Florida warns residents of giant African land snail that may cause meningitis in humans: report

Did you know some snails can cause meningitis? 

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is warning Pasco County to beware of the giant African land snail (GALS) that can carry a rare rat lungworm called Angiostrongylus cantonensis, which may cause meningitis in humans, according to the state’s recent “Pest Alert.” 

“The giant African land snail … is one of the most invasive pests on the planet, causing agricultural and environmental damage wherever it is found,” the report added.  

After receiving notice of a “possible” population of the snail in New Port Richey, Pasco County on June 21, FDACS said a property survey confirmed the presence of a white form of the giant African land snail two days later. 

“The phenotype in Pasco County has a creamy white flesh as opposed to the grey-ish brown flesh of the phenotype that was eradicated in the Miami area,” said Erin M. Moffet, FDACS’s communications director.  

Moffet told Fox News that Mellon, a mollusk detector dog, is actively surveying for the pest. 

The department said on their website that they will treat properties with a specific snail bait that is a metaldehyde-based molluscicide labeled by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for residential use.   

Metaldehyde is a pesticide used to control snails that’s approved for use in many crops, fruit trees, avocado and citrus orchards, berry plants, banana plants and in limited residential areas, the department said on their website.  

The pesticide interferes with the snail’s mucus production ability, thereby reducing their digestion and mobility, which makes them susceptible to dehydration, per the website.  

After eating the metaldehyde, the GALS often seeks hiding places, then becomes inactive and begins to die within days, the department said.  

“FDACS’s Division of Plant Industry has begun to survey the area, enacted a quarantine and will begin treatment for this detrimental pest on June 29, 2022,” the state department said.  

“It is unlawful to move the giant African land snail or a regulated article, including but not limited to, plants, plants parts, plants in soil, soil, yard waste, debris, compost or building materials, within, through or from a quarantine area without a compliance agreement.” 

The snail is popular in the pet trade in other countries, but it is a federally prohibited organism that cannot be legally sold or possessed in the United States, per the FDACS report.  

“The giant African land snail is one of the most damaging snails in the world and consumes at least 500 different types of plants. These snails could be devastating to Florida agriculture and natural areas as they cause extensive damage to tropical and subtropical environments,” FDACS said on their website.  

The state first eradicated the pest in 1975 after detecting it in 1969 and most recently eradicated the pest in 2021 after detecting it in 2011 in Miami-Dade County, per the FDACS website.  

The snail can cause a disease called Angiostrongliasis, or rat lungworm disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

“An infected rat coughs up worms from the lungs into the throat where they are then swallowed by the rat. The worms are now in the rat’s digestive system and eventually end up in the rat’s poop,” the CDC said. 

A snail gets infected two ways: by either accidently eating the rat’s poop or the worm penetrating the snail’s body.  

“When a rat eats an infected slug or snail, the cycle begins again,” the CDC added. 

Most cases of rat lungworm disease occur in parts of Asia and the Pacific Islands, but some have been in Caribbean, Africa and United States, like in Hawaii and Louisiana. 

So why should humans worry about it? 

People get the disease when they eat raw or undercooked snails that are infected with the worms as well as eating fruits or vegetables that have not been washed well that also contain the snails.  

“People present with symptoms of bacterial meningitis, such as nausea, vomiting, neck stiffness, and headaches that are often global and severe,” the CDC said. 

“Most infections of [Angiostrongylus cantonensis] resolve spontaneously over time without specific treatment because the parasite cannot survive for long in the human body. However, serious complications can rarely occur, leading to neurologic dysfunction or death.” 

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and FDACS will be holding a press conference on the recent GALS detection from FDACS’ Clearwater office, which will be livestreamed on the department’s Facebook page. 

MIT’s new human liver model reveals how it regenerates, providing hope for patients to avoid transplants

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), engineers developed a new liver tissue model to help reveal the stages of liver regeneration in hopes to help those individuals with liver disease, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers said by finding an effective way to stimulate the liver to regenerate on its own, some liver transplants could potentially be avoided and it may help a donated liver grow after being transplanted, according to a media release from MIT.  

Liver experts told Fox News that most patients who need liver transplants are often those diagnosed with chronic diseases such as viral hepatitis, primary biliary Cholangitis (PBC), cancer or fatty liver disease. The researchers hope that by learning how to utilize the liver’s regenerative properties, doctors will have more options for treating chronic liver diseases. 

