Category Archives: Public health

Exploring risk factors, rates of suicide in seniors

Eileen Beal

About Eileen Beal

Eileen Beal, M.A., has been covering health care and aging since the late 1990s. She's written several health-related books. including "Age Well!" with geriatrician Robert Palmer, and her work has appeared in Aging Today, Arthritis Today,WebMD and other publications. She leads AHCJ's Cleveland chapter.

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

Vulnerable seniors are going without vaccinations

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.

Eileen Beal

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.

Getting the dirt on the allergy epidemic #ahcj14

Sandra Jordan

About Sandra Jordan

Sandra Jordan is a health reporter at the St. Louis American. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Ethnic Media Health Journalism Fellow, a program supported by the Leona M. & Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Erwin Gelfand, M.D., chair of pediatrics at National Jewish Health, talks about environmental and behavioral factors behind allergies

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

Concerns over ‘fracking’ prompt research into health effects, occupational hazards #ahcj14

Tina Casagrand

About Tina Casagrand

Tina Casagrand is a freelance journalist in Jefferson City, Mo. She focused on investigative and environmental reporting at the Missouri School of Journalism and is a fellow at The Open Notebook. She attended Health Journalism 2014 as an AHCJ-Missouri Health Journalism Fellow, a program supported by the Missouri Foundation for Health.

Lee S. Newman, an environmental and occupational health physician of the Colorado School of Public Health, talks about the occupational hazards of fracking workers.

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

Ingredients that make an athlete elite might surprise you #ahcj14

Kristofor Husted

About Kristofor Husted

Kristofor Husted is a multimedia journalist and filmmaker specializing in science, environmental and health reporting. He received his B.S. in cell biology from UC Davis and earned an M.S. in journalism from Medill at Northwestern University.

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

Marijuana debate: Taxes, research and regulation #ahcj14

About April Dembosky

April Dembosky is a health reporter for The California Report at KQED public radio in San Francisco. She is attending Health Journalism 2014 on an 2014 AHCJ-California Health Journalism fellowship, which is supported by The California HealthCare Foundation.

Photo by Phil Galewitz

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

Media groups decry CDC’s silence on W.Va. spill; agency admits communication missteps

Felice J. Freyer

About Felice J. Freyer

Felice J. Freyer is a member of AHCJ's board of directors, serving as vice chair of the organization's Right to Know Committee. She is a medical writer for The Providence (R.I.) Journal.

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

Outdoor workers, people without housing especially vulnerable to severe cold

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.

Photo by Buzz Hoffman via Flickr

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

Mosquito-borne disease appears in West Indies

Jason Hidalgo

About Jason Hidalgo

Jason Hidalgo is a business reporter at the Reno (Nev.) Gazette-Journal and a 2013-14 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellow.

CDC-Frieden2

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

AHCJ fellows meet with Frieden during three days of CDC briefings

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.

Photo: Len Bruzzese. CDC Director Tom Frieden briefs the 2013-14 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism fellows this morning on his agency's latest efforts to address health issues facing the United States.

Photo: Len BruzzeseCDC Director Tom Frieden briefs the 2013-14 AHCJ Regional Health Journalism fellows this morning on his agency’s latest efforts to address health issues facing the United States.

Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, met this morning with the AHCJ Regional Health Journalism Fellows in Atlanta.

The fellows are visiting the CDC this week for a series of briefings on public health issues. Today’s topics include prescription drug overdoses, foodborne illnesses, flu and emergency and public health preparedness – including a tour of the CDC’s Emergency Operations Center. Continue reading