Aug 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 1

EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Issues Travel Warning for Three African Countries
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, calling for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African countries due to the growing Ebola outbreak. CDC officials are also on the ground:

  • Tracking the epidemic including using real-time data to improve response
  • Improving case finding
  • Improving contact tracing
  • Improving infection control
  • Improving health communication
  • Advising embassies
  • Coordinating with the World Health Organization and other partners
  • Strengthening Ministries of Health and helping them establish emergency management systems

“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.” Read more on global health.

FDA Takes Steps to Improve Diagnostic Testing
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that patients have access to accurate, consistent and reliable diagnostic testing. The agency announced today that it was issuing a final guidance on the development, review and approval or clearance of companion diagnostics, which are used to determine whether patients should receive certain drugs. The FDA is also notifying Congress that it will publish a proposed risk-based oversight framework for laboratory developed tests. “Ensuring that doctors and patients have access to safe, accurate and reliable diagnostic tests to help guide treatment decisions is a priority for the FDA,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “Inaccurate test results could cause patients to seek unnecessary treatment or delay and sometimes forgo treatment altogether.” Read more on the FDA.

CDC: New Online Resource on Opportunities in U.S. Health System
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support (OSTLTS) has launched a new website, Health System Transformation and Improvement Resources for Health Departments, to provide information, resources and training opportunities related to ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the U.S. health system. This includes the public health, health care, insurance and other sectors. Topics covered by the new site range from shared services, community benefit assessment and accountable care organizations to public health law, workforce, return on investment and financing. Read more on access to health care.

Jul 31 2014
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PHLR: Interactive Dataset Illustrates Historical Minimum Wage Trends

The first federal minimum wage was set in 1938 by the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act. It was 25 cents per hour. Twenty-two subsequent increases now put the wage at $7.25—that equates to about $15,000 per year for a person who works a standard 40-hour workweek.

A new interactive dataset from Public Health Law Research (PHLR) enables researchers, policymakers, media and others to track these and other changes in both the federal and state minimum wages. PHLR is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Temple University dedicated to building the evidence base for laws that improve public health

“By tracking the changes to the rates and the law’s characteristics over time, we have laid the ground work for researchers and others to study the effects of minimum wage laws on many factors, such as housing, education, and health and well-being,” said Sarah Happy, JD, the PHLR program’s Director of Policy Surveillance, in a release.

Why does income impact health? A good paying job makes it easier for workers to live in healthier neighborhoods, provide quality education for their children, secure child care services and buy more nutritious food—all of which affect health.

Among the facts and trends revealed by the interactive dataset:

  • Forty-five states and Washington, D.C., have minimum wage laws. The only states that do not are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
  • In many states, the recent trend has been to increase the minimum wage above the federal rate and adjust it yearly for inflation.  Currently, Washington, D.C., has the highest state minimum wage rate at $9.50 an hour.
  • Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota and Wyoming all have lower minimum wages than the federal wage, meaning their residents would receive the federal minimum, in most cases.
  • Alaska and Connecticut are the only two states that have had a minimum wage consistently higher than the federal minimum wage rate since 1980.

PHLR’s “Minimum Wage Laws Map joins more than 25 other maps on the PHLR LawAtlas.org website tracking laws across states and over time in more than ten public health issue areas, including chronic disease; injury and violence prevention; and environmental health.

>>Read more on the impact of income and jobs on health.

Jul 31 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 31

Study: Families With Preschoolers Purchasing Fewer High-Calorie Drinks
Recent progress in stalling and perhaps even reversing the childhood obesity epidemic may be linked to fewer families with preschool-aged children purchasing high-calorie drinks, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers used Nielsen Homescan data from approximately 43,000 U.S. households with young children from 2000 to 2011, identifying the top 20 foods and beverages purchased. “Decreases in purchases of fluid milks, soft drinks, juice and juice drinks, and grain-based desserts were the primary drivers of this change,” said lead author Christopher Ford, MPH, doctoral candidate in nutrition at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “These data suggest that these households may have purchased fewer calories from solid fats and added sugars.” Previous research shows that approximately 70 to 80 percent of a preschooler’s diet comes from food purchased at stores. Read more on nutrition.

