Health

Fitness, well-being, disease, medical research and issues related to Seton and St. David's Healthcare, Austin Regional Clinic and other health care providers in Austin and Central Texas

In the first six weeks of 2014, the Travis County Medical Examiner's Office has had five cases of infants dying while on the same sleep surface as one or more adults. Forensic Nurse Leanne Courtney says that's more than in all of each of the previous two years.

"There were four, both for 2013 and 2012; however, the total amount of infant deaths last year were eight, but so far this year, we're creeping up towards that number, so we really want to emphasize to parents and caretakers about the risks of unsafe sleeping environments," Courtney said.

In an age when consumers want transparency in how their food is produced, meat producers are under the microscope.

And the meat industry is responding: Antibiotic-free chicken is showing up everywhere you look.

Spencer Selvidge/KUT

Houston doctor Theodore Herring Jr. had his license temporarily suspended last week, after he was found to have violated a new state law requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

That provision is among the ones under review by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. While the law is tied up in that court, abortion doctors in Texas are still required to follow it – meaning they need admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.

Texas Medical Board Suspends Abortion Doctor's License

Feb 14, 2014
Veronica Zaragovia, KUT

A Texas doctor is without his medical license for violating a part of the state’s new abortion law. 

The Texas Medical Board temporarily suspended the license on Feb. 13 of Dr. Theodore Herring, Jr. He performed almost 270 abortions between last November and earlier February without having the required hospital admitting privileges.

It’s the first time that a Texas doctor has faced license suspension since most of the state’s abortion law's provisions went into effect in October. The law requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic.

CDC

More people are living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in Travis County.

Between 2006 and 2012, the number of people with HIV has increased 41 percent -- to 5,084 people. During those years, the overall population of Travis County increased only by about 17 percent.

Dr. Phillip Huang, Medical Director of Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services, says much of the increase is because of life-sustaining HIV drugs.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

Governor Perry’s decision not to accept federal expansion of Medicaid in Texas means 687,000 women will be left in a "coverage gap," according to a report by the National Women’s Law Center. Those women are too poor to qualify for Medicaid, but don’t make enough money to be eligible for subsidies on the federal health insurance exchange. 

Medicaid eligibility standards in Texas are among the strictest in the nation. A parent in a family of three must make less than $3,737 annually to qualify (19 percent of the federal poverty level), according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Adults without dependent children are not eligible for Medicaid in Texas. 

Morgue File

Austin women looking for a natural childbirth now have another option: they can give birth at Seton Medical Center with the guidance of a midwife.

Today, Seton announced a collaboration with the Austin Area Birthing Center welcoming certified nurse midwives into the delivery room.  

Some women want to give birth with little medical intervention – but sometimes complications arise, requiring a hospital delivery. Others want the guidance of a midwife – but prefer the peace of mind a being in a hospital. Now, this is possible at Seton Medical Center.

The pain reliever acetaminophen is easy on the stomach. But at high doses, the drug can be hell on the liver.

Now the Food and Drug Administration is asking doctors to refrain from prescribing drugs that contain high doses of acetaminophen to minimize the risk of liver damage.

Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in nonprescription Tylenol. But it's also inside quite a few prescription pain pills, including Vicodin and Percocet.

CDC

Nine deaths from influenza in Travis County this flu season represent just one measure of how severe the season has been.

Dr. Phil Huang, Medical Director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department, notes that cases started showing up earlier in the season, toward the end of 2013, and that patients under the age of 60 were among the most severely affected. 

"Definitely what we're seeing is worse than what we've seen in some past seasons," Dr. Huang said, "and also the population that's being affected with some of the more severe illness is a younger population than what we were seeing." 

A 33-year-old Texas woman named Marlise Munoz has been connected to life support machines for more than a month, after she collapsed on the kitchen floor of her home.

Her husband says she would not have wanted to be kept alive this way, but the hospital has refused to follow that wish, citing a Texas law that forbids medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant patient.

Phoebe Flanigan

With a vibrant live music scene, a bustling tech sector and a top-flight university, Austin seems like an oasis for young people.

However, the seemingly youthful Texas capital isn't wasted on the young. 

The Austin-Round Rock area has the fastest growing population of people between ages 55 and 64, and the third-fastest growing for those 65 and over, according to U.S. Census data. 

An organization called Power for Parkinson's is offering those affected by the disease a chance to step forward into an active, healthy life. 

Photo via http://www.flickr.com/photos/mloberg/

All the holiday stress, dehydration and alcohol consumption at this time of the year can lead to something called “holiday heart syndrome.” It’s an irregular heartbeat that often presents in people who are otherwise healthy.

If someone collapses around you, you might be able to save their lives with an automated external defibrillator, or AED. But public health experts say there aren’t nearly enough of them out there. 

CDC

The flu season has hit unusually early this year, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, Texas is one of the states hardest hit. Physicians are urging everyone to get a flu shot. 

Typically, the flu season peaks in January, but so far this year at least five deaths have already occurred in Texas. At a press conference Monday, medical experts at Seton Medical Center Austin said the number of positive flu tests has doubled over the past two weeks.

Dr. Irfan Hydari, the medical director of emergency services at Seton, said the flu strand that is responsible for the vast majority of illnesses is H1N1, or swine flu. That strand became notorious in 2009 when it caused a flu pandemic

But Hydari said vaccine technology continues to improve, and this year it has been adapted to combat H1N1.

The Obama administration announced on Tuesday that former Microsoft executive Kurt DelBene will take over the operation of the troubled HealthCare.gov website.

