Health News

Mom says daughter remains hospitalized one month after swallowing water bead toy

Courtesy of Folichia Mitchell

(NEW YORK) -- A mom of three is sharing a warning for other parents after she says her 10-month-old daughter was hospitalized with critical injuries after swallowing a water bead.

Folichia Mitchell of Berwick, Maine, said she bought a water beads activity kit at a local Target store in late October for her 8-year-old son, who she says is on the autism spectrum.

"From reading the package, I saw they're good for sensory so I thought he'd really love them," Mitchell told ABC News' Good Morning America. "And he did. He thought they were really fun."

Mitchell said she set her son up at the kitchen table with the water beads so they would be out of reach of his younger siblings.

Several days later, Mitchell said she noticed her daughter Kennedy began vomiting and became very lethargic.

Mitchell said she took her daughter to the hospital on Nov. 1, thinking she may have been having an allergic reaction to a newly-introduced food.

Instead, Mitchell said Kennedy was transported by ambulance to a larger children's hospital, where tests showed she had a large, round object in her stomach, which was determined to be a water bead.

Mitchell said she and her husband were in complete shock that Kennedy had swallowed a water bead from their older child's activity kit.

"We never saw her near them. Never saw her have one in her hand. Never saw her pick one up from the floor," said Mitchell. "I was not worried about that at all. That never had crossed my mind the whole time that she was not feeling well and deteriorating."

According to the National Poison Control Center, water beads are typically made of synthetic superabsorbent polymers and when exposed to water, can grow in size from the size of a marble to the size of a tennis ball.

While first designed as a product to help maintain soil moisture in plants, water beads are now used in baby diapers, incontinence products and menstrual pads to help absorb fluid, and are "marketed as children's toys or therapies for children with sensory processing or autism spectrum disorders," according the center.

If water beads are swallowed, they can expand in the body and cause life-threatening intestinal blockage, the center says.

The Consumer Products Safety Commission has issued warnings in the past on various water bead, or water ball, products, warning that they can expand inside a child's body and cause intestinal blockage and damage.

In Kennedy's case, Mitchell said doctors performed a first surgery in early November to remove the water bead from her body, but damage to her intestines was already done.

The next four surgeries Kennedy underwent were due to infections in her body that were caused by intestinal blockage, according to Mitchell.

Mitchell said doctors told her three different times over the past month that they weren't sure if Kennedy was going to survive.

As Mitchell learned more about what happened to Kennedy, she said she began posting videos on TikTok about what happened to help inform other parents.

Mitchell said she only saw a warning about choking on the Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Kit she purchased at Target.

According to an image of the product displayed on Chuckle & Roar's YouTube page, the front of the kit says it is for ages 4 and older, and a warning label located on the upper right corner of the kit says it is a choking hazard, warning, "Small parts, not for children under 3 yrs."

"I do think if they had been labeled properly, and said, 'If ingested, could cause death could cause blockage, seek medical attention,' any of those warnings, then I may not have even bought them for my 8-year-old," she said. "Bringing something into your home and purchasing it from the store, you have the right to know what to expect or what the dangers or cautions are of anything, and I didn't get that opportunity."

Target told GMA in a statement that it has removed Chuckle & Roar Ultimate Water Beads Kit from store shelves and its website while it reviews the situation.

"We're aware of this tragic situation and send our heartfelt sympathy to this child and her family," Joe Unger, a Target spokesperson, said in a statement. "Target requires our vendors to comply with all product safety standards, and all state, federal and local laws. We have removed the product from stores and while we review the situation with the vendor."

Chuckle & Roar products are sold exclusively at Target, according to the company's website.

Buffalo Games, the owner of Chuckle & Roar, told GMA the company is working to determine "if any action is needed" after learning about Kennedy's situation.

Buffalo Games said in a statement, "It was recently reported to Buffalo Games that an infant required surgery after ingesting a water bead from the Ultimate Water Beads kit. Buffalo Games investigated and confirmed with Bureau Veritas, a leading third-party testing laboratory, that the Ultimate Water Beads product does meet all current ASTM and CPSIA standards for toy safety in the United States, and has all required warnings and information on package, including a Choking Hazard and that the product is specified for Ages 4+. However, as consumer safety is paramount to Buffalo Games, we are in the process of evaluating the situation and determining if any action is needed."

The statement continued, "We wish Ms. Mitchell's daughter a speedy and full recovery."

Thomas Bosworth, a lawyer representing Mitchell, told GMA he believes the risk of harm from water beads for children is so great there is "no good reason" products containing them should be on store shelves.

"If you’re a company and you’re going to be selling products like this, you have an obligation to know everything that you need to know about those products and whether they're dangerous, especially to children," said Bosworth. "It's not enough to say something is a choking hazard. There is a difference between choking on something and swallowing a bead that's this big and it almost killing your child."

According to Mitchell, Kennedy is no longer in the intensive care unit and is now breathing on her own after initially being placed on a ventilator.

She said she is not sure when Kennedy will be discharged from the hospital, or how long-lasting her injuries may be.

The National Poison Control Center advises anyone who has swallowed a water bead or has a loved one who has done so should reach out to Poison Control immediately by going to online or calling 1-800-222-1222.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says warning signs for parents to look for include abdominal pain, constipation, drooling, vomiting, refusal to eat, wheezing and complaints of something stuck in the throat or chest. The AAP also warns that children may place water beads in their ears, for which they say to also seek immediate treatment.

Mitchell said she hopes that by sharing her family's story, other parents learn the lesson she has -- to do their own research before bringing a toy into their home.

"Regardless of what a product is going to visually tell me as a warning, I'm never, ever going to trust that," said Mitchell. "I'm always now going to do more research just to bring things into my home because of how terrifying it feels that these were just right on the shelf. I grabbed them effortlessly and took them home."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What to know about the deadliest bird flu outbreak in history

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(NEW YORK) -- As of Monday, more than 52.4 million birds across the United States have died of avian influenza, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This makes the outbreak the deadliest in history, surpassing the 2015 outbreak that killed 50.5 million birds in 2015.

