Choice of Health Plans to Vary Sharply From State to State: “When a typical 40-year-old uninsured woman in Maine goes to the new state exchange to buy health insurance this fall, she may have just two companies to choose from: the one that already sells most individual policies in the state, and a complete unknown — a nonprofit start-up. Her counterpart in California, however, will have a much wider variety of choices: 13 insurers are likely to offer plans, including the state’s largest and best-known carriers. With only a few months remaining before Americans will start buying coverage through the new state insurance exchanges under President Obama’s health care law, it is becoming clear that the millions of people purchasing policies in the exchanges will find that their choices vary sharply, depending on where they live.” (New York Times)
Do the Health Benefits of Neonatal Circumcision Outweigh the Risks? “Circumcision rates in the U.S. have been falling since the 1960s, when the vast majority of infant boys had their foreskins removed before leaving the hospital. These days, approximately 57% of boys are circumcised in U.S. hospitals, with the procedure generally being more common among whites and less common among black and Hispanic populations, according to estimates. Other boys are circumcised in religious ceremonies shortly after birth. While many factors likely influence circumcision rates, part of the decline occurred after 1999, when the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement saying the potential medical benefits of neonatal circumcision weren’t strong enough to recommend it as a routine procedure.” (Wall Street Journal)
Head Lice Don’t Take Summer Off: “If any of my neighbors had seen me ironing my daughter’s mattress while wearing a blue shower cap, they undoubtedly would have thought I was nuts. But after we found nits — lice eggs — in my 9-year-old daughter’s hair, I panicked. I washed her hair in olive oil and vinegar. I put her dirty clothes and linens in large plastic bags and washed them in hot water. I crammed pillows and stuffed animals into the dryer and set it on high heat. And yes, I even ironed her mattress because a friend told me heat kills lice. I’m embarrassed to say I wore that shower cap too often during the first few days after lice became part of our lives. I didn’t just wear it for ironing; I also used it when I tried to comb the nits out of Emma’s hair after using an over-the-counter lice treatment creme rinse.” (CNN)
How Accurate Are Fitness Trackers? “Nate Meckes recognized that he needed to study the accuracy of activity monitors after wearing one. A shipment of the devices, known technically as accelerometers and designed to measure a person’s movement and energy expenditure, had arrived at Arizona State University, where Dr. Meckes was a researcher. To ensure they were operational, he slipped one over his hip and wore it throughout the day, including to an interminable meeting where he stood up and paced. Checking his monitor afterward, though, he was flabbergasted. “It had recorded that I was not moving at all,” says Dr. Meckes, now an assistant professor at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, Calif. The experience inspired him to set up an experiment examining how reliable such devices are.” (New York Times)
Amgen Says Ovarian Cancer Drug Meets Goal of Late-Stage Study: “Amgen Inc. (AMGN), the world’s largest biotechnology company by sales, said its experimental drug for recurrent ovarian cancer met a late-stage study goal, helping patients live 1.8 months longer without the disease progressing. Patients taking trebananib plus the chemotherapy paclitaxel lived a median 7.2 months without their cancer advancing, compared with 5.4 months in the group on paclitaxel alone, Thousand Oaks, California-based Amgen said today in a statement. The company said it expects data on overall survival, an important measure of a drug’s effectiveness, in 2014. There will be about 22,240 new cases of ovarian cancer in the U.S. this year, with about 14,230 deaths from the disease, according to estimates from the American Cancer Society.” (Bloomberg News)
Regina Benjamin Stepping Down as Surgeon General: “U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced late Wednesday that she will step down next month after four years in the post. Benjamin, a longtime advocate for a health care model centered on wellness and preventable treatment, announced her decision in an e-mail to staff, thanking them for supporting her vision. ”My goal was to create a grassroots movement, to change our health care system from one focused on sickness and disease to a system focused on wellness and prevention. With your help, that movement has begun,” Benjamin wrote.” (CNN)
Administration to Stop Fighting Availability of Over The Counter Plan B: “The Obama administration has decided to stop trying to block over-the-counter availability of the best-known morning-after contraceptive pill for all women and girls, a move fraught with political repercussions for President Obama.” According to the Times, “the government’s decision means that any woman or girl will soon be able to walk into a drugstore and buy the pill, Plan B One-Step [levonorgestrel], without a prescription.” The Department of Justice, which “had been fighting to prevent that outcome…said late Monday afternoon that it would accept its losses in recent court rulings and begin putting into effect a judge’s order to have the Food and Drug Administration certify the drug for nonprescription use.” (New York Times)
