Health Desk

Back in August, scientists published a worrisome report about Ebola in West Africa: The virus was rapidly changing its genetic code as it spread through people. Ebola was mutating about twice as fast as it did in previous outbreaks, a team from Harvard University found.

It's hard to predict who will get the flu in any given year. While some people may simply spend a few days in bed with aches and a stuffy nose, others may become so ill that they end up in the hospital.

Got a high-deductible health plan? The kind that doesn't pay most medical bills until they exceed several thousand dollars? You're a foot soldier who's been drafted in the war against high health costs.

A decade ago in Nigeria, rumors spread that polio vaccines were surreptitious sterilization efforts. That led to a boycott of the vaccine in 2003 and a resurgence in the poliovirus three years later.

The story points up a key point about vaccines: Confidence is critical.

A new study of more than 20,000 people in five countries looks as why people aren't confident in vaccines. The reasons vary, from a belief the vaccine isn't safe to a bad experience with a previous vaccination.

And the results can be devastating.

MaryAnn Anselmo feared for the worst when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor called a glioblastoma in late 2013.

"You start doing research on that type of tumor, and you're saying, 'Oh my God, you're history.' It's like a death sentence," says, Anselmo, now 59.

Only for her it wasn't.

Anselmo's successful treatment shows how precision medicine — tailoring therapy to each patient's genetic needs — is beginning to transform cancer care.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. E.T.

Doctors who treat Medicare patients will face a huge cut, 21 percent, if Congress doesn't act by the end of the month. This isn't a new problem. While Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill agree that the formula that pays doctors who treat Medicare patients has long been broken, over the years they've been unable to pass more than temporary patches.

Mosquitoes Can Smell Inside Your Blood

Mar 25, 2015

Garlic lovers: You can smell them before you see them. Some people would say they even stink!

Hours after you eat garlic, your breath can still smell bad, as your body digests compounds in the plant and releases them into your blood.

Now scientists say a similar process might explain why people infected with malaria attract more mosquitoes than those not infected.

There's been a lot of buzz around the story that some inexpensive California wines, including a Charles Shaw (aka two-buck Chuck) white Zinfandel sold at Trader Joe's, have been found to contain traces of arsenic.

More than 10 million Americans have trouble distinguishing red from green or blue from yellow, and there's no treatment for colorblindness.

A biotech company and two scientists hope to change that.

Dixie Josephson was 56 when she was diagnosed with metastatic ovarian cancer. She's 71 now, but the cancer is still with her.

Josephson's story is one shared by other fortunate cancer patients. Advances in treatment mean that more people like Josephson can live longer with their disease. Still, the five-year survival rate for metastatic ovarian cancer is 27 percent, putting Josephson in the minority.

And the treatments that have extended her life have also taken a toll on her and her family.

It would be nice to think that when you go in for surgery you'd be offered the safest, cheapest alternative, but that's not always the case, a study finds.

Some hospitals are much more likely than others to offer minimally invasive surgery for procedures like colon or lung surgery or appendectomy, according to an analysis published Wednesday in JAMA Surgery.

From more than 900 miles away, Kpetermeni Siakor helped get volunteers to the right neighborhoods in his native Liberia during the height of the Ebola epidemic.

He did it with Ushahidi, crowdsourcing software that was developed in Kenya in 2008, when the country experienced a wave of post-election violence. The word Ushahidi means testimony in Swahili.

This tax season, for the first time since the Affordable Care Act passed five years ago, consumers are facing its financial consequences.

Whether they owe a penalty for not having health insurance, or have to figure out whether they need to pay back part of the subsidy they received to offset the cost of monthly insurance premiums, many people have to contend with new tax forms and calculations.

The videos are almost unbelievable. Ketchup slides out of the jar and you don't even have to give it a thump. Glue slips out of the bottle without a molecule left inside. And what about getting that last smidgen of toothpaste from a used tube? No problem.

Welcome to the world of LiquiGlide.

Engineers at Sandia National Laboratory have come up with what they think is a safer diagnostic test for anthrax bacteria — a test that would prevent the "bad guys" from getting their hands on this dangerous pathogen.

Sandia is home to the International Biological Threat Reduction Program. "Our interest is in safety and security of pathogens," says Melissa Finley. Finley isn't a bioweapons expert. She's a veterinarian.

