The year 2014 was marked by gloomy health stories that elicited fear, sadness and even anger, but there were also stories that gave readers a reason to celebrate and remain hopeful. Here are the top health stories of the year:
In March this year, authorities in Guinea confirmed that the mysterious disease that caused a series of deaths in the country's southern forests is the Ebola virus. At the time, 59 people were known to have been killed by the disease. The infection has now spread at an unprecedented scale, affecting 19,000 individuals and killing about 7,000.
The epidemic, which severely hit West Africa, has resulted in strict screening protocols in airports to prevent the further spread of the disease. It has likewise accelerated efforts to hunt for vaccines and treatments for the virus. Still, it appears that the outbreak is far from over.
Children's hospitals across the country saw an increase in the number of children who were struck by a severe respiratory illness called Enterovirus D68. Children are particularly vulnerable to the disease, which can cause paralysis and has been attributed to one fatality and four suspected deaths.
Stem Cell Research Scandal
In what was initially viewed as a big breakthrough in stem cell research, Haruko Obokata from Japan's Riken Center for Developmental Biology and her team claimed to have found a way to convert mature adult cells into embryonic stem cells through a procedure dubbed as stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP).
Obokata's studies were published in the journal Nature in January, but her research faced scrutiny when her work could not be replicated by other scientists. In July, her work was retracted by Nature and an investigation conducted by Riken found that the scientist fabricated her work.
Woman with Transplanted Womb Gives Birth
A woman who was born without a uterus successfully gave birth to a baby after undergoing a womb transplant, a first in medical history. The milestone cleared doubts about transplanted wombs being able to support a developing fetus and is giving hope to women, who do not have a uterus either since birth or after losing it because of bouts with cancer, to have a biological child.
Number of Smokers in the U.S. Drops to Historical Low
The prevalence of cigarette smoking in the U.S. has hit an all-time low for the period 2005 to 2013. CDC reported that the rate of cigarette smoking is now 17.8 percent, the lowest since NHIS record keeping began in 1965.