<![CDATA[NBC New York - Health News - [NY Feature Page] Health]]>Copyright 2018http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/healthen-usSat, 24 Feb 2018 21:14:50 -0500Sat, 24 Feb 2018 21:14:50 -0500NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[For Gay Parents, First Comes the Baby, Then Debt]]>Sat, 24 Feb 2018 18:34:19 -0500https://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 19:59:08 -0500https://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 18:32:22 -0500https://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 18:30:22 -0500https://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 18:49:30 -0500https://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[NBC 4 New York & NY Giants Health & Fitness Expo]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 17:17:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/225*120/300x160_HFE.jpg]]><![CDATA[Flu Season Shows Signs of Leveling Off]]>Fri, 16 Feb 2018 21:16:59 -0500https://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 09:06:47 -0500https://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 01:29:29 -0500https://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. 

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<![CDATA[Women Twice as Likely as Men to Have Depression, Survey Finds]]>Tue, 13 Feb 2018 10:45:30 -0500https://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 05:44:54 -0500https://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 02:32:53 -0500https://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."

ONE MAN'S CURE GAVE HOPE
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.

THE SILVER LINING
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.

PROTECT AND ATTACK
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 00:04:53 -0500https://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 14:53:35 -0500https://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 02:03:03 -0500https://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 08:23:52 -0500https://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 17:47:43 -0500https://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 17:44:02 -0500https://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 16:37:26 -0500https://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
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Nearly 11.8M Enroll for Obama Health Law in 2018]]>Wed, 07 Feb 2018 16:48:21 -0500https://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 15:33:44 -0500https://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 13:53:23 -0500https://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 11:21:58 -0500https://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 10:08:38 -0500https://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 08:05:54 -0500https://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 13:08:50 -0500https://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 11:20:19 -0500https://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



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<![CDATA[Nurses With a Mission: Send Older ER Patients Home With Help]]>Fri, 02 Feb 2018 10:15:05 -0500https://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]]>Thu, 01 Feb 2018 23:40:13 -0500https://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



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<![CDATA[Family Raises Concerns About Tamiflu After Teen's Suicide]]>Thu, 01 Feb 2018 20:59:59 -0500https://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 16:41:40 -0500https://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 12:50:23 -0500https://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 17:24:21 -0500https://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 07:45:11 -0500https://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 19:25:23 -0500https://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 16:29:06 -0500https://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:

THE EPIDEMIC
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.

THE LAWSUITS
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.

THE JUDGE
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."

WHY SETTLE?
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.

DECISIONS AHEAD
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 12:16:59 -0500https://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 10:07:06 -0500https://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 09:16:44 -0500https://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 14:30:14 -0500https://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 ]]>Sun, 28 Jan 2018 23:58:09 -0500https://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 13:01:14 -0500https://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 12:59:53 -0500https://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]]>Thu, 25 Jan 2018 23:49:58 -0500https://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 12:39:16 -0500https://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 09:07:25 -0500https://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 15:10:39 -0500https://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 14:42:08 -0500https://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 12:23:20 -0500https://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 10:43:32 -0500https://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 21:33:17 -0500https://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 21:26:26 -0500https://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]]>Sat, 20 Jan 2018 23:06:01 -0500https://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 18:32:21 -0500https://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 15:39:39 -0500https://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 12:30:47 -0500https://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 10:43:00 -0500https://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.

"SMOKE-FREE FUTURE"

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.

THE CASE FOR LOWER NICOTINE

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.

LEGAL RISKS

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 10:42:28 -0500https://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."

TESTING THE 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.

CAVEATS AND NEXT STEPS
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.

OTHER LIQUID BIOPSY NEWS
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 01:23:39 -0500https://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 17:02:12 -0500https://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 08:01:54 -0500https://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 07:54:43 -0500https://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 06:51:42 -0500https://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 15:35:14 -0500https://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 14:58:11 -0500https://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 07:29:48 -0500https://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 12:22:55 -0500https://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 10:44:19 -0500https://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]]>Fri, 12 Jan 2018 23:58:00 -0500https://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 00:00:45 -0500https://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 09:51:34 -0500https://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 15:36:33 -0500https://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 20:11:16 -0500https://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 15:14:48 -0500https://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 21:53:39 -0500https://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 16:26:09 -0500https://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 13:18:35 -0500https://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 08:37:04 -0500https://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 07:59:43 -0500https://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 02:35:30 -0500https://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 13:23:40 -0500https://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 13:27:26 -0500https://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 12:54:28 -0500https://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 22:30:36 -0500https://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 13:54:12 -0500https://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 17:49:15 -0500https://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 10:24:54 -0500https://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 10:22:49 -0500https://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
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<![CDATA[Flu Widespread in 36 States, Deaths Reported: CDC]]>Fri, 29 Dec 2017 19:15:31 -0500https://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 15:02:45 -0500https://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 16:49:39 -0500https://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 13:38:08 -0500https://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.

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<![CDATA[In a Milestone Year, Gene Therapy Finds a Place in Medicine]]>Thu, 28 Dec 2017 10:44:21 -0500https://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.

A STRING OF FIRSTS
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.

A NEW FRONTIER: GENE EDITING
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.

WHAT'S NEXT
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 11:06:01 -0500https://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.

WHERE TO PUT IT?
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.

READ UP ON SAFETY STANDARDS
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.

MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ALL THE HARDWARE YOU NEED
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 06:45:32 -0500https://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 10:41:22 -0500https://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 14:54:24 -0500https://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]]>Fri, 22 Dec 2017 23:13:48 -0500https://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 20:24:13 -0500https://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
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Cookies for Santa: A Breakdown of Christmas Calories]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 10:41:26 -0500https://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 09:52:10 -0500https://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 08:23:54 -0500https://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
This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.]]>
<![CDATA[Nearly Half Say Health Care Is Top Problem for 2018: Poll]]>Thu, 21 Dec 2017 08:37:10 -0500https://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 10:11:14 -0500https://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 13:57:15 -0500https://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 10:41:03 -0500https://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 17:32:59 -0500https://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 14:32:16 -0500https://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 13:28:57 -0500https://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]]>Sat, 16 Dec 2017 23:28:07 -0500https://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]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 23:45:56 -0500https://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 16:56:00 -0500https://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 12:08:45 -0500https://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 12:39:43 -0500https://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 11:55:01 -0500https://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 12:39:57 -0500https://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 17:25:07 -0500https://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 21:06:12 -0500https://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 10:36:31 -0500https://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]]>
<![CDATA[Holding His Son, Jimmy Kimmel Pleads for Health Care Program]]>Tue, 12 Dec 2017 12:32:22 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17346184283549-Jimmy-Kimmel.jpg

Jimmy Kimmel held his baby son as he returned to his late-night show after a week off for the boy's heart surgery.

Kimmel was crying from the first moment of his monologue Monday night as he pleaded with Congress to restore and improve children's health coverage, a cause he has championed since his son Billy was born with a heart defect in April.

Billy needed one surgery just after his birth and had a follow-up operation last week.

Kimmel kept up his ardent advocacy Monday night, urging Congress to restore the $14 billion Children's Health Insurance Program, which has been left unfunded and stuck in a political stalemate since September.

Since then, some states have relied on unspent funds. Others got a short-term reprieve in the two-week spending bill President Donald Trump signed Friday.

Kimmel said it's "disgusting" that Congress is putting tax cuts for millionaires ahead of the lives of children.

Twelve governors of both parties on Tuesday urged Congress to reauthorize CHIP funding as soon as possible, saying funding the program "without disruption" is something they can all agree on.

Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Democratic Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper led the letter-writing effort. It was joined by the governors of Alaska, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Virginia.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File
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<![CDATA[Some Glitches Seen in Deadline Week for 'Obamacare' Sign-Ups]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 16:21:11 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Healthcare.gov-website.jpg

Consumer advocates reported some glitches Monday in the final days for "Obamacare" sign-ups, although the Trump administration largely seemed to be keeping its promise of a smooth enrollment experience.

In Illinois, some consumers who successfully completed an application for financial assistance through HealthCare.gov got a message saying they would likely be eligible to buy a health plan, "but none are available to you in your area."

That information was incorrect because every county in the nation currently has at least one health insurer offering plans under the Affordable Care Act for next year.

Friday is the last day to enroll for subsidized private coverage in 39 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website. Consumer interest has remained brisk, even as the Trump administration cut the sign-up season in half, reducing it from roughly from 90 days to 45 days.

Former President Barack Obama offered encouragement Monday for the closing push, posting on social media and joining a conference call with enrollment counselors.

On the call, Obama accused "Republicans in Washington" of trying to "sabotage" progress made reducing the number of uninsured. The American people "don't want a health care system that's sent into chaos just for partisan reasons," Obama said, according to a transcript provided by his office.

President Donald Trump came into office looking to dismantle his predecessor's health law, but it survived. Now the Trump administration will be assessed on how it handles the crush of customers trying to enroll for 2018 this week.

Stephani Becker of the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law in Chicago said the glitch in which consumers were told there were no plans was reported by counselors starting late last week, and again Monday. It also surfaced in other states besides Illinois, she said.

Trained counselors know enough about the program to question the accuracy of the message, but "the average consumer might just walk away," Becker said.

An administration official said the issue has been resolved, and HealthCare.gov is reaching out to the consumers affected to encourage them to complete their applications. However, Becker said advocates had gotten a similar response from the administration last week, and the problem continued.

For millions of consumers eligible to enroll time runs out on Dec. 15. Thursday and Friday are expected to be the heaviest days.

That could slow the HealthCare.gov website, and lead to long hold times at the federal call center. For most people, this is the last opportunity to secure coverage for 2018, or switch from an existing plan.

One exception: People living in hurricane-affected areas can get an extension to sign up by Dec. 31 by contacting the HealthCare.gov call center. That could make a difference in states such Florida, Texas, and Georgia.

Enrollment fluctuates in the course of the year, but it's estimated that 9 million to 10 million people currently have coverage through the ACA's marketplaces. The markets cater to people who don't have access to a job-based plan, and participation is expected to dip somewhat next year.

In a twist, many people eligible for financial help may actually be able to pay lower premiums in 2018. Although list price premiums for the most popular plans went up sharply, so did taxpayer-provided subsidies that limit how much individuals actually have to pay. In many communities, bare-bones "bronze" plans are available for no monthly premium to those eligible for subsidies.

Deadline hour for enrollment will remain the same this year — midnight Pacific time. That means consumers on the East Coast will have until 3 a.m. on Saturday morning to enroll.

Although the Trump administration slashed the advertising budget, HealthCare.gov has been sending out targeted emails to people potentially eligible. Example:

— "FINAL DEADLINE: Enroll in a 2018 health plan before December 15 or risk going without Marketplace coverage."

During the Obama years, officials allowed a grace period for consumers who started an application, but were unable to finish by the deadline. It's unclear if the Trump administration will allow such extensions, or whether it will strictly enforce the deadline hour. Previous extensions allowed hundreds of thousands of consumers to enroll.

Failure to provide extensions this year would be a mistake, said Andy Slavitt, who oversaw HealthCare.gov under Obama.

"It really would not be fair to people, particularly if there are technology challenges with the last minute surge as there have been every year," Slavitt said.

While Dec. 15 is the deadline for states served by HealthCare.gov, that's not the case everywhere. Most states that run their own health insurance websites are providing an extended period for consumers to enroll. In California and New York, for instance, the deadline remains the same as last year — Jan. 31. Other states have deadlines spanning from late December to mid-January.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov]]>
<![CDATA[Deaths From Window Blinds Show Need for Cord Ban, Study Says]]>Mon, 11 Dec 2017 13:44:54 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/blindsAP_17341592276627.png

Children's injuries and deaths from window blinds have not stalled despite decades of safety concerns, according to a new U.S. study that recommends a complete ban on blinds with cords.

Nearly 17,000 young children were hurt by window blinds between 1990 and 2015, and though most injuries were minor, almost 300 died, the study shows. Most deaths occurred when children became entangled or strangled by the cords.

Injuries continued even after manufacturers adopted voluntary safety standards including warning labels. The industry now has a plan in the works to make cordless blinds the only option at retail stores and online.

The study "should be a huge wake-up call to the public, to the retailers, to the manufacturers and to parents all over the nation to really see how hazardous the cords on the blinds are," said Linda Kaiser of St Louis. Her 1-year-old daughter died in 2002 from strangulation when she pulled a looped hidden cord from a blind and put it around her neck. Kaiser later formed the advocacy group Parents for Window Blind Safety.

While study's data analysis doesn't show an up or down trend in injuries and deaths, the fact that they're still occurring shows that safety standards have been inadequate, said lead author, Dr. Gary Smith, who directs injuries research at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

Paul Nathanson, spokesman for the Window Covering Manufacturers Association, said a soon-to-be adopted industry standard drafted with input from the Consumer Product Safety Commission will make corded blinds unavailable in stores and online, although consumers could buy them through custom orders.

The safety commission says windows and window blinds are among the top five hidden hazards in U.S. homes and in a statement, it called the draft standard "a major step forward in protecting children." (See its full statement below.)

That standard is awaiting approval by the American National Standards Institute and is expected to take effect by late 2018, Nathanson said.

Smith said 20 percent are custom blinds and a total ban on corded blinds is needed.

The study was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics .

His research team analyzed 26 years of U.S. government data on emergency room treatment and fatal injuries. The study notes that the dangers have been addressed in medical journal articles as far back as a 1945 report on two accidental hangings in children who survived.

"Seventy years ago we recognized that this was a product that was killing kids," Smith said. "We should put child safety first."

CPSC Statement on Window Blind Cord AAP Report 

The Commission is in the first stage of mandatory rulemaking on window coverings, having published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on January 16, 2015. In the meantime, the Window Covering Manufacturer’s Association (WCMA) has taken the initiative to improve the voluntary standard for window coverings.

The revised voluntary standard, ANSI/WCMA 100.1 will require all ‘stock’ products (e.g. produced prior to an order and sold both online and in retail stores) to have either no operating cords in window blinds, no accessible operating cords, or no short operating cords ( 8 inches or less, which is not long enough to wrap around a child’s neck). Most window coverings sold are stock window coverings and CPSC staff believes the draft standard offers a vast improvement in addressing the strangulation hazard. The standard, awaiting approval by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), is expected to be published soon and go into effect within one year. WCMA has promised they will begin to address strangulation hazards on custom window coverings.

CPSC believes this will be a major step forward in protecting children. CPSC recommends that consumers buy and install cordless or inaccessible cord window coverings in homes where children live or visit.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Jacquelyn Martin/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Depression, Anxiety Crisis Deepening in America]]>Sun, 10 Dec 2017 17:49:18 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-548183493.jpg

Alex Crotty was just 11 when things started feeling wrong.

“I didn't feel unloved. I just felt numb to the world. Like, I was surrounded by great things, but just I couldn't be happy. And I didn't know why that was,” Alex, told NBC News.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports one in five American children, ages 3 through 17 — some 15 million — have a diagnosable mental, emotional or behavioral disorder in a given year.

Recent research indicates serious depression is worsening in teens, especially girls and the suicide rate among girls reached a 40-year high in 2015, according to a CDC report released in August.

Teens are known for their moodiness, and adolescence — a particularly turbulent time of life — is actually one of the most vulnerable periods to develop anxiety and depression. Some 50 percent of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, according to the American Psychiatric Association.



Photo Credit: ullstein bild via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Images Reveal Woman's Eye Damage From Staring at Eclipse]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:32:49 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/solareyedamage_1200x675.jpg

A New York woman suffered from blurred vision and permanent dark spots after staring directly into the solar eclipse in August, according to a case study released Thursday. 

The woman, identified by CNN as 26-year-old Nia Payne of Staten Island, walked into the New York Ear and Eye Infirmary of Mount Sinai with symptoms of vision that was blurred, distorted and could not perceive color well. She also reported seeing a central black spot in her left eye, according to the study published in JAMA Ophthalmology.

She told doctors that she first glanced at the sun during the eclipse for 6 seconds then she borrowed a pair of what she thought were eclipse glasses and looked up at the sun for another 15 to 20 seconds. She said she viewed the eclipse with both eyes. 

Doctors monitored the woman and advised her to use certified eclipse-viewing glasses when looking at the sun. But six weeks after the eclipse, she was still seeing dark spots in her left eye. 

Upon further examination, doctors noticed that the dark spot shape in her eye resembled a partial solar eclipse. They concluded that during a partial solar eclipse, when part of the sun’s core remains visible, viewing the solar rim without eclipse-viewing glasses with special-purpose solar filters can lead to severe solar retinopathy.

Doctors also captured images of the damage.

"It's embarrassing. People will assume I was just one of those people who stared blankly at the sun or didn't check the person with the glasses," Payne told CNN. "It's something I have to live with for the rest of my life. But it could be a whole lot worse, and I try to count my blessings."

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, a person whose eyes are damaged by a solar eclipse will begin feeling symptoms within a few hours of the exposure. The young woman sought medical assistance three days after the solar eclipse occurrence. Doctors diagnosed her with a rare case of acute solar retinopathy which occurs when the eye retina is severely damaged by gazing straight into the sun.

Acute solar retinopathy is caused by photochemical toxicity when light can damage the retina and underlying structures. While the eye has several ways to protect itself from such damage, certain exposures to light can still result in temporal or permanent damage, according to the NCBI.

In 1999, there were 14 recorded incidents of eyes damaged after a solar eclipse in the United Kingdom. 

According to NASA, there is a point during the eclipse where the light is the most damaging and it is best to keep eyes protected at all time during an eclipse. 

The New York case study concluded that young adults may be especially vulnerable and need to be better informed of the risks of directly viewing the sun without protective eyewear.



Photo Credit: JAMA]]>
<![CDATA[US Flu Season Off to an Early Start; Widespread in 7 States]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 13:11:31 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/womangetsflushot_1200x675.jpg

This year's flu season is off to a quick start and so far it seems to be dominated by a nasty bug.

Health officials say the flu vaccine seems well matched to the viruses making people sick, but it's too early to tell how bad this season will be. The main flu bug this season tends to cause more deaths and hospitalizations and vaccines tend not to work as well against this type.

Flu began picking up last month. By the end of last week, seven states reported widespread flu activity: Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Virginia.

Most flu seasons don't really get going until around Christmas. That's how last year's flu season played out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the latest data Friday.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Robert Giroux/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Blood Test May Help Predict Which Breast Cancers Will Recur]]>Fri, 08 Dec 2017 09:42:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Genetic+frontier+breast+cancer+test.jpg

A blood test five years after breast cancer treatment helped identify some women who were more likely to relapse, long before a lump or other signs appeared, a preliminary study found.

It was the largest experiment so far to use these tests, called liquid biopsies, for breast cancer. Results suggest they someday may help reveal which women need longer preventive therapy and which ones can be spared it.

"It could be providing an early warning sign" for some women that cancer is returning, said Dr. Joseph Sparano of Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care in New York.

On the other hand, "if you had a negative test, there was a 98 percent chance you would not have a recurrence in the next two years" and perhaps could skip further treatment, he said.

Sparano led the study and gave results Friday at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

The test — CellSearch, sold by Menarini-Silicon Biosystems — looks for stray cancer cells in the blood.

Breast cancer survivors may be tempted to rush out and get it, but doctors say it's too soon for that. Although it's been used for about a decade to monitor certain patients with advanced cancer during treatment, its value for helping to predict breast cancer relapse risk is not well established, and insurers won't pay the $600 to $900 tab.

The new study should spur more research on this right away, said Dr. Massimo Cristofanilli, a breast cancer specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago who has used these tests and consults for another company developing one.

"Clearly, to me, we have to do something" now that this study suggests a wider role for them, he said.

It involved 547 women in long-term follow-up from an earlier cancer drug study. Two-thirds of them had cancers fueled by estrogen, and in most cases it had spread to lymph nodes but not more widely.

All had surgery and chemotherapy followed by hormone-blocking medicines for five years. Guidelines now recommend considering hormone blockers for up to 10 years, but they have side effects and their benefit beyond five years is fairly small. So finding a way to tell who really needs that would be a big help.

Women in the study had a CellSearch test five years on average after their cancer was found and treated.

Among those with estrogen-fueled disease, 5 percent had cancer cells in the blood test, and they turned out to have a 22-fold higher risk of recurrence within roughly two years compared to women whose blood test was negative.

About 65 percent of women with hormone-positive disease and a positive blood test did not have a new breast cancer within two years, but that doesn't mean the blood test gave a false alarm, Sparano said.

"We haven't followed the patients long enough" — it could be that more tumors become evident with more time, he said.

The blood test seemed to do a good job of identifying which of these hormone-positive patients were at low risk of recurrence, suggesting that women who test negative may be able to forgo an additional five years of hormone-blocking medicines.

The test did not predict recurrence risk in the rest of the women in the study, whose tumors were not fueled by estrogen. They have a lower risk of recurrence after five years to start with.

The study was funded by the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen Foundation and the National Cancer Institute.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Jacqueline Larma/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Veterinarians Seek Permission to Research Pot Meds for Pets]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 15:05:09 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17321027229365-Marijuana-Pet-Medicine.jpg

Dr. Byron Maas surveys a supply of marijuana products for dogs that lines a shelf in his veterinary clinic. They're selling well.

"The 'Up and Moving' is for joints and for pain," he explains. "The 'Calm and Quiet' is for real anxious dogs, to take away that anxiety."

People anxious to relieve suffering in their pets are increasingly turning to oils and powders that contain CBDs, a non-psychoactive component of marijuana. But there's little data on whether they work, or if they have harmful side effects.

That's because Washington has been standing in the way of clinical trials, veterinarians and researchers say. Now, a push is underway to have barriers removed, so both pets and people can benefit.

Those barriers have had more than just a chilling effect.

When the federal Drug Enforcement Administration announced last year that even marijuana extracts with CBD and little or no THC - marijuana's intoxicating component - are an illegal Schedule 1 drug, the University of Pennsylvania halted its clinical trials. Colorado State University is pushing ahead.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned companies that sell marijuana products online and via pet shops and animal hospitals that they're violating laws by offering "unapproved new animal drugs." The FDA threatened legal action.

But, seeing potential benefits of CBDs, the American Veterinary Medical Association's policy-making body said last summer it wants the DEA to declassify marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug "to facilitate research opportunities for veterinary and human medical uses." It asked the board of the national veterinarians' organization to investigate working with other stakeholders toward that goal. The board is awaiting a recommendation from two group councils.

"The concern our membership has is worry about people extrapolating their own dosages, looking to medicate their pets outside the realm of the medical professional," Board Chairman Michael Whitehair said in a telephone interview. "This is an important reason for us to continue the research."

Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, a conservative Republican, became an unlikely champion of this push when he introduced a bill in September that would open the path for more clinical research. While Hatch said he opposes recreational marijuana use, he wants marijuana-based drugs, regulated by the FDA, produced for people with disorders.

"We lack the science to support use of medical marijuana products like CBD oils, not because researchers are unwilling to do the work, but because of bureaucratic red tape and over-regulation," Hatch said.

Dawn Boothe, of Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine, is waiting for federal approval to begin a study of marijuana's effects on dogs with epilepsy. The classification of marijuana products containing CBD as a Schedule 1 drug, the same category as heroin and LSD, creates a "major, major, major, terrible roadblock" for researchers, Boothe said in a phone interview.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine were studying CBDs' effects on dogs with osteoarthritis and pruritis, or itchiness, until the DEA released its policy statement.

"The ambiguity in this process has really brought us to a screeching halt," said Michael DiGregorio, director of the university's clinical trials center. "It is research that needs to be done, because there are a lot of CBD products out there."

When it clarified that marijuana CBD extracts are Schedule 1 drugs, the DEA said it was assigning a code number to those substances to better track them and to comply with international drug control treaties.

DiGregorio complained that researchers seeking federal approval to study CBD products are told to provide certain data, but that data isn't normally available until the study is done.

"If you don't have the data, you can't get the registration to do the work," he said.

On a recent morning, Maas took a break from seeing four-legged patients in the Bend Veterinary Clinic. A stethoscope dangling from his neck over green scrubs, Maas said his clients have reported CBDs help relieve pain, arthritis, anxiety, loss of appetite, epilepsy and inflammation in their pets.

"Unfortunately there's not a lot of research out there, especially on animals, on CBD compounds," Maas said. "The research is really necessary to help us understand how to actually use these compounds on our pets."

Veterinarian Janet Ladyga of the Blue Sky Veterinary Clinic, also in Bend, said she doesn't recommend marijuana products because of the unknowns.

"We don't have a lot of evidence right now, so we don't know the toxicity or the safety profile ... and we don't have any good evidence to show either if it's safe or efficacious," she said.

The study at Colorado State University aims to provide some data. The roughly two dozen dogs in the arthritis study and the 30 in the epilepsy tests are given either CBD oil or a placebo. For the arthritis study, activity monitors are attached to the animals' collars, to determine if they're more mobile when they're taking CBD.

Principal investigator Stephanie McGrath said she hopes the results will be a stepping stone for longer and more diverse studies, and that they provide useful information for human medicine.

"Every medication we're taking has been given to a dog first," the University of Pennsylvania's DiGregorio noted.

Meanwhile, Boothe said she had everything ready to start her study in January, and was waiting for a green light from federal officials.

"I don't know what's taking so long," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Poor Health, High Expectations for Medicaid, Analysis Finds]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 13:49:08 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medicaidhealthcare_1200x675.jpg

People on Medicaid are more prone to smoke, struggle with depression and obesity, or rate their own health as fair or poor. But that's not the whole story.

A new study suggests that low-income Medicaid recipients are also invested in their health, with 4 out of 5 saying they have a personal doctor, 3 out of 5 saying they eat healthy, and nearly half saying they exercise frequently.

Experts say the analysis for The Associated Press by the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index indicates that Medicaid could gain by putting more emphasis on prevention, and stressing better coordination of care. Such strategies are already employed by many workplace health plans and by Medicare.

Call it Medicaid's health care challenge.

A federal-state program originally envisioned as a safety net for poor families and severely disabled people, Medicaid has grown to cover about 1 in 5 Americans, at a total cost of about $600 billion annually. In states that expanded Medicaid under former President Barack Obama's health law, it's become the insurer for many low-income working adults. The Trump administration tried to unravel Obama's expansion, but top officials have also said they want to work to better the health of Medicaid beneficiaries, not just pay medical bills.

"We now have emerging evidence in Medicare and commercial insurance of how care coordination and prevention can help patients with chronic conditions avoid costly hospitalizations and ER visits," said Kavita Patel, a policy expert at the Brookings Institution who's also a practicing physician. "This really should become the standard across Medicaid programs."

In small town Stuttgart, Ark., Vickie Rose says Medicaid coverage is helping her try to quit smoking for good, which would entail shutting down a decades-long habit that once reached three packs a day.

"I'm not going to be able to stay out of hospitals if I don't take matters into my own hands," said Rose, who's in her early 60s and has worked jobs from factory supervisor, to retail, to staffing an animal shelter. Sometimes she travels 20 miles to the Mid-Delta community health center in neighboring Clarendon for smoking cessation meetings.

"Instead of waiting on everyone else, this time I'm going to do it for myself," said Rose.

Thirty-six percent of Medicaid recipients said they smoked in the Gallup-Sharecare study, compared to 13 percent of those with employer or union health insurance, and 16 percent of Medicare beneficiaries.

The Gallup-Sharecare survey interviews about 500 people a day on health care issues, yielding a trove of data. The new analysis for AP compared health indicators among people with different types of coverage.

In other findings:

— Twenty-five percent of Medicaid beneficiaries said they are currently suffering from depression, compared with 7 percent of those with employer coverage.

— Forty percent of people with Medicaid said they were in fair or poor health, compared with 11 percent of those in employer plans and 31 percent of those on Medicare.

— Thirty-six percent of Medicaid beneficiaries said they are obese, compared with 28 percent of people in employer plans, and 30 percent of those with Medicare.

Still, survey director Dan Witters said that's only half the story.

"Just because they smoke more, doesn't mean that they don't have an interest in their health," Witters said of those with Medicaid. "Their interest in their health is generally just as high as it is for other groups...although I think they are swimming upstream."

Having a low income has long been associated with poor health, but Witters said on questions such as exercise frequency, eating healthy, and eating fruits and vegetables, the answers from Medicaid recipients generally tracked those of people with workplace coverage.

In one counter-intuitive finding, 81 percent of Medicaid recipients said they had a personal doctor, about the same as 83 percent of those on employer plans. Because Medicaid pays less than private insurance or Medicare, a longstanding criticism is that beneficiaries might not be able to find a doctor who'll see them. But most states now contract with private insurers to administer their programs, and those insurers must provide a physician network.

In theory the networks used by Medicaid insurers could also serve to promote prevention and care coordination, but Matt Salo, head of the National Association of Medicaid Directors, cautioned against a cut-and-paste approach that grafts on strategies used by employers.

"The Medicaid population is not just an employer population with less income," said Salo. "It is people who have health conditions."

Salo said he was struck by the high rates of depression in the survey. "Depression is inextricably linked to physical health and the ability to engage effectively in the work force," he said.

Some states are trying to get ahead of the health challenges of their Medicaid beneficiaries. In Michigan, for example, people covered by expanded Medicaid complete an annual health assessment, somewhat similar to workplace wellness programs.

"We've got some figuring out to do," Salo said.

The Gallup-Sharecare results are based on telephone interviews conducted Jan. 2-Nov. 5, with a random sample of 147,465 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and Washington. D.C.

For the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1 percentage point. For Medicaid recipients, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 1.6 percentage points.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/Joe Raedle]]>
<![CDATA[Thursday Marks Deadline for 2018 Medicare Plan Enrollment]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 11:52:29 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/medicarenewcardforseniorss_1200x675.jpg

Medicare's fall open enrollment period ends Thursday.

During the annual seven-week period, which began Oct. 15 and ends Dec. 7, beneficiaries can make changes related to Medicare Part C (known as an Advantage Plan) and Part D (prescription drug coverage).

Medicare Advantage coverage is offered by private insurers under contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agencies that oversees these programs. These plans are offered in place of the original Medicare, which is comprised of Part A (in-patient coverage) and Part B (outpatient care).

Seniors with traditional Medicare also can buy supplemental prescription drug plans (Part D) through these companies. However, patients must have original Medicare and live in the plan’s service area in order to join an Advantage Plan.

Over the years, Advantage Plans have grown in popularity among Medicare recipients, according to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In 2017, 33 percent of beneficiaries, or 19 million people, were enrolled compared to 13 percent in 2007. The highest enrollment growth — 71 percent — taking place since 2010 when the Affordable Care Act was passed, KFF found.

About 63 percent of Medicare Advantage enrollees have health maintenance organization (HMOs) plans and 33 percent are enrolled in preferred provider organization (PPOs) plan, according to Kaiser. The remainder are enrolled in private plans.

HMOs provide coverage to doctors, other medical providers and hospitals that are in the plan's network. This means an HMO typically will cover or reimburse medical costs incurred outside its network except in an urgent or emergency situation, according to Healthcare.gov. Enrollees also could need a referral from their primary-care doctor to see other physicians or specialists.

"It's really about how people want to manage their health care," Josh Norris, senior health insurance agent for Comprehensive Financial Consultants in Indiana told CNBC. "Some people want to visit whatever doctor they want, but for other people it doesn't matter as much."

A PPO costs more monthly and lets patients go to out-of-network providers. However, patients typically pay more in co-pays or co-insurance for that flexibility.

Premium costs for most Medicare Advantage recipients will average $30 a month in 2018, which is two dollars less than in 2017, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The average premium for Part D will go down by $1.20 to about $33.50 a month, the CMS estimates.

The average Medicare Part B premium will be about $134 a month for beneficiaries who make less than $85,000 ($170,000 for joint filing). About 28 percent of Part B enrollees will pay less — about $109 — than the full monthly premium of $134, because the increase in their Social Security benefit will not be large enough to cover the full Part B premium increase, the CMS reported.

But the premium costs for many high earners is slated to rise in 2018. Individuals earning between $133,001 and $160,000 ($267,000 and $320,000 for married couples filing jointly), for example, Part B premiums will jump by $80 a month, according to CMS estimates.

Beneficiaries who are signing up for Medicare for the first time have a window that starts three months before the month in which they turn 65 and ends three months after. To enroll visit the Social Security site's Medicare Benefits page here.

The federal government has extended the last day of open enrollment from Dec. 7 to Dec. 31 for those living in designated disaster areas nationwide.

People affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, and the California wildfires, qualify for this assistance.

Those eligible may need to provide proof of residency, such as a driver’s license or utility bill. To sign up, or find out if you are eligible for other disaster-related assistance such as extending a premium payment grace period, contact Medicare at 800-633-4227.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[Small Risk of Breast Cancer Seen With Hormone Contraceptives]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 08:14:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/451913057-Birth-control.jpg

Modern birth control pills that are lower in estrogen have fewer side effects than past oral contraceptives. But a large Danish study suggests that, like older pills, they still modestly raise the risk of breast cancer, especially with long-term use.

Researchers found a similar breast cancer risk with the progestin-only intrauterine device, and they couldn't rule out a risk for other hormonal contraceptives like the patch and the implant.

But the overall increased risk was small, amounting to one extra case of breast cancer among 7,700 women using such contraceptives per year. Experts who reviewed the research say women should balance the news against known benefits of the pill — including lowering the risk of other cancers.

"Hormonal contraception should still be perceived as a safe and effective option for family planning," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Harvard's Brigham and Women's Hospital, who was not involved in the research.

Women in their 40s may want to consider non-hormonal IUDs, getting their tubes tied or talking with their partners about vasectomy, Manson said.

Studies of older birth control pills have shown "a net cancer benefit" because of lowered risk of cancer of the colon, uterus and ovaries despite a raised breast cancer risk, said Mia Gaudet, a breast cancer epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society.

There was optimism that newer, low-dose contraceptives would lower the breast cancer risk, but these results have dashed those hopes, said Gaudet, who wasn't involved in the research.

About 140 million women use some type of hormonal contraception, including about 16 million in the United States.

Researchers analyzed health records of 1.8 million women, ages 15 to 49, in Denmark where a national health care system allows linking up large databases of prescription histories, cancer diagnoses and other information.

Results were published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Novo Nordisk Foundation funded the research, but played no role in designing the study. The foundation has ties to the Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, which primarily makes diabetes drugs and does not make contraceptives.

Current and recent use of hormonal contraceptives was associated with a 20 percent increased risk of breast cancer. Risk increased with longer use, from a 9 percent increase in risk with less than a year of contraceptive use to a 38 percent increase after more than 10 years of use.

Digging further, the researchers found no differences among types of birth control pills. Because of fewer users, the results for the patch, vaginal ring, implant and progestin shot were less clear, but the analysis didn't rule out an increased breast cancer risk for those methods.

"No type of hormone contraceptive is risk-free unfortunately," said lead author Lina Morch of Copenhagen University Hospital.

Researchers accounted for education, childbirth and family history of breast cancer, but they weren't able to adjust for several other known cancer risk factors such as alcohol use and limited physical activity, or protective factors such as breast-feeding.

Women with a family history of breast cancer may want to ask their doctors about other contraceptives, said Dr. Roshni Rao, a breast surgeon at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center.

"Oral contraceptives are like any other medication," Rao said. "There are risks and there are benefits. If you have a reason to be taking them, it's perfectly reasonable to do so."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Gas Station Hopes Blue Lights in Bathroom Can Deter Drug Use]]>Thu, 07 Dec 2017 07:37:58 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_sheetzlighting1205_1920x1080.jpg

A Pennsylvania gas station is testing whether blue lights in bathrooms can discourage drug use by making it difficult for people to see their veins.

The Sheetz gas station chain has installed the lights at its New Kensington location as a pilot project.

Sheetz says it's working with local police on the initiative. Spokesman Nick Ruffner says the lighting is designed to help customers and employees "avoid dangerous situations." He says it's being tested at that store "for the time being."

New Kensington resident Nathan Murray Sinicki tells WPXI-TV the bathroom's blue hue is jarring at first but if the unorthodox deterrent works he supports it.

Some doctors have their doubts. They say drug users can feel for their veins when they can't see them.

WJAC-TV reports 179 people have died from drugs in Westmoreland County this year.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: WPXI-TV]]>
<![CDATA[Gene Therapy Shows Promise Against Blood-Clotting Disease]]>Wed, 06 Dec 2017 19:30:45 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hemophiliagenetherapyteam_1200x675.jpg

sGene therapy has freed 10 men from nearly all symptoms of hemophilia for a year so far, in a study that fuels hopes that a one-time treatment can give long-lasting help and perhaps even cure the blood disease.

Hemophilia almost always strikes males and is caused by lack of a gene that makes a protein needed for blood to clot. Small cuts or bruises can be life-threatening, and many people need treatments once or more a week to prevent serious bleeding.

The therapy supplies the missing gene, using a virus that's been modified so it won't cause illness but ferries the DNA instructions to liver cells, which use them to make the clotting factor. The treatment is given through an IV.

In a study published Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine, all 10 men given the therapy now make clotting factor in the normal range. Bleeding episodes were reduced from about one a month before gene therapy to less than one a year. Nine of the 10 no longer need clotting factor treatments, and the 10th needs far fewer of them. There were no serious side effects.

Follow-up is still short — a year on average. Some cells with the new gene might not pass it on as they divide, so the benefits may wane over time, but they've lasted eight years in other tests in people and up to 12 years so far in dogs.

"The hope is that this would be a one-time treatment" to fix the problem, said the study leader, Dr. Lindsey George of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Spark Therapeutics, the Philadelphia-based company that makes the treatment, and Pfizer, which now is working with Spark on it, paid for the study, and some of the study leaders work for or have stock in Spark.

Dr. Matthew Porteus of Stanford University, who wrote a commentary in the journal, called the results "striking" and said, "I think we're definitely on the road" to a cure.

It feels like one to Canadians Jay and Bill Konduras, brothers who live an hour's drive outside Toronto who were in the study.

"It's pretty magical," said Jay Konduras, 53, who runs a bakery and was treated in June 2016.

"Life-changing," said Bill Konduras, 58, a machinist treated in March.

Before, even small amounts of exertion would cause tiny muscle tears and bleeding problems requiring clotting factor treatment.

"Even something as innocuous as reaching over your head to get something out of a closet, or reaching down to tie a shoe" could trigger trouble, Bill Konduras said.

Six years ago, he nearly lost his leg after a motorcycle crash tore open an artery; he spent nearly a month in the hospital. Since the gene therapy, neither brother has needed clotting factor treatment.

The therapy is still experimental and its eventual cost is unknown, but clotting factor treatment costs about $200,000 per patient per year, Porteus said.

Another gene therapy, from BioMarin Pharmaceutical for a different form of hemophilia, also showed promise in a different study. Thirteen patients have been treated and have had a big drop in bleeding episodes and clotting factor treatments, study leaders report. One-year results will be given at an American Society of Hematology conference that starts Saturday.

Other companies are working on hemophilia treatments; Sangamo Therapeutics is testing traditional gene therapy and gene editing approaches. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Courtesy Jay Konduros]]>
<![CDATA[Viagra Goes Generic: Pfizer to Launch Own Little White Pill]]>Wed, 06 Dec 2017 11:48:16 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/viagragenericpfizer_1200x675.jpg

The little blue pill that's helped millions of men in the bedroom is turning white. Drugmaker Pfizer is launching its own cheaper generic version of Viagra rather than lose most sales when the impotence pill gets its first generic competition next week.

Pfizer Inc. will begin selling the white pill at half the $65-a-pill retail price on Monday, when its patent-protected monopoly ends. Generic maker Teva Pharmaceuticals can start selling its version then, but isn't disclosing the price.

Many more generics go on sale next summer, which will steadily slash the price of generics, possibly by 90 percent.

"Patients are paying fortunes. When generic Viagra comes out, they will be very happy," said Dr. Nachum Katlowitz, a urologist at New York's Staten Island University Hospital.

Launched in 1998, Viagra was the first pill for impotence. It transformed a private frustration for many aging men into a publicly discussed medical condition with an easy treatment, far more appealing than options like penile injections and implants. Pfizer's early TV ads for the little blue pill even coined the term erectile dysfunction, ED for short.

Eli Lilly's Cialis came out in 2003 and now dominates the U.S. market with on-demand pills and daily, low-dose ones. Viagra is a close second.

Pfizer says its market research shows 20 percent of customers are loyal to Viagra. So rather than give up sales to generic makers as brand-name drugmakers once routinely did, the company is selling its own generic and also fighting to keep men on its blue pills.

"We believe that the story for Viagra isn't done. It's just going to be a new chapter," said Jim Sage, president of U.S. brands for Pfizer Essential Health, which sells its older medicines.

In January, the drugmaker will offer two new discount programs and increase its copayment card discounts. Uninsured men can get brand-name Viagra half off through an innovative online home delivery program, Pfizer Direct. Many insured patients will be able to get a month's prescription — typically six to 10 pills, depending on plan limits — for as little as a $20 copayment.

"This is the most comprehensive pricing and marketing response I've seen to a generic," said Erik Gordon, a pharmaceuticals analyst at the University of Michigan's business school. "It's unprecedented."

Gordon thinks Pfizer's reduced prices will retain some patients and attract others who buy pills, often counterfeits, from the internet.

Dr. Matthias Hofer, a urologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, said some of his insured patients who take Viagra wouldn't want a generic. "They will be ecstatic if they can save money and get the brand product from Pfizer," he said.

Last year, more than 12 million prescriptions for Viagra and Cialis were filled in the U.S., generating a combined $3 billion in sales, according to health data and clinical research company IQVIA. However, prescriptions have dropped more than 20 percent since 2012, as repeated price hikes put the pills out of reach for many men lacking good insurance.

According to health information analytics firm Elsevier, over just the past decade, retail prices jumped from about $10 to $62 per pill for Viagra and from $11 to $61 for Cialis. Pharmacies and other middlemen add a few dollars more per pill.

Generic Viagra, called sildenafil, will become even more affordable starting June 11, when more versions go on sale.

"Many patients already know it's going generic and they want it," said Aracely Pena, a medical assistant at San Diego Sexual Medicine.

Cialis and Levitra, another pill launched in 2003, get their own generic competition next fall.

In the meantime, some doctors specializing in sexual dysfunction have found other options. Some prescribe generic Revatio, the blood pressure pill Pfizer was testing when older patients reported stronger erections as a side effect. It contains one-fifth the sildenafil dose in Viagra and costs as little as $1 per pill.

Northwestern's Hofer arranges for his patients to receive made-to-order pills from a couple of specialty pharmacies.

Daniel Lobello, 60, is satisfied with those pills but thinks a lot of men probably would use cheaper generic or brand-name Viagra.

"It's great" that the prices are getting cut, said the West Chester, Illinois, electrical inspector, "because it's something men need." 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Richard Drew]]>
<![CDATA[Pollution Can Counteract Exercise Benefits, Study Suggests]]>Wed, 06 Dec 2017 10:34:28 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-200009519-001.jpg

Air pollution can hinder the effects of exercise in the body, a new British study suggests.

As NBC News reported, researchers from Imperial College London studied 120 people, aged 60 or older, who walked in lush Hyde Park or along traffic-clogged Oxford Street. Eighty participants had mild heart or lung disease.

Those who walked through Hyde Park experienced increased lung function, as well as a decrease in pulse wave velocity — a measure of stiffened arteries. The benefits lasted a full day. "By contrast, these beneficial responses were attenuated after walking on Oxford Street," Rudy Sinharay and colleagues wrote. 

"Our findings suggest that healthy people, as well as those with chronic cardiorespiratory disorders, should minimize walking on streets with high levels of pollution because this curtails or even reverses the cardiorespiratory benefits of exercise," the researchers wrote.



Photo Credit: Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Q&A: Tax Bill Impacts on Health Law Coverage and Medicare]]>Tue, 05 Dec 2017 09:12:49 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/242*120/Screen+Shot+2017-12-05+at+8.39.37+AM.png

The tax overhaul Republicans are pushing toward final votes in Congress could undermine the Affordable Care Act's health insurance markets and add to the financial squeeze on Medicare over time.

Lawmakers will meet this week to resolve differences between the House- and Senate-passed bills in hopes of getting a finished product to President Donald Trump's desk around Christmas. Also in play are the tax deduction for people with high medical expenses, and a tax credit for drug companies that develop treatments for serious diseases affecting relatively few patients.

The business tax cuts that are the centerpiece of the legislation would benefit many health care companies, but there's also concern among hospitals, doctors and insurers about the impact on coverage. Here are some questions and answers on how the tax bill intersects with health care:

Q: Trump has said he won't cut Medicare, and the program doesn't even seem to be mentioned in the tax bill. Why is AARP saying that health insurance for seniors could be jeopardized?

A: The tax bill would increase federal deficits by about $1 trillion over 10 years, even after accounting for stronger economic growth expected from tax cuts. More red ink means higher borrowing costs for the government, and that would reduce the options for policymakers when Medicare's long-postponed financial reckoning comes due.

Medicare's giant fund for inpatient care isn't expected to start running short until 2029. That's still more than a decade away, but a federal anti-deficit law currently in effect could trigger automatic cuts as early as next year — about $25 billion from Medicare.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a joint statement last week that such speculation is unfounded. "This will not happen," the GOP leaders said. Congress has previously waived such cuts, they explained, and there's no reason to think this time would be different.

Nonetheless others see an increased risk to Medicare.

"The greater concern is even if the automatic cuts don't take place, the tax bill just exacerbates the pressure on the federal deficit and Republicans have been pressing for cuts in Medicare for some time," said Paul Van de Water, a policy expert with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which advocates for low-income people.

Q: How did "Obamacare" wind up in the tax bill?

A: The Senate version repeals the Affordable Care Act's tax penalties on people who don't have health insurance. That would result in government savings from fewer consumers applying for taxpayer-subsidized coverage, giving GOP tax writers nearly $320 billion over 10 years to help pay for tax cuts.

What's more, repealing the fines would deal a blow to the Obama-era health law after a more ambitious Republican takedown collapsed earlier this year.

Q: Those fines have been very unpopular, so how could repealing them undermine the health law? Other parts of the ACA will remain on the books.

A: Premiums will go up, and that's never popular. The fines were meant to nudge healthy people to get covered. Because insurance markets work by pooling risks, premiums from healthy people subsidize care for the sick.

Without some arm-twisting to get covered, some healthy people will stay out of the pool. That's likely to translate to a 10 percent increase in premiums for those left behind, people more likely to have health problems and need comprehensive coverage, says the Congressional Budget Office.

The CBO also estimated that 13 million more people would be uninsured in 2027 without the penalties. If they have a serious accident or illness, uninsured people get slammed with big bills, and taxpayers wind up indirectly subsidizing the cost.

Q: So just taking away an unpopular penalty would destabilize the health insurance law?

A: Repealing the fines is part of a broader context.

The Trump administration slashed the advertising budget for ACA sign-ups this year, at the same time that it cut the enrollment window in half. The administration is working on rules that would allow broader sale of skimpy insurance plans with lower premiums, which would also draw healthy people away from the health law markets.

"The program would still exist, but it would be quite hobbled at this point," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

A separate bipartisan bill to stabilize health insurance markets is still pending in the Senate, and it remains unclear where the markets will settle out.

Q: Taxes and health care are connected. Anything else to flag in the GOP bills?

A: The House bill repeals the tax deduction for people with high medical expenses not covered by insurance. The Senate bill would make the deduction more generous than what's currently allowed. People could deduct amounts that exceed 7.5 percent of their income. The differences would have to be resolved in conference.

In order to raise money to pay for lower tax rates, the House bill eliminates a tax credit available to drug companies that develop medications for people with rare diseases; the Senate bill scales back the tax credit. Organizations representing patients are pushing to keep the credit intact.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Congress]]>
<![CDATA[Thousands Hit by Harvey in Texas Still Without Clean Water]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 21:33:50 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/GettyImages-839559342.jpg

Thousands of people are still waiting on access to safe drinking water in parts of Texas more than three months after Hurricane Harvey.

The storm and the heavy rains that followed overflowed drainage districts, cut off water and prompted hundreds of boil-water notices across the Gulf Coast. More than a dozen boil-water notices remain in effect across affected areas.

The areas included cities, mobile home parks and housing developments in seven counties across southeast Texas, the Beaumont Enterprise reported . The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality reports more than 3,700 people in those areas haven't had clean drinking water since late August.

In Rose City, the city's boil notice hasn't been lifted because the plan hasn't met TCEQ standards for pH levels and other chemicals, said Janice Ratcliff, the city's water operator. Running water returned to the city's 600 residents in September, but it still requires a two-minute rolling boil before safe consumption.

"It's been so touch-and-go," Ratcliff said. "It will run good for two weeks but then something will happen. It just makes no sense to remove the notice just to have to go right back on it."

Ratcliff said the city's original goal was to have the notice rescinded for good by Thanksgiving. But issues with insurance have pushed back installing the necessary equipment.

"It's crazy what they put us through," Ratcliff said. "It's just been delay after delay. We understand that insurance companies and FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) were so overloaded, but a water facility should come first."

Mayor Bonnie Stephenson said that faith-based organizations have been working to provide Rose City with enough bottled water.

"We've barely had any complaints from residents," Stephenson said of the rebuilding process. "They know that they're working as hard as they can to fix it. Nobody has gotten real mad yet."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Facebook Launches Parent-Controlled Messenger App for Kids]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 22:51:33 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/187*120/facebook+messenger+kids.png

Facebook is launching a messaging app for children to chat with their parents and with friends approved by their parents.