Hospitals Taking Extra Measures To Reduce Noise: Some hospitals are replacing staff paging systems with wireless headsets or installing white noise machines and sound-absorbing ceiling tiles. Other hospitals offer “quiet kits” that contain sleep masks, earplugs and crossword puzzles. Efforts to reduce noise picked up steam last year after Medicare announced it will base a percentage of hospital reimbursement on quality measurements, which include patients ratings on quality of care. In these ratings, noise is consistently cited as the greatest annoyance. While many hospitals offer private rooms, there is only so much to be done in shared rooms. Officials ask visitors to use a quiet voice and to take care while walking around the hospital. (Wall Street Journal)
Kids Who Undergo CT Scans May Have Higher Cancer Risk Later In Life: Researchers looked at data from seven HMOs on children who underwent CT scans. They “estimated that 4,870 future cancers may occur each year in the future from the 4 million annual pediatric CT scans of the head, abdomen/pelvis, chest or spine.” The study, published in JAMA Pediatrics, also suggested that “reducing the highest doses of radiation from CT scans to the middle dose may prevent 43 percent of these cancers.” Approximately “7 million CT tests are performed in children each year in the U.S. and the number is rising about 10 percent annually, according to the Image Gently Campaign and the Alliance for Radiation Safety in Pediatric Imaging, which is funded by the Society for Pediatric Radiology, the American College of Radiology and other organizations to push for lower radiation doses in children.” (Bloomberg News)
The Twin Cities ranked number one for three years in a row because of their park system and low rates of chronic illness.
The American Fitness Index recently came out with their list of America’s healthiest, fittest cities, and the Twin Cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul, are the winners for the third year in a row. Oklahoma City was at the bottom at number 50.
The Index, part of the American College of Sports Medicine, assessed and compared America’s 50 most populous cities based on their citizens’ state of health and fitness at the community level. They assess health factors like smoking, exercise, obesity, availability to health care − including the proportion of people who have health insurance coverage. They also assess environmental indicators of health and wellness, including park space and availability of swimming pools, dog parks and recreation centers.
But alas, no city is perfect. In fact, in assessing the Twin Cities, the experts noted that they had too many smokers and few acres of parkland per capita. However, the cities boasted having lower death rates from chronic diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease. It had a high percentage of citizens who were at least moderately physically active. The cities also spend around $227 per person on their park system, compared to only $61 dollars in Oklahoma City. Read more »
Experts Make Suggestions on Gun Violence: A panel of experts assembled by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council at President Obama’s request after the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut delivered an “ambitious set of priorities” for the government to obtain “better data on guns.” There is currently no national figure regarding the number of guns that are in the country, and researchers often do not have access to data from law enforcement agencies regarding “data on specific games,” although they only track guns used in crimes. The experts said because “Basic information about gun possession, distribution, ownership, acquisition and storage is lacking,” it makes it “virtually impossible to answer fundamental questions” about how to establish programs to reduce gun violence. (New York Times)
Starbucks Bans Smoking Within 25 Feet of It’s Stores: Starbucks customers will have to light up more than 25 feet away from its 7,000 stores. “Jaime Riley, who works in global communications for Starbucks Coffee Co., said the company hopes to resolve any concerns amicably, should a customer be smoking within the restricted area.” She said, “Starbucks takes seriously its responsibility to provide all customers a safe, healthy environment that is consistent across its company-owned stores.” Patrons of Starbucks in downtown Saratoga Springs expressed mixed feelings about the new regulation. (The Saratogian)
Tuberculosis Treatment Shortages Threaten Developing World: The shortage of tuberculosis drugs has become a worldwide problem. At present, TB treatment shortages are occurring in the US, South America, India, Africa and South Asia. In the US, there have been several shortages of medication for multidrug-resistant tuberculosis and health experts are concerned that this ongoing supply problem could result in a significantly increased rate of MDR TB cases. Moreover, the shortage in India involves pediatric dosage levels, which means children either are being turned away or are being given portions of adult doses, putting them at a safety risk. (Wall Street Journal)
A berry producer that sells products to various stores, including Costco, has issued a recall of its frozen berry mix after it was linked to hepatitis A. As of June 3, 34 cases of hepatitis A have been linked to Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend frozen berries, which consists of frozen berries and pomegranate seeds. Cases have been noted in several states, including California, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.
