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November 8, 2011

National test of emergency communications planned

Officials at The Federal Emergency Management Agency said they plan to conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

The test will last about 30 seconds and will preempt all television, radio, cable and satellite shows across the United States, as compared to the local tests that most everyone has likely witnessed.
The agency wanted the public to be aware that it’s a test and not a real emergency.

“This first national test will ensure the readiness of the Emergency Alert System to deliver critical life-saving information,” said MaryAnn Tierney, FEMA Region III's regional administrator, in a statement.

The national Emergency Alert System provides information to the public during all kinds of emergencies and can be activated by the president. The test is a joint effort by FEMA, the Federal Communications Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The system can be used to provide local alerts as well as national ones.

For more information about becoming prepared, go to www.ready.gov.

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

August 22, 2011

Health officials warn of case of measles on Amtrak

State health officials are warning passengers who rode Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train #171 on Aug. 17 that they may have been exposed to a person with measles.

The passenger boarded the train in Philadelphia and went onto Aberdeen, Baltimore, BWI Airport and new Carrollton, ending in Lynchburg, Va., at 8:36 p.m.

Passengers should look for signs of the viral infection, which is spread through coughing, sneezing and contact with secretions from the nose and mouth of an infected person. The first stage brings fever, runny nose, watery red eyes and a cough. Then, on the third to seventh day, a rash will appear on the face and spread.

If you were exposed and show symptoms, call your doctor for instructions. Measles is contagious.

There have been no cases among Maryland residents since 2009, though a non-Maryland residents who had traveled to the state was diagnosed in June 2011.

For more information, go to the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene's website.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 3:44 PM | | Comments (0)
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August 8, 2011

State initiative aims to cut down on wasted blood

 

Blood is often in short supply across Maryland, so state officials created an initiative with 44 acute care hospitals with blood banks and the American Red Cross to cut down on waste.

Lt. Governor Anthony Brown plans to head to Johns Hopkins University Tuesday to discuss the Maryland Health Quality and Cost Council’s Reduction of Blood Wastage Collaborative. He’ll also talk about the importance of giving blood and a blood drive will be held.

According to the Red Cross, someone across the country needs blood every two seconds, so more than 38,000 donations are needed daily. About 5 million patients receive blood in the United States each year, and the average transfusion is approximately 3 pints.

Type O, the universal donor, is requested most often. All kinds of people need blood, from sickle cell disease sufferers who need transfusions throughout their lives, to those with cancer who often need blood during chemotherapy to car accident victims who may use as much as 100 pints of blood.

Donors, about 9.5 million who give 16 million donations annually, typically say they want to help. But just over a third of the population is eligible to give blood. The Red Cross says that a person who begins donating at age 17 and donates every 56 days until age 76 will have donated 48 gallons and potentially saved more than 1,000 lives.

To schedule an appointment or get more information, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or go to www.redcrossblood.org.

Patuxent Publishing file photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 1:00 PM | | Comments (3)
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July 28, 2011

Researchers predict fertility more accurately

Governments need to plan for roads and schools and other services, so they estimate the number of people who might be around in coming years to use them.

A new study may help make the educated guesswork a little more scientific. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, proposes a new method of predicting fertility rates by using a new statistical technique.

The new method mathematically compensates for uncertainty and should allow governments that more specific information on large-scale population changes that they need to plan for infrastructure and services.

The conventional method of predicting the fertility rate relies on the average number of times a woman gives birth during a lifetime and the estimated change to the number as a woman ages. Analysts create a range by adding and subtracting .5 children to the average rate predicted. But they could not calculate how likely it was that variations would actually occur.

The new method uses a statistical formula to take into account historical fertility estimates and the likelihood of future trends. It uses the historical rates for the country as well as 195 other countries, since fertility patterns are the same in all countries.

Authors of the study say the new method has a 1 in 10 chance that the fertility rate will be greater or less than that actually observed. The findings appear in the journal Demography.

“More accurate forecasts of fertility trends will allow officials to better plan for a country’s municipal, economic and social needs,” said the program official for the study, Michael Spittel, in a statement. Spittel was formerly of the Demographic and Behavioral Sciences branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the NIH institute that funded the study, and now at the NIH’s Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research.

Researchers came from the National University of Singapore, the University of Washington in Seattle, the United Nations, South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand and the INDEPTH research network.

They looked at fertility rates over time to help develop the model. Women used to give birth to an average of six or seven children, then five children and then a stable two, or replacement level. In the last five years, 20 countries have entered this phase. The United States fell below the replacement rate and then recovered to two today.

Using this information, the researchers were able to forecast trends through 2100 using the new method.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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May 24, 2011

New senator wants to keep practicing medicine

Freshman Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, wants to keep seeing patients and performing surgeries while he's in office but ethics rules prohibit collecting money from outside employment, according to this story in Politico.

Paul is an ophthamologist and said he'd lose his skills if he stops practicing. And giving away services is tough considering he still has to pay for expensive equipment and liability insurance.

Others have tried in the past to get the ban lifted, including Sen. Tim Coburn, an obstetrician and Oklahoma Republican. But the Senate hasn't budged on pay, though the lawmakers can work in not-for-profit hospitals and not be personally compensated.

What do you think? Would allowing these doctors to accept pay open the floodgates? Is doctoring okay but not consulting, or selling real estate or practicing law?

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 11:48 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

April 27, 2011

Lung Association says air quality better, but not good

Many metro areas around the country, including Baltimore-Washington, have made improvements in air quality in the last year, but half the nation still has unhealthy level of air pollution, according to the annual State of the Air report from the American Lung Association.

The bad air that some 154.5 million people breathe contains ozone (smog) or particle pollution (soot) from smokestacks and tailpipes that can cause early death, asthma exacerbations, coughing and wheezing, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits.

The good news, the lung association said, was that in the last year all metro area surrounding the 25 cities most polluted by ozone showed improvement – Baltimore-Washington-Northern Virginia, with 8.4 million people, is No. 14 on this list, up a spot from last year. And all but two of the 25 cities most polluted with year-round particle pollution improved. Only 11, however, of those most polluted by short-term spokes in particle pollution saw improvement.

“State of the Air tells us that the progress the nation has made cleaning up coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions and other pollution sources has drastically cut dangerous pollution from the air we breathe,” said Charles D. Connor, American Lung Association president and chief executive. “We owe our cleaner air to the Clean Air Act.”

The lung association decried efforts in Congress to weaken the act, which the Environmental Protection Agency credits with saving more than 160,000 lives last year.

