Health News

What you need to know about the dangers of inhaling wildfire smoke

Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Wildfire smoke from Canada has clouded much of the Northeast, leaving millions of Americans exposed to unhealthy levels of particulate matter.

Here’s what you need to know on the dangers of wildfire smoke and why it is so toxic to your health.

What is considered a dangerous air quality level?

Air quality is measured by the Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index (AQI), which ranges from 0 to 500. A higher level indicates a greater level of pollution and health concern.

Levels under 100 are generally considered safe. Unhealthy levels range from 101 to 300, where more sensitive groups may experience symptoms at lower levels. The EPA provides an interactive map to track air quality in your specific area.

In New York City, levels hit over 400 in some parts this week. A value over 300 is considered hazardous, where everyone is likely to be affected from the poor breathing conditions.

Some hospitals have already seen patients suffering from the poor air.

"We've seen a mild increase in the number of patients presenting specifically with what we suspect is related to the environment, which include things like coughs, wheezing, shortness of breath and even headaches," Dr. Frederick Davis, vice chair of emergency medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, New York, told ABC News.

What are the dangers of inhaling wildfire smoke?

Particulate matter (PM) is made up of tiny pieces of solid or liquid in the air including dust, dirt, soot and smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Inhaled particles are typically categorized into two groups: PM10 and PM2.5 – the number representing the size across the particle in micrometers.

These particles are invisible to the human eye. The diameter of a human hair is almost 30 times larger than one of these smaller particles.

While larger particles may irritate your eyes, nose and throat, smaller particles pose an even greater threat. They can seep deep into your lungs or even your blood and cause long-term damage.

"The smaller particles are the dangerous ones. They can cause asthma. They can cause you to have not as good immune responses. You can get more colds, for example, you get more asthma," Dr. Kari Nadeau, a professor at Harvard in the School of Public Health and chair of the Environmental Health Department, told ABC News.

"If you're elderly, you can get more strokes and heart attacks. Over time, it can lead to increased cancer," she added.

In fact, Nadeau estimates an AQI of 150 is equivalent to smoking an estimated seven cigarettes a day for someone spending the majority of their time outdoors.

"We try to do the cigarette equivalent, but most likely the wildfire smoke is much more toxic than a cigarette," Nadeau said.

Who is most at risk?

Those who have lung diseases like COPD or asthma as well as those suffering from heart disease are at highest risk from wildfire smoke.

Children and older adults are also more likely to be affected.

"Those that are most at risk are those that have underlying chronic pulmonary issues ... others include those of the extremes of age so those who are very old, very young, particularly because of underdeveloped lungs or lungs that are older that maybe can't handle as much of the debris as we're seeing in the air," Davis said.

Exposure to wildfire smoke may lead to physical changes during pregnancy and expectant mothers may be at risk of preterm birth or babies with a low-birth weight.

What are the symptoms to look out for?

While those who are more sensitive may be at-risk for severe symptoms, anyone can get sick from wildfire smoke.

Some of the immediate effects include coughing, trouble breathing, a scratchy throat and chest pain, according to the CDC.

Officials are warning residents to stay indoors as much as possible, use a well-fitting N-95 mask when heading outside and try using an air filter at home if available.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What is CHS? How nausea, stomach pain led to a diagnosis and link to cannabis

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(NEW YORK) -- An increasing number of cases are being reported of a mysterious, rare condition possibly linked to cannabis use that has caused some people to become severely ill, according to an ABC News investigation.

While many people don’t think of cannabis as a substance that could make you violently ill, experts say some people develop this condition after consuming high concentrations of cannabinoids over long periods of time.

This rare illness is being reported more often around the same time as the rising legalization of marijuana and higher potency of cannabis products, from vaping to edibles.

Erica Hagler was an otherwise healthy 33-year-old who was struck down with a severe mystery illness when she says she was using cannabis multiple times a day.

"I felt like I was going to die," she told ABC News, adding that her symptoms included "the shakes, elevated heart rate, completely dehydrated and the vomiting was back to back to back."

After two weeks in the hospital with no diagnosis, Hagler said she was told by doctors she was suffering from a neurological or psychological disorder.

"They tested me for everything else underneath the sun," Hagler recalled. "I actually had the doctor walk into my room and say, 'we're sending you home because -- we can't find anything wrong with you.'"

Soon after, Hagler learned about CHS, cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome, which affects people who use high doses of marijuana daily over an extended period of time.

"I diagnosed myself. Then I went back to my doctor and I said, 'this is what I think I have.' And then he said, 'oh, you know what? That sounds right. I've heard of this,'" she said.

CHS is a rare condition that causes bouts of vomiting and abdominal pain. One Canadian study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that CHS-related emergency room visits increased 13-fold from 2014 to 2021.

"Given the prevalence of cannabis use worldwide, the very recent recognition of CH, and the paucity of CH literature, it is likely that this disease is underrecognized and underdiagnosed," the Mayo Clinic published in a case series.

"One challenge we have is that patients sometimes believe that their use of marijuana is helping them," Dr. Sam Torbati, co-chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cedars-Sinai, told ABC News.

He continued, "We know that in patients with cancer marijuana actually reduces nausea and vomiting -- so for many patients, understanding that for them this is a poison -- is a tough pill to swallow."

Because of that misperception and a lack of tests for diagnosis, Dr. Torbati told ABC News that CHS is often overlooked or misdiagnosed.

"We give patients IVs to hydrate them. We do basic testing, just to make sure their kidneys aren't failing, that their electrolytes are not very disturbed," he said. "But really, to cure them of this condition, they need to stop smoking."

Hagler, who has been cannabis-free for five years, said she started a Facebook group to help others who say they are dealing with the condition.

"I get lots and lots of support," she said of the group "CHS recovery," that has amassed over 20,000 members.

"I don't want anyone to go through what I went through," Hagler said. "And if I can stop anyone to maybe consider moderating or just being careful or even knowing that this exists so that if they do get sick, that they can help themselves. That's really the ultimate goal."

Experts believe CHS is caused by overstimulated receptors in the body that bind with cannabinoids which can trigger a repetitive cycle of nausea and vomiting.