While the 2015 outbreak was mainly contained to poultry farms, the current outbreak has spread to nearly every state.

What is so-called bird flu and what does it mean for Americans?

What is avian flu?

Avian flu is a disease of birds, which occurs when they are infected with avian influenza Type A viruses.

Domestic poultry, including chickens and turkeys, can be infected and spread the disease as well as other bird and animal species, according to the CDC.

"There are multiple versions of influenza, some that infect humans, some that infect animals," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor. "It's been something we've been monitoring for two decades now and it creates a real problem, not only for wildlife but it can have dramatic impacts on domestic stock."

He added, "Because this virus is so contagious, drastic measures have to be put into place to stop the spread and that ultimately results in the death of millions of birds."

Can people be infected with avian flu?

Avian flu viruses do not usually infect people but there have been rare cases.

Because the virus is shed through mucus, saliva and feces, most infections occur when a human comes into contact with these fluids or inhales them.

Symptoms can range anywhere from mild to severe and, sometimes, result in death, according to the CDC.

"We have to remind people the risk to humans is low, but at the same time, unprotected contact with birds that look sick can pose a risk," Brownstein said. "An additional layer is when you have this much virus spread, there's opportunities for mutation and this is where there's an opportunity for a version of this virus that could actually have deeper impact in the human population as well."

He said there is no evidence to suggest people can contract bird flu from eating poultry meat or poultry products, such as eggs.

Why is there an outbreak?

It's believed that the outbreak began from wild birds. In January, the United States Department of Agriculture announced a highly pathogenic strain of avian influenza was found in wild birds for the first time since 2016, mainly in North Carolina and South Carolina.

The birds then migrated, spreading the virus to farms, with the first outbreak confirmed Feb. 9 at a turkey farm in Dubois County, Indiana.

Since then, birds across 46 states have either died as a result of infection or been killed due to exposure of infected birds, according to the USDA.

By comparison, the 2015 outbreak only affected birds in 21 states.

What should people do?

The CDC recommends that people should avoid contact with wild birds whenever possible, especially because they can be infected with avian flu and not appear ill.

In addition, those who work directly with birds such as in zoos, in wildlife conservations centers at meatpacking plants or on farms -- or those who have backyard poultry -- should use protection.

"Right now you want to use protective equipment, like gloves and N-95 masks," Brownstein said. "Just like any virus, you want to avoid touching your mouth, nose, your eyes after contact with birds. It's important changing clothes if you've had any contact."

He also recommended that people receive their flu vaccine as soon as possible.

"It won't prevent infection from bird flu but can reduce the risk of getting sick," Brownstein said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Lisa Niemi Swayze reflects on Patrick Swayze's pancreatic cancer battle: 'He really was a hero'

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(NEW YORK) -- Lisa Niemi Swayze is reflecting on her late husband Patrick Swayze's battle with pancreatic cancer 13 years after the actor's death from the disease.

Speaking to Good Morning America for Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, Niemi Swayze said Swayze "did not want to become the poster boy for cancer" but his "huge heart" kept him from sitting idly by and not stepping up to do what he could to help.

"I used to always say, particularly with the kinds of roles that Patrick liked to play, he always liked to be the hero. I always said, 'You give him a sword, a cape and a horse and he's a happy man,'" she said. "But I tell you what, when it came to him fighting his illness, this disease, you really saw he really was a hero."

The Dirty Dancing star was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer in January 2008. Following what Niemi Swayze called a "heartfelt, grueling, tough, determined fight for 22 months," the actor died in September 2009. He was 57, with 34 of those years spent married to his beloved wife.

Niemi Swayze said playing even a small part in helping change the lives of those who are fighting the disease -- or their loved ones -- for the better is a "great honor."

"Just because Patrick passed on … didn't mean that fight was over, and I was carrying that on for him," she said.

Reflecting on Swayze's pancreatic cancer battle

Niemi Swayze said she could vividly recall a day when she and Swayze, during his battle with pancreatic cancer, were walking on their ranch in New Mexico and he grabbed her hand.

"It was a beautiful day and his eyes glistened and he said, 'I want to live,' " she remembered. "I know that everybody else out there that is dealing with this disease and their families feel exactly the same."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists pancreatic cancer as the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths, behind only lung cancer and cancer of the colon and rectum. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 62,000 Americans will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2022 and nearly 50,000 will die from the disease this year.

Niemi Swayze said this fight brought out the side of her husband "he always wanted to be," which was a "truly courageous, humble, loving, determined [and] strong" person. She looked on with "such awe and admiration with how he did it."

"He had his moments," she said. "But, of course, Patrick was always aware that he was the one who would pay the ultimate price. You know, it's just not fair that he had to be taken so soon in life. I don't want to see that happen for other people."

"The fact that November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month is so important," Niemi Swayze said. "... The only way we're going to stop it is by funding and research and better treatments and early detection."

How she changed her relationship with grief and found love again

After Swayze died, Niemi Swayze grappled with grief, something she wrote about in her 2012 book Worth Fighting For: Love, Loss, and Moving Forward.

"Grief really sucks, and [it's] very difficult to deal with," she said. "As time goes on, it never goes away. It's kind of like a wound and it heals over, but there's always that scar. And it may not be as visible, but it's always there and you never know when it will raise its head again."

Niemi Swayze said this year in particular was a difficult one for her, with the timing of what would have been Swayze's 70th birthday.

"...It all came back to me," she said. "But you know what? It resolves, and I've learned to take the good with the bad. And, you know, the bad parts are the price of having a wonderful, great love -- and I'll take that any day of the week. I'd do it all over again."

