A vial containing the acellular pertussis vaccine. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
A new rise in whooping cough cases in California is raising questions among doctors about whether there are problems with the current vaccine. California public health data show a spike in whooping cough cases in 2013 compared to the year before, and last week officials confirmed the first death from the disease since the major outbreak of 2010: an infant in Riverside.
“The attempt at making vaccines safer has created a potential lapse in protection.”
Whooping cough, or pertussis as it is referred to in medical circles, is cyclical in nature and tends to peak every three to five years. But doctors are now finding evidence that the new vaccine may start to wear off on a similar timeline, despite medical recommendations that allow for a span of eight years between booster shots.
“The efficacy of the new vaccine is really good, it works. It’s just that it wanes, and it wanes more quickly,” said Dr. Michael Witte, a pediatrician in Pt. Reyes, north of San Francisco.
The new acellular whooping cough vaccine was introduced in the 1990s. It has fewer side effects than the earlier whole-cell vaccine that had been in use since the 1940s. By 2001, the old vaccine was completely phased out. So while many adolescent kids have received boosters of the new vaccine, they would have gotten shots when they were babies that included the old vaccine. Continue reading
The NuvaRing birth control product is a flexible ring which releases hormones. A woman replaces it herself once a month. (Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Merck, the drug company that makes the NuvaRing birth control product, announced last week it will pay $100 million to settle thousands of claims from women who believe they were harmed by using the product.
As NPR reported Monday, NuvaRing is the most recent hormone-based kind of birth control to “become the focus of scrutiny.” All hormone-based contraceptives, including the pill, put a woman at increased risk of blood clots, stroke and heart attack. Women need to weigh the risks of pregnancy with the risks of hormonal contraception, experts advise. But the key thing to remember is that the risks remain rare.
Dr. Michael Policar is an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at U.C. San Francisco. ”If you take a rare event, make it a little more common, it is still a rare event,” he told NPR — but still believes that studies are needed that compare NuvaRing head-to-head with other forms of contraception. Continue reading
Update February 21, 2014: The California Department of Public Health says 278 people have died of flu so far this year, and an additional 29 deaths are under investigation. While cases have been declining for a few weeks, state health officials still recommend people get vaccinated, if they haven’t already.
State health officials have released the latest numbers on flu deaths — 202 people have died so far this year and that’s up from 147 last week. That’s the bad news, but for the first time since early January, health officials are also saying that cases appear to be declining. At least for now. Flu season generally runs three months and is “notoriously unpredictable,” said Dr. James Watt, with the California Department of Public Heatlh and recommended that everyone got vaccinated.
Here at State of Health, we’ve noticed that a lot of the same questions come up again and again. With that in mind, we’ve compiled some answers.
1. Is the flu shot really the best way I can avoid getting the flu? In a word, yes. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says “the single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.” And you need to get it annually. While everyone over age 6 months should have it, CDC says, it’s especially important for people in high risk groups including:
- People with certain underlying medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, chronic lung disease and obesity
- Children under age 5 and adults over age 65
- Pregnant women — yes, pregnant women, the vaccine is safe and effective for you, CDC says. Continue reading
A 12-ounce can of Coke has 9 teaspoons of sugar. (Kansir/Flickr)
By Allison Aubrey, NPR
We’ve written lots lately about the potentially addictive qualities of sugar and the public policy efforts to limit consumption.
Now comes a new study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, which finds that Americans who consumed the most sugar — about a quarter of their daily calories — were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who limited their sugar intake to 7 percent of their total calories.
To translate that into a 2,000-calorie a day diet, the big sugar eaters were consuming 500 calories a day from sugar — that’s 31 teaspoons. Those who tamed their sweet tooth, by contrast, were taking in about 160 calories a day from sugar — or about 10 teaspoons per day.
Unfortunately, most Americans have a sugar habit that is pushing toward the danger zone. Continue reading
Philip Seymour Hoffman arrives for the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Hunger Games: Catching Fire’ last November. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
As I think pretty much everyone must know by now, the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday, apparently of a heroin overdose. I was stunned when I found out, then deeply saddened when I read reports that he had told “60 Minutes” in 2006 that he had given up drugs and alcohol when he was 22 — “I got panicked for my life,” he told Steve Kroft. Hoffman relapsed last year.