The free app is aimed at kids under 13, who can't yet have their own accounts under Facebook's rules, though they often do.

Messenger Kids comes with a slew of controls for parents. The service won't let children add their own friends or delete messages — only parents can do that. Kids don't get a separate Facebook or Messenger account; rather, it's an extension of a parent's account.

"I think it's very important that parents know who their kids are talking to, that they know their conversations are appropriate," said Nikki Fountas, a North Carolina mother who was in a test group for the new app with her daughter and interviewed on the "Today" show.

A KIDS-FOCUSED EXPERIENCE
While children do use messaging and social media apps designed for teenagers and adults, those services aren't built for them, said Kristelle Lavallee, a children's psychology expert who advised Facebook on designing the service.

"The risk of exposure to things they were not developmentally prepared for is huge," she said.

Messenger Kids, meanwhile, "is a result of seeing what kids like," which is images, emoji and the like. Face filters and playful masks can be distracting for adults, Lavallee said, but for kids who are just learning how to form relationships and stay in touch with parents digitally, they are ways to express themselves.

"One of the things we found over and over was that kids look at communication as play, and so we wanted to make it as playful as possible," Facebook's director of product management, Loren Cheng, told "Today."

Lavallee, who is content strategist at the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University, called Messenger Kids a "useful tool" that "makes parents the gatekeepers." But she said that while Facebook made the app "with the best of intentions," it's not yet known how people will actually use it.

As with other tools Facebook has released in the past, intentions and real-world use do not always match up. Facebook's live video streaming feature, for example, has been used for plenty of innocuous and useful things, but also to stream crimes and suicides.

HOOKED ON FACEBOOK
Is Messenger Kids simply a way for Facebook to rope in the young ones?

Stephen Balkam, CEO of the nonprofit Family Online Safety Institute, said "that train has left the station."

Federal law prohibits internet companies from collecting personal information on kids under 13 without their parents' permission and imposes restrictions on advertising to them. This is why Facebook and many other social media companies prohibit younger kids from joining. Even so, Balkam said millions of kids under 13 are already on Facebook, with or without their parents' approval.

He said Facebook is trying to deal with the situation pragmatically by steering young Facebook users to a service designed for them.

Facebook said Messenger Kids won't show ads or collect data for marketing. Facebook also said it won't automatically move users to the regular Messenger or Facebook when they get old enough, though the company might give them the option to move contacts to Messenger down the line.

Messenger Kids is launching Monday in the U.S. on Apple devices — the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. Versions for Android and Amazon's tablets are coming later.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Facebook
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<![CDATA['Take All Their Excuses Away': Hard Cases in Heroin Fight]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 07:45:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/196*120/AP_17311679167866+opioid+hard+cases.jpg

The van was coming for Richard Rivera, but it was taking a long time. He waited inside the entrance of Saint Anthony Hospital where he had spent the past three days getting off heroin. His next stop: a sober-living facility.

As his addiction counselor, DeValle Williams, kept a silent watch, the 49-year-old Rivera griped about the people who found him a bed 22 miles away, complete with meals, job training and gym access.

"They couldn't find me a place closer?" he grumbled.

Would Rivera get in the van, Williams wondered. Or would he walk away?

Long before President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a national emergency and pledged to "overcome addiction in America," Williams was fighting in the trenches, where it's tough to tell victory from defeat. More than 64,000 died of drug overdoses last year in the U.S., most from opioids.

At 41, he's been a counselor for two decades, the last few years helping people with drug addiction. Now he runs a new program that works to get hospital patients struggling with opioids directly into treatment.

Similar programs, called "warm handoffs," have been shown by early research to decrease the chance of relapse. Funding comes from last year's 21st Century Cures Act, which sets aside $1 billion to tackle the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. Illinois is spending $2.4 million of its Cures Act money for warm-handoff programs at Saint Anthony and eight other hospitals.

All states got a slice in April and expect to get more next year. They must spend 80 percent on opioid addiction treatment and many are teaming up with hospitals on new strategies, as opioid-related hospitalizations soar.

Williams and others on the front lines see the Cures money as a glint of hope, but they know addiction is a powerful adversary.

Those who seek help at Saint Anthony are hard cases. They come with arrest records, broken relationships and mental health problems. Open-air drug markets flourish mere blocks from the small Catholic hospital, a 119-year-old pillar of Chicago's working-class, gang-ravaged southwest side. As in other hospitals across the nation, doctors in the emergency room treat overdose after overdose — sometimes reviving drug users they've revived before.
___
Rivera arrived here on a Saturday sick from heroin withdrawal. He got hooked on heroin two years ago when a friend asked him to help sell it. "I started little by little," he recalled. "Three days later, I'm a junkie."

His public health insurance would cover three days in the hospital's new medical detox unit on the sixth floor. Rivera would receive methadone to ease his nausea, cramps and shaking legs. And he would meet with Williams.

"My job is to read people," Williams said.

Part of a three-person team, Williams sees any patient who will talk with him. He and his colleagues coach, listen and attempt to match people with addiction treatment in the community. They track patients after they leave the hospital, offering treatment to those who've said no in the past and following the progress of patients in recovery.

The work is challenging. Even as a team member found housing for Rivera, Williams studied bus routes and methadone centers so he could arrange care for another patient who asked for treatment near her home so she could keep babysitting her 11-month-old grandchild. And then he took a call from downstairs: A middle-aged woman, a former patient, was in the hospital's clinic, tearfully begging for another chance. Williams went down to speak with her.

Minutes later, he worked the phones between bites of pizza in the cafeteria. This was tricky. The woman had burned bridges by walking out of treatment. Williams pounded the table as he talked to a treatment center that didn't want to see her again. "This is me groveling," he said. "This is me begging. I need that bed ... What do I have to do?"

He left messages. Some lines rang and rang.

Although Williams is embedded at Saint Anthony, he and his team work for a large nonprofit treatment provider, Gateway Foundation, one of several groups helping Illinois on the hospital project. Similar hospital-based programs are springing up in Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Vermont, also funded with the temporary Cures dollars.

"It's all about not giving up" on patients, Williams said. "Take all their excuses away."
___
The next day, in Room 636, Rivera put on jeans and a baseball jacket, getting ready to leave. First, he had to meet with Alexander Hannah, a case manager from an insurance company with a state contract to keep Medicaid costs down.

Rivera was just one of Hannah's caseload of 102 of the most expensive patients. He made calls to change Rivera's approved pharmacy to one within walking distance of the facility where he would be living. He gave Rivera the name of the closest hospital, and told him that he should be able to find work nearby.

Hannah and Rivera exchanged a fist bump. It was time to head downstairs. The van was coming.

"I'm not feeling good today," Rivera said in the lobby. "I'm getting chest pains."

Williams watched as Rivera walked into the hospital emergency room instead of through the front door. Then he watched him slip away. Rivera would be seen hours later jaywalking across a busy street and disappearing into an alley. In the days to come, his cellphone went unanswered.

Williams was undeterred. "It's just part of the job," Williams said in the elevator as he headed back to the sixth floor, where four other heroin users were trying to change their lives.

"I used to go home and cry," Williams said. "I've spent many days crying, cursing and yelling."

He learned, though, not to judge progress by a single day. People with cold feet, people who relapse, sometimes return to treatment. Like the woman who showed up pleading for another chance — she was now in treatment.

Nobody knows the best way to measure success in the fight against addiction. The things that are easiest to count — new doctors trained, new patients entering care — aren't particularly good predictors of long-term abstinence or lasting recovery. This particular week, eight opioid-addicted patients were admitted to Saint Anthony; the team helped half of them start treatment.

Progress — and failures — will be reported to the state of Illinois and the federal government. Ultimately, Congress will decide whether to give more money to this and other efforts.
___
Thursday morning. The van was coming, this time for 58-year-old Albert Nunley.

Two days earlier, he told a counselor he'd been using heroin for nearly 40 years. The fentanyl now lacing the heroin on the streets was scaring him. A friend recently died of an overdose. His doctor kept telling him to quit. Above all, Nunley felt guilty around his grandchildren.

"I don't want to die from drugs," he said.

Heroin for him wasn't about getting high, but about fending off withdrawal sickness. "You got to snort two dime bags in the morning, two in the afternoon and two at night. Just to make yourself feel right," Nunley said.

Now he was heading to his first appointment at a methadone clinic, treatment arranged by the warm hand-off team. He smoked a cigarette outside the hospital. He'd been dressed and ready since dawn.

"I'm going to walk that straight line," he declared as the van pulled up. He clutched a plastic bag containing an umbrella, pretzels and some paperwork as he got in.

"You got all your discharge paperwork?" Williams asked from the driver's seat.

"Yeah, I got all that."

Nunley had goals, small ones: "I done took my first step. Now I want to ... stay focused ... on doing the things I got to do. Going to AA meetings and things like that. "

The van arrived at the treatment center. Williams and Nunley shook hands, and Nunley walked through the door.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP]]>
<![CDATA[UN Voices Alarm About Spread of HIV in Egypt]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 04:59:50 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HIVAP_17337563402817.jpg

The U.N. is voicing alarm over the spread of HIV in Egypt, where the number of new cases is growing by up to 40 percent a year, and where efforts to combat the epidemic are hampered by social stigma and a lack of funding to address the crisis.

The virus that causes AIDS, U.N. officials say, is infecting more young and adolescent people than any other age group.

Egypt, home to some 95 million people, ranks behind only Iran, Sudan and Somalia in the Middle East for the rate at which the epidemic is spreading, according to U.N. figures. In Egypt, patients are often jailed on trumped up charges and ostracized by society. The disease is associated with homosexuality, which is not explicitly illegal but is widely seen as a transgression against religion and nature in the conservative, Muslim-majority country.

"There is a 25-30 percent increase in incidents every year... It's is alarming to us because the growth of the epidemic and the discontinuation of interest from donors in funding," Ahmed Khamis, of the U.N. AIDS agency, told The Associated Press.

Estimates of the number of people living with HIV in Egypt vary. UNAIDS says there are over 11,000 cases, while the country's Health Ministry estimates the figure to be around 7,000.

The rise in the number of new infections, however, is not in dispute.

"Most recently, we've been seeing people of a much younger age group infected with the virus. There is a higher risk now for adolescents and youths than in the past," said Khamis.

"We don't have exact numbers, but this is what the evidence we are seeing on the ground is suggesting," he added, explaining that the lack of funds is hampering Egypt's capacity to produce precise figures.

Patients who require surgical intervention are often unable to access basic health care at hospitals because of the associated stigma, UNAIDS officials said.

The virus can be spread through sexual contact, as well as contaminated needles or syringes, or blood transfusions. It can also be passed from infected women to their babies at birth or through breast-feeding. But in Egypt, the virus is widely associated with homosexuality, which is seen by many Egyptians as a lifestyle choice.

In a recent conference on AIDS, Islamic scholar and cleric Ali al-Jifri spoke about the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS patients. "A person diagnosed with HIV is a human. We should never question their diagnosis," he told the conference.

A Christian priest, Bolous Soror, told the conference that Egyptians should accept others, regardless of their HIV status.

Shunned by society, it is not uncommon for patients to contemplate suicide.

Ahmed, 40, is one of them. He has been trying to gain asylum status in the U.S. because, he says, he has lost hope in a future in Egypt.

"I do not want to be living a life always feeling strapped down and imprisoned," he told his therapist during a session attended by an AP reporter. Fearing further stigma, he asked that he be identified only by his first name.

In an anonymous testimony given to UNAIDS and seen by the AP, one woman said she was infected by her late husband and later found it hard to live in a society that rejects people carrying the virus. She was beaten and denied by her family an inheritance she and her children were legally entitled to when her husband died. When she attempted to start a new life with her children in a different neighborhood, her in-laws made sure her new neighbors learned about her condition.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Nariman El-Mofty/AP]]>
<![CDATA[CVS Health-Aetna Deal Could Reshape Health Industry]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 05:11:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CVSGettyImages-872189846.jpg

CVS Health wants to do much more than fill your prescription or jab your arm with an annual flu shot.

The second-largest U.S. drugstore chain is buying Aetna, the third-largest health insurer, in order to push much deeper into customer care. The evolution won't happen overnight, but in time, shoppers may find more clinics in CVS stores and more services they can receive through the network of nearly 10,000 locations that the company has built.

"They'll be pretty much a soup-to-nuts health company ... except for the hospital part of it," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting and research firm.

Patients also may find the CVS-Aetna combination much more involved in managing their care, especially for those with expensive chronic conditions like diabetes. The bulked-up company also may gain more negotiating leverage over prescription drug prices, but it's far too early to say how much or whether that benefit will trickle down to customers.

The $69 billion deal announced Sunday evening will push the drugstore chain more forcefully in a direction it has been heading for years, according to Wall Street analysts. The company, which stopped selling tobacco products in 2014 to further burnish its image as a care provider, already runs about 1,100 clinics and has been steadily expanding the health care it offers.

The clinics started off as a place to treat basic health care needs like sinus infections or strep throat. Gradually, CVS added services like blood draws or monitoring of chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Expect that trend to continue as the drugstore switches more from selling products in its stores to services that can't be bought online, where retailers face formidable competition from the likes of Amazon.

"I think over time you're going to see less of that front-store retail and more health care services in their stores," said Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager for Gabelli Funds who follows drugstores.

The mammoth acquisition pairs a company that runs more than 9,700 drugstores with an insurer covering around 22 million people. CVS Health Corp. is also one of the nation's biggest pharmacy benefit managers, processing more than a billion prescriptions a year for clients like large employers and insurers including Aetna Inc.

Analysts say the combined company could add more clinics and expand in-store services to include eye care or maybe centers for hearing aids. That could gradually turn CVS into a one-stop-shop for health care, a place where patients can get a hearing aid checked, then see a nurse practitioner and pick up prescriptions.

"If you think about it, we actually don't have anything like that," said Jefferies analyst Brian Tanquilut said.

Clinics aren't especially profitable, but they are important because they draw people into the stores and help build deeper customer relationships, analysts say.

The clinics have become an attractive option for customers in need of basic health care because they are usually open longer than the family doctor's office. A clinic visit also can be cheaper than a $100 doctor visit for someone who doesn't have insurance, but they have drawbacks. Family doctors say they know their patients better and can check on their overall health during a visit rather than dealing with just the one issue that brought that person in.

Some CVS shoppers also are skeptical about getting their health checked in a retail store.

Jessy Tatenco, 23, buys household items and over-the-counter medications for his three children at CVS. But he said would be reluctant to get medical services there. He feels more comfortable in a doctor's office or traditional clinic setting.

"I wouldn't trust them with my health care. They sell toys," he said after leaving a CVS store Sunday in downtown San Diego.

CVS isn't the only health care giant delving into clinical care. The deal will help it compete with others like UnitedHealth Group Inc. The nation's largest health insurer also runs clinics and doctor's offices. Like CVS, it also has one of the nation's largest pharmacy benefit management businesses.

CVS and Aetna also want to go beyond just clinic visits to help patients and customers.

Aetna Chairman and CEO Mark Bertolini has talked frequently about how most of a person's life expectancy is determined by genetics and location and not by clinical care, which is where health care spending is focused.

"Our conventional operating model is not effective," Bertolini said earlier this year. "People are angry at this model. It doesn't work effectively in controlling costs."

He has talked about the need to get into patients' homes to gauge what they need, like whether they have enough food or may need transportation.

CVS can help through its home infusion business, which sends nurses to patients' homes to deliver complex drugs for people with hemophilia among other conditions. The clinic and drugstore locations could also give patients with chronic conditions like diabetes more convenient options to get their blood monitored or counseling on their condition.

Over time, health care experts say that can help keep these conditions from growing worse and stave off expensive hospital stays.

CVS will pay about $207 in cash and stock for each share of Aetna. The boards of both companies have approved the deal, and the companies expect the deal to close in the second half of next year.

But ant-trust regulators still need to evaluate it.

The Justice Department said last month that it is suing AT&T to stop its $85 billion purchase of Time Warner. Regulators also sued to stop the Aetna's approximately $34 billion purchase of rival Humana Inc. — a deal that fell apart earlier this year.

Hartford, Connecticut-based Aetna and Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS both manage Medicare prescription drug coverage. Some of that business may have to be sold to address antitrust concerns. But otherwise, Leerink analyst David Larsen thinks a CVS-Aetna combination has decent odds of getting past regulators, in part because the businesses have little overlap.

AP Writers Elliot Spagat and David Koenig contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Flu Is Spreading Fast This Season: Officials]]>Sun, 03 Dec 2017 17:25:37 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/fluGettyImages-665515600.jpg

This year’s flu season is off to a fast start and early indications suggest that it may be more severe than the previous season, NBC News reported.

Widespread flu activity is currently in four states where last year there were none at this time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Dr. William Schaffner, who is involved in the CDC’s flu surveillance network in Tennessee, has noticed cases of influenza picking up "dramatically" in the last week.

Even worse, it appears the dominant strain will be H3N2, which can produce more severe illness, said Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Unfortunately, the flu vaccine available in the United States this year was only 10 percent effective in preventing illness from H3N2. However, while vaccinated people can still get sick, generally they get a milder and less dangerous form of the illness. Also, the vaccine protects against other flu strains.



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[1st Baby From a Uterus Transplant in the US Born in Dallas]]>Mon, 04 Dec 2017 19:04:31 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/UTX-Approved-HiRes4.jpg

The first birth as a result of a womb transplant in the United States has occurred in North Texas, a milestone for the U.S. but one achieved several years ago in Sweden.

A woman who had been born without a uterus gave birth to the baby at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas.


Hospital spokesman Craig Civale confirmed Friday that the birth had taken place, but said no other details are available.The hospital did not identify the woman, citing her privacy.

Baylor has had a study underway for several years to enroll up to 10 women for uterus transplants.

In October 2016, the hospital said four women had received transplants but that three of the wombs had to be removed because of poor blood flow.

The hospital would give no further information on how many transplants have been performed since then.

But Time magazine, which first reported the U.S. baby's birth, says eight have been done in all, and that another woman is currently pregnant as a result.

A news conference was scheduled Monday to discuss the Dallas baby's birth.

A doctor in Sweden, Mats Brannstrom, is the first in the world to deliver a baby as a result of a uterus transplant. As of last year, he had delivered five babies from women with donated wombs.

There have been at least 16 uterus transplants worldwide, including one in Cleveland from a deceased donor that had to be removed because of complications.

Last month, Penn Medicine in Philadelphia announced that it also would start offering womb transplants.

Womb donors can be dead or alive, and the Baylor study aims to use some of both.

The first four cases involved "altruistic" donors -- unrelated and unknown to the recipients. The ones done in Sweden were from live donors, mostly from the recipients' mother or a sister.

Doctors hope that womb transplants will enable as many as several thousand women born without a uterus to bear children.

To be eligible for the Baylor study, women must be 20 to 35 years old and have healthy, normal ovaries.

They will first have in vitro fertilization to retrieve and fertilize their eggs and produce embryos that can be frozen until they are ready to attempt pregnancy.

After the uterus transplant, the embryos can be thawed and implanted, at least a year after the transplant to make sure the womb is working well.

A baby resulting from a uterine transplant would be delivered by cesarean section.

The wombs are not intended to be permanent.

Having one means a woman must take powerful drugs to prevent organ rejection, and the drugs pose long-term health risks, so the uterus would be removed after one or two successful pregnancies.

The American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued a statement Friday calling the Dallas birth "another important milestone in the history of reproductive medicine."

For women born without a functioning uterus, "transplantation represents the only way they can carry a pregnancy," the statement said.

The group is convening experts to develop guidelines for programs that want to offer this service.

Health economists say it's likely a uterine transplant will be an option for parents decades down the road, after clinical trials, however, families and institutions that offer the transplant will have to weigh cost effectiveness.

UT Dallas health economist Luba Kestler says the number of successful oucomes must outweigh the high cost of the uterine transplant and subsequent medical care in order for the transplant to be a viable option for families dealing with infertility issues. 



Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Baylor Scott White
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<![CDATA[US Troops Get Freeze-Dried Plasma for Battlefield Bloodshed]]>Fri, 01 Dec 2017 10:10:08 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/PlasmaArmy.jpg

All of the U.S. military's special operations fighters now being sent to war zones have freeze-dried blood plasma, a crucial addition to first-aid kits that can prevent badly wounded troops from bleeding to death on the battlefield.

Last month, all Marines Corps' special ops units began carrying freeze-dried plasma into the field. The plasma helps clot blood and can prevent badly wounded troops from bleeding to death on the battlefield.

It saved Army Cpl. Josh Hargis' life. He lost parts of both legs in 2013 when he stepped on a land mine during a midnight raid in Afghanistan. The medic in his Ranger unit used the freeze-dried plasma to keep him alive on the battlefield for more than 90 minutes until he could be evacuated by helicopter.

The medic, Sgt. Bryan Anderson, said having plasma ready made the difference in helping stanch internal bleeding after the blast shattered Hargis' pelvis.

"Wherever blood is oozing out, it's helping to clot that blood up," Anderson said. "It blows my mind that Josh was able to stay alive and I think about that night every day of my life."

Their raid on a Taliban leader's compound killed four Americans and even more friendly troops by suicide bombers and land mines. Anderson's life-saving labor continued despite seven explosions within 10 yards (9 meters), leading to a Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military honor for heroism.

The plasma Anderson used was stored in a thick glass bottle and kept in a kit with IV lines and distilled water. The medic has to pour the water into the bottle, swirl it around and inject it. Before his injury, Hargis used to think the freeze-dried equipment took up too much room in the medic's bag.

"It really seemed like something that was a little unrealistic to carry out in the field, but it ended up working out," said Hargis, who lives in Peyton, Colorado, with his wife and kids. A photo of Hargis' commanding officer giving him a Purple Heart went viral online.

Plasma is a straw-colored liquid that contains proteins that make the blood clot. Unlike current plasma supplies that have to be slowly thawed from frozen storage, the dehydrated and powdered freeze-dried version needs no refrigeration and can be used within minutes after swirling it in water.

Over the past five years, the military's special ops units in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines have received about 1,000 kits of the freeze-dried plasma, including 430 this year. While specific numbers on usage are scarce, the U.S. Special Operations Command said it had been used at least 24 times by Green Berets and other special operations teams in the past five years. Of those treatments, 15 patients survived long enough to be transferred to a hospital.

U.S. forces used freeze-dried plasma in World War II, but quit after it was linked to hepatitis outbreaks. In the years since, the safety testing of it improved and for years militaries including the French, Germans, Norwegians and Israelis have used it.

Army Special Operations medics saw it in use and said they wanted it too. The U.S. military currently gets its supply from the French, whose plasma is made from volunteer donors. It has a shelf life of about two years.

The U.S. is using the French product as a stopgap while Teleflex Inc. partners with the Army to win Food and Drug Administration approval by 2020. The slow pace led some in Congress to propose giving the Pentagon the ability to circumvent the FDA and allow emergency approval of new medical devices or drugs to treat troops, while other lawmakers propose speeding up FDA approvals for military medical products.

Teleflex is shooting to buy its donated plasma from blood banks and produce enough for the armed services and civilian emergency rooms in what is projected to be $100 million-a-year market.

The granulated plasma could help in civilian emergencies, said Dr. Jeremy Cannon, a former trauma surgery chief at San Antonio Military Medical Center.

Whether it's an accident victim arriving at a rural Texas hospital without a blood bank or a mass casualty event such as the Las Vegas shooting massacre, powdered plasma could be crucial, said Cannon, who now teaches surgery at the University of Pennsylvania's hospital.

"This is the ideal situation for FDP use — first responders and in emergency departments swamped with bleeding patients — especially when the supply of conventional plasma becomes depleted," Cannon said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Gerry Broome/AP]]>
<![CDATA[US Approves Monthly Injection to Treat Opioid Addiction]]>Fri, 01 Dec 2017 01:06:15 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/cms995.jpg

U.S. health officials on Thursday approved the first injectable form of the leading medication to treat patients recovering from addiction to heroin, prescription painkillers and other opioids.

The Food and Drug Administration approved once-a-month Sublocade for adults with opioid use disorder who are already stabilized on addiction medication.

The monthly injection has the potential to reduce dangerous relapses that occur when patients stop taking the currently available daily medication. But that benefit has not yet been shown in studies and the new drug comes with a hefty price: $1,580 per monthly dose. The older version of the drug, Suboxone, costs $100 a month.

The approval comes amid the deadliest drug epidemic in U.S. history and a longstanding gap in medication-based treatment for patients recovering from addiction to opioids, including painkillers like OxyContin and illegal narcotics like heroin and fentanyl. More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, most involving opioids.

