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

CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith

More than half of the confirmed West Nile virus cases in the country this year have been in Texas – over 1,000 Texans have contracted the disease. And local authorities have surprising figures about how prevalent the virus is in the Austin area.

The outbreak was so severe in the Dallas area that officials decided to spray insecticide from airplanes to kill mosquitoes carrying the disease. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the plan worked and that the worst may be over the area. But the same is not true in Central Texas.

“If you look at Texas as a whole, the percentage of infected mosquitoes has gone down in the North Texas area but is staying up in the Central Texas area. We’re still seeing about 28 percent of the mosquitoes that we test, as of earlier this week in Travis County, about 28 percent are still positive for the virus," Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey says.

In Dallas County, only six percent of mosquitoes are now testing positive for West Nile.

KUT News

A Stanford University study published today doubting the health benefits of organic fruits, vegetables and meats has some Texas farmers raising questions.

The study, authored by Dena Bravata, MD, MS, was published in today’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. It found no consistent differences in the vitamin content of organic food versus the cost-cutting, conventionally grown alternative.

“That study doesn’t really look at a lot of very important factors,” says Judith McGeary, founder of the Texas-based Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “Vitamin content isn’t the only issue, even for adults. One issue is the exposure to pesticides, which are to be blunt, poison. And the study did show that there was significantly less exposure to pesticides from organic produce than from conventional."

CDC/ James Stewart

The Texas Department of State Health Services say the number of West Nile virus cases and deaths in the state have more than doubled over the past two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Texas continues to lead the country in the number of cases of West Nile. According to the CDC, nearly 800 people across the state have been infected. More than 30 have died.

The outbreak continues to be centered around the Dallas area but Travis and Williamson counties have seen a combined total of 42 confirmed cases including two deaths.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Travis County hospital district appears interested in the idea of going it alone on the potential expansion of Medicaid, but says there are no plans in the works. The Washington Post reported this weekend that the six largest counties in Texas could seek to expand Medicaid independently of the state, effectively making an end run around Gov. Rick Perry's opposition to the program. 

“We’re not actively involved at this point in time [in those talks]," says Christie Garbe with Central Health, the Travis County hospital district. "We are watching closely as it’s an interesting possibility. But Central Health is already interested in exploring local solutions to expand health care for the uninsured who live in Travis County.”

Central Health estimates the Medicaid expansion would save $7- to $8 million dollars a year by providing health insurance to people who would otherwise just show up at the emergency room.  

If you're going to take a walk on the wild side and get a tattoo, it could get even wilder than you planned.

Federal and state health investigators have identified five clusters of skin infections linked to tattoos.

Now it's true that infection risks from tattoos are not exactly new or unknown. In fact, tattoo parlors are licensed and regulated in many jurisdictions to minimize the risk of trouble for people getting "inked."

Laura Rice, KUT News

Austin economist Jon Hockenyos says bringing a medical school and teaching hospital to Austin could add about 15,000 permanent jobs to the community.

Hockenyos says nearly 7,000 of those jobs would be directly connected with the medical facility and research. The other 8,000 or so would be indirectly created.

“The impact of this facility and the operation of this entire complex is going to create ripple effects through the whole community and so we’ll raise the overall level of economic activity here and that will in turn create opportunities in restaurants and dry cleaners and for people supplying things to the medical complex – all those different, related, ancillary activities will then, in turn, have to hire workers,” Hockenyos says.

CDC

Texas has seen more than 600 West Nile Virus cases so far this year. That’s more than any other state in the country and almost of half of the total cases in the nation.

The Dallas area has seen by far the largest number of infections and deaths related to the disease. Eleven people have died from West Nile Virus in Dallas County alone.

But there’s no clear reason why the outbreak has been so severe in North Texas.

“The available information indicates that the numbers of reported cases are trending upward in most areas, including Texas,” says Dr. Lyle Peterson with the Centers for Disease Control.

With one confirmed West Nile virus-related death in Travis County, and spraying for mosquitos in Dallas, many Central Texans are wondering what they can do to keep mosquitos away.

Some have turned to some quirky alternatives to make sure mosquitos keep away – including a bracelet makers say acts as a mosquito repellent.

According to one product’s website, these bracelets essentially work by producing an “aura” of plant-based oils that act like a protective shield – something they say mosquitos won’t like at all. But according to Dr. Phil Huang, the medical director for the Travis County Health and Human Services, such bracelets might not be that effective.

Planned Parenthood will expand breast health services to more than 40,000 women across five Texas cities, the result of increased donations following Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure's short-lived decision earlier this year to halt breast cancer fundingto the organization. 