According to MIT, even if 70 % of the liver is removed, the remaining tissue can still regrow to its full size within months. Meredith Stone is a 50-year-old healthcare professional who was diagnosed with primary biliary cholangitis, an autoimmune disease that attacks the bile ducts of liver and damages the liver. Stone was not part of the study but shared that she now has cirrhosis of the liver, despite not drinking alcohol for over 20 years. Stone told Fox News that she is currently taking medications such as ocaliva and ursodial hoping to slow the progression of the disease and prevent a liver transplant.  

“I heard about this study and prayed that these researchers can find a way to help the liver regenerate. It would give such piece of mind.” Stone added, “Not much research is going on for PBC and I just hope they find a way to help my liver regenerate as well as other people dealing with devastating liver disease.”

Researchers have used studies from mice to understand the regeneration pathways that occur after liver injury or illness. According to the report, one key factor is the reciprocal relationship between cells found in the liver called hepatocytes and the cells that line blood vessels called endothelial cells. The researchers explained that hepatocytes produce factors that help blood vessels develop, and endothelial cells generate growth factors that help hepatocytes proliferate. The investigators also said that previous studies in mice found that blood flow is another component in sparking regeneration of the liver.   

The MIT researchers wanted to model liver regeneration interactions, so they teamed up with Christopher Chen, MD, PhD, the William F. Warren distinguished professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, who designs microfluidic devices with channels that act like blood vessels. 

The researchers grew blood vessels along one of these microfluidic channels and then added aggregates derived from liver cells taken from human organ donors. 

They developed a chip designed so that molecules such as growth factors can flow between the blood vessels and the liver spheroids, according to the release.  This design allowed the investigators to knock out genes of specific cell types and see how it affects the overall regenerative process. 

Sangeeta Bhatia, who is a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science said in the release, “For years, people have been identifying different genes that seem to be involved in mouse liver regeneration and some of them seem to be important in humans, but they have never managed to figure out all of the cues to make human liver cells proliferate.” 

This “regeneration on a chip” model showed that increased fluid flow on its own did not stimulate the liver cells to begin dividing, which is part of the cycle involved in liver regeneration.  But they did find that if they also provided an inflammatory signal, called the cytokine IL-1-beta, the liver cells did enter the division cycle, the release said. 

The investigators also blocked a gene in the endothelial cells that is responsible for making prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), a molecule that is also involved in liver regeneration in zebrafish. By blocking the gene in these cells, they were able to demonstrate that this molecule stimulates the human liver cells to enter the cell division cycle, according to the report. 

The team plans to explore some other growth factors and molecules that are produced on their model during liver regeneration. They also hope to find the signals that tell the liver when to stop regenerating. 

“Right now when patients come in with liver failure, you have to transplant them because you don’t know if they’re going to recover on their own. But if we knew who had a robust regenerative response, and if we just needed to stabilize them for a little while, we could spare those patients from transplant,” Bhatia said in the MIT release. 

Bhatia hopes the team of researchers will be able to harness molecules to help treat patients with liver failure. The investigators also said that another possibility is that doctors could potentially use biomarkers to determine the likelihood that a patient’s liver will regrow on its own.  

Sunscreen helps prevent premature aging and skin cancer: How to pick the best one

Don’t get burned this summer.  

As many Americans enjoy the summer outside in the hot sun, experts remind that sunscreen protects the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, but which one to choose? 

“Seeking shade, wearing protective clothing — including a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection — and using sunscreen are all important behaviors to reduce your risk of skin cancer,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).  

“In fact, it is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  Sunscreen can also help prevent premature skin aging, such as wrinkles and age spots, caused by too much unprotected UV exposure.”  

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection that protects against UVA and UVB rays, one that is SPF 30 or higher and is also water resistant. 

“SPF” stands for sun protective factor, but many people think the number relates to the time of solar exposure, but this is not correct, said Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine and a former president of the American Academy of Dermatology.  

“For example, many consumers believe that, if they normally get sunburn in one hour, then an SPF 15 sunscreen allows them to stay in the sun 15 hours (i.e., 15 times longer) without getting sunburn. This is not true because SPF is not directly related to time of solar exposure but to amount of solar exposure,” the Food Drug and Administration (FDA) said. 

