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Monday
What Is Monkeypox, Where Is It Spreading? European and American health officials have identified several cases of monkeypox recently, mostly in young men.

The cases reported in Europe and the United States are raising concern because the disease has rarely appeared outside of Africa.

International health officials say the risk to the general population is low. They are keeping watch for cases because, for the first time, the disease appears to be spreading among people who did not travel to Africa.

What is monkeypox?

Monkeypox is a virus from monkeys that was first identified in 1958. It spreads among wild animals and sometimes jumps to people.

Most human cases have been in central and west Africa, where the disease is endemic. The first known human infection was in 1970, in a 9-year-old boy in a distant part of Congo.

Symptoms and treatments

Monkeypox belongs to the same virus family as smallpox but causes milder symptoms.

Most patients only experience fever, body aches, chills and tiredness. People more seriously sick may develop a rash and cuts on their face and hands that can spread to other parts of the body.

The virus develops in a human body from about five days to three weeks after infection. Most people recover within about two to four weeks without needing to be hospitalized. Monkeypox can result in death for up to one in 10 people and is thought to be more severe in children.

People exposed to the virus are often given one of several smallpox vaccines, which have been shown to be effective against monkeypox. Anti-viral drugs are also being developed.

On Thursday, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said all suspected cases should be isolated and that high-risk contacts should be offered the smallpox vaccine.

How many cases are there?

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates there are thousands of monkeypox infections in several African countries every year.

Most are in Congo, which reports about 6,000 cases yearly, and Nigeria, with about 3,000 cases a year. Experts say that many infected people are likely never identified as having the disease because of uneven reporting in the countries.

Isolated cases of monkeypox are sometimes reported outside of Africa, including in the U.S. and Britain. The cases are normally linked to travel to Africa or contact with animals from areas where the disease is more common.

In 2003, 47 people in the U.S. had confirmed or probable cases. They caught the virus from pet prairie dogs that had been housed near imported small animals from Ghana.

What’s different this time?

This is the first time monkeypox appears to be spreading among people who did not travel to Africa. Most of the cases involve men who have had sex with other men.

In Europe, infections have been reported in Britain, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.

Britain’s Health Security Agency said its cases are not all connected, suggesting that there are several paths of transmission happening. The infections in Portugal were picked up at a men's sexual health center.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials reported a case of monkeypox in a man who had recently traveled to Canada, where officials are investigating suspected infections in the Montreal area.

Is monkeypox spreading through sex?

Monkeypox has not been documented to spread through sex. But it can be transmitted through close contact with infected people, their body fluids and their clothing or bedsheets.

Michael Skinner is a virologist at Imperial College London. He said it is still too early to say how the men in Britain were infected.

Skinner told the Associated Press, “By nature, sexual activity involves intimate contact, which one would expect to increase the likelihood of transmission.”

Jimmy Whitworth is a professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He told Reuters that the new cases of monkeypox were "highly unusual" but urged people not to worry.

"This isn't going to cause a nationwide epidemic like COVID did, but it's a serious outbreak of a serious disease – and we should take it seriously," Whitworth said.

I'm Caty Weaver.
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Tuesday
Top US Defense Officials Testify about Unexplained Flying Objects Two top U.S. Defense Department officials have testified in Congress about military sightings of unexplained flying objects.

The officials told a House Intelligence subcommittee Tuesday the U.S. military is fully prepared to keep investigating the origins of the objects. The Defense Department calls the objects “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAPs. UAPs are also commonly known as unidentified flying objects, or UFOs.

The two defense intelligence officials were testifying in the first public congressional hearing on the subject in more than 50 years. The last such hearings took place in the 1960s.

The House hearing came after the release of a U.S. government intelligence report on UAPs last year. That report, ordered by Congress, documented more than 140 cases of UAPs observed by U.S. military pilots since 2004.

One of those testifying at Tuesday’s hearing was Scott Bray. He is deputy director of naval intelligence. He told House members that the official number of UAP sightings recorded by a newly formed Defense Department group had grown to more than 400.

The two officials said investigations were ongoing into the reported sightings. They added, however, that many of the cases remain outside the government’s ability to explain.

The defense officials were asked whether some of the sightings might have originated from extraterrestrial beings. The term extraterrestrial describes things that exist or originate from outside Earth or its atmosphere.

Bray told the hearing that, so far, the Defense Department had discovered no "material” suggesting that any of the sightings were “non-terrestrial in origin." However, he added that military and intelligence experts have not ruled that possibility out.

The officials said department investigators aimed to follow any evidence of UAP sightings as far as it leads them. They noted that the military’s main interest in unexplained objects is that they present possible national security threats.

The other official who testified was Ronald Moultrie. He is the Defense Department’s undersecretary for intelligence and security. He also heads the Pentagon’s latest UAP investigative team.

Moultrie told the hearing that UAP sightings by military members represent possible flight safety risks, as well as general security concerns. Because of this, he said, investigators hope to “determine their origins.”