The group used the color-coated air quality index that warns the public of bad air quality days used by the EPA. It considers ozone and particle pollution, the most widespread types of air pollution. The data in the report, which can be found at stateoftheair.org, is from 2007-2009.
The cleanest cities were Honolulu and Santa Fe-Espanola, N.M. Most of the dirtiest were cities in California, lead by Bakersfield and Los Angeles-Riverside.

In Maryland, Baltimore City and Garrett County were the only two areas without a failing grade for high ozone days. And only Harford and Frederick made the list of cleanest counties for short-term particle pollution.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Cardiovascular Health, Consumer health, News roundup
        

December 16, 2010

CDC says 1 in 6 people get sick from their food

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is out with new estimates about how many people get sick from foodborne illnesses every year and it’s a lot of people – 48 million, or 1 in 6 Americans.

About 3,000 die from forborne diseases.

The CDC has had estimate before, but the agency believes these are the most accurate.

“We've made progress in better understanding the burden of foodborne illness and unfortunately, far too many people continue to get sick from the food they eat,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director, in a statement. “These estimates provide valuable information to help CDC and its partners set priorities and further reduce illnesses from food.”

The new estimates are lower than past estimate because the agency says it’s using better methodology.

About 90 percent of estimated illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths were due to seven pathogens: Salmonella, norovirus, Campylobacter, Toxoplasma, E.coli O157, Listeria and Clostridium perfringens.

There have been several recalls in recent years, including a massive egg recall in August, and government officials are calling for passage of a new food safety bill that would give the Food and Drug Administration greater authority over the food system.

Have you gotten sick from your food? Learn about preventing illness at www.foodsafety.gov.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

August 31, 2010

Department of Justice seeks stay on stem cell ruling

 

The U.S. Department of Justice has asked the federal judge who halted federal funding for embryonic stem cell research to lift his injunction while it appeals the ruling.

That ruling roiled researchers around the nation and locally, who had won federal grants for research. They weren’t sure if they could touch experiments in their labs aimed at finding treatments for many kinds of disease.

The Obama administration had allowed many more stem cell lines to be used for research than the Bush administration. But the ruling last week by Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia potentially put all of the lines off limits. He cited a 1996 law that barred the destruction of embryos during research.

A collection of groups had filed suit, many who didn’t want embryos destroyed. But the only two left by the judge as plaintiffs were a pair of adult stem cell researchers who said grant money had become harder to come by.

At least one $500,000 project at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University has been put in danger. The Justice department had told researchers they could continue with money already granted. The grants are all annual. Read about the original ruling and that project here.

And here is the Associated Press story.

Should the judge lift the injunction during the appeal? Should Congress change the law?

Baltimore Sun file photo of the local stem cell experiment/Jed Kirschbaum

 

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 4:29 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

August 23, 2010

Judge blocks Obama stem cell regulations

A federal judge today blocked, at least temporarily, the Obama administration regulation expanding stem cell research, according to this Associated Press story.

A nonprofit called Nightlight Christian Adoptions argued that the regs would mean fewer embryos would be available for adoption. And the judge agreed to let them pursue the case.

The embryos are left over from IVF cycles and used by infertile couples. The Obama administration wanted them made available for research into disease treatment.

Stem cells are one of those issue that people have strong feelings about because of the potential to save lives with research and, in this case, the distruction of embryos that could become live humans.

A July 2009 survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found 93 percent of scientists favor federal funding for embryonic stem cell research but only 58 percent of the public favored it.

Which way do you lean?

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 6:05 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: News roundup
        

August 19, 2010

Egg recall grows with salmonella reports

 

The eggs recall has continued to grow because hundreds of people have been been sickened by salmonella.

This Associated Press story says people in four states -- not Maryland -- have become sick and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the eggs. Some 228 million eggs, or the equivalent of 19 million dozen-egg cartons, were initially recalled by Wright County Egg of Galt, Iowa. Now the number is nearly 32 million dozen-egg cartons.

The CDC is also offering this tip sheet for people so they can avoid getting sick. The agency says to refrigerate eggs to keep salmonella from growing and thoroughly cook them to kill bacteria. Officials also say to wash your hands after handling eggs, don't eat cracked eggs or raw eggs, don't eat eggs left out for more than two hours and avoid restaurant food made with raw egg such as Ceasar salad dressing and Hollandaise sauce.

People ususally get sick within 12 to 72 hours after eating contaminated food. They get a fever, cramps and diarrhea lasting 4 to 7 days. Most recover without antibiotics, though the elderly, infants and those with weakened immune systems may have more severe complications.

If you get sick and suspect contaminated eggs, report it to the local health department.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:55 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

May 13, 2010

Maryland breaks ground on new trauma center

 

If you've suffered serious trauma in an accident in the greater Baltimore area, there's a strong likelihood you'll be taken to Maryland Shock Trauma. About 8,000 people a year go to Maryland, and officials say it's time to expand.

The University of Maryland Medical Center plans a groundbreaking ceremony today at 10 a.m. for its new $160 million building. 

The nine-story tower, at Penn and Lombard streets, will significantly expand the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. It will add capacity to the adult and pediatric emergency departments and to intensive care.

To pay for the growth, Maryland will also launch a major fundraising campaign with Cal Ripken, Jr. serving as honorary chairman.

The current Shock Trauma building is 20 years old. The new tower, scheduled to be completed in 2013, will be 140,000 square feet and house 10 high-tech operating rooms and 64 new and replacement critical care beds. It will connect to the existing building.

Artist's rendering courtesy of the University of Maryland Medical Center

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

April 29, 2010

Lung association says air quality is lacking

 

The American Lung Association has released a new report that says the Baltimore-Washington region doesn’t have the cleanest air in the nation, but made some improvements since last year.

It still may be bad enough to harm those with asthma and other conditions, as well as young and older people. 

The State of the Air 2010 report finds that a decade’s worth of clean-up efforts, which include emissions reductions at coal-fired plants and a transition to cleaner diesel fuels, have made the nation’s air better in general. That helped this area reduce its levels of smog and soot.

The report says, however, that more than half the U.S. population suffers pollution levels that are often dangerous. Some cities, mostly in California, had dirtier air than in last year’s report.

“State of the Air 2010 proves with hard data that cleaning up air pollution produces healthier air,” said Mary H. Partridge, the American Lung Association’s national board chair, in a statement. “However, more needs to be done. We are working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on additional measures that will require even greater clean up of power plants. We are also calling for additional funding to install equipment to clean up the 20 million dirty diesel vehicles currently on the road polluting U.S. cities every day.”

The Baltimore-Washington area had the 16th worst air by ozone, or smog. And it had the 18th worst by short-term particle pollution, or soot. Air pollution data was collected in 2006-2008 around the nation.