In the years following Swayze's death, Niemi Swayze found love again. In May 2014, she married Albert DePrisco.

"I love Patrick so deeply -- and it's interesting, because that hasn't changed in finding new love," she said, adding that one of her "widow friends" reasoned that this is because "love comes from the same well."

"Just because you lose someone doesn't mean love stops," she said, adding that both she and DePrisco "felt so blessed to find each other because we still have a lot of love to give, and it's wonderful to find someone to give it to."

Niemi Swayze's message to those fighting pancreatic cancer -- and their families

Having been by Swayze's side throughout his pancreatic cancer battle, Niemi Swayze knows the toll of being a caregiver for a loved one with pancreatic cancer.

"The patient gets a lot of attention -- and for good reason," she said, noting that the charity group PanCAN -- the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network -- offers support for both those battling the disease and their caregivers "because it happens to everyone in the family. Pancreatic cancer is happening to everyone."

Niemi Swayze reflected on her time as a caregiver, saying her biggest mistake was not taking better care of herself. "If you want to be in it for the long haul, you gotta take breaks here and there, and I couldn't allow myself to do that for quite some time," she said.

As for her message to other caregivers, she said, "Be good yourself … and talk to people who are going through it."

Niemi Swayze found just that in two female friends, both of whom had also lost their husbands to pancreatic cancer. "We called ourselves The Widows of Eastwick," she said, referencing the 1987 film The Witches of Eastwick.

"More than once we talked each other off the ledge, and there's nothing like somebody else who's going through what you are going through that really helps give you that support [and] makes you not feel so alone," she said.

Niemi Swayze also urged those facing the disease and their loved ones to "be brave together."

"Hold each other's hands and go through this," she explained. "Look each other in the eye, because this is an opportunity for a closeness beyond what you ever imagined."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Latest COVID vaccine will help people 'move on' from the pandemic, White House's Jha says

ABC News

(WASHINGTON) -- With the Biden administration urging people to get both a COVID-19 booster and a flu shot as soon as possible, the White House's Dr. Ashish Jha said Sunday that updated vaccinations will help people "move on" from the pandemic.

"It's been, obviously, a long two and a half years for Americans, and we understand that people want to move on," Jha, the White House COVID-19 coordinator, told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz of the virus that has killed more than 1 million people in the U.S. "The good news is people can move on if they keep their immunity up to date."

COVID-19 deaths are still averaging more than 2,000 per week and only about 11% of the country has gotten the latest booster compared to 80% of people who completed the primary course of vaccination that was rolled out in 2021, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"We've talked about this so many times: People aren't listening," Raddatz said​ of the federal government's push for vaccinations while low booster rates remain the norm.

"What do you do?" she asked Jha. He reiterated that the vaccines give crucial protection and he said he believes uptake will increase in the coming weeks: "Historically, people tend to get their flu shot in November and December and to January."

"We think it's incredibly important as we head into the holidays for people to update their immunity, get the new COVID vaccine, get the flu shot. It's a great way to stay safe and healthy this holiday season." he said

About 26% of adults are estimated to have received a flu vaccine as of October, according to the CDC, while an estimated 35% of children received the shots as of early November. Those figures are similar to years past, though the flu vaccine coverage for kids was slightly higher in November 2020.

The results of a study released in June by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that adult flu vaccination rates have declined in states where COVID-19 vaccination rates are also low. Raddatz pointed to that study and asked Jha, "Are you concerned that the controversy and hesitancy over COVID vaccines is carrying over to flu vaccines?"

Jha responded by citing the overall effectiveness of both the COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, making the additional point that many people choose to protect themselves in this way "when they hear it from trusted voices."

"Our strategy is get out into the community, talk to religious leaders, talk to civil society leaders, community-based organizations, have them get out to the community and talk to people, Jha said.

He also emphasized that the updated COVID-19 booster provides protection from a new subvariant of omicron, which has been rapidly spreading across Massachusetts and, according to experts, accounts for nearly 40% of the current cases there.

Raddatz turned to the so-called "tripledemic" this season, with COVID-19 and the flu circulating and now with high numbers of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in children across the country. Health experts have said RSV is emerging earlier and affecting more kids than typical because of the COVID-19 pandemic, ABC News previously reported.

"We're seeing hospitals getting close to capacity. What should parents do in particular?" Raddatz asked.

Jha recommended that every family member, no matter their age, get vaccinated against COVID-19 and the flu as a first step. "That takes those two and takes them off the table in terms of causing serious illness," he said.

"RSV, for most people, [is] not a big deal. It's very mild. For the elderly, and for the youngest kids, it can be a problem," he said, recommending "basic respiratory hygiene" such as "avoiding sick contacts ... washing your hands, cleaning surfaces."

But "one bit of good news just in the last week, we've seen RSV peaked and maybe turn down," he continued. "I'm obviously hopeful that that trend is going to continue." Compared to government data collected in the previous year, however, cases are up significantly.

"And what about this shortage of amoxicillin and even ibuprofen in some places?" Raddatz asked of a months-long national shortage facing parents who are scouring drugstore shelves for children's medicine. "What do they do about that?"

"We have broader supply chain issues with our medications that we've had for decades," Jha said, describing the problems as commonplace. "I often, when I walk into the hospital, find some normal medicine that I'm used to using not available," he said.

Raddatz also touched on recent protests in China amid its "zero COVID" policy, which includes strict lockdown measures and other rules.

Of the country's approach to controlling infections and deaths, which differs sharply from the U.S., Raddatz asked Jha: "When you look at what they're doing, is that effective?"

"We don't think that's realistic, certainly not realistic for the American people," Jha responded.

"I think it's going to be very, very difficult for China to be able to contain this through their 'zero COVID' strategy," he said. "I would recommend that they pursue the strategy of making sure everybody gets vaccinated, particularly their elderly."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Guide to Thanksgiving leftovers, how to store and how long it lasts

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(NEW YORK) -- Before making a sandwich out of leftovers or a turkey pot pie, be sure to know the fridge life of your favorite Thanksgiving eats.

