Health

Health news from 90.5 WESA.

Ryan Clark’s Cure League Tackles Sickle Cell

Sep 4, 2012

The Steelers play in Denver Sunday night, and Ryan Clark, who usually starts at safety, will once again be inactive. If he has his way however, Clark and others eventually won’t have to shy away from activities that could affect their genetic disorder—sickle cell trait.

With more than one third of the American population considered to be obese, weight loss is a popular and important issue, especially among women. A study has shown that postmenopausal women who increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables while decreasing their intake of desserts, sugar-sweetened drinks, meat, and cheese are more likely to control and maintain their weight over time.

Although there have been no human cases detected in western Pennsylvania, there has been a record-high number of mosquitoes carrying the deadly West Nile Virus (WNV). Allegheny County health officials reported 138 samples tested positive, which is nearly twice as many as last year and the highest number ever.

The samples were gathered during the period in the summer when humans are most vulnerable to the virus. Dr. Ron Voorhees, Acting Director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said the root of the problem actually comes from birds.

In an effort to raise awareness about and prevent concussions, Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin is sharing one of the team’s mantras – “don’t hit the head, don’t use the head,” to young football players in the region.

Surplus Suture Wanted

Aug 28, 2012

A Pittsburgh-based international medical relief agency is calling on hospitals to donate surgical suture kits to prevent surgical delays and deaths in countries including Malawi, Jamaica, and Bolivia. For the past 23 years, Global Links has provided medical materials for resource-poor countries, and while large amounts of suture have already been donated, there is still a need for more.

Highmark has sent the Pennsylvania Insurance Department an updated version of its request to take over local healthcare providers.  The new plan increases the cost estimate to $1 billion due to the addition of another hospital takeover option and new physician agreements.

It's the time of year when many home gardeners are enjoying harvesting and eating plenty of varieties of tomatoes.  This Sunday Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will host the 8th annual "Red, Ripe, and Roasted Tomato and Garlic Festival"  to celebrate two of this year’s most bountiful crops. The event will focus on fresh, local produce and its culinary possibilities.

Jordyn Melino, Exhibit Director at Phipps, described the festival as perfect for the city of Pittsburgh, given its rich local farms and history of food.

With influenza season not far away, the Allegheny County Health Department wants to increase the number of workers at the 18 Pittsburgh area hospitals who receive flu shots.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 63.5% of health care workers nationwide were vaccinated against the flu last season.  "That is surprising," said Dr. Ron Vorhees, the acting director of the County Health Department.  "We think this is a good opportunity to really encourage people to step up, be protected, and protect their patients."

Health Department Tries To Vaccinate Raccoons

Aug 20, 2012

So far this year, four rabid raccoons have been spotted in Allegheny County down from 23 that were found in 2002. To reduce those numbers even further, the Allegheny County Health Department will conduct its 11th annual raccoon rabies vaccine baiting program. From August 20-24, Health Department workers, part of the “Rabies Control Team”, will place nearly 230,000 baits in all municipalities.

Pittsburgh continues to grow as a racing town as the city hosts the inaugural Liberty Mile run this Friday, August 17. Top competitors from across the country as well as recreational runners will participate in the event that is a partner of the Bring Back the Mile campaign. The closest race distance to the mile is the 1500 meter, about 0.93 of a mile. The 1500 has been an Olympic event since the 1896 summer games.

An unusually hot and dry summer in the Pittsburgh area may have had some hoping that it would lead to some relief from ragweed allergies, unfortunately the hot temperatures and lack of rain had little to no impact on the plant, according to Dr. Barry Asman, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Monroeville.  “Ragweed has been growing all summer long. For some reason, the ragweed seems to be drought resistant, whereas my yard has not been drought resistant.

Pitt Study Shows 'Decoy' Can Fight Cancer

Aug 14, 2012

An injection of 'decoy' material into human tumors helped reduce certain cancer activity, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Pitt Professor of Otolaryngology Jennifer Grandis said the decoy targets a protein called "Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3" (STAT3), which is difficult to treat because it's found mainly in the nuclei of cancer cells.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has given a $983,783 grant to Carnegie Mellon University to fund two studies of a new digital scanner that could improve cancer diagnostics.

The two-year project will compare the scanner's capabilities with the current methods of diagnosing a tumor's status by placing a biopsy under a microscope. CMU principal investigator Dr. Robert Murphy said each study will focus on the diagnosis of a specific cancer.

"They call it either the gray tsunami or the silver tsunami," said Linda Raimondi, coordinator of Geriatric Education at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC).  "This is a problem all over the world."  Raimondi was referring to the growing elderly population.

A Robert Morris University (RMU) professor has created a computer simulation that showed incredibly small particles, or nanoparticles, could be manipulated into carrying a chemotherapy drug directly to a cancerous tumor. Since current chemotherapy drugs have more of an indirect route, the drug kills healthy cells as well as the cancerous ones, causing severe side effects, and limiting the dosage that can be given to patients.

Local residents are generally happy to live in the Pittsburgh area, according to a survey released on Tuesday by the University of Pittsburgh and PittsburghTODAY. However, African-American are not so pleased.

