Category Archives: Infectious disease

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.

Nov 25 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 25

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FDA Approves Vaccine for H5N1 Strain of Avian Flu
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first adjuvanted pandemic influenza vaccine for the prevention of the H5N1 strain of the avian flu, also known as bird flu. While most influenza A viruses do not infect people, H5N1 does and has demonstrated a 60 percent mortality rate when a person becomes infected. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added the vaccine to the National Stockpile. “This vaccine could be used in the event that the H5N1 avian influenza virus develops the capability to spread efficiently from human to human, resulting in the rapid spread of disease across the globe,” said Karen Midthun, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Vaccines are critical to protecting public health by helping to counter the transmission of influenza disease during a pandemic.” Read more on infectious diseases.

Study: Excessive Television Watching Equals Excess Weight in Kids
Children and teenagers who spend excessive amounts of time watching television or in front of other screens are also more inclined to be overweight or obese, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed data on nearly 8,000 boys and girls, ages 9-16, finding that each additional hour a day spent watching television was linked to a body mass index (BMI) scale increase of about 0.1 points, or about half a pound. Kids who watch television or play video/computer games are not only for the most part physically idle, but also more likely to snack. While many parents believe their kids spend a reasonable amount of time in front of screens, the reality is that most kids in the United States and Canada surpass the recommended daily limit of two hours. "We don't pay attention to the fact that it's half an hour here, half an hour there, an hour here, an hour there," said Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada, who was not a part of the study. Read more on obesity.

Study: One in 10 U.S. Kids has ADHD
About one in 10 U.S. children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. A 2011 poll of more than 95,000 parents found 11 percent of kids ages 4-17 had ADHD, up from 9.5 percent in 2007. The number of kids on ADHD medication also climbed about 1 percent, with research showing that half the kids with ADHD are diagnosed before the age of 6. "This finding suggests that there are a large number of young children who could benefit from the early initiation of behavioral therapy, which is recommended as the first-line treatment for preschool children with ADHD," study author and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researcher Susanna Visser. The study also found that while the number of kids with ADHD is still climbing, it is no longer climbing as fast—the rate was increasing about 6 percent a year in the mid-2000s, but was only 4 percent a year from 2007 to 2011. Read more on pediatrics.

Nov 1 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 1

CDC: U.S. Malaria Cases Reached 40-year High in 2011
U.S. malaria cases reach a 40-year high in 2011, with 1,925 total cases and five associated deaths, according to a supplement of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The 2011 total was a 14 percent increase over the 2010 statistic. According to the CDC, the vast majority of the U.S. cases were acquired overseas, with about 69 percent coming from Africa, and 63 percent of those cases from West Africa. “Malaria isn’t something many doctors see frequently in the United States thanks to successful malaria elimination efforts in the 1940s,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “The increase in malaria cases reminds us that Americans remain vulnerable and must be vigilant against diseases like malaria because our world is so interconnected by travel.” Preventative measures include antimalarial drugs, insect repellent, insecticide-treated bed nets, and protective clothing. Read more on infectious disease.

FDA Proposes New Rules to Combat Prescription Drug Shortages
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) yesterday proposed a new plan to combat drug shortages by requiring drug and biotechnology firms to immediately notify the FDA of any potential disruptions in the supply of medically important drugs. These drug shortages can delay or even deny care to patients in critical need. There were 117 drug shortages in 2012, down from 251 in 2011, when the White House issued an executive order to solve the public health problem. The new plan calls for companies to promptly notify the FDA of a permanent discontinuance or a temporary interruption likely to disrupt the supply of a prescription drug. Early notification enables the FDA to work with manufacturers to investigate the reasons for disruptions; identify other manufacturers who can help make up for the shortfall; and expedite inspections and reviews of drugs that could help mitigate a shortage. The FDA also released a strategic plan that “highlights opportunities for drug manufacturers and others to prevent drug shortages by promoting and sustaining quality manufacturing.” “The complex issue of drug shortages continues to be a high priority for the FDA, and early notification is a critical tool that helps mitigate or prevent looming shortages,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “The FDA continues to take all steps it can within its authority, but the FDA alone cannot solve shortages. Success depends upon a commitment from all stakeholders.” Read more on prescription drugs.

