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Adene Sanchez/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Those first few photos after the birth of a child are usually beautiful: Mom and baby's first meeting, a shot with dad and baby's siblings.

But the story behind the smiling photos is sometimes not so picture perfect. One mom's Instagram post about the pain she experienced postpartum is as real as it gets.

"It hurts to use the restroom," Luci Wormell, a mom of three from San Tan Valley, Arizona, wrote. "It hurts to walk less than a few feet away. It hurts because of the contractions that are still there even after your baby is out. It hurts and it’s so painful. And sometimes you feel like you have to hide all of that hurt so people don’t misunderstand and think you’re ungrateful."

Wormell told ABC's Good Morning America that the picture was taken the day she was to be discharged from the hospital. And that, that even though the photo wasn't "pretty," she thought to herself: "I want to document this.”

"After I took a shower that morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and almost didn’t recognize myself. I looked beat-up," said Wormell.

She is grateful for her three-week-old baby, Emmett and her two other children Owen, 3 and Chloe, 2. But Emmet's delivery was hard, she told GMA, harder than the other two.

"Everything about the pregnancy was different," she said. "The minutes and hours after I delivered felt different. I was in a lot of physical pain compared to my other two births. People kept telling me, 'the more kids you have the worst it gets,' and oh boy, it is so true. The contractions while breastfeeding was the absolute worst."

Wormell posted the photo to Instagram, she said, to let other moms know "they are not alone. Those first few days are hard. And there’s going to be a lot of unexplained tears, that’s okay. Let them all out. Take all the time you need to heal and take it easy. Ask for help, don’t let your pride get in the way of asking for help and being vulnerable."

The comments on the post were full of gratitude.

"I felt honored that people felt safe and comforted in reaching out to me who is a random stranger on the internet," she said. "It’s been three weeks since that post and I still receive messages daily. I know not everyone’s birth experience and postpartum recovery will be the same but I believe a majority of women can raise their hand and say, 'I am so grateful for my child but it wasn’t easy.”'

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(Courtesy Christine Shepherd) Christine Shepherd took a DNA test to test her health history and found her birth father and three sisters. (NEW YORK) -- A California woman who never knew her parents took a DNA test to learn more about their health history, but came away with the results of a lifetime: a family.

Christine Shepherd, who turns 54 on Saturday, was adopted at birth in 1953 and didn’t know anything about her birth mother, birth father or possible siblings, she told ABC News on Tuesday.

Now, thanks to a 23andMe test, she has met her three sisters and will soon meet her father for the first time.

"I never thought I would find my family … I’ve never had sisters," she said. "I’ve been an only child all my life so to have this wonderful group of women who are so loving and caring is so phenomenal."

Shepherd said she is flying out to Oklahoma from Hanford, California, on Thursday to meet her father, days before she’ll celebrate her 54th birthday.

"For my 54th, I got a full family," she said. "Not many people get that."

It all began back in January 2018, when she took the test to learn about her family’s health history. Her adopted mother had died in 2015 and her adopted father passed in 1994, leaving her without any immediate family to tell her anything they knew. And because she was privately adopted, she could not get information from the state.

About a month after first taking the test, she heard from 23andMe and learned that she had a first cousin on her mother’s side.

The two got in touch and Shepherd soon learned that her first cousin's aunt was Shepherd’s birth mother. Shepherd knew that her birth mother had gone to Vallejo to have the baby and the baby’s father was in the military. Her cousin confirmed to her that was the story he also knew of his aunt.

Shepherd’s mom died 16 years earlier, but she was told that towards the end of her mother’s life she tried to find Shepherd.

"She just wanted to tell me that she loved me," Shepherd said.

In February of this year, Shepherd got another message from the genealogy company, notifying her that there was another relative.

This time, it was on her dad’s side.

The cousin who she was matched with on her dad’s side put her in contact with her three sisters, and they quickly hit it off.

"Everyone has been so welcoming, so loving. That has been something I truly didn’t expect," she said.

She met two of her younger sisters, 53-year-old Kimberly and 50-year-old Cheryl, in her California home and the three spent hours going through old photos and learning about one another.

"We just literally hung out and talked because it was such an easy, seamless situation," Shepherd said. "It was just like three sisters hanging out."

She’s looking forward to meeting her youngest sister, 43-year-old Autumn, when she visits her father, Kendell Fors.

It will also be the first time she celebrates her birthday with her birth family.

"There’s a party and everyone’s going to meet me," she said. "They have family and friends and their church, so apparently it’s a big to do."

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Boyloso/iStock(NEW YORK) -- As the #MeToo era continues to unfold, a new study shows how often the first sexual experience for women is forced or coerced.

One in 16 women reported experiencing forced sexual initiation, usually in their teen years and usually with someone a few years older, according to research published Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

When expanded nationwide, that number totals more than three million women in the U.S., according to the study.

The study’s authors described the experience of forced sexual initiation as rape.

