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Jan 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 23

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HHS to Form Committee to Address Children’s Needs in Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forming a new advisory committee to help meet the particular needs of children before, during and after a disaster or other public health emergency. The committee will seek to bring together experts from the scientific, public health and medical fields. HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) working group in 2010, which has so far increased interagency coordination and recommendations to improve lifesaving care for children in disasters; developed ways to mitigate the behavioral and psychological needs of children in disasters; and identification of medications and vaccines for children in emergencies. The deadline for nominations for committee membership is Feb. 14. Read more on disasters.

Study: Cold Weather May Help People Lose Weight
There’s at least one benefit to the frigid air currently blanketing much of the country—regular exposure to mild cold may help people lose weight and sustain healthier weights, according to a new study in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, that also means that the during the winter, when most buildings keep their temperature warmer, our body is working less to stay warm, so using less energy. "Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods." Read more on obesity.

AHA, NFL App to Encourage Kids’ Physical Activity
The American Heart Association and the National Football League have released a new app, NFL Play 60, to encourage kids to get the full 60 minutes of daily recommended physical activity. In the interactive running experience, players dropped into a virtual world full of obstacles, and have to run, jump, pivot and turn in place to make their app character do the same and navigate the world.  “One-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Engaging young people in physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease their risk for heart disease,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, President of the American Heart Association.  “We’re proud to partner with the NFL in developing an innovative way to reach adolescents, through their schools and now via their smartphones, in an effort to impact their lives earlier to make their lives longer.” The app is available for free download in the iTunes store starting today and will be available for Android on Feb. Read more on physical activity.

Dec 27 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 27

Black Women Have Highest Rates of High Blood Pressure
More black women have high blood pressure than black men and white men and women, according to a new study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

The study included 70,000 people in the 12 southeastern states that are often referred to as the “stroke belt” because they collectively have a high rate of stroke incidence. Among the study participants, the high blood pressure rate among black women was 64 percent. Among white women the rate was 52 percent and among both black and white men the rate was 51 percent.

“For many years, the focus for high blood pressure was on middle-aged men who smoked; now we know better,” said Uchechukwu Sampson, MD, MPH. MBA, a lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “We should look for [high blood pressure] in everyone and it should be treated aggressively — especially in women, who have traditionally gotten less attention in this regard.”

Dr. Sampson’s work was supported in part by the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Award of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on health disparities.

Over 40 Million Americans Experienced Mental Illness in 2012
Nearly one in five American adults, or 43.7 million people, experienced a diagnosable mental illness in 2012, a similar number to 2011, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

SAMHSA also reported that, consistent with 2011, less than half (41 percent) of these adults received any mental health services in the past year. And among adults with mental illness who reported an unmet need for treatment, the top three reasons given for not receiving help were:

  • they could not afford the cost;
  • they thought they could handle the problem without treatment; and
  • they did not know where to go for services.

The Department of Health and Human Services recently launched MentalHealth.gov to help people find easy-to-understand information about basic signs of mental health problems, how to talk about mental health and mental illness, and how to locate help.

The recent SAMHSA report also found that 9 million American adults 18 and older (3.9 percent) had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year; 2.7 million (1.1 percent) made suicide plans and 1.3 million (0.6 percent) attempted suicide. People in crisis or who know someone they believe may be at immediate risk of attempting suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org, which provides immediate, free and confidential round-the-clock counseling to anyone in need throughout the country, every day of the year. Read more on mental health.

NHTSA Extends Its Partnership with Auto Makers on Technology to Stop Drunk Drivers
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has extended, for five years, its agreement with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), made up of 15 auto makers, to continue researching advanced alcohol detection technology that could prevent vehicles from being driven by a drunk driver.

Under the partnership, NHTSA is working with ACTS to develop a car system that could accurately and reliably detect when a driver is above the legal alcohol limit of 0.08 BAC adopted by all 50 States and territories. The automatic system would be enabled every time the car is started, but not pose an inconvenience to a non-intoxicated driver.

“In this age of innovation, smart technology may be the breakthrough we need to prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and endangering the safety of others on our roads,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “The research program has shown significant promise to date, offering real potential in the future to prevent several thousand deaths annually.”

NHTSA expects to have models ready for testing in 2015. In 2012, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent, resulting in 10,322 deaths — up from 9,865 in 2011. Read about NHTSA’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign.

