Health Desk

The Salt
4:57 pm
Tue May 5, 2015

Tea Tuesdays: Butter Up That Tea, Tibetan-Style

A monk pours butter tea at the Tashilhunpo Monastery in Tibet.
Antoine Taveneaux via Wikimedia Commons

Butter (arguably) makes everything better – even tea. For Chime Dhorje, who works at Café Himalaya in New York City, the butter in the cup of tea before him ideally comes from a yak.

Yak butter tea is often referred to as the national drink of Dhorje's homeland, Tibet. Tibetans drink it all day long — up to 60 cups a day, it's said — though they're not the only ones who enjoy it: It's consumed in countries throughout the Himalayas.

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Goats and Soda
12:22 pm
Tue May 5, 2015

Natural GMO? Sweet Potato Genetically Modified 8,000 Years Ago

Now that's a big root: Sweet potatoes aren't tubers, or thickened stems, like potatoes. Sweet potatoes are roots — swollen and packed with starch.
U-ichiro Murakami Flickr.com

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 1:51 pm

The first genetically modified crop wasn't made by a megacorporation. Or a college scientist trying to design a more durable tomato. Nope. Nature did it — at least 8,000 years ago.

Well, actually bacteria in the soil were the engineers. And the microbe's handiwork is present in sweet potatoes all around the world today.

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Shots - Health News
10:42 am
Tue May 5, 2015

Spore Wars Help Fend Off Life-Threatening Bacterial Infections

C. difficile bacteria, shown in yellow, are common in hospitals and nursing homes, and very difficult to treat.
Paul Gunning Science Source

Infections with the bacteria Clostridium difficile are a big problem, killing 29,000 people a year. Many of those people got infected while in the hospital. And antibiotics often don't work.

So how about this: Take spores from a harmless version of C. difficile and use them to fight off the bad bugs?

That's just what researchers at the VA hospital in Hines, Ill., did.

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Shots - Health News
10:36 am
Tue May 5, 2015

Whooping Cough Vaccine's Protection Fades Quickly

Vials of Tdap vaccine sit on a table at a Solano County, Calif., health fair in August 2010.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Lately, Californians have been focused on a measles outbreak that got its start at Disneyland. But in the last five years, state health officials have declared epidemics of whooping cough twice — in 2010 and in 2014, when 11,000 people were sickened and three infants died.

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Goats and Soda
6:03 pm
Mon May 4, 2015

The World's Mothers Don't Always Get The Care They Need

When Dr. Bina Valsangkar had a miscarriage in India, she received state-of-the-art medical care. But just a few miles from the hospital she visited, nurses were struggling to keep up with sick patients.
Courtesy of Save the Children

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 7:51 pm

Two months into my first pregnancy, I suffered a miscarriage and needed to seek medical care.

Although a miscarriage is difficult for any woman to experience, I had access to the best care. My physician was excellent, I trusted her judgment, and the imaging equipment, laboratory facilities and clinical care were all first-rate.

That's not surprising — except that I was then living in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, the capital city of one of India's poorest states.

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Shots - Health News
3:27 pm
Mon May 4, 2015

When Hospitals Close, Frequent Fears About Care Aren't Realized

A hospital closure can send tremors through a city or town, leaving residents fearful about how they will be cared for in emergencies and serious illnesses.

A study released Monday offers some comfort, finding that when hospitals shut down, death rates and other markers of quality generally don't worsen.

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Goats and Soda
2:12 pm
Mon May 4, 2015

Irene, A Ugandan Prostitute, Explains How To Use A Condom

Irene lives in a fishing village in Uganda where the rate of HIV infection is 43 percent.
Wilbur Sargunaraj for NPR

The interviewer asks the fresh-faced young woman named Irene: "What do you do here in this village?"

"I am a prostitute," she says.

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Shots - Health News
1:04 pm
Mon May 4, 2015

Triage And Treatment: Untold Health Stories From Baltimore's Unrest

Baltimore residents clean up outside a CVS store Tuesday, after an evening of riots following the funeral of Freddie Gray.
Evan Vucci AP

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 11:48 am

Over the last week, Baltimore's unrest has captured the nation's attention. Images of burning cars, the sounds of angry protesters and then peace rallies have dominated the airwaves and headlines.

