Geneva, Aug 22 (AP/UNB) — The World Health Organization says the levels of microplastics in drinking water don't appear to be risky, but that research has been spotty and more is needed into their effects on the environment and health.
Microplastics are created when man-made materials break down into tiny particles smaller than about 5 millimeters (roughly one-fifth of an inch), although there is no strict scientific definition.
In a report published Wednesday, the U.N. health agency said the minuscule plastics are "ubiquitous in the environment" and have been found in drinking water, including both tap and bottled, most likely as the result of treatment and distribution systems.
"But just because we're ingesting them doesn't mean we have a risk to human health," said Bruce Gordon, WHO's coordinator of water, sanitation and hygiene. "The main conclusion is, I think, if you are a consumer drinking bottled water or tap water, you shouldn't necessarily be concerned."
Gordon acknowledged, however, that the available data is "weak" and that more research is needed. He also urged broader efforts to reduce plastic pollution.
The report is WHO's first review to investigate the potential human health risks of microplastics. It said people have inadvertently consumed microplastics and other particles in the environment for decades without sign of harm.
Andrew Mayes, a senior lecturer in chemistry at Britain's University of East Anglia who didn't participate in the WHO report, agreed that microplastics in water don't appear to be a health worry for now.
"But I wouldn't want people to go away with the idea that microplastics are no longer important," because they might be harming the environment, he said. He said stronger measures to reduce plastic are needed.
"We know that these types of materials cause stress to small organisms," he said. "They could be doing a lot of damage in unseen ways."
"Even if we stop (adding) plastic to the environment right now, microplastics will increase as larger pieces divide into smaller and smaller pieces," Mayes said, adding scientists have little understanding of the long-term consequences.
WHO called for further analysis of microplastics in the environment and their potential health significance.
Gordon said that although WHO would continue to monitor levels of microplastics in water, the higher priority is proven risks in drinking water like bacteria that cause typhoid and cholera.
"These are things that cause immediate illness and can kill a million people," he said.
Dhaka, Aug 21 (UNB) - Known for its aromatic flavour, tej patta or bay leaf is widely used as a culinary spice in Indian dishes. The herb, which is indigenous to the Mediterranean region, is full of essential nutrients and minerals like vitamins A and C as well as folic acid and also boasts of a variety of health benefits, reports The Indian Expess.
The nutrient-rich herb is considered to help prevent digestive troubles, protect the heart and even act as a stress buster. Even diabetics who consume this wonder herb are known to report improved insulin function. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Biochemical Nutrition, suggested that those with type 2 diabetes who consumed bay leaves had reported lower glucose levels and improved cholesterol profiles. The type 2 diabetes patients took capsules of 1, 2, or 3 grams of ground bay leaf per day for 30 days and a fourth group took a placebo. The three groups who consumed bay leaf had lower glucose levels and improved cholesterol profiles at the end of the trial.
The active component of bay leaves is a polyphenol, which helps control glucose levels. A health condition where the body experiences erratic rise and fall in blood sugar levels, diabetes is particularly widespread in India. According to one estimate, currently some 62 million Indians suffer from diabetes mellitus, which constitutes about seven per cent of the entire adult population of the country. According to Indian Heart Association, the number of diabetics in India will jump to 109 million people by 2035.
It is considered that one tablespoon serving provides about five calories, primarily in the form of carbohydrate. Micronutrients in bay leaves include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, iron, and calcium.
Additionally, bay leaves were also found to improve the lipid profile of patients.
How to use
Most people use dried, crumbled, or ground bay leaves. Since ground bay leaves are considered too strong, usually a whole leaf is used in dishes while cooking and later discarded at the time of eating.
A single bay leaf used in cooking is not likely to change the nutritional value of the dish being prepared. Usually, the leaf is removed from the dish before eating it. However, if crumbled bay leaves are consumed in a dish, you may gain a few nutritional benefits.
Diabetics are advised to consume tej patta along with their regular medication as well as follow other healthy diet and lifestyle regulations.
