in Tiananmen Square, on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, when he reiterated China’s claim to Taiwan, a self-ruled island democracy. President Biden has mentioned four times that the United States is prepared to help Taiwan resist aggression. Each time his aides have walked back his comments somewhat, however, emphasizing that the United States retains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” regarding its support for the island.

Even a vague mention by Mr. Xi at the party congress of a timeline for trying to bring Taiwan under the mainland’s political control could damage financial confidence in both Taiwan and the mainland.

The most important task of the ruling elite at the congress is to confirm the party’s leadership.

Particularly important to business is who in the lineup will become the new premier. The premier leads the cabinet but not the military, which is directly under Mr. Xi. The position oversees the finance ministry, commerce ministry and other government agencies that make many crucial decisions affecting banks, insurers and other businesses. Whoever is chosen will not be announced until a separate session of the National People’s Congress next March, but the day after the congress formally ends, members of the new Politburo Standing Committee — the highest body of political power in China — will walk on a stage in order of rank. The order in which the new leadership team walks may make clear who will become premier next year.

a leading hub of entrepreneurship and foreign investment in China. Neither has given many clues about their economic thinking since taking posts in Beijing. Mr. Wang had more of a reputation for pursuing free-market policies while in Guangdong.

Mr. Hu is seen as having a stronger political base than Mr. Wang because he is still young enough, 59, to be a potential successor to Mr. Xi. That political strength could give him the clout to push back a little against Mr. Xi’s recent tendency to lean in favor of greater government and Communist Party control of the private sector.

Precisely because Mr. Hu is young enough to be a possible successor, however, many businesspeople and experts think Mr. Xi is more likely to choose Mr. Wang or a dark horse candidate who poses no potential political threat to him.

In any case, the power of the premier has diminished as Mr. Xi has created a series of Communist Party commissions to draft policies for ministries, including a commission that dictates many financial policies.

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4.4M Americans Roll Up Sleeves For Omicron-Targeted Boosters

Some Americans who got the new shots said they are excited about the idea of targeting the vaccine to the variants circulating now.

U.S. health officials say 4.4 million Americans have rolled up their sleeves for the updated COVID-19 booster shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted the count Thursday as public health experts bemoaned President Joe Biden’s recent remark that “the pandemic is over.”

The White House said more than 5 million people received the new boosters by its own estimate that accounts for reporting lags in states.

Health experts said it is too early to predict whether demand would match up with the 171 million doses of the new boosters the U.S. ordered for the fall.

“No one would go looking at our flu shot uptake at this point and be like, ‘Oh, what a disaster,'” said Dr. David Dowdy, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “If we start to see a large uptick in cases, I think we’re going to see a lot of people getting the (new COVID) vaccine.”

A temporary shortage of Moderna vaccine caused some pharmacies to cancel appointments while encouraging people to reschedule for a Pfizer vaccine. The issue was expected to resolve as government regulators wrapped up an inspection and cleared batches of vaccine doses for distribution.

“I do expect this to pick up in the weeks ahead,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha. “We’ve been thinking and talking about this as an annual vaccine like the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine season picks up in late September and early October. We’re just getting our education campaign going. So we expect to see, despite the fact that this was a strong start, we actually expect this to ramp up stronger.”

Some Americans who plan to get the shot, designed to target the most common Omicron strains, said they are waiting because they either had COVID-19 recently or another booster. They are following public health advice to wait several months to get the full benefit of their existing virus-fighting antibodies.

Others are scheduling shots closer to holiday gatherings and winter months when respiratory viruses spread more easily.

Retired hospital chaplain Jeanie Murphy, 69, of Shawnee, Kansas, plans to get the new booster in a couple of weeks after she has some minor knee surgery. Interest is high among her neighbors from what she sees on the Nextdoor app.

“There’s quite a bit of discussion happening among people who are ready to make appointments,” Murphy said. “I found that encouraging. For every one naysayer there will be 10 or 12 people who jump in and say, ‘You’re crazy. You just need to go get the shot.'”

President Biden later acknowledged criticism of his remark about the pandemic being over and clarified the pandemic is “not where it was.” The initial comment didn’t bother Murphy. She believes the disease has entered a steady state when “we’ll get COVID shots in the fall the same as we do flu shots.”

Experts hope she’s right, but are waiting to see what levels of infection winter brings. The summer ebb in case numbers, hospitalizations and deaths may be followed by another surge, Dowdy said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, asked Thursday by a panel of biodefense experts what still keeps him up at night, noted that half of vaccinated Americans never got an initial booster dose.

“We have a vulnerability in our population that will continue to have us in a mode of potential disruption of our social order,” Fauci said. “I think that we have to do better as a nation.”

Some Americans who got the new shots said they are excited about the idea of targeting the vaccine to the variants circulating now.

“Give me all the science you can,” said Jeff Westling, 30, an attorney in Washington, D.C., who got the new booster and a flu shot on Tuesday, one in each arm. He participates in the combat sport jujitsu, so wants to protect himself from infections that may come with close contact. “I have no issue trusting folks whose job it is to look at the evidence.”

Meanwhile, President Biden’s pronouncement in a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast Sunday echoed through social media.

“We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. But the pandemic is over,” President Biden said while walking through the Detroit auto show. “If you notice, no one’s wearing masks. Everybody seems to be in pretty good shape. And so I think it’s changing.”

