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What are Alabama lawmakers proposing to protect IVF?

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(MONTGOMERY, AL.) -- Alabama state lawmakers introduced three new bills that aim to protect IVF treatments amid intense backlash over a state Supreme Court decision that caused several providers to halt IVF treatment last week. The bills would allow providers who have halted care to resume treatments as soon as the bills become law.

The high court issued a ruling that embryos are children earlier this month, raising questions about potential civil and criminal liability over the mishandling of embryos outside the womb, even if unintentional. The decision has prompted outrage from physicians and patients whose care was halted or delayed until providers receive clarity.

Since the decision was issued, three of the state's seven IVF providers have stopped providing the treatment, including University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, the biggest hospital system in the state. The hospital also announced that it would suspend the transfer of embryos after it was unable to identify shipping companies that are "able and willing" to transport embryos.

The new bills come as Resolve, a national fertility association, announced that "hundreds" of Alabamians are expected to head to the State House on Wednesday, calling action that would protect IVF treatment, according to a statement from the group.

Proposed bills

One of the bills would provide "civil and criminal immunity" to anyone providing goods and services related to in vitro fertilization.

"No action, suit, or criminal prosecution shall be brought or maintained against any individual or entity providing goods or services related to in vitro fertilization except for an act or omission that is both intentional and not arising from or related to IVF services," the bill says.

The legislation has received support from Republican Gov. Kay Ivey.

"As I said last week, in Alabama, we work to foster a culture of life, and that certainly includes IVF. The Alabama Legislature is working diligently to address this so we can ensure we are protecting IVF and life itself. I look forward to following the legislative process and anticipate I will have a bill at my desk to sign as quickly as the Legislature can get it to me, while also ensuring they have enough time to get it done right," Ivey said in a statement to ABC News Tuesday.

Last week, state Democrats introduced another bill that says, "Any fertilized human egg or human embryo that exists outside of a human uterus is not considered an unborn child or human being," according to the bill.

"Any fertilized human egg or human embryo that exists in any form outside of the uterus of a human body shall not, under any circumstances, be considered an unborn child, a minor child, a natural person, or any other term that connotes a human being," the bill states.

The state Supreme Court's ruling came as part of a civil lawsuit filed by couples whose embryos were destroyed when someone walked into an IVF clinic and dropped them. The couples filed a wrongful death suit -- under a state statute called the Wrongful Death of a Minor -- against the clinic, but a lower court threw out the case.

The state Supreme Court then reversed that decision earlier this month.

Could legislation allow IVF treatment to resume?

The Democrat's proposed bill, HB225, aims to turn back the clock to before the Alabama Supreme Court issued its decision, Joanne Rosen, an attorney and professor at Johns Hopkins University who focuses on reproductive health laws, told ABC News.

With clinics signaling their eagerness to resume care for their patients, Rosen says it is likely providers could resume IVF treatments if either of the proposed bills are passed into law. However, Rosen foresees a potential complication in enacting legislation to protect IVF due to how the state Supreme Court interpreted and expanded the reach of Alabama's Wrongful Death of a Minor statute.

The court's decision had drawn on a 2018 state constitution amendment called the Sanctity of Unborn Life Amendment. The constitutional amendment added "a provision that says it's the state policy to recognize and support the sanctity of unborn life and the rights of unborn children," according to Rosen.

"Nothing in that constitutional amendment specifically says that the sanctity of life and the rights of unborn children extends to in vitro embryos, but the Alabama Supreme Court interpreted that constitutional amendment as protecting the sanctity of unborn life, whether it is in utero or whether it is in vitro," Rosen said.

"I think that it is a very far-fetched argument because the Constitution itself does not define what was meant by the 'sanctity of unborn life' for the rights of unborn children, and that would be really an unprecedented interpretation of that sanctity of life amendment," Rosen said.

In relying on the state constitution in its decision, the court could potentially throw out new laws that are not in line with that interpretation, making it difficult for lawmakers to pass a new bill that would protect IVF. Any new legislation to protect IVF could likely end up before the courts again, since new laws don't put an end to potential lawsuits, Rosen said.

"If that interpretation of the Alabama constitution is correct, then it would supersede any Alabama statute that attempts to say we are not providing this protection to in vitro embryos," Rosen said.

"If it were to be that meaning, then state-level legislation wouldn't be able to override it, because the Constitution is the supreme law that is used -- laws have to comply with the Constitution," Rosen said.

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7th measles case confirmed in outbreak linked to Florida elementary school

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(WESTON, Fla.) -- The seventh case of measles linked to an outbreak at a Florida elementary school was confirmed by Health officials Tuesday.

Broward County Public Schools (BCPS) said it was informed by the Florida Department of Health – Broward of the additional case at Mantatee Bay Elementary in Weston, which is 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale.

The infected patient has not physically been on campus since Feb. 15, and the district and school are continuing to work with the health department regarding the confirmed cases, according to a statement from the school district.

Dr. Peter Licata, superintendent for BCPS, said in an update on Tuesday that no other schools in the district have been impacted by measles cases.

"We are continuing to do daily cleaning on school busses and the facility above and beyond our normal cleaning," he said. "We do have additional vaccination opportunities, which are available online, and we want to thank the administration and the teachers and all the staff at Manatee Bay for their continued dedication to the school whereas we had, as of this morning, only 82 students absent. Form a week ago, we were up to 220, I believe, 219."

The initial case was confirmed earlier this month in a third-grade student with no travel history. However, it is unclear which grades the other infected students are in as well as other identifying information about them, including age, sex and race/ethnicity.

BCPS did not immediately reply to ABC News' request for comment.

Currently, Florida has a total of 10 confirmed measles cases with nine confirmed in Broward County and one confirmed in Polk County, according to the Florida Department of Health.

This year, there have been at least 35 measles cases reported in 15 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, meaning the disease "is no longer constantly present in this country." The dip in routine childhood vaccinations in recent years -- as well as travelers bringing measles into the country -- has resulted in outbreaks.

The first measles vaccine, a single-dose vaccine, was introduced in the U.S. in 1963. In the decade prior, there were three to four million cases annually, which led to 48,000 hospitalizations and 400 to 500 deaths.

The current two-dose measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine recommended by the CDC is 93% effective after one dose and 97% effective after two doses.

ABC News' Youri Benadjaoud contributed to this report.

