Health news from 90.5 WESA.

Coal companies are installing defibrillators in their mines to comply with a new order from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

A new regulation approved in December requires all coal mines to be equipped with defibrillators, at the entrance and in each underground section, by March 8. The change comes as a result of a suggestion from a private citizen in Erie County, according to DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday.

Plunging Temperatures Leave Furry Friends at Risk

Jan 2, 2013

As the temperatures in the Pittsburgh region dip to near single digits overnight, and remain below freezing during the day, pet owners are advised to make sure their cats and dogs are kept warm. The Humane Society of Western Pennsylvania receives calls each winter about dogs and cats left outside in freezing weather with no shelter. The first thing a pet owner is advised to do when the temperature drops is to bring dogs and cats indoors.

Between 2003 and 2011 Pittsburghers with a family health insurance policy saw their annual premiums on average increase 51 percent, from $9,193 to $13,850, according to a new report from The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that seeks to improve health care.

Nationwide the average family premium increased more than $5,000.

Heaters Bring Warmth, and Carbon Monoxide

Dec 28, 2012

Heaters are on full-blast this time of year, but the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) warns those warmth-generating appliances are often the cause of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Acting Director of the ACHD, Ron Vorhees, said the two main sources of carbon monoxide in the winter months are from heaters, and idling vehicles.

A pre-clinical study has found targeted drug therapy may be helpful in preventing esophageal cancer in a high-risk population. Researchers are looking at people who suffer from gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some 20 percent of Americans have at least one symptom of GERD a week that requires some sort of therapy.

In early 2012, the 21 and Able campaign kicked off. It’s an effort to help children with disabilities more easily transition into adulthood. As of now, when a person with disabilities gets cut off from many needed supportive services when they turn 21. While some services are available for adults, they’re hard to secure.

Western PA Nursing Homes Receive Poor Grades

Dec 23, 2012

Richard VanHalanger, 83, was independent when he walked into the Cedars of Monroeville nursing home in 2006 for two weeks of rehabilitation before heart surgery.

He drove. He attended church. He played golf.

By the end of two weeks at the home, his daughter, Valerie Warning, said he had lost both strength and pride because of the staff’s actions.

Homeless Deaths Remembered Tonight With Annual Vigil

Dec 21, 2012 Wrap.mp3

Every year a small group of mourners gathers under a bridge in Downtown Pittsburgh to remember the lives of individuals who died while homeless.  Each year, new plaques bearing the names of those who died in the last year are added to the memorial on the wall holding up the bridge carrying traffic from Grant Street to I-376 East.

Winter Shelter for the Homeless

Dec 20, 2012

When winter's colder temperatures arrive in Pittsburgh, the Severe Weather Emergency Shelter, or SWES, will be ready.  For a 10th year this winter, the facility on Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh will provide shelter to homeless individuals from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. when the temperature dips to 25 degrees or below.

The Mario Lemieux Center for Blood Cancers opened its doors to the first round of patients this week. It’s a new facility designed specifically for patients with blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

“This was built with the idea of creating a much better patient experience for this particular group of patients because they are so ill and spend so much time in the outpatient setting. The facility is state-of-the-art in terms of the technology as well as the design of the facility,” said Dr. Stan Marks, chairman of the UPMC Cancer Center.

PHC4 Releases Statewide Hospital Performance Report

Dec 18, 2012

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) has released its 2011 Hospital Performance Report. The document includes statewide, regional, and individual facility information about the health care outcomes for adult patients in 12 medical categories and surgical procedures. PHC4 Executive Director Joe Martin said it covers 157 hospitals across the state.

Talking to Kids Following Traumatic Events

Dec 17, 2012

Friday’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut left many parents and children nervous heading into schools across the country Monday. It also left many parents wondering how to talk to their children about what happened. Dr. Anthony Mannarino is co-founder of Allegheny General Hospital’s Center for Traumatic Stress in Children. He said when children ask hard questions, answers should be age-appropriate.

Flu On The Rise in PA Since Thanksgiving

Dec 13, 2012

More Pennsylvanians are coming down with the flu earlier this year.  The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported the activity has increased from sporadic to widespread over the last four weeks, meaning more than half of the state’s regions have experienced outbreak.

Acting Secretary of Health, Michael Wolf said there have been an astonishing number of cases since the beginning of December. “In the last week, the number of cases being reported to the department have more than doubled from the previous week from 172 to 448,” he said.

Report Calls for More Wood Burning Rules

Dec 12, 2012

<strong> UPDATED 12/12/12 3:10pm with comments from Colmac Resources. </strong>

Biomass burners are often touted as relatively clean and renewable energy sources. But a new report finds the burners are sending unmonitored pollutants into the air near vulnerable residents such as school children.

The bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s disease has been found in the water at one building at the VA Butler Healthcare facility.  

Legionella bacteria was found in Building Two on the campus after the hospital’s routine testing and monitoring of the water system. As a result, VA Butler Healthcare has shut down the water system to Building Two and has implemented contingency plans for water and hand sanitization.

