Addressing the controversy over ‘chronic Lyme disease’

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman is a graduate research assistant for AHCJ, pursuing a master’s degree in public health. She has a bachelor's degree in anthropology, with a minor in journalism, from the University of Missouri. She spent two years in Zambia as an HIV/AIDS community education volunteer in the Peace Corps and completed an internship with Reuters AlertNet in London. She aspires to be a physician, epidemiologist and science writer.

Image by Penn State via Flickr

Image by Penn State via Flickr

Covering Lyme disease can be a complicated endeavor. It’s hard to diagnose, and it’s even more difficult to decide what to call the ongoing symptoms. Janice Lynch Schuster reported on the controversy in The Washington Post, discussing both Lyme disease and its aftereffects.

According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation, Lyme disease, a bacterial infection spread by deer ticks (also known as blacklegged ticks), can cause fever, chills, and severe joint pain. However, detecting a tiny tick is a challenge, and the famous red bull’s-eye rash associated with Lyme-carrying tick bites doesn’t always occur. Many people suffer symptoms for months without a diagnosis, and those suffering the effects of Lyme disease are frequently brushed off by health care professionals, who dismiss symptoms as psychosomatic or stress-related.

As if that weren’t enough, the 300,000 people thought to be infected with Lyme disease each year may suffer chronic symptoms such as body pain or “brain fog” even after diagnosis and antibiotic treatment.  Experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that 10 percent to 20 percent of people who are diagnosed with the disease and complete a two- to four-week course of antibiotics will “have lingering symptoms of fatigue, pain, or joint and muscle aches,” known as “post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome.”

However, other experts are quick to dismiss the idea of post-Lyme syndrome. It’s important for journalists writing about Lyme disease to understand the disagreement in the medical community over these lingering effects.

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How a secretive panel uses data that distorts doctors’ pay

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

Image by 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

One factor that makes health care costs difficult to manage is the system the federal government and health insurers use to decide how to pay physicians for the various services they deliver.

In an article in The Washington Post, “How a secretive panel uses data that distorts doctors pay,” journalists Peter Whoriskey and Dan Keating explain that a committee of the American Medical Association meets in private every year to develop values for most of the services doctors perform. The AMA is the chief lobbying group for doctors.

Read more about this secretive panel and the problems that Keating and Whoriskey identified wtih the process.

About 115,000 could lose insurance coverage based on residency issues

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Image via USCIS.gov

Image via USCIS.gov

We wrote earlier this month about the Sept. 5 deadline for people who had signed up for ACA coverage through the federal exchange but still had some inconsistencies in the record about their citizenship or legal residency. Here’s an update:

As of early September, the Department of Health and Human Services said 310,000 people still had status questions (down from close to a million “data-matching” cases in late May). Most did get the information in and the questions resolved. But about a third did not, and that means about 115,000 people will lose coverage at the end of this month. Continue reading

U.S. children lacking in dental care, other preventive treatments

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by Penn State via Flickr

Photo by Penn State via Flickr

A newly published federal study  finds that millions of American young people have been missing out on key preventive health care services, including simple treatments that can protect against tooth decay.

Fifty-six percent of the nation’s children did not see a dentist in 2009. That same year, a full 86 percent did not receive a dental sealant or topical fluoride treatment, two measures shown to greatly reduce cavities, according to the study, published Sept. 12 in the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Meanwhile, oral disease remains prevalent among young people. Approximately 23 percent of children aged 2 to 11 years have at least one primary tooth with untreated decay and 20 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 19 years have at least one permanent tooth with untreated decay, the report notes. Continue reading

Reports call for changes in approaching dementia risk, end-of-life care

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Photo by r. nial bradshaw via Flickr

Photo by r. nial bradshaw via Flickr

Addressing the global epidemic of dementia and improving end-of-life planning and care in the United States are the subjects of two new reports released today by Alzheimer’s Disease International and the Institute of Medicine. Both reports offer insights into the realities of dealing with an aging population and a lack of appropriate services and supports to meet present and future needs.

According to ADI, substantial evidence exists that risk for dementia can be reduced by using the same approaches as those which promote cardiovascular health — eliminating tobacco use, early detection and treatment of hypertension and diabetes. They call for a worldwide campaign to integrate brain health messages into existing public health efforts. Additionally, the report calls for the World Health Organization to include dementia risk in future noncommunicable disease efforts. Continue reading

Senators push for research into prostate cancer

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates social media efforts of AHCJ and assists with the editing and production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

Barbara Boxer

Barbara Boxer

Two U.S. senators have proposed a bill to support research into prostate cancer, calling for “a national strategy to combat prostate cancer.”

