Tag Archives: ‘falling

Is your N95-style mask failing you? Lab tests show some falling way short of filtration standards

As more dangerous variants of the coronavirus spread, many Canadians are looking to upgrade their mask. 

That has some people reaching for N95-style respirators that promise to filter at least 95 per cent of airborne particles.

When shopping online and in stores, consumers are most likely to find the international equivalents of the coveted N95, as these masks are still generally not available in stores. 

The imported equivalents include the KN95 respirator, which meets the Chinese standard of 95 per cent filtration efficiency and the KF94, which meets the Korean standard of 94 per cent filtration efficiency.

However, as demand for these masks has grown, so has the presence of counterfeits and poor-quality respirators in Canadian stores.

To find out how much Canadians can trust what they’re buying, CBC’s Marketplace tested 14 KN95 and KF94 respirator brands purchased from Amazon and big box stores. 

Three masks from each brand were tested at a lab at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health to see if they meet their filtration efficiency claims. Half failed.




“As a consumer in Canada right now, you can’t be confident of going to a reputable vendor, buying a pack of masks with a stamp that says KN95 or N95 or KF94, and have really any confidence that those masks meet that standard, and that’s a huge worry from me as an academic, but also as a consumer,” said James Scott, a professor of occupational and environmental health who oversaw the testing. 

Marketplace shared the failing results with the stores and the manufacturers who made them. Some stores have since removed the products or say they are investigating further. Others maintain they are following regulatory guidelines. 

What do the test results tell you? 

While some masks tested well below the 95 per cent filtration standard threshold, others failed by just a percentage point or two. So how much do the results matter?

According to emergency room physician Dr. Jay Park of San Diego, Calif., it depends on who is using the mask and the level of protection they need or want. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Park has been working to verify the authenticity and quality of N95-style respirators destined for hospitals. He has since shared his expertise and compiled tips on what average consumers can look for when buying these masks.

“The respirators on the low end of the test results may provide a similar level of protection to many cloth masks,” said Park. 

WATCH | We tested 14 types of KN95 and KF94 masks. Here’s what we found:

CBC Marketplace tested KN95 and KF94 masks sold online and at big box stores. Half of them didn’t offer the level of protection they’re supposed to. 6:27

As for the masks that came in just a percentage point or two below the standard, he said they can still be used.

“If you are a consumer and you’re just using this to go shopping or do low-risk activities, then yes, your testing results do show that it protects you better than cloth masks. You don’t have to throw them out. I think that you just need to be informed that these do not meet KN95, 95 per cent filtration standards.”

Scott said that the consequence of a failing mask could be greater for those at higher risk of exposure or more severe disease.

“They matter for [health-care] workers and to a similar extent they matter for members of the public who have very specific susceptibilities where they need to go that extra distance to [protect] themselves from people in the environment.”

Should I be wearing a KN95 or KF94 respirator?

Experts agree the best protection against COVID-19 is to limit contact with others by staying home and physical distancing. When it comes to masking, the level of protection is up to you. 

“I don’t necessarily think that the general population necessarily needs the highest protection possible,” said Park. “Do you deserve the highest protection possible? Do you want the highest protection possible? Now those are different questions, right?”

He advises that those at higher risk choose the best protection available to them. 

“If you’re telling me that you’re riding the subway or you need to ride public transportation, or you’re a teacher and you’re working in an indoor classroom full of children that typically don’t show signs and symptoms of COVID-19, then yes, I believe you should get the highest protection possible.”

What are some tips to avoid poor-quality or counterfeit respirator masks?

1. Cut out resellers

Park advises to avoid resellers. Instead, he said to buy directly from the source or companies with a history in selling personal protective equipment (PPE).

These companies, he said, are more likely to have a relationship with a reputable supplier. Some manufacturers also sell directly to consumers, including Canadian companies that have recently been ramping up production of N95-style respirators.

2: Avoid the FDA logo

Health Canada and the United States Food and Drug Administration had temporarily authorized the sale of some KN95 and KF94 respirators during the pandemic. However, even authorized respirators are not allowed to use the FDA logo.

“The FDA logo is for the official use of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and not for use on private sector materials,” the FDA website says. 


If you see the FDA logo on product packaging and marketing, it means it’s likely not authorized, said Dr. Jay Park. (CBC)

3: Be wary of unmarked packaging or an unknown manufacturer

Some of the products Marketplace purchased arrived in unmarked packaging or in boxes that did not include the manufacturer’s name and address. That’s another red flag, said Park. 

“You don’t want to buy something that is potentially a medical product and not know who the manufacturer is for you to be able to trace back and say OK, this is who made it and I can look up their registration or certification online,” he said.


Park said unmarked packaging is a red flag. (John Lesavage/CBC)

4: Check Health Canada, the FDA and CDC websites

Health Canada has a list of authorized medical devices for uses related to COVID-19. You can check whether your mask is among them. However, only respirators authorized under the interim order introduced after COVID-19 struck are on this list. 