March of Dimes: U.S. Preterm Birthrate at 15-year Low, But Country Still Gets a ‘C’ Grade
The U.S. preterm birthrate fell to a 15-year low of 11.5 percent in 2012, according to a new report from the March of Dimes. While that’s also a six consecutive year of lower rates, the national still received a “C” on the report card when compared to other countries. "Although we have made great progress in reducing our nation's preterm birth rate from historic highs, the U.S. still has the highest rate of preterm birth of any industrialized country. We must continue to invest in premature birth prevention because every baby deserves a healthy start in life," said Jennifer Howse, MD, president of the March of Dimes. Only six U.S. states received an “A” on the annual report card: Alaska, California, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon and Vermont. An infant is premature if they are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy; the potential health complications include breathing problems, developmental delays, cerebral palsy and even death. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Oct 17 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 17

Electronic Laboratory Reporting Increasing
Federal agencies are reopening today after a 16 day shutdown and public health updates such as FluView from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to come back online within the new few days. CDC’s last news release before the shutdown was on the increasing capability of laboratories to report findings to local and state health agencies electronically. The report was published in the most recent issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

According to CDC, the number of state and local health departments receiving electronic reports from laboratories has more than doubled since 2005, however, progress is still needed. The MMWR report shows that only about a quarter of the nation’s labs are reporting electronically and that electronic reporting lags for some diseases behind others. For example, 76 percent of reportable lab results for general communicable diseases were sent electronically, compared to 53 percent of HIV results and 63 percent of results for sexually transmitted diseases. Read more on infectious disease.

District Laws and Policies Reduce Sugary Foods and Drinks at School Parties
Schools with a district policy or state law discouraging sugary foods and beverages were 2.5 times more likely to restrict those foods at school parties than were schools with no such policy or law, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health examined the linkages between state laws, district, and school-level policies for classroom birthday and holiday parties through surveys of more than 1,999 schools in 47 states.

About half the schools had either no restrictions or left the decision to teachers; one-third had school-wide policies discouraging sugary items; and fewer than 10 percent actually banned sweets during holiday parties or did not allow parties.

The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on nutrition.

Children of Same Sex Marriages Less Likely to be Covered by Health Insurance
Children with same sex parents are less likely to have private health insurance than children with married opposite-sex parents, according to a recent study in Pediatrics. Using data from the 2008-2010 American Community Survey on children aged 0-17 years, the researchers found that 78 percent of children with married opposite-sex parents had private health insurance coverage, compared to 63 percent of children with same-sex fathers and 68 percent of those with same-sex mothers.

However, in states with legal same-sex marriage or civil unions, or in states that allowed second-parent adoptions, the disparities in private health insurance was lower for children of same-sex parents, suggesting that children of gay and lesbian households benefited from these policies. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed same-sex marriage in March. Read more on access to health care.

Oct 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 4

Four U.S. Regions on Alert for Severe Weather this Weekend
Severe weather is expected to impact at least four regions of the United States this weekend. That includes a tropical storm—downgraded from a hurricane for now—in the Gulf Coast; a tornado threat in the Midwest; early snow in the West that, in part because trees still have leaves that can be weighed down by wet snow, could lead to power outages; and spreading fires in California fueled by dry weather. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already recalled some furloughed staff to prepare for the storms expected on the Gulf Coast. Read more on preparedness.