"This data represents reported experiences, which means there many, many more [women] who have also had this experience who may not feel they could disclose it," sexual education expert Elizabeth Schroeder, who was not involved with the study, told Good Morning America. "My guess is the number is much higher."

The study found that women who were forced to have sex during their first sexual encounter were more likely to be younger in age (approximately two years) than women who engaged in consensual intercourse.

My first publication as a fellow was a tough project to complete. 1 in 16 women report rape as their first sexual encounter and this traumatic exposure is associated with a wide range of health consequences.

— Laura Hawks (@_LauraHawks) September 16, 2019

Researchers who conducted the study also found that instances of forced sexual experiences led to lasting health and economic repercussions for many of the women.

Compared with women whose first sexual experience was voluntary, women with forced sexual initiation were more likely to experience an unwanted first pregnancy or an abortion, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease and problems with ovulation or menstruation, according to the study.

Survivors of forced sexual initiation also more frequently reported illicit drug use, resided below the poverty line and had lower levels of education than women who engaged in consensual intercourse, the study said.

The study's researchers based their data on a sample of more than 13,000 women between the ages of 18 and 44.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), an anti-sexual violence organization, defines consent as "an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity."

The organization emphasizes that consent "should happen every time," saying, "Giving consent for one activity, one time, does not mean giving consent for increased or recurring sexual contact."

Consent is something people learn about when they're very young, but the lessons of it often fall aside in later years, according to Schroeder.

"Such messages as 'hands are not for hitting' and 'hands on your own body' are repeated throughout children’s formative years," she said. "The problem is, we stopped teaching those lessons and then failed to connect them to romantic and sexual relationships as kids get older."

Some states are adding information about healthy relationships and consent to their sex education curriculum.

In May, Colorado became the ninth state in the U.S. to require teaching about consent as part of sex education in K-12 schools.

"I wholeheartedly believe we should be teaching more about consent, but at the same time can’t expect that having a few class sessions on consent are sufficient to counteract the toxic masculinity that is pervasive in and valued by the dominant power structure in the US," said Schroeder.

Other experts hope they are seeing a sea change as young people, particularly boys, grow up with different expectations of sexual encounters.

Dr. Harold Koplewicz, a psychiatrist and president of the Child Mind Institute in New York City, told ABC News last year he believes "there's a very big difference between young men who are between 18 and 22 and older men who, let's say, are above 40 years of age. A lot of these guys have grown up with a different sensibility."

"Part of growing up is learning to make informed choices, not to give in to impulsivity," Koplewicz said. "Becoming a man means learning to think about people other than yourself right now -- including how you’ll feel in the future."

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RolfAasa/iStock(EAST LYME, Conn.) -- The first case of eastern equine encephalitis has been confirmed in Connecticut as the virus continues to spread across North America.

The mosquito-borne virus was detected in an adult from the town of East Lyme, who fell ill in August, Connecticut Department of Public Health Commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell announced on Monday. The patient remains hospitalized, according to the release.

The rare virus can cause inflammation in the brain and is potentially deadly. About a third of patients who develop it die, and many who survive end up having mild to severe brain damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"EEE is a rare but serious and potentially fatal disease that can affect people of all ages," Mitchell said in a statement, urging residents to protect themselves from mosquito bites by using insect repellent and covering their skin with clothing.

There have been seven recorded cases of EEE in Massachusetts and three in Michigan, including one patient who died, according to health officials.

In July, health officials in Orange County, Fla., announced an uptick in the virus among sentinel chickens, which show the presence of viruses such as EEE and West Nile but don't develop the symptoms associated with them.

Symptoms of EEE begin about four to 10 days after the bite of an infected mosquito and include a sudden onset of headache, high fever, chills and vomiting that could then progress into disorientation, seizures and coma, according to the CDC.

Typically, about five to 10 cases of EEE are reported in the U.S. annually, according to the CDC.

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dragana991/iStock(SAN FRANCISCO) -- Scientists in California believe they may be on the brink of a medical breakthrough for the common cold.

What did they find?

Research teams at Stanford University and the University of California-San Francisco found that temporarily disabling a single, noncritical protein in cells may halt the replication of viruses that cause half of all common colds, polio and other diseases.

The teams made their discovery in both human cell cultures and in mice.

The same approach of targeting proteins in cells also worked to stop viruses associated with asthma, encephalitis and polio, according to a Stanford Medicine press release.

How does it work?

ABC News' chief medical correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton said the enterovirus, which causes the common cold, can evade targeting which makes it impervious to being disabled.

"So what they did at UCSF and Stanford is they actually targeted the receiver of the virus," she explained.

Stanford University associate professor and senior author of the findings Jan Carette, PhD said, "Traditional anti-viral drugs target the virus itself. But the virus is very smart and it can mutate its way around it. What we do is make the host inhospitable for these viruses. So it's much more difficult for these viruses to mutate around."

Think of it like a lock and key, Ashton said.

