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San Francisco Supervisor Announces He’s Taking AIDS Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection.

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that when taken daily can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community.

Wiener, 44, was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2011. He says he first started coming out as a gay man in 1990, at what he called the height of the AIDS epidemic.

“Coming out in that environment was challenging and stressful,” he said. “Immediately associating sex with illness and death was very stressful and many, many people, I think, had that same experience.” He spoke of friends who have started using PrEP recently who “have told me that their general anxiety level around intimacy has gone down significantly.”

Wiener said that only a few people knew that he was taking PrEP. James Loduca, vice president of philanthropy for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, called Wiener’s disclosure “incredibly courageous.”

“We need more people like Supervisor Wiener,” Loduca said. “In my own personal network, many of my HIV-negative gay male friends are on PrEP. none of them talk about it publicly, and that is a reflection of the enormous stigma and shame that we still have around sex, around a desire to have intimacy. … It’s an important watershed moment for our community that someone so visible steps forward and says ‘PrEP is helping me.’”

Wiener spoke openly of people availing themselves of all options to prevent acquiring the virus, including the use of condoms and being tested regularly. If someone becomes infected with HIV, identifying the infection sooner yields more immediate treatment, which has positive long term health outcomes.

Wiener’s announcement comes on the eve of a rally to be held Thursday coordinated by San Francisco Supervisor David Campos. Campos is calling for San Francisco to make PrEP available to San Franciscans regardless of income. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a similar proposal for his state.

Nationally, there have been 50,000 new infections every year for the last 20 years. “PrEP is the first new tool in our fight to protect ourselves from HIV since the epidemic began,” Campos said in a release.

Wiener backs the effort. “In order for PrEP to be successful, we have to do three things,” he said. “We need to raise awareness about it, make sure people know about it. … We need to secondly remove the stigma around it, so people are able to talk about it, are able to consider it, and finally, we need to expand access.”

But that kind of community-wide campaign is exactly the wrong idea, some advocates say.

“To deploy (PrEP) as a community-wide preventive is a public health disaster in the making,” said Ged Kenslea, spokesman for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a global advocacy group. He stressed the organization is not opposed to the use of PrEP on a case-by-case basis.

“The crucial problem is adherence to the medication,” he said. He also pointed out that condoms are not only effective against protecting against HIV infection, but also against other sexually transmitted diseases “for which PrEP does nothing.” Kenslea said that he’s worried that people “seem to be throwing condoms out the window.”

Dr. Robert Grant with the UCSF Gladstone Institute led the research that ultimately showed Truvada’s effectiveness as a preventive agent against HIV and has followed it since.

He said that there’s no link between PrEP and increasing high risk sexual behavior. He also supports efforts to make PrEP available more widely and compared having a variety of tools to fight HIV to having a variety of methods of birth control available.

“Just like contraception,” he said. “We’re happy to have people using different methods. Same way with HIV. We have to have lots of different methods for people to use, so people can find one that’s attractive to them.”

Grant said that in his research “we have not seen anyone become infected who has taken PrEP daily or nearly daily.”

Wiener also published an essay in the Huffington Post Wednesday about his decision to use Truvada.

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

First Death Reported from the Napa Quake

The magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Aug. 24. (Craig Miller/KQED)

The magnitude-6.0 earthquake struck Aug. 24. (Craig Miller/KQED)

A 65-year-old woman who suffered a head injury when a television struck her during last month’s earthquake in California’s wine country has died — the first death attributed to the magnitude-6.0 quake, sheriff’s officials said.

Laurie Anne Thompson was at her Napa home during the Aug. 24 earthquake when she was hit, according to the Napa County Sheriff’s Office. She did not go to the hospital until the next day when she felt dizzy and experienced a decline in mental function.

Sheriff’s officials said she died Friday at a hospital of an intracranial hemorrhage.

“Her condition continued to deteriorate over time and, unfortunately, she passed away,” Sheriff’s Capt. Doug Pike said. 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

West Nile Virus Infections in California at All-Time High (Map of Cases by County)

westnilevirus

West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

West Nile Virus infections in mosquitoes are at their highest recorded level ever in California. Last week, 52 new human cases were reported, bringing the total to 181.

Eight people have died from the illness.

“If you’re out there at a time of day when the mosquitoes are out — particularly at dawn and dusk — the risk of being bitten with an infected mosquito is higher than it’s been in the past,” said James Watt of the California Department of Public Health. 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

Sleep Apps, Myths and More: Strategies for a Good Night’s Rest

(Flood G./Flickr)

(Flood G./Flickr)

By Kathy Shield

If you go to Apple’s App Store and search “sleep,” you’ll net over 2,000 results. Many of these apps play soothing white noise for a set period of time to help you fall asleep; others are simply alarm clocks. But many track your sleep, providing you with data about your nightly sleep quality, your average sleep time and more.

I must admit, I use Sleep Cycle to track my sleep, and my mom uses FitBit. So when sleep experts answered questions on KQED’s Forum Wednesday, I was more than happy to listen in.

Stanford’s famous sleep scientist, Professor William Dement, joined the panel and described one discovery of his original research that apparently led to the technology to track sleep: “During rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the body is completely paralyzed except the eyes and the diaphragm.” Continue reading