Category: Disease

Hate Crime as a Public Health Concern

Unless you have been living under a rock the past few months you are well aware of the social tension amongst citizens of the United States. Don’t get me wrong, it has never been ideal, but since the election of President Trump, we have been a country far from united.

In the first month following the 2016 election, there were over 1,000 race-related incidents. While the monthly rates have decreased, the overall occurrence of these incidents continues daily. I’m not here to take sides or point fingers, but instead, look at hate crimes from an often overlooked perspective.

The psychological and physiological damage accumulated by those who face routine discrimination is now considered by many as a public health concern in and of itself. Data from the American Psychological Association shows the impact of discrimination and racism can increase rates of chronic stress, depression, and anxiety; while a meta-analysis compiled by Cambridge University has shown it increases rates of the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

While data continues to develop, it is now obvious how snide remarks and hateful actions do much more than simply hurt feelings. In times like these, it’s important to take an introspective look and ask what we are doing in response to this climate of hate.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Ebola vaccine-preliminary trials

Ebola is a severe virus disease that spreads to humans from wild animals (often those found in rain forests), and can then be transmitted from human to human. The virus will onset between 2 to 21 days of exposure, and can cause fever, muscle pain, headaches and sore throats, followed by vomiting, diarrhea, impaired kidney/liver function, and bleeding. Though there are treatments, and re-hydration helps, there is as of yet no cure or licensed treatment to neutralize the virus.

In March of 2014, the World Health Organization recognized an outbreak of Ebola in West Africa–the largest one to date, and fatal in an estimated 40% of cases. It spread quickly in both rural and urban communities. The CDC reported, as of April 2016, 11,325 deaths.

An article published in The Lancet-an infectious disease academic journal- this month says that this outbreak “highlighted the need for a safe, effective vaccine with a rapid onset of protection”. A phase 1 study (the stage of vaccine development in which a vaccine is administered to what is considered a small group of adults) was completed in June of 2015 and demonstrated some success. Nearly 500 participants finished the study, which lasted 360 days, and most of them showed promising amounts of lasting immunity starting about two weeks into the study. The study was led by scientists at the World Health Organization.

Of course, the study was just short of a year, and in a relatively small sample size, so there is future research to be done. Still, the potential protection offered by a successful vaccine is an exciting thought.

Sources-

World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/

Lancet article: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laninf/article/PIIS1473-3099(17)30313-4/fulltext

CDC, Infectious Disease Adviser

Old-fashioned Soap & Water

Suppose you just sneezed into your hands. I would recommend trying to sneeze into the elbow crease, but things happen. Anyway, now that your hypothetical hands are sneeze covered, what do you do? Of course, you need to clean them. You have two options, use the hand sanitizer nearby or go to the bathroom and wash them with soap and water. Which do you think is better at sanitizing the hands, killing the germs, and preventing the spread of disease?

The CDC recommends washing hands with soap and water when it is available because it is the most effective method for reducing the number of microbes. Hand sanitizers without alcohol do not kill all germs, can promote germ resistance, reduces the growth of the germs without killing them completely, and may cause skin irritation. Hand sanitizers with alcohol are better, but still do not eliminate all types of germs including Cryptosporidiumnorovirus, and Clostridium difficile. If you are going to use hand sanitizers, opt for hand sanitizers containing at least 60% alcohol.

When your hands are visibly dirty, always use soap and water to clean them. The CDC and numerous studies support evidence that hand sanitizers are effective when used on slightly dirty hands, such as after daily activities in typical hospitals or office settings, but are ineffective when used after dirtier activities, such as playing sports, gardening, or camping. If hands are exposed to hazardous chemical substances, use soap and water to wash your hands; hand sanitizers were not made to remove or neutralize chemicals and they may be ineffective or exacerbate skin irritation or damage.

