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Latest News: Ebola has killed 61 in Guinea since January

The Ebola virus has claimed 61 lives in Guinea out of 109 laboratory-confirmed cases since January, the government said Saturday.

They were among 197 suspect cases recorded in the impoverished west African country.

"From now on, biological analysis can be done more quickly, and the toll will no longer include any non-confirmed cases," government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said in a statement.

Gueckedou, a town in the south of the country which has suffered one of the largest outbreaks, has seen 34 deaths out of 58 confirmed cases. In the capital Conakry, with 36 confirmed cases, 15 people have died.

On Thursday the World Health Organization said there had been 101 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola in the former French colony, and 56 deaths. Some 24 health-care workers have contracted the virus, 13 of whom have died.

The virus has crossed into neighbouring Liberia, where the government has laboratory confirmation of six cases. The health ministry is investigating 27 cases of haemorrhagic fever, and 13 deaths, to establish whether the victims had contracted Ebola.

There is no vaccine or cure for Ebola, which can be caught from handling the blood or the bodily fluids of sick or dead forest animals.

The virus can easily spread among humans through contact with infected blood, bodily fluids and tissue, and can be stopped only by isolating suspected cases in ultra-clean conditions and quarantining those who have been in contact with them.

A study published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine said that the Guinea epidemic involves a new strain of the virus, which could possibly have been transmitted by fruit bats.

Latest News: Russia's PM says government has funds to honour social spending pledges

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia's government has enough resources honour all its social spending pledges although this will not be easy, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was quoted as telling the country's president on Saturday as tensions over Crimea add to Moscow's economic ills.

On returning to office in 2012, President Vladimir Putin promulgated 'May decrees' that included promises to double pay for teachers and doctors by the end of his six-year term.

Analysts from Moscow's Higher School of Economics have said the additional social spending would require 700 billion roubles $20 billion (11.89 billion pounds), or between 1.2 and 1.3 percent a year of the $2.1 trillion-strong Russian economy.

But the economy faces new strains, including those arising from international friction and extra budget spending associated with the annexation of Crimea last month.

"We have the resources to fulfil all the social obligations, although the obligations are hard (to implement)," Medvedev told Putin, according to Interfax news agency.

On Tuesday, the government more than halved its economic growth forecast for 2014. Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach said then that even a new "base case" scenario of 1.1 percent growth would be unattainable without extra spending, requiring "modification" of the budget rule.

Russian budget rules limit government borrowing to 1 percent of output and link spending to the long-term oil price.

During Putin's first two terms as president, the economy clocked up annual growth rates of about 7 percent due to a boom in oil prices, while easy monetary conditions flooded emerging markets with cheap investment dollars.

That ended with the global financial crash of 2008 and, with the government now relying on current oil prices of more than $100 per barrel to balance its books, consumer spending is the main additional factor that is keeping the economy ticking over.

Medvedev said on Saturday the government had managed to keep the Russia's economy growing despite pressure from the problems in the global economy.

Putin has said that costs of subsidising programmes related to Crimea would not exceed 100 billion roubles this year.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Anthony Barker)

Latest News: Health care site flagged in Heartbleed review

WASHINGTON (AP) — People who have accounts on the enrollment website for President Barack Obama's signature health care law are being told to change their passwords following an administration-wide review of the government's vulnerability to the confounding Heartbleed Internet security flaw.

Senior administration officials said there is no indication that the HealthCare.gov site has been compromised and the action is being taken out of an abundance of caution. The government's Heartbleed review is ongoing, the officials said, and users of other websites may also be told to change their passwords in the coming days, including those with accounts on the popular WhiteHouse.gov petitions page.

The Heartbleed programming flaw has caused major security concerns across the Internet and affected a widely used encryption technology that was designed to protect online accounts. Major Internet services have been working to insulate themselves against the problem and are also recommending that users change their website passwords.

Officials said the administration was prioritizing its analysis of websites with heavy traffic and the most sensitive user information. A message that will be posted on the health care website starting Saturday reads: "While there's no indication that any personal information has ever been at risk, we have taken steps to address Heartbleed issues and reset consumers' passwords out of an abundance of caution."

The health care website became a prime target for critics of the Obamacare law last fall when the opening of the insurance enrollment period revealed widespread flaws in the online system. Critics have also raised concerns about potential security vulnerabilities on a site where users input large amounts of personal data.

