Category Archives: HIV

Jul 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 3

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Widely Used HIV Drug Linked to Higher Suicide Risk
People infected with HIV whose treatment includes the widely used antiretroviral drug efavirenz appear to have double the risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts and completion compared to HIV patients not taking the medication, according to a study by several researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“When efavirenz is used as a component of antiretroviral therapy, patients should be monitored carefully for exacerbation of depression or evidence of suicidal thoughts or behavior,” according to the study.

The drug has been previously linked to central nervous system side effects and suicide, but until now a clear link to suicidal thinking, attempted suicide, or completed suicide was not clear. The effects persist for the time patients are on the drug. The researchers recommend that patients with HIV use alternative drugs, if possible, if they are at risk for depression. Read more on HIV.

Nutrition Screenings Should Be Regular Part of Geriatric Health Assessment
Most older adults typically have one or more chronic health conditions that can affect their food intake and should be asked about their food intake during health exams, according to a new study in Nutrition in Clinical Practice. The researchers said that health care providers should also look for signs of malnutrition, such as loss of subcutaneous fat, muscle loss and fluid accumulation. Read more on aging.

Many American Teens Follow Pro-Marijuana Twitter Feeds and Receive Pro-Marijuana Tweets
Hundreds of thousands of American teens are following marijuana-related Twitter accounts and getting pro-marijuana tweets several times each day, according to researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers say the tweets are cause for concern because young people are especially responsive to social media influences and because patterns of drug use tend to be established in a person’s late teens and early 20s. The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and relied on tweets sent and received between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2013, from a single popular pro-marijuana Twitter feed. During the study period, the feed posted an average of 11 pro-marijuana tweets per day. Read more on substance abuse.

Jun 26 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 26

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‘I Got Tested’ Campaign Promotes Importance of Knowing Your HIV Status
A new public information campaign from Greater Than AIDS is using real-life stories to advocate the importance of knowing your HIV/AIDS status. The “I Got Tested” campaign will place materials in clinics to support providers in HIV outreach; provide free HIV testing in select Walgreens pharmacies; and promote hotlines and online resources provided by departments of health and agencies, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Despite overwhelming evidence that early diagnosis and treatment play an important role both in the health of those who are positive and in reducing the spread of HIV, many Americans at highest risk for infection still have not been tested,” said Tina Hoff, Senior Vice President and Director of Health Communication and Media Partnerships at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a co-founding partner of Greater Than AIDS, in a release. “This campaign is about helping to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV testing, to encourage patients to ask their providers to get tested, and to connect people with services in their communities.” Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Court: NYC’s ‘Soda Ban’ is Illegal
New York City’s ban on large sugary drinks—often referred to as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “soda ban”—is illegal, according to a 4-2 ruling from the state Court of Appeals. The court found that the local health board that passed the regulation overstepped its authority. "By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York," wrote Judge Eugene Pigott for the majority. The soda ban was one of several public health initiatives pushed by Bloomberg, along with a ban on cigarettes in certain public spaces and a ban on trans fats from restaurants. Read more on nutrition.

Study: 3 Hours of Television Per Day Can Double Risk of Early Death
Watching more than three hours of television per day may double a person’s risk of an early death, compared to someone who watches less than one hour per day, according to a surprising new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers tracked more than 13,000 seemingly healthy adults in Spain, finding that for every two additional hours a person spent watching television, their risk of death from heart disease climbed 44 percent, their cancer death risk climbed 21 percent and their risk of premature death climbed 55 percent for all other causes. The study found no such link for other sedentary causes, including working at a computer and driving. Read more on physical activity.

Feb 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 12

FEMA Issues Advisories as Severe Weather Hits Parts of the U.S.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has begun issuing advisories for states across the Southern United States expected to be impacted by severe weather.

According to the National Weather Service, a major winter storm is impacting the South and Southeast ahead of moving up the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday.

FEMA is encouraging both residents and visitors in the track of the storms to follow the instructions of state, local and tribal officials, and monitor NOAA Weather Radio and their local news for updates and directions provided by local officials. Residents can find trusted sources for weather and preparedness information via Twitter on FEMA’s social hub.