Roughly 1,800 survey respondents in the 32-county Pittsburgh region ranked the local quality of life at 7.8 out of 10. The national average is 7.4 out of 10.

More than 1,800 people from all 50 states and nearly 40 countries are in Pittsburgh discussing ways to enhance communication for individuals with severe speech problems.

Dr. Peter Shaw, Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology (AYA) Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that cancer patients 15-40 years old have had inferior survival rates over the past three decades.

"One of the reasons [for that] is the young adult populations and adolescents are less likely to be in clinical trials than pediatric patients and also older adult patients," Shaw said.

Clean Indoor Air Act, 4 Years Later

Jul 26, 2012

The House Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony from community members, experts, and business owners advocating for the expansion of the Clean Indoor Air Act (CIAA) that went into effect in Pennsylvania beginning in September 2008.

The CIAA allows establishments to permit smoking if they apply and qualify for an exemption. Some taverns, cigar bars, and tobacco shops can all qualify. As of December, more than 2,800 establishments in the commonwealth were exempt from the smoking ban. 60% of bars in Allegheny County allow smoking.

The days of "snail mail" may be in the past for Pennsylvania laboratories, with most now sending test results electronically. About 93% of the state's 516 independent laboratories and critical care hospital-associated labs participated in a survey conducted earlier this year by the Pennsylvania eHealth Collaborative. Nearly 80% of them confirmed they are electronically submitting data at the present time.

In 2009 the state was awarded $17.1 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help establish an electronic exchange of health information.

More than 25 million people in the U.S. are living with Type 2 Diabetes. That's about 8.3% of the population, but there is one group experiencing higher rates.

"If you look at blacks over the age of 20, non-Hispanic blacks, almost 19% have diabetes," said Mim Seidel, a registered dietician with the Food Studies Program at Chatham University.

State Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) has introduced legislation that would allow more Pennsylvanians to be insured through Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. If his measure is passed, medical coverage would be expanded to include residents who earn less than 133% of the federal poverty level.

With the recent record-setting temperatures across the region, senior centers throughout the city of Pittsburgh have extended their hours of operation to provide a respite to elderly residents.

Pittsburgh senior citizens 60 years of age or older can find relief from the heat in one of the Cooling Centers when temperatures reach a "real feel" of 90 degrees or warmer.

Since the beginning of the month, record daily high temperatures have been set four times: 94° F on July 1; 97° F on July 4; 98° F on July 6; and 99° F on July 7.

A bill passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature and signed by Governor Tom Corbett requires insurance companies to cover the cost of general anesthesia for young children and patients with disabilities.

"If they can't be handled in a normal dental setting then their situation just gets worse and worse and worse, and then you have to deal with infection and all sorts of things that have occurred because a small cavity wasn't taken care of," said Dr. Bernie Dishler, president of the Pennsylvania Dental Association.

Child Abuse Signs and Signals

Jul 13, 2012

Thursday's report by Judge Louis Freeh encouraged citizens to be more agressive in reporting sexual abuse. Joan Mills, manager of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System's "A Child's Place," said she hopes it encourages people to speak up about suspicions they might have.

Highmark Stresses Low Readmission Rates

Jul 12, 2012

Come fall, the federal government's Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) agencies will no longer provide incentives for hospitals with low numbers of patients who are readmitted to the hospital after 30 days of discharge. Despite that, Highmark is continuing an emphasis on low readmission rates by requiring the majority of hospitals participating in its pay-for-performance Quality Blue plan to report readmission numbers in 2013.

Page Babbit, Director of Provider Engagement at Highmark, said the program has many goals, but a main purpose is reducing readmissions.

The Allegheny County Health Department stands to lose more than $625,000 in state funding this budget year.

The state's allocations to municipal health departments across the state were all cut by the same percentage, according to ACHD Acting Director Ron Voorhees. The impending cuts would amount to about 1.6% of ACHD's yearly budget of $46.6 million.

The federal government is asking why Pennsylvania's Medicaid rolls have dropped over the past year, and is suggesting that some people might have been kicked off improperly. Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the PA Department of Public Welfare (DPW), said the belief is that the department is in compliance with the federal rules in regards to the redetermination of clients enrolled in the Medicaid program.

"We do not believe that there have been any terminations in error, but will continue to review and fix any errors that we are made aware of," said Miller.

The Allegheny County Board of Health postponed a vote on new air pollution regulations on Wednesday, in order to open the measure for public comments.

For newly permitted sites only, the proposed "air toxics" regulations would govern any potentially harmful industrial emissions not already restricted by the federal Clean Air Act. While the rules don't apply to existing facilities, current air quality conditions would be taken into account when determining if a new site would harm public health.

An unusually dry season has caused water in the Youghiogheny Lake to drop five feet below the normal level, forcing some recreational areas to close sooner than expected. The Mill Run Recreational Area is expected to close this week, while the Tub Run Camping Area will more than likely close next week.

Werner Loehlein, Chief of Water Management for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the Pittsburgh region, said minimal snowfall this past year has been a contributing factor to the low water levels.

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