Woman Plays Violin During Brain Surgery

A procedure one might expect to see only on an episode of popular television show Grey’s Anatomy actually occurred at a London hospital recently as a patient played the violin while undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor. Dagmar Turner, 53, has had a passion for playing the violin since she was 10, and she is currently a member of the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra. So losing the ability to play because of a brain tumor was an especially frightening scenario for her. During a symphony performance in 2013, Turner suffered a seizure that brought to light the slow-growing brain tumor. Located on the right frontal lobe of her brain, it threatened to damage her left hand’s fine motor skills — the hand that controls the notes being played on the violin. According to King’s College Hospital, where Turner was treated, her first course of treatment was radiotherapy. But after that proved unsuccessful and the tumor continued to grow, surgery became the next best option. Surgery put her hand mobility and playing abilities at risk, though, and it was a possibility Turner could not ignore. It was neurosurgeon consultant Keyoumars Ashkan, a professor at the college, who understood firsthand Turner’s concerns about the surgery, since he is an accomplished pianist with a music degree. So they designed a plan specifically for Turner’s January 31 surgery. First, her brain was mapped, allowing doctors to recognize and identify sections  that were active while she played the violin, as well as sections that dictated movement and language. Then, halfway through surgery, Turner would be awakened to play her violin so surgeons could avoid the sections of her brain that were active as she moved her hands to play. With the brain having no pain receptors, Turner was able to be fully awake and performing as the tumor was removed. Turner’s surgery was a success, and she was released from the hospital and back home in just three days. She plans to resume playing soon in the orchestra. 

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Women Plays Violin During Brain Surgery

A procedure one might expect to see only on an episode of popular television show Grey’s Anatomy actually occurred at a London hospital recently as a patient played the violin while undergoing surgery to remove a brain tumor. Dagmar Turner, 53, has had a passion for playing the violin since she was 10, and she is currently a member of the Isle of Wight Symphony Orchestra. So losing the ability to play because of a brain tumor was an especially frightening scenario for her. During a symphony performance in 2013, Turner suffered a seizure that brought to light the slow-growing brain tumor. Located on the right frontal lobe of her brain, it threatened to damage her left hand’s fine motor skills — the hand that controls the notes being played on the violin. According to King’s College Hospital, where Turner was treated, her first course of treatment was radiotherapy. But after that proved unsuccessful and the tumor continued to grow, surgery became the next best option. Surgery put her hand mobility and playing abilities at risk, though, and it was a possibility Turner could not ignore. It was neurosurgeon consultant Keyoumars Ashkan, a professor at the college, who understood firsthand Turner’s concerns about the surgery, since he is an accomplished pianist with a music degree. So they designed a plan specifically for Turner’s January 31 surgery. First, her brain was mapped, allowing doctors to recognize and identify sections  that were active while she played the violin, as well as sections that dictated movement and language. Then, halfway through surgery, Turner would be awakened to play her violin so surgeons could avoid the sections of her brain that were active as she moved her hands to play. With the brain having no pain receptors, Turner was able to be fully awake and performing as the tumor was removed. Turner’s surgery was a success, and she was released from the hospital and back home in just three days. She plans to resume playing soon in the orchestra. 

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New Mexico Sues Google over Collection of Children’s Data

New Mexico’s attorney general sued Google Thursday over allegations the tech company is illegally collecting personal data generated by children in violation of federal and state laws.The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque claims Google is using its education services package that is marketed to school districts, teachers and parents as a way to spy on children and their families.Attorney General Hector Balderas said that while the company touts Google Education as a valuable tool for resource-deprived schools, it is a means to monitor children while they browse the internet in the classroom and at home on private networks. He said the information being mined includes everything from physical locations to websites visited, videos watched, saved passwords and contact lists.The state is seeking unspecified civil penalties.“Student safety should be the number one priority of any company providing services to our children, particularly in schools,” Balderas said in a statement. “Tracking student data without parental consent is not only illegal, it is dangerous.”Google dismissed the claims as “factually wrong,” saying the G Suite for Education package allows schools to control account access and requires that schools obtain parental consent when necessary.“We do not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads,” said company spokesman Jose Castaneda.“School districts can decide how best to use Google for education in their classrooms and we are committed to partnering with them.”Unlike Europe, the U.S. has no overarching national law governing data collection and privacy. Instead, it has a patchwork of state and federal laws that protect specific types of data, such as consumer health, financial information and the personal data generated by younger children.New Mexico’s claim cites violations of the state’s Unfair Practices Act and the federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires websites and online services to obtain parental consent before collecting any information from children under 13.In a separate case, Google already has agreed to pay $170 million combined to the Federal Trade Commission and New York state to settle allegations its YouTube video service collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.According to the New Mexico lawsuit, outside its Google Education platform, the company prohibits children in the U.S. under the age of 13 from having their own Google accounts. The state contends Google is attempting to get around this by using its education services to “secretly gain access to troves of information” about New Mexico children.The attorney general’s office filed a similar lawsuit against Google and other tech companies in 2018, targeting what Balderas described as illegal data collection from child-directed mobile apps. That case still is pending in federal court, but the companies have denied wrongdoing.The latest lawsuit claims more than 80 million teachers and students use Google’s education platform. Balderas said in a letter to New Mexico school officials that there was no immediate harm if they continue using the products and that the lawsuit shouldn’t interrupt activities in the classroom. 

