Health, Science, Environment

Health, science, and environmental news

Zika virus, here shown as a digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph, can be transmitted by mosquitoes or sexually.
Cynthia Goldsmith | Centers for Disease Control

From bioengineered mosquitoes to a $5,000 seed grant, researchers in Missouri and southern Illinois are joining an international effort to stop the Zika virus. 

Scientists say Zika research has been hampered by a lack of funding. Efforts were further stalled last week when the U.S. Senate split along party lines and failed to pass a $1.1 billion spending bill that included a significant boost in money for researchers around the country — many of whom have dropped other work to focus on Zika.

Eli Chen

The Environmental Protection Agency has declared that there isn't enough information to determine if the air around Ameren Missouri's largest power plant is polluted. 

The federal agency had until July 2 to say whether an area around the power plant in Labadie, Mo., about 40 miles from St. Louis, exceeded federal safety limits for sulfur dioxide. The gas is a byproduct of coal production, which can cause respiratory illnesses, such as asthma, and exacerbate cardiovascular conditions at high levels.

Missouri Department of Natural Resources

Residents near the Bridgeton Landfill did not report significantly higher rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses on a recent health survey conducted by the St. Louis County Department of Public Health.

“There are some concerns, but for the most part, as related to asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it is reassuring,” said Faisal Khan, the agency’s director.

In today's digital world, the rules of socially-acceptable behavior are changing. Or are they?
Jhaymesisviphotography | Flickr | http://bit.ly/293KxaL

Is this you?

It’s Friday night and you look on Facebook, seeing several event invitations that you’ve responded “interested” to. When the time comes, you decide you’re just not that interested in going to anyone’s party anyway and instead opt to spend the evening on the couch watching Netflix. Meanwhile, your friend who invited you on Facebook is desperately waiting for someone to show up to their taco happy hour and only a few people arrive who responded they’d be interested in coming.

A promotional photo for Wing, used during the startup's IndieGoGo campaign in 2015.
Sparo Labs

A St. Louis-based startup has received approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market a device that helps patients monitor their asthma and other lung conditions.

A marketing campaign will start in the fall for patients to buy the device  — called Wing — from the Sparo Labs website, co-founder Andrew Brimer said. Pilot programs to get the devices to local doctors and study patient reactions also are underway.

Tom, via Flickr

Local health departments are using their own resources to boost mosquito prevention efforts, as Congress remains split over a funding bill to boost preparation and research for the Zika virus.

Most preparations are well practiced after years of dealing with West Nile: health departments set traps, spray for mosquitoes, and encourage residents to wear long-sleeves and insect repellent.

There have been no cases of Zika transmitted by local mosquitoes so far in the continental United States, but the northernmost ranges of the two mosquito species that carry Zika do cross through Missouri. Seven Missourians have been diagnosed with the virus after traveling to affected areas, including two pregnant women.

Roundup is used on the majority of fields where soybeans and corn are planted.
File photo | Rachel Heidenry | St. Louis Beacon

Updated Wednesday, June 29 with statement from Monsanto — Farmers throughout the European Union will continue to use Monsanto's weed killer Roundup, at least for a while.

The European Commission has decided to extend a license that allows glyphosate, a key ingredient in Roundup, to be sold in the European Union for 18 months.

A file photo of North City Urgent Care, at 6113 Ridge Avenue in north St. Louis City.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Violence in north St. Louis is prompting one of the few urgent care clinics in the area to close on the weekends.

A gun battle outside the doors of North City Urgent Care on a Saturday last month was the last straw, said Dr. Sonny Sagar, its medical director. The clinic, at 6113 Ridge Ave., sits in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood and is one of just a few urgent care facilities in the area.

Provided by Solar Roadways

Roads paved with solar panels may sound futuristic, but people soon will walk and maybe even drive on them in Missouri. 

The Missouri Department of Transportation recently announced plans to build a walkway with solar panels at the historic Route 66 welcome center in Conway, Mo., which is about 180 miles southwest of St. Louis. Electricity generated from the panels would power the welcome center.  The pilot project will examine how feasible it is to use the technology before the department considers putting it on more roads and sidewalks.

