Health

Health news from 90.5 WESA.

If you want to know how your neighborhood sandwich shop or your favorite sushi restaurant fared on its last health department inspection, you can find that information online, but those reports can often be full of jargon and difficult to interpret.

Now, the Allegheny County Health Department is working to make that information easier to digest by implementing a four-tiered grading system for restaurant inspections.

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the county health department, said they’re still figuring out how that grading process would work.

Patients rushing into Magee-Womens Hospital will be passing through the doors of a bigger and better emergency department starting Sunday.

According to Joe Suyama, Chief of Emergency Services, the new department will be located on Craft Avenue and will replace the existing emergency department on the other side of the building off Halket Street.

Suyama said the move will help them better serve an increasing volume of patients which has almost doubled since 2007.

“We’re just now meeting that growth need by building this emergency department,” Suyama said.

Wind chill temperatures are expected to dip to more than 30 below zero in southwestern Pennsylvania Monday night and Tuesday morning, which means exposed skin could freeze in less than 5 minutes.

Early detection of breast cancer is one of the most important factors when calculating survival rates, but a Magee Hospital surgeon thinks he has found a way to help women who’s cancer is not detected until it has already spread to their bones.

Patients who first present with stage four breast cancer with bone metastasis have a short life expectancy, but a study of 278 women in Turkey suggests that by sending the patient directly to the operating room might be able to help hundreds of American women each year survive.

New Arrivals in the US Face Vast Health Challenges

Jan 6, 2014

Immigrants come to the United States fleeing war and genocide. Others arrive seeking better opportunities for their families. But whether they are refugees from Nepal seeking asylum or undocumented Mexican families in Los Angeles, immigrants share common circumstances. Many arrive healthy but develop chronic illnesses as they adopt American habits. Many feel isolated and alone – suffering that can turn toxic over time.

Flu 'Widespread' in PA, CDC Says

Dec 30, 2013

Influenza is now considered to be “widespread” in Pennsylvania as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with health officials reporting outbreaks in at least half the regions of the state.

What if HIV was not only preventable, but also if sexually active individuals had a list of options to prevent the disease that newly infects an estimated 50,000 people a year in the United States?

The Pittsburgh-based Microbicide Trials Network (MTN) has been awarded $70 million for use over seven years to develop and test HIV prevention products.

MTN has completed 13 trials since 2006 from its base at the University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Women’s Research Institute.

It’s the “season of giving” but in the hustle and bustle of the season, some forget that can also mean giving blood. Each year, blood and platelet donations drop off during this time of year, according to the American Red Cross Greater Alleghenies Blood Services Region. There are several reasons for the decline.

“One is the holidays,” said spokeswoman Marianna Spampinato. “People are busy shopping, baking, decorating, enjoying themselves – which is great, but meanwhile, patients are still in hospitals needing transfusions.”

This is often called “the most wonderful time of the year,” but for many it’s one of the toughest times of the year, thanks to depression. There are several types of depression, including major depressive disorder, or what is more commonly known as clinical depression.

“It’s a mood state that lasts for an extended period of time and to a degree of severity that really interferes with a person’s usual functioning,” said Edward Friedman, a psychiatrist with UPMC. “That’s kind of different from holiday blues or seasonal blues.”

At the end of next year, the contract between the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Highmark Health Plan will expire, and many Western Pennsylvanians are worried about losing access to the doctors and hospitals they have patronized for years.

In October, a pair of Pennsylvania House representatives introduced legislation that would impose new rules on nonprofit integrated delivery networks, like UPMC, which offer both healthcare and health insurance.

cookiespi / flickr

Grocer’s shelves are filling up with a number of gluten free products.

This is great news for people switching to gluten-free diets based on their gluten intolerance or celiac disease. But as the trend gains popularity, some worry that a gluten-free diet may be a fad and not healthy for everyone.

Dr. Kofi Clarke, director of the Celiac Center at Allegheny General Hospital and Amy Macklin, registered dietitian and owner of Gluten Free Roots say the popularity of gluten-free products is positive in that it increases awareness of celiac disease, gluten intolerance and gluten allergies. 

Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice, marks the shortest day of the year with only a little more than nine hours of daylight here in Pittsburgh. With less light some people might be feeling ready for bed a little early. According to researchers, this is another way our bodies fight off some diseases.

With shorter days and longer nights our bodies’ melatonin levels are rising earlier than usual. Melatonin is the molecule that tells our bodies when it is night and prepares us for sleep. Melatonin has also been found to be important in maintaining healthy bones.

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The Corbett Administration is making details of its alternative proposal to the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion available to the public.

The Governor recently held a presser on his health care plan days after releasing it online. The plan, which would allow hundreds of thousands of people to enroll in private health insurance plans subsidized with federal funds, is one step closer to receiving federal review.

90.5 WESA's Capitol Bureau Chief Mary Wilson reports on the plan from Harrisburg and says the proposal is similar to those of other states, but includes a few elements unique to the Commonwealth’s needs.

Houston Museum of Natural Science / flickr.com

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have collected and digitized all weekly surveillance reports for reportable diseases in the United States going back more than 125 years.

The design, called Project Tycho, is led by researchers Drs. Donald Burke and Willem van Panhuis. They say this access to this data can be vital to preventing and treating contagious diseases.

Dr. Burke, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health says the data has always been available, but not so easy to access.

