Review Category : Health

CDC: Number of Deaths Linked to Prescription Painkillers Has Quadrupled Since 1999

Alex459/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new figures on Tuesday showing that the number of deaths caused by opioid prescription painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, are significantly higher than in years past.

According to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, the number of deaths caused by prescription painkillers has climbed from 4,263 in 1999 to almost 19,000 in 2011. Poisoning was the number one cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S., of which 90 percent were related to drugs.

Those between the ages of 55 and 65 had the highest rate of death related to drugs.

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International Response to West African Ebola Outbreak Ramps Up

Bumbasor/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — President Obama will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta on Tuesday, where he is expected to share a new plan to help fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Obama may push for an increased involvement of U.S. doctors and military members in Africa. He also, “is expected to urge Congress to approve the request he made last week for an additional $88 million to fund his proposal,” according to the Journal.

In a Monday night call with senior administration officials, Obama talked about ramping up the U.S. response to the outbreak by creating a joint force command headquarters in the Liberian capital, providing engineers to help build treatment centers and training West African health care workers.

The U.S. is expected to help build up to 17 facilities and train up to 500 health care workers per week while also helping to bolster a campaign to train residents on how to protect themselves and still help family members who may show symptoms of the disease. After the “scaling up” is complete, more than 3,000 Department of Defense workers will be on the ground supporting efforts against the outbreak.

Obama is also expected to request an additional $88 million in funding. The U.S. has already dedicated $175 million.

The European Union also reaffirmed its efforts against the outbreak on Monday, touting its work to help the West African nations. Meanwhile, the African Union was preparing to send 30 more Ebola specialists to the region.

The latest figures from the World Health Organization latest death toll were released on September 7, showing that over 2,200 of West Africa’s 4,366 Ebola patients have died.

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Respiratory Virus, Enterovirus D68, Likely Infected Thousands

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The respiratory virus that’s been sweeping the nation and sending asthmatic children to the hospital may have only been officially reported in 97 children, but experts say that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Dr. Claudia Hoyen said the virus, called enterovirus D68, probably affected thousands of children — and that’s just in Cleveland, where she works. The virus has been reported in 21 states, according to state health departments.

At UH Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, about 20 children normally go to the intensive care unit each month with respiratory symptoms, said Hoyen, who heads the hospital’s pediatric infection control program. But for the last two months, the hospital’s intensive care unit has treated 80 children per month, she said.

“That’s fourfold over what we would normally get,” Hoyen said.

The rare enterovirus starts out like the common cold but can quickly turn more serious — especially in children with asthma. Enteroviruses often appear in the summer and fall, but an outbreak like this hasn’t occurred since the 1960s, Hoyen said.

Although UH has not yet determined how many cases of enterovirus D68 it treated this summer, Hoyen said she can extrapolate the number of extra ICU patients over two months to guess how many children had less-severe cases, too.

“My guess is that this is probably in the thousands, because a lot of the kids probably had infections and their parents just thought it was a little cough,” she said. “They weren’t sick enough to seek actual medical attention.”

Since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn’t require hospitals and labs to report enterovirus D68, public health officials may never know the true scope of the outbreak, said ABC News Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser.

“So although the CDC is reporting 97 confirmed enterovirus cases, this number does not in any way reflect the true number of people who are infected or sick,” Besser said, adding that most local health departments have no way of testing for the virus and no reason to do so because there is no cure available. “My advice: forget about this number. Look to your health department.”

Besser said parents should simply ask their doctors whether enterovirus D68 is in their town and be vigilant if it is.

“If your child has any difficulty breathing (wheezing, difficulty speaking or eating, belly pulling in with breaths, blueness around the lips) see a doctor right away,” he said.

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Pennsylvania Sisters Give Birth 22 Hours Apart

Courtesy Brigid Bink(NEW YORK) — Two Pennsylvania sisters who found out they were pregnant just days apart and shared the same due date say they think their sons will be “best buds” after being born just 22 hours apart.

The two boys, Jack Bink and Owen Whitaker, will celebrate different birthdays — Jack on Sept. 10 and Owen on Sept. 11 — but that is about the only thing that marks a difference in the way they entered the world.