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West Virginia lawmakers pass bill allowing religious exemptions for school vaccine requirements

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(NEW YORK) -- The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Monday that will eliminate school vaccine requirements for those who claim religious exemptions, but only for some schools.

Last week, the House began considering the bill, known as HB 5105, which proposed eliminating vaccine requirements for public virtual schools that do not take part in extracurricular activities or sports in public school settings. The bill was then expanded to propose "eliminating the vaccine requirements for students of public virtual schools, private schools, or parochial schools unless the student participates in sanctioned athletic events, and creating a religious exemption from vaccine requirements," and then further amended to specifically allow vaccine exemptions "any child whose parents or guardians present a letter stating that a child cannot be vaccinated for religious reasons."

It's unclear if the religious exemption will apply to students attending in-person public schools.

The bill will now head to the Senate for debate and, if it passes in that chamber, to the desk of Gov. Jim Justice for signing into law.

Prior to this bill, West Virginia had no non-medical vaccine exemptions from school vaccine requirements, either for religious or philosophical beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Currently, children in West Virginia are required to receive at least one dose of vaccine for chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough before entering school for the first time in grades K-12. The COVID-19 vaccine is not required to attend school in West Virginia.

If child's parents or guardian cannot afford or cannot access vaccines, county health departments will provide vaccines for the child, according to West Virginia law.

To receive a medical exemption from vaccination, a physician must have treated or examined the child, and an exemption request from the physician must be submitted to the state Immunization Officer of the Bureau for Public Health.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said fewer than 0.1% of kindergarten-age students in West Virginia were exempted from vaccines, including measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP); poliovirus (polio); and varicella (chickenpox) for the 2022-23 school year, the lowest exemption rate in the nation.

West Virginia's strict vaccination laws have also helped improve attendance rates for students and staff, according to the state's Department of Education.

Delegate Chris Pritt, a sponsor of the bill and a Republican representing Kanawha County, which includes the state capital of Charleston, said the bill allows medical freedom for West Virginians.

"I spoke in favor of a bill to allow more parents to choose whether to vaccinate. [West Virginia] is at the bottom with medical freedom," he wrote in a post on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter. "Mountaineers will never be free until families are able to make decisions on whether to vaccinate!"

Over the weekend, health officer Dr. Steven Eshenaur of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department wrote an opinion in which he criticized the bill.

"Our forefathers and their families experienced the ravages of measles, mumps, tetanus, polio, and meningitis," he wrote. "Modern medicine has worked diligently to protect our communities through the development and testing of vaccines that have been proven to be safe and effective."

"Now, legislators want to turn the clock back nearly 100 years and remove some of the safeguards in our vaccination policies," Eshenaur continued. "If you are anti-vaccination, you are pro-disease. It's as simple as that."

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What’s next for IVF patients in Alabama?

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(MONTGOMERY, Al.) -- More than a week after the Alabama Supreme Court upended in vitro fertilization access in the state with its ruling that frozen embryos are considered children, increasing public outcry has spurred hope for legislative movement in the Statehouse.

Last week, the court ruled that "unborn children are 'children,'" which led several facilities in the state to halt IVF treatments amid concerns that their practices could run into legal troubles.

There are multiple proposals in the Alabama House and Senate that could restore IVF access in the state, authored by both Democrats and Republicans. But the clearest path is for a Republican-led bill that is set to be introduced by State Sen. Tim Melson in the Senate this week. The bill is expected to describe an embryo as a "potential" life, but clarify that it is not a human life under law until it's transferred to a uterus and determined to be a viable pregnancy.

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey threw her support behind that measure on Friday.

To turn up the pressure on lawmakers, advocates have planned a large gathering at the state Capitol on Wednesday. Organizers say there could be hundreds of people -- including doctors and IVF patients -- who will travel to Montgomery to protest the state Supreme Court decision and make their voices heard in the state legislature.

The "day of action" is planned to coincide with a hearing about Melson's bill before the Senate Health Committee. It's expected to be a public hearing, and people will testify with personal stories about their IVF journeys. Advocates say they have more than 50 people willing to testify so far.

Democratic House Minority Leader Rep. Anthony Daniels told ABC News that he hopes legislation will pass both chambers within two weeks -- if not sooner -- to restore IVF treatments in the state.

Doctors at the three Alabama clinics that have paused IVF tell ABC News it's unlikely they will restart treatments until legislation is passed to protect IVF, or until the Alabama Supreme Court reconsiders its opinion.

In the ruling issued over a week ago, the court set a new precedent by determining that embryos are children, opening the door to civil and potentially criminal lawsuits for people who handle them. Within a few days, roughly half of the state's IVF clinics paused treatment for fear that they could face wrongful death lawsuits -- or potentially criminal charges -- for discarding unused embryos, a routine part of IVF.

At the federal level, Biden administration officials have yet to announce significant policy options to protect IVF access in Alabama, insisting that their options to use executive action to protect abortion rights, including in ways that would keep IVF intact, are limited.

While there have been preliminary conversations over the past week about potential guidance, nothing has been finalized or decided, an administration official told ABC News.

The Biden administration’s top health official, Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, will visit Birmingham, Alabama, Tuesday in the wake of the ruling, the White House said Monday. Becerra is expected to "hear directly from families, health care professionals, and others who are impacted by the decision," the White House added.

White House Gender Policy Council Director Jen Klein, in an interview Sunday on MSNBC, suggested examples of the kinds of actions the administration could be exploring.

"Absolutely, there are things that the administration can and has done already. The president has issued three executive orders and a presidential memorandum to protect access to abortion and contraception, to protect patients' privacy, protect the right to travel, and … the right to medication abortion, which as you know is more than 50% of abortions in this country," she said.

Klein also said that the White House would likely hold meetings with impacted doctors and patients from Alabama "soon" in Washington, similar to how they held meetings with abortion-rights advocates from Mississippi after the Dobbs ruling.

Fundamentally, however, the White House insists -- as they have for over a year -- that Congress would need to pass a bill to put a nationwide right to reproductive care back on the books.

Without more Democratic support, though, that's not likely.

Two years ago, 195 Republicans voted against a bill to protect access to birth control and right now, 125 Republicans -- including Speaker Mike Johnson -- are signed on to a bill called the Life at Conception Act, which would define life as the moment of fertilization. The bill would imperil IVF access in a similar way to the Alabama court ruling.

