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Our Phones Can Now Detect Health Problems from Parkinson’s to Depression. Is That a Good Thing?

February 12, 2020

(Vox) – Deducing details of a person’s health through how often they text or when they leave home is called digital phenotyping, and it’s a rapidly growing area of research. Phenotypes, generally speaking, are the traits, like behavior and appearance, derived from how your genes interact with your environment. Today, these environmental interactions happen not just in the physical world, but online, too. Some researchers are now even using the term as a catch-all for the data people leave behind on the internet, social media, and other technology. The smartphones, Fitbits, sleep trackers, and other connected devices that constantly surround us generate an incredible amount of rich social and behavioral data.

U.S. Health Officials Await Invite to Assist with Coronavirus in China

February 12, 2020

(Reuters) – The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it had not yet been invited to send experts to China to assist with the investigation of the coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 1,100 people. The United States has been waiting for approval to send its experts as part of a World Health Organization (WHO) team, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters on a conference call.

UN: Congo’s Ebola Outbreak Slows But Still Global Emergency

February 12, 2020

(ABC News) – The World Health Organization said although signs are now “extremely positive” in Congo that the Ebola outbreak is winding down, the epidemic remains a global health emergency. To date, Ebola has killed more than 2,200 people in Congo, making it the second-deadliest epidemic in history. The decision to maintain WHO’s global emergency declaration for Ebola came after a meeting Wednesday of WHO’s Ebola expert committee. 

The Coronavirus Cruise Ship Quarantine Is a Scary Public Health Experiment

February 12, 2020

(Vox) – The cruise ship quarantine is not just a human rights or justice issue, though; it’s a public health problem, too. In this case, people who aren’t yet sick and who may not have been exposed to the new coronavirus are being held together in close proximity with people who may already have the disease. Layer on top of that the fact that we don’t yet know exactly how this virus spreads; all we know is that respiratory viruses like it — MERS and SARS — spread mainly through exposure to droplets, from coughing or sneezing.

The World’s Scariest Facial Recognition Software, Explained

February 11, 2020

(Vox) – Law enforcement has been using facial recognition for a while. But Clearview’s technology represents a scary step further than anything we’ve seen before, according to reporting from the New York Times. The secretive company says it’s created a database of over 3 billion images that have been scraped from all corners of the internet, including social networks like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. From just a snapshot or video still, Clearview claims its app lets a police officer identify a face and match it with publicly available information about the person, within just a few seconds. 

Super-Precise CRISPR Tool Enhanced by Enzyme Engineering

February 11, 2020

(Nature) – A super-precise version of the CRISPR genome-editing tool just got even better. Researchers have boosted the accuracy of a technique based on the popular but error-prone CRISPR–Cas9 system by engineering enzymes that can precisely target DNA without introducing as many unwanted mutations. The enzymes, reported on 10 February in Nature Biotechnology, could make a method called base editing, which allows researchers to convert one DNA letter into another, more feasible as a tool to treat genetic diseases.

Mission Impossible? WHO Director Fights to Prevent a Pandemic without Offending China

February 11, 2020

(Science) – Yet the crisis has put Tedros “in a near-impossible situation,” says Lawrence Gostin, director of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law at Georgetown University. If Tedros wants WHO to stay informed about what’s happening in China and influence how the country handles the epidemic, he cannot afford to antagonize the notoriously touchy Chinese government—even though it is clear the country has been less than fully transparent about the outbreak’s early stages, and perhaps still is. Critics say that stance puts WHO’s moral authority at risk. “WHO has never faced such a fast-moving epidemic in a country that is quite that powerful and, in many ways, closed,” Gostin says.

China Locked Down Millions in Coronavirus-hit Hubei. Has It Done More Harm Than Good?

February 10, 2020

(South China Morning Post) – Nicholas Evans, a medical ethics expert at University of Massachusetts Lowell, said it was a “complete overreaction” to quarantine millions of people. “A bigger concern is that because the disease largely does not transmit itself before symptoms show, then isolation of the patient is usually a sufficient response, combined with tracking a patient’s close contacts,” Evans said. “So in addition to being disproportionate, and possibly ineffective, it is almost certainly too restrictive compared to other effective measures.”

Dutch Euthanasia Center Reports 22% Rise in Assisted Death Requests in 2019

February 10, 2020

(TIME) – A Dutch organization that carries out euthanasia received 3,122 requests last year, a 22% increase from the year before, the Euthanasia Expertise Center said Friday. “Every work day, 13 people say: ‘Help me, I can’t go on,’” Steven Pleiter, director of the center formerly known as the End of Life Clinic, said.

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