FDA Develops First Smallpox Drug to Combat Bioterrorism

It takes anywhere from 10 to 15 years to develop a successful medicine or vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first-ever drug in order to treat the smallpox disease, specifically for combating bioterrorist attacks.


According to CBS News, U.S. regulators approved the first treatment for smallpox, a deadly viral disease that was wiped out nearly four decades ago. Though the average individual should not have to worry about contracting smallpox and similar diseases, terrorists have the capability to administer large-scale attacks involving smallpox, causing catastrophic damages.


The World Health Organization estimated that the variola virus — which causes smallpox — killed about 30% of the people who were infected throughout the years. Complications of smallpox could include encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), corneal ulcerations, and blindness. If you believe you have been unintentionally infected by any kind of virus, it’s recommended to immediately seek medical attention. Approximately 85% of urgent care centers are open seven days a week, the majority of those facilities can assist with certain viruses and similar conditions.

The drug is called TPOXX and 2 million treatments are currently being manufactured and stockpiled by the U.S. government.


“This new treatment affords us an additional option should smallpox ever be used as a bioweapon,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, head of the FDA. “Today’s action reflects the FDA’s commitment to ensuring that the U.S. is prepared for any public health emergency with timely, safe and effective medical products.”


As reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, in order to test the drug’s effectiveness, rabbits and monkeys were infected with a similar virus and then given TPOXX. More than 90% of the animals survived. The drug was also administered to a few hundred humans who volunteered to test symptoms without being infected with smallpox. Researchers noted that side effects included headaches, abdominal pain, and nausea, though all were relatively mild.


TPOXX comes in the form of a capsule, and should be administered twice a day for 14 days once infected with the smallpox virus.


Forbes adds that the efforts and funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) helped make TPOXX a reality.


“To address the risk of bio-terrorism, Congress has taken steps to enable the development and approval of countermeasures to thwart pathogens that could be employed as weapons,” added Dr. Gottlieb.


Research on treatment for smallpox-related bioterrorism began at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Scientists worked to safely dilute the U.S. national stockpile of smallpox vaccines. SIGA currently has a $472 million procurement and development contract with the agency.

Aggressive and Exotic Tick Moves to Carolinas

An aggressive species of tick has been confirmed in Polk County, North Carolina. After the East Asian longhorned tick first ravaged farms in New Jersey in the fall of 2017, the exotic tick species has now been confirmed in the Carolinas.

The tick species is aggressive had not existed in the United States before last fall. Now that they have been confirmed, their rapidly spreading numbers have become a major pest for agricultural workers and farm animals across the east coast.

The species was found on a possum through the efforts of the North Carolina Department of Public Health.

What makes this tick so pervasive? While humans only move an average of 12 times throughout the course of their lives, the East Asian tick has invaded multiple states in under a year. This tick can populate without the presence of a male, meaning a single female tick can establish an aggressive population bent on biting wildlife, domestic animals, and humans alike.

There is hope, however.

Citizen scientists across the country have been collecting ticks from the bodies of humans and animals in order to get a better idea of tick prevalence across the country. Through Northern Arizona University, microbiologist Nathan Nieto aims to study how climate change has impacted the spread of ticks and what risk levels humans have in regard to tick predation.

Between 2016 and 2017, tick bite sufferers could have been sent their ticks and received a free analysis by Nieto and his team. This was an attempt to include the public for the first time in tick research. After the individual sent in their tick sample, the lab would send back a pathology report on the tick along with other information regarding your specimen.

Unfortunately, the study was limited by a lack of information regarding where people were before tick extraction. Ticks can live on the body for days before detection due to their size.
Though the researchers received hundreds of samples at a time, it was difficult to track where the ticks were more prevalent. Future iterations of the experiment may be needed in order to form conclusive answers regarding the geographic distribution of ticks in the United States.

However, scientists were able to map surprising evidence regarding this experiment. Certain tick species, akin to the discovery of the longhorned tick in North Carolina, were found in unexpected locations. This experiment mapped the Lone Star tick of the southeast all the way to Maine, an unprecedented move by the species. Additionally, 83 counties across the country were found to contain ticks with the Lyme disease pathogen that have never been seen there before.

