Health officials are warning of “a serious global health threat” from a drug-resistant superbug fungus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the fungus, Candida auris, has already sickened hundreds of people in the United States.
Candida auris, which preys on people with weakened immune systems, was first identified in 2009 and first seen in this country in 2013. Since then, it has caused at least 587 illnesses in the U.S. More than 300 of those cases were reported in New York state. Illinois had 144 confirmed cases, primarily in the Chicago area, and New Jersey had 104.
“This is definitely an alarming development in the global emerging threat of superbugs,” Dr. Neeta Ogden, an internal medicine specialist, told CBS News.
“It’s resistant to multiple anti-fungal drugs that we have, and it’s also resistant to all the things that we use to eradicate bacteria and fungal strains in the hospital.”
CBS New York reports an elderly man died from the fungus last year at Mount Sinai Hospital following abdominal surgery. The fungus has caused illnesses globally with reports in more than 20 countries.
What kind of infections does Candida auris cause?
Candida auris can cause different types of infections, including bloodstream infection, wound infection, and ear infection.
The fungus has also been detected in respiratory and urine samples, but the CDC says it’s unclear if it causes lung or bladder infections.
Who is at risk of illness from Candida auris?
Candida auris infections have been reported in health care settings throughout the world, including hospitals and long-term care facilities like nursing homes. People who recently had surgery, live in nursing homes, or who have breathing tubes, feeding tubes or central venous catheters appear to be at highest risk.
“This strain is preying on people with weakened immune systems,” Ogden said. “So who is that? Long-term health care facility residents who have catheters, in-dwelling catheters or IV lines. People in hospitals, IUCs. Newborns. And also people who take immunosuppressant drugs for medical illnesses, or have diabetes. So those are the people who really are at risk.”
The germ has been found in patients of all ages, from preterm infants to older adults.
How is Candida auris spread?
Candida strains “live in our gut microbiome,” Ogden explained. The drug-resistant strain Candida auris has taken hold in some health care settings, spreading person to person or through contact with contaminated surfaces or equipment. Healthy people with strong immune systems may carry the germ without actually getting sick from it.
Ogden said health officials are worried about what could come next.
“The greater concern is that if we don’t curb this rise of superbugs, where is this headed? It’s headed towards normal, healthy people with no health problems becoming vulnerable to these types of fungal strains, and not having anything in our defenses of antimicrobials and antifungals to fight them,” she said.
How are Candida auris infections diagnosed?
According to the CDC, symptoms of Candida auris may be difficult to detect because patients are often already sick. Only a lab test can identify the superbug.
Infections are usually diagnosed by culture of blood or other body fluids.
Are Candida auris infections treatable?
While most Candida auris infections are treatable with antifungal medications, health officials say they’re concerned that some have proven to be resistant to all three main classes of antifungal medications.
“In this situation, multiple antifungal medications at high doses may be needed to treat the infection,” the CDC said.
“It’s an enormous problem,” Matthew Fisher, a professor of fungal epidemiology at Imperial College London, told The New York Times. “We depend on being able to treat those patients with antifungals.” Fisher co-authored a recent scientific review documenting the rise of drug-resistant fungi.
How often do the infections turn deadly?
Since Candida auris infections generally occur in people who are already sick with serious medical conditions, it can be difficult to determine cause of death.
“Based on information from a limited number of patients, 30–60% of people with C. auris infections have died,” the CDC says. “However, many of these people had other serious illnesses that also increased their risk of death.”
At least 15 residents in a West Los Angeles apartment complex were forced out of their homes after asbestos exposure.
The incident happened around 9:48 p.m. in the 1800 block of Prosser Avenue, when authorities determined that 11 of 12 units in the complex were exposed to asbestos. A county hazmat team was sent to the complex and the residents were evacuated.
The residents were decontaminated by Los Angeles Fire Department crews. Officials said no one showed or mentioned signs of illness or injury from the possible exposure.
Residents living in the complex said it all could have been prevented. They said management had been doing some renovations after a tenant moved out and that the contractor doing work did not remove the popcorn ceiling properly, resulting in the health scare.
