Two weeks ago, I made an emergency trip home to Minnesota because my grandmother fell ill. She went to the emergency room on a Sunday night, complaining of fatigue and shortness of breath.
The emergency physician diagnosed her with pneumonia and admitted her for the night. Two days later, she was transferred to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. My grandma is only 74, healthy and energetic. Her rapid decline shocked my family.
My grandma, however, had not been taking good care of herself since her husband died three weeks earlier. He had many health issues, but at the end, died of MRSA pneumonia. My grandmother slept by his side, caring for him daily during his last days.
No one from the nursing home hospice program or the hospital warned my grandma about the seriousness of this drug-resistent staph infection. No one suggested she take precautions to protect herself or that she be tested as a carrier.
I live and study public health in Baltimore, a city in which one-third of its children live in poverty, another two-thirds live in single-parent families, and more than a third of students drop out of high school.
Not coincidentally, Baltimore has an infant mortality rate nearly twice that of the nation, its teen birth rate is higher than the national average, and people here live shorter lives, especially minorities and low-income residents, than their counterparts just a few miles away in the suburbs.
This is a sick city. Literally blocks of houses are boarded up – dead and rotting with crime, hopelessness and fear. If you think I’m being melodramatic, watch the HBO drama The Wire. It’s a pretty accurate portrayal.
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The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America has just released a report that reveals the degree to which a child’s health is determined by the hand he draws when he is born.
The report, which is titled “America’s Health Starts With Healthy Children: How Do States Compare?” confirms what we have written in other Health Beat posts.
While having or not having health insurance is important, poverty will have an even greater influence on an individual’s health. As Commission Co-Chair and former Congressional Budget Office director Alice M. Rivlin puts it, “This report shows us just how much a child’s health is shaped by the environment in which he or she lives.”
Moreover, the report reveals that it is not only the poor who are molded by their environment. “In nearly every state, children in middle-income families also experience shortfalls in health when compared with those in higher income families. And these differences in children’s health by income can be seen across racial or ethnic groups” says the report, which is based on research done at the University of California at San Francisco’s Center on Social Disparities in Health. Ultimately, this study highlights “the unrealized health potential possible if all children had the same opportunities for health as those in the best-off families.”Continue reading…
In a new book "Pet Food Politics," Marion Nestle uses last year’s pet food safety scare to highlight the importance of a sound food safety regulation system. As she puts it, “Advocacy for policies good enough to protect pets also means advocacy for policies that protect people."
The Economist reviewed the book and interviewed Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. Nestle said the pet food scare can be viewed as the "Chihuahua in the coal mine" in that it serves as a warning of our national and international food safety system.
The pet or animal food systems cannot be separated from the human food system for several reasons, Nestle said. Thus, the lessons from the contaminated pet food is a lesson for us all that:"We have a food safety system in the United States that is not adequate."
Howard County, Maryland is set to launch an ambitious universal health coverage, and the county’s top health officials says the effort will provide valuable lessons for future reformers.
Starting next month, 2,200 of Howard County’s 20,000
uninsured residents can enroll in the Healthy Howard Plan,
which will provide them access to primary, specialty and hospital care, and
prescriptions drugs for $85 or less a month.
Dr. Peter Beilenson, Howard County health commissioner and former Baltimore City health commissioner who ran for Congress in 2006, said this is the most ambitious local effort at universal coverage since San Francisco launched a universal coverage plan in April 2007.
Like Healthy San Francisco, Healthy Howard is not portable health insurance but rather health coverage for local treatment. Instead of levying a "pay or play" tax on businesses like San Francisco, however, Healthy Howard’s funding comes from individual premiums, county general fund dollars and substantial amounts of charity. (The Golden gate Restaurant Association is battling San Francisco in court over its tax.)
Beyond the grand ambition to provide universal health coverage, what Beilenson says distinguishes Healthy Howard is its emphasis on personal responsibility, mandatory health coaching and a forthcoming rigorous evaluation.
I’m currently in the masters in public health program at Johns Hopkins University and am taking my first course in epidemiology. I have my first midterm tomorrow and among the many concepts the professors want me to understand is herd immunity.
Herd immunity is the ability to resist an attack of a disease because the majority of the members are immune to it. Disease passes from person to person so when a large portion of the population is immune — most likely through immunizations — this protects those who aren’t immune by decreasing the likelihood a susceptible person will come in contact with the disease.
I hope that was review for the clinicians. But for me, though I had been reporting on health care for four years, this was a new concept. It helps put the importance of mass vaccinations into context. Immunizations don’t only protect those who receive them, but the entire population.
That’s why this seemingly growing movement by parents not to immunize their children is so worrisome. I want to know why public health experts have not taken a stronger, more public position about the importance of immunization.
The Center for Public Integrity, a public interest investigative journalism organization, has obtained copies of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study of environmental and health data in eight Great Lakes states that was scheduled for publication in July 2007. The report, which pointed to elevated rates of lung, colon, and breast cancer; low birth weight; and infant mortality in several of the geographical areas of concern has not yet been made public.
A few days before the report was slated to be released, it was pulled. Meanwhile, at precisely the same time, its lead author, Christopher De Rosa, has been removed from the position he held since 1992. The Center for Public Integrity is asking why.
The study, “Public Health Implications of Hazardous Substances in Twenty-Six U.S. Great Lakes Areas of Concern” was developed by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) at the request of the International Joint Commission, an independent U.S-Canadian organization that monitors and advises both governments on the use and quality of boundary waters.
The CDC report brings together two sets of data: environmental data on known “areas of concern” — including superfund sites and hazardous waste dumps — and separate health data collected by county or, in some cases, smaller geographical regions.Continue reading…