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June 30, 2011

Hopkins doctor performs his 4,567th and last surgery


One of the top doctors at Johns Hopkins is laying down his scalpel. Dr. Patrick Walsh performed his last, and 4,567th, radical prostatectomy yesterday.

Walsh is probably best known for his time directing the Brady Urological Institute, where he served from 1974-2004, and for pioneering work in the development of the anatomic approach to radical prostatectomy. That involves a technique that spares nerves and reduces the probability of impotence and incontinence.

Officials at Hopkins also say he’s made major contributions to the medical world’s understanding of benign and malignant neoplasm of the prostate. He’s treated many people over the years, including Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and presidential candidate.

He’s also on the editorial board of the New England Journal of Medicine and is a member of the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine, an influential advisory panel. He’s earned many awards and has authored best-selling books on the prostate for non-medical people.

Walsh plans to continue seeing patients.

Watch a video of an interview with him on the Charlie Rose Show.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Health care professionals

Baltimore is pretty good at sitting


Baltimore has its share of couch potatoes, though not as many as other cities.

Men's Health ranked the most active places, and Baltimore came in 30 out of 100. The most active people live in Seattle; San Francisco; Oakland, Calif.; and Washington.

And those who move the least are in Lexington, KY; Indianapolis, IN; Jackson, Miss.; and Charleston, W.Va.

The magazine looked at the percentage of household that watch more than 15 hours of cable weekly and buy more than 11 video games a year. They also assessed the rate of death from deep-vein thrombosis, which is linked to sitting still, as well as the level of physical activity undertaken in the last month.

They used some marketing and some government data.

How would you say Baltimore stacks up from your experience?

Baltimore Sun file photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diet and exercise

June 29, 2011

Obesity leads to more plastic surgery complications

obesityHere's yet another reason to drop those extra pounds.

If you ever decide to have plastic surgery, you're more likely to have complications.

Obese patients are nearly 12 times more likely to suffer a complication following elective plastic surgery than those who are of normal weight, according to new research by Johns Hopkins scientists.

“Our data demonstrate that obesity is a major risk factor for complications following certain kinds of elective surgery,” Marty Makary, an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and leader of the study said in a statement.

The study was published online in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

The scientists said physicians should pay special attention to possible infections in heavier patients after surgery. The data should also open the eyes of policymakers and insurers who may penalize doctors who patients get infections and are readmitted to the hospital, the researchers argue. They should take into account heavier patients may more likely end back up in the hospital for complications.

"Policymakers need to make sure they aren’t giving physicians financial incentives to discriminate on the basis of weight,” Makary said.

Thirty-four percent of adults in the United States are obese, compared to 15 percent a decade ago. The number of people having plastic surgery has also increased 725 percent between 1992 and 2005.

Hospitals are often penalized for complications that arise from plastic surgery. Makary said he fears some surgeons avoid taking obese patients because “it’s more work, and it’s a more complex surgery as opposed to operating on a thin patient. And the payment is the same."

“There are definitely incentives there for surgeons and institutions to select healthier patients,” he said “They’re getting reimbursed less per unit of work for obese patients.”

Other Hopkins researchers involved in the study include :Andrew D. Shore, Roger Johns, Jeanne M. Clark and Michele Manahan.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 12:06 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Diet and exercise

Live health chat on postoperative pain at noon


The management of postoperative pain has been in the news recently. A study authored by Hopkins Drs. Christopher Wu and Srinivasa Raja found that pain management for patients after surgery remains inadequate. (Read more from ABC News.)

If you have a question about dealing with pain after surgery, join our live chat on Wednesday with Hopkins pain specialist Dr. Paul Christo.

Christo is director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Fellowship Training Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He also has a radio talk show Saturday nights on WBAL.

Can't make the chat? Email questions in advance to, and come back here to read the transcript.

Comments are for informational purposes only and do not represent or substitute as medical advice. Patients are advised to consult their own physician or pharmacist for advice, diagnosis and treatment.

(Getty Images file photo)

Posted by Kim Walker at 6:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Health

June 28, 2011

Women appeal to FDA on cancer drug Avastin


The cancer drug Avastin is slated to lose it's approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treating breast cancer.

Hearings are underway now. According to this Tribune blog post, some women and the drug's maker, Genentech, are hoping the agency reconsiders. Some claim it has worked for them, and losing the approval means insurance would likely no longer cover the cost.

The drug would remain approved for other kinds of cancer, and thus still available to doctors who wish to prescribe it "off label." But without insurance, that would likely put it out of reach.

The FDA approved Avastin for use in breast cancer in 2008 under a fast track system, pending further review. That review didn't show much effect on breast cancer, but some nasty side effects.

Anyone know of someone taking Avastin for breast cancer? It work for them? Should the FDA put this drug out of reach considering the study results?

Bloomberg photo 

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 5:54 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cancer

Government says sales of tobacco to minors falls

Sales of tobacco to minors has hit an all time low, according to a new government report.

Reducing tobacco sales has been a priority nationally and in Maryland for years, and now the average violation rate by retailers is down to 9.3 percent, the lowest level in the 14 year history of the Synar program. Synar, named for a former congressman from Oklahoma, aims to eliminate sales to minors and is administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Admistration.

The program requires states to have laws and enforce programs to cut sales of tobacco products to minors. They have to annually report the percentage of inspected retail shops that sold products to customers under 18.

The average rate has been trending down, and for the fifth year in a row no state was out of compliance, which would be more than  20 percent of shops selling tobacco to minors. Most states found fewer than 15 percent of shops violating the rules in fiscal 2010. About a third were below 10 percent.

Maryland was at 16.8 percent of shops violating the rules in fiscal 2010. In fiscal 2009, the state was at 5.1 percent.