Jack’s mom, Brigid Bink, 31, of Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, announced to her family just after Christmas last year that she and her husband, Lee, were expecting their first child, and the first grandchild on both sides.

Three days later, Bink was in her kitchen cooking when her sister, Owen’s mom, Emily Whitaker, 27, knocked on her door and told her that she had taken a pregnancy test and she and her husband, Colin, were pregnant too.

“She said, ‘You’re never going to believe this,’” Bink recalled to ABC News. “She was in disbelief.”

The sisters, who live 10 minutes apart, then found out they shared the same due date, Sept. 15.

Whitaker, a teacher, and Bink, who works in marketing, went through their pregnancies together, sharing the bad, like surprising side effects, and the good, such as maternity clothing sales.

“It was so nice to be able to pick up the phone and call her and say, ‘Did this happen to you?’ or, ‘Is this normal?’ or, ‘I found this great maternity dress on sale,’” Bink said.

Their closeness remained through the end of their pregnancies, when they each went into labor almost exactly one day apart, and both a few days ahead of their due date.

“I went into labor Tuesday night around 11:30 p.m., and she went in the next day at almost the same time,” Bink said. “We were down the hall from each other and the nurses would come in and give us reports on each other.”

After Bink delivered her son, Jack, at 7:34 a.m., on Sept. 10, she got updates via text from her brother-in-law on her sister’s status.

Though the sisters had shared everything together during their nine months of pregnancy, they got one last surprise when Whitaker gave birth at 5:30 a.m. the next morning and discovered she, too, had a boy, Owen.

“Neither of us knew the sex of our baby,” Bink said. “She called me in the morning and we were both hysterical. We thought one of us would have a boy and one would have a girl.”

“When we found out they were both boys, you just keep thinking of the future and them going to school together and playing together,” she said. “I just think they’re going to be best buds.”

Now the sisters, whose birth story was first reported by ABC News affiliate WPVI, are both home from the hospital and sharing their sons’ futures together.

“Our sons share a pediatrician and both went today,” Bink said. “The babies are happy and healthy and we both just feel very lucky.”

Also on top of the world are Bink and Whitaker’s parents, who, in the span of 22 hours, welcomed their first and second grandchildren into the world, and the sisters’ two other siblings, a younger brother and a younger sister.

“I’ve never seen them more happy,” Bink said. “The whole thing has just been surreal.”

“It’s been a great bonding experience for our whole family,” she said.

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Finding Balance: Seven Expert Tips for Working Parents

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Frazzled. Exhausted. Guilt-ridden. These are just a few phrases many working parents use to describe themselves.

When every day seems like a struggle, when it feels like you can barely breathe, when you’re literally running from one place to another, it’s time to slow down and give yourself a break.

Tuesday is National Working Parents Day and while the origin of the day is unknown, calls it a day to give “recognition to moms and dads who work hard to provide for their children. Every day dad, and often mom, go off to work. They work hard to earn money to make ends meet. They work hard to be able to afford the extras that kids want and need. This includes things like school trips, funding the proms, athletics, music, dance classes, clubs, and much, much more.”

“If you’re a working parent, then I don’t need to tell you that it can be tough, you live it every day,” said Nancy Aragon, assistant professor at Argosy University Online Programs’ College of Behavioral Sciences. “Even so, there is some good news to celebrate on the work-life balance front.”

Here are her seven top tips for finding that elusive “balance”:

1) Take advantage of work places that are becoming more employee-centric.

Employers are beginning to recognize that their employees’ well-being and happiness is directly associated with a better bottom line. This represents expanded opportunities for work-life balance options such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting (even part-time), job-sharing, and wellness initiatives. Talk with your manager or HR representative to learn more about your organization’s policies. Often, organizations have great policies and resources but don’t communicate them very effectively with employees. So, take the initiative and ask. Even if there aren’t any official work-life policies in your workplace, managers are often very willing to work out custom schedules and options with individual employees.

2) You have a purpose-filled life, so use it.

