Category Archives: Public health
New EPA Tool Helps Communities Become More Flood Resilient
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new tool, the Flood Resilience Checklist, to help communities prepare for, deal with and recover from floods. The checklist includes strategies that communities can consider, such as conserving land in flood-prone areas; directing new development to safer areas; and using green infrastructure approaches, such as installing rain gardens, to manage storm water. “Flooding from major storms has cost lives and caused billions of dollars in damage,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “With climate change, storms are likely to become even more powerful in many regions of the country. Where and how communities build will have long-term impacts on their flood resilience, and on air and water quality and health and safety. This checklist will help flood-prone communities think through these issues and come up with the solutions that work best for them.” Find more resources on EPA’s Disaster Recovery and Resilience page.
Home Blood Pressure-Monitoring Devices Lower Health Care Costs
A new study in the journal Hypertension finds that home blood pressure monitors can improve health care quality and save money. In the United States, more than 76 million adults have been diagnosed with hypertension and many more are undiagnosed. The researchers analyzed 2008-11 data from two health insurance plans—a private employer plan and a Medicare Advantage plan where 60 percent of members had high blood pressure. Net savings associated with home blood pressure monitoring ranged from $33 to $166 per member in the first year, and $415 to $1,364 over 10 years. Researchers found reasons for the savings differed by age groups and whether the monitors were used for treatment or diagnosis. In people 65 and older, home monitoring saved more when used to track high blood pressure treatment, by helping them avoid future adverse cardiovascular events. In people younger than 65, savings were higher in diagnostic use of the monitors, with fewer false positive diagnoses and fewer people starting unnecessary treatment. Read more on prevention.
New Mobile App Helps Parents Discuss Underage Drinking with their Kids
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has launched a new mobile app that features a simulated video game-like tool to help parents practice having conversations about underage drinking. SAMHSA experts say the timing of the release is intentional, as the rate of youth alcohol use rises during the summer. The mobile app is the newest component of “Talk. They Hear You,” SAMHSA’s underage drinking prevention campaign that launched last year to provide parents and caregivers with information and tools to start talking to youth early—as early as nine years old—about the dangers of alcohol. The new app uses avatars to engage in interactive conversations and each virtual role-play conversation is structured as a 10- to 15-minute interactive, video game-like experience. Users engage in a conversation with an intelligent, fully animated, emotionally responsive avatar that models human behavior and adapts its responses and behaviors to the user’s conversation decisions. Read more on substance abuse.
Study: Low-income Teens in Better High Schools Engage in Fewer Risky Behaviors
Low-income teenagers attending “high-performing” high schools are less likely than their peers in lower-performing schools to engage in risky behaviors such as carrying a weapon, binge drinking, using drugs other than marijuana and having multiple sex partners, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed 521 students who were accepted into a high-performing charter school; when compared to 409 students who also applied to top charter schools but were not selected in a random lottery, the kids in the high-performing schools were less likely to engage in at least one of the identified “very risky” behaviors—36 percent, compared to 42 percent. There was no statistical difference for more common risky behaviors, such as lighter drinking and smoking cigarettes. Read more on education.
Too Few People At Risk for Heart Disease are Receiving Recommendations for Aspirin Therapy
Despite the important role it can play in preventing heart disease, only 40 percent of the people who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease reported receiving a doctor’s recommendation for aspirin therapy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Approximately one-quarter of people at low risk received the recommendation. “Cardiovascular disease is a significant problem in the United States and the appropriate use of prevention strategies is particularly important,” said Arch G. Mainous III, PhD, the study’s lead investigator and chairman of the department of health services research, management and policy at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions, in a release. “Aspirin has been advocated as a prevention strategy but only for certain patients. There are health risks associated with the treatment. It is important that doctors are directing the right patients to get aspirin for cardiovascular disease prevention.” The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends aspirin use to prevent heart attack and stroke in men ages 45-79 and women ages 55-79. Read more on heart health.
Study: Coping Skills Programs for Mothers of Children With Autism Helps All Involved
Mothers of children with autism who participated in coping skills programs saw reduced stress, illness and psychiatric problems—all of which they are at higher risk for—while also improving their connections with their children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Such programs also benefit their children, as these risk factors are associated with poorer health outcomes for the children. Researchers entered 243 mothers of children with disabilities (two-thirds of which were autism) into six weeks of either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (mindfulness practice) or Positive Adult Development (positive psychology practice), finding that both reduced stress and other negative impacts. Read more on mental health.