Report authors said the despite this good news, progress in reducing actual tobacco use has stalled because of the economy. And that may be the reason for the uptick in sales in Maryland, too. Kathleen Rebbert-Franklin, deputy director of the state's Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, said money to localities to do checks at the shops has dropped.

Without the checks, shops get a little loose with the rules, she said. Or there isnt training for employees as they turnover. But a new influx of federal dollars means the state will pick up where the localities have left off.

Clearly, the spot checks matter, as the Synar report shows, she said.

"We're trying to keep our eye on the prize during tight budget times," she said. 

FDA photo of new labelling required on cigarette packages

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 1:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cancer, Pediatrics

June 27, 2011

Free HIV test throughout the community today


People’s Community Health Centers in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County are also having HIV testing until 4:30 p.m. at the following locations:

Greenmount Avenue Center
3028 Greenmount Avenue
Baltimore, 21218

Open Gates Center
1111 Washington Boulevard
Baltimore, 21230

Sandtown/New Song Center
1300 N. Fulton Street
Baltimore, 21217

Brooklyn Park Center
5517 Ritchie Highway
Baltimore, 21225

Pioneer Drive
8341 Pioneer Drive
Severn, 21144

Yorkwood Center
5225 York Road
Baltimore, 21212

HERO Center
1734 Maryland Avenue
Baltimore, 21201

Odenton Center
1370 Odenton Road
Odenton, 21113

Here is my original post:

Today is National HIV Testing Day and there are numerous places people can go to get tested for the deadly disease.

The rate of HIV cases in Maryland has risen since data collection began in 1994, according to the Maryland AIDS Administration. There were 29,021 peole living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2008 and the AIDS administration expects to diagnose 2,100 new cases each year. Many more people don't even know they have the disease.

 By offering free testing health officials hope to slow down the spread of the disease.

Chase Brexton Health Services will offer free testing at its four locations.

On Tuesday, several churches iand pharmacies in the area will offer free testing from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.  as part of the "Project SHALEM" HIV testing drive. Participants will also get a free boxed lunch.

Churches and pharmacies that will participate are:

BioScrip Pharmacy, 6 N. Howard Street 21201

Central Church Of Christ, 4301 Woodridge Road 21229

East Assembly of God, 7923 Wise Avenue 21222

Garden Community Church at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary, 1642 Eutaw Place 21217

La Esperanza Center, 430 S. Broadway Street 21231

St. Matthew’s U.M.C., 416 E. 23rd Street 21218

St. Ambrose Family Outreach Center, 3445 Park Heights Avenue 21215

If you know of other places where people can go for testing please let us know and we will post.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 7:00 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: HIV/AIDS

June 24, 2011

Will calories make you ditch a restaurant?

The Sun ran a story early this week about consumers who stop eating at  restaurants after discovering how many calories are in their meals.

The revelations have come as more legislation has been passed requiring restaurants to post calorie counts. As part of health care reform, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will soon require all chains with 20 or more restaurants to display calorie counts.

Some restaurants in Maryland have already started the practice and I admit it's made me think twice about what I order.

Restaurants are concerned that they will lose customers. Some have responded by making their meals more nutritious.

Can't say I've actually stopped frequenting a restaurant because of the calorie counts. What do you all think? Is posting calories a good practice? Would you stop going to a restaurant if the calorie counts of their meals was too high?

Posted by Andrea Walker at 4:45 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Diet and exercise

Hopkins cardiologist named head of Heart Association

Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, a Hopkins professor and director of the division of cardiology, will become the next president of the American Heart Association on July 1.

Tomaselli will be the seventh Hopkins faculty member to head the association, the leading health association on cardiovascular disease and stroke.

In his 25 years at Hopkins, the doctor has become known for his research on preventing sudden cardiac death by identifying genetic and other factors that put people at risk. Sudden cardiac death is a swift killer, with few surviving long enough to reach medical attention.

Tomaselli has focused on arrhythmias. More than 250,000 Americans die of the potentially fatal heart rhythm disturbances a year.

 “This is a tremendous honor for Dr. Tomaselli and Johns Hopkins. It underscores his contributions and role as a world leader in the study of the causes and potential therapies to prevent sudden cardiac death,” Dr. Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and chief executive of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said in a statement.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 3:20 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Health care professionals

Baby fat could lead to overweight kids

fat babySo you think your child will outgrow the baby pudge?

Don't be so sure.

A new report finds that even the youngest children are at risk of becoming obese. Nearly 10 percent of infants and toddlers carry excess weight for their length, according to the report by the Institute of Medicine. More than 20 percent of children between the ages of two and five are already overweight or obese.

While the report doesn't suggest parents put their kids on a diet, it does say actions need to be taken before a child enters school.

Everyone should play a role, the report said.

Pediatricians and other healthcare professionals should pay attention to weight gain in their young patients .

Parents and childcare providers should keep children active and feed them healthy diets of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They should also limit children's television and make sure they get enough sleep, the report said.

Chubby may be cute on a baby, but not so much on an adult.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Diet and exercise

June 23, 2011

State group to target racial disparities

lt. gov. anthony brownLt. Gov. Anthony Brown announced today a state group to look at curbing racial health disparities.

It is no secret that disparities exist. Minorities suffer from more chronic diseases then whites. Brown said the group wasn't there to rehash statistics we all already know.

Instead, they hope to come up with subanstive policy changes that will address the problem. Financial incentives to hospitals, doctors and others in the industry is one thing the group will look at.

E. Albert Reece, Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, will head the group.

Read more here.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 7:14 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Health

Breast implants safe, but don't keep them forever

breast implantsYou won't get cancer from breast implants, but leave them in too long and they may wrinkle, rupture or even harden.

