Health News

First monkeypox case in US this year reported in Massachusetts

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(NEW YORK) -- A Massachusetts resident has tested positive for monkeypox, health officials confirmed Wednesday, making it the first case of the rare virus detected in the United States this year.

According to a release from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the patient is an adult male who recently traveled to Canada. The department completed initial testing Tuesday and was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The case poses no risk to the public, and the individual is hospitalized and in good condition," MDPH stated in a press release. "DPH is working closely with the CDC, relevant local boards of health, and the patient’s health care providers to identify individuals who may have been in contact with the patient while he was infectious."

The New York City Department of Health announced Thursday that it was investigating a possible case of monkeypox. The patient is being cared for at Bellevue Hospital and all appropriate isolation measures are being followed, according to the department. The patient's tests will be sent to the CDC for confirmatory testing, the department said.

It comes after four more cases of monkeypox were identified in the U.K recently, bringing its nationwide total to nine since the beginning of May.

The resident was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on May 12 and "during the course of their admission they were identified as a possible monkeypox suspect," Dr. Erica Shenoy, associate chief of the hospital's infection control unit, told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.

Hearing about cases of monkeypox in the U.K. encouraged doctors to "think more broadly about the patient's diagnosis," Shenoy said.

Hospital officials said they are unaware of any cases in Canada at this time and do not know where the resident may have contracted the disease.

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus. The first case among humans was recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, and the illness has since spread to several other nations, mostly in central and western Africa.

It can transmit from animals to humans when an infected animal -- such as a rodent or a primate -- bites or scratches a person. The CDC said humans can also be infected when hunting wild animals or preparing bush meat for consumption.

The disease can also spread from person to person via large respiratory droplets in the air, but they cannot travel more than a few feet, so two people would need to have prolonged close contact.

The most common symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches.

Very few cases of monkeypox have been identified among Americans.

According to the CDC, the disease does not naturally occur in the U.S. Infections are usually identified among people who recently traveled to countries where monkeypox is more commonly found.

In 2003, 47 confirmed and probable cases were reported in six U.S. states, the first human cases reported outside of Africa.

All the infections occurred after coming into contact with pet prairie dogs, which in turn became infected "after being housed near imported small mammals from Ghana," the CDC stated.

Since then, just two other cases have been detected in the U.S., both associated with travel.

In July 2021, a case was confirmed in a Texas resident who had recently returned from Nigeria and in November 2021, another case was found in a Maryland resident who had also traveled to Nigeria.

ABC News' William Gretsky contributed to this report.

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Monkeypox cases detected in US, Europe, but experts caution against comparing it to COVID-19

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(NEW YORK) -- Countries in Europe and North America are continuing to report more cases of monkeypox, but experts say the disease so far does not pose a serious risk to the public.

At least 17 infections of the rare disease have been confirmed in non-endemic areas such as the United States, United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden and Italy, and dozens of possible cases are under investigation in those nations as well as in Canada and Spain.

Most cases occur when people encounter infected animals in countries where the virus is endemic -- typically central and western Africa as occurred with the outbreak's first case, reported in England on May 7 among a person who had recently traveled to Nigeria.

However, none of the remaining eight cases in the U.K had travel history and did not have contact with the patient who had visited Nigeria, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency, suggesting there is some level of community transmission.

Similarly, the first infection recorded in the U.S. was in an adult male from Massachusetts who had recently traveled to Canada, and now at least 17 cases are being investigated by Canadian authorities.

Health experts stress the risk to the public remains low and most people don't need to be immediately fearful of contracting the illness.

"​​It is a virus in a very different class from COVID-19," Dr. Shira Doron, an infectious disease physician and hospital epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News. "It predominantly lives in animal reservoirs so it sort of by accident gets to humans and it may cause sporadic illness or relatively small outbreaks."

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus, which was first identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1958 in monkeys being kept for research.

The first human case was detected in 1970 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

"It's important to note this is not a new virus," said Dr. John Brownstein, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital and an ABC News contributor. "This has been around for a long while. It's mostly endemic in parts of western Africa but you will occasionally see it in other parts of the world."

People are typically infected by animals through a bite or a scratch or through preparation and consumption of contaminated bush meat.

The disease can also spread from person-to-person via large respiratory droplets in the air, but they cannot travel more than a few feet so two people would need to have prolonged close contact.

"It transmits through large droplets, which don't travel very far, or through contact with lesions themselves or touching someone with bed linens or clothes or recent contact with lesions," Doron said. "It's not something you get without very close intimate contact, which is why it doesn't tend to cause outbreaks."

She added this transmission route is different from that of COVID-19, which is spread through small aerosols that can hang in the air for several minutes.

"Aerosols are not subject to gravity but large droplets, they get pulled to the ground," Doron said. "Also, monkeypox isn't an illness that is transmitted during the asymptomatic phase, which is what made COVID such a formidable foe."

Monkeypox generally is a mild illness with the most common symptoms being fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches.

Patients can develop a rash and lesions that often begin on the face before spreading to the rest of the body.

"It starts out as spots, then small blisters like you'll see with chickenpox, then pus-filled blisters and then they scab over," Doron explained. "It's a long illness. It lasts a few weeks, but you can be contagious for several weeks and contagious until the blisters scab over."

ABC News confirmed Thursday the CDC is monitoring six Americans who were on the same flight as the British patient who tested positive after traveling to Nigeria.

"They will be followed by health officials for 21 days following their last possible contact with the ill traveler," the CDC said in a statement. "None of the six have any symptoms of monkeypox and the risk for them is very low."

Health officials said it is likely that more cases will emerge either in the U.S. or in other countries, but that Americans should not be concerned.

"We will find more cases," Brownstein said. "There is now heightened public awareness and clearly there will be more clinicians that will be able to recognize the symptoms."

He continued, "But for now, there's nothing to suggest this will have anywhere near the same global impact as COVID-19. The risk to the general public is low."

ABC News' Sony Salzman contributed to this report.

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CDC advisory panel greenlights booster shots for children ages five to 11

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(NEW YORK) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's independent advisory committee has given the green light for Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 booster shots to be given to children ages 5 to 11 years old, paving the way for parents to get their children boosted as early as Friday morning.

The panel voted 11-1-1 in favor of approval. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is expected to make the final signoff to recommend the shots shortly.

"We have the tools we need to protect these people from severe disease, and to prevent any more tragic deaths," Walensky said during brief remarks at the beginning of the meeting. "It's important for us to anticipate where this pandemic is moving and deploy the tools we have where they will have the greatest impact."

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration authorized the use of the booster shots among younger children to be used at least five months after completing their first round of shots.

Children over the age of 5 became eligible for vaccination against COVID-19 in November, so the first kids who were in line for their shot have now had about six months of protection.

Pfizer asked the FDA in April to authorize its booster vaccines for younger children, after it submitted data that indicated their shot was safe and generated a strong immune response.

Vaccine effectiveness after two doses against symptomatic infection "quickly declined for children and adolescents during omicron," Dr. Ruth Link-Gelles, who leads the COVID-19 Vaccine Effectiveness program for the CDC's Epidemiology Task Force, said on Thursday. A booster dose in adolescents significantly improved effectiveness -- up to 71% -- in the weeks and months after receiving the third dose.

Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization after doses for children ages 5 to 11 years old hovered around 68%, to a median of 37 days after the second dose, while effectiveness stood around 51% in adolescents.

"Some waning" was evident when analyzing declining vaccine effectiveness for hospitalization in adolescents who had received two doses. However, Link-Gelles reported that there was not enough data to assess waning effectiveness in children ages 5 to 11 or the impact of boosters against hospitalization in children ages 12 to 15.