"If the lock is actually the cell that gets infected, and the key is the virus, instead of disabling this, they disabled the protein on the cell that is found to be nonessential so that virus cannot infect those cells," Ashton explained.

What does this mean?

While this testing is not yet a cure, scientists would have to develop a drug that blocks that protein in cells. At that point, any drug would need to be tested further.

In the meantime, Dr. Ashton suggested washing hands regularly and sneezing into your arm.

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UPMC Children's Hospital(NEW YORK) -- When Jason and Tara Borofka took their 1-year-old named J.T. in for a checkup when he was 2 months old, the pediatrician said he looked a little pale. The doctor ran a blood test and it showed J.T. had lower levels of iron and hemoglobin -- a blood cell count -- than a typical baby at his age.

They later discovered that J.T. had a type of anemia, which is a shortage of red blood cells.

The Borofkas were referred to another hospital. While there, his parents said J.T.’s hemoglobin blood cell level dropped so much that he needed an emergency blood transfusion.

“At that point, we knew something was really wrong,” Jason Borofka said.

J.T. was then diagnosed with triosephosphate isomerase deficiency, or TPI. It's a rare, inherited gene mutation that causes the deficiency of triosephosphate -- an enzyme-- and leads to the anemia. Doctors only give him two to five more years to live if untreated. But since there is no cure for the disease, even with supportive medical treatments, kids with TPI don’t typically live beyond childhood.

That’s likely because it is extremely rare. So rare, that there are less than 70 cases of it in the world, according to estimates from a doctor who studies TPI.

“Have you ever Googled something and only one page of Google is there?” asked Tara Borofka. “That’s how rare the disease is.”

The symptoms include muscle loss, muscle wasting and irreversible brain damage. Jason Borofka said the panic of searching and looking for help was driving them to the edge.

“In the beginning, it definitely felt like our world was crumbling,” Tara Borofka said. “There was no hope.”

There is believed to be only one doctor who studies TPI. The Borofkas, with the help of Stanford Children’s Health, found him.

And this is where the hope comes in.

Dr. Michael Palladino studies metabolic diseases, including TPI deficiency.

Palladino has been studying it for 16 years. During that time, he said he’s been contacted every 12 to 18 months by parents or a clinician. His patients hail from France, Russia and Italy.

And now, a couple from California.

Because the disease currently lacks a treatment, they don’t have access to anything preventive or curative. One patient, like J.T., is on a diet change. It isn’t proven that it works, but the families understandably want to try anything they can.

“Kids are dying a horrible death of this disease and someone should be studying it,” Palladino said. “Biotech companies aren’t going to pursue it. There’s no profit to be had in it. So it seems like a good thing for an academic to study.”

The Borofkas exchanged texts, calls and emails with Palladino. They even traveled to meet him at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

Now, the clock is on to fund research that could save J.T.’s life. The Borofkas are aggressively fundraising so Palladino can hopefully find a cure. Their goal is to raise about $1.2 million. They have raised about $200,000 so far. They have events scheduled through November to try and reach this goal.

“It’s one event after another,” Tara Borofka said. “We have hockey tournaments coming, bowling tournaments coming, a barn dance coming, paint nights coming.”

They even started a clothing line in honor of J.T. Jason Borofka said they sold more than $10,000 worth of clothes to people all around the country.

“All of that is going right back to [Palladino's] lab," Jason Borofka said. "As much as we can possibly fund and funnel it back here because right now, we truly believe this is our best shot.”

There’s no happy ending yet. But there is something else.

“When we discovered that Michael Palladino could find a treatment and could discover something, you go from being down here to like, ‘Yay!’ you know? It gives us hope," Tara Borofka said.

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Devonyu/iStock(ATLANTA) -- The fight against the record-breaking number of measles cases in the U.S. appears to have had a small victory.

There were no new cases of measles reported from Sept. 6 to 12 in the U.s., the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported Monday, which appears to signal that the spread of the previously eradicated disease is slowing.

This is the first time since the start of 2019 that no new cases were reported, the CDC confirmed to ABC News.

The CDC also noted that there are only two active outbreaks in the country right now, which they describe as areas where there are three or more cases.

Both of the ongoing outbreaks are in New York, with one in Rockland County and the second in Wyoming County.

That means that the sizable outbreak in New York City is over, which the CDC confirmed on Sept. 3. They also noted that the outbreak in El Paso, Texas, ended on Sept. 12.

Monday's update proves that the areas of concern have dropped dramatically, as there were confirmed cases in 31 states throughout the year, which is now down to one.

The month-by-month number of cases shows a clear peak in April, when there were 314 reported cases. That has since dissipated steadily since.

All told, there have been 1,241 cases this year, which is the greatest number of cases in the U.S. since 1992, the CDC reports. The next-highest number of cases in the past decade came in 2014, when there were 667 cases reported.

Of the total number of cases, more than 75 percent were tied to the outbreaks in New York.

The CDC also noted that the ongoing outbreaks in Rockland and Wyoming Counties were linked to travelers who had gone to Israel, Ukraine or the Philippines, where there are large active outbreaks.

