The proposal.

October 24, 2014

Ebola.

In America. Last night, an American physician who recently returned to NYC from West Africa tested positive for Ebola. Craig Spencer, 33, had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders. Yesterday, he developed a fever, nausea, pain and fatigue. He is in isolation and being treated at Bellevue Hospital, one of the eight New York hospitals designated as part of an Ebola preparedness plan.

Some good news. Amber Vinson is one of the nurses who cared for Thomas Duncan, the first U.S. patient with Ebola. She is reportedly free of the virus.

New travel restrictions. New restrictions were placed on travelers from West African countries with Ebola outbreaks. They are now required to report their temperatures along with any other potential symptoms of the disease daily for 21 days.

 Worldwide. As of October 22, the CDC estimates that there are 9,935 total cases of Ebola and 4,877 total deaths.

Pause. That’s adorable. A 3-year old Ebola survivor in Sierra Leone proposed to his nurse. She accepted, of course.

 Uber shot.

Yesterday, the car-service Uber delivered flu shots to anyone in Boston, New York, and Washington DC. The one-day UberHEALTH pilot program drove registered nurses to inject the vaccine to anyone who requested. For free. No insurance required.

That reminds me. Get your flu shot.

Tell-o-me what?

Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda can age the body just as much as smoking. Stick with me here. About to talk biology. Telomeres, which are the caps at the end of chromosomes, get shorter as we get older and can also shrink as a result of certain behaviors, such as smoking. Shorter telomere length is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and some cancers. A new study found that people who drank soda tended to have shorter telomeres. A daily 20-ounce serving was associated with 4.6 years of additional telomere aging, the same damage previously found among regular smokers. Water please.

Obamacare, Explained.

Bit by bit, this regular section summarizes key components of the 11,000+ page bill.

Enrollment period. The period of time during which individuals who are eligible can enroll in a qualified health plan using the Marketplace. For coverage starting in 2015, the open enrollment period is November 15, 2014–February 15, 2015.

Small problem. A recent survey found that 76% of uninsured adults don’t know when the health care law’s open enrollment period starts.

Is that right?

This month, Oregon became the first state to offer drugs that delay the onset of puberty for transgender adolescents enrolled in Medicaid. While the treatment is new, its becoming a standard in care for transgender teens. In 2009, the Endocrine Society published a best-practices guide for treating transgender teens that includes the use of puberty suppressants.

 Fast fact.

Costly. A stress test is a screening tool used to test the effect of exercise on your heart. A new study found that inappropriate use of cardiac stress testing is costing the U.S. health care system more than $500 million a year.

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Viral.

October 17, 2014

 Virus 1. Ebola.

In America. A second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was diagnosed with Ebola on Tuesday. Amber Joy Vinson helped care for Ebola patient Thomas Duncan of Liberia who died last week. She was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

Vinson was on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas on October 10, before she had symptoms. Officials are currently tracking passengers on that flight.

Worldwide. As of October 12, the CDC estimates that there are 8,997 total cases of Ebola and 4,493 total deaths.

Ebola fighters. Click here to see the number of health care workers infected with Ebola by profession. Hint: Nurses are in the lead.

A little donation. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $25 million to the CDC to help the agency fight Ebola.

Virus 2. Enterovirus D-68. 

Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is one of 100 enteroviruses that causes minor to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, body aches, and wheezing. The U.S. is currently experiencing an outbreak of the virus. So far this year, there have been nearly 800 confirmed cases in 46 states and at least 2 children have died as a result. Youth with asthma are particularly at risk.

There is currently no vaccine for EV-D68. The CDC recommends hand-washing and is telling parents to pay close attention to kids with asthma. 

 Virus 3. The flu.

 More likely. According to the CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the U.S. range from 3,000 to about 49,000 people annually. Even so, during the 2013-2014 flu season, only 46% of Americans received the flu vaccine. Get your flu shot.

 How many miles?

A new study found that when teens saw how long it takes to burn off the calories in a sugary drink, they tended to buy smaller sizes or not buy it at all. Researchers put colorful signs on beverage packaging in low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore. The most effective label? The one that said it would take 5 mile walk to burn of the calories in the drink.

 Obamacare, Explained.

Hold the yawn. The Affordable Care Act is long, but I’ll keep this short.

No charge for that. Obamacare requires health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, including the Pill, the ring, the shot (Depo-Provera), and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Before Obamacare went into effect in 2012, 15% of insured women got free birth control pills. Today, it’s nearly 70%.

A few exceptions. On June 30, the Supreme Court decided that the birth control mandate violates certain religious freedoms. Three types of businesses are not required to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptives:

  1. Houses of worship like churches and synagogues.
  2. “Closely-held” private companies that have an objection to contraception
  3. Institutions with a faith-based mission like hospitals or universities

Oops. Despite the law, CVS has been charging women for birth control. Illegally. They realized the error and plan to refund the 11,000 affected customers.

 Is that right?

 The Silicon Valley companies Facebook and Apple will offer a new benefit to employees: egg-freezing. Egg-freezing allows women to delay fertility until they’re ready to become parents. The procedure is pricey. Apple and FB are covering up to $20,000 in costs.

 Fast fact.

 Reported this week. Life expectancy in the U.S. in 2012 rose to 78.8 years, up from 78.7 years in 2011. On average, women live longer (81 for females and 76 for males).

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Apple season.

