Health

Health news from 90.5 WESA.

Art Writ / VCU CNS/ flickr

Human Papillomavirus is spread by skin-to-skin contact, can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, genital cancer. Yet it can be easily prevented through a three-shot vaccination process, which the CDC says is underutilized. Dr. Jonathan Pletcher works at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and councils parents and their children about the vaccine and any possible risks.

It’s a one-inch brownish block made from a compressed mixture of fishmeal and fish oil — just what might make a tasty snack for a raccoon. 

The Allegheny County Health Department is hoping these fishy squares will attract the raccoons because they are laced with a rabies vaccine. Raccoon rabies is the most prevalent type of rabies in the county and across Pennsylvania.

Starting Monday and continuing through August 16, health department workers will be spreading 230,000 baits throughout the county to reduce the spread of rabies from raccoons to other animals and humans.

Every year, nearly half a million children 14 and younger visit the emergency room for traumatic brain injury in the United States.

Two Pittsburgh researchers have been selected by the National Institutes of Health to lead a $16.5 million study evaluating treatments for pediatric TBI.

The five-year international study is looking to provide evidence to standardize clinical practices and provide guidelines that would improve the lives of children with TBI.

The Department of Environmental Protection will continue to study air quality near gas wells in Washington County through the end of the year.

In 2012, the DEP began a long-term study to measure ambient air pollution in Chartiers and Hickory townships, where both “wet” and “dry” natural gas are being extracted and sold through compressor stations and pipeline networks.

DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said while most of the attention has been on water contamination, the emphasis is beginning to shift towards drilling’s effect on air pollution.

The first wrongful death lawsuit sprouting from the 2011-12 Legionella outbreak at the Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs hospital was filed Friday — a day after a VA Office of Inspector General's report indicated more than a third of the nation’s VA Hospitals did not report cases, assess patient risk or evaluate treatment of Legionnaires' disease.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA-18) said he is surprised Pittsburgh VA wasn’t the only location where staffers weren’t properly communicating about Legionella.

Pittsburgh researchers have found the joints of children with chronic inflammatory arthritis contain immune cells similar to those of 90-year-olds.

A new study suggests premature aging of immune cells are linked to children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

The study, led by University of Pittsburgh professor of pediatrics and immunology Abbe de Vallejo, sampled immune cells called T-cells from 98 children with JIA.

The team found one-third of the T-cells in children had shortened “telomeres” that had reduced or lost the capacity to multiply.

Naturegirl78 / Flickr

As if regular old mosquitoes weren’t bad enough, the Allegheny County Health Department is reporting that the Asian tiger mosquito has been found throughout Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.

More common mosquitoes generally bother birds, and people as well, but they're usually most active at dawn and dusk. That’s not the case with this insect.

“The Asian tiger mosquito loves people,” said Health Department entomologist Bill Todaro. “It bites in the morning, it bites in the afternoon and it bites in the evening.”

A Somerset prison is chemically treating its water supply after four inmates became infected with Legionella.

On July 26, Department of Corrections officials tested the water system at the State Corrections Institution-Somerset with preliminary results finding no traces of Legionella. However, the bacteria was found in the facility’s cooling towers.

Susan McNaughton, press secretary for the DOC, said the prison is cooperating with state agencies to eliminate the bacteria.

BreathePA / Facebook

Living in Pittsburgh with asthma can be difficult with air quality alerts, high pollen and ragweed levels, and general city pollution. Triggers for this chronic inflammatory disease are everywhere and no one knows this better than the kids trying to run outside and play. 

In the past, many believed that children diagnosed with asthma should not be physically active.  It was thought that the running and heat would cause an unnecessary increase in breathing problems. Yet 29 years ago, after parents expressed their fear of sending their children with asthma to summer camp, a new concept was born: Camp Huff-n-Puff.

Twenty-five million people in the United States have asthma, and that number is growing every year.

Research by the Allegheny Health Network is now underway that examines whether high levels of particulate air pollution in the Pittsburgh area are connected to an increased number of asthma attacks known as exacerbations.

Pittsburgh has taken great steps to move away from being one of the most polluted cities in the nation, but tiny fragments of pollution generated from the burning of fossil fuels called particulates still pose health problems for those with asthma.