Work-life balance has traditionally been viewed through the lens of scarcity and inherent conflict. Involvement in work must mean lack of involvement in family and vice-versa. Happily, this is not necessarily true. More recent research suggests that there are benefits and synergy gained from being involved in work, family and community. So, take a moment to reframe the way you think about your various work and family obligations. Your life overflows with purpose. That is a cause for celebration. Not really feeling the love yet? Here is a counter-intuitive suggestion that works — volunteer more. Volunteer in community activities such as at your children’s schools or the local animal shelter or whatever you are passionate about in your community. The research backs up this counter-intuitive suggestion — the more you do, the happier you feel and the more satisfied you are with your work-life balance. But wait, there is even more good news. Many employers have policies to encourage community involvement among their employees by allowing employees to volunteer during paid work time. Look into it with your company. If your employer doesn’t have this type of policy yet, it could be time to suggest it.

3) Technology: Learn when to set boundaries.

No doubt about it: Technology has improved the quality of our daily lives. Too much of a good thing isn’t good though, particularly when it comes to technology encroaching on work-life balance. Try setting technology boundaries for yourself and your family. Set boundaries for when you will accept work calls or emails and when you won’t. Set boundaries with your family regarding technology-free together time too.

4) To laugh or cry: The choice is yours.

Laughter is great medicine. That old truth is extremely applicable to working parents seeking balance. When the hair-pulling, frustrating details of work-life balance assaults you, step back and try to view your circumstances as if it were a scene in your favorite comedy movie. We love being an audience member watching this kind of drama unravel, so why not love it from center-stage too? You can’t always change your circumstances, but you certainly can change how you react to them.

5) Delegate and combine family time.

Any time can be family time — cooking meals, cleaning house, doing homework or yard work are great examples of potential family time opportunities. Family time doesn’t have to be a scarce and precious commodity carved out after all other work is done. Bring the family to the daily routine chores and delegate responsibilities. Even young children can help, with a little planning, oversight and creativity. You might just be amazed at how much family time you actually have while also getting necessary tasks accomplished. Dinner preparation can be a family affair instead of just one more thing for an exhausted parent to take care of. This is also a great way to help teach your children life skills and model the idea that a good work ethic can be fun and rewarding.

6) Celebrate mini-wins every day.

I am a big believer in daily to-do lists. Setting aside a few minutes first thing in the morning to jot down my daily to-do’s has become one of my cherished “me-time” rituals. Not only does it help ensure that I don’t forget an important task, committee meeting, or orthodontist appointment, it gives me the opportunity to celebrate little mini-wins every day. There is a sense of satisfaction that comes from checking off an accomplished task, no matter how small or mundane. Keeping a daily to-do list is a good time management tip in general when it comes to work-life balance, but it also represents an opportunity to start celebrating mini-wins all day, every day, one check mark at a time.

7) Mind-readers in your life? Not mine — let’s talk.

Don’t assume that your family, friends, coworkers or boss understand your point of view. This type of assumption can lead to a slippery slope of thinking that can pick up negative momentum alarmingly quickly for an exhausted working parent. The thinking might go something like this: “I obviously need a little help here. Anyone can see that! Since she/he/they aren’t offering to help, it must mean they don’t care. This is so unfair, why am I always the one to make sure things are taken care of. It sure would be nice to be appreciated every now and then.” These unspoken thoughts have a way of boiling over and spewing out in an angry hot mess that leaves the recipients of your vent dazed and confused and you looking a bit unbalanced. Chances are pretty good that people in your life don’t intuitively know your thoughts and needs. So tell them by communicating in a non-defensive manner. Similarly, be willing to listen to their lived experience and point of view too — you might be surprised by what you hear from your children, partner, co-workers and friends.

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A Virus Can Spread Like Wildfire in Any Indoor Setting

iStock/Thinkstock(TUSCON, Ariz.) — Germ-a-phobes of the world unite. Your anxiety appears to be well-founded. At least that’s what a new study suggests.

The study measured just how quickly viruses were spread in a work setting despite people’s best efforts to isolate themselves from sneezing and coughing co-workers.

To demonstrate how avoiding germs may be a losing battle, study researcher Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, placed a harmless virus on a few surfaces inside an office building, hotel rooms and a health care facility.

