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Robocalls Can Cause A Health Crisis; Here’s How

[bctt tweet=”Robocalls have been crippling hospital operations and they worry that this may cause a health crisis where hospitals operations are compromised.” username=”Z6Mag”]

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A recent report suggests that robocalls have been crippling hospital operations and they worry that this may cause a serious health crisis where medical facilities could no longer respond to emergencies efficiently.
Hospitals worry that the robocall epidemic may cause a health crisis. Photo: Esparta Palma | Flickr | CC By 2.0

The horrors of robocalls seem to not have a real-life impact on a typical user. But when hospitals are receiving hundreds of robocalls a day, the effect can be disastrous and could end up in high casualty medical emergency.

In a recent investigative report from The Washington Post revealed that hospitals are receiving insurmountable amounts of spam robocalls every day and they take up valuable hospital time and the ability of human resources and emergency hotlines to respond to a real emergency on time.

Boston-based Tufts Medical Center is one of the victims of the plaguing of robocalls against hospitals and medical institutions. According to Taylor Lehmann, chief information security officer of Tufts, his facility received more than 4,500 robocalls in just two hours on April 30, 2018. Similarly, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute also received more than 6,600 times across 90 days — a process that the center’s chief information security officer, Dave Summitt, estimates took up 65 hours of hospital response time.

Spam calls across the world rose in 2018, with some countries seeing a 100% increase in time-wasting calls. Hospitals worry that the amount of time-wasting robocalls will eventually grow to a level that medical facilities can no longer handle and put the entire country in a recurring public health problem. This, according to Lehmann, may increase the chances of a health crisis all the while crippling the ability of hospitals to respond to it appropriately and timely.

And this is just one facet of the problem. Medical institutions are also receiving numerous calls a day purportedly coming from patients and turns out to be just a spoofed call coming from some unscrupulous operators. On the flipside of the coin, patients are also receiving spoofed calls from medical institutions masquerading using real area codes. “Spoofing” disguises one phone number as another, meaning scams offering insurance scams or claiming payments are much more likely to succeed because it seems as if the call is coming from a trusted source.

But to a naked eye, identifying these spoofed calls is near impossible. Meaning, hospital personnel could be fooled into responding to a “patient” call when it was all just bogus, to begin with. In the same manner, patients can also be duped into paying something just because their “medical collection agency” appeared to call them.

Combating the robocalls epidemic

Carriers and telecom companies have been trying to put an end to this problem. In the past months, major telecom providers have announced the inclusion of the SHAKEN/STIR technology in their services to combat the robocalls epidemic. AT&T and Comcast are joining forces in a move that would impact robocalls in the country. Both companies, through a joint press release, announced a cross-network authentication system to verify calls between separate providers. Verizons is also adapting the same technology.

They employed the new “SHAKEN” (Signature-based Handling of Asserted information using toKENs) and “STIR” (Secure Telephone Identity Revisited) protocols meant to curb spoofed phone numbers.

“For example, a call that is illegally ‘spoofed’—or shows a faked number—will fail the SHAKEN/STIR Caller ID verification and will not be marked as verified,” the firms explained. “By contrast, verification will confirm that a call is coming from the identified number or entity.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers and regulators have also moved to try to stop the plaguing of robocalls against Americans. Only recently the Federal Communication Commission voted a move to allow carriers to block robocalls by default.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai, who was previously criticized for his commission’s unsuccessful efforts to end the robocall problems, has circulated a declaratory ruling that, if adopted, would allow phone companies and telecommunication carriers to block unwanted phone calls by default. Also, companies could enable consumers to block calls, not on their contact list.

Furthermore, the Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would propose a safe harbor for providers that implement network-wide blocking of calls that fail caller authentication under the SHAKEN/STIR framework once it is implemented.

“Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls. By making it clear that such call blocking is allowed, the FCC will give voice service providers the legal certainty they need to block unwanted calls from the outset so that consumers never have to get them,” said Chairman Pai.“And, if this decision is adopted, I strongly encourage carriers to begin providing these services by default—for free—to their current and future customers. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting this latest attack on unwanted robocalls and spoofing.”

