Category Archives: Public Health

Increased physical activity associated with lower risk of 13 types of cancer

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Running shoes full shotFrom the National Institutes of Health

A new study of the relationship between physical activity and cancer has shown that greater levels of leisure-time physical activity were associated with a lower risk of developing 13 different types of cancer.

The risk of developing seven cancer types was 20 percent (or more) lower among the most active participants (90th percentile of activity) as compared with the least active participants (10th percentile of activity). Continue reading

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With weather warming, King County officials urge caution around cold rivers, lakes, Sound

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With temperatures inching toward 80 degrees this weekend, King County officials urge everyone to be careful when heading out for fun on the water.

From Public Health – Seattle & King County

Mountain StreamWarm air temperatures don’t translate to warm water temperatures.

In fact, unseasonably warm weather will accelerate the typical Cascade Range spring snowmelt, and rivers will be running swift with icy cold runoff for weeks to come.

Lakes and Puget Sound are also quite cold this time of year, and swimmers can suffer from cold-water shock after just a few minutes in the water.

King County officials are on high alert because 17 people died in preventable drownings in the county in 2015.

River Safety Sign warningKing County, Public Health – Seattle & King County, and the King County Sheriff’s Office encourage kayakers, boaters, rafters, swimmers and other river users to check conditions and scout rivers thoroughly for hazards before entering the water.

“I urge everyone to use caution when going into the water, particularly in springtime when warm weather and cold water create a deadly combination,” said King County Sheriff John Urquhart. “Don’t drink, and always wear a life jacket.”

Quick Statistics

King County

  • In 2015, Public Health – Seattle & King County found that 17 people died in preventable drowning incidents.

  • Of these, 12 (70 percent) took place in open water, such as rivers, lakes, ponds, or Puget Sound.

  • Of the 12 open water deaths, nine (75 percent), may have been prevented with lifejacket use.

  • Over half (52 percent) of all King County deaths involved alcohol and or other drugs in the last five years.

Washington State

  • In 2014, there were 98 unintentional drowning deaths of Washington residents. 16 of these deaths were children and young adults under 20 years old.

  • Drowning is the second leading cause of unintentional injury death for children and teens age 1-17 in Washington.

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First Zika case reported in King County

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2016 Cynthia Goldsmith Caption:This is a transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae. Virus particles are 40 nm in diameter, with an outer envelope, and an inner dense core. Additional Information:“Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.”For more information on the Zika virus, follow the link below.

From Public Health – Seattle & King County

The first case of Zika infection in a King County resident has been identified by Public Health – Seattle & King County. This Zika case does not pose a risk to the public in Washington state.

The types of mosquitoes that transmit Zika are not found in the Pacific Northwest so local health officials do not expect Zika virus to spread.

Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, or less commonly, through sexual contact with a recently infected man.

The illness was identified in a man in his forties who had recently been in Colombia, a country that has Zika virus spreading actively and is on the list of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) travel advisories.

This is the third case of Zika found in Washington state. All three cases were found in people who became infected while in countries that have current Zika outbreaks.

With ongoing widespread outbreaks in the Americas and the Caribbean including Puerto Rico, the number of Zika cases among travelers visiting or returning to King County and elsewhere in the mainland United States will likely increase.

This Zika case does not pose a risk to the public in Washington state. Zika virus is primarily spread through the bite of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, or less commonly, through sexual contact with a recently infected man.

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Will Seattle’s gun tax survive court challenge?

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Mike Coombs, the owner of an outdoor store in Seattle, opposes the city’s gun tax. But city leaders say it will fund medical research on reducing gun violence.

Mike Coombs, the owner of an outdoor store in Seattle, opposes the city’s gun tax. But city leaders say it will fund medical research on reducing gun violence.

By Elaine S. Povich
Stateline

SEATTLE — To Mike Coombs, owner of the Outdoor Emporium, a hunting, fishing and camping store, Seattle’s gun tax is unfair and aimed at driving him out of the city, if not out of business. To Seattle City Councilor Tim Burgess, the tax is a good way to fund medical research on reducing gun violence injuries.

The two represent the opposing poles in the debate over Seattle’s controversial tax on guns and ammunition that took effect Jan. 1 and puts this city at the center of a dispute over whether municipalities can tax firearms to pay for what they see as a public benefit or states alone have the power to regulate and tax guns.

The dispute, which emerged briefly last year in Baltimore and continues in Cook County, Illinois, involves issues such as whether the taxes are designed to suppress gun sales or drive sales out of a city or county, and whether gun violence is a public health issue that justifies taxes on firearms and ammunition to help pay for their consequences in the same fashion as taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Here — where the city collects a $25 tax on every gun sale and between 2 cents and a nickel on every round of ammunition, depending on the caliber — Burgess and Coombs are equally wedded to their positions.