By Wednesday on Facebook, when a Kansas health department posted where residents could find the new booster shots, the first commenter remarked snidely:

“But Biden says the pandemic is over.”

The president’s statement, despite his attempts to clarify it, adds to public confusion, said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy with the Kaiser Family Foundation in Washington.

“People aren’t sure when is the right time to get boosted. ‘Am I eligible?’ People are often confused about what the right choice is for them, even where to search for that information,” Michaud said.

“Any time you have mixed messages, it’s detrimental to the public health effort,” Michaud said. “Having the mixed messages from the president’s remarks, makes that job that much harder.”

University of South Florida epidemiologist Jason Salemi said he’s worried the president’s pronouncement has taken on a life of its own and may stall prevention efforts.

“That soundbite is there for a while now, and it’s going to spread like wildfire. And it’s going to give the impression that ‘Oh, there’s nothing more we need to do,'” Salemi said.

“If we’re happy with 400 or 500 people dying every single day from COVID, there’s a problem with that,” Salemi said. “We can absolutely do better because most of those deaths, if not all of them, are absolutely preventable with the tools that we have.”

New York City photographer Vivienne Gucwa, 44, got the new booster Monday. She’s had COVID twice, once before vaccines were available and again in May. She was vaccinated with two Moderna shots, but never got the original boosters.

“When I saw the new booster was able to tackle Omicron variant I thought, ‘I’m doing that,'” Gucwa said.

“I don’t want to deal with Omicron again. I was kind of thrilled to see the boosters were updated.”

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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STD, STI Cases Rise Each Year. Why Isn’t The U.S. Making Any Progress?

The pandemic might have made rising STD/STI numbers even worse. Health officials have urged action, but prevention efforts have stalled for years.

Public health has been top of mind for many the last couple of years, but there’s a public health problem that has largely flown under the radar: a growing rate of sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

The number of STD and STI cases among Americans have been rising steadily each year since 2014. Even the pandemic, which trapped millions inside their homes, didn’t really make a dent in those numbers, and it might have made it worse.

These rising numbers have led many health officials to raise an alarm and urge action. Many experts believe one of the causes behind this problem is the lack of knowledge about the basic principles of safe sex, typically taught in sex education classes.

In fact, a Centers for Disease Control survey from 2019 showed that nearly 46% of sexually-active high school students did not use a condom the last time they had sex. That’s a huge problem considering the fact that out of all new STDs reported to the CDC each year, half were among young people aged 15 to 24.

The numbers show there were 2.4 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2020, which is the most recent year of data.

Chlamydia is currently the most common STD in the U.S., with 1.6 million cases reported to the CDC that year. While its numbers saw a slight drop from 2016, the CDC notes that the drops are probably not really because of an actual drop in infections. Since chlamydia is usually asymptomatic, case rates are heavily influenced by screening coverage, which the pandemic worsened.

Although overall cases of STDs and STIs fell in the pandemic’s early months, the CDC acknowledges that’s likely due to the reduced frequency of in-person health care services, resulting in fewer screenings. STD test and lab supply shortages, the diversion of health workers to pandemic response teams, and lapses in health insurance due to unemployment also contributed. Plus, the pandemic came after years of cuts to public health funding.

As anticipated by many experts, numbers picked up again at the end of 2020, with other diseases like gonorrhea and syphilis surpassing 2019 levels, according to CDC data. Preliminary data from 2021 shows there were more than 2.5 million reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in that year, meaning STDs and STIs continued to increase during the second year of the pandemic too, with no signs of slowing.

The CDC says it’s likely, “…we may never know the full impact of the pandemic on STDs. What is clear, however, is the state of STDs did not improve in the United States. Prevention and control efforts remain as important as ever.”

But, the country’s prevention and control methods need work. Comprehensive sex ed programs would be a start on prevention among the most commonly affected age group, but robust public testing and information campaigns could help all Americans. Public health funding, however, has faced slashes for years, taking a toll on STD screening and prevention efforts.

“Public funding cuts will prevent the public health system, the safety net, of being able to track down people’s partners so that your index patient doesn’t get reinfected because their partner was also treated appropriately,” said Dr. Anna Maya Powell, co-director of the Johns Hopkins HIV Women’s Program. “It’s easy to say, ‘People should take personal responsibility and come in for care,’ but I think the picture is a lot more complex than that.”

Only 2.5% of all health spending in the U.S. — which is about $3.8 trillion — is spent on public health and prevention programs. Last year, the Biden administration did announce a $1.13 billion investment to strengthen the disease intervention specialists (DIS) workforce at the CDC, but much of that funding seems to be for the agency’s pandemic response. 

Still, there’s reason for some optimism: There has been progress on STDs and STIs since the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1980s and 90s. The STI spread rapidly in the country then, especially among certain groups, like men who have sex with other men. 

Years of public information campaigns and research into treatment brought numbers down through the early 2000s and to a stable level by 2013. More recent figures may seem to hint at further progress on the overall HIV cases during the early pandemic, but those figures are also misleading because of the sharp drop in testing.

Plus, many experts have criticized the focus of historic HIV treatment and prevention efforts as largely being focused on treating rich, white, gay men and transgender groups, leaving out many lower-income Americans, people of color and women.

Women in general face a greater burden when it comes to sexual health. Many studies have established that women have a higher biological risk for contracting many STIs and HIV than men, with a higher probability of transmission from men to women.