Those are the latest findings from safety studies required by manufacturers of silicone gel-filled breast implants. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a report today detailing data from the studies.

The report confirms that silicone gel-filled breast implants are safe and effective when used as intended. But the FDA also warns women that there is a price to looking cute.

For one, the regulatory agency said breast implants are not meant to last forever. The longer a woman has implants, the more likely the chance for complications.

One in 5 patients who received implants for breast augmentation will need them removed within 10 years of receiving them. For patients who received implants for breast reconstruction, as many as 1 in 2 need to have them removed within 10 years.

The most frequent complications are hardening of the area around the implant, additional surgeries and implant removal. Other common complications include implant rupture, wrinkling, asymmetry, scarring, pain, and infection.

Preliminary data shows no link to silicone gel-filled breast implants and breast cancer, reproductive problems or connective tissue disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis. But the FDA said futher studies need to be done to completely rule out these complications.

The report includes data from studies conducted by breast implant manufacturers Allergan and Mentor.

The FDA approved silicone gel-filled breast implants in November 2006 for breast augmentation in women over age 22 and for breast reconstruction in all women.

As a condition of approval, the FDA required each of the two companies to conduct six studies to look at the safety of the implants.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 11:09 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Women's health

June 22, 2011

Don't leave infants unattended in the car

No sane parent would intentionally leave their child in a smoldering car all day, but unfortunately tragic mistakes like this happen.

In light of such an incident in Ellicott City recently, Howard County health, police and fire department officials today gave parents tips on how not to be the one who forgets their child.

A 23-month-old girl died of heatstroke after one of her parents unintentionally left the child strapped in her car seat in front of their home. Police said a "change of routine" caused the parent to forget that the child was in the car for nearly nine hours.

An average of 36 children a year dies from hyperthermia, or overheating, after being left unattended in a car, according to Howard County officials. A child can die if left inside a vehicle even if temperatures are as cool as 70 degrees. Cracking a window does little to cool down the inside of a car.

 Peter Beilenson, Howard County Health Officer, urges parents to take these precautions:

• Start a “Look before you leave routine”: be sure that all occupants leave the vehicle when unloading. Do not overlook sleeping babies.

• Place your purse, wallet or cell phone on the back seat as a reminder you have a child in the car.

• Keep a stuffed animal in the car seat; when the child is put in the car seat, place the animal in the front with the driver.

• Have a plan that your childcare provider will call if your child does not show up for daycare.

• Look into new child reminder technologies that connect wireless car seat alarms to key rings.

Maryland is one of 15 states with a law that prohibits leaving a child unattended in a vehicle. Criminal charges can be brought against parents.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 3:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Pediatrics

New method invented to collect stem cells after birth

Stem cells from newborns’ umbilical cords and placenta are normally tossed, but some Johns Hopkins students have come up with a new system that could significantly increase collections.

The stem cells could then be used to boost the immune systems of patients with leukemia and lymphoma and other blood disorders.

The invention called CBx System is in the testing stage, but the students – all pursuing master's degrees in the university's Center for Bioengineering Innovation and Design -- have gotten a provisional patent for the technology and formed a company called TheraCord LLC. They hope it will eventually be widely used in hospital maternity wards.

“Cord blood, collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after live birth, is the most viable source of stem cells, yet over 90 percent is uncollected and discarded,” the team members wrote for a presentation at the university's recent Biomedical Engineering Design Day. “One of the main reasons valuable cord blood is so frequently discarded is because no adequate collection method exists.”

Now, when a baby is born the parents have to opt to save the cord blood and pay for it, unless they are at one of 180 hospitals that are affiliated with public cord blood banks where parents can donate cord blood.

And the method of collection relies on gravity. Only 40-50 percent of units collected can be used for transplants and the stem cells are usually only enough for a child. The students’ collection method uses mechanical forces and a chemical solution to detach and flush more stem cells from the cord and placenta vessels – up to 50 percent more stem cells.

The students, who have graduated, will keep working so they can get even more.

So, would you donate?

Getty Images photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Cancer, Pediatrics

June 21, 2011

FDA releases graphic cigarette ads

cigarette adsThe FDA is trying to warn people about the dangers of smoking with shock advertising.

The federal regulatory agency today released nine in-your-face images that will be required to appear on every single pack of cigarettes sold in the country. The images will also run on cigarette advertisements.

The bold images include a man smoking a cigarette through a hole in his throat, a corpse with an incision in the chest and a mouth full of rotten teeth and sores.

The FDA said the warnings represent the most significant changes in cigarette advertising in 25 years.

In a statement, the FDA said the new advertising "will help prevent children from smoking, encourge adults who do to quit and ensure every American understands the dangers of smoking."

The warnings are required under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into federal law in 2009. They will appear on cigarette packages no later than Sept. 2012.

Check out all the images here.

Also, take or poll and let us know what you think about the new warnings. Great idea? Or too graphic?

Posted by Andrea Walker at 3:05 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Cancer

Portable pools pose safety hazard for children


Portable pools, a staple in the summer in many back yards, may be fun for kids. But they can also be trouble.

Every five days a child drowns in one of these pools in the United States, according to a study by the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Most cases involved kids under age 5 and three quarters involved pools in the kids’ own yards, according to the study released online and scheduled to appear in the July 2011 print issue of Pediatrics.

“Because portable pools are generally small, inexpensive and easy to use, parents often do not think about the potential dangers these pools present,” Dr. Gary Smith, senior author of the study and director of the center, said in a statement. “It only takes a couple of minutes and a few inches of water for a child to drown. It is important for parents to realize that portable pools can be just as dangerous as in-ground pools.”

More than 40 percent of the kids were being supervised by an adult. In 18 percent of the cases, it was just a brief distraction such as a phone call that allowed an accident.