Moultrie said the department had sought to urge pilots and other military members to report any unusual objects they see. He told lawmakers, “We want to know what's out there as much as you want to know what's out there.”

Bray presented two short videos of UAP sightings. One showed flashing, triangle-shaped objects in the sky. The objects were later judged to be elements of light passing through night-vision glasses. The other showed a bright, rounded object speeding past a military aircraft's window. Bray said that sighting remains unexplained.

Last year’s report on UAPs described sightings of unexplained objects that appeared to show speed and movements not seen in existing flying technology. Such objects appeared to lack traditional propulsion or flight control systems. Propulsion is the force that moves something forward. Bray said those incidents, including one described by Navy pilots, are among the cases still considered "unresolved."

The 2021 report said more data and examinations were needed to identify whether such objects might represent new systems being developed by a foreign power such as China or Russia.

The subcommittee's top Republican, Rick Crawford, said he was in favor of the UAP investigative effort. But he added that he was “more interested" in gaining a better understanding of Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapon development.

Hypersonic is a term that relates to speeds of more than five times the speed of sound. In addition to flying at extremely high speeds, hypersonic weapons are also designed to move in ways that make them difficult to find and destroy in flight.

Crawford added: “The inability to understand objects in our sensitive operating areas is tantamount to intelligence failure that we certainly want to avoid.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.
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Wednesday
In South Korea, Fewer Women Seeking Pregnancy In South Korea, fewer women are having children. The high costs of housing and education make financial security a necessity. Social customs also dictate that a woman should be married before having a baby.

Lim Eun-young, a 34-year-old public servant, says she is not financially ready to start a family. She and her boyfriend are not married. They have been dating for just a few months. But Lim is worried about getting older and how that might affect her chances for pregnancy. So, in November, she had doctors remove some of her eggs and freeze them for possible use later.

Lim was one of about 1,200 unmarried women who underwent the operation last year at CHA Medical Center. In 2019, the number of patients for the same treatment was about 600. CHA is South Korea's largest fertility business, accounting for about 30 percent of the market.

"It's a big relief and it gives me peace of mind to know that I have healthy eggs frozen right here," she said.

Freezing eggs to gain reproductive time is an option increasingly explored by women worldwide. And, South Korea has one of the world's lowest fertility rates. The average number of children born to a woman over her reproductive life in South Korea was just 0.81 last year. That compares with an average rate of 1.59 among developed countries in 2020. The countries are members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD.

The South Korean government provides special assistance to families with children. The government budgeted $37 billion last year for policies aimed at increasing the country's birth rate.

The low birth rate is blamed largely on South Korea’s highly competitive and costly education system. Many children are pushed into high pressure schools and private lessons from a young age.

"We hear from married couples and watch reality TV shows about how expensive it is to raise kids in terms of education costs and everything, and all these worries translate to fewer marriages and babies," said Lim.

Housing costs have also shot up. An average apartment in Seoul, for example, costs an estimated 19 years of South Korea's median yearly household earnings, up from 11 years in 2017.

Cho So-Young, a 32-year-old nurse at CHA who plans to freeze her eggs this coming July, is also hoping to get in a better financial position before having a child.

"If I get married now and give birth, I can't give my baby the kind of environment I had when I grew up...I want better housing, a better neighborhood and better food to eat," she said.

But even when finances are less of a consideration, being married is seen as required before having children in South Korea. Just two percent of births in South Korea are to unmarried parents, compared to an average of 41 percent for OECD countries.

In fact, only married women in South Korea are permitted to receive a medical fertilization process. Single women are barred under the law.

Sayuri Fujita, a Japanese celebrity based in South Korea, recently brought the issue to light. The unmarried star had to go back to Japan when she decided to get pregnant without a partner.

That needs to change, argues Jung Jae-hoon, a professor of social issues at Seoul Women's University. She said marriages in South Korea dropped to a record low of 192,500 last year. That is down around 40 percent from ten years ago. Even when looking at marriage levels in 2019 to discount the effect of the pandemic, the drop is still a huge 27 percent.

"The least the government can do is to not get in the way of those out there who are willing” to pay the costs of having a baby, he said.

Even more worrying is the sharp drop in South Koreans’ willingness to have children at all.

A study in 2020 found that 52 percent of South Koreans in their 20s do not plan to have children when they get married. That is a massive jump from 29 percent in 2015. South Korea’s gender and family ministry carried out the study.

I'm Ashley Thompson. And I'm Caty Weaver.
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Thursday
War in Ukraine among Reasons for High Cooking Oil Prices Vegetable cooking oil prices rose around the world during the two years of the COVID-19 health crisis. Prices went even higher two months ago when Russia started a war with Ukraine.

The two countries supply much of the world’s sunflower oil. About half comes from Ukraine and 25 percent comes from Russia.

The price increases are hurting people around the world who use oil to cook their food.

Vegetable oils from corn, soybean and oil palm hit a record high price in February. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said prices again rose by 23 percent in March.

Food stores in Turkey are limiting the amount of oil families can purchase.

