Health Desk

Watch a scary movie and your skin crawls. Goose bumps have become so associated with fear that the word is synonymous with thrills and chills.

But what on earth does scary have do to with chicken-skin bumps? For a long time, it wasn't well understood.

A teenage girl is believed to have contracted bubonic plague from a flea on a hunting trip, according to Oregon health officials. The Crook County girl got sick five days after the trip started on Oct. 16; she's been hospitalized in Bend, Ore., since Oct. 24.

Earlier this week, several dozen chefs from around the country gathered to hear words of wisdom from Tom Colicchio.

"Have fun with it," Colicchio, a celebrity chef and award-winning restaurateur, told them, adding, "Let your passion come through."

But this wasn't the next batch of hopefuls on Top Chef, the feisty cooking show on which he stars. We were in a Capitol Hill restaurant, and this was a new generation of lobbyists.

Ten million people still don't have health insurance two years after the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

Some never bought a policy. But 20 percent went to the trouble of signing up on, or one of the state insurance exchanges, and even made payments. Then, those 2 million people let their insurance lapse.

NPR asked visitors to our Facebook page to tell us why.

Who's the scariest animal of them all?

That's a good question to ponder as Halloween looms. Because everybody loves a good scary animal costume.

Lions and tigers and bears. Oh, my, they're scary. Every year, lions kill 200 people; tigers kill 15, and bears fatally maul 10 people.

When West Baltimore's Renaissance Academy High School hired four African-American mentors earlier this year, student Jalone Carroll wanted nothing to do with them. He figured they would come "mess everything up, and then dip," or disappear.

"We didn't know how to take that type, you feel me," says Carroll. "Somebody that cares, somebody that really wants to see us succeed."

Miracle. Game changer. Marvel. Cure. Lifesaver.

For Dr. Vinay Prasad, each one of these words was a little straw on the camel's back. At oncology conferences, they were used "indiscriminately" to describe new cancer drugs. Journalists bandied them about in stories.

Finally, the pile of hyperbole broke the camel's back.

For decades, African-American women have been less likely to get breast cancer than white women, but that health advantage has now all but disappeared.

"For a while we've seen the increase in black women and stable rates in white women," says Carol DeSantis, an epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society who led the study. "Even though we'd seen the trend," she says, "it's sort of shocking."

Awe ouens, zikhiphani daar?

That's South African slang for "Hey guys, what's up?"

We recently had a chance to find out what's up with the teens of South Africa.

Month after month, Natalia Pedroza showed up at the doctor's office with uncontrolled diabetes and high blood pressure. Her medications never seemed to work, and she kept returning to the emergency room in crisis.

Walfred Lopez, a Los Angeles County community health worker, was determined to figure out why.

Dr. Tim Littlewood handles more gross and terrifying creatures than just about anyone in London.

And he loves it.

"I'm a parasitologist," he explains, "so I tend to work on things that live inside other animals. And most people think of them as quite gross and revolting. But upon looking at these things and studying them, [I find] they are the most beautiful, spectacular animals you can find."

Although you wouldn't want to get one inside of you.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a nasty disease.

"It's super, super scary," says F. Scott Dahlgren, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"If you don't treat for Rocky Mountain spotted fever by the fifth day of illness, there's a really good chance you're going to die," says Dahlgren. "And it's an ugly, ugly death, too," he adds. "It's a horrific thing to go through and to see a loved one go through."

Earlier this month, I reported on a test for women who are exploring egg freezing as an option to preserve their fertility for the future.

My story looked at how the fertility industry uses the test to help guide patients in making a major life decision like egg freezing, despite the fact that it's an unreliable test that can provide very ambiguous information about a woman's egg supply.

Tuberculosis is now killing more people each year than HIV, according to new data from the World Health Organization.

WHO estimates there were almost 10 million new cases of TB last year; the disease caused 1.5 million deaths. By comparison, 1.2 million lives were claimed by HIV.

That makes TB the No. 1 infectious killer.

