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Sierra Leone Starts 'Lockdown' as UN Sounds Alarm on Ebola


Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As the worst-ever Ebola outbreak shows no sign of slowing, government officials have now resorted to desperate measures to stop the virus from infecting more people.

In Sierra Leone, the government will attempt to institute a 72-hour “lockdown” in order to give volunteers a chance to find Ebola patients and keep the deadly disease from spreading. The lockdown began Friday at midnight.

According to Doctors Without Borders, the Sierra Leone government has ordered the country’s six million residents to stay home for three days as volunteers conduct door-to-door Ebola screenings. However, the stringent lockdown may backfire, according to Doctors Without Borders.

"Without enough beds to treat patients who have Ebola we will fail to stop it spreading even further," Doctors Without Borders said. "What Sierra Leone and Liberia urgently need are more beds in case management centers, and they need them now."

The outbreak in West Africa has already infected more than 5,300 and killed more than 2,600 since it started in March, according to the World Health Organization. The Ebola outbreak is the worst ever, with more people infected and killed in six months than all other previous outbreaks from the past 38 years combined.

The hardest hit countries in West Africa include Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Guinea and Senegal. Some countries have requested help from the international community and aid agencies after being overwhelmed by sick patients.

On Thursday, WHO chief Dr. Margaret Chan sounded the alarm about the outbreak, calling it “likely the greatest peacetime challenge” the United Nations agency has ever faced.

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Lawmakers Propose Overhaul to Federal Black Lung Program


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Two U.S. senators are preparing legislation to better protect ailing coal miners who are suffering from black lung disease on the heels of reports by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that exposed flaws in the federal benefits program.

“We don’t want these kinds of injustices that have been perpetrated for many years now to continue,” said Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

The legislation, which was made public Thursday, attempts to improve a cumbersome and time-consuming program that is supposed to provide health benefits to coal miners who contract black lung disease and become too sick to work. The new bill is intended to help miners with legal costs, to help speed up the review process, and to assist them in gathering medical evidence when a coal company disputes the worker’s claim of being sick.

Perhaps most pointedly, the proposed law would increase penalties for unethical conduct by attorneys and doctors in the black lung claims process.

Casey crafted the bill with another senator from coal country, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia. Casey said the proposal comes in direct response to a joint, year-long investigation by ABC News and the Center for Public Integrity that found the head of the Johns Hopkins black lung program, Dr. Paul S. Wheeler, had not reported a single instance of severe black lung in the more than 1,500 claims that the news outlets reviewed going back to the year 2000.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Labor, which oversees the benefits program, said they were unaware of Wheeler's record until the ABC News report was broadcast.

"It was shocking," said Patricia Smith, the Labor Department solicitor, in an interview earlier this year, when the department issued new rules to assist miners with their claims.

Labor Department officials declined to comment on the proposed legislation because it had not yet been formally introduced. Casey’s office said that was due to occur immediately after the congressional recess that was scheduled to begin Friday. The United Mine Workers of America called the proposal an “imperative,” noting reports that black lung disease has resurgent in mining country after years of decline.

“As the recent troubling revelations about the rapid rise of black lung in Central Appalachia indicates, it is imperative that action be taken as soon as possible,” said Phil Smith, director of governmental affairs for the union. “It is important for Congress to step up and pass this bill.”

Casey expressed doubts about the prospects for the bill, noting the strength of the coal industry lobby in Washington. “It’s very much uphill because you have a lot of vested interests who would like to see the system stay just like it is,” Casey told ABC News.

Bruce Watzman, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, said the legislation was being introduced “under the guise of equity,” but would actually open the black lung benefits program up to fraud and abuse. It would also unfairly limit the ability of coal companies to defend against unjustified claims, he said.

“It will result in more litigation with the losers being those who truly suffer from occupational disease resulting from coal mine employment,” Watzman said in a statement. “No one wants to deny a miner with this disease the benefits he or she deserves and there are existing guidelines to ensure those are allocated as the law intends. But this legislation does nothing to advance this admirable goal.”

ABC News sought reaction from Johns Hopkins Thursday but received no response. The hospital suspended its black lung x-ray reading program since shortly after the report first aired last fall and pledged to investigate the matter.