October 9, 2014

 “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” –Proverb

 According to a 2013 study, prescribing an apple a day to adults 50 and over could prevent or delay around 8,500 vascular deaths, like heart attacks and strokes, every year in the UK. The “brilliantly clear and simple public health advice: ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’… shows how effective small changes in diet can be, and that both drugs and healthier living can make a real difference in preventing heart disease and stroke. While no one currently prescribed statins should replace them for apples, we could all benefit from simply eating more fruit.”

It’s apple season. Enjoy.

 EBOLA.

In America. Despite “maximal interventions,” the Ebola patient Thomas Duncan passed away on Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, 10 days after he was diagnosed. Duncan had the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. The CDC reports that so far, Duncan’s potential and confirmed contacts in Dallas remain healthy. However, a Dallas County sergeant who was in Duncan’s apartment was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday to be monitored for possible exposure.

The Epidemic. As of October 5, the CDC estimates that there are 8,033 total cases of Ebola and 3,865 total deaths worldwide.

U.S. airport screening begins. Five U.S. airports will screen the temperatures of passengers entering from three West African countries hit by the Ebola epidemic to asses for fever, one of the symptoms of the illness. The five airports are: JFK in New York, Newark, Washington Dulles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

 Dental not included.

Dental insurance is not a required benefit in most health plans. “Despite the fact that dental procedures are some of the most expensive office visits, dental coverage is treated like a garnish—the parsley of the insurance world.” More than 800,000 annual ER visits are due to preventable dental problems.

DMD shortage. In some states, even those with benefits have a hard time finding a dentist. There’s a significant shortage in some areas, mostly rural.

 Obamacare, Explained.

This will be a regular section that aims to explain parts of the 11,000-page law. This is a weekly newsletter. It will take years.

 The mandate for small businesses. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 100 or more employees are required to offer coverage for their full-time employees beginning in 2015. They have two years to phase up to provide insurance to 95% of their workers. Companies with 50 to 99 employees have until 2016 to start the coverage. Smaller businesses are exempt.

One way to deal. Several LA restaurants are tacking an “Obamacare surcharge” (some up to 3%) on to customer bills to offset the cost of employee insurance. Some diners are not happy.

 Medicated meat.

Antibiotic overuse is a problem in this country. But it’s more than just too many unnecessary Z-pacs for your cold (colds are caused by a virus which do not respond to antibiotics). Farm animals consume as much as 80% of antibiotics in the U.S., which are given to promote growth and prevent disease. The concern is: animals consume the meds, and then we consume the animals and the medications they have been given. Which apparently is a lot.

Is someone doing something about this? The White House ordered the creation of a task force to address antibiotic resistance. And last year, the FDA created a policy to phase out the “indiscriminate use” of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for meat.

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Super fast.

Super fast fact.

On Saturday, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya set a new world record when he won the Berlin marathon. The 30 year old ran 26.2 miles in 2 hours 2 minutes and 57 seconds. His average mile pace: 4 minutes, 41.5 seconds. Wow. Afterward, he remarked that he could have run faster.

 It’s here.

The first case of Ebola has been identified in the U.S. and is being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian. The patient came to the U.S. from Liberia on September 19, with no symptoms at the time. He became ill several days later and is now in critical condition. The CDC is currently tracking his contacts as the disease is contagious. They assure us that they will control the case and “stop it here.”

The Epidemic. Ebola has infected 6,553 people and killed 3,083 in the three countries hit hardest – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The CDC estimates that the disease could affect up to 1.4 million people by January if its not controlled.

 Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Are diet sodas bad for us? The debate continues. A new study found that diet sodas may alter the mix of bacteria in the gut in a way that increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes in some people. Both mice and humans who were exposed to aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose (three popular artificial sweeteners) had higher rates of glucose intolerance. How it’s happening isn’t clear and more research is needed, but this is an important finding. Darn it. I have a soft spot for an ice-cold diet coke.

Healthcare in Hollywood.

Ever wonder if the cast of Grey’s Anatomy is making any medical sense? It turns out they have help. The organization “Hollywood, Health, and Society” was established in 2001 with funding from the CDC. Their goal is to provide the entertainment industry with “free and accurate health care information.” The group has worked with writers from Breaking Bad, Law & Order, Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, Doc McStuffins and more. Television makes an impact, so making sure the message in correct is important. In one study,viewers’ knowledge that treatment could lower the risk of HIV transmission from mothers to children increased significantly after watching a TV show.

Obamacare, Explained.

This regular section contains information about the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare after the president who signed it into law in March of 2010.

One of the main goals of Obamacare is to expand access to health insurance. About 40.7 million Americans were without insurance in 2013.

How do people gain health care coverage through Obamacare?Most people gain insurance in two ways: the insurance exchanges and the Medicaid expansion.

  1. The exchanges are online marketplaces where consumers can compare and purchase plans. Healthcare.gov is one exchange, and you may recall there were some technical difficulties during its opening weeks.

So far. As of last week, 7.3 million people signed up for coverage through the exchanges.

  1. Under Obamacare, about half of states are expanding Medicaid to cover more families. Medicaid is the state-run program that covers low income Americans.

So far. As of last week, 8 million Americans have signed up through Medicaid.

 That sounds familiar.

Intra-uterine device (IUD). Considered to be one of the most effective forms of birth control, an IUD is a small T-shaped device that is implanted into a woman’s uterus for long-term pregnancy prevention. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the IUD as “first line contraceptive choices for adolescents,” replacing the birth control pill, which needs to be taken every day.

 Pretty pricey.

Check it out. This world map shows just how costly healthcare is in the U.S.

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