Third-generation crane operator Tim Miller, 41, prepares to climb up a crane helping to build a new Barnes Hospital building.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

There’s no shortage of tall yellow cranes helping build the largest construction projects in St. Louis this summer. One listener asked the Curious Louis project how the men and women who operate those cranes get to the top, and we answered.

Jean Beaufort

A program started last year to make locally-produced fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for low-income St. Louisans is planning to expand into area grocery stores.

Provided by Missouri Department of Conservation

Centuries ago, European settlers brought hogs to North America. But little did they know that the wild descendants of those animals would become a major pest. Considered an invasive species, the feral hogs are known to ruin natural areas, spread diseases and cause enormous property damage for local farmers.

Keith Carter, 53, waits to pick up a prescription for diabetes at Affinia Healthcare in St. Louis. Though he falls in the income gap, he's able to get his preventive care covered through Gateway to Better Health.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

At any given time, a half dozen people sit in the waiting room at Affinia Healthcare in south St. Louis. Two parents coo over a new baby, while a group of older patients chat along the back wall.

53-year-old Keith Carter sits alone. An embroidered polo shirt and badge show he’s just come from work.

“I seem fit. Inside, it’s just breaking down like sawdust. I just keep it in motion,” he said, as he waited to pick up a prescription to manage his diabetes.

Gustavo Valdez, an insurance navigator with the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County helps Charles Niemeyer enroll in health insurance through the healthcare.gov website.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio | File photo

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it is trying new ways to market health insurance to uninsured millennials.

In a press conference Tuesday, officials announced several strategies to target young, healthy adults to balance the risk pool of the Affordable Care Act marketplace.

s_falkow | Flickr

Four St. Louis-area residents are among hundreds across the nation facing charges of federal health care fraud.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the allegations on Wednesday. All told, more than 300 people in 30 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have been accused of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid. The Justice Department called it the largest crackdown in history, both in terms of number of defendants and the amount of fraud alleged.

Michael Velardo | Flickr

Gov. Jay Nixon has signed into law legislation to expand access to medication to combat some drug overdoses. 

Naloxone hydrochloride, also known by the brand name Narcan, has been approved by the FDA for use to block overdoses from opioids, which include heroin and prescription drugs, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Randy Miller, right, participates in a group therapy session at Fontbonne University's Aphasia Boot Camp.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

74-year-old John Rush is trying to find the word for a type of fruit pictured on a card in front of him. He can’t see it, but other participants in this group therapy session are giving him hints: they’re small, round, you can put them in pies…

It’s on the tip of his tongue.

“Gosh, I have some at home,” he laughs, to a roomful of encouraging smiles.

Eli Chen

Residents of St. Louis may have come across an odd sight in their front yards this summer: workers drilling holes into trees and plugging up the holes with mysterious white tubes. 

The workers are urban foresters from the city of St. Louis' forestry division. While the activity might seem suspicious, they're trying to help ash trees that are vulnerable to the invasive emerald ash borer. 

A map provided by SSM Health shows the planned location for the new medical center, just north of the existing St. Louis University Hospital.
Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

SSM Health will spend $550 million to build a new academic medical center to replace Saint Louis University Hospital in south St. Louis.

Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh was joined by Dr. Peter Raven, the former, longtime president of Missouri Botanical Garden, to discuss environmental issues. Raven recently celebrated his 80th birthday.

Even in his retirement, Raven is staying busy with his work on the board of the National Geographic Society and writing his biography. He is still deeply immersed in the challenges facing the planet today.

For sickle cell patients, opiods are often the only pain relief. But growing rates of addiction among the general public mean emergency room doctors are more cautious than ever in prescribing those powerful medications, causing challenges for sickle cell
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

It took too long for blood supplies to get to Baghdad, so Dr. Philip Spinella and his Army colleagues gave their own blood. To their surprise, it worked better.

“We started to use whole blood, out of our arms into the casualties,” said Spinella, who served as an Army doctor between 1995 and 2007. “Their shock would resolve, their bleeding would resolve a lot quicker than just using plasma and red cells that we had shipped from home.”

Legacy nuclear waste at the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton was thought to be contained behind this fence, but a new study has detected radiation in trees offsite.
Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio

The Environmental Protection Agency misled the people who live near the West Lake Landfill by suppressing a key report that concluded the radioactive waste could be removed, residents alleged on Thursday. 