The FDA also has a list of KN95s and other imported respirators that have been authorized for use. 

You can also check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of Counterfeit Respirators/Misrepresentation of NIOSH-Approval.

Park has also created a PPE authentication site that aggregates the data on masks that are authorized for sale or recalled in Canada, the U.S and Europe.

What do the companies say about the results?

Marketplace reached out to the stores and retailers selling the KN95 and KF94 respirators that failed the filtration test. Here is how they responded: 

Well.ca, whose masks tested among the lowest, did not respond directly to the test results. Instead, it directed Marketplace to contact the manufacturer. That information was not listed on the product packaging and Well.ca did not provide it when asked.  

Amazon said that it verifies that all masks on their sites are legitimate. It said that there are “bad actors” that purposely evade their protections and that they removed the products that failed. The seller of the Seal Goods mask on Amazon said the ones purchased by Marketplace could be counterfeit.

Walmart also removed the mask that failed from its website. It said it does not permit the sale of KN95’s and that the product purchased should never have been for sale. They did not explain how this mask and other KN95s ended up on their site. 

Home Depot and Home Hardware said they follow regulatory standards. Home Depot said that it is investigating further. 

Marketplace also shared its results with Health Canada, which said it “monitors information about counterfeit, fraudulent and unauthorized COVID-19 devices, including personal protective equipment. Devices that are confirmed to be counterfeit or unauthorized are removed from the market and are not permitted to be sold in Canada.”

  • Watch full episodes of Marketplace on CBC Gem, the CBC’s streaming service.

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CBC | Health News

Reports of seniors falling ill or dying after getting dose of COVID-19 vaccine don’t tell the whole story

In mid-January, an unsettling report from Norway suggested 23 frail, elderly patients had all died after receiving a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The finding made headlines around the world.

Meanwhile, here in Canada, there have been instances of coronavirus infections and deaths in the midst of initial vaccination efforts targeting residents of long-term care. 

A home in Saskatoon where the vast majority of residents had received their first vaccine dose later reported seven cases of COVID-19. And a facility in Barrie, Ont., is in the grips of a facility-wide outbreak that has caused dozens of deaths due to a fast-spreading virus variant — even as public health officials raced to fully vaccinate all the residents while the outbreak progressed.

But in all these instances of seniors falling ill or dying after receiving at least one dose, dire-sounding headlines don’t tell the whole story, experts say.

“Just because somebody died after receiving the COVID vaccine does not mean the COVID vaccine caused the death,” said Dr. Noni MacDonald, a researcher focused on vaccine safety who is also a professor at Dalhousie University’s department of pediatrics in Halifax.

In the case of outbreaks in long-term care homes, it’s important to remember that while one dose offers some level of protection, it’s not the full amount that results from the two-dose regimen for either of the vaccines currently approved in Canada, said Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. 

That means even if residents get partially vaccinated, it might not be enough to protect them if the virus is spreading where they live.

“There might have been a high level of COVID circulating, and they didn’t have enough protection within days of their very first dose to confer immunity at that point,” he said.

Canadian physicians also stress COVID-19 vaccines are proving overwhelmingly safe and protective for the majority of elderly recipients — a population that’s at the highest risk of dying from the illness.

“We are now hoping that as soon as we get people vaccinated, especially in these care settings, that we’re really going to see the burden of disease — and the resulting burden of death — stopped,” Sinha said.

No unexpected death increase, WHO concludes

In Norway, the deaths of those 23 elderly vaccine recipients happened during the course of more than 20,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses being administered over several weeks — not all in one go — and in a country where around 400 deaths normally occur among care home residents on a weekly basis.

Following a review of the deaths, which later totalled more than 30, the World Health Organization concluded there was actually no “unexpected” increase in deaths of frail, elderly individuals or any unusual adverse events following the vaccinations.

WATCH | Dr. Samir Sinha on the safety of COVID-19 vaccines for seniors:

Dr. Samir Sinha, a Toronto geriatrician, says reports of elderly people passing away soon after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination can be misleading. Often these are instances where someone was already nearing the end of their life, not that their death was hastened by a vaccine. 0:44

In fact, the vaccine did not play a “contributory role” in the fatalities at all, the panel found.

It’s a finding that comes as tens of millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses are being administered in countries around the world, including to millions of seniors, with the clear protective benefits against severe infections so far outweighing minor risks such as allergic reactions in rare instances.

“We’re just not seeing the data showing that the vaccine is hastening anybody’s death,” Sinha said.

However, an earlier investigation from the Norwegian Medicines Agency, Norway’s national medical regulatory authority, did note that common adverse reactions of mRNA-based vaccines, such as fever, nausea and diarrhea, may have contributed to some of those deadly outcomes in the Norweigian patients. 