While some reports indicate temporary symptomatic relief with scalding hot showers or a heating pad, stopping marijuana use is the most successful way to manage the condition, experts say. If you believe that you may be suffering from CHS, talk to a doctor to seek medical attention.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Men's retreat program aims to address growing male loneliness

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Tucked away from the main roads in Twentynine Palms, California, is a desert oasis. It's at The Campbell House that the palm trees and greenery thrive amid the hot, unrelenting sun. It's also where some 30 men have gathered for a weekend retreat.

The men come from different races, socio-economic backgrounds and age groups. They've joined the men's group Evryman, to do what most of them have never done before: to open up and be vulnerable with themselves, and one another.

The retreat is intense, emotional, peer to peer work that's aided by the Evryman facilitators. They're there to help these men in their emotional journey; to tell them that it's okay to feel anger, to feel shame and to cry.

For most of the day, the men are put into groups, varying in size. They are given prompts to ask each other things like, "When is a time something didn't go your way?" and "How did it make you feel?"

Each man takes a turn answering the question. The other men in the group then analyze the responder's emotion as he gives his answer. The purpose of this is to make these men feel seen and heard.

Kyle Somersall of Brooklyn, New York, is a soft-spoken 32-year-old man. He said he joined Evryman because it was an opportunity to better himself and to create stronger bonds with other men.

"I was pretty numb to my loneliness," he told ABC News.

Somersall said that growing up, he wasn't given the space to express himself.

"What I learned about what it means to be a man was really neglecting my emotions and feeling shame about crying or feeling shame about having emotions," he said.

It's precisely why Evryman co-founder Owen Marcus said he started the group.

"There's an emotional pandemic of men just giving up and being lonely," he told ABC News.

He hopes that men's groups like his will help men realize that they are not alone.

"One of the things that these men get to do at these retreats, is they get to be in an emotionally safe space with other men, and whatever way they want…to allow themselves to feel what they have never felt before," he said.

Throughout the weekend, guttural cries and screams echoed in the desert oasis.

One of those cries came from Scott Wright of Everett, Washington. He said it was important for him to come to this retreat because of patterns he wanted to change.

"These patterns cost me my first marriage. And my second marriage is nearly done because of that. And I just wanted to learn how to connect with myself better," he said.

Somersall also had an emotional breakthrough.

"Stop!" he continuously yelled as he was being held by a group of men. His sobs eventually took over. They came from a place of pain.

"I was feeling a lot of emotion in my throat and in my heart. It was feeling neglected emotionally, just feeling really alone," he said. "There is just a feeling of being broken feeling down and feeling unworthy of love."

Somersall said the experience changed him.

"I've never fully let myself go in front of others in this capacity," he said. "Being able to be held by a group of men and seen and understood by them and have it resonate for them as well- that felt really, really powerful."

As the weekend drew to a close, a lot of these men seemed lighter, and more chipper than when we first met them. As the men prepared to leave the retreat, they hugged and expressed their love and gratitude for one another.

"I got even more than I expected. I was really able go deeper than I could have gone on my own and just release a ton of emotion," Somersall said. "I feel closer to some of these people than I do with people that I've known for decades."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What to know about the Air Quality Index from wildfire smoke and how it affects human health

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Heavy blankets of smoke billowing over the U.S. from the wildfires burning in Canada are threatening the health of millions of people -- even non-vulnerable populations with no preexisting conditions.

But what about the smoke makes it so hazardous for humans to be around?

Wildfire smoke contains fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, which are microscopic solid or liquid droplets -- often 30 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair -- that can be inhaled and cause serious health problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals, such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides -- pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.

But wildfires likely contain PM2.5 that is up to 10 times more harmful than the same type of air pollution coming from combustion activity, according to a 2021 study conducted in California.

"The top offender here is these fine particles," Dr. Vijay Limaye, a climate and health scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, told ABC News. "That size is really important because it can penetrate really deeply and wreak havoc on the body."

PM2.5 is considered unhealthy for "Code Orange" and sensitive groups once the Air Quality Index surpasses 100, according to AirNow, a website that publishes air quality data. Once the AQI surpasses 150, it is considered "Code Red," unhealthy for some members of the general public who may experience health effects, with sensitive groups experiencing more severe effects.

The AQI is at "Code Purple" once it surpasses 200, considered "very unhealthy" with increased health risk for all populations. "Code Maroon" is labeled as "hazardous" and a health warning for emergency conditions once the AQI reaches 300 and higher.

At Code Maroon, "everyone is more likely to be affected," according to AirNow.

A "good" AQI is measured at 50 and below, and a "moderate" air quality index ranks between 51 and 100.

New York City shattered its record for the highest AQI since records began in 1999, measuring in at 413 on Wednesday afternoon.

Philadelphia ranked at 233 on Wednesday afternoon, while Washington, D.C., measured at 168 and Baltimore at 153, according to AirNow.

Because the particles are microscopic, they can easily enter the nose and throat and can travel to the lungs, with some of the smallest particles even circulating in the bloodstream, according to the EPA.

Inhaling toxic smoke and ash from wildfires could weaken the immune system and cause damage to the body, including the lungs and heart, for anyone regardless of their health status.

Exposure to concentrated amounts of PM2.5 can cause short-term effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing, sneezing and shortness of breath, and long-term effects such as worsening of conditions including asthma and heart disease, according to the EPA.

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Why smoke from wildfires could cause a host of symptoms -- even in healthy people

Alex Kent/Bloomberg via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- It's not just sensitive populations who are at risk in the current poor air quality conditions covering a large swath of the U.S. due to the wildfires burning in Canada.

Inhaling toxic smoke and ash from wildfires could weaken the immune system and cause damage to the body, including the lungs and heart, for anyone regardless of their health status.

Fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5, is 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair and cannot be seen by the naked eye. Exposure to concentrated amounts of PM2.5 can cause both short-term effects such as irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing, sneezing; and shortness of breath, and long-term effects such as worsening of conditions such as asthma and heart disease, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Fine particles are able to enter the body through the eyes and lungs. Not everyone feels the same symptoms, and the pollution can exacerbate existing health issues, such as asthma and allergies, Peter DeCarlo, associate professor of environmental health and engineering, told ABC News.

