At Native American Health Center, the Prescription Is Vegetables

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

By Brittany Patterson

In Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, 20 people sit inside a colorful classroom at the Native American Health Center. They listen attentively as Leah Ricci gives a lecture on the merits of fiber and where to get it. As far as lectures on fiber are concerned, this one is pretty rousing.

“I didn’t like vegetables and fruit, but now we’re all eating more of them.”

“Can anyone name some foods that are high in fiber?” she asks.

Immediately the participants begin to throw out suggestions.

“Beans. Apples. Greens. Seeds.”

“What do all of these foods have in common?” Ricci asks.

“They all come from plants,” shouts out Paula Marie Parker.

Parker and the others are all students in a program at the Native American Health Center called VeggieRx, which teaches participants about nutrition and the merits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables and physical activity in their lives and the lives of their families. Continue reading

Oakland Kids to be Offered Free Flu Shots Right at Their Schools

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

Children at any Oakland school, public or private, are eligible for the free vaccines, if their parents consent.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

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Drought May Be Driving Increase in West Nile

A security guard walks the perimeter of the Almaden Reservoir on January 28, 2014 in San Jose, California. Now in its third straight year of drought conditions, California is experiencing its driest year on record, dating back 119 years, and reservoirs throughout the state have low water levels. Santa Clara County reservoirs are at 3 percent of capacity or lower. California Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency to speed up assistance to local governments, streamline water transfers and potentially ease environmental protection requirements for dam releases. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A security guard walks the perimeter of the Almaden Reservoir in San Jose. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Public health experts say the state’s historic drought is partly to blame for the recent rise in West Nile virus infections. Cases this year have more than doubled to 311, compared to the same time last year.

West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes. They contract the virus when they feed on infected birds, then spread it to other birds they bite next. A shortage of water can accelerate this cycle.

“When we have less water, birds and mosquitoes are seeking out the same water sources, and therefore are more likely to come in to closer proximity to one another, thus amplifying the virus,” said Vicki Kramer, chief of vector-borne diseases at the state department of public health.

Also, the water sources that do exist are more likely to stagnate. Stagnant water creates an excellent habitat for mosquitoes to breed. Continue reading

Video: Why the New Autism Benefit Is So Important to Medi-Cal Families

By Jeremy Raff

Effective this week, Medi-Cal now covers a key autism therapy, and some 12,000 kids stand to benefit statewide. One of the children who will benefit is Timothy Wilson, a bubbly 6-year-old who will now be able to get Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) through Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance program for people who are low income. ABA is the clinical standard of care for autism.

Timothy was 2 when he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. “He didn’t say mama, didn’t say dada,” says his mother, Jazzmon Wilson. He threw tantrums and hardly made eye contact. “You just see all your dreams go by the wayside.”

The Wilsons enrolled him in the Regional Center of the East Bay, where children under 3 receive state-funded services. He began ABA therapy, which breaks down everyday skills into bite-sized, learnable portions, then uses repetition, memorization and rewards to reinforce or discourage behaviors. Parents learn to lead their child in the therapy as well. In the video, Jazzmon works with Timothy — or Bubba as she calls him. Seeing him now, it’s hard to believe how affected he was at a younger age. Continue reading

Is Corporal Punishment Abuse? Why That’s A Loaded Question

Adrian Peterson has been suspended from all Minnesota Vikings activities since he was indicted on child abuse charges. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Adrian Peterson has been suspended from all Minnesota Vikings activities since he was indicted on child abuse charges. (Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

By Gene Demby, NPR

Over the past week, Adrian Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings’ all-world running back and one of the NFL’s biggest stars, has become the face of corporal punishment in America. Peterson turned himself in to police over the weekend on charges of child abuse after he allegedly hit his son with a switch that left welts on his body.

Needless to say, people feel very differently about this subject. “I’m a black guy … I’m from the South,” Charles Barkley, the former NBA star, told a panel on CBS’ NFL Today. “Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances.”

Meanwhile, a visibly emotional Chris Carter, who once starred for the Vikings, argued on ESPN’s NFL Countdown that corporal discipline was outdated and wasn’t solely the province of black folks. “This goes across all racial lines, ethnicities, religious backgrounds,” Carter said. “People believe in disciplining their children. … It’s the 21st century. My mom was wrong. She did the best she could, but she was wrong about some of that stuff she taught me. And I promised my kids I won’t teach that mess to them. You can’t beat a kid to make them do what they wanna do.” Continue reading

Students Struggle to Access Mental Health Services on UC Campuses

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students at Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley. In the last six years, the number of students seeking health at counseling centers has increased 37 percent across the UC system. (Henry Zbyszynski/Flickr)

Students throughout the University of California system are having trouble accessing mental health care, and health services directors are raising alarms that increased staffing and funding could be warranted to meet demand.

