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LOCAL, NOT US, ISSUES AT PLAY IN TUESDAY VOTING

Tuesday, 05 November 2013 11:31 Published in National News

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Big judgments about the direction of the country will have to wait on this Election Day as voters around the country express opinions on a couple of governors' races, several mayoral races and a host of local issues.

Among the contests around the country Tuesday are governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey, mayoral races in some of America's biggest cities and whether to spend more than $217 million to revive Houston's shuttered Astrodome.

From ballot initiatives to mayor's races, these off-year elections will shed virtually no light on how the American public feels about today's two biggest national debates — spending and health care. Those will have to be addressed in next fall's midterm elections.

Here's a look at some of the more interesting matters on which voters will render judgment:

—Big city mayors: Big city mayoral races also will be decided in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis and Seattle.

Then there's New York, where Michael Bloomberg has served for 12 years and where former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's hope for political redemption became an asterisk to the two candidates, Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota.

—Washington state: A ballot issue over genetically modified food labeling has become a proxy fight between transparency and the world's largest food companies.

The campaign has drawn hefty financial contributions in opposition from the likes of PepsiCo., Monsanto and General Mills. Last year, such interests combined to spend $46 million to defeat a similar question in California.

Supporters say consumers have a right to know whether foods contain genetically engineered ingredients. Foes say the label would imply the food is less safe.

—Colorado: Colorado voters are deciding whether to tax marijuana at 25 percent and apply the proceeds to regulating the newly legalized drug and building schools.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, voters in 11 rural counties are asking voters to approve secession from the state, where Democrats have legalized pot and same sex unions. One county wants to join Wyoming. It's a longshot proposal but a sign of divisions between conservative rural Colorado, the Denver area's swing-voting suburbs and the liberal city of Denver and resort towns.

In Washington, D.C., the 16-day partial federal government shutdown and troubled rollout of the federal health care law has focused attention on Washington dysfunction, and Americans' contempt for it.

There is no one clear question on the thousands of ballots around the country that will gauge Americans' mood. But there are factors to watch that could have national implications in 2014 and beyond.

—Alabama: Bradley Byrne, the choice of the GOP establishment, is running against self-described tea party conservative Dean Young in this special congressional GOP primary.

The race is the first test of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's promise to try to influence primaries and has pumped at least $200,000 into supporting Byrne, a state senator with almost two decades in politics.

Young has tattooed the chamber endorsement to Byrne as evidence he's the choice of big Washington interests and relishes a confrontational style, marked by his reference to the president as "Barack Hussein Obama."

Byrne has countered by projecting himself as statesmanlike, while also ticking through what he calls a conservative record on taxes, spending and his opposition to the 2010 federal health care law.

New Jersey — Some political strategists might look to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's margin of victory should he win his New Jersey re-election race — where polls show he has widespread support — as a measure of this potential presidential candidate's strength on the national stage.

And in Virginia, former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe could win his first elective office in a decades-long political career after linking his GOP rival to House Republicans whose demands helped trigger the shutdown. Polls show McAuliffe with an edge over state Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, a conservative with tea party support.

And in tiny Coralville, Iowa, a big national outside group is exerting its influence. The conservative group Americans for Prosperity that played a role in last year's national elections has blanketed the eastern Iowa town of 19,000 with mail, radio, Twitter and Facebook ads promoting conservative council candidates to tackle a $280-million debt.

The input is hardly unwelcome, said Republican county co-chairman David Yansky.

"They have great ideas," Yansky said. "They want to be involved where government has overreached. That's part of their mission."

__

With reports from AP writers Bill Barrow and Christina Almeida Cassidy in Georgia, Kristen Wyatt in Colorado, Chris Grygiel Washington State and Corey Williams in Michigan.

Schnucks expands into healthcare

Tuesday, 05 November 2013 10:35 Published in Local News

Schnucks supermarkets already have pharmacies, floral shops and cooking classes. Now the St. Louis chain is branching into healthcare.  

Schnucks is opening its first Schnucks Infusion Solutions facility to treat acute and chronic conditions.

Infusion therapy is administered by injecting medicine through a needle or catheter. It treats conditions ranging from infectious diseases to cancer.