Prolonged length of time and amount of exposure could lead to lung inflammation and impaired lung function that lasts long after the wildfire has ended. Studies have also shown a link between poor air quality and cardiovascular disease, including strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

The smoke -- and fine particulate matter within it -- has billowed south from more than 100 fires burning in Quebec, bringing hazy skies and dangerous conditions that could affect the health of millions of residents in much of the Northeast, Midwest and even as far south as Georgia and Alabama.

PM2.5 particles found in wildfires are 10 times more harmful than the same type of air pollution coming from combustion activity, a 2021 study conducted in California found.

Typically when air quality is poor, alerts are issued for sensitive groups, including very young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those who are immunocompromised or have pre-existing conditions. But there is currently so much particulate matter in the air that the air quality is deemed unhealthy for the entire population in affected areas.

"Breathing high levels of air pollution affects everyone but it affects some groups disproportionately," DeCarlo said. "Like children with growing bodies and developing lungs, you definitely want to avoid their exposure -- and elderly people, whose bodies are in decline."

All populations should limit their time outdoors and limit exercise -- even indoors, because the fine particulate matter is able to filter inside as well. If it is necessary to venture outside, everyone -- especially vulnerable populations -- should wear a mask, ideally an N95, health experts advise.

"Minimize exercise and any activity that makes you breathe harder," DeCarlo said. "Obviously, the harder you breed the more air you're you're taking into your body with wildfire smoke to get in."

Residents currently under air quality advisories should also run their air conditioner or air filters, if they have them, to filter out as many particles as possible, DeCarlo said. Make sure to keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing additional smoke inside.

Leaving the area may also be advisable for vulnerable populations to avoid heavy smoke for a prolonged period of time, health experts say.

Those who have asthma or other lung diseases should follow their doctor's directions about taking their medication and their management plans. Patients are also instructed to call their doctor should their symptoms worsen.

Lower socioeconomic neighborhoods are at a higher risk as well because they often do not have ability to get away from the smoke -- for both financial and social reasons, Kimberly Humphrey, a climate change and human health fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told ABC News.

Climate change and the role warming temperatures is playing in lengthening the annual fire season will likely make wildfire smoke a more prominent public health concern in the near future, Dr. Vijay Limaye, a climate and health scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, told ABC News.

ABC News' Mary Kekatos and Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Here's how to stay safe from wildfire smoke amid reduced air quality

Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Smoke from wildfires in Canada has spread across most of the U.S. Northeast, triggering air quality alerts in 13 states. The poor air quality extends as far south as the Carolinas.

Wildfire smoke and ash can irritate eyes, nose, throat and lungs, making you cough or wheeze and can make it hard to breathe, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The most effective way to protect yourself during wildfire emergencies is to stay indoors or limit time outdoors when there is smoke in the air, according to the CDC. This is especially important for those with heart or lung conditions who are at higher risk for adverse health effects.

"People who are most at risk are [the] elderly, immunocompromised, young children and people who already have respiratory problems, people with asthma and things like that," said Dr. Stephanie Widmer, a member of ABC News' Medical Unit.

Kids with asthma should avoid playing outside and going to playgrounds until the air quality improves, Widmer said. It is best to stay inside and wear masks in the meantime.

If you can, try to avoid exercising outdoors until the air quality improves, especially those with underlying lung disease.

"People with asthma and people who already have lung disease or underlying lung problems, it can exacerbate that, it can irritate that. And if the air quality is bad enough, it can even cause some symptoms of feeling unwell and respiratory symptoms in people who are healthy," Widmer said.

"Some people are more vulnerable than others, some people can be outside for longer than others. Try to limit your time outside as best as you can and if you can't and if you're not sure how long you'd be outside, throw on a mask," Widmer said.

Pregnant people should also try to avoid spending time outdoors, especially those who are further along, Widmer said.

"A lot of times, very pregnant people are carrying almost a large weight that sometimes can compromise their respiratory ability. And sometimes they feel short of breath at baseline. So very poor air quality could worsen that," Widmer said.

You should wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth, fits tightly to your face and can filter out smoke or ash particles before you breathe them in, according to the CDC. N95 or P100 masks can help protect your lungs from smoke or ash.

Those spending extensive time outdoors in smoky air or an ash-covered area should use a tight-fitting N95 or P100 mask to reduce exposure. Make sure the mask fits over your nose, under your chin and seals tightly to your face. Any leakage around your face will cause unfiltered air to enter and be inhaled, according to the CDC.

Because the particles are so small, Widmer said P100 masks may be more effective in filtering out the smoke particles. But an N95 mask is also a good option.

Wearing a mask while it is hot outside or you are physically active can increase the risk of heat-related illness. Make sure to take breaks often and drink water, according to the CDC.

When inside your house, choose a room closed off from outside air. You could set up a portable air cleaner or a filter to keep the air in this room clean even when it's smoky in the rest of the building and outdoors, according to the CDC.

Keep an eye out for any signs of illness in pets too, including trouble breathing, fatigue, coughing or gagging, red or watery eyes, nasal discharge, inflammation of throat or mouth or reluctance to eat hard foods. Call your veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms develop.

The CDC advises people avoid using candles, gas, propane, wood-burning stoves, fireplaces or aerosol sprays and don't fry or broil meat, smoke tobacco products or vacuum.

Be on the lookout for coughing, wheezing, general shortness of breath and a general sense of not feeling well, Widmer said.

"If you don't feel right, call your doctor," Widmer said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Pregnant beauty influencer suffers brain aneurysm, in a coma a week before due date

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(NEW YORK) -- A beauty influencer and new mother remains in a coma a week after she suffered a brain aneurysm while nine months pregnant, spotlighting the potential risk of stroke during pregnancy.

Jackie Miller James simultaneously underwent an emergency C-section and brain surgery last week after suffering an aneurysm rupture, which led to severe brain bleeding and injury, ABC News confirmed with a spokesperson for her family. Since the rupture, James has undergone five brain surgeries since being put in a medically induced coma, according to a GoFundMe set up by her family on May 30. However, her newborn baby has just recently been released from the NICU, according to an Instagram posted by James' sister.

