Category Archives: Public health

Oct 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 2

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EBOLA UPDATE: Texas Ebola Patient Came into Contact with at Least 80 People; Second Man Being Monitored
The known number of people who came into contact with the Ebola patient being treated in Texas—now identified as Thomas Eric Duncan of Liberia—has climbed from 18 to at least 80, according to Dallas Health Director Zack Thompson. Duncan, who is in isolation at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, is the first person to be diagnosed with the disease in the United States. Several members of his family are under a “control order” to stay inside their homes. Texas health authorities are also monitoring a second potential Ebola patient. Read more on Ebola.

HHS: Two Contracts to Improve Earlier, More Accurate Flu Diagnosis
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) has issued two contracts to help improve doctors’ abilities to diagnose influenza cases sooner and more accurately. One contract is for 3.5 years and worth $12.9 million, while the other is a two-year, $7.9 million contract that could expand to a $14.7-million contract over four years. “Administering fast and inexpensive tests at the point of care has tangible benefits to personal and public health, particularly in helping doctors prescribe the right therapy immediately,” said Robin Robinson, PhD, director of ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, in a release. “Prescribing medication or other therapies in a more targeted way is good stewardship and will be critical to reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance.” Read more on influenza.

Health Officials: 500 Confirmed Cases of Enterovirus D68 in 42 States and the District of Columbia
There have now been more than 500 confirmed cases of Enterovirus D68 in forty-two states and the District of Columbia since the severe respiratory illness first began infecting children during the summer. While four patients have died in the past several weeks, health officials are still unsure whether the virus is linked to the deaths. They are also working to determine whether 10 cases of children with muscle weakness and even paralysis are due to the virus. Read more on infectious disease.

Oct 1 2014
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Getting More Funding Mental Health Preventive Services and Treatment: Q&A with Mary Giliberti, NAMI

NPH Q&A Image for Mary Giliberti

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services last week announced grants totaling almost $100 million aimed specifically at mental health services for young adults. The grants will go to several organizations—including those that work with at-risk kids—within schools and in communities to reduce gun violence.

New private funds have also emerged. For example, in November the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will announce the winners of the Connect 4 Mental Health Community Innovations Awards they launched last year along with the National Council for Behavioral Health and several pharmaceutical companies. Applications for the awards close October 3. The goal of the competition is to increase awareness of successful mental health treatment models that can be replicated in other parts of the country.

Recently, NewPublicHealth spoke with NAMI Executive Director Mary Giliberti, JD, about improvements in U.S. mental health care, issues that still need to be addressed and how the work of the award winners can help improve mental health care treatment.

NewPublicHealth: What progress do you point to with respect to treating mental health in the United States and what still needs work?

Mary Giliberti: In terms of progress, I think there is some increased recognition of mental health and substance use conditions as real health conditions, and the need for mental health to be addressed as part of the overall health care system. That includes federal parity requirements in health insurance—including plans offered through state health insurance marketplaces, Medicaid expansion plans and in private insurance—and efforts to coordinate mental health and physical health care, such as incentives and expectations outlined in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Some examples of this include:

  • Incentives for community mental health centers to improve capacity to treat individuals in their care holistically and via integrated care. This latter point is being supported through the distribution of demonstration grants offered as part of the ACA.
  • Creative use of technologies, including tele-mental health and future potential through health information technology innovations.
  • The evidence of some communities working hard to align and better coordinate systems, including criminal justice solutions.

Other examples of progress include continued development of community-based services, such as adding peers and families as part of the treatment system. 

Read more

Oct 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 1

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EBOLA UPDATE: First U.S. Case of Ebola Diagnosed in Dallas
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the first Ebola case to be diagnosed in the United States. The patient flew from Liberia—at the time not showing symptoms—and fell ill several days later, seeking treatment at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. He was admitted on Sept. 28. The CDC is monitoring people he came in contact with and feels confident that the disease will not spread further. “Ebola can be scary. But there’s all the difference in the world between the U.S. and parts of Africa where Ebola is spreading. The United States has a strong health care system and public health professionals who will make sure this case does not threaten our communities,” said CDC Director, Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “While it is not impossible that there could be additional cases associated with this patient in the coming weeks, I have no doubt that we will contain this.” Read more on Ebola.

FDA: New Recommendation to Protect Patients from Cybersecurity Risks
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking steps to ensure patient safety and security with the finalization of recommendations to medical device manufacturers for managing cybersecurity risks. Potential risks include malware infections on network-connected medical devices or computers, smartphones, and tablets used to access patient data; unsecured or uncontrolled distribution of passwords; failure to provide timely security software updates and patches to medical devices and networks; and security vulnerabilities in off-the-shelf software designed to prevent unauthorized access to the device or network. “There is no such thing as a threat-proof medical device,” said Suzanne Schwartz, MD, MBA, director of emergency preparedness/operations and medical countermeasures at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “It is important for medical device manufacturers to remain vigilant about cybersecurity and to appropriately protect patients from those risks.” Read more on technology.