A consumer tech and cybersecurity journalist who does content marketing while daydreaming about having unlimited coffee for life and getting a pet llama.

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Israeli Researchers Test Drug That Starves Pancreatic Cancer Cells To Death

Isreali researchers believe that CPI-613 can effectively help expedite the process of curing pancreatic cancer of patients.

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Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Reimagining a conventional way of attacking cancer is Rafael Pharmaceuticals’ idea of aiding a more immediate way of treating patients with pancreatic cancer, which is one of the most leading causes of death from cancer in the world.

Israeli researchers from Rafael Pharmaceuticals launched a phase III clinical trial on Thursday for pancreatic cancer at eight sites throughout Israel, which the company sees as a breakthrough for the drug that they are developing.

Rafael Pharmaceuticals is a leader in the growing field of cancer metabolism-based therapeutics. Supplementarily, their approach to helping expedite the process of extinguishing pancreatic cancer from patients is to starve the cancer cells to death with the help of other existing medical solutions.

Meanwhile, the concept of starving cancer cells has been a long tried approach to attack the problem from the root—starve them enough to prevent them from dividing and cause eventual cell death. However, previous attempts have continuously failed to show much promise that proves it to become an effective track to follow.

As an effort, Rafael Pharmaceuticals is looking at a drug called CPI-613, which activates two key tricarboxylic acids (TCA) cycle enzymes called Pyruvate dehydrogenase and alpha-Ketoglutaric dehydrogenase. Particularly, these TCA cycle enzymes are responsible for signaling cells to release stored energy.

Basically, CPI-613 mimics the processes of chemical reactions performed by the two mentioned above TCA cycle enzymes. But specific to the drug, it “feeds misinformation to these regulatory elements, making them feel that there is too much carbon flow” and signal cancer cells to release stored energy. Essentially, the cells eventually die or weakened as a result.

Tim Pardee, Rafael’s Chief Medical Officer, also noted that the drug also offers many benefits: “[CPI-613] simultaneously inhibits both complexes so tumor cells that are primarily driven by glucose cannot utilize glucose in the TCA cycle. Tumor cells that are primarily driven by glutamine usage cannot use glutamine-derived carbons in the TCA cycle. And, importantly, tumors cannot switch from one source to the other in the presence of CPI-613.”

In other words, one benefit with their drug is that cancer cells cannot utilize their primary source of energy, such as glucose, to grow and replicate because CPI-613 feeds them information that there is already an abundance of which. While the second benefit is that for the cells to develop resistance to the drug is unlikely, and the third, the drug is highly selective; thus, it will hardly cause significant damage to healthy cells.

Pardee adds that CPI-613 combined with other existing treatments such as chemotherapy can effectively expedite the process of curing pancreatic cancer, at least that is what their clinical trial is trying to prove.

As of the moment, the researchers are looking to perform phase III on a group that they are calling the AVENGER 500, where the first 250 people diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer will be administered CPI-613 with a chemotherapy combination of fluorouracil, leucovorin, irinotecan, and oxaliplatin, called FOLFIRINOX. Meanwhile, the next 250 will only receive chemotherapy treatment.

If the theory serves right, the pharmaceutical company will yield positive results by September 2020, and the company will be able to apply and receive expedited approval by the FDA. If not, he said that the earliest the drug would be on the market from this trial would be October 2021.

The trial kicked off at eight hospitals throughout the country, including Hillel Yaffe Medical Center, Yitzhak Shamir Medical Center, Soroka Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center, Rambam Health Care Campus, Laniado Hospital, Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

In particular with pancreatic cancer, it is the 12th most common cancer worldwide, with 458,918 new cases in 2018 alone. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and accounts for 7% of all cancer deaths, according to Cancer.Net.

Furthermore, the problematic thing about pancreatic cancer is that it is hard to detect early on, so researchers are hell-bent into finding solutions for the disease when it is already in its late stages, or it is already too late to administer early-on medical treatments.

