Category Archives: Health

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.

A source of lead poisoning

Foreign-made jewelry is a potential source of lead exposure, according to public health officials.

A 1-year-old boy living in New York City had a rapid increase in blood lead levels, and the likely source of the exposure was traced to a Cambodian amulet made from knotted string and metallic beads, according to researchers from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the CDC.

Testing revealed that the beads contained 45 percent lead, the researchers reported in Jan. 28 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The boy had worn the amulet — “something to protect him,” his father said — since he was 3 months old, and had been seen putting it in his mouth.

“Healthcare providers and public health workers should consider traditional customs when seeking sources of lead exposure in Southeast Asian populations,” the authors wrote.

Healthcare professionals should ask parents — particularly from Southeast Asian families — about the use of amulets, they added, noting that educational efforts about the risk of lead poisoning from jewelry are needed for immigrant families.

An accompanying editorial note pointed out that the CDC recommends blood lead testing for internationally adopted and refugee children and that the New York City health department recommends testing all children with recent travel to foreign countries.

Although the most common source of lead exposure in young children is paint, other sources have been increasingly identified.

That is particularly true in immigrant communities because of the use of lead-containing products from their country of origin, such as spices, food, candy, cosmetics, health remedies, ceramics or pottery, and jewelry.

For the case of the 1-year-old boy, routine lead testing showed an elevated blood lead level of 10 micrograms/dL.

According to the National Institutes of Health lead concentrations in blood should be less than 10 micrograms/dL in children and less than 20 micrograms/dL in adults.

Because he lived in a household with a cousin who had had lead poisoning, he had also been tested at 6 months. His blood lead level was just 1 microgram/dL then.

A risk assessor from the Environmental Protection Agency visited the home to look for potential sources of the lead exposure. The boy’s father denied using any imported products, and the assessor failed to find any potential sources of exposure.

Three months later, the boy’s blood level doubled to 20 micrograms/dL.

The boy’s father again denied that the child wore jewelry or charms, but eventually admitted that the child had worn an amulet acquired at a Cambodian market since he was 3 months old.

Medical Identity Theft

What is medical identity theft? In this serious and growing problem, someone else uses your personal information to obtain medical goods or services. Medical identity theft affects consumers, health care providers, and insurance organization. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), medical identity theft accounts for about 3 percent of all identity theft, and the World Privacy Forum claims it’s the most difficult form of identity theft to correct.

When you are the victim of medical identity theft, incorrect information about diagnoses and treatments may appear on your medical records, potentially affecting your health care providers’ decisions about your care and treatment. Also, in addition to paying for treatment you didn’t receive, in some cases you might be denied treatment or coverage because of fraudulent medical or insurance information.

But there is some good news: HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations and the Identity Theft Protection Act, already in place, give you many of the tools you need to get errors corrected at your doctor’s office and with your insurance provider. Of course, like any crime, you’re better off preventing it from happening in the first place.

Spotting Medical Identity Theft

Among other signs, the FTC states that you may be a target of a potential medical identity theft or fraud if you are charged for medical services you didn’t receive. Keep a calendar to track your appointments, treatment dates, and any hospital admission and discharge dates. If the explanation of benefits from your insurance provider or Medicare isn’t exactly right, clear up the error as soon as possible.

Medical receipts, prescription drug information, health insurance forms, and any documents bearing your health care providers’ names might be all a clever thief needs to begin off-loading other medical claims to you. If you don’t need to keep medical documents, shred or burn them, and peel off labels from your prescription medications before recycling the containers.

Legal Protection to Combat Medical Identity Theft

The Identity Theft Protection Act of 2005 requires any commercial, charitable, educational, or non-profit organization that acquires or uses sensitive personal data to provide significant administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to prevent that data from being mishandled.

The same act that allows consumers to place a freeze on their credit reports also requires any covered entity to investigate suspected misappropriation of personal medical data and to do everything possible to correct resulting inaccurate medical information and billing problems.

Smart tips can make using your cell phone safer

Does the World Health Organization’s statement that cell phones may cause cancer have you thinking twice about making that phone call?