Strokes Fall Among Older Americans
Fewer older Americans are having strokes and those who do have a lower risk of dying from them, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The study, published in JAMA, followed close to 15,000 stroke-free patients ages 45 to 64, beginning in the 1980s and ending in 2011. It found a 24 percent overall decline in first-time strokes in each of the last two decades and a 20 percent overall drop per decade in deaths after stroke. However, the decline was found mainly in people over age 65, with little progress in reducing the risk of strokes among younger people. The researchers say the decrease in stroke incidence and mortality is partly due to more successful control of risk factors such as blood pressure, smoking cessation and use of statin medications for controlling cholesterol, but that more efforts are needed to reduce strokes in younger people, including reducing obesity and diabetes and increasing physical activity. Read more on mortality.
Study: Insufficient Sleep Can Harm Memory
Lack of sleep, currently considered a public health epidemic in the United States, can also lead to errors in memory, according to a new study in Psychological Science. The study found that participants who didn’t get a full night’s sleep were more likely to make mistakes on the details of a simulated burglary they were shown in a series of images. “We found memory distortion is greater after sleep deprivation,” said Kimberly Fenn, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University and a co-investigator of the study. “And people are getting less sleep each night than they ever have.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has linked the insufficient sleep epidemic to car crashes, industrial disasters and chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Read more on mental health.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recently released a new graphic design available for use by insect repellent makers to more easily show how long the product is effective. “We are working to create a system that does for bug repellents what SPF labeling did for sunscreens,” said Jim Jones, Assistant Administrator of the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention. “By providing vital information to consumers, this new graphic will help parents, hikers and the general public better protect themselves and their families from serious health threats caused by mosquitoes and ticks.” The release of the graphic design was accompanied by a joint statement from the EPA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urging the public to use insect repellents and take other precautions to avoid biting insects that carry serious diseases, including Lyme and West Nile virus. Incidence of insect-borne diseases is on the rise, according to the CDC. In order to place the new graphic on their labels, manufacturers must submit a label amendment, including test results on effectiveness. The public could see the graphic on repellent products early next year. Read more on infectious disease.
Ukraine Crash Kills Scores of AIDS Researchers
Malaysian Flight 17, believed to have been shot down by a missile over Ukraine yesterday, included dozens of AIDs researchers headed to Melbourne for AIDS 2014, the annual international gathering of AIDS researchers. Global Health Now, a daily newsletter produced by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, interviewed Prof. Richard Boyd, director of the Monash Immunology and Stem Cell Laboratories in Melbourne, who said, "There were some serious HIV leaders on that plane. This will have ramifications globally because whenever you lose a leader in any field, it has an impact. That knowledge is irreplaceable.” Read more on HIV.
First Chikungunya Case Acquired in the United States reported in Florida
The first locally acquired case of Chikungunya was reported in Florida this week in a man who had not recently traveled outside the United States. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working with the Florida Department of Health to investigate how the patient contracted the virus and will also monitor for additional locally acquired U.S. cases of the virus.
“The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens,” said Roger Nasci, PhD, chief of CDC’s Arboviral Diseases Branch. Chikungunya virus is transmitted to people by two species of mosquitoes, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Both species are found in the southeastern United States and limited parts of the southwest; Aedes albopictus is also found further north up the East Coast, through the Mid-Atlantic States and is also found in the lower Midwest.
The CDC has asked state health departments to report cases of chikungunya to help track the virus in the United States. Local transmission occurs when a mosquito bites someone who is infected with the virus and then bites another person. People infected with chikungunya virus typically develop fever and joint pain. Other symptoms can include muscle aches, headaches, joint swelling or rash. Read more on infectious diseases.
HHS Releases Health Insurance Information for Immigrant Families
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released information clarifying health insurance coverage options for immigrant families, including:
- In order to buy private health insurance through the Marketplace, individuals must be U.S. citizens or be lawfully present in the United States.
- People who recently gained U.S. citizenship or had a change in their immigration status may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
- Many immigrant families are of “mixed status,” with members having different immigration and citizenship statuses. Mixed status families can apply for a tax credit or lower out-of-pocket costs for private insurance for their dependent family members who are eligible for coverage in the Marketplace or for Medicaid and CHIP coverage. Family members who aren't applying for health coverage for themselves won't be asked if they have eligible immigration status.
- Federal and state Marketplaces and state Medicaid and CHIP agencies can’t require people to provide information about the citizenship or immigration status of any family or household members who aren’t applying for coverage.
