<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2018http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usSat, 21 Apr 2018 13:39:39 -0400Sat, 21 Apr 2018 13:39:39 -0400NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Throw It Away: CDC Expands Warning on Romaine Lettuce ]]>Sat, 21 Apr 2018 00:34:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-695558316.jpg

The U.S. Centers for Disease expanded its warning Friday surrounding a multistate E. coli outbreak tied to tainted romaine lettuce from Arizona, which has now sickened more than 50 people.

The agency said information from new cases of illness prompted them to caution against eating any forms of romaine lettuce that may have come from Yuma. Previously, CDC officials had only warned against chopped romaine by itself or as part of salads and salad mixes. But they are now extending the risk to heads or hearts of romaine lettuce.

People at an Alaska correctional facility recently reported feeling ill after eating from whole heads of romaine lettuce. The vegetable was traced to lettuce harvested in the Yuma region, according to the CDC.

So far, the outbreak has infected 53 people in 16 states. At least 31 have been hospitalized, including five with kidney failure. No deaths have been reported.

Symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, severe stomach cramps and vomiting.

The CDC's updated advisory said consumers nationwide should not buy or eat romaine lettuce from a grocery store or restaurant unless they can get confirmation that it did not come from Yuma. Restaurants and retailers are also being warned not to serve or sell romaine lettuce from the area.

"Unless the source of the product is known, consumers anywhere in the United States who have any store-bought romaine lettuce at home should not eat it and should throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick," according to the CDC. "Product labels often do not identify growing regions; so, throw out any romaine lettuce if you’re uncertain about where it was grown." 

According to the Produce Marketing Association, romaine grown in coastal and Central California, Florida and central Mexico is not at risk.

Yuma is roughly 185 miles southwest of Phoenix and close to the California border. The region, referred to as the country's "winter vegetable capital," is known for its agriculture and often revels in it with events like a lettuce festival.

Steve Alameda, president of the Yuma Fresh Vegetable Association which represents local growers, said the outbreak has weighed heavily on him and other farmers.

"We want to know what happened," Alameda said. "We can't afford to lose consumer confidence. It's heartbreaking to us. We take this very personally."

Growers in Yuma typically plant romaine lettuce between September and January. During the peak of the harvest season, which runs from mid-November until the beginning of April, the Yuma region supplies most of the romaine sold in the U.S., according to Alameda. The outbreak came as the harvest of romaine was already near its end.

While Alameda has not met with anyone from the CDC, he is reviewing his own business. He is going over food safety practices and auditing operations in the farming fields. 

Cases have been reported across the tri-state area, the most in New Jersey (7); New York and Connecticut have three cases each. Pennsylvania has the most (12) in this outbreak, followed by Idaho (10). Check the CDC's case count map.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Douglas Sacha/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Some GOP Officials Urge Charges for Women Who Get Abortions]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 19:17:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/abortionprotests_1200x675.jpg

Anti-abortion rhetoric is intensifying ahead of midterm elections as officials in Republican-dominant states push legislation that would punish both doctors and patients, even though such laws are likely unconstitutional.

In Idaho, Republicans competing in a crowded field for governor have made it a major campaign issue ahead of the May 15 primary. One candidate promised to back a long-shot effort that would allow women to be prosecuted for getting abortions, and another offered tepid support but doubted it would survive a legal challenge.

Politicians in states from Ohio to Oklahoma are pushing similar measures or promising to criminalize abortion as they seek office. It comes despite courts temporarily blocking stringent laws passed recently in Mississippi and Kentucky.

Targeting patients for punishment is a stance that traditionally has raised eyebrows even from staunch anti-abortion groups that tend to treat women as victims, not criminals, for choosing to end a pregnancy.

However, with President Donald Trump's administration embracing anti-abortion groups and promising to appoint federal judges who will favor efforts to roll back abortion rights, Republican state leaders have become more emboldened to support the idea without facing backlash from their conservative base.

Supporters of punitive legislation say that believing abortion is murder means the act must be punished as such, which could include life in prison or the death penalty.

The stance openly defies the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that a woman has the right to choose an abortion without "undue interference" from the state. It also conflicts with other anti-abortion advocates. Many Catholics, for example, oppose both abortion and the death penalty.

The high court legalized abortion in 1973, but anti-abortion advocates hope Roe v. Wade will soon be overruled if Trump gets the chance to appoint a justice who would cast the deciding vote against it.

In the meantime, a push for legislation punishing women has taken hold in Idaho, which has passed anti-abortion measures almost every year. A handful of bills have failed to stand up to legal challenges.

This year, Idaho required women seeking abortions to be informed that the drug-induced procedures can be halted halfway, despite opposition from medical groups that say there is little evidence to support that claim.

The group Abolish Abortion Idaho has launched a ballot initiative seeking to charge abortion providers and women who end pregnancies with first-degree murder, but it doesn't appear it will qualify for the November ballot. The group has not yet submitted any signatures to be verified before an April 30 deadline.

Idaho candidates also have voiced their support for punishing women. This month, a GOP lieutenant governor candidate said during a forum that "anyone who has an abortion should pay."

State Sen. Bob Nonini later softened his position, clarifying that the threat of prosecution could drastically reduce abortion but he did not believe women would actually face the death penalty.

His comment attracted swift condemnation from groups who fight for abortion rights.

"What's pro-life about convicting women of first-degree murder for accessing abortion care? Absolutely nothing," national nonprofit NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement. "It's no surprise that the party that claims to be pro-life supports a guy who wants to impose the death penalty on women accessing health care."

One of Nonini's Republican opponents, former state Rep. Janice McGeachin, responded at the forum that she opposed abortion but did not believe women should be killed for having the procedure.

Top Idaho GOP gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist said at another forum months earlier that he would support legislation allowing women to be prosecuted for abortions. He was responding to a question from a Republican lawmaker who wants to push such legislation but hasn't introduced it at the Statehouse.

Ahlquist's campaign has since reiterated his stance to The Associated Press, assuming lawmakers passed the measure.

His challenger, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, also said at the forum that he would like to sign such a measure into law but acknowledged that it might not stand up in court. Little also said he "probably would" support it but had not seen anything in writing.

"From my standpoint, my right-to-life voting record is clear, and I would have to look at it, obviously," he said. "We have passed some of those bills that have gone to be judicially overrode by a federal court and that would be the risk that would appear there (with this bill)."

Outside Idaho, such legislation also has taken hold in statehouses and on the campaign trail.

In Ohio, Republican lawmakers introduced legislation that would ban all abortions and allow prosecutors to charge doctors and patients who get the procedure, including the death penalty or life imprisonment with no exceptions for rape, incest or to protect the health of the woman.

Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Dan Fisher, a Republican, has described himself as the only candidate who would call for an emergency legislative session to criminalize abortion if elected.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer]]>
<![CDATA[Largest Cannabis Cultivation Facility in US Proposed for New Mexico]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 13:12:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/marijuana-plants-generic.jpg

A project described as the largest cannabis cultivation facility in North America was proposed in New Mexico Thursday.

Ultra Health announced the acquisition of farmland while unveiling a three-dimensional rendering of what the facility will look like via social media.

The property spans nearly one-third of a square mile in Otero County. It will include 20 acres of indoor cultivation, 80 acres of outdoor cannabis fields and another 100 acres of outdoor hemp fields.

Ultra Health president and CEO Duke Rodriguez said the company is preparing for a future in which New Mexico stands to benefit from an expanded medical marijuana market and legalized recreational use.

The company says the grow facility is expected to employ about 100 people.

Legalization is shaping up to be among the campaign issues in the gubernatorial race.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jeff Apodaca is calling for the expansion of New Mexico's medical marijuana program and for the legalization of recreational use.

Apodaca released his plan Thursday, saying New Mexico is losing out on jobs and tax revenues that could be generated by the industry.

New Mexico's medical program has grown exponentially and now has more than 50,000 patients. Record sales were also reported in 2017.

At a recent forum, Republican Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Steve Pearce expressed reservations about legalization.

Among the other Democratic candidates, U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham says she would support a measure that includes adequate health and enforcement measures to prevent underage use and workplace problems.

State Sen. Joseph Cervantes has sponsored unsuccessful legislation to decriminalize possession of small quantities of pot but has said the state isn't ready yet to legalize.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News]]>
<![CDATA[Americans Filling Far Fewer Opioid Prescriptions: New Data]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 11:44:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/opioidspills_1200x675.jpg

The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell dramatically last year, showing their biggest drop in 25 years and continuing a decline amid increasing legal restrictions and public awareness of the dangers of addiction, new data show.

Health data firm IQVIA's Institute for Human Data Science released a report Thursday showing an 8.9 percent average drop nationwide in the number of prescriptions for opioids filled by retail and mail-order pharmacies. All 50 states and the District of Columbia had declines of more than 5 percent. Declines topped 10 percent in 18 states, including all of New England and other states hit hard by the opioid overdose epidemic, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

"We're at a really critical moment in the country when everybody's paying attention to this issue," said Michael Kleinrock, the institute's research director. "People really don't want them if they can avoid them."

There was an even greater drop in total dosage of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017, down 12 percent from 2016. Reasons for that include more prescriptions being for a shorter duration, a 7.8 percent decline in new patients starting on opioid prescriptions and far fewer high-dose prescriptions.

Opioid doses are measured in "morphine milligram equivalents." (A standard Vicodin pill has the equivalent of 5 milligrams of morphine.) Prescriptions for dosages of 90 morphine milligram equivalents per day or more, which carry the highest addiction risk, declined by 16 percent last year, according to the report.

The U.S. is estimated to consume roughly 30 percent of all opioids used worldwide.

Opioid prescriptions and daily doses rose steadily starting in the 1990s, fueled by factors including marketing of new opioid pills such as Oxycontin. Use peaked in 2011 at levels far above those in other wealthy countries where national health systems control narcotics more aggressively.

The U.S. decline began after overdoses and deaths from prescription opioids and illicit narcotics soared, and multiple groups pushed back.

The federal government and about half the states have enacted restrictions, such as limiting the dose or duration of opioids that can be prescribed. Insurers and drug stores began imposing similar limits on opioid use for acute pain, as opposed to cancer and chronic pain patients. The Drug Enforcement Administration increased prosecution of heavy prescribers. And numerous medical groups have issued guidelines urging prescribers to offer other pain-management options when possible and to limit doses and duration of opioid prescriptions.

Despite those measures, deaths from drug overdoses have continued to increase in the U.S. and emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year, according to government data.

Doctors have been heeding the messages from medical groups, and some worry they'll be arrested or lose their license if they provide too many opioids, said Bob Twillman, executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, which represents doctors and others who treat pain patients and gets some funding from opioid makers.

"We get a lot of phone calls from patients whose primary care doctors have said they won't prescribe opioids at all," and want referrals to other doctors, Twillman said.

The opioid data are part of IQVIA's annual report on U.S. drug-spending trends. It noted that last year the total spent on prescription drugs, after multiple discounts and rebates drugmakers give to middlemen, was $324 billion, up 0.6 percent. The report forecasts that after such discounts, drug spending will rise by 2 percent to 5 percent annually for the next five years.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Suicide Risk Rises With Quick Repeat Deployments: Study]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 08:44:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-813583078.jpg

Soldiers are more at risk of suicide when they're repeatedly deployed with six months or less between rotations, and when they're sent to war too soon after they join the service, new research shows.

As NBC News reported, Dr. Robert Ursano of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences wrote in the report published Wednesday that rates of suicidal behaviors "increased considerably" during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He and his team studied a group of 593 soldiers in the U.S. Army who had been deployed twice and who attempted suicide between 2004 and 2009. Getting a chance to prepare seemed to be key. 

"Those who served 12 or fewer months before their first deployment were approximately twice as likely to attempt suicide during or after their second deployment compared with those who had more time to train and acclimate to the military before initial deployment," Ursano's team wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Psychiatry.

Such quick turnarounds have become common as the U.S. sends combat troops to Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. And suicide rates have soared among veterans. On average, 20 veterans a day died by suicide in 2014, and many more attempted suicide, the Veterans Affairs Department says.

Photo Credit: Ian Hitchcock/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[NBC 4 New York & NY Giants Health & Fitness Expo]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 18:17:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/225*120/300x160_HFE.jpg]]><![CDATA[Don't Eat the Lettuce: E. Coli Outbreak Booms to 53 Cases]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 13:41:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-generic.jpg

An E. coli outbreak that health investigators believe is linked to chopped romaine lettuce has expanded, with 53 cases now reported in 16 states, and nearly three dozen hospitalized, at least five of whom suffered kidney failure.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added 18 more cases to the total in its update Wednesday, a marked increase since the prior update less than a week earlier, and said five more states reported sick people: Alaska, Arizona, California, Louisiana and Montana.

Officials believe the contaminated lettuce was grown in Yuma, Arizona, though they have not identified a grower, supplier, distributor or brand.

Cases have been reported across the tri-state area, the most in New Jersey (7); New York and Connecticut have three cases each. Pennsylvania has the most (12) in this outbreak, followed by Idaho (10). Check the CDC's case count map.

The CDC added nine more hospitalizations to its count from last week, bringing the total in this outbreak to 31. Five of those cases involved a type of kidney failure called hemolytic uremic syndrome, a serious condition caused by the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. No one has died.

Consumers who have bought romaine lettuce - including salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce - are advised to throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.

Before purchasing romaine lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, confirm with the store or restaurant that it is not chopped romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, growing region. If you cannot confirm the source of the romaine lettuce, do not buy it or eat it.

Restaurants and retailers are advised to take similar precautions.

Health officials say the outbreak started in late March. Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe diarrhea to nausea and vomiting. Usually, there is little or no fever present. E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

“Individuals with this infection usually get better within about 5 to 7 days, however, some illnesses can be serious or even life-threatening,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement last week. “Anyone experiencing symptoms of this illness should see a healthcare provider.”

<![CDATA[These Are the 30 Best Bang-for-Your-Buck Colleges in America]]>Thu, 19 Apr 2018 08:00:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/college+generic2.jpgFour tri-state area schools have landed on a new list of America's top bang-for-your-buck colleges and universities.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[2018's Best and Worst States for Kids' Health Care Revealed]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 11:36:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/pexels+baby.jpgWalletHub looked at 50 states and the District of Columbia across 30 indicators to determine the best and worst states for child health care.

Photo Credit: Pexels/CC]]>
<![CDATA[Ethicist Foresees Choosing Your Baby From Dozens of Embryos]]>Wed, 18 Apr 2018 06:17:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/ethicistAP_18051660302252.jpg

So you want to have a baby.

Would you like a dark-haired girl with a high risk of someday getting colon cancer, but a good chance of above-average music ability?

Or would you prefer a girl with a good prospect for high SAT scores and a good shot at being athletic, but who also is likely to run an above-average risk of bipolar disorder and lupus as an adult?

How about a boy with a good shot at having musical ability and dodging asthma, but who also would be predisposed to cataracts and type 2 diabetes?

Confused? You're just getting started. There are dozens more choices for which of your embryos should be placed in the womb to become your child.

That's the future a biomedical ethics expert envisions for 20 to 40 years from now — soon enough that today's children may face it when they start their own families.

"The majority of babies of people who have good health coverage will be conceived this way," predicts Henry Greely, a Stanford University law professor who works in bioethics.

You've probably read about concerns over "designer babies," whose DNA is shaped by gene editing. Greely is focused on a different technology that has gotten much less attention: In a startling bit of biological alchemy, scientists have shown that in mice, they can turn ordinary cells into sperm and eggs.

It's too soon to know if it could be done in people. But if it can, it could become a powerful infertility treatment, permitting genetic parenthood for people who can't make their own sperm or eggs.

It also would mean that a woman who wants to get pregnant could produce dozens more eggs per attempt than with the current procedure of harvesting some from her ovaries.

And that means a lot of choices.

Here's what Greely envisions: A man and woman walk into a fertility clinic. The man drops off some sperm. The woman leaves some skin cells, which are turned into eggs and fertilized with the man's sperm.

Unlike in vitro fertilization today, which typically yields around eight eggs per try, the new method could result in 100 embryos.

The embryos' complete library of DNA would be decoded and analyzed to reveal genetic predispositions, both for disease and personal traits. The man and woman would get dossiers on the embryos that pass minimum tests for suitability.

Out of, say, 80 suitable embryos, the couple would then choose one or two to implant.

The possibilities don't stop there. The technology might also help open the door to same-sex couples having children genetically related to both of them, though the additional twist of making eggs from men or sperm from women would be a huge biological challenge.

More worrisome is the so-called Brad Pitt scenario: We all shed a bit of sloughed-off DNA every day, like on the lip of a coffee cup. Such discarded material could be secretly snatched up to turn an unwitting celebrity into a genetic parent.

It is a long way in the future, but real life is already creeping toward it. Some scientists are trying to make human eggs and sperm in the lab. They are working with "iPS cells," which are ordinary body cells that have been morphed into a malleable state.

Amander Clark of the University of California, Los Angeles, says her goal is to aid basic research into why some people are infertile. She acknowledges the technique might itself be used to treat some infertility, particularly in young people made sterile by cancer treatments.

As for decoding the complete DNA library of embryos, Dr. Louanne Hudgins, who studies prenatal genetic screening and diagnosis at Stanford, says some pregnant patients there say they've already had fertility clinics do that. They didn't reveal why, Hudgins said.

Hudgins, who's president of the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics, said no national medical association has endorsed decoding all the DNA of a fetus, which is called its genome. So she believes no insurance company would pay for that now.

Greely, who lays out his ideas in a book called "The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction," calls his vision "easy PGD," or prenatal genetic diagnosis.

Ordinary PGD has been done for decades. When a couple is known to be at risk for having a child with a specific genetic disorder, such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell anemia, the woman undergoes a procedure to remove some eggs. After fertilization, some cells are plucked from the embryos and examined to identify those without carry the disease-causing abnormality.

That procedure looks for a specific problem in a few embryos, not entire genomes from dozens of them. If a couple wants to select a "super baby," says Dr. Richard Scott Jr., a founding partner of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, "we tell them we can't do it."

In fact, Scott and others say, even wide-ranging analysis would not provide a precise forecast of how a child will turn out.

If DNA is the hardware, there's also the software: chemical modifications that determine when and where particular genes turn on and off. Much of this "epigenome" would develop after an embryo's genes are sampled, Scott said.

"Your child may not turn out to be the three-sport All-American at Stanford," because "the epigenome didn't work out," Scott said.

Greely agrees that predictions about behavioral traits like intelligence and athletic ability will be imprecise, because of epigenetics and because of basic uncertainties about what genes are involved and how they interact. And a person's upbringing and life experiences have a big effect.

Even if the predictions aren't perfect, would couples want to take steps to control their child's genetics? Many experts doubt it.

Only a "very small minority" seek a perfect baby, says Stanford's Hudgins. In her practice, she said she often finds women pass up all screening because they figure the baby's fate is "in God's hands."

Dr. James Grifo of the New York University Fertility Center also questions how popular the idea would be.

"No patient has ever came to me and said, 'I want a designer baby,'" said Grifo, who's performed in vitro fertilization since 1988.

Greely doubts that influencing brainpower or athleticism would be a major draw for parents. Instead, he thinks they would care most about avoiding awful diseases that strike in infancy or childhood. They'll probably be less concerned about illnesses that might show up later in life, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. For one thing, he says, parents-to-be may see them as becoming treatable by the time a child becomes vulnerable.

He thinks easy PGD is coming, and it would be better if properly handled. He says it should be proven safe, subsidized, monitored for long-term effects, and regulated so that parents can choose whether to use it and decide what embryonic traits to focus on. And he'd outlaw stealing somebody's DNA and unwittingly making them a parent.

Once the genetic profile is done, could it come back to haunt a child if, say, a life insurer or nursing home demanded to see it to assess disease risk? How would the large number of rejected embryos be handled ethically and politically?

Perhaps future regulation could limit the number of embryos created, as well as what traits a couple could select for, said I. Glenn Cohen, a Harvard law professor.

Lori B. Andrews, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, summed up her views in a review of Greely's book.

"The idea of easy PGD," she wrote, "should make us uneasy indeed."

Still, even some who doubt the idea's feasibility say Greely is right to raise the issue.

"It's certainly something we have to take seriously and think through now," said Marcy Darnovsky, who writes on the politics of human biotechnology as executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society in Berkeley, California. "This is not just a technical or science question."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: ASRM via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Organs From Drug Overdoses Could Help Transplant Shortage]]>Tue, 17 Apr 2018 07:15:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/OPIOID+DRUGS+PILL+BOTTLE+MEDICATION.jpg

Fatal drug overdoses are increasing organ donations, and researchers reported Monday that people who receive those transplants generally fare as well as patients given organs from more traditional donors.

The findings could encourage more use of organs from overdose victims. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found those transplants have jumped nearly 24-fold since 2000. That was before overdoses were making headlines or most transplant centers considered accepting such organs.

In 2016, there were 3,533 transplants using overdose-related donated organs, up from just 149 such transplants in 2000, the study found.

Deaths from overdoses are on the rise yet most occur outside hospitals, blocking organ donation. Still, those deaths now account for about 13 percent of the nation's deceased organ donors, up from 1 percent in 2000, the researchers calculated.

"This is not an ideal or sustainable solution to the organ shortage," lead researcher Dr. Christine Durand wrote in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

But with nearly 115,000 people on the national waiting list for a transplant, the Hopkins team concluded that use of organs from overdoses "should be optimized" because many transplant candidates could die waiting for another choice.

For Monday's study, the researchers used a U.S. registry to compare the outcomes of nearly 338,000 patients who received a transplant between 2000 and 2016, from either a donor who died of disease, trauma or an overdose.

In general, transplant recipients' survival was similar with an organ from an overdose victim. In fact, compared to donors who died of disease, they sometimes fared a little better because overdose donors tend to be younger and less likely to have had high blood pressure, diabetes or other ailments that can affect an organ's function, the researchers reported.

The study found that overdose-related organs are more likely than other donated organs to be classified as at "increased risk" of infectious diseases such as HIV or hepatitis C. But the Hopkins team said with improved testing of all donated organs to uncover infections — and new, effective medications for hepatitis C — the overall risk for transplant candidates is low, and should be carefully weighed in determining the best option for individual patients.

"It's reassuring that these organs do work well and provide a lot of benefit," said Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer of the United Network for Organ Sharing, which oversees the U.S. transplant system. He wasn't involved in the research.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News, File]]>
<![CDATA[Feds: Increase Medication-Based Treatment for Opioids]]>Mon, 16 Apr 2018 05:42:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/opioidspills_1200x675.jpg

Deep within President Donald Trump's plan to combat opioid abuse, overshadowed by his call for the death penalty for some drug traffickers, is a push to expand the use of medication to treat addiction.

It's a rare instance in which Trump isn't trying roll back Obama administration policies, and where fractious Republicans and Democrats in Congress have come together.

Trump declared last month that "we're making medically assisted treatment more available and affordable," even as Congress was working to approve $1 billion for a new treatment grant program for opioids as part of the massive spending bill to keep the government running.

Not to offer such treatment for opioid addiction is like "trying to treat an infection without antibiotics," new Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told the National Governors Association earlier this year.

Experts have long argued that medication-assisted treatment should be the standard of care for people addicted to heroin and other opioid drugs. But acceptance lags. Cost is a barrier, as are government regulations. Some of the treatment drugs are opioids themselves and there's no consensus on how long patients should remain in treatment.

In its final year, the Obama administration pushed through Congress $1 billion for opioid crisis grants to states. Of that, $500 million was to be released last year and the other $500 million this year. States had to show that their opioid programs are based on clinical evidence, so medication-assisted treatment got a big boost.

The 2018 spending bill provides another $1 billion.

"The government is talking about treatment and medication-assisted treatment in a way that the government has never done before," said Tom Hill, vice president of addiction and recovery at the National Council for Behavioral Health, which advocates for mental health and addiction treatment.

Overdose deaths from heroin, synthetics like fentanyl, and prescription painkillers, reached 42,000 in 2016, according to the latest statistics.

"This is being addressed as the illness that it is," said Elinore McCance-Katz, assistant secretary of HHS for mental health and substance abuse. "Most definitely the government is acknowledging the disease of addiction as it pertains to opioids — and other substances as well — but opioids of course are an emergency."

Grants are awarded to states based on a variety of factors, including overdose deaths and the number of people who can't find treatment.

Vermont has been hard hit by the addiction epidemic and is one of the states that have gotten federal money for medication-assisted treatment. Its central goal is to improve access, according to a report on grant recipients released by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In Massachusetts, the plan is aimed in part on pregnant women and new mothers. Indiana wants to focus on rural residents.

A study looking at New England by the nonprofit Institute for Clinical and Economic Review found that every dollar invested in medication treatment would return about $1.80 in savings, when factoring in society's costs from lost productivity and crime.

One Vermont physician, Dr. Deborah Richter, says medications have helped her patients, especially when combined with counseling.

"People got back to what they were before the addiction seized them," she said.

As a doctor, "it was on a personal level so rewarding to save other mothers' children."

Skeptics of the government emphasis on medication-assisted treatment say it's not a cure-all.

Jonathan Goyer, manager of the Anchor recovery program in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, said he sees many patients who don't want to take medication, because they want to be free of drugs altogether.

"We should be increasing medication-assisted treatment," said Goyer. "But we should also be increasing everything else."

At the Neil Kennedy Recovery Centers in Youngstown, Ohio, outpatient director Pam Ramsey said her program emphasizes medication as an aid, not as the sole treatment.

"It really is an assist to the treatment," said Ramsey. Along with medication, treatment incorporates a version of the traditional 12-step approach to quitting, counseling sessions, group meetings, and follow-up. "Our goal is still abstinence."

Home remodeling contractor Rob Judy said he's wrestled with heroin addiction for more than 20 years. Medication alone did not keep him drug free, nor did a faith-based program.

Finally Judy signed up for comprehensive treatment at Neil Kennedy.

The medication puts out "the fire of active addiction, of having to wake up and use," said Judy. But he says that needs to be followed with counseling, peer support and follow-up care.

"I believe that addiction is based on and driven by loss, and at the core of it is pain," said Judy. "If you don't address those issues, sooner or later you're going to relapse."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/John Moore]]>
<![CDATA[Lettuce Named Likely Culprit in 11-State E. Coli Outbreak]]>Sat, 14 Apr 2018 18:54:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-generic.jpg

Health investigators have identified chopped romaine lettuce from Arizona as the probable culprit of an 11-state E. coli outbreak that has sickened at least seven people in New Jersey as well as people in New York and Connecticut.

The New Jersey Department of Health issued an update on the probe Friday, saying the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration traced the likely source back to lettuce grown in Yuma, but neither agency has identified a grower, supplier, distributor or brand.

Consumers who have bought romaine lettuce - including salads and salad mixes containing romaine lettuce - are advised to throw it away, even if some of it was eaten and no one has gotten sick.

"If you don’t know if the lettuce is romaine, throw it away. Before purchasing romaine lettuce at a grocery store or eating it at a restaurant, consumers should confirm with the store or restaurant that the romaine lettuce did not come from the Yuma, Arizona growing region," the NJ Department of Health said.

As of April 13, 35 cases have been reported in 11 states. Twenty-two people have been hospitalized, the CDC says. The seven cases in New Jersey include four in Hunterdon County and one each in Monmouth, Sussex and Somerset counties. The sick range in age from 12 to 84 and most are women.

There are eight cases in Idaho, two in Connecticut, nine in Pennsylvania, two in New York, two in Ohio and one each in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Virginia and Washington, the CDC says. Check the CDC's case count map here.

Health officials say the outbreak started in late March. Though no deaths have been reported, at least six people have been hospitalized with one developing hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

Symptoms vary and can range from mild to severe diarrhea to nausea and vomiting. Usually there is little or no fever present. E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

“Individuals with this infection usually get better within about 5 to 7 days, however some illnesses can be serious or even life-threatening,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement. “Anyone experiencing symptoms of this illness should see a healthcare provider.”

<![CDATA[FDA Works to Pull Concentrated Caffeine Products off Shelves]]>Fri, 13 Apr 2018 11:28:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16159721727583.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration Friday declared concentrated, bulk caffeine products illegal and said it would act to get them off the shelves, NBC News reported.

"These products present a significant public health threat because of the high risk that they will be erroneously used at excessive, potentially dangerous doses," the FDA said in a statement. "Highly concentrated and pure caffeine, often sold in bulk packages, have been linked to at least two deaths in otherwise healthy individuals."

The FDA has been warning about powdered caffeine since 2014, when an Ohio teenager died after using it. One teaspoon of the powdered caffeine can deliver the equivalent of 20 or more cups of coffee, the FDA said. That's enough to kill, as too much caffeine can cause fatal heartbeat irregularities.

"Regardless of whether the product contains a warning label, such products present a significant and unreasonable risk of illness or injury to the consumer," the FDA said.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File, File]]>
<![CDATA[Closing Time? Study Says Limit Alcohol to 1 Drink a Day]]>Fri, 13 Apr 2018 07:42:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_83433594.jpg

Here's some sobering news: A large international study says adults should average no more than one alcoholic drink per day, and that means drinking guidelines in many countries may be far too loose.

The study found that people who down more than seven drinks a week can expect to die sooner than those who drink less.

"What this is saying is, if you're really concerned about your longevity, don't have more than a drink a day," said David Jernigan, a Johns Hopkins University alcohol researcher who was not involved in the study.

While the U.S. government currently recommends no more than seven drinks a week for women, the recommendation for men is 14 drinks. That's because earlier studies found women are hit by the effects of alcohol at lower amounts than men for several reasons, including women weigh less than men on average and blood alcohol concentrations rise faster.

The new study estimates that 40-year-old men who drink as much as the current U.S. guidelines allow can expect to live one to two years less than men who have no more than seven drinks per week.

Canada and Sweden have guidelines similar to those in the U.S. set by the Department of Agriculture. Some countries have much higher ceilings. Spain and Romania set the upper limit for men at the equivalent of 20 drinks each week, for example.

British guidelines were like the U.S. standards until two years ago, when U.K. health officials brought the recommendation for men down to the level for women.

The study "is a serious wake-up call for many countries," Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation said in a statement. The group partly funded the study, which was published Thursday by the Lancet journal.

The research combined results from 83 studies conducted in 19 countries, tracking nearly 600,000 people who drank alcohol. The researchers focused on who developed — and died from — stroke and different forms of heart disease. They made a point of excluding people who had a known history of heart problems at the time they had entered a study.

About half the participants said they had more than 100 grams of alcohol a week. There's variation from country to country as to how many grams of alcohol are generally found in a standard drink. In Britain, that's about six pints of beer a week. But in the U.S., 100 grams is equivalent to what's in seven 12-ounces cans of beer, 5-ounce glasses of wine, or 1.5-ounce shots of rum, gin or other distilled spirits.

The researchers found a higher risk of stroke, heart failure and other problems in that group of heavier drinkers. That may partly reflect that alcohol can elevate blood pressure and alter cholesterol levels, the researchers said.

Notably, the heavier drinkers were less likely to have a heart attack. But balanced against the increased risk of a stroke and other heart problems, the impact of drinking more than seven drinks a week is more bad than good, said the study's lead author, Dr. Angela Wood of the University of Cambridge in England.

Like most studies, this one has flaws. It's not built to make firm conclusions about cause and effect. Research that rolls together previous studies can be problematic if they aren't similar enough, though this one appears to have done a good job at overcoming that obstacle and combining comparable data, Jernigan said.

Researchers relied on what participants reported drinking at the start, recognizing that many people may be lowballing how much they actually down. And the study didn't account for any changes in their drinking habits.

At O'Hara's Restaurant and Pub, a watering hole in lower Manhattan, one patron shrugged off the study and its recommendation. Shawn Freeman, visiting from St. Louis, said other things influence how much he drinks, like his mood and whether he'll be driving.

Another patron, Jaussi Ruotsalainen, a tourist from Finland, said he rarely drinks because he has two young kids at home.

"That takes care of it," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Arina Habich/Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[In Opioid Epidemic, Some Cities Strain to Afford OD Antidote]]>Thu, 12 Apr 2018 14:09:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18031167711968-baltimore-opiod.jpg

On a Baltimore street corner, public health workers hand out a life-saving overdose antidote to residents painfully familiar with the ravages of America's opioid epidemic. But the training wraps up quickly; all the naloxone inhalers are claimed within 20 minutes.

"We could've easily handed out hundreds of doses today. But we only had 24 kits. That goes fast," said Kelleigh Eastman, a health department worker assisting the city's bluntly dubbed "Don't Die" anti-overdose campaign.

Cities like Baltimore are feeling the financial squeeze as they rely on naloxone to try and counteract rising overdose rates. Some hard-hit communities across the country are struggling to pay for dosages even at reduced prices.

With more overdoses driven by synthetic opioids like fentanyl and carfentanil — so potent it's used as an elephant tranquilizer — naloxone remains pricey enough that Baltimore's health department is rationing supplies, stretching a dwindling stockpile of inhalers. Last year, the city distributed more than 25,000 doses, up from about 19,000 in 2016.

"Every week, we count the doses we have left and make hard decisions about who will receive the medication and who will have to go without," said Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, who issued the city's innovative blanket prescription for the drug in 2015.

Numerous states have since passed laws — including bypassing prescription requirements and establishing community training programs — aimed at expanding use of the medication that restores a person's breathing while temporarily blocking the brain's opioid receptors.

"It's a bit of a pressure-cooker environment for Baltimore but also places in many other states that have been on the front lines of the overdose crisis and where the toll keeps rising. The challenge, on a structural level, is that there's no clear sustainable funding source for naloxone," according to Daniel Raymond, policy director for the National Harm Reduction Coalition.

In Charleston, West Virginia, the health department reported Monday that it has only 159 doses remaining, most allocated for community classes in coming days. Kanawha-Charlestown Health Department spokesman John Law said they've requested more naloxone auto-injectors from the company that's donated to them in the past "but we have had no response."

Last week, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued the office's first national public health advisory in 13 years, calling on more Americans to start carrying naloxone and urging more federal funds be dedicated to increasing local antidote access.

"Costs should not and, in the near future, will not be a barrier to accessing naloxone for anyone in America," Adams pledged.

A two-dose carton of Narcan — a brand name for naloxone inhalers — has list prices of about $125. First responders and community organizations can purchase Narcan at discounts of $75 per two-dose carton, according to manufacturer Adapt Pharma. The Evzio auto-injector from Virginia-based drugmaker Kaleo currently has list prices of roughly $3,800 for a box with two doses, up from about $690 in 2014. Last week, Kaleo announced a new initiative that will allow federal and state government agencies to make direct purchases of two-pack Evzio kits for $360 each.

The surgeon general's advisory was welcome in Philadelphia, where health officials have debated internally whether "rationing" accurately describes their naloxone situation. The city has one of the highest opioid death rates of any large U.S. metropolis and distributed 25,000 doses from July through December last year.

"Given the tremendous scope of the opioid epidemic and (our) anticipated 1,200 overdoses deaths in 2017, easier — and cheaper — access to naloxone for the general public and public safety agencies has the potential to save hundreds of lives," Philadelphia Health Department spokesman James Garrow said.

The stakes couldn't be higher. Growing anecdotal evidence shows that multiple naloxone doses are needed to reverse an overdose caused by synthetic opioids — more than the single dose to reverse a heroin overdose.

Baltimore Fire Deputy Chief Mark Fletcher said first responders have found it takes "two doses or maybe even three doses" to restore respiration if a person used heroin laced with fentanyl or carfentanil.

It's not yet clear how naloxone saturation is affecting overdose deaths overall. One 2017 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that laws boosting naloxone access are linked to as much as an 11 percent drop in fatalities.

In a gritty Baltimore neighborhood, Shane Shortt, who is addicted to heroin, said he's been able to revive five drug companions with Narcan over the past year and swears he never goes anyplace without an inhaler.

"You never know when you're going to have to use it. It was actually used on me like last week," Shortt said outside a Baltimore needle-exchange van where about a dozen people showing the ravages of long-term drug use lined up with a few younger people.

An addictions and recovery expert with the National Council for Behavioral Health, Tom Hill, said the bottom line is naloxone is just about "all we have" to battle overdoses.

"Anything to lower the costs of a life-saving drug is a very welcome thing," he said from Washington.

Wen, who is among the many officials calling on the Trump administration to directly negotiate the price of naloxone with manufacturers, was more blunt: "We are in the middle of a national epidemic. We should not be priced out of the ability to save lives."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Probes E. Coli Mystery Outbreak in NJ, CT, More States]]>Thu, 12 Apr 2018 03:13:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-generic.jpg

Health investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the mysterious E. coli outbreak that affected at least six people in New Jersey, one in Connecticut and 10 people in multiple other states, requiring a half-dozen hospitalizations. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an update on the investigation Tuesday, saying that public health investigators are still in the process of gathering information and “fingerprinting” the bacteria from those who were potentially infected with E. coli to determine if there is a common link in the bacteria strand.

Half a dozen cases of E. coli were reported in New Jersey’s Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties recently.

“Illnesses reported by investigators in New Jersey also included ill people who had a diagnostic test showing they were infected with E. coli bacteria. Laboratory testing is ongoing to link their illnesses to the outbreak using DNA fingerprinting,” the CDC said in a statement.

As of April 9, 17 people have been infected in seven states: New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana and Washington. Those infected are between 12 and 84 years old, with the majority being female. 

Health officials say the outbreak started in late March. Though no deaths were reported, six people have been hospitalized with one developing hemolytic-uremic syndrome, a type of kidney failure.

A specific food item, grocery store or restaurant chain has not been identified as the source of the illnesses and because of this “state and local public health officials are interviewing ill people to determine what they ate and other exposures in the week before their illness started,” the CDC says.

E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

Common symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

<![CDATA[Risk of Zika Infection Through Sex May Last Only a Month]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 17:33:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Mosquito-AP_750626106311.jpg

Signs of Zika infection can be seen in semen for as long as nine months, but the risk of sexual transmission appears to end in one month, according to a study published Wednesday.

The study suggests health officials have been overly cautious in advising couples to abstain from sex or to use condoms for at least six months after a male partner comes down with Zika.

The study's lead author, Dr. Paul Mead of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the results are spurring work on new and better recommendations. But he said the study itself is not enough to change current guidelines yet.

The study was published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

Zika infections swept across Latin America and the Caribbean in 2015 and 2016, with a few very small outbreaks in the southern United States. The virus is mainly spread by tropical mosquitoes. But during the epidemic, scientists discovered some infections were spread through sex — in most cases by men infecting their partners.

In the U.S., 52 reported Zika cases have been attributed to sexual transmission, according to the CDC.

Most people infected with Zika don't get sick, while some suffer a mild illness with fever, rash and joint pain.

But infection during pregnancy can cause devastating birth defects, including microcephaly, in which a baby's skull is much smaller than expected because the brain hasn't developed properly.

In the new study, health officials looked at semen and urine samples from about 180 U.S. men who were infected with Zika and developed symptoms. Most of them caught it in 2016 while traveling overseas to outbreak areas. The men were given a $50 gift cards per submission. They submitted more than 1,300 semen samples.

Sixty of the men had genetic evidence of Zika infection in their semen.

But genetic evidence of a past infection is different from infectious concentrations of virus. The researchers looked for that, and found three men who appeared to have levels that made them contagious. The infectious-level specimens from those three men were all taken within a month of their developing symptoms, Mead said.

The results may help tailor counseling for couples who are concerned about Zika, said Dr. Neil Silverman, a UCLA professor of obstetrics.

Two years ago, the risk of Zika caused panic in many couples, but the anxiety level has waned. Silverman said his clinic used to see 20 to 25 couples each month with Zika concerns, but now sees only three to five.

Though it's no longer causing large outbreaks, the virus still lurks in mosquitoes in many tropical locales and it remains an infection threat to visitors.

"Zika will be with us in the Americas. There's no particular reason to think it's going away," Mead said.


The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Insurers Look to Pass Drug Price Breaks Straight to Consumer]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 14:51:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pharmacisy_1200x675.jpg

Some major health insurers plan to take a little sting out of prescription drug prices by giving customers rebates at the pharmacy counter.

Aetna and UnitedHealthcare both say they will begin passing rebates they get from drugmakers along to some customers starting next year. They could spark a trend: The idea has been championed by President Donald Trump, and it's something other bill-payers like major employers might consider.

Rebates are a key cog in the largely secretive pricing agreements ironed out between drugmakers and pharmacy benefit managers, the companies that manage prescriptions for insurers and large employers. Rebates have become more common in recent years, and some critics point to them as a factor behind soaring drug costs. Aetna and UnitedHealthcare say they want to make prescription drug pricing more transparent and simplify the process for customers.

Here's a look at the issue.

Pharmaceutical companies offer rebates to benefits managers as a carrot to get their drugs included in formularies, or lists of covered drugs. These concessions are usually a percentage of the initial price set by the drugmaker, or the list price.

Pharmacy benefit managers typically pass rebates on to the insurers and large employers that hire them. Those clients often use the money to reduce their plan's spending on drugs or the cost of coverage. Only 4 percent said they passed rebates directly to customers at the point of sale, or when they buy the drug, the Pharmacy Benefit Management Institute found in a 2017 report.

That's unlikely.

Aetna estimates that 3 million customers could receive rebates when it starts offering them next year, while UnitedHelathcare's plan will initially apply to over 7 million people. Those are big numbers but small slices of the more than 67 million U.S. customers these companies cover in total.

In addition, CVS Health's pharmacy benefits business offers point-of-sale rebates through plans that cover about 10 million of its 94 million customers.

More insurers or benefits managers could follow these examples, and big employers that pay their own health care bills also might start passing the rebates to people on their health plans, said Ana Gupte, an insurance industry analyst with Leerink.

Plus Trump has proposed giving rebates directly to Medicare prescription drug customers.

Rebates delivered directly to the consumer may be attractive to insurers and pharmacy benefit managers because they can help polish their image. Rebates give the companies a tangible benefit they can show consumers instead of saying generally that these refunds help keep overall coverage costs in check, noted Benedic Ippolito, an economist with the American Enterprise Institute.

"At a minimum, it sounds like insurers are trying to do something for consumers with high drug costs," he said.

It's hard to forecast how big the rebates will be. Experts say they could knock anywhere from a few bucks off your prescription bill to more than $100.

The rebates are generally not disclosed by companies, and their size depends on factors like competition and the amount of the drug sold.

Treatments that have competition may deliver the biggest rebates because pharmaceutical companies are jockeying to have their medicines included in formularies.

Discounts and rebates for high-cost specialty medicines usually are lower than those for more traditional drugs, according to the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which studies prescription drug spending.

The consumers who will benefit most are those who take prescription drugs regularly and pay a lot for their medicines out of pocket, or before insurance coverage starts.

"It reduces the cost of having a chronic illness somewhat," said Dan Mendelson, president of the consulting firm Avalere Health.

But there may be a price to pay: The cost of coverage could rise for everyone on a given health plan if rebates are no longer being used to keep overall plan expenses in check.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2018's 'Dirty Dozen': How Much Pesticide Is in Your Produce?]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 08:55:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bell-peppers-ewg.jpgThe Environmental Working Group has just put out its annual "Dirty Dozen" report, highlighting the most pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables. Here they are, in reverse order.

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Fake Pot Likely Tainted With Rat Poison Kills 3, Sickens 100]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 08:20:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/marihuana+sintetica+peligros.jpg

Fake marijuana likely contaminated with rat poison has killed three people in Illinois and caused severe bleeding in more than 100 others, including a few in four other states. 

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has alerted doctors nationwide that patients with severe, unexplained bleeding may be additional cases. 

The CDC is helping Illinois authorities investigate the outbreak in that state, which began in early March. Illinois reported seven more cases on Tuesday, bringing the nationwide total to at least 116. 

Several patients and samples of so-called synthetic marijuana from Illinois have tested positive for a lethal ingredient often used in rat poison, the CDC and Illinois authorities said. 

Symptoms include coughing up blood, blood in the urine, severe bloody noses, bleeding gums and internal bleeding. CDC's alert says outside Illinois, emergency rooms in Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin and Maryland have treated affected patients since March 10. 

Illnesses have been linked to fake marijuana before but this is the first outbreak involving rat poison contamination, said the CDC's Renee Funk. Those sickened require hospitalization and treatment with vitamin K to control bleeding, she said.

"This is an unusual outbreak,'' Funk said Tuesday, adding that is unclear how the contamination occurred. 

Fake marijuana, also called synthetic cannabinoids, contains man-made chemicals that produce a high similar to marijuana. It is sold in smoke shops and other stores as liquids that can be used in e-cigarettes or in dried plant material that can be smoked. Nicknames include K2, Spice and Kush. 

"The number of cases continues to go up each day,'' Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, said Tuesday. "Synthetic cannabinoids in general are not safe and this is one example of not knowing what chemicals are in the product. We are telling people don't use synthetic cannabinoids." 

The federal government and many states have banned some of these products or specific ingredients, but the CDC says manufacturers skirt these laws by creating new products or labeling them "not for human consumption.'' 

Tests on fake pot bought at a Chicago convenience store by undercover agents detected the rat poison ingredient, the U.S. attorney's office said in a news release. Three store employees were arrested and face federal drug charges. 

Illnesses from fake marijuana have increased in recent years; a CDC report noted at least 456 cases between 2010 and 2015. The products are up to 100 times more potent than the active ingredient in marijuana and severe reactions have included seizures, coma and delirium.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[More Organic Than Thou? Rebel Farmers Create New Food Label]]>Wed, 11 Apr 2018 07:54:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18093666697839-Organic-Tomatoes-Labels.jpg

Was your tomato grown in dirt or water? Organic shoppers might notice additional labels this summer that will give them the answer — and tell them whether their choices align with what a rebellious group of farmers and scientists deem the true spirit of the organic movement.

About 15 farmers and scientists from around the country met in Vermont late last month to create the standards for an additional organic certification program, which they plan to roll out nationally to between 20 to 60 farms as a pilot this summer.

Under the current U.S. Department of Agriculture program, the organic label means that your tomato has been produced without synthetic substances — with some exceptions — and without certain methods, like genetic engineering. The additional label, which does not yet have a name or wording, would indicate that a tomato, for example, has been grown in soil, and that meat and dairy products came from farms that pasture their animals.

An inspector would certify that the farm has complied with the new standards, and the farms — not distributors — would add the label.

The move comes five months after the National Organic Standard Board, which advises the U.S. Department of Agriculture, voted against a proposal to exclude from the USDA's organic certification program hydroponics — raising plants with water but no soil — and aquaponics, in which plants and aquatic animals, such as fish, are grown within one system.

"I think that a lot of farmers, especially young farmers, feel that the organic label no longer describes the way they farm, and we're trying to recapture that," said Linley Dixon, a vegetable farmer in Durango, Colorado, and senior scientist for Cornucopia Institute, who is also on the standards board of the Real Organic Project.

The group creating the new label, which calls itself the Real Organic Project, said it has not abandoned the National Organic Program, which is the federal standard, and is not attacking organic farmers.

"Some of the cornerstones of what organic means are being taken away, and we're concerned about how creaky that makes the whole thing," said Dave Chapman, a member of the executive and standards board of the Real Organic Project and owner of an organic tomato farm in Thetford. He believes the cornerstone of being organic is growing in soil and improving its fertility.

To Dixon, "organic" means a very diversified operation, rotating animals and crops and planting cover crops to control erosion, increase organic matter in the soil and manage weeds, among other things.

The new label would exclude from certification hydroponic farming and large livestock farms that don't pasture their animals, known as contained animal feeding operations or CAFOs.

The hydroponic industry argues another label would mislead and confuse consumers and is a way for the traditional organic farmers to try to get a competitive edge.

"It's a competition because field farmers can't produce the volume that hydroponics can," said Dan Lubkeman, president of the Hydroponic Society of America.

While shopping at Hunger Mountain food cooperative in Montpelier, Jessica Manchester, of Worcester, agreed labeling is getting confusing for the average consumer but in the long run thinks it's good to know where food comes from. She said she prefers produce grown in soil.

"I'm just in favor of plants growing in their natural way and being in connection with the microbes in the soil and the interactions those microbes have with the plant roots," Manchester said.

But fellow shopper Laurie Griggs, of Calais, said she doesn't buy totally organic and doesn't mind if vegetables or berries are raised hydroponically.

"I just think we need new ways to grow things," she said. "We've got a lot of people and farming's really hard on the land, and if we can find ways to lighten our impact on the land and grow healthy food for people, I have no problem with it."

The farmers involved want a more transparent label and will not see an economic benefit at first, Chapman said. The program is now being funded by contributions. Farmers would pay a fee to be certified, but he doubts that would cover the cost of the program.

"I hope the day will come where there will be an economic benefit because I know that there are millions of people in the country who actually do care about whether food is grown in the soil and whether the animals have access to the pasture," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Lisa Rathke/AP]]>
<![CDATA[2018's 'Dirty Dozen': How Much Pesticide Is in Your Produce?]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 15:18:20 -040012. Sweet Bell Peppers: EWG says nearly 90 percent of conventional sweet bell pepper samples had pesticide residues. They may have less pesticide residue than other "Dirty Dozen" foods, but they are often more toxic, EWG says. ]]>12. Sweet Bell Peppers: EWG says nearly 90 percent of conventional sweet bell pepper samples had pesticide residues. They may have less pesticide residue than other "Dirty Dozen" foods, but they are often more toxic, EWG says. ]]>https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/160*120/agriculture-bell-pepper-capsicum-128536.jpg]]><![CDATA['Thunderclap' Headache Hits Man Who Ate Fiery Pepper: Docs]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 13:11:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Carolina_Reaper.jpg

The Carolina Reaper is billed as the world's hottest pepper, apparently so hot it may cause "thunderclap" headaches in people who eat one, NBC News reported.

That's based on a new medical journal write-up of the case of a 34-year-old man who was rushed to the hospital from a pepper-eating contest. He had an excrutiating headache triggered by an unusual blood vessel condition, reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. 

"His symptoms began with dry heaves but no vomiting immediately after participation in a hot pepper contest where he ate one 'Carolina Reaper,' the hottest chili pepper in the world," the doctors wrote in the publication British Medical Journal's Case Reports.

Thunderclap headaches come on vast and strong and doctors take them very seriously, since they can be a sign of stroke or brain hemorrhage. Doctors diagnosed the man with the blood vessel syndrome, which hadn't been linked to eating hot peppers before.

Photo Credit: Lui/Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[New Way of Defining Alzheimer's Aims to Find Disease Sooner]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 07:27:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18099575988767-Alzheimers-test.jpg

Government and other scientists are proposing a new way to define Alzheimer's disease — basing it on biological signs, such as brain changes, rather than memory loss and other symptoms of dementia that are used today.

The move is aimed at improving research, by using more objective criteria like brain scans to pick patients for studies and enroll them sooner in the course of their illness, when treatments may have more chance to help.

But it's too soon to use these scans and other tests in routine care, because they haven't been validated for that yet, experts stress. For now, doctors will still rely on the tools they've long used to evaluate thinking skills to diagnose most cases.

Regardless of what tests are used to make the diagnosis, the new definition will have a startling effect: Many more people will be considered to have Alzheimer's, because the biological signs can show up 15 to 20 years before symptoms do.

"The numbers will increase dramatically," said Dr. Clifford R. Jack Jr., a Mayo Clinic brain imaging specialist. "There are a lot more cognitively normal people who have the pathology in the brain who will now be counted as having Alzheimer's disease."

He led a panel of experts, working with the Alzheimer's Association and the National Institute on Aging, that updated guidelines on the disease, published Tuesday in Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

About 50 million people worldwide have dementia, and Alzheimer's is the most common form. In the U.S., about 5.7 million have Alzheimer's under its current definition, which is based on memory problems and other symptoms. About one-third of people over 70 who show no thinking problems actually have brain signs that suggest Alzheimer's, Jack said.

There is no cure — current medicines such as Aricept and Namenda just temporarily ease symptoms. Dozens of hoped-for treatments have failed, and doctors think one reason may be that the studies enrolled patients after too much brain damage had already occurred.

"By the time that you have the diagnosis of the disease, it's very late," said Dr. Eliezer Masliah, neuroscience chief at the Institute on Aging.

"What we've realized is that you have to go earlier and earlier and earlier," just as doctors found with treating cancer, he said.

Another problem: as many as 30 percent of people enrolled in Alzheimer's studies based on symptoms didn't actually have the disease — they had other forms of dementia or even other medical conditions. That doesn't give an accurate picture of whether a potential treatment might help, and the new definition aims to improve patient selection by using brain scans and other tests.

Many other diseases, such as diabetes, already are defined by measuring a biomarker, an objective indicator such as blood sugar. That wasn't possible for Alzheimer's disease until a few years ago, when brain scans and spinal fluid tests were developed to do this.

They measure certain forms of two proteins — amyloid and tau — that form plaques and tangles in the brain — and signs of nerve injury, degeneration and brain shrinkage.

The guidelines spell out use of these biomarkers over a spectrum of mental decline, starting with early brain changes, through mild impairment and Alzheimer's dementia.

People may be worried and want these tests for themselves or a family member now, but Jack advises: "Don't bother. There's no proven treatment yet."

You might find a doctor willing to order them, but spinal fluid tests are somewhat invasive, and brain scans can cost up to $6,000. Insurance usually does not pay because they're considered experimental outside of research. A large study is underway now to see whether Medicare should cover them and when.

Anyone with symptoms or family history of dementia, or even healthy people concerned about the risk can consider enrolling in one of the many studies underway.

"We need more people in this pre-symptomatic stage" to see if treatments can help stave off decline, Masliah said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Teresa Crawford/AP]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Puts Restrictions on Birth Control Implant But No Recall]]>Tue, 10 Apr 2018 03:26:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/bayerAP_18099625573970.jpg

U.S. health officials on Monday placed new restrictions on a permanent contraceptive implant that has been subject to reports of painful complications from thousands of women. But the metal implant, called Essure, will remain on the market.

The Food and Drug Administration said only women who read and have the opportunity to sign a brochure about the risks of the device will be able to receive the implant made by Bayer. The checklist of risks must also be signed by the woman's doctor.

The new requirement comes almost two years after the FDA added its strongest warning to Essure, citing problems reported with the nickel-titanium implant. The agency also ordered Bayer to conduct a study of the device's safety.

Patients have reported cases of pain, bleeding, allergic reactions and cases where the implant punctured the uterus or shifted out of place. Those reports are submitted to the FDA by patients, physicians and the manufacturer.

"Despite previous efforts to alert women to the potential complications of Essure, we know that some patients still aren't receiving this important information," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, in a statement. "That is simply unacceptable."

An agency spokeswoman said via email that the new requirements "ensure that the device continues to meet our standards for a reasonable assurance of safety and effectiveness."

