She’s 7 months pregnant and still working hard in the fields in Nepal.
She’s 7 months pregnant and still working hard in the fields in Nepal.
Doctors in California are puzzled by an illness that has paralyzed at least five children and may have affected about 20 others.
Sick children had symptoms similar to polio. They lose muscle function in an arm or a leg over a few days.
So far, the children haven’t responded to any treatments and the paralysis has been permanent, doctors from Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco, said in statement Sunday.
There have been about 50 cases of the enterovirus-68 reported in the U.S. since 2000. It sickened at least 21 children in the Philippines between 2008 and 2009.
Two of the children in California tested positive for the enteroviruses-68. Tests for many of the other cases are still pending.
The report may sound scary. But it’s worth pointing out that the illness is quite rare. There’s little threat the disease will spread, Dr. Jane Seward with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Scientific American.
Many viruses, including West Nile, echovirus and adenoviruses, can cause paralysis of the limbs, Seward said. So she would expect California to report about 80 paralysis cases each year, if the CDC was looking out for this type of symptom.
"These researchers only report on five cases in the abstract," Seward said. "We are not unduly alarmed," she added.
Sophia Jarvis, 4, of Berkeley, Calif., is one of the few children diagnosed with the polio-like disease, which left her arm paralyzed. She attended a press conference Monday at Stanford University with family and the doctors investigating the disease. (Stanford’s Childern/Twitter)
More than a decade of research on children raised in institutions shows that “neglect is awful for the brain,” says Charles Nelson, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. Without someone who is a reliable source of attention, affection and stimulation, he says, “the wiring of the brain goes awry.” The result can be long-term mental and emotional problems.
A lot of what scientists know about parental bonding and the brain comes from studies of children who spent time in Romanian orphanages during the 1980s and 1990s. Children likeIzidor Ruckel, who wrote a book about his experiences.
When Ruckel was 6 months old, he got polio. His parents left him at a hospital and never returned. And Ruckel ended up in an institution for “irrecoverable” children.
But Ruckel was luckier than many Romanian orphans. A worker at the orphanage “cared for me as if she was my mother,” he says. “She was probably the most loving, the most kindest person I had ever met.”
Then, when Ruckel was 5 or 6, his surrogate mother was electrocuted trying to heat bath water for the children in her care. Ruckel ended up in an institution for “irrecoverable” children, a place where beatings, neglect, and boredom were the norm.
Researchers began studying the children in Romanian orphanages after the nation’s brutal and repressive government was overthrown in 1989. At the time, there were more than 100,000 children in government institutions. And it soon became clear that many of them had stunted growth and a range of mental and emotional problems.
When Nelson first visited the orphanages in 1999, he saw children in cribs rocking back and forth as if they had autism. He also saw toddlers desperate for attention.
"They’d reach their arms out as though they’re saying to you, ‘Please pick me up,’ " Nelson says. "So you’d pick them up and they’d hug you. But then they’d push you away and they’d want to get down. And then the minute they got down they’d want to be picked up again. It’s a very disorganized way of interacting with somebody."
The odd behaviors, delayed language and a range of other symptoms suggested problems with brain development, Nelson says. So he and other researchers began studying the children using a technology known as electroencephalography (EEG), which measures electrical activity in the brain.
Many of the orphans had disturbingly low levels of brain activity. “Instead of a 100-watt light bulb, it was a 40-watt light bulb,” Nelson says.
As the children grew older, the researchers were able to use MRI to study the anatomy of their brains. And once again, the results were troubling. “We found a dramatic reduction in what’s referred to as gray matter and in white matter,” Nelson says. “In other words, their brains were actually physically smaller.”
The scientists realized the cause wasn’t anything as simple as malnutrition. It was a different kind of deprivation — the lack of a parent, or someone who acted like a parent.
Top photo: Izidor Ruckel, shown here at age 11 with his adoptive father Danny Ruckel in San Diego, Calif., says he found it hard to respond to his adoptive parents’ love. (Barry Gutierrez for NPR)
Middle photo: In the Institute for the Unsalvageable in Sighetu Marmatiei, Romania, shown here in 1992, children were left in cribs for days on end. (Tom Szalay)
Bottom: Izidor Ruckel dons a hat of a style common in his birthplace, Romania. He now lives in Denver. (Barry Gutierrez for NPR)
In 2012, more than 61,000 babies in the U.S. were conceived with the help of IVF, the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology reported Monday.
That means IVF babies made up 1.5 percent of the 3.9 million births in the U.S, the agency wrote on its website. And it makes 2012 the biggest year for IVF on record: Doctors performed the most procedures and delivered the most IVF babies.
Over the past decade, the number of IVF treatments has been rising. Doctors performed about 113,000 cycles back in 2003. That number jumped by nearly 50 percent to about 165,000 in 2012.
Video: A new instrument, called an Embryoscope, allows fertility doctors to watch the embryo develop after in vitro fertilization. In the video, you can see the embryo go from the first cell division to the blastocyst stage when the cells move to the outside. The time-lapse video takes about five to six days in real time.
Ruling out a cure for AIDS would not be French … It exists naturally so we scientists should be able to induce it.
— Nobel-Prize winning virologist Françoise Barré-Sinoussi in an interview with The Guardian.
Spot the next plague before it arrives. Predict the next swine flu outbreak before it makes headlines. Even detect a biological weapon before it’s launched.
These are the goals of an ambitious initiative, launched Thursday, to build a worldwide surveillance system for infectious diseases.
Spearheaded by the U.S. government, the Global Health Security Agenda brings together 26 countries, the World Health Organization and several other international group. It aims to stop epidemics and bioterror agents before they spread.
Why is such an early warning system needed?
Because the U.S. and the world are at greater risk than ever before from biological organisms, says Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention.
"Viruses are just a plane ride away," he says. Bird flu could spread out of Asia. Ebola could emerge out of central Africa. Or drug-resistant Staphylococcus can sweep through hospital wards. “In today’s globalized world, an outbreak anywhere is a threat everywhere,” Frieden says.
The Global Health Security Agenda is an attempt to make the world better prepared to confront those threats, he says. “We want to make sure we do everything we can to prevent emerging organisms from becoming outbreaks and outbreaks from becoming epidemics.”
The illustration shows a flu particle binding to a cell in the respiratory tract. To learn about each component of the virus and how it binds to the cell, check out this version of the illustration with labels and explanations. (CDC)