The benefits of the booster dose outweighed any known and potential risks and a booster dose can help provide continued protection against COVID-19, officials said, particularly given concerns over waning immunity.

Many panelists argued that the pandemic is not over, and continues to pose a risk to all Americans, including young children, and thus, vaccination and boosting remains critical in protecting all age groups.

"As a mother, an infectious disease specialist and a member of [the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices], my children are older than this age cohort, however, if they were still in this age cohort, I would give my children this booster," said Dr. Camille Kotton, clinical director in the Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Vaccination has provided "measurable, detectable" benefits in preventing "a wide range of health outcomes, and that includes infection, emergency department visits, hospitalization and critical illness" in adults, Dr. Matthew Daley, a senior investigator at Institute for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Colorado, said, asserting that the same is likely true in young children.

"It just wouldn't make sense that 5- to 11-year-olds are the only group among the age eligible for whom a third dose isn't necessary to achieve a more durable and effective immune response," Daley said.

Panelists added that future boosting plans for children this fall are still unclear, and thus, providing families access to boosters now is a time-sensitive, and important, decision.

Ultimately, the goal of the vaccines is to prevent severe illness and death, asserted Dr. Helen Keipp Talbot, associate professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and Health Policy at Vanderbilt University, adding that the benefits of vaccinating children, to protect them against severe forms of COVID-19, are clear

"The goal is not to prevent all infections but to prevent severe illness and the data that was shown was quite good convincing that a third dose would decrease hospitalization, it would decrease MIS-C, it decreases post COVID. All of these are serious complications that children are having. And that's why I really do believe we should be going in this direction," Keipp Talbot said.

Some panelists expressed concern over the need for boosters in children ages 5 to 11 years old right now, given the fact that a large proportion of children have been recently infected with COVID-19 during the omicron surge.

Dr. Sarah S. Long, professor of pediatrics, Drexel University College of Medicine, asserted that with infection rates on the rise "now is not the time" to be boosting younger children.

"I think this is not the time to be giving boosts to 75% of children -- I think the most of whom have had recent infections," Long argued.

Other experts stressed that physicians and officials should still be focusing on vaccinating more children with their initial primary series, particularly given the nation's recent increases in pediatric COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

To date, just 43% of eligible children, ages 5 to 17 years old, have been fully vaccinated, according to federal data. An even smaller portion -- less than 30% -- of children ages 5 to 11 years old have been fully vaccinated, and would thus, be eligible for a booster shot.

In January, the FDA authorized the use of a booster dose in adolescents ages 12 through 15, with 3.7 million adolescents receiving a booster dose since then, according to the CDC.

Overall, 25.7 million children over the age of 5 -- about half those eligible -- remain completely unvaccinated, including 18.2 million children ages 5 to 11.

"Boosters are great once they've got everyone their first round and I think that needs to be a priority in this," Keipp Talbot said.

Last week, more than 93,000 additional child COVID-19 cases were reported, an increase of about 76% from two weeks ago, according to a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association.

The average number of pediatric hospital admission rates have increased by 70% in the last month, according to CDC data, and on average, nearly 180 virus-positive children are entering hospitals each day.

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World 'woefully' unprepared for COVID-19 and remains ill-equipped for next pandemic, report finds

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(NEW YORK) -- The world was "woefully" unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, and remains vulnerable to the next major "catastrophic" health crisis, a panel created by the World Health Organization concluded.

"COVID-19 is the 21st century's Chernobyl moment -- not because a disease outbreak is like a nuclear accident, but because it has shown so clearly the gravity of the threat to our health and well-being," experts from the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response wrote in a report, entitled "COVID-19: Make it the Last Pandemic," released on Wednesday.

The panel, which is led by former New Zealand Prime Minister and UNDP chief Helen Clark and former Liberian President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, urged immediate action to avert the next pandemic, or else "we will condemn the world to successive catastrophes."

"It has caused a crisis so deep and wide that presidents, prime ministers and heads of international and regional bodies must now urgently accept their responsibility to transform the way in which the world prepares for and responds to global health threats," the panel said. "If not now, then when?"

The panel's extensive investigation revealed "failures and gaps" in governments' international and national responses, which ultimately failed to protect the public.

"Current institutions, public and private, failed to protect people from a devastating pandemic. Without change, they will not prevent a future one," the group said.

Experts wrote they remain "deeply concerned" and "alarmed" about the persistently high and widespread levels of COVID-19 transmission across the globe, particularly given the possible emergence of new variants that could continue to "impose an intolerable burden on societies."

"People are grieving the loss of their loved ones, and those with long-term health impacts from the disease continue to suffer," the panel wrote. "It does not have to be this way."

The panel called for immediate investment in pandemic preparedness measures, an improvement of surveillance systems, widespread plans to produce vaccines, diagnostics, therapeutics and supplies, and access to pandemic-related financial support.

With more than 5.7 billion people in the world over the age of 16, the panel stressed the critical need to support global vaccine access and equity, asserting that "this is not some aspiration for tomorrow -- it is urgent, now."

"Ending this pandemic as quickly as possible goes hand in hand with preparing to avert another one," they wrote.

"As soon as a health threat or deadly outbreak fades from memory, complacency takes over in what has been dubbed a cycle of panic and neglect. This cycle must end."

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Feds issue urgent warning on baby formula scams exploiting shortage

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(NEW YORK) -- The dire shortage of baby formula has forced frustrated parents to scour social media for enough supplies to feed their children --- their desperation now becoming a target for scammers seeking to exploit that distress.

An urgent new warning from the Federal Trade Commission is sounding the alarm that thieves have begun to swarm the shortage for their own illicit profit, "popping up online and tricking desperate parents and caregivers into paying steep prices for formula that never arrives."

"Scammers exploiting the high demand for baby formula have sunk to new lows," the bulletin says, warning that schemes may make fake websites or profiles on social media using product images and logos of household-name formula brands, "all to make you think you're buying products from the companies' official websites," the FTC said.

The government agency's alert marks the latest in a rapidly growing groundswell of similar cautions: seven states around the country are now advising parents to stay vigilant amid the formula frenzy.

"Parents of infants in North Carolina are struggling to feed their babies during the current baby formula shortage. But instead of helping parents in this perilous position, scammers are looking to take advantage of this crisis to steal a quick buck," North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein's office said Wednesday.

"Parents, feeling the pressures of the shortage, may find themselves scrambling to find alternative solutions but in the end could end up being scammed by unscrupulous bad actors online," New York Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez said in a recent alert. "It is imperative that parents and guardians be aware of scams and know how to spot illegitimate online sales."

"Anyone seeking to take advantage of this crisis in a manner that violates the law will be held accountable," New Hampshire Attorney General John M. Formella said in an alert Wednesday, cautioning against buying formula from "untrusted or unfamiliar online sources," and that families should "thoroughly research any online retailers that claim to be offering formula for sale via the Better Business Bureau."

The Better Business Bureau told ABC News it has already been fielding complaints from parents who say they have been the victim of formula scams online -- and issued their own alert earlier this month.

"Someone is claiming to sell that product and they are asking people to pay using a PayPal or Venmo or a cash app-type of system. And once that money is paid out, and the order is placed, they never end up receiving that product," Sandra Guile, a BBB spokesperson, said.

Experts say scammers can appear legitimate -- posting ads or commenting on reputable social media groups offering to sell formula -- then disappear once they receive payment.

