Health news from 90.5 WESA.

In March, an Allegheny General Hospital patient became the first there to undergo robotically-assisted minimally invasive coronary bypass surgery. The procedure is thought to be less traumatic to the body and allows for faster recovery times for patients.

Teenage athletes disproportionately estimate their recovery from concussions on physical symptoms like headache and nausea, according to a new study from UPMC.

The UPMC Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program studied 101 concussed teen athletes to find that they often overlook non-physical symptoms like emotional distress, sleep problems, and difficulty in concentration when they are gauging their recoveries.

Robotic-assisted, laparoscopic surgery for prostate cancer has gained in popularity over the years, but a recent UPMC study found it doesn't yield better results than standard open surgery, though it costs a great deal more.

The "Hard Head Patrol" is back this summer educating children of all ages on the importance of wearing a helmet when riding anything with wheels. The program sponsored by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh will begin this month and run through September.

A new study released by the Trust For America's Health (TFAH) shows almost half of all U.S. states scored low on the Injury Prevention Report Card. The Facts Hurt: A State-By-State Injury Prevention Policy Report ranked states on ten indicators and 24 of them scored a five or lower.

The growing popularity of telemedicine may still be out of reach to some, but Pennsylvania is trying to close that gap. Governor Tom Corbett has announced that the state will increase patients' access to specialist care through telemedicine by expanding coverage for people covered by the Medical Assistance Program.

"How this will work is using technology like interactive audio and video equipment, doctors and patients will be able to connect from remote locations," said Carey Miller, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.

Several years ago Paul Getsy woke up and went to work like any other normal day. He put on a headset and thought the right ear had stopped working, only to discover it was actually his ear that wasn't working. Getsy suffered what's called sudden sensorineural hearing loss. That's a fast, frequently one-sided and often uncorrectable hearing loss that occurs when there is damage to the inner ear. A steroid treatment didn't work, and traditional hearing aids don't do much for people with this type of hearing loss.

Screening for colorectal cancer has shown to be effective and decrease the likelihood of death caused by colon cancer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. University of Pittsburgh Professor of Medicine Dr. Robert Schoen, the lead author, said that the screening exam was not a full-blown colonoscopy.

A special type of cardiac ultrasound developed at UPMC allows doctors to pinpoint the placement of pacemaker wires on the heart, according to a recent study from the hospital system.

Principal investigator Dr. Samir Saba said the speckle tracking echo technique improves upon doctors' methods of placing the left ventricular wires for biventricular pacemakers.

Well, it would improve the current technique if there were any standard method of placing those wires.

A research team at the University of Pittsburgh has discovered a possible treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), just four years after determing the cause of the rare skin cancer.

The husband-and-wife team of Dr. Patrick Moore and Dr. Yuan Chang has found that the experimental drug YM155 is an "extremely potent killer" of MCC tumors in laboratory mice.

Moore said the drug was not toxic to the rodents, so human trials are expected to begin within six months.

ACHD Warns Whooping Cough is On the Rise

May 9, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department is reminding the public to get vaccinated for pertussis, also known as whooping cough. Department spokesman Dave Zazac noted there have been 46 confirmed or probable pertussis cases countywide this year, far above the typical average of seven. He said the bacterial infection can be picked up by touching tissues with the disease, or by coming into contact with bacteria put in the air through coughing.

Wheelchairs break 40% more often than they used to, according to a new study by researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The incidence of breakdowns in previous years was already high, according to senior author Dr. Michael Boninger, but a surge in failures since 2006 has left more people with spinal-chord injuries in inconvenient and unsafe situations.

Members of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and Allegheny County residents implored the County Board of Health Wednesday to pass updated and strengthened air toxic guidelines (ATG), the document used to permit new sources of air pollution in the county.

GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said the hope was that the board would have new guidelines to consider at their meeting on Wednesday, but they didn't.

County Health Board Names Interim Director

May 2, 2012

The Allegheny County Board of Health has appointed Ronald Voorhees as interim director. This comes after the board ousted County Health Director Bruce Dixon after 20 years on the job. He'll be leaving in early June.

"It is the intention of the board to hold a national search for a permanent director, and that process will begin. We've already posted the job description," said Board Chair Lee Harrison.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark Inc. have agreed to another extension. This one will provide in-network access for Highmark Commercial and Medicare Advantage members to all UPMC hospitals and physicians through the end of 2014.

The new deal replaces a one-year contract extension that was set to expire June 30, 2013.

While making the announcement, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said he hopes the two non-profits will continue to meet to try and hammer out a deal that will extend beyond December 31, 2014.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

In a space that was until recently a parking lot now stands the newest addition to the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

It took more than a decade for it to come together, but the new facility in Oakland is being touted as the future of veteran-centered health care.

