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Health Highlights of 2012
On this last day of the year, the news site HealthDay ticks off some significant health events of the last twelve months:
- The June Supreme Court ruling upholding most of the Affordable Care Act.
- The outbreak of deadly fungal meningitis linked to tainted steroid injections that began during the summer. As of December 17, the outbreak had infected 620 people and killed 39 people across 19 states. On Dec. 20, health officials from all fifty states met with U.S. Food and Drug Administration representatives to discuss proposed regulation to help prevent such events in the future.
- Autism incidence keeps rising. In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the prevalence of the disorder at one in every 88 children, up from one in 110 in 2010. Cases were also five times more common in boys than girls, the agency found. While changes in how autism is spotted and reported may have played a role in the new numbers, other factors behind the increase are unclear.
- This year saw two major milestones in HIV testing and treatment. In July, the FDA approved OraQuick, the first at-home HIV test, which enables people to privately assess their infection status within 20 minutes. The same month the FDA approved Truvada, the first HIV drug aimed at preventing transmission of the virus to uninfected people who are at high risk.
- Two new diet drugs were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time in thirteen years. Belviq was approved in July for obese adults with high blood pressure, Osymia, approved for the patient group, got the FDA’s nod a month later.
Read NewPublicHealth News Roundups.
IOM Committee to Explore Sports-related Concussions
Youth sports concussions will be a focus of an Institute of Medicine Committee next year. The committee will conduct a study on youth, from elementary school through young adulthood, including military personnel and their dependents. The committee will also review concussion risk factors; screening and diagnosis; treatment and management; and long-term consequences. Read more on injury prevention.
Scheduling Cardiac Rehab Soon After a Heart Attack Improves Compliance
A new study in Circulation found that scheduling cardiac rehabilitation to begin sooner rather than later following a heart attack increased the chance that patients show up for the first and subsequent sessions. Cardiac rehab, which includes supervised exercise and nutrition counseling, has been linked to a reduction in second heart attacks in patients who complete the multi-week programs. In the new study, patients whose first rehab session was scheduled within ten days of hospital discharge were more likely to come to the first session than were patients whose appointments were scheduled for within 35 days of discharge, which is a standard time frame in the United States. Read more on heart health.
HHS Online Initiative to Protect Patient Information on Mobile Devices
A new initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services includes online tools with practical tips on how to protect patient health information on mobile devices. Mobile Devices: Know the RISKS. Take the STEPS. PROTECT and SECURE Health Information includes videos, fact sheets and posters. Surveys shows that only about 44 percent of mobiles devices used for clinical purposes are properly encrypted. “It’s important that these tools are used correctly,” said Joy Pritts, HHS’ Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) chief privacy officer, in a release. “Health care providers, administrators and their staffs must create a culture of privacy and security across their organizations to ensure the privacy and security of their patients’ protected health information.” Read more on technology.
Study: Daylight Savings Time Slightly Increases Heart Attack Risk
Sleep deprivation caused by setting the clock ahead for Daylight Savings Time may slightly increase the risk of heart attack the following day, according to a new study in the American Journal of Cardiology. "Nowadays, people are looking for how they can reduce their risk of heart disease and other ailments," said Monica Jiddou, lead author and a cardiologist at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, according to Reuters. "Sleep is something we can potentially control. There are plenty of studies that show sleep can affect a person's health." Researchers said that while the findings could be due to chance, they believe the sleep deprivation increase stress hormones and inflammatory chemicals. Read more on heart health.
Experts: No Link Between Autism, Violence
In the wake of reports that the 20-year-old gunman who killed 27 people—20 of them children—at an elementary school in Newton, Conn. had Asperger's syndrome, health professionals are quickly noting that there is no link between autism (of which Asperger’s is a mild type) and violence. "Research suggests that aggression among people with autism spectrum conditions can occur 20 percent to 30 percent more often than compared to the general population," said Eric Butter, assistant professor of pediatrics and psychology at Ohio State University, according to HealthDay. "But, we are not talking about the kind of planned and intentional type of violence we have seen at Newtown. The new DSM-5 is set to change the designation "autistic disorder" to "autism spectrum disorder," which will include what is currently known as Asperger's. Read more on mental health.