Continue reading "Lung association says air quality is lacking" »

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 11:28 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: News roundup
        

April 22, 2010

It's Earth Day and even the hospitals are green

 

It's Earth Day and the University of Maryland Medical Center is getting in on the action with a "scrub swap," office-supply exchange and clean-up activities.

Officials at the center say these kinds of activities and other green initiatives are helping reduce energy consumption and eliminate waste. They are also saving the hospital tens of thousands of dollars a year.

Here are some of the elements included in the hospital's “Green on Greene Street” campaign (the hospital is on Greene Street):

+Recycling “sharps” containers, diverting 34 tons of plastic from the waste stream, which will save more than $100,000 this year;
+Using more environmentally friendly plastic IV tubing throughout the hospital, saving $8,000;
+Purchasing patient slippers made out of recycled cotton, saving another $6,000 annually;
+Starting a full-scale waste separation and single-stream recycling program for paper, plastic, glass and aluminum that has reduced the amount of waste in the first year by nearly 600,000 pounds and increased recycling by 210,000 pounds;
+Reducing energy consumption by 5 percent a year through better management techniques and equipment, despite an increase in the number of patients;
+Starting a weekly University Farmers’ Market to increase the availability of locally grown foods, and making more local and organic foods available in the cafeteria.

As for that scrub swap, employees will donate their old scrubs and shop for “new” ones -- these aren't ones from the operating rooms, if you were wondering. Employees will also exchange office supplies to get rid of stuff they don't use and get stuff they need. 

“We’ve had considerable success in reducing our environmental footprint since we first started this program in late 2007,” said Denise Choiniere, the center's sustainability manager. “We need to dispel the myth that ‘going green’ is more expensive."

Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland Medical Center

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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April 16, 2010

Hospital visitation rights for same-sex couples

President Obama ordered hospitals yesterday to extend visitation rights to gay and lesbian couples. The order applies to hospitals that receive Medicaid or Medicare funding -- which is the vast majority nationwide -- and builds off similar measures in states such as Maryland.

Here, lawmakers passed legislation in 2008 giving unmarried couples a number of health-related rights, such as medical and funeral decision-making and hospital visitation. It was seen as a huge victory by gay rights advocates who fought for a number of bills including same-sex marriage legislation, which failed.

The president's order has little effect on Maryland's hospitals which have "been doing this for years," said Jessica Jackson, a spokeswoman at the Maryland Hospital Association. 

Nevertheless, specifying that same-sex couples can no longer be treated any differently than heterosexual couples when it comes to visitation has been hailed as a huge step toward equality by gay rights supporters. Meanwhile, some opponents called the order "pandering," and that it "undermines the definition of marriage," the WSJ reports.

Said Obama in his memo: 

"There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean -- a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them."

"Every day, all across America, patients are denied the kindnesses and caring of a loved one at their sides -- whether in a sudden medical emergency or a prolonged hospital stay...uniquely affected are gay and lesbian Americans who are often barred from the bedsides of the partners with whom they may have spent decades of their lives -- unable to be there for the person they love, and unable to act as a legal surrogate if their partner is incapacitated."

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 1:47 PM | | Comments (0)
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April 2, 2010

Governor declares April as Autism Awareness Month

Gov. Martin O'Malley has proclaimed April as Autism Awareness Month in response to the "alarming" increase in the diagnosis of austism spectrum disorders.  

Maryland has seen a 57 percent increase in the number of autism-related diagnoses from 2002-2006.  

"A growing number of Maryland families need the research, intervention and continuous care to properly deal with an autism-related diagnosis," said O'Malley, in a statement. "We want to understand the state-of-the-art in autism programs so we can provide the highest level of assistance possible to every Maryland child and adult with this unique need."

In response, state legislators passed a bill last year to form the the Maryland Commission on Austism. The panel is chaired by health and education officials and is working on a comprehensive statewide austism plan. The next meeting is late April but there will be fact-finding session in different regions of the state. A preliminary report is due June 1, 2011, and a final report is due a year later.

For information on the commission's work and meetings, click here.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: News roundup
        

March 26, 2010

Johns Hopkins finding more MRSA in kids

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Children's Center have found that more kids are coming in with community-aquired MRSA, the super bug that is often resistent to antibiotics.

The kids aren't always sick from MRSA, but are carriers who pose a threat to other patients.

The researchers have found that screening all patients as they come into the ICU and then every week is helpful in controlling the spread.

The researchers said it was once very uncommon for kids to come in with community-acquired infections with the drug-resistent strains of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureaus. But the findings, to be published in the April edition of the journal Emerging Infectous Diseases, show that the Hopkins policy of screening everyone is beneficial.

This infection causes skin and soft-tissue infections, but in sick people or those with compromised immune systems, it can be deadly.

The Johns Hopkins Hospital began screening all patients in 2007 regardless of symptoms.

“MRSA has become so widespread in the community, that it’s become nearly impossible to predict which patients harbor MRSA on their body,” said lead investigator Dr. Aaron Milstone, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hopkins Children’s, in a statement.

“Point-of-admission screening in combination with other preventive steps, like isolating the patient and using contact precaution, can help curb the spread of dangerous bacterial infections to other vulnerable patients.”

The hopkins study found 6 percent of the 1,674 children admitted to the pediatric ICU at Hopkins Children’s between 2007 and 2008 carried MRSA but had no active infection. Of the 72 who tested positive, 60 percent had the community-acquired strain and 75 percent of the carriers had no history of MRSA. It was more common in kids 3 years old on average, and among African-American children, though researchers don't know why. Eight patients acquired MRSA while in the ICU, with 4 developing signs of infection.

The research was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Thomas Wilson Sanitarium for Children in Baltimore and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other investigators in the study included Dr. Karen Carroll, Tracy Ross, Alexander Shangraw and Dr. Trish Perl, all of Hopkins.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 1:00 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: News roundup
        

March 10, 2010

Food companies get 'F' for marketing to kids

Three quarters of the 128 companies get a failing grade for their policies on marketing food to kids, according to a new report card from the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Those companies had weak policies or no policies, the nonprofit group said.

The highest grade -- a B+ -- went to Mars Inc., but the group was sure the highlight that it was not for the food the company sells, such as candy. It was because the company policy says there is no marketing to kids under 12. 

Procter & Gamble, maker of Pringles, got a B. Six others got a B-, 17 got a C, 7 a D.  Ninety-five companies got an F.

“Despite the industry’s self-regulatory system, the vast majority of food and entertainment companies have no protections in place for children,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan, in a statement.  “If companies were marketing bananas and broccoli, we wouldn’t be concerned.  But instead, most of the marketing is for sugary cereals, fast food, snack foods, and candy.  And this junk food marketing is a major contributor to childhood obesity.”

