Health news from 90.5 WESA.

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Medicine taken “under the tongue” might replace traditional allergy injections, according to a study presented at the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy and Immunotherapy.

In a Phase III clinical trial researchers gave patients either a placebo or liquid immunotherapy.

Patients who took the medicine through ragweed season—about eight to 16 weeks— experienced a 43 percent decrease in symptoms compared to those on the placebo. 

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine says he was surprised by the announcement last week from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare that PCIP – Pre-existing condition insurance plans- a transition insurance program that is part of the Affordable Care Act - would cease to take new enrollees.

Pennsylvania’s plan called 'Pennsylvania Fair Care,' was set up in 2010, has 6,500 enrollees and averages about 200 new enrollees a month.

Former Allegheny County Health Department Director Bruce Dixon died early Wednesday morning according to the County Medical Examiner’s office.  The death is listed as being related to a blood infection from a sudden inflammation of his gallbladder, which caused him to be hospitalized on Tuesday.

Deanna Garcia/90.5 WESA News

February is Black History Month, March is Women’s History Month, and in the City of Pittsburgh February 15th through March 15th is Women of Color HERstory Month.

Long-term Marcellus Shale Study Underway

Feb 19, 2013
Ari Moore / Flickr

Geisinger Health System is using a $1 million grant to study the impact Marcellus Shale drilling has on people's health.

The grant from the Degenstein Foundation will go towards building a data warehouse that will be home to healthcare, drilling, and environmental data needed for the project.

Stephen Sellers, Administrative Director of the initiative, said the project will take 20 to 30 years. He said they’re divided into 5-year phases and the grant will go towards the first.

Penn State 'Thon' Raises Record $12.37M

Feb 18, 2013

A 46-hour, no-sitting-or-sleeping-allowed dance marathon at Penn State raised more than $12.37 million for pediatric cancer research and care, shattering last year's record-breaking total by nearly $1.7 million.

The announcement delivered by student organizers to more than 700 dancers and thousands of volunteers, along with cancer patients and their families, concluded the weekend-long IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon at 4 p.m. Sunday.


A conference on traditional Chinese medicine in contemporary contexts at the University of Pittsburgh Friday will examine traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a concurrent approach to treating illness. The event is organized by the husband and wife research team of Professor Andrew Strathern and Dr. Pamela J. Stewart.

The two-day conference is rooted in the growing field of medical anthropology, a study of health-related beliefs and behaviors. Strather said modern medicine can avail itself of the nearly 2,000 years of historical knowledge that TCM encompasses.

A conference on traditional Chinese medicine in contemporary contexts at the University of Pittsburgh Friday will examine traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a concurrent approach to treating illness. The event is organized by the husband and wife research team of Professor Andrew Strathern and Dr. Pamela J. Stewart.

The two-day conference is rooted in the growing field of medical anthropology, a study of health-related beliefs and behaviors. Strather said modern medicine can avail itself of the nearly 2,000 years of historical knowledge that TCM encompasses.

University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) researchers have uncovered a technique to halt the growth of cancer cells—a discovery that could lead to potential new anti-cancer therapies.

The team discovered when cancerous cells are deprived of Dynamin-related protein 1 (Drp1), they are unable to properly divide and multiply.

GERD Connected to Adult-Onset Asthma

Jan 28, 2013

A study published earlier this month in JAMA Surgery established the link between two common diseases - Gastroesophageal reflux disease also known as GERD and adult-onset asthma – which can be caused by GERD.

“That’s a very challenging diagnosis to make oftentimes because up until recently we didn’t have technology that had the sensitivity that enabled us to make that diagnosis,” said Blair Jobe, one of the study’s authors and the Director of West Penn Allegheny’s Institute for the Treatment of Esophageal and Thoracic Disease.

Is the Flu Season In Pittsburgh Coming to an End?

Jan 22, 2013

This year's "flu season” has claimed a higher than average number of victims this winter, but some local doctors are finding the high volume of cases are already starting to drop.

Thomas Campbell, Assistant Chairman of Emergency Medicine for West Penn Allegheny Health System, said this year got started a little bit earlier than in the past several seasons and it was worse than normal, but he isn’t exactly sure why. He said while it will linger through the winter, he is optimistic an end to the spike is in sight.

Highmark and West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) have agreed to an out-of-court deal that would have the health insurer buy out the outstanding debt load of WPAHS.

The two nonprofits released a joint statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying the companies' original affiliation agreement had been amended to include the new proposition.

Though Pennsylvania gets a sizeable chunk of money from tobacco settlements, it’s not spending the funds as intended, which is to fight tobacco use and to help people quit. That’s according to the National Lung Association’s State of Tobacco Control 2013 report. The annual report gives the state two “C” grades and two “F’s.”

No More Babies At Windber Medical

Jan 16, 2013

Less than 10 years after restarting its Obstetrics program, the Windber Medical Center (WMC) will stop delivering babies once again.

The decision to shutter this program came to many as somewhat of a surprise.  Obstetricians at Windber have delivered approximately 200 babies per year since the program reopened in 2005.  In addition, the Medical Center expanded its nursery less than two years ago.

Kim Oleska, Windber Medical Center spokesperson, said it’s the lack of obstetricians that is causing Windber to close the program.

Flu Season Reaching Zenith

Jan 8, 2013

As flu season reaches its peak across the country, the Allegheny County Health Department is asking those who haven't been vaccinated to get flu shots and urging everyone to wash hands after contact with other people.

ACHD Acting Director Dr. Ron Voorhees said even though it takes a few weeks for the immune system to create defensive antibodies after a vaccine, it's not too late to get one for this flu season.

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.