First-time mom Jessie Esparza-Wohlgemuth had scoured every store and social media group she could think of trying to find baby formula for her 6-month-old son, Elijah Matthew.

The shortage has made those precious cans hard to come by. Parents nationwide are confronted by barren grocery shelves and limits on how much they can buy at one time. Esparza-Wohlgemuth was starting to reach her wits' end.

So when one person reached out online in late April offering what seemed like a great deal, she got excited -- nearly two dozen cans of Nutramigen for a decent price -- enough for Elijah and more to redistribute to other moms in the community. The would-be seller even sent along pictures of the available products.

Esparza-Wohlgemuth sent payment of nearly $300 and offered to send the seller a prepaid shipment label.

Then, the seller stopped responding to her messages, and those coveted cans never showed up.

"I realized, yeah, I just got scammed," Esparza-Wohlgemuth told ABC News. "That moment when you feel like there's a relief -- and then you realize that you just got taken advantage of -- that's really hard. That's $290 I could have spent on my own child, for diapers, wipes, clothes. It's heartbreaking someone would do this to a little person and take advantage of the moms that are literally scrambling to find food for their babies."

For enterprising fraudsters, families' frenzy to feed their children amid the shortage has presented a ripe opportunity.

Tennessee mom Kate Fazio says she was scammed earlier this year. The person she tried to buy from even sent her a fake tracking number.

"The link that she sent was for something that had been delivered to California. It wasn't baby formula. I never got my baby formula from her and she stopped responding to me pretty quickly after that," Fazio said.

Fazio reported the scam to her local authorities, PayPal and to her bank, but saw no progress for months. She said she has seen other moms calling out the same fake seller for similar scams as recently as last week.

On Wednesday -- after ABC News reached out to PayPal for comment -- Fazio said her money was reimbursed "as a one-time goodwill gesture," according to a message from the company to Fazio shared with ABC News.

ABC News reached out to PayPal, which confirmed it had refunded Fazio.

PayPal said its platform has a zero-tolerance policy for fraudulent activity and will shut down anyone attempting to defraud customers or who violate platform policies.

Experts advise that consumers using cash payment apps such as PayPal or Venmo should use the "goods and services" function for their transactions, which offers additional purchase protection. If a seller doesn't deliver on what they've promised, the gipped buyer gets a refund.

Parents hunting for formula online should research who they're buying from to make sure the seller is legitimate, experts say -- even searching the company, person or product by typing their name with terms like "review," "complaint" or "scam."

Social media groups have offered a unique forum for families to crowdsource formula within their communities, but those groups have also offered easy marks for scammers to infiltrate. The Better Business Bureau says it may be a red flag if a seller advertising on social media is communicative until the payment is made, but once payment clears, they are unreachable.

"Think before you click. Be especially cautious about email solicitations and online ads on social media sites," BBB's formula scam alert says.

A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, told ABC News the company does not tolerate scam activity on any of its platforms, and that it actively reviews and removes suspicious activity.

Experts suggest keeping receipts from all transactions, and, when possible, use a credit card for the purchase, since that could provide more protection against fraud than other payment methods.

"That someone took advantage of me in a time where I'm already vulnerable, fearing not having enough to feed my kid, that made me feel even more vulnerable," Fazio said. "As a mom, your number one goal is to take care of these kids. Keep them happy, keep them fed, keep them safe."

Members of the public seeking to report suspected online shopping fraud can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau at BBB.org or report a scam at BBB.org/scamtracker.

Consumers can also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at reportfraud.ftc.gov or call 877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Investigation into mysterious pediatric hepatitis cases in the US expands

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(ATLANTA) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now investigating at least 180 cases of severe hepatitis with unknown cause among children — an increase from the 109 cases that were reported earlier this month, federal officials confirmed on Wednesday.

Thirty-six states and territories have now reported cases, and the CDC said it is working with health departments and clinicians nationwide to identify and investigate why the mysterious illness may be sickening children.

“It’s important to note that severe hepatitis in children remains rare. However, we encourage parents and caregivers to be aware of the symptoms of hepatitis – particularly jaundice, which is a yellowing of the skin or eyes – and to contact their child’s healthcare provider with any concern,” officials wrote in a press release Wednesday.

Officials said many of the additional cases were reported following the launch of the CDC’s announcement and therefore may not ultimately be linked to it. They also said that the cases were not necessarily new.

“While this may appear to be a large increase in patients under investigation over the last two weeks, it’s important to understand that the vast majority of these are what we consider ‘retrospective’ patients,” officials added.

Earlier this month, the CDC reported that five children had died in the outbreak. There have been no additional deaths reported since February, and the proportion of patients requiring liver transplants has gone down to 9% since May 5 from 15%, officials said.

At the time of their announcement, CDC officials said that the majority of the sickened children have fully recovered, officials said.

It's unclear what's causing the hepatitis, but the leading theory is adenovirus, which usually cause mild cold-like or flu-like illness. They are also investigating if there is a link to prior COVID-19 infection, either on its own or in connection to adenovirus.

Scientists from the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Tuesday that there have been at least 429 probable cases of the severe hepatitis with unknown reported across the globe. Forty additional cases are also pending classification by the WHO.

Cases of severe hepatitis in children have "always occurred," with some causing severe liver disease, according to Dr. Philippa Easterbrook, a medical expert with the WHO’s Global HIV Hepatitis and STI Programme. However, occurrences have always been "rare."

Twenty-two countries have now reported probable cases, 12 of which have reported more than five probable cases. At least six children have died, and 26 children have required transplants. Overall, 75% of cases have occurred in children under the age of 5.

The key working hypothesis for what may be driving the outbreak remains a potential link to adenovirus, Easterbrook said. In the U.S., adenovirus has been detected in nearly half of the children and “continues to be a strong lead,” the CDC wrote.

Researchers are also currently conducting tests to see if there could be any connection to COVID-19.

"Importantly," global officials are looking to identify if there is a connection between COVID-19 and adenovirus to see if the two infections are "working together as cofactors, either by enhancing susceptibility or creating an abnormal response," Easterbrook said.

"There is interesting communication in the scientific literature raising a bit more about those mechanisms and about whether a previous COVID infection in children perhaps some time ago, may have persisted and stayed around in the gut, and then a subsequent adenovirus infection may have resulted in the immune system being activated and causing inflammation," Easterbrook explained.

However, at this time, Easterbrook noted that this is simply a hypothesis, and not data based on the studies, which highlights the importance of testing for current and past COVID-19 infections.

"We know that COVID in adults can be associated with hepatitis but much less is known about what happens in children," Easterbrook noted.

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America's mental health care deserts: Where is it hard to access care?

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(NEW YORK) -- May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and two years into a global pandemic that has highlighted the need for increased access to mental health care, 570 counties across the United States still have no psychologists, psychiatrists or counselors.

They're known as mental health care deserts.

Most are considered rural, meaning your ability to access care may differ greatly depending on where you live.

"While this country has given resources for healthcare over the decades, it has never been enough," said Dr. Saul Levin, chief executive officer and medical director for the American Psychiatric Association.

Rural areas, in particular, Levin said, "have not gotten the resources to keep up."

Seventy-five percent of rural counties across the country have no mental health providers or fewer than 50 per 100,000 people, according to an ABC News analysis of Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services data.

A majority of counties with no or few providers per capita are located in the Midwest and Southeast regions of the U.S.

ABC News data journalists developed this interactive map showing the ratio of patients to providers in counties across the nation.

Problem worst in Texas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota

The ABC News analysis shows Texas has the highest number of counties with no providers.

Texas Health and Human Services Public Information Officer Kelli Weldon explained in an email that the state has 39 local mental and behavioral health authorities providing care to residents.