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Dr_Microbe/iStock(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- A 10-year-old girl died in a Texas hospital early Monday morning, about a week after she had contracted a rare brain-eating amoeba while swimming in a river.

Lily Mae Avant is now "in the arms of Jesus," her aunt, Loni Yadon, told ABC News in a statement.

"We want everyone to know we appreciate their prayers and love and support," Yadon continued. "Our Lily Mae changed lives and brought unity to a divided nation. It's just like her! She loved everyone, and people felt it even through a TV or Facebook. She taught us so much more than we ever taught her."

Lily spent Labor Day weekend with her family swimming in the Brazos River, which winds through their backyard in Whitney, Texas, a small city near Waco. Soon after, she came down with what seemed like a common viral infection, a headache and fever. But over the following days, she began acting strangely, according to her family.

After becoming incoherent and unresponsive, Lily was flown to Cook Children's Medical Center in Fort Worth last Tuesday. Doctors say she had contracted Naegleria fowleri, a rare but deadly amoeba that lives in warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers and hot springs. The single-celled organism typically infects swimmers by travelling through the nose and into the brain.

The fatality rate for Naegleria fowleri infections is over 97 percent. Only four out of 145 known-infected individuals in the United States have survived since the amoeba was first identified in the 1960s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Lily was given an amoeba-fighting pill and was placed in a medically-induced coma in what became the fight of her life. Lily's family held out hope that she would be the fifth person to survive, but the odds were stacked against her.

"She's a fighter," Lily's stepfather, John Crawson (who the family refers to as Lily's father), told WFAA in an interview Friday night. "She's stronger than anyone I know."

Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, confirmed to ABC News that there was a case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri in a resident of Bosque County, but couldn't provide further details on the patient due to privacy reasons.

"The amoeba, itself, is very common in natural, untreated bodies of water across the southern half of the United States, but the infection is extremely rare," Deusen told ABC News in a statement Monday. "Most years in Texas, we have zero or one case, and this is the first case this year."

It's unknown why only a few people get infected each year while millions who swim in natural bodies of water don't, Deusen said.

"Because the organism is common in lakes and rivers," he added, "we don't recommend people specifically avoid bodies of water where someone has contracted the illness."

Deusen said it's safest to swim in properly chlorinated water, but there are some precautions people can take to reduce the risk of swimming in natural bodies of water:

-Avoid water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater during periods of high water temperature and low water levels.

-Avoid putting your head under the water in hot springs and other untreated thermal waters.

-Hold the nose shut or use nose clips when taking part in water-related activities in bodies of warm freshwater such as lakes, rivers, or hot springs.

-Avoid digging in or stirring up the sediment while taking part in water-related activities in shallow, warm, freshwater areas.

-Use only sterile, distilled or lukewarm previously boiled water for nasal irrigation or sinus flushes.

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FatCamera/iStock(NEW YORK) -- September is Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month. Like many other types of cancer, if caught early, thyroid cancer can be treated.

Although routine screenings for thyroid cancer aren't common, there are ways for patients to self-check their thyroid.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck, which produces hormones that affect every tissue in the body. As a key part of the endocrine system, the thyroid regulates breathing, heart rate, body temperature, muscle control and even mood.

Because of its function, the thyroid is necessary for survival, and patients living without it have to take a hormone-replacement medication such as Synthroid, which replaces the natural hormone needed to live.

The American Cancer Society said thyroid cancer is among the fastest-increasing cancers, estimating that more than 52,000 new cases will be reported this year.

The American Cancer Society also said women are three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer than men.

Dr. Benjamin R. Roman, a surgeon at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told ABC News' Good Morning America what people should know about the symptoms of thyroid cancer.

Roman said that the main symptom to prompt an evaluation for thyroid cancer is a lump in the neck.

"If you look in the mirror and you see a lump in the low part of the neck or you feel a lump when you're swallowing, that's really the most common symptom of a new thyroid cancer," Roman said.

Other symptoms can include pain in the front of the neck, voice hoarseness, trouble swallowing and breathing, and a constant cough.

There are also steps you can take at home to detect a potential thyroid cancer, such as neck check, which Roman demonstrated.

"A growth in the thyroid would be visible if you were looking in the mirror," said Roman, adding, "it would be especially visible if you were swallowing."

The Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association has a guide that shows how you need only a glass of water and a mirror to perform the self-neck check.

"If you discover a lump or bump in your thyroid, it's important that you find experts who can talk to you about this nuance and make sure that the treatment pathway is personalized for you," Roman said.

Thyroid cancer treatment can include surgery, radioactive iodine, external beam radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and thyroid hormone therapy.

Although most thyroid cancers are treatable when caught early, the Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association said there's a 30% chance of it recurring, and monitoring should continue for a patient's lifetime.

If a patient's thyroid gland is removed, that person will need daily medication for the reason of for their life. Patients who undergo surgery also may be left with a scar across their neck, a visible reminder of their cancer journey.

