Category Archives: Public health

Oct 31 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 31

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EBOLA UPDATE: China to Dispatch PLA Squad to Build an Ebola Treatment Center in Liberia
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
In response to the United Nations’ call for a greater global effort to help combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, China has announced it will send an elite unit of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to Liberia. The squad will build and run a 100-bed treatment center, which should be open within a month. China will also send 480 PLA medical staff to treat patients. Read more on Ebola.

HUD: U.S. Homelessness Continues to Decline
U.S. homelessness continues to decline, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HUD’s 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress found that there were 578,424 persons experiencing homelessness on a single night in 2014, an overall 10 percent reduction and 25 percent drop in the unsheltered population since 2010. “As a nation, we are successfully reducing homelessness in this country, especially for those who have been living on our streets as a way of life,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. “There is still a tremendous amount of work ahead of us but it’s clear our strategy is working and we're going to push forward till we end homelessness as we’ve come to know it.” Read more on housing.

Study: Care in the 24 Hours after a Stroke is Critical to Health Outcomes
Care in the immediate 24 hours after a stroke is both complex and critical to patient outcomes, according to a new study in the journal MedLink Neurology. Most strokes are caused by blood clots that block blood flow to the brain, so keeping a patient lying flat or as flat as possible will help increase blood flow. At the same time, sitting upright can improve blood draining and reduce intracranial pressure. "The period immediately following an acute ischemic stroke is a time of significant risk," wrote researchers from the Loyola University Medical Center. "Meticulous attention to the care of the stroke patient during this time can prevent further neurologic injury and minimize common complications, optimizing the chance of functional recovery." Read more on heart and vascular health.

Oct 30 2014
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On Ebola, Can There be Too Much Coverage?

NewPublicHealth began its 2014 Ebola coverage several months ago as the number of cases—and deaths—in West Africa continued climbing and concern about diagnoses in the United States emerged. Our daily news roundups frequently link to critical announcements from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as prevention and treatment research news, and provide perspectives we haven’t seen elsewhere such as this week’s interview on the legalities of quarantines.

We’ve also continued posting stories on other infectious diseases, some of which—although deadly—have taken a back seat to Ebola in the daily U.S. news cycle.

Our colleagues at Global Health NOW, the global health blog of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, recently wrote about the potential for Ebola news overload. In the newsletter, editor Brian Simpson shared a note from a reader who noted that “It’s vital to not let Ebola crowd out other equally and more impactful health issues.”

Simpson replied that the writer “raises an important issue. Ebola has not made heart disease, AIDS, traffic injuries, gun violence, maternal mortality, schistosomiasis—or any other threat to human health—go away. However, dipping into any media stream might make you think so.”

Simpson adds that GHN “have run a slew of news...on Ebola since March 20” and adds that the challenge is reporting on the most important news while still maintaining perspective.”

“It’s a difficult balance, and sometimes we’ll screw up,” he said. “But we’ll always strive to keep things in perspective and find the essential news for you.” We feel the same way at NewPublicHealth.

Oct 30 2014
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Why Are So Many People Still Bypassing the Flu Shot?

Flu season in the United States typically runs from November through March, with the peak coming in January and February. But people can catch the flu both earlier than the usual start time and after the usual end of the season. In addition, the severity of the flu season can vary with from 3,000 to 49,000 U.S. deaths in a given year, an average of more than 200,000 hospitalizations and millions of illnesses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Flu shot season has a shorter time table, so many pharmacies and doctors’ office that are well stocked at the moment can run out before Christmas, making it difficult for people who put off their vaccinations to find a vaccine location and protect themselves.

And despite a yearly campaign to get people to roll their arms up, less fewer than half of adults and less than 60 percent of kids received a flu shot last year. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Carolyn Bridges, MD, the CDC’s associate director for adult immunizations about what keeps people from getting the flu shot and how more people can be encouraged to get the vaccine.

NewPublicHealth: What is it that keeps people from getting the shot?

Carolyn Bridges: I think there are a number of things. Certainly, we have pretty good awareness about the recommendations for the influenza vaccine, although some people may just not realize that they are potentially at risk. The current recommendations call for all persons six months of age and older to get an annual flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. But the vaccine recommendations have changed over time and in the last few years have been broadened to include [just about] everyone. For some people the message hasn’t gotten to them that in fact they are now included in the group recommended for a yearly flu vaccine

NPH: What common misconceptions do people still have about the flu vaccine?

Bridges: In terms of the safety, some people question or are worried about getting the flu from the flu vaccine. That’s still a common comment that we receive. Sometimes people will certainly have body aches or some tenderness in the arm where they get their flu vaccine, but that’s certainly not the same as getting influenza, and those symptoms generally are very self-limited and go away within two to three days. But the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu. 