“If Jackie and the baby arrived a few minutes later at the hospital, we likely would have lost both of them,” the GoFundMe said. “But instead, Jackie is continuing to fight for her life each day and we are optimistic she can beat the odds by surrounding her with the right specialists and methods of therapy.”

James, who is based in California, posts skin care and beauty tips to more than 63,000 followers on Instagram and over 4,000 followers on TikTok. In one recent video, she documented the different stages of her pregnancy.

Through a spokesperson, James’ family told ABC News that they think James will be in the hospital for months but are committed to bringing both James and her daughter home.

ABC News' Good Morning America medical contributor and stroke specialist Dr. Leah Croll said strokes are uncommon during pregnancy but being pregnant does put a woman at higher risk for stroke, especially those with high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes and blood clots.

“Pregnant women are three times as likely to have a stroke compared to non-pregnant women,” Croll told Good Morning America. “So pregnancy and the postpartum period are a higher risk time in a woman's life in a lot of ways. And one of those ways is for her cardiovascular system.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, symptoms of stroke can come suddenly and can include numbness, weakness especially on one side of the body, trouble speaking, walking or seeing, or a severe headache. Doctors said if someone is experiencing these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Croll said that for those who are pregnant, it's important to be an advocate for their health care, as well as remain vigilant of worrisome symptoms.

“I think the bottom line here is for pregnant women to make sure that they're keeping their doctors, their obstetricians in the loop about their personal medical history, their family history,” she said. “And keeping them up to date with any new or worrisome symptoms they might be experiencing.”

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

What's the connection between hormones and weight? A doctor breaks it down for women

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(NEW YORK) -- Dr. Jennifer Ashton is a board-certified OBGYN and obesity medicine specialist who has worked with thousands of female patients over her decades-long career.

Ashton, also ABC News' chief medical correspondent, said she had a "lightbulb moment" 10 years ago when she was working one-on-one with a patient.

"In fact, I had the lightbulb moment," Ashton told ABC's Good Morning America. "It was at that time that I realized that pretty much every significant hormonal stage in a woman's life is associated with metabolic, or weight, changes."

The realization pushed Ashton to go back to school to earn a degree in nutrition and become board-certified in obesity medicine.

It also transformed the way she practices medicine, she said, explaining that it taught her that patients struggling with their weight weren't just eating too much or the wrong types of foods.

Ashton said she likes to talk about the connection between hormones and weight in order to normalize weight changes women see naturally throughout their lives.

"For a woman's reproductive life, her entire life, actually, every single major hormonal stage is often-slash-almost always associated with changes in metabolism, cravings and actually bodyweight," Ashton said, noting that the hormonal stages for women include puberty, peripregnancy, peripartum, perimenopause and menopause.

"The first thing that I like to remind people of is recognize, appreciate, acknowledge and normalize these changes. That is your body doing what it is supposed to do," Ashton continued. "The key is, how can you help it and how can you strategize your way through these normal and important hormonal milestones so that you come out feeling good about the way that you look and feel and, more importantly, that you come out of them healthy."

While women may notice weight fluctuations as they go through life changes like puberty and menopause, unfortunately for women, there is still little medical research in the field, according to Ashton.

"That's where it gets a little frustrating," Ashton said. "A lot of what we know is based on observation and association, and then safe trial-and-error, which I encourage women to do."

Ashton wrote about the connection between women's hormonal changes and their weight in her new magazine, Better With Dr. Jen Ashton, which is available now online and in newsstands across the country.

Ashton said she wants women to understand what their body is going through hormonally at each stage, so they can work appropriately to support those changes and not get frustrated.

"If you've just had a baby, or you're thinking of becoming pregnant, or you know someone who is about to go through puberty or going through puberty, or if you or someone you know is perimenopausal or menopausal, that's not a separate issue to your weight, to your metabolism, to the way you eat," Ashton said. "Connecting the dots on those two is really going to help people get through these periods of time without kind of feeling like they're a dog chasing its tail."

Here are Ashton's three tips to help women navigate hormonal changes in their lives:

1. Be observant of changes to your body, appetite and cravings.

Ashton said to pay attention to any changes in your appetite, your cravings for certain foods and your weight, and to see if those correspond to different stages in life, like certain times of a menstrual cycle or perimenopause, the time when ovaries gradually begin to make less estrogen.

"At this time, weight gain is incredibly common," Ashton said of perimenopause, which usually hits women in their 40s. "Typically, it's midsection, midtorso weight gain that occurs despite a woman not changing what she's eating or how she's moving."

2. Use trial and error to see what works.

"If you've noticed a change in your weight or your appetite, I recommend that you can try things, but give them one to two weeks at minimum to see how do you feel in terms of your energy level, your hunger, your satiety, and then your weight," Ashton said, noting that the number on a scale is just one measure.

Ashton said another part of trial and error is testing whether certain foods make your symptoms better or worse. For example, she said that science shows carbohydrates help women during their menstrual cycle, but not all carbs are created equal.

"Just be aware there are carbs that are probably better for those cravings than others when it comes to retaining water and gaining weight," Ashton said. "And also remember that some carbs ... tend to be calorie-rich, nutrient-poor, so proceed with caution when reaching for that, especially if it's to address a craving."

3. Know that no specific food is 'right' or 'wrong.'

"There is no conclusive, good peer-reviewed nutritional science or medical science data that suggests or confirms that if you eat one thing, you will have a definite hormonal effect on the other side of the equation," Ashton said of the medical research to date.

Ashton said the lack of data points women back to the trial-and-error method to see what works for them.

She pointed out as an example, that some research has shown that a plant-based diet can have a "plethora of benefits" for women in perimenopause and menopause. With that information, women can decide the risk versus benefit of trying for themselves.

"You always have to ask yourself risk versus benefit," Ashton said. "What is the downside of eating, let's say for example, a largely plant-based, low-processed food diet. Really, no downside. Is there a potential upside on getting you through these major hormonal stages in life, absolutely."

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Darker-skinned people urged to take extra precautions as laser hair removal industry booms

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- For Eshanka Jayasinghe, or Eshi Jay, unwanted body hair negatively affected her self-esteem for years, so she decided to undergo laser hair removal treatments.