For more information on types of thyroid cancer, treatment and resources visit the Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association.

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Courtesy Kayla Land(PORTLAND, Ore.) -- Khloe Land, of Coos Bay, Oregon, has been nicknamed "the superhero" by her family -- and for good reason.

The 4-year-old is scheduled to donate bone marrow Monday to her younger brother, Colton, who was born without an immune system.

Khloe's bone marrow was a "perfect match" for her brother, according to Dr. Evan Shereck, who is leading the transplant Monday at OHSU Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Oregon.

The likelihood of a sibling being a perfect match for a bone marrow donation is only about 25%, according to Shereck.

"He's incredibly lucky to have had a matched sibling," she said of Colton. "We prefer matched sibling donors because we know the outcomes of transplant are really good."

Colton was a healthy baby when born July 24, according to his mom, Kayla Land.

About a week after his birth, when doctors got back the results of the standard newborn screen, they realized he'd been born with a genetic form of severe combined immunodeficiency, or SCID.

The condition is known more broadly as "the bubble boy disease" because people who have it often must be largely isolated to protect themselves from infection.

"Nobody would ever know that he has SCID," Land said. "He's just a healthy, normal sweet baby. He's been poked and prodded a lot, but he's a little fighter."

In Colton's case, doctors said a bone marrow transplant would be the only way to save his life. Without it, even the smallest germs could put him at risk for an infection that his body could not handle, according to Shereck.

The family quickly tested his two siblings, Khloe and 8-year-old Krissy, through the Be the Match registry, a process that involves just a simple swab of a cheek to collect DNA.

Just two weeks ago, the Lands found out that Khloe had the right immune system genes to save her brother.

"My husband and I were hoping it was our older daughter because she understood and she wanted to be the one to help her little brother," said Land. "When we found it was Khloe, she was really excited at first and then fear kicked in within about 30 seconds and she broke down and told us how scared she was."

Land bought a special superhero dress for Khloe to wear on transplant day and to help make her feel special in the days ahead.

"Khloe tells Colton all the time that she's going to save his life, so she knows that he wouldn't have a good chance of living if it wasn't for her," Land said. "But we've tried to make things as minimal as possible."

Khloe is expected to leave the hospital on the same day as the procedure, which requires removing marrow from her back. Her cells will then be transplanted into Colton through a PICC line. The infant will stay in the hospital for at least one month as his body adapts to his sister's cells.

The Lands, who live about four hours from the hospital, will have to live nearby for another three months as doctors continue to monitor Colton's progress.

Land quit her job to be able to stay with Colton in Portland while her husband and daughters commute back and forth for visits.

The family is also home-schooling Khloe and Krissy this year as they also need to be careful about catching an infection that could be passed on to their brother.

Once Colton recovers from the transplant, he's expected to lead a healthy life, according to Shereck, who advocates for everyone, especially people in minority groups, to register with Be the Match to see if they, like, Khloe, can help save a life.

Land is looking forward to the day she can watch Colton and his sisters go outside and play together.

"Doctors have told us that around one year after transplant he can live a normal life as a kid and be out playing in the dirt and being with other kids," she said.

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danchooalex/iStockBY: DR. LAUREN KELLY

(NEW YORK) --  The news about vaping is reaching a fever pitch.

On Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would ban flavored e-cigarettes, following Michigan's lead.

Last week police in Wisconsin announced arrests in connection with a drug operation that was filling 3,000 to 5,000 illegal THC vaping cartridges a day for nearly two years at concentrations 157 times the labeled THC potency. It’s still unknown if these cartridges have been linked to any illness.

From the Oval Office, President Trump told reporters his administration will take action after a sixth person recently died from a vaping-related lung illness.

“It’s very dangerous, children have died and people have died,” said Trump. “We’re going to have some very strong rules and regulations.”

Moments later, Alex Azar, the secretary of Health and Human Services, outlined a plan to ban all flavored e-cigarettes until a formal review could be conducted by the FDA in May 2020. There is currently no long-term data on the health effects of e-cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there are 380 confirmed and probable cases in 36 states of lung illness linked to vaping in just the last couple of months.

All of this attention could lead one to think that lung illness linked to vaping is a brand new problem, but scientists have been researching the possible link for years.

There have been isolated documented cases as far back as 2014, but the largest case series to date of vaping-related lung illnesses published suggests there’s a significant uptick in the number of people getting sick since June.

Surveillance data in the study shows the average monthly rate of severe lung illness seen in young people being admitted to Illinois emergency rooms has doubled compared to last year.

“They clearly showed increased cases in June leading up to the CDC announcement and we have seen an increase in New York too,” said Dr. Daniel Croft, a pulmonologist at the University of Rochester. “We have a concern that there may be some new ingredient or change in composition of the THC oil leading to this problem.”

The FDA has not identified a single source that is causing the illnesses, but there are some leads, including the suspicious chemical vitamin E acetate found in THC-containing samples from New York.