“Most property owners know that when you’re doing construction you have to do it properly and dispose of it properly. Unfortunately, they just hired whoever. They took it off and disposed of it in our dumpster and exposed us all for the last few weeks to asbestos,” Shannon Streger said.
The hazmat team will determine if the building should be red-tagged. Any vehicles parked in the complex were also taped off and could not be removed.
Residents were provided temporary lodging by the American Red Cross. They thanked the organization for the help and also the city for its prompt response to the situation.
The project is called House Zero and shows that you don’t have to build new structures from scratch for them to be energy efficient, a Harvard professor said.
Imagine a comfortable, livable home where you don’t have to turn on any electric lights during the day, where no heating or air conditioning system is required — yes, even in New England — and that it can do all that without producing any carbon emissions.
This house will soon be a reality, thanks to the Harvard Center for Green Buildings and Cities, but even with its “ultra-efficient” amenities, it won’t look especially advanced from the outside.
That’s because it’s a 1924 two-story home in a historic district of Cambridge. The center will be retrofitting the house with modern, energy-efficient technologies for a project called HouseZero.
Ali Malkawi, a professor of architectural technology at Harvard Graduate School of Design and the founding director of the center, said it is a “first-of-its-kind” project that challenges the idea that you have to build new homes from scratch in order to implement energy-efficient design.
“In the U.S. and many places around the world the existing building stock is the problem,” when it comes to high energy use, not new design options, he said. “Our intention [of HouseZero] is shattering the belief that these things cannot be done to existing homes. You don’t have to tear them down.”
Residential and commercial buildings accounted for 40 percent of the total U.S. energy consumption in 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Those who own property spend more than $230 billion each year on heating, cooling and powering about 113 million homes.
Malkawi said he and his team wanted to “push the limit” for what energy-efficient upgrades can be added to an existing home — a part of the market people think “you can’t do much with,” he said — which could help curb climate change and also help current property owners save money.
Because it’s in a historic district, the outside appearance couldn’t be drastically altered. But inside, changes to the house include eliminating the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) system, adding skylights and other alterations to flood the home with natural light so electric lights aren’t needed during the day and adding a lab so that data can be collected in order to develop new and more efficienct technologies.
With no heating or cooling system, the house will instead use “thermal mass,” meaning the building’s materials are able to absorb and store heat. There will also be an automated system, Malkawi said, to “sense the occupants needs and open the windows accordingly throughout the entire day as well as the night.”
Algorithms can also sense if the windows need to open to provide better air quality, when they need to close once the building is cool and can “predict future forecasts for [the windows] to adjust themselves accordingly,” Malkawi said.
Construction to upgrade the home is underway and is expected to take seven to nine months. When it’s complete, it will be the new headquarters for the Center for Green Buildings and Cities and, Malkawi added, hopefully be a template to modernize more existing homes.
MALIBU, Calif. | PCBs The high school here is ranked among the best in the country, with students each year moving on to Ivy League colleges. The location, on a hill down the block from the beach where “Baywatch” was filmed, offers a multimillion-dollar view of the Pacific Ocean.
Yet parents here have been yanking their children out of Malibu High School, concerned about PCBs, the highly toxic chemical compounds, that have been found in caulking of the school’s windows.
A battle over how to handle the PCBs, which were first discovered three years ago, is now convulsing this famously wealthy beach community, with parents, television stars and a supermodel pitted against one of the most elite public school districts in the country.
The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District insists that its classrooms are safe; the Environmental Protection Agency agrees.
But not all parents and teachers are convinced: They blame PCBs for an array of maladies, including migraines, thyroid cancer and common colds, and they have sued to compel the district to remove all contaminated caulking. A judge ruled last week that the lawsuit could move forward.
In the meantime, school board meetings have turned chaotic, with parents shouting down district officials and calling them liars.
“The school district is telling us our kids are safe, but that’s what they were telling parents in Flint, Mich.,” said Jennifer deNicola, a mother of an eighth grader and a 10th grader who has spearheaded the push to remove PCBs. “We know there’s a problem, and they refuse to acknowledge it.”