Prevent tick infection through the use of bug sprays, DEET, and insecticides if you live in a tick-prone area.

Idaho: An Unlikely Place For Billionaires, Yet Here They Are

Perhaps “here they come” is more accurate. Situated in the very heart of Idaho, the picturesque resort city of Sun Valley will be welcoming the world’s most innovative and financially successful minds for a business conference focusing on finance, media, and technology. Dozens of self-made millionaires and billionaires — from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to Bob Iger, Disney’s CEO — will be arriving in style in the coming week, as the local fixed-base operator prepares for a chaotic influx of private jets. There are more than 11,000 private jets currently registered in the US — and nearly 500 of them will be pulling into Atlantic Aviation’s base for the conference.

Sun Valley has made a name for itself as a celebrity haven, boasting guests such as Marilyn Monroe and Ernest Hemingway (and proudly displaying their pictures in the lodge), but the kind of luxury its become known for seems to exist in contrast with rest of the state. Boise, Idaho conjures the image of potatoes, especially as the origin of your most recent order of Five Guys french fries — it certainly doesn’t make you think of the beauty and brains associated with Sun Valley, yet they’re barely two and a half hours away from each other.

It would seem that Sun Valley is simply the diamond in the center of the Gem State, considering the affordability of the rest of Idaho — it has the fourth-cheapest cost of living in the nation, and seems to be growing as a result. Combining bustling, booming cities with a low cost of living pulls young people to the state as much as the idyllic views and seemingly endless pleasures of Sun Valley.

The juxtaposition of lifestyles in the two nearby cities just serves to show how much the state has to offer: possessing a truly dazzling array of landscapes — lava flows, hot springs, sand dunes, and mountains — you can enjoy the sights regardless of your humble beginnings or profound successes.

Match-Makers on a Plane: Woman Goes Viral For Love Connection at 10,000 Feet

Usually, the highlight of a plane ride consists of a soda and a package of pretzels. But for Rosey Blair, one small request on a recent flight might very well have changed the course of events for two complete strangers.

Although commercial airlines carried more than 3.8 billion passengers to their destinations in 2016, most flights are fairly uneventful — aside from delays and the occasional mishap with a service animal. Rosey Blair’s flight back to Dallas looked to be pretty ordinary too, other than the fact that she and her boyfriend didn’t have seats next to each other. When the young woman asked another passenger whether they wouldn’t mind switching seats so the couple could sit together, Blair and the female passenger joked that perhaps her new seatmate could end up being the love of her life.

From her view behind the two strangers, Blair discovered that her quip might actually end up coming true. Blair started posting regularly on her social media accounts with updates in real time about the pair, both of whom turned out to be vegetarian personal trainers. Blair — along with thousands of social media users — detailed all of the action in a thread that quickly went viral.

It seems that in these troubling times, a lot of people just want some reassurance that love is, in fact, out there — as is evidenced by the thread’s 250,000 shares and 637,000 likes. And it’s not surprising, given that 93% of recruiters view a candidate’s social media profile, that Blair and her boyfriend were even able to find the lovebirds’ social media profiles.

Former pro soccer player Euan Holder, the male in question, dubbed “hunky plane guy” and “plane bae” by Blair and other social media users, reached out to Blair after her posts took off. While the woman wishes to remain out of the limelight, she’s expressed she feels positively about the situation as a whole. It’s not yet clear whether the match will outlast the flight, though the two do appear to live in the same city. But if nothing else, the story gives singles a bit of hope that their next great love could be just an exit row away.

Taking Care of Your Teeth Can Help Prevent a Number of Major Health Concerns

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, periodontal disease (or gum disease) affects about 50% of Americans age 30 and older. It’s a result of gum inflammation and/or infection. But why does it matter so much?

Unfortunately, this disease can impact your body in more ways than one.

According to The Independent your lousy gum health can actually lead to many different health concerns. For example, heart disease is a major issue that has been linked to gum disease. Several studies have shown a direct link between heart disease and periodontists. The bacteria that cause gum disease symptoms like bleeding and bone loss around your teeth can travel to your arteries. That bacteria can latch onto the walls of your arteries and cause blood clots. When blood clots form, you’re at an increased risk for restricted blood flow to your heart.