Weather Emergency Alerts (WEA) are currently being sent directly to many cell phones on participating wireless carrier networks. These alerts are sent by public safety offices such as the National Weather Service about imminent threats like severe weather. They look like a text message and show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take and the agency issuing the alert. Check your cellular carrier to determine if your phone or wireless device is WEA-enabled. Read more on preparedness.

Dozens of Bills Introduced in Recent Years to Increase School Vaccine Exemptions
From 2009 to 2012, 36 bills were introduced in 18 states to change school immunization mandates, with the majority aimed at expanding exemptions, according to a recent review in JAMA by researchers from Emory University. None of the bills passed, but the researchers say continued efforts to change state vaccine rules are concerning. Among 36 bills introduced, 15 contained no administrative requirements, seven bills had one or two administrative requirements, and the remaining 14 contained between up to five administrative requirements in order for parents to exempt their children from school vaccine rules in a given state.

"Exemptions to school immunization requirements continue to be an issue for discussion and debate in many state legislatures," according to the study authors. Read more on vaccines.

Being in a Good Mood Can Lead to Safer Sex
HIV-positive men are more likely to have save sex when their mood improves, according to a new study by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The study, published in the journal Psychology, included 106 sexually active, HIV-positive men who have sex with men who completed weekly surveys over six weeks that asked about their sexual behavior, depression, and wellbeing during the prior week. Overall, 66 percent of study participants reported having unprotected intercourse in the prior two months; 81 percent had multiple partners. Three-quarters of the study participants were black and Latino men, a group disproportionately affected by HIV.

The researchers found that the men who reported an increase in their wellbeing in a given week were more likely to have safe sex (66%), while those who reported higher-than-usual levels of depression were more likely to engage in the risk behaviors (69%). The researchers are now studying potential interventions that might help address risky behaviors during depressive phases. Read more on sexual health.

Dec 19 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 19

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Severe Flu-Like Illness Under Investigation in Texas
Health officials in Montgomery County, Texas, are investigating an outbreak of an influenza-like illness that has so far resulted in eight hospitalizations, with four of those patients having since died. Recent tests on the other four show that one seems to have the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus, two were negative for all flu viruses and results are so far unknown on the fourth patient. Close to 2,000 cases of the illness have been reported. So far the investigation suggests that none of the patients who died had been vaccinated against flu, and county residents who have not yet had the flu shot are being urged to get one. According to the county’s health director, the hospitalized patients range in age from 41 to 65, which is not typical; severe flu symptoms more likely occur in very young or very old patients. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is assisting the health department in investigating the outbreak, and the county has established a telephone hotline and Facebook page to respond to questions from the public. According to news reports, the current outbreak resembles a cluster of severe respiratory infections in Dothan, Ala., in May; however tests showed that those hospitalized patients had a variety of common respiratory viruses and bacteria, with no unusual pathogens. Read more on flu.

CDC Issues Travel Advisory in Caribbean
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel health notice because of recent cases of chikungunya on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, which have been confirmed by the World Health Organization. According to the CDC, chikungunya is a very serious illness caused by a virus that spreads through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms are fever and joint pain. Other symptoms may include headache, muscle pain, joint swelling, or rash. The mosquito that carries chikungunya virus can bite during the day and night, both indoors and outdoors, and often lives around buildings in urban areas. There is currently no vaccine or medicine to prevent chikungunya. Travelers can protect themselves by following CDC recommendations on preventing mosquito bites. "Microbes know no boundaries, and the appearance of chikungunya virus in the Western hemisphere represents another threat to health security," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in the release. "CDC experts have predicted and prepared for its arrival for several years and there are surveillance systems in place to help us track it." Read more on infectious disease.

