Category Archives: Public health

Sep 22 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 22

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UPDATE: Sierra Leone Ends Three-Day Lockdown, Reports 130 New Cases
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Officials in Sierra Leone have ended a three-day curfew designed to help contain the continuing spread of the Ebola virus, calling the effort a success. Authorities reported 130 new cases during the lockdown and are waiting for tests on 39 more people. The West African country has been one of the hardest hit by the outbreak—more than 550 of the nearly 2,800 total deaths have been in Sierra Leone. In addition more than 100 tons of health-related supplies are being flown to Sierra Leone and Liberia. They include gloves, masks, gowns, goggles, saline, antibiotics, oral rehydration solution and painkillers. "We must do all we can to reduce further the human tragedy caused by this deadly outbreak and help communities avoid an even deeper setback than has occurred already," said Chief Executive Thomas Tighe of Direct Relief, according to USA Today. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Medicare Patients Less Likely to Receive Post-Stroke Surgery
Despite the fact that it can significantly help recovery and reduce the risk of long-term disability or even death, a common post-stroke surgical treatment is far less likely to be referred by physicians of patients with Medicare, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One. Researchers at the University of Florida (UF) analyzed data on more than 21,000 adult patients discharged from 2003 to 2008 with a diagnosis of subarachnoid hemorrhage, finding that—when compared to patients with private insurance—Medicare patients were almost 45 percent less likely to receive surgery and were more than twice as likely to die in the hospital. Azra Bihorac, MD, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of anesthesiology, medicine and surgery at the UF College of Medicine, said the results could indicate a conscious or unconscious bias. “Not every hospital has skilled neurosurgeons who specialize in subarachnoid hemorrhage,” he said in a release. “If these hospitals don’t have the necessary expertise, then they may actually overestimate the risk of a bad prognosis. They may assume that the patient won’t do well anyway, so they won’t proceed with surgery.” Read more on access to care.

Study: Weekly Text Reminders about Calories Help People Make Healthier Choices
Something as simple as a weekly text reminder may help U.S. adults develop a better understanding of basic nutrition and make healthier food choices, according to a new study in Health Promotion Practice. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health sent either a weekly text message reminder, a weekly email reminder, or no weekly reminder about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s recommendation of a reasonable daily caloric intake—2,000 calories—to 246 participants dining in the Johns Hopkins Hospital cafeteria. They found that at the beginning of the study approximately 58 percent knew the recommended benchmark, but after four weeks the participants who received texts were twice as likely to know the benchmark. “While daily energy needs vary, the 2,000-calorie value provides a general frame of reference that can make menu and product nutrition labels more meaningful,” said study leader Lawrence J. Cheskin, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center, in a release. “When people know their calorie ‘budget’ for the day, they have context for making healthier meal and snack choices.” Read more on nutrition.

Sep 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 19

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EBOLA UPDATE: Sierre Leone on Three-Day Lockdown
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Today the nation of Sierra Leone began a three-day lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of the Ebola virus. "Today, the life of everyone is at stake, but we will get over this difficulty if all do what we have been asked to do," said President Ernest Bai Koroma. "These are extraordinary times and extraordinary times require extraordinary measures." The ongoing outbreak has so far killed at least 2,630 people and infected a total of 5,357 people. Read more on Ebola.

FDA Revises Proposed Rules to Prevent Foodborne Illnesses
Taking into account the public comments stemming from its extensive outreach, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued revisions to four proposed rules designed to promote food safety and help prevent foodborne illness. The rules include produce safety, preventive controls for human food, preventive controls for animal food and the foreign supplier verification program. “Ensuring a safe and high-quality food supply is one of the FDA’s highest priorities, and we have worked very hard to gather and respond to comments from farmers and other stakeholders regarding the major proposed FSMA regulations,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “The FDA believes these updated proposed rules will lead to a modern, science-based food safety system that will better protect American consumers from potentially hazardous food. We look forward to public comment on these proposals.” Read more on food safety.

CDC: Too Many Americans Don’t Receive a Flu Vaccination
At a news conference this morning, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Thomas Frieden, MD, stressed the need for all people ages 6 months and older to be vaccinated for the upcoming flu season. According to the CDC, fewer than half of eligible Americans get vaccinations resulting in unnecessary lost work days, hospitalizations and even death. "It's really unfortunate that half of Americans are not getting the protection from flu they could get," said Frieden, according to HealthDay. More than 100 children died from the flu-relate complications last year, and approximately 90 percent of them were unvaccinated. Read more on influenza.

