Health news from 90.5 WESA.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

On a recent afternoon, Kelly Liartis is at Magee Women’s Hospital for a check-up. She’s talking to her doctor Hyagriv Simhan about her soon-to-be-born baby — and her frequent summer asthma flare-ups.

He's telling her that despite her fears, its actually OK to use her inhaler ... it's been used in pregnancy, as he says with a laugh, for a "bajillion years."

90.5 WESA's Michael Lynch

When you think of Pittsburgh’s Market Square, yoga probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.

But hundreds of people gathered at the downtown hotspot today to talk about health and fitness, as well as try their hand at a little downward-facing dog.

More than 30 local exhibitors set up shop in downtown Pittsburgh for the Pop Up Outdoor Wellness Fair, sharing information on farming, fitness and food.

Flickr user Doug Becker

Julie Burgo was shocked when she was diagnosed with asthma in her 40s. But she had a hunch of what was causing the disorder: her neighbors’ wood burning fireplace.

When she approached her neighbors and told them that their habits were negatively affecting her health and the health of her mother, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, she said they retaliated with bigger and more frequent fires.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

They’re known as the “sandwich generation:” people simultaneously caring for aging parents and children still living at home.

They are typically in their 40s and 50s, and according to U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), they’ve been all but ignored by policymakers.

On Monday, Casey held a hearing in Pittsburgh to learn more about the experiences of people in the “sandwich generation” and to hear from social service and healthcare professionals about potential policy changes that could ease the burden of those caring for both parents and children.

Western Africa is currently experiencing the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, and the Brother’s Brother Foundation (BBF) in Pittsburgh is asking for donations to help protect the medical staff trying to contain it.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Ebola virus disease has a fatality rate of up to 90 percent.  Nearly 400 people throughout Western Africa have died from the virus since March - including patients and the medical staff taking care of them.

A blueprint for what Pennsylvania officials hope will be a smooth transition for Highmark Insurance customers currently using UPMC doctors has been agreed to by both non profit organizations but the details have yet to be reached. 

“This as really been a bipartisan approach,” said Highmark CEO David Holmberg who just two weeks ago did not think such a deal was possible.  “This has been about everybody putting their swords down and doing the right things.”

Every year 40,000 babies are born in the U.S. with congenital heart defects, and parents might not be aware of their infant’s condition. 

Pennsylvania law requires hospitals and birthing centers to test newborns for six genetic disorders, including maple syrup urine disease and Sickle Cell Disease, as well as 23 other disorders.

The state Legislature is getting ready to add one more to the list — congenital heart defect — which according to the March of Dimes, claims thousands of lives annually before the child is a year old.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced last week $60 million dollars in funding for navigators to help people sign up for health insurance during the second round of open-enrollment period in the marketplace.

The health insurance marketplace is a key component of the Affordable Care Act.

This next open enrollment period begins November 15.

Office of Congressman Tim Murphy

More than 10 months after U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy wrote to former Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs Eric Shinseki asking what disciplinary action would be taken in the wake a Legionella outbreak at a Pittsburgh hospital, he has gotten an answer of sorts.

On Friday, the VA announced that Pittsburgh Healthcare System director and CEO Terry Wolf was placed on administrative leave, “pending the completion of administrative actions related to the Legionella outbreak.”

The head of the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System has been put on administrative leave, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

System Director Terry Gerigk Wolf oversaw the healthcare facilities during the Legionella outbreak of 2011 and 2012, which resulted in the deaths of at least six people and sickened more than twenty others.

Courtesy of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Reports of secret waitlists and preventable deaths at Veteran’s Affairs hospitals in Phoenix have spurred a nationwide audit of VA healthcare facilities.

The situation in Pittsburgh is not as dire as it is in Phoenix, but the VA facilities here are facing their own unique challenges.

Southwestern Pennsylvania is home to more than 260,000 veterans and their families, one of the largest concentrations of veterans in the United States.

Health care costs continue to rise in the US and part of the reason is inefficiencies throughout the system. That’s according to Everette James, J.D., M.D., director of the Pitt Health Policy Institute and former Pennsylvania Secretary of Health. One of the main topics of discussion at the “All Together Better Health VII” Conference in Pittsburgh is how to increase efficiencies in health care.

UPMC St. Margaret used to use alcohol caps for central lines, and with those had a very low infection rates. The use of the caps was discontinued and a disturbing trend emerged.

“When that happened we saw almost a double of our infection rates,” said Jenny  Bender, infection preventionist, now at UPMC Presbyterian, formerly with St. Margaret, “they still weren’t awful but they were way higher than what we were used to seeing, which was zero.”

A $1 tax increase could cause 77,000 adults to quit smoking and prevent 85,000 kids from ever starting smoking in Pennsylvania, according to the American Cancer Society.

The organization and its affiliate the Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) are partnering with the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers to consider adding a dollar to the $1.60 per pack tax.

The groups are saying that the increase could save almost 50,000 lives in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Corbett is calling on UPMC and Highmark to put their patients first.

The contract between UPMC and Highmark is set to expire by December 31st, 2014.

UPMC said that it does not intend to extend the contract, which means that Highmark patients will not receive in-network rates for UPMC services.

Injured workers in Pennsylvania receive stronger painkillers per claim than the average state. That's according to a report released this month by the Workers Compensation Research Institute.