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Shots - Health News
11:18 am
Mon May 4, 2015

Concussions Are Most Likely During Practice In High School And College

iStockphoto

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 11:48 am

Parents worry about a child getting a concussion in the heat of competition, but they also need to be thinking about what happens during practices, a study finds.

High school and college football players are more likely to suffer a concussion during practices than in a game, according a study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics. Here are the numbers:

  • In youth games, 54 percent of concussions happened during games.
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Shots - Health News
4:04 am
Mon May 4, 2015

Sepsis, A Wily Killer, Stymies Doctors' Efforts To Tame It

Bob Skierski at the beach in Avalon, N.J., just hours before he fell ill and went to the hospital. He never went home.
Courtesy of Jennifer Rodgers

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 11:48 am

If you ran down the list of ailments that most commonly kill Americans, chances are you wouldn't think to name sepsis. But this condition, sometimes called blood poisoning, is in fact one of the most common causes of death in the hospital, killing more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

Jennifer Rodgers learned about sepsis the way many people do — through personal experience.

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Shots - Health News
2:03 am
Mon May 4, 2015

A Woman Uses Art To Come To Terms With Her Father's Death

Of I Wish You the Sunshine of Tomorrow, Rodgers says: "The ICU room my dad was in on the day he died had yellow walls. Every time we visited him we had to wear hospital gowns that were a bright yellow. [It] was a recurring color in that whole time frame of my life."
Courtesy of Jennifer Rodgers

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 2:24 pm

A month after her father died of sepsis, Jennifer Rodgers began creating maps.

She took a large piece of paper, splattered it with black paint and then tore it into pieces. Then she began to draw: short black lines mimic the steps she walked in the hospital hallway during her father's hospitalization.

"It was a physical release of emotion for me," she says.

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Goats and Soda
6:03 am
Sun May 3, 2015

Why Your Future Vaccination Might Not Be A Shot

A patch that's the size of a nickel could one day administer the measles vaccine.
Gary W. Meek

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 10:43 am

Vaccines don't always make it into the people who need them the most. Many require a syringe and a needle to enter the bloodstream and create immunity. And that means a doctor or nurse has to do the job.

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Goats and Soda
4:39 am
Sun May 3, 2015

What Happens To A Country When An Outbreak Of Ebola Ends?

Hair salons and bicycles are abundant in Bumba, a town in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Courteys of Dr. Heidi Larson

Originally published on Sun May 3, 2015 10:53 am

Liberia is nearing a milestone. On May 9, its Ebola outbreak will be officially declared over, assuming no new cases between now and then.

But what happens when an outbreak of Ebola ends?

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Shots - Health News
4:20 am
Sun May 3, 2015

Who Keeps Track If Your Surgery Goes Well Or Fails?

XiXinXing iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 3:37 pm

In order to improve the quality of health care and reduce its costs, researchers need to know what works and what doesn't. One powerful way to do that is through a system of "registries," in which doctors and hospitals compile and share their results. But even in this era of big data, remarkably few medical registries exist.

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U.S.
4:49 pm
Sat May 2, 2015

After Nearly 60 Years, the Muscular Dystrophy Association Is Ending Telethons

Originally published on Sat May 2, 2015 8:58 pm

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

Yesterday, the Muscular Dystrophy Association announced, after raising $2 billion, it was ending its annual Labor Day telethon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Goats and Soda
5:19 pm
Fri May 1, 2015

A Man Said To Be Ebola-Free Could Still Infect A Partner During Sex

There's a new concern to add to possible means of transmitting Ebola: unprotected sex with a male survivor of the virus.
Abbas Dulleh AP

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 7:26 pm

For the first time since the Ebola virus was discovered in 1976, a woman has been found to have very likely contracted the virus through unprotected sex with a man who survived the disease.

A 44-year-old woman in Monrovia developed symptoms on March 14; Ebola was confirmed on March 20. Medical investigators ruled out all the usual transmission suspects: travel to or interaction with visitors from countries with Ebola; attending the funeral of a victim; or contact with people with symptoms.