The SPF number tells how long the sun’s UV radiation will take to cause a sunburn when using sunscreen (as directed) compared to the amount of time without sunscreen, Rigel said. 

“Because SPF values are determined from a test that measures protection against sunburn caused by UVB radiation, SPF values only indicate a sunscreen’s UVB protection,” the FDA said. 

Rigel encourages SPF of 50 or higher because many people only put 25-50% of the required amount of sunscreen to reach the SPF amount on the label, so if they are applying SPF 15 or SPF 30, they might be getting less protection than expected. 

He recommends applying sunscreen on all exposed skin, taking special care to not forget the nose as approximately one-third of all skin cancers are on the nose because it “sticks out.” 

“Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their entire body. Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head,” the AAD said. 

Rigel said most people will need to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes but sweating or swimming may require more frequent intervals.  

He told Fox News no sunscreen is “waterproof” because all sunscreens will wash off, but sunscreens are labeled “water resistant” or “very water resistant.” 

“The labels are required to state whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when swimming or sweating, and all sunscreens must provide directions on when to reapply,” the FDA said on their website. 

Rigel explained “water-resistant” sunscreens are rated effective for 40 minutes while “very water-resistant” are effective for 80 minutes.  

He recommends the best sunscreen to use is the one you will use on a regular basis.  

He said about 50% sunscreens are sold as sprays, but although they more easily cover more surface area, he says non-spray formulations are often more effective because sometimes it’s difficult to tell what part of the skin the spray is covered compared to lotions, where people can be more accurate.  

But ultimately, he says it’s down to personal preference, but reminds sunscreens alone may not protect the skin

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends avoiding the sun rays when they are strongest, which is usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

“If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade,” the AAD said. 

Dermatologists also recommend wearing clothing to cover the skin, such a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection. 

And don’t just wear sunscreen when the sun’s out – apply sunscreen daily if you are going to be outside, because the sun emits harmful UV rays all year. 

“Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate the clouds,” the AAD said. 

And what if you get a sunburn? 

Rigel suggests cooling lotions containing menthol and 1% hydrocortisone cream to treat inflammation as well as aspirin to treat any swelling, redness or discomfort.  

Normally the skin’s epidermal cells turn over in 28 days, but we don’t see the skin turnover because they normally slough off in the shower. But when we have a sunburn, the skin turns over in 5-7 days because the injured skin cells don’t have time to separate, leading to visible peeling of skin, Rigel said. 

He said a sunburn will typically heal fine as long there is no blistering, which is a sign of a second-degree burn. 

A second-degree burn that gives blistering may lead to scarring and the number of blistering episodes directly correlates to the risk of developing melanoma later in life, Rigel said. 

What is pancreatitis: symptoms, causes, and treatment

Earlier this week, Travis Barker, the longtime Blink-182 drummer and husband to Kourtney Kardashian, was carried out of his Los Angeles mansion on a stretcher to a local hospital after being diagnosed with pancreatitis. Barker’s pancreas became inflamed following a colonoscopy procedure.

The musician’s health scare has left many wondering what pancreatitis is and how to treat it. According to the Mayo Clinic, pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas, a flat gland behind the stomach in the upper abdomen, is inflamed. The pancreas is vital for the body to process sugar through digestion and hormones. The pancreas becomes inflamed when these digestive fluids attack the organ instead of regulating the body’s blood sugar levels. 

Acute pancreatitis is a mild form of the condition that occurs suddenly and only for a short time. However, chronic pancreatitis is long-lasting and can lead to death without proper medical attention. Chronic may appear randomly over the course of many years while causing severe discomfort to the body. 

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms for individuals differ based on the type of pancreatitis. The acute version causes pain in the upper abdominal, abdominal pain throughout the back, tenderness when touching the abdomen, fever, rapid pulse, nausea, and vomiting. 

However, chronic pancreatitis is more life-threatening and can cause more severe damage to the body. Common symptoms include upper abdominal pain, abdominal pain that increases after digestion, unexplained weight loss, and oily, smelly stools, according to Mayo Clinic. It is recommended that individuals make an appointment with their doctor for acute or chronic abdominal pain and seek immediate attention if the pain caused by pancreatitis makes it impossible to sit or stand still.