Report Helps Parents Identify Dangerous Toys in Stores
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group’s (U.S. PIRG) 27th annual “Trouble in Toyland” report provides safety guidelines for parents shopping for toys this holiday season. It also identifies toys that are potentially dangerous, either because of the inclusion of toxic substances or because of threats such as choking hazards. “We should be able to trust that the toys we buy are safe. However, until that’s the case, parents need to watch out for common hazards when shopping for toys,” said Nasima Hossain, Public Health Advocate for U.S. PIRG. There is also a mobile site for smartphones. Read more on safety.
Survey: Despite Worries, Most Kids Getting Enough Sleep
Despite concerns that U.S. children don’t get enough sleep, a new report in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine indicates that kids are generally getting the amount recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The recommendations are different for different ages, with kids under age to sleeping 12 to 14 hours each day and 16-year-olds sleeping about 9 hours a day. Lack of sleep has been connected to behavior problems and physical health issues. "We can't say this is the amount that they should be sleeping," said Jessica Williams, the study’s lead author and a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, according to Reuters. "All we could really do is compare our estimated norms with what is recommended, and it seems like it falls pretty well in line with the recommendations." The researchers believe their data can help clinicians better identify kids who may not be getting enough sleep. Read more on pediatrics.
Study: Link Between Autism, Air Pollution
Air pollution during pregnancy and the first year of life may increase a child’s risk of autism, according to a new study in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study found kids exposed to the “highest” levels of air pollution—such as from traffic congestion—were three times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than were kids exposed to the “lowest” levels. The findings support previous research suggesting a link between problems with the immune system and autism. "We are not saying that air pollution causes autism," said Heather Volk, lead researcher and assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles. "But it does appear that this may be one potential risk for autism. We are beginning to understand that pollution affects the developing fetus." Read more on autism.
Overweight, Obese Women at Higher Risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Being overweight increases the chance that a woman will develop rheumatoid arthritis, according to preliminary study findings presented at the American College of Rheumatology in Washington, D.C. Approximately 1.3 million people in the United States have the disease, which causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of joint function. The results come from two studies: the Nurses' Health Study for women ages 30-55 and the Nurses' Health Study II for women ages 25-42. Overweight women were at 19 percent higher risk in the first study and 78 percent in the second; obese women were at 18 percent higher risk in the first and 73 percent in the second. While the results support previous studies suggesting a connection between excessive weight and rheumatoid arthritis, researchers were careful to note the study did not prove cause and effect. Read more on obesity.
Low-income Earners Postpone Knee Surgeries, Are Happier with the Results
People who earn less than $35,000 are more inclined to postpone knee-replacement surgery until it’s absolutely needed, meaning they see much greater before/after differences than people with higher incomes and are happier with the results, according to a new study by researchers in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. David Lewallen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, said the area required further study but these preliminary findings provided important information. "This is one small piece of a very large puzzle in understanding patient outcomes following a well-defined surgery that we know is very effective for most." Read more on access to health care.
Study: Flu During Pregnancy May Slightly Raise Risk of ‘Infantile Autism’
Women who have the flu while pregnant are at slightly higher risk of their children being diagnosed with “infantile autism,” according to preliminary research in a new Danish study. The overall risk of autism did not increase over children whose mothers did not have the flu, however. The slight increase could be because of how the fetus’ brain is affected by the mother’s immune response to the flu. Still, Hjordis Osk Atladottir, MD, from the University of Aarhus, said the overall risk of the disorder was no higher and the risk of infantile autism was still incredibly low. "Ninety-nine percent of women with influenza do not have a child with autism," she said to Reuters. "If it were me that was pregnant, I wouldn't do anything different from before, because our research is so early and exploratory." Read more on maternal and infant health.
CDC: 14 Dead, 170 Sick in Meningitis Outbreak
Fourteen people have now died in a meningitis outbreak tied to apparently tainted steroid injections, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There are 170 total cases so far. The methylprednisolone acetate was manufactured at the New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass. and given to as many as 13,000 people in 23 states. The outbreak has led many to question current compounding practices. "This incident raises serious concerns about the scope of the practice of pharmacy compounding in the United States and the current patchwork of federal and state laws," read a statement from Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.). Read more on infectious diseases.
