Category Archives: Public Health
FEMA Issues Advisories as Severe Weather Hits Parts of the U.S.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has begun issuing advisories for states across the Southern United States expected to be impacted by severe weather.
According to the National Weather Service, a major winter storm is impacting the South and Southeast ahead of moving up the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday.
FEMA is encouraging both residents and visitors in the track of the storms to follow the instructions of state, local and tribal officials, and monitor NOAA Weather Radio and their local news for updates and directions provided by local officials. Residents can find trusted sources for weather and preparedness information via Twitter on FEMA’s social hub.
Weather Emergency Alerts (WEA) are currently being sent directly to many cell phones on participating wireless carrier networks. These alerts are sent by public safety offices such as the National Weather Service about imminent threats like severe weather. They look like a text message and show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take and the agency issuing the alert. Check your cellular carrier to determine if your phone or wireless device is WEA-enabled. Read more on preparedness.
Dozens of Bills Introduced in Recent Years to Increase School Vaccine Exemptions
From 2009 to 2012, 36 bills were introduced in 18 states to change school immunization mandates, with the majority aimed at expanding exemptions, according to a recent review in JAMA by researchers from Emory University. None of the bills passed, but the researchers say continued efforts to change state vaccine rules are concerning. Among 36 bills introduced, 15 contained no administrative requirements, seven bills had one or two administrative requirements, and the remaining 14 contained between up to five administrative requirements in order for parents to exempt their children from school vaccine rules in a given state.
"Exemptions to school immunization requirements continue to be an issue for discussion and debate in many state legislatures," according to the study authors. Read more on vaccines.
Being in a Good Mood Can Lead to Safer Sex
HIV-positive men are more likely to have save sex when their mood improves, according to a new study by researchers at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The study, published in the journal Psychology, included 106 sexually active, HIV-positive men who have sex with men who completed weekly surveys over six weeks that asked about their sexual behavior, depression, and wellbeing during the prior week. Overall, 66 percent of study participants reported having unprotected intercourse in the prior two months; 81 percent had multiple partners. Three-quarters of the study participants were black and Latino men, a group disproportionately affected by HIV.
The researchers found that the men who reported an increase in their wellbeing in a given week were more likely to have safe sex (66%), while those who reported higher-than-usual levels of depression were more likely to engage in the risk behaviors (69%). The researchers are now studying potential interventions that might help address risky behaviors during depressive phases. Read more on sexual health.
Job loss at local health departments continues unabated, according to the 2013 edition of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Profile of Local health Departments. The total number of employees in local health departments has fallen to 162,000 last year from 190,000 in 2008.
However, the report also highlights program gains:
- Nearly half of health departments not yet accredited plan to apply, have submitted a formal application or have submitted a statement of intent to apply for public health accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board.
- The percentage of local health departments who have completed the three key accreditation prerequisites — community health assessment, community health improvement plans and an agency-wide strategic plan — has grown from 20 percent in 2010 to 30 percent in 2013.
- Facebook use has grown from 20 percent in 2010 to 44 percent last year.
- Twitter use has grown from 13 percent in 2010 to 18 percent last year.
- YouTube use has grown from 6 percent in 2010 to 12 percent last year.
- In 2013, 56 percent of local health departments were engaged in some type of quality improvement (QI) activity, up from 45 percent in 2010.
In January 2008, the Texas Health Institute received support from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a policy think tank with a particular focus on people of color, to track progress on efforts to advance racial and health equity through provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Shortly after the ACA became law, new support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the California Endowment has led to a series of four reports that have assessed how well the law has been implemented in a way that addresses racial and ethnic health equity across five topic areas:
- Health insurance and exchanges;
- Health care safety net;
- Workforce support and diversity;
- Data, research and quality; and
- Public health and prevention.
To learn more about the reports’ findings, NewPublicHealth recently talked with Dennis Andrulis, PhD, MPH, the Senior Research Scientist at the Texas Health Institute and an Associate Professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health.