“The increased need for mental health services on our campuses is outstripping our ability to provide those services,” said Dr. John Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services for the University of California. “It is a major problem. It’s not only a problem for UC, this is a national issue.”

In the last six years, the number of students seeking help at university counseling centers has increased 37 percent, according to data presented at UC Regents board meeting on Thursday.

“This is real. Students are having difficulty accessing mental health services on campus,” said Dr. Gina Fleming, medical director for the UC Self-Insured Health Plans. “They’re waiting longer to get an appointment. They’re having fewer appointments within the course of therapy, and more are needing to be referred off campus.” Continue reading

SF Supervisor Proposes Funding Better Access to HIV Preventive Drug

The FDA panel approved Truvada, an antiretroviral drug for use by healthy people to prevent HIV infection. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

Truvada is a drug approved by the FDA to prevent infection with HIV. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)

By Heather Boerner

San Francisco Supervisor David Campos announced Thursday that he would introduce a supplemental budget request at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday for $807,000 to help bring a treatment to prevent HIV infection to those who could benefit from it. The treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, consists of taking Truvada, an antiretroviral drug, every day. If the request is approved, San Francisco will follow the state of Washington in providing drug assistance for PrEP.

The goal is to dramatically reduce the number of new HIV infections. Dr. Robert Grant, a professor at UCSF’s Gladstone Institute and a lead researcher in determining the efficacy of Truvada in preventing HIV infection, said at a hearing at City Hall Thursday that informal estimates suggest that if just 6,000 San Franciscans at high risk for HIV infection were to take Truvada, the number of new infections in the city might drop from about 400 a year to 50..

Today, fewer than 1,000 San Franciscans are taking Truvada for HIV prevention. Continue reading

State Health Officials Say Enterovirus Now Sickening Children in California

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

State health officials have confirmed that a strain of virus that has been causing respiratory illness in children in other parts of the country is now spreading in California.

Four children — three in San Diego County and one in Ventura — have recently been discharged from the hospital after contracting enterovirus D68.

In a call Thursday afternoon with reporters, officials with the California Department of Public Health said that after a Centers for Disease Control warning earlier this month to be on alert for cases, the agency called for hospitals to send specimens from any children hospitalized with severe respiratory illness. That testing uncovered the four cases.

The children, who are both boys and girls, range in age from 2 to 13.

Enterovirus is in the same viral family as the rhinovirus, which causes the common cold, health officials said. Symptoms can include fever — although they hastened to add that fever may not be present. Runny nose, sneezing, coughing, and body and muscle aches are common. Some children may have difficulty breathing, especially children with a history of asthma. There is no vaccine against enterovirus.

Health officials said that more cases are anticipated after more testing is completed. “It’s a very good chance in the next week or so that we may identify several other places in the state that have positive cases right now,” said Dr. Carol Glaser with the agency’s center for infectious diseases. “Our lab has been receiving several dozen specimens throughout the state just in the last few days, and that work is ongoing.”

The illness is usually not severe, but health officials say parents should seek prompt medical attention for children with breathing difficulties, especially children with asthma. Three of the four Southern California hospitalizations were in children with asthma.

No deaths from enterovirus D68 have been reported nationally.

Learn more: The American Academy of Pediatrics fact sheet.

Advocacy Groups File Lawsuit Over Medi-Cal Backlog

(s_falkow: Flickr)

(s_falkow: Flickr)

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

California’s lingering backlog of Medi-Cal applications has left hundreds of thousands of people unable to access the health care they are entitled to receive, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a coalition of health advocates and legal services groups.

A Tulare County man had applied for Medi-Cal but died of a pulmonary embolism while waiting for the state to confirm his eligibility.

The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County Superior Court, says the state is failing to process applications within 45 days as required by law. Some applicants have been waiting to receive their Medi-Cal cards since the end of last year, according to the suit. The applicants include children, pregnant women and adults with life-threatening health conditions, who advocates say are either postponing treatment or paying cash to see doctors.

Medi-Cal is the state’s version of Medicaid, the publicly funded health insurance program for low-income Americans. About 11 million people receive Medi-Cal benefits in California, including 2.2 million who applied since January. Roughly 350,000 applications are still pending. Continue reading

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading