Health

Health news from 90.5 WESA.

  About 15,100 people die each year from hepatitis C, making it the leading cause of chronic liver disease and liver transplantation.

The disease can be contracted through injection drug use, unprotected sex or through contact with the blood of someone who is infected. It can be minor, lasting only a few weeks, or a lifelong battle.

But a study from the University of Pittsburgh shows that hepatitis C could become a “rare” disease by 2036.

As the death toll from the Ebola virus in African continues to climb, and with two Americans infected with the disease coming back to the states for treatment, health officials are trying to calm fears that an outbreak could happen here.

“There’s been concern that bringing these ill Americans home will cause spread of the disease in the U.S. This is not a reasonable concern,” said Carrie DeLone, MD, Pennsylvania’s Physician General. “These individuals are contained in a bubble environment during transport and remain so until they get to their isolation unit here”

Overcoming Physical And Mental Obstacles At Tough Mudder

Aug 1, 2014
Tough Mudder

The Tough Mudder is a 10-12 mile race, filled with obstacles, and designed by members of the British Special Forces. It was created to test the body and mind.

Contestants swim in frigid water, climb across monkey bars covered in grease, and run through live wires. The race has been immensely popular in the United States and around the world.

In the next week the Tough Mudder race comes to Pittsburgh. We talked about how to prepare with Fittsburgh co-founder Joe Vennare and Pittsburgh Tough Mudder course manager John Barker.

A coalition of anti-fracking groups are hoping to ferret out stories of Pennsylvanians who feel they were ignored by the Department of Health when they called to complain about health problems that could be linked to Marcellus Shale gas activities. 

A web-based survey has been created to collect the stories and those who choose to not use the web can call (717) 467-3641 to share their experiences.

Connor Tarter / Flickr

One quarter of Pittsburgh area hospitals closed in the first decade of the 21st Century, drastically reducing the amount of charitable care available to the poor. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Sean Hamill looks at the implications in his two-part series "Poor Health."

Hamill spent a good deal of time speaking to people in clinic waiting rooms, he says while these people know where they can possibly see a doctor, they are only seen for five minutes. Hamill says hospitals were not like this years ago.

“The big advantage to the hospitals that existed before they were torn down…was, once you came in for something more severe than a cold, it might require some specialty care, some diagnostics care, you could get that all within the same hospital. They would keep you there, they would do the triage you required through an emergency room, but they would also make sure you got that next level of care.”

Marcus Charleston / WESA

From annoying ringtones to everyday noise pollution, it seems like our world is getting noisier. The Wonder Boys, Ellis Robinson and Daniel Tkacik of “I Wonder PGH,” went in search of an answer. Their findings are revealed in a thrilling installment of the Mysteries of Pittsburgh. They wondered, was it this hard to find silent spaces 50 or even 100 years ago?

Robinson and Tkacik spoke with author George Prochnik, who answered this question with the research he has done for his latest book, The Pursuit of Silence.

“It can be difficult to make the argument that things are noisier in the sense that everywhere there are higher volumes today than there were in the past. At the same time, there’s not necessarily more noise everywhere, there’s less silence.”

Can Denying Hearing Loss Affect Your Job?

Jul 25, 2014
chrissylong / Flickr

A new research survey by EPIC Hearing Healthcare finds that 30 percent of U.S. employees suspect they have hearing loss, but have not sought treatment.

Of those, almost 95 percent say it impacts them on the job yet many go out of their way to hide their hearing loss for fear of losing their job.

Pittsburgh audiologist, Dr. Suzanne Yoder says preconceived notions about hearing loss is what hinders most people from getting the help they need.

“Hearing loss unfortunately has that bad reputation where people feel like if they admit they have a hearing problem, they’re going to be seen as being old, which is something that they don’t want. Or, they’ll be seen as less capable, that their employer will think less of them, or treat them differently, maybe not give them that promotion. The sad thing is, it’s actually the reverse. You treat your hearing loss and you deal with the issues, you’re more likely to earn a better living. There’s research to back that up, that shows there’s a loss of salary for those with untreated hearing loss. It’s extremely important to go out and start dealing with it and not bluffing your way through conversations. The reality is, when you bluff, when you pretend, you end up looking worse.”