Two organizations want uninsured and underinsured households to stop skipping prescriptions due to cost.

For a third year, the United Way of Allegheny County and FamilyWize Community Service Partnership are providing free prescription discount cards to help struggling families and individuals.

Cardholders can save 44 to 75 percent off their prescriptions at all chain pharmacies and grocery stores nationwide.

Angela Reynolds, United Way Director of Programs for Financially Struggling Adults and Families, said people going without prescriptions is a large issue.

West Penn Allegheny hospitals laid off 262 employees Friday, and another 200 vacant positions are being eliminated.

“This action is extremely difficult but is an essential step in our efforts to right-size the organization for the patient volume that we currently have and to strongly position it for future growth and success as a leading healthcare provider in this region,” said Dan Laurent, a spokesman for Highmark’s Allegheny Health Network.

West Penn Allegheny will now have 10,300 employees and the Allegheny Health Network as a whole, 17,000.

Thirteen of the Pittsburgh region’s nursing homes are taking part in a federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) initiative to reduce the number of nursing home residents who are re-admitted to the hospital within 30 days.

Four of those 13  are the Kane Regional Centers in McKeesport, Glen Hazel, Ross and Scott Township.  Those centers are receiving an in-house nurse practitioner and employee training designed to help pick out situations that need medical intervention.

A Season for Bigger, Badder Poison Ivy

Jul 25, 2013
Zen Sutherland / Flickr


Global warming has had some unexpected consequences, some good, some bad, but perhaps none are quite so itchy as the explosion in poison ivy growth.

Because of the abundance of CO2 in the air of late, weed plants such as poison are thriving, and biologist Joylette Portlock claims that poison ivy “could be growing twice as fast” by the middle of the 21st century.

Around the country, people are facing rapidly growing  poison ivy, often with pan-sized leaves. With that increased size comes an increase in urushiol, the toxin that puts the “poison” in poison ivy.

Research by a Pittsburgh physician could help women diagnosed with ovarian cancer determine the most effective chemotherapy treatments with their doctors.

The study, led by Dr. Thomas Krivak, assistant director of Gynecological Oncology at West Penn Allegheny Health Systems, supports the ChemoFx chemoresponse assay, a tool used to accurately predict how individual women will respond to platinum-based chemotherapy for ovarian cancer.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s plans to shut down 26 of the state’s 60 public health centers has been put on hold after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted a temporary injunction Wednesday.

The state’s Department of Health said closing almost half of Pennsylvania’s health centers that provide services such as immunizations and disease testing would save $3.4 million.

But the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Healthcare Pennsylvania argued doing so would cut 26 nursing jobs, and the state couldn’t close the centers without state legislature approval. 

With the heat reaching 90 degrees all this week, the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have been opening and extending the hours of cooling centers for the elderly — but what about the homeless?

Dr. Jim Withers, medical director and founder of Operation Safety Net, said the homeless, especially those who are elderly, are at risk during the heat.

LGBT Health Concerns

Jul 16, 2013
UPMC

According to Dr. Ron Stall, director of the Center for LGBT Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, the dearth of investment in sexual health research, especially for the LGBT community, is something of an American tradition. Primarily due to the hot-button nature of conversations about sexuality and sexual practices, “the US has been slow to invest in sexual health in general.”

This additional roadblock makes the advances that have been made in the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV all the more impressive. According to Stall, thanks to breakthrough drug research, HIV “has now become a chronic manageable disease much like diabetes,” for those who are aware of their illness and have access to drugs.

One in 3 American children is overweight or obese. That’s according to the Children’s Defense Fund, which also says 45 percent of those kids come from low-income families.

Pittsburgh is launching a new program called “Green Up to Grow Up” to try to reduce that figure.

The program is an expansion of GreenUp and Edible Gardens, which turns vacant lots into areas where produce is grown for low-income neighborhoods.

Starting July 1, 2014, UPMC is stubbing out the cigarettes of its employees, physicians, students and volunteers during their shifts.

UPMC has introduced a policy in which employees are not permitted to smoke at any point during their shift — even during scheduled breaks.

Tim Cline, senior director of clinical training and development, said exposure to tobacco smoke and the residual products of tobacco use is not safe on any level.