What are the causes?

When digestive enzymes are triggered, pancreatitis occurs from irritated cells in the pancreas, causing the organ to inflame. Some habits and conditions that cause pancreatitis include alcoholism, abdominal injury, obesity, high levels of triglyceride in the blood, and gallstones. Moreover, untreated acute pancreatitis may become chronic and lead to digestion problems and diabetes. 

Other factors such as a family history of pancreatitis, excessive cigarette usage, and alcohol consumption may increase an individual’s risk of pancreatitis. 

How do you treat it? 

Depending on an individual’s condition, medical professionals will ovulate and treat the underlining cause of pancreatitis differently in some cases. However, some early treatments include slimming down your daily diet to allow your body to recover. Doctors may also prescribe patients suffering from pancreatitis pain medication if the condition is severe. If an individual is admitted to a hospital, intravenous (IV) fluids will be injected through a vein in the arm to avoid dehydration until the pancreas recovers.

AstraZeneca gets EU backing for targeted breast cancer therapies

AstraZeneca said on Monday two of its existing therapies were recommended for treating patients with some forms of high-risk breast cancers in the European Union, in a boost to the company’s oncology portfolio.

Lynparza, a cancer drug developed jointly with U.S.-based Merck, was backed for standalone use or in combination with endocrine therapy in adults with a form of genetically mutated early-stage breast cancer.

The drug, which has received a similar recommendation in the United States in March, is a key asset for AstraZeneca. It was recommended in patients with low-to-normal levels of a protein known as HER2 that is the target of several new therapies.

Enhertu, developed jointly with Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo, was the other drug that was endorsed by the European Medicines Agency for treating an aggressive form of breast cancer characterized by a high rate of HER2.

Enhertu is seen as a major growth driver for AstraZeneca, with some analysts expecting peaks sales of $10 billion. The drug is also expected to be cleared for patients with low levels of HER2 this month after the recent success of a trial.

COVID-19 may increase risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke: study

A new Danish study found COVID-19 outpatients had a higher risk of being diagnosed with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, stroke and bleeding into the brain when compared with COVID-19 negative patients, but most neurological disorders were not more frequent after COVID-19 than after other respiratory infections, according to a recent study published in Frontiers in Neurology this June.  

“More than two years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the precise nature and evolution of the effects of COVID-19 on neurological disorders remained uncharacterized,” said lead author Dr. Pardis Zarifkar, member of the Department of Neurology at Rigshospitalet hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark.  

“Previous studies have established an association with neurological syndromes, but until now it is unknown whether COVID-19 also influences the incidence of specific neurological diseases and whether it differs from other respiratory infections.” 

The study, which was recently presented at the 8th European Academy of Neurology Congress, found 43,375 individuals tested positive for COVID-19 while 876,356 individuals tested negative for the disease out of a total of 919,731 participants. 

The study used electronic health records that covered approximately 50% of Denmark’s population, which has an estimated population of 3 million. 

The study analyzed those who tested positive for COVID-19 and bacterial pneumonia in hospital-based facilities between February 2020 and November 2021, as well as reviewed influenza patients from the corresponding pre-pandemic period between February 2018 and November 2019. 

Out of the 43,375 patients who tested positive for COVID-19, 35,362 were outpatients while 8,013 were hospitalized.  

The researchers found the outpatients who tested positive for COVID-19 had a 3.5 times the risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, 2.6 times increased risk with Parkinson’s disease, 2.7 times increased risk with ischemic stroke and 4.8 times increased risk with intracerebral hemorrhage, which is bleeding in the brain.  

But when the researchers compared the relative risk of neurological disorders with other respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, the increased risk of most neurological diseases was not higher in COVID-19-positive patients compared to those diagnosed with other respiratory illnesses – with one exception.  

The researchers found the risk for ischemic stroke increased among COVID-19 hospitalized patients when compared to inpatients with influenza. 

The study was limited because it did not account for potential confounding variables like socioeconomic, lifestyle, pre-existing comorbidities and length of hospitalization. 

Although the study included a large population, it was only able to review a subset of the country’s absolute number of tested individuals as only COVID-19 tests performed in the hospital facilities are registered in the Danish electronic health record system that the study used to analyze the records. 