Study: Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions Remain High, Endanger Public Health
Despite ongoing efforts by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other public health organizations, doctors continue to overprescribe antibiotics for sore throats, increasing the risk of the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “Our research shows that while only 10 percent of adults with sore throat have strep, the only common cause of sore throat requiring antibiotics, the national antibiotic prescribing rate for adults with sore throat has remained at 60 percent,” said senior author Jeffrey A. Linder, MD, MPH, a physician and researcher in the Division of General Medicine and Primary Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “For acute bronchitis, the right antibiotic prescribing rate should be near zero percent and the national antibiotic prescribing rate was 73 percent.” The researchers said the findings demonstrate the need to study and implement new interventions to reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions. Read more on infectious disease.

Daily Walks Can Reduce Breast Cancer Risk for Older Women
Post-menopausal women can reduce their risk of developing breast cancer through physical activity as simple as a daily walk, according to a new study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. More intense exercise may have an even more profound impact. "The nice message here is, you don't have to go out and run a marathon to lower your breast cancer risk," said study researcher Alpa Patel, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, which funded the study. "Go for a nice, leisurely walk an hour a day to lower risk.” However, the study authors noted that they found only a correlation, not a causation, so further study is needed. Experts believe the reason exercise reduces breast cancer risk is related to hormones; they also recommend maintaining a healthy body weight and minimizing the consumption of alcohol as ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Read more on cancer.

Oct 3 2013
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Forbes: Federal Shutdown and the Fight Against Microbes

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Recent debate about the federal government shutdown that started two days ago for federal employees has included a wide range of concerns and viewpoints from different sides of the spectrum. But Forbes Magazine has a new article that points out that the shutdown means something else entirely for some often overlooked, but very influential, bodies outside the federal government: microbes.

According to the piece in Forbes, the shutdown has the potential:

to pose a threat to public health because [it will] allow microbes to gain footholds as our defenses against them falter.

The article reported that several federal agencies will reduce such critical work as research funding, food inspections and  surveillance for the flu and other infectious diseases including the emerging MERS virus, which has caused dozens of deaths overseas. A recent post from The Atlantic also pointed out a related piece of reporting from The Wall Street Journal: "about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients...."

>>Read the full article from Forbes.

>>Read more on how researchers are studying microbes in buildings to health create healthier spaces.

Sep 17 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 17

Antibiotic-resistant Infections on the Rise; Threat Called "Urgent"
Antibiotic-resistant infections sicken more than two million Americans each year, killing more than 23,000 in the process, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report ranked the threats according to seven factors, including health impact, economic impact, how common the infection is and how easily it is spread. It classified carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE), drug-resistant gonorrhea, and Clostridium difficile as “urgent." C. difficile alone causes about 250,000 hospitalizations and at least 14,000 deaths each year. Excessive antibiotic use is the number one cause of the increase in antibiotic-resistant infections, with as many as 50 percent of prescriptions either not needed or prescribed inappropriately. “Every time antibiotics are used in any setting, bacteria evolve by developing resistance. This process can happen with alarming speed,” said Steve Solomon, MD, director of CDC’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance. “These drugs are a precious, limited resource—the more we use antibiotics today, the less likely we are to have effective antibiotics tomorrow.” Antibiotic-resistant infections also add as much as $20 billion in excess direct health care costs and account for as much as $35 billion in lost economic productivity. Read more on prescription drugs.

Survey: Nearly 80 Percent of College Students Oppose Concealed Handguns on Campus
Nearly 80 percent of the students in 15 Midwestern colleges and universities oppose allowing concealed handguns on their campuses, according to a new study in the Journal of American College Health. Ball State University researchers surveyed 1,649 undergraduate students, finding 78 percent were against the handguns and would not apply for a permit if they were legal. “Firearm morbidity and mortality are major public health problems that significantly impact our society,” said study co-author Jagdish Khubchandani, a member of Ball State’s Global Health Institute and a community health education professor in the university's Department of Physiology and Health Science. “The issue of allowing people to carry concealed weapons at universities and colleges around the U.S. has been raised several times in recent years. This is in spite of the fact that almost four of every five students are not in favor of allowing guns on campus.”