In a statement after the announcement, Bayer said it will continue to tell health care providers about "the importance of appropriately counseling each patient on the benefits and risks of Essure."

Public health advocates questioned the FDA's new requirement, suggesting patients may not read the lengthy brochure.

"How many people do you know who would carefully read a 22-page document before signing it?" said Diana Zuckerman, president of the National Center for Health Research, a consumer advocacy group. "In addition to being much too long and technical, the information provided will be confusing to many consumers."

Bayer received FDA approval to sell Essure in 2002 and promoted the product to women as the only non-surgical option for permanent birth control. Essure consists of two nickel-titanium coils inserted into the fallopian tubes, where they spur the growth of scar tissue that blocks sperm from fertilizing a woman's eggs.

Because of the reported complaints, Bayer was ordered to conduct a 2,000-patient study in 2016. Although the company is making "adequate progress," the FDA said Monday that it will require additional study sites to enroll more patients in the study. The agency notes that sales of Essure have fallen 70 percent since the previous FDA restrictions were announced.

Bayer faces lawsuits from approximately 16,000 U.S. women who have received Essure, according to the German conglomerate's latest annual report. While the company is insured against product liability lawsuits, the Bayer notes that the claims "exceed the available insurance coverage." The company stopped selling Essure outside the U.S. last year.

Last month, the FDA reported that it had received 12,000 reports last year about problems with Essure, 90 percent of which involved attempts to remove the device. The agency noted that most of the new reports came from attorneys representing patients suing Bayer.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Court to Decide if Drug Use While Pregnant Is Child Abuse]]>Mon, 09 Apr 2018 12:39:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_79101873.jpg

Pennsylvania's highest court will decide whether a woman's use of illegal drugs while pregnant qualifies as child abuse under state law.

The Supreme Court recently took up the case of a woman who tested positive for suboxone and marijuana at the time she gave birth early last year at Williamsport Hospital.

A county judge ruled that did not qualify as child abuse under the state's Child Protective Services Law, but the intermediate Superior Court said drug use while pregnant can make bodily injury to a child likely after birth.

Court records indicate the child spent 19 days in the hospital being treated for drug dependence, exhibiting severe withdrawal symptoms.

"Mother's actions were deplorable but this court must follow the law," wrote Clinton County Judge Craig Miller in May, ruling the county child welfare agency had not established child abuse occurred.

The mother's lawyers argue lawmakers never intended the child protection law to apply to acts during pregnancy.

"No one thinks using drugs while pregnant is good, but using the criminal justice system and the civil child abuse system to punish people for doing so just makes a bad situation much, much worse," said the woman's lawyer, David S. Cohen.

Amanda Beth Browning, lawyer for the Clinton County Department of Children and Youth Services, declined comment.

In a filing with Supreme Court, the woman's lawyers said most states, with a few exceptions, "have taken a non-punitive approach to the issue."

"Almost every major medical and public health organization has recognized that punishing women for drug use during their pregnancies is counterproductive to public and private health," wrote lawyers for the mother, identified by initials in court records.

"The rationale here is simple — women with a substance abuse disorder during pregnancy need treatment, both for their drug use and prenatal care, and the threat of being punished by the state will drive women away from treatment, thus risking their own and their child's health," her lawyers argued.

They warned that if the court expands child abuse's "recent acts" to include pre-birth activity, that could encompass a range of things, from smoking cigarettes to drinking water in an area without reliably clean water.

Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Moulton, in a Dec. 27 opinion, said a mother's substance abuse while pregnant "may constitute child abuse" if child welfare authorities can prove she "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly caused, or created a reasonable likelihood of, bodily injury to a child after birth." Moulton's opinion printed the word "after" in boldface.

Another judge said he agreed with Moulton's reading of the statute, but added he questioned "whether treating as child abusers women who are addicted to drugs results in safer outcomes for children."

States have rarely criminalized the exposure of an unborn child to illegal drugs, but it is common for child-welfare agencies to become involved when a newborn tests positive for exposure to opioids and other substances, said Meghan McCann with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"States are really grappling with this and states are sort of interested in what are the alternatives to a child abuse neglect case," McCann said, noting a strain on foster care systems. "How to keep the family together is of interest."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock ]]>
<![CDATA[Michigan to Stop Providing Free Water to Flint Residents]]>Mon, 09 Apr 2018 13:44:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_flintwater0409_1920x1080.jpg

Residents of Flint, Michigan, are frustrated and angry after learning the state will stop providing them with free bottled water. ]]>
<![CDATA[High School Football Player Debilitated by Concussion Gets $7.1M]]>Fri, 06 Apr 2018 08:07:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Rashaun+Council.jpg

A former high school football player and his family will receive millions of dollars after a civil suit settlement with a San Diego County school district over accusations of improper steps by the coaching staff to recognize and respond to concussion symptoms.

The suit stems from an October 2013 freshman football game at Grossmont Union School District's Monte Vista High School when 14-year-old Rashaun Council started feeling sick and confused.

A concerned teammate even told a coach about the star running and defensive back's odd behavior, but Council returned to the game and finished on the field according to his family's attorney.

Council was slumped over and throwing up in the locker room after the game, according to attorney Brian Gonzalez, but the coaches never called 911 and he didn't receive proper medical care until the boy's father took him to the hospital.

Council's brain had already started to swell, requiring emergency surgery, and he was later placed in a medically induced coma.

After taking a year off for treatment, Council is now 19 years old and preparing to graduate from Clairemont High School, which has a program for traumatic brain injury survivors.

Gonzalez says Council will likely never be able to drive, live by himself or pursue the career of his dreams due to the confusion and forgetfulness caused by the injury.

"Because of the delay in diagnosis, the delay in treatments, he is forever going to be in the condition he is," said Gonzalez. "They continued to play him cause they wanted to win this game. That type of reality should never take the place of protecting our kids."

During the civil suit, Gonzalez discovered none of the freshman coaches on the 2013 Monte Vista Football Team had completed state-mandated concussion training because of a loophole that allowed them two years to complete it. He says the loophole is now closed and he hopes the story serves as a reminder to all youth coaches to take potential brain injuries very seriously.

According to a spokeswoman for the Grossmont Union High School District, the $7.125 million settlement is paid through the San Diego County Schools Risk Management Joint Powers Authority (JPA), of which it is a member.

The School Board ratified the settlement in March with a 5-0 vote.

Photo Credit: NBC 7]]>
<![CDATA[Health Department Probes E. Coli Outbreak in 4 NJ Counties]]>Fri, 06 Apr 2018 02:21:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Parents_Concerned_After_E_Coli_Found_in_School_Water.jpg

New Jersey’s Health Department says it’s investigating a half-dozen cases of E. coli that may be linked to a restaurant chain in the state.

The six cases of E. coli were reported in Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex and Warren counties.

The department says it's in the process of gathering the food history of those who fell ill.

Health officials say they won't name the restaurant unless a link is confirmed.

"Individuals could have eaten a number of meals in a number of places before getting sick," a press release from health officials reads.

An investigation into the outbreak will happen in two parts, the Health Department says.

First, state lab tests will be done to determine if the strains of E. coli match. Then the CDC will do confirmatory tests.

Second, investigators will try to determine the common food source that made the people sick. The department said it will work with the FDA to trace the sources of the food eaten by those who fell ill, as well as the sources of the food delivered to the restaurant.

E. coli can spread from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces, the CDC says. It is very contagious and can spread quickly in places such as daycare centers and cruise ships.

Common symptoms of E. coli infection include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain.

Photo Credit: NBC New York]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Investigating HIV Case Spike Among Mass. Opioid Users]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 21:25:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-909837320.jpg

Federal public health officials are joining Massachusetts health officials in investigating a large cluster of reported HIV cases in Lawrence and Lowell.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agreed to help the Massachusetts Department of Public Health with investigating the cases, which it said involves people who inject drugs and are homeless.

Preliminary data from DPH showed 52 new HIV cases in 2017 among those who use opioids, compared to 23 cases the year before.

The CDC's involvement in the investigation will bring resources to determine underlying factors in the infection clusters and why this spike is happening now after a decade of increasing intravenous drug use related to the ongoing opioid epidemic.

There will also be additional help with field interviews of those infected with HIV and their needle-sharing and sexual partners.

Assistance from the CDC is expected to begin later in April.

"The sooner we can discover why these infections are happening now, the sooner we can use the most effective prevention interventions based on the evidence," Dr. Al DeMaria, DPH's infectious disease medical director and state epidemiologist, said in a statement.

Dr. Thomas Stopka, who teaches at Tufts University School of Medicine and studies how one epidemic can lead to another, previously told NBC10 Boston he believed the presence of fentanyl in the Merrimack Valley could be a factor in the increase as addicts tend to use more because of its potency.

"If they're injecting more frequently, there's increased chance for syringe sharing," he said.

Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, according the CDC, and hepatitis C cases related intravenous drug use have increased by 300 percent across the country.

Meanwhile, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams has issued his office's first national public health advisory in 13 years after recommending Americans carry the overdose antidote naloxone, commonly referred as Narcan, on Thursday.

"You don't have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life," he said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Surgeon General Urges Americans to Carry Overdose Antidote]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 14:00:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Surgeon-General.jpg

The nation's chief doctor wants more Americans to start carrying the overdose antidote naloxone to help combat the nation's opioid crisis and save lives.

Speaking at the National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta on Thursday morning, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams issued his office's first national public health advisory in 13 years.

Adams said he hopes those who are at risk — as well as their friends and family members — will keep the antidote on hand and learn how to use it.

"You don't have to be a policeman or a firefighter or a paramedic to save a life," said Adams, who pointed out that more than half of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S. occur at home.

According to federal data, more than 42,000 Americans suffered fatal opioid overdoses in 2016, more than double the number who died in 2010.

Naloxone can restore a person's breathing after it is injected or sprayed in the nostrils, quickly bringing overdose victims back from near-death.

The drug, which is often referred to by the brand name Narcan, is available without a prescription in most states and is regularly used by first responders across the country. Another product, Evzio, is available with a prescription and delivers naloxone via a hand-held auto-injector.

Adams said 95 percent of all insured Americans are covered to purchase naloxone. Narcan nasal spray, one of the most widely available products, can cost around $80 for one dose. Generic, injectable versions of naloxone are cheaper.

For those who are uninsured, the antidote is often available at little or no cost through local public health programs, Adams said. He also wants more federal funds dedicated to increasing naloxone access on local levels.

"Costs should not and, in the near future, will not be a barrier to accessing naloxone for anyone in America," Adams said.

As of July 2017, all 50 states have passed laws improving naloxone access, according to The Network for Public Health Law, a nonprofit that helps government agencies.

Maine's Republican Gov. Paul LePage has been one of the most outspoken opponents of the push, arguing that naloxone doesn't treat addiction and merely discourages people from seeking treatment by essentially offering a safety net if they do overdose.

Proponents, however, argue that greater access to naloxone doesn't draw people to illegal drug use or foster an addiction.

Adams said naloxone will not single-handedly solve the opioid crisis and should instead be used "in conjunction with expanded access to evidence-based treatment."

"There are people out there who think naloxone doesn't make a difference: you're just going to go on and misuse substances again," Adams said. "That would be like me saying I'm not going to do CPR on someone having a heart attack because if we save them, they're just going to go out there and eat fast food and be back here all over again."

Adams' recommendation for more people to possess naloxone comes a month after Philadelphia's health department urged residents to do the same.

Prior to his current role, Adams had been Indiana's health commissioner, where he promoted needle-exchange programs aimed at stemming the spread of diseases among intravenous drug users.

The last surgeon general public health advisory was issued in 2005 and focused on prenatal alcohol exposure.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Addiction Costs Employers $2.6B a Year for Care]]>Thu, 05 Apr 2018 11:10:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1127.jpg

A new report shows large employers spent $2.6 billion to treat opioid addiction and overdoses in 2016, an eightfold increase since 2004. More than half went to treat employees' children.

The analysis released Thursday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation finds such spending cost companies and workers about $26 per enrollee in 2016.

Employers have been limiting insurance coverage of opioids because of concerns about addiction. The report finds spending on opioid prescriptions falling 27 percent from a peak in 2009.

Researchers analyzed insurance claims from employers with more than 1,000 workers. Most are self-insured, meaning they assume the financial risk.

Workers share the costs. Steve Wojcik of the National Business Group on Health says for every $5 increase, employers typically cover $4 and pass $1 to workers.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Drug-Resistant 'Nightmare Bacteria' Pose Growing Threat: CDC]]>Wed, 04 Apr 2018 08:29:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Pseudomonas-aeruginosa.jpg

"Nightmare bacteria" with unusual resistance to antibiotics of last resort were found more than 200 times in the United States last year in a first-of-a-kind hunt to see how much of a threat these rare cases are becoming, health officials said Tuesday.

That's more than they had expected to find, and the true number is probably higher because the effort involved only certain labs in each state, officials say.

The problem mostly strikes people in hospitals and nursing homes who need IVs and other tubes that can get infected. In many cases, others in close contact with these patients also harbored the superbugs even though they weren't sick — a risk for further spread.

Some of the sick patients had traveled for surgery or other health care to another country where drug-resistant germs are more common, and the superbug infections were discovered after they returned to the U.S.

"Essentially, we found nightmare bacteria in your backyard," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"These verge on untreatable infections" where the only option may be supportive care — fluids and sometimes machines to maintain life to give the patient a chance to recover, Schuchat said.

The situation was described in a CDC report.

Bugs and drugs are in a constant battle, as germs evolve to resist new and old antibiotics. About 2 million Americans get infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year and 23,000 die, Schuchat said.

Concern has been growing about a rise in bacteria resistant to all or most antibiotics. Last year, public health labs around the country were asked to watch for and quickly respond to cases of advanced antibiotic resistance, especially to some last-resort antibiotics called carbapenems.

In the first nine months of the year, more than 5,770 samples were tested for these "nightmare bacteria," as CDC calls them, and one quarter were found to have genes that make them hard to treat and easy to share their resistance tricks with other types of bacteria. Of these, 221 had unusual genes that conferred resistance. The cases were scattered throughout 27 states.

"Even in remote areas" this threat is real, because patients often transfer to and from other places for care, said Dr. Jay Butler, chief medical officer for the state of Alaska and past president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.

Others in close contact with the infected patient then were tested, and 11 percent were found to be carrying the same superbugs even though they were not sick. This gives the bugs more of a chance to spread.

What to do? CDC suggests:

  • Tell your doctors if you recently had health care in another country.
  • Talk with them about preventing infections, taking care of chronic conditions to help avoid them, and getting vaccines to prevent them.
  • Wash your hands regularly and keep cuts clean until healed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: CDC]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Issues Mandatory Recall of Some Kratom Products]]>Tue, 03 Apr 2018 15:05:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kratom-file.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration ordered the mandatory recall Tuesday of kratom products distributed by one company that may be contaminated with salmonella.

The FDA said it’s the first time it has used its mandatory recall power for a food product after first trying to get the company to voluntarily take the products back. The agency has been criticized for years by consumer advocates and some members of Congress who say it moves too slowly to recall potentially contaminated foods, NBC News reported.

Tuesday’s mandatory recall affects Triangle Pharmanaturals, which bills itself as a consultant and packager of supplement products.

Kratom is a plant supplement sold to treat pain, to help people stop using opioids or as a stimulant. The FDA has been warning against its use in general and later issued a large voluntary recall notice after some samples were found to be contaminated with salmonella and sickened 87 people.

Photo Credit: AP (File)]]>
<![CDATA[Midlife 'Wealth Shock' May Lead to Death, Study Suggests]]>Tue, 03 Apr 2018 11:56:36 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/money25.jpg

A big financial loss may shorten your life, a new study suggests.

Middle-aged Americans who experienced a sudden, large economic blow were more likely to die during the following years than those who didn't. The heightened danger of death after a devastating loss, which researchers called a "wealth shock," crossed socio-economic lines, affecting people no matter how much money they had to start.

The analysis of nearly 9,000 people's experiences underscores well-known connections between money and well-being, with prior studies linking lower incomes and rising income inequality with more chronic disease and shorter life expectancy.

"This is really a story about everybody," said lead researcher Lindsay Pool of Northwestern University's medical school. Stress, delays in health care, substance abuse and suicides may contribute, she said. "Policymakers should pay attention."

Overall, wealth shock was tied with a 50 percent greater risk of dying, although the study couldn't prove a cause-and-effect connection. The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers analyzed two decades of data from the Health and Retirement Study, which checks in every other year with a group of people in their 50s and 60s and keeps track of who dies.

About 1 in 4 people in the study had a wealth shock, which researchers defined as a loss of 75 percent or more in net worth over two years. The average loss was about $100,000.

That could include a drop in the value of investments or realized losses like a home foreclosure. Some shocks happened during the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Others happened before or after. No matter what was going on in the greater U.S. economy, a wealth shock still increased the chance of dying.

Women were more likely than men to have a wealth shock. Once they did, their increased chance of dying was about the same as the increase for men. Researchers adjusted for marital changes, unemployment and health status. They still saw the connection between financial crisis and death.

The effect was more marked if the person lost a home as part of the wealth shock, and it was more pronounced for people with fewer assets.

The findings suggest a wealth shock is as dangerous as a new diagnosis of heart disease, wrote Dr. Alan Garber of Harvard University in an accompanying editorial, noting that doctors need to recognize how money hardships may affect their patients.

The findings come at a time when U.S. life expectancy has dropped for two straight years.

"We should be doing everything we can to prevent people from experiencing wealth shocks," said Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health, who was not involved in the study.

What exactly to do, however, may take more research, said Katherine Baicker, dean of the Harris School of Public Policy at University of Chicago, who also was not involved in the study.

"We don't yet know whether policies that aim to protect people's savings will have a direct effect on mortality or not," Baicker said. "But that's not the only reason to try to protect people's savings." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Old, New Drugs Mix to Raise Death Tolls in Ohio]]>Mon, 02 Apr 2018 15:05:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/609868084-Fentanyl-Ohio.jpg

New surges in use of methamphetamine and cocaine mixed with a powerful synthetic opioid are contributing to rising drug overdose death tolls in already hard-hit Ohio.

As county coroners have begun releasing their 2017 tallies, a trend has emerged of more deaths involving meth or cocaine mixed with fentanyl, the painkiller blamed for increasing U.S. fatalities in recent years as authorities focused on reducing heroin overdoses.

U.S. authorities say illicit fentanyl made in China has flooded in while there is increased availability of meth and a rebound in cocaine. All have been contributing to the national rises in overdose deaths and are increasingly being seen in lethal mixes. Authorities say many drug users may be unaware they are taking fentanyl or have any idea how much is in what they're taking.

States as different as New Hampshire, West Virginia and Florida have seen rising overdose death rates in recent years. The problem is particularly acute in Ohio, where overdose death rates have been climbing steadily this decade.

Spreading fentanyl and increased meth use "have turned an already bad situation into something far worse," Butler County coroner Dr. Lisa Mannix said recently while announcing a fifth straight record overdose toll in the southwest Ohio county just north of Cincinnati. At 232 deaths, it was up 21 percent over 2016, and Mannix said meth-related deaths quadrupled last year and have soared from one in 2014 to 46 last year. Cocaine-related deaths have doubled in Butler over five years from 28 to 56 in 2017.

Mannix said the cocaine and meth deaths predominantly involved fentanyl mixes.

"It shows the ebb and flow of drugs," said Newtown Police Chief Tom Synan, who's on the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition. "They fade out and come back with dealers always trying to find ways to make it more potent, more addictive ... more money."

Hamilton County's coroner recently reported seeing more cases of cocaine mixed with illegally manufactured fentanyl as the Cincinnati-based county's toll jumped 31 percent over 2016 to 529 overdose deaths overall.

The Franklin County coroner, based in the capital of Columbus, earlier said overdose deaths for the first nine months of 2017 had already topped full-year totals for 2016, with increases in cocaine- and meth-related deaths.

Preliminary numbers from Cuyahoga County showed 349 cocaine-related deaths in 2017, up from 115 in 2015, with most involving fentanyl mixes. The overall estimate for the year was 822 overdose deaths, up from 666 in 2016 in the Cleveland-based county.

Combining opioids and stimulants isn't anything new: The comedian John Belushi died in 1982 from a cocaine-heroin "speedball" mixture. But using fentanyl, which authorities say can be 50 times or more stronger than heroin, has heightened the danger.

"Today it is more lethal than it ever was, because now many times it does have this fentanyl mixed in, so it's really a new concoction," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said about increased cocaine and meth. "People don't really know how potent it is."

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Ohio's 4,329 drug overdose deaths in 2016 gave it the second-highest age-adjusted death rate after West Virginia, among 63,600 people dying nationwide from overdose. The Ohio health department reported last year that cocaine-related deaths rose 62 percent to 1,109 in 2016, with the majority involving fentanyl and related opioids. West Virginia health authorities say preliminary figures show meth-related deaths jumped to 187 last year from 107 in 2016, with a smaller increase in cocaine-related deaths, and that most involved multiple drugs.

Ohio's statewide numbers for 2017 haven't been released yet, but preliminary CDC estimates showed a 36 percent rise in Ohio deaths in the 12-month period ending August 2017.

Coping with the emerging mixes of fentanyl with meth or cocaine adds to the frustration for those on the front lines of the drug crisis.

"As soon as we come up with a program and we try to work on one drug, then another drug comes up," said Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Ty Wright for The Washington Post via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Legalizing Medical Marijuana May Cut Opioid Abuse: Study]]>Mon, 02 Apr 2018 14:17:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17348734046110.jpg

Making medical marijuana available might help reduce opioid prescriptions a little, researchers reported Monday.

They found states that legalized the medical use of marijuana saw small reductions in opioid prescriptions for Medicare and Medicaid patients, NBC News reported.

Since opioid prescriptions are considered to be a major driver of the opioid abuse epidemic, the researchers said, medical marijuana laws could be a part of the solution.

“State implementation of medical marijuana laws was associated with a 5.88 percent lower rate of opioid prescribing,” wrote Hefei Wen of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and Jason Hockenberry of the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health.

Photo Credit: Eric Gay/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Why Parents and Doctors Are So Worried About Teens 'Juuling']]>Mon, 02 Apr 2018 13:55:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/890546208-Juul.jpg

Juul is a sleek, discrete brand of e-cigarettes that's become a hit for teenagers and a concern for families, teachers and doctors, "Today" reported.

Each Juul pod contains an equivalent amount of nicotine to a pack of cigarettes, according to the manufacturer.

Some doctors are concerned that teens believe e-cigarettes are safe when they have been found to deliver cancer-causing chemicals. Fruity flavors, like those you can buy for Juuls, were found to be the worst offenders, according to research published in March.

Among those concerned doctors is Jenni Levy, who found out her 18-year-old daughter was "juuling" when her husband found an unusual cartridge in the laundry in their Pennsylvania home. "My biggest concern is she's sucking in vapor and we don't know what that does," she said.

Photo Credit: Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Govt. Can't Block Immigrant Teens From Abortion: Court]]>Fri, 30 Mar 2018 21:44:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/gavel+generic1.jpg

A federal court in Washington told the Trump administration Friday that the government can't interfere with the ability of pregnant immigrant teens being held in federal custody to obtain abortions.

A judge issued an order Friday evening barring the government from "interfering with or obstructing" pregnant minors' access to abortion counseling or abortions, among other things, while a lawsuit proceeds. The order covers pregnant minors being held in federal custody after entering the country illegally.

Lawyers for the Department of Health and Human Services, which is responsible for sheltering children who illegally enter the country unaccompanied by a parent, have said the department has a policy of "refusing to facilitate" abortions. And the director of the office that oversees the shelters has said he believes teens in his agency's care have no constitutional right to abortion.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought a lawsuit on behalf of the minors, which the judge overseeing the case also Friday allowed to go forward as a class action lawsuit.

"We have been able to secure justice for these young pregnant women in government custody who will no longer be subject to the government's policy of coercion and obstruction while the case continues," said ACLU attorney Brigitte Amiri after the judge's order became public.

The government can appeal the judge's order. A Department of Justice spokesman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Friday evening.

The ACLU and Trump administration have been sparring for months over the government's policy. In a high profile case last year, the ACLU represented a teen who entered the U.S. illegally in September and learned while in federal custody in Texas that she was pregnant. She obtained a state court order permitting her to have an abortion, but federal officials refused to transport her or temporarily release her so that others could take her to get the procedure. The teen was ultimately able to get an abortion in October as a result of the lawsuit, but the Trump administration has accused the ACLU of misleading the government during the case, a charge the ACLU has denied.

The ACLU has since represented several other teens who have sought abortions while in custody, but the organization doesn't know of any others actively seeking abortions, Amiri said Friday night. The judge's order now covers any teens currently in custody or who come in to custody while the lawsuit goes forward.

In a deposition taken in December as part of the litigation, Scott Lloyd, the director of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees shelters for unaccompanied immigrant minors, said that pregnant teens in his agency's care have no right to abortion under the Constitution. Lloyd, who has written about his own opposition to abortion, said he had not approved any abortions since becoming director in March 2017. That included refusing the abortion request of a teen who had been impregnated as a result of rape.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan said in ruling Friday that Lloyd and his office are "certainly entitled to maintain and interest in fetal life, and even to prefer that pregnant" minors in their custody "choose one course over the other," but the government can't create or implement a policy that strips minors "of their right to make their own reproductive choices."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NJ Man's 'Beer Belly' Turns Out to Be 30-Pound Tumor]]>Fri, 30 Mar 2018 15:52:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/kevin+daly+before.jpg

A New Jersey man was so bothered by his growing gut -- something friends, family and even doctors dismissed as a natural "beer belly" -- that he persisted in getting it checked out, and eventually made the shocking discovery of what was actually in his stomach. 

Kevin Daly, a 63-year-old financial planner, underwent open heart surgery in December 2015 and then noticed that his stomach was protruding out of proportion to his normally fit physique, according to Lenox Hill Hospital, where he'd later undergo surgery.

He was told repeatedly it was simply visceral fat, a normal part of aging, but Daly still felt something wasn't right.

Responding to Daly's concerns about his belly, his cardiologist, Dr. Varinder Singh, advised him to lose weight. Despite Daly shedding 34 pounds in about six months, his large belly stuck around. 

"He did everything that was prescribed," Singh said on a recent appearance on Megyn Kelly TODAY along with Daly. "He exercised, he went on a diet, and he lost a lot of weight." 

"When he came to me and he said, 'Doc, there's something going on here,' I actually told him, 'Kevin, it's probably visceral fat,'" said Singh. "But ... He knew. And patients know their bodies better than anybody. And as medical professionals, we have to listen to them within reason."  

Recognizing that Daly had taken his advice on shedding weight and was still worried, Singh ordered a CAT scan, though Daly's insurance company initially did not want to pay for it because it did not see a valid reason for the procedure.

But when the scan was finally taken, doctors were shocked to find a huge tumor taking up the majority of space in Daly's abdomen. They estimated it was about 12 pounds and quickly scheduled him for surgery in December 2017. 

Doctors were shocked again when they opened him up. The surgeons found a much bigger and more complex tumor than they'd expected: a 30-pound mass wrapped around one of his kidneys.

His chief surgeon, Dr. Julio Teixeira, said it was the largest mass he has ever removed, and it took two residents to hold up the tumor in surgery while Teixeira cut off the blood supply.

Doctors also had to remove the kidney entangled in the mass.

The surgery was successful, and three months later, Daly is down to 178 pounds and has his flat stomach back. He wanted to share his story to show how important it is for people to be their own health advocates. 

He told Kelly that he looks at the photo of his tumor every day because he's still shocked and wonders how it grew inside him. 

Daly is still being monitored and will continue to be monitored for the next 10 years or so, since the recurrence of these types of tumors are high. His organs displaced by the tumor have now returned to their proper positions. 

Photo Credit: Lenox Hill Hospital/Kevin Daly
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<![CDATA[California Judge: Coffee Needs Cancer Warnings]]>Thu, 29 Mar 2018 20:38:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/coffee19.jpg

A Los Angeles judge ruled that California law requires coffee companies to carry an ominous cancer warning label because of a chemical produced in the roasting process.

Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle wrote in a proposed ruling Wednesday that Starbucks and other coffee companies failed to show that the threat from the chemical was insignificant.

The Council for Education and Research on Toxics, a nonprofit group, sued Starbucks and about 90 other companies, including grocery stores and retail shops, under a state law that requires warnings on a wide range of chemicals that can cause cancer. One of those chemicals is acrylamide, a carcinogen present in coffee.

"While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants' medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation," Berle wrote. "Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health."

The coffee industry claimed the chemical was present at harmless levels and should be exempt from the law because it results naturally from the cooking process necessary to make the beans flavorful.

Lawyers for Starbucks, the lead defendant, and the National Coffee Association industry group did not immediately return phone messages or emails seeking comment.

The ruling came despite eased concerns in recent years about the possible dangers of coffee, with some studies finding health benefits.

In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer — the cancer agency of the World Health Organization — moved coffee off its "possible carcinogen" list.

Studies indicate coffee is unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and it seems to lower the risks for liver and uterine cancers, the agency said. Evidence is inadequate to determine its effect on dozens of other cancer types.

The California legal case has been brewing for eight years and is still not over. A third phase of trial will later determine any civil penalties that coffee companies must pay.

With potential penalties up to $2,500 per person exposed each day over eight years, that figure could be astronomical in a state with close to 40 million residents, though a massive figure is unlikely.

The lawsuit was brought under the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, passed by voters as Proposition 65 in 1986. It allows private citizens, advocacy groups and attorneys to sue on behalf of the state and collect a portion of civil penalties.

The law has been credited with reducing chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects, such as lead in hair dyes, mercury in nasal sprays and arsenic in bottled water. But it's also been widely criticized for abuses by lawyers shaking down businesses for quick settlements.

Attorney Raphael Metzger, who brought the lawsuit and drinks a few cups of coffee a day, said he wants the industry to remove the chemical from its process. Coffee companies have said that's not feasible and would make their product taste bad.

Metzger's group brought a similar case later taken up by the state attorney general that resulted in potato-chip makers agreeing in 2008 to pay $3 million and remove acrylamide from their products rather than post startling warnings that can be found throughout California and are largely ignored.

Parking garages, for example, post signs saying, "This area contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects and other reproductive harm."

Regulations adopted in recent years now require more specific warnings that list the chemical consumers may be exposed to and list a website with more information. Parking garages, for example, will have to post that breathing air there exposes drivers to carbon monoxide and gas and diesel exhaust and that people should not to linger longer than necessary.

Many coffee companies have already posted warnings that specifically say acrylamide is found in coffee and is among chemicals that cause cancer. However, many of those warnings are posted in places not easily visible, such as below the counter where cream and sugar are available.

In the first phase of the trial, Berle said the defense failed to present enough credible evidence to show there was no significant risk posed by acrylamide in coffee.

The law put the burden on the defense to show that the level of the chemical won't result in one excess case of cancer for every 100,000 people exposed. Berle said the epidemiology studies presented were inadequate to evaluate that risk.

Having failed to show there was no significant risk to drinking coffee, the second phase of trial let the industry put on a backup defense. It had to show that there should be a less strict level set for coffee because of health benefits from drinking it.

Berle said the coffee companies failed to show that.

The judge has given the defense several weeks to file objections to the proposed ruling before he makes it final. California judges can reverse their tentative rulings, but rarely do.

Nearly half of the defendants in the coffee case have settled at some point during the long legal process and agreed to post warnings, Metzger said. About 50 defendants remain.

Among the latest to settle was 7-Eleven, which agreed to pay $900,000. BP West Coast Products, which operates gas station convenience stores, agreed to pay $675,000. Yum Yum Donuts Inc. agreed to pay about $250,000.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Say They've Discovered a New Human Organ]]>Wed, 28 Mar 2018 18:17:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/humanskeleton_1200x675.jpg

In a study published this week, scientists said they may have come across an unknown organ in the human body that could advance the understanding of cancer and other diseases, NBC News reported.

The research suggests the network of connective tissues called the interstitium is a complete organ, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.

The report additionally suggests that the interstitium is one of the biggest organs in the human body, NBC News reported. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Chung Sung-Jun]]>
<![CDATA[Selfie Medicine: Phone Apps Push People to Take Their Pills]]>Wed, 28 Mar 2018 06:12:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/selfiemedicineAP_18079015888894.jpg

Take two tablets and a selfie? Your doctor's orders may one day include a smartphone video to make sure you took your medicine.

Smartphone apps that monitor pill-taking are now available, and researchers are testing how well they work when medication matters. Experts praise the efficiency, but some say the technology raises privacy and data security concerns.

Selfie medicine works like this: Open an app on your phone, show your pills, put them in your mouth and swallow. Don't forget to show your empty mouth to the camera to prove today's dose is on its way. Then upload the video proof to the clinic.

Fans say the technology addresses a big problem: About half of drugs for chronic conditions aren't taken as prescribed because of cost, side effects or patient forgetfulness.

With treatment for opioid addiction, a skipped dose can mean a dangerous relapse. The National Institute on Drug Abuse is funding research to tailor a smartphone app for those patients and see if they'll use it.

"If we can keep patients engaged, we can keep them in treatment longer," said lead researcher Dr. Judith Tsui of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

The next phase of her research will compare a group of patients who use the monitoring app called emocha (ee-MOH-kuh) with those who don't to see if there's a difference.

At one Tennessee treatment center, some patients with opioid addiction are already using the app to upload selfies of their daily dose and answer questions about how they're doing.

"Every time they sign on, it allows us to capture data. Are they having cravings? Suicidal tendencies?" said Scott Olson, CEO of Dallas-based Pathway Healthcare, which is trying the app at its Jackson, Tennessee, site. "Maybe a phone call from a counselor might make the difference between staying clean and a relapse."

Olson thinks insurers will pay for the service with more evidence. For monitoring tuberculosis patients, health departments pay roughly $35 to $50 per patient each month for systems that include encrypted data storage. A small health department might pay as little as $500 a month.

The idea of watching someone take their medicine — called directly observed therapy or DOT — has roots in tuberculosis where one person's forgetfulness can be serious for everyone. If patients don't take all their antibiotics, their infectious TB germs can get stronger, developing drug resistance and endangering the broader community.

But taking a handful of pills daily for up to a year is difficult, so public health departments traditionally sent workers to people's homes and workplaces to watch them take their doses. Today, many TB patients prefer remote monitoring. Nurses like it too.

Nurse Peggy Cooley has used Skype for years to chat live with patients taking TB medicine.

"We can accomplish in a two-minute phone call something that might have taken an hour to do and most of that hour was in the car," said Cooley, who works for the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department in Washington state.

The new uploaded selfies don't need an appointment. They are a daily routine for many tuberculosis patients in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Houston, where savings on mileage and worker time amounted to $100,000 in a recent year.

In Boston, Albuquerque and five other cities, researchers are studying whether the technology works for hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that's surging among a new generation of injection drug users. New drugs for hepatitis C can cure, but they're expensive — $75,000 for a 12-week course of treatment — so insurers want to make sure patients take them.

"I think it holds a lot of promise," said researcher Dr. Alain Litwin of University of South Carolina School of Medicine, who's testing whether patients do better when someone watches them take their pills.

What's next? An insurer in Maryland plans to use the technology in diabetes and high blood pressure to make sure Medicare and Medicaid patients take their medicine. Startups selling the apps say they could be used by faraway adult children monitoring an elderly parent's daily pill-taking.

Experts worry about privacy, data security and penalties for poor pill-taking.

"That's the biggest ick factor," said Carolyn Neuhaus, a medical ethicist at the Hastings Center in New York. "You can imagine a program where benefits are tied to compliance and the insurer says, 'We won't pay for medication anymore unless you're taking it correctly.'"

Globally, the rapid spread of smartphones creates an opportunity to eradicate TB, say the app developers.

But eliminating TB may take simpler, cheaper technologies that can be scaled for millions of cases, said Dr. Daniel Chin, who leads TB efforts for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The group supports research in China and India on two homegrown technologies. China's tool, about the size of a child's shoebox, reminds patients to take their pills and saves data for review. In India, the government favors a blister pill pack printed with phone numbers; a patient punches out a daily pill, then calls the revealed number.

Worldwide, TB kills more than 1.6 million people annually, even though most deaths are preventable with treatment.

"If we are going to eliminate the disease, we need technology," said Dr. Richard Garfein of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, who helped develop one of the smartphone apps, SureAdhere.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Manuel Valdes/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Yucky Ducky? Study Reveals Bath-Time Friends' Dirty Secret]]>Tue, 27 Mar 2018 16:44:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/rubber-ducky.jpg

Scientists now have the dirt on the rubber ducky: Those cute yellow bath-time toys are — as some parents have long suspected — a haven for nasty bugs.

Swiss and American researchers counted the microbes swimming inside the toys and say the murky liquid released when ducks were squeezed contained "potentially pathogenic bacteria" in four out of the five toys studied.

The bacteria found included Legionella and Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that is "often implicated in hospital-acquired infections," the authors said in a statement.

The study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology, ETH Zurich and the University of Illinois was published Tuesday in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes. It's billed as one of the first in-depth scientific examinations of its kind.

They turned up a strikingly high volume — up to 75 million cells per square centimeter (0.15 square inch) — and variety of bacteria and fungus in the ducks.

Tap water doesn't usually foster the growth of bacteria, the scientists said, but low-quality polymers in the plastic materials give them the nutrients they need. Bodily fluids — like urine and sweat — as well as contaminants and even soap in bathwater add microbes and nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus and create balmy brine for bacteria.

"We've found very big differences between different bath animals," said microbiologist and lead study author Lisa Neu, alluding to other types of bath toys — like rubber crocodiles — that also were examined. "One of the reasons was the material, because it releases carbon that can serve as food for the bacteria."

While certain amounts of bacteria can help strengthen children's immune systems, they can also lead to eye, ear and intestinal infections, the researchers said. Among the vulnerable users: Children "who may enjoy squirting water from bath toys into their faces," a statement from the institute said.

The scientists, who received funding from the Swiss government as part of broader research into household objects, say using higher-quality polymers to make the ducks could prevent bacterial and fungal growth. The Swiss government isn't making any recommendations at this stage.

Known for their squeaks and eulogized in a Sesame Street song on TV, rubber duckies have been a childhood bath-time staple for years. Online vendor Amazon.com lists one such offering — advertised as water-tight to prevent mildew — among the top 10 sellers in its "Baby Bath Toys" category.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Tank Failure Affects More Patients, Fertility Clinic Says]]>Tue, 27 Mar 2018 09:39:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_embryos0309_1920x10801.jpg

The number of frozen eggs and embryos a Cleveland fertility center says were lost in a tank failure has doubled since the incident was first reported earlier this month, NBC News reported.

The hospital is now blaming human error for the loss of 4,000 eggs and embryos, and it told nearly 1,000 patients that it is unlikely any egg or embryo is viable.

NBC News has also uncovered a history of malfunctions from the manufacturer, Custom Biogenic Systems, which declined to comment.

British regulators issued a warning about the company's freezers in 2003 after Custom Biogenic Systems reported knowing about 21 incidents. The alert was later withdrawn as upgrades were made, but at least one problem was reported subsequent to the alert, in Florida.

Photo Credit: WKYC]]>
<![CDATA[Dentist Group Puts Teeth in Push to Curb Opioid Painkillers]]>Mon, 26 Mar 2018 12:00:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628+1.jpg

The American Dental Association wants dentists to drastically cut back on prescribing opioid painkillers.

The group on Monday said it is pressing for limiting prescriptions to a week and mandatory education for dentists that encourages using other painkillers that are not addictive.

Dentists write fewer than 7 percent of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. But new research shows that practice has increased in recent years, despite evidence that ibuprofen and acetaminophen work just as well for most dental pain and are less risky.

Dentists are the leading prescribers of opioids for teens. Opioids are usually prescribed for short-term pain after procedures including removal of wisdom teeth and other tooth extractions.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[New Bill Would Ban Smoking While Walking on NYC Sidewalks]]>Sun, 25 Mar 2018 17:57:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CIGARETTE+2.jpg

New York City smokers may have something else to grumble about in addition to $13 packs of cigarettes.

A bill introduced in the City Council would ban smoking while walking on the city’s sidewalks.

City Council Member Peter Koo, a Democrat serving Flushing, Queens, introduced the legislation at Thursday’s City Council meeting.

In a press release, Koo said he’s seen “too many mothers with strollers, and parents holding hands with their children, walking behind smokers who are blowing clouds of smoke behind them.”

The law would prohibit smoking while walking on sidewalks, as well as adjoining parks, squares and public places, including pedestrian pathways, park strips, medians, malls and parking lots.

“In a perfect world, every smoker would have the self-awareness to realize that smoking and walking down a crowded sidewalk subjects everyone behind you to breathing in the fumes,” Koo said.

The councilman said smokers should stand off to the side if they want to smoke, but it’s unclear exactly what constitutes walking while smoking and if smokers would have to remain completely stationary to avoid the risk of getting fined $50.

Sidewalks remain one of the last public places where smoking is allowed in New York City. It’s already banned in parks, pools and beaches, as well as most indoor places, including restaurants, bars, offices and clubs. Using e-cigarettes is prohibited in the same places. 

The bill, if passed, would take effect 120 days after being signed into law.

Photo Credit: NBC New York]]>
<![CDATA[Kimmel Gets 1st Colonoscopy With Help from Couric]]>Wed, 21 Mar 2018 08:55:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Kimmel-Couric-Split.jpg

Katie Couric just took Jimmy Kimmel for his first colonoscopy.

The late-night host shared the experience on Tuesday's episode of "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

Kimmel turned 50 in November, which is the recommended age for adults to start getting screenings. So when Couric asked Kimmel if she could accompany him for his first, he couldn't refuse.

"It seemed to be an unusual request, but I know that this is something Katie is passionate about and it's an important thing to do," Kimmel said. "So, with that said, we're about to watch a camera go where no camera has ever gone before."

Jimmy Kimmel on How He and His Wife Dealt With Their Son's Surgery: There Were Secrets We Kept From Each Other

Fighting colon cancer is near to Couric's heart. Her first husband, Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer in 1998. To help encourage others to get colonoscopies, Couric underwent a live screening on Today nearly two decades ago.

Couric guided Kimmel every step of the way. She mixed him a pre-screening "cocktail" to clear out his colon, drove him to the hospital and gave him a pep talk before the procedure.

Of course, the comedic host managed to keep things light. He changed into a formal gown instead of a hospital gown before the colonoscopy and made his doctor play a round of Operation to test her skills.

"That was good. I feel comfortable now," Kimmel said after his doctor successfully extracted a butterfly from the body of the Hasbro game.

Jokes aside, Kimmel took the colonoscopy seriously and underwent the procedure. So, did the doctors find anything alarming?

"We found your keys, some [toy] soldiers--you've been looking for those haven't you?" Couric teased, showing him the loose items. "And best of all, look, we found your harmonica, Jimmy."

Thankfully, Kimmel's colon was free of any polyps and he won't have to have another screening for about 10 years.

"Thank you, Katie, for invading my colon," he said.

Couric teased she had a "colonoscopy mystery date" before Tuesday's episode.

"I should never have swiped left on Tinder," Kimmel teased.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[New Male Birth Control Pill Is Safe, Researchers Say]]>Wed, 21 Mar 2018 12:48:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-891341512.jpg

The latest effort to come up with a male birth control pill has found a formulation that appears to be safe, researchers at the University of Washington said.

NBC News reported that Stephanie Page and her team are testing dimethandrolone undecanoate, a tweaked version of previous failed efforts to develop a male pill. Possibly the best hope yet for a non-permanent male contraceptive, it's being developed with funding from the National Institutes of Health.

But the experimental pill has at least one of the same problems that plague female birth control pills: it caused the men to gain weight. And after just a few weeks of testing, it’s also not yet clear how well it works.

Even though the researchers said they were “very excited” by the results, they haven’t been testing it long enough to show whether it decreases sperm production, and they haven’t shown whether it stops couples from conceiving.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Judge Temporarily Blocks New Miss. 15-Week Abortion Ban]]>Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:36:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/abortionAP_576194127607.jpg

A federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked a new Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks' gestation — the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.

The law took effect as soon as Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed it Monday. The state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization, quickly sued the state, arguing the law is unconstitutional because it bans abortion weeks before a fetus can survive outside the womb.

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves heard arguments Tuesday before granting the clinic's immediate request for a temporary restraining order that would block the law during the legal fight.

"The Supreme Court says every woman has a constitutional right to 'personal privacy' regarding her body," Reeves wrote in a brief decision that quoted previous legal rulings on abortion. "That right protects her choice 'to have an abortion before viability.' States cannot 'prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision' to do so."

Reeves said in court that the "ultimate question" is whether a state can ban abortion before viability. He asked: "Does the state have the right to trump the woman's right to have control over her decisions, over her body?"

Reeves did not rule from the bench but granted the temporary restraining order about an hour later, noting that lawyers for the clinic said a woman who is at least 15 weeks pregnant was scheduled to have an abortion Tuesday afternoon.

One of those lawyers, Rob McDuff, said the woman's next available appointment would be March 28 because physicians travel from out of state to work there. He said the clinic does not perform abortions after 16 weeks of pregnancy, and March 28 would put her beyond that.

The law and responding challenge set up a confrontation sought by abortion opponents, who are hoping federal courts will ultimately prohibit abortions before a fetus is viable. Current federal law does not.

Some legal experts have said a change in the law is unlikely unless the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court changes in a way that favors abortion opponents.

Dr. Sacheen Carr-Ellis, medical director of Jackson Women's Health Organization, argues in the lawsuit that viability varies from pregnancy to pregnancy depending on the health of the mother and the fetus, but that "no fetus is viable after 15 weeks of pregnancy."

Paul Barnes, a special assistant state attorney general, argued that the law serves Mississippi's "interest in protecting maternal health and the state's interest in protecting unborn life." He said medical advances and legal decisions continue to define viability earlier. He said viability was considered to be around 28 weeks when the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide was handed down in 1973, and it was defined as being about 23 or 24 weeks in more recent court cases.

Reeves said in his order that the Mississippi law "places viability at 15 weeks — about two months earlier than where the medical consensus places it."

McDuff said the law keeps women "from making their own decisions about whether to bear children."

"There has been no case in which a law like this setting a ban at some point prior to viability has been upheld on the merits in the face of a constitutional challenge," McDuff said.

The law's only exceptions are if a fetus has health problems making it "incompatible with life" outside of the womb at full term, or if a pregnant woman's life or a "major bodily function" is threatened by pregnancy. Pregnancies resulting from rape and incest aren't exempted.

Mississippi previously tied with North Carolina for the nation's strictest abortion limits, at 20 weeks. Both states count pregnancy as beginning on the first day of a woman's previous menstrual period, meaning their restrictions kicked in about two weeks before those of states whose 20-week bans begin at conception.

The lawsuit opposing the 15-week ban argues that it violates other federal court rulings that have said a state can't restrict abortion before a child can survive on its own outside the womb.

The suit says the clinic performed 78 abortions in 2017 when the fetus was identified as being 15 weeks or older. That's out of about 2,500 abortions performed statewide, mostly at the clinic.

Carr-Ellis, in a sworn statement, said the law would strip her of her Mississippi medical license if she continued to provide abortions to women past the 15-week ban. She said women shouldn't be forced to carry their pregnancies to term against their will or leave the state to obtain abortions.

Associated Press writer Jeff Amy contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Docs Show Trump Admin.'s War to End Teen Pregnancy Program]]>Tue, 20 Mar 2018 13:00:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/71656346-Department-of-Health-and-Human-Services.jpg

When the Trump administration abruptly canceled a federal teen pregnancy prevention program last year, it did so over the objections of career experts in the Department of Health and Human Services, according to internal notes and emails obtained by NBC News.

Three political appointees with pro-abstinence beliefs guided the process in spite of the the objections, according to the cache of documents. The notes show that Evelyn Kappeler, the $213 million Teen Pregnancy Program's long time administrator, appears out of the loop on decisions and describes being "so rattled" at one point that her reaction "was to cry."

Many medical professionals credit the program, which had bipartisan support in Congress, with lowering the national teen pregnancy rate to its lowest point. An outside group claims the effort to end it violated a federal law.

The department has claimed the program was ineffective and also did not conform to President Donald Trump's proposed budget. It did not respond to emails or answer questions about who was responsible for ending the program, instead directing NBC News to a fact sheet and announcement on the agency's website that says most of the projects that received funding "had no impact or had a negative impact on teen behavior."

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Want to Avoid the Flu While Flying? Try a Window Seat]]>Mon, 19 Mar 2018 17:40:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AirplaneSeatFile.JPG

Worried about catching a cold or the flu on an airplane? Get a window seat, and don't leave it until the flight is over.

That's what some experts have been saying for years, and it's perhaps the best advice coming out of a new attempt to determine the risks of catching germs on an airplane.

It turns out there's been little research on the risks of catching a cold or flu during air travel. Some experts believed that sitting in a window seat would keep a passenger away from infectious people who may be on the aisle or moving around.

The new study, published Monday, came to the same conclusion.

For somebody who doesn't want to get sick, "get in that window seat and don't move," said the study's lead researcher, Vicki Stover Hertzberg of Emory University in Atlanta.

The study was ambitious: Squads of researchers jetted around the globe to test cabin surfaces and air for viruses and to observe how people came into contact with each other.

But it also had shortcomings. In a total of 10 flights, they observed only one person coughing. And though the experiment was done during a flu season five years ago, they didn't find even one of 18 cold and flu viruses they tested for.

It's possible that the researchers were unlucky, in that they were on planes that happened to not have sick people on them, Hertzberg said.

The new study was initiated and funded by Boeing Co. The Chicago-based jet manufacturer also recruited one of the researchers, Georgia Tech's Howard Weiss, and had input in the writing of the results. "But there was no particular pressure to change stuff or orient it one way or the other," Hertzberg said.

The article was published electronically by a peer-reviewed scientific journal, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers did some mathematical modeling and computer simulations to determine how likely people were to come close to a hypothetical infectious passenger sitting in an aisle seat on the 14th row of a single-aisle airplane. They concluded that on average, only one person on a flight of about 150 passengers would be infected.

Researchers who were not involved said it would be difficult to use the relatively small study to make any general conclusions about the risks of an airline passenger getting a cold or flu, let alone other diseases like measles or tuberculosis.

But it's a novel study about a subject that hasn't been well researched, they said. Studies have looked at how respiratory viruses spread in labs and in homes, but "this is the first time I've seen it done for airplanes," said Seema Lakdawala, a University of Pittsburgh biologist who studies how flu spreads.

She and others not involved in the research were intrigued by the study's findings about how people moved about the cabin and came in contact with each other.

It found:

— About 38 percent of passengers never left their seat, 38 percent left once, 13 percent left twice, and 11 percent left more than twice.

— Not surprisingly, a lot of the people getting up had an aisle seat. About 80 percent of people sitting on the aisle moved at least once during their flights, compared with 62 percent in middle seats and 43 percent in window seats.

— The 11 people sitting closest to a person with a cold or flu are at the highest risk. That included two people sitting to their left, the two to their right, and people in the row immediately in front of them and those in the row behind.

A lot of frequent fliers will be interested in the study's results, said Edward Pizzarello, an investor in a Washington-area venture-capital firm who also writes a travel blog .

"It's absolutely a fear I hear from people all the time. They just believe that they're going to get sick from going on an airplane, or they got sick from being on an airplane," he said.

Pizzarello said he's an aisle person, because he doesn't want to feel trapped in the window seat if he needs to get up.

Will he now go for the window?

Maybe, he said, if a sick person sits next to him.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

The Associated Press Health & Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images (File)]]>
<![CDATA[San Francisco Fertility Clinic Sued Over Embryo Tank Failure]]>Fri, 16 Mar 2018 11:24:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/187*120/fertility+embryos-generic.jpg

A San Francisco fertility clinic is facing two lawsuits over the possible destruction of thousands of frozen eggs and embryos in a storage tank that malfunctioned.

A Sacramento-area couple, Jonathan and Megan Bauer, sued Pacific Fertility Center in federal court on Thursday. Their attorney, Adam Wolf, says the couple lost all eight embryos they were keeping at the center when the nitrogen level in a storage tank dropped in a March 4 malfunction.

The Bauers had been storing the embryos for several years, and the woman was set to undergo an implantation in April, Wolf said. The couple are now in their late 30s — potentially reducing the chance of pregnancy. They also are not sure they can afford additional fertilization procedures, Wolf said.

"Our clients' embryos as well as their dreams of future children were irrevocably destroyed," he said.

And an unidentified woman sued the center on Tuesday after she said her eggs were also destroyed.

A call to Pacific Fertility was not immediately returned.

The malfunction occurred the same day a storage tank at a fertility clinic in suburban Cleveland failed, potentially destroying as many as 2,000 eggs and embryos, but there is no known connection between the two.

The clinic in suburban Cleveland run by University Hospitals is also facing lawsuits.

The Bauers' lawsuit accuses Pacific Fertility Center of negligence, saying it could have prevented the damage if it had "an adequately operating monitoring system" to catch the rising temperature in the tank.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status to represent other people affected by the Pacific Fertility Center failure.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[A Perfect Match: Husband Donates Kidney to Wife]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 14:36:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+NAT+KIDNEY+TRANSPLANT+THUMB.jpg

A man gave his wife the ultimate wedding anniversary present: his kidney. After the wife was diagnosed with a disease and found out she needed a kidney transplant, doctors determined that her husband was a perfect match.]]>
<![CDATA[Doctors Try Glowing Dyes to Find Hidden Cancers]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 13:38:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18025732258079-glowing-dye.jpg

It was an ordinary surgery to remove a tumor — until doctors turned off the lights and the patient's chest started to glow. A spot over his heart shined purplish pink. Another shimmered in a lung.

They were hidden cancers revealed by fluorescent dye, an advance that soon may transform how hundreds of thousands of operations are done each year.

Surgery has long been the best way to cure cancer. If the disease recurs, it's usually because stray tumor cells were left behind or others lurked undetected. Yet there's no good way for surgeons to tell what is cancer and what is not. They look and feel for defects, but good and bad tissue often seem the same.

Now, dyes are being tested to make cancer cells light up so doctors can cut them out and give patients a better shot at survival.

With dyes, "it's almost like we have bionic vision," said Dr. Sunil Singhal at the University of Pennsylvania. "We can be sure we're not taking too much or too little."

The dyes are experimental but advancing quickly. Two are in late-stage studies aimed at winning Food and Drug Administration approval. Johnson & Johnson just invested $40 million in one, and federal grants support some of the work.

"We think this is so important. Patients' lives will be improved by this," said Paula Jacobs, an imaging expert at the National Cancer Institute. In five or so years, "there will be a palette of these," she predicts.