“While the risk of ischemic stroke was increased with COVID-19 compared to influenza, reassuringly, most neurological disorders do not appear to be more frequent after COVID-19 than after influenza or community-acquired bacterial pneumonia,” the researchers concluded.  

“Frequencies of multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis, Guillain-Barré syndrome and narcolepsy did not differ after COVID-19, influenza and bacterial pneumonia,” the study added.  

“These findings will help to inform our understanding of the long-term effect of COVID-19 on the body and the role that infections play in neurodegenerative diseases and stroke,” Zarifkar said. 

World’s mental health care needs urgent makeover: WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released its most comprehensive review of the world’s mental health in over 20 years with an action plan that every WHO state member has signed to transform mental health care, according to a recent press release.  

“Everyone’s life touches someone with a mental health condition. Good mental health translates to good physical health and this new report makes a compelling case for change,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 

“The inextricable links between mental health and public health, human rights and socioeconomic development mean that transforming policy and practice in mental health can deliver real, substantive benefits for individuals, communities and countries everywhere. Investment into mental health is an investment into a better life and future for all.” 

Approximately 1 billion people, including 14% adolescents globally, lived with a mental health disorder in 2019. 

Mental health disorders are the top cause of disability, with those with severe mental health conditions dying 10 to 20 years earlier on average compared to the general population mostly because of physical diseases that are preventable. 

And the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated certain mental health conditions, with depression and anxiety increasing more than 25% during its first year alone. 

Sexual abuse and bullying are two main causes of childhood depression. 

But many people with depression are not receiving treatment. 

Approximately one third of high-income people with depression receive formal mental health care, but “minimally-adequate treatment” is estimated for only 3% in low and lower-middle-income countries. 

Suicide accounted for more than 1% of deaths, with more than half occurring before age 50, but “20 countries still criminalize attempted suicide.” 

“Across countries, it is the poorest and most disadvantaged in society who are at greatest risk of mental ill-health and who are also the least likely to receive adequate services,” the release said. 

Although there has been some progress in mental health care, the WHO hopes to accelerate the change, noting two out of three dollars of scarce government spending on mental health is allocated to inpatient psychiatric hospitals rather than community programs, which are most beneficial for people. 

The WHO provided three broad recommendations to improve mental health, including calling on governments, individuals and communities to strengthen “the value and commitment” to mental health and its care as well as to change “the physical, social and economic characteristics of environments” that impact mental health. 

“Every country has ample opportunity to make meaningful progress towards better mental health for its population,” said Dévora Kestel, director of WHO’s Mental Health and Substance Use Department. 

‘Forever chemicals’ in water and packaging can risk health, EPA says

The Environmental Protection Agency is warning that two nonstick and stain-resistant compounds found in drinking water are more dangerous than previously thought — and pose health risks even at levels so low they cannot currently be detected.

The two compounds, known as PFOA and PFOS, have been voluntarily phased out by U.S. manufacturers, but there are a limited number of ongoing uses and the chemicals remain in the environment because they do not degrade over time. The compounds are part of a larger cluster of “forever chemicals” known as PFAS that have been used in consumer products and industry since the 1940s.

The EPA on Wednesday issued nonbinding health advisories that set health risk thresholds for PFOA and PFOS to near zero, replacing 2016 guidelines that had set them at 70 parts per trillion. The chemicals are found in products including cardboard packaging, carpets and firefighting foam.

At the same time, the agency is inviting states and territories to apply for $1 billion under the new bipartisan infrastructure law to address PFAS and other contaminants in drinking water. Money can be used for technical assistance, water quality testing, contractor training and installation of centralized treatment, officials said.

Several states have set their own drinking water limits to address PFAS contamination that are far tougher than the federal guidance. The toxic industrial compounds are associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight.

“People on the front-lines of PFAS contamination have suffered for far too long,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “That’s why EPA is taking aggressive action as part of a whole-of-government approach to prevent these chemicals from entering the environment and to help protect concerned families from this pervasive challenge.”

PFAS is short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which are used in nonstick frying pans, water-repellent sports gear, stain-resistant rugs, cosmetics and countless other consumer products. The chemical bonds are so strong that they don’t degrade or do so only slowly in the environment and remain in a person’s bloodstream indefinitely.

