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Nov 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 3

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EBOLA UPDATE: UN’s Secretary-General Calls Travel Bans ‘Unnecessarily’ Strict
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon again came out strongly against travels bans related to Ebola, calling them “unnecessarily” strict in a Monday news conference. Some U.S. state officials have imposed quarantines on health workers returning from West Africa, but there is no federal ban; Canada and Australia have barred citizens from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. "The best way to stop this virus is to stop the virus at its source rather than limiting, restricting the movement of people or trade," said Ban, according to Reuters. "Particularly when there are some unnecessarily extra restrictions and discriminations against health workers. They are extraordinary people who are giving of themselves, they are risking their own lives." Read more on Ebola.

HUD Accepting Cities’ Applications for Economic Revitalization Assistance
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is now accepting applications for cities looking to spur economic revitalization through the National Resource Network, which brings together national experts to work with cities to improve economic competiveness while reversing population decline, job loss and high poverty rates. “Knowledge is fuel for progress and innovation,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in a release. “The National Resource Network will be a valuable tool in helping local governments address their challenges and achieve their goals. It will provide on-the-ground technical assistance and human resources that cities can use to build for the future.” Eligibility is based on economic and demographic criteria, with approximately 275 cities eligible to apply. Read more on community development.

Study: High School Football Players Need More Education on Concussion
More needs to be done to educate high school football players on the dangers of concussions, according to a new study in the Journal of Athletic Training. Researchers surveyed 334 varsity players from 11 Florida schools. Based on a written questionnaire, while most know that headache, dizziness and confusion were potential concussion signs, they did not know the link to other signs such as nausea, neck pain and difficulty concentrating. In addition, 25 percent said they had no education about concussions at all. "Our results showed that high school football players did not have appropriate knowledge of concussion. Even with parents or guardians signing a consent form indicating they discussed concussion awareness with their child, nearly half of the athletes suggested they had not," study co-author Brady Tripp, from the University of Florida, said in a National Athletic Trainers' Association news release. Emergency rooms treat more than 300,000 people for brain injuries related to sports each year. Read more on injury prevention.

Sep 24 2014
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Football: Concussion Watch—Season Three

Frontline, the Public Broadcasting Service documentary series, has a unique football stats blog, Concussion Watch, which is now in its third year. The blog tallies—game by game—the number of National Football League (NFL) players sidelined by a possible concussion and how soon they return to play.

Based on tracking for the last two years, the blog predicts that 150 players will suffer concussions during the current season, which in many cases could lead to lifetime debilitating problems. This is despite new playing rules and ever-evolving helmets.

The impact of concussions on the players’ heath and lives is startling. Based on Concussion Watch data, 306 players have suffered a combined 323 concussions over the past two seasons. In half of the cases where a concussion occurs, players return to the field without having missed a single game. According to the blog, although there’s no standard recovery time for a diagnosed concussion, guidelines developed by the American Academy of Neurology and endorsed by the NFL Players Association indicate that athletes are at the greatest risk for repeat injury in the first 10 days after a concussion. And the more head injuries a person suffers, the more likely they may be to develop complications later on.

In fact, the NFL is due a decision by mid-October from thousands of league retirees on whether they will accept a proposed settlement in a class-action concussion case brought by more than 4,500 former players. Papers filed in the case show that the NFL expects more than thirty percent of all retired players to develop some form of long-term cognitive problem—such as Alzheimer’s disease or dementia—in their lifetime as a result of head injuries suffered during games. During the preseason and the first week of official play, 15 players suffered head injuries and 12 have already returned to their positions.

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Aug 27 2014
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On the Ball: Promoting the Need for Concussion Prevention in Youth Sports

The start of the school year also means a return to team sports. There’s no question that playing a team sport provides clear benefits for kids, including the opportunity to develop physical fitness and other healthy habits, good sportsmanship, self-esteem and self-discipline. Kids who play sports are also less likely to engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or substance abuse.