The website troubles were largely fixed during the second month of enrollment and sign-ups ultimately surpassed initial expectations. Obama announced this week that about 8 million people had enrolled in the insurance plans.

The full extent of the damage caused by the Heartbleed is unknown. The security hole exists on a vast number of the Internet's Web servers and went undetected for more than two years. Although it's conceivable that the flaw was never discovered by hackers, it's difficult to tell.

The White House has said the federal government was not aware of the Heartbleed vulnerability until it was made public in a private sector cybersecurity report earlier this month. The federal government relies on the encryption technology that is impacted — OpenSSL — to protect the privacy of users of government websites and other online services.

The Homeland Security Department has been leading the review of the government's potential vulnerabilities. The Internal Revenue Service, a widely used website with massive amounts of personal data on Americans, has already said it was not impacted by Heartbleed.

"We will continue to focus on this issue until government agencies have mitigated the vulnerability in their systems," Phyllis Schneck, DHS deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications, wrote in a blog post on the agenda website. "And we will continue to adapt our response if we learn about additional issues created by the vulnerability."

Officials wouldn't say how government websites they expect to flag as part of the Heartbleed security review, but said it's likely to be a limited number. The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the security review by name.

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Follow Julie Pace at https://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Latest News: Philippines boosts MERS monitoring after UAE nurse scare

The Philippines said Saturday it was stepping up its defences against the deadly MERS virus, with the large numbers of Filipino workers in the Middle East seen as potential carriers.

"It is important that families, friends and members of their local communities fully understand all that must be known about the MERS coronavirus," Health Secretary Enrique Ona told a news conference.

A male Filipino nurse who had tested positive for the MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus in the United Arab Emirates returned to the Philippines on Tuesday, according to the health department.

The man was later tracked down and quarantined, along with relatives who picked him up at Manila airport, as part of the increased monitoring procedures, but all of them were subsequently found to be free of the virus, Ona said.

Health authorities were continuing to track the rest of the 418 passengers on the same Etihad Airways flight, including 45 foreigners, so they could also be tested, he added.

The virus has a two-week incubation period, so all those passengers "are still deemed to be at risk", Ona said.

A total of 119 passengers had so far been contacted by the health department, and all 40 who were tested yielded negative results, Ona said.

While the World Health Organization has not declared a MERS epidemic, the Philippines has stepped up monitoring as it has a large number of workers in the Middle East, many of whom work in Saudi Arabia and the UAE which have both reported cases.

Ona said Filipinos travelling to and from their work in the region were being warned of the dangers of the virus and advised to seek immediate attention if they have any symptoms.

They are part of an army of up to 10 million Filipinos, about 10 percent of the population, who have left the country to escape widespread poverty and unemployment in the Philippines.

Lyndon Leesuy, the health department's programme manager for emerging diseases, said all air travellers who exhibit symptoms at Philippine airports would be required to undergo testing for the virus as part of the "active surveillance" status.

The MERS virus is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

President Benigno Aquino has ordered the health department to "create a heightened awareness among our people and prevent the spread of this communicable disease", Ona said.

Latest News: Gunmen kidnap two Pakistani U.N. staff members from Karachi

By Syed Raza Hassan

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Gunmen have kidnapped two men working for the U.N. Children's Fund from Pakistan's southern city of Karachi, police said Saturday.

The two Pakistani men were on their way to a bus terminal to pick up some relatives when they were taken, the police official said. The men were taken on Thursday night, he said.

So far, no ransom call had been received, he said, and it was unclear who was holding the men. The police officer asked not to be named since he was not authorized to speak to the media.

A spokeswoman for the U.N. Children's Fund, also known as UNICEF, was not available to comment.

The port city of Karachi is Pakistan's financial heart and home to 18 million people. Many neighbourhoods are considered Taliban strongholds, including the area of Shorab Goth, which is near where the men were taken.

In February, gunmen kidnapped three Pakistani men working for the U.N.'s World Health Organization in the north-western town of Tank. They are still being held.

Pakistan is plagued by kidnapping gangs. Foreigners and wealthy Pakistanis are frequently targeted and kidnappings are reported on a near-daily basis.

Current hostages include an American aid worker, the son of a former prime minister, the son of a former provincial governor, and many professionals such as doctors and lawyers.

Militant groups such as the Taliban often use such kidnappings to raise money for their insurgency.

The Taliban have been fighting for years to overthrow the democratically elected government and impose strict Islamic law on the country of 180 million people.