Democratic Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who has introduced a bill to protect IVF nationwide, told Martha Raddatz on ABC's "This Week" that "it's been crickets" from her Republican colleagues since the Alabama ruling.

For now, that's left the White House to wield the Alabama ruling for political currency, rather than stepping in with any significant policy.

In a memo sent on Monday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called out Republicans for publicly supporting IVF access while also backing legislation that would restrict it.

"Republican officials think they can obfuscate their way out of their support for these extreme policies," Jean-Pierre said.

"No attempt to 'rebrand' can change the fact that their true colors are on the record. They have spent decades trying to eliminate the constitutional right to choose, and undermine reproductive freedom everywhere. Their agenda is clear, they're just worried it's not popular," she said.

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Physicians share concerns over IVF treatments pausing after Alabama court ruling

ABC News

(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) -- Dr. Beth Malizia, an Alabama physician, went through 12 years of training to provide patients with fertility care. But the doctor and co-owner of Alabama Fertility says her hands are tied after the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision that frozen embryos are considered children.

The clinic is one of three facilities in the state that have halted in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments amid concerns that their practices could run into legal troubles.

"Patients come first. That's what we're taught all the way through from the time we decide to go into medicine, and this is a decision that sort of takes that away from us," Malizia said.

"The counsel, our lab director and all the physicians at Alabama Fertility have struggled with this for many hours and some made some really, really hard phone calls over the last couple of days," said Malizia.

The clinic has paused all frozen embryo transfers, but will continue new patient visits, other standard fertility care, surgeries and continue care for patients currently on medications who are in the middle of a cycle, Malizia said.

Making calls to patients whose treatment the clinic paused has been "absolutely horrible" and "heart-wrenching," she said.

In the ruling, the court said it would open door to civil and potentially criminal lawsuits over the mishandling of embryos. Physicians like Malizia say they are now fearful they could face wrongful death lawsuits -- or potentially criminal charges -- for discarding unused embryos, a routine part of IVF, or unintentionally mishandling embryos.

The ruling came as part of a lawsuit filed by couples whose embryos were destroyed after a patient wandered into a fertility clinic and dropped them. The couples tried to file a wrongful death suit, but a lower court had thrown out the case. The state Supreme Court then reversed that decision and set a new precedent that embryos are children.

In a concurring opinion, Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker – who has a long record of issuing anti-abortion opinions – cited Scripture, writing that "human life cannot be wrongfully destroyed without incurring the wrath of a holy God."

Among the three fertility providers that suspended IVF treatment is the state's largest healthcare system, UAB Hospital. Four remaining providers have not suspended IVF treatment.

"We are in a position where we just don't know what the legal ramifications are of an embryo that gets thawed. Embryos don't always survive [transfer]," Malizia said.

Signs of more clarity began to surface on Friday, after a week of pushback on the ruling from families trying to conceive through IVF and an outpouring of criticism, particularly from Democrats and moderate Republicans.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, the state's top law enforcement official, said he has no intention of "using the recent Alabama Supreme Court decision as a basis for prosecuting IVF families or providers," the office's Chief Counsel Katherin Robertson said in a statement Friday.

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey also said Friday that she's "working on a solution" with Republican colleagues in the House and Senate to pass legislation that would guard IVF treatments in the state.

"Following the ruling from the Alabama Supreme Court, I said that in our state, we work to foster a culture of life. This certainly includes some couples hoping and praying to be parents who utilize IVF," Governor Kay Ivey said in a statement to ABC News.

But the legal ruling has shown the fragility of IVF treatment in a post-Roe vs. Wade America, where the debate over when life begins has led many abortion rights advocates to speculate that IVF could become collateral damage.

Some physicians could be deterred from working in fertility in Alabama, said Sean Tipton, chief advocacy and policy officer at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Tipon said physicians in the state are scared. "They are also angry, which is understandable, and they are also tremendously sad for their patients, in part because they don't know what to tell their patients," said Tipton.

"Just imagine being a physician who you've built your career on being able to help these people have babies, and you spend a lot of time reassuring, explaining, helping them understand and feel better about the process they're going through — and now you can offer none of that," Tipton said of physicians.

The fallout from the court ruling could spread beyond IVF treatment, Tipton said.

"I think the first impact with physicians is going to be young physicians choosing not to go there for their training. [And] University of Alabama Birmingham is one of the top public medical schools in the country," Tipton said.

Tipton said the decision and risk of being sued could also discourage other medical workers, including nurses, from working in fertility clinics in the state; they would likely consider working in other specialties or even leaving the state.

Tipton heavily criticized the decision and its consequences.

"It absolutely makes no sense that people who loudly proclaim themselves to be 'pro-life' somehow oppose the use of what is the most 'pro-life' medical procedure there is out there. The only thing that in vitro fertilization does is help people have children," Tipton said.

Patients struggle with news IVF has been paused

Patients interviewed by ABC News shared their heartbreak and concerns over not being able to continue their IVF treatments. For fertility patients in Alabama looking to start or expand their families, the past week has brought a lot of sudden changes to the carefully laid plans often required by the IVF process.

Gabbie Price, 26, and her husband have been financially planning to begin IVF for over a year, downsizing from a house to a camper van to cut costs and getting a new job because of the fertility benefits.

But their plan to start treatment in March has been halted by the ruling. Price said they're now exploring options out-of-state because even if they found a clinic in Alabama to handle her care, she would be concerned about the potential liabilities.

"I'm terrified to have embryos here," Price said at her home in Leeds, Alabama.

"I don't know what that's gonna look like, I don't know what sort of rights we're going to have over the embryos that we create," she said.

Tucker Legerski and his wife, who live in nearby Tuscaloosa, Alabama, have been trying to have children since they got married in 2021. They began IVF about a year ago.

Their first embryo transfer ended with a miscarriage at eight weeks.

They were planning their second embryo transfer for some time in April, but the court decision upended their plans.

"Those embryos are our best hope for making kids right now. So that's what hurts the most, I think," Legerski said.

"If we aren't able to use those embryos, then we have a much lower chance of having children," Legerski said.

Angela Granger, 41, a Georgia resident who traveled to Alabama for IVF treatment to conceive her son, told ABC News she turned to the procedure after an ectopic pregnancy almost cost her one of her fallopian tubes.

Granger, who delivered her son in May 2021, and has been hoping to add another child to her family, decided after the state Supreme Court ruling that she wouldn't pursue IVF in Alabama. While encouraged by lawmakers who say they will take action to protect the procedure, Granger said she needs to see legislation "in writing" before she is comfortable enough to undergo treatment or even store embryos there.