But the procedure left the YouTuber's body in a worse state, she said, with scarring and damage from her neck down to her arms. Jay told "Nightline" that the damage was so bad she canceled her wedding plans, has to constantly put on sunscreen because her skin is now more sensitive to the sun and had to cover up her body to hide the scars.

"I mean, it was like 70-degree weather and I was wearing long-sleeved shirts," she said.

Jay isn't alone and dermatologists warn that some patients, particularly those with darker skin tones, are at a greater risk of getting burned by improperly trained laser technicians because of the increased melanin in their skin.

"There are a lot of people that will discount coupon their health and go to laser clinics that are staffed by people that learned how to use the laser the day before and burns happen," board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jeanine Downie told "Nightline." "These machines are strong and they can do permanent damage and cause permanent scarring when in the wrong individual's hands."

Over the last few decades, experts said laser hair removal services have been on the boom as more people are looking to shed their unwanted hair.

It's estimated about a million people get laser hair removal annually, and the industry rakes in around $300 million a year, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Downie believes that high demand for this hot venture has driven people to the industry who don't have proper training or having medical knowledge about risks to darker skin. Additionally, some people may not be using the right equipment, Downie noted.

"There are many people that share lasers and they're bounced around improperly on the backs of trucks," she said.

Early lasers in the 1990s were made for lighter skin tones, Downie said, but she added there are now specific lasers for all skin tones including darker shades. She stressed that those machines need to be properly matched with the patients.

"In some cases, estheticians or laser people, not even necessarily doctors, they will use a laser that's only intended for very light white skin, and use it on somebody that's my skin tone or darker than me and burn them because there's an increase in melanin," she said.

Some laser hair removal specialists said they are working hard to counter this deep-seated issue and provide their darker-skinned patients with the proper care.

Keisha Wagner-Gaymon, a board-certified Nurse Practitioner and the owner of PeachFuzz Laser Studio in Brooklyn, told "Nightline" that she focuses on getting people with darker skin closer to their hair removal goals.

When done correctly, laser hair removal can provide life-changing positive results, Wagner-Gaymon added.

Wagner-Gaymon said she suffered burns from a laser procedure herself and knows all too well how far an improper laser removal can go.

"It really isn't one size fits all, because dark skin can come in a variety of shades," she said.

Downie said that patients need to be mindful of the nuances in the procedure and, more importantly, providers need to be clear about the physical and mental health challenges that can come from botched laser hair removal services.

Jay said the owner of the laser removal center she visited never warned her that the procedure shouldn’t be done on people who had a lot of recent sun exposure.

During her first few treatments, Jay said everything was going as expected, until one session when she broke out into hives.

"I told her, 'Hey, is this normal?' I like pointed at it. She was like, 'Yeah, yeah, it's fine. Let's keep going to the other arm,'" Jay recalled.

Jay said that the owner later asked about Jay’s tanning and exposure to the sun while on vacation the week before her treatment session.

Jay said she ended up downplaying would downplay the pain, thinking it was all in her head.

Still, she said she felt uneasy when others, including her now-husband, looked at her skin and were noticeably shocked.

Now after two years of recovery, Jay said she is doing better, but still has to take precautions while out in the sun.

"It sounds so bizarre, but like the privilege to be out in the sun and on the beach and not super worried for my health," she said.

Jay encouraged other people who are considering laser hair removal to speak up for themselves and push their provider to be as clear and open about the risks involved.

"I think that one of the first things that I came to in that moment was blaming myself, when I was the one in excruciating pain," she said. "I think a lot of people, especially women, women of color, feel that we shouldn't be taking up space.

ABC News' Lena Jakobsson and Patricia Guerra contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Parents warned to stop using recalled Boppy loungers linked to at least 10 infant deaths


(NEW YORK) -- Parents were advised Tuesday to stop using recalled newborn loungers from The Boppy Company that have been linked to at least 10 infant deaths.

According to The Boppy Company and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which issued a news release Tuesday, the newborn loungers may cause infants to "suffocate if they roll, move, or are placed on the lounger in a position that obstructs breathing, or roll off the lounger onto an external surface, such as an adult pillow."

The products were first recalled two years ago and impacted by the September 2021 recall include Boppy Original Newborn Loungers, Boppy Preferred Newborn Loungers, and Pottery Barn Kids Boppy Newborn Loungers.

Although the newborn loungers can no longer be sold legally, the CPSC noted that the recalled products have still been available online through social media sites such as Facebook Marketplace.

"It is unlawful to offer for sale a CPSC recalled product on an online marketplace or to sell or donate a recalled product in any other manner," the federal agency said in its statement.

There have been at least eight infant deaths from a Boppy newborn lounger between December 2015 and June 2020, according to The Boppy Company. But after the 2021 recall, the CPSC said at least two more infants died after they were placed in Boppy newborn loungers.

"One death occurred in October 2021. In the incident, an infant was reportedly placed on the lounger for sleep and then rolled underneath a nearby adult pillow. The cause of death was positional asphyxia. In November 2021, an infant was placed on a Newborn Lounger in an adult bed with a parent and soft bedding and was later found deceased on the lounger. The cause of death was undetermined," the CPSC said.

Both the CPSC and Boppy said anyone with Boppy newborn loungers should stop using the products immediately. Customers can request instructions on how to dispose of a recalled lounger and ask for a refund from The Boppy Company through their website.

To contact The Boppy Company, customers can call 800-416-1355 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on weekdays.

The CPSC also reminded parents to set up a safe sleep environment for children, which includes a firm and flat surface in a crib, bassinet or play yard for babies. Babies should always be placed on their backs for sleeping and soft items like blankets, pillows, padded crib bumpers "should never" be added to an infant's sleeping area, the CPSC added.

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Surgeons perform kidney transplants in cats amid rising demand for advanced pet care

Dr. Chad Schmiedt performs surgery at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital. -- ABC News

(ATHENS, Ga.) -- Some cats battling kidney disease are getting a second chance at life, thanks to a pioneering kidney transplant program at the University of Georgia Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Dr. Chad Schmiedt leads the initiative and is one of only a handful of surgeons who performs the procedure around the world.

