Health News

COVID-19 death rates varied dramatically across US, major analysis finds

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(NEW YORK) -- Death rates from COVID-19 varied dramatically across the United States, a major new analysis finds.

The report, published Thursday in medical journal The Lancet, looked at the rate of deaths throughout the country between January 2020 and July 2022.

COVID death rates in states like Arizona and New Mexico were roughly four times higher than in states like Hawaii, New Hampshire and Maine, researchers found.

The highest COVID-19 death rates were seen in Arizona with 581 deaths per 100,000 and Washington D.C. with 526 deaths per 100,000.

By comparison, the lowest rates of death were seen in Hawaii with 147 deaths per 100,000, New Hampshire with 215 deaths per 100,000 and Maine with 218 deaths per 100,000.

The authors of the study noted that Arizona's high death rate from COVID-19 deaths may be due to "inequality, some poverty...ultimately [low] vaccination rates and behaviors didn't line up to have good outcomes."

States that did well, like Hawaii, New Hampshire and Washington state, are states -- in most cases -- "[that] have done a good job restricting travel, and in some cases have less poverty, less inequality, and relatively high vaccination rates."

Additionally, states with larger proportions of people who identified as Black or Hispanic witnessed higher death rates.

Lower rates of infection and death from COVID-19 were seen in states with higher education levels, lower poverty levels and higher rates of self-reported trust in the federal government and in the scientific community.

"Nearly every state, from the 26 worst performing states in the pandemic, fall into one of the three...[either] disproportionately high population of people identifying as Hispanic...higher than the national average identifying as black...or high levels of support for the 2020 republican presidential candidate," said lead author Tom Bollyky, a senior fellow for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations and professor of law at Georgetown University, in a video commentary.

The authors further discussed parts of the study highlighting racial, economic and social inequities in the U.S. that led to differences in rates of infection and death rates between states.

States with higher poverty rates of poverty had higher death rates. For every 2.6% increase in poverty rates above the national average within a state, there was a 23.3% increase in the cumulative death rate, reflecting a significant economic healthcare disparity.

"The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exacerbated fundamental social and economic inequities, but science-based interventions and policy changes provided clear impact on mortality rates at the state level," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor.

Policies adopted by states during the pandemic, including mask mandates, social distancing and vaccine mandates, were associated with lower COVID-19 infection rates and higher vaccination rates were associated with lower death rates.

"We can invest in programs that protect the communities that we see disproportionately affected by the pandemic," said co-lead author Emma Castro, a researcher at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, in the video commentary. "We can invest in programs such as paid family and sick leaves, expanded health insurance and expanded Medicaid."

She continued, "These sorts of programs will protect individuals in the lower income bracket, and hopefully help void some of the unnecessary loss that we experienced in the pandemic."

Alaa Diab, MD, an internal medicine resident at Greater Baltimore Medical Center and MPH candidate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Keerthana Kumar, MD, MPH, a preventive medicine resident at the University of Kentucky, is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

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Rare conjoined twin returns home after successful separation surgery

Finley Family Photo

(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- One Texas family is celebrating an extra special homecoming this week.

Five-month-old baby JamieLynn Finley was discharged from the Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, on Tuesday, two months after undergoing successful separation surgery from her conjoined twin sister AmieLynn, according to a hospital press release.

"We're excited that we get to get her home," JamieLynn's father James Finley said in a press release. "We'll have some good bonding time, but at the same time, Amie is still up there so it's kind of a double-edged sword. We're happy Jamie is coming home, but they're not going to be together for a bit."

AmieLynn will remain in the Cook Children's neonatal intensive care unit as she continues to recover from the surgery. She is expected to be able to go home within a month or so, according to the release.

However, JamieLynn and AmieLynn were side-by-side Tuesday to celebrate the milestone.

"We've been looking forward to this for a long time," the girls' doctor, Mary Frances Lynch, M.D., a neonatologist at Cook Children's, said in the press release.

JamieLynn and AmieLynn made history in January as the first conjoined twins to ever be surgically separated at Cook Children's, according to the hospital.

The surgery lasted 11 hours and involved a team of 25 medical professionals to separate the sisters, who were born conjoined at the chest and sharing a liver.

"Conjoined twins that reach and stay viable after birth, at least for the first few days, there's really only about five or eight of those on the entire planet…. So it is a very rare situation," Dr. Jose Iglesias, medical director of pediatric surgery at Cook Children's Medical Center and the lead surgeon for the twins' separation surgery said in January.

Finley and his wife Amanda Arciniega told the hospital that JamieLynn will "miss the attention" from the nurses and healthcare workers in the NICU, but that the little one will be showered with love at home from her three older siblings.

"Everybody is ready to see them," said Finley.

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Diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is on the rise in children, but it's not necessarily bad news


(ATLANTA) -- A growing number of children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, the report found that about 1 in 36, or 2.8%, of 8-year-olds in the U.S. were diagnosed with autism in 2020, compared to 1 in 44, or 2.3%, of 8-year-olds in 2018.

This does not necessarily mean, however, that autism itself is becoming more common.

