Author Archives: Lisa Aliferis

Earthquake Safety: Stand In A Doorway?

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday's earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Police officers in Napa prop up a fallen door in front of a damaged building following Sunday’s earthquake there. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t like earthquakes, yet I live in quake country. It’s a paradox.

To mitigate my worry, I err on the side of preparedness. But this post is not to lecture you about creating an earthquake kit (although it’s not hard to do). It’s to let you know what to do the moment the shaking starts.

And it’s to tell you what not to do.

Folks, when the shaking starts, do not head to the nearest doorway. I cannot stress this enough: Do not stand in a doorway. Continue reading

IUD Costs Vary by $600 in Bay Area; What Did You Pay?

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control, but are relatively underutilized, at least in the United States. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control. (Spike Mafford/Getty Images)

If you’re one of the 62 million American women of childbearing age, we have a question for you: How much do you pay for birth control? Did you know you might be able to save perhaps hundreds of dollars on your contraceptive method, just by asking? Let’s back up. We’ve reached the halfway point in our PriceCheck project. We’re shining a light on notoriously opaque and highly variable health care costs. We’re asking you, the members of our community, to share what you’ve paid for common procedures including mammograms and back MRIs. We found that both screening mammograms and back MRIs could vary in price ten-fold. Now we’re moving on to a new health care service: IUDs. We’re asking you to share what you paid for your IUD. The two most widely-used IUDs are Mirena (a hormonally-based IUD) and ParaGard (a non-hormonal product). Both are more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Our PriceCheck partner, ClearHealthCosts.com, has surveyed health care providers and lists cash prices for these IUDs in our PriceCheck database. Continue reading

Using Disney Movies to Reach A Son with Autism

The family first used a scene from the movie "Aladdin" to connect to their son. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

The family first used a scene from the movie “Aladdin” to connect to their son. (JD Hancock/Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

Owen Suskind was a normal toddler, learning to speak in full sentences and happily playing in the backyard with his older brother, Walt.

Owen wasn’t merely watching these movies, he was hearing them and learning through the characters.

That all changed at age 3, when Owen stopped speaking, and in the space of a single month, his entire vocabulary was reduced to one word: juice. Owen was diagnosed with late-onset regressive autism. Though his developmental trajectory was typical for children with this form of autism, this fact offered no comfort to his parents.

Today, Owen has grown into a relatively self-sufficient young man. He graduated from a college-like program for young adults on the autism spectrum and is now living semi-independently in an apartment. Continue reading

Sacramento Patient Does Not Have Ebola, Officials Report

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

Ebola virus magnified 108,000 times. (Getty Images)

A patient admitted to a Kaiser hospital in South Sacramento has tested negative for the Ebola virus, said Dr. Ron Chapman, director of the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) in a brief press conference Thursday evening.

Chapman said the results came in from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier in the day. Chapman, Kaiser officials and Sacramento County health officials refused to answer other questions about the patient, citing privacy laws.

Earlier this week, CDPH called the patient “low risk” and said the testing was occurring out of an “abundance of caution.” Chapman said CDPH and Kaiser made the determination that the patient was low risk by following established CDC assessment tools, available to any health care worker.

Chapman stressed that Ebola is “a very difficult infection to spread.” It does not spread through air, food or water. The virus can only be spread through direct physical contact with an infected person’s bodily fluid, including blood and sweat.

There are no reported cases of Ebola in California. In West Africa, the disease has killed 1,350 people.

In Face of Ebola, California-Trained Doctor Treats Patients in Liberia

Shops remain closed in Monrovia's West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

Shops remain closed in Monrovia’s West Point slum as part of quarantine measures to contain the spread of Ebola in Liberia. A doctor trained in California traveled last week to staff a Monrovia hospital. (ZOOM DOSSO/AFP/Getty Images)

While Californians worry about a single possible case of Ebola, considered low risk, the hot spot for this outbreak remains in West Africa where 1,350 people have died, and another 2,400 people are sick with the illness. But what happens to people who get sick with something that is not Ebola?

Dr. James Appel was trained in the Inland Empire, at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. He’s been working for Adventist Health International at hospitals in Chad for the last decade. Last week, Dr. Appel flew to Liberia to keep the doors open at Cooper Adventist, a small hospital in the capital, Monrovia, focusing on remaining available to patients with anything but Ebola. He talked Thursday morning with The California Report’s Rachael Myrow.

Appel described Liberia as “shutting down” around him. “There’s a curfew that’s been initiated. Many businesses are not open; all the schools are closed, government offices are closed,” Appel told Myrow. “So for example our hospital is not getting paid by the insurance companies, because insurance companies are closed. The whole economy is coming to a standstill.” Continue reading

Diverting Mentally Ill to Treatment, Not Jail

Officers Ned Bandoske (left) and Ernest Stevens are part of San Antonio's mental health squad — a six-person unit that answers the frequent emergency calls where mental illness may play a role. (Jenny Gold/KHN)

Officers Ned Bandoske (left) and Ernest Stevens are part of San Antonio’s mental health squad — a six-person unit that answers the frequent emergency calls where mental illness may play a role. (Jenny Gold/KHN)

This week, Julie Small has reported on this blog about court-ordered overhauls in caring for mentally ill inmates in California prisons. About one-fourth of California’s inmates — 37,000 people — have mild to severe mental illness.