The study also found that:

  • About 16 percent of undergraduate students own a firearm and 20 percent witnessed a crime on their campus that involved firearms
  • About 79 percent of students would not feel safe if faculty, students and visitors carried concealed handguns on campus
  • About 66 percent did not feel that carrying a gun would make them less likely to be troubled by others
  • Most students also believed that allowing concealed carry guns would increase the rate of fatal suicides and homicides on campus

Read more on violence.

‘Bath Salts’ Drugs Led to 23,000 ER Visits in 2011
The use of “bath salts” drugs accounted for almost 23,000 emergency department visits in the United States in 2011, according to a new report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report is the first national study to analyze the link between the street drugs and emergency department visits. "Although bath salts drugs are sometimes claimed to be 'legal highs' or are promoted with labels to mask their real purpose, they can be extremely dangerous when used," said Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, SAMHSA's chief medical officer. The drugs can cause heart problems, high blood pressure, seizures, addiction, suicidal thoughts, psychosis and even death. About two-thirds of the visits also involved at least one other drug, with 15 percent of the visits also being linked to marijuana or synthetic forms of marijuana. There were approximately 2.5 million U.S. emergency department visits linked to drug misuse or abuse in 2011. Read more on substance abuse.

Sep 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 4

CDC: 200,000 Lives Lost Each Year to Preventable Heart Disease, Stroke
Healthier living and improved preventative efforts could help save more than 200,000 U.S. lives lost each year to preventable heart disease and stroke, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s approximately one in four of heart disease deaths. More than half of those deaths were people younger than 65, with blacks twice as likely as whites to die of the preventable conditions and men more likely than women. Still, the overall rate fell approximately 30 percent from 2001 to 2010. To further improve these rates, health care providers should encourage healthy habits such as not smoking, increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and taking medicines as directed. At the community level, health departments can promote healthier living spaces, including tobacco-free areas and safe walking areas, as well as access to healthy food options. Read more on heart health.

Patients More Likely to Take Multiple Medications When Combined in Single Pill
Patients are more likely to take multiple medications if they are combined into a single pill—or “polypill”—according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This finding could be especially important for people dealing with chronic conditions such as heart disease, who are often prescribed a combination of blood pressure medication, cholesterol medication and aspirin to break up blood clots. Only about half the patients in prosperous countries take all three prescribed pills and as few as 5 percent of patients in developing countries do so. One of the obstacles is simply remembering to take the many medications on time. "The simplification of the delivery of care we provide to our patients is a significant part of the improvement we can gain by this type of strategy," said David May, MD, chair of the board of governors for the American College of Cardiology. "Oftentimes we become enamored with the idea of how much improvement we get with this or that medication, on top of the other drugs a patient has been prescribed. The short answer is, if they don't take it, you don't get any improvement." Read more on prescription drugs.

Common Hospital Infections Cost $10B Annually
In addition endangering patients’ health and lives, the five most common hospital-acquired infections cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $10 billion annually, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. About one in 20 patients contract an infection after being admitted to a hospital, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and studies indicate that as many as half may be preventable. The found that central line-associated bloodstream infections averaged about $45,000 per case, pneumonia infections that lead to ventilators cost about $40,000 per case and surgical site infections—a result of about one in 50 operations—cost about $21,000 per case. In a previous study, Trish Perl, MD, a professor of medicine and pathology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore, found that eliminating surgical site infections alone would save the four hospitals in the Johns Hopkins Health System approximately $2 million in revenue each year. Perl was not involved in the new study. Read more on infectious diseases.

Aug 30 2013
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Recommended Reading: Public Health Law Bolsters FDA’s Pandemic Preparedness

Ahead of the annual pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia this October, the Saudi health ministry is limiting the number of foreign and local pilgrims in order to lower the risk of the spread of H7N9, a new form of avian flu identified several months ago in China, and MERS, or Middle East respiratory syndrome corona virus (MERS/MERS-CoV), a potentially fatal virus that emerged last year. The largest numbers of cases of the virus—and deaths—have been in Saudi Arabia. According to a recent post on the Network for Public Health Law’s (NPHL) blog by Daniel G. Orenstein, JD, deputy director of NPHL’s Western Region, so far neither the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nor the World Health Organization have issued travel restrictions about the Hajj.

