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Oct 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 15

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EBOLA UPDATE: Second Dallas Health Care Work Tests Positive for Ebola
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The Texas hospital that treated a man who has since died from Ebola has reported that a second health care worker has tested positive for the disease. The patient has been isolated at Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas; the health care worker is being monitored for fever and symptoms while confirmation testing is performed at the Texas Department of State Health Services’ laboratory. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has interviewed the patient about any contacts or potential exposures. Read more on Ebola.

CDC is Utilizing New, Faster Lab Test for Enterovirus D68
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed and is now using a new laboratory test that will enable it to more quickly test remaining specimens for the presence of enterovirus D68 (EV-D68). EV-D68 has been identified as the most common type of enterovirus this year; enteroviruses and rhinoviruses lead to millions of respiratory illnesses in children annually, and can be especially harmful to kids with asthma. “CDC has received substantially more specimens for enterovirus lab testing than usual this year, due to the large outbreak of EV-D68 and related hospitalizations,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “When rare or uncommon viruses suddenly begin causing severe illness, CDC works quickly to develop diagnostic tests to enhance our response and investigations. This new lab test will reduce what would normally take several weeks to get results to a few days.” Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Health Disparities at the Root of Post-Cancer Surgery Deaths
Approximately 5 percent of more than 1 million cancer patients who had surgery died within one month of their operation, according to a new study by Harvard researchers. Study lead author Brandon Mahal, a research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, cited disparities such as access to quality care, biological or genetic factors, social support and treatment differences as the most likely reasons for the death rate. The study determined that married patients had a 20 percent lower risk of dying within the month after surgery; insured patients had a 12 percent lower risk; wealthier patients had a 5 percent lower risk; and more-educated patients had a 2 percent lower risk. "Efforts to reduce deaths and eliminate disparities have the potential to significantly improve survival among patients with cancer," Mahal said. Read more on health disparities.

Oct 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 14

EBOLA UPDATE: Death Rate Now Stands at 70 Percent; 4,447 Dead
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The World Health Organization (WHO) now puts the Ebola outbreak death rate at 70 percent, up from a previous estimate of 50 percent. WHO assistant director- general Bruce Aylward, MD, who announced the figure at a news conference, said this classifies Ebola as a “high mortality disease.” The global health agency also predicts there could be as many as 10,000 new cases per week within two months. The official toll so far is 4,447 deaths in 8,914 cases. Read more on Ebola.

DOD Adds Climate Change Threats to its Defense Mandate
Citing its effect on issues such as infectious disease, hunger and poverty, the U.S. Department of Defense has announced its intention to integrate climate change threats into all of its “plans, operations, and training.” The assessment came in the Pentagon’s 20-page Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. "Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe," wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the report. Read more on the environment.

Study: Smoking Linked to 14 Million Major Medical Conditions
Cigarette smoking harms nearly every bodily organ and is linked to an estimated 14 million major medical conditions in U.S. adults, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema and is the illness most closely linked to smoking. The study was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. “The disease burden of cigarette smoking in the United States remains immense, and updated estimates indicate that COPD may be substantially underreported in health survey data,” wrote the study authors. The study also linked smoking to 2.3 million cases of heart attack 1.3 million cases of cancer, 1.2 million cases of stroke and 1.8 million cases of diabetes. Read more on tobacco.

Oct 9 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 9

EBOLA UPDATE: Five U.S. Airports to Screen Travelers from Ebola-Affected Nations
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
On the same day that the Dallas, Tex., patient being treated for Ebola succumbed to the disease, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security's Customs & Border Protection (CBP) announced that travelers from Ebola-affected nations would undergo increased entry screening when arriving in five U.S. airports. New York's JFK, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O'Hare and Atlanta international airports receive more than 94 percent of travelers from the West African nations. According to the CDC:

  • Travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be escorted by CBP to an area of the airport set aside for screening.
  • Trained CBP staff will observe them for signs of illness, ask them a series of health and exposure questions and provide health information for Ebola and reminders to monitor themselves for symptoms. Trained medical staff will take their temperature with a non-contact thermometer.
  • If the travelers have fever, symptoms or the health questionnaire reveals possible Ebola exposure, they will be evaluated by a CDC quarantine station public health officer. The public health officer will again take a temperature reading and make a public health assessment. Travelers, who after this assessment, are determined to require further evaluation or monitoring will be referred to the appropriate public health authority.
  • Travelers from these countries who have neither symptoms/fever nor a known history of exposure will receive health information for self-monitoring.