Of the state's 254 counties, 172 are considered rural, according to Weldon.

She wrote that the Texas Health and Human Services Commission "places a high priority on identifying mental health and substance use service availability at the right time and right place."

The state is currently working on increasing access to mental health care for residents in rural areas with an initiative called All Texas Access, which includes efforts to decrease costs to local government for crisis care services and address incarceration of and the number of emergency room visits by people with mental illness.

The ABC News analysis also found that Nebraska (49.5%), North Dakota (49.1%) and South Dakota (47%) have the highest percentage of counties with no providers.

Laurie Gill, Cabinet secretary for the Department of Social Services in South Dakota, said the state faces infrastructure issues that can complicate access to mental healthcare.

"We are, I think, classified as a frontier state, and we have this challenge across many, many different avenues," Gill told ABC News. "When we come to talking about mental health services, we want all South Dakotans, regardless of where they live, to have access to at least short-term comprehensive behavioral and mental health crisis stabilization. Our goal is to try to keep people as close to home as possible in the least restrictive settings that we can."

The mental health care system in South Dakota, Gill said, operates mainly through contracting with 11 nonprofit community mental health centers located across the state, which provide services including therapy and crisis intervention. Each center serves multiple counties, meaning residents may not always have a center nearby.

In communities where accessing care is more difficult, Levin says, people may find their illnesses progress before they are able to receive it and, "the comorbidity is a lot more severe."

Gill acknowledged that sometimes a lack of options at the local level has sometimes led to people in the state needing more intensive, inpatient psychiatric care, but said her department has been doing a gap analysis to identify needs in the mental healthcare system and fill them.

Native Americans at higher risk

Native Americans are also more likely to live in a mental health desert. South Dakota is home to nine tribes, and Native Americans make up about 9% of the state's population, according to U.S. Census data for 2021.

Gill said the state recognizes this population struggles with a disproportionately high rate of suicide and is working on increasing access to mental healthcare on reservations.

Dr. Karen Severns, Behavioral Health Director for the Indian Health Service Great Plains Area, explained that more resources are needed to meet mental health care needs on reservations.

"Just in the last 2 years, the need for mental health and substance abuse services, they actually surged due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Severns said.

She explained that the trauma of the pandemic compounds on the historical trauma this population struggles with, adding to the need for care. As is the case across much of the nation, however, Severns said COVID enabled expanded access to telehealth services on reservations.

"We just need more resources and now that behavioral health has become the forefront not only within our community, but also nationally," Severns said. "The biggest [challenge] is the stigma. There's rural challenges as well, but people don't want to go into a clinic, so we have seen high success when there was an audio [option] allowed for them to just touch base with their therapist."

Special focus on young people

Concern has also been heightened recently for the mental health of young people in America, with the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy telling the Senate Finance Committee in February that the obligation to act is, "not just medical, it's moral."

Some organizations are working to address mental health impacts on youth, particularly amid the last two years of increased stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Save the Children, a nonprofit organization focused on improving outcomes for children through education, health care, and other avenues.

"One of the components to ensure that children are able to survive and thrive is to provide for their mental health," said Greta Wetzel, Senior Advisor of Psychosocial Support for Save the Children. "[It's by] providing those psychosocial support, social-emotional learning opportunities, that they are able to develop into that strong and holistic child and have it be able to thrive."

One of the programs the organization provides is a psychosocial support program called "Journey of Hope," which was designed to help children build resilience.

Cathryn Miller, West Virginia State Director for Save the Children, explained that the program has been very beneficial in her state, where many children and families struggle with things like poverty and substance abuse.

"I think it's really important to remember that kids aren't just little adults," Miller said. "And so, when we as adults are struggling through the pandemic and a lot of these challenges we're facing, it's amplified for children."

Director of ABC News Digital Journalism John Kelly contributed to this report.

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Parents of preemie describe their scramble to find baby formula

Courtesy of Mac and Emily Jaehnert

(NEW YORK) -- Parents of babies on specialized baby formulas are continuing to sound the alarm as the nationwide formula shortage in the U.S. persists, three months after major manufacturer Abbott temporarily shuttered production at their Sturgis, Michigan, facility and pandemic supply chain issues compounded the growing problem.

It’s an urgent issue Emily and Mac Jaehnert know all too well. Their daughter, MacKenzie, needs a special type of baby formula, Similac’s NeoSure (made by Abbott), that’s intended for babies like MacKenzie who were born prematurely.

Mac Jaehnert told “Good Morning America” he’s had to scour store after store in his local region of Richland, Washington, to try to track down much-needed formula for MacKenzie.

"Every morning, I go through and I search online for all of the stores in the area that have local inventory available," Mac Jaehnert said. "If I see one of them, I go to that store first. A lot of times, it's unreliable. It's probably 50-50 at best."

He went on, "I've gotten lucky one or two times where I have found NeoSure on the shelf ... that is where I just start my six-store run. And I'll do that three or four times a week. Just go and find a store and then hit as many as you can on the way home to make sure that you haven't missed an opportunity to find this food for your kid or potentially the food that could keep your neighbor's kid out of similarly dire straits."

MacKenzie was born three months early, at 27 weeks, and had to spend over 100 days in the neonatal intensive care unit before she became healthy enough to go home with her parents.

Mom Emily Jaehnert said the impact of the baby formula shortage on families like hers is not something many understand.

“If you're not in the position that us and other parents are in, it's really hard to understand just how serious and scary it is,” Emily Jaehnert said.

Mac Jaehnert put it another way. “Imagine all of the taps in your house have run dry, and now every bottle of water is off the shelf. It's what it feels like,” he said.

People who assume MacKenzie can be breastfed or have substitute formula are not getting the full picture, Emily Jaehnert said.

“As a mom, as a woman, as somebody who, I have pumped and produced milk for MacKenzie, but I can't anymore,” she told “GMA.” “And even if I could, she can't have 100% breast milk. There's a lot of people that do not understand the complexity behind feeding a medically complicated child.”

“Typical infant formulas, the ones that aren't made for preemies will not provide her with the essentials that she needs,” she continued. “This is something that her doctors have put her on, it is not a choice we've necessarily made, it is something that is basically equivalent to a medication for her.”

The Jaehnerts, who live in Richland, Washington, have been on a mission to raise awareness for what MacKenzie and other preemies are facing ever since they brought their daughter home in March.

“There should be mechanisms in place to prevent this from happening,” Mac Jaehnert said. “Because this is mission critical for keeping this kid healthy and growing and out of the hospital right now.”

“It is one of the most frustrating things I've ever experienced in my life,” he added. “I mean, we get this kid home, after what she's been through … and the problem is, we can't keep something as basic as baby formula on the shelf. It is disappointing to the point of angering.”

The couple say they’ve been able to secure enough NeoSure for MacKenzie for the time being, with the help of social media and MacKenzie’s grandfather, who shipped them some formula from Milwaukee, but tell “GMA” they know other families need critical help.

“We were lucky enough to find fellow parents on Facebook who had a preemie who had recently transitioned onto solid foods, and had a month's supply worth of NeoSure formula that they were willing to share with us,” Mac Jaehnert said. “That was incredibly generous. So we're doing everything we can to track things down in the area and provide it to other families in need, because I know of at least 10 families who have less than a week supply of NeoSure in this area.”

For other families in need, the Jaehnerts recommend starting with family and friends, going online and checking local resources like food banks for formula.