- States can’t deny benefits because a family or household member who isn't applying hasn’t provided his or her citizenship or immigration status.
- Information provided to the Marketplace won’t be used for immigration enforcement purposes.
- If a person is not eligible for Marketplace coverage or can't afford a health plan, they can get low-cost health care at a nearby community health center. Community health centers provide primary health care services to all residents, including immigrant families, in the health center’s service area.
Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Study: Common Asthma Treatment Suppresses Growth in Children
A common treatment for asthma may suppress growth in children, according to a new review of two studies that was published in The Cochrane Library journal. The studies included 45 trials on corticosteroid drugs, which are delivered via inhalers to both children and adults with asthma and generally used as first-line treatments for persistent asthma. "The evidence... suggests that children treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids may grow approximately half a centimeter less during the first year of treatment," said Linjie Zhang at the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, according to Reuters. "But this effect is less pronounced in subsequent years, is not cumulative, and seems minor compared to the known benefits of the drugs for controlling asthma." The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 235 million people living with asthma. Read more on pediatrics.
Study: Busiest ERs Often Provide the Best Care
People with life-threatening emergencies have better odds of survival when treated at busier emergency departments, according to a new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The study found that patients admitted to a hospital after an emergency had a 10 percent lower chance of dying in the hospital if they initially went to one of the nation's busiest emergency departments; that people with sepsis had a 26 percent lower death rate at the busiest emergency centers; and that lung failure patients had a 22 percent lower death rate. The researchers behind the study estimate that if all emergency patients received the level of care provided by the busiest emergency departments then approximately 24,000 fewer people would die each year. "It's too early to say that based on these results, patients and first responders should change their decision about which hospital to choose in an emergency," said Keith Kocher, MD, MPH, the lead author of the new study and a University of Michigan Health System emergency physician, in a release. "But the bottom line is that emergency departments and hospitals perform differently, there really are differences in care and they matter." Read more on health disparities.
HHS: $11M Toward Integrating HIV Services into Primary Care
As part of the ongoing National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is making $11 million available for the integration of HIV services into primary care services in Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. The funds will go toward innovative partnerships between health centers and those states’ health departments. They are part of Partnerships for Care: Health Departments and Health Centers Collaborating to Improve HIV Health Outcomes, a multi-agency project that includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Read more on HIV/AIDS.
Proposed Tobacco Merger Could Boost Smoking Rates
The proposed merger of the Reynolds American and Lorillard tobacco companies announced earlier this week could result in increased smoking rates, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “This proposed merger is clearly driven by steep smoking declines in the U.S.,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of Tobacco-Free Kids. Myers said cigarette sales fell by 37.1 percent from 2000 to 2013, with the largest decline in 2009, when a 62 cent per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax was implemented. “Reynolds and Lorillard no doubt hope the economic and political power of a merged company will help them slow or reverse these trends. Elected officials and regulators must be equally aggressive in working to accelerate progress in reducing smoking and other tobacco use.” Read more on tobacco.
Health Education Program Also Reduces Youth Dating Violence
A health education program designed to delay sexual behavior and promote healthy data relationships also significantly reduces dating violence behaviors among minority youth, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) analyzed 766 students in 10 middle schools in a large, urban school district in southeast Texas, where 44 percent were African American and 42 percent were Hispanic. They looked at four areas—physical victimization, emotional victimization, physical perpetration and emotional perpetration—finding that the It’s Your Game...Keep it Real program reduced all but physical dating violence, which comprised the smallest portion of the program; a revised program with a heavier emphasis on this area is currently being tested in schools. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 percent of high school youth are victims of physical dating violence (with ethnic-minority students at increased risk), with other studies indicating that as many as 20 percent are victims of emotional dating violence. Read more on violence.
CDC Report Finds High Rates of Youth Fruit, Vegetable Consumption
Approximately 77.1 percent of U.S. youth ages 2-19 years consume fruit on any given day and 92 percent consume vegetables, according to a recent NCHS Data Brief from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the rate drops as youth age, while at the same time the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat should be increasing. The report used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009–2010. The focused report looked only at whether the foods were consumed, and now how much was consumed. Read more on nutrition.
RWJF Analysis of ACA Effects Finds No Increase in New Patient Visits
A new report, ACAView, from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and athenahealth, finds that in the first five months of 2014 there was no increase in new patient visits, when compared to the same time last year. The ACAView initiative was created to measure the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on providers, patients and physicians from 2014 through 2016. The report focuses on the provider perspective, showcasing how the ACA affects the practice patterns and economics of physicians and other care team members around the country. Potential reasons for the lack of an increase in visits include the newly insured being unfamiliar with the health care system, or even the winter weather. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Study: Nickel in an iPad Linked to Boy’s Allergic Skin Reaction
An ever-increasing reliance on consumer electronics may also mean rarer allergies are becoming more common, according to researchers who linked an 11-year-old boy’s allergic skin reaction to the nickel found in a first-generation Apple iPad. The study was published in the journal Pediatrics. Previous studies have linked the nickel in computers, smartphones and other electronics to allergic reactions; other common sources of nickel include ear piercings, clothing fasteners and dental work. “With the increasing prevalence of nickel allergy in the pediatric population, it is important for clinicians to continue to consider metallic-appearing electronics and personal effects as potential sources of nickel exposure,” according to the study. Read more on pediatrics.
Study: Changing Generic Pill Color, Shape Can Decrease Prescription Adherence
In addition to known considerations such as side effects and cost, the change in the appearance of prescription medications may also lead some people to stop taking their prescriptions, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. In a study of more than 11,000 patients, researchers determined that a change in pill color would increase the odds that a patient would stop taking their heart medication by 34 percent, while a change in pill shape would increase the chances by 66 percent. This adds another wrinkle to the series problem of medication adherence; the American Heart Association estimates that three out of four Americans do not take their medication as directed. Read more on prescription drugs.
CDC Closes Flu and Anthrax Labs After Serious Lapses
After two serious lapses with anthrax and avian flu virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it was temporarily closing its anthrax and flu laboratories and stopping shipments of all infectious agents. Last month at least 63 CDC employees may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after samples were sent to laboratories that were not prepared to handle the infectious agents. Anyone possibly exposed has been offered a vaccine and antibiotics; the CDC says no one was in danger.
In the second incident, technicians in a CDC lab accidentally contaminated a largely benign flu virus with a much more dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain. A lab worker who received a shipment of the strain and realized it was more dangerous than the sample expected contacted the CDC. And, in a third incident, the CDC also announced on Friday that two of six vials of smallpox vaccine recently found stored at the National Institutes of Health since 1954 contained live virus that could have infected people.
CDC has convened an investigation with finding expected later this week, as well as:
- Established a high-level working group, reporting to the CDC Director, to help accelerate improvements in laboratory safety; review and approve—on a laboratory-by-laboratory basis—resuming transfer of biological materials; and serve as the transition group for accountability on laboratory safety.
- Established a review group, under the direction of CDC’s Associate Director for Science, to look at the systems, procedures and personnel issues that led to the events, as well as how to prevent similar events in the future.
- Plans to take personnel action regarding individuals who contributed to or were in a position to prevent this incident.
Read more on infectious disease.
Military Servicemembers at Increased Risk of Financial Abuse
Members of the military are at increased risk of financial abuse, according to a new survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), and more must be done to help servicemembers protect themselves. An NFCC survey of active duty military personnel found that:
- 77 percent of respondents have financial worries
- 55 percent feel not at all or only somewhat prepared to meet a financial emergency
- 60 percent say they had to look outside of traditional institutions and utilized alternative, non-traditional lenders to meet their financial needs
In order to answer this need, the NFCC is working to give servicemembers a deeper understanding of personal finance through its Sharpen Your Financial Focus program, which includes materials that address their particular financial literacy challenges. The program presents 10 individual lesson topics, ranging from banking to planning for retirement. “No one should be victimized by financial abuse, particularly the military,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). “One way to avoid financial abuse is through financial education, as an educated consumer is always a better consumer, one more equipped to identify fraud or deception and make wise financial decisions.” Read more on the military.
Study: Confusion Over Spoon Sizes Can Lead to Incorrect Medication Doses for Kids
Confusion over and differences in spoon sizes can lead to frequent medication dosing errors for children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers observed 287 parents provide medicine to their children using teaspoons and tablespoons, finding that 39 percent incorrectly measured the dose they intended and 41 percent made an error in measuring what their doctor had prescribed. The findings indicate a growing need to change how doctors prescribe medicine for children. "A move to a milliliter preference for dosing instructions for liquid medications could reduce parent confusion and decrease medication errors, especially for groups at risk for making errors, such as those with low health literacy and non-English speakers," said the study's lead author Shonna Yin, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. Poison control centers receive approximately 10,000 calls each year related to incorrect dosages of oral liquid medications. Read more on pediatrics.