Peace Corps Withdraws from Three West African Countries Due to Ebola Crisis
The Peace Corps announced yesterday that it was removing all 340 of its volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in reaction to the increasing spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. The organization said it has been working closely with experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State to monitor the health crisis and determine how it should respond. “The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” according to a Peace Corps release. “A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.” Read more on global health.

Study: Women Who Live Near Green Spaces Give Birth to Healthier Babies
Pregnant women who live near green spaces—such as parks, community gardens and even cemeteries—give birth to healthier babies with significantly higher birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 40,000 single live births in Tel Aviv, Israel. "We found that overall, an increase of surrounding greenery near the home was associated with a significant increase of birth weight and decreased risk for low birth weight," said Michael Friger, PhD, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Department of Public Health. "This was the first study outside of the United States and Europe demonstrating associations between greenery and birth weight, as well as the first to report the association with low birth weight." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jul 30 2014
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Helping the Homeless Quit Smoking: Q&A with Michael Businelle and Darla Kendzor, The University of Texas School of Public Health

Not surprisingly, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that homeless smokers struggle with quitting more than economically disadvantaged smokers who have their own housing. The study compared homeless smokers receiving treatment at a shelter-based smoking cessation clinic to people enrolled in a smoking cessation program at a Dallas, Texas, safety-net hospital.

“On average, homeless people reported that they found themselves around about 40 smokers every day, while the group getting cessation care at the hospital reported that they were more likely to be around three to four smokers every day,” said Michael S. Businelle, PhD, assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, and the lead author of the study. “Imagine if you had an alcohol problem and were trying to quit drinking—it would be almost impossible to quit if you were surrounded by 40 people drinking every day. That is the situation homeless folks have to overcome when they try to quit smoking.”

Businelle said research shows that about 75 percent of homeless people smoke and that smoking is a leading cause of death in this population. And although homeless smokers are just as likely to try to quit smoking as are other smokers, they are far less successful at quitting, according to Businelle’s work. He said tailored smoking cessation programs are needed for homeless people, including smoke-free zones in shelters.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Businelle and his wife, Darla Kendzor, PhD, who is a co-author of the recent study on smoking and the homeless, as well as an assistant professor at The University of Texas.

NPH: Why did you embark on the study?

Michael Businelle: The smoking prevalence in this population is so high and homeless people are not enrolled in clinical trials so we don’t know what will work best for them. We’ve developed, over the last 50 years, really good treatments for the general population of smokers, but there are very few treatments that have been tested in homeless populations.

Darla Kendzor: And cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are in large part due to tobacco smoking, are the leading causes of death among homeless adults. So quitting smoking would make a big difference for them. 

Read more

Jul 30 2014
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Recommended Reading: 'National Geographic' on the Recent Ebola Outbreak

Since March, several African countries have reported more than 1,000 cases of Ebola virus and more than 670 deaths. During a United Nations Foundation briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization raised concerns about airline passengers from these countries spreading Ebola well beyond Africa. This week that fear became a reality when a U.S. citizen, Paul Sawyer, who had been in Liberia very recently as a consultant to the country’s finance ministry,  fell ill on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Sawyer was  hospitalized in Lagos, Nigeria, and died there of Ebola.

Several West African nations have responded by planning to set up monitoring stations at airports to identify people with fevers before they board planes. On a CDC conference call this week with reporters, Martin Cetron, MD, the CDC's director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said it makes more sense to put checkpoints in West African countries than to scan incoming passengers in the United States because there are few direct flights from West Africa, and fevers found among passengers entering the United States are unlikely to be Ebola.

“Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, “ said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, during the conference call, also adding that  even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers because blood and stool carry the most viruses. Cetron also said that those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.

"We do not anticipate [Ebola]  will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. "We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures."

The National Geographic recently took an in-depth look at the Ebola virus in Africa and the risk of it spreading to the United States. Read the full article.

