "strong culprit" in the vaping-related illnesses, are still considered illegal by the federal government.

Pro-vaping advocates are pushing for the president to focus on what they say would be the negative consequences of a strict ban, arguing that it could hurt small businesses such as vape shops. They also reminded Trump that adults also use flavored products. They held a rally outside the White House last weekend as part of their efforts to sway the president to consider the impacts of harsh regulations on vaping, some saying the administration's decision could even influence Trump's political chances in the 2020 election.

Gregory Conley, president of a pro-vaping group called the American Vaping Association, said they are optimistic the president will be open to hearing their concerns.

"We are cautiously optimistic about the future of vaping regulations under President Trump. The Trump administration appears to understand that adult smokers and vapers want access to a wide variety of flavored products, and not just mint and menthol," Conley said in a statement. "We believe that raising the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products to 21, in combination with new sales restrictions, is a much smarter path forward than prohibition."

On the other side, anti-tobacco advocates who are pushing for aggressive action against e-cigarette and vaping products say they’re concerned the administration is backing off its earlier plans and that any plan with exemptions, like banning mint but not menthol flavors, would be much less effective.

“If the Administration caves to these efforts, the e-cigarette industry and the political swamp will win and America’s kids will lose,” Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement.

Myers said his group urges the Trump administration to keep its promise to "moms, dads and kids across the country" and continue with the flavor ban.

"If it fails to do so, it will be responsible for allowing another addiction crisis to happen on its watch," he said in the statement. "It will give a green light to Juul and other e-cigarette companies to continue targeting kids with flavored products.”

White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joe Grogan said on Friday the administration is trying to balance the benefits of e-cigarettes as an alternative for adults with the risk of more kids and teenagers becoming addicted to nicotine through the same devices.

The White House declined to comment on the meetings or timing for a potential announcement on Tuesday, directing ABC News to the president's public remarks on the subject.

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Ridofranz/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As more and more advocates and organizations work to dispel the myths that boys are better at math than girls or that women don't belong in STEM fields, new data is supporting their case.

Boys and girls show the same brain activity when it comes to math, according to a new study published Friday in the journal Science of Learning.

The seven-year study, conducted in Rochester, New York, tested the brain activity of more than 100 children ages three to 10.

The children underwent functional MRI scans while watching 15 to 20-minute long clips of educational TV shows like "Sesame Street" that focused on basic math processing.

The three female co-authors of the study examined the kids' brain activity to look for things like how active was their brain over the course of the clip and at what points during the clip did their brain activity peak.

The result is one the co-authors hope will put an end to the lingering assumption that boys are better than girls at math.

"What we found is that there weren’t any differences in how children’s brains were working when they were watching the math videos," one of the co-authors, Alyssa Kersey, Ph.D., a post-doctoral research scholar at the University of Chicago, told "Good Morning America." "It allowed us to see that girls’ brain activity and boys’ brain activity is the same when it comes to math."

Kersey points out that while there has been behavioral research showing boys and girls perform the same on math, this new research is the first to find their brain activity is the same, too.

"It’s a new way to show these differences aren’t there," she said. "There doesn’t seem to be a biological difference at this early age."

Studying kids while they were just watching educational videos gave the researchers data on kids' brain activity around math when they were not feeling pressure to perform correctly, according to Kersey. There may be additional research to do on whether there are differences in brain activity between girls and boys when there is pressure to perform.

"There is definitely work showing that anxiety affects performance so if there is more anxiety among girls, that could affect performance," she explained.

Kersey added she hopes the reaction to the study is swift in breaking down any lasting stereotypes around women and STEM.

"It's important for parents and teachers to know about these results and to see there is the same potential for girls and boys to excel at math and so girls and boys should be given the same opportunities at home and at school to excel," she said. "I’ve been in this field for a while now but it’s nice to do work that you feel like has the potential to produce some sort of change more quickly."

