- Pregnant Women Advised Not to Travel to 11 Southeast Asian Countries Over Zika Risk
- Alfred Olango Shooting Raises Troubling Questions About Police and Mental Illness
- Here’s Why Some Cancer Is Resistant to Drugs
Posted: 29 Sep 2016 10:18 PM PDT
U.S. health officials on Thursday advised pregnant women to avoid nonessential travel to Southeast Asia and the Maldives because of the potential risk of Zika infection, which can cause severe birth defects.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) singled out 11 countries in its latest advisory: Brunei, Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste (East Timor) and Vietnam.
Thursday’s advisory about potential risks in Southeast Asia so far only recommend postponing nonessential travel. The CDC said travelers have been infected with the virus in parts of Southeast Asia, where Zika is endemic and has been present for many years. Many local residents are believed to be immune, though travelers most likely are not.
Read More: Why You Should Care About Zika
“Pregnant women traveling to Southeast Asia could become infected with Zika virus,” the CDC said. “The level of this risk is unknown and likely lower than in areas where Zika virus is newly introduced and spreading widely.”
Zika is a primarily a mosquito-borne disease, but it can also be sexually transmitted. It was identified in Brazil last year and has since spread globally. Infection is not always symptomatic, but can cause a fever similar to dengue. Zika infection during pregnancy can cause serious brain abnormalities such as microcephaly and other birth defects.
The CDC has advised pregnant women to avoid almost 60 countries or regions worldwide because of Zika’s rapid spread.
Posted: 29 Sep 2016 02:02 PM PDT
The fatal shooting of a black man by police in El Cajon, Calif., this week again focused attention on how law enforcement employs the use of force against African-American communities. But the incident stands out in part because family members say the suspect may have been mentally ill, an issue that experts say police are far too often ill-equipped to handle.
The man, identified by relatives as Alfred Olango, was shot by police Tuesday after reports that he was behaving erratically. When approached by officers, he reportedly placed his hands together in a way that appeared to police as if he was holding a gun. No weapon was found at the scene, and officials later said that Olango had pointed an electronic smoking device at officers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, some of Olango’s friends and family members have suggested he suffered from mental illness at the time and posed no threat. In a Facebook Live video posted after the shooting, a woman who identifies herself as Olango’s sister can be heard saying: “Why couldn’t you Tase him? I told you he was sick.”
While it remains unclear if Olango had been diagnosed with any form of mental illness, policing experts and mental health advocates say the incident highlights a worrisome problem. If Olango’s family members are correct, he would be the 173rd mentally ill person fatally shot by police this year, according to the Washington Post, which tracks police-involved shootings. The Post’s tally shows that mental illness is a factor in roughly one-fourth of the country’s fatal police shootings. But that estimate could actually be on the low end. A December 2015 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center, a nonprofit mental health advocacy group, in conjunction with the National Sheriffs’ Association suggests that “mental health disorders are a factor in as many as 1 in 2 fatal law enforcement encounters” when looking at official government statistics. (The Post bases its figures largely on media reports.)
Mental health issues have become an increasing concern for police departments as funding for treatment and other services have been cut over the years, putting law enforcement in more frequent contact with those who have psychiatric disorders. Most departments around the U.S., however, conduct little if any training on how to deal with them.
“It’s not prevalent,” says John DeCarlo, a University of New Haven criminal justice professor, referring to mental health training for police. “There’s training out there, but not enough officers go through it.”
One program that has gained some traction is Crisis Intervention Training, a 40-hour course designed to teach officers how to effectively communicate to those who may have mental illness or are in an emotional crisis. The program is meant to give officers the tools to recognize when someone is mentally ill while being able to get them proper help or treatment rather than arresting them.
The CIT program, organized by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, began in Memphis in the 1980s following the police-involved shooting of a mentally ill man and has now been implemented in more than 2,700 police departments around the U.S. Still, that’s only 15% of the country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies.
“Most officers don’t have specialized training or experience,” says Laura Usher, a manager of criminal justice and advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She says that she increasingly hears from police departments who say they’re dealing with more and more suspects who are mentally unstable, but officers are often unprepared to handle those calls. “Standard training doesn’t really equip [officers] to deal with mental health crises effectively,” Usher says.
Even among those who have been trained it can be difficult to know how and when to use that training in the field, says Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum. “Police are frequently the first ones to interact with those on the street who have mental health issues,” Wexler says. “One area that is lacking is the integration of police tactics with crisis intervention skills. Both are necessary to successfully defuse conflict situations.”
Police officials in California, though, questioned whether mental health training would’ve helped in this situation at all. Ed Obayashi, a sheriff’s deputy and legal advisor in Plumas County, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times: “When those hands come up in a shooting stance, the officer wouldn’t have time to assess whether what is in the hands is a gun. … Almost immediately, the officer sees the hands flash up into a shooting stance, he must react. A second will be too late if it’s a firearm.”
It’s unclear whether any of the officers within the El Cajon Police Department have gone through mental health training. Usher says she has no record that the El Cajon Police Department took part in the CIT program. The department, which oversees a city of roughly 100,000 in San Diego County, did not respond to requests for comment.
Posted: 29 Sep 2016 12:59 PM PDT
Cancer is insidious in so many ways, not the least of which is its ability to mutate constantly and keep growing, even when hit with powerful chemotherapy drugs. Now researchers have carefully canvassed the genomes of some tumors and revealed some of those cancers’ secrets to survival.
Neville Sanjana from the New York Genome Center and New York University and his team took advantage of a new technology called CRISPR to precisely edit the genomes of tumors. They wanted to cut out specific parts of the genome to see if they affected the way the cancer grew. Instead of focusing on known cancer genes, however, they concentrated their splicing efforts on the so-called non-coding parts of the genome: the 98% that doesn’t correspond to known genes. Until recently, scientists called this part of the genome junk DNA, assuming it wasn’t critical to how genes function. But they’ve come to understand that these sections of DNA are essential to how genes work, similar to role that directors and producers play in a movie: they aren’t visible, but they’re guiding the action. The non-coding areas are providing important instructions to genes for when to be active and how much protein to produce.
“This is 98% of the genome and an area a lot of scientists believe we need to look very carefully at,” says Sanjana. “The genome is like a piece of text—if we don’t have Microsoft Word to cut, copy and paste, it’s hard to manipulate the text. Only recently have we had tools like CRISPR to write and edit this text.”
By selectively and methodically editing out specific sections of the genome from a line of human melanoma cells taken from a patient, and then exposing them to a commonly used anti-cancer drug, Sanjana found which parts were contributing to the tumors’ resistance to the drug. In a report published in the journal Science, they even identified some specific regions that could be immediately helpful in identifying people who might develop resistance to the drug and who might benefit from a combination therapy in order to give them better responses. The information could also be invaluable in creating new drugs. Now, with the additional information from the non-coding regions of the genome, scientists will have far more targets for developing possible drugs.
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