The study authors suggested multiple layers of protection including keeping kids from the pool without supervision and being prepared with there is a submersion. They noted that some tools are expensive or not available such as fencing, safety covers, lockable or removable ladders and pool alarms. They called on manufacturers to produce better safety mechanisms just for portable pools.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Pediatrics

June 20, 2011

More lead in children's jewelry found in retail shops

The Baltimore City Health Department continues to crack down on retailers who sell kids’ jewelry that contains harmful levels of lead, a dangerous neurotoxin that can severely impair development and can cause death.

Three retailers were given violation notices and the Consumer Product Safety Commission has been alerted. The retailers can no longer sell the items.

“One of these products is labeled ‘lead compliant,’ yet it contains 18,000 ppm of lead, far above the regulated limit of 300 ppm,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Oxiris Barbot in a statement. “The Health Department will continue to look for children’s products with high lead levels so parents can shop with confidence, knowing toys sold in the city are safe.”

The federal government bans items with more than 300 parts per million – and these shops were cited for selling jewelry that far exceeding that level:

+Fashion Kiosk at Mondawmin Mall, 2401 Liberty Heights Ave. The item was the 4-piece Pink & Rhinestone Flower Set (Rhinestone flower clip on earrings). Total lead content was 18,000 ppm.

+Beauty Max, 2222 E. Monument St. The item was the Strawberry Charm Bracelet (Big Strawberry Charm). Total lead content was 180,000 ppm.

+KG Beauty, 2465 Frederick Ave. The item was the 3-piece Pearl Set (Pearl Necklace). Total lead content was 3,800 ppm in the clasp and 280,000 ppm in the chain.

For a list of recalled products that contain metals known to be toxic, click here.  For Baltimore’s regulation on lead in children’s jewelry, click here.

Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Health Department

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Pediatrics

Talk to the elderly about drug safety

drugsWe often worry about protecting our children from the dangers of drug poisoning, but may need to worry about our aging parents just as much.

The Maryland Poison Center is encouraging people to talk to the elderly people in their lives about medicine safety.

The group collected data from the American Association of Poison Centers that found that adults age 40 and older account for 16 percent of poisoning exposure calls to the nation’s 57 poison centers. But they make up 56 percent of deaths from poisoning.

The calls come from adults who have taken too much of their medicine, took someone else's medicine or are concerned about a drug interaction.

The Maryland Poison Center offers these tips to pass on to the elderly in your life:

1. Know about each medicine you take (name, color, markings, dosage, etc.).

2. Read the label to make sure you are taking the right dose.

3. Follow the instructions to take your medicine the right way. Some medicines interact with food or alcohol, and some should not be taken with other medications.

4. Never take someone else’s medicine.

5. Put on your glasses and turn on the lights before taking medicine, especially at night.

6. Keep a list of all your medications and share the list with your doctor at each visit.

7. If more than one doctor prescribes medicine for you, talk to each doctor and your pharmacist so they can check for drug interactions.

8. Talk to your doctor before you take a natural or herbal supplement.

To contact the Maryland Poison Center call 1-800-222-1222. The toll-free number is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drugs

June 17, 2011

Leaders discuss health care reform at forum

Have questions about health care reform in Maryland or want to hear about effort to improve residents' health?

The Maryland Science Center will host a free public health forum on Monday at 7:30 p.m. related to the reform effort and visions for the future of public health.

The forum is called “Public Policy and Our Health” and will be preceded by a reception for the first 100 registrants at 6:30 p.m. It stems from a traveling exhibit at the center, at 601 Light Street in Baltimore, about diabetes.

On the panel will be:

+Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and a former deputy commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. He will talk about health care reform in the state and improving access to care for diabetes and other public health issues.

+Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of health for Baltimore City. She will discuss Healthy Baltimore 2015, an effort to address 10 of the city’s top health problems.

+Dr. Michelle Gourdine, chief executive and principal consultant for Michelle Gourdine and Associates LLC and a clinical assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. She will talk about health inequities caused by public policy and cultural and social forces. She will also sign her book, Reclaiming Our Health: A Guide to African American Wellness.

There is no cost, but public participants must register. Send an email with your name and email address to Limit four guests per registration. The forum is sponsored by AEGON Transamerica Foundation.

For more information go to or call 410-685-5225.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diabetes, Health care reform

June 16, 2011

Funeral held for those who donate their bodies


Ever wonder what becomes of those who donate their bodies to science?

In Maryland, they're given a proper burial and a note of thanks.

This Monday, there will be funeral service held at the state's Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville for these people. The interdenominational service will be conducted at 1:30 p.m. across from the Patterson House. 

Gov. Martin O'Malley's office will present a proclamation recognizing the day as "Anatomical Donor Appreciation Day" in Maryland.

Such services are an annual event. They recognize those donated, as well as unclaimed bodied used by the state's medical and dental education and research programs.

Families and friends of the deceased are invited to attend the services, coordinated by the State Anatomy Board and the Springfield Hospital Center's Office of Volunteer Services. They are officiated by Springfield's clergy.

For information on donations, click here.

AP photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 1:52 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Medical studies

June 15, 2011

FDA releases new sunscreen guidelines

sunscreenThe federal government is cracking down on claims manufacturers of sunscreens can make about its products.

But at least one consumer group says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not going far enough.

Under new guidelines, sunscreens labeled SPF 15 or higher are the only ones that may say that they reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. Sunscreens with a lower SPF will be required to carry a warning saying it has not been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The FDA is also telling consumers sunscreen has to be regularly applied to work and that they still must limit their exposure to the sun.  The agency is barring the use of terms such as waterproof, sweatproof and sunblock.