Drugmaker Indivior already sells the injection's key ingredient, buprenorphine, in medicated strips that dissolve under the tongue. Patients take the daily medication to control withdrawal symptoms like nausea, muscle aches and pain. When dosed appropriately the drug also reduces the euphoric effects of other opioids, discouraging abuse.

The new injection has potential to reduce abuse and diversion of buprenorphine, which is itself an opioid sometimes sold on the black market. The FDA is requiring Indivior to conduct follow-up studies on the drug.

Roughly 2.4 million Americans are currently addicted to the opioids, according to federal figures, and about 1.1 million are receiving drug therapy to treat the condition. Indivior's Suboxone is the most widely used drug, though access has long been limited by gaps in insurance coverage, caps on prescriptions and training requirements for would-be prescribers.

The FDA last year approved an implantable pellet version of buprenorphine that releases the drug over six months. Other opioid abuse medications include methadone and naltrexone, an injection approved to treat opioid and alcohol addiction.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has pledged to promote all available forms of medication-based addiction treatments. He has stressed that some patients may need to take the medications for life.

While studies show patients on medications like buprenorphine cut their risk of death by half, some recovery groups favor abstinence-only approaches to treatment.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: John Moore/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Rabid Kitten Attends NJ Party, Exposes More Than a Dozen]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 17:08:08 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_16310549321606+-+Copy.jpg

A rabid kitten exposed more than a dozen people in three New Jersey counties to rabies after going to a hospital and school and attending a Thanksgiving party, health officials say.

The New Jersey Department of Health issued a warning Thursday to people who may have come in contact with the rabid kitten between Nov. 13 and Nov. 23.

The person who adopted the stray cat in Edison on Nov. 12 started receiving post-exposure rabies treatment on Nov. 28 after coming into contact with the feline’s saliva, health officials say.

Over the course of about a week, the cat’s newfound owner took it to school classes, a hospital and a Thanksgiving party, exposing it to multiple people, according to officials.

The cat was taken to Branford Hall Career Institute in Hamilton Township from Nov. 13 through Nov. 16, when it’s believed two classmates were exposed.

Then, on either Nov. 13 or Nov. 14, the owner took the cat to a Middlesex County hospital to be looked at while he or she was at work. The kitten was in a cat carrier and it’s not believed anyone at the hospital was exposed. 

On Nov. 17, the owner took the cat to a Thanksgiving party in Old Bridge, where about a dozen people had close contact with the kitten. Some of the guests were reportedly scratched and licked by the cat, health officials say.

A few days later, on Nov. 23, the cat stopped eating, became fatigued and started showing signs of rabies infection. It was taken to a veterinary facility, where it was euthanized on Nov. 26.

Local health departments are working to figure out how many people and animals were possibly exposed to the rabid cat.

Anyone who may have been exposed should consult a medical provider right away. Treatment is 100 percent effective in humans if caught early, but the disease is deadly if not treated.

The virus that causes rabies is found in the saliva of a rabid animal and is transmitted by a bite, scratch or contact with infected saliva via an open cut or wound.

Symptoms of rabies include fever, pain at the site of the bite, lethargy, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting. Symptoms can develop anywhere from 12 days to six months after a bite. Left untreated, rabies attacks the nervous system and causes death.

Rabies occurs most often in wildlife like raccoons, bats, skunks, groundhogs, foxes, stray cats and bats. Health officials warn people to avoid wild animals and to keep their pets on leashes when outdoors.

State Public Health Veterinarian Dr. Colin Campbell said cats account for 85 percent of the cases of rabies in domestic animals because many roam free and are usually not vaccinated against the disease.

A chart of New Jersey animal rabies cases by county and species is available here, and a rabies Frequently Asked Questions page is available here.



Photo Credit: AP]]>
<![CDATA[NYC Twins Busted in Roommate Hammer Death, Water Dump]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 13:59:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/body+found+in+brooklyn.jpg

Twin brothers from Brooklyn have been indicted for allegedly bashing their roommate's head in with a hammer, killing him, then wrapping the body with tarp, weighing it down with construction materials and dumping it into a Jamaica Bay inlet, prosecutors said Thursday. 

Louis Iacono, 36, allegedly killed the roommate, 35-year-old Carmine Carini, inside their East 64th Street home sometime between Aug. 30 and 31. Carini's body was found a few days later, on Sept. 2, in the waters of Mill Basin inlet off Jamaica Bay. Prosecutors say it had been wrapped in blue tarp and weighed down with a cinder block and a bucket filled with construction materials. The tarp that enveloped his body was sealed with duct tape from his knees to his ankles, NBC 4 New York previously reported.

Iacono and his twin brother Vincent were allegedly caught on surveillance video carrying the construction materials into their apartment and later dumping the body, which had signs of massive head trauma. 

Prosecutors say the brothers were arrested in Indiana a short time after the body was found. They were initially stopped for tailgating, then took off, leading police on a high-speed chase for about 12 miles until they were caught at a Walmart store, prosecutors say. Three hammers were recovered from the trunk of their car and tested positive for blood, the investigation found. The brothers had been held in Indiana on local charges until their recent extradition to Brooklyn. 

Prosecutors didn't release details on a possible motive for the slaying, but NBC 4 New York previously reported Carini was the son of a mafia associate. Carini was released from prison in 2015 after serving time for a robbery conviction.

Louis Iacono is charged with second-degree murder. His brother is charged with first-degree hindering prosecution and both are charged with tampering with physical evidence. Louis Iacono was remanded without bail; his brother was held on $250,000 bail. Louis Iacono faces 25 years to life in prison if convicted; Vincent Iacono faces up to 25 years. Information on attorneys for the brothers wasn't immediately available. Both are due back in court in February. 

“This brutal murder and the calculated disposal of the body are truly disturbing," Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said in a statement. "Thanks to outstanding investigatory work, we have been able to charge the alleged perpetrators and bring them back to Brooklyn. We will now seek to hold them responsible for what they did.”

]]>
<![CDATA[Northeast Homes Teeming With Dust Mite, Pet Allergens: Study]]>Thu, 30 Nov 2017 13:39:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/178*120/GettyImages-867478090.jpg

A vast majority of U.S. homes have significant levels of allergens, and homes in the Northeast are among the worst in the nation for certain types of allergens, according to the nation’s largest indoor allergen study to date.

The study looked at eight common allergens — cat, dog, cockroach, mouse, rat, mold, and two types of dust mite allergens — and their prevalence in 7,000 bedrooms across the country.


The findings, published Nov. 30 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, show bedrooms in the Northeast, as well as the South, are among the worst in the nation for different types of dust mite allergens. The Northeast is also the worst for cat allergens and among the worst for dog allergens, the study found. 


Exposure to allergens was more likely in rural areas and in mobile homes, older homes and rental homes, according to the study. While people in urbanized areas were less exposed to allergens, they were more likely to have immune systems that overreacted to the allergens, a factor called “sensitization.”

Exposure levels also varied greatly by age, sex, race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status. For example, males and non-Hispanic blacks were less likely to be exposed to multiple allergens, but those groups also had higher rates of sensitization, according to the study.


Overall, more than 90 percent of U.S. homes studied had three or more detectable allergens, and 73 percent of homes had at least one allergen at elevated levels. Not surprisingly, the study found the presence of pets and pests had a major influence on high levels of allergens.

Here are some things you can do to reduce your exposure to indoor allergens and irritants:

• Vacuum carpets and upholstered furniture every week.

• Wash sheets and blankets in hot water every week.

• Encase mattresses, pillows, and box springs in allergen-impermeable covers.

• Lower indoor humidity levels below 50 percent.

• Remove pets from homes or at least limit their access to bedrooms.

• Seal entry points and eliminate nesting places for pests, and remove their food and water sources.




Photo Credit: Getty Images
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<![CDATA[About 11 Percent of Drugs in Poor Countries Are Fake: UN]]>Tue, 28 Nov 2017 15:13:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17332504884948-World-Health-Organization.jpg

About 11 percent of medicines in developing countries are counterfeit and likely responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of children from diseases like malaria and pneumonia every year, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

It's the first attempt by the U.N. health agency to assess the problem. Experts reviewed 100 studies involving more than 48,000 medicines. Drugs for treating malaria and bacterial infections accounted for nearly 65 percent of fake medicines.

WHO's director-general said the problem mostly affects poor countries. Between 72,000 and 169,000 children may be dying from pneumonia every year after receiving bad drugs. Counterfeit medications might be responsible for an additional 116,000 deaths from malaria mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, according to scientists at the University of Edinburgh and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine commissioned by the WHO.

"Imagine a mother who gives up food or other basic needs to pay for her child's treatment, unaware that the medicines are substandard or falsified, and then that treatment causes her child to die," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. "This is unacceptable."

Counterfeit drugs include products that have not been approved by regulators, fail to meet quality standards or deliberately misrepresent an ingredient, according to WHO, which published the two reports.

In 2013, WHO set up a voluntary global monitoring system for substandard and fake drugs and has received reports of about 1,500 problematic medicines including drugs that claim to treat heart problems, diabetes, fertility problems, mental health issues and cancer. WHO also reported problems of fake vaccines for diseases including yellow fever and meningitis.

WHO credited the database with saving the lives of several dozen children in Paraguay after an analysis showed they were affected by a contaminated drug contained in a cough medicine that had killed 60 adults in Pakistan several months earlier in 2013.

WHO said the cases of fake medicines it found are only "a small fraction" and that problems may be going unreported. The agency estimated countries are spending about $30 billion on counterfeit drugs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Jerome Delay/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Facebook Turns to AI to Help Prevent Suicides]]>Mon, 27 Nov 2017 19:33:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/FB-shadow-logo.jpg

Facebook is turning to artificial intelligence to detect if someone might be contemplating suicide.

Facebook already has mechanisms for flagging posts from people thinking about harming themselves. The new feature is intended to detect such posts before anyone reports them.

The service will scan posts and live video with a technique called "pattern recognition." For example, comments from friends such as "are you ok?" can indicate suicidal thoughts.

Facebook has already been testing the feature in the U.S. and is making it available in most other countries. The European Union is excluded, though; Facebook won't say why.

The company is also using AI to prioritize the order that flagged posts are sent to its human moderators so they can quickly alert local authorities.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Thibault Camus/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Ambulances Stick Patients With Surprise Bills]]>Mon, 27 Nov 2017 10:50:55 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ambulance37.jpg

Public outrage over surprise medical bills has prompted some states to pass laws protecting consumers. But such laws largely ignore ground ambulance rides, which can leave patients with up to thousands owed in medical bills and few options for recourse, according to a Kaiser Health News review of hundreds of consumer complaints in 32 states.

Patients are often vulnerable because 911 dispatchers pick the ambulance crews, which then pick the hospitals. The sticker shock comes after patients are taken to hospitals out of their insurance network or when the ambulance service itself hasn't joined an insurance network.

Forty years ago most ambulances were free. Now many are run by private companies and venture capital firms.

According to the advocacy group Consumers Union, at least a quarter of their 700 patient reports about surprise medical bills involve ambulances. 




Photo Credit: File-Bloomberg via Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Big Tobacco Finally Tells the Truth in Court-Ordered Ad]]>Mon, 27 Nov 2017 14:28:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-476551298.jpg

Smoking kills 1,200 people a day. The tobacco companies worked to make them as addictive as possible. There is no such thing as a safer cigarette.

Ads with these statements hit the major television networks and newspapers this weekend, but they are not being placed by the American Cancer Society or other health groups. They’re being placed by major tobacco companies, under the orders of the federal courts.

“It’s a pretty significant moment,” the American Cancer Society’s Cliff Douglas said. “This is the first time they have had to ‘fess up and tell the whole truth.”

The Justice Department started its racketeering lawsuit against the tobacco companies in 1999, seeking to force them to make up for decades of deception. Federal district judge Gladys Kessler ruled in 2006 that they’d have to pay for and place the ads, but the companies kept tying things up with appeals.



Photo Credit: Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Veterans Are Key as Surge of States OK Medical Pot for PTSD]]>Sun, 26 Nov 2017 17:25:37 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17325803267144.jpg

It was a telling setting for a decision on whether post-traumatic stress disorder patients could use medical marijuana.

Against the backdrop of the nation's largest Veterans Day parade, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this month he'd sign legislation making New York the latest in a fast-rising tide of states to OK therapeutic pot as a PTSD treatment, though it's illegal under federal law and doesn't boast extensive, conclusive medical research.

Twenty-eight states plus the District of Columbia now include PTSD in their medical marijuana programs, a tally that has more than doubled in the last two years, according to data compiled by the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. A 29th state, Alaska, doesn't incorporate PTSD in its medical marijuana program but allows everyone over 20 to buy pot legally.

The increase has come amid increasingly visible advocacy from veterans' groups .

Retired Marine staff sergeant Mark DiPasquale says the drug freed him from the 17 opioids, anti-anxiety pills and other medications that were prescribed to him for migraines, post-traumatic stress and other injuries from service that included a hard helicopter landing in Iraq in 2005.

"I just felt like a zombie, and I wanted to hurt somebody," says DiPasquale, a co-founder of the Rochester, New York-based Veterans Cannabis Collective Foundation. It aims to educate vets about the drug he pointedly calls by the scientific name cannabis.

DiPasquale pushed to extend New York's nearly two-year-old medical marijuana program to include post-traumatic stress. He'd qualified because of other conditions but felt the drug ease his anxiety, sleeplessness and other PTSD symptoms and spur him to focus on wellness.

"Do I still have PTSD? Absolutely," says DiPasquale, 42. But "I'm back to my old self. I love people again."

In a sign of how much the issue has taken hold among veterans, the 2.2-million-member American Legion began pressing the federal government this summer to let Department of Veterans Affairs doctors recommend medical marijuana where it's legal . The Legion started advocating last year for easing federal constraints on medical pot research , a departure into drug policy for the nearly century-old organization.

"People ask, 'Aren't you the law-and-order group?' Why, yes, we are," Executive Director Verna Jones said at a Legion-arranged news conference early this month at the U.S. Capitol. But "when veterans come to us and say a particular treatment is working for them, we owe it to them to listen and to do scientific research required."

Even Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin recently said "there may be some evidence that this (medical marijuana) is beginning to be helpful," while noting that his agency is barred from helping patients get the illegal drug. (A few prescription drugs containing a synthetic version of a key chemical in marijuana do have federal approval to treat chemotherapy-related nausea.)

Medical marijuana first became legal in 1996 in California for a wide range of conditions; New Mexico in 2009 became the first state specifically to include PTSD patients. States have signed on in growing numbers particularly since 2014.

"It's quite a sea change," says Michael Krawitz, a disabled Air Force veteran who now runs Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, an Elliston, Virginia-based group that's pursued the issue in many states.

Still, there remain questions and qualms — some from veterans — about advocating for medical marijuana as a treatment for PTSD.

It was stripped out of legislation that added six other diseases and syndromes to Georgia's law that allows certain medical cannabis oils. The chairman of the New York Senate veterans' affairs committee voted against adding PTSD to the state's program, suggesting the drug might just mask their symptoms.

"The sooner we allow them to live and experience the kind of emotions we do, in an abstinence-based paradigm, the sooner that they are returning home," said Sen. Thomas Croci, a Republican, former Navy intelligence officer and current reservist who served in Afghanistan.

The American Psychiatric Association says there's not enough evidence now to support using pot to treat PTSD. The 82,000-member Vietnam Veterans of America group agrees.

"You wouldn't have cancer treatments that aren't approved done to yourself or your family members," and marijuana should be subjected to the same scrutiny, says Dr. Thomas Berger, who heads VVA's Veterans Health Council.

A federal science advisory panel's recent assessment of two decades' worth of studies found limited evidence that a synthetic chemical cousin of marijuana might help relieve PTSD, but also some data suggesting pot use could worsen symptoms.

Medical marijuana advocates note it's been tough to get evidence when testing is complicated by pot's legal status in the U.S.

A federally approved clinical trial of marijuana as a PTSD treatment for veterans is now underway in Phoenix, and results from the current phase could be ready to submit for publication in a couple of years, says one of the researchers, Dr. Suzanne Sisley.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jennifer Peltz, File]]>
<![CDATA[Health System Fires 50 for Refusing to Get Flu Shots]]>Wed, 22 Nov 2017 22:27:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/214*120/fluGettyImages-665515600.jpg

About 50 employees of Essentia Health, an upper-Midwest hospital chain, didn’t go to work Wednesday.

But it wasn’t an early start to the Thanksgiving holiday for them. They were fired for refusing to get flu shots, NBC News reported.

It’s part of a growing trend for hospitals to require flu shots for workers.  

“It’s a patient safety issue,” said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. “It’s so that we do not give flu to our patients.”



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[VA Study Shows Parasite From Vietnam May Be Killing Vets]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 16:33:13 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/liverfluke_1200x675.jpg

A half a century after serving in Vietnam, hundreds of veterans have a new reason to believe they may be dying from a silent bullet — test results show some men may have been infected by a slow-killing parasite while fighting in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

The Department of Veterans Affairs this spring commissioned a small pilot study to look into the link between liver flukes ingested through raw or undercooked fish and a rare bile duct cancer. It can take decades for symptoms to appear. By then, patients are often in tremendous pain, with just a few months to live.

Of the 50 blood samples submitted, more than 20 percent came back positive or bordering positive for liver fluke antibodies, said Sung-Tae Hong, the tropical medicine specialist who carried out the tests at Seoul National University in South Korea.

"It was surprising," he said, stressing the preliminary results could include false positives and that the research is ongoing.

Northport VA Medical Center spokesman Christopher Goodman confirmed the New York facility collected the samples and sent them to the lab. He would not comment on the findings, but said everyone who tested positive was notified.

Gerry Wiggins, who served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969, has already lost friends to the disease. He was among those who got the call.

"I was in a state of shock," he said. "I didn't think it would be me."

The 69-year-old, who lives in Port Jefferson Station, New York, didn't have any symptoms when he agreed to take part in the study, but hoped his participation could help save lives. He immediately scheduled further tests, discovering he had two cysts on his bile duct, which had the potential to develop into the cancer, known as cholangiocarcinoma. They have since been removed and — for now — he's doing well.

Though rarely found in Americans, the parasites infect an estimated 25 million people worldwide.

Endemic in the rivers of Vietnam, the worms can easily be wiped out with a handful of pills early on, but left untreated they can live for decades without making their hosts sick. Over time, swelling and inflammation of the bile duct can lead to cancer. Jaundice, itchy skin, weight loss and other symptoms appear only when the disease is in its final stages.

The VA study, along with a call by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York for broader research into liver flukes and cancer-stricken veterans, began after The Associated Press raised the issue in a story last year. The reporting found that about 700 veterans with cholangiocarcinoma have been seen by the VA in the past 15 years. Less than half of them submitted claims for service-related benefits, mostly because they were not aware of a possible connection to Vietnam. The VA rejected 80 percent of the requests, but decisions often appeared to be haphazard or contradictory, depending on what desks they landed on, the AP found.

The numbers of claims submitted reached 60 in 2017, up from 41 last year. Nearly three out of four of those cases were also denied, even though the government posted a warning on its website this year saying veterans who ate raw or undercooked freshwater fish while in Vietnam might be at risk. It stopped short of urging them to get ultrasounds or other tests, saying there was currently no evidence the vets had higher infection rates than the general population.

"We are taking this seriously," said Curt Cashour, a spokesman with the Department of Veterans Affairs. "But until further research, a recommendation cannot be made either way."

Veteran Mike Baughman, 65, who was featured in the previous AP article, said his claim was granted early this year after being denied three times. He said the approval came right after his doctor wrote a letter saying his bile duct cancer was "more likely than not" caused by liver flukes from the uncooked fish he and his unit in Vietnam ate when they ran out of rations in the jungle. He now gets about $3,100 a month and says he's relieved to know his wife will continue to receive benefits after he dies. But he remains angry that other veterans' last days are consumed by fighting the same government they went to war for as young men.

"In the best of all worlds, if you came down with cholangiocarcinoma, just like Agent Orange, you automatically were in," he said, referring to benefits granted to veterans exposed to the toxic defoliant sprayed in Vietnam. "You didn't have to go fighting."

Baughman, who is thin and weak, recently plucked out "Country Roads" on a bass during a jam session at his cabin in West Virginia. He wishes the VA would do more to raise awareness about liver flukes and to encourage Vietnam veterans to get an ultrasound that can detect inflammation.

"Personally, I got what I needed, but if you look at the bigger picture with all these other veterans, they don't know what necessarily to do," he said. "None of them have even heard of it before. A lot of them give me that blank stare like, 'You've got what?'" 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP//Sakchai Lali]]>
<![CDATA[Big Tobacco's Anti-Smoking Ads Begin After Decade of Delay]]>Tue, 21 Nov 2017 11:13:22 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17324817877865-Big-Tobacco-Anti-Smoking-Ad.jpg

Decades after they were banned from the airwaves, Big Tobacco companies return to prime-time television this weekend - but not by choice. 

Under court order, the tobacco industry for the first time will be forced to advertise the deadly, addictive effects of smoking, more than 11 years after a judge ruled that the companies had misled the public about the dangers of cigarettes. 

But years of legal pushback by the industry over every detail means the ads will be less hard-hitting than what was proposed. Tobacco control experts say the campaign - built around network TV and newspapers - will not reach people when they are young and most likely to start smoking. 

"Their legal strategy is always obstruct, delay, create confusion and buy more time," said Ruth Malone, of the University of California, San Francisco, who has studied the industry for 20 years. "So by the time this was finally settled, newspapers have a much smaller readership, and nowadays, who watches network TV?" 

The new spots, which begin Sunday, lay out the toll of smoking in blunt text and voiceover statements: "More people die every year from smoking than from murder, AIDS, suicide, drugs, car crashes and alcohol, combined." 

Smoking remains the nation's leading preventable cause of death and illness, causing more than 480,000 deaths each year, even though smoking rates have been declining for decades. Last year, the adult smoking rate hit a new low of 15 percent, according to government figures. That's down from the 42 percent of adults who smoked in the mid-1960s. 

Experts attribute the decline to smoking bans, cigarette taxes and anti-smoking campaigns by both nonprofit groups like the American Cancer Society and the federal government. 

The new ads are the result of a 1999 lawsuit filed by the Justice Department under President Bill Clinton which sought to recover some of the billions the federal government spent caring for people with smoking-related illnesses. 

A federal judge ultimately sided with the government in 2006, ruling that Big Tobacco had ``lied, misrepresented and deceived the American public'' about the effects of smoking for more than 50 years. The decision came nearly a decade after U.S. states reached legal settlements with the industry worth $246 billion. 

But under the racketeering laws used to prosecute the federal case, the judge said she could not make the companies pay, instead ordering them to publish "corrective statements'' in advertisements, as well as on their websites, cigarette packs and store displays. 

The campaign will be paid for by Altria Group, owner of Philip Morris USA, and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., a division of British American Tobacco. 

Altria, maker of Marlboros, referred inquiries to a statement it issued last month: "We remain committed to aligning our business practices with society's expectations of a responsible company. This includes communicating openly about the health effects of our products.'' 

Reynolds, which sells Camel cigarettes, did not respond to a request for comment. 

Originally the U.S. government wanted companies to state that they had lied about smoking risks. But the companies successfully challenged that proposal, arguing that it was "designed solely to shame and humiliate.'' An appeals court ruled the ads could only be factual and forward-looking. 

Even the phrase "here's the truth," was disputed and blocked. "Here's the truth: Smoking is very addictive. And it's not easy to quit," read one proposed message. 

"This was a classic case of a very wealthy set of defendants willing to appeal every conceivable issue time and time again," said Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, one of several anti-tobacco groups who intervened in the court case. 

More than half a century ago, American media was saturated with tobacco advertising. Cigarettes were the most advertised product on TV and tobacco companies sponsored hundreds of shows, including "I Love Lucy," "The Flintstones" and "Perry Mason." People smoked almost everywhere, in restaurants, airplanes and doctor's offices. 

Congress banned cigarette advertising from radio and TV in 1970 and subsequent restrictions have barred the industry from billboards and public transportation. Yet companies still spend more than $8 billion annually on marketing, including print advertising, mailed coupons and store displays. 

Anti-tobacco advocates estimate the upcoming TV advertisements will cost companies a tiny fraction of that, about $30 million. The broadcast ads will air five times per week for one year and the newspaper ads will run five times over several months in about 50 national daily papers. 

Robin Koval, president of Truth Initiative, has seen mock-ups of the TV ads in court and says they are not very engaging. 

"It's black type scrolling on a white screen with the most uninteresting voice in the background,'' said Koval, whose group runs educational anti-tobacco ads targeting youngsters. 

Nine of 10 smokers begin smoking before age 18, which is why most prevention efforts focus on teenagers. Yet less than 5 percent of today's network TV viewers are under 25, according to Nielsen TV data cited by Koval's group. While lawyers were hammering out the details of the TV advertisements, consumers increasingly switched to online social media sites and streaming services like Facebook, YouTube and Netflix. 

A former smoker who was shown the mock-up ads called them terrible. 

"They weren't very compelling ads," said Ellie Mixter-Keller, 62, of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, who smoked a pack a day for 30 years before quitting 12 years ago. "I just don't know if I would have cared about any of that."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: U.S. Department of Justice via AP]]>
<![CDATA[Opioids Haunt Users' Recovery: 'It Never Really Leaves You']]>Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:37:47 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17249219042815.jpg

Businessman Kyle Graves shot himself in the ankle so emergency room doctors would feed his opioid habit.

Ex-trucker Jeff McCoy threatened to blow his brains out if his mother didn't hand over his fentanyl patches.

Bianca Knight resorted to street pills when her opioids ran out, envisioning her law career dreams crumble.

These are three Americans who started using powerful painkillers legitimately but, like millions of others, got caught in the country's worst drug epidemic.

Now they're fighting the same recovery battle, on anti-addiction medicine similar to pills that nearly did them in. Their doctor, Dan Lonergan, a Vanderbilt University pain and addiction physician, sometimes recommends the same drugs to pain patients that brought his addiction patients to the brink.

He's heard criticism about doctors "who get 'em hooked on drugs and then turn around and treat 'em for addiction." And he's seen the finger-pointing from those who think faith and willpower are the only answer.

"Doctors have contributed to this problem. In the past three decades we have gotten a lot of patients on medications that can be very dangerous," he said. "The pharmaceutical industry has contributed significantly to this problem. This is a problem that we all need to own."

This is a snapshot from Nashville of America's addiction crisis. More than 2 million people are hooked on opioids. Overdoses kill, on average, 120 Americans every day. Even for survivors, success can be precarious.

___

At 53 and on disability, Kyle Graves still feels stabbing pains that a daily handful of pills used to ease.

His troubles began more than a decade ago when he sought relief for excruciating arthritis. He was prescribed oxycodone, opioid pills that can help short-term pain but can become addictive when used long-term.

When he lost his finance manager job, they helped with that pain, too. When his sixth child, a baby boy, died from spinal meningitis, Graves sunk deep into addiction.

He'd use up a month's supply in days, followed by terrible withdrawals — vomiting, shaking uncontrollably, intense pain.

After a doctor refused more refills, Graves grabbed a pistol from his nightstand, pulled the trigger, then called an ambulance.

At the hospital, two shots of morphine for the ankle wound "did the trick."

Graves thinks only his wife suspected the ruse; she left with the kids.

"It just devastated and ruined my life," he said.

Graves went to rehab, treated with hard work and prayer. It worked for a time, but after relapsing Graves sought help three years ago from Lonergan, who prescribed recovery medicine containing buprenorphine, an opioid that reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

He hasn't relapsed for two years, but tries not to dwell on the future.

"Anything could happen," Graves said.

___

Jeff McCoy has been a drummer, a Harley rider and long-haul trucker. These days he prefers baking cookies and doting on his wife, Joanne. Recovery from opioid painkillers prompted the turnaround.

It started nearly 17 years ago, after surgery for a back injury — maybe from too much time on the road, he's not really sure, but it forced him to quit trucking. His doctor prescribed Vicodin — painkillers that contain the opioid hydrocodone. Soon he was hooked.

"I just went full bore," McCoy says. "I was popping pills like crazy."

When those stopped working, he was prescribed powerful fentanyl skin patches that deliver medicine gradually. McCoy found that chewing them worked faster.

McCoy needed ever more to avoid withdrawals.

His wife would lock the patches in a safe, but when he found the key, his mother stored them at her house nearby.

"Got to the point where I got on the phone with mom, 'You better bring me that patch right now else I'm splattering my brains all over this living room.'"

When his wife threatened to leave, he checked in to a detox center, in 2009, enduring two hellish weeks of withdrawal.

Now he calls his wife his addiction and figures he'll be on anti-craving medicine for life.

"I finally wanted to stop," McCoy said. "If I can survive with no life, come on, it's worth it, but you gotta want to."

___

After law school graduation, Bianca Knight had a nagging question: "How do I know if I have a problem?"

After injuring her back carrying law books, Knight had spent the past two years medicated, on hydrocodone pills from a different doctor.

They eased the pain, but "also gave me a euphoric feeling and helped me get through my long day in law school," she said.

Knight is nearly blind from a rare optic nerve condition. A state program paid for a reader to help with school work.

A doctor warned vaguely about addiction risks but Knight thought she'd be immune. Soon she was taking far more than the prescribed amount.

"Toward the end, I resorted to buying off the street," Knight said. That's when she sought out Lonergan.

He explained that the average person doesn't think about opioid pain pills 24/7.

Knight started buprenorphine treatment. Church and support group meetings also help, she says. Her baby girl, born this past summer, is extra incentive for her to stay clean.

Still, Knight said, "For anyone in recovery, it is a daily struggle and I'd be a fool not to think so."

Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner on Twitter at @LindseyTanner.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Goldman]]>
<![CDATA[More Consumers Finding Free or Cheap 'Obamacare' Coverage]]>Mon, 20 Nov 2017 09:53:57 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/203*120/Screen+Shot+2017-10-30+at+8.37.47+AM.png

Consumers are getting the word that taxpayer-subsidized health plans are widely available for next year for no monthly premium or little cost, and marketing companies say they're starting to see an impact on sign-ups.

"Free Obamacare Coverage in 2018," says an online pitch from insurance broker eHealth, showing a young woman with a big smile. "See if you qualify."

HealthSherpa, a private website that focuses on signing people up for Affordable Care Act coverage, said nearly 1 in 5 of its customers thus far will be paying no monthly premium. That's a change from last year, when the share was about 1 in 7. More consumers also are finding plans for under $25 a month.

Analysts say the odd phenomenon is a wild card that could boost enrollment in the program, although it's too soon to tell. The ACA offers taxpayer-subsidized private insurance to low- and middle-income people who don't have coverage on the job. About 10 million people are enrolled.

It's another twist in a year in which the Obama health law has managed to survive despite rising premiums, dwindling insurer participation and President Donald Trump's predictions of a swift and sure demise.

What's more, experts say wider availability of no-premium plans is the unintended consequence of Trump administration actions to undermine the ACA.

The president stopped reimbursing insurers for reduced copays and deductibles, available to people with modest incomes purchasing a "silver" ACA plan. Sure enough, that has boosted premiums for silver plans. But government subsidies also shot up, because they're pegged to the cost of silver plans.

The bigger available subsidies mean that cheaper "bronze" plans can increasingly be had for no monthly premium, after consumers subtract their subsidy from the list price.

It's like pushing down on one end of a see-saw, and the other end goes up.

In some cases, "gold" plans offering enhanced protection against the costs of illness are also available for free to people whose incomes qualify them for financial assistance.

Dillon Vatick said he couldn't believe it as he shopped online recently for next year's health plan. Vatick is a computer science student who lives in Jacksonville, Florida. He qualified for a monthly subsidy of about $280 and he found a bronze plan with a premium of less than $270.

"My health care is technically free," said Vatick.

"Was it too good to be true?" he said he asked himself when he first saw the numbers. "Sure enough, it wasn't."

Vatick said bronze plans aren't for everybody because they come with very high deductibles. But he's in his 20s and figures he won't be going to the doctor much. He said he had been paying about $80 a month for coverage.

At Lighthouse Insurance Group, an agency with national reach, CEO Jason Farro said they're seeing a shift to bronze plans. The share of customers picking bronze has more than doubled this sign-up season, to about 27 percent from under 12 percent last year.

Online insurance broker eHealth says it is seeing a similar trend among younger consumers aged 18-24.

"The shift in young people in particular tells me that we are seeing new people come out," said Nate Purpura, vice president of marketing at eHealth. "That's been the toughest segment to get into this market, and nothing sells like free."

Brokers and insurers could play a bigger role in sign-ups this year, because the Trump administration has made it easier for them to process enrollments. That might offset cuts in government funding for nonprofit sign-up counselors. Open enrollment is off to a solid start, with about 1.5 million people signed up in the first two weeks.

At HealthSherpa, a technology company that focuses on ACA enrollments, CEO George Kalogeropoulos said he's been paying the staff overtime to keep up with what has been unexpectedly strong consumer demand.

"There's a narrative that this coverage is unaffordable," said Kalogeropoulos. "But for most of the people signing up it is affordable by most metrics. It's been too politicized."

Standard & Poor's analyst Deep Banerjee said it's possible that "free" plans or simply more knowledge about the subsidies may drive enrollment higher, but it's too early to tell.

The federal Health and Human Services Department said at this point it doesn't have the data breakouts to tell if there is a broader shift to bronze plans this year.

The free coverage angle may seem like a cruel joke to nearly 7 million people who buy individual health insurance plans but aren't eligible for financial assistance from the government. They're left facing sticker price premiums that in some cases rival the size of a mortgage payment.

Insurance brokers say some of those people appear to be turning to short-term plans that offer temporary coverage with limited benefits. It's unclear if a bipartisan Senate bill that aims to reduce ACA premiums will advance in a polarized Congress.

"Clearly the ACA isn't perfect — it needs fixes," said Kalogeropoulos. "Our view is that the ACA is landmark legislation, but it's going to take three or four revisions to get it right."

Open enrollment for next year ends Dec. 15.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov, File]]>
<![CDATA[Trump Promises Americans 'Huge Tax Cut' for Christmas]]>Mon, 20 Nov 2017 19:06:19 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Trump-tax.jpg

President Donald Trump on Monday promised a tax overhaul by Christmas, even as a nonpartisan tax analysis group said the Senate package would leave half of taxpayers facing higher levies by 2027.

Speaking before a Cabinet meeting, Trump said, "We're going to give the American people a huge tax cut for Christmas — hopefully that will be a great, big, beautiful Christmas present."

Trump spoke as the Tax Policy Center said that while all income groups would see tax reductions, on average, under the Senate bill in 2019, 9 percent of taxpayers would pay higher taxes that year than under current law. By 2027, that proportion would grow to 50 percent, largely because the legislation's personal tax cuts expire in 2026, which Republicans did to curb budget deficits the bill would create.

The policy center, a joint operation of the liberal-leaning Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, found that low-earners would generally get smaller tax breaks than higher-income people.

In 2019, those making less than $25,000 would get an average $50 tax reduction, or 0.3 percent of their after-tax income. Middle-income earners would get average cuts of $850, while people making at least $746,000 would get average cuts of $34,000, or 2.2 percent of income.

The center also said the Senate proposal would generate enough economic growth to produce additional revenue of $169 billion over a decade. That's far short of closing the near $1.5 trillion in red ink that Congress' nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated the bill would produce over that period.

The top Democrat on the Senate Finance panel, Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, said the study showed that "middle-class Americans will ultimately see a tax hike under Republicans' plan while corporate sponsors line their own pockets with multi-trillion-dollar giveaways."

 

Antonia Ferrier, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., cited a separate study by the Tax Foundation. That conservative-leaning group has said the Senate bill would produce higher wages, nearly 1 million new jobs and enough economic growth to generate nearly $1.3 trillion in federal revenue.

"The Tax Foundation has laid out in unambiguous terms how critical the Senate tax bill is to hard-working families and job creators," Ferrier said.

The House approved a tax measure Thursday slicing corporate and personal taxes by $1.5 trillion over the coming decade. That evening, the Senate Finance Committee approved a similar plan, which like the House version devotes the bulk of its reductions to corporations and other businesses.

The Senate bill would repeal a requirement that Americans have health insurance or pay a fine. The provision is not in the version of the tax overhaul passed last week by the House.

Striking the health care provision might satisfy some GOP moderates who oppose repealing the language, but would also blow a hole in the senators' tax cut plan, leaving them $338 billion short of their revenue goal over the next 10 years.

Trump did not directly address the issue Monday. He said that the administration would focus on health care, infrastructure and welfare "soon after taxes."

Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, said Sunday that the White House is open to scrapping the provision, which would repeal a key component of the health care law enacted by President Barack Obama. Trump had pressed for the provision to be added to the bill, partly to show progress on the GOP goal of undoing the health care law following Congress' failed attempts to repeal it earlier this year.

"If it becomes an impediment to getting the best tax bill we can, then we're OK with taking it out," he added.

Moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, whose vote the White House needs, said Sunday the tax advantage that some middle-income consumers would reap under the tax bill could be wiped out by repealing the mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

Collins is among several GOP senators who say they've not decided how to vote on the bill. Republicans hold a slim 52-48 Senate majority.

Mulvaney and Collins were interviewed on CNN's "State of the Union." Collins also appeared on ABC's "This Week."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[White House: True Cost of Opioid Epidemic Tops $500 Billion]]>Tue, 12 Dec 2017 13:17:22 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-5172396281.jpg

The White House says the true cost of the opioid drug epidemic in 2015 was $504 billion, or roughly half a trillion dollars.

In an analysis to be released Monday, the Council of Economic Advisers says the figure is more than six times larger than the most recent estimate. The council said a 2016 private study estimated that prescription opioid overdoes, abuse and dependence in the U.S. in 2013 cost $78.5 billion. Most of that was attributed to health care and criminal justice spending, along with lost productivity.

The council said its estimate is significantly larger because the epidemic has worsened, with overdose deaths doubling in the past decade, and that some previous studies didn't reflect the number of fatalities blamed on opioids, a powerful but addictive category of painkillers.

The council also said previous studies focused exclusively on prescription opioids, while its study also factors in illicit opioids, including heroin.

"Previous estimates of the economic cost of the opioid crisis greatly underestimate it by undervaluing the most important component of the loss — fatalities resulting from overdoses," said the report, which the White House released Sunday night.

Last month at the White House, President Donald Trump declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. Trump announced an advertising campaign to combat what he said is the worst drug crisis in the nation's history, but he did not direct any new federal funding toward the effort.

Trump's declaration stopped short of the emergency declaration that had been sought by a federal commission the president created to study the problem. An interim report by the commission argued for an emergency declaration, saying it would free additional money and resources.

But in its final report earlier this month, the panel called only for more drug courts, more training for doctors and penalties for insurers that dodge covering addiction treatment. It did not call for new money to address the epidemic.

More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, most involving a prescription painkiller or an illicit opioid like heroin.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Photo by John Moore/Getty Images
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<![CDATA[CTE Turned Ex-NFL Star From Top Lawyer to ‘Other Person']]>Sun, 19 Nov 2017 18:54:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-822512332.jpg

After completing an NFL career that included two Super Bowls, Fred McNeill got an advanced law degree and practiced law. But within just a few years, he began to fall apart, losing his temper, losing his memory and losing job after job, NBC News reported.

“Here is this person who was so kind, so intelligent, so special, so loving, so easygoing. He made things look easy. And then he flipped to be this other person,” Tia McNeill, Fred McNeill’s widow, said in an interview.

McNeill died in 2015. He was bankrupt, unable to eat or care for himself. A positron emission tomography (PET) brain scan done in 2012 showed he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE — the degenerative brain disease being linked increasingly to professional football and to head injuries sustained in combat.

The confirmation comes too late to help McNeill. But if the findings hold up in other patients with similar symptoms, such a scan may be able to diagnose CTE in time to give patients hope for recourse while they are still alive and, perhaps, eventual treatment.



Photo Credit: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT]]>
<![CDATA[No Correlation Between Mental Health, Mass Shooting: Experts]]>Sat, 18 Nov 2017 23:03:20 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-874617738.jpg

Kevin Neal’s family knew he was mentally ill, but they never thought he would kill five people and attack an elementary school in rural northern California. But Neal committed both those acts on Tuesday, and it has left his family asking some very difficult questions, NBC News reported.

Sheridan Orr, Neal’s sister, said her brother made threats for nearly 20 years. Though they continued to pressure him to receive help for his mental health, he seemed unwilling to pursue treatment.

Experts say it is difficult to know what to do in those situations, but Dr. James Fox, an expert on gun violence and author of “Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder,” said it's dangerous to assume that the mentally ill tend to commit these shootings.

"There’s not really a correlation," said Fox, who maintains a database on mass shootings. "We like to think that these people are different from the rest of us. We want a simple explanation and if we just say they’re mentally ill, case closed. Because of how fearful dangerous and deadly their actions are, we really want to distance ourselves from it and relegate it to illness."



Photo Credit: Randall Benton/Sacramento Bee/TNS via Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Owning a Dog May Help You Live Longer: Swedish Scientists]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:26:59 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/215*120/Screen+Shot+2017-11-17+at+8.59.02+AM.png

According to a new study in Sweden, owning a dog could help you live longer. Scientists followed more than 3 million adults for 12 years.]]>
<![CDATA[Climate Nemesis Carbon Could Soon Be Valuable Resource]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 10:08:51 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17321337018651-MS-Innogy-Methanol-Powered-Boat.jpg

On a dreary November morning, a small party of visitors from around the world boards a boat for an hour-long ride around what was once one of the most polluted waters in the Ruhr valley.

Lake Baldeney has become a symbol for the efforts Germany is making to revive its western industrial heartland, and the gleaming white vessel is meant to showcase where the journey is heading: toward a cleaner, sustainable future.

The boat is the first in the world to be fitted with an electric engine powered by a fuel cell containing methanol — a form of alcohol that inevitably prompts "booze cruise" jokes among passengers. What makes the boat really stand out, though, is the fact that the methanol is produced using a chemical process which draws carbon out of the air.

The technology, though still relatively new, is being touted by some as a weapon in the fight against man-made climate change, caused to a large degree by carbon emissions from fossil fuel use.

Levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have steadily increased since the industrial revolution, contributing to the greenhouse effect that is spurring global warming.

The U.N.'s panel of scientific advisers on climate change has predicted that unless carbon emissions peak within the coming years, average temperatures around the world will rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) with potentially catastrophic results.

The boat is one of three prototypes designed to show that carbon converted to methanol — in this case with power from a nearby hydroelectric plants — can serve as an eco-friendly fuel of the future. The others are a car than can run for 500 kilometers (310 miles) on methanol and a house capable of producing and storing all the electricity it needs to be self-sufficient.

Similar projects are springing up around the world and several were showcased on the sidelines of the global climate meeting in Bonn, Germany, while delegates were hammering out rules needed to implement the landmark Paris climate accord. The 2015 agreement, since denounced by President Donald Trump but backed by every other government on the planet, set a goal of keeping global warming significantly below 2 degrees Celsius, but didn't lay down many of the practical details needed to ensure the treaty works.

Among the pioneers that have been getting the most attention is Swiss company call Climeworks, which operates a site near Zurich that draws carbon dioxide from the air and pumps it to a nearby plant nursery. While the saplings would naturally absorb CO2, Climeworks is effectively providing them with fertilizer and speeding up the removal of carbon at the same time.

Daniel Egger, the company's head of sales, said the operation should break even within two years and can be scaled up easily. Climeworks is also experimenting with a different type of carbon capture at a site in Iceland, where CO2 is harvested from the air and pumped deep underground. There, it bonds with limestone to form a solid that stays safely out of the atmosphere.

Analysts such as Andrew Jones say such systems can at best make a small contribution to achieving the Paris goals.

"If your basement is flooding, your top priority is to turn off the faucets, not reach for the mops and buckets," said Jones, who is co-director of Climate Interactive, a think tank that uses computer models to simulate solutions to global warming.

Jones said that removing 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, as some models suggest will be necessary, would require the energy equivalent of 1,200 new nuclear plants, or more than all of the wind and solar power forecast by the International Energy Agency to be available by 2040.

"While we should study these machines, the world runs the risk of being distracted by the fantasy of large-scale carbon dioxide removal when the priority should be a war-scale effort at preventing greenhouse gas emissions in the first place," he said.

Doing so, however, would mean ending all use of fossil fuels by the year 2050 at the latest, a plan that few governments and businesses are willing to get behind.

To most, the notion of going "carbon neutral" by the middle of the century will require a broad mix of measures, from reducing emissions to recapturing some and even using technologies that haven't been invented yet.

A half-hour drive from Lake Baldeney lies one of Europe's oldest steelworks. The site in Duisburg, next to the Rhine river, was founded in 1891 and to this day a vast mesh of pipes, railways and chimneys covers the 10-square-kilometer (four-square-mile) site.

It is operated by Thyssenkrupp, a company that once made cannons for the German kaiser but is now struggling to compete against cheaper rivals from India and China. One solution, according to its chief technology officer, Reinhold E. Achatz, has been relentless innovation. Recently, that has included devising a way to utilize the carbon dioxide released in the steelmaking process and turning it into fuel, fertilizer or plastic.

A new facility scheduled to open in April will cut down 10 million tons of CO2 emissions a year, Achatz said. Replicated across steel plants worldwide, the process could save 50 times as much while providing a raw material that would cut down on the need for oil.

"Carbon dioxide isn't a waste," Achatz said. "It's a resource."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Frank Jordans/AP]]>
<![CDATA[CTE Found in Living Ex-NFL Player for 1st Time: Study]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 09:52:15 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_764021564440-Fred-McNeill-NFL-Player.jpg

The "unique pattern" of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the debilitating brain disease known as CTE, has been found for the first time in a patient before he died, NBC News reported.

It was detected in a brain scan of former Minnesota Vikings linebacker Fred McNeill, according to the doctors behind a study published in the journal Neurosurgery last week. The scan could lead to the development of treatments for the incurable disease.

CTE is caused by repeated blows to the head, and has been found in many dead NFL players' brains, including former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, who killed himself in April before a murder conviction against him was cleared.

So far, the only way to definitively diagnose CTE is by looking at the brain after death, but a 2012 scan of McNeill's brain that seemed to show protein deposits characteristic of CTE was confirmed in an autopsy after McNeill died last year.



Photo Credit: AP Photo, File]]>
<![CDATA[Congress' Delay Risks Millions of Kids' Health Insurance]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 07:09:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/pll_20171118_chip_russo_10_fc7316e06197590903fff4b9d54d55a9.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.jpg

The Children's Health Insurance Program covers annual check-ups and more medical procedures for nearly 9 million kids in low-income families, but congressional bickering is putting it at risk, NBC News reported.

The program has enjoyed bipartisan support since it was created in 1997, but legislators have let this year's reauthorization deadline pass in the debate over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. Now funding in 11 states will run out by the end of the year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, and 21 more states by March.

CHIP gives health insurance to children and pregnant mothers who don't qualify for Medicaid but can't afford private insurance, and Census data shows the rate of uninsured children has dropped from 14 to about 4.5 percent in the past 20 years, experts say.

It's helped Roland Williams, 11, a St. Louis boy with an extremely rare form of lung cancer whose mother was told last year that "he would make it to see his 10th birthday."



Photo Credit: Eva Russo / for NBC News]]>
<![CDATA[FDA OKs New Therapy for Some Hemophilia Patients]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 13:55:38 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/hemophiliadrug_1200x675.jpg

U.S. regulators have approved the first new treatment in nearly two decades to prevent internal bleeding in certain patients with hemophilia, an inherited blood-clotting disorder.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved Hemlibra (hem-LEE'-bruh), a weekly injection for hemophilia A patients who have developed resistance to standard medicines.

Genentech, the drug's developer, says the list price will be about $482,000 for the first year and slightly less after that.

Genentech, a subsidiary of Swiss drugmaker Roche, says that's half the cost of the only other option for patients with this resistance. That treatment requires an IV drip several times a week.

Hemophilia mostly affects males.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Genentech, Inc.]]>
<![CDATA[Couples Sue Fertility Clinic Over Eggs With Genetic Defect]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 11:16:04 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-846110442.jpg

Two couples are suing a New York fertility doctor and his clinic after giving birth to children with a genetic abnormality later traced back to donated eggs.

The two children, both born in 2009, have Fragile X syndrome, a genetic condition that can lead to intellectual and developmental impairments. The parents, identified by initials and last names in legal papers, argue the doctor and the clinic failed to test the women who donated the eggs to determine whether they were carriers for Fragile X. They're seeking damages for the added expenses of raising a disabled child.

The New York Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday. A decision is expected next year.

The outcome is likely to hinge on the statute of limitations in the state's medical malpractice law, which gives plaintiffs two-and-a-half years to sue following an alleged act of malpractice - or a patient's last treatment by the physician.

Attorneys for the Reproductive Medicine Associates clinic and physician Alan Cooperman argue the suit was filed too late, because the state of limitations began counting down when the women ended fertility treatment after becoming pregnant - and not when the children were born or when the genetic abnormality was diagnosed.

The parents filed the lawsuits two years after the children were born. In court on Wednesday, their attorneys argued the parents couldn't sue before the condition became apparent in the children. Attorney James LiCalzi said it makes no sense to expect the parents to file a lawsuit before they even knew about the abnormality.

"A claim didn't exist here until this child was born alive," he said.

But attorneys for the clinic said it's outside the power of the court to extend the statute of limitations in this case. Attorney Caryn Lilling said that it should be up to elected lawmakers - and not the court - to change the rules.

