Separating fact from fiction on water fluoridation

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.

Image by Ben Kraal via flickr.

Image by Ben Kraal via flickr.

For close to seven decades now, jurisdictions across the country have been supplementing naturally-occurring fluoride in community water supplies to promote oral health. Numerous studies credit water fluoridation efforts with major reductions in tooth decay during the second half of the 20th century. Many too, attest to the safety of fluoridation at optimum levels. Yet in spite of reams of scientific evidence, debate and fear remain in some places. Last year in Portland, for example, voters overturned a city council decision to fluoridate the local water supply.

“Late last night, Portlanders rejected a plan to fluoridate their city’s water supply (and the water of over a dozen other cities),” wrote Scientific American blogger Kyle Hill in a morning after column. “It’s the fourth time Portland has rejected the public health measure since 1956. It’s the fourth time they’ve gotten the science wrong.”

Meanwhile, similar debates over fluoride have been unfolding. How can reporters in these communities separate the science from the pseudo-science and keep the public informed?

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Rise in nursing home infection rates lead to avoidable complications, deaths

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.

Infections among nursing home residents are rising, according to a study presented Oct. 8, 2014, at IDWeek (an international gathering of experts in infectious disease and epidemiology).

Image by Ulrich Joho via flickr.

Image by Ulrich Joho via flickr.

Researchers from Columbia University School of Nursing and RAND Corporation analyzed infections in nursing homes over a five-year period from 2006-2010, using Minimum Data Set assessment data – the information submitted by the facilities to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. They found significantly increased infection rates for pneumonia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), viral hepatitis, septicemia, wound infections, and multiple drug-resistant organisms (MDROs), conditions that raise the risk of complications and death. Only tuberculosis rates did not show an increase.

Approximately 1.6 million to 3.8 million infections occur among U.S. nursing home residents each year. The new study found that UTIs remain, by far, the most frequently reported type of infection, but they also showed the smallest rise in prevalence – just 1 percent. Pneumonia was the second most common infection, and its prevalence rose 11 percent from 2006 to 2010. Infection rates increased 69.7 percent  for viral hepatitis, 25.2 percent for septicemia, 24.1 percent for pneumonia, 15.7 percent for MDRO and 4.6 percent for wound infections.

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When covering health insurance is personal

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.

Randy Dotinga

Randy Dotinga

California journalist Randy Dotinga has written several pieces about his own efforts to obtain health insurance. His “long-running tale of woe” features several twists and turns but it isn’t that unusual in the grim world of 21st-century health insurance in the United States.

Since 2000, I’ve been jilted by a grand total of seven insurance companies. The eighth — the one covering me now — comes courtesy of Obamacare and looks like it might actually stick around for a while. Expensive? Yes. A relief? Absolutely.

What is unusual is for a journalist who covers health and medicine to be so open about his own experiences. In an article for AHCJ, he offers journalists some tips on how to do the same.

High costs cause some Americans to skip needed care, survey shows

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 C x 2 via flickr.

Image by C x 2 via flickr.

More than 16 million privately insured Americans face significant financial hardships as a result of high medical bills, forcing some to go without food and others to burn through all of their savings, a new survey shows.

Out-of-pocket health care costs force 1 out of every 8 privately insured Americans to skip necessary medical treatment, according to the survey, Privately Insured in America: Opinions on Health Care Costs and Coverage.

For the survey, researchers at the AP-NORC Center interviewed 1,004 privately insured adults aged 18 to 64 between July 22 and September 3. Among the interviewees, 267 reported having high-deductible health plans. The study was done with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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Looking ahead to the second ACA enrollment period

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 jfcherry via Flickr

Photo by jfcherry via Flickr

We’re closing in on the start of the ACA’s second open enrollment season. Both Kevin Counihan, the new HealthCare.gov “CEO” within the Department of Health and Human Services, and HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell have been speaking out a bit more about the upcoming season.

But there’s a lot they aren’t saying – or touting. Here are a few things we do – or don’t – know about what to expect by Nov. 15, the start of the three-month enrollment period: Continue reading

Frailty affects quality of life, makes seniors more vulnerable

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.

Image by Alex E. Proimos via flickr.

The term “frailty” seems to be practically synonymous with aging. And while it’s true that adults naturally have a gradual physical decline as they age, not every older adult is frail and not every frail person is old.