“One particular thing about cats is that they are so good at hiding their disease. So, a lot of times, cats won't start showing signs of illness and owners won't pick up on signs of illness until it's quite advanced,” Schmiedt told ABC News Live. “And so that's one challenge we face in these animals, is trying to work with those very sick animals.”

It's a type of advanced veterinary care growing in demand as pet ownership has surged over the last 30 years. As of 2023, 66% of U.S. households — 86.9 million homes — own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association's [APPA] annual survey. Millennials make up the largest percentage of current pet owners at 33%.

Around three-quarters of cat owners said they considered their pets to be a member of the family, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association's 2018 and 2022 report on U.S. pet ownership, and that could lead to increased expenses for their care. Just last year, Americans spent $136.8 billion on their pets, the APPA survey said.

“It’s considered absolutely normal behavior for people to love their animals, spend whatever it takes to fix their animals when they get sick. You have to go back to the fact that for many people, these animals are like their kids,” said Dr. James A. Serpell, professor of ethics and animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

That was the case five years ago for Franklin, Tennessee, resident Greg Norwicki, whose beloved cat Tucker was diagnosed with kidney failure after routine blood work showed slightly elevated creatinine and blood urea nitrogen – indicators for kidney disease. Tucker’s levels continued to rise over the following months, then Norwicki learned Tucker may be a candidate for a kidney transplant.

The transplant was a success, and Tucker is still alive — and thriving.

“We don’t realize how sick our animals are until you see an animal bounce back,” Norwicki said.

At the University of Georgia, the surgery costs around $20,000 for both the recipient and donor cat, Schmiedt said. There are also recurrent costs -- it’s estimated owners can expect to spend anywhere between $1,500 to $4,000 per year on medication, tests and veterinary visits.

Donor cats come from a variety of places, including other cats owned by the family of the recipient. The donor cats are always adopted by the family of the recipient, Schmiedt said.

“To the best of our knowledge, they go on and live a normal life,” Schmiedt said.

Still, some have raised ethical concerns about the program, arguing that unlike humans, cats can’t give consent to have their organs donated.

“Those donor cats don't come along and say, ‘Yes, please take my kidney.’ The argument that is used is that most of those donor cats are coming from shelters. They might not have found a home. They might have been euthanized in the shelter. So donating a kidney to another cat is preferable to that, especially if the recipient household of that new kidney is willing to adopt the donor,” Serpell said.

In Norwicki’s case, Charlie, the donor cat for Tucker, was previously used for research and was adopted by the family after the procedure.

“So as I say, you know, we saved [Charlie’s] life, too,” Norwicki said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Toxic smoke from Canadian wildfires could impact health of millions in the US

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(NEW YORK) -- Wildfires across the United States and Canada -- fueled by record heat and dry conditions -- could severely impact the health of millions of people.

Smoke from wildfires in several Canadian provinces, including Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia, led to air quality alerts throughout several states in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Additionally, fires in Michigan and New Jersey have created dense fog and heavy smoke.

Inhaling toxic smoke and ash from wildfires could cause damage to the body -- including the lungs and heart -- and even weaken our immune systems, experts said.

"Wildfire smoke itself is quite a complex mixture and it's made up of fine particles … and a number of other gases, which are toxic, mainly due to the fact that wildfires burn everything so more toxic than household fires because everything has been burned," Dr. Kimberly Humphrey, a climate change and human health fellow at the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told ABC News.

Fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, which is 30 times smaller in diameter than a human hair, is of particular concern.

Because these particles are too small to be seen with the naked eye, they can easily enter the nose and throat and can travel to the lungs, with some of the smallest particles even circulating in the bloodstream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

"The top offender here is these fine particles," Dr. Vijay Limaye, a climate and health scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, told ABC News. "That size is really important because can penetrate really deeply and wreak havoc on the body."

PM2.5 can cause both short-term health effects, even for healthy people, including irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing, sneezing; and shortness of breath and long-term effects such as worsening of conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

This is especially concerning for vulnerable groups including children, pregnant people, older adults and those who are immunocompromised or having pre-existing conditions.

"Lower socioeconomic neighborhoods are at a higher risk as well," Humphrey said. "Often they don't have the ability for financial reasons, predominantly, and also social reasons to get away from wildfire smoke, they may not be able to shelter inside, they may not be able to afford the equipment to protect their lungs from the smoke."

Not all PM2.5 particles are the same. One study from California in 2021 found that those from wildfires can be up to 10 times more harmful than the same type of air pollution coming from combustion activity.

Being exposed to smoke can cause lung inflammation and could make it harder to remove inhaled foreign materials and bacteria, potentially increasing the susceptibility to respiratory infections, including COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Depending upon the length and amount of exposure, prolonged lung inflammation could result in impaired lung function that lasts long after the wildfire has ended.

Additionally, studies have shown a link between poor air quality -- which these fires have caused -- and cardiovascular disease, including strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and atrial fibrillation.

Because of climate change, there will not only be more record-setting wildfires but also more people at risk of inhaling toxic smoke as well, the experts said.

"It's clear that the climate change problem is essentially creating conditions that make the fire problem and the smoke problem worse," Limaye said. "So, we're talking about, hotter days, longer wildfire, seasons, drier conditions, spring snowmelt that essentially, put more wildfire fuel in play earlier -- all these kinds of converging factors."

He added, "And I think it's reasonable to expect that wildfire smoke is going to grow as a public health concern in the coming years."

Humphrey recommends that people stay aware of their local air quality and, if it reaches unhealthy levels, to wear a mask, ideally an N95.

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Noom joins Weight Watchers in offering medications like Wegovy for weight loss: What to know

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(NEW YORK) -- As the popularity of drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic used for weight loss continues to rise, another weight loss-focused company is jumping into the market.

Noom, an app that helps people track their eating and exercise habits, will now offer prescriptions through a new telehealth platform known as Noom Med.

The company said Noom Med will be available to people who meet certain requirements -- such as a BMI of 30 or higher -- and who are members of Noom Weight, its $42 per month program that offers psychological tips to help with weight loss.