While none of the New York samples were purchased from legal cannabis dispensaries, one vape-associated death in Oregon was connected to a legally-purchased product from a dispensary. The majority of the cases have involved vaping THC, while a smaller minority reported use of nicotine alone.

One compelling hypothesis supported by the available research is that vaping nicotine, flavorings and solvents --while perhaps not the immediate cause for the severe illnesses we are seeing -- may prime the lungs for exaggerated lung injury, explained Croft.

“Vaping may increase the susceptibility to worsened inflammation from this THC-containing oil akin to pouring gasoline on a smoldering fire,” he said. Alternatively, the THC oil by itself may be able to cause severe pulmonary inflammation.

“Something about vaporizing THC concentrates seems to be more inflammatory than smoking them,” Dr. Laura Crotty Alexander, an intensive care physician and researcher at the University of California San Diego, told ABC News.

But how might THC oil be causing the damage? What have we learned about the effects of vaporized nicotine and solvents over the years?

ABC News spoke to the doctors who have been on the frontlines of treating patients and researching the potential association to better understand what these lung illnesses are and what may be causing them.

Oily Lungs

“Lungs don’t like oily liquids,” said Dr. John Parker, a pulmonologist at West Virginia University. Parker saw one of the earliest cases linked to vaping back in 2015 when a 31-year-old woman using e-cigarettes came to the hospital with difficulty breathing. She had what looked like pneumonia, but the tests were negative for infection.

When they sampled the cells in her lungs, they found many immune cells filled with an oily material called “lipid laden macrophages.” That’s when they connected her case to the oily chemicals she was vaping.

When vape liquids with solvents like glycerol and other oily additives heat up and cool down, those droplets can be inhaled and disrupt normal lung function. The lungs respond to the droplets and other aerosolized chemicals like foreign invaders, attacking them with the immune system and causing inflammation.

Her diagnosis -- called lipoid pneumonia -- is a condition seen most commonly in elderly people who accidentally inhale oils into their lungs. It is not a disease that has ever been linked to smoking cigarettes.

“This young woman had no good reason for getting lipoid pneumonia,” said Parker, “except other than the fact that she was using e-cigarettes leading up to her illness.”

Inflamed Lungs

“Lungs can become irritated when exposed to anything besides good old clean air,” said Alexander. A number of chemicals, including nicotine, can set off the inflammation.

When the lungs are irritated, the body's infection fighting cells start to build up. Normally, they help us fight viruses and bacteria, but when there is no infection to fight, they instead set off inflammatory pathways that injure the healthy lung tissue.

Doctors diagnose these conditions when they find a buildup of certain kinds of immune cells in the lungs, including cells called eosinophils and neutrophils.

Patients need washings of their lungs for definitive diagnosis, which means a camera has to be inserted into the lungs. However, in most of these vaping cases, patients are too sick to withstand the procedure.

Leaky Lungs

Rather than a separate disease, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) is a term that expresses how bad the lung problem is, or how low a person's oxygen levels are. Severe inflammation causes fluid to leak into the lungs, damaging their ability to transfer oxygen. In the case series, nearly one-third of patients needed breathing tubes.

The most severe cases required an invasive procedure called “ECMO,” which removes blood low in oxygen and passes it through a device that super-oxygenates the blood before returning it to the body.

Recovery has been an uphill climb for one young man who survived to tell his story after ECMO.

“I just don’t have the stamina that I used to,” the patient, Alexander Mitchell of Utah, said.

Bloody Lungs

Another severe complication on the spectrum of lung injury is bleeding into the lungs. “This happens when the inflammation passes beyond the lung tissue into the lung’s blood vessels,” said Parker.

People with this condition can cough up blood, making it even harder to breath. A case of this disease seen with vaping was published in 2016.

Treatment and Long Term Outlook

Treatment in these cases is supportive and involves the use of steroids to reduce inflammation. If it persists over longer periods, the inflammation can lead to the development of scars in the lungs, resulting in long-term breathing problems.

“The severity of these lung illnesses does not bode well for what we might see in the future,” said Alexander.

In her laboratory, she has conducted research that shows the solvents used almost universally in vape liquids --propylene glycol and glycerol -- may cause damage to other organs like the heart, kidneys and liver when inhaled.

“Everyone is focused on the lungs right now but we might discover later that these chemicals cause disease throughout the body,” she said.

For those still vaping, be on the alert for symptoms like cough, shortness of breath and subjective fever and seek medical care right away if these symptoms develop.

If you’re smoking cigarettes and attempting to quit, ask your doctor about other proven cessation treatments, like nicotine gum, patches and other medications.

Lauren Kelly MD, MPH is an internal medicine resident physician in New York City working with the ABC News Medical Unit.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has issued an emergency executive order to ban the sales of flavored e-cigarettes in an effort to crack down on sales to minors.

The order is Cuomo's next move on vaping after he announced his plan on Monday to ban flavored e-cigarettes amid growing national health concerns about vaping.