But there is a potential dark side: An increased risk of sports-related injuries, with concussions at the top of the list of current concerns. Each year nearly 250,000 kids go to emergency departments for suspected sports-related concussions and there’s growing recognition that continuing to play with a concussion can lead to long-term effects on the brain, especially for kids. Girls also now have a higher rate of sports-related concussions than do boys, according to the Children’s Safety Network.

Because of all of these reasons there’s a major push underway to prevent concussions in all youth sports, not just in football, since concussions also commonly occur in girls’ and boys’ soccer, lacrosse, basketball and other sports, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In May, the White House hosted the first-ever Healthy Kids & Safe Sports Concussion Summit to promote and expand research on sports-related concussions among kids and raise awareness of steps that can be taken to help prevent, identify and respond to concussions in young athletes.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched the Heads Up: Concussion in High School Sports initiative to help coaches, athletes and parents take steps to prevent concussions and respond appropriately if they occur. Among the prevention measures being introduced are modifications to protective gear (including new helmet technology for various sports), rule changes (such as limits on heading drills in soccer practices and tackling drills in football), identifying athletes who are at risk (by looking for genetic markers of risk) and educating everyone involved with youth sports about the dangers of concussions.

There are also stricter guidelines about when it’s appropriate for athletes to return to play after a concussion, based on their physical and cognitive symptoms; concussion history; and adherence to a step-by-step process for returning to the field or court. The CDC now recommends that coaches and parents consider whether their league or school should conduct baseline testing—a pre-season exam to assess an athlete’s balance and brain function—so that if a concussion is suspected to have occurred, the baseline results can help establish the extent of the head injury.

“Players, coaches and parents are demanding that we find a way to reduce concussion risk in sports,” said Michael Sims, head athletic trainer for football at Baylor University and a board member of the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment. “But equipment can’t do it alone. It’s critical that safe play and return to play practices are enforced.”

Aug 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 11

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EBOLA UPDATE: Spanish Priest Receives Experimental U.S. Drug
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
As the World Health Organization (WHO) and other public health agencies continue to debate the ethics and intricacies of using experimental treatments in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, Spain has imported the U.S.-made ZMapp drug to treat a 75-year-old Spanish missionary priest who was evacuated from Liberia last week. The experimental drug, produced by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. of San Diego, Calif., was previously used on two American health workers who are now being treated at an Atlanta, Ga., hospital. More than 1,000 people have been killed so far in the outbreak which began last March. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Concussions Similar No Matter their Locations
One concussion should be treated just as seriously as any other concussion no matter where on the head it occurs, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers determined that no matter the location, the symptoms and time away from the field were similar for high-school football players who received a concussion. Approximately 44.7 percent of concussions from player-to-player collisions occurred from front-of-the-head impacts and 22.3 percent were from side-of-the-head impacts. The researchers recommended improved education on safer “head up” tackling techniques in order to reduce student athlete concussions. Read more on injury prevention.

Pregnant Women, Fetuses Exposed to Unnecessary Antibacterial Compounds
Children of pregnant women who are exposed to certain antibacterial compounds may experience developmental and reproductive issues, according to new data presented this weekend at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in San Francisco, Calif. Researchers looked at triclosan and triclocarbon levels in the urine of 184 pregnant women, finding that all tested positive for the former and 85 percent tested positive for the latter. Triclosan was also found in more than half of the samples of umbilical cord blood. The two chemicals are found in more than 2,000 everyday consumer products, including toothpastes, soaps, detergents, carpets, paints, school supplies and toys. Researchers also found butyl paraben in more than half of the urine and cord samples; the chemical has been linked to shorter length in newborns. All three can and should be removed from household goods, according to Andrea Gore, a spokeswoman for The Endocrine Society and a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Texas at Austin. "The efficacy of these products as being helpful to human health has not been proven, but companies are adding them to products anyway," she said, according to HealthDay. "There's no downside to removing chemicals that have no proven benefit." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jul 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 29

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NCAA Reaches Preliminary Concussion Settlement, Including $70M Monitoring Program
The NCAA has reached a preliminary settlement in response to a class-action push to revise its head injury policies. The settlement includes a $70 million medical monitoring fund that would provide all former college athletes with the opportunity to receive neurological screenings, as well as a new national protocol which would require assessments by trained professionals and keep athletes from returning to games or practices the same day they suffer a head injury. “This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,” said the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steve Berman, according to The New York Times. “Student-athletes—not just football players—have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.” Read more on injury prevention.