Thus, the five-year survival rate for people with pancreatic cancer is 9%. For the 52% of people who are diagnosed after cancer has spread, the 5-year survival rate is 3%, Cancer.Net says.

“Every day, more than 1,200 people around the world receive a pancreatic cancer diagnosis, and our trial brings hope as the only Phase 3 clinical trial in metastatic pancreatic cancer,” said Sanjeev Luther, President and Chief Executive Officer of Rafael Pharmaceuticals. “The expansion of our trial into Israel is the first step in bringing our commitment to developing treatments for patients with significant unmet medical needs to a global level.”

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Global Health Emergency: Ebola Outbreak In Congo

The Ebola epidemic in Congo is now being considered as a global health emergency after it spilled over to nearby country, Uganda, and a case confirmed in Goma.

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DFID - UK | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The World Health Organization announced Wednesday that the deadly Ebola virus is now an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ebola is now a global health emergency after the confirmation of another case in Goma.

The WHO announcement of a global health emergency in Congo is the fifth declaration in history. Previous emergencies were declared for the devastating 2014-16 Ebola outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,000 people, the emergence of Zika in the Americas, the swine flu pandemic and polio.

Meanwhile, Goma is one of the most populated cities in the country, with a population of more than two million people. Goma sits just south of the epicenter of the outbreak, near the border with Rwanda. More particularly, Goma is in a regional crossroads in northeastern Congo on the Rwandan border and also has an International airport.

More than 1,600 people have died since August. Last month, the outbreak spilled across the Congo border for the first time when a family brought the virus into Uganda after attending the burial of an infected relative. There were also reports that a Congolese fish trader died from Ebola after traveling to Uganda and back.

However, the outbreak in Congo has been ongoing for almost a year, with 2,418 confirmed cases and 1,676 deaths. The WHO estimates 12 new cases are reported daily, making the situation the second deadliest Ebola epidemic ever.

In relation, the WHO only defines a global emergency as an “extraordinary event” that constitutes a risk to other countries and requires a coordinated international response. But a WHO expert committee declined on three previous occasions to advise the United Nations health agency to make the declaration for this outbreak, even though experts say it has long met the required conditions.

Although a global health emergency declaration significantly raises more awareness about the severity of the issue in Congo and can bring in more financial, technical, and medical support from nearby countries, it also raises apprehension and fear from an already tense country.

Congo is currently considered as a hostile area with armed rebels plaguing the country. The WHO reports there have been almost 200 attacks against health care workers and patients since January.

“The assassination of two Ebola workers demonstrates the continued risk to responders due to the security situation,” WHO emergency committee chair, Robert Steffen said.

Other than armed militia groups, mitigating the Ebola epidemic also faces another challenge regarding apprehension and raised fear from other countries that often result in borders closing and trade restrictions to and from affected countries.

Consequently, the declaration becomes counterproductive — as medical supplies and other valuable resources will be challenging getting to and from Congo in particular. Hence, the primary reasons why the WHO responded late regarding the global health emergency declaration.

Along with the declaration, the WHO adviced that countries should not close any borders. As of the moment, the WHO believes that the risk of the virus spreading beyond the region remains low.

“Our risk assessment remains that the risk of Ebola spread in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the region remains very high, and the risk of spread outside the region remains low,” WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said after the announcement in Geneva that the international emergency “should not be used to stigmatize or penalize the very people who are most in need of our help.”

Ebola Virus | NIAID
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The Ebola virus is spread through contact with blood and other bodily fluids. It can cause massive internal bleeding, vomiting, diarrhea, and death. An outbreak often starts with a “spillover event,” meaning the virus is transmitted from an animal — usually, a fruit bat or monkey — to a human. Then, the virus can spread from person to person.

There is no cure for Ebola right now, and doctors can only use supportive fluids and electrolytes to help counter the side effects of high fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Fortunately, the West Africa outbreak spurred work toward a safe and highly effective Ebola vaccine that is being used to combat the spread of the virus, especially to health care workers and anybody who gets in contact with an infected person.

