Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2015

Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2015

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

After Ebola Crisis, UN Pledges to Do Better

The United Nations’ World Health Organization plans to improve its ability to respond to disease outbreaks and other health crises.

The agency was heavily criticized for its initially slow and ineffective response to the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The WHO’s executive board voted Sunday to overhaul its capacity to deal with emergencies. Measures include the creation of a quickly-accessible fund, increased support for the development of vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for emerging infectious diseases, and the establishment of a global cadre of emergency public health workers, The New York Times reported.

All those actions were recommended after the 2009 influenza pandemic but not put in place.

The board — which includes representatives of 34 member states elected to help guide the WHO — also asked the agency’s director general to ensure that the WHO’s staff in all countries are chosen for their expertise.

Some experts say the WHO’s poor early response to the Ebola outbreak was partly due to the fact that some of the agency’s workers lacked crucial qualifications or were chosen largely for political reasons, The Times reported.

“Too many times the technical is overruled by the political in WHO,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the WHO’s executive board, said at Sunday’s meeting. “We have to reverse that.”

If change doesn’t happen now, “it’s hard to imagine it every happening,” Frieden told The Times.

“What you see here is the potential for some of the most wide-ranging and sweeping reforms in any area of WHO that we’ve seen almost since the organization was established,” said Dr. Bruce Aylward, a WHO assistant director general and leader of the agency’s Ebola response at its headquarters in Geneva, The Times reported.


Genetically Modified Mosquitoes May be Used to Fight Viral Diseases in Florida Keys

Swarms of genetically modified mosquitoes could be released in the Florida Keys in order to fight the viral diseases dengue and chikungunya.

The modified male mosquitoes which feed only on nectar — would mate with native blood-sucking female mosquitoes that carry the two diseases. The genetic changes in the males would be transferred to, and kill, any offspring. That would reduce the population of disease-carrying mosquitoes.

“This is essentially using a mosquito as a drug to cure disease,” Michael Doyle, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, told the Associated Press.

The plan requires U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval before it can proceed, and more than 130,000 people have signed a petition against the experiment.

Dengue and chikungunya are growing threats in the U.S. due to climate change and other factors. The viruses are transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that has grown resistant to four of the six insecticides used to kill them, the AP reported.


H5N1 Found in Wild Duck in Washington State

A strain of H5N1 bird flu has been detected in a duck shot in northern Washington state, but the strain is significantly different than the H5N1 strain that killed about 400 people in China and some other parts of the world.

It’s the first time H5N1 has been detected in the United States, NBC News reported. Officials said the strain found in the green-winged teal doesn’t appear to have infected any domestic poultry or people.

“Unlike the Asian H5N1 strain that has been found in Asia, Europe, and Africa, this Washington state strain has only been found in wild waterfowl and has not been associated with human illness, nor has this new Washington state strain been found in domestic poultry,” USGS said in a statement.

However, this case does show that wild migrating birds can carry dangerous viruses to the U.S., according to Hon Ip, a wildlife pathogens expert at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will need to closely watch for other birds with H5N1, Ip told NBC News.