During the initial broadcast, Wheeler explained why he had rarely concluded that coal miner x-rays revealed the complicated form of black lung disease. He said he could not conclude the miners had black lung without first seeing a biopsy -- a step not required by the government benefits program. And he said he believed other maladies were as likely, or more likely, to cause lung damage that could be mistaken as black lung.

"That's my opinion, and I have a perfect right to my opinion," he said.

For his work, coal companies paid Hopkins $750 for each X-ray he reads for black lung, about ten times the amount miners typically pay their doctors.

One leading expert in black lung, Dr. Jack Parker of West Virginia University, called Wheeler's X-ray readings "intellectually dishonest” in ABC News’ original broadcast.

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Emergency Room Wait Times Vary Widely


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- How long did you have to wait the last time you visited an emergency room?

According to two new studies reported in JAMA Internal Medicine, wait and treatment times vary widely, and the hospital setting is a factor.

An analysis of medical records for adults seen at almost 3,700 different emergency rooms across the country in 2012 and 2013 shows admitted patients spent an average of four hours in the ER, with about one-third of that time occurring after admission while waiting for an in-patient bed to become available.

Patients who did not end up getting admitted waited an average of a half-hour to see a health care professional, and overall spent a little more than two hours in the ER.

The analysis also showed that ER patients at urban hospitals waited longer to see someone and spent more time overall in the ER than patients at smaller and/or rural facilities.

And among admitted patients, those seen at either a public hospital or a major teaching hospital tended to get stuck in the ER longer than those admitted to other types of care centers.

In a separate analysis of data from nearly 25,000 ER visits, just over half of the ERs were able to get a vast majority of admitted patients in and out within an 8-hour period, but less than a quarter of ERs were able to get 90 percent of their non-admitted patients discharged within a four-hour period. That data was collected by the 2010 National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.

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FDA: 'Low T' Therapy Provides Few Benefits and Increased Heart Risk


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- You've seen the "Low-T" commercials targeted at Baby Boom generation men to convince them that testosterone replacement therapy is the answer to the sagging muscles, lower energy levels and sexual problems that often come with aging, but a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel reported this week there is little evidence the treatment works.

The panel voted 20-1 to tighten use of testosterone replacement drugs and require drug manufacturers to conduct tests to gauge the drugs' risk of heart attack and stroke, according to Bloomberg News.

The FDA is not required to follow the recommendations of its expert panels, but it usually does.

According to an FDA review, the number of men with a testosterone prescription jumped from 1.3 million people in 2010 to 2.3 million in 2013.  An agency analysis found that just 50 percent of the men now taking testosterone therapy had been diagnosed with hypogonadism, the specific medical diagnosis for testosterone deficiency.

In addition, the FDA review found 25 percent of men started the therapy without lab testing to confirm they had low levels of testosterone.

The FDA report warns that testosterone therapy, even if done correctly, can often have serious health consequences.

The agency cites a study that found a 30-percent increased risk of stroke or heart attack in a group of men recently prescribed testosterone therapy.

The FDA says a second study found that men 65 and older experienced a twofold increase in heart attack risk within the first three months of starting testosterone therapy.

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Study: 'Angelina Effect' Led to Increase in Breast Cancer Referrals and Testing


ABC/Rick Rowell(NEW YORK) -- A new study from the United Kingdom found a 2.5 percent increase in hereditary breast cancer referrals, which they linked to the publicity given to the BRCA1 gene when actress Angelina Jolie opted for a double mastectomy last year.

The study, published in the journal Breast Cancer Research, found that more than 4,800 referrals were made to medical clinics that specialize in treating women with a family history of breast cancer in the two months after Jolie's announcement. That figure is more than double the 1,900 from before her announcement, a phenomenon referred to as the "Angelina Effect."

Additionally, testing for BRCA genes doubled for six months following the news of Jolie's decision.

The researchers noted that the referrals were appropriate and not due to excess worry.

Other studies have noted a similar impact of Jolie's announcement, finding that it led to a surge in breast cancer referrals and BRCA testing.

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NFL Teams Up with National Domestic Violence Hotline


JumpStock/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The National Domestic Violence Hotline announced Thursday that the NFL has, "committed to providing significant resources to the organization" in order to help women who have been abused by their boyfriends or husbands.