Marijuana Legalization Not Linked to Rise in Teen Use
The gradual increase in marijuana use by U.S. teens over the past two decades is not linked to the legalization of medical marijuana in various states, according to a new research paper based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers determined that the probability that a high school student had used marijuana in the previous 30 days was only 0.8 percent higher in states where use was legal. While marijuana is illegal under federal law, it has been legalized for medical purposes in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students," wrote D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon, in the paper. Read more on substance abuse.

Study: 5-10 Minutes of Daily Running Can Add Three Years to Life Expectancy
As little as five to ten minutes of slow running every day can add up to an additional three years of life expectancy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers examined data on 55,137 adults 18-100 years of age (with a media age of 44 years), finding that running for the length of time at six miles an hour or slower was associated with markedly reduced risk of death from all causes, including heart disease. Researchers said the results should help drive inactive individuals to take up exercise programs. Read more on physical activity.

Apr 10 2014
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PHLR Infographics: A Look at How Research is Improving Public Health Laws

Happy National Public Health Week! All week we've been sharing stories on the value of public health across all aspects of life, and all ages and stages.

Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has also been participating in the week by contributing graphics and posts on the particular role of public health law—when backed by evidence and grounded in research—to save lives and make a difference. Below, we are highlighting some of the critical statistics PHLR has shared, along with some context on the research behind the numbers.

Child Seat Safety

Today, every state has a law requiring children to be restrained in federally-approved child safety seats while riding in motor-vehicles. These laws differ from state to state based on number of factors (e.g., age, height and weight of the children requiring safety seats). All current child safety seat laws allow for primary enforcement, meaning a police officer can stop a driver solely for a violation of such laws.

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Lead Laws

In 1990 approximately 20 percent of all U.S. children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. However, only a decade later that percentage was down to 1.6 percent, thanks to public health laws researched and crafted to look out for the wellbeing of children. One of the most significant pieces of legislation was The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, which was already on the path to improving public health in 1990.

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Watch this video on Philadelphia's lead court.

Sodium Laws

Eating too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke—the first- and fourth-leading causes of death in this country. A variety of laws and legislatively enabled regulations attempt to reduce sodium in the food supply, including lowering the amount of salt in foods served in schools and child care facilities or purchased by state-regulated elder and health care facilities and prisons. Almost half of all U.S. states have laws to help reduce tghe sodium in processed foods.

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Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries

As many as 300,000 kids suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) from playing sports each year. TBIs can have serious short- and long-term health effects. Can public health law make a difference? The latest study finds that while all 50 states have laws in place to combat this problem, they haven't helped stop kids with concussions from playing. However, the research does help provide some context on how those laws have been implemented and how they might be revamped to work better.

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Apr 10 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 10

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HHS Releases Data Giving Consumers Greater Transparency on Costs of Medical Procedures
The U.S. Department of Health and Human (HHS) services has released of new, privacy-protected data on services and procedures provided to Medicare beneficiaries by physicians and other health care professionals. The new data—which includes payment and submitted charges, or bills, for those services and procedures by provider—provides consumers with more information on how physicians and other health care professionals practice medicine, according to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This data will help fill that gap by offering insight into the Medicare portion of a physician’s practice,” she said. “The data released today afford researchers, policymakers and the public a new window into health care spending and physician practice patterns.” The release includes information for more than 880,000 distinct health care providers who collectively received $77 billion in Medicare payments in 2012, under the Medicare Part B Fee-For-Service program. Read more on access to care.

