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Michaeleen Doucleff

Michaeleen Doucleff is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. She reports for the radio and the Web for NPR's global health and development blog, Goats and Soda. Doucleff focuses on disease outbreaks, drug development, and trends in global health.

In 2014, Doucleff was part of the team that earned a George Foster Peabody award for its coverage of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. For the series, Doucleff reported on how the epidemic ravaged maternal health and how the virus spreads through the air. In 2015, Doucleff and Senior Producer Jane Greenhalgh reported on the extreme prejudices faced by young women in Nepal when they're menstruating. Their story was the second most popular one on the NPR website in 2015 and contributed to the NPR series on 15-year-old girls around the world, which won two Gracie Awards.

As a science journalist, Doucleff has reported on a broad range of topics, from vaccination fears and the microbiome to beer biophysics and dog psychology.

Before coming to NPR in 2012, Doucleff was an editor at the journal Cell, where she wrote about the science behind pop culture. Doucleff has a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Berkeley, California, and a master's degree in viticulture and enology from the University of California, Davis.

Updated May 14, 2021 at 4:34 PM ET

Scientists in the U.K. now say that one of the variants from India, known as B.1.617.2, is highly contagious and likely more transmissible than the variant from the U.K., B.1.1.7.

Video by Xueying Chang, Kaz Fantone, Michaeleen Doucleff and Ben de la Cruz/NPR / YouTube

When will the pandemic end? How many more COVID-19 waves will the U.S. go through?

India is in the midst of a devastating second wave of COVID-19. For the past several weeks, cases and deaths have skyrocketed. The country is recording more than a quarter million cases per day.

In movies such as Contagion, a pandemic begins in a flash. A deadly virus spills over from an animal, like a pig, into humans and then quickly triggers an outbreak.

But that's not actually what happens, says Dr. Gregory Gray at the Duke Global Health Institute. "It's not like in the movies," he says, "where this virus goes from a pig in Indonesia and causes a pandemic."

This week, the World Health Organization finally released its long-awaited report about its investigation into how and where the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Although the main conclusions were roughly what the agency had already reported to the media, deep inside the 300-page paper there are tantalizing nuggets of information about the early days of the pandemic. And these points haven't yet been widely reported.

In particular, there's some juicy new evidence about where the virus came from — and how COVID was circulating widely through Wuhan before December 2019.

Editor's note: This story was updated on Tuesday after the World Health Organization report was released.

The highly anticipated World Health Organization report on the origins of the coronavirus that sparked a global pandemic was released on Tuesday.

According to the report, data suggests that the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in Wuhan was not the original source of the outbreak.

When the pandemic began last year, scientists went looking for the origins of the coronavirus. Right away, they made a huge discovery. It looked like the virus jumped from a bat into humans.

Now, scientists are worried that another coronavirus will strike again, from either a bat or some other animal. So they've gone hunting for potential sources — and the news is a bit concerning.

At a news conference this week, the World Health Organization made a surprising statement: The coronavirus could possibly be transmitted on frozen packages of food.

"We know that the virus can persist and survive in conditions that are found in these cold and frozen environments," says Peter Ben Embarek, the food scientist who led the World Health Organization team that traveled to China to investigate the origin of the coronavirus pandemic. "But we don't really understand if the virus can then transmit to humans."

Back in the spring of last year, a 45-year-old man went to the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston because of a coronavirus infection. Doctors treated him with steroids and discharged him five days later.

New coronavirus variants seem to be cropping up everywhere. There's one from the U.K., which is more contagious and already circulating in the United States. There's one from South Africa, which is forcing Moderna and Pfizer to reformulate their COVID-19 vaccines and create "booster" shots, just to make sure the vaccines maintain their efficacies.

Back in April, COVID-19 hit the city of Manaus, Brazil, extremely hard. In fact, the outbreak there was arguably the worst in the world. One study, published in the journal Science, estimated that so many people were infected that the city could have reached herd immunity — that the outbreak there slowed down because up to 76% of the population had protection against the virus.

A new variant of the coronavirus is sweeping through England. At the same time, the country is reporting a record-high number of COVID-19 cases – nearly 40,000 on Wednesday — as well as surges in hospitalizations and deaths. In London last week, an estimated 2% of people in private households tested positive for the coronavirus, The Independent reported.

So the big question is: Are these events connected? Is the new variant causing this surge?

A new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly in England and raising international alarms. This new variant now accounts for more than 60% of the cases in London. And scientists say the variant is likely more contagious than previous versions of the virus.

COVID-19 is now the second-leading cause of death in the U.S. for 2020. The virus has killed more than 90 people per 100,000, reports Johns Hopkins University.