NewPublicHealth: How have the reports produced by the Texas Health Institute helped advance what we know about the ability of the Affordable Care Act to advance health equity?
Dennis Andrulis: The reports have provided an update of the progress, or lack thereof, in implementing race, ethnicity, language and equity provisions in the law. Did Congress appropriate dollars to support these provisions? If so, did the appropriations match the original requests and will they continue in future years?
The result is we have mapped out what we believe is a comprehensive overview of about 60 provisions related to health equity. Additionally, we have reported on the content and shape of related new initiatives, innovations, program support and other health care efforts.
NPH: What are some short-term and long-term efforts that your work indicated will help improve some health disparities?
Dennis Andrulis: First we need to have accurate and well-disseminated information about what’s in the law and the opportunities to change disparities that it provides.
Decrease in Pediatric Antibiotic Leveling Off
The number of children taking antibiotics has decreased over the past decade, but that decrease has stalled in recent years in certain age groups and geographic locations, according to a study in Pediatrics. Researchers reviewed pharmacy and outpatient claims over a 10-year period (2000 to 2010) in three health plans located in three different geographic locations to determine the number of antibiotics dispensed each year for children ages 3 months to 18 years. Although the overall antibiotic-dispensing rate in each age group and health plan was lower in 2009-2010 than in 2000-2001, the rate of decline in antibiotic use has slowed. The highest rate of antibiotic use was in children age 3 months to less than 24 months of age in all years of the study.
The study authors say the previous downward trend in antibiotic use in children may have reached a plateau, and continued improvements in judicious antibiotic dispensing are needed. Read more on pediatrics.
NHTSA Gives Okay for Vehicle to Vehicle Communication to Help Prevent Crashes
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has announced that it will begin taking steps to allow vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication technology for light vehicles, which will allow vehicles to "talk" to each other and ultimately avoid many crashes by exchanging basic safety data, such as speed and position, ten times per second.
The safety applications currently being developed provide warnings to drivers so that they can prevent imminent collisions, but do not automatically operate any vehicle systems, such as braking or steering, although NHTSA is also considering future actions on active safety technologies that rely on on-board sensors.
V2V communications can provide the vehicle and driver with 360-degree situational awareness to address additional crash situations — including those, for example, in which a driver needs to decide if it is safe to pass on a two-lane road (potential head-on collision), make a left turn across the path of oncoming traffic, or in which a vehicle approaching at an intersection appears to be on a collision course. In those situations, V2V communications can detect threats hundreds of yards from other vehicles that cannot be seen, often in situations in which on-board sensors alone cannot detect the threat. Read more on transportation.
Many Hospital ICUs Don't Follow Infection Prevention Rules
While most hospitals have evidence-based guidelines in place to prevent health care-associated infections in intensive care units (ICUs), clinicians often fail to follow them according to new research from the Columbia University School of Nursing published in the American Journal of Infection Control. The study, on over 1600 ICUs, found lax compliance in intensive care units where patients are more likely to be treated with devices linked to preventable infections – such as central lines, urinary catheters and ventilators.
The study focused on three of the most common preventable infections — central line-associated bloodstream infections, ventilator-associated pneumonia, and catheter-associated urinary tract infections and determined that despite decades of research, establishing best practices for prevention of these infections, approximately one in 10 hospitals lack checklists to prevent bloodstream infections, and one in four lack checklists to help avoid pneumonia in ventilator patients, and that in hospitals with checklists, they are followed only about half of the time.
Health care-associated infections kill an estimated 100,000 Americans a year and result in over $30 billion in excess medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on injury prevention.
The announcement by CVS Caremark this morning that it will stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products at its more than 7,600 CVS pharmacy stores across the United States by October 1, 2014, does more than just end an outlet for smokers. It also removes a highly effective marketing tactic from those stores, the tobacco "power wall," which is aimed at enticing current and would-be smokers—especially children and teens—to smoke.