Another concern that The Independent says is linked to periodontal disease is a stroke. A study called “Impacts of Periodontitis on Nonfatal Ischemic Stroke” revealed that people who suffered a stroke also had evidence or a history of oral infection. The research from the study showed that gum disease is pretty similar to high blood pressure as a cause of strokes.

Cancer is another health concern that may be partly caused by gum disease. Since we know that bacteria swells in your gums, it can cause similar reactions to other places within your body. A study showed that some of the bacteria that trigger gum disease might be linked to a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Another study found that men who have an advanced form of periodontal disease were 45% more likely to be diagnosed with a type of cancer.

Gum disease is nothing to mess around with, yet it’s extremely common. In fact, 74% of Americans have some form of periodontal disease. By brushing, flossing, and visiting the dentist on a regular basis, you’re helping to keep your teeth in good shape. As an added bonus, you’re helping to prevent other diseases within your body.

Weekend Flooding in Baltimore Washes Away Part of Bridge

This weekend, the Laurel area of Baltimore suffered the consequences of severe rainfall and flooding on Route 198. Part of a bridge was washed away in the wake of the flood, leaving residents and commuters to find different routes on Monday, June 4.

This flooding event rode the heels of the detrimental flood that hit Ellicott City just a week earlier. In the wake of the floods, so far one person has died in the Ellicott City flood on May 27.

Over the course of the first weekend of June, Baltimore was hit with flood warnings and road closures, many of which are still in effect on Monday, June 4. The warnings are set to last until Monday night after some areas of Greater Baltimore received 4.5 inches of rainfall on Sunday. Though many roads were still closed Monday morning, some are expected to reopen following the nicer weather that is on its way.

In response to the flooding that has occurred over the weekend, Baltimore County opened a recovery center in Catonsville aimed at helping the victims of this weekend’s floods. State officials, local officials, and relief groups including Baltimore County Emergency Management worked with the community in order to offer resources to the victims, clean up damage, and rebuild. While 40% of car and home losses occur because of hail and windstorms, the floods in Baltimore resulted in firefighter pumping water from 450 flooded basements over the weekend.

Residents from all walks of life came together to discuss insurance coverage, receive emergency supplies, and discuss efforts for rebuilding over the weekend. While flooding is still a threat, especially for individuals living near large rivers like the Potomac through Monday, the weather forecast is sunny and dry for the next few days.

Drivers that usually take Route 198 are still advised to find an alternate route while the flood damage is being handled. Keep an eye on local weather and flood conditions before traveling.

Researchers Develop New Way To Fight Cancer Using The Immune System

New research may have found a way to fight back against cancer cells using our own immune systems. According to Medical News Today, researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, may have designed a chemical structure called a supramolecule to block cancer cells’ “don’t eat me” signal to the body’s immune system.

The study, led by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst assistant professor Ashish Kulkarni, was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering on Monday, July 2. Researchers tested the supramolecule on mice modeled after aggressive skin and breast cancer.

Kulkarni and researchers compared the supramolecule to existing cancer medicines. By day 10 of the study, the untreated mice had developed large malignant tumors.

Mice that were treated with existing cancer-fighting medication showed signs of smaller tumors. And those that were treated with the researchers’ supramolecule showed a complete stop to tumor growth.

“We [could] actually see macrophages eating cancer sells,” said Shiladitya Sengupta, one of the co-authors of the study. In various microscopy images published with the paper, the mice’s immune system is shown engulfing the cancer cells.

The supramolecule works by helping the body’s macrophages. Macrophages are the largest immune cells in our bodies. Their name comes from the Greek word meaning “big eaters.”

Macrophages serve as the first line of defense against bacteria and viruses when they’ve entered the body. They’re also a key part of the body’s defense against cancer.

Macrophages come in two types, M1 and M2. M1 macrophages are what tell the rest of your immune system to activate and begin fighting against invading bacteria. The M2 macrophages are the cells that help control your body’s inflammation during the bacteria-fighting process.