(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Latest News: VIDEO: Buttock silicone injections 'lethal'

Looking good can be bad for your health - at least when you go to extreme lengths to achieve it.

Venezuelan women have died pursuing their ideal body shape, after undergoing a dangerous cosmetic procedure where liquid silicone is injected directly into the buttocks.

An estimated 30% of women between 18 and 50 have had the injections, which were banned in 2012.

Irene Caselli reports from the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

More from Health Check

Latest News: Health and safety cases ridiculed

A Government minister has written to schools and councils to highlight a spate of "ridiculous" health and safety excuses including a ban on girls wearing frilly socks and refusal to clear up dog mess in a playground.

Health and safety minister Mike Penning said the law was being misused, which had led to a series of complaints from members of the public.

Recent cases ranged from a school in Hampshire not allowing a pupil to bring in a baby chick for a presentation due to concerns about bird flu, to a local council in Scotland banning dog shows from community halls.

Mr Penning said: "Health and safety has long been used as a smokescreen by jobsworths who have little knowledge of the law and who want to fob people off with an easy excuse."

Judith Hackitt, who chairs the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), said: "I would urge all decision makers to take a step back and ask themselves whether a decision made in the name of health and safety, is actually just an excuse for something else.

"Real health and safety is about protecting people in the workplace from life and health threatening risks - it is not about stopping a child taking a baby chick into school, or banning indoor dog training.

"Own up to the real reasons behind the decision, don't just reach for the easiest excuse."

Almost 300 people have contacted a myth buster panel set up by the HSE two years ago, giving examples of "bizarre" mis-interpretation of health and safety law.

Other cases included a school in Gloucester stopping girls wearing frilly socks for fear of them tripping over, and a council near Manchester preventing loose flowers and pots being placed on graves.

Latest News: Second wave of milder flu hitting Northeast

NEW YORK (AP) — A second, milder wave of flu is hitting the Northeast.

Months ago, the flu season seemed to be winding down. But health officials on Friday reported widespread flu-like illnesses in six states. Rhode Island is the latest to join the list which includes Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New Jersey and New York.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the flu season started in December and peaked by mid-January, and most of the illnesses were swine flu.

But, as happens some years, there's a second wave of a milder flu strain.

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Online:

CDC report: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/summary.htm

Latest News: APNewsBreak: Medicaid paid $12M for Illinois dead

CHICAGO (AP) — An internal state government memo says auditors have found the Illinois Medicaid program has paid an estimated $12 million for medical services for people listed as deceased in other state records.

The Associated Press obtained the memo through a Freedom of Information Act request. The memo, dated Friday, says the state auditor compared clients enrolled in the Medicaid database with state death records dating back to 1970. Auditors identified overpayments for services to roughly 2,900 people after the date of their deaths.

The heads of the departments of Healthcare and Family Services and Human Services outline steps to fix the problem in the memo to their senior staffs.

The memo states that more than $7 million has been recovered and the rest is expected to be recouped by year's end.

Latest News: Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury

NEW YORK (AP) — About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body of research documenting head trauma among young offenders.

Experts say the findings, published this week in The Journal of Adolescent Health, could lead to better training for correction officers on how to deal with the possible symptoms of such trauma, which include problems with impulse control and decision-making.

"You need to train the correction officers to understand brain injuries so that when somebody may be acting rude or answering back or forgetting what they're supposed to do, it's not a sign of maladaptive misbehavior or disrespect, it's a sign of a brain injury," said Wayne Gordon, a brain injury expert at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital.

The peer-reviewed study was based on medical brain injury questionnaires given to 300 boys and 84 girls inside the nation's second-largest jail system in 2012.

The study found nearly 50 percent of both boys and girls reported traumatic brain injuries that resulted in a loss of consciousness, amnesia or both. And they said 55 percent of those injuries were caused by assaults.

Previous studies show the rate of traumatic brain injury among adolescents who aren't incarcerated is about 15 to 30 percent, said Dr. Homer Venters, an assistant health commissioner in New York City and one of the study's authors.

Brain injuries are often undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because people with them don't necessarily show obvious, immediate signs of injury. But research about them has increased in recent years, as combat veterans and children who play contact sports have displayed symptoms, experts said.

A growing body of research shows that inmates whose brains have been jolted by trauma are linked to higher rates of breaking jailhouse rules, substance abuse and greater difficulty re-entering society after detention, said John D. Corrigan, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State University and a national expert on head injuries.