New features include 78 private beds for psychiatric care in the same building as an outpatient primary-care center that providers hope will streamline services.

A team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh has taken a look at the childbirth procedures and delivery suites at Magee-Women's Hospital to understand and suggest ways to improve sustainability in the practice.

Melissa Bilec, an assistant professor in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, led the research that is considered the first of its kind. The researchers used a Life Cycle Assessment to determine environmental impacts of childbirth in a hospital setting.

Families were given an eight-month period from the beginning of the school year to make sure their children are fully vaccinated. But enough students were not in compliance that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has extended the deadline by two weeks.

"Two weeks depends on the school district. It's eight months from the start date of school," said Department of Health Spokeswoman Christine Cronkright. "In some school districts, that day is coming today; some, it's tomorrow; it depends on when that school district began school."

A report this week from The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) showed that more than 10 percent of those released from hospitals in Pennsylvania are readmitted within 30 days and that means a huge cost for taxpayers. Readmissions for Medicare patients alone accounted for more than a half billion dollars in spending in 2009, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Therapists, counselors, prosecuting and defense attorneys, family court judges, medical personnel and law enforcement officials filled the auditorium of the IBEW Local Union No. 5 this morning in the South Side for a conference on child maltreatment.

Janet Squires, Chief of the Child Advocacy Center at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said the conference helps guide people to protect children's rights while understanding their profession's responsibilities.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) conducted a first-of-its-kind study examining the hospital readmission rate of adults ages 18 and older statewide. The group found that about 13.5% of hospital stays were followed by at least one readmission within 30 days. About a third of those readmissions were the direct result of a complication or infection. But, that doesn't necessarily mean there was a problem with the patient's care. PHC4 Spokesman Gary Tuma said a number of factors could be at play.

Department of Health Practices Emergency Response

Apr 24, 2012

A three-day disaster drill tested Pennsylvania emergency services across the state this weekend. Teams assembled in Lebanon, Clearfield, and Lehigh Counties to practice their response to disaster scenarios.

Joe Schmider, State Director for the Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, said participants treated the situations as if they were real, and were not told what they would encounter during exercises.

He said, when actual disasters occur, resources become strained, and practice sessions help them to learn to cope when an emergency presents itself.

Pennsylvania Seeks Emergency Volunteers

Apr 23, 2012

Volunteer efforts in the wake of natural or manmade disasters are often the piece that brings hope and humanity back to a hurting area.

The state's Department of Health is urging Pennsylvanians to join the network of registered volunteers, SERVPA, during the week set aside by Gov. Tom Corbett as Volunteer Week, now through April 21.

Food Justice is focusing on bringing about equity in terms of access to healthier foods in all communities. The food justice movement is a fast-growing one, as more attention is being paid to childhood obesity and the higher rates of obesity among minority groups.

"What we know from research is that communities that are primarily African American, as well as Latino, tend to have fewer grocery stores where you can find greater access to a variety of foods and lower-cost foods," said Monica Baskin, associate professor of public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Monday, April 16, 2012

As men and women return from military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, they go through a significant adjustment as they rejoin civilian life. Part of that adjustment is figuring how to communicate their experience at war. This can be especially challenging for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who are trying to build new, romantic relationships.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The U.S. Department of Justice's Antitrust Division announced Tuesday that it has closed its investigation into Highmark's affiliation agreement with West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS). The D.O.J. launched the antitrust investigation in February.

The Allegheny County Board of Health will hold a public meeting from 6:00 to 8:00 PM this evening at the Clairton Municipal Building (551 Ravensburg Blvd.).

Dr. Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, chairs the 22-member committee formed in January, 2010 to revise air toxics guidelines that haven't been changed since 1988. He says the last public meeting took place about a year ago in Avalon.

Gene Mutations Linked to Autism Risk

Apr 5, 2012

New studies published in the scientific journal Nature show that genetic mutations in the womb may be the cause of 15% of cases of autism spectrum disorders.

Bernie Devlin, a professor of psychiatry in the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health, and Kathryn Roeder, a professor of statistics and computational biology at Carnegie Mellon University, worked on the study, which was conducted by researchers from Harvard and Yale and the University of Washington.

Child Abuse Prevention Month Begins In Pennsylvania

Apr 3, 2012

Pennsylvania is marking Child Abuse Prevention Month, which aims to educate those who work with children as well as individuals about how to prevent a child from being abused.

In 2010, there were 24,615 reports of child abuse in Pennsylvania, down from 25,342 in 2009.

This year, the Pennsylvania Family Support Alliance (PFSA) will raise awareness of child abuse by painting three murals with abuse prevention themes.

But Beth Bitler, the alliance's Program Director, says this month is meant to do more than just raise awareness.