Sunscreens will also not be allowed to go above SPF 50 under the new guidelines because the FDA said there is no evidence that SPF values that are higher provide anymore protection from the sun.

Consumer advocacy organization the Environmental Working Group criticized the new guidelines saying they didn't go far enough. They said many products will be allowed to call themselves a "broad spectrum" sunscreen even though some may not provide enough protection, the group said in a statement.

The group also said ingredients such as oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and other ingredients should be banned from sunscreens because they can be toxic.

The group recently came out with its own sunscreen guide.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 11:10 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Consumer health

June 14, 2011

Healthcare reform attacked in GOP debate

It's no secret most Republicans are no fans of President Obama's healthcare reform law.

So it came to no surprise that it was heavily criticized during Monday night's GOP debate.

But the presidential hopefuls were fairly muted in their criticism of GOP front runner Mitt Romney, who was governor of Massachusetts when healthcare reform passed there.

They treaded lightly around the subject choosing to attack the president rather than each other. Even Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who this weekend called Romney's healthcare plan "Obamneycare," wouldn't broach the issue.

Romney has defended his plan, in part saying it didn't raise taxes so was different from the federal plan.

What did you all think of the Republicans playing nice with each other? Should this debate have been about the who would be the best GOP candidate and not Obama policies?

What about Romney healthcare plan? Is it really any different than the federal plan?

Give us your thoughts.


Posted by Andrea Walker at 11:43 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Health care reform

June 13, 2011

Health newsletter update

Do you subscribe to our weekly health newsletter? This week, we launched our new version, which has a new look and comes out on Mondays instead of Thursdays. Check it out here.

If you don't subscribe yet, our newsletter offers the top local and national health news and trends every Monday. In addition you'll find links to upcoming web chats, local events and our health blogs. To subscribe, click here.

Posted by Kim Walker at 2:03 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Health

1 in 30 has a gambling problem in Maryland

One in 30 Marylanders have a gambling problem, according to a report released Monday by state health officials.

The report concluded that nearly 90 percent of Marylanders has ever gambled with about 22 percent gambling monthly in the past year and 15 percent gambling weekly in the past year. For most it’s a positive experience, but about 3.4 percent are pathological or problem gamblers, meaning they have lost some control or continue gambling despite adverse consequences.

The General Assembly ordered the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to study the issue as slot machine facilities open around the state, and officials plan to use the results to design prevention and treatment programs.

The study of 56,807 households was lead by the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in along with the University of Baltimore Schaefer Center for Public Policy. Data was collected between Sept. 7 and Oct. 31. Most people said they gambled to win money or have fun.

Those seeking assistance now from trained counselors can call the Maryland Problem Gambling Helpline at 800-522-4700.

“The study helps us understand the extent of problem and pathological gambling in Maryland prior to the opening of casinos in Maryland in 2010,” said Dr. Tom Cargiulo, Director of the Maryland Alcohol and Drug Abuse Administration, in a statement. “The results will help us design the next steps directed towards preventing and treating gambling disorders.”

The state approved slot machine gambling in 2007 and it was approved by voters in 2008. 

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 1:02 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Mental health

FDA concerned about drug shortages

As the country continues to face a nationwide drug shortage, federal regulators are working with drug makers to ease the impact on consumers.

The Food and Drug Administration said last week that it is asking for advanced warning of production shortages - particulary on "medically necessary" drugs.

The regulatory agency said medicine shortages are continuing to rapidly increase after reaching a record high in 2010. The number of drug shortages has nearly tripled over the last six years—jumping from 61 drug products in 2005 to 178 in 2010, according to the FDA. The figures don't include shortages of vaccines, immune globulin products, and other biologics, or products made from blood, tissue, or other biological source.

Most of the supply problems have involved “sterile injectables," or medicines that are given by injection or intravenously to patients in the hospital. The shortages include cancer drugs; anesthetics used for patients having surgery; “crash cart” drugs used in emergencies; electrolytes for patients being fed intravenously; and other drug products.

There have also been shortages of prescription drugs taken orally, including some drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The FDA has a list of drug shortages.

They also want people to let them know if patients think their drug is also limited in supply, but is not on the list.

Send the name and dose of the drug and contact information to the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at

Doctors may be able to refer other drugs if there is a shortage.

The FDA can also work with other drug makers and ask them to ramp up production if they know about a shortage ahead of time.

However, drug makers are not required legally to say if they are going to stop production of a drug.

The shortages have been caused by lack of raw materials used to make the drug and increased demand for some drugs. Some companies have simply decided to stop producing older, less profitable drugs.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Drugs

June 10, 2011

Maryland eyes bath salt drug ban

Maryland's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene announced Friday that have launched an investigation into synthetic recreational drugs known as bath salts, which could lead to a ban.

The investigation centers on the drug's active ingredients methylenedioxypyrovalerone (“MDPV”) and 4-methylmethcathinone (“mephedrone”). Those active compounds may be added to the list of controlled dangerous substances on "Schedule 1," which would effectively ban their sale in Maryland, according to a statement from the health department.

"We must be vigilant about new and potentially deadly threats to our communities,” said Governor Martin O‟Malley in a statement. “I support the state health department's effort to investigate this concern and look forward to receiving the results of the investigation.”

The health department said it is asking drug treatment providers evaluate new patients for past use of bath salts; assessing the availability of bath salts for sale in local communities; and seeking public comment on information, concerns and recommendations regarding bath salts; among other things.

The public can comment through July 11 by emailing, calling 410-767-6499, or mailing to Michele Phinney, Director, DHMH Office of Regulation and Policy Coordination, 201 W. Preston Street, Room 512, Baltimore, Md. 21201.

The Baltimore Sun recently did a story on bath salts in Maryland. Read about it here.