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ABC News Photo Illustration, Adapted from the LexisNexis StateNet Database and the Immunization Action Coalition, May 2019 (ABC News)(ATLANTA) -- Cobb County, a suburban part of Atlanta, Georgia, confirmed a case of measles in an unvaccinated person, according to state health officials.

The individual may have exposed others to the infectious disease between Oct. 31 and Nov. 6, health officials said Saturday.

The case is the latest in what's been an explosive year for measles, with more than 1,250 cases reported in 30 states as of early October, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles, which is highly infectious, is characterized by symptoms like fever and a blotchy skin rash, according to the Mayo Clinic, and is spread by coughing, sneezing and close personal contact with people who have the disease.

Although in high-income countries, such as the United States, deaths from measles are relatively uncommon, the disease is a major killer worldwide. In 2017, there were 110,000 deaths linked to measles around the world, primarily among kids younger than 5, the World Health Organization reports.

Two new studies published last month also indicate that having measles can do long-term damage to the immune system.

In the wake of major outbreaks around the country, state are reconsidering rules about childhood vaccines. In June, New York State eliminated non-religious exemptions for vaccination, making it the fifth state in the nation to do so. Now all kids who attend school or daycare in the state must be vaccinated.

Forty five states -- including Georgia -- continue to permit religious exemptions for vaccination and 15 states still allow for personal belief exemptions for childhood vaccines.

In Georgia, after confirming the measles case in Cobb County, health department officials advised local residents to contact their doctor immediately if they think they have symptoms of measles.

"DO NOT go to the doctor’s office, the hospital, or a public health clinic without FIRST calling to let them know about your symptoms," the department said in a statement.

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Davizro/iStock(NEW YORK) -- A 13-year-old Broadway actress, Laurel Griggs, has died after an apparently fatal asthma attack.

Laurel appeared in the Tony award-winning show, Once. The musical shared news of the star's passing in a Facebook post Saturday.

"This beautiful young lady was part of our Once family. Please keep her family in your prayers."

Laurel's grandfather, David Rivlin announced her death on Facebook Nov. 6.

"It’s with heavy heart that I have to share some very sad news. My beautiful and talented granddaughter, Laurel Griggs, has passed away suddenly from a massive asthma attack. Mount Sinai was valiant in trying to save her but now she’s with the angels," Rivlin wrote.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton told Good Morning America that although asthma is a common lung condition, it can potentially be serious and in some cases, fatal.

"It's characterized by inflammation and narrowing of the passageways in our lung," Ashton said, adding that asthma can cause the following symptoms: wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and cough.

In some cases, Aston explained, asthma can lower blood oxygen levels.

Ashton said Laurel most likely died from severe asthma exacerbation, which can happen when a person does not respond to traditional treatments. The condition can last for hours and can become fatal once someone's oxygen levels drop beyond a certain point.

"We do have to remember though, still, it's rare," Ashton said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are over 6 million children under the age of 18 living with asthma. In 2017, 185 children died from asthma, the CDC reports.

How do parents know if an asthma attack is serious enough for an emergency room visit?

1. If your child stops talking to catch their breath.

2. They use their abdominal muscles to breathe.

3. They widen their nostrils when breathing in.

4. If you see a blue-ish tint to the lips or nail beds, that is an emergency.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


baona/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Despite decades of rigorous research, proving time and time again that vaccines are safe, and copious evidence that vaccines work, saving an estimated 732,000 children’s lives and preventing millions of hospitalizations over the last 20 years, the scientific community continues to fend off assaults from a relatively small number of ardent anti-vaccine advocates.

It’s a battle they shouldn’t be fighting, experts say. Like climate change, vaccine science is settled. By all conceivable logic, a medicine that prevents disease outright, rather than treating symptoms, should be universally embraced. Nonetheless, a handful of anti-vaccine leaders, who mistakenly believe that vaccines cause autism, continue to fight a ground war of disinformation, spreading propaganda to skittish new moms and dads and encouraging parents of children with autism to blame their children’s diagnoses on vaccines.