HUD: $112M in Grants to Protect Kids, Families from Lead-Based Paint and Other Housing Dangers
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded more than $112 million in grants to help protect children and families from the dangers of lead-based paint and other home health and safety hazards. The grants will go to 39 local and state government agencies and research institutions, helping almost 7,000 low-income homes while also supporting research to improve safety efforts. "Millions of families and children are seeing their hope for the future threatened by poor health simply because of where they live," noted Matthew E. Ammon, Acting Director of HUD's Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes.  "Every child deserves to grow up in a healthy home and yet far too many continue to be exposed to potentially dangerous lead and other health hazards in the home." Read more on housing.

Sep 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 30

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EBOLA UPDATE: UN Finds That Orphaned Children Risk Being Shunned Due to Ebola Deaths
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
With more than 3,000 people now dead in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, more than 3,700 children in the afflicted countries who lost one or both parents are now at risk of being shunned, according to the United Nations. UNICEF—which is taking donations to assist the children—says that people to care for the children are desperately needed, but many believe that taking care of the children has turned “into a potential death sentence.” Read more on Ebola.

HUD: $75M to Improve Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher Residents’ Access to Service Programs
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is awarding $75 million in grants to give public housing and Housing Choice Voucher residents increased access to programs to improve their education and employment status, with an ultimate goal of putting them on a path to self-sufficiency. The grants will enable public housing agencies (PHAs) to work with social service agencies, community colleges, businesses and other local partners. “These grants will link people to the computer access, financial literacy, job training, childcare and other tools they need to compete and succeed in the workplace,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in a release. “Every American deserves access to the skills and resources necessary to become self-sufficient.” Read more on housing.

AAP: IUDs the Most Effective Contraceptive Method for Teen Girls
Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants are more reliable than birth control pills and condoms when it comes to preventing U.S. teen pregnancies, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), which now recommends the devices as the “first-line” choice of birth control for teenage girls who do not want to be abstinent. According to the AAP’s new policy statement, approximately 750,000 U.S. adolescents become pregnant each year, and more than 80 percent of the pregnancies are unplanned. Read more on sexual health.

Sep 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 29

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EBOLA UPDATE: NIH Admits Ebola-Exposed U.S. Physician for Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) yesterday admitted an Ebola-exposed U.S. physician for treatment at the NIH’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md. The unidentified physician became exposed to the virus while volunteering in Sierra Leone; the NIH declined to comment on whether the physician had been infected. "When someone is exposed, you want to put them into the best possible situation so if something happens you can take care of them," said NIH infectious disease chief Anthony Fauci, MD, according to the Associated Press. Read more on Ebola.

Electronic Devices Can Keep Kids Up at Night, Should Be Out of Bedrooms
Almost three out of four U.S. children ages 6 to 17 sleep in a bedroom with at least one electronic device—and such children sleep an average of one fewer hour per night, according to Jill Creighton, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. According to Creighton, backlit electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones and video games can interrupt sleep and keep people awake, making it important for parents to get their kids in electronics-free bedtime routines. “The hour before bed should be a no-electronics zone,” she said in a release. “The burst of light from a phone (even if it’s just to check the time) can break a sleep cycle. A regular alarm clock is best.” Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Kids as Young as 6 Can Already See Academic and Social Issues Due to ADHD
Children as young as 6 to 8 years old can experience academic problems and difficulty with social skills due to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is exacerbated by the fact that approximately 80 percent of kids with ADHD symptoms have not been diagnosed with the disorder, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers tested approximately 400 kids at 43 Australian schools, finding 179 with ADHD and 212 without; by following their academic careers, the researchers determined that by the second grade the kids with ADHD were more likely to be below-average in reading and mathematics, and to experience more difficulty connecting with their peers, indicating the need to identify and treat ADHD earlier. "Already at this stage, which is relatively young, it's very clear the children have important functional problems in every domain we registered," said study lead author Daryl Efron, MD, a developmental-behavioral pediatrician with the Royal Children's Hospital Melbourne, according to HealthDay. "On every measure, we found the kids with ADHD were performing far poorer than the control children." Read more on mental health.

Sep 26 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 26

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

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

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

Sep 25 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 25

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EBOLA UPDATE: Public Health Experts Worried About a ‘New Normal’ For Ebola
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
With the World Health Organization announcing that the death toll from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has now surpassed 2,900 people, public health experts are increasingly resigning themselves to the very real possibility that the outbreak will go on for a very long time. Previous human outbreaks were either stopped quickly or in no more than a few months. However, this outbreak is taking hold in urban areas—previous outbreaks were found in rural areas with smaller, more spread out populations—making it unlike any of the others. “What’s always worked before—contact tracing, isolation and quarantine—is not going to work, and it’s not working now,” said Daniel Lucey, a professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University Medical Center, according to The Washington Post. Read more on Ebola.