As state officials prepare to take full control of the once federally funded Texas Women’s Health Program on Nov. 1, they’re running into a series of unexpected challenges, from controversy around proposed rule changes to questions about how to cover the 130,000 enrolled clients within the confines of a tight state budget. 

The state has pledged to forgo $35 million in annual federal funding — a 9 to 1 match — in order to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from the program, clinics that have used Women's Health Program dollars to provide contraception and cancer screenings, but not abortions. Two separate courts have blocked Texas from ejecting those clinics ahead of legal hearings scheduled for the fall.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry has directed the Health and Human Services Commission to find a way to fund the 6-year-old program exclusively with state dollars. 

flickr.com/sourmash

Obesity continues to be a serious and worsening health problem in the U.S. and globally. And Texas is no exception to this trend.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that Texans rank among the 13 states in the nation which have the highest obesity rates.  Between 30 and 35 percent of Texans said they were obese as part of a national survey conducted by the CDC.

The data, collected in 2011, represents a new baseline because of the way cell phones users were included in the survey. The survey is known as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS).

flickr.com/gammaman

Starting today, Dallas County and the City of Dallas will begin spraying for mosquitos in an attempt to combat West Nile virus.

Officials in Dallas County have declared a public health emergency after the virus has killed nine people and infected more than 180 in the area.

Local leaders resisted spraying at first but now the mayors of Dallas, Highland Park and University Park all agree with truck spraying and additionally support aerial spraying. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is urging surrounding cities to approve these safety measures.

Janice Haney Carr, Centers for Disease Control

There’s been a new case of so-called “flesh eating bacteria,” this time in Texas.

44-year-old Keith Korth was fishing last weekend at Port O’Connor on the Gulf Coast. According to reports, an infected blister needed medical attention, and was diagnosed as a fast-moving bacterial attack called necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria.

(You can read more about necrotizing fasciitis, but be warned – the pictures are gruesome.)

Korth is recovering at a Houston hospital after having much of his leg amputated. A family member, reached by phone this afternoon, says he’s feeling much better. The infection has apparently been stopped, she says, and the family expects him to go home to Brenham, Texas, on Monday or Tuesday.

flickr.com/steveritchie

A San Antonio scientist looking for possible causes of autism is taking an unusual approach. University of Texas Health Science Center epidemiologist Dr. Raymond Palmer is using baby teeth to try to root out some answers.

The project is nicknamed “the tooth fairy studies” because to conduct his research, Dr. Palmer collects old, donated baby teeth from kids with and without autism. He is trying to discover how environmental effects  -- from as early as conception – can determine whether a child develops autistic traits.

Bryant Miller, KUT News

University Medical Center Brackenridge announced its re-designation as a Level I Trauma center for adults today.

The designation reaffirms the original Level I designation the hospital received in 2009. Every three years the center goes through a stringent re-designation test by The Texas Department of State Health Services.

Monik Marcus/flickr http://bit.ly/ODQleE

Starting today, millions of women are going to receive birth control coverage at no upfront cost, a change supporters say gives women greater access and control over their own health care.

Through a provision in the Affordable Care Act, “non-grandfathered” insurance plans must provide eight new, free prevention-related health services for policies renewed or issued on or after September 23, 2012.

The new services, provided with no cost-sharing, include: well-woman exams, screening for gestational diabetes, HPV DNA testing, domestic violence screenings and counseling, HIV screenings, breastfeeding supplies, contraception and family counseling services. 

flickr/jamesjordan

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department says one local person has died from the West Nile virus. It's the first reported case of death from the virus in Central Texas since 2003.

To date, a total of five people in the area have had the virus this year. One has fully recovered from it.

The virus is in the Travis County mosquito population and health officials say everyone should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

As if perfectly cued to election season, multimillion-dollar rebates are being doled out across America by insurance companies thanks to a new rule in the federal Affordable Care Act, or ACA. Although the much-maligned “Obamacare” remains a prime target for Texas Republicans on the campaign trail, Democrats and other political consultants say the tangible benefits of the ACA now taking effect could change voters’ perspectives on President Obama's signature legislative package. 

“The hardest part politically for ACA has always been that it will take a while for the program to kick in and even longer for people to realize benefits,” Mark McKinnon, a political consultant and former media strategist for George W. Bush, said in an email. “These rebates will be a welcome surprise to a lot of consumers and help reduce angst about ACA.”

Pascal Dolémieux/flickr

The Austin-Travis County health department has released its Critical Health Indicator Report, which examines the community’s major health problems.

The report shows a sharp rise in the cases of whooping cough disease — also known as pertussis — from 2006 to 2010. There were 908 reported whooping cough cases in 2010 in the Austin-area. 