State officials will also ramp up efforts to penalize retailers who sell tobacco and e-cigarettes to minors.

According to data from the New York State Department of Health, nearly 40% of 12th grade high school students and 27% of high school students overall "are not using e-cigarettes," according to a press release.

In a press conference on Sunday, Cuomo blamed the 160% increase from 2014 on flavors such as bubble gum, cotton candy and "Captain Crunch" that are "obviously targeted to young people."

"New York is confronting this crisis head-on and today we are taking another nation-leading step to combat a public health emergency," Cuomo said in a statement. "Manufacturers of fruit and candy-flavored e-cigarettes are intentionally and recklessly targeting young people, and today we're taking action to put an end to it."

E-cigarette flavors such as menthol and tobacco will not be banned based on recommendations from New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, as cigarette smokers often rely on e-cigarettes to wean off cigarettes when "nothing else" has worked, Cuomo said.

However, "that could change in the future," Cuomo added.

On Thursday, Cuomo signed an executive order directing state agencies to deploy education awareness programs on vaping, which will then be implemented into school systems, according to the release.

The state of New York will also raise the legal age to purchase tobacco to 21 beginning Nov. 13.

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iStock(NEW YORK) -- "Having a peanut allergy is a big deal for a little kid," said Giuliana Ortega, a 4-year-old girl with a wavering voice and a peanut allergy, as her mom held her up to the microphone.

Giuliana talked about sitting at a separate lunch table in the school cafeteria and "having two friends instead of 20."

"It means feeling different all the time," she continued.

Even an accidental exposure to peanuts can be deadly for children with severe allergies. Giuliana’s mom talked about how scary those accidental exposures were.

This is why many citizens, doctors, industry specialists and regulators' eyes were trained on an FDA Advisory Committee hearing Friday. The drug Palforzia, a daily oral pill that can help kids with peanut allergies avoid life-threatening reactions to small amounts of peanut, was given the green light, which will help with the formal approval process in January 2020. Experts voted that the drug was effective 7 to 2 and was safe 8 to 1.

This pill will not "cure" or remove a peanut allergy.

The new peanut allergy pill is considered to be part of a group of drugs called oral immunotherapy (OIT). "Oral immunotherapy is used to help desensitize someone to the food they are allergic to. It involves starting with ingesting a very small amount of the allergen, and slowly increasing the exposure over time," Dr. David Stukus, Associate Professor of Pediatric Allergy at Nationwide Children's Hospital, told ABC News.

"By raising the threshold of peanut that would trigger an allergic reaction, patients potentially could have none or milder symptoms than what they could have had without treatment. So there potentially could be an extra layer of protection," Dr. Julie Wang, a professor of pediatric allergy at Icahn School of Medicine, said in an interview with ABC News.

Information about Palforzia comes from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in late 2018. In the study, two-thirds of children with peanut allergies on medication passed a food challenge with peanuts, compared to 4% of children who didn't receive the medication.

The drug developer, Aimmune, filed paperwork with the FDA seeking approval for children 4 to 17 years old.

"Philosophically, this medication is going to re-write medical textbooks," Jason Dallas, CEO of Aimmune, said in an interview with ABC News.

While the company has not decided on pricing, "Payers really, really like the efficacy of this product, they will cover it," Dallas said.

However, several questions linger. What is the endpoint? Could a patient safely stop taking their daily medication and still expect protection?

"An indefinite course is required to maintain protection. There are ongoing studies to assess if less than daily dosing will maintain protection," Wang said.

Taking a daily medication, potentially for the rest of their lives, is not an ideal solution for most kids.

"The dose of the allergen and the route of the allergen matters," Dr. Stephanie Leonard, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatric Allergy at the University of California at San Diego, said in an interview with ABC News.

Both the dose and route of peanut allergen exposure are actively under investigation.

A study published Thursday used more than 10 times the dose of peanut protein in Palforzia. When using the higher dose "there was a much stronger effect -- 85% of participants after two years were tolerating eight nuts," says Dr. Alkis Togias, Branch Chief of Allergy, Asthma, and Airway Biology at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in an interview with ABC News.

"Palforzia is a lower dose of allergen, so it protects against a lower dose," Togias added.

There are other routes of exposure under investigation. A study published last week explored a liquid peanut protein to be absorbed in the mouth.

"There are pros and cons with each of the therapies. In one comparison with oral pills, the liquid was found to have a better safety profile, but did not seem to work as well in reducing allergies" Leonard said.

There is also a skin patch under investigation. "When you compare pills to the patch, the patch has a good safety profile and is an easy therapy. Patients place the patch on the back of their arm, and then they leave it there," Leonard said.

While this exciting research continues, Stukus reminds parents that "about 1 in 5 children with peanut allergies will acquire tolerance to peanuts naturally over time."

In the meantime, he encourages peanut-allergic patients to stay vigilant for symptoms of an allergic reaction because "symptoms can range and change over time. They can include itching, red raised rash called hives, swelling, vomiting, and wheezing."