"The statute of limitations must run from the time of the act until the Legislature decrees otherwise," she said.

According to court papers, the donors of the eggs were tested after the children were born. Both were found to be carriers of the Fragile X mutation.

According to its website, Reproductive Medicine Associates has offices in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Long Island and in Westchester and Orange counties. A message left with Copperman was not immediately returned Thursday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Pope: Health Care Is Too Tied to People’s Finances]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 12:51:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17320573986552-Pope-Francis.jpg

Pope Francis on Thursday urged lawmakers to ensure that health care laws protect the "common good," decrying the fact that in many places only the privileged can afford sophisticated medical treatments.

The comments came as U.S. lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have been debating how to overhaul the nation's health insurance laws.

In a message to a medical association meeting at the Vatican, Francis expressed dismay at what he called a tendency toward growing inequality in health care. He said in wealthier countries, health care access risks being more dependent on people's money than on their need for treatment.

"Increasingly, sophisticated and costly treatment are available to ever more limited and privileged segments of the population, and this raises questions about the sustainability of health care delivery and about what might be called a systemic tendency toward growing inequality in health care," the pope said.

"This tendency is clearly visible at the global level, particularly when different countries are compared," Francis said. "But it is also present within the more wealthy countries, where access to health care risks being more dependent on individuals' economic resources than on their actual need for treatment."

Without citing any countries, Francis said health care laws must take a "broad and comprehensive view of what most effectively promotes the common good" in each situation, including looking out for society's most vulnerable people.

The Vatican meeting explored end-of-life issues and Francis repeated decades-old church teaching forbidding euthanasia.

He also reiterated Vatican teaching that says "not adopting, or else suspending, disproportionate measures, means avoiding overzealous treatment. From an ethical standpoint, it is completely different from euthanasia, which is always wrong."

In addressing end-of-life issues, the pope said, countries must "defend the fundamental equality whereby everyone is recognized under law as a human being."

Using his nearly five-year-old papacy to highlight the plight of the poor, Francis later made a surprise visit to an area near St. Peter's Basilica where volunteer doctors can give poor people medical exams as part of the church's first-ever World Day of the Poor, to be held Sunday.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP]]>
<![CDATA[American Scientists Try 1st Gene Editing in the Body]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 08:19:28 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/US-Zinc-Fingers-Protein-CR_1200x675_1097272387645.jpg

Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body, a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to try to cure a disease. The experiment was done on Monday in California on a patient with an inherited metabolic disorder.]]>
<![CDATA['Obamacare' Enrollment Is Up Over Same Period in 2016]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 08:03:12 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/NC_budgetbattle0927_1500x845.jpg

The government has rolled back the amount of time to select a health care plan under the Affordable Care Act this year, but enrollment is already up over the same period last year. NBC's Tracie Potts reports.]]>
<![CDATA[Millions Will Forgo Coverage If 'Obamacare' Mandate Repealed]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 04:09:21 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/HatchAP_17319724366604.jpg

Millions are expected to forgo coverage if Congress repeals the unpopular requirement that Americans get health insurance, gambling that they won't get sick and boosting premiums for others.

The drive by Senate Republicans to undo the coverage requirement under former President Barack Obama's health care law is a sharp break from the idea that everyone should contribute to health care.

And just as important, it fits neatly with the effort by President Donald Trump's administration to write new regulations allowing for skimpier plans with limited benefits and lower premiums.

Put the two together and the marketplace for about 18 million people buying their own health insurance could look very different in a few years. Consumers would have new options with different pluses and minuses. They'd notice a shift away from health plans that cover a broad set of benefits. New winners and losers would emerge.

Defending the GOP's move, the Senate's chief tax writer said Wednesday that the "Obamacare" fines on people who go without coverage amount to a tax on working people. "It's a terribly regressive tax that imposes harsh burdens on low- and middle-income taxpayers," said Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

But Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the ranking Democrat on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said repealing the requirement will undermine insurance markets and raise costs, particularly for those who need care. She accused Republicans of "sneaking devastating health care changes into a partisan bill at the last minute."

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that repeal of the insurance requirement would save the government $338 billion through 2027, mainly because fewer people would seek subsidized coverage. That would give GOP lawmakers money to offset some of the tax cuts they're proposing.

The CBO estimates the number of uninsured would rise by 13 million in 2027, reversing coverage gains seen under former President Barack Obama. Because fewer people would be paying into the insurance pool, premiums for individual plans would rise about 10 percent. Little impact was expected on employer coverage.

Repealing the mandate would be like taking away the stick that nudges people to get comprehensive health insurance, while the skimpier plans envisioned by the Trump administration's regulation writers would be like new carrots introduced into the marketplace, said Katherine Hempstead, who directs health insurance work for the nonpartisan Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The result would be higher premiums for people who need comprehensive health insurance, often those who are older or coping with chronic conditions. "It's going to leave a lot of people poorly served," Hempstead said.

GOP economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin said he thinks the predictions of dire consequences are overstated and that repealing the mandate would be more like a safety valve for a health insurance market that's pricing out solid middle-class people not entitled to subsidies.

"In the individual market, this is all about getting premiums down so people will want to buy, as opposed to making them have to buy," Holtz-Eakin said. A former CBO chief, Holtz-Eakin said he thinks the agency's current estimates give too much weight to the coverage mandate.

He points to nearly 30 million Americans still uninsured. "We made it illegal to be uninsured, we're paying people to get insured, and we still have many uninsured," Holtz-Eakin said. "I don't think it's very effective."

A poll released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that 55 percent of Americans support eliminating the mandate as part of the GOP tax overhaul while 42 percent are opposed.

Julian Rostain, a cook from the Philadelphia area, said for him the mandate meant paying about $350 to the IRS for being uninsured during part of last year.

"I feel like I'm in good shape, and if I went a few months without health insurance, I wouldn't be terribly worried," said Rostain, in his late 20s. "I don't think it's fair when you penalize people who can't really afford it in the first place. It doesn't make sense."

But insurers, hospitals and doctors say some kind of requirement is needed.

"You really have to make sure that we have enough healthy people who are paying their premiums so that those who are facing significant chronic diseases are not left having to pay higher costs," said Dr. Michael Munger, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. "I would say to younger, healthier people: 'You need to have coverage for when the unforeseen happens.'"

If the GOP succeeds in repealing the mandate, lawmakers may soon be looking for an alternative. "Ultimately, they'll need to have a nudge," said Republican health economist Gail Wilensky. "If they want to provide the protections for pre-existing conditions, they'll have to come up with something."

Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Big House Victory for GOP Tax Plan, But Senate Fate Unclear ]]>Fri, 17 Nov 2017 04:53:49 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/874170156-Paul-Ryan-Tax-Cuts.jpg

Republicans have stretched closer to delivering the first big legislative victory for President Donald Trump and their party, whisking a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House. Thorny problems await in the Senate, though.

The House passage of the bill Thursday on a mostly party-line 227-205 vote also brought nearer the biggest revamp of the U.S. tax system in three decades.

But in the Senate, a similar measure received a politically awkward verdict from nonpartisan congressional analysts showing it would eventually produce higher taxes for low- and middle-income earners but deliver deep reductions for those better off.

The Senate bill was approved late Thursday by the Finance Committee and sent to the full Senate on a party-line 14-12 vote. Like the House measure, it would slash the corporate tax rate and reduce personal income tax rates for many.

But it adds a key feature not in the House version: repeal of the Affordable Care Act's requirement that everyone in the U.S. have health insurance. Elimination of the so-called individual mandate under the Obama health care law would add an estimated $338 billion in revenue over 10 years that the Senate tax-writers used for additional tax cuts.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has projected that repeal of the mandate would result in 13 million more uninsured people by 2027, making it a political risk for some lawmakers.

The Senate panel's vote came at the end of four days of often fierce partisan debate. It turned angrily personal for Chairman Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, as he railed against Democrats' accusations that the legislation was crafted to favor big corporations and the wealthy.

"I come from the poor people. And I've been working my whole stinking career for people who don't have a chance," Hatch insisted.

After the panel's approval, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared, "For the millions of hard-working Americans who need more money in their pockets and the chance of a better future, help is on the way."

The analysts' problematic projections for the Senate bill came a day after Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson became the first GOP senator to state opposition to the measure, saying it didn't cut taxes enough for millions of partnerships and corporations. With at least five other Republican senators yet to declare support, the bill's fate is far from certain in a chamber the GOP controls by just 52-48.

Even so, Republicans are hoping to send a compromise bill for Trump to sign by Christmas.

"Now the ball is in the Senate's court," Vice President Mike Pence said after the House vote. Speaking at a conservative Tax Foundation dinner in Washington, Pence said, "The next few weeks are going to be vitally important and they're going to be a challenge."

"We're going to get it done" before year's end, he said.

A White House statement that "now is the time to deliver" also underscored the GOP's effort to maintain momentum and outrace critics. Those include the AARP lobby for older people, major medical organizations, realtors — and, in all likelihood, every Senate Democrat.

Despite controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House, the Republicans are still smarting from this summer's crash of their effort to dismantle President Barack Obama's health care law. They see a successful tax effort as the best way to avert major losses in next year's congressional elections. House Republicans concede they are watching the Senate warily.

"Political survival depends on us doing this," said Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. "One of the things that scares me a little bit is that they're going to screw up the bill to the point we can't pass it."

The House plan and the Senate Finance bill would deliver the bulk of their tax reductions to businesses.

Each would cut the 35 percent corporate tax rate to 20 percent, while reducing personal rates for many taxpayers and erasing or shrinking deductions. Projected federal deficits would grow by $1.5 trillion over 10 years.

As decades of Republicans have done before them, GOP lawmakers touted their tax cuts as a boon to families across all income lines and a boost for businesses, jobs and the entire country.

"Passing this bill is the single biggest thing we can do to grow the economy, to restore opportunity and help those middle-income families who are struggling," said House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Ryan also said he'd seek to add tax breaks to help Puerto Rico recover from recent hurricanes to a House-Senate compromise.

Democrats said the tax measure would give outsized benefits to the wealthy and saddle millions of moderate-income Americans with tax increases. Among other things, the House legislation would reduce and ultimately repeal the tax Americans pay on the largest inheritances, while the Senate would limit that levy to fewer estates.

The bill is "pillaging the middle class to pad the pockets of the wealthiest and hand tax breaks to corporations shipping jobs out of America," declared House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Thirteen House Republicans — all but one from high-tax California, New York and New Jersey — voted "no" because the plan would erase tax deductions for state and local income and sales taxes and limit property tax deductions to $10,000. Defectors included House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., who said the measure would "hurt New Jersey families."

Trump traveled to the Capitol before the vote to give House Republicans a pep talk.

After the vote, Trump tweeted, "Congratulations to the House of Representatives for passing the #TaxCutsandJobsAct — a big step toward fulfilling our promise to deliver historic TAX CUTS for the American people by the end of the year!"

Besides Johnson, Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Jeff Flake and John McCain of Arizona, Bob Corker of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have yet to commit to backing the tax measure.

Congress' Joint Committee on Taxation estimated the Senate plan would mean higher taxes beginning in 2021 for many families earning under $30,000 annually. By 2027, families making less than $75,000 would face tax boosts while those making more would enjoy cuts.

Republicans attributed the new figures to two provisions: one ending the measure's personal tax cuts starting in 2026 and the other abolishing the "Obamacare" requirement that people buy health coverage or pay tax penalties.

Ending the personal tax cuts for individuals in 2026, derided as a gimmick by Democrats, is designed to pare the bill's long-term costs to the Treasury. Legislation cannot boost budget deficits after 10 years if it is to qualify for Senate procedures that bar bill-killing filibusters.

Other features:

—Both chambers' bills would nearly double the standard deduction to around $12,000 for individuals and about $24,000 for married couples and dramatically boost the current $1,000 per-child tax credit.

—Both would erase the current $4,050 personal exemption and reduce or cancel other tax breaks. The House would limit interest deductions to future home mortgages of up to $500,000, down from today's $1 million. The Senate would end deductions for moving expenses and tax preparation.

Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Richard Lardner and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[CVS Blames Pharmacy Outages on 'Internal Network' Problems]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 07:21:18 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/180*120/CVS_1200x675.jpg

After major system outages Tuesday CVS Health pharmacies reported there was  an internal network problem, CNBC reported. 

The cause is unknown according to the CVS spokesperson.

CVS non-executive Chairman David Dorman told CNBC Wednesday that top management notified him about the network issue after customers complained about not being able to refill their medications.

Customers took to social media to speak out about their complaints and express their dissatisfaction. 



Photo Credit: Getty ImagesJoe Raedle]]>
<![CDATA['Obamacare' Sign-Ups About 45 Pct Ahead of Last Year's Pace]]>Wed, 15 Nov 2017 13:44:16 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/203*120/Screen+Shot+2017-10-30+at+8.37.47+AM.png

Sign-ups for Affordable Care Act health plans are running more than 45 percent ahead of last year's pace, according to government data released Wednesday.

The numbers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services come as Republican senators are pushing to pay for tax cuts by repealing the "Obamacare" requirement to carry coverage.

The new figures show that nearly 1.5 million consumers picked a plan through Nov. 11, compared to just over 1 million from Nov. 1-12 last year, a period that had included one additional day for consumers to enroll.

The latest data cover 39 states served by the HealthCare.gov website. The overall number of sign-ups is higher because states running their own health insurance markets are not counted in the HealthCare.gov data.

The share of new customers for 2018 coverage stayed at about 23 percent, the report said.

The Obama-era health law offers subsidized private insurance for people who don't get coverage on the job. Sign-ups this year are being closely watched because of efforts by the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress to do away with the law.

At same time, consumers who are eligible for financial assistance are seeing more low-cost plans available. Even though premiums have gone up, that's been offset by increased subsidies.

If Congress repeals the requirement that people buy health insurance, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 13 million more people would be uninsured by 2027.

This year's sign-up season is only half as long as last year's. It ends Dec. 15.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov]]>
<![CDATA['Invisible Mending': US Scientists Try 1st in-Body Gene Edit]]>Thu, 16 Nov 2017 10:02:18 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17317776550106-Gene-Editing-UCSF-Hunter-Syndrome.jpg

Scientists for the first time have tried editing a gene inside the body in a bold attempt to permanently change a person's DNA to try to cure a disease.

The experiment was done Monday in California on 44-year-old Brian Madeux. Through an IV, he received billions of copies of a corrective gene and a genetic tool to cut his DNA in a precise spot.

"It's kind of humbling" to be the first to test this, said Madeux, who has a metabolic disease called Hunter syndrome. "I'm willing to take that risk. Hopefully it will help me and other people."

Signs of whether it's working may come in a month; tests will show for sure in three months.

If it's successful, it could give a major boost to the fledgling field of gene therapy. Scientists have edited people's genes before, altering cells in the lab that are then returned to patients. There also are gene therapies that don't involve editing DNA.

But these methods can only be used for a few types of diseases. Some give results that may not last. Some others supply a new gene like a spare part, but can't control where it inserts in the DNA, possibly causing a new problem like cancer.

This time, the gene tinkering is happening in a precise way inside the body. It's like sending a mini surgeon along to place the new gene in exactly the right location.

"We cut your DNA, open it up, insert a gene, stitch it back up. Invisible mending," said Dr. Sandy Macrae, president of Sangamo Therapeutics, the California company testing this for two metabolic diseases and hemophilia. "It becomes part of your DNA and is there for the rest of your life."

That also means there's no going back, no way to erase any mistakes the editing might cause.

"You're really toying with Mother Nature" and the risks can't be fully known, but the studies should move forward because these are incurable diseases, said one independent expert, Dr. Eric Topol of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego.

Protections are in place to help ensure safety, and animal tests were very encouraging, said Dr. Howard Kaufman, a Boston scientist on the National Institutes of Health panel that approved the studies.

He said gene editing's promise is too great to ignore. "So far there's been no evidence that this is going to be dangerous," he said. "Now is not the time to get scared."

WOE FROM HEAD TO TOE
Fewer than 10,000 people worldwide have these metabolic diseases, partly because many die very young. Those with Madeux's condition, Hunter syndrome, lack a gene that makes an enzyme that breaks down certain carbohydrates. These build up in cells and cause havoc throughout the body.

Patients may have frequent colds and ear infections, distorted facial features, hearing loss, heart problems, breathing trouble, skin and eye problems, bone and joint flaws, bowel issues and brain and thinking problems.

"Many are in wheelchairs ... dependent on their parents until they die," said Dr. Chester Whitley, a University of Minnesota genetics expert who plans to enroll patients in the studies.

Weekly IV doses of the missing enzyme can ease some symptoms, but cost $100,000 to $400,000 a year and don't prevent brain damage.

Madeux, who now lives near Phoenix, is engaged to a nurse, Marcie Humphrey, who he met 15 years ago in a study that tested this enzyme therapy at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital Oakland, where the gene editing experiment took place.

He has had 26 operations for hernias, bunions, bones pinching his spinal column, and ear, eye and gall bladder problems.

"It seems like I had a surgery every other year of my life" and many procedures in between, he said. Last year he nearly died from a bronchitis and pneumonia attack. The disease had warped his airway, and "I was drowning in my secretions, I couldn't cough it out."

Madeux has a chef's degree and was part owner of two restaurants in Utah, cooking for US ski teams and celebrities, but now can't work in a kitchen or ride horses as he used to.

Gene editing won't fix damage he's already suffered, but he hopes it will stop the need for weekly enzyme treatments.

Initial studies will involve up to 30 adults to test safety, but the ultimate goal is to treat children very young, before much damage occurs.

HOW IT WORKS
A gene-editing tool called CRISPR has gotten a lot of recent attention, but this study used a different one called zinc finger nucleases. They're like molecular scissors that seek and cut a specific piece of DNA.

The therapy has three parts: The new gene and two zinc finger proteins. DNA instructions for each part are placed in a virus that's been altered to not cause infection but to ferry them into cells. Billions of copies of these are given through a vein.

They travel to the liver, where cells use the instructions to make the zinc fingers and prepare the corrective gene. The fingers cut the DNA, allowing the new gene to slip in. The new gene then directs the cell to make the enzyme the patient lacked.

Only 1 percent of liver cells would have to be corrected to successfully treat the disease, said Madeux's physician and study leader, Dr. Paul Harmatz at the Oakland hospital.

"How bulletproof is the technology? We're just learning," but safety tests have been very good, said Dr. Carl June, a University of Pennsylvania scientist who has done other gene therapy work but was not involved in this study.

WHAT COULD GO WRONG
Safety issues plagued some earlier gene therapies. One worry is that the virus might provoke an immune system attack. In 1999, 18-year-old Jesse Gelsinger died in a gene therapy study from that problem, but the new studies use a different virus that's proved much safer in other experiments.

Another worry is that inserting a new gene might have unforeseen effects on other genes. That happened years ago, when researchers used gene therapy to cure some cases of the immune system disorder called "bubble boy" disease. Several patients later developed leukemia because the new gene inserted into a place in the native DNA where it unintentionally activated a cancer gene.

"When you stick a chunk of DNA in randomly, sometimes it works well, sometimes it does nothing and sometimes it causes harm," said Hank Greely, a Stanford University bioethicist. "The advantage with gene editing is you can put the gene in where you want it."

Finally, some fear that the virus could get into other places like the heart, or eggs and sperm where it could affect future generations. Doctors say built-in genetic safeguards prevent the therapy from working anywhere but the liver, like a seed that only germinates in certain conditions.

This experiment is not connected to other, more controversial work being debated to try to edit genes in human embryos to prevent diseases before birth — changes that would be passed down from generation to generation.

MAKING HISTORY
Madeux's treatment was to have happened a week earlier, but a small glitch prevented it.

He and his fiancee returned to Arizona, but nearly didn't make it back to Oakland in time for the second attempt because their Sunday flight was canceled and no others were available until Monday, after the treatment was to take place.

Scrambling, they finally got a flight to Monterey, California, and a car service took them just over 100 miles north to Oakland.

On Monday he had the three-hour infusion, surrounded by half a dozen doctors, nurses and others wearing head-to-toe protective garb to lower the risk of giving him any germs. His doctor, Harmatz, spent the night at the hospital to help ensure his patient stayed well.

"I'm nervous and excited," Madeux said as he prepared to leave the hospital. "I've been waiting for this my whole life, something that can potentially cure me."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Eric Risberg/AP]]>
<![CDATA[How Law Enforcement Uses Narcan to Combat the Opioid Crisis]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 14:03:57 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+NARCAN+EXPLAINER+THUMB2.jpg

As the American opioid crisis reaches near epidemic levels, law enforcement agencies across the country are training their officers how to use Narcan to revive people who have overdosed. The LA County Sheriff’s Department has deployed over 600 deputies with Narcan and is changing the way law enforcement approaches the opioid crisis.]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Warns of Injury, Death With Herbal Supplement Kratom]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 13:54:25 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17318544107694-Kratom-Supplement-.jpg

Federal health authorities are warning about reports of injury, addiction and death with a herbal supplement that has been promoted as an alternative to opioid painkillers and other prescription drugs

The supplement, kratom, made from a plant native to Southeast Asia, has gained popularity in the U.S. as a treatment for pain, anxiety and drug dependence. Users have opposed efforts to regulate the plant, saying it could be a safer alternative to opioid pain pills that have caused an epidemic of abuse.

But the Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that kratom carries similar risks, including addiction and death, and the agency is working to block shipments.

The FDA said it is aware of 36 deaths involving products made with kratom and hundreds of calls to poison control centers, which increased tenfold between 2010 and 2015. In some cases, kratom is mixed with opioids like oxycodone, the ingredient in OxyContin, according to the agency.

"The FDA must use its authority to protect the public from addictive substances like kratom, both as part of our commitment to stemming the opioid epidemic and preventing another from taking hold," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, said in a statement .

Gottlieb said the agency has seized and destroyed shipments of kratom at international mail facilities.

Kratom remains legal under federal law although some states have banned the plant, including Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee and Wisconsin. It is sold in various forms, including capsules and powders.

The Drug Enforcement Administration had planned to ban the plant by adding it to a list of illegal drugs that includes marijuana, heroin and LSD. But the agency backed away from that plan last October after a flood of public complaints including a letter signed by 62 members of Congress and a protest at the White House organized by the American Kratom Association.

A spokesman for the group could not immediately provide comment Tuesday morning.

The group has said categorizing kratom as an illegal substance would stymie medical research into its potential therapeutic uses. The DEA said last October it would delay a decision until the FDA issued a recommendation.

Despite Tuesday's warning about the risks of kratom an FDA spokeswoman said the agency's scientific review is ongoing. There is no timetable for completing the review.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Mary Esch/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[FDA Approves First Digital Tracking Pill]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 10:52:55 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/505030334-Digital-Doctor.jpg

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the first drug in the United States with a digital ingestion tracking system, in an unprecedented move to ensure that patients with mental illness take the medicine prescribed for them.

The drug Abilify MyCite was developed by Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. The drug Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2002 to treat schizophrenia, and the ingestible sensor, made by Proteus Digital health, was approved for marketing in 2012. The FDA said in a statement Monday that the digitally enhanced medication "works by sending a message from the pill's sensor to a wearable patch."

"Being able to track ingestion of medications prescribed for illness may be useful for some patients," said Dr. Mitchell Mathis, director of the division of Psychiatry Products in the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "The FDA supports the development and use of new technology in prescription drugs and is committed to working with companies to understand how this technology might benefit patients and prescribers."

Green-lighting the new medication, however, came with some caveats. Among them, the FDA said it was important to note that Abilify MyCite's labeling asserts "the ability of the product to improve patient compliance with their treatment regimen has not been shown."

"Abilify MyCite should not be used to track drug ingestion in 'real-time' or during an emergency," the statement said, "because detection may be delayed or may not occur."

In a portion of the statement that appeared to address privacy concerns, the FDA said the wearable patch that comes with the medication "transmits the information to a mobile application so that patients can track the ingestion of the medication on their smart phone. Patients can also permit their caregivers and physician to access the information through a web-based portal."

In a statement issued last May at the time the FDA accepted submission of product for review, Otsuka Pharmaceutical, Ltd. Of Toyko and Proteus Digital, of Redwood City, California, said that "with the patient's consent, this information could be shared with their healthcare professional team and selected family and friends, with the goal of allowing physicians to be more informed in making treatment decisions that are specific to the patient's needs."

The companies said the Proteus Ingestible sensor "activates when it reaches stomach fluids and communicates with the patch."

The FDA said the product is designed for the treatment of schizophrenia, acute treatment of manic and mixed episodes associated with a bipolar disorder and for use as an add-on treatment for depression in adults."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto]]>
<![CDATA[Is There a Link Between Rising Teen Suicide, Social Media?]]>Tue, 14 Nov 2017 06:24:31 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SocialMediaDepressionGettyImages-75298626.jpg

An increase in suicide rates among U.S. teens occurred at the same time social media use surged and a new analysis suggests there may be a link.