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The Salt
2:51 pm
Fri May 1, 2015

'Into The Wild' Author Tries Science To Solve Toxic Seed Mystery

Once the roots of the Eskimo potato got too tough to eat, Christopher McCandless started collecting the seeds in a plastic bag, says author Jon Krakauer.
Photo courtesy of McCandless family

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 12:05 pm

In August 1992, Christopher McCandless died in an abandoned bus in the Alaska wilderness after living mostly on squirrels, birds, roots and seeds for 113 days. Hunters found his body months later. Alaska state coroners declared starvation as the cause of death.

But a mystery lingered: What exactly did him in? A scientific paper published this spring by the journalist who'd been doggedly following the story offers another big clue.

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Shots - Health News
1:30 pm
Fri May 1, 2015

Urine For A Surprise: Your Pee Might Reveal Your Risk For Obesity

iStockphoto

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 3:38 pm

You might think it's easy to guess if a person is at risk of becoming overweight or developing diabetes. The behavioral traits are pretty clear – that person might exercise less or eat more. He or she might have high blood pressure, or might have gained weight.

But now there's another place to find evidence of those risk factors: in a person's pee.

Researchers are finding clues about the metabolism in human urine – most recently in more than 2,000 samples kept frozen in the basement of Imperial College, in London.

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Shots - Health News
9:55 am
Fri May 1, 2015

Walking 2 Minutes An Hour Boosts Health, But It's No Panacea

Skopein Ikon Images/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 7:19 am

We know that sitting all day is hazardous to our health, increasing the risk of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, inflammation and atherosclerosis. It all sounds pretty dismal, since many of today's jobs require us to be nearly glued to our computer screens. But a tiny two-minute break may help offset that hazard, researchers say.

People who got up and moved around for at least two minutes every hour had a 33 percent lower risk of dying, according to researchers the University Of Utah School Of Medicine.

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Shots - Health News
8:46 am
Fri May 1, 2015

Brand-Name Medicines Dominate Medicare's $103 Billion Drug Bill

AstraZeneca's Nexium was the top drug in Medicare Part D's spending on prescription medicines.
Daniel Acker Bloomberg via Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 7:18 am

Brand-name drugs to treat heartburn, diabetes, depression and other common afflictions of the elderly were among the most expensive drains on the federal government's Medicare prescription benefit, costing more than $1 billion each in 2013, newly released data show.

The federal government popped the cap off drug spending on Thursday, detailing doctor-by-doctor and drug-by-drug how Medicare and its beneficiaries spent $103 billion on pharmaceuticals in 2013.

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NPR Story
4:20 am
Fri May 1, 2015

Indiana Struggles To Control HIV Outbreak Linked To Injected Drug Use

Austin, Indiana's needle exchange program is open for business this week, but health workers worry the program will be tough to quickly replicate in other counties.
Darron Cummings AP

Originally published on Sun May 3, 2015 7:51 pm

In hopes of quelling an HIV outbreak in rural Indiana, the state's legislature this week voted to let any county that can prove it is experiencing a drug-linked outbreak of HIV or Hepatitis C to set up a needle exchange program. Indiana's governor, Mike Pence, says he is "looking forward to signing it into law."

But critics say the measure that passed Wednesday is watered down, and too limited. It also includes so much red tape that counties may have a tough time complying.

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Illinois Issues
12:00 am
Fri May 1, 2015

Life Preserver – Obamacare Expands Access To Mental Health Care

Credit Brian Mackey / WUIS/Illinois Issues

Dawn Kelly takes seven medications daily to treat her bipolar disorder. She has been on the meds since her 2011 diagnosis. Had it not been for a switch over from one Medicaid plan to another, the 40-year-old mother, who lives in East Peoria, would likely be dead.

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Health
6:17 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Western Hemisphere Wipes Out Its Third Virus

Health worker Jackie Carnegie delivers a rubella vaccine in Colorado in 1972.
Ira Gay Sealy Denver Post via Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 10:39 am

It took 15 years and hundreds of millions of vaccines. But North America and South America have officially eradicated rubella, health authorities said Wednesday. Rubella is only the third virus eradicated from people in the Western Hemisphere.

Also known as German measles, rubella causes only a mild illness in children, with a rash and sometimes a fever.