Beijing, Aug 20 (AP/UNB) — Scientists are working to develop a vaccine to help guard the world's pork supply as a deadly virus ravages Asia's pig herds.
Farmers have long contained its spread by quarantining and killing infected animals, but the disease's devastating march into East Asia is intensifying the search for another solution.
The virus hadn't been considered as high a priority for researchers until it turned up last year in China, home to half the world's pig population, likely by way of Eastern Europe and Russia. Since then, it has spread to other Asian countries including Vietnam and Taiwan, killing millions of pigs along the way. Though it does not sicken people, the disease is highly contagious and deadly to pigs.
"Today's situation, where you have this global threat, puts a lot more emphasis on this research," said Dr. Luis Rodriguez, who leads the U.S. government lab on foreign animal diseases at Plum Island, New York.
One way to develop a vaccine is to kill a virus before injecting it into an animal. The disabled virus doesn't make the animal sick, but it prompts the immune system to identify the virus and produce antibodies against it. This approach, however, isn't consistently effective with all viruses, including the one that causes African swine fever.
It's why scientists have been working on another type of vaccine, made from a weakened virus rather than a dead one. With African swine fever, the puzzle has been figuring out exactly how to tweak the virus.
In Vietnam, where the virus has killed 3.7 million pigs in six months, the government said this summer it was testing vaccines but provided few details of its program. In China, the government indicated scientists are working on a vaccine that genetically alters the virus, an approach U.S. scientists have been pursuing as well.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it recently signed a confidential agreement with a vaccine manufacturer to further research and develop one of Plum Island's three vaccine candidates. The candidates were made by genetically modifying the virus to delete certain genes.
But before a vaccine becomes available, it needs to be tested in large numbers of pigs in secure facilities with isolation pens, waste and carcass incinerators and decontamination showers for staff, said Linda Dixon, a biologist at London's Pirbright Institute, which studies viral diseases in livestock. The process takes two to five years, she said.
The extensive testing is necessary to ensure vaccines made by weakened viruses don't have unintended side effects.
In the 1960s, for instance, Spain and Portugal tested such a vaccine after outbreaks of African swine fever. The treated pigs seemed fine at first, but then lesions broke out on their skin, arthritis locked up their joints and the animals failed to fatten up, said Jose Manuel Sanchez-Vizcaino Rodriguez, who leads a lab focused on African swine fever at the University in Madrid.
The two countries eventually eradicated the disease by enforcing strict sanitary protocols, quarantining and killing infected and carrier pigs.
Even if vaccines become available, they might not work across the globe. Vaccines developed for the virus in China and Europe, for example, might do nothing in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease has been around longer.
A vaccine might be most desirable in places where the disease is widespread, said Daniel Rock, who previously headed Plum Island's African swine fever program. Other countries might prefer the quarantine-and-kill method.
That could be the case in the U.S., where health officials have been training pork producers how to spot and report potential symptoms, which can include bleeding, lethargy and loss of appetite.
Still, Rock said the disease's global spread has made the option of a vaccine a high priority in the U.S.
Washington, Aug 16 (AP/UNB) — U.S. health officials are making a new attempt at adding graphic images to cigarette packets to discourage Americans from lighting up. If successful, it would be the first change to U.S. cigarette warnings in 35 years.
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday proposed 13 new warnings that would appear on all cigarettes, including images of cancerous neck tumors, diseased lungs and feet with amputated toes.
Other color illustrations would warn smokers that cigarettes can cause heart disease, impotence and diabetes. The labels would take up half of the front of cigarette packages and include text warnings, such as "Smoking causes head and neck cancer." The labels would also appear on tobacco advertisements.
The current smaller text warnings on the side of U.S. cigarette packs have not been updated since 1984. They warn that smoking can cause lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses. These warnings "go unnoticed" and are effectively "invisible," the FDA said in its announcement.
The FDA's previous attempt was defeated in court in 2012 on free speech grounds. A panel of judges later upheld the decision, siding with tobacco companies that the agency couldn't force cigarettes to carry grisly images, including cadavers, diseased lungs and cancerous mouth sores.
