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October 13th, 2011
03:25 PM ET

Lesson from Haiti's deadly cholera outbreak

Cholera cases have risen in Haiti, but the number dying from the disease is down, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The number of deaths were initially way too high,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, researcher and deputy director at the CDC. “But within a few weeks of the outbreak, we trained teams to treat the disease and increased access to supplies.”

Tauxe says these improvements lowered the mortality rate from cholera in Haiti from 4% to below 1%, where it's been since December.

Cholera is contracted by consuming food or water contaminated with fecal bacteria. People who live in rural areas with a lack of adequate water treatment and sanitation are more likely to get the disease. While it can cause severe dehydration from rapid loss of body fluids, cholera is one of the easiest diseases to treat with oral rehydration salts.

Access to these very basic supplies was a core challenge in Haiti that led to many deaths soon after the outbreak.

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Modern plague has origins in Black Death, scientists say
Scientists found bacterial DNA in teeth from medieval skulls like this one, from the Museum of London.
October 12th, 2011
01:00 PM ET

Modern plague has origins in Black Death, scientists say

As the rains raged on in 1340s Europe, most of the crops rotted, leading to food shortages in a colder environment. Amidst the malnourished population, rodents, fleas and perhaps even lice were spreading a disease that had most likely never before infected humankind, and would wipe out up to half of Europe within five years.

This is the vision of the Black Death that scientists put forth in a new study in the journal Nature. For the first time ever, they have reconstructed the genome of an ancient disease based on skeletal remains.

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4 common killers in the world: Heart disease, cancer, lung disease, diabetes
September 13th, 2011
08:01 PM ET

4 common killers in the world: Heart disease, cancer, lung disease, diabetes

The major killers in the world are not infectious diseases,  insidious viruses or bacteria.

The leading causes of deaths worldwide are noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, cancers, lung disease and diabetes.  These diseases killed more than 36 million people in 2008, according a report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization.

Heart disease deaths were responsible for 48% of these deaths, cancers 21%, chronic lung diseases 12%, and diabetes 3%.  In many cases these are preventable deaths that are related to unhealthy habits such as smoking, physical inactivity, and unhealthy diets. FULL POST


Remote people's 'first contact' would be fraught with danger, experts say
September 2nd, 2011
08:38 AM ET

Remote people's 'first contact' would be fraught with danger, experts say

For "uncontacted" peoples, like the isolated tribe that went missing last month, a first encounter can be disastrous.

What began 500 years ago with the first Europeans arriving in the New World is still going on in some pockets of Brazil's Amazon rainforest.

Tribes live in isolation when suddenly, new people, carrying new illnesses, show up.

"These groups have been isolated for so long that they haven't built up any immunity like most of us around the world," says Fiona Watson, research and field director of Survival International. "They just don't have the immunity.” FULL POST


U.S. ranks low for newborn survival
August 31st, 2011
09:49 AM ET

U.S. ranks low for newborn survival

Babies born in Cuba, Malaysia, Portugal, and the United Kingdom have a better chance of surviving the first month compared to those born in the United States, according to researchers at the World Health Organization and Save the Children.

In a 20 year analysis of newborn death rates around the world, the study published in PLoS Medicine revealed the number of infants who die  before they are 4 weeks old account for 41% of child deaths worldwide.  Newborn deaths in the United States ranked 41 out of 45 among industrialized countries, on par with Qatar and Croatia.

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July 14th, 2011
05:44 PM ET

U.S.: Catching bin Laden justifies CIA vaccination ruse

A senior U.S. official on Thursday acknowledged CIA involvement in a vaccination campaign in Pakistan, but said it was a legitimate piece of the strategy for catching Osama bin Laden, who was killed by a U.S. raid on his hideout in Abbottabad in May.

"This was one small piece of a very large intelligence effort to determine that bin Laden was located at the compound, and it was conducted shortly before the May 1 raid. People need to put this into some perspective,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "The vaccination campaign was part of the hunt for the world’s top terrorist, and nothing else. If the United States hadn’t shown this kind of creativity, people would be scratching their heads asking why it hadn’t used all tools at its disposal to find bin Laden."

The comments are a response to criticism of the CIA role, which involved health workers going door to door in the neighborhood near bin Laden’s compound, offering vaccinations against Hepatitis B. According to reports in the Guardian and the New York Times, the goal was to collect DNA to aid in the eventual identification of bin Laden. It’s not clear if the mission was successful.

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Diabetes rate sharply increases
June 27th, 2011
04:51 PM ET

Diabetes rate sharply increases

An estimated 350 million people worldwide have diabetes, according to new research published in the Lancet.  It describes the disease as a “rising global hazard” and says global diabetes rates have doubled from 1980 to 2008.

The study attributes 70% of the increase to population growth and aging – the risk of diabetes increases with age.  But 30% of the additional cases were caused by other risk factors such as increases in obesity, according to the report.

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June 2nd, 2011
12:22 PM ET

E. coli outbreak at a glance

A deadly outbreak of E. coli has killed 16 people and sickened more than 1,600 others across 10 European countries. The EU is now grappling with potential diplomatic fallout from the outbreak, as well as economic repercussions, as fingers are pointed on who is to blame and bans on vegetable imports are imposed. Here's a look at how the outbreak has developed.

WHAT IS E. COLI?

Escherichia coli (E. coli) is a bacteria found living in the intestines of people and animals. It can be transmitted through contaminated water or food - especially raw vegetables and undercooked meat.

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Filed under: Food Safety • Global Health

Smallpox virus gets stay of execution
May 25th, 2011
04:37 PM ET

Smallpox virus gets stay of execution

The World Health Assembly decided this week to give researchers three more years to study the smallpox virus before talking about destroying existing live samples.  This is the fifth delay; the decision to destroy the known stockpiles of the variola virus, which causes smallpox, was first put forth in 1996.

Health officials from 192 countries have been meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, since May 16 to discuss a multitude of health issues. The debate over the destruction of the smallpox virus began last Friday and continued on Monday,  but two camps – one for and one against the destruction of these smallpox virus samples – emerged again.

But according to the head of the U.S. delegation, Dr. Nils Daulaire, support for preserving the virus came from countries who in previous years had called for the destruction of the smallpox stocks. Daulaire,  director of the Office of Global Health Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tells CNN that the resolution calling for more time to research this virus had 27 co-sponsors. Most resolutions that go through the Health Assembly have somewhere between 3 and 10 sponsors, he said.

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May 16th, 2011
04:31 PM ET

Should the world's last smallpox virus be destroyed?

Health officials from 193 countries are gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, this week for the World Health Organization's annual meeting to discuss  myriad health threats of today.  Among the many topics on the agenda is the question – when should the last remaining samples of Variola, the virus that causes smallpox,  be destroyed?

The decision to destroy the known remaining virus samples was made back in 1996. But the actual destruction date has been delayed four times – most recently in 2007. So these samples of the virus – 451 at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and about 120 stored in a lab called "Vector" in a remote Siberian town in Russia - continue to hibernate in liquid nitrogen.

Smallpox has been described as the world's worst diseases.  It infected only humans and 30% of those sickened died.  Many who survived were horribly scarred or  became blind or both. Up to half a billion people died from the disease just in 20th century alone.

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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