Monthly Archives: July 2018

An upsurge in diseases like asthma and bronchitis

Medical and public health groups are banding together to explain how global warming has taken a toll on human health and will continue to cause food-borne illnesses, respiratory problems, and deaths unless policy changes are enacted.

In a conference call with reporters, the heads of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) joined with a pediatrician and a scientist to lay out what they say is a major public health issue: climate change caused by global warming.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Asthma

The “evidence has only grown stronger” that climate change is responsible for an increasing number of health ills, including asthma, diarrheal disease, and even deaths from extreme weather such as heat waves, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the APHA.

For one, rising temperatures can mean more smog, which makes children with asthma sicker, explained pediatrician Dr. Perry Sheffield, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York.

There is also evidence that pollen season is also getting longer, she said, which could lead to an increase in the number of people with asthma.

Climate change also is thought to lead to increased concentrations of ozone, a pollutant formed on clear, cloudless days. Ozone is a lung irritant which can affect asthmatics, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and those with heart disease, said Dr. Kristie Ebi, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More ozone can mean more health problems and more hospital visits, she said.

Aside from air-related ailments and illnesses, extreme weather can have a devastating effect on health, Sheffield said.

“As a result of global warming, extreme storms including hurricanes, heavy rainfall, and even snowstorms are expected to increase,” Sheffield said. “And these events pose risk of injury and disruption of special medical services, which are particularly important to children with special medical needs.”

Extreme heat waves and droughts are responsible for more deaths than any other weather-related event, Sheffield said.

The 2006 heat wave that spread through most of the U.S. and Canada saw temperatures that topped 100 degrees. In all, 450 people died, 16,000 visited the emergency room, and 1,000 were hospitalized, said Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the AMA.

Climate change has already caused temperatures to rise and precipitation to increase, which, in turn, can cause diseases carried by tics, mosquitoes, and other animals to spread past their normal geographical range, explained Ebi.

For instance, Lyme disease is increasing in some areas, she said, including in Canada, where scientists are tracking the spread of Lyme disease north.

Ebi also recounted the 2004 outbreak of the leading seafood-related cause of gastroenteritis, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, from Alaskan seafood, which was attributed to increased ocean temperatures causing infected sea creatures to travel 600 miles north.

Salmonella outbreaks also increase when temperatures are very warm, Sheffield said.

A 2008 study also projected that global warming will lead to a possible increase in the prevalence of kidney stones due to increased dehydration, although the link hasn’t been proven.

Wilson said the AMA wants to make doctors aware of the projected rise in climate-related illnesses. To combat climate change, Wilson says physicians and public health groups can advocate for policies that improve public health, and should also serve as role models by adopting environmentally-friendly policies such as eliminating paper waste and using energy-efficient lighting in their practices.

“Climate instability threatens our health and life-supporting system, and the risk to our health and well-being will continue to mount unless we all do our part to stabilize the climate and protect the nation’s health,” said Wilson.

Benjamin added that doctors should pay attention to the Air Quality Index. For instance, if there’s a “Code Red” day, which indicates the air is unhealthy, physicians should advise patients (particularly those with cardiac or respiratory conditions) that it’s not the day to try and mow the grass.

“ER docs are quite aware of Code Red days because we know that when those occur, we’re going to see lots of patients in the emergency room,” Benjamin said.

The conference call came as Congress is considering what role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have in updating its safeguards against carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

10 Easy Ways to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly

While the EPA has the authority to regulate levels of CO2, a budget bill passed by the House of Representatives last the weekend prohibited the EPA from exercising that authority. Meanwhile, other bills are pending in Congress that would significantly delay the agency’s ability to regulate air pollutants.

AMA has a number of policies on the books regarding climate change, including a resolution supporting the EPA’s authority to regulate the control of greenhouse gases, and a statement endorsing findings from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concludes the Earth is undergoing adverse climate changes, and that humans are a significant contributor to the changing weather.

In that statement, the AMA said it supports educating the medical community about climate change and its health implications through medical education on topics such as “population displacement, heat waves and drought, flooding, infectious and vector-borne diseases, and potable water supplies.”