A week before the Pennsylvania House Health Committee holds a hearing on legislation to force all not-for-profit health care insurers and care providers to open their services to all insurance holders, not just their own, UPMC launched a campaign to defeat the measures.

Mailers were sent to at least three legislative districts in western Pennsylvania and robocalls were received across the state asking recipients to urge their lawmakers to reject the legislation.

Fifteen years after tobacco companies agreed to pay restitution to states for costs related to tobacco use, a new report finds that most states are not spending enough of that money on smoking prevention and cessation programs.

It’s flu season again — have you been vaccinated yet?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is offering free flu clinics throughout the commonwealth during National Influenza Vaccination Week,

Secretary of Health Michael Wolf said the holiday season is the perfect time to remind people of the importance of getting vaccinated.

Fifth (Pittsburgh)Red Celebrates AIDS Awareness

Dec 2, 2013
Tim Camerato/90.5 WESA

County officials, HIV/AIDS advocates, and survivors gathered in downtown Pittsburgh Monday to mark International World AIDS Day and to blow up a 30-foot balloon ribbon onto Fifth Ave. Place.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald noted it’s been more than 30 years since the first AIDS cases were reported.

The legal drinking age in the U.S. is 21, but as many people who’ve gone through high school and who are familiar with pop culture know, kids finds ways around that all the time.

A new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh finds that teens that do their drinking alone may be at greater risk for alcohol problems later in life.

Picking a hospital for cancer treatment may be one of the most important decisions in a patient’s life.

Now, a Pennsylvania nonprofit is making it easier to see which hospitals are offering the best cancer care by making quality ratings available online for the first time.

The hospital quality reports, released by the Pennsylvania Health Care Quality Alliance (PHCQA), rates hospitals based on process measures, which assess a health care facility’s adherence to standard guidelines and procedures for treatment.

More than 8,000 people are awaiting transplants in Pennsylvania. That’s according to Donate Life PA which also said an average of 490 people die each year while waiting for a matching organ to become available.

SB 850, also known as the Donate Life PA Act, would revise the 1994 law on organ donation.

The legislation aims to create more awareness about donation, emphasize that transplantation is the priority for donated organs and increase the likelihood that people will donate.

It has been a little more than a week since the United States Justice Department completed its investigation of a rash of preventable deaths at the Pittsburgh Veteran’s Affairs Healthcare System.

Five veterans died of Legionnaires’ disease at the Pittsburgh VA in 2011 and 2012, while more than 20 other patients were sickened. The Justice Department has concluded that no VA employees are criminally liable for the deaths.

During the last flu season there were 1,415 confirmed cases of influenza in Allegheny County, but the health department adds that for every one laboratory-tested case there are as many as 100 others.

More vulnerable groups of people, such as the elderly and infants, are often affected by life-threatening symptoms brought on by the virus. This Thanksgiving, healthcare organizations in the area are starting a new initiative to help some of the most vulnerable residents.

UPMC is alerting nearly 1,300 people treated at various UPMC locations over the past year that their records were viewed inappropriately. The now former employee at UPMC McKeesport was not involved in the care of the patients and therefore should not have been looking at their information.

“Another employee called it to the attention to the management of the hospital,” said UPMC spokeswoman Wendy Zellner. “Thus, we took the action we did to terminate this employee.”

A new report from Georgetown University finds that nationwide, the rate for uninsured children continues to decline, even as most Americans perceive that the rate is on the rise.

“As of 2012 it was just over 7 percent nationwide without coverage,” said Joan Alker, executive director of the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. “That is certainly still too many, but in fact that’s a historically low number.”

Operation Safety Net’s Severe Weather Emergency Shelter opened two days early this year with more than four times the expected turnout.

When the temperature drops down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s Operation Safety Net opens a Severe Weather Emergency Shelter at the Smithfield United Church of Christ in downtown Pittsburgh to protect homeless people from the cold.

The shelter has overnight accommodations, social services and medical care.

Could a hashtag save someone’s life? The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence (PCADV) and Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) think so. 

That’s why they are asking Pennsylvanians to post the message “NO MORE” with the hashtag #pasaysnomore on their Twitter accounts on Nov. 24.

Steve Halvonik, PCADV communications director, said they chose Nov. 24 because it's the day before the United Nation’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

A study released Thursday by local researchers finds people living in Allegheny County have a substantially higher risk of getting cancer due to simply breathing the air over the course of their life time than those who live in 20 other counties in the area.

The report from the Heinz Endowments-supported Breath Project based its findings on publicly available data looking at the predicted levels of more than 200 toxic air pollutants.

The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania says he does not think charges are warranted in relation to the deadly Legionella out break at the Veterans Affairs Pittsburgh Healthcare System.

Twenty-two veterans who were treated in 2011 and 2012 at the Pittsburgh VA were sickened by Legionella.  Five of them died.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton called the situation “tragic” but feels no charges should be filed by his office.

Brother's Brother Foundation / Facebook

In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated the Philippines on November 8th, organizations all over the world have been sending aid to the victims.

Locally, Brother’s Brother Foundation is working with the Philippine American Medical Society of Western Pennsylvania to move medical supplies to the Philippines.

Luke Hingson, president of Brother’s Brother says his organization has been active in the Philippines since the 1950s. One of the inherent problems when responding to natural disasters is the uncertainty of what to expect from the situation.

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