Study: Concussion Diagnosis Inconsistent in College Athletics
Physicians who diagnose concussions in college athletes use inconsistent criteria that could hinder proper patient care, according to a new study in the Journal of Neurosurgery. Refined, universal standards would improve patient outcomes, according to researchers who analyzed 48 diagnosed concussions in 450 college athletes at Brown University, Dartmouth College and Virginia Tech. "The term 'concussion' means different things to different people, and it's not yet clear that the signs and symptoms we now use to make a diagnosis will ultimately prove to be the most important pieces of this complicated puzzle," said Ann-Christine Duhaime, MD, director of the pediatric brain trauma lab at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Some patients who receive a diagnosis of concussion go on to have very few problems, and some who are not diagnosed because they have no immediate symptoms may have sustained a lot of force to the head with potentially serious consequences," she explained. Read more on access to health care.
Researchers to Evaluate Umbilical Stem Cells’ Effect on Children with Autism
Scientists at the Sutter Neuroscience Institute, in Sacramento, Calif. will inject 30 children with autism with stem cells from their own umbilical cord blood to research whether the treatment can improve behavior and language skills. Michael Chez, MD, director of pediatric neurology at the institute, said researchers hope to find scientific support for anecdotal evidence. The 13-month study will involve children ages 2 to 7. One in 88 children are affected by autism, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on pediatrics.
CDC: Meningitis Outbreak Climbs to 91; Pharmacies Identified
There are now 91 people in nine states infected with meningitis due to apparently contaminated steroids, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seven people have died. Manufacturer New England Compounding Center of Framingham, Mass. has recalled the suspect methylprednisolone acetate. CDC says the length of time it takes for meningitis symptoms to appear means more cases are likely. CDC released a list of pharmacies that received the steroid. Read more on infectious diseases.
Study: Few Patients Ask About Physicians’ Hand Hygiene
Have you ever asked your doctor whether they washed their hands before examining you or performing a procedure? Only about 1 in 5 patients do, according to a new national survey. Hospitals encourage patients to ask, yet only 21% asked in the hospital and 17% asked at their doctor’s office; less than 1 in 10 asked “frequently” or “all the time,” according to the American Medical Association. Poor hygiene contributes to increased infections from doctor’s visits and hospital stays. “One in 20 patients who goes into the hospital is going to get one of these health care-associated infections, and we need to educate patients about ways to prevent them,” said William Jarvis, MD, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist. “As they understand what the risks are, these signs are reminders to them to remind health care workers about hand hygiene.” Read more on prevention.
Study: Half of Kids with Autism Run Away
A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows that about half of children with autism had wandered away from their caregivers at least once. Of the 1,218 kids surveyed, 316 went missing for an average of approximately 40 minutes. The study was headed by the Interactive Autism Network Project at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. Paul Law, MD, the project’s director, said it is the lack of social skills and social bond makes children with autism more likely to wander away. "There's an enormous burden that all families are undergoing to keep their families safe,” Law told Reuters. “The amount of diligence, and not going out in public, and staying up late at night…just the general anxiety that families live under because of concerns with this is just torturous." Read more on safety.
CDC: Millions of Americans with High, Untreated Blood Pressure
High blood pressure affects 67 million of U.S. adults, or almost one-third, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And as many as 36 million of those aren’t treating the condition properly. High blood pressure contributes to about 1,000 deaths each day and about $131 billion each year in health care costs. The CDC says the key to treating high blood pressure in U.S. adults is for everyone—from patients to providers—to act together as a team. “We have to roll up our sleeves and make blood pressure control a priority every day, with every patient, at every doctor’s visit,” said CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden, MD, MPH. “With increased focus and collaboration among patients, health care providers and health care systems, we can help 10 million Americans’ blood pressure come into control in the next five years.” Read more on heart health.
HUD Releases New Lead-Paint Guidelines for Housing Providers
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released new Guidelines for the Evaluation and Control of Lead-Based Paint Hazards in Housing, updating its guidance from 1995. The guidelines are designed to help property owners, government agencies and private contractors dramatically reduce childhood exposure to lead while still keeping renovation costs as low as possible. “HUD is committed to providing healthier housing for all families,” said Jon L. Gant, Director of HUD’s Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control. “These Guidelines will help communities around the nation protect families from lead exposure and other significant health and safety hazards.” Read more on housing.