The new 65-hundred square foot healthcare facility is located on Page Service Rd.  There, pharmacists will prepare infusions to be given to patients either at the center or at home.

Schnucks Director of Pharmacy Services Dave Chism, calls outpatient infusion therapy a "safe and cost-effective alternative for patients to receive treatment" in an alternate healthcare setting.  

Chism says patients tend to recuperate better at home, and with the focus now on shorter hospital stays, he says there is a growing need for infusion providers.

For more information visit: www.schnucksinfusionsolutions.com or call 1-877-386-4077.

 

VIETNAM RELEASES DENGUE-BLOCKING MOSQUITO

Tuesday, 05 November 2013 10:38 Published in Health & Fitness

TRI NGUYEN ISLAND, Vietnam (AP) -- Nguyen Thi Yen rolls up the sleeves of her white lab coat and delicately slips her arms into a box covered by a sheath of mesh netting. Immediately, the feeding frenzy begins.

Hundreds of mosquitoes light on her thin forearms and swarm her manicured fingers. They spit, bite and suck until becoming drunk with blood, their bulging bellies glowing red. Yen laughs in delight while her so-called "pets" enjoy their lunch and prepare to mate.

The petite, grandmotherly entomologist - nicknamed Dr. Dracula - knows how crazy she must look to outsiders. But this is science, and these are very special bloodsuckers.

She smiles and nods at her red-hot arms, swollen and itchy after 10 minutes of feeding. She knows those nasty bites could reveal a way to greatly reduce one of the world's most menacing infectious diseases.

All her mosquitoes have been intentionally infected with bacteria called Wolbachia, which essentially blocks them from getting dengue. And if they can't get it, they can't spread it to people.

New research suggests some 390 million people are infected with the virus each year, most of them in Asia. That's about one in every 18 people on Earth, and more than three times higher than the World Health Organization's previous estimates.

Known as "breakbone fever" because of the excruciating joint pain and hammer-pounding headaches it causes, the disease has no vaccine, cure or specific treatment. Most patients must simply suffer through days of raging fever, sweats and a bubbling rash. For those who develop a more serious form of illness, known as dengue hemorrhagic fever, internal bleeding, shock, organ failure and death can occur.

And it's all caused by one bite from a female mosquito that's transmitting the virus from another infected person.

So how can simple bacteria break this cycle? Wolbachia is commonly found in many insects, including fruit flies. But for reasons not fully understood, it is not carried naturally by certain mosquitoes, including the most common one that transmits dengue, the Aedes aegypti.

The germ has fascinated scientist Scott O'Neill his entire career. He started working with it about two decades ago at Yale University. But it wasn't until 2008, after returning to his native Australia, that he had his eureka moment.

One of his research students figured out how to implant the bacteria into a mosquito so it could be passed on to future generations. The initial hope was that it would shorten the insect's life. But soon, a hidden benefit was discovered: Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes not only died quicker but they also blocked dengue partially or entirely, sort of like a natural vaccine.

"The dengue virus couldn't grow in the mosquito as well if the Wolbachia was present," says O'Neill, dean of science at Monash University in Melbourne. "And if it can't grow in the mosquito, it can't be transmitted."

But proving something in the lab is just the first step. O'Neill's team needed to test how well the mosquitoes would perform in the wild. They conducted research in small communities in Australia, where dengue isn't a problem, and the results were encouraging enough to create a buzz among scientists who have long been searching for new ways to fight the disease. After two and a half years, the Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes had overtaken the native populations and remained 95 percent dominant.

But how would it work in dengue-endemic areas of Southeast Asia? The disease swamps hospitals in the region every rainy season with thousands of sick patients, including many children, sometimes killing those who seek help too late.

The Australians tapped 58-year-old Yen at Vietnam's National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, where she's worked for the past 35 years. Their plan was to test the Wolbachia mosquitoes on a small island off the country's central coast this year, with another release expected next year in Indonesia.

Just getting the mosquitoes to Tri Nguyen Island was an adventure. Thousands of tiny black eggs laid on strips of paper inside feeding boxes had to be hand-carried inside coolers on weekly flights from Hanoi, where Yen normally works, to Nha Trang, a resort city near the island. The eggs had to be kept at just the right temperature and moisture. The mosquitoes were hatched in another lab before finally being transported by boat.