Read more

Oct 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 30

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EBOLA UPDATE: WHO Officials See ‘Glimmers of Hope’ in Liberia as New Case Rate Declines
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
There are “glimmers of hope” in Liberia as officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) say the rate of new Ebola cases appears to be declining for the first time since the outbreak began. Still, an official with the global health agency said they are still very much concerned and on guard. “It’s like saying your pet tiger is under control,” said Bruce Aylward, the WHO’s assistant director-general in charge of the operational response, according to The Washington Post. “This is a very, very dangerous disease” and “the danger now is that instead of a steady downward trend we end up with an oscillating trend where the virus goes up and down” because areas become reinfected. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Infant’s Birthweight Tied to Disease Risk Later in Life
An infant’s size at birth may help predict their health later in life, with babies who are heavier have less of a risk for future disease, according to a new study in The FASEB Journal. Researchers based their findings on an analysis of cord blood of newborn babies from mothers with raised glucose levels during late pregnancy and blood taken later. "These findings support the hypothesis that common long-term variation in the activity of genes established in the womb may underpin links between size at birth and risk for adult disease," said Claire R. Quilter, Ph.D., study author from the Mammalian Molecular Genetics Group, Department of Pathology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. "If confirmed these could be important markers of optimal fetal growth and may be the first step along a path to very early disease prevention in the womb." Read more on maternal and infant health.

FDA Approves New Meningitis Vaccines
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first vaccine approved to prevent invasive meningococcal disease in the United States. The drug is to prevent  Neisseria meningitidis serogroup B is approved for individuals ages 10 to 25 years. Approximately 500 total cases of meningococcal disease were reported in the United States in 2012, with 160 having been causes by serogroup B. “Recent outbreaks of serogroup B Meningococcal disease on a few college campuses have heightened concerns for this potentially deadly disease,” said Karen Midthun, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a release. “The FDA’s approval of Trumenba provides a safe and effective way to help prevent this disease in the United States.” Read more on vaccines.

Oct 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 29

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DOT Launches New Website for Cruise Ship Passengers
The U.S. Department of Transportation has launched a website with information and resources from several federal agencies to help people considering cruise ship vacations make informed decisis. Information includes consumer assistance, vessel safety and cruise line incident reporting statistics. “We are committed to providing the traveling public with as much information as possible to make informed decisions about their travel and making sure they know their rights before, during, and after their trip,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, in a release. Read more on transportation.

Ten Foundations Receive HUD/USDA Secretaries’ Award
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently honored ten foundations for helping to improve communities in across the country. According to the departments, the ten foundations have helped foster significant improvements in housing and neighborhoods, education, health and recreation, transportation, community participation, arts and culture, public safety, sustainability and economic development across all American geographies—urban, suburban and rural. “These foundations understand that strong communities connect families with the promise of living the American dream,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in a release. “Powerful outcomes occur when the philanthropic and public sectors come together to solve problems, enhance neighborhoods and expand opportunity for others. Read more on housing.

Americans Still Eating Trans Fats
A new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association finds that Americans are eating less trans and saturated fats than they were three decades ago, but they’re still consuming them in higher quantities than recommended for good cardiovascular health. The study was based on surveys of approximately 12,000 adults ages 25 to 74. Read more on nutrition.

Oct 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 28

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EBOLA UPDATE: U.S. Begins Isolating Soldiers Returning from West Africa; Australia Institutes Visa Ban
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. military has begun isolating soldiers returning from Ebola-fighting efforts in West Africa, while Australia has become the first “rich nation” to impose a visa ban on the affected countries. Public health officials, including those in Washington, D.C., say such measures risk turning the doctors and nurses who help Ebola patients into “pariahs,” according to Reuters. "Returning health workers are exceptional people who are giving of themselves for humanity," said Stephane Dujarric, spokesperson for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "They should not be subjected to restrictions that are not based on science. Those who develop infections should be supported, not stigmatized." Read more on Ebola.

Study: Brain Injuries After Age 65 May Increase the Risk for Dementia
Brain injuries after the age of 65 may increase a person’s risk of developing dementia, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Neurology. Researchers analyzed data on almost 52,000 emergency room patients who had suffered traumatic injuries in California from 2005 to 2011, finding that while just under 6 percent of those with injuries outside the brain went on to develop dementia, more than 8 percent of those with moderate to mild traumatic brain injuries did so. While at ages 55 and older, moderate to severe brain injury was associated with increased risk of dementia, by age 65 even mild brain injury increased the dementia risk. "This was surprising and suggests that the older brain may be especially vulnerable to traumatic brain injury, regardless of the traumatic brain injury severity," said study lead author Raquel Gardner, MD, a clinical research fellow with San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Or to spin it more positively, the younger brain may be more resilient to mild traumatic brain injury or may take longer to show symptoms of dementia.”  Read more on aging.