The CDC reports that the first cases of hepatitis A were diagnosed in late April, which has continued until the most recent case appeared around May 21. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health has been holding clinics over the weekend for consumers of the berries to assess if they had contracted hepatitis. Seven of the 34 cases were in California.
The strain of the hepatitis A, genotype 1B, is rarely seen in the Americas, according to the CDC, but it “circulates in North Africa and Middle East regions.” This strain is also responsible for a 2013 hepatitis A outbreak in British Columbia after a frozen berry blend contained pomegranate seeds from Egypt. The Townsend Farms Organic Anti-oxidant blend claims to use pomegranate seeds and other produce from the US, Argentina, Chile and Turkey. It’s possible the virus came from a batch of seeds that came from abroad, but investigators are still assessing their origin. Read more »
Daily Sunscreen Use Slows Aging of Skin: “Regular sunscreen use helps keep skin looking younger longer,” according to a study published online June 3 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. This isn’t new to dermatologists. They have advised patients for years to wear sunscreen to combat skin changes caused by exposure to the sun, no large-scale human studies existed up until now that backed up that premise. “The study involved 900 white people ages 25 to 55 in Australia, where intense sun exposure is a fact of life. Most had fair skin, and nearly all burned in the sun.” The majority of the participants were “using sunscreen at least some of the time, and two-thirds wore hats in the sun.” “After 4 1/2 years,” participants who used sunscreen every day “were 24% less likely to show signs of increased aging.” (New York Times)
Group Urges FDA To Pull Products Containing Gingko Biloba: “The Center for Science in the Public Interest wants the Food and Drug Administration to “pull products that contain the herbal extract Ginkgo biloba from the marketplace.” The consumer advocacy group cited a study (PDF) released in March by the NIH’s National Toxicology Program that concluded the extract caused cancer in rodents. On Monday, CSPI Director Michael Jacobson and Senior Nutritionist David Schardt sent a letter (PDF) to FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition Director Michael Landa, urging the “agency to make companies recall their products containing the extract and ‘take legal action’ against diet supplement firms that resist.” The Hill notes that in March, the “agency told the Stewart Brothers, Inc., juice company that Ginkgo was ‘an unsafe food additive.’” (The Hill)
Study Finds California Law Lowers Medical Bills for the Poor: A study published Monday in the journal Health Affairs, which found that “a California law limiting how much hospitals can charge the uninsured likely resulted in lower bills for many patients – and free care for most of the state’s poorest uninsured residents.” The article notes that the law is considered to be stricter than the provisions under the Affordable Care Act which will require “nonprofit hospitals to give discounts to people who qualify for their financial assistance programs — charging them no more than they would for people with insurance.” (Kaiser Health News)
Study Reveals Frequency of In-Flight Medical Emergencies: “In-flight medical emergencies occur in about one in every 604 flights,” according to a study published online May 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine. “Considering that 2.75 billion passengers fly on commercial airlines a year, that works out to about 44,000 in-flight emergencies a year, and nearly 50 a day in the USA alone.” The study found that serious medical emergencies, such as psychiatric crises or cardiac arrest, were not seen very often. However, emergencies involving gastrointestinal troubles, dizziness, syncope, dyspnea and heart-attack symptoms were more frequently encountered. (USA Today)
Gene Therapy Technique May Protect Against Flu Pandemics: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania completed animal studies that show a gene-therapy technique may be protect against flu viruses such as H5N1 that originate in animals and are immune to vaccines. The research is published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, and involves placing certain genes in the nasal linings of mice and ferrets. The genes then produced antibodies that resisted infection by deadly amounts of H5N1 and H1N1, according to James Wilson, who led the research. (Wall Street Journal)