“There are Facebook groups that are popping up, 'Find My Formula' groups,” Mac Jaehnert said, but he also warned parents to be careful too. “This is very dangerous stuff, not getting it through an approved source. But you know, these are the times we're in right now and parents are doing it if you can.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Nearly every state expected to see increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations, forecast shows

Scott Olson/Getty Images, FILE

(NEW YORK) -- As the nation's COVID-19 resurgence reaches its highest point since mid-February, daily hospital admission levels and new COVID-19 related deaths in the U.S. are projected to continue increasing over the next four weeks, according to newly updated forecast models used by the CDC.

The forecast now predicts that nearly every U.S. state and territory is projected to see increases in new hospitalizations over the next two weeks.

Models also show that about 5,300 deaths will occur over the next two weeks. California, New York, Georgia and Florida are projected to see the largest death tolls in the weeks to come.

In the weeks after the U.S. surpassed 1 million confirmed COVID-19 related deaths, models estimate that a total of 1,010,800 fatalities will be recorded by June 11.

The projected increases come as infection rates continue to rise across the country, with a growing number of COVID-19 positive patients, once again, entering hospitals and requiring care, federal data shows.

There are now more than 24,300 virus-positive Americans currently receiving care in the U.S. — the highest total since mid-March, according to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Although totals remain significantly lower than during other parts of the pandemic, when there were more than 160,000 patients hospitalized with the virus, more than 3,000 virus-positive Americans are entering the hospital each day — an average that has increased by 18.7% in the last week, and approximately doubled in the last month.

Admission levels are now on the rise in every region of the country, and the number of virus-related emergency room visits are now at their highest point since February.

Pediatric hospital admissions have also increased by about 70% over the last month.

Nationally, new infection rates have reached their highest point in nearly three months. An average of 94,000 new cases are being officially reported each day, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. In the last six weeks, new cases nationally have nearly quadrupled.

In the last week alone, the U.S. has reported nearly 660,000 new cases.

President Joe Biden’s new coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, acknowledged during a White House press briefing on Wednesday that the U.S. is currently seeing “a lot of infections,” which he said is largely the result of highly infectious omicron subvariants spreading across the country.

“Right now, [there are] some areas of increased infection and hospitalization in the Northeast and Eastern corridor as well as in the Upper Midwest,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday. “But we've seen with prior increases, different waves of infection have demonstrated that this travels across the country and has the potential to travel across the country.”

The Northeast remains the nation’s most notable COVID-19 hotspot. Many of the states with the highest case rate per capita over the last week — Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, and New York — are located in the Northeast. Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hawaii, have also all seen high case rates.

According to the CDC’s community levels, 32% of Americans live in an area with a medium or high COVID-19 community level. Since the prior week, an additional 8% of the US population is living in a county with the medium or high COVID-19 community level, Walensky reported.

The high community level suggests there is a "high potential for healthcare system strain" and a "high level of severe disease," and thus, the CDC recommends that people wear a mask in public indoor settings, including schools.

Officials noted that with more at-home COVID-19 tests now available, most Americans are not reporting their results to officials, and thus, infection totals are likely significantly undercounted.

“We know that the number of infections is actually substantially higher than that. It's hard to know exactly how many but we know that a lot of people are getting diagnosed using home tests,” Jha explained.

However, even with the rise in infections and hospitalizations, Jha stressed that the U.S. is “in way better place than where we were two years ago,” thanks to key tools such as vaccines, therapeutics and testing access.

“We've got to keep using [those tools] as the virus evolves and as the virus continues to do what it's doing,” Jha said, noting that he remains concerned about the U.S. outlook for the fall and winter, as he reiterated his call for Congress to approve $22.5 billion in COVID-19 funding.

“There's a range of models out there of what we might see in the fall and winter," Jha said. "We have got a plan for a range of scenarios...we have to plan for a scenario where we don't get any more resources from Congress. I think it'd be terrible. I think we'd see a lot of unnecessary loss of life, if that were to happen. But we're looking at all the scenarios, and planning for all of them.”

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Two years into COVID-19, some remain in complete isolation

Courtesy Sara Anne Willette

(NEW YORK) -- For millions, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant working from home, seeing friends and family less and other changes to life as they knew it.

In many cases, it also meant dealing with the virus either themselves or with a loved one.

Restrictions came and went and widespread vaccination and boosters brought the promise of a return to normalcy, especially as the omicron wave subsided.

But for some, the pandemic has meant one thing -- isolation with no end in sight.

Sara Anne Willette, an Iowa resident who has common variable immunodeficiency, said she has spent more than 750 days in lockdown since the pandemic began.

For her, staying inside is a life-or-death decision. Her common variable immunodeficiency means she has low levels of protective antibodies and is constantly at an increased risk of falling seriously sick.

"If there's anyone in the country who's suffered the most from lockdown, it's us because nobody else will do what's necessary so that we don't have to live in lockdown," Willette said.

Before COVID-19, Willette had long been taking the health precautions that were implemented nationwide during the pandemic: She wore masks, avoided busy shopping times and only went out of the house for special occasions.

She fell ill often and easily, whether it was from a day in the office as a data analyst or a big family gathering. So when the pandemic began, she knew she, her husband and her son would have to isolate entirely.

As safety precautions are being abandoned across the country two years later, her husband has been told to go back to work in person. She says their livelihoods -- literally and professionally -- are now at stake.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relaxed their guidelines for indoor masking in February, with about 90% of Americans no longer advised to wear face coverings inside. The CDC now bases mask recommendations on local levels of COVID-19 cases.

Simultaneously, most states have dropped COVID-related restrictions in recent months. Hawaii became the final state to uphold an indoor mask mandate and many places have dropped mask recommendations for all but the youngest students.

For those who've been stuck inside for two years, the change in restrictions has left them wondering: when will their isolation end?

"I'm happy to protect myself, but then the ability to protect ourselves gets taken away," she said, referring to the CDC's easing recommendations and a nationwide shift toward "normalcy."

Tinu Abayomi-Paul, 49, who is immunocompromised due to previous episodes of cancer, said her two-year lockdown was no match for the change in COVID-19 policies. When Texas state-sponsored homeschooling expired, her son went back to a school with no COVID-19 restrictions, she said.

"Seven-hundred fifty-seven days in isolation, I don't care. I'll do it for the rest of my life if that's what's necessary. But don't expect me to choose between poverty that leads to death or infection that leads to death," said Willette. "My only direction is 'dead.'"

"It's like the first day they came back, I got sick," Abayomi-Paul said. "I got way sicker than I've been in decades."

Her son brought back COVID-19 in February and she now has pneumonia months later. The infection also triggered her chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, a type of cancer affecting her white blood cells, which help fight infection, she said, so she's now re-treating her cancer.

"People will go to marathons and wear ribbons for people with cancer, but a mask is too much to ask. It's ridiculous," Abayomi-Paul said.

Charis Hill, 35, who has a systemic inflammatory disease and take immunosuppressive medications, has said they have also been isolating for the past two years from their home in California.

They had to decide whether or not to get a surgery done and if the hospital would be taking the necessary precautions to make them feel safe.

"I had a really upsetting experience with a medical provider who refused to wear her surgical mask correctly," they said.

They had the surgery done, but not without concern.

"From that point up to the day of surgery, I was not focused on surgery at all but more focused on fighting for my rights as a disabled person of having a safe health environment," they said.

Fears about the coronavirus continue to ripple among cautious Americans. According to a report by health research organization KFF, even with most local and state restrictions lifted, 59% of people surveyed reported limiting their behaviors, with 42% doing some but not all their pre-pandemic activities.

Seventeen percent said they do very few of their normal activities.