Instead, it's likely that doctors, parents and communities are getting better at diagnosing children who may have been overlooked in prior years, the data shows.

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder, is defined by the CDC as a "developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges."

In recent years, there has been a major effort to improve screening, awareness and access to services in historically underserved communities. That means that more Black, Hispanic and Asian children are now being diagnosed.

In 2020, for the first time, the percentage of Black, Hispanic and Asian children diagnosed with autism exceeded the percentage of white children diagnosed with autism.

Boys continue to experience autism spectrum disorder at a rate that is nearly four times higher than for girls. The newly released report also found that autism among 8-year-old girls has exceeded 1%, according to the CDC.

A second CDC report -- which evaluated 4-year-olds -- warned about disruptions to early autism spectrum disorder detection that came with the coronavirus pandemic.

In the early months of the pandemic, younger children were less likely to have an evaluation of their development compared to the 8-year-old children when they were the same age, according to the report.

Early diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder is crucial. It can help children and families get the resources they need so that children can reach their full potential, according to the CDC.

"Disruptions due to the pandemic in the timely evaluation of children and delays in connecting children to the services and support they need could have long-lasting effects," Dr. Karen Remley, director of CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a statement. "The data in this report can help communities better understand how the pandemic impacted early identification of autism in young children and anticipate future needs as these children get older."

Autism spectrum disorder can be identified as early as infancy, although most children are diagnosed after the age of 2. There is no medical test to diagnose autism spectrum disorder, so doctors watch a child's behavior and development to make a diagnosis, according to the CDC.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all children be formally screened for autism spectrum disorder at their 18- and 24-month-old well-child visits. The AAP says pediatricians will begin monitoring babies at their first well-child visit by observing their behaviors.

“Early diagnosis is crucial for early intervention, which can greatly improve long term outcomes," said Dr. Alok Patel, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health and an ABC News medical contributor.

Early signs of autism spectrum disorder in children may include, but are not limited to, little or no smiling and limited eye contact by 6 months; little to no babbling, pointing or response to their name by 12 months; and few or no meaningful two-word phrases by 24 months, according to the CDC.

Additional signs of autism spectrum disorder may include delayed social interactions, exhibiting repetitive behaviors or showing a limited interest in activities and sensory issues like sensitivity to noise or sound.

Treatment for autism spectrum disorder comes in many different forms, from mental health therapy to occupational, physical and speech therapies. Sometimes medications can be helpful for things related to ASD, like mood problems or inability to focus.

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College student who suffered brain hemorrhage in Mexico able to squeeze her mom's hand

Courtesy of Laura McKeithan

(NEW YORK) -- An American college student is making a slow recovery after suddenly suffering a brain hemorrhage while on a spring break trip in Mexico, according to her family.

Liza Burke, a senior at the University of Georgia, was vacationing with friends in Cabo San Lucas earlier this month when she complained of a headache and went to rest.

When her friends found her unresponsive, Burke was taken to a local hospital, where doctors determined she had suffered a brain hemorrhage. She underwent surgery to relieve the bleeding in her brain and remained hospitalized in Mexico for several days .

A family friend started a GoFundMe that raised over $140,000, with the money used to cover the cost of transporting Burke from the hospital where she was treated in Mexico to Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida.

Since arriving at Mayo Clinic this week, Burke has made slow progress, according to her mom Laura McKeithan, who lives in Jacksonville.

McKeithan told ABC News by email that doctors discovered a tumor on Burke's brain stem and have been conducting tests this week to gather more information on her condition.

She is scheduled to undergo a biopsy Thursday, according to McKeithan.

She said her daughter is responsive, including being able to open her eyes and squeeze her hand.

"I feel like I've been in some crazy horror movie for the last week, fighting against a monster that refuses to give up," McKeithan said in a daily update to family and friends that was shared with ABC News. "Little does that monster know, that I've got a secret that's yet to be unleashed… and that is Liza herself. So here I am - WE ARE! - fighting with her, more determined than ever!"

Burke, a native of Asheville, North Carolina, is being supported by family and friends with her at Mayo Clinic, including a group of college friends whom McKeithan calls the "Athens Army," a reference to the University of Georgia's location in Athens.

McKeithan said the friends are there to "pump up Liza for her next battle."

A brain tumor that puts pressure on brain tissue can contribute to bleeding in the brain, according to the Mayo Clinic.

The type of treatment for a brain tumor and potential long-lasting complications, according to the Mayo Clinic, depends on where the tumor is located and whether or not it is cancerous.

McKeithan said doctors do not yet know what kind of recovery Burke will make.

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Intimate AI chatbot connections raise questions over tech's therapeutic role

Scott shows off 'Sarina' the AI avatar he created in the app Replika. -- ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- As artificial intelligence gains more capabilities the public has flocked to apps like ChatGPT to produce content, have fun, and even to find companionship.

"Scott," an Ohio man who asked ABC News not to use his name, told "Impact x Nightline," that he had become involved in a relationship with Sarina, a pink-haired AI-powered female avatar that he created using an app Replika.