Canadian physicians do agree immune system responses to a vaccine could indeed prove dire, but only for the most frail of elderly individuals who are already approaching their death based on their age and pre-existing health issues.

That could mean someone immobile, largely bed-bound and in the end stages of dementia, explained geriatrician Dr. Janet McElhaney, the scientific director of the Health Sciences North Research Institute and a professor at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in Sudbury, Ont.

“Those are not the people that we want to be vaccinating, as they are unlikely to tolerate that.”

For someone severely frail and dehydrated, even a short bout of diarrhea can be dangerous to their health, she said.

WATCH | Why there’s new urgency for vaccinations in long-term care homes: 

Faced with a COVID-19 vaccine shortage, Ontario says it will now vaccinate only long-term care residents and other seniors in at-risk retirement homes and care settings. 2:54

At the same time, it’s a delicate balancing act, since those frail seniors could even more easily die from COVID-19, said Tara Moriarty, an associate professor at the University of Toronto and co-founder of COVID-19 Resources Canada.

“This is something that decision-makers would weigh very, very carefully with the physician or the care provider,” she said. 

But both McElhaney and Moriarty stressed those individuals are among a small minority of long-term care residents.

COVID-19 disproportionately deadly for seniors

For the vast majority of Canadian seniors, including those living in long-term care or in the community, medical experts maintain the protective benefits of COVID-19 vaccines far outweigh any minimal risks.

Across Canada, nearly 20,000 people have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, the vast majority of whom were over the age of 60 — including 70 per cent aged 80 and older.

That’s why long-term care residents are near the front of the line as public health officials ramp up vaccination efforts, as both their age and congregate living conditions put them at higher risk.


Health complications from COVID-19 a concern for seniors

But as reports of deaths post-vaccine keep causing confusion among some seniors, Moriarty is now among those concerned it might prompt vaccine hesitancy among the very population who would benefit most.

“There have been no deaths that have actually been associated with these vaccines whereas there are a lot of deaths among people who are diagnosed with COVID,” she said.

And as McElhaney points out, death isn’t the only concern with COVID-19. Even if a senior survives the illness, they run the risk of serious complications, be it lingering health issues or life-changing impacts from a stay in intensive care.

“The most compelling reason for older people to get vaccinated is to prevent a loss of independence, their abilities,” she said. “So, it’s a quality of life decision.”

According to MacDonald, wary Canadian seniors need to understand where the highest risk exists — and that’s definitely from falling ill with COVID-19, not getting vaccinated against it.

“So, which door do you want to go through?” she said.

“The door that has a probability of you not getting COVID, and saving your life, however long that may be? Or do you want to go through the COVID door?”

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CBC | Health News

Why brain scans are falling out of favour for some scientists

Brain scans offer a tantalizing glimpse into the mind’s mysteries, promising an almost X-ray-like vision into how we feel pain, interpret faces and wiggle fingers.

Studies of brain images have suggested that Republicans and Democrats have visibly different thinking, that overweight adults have stronger responses to pictures of food, and that it’s possible to predict a sober person’s likelihood of relapse.

But such buzzy findings are coming under growing scrutiny as scientists grapple with the fact that some brain scan research doesn’t seem to hold up.

Such studies have been criticized for relying on too few subjects and for incorrectly analyzing or interpreting data. Researchers have also realized a person’s brain scan results can differ from day to day — even under identical conditions — casting a doubt on how to document consistent patterns.

With so many questions being raised, some researchers are acknowledging the scans’ limitations and working to overcome them or simply turning to other tests.

Earlier this year, Duke University researcher Annchen Knodt’s lab published the latest paper challenging the reliability of common brain scan projects, based on about 60 studies of the past decade including her own.

“We found this poor result across the board,” Knodt said. “We’re basically discrediting much of the work we’ve done.”

Watch brains ‘light up’

The research being re-examined relies on a technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI.

Using large magnets, the scans detect where oxygenated blood rushes to when someone does an activity — such as memorizing a list of words or touching fingertips together — allowing scientists to indirectly measure brain activity.

When the technology debuted in the early 1990s, it opened a seemingly revolutionary window into the human brain.

Other previous imaging techniques tracked brain activity through electrodes placed on the skull or radioactive tracers injected into the bloodstream. In comparison, fMRI seemed like a fast, high-resolution and non-invasive alternative.

A flurry of papers and press coverage followed the technique’s invention, pointing to parts of the brain that “light up” when we fall in love, feel pain, gamble or make difficult decisions. But as years passed, troubling evidence began to surface that challenged some of those findings.

“It’s a very powerful thing to show a picture of the brain. It lends itself to abuse, in some ways,” said Damian Stanley, a brain scientist at Adelphi University. “People eat them up, things get overblown. Somewhere in there, we lost the nuance.”