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have introduced the National Prostate Cancer Council Act, which would establish a body made up of federal agencies, patients, and medical experts. It would coordinate prostate cancer research and services across all federal agencies.

Jeff Sessions

Jeff Sessions

In a press release announcing the legislation, Sessions said, “Testing and early detection are the keys to combat this disease. When identified early, the survival rate for prostate cancer is very high. We need to ensure that we have the most advanced screening tools available and this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 233,000 new cases of prostate cancer and 29,480 deaths in the U.S. this year. Continue reading

No shift to part-time work seen (yet) under ACA

Joanne Kenen

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on health reform resources and tip sheets at joanne@healthjournalism.org.

Photo by Marta P via Flickr

Photo by Marta P via Flickr

Remember all those stories about people being shifted into part-time work so their employers don’t have to provide health insurance?

According to a new Urban Institute report, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, it hasn’t happened.

If, and when, the employer mandate fully kicks in (more on that below) things could change. But the anecdotes we’ve heard about employers cutting hours because of the Affordable Care Act are just that – scattered anecdotes. (And when it does occur, it might be a result of other business conditions, not the health law). Under the ACA the definition of “full-time” work is 30 hours; anyone working 30 hours a week or more would have to be covered. The fear was that employers would cut them to, say, 28 or 29 hours, to avoid that obligation. Continue reading

Dental complaints in California pile up unseen

Mary Otto

About Mary Otto

Mary Otto, a Washington, D.C.-based freelancer, is AHCJ's topic leader on oral health, curating related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on oral health resources at mary@healthjournalism.org.

Rachel Cook

Rachel Cook

Reporter Rachel Cook’s “Dental Dangers” series, published this summer in The Bakersfield Californian, explores a long history of complaints and lawsuits against Robert Tupac, D.D.S., who, as a board-certified prosthodontist, specializes in the restoration and replacement of teeth.

Over three decades, more than a dozen of Tupac’s patients claimed his shoddy work left them with troubles ranging from bone loss to drooling, Cook recounted in her project. Yet her reporting uncovered a state dental board system that allowed the alleged problems with the dentist to pile up outside public view. “A potential patient searching for competent dental care would never know about many of Tupac’s alleged professional shortcomings — or those of any other California dentist — without undertaking extensive and often difficult research,” Cook wrote.

In a Q and A, Cook reflects on how this project unfolded, how she addressed the challenges she encountered along the way and the reactions she has received since the stories ran. She also shares some wisdom on the usefulness of bringing a portable scanner to the courthouse.

Welcome AHCJ’s newest members

Len Bruzzese

About Len Bruzzese

Len Bruzzese is the executive director of AHCJ and its Center for Excellence in Health Care Journalism. He also is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and serves on the executive committee of the Council of National Journalism Organizations.

Please welcome these new professional and student members to AHCJ. All new members are welcome to stop by this post’s comment section to introduce themselves.

  • Colin Archdeacon, student, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Jennifer Lehman, student, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Astoria, N.Y. (@juniptulip)
  • Cynthia Magnus, student, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Brooklyn, N.Y.
  • Amy O’Connor, editorial director, Everyday Health, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
  • Jenna O’Donnell, student, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Brooklyn, N.Y. (@jodonn)
  • Rachel Zamzow, graduate research assistant, University of Missouri, Columbia, Mo. (@RachelZamzow)

If you haven’t joined yet, see what member benefits you’re missing out on: Access to more than 50 journals and databases, tip sheets and articles from your colleagues on how they’ve reported stories, conferences, workshops, online training, reporting guides and more. Join AHCJ today to get a wealth of support and tools to help you.

Potassium intake linked to stroke risk in older women

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in Kaiser Health News, The Atlantic.com, New America Media, AARP.com, Practical Diabetology, Home Care Technology report and on HealthStyles Radio (WBAI-FM, NYC). She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health, Media & Policy at Hunter College, NYC, and a co-produces HealthStyles for WBAI-FM/Pacifica Radio.

Postmenopausal women who eat foods higher in potassium are less likely to have strokes and die than women who eat less potassium-rich foods according to new research in Stroke, the journal of the American Heart Association.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of mortality in the United States, and as this infographic shows, women account for 60 percent of all stroke cases in the U.S. Women also have higher lifetime risk of stroke than men.

In this observational study, researchers tracked 90,137 postmenopausal women, ages 50 to 79, for an average 11 years. They looked at potassium consumption, incidence and type of stroke and mortality during that period. The average dietary potassium intake from food —not supplements — was 2,611 mg/day. All participants were free of stroke history at baseline. Continue reading