Of course it’s alarming to think that something that’s become such a can’t-live-without can be linked to brain cancer, but there’s a lot even the most cell phone-addicted people can do to minimize health risks.

Any potential links to cancer stem from the low levels of radiation cell phones emit. Lower your exposure to the radiation, and you’ll reduce the potential links to cancer or other health problems:

  1. Use a headset. Sounds obvious, but headsets emit much less radiation than cell phones do, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), and they keep your cell phone away from your head. The farther away you are from a source of radiation, the less damage it can do.
  2. Text when you can. Your constantly texting teens are onto something: Cell phones use less energy (and emit less radiation) when you text than when you talk, says the EWG. Texting also keeps the radiation source farther away from your brain.
  3. Use cell phones for FYI-only calls. Don’t use your cell phone for that long overdue, hour-long catch-up with your sister. Keep calls as short as possible — Do you need me to get the dry cleaning, honey? — and switch to a landline if they’re veering off into chitchat territory.
  4. Watch the bars. Can you hear me now? If you’re struggling to maintain a connection, ditch the call and wait until you have better service. When your phone has fewer signal bars, it has to work harder (and, therefore, emit more radiation) to connect.
  5. Keep the phone away from your ear when you can. EMF-Health.com recommends waiting for the call to connect before you bring the phone to your ear, which minimizes radiation exposure. And when you talk, tilt the phone away from your ear and bring it in close when you’re listening. That’s because the radiation levels are “significantly less when a cell phone is receiving signals than when it is transmitting,” Lin Zhong, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Rice University in Houston, told The New York Times.
  6. Don’t make calls in elevators or cars. You already it’s dangerous to talk and drive; EMF-Health.com says that cell phones use more power to establish a connection in enclosed metal spaces like cars and elevators.
  7. Make sure your kids use the landline. It seems like even toddlers are using cell phones today, but experts say kids are the most vulnerable to potential radiation dangers. The EWG says children’s brains absorb twice as much cell phone radiation as adults. According to The New York Times, health authorities in Britain, France, Germany, and Russia all have warnings against letting children use cell phones.

Promises to Cut Funds for Healthcare Reform and Birth Control

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has passed a bill to continue funding government programs in 2011, but cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

The debate over HR 1, a bill that would continue appropriating 2011 funds, lasted five grueling days, ending with final passage early Saturday morning by a vote of 235 to 189. No Democrats voted in favor of the appropriations bill, but three Republicans crossed the aisle to vote against it.

Health Insurance Resource Center

Last week was filled with emotional debate on the House floor over what the government should fund, and what programs should have funding cut or eliminated.

One of the most contentious items wrapped up in the budget bill was an amendment by Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which passed by a vote of 240-185.

During debate over that measure, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calf.) took to the floor and delivered an angry and impassioned speech that revealed she’d had an abortion, and to denounce amendment that would take away funding for family planning, sexual health services, and abortions.

Other amendments offered ranged from space exploration to NASCAR, to studying Asian carp, and served to highlight the wide differences in spending priorities held by the two political parties.

One GOP amendment would bar the use of funds in the bill to pay the salary of any employee of the Department of Health and Humans Services (HHS) who works to comply with the ACA. That amendment passed by a vote of 241-184.

Republicans passed another measure to cut off funding for the IRS to enforce the individual mandate in the ACA, and another that would cut off funds for federal work on health exchanges.

An amendment by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a physician, would cut off funds for to implement the medical loss ratio provision of the ACA, which stipulates that insurers must spend most of the money premiums on patient care.

Healthcare Around the World: How Do We Stack Up?

But this appropriations bill won’t cut all funding for those ACA provisions because the most of the spending for healthcare reform is budgeted for future years.

The spending bill — with all its healthcare amendments — now goes to the Senate where it faces more contentious debate on Feb. 28 when Congress returns from its Presidents’ Day holiday recess.

Get the most out of your medications

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) judges a drug to be safe enough to approve when the benefits of the medicine outweigh the known risks for the labeled use.