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Weather and Protests Hamper Ukraine Quarantine Efforts

Ukraine’s effort to evacuate more than 70 people from China over the outbreak of a new virus faced setbacks Thursday as weather conditions delayed the return of the evacuees and protests broke out near a hospital where they are to be quarantined.
    
Dozens of local residents protested Thursday morning seeking to prevent the evacuees from being quarantined there because they fear being infected. People put up road blocks and burned tires, while Ukrainian media reported that there were clashes with police.
    
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy weighed in saying that those demonstration show “not the best side of our character” and sought to assure people that the quarantined evacuees wouldn’t pose any danger to local residents.
    
In a statement published on his Facebook page, Zelenskiy said the people evacuated from China are healthy and will live in a closed medical center run by the National Guard in the village of Novi Sanzhary as a precaution.
    
“In the next two weeks it will probably be the most guarded facility in the country,” Zelenskiy said.
    
In the early hours of Thursday, a plane with 45 Ukrainians and 27 other foreign nationals took off from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak that has infected  more than 75,000 people worldwide and killed over 2,100.
    
The plane stopped off in Kazakhstan to drop off two Kazakh passengers. Later, it sought to land in Kharkiv, a city in northeastern Ukraine, but could not due to bad weather conditions.
    
Instead it flew to Kyiv to refuel, and eventually arrived in Kharkiv.
    
Also Thursday, the Russian Embassy in Japan said that two more Russians aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan have been diagnosed with the virus, the Russian Embassy in Japan said. That raises to three the number of Russians on the ship confirmed to have the virus.
    
The two will be transferred to a hospital in Japan for treatment, according to the embassy.
    
The Diamond Princess has been docked in the Yokohama port near Tokyo since Feb. 4, when 10 people on board tested positive for the virus. So far 621 cases of the virus, which has been named COVID-19, have been confirmed among the the Diamond Princess’s original 3,711 people on board.
    
Russia so far has reported only two cases of the disease on its soil. Two Chinese nationals diagnosed with the virus and hospitalized in two different regions of Siberia in late January have recovered and have been released from hospitals.

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Can AI Flag Disease Outbreaks Faster Than Humans? Not Quite