On Thursday, she was offered a job nearly 2,000 miles west, in Las Vegas, Nevada. She accepted.

"A big part of that is to get out of the south. If I wanted to really push and wait, I'm sure I could find a job down here. But this is just too much. I take it as a sign," Granger said.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Small study shows a possible reason some long COVID patients experience 'brain fog'

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(NEW YORK) -- According to a new study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at Trinity College in Ireland used blood tests to measure certain biological markers and specialized brain images to discover that long COVID patients with brain fog had more permeability or "leakiness" of their blood-brain barrier – offering the first biological evidence that this symptom may be due to underlying changes in the brain.

"A lot of long COVID symptoms, especially brain fog, are often written off as 'oh that’s all in your head' but this study is suggesting an actual biological mechanism behind it," Dr. Leah Croll, neurologist and assistant professor at Temple University, told ABC News. "Knowing this is real can be very validating for people who experience this symptom."

While this study is small, it could help inform ongoing research to better understand how to diagnose and treat long COVID that impacts millions of Americans. There is currently no test or treatment for this condition that can be disabling to those who have it.

In the study, researchers selected 32 patients who had COVID-19 in March or April of 2020 to undergo specialized brain imaging called a dynamic contrast-enhancing MRI – 10 had recovered from COVID-19, 11 had long COVID, and 11 had long COVID with brain fog. They found that the brain images showed more permeability or "leakiness" of the blood-brain barrier in patients who had long COVID with brain fog compared to the other groups. They also conducted cognitive tests and showed that six of the participants with brain fog had mild-to-moderate cognitive impairment and specifically showed problems with recall, executive functioning and word finding.

The researchers also measured blood markers of inflammation and blood clotting, and some markers related to the blood-brain barrier in 76 people who were hospitalized with an acute COVID-19 infection in March and April of 2020. It revealed that patients who specifically said they had brain fog with their acute infection had a statistically significant increase in a marker that is indirectly associated with blood-brain barrier dysfunction. Researchers say these findings suggests that inflammation impacting the blood-brain barrier may contribute to people experiencing brain fog with both acute and long COVID, but brain imaging was not done on the patients with an acute infection in the study.

There are limitations of the study. It was only done with a few people at one hospital in Ireland in the first stages of the COVID-19 pandemic before vaccines were available, so it may not be generalizable across all people who currently have long COVID, but it does provide new insights. More research is needed to confirm this finding and understand the implications of it, but experts say it may help researchers as better tests and treatments are developed for long COVID in the future.

"Right now, we're beginning to understand the biological underpinnings of COVID-related brain fog. Gaining that understanding is the vital first step we need to advance future research." Croll said. "I am hopeful that we are on a path towards effective tests and treatments, one study at a time."

Dr. Jade A Cobern, board-certified physician in pediatrics and preventive medicine, is a fellow of the ABC News Medical Unit.

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Children's MMR vaccine rate drops 2%, 250,000 kindergarteners vulnerable to measles: CDC

Courtney Perry/For the Washington Post

(NEW YORK) -- National MMR coverage has dropped 2% from the 2019-2021 school year to the 2022-2023 school year, which means approximately 250,000 kindergartners are at risk for measles infection around the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The 93.1% rate during the 2022–23 school is 2% lower than the 95% rate in the 2019-2020 school year and leaves measles coverage below the national target of 95% for the third consecutive year.

Doctors said this nationwide trend is a concerning backdrop to measles outbreaks in Florida and Philadelphia so far this year.

Exemptions for school vaccines are also at an all-time high. Ten states now report exemptions that exceed 5%, which leaves both vaccinated and unvaccinated children vulnerable to disease outbreaks like measles, experts say.

As of Feb. 15, a total of 20 measles cases were reported by 11 jurisdictions across Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, according to the CDC.

A current outbreak at an elementary school in Florida has led to six kids testing positive for measles so far, school officials said. Thirty-three out of 1,067 students at the school have not received any of the two doses of the MMR vaccine, Dr. Peter Licata, the Broward County Public Schools Superintendent, noted Wednesday during a board meeting. Health care professionals were first notified of a measles case, a third grader with no travel history, on Friday February 16.

"The absence of travel history in the measles cases suggests we are likely seeing local transmission, underscoring the serious risk to the community," Dr. John Brownstein, epidemiologist and Chief Innovation Officer at Boston Children's Hospital and ABC News contributor, told ABC News. "Measles is highly contagious, and with its long incubation period of 11 to 12 days, there's a high likelihood that more children are infected without showing symptoms yet. This situation is alarming and requires immediate public health intervention to prevent further spread."

If an unvaccinated child is exposed to measles, an MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine should be given as soon as possible. It is not harmful to get MMR vaccine after being exposed to measles and doing so could prevent later disease, according to the CDC. When the MMR vaccine is given within 72 hours of initially being exposed to measles, it may provide some protection against the disease, or help someone have milder illness.

Measles can be prevented with MMR vaccine, according to the CDC. The vaccine protects against three diseases: measles, mumps, and rubella. Two doses of MMR vaccine are about 97% effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93% effective. The first shot is recommended for kids 12-15 months old and the second is given at 4-6 years of age.

CDC data shows that an overwhelming majority of measles cases are typically among unvaccinated people. Nearly 90% of the 1,249 measles cases in 2019 - greatest number of cases reported since 1992 - were unvaccinated.

Dr. Jade A Cobern, MD, MPH, is a physician board-certified in pediatrics and preventive medicine, is a fellow of the ABC News Medical Unit.

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Nearly 3 million asthma attacks could be prevented among children with cleaner energy: Report

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(NEW YORK) -- Nearly three million asthma attacks in children could be prevented by 2050 if the United States transitioned to electric vehicles and clean power, according to a new report published Wednesday.

Researchers from the American Lung Association (ALA) say these goals would also avert millions of other respiratory symptoms and save hundreds of infant lives over the next two-and-a-half decades.

"That [zero-emission] future, it's really important for lung health, both because emissions from dirty sources of transportation and electricity are harming our lungs right now and also because it's critical for addressing climate change," Laura Kate Bender, assistant vice president of Nationwide Healthy Air for the ALA, told ABC News.