Life Expectancy Increases among Treated HIV-Positive People in North America
A new study in the journal PLOS ONE finds that a 20-year-old HIV-positive adult on antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the U.S. or Canada may be expected to live into their early 70's, a life expectancy approaching that of the general population. Researchers calculated the life expectancies of nearly 23,000 individuals on ART based on mortality rates in the early to mid-2000s. Changes in life expectancy from 2000-2007 among HIV-positive individuals were then evaluated using sociodemographic and clinical characteristics, such as drug use history and immune cell counts. The researchers found that life expectancy at age 20 increased from 36.1 to 51.4 years from 2000-2002 to 2006-2007. Men and women had comparable life expectancies in all periods except the last (2006-2007). Life expectancy was lower for individuals with a history of injection drug use, those who were non-white, and those who initiated ART with low CD4 count (a count of cells that activate the immune response) compared to those who started at a higher count. Read more on HIV.

Dec 16 2013
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The Five Deadliest Outbreaks and Pandemics in History

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“Outbreak” is a relative word. A modern outbreak could be a virus that kills a couple hundred thousand (such as the recent swine flu), or simply an infected shipment of food that left dozens sick. However, a look back through history reveals outbreaks so expansive—so deadly—that they essentially changed the course of history. Below are the five deadliest outbreaks and pandemics in history.

Ask yourself—are we prepared as a nation for the next big outbreak?

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(Image source: WikiCommons)

1. The Black Death

A plague so devastating that simply saying “The Plague” will immediately pull it to the front of your mind, in the middle of the 14th century—from 1347 to 1351—the Black Death remade the landscape of Europe and the world. In a time when the global population was an estimated 450 million, at least 75 million are believed to have perished throughout the pandemic, with some estimates as high as 200 million. As much as half of Europe may have died in a span of only four years. The plague’s name comes from the black skin spots on the sailors who travelled the Silk Road and docked in a Sicilian port, bringing with them from their Asian voyage the devastating disease, now known to be bubonic plague.

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Dec 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 3

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NIH to Direct Additional $100M Toward Research in an HIV Cure
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years in research directed toward a cure for HIV. Over the past three decades, NIH-funded research has led to the development of more than 30 antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations targeting HIV. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that growing knowledge about HIV, along with the development of new treatment strategies, makes the moment “ripe to pursue HIV cure research with vigor.” “Although the HIV/AIDS pandemic can theoretically be ended with a concerted and sustained scale-up of implementation of existing tools for HIV prevention and treatment, the development of a cure is critically important, as it may not be feasible for tens of millions of people living with HIV infection to access and adhere to a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy,” he said in a statement. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Hong Kong Announces First Human Case of H7N9 Avian Flu
H7N9 avian flu appears to have spread from mainland China, with Hong Kong reporting its first human case of the deadly avian flu strain. A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper is in critical condition after travelling to Shenzhen and buying, slaughtering and eating an apparently infected chicken. Earlier this year a report of human infection in Shanghai was quickly followed by the confirmation of more than 100 cases. While closing down live poultry markets in the area caused the number of new cases to drop, the World Health Organization has confirmed a total of 139 cases and 45 deaths. Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong has raised its level of preparedness for an avian flu pandemic to "serious," and the city has suspended the importation of live chickens from certain Shenzhen farms as it also investigates its own stock. Read more on infectious disease.

Study: ‘Benign’ or ‘Healthy’ Obesity May Not Exist
Despite what some health professionals believe, “benign obesity” may not exist, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. People who are overweight or obese without health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic issues are still at increased risk of major health problems when compared with metabolically healthy, normal-weight people. The researchers looked at the results of eight studies covering more than 61,000 people, finding that in follow-ups of at least 10 years later the people who were overweight but without the risk factors were still at an increased risk of 24 percent for heart attack, stroke and even death. One explanation could be that these overweight people without the risk factors actually do have the risk factors, only at low levels that are difficult to detect, and that then become gradually worse. The results indicate that physicians should look at both body mass and metabolic tests when determining a patient’s health. Read more on obesity.