Companies spend about $2 billion a year marketing to kids. And the group points to an Institute of Medicine study that showed TV commercials affect children’s food choices, food purchase requests, diets and health. 

Some of the worst in the CSPI study were Denny’s; Lucasfilms, which partners with McDonald's;  Topps, which markets a miniature candy baby bottle, eaten by dipping a candy nipple in a sugary powder and licking it off.

A self-regulatory program by the Council of Better Business Bureaus, called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, was introduced in 2006. It got 16 food and restaurant companies that represent about 80 percent of television food advertising expenditures to commit to no marketing to children under 12 if the companies' individual nutritional standards weren't met, but the standards are carefully tailored, the group said, and allow junk-food advertising to kdis.

The group found 80 percent of food ads on the kids channel Nickelodeon were for junk food.

The Federal Trade Commission plans in the next few weeks to propose nutrition criteria and other standards for foods aimed at kids. They would be voluntary.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Diet and exercise, News roundup
        

March 8, 2010

H1N1 flu appears to have finally abated

The H1N1 flu pandemic that swept through the region and the nation and made millions of people sick, appears to have abated before the end of the traditional flu season, according experts I talked to for my story on the flu in yesterday's Sun.

There also appears to be little traditional flu going around.

And while, public health officials aren't ready to declare the flu totally gone -- a DC-area man died in late February -- they are saying that they don't see a big new wave, at least in areas that were hard hit already.

So many people have had the flu or gotten the vaccine that we may have something of a herd immunity going. About a third of people normally get the flu vaccine and more than that are estimated to have gotten the traditional flu shots this year. A little less than a third have gotten the H1N1 vaccine, but it's still be handed out.

Officials still suggest getting immunized. It's free at all the local health departments. All the vaccine you get in your life adds up, and this new and unique virus could still return.

As for deaths, this season appears to have been less deadly overall that past years, though the finally tally isn't in and may never be known. Many people are never tested and their cause of death is often listed as a complication or underlying health condition. So far, the state has counted 44 deaths from lab-confirmed H1N1 influenza, a disproportionate number of which were kids. 

Seasonal flu and complications including pneumonia typically kills 1,000. They are usually elderly people with underlying health conditions, which is why the number is so high.

Baltimore Sun photo of H1N1 vaccine at the Howard County health department/Lloyd Fox

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 11:09 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: News roundup, Swine flu/H1N1
        

March 4, 2010

FDA cracks down on misleading food labels

Dreyers Grand Ice Cream Inc., Gorton's Inc., POM Wonderful and Beechnut were some of the companies that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says use misleading labels.

The government's main food cop has sent letters to 17 companies telling them to correct the label violations on 22 products.

The companies have run afoul of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act with claims like the products prevent disease or are healthy when they don't meet the official definition or contain no trans fats when they are high in saturated fats.

In October 2009 the FDA encouraged the companies to review their labels to make sure they were truthful and not misleading. A letter that went to the companies yesterday basically said the FDA means it this time.

"Today, ready access to reliable information about the calorie and nutrient content of food is even more important, given the prevalence of obesity and diet-related diseases in the United States,"  Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret Hamburg said in the letter.

The companies have 15 business days to tell the FDA how they will correct their labels.

The FDA also plans to propose new rules about calorie and nutrient labeling on the front of food packages to make it easier for consumer to know which items are healthy. 

On the deceptive labels, the Center for Science in the Public Interest called the FDA's move the "largest crackdown on deceptive labeling in over a decade." But the group called for binding regulation for all companies. It released a report recently that found other misleading labels that so far have not been addressed.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Diet and exercise, News roundup
        

February 26, 2010

Live chat here on Tuesday on mammograms

Do you  have questions about mammograms?

Get them ready because Tuesday we're having a live chat on the blog at noon with Dr. Jean Warner from Mercy Medical Center.

Dr. Warner is the director of the Tyanna O'Brien Center for Women's Imaging. According to her bio, she has extensive experience in women's imaging, including digital mammography, ultrasound and MRI, as well as all imaging-guided interventional procedures including MRI-guided biopsy with a multidisciplinary approach to the diagnosis and treatment of breast disease.

She earned her medical degree from the Ohio State University College of Medicine and completed residencies in Internal Medicine and in Diagnostic Radiology at the University of Maryland Medical System. At Maryland, she also served as co-director of the Breast Center and as a consultant for breast imaging on "Ask the Expert," a Web site feature.

Photo of Dr. Warner courtesy of Mercy Medical Center

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 10:04 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: News roundup
        

February 25, 2010

Hospitals begin reusing some equipment

Hospitals around the country have begun cleaning and reusing medical equipment labeled for one-time use.

The goals are to help cut soaring health costs and waste in an industry that is among the largest contributors to landfills.

Many hospital workers, who routinely have to throw away what seems like perfectly durable devices, given a boost to the trend.

At least 25 percent of hospitals,and probably a lot more, are reprocessing equipment, according to a study lead by Dr. Martin A. Makary, a surgeon and associate professor of public health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. I wrote about the trend in today's Sun.

Some manufacturers and patient advocates do not think this is a good idea because items labeled for single use may not be able to withstand harsh cleaning techniques and may fail or cleaning may not rid the devices of all debris.

The Food and Drug Administration increased oversight after a 2002 bill was passed and now inspects reprocessing facilities and regulates which items can be reprocessed and how many times. A GAO study on reprocessing in 2008 found no elevated risk, though officials acknowledged there wasn't much research. 

So, would it bother you to know your blood pressure cuff, pulse oximeter or lapascopic port was being cleaned and reused? Or would it bother you to know they threw it away after it was used on only you?

Baltimore Sun photo of Dr. Martin Makary/Ken Lam

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 1:08 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: News roundup
        

February 23, 2010

Obama offers his own health care reform plan

When it comes to health care reform, President Obama and the Democrats seeming to be going all-in. Obama has proposed a plan that largely follows the Senate proposal, though it merges some of the points of the House plan.

This comes just ahead of Thursday's reform summit, where Dems will make the case for this comprehensive approach. Republicans plan to show up, but have already slammed the proposal as more of the same that Americans don't want and can't now afford.  

See a side-by-side comparison by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Dems argue that health care reform can't be done piecemeal, with only the most popular element, because the changes are all linked -- to offer insurance to those with potentially costly pre-existing conditions, for example, healthy people not currently insured would have to enter the system a pay premiums to offset the cost. Many can't enter the system without subsidies. Etc.