But in other parts of the world, the virus hasn't been such a big problem. It's not a top killer. Some global health experts are beginning to ask whether immunizing large swaths of the population is the best use of resources for these countries.

This week, the world heard encouraging news about a vaccine for COVID-19.

On Monday, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, and its partner BioNTech, said their experimental vaccine appears to work – and work quite well. A preliminary analysis suggests the vaccine is more than 90 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 symptoms.

Health officials hope to start vaccinating some Americans in a few months.

Rich countries are rapidly claiming the world's lion's share of future doses of COVID-19 vaccine, creating deep inequalities in global distribution.

Despite an international agreement to allocate the vaccine equitably around the world, billions of people in poor and middle-income countries might not be immunized until 2023 or even 2024, researchers at Duke University predict.

As wildfires raged up and down the Pacific Coast last month, families across California and Oregon lived in – and breathed in — smoky, toxic air for weeks. Many days, the region's air quality ranked among the worst in the world.

Imagine for a minute: A company makes a vaccine that protects kids from a life-threatening disease but, with little warning, decides to stop selling it in the U.S.

That's exactly what happened last year in West Africa, for a vaccine against rotavirus — a disease that kills about 200,000 young children and babies each year.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration just approved one of the most sought after vaccines in recent decades. It's the world's first vaccine to prevent dengue fever — a disease so painful that its nickname is "breakbone fever."

The vaccine, called Dengvaxia, is aimed at helping children in Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories where dengue is a problem.

Measles is surging. Last week the U.S. recorded 90 cases, making this year's outbreak the second largest in more than two decades.

So far this year, the U.S. has confirmed 555 measles cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday. That's 50 percent higher than the total number recorded last year, even though we're only about a quarter of the way through 2019.

And the virus isn't slowing down.

Back in the 1960s, a Harvard graduate student made a landmark discovery about the nature of human anger.

At age 34, Jean Briggs traveled above the Arctic Circle and lived out on the tundra for 17 months. There were no roads, no heating systems, no grocery stores. Winter temperatures could easily dip below minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

Briggs persuaded an Inuit family to "adopt" her and "try to keep her alive," as the anthropologist wrote in 1970.

The pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. Inc. is ending a long-term agreement to supply a lifesaving vaccine for children in West Africa.

At the same time, the company has started sending the vaccine to China, where it will likely be sold for a much higher price.

The vaccine is for a deadly form of diarrhea, called rotavirus, which kills about 200,000 young children and babies each year.

The rate of cesarean sections around the world is increasing at an "alarming" rate, reported an international team of doctors and scientists on Thursday.

Since 1990, C-sections have more than tripled from about 6 percent of all births to 21 percent, three studies report in The Lancet. And there are no "signs of slowing down," the researchers write in a commentary about the studies.

Maybe the short answer is: We need a better imagination?

The global health world hasn't set its goals high enough, hasn't dreamed big enough when it comes to stopping tuberculosis, says Dr. Paul Farmer, physician at Harvard Medical School and founder of the nonprofit Partners In Health.

"We've had a failure of imagination," he says. "We haven't had the same optimism, commitment and high ambitious goals around TB that we've seen around HIV. And what's the downside of setting high goals? I think it's very limited."

When you go through airport security, you might wish you had a pair of gloves on like the TSA agents do.

Researchers have evidence that the plastic trays in security lines are a haven for respiratory viruses. The trays likely harbor more of these pathogens than the flushing button on the airport toilets, researchers reported last week in BMC Infectious Diseases.

Eww.

If hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it.

But there it was, right in front of me: A preteen voluntarily doing chores around the house.

There was no fuss. No nagging or whining. And there were no visible rewards.

I was visiting Maya families in the Yucatan, reporting for NPR's special parenting series #HowToRaiseAHuman. While I was interviewing one mom her 12-year-old daughter went over to the dishes and started washing away — without being asked.

The world now has a potent, new weapon against malaria — one that can wipe out the parasite from a person's body with a single dose.

But before many people around the world can use it, scientists have to overcome a big obstacle.

After a woman gives birth to her baby, labor is not over. She also has to birth the placenta, and this can be quite risky.

The placenta attaches to the uterus through a series of blood vessels, which reach from the mom into the placenta. After childbirth, the placenta tears off the uterus, leaving these vessels open and exposed.

Back in the early 1990s, psychologist Suzanne Gaskins was living in a small Maya village near Valladolid, Yucatán, when she struck up a conversation with two sisters, ages 7 and 9.

The girls started telling her — with great pride — about all the chores they did after school. "I wash my own clothes," the 7-year-old said. The older sister then one-upped her and declared, "I wash my clothes and my baby brother's clothes."

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