Find out which personal hygiene

Mom was right: Good personal hygiene is essential to promoting good health.

Personal hygiene habits such as washing your hands and brushing and flossing your teeth will help keep bacteria, viruses, and illnesses at bay. And there are mental as well as physical benefits. “Practicing good body hygiene helps you feel good about yourself, which is important for your mental health,” notes Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. People who have poor hygiene — disheveled hair and clothes, body odor, bad breath, missing teeth, and the like — often are seen as unhealthy and may face discrimination.

Personal Hygiene: Healthy Habits Include Good Grooming

If you want to minimize your risk of infection and also enhance your overall health, follow these basic personal hygiene habits:

  • Bathe regularly. Wash your body and your hair often. “I’m not saying that you need to shower or bathe every day,” remarks Dr. Novey. “But you should clean your body and shampoo your hair at regular intervals that work for you.” Your body is constantly shedding skin. Novey explains, “That skin needs to come off. Otherwise, it will cake up and can cause illnesses.”
  • Trim your nails. Keeping your finger and toenails trimmed and in good shape will prevent problems such as hang nails and infected nail beds. Feet that are clean and dry are less likely to contract athlete’s foot, Novey says.
  • Brush and floss. Ideally, you should brush your teeth after every meal. At the very least, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brushing minimizes the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease, Novey says. Flossing, too, helps maintain strong, healthy gums. “The bacteria that builds up and causes gum disease can go straight to the heart and cause very serious valve problems,” Novey explains. Unhealthy gums also can cause your teeth to loosen, which makes it difficult to chew and to eat properly, he adds. To maintain a healthy smile, visit the dentist at six-month intervals for checkups and cleanings.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands before preparing or eating food, after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after handling garbage, goes a long way toward preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. Keep a hygiene product, like an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, handy for when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Sleep tight. Get plenty of rest — 8 to 10 hours a night — so that you are refreshed and are ready to take on the day every morning. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling run down and can compromise your body’s natural defenses, your immune system, Novey says.

Rebuilding Continues in Joplin

It’s been months since a massive Level 5 tornado flattened Joplin, Mo., killing 125 people and destroying more than 8,000 buildings. It was one of the most destructive twisters in U.S. history, and its devastating effects are still being felt.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the non-profit AmeriCares connected directly with its partner clinics, shelters, and health care providers in Joplin and nearby Springfield to provide essential first-aid supplies. It also supplied life-saving intravenous fluids and medications to the field hospital that was temporarily erected near the ruins of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the city’s main hospital. But as important as these critical-care supplies were, residents were also in desperate need of chronic care medications for diabetes and heart disease, among other conditions. AmeriCares helped ensure the continued supply of these pharmaceuticals despite local pharmacies’ empty shelves.

Your donation will help AmeriCares keep the medications flowing to people who need them.

In mid-July, Alex Ostasiewicz, a multimedia associate for AmeriCares, revisited the devastated region to check up on the town’s progress. “I’d never seen tornado damage before,” she said. “Although it’s clear that much progress has been made in the cleanup, the landscape is bleak and barren, and there’s still a significant amount of debris.” Since the storm, more than 65,000 volunteers have flocked to Joplin and the surrounding areas, and debris removal is still ongoing. AmeriCares supplies tetanus vaccine, antibiotics, and other essential medications to ensure volunteers’ safety. In addition, like the rest of the country, Joplin has been engulfed in the heat wave, making the workers’ jobs harder.

What’s becoming increasingly important in the tornado’s aftermath is providing much-needed psychological care to the survivors. “We saw similar needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters,” explains Ostasiewicz. “These people have lost their homes, their community, and their support system.” Group therapy to address longer-term complications like depression and anxiety is important to repairing the community of Joplin.

Healthcare Reform Law

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, siding with the 26 states that sued to block enforcement of the law.

The lawsuit, filed by 26 states that sued to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is considered likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson, of the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., stopped short of directing the federal government to stop implementing the law. Still, the ruling is the harshest legal action yet against the ACA.

