Health Desk

Weekend Edition Sunday host Rachel Martin brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.

Brittany Ohman is a 41-year-old mother of two and a licensed social worker in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Ohman and NPR's Rachel Martin grew up together and were good friends through high school. When they were seniors, Ohman got pregnant and no one knew. She didn't even know — and she knows that sounds crazy. She has heard the question for years.

On a gusty Friday evening in Manhattan's Union Square Park, Francisco Ramirez is setting up his chairs and a big sign that yells, "FREE ADVICE."

The park is packed with street musicians, chain-smoking chess players and preachers yelling predictions

Ramirez just wants to talk.

The Future Of Cardiology Will Be Shown In 3-D

May 22, 2015

How can you tell ­the difference between a good surgeon and an exceptional one?

You could start by looking for the one who has the rare ability to visualize a human organ in three dimensions from little more than a scan.

"The handful of the top surgeons in the world are like sculptors," said Dr. Deepak Srivastava, a director at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease in San Francisco.

If you're in the hospital or a nursing home, the last thing you want to be dealing with is bedbugs. But exterminators saying they're getting more and more calls for bedbug infestations in nursing homes, hospitals and doctor's offices.

In recent years, expensive specialty medicines used to treat cancer and chronic illnesses have forced some very ill Americans to choose between getting proper treatment and paying their rent.

To ease the financial burden, the California agency that governs the state's Obamacare plans issued landmark rules Thursday that will put a lid on the amount anyone enrolled in one of those plans can be charged each month for high-end medicine.

Can Aging Be Cured?

May 22, 2015

Part 2 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Fountain Of Youth

About Aubrey de Grey's TED Talk

Cambridge researcher Aubrey de Grey argues that aging is merely a disease — and a curable one at that.

About Aubrey de Grey

How Could Technology Change The Way We Evolve?

May 22, 2015

Part 4 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Fountain Of Youth

About Harvey Fineberg's TED Talk

Medical ethicist Harvey Fineberg says "neo-evolution" is on the horizon. When it becomes easier to eliminate disease through gene therapy, will we change the trajectory of evolution?

About Harvey Fineberg

How Do You Make An Elderly Worm Feel Young Again?

May 22, 2015

Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Fountain Of Youth

About Cynthia Kenyon's TED Talk

What controls aging? Biochemist Cynthia Kenyon has found a genetic mutation that can more than double the lifespan of a tiny worm, which points to how we might one day significantly extend human life.

About Cynthia Kenyon

What Are The Secrets of Centenarians?

May 22, 2015

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode The Fountain Of Youth

About Dan Buettner's TED Talk

To find the path to long life and health, Dan Buettner studies the world's "Blue Zones," communities whose elders live longer than anyone else on the planet.

About Dan Buettner

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

Heroin, today, is killing more and more people in rural America.

One Mexican cartel has seeded low-cost heroin around rural towns in the Southwest and Midwest, selling it cheap and easy, almost like pizza.

Madison, Neb. — population 2,500 — is just a speck of a town, a two-hour drive from the big-city bustle of Omaha. But it's not far enough away to avoid the growing impact of heroin.

"The world's gotten smaller," says Police Chief Rod Waterbury. "If drugs can make it to Chicago, they can make it here."

The case against trans fats is not new. For years, health experts have been telling us to avoid them.

And as retailing behemoths such as Wal-Mart have committed to the removal of all remaining, industrially produced trans fats in the products they sell, the food industry has stepped up its pace to reformulate its offerings.

Physician-assisted suicide is illegal in most states in the U.S. But there are gray areas where doctors can help suffering patients hasten their death. The problem is nobody can talk about it directly.

This can lead to bizarre, veiled conversations between medical professionals and overwhelmed families. Doctors and nurses want to help but also want to avoid prosecution, so they speak carefully, parsing their words. Family members, in the midst of one of the most confusing and emotional times of their lives, are left to interpret euphemisms.

On a sunny day in the remote Chienge district of Zambia, hundreds gathered for a celebration that was the first of its kind. There was singing, laughing and no shortage of dancing. The village chiefs and government officials came dressed in their finest clothes, while volunteers sported bright green T-shirts that read, "We use a toilet ... do you?"

Rip open a little package of baker's yeast from the supermarket, peer inside, and you'll see your distant cousin.

That's because we share a common ancestor with yeast, and a new study in the journal Science suggest that we also share hundreds of genes that haven't really changed in a billion years.