Last July, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center opened a $250 million dollar, 156-bed hospital in Monroeville.

A year in, Mark Sevco, UPMC’s East President said they have had “a great first year.”

They are seeing more than a hundred patients a day in the emergency department, operating at 75 percent capacity.

“We were expecting 65 patients a day, and we’re at about 115," Sevco said. "And from a surgical perspective, we’re 50 percent over our budget projections."

About a month after its re-opening, the fountain at Point State Park is being tested by the Allegheny County Department of Health for Legionella.

The move follows a report of one person coming down with Legionnaires' disease after a visit to the fountain. County health officials say it’s unlikely the infection came from the fountain, but they are testing it as a precaution.

When virologist and mother-to-be Carol Coyne was working in her lab four years ago, she began wondering how her placenta was protecting her unborn baby from the viruses she worked with.

At that time, placenta was seen as a passive barrier between a mother and her unborn child, but four years later, Coyne and director of Magee Woman’s Research Institute Yoel Sadovsky have uncovered a new purpose for it.

Sadovsky and Coyne have found that the cells in placenta, called trophoblasts, actually block viruses from crossing from the mother to her baby.

Tony Alter / Flickr

Following the American Medical Association’s reclassification of obesity as a disease, physicians are hopeful about the slew of positive opportunities that could come to the one in three Americans classified as “obese.

Dr. Esa Davis, a practicing physician with UPMC Division of General Internal Medicine, notes that this change will allow for primary care offices to have more discussions with patients about obesity and hopefully allow for “broader insurance coverage for weight loss programs and nutritional services” as well as “increased funding for research and intervention programs.”

But why are there more obese people in 2013 than ever before? Davis points to the increased availability of nutrient-dense food and a decrease in physical activity.  This decrease has extended to schoolchildren where exercise is not always part of the daily routine.

UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh have found that pre-menopausal and post-menopausal breast cancer are very different in their genetic make-up but are being treated the same way.

Pitt researchers discovered this after analyzing clinical and genomic information on 140 patients previously treated for breast cancer.

It is the first test of a $100 million data warehouse project.

The goal of the data warehouse is to collect cancer data from UPMC’s 21 medical centers and analyze it in the hopes of creating personalized treatment.

The drug, acetyl fentanyl looks like heroin but it's much stronger and Federal and State officials are very concerned about it.  Abuse of the prescription painkiller has been linked to at least fifty deaths in Pennsylvania this year.

Fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl is administered for severe pain as a patch. But when used recreationally, the powerful drug is very much associated with fatal overdoses. In 2006, there was a rash of deaths in Pennsylvania, including 269 in Philadelphia.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Hard Head Patrol is attempting to protect children’s brains one helmet at a time.

The patrol is back for its eighth summer to teach children of all ages the importance of wearing a helmet when they ride their bikes, scooters and skateboards.

“We were looking at injuries with kids crashing and being admitted to the hospital as one of our more significant classifications so we wanted to target something that would encourage kids to wear helmets,” said Chris Vitale, manager for injury prevention at Children’s Hospital.

According to a Pew report, too many Pennsylvania children are developing cavities and dental-related issues, but this is not mom and dad’s fault.

The Pew Children’s Dental Campaign report assessing states on how well they are providing children access to dental care showed that 10 percent of Pennsylvania’s population is under-served and living in a dental “shortage area.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports about 45 million Americans live in regions that do not have enough dentists to serve the population.

The longest study of the link between obesity among Type 2 diabetes patients and cardiovascular disease recently wrapped up, and it found that among the 5,145 participants, losing weight did not improve their chances of having hospital stays due to things like chest pain and heart attacks. 

However, researchers warn there is much more to the study once you start to dig a little deeper.

Jelly Mark / Fightobesity.com

On Tuesday, the American Medical Association officially re-classified obesity as a disease. Experts are now saying this recognition will enable doctors to better treat the 1 in 3 Americans who struggle with obesity. It is hoped health plans will create more products to help patients manage their weight and broaden the coverage for those in need. Dr. Esa Davis, a practicing physician with UPMC, joins us to discuss the changes this re-classification will bring to the healthcare system. 

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