Category Archives: Public health

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

Journalists get some pointers on covering mental health issues

Colleen Paretty

About Colleen Paretty

Colleen Paretty is executive editor at WebMD Magazine. As the chair of AHCJ's San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, she organizes events for health journalists.

The Bay Area chapter of AHCJ hosted a workshop at the San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 17.

Melissa McCoy

Melissa McCoy

Melissa McCoy, a media consultant to the Team Up project and former deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, walked members through best practices and examples of what to do – and not to do – when covering mental health issues.

“We only talk about mental health when there’s a crisis,” McCoy said, “but people with mental illnesses are responsible for only 5 percent of violent acts.” In fact, she added, they are more apt to be the victims of crimes. Continue reading

Tulsa health officials link hepatitis C case to oral surgeon’s office

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.

CDC/ Amanda Mills

A former patient of Tulsa oral surgeon W. Scott Harrington contracted hepatitis C at his office, genetic testing has confirmed.

The case is the first documented report of patient-to-patient transmission of the hepatitis C virus associated with a dental setting in the United States, according to Oklahoma state and local health officials.

Tulsa World reporter Shannon Muchmore, who has been following the story since last spring, filed a Sept 19 story on the latest developments.

Back in March, health officials started working to test thousands of the oral surgeon’s former patients for hepatitis and HIV after an office inspection turned up lax sanitation practices and other violations of the state’s Dental Act.

Since then, more than 4,200 people have been tested at free clinics. While a total of 89 have tested positive for hepatitis C, five for hepatitis B and four for HIV, health officials have stressed that those results would be typical for a random sampling of the population. Genetic testing has been necessary to trace any of the illnesses back to Harrington’s practice. Continue reading

Atlanta chapter hears from CDC about global health efforts

Andy Miller

About Andy Miller

Andy Miller (@gahealthnews) is the editor and publisher of the nonprofit Georgia Health News. The former health care reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is a member of AHCJ's board of directors and leads the association's Atlanta chapter.

Members of the Atlanta chapter of AHCJ heard a fascinating talk about the CDC’s global reach from Ron Ballard, associate director for laboratory science for the agency’s Center for Global Health.

Ballard, who has traveled extensively in coordinating international lab activities for the CDC, told about 20 journalists at a Sept. 10 meeting that the agency is working in dozens of  countries on activities ranging from disease detection and immunizations to programs fighting HIV/AIDS. Continue reading

Reporters explore health care issues in jails, prisons

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.

From time to time, the tabs in my web browser taunt me with the stories I’ve saved to read later. Fairly frequently, those stories have a theme, usually a subject that I’ve seen a spate of in-depth coverage on. Lately, those browser tabs have been filled with stories about health care in jails, a topic that also got some recent mentions on AHCJ’s electronic discussion list.

There are a lot of aspects to cover here: mental health, privatization, the money involved and the care decisions based on those budgets and, of course, the people affected by all of those decisions – inmates and their families. You might even think about reporting on the mental health of corrections officers. So, here are some stories I’ve been paying attention to and some resources to use as a jumping off point for your own reporting – which I hope you will send to me or post a link to in the comments.

In Modern Healthcare, Beth Kutscher writes about the privatization of jailhouse health care and critics’ questions about the quality of care and cost savings. Her story starts with a focus on Florida but points out that about 20 states have outsource all or part of their prison health care. Florida’s five-year contract for prison health care is $230 million. One expert “estimated that half of all state and local prisons and jails have outsourced healthcare services, and that these contracts are worth roughly $3 billion a year.”

Last month, ProPublica’s Christie Thompson compiled a list of reporting on mental illness in prisons that includes “the best deep-dive reporting on the mentally ill in U.S. prisons” and goes back to 2000. Continue reading

Project focuses on cognitive health as a public health priority

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.

The Alzheimer’s Association and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kicked off “The Healthy Brain Initiative: The Public Health Road Map for State and National Partnerships, 2013-2018″ today at the 2013 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Boston.

This program is a follow up to their 2007 “Healthy Brain Initiative: A National Public Health Road Map to Maintaining Cognitive Health.” According to a press release from the association, the goal is to “create a tool for public health officials to improve the quality of life for those families and advance cognitive health as a integral component of public health.”

A morning workshop about the program included panelists from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Emory University, The Alzheimer’s Association, New York Department of Health and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Participants focused on action steps the public health community can take at all levels, across disciplines, to address cognitive health and impairment, including implementing the Road Map and making cognitive health a priority.