Jul 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 30

U.S. Surgeon General Issues ‘Call to Action’ Warning on Tanning and Skin Cancer
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the office’s first Call to Action on the dangers of tanning as it relates to skin cancer, which the Surgeon General called a “major public health problem.” The Call to Action is designed to increase awareness of skin cancer and presents five strategic goals to support its prevention:

  • Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings
  • Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
  • Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer
  • Reduce harms from indoor tanning
  • Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly 5 million people treated for all types combined annually at a cost of $8.1 billion. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths and 90 percent of melanomas are estimated to be the result of UV exposure. Read more on cancer.

NIH, 23andMe Partner to Expand Researcher Access to Genetic Disease Data
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has entered into a $1.4 million, two-year deal with home genetics startup 23andMe to open up the company’s stores of genetic data to external researchers. The grant will enable the creation of survey tools and other methods to help researchers access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people who have use 23andMe’s services. “23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, in a release. “This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.” Read more on research.

Study: Students Increasingly Accepting Healthier School Lunches
Despite initial pushback from students wary of revised school lunch policies implemented to provide heathier meals in 2012, a nationally representative sample of 557 U.S. public elementary schools found that approximately 70 percent of respondents said that students liked the new lunches by the second half of the school year. Researchers also found that school meal sales were up for disadvantaged students, who are more likely than their peers to experience a lack of proper nutrition. Read more on school health.

Jul 29 2014
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Four States Join National Governors Association’s Prescription Drug Abuse Project

Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina and Wisconsin have been tapped to join the second round of the National Governors Association’s (NGA) Prescription Drug Abuse Project, tasked with developing comprehensive, evidence-based statewide action plans to help combat the growing public health problem. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin will lead the project, with their states also taking part.

Over the next year, the states participating in the project will accomplish the following:

  • Attend two, two-day meetings with other policy academy states;
  • Host an in-state workshop coordinated by NGA Center for Best Practices staff;
  • Develop a strategic plan for reducing prescription drug abuse;
  • Participate in regular conference calls and other meeting activities; and
  • Receive state-specific technical assistance from NGA staff and national experts.

“We are united by a common goal to reduce prescription drug abuse,” said Sandoval, in a release. “Bringing states together will help each of us learn ways to combat this growing problem. It is an honor to serve as co-lead on this timely and important issue.”

“Communities across the country continue to be affected by the abuse of prescription drugs,” added Shumlin. “That is why this initiative remains so important for governors. As the leaders of our states, our primary concern is for the health and safety of our citizens.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug overdose is now the leading cause of death from injury, with approximately 113 U.S. deaths each day and 6,748 people treated daily for misuse or abuse in the nation’s emergency departments (EDs).

Additional data on prescription drug abuse from the CDC includes:

  • In 2011, among people ages 25 to 64, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes;
  • Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992, with a 118 percent increase from 1999 to 2011 alone;
  • In 2011, 33,071 (80 percent) of the 41,340 drug overdose deaths in the United States were unintentional, 5,298 (12.8 percent) were of suicidal intent, 80 (0.2 percent) were homicides, and 2,891 (7 percent) were of undetermined intent;
  • In 2011, drug misuse and abuse caused approximately 2.5 million ED visits, with more than 1.4 million of these related to pharmaceuticals;
  • Between 2004 and 2005, an estimated 71,000 children were seen in EDs annually because of medication overdose (excluding self-harm, abuse and recreational drug use); and
  • Among children under age 6, pharmaceuticals account for roughly 40 percent of all exposures reported to poison centers.
>>Bonus Content: Watch a one-minute video NewPublicHealth created on the scope of the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the United States.
Jul 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 29

NCAA Reaches Preliminary Concussion Settlement, Including $70M Monitoring Program
The NCAA has reached a preliminary settlement in response to a class-action push to revise its head injury policies. The settlement includes a $70 million medical monitoring fund that would provide all former college athletes with the opportunity to receive neurological screenings, as well as a new national protocol which would require assessments by trained professionals and keep athletes from returning to games or practices the same day they suffer a head injury. “This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,” said the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steve Berman, according to The New York Times. “Student-athletes—not just football players—have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.” Read more on injury prevention.