Too quick to jump on fMRI bandwagon

In 2009, a group of scientists investigated papers that had linked individual differences in brain activity to various personality types. They found many used a type of analysis that reported only the strongest correlations, leading to potentially coincidental conclusions. A “disturbingly large” amount of fMRI research on emotion and personality relied on these “seriously defective research methods,” the group wrote.

Later that year, another pair of researchers demonstrated that the raw results of imaging scans — without the proper statistical corrections — could detect brain activity in a dead Atlantic salmon. Four years ago, another group of scientists claimed a different common statistical error had led thousands of fMRI projects astray.

This year, Stanford University researchers described what happened when they gave the same fMRI data to 70 groups of independent neuroscientists. No two teams used the same analysis methods and, overall, the researchers did not always come to the same conclusions about what the data demonstrated about brain activity.

“In the end, we probably jumped on the fMRI bandwagon a little too fast. It’s reached the threshold of concern for a lot of us,” said Duke neuroscientist Anita Disney.

Another tool to study social interactions

With doubts growing, many labs have become more cautious about what imaging techniques to use in efforts to unravel the average brain’s 177,000 kilometres of nerve fibres.

Yale University researcher Joy Hirsch, for example, wants to understand “the social brain” — what happens when people talk, touch or make eye contact. She’s opted out of fMRI, since it can only be used on a single person who must remain perfectly still for imagining inside a large scanner.


Test subject Niklas Thiel poses with an electroencephalography (EEG) cap which measures brain activity, at the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM) near Munich. Scientists use several alternative brain scanning technologies to fMRI in the lab. (REUTERS)

Instead, Hirsch uses an alternative technology that bounces laser lights off of a fibre optic cable-laced skullcap into the brain to detect blood flow. The technique, functional near infrared spectroscopy, allows her subjects to move freely during scanning and permits her to study live social interactions between several people.

Disney also shies away from fMRI, which she says is too crude of an instrument for her forays into the molecular relationship between brain chemistry, behaviour and states like arousal and attentiveness.

Surgeons turn to fMRI

That doesn’t mean everyone is walking away from fMRI.

Some surgeons depend on the technique to map a patient’s brain before surgeries, and the technology has proven itself useful for broadly mapping the neural mechanisms of diseases such as schizophrenia or Alzheimer’s.

Today, optogenetics — an emerging technique that uses light to activate neurons — is poised to be brain science’s next siren technology.

Some say it’s too early to know whether they’ll adopt it as a tool.

“In that early hyper-sexy phase of a new technique, it is actually really difficult to get people to do the basic work of understanding its limitations,” Disney said.

The evolving understanding of fMRI and its limits shows science at work and should ultimately make people more confident in the results, not less, said Stanford brain scientist Russ Poldrack.

“We want to show people you have to pay attention to this stuff,” Poldrack said. “Otherwise people are going to lose faith in our ability to answer questions.”


The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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‘My biggest fear is people falling through the cracks’: Doctors sound alarm about proposed billing changes

The “severity” of proposed provincial changes to the way doctors schedule, bill, and interact with their patients has prompted outcry from some Alberta physicians.

The changes would alter rates at which doctors can bill, fees for what are known as complex care plans, and changes to mandatory drivers’ medicals for those aged 74 or older.

The Alberta Medical Association (AMA) was informed of the changes on Nov. 14, and given until Dec. 20 to provide a response to the government. In a letter sent to AMA members, president Christine Molnar said the board had “deep concerns” about the changes.

“Given the severity of many of the proposals, it was thought best to bring matters into the light of day for all members,” Molnar wrote.


The Alberta Medical Association has requested feedback from its members while it formulates a response to a collection of proposals from the Alberta government, including changes related to how doctors bill for patient visits. (CBC)

“These activities by government are troubling and potentially divisive for the profession,” Molnar wrote.

Steve Buick, a spokesperson for Health Minister Tyler Shandro, wrote in a statement that the proposed changes would help to get costs in line.

“Alberta is a great place for doctors to work and nothing in our proposals will change that,” he wrote. “We spend $ 5.4 billion a year on physicians. Our spending is out of line with other provinces and we need to make some modest reductions.”

Billing changes

The Alberta government has proposed changes that will see doctors paid the same for a 25-minute visit as they are for a 15-minute visit. It is not yet clear what doctors would be paid for sessions lasting more than 25 minutes.

Dr. Kathleen Moncrieff, a family physician who works in northeast Calgary, said this will affect doctor-patient interactions.

“Right now, the way we bill in this province, there’s a set amount for a family physician visit that’s 15 minutes or less,” she said. “But if it’s longer than 15 minutes, you essentially bill more for each additional 10 minutes.”

This isn’t just cutting our salaries. This is cutting what we need to do to run our clinic.– Kathleen Moncrieff, Calgary family physician

Visits that last 15 minutes or less are fine for addressing straightforward needs, such as diagnosing a urinary tract infection or refilling a birth control prescription, Moncrieff said. 