It’s difficult for the immune system to fight back against cancer because of the malignant cells’ ability to trick the macrophages. Malignant cells are able to produce a type of “don’t eat me” signal. This tells the M1 macrophages that they’re not dangerous and need to be left alone.

Additionally, cancer is able to turn M1 macrophages into the more-peaceful M2s. This reduces the risk of the cancer cells being spotted by your immune system, allowing them to grow like a virus.

Kulkarni, Sengupta, and other researchers designed the supramolecule to block the malignant cells’ “don’t eat me” signal. This helps to keep cancer from going undetected by the body’s M1s.

The supramolecule is also able to prevent the cancer cells from turning the M1s into M2s. This keeps the body in defense mode against the dangerous cancer cells.

The researchers plan to replicate their findings in additional preclinical studies. The goal is to test the supramolecule for its safety, effectiveness, and necessary dosage before moving onto clinical trials.

If the supramolecule treatment is effective, it could help to combat cancer before it spreads to other parts of the body.

It could also potentially help reduce the number of people affected by the nation’s current opioid epidemic by reducing the inflammation and therefore the chronic pain caused by cancer. Four in every five new heroin users say they began by misusing prescription painkillers.

But until the supramolecule has been proven safe and effective, early detection of cancer is still essential. A positive PSA test alone is estimated to save one to two lives per every 1,000 men who take the test. Annual screening for breast cancer has also proven to reduce mortality in women by 39.6%.

“[A] combination immunotherapy, such as blocking two distinct targets in the same immune cell, is the future of immuno-oncology,” said Kulkarni. “Our approach capitalizes on this concept.”

New Study Finds Few Differences Between Robotic and Traditional Surgical Methods

Over the past few years, there have been high expectations for the application of robots in the surgical field. With about 46.5 million surgeries being performed each year in the U.S., new and inventive methods have been continuously developed to make procedures safer and easier. But a new study has found that the methods of robotic surgery and the methods of traditional open surgery are equally effective.

A seven-year study was conducted across 15 institutions and was led by Dipen J. Parekh, M.D., chair of urology and director of robotic surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. The study focused on treatment of bladder cancer and consisted of 350 patients. Half of the patients received traditional surgery and half received robotic surgery. The outcomes were compared two to three years after the surgeries took place.

“We have done more than 4 million surgeries with the robotic approach since the device came into existence, and on average we do close to a million robotic surgeries a year globally,” said Parekh. “There are close to 5,000 robotic systems installed all over the world – each one costs about $2 million – and yet until we did this study there was not a single Phase 3 multicenter randomized trial comparing this expensive new technology to the traditional open approach of doing surgeries.”

Since robots started being used for surgical procedures, there has been a general assumption that patients who received robotic procedures would have a better quality of life following the surgery. But participants of the RAZOR study reported a return to their previous quality of life, regardless of the surgical method.

When it came to complication rates, the two groups of patients were similar with adverse events occurring in 67% of patients with the robotic procedure and 69% of patients with the traditional procedure. One major difference that can be found among the procedures is the steep cost robotic procedures put on the healthcare system. Money is always a concern in the healthcare field, especially with CNA HealthPro showing that 80% of malpractice claims are not caused by substandard procedures, but rather related to money problems.

One benefit that the study did find from robotic procedures is that those procedures tend to result in less blood loss, a lower chance of needing a blood transfusion, and possible shorter hospital stays. But neither robotic nor traditional procedures had higher risks of complications or recurrences of cancer.

With there being 770,000 drones registered with the FAA and thousands of other robotic devices, more and more people are developing uses for robots in today’s society, including medical procedures. According to Parekh, this study shows that more research needs to be done. More trials on different organs could show more differences between the two types of procedures. But the experts behind the research have hopes that this data can make a difference in the future.

New Mosquito-Borne Virus Found In Florida

For those who want another reason to hate mosquitoes, a not-so-new mosquito-borne virus has begun to make its rounds in the U.S. population. According to USA Today, a case of the Keystone virus has been reported and confirmed in the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The Keystone virus was first found in mosquitoes in the Florida area in 1964. And although Keystone antibodies were found in humans in a 1972 study, there hasn’t been a case reported involving the virus itself.

Until now.