So, in our hypothetical sneeze situation, find a sink and wash your hands correctly. If that is not an option, use the hand sanitizer; it’s better than nothing. Just remember to wash your hands as soon as soap and water is available, avoid contact with public surfaces, and don’t touch your face. Other ways to reduce the spread of disease include:

  1. Get vaccinated, including yearly flu vaccinations and booster shots
  2. Use antibiotics sensibly, don’t take antibiotics to fight a viral infection
  3. Disinfect bathrooms and kitchens regularly, such as wiping surfaces and washing towels
  4. Practice safe sex, such as using a condom
  5. Stay home when you’re sick, both from work and going to public spaces
  6. Be smart about food preparation, such as cooking meat thoroughly
  7. Don’t share personal items, such as toothbrushes or lipstick

Resources:

University of Puget Sound (n.d) Preventing the Spread of Infectious Disease. http://www.pugetsound.edu/student-life/counseling-health-and-wellness/health-topics/preventing-the-spread-of-infec/

CDC (2016, Feb 22) Show Me the Science-When & How to Use Hand Sanitizer. http://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/show-me-the-science-hand-sanitizer.html

Financial Toxicity

By Shauna Ayres MPH candidate 2017

CDC data estimates that 26.8% of families report significant financial burden due to medical costs (Cohen & Kirzinger, 2014) and this figure is expected to grow as insurance premiums, drug prices, medical procedures, and health facility overhead costs continue to rise each year. In addition, the aging US population is using more health services which drives everyone’s costs higher (Patton, 2015; Mitka, 2013).

Unfortunately, cancer is one of the most common and most expensive medical conditions. Cancer diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation are all lengthy, complex processes that require a variety of medical experts (Mitka, 2013). All of the visits, time, supplies, machines, therapies, medicines, personnel, etc. required adds to a patient’s out-of-pocket costs. (Zafar & Abernethy, 2013). However, there are not just monetary costs. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, thousands of dollars of lost wages can accumulate due to the time taken off from work to travel to appointments and receive treatments. This causes more financial stress on the patient because they are earning less income while their expenses are increasing (Zafar & Abernethy, 2013).

In the cancer community, the term financial toxicity has gained popularity. Financial toxicity refers to how the cost of a disease and its treatment impacts quality of life (University of Chicago, 2016), like how chemical toxicity effects health. Financial toxicity encompasses all aspects of wellness: physical, emotional, social, occupational, financial, and spiritual. Increased medical costs, and thus financial toxicity, is associated with decreased treatment adherence, worse patient outcomes, and lower self-reported quality of life (Shankaran & Ramsey, 2015; Zafar & Abernethy, 2013).

Financial toxicity should be treated as a symptom of cancer. Discussing personal finances in America is largely taboo, but this cultural norm should be challenged in the healthcare field. Doctor’s should assess the financial situations of their patients and use that information to help inform what the best mode of treatment will be (Shankaran & Ramsey, 2015). There are numerous ways to treat cancer and some are drastically more expensive than others. People may argue that the price tag of a treatment can never outweigh the price of life and that is valid; however, a health professionals must assess each patient’s priorities, both personally, medically, and financially to determine the healthiest individualized treatment path (Emanuel & Steinmetz, 2013; Shankaran & Ramsey, 2015). This does not necessarily mean that poor patients with receive cheaper and lower quality care. If a doctor is aware of a patient’s financial status, he/she can refer the patient to a hospital social worker who can assist in securing charitable funding or grant money to help pay for treatment (Shankaran & Ramsey, 2015). Until the issues of medical spending and insurance are solved, which will unfortunately not occur overnight, health professionals and patients must communicate more effectively to find the optimal comprehensive treatment to achieve the best overall quality of life for each individual (Emanuel & Steinmetz, 2013).

Resources:

Cohen, R.A. & Kirzinger, W.K. (2014) Financial burden of medical care: A family perspective. NCHS data brief, no 142. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

Emanuel, E.J., & Steinmetz, A. (2013) Will Physicians Lead on Controlling Health Care Costs?. JAMA; 310(4):374-375.

Mitka, M. (2013). IOM Report: Aging US Population, Rising Costs, and Complexity of Cases Add Up to Crisis in Cancer Care. JAMA; 310(15):1549-1550.

Ramsey, S., Blough, D., Kirchhoff, A., Kreizenbeck, K., Fedorenko, C., Snell, K., Newcomb, P., William Hollingworth, W., & Overstreet, K. (2013) Washington state cancer patients found to be at greater risk for bankruptcy than people without a cancer diagnosis. Health Aff; 10.1377/hlthaff.2012.1263.

Shankaran, V. & Ramsey, S. (2015) Addressing the Financial Burden of Cancer treatment from Copay to Can’t Pay. JAMA Oncol; 1(3):273-274.

Shankaran, V., Jolly, S., Blough, D. & Ramsey, S. (2012). Risk factors for financial hardship in patients receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for colon cancer: A population-bases exploratory analysis. J Clinical Onclology; 14:1608-1614.

