Author Archives: state of health

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
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Government Funding Drops — and Scientists Give Up

Randen Patterson

Randen Patterson left a research career in physiology at U.C. Davis when funding got too tight. He now owns a grocery store in Guinda, outside Davis. (Max Whittaker/Prime for NPR)

By Richard Harris, NPR

Ian Glomski thought he was going to make a difference in the fight to protect people from deadly anthrax germs. He had done everything right — attended one top university, landed an assistant professorship at another.

“I shouldn’t be a grocer right now. I should be training students. I should be doing deeper research. And I can’t. I don’t have an outlet for it.” Former UC Davis professor

But Glomski ran head-on into an unpleasant reality: These days, the scramble for money to conduct research has become stultifying.

So, he’s giving up on science.

And he’s not alone. Federal funding for biomedical research has declined by more than 20 percent in the past decade. There are far more scientists competing for grants than there is money to support them. Continue reading

Covered California Income Verifications Lead to Canceled Coverage

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

Screenshot from CoveredCA.com, the website of Covered California.

By Judy Lin, Associated Press

Some Californians who purchased individual health coverage through the state’s insurance exchange are suddenly being dropped or transferred to Medi-Cal, the state Medicaid program for the poor that fewer doctors and providers accept.

Covered California, which is responsible for determining and directing Californians to an appropriate health plan, has no estimate of how many people are affected, saying only that the changes are occurring as incomes are checked to verify the policyholders can purchase insurance through the exchange.

Since the shifts often happen without warning, there’s confusion and anger among policyholders.

Glendale resident Andrea Beckum learned last month that she and her husband had been shunted to Medi-Cal only after getting a call from their insurance broker telling them their Anthem Blue Cross policy had been canceled. Continue reading

UCSF’s First Undocumented Medical Student Begins Training

Jirayut "New" Latthivongskorn, a newly-minted medical student at UCSF.

Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn, a newly minted medical student at UCSF. (Courtesy: Jirayut Latthivongskorn)

By Mina Kim

I first met Jirayut “New” Latthivongskorn a little over two years ago. He was completing his undergraduate degree at UC Berkeley and had dreams of going to medical school.

But he had no idea if he’d ever get there. Latthivongskorn is an undocumented immigrant.

His parents brought him to the U.S. from Thailand on a tourist visa when he was 9 years old, and the family never left. Continue reading

Watsonville Nursing Home Lawsuit May Drive Effort to Reduce Overmedication

 (Philippe Hugue/AFP/Getty Images)

(Philippe Hugue/AFP/Getty Images)

By Ina Jaffe, NPR

A federal lawsuit against two Watsonville nursing homes may offer a new approach to dealing with the persistent problem of such facilities overmedicating their residents.

The lawsuit details multiple cases when the government says these drugs were inappropriately administered to patients. Watsonville is northeast of Monterey, in Santa Cruz County.

For instance when an 86-year-old man identified in the lawsuit as Patient 1 was admitted to Country Villa Watsonville West, he could speak clearly and walked in under his own power. Within days the facility began giving him Haldol and Risperdal, drugs used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and he became bedridden, stopped eating and developed bedsores and infections. Continue reading

Searching for Happiness? Look for Meaning, Not Money

Happiness is about social ties, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

Happiness is about social ties and experiences, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

Do a quick search for “happiness” in Amazon books, and you’ll find more than 40,000 results. That’s a lot of people writing about happiness — and, presumably, a lot of people looking to find it.

“It’s typically not things or stuff, but experiences and relationships and the less tangible things in life.”

If you’re one of those people looking, you should know that finding happiness doesn’t mean you have to be cheerful and upbeat all the time. There’s more than one way to get there. Experts say even pessimists can be happy.

“There are a lot of things that we think will make us happy and don’t,” says Christine Carter, a sociologist at U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of the book “Raising Happiness.”

“In fact,” Carter says, “we are, as human beings, particularly bad at predicting what will make us happy. We think that we’re going to be much happier if we’re living in a bigger house or driving a different type of car or those really cute new shoes are going to make us happy.” Continue reading

Infants Given Sugar-Sweetened Beverages at Higher Risk for Obesity

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

By Brian Lau 

Were you at a Labor Day barbecue last weekend? Did you drink soda? Sweet tea? Or maybe vitamin water? Sugar-sweetened drinks are a known risk factor for obesity, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in four American adults consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Now, two new studies published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics found that 80 percent of 6-year-olds drank sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis. (The studies can be found here and here.)

And here’s the kicker: researchers found that 25 percent of infants also were given sugar-sweetened beverages at some point, and this consumption can be associated with health problems later.

One of the studies’ main findings was that babies given sugar-sweetened drinks during the first 6 months of life had a 92 percent greater risk of obesity by the time they were 6-years-old versus babies who were never given such drinks. Continue reading

Judge Rules Berkeley Must Change Soda Tax Language

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Update September 2, 6:05 p.m.: A judge ruled Tuesday that Berkeley officials must change the soda tax measure language because it is currently misleading.

Soda tax advocates say this change “doesn’t concern us at all.”

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the city’s statement that the tax would only be imposed on “high-calorie, sugary drinks” is “a form of advocacy and therefore not impartial.”

Grillo ordered the city to change the summary to say that the tax would apply to “sugar-sweetened beverages,” which he said is more neutral and less likely to create prejudice for or against Measure D.

Anthony Johnson and Leon Cain filed the lawsuit in August. Cain has previously attended Berkeley council meetings on behalf of the No Berkeley Beverage Tax campaign. Continue reading

Stanford Study: Double Mastectomies Don’t Increase Breast Cancer Survival Rate

(Getty Images)

About one-third of women under 40 diagnosed with breast cancer in California choose double mastectomy. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

More women are choosing to have bilateral mastectomies when they are diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, even though there’s little evidence that removing both breasts improves their survival compared with more conservative treatments.

Doctors worry that women choose double mastectomy out of the mistaken belief that it eliminates their future risk of cancer.
The biggest study yet on the question has found no survival benefit with bilateral mastectomy compared to breast-conserving surgery with radiation.

The study, published Tuesday in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at the records of all women in California who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1998 to 2011 — 189,734 women, all told. Continue reading

California Prisons Adopt Plan to Restrict Segregation for Mentally Ill Inmates

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

A psychiatric segregation cell at Sacramento Prison. (Julie Small/KQED)

By Julie Small

In response to a court order, California prison officials proposed a new approach Friday to how they treat mentally ill inmates who break rules or commit new crimes. The judge who ordered the change immediately approved the plan.

Right now, if a mentally ill inmate refuses to follow orders or attacks another inmate or guards, the prison sends him to a segregation unit. In segregation, prisoners spend more time confined to their cells and must submit to routine strip searches for weapons and drugs. Advocates for inmates have long insisted the conditions only worsen mental illness. Earlier this year, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton unequivocally backed them up.

In an April ruling, the judge wrote, “placement of seriously mentally ill inmates in California’s segregation housing unit can and does cause serious psychological harm” by worsening symptoms, inducing psychosis and increasing suicidal urges. Continue reading