Common Painkillers May Be Linked to Increased Heart Risks: Researchers looked at data on approximately 353,000 patients. The investigators found that during one “year of treatment, for every 1,000 patients with moderate heart disease risk who took 2,400 milligrams of ibuprofen or 150 milligrams of diclofenac, both daily doses standard for arthritis, three patients would experience an avoidable heart attack.” This “risk was comparable to that associated with the newer Cox-2 inhibitor class of painkillers that includes Pfizer’s Celebrex [celecoxib], Merck’s Arcoxia [etoricoxib] and Vioxx [rofecoxib], which Merck withdrew in 2004 after research linked it to heart attacks and strokes.” (Bloomberg)
Ginkgo biloba is a popular herbal supplement that some suggest can boost brain power and prevent Alzheimer’s disease. It is currently one of the top-selling herbs in the United States. However, a new study suggests that it may damage your liver and even cause cancer.
During the study, researchers deposited solutions containing ginkgo biloba extract into the stomachs of rats five times a week for two years. Some groups received stronger concentrations of ginkgo than others. Afterward, they discovered that the rats with the most ginkgo exposure had a higher chance of developing liver damage, which included liver lesions and hypertrophy (having an abnormally large liver).
In addition to liver damage, the researchers also noticed an increased rate of cancers of the thyroid, along with abnormal growths in the nasal tissue. This comes as a shock to many in the medical community, as this supplement was generally considered safe for most people, except those who were taking blood thinners, as ginkgo can restrict the blood clotting process. Read more »
Boston Bombing Victims Considered for Leg Transplant: “Boston surgeons who have successfully transplanted donor faces and hands onto badly disfigured patients are now evaluating several amputees for leg transplants, a highly experimental operation believed to have been done just twice around the world, and never in the United States.” Surgeons at Brigham and Women’s Hospital “already had started screening candidates for the transplants when the April 15 Boston Marathon bombing sadly created another group of badly injured patients,” two of which lost both legs in the incident. However, “leg transplant candidates will have to undergo extensive physical and psychological screening during several months,” and “will have to wait at least six months from the time of their injury and report less than optimal results using prostheses, based on an evaluation by an experienced physical therapist.” (Boston Globe)
FDA Urged to Approve Currently Banned Sunscreen Ingredients: Some US consumers are purchasing certain types of sunscreens online because the products contain ingredients that are prohibited in the US. Manufacturers have been trying for years to get the FDA to approve some of these ingredients. An agency spokeswoman said that the FDA could not comment on applications being reviewed. Doctor Henry Lim, chairman of Dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, indicated that some UVA filters that have not yet been approved in the US have been used effectively in Canada, Europe, Asia and other places outside the US for some time now. (Wall Street Journal)
Stress Can Increase Both Good and Bad Habits: Researchers led by Wendy Wood, a professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California, “found that under various types of stress, all types of habits got stronger – not just the ones that cause trouble.” The research examined 65 UCLA students over 10 weeks, and found that patients who had “strong habits – either healthy or unhealthy – engaged in those behaviors more when they felt stressed by exam periods.” Additionally, another experiment involving UCLA students tracked their studying skills and determined that “those with the lowest levels of self-control were most likely to have strong habits.” (Time)