However, 27% say they have essentially returned to life as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic and 14% of respondents have not changed their behavior.

Those who spoke with ABC News urged leaders to continue to recommend or require precautions in public.

For them, a return to normal isn't possible until COVID-19 subsides and the outside world proves safe for even the most vulnerable.

"We do not do anything. And it's devastating," said Dawn Gibson, a Michigan woman with the inflammatory disease ankylosing spondylitis, ​a condition where the bones in the spine can fuse over time. She said she's missed work conferences, baby showers, other important life events -- all to stay alive and healthy.

"I feel like I live in a parallel universe. And life and culture and society and just everything about being alive is in the other one. I have never felt more forgotten in my life," she said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Demand for donor milk rises amid baby formula shortage

UC San Diego Health

(NEW YORK) -- As the baby formula shortage continues to impact parents and children across the country, there is renewed interest in donor breast milk, or donor human milk, with some considering it as another option in addition to formula.

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America said it has seen an “unprecedented” number of calls to its member milk banks from people inquiring about donor milk, especially in Texas, Illinois and California.

“In the height of this formula shortage crisis, we are absolutely seeing a surge in demand and inquiries from families who are stressed and wondering if donor milk is a safe option for them to explore,” Lindsay Groff, the organization's executive director, told ABC News' Good Morning America.

“I suspect as this goes on, that demand will only continue to rise as people are desperate to find safe alternatives for their babies,” Groff said.

The Human Milk Banking Association is an umbrella organization with 28 member milk banks in the U.S. The group comprises a number of community and nonprofit milk banks affiliated with hospitals, including the University of California Health Milk Bank.

Dr. Lisa Stellwagen, a newborn specialist and the executive director of the UC Health Milk Bank, said the center had seen an uptick in calls, especially in May.

"We've had an outpouring of milk donors, of women who want to donate milk to help other people," Stellwagen said Monday, adding that orders, meanwhile, had risen "another 10-20%" in the past week alone.

There are various reasons why a parent or caregiver may consider donor milk. Oftentimes, it is a necessity for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit who may be too sick to breastfeed or whose parent may be sick themselves or otherwise unable to provide breast milk.

“Breast milk really does have the ideal nutritional components for a baby,” Dr. Alexa Mieses Malchuk, an assistant professor of family medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and a family physician, told Good Morning America. “High protein, high fat, all of the nutrition that a baby could possibly need is contained within breast milk."

Breast milk also contains "very helpful antibodies that the lactating person will pass on into their milk that can help protect babies from different illnesses," Malchuk said.

"And there are also things like lower incidence of allergies, lower rates of obesity," she added.

Parents and caregivers should consult their baby’s pediatrician or health care provider before changing a child’s diet in any way or adding donor milk into their feeding schedule.

Donor milk at milk banks is often reserved for premature babies, NICU patients and what the UC Health Milk Bank refers to as “the most fragile newborns.”

“We always prioritize the most medically fragile infants and that will never change,” Groff said.

Families with children who are in the NICU or hospitalized can ask doctors and health care providers to see if it may be available through the hospital directly.

“Milk donors are screened, the milk is often pasteurized, you can be sure and confident that it's been stored properly. So that is the absolute safest way to get donor breast milk,” Malchuk said.

“I think a lot of people have this misconception that ... it's not safe, that it could transmit infection and that the processing takes out all the good stuff, which is not true,” Stellwagen added. “We think of it like blood. It has nutrients but it also has all this biology and in that biology, are cells and viruses and bacteria. So once we accept the milk from an approved donor, then we actually analyze it for nutrients. We put milk from multiple mothers together, and then we put it in bottles and we cap it, and then we heat pasteurize it."

If bacteria does survive the pasteurization process, which is very uncommon, all of the milk is discarded, according to Stellwagen.

“So it has these rigorous steps of making sure that it's nutritionally good for the baby, that it's pasteurized, that there's no bacteria in there," she said.

Donor milk can also go to other babies and children who may need it at home.

“Anytime a baby needs breast milk and the parent who would normally be the one who's lactating is unable to do so, I say go ahead and look into donor breast milk,” Malchuk said.

Hospitals and nonprofit milk banks have rules and processes in place to ensure babies receive safe and nutritious donor breast milk. Like with any bodily fluid, there are safety risks to consider when it comes to donor milk, and parents and caregivers need to be aware of and understand the risks.

Risks can include contaminants, infectious diseases, drugs, and if not processed and stored properly, donor breast milk can become dangerous to consume.

There is currently no federal regulation for donor breast milk. Democratic U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Kim Schrier of Washington introduced the Donor Milk Safety Act in April, which would require the Food and Drug Administration to establish safety standards for human milk. It is currently awaiting action in the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Some have sought to obtain donor milk through for-profit milk banks and informal channels, such as family members, friends, communities and parenting groups. However, experts say people should be extremely cautious when exploring unregulated options and have repeatedly warned against it.

The FDA has explicitly recommended against feeding infants human milk that has been "acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet," and strongly suggests consulting a healthcare provider before feeding a baby milk from a source other than the mother, as there are possible serious safety risks if the milk is not adequately screened.

Breast milk acquired from an individual or online source may have been exposed to infectious diseases, and may be contaminated with illegal drugs or prescription drugs. Also, if human milk is not handled and stored properly it could become unsafe to drink.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics is pretty firm about not recommending informal milk sharing,” said Stellwagen, who also serves as policy chair for the AAP's section on breastfeeding. “You want a milk bank that is operating with strict, rigorous controls for safety and quality."

As a starting point, Malchuk suggests families and caregivers ask trusted sources for recommendations and check guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on breastfeeding, prescription medications and vaccinations, as well as resources like the InfantRisk Center.

There are “no guarantees” when it comes to donor milk outside of an accredited milk bank or hospital, Malchuk added.

For lactating people who want to donate milk

Those seeking to donate extra breast milk should contact a local milk bank to see if they're able contribute, Groff said.

“We are in another time of major demand and so we are asking healthy lactating people to step up," she said. “If we can increase the amount of donors that are screened, and that can donate their milk, then we can move beyond the need of the medically fragile and start to help more babies in the community."

At the UC Health Milk Bank, Stellwagen said the process begins with the potential donor answering a questionnaire, as they would when donating blood.

“We are going to ask during our screening process a rigorous list of questions similar to when you donate blood, about your health and your lifestyle. Do you have any risk factors for blood-borne pathogens like HIV or hepatitis? Do you use any prescription medications? You're not allowed to smoke tobacco, you're not allowed to use cannabis products," she said.

"A lot of medications are fine, things like insulin … but other medications may lead to a woman not being able to donate."

The milk bank then contacts the donor's physician to ensure there are "no concerns" and that "prenatal labs were fine," according to Stellwagen. “And then we send [the prospective donor] for a blood test that we pay for, and we check again for blood-borne pathogens, HIV, hepatitis, that sort of thing."

If they pass that step, Stellwagen said, they can donate.

"The average donation is about 600 ounces of milk," she added.

At the end of the day, Malchuk said the decision to go with donor milk will vary with each family.

"Donor breast milk is a great alternative but again, it just depends on what sort of resources are available to you and what you feel is best for your family," she said.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


The danger of the 'strong Black woman' trope for mental health

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- A growing movement is calling on Black women to do something long held out of their reach as the country faces an ongoing pandemic, racial conflict and a growing political divide -- to rest.

Tricia Hersey of Atlanta is one woman behind that movement. In 2016, the artist and theologian founded The Nap Ministry, a collective that examines the power of rest through collective nap sessions, lectures and community workshops, prioritizing rest as radical resistance, particularly for Black women.