Just about everybody who has studied the hospital industry agrees that it needs to confront the epidemic that plagues many of its staff: Tens of thousands of nursing employees suffer debilitating injuries every year, mainly from doing part of their everyday jobs — moving and lifting patients. The problem is, nobody agrees how to get hospitals to take aggressive action.

As NPR has been reporting in its Injured Nurses series, nursing employees suffer more back and arm injuries than just about any other occupations.

In a New York Times op-ed Tuesday, Angelina Jolie Pitt revealed that she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed because of cancer fears. Doctors say that because of her family history, it will reduce her risk by almost 90 percent.

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

Transcript

An international committee of cancer experts shocked the agribusiness world a few days ago when it announced that two widely used pesticides are "probably carcinogenic to humans." The well-respected International Agency for Research on Cancer published a brief explanation of its conclusions in The Lancet and plans to issue a book-length version later this year.

Never underestimate the power of a footnote.

When a panel of nutrition scientists tasked with updating the government's guidelines on healthy eating released its 500-plus-page tome on Feb. 19, one particular 52-word footnote threw a wrench into the conventional wisdom on lean meat. It caught the meat industry's eye, and it's created a controversy.

A heavy workload caused by the Affordable Care Act, government technology limits and staff shortages are causing unusually long delays in filling public records requests, federal health officials say.

The waits in some cases could stretch out a decade or more.

The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to records requests in 20 working days, though providing documents often takes much longer. The FBI, for instance, recently reported that complex requests could average more than two years to fill.

Recreational marijuana has been legalized in four states, but that doesn't mean it's a tested consumer product. Some of those potent buds are covered in fungus while others contain traces of butane, according to an analysis of marijuana in Colorado.

Women outnumber men in the nursing profession by more than 10 to 1. But men still earn more, a new study finds.

Even after controlling for age, race, marital status and children in the home, males in nursing outearned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.

You sure don't want to get tuberculosis. You'll cough a lot, maybe cough up blood, have fever, chills and chest pain. But most cases of the bacterial disease are curable after taking the two first-line drugs for four to six months.

Doctors are much more likely to level with patients who have cancer than patients who have Alzheimer's, according to a report released this week by the Alzheimer's Association.

When children are diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia now, they have more than a 90 percent chance of survival.

But when James Eversull was told he had leukemia in 1964, there wasn't much hope.

He was just 18 months old when his parents discovered what was wrong.

Johnny Reynolds knew that something was wrong as far back as 2003. That's when he first started experiencing extreme fatigue.

"It was like waking up every morning and just putting a person over my shoulders and walking around with them all day long," says Reynolds, 54, who lived in Ohio at the time.

In addition, Reynolds was constantly thirsty and drank so much water that he would urinate 20 or 30 times per day. "And overnight I would probably get up at least eight or nine times a night," he says.

At his TED Talk in Vancouver last week, Bill Gates posed the idea that, "If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it's most likely to be a highly infectious virus, rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes." He noted how the Ebola crisis in West Africa, which has taken about 10,000 lives, revealed serious problems in our global health care system. It's not that the systems didn't work well enough, he said. "We didn't have a system at all." He called the response "a global failure."

When President Richard Nixon declared a war on cancer in 1971, there were high hopes that scientists were close enough to understanding the underlying causes that many cures were within reach.

We obviously haven't won the war.

In fact, a prominent cancer biologist argues that the conceptual framework for understanding cancer has come full circle over the past 40 years.

When someone asks whether we're winning the war on cancer, the discussion often veers into the world of numbers. And, depending on which numbers you're looking at, the answer can either be yes or no.

Let's start with the no.

The number of cancer deaths in this country is on the rise. It climbed 4 percent between 2000 and 2011, the latest year in official statistics. More than 577,000 people died of cancer in 2011. That's almost a quarter of all deaths. Those aren't just personal tragedies – the figure represents a growing burden on America.

It's easy to get put on statins, and it can be surprisingly hard to get off them. That's true even for people who are terminally ill and might have bigger concerns than reducing their cardiovascular risk.

People approaching the end of life who did stop statins were not more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than those who kept taking the drugs, according to researchers who tested the idea.

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