Asthma, which is chronic inflammation of the lung airways, affects about 4.6 million children in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms -- including cough, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath and wheezing -- led to more than 270,000 emergency department visits and more than 27,000 hospital inpatient stays among children in 2020, the CDC said.

The report looked at the potential impacts if all new passenger cars sold were zero-emission by 2035, all new trucks were zero-emission by 2040 and the electric grid will be powered by clean, non-combustion energy by 2035.

By 2050, the U.S. would prevent up to 2.79 million pediatric asthma attacks and 147,000 pediatric acute bronchitis cases, the study said.

Additionally, there would be 2.67 million pediatric upper respiratory symptoms and 1.87 million pediatric lower respiratory symptoms prevented as well as 508 infant mortality cases.

Bender noted that children are at a greater risk, both from air pollution and from climate change. Their still-developing lungs are more likely to suffer life-long impacts from exposure to air pollution, researchers said.

The report also found that every state in the continental U.S. would see asthma attacks prevented among children with California seeing the biggest drop at more than 440,000.

These potential health benefits are just estimates and made under the assumption that certain wide-ranging climate goals are met, Bender said.

"We would call that ambitious but achievable," he added. "We know that there's a lot of progress already being made, both at the federal level and in many key states to get toward these goals."

She continued, "There's lots of investment happening across the country, in electricity, in electric vehicle infrastructure, and so we're using this report to call for more to call for the finalization of strong standards that help us get closer to the zero-emission future."

Bender said at the federal level, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is close to finalizing two new sets of standards, one that would make future cars and medium-duty vehicles cleaner and one that would make future heavy-duty vehicles, such as trucks and buses, more green.

Additionally, the ALA is encouraging state-level lawmakers to have their states adopt standards to transition to zero-emission vehicles.

"Climate change is a health emergency, but it's also a health opportunity," Bender said. "We know that we need to reduce these emissions from vehicles and electricity urgently to address the climate crisis, but it's also an opportunity because at the same time -- as we're switching away from those sources of greenhouse gas emissions -- we also can clean up the other pollution that comes from gas- and diesel-powered vehicles and from fossil fuel fire powered plants. So we really see this as a win-win."

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Sixth case of measles linked to Florida elementary school outbreak

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(NEW YORK) -- The number of measles cases linked to an elementary school outbreak in South Florida has risen to six.

The outbreak at Manatee Bay Elementary School in Weston -- 20 miles west of Fort Lauderdale and located in Broward County -- was first reported on Friday with the initial patient being a third-grade student without a history of travel, according to the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

On Tuesday, Broward County Public Schools was notified of one additional confirmed measles case at the elementary school, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to six, according to a statement from John Sullivan, chief communications and legislative affairs officer for Broward County Public Schools.

"We expect to receive further guidance from the Florida Department of Health tomorrow and will continue to keep the school and its families updated with the latest information," Sullivan said.

It's unclear what grade the other infected students are in as well as other identifying information about them including age, sex and race/ethnicity.

"The District is maintaining close coordination with the Health Department to address this ongoing situation," Sullivan said in a statement to ABC News.

"Over the weekend, the District took further preventive measures by conducting a deep cleaning of the school premises and replacing its air filters," the statement continued.

Sullivan added that the school's principal is "actively communicating with families, ensuring they are kept up to date with the latest information."

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, meaning the disease "is no longer constantly present in this country." The dip in routine childhood vaccinations in recent years -- as well as travelers bringing measles into the country -- has resulted in outbreaks.

It's unclear if the students who contracted measles are unvaccinated. The current two-dose measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is 93% effective after one dose and 97% effective after two doses.

"It is very likely that this outbreak is among unvaccinated students, given that nearly 90% of measles cases in past outbreaks were among those not vaccinated," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation officer at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor. "This pattern aligns with historical data showing that measles primarily spreads among unvaccinated populations."

The first measles vaccine, a single-dose vaccine, was introduced in the U.S. in 1963. In the prior decade, there were 3 to 4 million cases annually, which led to 48,000 hospitalizations and 400 to 500 deaths.

While two doses of the MMR vaccine are required to attend public schools in Florida, parents are allowed to seek exemptions for religious reasons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Florida, at least 90.6% of kindergartners were fully vaccinated with the MMR vaccine for the 2022-23 school year, according a November 2023 CDC report. However, at least 4.5% of children were exempted from one or more vaccines.

The overwhelming majority of cases in outbreaks are typically the unvaccinated. Nearly 90% of the 1,249 measles cases in 2019, which was the greatest number of cases reported since 1992, were people who were unvaccinated.

"DOH-Broward is continuously working with all partners, including Broward County Public Schools and local hospitals, to identify contacts that are at risk of transmission. Health care providers in the area have been notified," according to a weekend alert from the Florida DOH in Broward County.

Brownstein said it is very possible that the number of cases could rise because measles spreads rapidly among those who are not immune.

"An outbreak like this is very concerning because measles is a highly infectious disease that can lead to serious health complications, especially in children and immunocompromised individuals," he said. "It indicates potential gaps in herd immunity, which are vital to preventing the spread of such diseases."

Health officials said if anyone suspects or notices symptoms, to contact their health care provider to receive instructions on how to seek medical care without exposing others and to not visit the health department or a doctor's office without contacting officials ahead of time.

The Florida DOH did not immediately reply to ABC News' request for comment.

Weston is the most recent city in the U.S. to face a measles outbreak over the last few months.

Since December 2023, there have been eight confirmed cases in Philadelphia among unvaccinated individuals. Cases have also been identified in Delaware, New Jersey and Washington state, according to local reports.

ABC News' Youri Benadjaoud contributed to this report.

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Women get same exercise benefit as men, with less effort, study finds

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(NEW YORK) -- A new study not only confirms known research that regular physical activity can prolong life and lower a person's risk of dying, it also finds that women experience greater benefits from exercise than men do, at lower amounts of exercise.

Using findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Health Interview Survey, researchers analyzed data from 412,413 adults from between 1997 to 2017 to understand the degree of overall health benefit derived from physical activity.

Researchers found that men were more likely to engage in physical activity than women. However, women who engaged in regular physical activity had a 24% lower risk of dying from any cause compared to inactive women, while physically active men had a 15% lower risk compared to their inactive counterparts. Researchers further discovered that the most beneficial amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity -- for example, brisk walking or cycling -- was around five hours per week, though there was also benefit shown for women starting at half that weekly amount.