One of the last things people might think about on a beautiful summer day is giving blood, and the American Red Cross is starting to notice that the drop in donations could be serious.

Blood donations have decreased by 8 percent over the last 11 weeks meaning that the Red Cross is down by approximately 80,000.

“This shortfall is significant enough that without increased donor turnout we could experience an emergency situation in coming weeks,” said Marianne Spampinato, Red Cross’s External Communications Manager.

Controlling blood-loss is key when emergency responders on helicopters rush patients with traumatic injuries to the hospital.

That’s why University of Pittsburgh trauma experts are launching a trial to see if the blood-clotting drug,  tranexamic acid (TXA) could save lives by helping medics gain control of internal bleeding.

When it comes to prescribing pain medications for patients with chronic diseases, Pennsylvania is doing OK – but could be doing better.

That’s according to the 2013 "Achieving Balance in State Pain Policy: A Progress Report Card," which gave the commonwealth a “B” grade.

The report card was created by the University of Wisconsin Pain & Policy Studies Group and was funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), its Cancer Action Network (CAN) and LIVESTRONG.

Could text messaging help reduce binge drinking among young adults?

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine suggests that this might be the case.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Binge drinking is considered to be five drinks or more for men and  four drinks or more for women generally over a two hour period.

Brian Suffoletto, lead author of the study and an assistance professor of emergency medicine at Pitt, said binge drinking in the U.S. has become an epidemic.

In Pennsylvania, newborns are screened for more than 40 conditions, but only six of these screenings are mandatory according to Dr. Robert Cicco, the associate director of the neonatal intensive care unit at West Penn Hospital.

However, a new law will add a seventh condition to that list, requiring hospitals to screen babies for severe heart disease using a pulse oximetry test.

Eleven patients from a unit at UPMC Presbyterian were moved to other parts of the hospital following the detection of legionella in several sinks in a recently-remodeled area.

There are no confirmed cases of Legionnaires’ disease, but UPMC spokeswoman Wendy Zellner said the patients were moved as a precautionary measure.

“We are following our normal Legionella monitoring and prevention protocols and expect the unit to reopen soon after proper remediation measures are taken,” Zellner said in a statement.

Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every adult in the U.S. to have a bottle of pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Gary Tennis, secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), said that since 2000, prescription drug and heroin overdoses have quadrupled. 

About 400,000 coronary artery bypass graft surgeries are performed in the U.S. each year, and roughly one in five patients goes on to experience clinical depression. But all that could change because of a telephone.

According to University of Pittsburgh researchers, monitoring patient depression and administering a nurse-led intervention via a phone call bi-weekly not only improves quality of life and mood, but it’s also cost-effective and cost-saving.

When most Pennsylvanians are incarcerated, the Department of Corrections must foot the bill for their health care costs.

That’s according to Susan Bensinger, Deputy Press Secretary, who said the department works to pay that bill in a way that provides community-standard care for the inmates while utilizing taxpayer money in the most efficient way possible.

A study released Tuesday by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation suggests that the department has been successful in that mission.

A five-year agreement between Allegheny Health Network and Johns Hopkins Medicine has been signed, finalizing a partnership between AHN and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Washington, DC.

“Cancer patients and their families benefit and their outcomes improve when we share knowledge and expertise because then we can accelerate knowledge transfer and treatment advances outside of communities where patients live,” said Dr. David Parda, system chair of the AHN Cancer Institute.

The Allegheny Health Department reported that 30% of school age kids in the county are obese or overweight, and a new Pittsburgh start-up aims to address this issue with animated characters shaped like food and 6 years of research at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU).  

Fitwits combines stories, games, and instructions for parents and professionals on how to deal with the sensitive subject of obesity.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent afternoon, Kelly Liartis is at Magee Women’s Hospital for a check-up. She’s talking to her doctor Hyagriv Simhan about her soon-to-be-born baby — and her frequent summer asthma flare-ups.

