Category Archives: Infections

The Cost of a Cure: Medicare Spent $4.5 Billion on New Hepatitis C Drugs Last Year

Share

Twenty-dollar bill in a pill bottleBy Charles Ornstein
ProPublica.

This story was co-published with the Washington Post.

Medicare spent $4.5 billion last year on new, pricey medications that cure the liver disease hepatitis C 2014 more than 15 times what it spent the year before on older treatments for the disease, previously undisclosed federal data shows.

The extraordinary outlays for these breakthrough drugs, which can cost $1,000 a day or more, will be borne largely by federal taxpayers, who pay for most of Medicare’s prescription drug program.

The most-discussed of the new drugs, Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, accounted for more than $3 billion of the spending.

But the expenditures will also mean higher deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket costs for many of the program’s 39 million seniors and disabled enrollees, who pay a smaller share of its cost, experts and federal officials said.

The spending dwarfs the approximately $286 million that the program, known as Part D, spent on earlier-generation hepatitis C drugs in 2013, said Sean Cavanugh, director of Medicare and deputy administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The most-discussed of the new drugs, Sovaldi, which costs $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment, accounted for more than $3 billion of the spending. Spending on another drug, Harvoni, hit $670 million even though it only came on the market only in October. Bills for a third drug, Olysio, often taken in conjunction with Sovaldi, reached $821 million.

Medicare also spent $157 million on older hepatitis C drugs in 2014, bringing the total spending for the category to more than $4.7 billion.

The spending surge is unlike anything Part D has seen. The nine-year-old program has benefited in recent years from a slowdown in prescription drug costs as several blockbusters, including the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor and the blood thinner Plavix, have lost patent protection and have faced competition from generics. Continue reading

Share

Our plan to combat and prevent antibiotic-resistant bacteria

Share

TuberculosisOp-Ed: By Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and  Secretary of the Department of Defense Ash Carter

Antibiotics save millions of lives every year. Today, however, the emergence of drug resistance in bacteria is undermining the effectiveness of current antibiotics and our ability to treat and prevent disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that drug-resistant bacteria cause two million illnesses and approximately 23,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.

Antibiotic resistance also limits our ability to perform a range of modern medical procedures, such as chemotherapy, surgery, and organ transplants. That’s why fighting antibiotic resistance is a national priority.

Combating and preventing antibiotic resistance, however, will be a long-term effort. That’s why, today, the Administration is releasing the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria (NAP).

The NAP outlines a whole-of-government approach over the next five years targeted at addressing this threat:

1. Slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections 

The judicious use of antibiotics in health care and agriculture settings is essential to combating the rise in antibiotic resistance. We can help slow the emergence of resistant bacteria by being smarter about prescribing practices across all human and animal health care settings, and by continuing to eliminate the use of medically-important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals. Continue reading

Share

Olympus issues urgent steps for cleaning device linked to superbugs | Reuters

Share

creOlympus Corp, the largest maker of a medical device at the center of recent U.S. superbug outbreaks, issued new cleaning instructions for its equipment on Thursday, urging health providers to adopt them “as soon as possible.”

Olympus said in a 13-page letter that a small-bristle brush required for the new procedures to clean potentially deadly bacteria from the devices would be shipped “no later than May 8.”

via Olympus issues urgent steps for cleaning device linked to superbugs | Reuters.

Share

No evidence Ebola in West Africa is becoming more deadly, study

Share

Ebola virusFrom the National Institutes of Health

The Ebola virus circulating in humans in West Africa is undergoing relatively few mutations, none of which suggest that it is becoming more severe or transmissible, according to a National Institutes of Health study in the journal Science.

The study compares virus sequencing data from samples taken from patients in Guinea (March 2014), Sierra Leone (June 2014) and Mali (November 2014).

Ebola virus, isolated in November 2014 from patient blood samples obtained in Mali. The virus was isolated on Vero cells in a BSL-4 suite at Rocky Mountain Laboratories.

“The Ebola virus in the ongoing West African outbreak appears to be stable—that is, it does not appear to be mutating more rapidly than viruses in previous Ebola outbreaks, and that is reassuring,” said Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of NIH. “We look forward to additional information to validate this finding, because understanding and tracking Ebola virus evolution are critical to ensuring that our scientific and public health response keeps pace.” Continue reading

Share

Shellfish harvest in Portage Bay will be limited due to pollution

Share

Portage Bay Bellingham LumiThe state Department of Health has placed restrictions on shellfish harvesting for part of Portage Bay in Whatcom County due to high levels of bacteria.

Water tests show that at certain times, the shellfish area is affected by polluted runoff from the Nooksack River.

Portage Bay usually has good water quality, but during specific times of the year the Nooksack River carries higher levels of bacteria into the shellfish harvesting area.

As a result, state health officials have changed the classification of nearly 500 of the 1,300 commercial shellfish harvesting acres in the bay from “approved” to “conditionally approved.”

Harvesting in the conditionally approved area will be closed each year from April through June and again from October through December. Continue reading

Share

Cities turn to social media to police restaurants

Share

yelp-logoBy Jenni Bergal
Stateline

Many diners regularly click onto the Yelp website to read reviews posted by other patrons before visiting a restaurant.