Most retail food and sundry stores include the colorful display walls, which are usually designed by tobacco companies who also often provide financial incentives to store owners to keep the walls stocked. A report, updated in 2012, by the Center for Public Health and Tobacco Policy which is funded by the New York State and Vermont departments of Health, says the power walls “are highly engineered by tobacco companies to maximize visual intrusiveness and instigate impulse purchases.” The report adds that the walls “function as a subtle kind of advertising, conveying the message that cigarettes are popular and desirable."
A 2006 study in the journal Heath Education Research found that “[t]he presence of cigarette displays at the point-of-sale... has adverse effects on students’ perceptions about ease of access to cigarettes and brand recall, both factors that increase the risk of taking up smoking.”
And, according to a November report on point of sale displays by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, exposure to point of sale tobacco product displays “influences youth smoking, promotes the social acceptability of tobacco products, increases impulse tobacco purchases and undermines quitting attempts.”
While San Francisco and a few other cities have passed laws that ban cigarette sales in pharmacies, and the advocacy group Americans for Nonsmokers' Rights is working to expand that ban, no U.S. jurisdictions have ended displays of tobacco products according to tobacco control legal experts, generally because of concern that they might be sued by tobacco companies claiming an infringement of the companies’ right to commercial free speech under the U.S. Constitution. Recently, tobacco control legal experts have said tobacco company suits likely have less merit since the 2009 law giving regulation of most U.S. tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration.
But tobacco control advocates hope other major pharmcies will follow the CVS example, since leveraging the power of private companies to support a culture of health may be a far more effective way to bring down those walls.
>>Read a statement by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Risa Lavizzo Mourey on the CVS Caremark decision to stop selling cigarettes in its stores.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently posted an interview with Teresa Bainton, director of the New York Multifamily HUB, which manages multifamily housing programs in the Northeast. Bainton’s job puts her in constant contact with families, veterans, seniors, developers, elected officials and building owners and managers. Bainton says the work, though so rewarding, is especially challenging in the Northeast, where housing prices are often higher than average costs for the rest of the United States.
>>Read the full interview.
More Than One Million People Now Enrolled for Health Insurance Coverage under the Affordable Care Act
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the health insurance provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) reported late last week that more than one million people have now enrolled for coverage under the ACA.
CMS also reported that December enrollment as of December 27 was seven times that of October and November. Open enrollment will continue through March, with rolling dates for first day of coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
U.S. Flu Cases on the Rise
The Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota reported last week that rates of flu are on the rise in the United States, with the 2009 H1N1 virus the predominant strain. The good news is that this year’s flu vaccine is protective against H1N1.
According to CIDRAP, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said that the 2009 H1N1 virus has a greater impact on younger adults and older children than seasonal flu strains typically do.
The numbers of U.S. flu cases are usually highest January through March, which means that people who have not had flu shots yet still have time to protect themselves. Full immunity from the vaccine can take up to two weeks from the time of the injection. Use the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder to find a flu shot in your neighborhood. Read more on outbreaks.
New Orleans Health Commissioner to become Federal Health IT Administrator
New Orleans Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo, MD, has been appointed the new National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (IT), replacing Farzad Mostashari, who left the position earlier this year. In a memo to employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the office of the National Coordinator, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted that Dr. DeSalvo boosted the use of health IT as "a cornerstone of [New Orleans’s] primary care efforts and a key part of the city's policy development, public health initiatives and emergency preparedness." Dr. DeSalvo will begin her post in mid-January. Under Dr. DeSalvo's leadership, New Orleans also received the inaugural Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Prize.