Read more on Ebola.

Study: College Athletes in Contact Sports at Increased MRSA Risk
College athletes in contact sports are at increased risk of carrying and being infected with the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a new study presented this morning at IDWeek. In a two-year study, researchers determined that contact sport athletes were more than twice as likely as non-contact athletes to be colonized with MRSA. Colonization with MRSA ranged from 8 to 31 percent in contact sports athletes, compared to 0 to 23 percent of non-contact athletes; 5 to 10 percent of the general population is colonized with MRSA. "This study shows that even outside of a full scale outbreak, when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonized with these potentially harmful bacteria," said Natalia Jimenez-Truque, PhD, MSCI, research instructor, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., in a release "Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes, including frequent hand washing and avoiding sharing towels and personal items such as soap and razors." Read more on prevention.

ACS: Overweight and Obese African-Americans, Whites at Similar Risk for Premature Death
Overweight and obese African-Americans and whites are at similar risk for premature death, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. The findings contradict previous, smaller studies which indicated the link was less strong for African-Americans. For the study, researchers from the American Cancer Society analyzed data from the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), which included approximately one million men and women. “While recent large studies have examined the relationship between BMI and all-cause mortality in white and Asian populations in the United States, this relationship has not been well-characterized in African Americans,” said Alpa V. Patel, PhD, in a release. “The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-II is very well-suited to address this issue because of its large size, including nearly a million participants, and long-term follow-up of 28 years, making it the largest study to date in African Americans.” Read more on obesity.

Sep 26 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 26

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EBOLA UPDATE: American Physician Declared Ebola-Free, Released From Hospital
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Rick Sacra, MD, an American physician who was working in an obstetrics clinic in Liberia when he became infected with the Ebola virus, has been cleared as disease-free by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and released from The Nebraska Medical Center. He entered the facility, which includes one of the United States’ few biocontainment units, three weeks ago. Kenty Brantly, MD, who was previously and successfully treated for Ebola at Emory Hospital in Atlanta, had donated two pints of his blood for Sacra’s treatment. Read more on Ebola.

UTHealth to Use $1.3M Grant to Study Asthma Risk for Health Care Workers
As asthma prevalence continues to rise across the country, the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health will utilize a four-year, $1.3 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to study how the risk of asthma has changed for Texas health care workers over the past decade. The health care field is one of the population groups that see a higher risk for the breathing disorder. For the study, researchers will repeat a 2003 survey which found that, after entering the field, 7.3 percent of nurses and 4.2 to 5.6 percent of doctors, respiratory therapists and occupational therapists developed asthma. “Practices in hospitals have changed in 10 years. There are new cleaning chemicals, including many environmentally friendly ones, but are those products without risk? We want to find out,” said George Delclos, MD, PhD, co-principal investigator and professor in the Division of Epidemiology, Human Genetics & Environmental Sciences at the UTHealth School of Public Health. Read more on health disparities.

HHS: $212M to Strengthen State, Local Programs Designed to Prevent Chronic Diseases
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced yesterday that it will award nearly $212 million in grants to help all 50 states and the District of Columbia strengthen efforts to prevent chronic diseases. A total of 193 awards will go to state and local programs, and are funded in part through the Affordable Care Act. “Tobacco use, high blood pressure, and obesity are leading preventable causes of death in the United States,” said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a release. “These grants will enable state and local health departments, national and community organizations, and other partners from all sectors of society to help us prevent heart disease, cancer, stroke, and other leading chronic diseases, and help Americans to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives.” Read more on prevention.

Sep 15 2014
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Recommended Reading: Some Drugs—Especially Oncology Medicines—Have Been in Short Supply for Too Many Years

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Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released an issue brief on the continuing shortages of certain drugs, most frequently injectable drugs for cancer treatment. According to the issue brief, there have been fewer reports of newly unavailable drugs in the last few years, but problems remain, forcing many patients to skip some treatments or sometimes opt for a less-effective drug. U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updates on drug shortages in just the first two weeks of September found sixteen injectable drugs in short supply, two of them new to the list.