HUD Grants $1.6B to Support 7,100 Local Homeless Housing and Service Programs
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced approximately $1.6 billion in grants to continue support for 7,100 local homeless housing and service programs in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, support programs such as street outreach; client assessment; and direct housing assistance to individuals and families with children who are experiencing homelessness. "Whether it's helping to rapidly re-house families with young children or finding a permanent home for an individual with serious health conditions, HUD is working with our local partners to end homelessness as we know it," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.

Study: Concussion Symptoms May Be Worse For Girls than for Boys
Concussions may have a more severe and longer-lasting effect for girls than they do for boys, according to new research. Shayne Fehr, MD, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, tracked 549 patients who sought treatment at a pediatric concussion clinic, finding that girls on average reported more severe symptoms than boys and needed an additional 22 days to recover (56 days for girls, compared to 34 for boys). Approximately 76 percent of the injuries were sports related and the top five reported symptoms were headache, trouble concentrating, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to sound and dizziness. More research is needed to determine the cause of the disparity. Read more on injury prevention.

Mar 6 2014
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Concussion Urgent Care Centers for Young Athletes: NewPublicHealth Q&A Robert Graw, MD

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A recent report from the Institute of Medicine found that young athletes in the United States face a "culture of resistance" to reporting when they might have a concussion and to complying with treatment decisions. That culture can result in students heading back to school too quickly—when they should be resting their brains to prevent short- and long-term complications.

"The findings of our report justify the concerns about sports concussions in young people," said Robert Graham, chair of the committee and director of the national program office for Aligning Forces for Quality, at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. (Aligning Forces is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.) "However,” says Graham, “there are numerous areas in which we need more and better data. Until we have that information, we urge parents, schools, athletic departments, and the public to examine carefully what we do know, as with any decision regarding risk, so they can make more informed decisions about young athletes playing sports."

Recently, Righttime Medical Care, a chain of urgent care centers in Maryland, opened a number of HeadFirst sports injury and concussion centers in the state, staffed with health professionals who can assess injuries for concussions as well as evaluate students for return to play—in consolation with a team of experts who work with HeadFirst staff. HeadFirst will this year be presenting and publishing data on the more than 10,000 youth it has examined and treated for concussion in just the past two years.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Robert Graw, MD, head of Righttime and HeadFirst, about the need for better prevention, evaluation and treatment of concussions to prevent long-term health problems and disability.

NewPublicHealth: Why did Righttime add concussion care to the services provided?

Robert Graw: My son is an orthopedic surgeon and talked to me about the number of injuries he was seeing. We decided a few years ago that we’d learn as much as we could about preventing head injury and the consequences of head injury, and then promote that information through Righttime’s call center and through the visits that people made to our sites.

In the process of learning as much as we could we realized that the knowledge base of how people evaluate and manage concussions had changed drastically in the last five years as people have done more research. So, we then gathered together a group of consultant physicians and neuropsychologists to determine best practices. We met with them frequently, and then had them train our provider staff so that all of them became much more informed about what a concussion really is, the best way to evaluate them and the guidelines for management going forward.

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Dec 12 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 12

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Telehealth Technology Could Help Obese Youth Get Better Treatment, Lose Weight
Telehealth technology—a secure computer system that enables patients to speak “face-to-face” with doctors who are far away—could be an effective strategy to help obese youth who are trying to lose weight, according to new research from UCLA. With a multidisciplinary approach often the prescribed for treating obesity, telehealth services would reduce travel time while giving patients access to expertise that might not be available in their area. This would be especially helpful for low-income families. The UCLA study linked UCLA health care providers with patients at their local health clinics, finding that 80 percent of the 45 study subjects were happy with the technology and would use it again. "One surprise was how natural it was to talk with each other through the telehealth system, even though we never met the patients in person," said lead author Wendy Slusser, MD, medical director of the Fit for Healthy Weight program at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and director of pediatric wellness programs at the Venice Family Clinic. "The interaction was very much like being in the same room together. Some kids even thought it was fun to see themselves on the screen." Read more on access to health care.