Yen insisted on medical checks for all volunteer feeders to ensure they weren't sickening her mosquitoes. She deemed vegetarian blood too weak and banned anyone recently on antibiotics, which could kill the Wolbachia.

"When I'm sleeping, I'm always thinking about them," Yen says, hunkered over a petri dish filled with dozens of squiggling mosquito pupae. "I'm always worried about temperature and food. I take care of them same-same like baby. If they are healthy, we are happy. If they are not, we are sad."

---

Recently, there have been several promising new attempts to control dengue. A vaccine trial in Thailand didn't work as well as hoped, proving only 30 percent effective overall, but it provided higher coverage for three of the four virus strains. More vaccines are in the pipeline. Other science involves releasing genetically modified "sterile" male mosquitoes that produce no offspring, or young that die before reaching maturity, to decrease populations.

Wolbachia could end up being used in combination with these and other methods, including mosquito traps and insecticide-treated materials.

"I've been working with this disease now for 40-something years, and we have failed miserably," says Duane Gubler, a dengue expert at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore who is not involved with the Wolbachia research.

"We are now coming into a very exciting period where I think we'll be able to control the disease. I really do."

Wolbachia also blocks other mosquito-borne diseases such as yellow fever and chikungunya, O'Neill says. Similar research is being conducted for malaria, though that's trickier because the disease is carried by several different types of mosquitoes.

It's unclear why mosquitoes that transmit dengue do not naturally get Wolbachia, which is found in up to 70 percent of insects in the wild. But O'Neill doesn't believe that purposefully infecting mosquitoes will negatively impact ecosystems. He says the key to overcoming skepticism is to be transparent with research while providing independent risk analyses and publishing findings in high-caliber scientific journals.

"I think, intuitively, it makes sense that it's unlikely to have a major consequence of introducing Wolbachia into one more species," O'Neill says, adding that none of his work is for profit. "It's already in millions already."

Dengue typically comes in cycles, hitting some areas harder in different years. People remain susceptible to the other strains after being infected with one, and it is largely an urban disease with mosquitoes breeding in stagnant water.

Laos and Singapore have experienced their worst outbreaks in recent history this season. Thailand has also struggled with a large number of patients. Cases have also been reported in recent years outside tropical regions, including in the U.S. and Europe.

Vietnam has logged lower numbers this year overall, but the country's highest dengue rate is in the province where Yen is conducting her work.

At the area's main hospital in Nha Trang, Dr. Nguyen Dong, director of infectious diseases, says 75 of the 86 patients crammed into the open-air ward are infected with the virus.

Before jabbing his fingers into the stomach of one seriously ill patient to check for pain, he talks about how the dengue season has become much longer in recent years. And despite the government's increased education campaigns and resources, the disease continues to overwhelm the hospital.

If the experiment going on just a short boat ride away from the hospital is successful, it eventually will be expanded across the city and the entire province.

----

The 3,500 people on Tri Nguyen island grew accustomed to what would be a bizarre scene almost anywhere else: For five months, community workers went house-to-house in the raging heat, releasing cups of newborn mosquitoes.

And the residents were happy to have them.

"We do not kill the mosquitoes. We let them bite," says fisherman Tran To. "The Wolbachia living in the house is like a doctor in the house. They may bite, but they stop dengue."

Specimens collected from traps are taken back to the lab for analysis to determine how well Wolbachia mosquitoes are infiltrating the native population.

The strain of bacteria used on the island blocks dengue 100 percent, but it's also the hardest to sustain. At one point, 90 percent of the mosquitoes were infected, but the rate dropped to about 65 percent after the last batch was released in early September. A similar decrease occurred in Australia as well, and scientists switched to other Wolbachia strains that thrive better in the wild but have lesser dengue-blocking abilities.

The job is sure to keep Yen busy in her little mosquito lab, complete with doors covered by long overlapping netting.

And while she professes to adore these pests nurtured by her own blood, she has a much stronger motivation for working with them: Dengue nearly claimed her own life many years ago, and her career has been devoted to sparing others the same fate.

"I love them," she says, "when I need them."

----

On the Net: HTTP://WWW.ELIMINATEDENGUE.COM/

----

Follow Margie Mason on Twitter: twitter.com/MargieMasonAP

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.

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