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Sexually Transmitted Disease ‘Syphilis’ Highest In Alberta Since 1948

Syphilis cases in Alberta jump at 1,546 cases in 2018, a sharp increase from 2014’s 161 cases, making it a provincial outbreak.

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Yale Rosen | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

A total of 1,546 cases of infectious syphilis has been reported in 2018, according to a report published by the Alberta government, making it the highest number recorded since 1948. The numbers have prompted the province’s chief medical officer of health to declare a provincial outbreak.

Furthermore, the medical team from Alberta reported that the 2018 statistics is a sharp increase since there were only 161 cases back in 2014.

“This is not just a small fluctuation; this is a significant change in a single year. And it’s getting worse. We’re expecting even higher rates in 2019,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference Tuesday to address the outbreak.

In the Central Zone, there were 88 cases of syphilis in 2018, an increase of 266.7 percent compared to 2017.

Meanwhile, in the Edmonton area, there were a staggering 977 reported cases of infectious syphilis in 2018, an increase of 305 percent compared to 2017, which officers also deem as the center of the outbreak comprising over half of the total reported cases in the province, according to Alberta Health.

“It is vitally important that everyone who is sexually active in Alberta take responsibility for having safer sex and get tested, especially if you have new or multiple partners,” said Dr. Laura McDougall, senior medical officer of health at Alberta Health Services.

Planned Parenthood defines syphilis as a prevalent sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, it can spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Syphilis causes sores on your genitals called chancres, in which is the disease’s way of transmission to an uninfected individual. The lesions are usually painless, but they can quickly spread the infection to other people.

Mainly, syphilis is a disease that is easily treated. In specific, primary and secondary syphilis are easy to manage with a penicillin injection. Penicillin is one of the most widely used antibiotics and is usually effective in treating syphilis. For people who are allergic to penicillin, a different medicine such as doxycycline can be administered. However, infectious syphilis that is remained untreated can lead to serious long-term health complications.

Another risk factor that people should watch out for is congenital syphilis. This can occur when a child is born to a mother with syphilis, which can result in severe, disabling, and life-threatening disease for the child.

While congenital syphilis cases were rare before the outbreak, there were 22 congenital syphilis cases between 2014 and 2018, one of which was stillborn. Of those, 13 were reported in the Edmonton area, eight in 2018 alone.

“We need to emphasize for all Albertans: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a risk to anyone [who is] sexually active, particularly people who have new sex partners and are not using protection,” said Hinshaw.

For syphilis, there are not always symptoms in the early stages; it can present as a painless ulcer, progress to general symptoms like a fever, and even lead to eye problems or dementia in late stages. That is why, if there is the slightest doubt that a person is infected, it is always wise to visit a doctor and get a test.

“Sexual health is an important part of overall health,” said Dr. Laura McDougall, said. “We are working with community partners to remove the stigma and increase awareness about STI testing services throughout Alberta. If you are sexually active, make regular STI testing part of your health routine.”

In general, young people between the ages of 15 to 29 are most at risk, but all ages are represented in rates of reported cases, said Hinshaw. Common challenges such as homelessness could also be risk factors, but the stigma following a positive test result for STI is also another problem that Alberta Health has noted.

As of the moment, a provincial outbreak coordination committee composed of Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other rural health officials has been activated. The province says that over the next three months, the committee will develop a coordinated strategy and determine concrete actions to increase STI testing, promote public awareness and reduce the overall number of syphilis cases in Alberta.

“This is a trend that [we see] across Canada and the world. The question of exactly why – there’s not one single factor. When an infection gets into a network of people, it can spread quite quickly. It’s hard to understand why it is higher at the moment in Edmonton and the north than in Calgary,” said Hinshaw.

Health officials say correct and consistent condom use is essential in protecting against STIs. Health experts recommend sexually active people, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation, get tested every three to six months if they:

  • Have a sexual partner with a known STI
  • Have a new sexual partner or multiple or anonymous sexual partners
  • Have the previous history of an STI diagnosis
  • Have been sexually assaulted

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