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Idris Elba Joins Fight Against Ebola

C.J. LaFrance/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Idris Elba, the actor from HBO's The Wire and BBC's Luther, was in New York City on Monday to take on one of the most important roles of his life: The fight against the deadly Ebola virus raging through West Africa.

Elba, whose parents are from Sierra Leone, attended meetings to urge world leaders to do what is necessary to fight the Ebola crisis and invest in long-term prevention and treatment strategies. Among other things, he wrote an email to the six million global members of The ONE Campaign -- the advocacy organization co-founded by U2 frontman Bono -- calling on citizens to sign ONE’s petition urging leaders to step up and deliver on Ebola. So far, the petition has attracted 80,000 signers.

"If you care about any part of the world you should care about Ebola -- I don’t know how else to spell it out," the actor told ABC News. "It's a very human problem, not just a regional one."

Elba, who was raised in New York, said he had never been to Sierra Leone but he has a lot of family there. He said he decided to help raise awareness for the Ebola crisis out of a sense of responsibility.

"I want to be careful not to sensationalize this because of who I am but I want to utilize my fame to give a message," Elba said. "I’m going viral to fight the virus, so to speak."

Elba said his plan was still in the embryonic stages. He's unsure about where he fits within the global effort to contain a disease that has already killed more than 2,600 people in West Africa, including Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Guinea.

A report out in Tuesday's New England Journal of Medicine estimates the virus has a fatality rate over 70 percent and if left unchecked, there could be 20,000 infected by November. Without the proper intervention, the outbreak could reach 1.4 million cases by the end of January, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One plan of action Elba said he is exploring is to put pressure on the mobile phone carriers in West Africa to send out text messages to educate the public about safety and prevention. He pointed out that more than 70 percent of people in Sierra Leone use a cellphone, so it would be an effective way of getting the word out.

Elba said he is hugely concerned about what happens next, especially with so many women, caregivers and young people hit with Ebola.

"I'm trying to help get people motivated and re-motivated by redesigning the message on the shop floor, so to speak," he said.

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Coke, Pepsi Among Others to Help Reduce Calories Consumed

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo and other leading beverage companies have announced they'll commit to reducing the amount of calories consumed by their customers by 20 percent by the year 2025.

In a joint effort by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which is founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation, the Coca-Cola Company, PepsiCo, and Dr. Pepper Snapple Group have designed a two-part initiative.

In a press release, the Clinton Global Initiative said the companies "will leverage their marketing, innovation and distribution strength to increase and sustain consumer interest in and access to beverage options to help consumers reduce calories consumed.  Such beverage options include smaller portion sizes, water, and other no- or lower-calorie beverages. Through these efforts, water and other lower-calorie beverages are expected to grow significantly. The companies will engage in consumer education and outreach efforts to increase consumer awareness of and interest in the wide array of no- and lower-calorie beverages and smaller portion sizes available."

Former President Bill Clinton added, "I am excited about the potential of this voluntary commitment by the beverage industry. It can be a critical step in our ongoing fight against obesity."

The beverage companies will also focus this initiative in the community by promoting their bottled water, expanding and promoting low-calorie/no-calorie products by providing coupons and other incentives, as well as product placement.

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Ebola Could Infect 1.4 Million People by End of January, CDC Projects

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Without the proper intervention, the Ebola outbreak could reach 1.4 million cases by the end of January, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That means there could be 21,000 new cases by the end of this month alone.

The CDC created a mathematical model to determine how the West African Ebola outbreak will play out depending on different intervention scenarios, taking into account that current Ebola case counts are "vastly" under-reported, as health officials have been saying since August.

"The CDC estimates are staggering," said ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser. "While this is a disaster for West Africa, it is also a disaster for the United States and the rest of the world."

According to the World Health Organization, 5,357 Ebola cases have been reported since the outbreak began in West Africa six months ago, including 2,630 deaths. But the organization last month warned that people are hiding their infected family members and burying their dead in secret, leading to "shadow zones" and "invisible caseloads." The CDC's estimates for reported case counts, if current trends continue, are 8,000 by the end of this month and 550,000 by the end of January.