But school and health officials insist that simply because PCBs are in the building materials does not mean the students are at risk of exposure. The school district tests the air in classrooms — the primary medium through which children could be exposed — and cleans regularly to reduce dust from the caulking, school officials said.
“Just because something is present doesn’t mean it can cause harm,” said Doug Daugherty, a managing principal at Ramboll Environ, the environmental consulting firm the district has hired.
The district has already spent millions of dollars on lawyers, environmental consultants and a public-relations campaign.
But, this being Malibu, parents have waged their own media campaign, complete with environmental experts and celebrity advocates. Cindy Crawford, the supermodel, has gone on national television to explain why she pulled her two children from Malibu High, and offered to pay to test caulking for PCBs throughout the campus, which also includes an elementary school and a middle school. (Her offer was declined.)
PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, were widely used in building materials and electronics until they were banned in the late 1970s, and they remain in many older buildings. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health estimated that the substances could be present in upward of 20,000 schools nationwide. The compounds have been linked to cancer, immune problems and lower I.Q.s among children.
Federal law requires that any building materials found to contain PCBs be removed. But to the chagrin of parents here, there was no requirement to test the caulking in the first place.
Jennifer deNicola, a mother of two who has spearheaded the push to have PCBs removed, with her daughter Sami, 13, whom she is now home-schooling. Credit Monica Almeida/The New York Times
The E.P.A. has endorsed the district’s approach to handling the PCBs in its buildings. And scientists who studied PCBs in New York City schools said this method — of testing air quality and cleaning assiduously — was very effective.
Laurie Lieberman, the president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified school board, said the administration had confidence in the safety of its facilities and has been doing its best to reassure parents.
“We have tremendous empathy for people who are fearful and scared,” Ms. Lieberman said. “We’ve really tried to explain why the schools are safe now.”
Malibu parents have a history of skepticism about official health advice, including routine childhood vaccinations: At some local elementary schools in 2014, fewer than 60 percent of kindergarten students had received the full lineup of recommended vaccines, far below the state average.
In this case, the distrust on both sides became plain last fall, when supporters of caulking removal secretly took their own samples from classrooms and had them independently tested. Ms. deNicola announced that the results showed extraordinarily high levels of PCBs. The school district asked the sheriff’s office to investigate her for trespassing and vandalism.
The battle now threatens to tear apart the school district: Concern over PCBs has fueled an existing effort here to break away from Santa Monica so that Malibu can be in control of its own schools.
Beth Lucas, a parent, pulled her son, Christian, out of Malibu High after their endocrinologist said it was especially dangerous for him to remain there. Christian, now 17, had a malignant brain tumor at age 6, and the radiation used to treat it left him with a diminished immune system and thus more vulnerable to the effects of PCBs, the doctor told the family.
“We moved to Malibu for the schools, so it has been a big slap in the face to have the school district treat the parents and teachers and children so poorly,” Ms. Lucas said. She is also considering removing her daughter, who is in middle school, at the end of the year, but worried about the cost of private school.
“Yes, we live in this nice house,” she said, sitting on a hilltop porch that overlooked a wide expanse of ocean. “I don’t want to have to sell my house and leave Malibu. The district has put us in a horrible position.”
Currently, only one of the seven school board members represents Malibu. He supports replacing the caulking, but has been voted down by board members who live in Santa Monica.
“I think the board members have convinced themselves that the science is right and the parents are overreacting,” said Craig Foster, Malibu’s representative on the school board, and the father of a seventh grader at the middle school here. “But what if in five years it turns out testing the air and dust wasn’t enough? How do you sleep?”
Some other school districts across the country have acted more aggressively, often at the E.P.A.’s behest, to remove the source of PCBs. Parents here point to Clark Elementary School in Hartford as an example of a school district that handled matters responsibly: In that case, an entire school building was closed — and may be abandoned — because of PCB contamination.
But testing at Clark Elementary indicated elevated levels of PCBs in the air, whereas testing at Malibu High has not, E.P.A. officials said.