Sep 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 18

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll to at Least 2,622
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The World Health Organization announced today that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has now claimed at least 2,622 lives and infected at least 5,335 people. "The upward epidemic trend continues in the three countries that have widespread and intense transmission—Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone," the global health agency said in a statement, adding that the disease’s spread through Liberia is in large part due to an increasing number of cases in the capital of Monrovia. Read more on Ebola.

HHS to Sponsor the Development of a Portable Ventilator for Use in Public Health Emergencies
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is sponsoring the development of a next-generation portable ventilator for use in pandemics and other public health emergencies. The low-cost, user-friendly device will be developed with Philips Respironics under a $13.8 million contract; the project will be overseen by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. “In pandemics and other emergencies, doctors must have medicines, vaccines, diagnostics, and critical equipment such as mechanical ventilators at the ready in order to save lives,” said BARDA Director Robin Robinson, PhD, in a release. Read more on preparedness.

HUD Launches $1B National Disaster Resilience Competition
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is launching a $1 billion National Disaster Resilience Competition to help state, local and tribal leaders prepare their communities for the impacts of climate change and other factors using federal funds. “The National Disaster Resilience Competition is going to help communities that have been devastated by natural disasters build back stronger and better prepared for the future,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in a release. “This competition will help spur innovation, creatively distribute limited federal resources, and help communities across the country cope with the reality of severe weather that is being made worse by climate change.” Read more on disasters.

Sep 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 17

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White House Announces Significant Increase in U.S. Ebola Response
Yesterday, NewPublicHealth reported President Obama’s initial planned response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The White House has since expanded on the plans. They will include:

  • A military command center in Liberia.
  • A staging area in Senegal to help dispatch personnel and aid to affected communities more quickly
  • Personnel from the U.S. Public Health Service will deploy to a new field hospitals the U.S. is setting up in Liberia.
  • US AID will help distribute home kits with items such as gloves and masks to help reduce the number of Ebola cases.

Read more about Ebola.

Survey Finds Doctors are Overextended or At Capacity for Patients
A new survey of 20,000 doctors by the Physicians Foundation, a non-profit group that works with practicing physicians, finds that 81 percent of doctors say they are over-extended or at full capacity and only 19 percent indicate they have time to see more patients. Forty-four percent of doctors responding say they plan to take steps that would reduce patient access to their practices , including cutting back on patients seen, retiring, working part-time, closing their practice to new patients or seeking non-clinical jobs, leading to the potential loss of tens of thousands of physicians in the United States. The timing of the survey is significant because signup for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act begins in just a few weeks. Read more about access to care.

Number of Smokers Increases in New York City
Earlier this week the New York City Health Department released new 2013 data showing that 16.1 percent of adult New Yorkers are smokers, a significant increase from the city’s lowest recorded adult smoking rate of 14 percent in 2010. For the first time since 2007, there are more than one million smokers in New York City who are at risk of developing a smoking-related illness, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, emphysema, lung and other cancers, according to the health department. So far, the city does not have strong data to explain the uptick in smoking. Nationally, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 18 percent of U.S. adults are smokers, down from 20 percent several years ago. However, New York City is often a bellwether for public health issues, and the health experts across the country will be looking to see whether the city’s tobacco control efforts—including a new ad campaign that focuses on both daily and occasional smokers—have an impact on smoking rates. Read more on tobacco.

Sep 16 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 16

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EBOLA UPDATE: Obama to Commit as Many as 3,000 Troops to Epidemic Response
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
President Obama will today announce an expansion of military and medical resources that could send as many as 3,000 people to West Africa to help combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak. According to The New York Times, the United States will help train health workers and build as many as 17 Ebola treatment centers, which will house approximately 1,700 treatment beds. The U.S. Department of Defense will also open a joint command operation in Liberia in order to coordinate an international response to the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

Report: 1 in 9 People Worldwide are Chronically Undernourished
An estimated 805 million people in the world are chronically undernourished, according to a new report, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014, from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. While that means that approximately one in every nine people are undernourished, the number is down more than 100 million over the past decade and 209 million since 1990-1992. In the past two decades the prevalence of undernourishment has also dropped from 23.4 percent to 13.5 percent in developing countries. According to the health agency, the eradication of hunger requires a sustained political commitment that emphasizes food security and nutrition. Read more on global health.