The cost of Noom Med will be $49 per month and includes "interactive patient education, a psychologically-aware curriculum, and a suite of comprehensive nutrition & exercise tools," according to the company.

Users who qualify can be prescribed weight loss medications after undergoing "comprehensive lab work" and a "health evaluation by a board-certified physician or a physician-supervised nurse," according to Noom.

Noom's entry into the medication market comes three months after WW, formerly known as Weight Watchers, made the same move.

In March, WW announced it had acquired Sequence, a subscription-based telehealth platform that provides telemedicine appointments with doctors who can prescribe popular medications like Ozempic and Wegovy.

"These companies are profit-driven," Maya Feller, a New York-based registered dietitian nutritionist, told ABC News' Good Morning America. "And if people want to lose weight and they center that as the thing that's valuable, we're going to see more companies jump on the bandwagon and start to use these GLP-1s."

Ozempic and Wegovy are part of a class of drugs called GLP-1 RAs that help people produce insulin and lower the amount of sugar in the blood. The drugs slow down movement of food through the stomach, curbing appetite and leading to weight loss.

Both drugs are made from a compound called semaglutide, which works by helping the pancreas release insulin to move sugar from the blood into body tissues.

A third popular drug now being used for weight loss is Mounjaro, whose active ingredient, tirzepatide, works by activating two naturally produced hormones in the body: glucagon-like peptide-1, known as GLP-1, and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, or GIP.

The combination is said to slow the emptying of the stomach by making people feel full longer, suppress appetite by slowing hunger signals to the brain, and help reduce blood sugar.

Mounjaro is currently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat Type 2 diabetes. The drug's maker, Eli Lilly, announced in April that it expects an additional version of the medication could be approved by the FDA for weight loss as early as the end of the year.

The FDA approved Ozempic in 2017 as a treatment for Type 2 diabetes alongside diet and exercise if other medications cannot control blood sugar levels well enough. Although Ozempic is not explicitly approved for chronic weight management, it can be prescribed off-label and used for people who are obese.

Wegovy is essentially the same injectable drug as Ozempic, prescribed at a higher dosage. The FDA has specifically approved Wegovy for patients with severe obesity, or who are overweight and have one or more weight-associated conditions like high blood pressure or high cholesterol.

Without insurance coverage, the cost of the medications can run over $1,000 per month.

"What I've seen when patients are on these medications is that it drastically changes their relationship with food, so this idea that this is an easy fix is completely not true," Feller said. "There are tons of side effects that go on with this medication, and people are actually sacrificing quite a bit to have thinness and live in a smaller body."

Ozempic, Mounjaro and similar medications cannot be given to patients with certain medical conditions, including medullary thyroid cancer, pancreatitis or gallstones.

Side effects of the medications can include severe nausea and constipation.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Women who struggle with PCOS find help using Ozempic, Mounjaro

Tiffany Groves, of Texas, says taking the drug Mounjaro has improved her PCOS and helped her lose weight. -- Courtesy Tiffany Groves

(NEW YORK) -- Branneisha Cooper of Texas said she was diagnosed during her senior year of high school with polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, a reproductive hormone imbalance that can cause problems with the menstrual cycle and lead to the formation of multiple ovarian cysts and infertility, according to the U.S. Office on Women's Health.

The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but people with this condition have higher levels of androgens, such as testosterone, and insulin that can lead to insulin resistance which is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

Cooper, now 26, said she suffered for over a decade with irregular menstrual cycles, hormonal imbalances and weight gain.

That changed late last year, she said, when her doctor prescribed her Mounjaro, an injectable medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May 2022 to treat Type 2 diabetes.

"[My doctor] said, 'There's this great medication and I have a couple of women on it already who also have PCOS,'" Cooper told Good Morning America, adding, "Since starting on Mounjaro, it has honestly just been like a stress relief. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders."

Since starting on the medication in November, Cooper said she has had a menstrual cycle regularly each month, has experienced reduced inflammation and has lost over 40 pounds.

She said she is also thinking, for the first time since her diagnosis, about becoming pregnant in the future, something she said she was previously told was unlikely to happen.

"For me especially, since I'm taking this for PCOS, this is so much more than weight loss for me, Cooper said. "Now that my cycles are regular again and I'm ovulating, it's like I can think again about that thought I'd pushed back in my mind, of being a mom."

Cooper is among a growing number of women with PCOS who are turning to medications like Mounjaro and Ozempic to treat their condition. The medications have been in the headlines recently for their growing popularity as drugs used for weight loss.

Like Mounjaro, Ozempic is approved by the FDA to treat Type 2 diabetes, but some doctors prescribe the medication "off-label" for weight loss, as is permissible by the FDA.

Many women, including Cooper, are talking about the medications on social media, where they say they're finding a community of women who have long struggled with PCOS and struggled to find any medications to ease their symptoms.

Symptoms of PCOS can include everything from irregular or absent periods to excessive facial hair, acne and obesity. The exact cause of PCOS is not known.

The condition affects 1 in 10 women of childbearing age, according to the Office on Women's Health.

"Prior to being on this medication, I thought it was just a me problem, that there was just something that I wasn't getting right that other people were," Cooper said. "It wasn't until I [went] on Mounjaro and realized it's a chronic disease ... and you weren't the problem."

Tiffany Groves, who also lives in Texas, said she too struggled with PCOS for nearly a decade before going on Mounjaro last October, after learning about the medication on TikTok.

She was prescribed the medication off-label to help treat PCOS, and said she has since experienced regular menstrual cycles for the first time in her life. The 38-year-old said she has also lost around 43 pounds.

"This whole time I've been living life and thinking it's normal to think about food all the time and then all of a sudden, you don't think about food," Groves told GMA of her experience on Mounjaro. "I can just eat a little bit and be perfectly fine."

How drugs like Ozempic, Mounjaro can help PCOS

Typically, treatment options to manage PCOS symptoms include hormonal birth control and anti-androgen medicines as well as weight loss, according to the Office on Women's Health.

Dr. Rekha Kumar, an endocrinologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian and an expert in obesity and PCOS, said that drugs like Ozempic and Mounjaro can be helpful in treating the condition because they help address one of its main underlying problems, insulin resistance.