“Women tend to be more asymptomatic for a lot of a lot of the conditions we’re talking about,” Dr. Powell said. “Not having symptoms maybe gives people a false sense of security, and then they don’t come in to get the routine screening that they might have otherwise if things were open and accessible.”

Black women in particular suffer higher numbers of both HIV and other STDs like herpes, and many experts say public prevention efforts have failed to address these groups adequately. Overall, inconsistencies in access to health care and prevention programs across different demographics throughout the country have affected our national battle against STDs and STIs. 

“We have had data that shows consistently what we need to be doing in the sexually transmitted infections, those cases in reproductive health,” said Dr. Mati Hlatshwayo Davis, director of health for the city of St. Louis, Missouri. “We need to make sure that those policies are as standardized as possible so that they’re easily implementable and therefore easy to track data, data that then feeds back into the funding.”

Source: newsy.com

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End of COVID pandemic is ‘in sight’ -WHO chief

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Sept 14 (Reuters) – The world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of the World Health Organization said on Wednesday, his most optimistic outlook yet on the years-long health crisis which has killed over six million people.

“We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters at a virtual press conference.

That was the most upbeat assessment from the UN agency since it declared an international emergency in January 2020 and started describing COVID-19 as a pandemic three months later.

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The virus, which emerged in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, roiling global economies and overwhelming healthcare systems.

The rollout of vaccines and therapies have helped to stem deaths and hospitalisations, and the Omicron variant which emerged late last year causes less severe disease. Deaths from COVID-19 last week were the lowest since March 2020, the U.N. agency reported.

Still on Wednesday, he again urged nations to maintain their vigilance and likened the pandemic to a marathon race.

“Now is the time to run harder and make sure we cross the line and reap the rewards of all our hard work.”

Countries need to take a hard look at their policies and strengthen them for COVID-19 and future viruses, Tedros said. He also urged nations to vaccinate 100% of their high-risk groups and keep testing for the virus.

The WHO said countries need to maintain adequate supplies of medical equipment and healthcare workers.

“We expect there to be future waves of infections, potentially at different time points throughout the world caused by different subvariants of Omicron or even different variants of concern,” said WHO’s senior epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove.

With over 1 million deaths this year alone, the pandemic remains an emergency globally and within most countries.

“The COVID-19 summer wave, driven by Omicron BA.4 and BA.5, showed that the pandemic is not yet over as the virus continues to circulate in Europe and beyond,” a European Commission spokesperson said.

WHO’s next meeting of experts to decide whether the pandemic still represents a public health emergency of international concern is due in October, a WHO spokesperson said.

GLOBAL EMERGENCY

“It’s probably fair to say most of the world is moving beyond the emergency phase of the pandemic response,” said Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at Southampton University.

Governments are now looking at how best to manage COVID as part of their routine healthcare and surveillance, he said.

Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States have approved vaccines that target the Omicron variant as well as the original virus as countries prepare to launch winter booster campaigns.

In the United States, COVID-19 was initially declared a public health emergency in January 2020, and that status has been renewed quarterly ever since.

The U.S. health department is set to renew it again in mid-October for what policy experts expect is the last time before it expires in January 2023.

U.S. health officials have said that the pandemic is not over, but that new bivalent vaccines mark an important shift in the fight against the virus. They predict that a single annual vaccine akin to the flu shot should provide a high degree of protection and return the country closer to normalcy.

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Reporting by Manas Mishra, Khushi Mandowara in Bengaluru, Ahmed Aboulenein in Washington and Jennifer Rigby in London; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta, William Maclean, Josephine Mason, Elaine Hardcastle

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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U.S. May Expand Monkeypox Vaccine Eligibility To Men With HIV

By Associated Press
September 9, 2022

Currently, CDC recommends the vaccine to people who are a close contact of someone who has monkeypox or who believes they were exposed to the virus.

U.S. officials are considering broadening recommendations for who gets vaccinated against monkeypox, possibly to include many men with HIV or those recently diagnosed with other sexually transmitted diseases.

Driving the discussion is a study released Thursday showing that a higher-than-expected share of monkeypox infections are in people with other sexually transmitted infections.

Dr. John T. Brooks, chief medical officer for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s monkeypox outbreak response, said the report represents a “call to action.”

Brooks told The Associated Press on Thursday that he expected vaccine recommendations to expand and that “the White House, together with CDC, are working on a plan for what that will look like.”

Currently, the CDC recommends the vaccine to people who are a close contact of someone who has monkeypox; people who know a sexual partner was diagnosed in the past two weeks; and gay or bisexual men who had multiple sexual partners in the last two weeks in an area with known virus spread.

Shots are also recommended for health care workers at high risk of exposure.

The vast majority of monkeypox cases are in men who have sex with men who reported close contact with an infected person during sex. But the new CDC report suggested infections in people with HIV and other STDs may be a bigger issue than previously realized.

The report looked at about 2,000 monkeypox cases from four states and four cities from mid-May to late July.

It found 38% of those with monkeypox infections had been diagnosed with HIV, far higher than their share of the population among men who have sex with men.

The study also found that 41% of monkeypox patients had been diagnosed with an STD in the preceding year. And about 10% of those patients had been diagnosed with three or more different STDs in the prior year.

There were racial differences. More than 60% of Black Americans with monkeypox had HIV, compared with 41% of Hispanic people, 28% of White people and 22% of Asian Americans.