FDA's tobacco director Mitch Zeller said the new effort is supported by research documenting how the warnings will educate the public about lesser-known smoking harms, such as bladder cancer.
"While the public generally understands that cigarette smoking is dangerous, there are significant gaps in their understanding of all of the diseases and conditions associated with smoking," said Zeller. If the agency is sued, he added, "we strongly believe this will hold up under any legal challenges."
Reynolds American, maker of Camel and Newport cigarettes, said it supports public awareness efforts on tobacco, "but the manner in which those messages are delivered to the public cannot run afoul of the First Amendment." Reynolds was one of five tobacco companies that challenged the FDA's original warning labels.
The nation's largest tobacco company, Altria, said it will "carefully review the proposed rule." The company, which makes Marlboro cigarettes, was not part of the industry lawsuit.
Nearly 120 countries around the world have adopted the larger, graphic warning labels. Studies from those countries suggest the image-based labels are more effective than text warnings at publicizing smoking risks and encouraging smokers to quit.
Current U.S. cigarette labels don't reflect the enormous toll of smoking, said Geoff Fong, who heads the International Tobacco Control Project.
"This is a deadly product," said Fong, who studies anti-tobacco policies at Canada's University of Waterloo. "We have more prominent warnings on many other products that don't pose even a fraction of the risk that cigarettes do."
Canada became the first country to put graphic warnings on cigarettes in 2000.
Smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the U.S, even though smoking rates have been declining for decades. Approximately 14% of U.S. adults smoke, according to government figures. That's down from the more than 40% of adults who smoked in the mid-1960s.
Under the 2009 law that first gave the FDA oversight of the tobacco industry, Congress ordered the agency to develop graphic warning labels that would cover the top half of cigarette packs. The FDA proposed nine graphic labels, including images of rotting teeth and a smoker wearing an oxygen mask.
But a three-judge panel ruled that the FDA's plan violated companies' right to free speech. The judges said the images were problematic because they were "crafted to evoke a strong emotional response," rather than to educate or warn consumers.
The FDA said it would develop a new batch of labels, but when new ones didn't appear, eight health groups sued the agency in 2016 for the "unreasonable delay."
Under a court order earlier this year, the FDA was required to propose new labels by August, with final versions by next March.
Trenton, Aug 15 (AP/UNB) — U.S. regulators Wednesday approved a new tuberculosis medicine that shortens and improves treatment for the hardest-to-treat cases, a worsening problem in many poor countries.
It's the first TB drug from a nonprofit group, the TB Alliance. Formed to come up with better treatments, the group developed pretomanid with help from charities and government agencies.
The pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use with two other antibiotics. Decades of incomplete or ineffective treatment has resulted in TB strains that have become drug resistant and aren't killed by long-standard medicines.
In a key study, the three-pill combo cured about 90% of patients with very drug-resistant TB, usually within 6 months. Patients also infected with HIV, a common situation, fared as well as the other study participants. Pretomanid also appears to stop patients from spreading the deadly bacterial infection after just a few days' treatment.
Until now, the best option cured about two-thirds of patients, took 18 to 30 months and required up to eight kinds of shots and pills. Many patients die or don't finish treatment, according to TB Alliance CEO Mel Spigelman.
Worldwide, TB kills about 1.6 million people annually. It spreads through droplets when someone sick with TB sneezes or coughs. TB attacks the lungs and sometimes other organs.
Pretomanid was approved for use with Zyvox and Sirturo, two other antibiotics used for the toughest cases. The three drugs, which have little known resistance, attack tuberculosis in different ways. Potential side effects include liver damage, nerve pain and an irregular heartbeat.
The new combo could help over 75,000 patients per year, mostly in India, China, Indonesia, South Africa and Nigeria, Spigelman said. The FDA is the first regulator to approve pretomanid, though there aren't many severe cases in the U.S. The FDA's action should bring quick approval in countries where it's endemic.
The alliance will work with the World Health Organization to speed adoption of the treatment in those countries. The alliance is contracting with multiple generic manufacturers to make pretomanid and keep it affordable.