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Multi-State Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Bearded Dragons

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An investigation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked a multi-state outbreak of salmonella infections to contact with pet bearded dragons.

A total of 132 people in 31 states have been infected with the strain of Salmonella Cotham since February 2012, according to the CDC. More than half of those ill are children 5 years old or younger, and 42 percent of those affected have been hospitalized.

There have been no deaths reported, though out of three people tested, one was resistant to antibiotics used to treat serious salmonella infections.

The pet bearded dragons were purchased from multiple stores in different states. On January 22, 2014, the CDC was notified by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services of a cluster of infections connected to those exposed to pet reptiles. Twelve people in the state have been sickened by the particular salmonella strain, and 10 of those reported contact with bearded dragons.

As of April 21, California hosts the greatest number of residents infected by the outbreak, with 21 people. The pet industry is working with the CDC to determine the source of the bearded dragons in question, and the investigation is ongoing. The health agency advises pet reptile owners to wash their hands regularly and ensure the animals are kept away from areas where food is prepared or stored.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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The Health Effects of GMO Foods

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Vermont is poised to become the first state to require labels on genetically modified food, but will these "frankenfruits" actually hurt the people who eat them?

Probably not, experts say.

Swapping genes in and out in a lab may sound a little different than cross-breeding crops for hundreds of years, but according to Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietician at University Hospitals in Cleveland, there’s no evidence that people are harmed by eating a bug-proof ear of corn or a non-browning apple.

"As far as having real research to show that it’s harmful, we simply don’t have it,” Cimperman said.

"I think one of the biggest mistakes we can make in talking about this issue is making it ‘good versus evil,'" Cimperman added. "One of the things that bothers me is the fear-mongering."

Petitions have shown up on Change.org asking for companies to get rid of GMOs -- or genetically modified organisms -- in foods from apples to Girl Scout Cookies, often citing safety concerns. Even golden rice, a genetically modified crop developed to get extra vitamin A to people lacking it in their diets, has been protested.

Cimperman said the only immediate concern is that people with food allergies may accidentally eat a “safe” food without realizing one of its ingredients has been spliced with the genes of an allergen.

For instance, in the 1990s, an engineered soybean made people with Brazil nut allergies have allergic reactions because they didn’t realize the bean’s genetic material included a gene from the Brazil nut, she said. Once researchers confirmed the allergen was passed on in the genetic engineering process, the company halted production, she said.

“The potential to cause allergies can, in fact, be tested, and it can be limited,” Cimperman said. “That maybe calms fears a little bit.”

For Cimperman, the biggest concern is whether human tampering will have an environmental effect, strengthening weeds and insects that evolve to beat the genetic engineering.

“Everything in the environment is cause and effect. You can’t make a change without seeing that ripple effect,” she said.

When genetically engineered salmon was deemed safe for the environment in late 2012, former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, told ABC News he had been disappointed with Food and Drug Administration decisions on genetically modified food since 1992, when the federal agency determined it is equivalent to any other food.

He introduced federal legislation related to genetically modified food and labeling in every Congress since 1997, but it has never passed.

Cimperman said she has no problem with the labeling of genetically modified food because “transparency is a good thing.”

"My only concern is that you don’t have to make this an issue that incites fear in the consumer," she said. "As consumers, we really need to educate ourselves on the topic and make informed decisions."

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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CDC Report: Vaccines Have Spared Millions of Kids from Illnesses

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In response to a rise in measles cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the Vaccine for Children Program in 1994. And now, 20 years later, the CDC says in a new report that the immunization program has saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of children born since then.

"Vaccination over the course of their lifetimes will prevent 322 million illnesses, 21 million hospitalizations and 730,000 early deaths," CDC Director Thomas Frieden said on Thursday.

The report comes as measles is once more on the rise in the U.S. -- in many cases because parents choose not to vaccinate their children.

"Sixty-eight percent had what we call personal belief exemptions or essentially opted out of being vaccinated," said Dr. Ann Schuchat, assistant surgeon general of the United States Public Health Service.

According to CDC officials, there are 129 measles cases in the U.S. as of April 18.

The virus -- which causes flu-like symptoms, a miserable rash and, in rare cases, death -- is very contagious and, therefore, can spread fast among people who aren't vaccinated.