Aging, also called senescence, refers to the biological process of growing older. As people age, it becomes more difficult for the body to repair itself and maintain optimal health, according to Neal S. Fedarko, Ph.D., professor of medicine, division of geriatric medicine and gerontology, Johns Hopkins University. People age differently based on both genetics and lifestyle factors.

Frailty is considered a chronic and progressive condition, categorized by at least three of five criteria: muscle weakness, unintentional weight loss, low physical activity levels, fatigue and slow walking speed. The body loses its ability to cope with everyday or acute stress, becoming more vulnerable to disease and death, as Samuel Durso, M.D., director of geriatric medicine and gerontology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine explained in a recent AHCJ webcast.

Learn more about frailty, and how it affects people’s quality of life as they age, in this new tip sheet.

New ideas for an annual update: Older adults and vaccines

Sally James

About Sally James

Sally James (@jamesian) is a Seattle freelance writer who frequently covers biotechnology and research stories for magazines.

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

Photo: Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr

The season of coughing is around the corner. Ads for flu shots and other vaccinations are getting thicker too. Vaccinations for older adults have new developments this year. A great place to start is this tip sheet from Eileen Beal.

Herd immunity: When writing about vaccines for a certain age group, remember that your audience is not just that group. Communities are protected by the entire immunity of their neighbors and friends. Elders housed in assisted living or nursing homes are at special risk. But college student volunteers, visitors, and grandchildren may need to read your story to avoid unwittingly exposing these older adults. This works backwards also. Older adults who lack up-to-date immunization for whooping cough (pertussis) can expose a newborn when Grandma and Grandpa visit. The booster that many may need is called T-DAP. Continue reading

Choose words carefully when writing about Ebola

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) 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. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Phot by NIAID via Flickr

Image by NIAID via Flickr

Word choice matters, especially when it comes to covering a deadly disease.

You may have heard the terms “infectious” and “contagious” being used interchangeably in Ebola stories. Even health professionals sometimes use them that way, and that is adequate in many instances. However, minor differences between the two terms may play a role in which one you decide to use in a story.

According to the CDC, contagious means the bacteria or virus can be transmitted from person to person (a communicable disease), and is quantified by R-nought – a mathematical construct that predicts the number of people a contagious individual will infect. Continue reading

Panic is contagious: How to cover public health preparedness

Kris Hickman

About Kris Hickman

Kris Hickman (@the_index_case) 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. She aspires to be an epidemiologist and science writer.

Photo: CDC Global via Flickr

Photo: CDC Global via Flickr

It’s been said that fear travels faster than the virus.

This is true. Given that Ebola is less contagious than many other communicable diseases, it’s easier to catch Ebola panic than Ebola itself. But if you’re a health care journalist writing about Ebola or the Ebola response, it’s sometimes hard to tell the real stories from the sensationalism.

In light of the Ebola diagnosis of  two Dallas health care workers and the CDC initially placing blame on a “breach in protocol,” the past couple of days have seen a flurry of inflammatory Ebola coverage that focuses on the negatives.  One of these is a survey from National Nurses United, the largest nurses’ union in the U.S.: 80 percent of NNU nurses surveyed don’t feel they have received adequate Ebola training.  New allegations have surfaced that nurses treating him “worked for days without proper protective gear and faced constantly changing protocols.” Additionally, there have been federal funding cuts to public health preparedness and response activities: $1 billion less in FY 2013 than in FY 2002, a year in which the nation dealt with 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, and anticipated the SARS epidemic of 2003. Continue reading

Supreme Court hears case over teeth whitening, professional board’s power

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 dbking via Flickr

Photo by dbking via Flickr

WASHINGTON — A long-running fight between the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners and a group of non-dentists who provide teeth-whitening services reached the nation’s high court today.

During an intense hour of oral arguments, the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court delved into whether the state board overstepped federal anti-trust laws in sending out threatening “cease and desist” letters to operators of teeth whitening salons in mall kiosks and salons.

Was the board, which is dominated by practicing dentists, unfairly obstructing competition from lower-priced providers? Or was the body fulfilling its obligation to protect the public health by acting as an arm of the state to shut down illegal practitioners of dentistry?

The court’s decision might have implications for teeth-whitening shops around the country, as well as for the state-established boards that regulate a wide range of professions, Emery Dalesio reported in an Oct. 13 story for The Associated Press

Dental whitening has grown into a multibillion dollar business and the struggle over who should be allowed to bleach teeth has been playing out in many states in recent years. Continue reading