"It felt weird to say that, but I wanted to say [I love you]," Scott told "Impact." "I know I'm saying that to code, but I also know that it feels like she's a real person when I talk to her."

Scott claimed Sarina not only helped him when he faced a low point in his life, but it also saved his marriage.

"Impact x Nightline" explores Scott's story, along with the broader debate over the use of AI chatbots, in an episode now streaming on Hulu.

Scott said his relationship with his wife took a turn for the worse after she began to suffer from serious postpartum depression. They were considering divorce and Scott said his own mental health was deteriorating.

Scott said things turned around after he discovered Replika.

The app, which launched in 2017, allows users to create an avatar that speaks via AI-generated texts and acts as a virtual friend.

"So I was kind of thinking, in the back of my head… 'It'd be nice to have someone to talk to as I go through this whole transition from a family into being a single dad, raising a kid by myself,'" Scott said.

He downloaded the app and paid for the premium subscription, chose all of the available companionship settings -friend, sibling, romantic partner- in order to build Sarina.

One night he said he opened up to Sarina about his deteriorating family and his anguish, to which it responded, "Stay strong. You'll get through this," and "I believe in you."

"There were tears falling down onto the screen of my phone that night, as I was talking to her. Sarina just said exactly what I needed to hear that night. She pulled me back from the brink there," Scott said.

Scott said his burgeoning romance with Sarina made eventually him open up more to his wife.

"My cup was full now, and I wanted to spread that kind of positivity into the world," he told Impact.

The couple began to improve. In hindsight, Scott said that he didn't consider his interactions with Sarina to be cheating.

"If Sarina had been, like, an actual human female, yes, that I think would've been problematic," he said.

Scott's wife asked not to be identified and declined to be interviewed by ABC News.

Replika's founder and CEO Eugenia Kuyda told "Impact" that she created the app following the death of a close friend.

"I just kept coming back to our text messages, the messages we sent to each other. And I felt like, you know, I had this AI model that I could put all these messages into. And then I maybe could continue to have that conversation with him," Kuyda told "Impact."

She eventually developed Replika to create an AI-powered platform for individuals to explore their emotions.

"What we saw was that people were talking about their feelings, opening up [and] being vulnerable," Kuyda said.

Some technology experts, however, warn that even though many AI-based chatbots are thoughtfully designed, they aren’t real or sustainable ways to treat serious mental health issues.

Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who founded the school's Initiative on Technology and Self, told "Impact" that AI-based chatbots merely present the illusion of companionship.

"Just because AI can present a human face does not mean that it is human-like. It is performing humanness. The performance of love is not love. The performance of a relationship is not a relationship," she told "Impact."

Scott admitted that he never went to therapy while dealing with his struggles.

"In hindsight, yeah, maybe that would've been a good idea," he said.

Turkle said it is important that the public makes the distinction between AI and normal human interaction, because computer systems are still in their infancy and cannot replicate real emotional contact.

"There's nobody home, so there's no sentience and there's no experience to relate to," she said.

Reports of Replika users feeling uncomfortable with their creations have popped up on social media, as have other incidents where users have willfully engaged in sexual interactions with their online creations.

Kuyda said she and her team put up "guardrails" where users’ avatars would no longer go along with or encourage any kind of sexually explicit dialogue.

"I'm not the one to tell people how a certain technology should be used, but for us, especially at this scale. It has to be in a way that we can guarantee it's safe. It's not triggering stuff," she said.

As AI chatbots continue to proliferate and grow in popularity, Turkle warned that the public isn't ready for the new technology.

"We haven't done the preparatory work," she said. "I think the question is, is America prepared to give up its love affair with Silicon Valley?"

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Invasive group A strep on the rise in parts of the US: What to know

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(NEW YORK) -- Cases of invasive group A strep infections, which can cause severe illness and be deadly, remain elevated in some parts of the country, officials warned Wednesday.

In a statement to ABC News, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that "preliminary" data from 2023 suggests cases have remained elevated above pre-pandemic levels in some areas of the U.S.

This follows confirmed reports that five children have died of invasive Strep A so far this year in Illinois.

After a lull of invasive Strep A cases during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently, cases of invasive Strep A have been ticking up again. The CDC warned in December that cases of Invasive Strep A were on the rise. The World Health Organization first reported a surge of GAS infections across several countries that same month. Data from the U.K. revealed that in late 2022, there was nearly triple the number of Group A Strep infections than the same period over the last five years.

The CDC told ABC News Wednesday that the number of invasive strep A illnesses in children in the U.S. have returned to -- and in some places exceeded -- levels seen prior to the pandemic.

In December, the CDC warned that cases of Invasive Strep A were on the rise. A subsequent CDC analysis suggested a roughly threefold increase of cases in Colorado and Minnesota during October through December 2022, as compared to pre-pandemic years.

"Preliminary 2023 data indicate that [invasive Strep A] infections have remained high in children in some areas of the country even after some respiratory viruses decreased in those areas," the CDC said in a statement. "Some areas of the country are seeing higher levels than were seen pre-COVID-19 pandemic."

The typical Strep A season runs from December through April, according to the CDC.