Here's how long your leftovers will last in the fridge, freezer or both, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

How long turkey lasts after Thanksgiving

The star protein will last four days in the fridge. In the freezer, it can last four months for best quality -- after that span it will dry out and lose flavor.

How to store leftover turkey

Cut the leftover turkey into small pieces and store separately in small, air-tight containers.

How long gravy will last after Thanksgiving

Gravy can last up to four days in fridge and up to four months in freezer.

To easily reheat gravy, add to a sauce pan and bringing to a rolling boil. Cover with a lid to heat all the way through.

How long homemade cranberry sauce stays fresh

The sweet and tart side stays good for a week to 10 days in the fridge. Freezing is not recommended.

Canned cranberry sauce

Store in an air-tight container and refrigerate after opening to keep for up to two weeks. Like fresh cranberry sauce, freezing is not recommended.

How long potatoes and yams stay good after Thanksgiving

The two starches can be stored for four days in the fridge and up to two months in the freezer.

How long stuffing keeps after Thanksgiving

Up to four days in the fridge and two to three months months in the freezer in properly stored containers.

How long pies can last after Thanksgiving

Fruit pies can be kept at room temperature for two days, according to They can then be stored in the fridge, loosely covered, for up to two more days. An unbaked crust will keep for two months in the freezer, while a baked crust will keep for four months.

More tips for Thanksgiving leftovers

Refrigerate all leftovers within two hours at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder.

Leftovers should always be reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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NIH launches website for reporting at-home COVID test results

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(WASHIGTON) -- The National Institutes of Health has launched a website which allows people to anonymously report the results of any brand of at-home COVID-19 test.

The website is a collaboration between the NIH and a healthcare technology company, CareEvolution.

Data collected is anonymous and sent to public health systems that receive test results from laboratories and doctor’s offices. Users provide general information such as age and zip code and have the option to include race, ethnicity, sex, and symptoms, but it is not required.

Given the rise of at-home tests, accurately tracking the number of COVID-19 cases has become increasingly difficult. This new website may help provide scientists with a clearer picture of how many people are testing positive and may not require medical care which would normally alert public health systems of the positive test. More accurate data may allow public health departments to modify responses to address outbreaks and spread.

A study done in March suggested at-home test use varies by demographics. COVID at-home test use was highest among persons who identified as white, adults aged 30–39 years, those with annual household incomes of $150,000, and those with postgraduate degrees.

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Number of US abortions declined in 2020, CDC report finds

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(WASHINGTON) -- The number of abortions performed in the U.S. decline in 2020, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The annual report, published Wednesday by the CDC, looks at how common abortion is in the United States and who is getting the procedure.

In total, 620,327 abortions were reported during 2020, a 2% decline from 2019. This data includes every state aside from California, Maryland and New Hampshire.

The rate of abortions also declined to 11.2 per 1,000 women between ages 15 and 44 in 2020, a drop from 11.4 per 1,000 the year before.

Women in their 20s accounted for more than half of all abortions in 2020 at 57.2%. Specifically, women between ages 25 and 29 made up 29.3% and women between ages 20 and 24 made up 27.9% of those who had an abortion.

In addition, of all women who had abortions that year, 86.3% were unmarried and 60.9% already had at least one child, according to the report.

Comparatively, teenagers under age 15 and women aged 40 or older accounted for the fewest abortions in 2020 at 0.2% and 3.7%, respectively.

When looking at abortions in the U.S. by race and ethnicity, large disparities could be seen.

Although white women and Black women each accounted for the highest number of abortions in 2020 -- making up about one-third each -- the rates were dramatically different.

Black women had an abortion rate nearly four times higher than that of white women at 24 abortions per 1,000 Black women compared to 6.2 abortions per 1,000 white women.

Additionally, while Hispanic women made up a smaller share of the abortions performed in 2020 at 21%, the abortion rate was 1.8 times that of white women at 11.4 abortions per 1,000 Hispanic women.

According to the CDC, reasons for these disparities include unequal access to family planning services, poverty and mistrust of the medical system.

The report also examined how far along women were when they received abortions. The overwhelming majority of abortions in 2020, 80.9%, were performed at or before nine weeks' gestation. In 2020, 93.1% of abortions were performed before the second trimester.

About half of all abortions, 51%, were medical abortions in 2020 followed by surgical abortions at or before 13 weeks at 40%.

Additionally, the report discussed abortion trends from 2011 to 2020. Data showed the total number of abortions declined by 15% and the rate per 1,000 women decreased by 18% -- with that rate decline seen across all age groups.

Particularly, the decrease in abortion rate was highest among adolescents aged 15 to 19, dropping by 48% between 2011 and 2020.

The authors did not state whether the drop in 2020 occurred because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions nor did they discuss what may be seen after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade -- which guaranteed the constitutional right to an abortion -- this summer.

However, they did write that abortion surveillance is "to help evaluate programs aimed at promoting equitable access to patient-centered contraceptive care in the United States to reduce unintended pregnancies."

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Measles is an 'imminent threat' worldwide, CDC and WHO report finds

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(WASHINGTON) -- Measles is an "imminent threat" around the world, according to a new joint report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Despite a two-dose vaccine that is more than 97% effective at preventing infection being available for decades, gains made at beating back the potentially dangerous childhood disease have been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report found that in 2021, nearly 40 million children -- a record-high -- missed a dose of the measles vaccine. Specifically, 25 million missed their first dose and 14.7 million missed their second dose.

"The paradox of the pandemic is that while vaccines against COVID-19 were developed in record time and deployed in the largest vaccination campaign in history, routine immunization programs were badly disrupted, and millions of kids missed out on life-saving vaccinations against deadly diseases like measles," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a statement.