But my sadness turned to a kind of cold fury when I saw too many comments on social media clucking disapproval for Hoffman’s “selfishness” and “poor choices.” (I’m not linking to them here; you can find them easily enough if you want to.) One friend on Facebook noted that another friend’s thread about Hoffman was the only one he’d seen acknowledging “the tragedy of his drug addiction.”
And, indeed, addiction is a disease. Dr. David Smith has treated thousands of addicts since he founded the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic in 1967. He talked to me about “battling an uninformed public.” Continue reading
KQED News interactive producer Olivia Hubert-Allen gets her flu shot. (Lisa Pickoff-White/KQED)
State health officials reported Friday that deaths from influenza have reached 147, including four children under age 18. Another 44 deaths are under investigation, but not confirmed.
The total deaths so far this flu season, which started last September, eclipses the number from all of last year — 106.
As health officials have noted all month, the H1N1 strain is circulating — that’s the same strain that led to the pandemic in 2009-2010. Younger adults are at increased risk from H1N1. The theory is that adults over 65 were exposed to H1N1 decades ago and have retained some immunity. Younger adults were (presumably) never exposed so have no natural protection.
Health officials urged all Californians over age 6 months to get a flu shot. This year’s vaccine is well-matched to the circulating strains, health officials say. They urge people who believe they have the flu to contact their doctors immediately and ask about anti-viral medications.
KQED radio’s Stephanie Martin talked to health editor Lisa Aliferis about the flu. Learn more:
(Go Interactive Wellness/Flickr)
By Allison Aubrey, NPR
Exercise helps recovery after cancer treatment, but fatigue can make working out hard. Yoga can help reduce fatigue for breast cancer survivors, a study finds. It’s one of a growing number of efforts using randomized controlled trials to see if the ancient practice offers medical benefits.
Women who took a yoga class three hours a week for three months said they experienced 40 percent less fatigue compared to a group of breast cancer survivors who did not do yoga.
“Fatigue is a major and serious problem in survivors,” even years after treatments have ended, Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a psychology professor at Ohio State University and lead author of the study, said.
The participants who did yoga also had lower levels of cytokines, which are markers of inflammation, in their blood, Kiecolt-Glaser says. Cytokine levels were reduced up to 20 percent six months after starting yoga. It’s not clear how this may affect their health, she says. Continue reading
Morgan Gleason is one of 3 in a million. Just 15, she was diagnosed in 2010 with Juvenile Dermatomyositis, an inflammatory disease of the muscle, skin and blood vessels, according ton the American College of Rheumatology. There’s no cause, no cure and the treatment sounds positively awful — the treatment puts her at risk of contracting “the painful and serious condition of aseptic meningitis,” her mother writes.
And so it was that Morgan found herself hospitalized to treat aseptic meningitis. But she became fed up by the constant early morning interruptions by the medical team charged with caring for her. Her mother recorded this video of Morgan demanding better treatment. “They come in at 6 in the morning and they don’t all come together.” ”I need sleep … I’ve tried to tell them, I give better answers, I’ll participate more,” if I get enough sleep. “I am a patient, and I demand to be heard,” she says. Anyone who has been in the hospital can probably relate.
The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu, health officials say. (GabrielSaldana/Flickr)
State health officials reported Friday that fatalities from influenza now stand at 95 statewide — with another 51 deaths reported from local jurisdictions under investigation.
That brings the total to 146 deaths — more than the 106 deaths California had during all of last year’s flu season.
“We so far have a much more severe season,” said state epidemiologist Dr. Gil Chavez with the California Department of Public Health. A child in Riverside County was among last week’s fatalities, bringing to three the number of fatalities in children statewide. All of them were under age 10.
Chavez noted that the H1N1 strain is the culprit and says the strain causes more severe disease and more deaths. In addition, it tends to hit younger people harder, in particular those with pre-existing health conditions. Continue reading
There’s caramel, and then there’s caramel color. It turns out the two don’t have much to do with each other. This matters to you if you drink soda.
Caramel color is the additive in many soft drinks and some foods that turns them brown. Some types of caramel color contain a chemical called 4-methylimidazole or 4-Mel, and 4-Mel is potentially carcinogenic. In 2011, the state of California added 4-mel to the so-called Prop. 65 list — a list of chemicals known by the state to cause cancer.
Consumer Reports published an analysis of various brands of soda on Thursday. They found that two brands exceeded a level of 29 micrograms per can or bottle: Pepsi One and Malta Goya. Consumer Reports cites state data showing daily consumption above that amount would cause one excess case of cancer in every 100,000 people. Continue reading