Health

Health news from 90.5 WESA.

What if HIV was not only preventable, but also if sexually active individuals had a list of options to prevent the disease that newly infects an estimated 50,000 people a year in the United States?

The Pittsburgh-based Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) has been awarded $70 million for use over seven years to develop and test HIV prevention products.

MTN has completed 13 trials since 2006 from its base at the University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Women’s Research Institute.

It’s the “season of giving” but in the hustle and bustle of the season, some forget that can also mean giving blood. Each year, blood and platelet donations drop off during this time of year, according to the American Red Cross Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region. There are several reasons for the decline.

“One is the holidays,” said spokeswoman Marianna Spampinato. “People are busy shopping, baking, decorating, enjoying themselves – which is great, but meanwhile, patients are still in hospitals needing transfusions.”

This is often called “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many it’s one of the toughest times of the year, thanks to depression. There are several types of depression, including major depressive disorder, or what is more commonly known as clinical depression.

“It’s a mood state that lasts for an extended period of time and to a degree of severity that really interferes with a person’s usual functioning,” said Edward Friedman, a psychiatrist with UPMC. “That’s kind of different from holiday blues or seasonal blues.”

At the end of next year, the contract between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark Health Plan will expire, and many Western Pennsylvanians are worried about losing access to the doctors and hospitals they have patronized for years.

In October, a pair of Pennsylvania House representatives introduced legislation that would impose new rules on nonprofit integrated delivery networks, like UPMC, which offer both healthcare and health insurance.

What's Good About Going Gluten Free?

Dec 16, 2013
cookiespi / flickr

Grocer’s shelves are filling up with a number of gluten free products.

This is great news for people switching to gluten-free diets based on their gluten intolerance or celiac disease. But as the trend gains popularity, some worry that a gluten-free diet may be a fad and not healthy for everyone.

Dr. Kofi Clarke, director of the Celiac Center at Allegheny General Hospital and Amy Macklin, registered dietitian and owner of Gluten Free Roots say the popularity of gluten-free products is positive in that it increases awareness of celiac disease, gluten intolerance and gluten allergies. 

Research Finds Better Sleep Makes for Stronger Bones

Dec 16, 2013

Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice, marks the shortest day of the year with only a little more than nine hours of daylight here in Pittsburgh. With less light some people might be feeling ready for bed a little early. According to researchers, this is another way our bodies fight off some diseases.

With shorter days and longer nights our bodies’ melatonin levels are rising earlier than usual. Melatonin is the molecule that tells our bodies when it is night and prepares us for sleep. Melatonin has also been found to be important in maintaining healthy bones.

An Update on Governor Corbett's Health Care Plan

Dec 11, 2013
Talk Radio News Service

The Corbett Administration is making details of its alternative proposal to the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion available to the public.

The Governor recently held a presser on his health care plan days after releasing it online. The plan, which would allow hundreds of thousands of people to enroll in private health insurance plans subsidized with federal funds, is one step closer to receiving federal review.

90.5 WESA's Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Wilson reports on the plan from Harrisburg and says the proposal is similar to those of other states, but includes a few elements unique to the Commonwealth’s needs.

Accessing 125 Years of Contagious Disease Research

Dec 11, 2013
Houston Museum of Natural Science / flickr.com

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have collected and digitized all weekly surveillance reports for reportable diseases in the United States going back more than 125 years.

The design, called Project Tycho, is led by researchers Drs. Donald Burke and Willem van Panhuis. They say this access to this data can be vital to preventing and treating contagious diseases.

Dr. Burke, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health says the data has always been available, but not so easy to access.

A week before the Pennsylvania House Health Committee holds a hearing on legislation to force all not-for-profit health care insurers and care providers to open their services to all insurance holders, not just their own, UPMC launched a campaign to defeat the measures.

Mailers were sent to at least three legislative districts in western Pennsylvania and robocalls were received across the state asking recipients to urge their lawmakers to reject the legislation.

Fifteen years after tobacco companies agreed to pay restitution to states for costs related to tobacco use, a new report finds that most states are not spending enough of that money on smoking prevention and cessation programs.

It’s flu season again — have you been vaccinated yet?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is offering free flu clinics throughout the commonwealth during National Influenza Vaccination Week,

Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said the holiday season is the perfect time to remind people of the importance of getting vaccinated.

Fifth (Pittsburgh)Red Celebrates AIDS Awareness

Dec 2, 2013
Tim Camerato/90.5 WESA

County officials, HIV/AIDS advocates, and survivors gathered in downtown Pittsburgh Monday to mark International World AIDS Day and to blow up a 30-foot balloon ribbon onto Fifth Ave. Place.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald noted it’s been more than 30 years since the first AIDS cases were reported.

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, but as many people who’ve gone through high school and who are familiar with pop culture know, kids finds ways around that all the time.

A new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh finds that teens that do their drinking alone may be at greater risk for alcohol problems later in life.

Picking a hospital for cancer treatment may be one of the most important decisions in a patient’s life.

Now, a Pennsylvania nonprofit is making it easier to see which hospitals are offering the best cancer care by making quality ratings available online for the first time.

The hospital quality reports, released by the Pennsylvania Health Care Quality Alliance (PHCQA), rates hospitals based on process measures, which assess a health care facility’s adherence to standard guidelines and procedures for treatment.

More than 8,000 people are awaiting transplants in Pennsylvania. That’s according to Donate Life PA which also said an average of 490 people die each year while waiting for a matching organ to become available.