Though there have only been a handful of Americans who have contracted Ebola -- all while working in West Africa -- Besser said the outbreak is a problem for the global community.

"Germs tend to travel," Besser said. "More people sick in Africa increases the chances that the disease will get imported to America. While it won't spread here, any transmission in the U.S. will be for many people, quite terrifying."

Although things look grim if nothing changes, the agency predicted that intervention can make a huge difference.

If 70 percent of Ebola patients are placed in Ebola treatment centers or home settings that reduce transmission by December, the outbreak could be nearly over by the end of January, according to the CDC. However, every month that intervention is delayed means more cases and a slower stop to the outbreak.

"If conditions continue without scale-up of interventions, cases will continue to double approximately every 20 days, and the number of cases in West Africa will rapidly reach extraordinary levels," the report reads.

The CDC study authors concluded that more beds, staff and other treatment resources are needed to curb the outbreak.

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Utah Is Happiest State in US, Study Finds

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The happiest state in the country is...Utah!

According to a study by WalletHub, the Beehive State was crowned the happiest state. Minnesota wasn't too far behind, coming in at second place, while West Virginia came in last.

The study compiled data falling under the categories of "work," "community, environment and recreational activities," and "emotional and physical well-being." Twenty-six metrics were then used to find out which states lead the nation in happiness.

Utah ranked in the top five states with the lowest divorce rate along with North Dakota, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Minnesota. Mississippi, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada and the District of Columbia ranked in the top five states with the highest divorce rates.

Utah also ranked in the top five states with the lowest percentage of overweight people, highest sports participation rate, lowest median weekly hours worked, and highest volunteerism rate.

The least happy state, West Virginia, scored in the top five states with highest prevalence of obesity, lowest sports participation rate, and highest prevalence of inadequate sleep.

Where does your state stand? Click here to find out.

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Roasting Peanuts Might Be the Cause of Severe Allergic Reactions

iStock/Thinkstock(OXFORD, England) -- There's news from England that might brighten the day of people suffering from peanut allergies.

As reported in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers now think it's something in the actual roasting process that heightens allergic reactions compared to raw peanuts.

A team from Oxford experimented with groups of mice to determine which peanuts would produce a more severe reaction. Based on what happened, the group eating dry roasted peanuts were more susceptible to allergies.

The researchers theorized that chemical changes occur when peanuts are dry-roasted and the human immune system is primed for those changes, triggering various side-effects that include difficulty breathing.

Oxford researcher Amin Moghaddam says this might explain why people in eastern cultures are not as prone to peanut allergies as the West since the nuts are generally eaten raw, boiled or fried.

Moghaddam doesn't advise people with peanut allergies start munching raw peanuts until scientists know exactly why chemical changes occur when nuts are roasted.

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Negative Findings on Use of E-Cigarettes by Cancer Patients

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The debate over the health benefits of e-cigarettes rages on with a new study apparently debunking the notion that these electronic devices can help cancer patients kick the smoking habit.

Researchers at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City wrote in the journal Cancer that smokers diagnosed with cancer who supplemented their regular cigarette use with e-cigarettes became more hooked on nicotine than people who eschewed the vapor-form of smoking.

In a test of 1,110 cancer patients between 2012 and 2013, the numbers who used e-cigarettes jumped from 11 percent to 38.5 percent.

Furthermore, patients who used e-cigarettes were as likely or even less likely to have quit smoking altogether than those who never used the devices when the researchers followed up later.

Jamie Ostroff of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says more needs to be done to determine "the potential harms and benefits of e-cigarettes as a potential cessation approach for cancer patients."

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Iron Deficiency During Pregnancy Has Possible Link to Autism

iStock/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- An iron deficiency in women, especially those who are pregnant, may contribute to a child developing autism.

Researchers at the UC Davis MIND Institute made the connection by examining the intake of iron supplements by women before and during pregnancy.