Jason Farley, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, said men of color who have sex with men should be at the front of the line for monkeypox vaccine doses. Within those racial and ethnic groups, the next priority should be anyone living with HIV or was recently diagnosed with a STD, he said.

The study has several limitations, including that the data may not be nationally representative, the authors said.

Brooks said the findings could lead to vaccines being recommended for people with recent STD infections, people with HIV, people taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medications to prevent HIV infection and, possibly, prostitutes.

Discussions of expanding eligibility will have to take into account supply of the two-dose vaccine. And any substantial expansion of monkeypox vaccination recommendations may also be subject to review by CDC’s outside vaccine advisers, health officials say.

Also on Thursday, the CDC sent a letter to state and local health departments that said federal funds for HIV and STD prevention can also now be used against monkeypox. Cases in the U.S. seem to be declining, officials say.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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In Pakistan, Fears Of Waterborne Diseases As Floods Recede

Doctors say they’re treating people suffering from diarrhea, skin infections and other waterborne ailments in the country’s flood-hit areas.

Officials in Pakistan raised concern Wednesday over the spread of waterborne diseases among thousands of flood victims as waters from powerful monsoon rains began to recede in many parts of the country.

Some doctors said initially they were seeing mostly patients traumatized by the flooding, but are now treating people suffering from diarrhea, skin infections and other waterborne ailments in the country’s flood-hit areas.

The development has forced the government to deploy additional medical teams, dispatch medicine and provide clean drinking water to survivors, many of whom are living in tents and makeshift homes.

The warning came a day after record-breaking floods prompted the United Nations to formally issue an appeal for $160 million in emergency funding to the impoverished Islamic nation, where about a million homes have been damaged or destroyed.

Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho, health minister in the country’s worst-affected province of Sindh, said officials have set up 4,210 medical camps in the province’s flood-hit areas to treat victims now suffering from skin and waterborne diseases, which are common during floods.

The World Health Organization began aiding Pakistani authorities in their efforts to treat people injured in the rains and flooding. The agency said in a statement it was working to increase surveillance for acute diarrhea, cholera and other communicable diseases to avoid their spreading further, and is also providing medicine and medical supplies to health facilities.

“WHO is working with health authorities to respond quickly and effectively on the ground,” said Dr. Palitha Mahipala, the WHO representative in Pakistan. “Our key priorities now are to ensure rapid access to essential health services to the flood-affected population, (to) strengthen and expand disease surveillance, outbreak prevention and control, and ensure robust health cluster coordination.”

Authorities said waterborne diseases among flood victims are now common across the country.

“Initially we received injured people, but now diarrhea is common,” said Farhad Khan, a physician in charge of a medical camp set up in the northwestern town of Charsadda. It is one of the worst flood-hit districts in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan, where floods killed 257 people since mid-June.

Pakistani authorities backed by the military, rescuers and volunteers, have struggled to evacuate marooned people to safer places. On Wednesday, military helicopters continued evacuating flood victims and delivering food to remote regions, according to a statement released by the military. It said it has deployed at least 6,500 troops to assist in rescue and relief operations.

Rescuers were also using boats to evacuate stranded people in southern Sindh province and in remote villages in eastern Punjab province. Floods in the past 24 hours damaged about 70,000 more homes in the country’s northwest and southern Sindh province, according to National Disaster Management Authority.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif in a visit to the flood-hit Swat Valley promised the rehabilitation of every person displaced by the flood. In his televised comments, Shahbaz thanked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for responding to Pakistan’s request and issuing an appeal for $160 million in emergency funding to help flood victims. Guterres on Tuesday urged the world: “Let’s stop sleepwalking toward the destruction of our planet by climate change.”

Sharif’s visit comes days after a raging Swat River destroyed the iconic New Honeymoon Hotel in the northwestern tourist resort of Kalam. There were no casualties as tourists and staff left the hotel following government evacuation instructions, and residents in Kalam said many streets there were still flooded.

Pakistan says it has received aid from some countries and others were dispatching aid, too. According to initial government estimates, the devastation caused $10 billion in damage to the economy.

Kamran Bangash, a government spokesman in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said with evacuations wrapping up, officials are now focused on providing food and clean drinking water to flood victims.

“We fear the outbreak of the waterborne disease in flood-hit areas,” he told The Associated Press. He said hundreds of people have contracted such illnesses in various parts of the province.

“In recent weeks floodwater badly affected hundreds of thousands of people. We don’t want them to again suffer; this time due to non-availability of clean water and it can be avoided,” Bangash said.

Although the rains stopped three days ago, large swaths of the country remain under water, and the main rivers, the Indus and the Swat, are still swollen. The National Disaster Management Authority has warned emergency services to be on maximum alert, saying flood waters over the next 24 hours could cause further damage.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

Source: newsy.com

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Pandemic Fatigue Could Cause Problems For Public Health

As most people get tired of dealing with the pandemic, experts worry Congress will too, which could affect vaccines, tests and other policies.

It’s been a long pandemic, and COVID still isn’t fully gone. Now, monkeypox and polio have entered the conversation.

Many are still trying to figure out what a degree of normalcy looks like, but as tired as people are, how much worse is it for the actual public health system?

It’s led to a whole array of challenges for public health, and that could have major consequences for an already weary U.S. health system.

While public health got a boost in funding during the heights of the pandemic, the Biden administration is already pulling back on funding for tests and vaccines because of a lack of funding from Congress.