Singhal was inspired a decade ago, while pondering a student who died when her lung cancer recurred soon after he thought he had removed it all. He was lying next to his baby, gazing at fluorescent decals.

"I looked up and saw all these stars on the ceiling and I thought, how cool if we could make cells light up" so people wouldn't die from unseen tumors, he said.

A dye called ICG had long been used for various medical purposes. Singhal found that when big doses were given by IV a day before surgery, it collected in cancer cells and glowed when exposed to near infrared light. He dubbed it TumorGlow and has been testing it for lung, brain and other tumor types.

He used it on Ryan Ciccozzi, a 45-year-old highway worker and father of four from Deptford, New Jersey, and found hidden cancer near Ciccozzi's heart and in a lung.

"The tumor was kind of growing into everything in there," Ciccozzi said. "Without the dye, I don't think they would have seen anything" besides the baseball-sized mass visible on CT scans ahead of time.

Singhal also is testing a dye for On Target Laboratories, based in the Purdue research park in Indiana, that binds to a protein more common in cancer cells. A late-stage study is underway for ovarian cancer and a mid-stage one for lung cancer.

In one study, the dye highlighted 56 of 59 lung cancers seen on scans before surgery, plus nine more that weren't visible ahead of time.

Each year, about 80,000 Americans have surgery for suspicious lung spots. If a dye can show that cancer is confined to a small node, surgeons can remove a wedge instead of a whole lobe and preserve more breathing capacity, said On Target chief Marty Low. No price has been set, but dyes are cheap to make and the cost should fit within rates hospitals negotiate with insurers for these operations, he said.


Dyes may hold the most promise for breast cancer, said the American Cancer Society's Dr. Len Lichtenfeld. Up to one third of women who have a lump removed need a second operation because margins weren't clear — an edge of the removed tissue later was found to harbor cancer.

"If we drop that down into single digits, the impact is huge," said Kelly Londy, who heads Lumicell, a suburban Boston company testing a dye paired with a device to scan the lump cavity for stray cancer cells.

A device called MarginProbe is sold now, but it uses different technology to examine the surface of tissue that's been taken out, so it can't pinpoint in the breast where residual disease lurks, said Dr. Barbara Smith, a breast surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

She leads a late-stage study of Lumicell's system in 400 breast cancer patients. In an earlier study of 60 women, it revealed all of the cancers, verified by tissue tests later.

But it also gave false alarms in more than a quarter of cases — "there were some areas where normal tissue lit up a little bit," Smith said.

Still, she said, "you would rather take a little extra tissue with the first surgery rather than missing something and have to go back."


Blaze Bioscience is testing Tumor Paint, patented by company co-founder Dr. Jim Olson of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Children's Hospital. It's a combo product — a molecule that binds to cancer and a dye to make it glow.

"You can see it down to a few dozen cells or a few hundred cells," Olson said. "I've seen neurosurgeons come out of the operating room with a big smile on their face because they can see the cancer very clearly."

Early-stage studies have been done for skin, brain and breast cancers in adults, and brain tumors in children.

Avelas Biosciences of San Diego has a similar approach — a dye attached to a molecule to carry it into tumor cells. The company is finishing early studies in breast cancer and plans more for colon, head and neck, ovarian and other types.

Cancer drugs have had a lot of attention while ways to improve surgery have had far less, said company president Carmine Stengone.

"This was just an overlooked area, despite the high medical need."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Moves to Lower Nicotine in Cigarettes]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 10:08:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_60844545.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration plans to try to make cigarettes less addictive by lowering the amount of nicotine in them, NBC News reports.

The unprecedented move comes just nine years after the FDA got permission to regulate tobacco products.

The FDA will propose the product-standard rule, Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Thursday, opening a long bureaucratic process.

"This new regulatory step advances a comprehensive policy framework that we believe could help avoid millions of tobacco-related deaths across the country," he said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Adobe]]>
<![CDATA[Child With Measles Flew Into Newark Airport: Officials]]>Thu, 15 Mar 2018 05:06:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/measles38.jpg

A child with a confirmed case of the measles landed at Newark Liberty International Airport earlier this week, New Jersey health officials said.

The child, flying from from Brussels, arrived at Newark Airport’s Terminal B on Monday afternoon and left on a connecting flight to Memphis, Tennessee, out of Terminal C later that afternoon, according to the state Health Department. The child was infectious that day and may have traveled to other areas of the airport.

Health officials are warning anyone at the airport between 12:45 and 9 p.m. on Monday could have been exposed to the virus and could develop symptoms as late as April 2.

Health officials said anyone who isn’t sure whether they’ve been vaccinated and may have been exposed should call a doctor. Anyone with symptoms should contact health care providers before going for an exam.

Symptoms of measles usually develop within 10 to 12 days of exposure and include fever, rash, cough, pink eye and runny nose. The disease can also cause pneumonia and brain swelling. In pregnant women, measles can lead to miscarriage, premature birth or low birth weight.

The virus is spread through the air when someone sneezes or coughs.

Photo Credit: NBC10]]>
<![CDATA[Report Reveals the Healthiest, Least Healthy Counties in NY]]>Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:41:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-doc+and+patient.jpg

Rockland County was ranked the healthiest county in New York state, according to an annual report released Wednesday.

The annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which looks at the overall health of the counties across the United States, determined that Rockland County was the overall healthiest New York county in 2018 — up from second place last year.

"This is a tribute to all the wonderful work done by our Health Department staff, as well as to our successful partnerships with community and faith organizations, health care providers, schools, worksites, and municipalities," Rockland County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert said in a statement.

The overall health of a county was measured by how long people live and how healthy people feel, according to the report issued by Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The rankings also looked at health factors in each county. The health factors represent the focus areas that dive how long and well people live, including certain behaviors (like tobacco use, diet, exercise, sexual activity), clinical care (access to care and quality of care), social and economic factors and the physical environment, which includes housing and poverty issues.

Rockland came in sixth for its health factors — the same as last year. According to the data, 27 percent of residents report sever housing problems. Rockland officials say this percentage has stayed consistent for the past few years.

"We know that some groups in our community may not be doing as well as others. There is still much work to do, especially with our underserved and racially and ethnically disparate populations. We are working with our residents and collaborating with our partners to address the issues that need improvement," Ruppert said.

The rankings determined that Bronx County is the least healthy in all of the state of New York. It came in at No. 62 in both the health outcome and health factors categories.

In a statement to NBC 4 New York, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. said, “The Bronx has seen considerable improvements in many of the metrics that are used to measure overall health. For example, more Bronx residents now have health insurance, and fewer Bronx children are living in poverty.”

The full report can be viewed online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CEO Surrenders Theranos, Pays $500K After 'Massive Fraud']]>Wed, 14 Mar 2018 19:53:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16280347970598-Theranos-Elizabeth-Holmes.jpg

Elizabeth Holmes, a Stanford University dropout once billed as the "next Steve Jobs" has forfeited control Theranos, the blood testing startup she founded, and will pay $500,000 to settle charges that she oversaw a "massive fraud."

Under an agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday, Holmes is barred from serving as an officer or director of a public company for 10 years. The SEC said it will pursue its case against the president of the company, Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani, in federal district court in the Northern District of California.

The settlement comes two years after the SEC, prompted by a Wall Street Journal investigation, began looking into claims at Theranos that it had developed potentially revolutionary blood-testing technology.

The Journal piece quoted former employees that suspected the technology was a fraud, and it found that the company was using routine blood testing equipment for the vast majority of its tests. The story raised concerns about the accuracy of Theranos' blood testing technology, which put patients at risk of having conditions either misdiagnosed or ignored.

Holmes, 34, founded Theranos in Palo Alto, California, in 2003, pitching the company's technology as a cheaper way to run dozens of blood tests. Once considered the nation's youngest female billionaire, Holmes said she was inspired to start the company in response to her fear of needles.

Theranos raised millions in startup funding by promoting its tests as costing a "fraction" of what other labs charge.

At the center of Theranos' mystique was its "Edison" machine, which the company claimed could test for a variety of diseases through only a few drops of blood from a person's finger. Despite the hype and company claims, Theranos shared few details on how its Edison machine — named after the inventor — worked.

Theranos attracted extraordinary interest and loaded its board with huge names, mainly elder Washington statesmen, including two former U.S. secretaries of state: Henry Kissinger and George Schultz. The group was criticized for lacking expertise in science or medicine.

Holmes kept strict control over her image, wearing only black turtleneck sweaters in public, much like Steve Jobs.

Theranos and Holmes pushed back hard, and for months refused to acknowledge that its machines were effectively a sham. State and federal authorities started investigations into the accuracy of the company's blood testing work. In 2016 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees blood testing labs in the U.S., banned Holmes from operating a lab and revoked Theranos' blood testing license.

In late 2016, Theranos began shutting down its clinical labs and wellness centers and laid off more than 40 percent of its full-time employees.

Along with the fine announced Wednesday, Holmes has agreed to return 18.9 million shares of Theranos that she obtained during the fraud. If the company is sold or liquidated, Holmes will not profit from any remaining ownership in the company until at least $750 million in proceeds are returned to investors, the SEC said.

Theranos said Wednesday that neither the company nor Holmes admitted or denied wrongdoing.

"The Company is pleased to be bringing this matter to a close and looks forward to advancing its technology," Theranos said in a prepared statement.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jeff Chiu/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Bids to Curb Health Care Costs Offer Little More Than Talk ]]>Mon, 12 Mar 2018 08:21:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-912375890.jpg

It started as a bipartisan attempt to curb soaring health care premiums.

But Congress' effort to stabilize the nation's insurance markets is faltering amid escalating demands by each party and erratic positions by President Donald Trump. Democrats want bigger federal subsidies for consumers under President Barack Obama's health care law while Republicans, still fighting that statute, aim to relax its coverage requirements and win abortion restrictions.

The bickering could collapse the whole effort, with each side blaming the other when next year's expected higher insurance rates are announced — just weeks before Election Day, on Nov. 6.

Last week, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, a lead Democratic negotiator, called GOP demands on abortion limitations "a complete nonstarter." A spokeswoman for Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., sponsor of the House GOP package, said if Democrats want to oppose the effort "by playing abortion politics, then shame on them."

Some Democrats think they'd reap political gains if the talks collapse since polls show the health care statute is widely popular and the public would largely fault Republicans if consumer costs spiral skyward.

"Either Republicans help stabilize the market or they own these premium and deductible increases," said Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. "And I'd be glad to help crucify them if they don't want to do something very reasonable."

The effort forces Republicans to choose between trying to avert bad news about premiums shortly before elections or standing by their opposition to anything that could be viewed as propping up "Obamacare."

Trump hasn't clarified things for his party. In a single day last October, he bounced from praising one bipartisan plan as "a very good solution" to labeling it "bailouts to insurance companies."

Signs indicate insurance prices will likely continue upward. Without federal action, premiums are expected to rise in every state by up to 32 percent next year and by a cumulative 90 percent or more through 2021, according to a report released last week by Covered California, the state agency overseeing California's health care exchange.

Ominously for the GOP, the study found that 14 of the 17 states that risk potentially "catastrophic" three-year rate increases of 90 percent or more backed Trump in the 2016 elections.

To try containing those increases, lawmakers crafted two bipartisan bills last year.

One by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., would provide billions to states for reinsurance. The funds would help insurers afford covering some of the sickest, costliest customers.

Another by Murray and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., would revive federal payments to carriers to subsidize discounts they give lower-earning consumers for costs like deductibles and copayments. Trump halted the subsidies in October as part of his effort to upend Obama's law after federal courts said Congress hadn't properly approved the money.

Obama's statute requires insurers to provide those cost reductions, which last year cost the government $7 billion to help around 6 million people. Insurers boosted premiums to make up the difference.

Complicating what Congress might do, Trump's halt of those subsidies to insurers has had an unanticipated, positive impact for low-income consumers.

Because of how most state regulators let carriers raise premiums, federal tax credits that help lower-income customers buy coverage grew so robustly that many were better off than before. Reviving the subsidies could actually increase out-of-pocket costs for at least 1.6 million people, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities says.

In other changes since last fall, the new GOP tax law has erased the tax penalties enforcing the "Obamacare" individual mandate, which requires most people to buy coverage. Trump has also proposed making it easier for insurers to sell policies that last less than a year and have fewer consumer protections than Obama's statute imposes, like required coverage for people with pre-existing conditions.

Citing those blows to Obama's law, Democrats say the tax credits that help millions pay premiums need to be more generous and cover more people. They want to restore spending that's used to encourage people to buy coverage and block Trump from allowing the sale of low-cost, low-coverage plans.

Republicans have their own demands.

A White House memo says any effort to strengthen markets must have language that "ensures all federal dollars are life-protected" — a reference to restrictions on using the programs to finance abortions.

AshLee Strong, spokeswoman for House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said last week that the effort to stabilize insurance markets must heed the GOP's long-imposed legal bar against using federal funds for nearly all abortions.

"That is not negotiable for House Republicans," Strong said.

The White House memo also demanded that insurers be allowed to charge older customers higher premiums than Obama's law permits and get more leeway to renew short-term, low-coverage policies.

An agreement would likely be included in a government-wide spending bill Congress wants to finish by March 23. It's probably the year's last must-pass measure, so proposals left behind will face difficulties becoming law.


Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla]]>
<![CDATA[Eggs, Embryos Possibly Damaged at California Fertility Clinic]]>Mon, 12 Mar 2018 06:33:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/187*120/fertility+embryos-generic.jpg

A San Francisco fertility clinic says thousands of frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged after a liquid nitrogen failure in a storage tank.

Dr. Carl Herbert, president of Pacific Fertility Clinic, told the Washington Post on Sunday that officials have informed some 400 patients of the failure that occurred March 4.

Herbert says the clinic's staff thawed a few eggs and found they remain viable. He says they have not checked any of the embryos.

A call to the clinic from The Associated Press seeking further details was not immediately returned Sunday.

Pacific Fertiliy Clinic released a statement later Sunday, saying in part: "The vast majority of the eggs and embryos in the lab were unaffected, and the facility is operating securely. As soon as the issue was discovered, our most senior embryologists took immediate action to transfer those tissues from the affected equipment to a new piece of equipment."

It's the second such failure at a U.S. clinic in a matter of days. Last week, an Ohio hospital said more than 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged due to a refrigerator malfunction.

Full statement from Pacific Fertility Clinic:

“On March 4, a single piece of equipment in our cryo-storage laboratory lost liquid nitrogen for a brief period of time. We do know that there is viable tissue from that tank. The rest of the tanks were not affected. The equipment was immediately retired, the vast majority of the eggs and embryos in the lab were unaffected, and the facility is operating securely. As soon as the issue was discovered, our most senior embryologists took immediate action to transfer those tissues from the affected equipment to a new piece of equipment. We have brought in independent experts and are conducting a full investigation. Our patients and the safety of their eggs and embryos are our highest priorities and we are reaching out to inform them of this incident. In addition, we have completed a physical inspection of all of the lab equipment and have also thoroughly reviewed all cryo-preservation protocols with staff. We are truly sorry this happened and for the anxiety that this will surely cause.”

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Woman Says She Found Tooth With Blood While Eating Cashews]]>Sat, 10 Mar 2018 14:24:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/181*120/GettyImages-609730096.jpg

An Ohio woman says she found a tooth with dried blood on it while eating cashews.

WOIO-TV reports Nickolette Botsford said she felt something hard while eating the nuts and vomited when she saw it looked like a tooth.

The Ravenna woman said a hospital confirmed it as a human tooth spotted with dried blood. Her hospital report says she was treated for exposure to blood or bodily fluids.

It's unclear what product Botsford was eating and where it was purchased.

Botsford called Planters' parent company, which recently picked up the tooth for testing.

Kraft Heinz Co., based in Pittsburgh and Chicago, confirmed the item was a "foreign object" and said it's investigating its manufacturing process and suppliers.

The company's email Tuesday night says it hasn't received any related complaints.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Debate Stirs Over 'America's Harvest Box,' Food Benefit Plan]]>Sat, 10 Mar 2018 10:27:46 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17076738181835.jpg

Hawaii's food stamp administrator says he was stunned when he first heard that the U.S. Agriculture Department wanted to replace some cash benefits with a pre-assembled package of shelf-stable goods. That changed quickly to frustration, befuddlement and serious concern.

"This will wreak havoc on the states," said Pankaj Bhanot, who serves as director of Hawaii's Department of Human Services and is in charge of administering the state's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to roughly 165,000 residents scattered across a series of islands.

SNAP administrators across the country shared Bhanot's reservations about "America's Harvest Box," pitched by USDA officials as a way to cut costs and improve efficiency. Administrators say their programs already are efficient, allowing recipients to purchase whatever foods they want directly from retailers, which benefits families, retailers and local economies.

The proposal, unveiled last month in the Trump administration's 2019 budget, is part of an effort to reduce the cost of the SNAP program by roughly $213 billion over a 10-year period.

Brandon Lipps, administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service at USDA, said the idea was partially inspired by rapidly changing models for how people get their groceries. The USDA last year launched a pilot program that allows SNAP recipients to order provisions online using their EBT, or Electronic Benefit Transfer, cards, which function like debit cards but can only be used to purchase groceries.

He said in an interview that it was designed to streamline the process of getting healthy food into the hands of those who need it most. State administrators, he said, would be responsible for figuring out how to package and distribute the boxes themselves.

But SNAP administrators say the proposal is riddled with holes.

Bhanot had a broad list of questions, ranging from delivery of the boxes, especially during hurricanes, to ensuring that recipients were getting the right type of nutrition. "We'd have to ramp up staff. Where will the money come from?" he asked.

In Minnesota, Chuck Johnson, acting commissioner of the Department of Human Services, called the proposal "a significant step backward in our nation's effort to ensure all Americans have access to nutritious food." He said it would be a major burden on states, which would have to figure out how to deliver the food boxes.

Tom Hedderman, director of food and nutrition policy at the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, said there are about 1.25 million SNAP recipients in his state who get more than $90 in benefits each month — the threshold that would trigger a food box. He criticized the proposal for its lack of detail and direction.

"It's clear in the proposal that they would dump the problem of logistics and cost back on to the states," he said.

Babs Roberts, who directs the community services division of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, said a uniform system for distributing boxes simply wouldn't work in her state, where there are roughly 900,000 SNAP recipients. The cities are too dense for a delivery system to work, she said, while residents living in rural communities would likely have trouble traveling to a centralized location to pick up their box.

"I think it's going to be administratively burdensome," she said. "I don't know if it's any better than what we're doing now."

Sammy Guillory, deputy assistant secretary for the division of family support for the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services, said he worries that if the proposal were approved, it would take years to iron out the kinks. In particular, Guillory said he is concerned that making such a drastic change from the current SNAP system would force employees to spend significant time and energy adjusting.

"Somehow our staff that determines eligibility would have to learn all these rules, our system would have to be reprogrammed. And that's not even taking into consideration the logistics of getting these boxes to families," he said, adding that more than 400,000 households receive SNAP, or about a quarter of Louisiana's population.

Rus Sykes, director of the American Public Human Services Association, an umbrella organization that includes the American Association of SNAP Directors, said administrators across the country were shocked by the proposal and are concerned that if it moves forward states will be forced into an impossible situation.

"They will not have the ability to administer this program this way," Sykes said, "and the states will be on the line for everything that goes wrong."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty, File]]>
<![CDATA[Man Gets 30 Years for Shaking Baby, Causing Brain Damage]]>Sat, 10 Mar 2018 04:58:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/shakenbabyGettyImages-467351634.jpg

A Florida man has been sentenced to 30 years in prison for shaking his infant daughter so violently that it left her with permanent brain damage.

The Ledger reports that 30-year-old Delavon Domique Johnson was sentenced Friday. A Polk County jury convicted him in January of aggravated child abuse with great bodily harm.

Authorities say Johnson had been left alone with the 3-month-old girl in December 2013 when she suffered hemorrhaging in her brain. Johnson told detectives that he became frustrated while feeding her and began to shake her.

Johnson said during sentencing that his daughter had accidentally fallen from a car seat.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Caring for 'Chosen Family' Gains Ground in Sick-Leave Laws]]>Fri, 09 Mar 2018 14:07:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18066629275728-Sick-Leave-Chosen-Family.jpg

Yee Won Chong had just been diagnosed with cancer. His relatives were half a world away in Malaysia and couldn't care for him. So he turned to the friends he considers his "chosen family."

"There was no question," says his longtime housemate Brooks Nelson, a Portland, Oregon, charity executive who used his own sick days to accompany Chong to doctor's appointments. "That's what family does."

Arrangements like theirs have quietly been gaining political recognition.

In the last two years, Arizona, Rhode Island and the three biggest U.S. cities — New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — have passed laws that let workers use sick days to care for anyone who's like family to them. Similar laws also passed in Austin , Texas, just last month and St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2016. Millions of federal employees and contractors also have the benefit.

To some business interests, such laws put bosses in the awkward position of figuring out who's the "equivalent" of family. But to Chong, the policies simply "catch up with the ways people are related to each other."

At 46, the nonprofit-organization consultant has had romantic partners but also forged bonds with people in homes he has shared and in his circle of liberal activists.

Still, as he asked for help dealing with cancer, he wondered: "Am I imposing on them?"

His friends didn't see it that way.

Roberta Hunte readily kept Chong company at chemotherapy, recalling her friends' support when her mother had cancer. Andrei Joseph, who flew in to help Chong recuperate from surgery, is a cancer survivor and part of a couple whose home Chong shared for years in Brookline, Massachusetts.

"What kind of person would I be if I didn't go in his time of need?" says Joseph, a retired teacher.

Acknowledging the "equivalent" of family relationships is rooted in a 1969 regulation about federal employees' leave for military funerals in the thick of the Vietnam War.

A 1994 law extended the "equivalent" definition to federal workers' sick time, and a 2015 presidential order did the same for many federal contractors. The more recent state and local measures cover an estimated 10 million private-sector and government workers, says Wendy Chun-Hoon of Family Values at Work, a paid sick leave advocacy group.

Workers don't get extra sick days for family-"equivalent" care; it's just a way they can use their allotted time. It's not yet clear whether the broad definition spurs workers to take more of their sick days.

Much of the impetus for chosen-family-friendly sick leave laws has come from gay people. But New York City got complaints about workers being denied sick leave to care for aunts and a fiancée before its law was broadened last fall, consumer affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas said.

Wil Darcangelo's chosen family is one he never envisioned when he moved into a studio at a Fitchburg, Massachusetts, home five years ago in exchange for carpentry work.

The household now includes him and his husband; a 22-year-old blind woman with autism they legally adopted last summer; his husband's stroke-stricken ex-partner; a British expat who helps aides care for the ex-partner and plays music with Darcangelo and his daughter; and the 72-year-old homeowner.

"Our system works for us, but only in spite of the way the larger system works," says Darcangelo, 48, a church spiritual coordinator whose flexible hours allow him to fill in care gaps.

Regardless of laws, some employers let employees use sick or "personal" days to care for whomever they choose. "I don't need to know or research or see a birth certificate, a wedding certificate. We're dealing with adults," says Jim Houser, co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland.

But some business groups and employment lawyers are wary of managing sick time around the "equivalent" of family.

"This open-ended provision, which defies any definition or parameters, is priceless" to sick-time slackers, says Michael Soltis, a Connecticut lawyer who tracks paid sick leave laws. Lisa Horn of the Society for Human Resource Management, a major association of HR professionals, says the language "raises a host of concerns" about its meaning.

Others see better ways to be inclusive. "Who gets to decide who's the 'equivalent of family?'" asks Richard V. Reeves, a senior fellow in economics at the Brookings Institution think tank. He suggests simply letting workers use sick time to care for themselves or "another."

However it's worded, the meaning of chosen family seems clear to Jana Clark, who is looking forward to seeing Rhode Island's law take effect in July.

After a stint in graduate school, Clark, who is 30 and starting a job at a university, returned to Providence last summer because of her chosen family there. The friends help one another in ways as big as opening homes when someone needs to stay, and as everyday as dropping off soup when someone's sick.

"Just the same kinds of things," she says, "a family member might do."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Elise Amendola/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Number of Flu Cases in NY Drops for Second Consecutive Week]]>Fri, 09 Mar 2018 01:20:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-151262782.jpg

State health officials say the number of confirmed influenza cases across New York has decreased for the second consecutive week.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that about 6,400 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu were reported to the state Department of Health last week, about half the number reported the previous week.

The Democrat says the number of flu-stricken people requiring hospitalization dropped for the fourth straight week to just around 1,070.

Since the flu was declared prevalent in New York state in December, nearly 108,000 confirmed cases of the flu have been reported, with more than 19,300 hospitalizations.

Although the number of confirmed flu cases is declining, health officials say New Yorkers should still take appropriate steps to stop the spread of the virus.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cheerleaders Warned About Mumps Exposure After Texas Competition]]>Thu, 08 Mar 2018 17:21:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-200154712-001.jpg

Thousands of cheerleaders may have been exposed to mumps during a national cheerleading competition in Dallas last month. The Texas Department of State Health Services sent a letter to everyone who attended the National Cheerleaders Association (NCA) All-Star National Championship.

The competition was at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center Feb. 23-25. Athletes from 39 states participated in the competition in Dallas.

State health officials say someone from another state, who had the mumps, traveled to Dallas for the competition. They are not identifying the patient.

Mumps, which is spread through the saliva or mucus of an infected person, causes puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw as it affects the salivary glands. It can cause fever, headache, loss of appetite, and fatigue. In some rare cases it can also cause deafness or encephalitis, swelling of the brain. Some people don't show any sign of infection.

So far this year, there have been 130 reported cases from January 1 to January 27 across 25 states and in 2017, more than 5,600 people got mumps, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, 6,366 cases were reported - the worst year for mumps in the U.S. since the MMR vaccine program was introduced in 1977.

MORE:CDC Mumps Cases and Outbreaks

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Cigna to Spend About $52 Billion for Express Scripts]]>Thu, 08 Mar 2018 11:26:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18067424551712.jpg

The insurer Cigna will spend about $52 billion to acquire the nation's biggest pharmacy benefit manager, Express Scripts, the latest in a string of proposed tie-ups as health care's bill payers attempt to get a grip on rising costs.

Including $15 billion in debt, the proposed $67 billion acquisition follows a deal announced late last year in which the drugstore chain CVS Corp. said it will spend around $69 billion on the insurer Aetna Inc.

Insurers and pharmacy benefit managers — which run drug plans for insurers and employer-based plans — have struggled to corral spiraling costs and the industry that was jolted by the Affordable Care Act, which reshaped the individual insurance market and expanded the state- and federally funded Medicaid program.

In that environment the ultimate disruptor, Amazon.com, said this year that it wanted to get involved in health care as well in a collaboration with billionaire Warren Buffett and JPMorgan Chase. No one knows what that means yet, but it sent a shudder through the sector.

Insurers and others say they want to get more involved in patient care, to supplement what a regular doctor provides and keep people healthy and on their medications. They are especially focused on those with chronic conditions, like diabetes patients who need regular blood sugar monitoring. They say they want to change a system that generally waits until people get sick before treating them.

Aetna and CVS have said they hope to create "front doors" to health care through 9,800 stores run by CVS. That deal could turn many of the chain's stores into one-stop-shop locations for an array of health care needs like blood work and eye or hearing care, in addition to their traditional role of filling prescriptions.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., which runs the nation's largest insurer, is spending almost $5 billion to buy nearly 300 primary and specialty care clinics and some urgent care and surgery centers. That push will help the company steer patients away from expensive hospital care.

Another insurer, Humana Inc., is making a separate deal to better manage the care of its Medicare Advantage patients.

Cigna CEO David Cordani said Thursday that the combined company will make health care more simple for customers.

The deal announced Thursday consists of $48.75 in cash and a portion of stock in the combined company for each share of St. Louis-based Express Scripts Holding Co. Cordani will lead the combined company, with his Express Scripts counterpart, Tim Wentworth, staying on as a president.

The boards of both companies have approved the deal, which is expected to close at the end of this year.

Cigna, based in Bloomfield, Connecticut, was the target of an acquisition bid by the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer Anthem Inc. But Anthem ended that $48 billion offer last spring, accusing Cigna of sabotaging that deal. Cigna, in turn, said Anthem "willfully breached" its obligation to get regulatory approval.

A federal judge and an appeals court had rejected the combination after antitrust regulators sued to stop it.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File]]>
<![CDATA[Brazil Yellow Fever Outbreak Largest in Decades; 846 Cases]]>Wed, 07 Mar 2018 21:30:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/brazilyellowfever_1200x675.jpg

Brazil's yellow fever outbreak has now infected more people than the previous one, which had been the largest in decades.

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that officials have confirmed 846 cases of the mosquito-borne disease. Of those, 260 have died.

In the 2016-2017 outbreak, Latin America's largest nation saw 777 cases and 261 deaths.

Large swaths of Brazil have long been at risk for yellow fever. But the previous outbreak and the current one are happening in areas not previously considered at risk for the disease and where vaccination rates were low. The current outbreak is hitting the populous states of Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais hard and encroaching on major cities.

In response, Brazil has launched a campaign to vaccinate more than 23 million people.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Andre Penner]]>
<![CDATA[Hundreds of Canadian Doctors Protest Their Own Raises]]>Wed, 07 Mar 2018 12:20:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_148320184.jpg

More than 500 doctors and medical residents from Quebec, Canada, are speaking out against their own pay raises, which they find offensive given the struggles of nurses and patients, CNBC reports.

"We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations," they said in a letter, also signed by 150 medical students.

Canada has a public health system that provides "universal coverage for medically necessary health care services provided on the basis of need, rather than the ability to pay," according to a government website.

While the average Canadian physician is paid $260,924 U.S. ($339,000 Canadian) per year, according to a recent Canadian Institute for Health Information report, that doesn't take into account what doctors must pay in overhead.

Photo Credit: AdobeStock]]>
<![CDATA[Prescription Opioids Fail Rigorous New Test for Chronic Pain]]>Tue, 06 Mar 2018 17:32:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-517239628+1.jpg

A yearlong study offers rigorous new evidence against using prescription opioids for chronic pain.

In patients with stubborn back aches or hip or knee arthritis, opioids worked no better than over-the-counter drugs or other nonopioids at reducing problems with walking or sleeping. And they provided slightly less pain relief,

Opioids tested included generic Vicodin, oxycodone or fentanyl patches although few patients needed the most potent opioids. Nonopioids included generic Tylenol, ibuprofen and prescription pills for nerve or muscle pain. The study randomly assigned patients to take opioids or other painkillers. That's the gold standard design for research.

If they don't work better than less risky drugs, there's no reason to use opioids given "their really nasty side effects — death and addiction," said lead author Dr. Erin Krebs, a physician and researcher with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

The results likely will surprise many people "because opioids have this reputation as being really powerful painkillers, and that is not what we found," Krebs said.

The results echo less rigorous studies and bolster guidelines against routine use of opioids for chronic pain.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About 42,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 involved opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Many people get hooked while taking opioids prescribed for injuries or other short-term pain and move on to cheaper, more accessible illicit drugs like heroin.

A report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year. Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent late last summer, compared to the same three-month period in 2016. The biggest jumps were in the Midwest and in cities, but increases occurred nationwide. The report did not break down overdoses by type of opioid.

U.S. government guidelines in 2016 said opioids are not the preferred treatment for chronic pain, and they recommend non-drug treatment or nonopioid painkillers instead. Opioids should only be used if other methods don't work for chronic pain, the guidelines recommend. Prescribing rates have declined slightly in recent years although they are still much higher than two decades ago.

Krebs said the strongest evidence from other studies shows that physical therapy, exercise or rehabilitation therapy works best for chronic pain. And she said noted that there are a variety of nonopioid drugs to try if one type doesn't work.

The study involved 234 patients from Minneapolis-area VA clinics who were assigned to use generic versions of opioids or nonopioids for a year. Follow-up ended in 2016.

"This is a very important study," said Dr. David Reuben, geriatrics chief at UCLA's medical school. "It will likely change the approach to managing long-term back, hip and knee pain."

He noted one limitation — most study participants were men, but Krebs said the results in women studied were similar.

The study's opioid patients started on relatively low daily doses of morphine, oxycodone or generic Vicodin. They switched to higher doses if needed or to long-acting opioids or fentanyl patches. The nonopioid group started on acetaminophen, ibuprofen or similar anti-inflammatory drugs. They also could switch to higher doses or prescription nonopioid pain pills. Few in either group used the strongest medicines.

Patients reported changes in function or pain on questionnaires. Function scores improved in each group by about two points on an 11-point scale, where higher scores meant worse function. Both groups started out with average pain and function scores of about 5.5 points.

Pain intensity dropped about two points in the nonopioid group and slightly less in the opioid patients.

Other research has shown that over-the-counter medicines can also work as well as opioids at treating short-term pain, including from broken bones, kidney stones or dental work.

AP reporter Mike Stobbe in New York contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Taking on 'Microfiber' Pollution, 1 Laundry Room at a Time]]>Tue, 06 Mar 2018 10:49:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18054580357718-Microfiber-Solutions.jpg

The fight to keep tiny pollutants from reaching the dinner plate might start in the laundry room.

Innovators are coming up with tools to keep tiny pieces of thread that are discharged with washing machine effluent from reaching marine life. Such "microfibers" are too small to be caught in conventional filters, so they eventually pass through sewage plants, wash out to waterways, and can be eaten or absorbed by marine animals, some later served up as seafood.

So far there are at least four products, with names such as Guppyfriend and Cora Ball, aimed at curbing microfibers.

The developers are taking the war on pollution to a microscopic level after the fight against microbeads — tiny plastic beads found in some beauty products that were banned nationally in 2015.

"Blaming industry or government won't solve the problems," said Alexander Nolte, co-founder of Guppyfriend, a polyamide washing bag designed to prevent tiny threads from escaping. "Buy less and better; wash less and better."

The issue has become an increasing focus of environmental scientists seeking to find out just how harmful microfibers are to coastal ecosystems, oceans and marine life and whether they affect human health. One study from 2011, led by Australian ecotoxicologist Mark Browne, found that microfibers made up 85 percent of man-caused shoreline debris.

Exactly how much microfiber pollution exists in the environment is a subject of research and debate. The United Nations has identified microfiber pollution as a key outgrowth of the 300 million tons of plastic produced annually. And a 2016 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that more than a gram of microfibers is released every time synthetic jackets are washed 7/8— and that as much as 40 percent of those microfibers eventually enter waterways.

While there's no question microfibers are escaping into the environment, it's unclear how harmful they are, said Chelsea Rochman, an ecology professor at the University of Toronto who plans a study at the end of the year.

One of the questions, she said, is whether the problem is the fibers themselves or dyes in them, and whether natural microfibers such as wool and cotton are less harmful than plastic microfibers.

The microfiber trappers take various forms.

Guppyfriend, the laundry bag, is sold by clothing company Patagonia for $29.75. Cora Ball retails at $29.99 and is a multicolored ball designed to bounce around the washing machine, trapping microfibers in appendages that resemble coral. Lint LUV-R costs $140 or more and is a filter that attaches to a laundry water discharge hose.

While the U.S. Census has found more than 85 percent of U.S. households have a washing machine, the items are new to the market and not familiar to most consumers. About 50,000 households use the Guppyfriend bag, Nolte said, and it might be the best known of the bunch.

Exactly how much these nascent products can help reduce microfiber pollution is not yet known, experts say, and it's important to find out which products best succeed in reducing emissions of microfibers, Rochman said.

The inventor of the Cora Ball is the nonprofit environmental group Rozalia Project, headquartered in Granville, Vermont. Its co-founder says it had its product independently studied and found it can cut the amount of microfibers released through the wash by more than 25 percent. An independent review by a German research institute found that Guppyfriend caused textiles to shed 75 to 86 percent fewer fibers.

"This is a consumer solution for people to be part of by throwing it in their washing machine," said Rachael Miller, co-founder of Rozalia Project.

The products serve to bring attention to a form of pollution unknown to most people, said Kirsten Kapp, a biology professor at Central Wyoming College, who has studied microfiber pollution on the Snake River in the Pacific Northwest.

"We are learning more and more every day about the risk that microfibers and microplastics have in our aquatic habitats and wildlife species," Kapp said. "I think it's something people should be aware of."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Alexander Nolte via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Grocers Fear Consequences of Trump 'Harvest Box' Proposal]]>Mon, 05 Mar 2018 13:44:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18064474488913-Food-Boxes-Worries-Stores.jpg

Finding fresh food in Rankin, Pennsylvania, a tiny riverside community that was hit hard by the steel industry's decline, has always been a challenge. Then, seven years ago, Carl's Cafe opened.

The grocery store, near new government housing, offers cooking classes and a source of fresh, healthy food. Proprietor Carl Lewis even has customers sign a pledge: If he provides fresh produce, they'll buy it. Five such purchases, and they get their sixth free.

About half his customers pay with benefits from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, so the government's proposal to replace the debit card-type program with a pre-assembled box of shelf-stable goods delivered to recipients worries him and other grocery operators in poor areas about their patrons' nutrition, and their own bottom line.

"If half of your business goes away, it's going to hurt," Lewis said, noting that if SNAP spending benefits are taken away, so will recipients' ability to participate in programs at his store.

"I see kids educating parents on fresh food choices," he said. "To see them reach for an apple before they reach for a Snickers bar, it's fantastic. But if people are too worried about where their next meal is coming from, it's going to be hard to teach them how to cook an eggplant."

The idea called "America's Harvest Box" was floated in February in the Trump administration's 2019 budget proposal, tucked inside a plan to slash SNAP by roughly $213 billion, or 30 percent, over the next 10 years. Households that receive more than $90 in SNAP benefits each month — roughly 81 percent of households in the program, or about 16.4 million — would be affected.

The plan immediately raised concerns, and details were sparse.

Grocery store trade associations, as well as nonprofits like The Food Trust, argue that removing food stamp recipients' ability to buy their own provisions could undermine recent successes in eliminating "food deserts."

"This notion that they need to be told what to buy is not borne out the by the data," said Alex Baloga, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association. "We want to provide healthy, affordable products to everybody, and we want to give customers a choice to take these dollars and make the best decision for their families."

Cache Flanagan, a shopper at Carl's Cafe who has two children ages 6 years and 10 months, wondered: "What will be in it? What about food allergies? Do we get options to pick from? Whatever they decide to put in that Harvest Box isn't going to be fresh."

Shaker Ehmedi, who manages a supermarket in Philadelphia, observed: "We have a hard time delivering mail in this country. How would we ever deliver these boxes?"

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Feb. 22 acknowledged the idea took congressional members by surprise but said his staff consulted with experts.

Brandon Lipps, administrator for the Agriculture Department's food and nutrition service, told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he wants retailers to play a role, and stressed that SNAP recipients would still receive 60 percent of their benefits in cash to spend at grocery stores.

Small stores in rural communities could also benefit, Lipps said, arguing that recipients who typically travel long distances to large supermarkets for groceries would get shelf-stable goods in their box and be able to shop at their local grocer for produce.

"The market is changing in how people get their food," Lipps said. "I think we in the government have a duty to be changing with that market."

The Harvest Box model would have the federal Agriculture Department procuring foods, Lipps acknowledged, but it would also rely heavily on states.

"We left the distribution to states, and there are a lot of models in that," Lipps said. "That could include distribution through a grocery store, or a grocery store participating in distribution."

A few miles down the Monongahela River from Rankin, Dylamatos Market in Pittsburgh is its neighborhood's only source of fresh food, where about a quarter of the customers pay with SNAP, owner Dianne Shenk said. The program's biggest benefit is choice, she said.

"These boxes will be full of shelf-stable items, the same things we're being told not to eat," she said.

Ehmedi, who manages a Cousin's Supermarket location in North Philadelphia, says the store took a big hit when the city implemented a sweet-beverages tax last year. The food boxes, he said, would spell disaster.

"It would kill the business," he said. "There would be no business."

Associated Press writer Juliet Linderman contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Gene J. Puskar/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Poisonings, Overdoses Hospitalizing More Kids: Study]]>Mon, 05 Mar 2018 20:11:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/20180223naloxone.jpg

Opioid poisonings and overdoses are sending increasing numbers of U.S. children and teens to the hospital, according to a study showing a substantial rise in young patients needing critical care.

The study included accidental poisonings along with overdoses from intentional use. Prescription painkillers were most commonly involved, but heroin, methadone and other opioid drugs also were used.

Hospitalizations were most common among kids aged 12-17 and those aged 1 to 5.

The youngest kids typically found parents' medications or illicit drugs and used them out of curiosity, said Dr. Jason Kane, the lead author and an associate pediatrics professor at the University of Chicago and Comer Children's Hospital.

Reasons for the increases are unclear but it could be that drugs became more widely available and potent during the study years, Kane said.

"Opioids can depress your drive to breathe," Kane said, and they also may cause blood pressure to plummet to dangerously low levels. Treatment for these symptoms includes ventilators and powerful drugs that constrict blood vessels. Naloxone, the "rescue' drug used that can revive overdose patients who've stopped breathing, was used in nearly one-third of cases during the 2004-15 study.

The study was published Monday in Pediatrics.

The study involved 31 children's hospitals, or about 20 percent of U.S. children's hospitals. Opioid-related stays increased from almost 800 to 1,500 during the study. The results echo research published last year that found the annual rate of hospitalizations for opioid poisonings in kids nearly doubled from 1997-2012

The new study found a similar increase in patients requiring intensive treatment, rising from 367 to 643 in the final years. A small fraction of the nearly 4.2 million hospitalizations of children during the study involved opioids, but 43 percent of these opioid-related stays required intensive treatment. Annual deaths dropped from almost 3 percent to just over 1 percent of kids hospitalized for opioid reactions.

Nearly 20 percent of kids under 6 were hospitalized after swallowing methadone, an opioid used to treat addiction.

"These kids are really the secondary victims of this adult opioid epidemic," Kane said. He said the results emphasize how crucial it is to store medications and other drugs locked, hidden and out of children's reach.

A Pediatrics editorial notes that several treatment programs for drugs including opioids have been shown to reduce teen and young adult use. The new findings highlight the need for pediatricians to get involved "to combat the ongoing opioid crisis in our country," the editorial said.

While experts say the study highlights just how accesible pain killers are to children, families of young overdose victims say it's a problem that affects everyone.

"It is everywhere, in every neighborhood in America," said Neil Fettig of Flower Mound, Texas.

He and his wife Cyndee lost their 20-year-old son Travis last year to an heroin overdose that began with an opioid addiction when he was 15 years old.

The Fettings aren't surprised to learn that 60 percent of the children who went to the hospital for an opioid overdose, according to the study, were between the ages of 12 and 17.

Travis was 15-years-old when he underwent surgery on his leg and doctors prescribed powerful painkillers afterwards.

The Fettigs say that's when their lives began to unravel.

"I hear so many parents say, 'oh that's not going to happen to me.' That's B.S. Everybody has to be aware. It can happen to anybody," said Neil Fetting.

"We were one of those parents that says it' couldn't be us. Here we are. This is us. This is our life now," added Cyndee Fetting.

NBCDFW's Bianca Castro contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Worst of Bad US Flu Season Is Over as illnesses Decline]]>Fri, 02 Mar 2018 14:55:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Flu-Vaccine1.jpg

The worst of the nation's nasty flu season is finally over.

The season apparently peaked in early February and has been fading since, health officials said Friday. The number of people going to the doctor with symptoms of the flu has continued to decline. Deaths from the flu or pneumonia are going down, too.

 While the peak may have passed, the season isn't finished yet. Reports of flu remained widespread in 45 states, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. 

"The season's not over but we're definitely on the downward trend right now," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director. 

Flu usually takes off after Christmas and peaks around February. This season started early and was widespread in many states by December. In early January, it hit what seemed like peak levels — but then continued to surge. 

It had been driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, and officials lately are seeing less of that. But another kind that hits children hard has picked up steam. So far this season, health officials say 114 children have died from the flu. 

Making a bad year worse, this year's flu vaccine didn't work very well and health officials are trying to figure out why it did so poorly.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness, spread by a virus. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but a more severe illness in others. In a bad season, there are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu.

In Friday's report, the CDC said one key measure showed doctor visits last week for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu dropped again, down to 1 in 20 visits. The number of states reporting heavy patient flu traffic last week dropped to 32.

Amber Smith, a recruiter for a furniture store chain in Charlotte, North Carolina, thought she didn't have to worry about the flu after a wave of illnesses that hit her company's warehouse in January and February seemed to fade. But she started to feel sick Monday and found out she had the flu. She hadn't gotten a flu shot; her boyfriend did and he hasn't been sick. 

"I feel like my head weighs 20 pounds," said Smith, who tried to go to work Friday, but was sent home after a morning meeting. "But my throat isn't as sore. I feel like the flu is running its course."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Cases Decrease in NY State for First Time This Winter ]]>Fri, 02 Mar 2018 01:25:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flu+story+31.jpg

The number of laboratory-confirmed cases of influenza has dropped across New York state, the first decline since the flu was deemed widespread in December.

Gov. Cuomo announced Thursday that about 13,700 flu cases were reported last week to the state Department of Health, down from 18,250 the previous week. The Democrat continues to encourage New Yorkers to get a flu shot.

Health officials say the number of New Yorkers hospitalized last week with the lab-confirmed flu cases fell for the third consecutive week to around 1,700.

Over the past three months, more than 100,000 cases of the flu have been reported in the state, with nearly 18,300 people requiring hospitalization.

New York officials say the flu is blamed for claiming the lives of five children.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

<![CDATA[Latin Families Distressed by US Immigration Policies: Study]]>Thu, 01 Mar 2018 16:13:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/925684376-trump-admin-stress.jpg

The Trump administration’s immigration policies are causing "high levels of psychological distress" in many Latino parents, who are passing that anxiety along to their kids, a new study finds, NBC News reported. 

A team at George Washington University found that a majority of Latino parents surveyed are afraid that they or their relatives will be deported, and many families reported avoiding police even when they need help and neglecting healthcare and food assistance because they are afraid to interact with any form of government.

"Studies show that adolescents whose parents are anxious or depressed are at elevated risk of doing poorly in school, adopting risky behaviors, and developing lifelong health and mental health problems," said study lead author Kathleen Roche.

Roche notes that most of the children whose parents were surveyed are U.S. citizens, and the "risks these teenagers are experiencing by virtue of their parents’ poor mental health is not only going to derail their own futures and wellbeing, but those will come at a very high cost to our society in terms of criminal justice and healthcare system impacts."

Photo Credit: David McNew / Stringer]]>
<![CDATA[NY Has Deadliest Intersections in US: Report]]>Wed, 28 Feb 2018 21:13:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nyc+pedestrian+intersection.jpg

Intersections in New York State are among the deadliest in the country for pedestrians, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report released Wednesday.

New York leads the country in pedestrian deaths at intersections, preliminary data from 2014 to 2016 shows. Of the state’s 879 total pedestrian deaths during that time period, 294 of them, or 33 percent, were at intersections. New Jersey had the seventh most deaths at intersections -- 131 out of 500 total pedestrian deaths, or 26 percent. 

By comparison, fewer than 20 percent of national pedestrian deaths in 2016 were at intersections; they happened in lanes away from intersections (72 percent) or in locations outside of travel lanes, like shoulders and driveways (10 percent). 

New York is also dangerous for elderly pedestrians, the report says. The state was seventh in the nation for percentage of pedestrian traffic death victims who were elderly, at 23 percent between 2014 and 2016. It had the highest death toll of elderly victims of any state for that time period, at 204 fatalities of 879 total fatalities. 

And New York was among five states that accounted for 43 percent of all pedestrian deaths during the first six months of 2017, according to the report. The Empire State had the fourth-most pedestrian fatalities at 115 deaths. By comparison, the deadliest state, California, had 352 fatalities in the first half of 2017. Florida, Texas and Arizona were the other states in the top five.

Cities remain the deadliest places for pedestrians and are getting deadlier, according to the report. The total number of pedestrian fatalities in the ten largest U.S. cities -- of which New York City is the largest -- increased from 551 fatalities in 2015 to 704 fatalities in 2016, or about 28 percent.

In New York City, deaths went from 131 in 2015 to 137 in 2016, the report says. This comes as total traffic deaths in the city (which includes driver deaths) hit an all-time low of 214 last year, according to previously released city data. In 2013, there were 299 traffic deaths. City Hall has credited the drop in overall traffic deaths to the Vision Zero initiative being spearheaded by the city Department of Transportation and the NYPD.  

The state of New York has already implemented a $110 million Pedestrian Safety Action Plan that uses education, enforcement and engineering solutions to target 20 communities where pedestrian fatalities are highest. Those communities include 13 in the tri-state, of which eight are on Long Island. (Hempstead was the most dangerous community, with 2,139 crashes.)

Meanwhile, New Jersey is increasing enforcement at high pedestrian crash locations and funding pedestrian safety education. In Connecticut, the DOT has recently implemented a statewide overhaul to replace old signage and launched an outreach campaign.

Wednesday's report revealed other interesting trends at the national level. One of the most striking findings: For the second year in a row, pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. have reached numbers not seen in 25 years, and experts suspect smartphone and marijuana use could be to blame for the deadly trend.

The report estimates that 5,984 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. in 2017, a figure unchanged from 2016, according to the report, which analyzed preliminary data provided by the highway safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

That figure represents a 27 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 2007 to 2016. Pedestrians now account for approximately 16 percent of all motor vehicle deaths, compared to 11 percent a decade ago, the GHSA reported.

"Two consecutive years of 6,000 pedestrian deaths is a red flag for all of us in the traffic safety community. These high levels are no longer a blip but unfortunately a sustained trend,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a press release. "We can’t afford to let this be the new normal."

Though many factors can cause traffic deaths to rise, safety experts note two potential factors that may have contributed to the increase in fatalities: growth in smartphone use and state legalization of recreational marijuana.

The report emphasized that while there is no confirmed or scientific link between the two recent trends and the spike in pedestrian deaths, “it is widely accepted both smartphones and marijuana can impair the attention and judgment necessary to navigate roadways safely behind the wheel and on foot.”

In the seven states, as well as the District of Columbia, that legalized marijuana for recreational use between 2012 and 2016, pedestrian deaths spiked 16.4 percent in the first half of 2017, according to the GHSA study. At the same time, all other states saw a combined decrease in deaths of 5.8 percent.

Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson Morgan Fox dismissed the finding, saying the connection to marijuana is tenuous at best and that the authors admit there were a wide variety of factors at play.

"It seems much more likely that fluctuations are more heavily influenced by population increase, more people driving more often, and increased use of electronic devices while walking and driving," Fox said. "I’m not sure why the study would highlight marijuana and immediately say there is no definitive link, other than to sensationalize it."

Indeed, smartphone usage, a significant source of distraction, regardless of travel mode, also increased by 236 percent between 2010 to 2016. Analysis of data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance database shows the number of cell-phone related emergency room visits in the U.S. has been increasing in parallel with the prevalence of cell phone use.

Another factor is populations rising in urban areas, where most pedestrian fatalities occur. The nation’s 10 most congested cities saw large increases in pedestrian fatalities compared to smaller ones.

Federal data found that about 75 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur at night, making improvements in street lighting critical, the study says.

Several cities, including New York, have adopted “Vision Zero" strategies, pedestrian safety initiatives aimed at eliminating traffic deaths.

Photo Credit: File
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<![CDATA[Patients More Likely to Survive at These NY, NJ Hospitals]]>Wed, 28 Feb 2018 13:56:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/198*120/hospital+crop2.jpg

Four of the best hospitals in the country are located right here in the tri-state, according to a newly published list of the top-performing medical centers in the country.

A list of the top 100 hospitals was released this week by the medical resource website Healthgrades, which compiled an index of the top 2 percent of hospitals based on their “overall clinical excellence across a broad spectrum of conditions and procedures.”

In the top 100 hospitals were Overlook Medical Center in Summit and Lenox Hill Hospital on the Upper East Side.

Two more hospitals in the tri-state made it in the top 50 in the country: Morristown Medical Center in Morristown and Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie.

On average, patients treated at these top 100 hospitals had a 22.3 percent lower risk of dying from dangerous conditions like heart failure and stroke than if they were treated in hospitals not on the list, according to Healthgrades.

Healthgrades said hospitals that made the top 100 had received its Distinguished Hospital Award for Clinical Excellence multiple years in a row.

The awards are based on patient outcome data for a variety of potentially-deadly procedures and conditions, including bariatric surgery, valve surgery, and pneumonia.

Photo Credit: File]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Employee Missing After Calling in Sick, Atlanta Police Say]]>Mon, 26 Feb 2018 10:38:18 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/timothy+cunningham.jpg

Police in Atlanta are searching for a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee who was last seen two weeks ago, when he left work early after complaining that he felt unwell.

Timothy Jerrell Cunningham, 35, was last seen Feb. 12. Police said he called in sick that day and hasn’t been heard from since. 

Cunningham's family told NBC News his sister was the last person to speak with him around 7 a.m. on Feb. 12.

When Cunningham didn't answer his family's calls or text, his worried parents drove to his Atlanta home from their home in Waldorf, Maryland. When they arrived, they found his car, keys, wallet and phone, WSB-TV reported. They said he also left his dog at home.  

His father, Terrell Cunningham, told the television station that his son graduated from Morehouse and got a master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University. He worked as an epidemic intelligence officer and has been deployed for public health emergencies. 

Anyone with information on his whereabouts was asked to call Atlanta police.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Trump's Deregulation Drive Weakens Safety Rules: Analysis]]>Mon, 26 Feb 2018 07:55:27 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18054672277262-Chattanooga-Truck-Crash-2015.jpg

On a clear, dry June evening in 2015, cars and trucks rolled slowly in a herky-jerky backup ahead of an Interstate 75 construction zone in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Barreling toward them: an 18-ton tractor-trailer going about 80 mph.

Despite multiple signs warning of slow traffic, the driver, with little or no braking, bashed into eight vehicles before coming to a stop about 1½ football fields away. Six people died in the mangled wreck and four more were hurt. The driver was convicted of vehicular homicide and other charges last month.

In response to this and similar crashes, the government in 2016 proposed requiring that new heavy trucks have potentially life-saving software that would electronically limit speeds. But now, like many other safety rules in the works before President Donald Trump took office, it has been delayed indefinitely by the Transportation Department as part of a sweeping retreat from regulations that the president says slow the economy.

An Associated Press review of the department's rulemaking activities in Trump's first year in office shows at least a dozen safety rules that were under development or already adopted have been repealed, withdrawn, delayed or put on the back burner. In most cases, those rules are opposed by powerful industries. And the political appointees running the agencies that write the rules often come from the industries they regulate.

Meanwhile, there have been no significant new safety rules adopted over the same period.