The Dems appear to be cautiously embracing the push, saying it's their last, best chance for reform, according to the Associated Press.

What do you think about Obama's new push? Not the right time? Have the lawmakers come too far to turn back? Your premiums going up?

Associated Press file photo of Obama talking to Congress about health care in 2009 

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 2:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

Maryland legislature considers ban on BPA in bottles

Maryland lawmakers are joining 20 other states in considering a ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. The House has already passed the legislation and the Senate plans to take up the measure any day. See a story I wrote in today's Sun.

Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a chemical that mimmicks estrogen and has been linked to developmental problems in babies and reproductive problems in women, among other problems.

And it's in a lot of our food packaging beyong baby bottles. It's in the lining of most of the metal cans on grocery shelves. It's in soda can and a lot of plastic water bottles. It's also on retail receipts.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say it's found in more than 90 percent of Americans. Officials at the Food and Drug Administration, in a reversal, recently said they had "concern" about BPA and have helped form a task force to study the chemical. Results are due in 18 months to two years.

The delay is why states are moving ahead on their own, though they are only addressing the baby bottles and sippy cups because babies are considered the most vulnerable population.

In the meantime, the government and comsumer groups say people should not use scratched bottles or use glass. Avoid cans by buying frozen vegetables and boxed soups. Tomatoes are especially acidic and may leach more BPA out of cans. Wash your hands after touching the receipts. Consumers can also buy containers marked BPA-free, though consumer groups have found trace amounts in some of these products.

The Washington Post said in a story today that the industry is working on alternatives, and have found them for plastic. They are having a harder time finding a replacement for metal can liners. BPA adds to container durability and improves the shelf life and safety of food, manufacturers say.

Getty Images Photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 11:07 AM | | Comments (0)
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February 15, 2010

Laparoscopic surgery helping patients, hurting docs

Minimally invasive surgery that has become popular for everything from gallbladder to weight loss surgery seems to be good for everyone but the surgeons, according to a story in the today's Sun.

The surgery requires the doctors to use small instruments through small incisions in the patient and follow the procedures on a video monitor usually above their heads. All that repetitive movement, leaning over patients in awkward positions and standing still has taken a toll.

Doctors' hands, necks, backs and other parts are getting sore -- some 87 percents reported some discomfort in a new survey from the University of Maryland Medical Center. Dr. Adrian Park, chief of general surgery and the report's chief author, said that the careers of the doctors are at stake if nothing is done. And that could mean fewer surgeons trained, experienced and available to do the laparoscopic surgery.

Park is planning more research into the area, and wants other to join him, so new guidelines and equipment can be developed that may help reduce pain for surgeons.

So, have you had laparoscopic surgery and did you have a good outcome? Are you now concerned about the health of your doctor?

Baltimore Sun photo of Dr. Park/Gene Sweeney Jr.

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 11:54 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: News roundup
        

February 2, 2010

Maryland considers ban on BPA in hearing today

 

B'More Green posted today about efforts in Annapolis to ban products containing two chemicals that have raised concerns about their toxicity:

At 2 p.m. today (Tuesday), the House Health and Government Operations Committee is scheduled to air HB33, which would ban the sale, manufacture or distribution of children's toys or child-care articles such as baby bottles made with bisphenol-A, or BPA. The bill, sponsored by Del. Jim Hubbard, a Prince George's County Democrat, would prohibit it by Jan. 10, 2011.

The plastic has been widely used as a lining in canned foods and some plastic water and baby bottles. For years, the Food and Drug Administration maintained it was safe, but amid growing scientific evidence of potential harm, the agency last month reversed course and declared concern about the effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and young children.   The agency now is pushing to end the use of BPA in baby bottles and infant feeding cups and is pressing for safer alternatives to line canned formula and other foods.

Connecticut and Minnesota already have banned BPA in certain children's products, according to legislative analysts, and 18 states last year weighed legislation to curtail the plastic. Several manufacturers already have begun phasing out use of BPA, including Wal-Mart, Toys “R” Us, and Babies “R” Us. For more on the bill, go here.

On Feb. 10, the House Environmental Matters Committee will hear another Hubbard bill, HB35, which would ban the sale of products containing brominated flame retardants.   Decabromodiphenyl ether, or decaBDE, is used in a wide variety of plastic products, including television cabinets and other electronics, in wire insulation and in draperies and upholstered furniture.

Hubbard pressed for a ban before, but his bill failed to pass.  Last year, though the Environmental Protection Agency, citing concerns that exposure to decaBDE may cause cancer and impair brain function, announced an agreement with chemical manufacturers to phase out its use by 2013.   Hubbard reintroduced the bill this year, seeking to ban it in Maryland by January 2011.

Maryland PIRG is backing both measures.

Baltimore Sun file photo of Nalgene travel bottles made without BPA/Jerry Jackson

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: News roundup
        

January 6, 2010

New magazine for people with disabilities to launch

                 
The Baltimore nonprofit The League for People with Disabilities Inc. has joined with the publisher of i.d.e.a.l. magazine to distribute a new quarterly magazine about and for those with disabilities. The official launch is scheduled for Jan. 15.

The League has a print shop and bulk mail house called League Industries that will serve as the official printer and mail house for i.d.e.a.l. magazine. That stands for Individuals with Disabilities Express About Life. 

“i.d.e.a.l. magazine will create a new and positive image for young people with disabilities and, hopefully, help eliminate the stereotypes among people with disabilities in society,” said Zarifa Roberson, the magazine's founder and chief executive.

She wanted to start the publication so people with disabilities can express their opinions on all areas of their lives, something they normally do not get to do in a public way. She wants the magazine to be the voice of the disability community. 

The League’s president and chief executive, David A. Greenberg, said,  “We currently serve over 2,000 individuals and families with various backgrounds and interests and opinions.  It’s great that Zarifa is putting together so many voices and stories to show the diversity and extent of ideas and opinions within the community of people with disabilities.  The possibilities for stories and articles are endless.”

For more information, call The League at 410-323-0500 ext. 304, or go to http://www.leagueforpeople.org. The League for People with Disabilities Inc. was founded in 1927 and provides services to help people with disabilities gain independence, increase self-sufficiency and improve quality of life. 

Baltimore Sun photo inside the league headquarters on Cold Spring Lane/Jed Kirschbaum

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: News roundup
        

December 31, 2009

It's that time of year -- top health stories of 09

Swine flu, the mammogram controversy and a Hopkins' scientist becomes among just a handful of women to win the prestigious Nobel Prize for medicine. Check out our top 10 health stories of 2009.

Anything we're missing? What's your top 10? Or, if you rather, what's your top 10 overblown stories of 2009? Let us know. And Happy New Year!