Later in the day, Gerba’s team sampled between 60 and 100 surfaces in each of the buildings that were contaminated with bacteriophage MS-2.

The result was that the virus was found on 40 to 60 percent of light switches, door knobs, tabletops and various other surfaces within two-to-four hours.

What Gerba was trying to prove was how a far more dangerous infectious agent, such as norovirus, can move swiftly through just about any place where people congregate.

So is it really a losing battle? Not entirely, according to Gerba, who says that disinfecting wipes and diligent hand cleaning reduces the spread of viruses by as much as 80 to 99 percent.

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Despite Warnings, Antibiotics Still Overprescribed in Kids

iStock/Thinkstock(SEATTLE) — Despite warnings from public health experts that overprescribing antibiotics could lead to difficult-to-treat “superbugs,” doctors are prescribing antibiotics to children about twice as often as they are actually needed, a new study found.

Researchers at Seattle Children’s Hospital examined past studies between 2001 and 2011 to see how doctors treated common childhood respiratory infections, conditions including sore throats, ear infections and sinusitis. They found that although only 27.4 percent of the infections were caused by bacteria and could therefore be treated with an antibiotic, a whopping 57 percent of them were actually treated with antibiotics.

That amounts to 11.4 million unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics per year, researchers say. Antibiotics are no good against viral infections and have only been shown to work against bacterial infections.

Lead study author Dr. Matthew Kronman, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, said the results are disheartening, particularly because his team found no appreciable change in prescribing rates over 10 years.

“Whatever we are doing now, it isn’t working,” he said. “We need to come up with new strategies to understand why this…exists.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the top pediatrician’s group in the United States, has periodically issued guidelines on the use of antibiotics in kids, notably in 2001 for sinusitis and 2004 for ear infections. But the demands of parents, as well as difficulties doctors face in quickly distinguishing between viral and bacterial infections, still fuels the trend.

Experts not involved with the research said their big fear is that they will eventually have no treatment options for superbugs. An estimated 2 million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant organisms, resulting in 23,000 deaths each year, according to a 2013 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

But there are other reasons that antibiotics should only be used when they’re needed.

“For some infections, like acute bronchitis, pharyngitis with a negative strep test, and URI, we know that antibiotics do not help you get better faster and are not needed,” said Dr. Mark Ebell, a family medicine physician and professor at the University of Georgia College of Public Health in Athens. “Even sinusitis and [ear infections] may be caused by viruses and often resolve without antibiotics.”

Ebell added that antibiotics can also hurt kids in other ways, such as causing nausea and vomiting. Antibiotics can also upset the delicate balance of gut bacteria, leading to diarrhea. In rare cases, they can lead to a debilitating allergic reaction called anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.

When antibiotics are necessary, however, they can be lifesaving. Patients with more severe symptoms — such as pain, worsening symptom or high fever — are more likely to benefit from an antibiotic, Ebell said.

Doctor’s Take

Doctors overprescribe antibiotics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the difficulty in determining the exact nature of an infection when they see it.

“In several situations, the diagnosis is not very clear cut,” said Dr. Mobeen Rathore, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Wolfson Children’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, and professor at the University of Florida, who was not involved with the research.

All the more reason, doctors say, that parents should be aware of what to do if their child has a runny nose or a sore throat. For patients with the common cold, the best defense is to drink plenty of fluids, get rest and use over-the-counter medications for symptomatic control. Antibiotics should not be taken for mild to moderate sinus infections, unless symptoms last longer than seven days or worsen after clinical improvement, according the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Of course, parents should never hesitate to call their pediatrician or family physician with questions at the first sign of illness. But even then, it is good to ask questions as to the necessity of antibiotics.

“It’s OK to ask your physician, ‘Why are you prescribing an antibiotic for my son-daughter?’” Kronman of Seattle Children’s Hospital said. “Have a discussion with your physician. Is an antibiotic really needed for this cold or are there other things we can try?”

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Once Abused, College Women Susceptible to More Attacks

iStock/Thinkstock(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — The controversy surrounding former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice has focused more attention on domestic violence, otherwise known as intimate partner violence.