Suicide rates for teens rose between 2010 and 2015 after they had declined for nearly two decades, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why the rates went up isn't known.

The study doesn't answer the question, but it suggests that one factor could be rising social media use. Recent teen suicides have been blamed on cyberbullying, and social media posts depicting "perfect" lives may be taking a toll on teens' mental health, researchers say.

"After hours of scrolling through Instagram feeds, I just feel worse about myself because I feel left out," said Caitlin Hearty, a 17-year-old Littleton, Colorado, high school senior who helped organize an offline campaign last month after several local teen suicides.

"No one posts the bad things they're going through," said Chloe Schilling, also 17, who helped with the campaign, in which hundreds of teens agreed not to use the internet or social media for one month.

The study's authors looked at CDC suicide reports from 2009-15 and results of two surveys given to U.S. high school students to measure attitudes, behaviors and interests. About half a million teens ages 13 to 18 were involved. They were asked about use of electronic devices, social media, print media, television and time spent with friends. Questions about mood included frequency of feeling hopeless and considering or attempting suicide.

The researchers didn't examine circumstances surrounding individual suicides. Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said the study provides weak evidence for a popular theory and that many factors influence teen suicide.

The study was published Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

Data highlighted in the study include:

  • Teens' use of electronic devices including smartphones for at least five hours daily more than doubled, from 8 percent in 2009 to 19 percent in 2015. These teens were 70 percent more likely to have suicidal thoughts or actions than those who reported one hour of daily use.
  • In 2015, 36 percent of all teens reported feeling desperately sad or hopeless, or thinking about, planning or attempting suicide, up from 32 percent in 2009. For girls, the rates were higher — 45 percent in 2015 versus 40 percent in 2009.
  • In 2009, 58% of 12th grade girls used social media every day or nearly every day; by 2015, 87% used social media every day or nearly every day. They were 14% more likely to be depressed than those who used social media less frequently.

"We need to stop thinking of smartphones as harmless," said study author Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University who studies generational trends. "There's a tendency to say, 'Oh, teens are just communicating with their friends.' Monitoring kids' use of smartphones and social media is important, and so is setting reasonable limits, she said.

Dr. Victor Strasburger, a teen medicine specialist at the University of New Mexico, said the study only implies a connection between teen suicides, depression and social media. It shows the need for more research on new technology, Strasburger said.

He noted that skeptics who think social media is being unfairly criticized compare it with so-called vices of past generations: "When dime-store books came out, when comic books came out, when television came out, when rock and roll first started, people were saying 'This is the end of the world.'"

With its immediacy, anonymity, and potential for bullying, social media has a unique potential for causing real harm, he said.

"Parents don't really get that," Strasburger said.

AP reporter P. Solomon Banda contributed to this story.

SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Chris Jackson/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Half of US Adults Have High Blood Pressure in New Guidelines]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 18:29:26 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-684910284.jpg

New guidelines lower the threshold for high blood pressure, adding 30 million Americans to those who have the condition, which now plagues nearly half of U.S. adults.

High pressure, which for decades has been a top reading of at least 140 or a bottom one of 90, drops to 130 over 80 in advice announced Monday by a dozen medical groups.

The change means an additional 14 percent of U.S. adults have the problem, but only an additional 2 percent will need medication right away; the rest should try healthier lifestyles, which get much stronger emphasis in the new advice. Poor diets, lack of exercise and other bad habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure.

"I have no doubt there will be controversy. I'm sure there will be people saying 'We have a hard enough time getting to 140,'" said Dr. Paul Whelton, a Tulane University physician who led the guidelines panel.

But the risk for heart disease, stroke and other problems drops as blood pressure improves, and the new advice "is more honest" about how many people have a problem, he said.

Currently, only half of Americans with high blood pressure have it under control.

The upper threshold for high blood pressure has been 140 since 1993, but a major study two years ago found heart risks were much lower in people who aimed for 120. Canada and Australia lowered their cutoff to that; Europe is still at 140 but is due to revise its guidance next year.

The guidelines were announced Monday at an American Heart Association conference in Anaheim.

WHAT THE CHANGES MEAN
The guidelines set new categories and get rid of "prehypertension":

—Normal: Under 120 over 80

—Elevated: Top number 120-129 and bottom less than 80

—Stage 1: Top of 130-139 or bottom of 80-89

—Stage 2: Top at least 140 or bottom at least 90

That means 46 percent of U.S. adults have high pressure (stages 1 or 2) versus 32 percent under the old levels.

How common it is will roughly triple in men under 45, to 30 percent, and double in women of that age, to 19 percent.

For people over 65, the guidelines undo a controversial tweak made three years ago to relax standards and not start medicines unless the top number was over 150. Now, everyone that old should be treated if the top number is over 130 unless they're too frail or have conditions that make it unwise.

"The evidence with this is so solid, so convincing, that it's hard to argue with the targets," said Dr. Jackson Wright, a guidelines panel member from University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. Older people "have a 35-to-50-fold higher risk of dying of a heart attack or stroke compared to younger people."

But the Cleveland Clinic's Dr. Steven Nissen said he's worried.

"Some more vulnerable patients who get treated very aggressively may have trouble with falls" because too-low pressure can make them faint, he said.

WHO NEEDS TREATMENT
Certain groups, such as those with diabetes, should be treated if their top number is over 130, the guidelines say. For the rest, whether to start medication will no longer be based just on the blood pressure numbers. The decision also should consider the overall risk of having a heart problem or stroke in the next 10 years, including factors such as age, gender and cholesterol, using a simple formula to estimate those odds.

Those without a high risk will be advised to improve their lifestyles — lose weight, eat healthy, exercise more, limit alcohol, avoid smoking.

"It's not just throwing meds at something," said one primary care doctor who praised the new approach, the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Robert Stroebel. If people continue bad habits, "They can kind of eat and blow through the medicines," he said.

The guidelines warn about some popular approaches, though. There's not enough proof that consuming garlic, dark chocolate, tea or coffee helps, or that yoga, meditation or other behavior therapies lower blood pressure long-term, they say.

The government no longer writes heart guidelines, leaving it to medical groups. Unlike previous guideline panels, none on this one have recent financial ties to industry, although some on a panel that reviewed and commented on them do.

The guidelines were published in two journals — Hypertension and the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

HOW AND WHEN TO CHECK IT
Blood pressure should be checked at least once a year by a health professional, and diagnosing high pressure requires 2 or 3 readings on at least two occasions.

The common way uses a cuff on the upper arm to temporarily block the flow of blood in an artery in the arm and gradually release it while listening with a stethoscope and counting sounds the blood makes as it flows through the artery. But that is prone to error, and many places now use automated devices.

The guidelines don't pick a method, but recommend measuring pressure in the upper arm; devices that work on fingers or are worn on wrists "aren't ready for prime time," Whelton said.

Home monitoring also is recommended; devices cost as little as $40 to $60.

WHAT ABOUT KIDS?
Unlike adults, numbers for normal pressure in children vary with age, height and gender. Kids should be checked at least once a year for high pressure, say guidelines announced in August by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

After age 13, the levels defining high pressure are the same as for adults, said a member of the pediatrics panel, Dr. Elaine Urbina of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.

"When you turn 18 years and one minute, you shouldn't suddenly have a new definition," she said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Global Carbon Pollution Rises After 3-Straight Flat Years]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 05:04:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/CarbonEmissionsGettyImages-871575562.jpg

Global carbon pollution rose this year after three straight years when levels of the heat-trapping gas didn't go up at all, scientists reported Monday.

Preliminary figures project that worldwide carbon dioxide emissions are up about 2 percent this year, according to an international team of scientists. Most of the increase came from China.

The report by the Global Carbon Project team dashed hopes that emissions from the burning of coal, oil and gas had peaked.

"We hoped that we had turned the corner... We haven't," said study co-author Rob Jackson, an Earth scientist at Stanford University.

Carbon dioxide emissions rose steadily and slowly starting in the late 1880s with the Industrial Revolution, then took off dramatically in the 1950s. In the last three years, levels had stabilized at about 40 billion tons of carbon dioxide (36.2 billion metric tons).

Estimates for 2017 put it at about 40.8 billion tons (37 billion metric tons). Sixty years ago, the world spewed only 9.2 billion tons (8.3 billion metric tons).

"It's a bit staggering," said co-author Ralph Keeling, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientist, noting in an email that levels have increased fourfold since he was born in the 1950s. "We race headlong into the unknown."

Man-made carbon dioxide is causing more than 90 percent of global warming since 1950, U.S. scientists reported this month.

This year's increase was mostly spurred by a 3.5 percent jump in Chinese carbon pollution, said study co-author Glen Peters, a Norwegian scientist. Declines in the United States (0.4 percent) and Europe (0.2 percent) were smaller than previous years. India, the No. 3 carbon polluting nation, went up 2 percent.

The 2017 estimate comes to on average of 2.57 million pounds (1.16 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide spewing into the air every second.

The study was published Monday and is being presented in Bonn, Germany, during climate talks where leaders are trying to come up with rules for the 2015 Paris deal. The goal is to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times, but it's already warmed half that amount.

"It was tough enough and if this paper is indicative of long-term trends, it just got tougher," said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, who wasn't part of the team of 76 scientists who wrote the report.

While he called the study authoritative, Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann said he sees no need to do figures for 2017 that are not complete, saying it may be "jumping the gun a bit."

Jackson said the team — which produces these reports every year in November — has confidence in its 2017 report because it is based on real data from top polluting nations through the summer and in some cases through October. Plus, he said past estimates have been correct within a couple tenths of a percentage point.

The top five carbon polluting countries are China, the United States, India, Russia and Japan. Europe taken as a whole, would rank third. 

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[Study Suggests Women Less Likely to Get CPR From Bystanders]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 13:28:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17303626860083.jpg

Women are less likely than men to get CPR from a bystander and more likely to die, a new study suggests, and researchers think reluctance to touch a woman's chest might be one reason.

Only 39 percent of women suffering cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR versus 45 percent of men, and men were 23 percent more likely to survive, the study found.

It involved nearly 20,000 cases around the country and is the first to examine gender differences in receiving heart help from the public versus professional responders.

"It can be kind of daunting thinking about pushing hard and fast on the center of a woman's chest" and some people may fear they are hurting her, said Audrey Blewer, a University of Pennsylvania researcher who led the study.

Rescuers also may worry about moving a woman's clothing to get better access, or touching breasts to do CPR, but doing it properly "shouldn't entail that," said another study leader, U Penn's Dr. Benjamin Abella. "You put your hands on the sternum, which is the middle of the chest. In theory, you're touching in between the breasts."

The study was discussed Sunday at an American Heart Association conference in Anaheim.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping, usually because of a rhythm problem. More than 350,000 Americans each year suffer one in settings other than a hospital. About 90 percent of them die, but CPR can double or triple survival odds.

"This is not a time to be squeamish because it's a life and death situation," Abella said.

Researchers had no information on rescuers or why they may have been less likely to help women. But no gender difference was seen in CPR rates for people who were stricken at home, where a rescuer is more likely to know the person needing help.

The findings suggest that CPR training may need to be improved. Even that may be subtly biased toward males — practice mannequins (they're not called "woman-nequins") are usually male torsos, Blewer said.

"All of us are going to have to take a closer look at this" gender issue, said the Mayo Clinic's Dr. Roger White, who co-directs the paramedic program for the city of Rochester, Minnesota. He said he has long worried that large breasts may impede proper placement of defibrillator pads if women need a shock to restore normal heart rhythm.

The Heart Association and the National Institutes of Health funded the study.

Men did not have a gender advantage in a second study discussed on Sunday. It found the odds of suffering cardiac arrest during or soon after sex are very low, but higher for men than women.

Previous studies have looked at sex and heart attacks, but those are caused by a clot suddenly restricting blood flow, and people usually have time to get to a hospital and be treated, said Dr. Sumeet Chugh, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. He and other researchers wanted to know how sex affected the odds of cardiac arrest, a different problem that's more often fatal.

They studied records on more than 4,500 cardiac arrests over 13 years in the Portland area. Only 34 were during or within an hour of having sex, and 32 of those were in men. Most already were on medicines for heart conditions, so their risk was elevated to start with.

"It's a very awkward situation, and a very horrifying situation to be one of the two people who survives," but more would survive if CPR rates were higher, Chugh said.

Results were published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis]]>
<![CDATA[Why Men Force Women to Watch Them Masturbate: Experts]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 23:24:54 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ckckck.jpg

Power, control, and a pathological desire to elicit fear all play into why a man might engage in exhibitionism, sex therapists say, in the wake of bombshell revelations against comedian Louis C.K. Experts told NBC News masturbating in front of women without their permission is typically about exerting control, not an attempt at seduction.

"The shock on a woman's face that he's torturing is where the arousal lies. It's in her humiliation, said sex therapist Dr. Alexandra Katehakis, clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, who has not treated Louis C.K.

Two female comedians told the New York Times that Louis C.K. masturbated in front of them in 2002. Three other women told the Times about other instances of sexual misconduct by the creator of the FX series "Louie."

"These stories are true," Louis C.K. said in a statement on Friday. "At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly."



Photo Credit: Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images, File]]>
<![CDATA[More May Have Been Exposed to Hep A in NY: Health Officials]]>Fri, 10 Nov 2017 23:39:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/LMX___COLLETTI+HEPATITIS+A+RESTAURANT+WC+FOLO+PKG+530_WNBC_0000.jpg

Patrons of a historic country club in Westchester may have been exposed to hepatitis A amid a small outbreak of the serious viral infection, health officials warned Friday.

Last month, an infected employee at Bartaco in Port Chester led to thousands of people being treated against hepatitis A. That employee ended up exposing five people to hepatitis A, the Westchester Health Department said, and apparently one of those people infected an employee of the Sleepy Hollow Country Club.

The country club has fully cooperated with an investigation and voluntarily closed its kitchens Friday to sanitize them, according to health officials. It's also vaccinating all of its 80 to 100 employees against hepatitis A. 

“We ask for everyone’s patience while we scrub the club from top to bottom to insure a safe place for our members and their guests to dine,” said Eric Rule, the club's general manager, in a statement. 

Patrons of Sleepy Hollow’s Grill Room are most at risk, but health officials are warning anyone who ate or drank at the country club between Oct. 27 and Nov. 4 to seek preventative treatment immediately out of an abundance of caution (more information below). 

People who visited the country club between Oct. 21 and Oct. 26 may have also been exposed, but health officials say preventative treatment is only effective within two weeks of exposure. Those who visited the club before Oct. 27 should monitor themselves for symptoms and contact their health provider if symptoms appear. 

Hepatitis A is transmitted by consuming food or drinks that have been handled by an infected person. Symptoms include fatigue, fever, poor appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dark urine, light colored stool and jaundice, according to Health Commissioner Sherlita Amler. Those infected will normally notice symptoms within 28 days of exposure, but they can appear in as little as 15 days or as many as 50 days.

Free preventative treatment will be offered at 134 Court St. in White Plains on Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. You can register for treatment at this health.ny.gov page.

]]>
<![CDATA[How Sexual Harassment Damages a Person’s Health: Experts]]>Sat, 11 Nov 2017 00:15:42 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_110507143342.jpg

Sexual harassment not only have negative mental effects on victims and survivors, it can also have physical effects as well, experts tell NBC News Better.

Dr. Colleen Cullen, a licensed clinical psychologist, notes that for victims of sexual harassment, the most common diagnoses are depression, anxiety, and even post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When the mental effects become too overwhelming, experts call it somatizing, "a long state can turn into physical symptoms," says Dr. Nekeshia Hammond, a licensed psychologist.

These physical symptoms can run the gamut, manifesting as muscle aches, headaches, or even chronic physical health problems such as high blood pressure and problems with blood sugar.



Photo Credit: AP Photo/Josh Reynolds]]>
<![CDATA[Narcan Explained: What Is It and How Do You Use It?]]>Thu, 14 Dec 2017 14:19:56 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/DIT+NARCAN+EXPLAINER+THUMB3.jpg

Ninety-one people in the U.S. die every day from opioid-related overdoses, but there’s a tool that can reverse the effects of an overdose that more and more law enforcement agencies and paramedics are now carrying with them as part of their standing operating protocol. It’s called Narcan, and here is what you need to know about what it is, how it works and how to use it.]]>
<![CDATA[Researcher: Aaron Hernandez's Brain Was Severely Impacted by CTE]]>Mon, 13 Nov 2017 12:19:02 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/177*120/GettyImages-1772117051.jpg

Former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez suffered substantial damage to parts of the brain that affect memory, judgment and behavior from the most severe case of a degenerative disease linked to head blows ever found in someone so young, a researcher said Thursday.

Dr. Ann McKee, director of Boston University's CTE Center, stressed that she could not "connect the dots" between the brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy and the behavior of the 27-year-old who hanged himself in April while serving life in prison for murder.

But McKee said CTE had significantly impacted key parts of Hernandez's brain, including the hippocampus — which is associated with memory — and the frontal lobe, which is involved in impulse control, judgment and behavior.

The next youngest person whose brain they've examined that showed such serious CTE damage was 46 years old, McKee said.

"These are very unusual findings to see in an individual of this age," McKee said. "We've never seen this in our 468 brains, except in individuals some 20 years older."

Hernandez inherited a genetic profile that may have made him more susceptible to the disease, McKee said.  

"We can say collectively, in our collective experience, that individuals with CTE — and CTE of this severity — have difficulty with impulse control, decision-making, inhibition of impulses or aggression, often emotional volatility and rage behaviors," said McKee, who has studied hundreds of brains from football players, college athletes and even younger players, donated after their deaths.

Hernandez hanged himself in prison days after he was acquitted in the 2012 drive-by shootings of two men in Boston and just hours before his former teammates visited the White House to celebrate their latest Super Bowl victory.

Prosecutors contended he gunned the two men down after one accidentally spilled a drink on him in a nightclub — and then got a tattoo of a handgun and the words "God Forgives" to commemorate the crime.

He had been serving a life sentence without parole in the 2013 killing of semi-professional football player Odin Lloyd when he killed himself.

Hernandez, who said he was innocent, did not raise CTE in his defense at either trial.

CTE, which can only be diagnosed in an autopsy, has been found in former members of the military, football players and boxers and others who suffered repeated head trauma.

BU researchers confirmed in September that Hernandez was diagnosed with Stage 3, out of 4, of the disease. But McKee had not publicly discussed her findings until a conference at the university on Thursday.

After Hernandez's CTE diagnosis, his attorneys filed a lawsuit against the NFL and football helmet maker Riddell, accusing them of failing to warn Hernandez about the dangers of football. The lawsuit, which seeks damages for Hernandez's young daughter, said he experienced a "chaotic and horrendous existence" because of his disease.

While the outside of Hernandez's brain appeared normal, the inside was riddled with CTE, she said. There was evidence of previous small hemorrhages, which experts associate with head impacts, she said. Other parts, like the hippocampus, had begun to shrink and large holes were found in his brain's membrane, McKee said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Is it an Emergency? Insurer Makes Patients Question ER Visit]]>Thu, 09 Nov 2017 12:03:53 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/insurersER_1200x675.jpg

Alison Wrenne was making waffles for her two young children one morning when abdominal pain forced her to the floor. A neighbor who is a physician assistant urged her to go to the emergency room.

Wrong decision, according to her health insurer. Wrenne was diagnosed with a ruptured ovarian cyst, but Anthem said that wasn't an emergency and stuck her with a $4,110 bill.

"How are you supposed to know that?" said the 34-year-old from Lexington, Kentucky. "I'm not a doctor ... that's what the emergency room is for."

In an effort to curb unnecessary and costly ER visits, the Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurer has told customers in a few U.S. states to go to the hospital only in a real emergency such as a heart attack, stroke and major bleeding — or they could wind up footing the bill.

Anthem, the nation's second-largest insurer, wants patients to consider alternatives like drugstore clinics, nurse advice hotlines or telemedicine. Insurers for years have been raising ER co-payments to try to deter unnecessary — and expensive — visits, and Anthem's policy marks another round in this long-standing fight.

Even doctors agree the ER — an important revenue source for hospitals — isn't the best option for minor complaints like sinus infections, rashes or ankle sprains. They say it's better in those cases to see a family doctor who knows a person's medical history.

But some also worry that Anthem's clampdown will scare patients away from the ER in an actual emergency, especially in cases where major problems may not seem serious at first.

"I think it's completely unfair to patients," said Dr. Jesse Pines, who teaches emergency medicine at George Washington University. "It runs the risk of really hurting some people."

Customers in Missouri and Georgia received letters earlier this year from Anthem warning them that minor complaints should be checked out at places like clinics or urgent care centers, where visits can cost $85 and $190, respectively. By comparison, Anthem says a typical ER visit costs around $1,200.

The ER should be used "as it was designed — to treat life-threatening illness," said Dr. Craig Samitt, Anthem's chief clinical officer. "This is in no way meant to compromise a member's determination of whether they've got an emergency."

The push began in 2015 in Kentucky and will expand to Indiana next year and possibly other states that have seen a rise in unnecessary visits. Those involve "common medical ailments" that the average person knows should not be seen in an emergency room, according to Samitt.

Indianapolis-based Anthem Inc. says it wants to steer patients into using the right locations for their care. It has a similar policy for MRIs that pushes some patients away from getting scans at more expensive hospital locations.

There are many exceptions to the ER rule: Patients won't get dinged when there isn't an urgent care center nearby, if they need help on a Sunday or major holiday, if a doctor recommends going to the ER or if someone is under age 14.

Samitt also said Anthem isn't simply rejecting every non-urgent ER claim it receives. The insurer has a physician review a case before issuing a denial, and will consider a patient's circumstances. Anthem said it may cover a patient who arrives with chest pains that turn out to be indigestion instead of a heart attack.

However, hospital officials in Missouri say many of Anthem's reviews haven't been this thorough. The insurer has rejected some claims in only a couple days and hasn't requested patient records before making a decision, said Daniel Landon, a senior vice president with the Missouri Hospital Association.

U.S. emergency department visits are expected to climb to around 150 million this year, up from 141.4 million in 2014. The rise is due partly to coverage expansions under the Affordable Care Act, an aging population and an increase in opioid overdoses, according to the American College of Emergency Physicians.

Other insurers also review ER use but not as aggressively as Anthem, said Laura Wooster of the emergency doctor group. The group has asked Anthem to stop immediately.

"I would hope that other insurers would take a look at this ... and realize it's a dangerous enforcement mechanism to consider," she said.

Anthem spokeswoman Joyzelle Davis said the insurer has met with representatives of the doctor group, but it has no plans to stop its program.

Anthem said it has seen a drop in unnecessary ER visits in Kentucky since it started its review there and has rejected only around 1 percent of all claims as avoidable.

In Wrenne's case, the letter from Anthem said: "We do not believe that a person with an average knowledge of health and medicine would think that this needed care right away" to avoid a serious problem. The insurer said she could have been treated safely in a doctor's office or clinic.

The hospital whittled Wrenne's bill down to several hundred dollars. But now she's nervous about using the ER again.

"It's just frustrating to be a reasonable person and have to weigh the cost of ... going to the ER or not because you have no idea what the bill would be," she said.

Judy Kurtz also is worried about future emergency care. The 62-year-old Maysville, Kentucky, resident was hit with a $1,600 bill a couple years ago after the insurer rejected an ER visit.

A doctor had told her to seek emergency help after an antibiotic reaction made her throat and face swell. She said Anthem eventually paid the claim. But it took about a dozen phone calls and six months to get the insurer to change its mind.

The retired school teacher doesn't want to go through that again and has set a high bar for going to the ER.

"It would have to be terribly life-threatening if I were to go," Kurtz said. "I would probably have to be (unconscious) and someone would have to carry me out."

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin]]>
<![CDATA['Obamacare' Sign-Ups Top 600K in First Week]]>Thu, 09 Nov 2017 13:20:24 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Screen-Shot-2017-11-01-at-3.15.46-PM.jpg

More than 600,000 people signed up for coverage under the Affordable Care Act in the first week of open enrollment, the government said Thursday. That pace tracks with previous years despite persistent political turmoil over the health law.

Figures released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services showed that 601,462 people signed up Nov. 1-4 in the 39 states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website. Of those, about 77 percent were returning customers renewing their coverage, and about 23 percent were new consumers, a split that also mirrors previous years.

Sign-ups for states running their own health insurance markets are not usually included in the early data snapshot. That means that nationally, overall enrollment is higher than reflected in Thursday's statistics. Enacted under former President Barack Obama, the health law offers subsidized private insurance plans to people who don't have health coverage on the job.

Enrollment numbers are being closely watched this year because of the Trump administration's open disdain for the program.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly tweeted that "Obamacare" is collapsing or imploding, and abruptly stopped payments that reimburse insurers for providing lower copays and deductible, contributing to a spike in premiums for next year. His administration cut the sign-up season in half, slashed the advertising budget, and dialed back on counselors that help consumers enroll.

