Whooping Cough Infections Unusually High Among Latino Babies

Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)

Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)

By April Dembosky

Public health officials are trying to understand why Latino babies are contracting whooping cough at much higher rates than other babies.

California is battling the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. Nearly 10,000 cases have been reported in the state so far this year, and babies are especially prone to hospitalization or even death.

Six out of 10 infants who have become ill during the current outbreak are Latino. Evidence explaining this is inconclusive, but experts have a few theories that range from a lack of Spanish language outreach to Latino cultural practices. Continue reading

Schools Are at the Front Line of Asthma Fight

Shameka Bibb gives her son Sarquan Holland Jr., age 5, his asthma inhaler at school before she leaves him for the day. Hollands asthma is so severe that he has been on Prednisone since he was three and is on the strongest dose of inhaler, not usually given to children. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Shameka Bibb gives her son Sarquan Holland, Jr., age 5, his asthma inhaler at school before she leaves him for the day. Holland’s asthma is so severe that he has been on prednisone since he was three and is on the strongest dose of inhaler, not usually given to children. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

California’s network of 230 school-based health clinics are set to incubate a new education program meant to address the environmental factors that trigger asthma attacks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a $600,000 grant to the Oakland-based Public Health Institute’s Regional Asthma Management & Prevention (RAMP) program. RAMP is now set to design a training program for the state’s school-based clinic staff on how to prevent and manage environmental asthma triggers in school, at home and in the community.

Asthma affects 900,000 children in California and seven million children nationwide. The disease causes airways in the lungs to swell and narrow. This makes breathing difficult. Oakland’s network of school-based clinics have been on the forefront of providing asthma education and treatment to its school-aged children, but will now have an added resource to address the environmental risk factors.

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Covered California Sign Ups Continue at Strong Pace

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. (Max Whitaker/Getty Images)

Just over 144,000 new people signed up for health insurance on the Covered California marketplace during the first month of open enrollment, officials said Wednesday.

Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, noted that the state is now one-third of the way through open enrollment, which ends Feb. 15. At the same point last year, 110,000 people had picked a plan.

Lee said enrollment was going “remarkably smoothly” so far, although there have been “some small glitches along the way.”

Covered California is targeting 1.7 million enrollees for 2015, including renewing 1.2 million current customers and netting half a million new people. Continue reading

Study: Western States Eliminate Race Gap on Key Health Measures

Researchers looked at how effectively patients had their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol controlled. (Getty Images)

Researchers looked at how effectively patients had their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol controlled. (Getty Images)

A major new study looking at health disparities across the U.S. finds that significant gaps in managing heart disease and diabetes persist — except in Western states, where the gap has been eliminated.

‘It’s possible to eliminate deeply ingrained racial disparities.’
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University looked at 100,000 Medicare patients who were enrolled in HMOs, called “Medicare Advantage” plans, from 2006 to 2011. While management of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar improved overall, blacks “substantially” trailed whites everywhere except the Western U.S., an area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

“We were certainly hoping we would see indications of progress in eliminating disparities in the country as a whole,” said lead author Dr. John Ayanian, who heads the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan. He said that while it was “disappointing” that disparities persisted, “it’s also heartening to see that … in the West, the disparities had been eliminated, and that was both surprising and encouraging.” Continue reading

Despite New Federal Rules, California Likely to Stay with Healthy School Lunches

Elementary students at a northern California school at the fruit and salad bar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Elementary students at a northern California school at the fruit and salad bar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

California’s enthusiasm for healthy school lunches appears unlikely to change under a Congressional budget bill headed to President Barack Obama for signature that would allow states to weaken new federal school nutrition requirements.

The changes to the regulations for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – part of a $1.1 trillion budget agreement passed on Saturday – are the latest in a heated conflict over the new National School Lunch Program menus, which call for increased servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and reductions in fats and sodium.

The bill would exempt some schools from the requirement that they serve only breads and pastas that are “whole grain rich,” meaning they are at least 50 percent whole grain. To receive an exemption, schools must show evidence of “hardship, including financial hardship” in obtaining 50 percent whole grain foods that are “acceptable to students.” The bill also would keep sodium restrictions at current levels until “the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.” The language referring to the exemptions begins on page 99 of the lengthy spending bill. Continue reading

Tough Sell Getting Students Interested in Health Insurance

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Just three people attended a presentation on Covered California held recently at San Diego State University. (Nicholas McVicker/KPBS)

By Kenny Goldberg, KPBS

At a recent Covered California forum at San Diego State University, you could have heard a pin drop. There were only three students in the audience.