 

Dec 17 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 17

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FDA Proposes New Rules for Proving Effectiveness, Safety of Antibacterial Soaps
A new proposed rule from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would require manufacturers of antibacterial hand soaps and body washes to prove not only that their products are more effective than normal soap when it comes to preventing illness and infections, but that they are also safe for daily long-term use. Products that can’t meet these standards would need to be reworked before coming to market. The regulatory move comes as research suggests that not only are antibacterial products not helpful, but they could also be harmful in the long term, leading to bacterial resistance and hormonal problems. Hand sanitizers, wipes and other antibacterial products used in health care settings would not fall under the new regulations. “Antibacterial soaps and body washes are used widely and frequently by consumers in everyday home, work, school, and public settings, where the risk of infection is relatively low,” said Janet Woodcock, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER). “Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk.” Read more on infectious disease.

NIH, NFL to Research Ways to Diagnose, Treat Traumatic Brain Injuries
New research projects from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) will explore methods to diagnose and treat chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, in football players and others who experience head injuries and concussions. Current science only allows health care professionals to diagnose the traumatic brain injuries after death. "This is a public health problem," said Walter Koroshetz, deputy director of the NIH's National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "We don't know the mechanics of the head injuries that lead to this, the number and severity that is required to get this. We don't know whether certain people based on their genes are more susceptible or not. There are a lot of questions to be answered." The National Football League will cover $12 million of the $14 million in research costs. Earlier this year the league agreed to pay as much as $765 million to former players who accused the league of covering up and downplaying the risks of brain injury. Read more on mental health.

Studies: Multivitamins, Supplements Don’t Improve Overall Wellness
Daily multivitamins and mineral supplements don’t prevent heart problems or memory loss, and are also not linked to longer lives, according to three new studies in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. The researchers said the findings indicate that U.S. consumers should stop taking the dietary supplements, which are part of a multibillion-dollar U.S. industry. "We believe that it's clear that vitamins are not working," said Eliseo Guallar, MD, a professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, adding “"The probability of a meaningful effect is so small that it's not worth doing study after study and spending research dollars on these questions." Read more on nutrition.

Dec 9 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 9

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Improved Prevention and Treatment Decrease U.S. Stroke Deaths
Stroke deaths in the United States have declined dramatically in the last few decades because of improved prevention and treatment, according to a scientific statement published in Stroke, published by the American Heart Association. “The decline in stroke deaths is one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Daniel T. Lackland, DrPH, chair of the statement writing committee and professor of epidemiology at the Medical University of South Carolina, in Charleston, S.C. “The decline is real, not a statistical fluke or the result of more people dying of lung disease, the third leading cause of death,” said Lackland, who added that “although all groups showed improvement, there are still great racial and geographic disparities with stroke risks as well many people having strokes at young ages [and] we need to keep doing what works and to better target these programs to groups at higher risk.” Public health efforts that have helped lower stroke rates include hypertension control that started in the 1970s; smoking cessation programs; improved control of diabetes and high cholesterol levels; and improved stroke treatment options. Read more on prevention.

NHTSA Announces New Safety Efforts for Older Drivers
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced a new strategic plan to help ensure the safety of older drivers and passengers. In 2012, according to NHTSA, more than 5,560 people over the age of 65 died, and 214,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes. That’s a three percent increase in the number of fatalities and a 16 percent increase in the number of injuries from the previous year. In addition, since 2003 the population of older adults—defined as age 65 and older—has increased by 20 percent and the number of licensed older drivers increased by 21 percent, to 35 million licensed older drivers in 2012.

NHTSA has several new efforts in place to reduce these deaths and injuries:

  • The agency is researching advanced vehicle technologies, including vehicle-to-vehicle communications, collision avoidance and crashworthiness that could help reduce the risk of death or injury to older occupants in the event of a crash. It is also considering adding a “silver” rating system, meaning cars with certain technologies might be preferable for older drivers.
  • NHTSA will conduct studies to better understand the effects of age-related medical conditions, including dementia.
  • NHTSA will continue public education efforts on functional changes that can impact driving, including vision, strength, flexibility and cognition.

Read more on transportation.