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Asia
5:47 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

He Carried His Mom On His Back For 5 Hours En Route To Medical Care

Amar Baramu carried his 70-year-old mother on his back for five hours, then rode with her on a bus for 12 more, to get her to a hospital for the head wound she suffered during the earthquake.
Julie McCarthy NPR

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 10:42 am

He carried his 70-year-old mother on his back for five hours.

Then he traveled with her by bus for 12 more.

She suffered a severe head injury when the earthquake rumbled through her village of Thumi. He was trying to get her to a hospital in the Gorkha district in northern-central Nepal.

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All Tech Considered
3:53 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

The Doctor Will Video Chat With You Now: Insurer Covers Virtual Visits

UnitedHealthcare says it will cover doctors' visits by live video on smartphones, tablets and computers.
Doctor On Demand

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 7:19 pm

If you can live stream movies, why not live stream medical care?

Insurance company UnitedHealthcare will start covering visits to the doctor's office — via video chat. Patients and physicians talk live online — on smartphones, tablets or home computer — to get to a clinical diagnosis. This move to cybermedicine could save insurers a ton of money — or have unintended consequences.

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Shots - Health News
2:22 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Health System Took Control To Make Joint Replacement More Profitable

Northeast Baptist Hospital, one of five hospitals within the Baptist Health System in San Antonio.
Courtesy of Baptist Health System

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 1:13 pm

To understand how the health law is supposed to fix the mediocre, overpriced, absurd medical system, you could read wonky research papers on bundled payments and accountable care organizations.

Or you could look at what's going on at Baptist Health System in San Antonio.

Under the potent lure of profit, doctors, nurses and managers at Baptist's five hospitals have joined forces to cut costs for hip and knee replacements, getting patients on their feet sooner and saving taxpayers money.

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Shots - Health News
1:46 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Expanding Medicaid Trims Hospitals' Costs Of Caring For Uninsured

St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore is one of the 131 hospitals run by Ascension Health. It's a not-for-profit, Catholic health care system that treats many low-income patients.
St. Agnes Hospital

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 3:42 pm

When patients show up in the hospital without health insurance, they often receive charity care — the hospital treats the person and then swallows some or all of the costs.

It's central to the mission of many nonprofit hospitals, particularly those serving low-income areas.

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Shots - Health News
1:13 pm
Thu April 30, 2015

Small Plague Outbreak In People Tracked To Pit Bull

Rod-shaped specimens of Yersinia pestis, the bacterial cause of plague, find a happy home here in the foregut of a flea. Fleas can transmit the infection to animals and people, who can get pneumonic plague and transmit the infection through a cough or kiss.
Science Source

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 1:14 pm

For the first time in 90 years, U.S. health officials say they have diagnosed a case of the plague that may have spread in the air from one person to another. Don't be alarmed — the plague these days is treatable with antibiotics and is exceptionally rare (just 10 cases were reported nationwide in 2014).

And if the plague has become mostly a curiosity in the United States, this case is more curious than most.

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Shots - Health News
10:28 am
Thu April 30, 2015

The Great Success And Enduring Dilemma Of Cervical Cancer Screening

Dr. George Papanicolaou discovered that it was possible to detect cancer by inspecting cervical cells. The Pap smear, the cervical cancer screening test, is named after him.
American Cancer Society AP

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 12:30 pm

Cervical cancer, which still kills about 4,000 American women every year, is almost entirely preventable. Proper screening can catch early warning signs that could lead to cancer without the right treatment. But how often women should get screened and which tests should be used has been hotly debated by women, doctors and medical researchers for the past decade.

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Shots - Health News
10:08 am
Thu April 30, 2015

Health Plans Often Fail To Provide Free Coverage For Women's Health

After the conversation about contraception, will there be a copay?
Garo/Phanie Science Source

Originally published on Thu April 30, 2015 7:31 pm

Many women were thrilled when the Affordable Care Act became law in 2010, because it required insurance companies to cover a broad array of women's health services without any out-of-pocket costs.

Five years later, however, the requirement isn't being enforced, according to two new studies. Health insurance plans around the country are failing to provide many of those legally mandated services including birth control and cancer screenings.

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