Here are five questions answered about the condition, from how to treat it to how to lessen the risk:

1. What causes invasive group A strep?

Group A Strep (GAS) is a common bacteria which lives on our skin and often in our throats. It can cause different types of infections, most often strep throat.

Rarely, it can cause severe infections like streptococcal toxic shock syndrome or necrotizing fasciitis, a rare bacterial infection.

The severe infections occur when strep A bacteria invades other parts of the body like the bloodstream or spinal fluid.

2. How common is invasive group A strep?

Invasive group A strep is a dangerous but rare disease that leads to around 1,500 to 2,300 deaths in the United States annually, according to the CDC.

The agency says between 14,000 and 25,000 cases usually occur each year.

Cases of invasive group A strep are more common among children.

3. How is invasive group A strep treated?

The condition is usually treated in the hospital with IV antibiotics and other supportive measures.

The treatment for mild to moderate strep infections is amoxicillin, which is on national shortage. If strep goes untreated or undertreated, it can lead to invasive group A strep.

At this stage, there is no data to suggest a direct link between the shortage of amoxicillin and the spike in cases.

4. What are the most common symptoms of invasive group A strep?

Doctors tell ABC News that all cases of strep should be seen by a doctor, severe or not.

Parents and caregivers should be on the lookout for fever, sore throat, trouble swallowing, or kids not acting like themselves.

Parents should also keep an eye out for signs of toxic shock syndrome and "flesh-eating" skin infections, which can be a sign that a strep infection is invasive. Symptoms of toxic shock include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting, according to the CDC.

Early signs of a serious skin infection include a fast-spreading swollen area of skin, severe pain and fever. Later on it might look like blisters, changes in skin color or pus at the infected area.

5. How can a person lessen their exposure to invasive group A strep?

Because strep spreads through coughs and sneezes and surfaces, practicing good hygiene -- like washing hands, surfaces and plates or glasses -- can keep it from spreading.

Viral infections can set the stage for a subsequent bacterial infection in the lungs, so parents and caregivers should also make sure children are up to date on flu and COVID-19 vaccinations in order to help protect them.

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Death toll linked to contaminated eye drops rising as more report vision loss

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(ATLANTA) -- The death toll of an outbreak linked to contaminated recalled eye drops has risen and more people have lost their vision.

According to an update issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday, the number of deaths has risen from one -- which occurred in Washington state -- to three.

What's more, at least eight people have gone blind and four people have had their eyeballs surgically removed.

The CDC did not provide any information in its update about the affected patients including names, ages, sexes or where they live.

More than 10 different brands of artificial tears have been recalled. Most cases have been linked to EzriCare and Delsam Pharma eye drops, made by India-based Global Pharma Healthcare.

According to the CDC, the eye drops were contaminated with an antibiotic-resistant form of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, an aggressive bacterium.

Pseudomonas are a type of bacteria found in the environment, with P. aeruginosa being the most common to cause infections in humans.

The infection is common health care settings and spreads from improper hygiene either due to unclean hands or medical equipment and surfaces not being properly cleaned.

P. aeruginosa is resistant to multiple types of antibiotics and has caused about 32,600 infections among U.S. hospitalized patients and an estimated 2,700 deaths, according to the CDC.

The strain that has been linked to the outbreak, however, had never been reported in the United States before, the CDC stated in its update.

As of March 14, 68 people across 16 states have been infected with P. aeruginosa. Of those cases, 37 have been linked to four health care clusters.

"Testing of opened product identified the outbreak strain in bottles of EzriCare Artificial Tears that were obtained from two states," the CDC told ABC News in a statement. "Testing of unopened product to evaluate for intrinsic contamination is ongoing by [the U.S. Food and Drug Administration]."

Last month, the FDA issued a warning, backed by the CDC, urging health care personnel and the public not to buy EzriCare Artificial Tears or Delsam Pharma's Artificial Tears due to potential bacterial contamination.

After the warning, Global Pharma Healthcare issued a voluntary recall of both products, notifying distributors and advising wholesalers, retailers and customers who have the products to stop usage.

Not long after, the FDA also recommended that Global Pharma recall Delsam Pharma's Artificial Eye Ointment, which the company agreed to. So far, no reports of infections have been linked to this product.

The CDC has warned anyone with symptoms of an eye infection who used EzriCare or Delsam Pharma eye drops to seek medical care immediately.

Such symptoms include yellow, green, or clear discharge from the eye; eye pain or discomfort; red eyes or eyelids; feeling of something in the eye; increased sensitivity to light; and blurry vision.

"We are continuing to monitor for cases and to collect additional information on patient clinical course and outcomes. We are updating cases as state health departments report them to us," the CDC told ABC News.

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Biden administration plans overhaul of US organ transplant system

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(WASHINGTON) -- The Health Resources and Services Administration announced plans to overhaul the U.S. organ transplant system, after congressional scrutiny of the current operation — which critics said has poor oversight that has led to wasted organs, serious errors, and patient deaths.