SB 850, also known as the Donate Life PA Act, would revise the 1994 law on organ donation.

The legislation aims to create more awareness about donation, emphasize that transplantation is the priority for donated organs and increase the likelihood that people will donate.

It has been a little more than a week since the United States Justice Department completed its investigation of a rash of preventable deaths at the Pittsburgh Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System.

Five veterans died of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pittsburgh VA in 2011 and 2012, while more than 20 other patients were sickened. The Justice Department has concluded that no VA employees are criminally liable for the deaths.

During the last flu season there were 1,415 confirmed cases of influenza in Allegheny County, but the health department adds that for every one laboratory-tested case there are as many as 100 others.

More vulnerable groups of people, such as the elderly and infants, are often affected by life-threatening symptoms brought on by the virus. This Thanksgiving, healthcare organizations in the area are starting a new initiative to help some of the most vulnerable residents.

UPMC is alerting nearly 1,300 people treated at various UPMC locations over the past year that their records were viewed inappropriately. The now former employee at UPMC McKeesport was not involved in the care of the patients and therefore should not have been looking at their information.

“Another employee called it to the attention to the management of the hospital,” said UPMC spokeswoman Wendy Zellner. “Thus, we took the action we did to terminate this employee.”

A new report from Georgetown University finds that nationwide, the rate for uninsured children continues to decline, even as most Americans perceive that the rate is on the rise.

“As of 2012 it was just over 7 percent nationwide without coverage,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “That is certainly still too many, but in fact that’s a historically low number.”

Operation Safety Net’s Severe Weather Emergency Shelter opened two days early this year with more than four times the expected turnout.

When the temperature drops down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net opens a Severe Weather Emergency Shelter at the Smithfield United Church of Christ in downtown Pittsburgh to protect homeless people from the cold.

The shelter has overnight accommodations, social services and medical care.

Could a hashtag save someone’s life? The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) think so. 

That’s why they are asking Pennsylvanians to post the message “NO MORE” with the hashtag #pasaysnomore on their Twitter accounts on Nov. 24.

Steve Halvonik, PCADV communications director, said they chose Nov. 24 because it's the day before the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

A study released Thursday by local researchers finds people living in Allegheny County have a substantially higher risk of getting cancer due to simply breathing the air over the course of their life time than those who live in 20 other counties in the area.

The report from the Heinz Endowments-supported Breath Project based its findings on publicly available data looking at the predicted levels of more than 200 toxic air pollutants.

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania says he does not think charges are warranted in relation to the deadly Legionella out break at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Twenty-two veterans who were treated in 2011 and 2012 at the Pittsburgh VA were sickened by Legionella.  Five of them died.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton called the situation “tragic” but feels no charges should be filed by his office.

Brother's Brother Foundation / Facebook

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines on November 8th, organizations all over the world have been sending aid to the victims.

Locally, Brother’s Brother Foundation is working with the Philippine American Medical Society of Western Pennsylvania to move medical supplies to the Philippines.

Luke Hingson, president of Brother’s Brother says his organization has been active in the Philippines since the 1950s. One of the inherent problems when responding to natural disasters is the uncertainty of what to expect from the situation.

Flickr user Grumpy-Puddin

If you have hemophilia, multiple sclerosis or any number of other hard-to-treat diseases, the cost of your medications alone could reach into six figures, depending on your insurance coverage.

“It’s roughly $15,000 a month, and from that I’m lucky to have good insurance so we have good co-pay structure, co-insurance," said Nick Vizzoca, whose 13-year-old son has hemophilia.

The Pittsburgh resident said he is worried his son’s medication could be placed into a specialty tier and the co-pay could sky rocket.

'Sarah’s Amendment' Faces Vote in Harrisburg

Nov 18, 2013

About 60 percent of stalking victims aren't currently able to obtain a restraining order in Pennsylvania, according to numbers from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Under current law, PA victims can only obtain one if their stalker is a relative or someone they dated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 715,000 Americans have a heart attack each year. 

The Allegheny Health Network hopes to help these people with its new “First Contact-to-Balloon” initiative.

“First Contact-to-Balloon,” refers to the time when a patient first calls for a paramedic to when their blocked blood vessel is actually opened.

The initiative will enable Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers to diagnose patients from the field and then alert hospital cardiac catheterization teams to prepare for their arrival.

"The Fault in Our Stars," a movie adaptation of a critically and commercially popular young adult novel, has just finished filming in Pittsburgh and in the Netherlands.

The book and movie center around two teenagers who meet and fall in love at a cancer support group. Many of the extras in the movie are young people with cancer.

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the movie adaptation of the beloved novel. Book author John Green says the story goes against the typical trope popular media brings us about the ailing.

Nearly half of all Americans say they would favor a ban on contact in youth football among kids that have not yet entered middle school. The 47.6 percent number comes from a recent survey released Thursday by Robert Morris University.

That number falls to 40.5 percent when the age is increased to high school. 

Among males who played football in their youth, the percentage slips to 44.3 for a ban prior to middle school and 38.2 for a ban prior to high school.

Elementary and secondary schools in the Pittsburgh region are increasingly interested in integrating gardening into their curricula. At least, that’s what it looks like from where Jake Seltman is sitting.

Seltman is the director of educational programming at Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that provides gardening and farming education to people of all ages.

Seltman said that in the last six months he’s fielded 22 requests from schools and school districts to bring the Edible Schoolyard program to their schools.

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