It worries experts like Thoai Ngo, an epidemiologist working at the health justice research nonprofit the Population Council.

“My main worry right now is that because of how we operate, we will erode trust from people in public health institutions,” Ngo said. “We will make it harder for us to control and manage the current epidemics: COVID-19, monkeypox, polio and future epidemics.”

So, what does the U.S. public health picture look like with COVID now?

Federal officials in places like the White House and CDC celebrate the role vaccines have played in preventing severe disease and death. The numbers show they definitely have, with COVID deaths in the last few months largely staying at a low point that we only saw briefly last spring and summer.

The CDC has used this as the basis for its new guidance from mid-August, which do away with the recommendations to practice social distancing and to quarantine if exposed to COVID.

It’s that reduction in severe disease and death that has underpinned the rollback of universal mask mandates nationwide and vaccine mandates in many places. 

Dr. Shira Doron, a hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, has helped advise officials in Massachusetts on COVID policies, including in schools. She welcomes some of the new policies that roll back restrictions now that ways to prevent severe outcomes are readily available.

“The fact that we have all of those layers now, vaccines, tests and treatments just puts us in a completely different place in terms of that risk of severe disease, which is what we care about, which is the only thing we can hear about because we just can’t prevent infection,” Dr. Doron said. “That infection is too contagious.”

But even with low death rates, the U.S. is still losing more than 500 people every day. That means the U.S. is still losing as many Americans from COVID-19 in two weeks as it lost from two decades of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For those who center their work on immunocompromised people, policies rooted in fatigue with the virus look like an admission that the virus has won.

“I just think that, particularly with the recent CDC guideline, it’s confirming to me that the Biden administration and our federal health officials have given up on controlling infections of COVID-19, and they left the vulnerable, the elderly, the immunocompromised, people with disability in the cold,” Ngo said.

Then there’s long COVID, which is more than just a few extra weeks of the sniffles.

It’s personal for Elizabeth Jacobs. She’s an epidemiologist at the University of Arizona who has two illnesses that suppress her immune system. 

“We’re seeing things like fatigue,” Jacobs said. “That is really hard to describe. I think that a lot of people use fatigue in the colloquial sense of, ‘I’m just tired.’ But for somebody like me who has genuine fatigue caused by autoimmune diseases, it’s not like that. It’s more like you have cement blocks tied to your legs and arms, and you just can’t really even move around a lot. You have trouble getting out of bed and even sitting up in front of a computer is really difficult.”

Beyond her concern about her own risk if she contracts COVID, Jacobs worries that a shift away from preventing infection could make it harder to solve other problems tied to it. 

“Is it that people are tired of mitigation with masking, or is it that we are tired of things like flight cancellations and supply chain issues and having our children out sick from school and needing to care for our loved ones and seeing our neighbors die?” Jacobs asked. “Because if it’s the latter that is causing fatigue in us, then that is not being caused by mitigation. It’s being caused by the lack of mitigations.”

Then, there’s monkeypox.

In short, public health officials at federal and local levels have said they believe the response started slower than it should have. Tests and vaccines have also been hard to come by, although there’s hope that new shipments in the coming months should make it easier to vaccinate people at risk.

It sounds similar to some of the early missteps in addressing COVID-19, and that might not be a coincidence.

“The response to monkeypox, from what I can tell, is very much influenced by the law over the last two years of COVID, right?” said Jared Auclair, director of the biopharmaceutical analysis and training lab at Northeastern University. “People just don’t want to think about it and just don’t want to deal with it. Taking that mindset of slow rolling into a response because you are exhausted from COVID and don’t want to, you don’t want to have any repercussions like you’re being alarmist.”

The good news about vaccine demand outstripping supply is that there’s a high degree of interest from at-risk groups. Monkeypox is primarily affecting gay and bisexual men who have sex with men. 

“In general, that community has been very direct and forthcoming about wanting to take steps to to to protect itself and others,” said Jen Kates, director of the global health and HIV policy Program at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

While those affected by monkeypox aren’t putting aside getting their shots, pandemic fatigue is having a knock-on effect for other outbreaks.

“What has happened though is because of this pushback on the public health authorities putting in place requirements or guidance, there’s been an increasing move, as we’ve seen across the country, to attack, to sort of apply this to other public health interventions,” Kates said. “Well, we don’t want our children to be forced to have immunizations for schools, things like that, which is frankly very dangerous.”

So polio, diphtheria and all those other diseases many get vaccinated against without thinking about as a kid — if pandemic fatigue continues to translate to underfunding public health, all of those could also come back.

“The worst case scenario of that is that we get used to having those old diseases come back, that we have children dying of diphtheria, we have communities impacted by polio and… with limited resources,” said Amanda McClelland, senior vice president of the Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve to Save Lives.

Even going back to COVID, the message from public health experts about how to keep things from getting much worse is to invest in the tools we need to keep risk low.

“I am not terribly concerned about pandemic fatigue when experienced by somebody with a fair amount of immunity, but I am concerned about Congress having pandemic fatigue,” Dr. Doron said. “I think that it is still really important that the government be focused on COVID-19, even though I don’t think every individual needs to be so focused on COVID-19 anymore because we can be pretty safe if the government continues to fund the things that are keeping us safe.”

Source: newsy.com

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Children, College Students Diagnosed With Monkeypox Raise Alarm

School-age children diagnosed with monkeypox are raising concern before the return to school, but officials say the spread of risk is still small.