The sidelined rules would have, among other things, required states to conduct annual inspections of commercial bus operators, railroads to operate trains with at least two crew members and automakers to equip future cars and light trucks with vehicle-to-vehicle communications to prevent collisions. Many of the rules were prompted by tragic events.

"These rules have been written in blood," said John Risch, national legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers. "But we're in a new era now of little-to-no new regulations no matter how beneficial they might be. The focus is what can we repeal and rescind."

Trump has made reducing regulations a priority, seeing many rules as an unnecessary burden on industry. Last month he tweeted that his administration "has terminated more UNNECESSARY Regulations, in just 12 months, than any other Administration has terminated during their full term in office..."

"The good news is," he wrote, "THERE IS MUCH MORE TO COME!"

The Transportation Department declined repeated AP requests since November for an on-the-record interview with Secretary Elaine Chao, Deputy Secretary Jeffrey Rosen or another official to discuss safety regulations. Instead, the department provided a brief statement from James Owens, DOT's deputy general counsel, saying that new administrations typically take a "fresh look" at regulations, including those that are the most costly.

The department's position has been that it can reduce regulation without undermining safety. And DOT officials have questioned whether some safety regulations actually improve safety.

"We will not finalize a rule simply because it has advanced through preliminary steps," the statement said. "Even if a rule is 'one step away,' if that rule is not justifiable because it harms safety and imposes unnecessarily high economic costs, for example, that rule will not advance."

But the rule requiring new trucks to have speed-limiting software would actually have economic benefits, according to a DOT estimate prepared two years ago. It would save as many as 498 lives per year and produce a net cost savings to society of $475 million to nearly $5 billion annually depending on the top speed the government picked. That's nearly half the 1,100 deaths annually in crashes involving heavy trucks on roads with speed limits of 55 mph or higher. The government didn't propose a top speed but said it had studied 60, 65 and 68 mph.

The proposal was also expected to solve another problem: Most heavy truck tires aren't designed to travel over 75 mph, but some states have 80 mph speed limits.

Rick Watts of Morristown, Tennessee, who lost his wife, two young step-daughters and mother-in-law in the I-75 crash, said he can't understand why the proposal has been sidetracked.

"If you're going 80 and you're knocked down to 60, that's going to lower the impact," he said. "It just stuns me that you can give these people proof and they say, 'We'll look into that.' It just baffles me that they're killing so many people every year."

The American Trucking Associations, an industry trade group, has claimed credit for stalling the rule. After initially supporting it, the group now says it would create dangerous speed differentials between cars and trucks. A news release from the associations said its success in stalling the rule is a significant triumph for the industry.

The trucking industry has developed a strong relationship with Trump. Trucking officials met with Chao within hours after she took office, according to Chris Spear, the trade group's president. Trump welcomed trucking executives to the White House by climbing behind the wheel of a Mack truck parked on the South Lawn in March.

"Your story is now being told to the highest levels of government," Spear told his organization's members in October.

DOT's position on the speed-limiting software is that it isn't dead but that the department has limited resources and higher priorities. No action is expected before the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30 at the earliest.

Some rules that were in the works have been abandoned entirely. After four people died when a New York commuter train derailed while speeding around a curve in 2013, investigators determined that the engineer had fallen asleep. He had undiagnosed sleep apnea, a disorder that causes pauses in breathing and prevents restful sleep, and had made no effort to stop the train.

The National Transportation Safety Board blamed the crash in part on federal regulators for not requiring medical screening of engineers for sleep disorders. Yet last summer, DOT withdrew a rule the government was in the early stages of writing to require screening for engineers and truck and bus drivers.

The government said current safety programs either address the problem or it will be addressed in a rulemaking to reduce fatigue risks in the railroad industry. But the fatigue rule is years overdue with no timetable for completion.

The NTSB has cited sleep apnea as a cause of 13 rail and highway accidents it has investigated, including two more commuter train crashes in Hoboken, New Jersey, in 2016, and Brooklyn, New York, in 2017.

"Looking at the multiple piles of broken sheet metal and broken engines and broken people, (DOT's strategy) doesn't seem to have been effective," Dr. Nicholas Webster, an NTSB medical officer, told a recent public meeting on the crashes.

But Dan Bosch, regulatory policy director at the conservative American Action Forum, said the Trump administration is "actually taking a very reasoned and measured approach to how they're de-regulating."

Most regulations Trump has taken credit for blocking throughout the government were Obama administration proposals that were on track to be adopted but had yet to be finalized, or that weren't being actively pursued — "low-hanging fruit," Bosch said.

There is a longstanding requirement that major federal regulations undergo detailed cost-benefit analyses before they can become final. Even rules expected to save lives are weighed against their economic cost. DOT assigns a value of $9.6 million per life saved in its analyses.

Trump has ordered that two regulations be identified for elimination for every significant new regulation issued. The White House has acknowledged its calculations of savings from rolled-back regulations cited in public statements include only the cost to industry and others without taking into account benefits the rules produce, including lives saved.

Rosen, the deputy secretary, heads DOT's task force that evaluates regulations for repeal or modification. In extensive written and public comments before joining the administration, he criticized regulations as an indirect tax on industry, but made little mention of their benefits. He has called for curbing federal agencies' regulatory power by imposing greater analytical requirements and requiring congressional approval before more costly regulations become law. Rosen has also advocated making it easier for industry to challenge regulations in court.

Rosen is an attorney who formerly represented General Motors and an airline industry trade group. Other DOT political appointees with strong ties to the industries they regulate include:

—Daniel Elwell, the acting administrator at the Federal Aviation Administration, who is a former airline lobbyist.

—Cathy Gautreaux, deputy administrator at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates the trucking industry, spent 29 years as executive director of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association, a trucking advocacy group.

—Ron Batory, the head the Federal Railroad Administration, was president of Conrail, a service provider for the CSX and Norfolk Southern freight railroads.

—Howard Elliott, head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, is a former CSX executive. Among other things, his agency sets safety rules for rail transport of hazardous goods, including crude oil, ethanol and toxic chemicals.

Industry's influence on regulations generally "is probably more powerful than it has ever been," said Neil Eisner, who was the DOT assistant general counsel in charge of overseeing the issuing of regulations for more than three decades.

DOT says having industry insiders in leadership positions provides deep practical experience in how the transportation industry works.

In October, DOT published a notice inviting the public to recommend which regulations should be repealed, replaced, suspended, or modified. Accompanying the notice was a list of 20 potential candidates, including 13 of the most significant transportation safety rules of the past decade.

Airlines, automakers, railroads, pipeline operators, trucking companies, chemical manufacturers and others responded to the notice with their wish lists. After the comment period closed, DOT said it would repeal a 2015 rule opposed by freight railroads requiring trains that haul highly flammable crude oil be fitted with advanced braking systems that stop all rail cars simultaneously instead of conventional brakes that stop cars one after the other.

The advanced brakes can reduce the distance and time needed for a train to stop and keep more tank cars on the track in the event of a derailment, DOT said two years ago when it issued the rule.

Freight railroads, which say the rule's safety benefits are marginal and don't justify the cost, persuaded Congress to require DOT to revisit the rule. The department now says its revised analysis shows costs would outstrip benefits.

The advanced brakes perform significantly better than conventional brakes alone, but only slightly better in emergency braking situations when trains have locomotives in both the front and the back, said Risch, the union official. But trains aren't required to have two locomotives and often don't, he said.

The advanced brakes also have significant safety benefits DOT didn't consider, Risch said, including the ability to prevent runaway trains like the improperly secured oil train that derailed in Lac Megantic, Canada, in 2013, igniting a fire that killed 47 people. The advanced brakes are already required for trains that haul radioactive waste.

The rule's repeal, said Risch, a former engineer who has operated trains with advanced brakes, means the government is abandoning "the greatest safety advancement I've witnessed in my 41 years in the industry."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Chattanooga Police Department via AP]]>
<![CDATA[For Gay Parents, First Comes the Baby, Then Debt]]>Sat, 24 Feb 2018 19:34:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/babyfeetgenericgetty_1200x675.jpg

For a heterosexual couple having a baby can be expensive but for gay couples having a baby means more than just hospital bills, NBC News reported. 

The average US hospital baby delivery can costs up to $3,800 according to a 2011 Agency for Healthcare Research report. But fertitlity treatments, surrogacy, legal fees and hospital care can costs more than 10 times the average delivery costs.

The Family Equality Council, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ families, said for gay couples the cost easily exceeds $100,000, NBC News reported. Legals fees are an additional costs depending on state laws. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Christopher Furlong]]>
<![CDATA[Brains of 'Superagers' Offer Clues to Keeping Sharp]]>Thu, 22 Feb 2018 20:59:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/oldmanGettyImages-583753558.jpg

It's pretty extraordinary for people in their 80s and 90s to keep the same sharp memory as someone several decades younger, and now scientists are peeking into the brains of these "superagers" to uncover their secret.

The work is the flip side of the disappointing hunt for new drugs to fight or prevent Alzheimer's disease.

Instead, "why don't we figure out what it is we might need to do to maximize our memory?" said neuroscientist Emily Rogalski, who leads the SuperAging study at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Parts of the brain shrink with age, one of the reasons why most people experience a gradual slowing of at least some types of memory late in life, even if they avoid diseases like Alzheimer's.

But it turns out that superagers' brains aren't shrinking nearly as fast as their peers'. And autopsies of the first superagers to die during the study show they harbor a lot more of a special kind of nerve cell in a deep brain region that's important for attention, Rogalski told a recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

These elite elders are "more than just an oddity or a rarity," said neuroscientist Molly Wagster of the National Institute on Aging, which helps fund the research. "There's the potential for learning an enormous amount and applying it to the rest of us, and even to those who may be on a trajectory for some type of neurodegenerative disease."

What does it take to be a superager? A youthful brain in the body of someone 80 or older. Rogalski's team has given a battery of tests to more than 1,000 people who thought they'd qualify, and only about 5 percent pass. The key memory challenge: Listen to 15 unrelated words, and a half-hour later recall at least nine. That's the norm for 50-year-olds, but the average 80-year-old recalls five. Some superagers remember them all.

"It doesn't mean you're any smarter," stressed superager William "Bill" Gurolnick, who turns 87 next month and joined the study two years ago.

Nor can he credit protective genes: Gurolnick's father developed Alzheimer's in his 50s. He thinks his own stellar memory is bolstered by keeping busy. He bikes, and plays tennis and water volleyball. He stays social through regular lunches and meetings with a men's group he co-founded.

"Absolutely that's a critical factor about keeping your wits about you," exclaimed Gurolnick, fresh off his monthly gin game.

Rogalski's superagers tend to be extroverts and report strong social networks, but otherwise, they come from all walks of life, making it hard to find a common trait for brain health. Some went to college, some didn't. Some have high IQs, some are average. She's studied people who've experienced enormous trauma, including a Holocaust survivor; fitness buffs and smokers; teetotalers and those who tout a nightly martini.

But deep in their brains is where she's finding compelling hints that somehow, superagers are more resilient against the ravages of time.

Early on, brain scans showed that a superager's cortex — an outer brain layer critical for memory and other key functions — is much thicker than normal for their age. It looks more like the cortex of healthy 50- and 60-year-olds.

It's not clear if they were born that way. But Rogalski's team found another possible explanation: A superager's cortex doesn't shrink as fast. Over 18 months, average 80-somethings experienced more than twice the rate of loss.

Another clue: Deeper in the brain, that attention region is larger in superagers, too. And inside, autopsies showed that brain region was packed with unusual large, spindly neurons — a special and little understood type called von Economo neurons thought to play a role in social processing and awareness.

The superagers had four to five times more of those neurons than the typical octogenarian, Rogalski said — more even than the average young adult.

The Northwestern study isn't the only attempt at unraveling long-lasting memory. At the University of California, Irvine, Dr. Claudia Kawas studies the oldest-old, people 90 and above. Some have Alzheimer's. Some have maintained excellent memory and some are in between.

About 40 percent of the oldest-old who showed no symptoms of dementia in life nonetheless have full-fledged signs of Alzheimer's disease in their brains at death, Kawas told the AAAS meeting.

Rogalski also found varying amounts of amyloid and tau, hallmark Alzheimer's proteins, in the brains of some superagers.

Now scientists are exploring how these people deflect damage. Maybe superagers have different pathways to brain health.

"They are living long and living well," Rogalski said. "Are there modifiable things we can think about today, in our everyday lives" to do the same?

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Angelo Merendino/Corbis via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[8-Year-Old Girl Is Latest NJ Kid to Die From Flu: Officials]]>Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:32:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Daniela+Genaro.jpg

A lab test confirms that an 8-year-old girl is the latest child to die from the flu in New Jersey, the state’s Department of Public Health said Wednesday.

Officials didn't name Daniela Genaro as the girl, but her family told NBC 4 earlier this week that she was the young Elizabeth resident whose death was being investigated.

Genaro is the third New Jersey child to die from the virus this flu season; a 4-year-old girl from Central Jersey died in December and the death of a 6-year-old girl from Hudson County was reported last week.

“We continue to take every reported case of a pediatric flu-associated death very seriously,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement.

Officials continued to encourage adults and children to get flu shots, saying flu season can last until May and that getting vaccinations helps stop the spread of the virus to more vulnerable people, like children.

Genaro’s death was announced earlier this week in a letter to parents written by Elizabeth Schools Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer.

"You should feel comfortable in sending your child to school tomorrow," she wrote in the letter to parents. "We continue to do everything possible to make the schools safe, healthy learning environments."

The superintendent says all schools have been sanitized with disinfectant each day since the fall, and that the Nicholas LaCorte-Peterstown School and school buses are being additionally sanitized.

Genaro was described by her uncle as very intelligent and happy.

"Everyone's received the news like a bucket of ice water," he said. "We still don't know everything, her parents are still in the hospital trying to figure out what happened."

The confirmation of Genaro’s death as flu-related comes as health officials in Connecticut confirm the death of a 6-year-old girl named Emma Splan was flu-related.

Splan was a student at Columbus Magnet School, Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said earlier this week. She would be the third child to die from the flu in Connecticut this flu season.

The CDC said earlier this week that more than 80 children across the U.S. have died from the flu this flu season.

Four children have died in New York City from the flu this season, most recently a 5-year-old girl whose death was announced a little more than a week ago.

The Departments of Health and Education continue to recommend that people take the necessary precautions during this flu season: wash or disinfect your hands frequently, cover any coughs and sneezes, stay home and call your health care provider if you are sick (especially with a fever) and get a flu shot.

Photo Credit: Genaro Family/GoFundMe]]>
<![CDATA[Kids in NJ, Conn. Believed to Be Latest Child Flu Deaths]]>Thu, 22 Feb 2018 19:30:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flu-death-diptych-0219.jpg

Children in New Jersey and Connecticut may be the latest victims of this year’s historic flu season, officials said.

Elizabeth school officials announced the New Jersey child’s death Sunday as officials in Connecticut said they were investigating the death of a 6-year-old girl who may have also died from the flu this past week. 

The New Jersey child was identified by her family as Daniela Genaro. She attended Nicholas LaCorte-Peterstown School No. 3, Elizabeth Schools Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer said in a letter to parents Monday. The New Jersey Department of Health is continuing to investigate what killed Genaro.

Hugelmeyer said grief counselors would be available when students returned to class Tuesday, and that all Elizabeth schools are open and clean.

"You should feel comfortable in sending your child to school tomorrow," she wrote in the letter to parents. "We continue to do everything possible to make the schools safe, healthy learning environments." 

The superintendent says all schools have been sanitized with disinfectant each day since the fall, and that the Nicholas LaCorte-Peterstown School and school buses are being additionally sanitized. 

Genaro was described by her uncle as very intelligent and happy.

"Everyone's received the news like a bucket of ice water," he said. "We still don't know everything, her parents are still in the hospital trying to figure out what happened."

Two children have already died from the flu in New Jersey this season, bringing the death toll there to three.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut, confirmed Sunday that the death of a 6-year-old girl named Emma Splan is being looked at as possibly flu-related.

Splan was a student at Columbus Magnet School, Mayor Harry Rilling said. She would be the second child to die from the flu in Connecticut this flu season.

Fourteen new flu deaths were reported by Connecticut health officials Sunday, increasing the overall death toll in the state this flu season to more than 65 people – the most ever. Two of those deaths were of young people under the age of 24, while 62 of them were adults over the age of 65.

Health officials said ER visits for the flu have increased more than 14 percent in the past week, the highest weekly level observed in the state since the 2009 swine flu epidemic.

The CDC said earlier this week that more than 80 children across the U.S. have died from the flu this flu season. 

Four children have died in New York City from the flu this season, most recently a 5-year-old girl whose death was announced a little more than a week ago.

The Departments of Health and Education continue to recommend that people take the necessary precautions during this flu season: wash or disinfect your hands frequently, cover any coughs and sneezes, stay home and call your health care provider if you are sick (especially with a fever) and get a flu shot. 

Photo Credit: Provided / Provided]]>
<![CDATA[Penn State Dance Marathon Raises Over $10 Million for Children With Cancer ]]>Sun, 18 Feb 2018 19:49:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_070207057798.jpg

Hundreds of hardy Penn State students raised more than $10.1 million for pediatric cancer patients in the annual 46-hour dance marathon known as Thon.

The $10,151,663.93 total was announced Sunday afternoon at the conclusion of the Penn State Interfraternity Council/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, billed as the world’s largest student-run philanthropy.

Money raised benefits pediatric cancer patients and their families at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Child cancer survivors and their families also participate along with the dancers, who aren’t allowed to sleep or even sit and are helped by thousands of other students in support roles.

The 2018 total was about $106,000 over the total raised last year. The event has raised more than $147 million since 1977.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
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<![CDATA[Flu Season Shows Signs of Leveling Off]]>Fri, 16 Feb 2018 22:16:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-2806690.jpg

This nasty flu season, which has been worsening for months, may finally be leveling off.

Health officials on Friday said about 1 of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That's no reason for health officials to celebrate yet: That level is among the highest in a decade. But it's no worse than last week, and flu activity had been increasing each week since November.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said the number of states reporting heavy flu patient traffic also held steady at 43.

"I thought I was going to die, I really did," said Ben Bland, a 39-year-old event planner in Kansas City, Missouri, who was hospitalized this week with pneumonia on top of flu. "My lungs felt like they were going to blow out of my esophagus every time I coughed. My body ached head to toe."

This season started early and has been driven by a formidable type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths. Making a bad year worse, this year's flu vaccine is estimated to be only 25 percent effective against that type.

Preliminary data released last week indicated patient traffic in doctor's offices and emergency rooms this flu season was as bad as the height of the swine flu pandemic in 2009. However, the CDC readjusted its numbers down slightly in Friday's report, meaning this season did not quite match the intensity of flu activity seen in October 2009.

Still, it counts as one of the most intense flu seasons in more than a decade. Whether it's peaking or not, flu season is still expected to last several more weeks.

"We are not out of the woods yet. We are not seeing any increase, and that is encouraging. But there still is a lot of flu happening out there," said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, the CDC's influenza chief. He said people should stay home from work or school if they get sick to prevent spreading flu, and people should still get vaccinated if they haven't already. Even though the vaccine is not as powerful as officials hoped, it can lessen the illness's severity, keep people out of the hospital, and save lives.

Flu remained widespread in every state except Oregon and Hawaii, the same as the week before.

The new report shows that for the week ending Jan. 27, just under 10 percent of U.S. death certificates listed flu or pneumonia. That's down slightly from the week before, but indicates that flu remains at epidemic levels. There are as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu during a bad year.

Eighty-four children have died so far. Childhood deaths have reached about 170 in a season.

Figures released Thursday suggest this year's flu vaccine has worked fairly well in children younger than 9. That was no comfort to parents with sick children.

"It's horrible to see your child with a breathing mask on her face," said Stephanie Calvin, 35, of Mandeville, Louisiana, whose 4-year-old daughter has been sick with flu for four weeks.

Calvin has taken four days of unpaid time off work to care for her daughter, alternating with her husband. "I'm a mom before I'm an employee. It was a no-brainer to stay home with her."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Mario Villafuerte
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<![CDATA[What Mental Health Experts Say to Kids About Shootings]]>Thu, 15 Feb 2018 10:06:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/floridashootingvictims_1200x675.jpg

A community began mourning after a former student went on a deadly rampage and opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, at a Florida high school, NBC News reported. 

For many parents, explaining a tragedy such as a school shooting to their own child can be a daunting experience, mental health experts said. Self care is the first step to having this important conversation with children, and children should often take the lead in the conversations.

"It is often best to let your child take the lead in asking questions about difficult situations so that you only share what you feel is necessary to satisfy their inquiries," said Dr. Allison Agliata, a clinical psychologist, head of an independent middle school in Tampa Bay and the mother of three children ages 12 and younger.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle]]>
<![CDATA[6-Year-Old NJ Girl Dies of Flu, Kindergarten Class Grieves]]>Wed, 14 Feb 2018 02:29:29 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/New_Jersey_Girl_Dies_of_Flu.jpg

More than a quarter of kindergarteners at one New Jersey school stayed home Tuesday, a day after a classmate became the second child in the Garden State to die from influenza. 

Officials at Lincoln Elementary School in North Bergen said Neveah Hernandez died over the weekend, just three days after attending class on Friday without apparent signs of illness. Family friends said the 6-year-old developed a high fever over the weekend was rushed to the hospital, where she died.

"The girl was loved and she's an angel," said Angelina Vavosa. "And she's gone from the flu."

Health officials, while not naming Hernandez, said the diagnosis was confirmed by hospital testing. It wasn't clear if she was vaccinated.

Friends said that the girl's grandparents are both emergency medical technicians and her mother was studying to be a nurse. Her father is stationed at an Army base in Germany and flew home to say goodbye to his only child. 

The school, meanwhile, said grief counselors were on hand Tuesday for students and teachers. 

The Departments of Health and Education continue to recommend that people take the necessary precautions during this flu season: wash or disinfect your hands frequently, cover any coughs and sneezes, stay home and call your health care provider if you are sick (especially with a fever) and get a flu shot. 

“While effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year, in most people it still provides protection against the flu or severe symptoms if you do get the flu. Flu season can last until May,” Acting Health Commissioner Dr. Shereef Elnahal said in a statement.

This year’s flu season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic back in 2009. In New York City, health officials confirmed the fourth pediatric flu-related death this week. At least one Connecticut child has also died.

Last flu season, there were six flu-related child deaths in New York City, and 106 nationwide. Since 2004, anywhere from zero to eight pediatric flu deaths have been reported to the city's health department.

With two months left of the 2017-18 season, health officials warn anyone who may be affected to seek medical care as soon as possible, particularly people with compromised immune systems, children, pregnant women and elderly people. 

<![CDATA[Women Twice as Likely as Men to Have Depression, Survey Finds]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 11:45:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDCdepression.jpg

Women are twice as likely as men to be depressed, a new survey finds.

“Women were almost twice as likely as were men to have had depression,” the team at NCHS, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote. Between 2013 and 2016, 5.5 percent of men reported having had symptoms of depression, compared to 10.4 percent of women.

There were big variations depending on ethnicity and income. “Overall, non-Hispanic Asian adults had the lowest prevalence of depression (3.1 percent) compared with Hispanic (8.2 percent), non-Hispanic white (7.9 percent), and non-Hispanic black (9.2 percent) adults," the researchers wrote.

People with lower incomes were more likely to report depression. Nearly 16 percent of people living below the federal poverty level reported recent symptoms of depression, compared to 3.5 percent of those living at 400 percent of the federal poverty level.

The least likely to report depression? High-income men. Just 2.3 percent of well-off men reported depression, compared to nearly 20 percent of women living below the poverty level.

Photo Credit: CDC.gov]]>
<![CDATA[Winners and Losers Under Medicare Drug Plan in Trump Budget]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 06:44:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/doctorpatient_1200x675.jpg

Some Medicare beneficiaries would face higher prescription drug costs under President Donald Trump's budget even as the sickest patients save thousands of dollars, a complex trade-off that may make it harder to sell Congress on the plan in an election year.

In budget documents, the administration said its proposals strike a balance between improving the popular "Part D" prescription benefit for the 42 million seniors enrolled, while correcting design flaws that increase program costs for taxpayers. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is expected to testify on the proposal later this week in Congress.

Trump has made bringing down drug costs a top priority, but his administration's plan would create winners and losers. The high cost of medicines is the leading health care concern among consumers.

Independent experts said the administration's plan will help beneficiaries with the highest prescription drug costs, an estimated 1 million of the sickest patients, those whose individual bills reach a total of more than $8,418 apiece.

But about 4.5 million seniors in the group just behind them could end up spending more of their own money. That's because the budget proposes a change in how Medicare accounts for manufacturer discounts received by patients whose total bills range between $3,750 and $8,418. They could wind up paying about $1,000 more.

A senior Senate Democrat said the Trump plan missed the mark.

"Instead of picking winners and losers and leaving big pharma unscathed, the president should follow through on his promise to lower high drug prices by getting Republicans in Congress to work with Democrats on behalf of Americans who are getting clobbered at the pharmacy counter," Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said in a statement. Wyden is the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, which oversees Medicare.

"The package reduces costs for some but increases costs for others, and the effect on premiums is not clear," said Tricia Neuman, a Medicare expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. Also unclear is how the Trump plan interacts with changes to the Medicare prescription plan enacted by Congress just last week.

Medicare's prescription drug benefit is delivered through private insurance plans. Here's more detail on the trade-off for beneficiaries:

— The budget eliminates cost sharing for Medicare beneficiaries who reach the program's "catastrophic" coverage threshold, currently $8,418 in total costs. Instead of paying 5 percent of the cost of their medications, the sickest patients would pay nothing. They'd be the winners.

— A second group just behind the sickest patients would lose ground financially. Currently Medicare counts manufacturer discounts received by patients in this group to calculate total spending that determines when they qualify for catastrophic coverage. That practice would stop, meaning beneficiaries would have to spend more of their own money to reach the threshold for the richer catastrophic coverage.

"It's complicated," said Joe Baker of the Medicare Rights Center. "The winners in this proposal are people with very high drug spending. The people who are the losers here are the people who are stuck in the middle."

In other Medicare drug changes, the budget calls for requiring insurers to share manufacturer rebates with patients, and it expands coverage for medications to treat substance abuse.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle]]>
<![CDATA[Can Gene Therapy Be Harnessed to Fight the AIDS Virus?]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 03:32:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HIVgenetherapy_1200x675.jpg

For more than a decade, the strongest AIDS drugs could not fully control Matt Chappell's HIV infection. Now his body controls it by itself, and researchers are trying to perfect the gene editing that made this possible.

Scientists removed some of his blood cells, disabled a gene to help them resist HIV, and returned these "edited" cells to him in 2014. So far, it has given the San Francisco man the next best thing to a cure.

"I've been off medications for three and a half years," he said. He even was able to keep the virus in check despite cancer treatments last year that taxed his immune system.

Chappell was lucky, though. Only a few of the 100 others in those experiments were able to stay off HIV drugs for a couple years; the rest still need medicines to keep HIV suppressed.

Now researchers think they can improve the treatment and are trying again to tackle HIV by doctoring DNA. New studies to test these tweaked approaches in people are getting underway.

"Gene therapy techniques have advanced greatly," said Dr. Otto Yang of the UCLA AIDS Institute, one place working on this. "A lot of people are thinking it's the right time to go back."

They include Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is funding some of the new studies. He doesn't think the technique will become common because millions of people do well on existing treatments. But he says it could help those who can't easily control the virus, and should be pursued because it holds potential for a cure.

"They're very bold, innovative techniques, mostly to try and cure people," he said. "It's worth trying because the science is there."

Only one person is known to have been cured of HIV infection, a man who had a cell transplant a decade ago from a donor with natural immunity to the virus. The donor lacked a common gene that makes an entryway HIV uses to infect T cells, immune system soldiers in the blood.

The transplant gave the recipient that protection, but procedures like that are too risky and impractical for wide use. Scientists have been trying to find a way to create similar immunity by altering some of a patient's own cells. They use a gene editing tool called zinc finger nucleases, which cut DNA at a precise spot to disable the HIV entryway gene.

The California company that makes the editing tool, Sangamo Therapeutics, sponsored the initial studies.

"It worked, the T cells were edited," said Sangamo's president, Dr. Sandy Macrae. But it didn't work quite well enough: The altered T cells were outnumbered by T cells that were not altered and could still be infected.

Now, Dr. John Zaia at City of Hope, a research center in Duarte, California, is trying the approach with a twist. He's using blood stem cells — parent cells that produce many others. Once a stem cell is altered the benefit should multiply and last longer, Zaia said.

Though the initial gene editing experiments were disappointing, there was a silver lining. Patients in those studies had a big drop in the number of cells where HIV lurked in a dormant state — the so-called reservoir of silent disease.

At Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Dr. Rafick-Pierre Sekaly is trying to capitalize on that drop. His study will try the same gene editing — disabling the gene that makes the HIV entryway — while keeping patients on strong antiviral medicines for at least a year before discontinuing them.

"As long as we're not able to get rid of this reservoir, we'll never be able to stop treatment," he explained.

The hope is that the medicines plus the altered cells will knock down the virus and reduce the reservoir to a point where the body can control any residual disease by itself, as Chappell seems to be doing.

University of Pennsylvania scientists are trying a two-part approach: Besides knocking out the gene for the HIV entryway, they're adding a gene to help T cells recognize and kill HIV. This second part is called CAR-T therapy, a treatment approved last year for treating cancer.

The new study's leader, scientist James Riley, is encouraged that some patients at Penn who were in the early studies kept HIV suppressed for nearly a year without drugs.

"You'd never know they were sick" even though the virus could still be detected, Riley said. "At some point you're going to have confidence that it's not going to come back."

Chappell's doctor, Christopher Schiessl at One Medical, a health clinic in San Francisco, hopes that's the case for Chappell. Although he's doing well now, Chappell is showing signs that his immune system may be weakening, Schiessl said.

Chappell is optimistic, and believes gene therapy ultimately will provide a long-term solution.

"If we're going to cure HIV," he said, "this is how it's going to happen."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Jeff Chiu]]>
<![CDATA[4th NYC Child Dies of Flu; NJ Child's Death Suspected Flu]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 01:04:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WNBC+11PM+AIRCHECK+M-Sun+-+23211512_WNBC_000000019847640.jpg

A 5-year-old girl died of the flu over the weekend, marking New York City's fourth such pediatric death this season, health officials confirmed Monday, while a New Jersey kindergartner's death is being investigated as flu-related, officials there say. 

In the case of the New York City girl, her panicked mother reached out to her neighbors for help when she found the child unconscious in their Canarsie home around 8 p.m. Saturday, emergency responders and witnesses had said. One neighbor ran in to give the girl CPR while another called 911.

First responders found the child unconscious; they tried to resuscitate her, but she was pronounced dead at a hospital. Neighbors said the family complained about the child having a fever prior to her death. 

Health officials said no additional information about the New York City child would be released. In a statement, authorities called the girl's death tragic and urged anyone who had not been vaccinated against the virus to do so immediately. 

It wasn't clear if the child had received a flu shot.

The New Jersey child was a kindergartner at Lincoln School in North Bergen, where she attended class Friday and was not sick, officials said. She died at a local hospital, and the school learned of her death Monday. 

The school will be notifying parents Tuesday, and grief counselors will be available. 

The New Jersey Department of Health, however, said it had not received any reports of a second pediatric flu death in the state as of Monday afternoon. 

This year’s flu season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic back in 2009. Last week, an 8-year-old girl from Queens died from the flu. Pediatric deaths have also been reported in Connecticut and New Jersey. 

Last flu season, there were six flu-related child deaths in New York City, and 106 nationwide. Since 2004, anywhere from zero to eight pediatric flu deaths have been reported to the city's health department. With two months left of the 2017-18 season, health officials warn anyone who may be affected to seek medical care as soon as possible, particularly people with compromised immune systems, children, pregnant women and elderly people. 

The Latest from Pyeongchang:

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[OxyContin Maker Will Stop Promoting Opioids to Doctors]]>Sat, 10 Feb 2018 15:53:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-6782111.jpg

The maker of the powerful painkiller OxyContin said it will stop marketing opioid drugs to doctors, bowing to a key demand of lawsuits that blame the company for helping trigger the current drug abuse epidemic.

OxyContin has long been the world's top-selling opioid painkiller, bringing in billions in sales for privately-held Purdue, which also sells a newer and longer-lasting opioid drug called Hysingla.

The company announced its surprise reversal on Saturday. Purdue's statement said it eliminated more than half its sales staff this week and will no longer send sales representatives to doctors' offices to discuss opioid drugs. Its remaining sales staff of about 200 will focus on other medications.

The OxyContin pill, a time-release version of oxycodone, was hailed as a breakthrough treatment for chronic pain when it was approved in late 1995. It worked over 12 hours to maintain a steady level of oxycodone in patients suffering from a wide range of pain ailments. But some users quickly discovered they could get a heroin-like high by crushing the pills and snorting or injecting the entire dose at once. In 2010 Purdue reformulated OxyContin to make it harder to crush and stopped selling the original form of the drug.

Purdue eventually acknowledged that its promotions exaggerated the drug's safety and minimized the risks of addiction. After federal investigations, the company and three executives pleaded guilty in 2007 and agreed to pay more than $600 million for misleading the public about the risks of OxyContin. But the drug continued to rack up blockbuster sales.

Dr. Andrew Kolodny, director of opioid policy research at Brandeis University and an advocate for stronger regulation of opioid drug companies, said Purdue's decision is helpful, but that to make a real difference, other opioid drug companies have to do the same.

"It is difficult to promote more cautious prescribing to the medical community because opioid manufacturers promote opioid use," he said. Two other companies that sell the medications, Johnson & Johnson and Allergan, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kolodny said that opioids are useful for cancer patients who are suffering from severe pain, and for people who only need a pain medication for a few days. But he said the companies have promoted them as a treatment for chronic pain, where they are more harmful and less helpful, because it's more profitable.

"They are still doing this abroad," Kolodny added. "They are following the same playbook that they used in the United States."

Purdue Pharma only does business in the U.S. It is associated with two other companies, Mundipharma and Napp, that operate in other countries. It said those companies have separate leadership and operate according to local regulations.

Purdue and other opioid drugmakers and pharmaceutical distributors continue defending themselves against hundreds of local and state lawsuits seeking to hold the industry accountable for the drug overdose epidemic. The lawsuits say drugmakers misled doctors and patients about the risks of opioids by enlisting "front groups" and "key opinion leaders" who oversold the drugs' benefits and encouraged overprescribing. State and local governments are seeking money and changes to how the industry operates, including an end to the use of outside groups to push their drugs.

Kolodny is serving as an expert advising the court in those lawsuits.

U.S. deaths linked to opioids have quadrupled since 2000 to roughly 42,000 in 2016, or about 115 lives lost per day. Although initially driven by prescription drugs, most opioid deaths now involve illicit drugs, including heroin and fentanyl.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Darren McCollester/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[On Drug Costs, Modest Steps Follow Trump's Big Promises]]>Sun, 11 Feb 2018 03:03:03 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-935721361.jpg

President Donald Trump makes big promises to reduce prescription drug costs, but his administration is gravitating to relatively modest steps such as letting Medicare patients share in manufacturer rebates.

Those ideas would represent tangible change and they have a realistic chance of being enacted. But it's not like calling for Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Skeptics say the overall approach is underwhelming, and Trump risks being seen as an ally of the powerful pharmaceutical industry, not its disrupter.

The White House Council of Economic Advisers has released a 30-page strategy for reducing drug costs, and it calls current policies "neither wise nor just." The plan, outlined before Trump releases his new budget proposal Monday, focuses mainly on Medicare and Medicaid changes, along with ideas for speeding drug approvals and fostering competition.

"Despite promises to drastically lower prices the mix of proposed changes does not appear likely to do so, even though there are some constructive proposals," said John Rother, CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care, an advocacy group whose members include consumer organizations, medical societies, hospitals and insurers.

Polls show the high cost of drugs is a top concern of Americans, regardless of political leanings. In his State of the Union speech, Trump seemed to foreshadow major change, saying "fixing the injustice of high drug prices" is a top priority this year.

"And prices will come down substantially," Trump added. "Watch."

As a candidate, Trump advocated Medicare negotiations and he called for allowing consumers to import lower-priced medicines from abroad. But the White House strategy paper veers away from such dramatic steps. His new health secretary, Alex Azar, was a top executive at pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly.

Medicare negotiations and drug importation are unacceptable to the drug industry, which has spent tens of millions of dollars since Trump's inauguration to influence the Washington conversation around drug prices, including a high-profile TV advertising campaign portraying its scientists as medical trailblazers.

The White House strategy largely sidesteps the question of whether drugmakers set their prices too high to start with. Rather, it recommends changes to policies that the administration believes unwittingly lead to higher prices, and suggests ways to speed drugs to market and increase competition.

It takes aim at foreign governments that dictate what drug companies can charge their own citizens. Trump often has noted that the same medications Americans struggle to pay for can be bought for much less abroad. The White House report examined 35 economically advanced countries, and found that U.S. consumers and taxpayers pay for more than 70 percent of drug company profits that fund innovation.

"Other nations are free-riding, or taking unfair advantage," according to the review.

The industry defends its pricing by saying companies have to recoup considerable research and drug development costs within the limited window when brand drugs are protected from generic competition. But examples of profit-seeking abound.

An investigation by Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in 2015 found that the makers of the breakthrough hepatitis C drug Sovaldi decided to charge roughly $1,000 per pill even though the company's own analysis showed a lower price would allow more patients to be treated. Gilead Sciences disagreed with the senators' conclusion that it put profits before patients.

The White House strategy recommends:

—working with states to revise Medicaid rules so manufacturers don't have an incentive to set artificially high prices due to the rebates they provide the program for low-income people.

—changing the way Medicare pays for drugs administered in a doctor's office so Medicare doesn't reimburse based on a fixed percentage of a drug's cost. Critics say the current system creates an incentive for doctors to prescribe more expensive medications. The Obama administration proposed a similar change, but had to back off.

—changing a requirement that insurers in Medicare's prescription program cover at least two different medications in each broad class of drugs. In some cases, that can tie the hands of insurers trying to negotiate lower prices.

—requiring insurers to share rebates from drug companies with patients. Drugmakers use the rebates to help gain market share. Insurers say they plow the money into reducing premiums. But patient copayments are usually based on the full price of the drug, before rebates. The issue is a major source of friction between drug companies and insurers.

—revising the Food and Drug Administration's drug review and approval process to promote competition.

Many of the ideas can be pursued by the administration through rule-making, which means Trump can drive change without a balky Congress. But whether that translates into a big hit with the public is unclear. There's no estimate from the White House of the potential impact on prices.

Financial analyst and former drug company executive Richard Evans said the administration plan would help bring down costs, but not to the same degree as giving Medicare a direct role in setting prices.

"Convincing the average voter who is upset about drug prices that this is the path to righteousness is going to be a hard sell," Evans said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA['The President Saved My Life': Cancer Survivor Meets Trump]]>Sat, 10 Feb 2018 09:23:52 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pr-2-9-potus-with-shane-in-oval_original.jpg

Don Bouvet wore a suit for the second time in his life Friday, when he visited the White House to meet with the man he credits for saving his life: President Donald Trump.

Last year, Bouvet said he couldn’t afford the chemotherapy he needed to treat his bladder cancer. But more than a year after Trump gave his family $10,000, Bouvet says he’s cancer-free.

“The president saved my life,” Bouvet said during the emotional Oval Office meeting. “And I told him that.”

Bouvet’s son, Shane Bouvet, worked with Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 by day while holding down a job as a delivery man by night.

The Republican reportedly met with president-elect Trump the night before the inauguration and shared his father’s health and financial struggles.

“His father, Donald,” Trump said Friday about what Shane Bouvet told him, “was suffering and really on a pretty final path towards losing his life.”

After his January meeting with Trump, Shane Bouvet returned to his hometown of Stonington, Illinois, with a population of about 930. Then, he got a check in the mail.

It was a personal check worth $10,000 from Trump, he said.

“Shane — You are a great guy — thanks for all of your help,” Trump reportedly wrote on presidential stationery.

Shane Bouvet told NBC4 he gave the entire sum to his father, who used it to pay the deductible on the treatment.

Now cancer-free, Don Bouvet got his own chance Friday to meet Trump, who was impressed that Shane gave all the money to his dad.

“You didn’t have anything,” Trump said to Shane. “And you gave all of it. ... That's an incredible son.”

"It's very emotional because ... one day I wanted to come here, or meet you somewhere, shake your hand, look you in the eye, and say, 'Thank you for saving my life,'" Don Bouvet told the president. "And I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Trump was apparently so impressed that he gave the Bouvets another check for $5,000, Shane told NBC4.

The Bouvets also left with another, possibly priceless, souvenir: a plaque with a note personally signed by Trump that reads, “To Shane, Great Going!”

The Bouvets said that Trump donated his personal money, which campaign finance experts told NBC4 complies with all relevant laws.

Photo Credit: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead]]>
<![CDATA[Is This the Worst Bed Bug Infestation Ever?]]>Fri, 09 Feb 2018 18:47:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+NAT+BED+BUGS+HOUSE.+THUMB.jpg

A New Jersey house may be home to one of the worst bed bug infestations ever seen. Pest control found thousands of the tiny bloodsuckers all over the house and it took three months to get rid of them all.]]>
<![CDATA[Libraries: A Surprising New Home for Bed Bugs]]>Fri, 09 Feb 2018 18:44:02 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+NAT+BED+BUGS+LIBRARY+THUMB.jpg

It may surprise you to learn that libraries have become a hotspot for picking up bed bugs. So as you turn the pages on the latest teen vampire novel, there may be an actual bloodsucker living inside.]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Season Still Worsening; Now as Bad as 2009 Swine Flu]]>Fri, 09 Feb 2018 17:37:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flueseasonshotsCDC.jpg

The flu has further tightened its grip on the U.S. This season is now as bad as the swine flu epidemic nine years ago.

A government report out Friday shows 1 of every 13 visits to the doctor last week was for fever, cough and other symptoms of the flu. That ties the highest level seen in the U.S. during swine flu in 2009.

And it surpasses every winter flu season since 2003, when the government changed the way it measures flu.

"I wish that there were better news this week, but almost everything we're looking at is bad news," said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu season usually takes off in late December and peaks around February. This season started early and was widespread in many states by December. Early last month, it hit what seemed like peak levels — but then continued to surge.

The season has been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other more common flu bugs. Still, its long-lasting intensity has surprised experts, who are still sorting out why it's been so bad. One possibility is that the vaccine is doing an unusually poor job; U.S. data on effectiveness is expected next week.

Some doctors say this is the worst flu season they've seen in decades. Some patients are saying that, too.

Veda Albertson, a 70-year-old retiree in Tampa, was sick for three weeks with high fever and fluid in her lungs. She said she hadn't been this sick from the flu since the 1960s, when she was a young mother who couldn't get out of bed to go to the crib of her crying baby.

"It was like 'Wham!' It was bad. It was awful," she said of the illness that hit her on Christmas Day.

Heather Jossi, a 40-year-old Denver police officer and avid runner, said her illness last month was the worst flu she's experienced.

"I don't remember aches this bad. Not for four days," said Jossi. "It took me out."

Albertson said she got a flu shot, Jossi did not.

Last week, 43 states had high patient traffic for the flu, up from 42, the CDC reported. Flu remained widespread in every state except Hawaii and Oregon and hospitalizations continued to climb.

"It's beginning to feel like a marathon," said Dr. Anthony Marchetti, emergency department medical director at Upson Regional Medical Center, a 115-bed hospital in rural Georgia. A quarter of the hospital's emergency department visits are patients with flu, and the hospital has added nursing staff and placed beds in halls to accommodate the increase, he said.

"It just means we have to keep on keeping on. We're getting used to it," Marchetti said.

So far, it has not been a remarkably bad year for flu deaths. Flu and flu-related pneumonia deaths have lagged a little behind some recent bad seasons. The CDC counts flu deaths in children and there have been 63 so far. They have gone as high as about 170 in a season. Overall, there are estimated to be as many as 56,000 deaths linked to the flu during a bad year.

But reports of deaths — some in otherwise healthy children and young adults — have caused growing fear and concern, health officials acknowledge.

On Friday, Delisah Revell brought her 10-month-old daughter to the Upson Regional emergency room. "I heard how bad it is and I didn't want to take any chances," said Revell, who drove 30 minutes to get to the hospital in Thomaston.

The CDC said the amount of suspected flu cases at doctor's offices and hospital emergency rooms last week matched that seen in 2009, when a new swine flu pandemic swept the world. Swine flu, also called pandemic H1N1, was a new strain that hadn't been seen before. It first hit that spring, at the tail end of the winter season, but doctor visits hit their height in late October during a second wave.

This flu season, hospitalization rates have surpassed the nasty season of the winter of 2014-2015, when the vaccine was a poor match to the main bug.

Health officials have said this year's vaccine targets the flu viruses that are currently making people sick, including the swine flu virus that has become a regular winter threat. However, preliminary studies out of Australia and Canada have found the shot was only 10 to 20 percent effective in those countries against the H3N2 strain that's causing the most suffering this winter.

Doctors say they're a bit bewildered as to why this season is so intense.

"It is surprising," said Dr. James Steinberg, chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta. "It's not a hugely new strain. So why is it so severe? I don't think we know."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Nearly 11.8M Enroll for Obama Health Law in 2018]]>Wed, 07 Feb 2018 17:48:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Healthcare2018.jpg

Call it the political equivalent of a death-defying escape: former President Barack Obama's health care law pulled in nearly 11.8 million customers for 2018, despite the Republican campaign to erase it from the books.

An Associated Press count found that nationwide enrollment was about 3 percent lower than last year. California, with more than 1.5 million sign-ups, was the last state to report, announcing its numbers on Wednesday.

Sixteen states increased their enrollment from last year, according to AP's analysis. Six of those were carried by President Donald Trump in 2016, while 10 went for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

However, of the total number of people signed up this year about 6 in 10 live in states that went for Trump, according AP's analysis.

"If you had asked me a year ago whether enrollment for 2018 would be almost equal to 2017, I would have laughed at you," said Larry Levitt, who follows the health law for the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Total enrollment remained remarkably stable despite Trump's disdain for "Obamacare," and multiple attempts by the Republican-led Congress to repeal it. The Trump administration also cut the sign-up window in half, slashed the ad budget, and suddenly stopped a major subsidy to insurers, which triggered a jump in premiums.

"The Affordable Care Act and the landmark protections and affordable coverage it provides are here to stay," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

"These results show that people recognize how important coverage is for their health and financial stability," said Kristine Grow of America's Health Insurance Plans, the industry lobby.

The Trump administration had no immediate reaction. Newly confirmed Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is a critic of the health law, but he has avoided directly antagonizing Democrats over it. The White House line remains that "Obamacare" should be repealed and replaced, but Republicans in Congress don't have the votes.

Still, nearly eight years after the ACA passed, the debate isn't likely to go away. The outlook for next year is dicey. Starting in 2019, Congress has repealed the law's unpopular requirement that most people carry health insurance or risk fines from the IRS. That's expected to embolden some healthy people to go without coverage, which would raise premiums for those left behind.

People who are eligible for health law subsidies would be shielded from such increases, but those who don't get financial assistance would face another round of cost increases.

The Trump administration is trying to address that by promoting lower-cost insurance alternatives that don't offer the comprehensive benefits available through the health law. But that also has drawbacks. If the lower-cost plans catch on with consumers, it could siphon healthy people away from the health law's comprehensive coverage.

Meanwhile, bipartisan legislation to help stabilize insurance markets across the country appears to be struggling in Congress.

Peter Lee, head of California's state-run market, says he believes insurance markets are still in jeopardy despite a good enrollment season. Overall enrollment dipped slightly in California, but the number of new customers increased.

In a recent interview, Lee said he's concerned that the federal government isn't doing enough to advertise that coverage is available at attractive rates for people with modest incomes who qualify for subsidies.

"Not promoting enrollment is a formula for higher premiums for many Americans," said Lee. A drumbeat of advertising is needed, he explained, because the pool of potential customers is constantly changing. For example, people who lose employer coverage may not know the health law offers them an option.

"If you see overall enrollment dropping that is a formula for less healthy people covered and higher premiums," said Lee. Health law enrollment peaked at 12.7 million for 2016 and has declined every year since them.

The dozen or so states running their own insurance marketplaces mostly outperformed the federal HealthCare.gov. Overall, the 39 states that use the federal website saw their enrollment slip by about 5 percent.

Eight of the states that beat last year's number of sign-ups ran their own markets. Most state markets had longer sign-up windows than HealthCare.gov and some states advertised heavily.

In fact, of the 12 jurisdictions running their own exchanges, eight gained enrollees - only California, the District of Columbia, Maryland and Vermont lagged behind 2017 levels.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Kiki Intarasuwan]]>
<![CDATA[Insulin Quality Questions Have Diabetes Experts Scrambling]]>Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:33:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/insulin_1200x675.jpg

Preliminary research suggesting that some diabetes patients may be injecting medicine that has partially disintegrated is causing concern even as serious questions are raised about the research itself.

The study author, a pharmacist, bought vials of insulin at a number of pharmacies and found that on average the vials had less than half of what was listed on the label and none met a minimum standard.

The study tested just 18 vials of insulin — far too few to be definitive — and questions have been raised about the methods used to test the insulin. Insulin makers, patient advocate groups and diabetes experts say if the findings were accurate, diabetes patients would be getting sick.

But given potentially serious implications for millions of diabetics, many of these groups are now trying to reassure patients in the wake of the research. All say that patients should continue to taking their insulin as prescribed.

The groups are discussing how to quickly mount a major study that would ease fears by involving multiple research labs, different testing methods and many more samples of various insulin types.

"We want to make sure the study, when completed, will be well accepted," said Dr. William Cefalu, the American Diabetes Association's chief scientific officer.

Roughly 6 million Americans inject synthetic insulin every day. Most patients use a syringe to draw insulin from a vial, like the ones tested in the study, then inject it. An increasing number instead use simpler "pens" containing insulin cartridges, pressing them against skin to inject a dose.

The study raised such alarm because without enough insulin, patients can, over time, suffer blindness, limb amputations, and life-threatening damage to the kidneys and heart.

"The (insulin) concentration and the amount you give, if just a little bit off, can have huge consequences," said Aaron Kowalski of JDRF, which funds diabetes research.

The original study, published Dec. 21 in the Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology, tested insulin solutions in vials bought at multiple pharmacies, supplied by different wholesalers, in Kansas and Missouri. They included insulin made by Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly and Co.

The concentration, or number of insulin units in the liquid solution, was labeled as 100 units per milliliter. But they averaged less than half of that, and none met the 95-unit minimum standard, said lead researcher Alan Carter, a pharmacist and adjunct instructor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Pharmacy.

"It blew us all away," said Carter, who did the research while working at not-for-profit contract research firm MRIGlobal in Kansas City.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that insulin batches be tested before leaving the factory. The insulin then must be kept cool, in a narrow temperature range, as it is shipped to a warehouse and then to pharmacies. The FDA conducts spot checks during the process.

Carter thinks the insulin may have gotten too warm somewhere between the factory and the pharmacy, causing some of the molecules to break apart.

Carter wondered whether his results might help explain why insulin users sometimes find a dose doesn't work as well as normal. Doctors usually attribute that to patient error: not injecting enough insulin before a meal, not following dietary guidelines, or skipping exercise.

Carter, who had a limited budget for his study, acknowledges that it was too small and that his results may be flawed. He notified Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly of his results in hopes someone would do a bigger follow-up study.

Insulin makers stand by their products, saying they meet strict government quality regulations. Diabetes experts say there's little chance that insulin being sold nationwide is so degraded.

"If that were true, then you would have the emergency rooms full with uncontrolled diabetic patients," said Bernd Meibohm, a pharmaceutical sciences professor and research director at the University of Tennessee College of Pharmacy.

Experts say there are multiple methods of testing insulin concentrations and that Carter's group used a sophisticated one, known as LCMS for short.

Dr. Richard Ostlund, an endocrinologist and professor who heads a large testing lab at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis said that method is typically used for testing insulin levels in blood, not vials. He said that test likely couldn't detect much of the insulin in the vials because it clusters together there, while in the blood it separates into individual molecules.

He and other experts say diabetics should not change their treatment at all.

"Patients should not do anything different in response to this," Ostlund said. He noted his lab has tested insulin for various research projects and always found vials contained close to what's listed on the label.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Orlin Wagner]]>
<![CDATA[Study of Rats Reveals Cellphone Radiation Risk Is Low]]>Mon, 05 Feb 2018 14:53:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_cellstudy0202_1920x1080.jpg

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found low risk of radiations affecting human bodies, according to a new study that exposed rats and mice to high levels of radio frequency radiation nine hours a day for more than two years.]]>
<![CDATA[Do Cellphones Cause Cancer? Maybe, in Some Rats, Anyway]]>Mon, 05 Feb 2018 12:21:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cellphone_stock.jpg

The latest federal studies of cellphone radiation show that it might — in the highest doses for the longest period of time — cause a certain type of cancer in rats, NBC News reported.

But experts agree that the National Toxicology Program's finding, from reports released Friday, probably doesn't translate to people.

Male rats given high doses of cellphone radiation had a higher risk of schwannoma cancer in the nerves near the heart, but rats exposed to cellphone signals also lived longer, and were especially less prone to one kind of kidney disease.

“These draft reports are bound to create a lot of concern, but in fact they won't change what I tell people: the evidence for an association between cellphones and cancer is weak, and so far, we have not seen a higher cancer risk in people," said Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society. "If there is a harm, it's minimal."

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[More Teens Embracing 'Diverse Gender Identities': Study]]>Mon, 05 Feb 2018 11:08:38 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AdobeStock_140814047.jpg

Far more U.S. teens than previously thought are transgender or identify themselves using other nontraditional gender terms, with many rejecting the idea that girl and boy are the only options, new research suggests.

The study looked at students in ninth and 11th grade and estimated that nearly three percent are transgender or gender nonconforming, meaning they don't always self-identify as the sex they were assigned at birth. That includes kids who refer to themselves using neutral pronouns like "them" instead of "he" or "she."

"Diverse gender identities are more prevalent than people would expect," said lead author Nic Rider, a University of Minnesota postdoctoral fellow who studies transgender health.

The study is an analysis of a 2016 statewide survey of almost 81,000 Minnesota teens.

Nearly 2,200 identified as transgender or gender nonconforming. The study found that these kids reported worse mental and physical health than other kids, echoing results seen in previous research. Bullying and discrimination are among possible reasons for the differences, Rider said, although the survey didn't ask.

Rider said it's a study based on a statewide population of teens in ninth and 11th grades and that the results can be used to estimate numbers of trans and gender nonconforming teens in those grades across the United States.