But many of Moncrieff’s patients have multiple health complaints or illnesses, requiring a longer time slot.

“It doesn’t make sense for me to say, I have 15 minutes to talk to you about your diabetes, and I have 15 minutes in two weeks to talk to you about your blood pressure or your asthma,” she said. “Because you are a person, you’re not a collection of illnesses or a collection of body systems.”

As doctors at community medical practices are not employees of the government, they essentially function like independent contractors or business owners, Moncrieff said. Doctors have to cover the cost of running a clinic: from paying office assistants and nurses, to rent, supplies and other overhead. 

“This isn’t just cutting our salaries. This is cutting what we need to do to run our clinic. The government doesn’t pay for these things,” Moncrieff said. “So the fact that we have had these billing codes that let us bill for the amount of time we take with a patient is what allows us to bring in the income that keeps our clinic running.”

Complex care

The province is also proposing cutting funding for complex care plans, a billing system that supports patients with complex or chronic conditions.

A person with diagnoses of diabetes, high blood pressure, and chronic pulmonary disease – and who is potentially quitting smoking and dealing with depression and anxiety – is a typical example of a patient who would fall under this designation, Moncrieff said.

Moncrieff said such visits allow for doctors to schedule long, involved visits with patients, family members and nurses to develop a plan to improve and maintain health.

“We’ll sit together, go through all of their illnesses, go through all of their medications, go through all of their goals and really come up with a plan collaboratively,” she said.

Without specific funding for such relationships, Moncrieff said she is concerned patients’ needs will not be met.

“As physicians, we’ll try to do our best … but my concern is, economically, we won’t be able to take the time that we have been taking because we need to bill enough to keep our clinics open,” she said. “People’s concerns will be missed, people’s conditions won’t be managed as well as they can be. 

“Ultimately, it will lead to more complications from illnesses, more emergency visits, more hospital stays, which leads to worse health outcomes and also doesn’t lead to any cost savings.”

Mandatory drivers’ medicals

Under Alberta Transportation guidelines, a driver must pass a medical exam to keep their licence at age 75, age 80, and every two years after age 80. 

Those evaluations test vision, hearing, cognitive ability and overall health of these individuals. 

Currently, doctors in Alberta are allowed to bill the government for those exams, but that would change under proposed regulation.

“The government is proposing cutting funding for that entirely, so that senior citizens would have to pay out-of-pocket for those drivers’ medicals, which is very concerning to me,” Moncrieff said.

Government response

Buick said the proposals would apply to all doctors, not just family practitioners.

“Nothing in our proposals will harm the ability of family doctors to give comprehensive primary care,” Buick wrote. “The minister looks foward to working through the issues with the AMA at the bargaining table. We’re not going to negotiate in the media.”

Moncrieff said that, though she typically doesn’t engage in politics on social media, she made an exception in this case out of concern for her patients.

“I think my biggest fear is people falling through the cracks and getting sicker because they aren’t getting the care they need,” she said.

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Canada loses bid for its first-ever Davis Cup title, falling to Spain

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal defeated Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6 (7) on Sunday to give Spain its sixth Davis Cup title and deny Canada its first.

Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., fended off a pair of championship points in the second-set tiebreak before Nadal could seal the win.

The No. 15-ranked Shapovalov, Canada’s top singles player, was playing a must-win match after Montreal’s Félix Auger-Aliassime dropped the opening singles rubber in straight sets to Roberto Bautista Agut earlier Sunday.

Nadal was untouchable this the week, going 8-0 while facing just three break points throughout the Davis Cup Finals, including one from Shapovalov in the second set. He improved to a staggering 29-1 in singles matches in his Davis Cup career.

WATCH | Nadal clinches Spain’s 6th Davis Cup title:

Rafael Nadal beats Denis Shapovalov 6-3, 7-6, Spain defeats Canada 2-0 to win Davis Cup. 1:11

The Canadians team was competing in the final at a Davis Cup for the first time. Canada first appeared in the international team tournament in 1913 and its previous best finish was a semifinal loss in 2013.

Spain, playing in its 10th final, earned its first title since 2011.

Shapovolav had 27 winners to Nadal’s 24 over the nearly two-hour long match. But the Canadian also made 36 unforced errors to Nadal’s 20.

The 20-year-old Shapovalov was the only Canadian player to have beaten Nadal in a previous match. He stunningly defeated the Spaniard in the round of 16 at the Rogers Cup in 2017 — Shapovalov’s breakout season on Tour — in their first career meeting. Nadal took the next matchup last year at the Rome Masters.