"It's not necessarily that we're using the meds to treat PCOS, but the meds can be helpful for one of the symptoms of PCOS, which is the actual weight gain and hormonal drive to eat carbohydrate because of the insulin resistance," Kumar said, adding, "What we've learned in the past 20 years is that PCOS is actually an insulin-carbohydrate-metabolism problem called insulin resistance, meaning the body makes more insulin in response to carbohydrates."

She continued, "And what people often forget about insulin is that it's a fat storage-promoting hormone, so the more insulin your body is making, the better you are at storing fat."

The active ingredient in Mounjaro, tirzepatide, works by activating two naturally produced hormones in the body: glucagon-like peptide-1, known as GLP-1, and glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, or GIP.

The combination is said to slow the emptying of the stomach by making people feel full longer, suppress appetite by slowing hunger signals to the brain, and help reduce blood sugar.

Ozempic is made from a compound called semaglutide, which works by helping the pancreas release insulin to move sugar from the blood into body tissues.

It also works by slowing down movement of food through the stomach and curbing appetite, thereby causing weight loss.

Ozempic and Mounjaro cannot be given to patients with certain medical conditions, including medullary thyroid cancer, pancreatitis or gallstones. Side effects of the medications can include severe nausea and constipation.

Kumar said she has been prescribing this class of medications to patients with PCOS for over a decade, saying, "The people that really know the science about how these medicines work as well as the science of PCOS have understood the link for some time."

Kumar noted that as drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy have risen in popularity in recent months, she has found it harder to get her prescriptions for patients approved by insurance.

Both Ozempic and Wegovy are considered off-label for PCOS. Without insurance coverage, the cost of the medications can run over $1,000 per month.

"We used to be able to prescribe these a little easier, before the Ozempic craze," Kumar said. "Because now there's so much inappropriate prescribing that even the one-off cases that might do really well on these medicines are getting denied because there's so much scrutiny on each prescription."

Kumar and other doctors say that patients having a hard time accessing Ozempic or Mounjaro due to shortages or insurance problems should speak to their doctor about alternative options within the same class of medications.

Because PCOS is many times diagnosed in women as they are experiencing fertility struggles, Kumar said it's also important for women to know that medications like Ozempic and Mounjaro should not be taken during pregnancy or while trying to become pregnant.

"We just have to really make sure that patients understand the risks and the unknowns of getting pregnant on these medicines, because when we do treat people's insulin resistance, they become more fertile," Kumar said. "Women who thought that they could never get pregnant, if you're treating them with these medicines, they might, so we just have to be very careful with educating on the risks."

The FDA also says in its safety profiles of these drugs that they should not be taken during pregnancy, noting there is "insufficient data" available.

The FDA also explains that the drugs could cause weight loss, and that "weight loss offers no benefit to a pregnant patient and may cause fetal harm."

The FDA recommends that people discontinue treatment at least two months before they plan to become pregnant.

Both Cooper and Groves said they have plans in place with their doctors to go off Mounjaro if they ever try to become pregnant in the future. Cooper said she anticipates being on Mounjaro "long-term" for PCOS, except for when she tries to have a child.

"It's treating my PCOS -- it's not curing it, it's treating it," Cooper said. "And this is the best I've felt my entire adult life."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

COVID cases could be ticking up in New York City, wastewater data shows

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(NEW YORK) -- COVID-19 cases may be increasing again in New York City, new wastewater data hints.

Nearly all of the 14 wastewater treatments plants in the city are currently in the "high" detection level category, meaning likely 50 or more cases per 100,000 people, according to the NYS Wastewater Surveillance Network dashboard, which was updated Friday.

What's more, two-week trend data shows that just three of the plants are seeing decreases in virus detection.

Reported case numbers have not jumped. But fewer people are getting tested than earlier in the pandemic, so case numbers are a less reliable indicator of COVID-19 spread.

Health experts told ABC News that wastewater tracking is a good early detection tool for monitoring potential future upticks, but it's too early to determine what it means.

"Wastewater data can be a very helpful indicator of what is taking place," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist and chief innovation office at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor. "Now, it's an indication of the level of virus that people might be shedding, but it's not 100% related to the amount of illness people are experiencing."

He continued, "Because with the significant amount of immunity from previous infections, from vaccination, there may be community transmission, but it may be asymptomatic and so what wastewater can't tell you is actually the severity of the cases in the community."'

Wastewater surveillance checks for the virus in sewage -- from households and buildings -- that contains human fecal matter.

Because at least half of COVID-19 patients shed genetic material from the virus, or viral RNA, in their feces, the same tests that can determine if someone is positive can also detect the virus in wastewater samples.

When people shed the virus in their stool, they are often in the early stages of the infection, meanings levels of the virus in wastewater samples will often occur before the number of cases rise.

Reported COVID-19 cases have remained relatively flat since mid-April at about 270 cases for a seven-day rolling average, according to data from the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Hospitalizations and deaths have also remained relatively flat.

"Wastewater data is…unbiased," Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, told ABC News. "It just depends on the amount of virus circulating in the community, so although the absolute number might be debatable, that trend is always something that makes us pay attention."

However, he cautioned not to panic and said just because there are areas of the city in the "high" category, that does not mean a surge is imminent.

While the end of mitigation measures such as masking and some waning immunity may play a role if cases increase, Chin-Hong said the U.S. is in a much better position than it was in years past.

"In the old days, we just kind of had to be subject to the whims of the virus, but now we have weapons to fight back," he said. "And even if vulnerable populations are infected, they could avert or prevent hospitalization and death by taking advantage of these early, antivirals taken early in the course of disease, like Paxlovid and remdesivir and molnupiravir."

The experts said it's natural that wastewater data is going to ebb and flow and it is not going to stay low all the time. However, because everyone has a different risk tolerance, the data can help people decide if they want to modify their behavior.

"Knowing that viruses circulating may inform people about the kinds of activities you want to take part in," Brownstein said. "So just like you bring an umbrella for rain, you may change your behavior if you know that viruses are circulating. This is not a reason to panic. But more information can help empower people to make their own decisions."

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