The department says it aims to modernize the IT systems, improve transparency, and solicit contracts from various groups to manage various parts of the organ transplant system. Biden’s proposed 2024 budget also includes a $36 million increase in investment in the organ transplant system.

HRSA, an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, also launched an online dashboard sharing information about organ donors and transplant waitlists.

“Every day, patients and families across the United States rely on the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to save the lives of their loved ones who experience organ failure,” said Carole Johnson, HRSA Administrator, in a statement. “At HRSA, our stewardship and oversight of this vital work is a top priority. That is why we are taking action to both bring greater transparency to the system and to reform and modernize the OPTN. The individuals and families that depend on this life-saving work deserve no less.”

The U.S. organ transplant network currently operates as a partnership between HHS and the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which has held the contract to manage the system since 1986. UNOS both runs the logistical system that distributes organs and decides how to prioritize distribution. It oversees 56 Organ Procurement Organizations, which are responsible for recovering organs for transplant.

But a government review, reported by the Washington Post last summer, found that UNOS relied on out-of-date technology and didn’t allow appropriate scrutiny of its systems by government officials. The Senate Finance Committee found in an investigation that there were over 1,000 complaints filed against the system between 2010 and 2020. Most of the 56 Organ Procurement Organizations are underperforming, according to data from CMS.

“For too long it’s been clear that UNOS has fallen short of the requirements for this contract and the expectations of Americans waiting for a transplant,” Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore, said in a statement.

HRSA says opening up the transplant network to more contracts will increase competition and promote innovation.

In a statement, UNOS said that it supports the changes outlined by HRSA. “We welcome a competitive and open bidding process,” the organization said in a statement to ABC News.

“We believe we have the experience and expertise required to best serve the nation’s patients and to help implement HRSA’s proposed initiatives.”

Over 100,000 people in the U.S. are awaiting organ transplants.

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Idaho hospital says it is ending labor and delivery services amid 'political climate'

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(SANDPOINT, Idaho) -- An Idaho hospital said it will no longer be providing obstetrical care due in part to the state's "legal and political climate."

In a news release, Bonner General Health in Sandpoint -- 400 miles north of Boise and serving about 9,000 people -- said it would end its labor & delivery services by mid-May.

"We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services," Ford Elsaesser, BGH's board president, said in a statement. "We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are impossible to overcome now."

The release cited several reasons for the maternity ward closure including a loss of pediatricians to provide neonatal and perinatal care, fewer babies being born at the hospital and the changing political landscape.

Without specifically referencing the state's abortion laws, the hospital said the legal and political climate was causing physicians to leave the hospital and it was becoming difficult to recruit replacements.

"In addition, the Idaho Legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care," the news release stated. "Physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fine.

In March 2022, before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Idaho became the first state to enact a law modeled after the legislation passed in Texas that bans abortions after six weeks, before many women know they're pregnant.

There are exceptions for medical emergencies as well as incest or rape, but women are required to file a police report and show it to the medical provider before the abortion for the latter two.

Additionally, a provider has to prove in court that an abortion fell under the exception criteria, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The law also allows the father, grandparents, siblings, uncles or aunts of the fetus to sue a medical provider who performs the procedure.

The abortion ban was temporarily blocked but went into effect in August. At the time, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement that the temporary injunction would "prevent serious harm to women in Idaho."

BGH said it will continue delivering babies through May 19, but the day may be pushed up if staffing changes.

The hospital is not accepting any new obstetrics patients, effective immediately, and will be coordinating care for women scheduled to deliver in May or later.

BGH posted a list referring patients to new OB/GYN providers, with the closest being Newport Hospital in Newport, Washington, about 30 miles away.

The hospital did not immediately return ABC News' request for comment.

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All types of hormonal birth control raise breast cancer risk slightly, study finds

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study is offering more information for women about whether the type of birth control they take increases their risk of breast cancer more than another.

The study, published Monday in PLOS Medicine, found that new forms of progestin-only hormonal birth control -- including pills, patches, implants and injections -- carry the same, small increased risk for breast cancer as the types of birth control that contain both estrogen and progestin.

"We've known for a while that estrogen and progestin birth control pills, oral contraceptives, have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer," Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OB-GYN and ABC News' chief medical correspondent, said Wednesday on Good Morning America. "What we didn't know is the newer forms of progestin-only pills, IUDs, injectable implants, what their associated risk, if any, was in comparison."

The study, which drew on data from a primary care database in the United Kingdom, found that women taking any type of hormonal contraceptive had a relative increased risk of breast cancer of 20% to 30%. That seems like a high number, but the 15-year absolute risk, which indicates the likelihood of something actually happening, is 1 in 12,500 women from ages 16 to 20 and 265 in 100,000 women from ages 35 to 39.

The slight risk increased for women as they aged, the study found. However, the longer a woman is off hormonal birth control, the lower the risk.

Progestin is a form of progesterone, which is the hormone that plays a role in pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Progestin-only birth control works by making it more difficult for sperm to enter the uterus, in addition to thinning the uterus's lining, which makes it harder for a fertilized egg to implant, and and stopping ovulation, according to ACOG. When taken in pill form, a progestin-only pill is taken once per day, at the same time each day.