People More Likely to Guzzle Beer from a Curved Glass than a Straight One
A new study in PLoS ONE shows social drinkers will drink beer almost twice as fast from a curved glass than they will from a straight one—meaning they will become intoxicated far quicker. Researchers at the University of Bristol School of Experimental Psychology said this could be because it is harder to judge the amount consumed when using a curved glass. “Due to the personal and societal harms associated with heavy bouts of drinking, there has been a lot of recent interest in alcohol control strategies,” said Angela Attwood, PhD, adding that “[p]eople often talk of ‘pacing themselves’ when drinking alcohol as a means of controlling levels of drunkenness, and I think the important point to take from our research is that the ability to pace effectively may be compromised when drinking from certain types of glasses.” Read more on alcohol.
Study Details Bullying Involvement for Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Approximately 46 percent of adolescents with autism are the victims of bullying, according to a new study in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, a JAMA Network publication. Bullying is harmful behavior coming from a position of power, whether physical, social or cognitive. There is still very little research on bullying related to adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), according to the study’s researchers. The study’s authors concluded that bullying intervention strategies need to address core ASD deficits, such as conversational ability and social skills, while also increasing social integration, empathy and social skills. Read more on bullying.
Non-profit Achilles International connects physically and mentally disabled individuals with able-bodied amateur athletes to help build physical strength and confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often impacts other parts of their lives. Since its start in the 1970′s, Achilles has also added training programs for children and disabled veterans. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities, and an in-school program for children with disabilities; the Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans program brings running programs and marathon opportunities to disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Richard Traum, Achilles’ founder, says sports are simply the tool for accomplishing the group’s main objective: to bring hope, inspiration and the joys of achievement to people with disabilities.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Richard Traum about the organization and its accomplishments over the years.
NewPublicHealth: How did Achilles get started?
Richard Traum: In 1976, as an above the knee amputee, I ran in the New York City Marathon on my artificial leg. I didn’t know it at that time, but I became the first amputee to run that kind of a distance. In 1982 we started the Achilles Track Club, which was an eight week course to encourage people with disabilities to participate in long distance running and after the eight week program was over, the question was what do we do next? And the thought was move it from a course to a track club and that’s how Achilles got started, which was in January of 1983.
NPH: Tell us a bit about the mission.
Richard Traum: Well, the mission is really to help people with all types of disabilities to participate in sports with a particular focus on running in the mainstream environment. What we do most is have disabled people participate in marathons. I’ve always felt that it was very important for people with disabilities to integrate with people who aren’t disabled. One reason is that if you are disabled, it makes you feel more comfortable in the able-bodied community, but it also works in the other direction—people who are not disabled increase their comfort level by seeing folks who are disabled competing with them in a sport.
NPH: What are some of the successes?
Richard Traum: Well, one is Donald Arthur. Donald had a heart transplant and he joined us shortly thereafter. He started to work out and he built up to doing a marathon and as he progressed, he would send the t-shirts to his doctor who would then send them to the family of the heart donor. He eventually did the marathon, sent his medal to the family and told them that their son’s heart had just done a marathon. The next year, Donald ran with a brother of the donor and during the last several years, Donald has done several marathons a year in different states; to focus awareness on organ donation.
New regulations announced today by the Food and Drug Administration require tobacco companies to report levels of dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes, chew and other tobacco products. This will be the first time cigarette makers will be required to report on the quantities of twenty ingredients that are associated with health problems such as cancer and lung disease. The FDA will make this information available to the public in a consumer-friendly format by April 2013. Read more tobacco news.
A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 88 children in the United States have an autism spectrum disorder. Researchers looked at data from 14 communities. Autism spectrum disorders are almost five times more common among boys than girls, and the largest increases in incidence were among Hispanic and black children. According to the CDC, the study shows an increase of 23 percent in children identified as having the condition since a previous report in 2009. It is unclear how much of that increase is due to increased awareness and diagnosis. Read more on children's health.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced $700 million in grants to help build, expand and improve community health centers across the country.
Reuters is reporting that a listeria outbreak in Nebraska, Colorado and Texas has caused at least one death so far. The outbreak has been linked to cantaloupe, though officials have not yet tracked the source of the outbreak.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration held a stakeholder meeting last week on acute drug shortages across the country, including shortages of cancer and anesthesia drugs. Some of the shortage is the result of raw ingredient supply disruptions and the discontinuation of some drugs. The FDA will hold a public hearing on the issue on September 26.
A new study by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and researchers from Denmark has found a link between exposure to the pesticide DDT and asthma as well as a possible link between DDT exposure and autism, using a new computer modeling system. The study was published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.