Study: Greater Use of Spices, Herbs Could Promote Healthier Eating
Using spices and herbs to make healthy food more appealing can help reduce sodium, calorie and fat intake, according to a new study in the journal Nutrition Today.  A special edition of the publication, titled Spices and Herbs: Improving Public Health Through Flavorful Eating, includes 16 papers exploring the latest research on spices, herbs and their links to healthy eating. "We now understand that spices and herbs have a meaningful role to play in bringing flavor to the forefront of today's health and wellness conversations," said Johanna Dwyer, DSc, RD, professor of medicine and community health at Tufts University School of Medicine, editor of Nutrition Today. "It will take all of us working together – from scientists to chefs and product developers to policy makers – before we can really begin to improve public health through flavorful eating." Read more on nutrition.

Oct 27 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 27

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EBOLA UPDATE: New York State Walks Back New Ebola Quarantine Process—Somewhat—After Heavy Criticism
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The state of New York has partially walked back its new quarantine process for health care workers returning from treating Ebola in West Africa after receiving heavy criticism from the federal government and health officials. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said health care workers who have been in contact with Ebola patients but show no signs of the virus must still be quarantined and monitored for 21 days, but may do so in their home.

The Obama administration’s criticism of the initial order was strong." We have let the governors of New York, New Jersey, and others states know that we have concerns with the unintended consequences of policies not grounded in science may have on efforts to combat Ebola at its source in West Africa," an Obama administration official said in a statement, according to Reuters. "We have also let these states know that we are working on new guidelines for returning healthcare workers that will protect the American people against imported cases, while, at the same time, enabling us to continue to tackle this epidemic in West Africa.” Read more on Ebola.

Survey: ‘Social Resilience’ More Valuable than Government Assistance in Helping a Community Feel Prepared for Disasters
“Social resilience”—the feeling of trust in a community, with neighbors helping neighbors and looking out for each other—can be more valuable than even government assistance when it comes to how prepared communities feel for disasters, according to a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. In a survey of more than 1,000 residents in a dozen communities hit by the 2012 hurricane in New York and New Jersey, researchers found that “residents in areas where people say their neighbors actively seek to fix problems in the neighborhood are three times more likely to say their community is extremely or very prepared for a disaster than people in communities without such social resilience.”

Among the rest of the findings:

  • 37 percent of residents in areas reporting high levels of neighbors helping each other are very or extremely confident their neighborhood would recover quickly from a disaster, compared to 22 percent in areas with lower levels of neighborly cooperation
  • 69 percent of respondents said they got help from neighbors in recovering from the storm, while 57 percent said local government assisted them and 55 percent cited federal government agencies as helpful

“Having that level of trust, that preexisting level of trust means you sort of have this reservoir to draw from in times of need,” said the survey’s principal researcher Kathleen Cagney, a University of Chicago sociology professor and director of the Population Research Center at NORC at the University of Chicago. “Money doesn’t buy these informal reservoirs. You need to foster this.” Read more on preparedness.

Tips on Warding Off Seasonal Affective Disorder
The shorter, darker days of the fall season also mean the potential to trigger seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression that can leave some people feeling overly tired and lacking motivation to the point they find it extremely difficult to go about their day. As much as 5 percent of the population is affected by what is believed to be a chemical imbalance linked to reduced exposure to light. Angelos Halaris, MD, PhD, a professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences at Loyola University Chicago Stitch School of Medicine, said there are ways to reduce the likelihood of SAD, which can severely impact an individual’s quality of life:

  • Spend at least 30 minutes a day outside. Avoid wearing sunglasses during this period of time. If weather permits, expose the skin on your arms to the sun.
  • Keep your home well-lit. Open curtain and blinds to allow sunlight in. You can also consider buying a high-intensity light box specially designed for SAD therapy. Sit near the box for 30 to 45 minutes in the morning and at night. Be sure to talk to your doctor before attempting this type of light therapy on your own.
  • Physical activity releases endorphins and other brain chemicals that help you feel better and gain more energy. Exercising for 30 minutes daily can help.
  • When all else fails, there are medications that can help ease the troubling effects of SAD. Halaris recommends visiting a mental health professional if extra sun exposure, indoor lights and exercise are not effective in treating your symptoms.