"It turns out women can get a lot more return for even a little bit of investment than they might realize," Dr. Susan Cheng, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Smidt Heart Institute and senior author of the study, told ABC News. "[A] little bit can go a really long way."

"When it comes to looking at the particular amounts, particularly with moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, women could get almost double the return for the same investment compared to male counterparts," Cheng added, calling the news "exciting and positive, especially for the really busy women out there who are juggling a lot of responsibilities both at work and at home."

Women also saw a more significant reduction in mortality risk after engaging in muscle-strengthening activity, such as weightlifting or core exercises, than men did -- 19% compared to 11%, respectively -- according to the study.

“This important study emphasizes the power of exercise for women,” Dr. Patricia Best, an interventional cardiologist and member of the Women’s Heart Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told ABC News. 

Taking it one step further, Best notes that following a heart attack, “women have frequently been referred to cardiovascular rehab less than men, and this study helps to give credence to the importance of exercise in women."

Consistent with prior research, both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities were associated with lower risk of dying from heart-related diseases.

"For exercise, we'd like to encourage our patients and folks in general to be as active as they can, be no matter how busy we all are. In general, we say that anything is better than nothing and more is better than less," Cheng told ABC News.

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Alabama Supreme Court ruling raises questions about IVF access

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(NEW YORK) -- Experts are speaking out after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled Friday that frozen embryos qualify as people under state law, a decision that critics say could threaten families' access to fertility treatments in the post-Roe era.

In an unprecedented decision, the state's highest court ruled that "unborn children are 'children' … without exception based on developmental stage, physical location, or any other ancillary characteristics."

Alabama Chief Justice Tom Parker quoted the Bible in a concurring opinion, citing the sanctity of unborn life.

Dr. Mamie McLean, an infertility specialist at Alabama Fertility in Birmingham, Alabama, told ABC News' Good Morning America the court's historic ruling could impact the future of in vitro fertilization treatments for those trying to access fertility treatments, adding that for her, the ruling left more open questions than answers.

"We're concerned that this ruling has far-reaching consequences for what we feel is safe to freeze and safe to discard," McLean said.

Doctors like McLean warn the ruling could block access to IVF, make the process more expensive, or lead to some clinics closing altogether because of legal risks.

"This ruling is so incomplete and it leaves those of us who are sitting face to face with patients ... with the inability to comment on what is safe and what is legal for them right now," McLean added.

The case on which the court ruled Friday involved two couples who sued a patient who had managed to access the freezer that stored frozen embryos at an Alabama fertility clinic. The patient picked up multiple embryos and accidentally dropped and destroyed them. The high court ruled that the patient could be held liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.

"We have kind of what is just a brand new landscape for the law," Jasmine Matlock, an attorney and founding partner of M&H Legal Services in Guntersville, Alabama, told GMA.

"At this point, there is no decision on when a physician or a clinic can conclude storing these embryos so they are potentially liable for the wrongful death of an embryo after the parents have passed," Matlock added.

Fertility treatments have been on the rise, according to the Pew Research Center, and in 2021, more than 238,000 families in the U.S. relied on IVF, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Multiple embryos are often frozen to increase the likelihood that one will successfully implant.

Alabama is one of 13 states that implemented a total ban on abortions in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, which had protected the constitutional right to abortion.

The U.S. Supreme Court is also expected to rule on another case about abortion pill access in the coming months.

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Medical experts sound the alarm on growing diabetic amputations among Black patients

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(NEW YORK) -- In operating rooms across the country, more and more diabetics are receiving amputations due to complications from type-2 diabetes.

The life-altering procedures are more common among Black and Latino patients who are more likely to be diagnosed with the disease, according to health data.

Despite the grim figures, medical professionals said that diabetics can avoid losing a limb, but due to a lack of awareness of treatments, many minorities are missing out on this critical care.

"The reason I did not go to the doctor or anything, [is because] I didn't want to hear the doctor say 'We have to take your leg,'" Shelton Echols, a diabetic amputee, told ABC News.

Health experts, however, said that there is a new push to get the right medications and treatment to these patients earlier and avoid going under the knife.

Echols said that he was well aware of his diabetes and health problems but never really took action on it.

He said his hemoglobin A1C tests showed his levels were 14%, well above normal. A normal A1C is considered to be below 5.7%, according to medical experts.

"So I was playing Russian roulette with my life at the time because I was in denial," he said.

Things changed one day when Echols noticed a cut on his left leg that wasn't healing. Doctors discovered that his diabetes cut off circulation to his legs and they needed to amputate his left leg.

"I really had a sense of peace for the simple fact that I knew in my heart everything was my fault. Everything was my fault," Echols said.

His story is becoming far too common among Black and Latino diabetics, according to health data.

Complications from the disease, specifically peripheral artery disease (PAD), can cause decreased blood flow and lead to wounds that remain open, according to health experts. And it’s this complication that can lead to the affected limb needing to be severed.

The number of diagnosed diabetics nationwide is up more than 7%, since 2001, according to data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Over that same period, the number of those people needing to have a limb removed has grown by 18%, the data showed. Roughly 154,000 toes, arms, legs, and feet are cut off every year, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Across all racial and ethnic groups, the number of diabetic Americans is rising, and so is the number of them needing amputations. But a health study published in September found Black and Latino diabetics are four times more likely to get an amputation than other ethnicities.

Dr. Richard Browne, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based cardiologist, told ABC News that one of the factors behind the problem is the fact that many Black patients are not getting the right information about their diabetes early on.

"Very often, their symptoms are ignored," Browne, who is also a senior medical executive at Johnson & Johnson, said.

Browne and his wife Lauren, who is also a physician, said they experienced this problem firsthand with Lauren's diabetic father.

Russel Nandlal was a boxing coach for world champion Julian "The Hawk" Jackson. Doctors had to amputate both of his legs and an arm before he died in 2003.

Browne said looking back, his father-in-law was not given options to treat his PAD.

"And I also feel that there is what we call unconscious bias, where sometimes you get in front of a patient and you make your own determination that, 'Hey, you know, maybe he can't come back three or four times for the appropriate care for his PAD. So I'm going to do him a favor and just amputate, delay and get it over with at this point,'" he said.

Richard and Lauren Browne said that with the right treatment severe amputations can be avoided altogether.

Six years ago, Jay Bradley Starks said he was told by a doctor that they needed to amputate below his left knee after a bout with frostbite led him to a surprise diagnosis of PAD.