“We have never had the funding needed to meet the demand for our services from those seeking help with domestic violence and dating abuse. Last year, because of this lack of resources, more than 77,000 calls went unanswered. Recent domestic violence incidents involving NFL players pushed the capacity of our organization to unprecedented levels,” said Katie Ray-Jones, president and chief executive officer of the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

“Because of this long-term commitment by the NFL to provide The Hotline with much-needed resources, our services will finally be accessible to all those who need us when they bravely take the first step to find safety and live a life free of abuse."

The move comes after the NFL has been hit with several high-profile cases of players arrested for domestic violence.

The group, who announced the agreement in a news release posted to its website, did not specify how much the NFL had given them.

The organization said that just days after the release of a video last week showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancé in an elevator, the Hotline’s call volume increased by 84 percent.

“Our decision to enter into a long-term partnership with the NFL will help us immediately increase our ability to hire additional advocates, improve our infrastructure and provide more education about domestic violence that affects one in four women and one in seven men in their lifetimes,” said Maury Lane, who chairs the board of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “It is important that we answer their calls."

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Obama Administration Acts to Combat Antibiotic-Resistant Infections


shironosov/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- President Obama and his administration acted on Thursday in an effort to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

According to a White House fact sheet, Obama signed an Executive Order directing key agencies and departments to take action on the matter. The administration released its National Strategy on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Thursday, which includes a five-year plan for preventing and containing outbreaks of resistant infections.

Included in Obama's Executive Order are the establishment of a new task force, establishment of the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria, improvement over antibiotic stewardship, strengthened surveillance, promoted development of new and next-generation antibiotics and diagnostics and strengthened international cooperation.

The Departments of Health and Human Services, Defense and Veterans Affairs will be urged to review existing regulation governing antibiotic stewardship and more stringent regulation will be undertaken at office-based practices, outpatient settings, emergency departments and long-term care facilities. Additional federal agencies will be asked to engage the World Health Organization and its member states on a global action plan.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that antibiotic-resistant infections are associated with 23,000 deaths and two million illnesses in the U.S. each year. Those figures could cause an impact of up to $20 billion in direct health care costs and $35 billion in lost work productivity.

Obama also launched a $20 million prize, co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to promote the development of a, "rapid, point-of-care diagnostic test for healthcare providers to use to identify highly resistant bacterial infections."

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Researchers Call for More Funding for Study of Advanced Breast Cancer


monkeybusinessimages/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers say that not enough is being done to combat advanced breast cancer.

According to the published study, the experts say 1.6 million new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed each year. As many as one-fifth of those cases, about 320,000, are considered advanced.

While the survival rate for most women with advanced breast cancer is just two to three years, researchers say that the disease has not been sufficiently studied. Their guidelines, published in the journal Annals of Oncology, call for increased investment into research on advanced breast cancer.

Most research, the experts claim, is focused on early-stage breast cancer, providing few options for women diagnosed with advanced stages of the disease.

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Sierra Leone to Start Three-Day Nationwide Lockdown to Stop Ebola


Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Sierra Leone is set to begin a three-day lockdown Thursday night at midnight to curb the spread of Ebola, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Government authorities have ordered the country's six million people to stay in their homes from Sept. 19 through Sept. 21, while volunteers go door-to-door to screen for Ebola and take infected people in hiding to Ebola facilities, according to Doctors Without Borders, which called the endeavor "coercive."

"Large-scale coercive measures like forced quarantines and lockdowns are driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers," Doctors Without Borders said in a statement to ABC News. "This is leading to the concealment of cases and is pushing the sick away from health systems."

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has sickened at least 5,357 people since March, killing 2,630 of them, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. This is the largest Ebola outbreak since the deadly virus was identified in 1976, and the virus has killed more people in the last six months than it had in the previous 38 years combined.

Doctors Without Borders said it will be "extremely difficult" for government health workers to screen patients in this way without proper expertise. And even if the effort was successful, there would be too many Ebola patients to fit into existing facilities.

"Without enough beds to treat patients who have Ebola we will fail to stop it spreading even further," Doctors Without Borders said. "What Sierra Leone and Liberia urgently need are more beds in case management centers, and they need them now."

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Mother's Dying Wish Granted After Her Nurse Takes in Her Son


Courtesy of Tricia Seaman(HARRISBURG, Pa.) -- When Tricia Somers was given the devastating diagnosis that she had terminal liver cancer last spring, her main concern was figuring out who would care for her 8-year-old son, Wesley.