Study author Rebecca J. Schmidt reported, "The association between lower maternal iron intake and increased [Autism Spectrum Disorder] risk was strongest during breastfeeding, after adjustment for folic acid intake."

In particular, Schmidt warned of a five-fold risk increase of having an autistic child if a woman with a low iron intake is aged 35 or older at the time of pregnancy and also diagnosed as either obese or diabetic.

Schmidt says it's too early to give a definitive recommendation since so many pregnant women are iron-poor and even those with high iron have had autistic children.

Nevertheless, she contends it's important to follow doctor's orders about taking vitamins throughout pregnancy and the recommended daily dosage.

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Texas Newborns Potentially Exposed to TB Awaiting Test Results

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Health officials began screening more than 700 infants who may potentially have been exposed to tuberculosis at an El Paso hospital over the past year by an employee recently diagnosed with the illness, officials said Monday.

Jessica Martinez, whose son Sebastian was born at Providence Memorial Hospital in October 2013, arrived at the clinic early Monday morning. She told ABC News that she received a letter last week from the El Paso Department of Health asking the family to bring their son in for testing. But she said she had already made an appointment based on information she'd read on Facebook.

"I looked into it myself and found out he was on the list even before I got the official letter," she said.

Infants born between September 2013 and Aug. 25 of this year, when the unnamed female nurse was put on leave after testing positive for tuberculosis, were directed to undergo the screenings. They are being offered for free at a clinic set up at the El Paso Department of Health.

TB infection is spread through coughs and sneezes of an infected individual, health officials said. The disease can lay dormant for years before becoming active.

Martinez said her son had already received a skin test and blood test and was scheduled to undergo a chest X-ray later in the day. She said the testing was pretty fast and medical personnel were cordial but that they didn't provide a lot of answers.

According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, newborns exposed to tuberculosis should be tested as soon as possible since they are at greater-than-average risk to progress quickly to TB disease, including severe forms of TB such as TB meningitis. They are often given a course of medication as a safety measure even if they don't test positive for the disease.

Martinez said her son has been healthy so far but she finds the circumstances frightening.

"The fact that he was just minutes old and we were not able to protect him....There is nothing I can do at this point except pray," she said.

Brittany Ochoh said she had not received a letter but she had "checked the dates" and her son, Carlos Ochoh, Jr., fell into the time period of possible infection. She said she called the department of health on Friday to make an appointment for the 8-month-old and then waited two days over the weekend for a Monday appointment.

"I'm not too happy about the fact where it's been over a year and it's just now being brought to the attention of everybody," she told ABC News, adding that her son had no symptoms but she worried because he has had breathing problems and a heart murmur in the past.

Like Martinez, Ochoh said hospital workers refused to answer any of her questions but told her that it will take an additional two to three days to get test results back.

Health officials confirmed to ABC News that they will have test numbers on Wednesday at the earliest. They said there have been no positive tests as of yet. They declined any further on the situation but said there will be a news conference later this week.

"You always think it could never happen to me and then it does," Martinez said.

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Are You Living in the Best Small City in the US?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The results are in for the best small city in America.

The annual ranking of the 50 most livable small cities in the United States — based on more than 50 factors, including housing, property taxes, schools and safety — has been released by Money magazine, and the top spot goes to McKinney, Texas, for its Southern charm.

Rounding out the top 5 were Maple Grove, Minnesota; Carmel, Indiana; Castle Rock, Colorado; and Kirkland, Washington.

Below are the top 10:

  •     McKinney, Texas
  •     Maple Grove, Minnesota
  •     Carmel, Indiana
  •     Castle Rock, Colorado
  •     Kirkland, Washington
  •     Columbia and Ellicott City, Maryland
  •     Clarkstown, New York
  •     Ames, Iowa
  •     Rochester Hills, Michigan
  •     Reston, Virginia

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Cuddlr App Lets You Hug a Stranger

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There are apps that link people up for dates, and others that guarantee meet-ups for more than that. But a new app called Cuddlr promises users something between the two: a hug.