The study was published Monday in Pediatrics.

Although the study only included teens in two grades, the rates are higher than a UCLA study released last year estimating that 0.7 percent of teens aged 13 to 17 are transgender, or about 150,000 kids. That study used government data on adults to estimate numbers for children. It said 0.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as transgender, or about 1.4 million.

Some experts believe rising awareness of transgender issues has led increasing numbers of transgender teens to come out, or to experiment with gender identification.

"With growing trans visibility in the United States, some youth might find it safer to come out and talk about gender exploration," Rider said.

But differences in estimates may also reflect differences in how gender identity questions are phrased, Rider said.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not asked about transgender status on its youth surveys, noting that it is difficult to find the right question to yield a credible answer.

The survey Rider analyzed asked about the sex the teens were assigned at birth, and if they considered themselves transgender, gender queer, gender fluid or unsure about their gender identity. Kids were not asked if they had undergone surgery or other medical treatment to transition to the opposite sex.

Dr. Daniel Shumer, a specialist in transgender medicine at the University of Michigan, wrote in an accompanying opinion article in Pediatrics that the study supports other research suggesting that earlier counts of the trans population "have been underestimated by orders of magnitude." He said that the higher numbers should serve as a lesson to schools and physicians to abandon limited views of gender.

"Youth are rejecting this binary thinking and are asking adults to keep up," he wrote.

Rider said to improve health disparities affecting transgender teens, doctors should help them feel more comfortable about seeking health care by asking how they identify and if they've experienced bullying, discrimination or other victimization. That's important, Rider said, "because this conveys competence, inclusivity, and caring."

That advice echoes American Academy of Pediatrics policy that says pediatricians should use gender-neutral terms and encourage teens to feel comfortable talking "about their emerging sexual identities."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Adobe Stock]]>
<![CDATA[Abortion Is a Focus of Early Action in Legislative Sessions]]>Mon, 05 Feb 2018 09:05:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18033808404383-Mississippi-House-Bill-1510-Abortion.jpg

Republicans who control a majority of the nation's statehouses are considering a wide range of abortion legislation that could test the government's legal ability to restrict a woman's right to terminate pregnancy.

The Mississippi House passed a bill Friday that would make the state the only one to ban all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. In Missouri, lawmakers heard testimony earlier in the week on a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

The Ohio House is expected to consider bills, already passed in the Senate, that would prohibit the most common type of procedure used to end pregnancies after 13 weeks and require that fetal remains be buried or cremated.

Abortion is a perennial hot button issue in statehouses across the country. Republican-controlled states have passed hundreds of bills since 2011 restricting access to the procedure while Democratic-led states have taken steps in the other direction.

The early weeks of this year's state legislative sessions have seen a flurry of activity around the issue. It comes as activists on both sides say they expect the U.S. Supreme Court to soon consider a question that remains unclear: How far can states go in restricting abortion in the interest of preserving and promoting fetal life?

The state bills debated since the start of the year "are all tests designed to see how far government power to legislate on behalf of a fetus can reach," said Jessica Mason Pieklo, who has been tracking legislation as the senior legal analyst for Rewire, a website that promotes views supporting abortion rights.

She said the outcome will determine whether states can legally ban abortion after a specific time period and outlaw specific medical procedures. Advocates for abortion rights say those strategies undermine the Supreme Court's 1973 ruling that women have the right to terminate pregnancies until a fetus is viable.

In Utah, critics have warned that a pending bill to prevent doctors from performing abortions on the basis of a Down syndrome diagnosis is unconstitutional. But its co-sponsor, Republican state Sen. Curt Bramble, said he is willing to defend the bill in court because its goal is to protect unborn children.

"There are times if the Supreme Court got it wrong, it is appropriate to push back," said Bramble, an accountant from Provo.

The anti-abortion bills have drawn opposition from women who say they have made the excruciating choice to terminate a pregnancy, often after discovering serious fetal abnormalities.

"A 20-week abortion ban sounds OK, but if that gets passed, what's next — 18 weeks, 15 weeks? At what point does it make abortion truly illegal?" said Robin Utz of St. Louis, 38, who submitted testimony this week against the Missouri bill. "It's terrifying and it's willfully ignorant."

Utz recounted terminating her pregnancy in its 21st week in November 2016, after learning her daughter would be born with a fatal kidney disease if she survived birth. She said doctors told her that dilation and evacuation, the most common abortion procedure in the second trimester, was the safest way to terminate the pregnancy.

Undeterred by such stories, the National Right to Life Committee and its allies have been pushing for state laws that ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and outlaw dilation and evacuation. Supporters of both measures argue that fetuses are capable of feeling pain after 20 weeks and call the procedure "dismemberment abortion."

Several court challenges to both types of laws are underway, with federal appeals courts considering the "dismemberment abortion" bans approved last year in Texas and Arkansas. The Kansas Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the first-in-the-nation ban passed in that state three years ago.

Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation at the National Right to Life Committee, said the model state laws drafted by her group are aimed at U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, a swing vote who wrote the court's 2007 opinion upholding a federal ban on a procedure critics call partial-birth abortion.

She said the court could use similar reasoning to prohibit dilation and evacuation and noted it has never considered whether states have an interest in protecting fetuses from pain.

"We did draft these laws with the bigger picture in mind," Duran said.

The shifted focus comes after the court dealt the anti-abortion movement a blow in 2016 by ruling that strict Texas regulations on abortion clinics and doctors were an undue burden on abortion access and unconstitutional.

Anti-abortion groups hope President Donald Trump will be able to nominate one or more justices to the Supreme Court following last year's confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, potentially making the court more conservative on the issue for decades to come.

In the meantime, some of them are cautioning their allies not to go too far.

Duran said the proposed 15-week ban in Mississippi, which now goes to the state Senate, caught her by surprise. She noted that prior state laws banning abortion after 12 weeks or once a heartbeat was detected have been found unconstitutional.

In South Carolina this past week, state senators tabled a bill that would have banned most abortions to give lawmakers more time to study the consequences. Also last week, a legislative committee in Tennessee amended a bill to remove language that would have outlawed abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which is usually around six weeks. The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Micah Van Huss, said he would be back.

"I will not stop fighting for the lives of babies until abortion is abolished in this state," he said.

AP reporters Julie Carr Smyth and Brady McCombs contributed.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Rogelio V. Solis/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Worsens and It's Still Bad Almost Everywhere: CDC]]>Fri, 02 Feb 2018 14:08:50 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-2806690.jpg

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the flu season is still underway with reports of additional child and adult deaths in the last week, adding that it had seen higher numbers of hospitalizations than before and that the flu season could continue into the next several weeks, NBC News reported.

The CDC said the 16 additional pediatric deaths bring the total fatalities to 53 this flu season. There have been a higher number of hospitalizations, and the CDC saw higher than ever numbers in senior adults and children under the age of 5.

The agency said this flu season has lasted for 10 weeks and could last as long as 20 weeks.

"We continue to recommend the flu vaccine," CDC acting director Dr. Anne Schuchat said. Flu vaccines on the market protect against three or four strains of influenza, and all four strains are circulating. The most common virus putting people into the hospital is the H3N2 strain and the vaccine is not terribly effective against that strain, but it works better against H1N1, which is also circulating, and the two influenza B strains Schuchat said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Mario Villafuerte
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<![CDATA['Wash Your Stinking Hands': Fla. Nurse Warns of 'Funky Flu' in Viral Video]]>Fri, 02 Feb 2018 12:20:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-73080889.jpg

A nurse's Facebook rant about the "cesspool of funky flu" in emergency room waiting areas is getting a lot of attention.

"Wash your stinking hands," Katherine Lockler says in a six-minute video that's been viewed over 5 million times since she recorded it in frustration after a 12-hour shift during this particularly nasty flu season. The mother of four works in several emergency rooms in the Pensacola area in Florida's Panhandle.

She said 25 to 30 people often sit for hours in hospital waiting rooms as the worst cases get treated first.

"Some of them are not true emergencies, but they're waiting along with the flu right next to them. So guess what? Five flus came in, 15 flus walk out. It's great," she said sarcastically. "They'll be back."

Lockler told the Pensacola News Journal her intent was not just to vent, but to offer a constructive message from a health care professional's perspective.

"The biggest problem for me was seeing people come in to visit, and not only being exposed to this awful flu virus, but not taking the correct precautions to get themselves disinfected before going out in the world," Lockler said.

She said she's getting responses from around the world to the video she titled "After Work Thoughts." In it, she says the flu is spreading like "wildfire," and offers suggestions for staying healthy. She demonstrates the "magic trick" of sneezing or coughing into the crook of an arm to avoid getting germs on your hands. Then she repeats it, in slow motion.

"My sleeve got the germs, my hands didn't," she said, holding up her hand. "It's amazing to watch how many people come through the emergency room, sneeze in their hands and — I watch — no one grabs the hand sanitizer."

Lockler shares ER horror stories, like the father who let his baby to crawl on the floor, and the softball coach who brought his whole team.

"If you have a team member from your softball team who is sick or injured, you do not bring the entire softball team in to check on them. Because guess what?" Lockler said. "You just got 15 new vectors, or carriers of the flu by them all walking in. Which I watched them all walk in last night, see their friend, and not touch the hand sanitizer. Not once!"

In fact, if you aren't sick, just stay home, she advises.

"So, don't bring bring your team in. Please don't bring your healthy children, especially your newborn babies, into the emergency," she said. "If you don't have what I call a true emergency, this would not be the time to come to the emergency room."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Nurses With a Mission: Send Older ER Patients Home With Help]]>Fri, 02 Feb 2018 11:15:05 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nurseshelpseniorshome_1200x675.jpg

When 86-year-old Carol Wittwer took a taxi to the emergency room, she expected to be admitted to the hospital. She didn't anticipate being asked if she cooks for herself. If she has friends in her high-rise. Or if she could spell lunch backward.

"H-C-N-U-L," she said, ruling out a type of confusion called delirium for the geriatrics-trained nurse who was posing the questions in a special wing of Northwestern Memorial Hospital's emergency department

Wittwer's care is part of a new approach to older patients as U.S. emergency rooms adapt to serve the complex needs of a graying population. That means asking more questions, asking them earlier and, when possible, avoiding a hospital stay for many older patients.

The surprising truth? Hospitals can make older patients sicker. Infections, incontinence and weakening muscles from bed rest can cascade into delirium, frailty and death. More than 30 percent of older adults go home from a hospital stay with a minor or major health problem they picked up at the hospital.

But for an ER doctor, sending an elderly patient home sometimes feels risky.

"The doctors are not comfortable sending you home unless you're safe," said Northwestern Medicine's Dwayne Dobschuetz, a nurse practitioner who started making house calls by bicycle a year ago for the health system's geriatrics department. "It's easier to admit older patients than to send them home."

One of his patients, Marvin Shimp, 87, has lost much of his vision to macular degeneration, but lives independently. Dobschuetz helps him stay out of the hospital with regular visits to check vitals and answer questions.

"He becomes quite a helper," Shimp said.

Emergency rooms have been called the hospital's front door, so that's where reformers are starting.

"The emergency department is not designed with older adults in mind," said Dr. Scott Dresden, who heads the Geriatric Emergency Department Innovations program at Northwestern. "You've got really thin stretchers. You've got patients in the hallway. There's mechanical noise all around."

Early research at Northwestern and other hospitals shows care from geriatrics-trained nurses in the ER can reduce the chances of a hospital stay after a patient's emergency visit and for a month afterward.

About 100 hospitals in the United States have opened geriatric emergency departments or trained ER teams in geriatrics care. These teams can arrange home services such as light housekeeping or a break for a caregiver.

In June, for instance, a man in his 90s arrived at the emergency department at University of California, San Diego's La Jolla medical campus. His left arm and shoulder hurt. He couldn't stand because of weakness and pain in his left foot.

Geriatric emergency nurse Tom Crisman learned the man was a veteran who had outlived his wife and son. The man was eager to get home because he now cared for a daughter with Alzheimer's disease.

Crisman identified caregiver strain, weight loss and swallowing difficulties. His patient was in danger of falls and malnutrition. But the man was lucky in a way, Crisman said.

"He was not alone like many seniors," Crisman recalled. He told Crisman he had social ties "and some basic care provided by his church fellowship."

Crisman organized home physical therapy for the man, connected him with a nutritionist and speech therapist and invited church members to help with the resource planning. "They were treated like family," Crisman said.

This kind of emergency medicine is only about a decade old. An influential 2007 article described the emergency department of the future, designed to prevent confusion and falls in the elderly and to increase their comfort.

It would have windows and skylights instead of windowless spaces with glaring bulbs. Pressure-reducing mattresses instead of thin ones. Soundproofing.

Above all, it would hire nurses trained to untangle the complex complaints of aging, slowing down the frenetic pace of the ER enough to fully evaluate each patient. Physical therapists and pharmacists would be ready to help out.

Now, the ideas are catching fire. Northwestern's geriatrics ER has soundproofed rooms with comfortable beds and windows. Hospitals in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Illinois and Georgia formed a collaborative to share ideas.

The latest nudge is an accreditation program, launched this year.

"We want to have at least 50 certified hospitals by the end of 2018," said Dr. Kevin Biese of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, who leads the accreditation push for the American College of Emergency Physicians.

With Medicare penalizing health care systems for unneeded care, hospitals have financial incentives to change. Older adults in the emergency room use more resources and are admitted to the hospital more frequently than other age groups.

Northwestern's GEDI team — it's pronounced "Jedi" like in "Star Wars" — regularly works beyond the scope of a traditional emergency department.

Last March, the team helped sort out guardianship issues for a woman in her 70s with severe dementia whose caretaker daughter was severely sick. In November, they organized hospice care for a man in his 70s who was dying of pancreatic cancer. In December, they helped a woman in her 80s get a spot at her preferred rehabilitation facility, first making sure that Medicare would cover the cost.

Wittwer, the Northwestern ER patient, might have been admitted to the hospital before the GEDI program. Instead, the team set her up with home visits from a nurse and a physical therapist.

"They were great," Wittwer said of the nurses a few days later from her high-rise apartment. "It looks like an army of people are going to be coming over here today. I'll be OK."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Teresa Crawford]]>
<![CDATA[Cuomo Begs You to Get Flu Shot as 11,683 New Cases Hit NY]]>Fri, 02 Feb 2018 00:40:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flueshotgeneric_1200x675.jpg

State health officials say laboratory-confirmed influenza cases topped 11,000 over the past week, with another 2,200-plus New Yorkers requiring hospitalization because of the flu.

In releasing the latest flu statistics Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo again urged people to get the flu vaccine. The Democrat says flu cases and hospitalizations "continue to rise at alarming levels."

Health officials say the total confirmed flu cases during the past week reached 11,683, with 2,221 people hospitalized with confirmed influenza.

Overall, there have been nearly 37,000 lab-confirmed flu cases over the past eight weeks in New York state, with more than 9,300 people requiring hospitalization.

Doctor visits for flu-like symptoms hit their highest level nationwide since the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

New Jersey has also been dealing with thousands of reported flu cases. A 4-year-old girl died after contracting the virus, health officials said Wednesday. It was the state's first flu-related death this season.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Family Raises Concerns About Tamiflu After Teen's Suicide]]>Thu, 01 Feb 2018 21:59:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/tamiflu2.jpg

Tamiflu is a prescription medication that can ease flu symptoms and stop them from getting worse, and it's seen shortages this year amid a fierce outbreak that's killed at least 37 children.

But "Today" reports that a family in Indiana fears that Tamiflu's effects may have led to the suicide of 16-year-old Charlie Harp. A legal guardian of Harp's told NBC affiliate WTHR that he was happy until he got the flu.

Tamiflu has some rare side effects, including seizures, hallucinations and self-injury in children who take it. Both its manufacturer and the FDA advise that patients sick with influenza being treated with Tamiflu should be monitored "for signs of abnormal behavior."

But Tamiflu is also considered key in treating the flu in some people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that it be given to a range of people at risk of complications from the flu, including people under 2 years of age or over 65.

SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Photo Credit: WTHR]]>
<![CDATA[Pharmacist in Meningitis Outbreak Gets 8 Years in Prison]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 17:41:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Glenn-Chin-pharmacist.jpg

A Massachusetts pharmacist convicted in connection with a deadly 2012 meningitis outbreak fought through sobs as he apologized to victims and their families Wednesday before being sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in what's considered the worst public health crisis in recent U.S. history.

Nearly 80 people died and almost 800 were sickened in the fungal meningitis outbreak caused by mold-tainted steroid injections produced by the New England Compounding Center.

Glen Chinn, who ran the so-called clean rooms where the drugs were made, sobbed as he struggled through his statement during his sentencing hearing in Boston's federal courthouse. Chin said he knows some victims will never forgive him, but will continue to pray that they will find some sort of peace.

"I realize these are just words and nothing will bring back your loved ones," the 49-year-old said, occasionally turning to look directly at the victims and their relatives seated behind him. "But believe me when I say that I am truly sorry that this ever occurred," he said.

Prosecutors wanted a 35-year-sentence for Chin, pointing to the devastating impact the outbreak had on families across the country. Chin's lawyers asked for about three years behind bars.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Strachan relayed how a victim's daughter said she heard her mother's scream of pain from floors below when the daughter visited her mother in the hospital. The daughter compared the sound of her mother's screams to the sound of the ship careening into the ocean in the movie "Titanic," Strachan said.

"That's the sound that she has in her head when she thinks about her mother's death," Strachan said. "It's the sound made by Glenn Chin's conduct."

Mary Beth Krakowski of South Bend, Indiana, whose aunt died at age 88 after being injected with the contaminated drugs, told Chin he had a chance to be a "hero" and blow the whistle on the pharmacy's dangerous practices.

"How did you get lost? How did you lose those ideals? How could you have fallen so far to become uncaring, cold and callous enough to put the patients' welfare behind your personal gain?" asked Krakowski, the niece of Alice Machowiak.

Chin was convicted in October of racketeering and mail fraud but was cleared of second-degree murder, which could have brought a life sentence. He had had been charged with the deaths of 25 people in Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.

Throughout his trial, prosecutors portrayed him as a callous employee who cut corners and ignored warning signs that the pharmacy's production methods were unsafe in order to boost production and profits.

Chin's attorneys argued that he didn't deserve more time behind bars than the pharmacy's co-founder, Barry Cadden, who's serving a nine-year sentence for his role in the outbreak. Cadden also was acquitted of second-degree murder.

Chin's attorneys said Cadden was the one calling the shots and that Chin just couldn't stand up to his boss. They said there was no evidence Chin caused the drugs to become contaminated.

"There is more to Glenn Chin than NECC," attorney Stephen Weymouth told the judge, pointing to the dozens of letters written by friends and family that described him as a mentor and loving father to his two young children.

"This will be Glenn Chin's own prison from which he will never be able to get out of for as long as he lives," Weymouth said.

After the sentencing, victims expressed their dismay at what they considered to be a light sentence and the fact that neither Chin nor Cadden were convicted of murder.

"I want somebody in there blamed for the deaths," said Willard Mazure, Jr., of Michigan, who became sickened after receiving an injection in 2012. "We've got 80 people dead, and nobody is responsible."

The judge ordered Chin to report to prison in March.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Steven Senne/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Sick? Virtual Doctors Offer Diagnoses to Your Smartphone]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 13:50:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_virtualdoctor0130_1500x845.jpg

A severe flu season blanketing the United States is overburdening hospitals and emergency rooms across the country. Many doctors are urging people to make virtual appointments instead, where patients can be diagnosed through video sessions.]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Chief Resigns Over 'Complex Financial Interests']]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 18:24:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-457163942.jpg

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention resigned Wednesday over financial conflicts of interest involving her investments in health care businesses.

Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald's complex financial investments presented conflicts that made it difficult to do her job, according to a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC. In an ethics agreement filed in September, Fitzgerald had said that legal and contractual restrictions prevented her from selling the two investments.

A new HHS head, Alex Azar, who took office on Monday, accepted her resignation Wednesday, effective immediately.

Fitzgerald's investments were "limiting her ability to complete all of her duties as CDC Director," HHS spokesman Matt Lloyd said in the statement. "Due to the nature of these financial interests, Dr. Fitzgerald could not divest from them in a definitive time period."

The news comes less than a day after Politico reported that Fitzgerald bought shares in a tobacco company while she was leading the CDC. An HHS representative told the news outlet that "the potentially conflicting" stock purchases were handled by a financial manager, and that Fitzgerald later sold them.
The CDC oversees the federal government's anti-smoking initiatives.

The news comes less than a day after Politico reported that Fitzgerald bought shares in a tobacco company while she was leading the CDC. An HHS representative told the news outlet that "the potentially conflicting" stock purchases were handled by a financial manager, and that Fitzgerald later sold them.

The CDC oversees the federal government's anti-smoking initiatives.

Before she became the CDC's chief, she owned a range of stocks, including holdings in beer and soda companies, the tobacco company Philip Morris International, and a number of health care companies. She said she sold the stocks, but in December, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) wrote Fitzgerald saying she was concerned about the unresolved financial holdings.

In the ethics agreement, Fitzgerald discussed long-term investments in an electronic medical records company and a biotech startup that focuses on early cancer detection. She said in the agreement that she would not participate in matters that might affect those companies. Those investments prevented her from talking about cancer and prescription drug monitoring programs, Murray wrote.

On Tuesday, Politico reported that a month after becoming CDC director, Fitzgerald's financial manager bought new stocks, including shares in Japan Tobacco and the drug companies Bayer and Merck & Co. Those stocks were later sold, Politico reported.

Fitzgerald could not be reached for comment. Her predecessor, Dr. Tom Frieden, said he talked to her after the Politico story came out, and Fitzgerald told him she didn't know about the purchase of the stocks when they were made.

"I have spoken with Dr. Fitzgerald and believe her when she says that she was unaware that a tobacco company investment had been made, she understands that any affiliation between the tobacco industry and public health is unacceptable, and that when she learned of it, she directed that it be sold," Frieden said in a statement.

Fitzgerald, 71, was a longtime OB-GYN in the Atlanta area, a former major in the U.S. Air Force, and campaigned twice, unsuccessfully, as a Republican candidate for Congress in the 1990s. She led Georgia's state health department for six years before being tapped for the CDC job.

Fitzgerald kept a low-profile in the job. She said she wanted to spend time learning about the agency, but also acknowledged a financial conflict of interest kept her from appearing at a Congressional hearing on opioids in early October.

She was appointed by Dr. Tom Price, who was a Republican congressman from Georgia before Trump picked him to head HHS. Price resigned in late September after his costly travel on chartered planes triggered investigations and angered Trump.

Murray issued a statement Wednesday after Fitzgerald's resignation.

"It is unacceptable that the person responsible for leading our nation's public health efforts has, for months, been unable to fully engage in the critical work she was appointed to do. Dr. Fitzgerald's tenure was unfortunately the latest example of the Trump Administration's dysfunction and lax ethical standards," Murray said.

The CDC, the nation's top public health agency, is the only federal agency headquartered outside of Washington, D.C. It has nearly 12,000 employees, and about three-quarters of them are based in the Atlanta area.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty]]>
<![CDATA[The Big Names Behind a New Push to Transform US Health Care]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 08:45:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/biz-titans.jpg

Three guys walk into a bar. They're Warren Buffett, Amazon.com's Jeff Bezos and JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon. They decide to transform the American health care system.

That's probably not how these three men decided to form a new company to address health care costs for their U.S. employees, and possibly for many more Americans. The three companies, with a combined market cap of $1.62 trillion, did not provide details of how the collaboration between their CEOs came about. And while their announcement Tuesday didn't include many specifics, based on their very different business backgrounds it's possible to see what each might bring to the table.

Bezos, 54, runs one of the world's biggest retail operations and by some measurement he's now the wealthiest person on the planet. Amazon grew from a book retailer into one of the world's most valuable companies in part because it's extremely skilled in distributing products. It's long been willing to lose money in order to offer customers lower prices than its competitors can bear — and in the process gain a loyal customer base. That's what millions of Prime members love about it.

Amazon has never been consistent at turning profits because of its focus on sales growth. That's what many investors fear about it. Investors in health care have long thought Amazon was going to get into that field and force companies that make and distribute medications or medical devices to drastically lower their prices.

When the three companies said they want to create a partnership "free from profit-making incentives and constrains," Amazon would seem to be the blueprint.

By contrast, few associate fear with Buffett, the 87-year-old "Oracle of Omaha." He's respected for his 70 years of successful investing, beloved by many for giving billions to charity — he has said he plans to give away at least half his fortune — and appreciated for a common touch that includes a prodigious Coca-Cola habit and a love of junk food, along with his personal frugality. But most significant in this context is that his company, Berkshire Hathaway, owns a number of insurers including GEICO. That means he brings a lot of experience in evaluating and insuring risks.

And he's a longtime critic of the health care system. Tuesday was not the first time Buffett had talked about growing health care costs as a "tapeworm" that harms the growth of the American economy.

Dimon, 61, is the head of the largest U.S. bank in terms of both assets and deposits. If that weren't enough to get him entry into the conversation, JPMorgan Chase just received a big tax cut. Dimon himself earned a lot of respect for his handling of the 2008-09 financial crisis. Unlike many of its competitors, JPMorgan Chase didn't have to be bailed out by taxpayers as a result of its bad bets on mortgage-backed securities.

That doesn't mean he's exactly beloved: Like its rivals, the bank did pay billions to settle allegations surrounding its sales of mortgage-backed securities prior to the crisis. He's also known for speaking his mind in blunt terms. In July, he complained about politicians arguing about "stupid (expletive)" instead of solving problems.

The companies said their project will focus on technology that provides simplified and transparent care. Based on the executives who have been named to top roles at the new company, Jefferies & Co. analyst Brian Tanquilut said there is a good chance it will eventually try to negotiate prices directly with health care providers like hospitals, bypassing companies that act as middlemen. That could reduce costs in the medical and pharmaceutical supply chains.

"The initial plan for the new entity will be on partnering with and/or acquiring various consumer-orientated health care technology capabilities (i.e. a venture capital strategy) and eventually using them to influence and incentivize health care cost-reducing behavior," he said, basing his speculation on the executives picked to shepherd the new company along.

Whatever the new company's scope, investors in health care companies were deeply concerned: On Tuesday health insurer Cigna dropped 7.2 percent, biotech drugmaker AbbVie fell 5.3 percent, and drugstore chain-pharmacy benefits manager CVS Health lost 4.1 percent as the sector took broad losses.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Girl, 4, Dies in NJ's First Flu-Related Death This Season]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 20:25:23 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flueshotgeneric_1200x675.jpg

A 4-year-old girl from New Jersey has died from the flu, health officials say.

The girl’s death is the Garden State’s first flu-related death this season. Health officials did not release the name of the girl or where in New Jersey she lived. NJ.com reports she lived in Central Jersey. 

Health officials said the girl died in December and that she was not vaccinated. New Jersey has had more than 4,000 reported cases of the virus so far this season. The most cases have been reported in Bergen County, NJ.com reports. 

Much of the rest of the nation is grappling with a spike in flu deaths as well.

Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, and 39 states reported high flu traffic for doctors a week and a half ago -- one in 15 doctor visits for flu-related symptoms -- up from 32 from the week prior. That's the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The government doesn't track every flu case but comes up with estimates; one measure is how many people seek medical care for fever, cough, aches and other flu symptoms. And the numbers are concerning.

In New York, Sen. Charles Schumer recently called on federal health officials to dispatch a flu surveillance team to New York as the number of cases increases.

At this rate, by the end of the season somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. 

Some good news: Hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly so far haven't been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people 50 to 64 — baby boomers, mostly — has been unusually high, CDC officials said in the report, which covers the week ending Jan. 20. 

This year's flu shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, mostly the H3N2 flu virus. But exactly how well it is working won't be known until next month. It's the same main bug from last winter, when the flu season wasn't so bad. It's not clear why this season — with the same bug — is worse, some experts said.

"That's the kicker. This virus really doesn't look that different from what we saw last year," said Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. 

It may be that many of the people getting sick this year managed to avoid infection last year. Or there may be some change in the virus that hasn't been detected yet, said the CDC's Dr. Dan Jernigan, in a call with reporters last week. 

Based on patterns from past seasons, it's likely the flu season will start to wane soon, experts say. There are some places, like California, where the season already seems to be easing, CDC officials said. 

"If I was a betting man, I'd put money on it going down," Webby said. "But I've lost money on bets before."

The season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and took off in December.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[As Opioid Crisis Grows, Judge Aims for Solutions, Settlement]]>Tue, 30 Jan 2018 17:29:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_18016803519720.jpg

The goal is impressive: Hammer out a legal deal that starts guiding the nation out of an epidemic of opioid addiction.

How and when that can happen, if at all, is the subject of talks scheduled to begin Wednesday in a federal courthouse in Cleveland.

The judge is bringing together lawyers for governments across the country, drugmakers, distributors and others to start the conversation. Because the aim is to broker a settlement, the judge has closed the discussions to the public and media.

A look at how the sides got to this point and some of the details they have to work out:

Opioid addictions and overdoses are a deepening crisis for the country.

The U.S. Centers of Diseases Control and Prevention says 42,000 people died of overdoses in 2016 from opioids, a class of drug that includes powerful prescription painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin; illegal heroin; and fentanyl, a strong synthetic drug sold both through prescriptions and on the street.

President Donald Trump last year declared the crisis a national public health emergency, and a bipartisan National Governors Association letter this month urged him to provide more federal money and coordination for addressing the problem.

In addition to costing lives, officials have worried that it's hurting the workforce and overwhelming child welfare systems as children of addicts flood the system. In their legal complaint, officials in Everett, Washington, blamed opioid addiction for a spike in homelessness.

A White House Council of Economic Advisers report last year found the national economic impact of opioid addiction at just over $500 billion a year.

Cities and counties of all sizes have sued companies that make and distribute prescription opioids. Among the plaintiffs so far: Philadelphia; the state of Ohio; Princeton, West Virginia; the Cherokee Nation; and a consortium of counties across Wisconsin.

More than 250 such claims filed in federal courts across the country have been consolidated under Judge Dan Polster, who is based in Cleveland.

Polster has called the epidemic "100 percent man-made" and asserted that other branches of government have "punted" on solving it. He is pushing for a resolution before the case goes to trial.

He has invited many parties to the table, including ones that technically do not have cases under his watch. Addiction experts are scheduled to address the lawyers on Wednesday.

The judge asked Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to represent a group of at least nine states that have sued the industry in state courts. He also invited representatives of a group of about 40 state attorneys general that have not sued but have joined together to investigate the industry; at least one state attorney general from that group, Tennessee's Herbert Slatery III, was planning to be there. That group already has had some settlement talks with companies.

Additionally, officials with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are being asked to head to Cleveland, as are representatives of insurance companies and the firms that are defendants in the lawsuits.

Polster was nominated by President Bill Clinton and has been on the bench since 1998. He has made clear that he wants to use the cases before him as a way to forge a solution to the opioid crisis — not just a legal resolution.

"What we've got to do is dramatically reduce the number of pills that are out there, and make sure that the pills that are out there are being used properly," Polster said in an earlier hearing in the case, which was assigned to him in part because Ohio has been hit hard by opioids. "Because we all know that a whole lot of them have gone walking, with devastating results."

Polster is a judge with a history of trying to settle cases before they get to trial.

He drew attention last year for a speech he made after President Donald Trump criticized the federal judiciary. Without naming the president, Polster said that a public office holder who makes those types of comments "calls into question his or her own legitimacy."

For the drug industry, it could be easier to enter into one massive settlement than deal with hundreds of claims before multiple judges.

For governments, working together may represent the best chance of not only getting money to pay for treatment and other costs related to the epidemic but also to force reforms.

Perhaps the most comparable example of such a sweeping settlement over a public health epidemic came in 1998, when the four largest tobacco companies agreed to pay 46 states more than $200 billion over 25 years. The money was to fund public health programs and anti-smoking campaigns.

Legally, there is a major difference between opioids and tobacco: Prescription painkillers are approved by the federal government, prescribed by doctors and have legitimate medical uses.

That's a point the companies that manufacture and distribute the drugs make in court papers as they try to minimize their responsibility for the crisis, even as they say they want to help solve it.

There's no way of knowing how much money a settlement would cost the pharmaceutical industry, if one is ever reached. In New York City's lawsuit filed this month, it asked for more than $500 million.

To reach a settlement, the parties will need to figure out more than the price.

How much of the settlement would be the responsibility of the name-brand manufacturers that do most of the opioid marketing? How much would be the responsibility of the companies that sell even more pills as generics? What about distributors and drug store chains, which are named in some of the lawsuits?

And what about restrictions on how money in a settlement is spent? States used payments from the tobacco settlement to help balance budgets and for government services outside public health.

In the opioids case, some negotiators might insist on provisions to prevent that from happening. Various governments want to use money to pay for emergency responders burdened by the crisis, as well as education and treatment programs.

Paul Hanly, a lawyer who represents nearly 200 local governments that have sued drugmakers and distributors, said his clients have a wide range of interests aside from money.

Some are deeply concerned about limiting the types of medical conditions for which opioids could be prescribed. For others, crackdowns on diverted drugs — prescription medicines stolen or fraudulently prescribed to be sold on the black market — are a top priority. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Patrick Sison, File]]>
<![CDATA[Richard Engel Shares Heartbreaking Story of Son's Medical Journey]]>Tue, 30 Jan 2018 13:16:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/engel-family.jpg

NBC News chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel was with U.S. troops when his toddler's doctor told him the results of a genetic scan, "Today" reported.

"'We found something. It’s very, very severe. It’s life long, not treatable,'" Engel recalled the doctor said. "I was in a state of shock. I got back into this convoy, shaking. It was the worst day of my life."

Engel and his wife, Mary Forrest, knew that something wasn't right with their son Henry, who at nearly 2 years old couldn't talk or clap his hands.

Henry has a genetic brain disorder, a variation of Rett syndrome. Doctors have said that Henry will probably never walk, talk or dress himself. His mental capacity will likely remain at the toddler level. His parents also have been warned to expect future health problems, such as seizures and rigidity.

Forrest and Engel are hoping for scientific progress, and are trying to make Henry’s life as normal as possible despite daily physiotherapy and hospital visits, according to "Today."

“It's made our relationship stronger actually. We're all we've got,” Engel said.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Richard Engel
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<![CDATA[Amazon Teams With Buffett to Tackle Health Care 'Tapeworm']]>Tue, 30 Jan 2018 11:07:06 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/amazon-buffett.jpg

Amazon is diving into health care, teaming up with Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and the New York bank JPMorgan Chase, to create a company that helps their U.S. employees find quality care "at a reasonable cost."

The leaders of each company, Amazon's Jeff Bezos, Buffet, and JPMorgan's Jamie Dimon, offered few details Tuesday and said that the project is in the early planning stage. 

"The ballooning costs of (health care) act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy," Buffett said in a prepared statement. "Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable." 

The new company will be independent and "free from profit-making incentives and constraints." The businesses said the new venture's initial focus would be on technology that provides "simplified, high-quality and transparent" care. 

It was not clear if the ultimate goal involves expanding the ambitious project beyond Amazon, Berkshire or JPMorgan. However, JPMorgan's Dimon said Tuesday that, "our goal is to create solutions that benefit our U.S. employees, their families and, potentially, all Americans." 

Shares in health care companies took a big hit in early trading Tuesday, hinting at the threat of the new entity to how health care is paid for and delivered in the U.S. 

Before the opening bell, eight of the top 10 decliners on the Standard & Poor's 500 index were health care companies. 

The need for a solution to the health care crises in the U.S. is intense. With about 151 million non-elderly people, employer-sponsored coverage is the largest part of the U.S. health insurance market. 

Health care costs for companies routinely rise faster than inflation and eat up bigger portions of their budgets. Americans are mired in a confusing system that creates a mix of prices in the same market for the same procedure or drug and offers no easy path for finding the best deal. 

Employers have hiked deductibles and other expenses for employees and their families to dissipate the costs, which has hit Americans hard. 

Only 50 percent of companies with three to 49 employees offered coverage last year, according to the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation. That's down from 66 percent more than a decade ago. The federal Affordable Care Act requires all companies with 50 or more full-time employees to offer it. 

Amazon, Berkshire and JP Morgan say they can bring their scale and "complementary expertise" to what they describe as a long-term campaign. 

Amazon's entry into the health market has been perceived as imminent, even though the company had announced nothing publicly. 

It has been watched very closely on Wall Street, which as seen Amazon disrupt numerous industries, from booksellers to clothing and electronics chains. 

Amazon, which mostly sold books when it was founded more than 20 years ago, has radically altered the way in which people buy diapers, toys or paper towels. Most recently it has upended the grocery sector, spending $14 billion last year for Whole Foods Market Inc.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Virus That Acts Like Flu Needs Civilian Vaccine: Researcher]]>Mon, 29 Jan 2018 10:16:44 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/169*120/colorized-TEM-image-of-adenovirus_CDC-Dr.-G.-William-Gary-Jr.-1981_10010_lores-500x356.jpeg

A virus could be adding to the seasonal misery brought on by influenza, but it's not being identified, an infectious disease specialist told NBC News.

Adenovirus can cause severe flu-like symptoms, and the U.S. military already vaccinates recruits against two of its 52 strains.

But most people don't get the vaccine and aren't tested for it at doctor's offices, according to Adriana Kajon, the specialist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque.

"We are seeing severe adult infections," Kajon said. "That's a big deal, especially for a disease that by all means is vaccine preventable. But this vaccine is not licensed to be used in civilians." 

Photo Credit: CDC
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<![CDATA[Panera Bread Recalls Cream Cheeses Over Listeria Concern]]>Mon, 29 Jan 2018 15:30:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-472270482.jpg

Panera Bread Co. is voluntarily recalling some cream cheese sold in its U.S. stores because of possible bacterial contamination.

The St. Louis-based company released a statement Sunday saying the recall was initiated after testing from a single production day indicated the presence of Listeria monocytogenes in one variety of its 2 oz. cream cheese.

Tests on cream cheese samples manufactured before and after that production run have all come back negative.

Panera says there have been no reported illnesses. The company says the recall is pre-emptive.

The products included in the recall are all varieties of unexpired 2 oz. and 8 oz. cream cheese products with an expiration date on or before April 2. The recall doesn't affect Panera Bread Canadian bakery cafes or any other products.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Sen. Schumer Demands Feds Send Special Flu Team to NY ]]>Mon, 29 Jan 2018 00:58:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SCHUMER+PRESSER++-+22355206_WNBC_000000019653696.jpg

Sen. Charles Schumer is calling on federal health officials to dispatch a flu surveillance team to New York as the number of cases increases.

The Democrat announced his request to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday. 

He says a surveillance team could help local health care workers and state health officials by studying the spread of the illness, identifying the particular strains involved, and assessing the impact on the state's overall population. 

"It's like when we have a law enforcement problem and we call on the feds to beef it up and help our local police," Schumer said. "We have a health problem, and I'm calling on the feds to come and beef up our local health care system." 

Schumer says a CDC team could help the state "break its fever" by assisting the public health efforts already underway in the state, like the tracking of flu strains to figure out the best way to fight the virus. 

"Let's say they know a section of the Bronx is getting overwhelming flu by elderly," Schumer said. "They'll go to the elderly senior centers, they'll go to the nursing homes. They'll notify the elderly in a variety of different ways online and say, 'Here's what you should do.'" 

According to the senator's office more than 5,200 New Yorkers have been hospitalized with the flu this season. That's compared to 3,500 New Yorkers hospitalized last year. And the number of new cases went up by 54 percent last week.

The CDC says this year the elderly and middle aged populations -- people ages 50 to 65 -- appear to be at greater risk than children.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Cecile Richards Stepping Down As Planned Parenthood Leader]]>Fri, 26 Jan 2018 14:01:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-873757254.jpg

Cecile Richards, who led Planned Parenthood through 12 tumultuous years, is stepping down as its president.

Under her leadership, the organization gained in membership, donor support and political clout but found itself in constant conflict with social conservatives for its role as the leading abortion provider in the United States.

The organization provides a range of health services at clinics nationwide, including birth control, cancer screenings and tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Republicans in Congress tried repeatedly to cut off federal funding that helps subsidize Planned Parenthood's services to some patients, and several congressional committees investigated the organization's role in providing post-abortion fetal tissue to researchers.

In a statement Friday, Richards said she would remain engaged in political activism ahead of the November elections.

"There has never been a better moment to be an activist," said Richards, who was a featured speaker in Las Vegas at one of last weekend's largest women's marches.

Richards, 60, is the daughter of former Texas Gov. Ann Richards. Before joining Planned Parenthood, she was a union organizer and deputy chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, among other roles.

Reaction to Richards' announcement reflected the divisive nature of the debate over Planned Parenthood's role.

Pelosi, the House minority leader, hailed her as "a portrait of energy, intellect, and determination" whose impact transcended reproductive rights.

"As an organizer, activist, and leader, Cecile has helped launch a nationwide movement to defend and advance women's rights, and in doing so, she has inspired countless women to march, vote, run, and win." Pelosi said.

Anti-abortion activists seized the occasion to demonize Richards.

Her legacy "is one of death and destruction," said Kristin Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America. "She leaves broken lives in her wake."

Many of the key battles for Richards and Planned Parenthood were waged in Congress, where Republicans repeatedly, though unsuccessfully, sought ways to cut off its federal funding. GOP lawmakers also organized multiple investigative committees after anti-abortion activists released secretly recorded videos in 2015 that they said showed Planned Parenthood employees illegally selling fetal tissue for profit. Planned Parenthood emphatically denied that claim, and thus far there's been no formal finding by Congress of wrongdoing by the organization.

Planned Parenthood said Richards helped grow its base of supporters from 3 million to 11 million and build its donor base to its largest ever. She oversaw a notable expansion of services to LGBT people, including sharp increases in HIV testing and the provision of hormone therapy for transgender patients.

Richards' resignation precedes the scheduled publication of her memoir, "Make Trouble," in April.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images for Glamour]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Widespread Across US for Third Straight Week]]>Fri, 26 Jan 2018 13:59:53 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flueseasonshotsCDC.jpg

Sick with the flu? You've got a lot of company.

The flu blanketed the U.S. again last week for the third straight week. Only Hawaii has been spared.

Last week, 1 in 15 doctor visits were for symptoms of the flu. That's the highest level since the swine flu pandemic in 2009. The government doesn't track every flu case but comes up with estimates; one measure is how many people seek medical care for fever, cough, aches and other flu symptoms.

Flu is widespread in every state except Hawaii, and 39 states reported high flu traffic for doctors last week, up from 32.

At this rate, by the end of the season somewhere around 34 million Americans will have gotten sick from the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

Some good news: Hospital stays and deaths from the flu among the elderly so far haven't been as high as in some other recent flu seasons. However, hospitalization rates for people 50 to 64 — baby boomers, mostly — has been unusually high, CDC officials said in the report, which covers the week ending Jan. 20.

This year's flu shot targets the strains that are making Americans sick, mostly the H3N2 flu virus. But exactly how well it is working won't be known until next month. It's the same main bug from last winter, when the flu season wasn't so bad. It's not clear why this season — with the same bug — is worse, some experts said.

"That's the kicker. This virus really doesn't look that different from what we saw last year," said Richard Webby, a flu researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

It may be that many of the people getting sick this year managed to avoid infection last year. Or there may be some change in the virus that hasn't been detected yet, said the CDC's Dr. Dan Jernigan, in a call with reporters Friday.

Based on patterns from past seasons, it's likely the flu season will start to wane soon, experts say. There are some places, like California, where the season already seems to be easing, CDC officials said.

"If I was a betting man, I'd put money on it going down," Webby said. "But I've lost money on bets before."

The season usually peaks in February, but this season started early and took off in December.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In a bad season, there as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu.

In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older. Last seasons, about 47 percent of Americans got vaccinated, according to CDC figures.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle
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<![CDATA[NYC Hospital Seeing 30 to 50 More Flu Patients Per Day: Docs]]>Fri, 26 Jan 2018 00:49:58 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/WNBC+11PM+AIRCHECK+M-Sun+-+23054407_WNBC_000000019630434.jpg

Doctors at at least one New York City hospital said they are seeing a dramatic influx of flu patients amid this season's outbreak of the virus. 

The staff of Mount Sinai Children's Hospital said they've been seeing between 30 and 50 more patients per day than normal this flu season. It comes amid a deadly outbreak that killed on New York boy already left 1,600 other New Yorkers in the hospital last week alone. 

ER Dr. Peter Shearer and nurse Katherine Bermudez are just two of the countless health professionals working tirelessly to help the influx of patients in recent weeks.

“It seems like they’re coming in more this year, this season, than previous winter seasons,” said Bermudez.

Shearer added, "This year, with this strain what we find is in particular, the very young and the very old are the ones most susceptible and the most likely to get ill, particularly in the over 65 population."

The apparent rise in outbreaks this year has more than just doctors worried.

“I work in non-profits and yes—we’ve had several people out. We had one person out whose child had the flu and it was very scary,” said Laura Fernandez of the Upper East Side.

<![CDATA[17 Universities Oppose Anti-Smoking Group With Tobacco Ties]]>Thu, 25 Jan 2018 13:39:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/smokingguymarlboro_1200x675.jpg

Seventeen public health schools in the U.S. and Canada pledged Thursday to refuse research money from a new anti-smoking group funded by the tobacco industry.

The Foundation for a Smoke-Free World was created in September with nearly $1 billion from the Philip Morris tobacco company, saying it aims to end smoking worldwide and support research to meet that goal.

But deans of public health schools at Harvard, Johns Hopkins and other universities said the group is too closely tied to an industry that sells deadly products to millions.

"The idea of taking money that's from the tobacco industry is just antithetical to everything we do," said Karen Emmons, dean for academic affairs at Harvard's public health school. "Philip Morris in particular has focused very hard to undermine the strategies that we know will reduce smoking rates."

Officials at the New York-based foundation and at Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro and other cigarette brands, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The foundation has yet to issue research grants but said it has received draft proposals and will make funding decisions after a series of meetings scheduled to be held in February.

A statement signed by the 17 deans and first released to The Associated Press says that if Philip Morris wants to end smoking, it should stop selling and advertising cigarettes.

"Further, both the tobacco industry and Philip Morris International have a long history of funding 'research' in ways meant to purposely confuse the public and advance their own interests," the letter says.

Others signing the pledge include leaders of public health schools at Florida International University, the University of Minnesota, Ohio State University and Tulane University in New Orleans.

The foundation said it will pay for research that helps smokers quit, helps tobacco farmers find other livelihoods and develops "reduced-risk" alternatives to traditional cigarettes.

But some critics fear the foundation will try to produce research promoting some of those alternatives, including a new electronic device called the iQOS (pronounced EYE'-kose) that Philip Morris hopes to market in the U.S.

"This strategy fits into their business model," said Emmons, at Harvard. "But right now we don't really know if these alternatives are safer. There just isn't the evidence base."

After the foundation was announced Sept. 13, it quickly drew scorn from the World Health Organization, which says it won't work with the group and accused it of having "a number of clear conflicts of interest."

Derek Yach, chief of the foundation and a former executive of the World Health Organization, responded in a letter insisting that the group is "fully insulated" from industry influence.

But leaders of the public health schools questioned the group's independence, writing that its money is "equivalent to funding from the tobacco industry."

"There is a fundamental contradiction in what they are doing," said Dr. Pierre Buekens, dean of Tulane's public health school. "Until we know more, we are not prepared to accept funding from the foundation."

Amid the debate, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it's working on a new plan that would drastically cut nicotine levels in cigarettes so they would essentially be non-addictive. For those who don't quit, the plan would allow lower-risk products that deliver nicotine without the deadly effects of combustible cigarettes.

Ellen MacKenzie, dean of Johns Hopkins University's public health school, said the possibility of forthcoming regulation makes it even more important for schools to be cautious about funding sources.

"This an especially critical time for tobacco control efforts," said MacKenzie, who organized the statement from the public health schools. "Thoughtful, independent academic research will be essential to guide policy." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan]]>
<![CDATA[1 Cigarette a Day Still Raises Heart Disease Risk: Study]]>Thu, 25 Jan 2018 10:07:25 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cigarettes2.jpg

Smoking just one single cigarette a day can significantly raise your risk of heart disease and stroke, researchers said in a new report that contradicts the notion that cutting way down from heavy smoking drastically reduces risks, NBC News reported.

A team led by Allan Hackshaw at the UCL Cancer Institute at University College London went back through credible health studies dating back to 1946.

For men, smoking one cigarette a day on average raised the risk of heart disease by 48 percent over a non-smoker, while smoking 20 cigarettes a day doubled the risk.

For a woman, smoking one cigarette a day raised the heart disease risk by 57 percent and 20 cigarettes a day raised the risk 2.8 times.

"No safe level of smoking exists for cardiovascular disease,” Hackshaw’s team concluded.

The findings come as the U.S. is considering how to regulate "heat not burn" cigarettes.

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Senate Confirms Alex Azar as Trump's 2nd Health Secretary ]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 16:10:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/alexazar2ndhealthsec_1200x675.jpg

The Senate has confirmed a former drug company executive as President Donald Trump's second health secretary.

Alex Azar will take on the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services. The sprawling agency has been shaken by the administration's tumultuous first year.

The 55-43 vote was largely along party lines.

HHS is a $1 trillion department that oversees major health insurance programs, drug and food safety, disease control and prevention, and advanced medical research. Azar succeeds Tom Price, who resigned amid questions about his travel.

Azar says his priorities are to help curb high prescription drug costs, make health insurance more affordable and available, focus Medicare payments on quality, and confront the growing opioid addiction epidemic.

He previously held high-level HHS posts under former President George W. Bush.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Win McNamee]]>
<![CDATA[Tiny Implant Opens Way to Deliver Drugs Deep Into The Brain]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 15:42:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/implantdrugMIT_1200x675.jpg

Scientists have created a hair-thin implant that can drip medications deep into the brain by remote control and with pinpoint precision.

Tested only in animals so far, if the device pans out it could mark a new approach to treating brain diseases — potentially reducing side effects by targeting only the hard-to-reach circuits that need care.

"You could deliver things right to where you want, no matter the disease," said Robert Langer, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose biomedical engineering team reported the research Wednesday.

Stronger and safer treatments are needed for brain disorders ranging from depression to Parkinson's. Simply getting medications inside the brain, past what's called the blood-brain barrier, is a hurdle. It's even harder to reach its deepest structures.

Pills and IV drugs that make it inside trigger side effects as they wash over entire regions of the brain. So doctors have tried inserting tubes into the brain to pump drugs closer to their targets, but that risks infection and still isn't accurate enough. The most targeted success to date is a cancer treatment, a wafer placed on the site of a surgically removed brain tumor that oozes out chemotherapy.

The MIT team's next-generation approach: a customizable deep-brain implant that can deliver varying doses of more than one drug on demand.

The researchers constructed two ultra-thin medication tubes and slid them into a stainless steel needle that's about the diameter of a human hair. That needle, built as long as needed to reach the right spot, gets inserted through a hole in the skull into the desired brain circuitry.

An electrode on the tip provides feedback, monitoring how the electrical activity of targeted neurons change as the medication is delivered.

The needle is hooked to two small, programmable pumps that hold the medications. The plan: Thread the pumps somewhere under the skin for a fully implantable system, dubbed MiNDS for miniaturized neural drug delivery system. The pumps can be refilled with an injection, and if more than two drugs are needed, additional reservoirs could be added like in a printer ink cartridge, Langer said.

Lab rats gave MiNDS its first test.

Researchers implanted the needle into a movement-related brain region that Parkinson's disease damages. To mimic that disease, the implant dripped out a chemical that made the rats move abnormally, including repeatedly turning clockwise. Next, the researchers turned off that chemical and infused saline through the system's second channel, ending the Parkinson's-like behavior, MIT lead author Canan Dagdeviren reported in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Another experiment in a monkey showed delivering that same chemical into a different region altered how the targeted brain cells fire.

"There's a lot of therapeutic potential for this," said Tracy Cui, a bioengineering professor at the University of Pittsburgh. She wasn't involved with the MIT study but also is developing this kind of technology.

Numerous groups are working on implants to deliver neurologic drugs in different ways, Cui noted. While additional testing is needed before such a system could be tried in people, she said these kinds of tools are important for research thanks to the feedback showing how neurons react to different compounds.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health; MIT has applied for a patent.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Canan Dagdeviren/MIT]]>
<![CDATA[Trump's Medicaid Move May Actually Prod GOP States to Expand]]>Tue, 23 Jan 2018 13:23:20 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medicareforallprotestsign_1200x675.jpg

In an ironic twist, the Trump administration's embrace of work requirements for low-income people on Medicaid is prompting lawmakers in some conservative states to resurrect plans to expand health care for the poor.

Trump's move has been widely criticized as threatening the Affordable Care Act's Medicaid expansion. But if states follow through, more Americans could get coverage.

"I think it gives us a chance," said Kansas state Rep. Susan Concannon, a moderate Republican who pushed unsuccessfully for Medicaid expansion last year in her state.

In Utah, the office of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said the Trump administration's willingness to approve work requirements is one of several concessions the state would demand to cover more poor residents through Medicaid.

"Is it a big deal?" said Herbert spokesman Paul Edwards. "Yeah, I think it's a big deal."

Utah state Rep. Robert Spendlove, a Republican working on legislation to partially expand Medicaid, said the Trump administration has sent a positive sign. "I have a lot of confidence that they will be willing to work with us and approve this," Spendlove said.

There's already an economic argument for states to expand Medicaid, since it translates to billions of federal dollars for hospitals and medical service providers. But Republican Mike Leavitt, a former U.S. health secretary and Utah governor, said the ability to impose work requirements adds an ideological motivator.

"Republicans want Medicaid to help people who are doing their best to become self-sufficient but need temporary help to get there," said Leavitt, who now heads a health care consulting firm.

Medicaid is a federal-state collaboration originally meant for poor families and severely disabled people. Over the years, it's grown to become the largest government health insurance program, now covering 1 in 5 people. Overall, Americans have a favorable view of the program, and oppose funding cuts.

Under former President Barack Obama's health law, states got the option of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income adults. Thirty-two states and Washington, D.C., expanded, adding about 11 million beneficiaries.

But 18 mostly conservative states are still holding out. They include population centers such as Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Virginia — where newly installed Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has vowed to cajole a closely divided legislature into expanding Medicaid.

For the first time in the program's half-century, the Trump administration recently announced it will approve state proposals requiring "able-bodied adults" to work, study, or perform some kind of service. Officials promptly signed off on Kentucky's work requirement plan.

"There are both political and legal challenges, but as long as it is optional for states, and appropriately thoughtful and nuanced ... this can definitely work," said Matt Salo, executive director of the nonpartisan National Association of Medicaid Directors. "It could possibly mean the difference between some of the non-expansion states embracing the expansion, or at least ensuring that some of the expansion states maintain political support for the program."