SAMHSA: Percentage of Youth Using Illegal Drugs is Down Over the Past Decade
The percentage of U.S. teens using illegal drugs is down over the past decade, according to a new study from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA). The report, the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that the rate of illicit drug use in the past month for adolescents ages 12-17 was 8.8 percent, down from 9.5 percent in 2012 and 11.6 percent in 2002. From 2002 to 2013, the percentage of youth in that age group with a substance abuse or dependence problem dropped from 8.9 percent to 5.2 percent. “This report shows that we have made important progress in some key areas, but that we need to rejuvenate our efforts to promote prevention, treatment and recovery to reach all aspects of our community,” said SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, in a release. “The real lives represented by these statistics deserve our protection and help from the ravages of substance use disorders. Through a comprehensive, national effort we can help people avoid, or recover from substance use problems and lead, healthy, productive lives.” Read more on substance abuse.

Sep 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 15

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EBOLA UPDATE: Obama to Announce New Ebola Plan Tomorrow
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
President Obama is expected to make an announcement tomorrow detailing the United States’ increased involvement in combatting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The plan would likely involve an increased U.S. military presence; the government has already committed approximately $100 million related to protective equipment for health care workers; food; water; and medical and hygiene equipment. More than 2,400 people have so far died in the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

HHS: $295M to Expand Health Services for 1.5M New Patients
Late last week, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced $295 million in funds to enable 1,195 health centers across the country to hire approximately 4,750 new staff, stay open later and expand their services to cover areas such as oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services. The funds are available through the Affordable Care Act. HHS estimates that this will help 1.5 million new patients. “These funds will enable health centers to provide high-quality primary health care to more people including the newly insured, many of whom may be accessing primary care for the first time,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: 11 Million Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions for Kids Annually
Physicians prescribe antibiotics for kids approximately twice as often than they are needed, contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed a selection of studies published between 2000 and 2011, as well as data on children examined at outpatient clinics, finding that an estimated 27 percent of U.S. children with infections of the ear, sinus area, throat or upper respiratory tract had illnesses caused by bacteria, yet antibiotics were prescribed for approximately 57 percent of these visits. They estimate that there are more than 11 million such unnecessary prescriptions for kids each year. Read more on prescription drugs.

Sep 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 12

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

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

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

Sep 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 11

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EBOLA UPDATE: Gates Foundation Commits $50M to Fight Ebola Epidemic
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will commit $50 million to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The flexible funds will enable United Nations agencies and international organizations to purchase supplies and scale up their operations; the funds will also go toward the development of Ebola treatments. The foundation has already committed $5 million to the World Health Organization for emergency operations and R&D assessments and $5 million to the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to support public health efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. “We are working urgently with our partners to identify the most effective ways to help them save lives now and stop transmission of this deadly disease,” said Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Gates Foundation, in a release. “We also want to accelerate the development of treatments, vaccines and diagnostics that can help end this epidemic and prevent future outbreaks.” Read more on Ebola.

CDC: Millions of U.S. Kids Don’t Receive Proper Preventive Care
Millions of U.S. infants, children and adolescents do not receive key clinical preventive services, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) Supplement. Preventive services from doctors, dentists, nurses and allied health providers help prevent and detect diseases in their earliest stages, when they are the most treatable. Among the report’s findings:

  • In 2007, parents of 79 percent of children aged 10-47 months reported that they were not asked by health care providers to complete a formal screen for developmental delays in the past year.
  • In 2009, 56 percent of children and adolescents did not visit the dentist in the past year and 86 percent of children and adolescents did not receive a dental sealant or a topical fluoride application in the past year.
  • 47 percent of females aged 13-17 years had not received their recommended first dose of HPV vaccine in 2011.
  • Approximately 31 percent of outpatient clinic visits made by 11-21 year-olds during 2004–2010 had no documentation of tobacco use status; 80 percent of those who screened positive for tobacco use did not receive any cessation assistance.
  • Approximately 24 percent of outpatient clinic visits for preventive care made by 3-17 year olds during 2009-2010 had no documentation of blood pressure measurement.

“We must protect the health of all children and ensure that they receive recommended screenings and services. Together, parents and the public health and healthcare communities can work to ensure that children have health insurance and receive vital preventive services,” said Stuart K. Shapira, MD, PhD, chief medical officer and associate director for science in CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities. “Increased use of clinical preventive services could improve the health of infants, children and teens and promote healthy lifestyles that will enable them to achieve their full potential.” Read more on pediatrics.

