Category Archives: Uncategorized

CDC establishes new reference value for dangerous blood lead levels

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo by Dr. Matthias Ripp via Flickr.

The Flint, Michigan water crisis remains a prime example of the importance of public health journalism. Without the dogged reporting and local medical research by a persistent pediatrician, thousands of children would likely continue being harmed by unsafe lead levels in the water. The crisis also spotlighted the fact that lead remains a significant health threat to children and one that disproportionately affects already vulnerable kids, particularly Black children, those living in poverty, and immigrant and refugee children.

Lead poisoning can cause brain damage, learning and attention difficulties, memory problems, reduced growth and development, and behavioral problems in children, and the effects are irreversible.

Two years after the water crisis began, the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act of 2016 authorized creation of the Lead Exposure Prevention and Advisory Committee (LEPAC), a committee that was officially formed in 2018 with four main objectives:

  • Reviewing federal programs and services available to lead-exposed people and communities.
  • Reviewing current research on lead poisoning to identify additional research needs.
  • Reviewing and identifying best practices, or the need for best practices, regarding lead screening and prevention of lead poisoning.
  • Identifying effective services for people and communities affected by lead exposure.

One of the biggest challenges of protecting children from lead poisoning is, as with many toxic chemicals, the lowest level of lead that can be tolerated without causing harm is unknown. It’s generally recognized that no “safe” level exists, but since it’s impossible to ensure children have zero lead exposure — it occurs naturally in our environment — we need a reference point to determine how much is too much. Until recently, the CDC had determined the blood lead reference value to be 5 µg/dL — the amount of lead in a child’s blood that indicates higher-than-average, and potentially dangerous, exposure.

But the Lead Exposure Prevention and Advisory Committee recommended in May 2021, based on their review of available evidence, that the reference value be adjusted down to  3.5 µg/dL, and the CDC has just adopted that recommendation and updated the reference value. That means children ages one to five who have at least 3.5 µg/dL of lead in their blood have higher lead blood levels than 97.5% of other U.S. children their age.

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Video games evaluated as possible treatment for COVID ‘brain fog’, other conditions

About Karen Blum

Karen Blum is AHCJ’s core topic leader on health IT. An independent journalist in the Baltimore area, she has written health IT stories for publications such as Pharmacy Practice News, Clinical Oncology News, Gastroenterology & Endoscopy News, General Surgery News and Infectious Disease Special Edition.

Photo by Surface via unsplash.

Digital tech company Akili Interactive’s recent collaboration with two academic medical centers to evaluate a video game developed for children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in patients with COVID-19-related “brain fog”, has become one of the latest investigations of video games in medicine.

Over the past decade, some researchers worldwide have been studying the potential use of video games as a treatment, educational tool, or complementary therapy for a variety of ongoing or perplexing medical challenges, as well as for teaching medical trainees new skills. Journalists can find interesting stories in this area, provided they acknowledge that data and results so far have varied widely.

A glance at the research

In randomized controlled clinical studies, investigators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center are testing the potential of Akili’s game EndeavorRx to target and improve cognitive functioning in patients following COVID-19 infection. In the game, approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in June 2020 as a prescription treatment for children with ADHD, players help an alien avatar navigate a digital environment while being presented with on-screen prompts as a form of distraction, according to an article on medicine.com. Users work to earn rewards and unlock new environments.

The game has challenges and demands, said James Jackson, Psy.D., director of long-term outcomes for the ICU Recovery Center at Vanderbilt, in an interview with AHCJ. As people improve, the challenges and demands become harder. If they struggle, the tasks become easier. The hypothesis is that this dynamic nature of the game can help improve function in attention and processing speed, he said — key difficulties experienced by COVID long haulers.

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The most recent COVID-19 recommendations for older adults 

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo by Neil Moralee via Flickr.

The CDC modified its recommendations (again) for people who test positive for COVID-19 in late December. For most people, that means a shorter quarantine or isolation time if they have been vaccinated, boosted and are asymptomatic or only experiencing mild symptoms. While Omicron appears to be more transmissible, according to experts on a recent AHCJ webcast, it may also be less severe.

However, older adults should still take extra precautions. Even if they have done everything right — getting vaccinated and boosted, masking, and social distancing, they are still statistically at higher risk of more severe disease or complications from the virus than younger people.

While these changing recommendations are confusing, they also present another opportunity for journalists to educate their audiences with evidence and facts, and to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions that still prompt some to spurn the vaccine or push back against mask requirements. It’s especially important for older people to understand and follow the latest recommendations since their risk of serious consequences is so high.

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U.S. prepares to launch 3-digit mental health crisis hotline with a text option

About Kerry Dooley Young

Kerry Dooley Young (@kdooleyyoung) is AHCJ's core topic leader on patient safety. She has written extensively about the Food and Drug Administration, medical research, health policy and quality measurements. Her work has appeared in Medscape Medical News, Congressional Quarterly/CQ Roll Call and Bloomberg News.

A tweet from Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D.

Federal officials and telecommunications companies have been working to meet a July 2022 deadline for a switch to a new three-digit hotline number for people experiencing mental health crises.

The new 988 dialing code will operate through the infrastructure of the existing National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800- 273-TALK. 

In covering the creation of the 988 code, journalists should consider the advice that a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave in a 2020 statement. Michael O’Rielly warned against “giving a false promise to the public that 988 is already operational.”

Instead, it’s important to note how much effort establishing the 988 code will require. Deploying 988 “isn’t a matter of simply pulling a proverbial switch,” O’Rielly said. Instead, it will require telecommunications companies to replace, update, or otherwise alter their systems, as well as changes in dialing, he said.

“Even in the best of circumstances, such transitions can be challenging and lengthy, requiring consumer education, end user equipment upgrades by enterprise and government entities, and coordination with state public utility commissions, among other challenges,” O’Rielly said. “Acknowledging the work ahead doesn’t diminish the extensive work that’s been done to arrive at this point; it just reflects the reality of the transition.”  

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Understanding the CDC’s updated quarantine and masking guidance

About Bara Vaida

Bara Vaida (@barav) is AHCJ's core topic leader on infectious diseases. An independent journalist, she has written extensively about health policy and infectious diseases. Her work has appeared in the National Journal, Agence France-Presse, Bloomberg News, McClatchy News Service, MSNBC, NPR, Politico, The Washington Post and other outlets.

Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H.

On Dec. 27, the CDC significantly shortened isolation and quarantine times for people who have tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus or have been exposed to someone with the coronavirus.

CDC director Rochelle Walensky, M.D., M.P.H., said the decision to decrease isolation and quarantine periods was based on both the known science about the coronavirus’s transmission and the expectation that surging cases could cause societal disruptions.

“CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses,” she said. “These updates ensure people can safely continue their daily lives.”

However, the CDC’s decision was met with confusion and mixed reactions among infectious disease experts.

For example, Ashish Jha, M.D., M.P.H., dean of the Brown University School of Health wrote on Twitter that it is “a step in the right direction,” while Michael Mina, M.D., Ph.D., epidemiologist, raised concerns that a large number of people may still be contagious five days after testing positive and therefore shouldn’t be leaving isolation.

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