Zafar, S.Y. & Abernethy, A.P. (2013). Financial toxicity, part I: A new name for a growing problem. Oncology; 27(2):80-149.

University of Chicago (2016). Financial toxicity facts. Cost of Cancer Care. https://costofcancercare.uchicago.edu/page/financial-toxicity-facts

Patton, M. (2015, Jun 29) U.S. health care costs rise faster than inflation. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikepatton/2015/06/29/u-s-health-care-costs-rise-faster-than-inflation/#1226e08f6ad2

World AIDS Day

world-aids-day

What is World AIDS Day? World AIDS Day is held on December 1 every year, and is an opportunity for individuals worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and remember those who have died from HIV. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). No effective cure for HIV currently exists, but with proper treatment and medical care, HIV can be controlled.

The CDC estimates that roughly 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and nearly 1 in 8 of these 1.2 million are not aware that they are infected. As many as 50,000 people become newly infected each year, with men who have sex with men and African American heterosexual women being the two groups with the most new HIV infections. The Southern United States experiences the highest number of new diagnoses each year followed by the Northeast, West, and Midwest.

Learn about the national HIV/AIDS strategy and prevention methods.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. You can get tested at your healthcare provider, and most medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them as well. Home testing kits are also available. On World AIDS Day, many community organizations host testing and awareness events in order to increase awareness of and decrease stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Show your support with these social media resources and find a local testing site here.

Study Drugs Limitless? More Like Limited: Know the Risks

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

There has been much attention on the opioid and heroin epidemic in the last several years. Appalachian states in particular have suffered a great deal from a sharp rise in addiction and overdoses caused by opioid drugs. However, like many other addictive behaviors, there is silent rise in rates of “study drugs” on college campuses across the nation. Study drugs are prescription drugs, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse, that are used to treat Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Those with ADHD suffer from a brain abnormality that causes difficulties in concentration and increases impulsivity; but, college students without ADHD are using them to increase focus, sleep less, or do more academic, professional, and/or social activities.

The strong marketing and pressure by drug companies to prescribe and sell new ADHD drugs has resulted in more youth being diagnosed with this disorder and more prescriptions being written. There are currently 2.5 million Americans prescribed ADHD drugs and manufacturing of prescription stimulants has increased by 9 million percent in the past decade! I think the real questions are: Do more Americans suffer from ADHD? Or, has American’s need for drugs increased? The sad reality is that the more drugs available, the more opportunities there are to abuse those drugs.

It is estimated up to one third of college students have used study drugs. Common characteristics of users include being white, belonging to a fraternity or sorority, and having a grade point average of a B or lower. Interestingly, these drugs may keep students awake longer, but do not increase cognitive ability or capacity, or said another way, they do not make students smarter and are not like the magic pills in the movie Limitless. Most college students report getting or buying these types of drugs from a friend or peer with ADHD and a legit prescription.

Just because a drug is approved by the FDA, does not mean it does not have side effects, especially if it was prescribed to someone other than the person actually consuming it–every drug comes with risks. Some of the more common consequences of ADHD stimulant drugs are increased blood pressure, irregular heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, headache, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, changes in appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in sex drive. Hallucinations, cardiac arrest, and death have been reported among people with prior heart conditions. In addition, ADHD stimulants are classified as a schedule II drug due to being highly addictive and the suggested sentence for distribution of schedule II drugs is 20 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars.

So, if you are using or considering using these types of drugs, please seek support from Campus Health Services or another health professional.

If you have these drugs for ADHD, do not share them with others. Here is a link to ways to “Protect Your Prescription”.

Resources

Cherney, Kristeen (2014). ADHD Medications List. Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/medication-list#Stimulants2

University of Texas at Austin, University Health Services. HealthyHorns: Study Drugs. https://healthyhorns.utexas.edu/studydrugs.html

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Campus Health Services: Home. https://campushealth.unc.edu/

Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal Trafficking Penalties for Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V (except Marijuana): https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ftp_chart1.pdf

Center on Young Adult Health and Development (n.d.) Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants: What college administrators, parents, and student need to know. University of Maryland School of Public Health. http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/NPSFactSheet.pdf

Aberg, Simon Essig (2016). “Study Drug” Abuse by College Students: What you need to know. National Center for Health Research. http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/hyperactivity-and-adhd/study-drug-abuse-college-students/