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WHO says 1.1 billion young people at risk of hearing loss



• Urges mass vaccination against measles

• Scientists plan first human head transplant 

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that some 1.1 billion teenagers and young adults are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices, including smartphones, and exposure to damaging levels of sound at noisy entertainment venues such as nightclubs, bars and sporting events.    

  Until now, hearing loss has been shown to have potentially devastating consequences for physical and mental health, education and employment.

  According to a statement published Sunday by WHO, data from studies in middle- and high-income countries analysed by the apex UN body indicate that among teenagers and young adults aged 12 to 35 years, nearly 50 per cent are exposed to unsafe levels of sound from the use of personal audio devices and around 40 per cent are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues. Unsafe levels of sounds can be, for example, exposure to excess of 85 decibles (dB) for eight hours or 100dB for 15 minutes.

    Also, the WHO Regional Office for Europe calls on policy-makers, health care workers and parents to immediately step up vaccination against measles across age groups at risk. This will help to put an end to the outbreaks occurring in countries in the WHO European Region and to prevent similar outbreaks in the future.

    WHO, in a statement yesterday, said seven countries in the region have reported 22 567 cases of measles in 2014 and thus far in 2015. “This threatens the Region’s goal of eliminating the disease by the end of 2015. Even though measles cases fell by 50 per cent from 2013 to 2014, large outbreaks continue,” it reads.

  Also, WHO has warned that the world remains highly vulnerable to a possible severe flu pandemic and governments should increase surveillance, vigilance and preparedness.

     According to the WHO, the current global influenza situation is characterized by a number of trends that must be closely monitored. These include: an increase in the variety of animal influenza viruses co-circulating and exchanging genetic material, giving rise to novel strains; continuing cases of human H7N9 infections in China; and a recent spurt of human H5N1 cases in Egypt. Changes in the H3N2 seasonal influenza viruses, which have affected the protection conferred by the current vaccine, are also of particular concern.

  The United Nations (UN) health agency warned: “Nothing about influenza is predictable – including where the next pandemic might emerge and which virus might be responsible.” 

  It said the world was fortunate that the last flu pandemic, caused by H1N1 swine flu in 2009/2010, was relatively mild, but added: “Such good fortune is no precedent.”

   In a seven-page report on flu, WHO said that on many levels, the world is better prepared now than ever before for a flu pandemic. The level of alert is high, it said, and there is better surveillance of flu viruses in both animals and humans.

   Meanwhile, an Italian surgeon will at the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopedic Surgeons’ 39th Annual Conference in Annapolis, MD, in June, announce updated plans to conduct the first ever human head transplant, claiming the procedure could happen within the next two years.

    Dr. Sergio Canavero, of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group (TANG) in Italy, believes the revolutionary procedure – named HEAVEN-GEMINI – could save the lives of people with metastatic cancer or muscle-wasting disorders, such as muscular dystrophy.

    Medical News Today first reported on Canavero’s proposal in July 2013. Back then, he noted some challenges for human head transplantation, reconnecting the severed spinal cord, and preventing the immune system from rejecting the head.

     In an editorial recently published in the journal Surgical Neurology International, Canavero says he believes these challenges can now be overcome, noting that recent animal studies have confirmed human head transplantation is “feasible.”

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