Starks said he went to another physician, who was also Black, and he was able to just amputate his foot due to stents and diabetes medication.

"My surgeon had a great understanding of who I was, as opposed to the initial one. There was a class difference, a race difference, a socio-economic distance," Starks said.

"Controlling your A1C matters when you’re at the onset of the disease, you have an opportunity to do it," he added.

Among the medications Starks is taking is Ozempic, an FDA-approved drug that is prescribed for diabetes patients. The drug mimics a hormone in the body that makes you feel full.

The drug has been shown to drop blood sugar levels and one medical study found that Ozempic and similar drugs can lower the risk of amputations by as much as 50%.

Despite these advantages, medical experts say some Black diabetic patients are hesitant to use them.

Dr. Veronica Johnson told ABC News that many of her patients have a distrust of medications.

"Even though they're not insulin because of [some patients'] previous experiences and things that they found in the past or their family members who are placed on insulin and they were like, 'That's the end,'" she said.

Johnson and other doctors recommend a simple screening for all Diabetics concerned about losing a limb.

The ankle brachial index, or ABI test, compares the blood pressure in the upper and lower limbs If the differences are too great, then there’s a problem with circulation and doctors can advise a treatment.

The procedure is not covered by Medicaid or Medicare for patients who aren’t already showing symptoms. There are legislative efforts underway to try and change that.

Dr. Richard Browne has been traveling the country with Johnson & Johnson raising awareness of the issue and imploring Black patients to not wait on treatment before it gets too late. He said he hopes that when patients hear him and his personal family story, they will seek help.

"Quite frankly, there is evidence that if you are taken care of by someone who looks like you, you're more likely to comply with their recommendations," he said.

 

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FDA approves Xolair, first medicine for kids, adults with food allergies

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(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Xolair as the first and only medicine for people with one or more food allergies after the clinical trial data for the injectable asthma medication showed it helped people curb food-related allergic reactions.

"The FDA approval is based on positive data from the Phase III OUtMATCH study," Genentech announced on Friday.

The study showed "a significantly higher proportion of food allergy patients as young as 1 year treated with Xolair could tolerate small amounts of peanut, milk, egg and cashew without an allergic reaction, compared to placebo."

"The FDA approval of Xolair for food allergies is meaningful to me on a personal level, not only as a physician, but as a patient and a parent of a child with food allergies, too," Dr. Larry Tsai, VP and global head of respiratory, allergy and infectious disease product development at Genentech told ABC News. "For the first time, people with one or more food allergies have a treatment option with Xolair that can help reduce allergic reactions that may occur with an accidental exposure."

Dr. Levi Garraway, Genentech's chief medical officer and head of Global Product Development, added in a press release that "Today’s approval builds on 20 years of patient experience and an established efficacy and safety profile since Xolair was first approved in allergic asthma ... We look forward to bringing this treatment to the food allergy community who have long awaited an advancement."

The studies first showed promising results in late December, experts at the time said they were hopeful that the injection would eventually win FDA approval as an allergy treatment for children.

Pharmaceutical developers Genentech and Novartis first announced in December 2023 that the FDA was prioritizing the review of its application for use of Omalizumab, an allergy-induced asthma medicine, in cases of accidental exposure to foods like peanuts, eggs or milk.

The small study, which needs more research before a potential FDA approval, combined with prior research points to how alternate use of the medication marketed as Xolair could potentially help to prevent allergic reactions in people who have multiple food allergies, especially anaphylaxis.

The federally funded trial backed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is set to finish in 2026.

"Despite the significant and growing health burden from food allergies, treatment advances have been limited," Garraway, said in the December press release. "We are proud to partner with the National Institutes of Health and leading research institutions on this groundbreaking study. The FDA’s Priority Review designation acknowledges the unmet need for these patients, and we hope to make Xolair available to as many people as possible living with food allergies in the U.S."

Data from the trial, which looked at 165 kids and adolescents -- whose severity of reactions like hives or anaphylaxis was not included -- showed those who received Xolair were able to eat more foods they have sensitivities to without triggering an allergic reaction, compared to participants who received a placebo.

While the preliminary data shows potential for this drug in this off-label application, there is not yet enough evidence to determine how great the impact could be for people with food allergies.

A Genentech spokeswoman told ABC News in December that the FDA was expected to decide on approval in the first quarter of 2024. If approved, Xolair would be the first medicine to reduce allergic reactions to multiple foods following an accidental exposure.

Tsai, previously told "GMA" that because food allergies hit close to him, this study feels like a step in the right direction for treatment options.

"While I am a physician, I am also a parent of a child with severe food allergies," he said in an emailed statement. "I am all too familiar with the constant worry and fear that my child will have an accidental exposure at school or a friend's house. For the roughly 17 million children who live with food allergies, the current standard of care treatment is for children to avoid the foods they are allergic to, and to learn to recognize and treat symptoms upon exposure to an allergen."

Even with careful monitoring, he added that "accidental exposures are difficult to prevent and there is a significant need for new treatment options for children with food allergies."

"The positive results from the OUtMATCH study bring us one step closer to providing a new treatment option for children and adults impacted by food allergies," Tsai, who also has a food allergy himself, continued.

Updates for the trial on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website do not list how much more of the food participants were able to consume without having an allergic reaction.

The medication, marketed as Xolair, has been on the market since 2003 and helps treat chronic hives as well as chronic rhinosinusitis with nasal polyps -- an inflammatory sinus disease.

People who take Xolair for allergic asthma, typically take the medicine for approximately 10 months and while price varies based on indication and dose, the cost is approximately $3,663 a month. That price also varies depending on the frequency as well as a person’s weight and their serum IgE levels.

An earlier version of this story was originally published on Dec. 27, 2023.

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Amid rising measles cases, a new generation of doctors is being taught how to spot the disease

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(NEW YORK) -- Over the last several years, isolated outbreaks of measles have been popping up across the United States.

Most recently, between Dec. 1, 2023, and Jan. 23, 2024, there have been 23 confirmed cases of measles with infections reported in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Washington, D.C. area.

Emergency medicine physicians and departments have to relearn how to rapidly detect and diagnose a disease that many have never had to treat before, only learning about it in school.

Measles was declared eliminated in the U.S. in 2000 because most Americans are vaccinated, and doctors told ABC News they and their colleagues may not even consider the disease as a possible diagnosis if a child comes in with a rash and a fever.