Dec 2 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 2

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Study: Gay, Bisexual Men Who Know Their HIV Status Less Likely to Engage in Risky Sex
Gay and bisexual men who know their HIV status are far less likely to engage in unprotected sex, which in lessens the sexual risk both for them and for their partner, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. An analysis of HIV-positive men who have sex with men (MSM) in 20 U.S. cities found that about 33 percent of those who did not know their status engaged in unprotected sex with a partner, and also did not know the status of the partner; men who knew their status were 60 percent less likely to do so, for an overall rate of 13 percent. MSM account for about two-thirds of new HIV infections and about half of the 1.1 million people in the United States with HIV. "While we remain concerned about potentially increasing levels of sexual risk, it is encouraging to see that risk is substantially lower in those who know they have HIV," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "HIV testing remains one of our most powerful tools to reverse the epidemic. Everyone should know their HIV status." Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Improved HealthCare.gov Faces Next Challenges
HealthCare.gov, the online portal for the Affordable Care Act, faces another test starting today as the Obama administration announced it met a weekend deadline to make the site easier to use and more accessible for most users. The original launch of the site was met with must frustration across the county as many people were unable to navigate the site properly or even to log in. The administration now expects a rush of people--both a backlog and people who have yet to try the site--to enroll by the December 23 deadline for coverage that would begin January 1. Multiple organizations, including Enroll America and AIDS Alabama, have announced plans to help people enroll. Jeffrey Zients, an administration advisor, warned that the post-Thanksgiving wave of enrollment could still overwhelm the servers at times. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Energy Drinks Can Increase Strain on Heart
People who consume energy drinks can experience rapid heart contractions and increased strain on the heart up to an hour later, according to new research to be presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago. The findings raise concerns over the effects of caffeine and taurine on heart health, especially for people who already suffer from heart disease. Researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to measure the heart function of 18 health people both before and after they consumed an energy drink, finding an average 6 percent increase in the heart contraction rate afterward. "We know there are drugs that can improve the function of the heart, but in the long term they have a detrimental effect on the heart," said Williams, a cardiology professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine, in Detroit. Researchers noted that further study is needed to determine the reason for the apparent link. Read more on heart health.

Sep 23 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 23

UN: Improved Access to HIV/AIDS Treatment Reduces Number of AIDS-related Deaths
The United Nations’ annual report on HIV infections and AIDS related-deaths around the world concluded that increased access to treatment in poorer and middle-income countries has led to positive health outcomes. “AIDS-related deaths in 2012 fell to 1.6 million, down from 1.7 million in 2011 and a peak of 2.3 million in 2005. And the number of people newly infected with the disease dropped to 2.3 million in 2012 down from 2.5 million in 2011.” The executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, said that the international community is well on its way to surpass the 2015 goals of expanding access to treatment. Read more on the public health impact of AIDS.

Racism Leads to Negative Effects on Mental Health of Children and Teens
A new report published in the journal Social Science & Medicine examines the link between the mental health and well-being of youth ages 12-18 and racism. The review shows that being a victim of racial discrimination can lead to low self-esteem, reduced resilience, and increased behavior problems. There was also evidence of increased risk of poorer birth outcomes for children when mother experienced racism while pregnant. These types of detriments to children and teen’s mental health and well-being can lead to larger problems in terms of engagement in education and employment later in life, according to study authors. Read more on health disparities.

Positive Relationships May Help Break the Cycle of Maltreatment
In a special supplement released by the Journal of Adolescent Health, investigations on the effects of safe, stable, nurturing relationships found that these types of relationships could help break the cycle of child maltreatment that is often passed along from parents to children. Findings also showed that supportive and nurturing relationships between adults can help protect children as well. This study can provide helpful prevention strategies for breaking the cycle of maltreatment and promoting improved health in the long term. Read more on violence prevention.