“I don’t think they realize that you’re healthy until you’re not. And that’s not the time to get coverage,” Jan Spencley, San Diegans for Healthcare Coverage.

Still, presenter Jan Spencley went through her entire PowerPoint routine.

Spencley directs the non-profit San Diegans for Healthcare Coverage. She told the students that without health insurance, one accident could saddle them with tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

And that would ruin their credit.

“You don’t get a phone on your own, you don’t get an apartment on your own, you don’t buy a car on your own if your credit’s messed up,” she told the students. Continue reading

In California, Where You Deliver Your Baby Matters

Two women in California are having a baby for the first time. They are both low risk, having uneventful pregnancies. But how they will deliver their baby — whether they’ll have a c-section, for example — depends dramatically on the hospital each woman chooses when she delivers.

The California Hospital Assessment and Reporting Taskforce, or CHART, crunched the numbers and found wide and, frankly, stunning variation in the rates of four common procedures related to delivery and newborn care: c-section, episiotomy, breastfeeding and vaginal birth after c-section.

The Oakland-based California HealthCare Foundation created this infographic to illustrate what CHART found:

(Courtesy: California HealthCare Foundation)

(Courtesy: California HealthCare Foundation)

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Covered California Enrollment ‘Very Strong’ So Far

Covered California executive director Peter Lee. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Covered California executive director Peter Lee. (Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

More than 290,000 people have signed up on Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace, officials announced Wednesday. That number includes both people who qualify for private health insurance on the exchange or Medi-Cal.

People need to sign up by Dec. 15 for coverage that starts Jan. 1.
Open enrollment started Nov. 15. Of the 130,000 people who have qualified for Covered California, nearly 50,000 of them have both completed the application and selected a plan. That compares to about 30,000 people who selected a plan during the first month of open enrollment last year.

In a press call, Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California, called that pace “very strong.” People have until Monday to sign up for coverage that will start Jan. 1. “We expect that the next few days and this weekend, we’ll see continued and even growing interest in enrollment,” Lee said. Continue reading

Many Older Breast Cancer Patients Receive Unnecessary Radiation Treatment

New evidence on the effectiveness of medical treatments can take a long time to be adopted by doctors.(Getty Images)

New evidence on the effectiveness of medical treatments can take a long time to be adopted by doctors.(Getty Images)

By Patti Neighmond, NPR

Cancer doctors want the best, most effective treatment for their patients. But it turns out many aren’t paying attention to evidence that older women with early-stage breast cancer may be enduring the pain, fatigue and cost of radiation treatment even though it doesn’t increase life expectancy.

Radiation had no impact on survival rates in older women with early-stage cancer.

Researchers from Duke University Medical Center analyzed the impact of a large randomized trial published in 2004 that compared treatment options for women over the age of 70 with early-stage breast cancer. That study compared cancer recurrence and survival rates among women who had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation with that of women who had surgery and chemotherapy only.

While there was a slight decrease in recurrence of cancer in the group who had radiation, there was no difference in survival, thus raising the question of whether radiation treatment for this group of patients is worthwhile. Continue reading

Bogus Spine Surgery Hardware Enriched Company, Left Patients in Pain

Derika Moses, a former softball star, lost her job, and then her home, as she grappled with pain and illness after her spinal surgery. (Annie Tritt/CIR)

Derika Moses, a former softball star, lost her job, and then her home, as she grappled with pain and illness after her spinal surgery.
(Annie Tritt/CIR)

By Christina Jewett and Will Evans, The Center for Investigative Reporting

This story was originally published by The Center for Investigative Reporting.

With a metallic clatter, evidence of an elaborate scheme to enrich a few landed in the receiving room of Richard Walker’s surgical supply firm in South Africa.

 ‘I’m a walking time bomb.’

Although the true extent of the caper remains buried in the necks and backs of people scattered around the U.S., it began to unravel that day in 2009.

Ortho Sol makes precision screws for the most delicate of construction projects: spinal fusion. Doctors around the world drive them into the vertebrae of patients with devastating back injuries.

The company had repossessed some of its screws after one U.S. distributor – Spinal Solutions LLC – stopped paying its bills. But now, nestled with the returns, the brighter yellow luster of a few screws caught Walker’s eye.

Testing confirmed his fears. Some were not made of his firm’s medical-grade titanium. Their uneven threads showed potential for backing out or breaking, he said. He feared the laser-etched markings intended to make them look authentic could be toxic to patients. Continue reading