Flu on the rise in King County

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Flu virusesFlu is here—and it’s a nasty one!

By Meredith Li-Vollmer
Public Health – Seattle & King County

Influenza is noticeably on the rise in King County, according the Public Health – Seattle & King County” sCommunicable Disease and Epidemiology unit.

Last week, the number of laboratory tests for flu rose sharply and a handful of schools, daycare programs, and long-term care facilities reported flu outbreaks.

A severe flu forecast

The flu season has only just begun, but the CDC is finding that so far, seasonal influenza A H3N2 viruses have been the most common flu viruses circulating. What’s the significance? In flu seasons in which H3N2 viruses predominate, there often are more severe flu illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths.

On top of that, roughly half of the H3N2 viruses that the CDC analyzed to date are drift variants: viruses with genetic changes that make them different from this season’s vaccine virus. This means the vaccine’s ability to protect against those viruses may be reduced.

So should you still get this year’s flu vaccine? Continue reading

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Seasonal alert – Watch out for carbon monoxide poisoning

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Dangerous source of carbon monoxide

From the Washington Poison Center

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) received 308 calls in 2013 on carbon monoxide poisonings; 121 of those cases were managed in a healthcare facility. With winter right around the corner and people starting to crank up their heaters, the WAPC has some information to share.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of different fuel sources (oil, gas, charcoal, or wood). It is a leading cause of poisoning injury and death in the United States.

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Top five health stories of the week

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Credit: Dan Shirly

Credit: Dan Shirly

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Health news headlines – December 13th

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MRI of the knee

Credit: Wikipedia – Creative Commons License

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Global health news – December 13th

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Illnesses due to raw milk on the rise

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From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 

Photo by Maciej Lewandowski

Photo by Maciej Lewandowski

The average annual number of outbreaks due to drinking raw (unpasteurized) milk have more than quadrupled – from an average of three outbreaks per year during 1993-2006 to 13 per year during 2007-2012. Overall, there were 81 outbreaks in 26 states from 2007 to 2012.

As more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there has been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.The outbreaks, which accounted for about 5 percent of all food-borne outbreaks with a known food source, sickened nearly 1,000 people and sent 73 to the hospital. More than 80 percent of the outbreaks occurred in states where selling raw milk was legal.

As more states have allowed the legal sale of raw milk, there has been a rapid increase in the number of raw milk-associated outbreaks.

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Many Obamacare plans setting out-of-pocket limits below cap

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Photo by nyuszika

Photo by nyuszika

By Michelle Andrews
KHN

Consumers shopping on the health insurance marketplaces will find many plans with out-of-pocket spending limits that are lower than the maximums allowed under the health law, according to an analysis by Avalere Health.

Seventy-four percent of 2015 silver level plans’ out-of-pocket spending caps are below the $6,600 spending limit allowed for individual plans and $13,200 maximum for family plans, according to Avalere, a consulting firm.

The average out-of-pocket maximum for 2015 individual silver plans will be $5,853, says Caroline Pearson, a vice president at Avalere. Silver was the most popular plan type this year, selected by about two-thirds of enrollees.

After a policyholder reaches the out-of-pocket spending limit during the year, the insurer pays all the bills, unless, for example, they involve doctors and hospitals not in the health plan’s network.

The vast majority of other plans also feature lower limits on out-of-pocket spending—which includes deductibles, copayments and co-insurance, but not premiums. S

eventy-one percent of bronze plan spending limits were below the allowed maximum (with an average spending limit for single coverage of $6,381), as were 94 percent of gold plans (average limit, $4,458) and 98 percent of platinum plans (average limit, $2,145).

Avalere said the average spending limits for single coverage were in most cases close to those for 2014 plans: bronze ($6,330); silver ($5,877); gold ($4,443) and platinum, $2,795.