AFP/Getty Images

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 7:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: News roundup
        

December 28, 2009

Report: States look into fewer food poisoning cases

 

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit health advocacy group, has put out a new report that finds there has been a decline in foodborne outbreak investigations by state health officials.

The report, in the latest Outbreak Alert, says there were fewer investigation in 2007 than in the previous decade, and researchers concluded that this may be because of a gap in state public health spending.

States reported 33 percent fewer fully investigated outbreaks -- two or more illnesses linked to the same food -- to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2007 than in 2002.  The researchers say there are not fewer outbreaks: The state reported almost 1,100 outbreaks in 2007 but they only identified both a food and a pathogen in 378 cases. That means a complete investigation.

With less information on potentially troublesome foods, the CDC and the state have less ability to identify problems early in the food system and less ability to issue recalls.

The group is pushing for legislation that would create a food-safety system focused on preventing contamination. Food processors would have to prepare food safety plans and the FDA would have to inspect more frequently. The legislation would also provide for better coordination between states and the federal government. The House has passed the bill but the Senate has not.

CSPI looked at 4,638 outbreaks, involving 117,136 individuals, linked to specific foods, that occured between 1998 and 2007. The main culprits were seafood (838 outbreaks), produce (684 outbreaks), poultry (538 outbreaks), beef (428 outbreaks), pork (200 outbreaks).

The FDA oversees most of the foods, including seafood, produce, eggs and dairy products. The Department of Agriculture regulates meat and poultry. Eggs improved their record considerably in the last decade that the group has been tracking illnesses, probably because of new safety programs by egg producers required by FDA. But dairy made more people sick, probably because unpasteurized products became more available after 2004.   

The group says this is still a big problem and cites CDC numbers estimating contaminated food kills thousands a year and sickens another 76 million. Most aren't reported, and according to this report, many of the others go without full investigation.

AP photo of what left of the bagged spinach linked to a foodbourne outbreak in 2006

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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December 21, 2009

Local hospitals honored for environmental efforts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has honored six Maryland hospitals for what they call their environmental leadership and commitment to pollution prevention efforts.

The Trailblazer Award recognizes hospitals across the region -- Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Washington -- that have stepped up their sustainable practices.

“These hospitals are successfully demonstrating leadership and innovation in reducing their environmental footprint,” said Virginia Thompson, sustainable healthcare sector manager for the mid-Atlantic region of EPA, in a statement. “They have undertaken a challenging task and have produced measurable results in many cases, demonstrating what can be accomplished when hospitals take advantage both of senior executive support and grounds-up initiative from across the hospitals’ many departments.”

Local honorees (in EPA's words):

--Franklin Square Hospital Center in White Marsh, which developed holistic, sustainable policies that will serve as a foundation for the entire MedStar Healthcare System.

--Baltimore-based LifeBridge Health, which adopted a corporate-wide set of waste management policies, instituted environmentally preferable purchasing practices, and implemented a food waste reduction and composting program.

--The University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, which established a university farmers’ market and is reducing greenhouse gases by providing opportunities for patients, staff, and the community to purchase locally grown food.

--The VA Maryland Health Care System in Baltimore and Perry Point, which has an environmental management system and is using it to guide environmentally preferable purchasing decisions, reduce energy and water use, purchase local foods, and develop written procedures for minimizing the purchase and use of hazardous chemicals. 

Continue reading "Local hospitals honored for environmental efforts" »

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

December 15, 2009

UPDATE: Report: State in middle on preparedness

 

An annual study of public health preparedness ranked Maryland in the middle of the pack in its readiness. The state scored 7 out of 10 on the key indicators.

Called "Ready or Not? Protecting the Public's health from Diseases, Disasters, and Bioterrorism" report, the report was released today by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It said this year, the H1N1 flu outbreak exposed serious gaps in the nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies.

This year, economic crisis is putting more pressure on the already fragile public health system.

The researchers used publicly available data and interviewed public health officials. They concluded that 20 states scored six or less out of 10. Nearly two-thirds of states scored seven or less. Seven states tied for the highest score of nine out of 10. Montana had the lowest score at three out of 10.

“The H1N1 outbreak has vividly revealed existing gaps in public health emergency preparedness,” said Richard Hamburg, Deputy Director of the trust. “The Ready or Not? report shows that a band-aid approach to public health is inadequate. As the second wave of H1N1 starts to dissipate, it doesn’t mean we can let down our defenses. In fact, it’s time to double down and provide a sustained investment in the underlying infrastructure, so we will be prepared for the next emergency and the one after that.”

The report authors wouldn't say what was a passing grade, but said that funding, long a problem, is a special problem this year and most states cut money -- including Maryland.

Continue reading "UPDATE: Report: State in middle on preparedness" »

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 12:57 PM | | Comments (0)
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November 25, 2009

Maryland offers workshops on senior drug aid

Have you fallen in the Medicare drug doughnut hole? The state of Maryland wants to help you find out and possibly provide some help.

The Maryland Senior Prescription Drug Assistance Program, part of the Maryland Health Insurance Plan, will hosts FREE workshops to help you determine your eligibility for subsidies. There are tens of thousands of Maryland residents on Medicare and not taking advantage of the assistance, according to data on drug plan enrollment from the Center for Medicare and Medcaid Services.

This Maryland program can reduce cost of Part D drug coverage for moderate-income seniors (making less than $32,490 as an individual and $43,710 as a couple) and disabled people. Open enrollment is from Nov. 15-Dec. 31 for benefits beginning Jan. 1. The benefits for those eligible include a $1,200 subsidy (for those who fall in the $2,700 doughnut hole) and a $300 yearly premuim subsidy paid on a monthly basis.

To the 14 workshops, you'll need to bring your Medicare ID card, list of current prescription drugs, current prescription drug plan statement, if available, proof of state residency such as a driver's license or 6-month old utility bill or rental agreement and proof of household income from last-year tax return or other relevant document.

For more information, call 1-800-215-8038 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, including dates and locations. 

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 11:44 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

October 27, 2009

UM Medical Center has new visitor policy

The University of Maryland Medical Center has joined other area hospitals in instituting a new visitor policy today in an effort to protect visitors, staff and patients from H1N1 influenza, or swine flu now widespread in the Baltimore region.

The new policy says:

+No one under 18 is allowed in inpatient units, unless they are parents of hospitalized children.

+There is a 2-person limit on visitors per patient.

+All visitors must check in at either the Greene Street or Gudelsky Reception Desk.

+Visits are not permitted by anyone with flu symptoms, including fever, cough or sore throat.