Posted by Kim Walker at 11:55 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Drugs

Extra folate for some, isn't hurting others

To aid women in their child bearing years who don’t get enough leafy greens, beans and citrus, folate has been added to food and supplements. But some in public health began to worry that there was too much for some people.

Folate has been added to bread and other grain products since 1998 because women with low levels were at increased risk of giving birth to a child with brain and spinal cord, or neural tube, defects. And the number of those birth defects has fallen.

Subsequent studies suggested that the extra folic acid was worsening problems for those with low levels of vitamin B12, which is used to make red blood cells. Specifically, that those with low B12 and high folate levels were more likely to have anemia than those with low B12 and normal folate levels.

But a new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health and five other institutions in the United States, Ireland and Norway, show that was unlikely. The previous studies had been conducted in older people, who may have trouble absorbing B12 and may have other medical conditions.

The newer study was done with healthy younger people to see if high folate along influenced B12 metabolism.

“Our findings are reassuring for people who have low vitamin B12 levels,” said first author Dr. James L. Mills, senior investigator in the Division of Epidemiology, Statistics and Prevention Research at the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at NIH. “We found no evidence that folate could worsen their health problems. Consuming higher amounts of folate does not seem to interfere with the body’s use of vitamin B12 in otherwise healthy individuals.”

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diet and exercise

June 9, 2011

Kids getting vaccines despite parents' concerns

Parents aren’t all convinced that childhood vaccines against diseases are all safe and necessary, but are still largely getting them for their kids, a new survey shows.

The survey was analyzed by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Vaccine Program Office. The officials concluded in this month in the journal Health Affairs more needs to be done to convey the vaccine’s benefits and low risks.

“The good news is that almost all parents are getting their children vaccinated. But that doesn’t necessarily mean all parents have a high level of confidence in those vaccines,” said lead author Allison Kennedy, an epidemiologist in CDC’s Immunization Services Division, in a statement.

“These findings point us toward what we need to focus on to better answer questions and concerns parents have about why immunization is important.”

The vaccines are best before age two when children are most vulnerable, she said. But some parents still associate them with autism and learning disabilities. Parents said they got information from pediatricians, family, friends and, increasingly, the Internet. 

About 23 percent of 376 parents surveyed had no concern about vaccines. But the others were concerned about such things as pain from shots, too many shots in one visit, too many vaccine before age two, unsafe ingredients, the level of safety testing and the low instance of some diseases. About two percent said they would get no vaccine for their children.

Reuters photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Pediatrics

June 8, 2011

Get Fresh Baltimore ads made by kids for kids


City officials headed to Moravia Elementary School today to unveil a new advertising campaign aimed at getting kids to eat better.

Public health officials had been grappling with how to tackle the growing rates of obesity and related health problems in youth and decided to get the kids directly involved in the effort.

They got 2,000 elementary kids at four city schools this spring to develop the ads. Some 250 of those were selected for use on city buses that will circulate in their neighborhoods through October.

The campaign, part of an effort called Get Fresh Baltimore, also involves classroom instruction on healthy food choices that officials hope the kids will take home to their families and friends.

When the effort was announced in December, Holly Freishtat, the city’s food czar who is overseeing the campaign, said that kids were being influences by so many things.

“Kids are eating out more,” she said at the time. “They are also spending hours a day on the computer and watching TV and being bombarded by advertising. This is why food literacy is so important. We need to create a society with youth who are able to consciously decide what is healthy food and what is not.”

Baltimore Sun photo of Kimoralyn Coles, 3, poses in front of some ads/Gabe Dinsmoor

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 2:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diet and exercise

Tips for seniors to brave the heat

heat and the elderlyThe steamy temperatures can be dangerous for everyone, but even more so for the elderly.

Exposure to extreme heat results in hundreds of deaths each year and those older than age 65 are most vulnerable. Six seniors died heat-related deaths in Maryland last year.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins say there are precautions seniors should take when it's extremely hot outside.

“The elderly can’t feel the heat or cool down as easily and they are less likely to feel thirsty even when they are almost dehydrated,” Alicia I. Arbaje, assistant professor and associate director of transitional care research in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a statement. “The chronic medical problems that most seniors face, in addition to the medicines used to treat them, can make it more difficult to be in the heat.” Arbaje’s advises the following safety tips for seniors:

• “Staying hydrated is key,” she explains, but “water is not enough when you are sweating. Replenish your body with sports drinks, because they contain the salt that your body is losing in sweat.”

• Avoid demanding or exhausting activities in the heat. But, if you must be outside, dress in lightweight, light-colored clothing.

• Dizziness, confusion, weakness, headache, muscle cramps, nausea/vomiting, a fast pulse, sweating, or passing out are warning signs that could signal dehydration or heat stroke.

• “Anyone who is taking medications should speak to their doctor if they are spending a great deal of time in the heat. The doctor may suggest lowering the dose or even advise you to stop taking the medicine until you can get out of the heat,” Arbaje says.

Along with these tips, the CDC suggests that “air-conditioning is the number one protective factor against heat-related illness and death.” If an individual does not have access to air conditioning, they should spend their time at public facilities, such as the library, mall, or senior center that is air-conditioned.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 1:08 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: General Health

Patient safety center gets well known director

Well-known patient safety expert Dr. Peter Pronovost has been named director of the new Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins, where researchers aim to discover new ways to cut down on preventable harm.

Pronovost, a professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at Hopkins, is known widely for developing a checklist to prevent central-line bloodstream infections in ICUs. It’s been adopted in most Maryland hospitals and facilities around the nation and has shown to wipe out the potenetially deadly infections.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that such infections are down 58 percent nationally.