"What's happening with many of these kids, these young adults in the criminal population, is they're having them early in life," and their consequences aren't noticed until later, he said.

An estimated 60 percent of adult prisoners have a brain injury, according to a study of prisoners in South Carolina. Not all correction departments screen inmates for the injury — a practice public health officials say should change.

Juvenile justice centers in Texas and Virginia have started to study rates of traumatic brain injury and its impact on young offenders, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

And in the United Kingdom, a national campaign on the issue has resulted in a commission that found almost two-thirds of young inmates suffered from head trauma, which University of Exeter researchers found in 2010 is associated with earlier, repeated and more time spent in custody.

Nearly 4,000 adolescent inmates were admitted into custody on Rikers Island in 2013 and about half return within a year of being discharged, the city Department of Correction said.

"This study provides valuable insight about adolescent behavior," a DOC spokesman said in a statement. "We look forward to working with our partners to develop new tools to meet the needs of adolescents who we know are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system."

Latest News: Vietnam battles fatal measles outbreak

Vietnam is scrambling to contain a deadly outbreak of measles that has killed more than 100 people, mostly young children, and infected thousands more this year, the government said Friday.

At least 112 people -- the majority of them under 10 years old -- have died of the disease so far in 2014, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

It warned that the number of deaths could rise because of cross infections, bad weather and overcrowding at pediatrics hospitals in major cities where panicked parents are bringing their infected children.

Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Wednesday called for authorities to be more "active" in preventing the spread of the disease.

The authorities are providing vaccines, stepping up surveillance of the disease and urging parents to seek treatment locally instead of at pediatric hospitals whose patients are vulnerable to infection.

World Health Organisation representative Takeshi Kasai said he was "very concerned" about the outbreak.

"This virus is very infectious and difficult to control," he told AFP, adding that the best way to contain the disease was to encourage people to be vaccinated.

Vietnam has high rates of vaccinations for many early childhood diseases including measles, but may be falling victim to its own success as some parents -- particularly those who have read scare stories about vaccination side effects -- see less risk from leaving their children uninoculated.

Nguyen Hoa Lan, 38, said both her son and daughter -- aged 10 and 7 -- have become infected with measles in the last week.

"I am worried as I only vaccinated my daughter once... I forgot the second vaccination. But also because of scandals and rumour with the vaccination, I decided to skip it. Now it makes me worried," she told AFP.

"I can only pray that things will be ok."

Measles, a highly contagious viral disease which is particularly deadly for young children, claimed some 122,000 lives globally in 2012, the most recent year for which global figures are available, according to the WHO.

Back in 2000, the toll was a stark 562,000.

The measles vaccination is not particularly effective for children under nine months, the WHO said, so societies need to ensure high rates of vaccination among older children to boost overall immunity of the population.

Latest News: Foreigner dies of MERS in Saudi

A foreigner has died after she contracted MERS in the Saudi capital, the health ministry said on announced Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 73.

The 55-year-old woman, whose nationality was not disclosed, was suffering from chronic illnesses, a statement said.

The health ministry said five other people living in Riyadh were infected with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, two of them foreigners.

Late on Thursday, the ministry reported the death of a 70-year-old Saudi woman in the western city of Jeddah where the virus has spread in recent weeks.

It reported six other infections in Jeddah, among them an expat "health worker," bringing to 218 the number of MERS infections in the worst-hit country.

Panic over the spread of MERS among medical staff in Jeddah this month forced the temporary closure of an emergency room at a major hospital, prompting Health Minister Abdullah al-Rabiah to visit the facility in a bid to calm the public.

Local media reported Wednesday at least four doctors at Jeddah's King Fahd hospital have resigned after refusing to treat patients affected by MERS, apparently out of fear of catching the virus.

The MERS virus was initially concentrated in the eastern region of Saudi Arabia but has now spread across other areas.

The World Health Organisation said Thursday it had been told of 243 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infection worldwide, of which 93 have proved fatal.

Malaysia announced the first MERS death Sunday in the country of a man who had developed a fever, cough and breathing difficulties after returning from a pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca on March 29.

The case prompted Malaysian authorities to quarantine 64 people in the dead man's village.

The MERS virus is considered a deadlier but less-transmissible cousin of the SARS virus that erupted in Asia in 2003 and infected 8,273 people, nine percent of whom died.

Experts are still struggling to understand MERS, for which there is no known vaccine.

A recent study said the virus has been "extraordinarily common" in camels for at least 20 years, and may have been passed directly from the animals to humans.

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