When you read about a bride and groom who are 15 and almost 40, or a just-married 10-year-old, most likely you assume you're reading about some place far away on another continent, where child marriages — defined as unions where one party is younger than 18 — are deeply embedded in many local cultures.

You'd be wrong.

These cases happened right here, in the United States. And they were legally allowed.

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It's become an emotional debate: Do e-cigarettes help people get off regular cigarettes or are they a new avenue for addiction?

Until now, there has been little solid evidence to back up either side. But a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could help fill that void.

Dr. Jerry Kruse has been affiliated with the SIU School of Medicine for over 30 years.  Most recently he has served as executive associate dean and CEO of SIU Healthcare. 

In January, he'll tackle a new role.  He'll become the dean and provost for the school.

Ever wondered how a few companies — namely Coca-Cola and PesiCo — created multibillion-dollar empires marketing flavored sugar water?

Nutrition scholar Marion Nestle, one of the most dogged chroniclers of the U.S. food industry and its politics, did. She was intrigued by the power of Big Soda and how it's responding to flat sales in the U.S.

Mahendra Sharma is director of an unusual charity: It's effectively a boarding school for child brides. It's called the Veerni Institute and it provides free room, board, health care and schooling to about 70 girls from villages surrounding the northern city of Jodhpur. Child marriage is a long-standing practice in these villages, and about 30 of the students at Veerni are already married. They may be as young as 9 or 10 when they are married, but normally they aren't sent to live with their husbands until around age 15.

Last year, Erin and Isaac Hougland of Indianapolis got certified to become foster parents, with the hope of adopting a baby. Just a few weeks later, they got a call.

An 8-week-old baby needed a home. All they knew was that the boy's mother was a heroin addict and had left him at the hospital. They were told that because of the drugs, the baby might require some special care. But mostly, he just needed a place to go.

"Both of us were just like, 'Let's do it,' " says Isaac Hougland. "We wrapped up what we were doing at work and went to the hospital."

Poor mothers often spend way too much time hunched over a washboard. What if they could use those hours to curl up with their kids and read a book instead? A group of friends at Oxford University plans to find out by developing a combination childhood education and laundry services center, a concept they've dubbed a "Libromat."

Say you bought health insurance through the federal health exchange, paid the premiums and followed the rules.

And then say you start having pain in your hands. Your doctor refers you to a rheumatologist to test for arthritis.

But when you search for the specialist, there isn't one there.

A majority of Americans say electronic cigarettes should be regulated by the Food and Drug Administration the same way the agency handles cigarettes containing tobacco, according to results from the latest NPR-Truven Health Analytics Health Poll.

Overall, 57 percent of people said the FDA should regulate e-cigarettes like tobacco products. The proportion of people in favor of regulation rose with age and education. Nearly, two-thirds of people with college degrees or graduate degrees supported regulation compared with 48 percent with high school diplomas or less.

When the health insurance marketplaces open Sunday, consumers shopping for 2016 coverage may find steeper premium increases than last year and more plans that offer no out-of-network coverage.

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The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force now says all overweight and obese Americans between 40 and 70 years old should get their blood sugar levels tested.

The advisory group's previous recommendation, drafted in 2008, made no mention of weight, instead suggesting that doctors routinely test the blood sugar of patients who have high blood pressure, another risk factor for Type 2 diabetes.

The World Health Organization made an announcement Monday that's likely to come as a blow to anyone whose favorite outdoor snack is a hot dog.

Processed meats — yes, hot dogs, plus sausage, ham, even turkey bacon — are cancer-causing, a committee of scientists with WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded. And it classified red meat as "probably carcinogenic to humans."

Polio is in its final days.

The disease that once paralyzed hundreds of thousands of kids a year around the globe is now down to just a few dozen cases this year. "We are aiming to halt all transmission of wild polio virus next year," says Peter Crowley, the head of UNICEF's global efforts against polio.

If polio is stopped, it will be only the second human disease to be eliminated. Smallpox was the first — the last case was in 1977.

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