But despite all the uproar, some independent analysts said they don't detect any dramatic impact on the program, at least not yet.

"If there was sabotage, you would expect to see these numbers substantially lower in the beginning of the year, because people wouldn't know it was open enrollment season," said Chris Sloan, a senior manager with the health industry consulting firm Avalere Health.

The numbers don't seem to indicate a surge in consumer interest either, he added. "If there was a surge, you would expect these numbers to be substantially higher," Sloan said.

Separately, a study of the federal HealthCare.gov website for The Associated Press by the technology firm Catchpoint Systems found it running smoothly. Catchpoint monitors consumer experience with major business websites.

The seemingly drama-free start to sign-up season doesn't mean an end to concerns about the Trump administration's stewardship of the program.

"There was a lot of confusion going into this open enrollment period," said Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

Open enrollment ends much earlier this year, on Dec. 15. Since there's usually a surge of procrastinators at the end, what happens in the last week of sign-up season will be critical.

In counterpoint to the Trump administration's efforts to unravel "Obamacare," a quirk this year means that millions of consumers who are eligible for income-based financial assistance will have access to basic "bronze" plans for no monthly premium. Some experts have said that could lead to increased enrollment, but it's still too early to tell.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov]]>
<![CDATA[Frozen Green Beans Recalled in 12 States Over Listeria Risk]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 17:05:55 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/frozen-green-beans.jpg

Nature's Touch Frozen Foods has issued a voluntary recall of its Organic Fine Whole Green Beans because of possible contamination with a bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes, which can cause infections.

The product was distributed in stores in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Virginia.

“At Nature’s Touch, our passion is finding the highest-quality frozen foods for our consumers and we are deeply committed to food safety at every production stage,” Nature’s Touch said in a press release. “This voluntary recall reflects our dedication to ensuring the safety of our consumers while enjoying our products.” 

Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods issued the recall after a routine sampling program in Connecticut found one positive result of the bacteria in one bag of green beans, the company said in the press release. The company says it has stopped production and distribution of the products and is working with the Food and Drug Administration on the recall. 

All affected retailers have been contacted to make sure the product is removed from store shelves and no other products were affected, the company says. The product that is the subject of the recall is the 10-ounce size, with "best before" dates of June 4, 2017 to June 21, 2019.

Listeria is a serious infection most likely to affect pregnant women and newborns, elderly adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

No illnesses associated with the green beans have been reported. 

All affected retailers have been contacted
to ensure that the recalled product is removed from store shelves. Other products of Nature’s Touch
Frozen Foods LLC. are not affected. 

Consumers who have bought Nature’s Touch Frozen Organic Fine Whole Green Beans are advised to throw them out or return them for a full refund.

The company’s Consumer Service Team is available to answer questions at 1-877-850-2664 or by email at: info@naturestouch.ca.



Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Nature's Touch Frozen Foods]]>
<![CDATA[Democrats Win Big With Obamacare's Medicaid Expansion]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 16:18:11 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Barack+Obama+Ralph+Northam+GettyImages-863220768.jpg

Barack Obama may not be running for anything these days, but his signature health care law was a big winner in Tuesday’s elections, as voters rebelled against Republican lawmakers who have blocked Obamacare's Medicaid expansion.

Democrats are hopeful their victories are a harbinger of further gains as they look to capitalize on the law's rising popularity in polls — and repeal legislation's deep unpopularity — with more ballot initiatives, legislative efforts and campaign messages.

In Maine, voters passed a ballot initiative that would expand Medicaid to an estimated 70,000 residents by a margin of 18 points, 59-to-41, doing an end run around Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican who has vetoed five bills to do so.

LePage is already threatening to block the measure unless legislators can find a way to finance it without raising taxes, saying in a statement that "this fiscally irresponsible Medicaid expansion will be ruinous to Maine’s budget."



Photo Credit: Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Boy With Rare Disease Gets Brand New Skin With Gene Therapy]]>Wed, 08 Nov 2017 14:22:44 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/208*120/genetherapyskin_1200x675.jpg

Doctors treating a critically ill boy with a devastating skin disease used experimental gene therapy to create an entirely new skin for most of his body in a desperate attempt to save his life.

Two years later, the doctors report the boy is doing so well that he doesn't need any medication, is back in school and even playing soccer.

"We were forced to do something dramatic because this kid was dying," said Dr. Michele De Luca of the University of Modena in Italy, who got a call for help from the German doctors treating the boy.

The boy, then 7, was hospitalized in June 2015 with blisters on his limbs, back and elsewhere. He quickly lost about 60 percent of the outer layer of his skin and was put into an induced coma to spare him further suffering. Doctors at Children's Hospital at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, tried skin grafts from his father and donor skin, but all failed.

"He was in severe pain and asking a lot of questions," the boy's father said in a video provided by the hospital "Why do I suffer from this disease? Why do I have to live this life? All children can run around and play, why am I not allowed to play soccer? I couldn't answer these questions."

The boy's parents asked about experimental treatments, and De Luca and his colleagues were contacted. They had previously used gene therapy to produce a small piece of skin in a similar case. They told the family that the boy's precarious state meant that he might not survive the complicated surgeries needed to save him.

"It was a tough decision for us, but we wanted to try for (our son)," the boy's father said. The family asked that their names not be used to protect the boy's privacy.

The boy had a rare, incurable skin disease called junctional epidermolysis bullosa, caused by genetic mutations. People with the disease lack critical proteins that attach the outer layer of the skin to the inner layer, resulting in fragile skin with almost constant blisters and open sores.

To fix that, the doctors took a small piece of the boy's skin from an area that was OK. In the lab, they added a normal version of his bad gene to his skin cells. They grew sheets of the boy's skin, in much the same way skin grafts are grown for burn victims.

In total, they grew close to a square meter of skin (3 square feet.) The lab-grown skin was then transplanted onto the boy in three operations, ultimately covering 80 percent of his body. Ten days later, the new skin was already beginning to grow, De Luca said. After eight months, the doctors said that nearly all of the boy's skin had been generated by the modified stem cells.

So far, no problems have been detected. De Luca said the boy will be monitored closely for skin cancer and other potential issues.

"This kid is back to his normal life again," one of the German doctors, Dr. Tobias Rothoeft, said Wednesday. "That's what we dreamed of doing and it was possible."

Details of the case were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

"This takes us a huge step forward," said Dr. Peter Marinkovich of Stanford University School of Medicine, who has done related work. He said it was impressive that De Luca and colleagues were able to make such large amounts of viable skin after correcting the genetic defect.

But he noted the approach might not help in more serious cases, which often have tricky complications, like skin blistering in the lungs. Marinkovich said many patients don't survive beyond age 2 and that using the treatment for babies could be even riskier.

Dr. Holm Schneider warned that some severely ill patients might have an extreme reaction to skin transplants with an added gene.

"The immune system might recognize this new gene as something foreign to be attacked and destroyed," said Schneider, of the University Hospital Erlangen in Germany. Still, he said the approach was worth trying in dying patients.

The boy and his family later visited De Luca and the other Italian doctors involved in his treatment.

"The parents are very grateful and say their life has completely changed," De Luca said, recalling how the boy spontaneously began taking off his clothes. "The boy was so happy with his new skin that he wanted to show off."


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Mirko Wache]]>
<![CDATA[Study: Pain Relievers Worked as Well as Opioids ]]>Tue, 07 Nov 2017 11:27:46 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/ibuprofen_1200x675.jpg

Emergency rooms are where many patients are first introduced to powerful opioid painkillers, but what if doctors offered over-the-counter pills instead? A new study tested that approach on patients with broken bones and sprains and found pain relievers sold as Tylenol and Motrin worked as well as opioids at reducing severe pain.

The results challenge common ER practice for treating short-term, severe pain and could prompt changes that would help prevent new patients from becoming addicted.

The study has limitations: It only looked at short-term pain relief in the emergency room and researchers didn't evaluate how patients managed their pain after leaving the hospital.

But given the scope of the U.S. opioid epidemic — more than 2 million Americans are addicted to opioid painkillers or heroin — experts say any dent in the problem could be meaningful.

Results were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Long-term opioid use often begins with a prescription painkiller for short-term pain, and use of these drugs in the ER has risen in recent years. Previous studies have shown opioids were prescribed in nearly one-third of ER visits and about 1 out of 5 ER patients are sent home with opioid prescriptions.

"Preventing new patients from becoming addicted to opioids may have a greater effect on the opioid epidemic than providing sustained treatment to patients already addicted," Dr. Demetrios Kyriacou, an emergency medicine specialist at Northwestern University, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The study involved 411 adults treated in two emergency rooms at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Their injuries included leg and arm fractures or sprains. All were given acetaminophen, the main ingredient in Tylenol, plus either ibuprofen, the main ingredient in Motrin, or one of three opioids: oxycodone, hydrocodone or codeine. They were given standard doses and were not told which drug combo they received.

Patients rated their pain levels before taking the medicine and two hours later. On average, pain scores dropped from almost 9 on a 10-point scale to about 5, with negligible differences between the groups.

Ibuprofen and acetaminophen affect different pain receptors in the body so using the two drugs together may be especially potent, said Dr. Andrew Chang, an emergency medicine professor at Albany Medical College in upstate New York, who led the study.

He noted that a pill combining ibuprofen and acetaminophen is available in other countries; his findings echo research from Canada and Australia testing that pill against opioids for pain relief.

___

Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner on Twitter at @LindseyTanner. Her work can be found here.


Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: AP/Patrick Sison]]>
<![CDATA[1 Reason Flu Vaccines Are So Lousy: They're Grown in Eggs]]>Tue, 07 Nov 2017 13:31:06 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/flu-shot.jpg

Last year's influenza vaccine reduced the number of flu-related visits to the doctor by 42 percent, and the vaccine reduced a specific strain of flu virus by even less, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One important reason flu shots don't usually work very well is because they're grown in chicken eggs, a slow and tricky process that can go wrong easily, researchers told NBC News.

"We need to get away from the antiquated production model, which the egg is," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He thinks that vaccines made using insect cells could be better at protecting people from the flu.



Photo Credit: AP, File]]>
<![CDATA['Unusually Severe' Plague Sickens 1,800 in Madagascar]]>Fri, 03 Nov 2017 11:43:01 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/plague-cdc.jpg

More than 1,800 people in Madagascar have contracted plague in what the World Health Organization deemed an "unusually severe" outbreak, but it's unlikely to spread beyond the island, NBC News reported.

The infection is easily treated with antibiotics if caught early enough and is now rare in developed countries, but it's an ongoing problem in Madagascar, where 187 people have died in the latest outbreak.

"Based on available information and response measures implemented to date, WHO estimates the risk of potential further spread of the plague outbreak at national level remains high," according to a WHO report.

Screening for the disease has been stepped up at airports, the agency said, which will help stop people from bringing the infection beyond the island's shores.



Photo Credit: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases]]>
<![CDATA[Obama Touts Open Enrollment for 'Obamacare' ]]>Wed, 01 Nov 2017 14:20:05 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/Screen-Shot-2017-11-01-at-3.15.46-PM.jpg

A new deadline, rising prices and fewer options for help will greet health insurance shoppers as the Affordable Care Act's main enrollment window opens Wednesday.

Also in store: Befuddlement.

"Confusion seems to be one of the key words to describe what we're facing now," said Nicholas Moriello, a Delaware-based broker.

Among the things Moriello has found he needs to clear up with customers: That the Obama-era law still exists.

Even former President Barack Obama took to Twitter Wednesday to deliver a short video reminding people that it's time to pick coverage for next year.

The health care law has survived funding cuts and congressional repeal attempts so far. Most Americans are still required to get health insurance, and they can find plans — including some generous subsidies — through state-based marketplaces or exchanges, including HealthCare.gov .

That said, some prices have skyrocketed and choices have narrowed in many markets, in part because of political bickering over the health law.

Here's what's new, what's the same, and some important points to consider when searching for 2018 coverage.

LESS TIME TO DECIDE
The main enrollment window has been sliced in half. It starts Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15 in most states. Last year, you had until after the holidays to sign up.

Don't wait until the last minute to shop. The search can take a few hours without assistance, and websites that process applications can slow under a deadline rush.

"It's a very delicate subject when you're dealing with someone's health and if the plan doesn't work, you're stuck with it for the next year," said Dallas-based broker Tanya Boyd.

FEWER HELPERS AVAILABLE
It may be harder to find someone willing to answer questions.

President Donald Trump's administration has slashed funding for "navigator" positions created to help people enroll. It also has ended contracts for another program that brought assistance into libraries and neighborhoods in 18 cities.

There may even be fewer agents willing to help, because of an industry-wide move to reduce commissions.

The federal HealthCare.gov website has a "Find Local Help" button on its home page. Customers also can call 1-800-318-2596.

PRICES: EXPECT HIKES
Premiums for popular "silver" level plans are climbing an average of 34 percent in the 39 state marketplaces that operate through HealthCare.gov, according to the consulting firm Avalere. That pushes the average monthly bill to $743 from $554 this year for single coverage for a 50-year-old shopper.

The average price for more expensive gold coverage is rising 16 percent. Cheaper bronze plans will climb 18 percent.

Average premiums, or the price of coverage, will climb in most markets, but the size of price changes will vary widely.

MORE FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
Income-based tax credits are calculated based on the cost of silver plans, so those credits are expected to climb, and that will funnel more help to people, especially those with lower incomes.

In some cases, credits might climb high enough to cover the entire bill for bronze plans, which usually require customers to pay a deductible of several thousand dollars before most coverage begins.

Shoppers who make too much to qualify for tax credits could face the biggest price hikes.

Those customers should check for options outside the marketplaces, where people can still buy insurance but without tax credit help.

There, insurers in some states are expected to sell cheaper versions of the silver plans, said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, which studies health care issues.

DON'T BLOW IT OFF
The health law still requires most Americans to buy coverage that complies with the law or face a penalty that can top $1,000 depending on income.

The IRS is paying attention, said Kelley Turek of the trade group America's HealthInsurance Plans. She noted that the federal agency is reminding income tax filers that it will reject or suspend any returns that don't indicate whether the taxpayer had coverage.

LIKE ALWAYS: SHOP CAREFULLY
Don't just shop based on price.

The premium is only one indicator of a health plan's affordability. There's also the deductible and co-insurance, which is the percentage of the bill a patient pays after the deductible is met.

Plans also can change the doctors and medications they cover. Check on that before you renew coverage.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Healthcare.gov
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<![CDATA[NJ Sues OxyContin Maker, Alleges 'Direct Link' to Opioid Crisis]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 11:41:41 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_201601271555460000.jpg

New Jersey filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the company that manufactures OxyContin, claiming a "direct link" between the state's opioid crisis and the firm's deceptive marketing practices.

State Attorney General Christopher Porrino says the five-count lawsuit against Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma and two of its entities seeks undisclosed monetary damages for fraud and false claims.

Purdue Pharma issued a statement saying it "vigorously denies" the allegations. The company said it's deeply troubled by the opioid crisis and is dedicated to being part of the solution.

"As a company grounded in science, we must balance patient access to FDA-approved medicines, while working collaboratively to solve this public health challenge," it said.

Prescription opioids have long been linked to the rise in heroin abuse. Federal drug enforcement officials have characterized prescription painkillers as a "feeder system" for the opioid epidemic.

More than 1,600 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the most recent reporting available from state health officials.

In 2016, 38,334 New Jerseyans underwent treatment for an addiction to opioids.

The state claims Purdue exploited vulnerable new markets, including the elderly and the "opioid-naïve," to boost profits. It claims Purdue aggressively marketed opioids and duped doctors and the public into believing they should be the primary treatment option for chronic conditions — like arthritis and migraines — despite the lack of any studies examining treatment periods longer than 12 weeks.

"When we point the finger of blame for the deadly epidemic that has killed thousands in New Jersey, Purdue is in the bull's-eye of the target," Porrino said. "Today, my office took the first step toward holding them legally and financially responsible for their deception."

The suit includes three counts alleging violations of the state's Consumer Fraud Act and one count alleging violations of its False Claims Act. It also includes a charge of creating a public nuisance.

More than two dozen states, cities and counties have sued the pharmaceutical companies.

New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie has made addiction services a priority in his final year in office. He also chairs President Donald Trump's commission on opioids.

Trump last week declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced new steps to combat what he described as the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that, in 2015, drug overdoses killed more than 52,000 Americans. Most involved prescription opioids such as OxyContin or Vicodin or related illicit drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. People with addictions often switch among the drugs.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Toby Talbot/AP, FIle]]>
<![CDATA[Major Recall Affects Chocolate Sold at Wegmans in 23 States]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 09:55:54 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/GettyImages-56960813.jpg

A New York-based company is recalling a bunch of chocolate products, most of which were sold at Wegmans stores in nearly two dozen states, because they contain milk not declared on the list of ingredients, which could be extremely dangerous, even life-threatening, to people allergic to it. 

First Source announced the voluntary recall Monday. Both packaged chocolate, coffee beans and almonds and items sold in self-service bins are affected by the recall. 

The following 10 packaged items are affected:

  • Wegmans Dark Chocolate Almonds 23oz tub
  • Wegmans Dark Chocolate Almonds 11.5oz tub
  • Wegmans Dark Chocolate Almonds with Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar 12oz tub
  • Wegmans Dark Chocolate Cherry-Infused Cranberries 12oz tub
  • Wegmans Dark Chocolate Strawberries 13.5oz tub
  • Alpine Valley Dark Chocolate Almonds 11.5oz tub
  • Circle K Favorites Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds 3.25oz bag
  • Tops Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds 11.5oz tub
  • Tops Dark Chocolate Coffee Beans 12oz tub
  • 7 Select Dark Chocolate Turbinado Almonds with Sea Salt 2.25oz bag 

Those were sold in 23 states including New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Texas, Vermont and Virginia from Jan. 1, 2016, to the present. 

The following products sold in bulk self-service bins at grocery stores between Jan. 1, 2016, and Oct. 30, 2017, are also affected: 

  • 15 LBS Dark Chocolate Peanuts distributed to Wegmans Food Markets, Dryden Food Market, New Brighton Food Land, Punxsutawney Country Market, and Trumansburg Shur Save,
  • 20 LBS Dark Chocolate Almonds to Wegmans Food Markets, Giant Food Store, Martin’s Food Market, and Stop N Shop
  • 25 LBS Dark Chocolate Coffee Beans Giant Food Store, Giant Food Mart, Martin’s Food Market, Wegmans Food Market, Dryden Food Market, Orchard Fresh, Stop N Shop, and Punxsutawney Country Market 

Those products were distributed in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. 

No illnesses or reactions have been reported, and First Source says it is issuing the recall out of an abundance of caution. It found out about the issue after a supplier issued its own recall because of the milk allergen. Anyone with questions can call First Source at 1-716-389-0200.



Photo Credit: File-Stephen Chernin/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Global Warming Is Hitting People's Health: Medical Study]]>Tue, 31 Oct 2017 06:02:30 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/AP_17303594477117-Dengue-Fever.jpg

Global warming is hurting people's health a bit more than previously thought, but there's hope that the Earth — and populations — can heal if the planet kicks its coal habit, a group of doctors and other experts said.

The poor and elderly are most threatened by worsening climate change, but there remains "glimmers of progress" especially after the 2015 Paris agreement to limit heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions, according to a new big study published Monday in the British medical journal Lancet.

Comparing the report to a health checkup, four researchers and several outside experts described Earth's prognosis as "guarded."

"There are some very severe warning signs, but there are some hopeful indicators too," said co-author Dr. Howard Frumkin, a professor of environmental health at the University of Washington. "Given the right treatment and aggressive efforts to prevent things from getting worse, I think there's hope."

The report highlighted health problems stemming from more frequent heat waves, disease spread by insects, air pollution and other woes. While the disasters have been costly, deaths haven't been increasing because society is doing a better but more expensive job adjusting to the changing conditions, the researchers noted.

A team of 63 doctors, public health officials and scientists from around the world wrote what they considered the first of a regular monitoring of the health of the planet, similar to having a "finger on the pulse of the patient," said Dr. Hugh Montgomery, an intensive care specialist and director of the University College of London's Institute for Health and Performance.

Based on 40 indicators, the study said "the human symptoms of climate change are unequivocal and potentially irreversible."

While other disease rates are dropping, cases of dengue fever — a mosquito-borne disease — has doubled every decade since 1990 with 58.4 million cases and 10,000 deaths in 2013. Frumkin, a former environmental health director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said climate change, which allows mosquitoes to live in more places and stay active longer with shorter freeze seasons, is part but not all of the reason.

The same goes for the increase in tick-borne Lyme disease in the United States, Frumkin said, adding "the ticks do better with warmer weather."

Between 2000 and last year, the number of vulnerable people — those over 65 or with chronic disease — exposed to heat waves increased by about 125 million, the study said.

It also highlighted the increasing likelihood of food shortages as climate change worsens.

Columbia University's Madeline Thomson, who wasn't part of the study team, praised the work, saying "climate is a stress multiplier" so it is important to monitor this way.

Acting on climate can have side benefits, Frumkin said. Cutting coal takes smog and soot out of the air, while eating less meat and bicycling and walking more to use less electricity means fewer accidents and reduced obesity, he said.

Copyright Associated Press / NBC New York



Photo Credit: Muhammad Sajjad/AP, File]]>
<![CDATA[Meet Four Inspiring Kids Tackling Cancer]]>Fri, 01 Dec 2017 09:26:48 -0500https://media.nbcnewyork.com/images/213*120/SEAN_BRUCE_1_v2.jpg

The following content is created in consultation with Tackle Kids Cancer. It does not reflect the work or opinions of NBC New York’s editorial staff. To learn more about Tackle Kids Cancer, visit Tacklekidscancer.org.

Declan, Sean, Addison and Hayden – four kids tackling cancer. Four kids who taught me so much during the interviews I conducted at their homes this past week. But it wasn’t just the kids who were amazing – it was their families. Their love and devotion could not be measured by the length of a football field. It is far more than that. It’s an endearing love that cannot easily be defined.

For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to join the Tackle Kids Cancer team. I was tasked with interviewing four families in two days and sharing their personal stories with our viewers. I laughed a lot but cried even more. But more than anything else, I left with admiration and respect for youngsters, who continue to dream of a life without having to deal with this dreaded disease. When eight-year-old Hayden told me he can’t wait until 2027, I wondered why. “I will be cancer free that year,” he said. My heart sank for one moment and then I smiled to support him and said, “wow, I can’t wait either!”

Tackle Kids Cancer funds research so someday we will live in a world that is cancer-free. Their mission is inspiring. Their support is unwavering. They believe that no family should have to endure what these four families have gone through. I admire their commitment and respect the effort they have made to make this world a better place to live, laugh and learn.

I think of one-year-old Declan often. After all I have an eight-month-old granddaughter of my own. I loved his boundless energy and his curiosity as he circled the room during my interview with his parents. It is 100 days since his bone marrow transplant and I pray his recovery will continue to go well as he continues to inspire all of us.


When 15-year-old Sean returns to high school in 2018, I would like to be there. It will be a milestone for a young man who has battled leukemia with class and elegance. His brothers Brendan and Liam hope to be there too. And even his dog Jetson, will probably be doing laps to celebrate. I texted former Giants coach Tom Coughlin to tell him about Sean. Knowing that Sean is a huge Giants fan, Tom immediately called Sean to support him in his fight.

Sean’s wide smile after that conversation confirmed that Coughlin’s message got through. 


They told me two-year-old Addison can light up the whole room with her infectious smile. They were right. I watched her parents, Kristy and Frank, beam with pride when she played with her brothers, Gavin and Frankie. Addison faces a tough fight as she deals with Down Syndrome, while battling leukemia and diabetes. That seems like an unfair challenge, but we all believe in this darling little girl who is more courageous than any athlete I have ever met. How unselfish is her family? They have helped doctors learn about Addison’s conditions by entering a multitude of clinical trials, which have been established to help others.

Hayden was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, the same aggressive cancer that Mark Herzlich of the Giants was diagnosed with in 2009. I texted Mark, who quickly called Hayden and his parents, Amy and Steve. He told them that he’s been cancer-free since 2011. He told Hayden how much respect he has for him and that he remains firmly in his corner.

The interviews I did for this Tackle Kids Cancer campaign were exhausting to say the least. They were emotionally draining. There was heartache and heartbreak everywhere. But those interviews and those visits so inspired me, as I saw firsthand the strength and nobility of these kids and their families.

Yes, I learned about pediatric cancer and the struggles that families face. Yes, I learned about the great work Tackle Kids Cancer does in our neighborhoods. But I also learned about the value of family and the importance of appreciating life. Most importantly, I made friends with four amazing kids – friendships I will cherish forever. 

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