Officials say children and teenagers have been restricted because they are  among those most affected by the swine flu outbreaks and are at highest risk of complications and death.

Officials also say patient care leaders may alter the policy on an individual basis if it's in the best interests of patients. That could mean excluding visitors altogether or allowing additional visitors for compassionate care reasons.

The hospitals plan to put up posters announcing the new policy.

Associated Press photo

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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October 26, 2009

FDA warns consumers about fake swine flu cures

You can get just about anything online these days. Problem is, some of it isn't what it seems.

As the swine flu continues to sicken people, it has also created a market for treatments. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning everyone to take care because some of the stuff isn't real.

The FDA has rooted out all kinds of bogus treatments, including shampoos, dietary supplements and air purifiers that claim to prevent the flu. Officials have also tested samples of "Tamiflu," the drug treatment for the flu, and found them to be talk and aspirin or something else.

Don't be fooled. Search for fraudulent products here:

Posted by Meredith Cohn at 3:18 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: News roundup
        

August 28, 2009

Your week in health

Happy Friday. Here's your weekly health news roundup. Enjoy.

+   As the fond tributes continue to roll in for the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, the NYT takes an in-depth look at Kennedy's battle with an aggressive and incurable brain tumor, glioblastoma, and how his fight mirrors the nation's 40-year war on cancer. In the wake of his death, could Congress could put aside the recent ugly debates on health care reform and actually pass legislation?

+   In other health care overhaul news, seniors are particularly skittish about proposed reforms, hospitals might actually profit from health care changes and a profile in the latest issue of Harvard Magazine goes deep on Dr. Atul Gawande, surgeon and writer who has unearthed a fascinating tale about excessive health care spending.

+   Maryland's budget woes are hitting health programs hard. In slashing $454 million from the state's $13 billion budget, officials will close an Eastern Shore psychiatric unit and cut millions in  funding to cancer research at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins.

+   Lots of swine flu updates as schools nationwide reopen, preparing for an onslaught of the virus this fall. New government data show children are 14 times more likely to get the H1N1 virus than adults, while others study whether the virus is more likely to affect blacks and Latinos . Got questions about swine flu? Have your say with public health officials on Monday and Tuesday through an online chat at www.WebDialogues.net/H1N1.

+   OK. This is just too much for me. Triathlons. For kids. As young as 3. Really?

And with that, have a great weekend!

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 5:31 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

August 21, 2009

Your week in health

Yes! It's Friday. Hope everyone had a wonderful week. Here's your roundup of health news.

The big news in the health care reform front was the preisdent's shifting stance on the so-called public option. On Monday, it seemed Obama was ready to cave to critics and drop the idea of a public insurance option. Then, the White House backtracked, saying it wasn't shying away. We admit it; we're confused. Also confusing is what might replace the public option -- nonprofit co-ops. What are those, you ask? Folks here , here and here offer a few explanations.

In other health care news, the Brits are defending their system against U.S. attacks. Others ask if it's even fair to compare the American system with Canada's and countries in Europe.

Remember the craziness over "death panels" last week? Well put that silliness aside and read this very well-done piece about how doctors -- specifically palliative care specialists -- navigate end-of-life issues.

Stephanie wrote earlier this week about swine flu, er, H1N1 vaccine trials in kids, who are among the five priority groups who would get the shot. But maybe those priority groups are all wrong, says a new analysis by Yale and Clemson researchers. Instead of health care workers and pregnant women, the vaccine should be given first to children 5-19 and their parents to be most effective, the study says.

Cake that's good for you? Sign me up. The American Cancer Society asked the baking society to come up with a more nutrious birthday cake. Recipes included.

You know what's not good for you? Zombies. But how does one prepare for say, a zombie invasion and a subsequent assault on public health? I know, this has been keeping me up at night too. Well, someone actually did the math. The folks at the WSJ's health blog explain.

And with that, have a healthy and happy weekend!

 

 

Wired magazine photo

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August 14, 2009

Your week in health

It's been a frenetic week on the health care reform front. Couple that with some interesting studies and other health tidbits and here you have it -- your weekly installment of health news:

+   Health care overhaul goes over-the-top: Stephanie summed up above the latest drama with the Senate's end-of-life provision and the ugliness of town halls meanwhile, I blogged earlier about the misinformation over euthanasia claims in the health care bills. With that in mind, here's a roundup of fact-check links to help you sort the real from the absurd. This is great, too: Seven lies about health care reform.

+   Sleep out for medical care: Town halls aside, some folks are actually trying to get health care to people who need it. In Los Angeles, hundreds slept outside to a basketball arena to get free medical care. The effort was founded by a man who spent years in the Amazon rain forest helping folks in need.

+   Swine flu and you: I reported this week on the start of trials for a swine flu vaccine at the University of Maryland, which aims to have initial results about whether the shot is safe and effective within weeks. Meanwhile, H1N1 infection is on the rise among soldiers in Iraq. Add the President of Costa Rica to the people sickened by the pandemic. Look out for Stephanie's story this weekend about the efforts to make a universal flu vaccine.

+   Stealing not uncommon among children: A doctor tells us stealing in childhood does not mean your kid will grow up to be a criminal. Young kids are still figuring out what the rules are and child development experts call a minor shoplifting incident a "teachable moment." 

+   Sleep genes: My husband can survive on four hours sleep. Me? I need eight or I'm a cranky mess. A new study says a genetic mutation could be why some people can function on less sleep than others.

+   Surviving allergy season: I know I've been sneezing up a storm. You too? Here are some tips for getting through it.

And with that, have a happy and healthy weekend.

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
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August 7, 2009

Your week in health

Happy Friday. Here's your dog-days-of-summer weekly installment of health news. Enjoy.

+   Lawmakers may be on summer vacation, but there has been no end to the political maneuvering on health care reform. Yesterday, the pharmaceutical industry made a deal with the Obama administration to save the nation $80 billion over the next decade.  Meanwhile, town halls on reform have become a free for all on both sides. And some say that the some of the reform rhetoric is trying to scare seniors by asking "will reform promote euthanasia?"

+   The American Psychological Association said that mental health professionals shouldn't tell gay clients they can change their sexual orientation through therapy. There's no evidence that such therapy works, the organization said.

+   Who is to blame when a diagnosis is missed? Some say doctors and patients both share responsibility.

+   The NYT takes an interesting look at another barrier at finding a cure to cancer: not enough people participating in clinical trials. Forty years since the government declared a "war on cancer," death rates have barely budged.

+   Stephanie blogged earlier about the phenomenon of donating a kidney to a stranger. Well, with a money-laundering scheme in the news involving kidneys, some are asking why not buy a kidney?