Edward Marcotte, a biologist at the University of Texas at Austin, knew that humans and yeast have thousands of similar genes. But, he wondered, how similar are they?

Vision loss and blindness can be devastating, isolating people and increasing their risk of illness and death. And that burden falls hardest on people in poor communities, especially in the South.

More than three quarters of the counties with the highest rates of severe vision loss are in the South, according to an analysis published Thursday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It's the first analysis of severe vision loss at the county level.

The sales pitch for contact lenses that help kids see better by reshaping their corneas sounds futuristically appealing. Sleep overnight in the lenses, pop them out in the morning and experience perfect or near-perfect vision for an entire day.

Beth Levenson of Williamsburg, Va., thought the lenses, even at a price of $2,000, seemed ideal for her son Logan, then 9, who played on several sports teams.

African-American women can be at risk of heart disease even if they don't have metabolic syndrome, a study finds.

That's a problem, because the current thinking is that metabolic syndrome — defined as high triglycerides, bad cholesterol, abdominal fat, high blood pressure and impaired glucose metabolism — is the big risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

The picture with women appears to be a lot more complicated, especially when you compare women in different racial or ethnic groups.

Nearly 3,000 delegates from around the world are gathering this week in one of the most expensive cities in Europe to debate the fate of the World Health Organization.

There's one main question on the table: Will the WHO be given the power and money it needs to be the world's leading health agency, or will it plod forward in its current state — as a weak, bureaucratic agency of the U.N. known more for providing advice than taking action.

An avian flu outbreak is sweeping across the Midwest at a frightening pace, ravaging chicken and turkey farms and leaving officials stumped about the virus's seemingly unstoppable spread.

In Pennsylvania, it's estimated opioids like heroin killed at least 1,300 people last year. In Massachusetts, more than 1,000 have died, and in Connecticut, heroin deaths jumped more than 85 percent in two years.

But figuring out the size and scope of the problem is harder than many people think.

Pennsylvania, like many states, doesn't require reporting of specific details on drug overdoses, and whatever other information is available is at least two years old.

Whoa, I wouldn't want to be Steve Easterbrook right about now.

The newish CEO of McDonald's — who has pledged to turn the fast-food giant into a progressive burger chain — is getting an earful this week, as the company prepares to convene its annual shareholders meeting on Thursday.

Farmers and public health advocates have been arguing for many years now about the use of antibiotics on farm animals, yet that argument takes place in a fog of uncertainty, because a lot of information simply isn't available.

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

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The problem of opiate addiction in Maine is one that state Rep. Barry Hobbins knows something about. "One of my family members has been struggling with this dreaded addiction of opiates for six years," he says.

So when pharmaceutical company Pfizer — which makes opioids that have abuse-deterrent properties — asked Hobbins to sponsor a bill that would require insurance companies to cover these more expensive drugs at the same level as other opioids, he agreed.

Stephanie Packer was 29 when she found out she had a terminal lung disease.

That's the same age as Brittany Maynard, who last year was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Last fall, Maynard, of Northern California, opted to end her life with the help of a doctor in Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide is legal.

When Erik Christiansen started smoking pot, he became fascinated by the look of different marijuana strains. But the photographs of marijuana he saw didn't capture the variety.

So he went to the hardware store and picked up two lights and a cardboard box. "I didn't even have a macro lens — I was shooting through a magnifying glass," he says.

The California-based photographer tinkered with his macro technique until he had created a consistent way to capture highly detailed images of marijuana.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has asked Attorney General Loretta Lynch to tighten scrutiny of Medicare Advantage health plans suspected of overcharging the government, saying billions of tax dollars are at risk as the popular senior care program grows.

There's no getting around the strangeness of a map that shows the most distinctive cause of death in each of our 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In Texas, it's tuberculosis. In Maine, it's the flu. And in Nevada, it's the ominous "legal intervention."

But what does it mean to label a cause of death distinctive?

Drug-resistant tuberculosis is not only airborne and lethal; it's one of the most difficult diseases in the world to cure.

In Peru, 35-year-old Jenny Tenorio Gallegos wheezes even when she's sitting still. That's because of the damage tuberculosis has done to her lungs. The antibiotics she's taking to treat extensively drug-resistant TB nauseate her, give her headaches, leave her exhausted and are destroying her hearing.

"At times I don't hear well," she says. "You have to speak loud for me to be able to understand."

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