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TAHIRPUR, India (AP) -- At first, Ashok Yadav ignored the patches of pink skin on his arm. But when pale sores erupted on his body and he lost sensation in his fingertips, a doctor issued the devastating diagnosis: Yadav had leprosy.

"What followed was like a nightmare," said Yadav, who has lived in Kasturba Gram, a leper colony outside New Delhi, since his diagnosis 30 years ago. "I lost my job. My parents felt I would spoil my sisters' chances of getting married. My family felt it would be better if I left home."

The stigma of leprosy endures in India, even though the country has made great strides against the disease, which is neither highly contagious nor fatal. Now the number of new annual cases has risen slightly after years of steady decline, and medical experts say the enormous fear surrounding leprosy is hindering efforts to finally eliminate it.

People continue to hide their diagnoses from families and loved ones out of fear they will be ostracized. Employers regularly turn away people who have had the disease, even if they've been treated and cured. Many struggle to get driver's licenses and other routine documents. Even the disease-free children of leprosy patients are shunned.

"We face a thousand indignities every day," said Neelawati Devi, a longtime resident of Kasturba Gram. Some 10,000 people live there, including the children of leprosy patients.

"Our children face taunts and slights when they go to school," said Devi, holding out her hands, the stubs of her fingers wrapped in gauze bandages. "But we want them to get an education and get jobs. Their future should not be ruined."

Public health centers across the country have launched campaigns describing leprosy as the world's "least contagious communicable disease." Health workers are trying to spread the word that leprosy is not hereditary and does not spread through normal contact.

But the deformities that are the hallmark of leprosy contribute to the fear surrounding the disease, a chronic bacterial infection that often lies dormant for years before attacking the body's nerves and slowly causing numbness. Hands and feet eventually claw inward and serious injuries often go unnoticed because no pain is felt. Often fingers and toes are lost due to injuries and sores. Scientists believe it is spread through droplets from coughing or sneezing during prolonged contact with someone infected, but they are still not completely sure.

Also called Hansen's disease, leprosy has been curable since the 1940s thanks to antibiotics, and the worst physical deformities can be avoided if it is caught in time. About 95 percent of people have a natural immunity.

Worldwide, the number of new leprosy patients dropped from around 10 million in 1991 to around 230,000 last year as countries intensified efforts to fight the disease. In India, hospitals and clinics began treating patients with a combination of drugs that effectively kills mycobacterium leprae, the germ that causes leprosy.

In 2005, India declared victory, with health authorities reporting less than one case for every 10,000 people. But pockets of the country continue to have problems with leprosy, including in the central state of Chattisgarh, Maharashtra in western India and Bihar and West Bengal in the east.

According to the health ministry, during 2012-2013 India detected 134,752 new cases of leprosy, slightly more than the 127,295 cases reported a year earlier. India accounts for 58 percent of newly diagnosed leprosy cases in the world, according to the World Health Organization. The disease also remains a problem in Brazil, China, Indonesia and East Timor.

C.M. Agarwal, the health ministry official in charge of the country's leprosy campaign, says the rise in cases is the result of an intensified campaign against leprosy, meaning health workers are reporting cases that otherwise would have gone unnoticed.

But some activists disagree. They say that after India's 2005 declaration, the leprosy program was merged with the country's public health scheme and scarce resources were reassigned for other urgent causes.

They also say the problem might be worse than anyone realizes because of leprosy's long gestation period.

"The incubation period can stretch from five years to 15 before the first signs become detectable. And by then, many others could become infected," said P.K. Gopal of the National Forum of Persons Affected by Leprosy, a nongovernmental organization working with leprosy patients.

The government is stepping up its fight against the disease, assigning additional health workers to 209 districts seen as high endemic areas in 16 states. But that won't end the pain and stigma that leprosy brings to patients and their families.

"Our children shouldn't have the shadow of leprosy hanging over their lives," said G. Venugopal, one of the elders at Kasturba Gram, as he sat outside his home under Delhi's weak winter sun.

"They often face taunts in school. People are cruel. They will say: `Oh, this is the son of a leper.' Then the children say they don't want to go to school and we have to push them," he said.

Gopal, who has worked with leprosy patients for more than 40 years, said the stigma persists "because it's very difficult to change people's attitude over a short period of time."

"As things are, the fear of leprosy is so great that people refuse to come forward for treatment. This has had an adverse effect on the success of the leprosy program," he said.

Venugopal has been working with non-governmental agencies to lobby the government to expand the disability allowances that some leprosy survivors get. "They pay us a monthly allowance of 1,800 rupees ($29), which is a pittance," he said.

The money does not even pay for the bandages that leprosy patients use every day on their sores, said Uttam Kumar, another resident.

Like many others in Kasturba Gram, Kumar was thrown out of his home because neighbors objected to having a leprosy patient in their midst. Kumar, whose bandaged feet are the only sign of his ailment, spent months on the road before finding a refuge in the warren of one-room tenements in Kasturba Gram.

"Here we are all anonymous yet we are all fellow sufferers," Kumar said. "Everyone has their own sorrows, but our pain is the same."

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Oshie, Steen score in shootout, Blues top Wild

Sunday, 09 March 2014 22:37 Published in Sports
 
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen scored shootout goals and the St. Louis Blues took over the top spot in the NHL standings with a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night.
 