New Infographic, Premium Payment Extension Will Help People Signing up for Health Insurance Coverage
Americans Health Insurance Plans, the trade association of many of the U.S. health insurance companies, has released a very easy to understand new infographic that helps simplify the steps for buying health insurance on the federal or state exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
The new infographic is not the only bonus from the trade association this season. Last week the group announced that most insurers are extending the deadline for people purchasing coverage to pay their premiums to January 10, so long as signup for the plan is before January 1. Coverage for those signups will be retroactive to January 1.
A new survey from the U.S. Conference of Mayors released earlier this month found that in many U.S. cities homelessness increased by as much as 4 percent this year. The permanent solution to homelessness will require the concerted efforts of companies, communities, legislatures and individuals and includes affordable housing, jobs and economic policies and strong mental health support. That’s a lot to tackle, but there are some things individuals can do to make life a bit easier — and healthier — for homeless people in their communities.
Here are a few suggestions from online charitable giving site justGive.org, which has a full list of 35 ideas on its site:
- Buy Street Sheet or Street Sense: These biweekly newspapers are sold in almost every major American city and are intended to help the homeless help themselves by offering them economic opportunities and elevating their voices in the discussion on how to end homelessness. For every paper sold, the participants earn five cents deposited in a special savings account earmarked for rent.
- Bring food: When you pass someone who asks for change, offer him or her something to eat. If you take a lunch, pack a little extra. When you eat at a restaurant, order something to take with you when you leave.
- Give recyclables: In localities where there is a "bottle law," collecting recyclable cans and bottles is often a viable source of income for homeless people. It is an honest job that requires initiative. You can help by saving your recyclable bottles, cans, and newspapers and giving them to homeless people instead of taking them to a recycling center or leaving them out for collection (or, worse, not recycling at all!).
- Volunteer your professional services: No matter what you do for a living, you can help the homeless with your on-the-job talents and skills. Those with clerical skills can train those with little skills. Doctors, psychiatrists, counselors, and dentists can treat the homeless in clinics. Lawyers can help with legal concerns. The homeless' needs are bountiful — your time and talent won't be wasted. There are many different volunteer organizations through which you can channel your efforts.
- Volunteer for follow-up programs: Some homeless people, particularly those who have been on the street for a while, may need help with fundamental tasks such as paying bills, balancing a household budget, or cleaning. Follow-up programs to give the formerly homeless further advice, counseling, and other services — and are always in need of volunteers.
- Create lists of needed donations: Call all the organizations in your community that aid the homeless and ask them what supplies they need on a regular basis. Make a list for each organization, along with its address, telephone number, and the name of a contact person. Then mail these lists to community organizations that may wish to help with donations —from religious centers to children's organizations such as Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
- Help the homeless apply for aid - Governmental aid is available for homeless people, but many may not know where to find it or how to apply. Since they don't have a mailing address, governmental agencies may not be able to reach them. You can help by directing the homeless to intermediaries, such as homeless organizations, that let them know what aid is available and help them to apply for it. If you want to be an advocate or intermediary for the homeless yourself, you can contact these organizations as well.
- Read the full list of suggestions to help the homeless from justgive.org
- Read a NewPublicHealth post on the recent U.S. Conference of Mayors report on hunger and homelessness.
We hate to be the bearers of buzz kill, but folks should think about adding “safety” to their holiday wish lists this year. Researchers at the Consumer Product Safety Commission say there are about 250 injuries a day during the holiday season. Last year the most frequently reported holiday accidents seen in emergency departments involved falls (34%), lacerations (11%) and back strains (10%). And from 2009 through 2011, fire departments nationwide responded to an average of 200 fires in which the Christmas tree was the first item ignited—resulting in 10 deaths, 20 injuries and $16 million in property loss for those years. Candle-related fires during holidays between 2009 and 2011 resulted in an estimated 70 deaths, 680 injuries and $308 million in property loss.
Best tips for avoiding Holiday fires: discard sets of holiday lights with evidence of damage such as broken sockets and bare wires; water Christmas trees frequently; and always extinguish candles before leaving a room.
Here are our top five safety tips for the holidays culled from the websites of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration: