By jeremyc | August 31, 2014
According to a new study, black people with diabetes may have a greater risk of suffering from vision loss due to diabetic macular edema or DME. However, DME is an effective screening tool that helps doctors treat the problem at early stages.
The study was led by Rohit Varma, MD, MPH of the University of Southern California Eye Institute and chair of ophthalmology at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. DME is caused by the buildup of protein and fluid in part of the eye, and if untreated it leads to vision loss. For the study, 1,083 diabetics older than 40 years were examined. Out of these patients, 3.8% had DME.
The authors noted that black patients had a 2.64 times greater risk of contracting DME than white patients, and called for better treatment access and earlier screening. They concluded, “It is imperative that all persons with diabetes receive early screening; this recommendation is even more important for those at a higher risk of DME.”
The researchers were not able to find any link between DME risk and the gender or age of the patients. Varma noted that there is not enough DME screening done for diabetics today. He said, “There are much better therapies that are covered by insurance [...] We hope that our research will help those in the position to influence policy to get a better handle on costs and where the need for treatment is the greatest.”
By jeremyc | August 30, 2014
Electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes has sparked a continuing debate; with some experts arguing for it as a welcome smoking cessation tool and alternative and other experts calling it a regress to reduce smoking.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has now given its own recommendations on the controversial e-cigarette, releasing a report on it and similar devices that will be discussed at an October 2014 conference. In this report, WHO has called for regulations to control e-cigarette sales and advertising and a ban on its indoor usage.
The international agency said in its report that e-cigarettes are “an evolving frontier, filled with promise and threat for tobacco control.” Because of this, it said that regulations are required to restrict the advertising of e-cigarettes to nonsmokers and young people. It has also raised concerns over some e-cigarette flavors like candy and fruit, which may make it more appealing to young people and make it a gateway to actual cigarette usage and later nicotine addiction.
In addition, the WHO has recommended a ban on indoor e-cigarette usage in workplaces and public places, since the exhaled ‘vapor’ boosts certain toxicant levels in the surround air, like nicotine. E-cigarette health benefits have still not been confirmed, but the report states that they may not be as toxic as regular cigarettes. However, it did warn that e-cigarettes are potentially dangerous to fetuses and adolescents. It also noted a lack of evidence to support the claim that e-cigarettes are a smoking cessation tool, and so the WHO recommended smokers to instead use approved cessation methods rather than switching to e-cigarettes.
By jeremyc | August 28, 2014
A recent study in the UK has found that many cancer patients suffer from depression but are not treated for it, and regular mental screenings can improve patient care.
The study was led by Jane Walker, PhD, of the University of Oxford. Data on 21,000 cancer patients was analyzed for this study; they undertook a survey on their emotional healthy and were interviewed to diagnose their depression and whether they were being treated for it.
The researchers said, “Our findings suggest that major depression is substantially more common in people with cancer than in the general population.” Among the patients diagnosed with depression, 73% were untreated. Lung cancer patients were 13.1% more likely to suffer from depression, followed by gynecological cancer patients at 10.9%, breast cancer patients at 9.3% and colorectal cancer at 7%.
Kissane said about the results, “An integrated collaborative care model using the support of specially trained nurses, primary care doctors, and psychiatrists can greatly improve outcomes for depressed patients with cancer compared with usual care.”
The reseachers also noted that the Commission on Cancer of the American College of Surgeons has required all cancer centers in the US to begin screening their patients for depression from 2015. This was done as an effort to improve patient care.
By jeremyc | August 27, 2014
Trans fat serving levels on nutrition labels may not be accurate, according to a recent study that analyzed several popular packaged food items in the US.
The study found that some products labeled with 0 gm trans fat per serving did have trans fat as partially hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils are one of the most common forms of trans fat, which is known to increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Jenifer Clapp, MPA, of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene led the study. She said that US manufacturers, under current regulations, can label their products has having 0 trans fat per serving if the actual trans fat serving is between 0 and 0.5 gms. The researchers looked at how many of the top packaged foods in the country exploited this loophole.
Data from the National Salt Reduction Initiative Packaged Food Database was analyzed for this study, and the labels of 4,340 packaged foods from the database were assessed. On analysis, the researchers found that 84% of the assessed products were labeled as 0 trans fat, but 9% contained partially hydrogenated oils among their ingredients. They noted, “This labeling is cause for concern because consumers, seeing the 0 g trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label, are probably unaware that they are consuming trans fat.”
By jeremyc | August 25, 2014
The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has approved early testing of a new Ebola vaccine co-developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
As the death toll of the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa continues to rise, NIH has scrambled to test the vaccine that could potentially slow down the spread of the outbreak. NIAID Director Anthony Fauci, MD said, “There is an urgent need for a protective Ebola vaccine, and it is important to establish that a vaccine is safe and spurs the immune system to react in a way necessary to protect against infection [...] The NIH is playing a key role in accelerating the development and testing of investigational Ebola vaccines.”
The Ebola has quickly spread across Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Liberia and Guinea, but is not likely a threat to the US according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This particular vaccine test is the first of many safety tests to be conducted on the vaccine. Faster tests have been approved by the NIH to find and deliver an effective vaccine faster and quell the outbreak.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, said, “Tried and true public health interventions, strong supportive medical care and the rapid testing of Ebola vaccines and antiviral treatments can help to reduce suffering now and in the future.”