Doctors, physician assistants, nurses, pharmacists, and YOU make up your health care team. To reduce the risks from using medicines and to get the most benefit, you need to be an active member of the team.

To make medicine use SAFER:

  • Speak up
  • Ask questions
  • Find the facts
  • Evaluate your choices
  • Read the label and follow directions

Speak Up

The more information your health care team knows about you, the better the team can plan the care that’s right for you.

The members of your team need to know your medical history, such as illnesses, medical conditions (like high blood pressure or diabetes), and operations you have had.

They also need to know all the medicines and treatments you use, whether all the time or only some of the time. Before you add something new, talk it over with your team. Your team can help you with what mixes well, and what doesn’t.

It helps to give a written list of all your medicines and treatments to all your doctors, pharmacists and other team members. Keep a copy of the list for yourself and give a copy to a loved one.

Be sure to include:

  • prescription medicines, including any samples your doctor may have given you
  • over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, or medicines you can buy without a prescription (such as antacids, laxatives, or pain, fever, and cough/cold medicines)
  • dietary supplements, including vitamins and herbs
  • any other treatments
  • any allergies, and any problems you may have had with a medicine
  • anything that could have an effect on your use of medicine, such as pregnancy, breast feeding, trouble swallowing, trouble remembering, or cost

Help the People of Haiti

Since the earthquake struck on Jan. 12, many non-profit organizations have been providing search and rescue aid, medical care, shelter, food, and other essential services in Haiti. All need additional funds to continue their work in the coming weeks and months.

Health and Medical Care

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières)

An international humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists that provides medical and health services, often in emergency situations.

Direct Relief International

Provides medical care to people harmed by poverty, natural disasters, and civil unrest.

Partners in Health

An organization that provides medical care and advocacy in Haiti and nine other countries.

Emergency Services and Logistical Support

American Red Cross

The U.S. branch of the International Red Cross, which assists people whose lives have been disrupted by natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and health emergencies.

Clinton Bush Haiti Fund

A fundraising group started by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at the request of President Barack Obama to support immediate relief efforts such as the provision of food, water, shelter, and medical care, and to work on long-term recovery plans.

The International Rescue Committee

A group of volunteer first responders, humanitarian relief workers, healthcare providers, educators, and other volunteers who provide emergency relief services.

Mercy Corps

A volunteer group of professional engineers, financial analysts, public health experts, and others who help out in times of humanitarian emergencies.

Assistance for Children and Families

CARE

A humanitarian organization that fights poverty by working with poor women to help their families and communities.

Save the Children

Provides prenatal care, immunizations, educational help, and other services to children in need and their families.

Stillerstrong

An organization founded by the actor Ben Stiller to build schools and provide education programs for the children of Haiti.

UNICEF

The United Nations agency that provides health care, clean water, nutrition, education, and emergency relief services for children and families.

Yele Haiti

A group founded by musician Wyclef Jean to support health, education, environmental change, and community development in Haiti.

Chemicals May Affect Thyroid Function

Chemicals called phthalates and bisphenol-A (BPA) that are found in solvents, plastics and numerous household products may alter levels of thyroid hormones in the body, according to a new study.

Thyroid hormones play a role in many critical bodily functions, including reproduction and metabolism.

Researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health used data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to compare thyroid levels and traces of phthalates and BPA in urine samples of 1,346 adults and 329 teenagers. Their findings confirmed previous research linking BPA — used in certain plastic water bottles and the linings of canned foods — with disruptions in thyroid hormone levels, they said.

Overall, higher concentrations of the chemicals had an inverse impact on thyroid levels, said study lead author John Meeker, an assistant professor, in a university news release. The greater the exposure to phthalates and BPA, the lower the thyroid hormone levels.

The strongest link occurred with exposure to DEHP, a phthalate commonly used as a plasticizer, which people come into contact with through diet.

In the cases of DEHP ingestion, urine samples showed that the greatest exposure was associated with as much as a 10 percent drop in thyroid hormones.

