Feb 6 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: February 6

U.S. Adults with Mental Illness Have Higher Smoking Rates
Adults with mental illness have a smoking rate 70 percent higher than adults with no mental illness, according to the February 2013 Vital Signs report released yesterday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report was done in collaboration with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and found that 36 percent of adults with a mental illness are cigarette smokers, compared with only 21 percent of adults who do not have a mental illness. Among adults with mental illness, smoking prevalence is especially high among younger adults, American Indians, Alaska Natives, those living below the poverty line, and those with lower levels of education. Differences also exist across states. Smoking prevalence for people with mental illness ranges from 18.2 percent in Utah to 48.7 percent in West Virginia. The data used to determine the smoking rates in the Vital Signs report comes from 2009–2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Mental illness was defined as having a diagnosable mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, excluding developmental and substance use disorders, in the past 12 months. The report also found that, on average, adult smokers with mental illness smoke more cigarettes per month than those without mental illness (331 vs. 310 cigarettes) and are less likely to quit smoking. “Special efforts are needed to raise awareness about the burden of smoking among people with mental illness and to monitor progress in addressing this disparity,” said SAMHSA administrator, Pamela S. Hyde. Read more on tobacco.

NIH Announces Three Major Clinical Trials for Influenza Treatments
Three clinical trials aimed at finding more effective flu treatments are enrolling volunteers who have the virus at the National Institutes of Health’s Clinical Center in Bethesda, Md., as well as at several dozen other domestic and international sites.

  • One study will look at whether the drug Tamiflu reduces the time that infected people continue to produce virus in the upper airway.
  • The second trial will test whether a combination of three licensed antiviral drugs works better than Tamiflu in people with influenza that have chronic health conditions, such as heart or lung disease, which put them at greater risk of severe illness.
  • The third trial will test whether treatment with plasma enriched with anti-influenza antibodies improves the condition of hospitalized influenza patients compared to standard antiviral treatment on its own.

“This year’s flu season came earlier than usual and has been particularly hard on the elderly,” said Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases. “Despite our best efforts to prevent influenza through vaccination, people still get sick every year with the flu. At best, influenza infection is a miserable experience. At worst, it can be a deadly one. We need better ways to treat people with influenza, which kills thousands of people in the United States each year, and clinical research supported by NIAID helps to address that need.” Read more on flu.

Doctors Miss Opportunities for Underage Alcohol Screening
A new survey of more than 2,500 10th grade students published in Pediatrics found that 34 percent reported drinking alcohol in the past month and 26 percent said they had binged, defined as five or more drinks per occasion for males, and four or more for females. However, while more than 80 percent of those surveyed said they’d seen a doctor in the past year, just 54 percent of that group was asked by their physicians about drinking, and only 40 percent were advised about dangers associated with alcohol. In addition, of those students who had been seen by a doctor in the past year and who reported drinking in the past month, only 23 percent said they were advised to reduce or stop drinking. The survey was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA). The researchers say studies have shown that screening and brief interventions by health care providers, such as asking patients about alcohol use and advising them to reduce risky drinking, can result in significant, lasting reductions in drinking levels and alcohol-related problems among adults.  “Alcohol is by far the drug of choice among youth," says NIAAA acting director Kenneth R. Warren, PhD. “The findings reported [in this study] indicate that we must redouble our efforts to help clinicians make alcohol screening a routine part of patient care for young people in the United States.” Read more on alcohol.

Tags: Alcohol, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Flu, Mental Health, News roundups, Public and Community Health, Tobacco