"Getting immunization programs back on track is absolutely critical. Behind every statistic in this report is a child at risk of a preventable disease," the statement continued.

To prevent the disease from spreading and to achieve herd immunity, the CDC and WHO say at least 95% of children need to receive the vaccine.

However, just 81% of children globally have received the first dose and 71% have received the second dose, the lowest coverage worldwide seen since 2008.

Consequently, there were 9 million cases of measles and 128,000 deaths around the world with at least 22 countries experiencing "large and disruptive outbreaks."

"The record number of children under-immunized and susceptible to measles shows the profound damage immunization systems have sustained during the COVID-19 pandemic," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement. "Measles outbreaks illustrate weaknesses in immunization programs, but public health officials can use outbreak response to identify communities at risk, understand causes of under- vaccination, and help deliver locally tailored solutions to ensure vaccinations are available to all."

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Best friend couples donate kidneys to each other

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(Los Angeles) -- Two couples have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and they're sharing their stories to encourage others to consider giving the gift of organ donation.

Christine "Chris" Morales and Debbie Thompson have been best friends since they were kids. The two grew up together in California and remained close even after they both married.

"We got married a year apart; we got engaged a year apart," Chris Morales said. "We've just done everything together."

But for years, Chris Morales was keeping a secret, even from her best friend.

In 2015, Morales couldn't keep the secret anymore and finally decided to tell Thompson that she had a genetic disorder called polycystic kidney disease, which had been damaging her kidneys over time, and needed a new kidney.

When Thompson found out about her best friend's health issues, she quickly knew what she wanted to do to help.

"I said, 'Well, you can have mine!'" Thompson recalled. "I didn't even know what the process was."

Thompson underwent medical testing and learned she and Morales were a blood type match. After six months, Thompson was cleared to donate her kidney to her best friend. The surgery was a success and Thompson said if she had to do it all over again, she would.

"She calls the kidney little Deb!" Thompson said. "She always says little Deb is doin' good."

Then, two years ago, the unthinkable happened again. Morales' husband, Ron Morales, who has Type 2 diabetes, learned he would also need a kidney transplant.

Even though Ron Morales kept his health struggles a secret initially, Debbie and her husband, Brad Thompson, would later find out and Brad Thompson didn't hesitate when he gave Ron Morales a call.

"He called me up over the phone and said, 'Hey, I hear you need some extra body parts,'" Ron Morales recalled.

The two then followed in their wives' footsteps and went through their own successful surgeries together.

But there were at least a couple of things that weren't exactly the same. Since the two men weren't a blood type match, Ron Morales needed to get blood transfusions to prepare his immune system to not reject Brad Thompson's kidney.

"I said, 'You can't call it little Brad, and you can't bring me flowers on the anniversary like Chris does,'" Brad Thompson joked.

According to the nonprofit United Network for Organ Sharing, nearly 25,000 Americans -- a new record -- received kidney transplants in 2021 alone.

Ron Morales' transplant surgeon, Dr. Tsuyoshi Todo, remains in awe of the match between Ron and Brad.

"In the seven or so years I have been doing this, I have never seen anything like this. I think it's very unique," he said. "I am glad they were able to find each other."

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Do you need to test for COVID before Thanksgiving? A balanced approach to celebrating safely this year


(NEW YORK) -- With Americans about to celebrate a third Thanksgiving since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, infectious disease doctors say it may be safe to celebrate with slightly more relaxed rules this year.

“It’s important to just recognize we are in a very different place from two years ago. This population is getting more and more immune,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease physician at the University of California San Francisco.

“The most important thing is having balance. This is a tough time. It's important to see our family and our loved ones if we can," said Dr. Rupa Patel, a research associate professor at Washington University School of Medicine.

With multiple viruses circulating this fall including COVID-19, influenza and RSV, infectious disease specialists agreed that basic lessons learned during the pandemic can go a long way in preventing the spread of disease. That includes frequent hand washing, cracking a window for better circulation, staying home when sick and staying up-to-date with COVID-19 boosters and flu shots.

“What [the public] can do is balance risks and benefits. And there is no simple formula,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, director of the Mayo Clinic's vaccine research group in Rochester, Minnesota.

When it comes to testing before family gatherings, infectious disease experts interviewed by ABC News universally agreed that anyone with cold and flu symptoms should seek a COVID-19 test. Even people without symptoms should consider testing if someone at their gathering is vulnerable to serious illness, including people who are unvaccinated, immune compromised or the elderly.

“Live life, but stay home if you feel sick,” said Dr. Whitney Minnock, director of pediatric emergency medicine at Corewell Health William Beaumont University Hospital.

Always test with symptoms

Experts were split on the need for asymptomatic testing but many agreed that it’s no longer necessary to test before every single gathering, travel or major event.

For most people in most situations, “you don't need to test unless you have symptoms,” said Dr. Jay Varma, director of the Cornell Center for Pandemic Prevention and Response. With tests no longer free through the federal government, frequent asymptomatic testing may no longer be possible for many families.

“If you are symptomatic, test obviously,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “This is a communicable disease. No one, as I say, wants to be a dreaded spreader.”

People with any symptoms of any viral illness should stay home. If staying home isn’t possible, people with symptoms should wear a high-quality mask, the experts said.

“I think the right guidance is to isolate for as long as you can, until your antigen test is negative,” Varma said. “Alternatively, wearing a high-quality mask, an N95 mask, and going about daily activities, including potentially being on a plane if you have to, are a reasonable way of minimizing harm to other people.”

Consider testing around the vulnerable

Because many people can spread COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, experts said it’s a good idea to test in situations where vulnerable people might be exposed.

“If you are going to be around people who are more vulnerable ... you might want to [test] so that you can prevent that from happening,” said Chin-Hong.