Three children in Georgia elementary schools have been diagnosed with monkeypox, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Nationwide, the CDC reports 17 children ages 15 and under have been diagnosed with monkeypox in the U.S. However, health officials say the risk of monkeypox spreading in school-age children is small.

In New York City, health officials say parents and schools should be prepared with information about the virus, but they don’t think schools are a center of major transmission risk.

“I am taking precautions myself such as sanitizing, trying to stay out of large groups of people,” said Willa Coleman, freshman at the University of Kentucky.

Universities are also on alert against the spread of the virus.

“I think it’s important for college students to realize that the risk is low but not zero, and it’s largely dependent on your behavior and activities,” said Dr. Thomas Russo, chief of the division of infectious disease at the University of Buffalo.

At least five universities have confirmed cases of the virus among students: Washington, D.C. schools Georgetown University and George Washington University, the University of Texas at Austin, and Bucknell and West Chester Universities in Pennsylvania.

Monkeypox spreads through close, physical contact between people.

“You should be very suspicious of any fever, flu-like illness or rashes that you develop anywhere on your body, and get those investigated,” said Eric Cioe-Pena, director of global heath for Northwell Health.

Health experts hope to end the stigma in the gay community by emphasizing anyone can get infected.

“There’s nothing about monkeypox that makes it more likely to occur in men who have sex with men,” Cioe-Pena said. “It just happens to be circulating right now in a social circle of men who have sex with men because that’s where the index case started, and that’s just bad luck. So, there really is nothing about the lifestyles or habits of that community that make them more at risk.”

Overall though, the World Health Organization says the number of monkeypox cases globally has dropped by 21% in the last week, reversing a month-long trend of rising infections.

Source: newsy.com

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How Texas Quashed Sex-Ed Lessons On Consent

A Newsy investigation reveals a push by organized groups to stop schools from teaching what advocates say is critical to preventing sexual assault.

Millions of students returning to public schools across Texas are encountering fallout from a battle over the state’s first major update to sex education and health standards in more than two decades. 

A Newsy investigation reveals how an advocacy group helped convince the Texas State Board of Education to strike lessons about consent from the state’s planned health education standards for the 2022-2023 school year. The board’s decision went against the advice of medical experts and organizations promoting teen sexual health, which say comprehensive sex education helps reduce rape and unwanted pregnancies. 

“It’s not an open communication — to talk about sex,” says 17-year-old Kennia Gonzales, a senior at Brownsville Early College High School in Texas. Gonzales says her high school does not teach any form of sex education beyond abstinence. “Teachers aren’t supposed to talk about it with students,” she says. 

In fact, Texas high schools are not required to offer students sex education, and if they do, parents must opt in for their children to receive it. State regulations now require those schools that choose to teach the topic to emphasize “the centrality of abstinence education in any human sexuality curriculum.” 

The state of Texas’ high hopes for convincing teens to say no to sex do not appear to be having the intended impact. A 2019 CDC survey of Texas youths showed that nearly two-thirds of high school seniors report having had sex. Texas has the ninth-highest teen birth rate in the U.S., and the state tops the nation in repeat teen births. 

Gonzales says with no sex education being taught by her school, some of her classmates are left with dangerous gaps in their understanding of healthy sex and relationships. 

“Men are taught to get what they want without the teaching of consent,” she says. “So, they’re just like, ‘She will say yes because I’m a macho man.’ And that’s how rape happens.” 

A spokesperson for the Brownsville Independent School District did not respond to multiple requests for comments about their curriculum. 

According to the 2019 CDC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, nearly 1 in 7 high school senior girls say they have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse. In Texas, that number is closer to 1 in 5, according to the state version of the same survey.

THE BATTLE OVER CONSENT IN TEXAS 

Records from the State Board of Education in Texas, reviewed by Newsy, tell the story of a nonprofit group named the Medical Institute for Sexual Health that played an influential role in convincing the state board to keep consent out of Texas requirements — against the advice of health experts and organizations pushing to prevent sexual violence. 

Recommendations to the state board for new standards for the 2022-2023 school year in Texas did include lessons on teaching students about consent at the seventh- and eighth-grade levels. In Texas, only middle schoolers are required to receive sex education. Educators, parents and other advocacy groups expressed to state officials their support for teaching consent. 

The Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society jointly wrote to the State Board of Education “on behalf of more than 53,000 physicians in Texas” to say they “strongly support adding new standards on boundaries and consent for physical intimacy where none previously existed.” The groups added that students should “understand affirmative consent is required in all physically intimate encounters.” 

The Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers also wrote to the board: “Consent is an extremely important part of any conversation regarding healthy relationships. We believe that it is the SBOE’s duty to include clear, informative, and meaningful definitions of consent, including examples of how a student might share their consent within relationships of any kind.” 

But according to state records, the Medical Institute for Sexual Health and more than 1,000 community members “expressed opposition to any efforts to add language discussing consent” to the state’s minimum health standards. The group also told the State Board of Education it supported “the omission of differentiated instruction on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) issues” for this school year.  

The Medical Institute for Sexual Health, a Dallas-based nonprofit founded in 1992, is an abstinence-promoting organization active in multiple states. The group distributes guidelines for sex education that, despite the group’s name, have been criticized by some in the medical community. Researchers from Columbia University, Johns Hopkins, Case Western and others wrote in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2021 that the group’s standards were “seriously flawed from both scientific and human rights’ perspectives.” 