In Istanbul, Mahsun Aktas is a food server and cook at a restaurant that sells seafood like fish, squid and mussels. He said the restaurant finally raised prices in April because oil became four times more costly than it was in 2019.

He said the restaurant postponed raising prices for many years, hoping oil costs would fall.

“But we saw there is no improvement,” he said. But higher prices cause a problem: “the customer cannot afford it.”

Indonesia said it will soon stop exporting cooking oil. That means the international price of palm oil will rise again. The high cost of cooking oil is one reason for recent protests in the capital, Jakarta.

A woman named Emiwati runs a small eating place in Jakarta. She needs 24 liters of oil each day to make her traditional beef and rice meal. She has been having trouble buying the oil she needs. She said she is not raising prices because she does not want to lose customers. But she is losing money. “I am sad,” Emiwati said.

Other people are trying new cooking methods.

Glaudina Nyoni is from Harare, Zimbabwe. She was shopping at a food store and told a reporter that the cost of oil has gone up 100 percent over the last two months.

“We will just have to boil everything now, the days of the frying pan are gone,” she said.

In Britain, Spain and Italy, stores have also limited the amount of oil customers can buy.

In Kenya, the nation’s main power company warned people about buying cooking oil on the street. The company said thieves were stealing liquid from power stations and selling it as cooking oil. If people use it, the company said, they will become sick.

Yawar Khan owns an Indian restaurant in London. Khan said 20 liters of oil once cost $28. Now it is $49. But Khan said passing the higher cost on to customers will cause a “catastrophe.”

International companies like Unilever and Cargill are warning that prices for products that use oil, such as soap and mayonnaise, will go up. Other companies are trying to come up with new combinations so they can use less or different oils for their products.

Food experts say there is a chance that prices will go down later in the year when farmers in the northern half of the world harvest their crops. But there is no guarantee, said Joseph Glauber of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Steve Mathews studies agriculture at Gro Intelligence, a research company. He said if Russia and Ukraine reached an agreement to stop the war, there might be a short-term decline in prices.

In the long term, Glauber said, the shortage might cause countries to change the amount of vegetable oils required to be mixed with fuel as a way to reduce pollution. In the U.S., for example, 42 percent of the soybean oil gets mixed into fuel. In Europe, the European Commission said it would support countries that decide to reduce the amount of vegetable oil that is used to make fuel for vehicles.

Currently, however, restaurant owners from London to the southern U.S. state of Tennessee are worried that they might go out of business.

Harry Niazi in London makes fried fish and potatoes, known as fish and chips — a popular British meal. “It’s very, very scary,” he said.

In Tennessee, Christine Coronado makes fried foods at her restaurant called Jordan’s Grab n’ Go. She said she finally increased prices in April.

“You hate to raise prices on people, but it’s just that costs are so much higher than they were a couple of years ago,” she said.

I’m Dan Friedell.
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Friday
Today
Male and Female Soccer Players in US Will Receive Equal Pay The organization that runs soccer in the United States says its men’s and women’s national soccer teams will receive equal pay. The U.S. is the first country in the world to make such a promise.

The U.S. Soccer Federation made the announcement Wednesday. It worked with players’ groups from both the men’s and women’s teams to reach an agreement that runs through the end of 2028.

Both groups of players had been playing in games without contracts.

The American women’s soccer team is one of the best in the world. The men’s soccer team has seen less success; it did not qualify for the World Cup in 2018. Players on the men’s team, however, have always received much more money than players on the women’s team.

Margaret Purce is a player for the women’s team. She said the agreement will help women and girls “recognize their value rather than having to fight for it.”

The final part of the agreement that needed to be worked out was how the players would be paid for competing in the World Cup. The women’s team won the last two tournaments but still earned far less than the men.

The players’ groups, known as unions, agreed to combine the money they received from FIFA, the soccer organization that runs the World Cup.

After the U.S. Soccer Federation takes 10 percent of the money, the rest will be divided equally among the players. Each team has 23 players.

This is important for the female players because there is still much more money in the men’s game. In 2018, the last place men’s team took home twice as much money compared to the winning American women’s team.

Walker Zimmermann is a male player who worked on the contract. He said he was excited. “We saw it as an opportunity to be leaders in this front and join with the women’s side…”

Purce said she was “grateful for this accomplishment and for all the people who came together to make it so.” However, she added she believed paying men and women equally “is what you’re supposed to do.”

In the new contract, the women gave up salary guarantees in return for an equal share of the money brought in by U.S. Soccer.

Both male and female players will get help caring for children when they are playing. Before, that was a benefit only for the female players. Both the men and women will also get money for their retirement and share a percentage of the money that comes from ticket sales at their games.

Cindy Parlow Cone is a former member of the women’s team. She is now in charge of the U.S. Soccer Federation. She said the key to reaching the agreement was permitting the male and female players to work together during the process. She said working separately was “a challenge.” At one point, she thought they would not come up with a good plan.

Mark Levinstein is a lawyer for the men’s group. He said the new agreement ends “more than 20 years of federation discrimination against” the female players.

I’m Dan Friedell.
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