Added Patel: “I think the responsibility of testing is … where am I going, who is the audience and where have I been?”

Similarly, people who are members of those high-risk groups should seek COVID-19 and flu testing at the first possible symptom because treatments work best when given early.

“If you're in a high-risk group and you develop any kind of symptoms, please be tested, both for COVID and for influenza, because we have treatments for you. We can help prevent your needing to be hospitalized,” Schaffner said.

Take other steps to reduce risk

Although COVID-19 is still serious, it is a risk that many Americans are willing to adopt to resume a semi-normal way of life, according to Varma.

That said, everyone can take concrete steps to minimize risk, including vaccinations and basic prevention tips.

“I think this is the winter that people are going to get together,” said Chin-Hong.

Dr. Amy Arrington, a medical director at Texas Children’s Hospital, said it's “important to continue the things that we have learned work,” including new COVID-19 booster shots.

“You also have to remember that your actions affect other people,” said Anne Rimoin, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “As we move further and further along out of the most acute phase of the pandemic, it doesn't mean that risk mitigation measures aren't worthwhile.”

Even for the vaccinated, COVID-19 infection isn’t always trivial. Many patients will go on to experience long-COVID, or lingering symptoms that can last for months after infection.

“The evidence is increasingly compelling that long COVID can present serious, long-term health consequences,” Rimoin said.

“I think there's definitely a light at the end of the tunnel but I don't think we're there quite yet,” said Arrington. “I hate for us to just loosen the reins [and] go back to a totally pre-pandemic way.”

Added Minnock: “If we head into the holidays and everybody is scared, that is not good for mental health. I plan on being with my family this Thanksgiving. But some important precautions will be part of our celebration.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What you need to know about measles after Ohio outbreak sickens 19 children


(NEW YORK) -- Already facing a challenging respiratory season, pediatricians in Ohio are now dealing with another foe: measles.

According to statistics provided to ABC News by the Columbus Public Health Department (CPHD), as of Tuesday afternoon, 19 children have contracted the virus.

Nearly half of these children were hospitalized due to severe symptoms of the infection. Almost half were under 5 years old.

The rate of children requiring hospitalization during this outbreak was nearly double what's typically seen during measles outbreaks, Dr. Matthew Washam, pediatrician and chief of epidemiology at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, told ABC News.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told ABC News that it is deploying a team to Ohio to assist with mitigating the outbreak.

Here's what to know about the outbreak, why these rare cases occur and how Americans can protect themselves against the virus:

Is measles serious?

Measles is a very contagious disease with the CDC saying every individual infected by the virus can spread it to up to 10 close contacts, if they are unprotected including not wearing a mask or not being vaccinated.

Complications from measles can be relatively benign, like rashes, or they can be much more severe, like viral sepsis, pneumonia, or brain swelling.

"The impression that measles is a trivial infection akin to the common cold with a rash, that is incorrect," Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told ABC News. "Measles is a very nasty virus."

"Before we had the measles vaccine in the United States, 400 to 500 children died of measles and its complications each and every year. So, measles can make you very, very sick," he continued.

Am I protected from measles?

The CDC says anybody who either had measles at some point in their life or who has received two doses of the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine is protected against measles.

One dose of the measles vaccine is 93% effective at preventing infection if exposed to the virus. Two doses are 97% effective.

Schaffner said there is no reason for anyone who has been vaccinated to receive a booster dose when isolated outbreaks occur.

"If you've had those two doses of the measles vaccine, you're protected essentially for life," he said.

In 2000, measles was declared eradicated from the U.S. thanks to the highly effective vaccination campaign.

Why did this outbreak occur?

The CDC team deploying to Ohio will also assist with investigating the outbreak's origins, given that children across 12 schools/daycares have contracted the virus so far.

The fact that these infections occurred over a two-week timespan is throwing another wrench in efforts to track down the outbreak's origins.

Recent research from the World Health Organization described the "largest continued backslide in vaccinations in three decades" due to missed routine care during the pandemic.

In the U.S., a May study found one-third of American parents reported a child with a missed vaccination due to barriers imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, according to Kelli Newman, director in the CPHD Office of Public Affairs and Communications, "our investigation so far points to vaccine hesitancy and choosing not to be vaccinated" as the driver for the outbreak.

What is vaccine hesitancy?

Vaccine hesitancy is defined as delaying or refusing vaccination despite their widespread availability.

Accordingly, CPHD's conclusion so far fits with a troublesome trend sweeping the United States -- and beyond.

Even before the pandemic, reluctance around getting vaccines was hitting a fever pitch. Vaccine hesitancy was named one of the top 10 threats to global health by the WHO in 2019.

In the U.S., vaccine hesitancy has been further stoked by politics.

A study by the Colorado Health Institute, a non-partisan research organization, found that COVID vaccination rates across the state were strongly correlated with counties' political beliefs.

The MMR vaccine has been especially targeted by the vaccine hesitant community. Much of the controversy around the vaccine derives from a now retracted and discredited 1998 study from The Lancet that falsely drew a connection between the shot and rates of autism.

How can we encourage vaccination?

Despite research debunking the Lancet paper, many communities continue to grapple with misinformation around the MMR vaccine.

"Misinformation and disinformation related to vaccines continues and persists," Washam told ABC News. "These are not conversations that can be had in five or 10 minutes or in a single visit."

In Ohio, the health department has tried to combat this misinformation by offering walk-in MMR vaccine appointments that include one-to-one counseling with health providers.

Fortunately, despite the increasing frequency of measles outbreaks, vaccine hesitancy still remains the exception rather than the rule. CDC data shows that more than 90% of children were vaccinated against MMR by the age of two. By 17 years old, that share rises to 92%.

However, epidemiologists worry a 10% unvaccinated rate in children is the bare minimum required to stem future outbreaks. They are even more concerned about communities, like that in Ohio, where the vaccination rate is even lower.