Did an artificial-intelligence system beat human doctors in warning the world of a severe coronavirus outbreak in China?In a narrow sense, yes. But what the humans lacked in sheer speed, they more than made up in finesse.Early warnings of disease outbreaks can help people and governments save lives. In the final days of 2019, an AI system in Boston sent out the first global alert about a new viral outbreak in China. But it took human intelligence to recognize the significance of the outbreak and then awaken response from the public health community.What’s more, the mere mortals produced a similar alert only a half-hour behind the AI systems.For now, AI-powered disease-alert systems can still resemble car alarms — easily triggered and sometimes ignored. A network of medical experts and sleuths must still do the hard work of sifting through rumors to piece together the fuller picture. It’s difficult to say what future AI systems, powered by ever larger datasets on outbreaks, may be able to accomplish.The first public alert outside China about the novel coronavirus came on Dec. 30 from the automated HealthMap system at Boston Children’s Hospital. At 11:12 p.m. local time, HealthMap sent an alert about unidentified pneumonia cases in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The system, which scans online news and social media reports, ranked the alert’s seriousness as only 3 out of 5. It took days for HealthMap researchers to recognize its importance.Four hours before the HealthMap notice, New York epidemiologist Marjorie Pollack had already started working on her own public alert, spurred by a growing sense of dread after reading a personal email she received that evening.“This is being passed around the internet here,” wrote her contact, who linked to a post on the Chinese social media forum Pincong. The post discussed a Wuhan health agency notice and read in part: “Unexplained pneumonia???”Pollack, deputy editor of the volunteer-led Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, known as ProMed, quickly mobilized a team to look into it. ProMed’s more detailed report went out about 30 minutes after the terse HealthMap alert.Early warning systems that scan social media, online news articles and government reports for signs of infectious disease outbreaks help inform global agencies such as the World Health Organization — giving international experts a head start when local bureaucratic hurdles and language barriers might otherwise get in the way.Some systems, including ProMed, rely on human expertise. Others are partly or completely automated.And rather than competing with one another, they are often complementary — HealthMap is intertwined with ProMed and helps run its online infrastructure.“These tools can help hold feet to the fire for government agencies,” said John Brownstein, who runs the HealthMap system as chief innovation officer at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It forces people to be more open.”The last 48 hours of 2019 were a critical time for understanding the new virus and its significance. Earlier on Dec. 30, Wuhan Central Hospital doctor Li Wenliang warned his former classmates about the virus in a social media group — a move that led local authorities to summon him for questioning several hours later.Li, who died Feb. 7 after contracting the virus, told The New York Times that it would have been better if officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier. “There should be more openness and transparency,” he said.ProMed reports are often incorporated into other outbreak warning systems. including those run by the World Health Organization, the Canadian government and the Toronto startup BlueDot. WHO also pools data from HealthMap and other sources.Computer systems that scan online reports for information about disease outbreaks rely on natural language processing, the same branch of artificial intelligence that helps answer questions posed to a search engine or digital voice assistant.But the algorithms can only be as effective as the data they are scouring, said Nita Madhav, CEO of San Francisco-based disease monitoring firm Metabiota, which first notified its clients about the outbreak in early January.Madhav said that inconsistency in how different agencies report medical data can stymie algorithms. The text-scanning programs extract keywords from online text, but may fumble when organizations variously report new virus cases, cumulative virus cases, or new cases in a given time interval. The potential for confusion means there’s almost always still a person involved in reviewing the data.“There’s still a bit of human in the loop,” Madhav said.Andrew Beam, a Harvard University epidemiologist, said that scanning online reports for key words can help reveal trends, but the accuracy depends on the quality of the data. He also notes that these techniques aren’t so novel.“There is an art to intelligently scraping web sites,” Beam said. “But it’s also Google’s core technology since the 1990s.”Google itself started its own Flu Trends service to detect outbreaks in 2008 by looking for patterns in search queries about flu symptoms. Experts criticized it for overestimating flu prevalence. Google shut down the website in 2015 and handed its technology to nonprofit organizations such as HealthMap to use Google data to build their own models.Google is now working with Brownstein’s team on a similar web-based approach for tracking the geographical spread of tick-borne Lyme disease.Scientists are also using big data to model possible routes of early disease transmission.In early January, Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and researcher at Toronto General Hospital, analyzed commercial flight data with BlueDot founder Kamran Khan to see which cities outside mainland China were most connected to Wuhan.Wuhan stopped outbound commercial air travel in late January — but not before an estimated 5 million people had fled the city, as the Wuhan mayor later told reporters.“We showed that the highest volume of flights from Wuhan were to Thailand, Japan, and Hong Kong,” Bogoch said. “Lo and behold, a few days later we started to see cases pop up in these places.”In 2016, the researchers used a similar approach to predict the spread of the Zika virus from Brazil to southern Florida.Now that many governments have launched aggressive measures to curb disease transmission, it’s harder to build algorithms to predict what’s next, Bogoch said.Artificial intelligence systems depend on vast amounts of prior data to train computers how to interpret new facts. But there are no close parallels to the way China is enforcing quarantine zones that impact hundreds of millions of people. 