However, the post does note that the emergence of the two viruses has prompted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action under its legal authority to increase U.S. readiness to treat potential outbreaks of H7N9 and MERS. Under the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013 (PAHPRA), the FDA recently issued Emergency Use Authorizations (EUAs) for diagnostic tests for both viruses. EUAs enable the FDA to temporarily allow use of unapproved medical products such as antibiotics, vaccines and diagnostic tests needed during emergencies.

Orenstein says that “issuing the EUAs illustrates the flexibility and adaptability of FDA authority as clarified under PAHPRA. As epidemiologic research develops further on these viruses, FDA will be able to respond quickly, hopefully mitigating the impact on population health.”

>>Read more: Read the full post on the Network for Public Health Law’s blog.

Aug 21 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 21

Kaiser Family Foundation Finds Modest Increase for Family’s Share of Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance
Annual premiums for employer-sponsored family health coverage reached $16,351 this year, up 4 percent from last year, with workers on average paying $4,565 toward the cost of their coverage, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey of more than 2,000 employers. That rise is moderate by historical standards according to the survey; since 2003, premiums have increased 80 percent, nearly three times as fast as wages (31 percent) and inflation (27 percent).

The survey also found that large deductibles of at least $1,000 are common in employer-sponsored plans, especially for employees at smaller firms. This year, 38 percent of all covered workers face such a deductible. At small firms, 58 percent of covered workers now face deductibles of at least $1,000, including nearly a third (31 percent) who face deductibles of at least $2,000, up from 12 percent in 2008.

Additional findings of the survey:

  • Nearly all large employers (at least 200 workers) offer at least one wellness program and more than a third (36 percent) of large employers who offer them also provide some kind of financial incentive for workers to participate, such as lower premiums or a lower deductible, receiving a larger contribution to a tax-preferred savings account, or gift cards, cash or other direct financial incentives.
  • Among large firms offering health benefits, more than half (55 percent) offer some kind of biometric screenings to measure workers' health risks. Of these, 11 percent reward or penalize workers financially based on whether they achieve specific biometric outcomes.

"This will be an important issue to watch next year, as employers [under the Affordable Care Act can] ask workers to pay more because of their lifestyles and health conditions," said Kaiser Vice President Gary Claxton, the study's lead investigator and director of the Foundation's Health Care Marketplace Project.

Read more on access to health care.

CDC: $75.8M to Help Health Departments Prepare for, Respond to Infectious Diseases
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded approximately $75.8 million in grants to help state, territorial and certain local health departments prepare for—and respond quickly to—an array of infectious diseases. The grants are through the Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity for Infectious Diseases Cooperative Agreement. They will go to such critical areas as surveillance, detection, and outbreak response efforts in infectious disease areas such as foodborne diseases, influenza and healthcare-associated infections. “With many infectious diseases first identified at the local level, this funding ensures that state health departments are able to effectively prevent, detect and respond to such public health threats,” said Beth P. Bell, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases.” Read more on infectious diseases.

Study: Quitting Smoking Even After Becoming Pregnant Reduces Risk, Complications of Low Birth Weight
While women who quit smoking right before or right after becoming pregnant will on average gain more pregnancy-related weight, and are also less likely to have babies who are born small, according to a new study in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. Low birth weight increases the risk for infections; breathing and respiratory disorders; delayed growth and social development; and learning disabilities. Other studies have also linked smoking during pregnancy to premature birth, birth defects and stillbirth. "The big thing to get out of this study is that quitting early in pregnancy is as helpful in respect to the birth weight of your baby as never having smoked while you were pregnant," said Amber Samuel, MD, a maternal-fetal medicine expert at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "I think that can be an inspiration to moms who are looking to make a change in their lives." Read more on maternal and infant health.