Now prospective customers also can use Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville and several other communities.

Local governments increasingly are turning to social media to alert the public to health violations and to nudge establishments into cleaning up their acts. A few cities are even mining users’ comments to track foodborne illnesses or predict which establishments are likely t­­o have sanitation problems.

Customers also can use Yelp to check health inspection scores for eateries in San Francisco, Louisville and several other communities.

“For consumers, posting inspection information on Yelp is a good thing because they’re able to make better, informed decisions about where to eat,” said Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who specializes in the economics of online businesses. “It also holds restaurants more accountable about cleanliness.” Continue reading

Share

Tuberculosis cases fall in Washington state, but remains a concern

Share

Photomicrograph Mycobacterium tuberculosis.There were 193 cases of tuberculosis (TB)  in Washington state last year, an 8 percent decline from the 209 cases reported in 2013.

“Tuberculosis remains a disease of concern internationally and in Washington,” State Communicable Disease Epidemiologist Dr. Scott Lindquist said. “TB can be diagnosed, treated, and cured, yet it takes real commitment and effort to effectively deal with this disease.”

The counties with the most cases in 2014 were King (100), Snohomish (18), Clark (15), Pierce (13), Yakima (11), and Thurston (7).

More than 72 percent of cases in the state were in people born outside the U.S. or its territories. Overall, 43.5 percent of all cases in Washington were among Asians, followed by Hispanics (15.5 percent), blacks (15.5 percent), and whites (11.9 percent).

About a third of the world’s population is infected with TB.

Between 2012 and 2014 the greatest risk of TB in Washington was among Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander communities (27.7 cases per 100,000).

About a third of the world’s population is infected with the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a dangerous microorganism that usually infects the lungs but can attack other parts of the body as well.

TB is spread in the air when someone who’s infected coughs, sneezes, or speaks and others breathe in the bacteria. Continue reading

Share

Hantavirus risks higher this time of year

Share

From the Washington State Department of Health

Hantavirus

If your spring or summer cleaning uncovers signs that mice or other rodents have been in the area, be sure to take precautions to avoid catching a rodent-carried disease like hantavirus.

Diseases spread by rodents are fairly rare in Washington, but they can be serious, even deadly.

Cases of hantavirus illness and other rodent-carried diseases happen year round. However, spring and summer weather brings an added risk as people clean cabins, campers, garages, barns, and other places potentially infested by rodents.

Cleaning, sweeping, or vacuuming dried droppings, urine, or nesting materials can stir up contaminated dust that can cause infection when inhaled. If cleaning in a rodent-infested area, always thoroughly wet contaminated areas including trapped mice, droppings, or nests with a bleach solution or disinfectant, and soak for 10 minutes before cleaning. Always wash your hands after touching anything contaminated by rodents.

To reduce risk of illness, clean buildings properly and prevent rodent infestation

There are usually less than five cases of hantavirus in the state each year. The disease begins with flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle aches. It can worsen and cause difficulty breathing as the lungs fill with fluid. About one in four cases results in death.

Continue reading

Share

Vashon parents try to get along despite deep divide over vaccination | The Seattle Times

Share

Vashon island mapEvery few years, stories appear about Vashon Island and its high percentage of unvaccinated kids. It happened again a few weeks ago in the wake of reports of measles outbreaks nationwide. Then the temporary publicity fades and this island of 11,000 goes back to the same old, same old. Which is: a deep divide between the pro and con camps that in most other ways are so much alike. Except that this time it got pretty vitriolic.

Vashon parents try to get along despite deep divide over vaccination | The Seattle Times.

Share

Kansas high school finds 27 positive tuberculosis cases | Reuters

Share

TuberculosisTwenty-seven people have tested positive for tuberculosis at a suburban Kansas City high school where a student was recently found to have an active case, Kansas state and county health officials said on Wednesday.

Health officials have tested more than 300 students and staff at Olathe Northwest High School after possible exposure to tuberculosis since the active case was reported two weeks ago, officials said.

via Kansas high school finds 27 positive tuberculosis cases | Reuters.

Share

Three Kansas patients die after eating tainted ice cream | Reuters

Share

Alert IconThree Kansas hospital patients have died and two have been sickened by listeriosis linked to single-serve Blue Bell Creameries ice cream products since last year, health officials said on Friday.

The five adults became ill from January 2014 to January of this year with one of four rare strains of Listeria monocytogenes bacteria while hospitalized with unrelated illnesses, Kansas health officials said in a news release.

via Three Kansas patients die after eating tainted ice cream | Reuters.

Share

Specialty drugs save lives, come with daunting price tags – AP

Share

$100-dollar bill inside a capsuleDoctors hail many of these therapies as breakthroughs, since they can conquer or control diseases that were once almost untreatable.

But they can cost more than $80,000 for a single course of treatment and bury patients in debt, even those with insurance.

Patient advocates expect the problem to worsen as insurance coverage shrinks and use of specialty treatments grows.

via News from The Associated Press.

Share