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    Two dead in US from tainted surgeries in Mexico; 206 more may have brain infections / ArsTechnica · 4 days ago - 15:32 · 1 minute

This 2006 image depicts two sides of a Petri dish (reverse L, front R) growing a filamentous colony of <em>Fusarium solani</em>, the potential fungal pathogen behind the outbreak.

Enlarge / This 2006 image depicts two sides of a Petri dish (reverse L, front R) growing a filamentous colony of Fusarium solani , the potential fungal pathogen behind the outbreak. (credit: CDC/ Mark Lindsley, Sc.D. D(ABMM), Lynette Benjamin, Shirley McClinton )

A second person in the US has died in an outbreak of fungal meningitis linked to surgeries in Mexico that involved epidural anesthesia. While the case count is now up to 18, more than 200 others across 25 states may have also been exposed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned in an outbreak update Wednesday .

So far, the outbreak among US patients spans 224 people, with 206 potentially exposed and under investigation, nine suspected cases, and nine probable cases. Two of the patients with probable cases have died.

Last week, the CDC released a travel advisory and a health alert to clinicians about the cases. At the time, health authorities had identified only five cases, all Texas residents , one of whom had died. An update Wednesday from Texas health officials said that they have since identified two more cases, bringing the state's total to seven. All seven cases were hospitalized, but the officials are still reporting only one death in Texas.

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    The neurons that make you feel hangry / ArsTechnica · 4 days ago - 13:59

Box of donuts

Enlarge (credit: warrenrandalcarr via Getty Images )

Maybe it starts with a low-energy feeling, or maybe you’re getting a little cranky. You might have a headache or difficulty concentrating. Your brain is sending you a message: You’re hungry. Find food.

Studies in mice have pinpointed a cluster of cells called AgRP neurons near the underside of the brain that may create this unpleasant hungry, even “hangry,” feeling . They sit near the brain’s blood supply, giving them access to hormones arriving from the stomach and fat tissue that indicate energy levels. When energy is low, they act on a variety of other brain areas to promote feeding.

By eavesdropping on AgRP neurons in mice, scientists have begun to untangle how these cells switch on and encourage animals to seek food when they’re low on nutrients, and how they sense food landing in the gut to turn back off. Researchers have also found that the activity of AgRP neurons goes awry in mice with symptoms akin to those of anorexia, and that activating these neurons can help to restore normal eating patterns in those animals.

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    More and more Americans are skipping medical care due to money woes / ArsTechnica · 5 days ago - 22:11

Exterior entrance to hospital.

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The percentage of American adults who say they skipped medical care due to costs rose significantly last year, hitting 28 percent. That's up from 24 percent in 2021 and 23 percent in 2020, according to a survey out this week from the Federal Reserve titled Economic Well-Being of US Households in 2022 .

The percentage of people skipping medical care due to money woes is now at the highest point since 2014, when the country was on a downward slide as the Affordable Care Act came into full effect, offering affordable health insurance options to all Americans. The percentage of Americans reporting skipped medical care due to costs in 2013 was 32 percent, then 31 percent in 2014, and down to 27 percent in 2015.

The Federal Reserve's Survey reported that people without health insurance were significantly more likely to skip medical care due to costs than those with insurance in 2022—42 percent of uninsured said they missed care because they couldn't afford it, versus 26 percent of insured adults who said the same.

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    Colorless nanoparticles used to create lightweight, colorful paint / ArsTechnica · 5 days ago - 19:36 · 1 minute

Image of a colorful butterfly

Enlarge / Materials in a butterfly's wing create color by altering the paths taken by some wavelengths of light. This was the inspiration for a new form of paint. (credit: Getty Images )

Do you know more than 50 percent of microplastic pollution in our oceans comes from color paints? Almost every object that people throw into the ocean, whether it be a broken toy, a small bottle cap, or a shoe, has some sort of color coating. While you might try to collect all the plastic objects that are thrown into the oceans, there is no way to gather the microplastics that have already mixed into the water.

Particles derived from paint aren’t only a problem in the ocean; they also mix into the air that you breathe. In 2010, scientists studied the effect of chemicals that are used in commercial wall paint on children’s health. They found that kids who sleep in rooms with walls coated with paint having high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are more likely to develop medical conditions like eczema and asthma.

So does that mean commercial paint materials will continue to degrade our environment and our health? Well, there is a new ray of hope. Researchers from the University of Central Florida (UCF) recently published a study that describes “plasmonic paint,” a lightweight, eco-friendly material that has the potential to replace most colored coatings. They claim that their plasmonic paint is also the lightest paint in the world because it avoids the use of pigments and all the materials needed to hold the pigments in place.

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    How NASA plans to melt the Moon—and build on Mars / ArsTechnica · 5 days ago - 14:17 · 1 minute

Mars Dune Alpha is the first structure built for NASA by the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology team.

Enlarge / Mars Dune Alpha is the first structure built for NASA by the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology team. (credit: ICON)

In June a four-person crew will enter a hangar at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, and spend one year inside a 3D-printed building. Made of a slurry that—before it dried—looked like neatly laid lines of soft-serve ice cream, Mars Dune Alpha has crew quarters, shared living space, and dedicated areas for administering medical care and growing food. The 1,700-square-foot space, which is the color of Martian soil, was designed by architecture firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group and 3D printed by Icon Technology.

Experiments inside the structure will focus on the physical and behavioral health challenges people will encounter during long-term residencies in space. But it’s also the first structure built for a NASA mission by the Moon to Mars Planetary Autonomous Construction Technology (MMPACT) team, which is preparing now for the first construction projects on a planetary body beyond Earth.

When humanity returns to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program , astronauts will first live in places like an orbiting space station, on a lunar lander, or in inflatable surface habitats. But the MMPACT team is preparing for the construction of sustainable, long-lasting structures. To avoid the high cost of shipping material from Earth, which would require massive rockets and fuel expenditures, that means using the regolith that’s already there, turning it into a paste that can be 3D printed into thin layers or different shapes.

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    Your fave illustration of Franklin’s kite experiment is likely riddled with errors / ArsTechnica · 6 days ago - 22:46 · 1 minute

Hand-colored lithograph of Ben Franklin's kite experiment published by Currier & Ives in 1876

Enlarge / Hand-colored lithograph published by Currier & Ives in 1876, probably the most widely distributed illustration of Benjamin Franklin's kite experiment. Franklin is wrongly shown to be holding the string in one hand above where the key is attached. (credit: Public domain)

Most Americans are familiar with the story of Benjamin Franklin and his famous 18th century experiment in which he attached a metal key to a kite during a thunderstorm to see if the lightning would pass through the metal. That's largely due to many iconic illustrations commemorating the event that found their way into the popular imagination and became part of our shared cultural lore. But most of those classic illustrations are riddled with historical errors, according to a new paper published in the journal Science and Education.

Franklin's explorations into electricity began as he was approaching 40 years old after his thriving career as an entrepreneur in the printing business. His scientific interest was piqued in 1743 when he saw a demonstration by scientist/showman Archibald Spencer , known for performing various amusing parlor tricks involving electricity. He soon started a correspondence with a British botanist named Peter Collinson and began reproducing some of Spencer's impressive parlor tricks in his own home.

He would have guests rub a tube to create static and then have them kiss, producing an electrical shock. He designed a fake spider suspended by two electrified wires so that it seemed to swing back and forth of its own accord. And he devised a game dubbed "Treason," whereby he wired up a portrait of King George so that anyone who touched the monarch's crown would be shocked. And he once infamously shocked himself while trying to kill a turkey with electricity.

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    Woman with untreated TB still on the lam three months after arrest warrant / ArsTechnica · 6 days ago - 20:01

Scanning electron micrograph of <em>Mycobacterium tuberculosis</em> bacteria, which cause TB.

Scanning electron micrograph of Mycobacterium tuberculosis bacteria, which cause TB. (credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases )

A woman with an untreated infectious case of tuberculosis and a months-old civil warrant out for her arrest continues to evade the sheriff's department in Tacoma, Washington, drawing local frustration.

On Friday, the woman failed to show up to yet another court hearing , to which she has been summoned on a roughly monthly basis since January 2022. That's when the county health department began using court orders to try to compel her to get her deadly respiratory infection treated and/or remain in isolation to protect the public until she is no longer infectious.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Philip Sorensen ruled once again Friday that the woman—known only by the initials "V.N." in court documents—was in contempt of those court orders. Sorensen had initially issued a civil arrest warrant on March 2, 2023, ordering her to involuntary detention for testing and treatment. He extended the warrant Friday.

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    Study: People think undermining democracy is ok if others do it first / ArsTechnica · 6 days ago - 19:51 · 1 minute

Image of a fractured US capital building, highlighted in red and blue.

Enlarge (credit: Douglas Rissing )

Many Americans have been shocked by the frequency with which people who claim to love our democracy have supported blatantly undemocratic efforts to limit people's ability to vote or to selectively discard votes already cast. Unfortunately, this sort of democratic backsliding is far from a US-specific problem. Despite widespread support for democracy in countries like Venezuela and Hungary, people have turned out in large numbers to vote for autocrats.

A new study performed in the US suggests at least one explanation for the problem: People across the political spectrum appear to believe their political opponents are likely to take anti-democratic action if given the opportunity. And the strength of this belief correlates with a slightly increased willingness to take those actions first.

Nobody says they like this stuff

The finding, from a University of California, Berkeley-Massachusetts Institute of Technology collaboration, is based on demographically representative survey populations, which were asked about several potential anti-democratic actions. For example, those surveyed were asked if they agreed with reducing the number of voting facilities in towns that support the opposing party. Similar questions got at things like banning rallies, limiting freedom of expression, ignoring court rulings, or resorting to violence. After being asked for their own opinions, people were then asked whether they thought their political opponents supported these anti-democratic approaches.

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