The $300,000 to $500,000 that the tax is expected to raise this year is earmarked to fund a study of gunshot victims, including medical and behavioral interventions, by the University of Washington and Harborview Hospital’s trauma center, which treats most of the city’s gunshot victims. Continue reading

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Climate change a growing threat to human health, report

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The US Global Change Research Program, a government agency,  released a new assessment of a the public health threat posed by climate change.

Here’s the summary of the report: The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States –A Scientific Assessment:

Climate change is a significant threat to the health of the American people. The impacts of human-induced climate change are increasing nationwide. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations result in increases in temperature, changes in precipitation, increases in the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events, and rising sea levels.

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These climate change impacts endanger our health by affecting our food and water sources, the air we breathe, the weather we experience, and our interactions with the built and natural environments. As the climate continues to change, the risks to human health continue to grow. Continue reading

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UnitedHealth tries boutique-style health plan

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Harken Health members get free yoga at the clinic. (Phil Galewitz/KHN

By Phil Galewitz
Kaiser Health News

AUSTELL, Ga. — UnitedHealthcare is betting $65 million that it can profit by making primary care more attractive.

With little fanfare, the nation’s largest health insurer launched an independent subsidiary in January that offers unlimited free doctor visits and 24/7 access by phone. Every member gets a personal health coach to nudge them toward their goals, such as losing weight or exercising more. Mental health counseling is also provided, as are yoga, cooking and acupuncture classes. Services are delivered in stylish clinics with hardwood floors and faux fireplaces in their lobbies.

Harken Health is available only in Chicago and Atlanta, where it covers 35,000 members who signed up this winter on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. UnitedHealth still sells traditional plans in those cities, too.

The plan spends twice as much on primary care as the average insurer,

Harken’s lush operation might seem puzzling for a cost-conscious company such as UnitedHealthcare, which said in November it lost hundreds of millions of dollars on its Obamacare plans in 2015 and threatened to drop out of the exchanges in 2017.

But it’s not crazy. Health care analysts say Harken demonstrates the insurer’s search for a better way to provide affordable care and attract more customers. Its mission is to prove that convenient, no-cost primary care, delivered with top-notch customer service, can lower hospitalization rates and overall health costs. Harken spends twice as much on primary care as the average insurer, according to the company.

“At the end of the day, United wants to know if this system can better control costs, as it’s a lot cheaper to prevent disease than treat one,” said Liz Frayer, an employee benefits consultant in Atlanta. Continue reading

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As water infrastructure crumbles, many cities seek private help

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Drinking Water WarningBy Mindy Fetterman
Stateline

WOODBURY, N.J. — As city councilors here discussed the local water system recently, Summer Smith, a homeowner, rose to ask a question: “Can you explain in plain English what ‘emergent water conditions’ means? It sounds kind of alarming.”

David Trovato, the council president, acknowledged that any hint of a water quality emergency “would scare the hell out of me, too.” But there is no emergency in Woodbury.

New Jersey has designated Woodbury’s water system as “emergent” because it can’t meet the need for water at peak demand times. So this town of 10,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia is considering selling its water system to a private company.

Woodbury isn’t alone.

More than 2,000 municipalities have entered public-private partnerships for all or part of their water supply systems, according to the National Association of Water Companies, which represents private water companies like Veolia North America and American Water.

Partner municipalities include San Antonio; Akron, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. Miami-Dade County is considering partnerships for three water facilities, including one built in 1924. And Wichita, Kansas, is starting to study the issue.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where old pipes leached out lead into water supplies, has raised new worries that cities aren’t keeping up with maintenance and improvements. Continue reading

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Demand surges for addiction treatment during pregnancy

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sln_MapMarch25

BOSTON — As soon as the home pregnancy test strip turned blue, Susan Bellone packed a few things and headed straight for Boston Medical Center’s emergency room. She’d been using heroin and knew she needed medical help to protect her baby.

“I felt so guilty. I still do,” said Bellone, a petite, energetic woman. At 32, and six years into her heroin addiction, having a baby was the last thing on her mind. “I was not in the right place to start a family,” she said. “But once it was happening, it was happening, so I couldn’t turn back.”

Nationwide, the number of pregnant women using heroin, prescription opioids or medications used to treat opioid addiction has increased more than five-fold and it’s expected to keep rising. With increased opioid and heroin use, the number of babies born with severe opioid withdrawal symptoms has also spiraled, leaving hospitals scrambling to find better ways to care for the burgeoning population of mothers and newborns.

Among the most important principles is that expectant mothers who are addicts should not try to quit cold turkey because doing so could cause a miscarriage. Trying to quit opioids without the help of medications also presents a high risk of relapse and fatal overdose.

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Until the opioid epidemic took hold about eight years ago, most hospitals saw only one or two cases a year of what is known as neonatal abstinence syndrome. Now, a baby is born suffering from opioid withdrawal every 25 minutes in the U.S., according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Continue reading

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How to eat healthy: Start with a plan

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SNAP cooking class with Nutrition Educator Golda Simon

SNAP cooking class with Nutrition Educator Golda Simon

By Keith Seinfeld
Public Health – Seattle & King County

People may eat poorly for a variety of reasons, including busy and stressful lives or lack of cooking skills.