While these statistics might make it look like Austin is on the edge of epidemic, Dr. Philip Huang with the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says pertussis numbers are likely part of the disease’s natural cycle.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office finds that the Supreme Court ruling on President Obama's health care law will save the government $84 billion over the next 11 years.

While the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act, it also said it was up to states to choose whether to participate in an expansion of Medicaid.

That $84 billion in savings, the non-partisan CBO explained, comes from predictions that fewer states will enroll in the program.

The HIV epidemic in the U.S. started in 1981, mainly in major cities along the East and West Coasts.

The first reports were from Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco among gay and bisexual men. Within months, it was clear that injecting drug users were also getting the virus.

Even now, you can see the lingering geographic contours of how the epidemic unfolded.

Few governors have been as vocal and as unequivocal in their opposition to the federal health care law as Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Perry, a Republican, has vowed not to expand Medicaid and not to create an insurance exchange. Consumer advocates in Texas say the Perry administration has also been dragging its feet when it comes to insurance rate review.

flickr.com/prashantmaxsteel

The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department recently announced that West Nile virus has been detected in area mosquito samples.

"The last two or three years ago with the drought, we haven't had a big mosquito problem,” says Health and Human Services employee Eda Gowdy. But the West Nile reprieve seems to be at an end. 

“This year, due to the recent rains, we have had mosquito pulls that are coming back West Nile virus positive,” says Gowdy.   

Flickr user Images_Of_Money, bit.ly/LeSsiT

The cost of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act – which Texas Gov. Rick Perry has long opposed – has been dramatically reduced.

Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Tom Suehs told members of the Texas House Appropriations Committee the cost of expanded Medicaid services under the ACA would be $15 to $16 billion – some 40 percent less than an original estimate of $26 to $27 billion.

While a recent Supreme Court decision upheld the bulk of the Affordable Care Act, the court found states could not be denied existing Meidcaid funds if they opted-out of the Medicaid expansion the act allows for – instead, the states would be denied new Medicaid funds associated with the expansion.

nccrimecontrol.org

Summer is often a time to sit back, relax, and lather on the sunscreen. But those with elderly family members might want to think twice before letting their summer routines go lax. 

Senior Helpers, an in-home care service for the elderly, recently released a “Senior Lost and Found Plan” to combat the increase in senior disappearances. 

“Nationwide, there’s an uptake in senior disappearances,” said Frank Hayes with the Austin-area Senior Helpers. Hayes attributes the increase in senior population at a national level with the rising rate of missing elderly. 

The Capital Area Council of Governments recently released a survey showing that the aging population in Central Texas will nearly double in the next two decades. The survey projects that the number of Austinites over the age of 65 will double to make up nearly 20 percent of the population by 2040. 

Todd Wiseman / Kjetil Ree for Texas Tribune

Texas will not expand Medicaid or establish a health insurance exchange, two major tenets of the federal health reform that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld last month, Gov. Rick Perry said in an early morning announcement.

KUT News

A new report says Texas is dead last compared to other states when it comes to the overall quality of health care.

The report was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which is run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Home health care was the worst performing category in Texas, earning the lowest possible rating in terms of quality. The report also showed declines in diabetes care, nursing homes and treating chronic diseases.

“Because we’re comparing to other states and not some fantasy world, we know it is possible, we know other states are achieving higher performance levels," says Ernest Moy with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. "And so I don’t think there’s necessarily a reason to think that Texas can’t also achieve that higher level of performance.”

Caleb Miller Bryant, Texas Tribune

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission is launching a new Medicaid initiative to help prevent premature births.

The program was launched this week and provides a 24-hour help line and other resources to help mothers carry their babies to term.

Medicaid pays for more than half of the births in Texas. HHSC spokeswoman Stephanie Goodman told The Texas Tribune that premature births are especially expensive.

“One of those babies is more than 18 times the cost of a regular newborn,” said Goodman. “If we can reduce that, we can save a lot of money.”

House the Homeless

In the aftermath of a recent tragedy, the push to create a shelter for homeless women is gaining momentum.

On June 15, Valerie Godoy was murdered and her body left at Duncan Park on Ninth Street in downtown Austin. (Police are still looking for her assailant.) Local advocacy organization House the Homeless says the murder is a wake-up call to Austin.

A life on the streets leaves all homeless susceptible to crime and attacks. But noting the dangers unique to female members of the homeless population, House the Homeless is calling for the creation of a women’s homeless shelter – the Valerie Godoy Women’s Shelter.

KUT News

Twenty-eight percent of high school students have sent naked pictures of themselves through email or text, according to a study led by the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

The researchers also found that teens who sexted were more likely to have had sex than those who did not send out nude photos of themselves.

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