WATCH | Félix Auger-Aliassime falls in straight sets:

Canada’s Félix Auger-Aliassime falls to Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6, 6-3. 1:08

Recent Davis Cup champions

  • 2019 — Spain
  • 2018 — Croatia
  • 2017 — France
  • 2016 — Argentina
  • 2015 — Britain
  • 2014 — Switzerland
  • 2013 — Czech Republic
  • 2012 — Czech Republic
  • 2011 — Spain
  • 2010 — Serbia

The two were scheduled to meet in the semifinals at Paris earlier this month but Nadal withdrew with an abdominal injury, allowing Shapovalov to reach the finals of a Masters 1000 for the first time.

Bautista Agut delivered the first blow to Canada’s hopes of capturing its first Davis Cup title when the 31-year-old veteran defeated Auger-Aliassime 7-6 (3), 6-3 earlier Sunday.

Bautista Agut, ranked No. 9 in the world, was playing his first match since the death of his father earlier this week. He left Spain’s Davis Cup team on Thursday but returned in time for the final.

The No. 21-ranked Auger-Aliassime, who missed six weeks of action with an ankle injury, was playing for the first time since the opening round of the Shanghai Masters in early October.

The 19-year-old began the year ranked outside the top 100, but made the finals at three ATP tournaments (Stuttgart, Lyon and Rio) to reach a career-high No. 17. He was 33-22 on tour this season.

Auger-Aliassime wasn’t cleared to play for Canada at the Davis Cup until Thursday’s quarter-finals. But he remained on Canada’s bench temporarily while Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil — the Davis Cup veteran on the team at 29 years old — rode a wave of momentum that included upset singles wins over three higher-ranked opponents throughout the week.

Dominant

The Canadian team was missing No. 31 Milos Raonic to injury. Brayden Schnur replaced Raonic on the roster but stayed on Canada’s bench after pulling a back muscle this week.

That left Pospisil, ranked No. 150, and Shapovalov to play each of Canada’s singles and doubles matches at this Davis Cup before Sunday. The pair would have teamed up again for the deciding doubles match, if needed.

Canada had been on a tear throughout the week at the Davis Cup Finals.

They defeated Italy and the United States in the group stage before dispatching Australia in the quarter-finals on Thursday. They then earned their spot in their first final with a thrilling 2-1 win over Russia Saturday that included a third-set tiebreak in a deciding doubles match.

Canada had not beaten the U.S. or Australia at a Davis Cup until this tournament.

Canada guaranteed its spot in the Davis Cup Finals tournament in 2020 by reaching the semifinals this year. Spain, Britain and Russia also finished top four to secure entries while France and Serbia were granted wild-card entries. The rest of the field will be filled through qualifiers.

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U.S. superbug infections rising but deaths appear to be falling, CDC says

Drug-resistant “superbug” infections have been called a developing nightmare that could set medicine back a century, making conquered germs once again untreatable.

So there’s some surprising news in a report released Wednesday: U.S. superbug deaths appear to be going down.

About 36,000 Americans died from drug-resistant infections in 2017, down 18 per cent from an estimated 44,000 in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated. The decline is mainly attributed to an intense effort in hospitals to control the spread of particularly dangerous infections.

“We are pushing back in a battle we were losing,” said Michael Kirsch, a pharmacist at AdventHealth Tampa, a Florida hospital that has seen lower superbug infection rates. “I would not by any means declare success.”

Indeed, though deaths are going down, non-fatal infections grew nationally from 2.6 million in 2013 to 2.8 million in 2017. Some worrisome new germs are emerging. And superbugs are appearing much more often outside of hospitals, the report says.

For example, urinary tract infections have been easily treated in doctors’ offices with common antibiotics. But it’s increasingly common to see young, healthy women with such infections forced into the hospital after initial treatments don’t work, said Dr. Bradley Frazee, a California emergency department doctor.

“We never really worried about this kind of antibiotic resistance in the past,” said Frazee, who last year co-authored a journal article documenting more than 1,000 drug-resistant urinary tract infections in one year at Highland Hospital in Oakland.

Antibiotics first became widely available in the 1940s, and today dozens are used to kill or suppress the bacteria behind illnesses ranging from strep throat to the plague. The drugs are considered among medicine’s greatest advances and have saved countless lives.

But as decades passed, some antibiotics stopped working. Experts say their overuse and misuse have contributed to making them less effective.

The new report marks only the second time the CDC has tried to measure the numbers of U.S. illnesses and deaths attributed to drug-resistant germs.

The first one, released six years ago, estimated more than 23,000 U.S. deaths and more than two million infections each year from superbugs. Those numbers were based on 17 germs that were considered the greatest threat.

That count did not include deaths and illnesses from a nasty bug called Clostridium difficile, because the germ still responds to the drugs used to treat it. But C. difficile is considered part of the larger problem, because it can grow out of control when antibiotics kill other bacteria. C. difficile infections and deaths, fortunately, have also been declining.

Overall, public health officials acknowledge the superbug problem is probably even bigger. A 2018 paper suggested more than 153,000 Americans die each year with — though not necessarily from — superbug infections.

