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Health Highlights: May 18, 2015

WHO Creating $100 Million Emergency Fund For Health Emergencies Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Geckos Rapidly Expanding Stem Cell Industry in U.S. a 'Wild West'

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

WHO Creating $100 Million Emergency Fund For Health Emergencies

A $100 million emergency fund is being created by the World Health Organization to deal with health emergencies such as the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The WHO was overwhelmed by that outbreak because the demands place on the agency were more than 10 times greater than anything it had faced in its history, according to Director General Margaret Chan, BBC News reported.

Speaking at the WHO's annual meeting in Geneva, Chan announced the creation of a new "unified" program to deal with major health crises.

"I do not ever again want to see this organisation faced with a situation it is not prepared, staffed, funded, or administratively set up to manage," she said. "I plan to complete these changes by the end of the year."

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa was first reported in March 2014 and it's believed that more than 11,000 people have died so far, BBC News reported.


Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Pet Geckos

Pet geckos have been linked to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened 20 people in 16 states since Jan. 1, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The patients, ages 1 to 57 years, were infected with the same strain of salmonella. Three have been hospitalized, ABC News reported.

Eleven of the patients said they had pet geckos, which are known carriers of salmonella.

Reptiles infected with salmonella don't show any symptoms, according to infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

"Salmonella has the extraordinary capacity to infect not only mammals and chickens and fowl but also reptiles," Schaffner told ABC News. The bacteria "can create long-standing infections in reptiles."

He said salmonella bacteria can be excreted by reptiles and owners can be infected if they handle the pet and then touch their face or mouth. Owners should always wash their hands after holding these pets.


Rapidly Expanding Stem Cell Industry in U.S. a 'Wild West'

The lack of government control over the rapidly expanding stem cell industry in the United States has some experts concerned.

Despite little evidence of safety or effectiveness, more than 170 clinics nationwide offer experimental stem cell procedures for dozens of disorders, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors are treating patients with experimental stem cell therapies that could take years, or even decades, to be developed into treatments proven to be safe and effective, according to academic stem cell researchers.

"It's sort of this 21st century cutting-edge technology. But the way it's being implemented at these clinics and how it's regulated is more like the 19th century. It's a Wild West," Dr. Paul Knoepfler, a stem cell researcher at the University of California at Davis, told the AP.

In 2010, only a few doctors marketed stem cell therapy in the U.S., mainly cosmetic procedures. Now, clinics across the country offer stem cell therapy for disorders ranging from hair loss and erectile dysfunction to arthritis and Alzheimer's disease, with costs ranging from $5,000 to $20,000.

Many clinics are associated with large, for-profit chains that doctors join after taking a seminar and buying some equipment, the AP reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's authority to regulate stem cell procedures is unclear, but the agency appears to be preparing to increase its oversight. Late last year, the FDA released draft guidelines targeting a popular fat-based stem cell technique.

However, many doctors who offer stem cell treatments say they don't require FDA permission because they are performing in-office surgical procedures, not creating drugs, the AP reported.

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