Poll: Parents Concerned Over Lack of Physical Activity During School Day
A recent poll conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, National Public Radio and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that many parents are concerned about inadequate levels of physical education at schools. More than 1,300 parents of public school students were polled on a range of issues concerning education and health in the their child’s school, and one in four parents (25 percent) said their child’s school gives too little emphasis to physical education, compared with one in seven who say the same thing about reading and writing (14 percent) or math (15 percent). About three in 10 parents (28 percent) give a low grade (C, D or F) to their child’s school on providing enough time for physical education, while almost seven in 10 parents (68 percent) report that their child’s school does not provide daily physical education classes, a recommendation included in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for schools. “In a period with a significant public debate about the content of educational reform, it is significant that many parents feel that more physical education is needed in the schools,” said Robert Blendon, ScD, Richard L. Menschel professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard. Read more on education.

Dec 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 3

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NIH to Direct Additional $100M Toward Research in an HIV Cure
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years in research directed toward a cure for HIV. Over the past three decades, NIH-funded research has led to the development of more than 30 antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations targeting HIV. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that growing knowledge about HIV, along with the development of new treatment strategies, makes the moment “ripe to pursue HIV cure research with vigor.” “Although the HIV/AIDS pandemic can theoretically be ended with a concerted and sustained scale-up of implementation of existing tools for HIV prevention and treatment, the development of a cure is critically important, as it may not be feasible for tens of millions of people living with HIV infection to access and adhere to a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy,” he said in a statement. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Hong Kong Announces First Human Case of H7N9 Avian Flu
H7N9 avian flu appears to have spread from mainland China, with Hong Kong reporting its first human case of the deadly avian flu strain. A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper is in critical condition after travelling to Shenzhen and buying, slaughtering and eating an apparently infected chicken. Earlier this year a report of human infection in Shanghai was quickly followed by the confirmation of more than 100 cases. While closing down live poultry markets in the area caused the number of new cases to drop, the World Health Organization has confirmed a total of 139 cases and 45 deaths. Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong has raised its level of preparedness for an avian flu pandemic to "serious," and the city has suspended the importation of live chickens from certain Shenzhen farms as it also investigates its own stock. Read more on infectious disease.

Study: ‘Benign’ or ‘Healthy’ Obesity May Not Exist
Despite what some health professionals believe, “benign obesity” may not exist, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. People who are overweight or obese without health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic issues are still at increased risk of major health problems when compared with metabolically healthy, normal-weight people. The researchers looked at the results of eight studies covering more than 61,000 people, finding that in follow-ups of at least 10 years later the people who were overweight but without the risk factors were still at an increased risk of 24 percent for heart attack, stroke and even death. One explanation could be that these overweight people without the risk factors actually do have the risk factors, only at low levels that are difficult to detect, and that then become gradually worse. The results indicate that physicians should look at both body mass and metabolic tests when determining a patient’s health. Read more on obesity.

Oct 9 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 9

Airport Noise May Increase Heart Disease and Stroke Risk
People who live near busy international airports may be at increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to the high levels of noise, according to two new studies in the British Medical Journal. One study looked at hospital admissions around London Heathrow airport, finding the risks were 10 to 20 percent higher when compared to areas with the least noise. The other study, by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health, analyzed data on more than 60 million Americans ages 65 and older living near 89 airports, finding that areas with 10 decibel higher aircraft noise also saw a 3.5 percent increase in the hospital admission rate. Researchers say the link needs further study to show causation. "The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established," said Anna Hansell of Imperial College London, who led the British study. "However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people's sleep." The findings indicate that populated areas must be looked at closely when communities consider expanding large airports. Read more on heart health.