"When vaccination rates go up we are all safer," said Frieden.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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World's First 'Allergy-Friendly' Flights Take Off

Swiss International Air Lines(NEW YORK) -- Allergy sufferers, you're in luck. Especially if you've got plans to visit Switzerland.

Swiss Airlines is now the world's first airline to be designated as "allergy friendly," as determined by the European Centre for Allergy Research Foundation (ECARF).

The airline will, beginning in May, offer an "individualized service product for travelers with allergies." That includes lactose- and gluten-free food and beverage alternatives such as lactose-free coffee cream and a lactose-free version of the popular Swiss chocolate bar.

The airline will also use pillows stuffed with synthetic materials as an alternative to down in the first and business class cabins. The airline will also stop use of decorative flowers and air fresheners "that might cause nose and throat irritations," and the on-board toilets will now feature soaps that are "gentle" on the skin.

The airline's website added that its high-efficiency air conditioning system filters out pollen from outdoors and animal hair from pets on board. Swiss cabin crew members are trained to respond to an allergic emergency, the website said, and "histamine tablets are available if needed."

ECARF, in a joint press release with the airline, said more than 30 percent of Europe's population is affected by allergies. In the U.S., the Asthma and Allergy Foundation estimated 35 million people suffer from hay fever because they are allergic to pollen.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Five Things to Know About E-Cigarettes

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday morning plans to regulate electronic cigarettes, requiring manufacturers to disclose product ingredients to the administration and put warning labels on the devices. However, there’s probably a lot you didn’t know about the controversial e-cigarette.

For instance, e-cigarettes have been around since the 1960s. They’ve only started to take off in the last decade with more than 250 brands and flavors like watermelon, pink bubble gum and Java. An estimated four million Americans use them, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association.

Read below for answers to more of your burning questions:

What are e-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are battery operated nicotine inhalers that consist of a rechargeable lithium battery, a cartridge called a cartomizer and an LED that lights up at the end when you puff on the e-cigarette to simulate the burn of a tobacco cigarette. The cartomizer is filled with an e-liquid that typically contains the chemical propylene glycol along with nicotine, flavoring and other additives. The device works much like a miniature version of the smoke machines that operate behind rock bands.

When you "vape" -- that's the term for puffing on an e-cig -- a heating element boils the e-liquid until it produces a vapor. A device creates the same amount of vapor no matter how hard you puff until the battery or e-liquid runs down.

How much do they cost?

Starter kits usually run between $30 and $100. The estimated cost of replacement cartridges is about $600, compared with the more than $1,000 a year it costs to feed a pack-a-day tobacco cigarette habit, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. Discount coupons and promotional codes are available online.

Are e-cigarettes regulated?

Until Thursday, e-cigarettes were uncontrolled by the government despite a 2011 federal court case that gave the FDA the authority to regulate e-smokes under existing tobacco laws rather than as a medication or medical device, presumably because they deliver nicotine, which is derived from tobacco. The agency had hinted it would begin regulating them this year, but its only action against the devices to date was a letter issued in 2010 to electronic cigarette distributors warning them to cease making various unsubstantiated marketing claims.

This has especially worried experts like Erika Seward, the assistant vice president of national advocacy for the American Lung Association.

"With e-cigarettes, we see a new product within the same industry -- tobacco -- using the same old tactics to glamorize their products," she said. "They use candy and fruit flavors to hook kids, they make implied health claims to encourage smokers to switch to their product instead of quitting all together, and they sponsor research to use that as a front for their claims."

Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical editor, said public health officials have been concerned that e-cigarettes could be a gateway to further tobacco use.

"Data show use of e-cigarettes by high school and junior high school students is on the rise," Besser said. "Once addicted to nicotine, will users move on to using tobacco with all the inherent health risks?”

"Countering the view are those who view e-cigarettes as an important step towards risk reduction for current cigarette smokers," he added. "They do not deliver the carcinogens that are the cause of so many health problems."

What are the health risks of vaping?

The jury is out. The phenomenon of vaping is so new that science has barely had a chance to catch up on questions of safety, but some initial small studies have begun to highlight the pros and cons.