The Victims Of DUI

Dec 12, 2012

Pennsylvania might have fewer DUI-related crashes than it did in the past, but each DUI still has a victim.

That was the point of a discussion at a City Council session chaired by Council member Bruce Kraus to discuss driving under the influence.

Kraus represents the South Side—the scene of some recent highly publicized DUI incidents.

One such incident Kraus noted allegedly involved Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu, a fourth-round pick out of the University of Washington.

Deadline Nears For PA-Run Health Insurance Exchange

Dec 11, 2012

State Senate Democrats are making one last, largely symbolic effort to get the governor to put Pennsylvania's health care exchange firmly in state regulators'’ hands.   Governor Corbett has said even if the exchange isn'’t run by the state from the outset, he can always opt to switch from a federally-run exchange to one that is overseen by the commonwealth. 

Senator Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia), a member of the Banking and Insurance Committee, acknowledged that's an option.

A North Hills family filed suit against the federal government Monday for the death of Navy veteran William Nicklas, who died of Legionnaire's disease contracted at a Pittsburgh Veterans Affairs hospital late last month.

The 87-year-old husband and father of three passed away on November 23, days after checking into the University Drive hospital in Oakland for health problems unrelated to Legionnaire's disease. Nicklas was one of five patients to contract the legionella pneumonia bacteria at the hospital over the past several months, but he was the only fatality.

Chemotherapy after surgery for a recurrence of breast cancer leads to higher survival rates, and higher rates of disease-free survival. That’s according to a new study by researchers from Allegheny General Hospital and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project.

An initial diagnosis of breast cancer can lead to either a lumpectomy plus radiation, or a mastectomy. The typical treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer affecting the same area was surgery, without chemotherapy.

Domestic violence happens everywhere – college campuses, big cities and suburban townships. But rural victims of partner abuse face a unique set of barriers. Rural areas often lack the public transportation, law enforcement, and shelter and housing resources to help them leave abusive relationships behind.

The term “elective surgery” pretty much says it all. It’s a surgery that could be part of one’s treatment plan, but is not the only option. A new report from the Dartmouth Atlas Project found huge variations in the rates of Medicare patients undergoing elective surgeries in different parts of the country.

The Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System officially opened a "Fisher House" on the campus of its main hospital in Oakland on Tuesday. When a member of a military family from out-of-town must be hospitalized, the house will provide free rooms and meals for the rest of the family.

Health Officials Want to Needle You

Dec 3, 2012

Although no official cases of the flu have been confirmed in the Pittsburgh area yet this season, local health officials are urging residents to get a flu shot during National Influenza Week (December 2-8).

"We're approaching that time of year when you start to see influenza activity," said Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department.  "Influenza typically starts in late fall and peaks in the winter sometime in late January or February."

Pitt Study Sheds New Light On Debilitating Virus

Dec 3, 2012

A virus that can cause brain damage lies dormant in more than half the population and scientists are working to eradicate it before it can debilitate our unborn children. It sounds like a movie plot, but it isn’t. In fact, it has already inside us and a new study shows certain cells are resistant to the virus.

For years, it has been recommended that women schedule annual mammograms to help prevent and detect breast cancer in the early stages. Now, as a result of a multinational study, researchers are finding ultrasound screenings could be more affordable and accessible to women while also being more effective.

Dr. Wendie Berg, a professor of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh and practicing radiologist at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC, led researchers through a four-year study that evaluated data from the perspective of using ultrasound as the primary screening method.  

Hospital Acquired Infections Down in PA

Nov 29, 2012

Healthcare-associated infections contracted at Pennsylvania hospitals decreased by 3.1% in 2011. That is according to an annual report released by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Hospital Acquired Infections (HAIs) fell in three categories: catheter-associated urinary tract infections (down 32.3% from 2008-2011; central line-associated bloodstream infections (down 44% from 2008-2011); and surgical site infections (down 5.9% from 2009 to 2010).

Lupus affects some 1.5 million people in the US, most of them women between the ages of 15 and 45. The word “lupus” is well-known, but what it actually does is less-so.

“It is an auto-immune disease, so immune system attacking self. Your immune system is supposed to be your defense against external infections and invaders and for reasons we don’t fully understand it turns on self and mounts an attack against self,” said Dr. Susan Manzi, co-founder of the Lupus Center of Excellence at West Penn Allegheny Health System.

UPMC has entered into negotiations with a Blair County health system for a possible affiliation agreement. Altoona Regional Health System has been exploring affiliation options for nearly a year, UPMC beat out other large health systems, including Highmark for the right to negotiate.

“Now, the discussions get down to more specifics about what an affiliation would look like, and we’re not putting any timelines on this, so we’re not sure when the next step will be,” said Altoona Regional Spokesman Dave Cuzzolina.

Non-general acute care facilities in Pennsylvania, such as rehabilitation and psychiatric hospitals, remained financially sound during fiscal year 2011. That’s according to the most recent report from The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4). The strongest category was rehabilitation hospitals which saw statewide operating margins improve 3.76 percentage points.