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Google Updates Terms in Plain Language After EU Scrutiny

Google is attempting to make sure people know exactly what they’re signing up for when they use its online services — though that will still mean reading a lengthy document.The company updated its terms of service on Thursday — its largest update to the general use contract since 2012 — in response to a pair of court orders in Europe.Google has been updating its policies and tweaking what is and isn’t allowed on its sites for the past couple of years as scrutiny of the tech industry heats up across the U.S. and Europe. Google, Facebook, Twitter and other digital companies have been forced under a spotlight as regulators and customers examine just how much the companies know about their users and what they do with that information.Facebook last year updated its terms of service to clarify how it makes money from user data.Google says it hasn’t changed anything significant in the document, but rather used plain language to describe who can use its products and what you can post online.“Broadly speaking, we give you permission to use our services if you agree to follow these terms, which reflect how Google’s business works and how we earn money,” the document reads.The document is now about 2,000 words longer than it was before, in part because Google included a list of definitions and expanded it to cover Google Drive and Chrome. The new terms take effect in March.Google’s privacy policy is separate and was substantially updated in 2018 after Europe enacted broad-reaching privacy laws.The company also separately updated its “About Google” page to explain how it makes money from selling advertisements, often informed by the vast amount of customer information it collects.As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, Google also announced it is switching the service provider for U.K. customers from one based in Ireland to its main U.S. provider. The company says that it won’t change how U.K. customers’ data is protected or used. 

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China Reports Fewest New Cases of Coronavirus Patients Since January

China is reporting its biggest drop in new cases of the new coronavirus that has killed more than 2,000 people on the mainland since the outbreak began more than two months ago.The country’s National Health Commission said there were just 394 confirmed new cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) Wednesday, compared to the 1,749 cases the previous day, the biggest drop since last month. The death toll rose to 2,118 after another 114 people died from the virus, while the total number of confirmed cases rose to 74,576.Chinese authorities have struggled to contain the spread of the new coronavirus since it was first detected in December in Hubei province, in the city of Wuhan. The province was placed under lockdown, with nearly all transportation in and out of Wuhan and several other cities halted.Outside of mainland China, at least 11 people have reportedly died from the virus, including one in South Korea, two people in Iran and an elderly couple in their 80s who were passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which been quarantined at the Japanese port city of Yokohama since its arrival on February 3.  Japanese health officials placed the ship and its 3,700 passengers and crew under quarantine after a passenger who disembarked in Hong Kong was diagnosed with the coronavirus.  But the attempt to contain the spread of the virus backfired, as 621 people became infected, making it the largest cluster of confirmed cases outside of China.About 600 passengers are expected to leave the ship Thursday, a day after 500 passengers disembarked Wednesday after testing negative for the virus and showing no symptoms.  Meanwhile, more than 150 Australian passengers arrived in Darwin early Thursday after being evacuated from Yokohama.  The group was immediately placed in another 14-day quarantine.  Canberra extended a ban on foreign nationals who have traveled mainland China from entering Australia until February 29.Russian passengers walk with their luggage after leaving the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess cruise ship docked at Yokohama Port, south of Tokyo, Feb. 20, 2020.About 300 Americans were evacuated Monday and immediately placed in another 14-day quarantine. Several other governments, including Britain, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong, are also making plans to evacuate their citizens from Yokohama.Despite the drop in the daily number of confirmed cases, the World Health Organization cautioned people earlier this week against relaxing and believing the worst is over. The WHO said it is still too early to predict exactly which way the outbreak will go.

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Chinese Study: New Coronavirus Spreads More Like Flu Than SARS

Scientists in China who studied the nose and throat swabs from 18 patients infected with the new coronavirus say it behaves much more like influenza than other closely related viruses, suggesting it may spread even more easily than previously believed.In at least in one case, the virus was present even though the patient had no symptoms, confirming concerns that asymptomatic patients could also spread the disease.Although preliminary, the findings published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, offer new evidence that this novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 2,000 people, mostly in China, is not like its closely related coronavirus cousins.“If confirmed, this is very important,” said Dr. Gregory Poland, a virologist and vaccine researcher with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved with the study.Easily spreadUnlike severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which causes infections deep in the lower respiratory tract that can result in pneumonia, COVID-19 appears to inhabit both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. That would make it not only capable of causing severe pneumonia, but of spreading easily like flu or the common cold.Researchers in Guangdong province monitored the amount of coronavirus in the 18 patients. One of them, who had moderate levels of the virus in their nose and throat, never had any disease symptoms.Among the 17 symptomatic patients, the team found levels of the virus increased soon after symptoms first appeared, with higher amounts of virus present in the nose than in the throats, a pattern more similar to influenza than SARS.The level of virus in the asymptomatic patient was similar to what was present in patients with symptoms, such as fever.“What this says is clearly this virus can be shed out of the upper respiratory tract and that people are shedding it asymptomatically,” Poland said.Related to SARS, not behaving like SARSThe findings add to evidence that this new virus, though genetically similar, is not behaving like SARS, said Kristian Andersen, an immunologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla who uses gene sequencing tools to track disease outbreaks.“This virus is clearly much more capable of spreading between humans than any other novel coronavirus we’ve ever seen.“This is more akin to the spread of flu,” said Andersen, who was not involved with the study.The researchers said their findings add to reports that the virus can be transmitted early in the course of the infection and suggest that controlling the virus will require an approach different from what worked with SARS, which primarily involved controlling its spread in a hospital setting.