The discrepancy stems from where researchers get their data and what’s included.

“There’s not universal agreement on what constitutes a drug-resistant infection,” said the report’s lead author, Dr. Jason Burnham of Washington University in St. Louis.

For Wednesday’s report, the CDC turned to new data sources. Some earlier estimates were based on reports from about 180 hospitals. This time, CDC was able to draw from the electronic health records of about 700 U.S. hospitals.

The CDC also used the new data to recalculate the 2013 estimate, setting a new baseline.

Among the CDC’s other findings:

  • There were fewer cases of several nasty hospital-associated germs, including drug-resistant tuberculosis and the bug known as MRSA.
  • Infections from a so-called “nightmare bacteria” — carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, or CRE — held steady instead of increasing, to the relief of health officials.
  • Officials credit hospitals for using antibiotics more judiciously, and doing more to isolate patients with resistant infections. They also believe government funding for laboratories has helped investigators more quickly spot drug-resistant germs and take steps against them.

Still, CDC officials said there’s hardly cause for celebration.

“There are still way too many people dying,” said Michael Craig, a leader in CDC’s superbug threat-assessment work. “We have a long way to go before we can feel we can even get ahead of this.”

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‘The Bachelorette’: A Man Is Already ‘Falling in Love’ With Hannah, and the Guys Are Pissed (Live Updates)

‘The Bachelorette’: A Man Is Already ‘Falling in Love’ With Hannah, and the Guys Are Pissed (Live Updates) | Entertainment Tonight

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Cancer death rate in U.S. has now been falling for 25 years

The U.S. cancer death rate has hit a milestone: It's been falling for at least 25 years, according to a report.

Lower smoking rates are translating into fewer deaths. Advances in early detection and treatment also are having a positive impact, experts say.

But it's not all good news. Obesity-related cancer deaths are rising, and prostate cancer deaths are no longer dropping, said Rebecca Siegel, lead author of the American Cancer Society report published this week.

Cancer also remains the No. 2 killer in the U.S. The society predicts there will be more than 1.7 million new cancer cases, and more than 600,000 cancer deaths, in the U.S. this year.

A spokeswoman for the Canadian Cancer Society, Rosie Hales, said they're seeing the same general trend in Canada, although there are some differences.

Cancer deaths rates in Canada peaked in 1988 and have been decreasing since then, according to the society. "This decrease is largely driven by the progress we've made with lung cancer and prostate cancer in males, breast cancer in females and colorectal cancer in males and females," Hales said in an email.

It's estimated 206,200 new cancer diagnoses and 80,800 deaths from cancer occurred in Canada in 2017, according to the society's latest report, Canadian Cancer Statistics 2018.

A breakdown of the U.S. report says:

Dropping since 1990s

There's been a lot of bad news recently regarding U.S. death rates.  In 2017, increases were seen in fatalities from seven of the 10 leading causes of death, according to recently released government data. But cancer has been something of a bright spot.

The cancer death rate in the U.S. was increasing until the early 1990s. It has been dropping since, falling 27 per cent between 1991 and 2016, the American Cancer Society reported.


A decline in lung cancer cases is the main reason. Among cancers, it has long killed the most people, especially men. But the lung cancer death rate dropped by nearly 50 per cent among men since 1991; a delayed effect from a decline in smoking that began in the 1960s, Siegel said.

Prostate cancer

The report has some mixed news about prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in men.

The prostate cancer death rate fell by half over two decades, but experts have been wondering whether the trend changed after a 2011 decision by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to stop recommending routine testing of men using the PSA blood test. That decision was prompted by concerns the test was leading to overdiagnosis and ​overtreatment.

The prostate cancer death rate flattened from 2013 to 2016. So while the PSA testing may have surfaced cases that didn't actually need treatment, it may also have prevented some cancer deaths, the report suggests.

Obesity

Of the most common types of cancer in the U.S., those with increasing death rates are linked to obesity, including cancers of the pancreas and uterus.

Another is liver cancer. Liver cancer deaths have been increasing since the 1970s, and initially most of the increase was tied to hepatitis C infections spread among people who abuse drugs. But now obesity accounts for a third of liver cancer deaths, and is more of a factor than hepatitis, Siegel said.

The growing obesity epidemic in the U.S. was first identified as a problem in the 1990s. It can take decades to see how a risk factor influences cancer rates, "so we may just be seeing the tip of the iceberg in terms of the effect of the obesity epidemic on cancer," ​Siegel said. 

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Canada falling short on flu vaccinations: internal report

Canada is failing to meet federal flu vaccination goals as Canadians continue to balk at rolling up their sleeves.

Just 38 per cent of Canadians were vaccinated during last year's flu season, according to an internal Public Health Agency of Canada report obtained under Access to Information laws.

"Too few," noted the report's author.