“This culture has made it so that we are not living in a human way anymore,” said Hersey. “We're so disconnected and disembodied from our bodies.”

Hersey said the ministry is designed to combat what she describes as the “unsustainable,” “machine level pace” required by the world today.

“Everything is go-go-go, be-be-be, keep going, keep going, never stopping,” said Hersey. “I think that increases the risk of mental health issues when we don't allow our bodies and minds enough time to just kind of settle into what is right now and to actually make space for a new way.”

For Black women in particular, according to Hersey, the pressure to persevere and at least appear OK while suffering can contribute additional stressors to already difficult situations.

Rooted in racist antebellum stereotypes, the trope of the perpetually "strong Black woman" harms Black women’s mental health in its inherent dismissal of the effect any hardship may have, according to Hersey.

"'Strong Black woman,’ to me, allows so much time for abuse and manipulation, for not resting, for burning yourself out,” she said. "So the ‘strong Black woman’ has never been anything I've ever related with. I want rest. I want ease. I need help."

Hersey said she sees the trope of the "strong Black woman" as one reason Black women in particular struggle with mental health.

Women overall are more likely to experience depression than men, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and for Black women, burnout and stress are also "rampant," according to research analyzed by the American Psychological Association (APA).

Black women, like all Black Americans, are also less likely to have access to mental health care, data shows. Only one-in-three Black Americans who need mental health care receives it, according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

In addition to socioeconomic disparities and a lack of inclusive research on mental health, the APA identifies stigma, distrust and limited access to diverse and culturally competent health providers as barriers to care for Black Americans.

For Mental Health Awareness Month, ABC News' Janai Norman led a Good Morning America digital roundtable conversation on what many consider the taboo topic of mental health for Black women, exploring how racial injustice and the "strong Black woman" trope impact mental health.

Black women speaking out to change the conversation

For Ianne Fields Stewart, a New York City-based activist and storyteller, being given the power to rest was a transformative experience.

"Your work has been a massive part of how I've done my own healing," Fields Stewart told Hersey during the conversation.

Fields Stewart, who identifies as transgender and uses the pronouns she/they, said that while growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, the myth of the strong Black woman was the "model of womanhood" she tried to emulate and follow.

Now, she said she no longer believes that "every Black woman must be a strong Black woman," but wonders what spaces are left for Black women to hold.

"The problem is that I don't think we've yet decided what Black women can be in this space that's left behind," said Fields Stewart, adding separately, "Do we have space for soft Black women, for emotional Black women, for Black women who aren't really good at their jobs, but are great as people and human beings ... or even that we don't have to talk about black women in terms of what we can contribute, but as far as we are just being?"

Fields Stewart, an actor and founder of The Okra Project, which works to provide meals to Black trans people, said when the pandemic began two years ago, it forced her to think about the spaces she held.

"I was someone who defined myself by what I did, and suddenly when the pandemic struck, I didn't have an industry anymore," she said of her acting profession. "I didn't have anything to ground me."

The experience, according to Fields Stewart, made her question the weight of the pressure she was under.

For Hersey, the start of the pandemic was a time to embrace what she called the new “slowed down, not normal."

Hersey noted that, pre-pandemic, mental health in the Black community was already in “crisis." The pandemic motivated her to expand her work with The Nap Ministry to reach more people.

“[I] really wanted people to see this as a beautiful opportunity to take space to listen to our bodies, to really take account of what's really happening," she said. "Because we don't have a chance to do that in our lives."

Theresa Taylor Williams, a New York-based psychotherapist, said she had seen firsthand the ways in which the changes brought about by the pandemic, including, for some, the ability to rest, had impacted her clients, including Black women.

"I've gotten to the point where I've had to turn people away, because I can't physically handle the number of people that are trying to get appointments with me," she said. "The one question that was common amongst most of all of my new clients was, 'Tell me when I'm gonna feel like myself again,' and that's the question that has been so hard to answer."

As a Black woman herself, Taylor Williams said she had seen the downside of the "strong Black woman" stereotype.

What she called the “Superwoman complex” can distract from larger issues that affect self-esteem and mental health overall, she said.

“If we think about what allows us to go beyond, to be able to think and explore and daydream about 'what could I be,' we have to be comfortable right where we are," said Taylor Williams. "We have to be mentally healthy right where we are.”

Fields Stewart said she wants the conversation around mental health and rest to be something all Black women have access to.

"These are conversations and these are ideas and these are luxuries that should be given to every Black woman," she said.

"When we talk about mental health ... it does not care what clothes you wear, it does not care about any of that," she said. "Your mental health is your mental health and we have to be able to have that conversation amongst all of us."

Hersey said she hopes people take away from the conversation a desire to move toward a more mindful, even leisurely, way of life as a way to protect Black women's space.

"The systems of grind culture, of capitalism, of patriarchy, of white supremacy, we can disrupt these systems by just being in these moments of joy and holding ourselves and space to love and care and rest,” she said. "And when we do that, collectively, I think things begin to shift.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


1 in 6 deaths worldwide attributed to pollution: Review

Eric Yang/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- One out of every six deaths in 2019 were attributed to pollution, according to a new estimate published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

The analysis, led by an international team of scientists, indicates that pollution played a role in 9 million deaths globally in 2019 -- the year before the COVID-19 pandemic. This impact on health is higher than malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, drugs or alcohol. Experts said it's not clear how the global pandemic will impact the analysis moving forward.

Despite improvements made in water pollution in recent years, a rise in air and chemical pollution means the death rate has been relatively unchanged since 2015. Air contamination alone contributed to an estimated 75% of the reported deaths.

"Air pollution is similar to smoking cigarettes. It damages the lungs, preventing us from absorbing oxygen we need for life," said Dr. Keith Martin, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for Global Health and co-author of the paper.

Another primary concern is the growing numbers in chemical and heavy metal pollution, particularly lead poisoning. High concentrations of lead in the blood can cause problems with the heart, kidneys and cognition. This type of pollution arises from batteries and electronic waste, such as computers.

According to the World Health Organization, The Lancet report's estimates of deaths from lead and chemical pollution are in line with 2019 WHO estimates.

"They are like little trojan horses, those particles, they have toxic chemicals, lead… carcinogens, and once that gets into the bloodstream, it's like a guided missile" said Dr. Philip Landrigan, director at the Global Observatory on Planetary Health at Boston College and co-author of the report.

The U.S. and other high-income countries have made some strides to combat pollution, such as through the Clean Air Act. Many low- and middle-income countries are facing the brunt of the effects, accounting for most of the deaths reported. But experts say pollution doesn't know borders -- and pollution in one country can lead to health consequences on a global scale.

"Both climate change and pollution are global problems that require global solutions, and it is in the vital interest of people in the U.S. to help make this transition happen globally with all deliberate speed," Dr. Robert Dubrow, professor of environmental health at the Yale School of Public Health.

The scientists who led the recent analysis hope the report will spur politcal action. Proposed avenues for change include standardizing monitoring of pollution levels, investing in research, strengthening pollution control partnerships and highlighting this issue in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Transitioning the use of fossil fuels -- coal, oil and gas -- to clean, renewable energy sources are ways the researchers propose society could level improvements. Individually, researchers call for people to limit their carbon footprint, such as limiting meat consumption, avoiding waste, or walking or biking as a means of transport when possible.

"Addressing pollution is a political choice. We must all advocate at all levels of government and in our communities to scale up known interventions that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels... and engage in source control for dangerous chemicals and heavy metals," Martin added.