His organization, which represents state officials, does not have a consensus on work requirements.

Another carrot for reluctant states is the repeal of the health law's requirement that most people carry health insurance. Congressional Republicans repealed the "individual mandate" in the tax bill, and President Donald Trump signed it into law. For states, it means that fewer residents may sign up for expanded Medicaid, trimming potential costs. Although states pay no more than 10 percent, that's still a significant impact on their budgets, which generally must be balanced each year.

Advocates for low-income people say such arguments for work requirements are misguided. They contend that Medicaid is a health care program and such requirements run contrary to its legally established purpose.

"I don't see this as necessarily creating the opportunity for states to expand or stay in the expansion," said Judy Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor. "I think what is really important to point out is how this undermines the expansion."

Nonetheless polls show strong support for requiring "able-bodied" adults on Medicaid to work, said Robert Blendon of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Most of those adults already do.

"People are much more sympathetic to the idea of helping low-income people who work," said Blendon, who tracks opinion trends on health care.

While the Trump administration's actions have shifted the politics of Medicaid expansion, Missouri Hospital Association president Herb Kuhn said he doesn't see opposition in his state crumbling quickly. His group was unable to convince lawmakers, even though hospitals that would benefit from expansion are major employers in local communities.

"It's not a slam dunk, but I think there is a fair conversation," said Kuhn. "In states that were already leaning in for expansion, this might be something that helps re-energize the conversation."

AP writers John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas, and Michelle L. Price in Salt Lake City, Utah, contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Mario Tama]]>
<![CDATA[Do E-Cigarettes Help or Harm? Report Says Not Clear Yet]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 11:43:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ecigarettessmoking_1200x675.jpg

Electronic cigarettes could be a boon to public health or a major liability, depending on whether they help Americans quit smoking or encourage more young people to try traditional cigarettes, a new report concludes.

The report issued Tuesday wrestles with the potential benefits and harms of the vapor-emitting devices which have been sold in the U.S. for more than a decade. But those effects may not be known for decades, in part, because of how slowly illnesses caused by smoking emerge.

"In some circumstances, such as their use by non-smoking adolescents and young adults, their adverse effects clearly warrant concern," said David Eaton, of the University of Washington, who headed the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine committee that studied the issue. "In other cases, such as when adult smokers use them to quit smoking, they offer an opportunity to reduce smoking-related illness."

There are no long-term studies on the health consequences of e-cigarettes and little consensus on whether they are effective in helping smokers quit, according to the report requested by the Food and Drug Administration.

The experts found "substantial" evidence that young people who use e-cigarettes are more likely to try cigarettes. On the other hand, experts found only "limited evidence" that cigarettes are effective tools to help adult smokers quit.

The committee's review of more than 800 studies yielded many findings that were largely in line with prior assessments by other researchers. For instance, the panel found "conclusive evidence" that most e-cigarettes contain numerous chemicals that can be toxic. However, there was equally strong evidence that e-cigarettes contain fewer toxicants and at lower levels than regular cigarettes.

E-cigarettes have been sold in the U.S. since at least 2007. Most devices heat a liquid nicotine solution into vapor and have been promoted to smokers as a less dangerous alternative since they don't have all the chemicals, tar or smoke of regular cigarettes. E-cigarettes and similar vaping devices have grown into a $4 billion-dollar U.S. industry with thousands of varieties of flavors and customizable products available in specialty shops and online.

The FDA gained authority to regulate the devices in 2016 after years of pushback from the industry. But last year the agency said it would delay the deadline for manufacturers to submit their devices for review until 2022. The decision was blasted by anti-smoking advocates who say some e-cigarette manufacturers target kids with candy and fruit flavors.

The FDA has signaled its intention to begin pushing U.S. consumers away from traditional cigarettes toward alternative products, such as e-cigarettes. The regulatory delay was intended, in part, to give companies more time to research their products.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb called the link between e-cigarette use and trying smoking in young people "troubling."

"We need to put novel products like e-cigarettes through an appropriate series of regulatory gates to fully evaluate their risks and maximize their potential benefits," he said in a statement.

Some other key takeaways and questions from the report:

— Chemicals in e-cigarette vapor, such as formaldehyde, are capable of damaging DNA in humans. However, it's unclear if the chemicals exist at levels high enough to cause cancer.

— Switching completely from traditional cigarettes to e-cigarettes significantly reduces exposure to numerous cancer-causing chemicals.

— E-cigarettes can sometimes explode causing burns and injuries. The risk of such accidents is higher with devices that are stored improperly or contain low-quality batteries.

— There is substantial evidence that e-cigarette vapor contains traces of metal, possibly due to the metallic coils used to heat liquid that the devices vaporize.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan]]>
<![CDATA[Deportation Fears Have Legal Immigrants Avoiding Health Care]]>Sun, 21 Jan 2018 22:33:17 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-640027710.jpg

The number of legal immigrants from Latin American nations who access public health services and enroll in federally subsidized insurance plans has dipped substantially since President Donald Trump took office, many of them fearing their information could be used to identify and deport relatives living in the U.S. illegally, according to health advocates across the country.

Trump based his campaign on promises to stop illegal immigration and deport any immigrants in the country illegally, but many legal residents and U.S. citizens are losing their health care as a result, advocates say.

After Trump became president a year ago, "every single day families canceled" their Medicaid plans and "people really didn't access any of our programs," said Daniel Bouton, a director at the Community Council, a Dallas nonprofit that specializes in health care enrollment for low-income families.

The trend stabilized a bit as the year went on, but it remains clear that the increasingly polarized immigration debate is having a chilling effect on Hispanic participation in health care programs, particularly during the enrollment season that ended in December.

Bouton's organization has helped a 52-year-old housekeeper from Mexico, a legal resident, sign up for federally subsidized health insurance for two years. But now she's going without, fearing immigration officials will use her enrollment to track down her husband, who is in the country illegally. She's also considering not re-enrolling their children, 15 and 18, in the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, even though they were born in the U.S.

"We're afraid of maybe getting sick or getting into an accident, but the fear of my husband being deported is bigger," the woman, who declined to give their names for fear her husband could be deported, said through a translator in a telephone interview.

Hispanic immigrants are not only declining to sign up for health care under programs that began or expanded under Barack Obama's presidency -- they're also not seeking treatment when they're sick, Bouton and others say.

"One social worker said she had a client who was forgoing chemotherapy because she had a child that was not here legally," said Oscar Gomez, CEO of Health Outreach Partner, a national training and advocacy organization.

My Health LA provides primary care services in Los Angeles County to low-income residents and those who lack the documents to make them eligible for publicly funded health care coverage programs, such as state Medicaid. According to its annual report, 189,410 participants enrolled in the program during Fiscal Year 2017, but 44,252, or about 23 percent, later dis-enrolled. It's not clear how many of those who dropped out are Hispanic; the report did not describe ethnicity.

Enticing Hispanics to take advantage of subsidized health care has been a struggle that began long before Trump's presidency.

Hispanics are more than three times as likely to go without health insurance as are their white counterparts, according to a 2015 study by Pew Research Center. Whites represented 63 percent, or 3.8 million, of those who signed up for Affordable Care Act plans last year compared to 15 percent, or just under a million, Hispanics, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The reasons vary, but some have always feared deportation, regardless of who is in office.

Recent events have not helped. Despite initial signs of a compromise agreement, Trump now isn't supporting a deal to support young people who identified themselves to the federal government so that they could qualify for protections against deportation despite being brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

Last fall, Border Patrol agents followed a 10-year-old immigrant with cerebral palsy to a Texas hospital and took her into custody after the surgery. She had been brought to the U.S. from Mexico when she was a toddler.

And in Okeechobee, a small rural city about an hour and a half north of Miami that is home to many immigrant farm workers, green-and-white-striped immigration vehicles were spotted driving around town and parking in conspicuous places last spring and summer. After a few immigrants were picked up and deported, health advocates said patients canceled their appointments, waiting until immigration officials left to reschedule them.

In Washington state and Florida, health workers report that immigrant patients start the enrollment process, but drop out once they are required to turn in proof of income, Social Security and other personal information. The annual report from My Health LA noted that it denied 28 percent more applicants in Fiscal 2017 than it had the year before, mostly due to incomplete applications.

In a survey of four Health Outreach Partner locations in California and the Pacific Northwest, social workers said some of their patients asked to be removed from the centers' records for fear that the information could be used to aid deportation hearings.

The dilemma has forced social workers at Health Outreach Partner to broaden their job descriptions, Gomez said. Now, in addition to signing people up for health insurance or helping them access medical treatments, they are fielding questions about immigration issues and drawing up contingency plans for when a family member is deported.

"That planning is seen as more helpful and immediate to their patients than their medical needs right now," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cuomo Proposes Study on Legalizing Marijuana in NY]]>Sun, 21 Jan 2018 22:26:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medical+marijuana4.jpg

In his 2018 budget plan, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a study that would look at the impacts of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in New York State.

The governor proposed the Department of Health study the effects that legalizing the drug would have on the state’s health, economy and criminal justice system. The study would also look at the impacts of marijuana being legalized for recreational use in neighboring states; Massachusetts legalized marijuana in 2016, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on legalization, saying it could net $300 million in revenue for the state. 

“If it was legalized in Jersey and it was legal in Massachusetts and the federal government allowed it to go ahead, what would that do to New York, because it’s right in the middle? This is an important topic, it’s a hotly debated topic, pardon the pun, and it’d be nice to have the facts in the middle of the debate once in a while,” Cuomo said, according to law.com. 

The Department of Health runs the state’s current medical marijuana program, which came into existence when the Compassionate Care Act legalized medical marijuana in New York in 2014.

The department would work with state police and other agencies to study whether or not the drug should be legalized for recreational use. 

It took years for Cuomo to warm to medical marijuana in the state and his position on recreational marijuana was hazy as recently as last February. "It's a gateway drug,” Cuomo said, according to the NY Post. “There's two sides to the argument. But I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”

The proposal for the study comes amid polls showing a solid majority of Americans support legalizing the drug for recreational use; 60 percent are in favor of legalization, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released this month. New York is also dealing with a $4.4 billion budget deficit and taxing legal weed could help bring in funds.

Cuomo’s proposal comes days after U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to tighten federal oversight of the drug. Sessions' move allows federal prosecutors to decide what to do when state rules conflict with federal. Nevertheless, legalization has flourished at the state level. Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts and California all voted to make recreational marijuana use legal for adults in 2016. It is also legal in Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska and Washington, D.C. Alaska and Maine gave Trump electoral votes in 2016.

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Without CHIP, 1.7M Kids Could Lose Healthcare in Weeks]]>Sun, 21 Jan 2018 00:06:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/150715-doctors-visit-mbm_de870e476c74eecccb2b249e654c7a56.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.jpg

More than 1.75 million children in 20 states and Washington D.C. are at risk of losing their health insurance by the end of February if Congress does not reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which ceased being funded when lawmakers failed to pass a spending bill late Friday night.

As the weekend continues, Congress is attempting to negotiate a deal that would provide CHIP a six-year extension, but that's not soon enough for some, NBC News reported.

“I’m tired of my daughter's health being used as a political weapon," said Lisa Nunez, a resident of Port Jefferson, Long Island, whose 11-year-old daughter is a CHIP recipient.

The healthcare program covers around 8.9 million American kids overall. The situation is most dire for the nearly 3.7 million who get their insurance through their state's separate CHIP programs, rather than CHIP-funded Medicaid. A provision in the Affordable Care Act stipulates that children who receive health insurance through CHIP-funded Medicaid cannot lose their insurance even if that CHIP funding were to disappear.

Photo Credit: Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[US Flu Season Gets Worse, Has 'Lot More Steam' Than Expected]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 19:32:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flueshotgeneric_1200x675.jpg

The flu season in the U.S. is getting worse.

Health officials last week said flu was blanketing the country but they thought there was a good chance the season was already peaking. But the newest numbers out Friday show it grew even more intense.

"This is a season that has a lot more steam than we thought," said Dr. Dan Jernigan of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One measure of the season is how many doctor or hospital visits are because of a high fever, cough and other flu symptoms. Thirty-two states reported high patient traffic last week, up from 26 the previous week. Overall, it was the busiest week for flu symptoms in nine years.

Hawaii is the only state that doesn't have widespread illnesses.

This year's flu season got off to an early start, and it's been driven by a nasty type of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths than other common flu bugs. In New York, state officials say a drastic rise in flu cases hospitalized more than 1,600 this past week.

The flu became intense last month in the U.S. The last two weekly report show flu widespread over the entire continental United States, which is unusual.

Usually, flu seasons start to wane after so much activity, but "it's difficult to predict," Jernigan said.

Flu is a contagious respiratory illness, spread by a virus. It can cause a miserable but relatively mild illness in many people, but more a more severe illness in others. Young children and the elderly are at greatest risk from flu and its complications. In a bad season, there as many as 56,000 deaths connected to the flu. In the U.S., annual flu shots are recommended for everyone age 6 months or older.

In Oklahoma and Texas, some school districts canceled classes this week because so many students and teachers were sick with the flu and other illnesses. In Mississippi, flu outbreaks have hit more than 100 nursing homes and other long-term care places, resulting in some restricting visitors.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/David Greedy
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<![CDATA[Photos: Anti-Abortion Activists 'March for Life' in DC]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 16:39:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/march4life.jpgThousands of anti-abortion activists gathered in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the 45th annual March for Life, which marks the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in the case of Roe v. Wade, which made abortions legal under federal law. President Donald Trump made an appearance, via video, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to address the event's participants. Earlier Friday morning, hundreds had filled Capitol One Arena for a mass and concert before the march.

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP]]>
<![CDATA[8-Year-Old Boy Gets Brain Infection From Flu in Texas]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 13:30:47 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Flu_Brain_Infection_10p_01182018.jpg

The flu epidemic has had life-changing consequences for a Carrollton family.

Desiree Buckingham-Ramirez says her 8-year-old son is battling a brain infection that doctors say was caused by the flu.

Witten Ramirez is typically full of life, as he shines through his autism, according to Buckingham-Ramirez.

"He's a rock star. Everyone at school knows him. Everyone calls for him," she said. "It doesn't define him, but it definitely defines his personality!"

Last week, she says Witten came down with the flu, like the rest of his family, but she says Witten's symptoms were much worse.

"He's sleeping way too much," she said. "He stumbled a little bit, but I kind of chalked that up to, 'Hey, he isn't feeling well.'"

Concerned about a reaction to medication, she rushed Witten to the emergency room.

Testing revealed the flu caused an infection inside the part of his brain that controls movement.

Now, she says, "He can't walk, he can't sit on his own, he can't stand, he can't talk. It's taken everything."

"In the vast majority of adults and children who get a neurologic complication, we don't understand the reason why," said Dr. Benjamin Greenberg, a neurologist at Children's Health and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Greenberg says the condition is called cerebellitis, a rare inflammatory process that can become a complication from the flu in very rare instances.

It's so rare, he says, it only affects affects a tiny fraction flu patients.

However, there are no known risk factors for it, and, as in Witten's case, autism doesn't contribute to the condition.

"You can have otherwise seemingly healthy individuals whose bodies handle flu in such a way to lead to a neurologic complication, which is why we spend so much time focusing on prevention," Greenberg said.

The best prevention, he says, is the flu vaccine.

Buckingham-Ramirez says Witten didn't get the shot this season like in the past.

"I had no idea the flu was going to be that bad this year," she said.

She says she plans to vaccinate him next year.

Doctors say children can recover from the condition, but it may take many rounds of rehabilitation, which has now been planned for Witten.

"It's heartbreaking to see your happy kid destroyed by the common flu," Buckingham-Ramirez said.

Photo Credit: NBCDFW
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<![CDATA[Anti-Smoking Plan May Kill Cigarettes and Save Big Tobacco]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 11:43:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cigarettepacks_1200x675.jpg

Imagine if cigarettes were no longer addictive and smoking itself became almost obsolete; only a tiny segment of Americans still lit up. That's the goal of an unprecedented anti-smoking plan being carefully fashioned by U.S. health officials.

But the proposal from the Food and Drug Administration could have another unexpected effect: opening the door for companies to sell a new generation of alternative tobacco products, allowing the industry to survive — even thrive — for generations to come.

The plan puts the FDA at the center of a long-standing debate over so-called "reduced-risk" products, such as e-cigarettes, and whether they should have a role in anti-smoking efforts, which have long focused exclusively on getting smokers to quit.

"This is the single most controversial — and frankly, divisive — issue I've seen in my 40 years studying tobacco control policy," said Kenneth Warner, professor emeritus at University of Michigan's school of public health.

The FDA plan is two-fold: drastically cut nicotine levels in cigarettes so that they are essentially non-addictive. For those who can't or won't quit, allow lower-risk products that deliver nicotine without the deadly effects of traditional cigarettes.

This month the government effort is poised to take off. The FDA is expected to soon begin what will likely be a years-long process to control nicotine in cigarettes. And next week, the agency will hold a public meeting on a closely watched cigarette alternative from Philip Morris International, which, if granted FDA clearance, could launch as early as February.

The product, called iQOS (pronounced EYE-kose), is a penlike device that heats Marlboro-branded tobacco but stops short of burning it, an approach that Philip Morris says reduces exposure to tar and other toxic byproducts of burning cigarettes. This is different from e-cigarettes, which don't use tobacco at all but instead vaporize liquid usually containing nicotine.

For anti-smoking activists these new products may mean surrendering hopes of a knockout blow to the industry. They say there is no safe tobacco product and the focus should be on getting people to quit. But others are more open to the idea of alternatives to get people away from cigarettes, the deadliest form of tobacco.

Tobacco companies have made claims about "safer" cigarettes since the 1950s, all later proven false. In some cases the introduction of these products, such as filtered and "low tar" cigarettes, propped up cigarette sales and kept millions of Americans smoking. Although the adult smoking rate has fallen to an all-time low of 15 percent, smoking remains the nation's leading preventable cause of death and illness, responsible for about one in five U.S. deaths.

Anti-smoking groups also point to Big Tobacco's history of manipulating public opinion and government efforts against smoking: In 2006, a federal judge ruled that Big Tobacco had lied and deceived the American public about the effects of smoking for more than 50 years. The industry defeated a 2010 proposal by the FDA to add graphic warning labels to cigarette packs. And FDA scrutiny of menthol-flavored cigarettes — used disproportionately by young people and minorities — has been bogged down since 2011, due to legal challenges.

"We're not talking about an industry that is legitimately interested in saving lives here," said Erika Sward of the American Lung Association.

But some industry observers say this time will be different.

"The environment has changed, the technology has changed, the companies have changed — that is the reality," said Scott Ballin, a health policy consultant who previously worked for the American Heart Association.

Under a 2009 law, the FDA gained authority to regulate certain parts of the tobacco industry, including nicotine in cigarettes, though it cannot remove the ingredient completely. The same law allows the agency to scientifically review and permit sales of new tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Little has happened so far. Last year, the agency said it would delay the deadline for manufacturers to submit their vapor-emitting products for review until 2022.

The FDA says it wants to continue to help people quit by supporting a variety of approaches, including new quit-smoking aids and opening opportunities for a variety of companies, including drugmakers, to help attack the problem. As part of this, the FDA sees an important role for alternative products — but in a world where cigarettes contain such a small amount of nicotine that they become unappealing even to lifelong smokers.

"We still have to provide an opportunity for adults who want to get access to satisfying levels of nicotine," but without the hazards of burning tobacco, said FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. He estimates the FDA plan could eventually prevent 8 million smoking-related deaths.


Philip Morris International and its U.S. partner Altria will try to navigate the first steps of the new regulatory path next week.

At a two-day meeting before the FDA, company scientists will try and convince government experts that iQOS is less-harmful than cigarettes. If successful, iQOS could be advertised by Altria to U.S. consumers as a "reduced-risk" tobacco product, the first ever sanctioned by the FDA.

Because iQOS works with real tobacco the company believes it will be more effective than e-cigarettes in getting smokers to switch.

Philip Morris already sells the product in about 30 countries, including Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.

iQOS is part of an elaborate corporate makeover for Philip Morris, which last year rebranded its website with the slogan: "Designing a smoke-free future." The cigarette giant says it has invested over $3 billion in iQOS and eventually plans to stop selling cigarettes worldwide — though it resists setting a deadline.

Philip Morris executives say they are offering millions of smokers a better, less-harmful product.

Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids still sees danger. He says FDA must strictly limit marketing of products like iQOS to adult smokers who are unable or unwilling to quit. Otherwise they may be used in combination with cigarettes or even picked up by nonsmokers or young people who might see the new devices as harmless enough to try.

"As a growing percentage of the world makes the decision that smoking is too dangerous and too risky, iQOS provides an alternative to quitting that keeps them in the market," Myers says.

It's unclear whether existing alternatives to cigarettes help smokers quit, a claim often made by e-cigarette supporters. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests about 60 percent of adult e-cigarette users also smoke regular cigarettes.


Experts who study nicotine addiction say the FDA plan is grounded in the latest science.

Several recent studies have shown that when smokers switch to very low-nicotine cigarettes they smoke less and are more likely to try quitting. But they also seek nicotine from other sources, underscoring the need for alternatives. Without new options, smokers would likely seek regular-strength cigarettes on the black market.

Crucial to the FDA proposal is a simple fact: nicotine is highly addictive, but not deadly. It's the burning tobacco and other substances inhaled through smoking that cause cancer, heart disease and bronchitis.

"It's hard to imagine that using nicotine and tobacco in a way that isn't burned, in a non-combustible form, isn't going to be much safer," said Eric Donny, an addiction researcher at the University of Pittsburgh.

A study of 800 smokers by Donny and other researchers showed that when nicotine was limited to less than 1 milligram per gram of tobacco, users smoked fewer cigarettes. The study, funded by the FDA, was pivotal to showing that smokers won't compensate by smoking more if nicotine intake is reduced enough. That was the case with "light" and "low-tar" cigarettes introduced in the 1960s and 1970s, when some smokers actually began smoking more cigarettes per day.

Still, many in the anti-smoking community say larger, longer studies are needed to predict how low-nicotine cigarettes would work in the real world.


Key to the FDA plan is the assumption that the two actions will happen at the same time: as regulators cut nicotine in conventional cigarettes, manufacturers will provide alternative products.

But that presumes that tobacco companies will willingly part with their flagship product, which remains enormously profitable.

Kenneth Warner, the public policy professor, said he would be "astonished" if industry cooperates on reducing nicotine levels.

"I don't think they will. I think they will bring out all of their political guns against it and I'm quite certain they will sue to prevent it," he said.

In that scenario, the FDA plan to make cigarettes less addictive could be stalled in court for years while companies begin launching FDA-sanctioned alternative products. Tobacco critics say that scenario would be the most profitable for industry.

"It's like Coke, you can have regular Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, we'll sell you any Coke you like," said Robin Koval, president of the Truth Initiative, which runs educational anti-tobacco campaigns.

But the FDA's Gottlieb says the two parts of the plan must go together. "I'm not going to advance this in a piecemeal fashion," he said.

When pressed about whether industry will sue FDA over mandatory nicotine reductions, tobacco executives for Altria and other companies instead emphasized the long, complicated nature of the regulatory process.

"I'm not going to speculate about what may happen at the end of a multiyear process," said Jose Murillo, an Altria vice president. "It will be science and evidence-based and we will be engaged at every step of the way."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Bobby Calvan]]>
<![CDATA[Blood Test to Detect 8 Cancers Early Gives Promising Results]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 11:42:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-91547856.jpg

Scientists are reporting progress on a blood test to detect many types of cancer at an early stage, including some of the most deadly ones that lack screening tools now.

Many groups are working on liquid biopsy tests, which look for DNA and other things that tumors shed into blood, to try to find cancer before it spreads, when chances of cure are best.

In a study Thursday in the journal Science, Johns Hopkins University scientists looked to see how well their experimental test detected cancer in people already known to have the disease. The blood tests found about 70 percent of eight common types of cancer in the 1,005 patients. The rates varied depending on the type — lower for breast tumors but high for ovarian, liver and pancreatic ones.

In many cases, the test narrowed the possible origin of the cancer to one or two places, such as colon or lung, important for limiting how much follow-up testing a patient might need. It gave only seven false alarms when tried on 812 others without cancer.

The test is nowhere near ready for use yet; it needs to be validated in a larger study already underway in a general population, rather than cancer patients, to see if it truly works and helps save lives — the best measure of a screening test's value.

"We're very, very excited and see this as a first step," said Nickolas Papadopoulos, one of the Hopkins study leaders. "But we don't want people calling up" and asking for the test now, because it's not available, he said.

Some independent experts saw great promise.

"It's such a good first set of results" that it gives hope this approach will pan out, said Dr. Peter Bach, a health policy expert at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center who consults for a gene testing company. "Anything close to 50 percent or 40 percent detection is pretty exciting stuff," and this one did better than that, he said.

Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, was encouraged that the test did well on cancers that lack screening tests now. If a blood test could find 98 percent of ovarian cancers at an early stage, as these early results suggest, "that would be a significant advance," he said.

But he cautioned: "We have a long way to go to demonstrate its effectiveness as a screening test."

The test detects mutations in 16 genes tied to cancer and measures eight proteins that often are elevated when cancer is present.

It covers breast, colon and lung and five kinds that don't have screening tests for people at average risk: ovarian, liver, stomach, pancreatic and esophageal. Prostate cancer is not included. A blood test already is widely used — the PSA test — but its value for screening is controversial.

Researchers tried the new test on people whose cancers were still confined to where it started or had spread a little but not widely throughout the body. It detected 33 percent of breast cancers, about 60 percent of colon or lung cancers and nearly all of the ovarian and liver ones. It did better when tumors were larger or had spread. It did less well at the very earliest stage.

The test probably will not work as well when tested in a general population rather than those already known to have cancer, researchers say. Hopkins and Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania have started a study of it in 10,000 Geisinger patients who will be tracked for at least five years.

The work was financed by many foundations, the Mayo Clinic, the National Institutes of Health and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which provides The Associated Press with funding for health and science coverage. Many study leaders have financial ties to gene testing companies, and some get royalties for patents on cancer detection methods.

Researchers say the test could cost around $500 based on current materials and methods, but the ultimate goal is to commercialize it, so what a company would charge is unknown.

Also this week, Taiwan-based CellMax Life gave results on its liquid biopsy test, which looks for whole tumor cells shed into blood, at an American Society of Clinical Oncology conference.

Researchers tested 620 people getting colonoscopies or with confirmed colon cancer at a hospital in Taiwan. The company said its test had an overall accuracy of 84 to 88 percent for detecting cancer or precancerous growths and a false alarm rate around 3 percent.

The company's chief executive, Atul Sharan, said U.S. studies should start this year. The test is sold now in Taiwan for $500, but should cost around $150 in the U.S., he said.

Dr. Richard Schilsky, chief medical officer of the oncology society, said results are encouraging, but the test needs more study, especially to see if it gives too many false alarms.

"The last thing you'd want is a test that tells you you might have cancer if you don't," he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Record Number of People Hospitalized as Flu Surges in NY]]>Fri, 19 Jan 2018 02:23:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fluspreadsvaccine_1200x675.jpg

State health officials say a drastic rise in flu cases has hospitalized more than 1,600 New Yorkers this past week alone.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday that all New Yorkers six months of age and older over who haven't received a flu shot yet should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Cuomo says the health department reports influenza cases rose by 54 percent over the past week, with new cases diagnosed in all 62 counties.

The 1,606 New Yorkers hospitalized the past week with lab-confirmed flu is the highest weekly number since the health agency reporting began in 2004, according to Cuomo. 

Health officials say as of last Sunday, there were 17,362 confirmed cases of flu reported, with more than 5,200 people hospitalized this season.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[3 in 4 NYC High School Students Sleep-Deprived: Study]]>Thu, 18 Jan 2018 18:02:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HOMEWORK1.jpg

The vast majority of New York City high schoolers, and many of the city's school children, are sleep-deprived and spend too much time on electronic devices -- factors that makes them at risk for poor mental health, according to a new study by the city Health Department.

On an average school night, 75 percent of high schools students reported getting fewer than the recommended eight hours of sleep, while 11 percent of school children ages 6 to 12 years old said they got less than the recommended nine hours of sleep, data released this week by city health officials shows.

The report suggests a link between too much screen time and a lack of sleep. School children are recommended to spend no more than two hours on electronic devices each day, but 53 percent said they spent more time than that on an average school day, according to the study. Likewise, the study found that 66 percent of high school adolescents exceeded the recommended four hours or less of screen time each day.

Lack of sleep has been associated with a higher prevalence of emotional and behavioral problems in both school children and adolescents. Teens who get an inadequate amount of sleep were more likely to report depressive symptoms, self-injury and suicidal tendencies during the past year compared to teens who got the recommended amount of sleep.

“New York is well known as the city that doesn’t sleep, but for our school children and adolescents, getting adequate sleep is a key part of maintaining emotional and physical wellbeing,” Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett said in a press release.

Bassett said the city is making mental health awareness a top priority with ThriveNYC, a 54-initiative mental health roadmap led by First Lady Chirlane McCray.

“As the City expands mental health services through ThriveNYC, we ask parents to work with us in making sure our children spend less time on electronic devices and more time on getting a full night’s rest,” Bassett said in the press release.

The results of the study are from the 2015 New York City Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and the 2015 Child Health, Emotional Wellness and Development Survey (CHEWDS); the former is a biennial, self-administered and anonymous survey conducted by high school students, while the latter is a population-based telephone survey conducted by the Health Department among selected New York City households with at least one school-aged child. 

NYC Well, a cornerstone of ThriveNYC, is available 24/7, 365 days a year through phone, text, and chat. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-888-NYC-WELL. More info here.

Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York]]>
<![CDATA[Walmart Offers Way to Turn Leftover Opioids Into Useless Gel]]>Wed, 17 Jan 2018 09:01:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DisposeRX.jpg

Walmart is helping customers get rid of leftover opioids by giving them packets that turn the addictive painkillers into a useless gel. 

The retail giant announced Wednesday that it will provide the packets free with opioid prescriptions filled at its 4,700 U.S. pharmacies. 

The small packets, made by DisposeRX, contain a powder that is poured into prescription bottles. When mixed with warm water, the powder turns the pills into a biodegradable gel that can be thrown in the trash. 

Research has shown that surgery patients often end up with leftover opioid painkillers and store the drugs improperly at home 

Walmart says the powder also works with other prescription drugs. The company says its pharmacy customers can request a free packet at any time.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

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<![CDATA[Britain Appoints 'Minister for Loneliness']]>Wed, 17 Jan 2018 08:54:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/lonely.jpg

Britain has created a “minister for loneliness” to tackle public health problems associated with social isolation, NBC News reported.

The minister, Tracey Crouch, was appointed after research showed that one in 10 people felt lonely "always or often" and hundreds of thousands of the elderly hadn't spoken to a friend or relative in the past month.

The minister for sport and civil society, as the title is officially called, will come up with a national strategy to tackle isolation across all ages and find ways of measuring alienation in official statistics.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Century After Pandemic, Science Takes Its Best Shot at Flu]]>Wed, 17 Jan 2018 07:51:42 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fluspreadsvaccine_1200x675.jpg

The descriptions are haunting.

Some victims felt fine in the morning and were dead by night. Faces turned blue as patients coughed up blood. Stacked bodies outnumbered coffins.

A century after one of history's most catastrophic disease outbreaks, scientists are rethinking how to guard against another super-flu like the 1918 influenza that killed tens of millions as it swept the globe.

There's no way to predict what strain of the shape-shifting flu virus could trigger another pandemic or, given modern medical tools, how bad it might be.

But researchers hope they're finally closing in on stronger flu shots, ways to boost much-needed protection against ordinary winter influenza and guard against future pandemics at the same time.

"We have to do better and by better, we mean a universal flu vaccine. A vaccine that is going to protect you against essentially all, or most, strains of flu," said Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health.

Labs around the country are hunting for a super-shot that could eliminate the annual fall vaccination in favor of one every five years or 10 years, or maybe, eventually, a childhood immunization that could last for life.

Fauci is designating a universal flu vaccine a top priority for NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Last summer, he brought together more than 150 leading researchers to map a path. A few attempts are entering first-stage human safety testing.

Still, it's a tall order. Despite 100 years of science, the flu virus too often beats our best defenses because it constantly mutates.

Among the new strategies: Researchers are dissecting the cloak that disguises influenza as it sneaks past the immune system, and finding some rare targets that stay the same from strain to strain, year to year.

"We've made some serious inroads into understanding how we can better protect ourselves. Now we have to put that into fruition," said well-known flu biologist Ian Wilson of The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

The somber centennial highlights the need.

Back then, there was no flu vaccine. It wouldn't arrive for decades. Today vaccination is the best protection, and Fauci never skips his. But at best, the seasonal vaccine is 60 percent effective. Protection dropped to 19 percent a few years ago when the vaccine didn't match an evolving virus.

If a never-before-seen flu strain erupts, it takes months to brew a new vaccine. Doses arrived too late for the last, fortunately mild, pandemic in 2009.

Lacking a better option, Fauci said the nation is "chasing" animal flu strains that might become the next human threat. Today's top concern is a lethal bird flu that jumped from poultry to more than 1,500 people in China since 2013. Last year it mutated, meaning millions of just-in-case vaccine doses in a U.S. stockpile no longer match.


The NIH's Dr. Jeffery Taubenberger calls the 1918 flu the mother of all pandemics.

He should know.

While working as a pathologist for the military, he led the team that identified and reconstructed the extinct 1918 virus, using traces unearthed in autopsy samples from World War I soldiers and from a victim buried in the Alaskan permafrost.

That misnamed Spanish flu "made all the world a killing zone," wrote John M. Barry in "The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History."

Historians think it started in Kansas in early 1918. By winter 1919, the virus had infected one-third of the global population and killed at least 50 million people, including 675,000 Americans. By comparison, the AIDS virus has claimed 35 million lives over four decades.

Three more flu pandemics have struck since, in 1957, 1968 and 2009, spreading widely but nowhere near as deadly. Taubenberger's research shows the family tree, each subsequent pandemic a result of flu viruses carried by birds or pigs mixing with 1918 flu genes.

"This 100-year timeline of information about how the virus adapted to us and how we adapt to the new viruses, it teaches us that we can't keep designing vaccines based on the past," said Dr. Barney Graham, deputy director of NIH's Vaccine Research Center.


The new vaccine quest starts with two proteins, hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, that coat flu's surface. The "H'' allows flu to latch onto respiratory cells and infect them. Afterward, the "N'' helps the virus spread.

They also form the names of influenza A viruses, the most dangerous flu family. With 18 hemagglutinin varieties and 11 types of neuraminidase — most carried by birds — there are lots of potential combinations. That virulent 1918 virus was the H1N1 subtype; milder H1N1 strains still circulate. This winter H3N2, a descendent of the 1968 pandemic, is causing most of the misery.

Think of hemagglutinin as a miniature broccoli stalk. Its flower-like head attracts the immune system, which produces infection-blocking antibodies if the top is similar enough to a previous infection or that year's vaccination.

But that head also is where mutations pile up.

A turning point toward better vaccines was a 2009 discovery that, sometimes, people make a small number of antibodies that instead target spots on the hemagglutinin stem that don't mutate. Even better, "these antibodies were much broader than anything we've seen," capable of blocking multiple subtypes of flu, said Scripps' Wilson.

Scientists are trying different tricks to spur production of those antibodies.

In a lab at NIH's Vaccine Research Center, "we think taking the head off will solve the problem," Graham said. His team brews vaccine from the stems and attaches them to ball-shaped nanoparticles easily spotted by the immune system.

In New York, pioneering flu microbiologist Peter Palese at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine uses "chimeric" viruses — the hemagglutinin head comes from bird flu, the stem from common human flu viruses — to redirect the immune system.

"We have made the head so that the immune system really doesn't recognize it," Palese explained. GlaxoSmithKline and the Gates Foundation are funding initial safety tests.

In addition to working with Janssen Pharmaceuticals on a stem vaccine, Wilson's team also is exploring how to turn flu-fighting antibodies into an oral drug. "Say a pandemic came along and you didn't have time to make vaccine. You'd want something to block infection if possible," he said.

NIH's Taubenberger is taking a completely different approach, brewing a vaccine cocktail that combines particles of four different hemagglutinins that in turn trigger protection against other related strains.


Yet lingering mysteries hamper the research.

Scientists now think people respond differently to vaccination based on their flu history. "Perhaps we recognize best the first flu we ever see," said NIH immunologist Adrian McDermott.

The idea is that your immune system is imprinted with that first strain and may not respond as well to a vaccine against another.

"The vision of the field is that ultimately if you get the really good universal flu vaccine, it's going to work best when you give it to a child," Fauci said.

Still, no one knows the ultimate origin of that terrifying 1918 flu. But key to its lethality was bird-like hemagglutinin.

That Chinese H7N9 bird flu "worries me a lot," Taubenberger said. "For a virus like influenza that is a master at adapting and mutating and evolving to meet new circumstances, it's crucially important to understand how these processes occur in nature. How does an avian virus become adapted to a mammal?"

While scientists hunt those answers, "it's folly to predict" what a next pandemic might bring, Fauci said. "We just need to be prepared."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Could You Pass the Mental Test Trump Took?]]>Wed, 31 Jan 2018 16:35:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/brain-screen-shot.jpg

Can you recognize a lion? How about remembering a list of five words, right away and five minutes later?

President Donald Trump can. He got all the usual tests as part of his annual physical exam as president, NBC News reported. But he also added an extra exam — a cognitive screening test for memory loss or early dementia.

It’s not part of the usual battery of tests given a president and may reflect an outpouring of coverage and commentary questioning whether Trump is mentally fit for office.

Trump insisted on taking the test and passed it with flying colors, Admiral Dr. Ronny Jackson, presidential physician, told reporters.

Trump is the first president to undergo the memory screening, Jackson said. The White House medical team chose the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), which was designed as a rapid screening tool for mild cognitive dysfunction — a loss of memory and clear thinking ability that sometimes precedes dementia.

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<![CDATA[Conn. Boy, 10, Dies After Being Diagnosed With Flu in NY]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 15:58:11 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/nico+mallozzi.jpg

A 10-year-old Connecticut boy died in New York last weekend after being diagnosed with the flu, officials say.

Nico Mallozzi, a fourth-grader at West Elementary School in New Canaan, was upstate in Buffalo for a hockey event when he suddenly died , schools superintendent Bryan D. Luizzi said. 

Mallozzi had been diagnosed with Influenza B, a strain of the flu spreading rapidly in the northeast; it's not clear, however, if the flu caused the boy's death, according to Luizzi.

Flu type B leads to complications of pneumonia and then to sepsis, where pneumonia overwhelms the immune system, according to Dr. David M. Reed, public director of health in New Canaan. 

It's not clear if the boy had been vaccinated against the flu or if a medical history played a role in his death. Reed warned, however, that "we're having a much higher flu season than in the past." 

As a precaution, custodians have been performing extra cleanings at all school buildings in the New Canaan school district, and they'll continue to do so through the flu season, Luizzi said, although he reminded parents that the flu virus can live and potentially infect a person only two to eight hours after being deposited on a surface. Special santizing processes beyond routine cleaning aren't necessary or recommended, the CDC says, but Luizzi says extra cleanings will continue for the next few months. 

"Nico was a wonderful, friendly child, known throughout West as the voice of the afternoon announcements that concluded each day," Luizzi said in a letter to the school community. "He will be sadly missed and fondly remembered."

Last Friday, New York state reported its first child death from the flu this season amid a sharp rise in cases over the last week, and new cases being reported in 61 of the state's 62 counties. The Health Department would say little about that case, only confirming that the child was from the downstate region encompassing the New York City metro and Long Island.

As of Jan. 6, there have been 11,280 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu reported and 3,606 people have been hospitalized in the state this season, according to the Health Department.

Last year, eight children died in New York State from influenza. There were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations.

Flu season typically runs from October through May, often peaking in February.

Adults over 65, people with certain chronic medical conditions, young children, and pregnant women are at the highest risk for serious, even life-threatening, complications. A 2017 study showed the flu vaccine can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the virus.

For more information about protecting yourself from the flu visit the Health Department website.

<![CDATA[Warning: Stifling Sneezes Can Be Health Hazard in Rare Cases]]>Tue, 16 Jan 2018 08:29:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/big-sneeze.jpg

Tempted to stifle a loud or untimely sneeze? Let it out instead, doctors in England warned Monday based on the very unusual case of a man who ruptured the back of his throat when he tried to suppress a sneeze. 

In a case study published in the journal BMJ Case Reports, doctors described their initial confusion when the previously healthy man turned up in the emergency room of a Leicester hospital, complaining of swallowing difficulties and "a popping sensation" in his swollen neck. 

The 34-year-old patient told them his problems started after he tried to stop a forceful sneeze by pinching his nose and closing his mouth. He eventually lost his voice and spent a week in the hospital. 

"When you sneeze, air comes out of you at about 150 miles per hour," said Dr. Anthony Aymat, director for ear, nose and throat services at London's University Hospital Lewisham, who was not involved in the case. "If you retain all that pressure, it could do a lot of damage and you could end up like the Michelin Man with air trapped in your body." 

While examining the sneeze-averse patient, doctors in Leicester heard "crackling in the neck" down to his ribcage, a sign that air bubbles had seeped into his chest. Worried about infection and other possible complications, they admitted him to the hospital, gave him a feeding tube and administered antibiotics, according to details published in BMJ Case Reports. 

Dr. Zi Yang Jiang, a head and neck surgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said he sees one or two cases arising from repressed sneezes each year, making them an "exceedingly rare" occurrence. 

Jiang said it was bizarre that a single sneeze could generate enough force to cause the kind of physical damage that usually results from trauma, such as a gunshot wound to the neck. A collapsed lung is among the problems that retaining the air from an imminent sneeze can cause, he said. 

"The whole point of sneezing is to get something out of your body, like viruses and bacteria, so if you stop that, those may end up in the wrong part of the body," he said. Jiang said in most cases, the excess air is later absorbed by the body. 

The English patient made a full recovery and was advised to avoid plugging his nose while sneezing in the future. Doctors recommend letting sneezes rip into a tissue instead. 

"The safest thing to do — although it's not socially acceptable — is just to sneeze loud," Aymat said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[GOP-Leaning States Line Up to Require Work for Medicaid]]>Sat, 13 Jan 2018 13:22:55 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/505030334-Digital-Doctor.jpg

Republicans this past week began to realize their long-held goal of requiring certain adults to work, get job training or perform community service in exchange for getting health coverage through Medicaid.

Whether that's a commonsense approach or an added burden that will end up costing many Americans their health insurance will now be debated in states across the country considering the landmark change to the nation's largest health insurance program.

To Medicaid recipients such as Thomas J. Penister of Milwaukee, it's created uncertainty about their ability to have health coverage.

He has been unemployed for the last four or five years and has received Medicaid for the past two. He sees a behavioral health specialist to deal with anxiety and said Medicaid has made a big difference in his life.

Penister, 36, said he is not yet ready to rejoin the workforce and is unnerved by the prospect of potentially losing Medicaid. His state, Wisconsin, is one 10 that applied to the federal government for a waiver seeking to implement work and other requirements for single adults.

"Would it be advantageous for me even to go into the workforce instead of me therapeutically transitioning to a state where I'm actually ready to perform in the workforce?" he said. He compared it to someone recovering from a car accident "and saying that in order for me to give you this medication, you got to go to work. Well, I can't."

Yet his story also helps make the case for those who favor some type of commitment from working-age adults who benefit from Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for poor and lower-income Americans. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, sought federal approval for a work requirement last year and said it helps prepare recipients to leave public assistance.

Penister's status is unclear, because Wisconsin's proposed changes would exempt anyone diagnosed with a mental illness or who is mentally unable to work.

Republicans say work and other requirements will return Medicaid to its original intent — to act as a stopgap until people can find work. They say it has expanded far beyond its basic mission.

The program, created in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors, now covers more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans. It expanded under President Barack Obama's health care law, with a majority of states choosing to cover millions more low-income people.

President Donald Trump's administration announced that it will allow states to implement certain requirements as a condition of receiving Medicaid benefits. Generally, it will mean that states can require many adults on Medicaid to get a job, go to school, take a job-training course or perform community service to continue their eligibility.

Ten states had previously asked the federal government for the requirement waiver, and others are sure to follow. On Friday, Kentucky became the first to have it approved. Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, called the new requirement "transformational."

Bevin has said he expects the move to save the state more than $300 million over the next five years in Medicaid costs. But he also estimated that as many as 95,000 Kentucky residents could lose their Medicaid benefits, either because they will not comply with the new rules or will make too much money once they begin working.

Critics of the policy shift point to the number of people who could lose coverage, even if they meet the new requirements.

"We just have concerns that a lot of people who still are legitimately eligible, who do meet the work requirement, will end up falling off the rolls because they don't know how to verify or there's a technology glitch," said Marquita Little, health policy director for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

In Arkansas, the work requirement is among several new restrictions the state has proposed for its hybrid Medicaid expansion. About 285,000 people are on the program, which uses money from Medicaid to buy private health insurance for low-income people.

Supporters of the work requirement cast it as a way to move more people into the workforce and eventually off the program.

"These are people that are either underemployed or do not have sufficient training, and this is a mechanism to put into place to make sure that the health care coverage is really a bridge to training and better employment," Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, told The Associated Press. "I think it really fits in with the goals of our state in increasing our workforce and training our workforce."

States face limits on how far they can go. The administration has said states should exempt pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly, and that they should take into account hardships for people in areas with high unemployment or for people caring for children or elderly relatives. States also have to make accommodations for people in treatment for drug and alcohol problems.

Arkansas' waiver request to the federal government says it would require childless, able-bodied adults on expanded Medicaid between the ages of 19 and 49 to work 20 hours a week or participate in other activities such as job training or volunteering.

In Maine, where Republican Gov. Paul LePage is pushing for a work requirement, Democrats are deriding the idea as essentially a political stunt to punish the poor.

"They aren't about getting people back to work. Instead, it's a political move to take health care away from people who have already fallen on hard times," Democratic House Speaker Sara Gideon said. "The reality is that Medicaid supports work, and the sooner Governor LePage and the Trump Administration realize this, the better."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA['Flu Is Everywhere,' CDC Says as Virus Hits Its Peak]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 11:44:19 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fluspreadsvaccine_1200x675.jpg

Influenza is "in lots of places" right now and is peaking across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday, NBC News reported.

"Flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now. There's lots of flu in lots of places," the CDC's Dr. Daniel Jernigan told reporters Friday in the agency's weekly update on the annual flu epidemic.

The virus is peaking at the same time across virtually the whole United States, making for a "very active" flu season, the CDC said.

Flu rates were about doubled this past week over the week before, the CDC said. The virus has already killed 20 children and is sending many people to hospitals and emergency rooms. Though the season is shaping up to be severe, it's so far not setting any records, Jernigan said.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File
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<![CDATA[Kentucky Is First to Get OK for Medicaid Work Requirement]]>Sat, 13 Jan 2018 00:58:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/505030334-Digital-Doctor.jpg

Kentucky has become the first state to require many of its Medicaid recipients to work to receive coverage, part of an unprecedented change to the nation's largest health insurance program under the Trump administration.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced the approval on Friday. The change will require adults between the ages of 19 and 64 to complete 80 hours per month of "community engagement" to keep their coverage. That includes getting a job, going to school, taking a job training course or community service.

It's a big change for Kentucky, a state that just four years ago embraced former President Barack Obama's health care law under a previous Democratic governor who won praise for posting some of the largest insurance coverage gains in the country.

But Republican Gov. Matt Bevin said while more Kentuckians have insurance, it is not making them healthier.

Kentucky, along with the rest of Appalachia, still falls behind the rest of the country in 33 out of 41 population health indicators, according to a recent study. Bevin said he believes his program, with its emphasis on work and community service, will encourage people to be healthier.

"There is dignity associated with earning the value of something that you receive," Bevin said. "The vast majority of men and women, able-bodied men and women ... they want the dignity associated with being able to earn and have engagement."

In its application to Washington, Bevin's office said it expected the changes to save taxpayers more than $300 million over the next five years. They said the new rules will apply to about 350,000 Kentuckians, about half of whom already have jobs. They estimated as many as 95,000 people could lose their Medicaid benefits, either because they did not comply with the new rules or they lose their eligibility when they get jobs that pay too much money.

Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, who represents Louisville, called the plan "dangerous and irresponsible."

"Thousands of Kentucky families will face financial ruin," he said.

But there are many exemptions for the work requirements. The work requirements will not apply to pregnant women, full-time students, former foster care youth, primary caregivers of children and the elderly and full-time students.

The work requirements — which start in July and will last five years — also do not apply to anyone designated "medically frail," a broad term that includes people suffering from alcohol or drug addiction in a state that has been among the hardest hit by the opioid crisis.

"Why should an able-bodied working-age man or woman with no dependents not be expected to do something in exchange for that which they are being provided?" Bevin said. "I'm not worried about it at all."

Bree Pearsall is worried. She and her husband, Ben Abell, are full-time farmers of about 200 acres just south of Louisville. Pearsall said they depend on Medicaid to cover their family, which includes a 2-year-old and a new baby expected next month.

Under the new program, Pearsall and her husband would have to let state officials know each time their wages change. If they don't, they could lose their insurance for up to six months as a penalty. Since the couple is self-employed, they don't have a regular paycheck, and their income changes dramatically throughout the year.

"I see those being very big obstacles to maintaining consistent coverage," she said. "I'm definitely anxious about it."

The changes also require people to pay up to $15 a month for their insurance. Basic dental and vision coverage is eliminated, but people can earn those benefits back through a rewards program. That includes doing things like getting an annual physical, completing a diabetes or weight management course or participating in an anti-smoking program.

Advocates for the poor have said work requirements will become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied needed coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork. Lawsuits are expected as individual states roll out work requirements.

Calling the Trump administration's waivers "unprecedented," two senior congressional Democrats who work on Medicaid issues asked the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office to review the government's decision-making process.

"It is critical that key decisions regarding eligibility, coverage, benefits, delivery system reforms, federal Medicaid spending, and other important aspects of these demonstrations are transparent, accountable, and in line with congressional intent," wrote Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell praised the changes, calling it "common-sense steps to engage patients, improve health, and reduce the burden on Kentucky taxpayers."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Cough Syrup Containing Opioids Is Dangerous for Kids: FDA]]>Fri, 12 Jan 2018 01:00:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-813807542.jpg

Cough medications that contain opioids like codeine should not ever be taken by kids and they’ll now need to be labeled to make that clear, the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The FDA will also carry bigger warning about their dangers to adults, NBC News reported.

The FDA will remind parents that most coughs and colds don’t need any treatment at all. Most upper respiratory infections are caused by viruses, and with the exception of influenza, there aren’t any drugs that work against viral respiratory infections.

“Given the epidemic of opioid addiction, we’re concerned about unnecessary exposure to opioids, especially in young children,” FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Child Dies From Flu as Cases Skyrocket Across New York]]>Fri, 12 Jan 2018 10:51:34 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Flu_Concerns_for_Our_Area.jpg

The number of influenza cases has risen sharply across New York as the state reported its first child death from the flu this season.

Cases of the flu rose by 37 percent over the past week and new cases were reported in 61 of the state’s 62 counties, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said.

The state’s public health laboratory, the Wadsworth Center, confirmed the first child death this season. The Health Department would say little about the case, only confirming that the child was from the downstate region encompassing the New York City metro and Long Island.

As of Jan. 6, there have been 11,280 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu reported and 3,606 people have been hospitalized in the state this season, according to the Health Department.

Last year, eight children died in New York State from influenza. There were 12,912 flu-related hospitalizations.

Flu season typically runs from October through May, often peaking in February.

Adults over 65, people with certain chronic medical conditions, young children, and pregnant women are at the highest risk for serious, even life-threatening, complications. A 2017 study showed the flu vaccine can significantly reduce a child’s risk of dying from the virus.

For more information about protecting yourself from the flu visit the Health Department website.

<![CDATA[Trump Work Requirement Rewrites Health Care Rules for Poor ]]>Thu, 11 Jan 2018 16:36:33 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17222741965017.jpg

Rewriting the rules on health care for the poor, the Trump administration said Thursday it will allow states to require "able-bodied" Medicaid recipients to work, a hotly debated first in the program's half-century history.

Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said requiring work or community involvement can make a positive difference in people's lives and in their health. The goal is to help people move from public assistance into jobs that provide health insurance. "We see people moving off of Medicaid as a good outcome," she said.

But advocates said work requirements will become one more hoop for low-income people to jump through, and many could be denied needed coverage because of technicalities and challenging new paperwork. Lawsuits are expected as individual states roll out work requirements.

"All of this on paper may sound reasonable, but if you think about the people who are affected, you can see people will fall through the cracks," said Judy Solomon of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for the poor.

Created in 1965 for families on welfare and low-income seniors, Medicaid now covers more than 70 million people, or about 1 in 5 Americans. The federal-state collaboration has become the nation's largest health insurance program.

Beneficiaries range from pregnant women and newborns to elderly nursing home residents. Medicaid was expanded under former President Barack Obama, with an option allowing states to cover millions more low-income adults. Many of them have jobs that don't provide health insurance.

People are not legally required to hold a job to be on Medicaid, but states traditionally can seek federal waivers to test new ideas for the program.

Verma stressed that the administration is providing an option for states to require work, not making it mandatory across the country. Her agency spelled out safeguards that states should put in place to get federal approval for their waivers.

States can also require alternatives to work, including volunteering, caregiving, education, job training and even treatment for a substance abuse problem.

The administration said 10 states have applied for waivers involving work requirements or community involvement. They are: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Advocates for low-income people say they expect Kentucky's waiver to be approved shortly.

In Kentucky, which expanded Medicaid, Republican state Sen. Damon Thayer said work requirements could lessen the program's impact on the state budget. They also hearken back to the program's original intent, he added, "as temporary assistance to try to help people get back on their feet, not a permanent subsidy for someone's lifestyle, if they're capable of working."

But congressional Democrats said the Trump administration is moving in the wrong direction. "Health care is a right that shouldn't be contingent on the ideological agendas of politicians," said Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees Medicaid.

The debate about work requirements doesn't break neatly along liberal-conservative lines.

A poll last year from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 70 percent of the public supported allowing states to require Medicaid recipients to work, even as most Americans opposed deep Medicaid cuts sought by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.

Another Kaiser study found that most working-age adults on Medicaid are already employed. Nearly 60 percent work either full time or part time, mainly for employers that don't offer health insurance.

Most who are not working report reasons such as illness, caring for a family member or going to school. Some Medicaid recipients say the coverage has enabled them to get healthy enough to return to work.

