What if experts wanted to figure out the rate of tonsil cancer, but forgot to exclude all the people who’d had their tonsils removed?
Those people are no longer at risk for tonsil cancer, and since there are more than half a million tonsillectomies performed each year in the U.S., counting them in the risk pool would dramatically dilute the true rate of the disease.
That’s what seems to have happened with cervical cancer, according to a thought-provoking new study published in the journal Cancer.
Jules Rosen, M.D., a certified geriatric psychiatrist and chief medical officer at Mind Springs Health, the largest provider of psychiatric services in western Colorado, recently answered some important questions about senior suicide.
What are the most common risk factors for suicide in older adults?
The biggest one is major depression.
Major depression [in older adults] is difficult to recognize and diagnose, especially in the primary care setting where most diagnosis is going to be done. That’s because older people don’t come in with the classic symptoms [of major depression], related to things like schizophrenia or substance abuse disorder, which are fairly easy to recognize. They come in with somatic and functional complaints. They say: “I’m sick. I’m tired all the time. I’m not enjoying things I used to.”
So many times I hear people say “I feel this way because I’m old” and it’s not that they are old, it’s that they are depressed.
So, how do potentially suicidal seniors get the “right” diagnosis?
To get an appropriate diagnosis, patients need a medical work-up – to see how their thyroid is doing, how their electrolytes are, what their vitamin D level looks like, and so on – but they need a psychological work-up, too, to find out why they are “sick” or “tired” of “not enjoying things.” Continue reading
In the United States, far too many people – including many older adults – don’t get the vaccines they need to prevent getting and spreading preventable diseases. In a recent CDC press release, Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H, says many people think “that infectious diseases are over in the industrialized world.”
However, global travel and trade can spread diseases quickly, leaving seniors vulnerable to infection. Here, Eileen Beal discusses the risks of not being vaccinated and the reasons seniors aren’t getting vaccinations, and also provides resources for people looking for more information on vaccines.
Photo: Pia Christensen Erwin Gelfand, M.D., chair of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, talks about environmental and behavioral factors behind allergies
Are there more people with allergies, allergic responses, asthma and eczema than in years past? Is the environment the blame? The short answer is yes and yes. However, there are other factors involved.
The panel discussion at Health Journalism 2014, “The Dirt on the Allergy Epidemic,” focused on causes and prevention of eczema, asthma and food allergies in children.
Since allergies were not prevalent 60 years ago, Erwin Gelfand, M.D., chair of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, said the difference points to environmental and behavioral factors.
“There is no doubt that the incidence of allergic diseases has increased and it can almost be traced five to six decades ago,” Gelfand said. “And the big question is; what changed that allowed this to go on?” Continue reading
Photo: Tina Casagrand Lee S. Newman, an environmental and occupational health physician of the Colorado School of Public Health, talks about the occupational hazards of fracking workers.
Although 15 million Americans are now living less than a mile from natural gas wells, the research to evaluate any health hazards are thin.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of drilling into the earth and injecting water, chemicals and sand to release natural gas. The extensive use of fracking has revived the energy industry in U.S., but the practice has prompted environmental and public health concerns.
For instance, carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene, may escape and contaminate the groundwater around the fracking site and emit toxic substances into the air, said Cara DeGette, editor of Colorado Public News and moderator of the “Fracking, drilling, and other environmental health concerns” panel at Health Journalism 2014. Continue reading
Barry Bonds may be the best in history at hitting a baseball* (I’ll put an asterisk on that for the haters), but that doesn’t mean he is better than you at, say, hitting a softball. Just ask U.S. Olympic softball pitcher Jennie Finch, who struck him out.
Elite athletes have spent thousands of hours perfecting a skill. For Bonds, it was reading hardball pitches, not softball pitches. Continue reading
Photo by Phil Galewitz
Legalizing marijuana in Colorado has been a boon not just to people who want to use marijuana recreationally, but also to medical researchers who want to study its effects.
The state public health department wants to channel tax revenues from marijuana sales into human research trials — permitted by the new law — and plans to ask the state legislature for authority to spend $10 million on these studies. Continue reading
The recent chemical spill in West Virginia, which contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 people, became another occasion when federal agencies shut the door on reporters seeking answers, fueling public anxiety with their silence.
But after complaints from journalism organizations, including AHCJ, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week issued a mea culpa and a pledge “to work to reach that critical balance between accuracy and timely release of information the public expects and needs to protect their health.”
The CDC told West Virginia health officials on Jan. 15 that pregnant women should not drink the water until the chemical, called Crude MCHM, was at “nondetectable levels.” Reporters from the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette had a lot of questions about this order – but could get no answers from the CDC press office. Continue reading
With much of the country feeling the “polar vortex” and some of the coldest temperatures seen in 20 years in some places, reporters may be called upon to write about health – and death – in cold weather.
Hypothermia is the unintentional lowering of the body’s core temperature below 95º F. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common risk factors for hypothermia include exposure to cold while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, altered mental status and immersion in cold water. Other factors can include advanced age, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse and homelessness.
The CDC has some winter weather health and safety tips to help people protect themselves from frostbite, hypothermia, carbon monoxide poisoning, chainsaw mishaps and more. Here are some other general resources: Continue reading
Photo: Len BruzzeseCDC Director Tom Frieden briefs the 2013-14 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism fellows on Monday morning.
A nasty virus just landed on America’s doorstep.
Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, confirmed the arrival of “chikungunya” fever in the Caribbean. Frieden made the announcement Monday while talking to a group of West-based AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellows at the CDC in Atlanta.
News of two confirmed cases in the island of St. Martin in the West Indies was reported Friday by The Daily Herald following a press conference by health officials in the region.
Named from the phrase “that which bends up” in Mozambique’s Kimakondan language because of its symptoms, chikungunya was first isolated from a Tanzanian patient in 1953, according to the CDC. Chikungunya exhibits symptoms similar to the dengue virus, including fever, rashes, headache, nausea and muscle pain. The virus is also transmitted through mosquitoes.
Until recently, cases of chikungunya were primarily seen in Africa and Asia. No cases have been reported in the United States, making the Caribbean cases the closest confirmation yet in terms of proximity. Continue reading