Somers, a single mother, didn't have any family she believed could take on caring for a child and her parents had died years earlier. But Somers was determined and has found a unique solution for her situation after asking her favorite nurse, Tricia Seaman, to care for her son.

Somers made her big request the day she was supposed to be discharged from the hospital. Somers and Seaman had become friendly while Somers underwent numerous diagnostic tests.

When Seaman visited Somers on her final day in the Pinnacle Health's Community General campus in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she had no idea of Somers' intentions.

The long-time nurse told ABC News that after Somers said that her diagnosis was terminal, she asked one question.

"She said, 'If I die will you raise my son?'" recalled Seaman.

Seaman said she initially had no answer for the big request.

"I didn't know what to say in that moment," said Seaman. "I told her I was flattered enough [that she] asked me. I said to her, 'Why don't you take a little time with this.' ...I was trying to be very diplomatic, everything in me said was saying 'Yes I'll do it.'"

Seaman and her family had actually been in the process of becoming foster parents and had just accomplished the first step after they were approved to be adoptive parents. They also are the parents of three teenage girls and a 10-year-old son.

Somers, who is now in hospice, spoke to ABC News affiliate WHTM-TV in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, about her decision to ask Seaman to take care of her son.

"She came in and I just felt this overwhelming feeling of comfort," Somers told WHTM-TV. "It was strange. I never had that feeling before and I thought she is going to take care of me. She is the one."

Seaman said after the request, she and her family started to visit with Somers and Wesley, first going to her apartment and then inviting them over to see their house. She said she wanted to make sure that this placement seemed like a good fit.

"The first time she was here, I said, 'Does everything look okay to you? Is it what you had in mind?'" said Seaman. "I felt like I was interviewing. ...She said it was perfect."

When Seaman spoke to her husband Daniel about the idea of adopting Wesley, he simply told her, "We need to do something to help this lady," Seaman recalled.

As Seaman and Somers became closer, 45-year-old Somers started grueling chemotherapy that left her barely able to walk. Some days she was unable to get Wesley to school because she couldn't walk to her car or was too tired to get out of bed.

Eventually she became so weak she was hospitalized.

At that point, Seaman along with her family decided it was time to not only take Wesley into their family, but Somers as well.

"At one point I said, 'I can't be your nurse anymore. I'm your family now,'" said Seaman. "I talked to her and said I want you to come [home]. She kind of fell apart and cried. She said, 'I'd love to.'"

Seaman said when Somers arrived in May, doctors thought she would survive for only a month. But with care and time, Seaman said Somers has improved and can now walk without the help of a cane.

Seaman said she and her husband have signed paperwork to become Wesley's legal guardians after Somers' death. This summer, the entire family, Somers and her son included, were able to go on vacation together.

"We just want to Trish to live life to the fullest and...we love her and love Wesley," said Seaman. "He's a very smart little boy. We want to see him get an education and be successful and know that he's not alone. He has a family. He's not going to be all by himself."

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Artificial Sweeteners May Increase Blood Sugar Risks


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(REHOVOT, Israel) -- Many people use artificial sweeteners to avoid sugar and the increased risk of type 2 diabetes that comes with too much of the natural stuff, but new research shows the fake substitutes may be equally bad.

In a study published Thursday in the journal Nature, researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose and saccharine may lead to type 2 diabetes just like eating sugar does.

The researchers say the millions of microbes, largely bacteria, in your digestive system may be the reason.

In a number of experiments in people and lab mice, researchers observed the interaction between gut microbes and the consumption of the sweeteners.

Some of the human participants and mice experienced a two- to fourfold increase in blood sugars after consuming artificial sweeteners for a brief time.

Medical experts agree that high blood sugar levels can eventually lead to diabetes.

The researchers cautioned that the study needs to be repeated before they can properly determine if artificial sweeteners can actually increase the risk of developing diabetes.

"I think this issue is far from being resolved," says Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science.


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Food and Beverage Companies Trim Trillions of Calories from Products


iStock/Thinkstock(CHAPEL HILL, N.C.) -- In wake of the news that American waistlines are larger than ever comes a report that 16 major food and beverage companies have made good on their pledge to reduce calories in their products.

The companies, acting in concert through the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, had pledged to remove one trillion calories from the market between 2007 and 2012, and 1.5 trillion by 2015.