Thursday's administration guidance spells out safeguards that states should consider in seeking work requirements. These include:

—Exempting pregnant women, disabled people and the elderly.

—Taking into account hardships for people in areas with high employment, or for people caring for children or elderly relatives.

—Allowing people under treatment for substance abuse to have their care counted as "community engagement" for purposes of meeting a requirement.

The administration said states must fully comply with federal disability and civil rights laws to accommodate disabled people and prevent those who are medically frail from being denied coverage. States should try to align their Medicaid work requirements with similar conditions in other programs, such as food stamps and cash assistance.

The National Association of Medicaid Directors, a nonpartisan group representing state officials, said in a statement there's no consensus on whether work requirements are the right approach.

"This is a very complex issue that will require thoughtful and nuanced approaches," said the group.

Trump's new direction can be reversed by a future administration. Although waivers can have lasting impact they don't amount to a permanent change in the program. They're considered "demonstration programs" to test ideas. The administration says the impact will be closely evaluated.

"We know that Republicans tend to think of Medicaid more as a welfare program, while Democrats tend to think of it as more of a health insurance program," said Diane Rowland, the Kaiser foundation's leading expert on the program. "It will be interesting to see how states are going to make this work for people."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[In a 1st, Pennsylvania Declares Opioid Crisis a Disaster]]>Wed, 10 Jan 2018 21:11:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-820401338.jpg

With opioids killing more people than any other health crisis in Pennsylvania's modern history, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday declared a disaster emergency that suspends regulations hindering access to addiction care.

It's the first time a disaster emergency has been declared for a public health crisis in the commonwealth. Usually, disaster emergencies are reserved for major weather events such as a hurricane or for a terrorist attack.

"I don't take this action lightly. We know that this crisis has taken far too many lives. It has broken far too many families. It has decimated far too many communities and it has gone on for far too long," Wolf said at an event formally announcing the declaration at the State Capitol in Harrisburg.

The move eases some regulations that have been barriers to help for the addicted and their families. It will expire in 90 days as required by the state Constitution. 

The opioid epidemic has hit the commonwealth hard over the past few years. Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest overdose death rate in the United States. Preliminary data shared by Wolf shows 5,260 people died from drug overdoses in 2017 — the highest tally ever recorded and a nearly 15-percent jump over the previous year. 

The proliferation of illicit fentanyl, a synthetic opioid designed for use in medical settings that can cause an overdose in minuscule amounts, has been a principal cause in large jumps in overdoses and deaths. Cities and states across the country have been grappling with the same issue.

Last year, Philadelphia began implementing recommendations from Mayor Jim Kenney's Heroin Task Force, including increasing access to medicine-assisted treatment and court diversion programs. The Philadelphia Fire Department will launch an EMS unit this summer that's dedicated to responding specifically to drug overdoses in the city's Kensington and Fairhill neighborhoods. Officials have also been mulling establishing the nation's first safe-injection site, where users could take drugs in a monitored environment.

Philadelphia is home to the highest overdose numbers in the state, which city officials say may have hit 1,200 deaths last year. They're still certifying the final numbers.

The emergency disaster declaration waives a state requirement that a doctor must have a face-to-face interaction with a person before admitting them into a treatment program. Hospitals won't be required to get a separate license to offer treatment, either.

Jennifer Smith, secretary of the state Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said she'll be able to quickly say yes to removing requirements set on the state's 800 treatment providers.

"The declaration enables us to waive requirements on a broad basis without the need for those providers to submit specific requests to us," she said. New laws cannot be created under the emergency.

Fees to have a duplicate birth certificate produced will be waived. The certificates are often required as proof of residency for insurance and treatment programs and can be a surprising barrier to getting into treatment.

"Hopefully with this emergency declaration, we’re able to smooth things out so we can get people into treatment when they’re ready, which is the important thing," said Dr. Brian Work, an internist at Penn Medicine who volunteers at the addiction clinic Prevention Point Philadelphia.

See NBC10's national award-winning special report on the opioid crisis, Generation Addicted, right now by tapping here.

Medics responding to overdose calls will be able to leave behind additional doses of naloxone, so drug users can prevent death if another overdose happens in the future.

Pharmacists will be asked to provide the overdose reversal drug widely, likely for free or at a reduced price. Currently, anyone can purchase naloxone at a Pennsylvania pharmacy.

The Pennsylvania physician general will reclassify fentanyl and similar drugs as Schedule 1 narcotics to limit access and open drug dealers to steep criminal penalties.

Better data collection is required under this declaration as well. It requires that overdoses and neonatal abstinence syndrome — the medical term applied to children born addicted to drugs — are added as reportable conditions and tracked by state and local entities. Often, health officials only have coroner data to rely on.

An Opioid Operation Command Center will launch within the state's emergency management agency and be staffed by employees of nine state departments including health, state police, and others.

Wolf has made the fight against the opioid crisis a major area of focus for his administration. The state launched a prescription drug monitoring program to cut down on doctor shopping and identify pill mills. His administration also provided funding to create treatment centers of excellence and increase access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone, known by the brand name Narcan.

Pennsylvania is the eighth state to declare the opioid crisis a disaster emergency. Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, South Carolina and Virginia have previously made similar declarations. 

Wolf acknowledged that the declaration is not a "silver bullet," but hoped it would streamline the state's attack. He didn't rule out signing another emergency declaration in three months should officials need more time to better address the crisis.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Too Soon to Blame Romaine Lettuce for E. Coli Outbreak: CDC]]>Thu, 11 Jan 2018 16:14:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/179*120/romainelettuce_1200x675.jpg

It's too early to say that romaine lettuce is the source of an E. coli outbreak that has made at least 24 people in the U.S. and 40 in Canada sick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

"The likely source of the outbreak in the United States appears to be leafy greens, but officials have not identified a specific type of leafy greens eaten by people who became ill," the CDC said in a statement on its website.

The CDC added seven people to its count on Wednesday. The agency said it's hard to say the outbreak is over when the true source is not known, and blaming a single crop too soon could leave people at risk if something else is spreading the bacteria. Meanwhile, Canadian health officials said they traced the bacteria to romaine lettuce and have declared the outbreak over in the country.

The CDC's statement comes after Consumer Reports acted on its own last week to warn people not to eat romaine lettuce. The company said that even though it didn't have "100 percent certainty that romaine lettuce is the cause of the E. coli outbreak in the U.S., a greater degree of caution is appropriate given that romaine lettuce is almost always consumed raw."

Photo Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Health Benefits to Losing 5 Percent of Body Weight: Study]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 22:53:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-866963562.jpg

Shedding just five percent of your body weight does a lot, NBC News reported.

It’s enough to decrease total body fat, visceral fat (the dangerous kind that hugs your organs), and liver fat. Plus, that small tip of the scale can also lower your blood pressure and improve your insulin sensitivity, reports a new study in the journal Cell Metabolism.

All together this can also mean a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, study authors say.

“Our results show that you get a large ‘bang for your buck’ with a five percent weight loss. But an additional 10 to 15 percent weight loss continues to cause even more improvements in measures like blood lipids and blood pressure,” says study co-author Samuel Klein, MD, director at the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine.

Photo Credit: Francois Nel/Getty Images for Dubai Tourism, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Faces Presidential Fitness Test Amid Raised Concerns]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 17:26:09 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/trump-salud-mental-nueva-0123.jpg

President Donald Trump is getting his first medical checkup since taking office, a head-to-toe exam on Friday as questions swirl about the health and fitness of the oldest person ever elected to the nation's highest office. In advance, the 71-year-old president has pushed back vigorously against suggestions he's mentally unfit, declaring himself "a very stable genius."

Trump raised concern last month when he slurred some words on national TV. When asked about it, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said questions about Trump's health were "frankly, pretty ridiculous" and blamed his slurred speech on a dry throat, "nothing more than that."

More questions have been raised in the weeks since, given the tone of some of his tweets and the reported comments of some of the people who deal with him day to day. Some were recently published in a new book about his first year, which Sanders denounced as "complete fantasy" for its portrayal of Trump as undisciplined, child-like and in over his head.

Trump was 70 when he was inaugurated a year ago to handle the 24/7 demands of being president. Ronald Reagan, who served two terms, was a year younger when he took office in 1981.

Trump took the unusual step of threatening legal action to try to suppress publication of "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," by Michael Wolff. He then drew even more attention to the book and the debate about his fitness with weekend tweets stating that his two greatest assets in life "have been mental stability and being, like, really smart." Trump noted his success in business, reality TV and presidential politics, saying: "I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius ... and a very stable genius at that!"

The president is to fly by helicopter Friday afternoon to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington in Bethesda, Maryland, for the exam.

There is no requirement for a president to have a physical, but modern officeholders undergo them regularly and release a doctor's report stating that they are "fit to serve."

Trump will not undergo a psychiatric exam, the White House said. Officials did not address a different type of screening, assessments of cognitive status that examine neurologic functions including memory. Cognitive assessments aren't routine in standard physicals, although they recently became covered in Medicare's annual wellness visits for seniors.

Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a Navy rear admiral who is the president's official physician and director of the White House Medical Unit, is coordinating the exam. Jackson provided care for President Barack Obama, conducting and supervising the last of three physicals Obama had during his eight years in office.

How much of Trump's health information the public gets to see is up to him, but Sanders said she expects him to release the same kind of details as past presidents.

In September 2016, during the presidential campaign, Trump released a five-paragraph letter from Dr. Harold Bornstein, his longtime physician, in which the gastroenterologist concluded that Trump "is in excellent physical health." A year earlier, Bornstein said in a December 2015 letter: "If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency."

The 2016 letter put Trump's blood pressure and cholesterol measurements in the healthy range, but he does use a cholesterol-lowering statin medication. His EKG, chest X-ray, echocardiogram and blood sugar were normal. The 6-foot-3 Trump weighed 236 pounds, and his body mass index, or BMI, of 29.5 put him in the category of being overweight for his height.

Trump takes Crestor for his cholesterol, a low-dose aspirin for heart attack prevention, Propecia to treat male-pattern baldness and antibiotics for rosacea. The one-page letter stated Trump's testosterone level, 441.6, was in the normal range, as were his PSA reading for prostate abnormalities and tests of his liver and thyroid.

Trump leads a largely sedentary lifestyle compared to his most recent predecessors, who ran, rode mountain bikes, played basketball or used exercise machines and lifted weights, and were significantly younger than him when they took office. Trump has said he gets most of his exercise from playing golf, which he does most weekends, driving a cart instead of walking from hole to hole.

Federal health guidelines urge people over age 65 who have no health conditions that would limit exercise to get about 2½ hours a week of moderate activity, such as brisk walking, and to do some muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

As for his diet, Trump enjoys fast food, steaks well-done and with ketchup, chocolate cake and double scoops of vanilla ice cream, and reportedly downs 12 Diet Cokes a day. In a series of interviews last year, Trump showed journalists how he summons a butler to bring him a soda by pressing a red button on his Oval Office desk. In a recent book, "Let Trump Be Trump," former top campaign aides Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie described the four major food groups on Trump's campaign plane as "McDonald's, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza and Diet Coke."

Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland introduced a bill in April to create a commission that would study whether the president was mentally or physically unable to perform his duties. Democrat Zoe Lofgren of California followed in August with a resolution urging the vice president and Cabinet to have Trump undergo exams to assess his competence. Neither measure has advanced in Congress.

White House officials pushed back Monday against a report by the Axios news website that Trump has been starting his official days later and holding fewer meetings than earlier in his presidency. Spokesman Hogan Gidley said Trump "exhibits yeoman-like work every day in this job, whether it be up before dawn and up into the wee hours of the morning every day."

On Tuesday, the White House made a point of opening Trump's lengthy immigration meeting with lawmakers to reporters and TV cameras, a rare public look lasting nearly an hour at the president conducting a policy gathering.

Trump friend Chris Ruddy, head of the conservative news site NewsMax, says he does not know the details of Trump's schedule but "the idea that he's some sort of absentee president is ludicrous."

Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center, said, "There's a long history in the presidency of presidents hiding their medical infirmities, both as candidates and as presidents."

Grover Cleveland secretly had part of a cancerous jaw removed aboard a yacht in 1893 when he was said to be on a fishing trip. During the 1960 election, John F. Kennedy concealed that he suffered from a variety of conditions, including Addison's disease, which he controlled with steroids and other drugs. Woodrow Wilson had a secret stroke.

Perry said, "In the nuclear age, our lives are in the hands of our presidents. I think the American people should know everything there is to know about a president's mental and physical health."

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey and Lauran Neergaard contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Pool]]>
<![CDATA[Teen's Touching Story of Caring for Whole Family Goes Viral]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 14:18:35 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/TeenCaregiver0108_MP4_1280x720_1132755523890.jpg

Sometimes Jonathan Gutierrez' mom cries because she feels so humiliated that he has to look after her. But the 15-year-old always reassures her.

"If I cry, he yells at me, 'Don’t cry Mommy, don’t cry. This is not something that I don’t want to do. I love you,'” Jennifer Gutierrez said.

Now the teenager, who cares for his sick mom, grandmother and brother while his father works 60 hours a week, is getting viral attention for the sacrifices he makes for his family.

Jonathan, of Boca Raton, Florida, is a high schooler who spends most of his time as a caregiver for his family members.

Jonathan's mom, Jennifer, has multiple sclerosis and his grandmother has pre-dementia. He helps his mom with everyday tasks and makes sure his grandma takes her medicine. His brother also has sagittal craniosynostosis, and has had seven surgeries in his seven years of life.

Jonathan's dad has two jobs, working long hours each day to try and provide for the family. So, during the week, Jonathan runs the household.

"Without Jonathan here, I couldn't do everything by myself...There's some days I can't lift my head off the pillow," Jennifer said. “I have three really good weeks and one really bad week...that week I don’t walk.”

“I usually have to carry her to her bed, help her go to the bathroom, make sure she’s OK," Jonathan added, describing the bad weeks.

He also helps his younger brother with his homework, makes dinner and does whatever else his mom needs.

Jonathan is a member of the American Association for Caregiving Youth program at his high school. They have group meetings and also go on outings together to try to take a short break from their stressful lives.

“They understand what you’re going through," Jonathan said.

Jonathan recently spoke with Vice News about caring for his family, and the Facebook video has an estimated 1.9 million views. Jennifer hopes it lets other kids know they're not alone and encourages more programs around the country to help young people who are caregivers.

“He will make a difference for everybody," Jennifer said. "For all the kids that don’t know about the programs.”

Sacrificing his teenage years for the sake of his family is all for one reason: love.

“It’s humiliating, but he doesn’t make me feel that way. I feel that way myself," Jennifer said.

“She tells me every day how much she loves me and how much she appreciates me," Jonathan said. "It means a lot to me. I love her so much.”

Photo Credit: NBC]]>
<![CDATA[Apple Shareholders Call on Board to Study Screen Time Impact]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 09:37:04 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/apple_screen_0108_1344373.JPG

Apple shareholders are calling on the company's board of directors to study the impact of smartphones on children.

Parents have expressed concern about the amount of time kids spend on their smartphones, and now some investors in the Cupertino-based tech giant are concerned as well.

Jana partners and the California State Teachers' Retirement System sent a letter to Apple's board urging the company to study screen time impacts and offer parents solutions.

While many adults can be seen glued to their phones, parents say their kids are even more tuned into their screens.

"If you take it away, they start crying, whining, throwing a tantrum," said Ann Kraft of Connecticut. "Why don't you play with a ball?"

Kraft added: "They're watching TV on the phone, texting, face timing, Instagramming. Everything they do is on the phone. It's a lot of screen time."

Apple shareholders are saying there is a growing body of evidence that, for at least some of the most frequent young users, it may be having unintentional negative consequences.

Clinical psychologist and Cal State East Bay professor Michael Stanton says there are impacts.

"We know social media do contribute to anxiety and depression, especially among kids in regards to social comparisons," Stanton said.

Stanton says screen time also impacts sleep. He says more study is needed to get the full picture.

Parents hope Apple gets to work.

"These kids are the first generation that have had extended screen time," Kraft said. "We suspect there are impacts, but we don't know what it is until you study. We're just guessing."

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area]]>
<![CDATA[Repeat Flu Shots Offer Lingering Benefits in Elderly: Study]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 08:59:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SAMPLE+TIMELINE.00_00_10_29.Still001.jpg

There's a good reason not to skip the flu shot this year: a new study has found that older adults who get the shot every flu season were less likely to die or be hospitalized with severe complications, NBC News reported.

People over 65 who got the flu shot every year but were taken to the hospital with influenza were twice as likely not to get severe complications of flu or die, according to the study, published this week in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

"We probably only get exposed to influenza, the virus, every three to five years on average," said University of Rochester Medical Center immunologist David Topham, who was not involved in the research. "That's plenty of time for your immunity to wane."

The flu season is off to a strong start in the U.S. this year, with some emergency rooms filling up. 

Photo Credit: CDC
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<![CDATA[Up to 2K People Possibly Exposed to Hep A at Utah 7-Eleven]]>Tue, 09 Jan 2018 03:35:30 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/7elevenGettyImages-1133887.jpg

Health officials say people who went to a West Jordan, Utah 7-Eleven within the past two weeks might have been exposed to hepatitis A.

An employee worked at the store between Dec. 26 and Jan. 3 while ill and potentially handled certain items in the store, the officials said, estimating that up to 2,000 customers could be affected.

Anyone who used the store's restrooms is asked to contact the health department immediately for information on receiving a vaccine.

Officials also ask customers who consumed the store's fresh fruit, fountain drinks or other self-serve items to contact the department.

7-Eleven is cooperating with the health department's investigation and has sanitized the store, officials said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Usage Remains Low for Pill That Can Prevent HIV Infection]]>Mon, 08 Jan 2018 14:23:40 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/truvadaHIVpill_1200x675.jpg

From gritty neighborhoods in New York and Los Angeles to clinics in Kenya and Brazil, health workers are trying to popularize a pill that has proven highly effective in preventing HIV but which — in their view — remains woefully underused.

Marketed in the United States as Truvada, and sometimes available abroad in generic versions, the pill has been shown to reduce the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent if taken daily. Yet worldwide, only about a dozen countries have aggressive, government-backed programs to promote the pill. In the U.S., there are problems related to Truvada's high cost, lingering skepticism among some doctors and low usage rates among black gays and bisexuals who have the highest rates of HIV infection.

"Truvada works," said James Krellenstein, a New York-based activist. "We have to start thinking of it not as a luxury but as an essential public health component of this nation's response to HIV."

A few large U.S. cities are promoting Truvada, often with sexually charged ads. In New York, "Bare It All" was among the slogans urging gay men to consult their doctors. The Los Angeles LGBT Center — using what it called "raw, real language" — launched a campaign to increase use among young Latino and black gay men and transgender women.

"We've got the tools to not only end the fear of HIV, but to end it as an epidemic," said the center's chief of staff, Darrel Cummings. "Those at risk have to know about the tools, though, and they need honest information about them."

In New York, roughly 30 percent of gay and bisexual men are using Truvada now, up dramatically from a few years ago, according to Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, a deputy commissioner of the city's health department.

However, Daskalakis said use among young black and Hispanic men — who account for a majority of new HIV diagnoses — lags behind. To address that, the city is making Truvada readily available in some clinics in or near heavily black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

"We like to go to the root of the problem," said Daskalakis, who personally posed for the "Bare It All" campaign.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , Truvada would be appropriate for about 1.2 million people in the U.S. — including sex workers and roughly 25 percent of gay men. Gilead Scientific, Truvada's California-based manufacturer, says there are only about 145,000 active prescriptions for HIV prevention use.

Under federal guidelines, prime candidates for preventive use of Truvada include some gay and bisexual men with multiple sexual partners, and anyone who does not have HIV but has an ongoing sexual relationship with someone who has the virus.

Abroad, a few government health agencies — including those in France, Norway, Belgium, Kenya, South Africa, Brazil and some Canadian provinces— have launched major efforts to promote preventive use of Truvada or generic alternatives, providing it for free or a nominal charge. In Britain, health officials in Scotland and England recently took steps to provide the medication directly through government-funded programs, though in England it's in the form of a trial limited to 10,000 people.

Truvada was launched in 2004, initially used in combination with other drugs as the basic treatment for people who have HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It is primarily spread through sex.

Controversy arose in 2012 when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Truvada to reduce the risk of getting HIV in the first place, for what's called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. It blocks the virus from making copies and taking hold. Critics warned that many gay men wouldn't heed Truvada's once-a-day schedule and complained of its high cost — roughly $1,500 a month.

Gilead offers a payment assistance plan to people without insurance that covers the full cost. Some cities and a few states — including Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington — also help cover costs. Activists have pressed Gilead to make its copay program more generous in light of its profits from Truvada.

"There's no reason it has to cost so much," said Krellenstein.

Gilead spokesman Ryan McKeel, in an email, said the company is reviewing the copay program.

"Like those in the advocacy community, we are committed to expanding access to Truvada for PrEP to as many people as possible," he wrote.

In June, the FDA approved a generic version of Truvada, which is likely to push the price down, but it won't be available in the U.S. for a few years.

The Truvada debate has taken many twists, as exemplified by the varying stances of the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation — a leading HIV/AIDS service provider. In 2012, the group unsuccessfully petitioned the FDA to delay or deny approval of Truvada for preventive use. The foundation's president, Michael Weinstein, belittled Truvada as "a party drug" and warned it would increase the spread of sexually transmitted infections by encouraging men to engage in sex without condoms.

But last year, the foundation, while still skeptical about some Truvada-related policies, urged Gilead to cut its price to make it more available.

"We have no dispute about its ability to prevent HIV transmission," said spokesman Ged Kenslea. He noted that the organization's 40 pharmacies across the U.S. handle many Truvada prescriptions.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan, File]]>
<![CDATA[Democrats Move to Offense on Health Care; Seek 'Big Ideas']]>Mon, 08 Jan 2018 14:27:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Bernie-Sanders-foreign-policy.jpg

Democrats are shifting to offense on health care, emboldened by successes in defending the Affordable Care Act. They say their ultimate goal is a government guarantee of affordable coverage for all.

With Republicans unable to agree on their vision, Democrats are debating ideas that range from single-payer, government-run care for all, to new insurance options anchored in popular programs like Medicare or Medicaid. There's also widespread support for authorizing Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, an idea once advocated by candidate Donald Trump, which has languished since he was elected president.

Democrats are hoping to winnow down options during the 2018 campaign season, providing clarity for their 2020 presidential candidate. In polls, health care remains a top priority, particularly for Democrats and independents.

"We're tired of just playing defense," said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., the party's 2016 vice presidential candidate. "It is now time to talk about the next big idea. It is a good time for everybody to put their big ideas on the table." His offering: "Medicare-X," a new public insurance plan using the government's marquee health care brand.

Rising Democratic ambitions come as a cloud of uncertainty lingers over former President Barack Obama's health law. While major provisions have survived the GOP onslaught, some Republicans are vowing to go for repeal again. Congress has ended the health law's requirement that most people get coverage, and that's expected to lead to higher premiums in 2019. But bipartisan legislation to stabilize insurance markets doesn't seem to be getting traction.

Obama's former health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, says she sees Democrats reclaiming a core belief that health care should be a right guaranteed under law.

"Coverage for all is as much of an organizing principle for Democrats as eliminating Obamacare is for Republicans," said Sebelius. "But it turned out that (Republicans) didn't have any idea what that meant. I think Democrats have a much clearer vision."

Time will tell. Here's a sample of ideas under debate by Democrats and others on the political left:

—Medicare for All: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders made single-payer, government-run health care the cornerstone of his campaign for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. It remains the most talked-about health care idea on the left. Financing would be funneled through the tax system. Individuals wouldn't have to worry about deductibles, copays or narrow provider networks. Although state-level attempts to enact single-payer care have foundered because of the large tax increases needed, about one-third of Sanders' Democratic colleagues in the Senate are co-sponsoring his latest bill.

—Medicare-X: The legislation from Sens. Kaine, and Michael Bennet, D-Col., would allow individuals in communities lacking insurer competition to buy into a new public plan built on Medicare's provider network and reimbursement rates. Medicare would be empowered to negotiate prescription drug prices. Medicare-X would be available as an option through HealthCare.gov and state health insurance markets. Enrollees could receive financial assistance for premiums and copays through the Obama health law. Eventually, Medicare-X would be offered everywhere for individuals and small businesses.

—Medicare Part E: Yale University political scientist Jacob Hacker has proposed a new public health insurance plan based on Medicare, for people who don't have access to job-based coverage meeting certain standards. It would be financed partly with taxes on companies that don't provide insurance. Consumers would pay income-based premiums. Hospitals and doctors would be reimbursed based on Medicare rates, generally lower than what private insurance pays. "The crucial part of this is that you have guaranteed health insurance, just like you have guaranteed Medicare or Social Security," said Hacker. He's working with Democrats in Congress to turn the concept into legislation.

—Medicare at 55: Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., has introduced a bill that would let older adults buy into Medicare starting at age 55. Enrollees would be eligible for subsidies under Obama's law. They'd also have the option of picking a plan through Medicare Advantage, which offers private insurance options.

—Medicaid Buy-In: Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., have introduced legislation that would allow states to open their Medicaid programs up to people willing to pay premiums. Although Medicaid started out as insurance for the poor, it has grown to cover about 75 million people, making it the largest government health program.

Expect more ideas as the year unfolds, said Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress and a former top aide to Obama as well as Hillary Clinton. "Almost every Democrat is talking about truly universal health care," said Tanden.

Some Republicans are taking note. In a recent floor speech, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Democrats "think they have good ideas and they're just proven wrong by the facts."

Barrasso aimed his criticism at Sanders' single-payer plan. "Democrats who are pushing for a Washington takeover of America's health care are still not coming clean about the rationing of care that it would cause," he said.

But in Sanders' home state of Vermont, primary care physician Dr. Deborah Richter says she believes it's only a matter of time before the Unites States adopts single-payer. Activists who failed in an earlier attempt in the state are now focused on passing a plan that would cover just primary care.

"I think the next election will be a move to the left," said Richter. "I feel it might be possible for us to do it in phases."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Andrew Harnik/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Sessions to End Policy That Let States Legalize Pot: Sources]]>Thu, 04 Jan 2018 13:54:28 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SAMPLE+TIMELINE.00_00_24_16.Still002.jpg

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end an Obama-era policy that let states legalize marijuana, according to two sources to The Associated Press.]]>
<![CDATA[Stay Away From Romaine Lettuce, Consumer Reports Advises]]>Thu, 04 Jan 2018 23:30:36 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/179*120/romainelettuce_1200x675.jpg

A new warning has been issued by Consumer Reports to avoid romaine lettuce while U.S. and Canadian health officials continue their investigation after 58 people were reported sick from E. coli infections, NBC News reported. One person has died.

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued warnings about the outbreak. 

The outbreak spread across 13 states: California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont and Washington. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported on 41 illnesses, NBC News reported. 

According to Consumer Reports, this strain of E. coli has a toxin that could lead to serious illness, kidney failure and even death in some cases.

NBC reported that it could take weeks to to track down the source of an outbreak because most food is shipped to central locations from various farms, where it is processed, packaged and redistributed. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Justin Sullivan]]>
<![CDATA[2018's Best Diet Comes Out on Top 8 Years in a Row]]>Wed, 03 Jan 2018 14:54:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-634328640.jpg

A diet developed by the National Institutes of Health to help lower high blood pressure has been ranked the “best overall” diet for the eighth year in a row.

U.S. News and World Report’s panel of health experts ranked the DASH diet as number one of 38 diets reviewed. DASH tied with the Mediterranean diet for the top spot, coming in just ahead of the Flexitarian diet, a mostly vegetarian diet that allows for some meat. 

DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” NIH says DASH is less a diet and more “a healthy eating plan that supports long-term lifestyle changes.”

DASH emphasizes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, beans and nuts. The NIH says new research suggests combining DASH with a low-sodium diet has the potential to lower blood pressure as well as, or even better than, many anti-hypertension medications.

DASH was also ranked number one in the “Healthy Eating” and “Heart Disease Prevention” categories in U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 diet rankings.

The NIH’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) developed the DASH diet to prevent and control hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure. Hypertension is the most common chronic condition worldwide and is a major factor for heart disease, an ailment that affects a billion people worldwide and accounts for one in eight deaths annually. 

According to the NIH, people who follow the DASH diet may be able to reduce their blood pressure by a few points in just a couple of weeks. Over time, a patient’s systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) may drop by eight to 14 points, which significantly reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, the NIH says.

In research, people with the highest blood pressure achieved the greatest results from DASH. An NHLBI-funded study found that combining DASH with a low-sodium diet substantially lowers systolic blood pressure.

“Our results add to the evidence that dietary interventions can be as effective as – or more effective than – antihypertensive drugs in those at highest risk for high blood pressure, and should be a routine first-line treatment option for such individuals,” said Stephen Juraschek, M.D., an adjunct assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University and the study’s first author.

These are the top-ranking diets in U.S. News and World Report’s 2018 list:

Best Diet Overall: DASH diet and Mediterranean diet (tied)

Best Commercial Diet: Weight Watchers diet

Best Weight-Loss Diet: Weight Watchers diet

Best Fast Weight-Loss Diet: HMR diet and Weight Watchers diet (tied)

Best Diet for Healthy Eating: DASH diet and Mediterranean diet (tied)

Easiest Diet to Follow: Mediterranean diet

Best Diet for Diabetes: Mediterranean diet

Best Heart-Healthy Diet: DASH diet

Best Plant-Based Diet: Mediterranean diet

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CDC-Recommended Tips on Avoiding the Flu at Work]]>Tue, 02 Jan 2018 18:49:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SAMPLE+TIMELINE.00_00_10_29.Still001.jpg

The CDC recommends getting a flu shot early during flu season.]]>
<![CDATA[Few Colleges Track Suicides, Despite Prevention Investments]]>Tue, 02 Jan 2018 11:24:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/207*120/college-tuition-generic.PNG

Nearly half of the largest U.S. public universities do not track suicides among their students, despite making investments in prevention at a time of surging demand for mental health services. 

Tabulating student suicides comes with its own set of challenges and problems. But without that data, prevention advocates say, schools have no way to measure their success and can overlook trends that could offer insight to help them save lives. 

"If you don't collect the data, you're doing half the job," said Gordon Smith, a former U.S. senator from Oregon who became a prevention advocate after his son, Garrett, took his life in 2003 while attending college. "We need information in mental health if we're actually going to be able to better tailor health and healing." 

The Associated Press asked the 100 largest U.S. public universities for annual suicide statistics and found that 43 currently track suicides, including 27 that have consistently done so since 2007. Most others said they don't track suicides or could provide police reports for only a few cases known among campus administrators. 

Schools that don't track suicides include some of the nation's largest, including Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin. Officials from those schools declined to comment, but both have dealt with student suicides in the recent past, according to news reports, including at least two at Arizona State in 2017. 

Some others refused to provide records, citing student privacy concerns, including North Carolina State University. 

See the full list here.

The issue has come to the fore as some schools report today's students are arriving on campus less prepared for the rigors of college. Many schools have increased spending on mental health services to counter what the American Psychological Association and other groups have called a mental health crisis on campuses. 

Surveys have found increasing rates of anxiety and depression among college students, but some experts say the problem only appears to be worsening because students who might have stayed silent in the past are taking advantage of the increasing availability of help. 

"It's unfortunate that people are characterizing this outcome as a crisis," said Ben Locke, who runs a national mental-health network for colleges and leads the counseling center at Penn State. "It's counterproductive because it's criticizing the exact people we've encouraged to come forward." 

Adding to the skepticism is that young adults in college have been found to have lower suicide rates than their peers. But they are also at an age when disorders including schizophrenia and bipolar depression often start to develop. 

Federal health officials have sought to encourage data collection as part of a grant program named after Smith's son, which has awarded $76 million to more than 230 colleges since 2005. Schools have separately spent millions on their own, often adding programs that teach basic life skills, and training staff across campus to identify students in need. 

The U.S. Education Department asks colleges to collect data on student deaths but not suicides specifically, and a variety of factors can discourage schools from tracking it. 

Often it's difficult to confirm the cause of death, and medical examiners don't always notify universities when a cause is determined. There are concerns about legal liability. Some families prefer to keep it private. Even schools that collect data differ on whether they count suicides that occur away from campus or during breaks. 

And if the statistics become public, some schools fear it could damage their reputations. 

"No school wants to be known as a school with multiple suicides. It's not good for business," said Nance Roy, chief clinical officer for the Jed Foundation, a nonprofit that works with colleges and high schools on prevention. 

Advocates in at least three states have pushed to require universities to collect suicide data - in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Washington - but without success so far. 

After the 2014 suicide of freshman track star Madison Holleran at the University of Pennsylvania, one of her former teachers in her hometown of Allendale, New Jersey, was surprised to learn many universities don't report suicide statistics. He pushed for a law that would have required the state's public universities to collect and publicize annual numbers, but it never made it to a vote amid pushback from schools. 

"He felt that it was something that the public had every right to know," said Pam Philipp, a New Jersey mental-health advocate who lobbied for the legislation along with Holleran's former teacher, Ed Modica, who died in 2017 at age 66. 

A similar proposal by a state task force in Washington was sidelined amid budget woes last year, while lawmakers in Pennsylvania have yet to vote on recommendations to improve data collection. 

National studies have found that suicide rates are on the rise in the United States, reaching 13 per 100,000 among all Americans and 12.5 among those ages 15 to 24. Much of the data on suicide comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which does not specifically track college suicides. 

The gap in information led Dr. James Turner to seek funding for a national reporting system for student deaths in 2009 when he was president of the American College Health Association, but the National Institutes of Health didn't see the value, he said, and it never happened. 

"I became puzzled, because we as a society are so interested in the health of college students," said Turner, who is now retired from the University of Virginia. "Why is it we don't have a comprehensive way of approaching this?" 

The NIH declined to comment for this article.

A total of 27 schools provided statistics to the AP that they say were consistently tracked from 2007 through 2016, amounting to an overall suicide rate of about 4 per 100,000, although numbers from some universities were so low that experts including Roy at the Jed Foundation questioned their accuracy. The University of Arizona, for example, averaged more than 40,000 students per year over the decade but reported just three suicides, a rate of 0.7 per 100,000. 

Earlier studies have found average rates between 6.5 and 7.5 per 100,000 among college students. Schools that provided data to the AP had rates ranging from 0.27 to 8. Because of the inconsistency in responses, The Associated Press is not publishing figures for colleges that provided data. 

Schools that do track suicides, however, often use their data to refine prevention efforts. 

After Clemson University started gathering more data in 2015, campus officials noticed an increased suicide rate among transfer students. The school is now redoubling efforts to connect those students with campus services. 

Data at other universities have led officials to secure access to certain rooftops. 

Among the oldest examples is at the University of Texas at Austin, where officials in the 1990s installed iron barriers atop a clock tower that had previously been closed following several student suicides. The 10-year rate on that campus is in line with averages found in earlier studies, its data show, and has decreased in the second half of the past decade, even as national rates increase. 

But Chris Brownson, the counseling center director who analyzes the university's suicides, said it's hard to celebrate success when every new case brings so much pain. 

"One death is one death too many," he said, "and that's why we come to work every day - to do the things that we do here to try to prevent any of those from happening." 

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. If you are in crisis, you can also reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting 'Home' to 741741.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: KNBC-TV, File]]>
<![CDATA[Feds Employ Data-Driven Early Warning System in Opioid Fight]]>Tue, 02 Jan 2018 11:22:49 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17360557935777-Opioids-Fraud-Crackdown-Pill-Mill.jpg

The pain clinic tucked into the corner of a low-slung suburban strip mall was an open secret.

Patients would travel hundreds of miles to see Dr. Andrzej Zielke, eager for what authorities described as a steady flow of prescriptions for the kinds of powerful painkillers that ushered the nation into its worst drug crisis in history.

At least one of Zielke's patients died of an overdose, and prosecutors say others became so dependent on oxycodone and other opioids they would crowd his office, sometimes sleeping in the waiting room. Some peddled their pills near tumble-down storefronts and on blighted street corners in addiction-plagued parts of Allegheny County, where deaths by drug overdose reached record levels last year.

But Robert Cessar, a longtime federal prosecutor, was unaware of Zielke until Justice Department officials handed him a binder of data that, he said, confirmed what pill-seekers from as far away as Ohio and Virginia already knew. The doctor who offered ozone therapy and herbal pain remedies was also prescribing highly addictive narcotics to patients who didn't need them, according to an indictment charging him with conspiracy and unlawfully distributing controlled substances.

Zielke denied he was overprescribing, telling AP he practiced alternative medicine and many of his patients stopped seeing him when he cut down on pain pills.

His indictment in October was the first by a nationwide group of federal law enforcement officials that, armed with new access to a broader array of prescription drug databases, Medicaid and Medicare figures, coroners' records and other numbers compiled by the Justice Department, aims to stop fraudulent doctors faster than before.

The department is providing a trove of data to the Opioid Fraud and Abuse Detection Unit, which draws together authorities in 12 regions across the country, that shows which doctors are prescribing the most, how far patients will travel to see them and whether any have died within 60 days of receiving one of their prescriptions, among other information.

Authorities have been going after so-called "pill mills" for years, but the new approach brings additional federal resources to bear against the escalating epidemic. Where prosecutors would spend months or longer building a case by relying on erratic informants and only limited data, the number-crunching by analysts in Washington provides information they say lets them quickly zero in on a region's top opioid prescribers.

"This data shines a light we've never had before," Cessar said. "We don't need to have confidential informants on the street to start a case. Now, we have someone behind a computer screen who is helping us. That has to put (doctors) on notice that we have new tools."

And Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, told AP the Justice Department will consider going after any law-breaker, even a pharmaceutical company, as it seeks to bring more cases and reduce the number of unwarranted prescriptions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been in lock-step with President Donald Trump about the need to combat the drug abuse problem that claimed more than 64,000 lives in 2016, a priority that resonates with Trump's working-class supporters who have seen the ravages of drug abuse first-hand. The president called it a public health emergency, a declaration that allows the government to redirect resources in various ways to fight opioid abuse.

But he directed no new federal money to deal with a scourge that kills nearly 100 people a day, and critics say his efforts fall short of what is needed. The Republican-controlled Congress doesn't seem eager to put extra money toward the problem.

While the effectiveness of the Trump administration's broader strategy remains to be seen, the Justice Department's data-driven effort is one small area where federal prosecutors say they can have an impact.

The data analysis provides clues about who may be breaking the law that are then corroborated with old-fashioned detective work — tips from informants or undercover office visits, said Shawn A. Brokos, a supervisory special agent in the FBI's Pittsburgh division. Investigators can also get a sense for where displaced patients will turn next.

Authorities acknowledge there are legitimate reasons for some doctors to prescribe large quantities of opioids, and high prescribing alone doesn't necessarily trigger extra scrutiny. What raises red flags for investigators are the dentists, psychiatrists and gynecologists who are prescribing at surprisingly high rates.

The effort operates on the long-held perception that drug addiction often starts with prescriptions from doctors and leads to abuse of more dangerous black market drugs like fentanyl, which, for the first time last year, contributed to more overdose deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing pain pills and heroin.

But that focus can cause law-abiding physicians to abandon disabled patients who rely on prescriptions, for fear of being shut down, said University of Alabama addiction researcher Stefan Kertesz. Those patients will turn to harder street drugs or even kill themselves, he said.

"The professional risk for physicians is so high that the natural tendency is to get out of the business of prescription opioids at all," he said.

Another addiction expert, Dr. Andrew Kolodny, founder of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, said prosecutors' emphasis on "drug-dealing doctors" is appropriate but inadequate on its own.

"It's just not really going to have that much of an impact on an epidemic," he said. The bigger change will come from a stronger push for prevention and treatment, he said. And, he added, "They should go after the bigger fish.... the legal narcotics distributors and wholesalers who have literally been getting away with mass manslaughter."

Investigators said Zielke charged $250 a visit and made patients pay in cash. But Zielke said prosecutors unfairly targeted him. Instead of more prosecutions, he said, the government "should promote more alternative therapies," he said. "And they should find out why so many people have pain."

A second indictment by the anti-fraud unit involved a cardiologist in Elko, Nevada, accused of routinely providing patients fentanyl and other painkillers they did not need. Justice officials hope to expand the data-driven work nationwide.

Will it work? As Soo Song, who watched addiction warp communities while serving as acting U.S. attorney in western Pennyslvania, put it: "The best measure of success will be if fewer people die."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic/AP
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Widespread in 36 States, Deaths Reported: CDC]]>Fri, 29 Dec 2017 20:15:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/fluspreadsvaccine_1200x675.jpg

Influenza was reported as widespread by 36 states last week, with some states reporting deaths from the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Twenty-one of the 36 states experienced high levels of activity in the week ending Dec. 23, according to the CDC report released Friday. They are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.

Almost a dozen total deaths have been reported in California, North Carolina and South Carolina.

In San Diego, pharmacies have run short of supply and one hospital emergency room created an additional emergency room outsideflu to accommodate patients.

Experts had said that the flu seaon may be more severe this year, with the dominant strain being H3N2.

"Typically in years when the predominant strain is H3N2, there are more hospitalizations, more severe disease and people tend to get sicker," Dr. Michael Ison, a professor of infectious disease and organ transplantation at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told NBC News.

And the vaccine available in the U.S. was reported as only 10 percent effective in preventing illness from H3N2. However, while those vaccinated can still get sick, they typically experience a milder form of the illness.

The CDC began bracing for the season in September, campaigning for flu vaccinations and advising the public about influenza symptoms, which can appear suddenly. Symptoms can include fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, chills and body aches, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea.

The flu virus has had millions of affected cases in the U.S. each year since 2010, according to the CDC. Those cases resulted in between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths each year.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/David Greedy, File
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[CDC Investigating E.coli Outbreak in 13 States, Infecting 17 Americans]]>Fri, 29 Dec 2017 16:02:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC+GettyImages-456691988.jpg

The CDC is investigating a multistate E.coli outbreak in 13 states, including Connecticut, and the agency is looking into whether it’s connected to an outbreak in Canada that’s believed to be linked to romaine lettuce.

There have been 17 illnesses linked to the outbreak of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli O157:H7 infections, including two in Connecticut, two in New Hampshire, three in California and one each in New York, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nebraska, Virginia and Washington.

The Illnesses started between Nov. 15 and Dec. 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Public Health Agency of Canada also is investigating an outbreak of STEC O157:H7 infections in several provinces.

Whole genome sequencing is being performed on samples of bacteria making people sick in the United States, preliminary results show that the type of E. coli making people sick in both countries is closely related genetically, according to the CDC.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has identified romaine lettuce as the source of the outbreak in Canada.

In the United States, state and local public health officials are interviewing sick people to determine what they ate in the week before their illness started.

CDC is still collecting information to determine whether there is a food item in common among sick people, including leafy greens and romaine.

At this point, the CDC is unable to recommend whether U.S. residents should avoid a particular food and said the investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released as it becomes available.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Tips to Avoid a Hangover]]>Fri, 29 Dec 2017 17:49:39 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/avoidhangover.jpg

The Mayo Clinic shares some advice on things you can do to avoid a hangover after a night of drinking. Remember, never drink and drive.]]>
<![CDATA[Tech-Assisted Healthy Eating for 2018]]>Fri, 29 Dec 2017 14:38:08 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HealthyEating2018_MP4-151456927025400002.jpg

Eating better is one of the top New Year's resolutions for 2018, and this year, technology might be able to help you stick to it.

<![CDATA[In a Milestone Year, Gene Therapy Finds a Place in Medicine]]>Thu, 28 Dec 2017 11:44:21 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/raregeneblindness_1200x675.jpg

After decades of hope and high promise, this was the year scientists really showed they could doctor DNA to successfully treat diseases. Gene therapies to treat cancer and even pull off the biblical-sounding feat of helping the blind to see were approved by U.S. regulators, establishing gene manipulation as a new mode of medicine.

Almost 20 years ago, a teen's death in a gene experiment put a chill on what had been a field full of outsized expectations. Now, a series of jaw-dropping successes have renewed hopes that some one-time fixes of DNA, the chemical code that governs life, might turn out to be cures.

"I am totally willing to use the 'C' word," said the National Institutes of Health's director, Dr. Francis Collins.

Gene therapy aims to treat the root cause of a problem by deleting, adding or altering DNA, rather than just treating symptoms that result from the genetic flaw.

The advent of gene editing — a more precise and long-lasting way to do gene therapy — may expand the number and types of diseases that can be treated. In November, California scientists tried editing a gene inside someone's body for the first time, using a tool called zinc finger nucleases for a man with a metabolic disease. It's like a cut-and-paste operation to place a new gene in a specific spot. Tests of another editing tool called CRISPR, to genetically alter human cells in the lab, may start next year.

"There are a few times in our lives when science astonishes us. This is one of those times," Dr. Matthew Porteus, a Stanford University gene editing expert, told a Senate panel discussing this technology last month.

It's a common path for trail-blazing science — success initially seems within reach, setbacks send researchers back to the lab, new understandings emerge over years, and studies ultimately reveal what is safe and effective.

Here is a look at what's been achieved and what lies ahead.

The year started with no gene therapies sold in the U.S. and only a couple elsewhere. Then the Food and Drug Administration approved the first CAR-T cell therapies, which alter a patient's own blood cells to turn them into specialized cancer killers . They're only for certain types of leukemia and lymphoma now, but more are in the works for other blood cancers.

Last week, the FDA approved Luxturna, the first gene therapy for an inherited disease, a form of blindness. People with it can't make a protein needed by the retina, tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into signals to the brain, enabling sight. The therapy injects a modified virus containing a corrective gene into the retina so the cells can make the protein.

Children who received the treatment told what it was like to gain vision.

"Oh yikes, colors. Colors are super fun," said 13-year-old Caroline Carper of Little Rock, Arkansas. "And the sunshine is blinding."

Gene therapies also showed some promise against a variety of diseases including hemophilia, a blood clotting problem; "bubble boy" disease, where a flawed immune system leaves patients vulnerable to fatal infections, and sickle cell disease, a serious and painful blood disorder common among black people.

It's not all good news, though. The therapies don't work for everyone. They're shockingly expensive. And no one knows how long some results will last, though scientists say the aim is a one-time repair that gets at the root cause.

"The whole promise ... is to cure diseases. It's based on the rationale of fixing the problem," not just improving treatment, said Dr. Carl June, a University of Pennsylvania scientist who pioneered CAR-T therapy.

In mid-November, Brian Madeux, a 44-year-old Phoenix man with a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome, had just become the first person to try an experimental gene editing treatment.

"I believe in science," he texted The Associated Press after doctors sent viruses containing a corrective gene and an editing tool through an IV into his body. The hope is that the gene and the editing tool would enter some of his liver cells and insert the instructions needed to start making an enzyme he lacks.

It's not known yet if it worked. Sangamo Therapeutics is testing its therapy in several studies, and independent monitors will help decide when results are released.

"It's a pretty exciting milestone," Collins said, because it shows a way to treat more diseases than ones that can be addressed now by altering blood cells in the lab or injecting genes into the eye.

"You can imagine having a scalable approach to thousands of genetic diseases," he said.

Top of Collins' list: muscular dystrophy and sickle cell.

There's been so much progress that the NIH has modified an oversight panel that just a few years ago reviewed every gene therapy experiment in the U.S. Most are considered safe enough to go ahead without the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee's review. The panel hasn't even met for a year.

When the panel was formed decades ago, "there was a lot of concern that a graduate student could take some of this home and create a monster in his basement," said one panel member, Boston scientist Dr. Howard Kaufman.

Those fears have eased, he said.

"There's no monsters that have materialized from this."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Bill West/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Safety Tips for Mounting a New TV or Placing Furniture]]>Wed, 27 Dec 2017 12:06:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Flat-Screen-TV-GettyImages-151030980.jpg

If you received a new flat-screen TV or a dresser for the baby's room over the holiday, you'll want to consider how to mount or place the new addition to your home. 

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warns TVs and furniture like dressers and chests pose tip-over risks if they are not properly anchored to walls. This is especially true in households with young children, who can be tempted to climb on anything. But plenty of adults get injured, too.

Emergency rooms treat an average of 30,700 people -- 52 percent of them children -- each year for injuries related to falling televisions, furniture, and appliances, according to a 2017 CPSC report. Over that same period, 514 people were killed by tip-overs, more than 80 percent of them children.

The CPSC's "Anchor-It!" campaign encourages families to attach TVs and top-heavy furniture to walls.

"The holidays are a time when households are very busy," said Ann Marie Buerkle, acting chairman of the CPSC. "This is really kind of a hidden hazard."

With that in mind, here are some things to consider while shopping.

Take a look at the room where you want the item to go. What kind of walls does it have? In most homes, bedrooms have sheetrock, making it relatively simple to install anti-tip devices. It's just a matter of finding the studs and following the instructions properly.

Things get more complicated if you have an older home with plaster or brick walls. Stud finders are useless for plaster walls and drilling into brick can be tricky. That might mean a dresser may have to go against another wall than the one you had in mind. So, take that into account before settling on the size and shape of a dresser.

If plaster or brick walls are the only option, consider hiring a professional to avoid mistakes that will leave a bunch of holes, said Peter Kerin, owner of Minnesota-based Foresight ChildProofing, Inc.

Keep the same considerations in mind for old furniture or TVs that might get moved to make room for the new piece. Many families end up putting old TVs on top of furniture not meant to hold it and then forget to anchor it, Buerkle said.

Most American furniture manufacturers adhere to safety standards developed by ASTM International for a wide range of products. Manufacturers' compliance is voluntary, however. Ikea has recalled more than 17 million chests and dressers that didn't meet the standards, after eight children were killed by toppled Ikea furniture. The Swedish retailer says it no longer sells furniture in the U.S. that doesn't meet the standards.

Dressers must pass two stability tests to meet the standards. The first requires the piece not to tip over when all drawers are opened to the "stop," or two-thirds of the way if there is no "stop." The furniture also must not tip over when all of its doors are opened 90 degrees. For the second test, the furniture must not fall over when a 50-pound weight -- the average weight of a 5-year-old -- is gradually applied to the front of the drawer. The furniture must also be sold with anti-tip restraint kits.

Check to see if the furniture has a permanent tip-over warning label attached, usually inside the top drawer. That will let you know it adheres to the standards.

If you are buying furniture online, avoid any product that does not specifically say it meets the standards, says Pat Bowling, vice president for communications of the American Home Furnishings Alliance.

There is also no need to blow your budget. Furniture that complies with the ASTM guidelines is widely available in all price ranges, Bowling said.

Most new furniture comes with anti-tip restraints and instructions for installing them. But don't forget about the older furniture or TVs in your home. Anti-tip brackets are available at hardware stores, major big-box retailers and online. A stud finder and a drill are also a good idea.

Look for restraints that are detachable, for easy cleaning, and that comply with their own ASTM standards . Kerin says he prefers metal buckle and nylon straps but the most important thing is to install them properly. For furniture, make sure to put the screws into solid wood, rather than the thin paneling usually found on the back.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[US's Virtual Shooter Training Program Expands to Teachers]]>Wed, 27 Dec 2017 07:45:32 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Screen+Shot+2017-12-27+at+6.39.49+AM.png

The shooter rapidly fires through the front doors of an elementary school with an assault rifle and blasts his way down the hallway. Screaming children are running for their lives or frozen in fear. Teachers quickly try to decide: barricade the doors, or make a run for it with their students?

Police officers arrive with guns drawn, working their way through the school. Finally they confront the shooter and end the threat.

Using cutting-edge video game technology and animation, the U.S. Army and Homeland Security Department have developed a computer-based simulator that can train everyone from teachers to first responders on how to react to an active shooter scenario. The training center is housed at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and offers numerous role-playing opportunities that can be used to train anyone in the world with a computer.

"With teachers, they did not self-select into a role where they expect to have bullets flying near them. Unfortunately, it's becoming a reality," said Tamara Griffith, a chief engineer for the project. "We want to teach teachers how to respond as first responders."

The $5.6 million program — known as the Enhanced Dynamic Geo-Social Environment, or EDGE — is similar to those used by the Army to train soldiers in combat tactics and scenarios using a virtual environment.

Originally designed for police and fire agencies, the civilian version is now being expanded to schools to allow teachers and other school personnel to train for active shooters alongside first responders. Homeland Security officials say the schools version should be ready for launch by spring.

Each character has numerous options, including someone playing the bad guy, said project manager Bob Walker. For example, each teacher has seven options on how to keep students safe, and some of the students in the program might not respond or be too afraid to react. So that becomes another problem to be solved.

"Once you hear the children, the screaming, it makes it very, very real," Walker said.

The program can have the shooter be either an adult or a child.

"We have to worry about both children and adults being suspects," he said.

The program's designers listened to real dispatch tapes to understand the confusion and chaos that goes along with such frightening situations, Griffith said. They also talked to the mother of a child killed in the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, who walked them through everything that happened that tragic day.

"It gives you chills when you think about what's happening on those tapes," Griffith said. "It tore us apart to listen to her and what she went through."

But it all serves one main goal: to train educators to save lives when an armed attacker bursts through a school door.

Another EDGE program, which was launched in June, has an active-shooter scenario involving a 26-story hotel that includes numerous possible environments for first responder training: a conference center, a restaurant, or office spaces. As many as 60 people can train on the program at once and can be located anywhere.

"It's important that this provides agencies like fire and law enforcement an opportunity to train together," said Milt Nenneman, Homeland Security Science and Technology First Responder Group program manager in a recent Justice Department article. "Very seldom do they have the opportunity to train together in real-life, and it is hard to get those agencies time away from their regular duties."

School safety advocates say safety training gets pushed to the back burner until a tragedy happens. Amanda Klinger, director of operations for nonprofit Educators School Safety Network, said this new program could help change that.

"I hope that people will sort of see this simulation as a really cool and engaging way," she said, "to think about school safety."

AP Video reporter Joshua Replogle contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP Video]]>
<![CDATA[Why Board Games Can Bring Out the Worst in Us]]>Mon, 25 Dec 2017 11:41:22 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/542092771-Family-Board-Games.jpg

When the presents are all unwrapped and the breakfast spread gobbled up, holiday revelers often turn to the time-honored tradition of board games — and can be left stewing and sulking, NBC News' Better reported.

There are some good explanations for why board games can bring out the worst in us: Our brains may not process that it's just a game, and they are designed to divide us, experts say.

"By their nature, board games bring out our competitive spirit because they divide us," said psychological performance coach Dr. Alok Trivedi, who added that the "every man for himself" scenario they usually create can induce an adrenaline rush.

But there are some simple ways to avoid serious family drama, too.