In his first shootout since his memorable Olympic performance against Russia, Oshie beat Ilya Bryzgalov - a Russian - through the five-hole in the first round. Steen sealed the win in the following round after the Blues' Brian Elliott turned away Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu.
 
The Wild fell behind 2-0 early, but tied it with second-period goals from Jason Pominville and Matt Moulson.
 
Oshie and Carlo Colaiacovo scored on the second and third shots of the game for St. Louis. It was Colaiacovo's first goal since Feb. 11, 2012, a span of 42 games.
 
Bryzgalov had 21 saves in his first start for Minnesota since coming over in a trade with Edmonton on Tuesday.
 
The momentum shifted in the second after Pominville scored at 3:11 to make it 2-1.
 
Matt Moulson tied it 4 minutes later with his first goal in a Wild sweater since being acquired in a trade with Buffalo on Wednesday.
 
Mikko Koivu intercepted a clearing attempt and zipped the puck to Moulson, who was in front of the net and knocked it past Brian Elliott.
 
Elliott stopped 17 shots and kept the game tied at 2 with a lunging stick save to deny Mikael Granlund with 13 minutes left in the third period.
 
Granlund was again denied by Elliott from in close early in the overtime session.
 
The Blues have won 16 in a row against the Central Division and are now 18-0-1 in division play. They've beaten Minnesota eight straight times, outscoring the Wild 25-10.
 
The Wild are 14-6-2 since Jan. 2, but lost their second straight after a five-game winning streak.
 
Both teams played Saturday night and appeared tired at the end of the third period and in overtime.
 
NOTES: Blues F Magnus Paajarvi was a healthy scratch and was replaced by Chris Porter, who was recently recalled from AHL Chicago. ... The Wild didn't register a shot on goal until 7:02 of the first period. St. Louis didn't get a shot for the first 12 minutes of the second period. ... Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak and the Blues' Steve Ott fought 2 minutes into the game.

Strasburg settles down, Nats rout Cardinals 11-1

Sunday, 09 March 2014 22:35 Published in Sports
 
VIERA, Fla. (AP) -- As he warmed up in the bullpen for his second spring training start, Stephen Strasburg felt strong. Perhaps a little too strong.
 
The right-hander overcame a shaky first inning and the Washington Nationals' offense came up big again in an 11-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday.
 
Strasburg walked two and gave up an RBI single to his first three batters before settling down. He went three innings, allowing two hits while throwing 28 of 48 pitches for strikes.
 
"I got some good work in," Strasburg said. "I felt too good in the bullpen and then went out there and tried to paint the first pitch on (the black) instead of starting out with a little bit bigger zone and then working off the middle of the plate.
 
"I made a good adjustment and then I didn't see any problems."
 
Anthony Rendon homered and Wilson Ramos had two hits and three RBIs for the Nationals, who have 27 runs in their last three games. Washington scored four runs in the third inning, three on infield singles.
 
Allen Craig had two of St. Louis' three hits, including an RBI single. Cardinals starter Joe Kelly gave up five runs and seven hits in 2 1-3 innings.
 
STARTING TIME
 
Cardinals: Kelly had a rough outing, but manager Mike Matheny wasn't entirely displeased.
 
"I thought he did a lot better job than what his line is going to look like," Matheny said. "It was just one of those days."
 
Nationals: Strasburg continued to work on his slider, which he is mixing in about as often as his curveball right now. He said he throws the slider to get contact, not for a strikeout.
 
"Before, I would kind of throw it easy, a little unsure," Strasburg said. "But in the `pen, it felt really good. Then I go out there and I was overthrowing it. It had a little too much movement. But then I took a step back and then I started to get some better results with it."
 
TRAINER'S ROOM
 
Cardinals: Outfield prospect Oscar Tavares made the trip to Viera, but his only action was shagging fly balls before the game. Matheny said Tavares felt tightness in his right hamstring during Saturday's game. Tavares is day to day.
 
Nationals: Manager Matt Williams said RHP Doug Fister (elbow inflammation) is feeling better, but there is still no timetable for his return. Ryan Mattheus (chest inflammation) has started a throwing program, but has not thrown off a mound yet.
 
THE OTHER CORNER
 
Ryan Zimmerman did not play for the Nationals, but he did take some grounders at first base. Williams indicated he plans to give the team's starting third baseman some time on the other side of the diamond this spring.
 
NEW ADDITION
 
The Cardinals signed 23-year-old Cuban infielder Aledmys Diaz to a four-year contract. He will report to camp Monday.
 
"He looked like a very experienced player for as young as he is," said Matheny, who attended Diaz's workout. "He was clean fielding the ball. ... The ball jumped off his bat. He looked pretty polished."
 
Matheny said Diaz would have to be evaluated by the team's medical staff before it could be determined when he will be ready to play this spring. Diaz can play shortstop or second base.
 
NATS MAKE CUTS
 
The Nationals made their first cuts of spring training Sunday morning. The team reassigned 1B-3B Matt Skole, C Jeff Howell, INF Josh Johnson, C Brian Jeroloman, LHP Tyler Robertson and RHP Gabriel Alfaro to minor league camp.

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