Health Desk

In her first major address on the Zika outbreak, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, said the mosquito-borne virus has gone from being "a mild threat to one of alarming proportions." Chan spoke Thursday in Geneva.

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Last Friday, as the East Coast braced itself for the huge snow storm, we began to wonder how folks from places where it never snows were thinking about the crazy weather.

We asked readers from non-snowy parts of the developing world — and indeed from anyplace warm: What was your first experience with snow?

This week, after we finished shoveling ourselves out of our homes, we began digging through the responses.

And we got some truly hilarious ones.

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Couples Who Use Contraception Have More Sex

Jan 27, 2016

Folks in the field of family planning research are experts at discussing all sorts of uncomfortable things — teen pregnancy, abortion, maternal death. So what's weird is that there's one issue no one is really talking about, says Suzanne Bell, MPH, a doctoral student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

That forgotten topic? Sex.

As researchers have come to understand how poverty and its stresses influence children's brain development, they've begun untangling how that can lead to increased behavior problems and learning difficulties for disadvantaged kids.

Rather than trying to treat those problems, NYU child development specialists Adriana Weisleder and Alan Mendelsohn want to head them off.

For women who are pregnant, or hope to be, the news about the Zika virus can be terrifying. The mosquito-borne pathogen is being linked to a significant increase in Brazil of a rare birth defect called microcephaly.

The virus has already spread to 22 countries in the Americas. That's led four countries, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica and Colombia, to recommend that women delay their pregnancies. It's a strategy that is being criticized by some.

Last fall, Shalonda Brown decided she'd had it with paying nearly $1,000 a month for family health, dental and vision plans through her job at an independent lab in Dallas.

Casting about for an alternative, she checked out individual family plans on HealthCare.gov. No dice. The family's income was too high to qualify for subsidies and comparable coverage wouldn't be any cheaper.

What do you want to know about the Zika virus?

We asked our audience, and on Jan. 26 we posed their questions to NPR global health correspondent Jason Beaubien and South America correspondent Lourdes Garcia-Navarro in a live video Q&A, moderated by Goats and Soda editor Malaka Gharib. Garcia-Navarro participated from Rio de Janeiro.

It's a challenge making sure that low-income children who get free- and reduced-priced meals during the school year continue to get fed during the summer.

Government meal programs served 3.8 million children on an average summer day last year — far fewer than the 22 million children who got subsidized meals during the school year.

The outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil and other countries has raised concern that the pathogen could start spreading widely in the United States, as well. But federal health officials and other infectious disease specialists say so far that seems unlikely.

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Standing on the bank of the Passaic River where it meets the Newark Bay in New Jersey, Oswaldo Avad reels in a small bluefish and a piece of a grocery bag.

"One piece plastic and one fish," Avad says in broken English.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, children, pregnant women and women who might one day want to be pregnant should not eat any fish from most of the waters in New Jersey. It's safe for men to eat a small amount: about one catfish or one eel per year.

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The rapid spread of the Zika virus has raised interest in a British company that has developed a genetically modified mosquito. Oxitec has produced a genetically engineered line of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the mosquito that carries dengue fever and chikungunya. Those tropical diseases have become common in Latin America and are now showing up in Florida.

Aedes aegypti also carries Zika, a disease whose symptoms include fever, like dengue. It has also been linked to a birth defect, microcephaly in children born to women infected with Zika.

While researching the book Cure, science writer Jo Marchant wanted to understand how distraction could be used to nullify pain, so she participated in a virtual reality experiment.

During the first part of the experiment, Marchant sat, without distraction, with her foot in a box of unbearably hot water. "It felt like a very intense burning pain on my foot when I just experienced it on its own," Marchant tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

Pregnant women and new mothers need more attention when it comes to screening for depression, according to recommendations issued Tuesday by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

That came as part of the panel's recommendation that all adults should be screened, in a situation where they can be provided treatment or get a referral if they are clinically depressed.

The state of New Jersey has been trying to help jurors better assess the reliability of eyewitness testimony, but a recent study suggests that the effort may be having unintended consequences.

That's because a new set of instructions read to jurors by a judge seems to make them skeptical of all eyewitness testimony — even testimony that should be considered reasonably reliable.

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Medical editors don't usually attract much attention. They perform their daily duties evaluating submissions and producing articles that, on good days, influence practice and policy.

Sahr and Nyumah were barely teenagers when rebel soldiers from the Revolutionary United Front stormed their villages in Sierra Leone. The two friends fled with their families and neighbors — Sahr to the bush and Nyumah to the road leading to Guinea. But both were captured.

Rebel soldiers forced Nyumah to beat Sahr, and to kill Sahr's father. It was part of a systematic campaign to turn neighbor on neighbor, friend on friend, and damage the social ties that held communities together.

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A Texas grand jury investigating Planned Parenthood took no action against the abortion provider, but it indicted two anti-abortion activists involved in making covert videos of the organization.

On Nov. 24, the sun set in the tiny Greenlandic town of Ittoqqortoormiit. When I arrived in mid-January, it had yet to rise again.

Even for Greenland, Ittoqqortoormiit is isolated. It's considerably colder and darker than the capital, Nuuk.

"I remember my first Christmas on the west coast [of Greenland]," says Mette Barselajsen, who was born here and is raising her four kids in town. "I remember I was surprised we had the sun at Christmas. Like, too light!"

The World Health Organization says it expects the Zika virus to spread to every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada.

It says the virus has already "spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas."

"Canada is off the list simply because it's too cold for the type of mosquito that transmits the Zika virus," NPR's Jason Beaubien reports to our Newscast unit.

If you took a map of Chicago and put down a tack for each person shot last year, you'd need nearly 3,000 tacks.

Of those, 101 would be clustered in the neighborhood of East Garfield Park. That's where 15-year-old Jim Courtney-Clarks lives.

"To be honest, I really don't like it," Courtney-Clarks says. "Every time you look up somebody else is getting killed, and I never know if it's me or somebody I am really close to."

Last summer, cases of particular strain of Listeria started popping up in six states in the Northeast and Midwest U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says since July 2015, 12 people have been sickened and one person from Michigan has died in this outbreak. And the agency recently confirmed that five of the people who got sick reported eating packaged salad. Two of them specified that they ate Dole brand packaged salad.

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