Aug 9 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 9

$1.7B in HUD Grants for Major Improvements to 1.2 Million Public Housing Units
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $1.7 billion to improve approximately 1.2 million public housing units across the country. The funds—part of HUD’s Capital Fund Program—will be shared by all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They will go toward building, repairing, renovating and modernizing public housing, with an emphasis on large-scale projects such as replacing plumbing and electrical systems. About 10,000 public housing units are lost each year, with disrepair being the most common reason. HUD estimates that the nation’s public housing requires about $25.6 billion in large-scale repairs. “This funding is critical for housing authorities to maintain and improve public housing conditions for their residents,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “However, with a significant repair backlog, I am encouraged by new, innovative long-term solutions HUD is exploring that can be combined with this funding to not only protect and preserve this housing for the next generation, but to also build the quality infrastructure necessary for families to thrive.” Read more on housing.

Study: Women in Urban Environments at Higher Risk for Postpartum Depression
In large part because of the difference in general risk factors, women who live in large urban areas are more likely than women who live in rural areas to develop postpartum depression, according to a new study in the journal CMAJ. Risk factors such as low levels of social support and having been born in another country are more common in urban environments, according to research Simone Vigod, MD, of the Women's College Research Institute in Toronto. They found that about 9 percent of women surveyed in cities of 500,000 people or more had postpartum depression, versus 6 percent of women in towns with fewer than 1,000 people. "That's a pretty big difference at the population level," said Vigod, according to Reuters. "It's not the air that you breathe in an urban area that makes you depressed," she added, "it's actually that the population characteristics of people living there are different." About 10 to 15 percent of women experience persistent and serious depression in the first year after their child’s birth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on infant and maternal health.

New HIV Test Will Allow for Earlier Detection, Treatment and Reduce Risk of Transmission
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new HIV test that will allow for earlier detection and treatment of people with the immune deficiency disorder. The test looks for the HIV-1 p24 antigen as well as antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2 in human serum. “This test helps diagnose HIV infection at an earlier time in outreach settings, allowing individuals to seek medical care sooner,” said Karen Midthun, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Earlier diagnosis may also help to reduce additional HIV transmission.” There are about 1 million people in the United States currently living with HIV and about 20 percent of them have not been diagnosed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Jun 18 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: June 18

Regulations to Limit Youth Smoking also Lower Adult Rates
Regulation to limit youth smoking may also decrease the rate of adult smoking, according to a new study in the American Journal of Health. The study found that states with stricter regulations targeted youth tobacco use also saw lower incidence of adult use, especially among women. "In most states for many years, it has been illegal to sell cigarettes to people under 18, but few provisions are in place to prevent those sales," said study author Richard Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "This study shows that more restrictive policies can prevent teen smoking and be beneficial down the road." The most effective policies included eliminating cigarette vending machines, ID requirements to purchase cigarettes and restrictions preventing smaller packages of cigarettes. Gurzca estimated that if all states had such effective policies then smoking would be cut about 14 percent and heavy smoking would drop 29 percent. Read more on tobacco.

‘Watchful Waiting’ Approach to Prostate Cancer Can Reduce Unneeded Treatment
A “wait and see” approach to slow-growing prostate cancer—also known as “watchful waiting”—could reduce the number of unnecessary treatments, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study took into account costs, side effects, quality of life and the chance of dying. "Most of the men who are diagnosed in this country these days have low-risk prostate cancer," said Julia Hayes, MD, who led the new study at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Boston. "There's a huge group of men out there who are probably treated unnecessarily." The slow-growing cancer “may never grow large or fast enough to threaten a man's life,” according to Reuters. Researchers estimate that men under the “watchful waiting” approach would ultimately undergo treatment in 34 percent of cases; active surveillance would lead to 78 percent. Read more on cancer.

Younger Americans Less Likely to Be Aware of their HIV, Undergo Treatment
People under age 45 who are infected with HIV are far less likely that their older counterparts to know about the infection and to be receiving treatment, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. About 40 percent of people between ages 13-24 had been diagnosed and only 30 were referred for care. Those ages 25-44 also saw lower rates than people 45 and older. A total of more than 850,000 Americans with HIV have not achieved suppression. The researchers, led by H. Irene Hall of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concluded that "Individuals, health care providers, health departments and government agencies must all work together to increase the numbers of people living with HIV who are aware of their status, linked to and retained in care, receiving treatment and adherent to treatment." Read more on HIV.