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Nov 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 11

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American College of Preventive Medicine Releases Recommendations to Curb Texting While Driving
The American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM) has released guidelines aimed at reducing death and injuries linked to texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 percent of all fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver are estimated to be related to cell phone use while driving. “Given the combination of visual, manual and cognitive distractions posed by texting, this is an issue of major public health concern for communities,” the ACPM said it its statement. The guidelines include:

  • Encourage state legislatures to develop and pass legislation banning texting while driving, while simultaneously implementing comprehensive and dedicated law enforcement strategies, including penalties for these violations.
  • Legislatures should establish a public awareness campaign regarding the dangers of texting while driving as an integral part of this legislation.
  • Promote further research into the design and evaluation of educational tools regarding texting while driving that can be incorporated into the issuance of driver’s licenses.
  • Provide primary care providers with the appropriate tools to educate patients of all ages.
  • Conduct additional studies investigating the risks associated with cell phone usage while driving—particularly texting—with motor vehicle crashes.

Read more on injury prevention.

Skin Cancer Costs Rise
The costs associated with skin cancer increased five times as fast as treatments for other cancers between 2002 and 2011, according to a study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The average annual cost for skin cancer treatment increased from $3.6 billion during 2002-2006 to $8.1 billion during 2007-2011, or 126 percent. The average annual cost for treatment of all other cancers increased by 25 percent during the same time period. “The findings raise the alarm that not only is skin cancer a growing problem in the United States, but the costs for treating it are skyrocketing relative to other cancers,” said the lead author of the report, Gery Guy, PhD, of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “This also underscores the importance of skin cancer prevention efforts.” Read more on cancer.

 

Childhood Obesity Often Continues into Teen Years
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reviewed data on close to 4,000 public school students who were measured for height and weight in 5th and 10th grades. In 5th grade, one percent of students were underweight, 53 percent were normal weight, 19 percent were overweight and 26 percent were obese. Sixty-five percent of obese 5th-graders remained obese in 10th grade, 23 percent transitioned down to overweight and only 12 percent became normal weight. The study found that obese 5th graders were more likely to remain obese in 10th grade if they perceived themselves to be much heavier than ideal or came from a less-educated household. However, overweight 5th-graders were more likely to become obese by 10th grade if they had an obese parent or watched more television. The study authors say obese children face many challenges in reducing obesity in adolescence and that health care professionals should be encouraged to educate parents and caregivers to address obesity at a very young age, including advice on healthy eating and physical activity. Read more on childhood obesity.

Nov 10 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 10

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Child Mortality Rates Improve in Many Developing Countries
The child mortality gap has narrowed between the poorest and wealthiest households in a majority of more than 50 developing countries, according to a new study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine. And the rates have dropped fastest among the poorest families. The researchers found four common factors in countries with a narrowing child-mortality gap: Government effectiveness, rule of law, control of corruption and regulatory quality. Read more on global health.

State Level Heart Disease Data from CDC Can Help Improve Interventions
New state heart disease specific data compiled and evaluated by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide information at the state level for the first time, a key tool for creating targeted intervention programs, according to the agency. Nearly 800,000 people die each year from heart disease, making it the leading cause of death in the United States. Although heart disease has continued to decline during the past 40 years, the rates of decline vary significantly by state.  Factors, and interventions that can impact heart disease—and its successful prevention and treatment—include hypertension, smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, overweight/obesity, physical inactivity and little consumption of vegetables and fruits. Read more on heart and vascular health.

New Study Finds Cigars as Risky as Cigarettes
Many smokers think cigars are less likely than cigarettes to cause cancer and other diseases and rates of cigar smoking doubled between 2000 and 2011. However, a new study in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention finds that cigar smoke—just like cigarette smoke—emits toxic chemicals. The researchers say this is an important study because cigar smoking has increased among kids and teens, who often think that cigars don’t pose the same health risk as cigarettes. Read more on tobacco.