Private Talk Sessions with NICU Nurses Ease Anxiety in Mothers of Premature Babies
“Listening matters” when it comes to easing the worries of the mothers of premature infants. One-on-one talks sessions between NICU nurses and the mothers can help reduce feelings of anxiety, confusion and doubt, according to a new study in the Journal of Perinatology. "Having a prematurely born baby is like a nightmare for the mother," said Lisa Segre, an assistant professor in the University of Iowa College of Nursing. "You're expecting to have a healthy baby, and suddenly you're left wondering whether he or she is going to live." The study looked at 23 mothers who when through an average of five 45-minute sessions, find they gave mothers a chance to really talk about their worries and were effective at easing concerns across the board. "Listening is what nurses have done their whole career," said NICU nurse and study co-author Rebecca Siewert. "We've always been the ones to listen and try to problem solve. So, I just think it was a wonderful offshoot of what nursing can do. We just need the time to do it." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Early Puberty Tied to Great Risk of Experimentation with Cigarettes, Alcohol and Marijuana
Early puberty is linked to increased risk of experimentation with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, according to a new study in the journal Addiction. Puberty typically begins between the ages of 9 and 10, will girls on average beginning it earlier than boys. "While puberty is often thought of as a solely biological process, our research has shown that pubertal development is a combination of biological, psychological and social processes that all likely interact to influence risk-taking behavior like substance use," said study author Jessica Duncan Cance, a public health researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. "Our study suggests that being the first girl in the class to need a bra, for example, prompts or exacerbates existing psychological and social aspects that can, in turn, lead to substance use and other risky behaviors early in life.” Read more on pediatrics.

Oct 8 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 8

AHA: Health Care Providers Should Emphasize Healthy Behaviors in Cardio Care
When it comes to treating cardiovascular health, health care providers should place just as much emphasis on correcting healthy behaviors as they do addressing the physical indicators of the risk for heart disease, according to a new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). “We’re talking about a paradigm shift from only treating biomarkers — physical indicators of a person’s risk for heart disease — to helping people change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, unhealthy body weight, poor diet quality and lack of physical activity,” said lead author Bonnie Spring, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago. “We already treat physical risk factors that can be measured through a blood sample or a blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office, yet people put their health at risk through their behaviors. We can’t measure the results of these behaviors in their bodies yet.”

The AHA’s recommended “five A’s” to patient treatment:

  • Assess a patient’s risk behaviors for heart disease.
  • Advise change, such as weight loss or exercise.
  • Agree on an action plan.
  • Assist with treatment.
  • Arrange for follow-up care.

AHA’s goals for 2020 include improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent, while also reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. Read more on heart health.

Study: 1 in 10 Youth Admit to Sexual Violence
Approximately one in 10 teenagers and young adults admit to sexual violence, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers said violent pornography may be partially to blame for the acts, which included coercive sex, sexual assault and rape, and most often with a romantic partner. What’s more, about two in three said the act was never discovered, so there was never a punishment. "We know a bit about youth who are victims of sexual violence, but we don't know much at all about youth as perpetrators," said study co-author Michele Ybarra, president and research director of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif. "It's important we know more if we're going to reduce the sexual-violence rate." Ybarra said sexual-violence-prevention programs should emphasize the understanding of explicit consent and the tactics of coercive sex. "They may say, 'Unless you have sex with me, I'm going to go have sex with someone else,’” said Angela Diaz, MD, MPH, director of Mount Sinai Hospital's Adolescent Health Center. "Young people have to learn that if their partner says that, maybe they're better off if they do go somewhere else." Programs should also focus on the role of the bystander and the importance of reporting incidents. Read more on violence.

Salmonella Outbreak Sickens 278 People in 18 States
Approximately 278 people in 18 states have become sick from a salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The products were produced at three California plants owned by Foster Farms and distributed mostly to retailers in California, Oregon and Washington state. Local, state and federal health officials made the connection. While the outbreak is “ongoing,” there is currently no recall as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to monitor the matter while the Food Safety and Inspection Service investigated the outbreak. Read more on food safety.

Sep 12 2013
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Recommended Reading: Giving Context to ‘200,000 Preventable’ Cardiovascular Deaths

Have you heard the story about the Prevention and Public Health Fund? A “no” wouldn’t be surprising.

Have you heard the story about the almost 200,000 preventable deaths in the United States each year due to heart disease and stroke? Probably so.

The latter was big news last week, inspiring headlines and handwringing across the country. Men are twice as likely as women to die of preventable cardiovascular disease. Blacks are twice as likely as whites. Southerners are at far greater risk.

Most of the stories emphasized how all this unhealthy living is the result of unhealthy lifestyle choices. But is that the whole story?

“Largely absent from most of the stories covering the study was context—a hard look at the social and environmental conditions that help explain the findings—as well as some explanation of what it might take to really change things and prevent large numbers of needless deaths.” They also tended to suggest “that poor health is essentially a personal moral failing, while ignoring the vastly different realities that exist in different communities in this country.”

