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A mysterious kidney disease may be the first pandemic caused by climate change

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Climate change is expected to have devastating and tangible impacts on hundreds of thousands of people across the world. From exacerbating mental health problems to spreading infections diseases, doctors and researchers are sounding the alarm on a wide range of public health emergencies that are likely emerge amid warnings of intensifying heat waves, prolonged droughts and extreme floods.

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A mysterious form of kidney disease that has killed tens of thousands of agricultural workers around the world is just one of many ailments expected to worsen as a result of climate change, according to researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

In a recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Cecilia Sorensen, an emergency medicine physician who also teaches at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, called this unexplained kind of kidney failure a “sentinel disease” in the era of climate change.

The disease, described as chronic kidney disease (CKDu), “grows with environmental exposures (to heat and humidity) that are directly influenced by climate change,” she said.

It has made kidney failure the second-leading cause of death in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The disease was first reported in the 1990s, when sugarcane cutters who toiled in plantations in Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala were filling up clinics with end-stage kidney failure. Many of these workers were seemingly healthy, often in their 30s and 40s. They didn’t have the typical causes of kidney failure, like high blood pressure or diabetes, or other factors that might explain why their kidneys were failing. As of 2012, the disease had killed an estimated 20,000 people.

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The disease’s presence is now “potentially global,” Sorensen said, noting similar disease patterns have been observed in North America, South America, the Middle East, Africa and India. It has also beset people who work outdoors in the United States, in places like Florida, California and Colorado’s San Luis Valley.

The “true global burden” of chronic kidney disease is unknown, however, “because affected areas tend to have a poor health infrastructure, which leaves cases undetected or underreported,” Sorensen said.

But as temperatures continue to rise, it’s likely this deadly disease will appear more frequently and devastate thousands of laborers worldwide. An estimated 125 million people were exposed to heat waves between 2000 and 2016, according to the World Health Organization, and this trend is expected to continue and to worsen.

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Nearly three decades after it was first discovered, doctors and researchers continue to struggle to unravel the clues behind this mysterious epidemic.

Climate change is just one of many theories behind what’s causing this deadly disease to devastate an increasing number of communities around the world. Some doctors and researchers have attributed the disease to heat stress and dehydration, while others have proposed a correlation to drinking water contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides. Earlier studies suggested homemade alcohol was the culprit.

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Though doctors and researchers continue to struggle to pinpoint the root of this mysterious epidemic, “What we do know for certain is that CKDu is related to heat exposure and dehydration,” Sorensen said, though she noted other factors may also contribute.

She explained it’s difficult to understand the lead cause of chronic kidney disease because conditions that are often exacerbated by heat exposure — like cardiovascular and respiratory disease, poor mental health and adverse birth outcomes — are often “erroneously reported as the primary diagnosis, which conceals the role of heat as an inciting factor.” As a result, almost all physicians have “likely cared for patients who were adversely affected by climate change,” she said.

To address chronic kidney disease and other climate-related diseases, health care providers will “have to integrate environmental information into clinical and public health practice and build robust early-warning systems focused on vulnerable communities and climate-sensitive diseases,” Sorensen said. “We believe physicians have the opportunity to change the course of the future.”

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“We are now living in an era when climate change is no longer a distant, existential threat,” she said. “It is happening now, and it is affecting human health in profound ways.”


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‘The worst day of the presidency so far for Donald Trump’: Advisor to four presidents

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President Donald Trump has not had a worse day in office than he suffered on Friday, according to a top former White House advisor.

David Gergen served in the administrations of Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton. He was interviewed Friday night by CNN's Anderson Cooper.

"If you are looking to throw somebody under the bus, Gordon Sondland would probably be a prime candidate to be next in line to be thrown under the bus," Cooper said.

"I think the president will wait patiently to see what he says and then decide," Gergen replied.

He then offered his analysis of the situation.

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Chris Hayes breaks down the ‘busy day in the criminal chronicles of one President Donald J. Trump’

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MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes connected the dots between all of the bombshell news that was reported Friday in the impeachment hearings into President Donald Trump.

"Good God, today has been ten days and this week has been ten weeks," Hayes said. "And there are a million things happening at once."

"Just in the past couple of hours, for instance, we just got this incredibly incriminating and damning behind closed doors testimony from a U.S. foreign service officer that was still supposed to be kind of like the B-story today, the sideshow," he explained. "It's a guy who works in the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, a guy named David Holmes. He testified behind closed doors that he could hear president Trump talking on the phone to the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union who was an inaugural donor, and they were in a restaurant in Kiev and the president was shouting so loudly on the phone that [Gordon] Sondland had to hold the phone away from his ear because it was hurting his eardrum, so then everyone could hear."

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Trump ignored aides’ advice before first Ukraine call — and it destroyed his impeachment defense: report

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President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to himself as his own top advisor and a political "genius." But his interactions with Ukraine at the heart of the impeachment inquiry could demonstrate the limitations of such an approach to governing.

Friday's bombshell, behind-closed-door testimony from David Holmes has made White House aides unhappy, but the bad news for the administration did not stop there.

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