The most widely publicized study into the safety of e-cigarettes was done when researchers analyzed two leading brands and concluded the devices did contain trace elements of hazardous compounds, including a chemical which is the main ingredient found in antifreeze.

But Kiklas, whose brand of e-cigarettes were not included in the study, pointed out that the FDA report found nine contaminates versus the 11,000 contained in a tobacco cigarette and noted that the level of toxicity was shown to be far lower than those of tobacco cigarettes.

However, Seward said because e-cigarettes remain unregulated, it's impossible to draw conclusions about all the brands based on an analysis of two.

"To say they are all safe because a few have been shown to contain fewer toxins is troubling," she said. "We also don't know how harmful trace levels can be."

Thomas Glynn, the director of science and trends at the American Cancer Society, said there were always risks when one inhaled anything other than fresh, clean air, but he said there was a great likelihood that e-cigarettes would prove considerably less harmful than traditional smokes, at least in the short term.

"As for long-term effects, we don't know what happens when you breathe the vapor into the lungs regularly," Glynn said. "No one knows the answer to that."

Do e-cigarettes help tobacco smokers quit?

Because they preserve the hand-to-mouth ritual of smoking, Kiklas said e-cigarettes might help transform a smoker's harmful tobacco habits to a potentially less harmful e-smoking habit. As of yet, though, little evidence exists to support this theory.

In a first of its kind study published last fall in the medical journal Lancet, researchers compared e-cigarettes to nicotine patches and other smoking cessation methods and found them statistically comparable in helping smokers quit over a six-month period. For this reason, Glynn said he viewed the devices as promising though probably no magic bullet.

For now, e-cigarette marketers can't tout their devices as a way to kick the habit without first submitting their products to the FDA as medical devices and proving that they work to help users quit. No company has done this.

Seward said many of her worries center on e-cigarettes being a gateway to smoking, given that many popular brands come in flavors and colors that seem designed to appeal to a younger generation of smokers.

"We're concerned about the potential for kids to start a lifetime of nicotine use by starting with e-cigarettes," she said.

Though the National Association of Attorneys General on Thursday called on the FDA to immediately regulate the sale and advertising of electronic cigarettes, there were no federal age restrictions to prevent kids from obtaining e-cigarettes.

Most e-cigarette companies voluntarily do not sell to minors yet vaping among young people is on the rise. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found nearly 1.8 million young people had tried e-cigarettes and the number of U.S. middle and high school students e-smokers doubled between 2011 and 2012.

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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Scientists Rush to Finish Mind-Controlled Robotic Suit Before World Cup

Miguel Nicolelis(DURHAM, N.C.) -- A Brazilian neuroscientist is racing to finish a mind-controlled exoskeleton that is scheduled to debut in less than 50 days at the opening ceremonies for the World Cup.

Miguel Nicolelis, a professor of neurosciences at Duke University, told ABC News that he is counting down “the hours” before the exoskeleton -- made to help paraplegic patients walk again -- is scheduled to debut on the field during the World Cup opening ceremonies in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

"Running out of time is out of the question. When you make a promise to 250 million people, you can’t run out of time,” said Nicolelis. “We left last night at 3:30 a.m. and back at 9:30 a.m. Everybody knows that we will never have anything like [this] again.”

Nicolelis is running the Walk Again Project along with an international group of at least 100 scientists and researchers to develop the device. The machine is “worn” by the user and has small motors inside to help a paralyzed person walk or even kick a ball.

The user wears a cap fitted with electrodes that read the users' brain waves and allow them to control the device through these sensors. The machine “reads these” electrodes so that it starts walking. Running, so far, is out of the question.

“We’re on track so -- the most important part is the human part. They’re all trained and all ready to go,” said Nicolelis of the volunteers who are trained to operate the machine.

During the opening ceremonies, one volunteer will wear the robotic suit, walk onto the field and a kick a ball.

Although mind-controlled exoskeletons have been used before, Nicolelis said this is the most involved machine and says while the machine’s movements are limited they are not simply pre-programmed into the device. Nicolelis said the users have had to practice controlling the device in a simulator to mimic the noise and pressure of walking onto the field during the world cup.

“We created distractions. Even in the middle of that huge sound and [with] people screaming and people rooting we were able to do it,” said Nicolelis. “You can get focused to your task if you train a little bit.”

Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

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