He's telling her that despite her fears, its actually OK to use her inhaler ... it's been used in pregnancy, as he says with a laugh, for a "bajillion years."

90.5 WESA's Michael Lynch

When you think of Pittsburgh’s Market Square, yoga probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

But hundreds of people gathered at the downtown hotspot today to talk about health and fitness, as well as try their hand at a little downward-facing dog.

More than 30 local exhibitors set up shop in downtown Pittsburgh for the Pop Up Outdoor Wellness Fair, sharing information on farming, fitness and food.

Flickr user Doug Becker

Julie Burgo was shocked when she was diagnosed with asthma in her 40s. But she had a hunch of what was causing the disorder: her neighbors’ wood burning fireplace.

When she approached her neighbors and told them that their habits were negatively affecting her health and the health of her mother, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, she said they retaliated with bigger and more frequent fires.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

They’re known as the “sandwich generation:” people simultaneously caring for aging parents and children still living at home.

They are typically in their 40s and 50s, and according to U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), they’ve been all but ignored by policymakers.

On Monday, Casey held a hearing in Pittsburgh to learn more about the experiences of people in the “sandwich generation” and to hear from social service and healthcare professionals about potential policy changes that could ease the burden of those caring for both parents and children.

Western Africa is currently experiencing the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, and the Brother’s Brother Foundation (BBF) in Pittsburgh is asking for donations to help protect the medical staff trying to contain it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola virus disease has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.  Nearly 400 people throughout Western Africa have died from the virus since March - including patients and the medical staff taking care of them.

A blueprint for what Pennsylvania officials hope will be a smooth transition for Highmark Insurance customers currently using UPMC doctors has been agreed to by both non profit organizations but the details have yet to be reached. 

“This as really been a bipartisan approach,” said Highmark CEO David Holmberg who just two weeks ago did not think such a deal was possible.  “This has been about everybody putting their swords down and doing the right things.”

Every year 40,000 babies are born in the U.S. with congenital heart defects, and parents might not be aware of their infant’s condition. 

Pennsylvania law requires hospitals and birthing centers to test newborns for six genetic disorders, including maple syrup urine disease and Sickle Cell Disease, as well as 23 other disorders.

The state Legislature is getting ready to add one more to the list — congenital heart defect — which according to the March of Dimes, claims thousands of lives annually before the child is a year old.

New Round of Healthcare Navigator Funding Announced

Jun 17, 2014

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week $60 million dollars in funding for navigators to help people sign up for health insurance during the second round of open-enrollment period in the marketplace.

The health insurance marketplace is a key component of the Affordable Care Act.

This next open enrollment period begins November 15.

Office of Congressman Tim Murphy

More than 10 months after U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy wrote to former Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Eric Shinseki asking what disciplinary action would be taken in the wake a Legionella outbreak at a Pittsburgh hospital, he has gotten an answer of sorts.

On Friday, the VA announced that Pittsburgh Healthcare System director and CEO Terry Wolf was placed on administrative leave, “pending the completion of administrative actions related to the Legionella outbreak.”

The head of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System has been put on administrative leave, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

System Director Terry Gerigk Wolf oversaw the healthcare facilities during the Legionella outbreak of 2011 and 2012, which resulted in the deaths of at least six people and sickened more than twenty others.

Courtesy of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Reports of secret waitlists and preventable deaths at Veteran’s Affairs hospitals in Phoenix have spurred a nationwide audit of VA healthcare facilities.

The situation in Pittsburgh is not as dire as it is in Phoenix, but the VA facilities here are facing their own unique challenges.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is home to more than 260,000 veterans and their families, one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the United States.

Health care costs continue to rise in the US and part of the reason is inefficiencies throughout the system. That’s according to Everette James, J.D., M.D., director of the Pitt Health Policy Institute and former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health. One of the main topics of discussion at the “All Together Better Health VII” Conference in Pittsburgh is how to increase efficiencies in health care.

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