"The contemporary emergency physician or those in emergency departments, would they able to recognize measles initially the first time? And the answer is probably not," Dr. Nicholas Cozzi, EMS medical director at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, told ABC News.

The state of measles in the U.S.

Measles is a very contagious disease with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (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.

The incubation period of measles from exposure to early symptoms averages 11 to 12 days with first signs including a fever that can peak from 103 F to 105 F, cough, and conjunctivitis.

Next, the measles rash will follow, which lasts five to six days. It will begin at the hairline and then proceed downward to the hands and feet. The rash will typically fade in order of appearance with severe lesions maybe peeling off in scales, the CDC said.

About one in five people in the U.S. who get measles will be hospitalized. Measles can cause serious health complications, especially in children younger than age 5 including ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and even death, according to the CDC.

The first measles vaccine, a single-dose vaccine, was introduced in the U.S. in 1963. In the decade prior, there were three to four million cases annually, which led to 48,000 hospitalizations and 400 to 500 deaths.

The CDC currently recommends people receive two vaccine doses, the first at 12 to 15 months and the second between 4 and 6 years old. One dose is 93% effective, and two doses are 97% effective.

Although hospitalizations and deaths due to measles have dropped dramatically, vaccination rates have been lagging and outbreaks have popped up in unvaccinated or under-vaccinated pockets of the U.S.

"What we've seen due to the rise of international travel and international migration, as well as global declining immunization rates, is the resurgence of a once eradicated -- at the least in the United States -- disease, and that is measles," Cozzi said.

Doctors not recognizing measles

Despite measles being a once common childhood disease, most medical students, and even some emergency room doctors, have never seen measles or can recognize symptoms.

Doctors may remember what a textbook case of measles looks like but may also not be familiar with what a patient looks like in the early stages.

"Every medical student learns about measles during school, but that's very different than seeing it on a daily basis and kind of understanding the ins and outs of the disease," Dr. Keri Cohn, medical director of bioresponse and a pediatric emergency room physician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told ABC News.

"And so, the vast majority of physicians in the emergency room that I work with has never seen measles before," she continued. "And that is something that we've had to really kind of remind people, 'This is how it presents; these are the things that you're looking for.'"

Although Cohn has worked with measles cases before, due to past international work, she said she was surprised to be treating measles patients in Philadelphia.

Prior to the most recent outbreak in her city, which began in December, measles was not top of her list of possible diagnoses when a child visited the emergency room with certain symptoms.

"It is true that when a child comes in with fever and rash in Philadelphia, I'm not usually thinking about measles, and of course, in the setting of this outbreak, that has really changed the way that our physicians have thought about patients coming in with those symptoms," Cohn said.

Teaching a new generation about measles

To make sure emergency room doctors are prepared in case they encounter a measles patient, hospitals have been developing response plans.

At Cohn's hospital in Philadelphia, the bioersponse program had partnered with infection prevention and control, to develop a robust response.

"So the model is ... we bring a large group of experts together in all different facets throughout the hospital system to kind of address the needs of the families, the patients, the physicians, the staff who are working against this outbreak," she said.

Cohn has also worked to remind health care staff to take appropriate precautions such as making sure the patient is isolated and that staff entering the isolation room where N95s or a respirator with similar effectiveness.

In Cozzi's case, he recently co-authored a paper in a recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians, which includes reminders of what early-stage cases of measles look like and guidance on what information needs to be shared within hours of suspected cases.

"We wanted every emergency physician across the country to understand what measles looks like, how it presents, the life-threatening causes of it, why we're seeing a resurgence, as well as the somewhat most of the deadly outcomes associated with it," he said.

He also encouraged health care workers, both in and outside the U.S., to consider measles if a child arrives at a hospital or a clinic with a fever and a rash.

"If we don't think of it, we're not going to diagnose it," Cozzi said. "If it's not on top of our mind, we're not going to consider it."

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Teen says he's 'doing great' after undergoing experimental sickle cell treatment

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(NEW YORK) -- Sixteen-year-old Jonathan Lubin loves basketball, playing the drums and going to the gym.

But until recently, his parents worried he wouldn't live to see the age of 40.

Lubin was born with sickle cell disease, a genetic illness that causes abnormal 'C'-shaped red blood cells that clog blood flow, causing severe pain episodes and organ damage.

More than two years ago, Lubin became one of the youngest patients to sign up for a still-experimental CRISPR gene editing therapy.

The treatment, which he received at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia, required chemotherapy and involved a complex months-long process of harvesting his own stem cells, editing them and then reintroducing them into his body.

But today, Lubin is able to do everyday activities that used to be risky.

The teen said he has not had a pain crisis or hospitalization in over two years, a stark contrast from his childhood, which has been characterized by hospital visits every few months.

"It's been about two years and I'm doing great," Lubin told "Good Morning America." "Overall, I'm just feeling way better."

For Lubin and other clinical trial volunteers, it's been a major transformation.

And researchers say that thanks to the bravery of these volunteers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved two new gene-editing therapies for sickle cell disease, including the CRISPR-based therapy Lubin received.

The CRISPR-based gene therapy Lubin received is made by Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and developed in partnership with CRISPR Therapeutics. The FDA approved a second gene therapy made by bluebird bio.

Sickle cell disease is a genetic condition that affects approximately 100,000 Americans – primarily Black Americans with African ancestry, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers estimate that roughly 20 to 25% of those with the disease are sick enough that they would be good candidates for the newly approved treatments, which were approved for people aged 12 and older.

Jimi Olaghere and Victoria Grey - both in their 30s - said they volunteered to have a chance to be better parents to their children. Both travelled out of state to be treated at Sarah Cannon Research Institute and HCA Healthcare's TriStar Centennial Children's Hospital in Nashville.

Prior to his treatment, Olaghere said he felt like he was "living in a nightmare" with frequent hospitalizations and pain crisis.

"Now I wake up, I get the kids ready for school," Olaghere said. "It is complete night and day. It is a completely different life."

But the sticker shock of both newly-approved treatments - both multi-million dollars - has raised questions about access.

Given the high cost of treating repeat pain crisis over the lifetime of a person with sickle cell disease, some insurance providers have opted to cover the new treatments.

And the Biden Administration has created a new access model for Medicaid patients, designed to lower the medication cost and improve access to gene therapy.

The program is set to begin in January 2025.

 

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