But there are many other kinds of harm, from medication mistakes to misdiagnoses to health disparities. Pronovost will oversee all efforts and will focus on research that will benefit Hopkins and the greater medical community.

"Our team has proved you can take one safety problem and nearly eliminate it by bringing science to the delivery of health care and by using our hospital as a laboratory," said Pronovost in a statement. "Now we want to scale up for all other types of preventable harm using this model of research, practice and evaluation and share that with the world too. We have an amazing team of interdisciplinary researchers and safety leaders to guide the way. I am honored and humbled to be given the opportunity to do just that."

Baltimore Sun file photo of Dr. Pronovost/Kenneth K. Lam

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Safety

June 7, 2011

DASH Diet best way to lose weight, according to new rankings

dash diet obesityThe DASH Diet, designed initially to help people lower their blood pressure and sodium levels, is also the best eating plan to lose weight, according to a ranking of diets by U.S. News & World Report released today.

The panel of 22 experts who came up with the rankings for the magazine said the DASH Diet, which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was "heart-healthy and nutritionally sound."

Three diets tied for the  No. 2 position: the Mediterranean Diet, the TLC Diet and Weight Watchers.

The DASH diets consists of eating lots of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or non-fat dairy products and whole graints. It is high fiber and rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Read what my colleagues at the Exercists blog had to say about the DASH diet.

Consumer Reports also did a ranking recently of diets. They said Jenny Craig was the best.

What diets have worked for you guys?

Posted by Andrea Walker at 11:55 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diet and exercise

June 6, 2011

1,000 doctors sign up for electronic medical records

More than 1,000 Maryland doctors have signed up to adopt electronic medical records, state officials said today.

The primary care physicians are using records through a state network called the Chesapeake Regional Information System for our Patients (CRISP). They will receive state and federal incentives for using the computerized records.

Hundreds of other doctors are also using electronic records but may not have signed onto the state exchange.

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown made the announcement during a visit to the Charlestown Retirement Community in Cantonsville.

 Governor Martin O’Malley and Brown have a goal to create a a health information exchange by the end of 2012 and encourage widespread use of electronic medical records. The records are also being pushed under federal healthcare reform.

Maryland has received nearly $27 million in federal funds to assist in the expansion of electronic records.

Advocates of the records say that patients will get better care because phyisicans have better access to the drug and medical history of the patients. They also say it will cut down costs. There are some concerns over privcay in using the digitized systems.

 CRISP was formed as a not-for-profit collaborative in 2009 by Erickson Living, Johns Hopkins Medicine, MedStar Health, and the University of Maryland. CRISP received a federal grant of $6.4 million in 2010 to help electronically connect at least 1,000 healthcare providers.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 3:28 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Health

Geniuses talk about conveying their ideas

Wonder what geniuses think about?

Johns Hopkins is launching a free speaker series today with seven recipients of MacArthur “genius” fellowships from Maryland, Virginia and Washington.

The first annual event, open to the public, will center on communication, specifically how the geniuses get peers, policymakers and the public to pay attention to their work and ideas. Organizers at Hopkins say they aim to inspire lively exchange and creative collaboration.

No reservations or tickets are required for the panel discussion, question-and-answer session and reception this evening from 4 p.m.-6 p.m. at the Anne and Mike Armstrong Medical Education Building of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1600 McElderry St. in Baltimore. Parking is available in the McElderry Street Garage. See a map.

On the panel, chaired by Atul Nakhasi, a first-year Johns Hopkins medical student, and moderated by Joann Rodgers, veteran science journalist and senior communications advisor at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics:

+Marin Alsop, conductor, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (MacArthur Fellow ’05)
+Dr. Lisa Cooper, internist and epidemiologist, the Johns Hopkins University (MacArthur Fellow ’07)
+Ruth DeFries, environmental geographer, University of Maryland (MacArthur Fellow ‘07)
+Janine Jagger, epidemiologist, University of Virginia (MacArthur Fellow ’02)
+Liz Lerman, choreographer and founder, Dance Exchange (MacArthur Fellow ’02)
+Dr. Peter Pronovost, patient safety expert, the Johns Hopkins University (MacArthur Fellow ’08)
+Adam Reiss, astrophysicist, the Johns Hopkins University (MacArthur Fellow ’08)

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Health, Health care professionals

June 3, 2011

Map shows toll in America of HIV 30 years later


It’s just about 30 years since the first case of AIDS was diagnosed, unleashing an epidemic. And while those with HIV can now have a relatively normal life span, thanks to effective medications, new cases are still cropping up at rates that frustrate public health officials.

To give the public an idea of the prevalence rates (the percentage of people with HIV at this time), the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University have created an interactive map. It can be found at and can break down the rates by state and county – and can show where the need for testing and treatment are most urgent.

Those who put up the map plan to update it regularly.

 “AIDSVu is an important new public health tool that makes data on the geography of HIV in the United States available to anyone with an Internet connection,” said Dr. James Curran, dean of the Rollins School, in a statement. “AIDSVu shows us that every area of the country is affected by HIV, and we hope that AIDSVu helps individuals better understand HIV in their communities and take charge of their health.”

The data come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and were compiled by Rollins School researchers with help from a host of others.

Take a look at the map. The researchers note that the Northeast and South are most heavily impacted (and Maryland is right up there), as are black and Hispanic populations in the cities and rural areas. In total, more than a million Americans have HIV, and one in five doesn’t know it.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: HIV/AIDS

Heart smart walking path reopens this weekend

Walking is one of the easiest exercise routines for most people to start.

It's cheap and most people are coordinated enough to do it.

To encourage people to walk, Franklin Square Hospital Center and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Maryland Park Service will reopen the state’s first Heart Smart Trail this weekend.