DelBene will take over for Jeff Zients, who was appointed by President Obama to rescue the site after it launched with crippling problems. Zients, who Obama had turned to in the past to fix sticky issues, had made it clear that he was not going to stay on the job past December.

When a heroin epidemic swept through North Texas in the 1990s, it left at least two dozen young people dead. Then the drug seemed to go into hibernation.

Now the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says it’s seeing an alarming number of women from affluent Dallas suburbs buying heroin. And, for many, the addiction begins with prescription pain pills.

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez for KUT News

Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Tuesday not to intervene in Texas’ ongoing abortion litigation, Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers are working to secure access to the procedure for women across the state.

“We’re working to help make sure that our patients and women across Texas can get the services that they need,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. He said Planned Parenthood staff is predominantly working to secure hospital admitting privileges for physicians who don’t have them. Staffers are also helping women who must now travel long distances to access abortion; in some cases, they are helping to offset the costs of transportation and lodging.

Oregon might be seen as a complete failure or a surprising success when it comes to its health insurance exchange.

One the one hand, the state's website has yet to allow a single person to enroll. That's a big problem for the folks who are hoping to qualify for subsidies and buy insurance that will start Jan. 1.

A new study shows how Travis County’s low-income areas are home to inadequate prenatal care and troublesome birth outcomes – including a racial disparity in neonatal intensive care unit admissions.

The study, released at the Birth Outcomes Summit at Dell Children’s Hospital, uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Texas Department of State Health Services.

President Obama announced Thursday that Americans who have had their health insurance plans canceled because of his Affordable Care Act can keep those plans for another year if they wish.

Those cancellations — most effective on Jan. 1 — have sparked intense criticism of the ACA, in part because the president pledged many times that if Americans liked the health plans they had, they wouldn't have to give them up under the terms of his program.

Fewer than 3,000 people in Texas signed up for health plans in the first month of enrollment through the Affordable Care Act website, according to data released today [PDF] by the Health and Human Services department.

Other Texas findings in the data:

  • 11,682 Texans were determined to be eligible for CHIP and/or Medicaid through the federal health care marketplace, HealthCare.gov.
  • Almost 54,000 Texans actually completed applications. Those applications would cover more than 108,000 individuals.
  • Most of those applicants – over 80,000 – are eligible to enroll in a health insurance plan available through the federal marketplace– but they haven’t done so yet.  

The woman whose smiling face adorned the HealthCare.gov website in the first days after its launch has stepped forward to tearfully address those who she says cyberbullied her as they took potshots at the Obama administration's troubled online health exchange.

KUT News

Robert Winston knows he has a mental disorder – but he didn’t know that for a long time.

He’s convinced his life would’ve turned out much differently had he been diagnosed as a young adult. He probably wouldn’t have left his wife and kids in California. He probably wouldn’t have become dependent on alcohol. He probably wouldn’t have ended up homeless in Austin.

Winston is African-American and he is 52-years-old. “[I’ve] tried to commit suicide twice,” he says. “And I couldn’t understand why I was having a hard time dealing with just the basic things of life.” 

flickr.com/lidor

University of North Texas student Angela Quijano didn’t think about health insurance much before the Affordable Care Act. She says she didn’t know how the health insurance system worked and found getting coverage confusing.

Quijano did know one thing, though: she couldn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t have any health insurance.

“Nobody ever really talks about it. My parents basically told me when I had it, or (when) I didn’t have it,” Quijano, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science, says. “Not too many of us think about it until it comes time to get a yearly checkup or something comes up.”

flickr.com/tifotter

Here’s a new Halloween practice some dentists see as a treat: Halloween candy buybacks.

Once the little ones have finished trick-or-treating this year, Austin pediatric dentists are ready to buy back their Halloween candy –  at a buck a pound.

The buyback program is a part of Operation Gratitude. Annually, Operation Gratitude sends more than 100,000 packages filled with snacks, entertainment items and letters of support – including Halloween candy – to U.S. service members deployed in hostile regions.

Following a problem-plagued launch of the HealthCare.gov website, the White House on Monday officially announced a six-week extension to sign up for coverage under the law's individual mandate.

The move has been expected since White House Press Secretary Jay Carney acknowledged last week that there was a "disconnect" in the enrollment timeline given the technical issues that have dogged the website.

A subcontractor that built a portion of the HealthCare.gov website that's now working relatively well is being promoted to oversee a thorough revamping of the entire glitch-prone portal, and work will be done by the end of next month, the White House says.

Mothers' Milk Bank at Austin

A report this week in the journal Pediatrics on the risks of  unregulated breast milk – covering sharing between friends, but also Internet sales – found three-fourths of the study samples were contaminated with bacteria.

The populations most at risk from such milk are newborns with significant health issues. They’re children like Nina DeGuire. Now a year old, she was born with a serious heart problem that required a series of surgeries and made it hard for her to take formula. Her mother Lani says she had no choice but to find donated breast milk.

(Click here to jump to our latest updates — including a Democrat accusing Republicans of holding a "monkey court.")

Republicans in the House have framed the central question they want answered about the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act this way, NPR's Ailsa Chang said Thursday on Morning Edition:

Nearly a third of all Mexicans are obese, putting Mexico at the top of the list of overweight nations — ahead of the United States.

In the battle against the bulge, lawmakers are taking aim at consumer's pocketbooks. They're proposing a series of new taxes on high calorie food and sodas. Health advocates say the higher prices will get Mexicans to change bad habits, but the beverage industry and small businesses are fighting back.

President Obama on Tuesday appointed one of his top management gurus, Jeffrey Zeints, to head the team working to fix what ails HealthCare.gov, the troubled website that's supposed to allow residents of 36 states to enroll in coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

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