Even before the Rice incident became a huge national story, Dr. Kathleen Parks of the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions conducted a five-year study on coeds who were physically or sexually abused and whether the experience caused them to drink more and as a result, increased their risk of future abuse.

Parks said that of the nearly one thousand college-aged women who suffered intimate partner violence, many were victimized the next year and often turned to alcohol as a way to cope.

However, the study determined that drinking did not make a woman more susceptible to be attacked again but rather, it was her experience of being previously abused that was the greater indicator of future assaults.

Yet, even though something terrible happened to them at least once, Parks says that most of the women managed to escape the pattern of victimization as time went by.

According to the UB study, “The year prior to and the first year of college may be a critical period for intervening to reduce risk for severe victimization.”

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Stress Can Make a Mess of Your Life

iStock/Thinkstock(CORVALLIS, Ore.) — Everyone’s got to shuck their mortal coil at some point but perhaps there are ways of delaying the inevitable.

One option, at least for men, is to try and eliminate stress from their lives. An Oregon State University study contends that high stress will shave years off an older man’s life compared to their peers who aren’t as bothered by everyday hassles or traumatic life events like job loss or divorce.

Interestingly enough, Carolyn Aldwin, who heads OSU’s Center for Healthy Aging Research, says that these two types of stressors aren’t necessarily related, that is, a man who experienced some major bad luck in his life may nonetheless be able to easily handle everyday annoyances.

In her study, Aldwin looked at life events and daily hassles that caused stress to 1,300 men over 16 years and then followed them for another five. During that period, 43 percent had passed away.

It soon became clear that men who experienced fewer traumatic life events and better managed the stress of everyday life had a far lower mortality rate than men who reported higher numbers of stressful life events and regularly lost their cool at stuff they often couldn’t control.

As Aldwin explains, “It’s not the number of hassles that does you in, it’s the perception of them being a big deal that causes problems.” Her advice? “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”

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Respiratory Virus Spreads to the Northeast

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Enterovirus D68, the respiratory illness suspected of hospitalizing hundreds of children across the nation, has now spread to the Northeast and is likely to hit the whole country, according to experts.

Connecticut and New York are the latest states to report cases of the rapidly spreading virus that has targeted young children, especially those with asthma, in 21 states.

The Connecticut Department of Public Health received reports “from two hospitals in different parts of the state of clusters of severe respiratory illness among young children that could be due to enterovirus D68,” the agency said in a statement.

Connecticut is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm the cases.

The New York State Department of Health has also confirmed more than a dozen cases of enterovirus D68 in children living in the state’s capital and central regions, officials said.

The CDC has not confirmed New York’s cases.

As of Saturday, enterovirus D68 had spread to 21 states across the Midwest and East Coast, with confirmed cases spanning from New Mexico to Montana to Delaware.

The virus is likely to continue spreading, ABC News’ Dr. Richard Besser said Sunday morning.

“It’s very hard for a virus to be limited by borders,” Besser said. “I expect that it’s going to hit the whole country.”

Enterovirus D68 comes from a family of viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms, typically during the month of September.

Besser warned parents to watch out for symptoms of coughs and wheezing among their children, especially if their children are asthmatic.

“The best approach for prevention is what we talk about all the time for respiratory infections, colds, and flus and that’s really good hand washing,” Besser said.

There have been no reported cases of adults contracting the virus.

Adults may already have built an immunity towards the virus from previous infections, or may just get a milder version of the disease, Besser said.

Children who contract enterovirus D68 first suffer from what appears to be a common cold, with symptoms including a runny nose, coughing, and sneezing, according to Besser.

The symptoms then escalate to difficulty breathing. Besser said parents should look out for their children exhibiting signs of wheezing, difficulty eating or speaking, and blueness around the lips.

Doctors have found a way to treat the symptoms, helping kids breath more easily so they can get through the virus, Besser said.

“It’s the same medicine that’s used for children who have asthma,” he said. “But when I was in the emergency room this week in St. Louis, they were giving it to children who didn’t have asthma, and you could just see them turn around. Their airways would open up — some of them could leave the emergency room. Some had to stay, but the medicine helps a lot.”

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