Common Painkillers Linked to Increased Risk of Blood Clots
Common painkillers including aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen may be linked to an increased risk of developing dangerous blog clots known as venous thromboembolisms (VTE), according to a new study in the journal Rheumatology. The painkillers are all types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Researchers analyzed the results of six studies that included 21,401 VTE events, finding that patients who used NSAIDs were almost twice as likely to develop the clots. "Our results show a statistically significant increased VTE risk among NSAIDs users. Why NSAIDs may increase the risk of VTE is unclear,” said study lead author Patompong Ungprasert, in a release. “It is possibly related to COX-2 inhibition leading to thromboxane-prostacyclin imbalance. Physicians should be aware of this association and NSAIDs should be prescribed with caution, especially in patients already at a higher risk of VTE." Read more on heart and vascular health.

U.S. Lags Behind Much of Europe in Infant Mortality Rates
The United States continues to lag behind much of Europe and several other developed nations when it comes to infant mortality rates, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 6.1 U.S. infants died per every 1,000 live births in 2010. While that was down from the rate of 6.87 in 2005, it was still double the rates of Finland, Japan, Portugal, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Norway. "I think we've known for a long time that the U.S. has a higher preterm birth rate, but this higher infant mortality rate for full-term, big babies who should have really good survival prospects is not what we expected," said lead author Marian MacDorman, a senior statistician and researcher in the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, according to HealthDay. Reasons for the United States’ high rate include prenatal care that leads to the birth of more at-risk preemies, as well as disparities in prenatal care. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Sep 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 24

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EBOLA UPDATE: Number of Cases Could Reach 1.4M by January in Worst-Case Scenario
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
As many as 1.4 million people could be infected by the Ebola outbreak in Liberia and Sierra Leone by the end of January, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Earlier this week, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine also “warned that the epidemic might never be fully controlled and that the virus could become endemic,” according to The Washington Post. U.S. officials, however, noted that neither of these worst-case scenario estimates take into account public health efforts enacted since August and other planned efforts in the weeks and months ahead. Read more on Ebola.

Health Insurance Marketplace Will Include 77 New Issuers in 2015
Next year will see a 25 percent increase in the number of issuers offering coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the preliminary report’s findings:

  • In the 44 states for which there is data, 77 issuers will be newly offering coverage in 2015
  • The Federal Marketplace states will have 57 more issuers in 2015, a 30 percent net increase over this year
  • The eight State-based Marketplaces where data is already available will have a total of six more issuers in 2015, a ten percent net increase over this year
  • Four of the 36 states in the Federal Marketplace will have at least double the number of issuers they had in 2014
  • In total, 36 states of the 44 will have at least one new issuer next year

Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: The Younger a Person is When they First Drink, the More Likely they’ll Develop an Alcohol Problem
The younger a person is when they begin drinking, the more likely they are to develop an alcohol abuse problem, according to a new study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Researchers based their findings on a survey of 295 high school students—163 girls and 132 boys—which asked about when they first tried alcohol, when they first became drunk, how often they drank alcohol in the preceding month and how often they engaged in binge drinking. According to the researchers, their findings can help determine the best methods to stop alcohol abuse problems before they develop. "If age of any use is the primary risk factor, our efforts should be primarily focused on preventing initiation of any use. If, however, age of first intoxication—or delay from first use to first intoxication—is a unique risk factor above and beyond age of first use, prevention efforts should also target those who have already begun drinking in an effort to prevent the transition to heavy drinking,” said Meghan E. Morean, assistant professor of psychology at Oberlin College, Ohio and adjunct assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, in a release. Read more on alcohol.

Sep 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 23

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EBOLA UPDATE: 20,000 Cases by December Unless Significant Measures are Taken
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
More than 20,000 people could have been infected by Ebola by early November unless public health officials quickly enhance their control measures in West Africa, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and Imperial College, London, reviewed data since the start of the outbreak, which they identified as December 2013. Between Dec. 30 and Sept. 14 a total of 4,507 cases were reported to the WHO. Read more on Ebola.

HHS: $99 Million to Improve Youth Mental Health Services
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced approximately $99 million in grants to improve mental health services for young people across the country. The grants include:

  • Approximately $34 million to train more than 4,000 new mental health providers, as well as expand and support Minority Fellowship Programs
  • Approximately $48 million to help teachers, schools and communities recognize and respond to potential youth mental health issues
  • Approximately $16.7 million to support 17 new Healthy Transitions grants, which will improve access to treatment and support services for people ages 16 to 25 that have or are at high risk of developing a serious mental health condition

Read more on mental health.

FDA: New Challenge to Develop Innovative Ways to Identify Foodborne Pathogens
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a $500,000 challenge to encourage the creation of “breakthrough” and innovative solutions on how to find disease-causing, microbial pathogens—including Salmonella—in fresh produce. The 2014 FDA Food Safety Challenge was developed under the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010. “We are thrilled to announce the FDA’s first incentive prize competition under the America COMPETES Act,” said Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, in a release. “This is an exciting opportunity for the federal government to collaborate with outside experts to bring forth breakthrough ideas and technologies that can help ensure quicker detection of problems in our food supply and help prevent foodborne illnesses.” According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in six Americans are sickened by foodborne illness each year, leading to approximately 3,000 deaths. Read more on food safety.

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.