Not your TIME.

December 23, 2014

 The flu is here.

The CDC reported that the flu is widespread in 29 states. (click here to see if your state is one of them). This time last year, it was widespread in only four. Eleven children have died as a result. Earlier this month, we learned that much of the influenza virus circulating in the U.S. has mutated, and that this year’s vaccine is not as effective as we hoped. However, it’s recommended that you get your flu shot as its still the “best way to prevent the flu.”

 Surgeon General Murthy.

Last week, the Senate confirmed Vivek Murthy as the U.S. Surgeon General. The confirmation took a little longer than expected. Murthy was nominated by President Obama over a year ago in November of 2013, but the NRA is against Murthy as Surgeon General because he has publicly criticized guns and the NRA. They pushed back on the nomination and helped delay it.

Who is Dr. Murthy? The 37 year-old hospitalist practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School. He co-founded the group Doctors for America in an effort to organize physicians who support Obamacare. He is also a bachelor who practices yoga and eats carrots.

What does the Surgeon General do? The surgeon general is the nation’s spokesperson on public health issues, like smoking and obesity. Past surgeon generals used their role to draw attention to important issues. For example, the surgeon general’s report on the harms of nicotine in 1960 began a movement for warning labels on cigarettes and tobacco taxes.

 Just give me one minute.

I need to work out. A new study found that one minute of intense exercise, embedded within an easy 10-minute workout, can improve fitness and health. Researchers asked 14 overweight, sedentary men and women to complete an interval-training program of three sessions a week for six weeks. Each 10-minute session consisted of three 20-second “all-out” intervals, during which riders pushed the pedals as hard as they could. After six weeks, their bodies changed. The volunteers increased their endurance capacity by an average of 12% and had healthier blood pressures. The male volunteers also improved their blood-sugar control. Ok, so it’s not just one minute. It’s one minute of really pushing and nine minutes of coasting. Give me 10 minutes.

Ebola update.

Worldwide. The World Health Organization reports that more than 7,000 people have died from Ebola. More than 19,000 have been infected, with over 99 percent of all infections and deaths in three countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

A long fight. After returning from a weeklong trip to the three affected countries, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said “I’m hopeful about stopping the epidemic, but I remain realistic that this is going to be a long, hard fight.”

 Put the Cosmo down.

Why is it that the magazines at your doctor’s office seem a little outdated? After hearing patient complaints about this, the authors of a new study in the British Medical Journal were curious. They placed 87 new and new-ish magazines in a New Zealand waiting room. After 31 days, nearly half of the planted magazines had gone missing, an average of 1.3 magazines disappearing each day. The “gossipy magazines,” defined as periodicals with more than five pictures of celebrities on the cover, were more likely to vanish than news magazines like TIME and The Economist. 

 Chicken pox.

Angelina Jolie was forced to skip the premier of the movie Unbroken because she has chicken pox. Adults can get chicken pox, and “it seems to be much more aggressive and severe in adults.” She still looks amazing.

Too bright.

The use of electronic devices before bed can impact your sleep. A new study found that “when individuals use a light-emitting device in the hours before bedtime…it takes them longer to fall asleep. They feel more sleepy the following morning. They have less REM sleep. The light suppresses their melatonin, which is the sleep-promoting hormone, by more than 50 percent. And their melatonin rhythm was more than an hour and a half delayed. So that amount is pretty large.”

‘Tis the season. My favorite season.

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‘Tis the season.

December 8, 2014

 More veggies, please.

Good news about the Mediterranean diet. A new study found that women who ate a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, olive oil, fish, and moderate amounts of wine had longer telomeres, which are biomarkers of aging. Generally, healthy eating was also associated with having longer telomeres, but the strongest association was found among those eating the Mediterranean diet.

What’s a telomere? Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes. They get shorter as we get older and can also shrink as a result of certain behaviors, such as smoking.

What is “moderate alcohol consumption?” Up to one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men. For those who like a heavy pour, note that a serving of wine is 5 ounces.

If you want to learn more about the diet, click here.

1.86 children.

For the sixth year in a row, the number of babies born in the U.S. has dropped. In 2013, 15 to 44 year old women gave birth to an average of 1.86 babies over their lifetime, a record low. It’s estimated that 2.1 are needed for a stable population. One possible reason is that women under the age of 30 are delaying motherhood until they are older. On a personal note, so are some women over 30.

One more finding.Twin births are more common and represent about one in every 30 births in the U.S.

 Ebola update.

 In the U.S. No new cases in the U.S. this week.

Worldwide. As of December 4, the CDC estimates that there are 17,290 total cases and 6,128 deaths. The outbreak is currently spreading fastest in Sierra Leone, where many patients are having a tough time finding care.

Ten things. The CDC published an easy-to-read document called “Top 10 things you really need to know about Ebola,” including that dogs and cats are not spreading Ebola and that Ebola is not airborne.

 Break the revolving door.

 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to change the way the criminal justice system deals with people who are mentally ill. Their goal is to “break the revolving door” of arrest, incarceration and release that keeps many in the system for minor offenses. “What we have been doing to try to keep mentally ill offenders from cycling in and out of the system has not worked well enough,” said Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The city has allocated $130 million over 4 years to the effort.

 Getting better.

From 2010 to 2013, hospital-acquired conditions declined by17%, resulting in about 50,000 fewer deaths and savings of $12 billion. The improvement initiative began in 2011 with funding from the Affordable Care Act and was driven by growing concern about serious healthcare quality problems in the U.S.

What’s a hospital-acquired condition? Hospital-acquired conditions arise during a patient’s stay in the hospital. Examples include pressure ulcers, surgical site infections, and fall-related injuries while admitted to the hospital.

 Health care costs.

The U.S. spends more on health care per person that any other country in the world, at $2.9 trillion or $9,255 per person in 2013. Quick comparison: Japan spends about $2,878 per person per year. Some good news. Last year, healthcare spending in the U.S. grew at the lowest rate ever recorded – 3.6%.

 Obamacare, Explained.

This regular section explains the Affordable Care Act, one bite at a time.

 How many people have signed up? More than 10 million people got health insurance coverage from September 2013 to September 2014, bringing the rate of uninsured from 17.7% to 12.4%. About 300,000 more signed up the last week of November, as the new enrollment period began.

How did they get coverage? Some signed up through health insurance exchanges, some through the expansion of Medicaid in 27 states plus Washington, D.C., and others through employers because of the tighter rules on who must be covered.

 It’s mutating.

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective as they hoped because the current strain of the virus has mutated. The CDC still recommends getting the vaccine. While this year’s version is not as protective against a mutated strain, it can still protect against other strains of the virus.

During the 2012-2013 flu season, 12,337 people were hospitalized with flu-related illness and 149 children died. The CDC estimates that 90% of those children were not vaccinated.

 Remember to take your carrots.

 Some health care providers in New York and Boston are “prescribing” fruits and vegetables for their overweight patients as a “startlingly simple idea to deal with a complex problem.”

 Worth a listen.

On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross interviews two doctors who wrote a book called “The New Puberty” about the increasing percentage of girls who are going through early puberty.

‘Tis the season.

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