A case involving a 16-year-old boy in North Central Florida in 2016 was recently confirmed by researchers to be the Keystone virus. The boy suffered from a high fever and bad skin rash.

The boy became infected during the height of Zika virus infections. Because of this, his case went under the radar for over a year after the results of the boy’s tests came back negative for Zika and other viruses.

“We couldn’t identify what was going on,” said J. Glenn Morris, the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute. “We screened this with all the standard approaches and it literally took a year and a half of sort of dogged laboratory work to figure out what this virus was.”

The Keystone virus is part of the orthobunyavirus genus, which has been known to infect cattle. When cattle are infected, they can exhibit brain inflammation although the boy who was infected with the virus in 2016 (and survived) only experienced a rash and fever.

The virus is thought to be spread by the mosquito Aedes Atlanticus, which is known for spreading the West Nile Virus.

To reduce infection risk, the Environmental Protection Agency suggests using insect repellent, staying inside air-conditioned area, and using screens on windows. It’s also recommended by the Florida Department of Health that homeowners drain standing water in garbage cans or pool covers to prevent attracting mosquitoes.

Although no treatment exists for the virus as of yet, symptoms may be treated at a local urgent care center. Only 3% of patients who visit urgent care centers need to be diverted to the emergency room.

“All sorts of viruses are being transmitted by mosquitoes, yet we don’t fully understand the rate of disease transmission,” said Morris. “Additional research into the spread of vector-borne diseases will help us shine a light on the pathogens that are of greatest concern to both human and animal health.”

Florida Reef Suffering Damage From Hurricanes, Lionfish, and Mysterious Bacteria

The Florida Reef is one of the largest coral reefs in the entire world, boasting a length of 160 miles. Unfortunately, this beautiful underwater area has been significantly damaged over the years, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better. With hurricanes, lionfish, dangerous bacteria and more, the Florida Reef has endured all kinds of havoc over the years.


The Atlantic hurricane season runs between June 1 and November 30; thanks to these massive storms and the warming oceans, Florida’s coral reefs have been continually damaged — but this new bacterial danger has been especially pervasive.


According to WFSU, scientists have identified white marks showing up on corals across Florida’s coast, indicating that some of the tissue had died. Now, following last year’s damage suffered from Hurricane Irma, the coral bacteria has started spreading rapidly and causing even more damage.


This disease first appeared off Miami’s Virginia Key in 2014 and started spreading north, south, and west. But as of April 2018, the coral disease was discovered in the Lower Keys.


“It has encompassed now about two-thirds of the entire Florida reef track,” said Rob Ruzicka, of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Research Institute. “And it is slowly making its way westward toward Key West. Hurricane Irma was a major issue with the spread of this disease because it stirred up the water and the mechanism for transporting the pathogen across became convoluted because it had followed this steady pattern of moving Westward through 2017 to the middle keys. But now it’s popping up on reefs in isolated areas.”


There are various groups of environmentalists and scientists focusing on addressing these reef bacterial issues. According to Earth.com, the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), alongside the Georgia Aquarium, is taking one of the largest coral restoration efforts in the world: the Florida Reef Tract.


Sadly, the Florida Reef Tract has lost nearly 97% of its Elkhorn coral and its Staghorn coral, two coral species that previously dominated the area but are now critically endangered. The CRF has planted more than 66,000 healthy corals across the Florida Reef Tract in order to offset some of the damaged that has already occurred.


“With Staghorn and Elkhorn populations in such dire condition, natural spawning and recruitment is becoming increasingly rare, as the spawn cannot reach each in the ocean currents while still active,” said Steve Hartter, senior aquarist at the Georgia Aquarium. “By out planting corals with different genotypes in close proximity, this will increase successful natural spawning in the future.”


Additionally, Florida wildlife officials are providing $250,000 to environmental research in order to address some of the coral reef’s concerns.


The Sacramento Bee reports that an invasive species of fish, the lionfish, has been eating native fish that are important to maintaining healthy reefs.


The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission provided $50,000 each to the University of Florida, American Marine Research Company, R3 Digital Sciences, Atlantic Lionshare Ltd., and Reef Environmental Education Foundation. The contracts run through June 2019.