GAO: More Data Needed to Help Veterans Readjust to Civilian Life
More information is needed in order to best provide services to military veterans readjusting to civilian life, according to a new review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). The review found that while many veterans readjust with little difficulty, others experience financial, employment, relationship, legal, housing and substance abuse difficulties. While the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is working to improve veteran wellness and economic security, “there is limited and incomplete data to assess the extent to which veterans experience readjustment difficulties,” according to the GAO. Read more on the military.

Sep 10 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 10

EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Now to at Least 2,296
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll from the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa is now at least 2,296, according to the World Health Organization. However, the global health agency does not have the latest figures from Liberia—the country that has been hit hardest by the disease—making the true toll likely much higher. "It remains a very grave situation," said Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Tuesday, according to Reuters. "It is taking a long time to respond effectively .... We expect it to accelerate for at least another two or three weeks before we can look forward to a decline." As of Sept. 6 there were 4,293 recorded cases in five countries. Read more on Ebola.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Clinton Foundation Announce Consensus Statement on Treating Prescription Drug Abuse and Misuse
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Clinton Foundation have released a consensus statement calling for a public health frame to analyze and disseminate proven, evidence-based intervention to combat prescription drug abuse and misuse. The statement is in response to President Clinton’s call-to-action on the subject in May of this year. “Prescription drug abuse and misuse, as well as widespread addiction and diversion of these products to the illicit market, represents one of the greatest challenges to our country’s public health in recent memory,” said Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in a release. “This consensus statement marks a continuation of our school’s commitment, as well as that of the Clinton Foundation, to address epidemic rates of poisonings and deaths that are occurring due to prescription opioids and other prescription drugs that are highly prone to abuse and misuse.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses killed 41,430 people in 2011, making it the leading cause of injury deaths. Read more on substance abuse.

CDC: 90% of Youth Ages 6-18 Consume Too Much Sodium
Approximately 9 in 10 U.S. children ages 6-18 consume more than the recommended amount of sodium, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The report also found that approximately 43 percent of the sodium comes from the ten foods they eat the most often: pizza; bread and rolls; cold cuts/cured meats; savory snacks; sandwiches; cheese; chicken patties/nuggets/tenders; pasta mixed dishes; Mexican mixed dishes; and soups. “Too many children are consuming way too much sodium, and the result will be risks of high blood pressure and heart disease in the future,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a release. “Most sodium is from processed and restaurant food, not the salt shaker. Reducing sodium intake will help our children avoid tragic and expensive health problems.” Read more on nutrition.

Sep 9 2014
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The Ebola Response: Q&A with Laurie Garrett, Council on Foreign Relations

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Almost every day brings reports of new cases of Ebola, the often-fatal virus now impacting multiple countries in West Africa. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2014 Ebola outbreak is the largest Ebola outbreak in history. Spread of the disease to the United States is unlikely—although not impossible—and efforts are underway to find vaccines and cures, including scale-ups of drug development and manufacturing, as well as human trials for vaccines both in the United States and around the world. However, in West Africa the epidemic is impacting lives, economies, health care infrastructure and even security as countries try a variety of methods—including troop control—to get citizens to obey quarantines and other potentially life-saving instructions.

Late last week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Laurie Garrett, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Garrett has written extensively on global health issues and was on the ground as a reporter during the Ebola outbreak in Zaire in 1995.

NewPublicHealth: What are your key concerns with respect to the current Ebola outbreak?

Laurie Garrett: My main concern has been about the nature of the international response, which could be characterized as non-response until very recently. And now that the leadership of the international global health community has finally taken the epidemic seriously, it’s too late to easily stop it. We’ve gone through the whole list of all the usual ways that we stop Ebola and every single one of them was initiated far too late with far too few resources and far too few people—and now we’re in uncharted territory. We’re now trying to tackle a problem that has never reached this stage before and we don’t know what to do. The international response is pitiful, disgusting and woeful.

NPH: How do you account for such a poor response?

Garrett: First of all, the World Health Organization (WHO) is a mere shadow of its former self. When I was involved in the Ebola epidemic in 1995 in Kikwit, Zaire, the WHO was recognized worldwide as the leader of everything associated with outbreaks and infection, and it acted aggressively. It didn’t have a huge budget, but it still was able to take the problem very seriously and the resources that were needed were available, and more importantly a very talented leadership team combining the resources of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; WHO; Medicin San Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders); and the University of Kinshasa, Zaire, came together. They respected each other. They were on board together. They worked very closely with the local Red Cross, and they were able to conquer the problem pretty swiftly. 

Read more