As the world is faced with worsening air quality and rising chemical contamination levels, experts believe that deaths due to pollution will continue to rise in the coming years if interventions are not made.

"There are incredible projections which have concluded the deaths from ambient air pollution could double in number by 2050 if we don't take aggressive measures to do something about it," Landrigan said.

Dubrow said switching to non-polluting renewable energy sources should be an "urgent public health priority."

Dr. Rebecca Fujimura is a Family Medicine resident physician at MedStar Health/Georgetown-Washington Hospital Center and is a contributor to the ABC News Medical Unit.

Copyright © 2022, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


With Roe under threat, doctors worry about girls under 18 who may need abortion care

E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- With the Supreme Court's looming decision that could overturn Roe v. Wade, doctors are voicing concerns about the well-being of adolescents in states where abortion is likely to become illegal.

Although teen pregnancy has been on the decline since 1991, pediatricians say abortion remains an important option for girls under 18 who become pregnant.

Most girls get their first period between the age of 10 and 15 years old, and most teens report being sexually active before they turn 18.

Despite their capacity to become pregnant, teenage girls are often left out of a national conversation about abortion, said Chez Smith, the CEO of Gyrls in the HOOD, a non-profit organization in Chicago committed to improving reproductive health outcomes for adolescent girls in urban neighborhoods.

“It’s like they shouldn’t be having sex anyways, so they’re not even part of the conversation, but they are a part of the conversation," Smith said.

Teen pregnancy rates have improved thanks to contraception, sex education and community outreach. But “when something improves, doesn’t mean it ceases to be a necessary focus,” said Dr. Charis Chambers, a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

In 2020, females ages 15-19 accounted for just under 5% of U.S. births, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. But disparities still exist, with Hispanic and Black/Non-Hispanic teens each accounting for more than twice as many births each year as teenage white girls, HHS reported.

Motherhood can be related with positive experience, much like any mother, Chambers said. Teens “tend to be in awe of what the body is capable of," she said. The challenges, however, “are really plentiful, and in a lot of cases, outweigh the triumphs," she said.

For teens, accessing resources and navigating the healthcare system for themselves and their new baby can be extremely daunting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only about 50% of teenage mothers receive their high school diplomas by age 22.

The emotional burden of childbirth can also take a toll. Adolescent mothers are twice as likely as their adult counterparts to suffer from postpartum depression, according to a report in the journal Pediatrics. Teenagers are also at high risk for developing generalized depression and anxiety, the report said.

The pregnancy itself is not without risk. As Chambers explains, pre-term labor, premature rupture of membranes -- which increases the risk for infections like chorioamnionitis -- and delayed labor occur most commonly with younger moms and older moms. Other medical conditions, like preeclampsia and even postpartum hemorrhages can also occur. Maternal death during childbirth is also a very real risk.

But becoming a mother as a teenager doesn’t only affect the mother. Children of teenage mothers are more likely to have lower school achievement, drop out of high school, give birth as a teenager and face unemployment as a young adult.

Despite the litany of short-term and long-term effects of becoming a mother as a teenager, the decision to terminate a pregnancy can also be challenging.

“There can be profound grief," Chambers said.

Battling the stigma of being a teenage mom and the stigma of having an abortion, the ultimate decision to terminate can be very lonely.

“They feel a little traumatized or guilty or shameful,” Smith added.

Medical and surgical abortions are also not without risks, including the risk of bleeding or infections.

Some girls, Smith says, become more responsible after terminating a pregnancy. The experience changes them because they don’t want to be in that situation again and know they don’t have the resources or supports to care for a baby right now, they make different decisions around sex and contraception, according to Smith.

Both Smith and Chambers agree that for teenagers, prevention is the best strategy. But when prevention is no longer an option, the ability to seek safe abortion is even more important. Smith adds that reversal of Roe vs Wade, which would limit options for pregnancy termination in many states, would be particularly detrimental for the teenagers that she serves.

“It’s an invasion of that sacred space where the doctor and the patient are making decisions together," said Chambers. It is in that space that a woman brings her specific experiences, hopes, fears, and goals and uses that context to make the very difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy if that is the decision she chooses, she said.

The teenage mind is still developing, with impulse control being one of the last parts of the brain to fully develop, so elimination of safe options may make young girls go to desperate, dangerous measures, Chambers said.

“They are gonna find a way to do it – Google, YouTube, performing it on each other,” Smith said.

“Abortions will always be done,” Chambers agreed. "It’s a matter of making it harder for disenfranchised patients – those typically with lower socioeconomic status, lower health literacy and limited access to healthcare – including teenage girls, who are still children themselves."

Chidimma J. Acholonu, M.D. M.P.H., is a pediatric resident physician at the University of Chicago and a contributor to the ABC Medical Unit.

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Four more cases of 'monkeypox' reported in the UK: What to know

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(LONDON) -- Several people in England have tested positive for monkeypox, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency.

Officials announced Monday four more cases of the rare disease have been detected, bringing the total to seven.

The most recent infections do not seem to be connected to the first case confirmed May 7 in a person who had recently traveled to Nigeria.

But the most recent four cases had not traveled to a region where monkeypox is endemic, raising the possibility that the virus could be circulating within the U.K.

Additionally, the most recent people to test positive self-identified as gay, bisexual or men who have sex with men, leading health authorities to advise people in those groups to watch out for rashes or lesions.

"This is rare and unusual," Dr. Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser for UKHSA, said in a statement. "UKHSA is rapidly investigating the source of these infections because the evidence suggests that there may be transmission of the monkeypox virus in the community, spread by close contact."

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a rare disease caused by the monkeypox virus.

It was first identified in 1958 when two outbreaks of a pox-like disease occurred in crab-eating macaque monkeys that were being used for research, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The first case among humans was recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1970, and the illness has since spread to several other nations, mostly in central and western Africa.

How monkeypox is transmitted

Monkeypox can transmit from animals to humans when an infected animal -- such as a rodent or a primate -- bites or scratches a person.

The CDC said humans can also be infected when hunting wild animals or preparing bush meat for consumption.

The disease can also spread from person-to-person via large respiratory droplets in the air, but they cannot travel more than a few feet so two people would need to have prolonged close contact.

What are the symptoms?

The incubation period for monkeypox is between seven and 14 days, and symptoms are generally mild, according to the CDC.

The most common symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches.

In more severe cases, patients can develop a rash and lesions that often begin on the face before spreading to the rest of the body.

Most people recover within two to four weeks. Although there have been no cases of death reported in the U.S., monkeypox has led to death in as many as 1 in 10 people in Africa who contract the disease.

Monkeypox detection in the U.S.

Very few cases of monkeypox have been identified among Americans.

According to the CDC, the disease does not naturally occur in the U.S. and infections are usually identified among people who recently traveled to countries where monkeypox is more commonly found.

In 2003, 47 confirmed and probable cases were reported among six U.S. states, the first human cases reported outside of Africa.

All the infections occurred after coming into contact with pet prairie dogs, which in turn became infected "after being housed near imported small mammals from Ghana," the CDC stated.

Since then, just two other cases have been detected in the U.S., both associated with travel.

In July 2021, a case was confirmed in a Texas resident who had recently returned from Nigeria and in November 2021, another case was found in a Maryland resident who had also traveled to Nigeria.

Treatment and prevention of monkeypox

Currently, there are no specific treatments available for monkeypox. Antivirals typically used for smallpox have been shown to be effective in lab studies and in animal trials.

One vaccine has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in those aged 18 and older at high risk for monkeypox or smallpox.

ABC News' Sony Salzman and Rashid Haddou contributed to this report.

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