Marijuana Legalization Not Linked to Rise in Teen Use
The gradual increase in marijuana use by U.S. teens over the past two decades is not linked to the legalization of medical marijuana in various states, according to a new research paper based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers determined that the probability that a high school student had used marijuana in the previous 30 days was only 0.8 percent higher in states where use was legal. While marijuana is illegal under federal law, it has been legalized for medical purposes in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students," wrote D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon, in the paper. Read more on substance abuse.

Study: 5-10 Minutes of Daily Running Can Add Three Years to Life Expectancy
As little as five to ten minutes of slow running every day can add up to an additional three years of life expectancy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers examined data on 55,137 adults 18-100 years of age (with a media age of 44 years), finding that running for the length of time at six miles an hour or slower was associated with markedly reduced risk of death from all causes, including heart disease. Researchers said the results should help drive inactive individuals to take up exercise programs. Read more on physical activity.

Jul 28 2014
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Recommended Reading: Life Expectancy Gains Threatened When Older Americans Have Multiple Medical Conditions

A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health finds that nearly four in five older Americans are living with multiple chronic medical conditions. That’s very concerning, say the researchers, because their work shows that the more ailments a person has after retirement age, the shorter their life expectancy. The researchers say the new study is one of the first to look at the burden of multiple chronic conditions on life expectancy among the elderly and may help explain why increases in life expectancy among older Americans are slowing.

“Living with multiple chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease and heart failure is now the norm and not the exception in the United States,” said Eva H. DuGoff, PhD, a researcher at the school of public health and the lead author of the new study. “The medical advances that have allowed sick people to live longer may not be able to keep up with the growing burden of chronic disease. It is becoming very clear that preventing the development of additional chronic conditions in the elderly could be the only way to continue to improve life expectancy.”

The study found that a 75-year-old American woman with no chronic conditions will live to be an average of 92, but a 75-year-old woman with five chronic conditions will only live to an average age of 87 and a 75-year-old woman with 10 or more chronic conditions will only live to the age of 80. Women continue to live longer than men and white people live longer than black people, based on data from annual U.S. surveys.

On average, life expectancy is reduced by 1.8 years with each additional chronic condition, the researchers found. But while the first disease shaves off just a fraction of a year off life expectancy for older people, the impact grows as the diseases add up. The study is based on an analysis of the records of 1.4 million Medicare enrollees and was published in the journal Medical Care.

Other groups are also beginning to look at this issue. Healthy aging will be this year’s focus of the President’s Initiative of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers. A year-long focus on healthy aging will begin during the association’s annual conference in September.

Read the full study.

Jul 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 28

Study: EHRs Don’t Increase the Risk for Medicare Fraud
The use of electronic health records (EHRs) does not increase the risk of Medicare fraud, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study, scheduled to be published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers analyzed longitudinal data to determine whether U.S. hospitals that recently adopted EHRs also saw increases in the severity of patients’ conditions and payments from Medicare; they determined that adopters and non-adopters saw rates increase approximately equally. "There have been a lot of anecdotes and individual cases of hospitals using electronic health records in fraudulent ways. Therefore there was an assumption that this was happening systematically, but we find that it isn't," said Julia Adler-Milstein, U-M assistant professor of information, as well as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the U-M School of Public Health. Read more on technology.

Fist Bumps May Be the Best Greeting for Reducing Germ Transmission
Want to meet society’s hand-to-hand greeting expectation while also reducing the transmission of germs? Try a fist bump. Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom used a germ-covered glove test to determine that handshakes transmit nearly twice as many bacteria as high-fives, which in turn transmit more bacteria than fist bumps. The study in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that duration and grip of a physical greeting also increased the number of bacteria transmitted. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author, David Whitworth, PhD. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” Read more on infectious disease.

Fear a Greater Motivator than Data When it Comes to Using Sunscreen
Fear over developing skin cancer is a larger motivator for people’s usesof sunscreen than actual data that quantifies their risk, according to a new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 1,500 people with no history of skin cancer, finding that for people who reported “never” using it and those who reported “always” using it, worry was a greater factor than education about risk, and the greater the worry, the more likely the use. “Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, MD, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we are potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions do not address feelings.” Read more on cancer.