Stukus added: "Half the time for people having a life-threatening allergic reaction to food, they do not use their epinephrine soon enough. Epinephrine is the only appropriate treatment for this serious reaction."

Both Drs. Julie Wang and Stephanie Leonard were involved with Palforzia research. Drs. Stukus and Togias were not. Dr. Sejal Parekh is a pediatrician in San Diego, working in the ABC News Medical Unit.

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FILE photo - (choja/iStock)(NEW YORK) -- After revealing this week that a tumor had been growing in his kidney for more than a decade, actor and host Cameron Mathison is optimistic that he'll beat the odds.

On GMA earlier this week, the former contributor said that doctors found a 4.2 centimeter mass on his right kidney and that it "is consistent with renal cell carcinoma."

He added that Thursday's surgery went well.

On Friday he posted a picture with his two children, holding his hands, and wrote, "Feeling loved and supported by my family and friends, including each and everyone of you."

"I’ve been very overwhelmed and so grateful for all of the supportive comments and prayers," he added. "The surgery went very well. The tumor is gone and I even got to keep 80% of my kidney We are all optimistic. Keep you updated. So grateful for all of you."

Fans and friends on social media sent well wishes like, "Praying for a quick recovery and restoration. Blessings and much love" and "May your recovery be swift and may you be restored 100%."

Mathison told GMA that after years of pain and knowing something was wrong, he made the doctors prescribe him an MRI. He now urges everyone to take control of their health.

After he found out about the tumor that had been growing a minimum of 10 years, he called his wife first.

"First thing out of her mouth, which is amazing to me is, 'We got this, we're going to beat it,'" he said.

Amazingly enough, the tumor hadn't spread and Mathison believes it's because of his clean lifestyle.

"I don't drink, eat incredibly healthy, I eat a very low sugar, low carbohydrate diet typically," he explained. "Things that likely in our best guess have have helped it from spreading, and growing even quicker."

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wsfurlan/iStock(NEW YORK) -- Eight percent of first responders in 26 Virginia agencies had recent suicidal thoughts, according to a new survey.

The survey was released in the middle of National Suicide Prevention week by the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department and the U.S. Marshals. Over 5,000 first responders from Virginia Beach to Arlington County admitted to having recent thoughts of suicide. By comparison, the national estimated rate of suicidal thoughts in the United States is 3 percent.

Encompassing 15 police departments, six fire and rescue departments, and five public safety communication centers, the survey results revealed that suicidal thoughts lead to other problems including an increase in being depressed, angry or confrontational.

"Even one person walking around [with suicidal thoughts] is troubling," Fairfax County Police Chief Ed Roessler Jr. said in an interview with ABC News.

First responders, according to the survey, were more likely to suffer reactions from traumatic experiences. The more reactions they reported, the more likely they were to also report suicidal thoughts.

Other findings from the data: One out of four first responders said they suffered depression as a consequence of their job. Depression was more prevalent in those with more experience, but they were also more likely to talk about wanting help.

"Every day you go out in the community and see the worst in what a human can do to themselves and others. And you have to balance all of this as you get married, have children, and then you got to work and about 15 years it starts to creep in. It's a vicious cycle," the chief said.

According to the latest statistics from BLUE H.E.L.P, 143 police officers took their lives this year -- a statistic that is on pace to surpass 2018's number by more than 20 percent.

"The findings of [Fairfax County's] study are significant and, most likely, an indication of what is going on with first responders around the country. While it's notable that the majority of respondents said they have 'never' had suicidal thoughts, it doesn't preclude them from being at risk in the future; especially with such a high rate of depression, reluctance to seek help and other factors," Karen Solomon, the founder of Blue H.E.L.P., told ABC News in an email.

Solomon adds that the Fairfax County Police Department has been a partner with the organization, helping it organize a walk and video on law enforcement resources.

"The survey mirrors what we have been seeing around the country," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told ABC News.

The New York City Police Department has experienced law enforcement suicides in record numbers -- nine active NYPD members have committed suicide so far this year.

Wexler commended the chief and said that the department is putting the survey results to good use and mentioned Fairfax County's mental health checkup.

"Police officers are a higher risk for suicide than the general population," Wexler continued.

Chief Rosseler said that the "data is only from a fraction of the 18,000 agencies in the United States," adding that they are trying to create a national database to make reporting officer suicides mandatory.

The survey also showed that three out of ten respondents wanted to "tough it out" or handle it on their own, but feared the stigma attached with seeking help or that their employer would find out.

That stigma is something national law enforcement leaders are trying to weed out in local departments around the country. "There are 18,000 agencies across the country, we need to do better," said the chief.

"You smash the stigma, you save lives," said Jon Adler, a former police officer and the director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the Department of Justice.

Chief Rosseler said it's about treating officers with "dignity" -- especially those who have been on the force for more than 15 years.

"Discipline can always wait, the act is done, it's evidence, let's get them help," he said.

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