The revised health guidelines are based on new science and consider lifetime exposure to the chemicals, the EPA said. Officials are no longer confident that PFAS levels allowed under the 2016 guidelines “do not have adverse health impacts,” an EPA spokesman said.

While the new guidelines set acceptable risk below levels that can currently be measured, as a practical matter EPA recommends that utilities take action against the chemicals when they reach levels that can be measured — currently about four parts per trillion, a senior administration official told reporters Tuesday night.

The EPA said it expects to propose national drinking water regulations for PFOA and PFOS later this year, with a final rule expected in 2023.

In a related development, the EPA said that for the first time it is issuing final health advisories for two chemicals that are considered replacements for PFOA and PFOS. One group is known as GenX chemicals, while the other is known as PFBS. Health advisories for GenX chemicals were set at 10 parts per trillion, while PFBS was set at 2,000 parts per trillion.

The agency said the new advisories provide technical information that federal, state and local agencies can use to inform actions to address PFAS in drinking water, including water quality monitoring, use of filters and other technologies that reduce PFAS and strategies to reduce exposure to the substances.

Environmental and public health groups hailed the announcement as a good first step. Advocates have long urged action on PFAS after thousands of communities detected PFAS chemicals in their water. PFAS chemicals have been confirmed at nearly 400 military installations and at least 200 million Americans are drinking water contaminated with PFAS, according to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization.

“EPA had the courage to follow the science. This is a step in the right direction,” said Stel Bailey, co-facilitator of National PFAS Contamination Coalition.

“The science is clear: These chemicals are shockingly toxic at extremely low doses,” added Erik Olson, senior strategic director for health and food at the Natural Resources Defense Council. He called on the EPA to regulate all PFAS chemicals “with enforceable standards as a single class of chemicals.”

Melanie Benesh, legislative attorney for the Environmental Working Group, said the EPA’s announcement “should set off alarm bells for consumers and regulators” alike. She urged the EPA to “move much faster to dramatically reduce exposures to these toxic chemicals.”

The American Chemistry Council, which represents major chemical companies, said in a statement that while it supports development of drinking water standards for PFAS based on the best available science, the EPA’s announcement “reflects a failure of the agency to follow its accepted practice for ensuring the scientific integrity of its process.”

While the advisories are non-binding, “they will have sweeping implications for policies at the state and federal levels,” the group said. “These new levels cannot be achieved with existing treatment technology and, in fact, are below levels that can be reliably detected using existing EPA methods.”

The Chemours Co., a DuPont spinoff that uses so-called GenX chemicals to produce high-performance fluoropolymers used in semiconductors, mobile phones, hospital ventilators and other products, called the EPA’s announcement “fundamentally flawed.”

EPA “disregarded relevant data and issued a health advisory contrary to the agency’s own standards and this administration’s commitment to scientific integrity,” Chemours said in a statement.

The company is “already using state-of-the-art technologies at our sites to abate emissions and remediate historical releases” Chemours said, adding that officials are evaluating next steps, “including potential legal action, to address the EPA’s scientifically unsound action.”

An investigation by the state of North Carolina found that Chemours had discharged GenX from its Fayetteville Works plant into the Cape Fear River for years. EPA chief Regan was the state’s top environmental official when the probe began and led negotiations that resulted in cleanup of the river.

Gov. Roy Cooper and his current environmental chief unveiled a three-pronged strategy last week address further efforts to reduce and remedy a broad category of PFAS chemicals in water sources.

Legislation passed by the House would set a national drinking water standard for PFAS and direct the EPA to develop discharge limits for a range of industries suspected of releasing PFAS into the water. The bill has stalled in the Senate.

Drug to treat alopecia approved by FDA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Tuesday that it approved Olumiant oral tablets for adult patients who are affected by severe alopecia areata. 

The move by the agency marks the first FDA approval of a systemic treatment for the disorder. 

“Access to safe and effective treatment options is crucial for the significant number of Americans affected by severe alopecia,” Dr. Kendall Marcus, the director of the Division of Dermatology and Dentistry in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “Today’s approval will help fulfill a significant unmet need for patients with severe alopecia areata.”

Commonly referred to as just alopecia, alopecia areata is an autoimmune disorder that develops when the body attacks its own hair follicles, which can cause hair loss anywhere on the body. 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, it can begin at any age, although most people develop it during childhood or their teenage years. 