Tight budgets may add to the problem, especially if you haven’t learned tricks for stretching food dollars.

For example, what if nobody ever showed you …

  • the value of planning meals ahead for a full week?
  • how to select the healthiest and most affordable option from the shelf?
  • how to cook easy and economical dishes?

To close that skills gap, a team of nutrition educators are bringing a new series of cooking classes to people enrolled in Washington’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Basic Food or Food Stamps. Continue reading

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Building a ground army to fight heroin deaths

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sln_overdoseReversalLine
By Christine Vestal
Stateline

BALTIMORE — A crowd quickly gathers here on one of West Baltimore’s many drug-infested street corners. But it isn’t heroin they’re seeking. It’s a heroin antidote known as naloxone, or Narcan.

Two city health department workers are holding up slim salmon-colored boxes and explaining that the medication inside can be used to stop someone from dying of a heroin overdose. Most onlookers nod solemnly in recognition. They’ve heard about the drug. They want to know more.

Nationwide, more than 150,000 people received naloxone kits from community outreach programs like Baltimore’s between 1996 and 2014, and more than 26,000 overdoses were reversed using those kits, according to a recent survey funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, police, emergency medical technicians and emergency room physicians have used the drug to save tens of thousands of lives. Baltimore police officers started carrying the kits last year.

But as the opioid epidemic seeps into nearly every small town and suburb across the country, state, local and federal officials are trying to make the life-saving prescription drug available everywhere, particularly at local pharmacies. Continue reading

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Zika virus exposes weaknesses in public health

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2016 Cynthia Goldsmith Caption:This is a transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae. Virus particles are 40 nm in diameter, with an outer envelope, and an inner dense core. Additional Information:“Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.”For more information on the Zika virus, follow the link below.

By Michael Ollove
Stateline

Zika is the latest public health threat facing an undermanned public health system.

State health officials were heartened when President Barack Obama this month asked Congress for $1.8 billion to combat the spread of the Zika virus because they fear they don’t have the resources to fight the potentially debilitating disease on their own.

Budget cuts have left state and local health departments seriously understaffed and, officials say, in a precariously dangerous situation if the country has to face outbreaks of two or more infectious diseases — such as Zika, new strains of flu, or the West Nile and Ebola viruses — at the same time.

Budget cuts have left state and local health departments seriously understaffed, officials say.

“We have been lucky,” said James Blumenstock of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, of states’ and localities’ ability to contain the flu, West Nile and Ebola threats of the last five years.

“Not only have the last major threats not been as severe as they might have been, they have also been sequential,” Blumenstock said. “The issue is: What if the next pandemic is not as mild as the last ones? What if more than one of them happens at once?”

States to varying degrees have cut back spending on public health since the onset of the Great Recession in 2007. Overall state spending on public health fell by $1.3 billion between 2008 and 2014, two health research organizations — the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — reported last year. Continue reading

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Zika quarantine? Good idea or bad?

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Public Health — Seattle & King County expert weighs in

By Dr. Jeff Duchin, MD
Health Officer and Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunizations

DuchinExperts are still learning about Zika virus, and in this time of uncertainty, some some are calling for a quarantine on travelers from areas affected by Zika.

I don’t think it’s a good idea.

This is a transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae. Virus particles are 40 nm in diameter, with an outer envelope, and an inner dense core. Additional Information:“Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.”For more information on the Zika virus, follow the link below.

Zika virus — Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC

Quarantine of travelers exposed to Zika virus is neither appropriate nor feasible, and would likely have no meaningful impact on the spread on the disease – but would result in significant negative unintended consequences on travel, commerce, individuals and families.

Quarantine of returning travelers would be costly and complicated to carry out for no real benefit. Although Zika poses a real threat of continued global spread, continuing measures to protect travelers and control the outbreaks where they are occurring, although imperfect, are more appropriate responses.

This is true for a number of reasons.

  1. There is no practical way to identify or screen for who is infected with Zika and potentially capable of transmitting infection. Most infections are asymptomatic and there is no rapid diagnostic test.
  2. In addition, everything we know suggests the threat to the US is not large. Based on experience with other viruses, like dengue and chikungunya, that are transmitted by the same mosquito vectors and have reached the US after large scale epidemics expanded globally, the risk for ongoing transmission or large outbreaks in the US is thought to be low. (In much of the country including the Pacific Northwest, we don’t have the type of mosquitoes that transmit Zika, dengue and chikungunya.) In contrast, the number of persons traveling to and from Zika-affected areas would be extremely large and enter the US at many points, making implementation of quarantine unrealistic even if it was potentially useful.
  3. And, it’s likely that Zika, as dengue and chickungunya viruses have done, will become established in much of the world, meaning that quarantine would need to be continued on an ongoing basis.

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