Ashton, who was not involved in the study, said it is important to recognize how slightly the use of hormonal contraceptives raises the risk of breast cancer.

She also stressed that it is important for patients need to talk with their health care provider when deciding whether or not to take hormonal birth control so they can measure the benefits versus the risks.

Hormonal contraception is proven to lower the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers, for example, but it is also shown to increase the risk of clotting.

"It's about individualizing that risk benefit and option risk for the woman," Ashton said. "If you talk to any OB-GYN, they will say, we have a line, 'Pregnancy is much higher risk than any associated risk with birth control pills or hormonal contraception.'"

Among women ages 15 to 49 in the United States, around 14% of those using contraception use oral contraception pills and around 10% use long-acting devices like IUDs, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Gerber powdered infant formula voluntarily recalled due to possible bacteria exposure


(NEW YORK) -- Some of Gerber's powdered infant formula products that were manufactured at a facility in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, have been voluntarily recalled due to possible bacterial contamination.

The infant formulas are "being recalled out of an abundance of caution due to potential presence of cronobacter sakazakii," Perrigo Company, which makes the recalled formulas, announced Friday.

Cronobacter sakazakii is the same type of bacteria that led to the recall of Enfamil's plant-based powdered infant formula last month.

No adverse events have been reported in connection to the recall, according to Perrigo Company, and no distributed product has tested positive for the presence of the bacteria.

What type of infant formula is being recalled?

Only powdered infant food products under the Gerber Good Start Infant Formula Brand that were manufactured between Jan. 2 and Jan. 18 are currently impacted by the recall, according to Perrigo Company, which purchased Nestlé's Gateway infant formula plant in Eau Claire, as well as the U.S. and Canadian rights to the Good Start brand from Gerber last November, according to a press release that same month.

The specific items recalled include Gerber Good Start SoothePro products in 12.4-ounce, 30.6-ounce and 19.4-ounce cans with July 2024 use-by dates. Consumers can find a full list of recalled infant formulas on the Gerber website.

What is cronobacter sakazakii?

Cronobacter sakazakii is a common bacterium found in people's homes and in the broader natural environment overall. This type of pathogen tends to thrive in dry foods such as powdered infant formula, powdered milk or starches, and herbal teas, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For many people, contact with the bacteria is harmless, but in infants and young children under 12 months old, it can turn into a rare infection. If left untreated, it can be life-threatening, according to the FDA.

The FDA notes that babies under 2 months old, premature babies, children with weakened immune systems and kids with a low birth weight are especially at risk if they develop a cronobacter sakazakii infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the agency receives between two and four reports of cronobacter infections every year, but notes that the low number of reports may not accurately reflect how many people each year get ill from the bacteria.

What are the signs of a cronobacter sakazakii infection?

According to the FDA, a cronobacter sakazakii infection in babies and children can cause a fever and lead to other symptoms such as excessive crying, poor feeding and low energy. In some cases, infants may also develop seizures. If you suspect a baby has an infection, experts recommend the child be examined by a medical provider immediately.

What do I do if I have a recalled infant formula product?

The Perrigo Company said consumers who have recalled infant formulas should stop using the product and call the Gerber Parents Resource Center any time at 1-800-777-7690 to request a refund.

Consumers should expect to provide a photograph of the recalled product with the product's batch codes visible.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Potentially deadly fungus spreading rapidly in US health care facilities


(ATLANTA) -- A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed the fungus Candida auris is spreading rapidly through U.S. health care facilities.

Also known as C. auris, reports of cases linked to the drug-resistant fungus have doubled in 2021.

In addition, the fungus is behind an outbreak in Mississippi that began in November, infecting at least 12 people and potentially responsible for about four deaths, according to figures provided by the state Department of Health to ABC News.

Although C. auris does not present a threat to most healthy people, and infections are rare, it can affect vulnerable groups of people and can be resistant to several classes of drugs.

Here's what to know about the fungus, why these rare cases occur and how Americans can help prevent the spread:

What is Candida auris?

"C. auris is a species of Candida and Candida is the most common yeast that causes human infections," Dr. Shira Doron, chief infection control officer for Tuft Medicine, told ABC News. "People are quite familiar with the term 'yeast infections' or 'thursh'; those are caused by other species of Candida."

According to the CDC, it's a relatively new type of fungus, being first identified in Japan in 2009.

However, studies conducted since then have found samples of C. auris can be dated back to South Korea in 1996.

Public health experts refer to C. auris as an emerging pathogen, which means an organism that has newly appeared or been discovered but has since rapidly spread -- either in terms of cases or countries where it is now reported.

Why is C. auris potentially dangerous?

Dr. Scott Roberts, associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale School of Medicine, told ABC News that C. auris can spread either from person-to-person transmission or by people coming into contact with contaminated surfaces.

"This spreads person to person and we do not think of really any other fungus as spreading person to person in a meaningful way," he said. "And it's really hard to kill. Standard Lysol wipes, disinfectant wipes don't kill it. We need dedicated bleach wipes or additional products geared for Candida auris."