They've actually reduced far more: 6.4 trillion calories, according to a report in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The 16 companies collectively met their pledge and exceeded their pledge," said lead researcher Shu Wen Ng, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ng said the reduction translates to about 78 fewer calories per person daily.

The calorie reductions came from food categories such as sugar-sweetened beverages, snacks, cereals, candies, cookies and fats and oils.

The 16 companies are Bumble Bee Foods, Campbell Soup Co., ConAgra Foods, General Mills Inc., Kellogg Co., Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., McCormick & Co., Nestle USA, PepsiCo Inc., Post Foods/Ralston Foods, Hillshire Brands, Coca-Cola Co., Hershey Co., the J.M. Smucker Co. and Unilever.

Ng cautions that while companies have improved their products, the focus in the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation effort was on calories only.

"We can't say anything about other nutrients or ingredients," Ng added. She acknowledges that more work is needed.

"Our diets are a function of a lot more than calories," she said.

Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this week that the average waist size among American adults expanded more than an inch -- from 37.6 inches to 38.8 inches -- between 1999 and 2012.

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Researchers Say PTSD and Food Addiction May Be Linked


Image Source White/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and food addiction may be linked, researchers say.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry, researchers surveyed 49,408 women who found that those women who self-identified as having PTSD symptoms also had the highest rate of self-reporting food addiction symptoms.

Approximately eight percent of respondents reported having many PTSD symptoms, about 73 percent had some symptoms and 19 percent reported none. Among those women with the highest number of PTSD symptoms, 18 percent also self-identified as having food addiction symptoms.

The study's authors have theorized that those people suffering from PTSD may be using food to cope with psychological stress.

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Researchers May Have Found Link Between Migraines and Parkinson's Disease


wavebreakmedia/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Researchers believe that they have linked frequency of migraine headaches to increased risk of developing Parkinson's disease.

According to the study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers studied data from 5,620 people for 25 years. Researchers say 430 of the study's participants had migraine headaches with aura in mid-life. Of those who suffered from migraines, 2.4 percent later developed Parkinson's Disease, while only 1.1 percent of those without migraines developed Parkinson's.

The study also found that 19.7 percent of those who suffered from migraines later experienced Parinsonian symptoms, compared to 7.5 percent who did not have the headaches.

The study was limited to patients in Iceland, so further research will need to be conducted to determine if the link between migraines and Parkinson's Disease can be extrapolated to a larger population.

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Enterovirus D68 Prompts Hospital Wards to Ban Child Visitors


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Several hospitals have banned children from visiting patients amid fears of a respiratory virus that has sent some children to the hospital gasping for breath.

Hospitals in upstate New York -- including SUNY Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse -- are the latest to restrict young visitors as Enterovirus D68 spreads primarily among children nationwide. State health departments have reported possible cases in 27 states, and experts say the virus likely infected thousands.

"In the upcoming weeks, more states will have confirmed cases of EV-D68 infection," the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on its website.

ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser noted this practice of keeping kids away from the hospital isn't uncommon. It also happens during the regular flu season.

"Frequently during periods when particularly contagious viruses are spreading in communities, hospitals implement restrictions on visitations by children," Besser said.

Enterovirus D68 starts off like the common cold but can quickly turn serious and cause children to have difficulty breathing -- especially if they have asthma. In the most extreme cases, children are so sick they need to be put on a ventilator in a hospital's intensive care unit. No children have died from the illness so far.

The age restrictions on visitors vary from hospital to hospital. For instance, Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis is only restricting people under 18 from visiting its neonatal intensive care unit. Meanwhile, SUNY Upstate isn't allowing people under 16 to visit its children's hospital at all, according to ABC News' Syracuse affiliate WSYR. And American Fork Hospital in American Fork, Utah, isn't allowing anyone under 14 to visit its nursery or pediatric ward.

Hospitals are also restricting people who are sick -- with perhaps a cough or a cold -- from visiting these wards.

The CDC has officially confirmed only 130 enterovirus D68 cases in 12 states, but experts say this number probably doesn't reflect the scope of the outbreak as a whole.

Since the CDC does not require hospitals or state labs to report enterovirus D68 cases, and many state health departments are unable to test for it, experts say the reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg.

New Jersey became the 27th state to announce possible enterovirus D68 cases.

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