Recent Government Accountability Office reports have found several reasons for the shortages, including:

  • Difficulty acquiring raw materials
  • Manufacturing problems
  • A loss of drug products when factories are updated and modernized
  • Low reimbursement by Medicare and other government payment programs
  • FDA regulations that may slow down new drug approvals

The authors of the issue brief say that it is unlikely that Congress will act, and that the industry has and will make changes likely to help bolster some supplies. Also, thorough reviews such as the current issue brief help remind policymakers that some drug shortages remain.

Read the full issue brief.

Sep 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 12

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EBOLA OUTBREAK: WHO Says Ebola is Spreading at a Faster Rate than Health Workers Can Handle
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa—the largest in history—shows no signs of slowing down. Today the global health organization followed that by declaring that health officials are currently unable to handle the growing number of cases. "In the three hardest hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the number of new cases is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them in the Ebola-specific treatment centers," said Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, according to CNN. "Today, there is not one single bed available for the treatment of an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia." More than 2,400 people have died from Ebola since the start of the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Majority of Nursing Home Residents with Advanced Dementia Receive Questionable Medications
The majority of nursing home residents dealing with advanced dementia receive medications that are both questionable—if not outright ineffective—and cost them needless amounts of money, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. In a review of 5,406 nursing home residents with advanced dementia, researchers determined that slightly more than half (53.9 percent) received at least one medication with questionable benefit; the medications constituted approximately 35.2 percent of the total cost of care for those patients. According to the researchers, the patients’ goals of care should dictate the treatment they receive when dealing with a terminal illness, and medications that don’t promote that primary goal should be minimized. Read more on aging.

Study: ‘Fat Shaming’ is Counterproductive
“Fat shaming” does not promote weight loss and in fact can be counterproductive, according to a new study in the journal Obesity. In an analysis of nearly 3,000 adults tracked over four years, researchers determined that weight discrimination was associated with a weight gain of approximately 2 pounds, while the participants who reported no fat shaming lost an average of 1.5 pounds. "Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution," said the study's senior author, Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at University College London (UCL), in a release. "Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals, and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.” Read more on obesity.

Sep 8 2014
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Recommended Reading: Helping First Timers Sign up for Health Insurance

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A new Kaiser Health News (KHN) article describes the challenges of helping people who have never had health insurance sign up for coverage. The KHN profile looks at the Arab Community Center for Economic & Social Services (ACCESS) a nonprofit agency that is helping the large Arab-American population in Dearborn, Mich., sign up for coverage and access care.

 The group has found that many of the people they are helping are immigrants who know little to nothing about health insurance concepts such as enrollment, copays and deductibles—an issue that also applies to millions of other people new to health insurance across the country. Immigrant and uninsured populations all over the country face cultural and language barriers to understanding and adopting U.S. insurance practices.

Ten million non-citizens living legally in the U.S. are expected to gain health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, according to KHN. The navigators at ACCESS are also trained to teach immigrants about free public health screenings for conditions such as breast cancer, which requires specialized training and conversations because of cultural stigmas associated with cancer.. At the ACCESS center in Dearborn, for example, women coming for free mammograms enter through an unmarked door.

Read the Kaiser Health News article.

Bonus Links:

  • Kaiser Health News recently reported that, on average, premiums will decline in 16 major cities for the 2015 coverage year.
  • Advertising for health insurance plans has already started across the country. Sign up for the 2015 coverage year begins October 15, 2014 and ends February 15, 2015, a period that is roughly three months shorter than last year’s enrollment period. Find information at healthcare.gov.
Sep 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 3

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EBOLA UPDATE: HHS Partners with Mapp Biopharmaceutical on Development of Ebola Treatments
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has contracted with Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. for the development of an Ebola treatment. The funding will come through the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. Under the 18-month, $24.9 million contract, Mapp will also continue the development and manufacture of its existing Ebola drug, ZMapp, which was used to successfully treat two Americans who were infected in the outbreak in West Africa. “While ZMapp has received a lot of attention, it is one of several treatments under development for Ebola, and we still have very limited data on its safety and efficacy,” said Nicole Lurie, MD, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, in a release. “Developing drugs and vaccines to protect against Ebola as a biological threat has been a long-term goal of the U.S. government, and today’s agreement represents an important step forward.” Read more on Ebola.