The nine-page document was finalized in 2013, but was just released on Wednesday afternoon. It contains recommendations from the EPA's National Remedy Review Board to address the waste at the Superfund site.

"It appears feasible to remove more highly contaminated material and significantly reduce long-term risk at the site," the report said.

Eli Chen

There's a tremendous distance between where food is grown and how it travels to the dinner plate, and people living in cities often only see where the journey ends: the grocery store.

GROW, a new exhibit opening Saturday at the Saint Louis Science Center, aims to connect people to where their food comes from through a series of hands-on activities and demonstrations. The indoor and outdoor spaces take up one acre, where the Exploradome used to be, making it the largest permanent exhibit the Science Center has built since its expansion in 1991.

 

Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

There's good ozone and there's bad ozone. The good kind sits up high up in the stratosphere, protecting us from the sun's ultraviolet rays. The bad kind is formed by burning fossil fuels and is found in the smog in Los Angeles and China. 

Bad ozone can cause health problems for children, for the elderly and people with lung diseases like asthma. It can also harm other living things, like plants. But like other greenhouse gases, it is invisible. So it's hard for scientists to show people the effects of bad ozone, which contributes to climate change, said Jack Fishman, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at Saint Louis University. 

To get the message across, in recent years, Fishman and other researchers at SLU set up special gardens funded by NASA to demonstrate how ozone levels affect living organisms. Their work is expanding now that they've received a $91,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to exhibit such plants year-round in "ozone chambers."

The FDA must first approve updates to donor history questionnaires and donor education materials before blood centers can start taking donations from gay and bisexual men.
Canadian Blood Services | Flickr

Originally reported Thursday, March 3 and updated Wednesday, June 15 with updated timeline details — Six months after the Food and Drug Administration eliminated a decades-long ban on gay and bisexual men donating blood, the restriction is effectively still in place in St. Louis and across the country.

picture of glaring sun
Flickr | Username psd

The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat advisory for the St. Louis area until 7 p.m. Thursday. Temperatures are expected in the mid-to-upper 90's, with high humidity levels, on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Those who need relief from the heat can seek shelter at cooling stations across the area.

The Salvation Army routinely responds to heat advisories by opening cooling centers where people can rest in air conditioned rooms and receive cold water. The cooling centers will remain open during their individually posted hours until the heat advisory is lifted.

The Cooper House, which is operated by Doorways, has 36 private rooms that serve as emergency housing for people with HIV.
Facebook

St. Louis agencies that serve people living with HIV have seen a sharp rise in requests for emergency housing.

More than 5,900 people were living with HIV in the city of St. Louis and six nearby Missouri counties at the end of 2015, according to the St. Louis Regional HIV Health Services Planning Council.

Those that need emergency housing turn to organizations like Doorways, a St. Louis-based housing agency for people living with HIV. In 2015, Doorways provided emergency housing for 276 people, up from 180 people the year before. In the first five months of 2016, coordinators placed an average of 23 people a month, which is on pace to match last year’s increase.

The location of the Ellisville Superfund site. The Callahan Subsite is a section of the Ellisville site as a whole.
Screen capture | EPA.gov

The Environmental Protection Agency has again attempted to assure the city of Wildwood that a former toxic dumping site is now safe. However, local officials are still not convinced. 

Robert Boston | Washington University School of Medicine

Dermatologist Brian Kim has seen many patients who can't seem to stop itching. Often, it's difficult to determine what's causes the irritation, which can make deciding a course of treatment challenging.

"Most of the drugs I use only work a small minority of the time, so we have to be patient," said Kim, co-director of Washington University's Center for the Study of Itch. "But as you can imagine, as a patient, when you fail with three different medications, it can be incredibly frustrating."

The Meramec Caverns near Stanton, Missouri have been open to tourists since 1933.
Marcin Wichary | Flickr

Updated June 9 at 6:30 p.m. - Meramec Caverns will re-open Friday morning, months after it stopped cave tours because federal regulators measured high levels of a toxic chemical known as trichloroethylene, or TCE.

The popular tourist attraction in Franklin County installed air-lock doors and ventilation, and on Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said tours in "the upper levels of the caverns" could resume.

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