Health Desk

People in Texas are significantly more likely than adults nationwide to report that it has gotten harder to see a doctor in the past two years.

The finding comes from polling done by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Vera Brown has been stuck aboard the doctor merry-go-round for years now, trying to find an orthopedic surgeon who accepts her insurance. She doesn't find the seemingly endless calls, questions or repetition amusing.

This post was updated on March 4.

On March 7, the film that won the Oscar for best documentary, short subject, will have its television premiere, airing on HBO at 9 p.m..

A Girl In The River: The Price Of Forgiveness is by Pakistani director Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. The 40-minute documentary tackles the tough topic of honor killings in Pakistan, from a rare point of view: a survivor's. Saba, an 18-year-old girl, was shot and thrown in a river by her own family for secretly eloping with her lover — and lived to tell the tale.

The United States has the most advanced health care in the world. There are gleaming medical centers across the country where doctors cure cancers, transplant organs and bring people back from near death.

The Zika virus is a health threat not just to Latin America, but also to parts of the U.S. It's already a problem in Puerto Rico where there are nearly 120 cases so far, including five pregnant women. That's a concern, because Zika may be involved in causing birth defects.

A series of polls in key states by NPR and its partners finds that more than half of adults in the U.S. believe the Affordable Care Act has either helped the people of their state or has had no effect. Those sentiments are common despite all the political wrangling that continues over the law.

About a third (35 percent) of adults say the law has directly helped the people of their state, while a quarter (27 percent) say it has directly hurt people.

They're simply test tubes, mainly filled with blood and saliva, but to researcher Beatriz Parra Patino, they're a lot more.

To her, each tube represents "a human being." And the blood and saliva may hold the answer to one of the many mysteries about the Zika virus sweeping through her native Colombia: Is it linked to Guillan-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition with excruciating effects, including temporary paralysis.

"I treat the tubes as if I was treating the person," she says, "with respect and trying to do my best."

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This post was updated on March 14.

She walked through the valley of death and never lost her faith. Garmai Sumo, a 29-year-old nurse in Liberia, was a member of Body Team 12, one of the teams that collected the bodies of Ebola victims for cremation.

For many high school athletes across the country, a scholarship to play college football is a dream come true. But after high school football player John Castello saw the movie Concussion, he turned down multiple football scholarships.

"I watched interviews with Dr. Omalu and that kind of really gave me some insight onto what could happen if I kept on playing football and some of the injuries that could occur," Castello tells NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

American director Joshua Oppenheimer has received a MacArthur "genius" award and two Oscar nominations, one for each of two full-length documentaries on a harrowing subject: the continuing aftermath of the Indonesian massacre of 1965-1966, during which at least 1 million people, targeted as communists, died at the hands of the government and the military.

An animated film is up for best documentary short at the Oscars this year. It's only the second time an animated film has been in the running since the category was established in the 1940s. Last Day of Freedom is the story of Bill Babbitt, a man who turns his brother in for murder, hoping the police will help his brother get the care he needs for PTSD.

The Babbitts' story is told through more than 30,000 drawings, most of them in black and white. They were created by Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman, two Northern California-based artists.

Keeping Up With The Joneses' Latest Medical Procedure

Feb 27, 2016

My father is approaching his 78th birthday, blessed with health good enough to still be an avid golfer and tennis player.

His regular group of tennis buddies changes from time to time. The lineup depends on how they're feeling.

I remember when one of the gents renowned for his fitness and fastidious diet underwent a quadruple-bypass heart operation. The other guys were in shock. If Mr. Fit had a bum ticker, they all figured they better get to their doctors pronto.

"Don't I need an operation or something to clean out my arteries?" Dad asked me.

The Cleveland Clinic says it has performed the first uterus transplant in the United States.

This opens up another possible path to parenthood besides surrogacy or adoption for U.S. women who do not have a uterus, or who have a uterus that does not function.

The Zika virus now has a foothold in a U.S. territory. Puerto Rico is reporting at least 117 Zika cases, including at least five pregnant women. That's of special concern because of Zika's possible link to birth defects.

In Bayamon, a San Juan suburb, Monica Figueroa is waiting in line at a lunch truck. She's a nurse who works at a nearby clinic and she is pregnant — "about five months and a few weeks, something like that," she says in Spanish. Figueroa knows about Zika. She says she's wearing mosquito repellent but is not especially worried.