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Hero Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Kmart to Pay $32.3 Million to Settle Prescription Drugs Case]]>Sat, 23 Dec 2017 15:54:24 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-838633718.png

Kmart Corp. has agreed to pay $32.3 million to settle allegations its pharmacies caused federal health programs to overpay for prescription drugs by not telling the government about discounted prices.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced the settlement agreement Friday.

Kmart is part of Sears Holdings Corp., based in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. It was sued in 2008 by former Kmart pharmacist James Garbe, who worked in Defiance, Ohio.

The whistleblower lawsuit alleged Kmart offered discounted prices to customers who paid in cash through club programs but didn't report those discounts to federal health programs such as Medicare Part D and Medicaid.

The Department of Justice says the agreement is a part of a $59 million settlement that includes a resolution of state Medicaid and insurance claims against Kmart. Garbe litigated the case and will receive $9.3 million.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Most of Those Enrolled in 'Obamacare' Are in Trump States]]>Sat, 23 Dec 2017 00:13:48 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ACA-homepage.jpg

Americans in states that Donald Trump carried in his march to the White House account for more than 4 in 5 of those signed up for coverage under the health care law the president still wants to take down.

An Associated Press analysis of new figures from the government found that 7.3 million of the 8.8 million consumers signed up so far for next year come from states Trump won in the 2016 presidential election. The four states with the highest number of sign-ups — Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Georgia, accounting for nearly 3.9 million customers — were all Trump states.

"There's politics, and then there's taking care of yourself and your family," said analyst Chris Sloan of the consulting firm Avalere Health. "You can have political views about a program like the Affordable Care Act, but when you get an opportunity to get subsidized health insurance for you and your family ... politics is a distant consideration."

AP's analysis found that 11 states beat 2017's enrollment figures. Of them, eight —Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming— went for Trump, who posted double-digit victories in all but Iowa.

To be sure, Trump states are also home to many people who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton. But the AP's analysis points to a pattern of benefits from the health law in states the president won. The premium dollars have economic ripple effects, reimbursing hospitals and doctors for services that might otherwise have gone unpaid and written off as bad debt. Also, people with health insurance are better able to manage chronic medical problems, remaining productive, tax-paying members of society.

Such economic and political realities will be in the background when Congress returns in January to another installment of the nation's long-running debate over health care. Republicans and Democrats seem to have battled to a draw for now.

The year 2019 — the effective date for repeal of the ACA's requirement that most people have coverage — is looking like a time of reckoning for the law's insurance markets, which offer subsidized private plans to people who don't have job-based coverage.

Unexpectedly strong enrollment numbers announced this week for the 39 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website testify to consumer demand for the program and its guarantee that people with medical problems can't be turned away. Yet those numbers still lag behind last season's sign-up total.

It's unclear what the final count for next year will be. HealthCare.gov numbers released Thursday are incomplete, and some states running their own insurance websites will continue enrolling people throughout January.

Separately, actions by the Trump administration and the GOP-led Congress are creating incentives for healthy people to stay out of the health law's insurance markets.

Starting in 2019, people won't have to worry about incurring a fine from the IRS for being uninsured, because the tax overhaul repeals that mandate. At the same time, the administration is taking regulatory action to open a path for the sale of low-cost insurance plans that don't provide the health law's benefits or guarantees.

"The real worry for me is what the health plans do," said Sloan. "If they decide that without the mandate it's not worth staying in this market, you could end up with swaths of the country having no insurers."

Bipartisan legislation to stabilize insurance markets is still alive in Congress, but its prospects are unclear.

On Friday, Trump said he thinks repealing the mandate as part of the tax overhaul "ultimately leads to the end of Obamacare." The president continued to ignore other parts of the law that remain untouched by the tax bill, including its Medicaid expansion benefiting low-income adults and the popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Others say a corner has been turned in the health care debate, but where it will end up is still uncertain.

Former President Barack Obama's law "is more durable and important to Americans in terms of getting affordable health insurance than even its advocates expected," said John McDonough, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who served as an adviser to Senate Democrats during the ACA debate more than seven years ago.

With the end of the attempts to bring it down and to repeal it, perhaps there will be opportunities in the near future to try to actually build up and improve it, because it could use some work," he added.

AP broadcast journalist Shelley Adler contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Toxic Trouble: Hundreds of Superfund Sites Face Flood Risks]]>Fri, 22 Dec 2017 21:24:13 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17339794911371.jpg

Anthony Stansbury propped his rusty bike against a live oak tree and cast his fishing line into the rushing waters of Florida's Anclote River.

When he bought a house down the street last year, Stansbury says he wasn't told that his slice of paradise had a hidden problem. The neighborhood is adjacent to the Stauffer Chemical Co. Superfund site, a former chemical manufacturing plant that is on the list of the nation's most polluted places. That 130-acre lot on the river's edge is also located in a flood zone.

"Me and my kids fish here a couple times a week. Everyone who lives on this coast right here, they fish on this water daily," said the 39-year-old father of three.

Stansbury is among nearly 2 million people in the U.S. who live within a mile of 327 Superfund sites in areas prone to flooding or vulnerable to sea-level rise caused by climate change, according to an Associated Press analysis of flood zone maps, census data and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records.

This year's historic hurricane season exposed a little-known public health threat: Highly polluted sites that can be inundated by floodwaters, potentially spreading toxic contamination.

In Houston, more than a dozen Superfund sites were flooded by Hurricane Harvey, with breaches reported at two. In the Southeast and Puerto Rico, Superfund sites were battered by driving rains and winds from Irma and Maria.

The vulnerable sites highlighted by AP's review are scattered across the nation, but Florida, New Jersey and California have the most, and the most people living near them. They are in largely low-income, heavily minority neighborhoods, the data show.

Many of the 327 sites have had at least some work done to help mitigate the threat to public health, including fencing them off and covering them in plastic sheeting to help keep out rain water.

The Obama administration assessed some of these at-risk places and planned to gird them from harsher weather and rising seas. EPA's 2014 Climate Adaptation Plan said prolonged flooding at low-lying Superfund sites could cause extensive erosion, carrying away contaminants as waters recede.

President Donald Trump, however, has called climate change a hoax, and his administration has worked to remove references from federal reports and websites linking carbon emissions to the warming planet.

"Site managers had started reviewing climate and environmental trends for each Superfund site, including the potential for flooding," said Phyllis Anderson, who worked for 30 years as an EPA attorney and associate director of the division that manages Superfund cleanups until her retirement in 2013. "The current administration appears to be trying to erase these efforts in their climate change denials, which is a shame."

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he intends to focus on cleaning up Superfund sites, and he appointed a task force that developed a list of sites considered the highest priority. The Stauffer site in Florida is not on it.

Like Trump, Pruitt rejects the consensus of climate scientists that man-made carbon emissions are driving global warming. His task force's 34-page report makes no mention of the flood risk to Superfund sites from stronger storms or rising seas, but eight of the 21 sites on EPA's priority list are in areas of flood risk.

Despite EPA's announced emphasis on expediting cleanups, the Trump administration's proposed spending plan for the current 2018 fiscal year seeks to slash Superfund program funding by nearly one-third. Congress has not yet approved new spending plans for the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

Pruitt's office declined to comment this week on the key findings of AP's analysis or why the agency appears to no longer recognize an increasing flood risk to toxic sites posed by the changing climate.

However, Jahan Wilcox, an EPA spokesman, said, "Despite fear-mongering from the Associated Press, not a single dollar has actually been eliminated, as Congress still hasn't passed a budget."

Many flood-prone Superfund sites identified through AP's analysis are located in low-lying, densely populated urban areas. In New Jersey, several polluted sites have more than 50,000 people living within one mile.

In Hoboken, across the Hudson River from New York City, the site of a former manufacturing plant for mercury vapor lamps sits within a mile of almost 100,000 residents, including 7,000 children under 5.

The Martin Aaron Inc. Superfund site is in the heart of Camden's Waterfront South, a low-income neighborhood of crumbling row houses and industrial facilities stretching along the Delaware River.

The 2.5-acre lot, which takes up most of a city block, has been home to a succession of factories dating back to 1886 that included a leather tannery. The air around the fenced site hangs heavy with the nose-stinging odor of solvents. Testing found that soil and groundwater under the site contained a witch's brew of highly toxic chemicals, including PCBs and pesticides.

Earlier this month, workers used heavy machinery to remove contaminated soil and to pump polluted water from deep underground. Long range plans approved by EPA call for eventually covering the land and restricting its future use.

Just around the corner, Mark Skinner and his niece Cherise Skinner pushed her 1-year-old son in a stroller in front of their rented row house. Mark Skinner shrugged when asked about the work at the former industrial site.

"It's really contaminated, there's a lot of stuff in the ground, but I don't know what all it is," said Skinner, 53, who works at a nearby scrap metal yard and has lived in Waterfront South since he was a teenager.

Foul-smelling water filled the streets there during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, flooding many basements, long-time residents said. Census data show about 17,250 people live within a mile of the Martin Aaron site — 65 percent are black and 36 percent are Latino.

Across the nation, more than 800,000 homes are located near flood-prone toxic sites. Houses are at risk of contamination if intense flooding brings water into them, and many more people could be affected if the contamination seeps into the ground, finding its way into drinking water.

Mustafa Ali, who resigned in March as EPA's senior adviser and assistant associate administrator for environmental justice, said it's no accident that many of the nation's most polluted sites are also located in some of the poorest neighborhoods.

"We place the things that are most dangerous in sacrifice zones, which in many instances are communities of color where we haven't placed as much value on their lives," said Ali, who worked at EPA for 24 years.

The Stauffer site in Florida is a scrubby green field along the Anclote River, ringed on its other three sides by chain-link fences with "No Trespassing" signs. Testing showed the 130-acre lot's soils were contaminated with radium, the long-banned pesticide DDT, arsenic, lead and other pollutants that over the years have fouled the area's groundwater and the river.

Environmental regulators say the site now poses no threat to people or the environment because the current owner, the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, paid to treat contaminated soils, and cover the pollution with a "cap" of clean earth and grass. Still, residential development and use of groundwater on the site are prohibited because of the legacy pollution.

Covering toxic waste is often a cheaper option than completely removing the pollutants, but the installations are not always as long-lasting as the chemicals buried beneath them, said Jeff Cunningham, a civil engineering professor at the University of South Florida.

"As a long-term strategy, capping only works if the contaminants degrade to safe levels before the capping system eventually fails. What if it takes centuries for some of these contaminants to degrade to safe levels?" Cunningham said.

Damage to a protective cap from storm-fueled flooding has already occurred at least once this year.

In October, the EPA said dioxins from the San Jacinto River Waste Pits Superfund site near Houston were released after the cap was damaged by Harvey-related flooding. Tests afterward measured the toxins at 2,300 times the level that would normally trigger a new cleanup. Pruitt has since ordered an accelerated cleanup of the site.

Seventy-six-year-old Tony Leisner has lived near Florida's Stauffer chemical site all his life. He told the AP he is seeing damage to docks and riverside properties from the ever-rising waters in the neighborhood, and is concerned about what more flooding could mean for the Superfund lot. Although monitoring wells do test local groundwater for contamination from the site, some in Leisner's neighborhood said they're fearful enough to drink only bottled water.

The Anclote River is listed as an "impaired waterway" because it fails to meet state clean water criteria, though how much of that is due to the Stauffer site's legacy is unclear. The state has issued a warning about eating bass out of the river, but there are no signs at the popular fishing spot warning anglers even though tests show heightened levels of mercury in fish.

Leisner said barrels of chemicals at the Stauffer site self-ignited while crews were working. He said he's disappointed neither the company nor EPA removed the pollutants, especially since rising waters are already threatening the neighborhood.

"Burying things rarely helps. And if you've got a chemical that is that toxic ... I think you need to find a way to reuse, recycle and remove (it), to a place where it's not going to contaminate groundwater," he said.


Associated Press environmental writer Michael Biesecker reported from Camden, New Jersey. Reporter Tamara Lush contributed from Tarpon Springs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Chris O'Meara/AP
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<![CDATA[Cookies for Santa: A Breakdown of Christmas Calories]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 11:41:26 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GingerBettysQuincy+Christmas+Tree+Cookie.jpg

Between holiday parties, baking cookies for Santa, and office treats, the holidays can be a time of celebration through food. 

But do you know how many calories you are actually consuming with those holiday snacks? 

Consumer Reports recently broke down the calorie count in your favorite Christmas cookies, telling you how many to eat to reach 100 calories. 

For Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Stars Shortbread cookies, you can eat about three to get to 100 calories. 

Classic butter cookies, like the ones made by Sherwood Danish Delights that come in the blue tins, come to 100 calories if you eat about two and a third. 

Pepperidge Farm tops Christmas necessities for some. Their Milano Cookies (Candy Cane version), with layers of peppermint and chocolate, are 100 calories for about one and a half. 

Gingerbread man cookies from Pepperidge Farm have 100 calories for every three you eat. 

What about Nabisco Winter Oreos? They have red cream but the flavor is the same. One and a half of those equal 100 calories. 

Pillsbury Ready to Bake takes a shortcut to decorating cookies. A little less than two come to 100 calories. 

While Santa's elves are busy making toys, Keebler elves are making Fudge Stripes Peppermint cookies. A little more than one of these equals 100 calories. 

What is your favorite holiday cookie?

<![CDATA[Allergic to Christmas? Some Say Trees Cause Reactions]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 10:52:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Allergic_to_Christmas__Some_Say_Trees_Cause_Reactions.jpg

It's being called "Christmas tree syndrome." Apparently mold in real evergreens can cause allergic reactions like coughing, wheezing and chest pains. Lolita Lopez reveals what to do about it on Today in LA, Thursday Dec. 21, 2017.]]>
<![CDATA[Soaring Overdose Deaths Cut US Life Expectancy for 2nd Year]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 09:23:54 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms1005.jpg

U.S. deaths from drug overdoses skyrocketed 21 percent last year, and for the second straight year dragged down how long Americans are expected to live.

The government figures released Thursday put drug deaths at 63,600, up from about 52,000 in 2015. For the first time, the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins played a bigger role in the deaths than any other legal or illegal drug, surpassing prescription pain pills and heroin.

"This is urgent and deadly," said Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The opioid epidemic "clearly has a huge impact on our entire society."

Two-thirds of last year's drug deaths — about 42,000 — involved opioids, a category that includes heroin, methadone, prescription pain pills like OxyContin, and fentanyl. Fatal overdoses that involved fentanyl and fentanyl-like drugs doubled in one year, to more than 19,000, mostly from illegally made pills or powder, which is often mixed with heroin or other drugs.

Heroin was tied to 15,500 deaths and prescription painkillers to 14,500 deaths. The balance of the overdose deaths involved sedatives, cocaine and methamphetamines. More than one drug is often involved in an overdose death.

The highest drug death rates were in ages 25 to 54.

Preliminary 2017 figures show the rise in overdose deaths continuing.

The drug deaths weigh into CDC's annual calculation of the average time a person is expected to live. The life expectancy figure is based on the year of their birth, current death trends and other factors. For decades, it was on the upswing, rising a few months nearly every year. But last year marked the first time in more than a half century that U.S. life expectancy fell two consecutive years.

A baby born last year in the U.S. is expected to live about 78 years and 7 months, on average, the CDC said. An American born in 2015 was expected to live about a month longer and one born in 2014 about two months longer than that.

The dip in 2015 was blamed on drug deaths and an unusual upturn in the death rate for the nation's leading killer, heart disease. Typically, life expectancy goes back up after a one-year decline, said Robert Anderson, who oversees the CDC's death statistics. The last time there was a two-year drop was 1962-1963. It also happened twice in the 1920s.

"If we don't get a handle on this," he said, "we could very well see a third year in a row. With no end in sight."

A three-year decline happened in 1916, 1917 and 1918, which included the worst flu pandemic in modern history.

Overall, there were more than 2.7 million U.S. deaths in 2016, or about 32,000 more than the previous year. It was the most deaths in a single year since the government has been counting. That partly reflects the nation's growing and aging population. But death rates last year continued to go down for people who are 65 and older while going up for all younger adults — those most affected by the opioid epidemic.

The CDC also reported :

—West Virginia continued to be the state with highest drug overdose death rate, with a rate of 52 deaths per 100,000 state residents in 2016. Ohio and New Hampshire were next, both at about 39 per 100,000.

—Life expectancy for men decreased, but it held steady for women. That increased the gender gap to five years; about 76 for men and 81 for women.

—U.S. death rates decreased for seven of the 10 leading causes of death, but rose for suicide, Alzheimer's disease and for a category called unintentional injuries (which includes drug overdoses).

—Accidental injuries displaced chronic lower respiratory diseases to become the nation's third leading cause of death. Contributing were increases in deaths from car crashes and falls.

—Gun deaths rose for a second year, to nearly 39,000. They had been hovering around 33,500 deaths a few years ago.

The United States ranks below dozens of other high-income countries in life expectancy, according to the World Bank. Highest is Japan, at nearly 84 years.

"The fact that U.S. has basically stagnated over the past seven years — and now we're seeing small declines — is a real sign that the U.S. is doing badly," said Jessica Ho, a University of Southern California researcher who studies death trends.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[Nearly Half Say Health Care Is Top Problem for 2018: Poll]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 09:37:10 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Childrens-health-CHIP-cuts.jpg

As President Donald Trump completes his first year in office, Americans are increasingly concerned about health care, and their faith that government can fix it has fallen.

A new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds that 48 percent named health care as a top problem for the government to focus on in the next year, up 17 points in the last two years.

The poll allows Americans to name up to five priorities and found a wide range of top concerns, including taxes, immigration and the environment. But aside from health care, no single issue was named by more than 31 percent.

And 7 in 10 of those who named health care as a top problem said they had little to no confidence that government can improve matters. The public was less pessimistic in last year's edition of the poll, when just over half said they lacked confidence in the problem-solving ability of lawmakers and government institutions.

"We are way up there on the cost, and as far as giving good health care, we are way down," said Rebekah Bustamante of San Antonio, a retired medical imaging technician. "Now in health care, you're a number."

Bustamante said she voted for Trump, but "he's learning on the job, and he's got a long way to go."

Trump initially promised his own plan that would deliver "insurance for everybody" and "great" health care, "much less expensive and much better." But the White House never released a health care proposal from the president.

GOP legislation to repeal and replace former President Barack Obama's health care law failed in Congress, although the tax bill scraps the Obama requirement that most people get health insurance. Bloodied on both sides, Republicans and Democrats seem to have battled to an uneasy draw on health care.

Meanwhile, conflicting policy signals from Washington, including an abrupt White House decision to cancel insurer subsidies, roiled insurance markets. Premiums on health plans purchased by individuals jumped by double digits. Progress reducing the number of uninsured stalled, and one major survey found an uptick this year.

"There is zero bipartisanship, and it's frustrating," said Eric Staab, a high school teacher from Topeka, Kansas. "It seems like we have thrown everything at this dartboard, and nothing is improving the coverage."

Rumblings of discontent have political repercussions for next year's midterm elections and the presidential contest in 2020, said Robert Blendon, a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who follows opinion trends on health care.

"It's the issue that won't go away," said Blendon. "Given the news cycle, taxes should be first, the economy should be second, and this health care thing should be buried."

Three in 10 Americans listed taxes among their top priorities, about double the percentage who said that last year. About a quarter mentioned immigration, and just under 2 in 10 mentioned environmental issues and education. Meanwhile, concerns about unemployment plunged to 14 percent, about half the mentions as last year.

Health care was by far the top issue mentioned by Democrats and independents. Republicans were about equally likely to mention immigration, health care and taxes.

Democrats were more likely than Republicans to say they have little to no confidence that the government will make progress on health care, 84 percent to 57 percent.

The reason health care doesn't fade away is that costs aren't getting any more manageable, said some people who took part in the AP-NORC survey.

Bustamante said she is planning a trip to Mexico for some dental work, because she can obtain quality service for much less there. "Thank God I live in Texas, where getting to Mexico isn't that far away," she said. "But everybody doesn't have that option."

ShyJuan Clemons of Merrillville, Indiana, said he's currently uninsured because his previous health plan was costing too much money for the benefit he got from it. He faced his insurance plan's annual deductible when he went to the doctor, so he'd wind up paying out-of-pocket for visits, on top of premiums.

"You are not constantly worried about taxes, but you are constantly worried about health care — be it major or minor," said Clemons, a personal care attendant who works with disabled people. "You catch a cold, and you just think about it in passing — 'I hope it doesn't develop into a problem.'"

Clemons, a Democrat, said he's disappointed that Trump and Republicans in Congress seem to be trying to tear down "Obamacare" instead of building on it. "I would like to see them make the thing run smoothly so we can do better, instead of just trying to cripple it," he said.

The lack of confidence in the ability of government to find pragmatic solutions extended to other problems in the AP-NORC poll, including climate change, immigration, and terrorism.

Just 23 percent said that Trump has kept the promises he made while running for president, while 30 percent said he's tried and failed, and 45 percent said he has not kept his promises at all.

Nearly 2 in 3 said they were pessimistic about the state of politics in the U.S. About half were downbeat about the nation's system of government, and 55 percent said America's best days are behind.


The AP-NORC poll surveyed 1,444 adults from Nov. 11-Dec. 4 using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

Interviews were conducted online and using landlines and cellphones.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Couple Has Baby From Embryo Frozen 24 Years Ago]]>Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:11:14 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/172640159-Cryopreservation-stock.jpg

A baby conceived in 1992 has finally been born a generation later, NBC News reported.

Emma Gibson was frozen as an embryo and donated to a faith-based clinic in Knoxville that specializes in embryo donation and adoption, according to doctors and the parents of the girl born Nov. 25.

"I think she looks pretty perfect to have been frozen all those years ago," said her dad, Benjamin Gibson, in a statement.

While there are no official, public databases on the ages of embryos that are transferred into the womb, experts told NBC News it's certainly possible she's the oldest embryo to result in a live birth.

Photo Credit: Getty Images, Photo-illustration]]>
<![CDATA[Gene Therapy for Rare Form of Blindness Wins US Approval]]>Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:57:15 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/raregeneblindness_1200x675.jpg

U.S. health officials on Tuesday approved the nation's first gene therapy for an inherited disease, a treatment that improves the sight of patients with a rare form of blindness. It marks another major advance for the emerging field of genetic medicine.

The approval for Spark Therapeutics offers a life-changing intervention for a small group of patients with a vision-destroying genetic mutation and hope for many more people with other inherited diseases. The drugmaker said it will not disclose the price until next month, delaying debate about the affordability of a treatment that analysts predict will be priced around $1 million.

The injection, called Luxturna, is the first gene therapy approved by the Food and Drug Administration in which a corrective gene is given directly to patients. The gene mutation interferes with the production of an enzyme needed for normal vision.

Patients who got the treatment have described seeing snow, stars or the moon for the first time.

"One of the best things I've ever seen since surgery are the stars. I never knew that they were little dots that twinkled," said Mistie Lovelace of Kentucky, one of several patients who urged the FDA to approve the therapy at a public hearing in October.

Patients with the condition generally start losing their sight before 18, almost always progressing to total blindness. The defective gene that causes the disease can be passed down for generations undetected before suddenly appearing when a child inherits a copy from both parents. Only a few thousand people in the U.S. are thought to have the condition.

Luxturna is delivered via two injections — one for each eye — that replace the defective gene that prevents the retina, tissue at the back of the eye, from converting light into electronic signals sent to the brain.

The FDA has approved three gene therapies since August, as decades of research into the genetic building blocks of life begin translating into marketable treatments. The previous two are custom-made treatments for forms of blood cancer. Novartis' Kymriah is priced at $475,000 for a one-time infusion of genetically enhanced cells. Gilead Sciences' similar treatment, Yescarta, costs $373,000 per treatment.

The Philadelphia-based Spark Therapeutics said it will announce its price in early January, but suggested its own analysis put the value of the therapy in the $1-million-dollar range. Key to the company's reasoning is the assumption that Luxturna will be given once, with lasting benefits. To date, the company has tracked patients enrolled in a key study for as long as four years and hasn't seen their vision deteriorate.

"All the data we have today suggests it's long-lasting, if not lifelong," said Spark CEO Jeffrey Marrazzo.

Given Luxturna's FDA approval and strong study results, many experts expect U.S. insurers, including both the federal government and private plans, to cover the treatment.

The spate of new genetic therapies marks a boom for a field once plagued by safety concerns. Gene therapy research suffered a setback in 1999 with the death of a patient treated for a rare metabolic disorder at the University of Pennsylvania. In another case, patients treated for an immune disorder later developed leukemia.

Dr. David Valle said initial excitement about the wide-ranging possibilities for genetic medicine has given way to a more deliberative approach focused on individual diseases. He applauded researchers at the University of Pennsylvania for decades of work that led to the treatment.

"The hype for gene therapy has been without many successes and actually a few failures, so chalk this one up in the win column," said Valle, a geneticist and pediatrician at Johns Hopkins University, who was not involved in Luxturna's development.

University of Pennsylvania researcher Dr. Jean Bennett said she and her husband, Dr. Albert Maguire, first imagined using genetic medicine to treat retinal blindness in the mid-1980s. But it took decades to develop the science and technology, with the first animal tests in 2000 and the first human trials in 2007.

"We didn't know what genes caused the disease, we didn't have animal models with those genes, we didn't have the ability to clone genes and deliver them to the retina — so it took time to develop all that," said Bennett, an eye specialist.

Bennett and Maguire tested the treatment by recording patients' ability to complete an obstacle course at varying levels of light, simulating real-world conditions. A hallmark of the disorder is difficulty seeing at night.

One year after treatment, patients who received the injection showed significant improvements in navigating the obstacle course at low light levels compared to those who did not receive the therapy.

Goldman Sachs analyst Salveen Richter predicts Luxturna will cost $500,000 per injection, or $1 million for both eyes. She points out that many current drugs for ultra-rare diseases are priced at $250,000 per year or more, putting their long-term cost over $1 million after several years.

But David Mitchell, a cancer patient and advocate for lower drug prices, worries that the cost of genetic therapies won't be sustainable.

"We don't have unlimited dollars in this country," said Mitchell, founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs. "You get 50 of these drugs in the system and I don't know how we will handle it as a country."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Bill West/File]]>
<![CDATA[Scientists Tune Into Brain to Uncover Music's Healing Power]]>Wed, 24 Jan 2018 11:41:03 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17352576682988-cello-Medstar-Georgetown-University-Hospital.jpg

Like a friendly Pied Piper, the violinist keeps up a toe-tapping beat as dancers weave through busy hospital hallways and into the chemotherapy unit, patients looking up in surprised delight. Upstairs, a cellist strums an Irish folk tune for a patient in intensive care. 

Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care - although it's still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning. 

"It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don't have to think about what's going on," said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection. 

The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown's, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain's circuitry and figure out how. 

"The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate," said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar. 

To turn that ability into a successful therapy, "it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the back-up plan," Collins added. 

Scientists aren't starting from scratch. Learning to play an instrument, for example, sharpens how the brain processes sound and can improve children's reading and other school skills. Stroke survivors who can't speak sometimes can sing, and music therapy can help them retrain brain pathways to communicate. Similarly, Parkinson's patients sometimes walk better to the right beat. 

But what's missing is rigorous science to better understand how either listening to or creating music might improve health in a range of other ways - research into how the brain processes music that NIH is beginning to fund. 

"The water is wide, I cannot cross over," well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus. 

The opera star - who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative - spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them. 

"We're trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain's working right and what happens when it's performing at a really high level," said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press. 

To Jangraw's surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain's emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback. 

Fleming put it more simply: "I'm skilled at singing so I didn't have to think about it quite so much,'' she told a spring workshop at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where she is an artistic adviser. 

Indeed, Jangraw notes a saying in neuroscience: Neurons that fire together, wire together. Brain cells communicate by firing messages to each other through junctions called synapses. Cells that regularly connect - for example, when a musician practices - strengthen bonds into circuitry that forms an efficient network for, in Fleming's case, singing. 

But that's a healthy brain. In North Carolina, a neuroscientist and a dance professor are starting an improvisational dance class for Alzheimer's to tell if music and movement enhance a diseased brain's neural networks. 

Well before memory loss becomes severe, Alzheimer's patients can experience apathy, depression and gait and balance problems as the brain's synaptic connections begin to falter. The NIH-funded study at Wake Forest University will randomly assign such patients to the improvisation class - to dance playfully without having to remember choreography - or to other interventions. 

The test: If quality-of-life symptoms improve, will MRI scans show correlating strengthening of neural networks that govern gait or social engagement? 

With senior centers increasingly touting arts programs, "having a deeper understanding of how these things are affecting our biology can help us understand how to leverage resources already in our community," noted Wake Forest lead researcher Christina Hugenschmidt. 

Proof may be tough. An international music therapy study failed to significantly help children with autism, the Journal of the American Medical Association recently reported, contradicting earlier promising findings. But experts cited challenges with the study and called for additional research. 

Unlike music therapy, which works one-on-one toward individual outcomes, the arts and humanities program at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center lets musicians-in-residence play throughout the hospital. Palliative care nurses often seek Vance, the cellist, for patients anxious or in pain. She may watch monitors, matching a tune's tempo to heart rate and then gradually slowing. Sometimes she plays for the dying, choosing a gently arrhythmic background and never a song that might be familiar.

Julia Langley, who directs Georgetown's program, wants research into the type and dose of music for different health situations: "If we can study the arts in the same way that science studies medication and other therapeutics, I think we will be doing so much good."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Tom Sampson/AP]]>
<![CDATA[CDC: There's No Ban on Use of 'Fetus,' 'Science-Based']]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 18:32:59 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC-flags.jpg

No words have been banned from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's lexicon, according to the federal agency's director.

In a statement sent to NBC News on Monday, CDC Director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald pushed back against reports that the agency had prohibited use of the words "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based."

"The CDC remains committed to our public health mission as a science- and evidence-based institution, providing for the common defense of the country against health threats. Science is and will remain the foundation of our work," Fitzgerald said.

The initial report was published in the Washington Post and cited an anonymous policy analyst who said the ban was discussed during a budget-related meeting.

Photo Credit: David Goldman/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Health Officials to Target High-Risk Alternative Remedies]]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 15:32:16 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/zicam_1200x675.jpg

U.S. health officials plan to crack down on a growing number of unproven alternative remedies, focusing on products containing dangerous ingredients that have occasionally been linked to serious injury and death.

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday issued a new proposal for regulating homeopathic medicines that have long been on the fringe of mainstream medicine. The agency plans to target products that pose the biggest safety risks, including those marketed for children or for serious diseases.

But under the government's framework, the vast majority of low-risk products would remain on the market. Popular homeopathic brands include Zicam Allergy Relief and Cold-Eeze.

Long regarded by scientists as a form of modern-day snake oil, homeopathic products are treated as drugs under law, but not supported by modern science. Most remedies contain heavily diluted drugs, vitamins and minerals.

"People may be putting their trust and money in therapies that bring little or no benefit in combating their ailments, or worse — in products that may cause serious and even irreparable harm," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Monday on a call with reporters.

Once a niche market, homeopathy products have grown into a $3 billion industry, according to FDA figures.

Homeopathic products are similar to dietary supplements, in that the FDA does not review their safety or effectiveness before they are sold. But unlike supplements, homeopathic medicines can state that they are intended for specific medical symptoms and conditions, similar to drugs.

A handful of products in recent years have been subject to major safety problems, usually involving potentially toxic ingredients.

Last year, the FDA warned consumers about the risks of teething tablets marketed by Hyland's Homeopathic after they were tied to seizures and deaths in infants and children. FDA testing later confirmed the products contained high levels of belladonna, also called nightshade, a poisonous herb that has long been used at low dosages in homeopathic medicine. The products were recalled in April.

In 2009, the FDA ordered Zicam to stop marketing three products that contained zinc gluconate after more than 100 users reported losing their sense of smell. Other dangerous ingredients used in homeopathy products include nux vomica, which contains strychnine. Regulators have issued five warning letters this year to companies selling products with nightshade or nux vomica.

The FDA said its proposal also targets products that claim to treat serious diseases like cancer, or are administered via unconventional routes such as injection or eye drops. Regulators can issue warning letters, seize products or pursue criminal action against companies that disregard federal guidelines.

The agency will take comments on its proposal for 90 days before beginning to finalize the plan.

Consumer advocates said the FDA plan makes sense for products that are mostly harmless, but can be dangerous if manufacturers stray from traditional ingredients, dosing and manufacturing.

"I think the rules do a good job of going after the things that are most problematic," said Dr. Adriane Fugh-Berman, an associate professor at Georgetown University Medical Center.

The FDA hasn't updated its regulations for homeopathic medicine since 1988, when it essentially exempted the industry from basic production standards that are mandatory for traditional drugs, like listing ingredients on product labels.

Hundreds of homeopathic remedies today are sold alongside over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol and aspirin at pharmacies across the U.S. The National Institutes of Health has said there's little evidence that homeopathic medicine is effective for treating any specific condition.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Eric Shelton]]>
<![CDATA[On the Front Lines of Drug Crisis, US Police Split on Narcan]]>Mon, 18 Dec 2017 14:28:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/narcanushousecommittee_1200x675.jpg

The sheriff of Clermont County in Ohio firmly believes it's a call of duty for his deputies to carry a nasal spray that brings people back from the brink of death by drug overdose. Less than 50 miles away, his counterpart in Butler County is dead set against it, saying it subjects deputies to danger while making no lasting impact on the death toll.

The divide over naloxone, the popular overdose antidote, between nearby sheriffs in two hard-hit counties in one of the hardest-hit states for drug deaths shows just how elusive solutions are on the front lines of the U.S. opioid crisis.

Some police officials cite lack of resources for obtaining, maintaining and tracking supplies and for training in when and how to use it. They worry about taking on new duties they say are better suited for medical workers, divert them from fighting crime and can put them in danger. They get support from some citizens weary of people who overdose repeatedly.

Police who do carry it say that development of a nasal spray called Narcan makes naloxone simple to administer, that the $75 two-dose kits are usually given to them by health departments or community organizations, that it's not a major burden to track and maintain supplies and that it's a natural extension of their mission to serve and protect.

"I just say from my personal experience that it is right thing to do," said Sheriff Steve Leahy, whose Clermont County begins in the eastern Cincinnati suburbs, then rolls across hilly fields into Appalachia. Leahy, part of the early wave of police advocates of naloxone, acknowledges he was more inclined to support it after seeing someone close to him struggle for years with heroin.

"Don't get me wrong," Leahy said. "It doesn't mean that we're going to get out of this by hugging everybody, but ... you know, no matter what their plight is and how they got to where they are, it's not for us as law enforcement to decide whether they live or die."

Butler Sheriff Richard Jones, whose county includes growing northern Cincinnati suburbs, older industrial cities and rural areas, also voices compassion. He lost a brother at a young age to alcoholism and drugs, he said, and he recounts cradling infants twitching from the effects of their mothers' drug use.

But people using drugs make choices, he said: "Knowing that they can die from it, but they still do it." (Addiction specialists and federal drug authorities say it's more complicated than that; repeated uses of a drug can result in brain changes and the disease of addiction.)

And, Jones said, people who overdose can be combative when they come to, he said; an officer bent over giving naloxone could get "a brick to the head."

"It's not what we're supposed to do," said Jones, known for blunt talk on such issues as illegal immigration and Donald Trump's GOP presidential campaign. "We won't do it. Period."

A recent visit with Jones by Associated Press reporters came the morning after a man in Middletown revived by firefighters came back to consciousness in attack mode. He injured a firefighter and tried to bite and punch others.

Such instances are rare, authorities say. Quincy, Massachusetts, police pioneered naloxone seven years ago and have reversed nearly 800 overdoses without a single officer being injured, said Lt. Patrick Glynn.

And advocates for those battling addiction say it seems like a natural situation for police, whose very jobs call for facing sudden threats.

In a Butler County mobile home park where the sheriff's office has stepped up patrols after complaints of drug activity, Jones' position has strong support from Brandon O'Hair, 21. Snuggling his newborn daughter, he said he and nearly all his neighbors have had cars or homes broken into by people stealing to fund their heroin habits.

"That's not what they're supposed to do; they're supposed to enforce the law," O'Hair said of the sheriff's refusal to stock naloxone. "I think it's tough love. ... The rest of us shouldn't have to pay for it."

An AP survey of Ohio's 88 sheriffs found that at least 68, or a little more than three-fourths, equip deputies with naloxone. Of those, a half-dozen have begun within the past six months, and most others have less than two years' experience.

It's hard to say what effect naloxone is having on overdose death rates.

Accidental overdose deaths in at least 11 Ohio counties where sheriffs have used the antidote for more than two years went up last year. Butler's did, too, and is on track for another record toll this year. In Clermont, where sheriff's deputies carry naloxone, the death toll went down last year. Statewide, the overdose death toll soared 33 percent, to 4,050 people, in 2016.

Naloxone is also widely distributed to families and friends of people with addiction. Its availability to police and sheriffs dates back only a few years. And attempts to gauge its effectiveness are hindered by variables including geographical variation in drug potency.

Amy Parker, a native and resident of Butler County, was saved twice by naloxone. She doesn't know whether it was police or paramedics who administered it when she overdosed on heroin in Indianapolis a few years ago. She eventually ended her drug use and now is a peer drug counselor, leading group meetings for those in rehabilitation.

The talk by the sheriff and residents of her county against police use of naloxone, she said, adds to the stigma of those battling drugs and to their reluctance to seek help. She bristled at the claim by Jones and others that naloxone enables; the saying among advocates, she says, is that the only thing naloxone "enables" is breathing.

"I don't care how many times it takes," Parker said. "As long as that person is alive, there is hope."

Contributing to this report were Associated Press reporters Kantele Franko and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Lisa Cornwell in Cincinnati, and AP news researcher Jennifer Farrar in New York.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer]]>
<![CDATA['Fetus,' 'Transgender' Among 7 Banned Words at CDC: Report]]>Sun, 17 Dec 2017 00:28:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CDC+GettyImages-456691996.jpg

The Trump administration reportedly banned staff of the nation's top health protection agency from using seven words or phrases in budget-related documents. But federal health officials on Saturday pushed back on the report as members of the science community publicly denounced the idea of such a directive, NBC News reported.

Policy analysts with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were told during a meeting Thursday that they couldn't use the words "vulnerable," "entitlement," "diversity," "transgender," "fetus," "evidence-based" and "science-based," The Washington Post reported Friday.

The meeting was led by Alison Kelly, a senior leader in the agency's Office of Financial Services, The Post reported. She gave no reason for the ban, according to an anonymous analyst who spoke with the newspaper.

In a statement provided to NBC News, a spokesman with the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the CDC, said the assertion that there are "'banned words' had mischaracterized actual discussions."

Photo Credit: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Facebook: Social Media Scrolling Can Make You Feel Bad]]>Sat, 16 Dec 2017 00:45:56 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/FB-shadow-logo.jpg

It's not quite like tobacco companies warning about the dangers of smoking, but Facebook is acknowledging something many already know: Using social media can be bad for your health.

The social media giant whose platform has become a daily addiction for hundreds of millions of people sheds light in a blog post Friday on what it says are two sides of the issue.

It notes research showing an increase in teen depression with technology use. It also points to its own research that shows improvements in well-being from interacting with close friends online.

Facebook, of course, thrives when people engage with its platform.

Facebook's Director of Research David Ginsberg and research scientist Moira Burke cite a study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that found University of Michigan students randomly assigned to read Facebook for 10 minutes were in a worse mood at the end of the day than students assigned to post or talk to friends on the platform.

It also cited research that Facebook researcher Burke conducted with a Carnegie Mellon professor that it says shows sending or receiving direct messages or posts and comments on one's timeline boost psychological well-being.

"Simply broadcasting status updates wasn't enough; people had to interact one-on-one with others in their network," the company says in its blog.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Thibault Camus/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Judge Temporarily Blocks New Trump Rules on Birth Control]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 17:56:00 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/451913057-Birth-control.jpg

A federal judge in Philadelphia on Friday ordered the Trump administration not to enforce new rules that could significantly reduce women's access to free birth control.

Judge Wendy Beetlestone issued the injunction, temporarily stopping the government from enforcing the policy change to former President Barack Obama's health care law.

The law required most companies to cover birth control at no additional cost, though it included exemptions for religious organizations.

The new policy would allow more categories of employers, including publicly traded companies, to opt out of providing free contraception to women by claiming religious objections. It would allow any company that is not publicly traded to deny coverage on moral grounds.

Beetlestone, appointed to the bench by Obama, called the Trump administration's exemptions "sweeping" and said they are the "proverbial exception that swallows the rule."

She was particularly critical of the power to object on moral grounds, saying it "conjured up a world where a government entity is empowered to impose its own version of morality on each one of us. That cannot be right."

Attorneys for the Trump administration had argued in court documents that the rules are about "protecting a narrow class of sincere religious and moral objectors from being forced to facilitate practices that conflict with their beliefs."

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the new policy in October. It marked another step in the Trump administration's rollback of the Affordable Care Act, and supporters say it promotes religious freedom.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, said that Trump broke the law to undermine women's health and that the ruling will protect women.

"This is just the first step, but today is a critical victory for millions of women and families and for the rule of law," Shapiro said.

The injunction will block the rule from being implemented around the country while the case brought by Shapiro moves forward in Pennsylvania. Shapiro's suit said the rules violate the Fifth Amendment because they pertain to women and not men and the First Amendment, by putting employers' religious beliefs over the constitutional rights of women.

California, Washington and Massachusetts have also sued the Trump administration over the rules. Delaware, Maryland, New York and Virginia joined California in its effort.

A federal judge in Oakland, California, heard arguments on Tuesday on the state's request to block the new rules and is expected to issue a ruling in that case soon.

Fatima Goss Graves, president of the National Women's Law Center, praised the decision and said the group will continue to fight against the rules.

"Employers' religious beliefs should never determine the care a woman receives," she said.

This story has been corrected to show that only companies that are not publicly traded could rely on the moral exemption.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
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<![CDATA[NY, NJ and Conn. in Top 15 Healthiest States: Report]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 13:08:45 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17031723692352.jpg

All three states in the tri-state are among the healthiest in the country, according to an annual report on the nation’s health.

Connecticut was the top performer, coming in at number five on the list. New York was ranked 10 and New Jersey was ranked 12.

The United Health Foundation publishes the state-by-state America’s Health Rankings report based on the World Health Organization’s definition of health: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

The report credited Connecticut and New York with having 200 primary care physicians per 100,000 people. And it recognized New Jersey for having 80 dentists per 100,000 people. Click here to view the full report.

Connecticut had the lowest number of cancer deaths in the tri-state at 173.7 per 100,000 people, but it had the highest number of drug deaths at 18.4 per 100,000.

New York had the highest cardiovascular death rate in the tri-state at 257.6 per 100,000, but it had the lowest premature death rate – 5,701 per 100,000 – and was tied with New Jersey for the lowest infant mortality rate at 4.6 per 1,000 live births.

All three states’ numbers were good compared to many states. For example, the premature death rate in Mississippi is 10,950 per 100,000, nearly twice as high as New York’s.

States in the Northeast were among the healthiest in the country, with Massachusetts taking the number one spot and Vermont in third. Mississippi was ranked the least healthy state, followed by Louisiana and Arkansas, respectively.

New York made the largest five-year gain of all 50 states, jumping from a rank of 40th healthiest state in the nation in 1990, to 18th in 2012, to 10th in 2017.

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker credited New York’s preventative approach, which focuses on the impacts of housing, transportation, education, the environment and other factors on health, with the gains. A tactic announced by Gov. Cuomo last year encourages sectors of the state government to consider the health implications of new policies and programs.

The national report found adult smoking has been declining in all 50 states but that the number of drug deaths is trending upwards, with a 7 percent increase in the past year alone.

While air pollution, child poverty and the number of uninsured people have all been decreasing nationwide, there’s been an 8 percent increase in obesity over the past five years, and violent crime is up 8 percent in the past two years, the report found.

10 Healthiest States 

1. Massachusetts 

2. Hawaii 

3. Vermont

4. Utah

5. Connecticut

6. Minnesota

7. Colorado

8. New Hampshire

9. Washington

10. New York

10 Least Healthy States

1. Mississippi

2. Louisiana

3. Arkansas

4. Alabama

5. West Virginia

6. Tennessee

7. South Carolina

8. Oklahoma

9. Kentucky

10. Georgia

Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Widespread in New York This Season: Health Dept.]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:39:43 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-460692990.jpg

The state Health Department says influenza is now prevalent in New York state, which means health care workers who haven't had a flu shot must wear procedural masks around patients.

The agency says there have been over 1,800 confirmed cases of influenza in 54 counties and all boroughs of New York City. More than 600 required hospitalization.

Influenza season typically runs from October through May, often peaking in February.

Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker says everyone over 6 months old is encouraged to get a flu shot as soon as possible. He says the vaccine is especially important for people at high risk of complications from flu, including children under 2, pregnant women and adults over 65.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[How to Step Up Your Coffee Game With a Chemex]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 12:55:01 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Coffee+D5+CHEMEX.00_00_06_13.Still002.jpg

Making delicious home-brewed coffee will be easier than you think with these quick and easy steps to make coffee using a chemex. ]]>
<![CDATA[Step Up Your Coffee Game With an Aeropress]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 13:39:57 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Coffee+D4.00_00_02_04.Still002.jpg

Making delicious home-brewed coffee will be easier than you think with these quick and easy steps to making a cup of coffee with an Aeropress.]]>
<![CDATA[Mental Health Care Worries Linger 5 Years After Sandy Hook ]]>Wed, 13 Dec 2017 18:25:07 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Adam_Lanza_School_Photo.jpg

Anguished mothers with mentally ill children have sought out Liza Long for help ever since she wrote an essay, "I am Adam Lanza's Mother," comparing experiences with her son to the emotionally troubled 20-year-old who carried out the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

The massacre sounded alarms nationally about gaps in mental health care and led to calls for better screening and services, especially for young people showing a propensity for violence, but some key reforms enacted in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting depend on funding that has yet to be delivered by Congress. And Long still hears almost daily from families overwhelmed by their children's behaviors and struggling to get treatment.

"We're still not seeing the health access, the access to mental health care," said Long, an Idaho mother of four and community college instructor who credited her essay with attracting the attention of a physician who correctly diagnosed and treated her then-13-year-old son for bipolar disorder.

Like other mass shootings before and since, the tragedy prompted calls for tighter controls on guns and improved mental health treatment. Five years later, mental health care providers are waiting for promised boosts in funding, and many families are still battling insurance companies to cover their children's services.

While advocates say the quality of mental health care varies widely by state, they also see reason for optimism in a push for more early intervention programs and changing public attitudes about mental illness.

"There's a lot of reason to feel optimistic," said Ron Honberg, senior policy adviser at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. "But there are a lot of challenges too, particularly around financing these services."

The 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law by then-President Barack Obama in December 2016, was inspired in part by the tragedy and included what proponents touted as the first major mental health reform package in nearly a decade. The measures that were included in the law but still await funding include grants for intensive early intervention for infants and young children showing signs of mental illness.

"There were a lot of things people took credit for passing," said U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, a Democrat whose district includes Newtown. "If they're not funded, it's a nice piece of paper and something hanging on somebody's wall, but it's not going to help save lives."

Mental health experts point out the vast majority of people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders do not commit violent crimes, and no motive has ever been determined for the Dec. 14, 2012, massacre in which Lanza fatally shot his mother at home and then gunned down 20 children and six educators at the school in Newtown.

A report by the Connecticut Child Advocate noted Lanza's mother rejected recommendations that her son be medicated and get treatment for anxiety and other conditions, but it concluded his actions were not directly caused by his psychiatric problems.

Rather, it said, his "severe and deteriorating internalized mental health problems," when combined with a preoccupation with violence and access to deadly weapons, "proved a recipe for mass murder."

In her column, Long wrote that she was terrified of her son, who was prone to violent rages and had been placed in juvenile detention facilities four times. Only a few weeks earlier, her son had pulled out a knife and threatened to kill her. Since receiving treatment, her son, who is now 18, has not had another violent episode.

"People don't understand the world that parents live in when they have a child with mental illness," Long said. When other mothers reach out to her, she tries to match them up with resources in their states.

Many patients find the right treatment only after going through a lot of detours, said Dr. Vinod Srihari, director of the clinic for Specialized Treatment Early in Psychosis at the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven.

"The nature of these illnesses is that they're often misunderstood," said Srihari, also an associate professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine. "And so, families with a young person with psychosis can often not rely on others around them to assist because what they're struggling with is misunderstood and could be a source of shame and embarrassment. And that means that they can't leverage their community supports to get the care they need."

The tragedy also spurred some to focus more on the root causes of violence, including Jeremy Richman, a neuroscientist who started a nonprofit dedicated to brain health in his daughter's name.

"There are answers," he said. "We just need to start turning over the rocks and looking under them."

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, said he expects it will be difficult to secure funding for the new programs in the Republican-controlled Congress. But, he said, there are other recent reforms that are also making a difference.

The creation of an assistant secretary position at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services dedicated to improving behavioral health care has put pressure on insurance companies to cover the cost of mental health conditions equally as physical health, he said.

The 21st Century Cures Act also created a committee to advise Congress and federal agencies on the needs of adults and young people with serious mental illness. It is scheduled to meet Thursday, the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, to discuss the group's first report to Congress.

Committee member John Snook, executive director of the Virginia-based Treatment Advocacy Center, said there is cautious optimism about improvements to come from the focus the Sandy Hook shooting put on mental health.

"We are definitely cognizant that the window is closing and attention is shifting," Snook said. "You don't want another tragedy to be the reason people are reminded they need to focus on these issues."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: Western Connecticut State University ]]>
<![CDATA[Children May Lose Health Insurance as CHIP Funding Runs Dry]]>Tue, 12 Dec 2017 22:06:12 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Chip-anniversary.jpg

Officials in several states started warning families this week that funding for the popular Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is about to run out.

The joint state-federal health plan designed to help uninsured children from low-income households was not renewed by Congress, and, as NBC News reports, for many families that may mean an end to their children’s health coverage.

“I would say most families, their children will go without insurance,” said Linda Nablo, chief deputy director at Virginia’s Department of Medical Assistance Services.

A resolution passed by Congress last week keeps the federal government open for business until Dec. 22 and included a patch for CHIP, but that was just to move money from states that have not yet run out of cash to states whose CHIP programs were about to go broke.

Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Opioid Crisis Strains Foster System as Kids Pried From Homes]]>Tue, 12 Dec 2017 11:36:31 -0400https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/mothersonopiodfoster_1200x675.jpg

She was first roused awake at 2:30 a.m. by a call seeking an emergency placement for a child. Ninety minutes later, it was a storm of texts telling of a problem at a foster home. Now, after a fitful night and a morning spent furiously juggling 15 foster cases, Rachael Stark is splashed with coffee and running late for a meeting when her phone rings with yet another request.

A child welfare worker is on the line telling of three siblings in need of a foster family. Without a pause, Stark offers a familiar line sapped with resignation.

"I've got no one," she says somberly.

Across the U.S., soaring use of heroin and other opioids has sent tens of thousands of kids flooding into the foster care system — creating a generation of children abandoned by addicted parents, orphaned by fatal overdoses and torn from families by authorities fearful of leaving them in drug-addled chaos.

New foster care cases involving parents who are using drugs have hit the highest point in more than three decades of record-keeping, accounting for 92,000 children entering the system in 2016, according to just-released data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The crisis is so severe — with a 32 percent spike in drug-related cases from 2012 to 2016 — it reversed a trend that had the foster care system shrinking in size over the preceding decade. All told, about 274,000 children entered foster care in the U.S. last year. A total of 437,000 children were in the system as of Sept. 30, 2016.

Among the states with the biggest one-year increases in their foster care population were Georgia, West Virginia and Indiana.

"This isn't a trickle. This isn't a wave. It's a tsunami," says Judge Marilyn Moores, who leads the juvenile court in Indianapolis and faces a crush of drug-related cases.

Though substance abuse has long been an issue for child welfare officials, this is the most prolific wave of children affected by addiction since crack cocaine use surged in the 1980s, and experts said opioid-use is driving the increase. In Indiana, drug-related foster cases have shot up more than sixfold since 2000.

When Stephanie Shene started as a case manager at the state Department of Child Services in 2003, use of opioids was a virtual non-issue. Now it's a constant. She's increasingly vigilant looking for shaking, fidgety parents or needle marks on their arms, behind ears and between fingers.

Her agency has added more than 1,200 workers in four years and its budget went from $793 million to more than $1 billion. Caseloads remain a challenge, though, and turnover is high.

Stark has spent the past 13 years as a case manager for The Villages, the largest private foster care and adoption agency in Indiana, which contracts with the state to find children homes. All but a few of her cases involve drugs and of those that do, about half are opioid-related.

The Villages is receiving 30 to 40 percent more referrals than it had been accustomed to, creating a "crisis state," says its president, Sharon Pierce. The agency used to see about 60 percent of children return to their birth families. Today it's around half that. Successful foster parents sometimes adopt, but then that limits the family's ability to take on another foster child, creating the need for even more homes. "So then we jump back on the treadmill," Pierce says.

Stark crisscrosses farm-lined stretches of Grant County on a day that is a series of home visits and a blur of calls and texts interrupted by sighs and talk of "imperfect solutions."

Her third stop this afternoon is emblematic of the cases inundating the system.

Two sisters, 9 and 10, landed in foster care because their mother got hooked on painkillers. There was no family to turn to, with their grandmother also addicted. Their mother's parental rights already have been rescinded, and foster parents Justin and Kristen Lovell hope to adopt.

"They had their choice," Justin Lovell says of the girls' parents, "and they didn't choose their children."

There is no simple assessment of the impact of all of this on kids. Some wind up in loving foster homes until their birth parents get clean. At the other extreme are children whose parents' addictions have led to their own, or who hop from foster family to foster family or live in a group home.

Anxiety can amass, academic performance can plunge, feelings of abandonment can run rampant, and the ability to trust can be strained. Says Maria Cancian, a social work professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: "When people ask me, 'Is foster care good or bad?' the first thing I say is, 'Compared to what?'"

Shawnee Wilson has been on both sides of the system. She was 13 when she was removed her from her home because of her parents' drug use. Now 26, she's fighting to regain custody of a little boy born just over a year ago; it took a month for doctors to wean him off the heroin she exposed him to. He's in foster care, and Wilson's been clean several months now, but she says it's hard to explain what compels someone to keep using even when it can cost them their children.

When she's been high, "I can't see the consequences," she says, "because all I want is to feel that drug."

Sedensky, an AP national writer, reported from Indiana. Data journalist Hoyer reported from Washington. Data journalist Hoyer reported from Washington.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York

Photo Credit: AP/Darron Cummings]]>