State records show the Medical Institute played a larger role in shaping the new standards in Texas, beyond simply filing comments. The organization’s director of science at the time is listed as serving on two of the Texas Education Agency’s working groups that drafted proposals for the new health standards. The organization’s president at the time, Lori Kuykendall, says she served on multiple working groups that worked “to craft the language” for the proposed sexual health standards. After an early draft of the middle school standards still included consent, Kuykendall spoke at a State Board of Education meeting to say that there was a “slip of consent in grade seven and eight” that remained in proposed standards. She asked the board to “not include consent.”

One of the Medical Institute’s board members, Dr. Jack Lesch, was tapped by the State Board of Education to serve as one of just six content advisers who took recommendations that came out of the working groups and drafted them into one new proposal for minimum standards for the state board to consider. He recommended the board strike teaching consent from various parts of the new standards, stating: “There are extensive references to refusal skills, safe and personal boundaries, setting limits in the SE’s. Therefore, recommend DELETE consent from the topic of decision-making.” 

Lesch also wrote to the state board to say that introducing consent is “unnecessary” and “also encourages moving toward sexual behavior that is better to delay (avoid).” State records show that some content advisers disagreed with Lesch. 

The state board ultimately said it agreed with the Medical Institute’s position on omitting LGBTQ instruction from the minimum standards for this school year. As to the Medical Institute’s request to steer clear from “any” instruction on consent, the records further note, “The SBOE agrees and has determined that sexual consent was not appropriate” in the Texas standards. The board then “took action to eliminate” a reference to consent. 

State Board of Education Chair Keven Ellis did not respond to an emailed request for comment. A spokesperson for the Texas Education Agency confirmed basic facts about the state’s standards but did not respond to requests for comment about the state board’s decision-making on the issue of consent.  

Attempts to reach Lesch, the Medical Institute’s board member, by telephone, text message and email were unsuccessful. The Medical Institute’s then-president, Lori Kuykendall, responded in writing to emailed questions. 

“Children under the age of 17 cannot legally give consent to sexual activity and should not be instructed how to,” she wrote. “If the goal is to empower children to know when they are being violated and what to do to resist, avoid, or run away from the perpetrator (and ultimately report), then it is logical they would be taught refusal or resistance skills.” 

Instead of consent, the state board adopted standards that mirrored the Medical Institute’s guidance to instruct schools to teach refusal skills and personal boundaries, and state records show they decided to teach even those only “at some grade levels.” 

“As far as I’m concerned, [consent] is one of the most important things you can be teaching,” says Shael Norris, executive director of SafeBAE, a national advocacy group working to prevent sexual violence among middle- and high-school students.   

Norris was critical of the state’s ultimate choice to teach refusal skills without also teaching consent.  

“Instead of putting the blame where it belongs on the perpetrator, the victim takes on that responsibility, and that makes them that much more vulnerable to suicide — if they are victimized and they feel responsible for it,” she says. 

There is not much academic research yet into the impact that lessons on consent would have on reducing sexual assaults, but studies show that people who have been sexually assaulted are at nearly three times greater risk of suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.  

Norris says advocates like her agree that consent lessons can be taught in an age-appropriate, nonsexual manner to children as young as in kindergarten. An example she cites is teaching a young child it is OK for them to say yes or no to hugs, high-fives or other forms of nonsexual touch. This can form a building block to teach other kinds of consent for older teenagers.  

The current leaders at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but the group’s founder and CEO, Dr. Joe McIlhaney, did answer questions in writing through a public relations firm.  

In response to questions asking if the Medical Institute would support any lessons on consent for high schoolers, or “nonsexual” consent lessons for students of any age, McIlhaney said his organization “believes that school-age children understand the meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ We believe that they should refuse sexual advances, and not wonder whether they could or should give consent at such a young age. The answer should be ‘no.'” 

The American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 67,000 pediatricians, says programs promoting abstinence have “conclusively” been shown not to work but that most comprehensive sexuality education programs studied have been shown to delay the age of intercourse and to promote “protective behaviors” like condom use. And a 2016 UN study of 48 countries found that comprehensive sexuality education leads to “the reduction of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), HIV, and unintended pregnancy.” 

The AAP and a host of other medical and educational authorities, such as the American Medical Association and the National Education Association, endorse teaching consent.

Crime statistics from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s 2020 report reveal the two age groups with the highest number of reported sexual assault victims in the state were 15- to 19-year-olds and 10- to 14-year-olds. Altogether, a Newsy analysis found that children and teenagers 19 and younger made up more than two-thirds of sexual assault victims in Texas. 

Melanie Ramirez, the director of prevention programs at the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, a nonprofit associated with 70 rape crisis centers across Texas — and one of the groups that tried to get consent added to the new state standards — says teaching only refusal and boundary skills is outdated and harmful. 

“It’s reiterating an old notion that if you experience sexual violence, it’s somehow now your fault,” she says.  

“We’re not trying to teach, ‘Don’t get raped.’ We’re trying to teach, ‘Don’t rape.'”

A NATIONAL DEBATE 

Nationwide, 29 states require that students receive sex education, and 13 require they learn about consent, according to the Sexual Information and Education Council of the United States, or SIECUS. But the battle to change that is hitting state legislatures and local school boards across the country. Alison Macklin, a policy and advocacy director for SIECUS, says in more than 60 years her organization has never seen as many bills proposed to restrict sex education as what happened in the 2022 state legislative sessions.  