The Heart Smart Trail is a one-mile walking path at Gunpowder Falls State Park.

Its reopening will take place Sunday, which is National Trails Day. The festivities, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., are open to the public and include a ribbon cutting ceremony, health awareness activities, raffles and prizes. Pets are welcome. 

 The event is at the Sweathouse Branch Area of Gunpowder Falls State Park, which is off of Belair Road and Route 1 in Kingsville.

Posted by Andrea Walker at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diet and exercise

June 2, 2011

Sunscreen guide offers tips, product reviews


The Environmental Working Group is out with its sunscreen guide, as usual, they don’t recommend a lot of the products – only one in five.

There are not federal safety guidelines, so that left the group to do its own analysis about what is safe and effective. In all, the group rated more than 1,700 sunscreens, lip balms, and SPF moisturizers and makeup.

On the list of sunscreens the researchers liked included such brands as Alba, Badger, Kiss My Face and Sun Bunnies. Some ingredients they liked included zinc, titanium dioxide and avobenzone. They also like water-resistant creams that were 30 SPF.

Some things they didn’t like were oxybenzone, Vitamin A and added insect repellent. They also didn’t like sprays, powders and any SPF above 50 because they were dangerous or ineffective.

Of course, they also recommended staying out of the sun.

See the whole report here.

AP photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cancer, Consumer health, Environmental health

June 1, 2011

Make sure to get enough water, shade for the heat


It’s the third day of the extreme heat, and state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene officials are warning everyone to take precautions.

There is a heat advisory today from noon to 8 p.m. in Maryland’s capital region, as well as the central and southern regions.

“Each consecutive day of severe heat increases the health risks for our most vulnerable Marylanders, especially seniors, children and anyone with serious underlying health conditions,” said Frances Phillips, the state health department’s deputy secretary for public health services, in a statement. “We urge everyone to take precautions for their families, pets and any neighbors who might be at higher risk because of their health or home conditions.”

State officials said 51 people went to emergency rooms in Maryland because of dehydrations but there have been no confirmed heat-related deaths so far this season. Last summer, there were 32 deaths. In 2009, there were 6, in 2008 there were 17 and in 2007 there were 21.

Local health departments, including Baltimore’s, have opened cooling centers. To find one, click here.

Officials say to keep a closer eye on the vulnerable, including infants and young children, young athletes, seniors and those with health conditions. They also recommend asking your doctor if you need to take extra care in hot weather if you are on prescription medication.

For everyone else, stay inside as much as possible, on lower floors if possible. If you go out, try and aim before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m. Wear light colored and loose fitting clothes, drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks if you are outside. Don’t leave the kids or pets in the car.

Baltimore Sun file photo/Jed Kirschbaum

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Safety

Health chat at noon on hand, wrist pain

Join us June 1 at noon EST at for a live chat on hand pain issues with Dr. Paul Christo a pain specialist at Johns Hopkins. Many people suffer from arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis of the wrist, ganglion cysts and other conditions. Recently, research out of The University College London said crossing your arms will confuse the brain and relieve pain. If you have questions on these or other topics, then mark your calendar.

Christo is director of the Multidisciplinary Pain Fellowship Training Program at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He also has a radio talk show Saturday nights on WBAL.

Can't make the chat? Email questions in advance to and come back to read the transcript.

Posted by Kim Walker at 10:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: General Health

Lower carb, higher fat diets don't harm hearts


A low-carbohydrate diet that has some extra fat won’t harm a person’s arteries, according to new research.

The diets – known as the Atkins, South Beach and Zone diets – remain popular and researchers say some have worried the extra fat was a heart-heath issue.

“Overweight and obese people appear to really have options when choosing a weight-loss program, including a low-carb diet, and even if it means eating more fat,” said Kerry Stewart, a Johns Hopkins exercise physiologist and the studies’ lead investigator, in a statement.

Stewart, a professor of medicine and director of clinical and research exercise physiology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and its Heart and Vascular Institute said his research looked at the low-carb, higher fat diet and the high-carb, lower fat diet. Stewart believes his team’s analysis is the first direct comparison of either kind of diets’ effects on vascular health. He studied 46 people trying to lose weight with diet and moderate exercise.

The results will be presented June 3 at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine in Denver. It found a group of 23 men and women weighing an average of 218 pounds showed no change in vascular health after losing 10 pounds. They also appeared to lose weight faster than those who were on the higher-carb, lower-fat diet. 

Stewart said the study can reassure both camps that weight loss is effective and the low-carb, higher-fat diet doesn’t seem to pose heart risks, at least in the short term. He also said an over-emphasis on low-fat diets may be contributing to the obesity epidemic by encouraging over-consumption of high-carb foods that are less filling.

He also emphasized that moderating the number of calories, rather than the specific diet, and exercising was important for diet and heart health.

Getty Images photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Diet and exercise
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About Picture of Health
Meredith CohnMeredith Cohn has been a reporter since 1991, covering everything from politics and airlines to the environment and medicine. A runner since junior high and a particular eater for almost as long, she tries to keep up on health and fitness trends. Her aim is to bring you the latest news and information from the local and national medical and wellness communities.

Andrea K. WalkerAndrea K. Walker knows it’s weird to some people, but she has a fascination with fitness, diseases, medicine and other health-related topics. She subscribes to a variety of health and fitness magazines and becomes easily engrossed in the latest research in health and science. An exercise fanatic, she’s probably tried just about every fitness activity there is. Her favorites are running, yoga and kickboxing. So it is probably fitting that she has been assigned to cover the business of healthcare and to become a regular contributor to this blog. Andrea has been at The Sun for nearly 10 years, covering manufacturing, retail , airlines and small and minority business. She looks forward to telling readers about the latest health news.

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