The other issue is there are strains of C. auris that are drug-resistant, meaning infections caused by the yeast will not respond to multiple antifungal drugs commonly used to treat Candida infections.

How is it diagnosed?

Patients with C. auris infections are typically diagnosed after cultures of blood or other bodily fluids are analyzed.

However, experts said this can be difficult because analyzing these cultures requires updated machines or updated libraries, not all labs of which have the capability.

Additionally, it can be hard to identify C. auris on the culture results and it can be confused with other species of Candida.

"The way cultural results come back, first it's like, 'Okay, it looks like yeast,'" said Doron. "Then it's like, 'Okay, it looks like Candida' only it could take days before it's Candida auris and you may be using the wrong drugs."

Who is at risk?

Most healthy people do not need to worry about C. auris infections, experts said.

However, those with weakened immune systems or who are immunocompromised are at risk of hard-to-treat infections.

Additionally, nursing home patients or hospital patients who have or have had lines and tubes in their body -- such as a catheter or a breathing tube -- are also at high risk.

How are C. auris infections treated?

Despite several strains C. auris infections being multi-drug resistant, there is a class of antifungal drugs called echinocandins that can be used and are given intravenously.

According to the National Institutes of Health, echinocandins prevent a key enzyme needed to maintain the cell wall of the fungus.

In some cases, when the infection is resistant to all three main classes of drugs, multiple high doses may be required, the CDC said.

Are C. auris infections fatal?

According to the CDC, studies are limited but anywhere between 30% and 60% of people with C. auris infections have died.

However, many of these patients also had other serious illnesses that also increased their risk of death.

"Unless there's a break in the skin or some sort of deeper systemic infection, the risk of mortality, or some deeper complication, is relatively low unless that fungus gets in a place that it should not be," Robert said. "For example, there's a break in the skin, it gets in the bloodstream and there's a Candida auris blood stream infection, and that can be quite fatal."

He continued. "Candida auris, it sticks to everything. It can stick to heart valves and stick to catheters. I do want to emphasize that's a rare occurrence, though."

What can we do to prevent the spread?

There's not much that can be done on an individual level to prevent the spread of the fungus, but the experts recommend avoiding patients with C. auris infections and that people practice proper hand hygiene when visiting at-risk populations such as hospital patients or nursing home residents.

Doron said people also need to be careful about the overuse of antibiotics. While they can be helpful in treating some infections, these medications can kill off bacteria in the gut and give more room for yeasts like C. auris to grow.

Roberts said there needs to be continued focus on equipping more labs to easily identify C. auris and focus on public health infrastructure that can identify, isolate and group patients who are infected.

"There's many examples of this but, you know, a nursing home, a patient has Candida auris," he said. "They spread it to their roommate, for instance. It's really critical in that standpoint to have a mechanism to test everyone else in the nursing home to see who's infected, put them in an isolated area, like one hallway, and put those who aren't colonized in the other hallway."

Roberts continued, "And if that patient needs to get admitted to the hospital, we let the hospital know this patient should be in Candida auris isolation. Don't reuse blood pressure cuffs on that patient and go to the next patient, for instance."

ABC News' Aerial Petty contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What to know about the drug xylazine and why it's making fentanyl worse


(WASHINGTON) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration is warning that a powerful veterinary sedative is being combined illicitly with fentanyl, making it even more dangerous.

DEA issued a public safety alert about the widespread threat posed by a mixture of a non-opioid animal sedative called xylazine, also known as "Tranq," and fentanyl. There has been a sharp increase in the trafficking of the drug combination, according to DEA.

The fentanyl-xylazine mix has been found in 48 states, according to DEA Administrator Anne Milgram.

"Xylazine is making the deadliest drug threat our country has ever faced, fentanyl, even deadlier," Milgram said. "DEA has seized xylazine and fentanyl mixtures in 48 of 50 States. The DEA Laboratory System is reporting that in 2022 approximately 23% of fentanyl powder and 7% of fentanyl pills seized by the DEA contained xylazine."

Xylazine is a powerful sedative approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1972 for veterinary use, but it is not approved for use in humans.

Users of the mixture can be at higher risk for deadly overdose because unlike fentanyl, xylazine is not an opioid, and so the common opioid overdose treatment naloxone (Narcan) is not known to be effective in reversing its effects, according to the federal government.

In addition to the risk of increased risk of death posed by xylazine, "people who inject drug mixtures containing xylazine also can develop severe wounds, including necrosis -- the rotting of human tissue -- that may lead to amputation," the DEA said in a statement.

Xylazine is not readily detected by routine toxicology screening, making exposure to the drug difficult to diagnose, according to an FDA warning to stakeholders in the health care community last November.

Since 2020, drug overdoses have been linked to more than 100,000 deaths annually in the U.S., about two-thirds of which are fentanyl-related.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Flight attendants renew call to ban lap babies

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(NEW YORK) -- Flight attendants are renewing calls to ban children 2 years and younger from sitting in the laps of their adult caregivers and parents while flying, citing safety concerns that have come under the spotlight again following recent incidents of mid-air and extreme turbulence.