There are several types of alopecia areata, including alopecia totalis and alopecia universalis.

The disorder, which impacts more than 300,000 Americans each year, often appears as patchy baldness. 

The approval for the drug was granted to Eli Lilly. 

The tablets are a Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitor, which blocks the activity of one or more of a specific family of enzymes, interfering with the pathway that leads to inflammation.

Its efficacy and safety were tested in two randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled trials. 

Participants had at least 50% scalp hair loss, as measured by the severity of alopecia tool, for more than half a year. 

The patients either received a placebo, 2 milligrams of Olumiant, or 4 milligrams every day. 

The FDA explained that the primary measurement of efficacy for both trials was the proportion of patients who had achieved at least 80% scalp hair coverage at week 36. 

“In Trial AA-1, 22% of the 184 patients who received 2 milligrams of Olumiant and 35% of the 281 patients who received 4 milligrams of Olumiant achieved adequate scalp hair coverage, compared to 5% of the 189 patients who received a placebo. In Trial AA-2, 17% of the 156 patients who received 2 milligrams of Olumiant and 32% of the 234 patients who received 4 milligrams of Olumiant achieved adequate scalp hair coverage, compared to 3% of the 156 patients who received a placebo,” the FDA said. 

The most common side effects associated with Olumiant include upper respiratory tract infections, headache, acne, high cholesterol, fatigue, nausea and weight increase.

It was initially approved in 2018 as a treatment for certain adult patients with moderately to severely active rheumatoid arthritis and is also approved for the treatment of COVID-19 in certain hospitalized adults.  

It is not recommended for use in combination with other JAK inhibitors, biologic immunomodulators, cyclosporine or other potent immunosuppressants. 

Diabetes drug lead to significant weight loss in people with obesity: study

A diabetes drug taken once a week lead to dramatic weight loss in people who have obesity, according to a recently published study in The New England Journal of Medicine. The study authors said that participants in the 72-week trial lost up to 20% of their body weight. 

“The findings indicate tirzepatide may be a potential therapeutic option for individuals living with obesity, with participants losing between 16% and 22.5% of their starting weight”, the authors said in the study. 

The drug, tirzepatide, is a novel drug that was recently approved by the Food & Drug Administration to help treat type 2 diabetes through a once-weekly injection. The drug, works on two hormones that help control blood sugar and send fullness signals to the brainthe authors explained in the studyThe investigators decided to look at the effect of the diabetes drug on obesity and presented the findings of the phase 3 trial at a symposium at the 82nd Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association® (ADA) in New Orleans, LA. 

The 72-week phase 3 double-blind, randomized, controlled trial, involved over 2500 participants who were considered obese and did not have diabetes.  

The team of researchers divided the participants into four groups. Three of the groups were given 5mg, 10mg or 15mg of tirzepatide to be self-administered once a week for 72 weeks, while the fourth group was given a self-administered placebo injection. All four groups were given counseling sessions regarding lifestyle habits and low-calorie meals. They also performed at least 150 minutes of physical activity a week.

The investigators found that 89% of participants, who took the 5 mg dose of the drug and 96% of those who took 10 mg and 15 mg weekly doses of the drug, achieved at least 5% body weight reductions compared to 28% of those in the placebo group. 

According to the report, participants who took the 5 mg dose of tirzepatide lost an average of 35 pounds, and the 10 mg group achieved an average loss of 49 pounds. The participants who took the 15 mg injection saw an average 52-pound weight loss over the 72-week course of the study. Those in the placebo group achieved a 5 lb. average of weight loss, according to the study.

“Obesity should be treated like any other chronic disease – with effective and safe approaches that target underlying disease mechanisms, and these results underscore that tirzepatide may be doing just that,” lead researcher Ania Jastreboff, MD, PhD, an associate professor Yale University School of Medicine, and director of Weight Management and Obesity Prevention at the Yale Stress Center told one media outlet. 

“These results are an important step forward in potentially expanding effective therapeutic options for people with obesity. Notably, about 9 out of 10 individuals with obesity lost weight while taking tirzepatide,” Jastreboff, who is also the co-director of the Yale Center for Weight Management in Connecticut said in the media report.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, (CDC), the prevalence of obesity in the United States was nearly 42% in 2017 through March 2020. The CDC stated that obesity related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.