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Health news headlines – December 12th

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Global health news – December 12th

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Washington insurance exchange enrolls nearly 60,000

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WA_Healthplanfinder_RGBNearly 60,000 residents have signed up for health insurance or renewed their coverage for 2015 through the Washington state health insurance exchange, wahealthplanfinder.org, Washington Healthplanfinder today said Thursday.

In addition, 480,000 new adults have accessed coverage through the state’s Medicaid program, Washington Apple Health, and more than 60 percent of Washington Apple Health clients have been automatically renewed via the online marketplace.

Residents who qualify for coverage must select and pay for a plan by Dec. 23 at 4:59 p.m. for coverage starting on Jan. 1, 2015.

Based on data from the first open enrollment period, enrollments are expected to surge considerably ahead of the Dec. 23 deadline. Washington Apple Health enrollment is year-round.

Washington Healthplanfinder has received approximately 16,000 site visits per day, while the Customer Support Center has received an average of 10,000 calls a day.”

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Texting, talking and walking – distracted pedestrian injuries jump

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texting walking iPhone cell phone mobileBy Tim Henderson
Stateline

They walk in front of cars, and into tree limbs and street signs. They fall off curbs and bridges into wet cement and creek beds.

They are distracted walkers who, while calling or texting on mobile phones, have suffered cuts and bruises, sustained serious head injuries or even been killed.

As many cities and states promote walkable neighborhoods, in part to attract more young people, some also are levying fines on distracted walkers and lowering speed limits to make streets gentler for the inattentive.

Pedestrian injuries due to cell phone use are up 35 percent since 2010, according to federal emergency room data reviewed by Stateline, and some researchers blame at least 10 percent of the 78,000 pedestrian injuries in the U.S. in 2012 on mobile device distraction.

texting walking graphic

The federal Fatality Analysis Reporting system attributes about a half-dozen pedestrians deaths a year to “portable electronic devices,” including phones and music players.

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With 1.5 Million Sign-Ups So Far, Obamacare Enrollment Is Brisk

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Shopping CartBy Phil Galewitz
KHN

With less than a week until the deadline to buy individual health insurance that begins Jan. 1, experts say sign-ups are on course to hit or exceed the Obama administration’s projection of about 9 million enrollees in 2015.

Several weeks into the second year of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges, about 1.5 million people have enrolled in coverage, according to data from state and federal exchanges.

” . . . sign-ups are on track to “far exceed” the Obama administration’s 9 million projection.”

As of Dec. 5, almost 1.4 million had enrolled through the federal insurance exchange, which serves 37 states, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services reported Wednesday.

Another 183,000 chose plans through state exchanges, including nearly 49,000 in California, according to a Kaiser Health News analysis of state exchange data.  Enrollment figures were not available for exchanges in New York, Idaho and Rhode Island.

“Exchange enrollment is far ahead of 2014’s pace due to improved technology performance,” said Caroline Pearson, vice president of Avalere Health, a consulting firm.

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Health news headlines – December 11th

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Global health news – December 11th

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Urban parks and trails most cost-effective ways to promote exercise

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small__13075606504By Sharyn Alden
Health Behavior News Service

Providing public parks and walking and biking trails is the most cost-effective strategy to increase physical activity among large populations in urban areas, according to a new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Virpi Kuvja-Kollner, lead author of the review, noted that although public budgets for health care and other services are tighter than ever, the most cost-effective approach to increase physical activity among large urban populations is to make changes to the structural environment.

Creation of more outdoor exercise opportunities, such as “pedestrian or bicycle trails en route to public transportation stations or providing public parks in densely populated areas,” can require a substantial public investment but have long life spans.

“The main focus in promoting physical activity should be to get people who are not active to get moving instead of just promoting more exercise to those who are already active.”

“The main focus in promoting physical activity should be to get people who are not active to get moving instead of just promoting more exercise to those who are already active,” added Kuvja-Kollner, a researcher/instructor and doctoral candidate at the University of Eastern Finland. Continue reading

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