Seeing Red During Breast Cancer Awareness Month

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Anne Loeser, NPR

The lump first surfaced in my breast in 1989, when I was 36 years old.

Despite decades of awareness months, survival has remained depressingly flat.

To many young women, a small lump like that wouldn’t be cause for alarm because most breast lumps are benign. But there’s a long history of breast cancer in my family, so I immediately consulted a renowned breast surgeon. “It’s nothing to worry about,” she said. My mammogram was completely normal. She thought the lump was merely normal breast tissue.

But four years later I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

My treatment was among the most aggressive available: surgery (a double mastectomy), chemotherapy and five years of hormonal therapy to keep my hormone-sensitive breast cancer quiescent.

Since there was no further sign of my cancer after my surgery, I hoped that my hard-hitting trio of treatment had succeeded in blasting every last cancer cell. And whenever I made my annual visit to my oncologist, I was comforted by his reassuring words: “There’s no sign of your disease.” Continue reading

In Oakland, Students Bite Back at Undead in Zombie Health Symposium

Craig Elliott, assistant VP of student services at Samuel Merritt University, encouraged grief counselors for families dealing with undead loved ones. (Courtesy: Samuel Merritt University)

Craig Elliott, assistant VP of student services at Samuel Merritt University, encouraged grief counseling for families dealing with undead loved ones. (Courtesy: Samuel Merritt University)

By Isabel Angell

Just in time for Halloween, health science students at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland were learning about an understudied demographic in health care: zombies.

That’s right, zombies.

Students packed the hall at the first-ever Zombie Health Symposium and learned some crucial information, should these fictional beings ever show up in real life. In a presentation Dr. Sharon Gorman, a physical therapy professor, described which gait will improve your survivability during a zombie apocalypse. She said it’s important to realize there are different kinds of zombies.

“Use your observation skills that you’ve honed as health care providers, because those are key,” she said. “You need to determine what is the threat of that zombie and figure out quickly what your best evasive maneuver might be. If it’s a fast zombie, I suggest being quiet and running, very, very fast and very, very far away. If it’s a non-ambulatory zombie, just give it a wide berth.” Continue reading

State Issues ‘Tailored’ Quarantine Guidelines for Travelers from Ebola-Affected Countries

Gov. Jerry Brown meets with state officials, including Dr. Ron Chapman, state health officer, on

Gov. Jerry Brown met last week with state officials, including state health officer Dr. Ron Chapman, center left. (Brad Alexander/Office of the Governor)

Joining other states across the country, California’s health officer has now added guidelines for a “risk-based quarantine order” for people traveling to California from one of the three Ebola-affected West African countries, Guinea, LIberia and Sierra Leone.

California’s guidelines consistent with those from the Centers for Disease Control

At present there are no known or suspected cases of Ebola in California.

The state’s order is directed at anyone traveling to California from one of the affected countries who has also had contact with someone who has a confirmed case of Ebola.

Dr. Ron Chapman, California’s health officer, said the state is establishing a “standard protocol requiring some level of quarantine for those at highest risk of contracting and spreading Ebola.” Continue reading

Here’s What Would Be Taxed — or Not — in SF, Berkeley Soda Tax Measures

(KJM-427/Flickr)

(KJM-427/Flickr)

Both San Francisco and Berkeley have measures on their November ballots that would institute a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. With less than a week to go until Election Day, we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. People want to know exactly what will be taxed — and what won’t.

First things first: The tax is on sugar-sweetened beverages, so diet sodas would not be taxed. After all, they do not have sugar or any other sweetener that has calories. Maybe the moniker “soda tax” is misleading here.

To find out if your favorite beverage would be taxed, ask yourself the following:

  • Does this drink contain added sugar (or another caloric sweetener such as high-fructose corn syrup)?
  • Does this drink have significant nutritional value (such as, say, milk does)?

If you answer “yes” to the first question and “no” to the second, your beverage is most likely subject to the proposed tax.

Here are drinks that are subject to the tax (farther down are exempt drinks):

(Kaleb Fulgham/Flickr)

(Kaleb Fulgham/Flickr)

Sodas — such as regular Coke, Pepsi, 7 Up, etc. (But not diet sodas.) This includes sodas in bottles and cans, as well as  fountain drinks. Both the Berkeley and San Francisco measures call for taxing the syrup used to make fountain drinks. The syrup is taxed according to the largest volume, in fluid ounces, that could be produced from the sugar-sweetened syrup. For example, if a distributor sells a 12-ounce bottle of syrup and that syrup can be used to make 144 ounces of beverage, the tax is levied on the 144 ounces of beverage. Continue reading

State Set to Move Rural Seniors, Disabled to Medi-Cal Managed Care

(Ben Ramirez: Flickr)

(Ben Ramirez/Flickr)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

About one month from now, the state is launching a program to shift a new set of Medi-Cal beneficiaries into Medi-Cal managed care plans. This time, the state is focusing on a shift in care for some of the frailest patients in rural counties.

Among many of these frail beneficiaries, there is deep fear about what’s about to happen.

On Dec. 1, about 20,000 Medi-Cal seniors and persons with disabilities in 28 rural counties will make the switch to managed care plans. It’s a continuation of an extended effort by the state to expand Medi-Cal managed care to rural areas, said Mari Cantwell, chief deputy director of health care programs at the Department of Health Care Services, which oversees Medi-Cal.

