Health

April 14th, 2014
09:59 AM ET

Ebola: A Swift, Effective and Bloody Killer

It took only moments to feel the impact of what was happening here.

We had just landed in Conakry, the capital of Guinea. In the fields right outside the airport, a young woman was in tears. She started to wail and shout in Susu, one of the 40 languages spoken in this tiny country of 12 million people. The gathered crowd became silent and listened intently.

The young man sitting next to me quietly translated, although I already had my suspicions. He told me the woman's husband had died of Ebola, and then quickly ushered us away.

It is probably not surprising the airplane bringing us into Conakry was nearly empty, as are all the hotels here. Not many people in the United States have ever visited Guinea, or could even identify where it sits in West Africa. It is already one of the world's poorest countries, and the panic around Ebola is only making that worse.

Some of it is justified. That's because this time, the outbreak is different. In the past, Ebola rarely made it out of the remote forested areas of Africa.

Key to that is a grim version of good news/bad news: because Ebola tends to incapacitate its victims and kill them quickly, they rarely have a chance to travel and spread the disease beyond their small villages. Now, however, Ebola is in Conakry, the capital city, with two million residents. Equally concerning: it's just a short distance from where we touched down, at an international airport.

It has gone "viral," and now the hope is that it doesn't go global.

When I asked doctors on the ground about that scenario, they had split opinions. Several told me the concern is real but unlikely. Most patients with Ebola come from small villages in the forest and are unlikely to be flying on international trips, they told me. Furthermore, they don't think Ebola would spread widely in a western country; our medical expertise and our culture - not touching the dead - would prevent it.

Others aren't so sure.

No one wants to test that theory.

See more of Dr. Gupta's take at CNN.com.

And follow Dr. Sanjay Gupta  and his producer Danielle Dellorto on Twitter for updates as they continue to report from the field.  

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March 5th, 2014
11:19 AM ET

Tipping Point for Medical Marijuana?

As Georgia's house has approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana,  CNN's Sanjay Gupta discusses the need for more research in the U.S. to break skewed perception.

Speaking on "New Day" Wednesday, Gupta described the bill as very restrictive and said "This is the therapeutic form of marijuana but not the stuff that gets you high. That's what they're talking about... this restrictive bill moving forward to provide a medicine, potentially, out of marijuana."

See the clip above to learn more and be sure to watch "Weed 2: Cannabis Madness"  when it premieres on CNN Tuesday, March 11, at 10 pm ET.

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February 27th, 2014
10:47 AM ET

Nutrition Labels Getting a Makeover

Choosing healthier foods at the grocery store may soon be a little easier.

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing several changes to the nutrition labels you see on packaged foods and beverages. If approved, the new labels would place a bigger emphasis on total calories, added sugars and certain nutrients, such as Vitamin D and potassium.

The FDA is also proposing changes to serving size requirements in an effort to more accurately reflect what people usually eat or drink. For example, if you buy a 20-ounce soda, you're probably not going to stop drinking at the 8-ounce mark. The new rules would require that entire soda bottle to be one serving size - making calorie counting simpler.

This is the first overhaul for nutrition labels since the FDA began requiring them more than 20 years ago. There has been a shift in shoppers' priorities as nutrition is better understood and people learn what they should watch for on a label, administration officials said.

"You as a parent and a consumer should be able to walk into your local grocery store, pick up an item off the shelf, and be able to tell whether it's good for your family," first lady Michelle Obama said in a press release. "So this is a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across this country."

The proposed labels would remove the "calories from fat" line you currently see on labels, focusing instead on total calories found in each serving. Nutritionists have come to understand that the type of fat you're eating matters more than the calories from fat. As such, the breakdown of total fat vs. saturated and trans fat would remain.

See more at CNN.com 

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February 26th, 2014
11:21 AM ET

FDA Considering '3-Parent Babies'

A promising way to stop a deadly disease, or an uncomfortable step toward what one leading ethicist called eugenics?

U.S. health officials are weighing whether to approve trials of a pioneering in vitro fertilization technique using DNA from three people in an attempt to prevent illnesses like muscular dystrophy and respiratory problems. The proposed treatment would allow a woman to have a baby without passing on diseases of the mitochondria, the "powerhouses" that drive cells.

The procedure is "not without its risks, but it's treating a disease," medical ethicist Art Caplan told CNN's "New Day" on Wednesday. Preventing a disease that can be passed down for generations would be ethical "as long as it proves to be safe," he said.

"These little embryos, these are people born with a disease, they can't make power. You're giving them a new battery. That's a therapy. I think that's a humane ethical thing to do," said Caplan, the director of medical ethics at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

"Where we get into the sticky part is, what if you get past transplanting batteries and start to say, 'While we're at it, why don't we make you taller, stronger, faster or smarter?' "

But Susan Solomon, the director of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, said there are no changes to existing genes involved.

"There is no genetic engineering. It isn't a slippery slope. It's a way to allow these families to have healthy children," said Solomon, whose organization developed the technique along with Columbia University researchers.

"What we're doing is, without at all changing the DNA of the mother, just allowing it to grow in an environment that isn't sick," she added.

A Food and Drug Administration advisory panel concluded two days of hearings into the procedure Wednesday. The panel discussed what controls might be used in trials, how a developing embryo might be monitored during those tests and who should oversee the trials, but no decisions were made at the end of the session.

Mitochondrial disorders are inherited from the mother. In the procedure under discussion in Washington, genetic material from the nucleus of a mother's egg or an embryo gets transferred to a donor egg or embryo that's had its nuclear DNA removed.

The real reason behind the multiples baby boom

The new embryo will contain nuclear DNA from the intended father and mother, as well as healthy mitochondrial DNA from the donor embryo - effectively creating a "three-parent" baby.

In June, Britain took a step toward becoming the first country to allow the technique. One in 6,500 babies in the United Kingdom is born with a mitochondrial disorder, which can lead to serious health issues such as heart and liver disease.

Caplan said the same technology could be used to modify an embryo to "making super babies," a practice he said amounted to "eugenics."

"The big issue over the next 5 to 10 years is going to become how far do we go in pursuit of the perfect baby," said Caplan. "Do I think we're going down that road? Yes. Does it creep me out? Yes. Are you going to be able to draw a clear line? I don't think so."

But Solomon said the procedure is closer to an expansion of in vitro fertilization, which has been available for nearly 40 years.

"It's a complicated science, so people need to understand the particulars of the biology and not jump to calling it something it isn't," she said. The last thing she would want, she said, "is for the New York Stem Cell Foundation to be involved in anything like designer babies."

"I have children and grandchildren, and I can't imagine anything worse."

SEE FULL INTERVIEW ABOVE 

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