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.