Charlie Williams, a veteran of the music-finding app Shazam, developed the new app, which promises something different from other sites.

"Many features, such as chat, photo albums, shared interests and likes, can keep users from actually meeting: they just chat for months, or swipe left-or-right, or send photos. On Cuddlr, you get together straight away, have a little cuddle, and then part ways," Cuddlr's website says.

The site sends you a hug request from a willing participant, and it's up to you to accept. If things go well, the site says, it's on you.

"If you want to hang out again, you can exchange information then and there -- but you already know what kind of cuddles they give," the site reads.

The site acknowledges meeting a total stranger online for some affection -- even a seemingly innocuous gesture such as a hug -- is a risky proposition, so the site suggests meeting in public for a squeeze. Further than that, Cuddlr allows a ratings system to try to tamp down the creep factor.

"Users with a substantial proportion of [negative] reports are unlikely to have their requests accepted, and we ban anyone who is consistently using it improperly," the site insists.

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Danica McKellar Dishes on Her Fitness and Diet Routines

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images via ABC(LOS ANGELES) -- Danica McKellar couldn't be happier as she prepares for a wedding she says "perhaps" could happen later this year.

The Dancing with the Stars and Wonder Years star, 39, told ABC News that after getting engaged to Scott Sveslosky in July, she wants a small, intimate affair to celebrate their love.

McKellar added that her son Draco, 4, from her first marriage, would be involved, but she didn't say how.

McKellar says wedding dress shopping has been "easier 'cause everything looks good," after doing a show like Dancing with the Stars.

"Getting in the best shape of your life at 39 is amazing. I've been keeping it up pretty well," she said after the show ended earlier this year.

She's also "been doing Pilates twice a week with a trainer, which I've never done before and I love it."

"It's also diet, I eat really well. I eat really, really healthy food," she said. "I don't drink soda, I don't drink coffee. I barely drink alcohol, I only drink water. I'm very paleo, very little processed food, I try to eat a lot of raw stuff. I'm not a vegetarian, but I eat very clean meat. I don't eat sugar and white bread ... like anything else, you are what you eat."

McKellar spoke to ABC News on behalf of Colgate's "Smile for Picture Day," something dear to her heart, especially as she raises a son and teaches him proper dental hygiene.

McKellar shared her tips on getting the best photos -- including visiting the dentist twice a year and even bringing a little toy or stuffed animal to the dentist so your child has fun, brushing together with your child, playing games and apps that help to "trick" your child into enjoying brushing his or her teeth, and practicing taking pictures before the actual day.

"Sit them down and act like you are taking a school picture," she said of practice. "[Also] give them something funny to think about when the photographer takes their picture."

She continued, "Everything educational can be a game ... it should be fun, should all be games. You want to make sure they develop a love of learning ... why not make things fun for your entire life...teaches him addition, math with games."

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How New STD App Might Change Safe Sex Practices

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- When it comes to sex with a new partner, safety can be a huge concern-- but what if proving you're free of sexually transmitted diseases could be as easy as showing your partner your results on a smartphone?

California-based company Healthvana's goal is for people to have easy access to their own health records, including their STD results. They partnered with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to create a service that sends patients' results from the laboratory right to your smartphone, via their website or an app.

"It's no different if you went to the doctor and got a printout and showed [your partner] that," Healthvana founder Ramin Bastani told ABC News.

The problem is that getting that hard copy from the doctor isn't so easy, Bastani said.

"If I want to go back and get my record, it is such a nightmare," he said. "It's hard to get someone on the phone. And if I go back to the clinic, I wait in line for an hour-plus, just like everyone else, just to see someone and maybe get the records. And the whole time I am anxious and nervous."

And many times when people get tested for STDs, they're told they will only hear back if the news is bad.

"We want to eradicate that idea that no news is good news," Bastani said.

Whitney Engeran, the head of public health at the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told ABC News that the app, which delivers chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV results, helps both patients and their doctors.