According to the study, the average injured Pennsylvania worker gets about 2,745 milligrams of a morphine equivalent narcotic per claim. That’s 32 to 48 percent more than workers in the average state.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is asking for public feedback on its 2014 Air Monitoring Network Review, an annual report listing where and how air pollution is being measured.

The 78-page document, required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, includes the location of monitoring stations, the process used to monitor the air and the pollutants detected at each location.

Health Department to Make Low-income Homes Healthy

May 29, 2014

Every day, an average of 36,000 children in the United States miss school because of an asthma attack, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Unfortunately, many children are exposed to asthma triggers such as mold and dust mites, along with other health hazards, in their homes.

Now, lower income households with children can receive free home health inspections from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) to detect risks such as asthma triggers, mold spores, and lead paint.

Flickr user proimos

A new report is providing a “check-up” on the financial state of the commonwealth’s hospitals - and the diagnosis is not looking promising.

The Financial Analysis 2013: General Acute Care Hospitals, a report written by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), shows that the commonwealth’s hospitals are being under-funded by Medicare and Medicaid.

Highlighting Southwestern Pennsylvania's ALS Clinics

May 24, 2014
Luke Torrance / 90.5 WESA

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. That I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for.”

These were the words of baseball legend Lou Gehrig from his iconic 1939 speech, which has become a part of his legacy as much as his consecutive games played record and the disease named after him.

75 years later, there is still no known cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, formally known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Living with the disease is still difficult as Larry Jacknin, a Pittsburgh native with ALS, can attest. He discussed the changes in his life since being diagnosed.

What Is The Long-Term Health Impact Of Pharmaceuticals In Our Water?

May 19, 2014
Katie Colaneri / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Scientists have been detecting traces of pharmaceuticals in our water systems for about 30 years now, but the research shows no one is getting a full dose of say, Prozac, just from drinking tap water. However, scientists do wonder whether these compounds may be having more subtle, long-term impacts on human health.

“We don’t have an answer to that and there’s really no good research out there that says ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ at this particular time,” said Julie Becker, a public heath researcher at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.

May is World Asthma Month, and in an effort to raise awareness of diagnoses, treatments and other asthma-related issues, doctors, nurses and other medical professionals gathered for a one-day summit.

One of the goals is to draw attention to how many asthma sufferers there are in the Pittsburgh area.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Supplemental Food and Nutrition Program is aimed at ensuring pregnant women and mothers of young children have access to food staples. The program is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Allegheny County was a pilot site for the national demonstration project in the 1970s.

“Allegheny County Health Department opened the first WIC Clinic in Pennsylvania and issued the first WIC voucher on May 28th, 1974,” said Kathryn South, a public health nutrition administrator with the Allegheny County Health Department’s WIC Office.

Between 2006 and 2010, the number of emergency department visits for traumatic brain injury (TBI) rose by nearly 30 percent throughout the United States. That’s according to a study from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

While there was an increase, researchers are unclear of exactly why.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett is hoping a newly formed working group will be able to turn the tide of heroin overdose deaths in the Commonwealth. 

Corbett is calling for the working group, which will be chaired by Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs Secretary Gary Tennis, to put a report on his desk by September.

“Yes I know that’s an aggressive time frame and I know that’s across the summer,” Corbett said.  “We don’t have the time to wait.”

Allegheny County health authorities say a person with measles might have recently spread the virus to others in the Pittsburgh area.

Officials say Thursday that people who may have been in contact with the Allegheny County resident at work or elsewhere are being notified. They also say others may have been exposed on April 30 in New Kensington, at an Indiana Township restaurant, and in Harmar Township.

A needle digs painfully deep into your skin for what seems like an eternity, and in its place, an image or phrase resides forever. But who’s to say a deadly blood-born disease like HIV doesn’t inhabit, too?

No one, and that’s a major problem as tattoos and body piercings become more popular, according to a Pennsylvania lawmaker.

“Because there’s needles used, there should be some sort of, at the least, sanitation or sterilization requirements for an establishment and some training that’s involved with the tattoo artists as well,” Rep. Rosemary Brown said.

A painkiller that has five to ten times more opioid than any other drug on the market was approved by the Food and Drug Administration last year, and a Pennsylvania lawmaker isn’t happy.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks County) is sponsoring a bill that would regulate the use of Zohydro, a pure formulation of hydrocodone, in Pennsylvania. The drug was approved by the FDA, even though its medical board voted 11 to 2 against it.

“The FDA went over the heads of their own medical board and approved this,” DiGirolamo said.

Ever ask a family member, “Did you take your medicine today?”

There might be a more effective way to prompt people to take their meds on time, a recent Carnegie Mellon University study found.

The 10-month study, conducted in the homes of older adults with chronic health problems, revealed that giving people feedback after they take medication, rather than reminding them on time, has its benefits.

Gov. Tom Corbett has reversed his opposition to legalizing a certain kind of medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. The governor said Thursday he’ll support a proposal to make it available to people suffering from debilitating seizures.

Spokesman Jay Pagni said Corbett shared his decision first with parents and families advocating for medical marijuana in a private meeting Thursday in Harrisburg. A notice was sent simultaneously to other families who have been advocating for legalization, Pagni said.