As Small reported, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in April to draft new policies for use of force and has signed off on CDCR’s plans. Now the department is working on plans to comply with Karlton’s orders to change how it handles segregation for inmates with mental illness.

So, I was riveted by a report this morning from NPR and Kaiser Health News about a different approach — a coordinated, comprehensive approach — to a county-run mental health system. The story was set in Texas’ Bexar County, (pronouced “bear”) home to San Antonio and the Alamo, and the program is now a model for the nation. Continue reading

Old Muni Buses Are Reborn as Mobile Showers for the Homeless

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people.

Doniece Sandoval is the founder of Lava Mae, a mobile shower service for homeless people. (Lynne Shallcross/KQED)

By Lynne Shallcross

Showering is a daily routine that most of us probably take for granted. But for people living on the streets or in shelters in San Francisco, finding a shower can be one of the biggest daily challenges.

‘Then no one has to know you’re homeless unless you tell them.’

For the more than 3,000 unsheltered homeless people in San Francisco, there are only roughly 20 showers available — fewer if any are out of service. Then there are the logistics of sign-up lists, limited hours, waiting lines and figuring out how to get there.

Doniece Sandoval, a marketing and communications professional and South Texas native, had seen plenty of shower-less homeless in her two decades in San Francisco. But when she passed a young homeless woman on the street who was crying that she’d never be clean, Sandoval decided to do something about it.

So she hatched the idea for Lava Mae, a new service that provides showers in a retrofitted, retired Muni bus. Lava Mae, a play on the Spanish word for “wash me,” is in the pilot phase of its service. Continue reading

Why Advocacy Groups Oppose Bill Limiting Use of Antibiotics in Animals

The California Public Interest Research Group held a press conference opposing the bill last week in Berkeley.

Garo Manjikian and Corie Radka of CALPIRG speak at a press conference opposing SB835 in Berkeley on Wednesday. CALPIRG is among a dozen organizations calling on the California legislature to take stronger action regulating the use of antibiotics in livestock. (Courtesy: CALPIRG)

By Joe Rubin

Amid growing concern of the use of antibiotics in livestock, California’s Assembly will consider on  Monday a bill to limit their use. But a coalition of a dozen health and consumer advocacy groups — the very groups that often back such measures — are pressing lawmakers to vote it down. The groups say the bill is not aggressive enough and want California to take a more forceful role in the way antibiotics are regulated in meat production.

The bill, SB 835, sponsored by San Mateo Senator Jerry Hill, is an endorsement of last year’s Food and Drug Administration policy shift. The FDA has asked drug companies to voluntarily stop distributing anti-microbial drugs used for the purpose of fattening animals. Around 80 percent of all antibiotics in the U.S are used in the livestock industry. Drug companies say they are complying with the new guidelines.

But critics say the Hill bill, like the FDA guidelines, leaves a glaring loophole. Many of the antibiotics used for growth promotion are also used for disease prevention, making for more of a label change than a fundamental shift, critics say. Indeed drugs like tylosin, which have been used for decades as a growth-promoting feed additive for pigs and cows, remain readily available and in use. Continue reading

5 Things You Should Know About Sun Protection

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Kathy Shield

It’s almost the end of summer. But not quite. There’s still plenty of time left to be outside – and plenty of opportunities to get sunburned if you’re not careful. Sun-damaged skin increases your risk of skin cancer down the road.

Rates of melanoma have been climbing for the last 30 years. KQED Forum recently called together three experts on sun damage and skin cancer, and we’ve distilled their recommendations here so you can protect yourself.

1. When Buying Sunscreen, The Right SPF is Everything
You’ve seen all those SPF number: 15, 50, 100. The takeaway here is that you should buy a product with an SPF between 15 and 50. Continue reading

UC Berkeley Study: Sports, Energy Drinks as Unhealthy as Soda

Gatorade was one of the 21 beverages analyzed in the study. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Gatorade was one of the 21 beverages analyzed in the study. (Mike Mozart/Flickr)

Because of their very name, sports and energy drinks are often viewed by consumers as a healthier alternative to sugar-sweetened sodas. A study out Wednesday from UC Berkeley researchers disputes that view, finding that 21 popular beverages have high sugar content and other additives including caffeine and sodium, which may be harmful to children and teens.

“All of these beverages that are marketed to kids and teens … as if they’re healthy, are just packed with sugar,” said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy which commissioned the study.

In the report researchers at UC Berkeley’s Atkins Center of Weight and Health looked not only at sugar and caffeine in these 21 beverages but also scrutinized additives such as guarana, ginseng, taurine, gingko biloba and ginger extract. Continue reading