That’s the thesis of a recent Forbes opinion piece, which looks past the round number of “200,000” and other statistics detailed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and points attention to the very real obstacles to healthy living that far too many people face.

The CDC study also discussed the importance of addressing the economic and social determinants that influence the health of individuals and communities (though this went largely unacknowledged in most media accounts, according to the Forbes piece). The CDC pointed out strategies that help create conditions for healthier living, including policy changes that increase access to health care, that give people healthy local food options and that build walkable communities—changes that can only be made by communities, not individuals.

That brings us back to the Prevention and Public Health Fund. Created by the Affordable Care Act, the Fund’s grantees have spent the past three years doing all these things—helping states, cities and tribes create safer, healthier communities.

“That’s a story that needs to be told, with context.”

>>Read the full piece, “200,000 Preventable Deaths A Year: Numbers That Cry Out For Action -- And Better Reporting.”

Sep 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 4

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

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

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

Aug 13 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 13

Yale Report Finds U.N. Responsible for Haiti Cholera Outbreak
A new report from the Yale University Schools of Public Health and Law finds that the United Nations (U.N.) inadvertently caused a deadly cholera epidemic in Haiti. The report confirms prior accounts that U.N. peacekeepers inadvertently but negligently brought cholera into Haiti, causing one of the largest epidemics in recent history. Because of inadequate water and sanitation facilities at the U.N. base in the Haitian town of Méyè, sewage from the base contaminated the Artibonite River, the largest river in Haiti and one the country’s main water sources. By July 2011, cholera spread through the country, infecting one new person per minute. The epidemic continues, and public health experts estimate it will take a decade or more to eliminate the disease from Haiti. Prior to this outbreak, cholera had not existed in Haiti for more than a century. The report calls for setting up a claims commission, as well as providing a public apology, direct aid to victims, infrastructural support, and adequate funding for the prevention and treatment of cholera. Read more on global health.

Eyes May be a Window to Stroke Risk
Retinal imaging—easily done in many ophthalmology practices and clinics—may alert practitioners to patients at higher risk of a stroke by providing information on the status of blood vessels in the brain, according to a new study in the journal Hypertension. Worldwide, high blood pressure is the single most important risk factor for stroke, however it is still not possible to predict which high blood pressure patients are most likely to develop a stroke. Researchers tracked stroke occurrence for an average of 13 years in close to 3,000 patients with high blood pressure who had not previously experienced a stroke. At baseline, each had photographs taken of the retina; damage to the retinal blood vessels was scored as none, mild or moderate to severe. During the follow-up, 146 participants experienced a stroke caused by a blood clot and 15 by bleeding in the brain, but even after adjusting for stroke risk factors such as age and cholesterol levels the researchers found that the risk of stroke was 35 percent higher in those with mild hypertensive retinopathy and 137 percent higher in those with moderate or severe hypertensive retinopathy. And risk remained high for patients with photographic evidence of retinopathy even if they were had good blood pressure control through medication. Read more on vision.

NIH Releases Online Alcohol Screening Course to Help Detect Problems in Young Adults
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has released a new online training course to help health care professionals conduct fast, evidence-based alcohol screening and brief intervention with young adults. According to the Institute, underage drinking is widespread and a major public health problem. Over the course of adolescence, the proportion of youth who drink more than a few sips escalates from 7 percent of 12-year-olds to nearly 70 percent of 18-year-olds. Heavy drinking is common. Having five or more drinks on one occasion is reported by half of 12 to 15-year-olds who drink and two-thirds of 16 to 20-year olds who drink.

“Some may see underage drinking as a harmless rite of passage, but when you look at the risks, it is a big deal,” said Vivian B. Faden, PhD, associate director for behavioral research, director of the Office of Science Policy and Communications at NIAAA, and co-author of the course. “We developed the guide and the continuing medical education (CME) course to help health care professionals reduce underage drinking and its risks in a way that fits easily into their practice.”

Each year, about 190,000 people under age 21 visit emergency rooms for alcohol-related injuries and about 5,000 die as a result of underage drinking. And young adults who drink also have an increased risk of developing alcohol dependence later in life. The new course includes a two-question screening tool. One question asks about the drinking habits of an adolescent’s friends and the other question asks about the adolescent’s own drinking frequency. Read more on alcohol.