"That 90% is not evenly distributed across the country -- there are pockets of under vaccinated areas, and those are the areas that are susceptible," Washam told ABC News. "Measles anywhere in the world is a risk for measles everywhere in the world."

Schaffner said it is important for local public health authorities to bring trusted leaders, be they political or religious, to speak about the importance of vaccination.

"They can provide them not only information, but a sense of reassurance, a sense of comfort, letting them know that it is the appropriate thing to do for their own children's benefit, but also for the benefit of the entire community," Schaffner noted.

Additionally, this winter amid a so-called "tripledemic" of flu, RSV and COVID-19, experts are urging families to ensure their children are vaccinated against the flu to reduce the burden on health systems and prevent any undue harm. Vaccination rates for the flu historically hover around 60%.

"Some families say, I'm going to wait until X or Y or Z date to get the vaccine," Washam told ABC News. "Well, this might be the year to get it a little sooner."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Couple welcome twins from embryos frozen 30 years ago

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(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- An Oregon family is overjoyed after welcoming twins born from embryos that were frozen 30 years ago.

"They've been a joy to have to us and to their siblings," dad Philip Ridgeway told Knoxville, Tennessee, ABC affiliate WATE of his new twins, Lydia and Timothy, who now make the Ridgeways a family of six.

The 30-year-old embryos have broken the record for the longest-frozen embryos to ever result in a successful live birth, according to research staff at the University of Tennessee Preston Medical Library. The embryos, which were donated by an anonymous married couple using in vitro fertilization, had originally been frozen in April 1992.

They were successfully thawed, transferred and then delivered, with assistance from the National Embryo Donation Center and Dr. John Gordon, a medical director at Southeastern Fertility in Knoxville, who was the couple's doctor.

Lydia and Timothy were born on Oct. 31.

"We wanted to be able to go in and find embryos that had been overlooked for reasons beyond their control, that have been waiting so long for a mom and a dad," Rachel Ridgeway, the twins' mom, said.

Gordon told WATE, "They specifically requested the embryos that had been waiting the longest. They actually felt called to specifically say, 'We want the embryos that everybody else has taken a pass on.'"

Scientists have estimated that there are five frozen embryos for every IVF-related live birth in the U.S. According to Gordon, there are more than 1.4 million frozen embryos waiting to be thawed and transferred.

"We just want them to always know that they were chosen, that they are loved," Rachel Ridgeway added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

How a Colorado Springs hospital treated victims of the Club Q shooting

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(COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.) -- Dr. Laura Trujillo was asleep early Sunday morning when she got the call to go into work at Centura Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

At least five people were killed in a mass shooting at nearby Club Q, a nightclub that primarily serves the LGBTQ community.

Of the additional 19 people injured, in what police are investigating as a hate crime, seven were transported to Centura Penrose.

"Because it was the middle of the night and I was on call the 24 hours before, I was actually asleep when my partner called me," Trujillo, a trauma surgeon at the hospital, told ABC News. "I got the first call a little after midnight. That's when the word was coming into our systems that it might be possibly more than a few patients."

Trujillo said there's a 30-minute grace period from the time backup hospital staff are called to when they arrived, but she said it only took her 15 to 20 minutes to get to Centura Penrose.

"By that time, it was just a few minutes after EMS and the police had dropped off the patients kind of all at once, actually," Trujillo said. "And so, we had some in the hallway who were more stable and some in the rooms."

With an event like this, Trujillo said the first step is an assessment to make sure a patient's breathing, heart rate, blood pressure and circulation are stable and to check the extent of the injuries.

Among patients with gunshot wounds, injuries to the arms and legs are typically less severe than injuries to the chest or abdomen, she said.

After scans to make sure there are few to no internal injuries, patients who are more stable will typically receive bedside care while those who are in critical condition will be rushed to the operating room.

"There were definitely a lot of bodies, a lot of people present, a lot of people working," Trujillo said. "It was chaotic, but well controlled. Everyone had a role."

She continued, "Our role as trauma surgeons is to kind of coordinate and oversee all of it. So, my partner and I were kind of spinning through rooms just sort of checking on everybody, making sure people's vitals were stable, figuring out what imaging they needed met, or where they would be going after the ER."

Trujillo declined to elaborate more on the injuries the Club Q victims had to prevent identifying patients but said the extent "ran from more worrisome to less."

As of Monday morning, of the seven patients who initially were taken to Centura Penrose, four have been discharged and three remain hospitalized in stable condition.

To be declared eligible for discharge, Trujillo said patients will get evaluated, if needed, by physical and occupational therapists, to see if they need equipment to leave the hospital or enter short-term rehabilitation.

Additionally, hospital staff will make sure patients' vitals are stable and their pain is under control.

Trujillo said although she has been trained to respond to patients who are victims of a mass shooting, it's the first time she's ever had to do so.

"This is the first mass casualty assistance that my partner and I have needed to be a part of," she said. "Obviously, we're used to taking care of a lot of patients at once but it's something very sobering about it and sad when it happens."

"You're always hoping you never have to use these skills. We hate when this happens, but we're here to serve everybody, and to make sure that everyone's safe and protected," she added.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Hospital diaries: Doctors reveal how staff are dealing with surge of respiratory infections

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(NEW YORK) -- Doctors say some hospitals are reaching their breaking points as cases of flu and RSV continue to rise across the United States.

Respiratory viruses have been surging throughout the country, appearing earlier than usual and rapidly increasing every month.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 11,000 RSV infections were diagnosed in September 2022, rising to 40,000 for October.

Meanwhile, for flu, cases, hospitalizations and deaths have doubled for the second week in a row, CDC data shows.

This has led to some hospitals running out of beds, being forced to treat children in emergency rooms and hallways and seeing patients that are much sicker than usual compared to past years.