The consequences of that disinformation campaign are stark. This year marked the worst year for measles in the United States in decades, fueled by outbreaks in unvaccinated and undervaccinated communities around the country. In some ways, vaccination is a victim of its own success. Many younger people, without lived memory of the disease, don’t take the risk of contracting it seriously enough. And while measles deaths in high-income countries like the U.S. are rare, the disease killed 110,000 people worldwide in 2017, according to the World Health Organization. New research also indicates that contracting measles can cause long-term damage to the body’s immune system.

Increasingly, those same anti-vaccine leaders have their sights focused on a new target: they’re infiltrating minority groups with existing skepticism of the medical establishment and exploiting the historically fraught relationships those groups have with doctors.

“It’s really vile, predatory behavior,” Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said of the anti-vaccine leadership.

The “band of predators,” as Hotez dubbed them, includes Robert Kennedy Jr., a prominent anti-vaccine proponent, and Dr. Andrew Wakefield, who sparked the anti-vaccine movement with a now-debunked and retracted study and who is barred from practicing medicine because of numerous ethical violations.

They’ve already spread disinformation about vaccines in the Somali refugee population in Minnesota and Orthodox Jewish communities in New York State, which have both suffered severe measles outbreaks. Now all signs point to an effort to undermine the black community’s fragile relationship with doctors.

The failed enlistment
On paper, Harriet Washington might seem like the perfect target for the anti-vaccine movement.

Her work, including authoring the book "Medical Apartheid," has focused on African Americans being mistreated by certain medical professionals throughout history. So when Washington received an unexpected phone call from Kennedy roughly five years ago, she says he may have expected that her critique of racism in medicine translated into blanket distrust of established medicine.

During the conversation, Washington says she remembers discussing Kennedy's claim to her that African-American boys were being used in secret vaccine experiments, and a subsequent parallel she says Kennedy drew to the infamous Tuskegee experiment.

"He was clearly trying to enlist me," claimed Washington.

But when Washington, who worked for years as a science journalist, pushed back at Kennedy, asking for proof to back up the connections he was making (and has made before), "He became very angry and began shouting at me," she said.

The conversation continued to digress, Washington said, with Kennedy suggesting that she "was somehow being disloyal to African Americans."

Then Kennedy hung up, she said. Kennedy denied raising his voice and told ABC News Washington’s claim that he implied she was unsupportive of the African-American community was "invented, crazy and just wrong."

Kennedy was set to be featured in a controversial vaccine forum hosted by Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN) in the historically African American Harlem neighborhood of New York City in October, until Sharpton pulled out at the last minute.

A spokesperson for NAN told ABC News that Sharpton canceled the event because he "was told that both sides would be present." "Both sides of this argument needs to be presented and heard. When this was shown 'NOT' to be the case, Rev. Sharpton canceled this event," the spokesperson said.

Hotez said he found it "interesting that Sharpton's exit excuse was that his people couldn't ensure that ‘both sides would be heard," noting that putting pro- and anti-vaccine sides on equal footing sends a "chilling message that the misinformation from the anti-vax camp is somehow equivalent to the consensus of the scientific community."

Public health experts breathed a sigh of relief. They'd feared that Sharpton, an influential figure in the black community, might lend credibility to the anti-vaccine movement.

Evoking civil rights to push an anti-vaccine agenda
That relief was short-lived.

After Sharpton pulled out, Kennedy’s anti-vaccine group, Children’s Health Defense, secured a new venue for the event: the Riverside Church, an imposing Gothic cathedral just outside Harlem and the site of an impassioned anti-Vietnam War speech Martin Luther King Jr. delivered in 1967.

Parents in the diverse crowd pushed baby strollers back and forth and some onlookers filmed the event with their cellphones and scribbled down notes. Others thumbed through anti-vaccine books they’d picked up at an information booth in the back of the room and passed around bumper stickers and fliers advising attendees of which anti-vaccine candidates to vote for in November’s election.