While the vaccination programs themselves fall under provincial jurisdiction, the Public Health Agency promotes the vaccinations nationally and monitors the spread of flu and flu-like illnesses.

The agency hired the research firm Léger to ask Canadians in early 2018 whether they had received the shot or spray — and if not, why not. The results were then shared in multiple internal reports.

The number of Canadians reporting vaccinations has basically flatlined since 2015, the first year the agency started surveying Canadians. At the time, 34.3 per cent of Canadians said they had been vaccinated.

Most respondents said they didn't get the shot because they didn't think they needed one, or they believe it doesn't work.

"Recent reports in the media regarding the low effectiveness of the influenza vaccine can be contributing to this belief," says the agency's analysis.

Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said they're looking into why so many people aren't getting the shot.

"We recognize people have busy lives," he said. "And if there's anything that we can do systematically, from a program delivery point of view at a local level, to make it easier for people to get the flu vaccine, to take time out of their busy schedules, I think that that's certainly something that's encouraged.

"Even if you don't think that you personally are at risk, it's important to get the flu vaccine because you can also protect your loved ones, those who might be at a higher risk because of chronic diseases."

Seniors more likely to get vaccinated

According to the report, the agency set a goal of getting 80 per cent of high-risk Canadians vaccinated, but fell short.

Just 39 per cent of adults with chronic medical diseases bothered with the shot.

The health agency also zoomed in on some of the survey data to get a sense of how many young children are getting the flu shot. Kids under the age of five face a higher risk of getting sick.

The report showed the majority (63 per cent ) of children aged six to 59 months in surveyed households were not vaccinated.

Again, when asked why, parents said they didn't think the vaccination was needed.

On the positive side, about 71 per cent of seniors — another one of the health agency's targeted high risk groups — were vaccinated last winter, getting the closest to the set target.

"We recognize that we have to be realistic," said Njoo. "And so if we aim for this [80 per cent] coverage goal for these three main groups, then over time I think as those coverage rates improve then, just by sort a spillover effect, it will also improve rates overall for the general population.

"Obviously, it would be good if everyone were able to, you know, get that kind of coverage." 

On average, says the agency, the flu sends 12,200 Canadians to hospital and kills 3,500 a year — "an underappreciated contributor to mortality."

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Matter Falling Into a Black Hole Clocked at 30 Percent the Speed of Light

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The Royal Astronomical Society has reported the first-ever detection of matter falling directly into a black hole at 30 percent of the speed of light, courtesy of a super-massive black hole located in the galaxy PG211+143. The finding tells us something about how gas is sucked into the gullet of a black hole — and the process is more complicated than you might think.

If you’re reading this site in the first place, you’ve probably got an idea how black holes work. They’re so dense, nothing, not even light, can escape from them. But we can see the light from gas as it plunges towards the black hole, and large concentrations of gas and dust around a black hole is known as an accretion disk. Accretion disks, however, aren’t just passive collections of material streaming straight towards a small black point. They orbit, and at ferocious speeds. These discs also aren’t necessarily cleanly aligned with their black holes, either. Interactions between bands of material can produce different rings moving at different speeds.

GasRotation

Image by K. Pounds et al. / University of Leicester

What the Royal Astronomical Society observers managed to capture was a complex interaction of gases that left some of the material falling straight into the black hole, allowing them to measure its speed. And that speed was phenomenal. From the RAS:

The researchers found the spectra to be strongly red-shifted, showing the observed matter to be falling into the black hole at the enormous speed of 30 percent of the speed of light, or around 100,000 kilometres per second. The gas has almost no rotation around the hole, and is detected extremely close to it in astronomical terms, at a distance of only 20 times the hole’s size (its event horizon, the boundary of the region where escape is no longer possible).

Professor Ken Pounds of the University of Leicester led the effort and used from the ESA’s X-ray observatory XMM-Newton to take readings from the black hole.

“The galaxy we were observing with XMM-Newton has a 40 million solar mass black hole which is very bright and evidently well fed. Indeed some 15 years ago we detected a powerful wind indicating the hole was being over-fed,” Pounds said. “While such winds are now found in many active galaxies, PG1211+143 has now yielded another ‘first’, with the detection of matter plunging directly into the hole itself. We were able to follow an Earth-sized clump of matter for about a day, as it was pulled towards the black hole, accelerating to a third of the velocity of light before being swallowed up by the hole.”

This chaotic accretion pattern could explain how supermassive black holes grow to be such colossal sizes, particularly super black holes in the early universe. The complex interaction between gases in the accretion disc means that more material can be devoured by the black hole in a given period of time. The material falling straight “down” towards the black hole is devoured much more rapidly than material spinning in a tight rotation.

Now Read: Physicists May Have Detected the Remains of Black Holes From Another Universe, Astronomers Discover Tiny Galaxy Harboring Monster Black Hole, and Astronomers Are Watching a Black Hole Tear a Star Apart in Another Galaxy

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