CDC: 60 Percent of Diners Will Use Menu Calorie Counts When Available
Approximately 6 in 10 U.S. adults will choose their restaurant meals in part because of menu label information when it’s available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Morbidity and Mortality Report. Researchers analyzed the self-reported usage of 118,013 adults in 17 states in 2012 to determine that about 57 percent will look to the provided calorie information. New York had the highest rate, with 61.3 percent, while Montana had the lowest, at 48.7 percent. Federal law requires calorie information be provided by any restaurant with 20 or more locations; while the regulations are not yet final, many establishments already voluntarily provide menu labeling, according to the CDC. Read more on nutrition.
Depression, Stress, Hostility Tied to Higher Stroke Risk
Depression, stress and hostility may be linked to a higher risk for stroke, according to a new study in the journal Stroke. Using information provided by approximately 7,000 adults who did not have heart disease or a history of stroke at the beginning of the study, researchers followed up nearly nine years later and determined that depression was associated with an 86 percent increased chance of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, stress was associated with a 59 percent increase and hostility doubled the risk. “[C]hronic stress and negative emotions are important psychological factors that affect one's health, and findings from this study link these factors to brain health in particular," said the study's lead author, Susan Everson-Rose, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, according to HealthDay. "Patients and their health care providers should be aware that experiences of chronic stress and negative emotional states can increase risk for stroke.” Read more on heart health.
Washington State Sees Most Measles Cases Since 1996
A slight decline in Washington State’s mumps and rubella vaccination rate has coincided with the state’s highest number of measles case in 18 years, according to officials. Washington has reported 27 cases so far this year and is currently in the midst of its third outbreak. While homegrown measles was declared officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, infections from people who have travelled overseas remain a threat. There were 554 total cases of measles and 17 outbreaks reported in the United States between Jan. 1 and July 3 of this year. Read more on infectious diseases.
HHS, DOJ Release ‘Roadmap’ to Prevent Elder Abuse
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have announced a new Elder Justice Roadmap to enhance elder abuse prevention and prosecution, while also highlighting the issue of elder abuse. An estimated one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced elder abuse or neglect. The Roadmap includes the DOJ’s development of an interactive, online curriculum to teach legal aid and other civil attorneys to identify and respond to elder abuse, as well as the HHS’ development of a voluntary national adult protective services data system. “Elder abuse is a problem that has gone on too long, but the Roadmap Report released today can change this trajectory by offering comprehensive and concrete action items for all of the stakeholders dedicated to combating the multi-faceted dimensions of elder abuse and financial exploitation,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West, in a release. “While we have taken some important steps in the right direction, we must do more to prevent elder abuse from occurring in the first place and face it head on when it occurs.” Read more on aging.
Study: Health Care Providers Must Do More to Ensure Pregnant Women Receive the Flu Vaccine
A new study finds that health care providers (HCPs) must do more to ensure pregnant women are vaccinated against influenza. After a review of 45 research papers, researchers determined that HCP influenza vaccine recommendations and on-site services would both help increase the current suboptimal vaccination rate. The study pointed to inadequate knowledge of the risks of influenza; doubts about vaccine safety, efficacy and benefits; and fear of adverse reactions for both the pregnant women and their unborn fetuses as barriers to vaccination. Many of the women in the review were also unaware that their pregnancies placed them at higher risk of complications from influenza. Read more on maternal and infant health.
Study: Younger Pro Pitchers at Higher Risk of Needing ‘Tommy John’ Surgery
Stephen Strasburg. Matt Harvey. Kerry Wood. All were or are hard-throwing Major League Baseball (MLB) pitchers who underwent “Tommy John” surgery early in their careers. Now, a new study from researchers at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine indicates that entering the MLB at a younger age increases the risk of needing Tommy John surgery—which is a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow—at some point in a career. In a study of 168 pitchers who had Tommy John surgery and 178 age-matched pitchers who did not, approximately 60 percent of those who needed the surgery had it in the first five years of their career. They also had statistically more Major League experience, indicating that arm stress at a younger age heightens the risk of damage. “Having athletic trainers and team physicians closely look at when players’ pitching performance stats start to decrease may allow for steps to be taken before a surgery is needed. Our study also further highlights the need for kids not to overuse their arms early in their pitching careers,” said lead author Robert Keller, MD, of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, in a release. Read more on injury prevention.