Only one medical doctor, pediatrician Dr. Lawrence Palevsky, took the stage during the event. Palevsky, who is frequently cited in anti-vaccine pamphlets and who spoke at a predominantly Orthodox Jewish anti-vaccine rally this spring, made sweeping connections between vaccines and nearly every modern-day health problem.

By the time Kennedy, who was to headline the event, took the microphone, the forum had stretched well beyond its allotted 3.5 hours and a representative from the church cut the event short. Kennedy was ushered out a side door and the audience reconvened on the sidewalk just outside to hear him rail against the pharmaceutical industry’s role in creating what he called “the sickest generation in American history.”

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, a New York City-based civil rights organization, said that "interlopers" like Kennedy do a disservice to the African-American community when they appropriate civil rights language to further anti-science positions.

"I'm not seeing a scintilla of scientific evidence from any reputable public health expert that supports their claims," he said. "If you don't have that, do not come into our communities trying to trick, fool and bamboozle people and create artificial fear."

Before the MMR vaccine was available, kids regularly died of the measles and mumps, Morial, who has three kids, cautioned.

"We're talking about something that's so serious. You're trying to convince parents to put their own children and the children in their community at risk," he added.

"These are contagious diseases, not something to play with."

Exploiting fears in the African-American community
Washington says her phone call with Kennedy was especially troubling because there’s a history of African Americans being mistreated by the medical establishment, a topic that she’s written extensively about.

In addition to the infamous Tuskegee experiment in the 1930s, during which the government purposely withheld treatment from black men who had syphilis as part of an unethical medical study, Washington’s book documents slaves being used in medical experiments and African Americans being disproportionately enrolled in non-beneficial research.

Then there's Henrietta Lacks, the African-American woman whose cells were harvested by doctors without her permission during surgery in the 1950s, and whose story became a book, and later a movie, starring Oprah Winfrey. Johns Hopkins says there weren't established practices for obtaining consent from patients to do research on their cells or tissue samples at the time.

Layered on top of those stories is persistent racial disparity among medical providers. While African Americans make up 13% of the population, only 6% of doctors are black.

While there’s no indication of widespread vaccine hesitancy in the black community and black children receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at comparable rates to white children, concerns about exploitation "contribute to potential distrust of vaccination and other health care interventions," explained Dr. Kristen Feemster, director of research for the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Targeted misinformation fueled outbreaks in Brooklyn and Minnesota
The Harlem forum was held barely a month after New York City health officials declared an end to the biggest a measles outbreak in the city in nearly three decades.

While the city fought to stop the outbreak and increase vaccination rates in the community, anti-vaccine groups held rallies about vaccine choice and distributed anti-vaccine pamphlets. Members of the Orthodox Jewish community received Robocalls inviting them to a "Vaccine Symposium" in upstate New York featuring Wakefield.

"Valid concerns can be manipulated. That's what really worries me most about this kind of targeted outreach," said Feemster, adding that building trust between the medical community and their patients, particularly in marginalized communities, is a slow process.

"Confidence and trust is one of the most important factors that contributes to vaccine hesitancy," Feemster said. "It’s also one that is most difficult to address."

It’s a personal matter for Hotez, who in addition to being a pediatrician and scientist, has a daughter with autism.

“If anyone were to have a reason to buy into the lie that is the vaccine-autism connection, it would be Peter Hotez," Arthur Caplan, the founding director of New York University's division of medical ethics, wrote in the forward to “Vaccines Did Not Cause Rachel’s Autism,” a book Hotez published last year about his experience.

Instead of giving in to the easy answers the anti-vaccine movement is selling, Hotez has spent his career promoting vaccination and trying to stamp out Wakefield and Kennedy’s disinformation campaigns.

“They’re really quite shameless,” Hotez said of the anti-vaccine movement’s leaders. “We'll have to see how this plays out.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserve


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