"It allows us to move faster with our patients and gives them a lot of quick information," he said. "Because right now if they're negative, we don't necessarily call them –- because we see so many people, we really only call them if they’re positive."

He says the app complies with patient privacy regulations known as HIPAA because users must enter into a secure portal through the app before receiving their results, and no private information is sent through email. Patient records are "located in a secure data center" and only a limited number of Healthvana employees have access to the information, Engeran said.

The Healthvana app launched earlier this summer without the instant record feature. That's being tested in three locations in Florida, through the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Engeran said the foundation wants to roll out the updated app nationwide within the next two months.

Bastani estimates that a few thousand people are already using the instant record feature.

Through the app, users will also be able to easily share their medical records with new doctors, or they can share their results electronically with a potential sex partner who also downloads the app.

Michael Kaplan, president of the charity AIDS United, told ABC News he thinks any app that helps people share their STD results is a great idea.

"What I can tell you as someone who tested HIV-positive back in 1992, with clarity that I wanted my past partners to know, is that my only option back then was calling them -- it wasn't even Facebook or social media," he said.

But he cautions that the app will have to be secure.

"There's always a concern, with credit cards, with other apps, of data getting out," Kaplan said.

Art Caplan, head of the medical ethics department at New York University, said he agrees privacy concerns are an issue, and also worries the app could lead to careless decisions.

"You don't want something like this to make people feel like they don't have anything to be worried about," Caplan said, pointing out that lab results aren't always 100% accurate, and users have no way of knowing what someone has been up to since their last test.

Bastani says he knows the app can't definitively prove a user is "clean," as it will only reveal the results of your most recent test. But, he said, it does show a potential sex partner that you care about your sexual health.

The app is free and does not have ads. It is funded by investors. Healthvana sells the platform to health care providers like the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

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Report: Chris Christie Has Lost 85 Pounds Since Surgery

Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is continuing to shed pounds after having weight loss surgery.

The New York Times reports the governor told conservative donors behind closed doors last Friday that he has lost 85 pounds since undergoing lap-band stomach surgery in February 2013.

While the meeting at the Manhattan apartment was off limits to the press, someone in attendance told the newspaper Christie was pressed by donors about his health.

"He did not reveal his current weight, although he said he understood he had to slim down if he wanted to move beyond Trenton," the Times reports.

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TB Testing for Families of over 700 Babies Begins at Texas Hospital

iStock/Thinkstock(EL PASO, Texas) -- Testing for Tuberculosis (TB) begins Monday for the families of more than 700 infants born at Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, Texas.

The babies' parents were informed their children may have been exposed to the highly infectious bacterial disease after an employee in the hospital's nursery tested positive last month during a routine annual screening.

The El Paso Department of Public Health will conduct the free testing, according to the El Paso Times. Sierra Providence Memorial Hospital will test more than 40 employees believed to have been exposed.

TB can be a serious risk for infants too young to be vaccinated. It generally requires close contact over an extended period of time for spreading, and can remain dormant for months or years before symptoms appear.

"This is an unfortunate incident that we're going to get through and we're going to help these babies and their moms and dads," El Paso Public Health Director Robert Resendes said.

Chief Medical Officer at Sierra Providence, Dr. Enrique Martinez said it's difficult to say that every hospital employee will be free of any communicable disease, but "we do the best that is out there in terms of recommendations."

The infected employee no longer works at the hospital and is receiving treatment, say officials.

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Homework Time Is a Stressful Time for Many Families

Wavebreak Media/Thinkstock(LOUISVILLE, Ky.) -- Many kids are back at school, and for a lot of families that means Mom and Dad are hitting the books as well.

A new survey by the National Center for Families Learning reveals that more than 60 percent of parents with children in kindergarten through grade eight admit they have trouble helping with their children's homework. That’s up from 49.1 percent in 2013.

For 41 percent of the parents, pushback from their kids is the main reason, while over 33 percent cite difficulty understanding the subject matter. More than 25 percent admit the main reason is they’re too busy, up from just over 20 percent in 2013.

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