“This is the busiest we have been in tracking these types of bills,” Macklin says.   

Lessons about gender identity and consent have also inspired passionate parents and organized groups on both sides of the debate to storm into normally tranquil school board meetings. Some are calling to restrict or do away with sex education in schools altogether. 

A Miami-Dade school board meeting made national headlines in July when police were called to remove parents who disrupted the debate on whether to adopt a pair of sex-education textbooks that had references to topics like pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The high school textbook said consent “occurs when someone clearly says yes” in “words, not just body language.” The board initially voted to take the books out of the curriculum for this school year, leaving students with no sex-education curriculum, until a new round of upset parents later convinced the board to reinstate the books.  

At the Nebraska State Board of Education meeting last August, one individual upset over the proposed standards in that state appeared to threaten a Jan. 6  style insurrection, while others compared the board to Nazis because of the proposed curriculum, which included the teaching of consent. 

In Oregon, a nonprofit group called Parents’ Rights in Education, or PRIE, recently hosted its second annual summit to train parents from around the nation on how to become more politically active where they live, while trying to vote out school board members who don’t agree to keep consent and comprehensive sex education out of school curriculum. The group says on its website it was established in 2011. The group’s executive director, Suzanne Gallagher, is the former head of the Oregon Republican Party. 

“This is political,” Gallagher says. “People like to deny that. They want to think, ‘Oh, it’s just a school.’ It has everything to do with politics. We’re flipping school boards.” 

PRIE’s website says comprehensive sexual education should not be taught in schools because “teaching consent undermines any semblance of an abstinence message.” 

Her podcast website refers to literature that claims teachers who provide sex education are implementing a “Molester’s Manifesto,” while also claiming in a bullet point “1 in 10 children will experience school employee sexual misconduct.”  

Newsy traced Gallagher’s statistic to a study published by the U.S. Department of Education in 2004. The review included data from an earlier study that found that 1 in 10 students had experienced sexual harassment from educators — which included things like name-calling, spreading rumors, and inappropriate jokes. Though the author of the 2004 review recharacterized this as “sexual misconduct,” the Department of Education added a preface cautioning that misconduct and abuse were not one and the same.  

Newsy made Gallagher aware of the department’s concerns and noted her own podcast website used “misconduct” statistics to support claims about child molestation in schools. Gallagher stood by her website and, at the time of publication, it was left unchanged. 

Gallagher says she still believes students are more vulnerable to sexual abuse by teachers if they are taught it is ever OK to consent to a sexual encounter. 

“They’re going to be thinking, ‘Oh, yeah, you know, Mr. Smith, who is just a stud, he said I could,” explains Gallagher. “It’s setting students up to be accepting of sexual advances from anyone, thinking that it’s OK, it’s all right, it’s perfectly normal, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it and I have a right to it. That goes against the values of many families.”  

Gallagher says her message is cutting through at the ballot box and has, along with the work of other parents’ rights groups, helped force a changeover in school board members in Newberg, Oregon. She also points to Texas as a state where Parents’ Rights In Education is active. 

“We have a couple groups in Texas. They’re on fire there,” she says.  

Efforts to get sex education out of public schools worry Dr. M. Brett Cooper, a pediatrician who practices in Dallas and is trained specifically in adolescent health, with a master’s in education. He spoke publicly to the Texas State Board of Education on the importance of teaching consent while representing the Texas Medical Association and Texas Pediatric Society.   

Cooper says he sees firsthand as a practicing physician how common it is for parents to shy away from teaching their own children about sex.   

“Parents often come to me when they find out that their child has had sex. I ask them if they’ve talked to their child about these things before. The answer is usually no.” 

A Harvard Graduate School of Education survey of 18- to 25-year-olds found that most respondents “had never spoken with their parents about things like ‘being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex.'” 

Kennia Gonzales, who says she is the daughter of a teen mother, says that if schools don’t teach kids comprehensive sex education, they’re going to get it from less reputable sources, like the internet.  

“They’re going to explore, and not giving them that education isn’t going to stop them,” she says. “I want the teen pregnancy and [sexual assault] percentages to go down. I just want to see a change.” 

Zach Cusson and Meghan Sullivan contributed reporting for this story.  

Source: newsy.com

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Why Do We Have An Appendix?

When it comes to flying under the radar, the appendix is in the running for the top spot. 

Sure, you know you have it.  

But what does it actually do? 

And why do we have one? 

Your appendix is the small tube attached to your large intestine. 

There’s a general agreement it might be a left-over organ that stuck around as humans evolved. 

It doesn’t get a lot of credit because you can have it removed it without a big fuss.  

But don’t discount it so easily. 

It could help with your digestion.  

In a 2007 study researchers from Duke University said it helps store good microbes or bacteria that help us digest food. 

These good bacteria leave our body sometimes from diseases; then our appendix releases more of them. 

Other research gives the appendix credit for strengthening our bodies immunity.  

The appendix has lymphoid cells which help the body fight off infections. 

Some research has shown that people without their appendix are more likely to have severe illnesses if they become infected with a germ known as clostridiom difficile. But in general doctors recommend getting rid of your appendix if it becomes diseased. 

There’s no 100% acceptance of exactly what role the appendix serves, but it’s likely not as useless as we may have been taught.  

Source: newsy.com

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