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Barr Asks: Should Facebook, Google Be Liable for User Posts?

U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday questioned whether Facebook, Google and other major online platforms still need the immunity from legal liability that has prevented them from being sued over material their users post. “No longer are tech companies the underdog upstarts. They have become titans,” Barr said at a public meeting held by the Justice Department to examine the future of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. “Given this changing technological landscape, valid questions have been raised about whether Section 230’s broad immunity is necessary, at least in its current form,” he said. Section 230 says online companies such as Facebook Inc., Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Twitter Inc. cannot be treated as the publisher or speaker of information they provide. This largely exempts them from liability involving content posted by users, although they can be held liable for content that violates criminal or intellectual property law.  FILE – U.S. Attorney General William Barr is pictured in the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 4, 2020.Barr’s comments offered insight into how regulators in Washington are reconsidering the need for incentives that once helped online companies grow but are increasingly viewed as impediments to curbing online crime, hate speech and extremism. The increased size and power of online platforms has also left consumers with fewer options, and the lack of feasible alternatives is a relevant discussion, Barr said, adding that the Section 230 review came out of the Justice Department’s broader look at potential anticompetitive practices at tech companies. Lawmakers from both major political parties have called for Congress to change Section 230 in ways that could expose tech companies to more lawsuits or significantly increase their costs. Lawmakers’ concernsSome Republicans have expressed concern that Section 230 prevents them from taking action against internet services that remove conservative political content, while a few Democratic leaders have said the law allows the services to escape punishment for harboring misinformation and extremist content. Barr said the department would not advocate a position at the meeting. But he hinted at the idea of allowing the U.S. government to act against recalcitrant platforms, saying it was “questionable” whether Section 230 should prevent the American government from suing platforms when it is “acting to protect American citizens.” Others at the meeting floated different ideas. FILE – Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson with a bipartisan group of state attorneys general speaks to reporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, Sept. 9, 2019.The attorney general of Nebraska, Doug Peterson, noted that the law does not shield platforms from federal criminal prosecution; the immunity helps protect against civil claims or a state-level prosecution. Peterson said the exception should be widened to allow state-level action as well. Addressing the tech industry, he called it a “pretty simple solution” that would allow local officials “to clean up your industry instead of waiting for your industry to clean up itself.” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which counts Google and Facebook among its members, said such a solution would result in tech giants having to obey 50 separate sets of laws governing user content. He suggested law enforcement’s energies might be better spent pursuing the millions of tips that the tech industry sent over every year, only a small fraction of which, he noted, resulted in investigations. “There appears to be some asymmetry there,” he said. Others argued that different rules should apply to different platforms, with larger websites enjoying fewer protections than internet upstarts. “With great scale comes great responsibility,” said David Chavern, of the News Media Alliance, whose members have bristled as Google and Facebook have gutted journalism’s business model. How to distinguishBut other panelists argued that distinguishing one site from another might be tricky. For example, would platforms like Reddit or Wikipedia, which have large reach but shoestring staffs, be counted as big sites or small ones? The panelists also briefly debated encryption, another area over which Barr has pressed the tech industry to change its modus operandi. Facebook in particular has drawn the ire of U.S. officials over its plans to secure its popular messaging platform. Kate Klonick, a law professor at St. John’s University in New York, urged caution. “This is a massive norm-setting period,” she said, with any alterations to one of the internet’s key legal frameworks likely to draw unexpected consequences. “It’s hard to know exactly what the ramifications might be.” 

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2nd Person Dies Amid Dengue Epidemic in French Caribbean

A dengue epidemic in several French Caribbean islands has claimed its second victim, officials said Wednesday.A 75-year-old French woman who traveled regularly to St. Martin died this month after contracting the mosquito-borne virus and being evacuated to Paris, according to a statement from the Regional Health Agency for Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barts.It is the second such death reported this month in the region. Officials in the nearby island of Martinique announced last week that one of three unidentified people who were recently hospitalized with dengue died.The viral infection usually causes a severe headache, rash and high fever and can become hemorrhagic, leading to death.
 

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