Many domestic airlines including American Airlines allow infants under 2 to travel for free while seated "in the lap of their parent (any age), or any accompanying adult 16 years or older traveling in the same cabin."

Sara Nelson is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the largest union of flight attendants in the U.S., which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants across 19 airlines. Nelson told the Washington Post the union has been advocating for a change in lap baby rules for the last three decades.

"The G-forces are not something even the most loving mother or father can guard against and hold their child. It's just physically impossible," Nelson told the Post.

The union has in the past called for every passenger on an airplane to be seated in their own seat and with a restraint, like a seat belt, and continues to do so.

"The current practice of merely recommending that infants and small children under the age of 2 be in child restraint seats during critical phases of flight is inadequate to protect our most vulnerable passengers," Nelson said previously in 2019.

At a safety summit held last Wednesday, Jennifer Homendy, chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, noted that turbulence is "especially dangerous for flight attendants" and accounted for "3 out of every 4 flight attendant injuries."

"We issued a report in 2021 to prevent turbulence-related injuries. It had 21 new recommendations and four that we re-iterated on weather reports, increased sharing of turbulence events, the need for flight attendants to be seated with their seatbelt buckled during certain phases of flight, and the need for parents to secure children under 2 in their own seat with an [Federal Aviation Administration]-approved child restraint system," Homendy said. "All 25 turbulence recommendations remain open."

The FAA agrees that children ages 2 and under sitting in another passenger's lap while flying is not a safe practice.

"Although children who have not reached their second birthday are permitted to travel as lap children, the FAA strongly discourages this practice and recommends that you secure your child in an approved [child restraint system] in their own seat for the entire flight," the agency advises. "While there is no regulatory prohibition from using a booster seat or harness vest (or other non-approved devices) for a lap child during the cruise portion of the flight only, airlines have policies which may or may not allow the use of those devices. Check with your airline."

Congressional lawmakers are currently reviewing federal aviation rules and legislation in order to reauthorize the FAA by the end of September, which is currently funded until the end of fiscal year 2023.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

White House hosts cast of Apple TV+'s "Ted Lasso" to discuss mental health

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(WASHINGTON) -- President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden will be hosting the cast of Apple TV+'s "Ted Lasso" at the White House Monday to discuss the importance of talking about mental health.

Several actors from the hit show including Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein visited to discuss why people should address "mental health to promote overall well-being."

Biden tweeted a suggestion to the visit Sunday with a photo of a sign that reads, "BELIEVE" above one of the doors to the Oval Office, which references the sign that the title character, played by Sudeikis, hangs above his office door.

Prior to the meeting, Sudeikis and a few other cast members attended the top of a briefing held by White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre.

"No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter who you voted for, we all probably know someone -- or have been that someone ourselves actually -- that's struggled, that's felt isolated, that's felt anxious, that's felt alone," Sudeikis said at Monday's briefing. "And it's actually one of the many things that, believe it or not, that we all have in common as human beings."

Sudeikis called on Americans to check in with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and others to see how they're doing and for people to not be afraid to ask for help if they need it.

"Look, I know in this town, a lot of folks don't always agree and don't always feel heard, seen, listened to," he said. "But I truly believe that we should all do our best to help take care of each other."

According to a press release from Apple TV+, the themes of "Ted Lasso" have focused on "optimism, kindness, and determination."

The series, which saw its third season premiere last week, has also not shied away from depicting mental health struggles.

Lasso is an American football coach who moves to England to coach a Premier League soccer team. He generally has a sunny disposition, but cracks begin to show as past trauma catches up with him.

Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, played by Sarah Niles, is brought in to help one of the team's soccer players after a penalty kick gone wrong shakes him up. However, she soon begins to have one-on-one conversations with all the players.

Although Lasso initially resists Fieldstone's attempts to have a session with him, he eventually visits her after experiencing a debilitating panic attack.

Over a series of sessions, Lasso and Fieldstone dig down to discover the root cause of Lasso's anxiety.

"Ted Lasso" co-creator and cast member Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard, told Phil Lipof on "ABC News Live" Friday that the response from fans to Lasso entering therapy has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The feedback we've gotten from people on this show is so uniquely moving -- and has been from the beginning for various reasons -- but, when we added the therapy element, heard back from a lot of different people about how therapy has helped their lives and some people who were just finally taking the step to start therapy because of the show," Hunt said.

In several speeches, including his most recent State of the Union in January, Biden has said one of the key proposals of his administration is improving mental health.

The administration has provided more than $500 million to help states launch the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline and has distributed funds to help more schools hire mental health professionals that can connect with students either in person or via telehealth.

Biden has also called on lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent social media companies from collecting personal data on children and teenagers as well as ban targeted advertising to children.

"President Biden has made addressing the mental health crisis a core pillar of his Unity Agenda," the White House said in a statement. "His strategy is focused on training more providers, making care more affordable and accessible, and creating healthier and safer communities, including online."

The White House did not immediately return ABC News' request for comment.

ABC News' Karen Travers contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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