Jim Jones, an assistant administrator at the E.P.A., said the agency worked with schools to “get below the risk threshold using the best management practices.”
“We’re always trying to find what’s a cheaper way,” Mr. Jones said, adding that the caulking at Malibu High would all be replaced within several years as part of planned renovations. For now, he said, cleaning and ventilation are “far less costly than removal.”
Google announced last week that it will be opening its newest data center — which will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy — at the site of a soon-to-be retired Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) coal plant in Alabama that is being phased out thanks to the advocacy of Sierra Club and many others. It’s one of the most powerful, inspiring examples yet of the energy transformation that we’re driving all across this nation, and if done right, it could also provide an economic boost for Widows Creek workers and the local community.
“It’s exciting to see Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) working with the state and regional economic agencies to repurpose this old, polluting coal plant in a way that will jumpstart green industry growth, renewable power, and job creation in Alabama,” said Jonathan Levenshus, a senior Beyond Coal campaign representative in the region.
This is especially timely, as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Alabama Power have reached an agreement to phase out coal at several units and crack down on air pollution from the remaining units.
Sierra Club activists and allies were instrumental in securing retirement of the Widows Creek coal plant, pointing to its serious air, water, and climate pollution and urging the TVA to retire and it create a responsible transition program for its workers. After a decade of advocacy and litigation, the Sierra Club and others reached an agreement with TVA in 2011 that was one of the most sweeping clean air victories in Southeastern history. It required retirement of 18 TVA coal units, including phasing out Widows Creek units 1 – 6 between 2013 and 2015 (most coal plants contain multiple units, or boilers). Then, as part of TVA’s energy planning process, we pushed hard for retirement of all the remaining units at Widows Creek, which TVA’s board voted to do at a meeting this May.
The Sierra Club had started a conversation with TVA’s board chair and the regional economic development agency in Jackson County earlier this year about a responsible transition. Now that this news has broken, it’s important that Google and TVA ensure this transition provides good, union jobs to workers from Widows Creek and the local community, to ensure the economic benefits of this project go to those who most need them. That includes the many jobs this project promises to create in construction, renewable energy development, and energy efficiency projects.
The project provides a welcome example of redevelopment with clean energy. As a Google official noted:
“The idea of repurposing a former coal generating site and powering our new facility with renewable energy — especially reliable, affordable energy that we can count on 24/7 with the existing infrastructure in place — was attractive,” said Gary Demasi, Director of Data Center Energy and Location Strategy for Google.
Google officials added that they will continue to work with the TVA to develop more clean energy as well. “Thanks to an arrangement with Tennessee Valley Authority, our electric utility, we’ll be able to scout new renewable energy projects and work with TVA to bring the power onto their electrical grid,” said Patrick Gammons, Google’s Senior Manager for Data Center Energy and Location Strategy. “Ultimately, this contributes to our goal of being powered by 100 percent renewable energy.”
The Widows Creek coal power plant in Jackson County, Alabama, has been scheduled for a shutdown as Google prepares to transform it into its 14th data center globally, following expansions of their data centers in Iowa, Georgia, Singapore and Belgium. (image: Tennessee Valley Authority/Flickr CC)
Levenshus said TVA has a great track record of helping its employees when coal plants retire, and this decision is no different. “It’s gratifying that TVA has chosen to work with Google to redevelop the site and bring new construction, renewable energy and high-tech jobs to this rural community, which has relied on the coal plant for the last 60 years. Building this new data center in Jackson County will strengthen the regional economy and will help move Alabama forward.”
He added that this decision offers a model to other utilities nationwide when exploring how to redevelop coal plant sites. And Google’s clean energy leadership continues to be an inspiration.
Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola viruses has not yet been identified scientist speculate on several vectors of virus’s transmission. The way in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, scientists believe that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys), which is called a spillover event. Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected people. In some past Ebola outbreaks, primates were also affected by Ebola, and multiple spillover events occurred when people touched or ate infected primates.
When an infection does occur in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with
blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
infected fruit bats or primates (apes and monkeys)
Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus. Only a few species of mammals (for example, humans, bats, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus. (more…)