Unlike a ruling last month by a judge in Richmond, Va., stating that the individual mandate portion of the ACA violates the Constitution, Vinson ruled the entire law “void” because the individual mandate provision can’t be separated out from the rest of the law.

Congress “exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate,” Vinson wrote in his 78-page ruling, which was released Monday afternoon. The mandate requires all citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” he concluded.

He did contend that Congress has the power to address the “problems and inequities in our health care system,” but that Congress overstepped its power in passing the ACA.

“There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford,” Vinson wrote. “This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”

Aerobic workout may also build brain

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

The study showed that overall the walkers had a 2 percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, compared with an average loss of about 1.4% in the control participants.

The researchers also found, improvements in fitness, measured by exercise testing on a treadmill, were significantly associated with increases in the volume of the hippocampus.

On the other hand, the study fell short of demonstrating a group effect on memory – both groups showed significant improvements both in accuracy and speed on a standard test. The apparent lack of effect, Kramer told MedPage Today, is probably a statistical artifact that results from large individual differences within the groups.

Analyses showed that that higher aerobic fitness levels at baseline and after the one-year intervention were associated with better spatial memory performance, the researchers reported.

But change in aerobic fitness was not related to improvements in memory for either the entire sample or either group separately, they found.

On the other hand, larger hippocampi at baseline and after the intervention were associated with better memory performance, they reported.

The results “clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” the researchers argued.

Keep front line health care workers safe

They save lives, prevent suffering, and help save money on health care. They make us feel protected, secure and safe. But surprisingly, more than 80 percent of nurses don’t feel safe or secure when they’re at work.

Why? Because in the course of a day, they are regularly exposed to dangerous bacteria and viruses, like hepatitis and HIV. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 1,000 needle-stick and other “sharps” injuries are suffered every day by nurses and health care workers.

At greatest risk for serious illness are volunteer health care workers who serve the poor and uninsured, who are more likely to carry infectious diseases. That’s where AmeriCares comes in; the non-profit delivers necessary medical supplies, like needles and hand sanitizer, to free and low-cost health clinics nationwide in an effort to protect America’s nurses and health care workers. “They’re a nation’s greatest resource,” explains Frank Bia, MD, medical director of AmeriCares. “Protecting them from injury and disease is critical to ensuring the overall health of the population.”

Bia has firsthand experience with this issue — when he was an intern, he contracted hepatitis B, a serious liver infection, from a needle stick. “Anything you can do to prevent exposure can have a great payoff,” he says.

In fact, protecting America’s health care workers isn’t that difficult or costly. Just a few bottles of hand-sanitizing gel weekly — donated by AmeriCares — help keep the staff infection-free at The Way-Free Clinic, which delivers comprehensive medical care to more than 37,000 uninsured residents of Clay County, Fla.

“Our staff is entirely volunteer, and we must keep them healthy,” explains executive director Christie Fitzgerald. “In the past, we’ve had some significant flu outbreaks, and when those patients come in to be treated, they are highly contagious. Hand sanitizer helps ensure that we don’t transmit the virus from person to person. Thankfully, none of our volunteers have gotten the flu, and I credit the hand sanitizer; our staff is constantly using it.”

Supplying necessary everyday items like hand-sanitizing gel or needles equipped with safety features doesn’t just protect health care workers, it also protects patients from unnecessary exposure and as a result, halts population outbreaks of illnesses like the flu.

Your support could help ensure healthier nurses and patients. Donate now.

In addition, by donating such everyday items, AmeriCares helps free clinics preserve their funding for other needs, such as diagnostic tests, labwork, and treatment procedures. “The money I save on items like hand-sanitizing gel goes directly to patient care,” explains Fitzgerald.

Everyday Health For All, Everyday Health’s new philanthropic initiative, is teaming up with AmeriCares to raise $8,000. That will pay for three months of hygiene and safety supplies for each of five free clinics to keep nurses and other health care workers healthy and injury-free.