These days, it can be hard to ignore all the messages to eat less meat and more vegetables.

Last year, the World Health Organization used its megaphone to publicize the link between cancer and excessive red meat consumption.

To hear a patient's heart, doctors used to just put an ear up to a patient's chest and listen. Then, in 1816, things changed.

Nyalion Gutyua fed her children water lilies. And some fruit. Because that's pretty much all there was. When the dry season came and the water lilies stopped flourishing, Nyalion Gutyua and her children joined a group of about a dozen women and children and walked to Bentiu, South Sudan's second largest city. It took them four days.

"We came here because of hunger," she says. She'd heard she could get food in Bentiu from the U.N.

Less than half of young men have heard of emergency contraception, a recent study found, even though it's available over the counter at drug stores and is effective at preventing pregnancy after sex.

One of the best ways to understand Zika virus might be to deliberately inject it into volunteers.

That idea may sound a little crazy, but it's not unprecedented. And some researchers are hoping the approach could help speed up the search for an effective Zika vaccine.

Right now, a bunch of labs are pursuing different ways of making a vaccine against Zika, mostly because of the concern that the virus might be linked to the birth defect called microcephaly.

Treating Addiction As A Chronic Disease

Feb 25, 2016

With the opioid epidemic reaching into every corner of the U.S., more people are talking about addiction as a chronic disease rather than a moral failing.

For researcher A. Thomas McLellan, who has spent his entire career studying substance abuse, the shift is a welcome one, though it has come frustratingly late.

When Dr. Etheldreda Nakimuli-Mpungu graduated from medical school, her mother told her, "OK, good. But you know it's not good to just be a doctor."

Umm, what?

"She, said, 'There's some doctors you go to and they don't make you better. I want you to be one of the doctors that really makes people better,' " Mpungu recalls. "And I thought, 'Oh, no. What does she mean now?' "

Mpungu went on to work in a surgical ward. And then with children. She was helping people — but couldn't say she was really living up to her mother's high expectations.

HIV rates have been on the decline in the U.S. for years now, but stark disparities remain, with some groups of people at high risk of infection.

Here's the good part: The number of people diagnosed annually has dropped by about 20 percent in the last decade.

The drop was driven by plunges in certain groups of people, including heterosexuals, with a 35 percent decline since 2005; black women, with a 42 percent decline; and people who inject drugs, 63 percent.

Given recent advances in teleportation, it's reassuring to know that the human brain's navigation system appears to work just fine when we're beamed from place to place.

Meat has a greater impact on the environment than pretty much any other food we eat. As The Salt has reported, billions of cows, pigs, sheep and poultry we raise as livestock guzzle massive quantities of water and generate at least 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases attributed to human activity.

But scientists say we've been slow to acknowledge yet another side effect of our taste for meat: nitrogen pollution.

Should Sprouts Come With A Warning Label?

Feb 25, 2016

You will never catch prominent food-safety attorney Bill Marler eating sprouts. Not on a heaping deli sandwich. Not on a freshly tossed salad. He puts them in the same category as raw milk — a food item he says is not worth the risk it carries. Unfortunately, 13 people sickened across four states have discovered that risk the hard way.

What if you had to go to the hospital, and when it came time to return home, your landlord said you couldn't move back in? Across the country, thousands of nursing home residents face that situation every year. In most cases, it's a violation of federal regulations. But those rules are rarely enforced by the states. So, in California, some nursing home residents are suing the state, hoping to force it to take action.

It's the first thing in the morning at a crowded public health clinic in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, when a team of disease detectives from the United States and Brazil arrive.

They are searching for new mothers in the hope of solving one of the world's most urgent public health mysteries: Is the Zika virus really causing microcephaly, a birth defect that leaves babies with shrunken heads and badly damaged brains?

Author Isaac Asimov once wrote, "The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but, 'That's funny ... ' "

Good scientists search for the significance of surprises, coincidences and mistakes. With a little curiosity and perseverance, they can turn unexpected incidents into new insights.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Keila Atuesta Jaimes, a petite 25-year-old, is lying on an exam table next to an ultrasound machine. The doctor moves the wand across her belly. It's pretty flat. She's only about three months pregnant. Then suddenly, there's the heartbeat!

Atuesta smiles. Nervously. About three weeks ago she came down with the kind of rash and fever she figured could mean only one thing: Zika.

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