+   With an eye toward pandemic preparedness, Stanford's hospital and clinics are experimenting with a drive-thru emergency room. Being able to treat patients without having them leave their cars could help triage patients in the event of a pandemic emergency. Can we get fries with that? Doubtful.

And with that, have a happy and healthy weekend!

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

July 31, 2009

Your week in health

The health care reform debate keeps on churning, new cautions on swine flu and ... doctors giving up their lab coats? Here are the health news highlights from this week. 

+   The CDC suggests that the key to bringing down health care costs is to get people to lose weight, raising a bunch of questions about how the government and businesses can push Americans to shed the pounds. How about a fat tax? Could a tax on fatty foods help cover the cost of reform? Or, maybe employers should give discounts to their workers who slim down? Meanwhile, others ask, why should employers have a say in our health care at all? 

+   A federal panel advises pregnant women, children and health care workers should be among the five priority groups to be vaccinated against the H1N1 virus. But how will they convince folks to get the shot? And are the priorities fair?

+   Tanning beds are as dangerous as cigarettes, says a new study. That hasn't stopped people from using them, however.

+    Rice Krispies help improve immunity? The new box claims it is loaded with vitamins that can do just that, begging an interesting question of FDA regulators.

+  And you thought doctors were up in arms about health care reform... Well, here's something that might surprise you. There's a debate in docs circles about whether they should ditch their trademark white coats. This is my favorite quote from the story: "When a patient shares intimacies with you and you examine them in a manner that no one else does, you’d better look like a physician — not a guy who works at Starbuck’s.”

And with that, have a happy and healthy weekend!

 

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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July 24, 2009

Your week in health

Happy Friday! Here's your weekly installment of health news: the big stuff and the tidbits you may have missed.

+   In the latest health care news, President Obama made a personal plea for reform in a press conference Wednesday night asserting "it's not about me". This, after appearing on the Today show urging politicians to put away their swords. Then, congress said yesterday that it wouldn't pass a bill by the president's August deadline. Which begs the question: what does it all mean for us? Here are 10 questions that break down the nuts and bolts.

+   Stephanie blogged earlier this week about the fuss in the blogosphere that Regina Benjamin is too chunky to be a good surgeon general. But not all doctors are born fit and trim. Here's an interesting look at how physicians, too, struggle with their weight.

+  Up at night? You're not alone. Insomnia affects millions -- but what treatments work and which don't?  And here's a look at treating kids who struggle with sleep.

+   Hot dogs cause cancer? A vegan advocacy group in New Jersey is suing to get the big hot dog makers place warnings on their products saying consuming them increases the risk of cancer.  Advocates compare the processed meat-cancer link to cigarette's and lung cancer, while the hotdog industry insists the claims are bogus. Meanwhile, here's my favorite quote from the story: "Vegans complaining about hot dogs is like the Amish complaining about gas prices," said Susan Thatcher of Irvine.

+  Now here's one to scare all the hipsters: skinny jeans could be dangerous, says a medical advisor at Consumer Reports. Squeezing into a tight pair could possibly cause bladder infections, fertility problems and blood clots. Really?

And with that, have a great weekend!

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

July 17, 2009

Your week in health

Happy TGIF! We hope everyone had a great week. Here's your Friday rundown of health news.

+   Don't expect news on the perils of swine flu to let up, even if fall flu season is still months away. The World Health Organization says the H1N1 pandemic is spreading too fast to count. Meanwhile, summer camps continue to report swine flu cases and Maryland recorded its third death from the virus on Wednesday. With everyone looking to a vaccine being ready this fall or winter, some folks are asking: will you vaccinate?

+   The latest health care reform news points to more partisan wrangling to come on a proposal that is not anywhere near final. The folks at Kaiser Health News offer a look at how reform could make it difficult for folks who currently have employer-based coverage to swap plans. And the New York Times magazine offers a philosphical approach at rationing health care.

+   The Alzheimer's Association met this week and issued a flurry of new findings on the illness. Stephanie blogged below about genetic testing for the disease. There were also interesting findings on a promising new drug and whether moderate drinking could cut the odds of getting the disease. And here's a great piece that attempts to understand dementia and "wandering."

+   The New York Times Well blog looks at a study on mothers of children with developmental disabilities. Here's an interview with a researcher who ponders the unique stress of raising a child with autism.

+   We've all been known to ask Dr. Google to help us diagnose our health problems. But one doc explains why Wiki isn't the best medical resource.

And with that, have a wonderful weekend!

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 1:30 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

July 10, 2009

Your week in health

As we celebrate the end of week two in blogdom -- thanks for reading all! -- we bring you some interesting health stories you might have missed.

+  This is a must read for anyone interested in the local food movement. This "Street farmer" brings organic produce to the inner city in a huge way. He's pragmatic, not preachy and even eats a doughnut every once and a while. And check out those worms!

+  In healthcare reform news, lots of updates: Hospitals agree to $155 million in cuts from government programs to cover the cost of reform. The Washington Post asks what are the limits to health care spending and who will make the tough choices about the cost limits? The Wall Street Journal's Health Blog breaks down reports about the many ways the reform effort may actually be stalling. Meanwhile, others say the entire reform question ignores illegal immigrants.

Stem cells to sperm?  British researchers claim it's possible. No proof whether these swimmers can fertilize an egg, but, well perhaps?

+  Consumer Reports breaks down underpayments by insurance companies and how out-of-network costs can rack up.

+  Lots of unsettling news about obesity, from soaring rates nationally to a study on how financial and work stress can make us load on the pounds, to this strange tidbit: living with a significant other can, ahem, make you fat.

And with that, we wish you a great weekend!

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 12:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: News roundup
        

July 3, 2009

Your week in health

If you're anything like me, you had a super hectic week leading to this holiday weekend. Now that we've made it -- whew -- here are some great health and medicine stories you might have missed.

Fascinating read from Sunday about how the grant system for cancer research awards small projects unlikely to make huge strides in finding a cure.

On the healthcare debate front, here's a great piece that looks at the big ticket issue: costs. So what happens to costs when you expand health care? Do they really go down? Or do they go up?

Two anti-smoking drugs will carry the Food and Drug Administration's most serious warnings after reports of people exerpiencing mental health problems, including suicidal thoughts.

A big picture look at the FDA's new powers to regulate tobacco.

Here are a couple of the many takes on the medical details behind Michael Jackson's death and whether Steve Jobs should talk publically about his pancreatic cancer.

And here's one for all the nurses out there who are tired of stereotypes about their profession -- I know my Mom is reading, so it goes out to her too. ;)

Have a great weekend!

Posted by Kelly Brewington at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
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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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