Read more on prevention.

Oct 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 24

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EBOLA UPDATE: Medical Aid Worker Tests Positive in New York City
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
A hospitalized medical worker has tested positive for Ebola in New York City, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The medical aid worker had volunteered in Guinea. The patient is currently in isolation in Bellevue Hospital—one of eight New York State hospitals that Governor Cuomo designated to treat Ebola patients—as the CDC’s laboratory performs confirmation testing. Read more on Ebola.

HHS: $840M to Improve Patient Care While Reducing Costs
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced an $840 million initiative to improve patient care while also reducing costs, which will encourage patients to seek early preventive care more often. The initiative “will fund successful applicants who work directly with medical providers to rethink and redesign their practices, moving from systems driven by quantity of care to ones focused on patients’ health outcomes, and coordinated health care systems,” according to a release. Potential strategies include:

  • Giving doctors better access to patient information, such as information on prescription drug use to help patients take their medications properly
  • Expanding the number of ways patients are able communicate with the team of clinicians taking care of them
  • Improving the coordination of patient care by primary care providers, specialists, and the broader medical community
  • Using electronic health records on a daily basis to examine data on quality and efficiency

Read more on prevention.

EPA Announces $3M to Reduce Diesel Emissions from School Buses
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced approximately $3 million in funding to reduce diesel emissions from school buses. Through the EPA’s National Clean Diesel Rebate program, eligible public and private school bus fleet owners can apply for funding to replace school buses that have “older, dirtier” diesel engines, which will in turn improve air quality. "School buses are the safest and most environmentally friendly way to transport children to and from school," said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, in a release. “The rebates to retrofit older bus engines will provide healthier rides for the 25 million children across the country who ride them on a daily basis.” Read more on air and water quality.

Oct 23 2014
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New Kaiser Infographics Compares Key Ebola Factors with Other Infectious Diseases

In the wake of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and cases diagnosed in the United States, NewPublicHealth has been looking at the toll of other infectious diseases in need of new prevention and treatment efforts. Earlier this week, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a series of infographics that compare Ebola to twelve other infectious diseases, including SARS, malaria and HIV, which are all current public health challenges.

The infographics are an important teaching tool for explaining how Ebola is spread and for reminding public health professionals about the need for vigilance when it comes to other diseases. 

The series of infographics touch on topics including:

  • Transmission routes
  • Vaccines, treatments and cures
  • Fatality rates
  • Key characteristics such as immunity after infection and number of cases worldwide each year

Below is one of the Kaiser Family Foundation’s infographics. Click through to view the additional educational tools. 

KaiserEbolaInfographic
Oct 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 23

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EBOLA UPDATE: Drugmakers Seeking Indemnity to Protect Against Potential Losses, Claims
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Drug manufacturers working to develop Ebola treatments are also looking for indemnity from governments or multilateral agencies to protect themselves from potential losses or claims related to their work. The issues is expected to be discussed today at a meeting in Geneva that will be chaired by World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan. "I think it is reasonable that there should be some level of indemnification because the vaccine is essentially being used in an emergency situation before we've all had the chance to confirm its absolute profile," said GlaxoSmithKline Chief Executive Andrew Witty to BBC radio. "That's a situation where we would look for some kind of indemnification, either from governments or from multilateral agencies." Read more on Ebola.

NIH: $31M in Grants to Enhance Diversity in the Biomedical Research Workforce
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced almost $31 in grants to enhance diversity in the biomedical research workforce. The grants are part of a larger five-year program to support more than 50 awardees and partnering institutions in establishing a national consortium to “develop, implement and evaluate approaches to encourage individuals to start and stay in biomedical research careers,” according to a release. “At the Department of Health and Human Services [HHS] we believe that delivering impact begins with building strong teams that have the talent and focus necessary to get results,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell. “These awards will leverage the power of our country’s diversity so that together, we can continue to advance biomedical research and unlock the cures to some of the great health challenges of our times.” Read more on research.

Study: Conflict at Home or School Affects Teens in Both
Conflict at home can lead to a teen experiencing a greater risk of problems at school for up to two days, while issues at school can also cause problems at home, according to a new study in the journal Child Development. In a study of more than 100 teens ages 13-17 and their parents, researchers also determined that bad moods and mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety are factors in what’s known as the “spillover effect.” "Spillover processes have been recognized, but are not well understood," wrote Adela Timmons, a doctoral student, and Gayla Margolin, professor of psychology. "Evidence of spillover for as long as two days suggests that some teens get caught in a reverberating cycle of negative events.” The research could be used to help teens learn to better manage stress and difficult situations.  Read more on mental health.