“This seems like a subtle difference,” said Meeker, “but if you think about the entire population being exposed at this level you’d see many more thyroid related effects in people.”

The authors concluded that additional research is needed. In other ongoing studies, they are assessing the chemicals’ potential effects on pregnancy outcomes and child development.

Developing fetuses and children may be particularly vulnerable to disruptions in thyroid hormone levels associated with exposure to these and other environmental chemicals, Meeker said.

The researchers, acknowledging some limitations of their study, said their work could be improved by following people over time and collecting several urine samples, since these chemicals metabolize quickly and one single sample may not represent the true chemical exposure.

Health Boost or Health Risk

A large number of studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in men and women. Moderate drinking means one drink per day for women and one to two for men, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “The difference in amounts is because of how men and women metabolize alcohol,” Dr. Novey explains.

“When you say one drink, the size of that drink matters,” Novey adds. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture one drink is equal to:

  • 12 ounces of beer or
  • 5 ounces of wine or
  • 1½ ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey, 80-proof)

The Dangers of Drinking Too Much

Unfortunately, some people can’t stop at just one or two drinks. Too much alcohol can result in serious health consequences. Heavy alcohol intake can damage the liver, causing cirrhosis, a fatal disease. Excessive drinking also can raise blood pressure and damage the heart, and is linked to many different cancers, including mouth, esophagus, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. The health risks are even greater for those who not only drink but smoke as well.

The consequences of excessive drinking can be serious not only for the alcoholic, but also for their friends, family, and even innocent bystanders. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 16,000 people die each year in automobile accidents that involve drunken drivers. Other data indicates that one in three violent crimes involves the use of alcohol and as many as three out of four violent incidents against a spouse involve alcohol. “Alcohol is a depressant. It makes people sad over time, not happy,” Novey says. When depressed, people can do some rather unfortunate things to themselves and their loved ones.

Signs of Alcohol Abuse

How can you tell if you or someone you know might have a drinking problem? Physicians often use the CAGE test, which involves four simple questions, Novey says:

  • Cutting down. Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Annoyance by criticism. Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Guilty feeling. Have you ever felt guilty about drinking alcohol?
  • Eye-openers. Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (an “eye-opener”)?

Find out exactly what you should be eating on a regular basis

If you are what you eat, it follows that you want to stick to a healthy diet that’s well balanced. “You want to eat a variety of foods,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. “You don’t want to be overly restrictive of any one food group or eat too much of another.”

Healthy Diet: The Building Blocks

The best source of meal planning for most Americans is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Pyramid. The pyramid, updated in 2005, suggests that for a healthy diet each day you should eat:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains. These include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and at least 3 servings should be from whole grains. A serving of bread is one slice while a serving of cereal is 1/2 (cooked) to 1 cup (ready-to-eat). A serving of rice or pasta is 1/2 cup cooked (1 ounce dry). Save fat-laden baked goods such as croissants, muffins, and donuts for an occasional treat.
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, making them a great addition to your healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables also provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for your body’s systems to function at peak performance. Fruits and vegetables also will add flavor to a healthy diet. It’s best to serve them fresh, steamed, or cut up in salads. Be sure to skip the calorie-laden toppings, butter, and mayonnaise, except on occasion. A serving of raw or cooked vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens); a serving of a fruit is 1/2 cup or a fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball.
  • 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose dairy products wisely. Go for fat-free or reduced-fat milk or cheeses. Substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes and no one will notice the difference. A serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese.
  • 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. For a healthy diet, the best ways to prepare beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish is to bake or broil them. Look for the words “loin” or “round” in cuts of meats because they’re the leanest. Remove all visible fat or skin before cooking, and season with herbs, spices, and fat-free marinades. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 2 to 3 ounces. Some crossover foods such as dried beans, lentils, and peanut butter can provide protein without the animal fat and cholesterol you get from meats. A ¼ cup cooked beans or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is equal to 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. No diet should totally eliminate any one food group, even fats, oils, and sweets. It’s fine to include them in your diet as long as it’s on occasion and in moderation, Bickston says.