Nov 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 6

EBOLA UPDATE: Administration Asks Congress for $6.18 Billion in Emergency Funds
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The Obama administration has asked the U.S. Congress to approve $6.18 billion in new emergency funds to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. More than 5,000 people have died so far from the outbreak. The new funds would include:

  • $1.83 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent, detect and respond to the Ebola epidemic and other diseases and public health emergencies abroad and in the United States.
  • $1.98 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development for foreign assistance in the Ebola crisis.
  • $127 million would go to the U.S. Department of State to expand its medical support and evacuation capacity.
  • $112 million for the U.S. Department of Defense including funding to support efforts to develop technologies relevant to the Ebola crisis.
  • $1.54 billion for a contingency fund, divided between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, USAID and State to ensure resources are available to adapt as the crisis evolves.

Read more on Ebola.

CDC: 8 Million Women Ages 21-65 Haven’t Been Screened for Cervical Cancer
Approximately eight million women ages 21-65 years have not been screened for cervical cancer in the past five years, according to the latest Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than half of the women who receive a diagnosis of cervical cancer have never been or are rarely screened. “Every visit to a provider can be an opportunity to prevent cervical cancer by making sure women are referred for screening appropriately,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD, in a release. “We must increase our efforts to make sure that all women understand the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer. No woman should die from cervical cancer.” Read more on prevention.

U.S. Premature Birth Rate to 11.4 Percent; March of Dimes Gives the Country a ‘C’
The national preterm birth rate has fallen to the Health People 2020 goal of 11.4 percent seven years early. Despite this, the 7th annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card gave the U.S. health care system a “C” for not reaching the organization’s lower target of 9.6 percent. More than 450,000 U.S. babies were born premature in 2013, which leads to increased risks to their health as well as billions of dollars in health care costs. "Achieving the Healthy People 2020 goal is reason for celebration, but the U.S. still has one of the highest rates of preterm birth of any high resource country and we must change that," said March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse, MD, in a release. "We are investing in a network of five prematurity research centers to find solutions to this still too-common, costly, and serious problem." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Nov 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 4

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WHO: Wider Use of Naloxone Could Prevent 20,000 U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Each Year
More than 20,000 U.S. deaths from drug overdoses could be prevented each year if naloxone were more widely available, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Approximately 69,000 people around the world die each year from overdoses of heroin or other opioids. Opioids are commonly prescribed for chronic non-cancer pain and are the most addictive substances in common use. Naloxone can be used to counter opioid overdoses. "If opioids are easily available in people's bathroom cabinets, it might make sense for naloxone to be equally available," said WHO expert Nicolas Clark. Read more on substance abuse.

Obesity During Pregnancy Linked to Higher Risk of Kidney, Urinary Tract Abnormalities in Infants
Children of women who are obese are more likely to be born with congenital abnormalities of the kidney and urinary tract, according to a new study to be presented at ASN Kidney Week 2014 in Philadelphia, Penn. While such abnormalities are diagnosed in only 1 percent of pregnancies, they account for 20-30 percent of all prenatal abnormalities. Researchers based their findings on linked birth-hospital discharge records from Washington State from 2003 to 2012. "Our findings add to the public health importance of obesity, particularly as a modifiable risk factor," said study author Ian Macumber, MD. "The data supplement the literature regarding obesity's association with congenital abnormalities and highlight the importance of future research needed to clarify the mechanisms of these associations." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Increased in Autism Cases Due to Changes in How the Condition is Defined
The dramatic increasing in the number of autism cases among children since the mid-1990s is in larger part due to how the condition is reported and defined, with today’s classification system more broader than the one used in the past, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. Danish researchers determined that 60 percent of the increase in cases “can be attributed to changes in diagnostic criteria and the inclusion of out-of-hospital diagnoses.” "That the increase until now has been left more or less unexplained has undoubtedly raised considerable concern among the public and might, in fact, have affected some parents' health decisions regarding their child," said lead researcher Stefan Hansen, from the section for biostatistics in the department of public health at Aarhus University, according to HealthDay. "As our study shows, much of the increase can be attributed to the redefinition of what autism is and which diagnoses are reported. The increase in the observed autism prevalence is not due alone to environmental factors that we have not yet discovered." Read more on pediatrics.

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.