“We started the rural expansion about a year ago, starting with non-disabled adults and children in 28 counties,” Cantwell said. “Still pending are the population of seniors and persons with disabilities (SPD’s). That’s not a very large number of people in comparison, about 20,000 people.” Continue reading

Fresno Pilots Asthma Program Aimed at Tapping Investors for Funds

Maura Vasquez tells health educator Nunu Sixay during a home visit on Tuesday, September 9, 2014, that her son, Jovani Garcia-Vasquez, 6, has not visited the emergency room since learning that administering his medication more regularly could help alleviate his asthma symptoms (Heidi de Marco/KHN).

During a home visit Maura Vasquez (R) tells health educator Nunu Sixay that her son, Jovani, 6, has not been to the E.R. since learning that administering his medication more regularly could help alleviate his asthma. (Heidi de Marco/KHN).

By Anna Gorman, Kaiser Health News

Inside her single-story home in the dry and dusty Central Valley, Dalia Mondragon scarcely sleeps. Several times a night, she tiptoes into her children’s rooms to make sure their chests are peacefully rising and falling.

Under the approach, investors fund a social impact bond; if a social program saves money — investors make money.

“I feel like any time they could stop breathing,” she says.

Mondragon and all four of her children have asthma -– a disease that has sent them to the hospital more times than she can count. So she is more than willing to open her home to Nunu Sixay, an asthma prevention worker trying to figure out what is triggering the attacks. On a recent visit, Sixay found some possible culprits: mold in the bathroom and aerosol furniture polish in the kitchen.

Sixay’s work visiting low-income families like the Mondragons is part of a public health experiment to help asthmatic children breathe easier and stay out of costly emergency rooms – with the aim of getting investors to pay for it. Continue reading

Five UC Hospitals Now Designated for Ebola Care

UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)

UCSF is one of the five centers designated. (Niall Kennedy/Flickr)

The five medical centers of the University of California will serve as designated Ebola treatment centers should a person in the state become ill from the virus.

While public health officials are calling on all hospitals in California to redouble preparations for screening and isolating patients at risk for Ebola, those who are confirmed to have the virus will be transferred to a UC medical center in San Francisco, Davis, Irvine, Los Angeles, or San Diego.

“As a public university, stepping up to a public health crisis, like a potential Ebola outbreak, is what we do,” says Brooke Converse, spokesperson for the UC Office of the President. “Our overall mission as the University of California is to serve Californians and serve the taxpayers and the public.” Continue reading

Genetic Variant Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Rates in Latinas

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Researchers have long known that Latina women have lower rates of breast cancer compared to African-American and white women. They have mainly pointed to lifestyle and environmental factors to explain why –- Latinas tend to have more children, breast feed longer, and drink less alcohol, all factors that are associated with lower disease rates.

Now, an international study led by scientists at UC San Francisco shows that a genetic variant unique to Latina women with indigenous ancestry plays a significant role, too.

“When we were accounting for all the non-genetic risk factors in our analysis, it was not enough to explain that women with more indigenous American ancestry tended to have less breast cancer,” says lead author Prof. Laura Fejerman, a member of UCSF’s Institute of Human Genetics. Continue reading

California Hospitals Prepare for Ebola

Kaiser Permanente's newly opened medical center in Oakland. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Kaiser’s new hospital in Oakland is one of two sites that Kaiser has chosen to treat any Ebola patient that might present in its system. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

Hospitals in California are adapting to evolving guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control on how to best prepare for a possible Ebola patient. There are no known — or suspected — cases of the virus in California, but the infection of two nurses in Texas has hospitals here revamping their protocols.

Responsibility ultimately falls on each individual hospital to incorporate CDC guidelines into its own Ebola response plan. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) is providing guidance, but the state’s chief of communicable disease control, James Watt, says state help can only go so far.

“The reality is that every hospital situation is unique. The physical layout of the hospital is unique and needs to be taken into account. Also the equipment that (each) hospital has,” he said during a press briefing last week. “That’s why it’s really important for the training and the planning to be done at the facility level. That’s not something that can be one-size-fits-all.” Continue reading

Ebola Is Not That Contagious, and 10 Other Quick Facts

Two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas contracted Ebola from a patient they were treating, but 44 of 48 others who came in contact with the patient, including his fiancee,  have completed their quarantine period and are cleared of the disease. The remaining four should complete their quarantine soon. (Mike Stone/Getty Images)

Two nurses at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas contracted Ebola from a patient they were treating, but 44 of 48 others who came in contact with the patient, including his fiancee, have completed their quarantine period and are cleared of the disease. The remaining four should complete their quarantine soon. (Mike Stone/Getty Images)

By Alison Bruzek, NPR

Basic information about Ebola isn’t as clear as it probably could be.

A recent poll by the Harvard School of Public Health, for instance, found that 38 percent of Americans are worried that Ebola will infect them or a family member in the next year, despite assurances that the U.S. will stop Ebola in its tracks.

We’ve put together a primer on what you need to know. We’ll update it as new information develops.

1. It’s Not That Contagious. Really.

Each person who contracts the virus spreads it, on average, to one or two other people. It’s not as contagious as HIV, SARS or measles.

2. Ebola Is Not Airborne…

Ebola is transmitted through bodily fluids, such as blood, sweat, saliva, breast milk, feces, urine and semen. However, infectious disease specialists say Ebola is not an airborne disease, like the flu. Continue reading