CVS Announces All Stores are Now Tobacco Free
Tobacco products are no longer sold at any of the approximately 7,700 CVS/pharmacy locations, the company announced today, almost a month ahead of its planned tobacco-free schedule. The company also announced that is has changed its corporate name to CVS Health. "Every day, all across the country, customers and patients place their trust in our 26,000 pharmacists and nurse practitioners to serve their health care needs," said Helena B. Foulkes, President of CVS/pharmacy, in a release. "The removal of cigarette and other tobacco products from our stores is an important step in helping Americans to quit smoking and get healthy." Read more on tobacco.

Study: Double Mastectomies and Lumpectomies Carry Similar Survival Rates
Double mastectomies for early stage breast cancer are no more effective than lumpectomies at improving survival rates, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Analyzing data on more than 189,000 patients in California, researchers found that while the percentage of women who opted for double mastectomies climbed from 2 percent in 1998 to 12.3 percent in 2011—and that in 2011 approximately one-third of patients younger than 40 chose to have a double mastectomy rather than the potentially breast-conserving lumpectomy—the death rates for the two treatments were similar. The researchers said their findings are especially significant for women at average risk. Read more on cancer.

Aug 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 19

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Passes 1,200; Improvement Seen in Three African Doctors Who Received Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa has passed 1,200, according to the World Health Organization, with infection rates continuing to outpace containment efforts. Concerns over the disease also continue to spread, with a 30-year-old woman in Germany isolated and then taken to a specialist medical unit after being found with a high fever. However, the Liberian information minister was also recently quoted as saying that three African doctors treated with the experimental ZMapp treatment are showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” The drug was used to treat two Americans who are now also showing signs of improvement. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Older Americans Receiving Cancer Screenings Against Recommendations
As many as half of older Americans continue to receive cancer screenings despite the recommendation by several professional societies that certain cancers not be screening for in people who aren’t expected to live for another 10 years, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “There is general agreement that routine cancer screening has little likelihood to result in a net benefit for individuals with limited life expectancy,” wrote Trevor Royce, MD, in the study. Keith Bellizzi of the University of Connecticut‘s Center for Public Health and Health Policy in Storrs added that "Each screening test carries different risks and benefits ... Individuals should be counseled about these risks in order to make an informed decision (sometimes involving caregivers or family members)." Read more on cancer.

Study: Dramatic Drop in Deaths, Hospitalization for Heart Disease and Stroke
Lifestyle changes, better treatment and effective preventive measures have caused a dramatic drop in deaths and hospitalizations for heart disease over the past decade, according to a new study in the journal Circulation. In a review of data on nearly 34 million Americans covered by Medicare, researchers found that from 1999 to 2011 hospitalizations rates for heart attacks dropped by 38 percent; rates of unstable angina dropped by almost 85 percent; and hospitalizations for both heart failure and stroke dropped by approximately one-third. "The findings are jaw-dropping," said lead researcher Harlan Krumholz, MD, a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn, according to HealthDay. "They really show that we have begun to reverse this epidemic of heart disease and stroke." Read more on heart and vascular health.

Aug 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 15

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HHS: $250M to Expand Access to High-Quality Preschools
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that applications are now available for the $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition, which was established to build, develop and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities for children from low- and moderate-income families. “When we invest in early education, the benefits can last a lifetime,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. “Children who attend high-quality early learning and preschool programs are more likely to do well in school and secure good jobs down the road. We all gain when our country has a stronger, more productive workforce, lower crime rates, and less need for public assistance. These Preschool Development Grants will help put more children on the path to opportunity.” Read more on education.

Study: Three Common Respiratory Illnesses Linked to Higher Risk of Lung Cancer
Chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia are all tied to an increased risk of lung cancer, according to a new study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on more than 250,000 people, concluding that the reason for the increased risk could relate to underlying disease mechanisms. They also said that a better understanding of the respiratory diseases could affect how doctors monitor and help patients. Read more on prevention.

FDA: More Data Needed on Painkiller’s Abuse-Deterrent Capability
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested additional study and information to determine the effectiveness of an abuse-deterrent capability in an experimental painkiller. Acura Pharmaceuticals states that its drug, which contains the common painkillers hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen, cannot be abused by snorting. The drug is designed to cause a burning sensation when snorted or form a gelatinous mixture when prepared for injection. However, the drug failed in a mid-stage trial to show a statistically significant likelihood of reducing abuse. Read more on substance abuse.