News from the conference this past weekend included results of a Georgetown University study on possible associations between pre-diabetes and Alzheimer’s, an inverse relationship between Alzheimer’s onset and cancer, new therapies that target physical changes in the brain and possible association between the diabetes drug metformin and decreased risk of dementia.

Note: Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Some resources:

New AMA president discusses rollout of reform, role of doctors

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.

Kaiser Health News’ Mary Agnes Carey and The Washington Post’s Sarah Kliff interviewed Dr. Ardis Hoven, the new American Medical Association president, for an episode of the C-SPAN program “Newsmakers” that aired Sunday.

The three talked about implementation of the Affordable Care Act, a shortage of primary care practitioners, as well as the AMA’s decision to classify obesity as a disease and what to expect from her tenure as president.

Hot times: Heat and elderly stories may be routine, but necessary

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.

It’s not too soon to focus on the connection between scorching temperatures and the health of older adults. With the southwest already coping with record-breaking heat and the first reports of heat-related death and hospitalizations of elderly residents confirmed, media attention is turning to weather’s impact on elder’s health in their own communities. 

This may be an annual story for many media outlets, but it’s still an important one. A CDC study revealed that over 7,200 deaths occurred from extreme heat between 1999 and 2009, and that heat-related deaths were on the rise, according to their analysis of 2012 mortality data. The elderly are particularly vulnerable to high temperatures for several reasons. The American Geriatrics Society points out that older adults may be less likely to feel hot and take longer to cool down. Many juggle multiple chronic conditions which are affected by extreme heat and take multiple medications, which can lead to dehydration or more trouble regulating body temperature.

As this CDC fact sheet details, the health effects of extreme heat bear repeating. Public health officials need to spread these messages through local media and will likely be available for interviews. Cooling centers are a great place to interview seniors about conditions in their homes, and hospital emergency department directors can speak to any spikes in visits, as well as warning signs and health ramifications.

What else is your city/town/community doing to help the elderly beat the heat? Here’s a KNXV-Phoenix report on a program in Scottsdale, Ariz., and another from The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., that might inspire some ideas. In central Texas, the Brownwood News reports on several local organizations that have teamed up to conduct a fan drive and deliver them to elderly residents.

What resources can you point seniors to? What should caregivers know?

Resources:

Resources for reporting on compounding pharmacies

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.

Seven patients in Tennessee are sick after injections from a compounding pharmacy, health officials say. AHCJ has some presentations from a recent panel, The Boston Globe’s award-winning coverage of a similar outbreak and a questionnaire about how they reported on it and more resources for reporters who are looking into compounding pharmacies.

Presentations from a panel at Health Journalism 2013:

From compounders to drug shortages: Covering pharmacies and pharmacists
• Michael R. Cohen, R.Ph., M.S., president, Institute for Safe Medication Practices
• William Churchill, M.S., R.P.H., chief of pharmacy services, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
• John Walczyk, pharmacy manager, Johnson Compounding and Wellness Center

Keldy Ortiz wrote about the panel for Covering Health: Growing challenges to safety, adequacy of drug supply

Previous coverage

The Boston Globe‘s coverage of a fungal meningitis outbreak tied to contaminated drugs won first place in the public health category of the 2012 Excellence in Health Care Journalism Awards. See the coverage as well as a questionnaire about how they reported on the topic.

FDA regulation

In her tip sheet on the anti-aging movement, Arlene Weintraub touches on compounding pharmacies. She notes that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has tried unsuccessfully to put a halt to improper marketing claims by compounding pharmacists and its continuing efforts in this area are well worth following. In the aftermath of the earlier meningitis outbreak traced to a compounding pharmacy, at least two legislators said they will draft legislation to give the FDA more oversight of compounding pharmacies.

On April 26, senators introduced a draft bill to make clear oversight responsibilities for pharmaceutical compounding.

Budget Victim: Inspections For Compounding Pharmacies, WBUR, May 20

The FDA has a section of its website devoted to compounding pharmacies.

Transparency

This also might be a good time to remind public officials that there is now guidance on what information should be made public when someone dies or falls ill during a public health emergency. The document – developed by leaders in public health and health-care journalism – provides a framework for releasing such information as the age and location of private individuals who have been affected by an epidemic or other public-health event.

Pharmacy industry groups

… As we gather more resources, we will add them to this post …