"It's really unbelievable the number of patients that we have seen," Dr. Juan Salazar, physician in chief and infectious diseases specialist at Connecticut Children's Hospital in Hartford, told ABC News. "The number of kids that are coming in, children under the age of five that we have seen come to our emergency department has been like nothing I've ever seen in my 25 years practicing here at Connecticut Children's and frankly, over my 30 years of practicing infectious diseases."

"It's been unprecedented, the strain on the staff and the parents and the children and the nurses has been really, truly unbelievable," he said.

Some hospitals are completely full

Salazar said his hospital has fully reached capacity and has been that way for the last five to six weeks. The emergency department also has many more patients than it has beds.

"So, our emergency department has 45 beds at any given time," he said. "This past three, four weeks we've had 110 kids in the emergency department. So, it's almost three times as many beds as we have capacity for."

Salazar said he has had to call on specialty providers who do not usually treat emergency department patients to help ER staff.

Connecticut Children's is not the only hospital experiencing these circumstances. Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas, is also seeing more patients than it has capacity for.

"Not only are the viruses hitting earlier in the year, they're kind of coming back with a vengeance that we haven't seen, because we've been so isolated for the prior two years," Dr. Maxie Brewer, a hospitalist at Cook Children's, told ABC News. "And so, the biggest issue we're kind of running into is running out of hospital beds and long wait times and our ERs and urgent care secondary to the volume of patients that are being affected by these viruses."

According to Brewer, the ER is seeing about 500 patients a day, which is much higher than normal. This is leading to longer wait times and patients waiting longer to be admitted to the hospital.

Patients sicker than ever

Also different this season is the number of older children who have fallen ill with the virus. Brewer said in past seasons, she usually sees infants under 6 months old with RSV, but she is seeing more toddlers affected and those without a history of pulmonary problems or lung problems.

Brewer remembers one patient, a child around 2 or 3 years old who was born healthy and with no history of asthma or lung disease.

"[The child] started getting ill and did not want to drink as much, parents are noticing a little bit increased work of breathing and came into our ER because of it," she said.

The child was diagnosed with RSV and needed to be placed on high-flow oxygen, which is different from standard oxygen by providing warmed and humidified gas, which allows oxygen to flow at higher rates.

"I'm not used to seeing kids that are older without a history of asthma and this poor child just working so hard to breathe and needing that extra support having to go the ICU, which is just so different than prior years," Brewer said. "Normally, I'm able to give them a little bit of oxygen and the older kids are just able to pull through, and this year it's just been hard because seeing kids like that working so hard to breathe."

Burned out health care staff

This surge putting strain on hospital systems is also contributing to health care burnout.

Nurses who might normally be taking care of four or five patients at a time are suddenly taking care of several more patients.

"We plan for the normal volumes [of patients], even the high volume, but nothing like this," Salazar said. "And so that puts a lot of strain on the health care personnel that are already tired coming out of COVID."

Brewer explained health care workers are trying to balance taking care of sick children, tending to parents frustrated by long wait times and their personal lives.

"We are trying our best to kind of be there for every child that needs us," she said. "But it has led to a lot of stress amongst physicians and nurses, respiratory therapists and everybody working in the hospitals, because we are seeing so many more than we normally do, are working longer hours, we're kind of working with more sick kids than we normally see."

Brewer continued, "This is the most patients I've ever seen in my career, which leads to a lot of stress. And you want to be there, you want to help. But you also need to realize you've got to take time for yourself."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Mother on a mission to find a bone marrow donor for her son

Courtesy of the Ramirez family

(NEW YORK) -- Seven-year-old Jax Ramirez was born a "typical little boy," according to his mom -- but now, he's one in 1.6 million.

Due to an extremely rare genetic disease, he dreams of the day he can attend school in person -- and with a bone marrow transplant, he may have the chance.

"He's a cyber student," his mother, Missy Ramirez, said. "He just hops on [Zoom] every day with a smile. He's loving. He loves his friends. His biggest wish is that he someday can see his friends in person."

Jax was diagnosed with IPEX syndrome last year. The symptoms of the autoimmune disease include diarrhea, diabetes and eczema in young patients, according to the National Center for Advancing Translation Sciences.

The only potential treatment for the disease is a bone marrow transplant. More than a year after his diagnosis, Jax is still searching for his life-saving donor.

To help continue to raise awareness of the bone marrow registry, GMA is partnering with Be The Match in our "One Match, Second Chance" series to continue to raise awareness and to help save lives. Learn how to take the first step to sign up to become a donor today.

Missy Ramirez said symptoms became noticeable when her son was about 2 and a half years old, and he started to have fits of "rapid breathing." Jax was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

"Nobody in my family has Type 1 diabetes. This is not something that I would have ever put on my mom radar," she said. "It just didn't sit well with me."

Missy Ramirez said other things began to "pop up" and that her son seemed to get gravely ill, too easily.

"We would always end up in the hospital," she said. "It was never just a little tiny cold."

She said the common hand, foot and mouth disease turned into a hospital stay for Jax. Then, a runny nose from the flu precipitously turned into a weeklong medically induced coma.

"I had been researching people, doctors, specialists to help me find what the answer was because I knew it just couldn't be bad luck anymore," Missy Ramirez said.

Jax was eventually diagnosed with IPEX syndrome in October 2021. Missy Ramirez said they quickly discovered that there were no matches for her son on the bone marrow registry.

"The more diverse you are, the worse the outcomes are simply because there's not enough representation of people of color on the registry," she said.

"It was that moment I decided that I can't just sit by idly hoping that somebody will just magically join this registry and save my son," she added.

Missy Ramirez and a few close friends started The Match for Jax, a foundation to find a match for her son and others like him. Nearly a year later, the group has registered more than 4,000 people in her son's honor, but they're still looking for Jax's match.

"Every family should have a match. Every person of color should have a voice," she said. "Every person should be represented and every person should have a second chance at life."

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

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