Study: Psychiatrists Less Likely than Other Doctors to Accept Insurance
Psychiatrists are less likely than other doctors to accept private insurance, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers analyzed government data from 2005 to 2010, which surveyed approximately 1,250 doctors each year, finding that from 2005 to 2010 the percentage of psychiatrists who accepted private insurance dropped from 72 percent to 55 percent. In comparison, over that same time the rate for doctors in other areas only dropped from 93 percent to 89 percent. While the study does not explain the vast difference, Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, president of the American Psychiatric Association, said reimbursement is a major concern, according to Reuters. "Many doctors can't afford to accept insurance because (insurance companies) don't pay them for the time," he said. "It involves taking more time with the patient and often treating them with psychotherapy.” Read more on mental health.

Even Mild Hits to the Head Can Cause Brain Damage
Even mild hits to the head that don’t cause concussion can still lead to problems with memory and thinking, according to a new study in the journal Neurology. Researchers equipped 80 football and ice hockey players with special helmets that gathered data on mild hits; while none of the players were diagnosed with a concussion, they still showed signs of deficits in thinking after the season. "This suggests that concussion is not the only thing we need to pay attention to," said Tom McAllister, MD, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the Indiana University School of Medicine. "These athletes didn't have a concussion diagnosis in the year we studied them ... and there is a subsample of them who are perhaps more vulnerable to impact. We need to learn more about how long these changes last and whether the changes are permanent." Read more on injury prevention.

Oct 31 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 31

New York City Council Votes to Raise Tobacco-purchasing Age to 21
With studies repeatedly showing that the earlier someone begins smoking, the more likely they are to become addicted, the New York City Council has voted to raise the age minimum required to buy tobacco products from to 21 years, up from 18 years. The bill passed 35-11. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has already announced he will sign the bill. The law would apply to all tobacco products, including cigarettes, electronic cigarettes, cigars and cigarillos. “This is literally legislation that will save lives,” said Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, according to The New York Times. The Council also voted to increase the penalties for retailers who evade tobacco taxes; for a prohibition on discounts for tobacco products; and for a minimum price of $10.50 a pack for cigarettes and little cigars. Read more on tobacco.

Analysis: Sports-related Youth Concussion Diagnoses Climbing
The growing number of diagnosed concussions in young athletes and their reluctance to admit when they have suffered a head injury—despite ever-growing awareness of the dangers of concussions—demonstrates the need for sports leagues and government agencies to become more active in preventing traumatic brain injuries, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council. In 2009, about 250,000 youth ages 5-21 were treated for sports-related concussions and other brain injuries in U.S. hospitals, up from approximately 150,000 in 2001. The analysis pointed to Hannah Steenhuysen, a high school soccer goalie in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, as an example of why relying on youth to report their head injuries on their own is not always an effective strategy. "You don't tell anyone usually when you get a headache because you don't want to be out of the game," she said. "I couldn't watch TV or text or even read—it was really tough. When I tried to go back to school, I couldn't keep up and everything got jumbled in my head." Read more on injury prevention.

Tips for Kids with Food Allergies on Halloween
Trick-or-treating and Halloween parties can be difficult for kids with food allergies. However, there are steps both kids and parents can take to make sure kids with food allergies still have a full night of fun, according to Joyce Rabbat, MD, a pediatric allergy specialist with the Loyola University Health System, in Chicago. "The key is education,” she said. “Make sure your child knows what he or she can eat. When in doubt, throw it out." Among her tips:

  • Plan parties and events that do not include food, candy or other edible treats.
  • Inform the host of any Halloween party if your child has a food allergy. You can also provide a list of foods that may trigger an allergic reaction.
  • Clean all cooking utensils, pans or other dishes if they have been in contact with a food allergen. Also make sure to wipe down surfaces.
  • Read labels to find out whether foods contain allergens or have been made on the same machine as other products that contain an allergen.
  • Carry self-injectable epinephrine.

Read more on food safety.