The vaccine has been promising in its early primate testing stages, and will undergo further trials after succeeding in its first phase.
By jeremyc | August 24, 2014
The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has reclassified hydrocodone combination drugs like Vicodin as Schedule II medication to combat widespread narcotic painkiller abuse in the country. Hydrocodone combination drugs, which were previously Schedule III, are some of the most commonly available painkillers in the US today.
By shifting these drugs from Schedule III to Schedule II, patients will now need to get a written doctor’s prescription to buy them, instead of previously needing just a doctor’s approval over the phone. This also means that patients need to get another prescription when they need to buy more of these drugs, rather than previously being allowed to get refills.
DEA Administrator Michelle Leonhart said, “Almost seven million Americans abuse controlled-substance prescription medications, including opioid painkillers, resulting in more deaths from prescription drug overdoses than auto accidents [...] Today’s action recognizes that these products are some of the most addictive and potentially dangerous prescription medications available.”
Hydrocodone combinations have long been classifies as Schedule III, although lone hydrocodone medications are classified under the more restrictive Schedule II. Growing concerns among government agencies and physician groups about painkiller abuse had prompted the DEA to make the above changes. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that in the last two decades, painkiller overdose-caused deaths have risen over three-fold, reaching over 15,500 in 2009 alone.
However, pharmacy groups like the American Pharmacists Association have raised concerns over the reclassification. They noted that hydrocodone combinations “play a key role in acute and chronic pain management and helping patients engage in the activities of daily life. Rescheduling [hydrocodone combination products] will have far-reaching consequences for millions of Americans who legitimately rely on them for short-term and chronic pain.”
By jeremyc | August 23, 2014
A recent study found that over-the-counter NSAIDs were able to lower the recurrence risk of hormone-related breast cancer in obese and overweight women.
This study was led by Linda deGraffenried, PhD, at the University of Texas in Austin. A total of 440 women suffering from estrogen-positive invasive breast cancer were part of this study and underwent treatment in 1997-2011. Out of these patients, 58.5% were obese and 25.8% were overweight. The remaining had weights in the normal range. Many of the 440 women were taking omega-3 fatty acids, daily NSAIDs and statins. A total of 159 women took NSAIDS, and 81% of them reported taking aspiring with the remaining 19% reporting some other NSAID.
On analysis, the researchers found that obese and overweight patients who regularly took NSAIDs had a 52% lower recurrence rate than those obese and overweight patients who did not take NSAIDs every day. This association held true even after accounting for omega-3 fatty acid and statin usage, both of which reduce inflammation.
The non-NSAID users remained disease-free for 50.6 months on average, while the average disease-free period for NSAID users was 78.5 months. The study was not meant to focus on obese and overweight patients, but the percentage of normal-weight patients in the study group proved too small. The authors also noted that they were not aware if the NSAID users began taking the medicine before the study began or how much NSAIDS they were consuming. They called for further studies to test this association further.
By jeremyc | August 21, 2014
In a recently issued statement, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against fake Ebola treatments and has threatened action against parties selling and promoting such treatments. The FDA also reiterated in its statement that it has not yet approved any medication to cure or prevent Ebola.
Ebola virus disease is a severe and often fatal condition that has been reported in large numbers in West Africa. The region is seeing the largest Ebola outbreak in world history at the moment. As the search for the disease’s prevent and treatment continues and the outbreak spreads farther, the FDA has noted that several products have come up claiming to prevent or cure the virus. Many of them have been offered for purchase online.
The FDA is testing one treatment called ZMapp, which has shown initial promise. However, no approved vaccine or cure exists for Ebola. The effectiveness and safety of ZMapp is still undergoing tests, so supply is extremely limited. The FDA also stated that Ebola is not a major US threat. It has asked people to immediately report any party claiming to sell Ebola treatments.
By jeremyc | August 20, 2014
The number of cases of the viral infection chikungunya has risen significantly in the Western Hemisphere in the past few months, especially in the Caribbean area. Locally transmitted cases have been identified in Florida, but CDC officially believe that the virus is not likely to cause a major US outbreak.
The CDC has reported 221 chikungunya cases in the US in 2014, but only four locally transmitted cases were found in the mainland, two of them being confirmed in the beginning of July 2014. However, the virus has spread rapidly since its first confirmed case was identified in December 2013 in the Western Hemisphere. According to the Pan American Health Organization, over 400,000 potential cases were present in late July alone.
According to CDC epidemiologist Erin Staples, MD, PhD, the virus will not likely spread in the US to the same extent as in regions outside the country, since Americans spend less time outside. She also noted that the current outbreak has been caused by the tiger mosquito, which is not common to the US.
In spite of the low case numbers within the country, the CDC has reported 584 cases as of 12 August. The patients likely caught the infection when they travelled to Central/South America or the Caribbean.
By jeremyc | August 19, 2014
According to a new study, the rates of bacterial and pneumococcal meningitis mortality have dropped in 1997-2010, a period during which efforts to treat the condition went through significant changes.
The study was led by Rodrigo Hasbun, MD, of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston and focused on cases exclusively in the US.
Bacterial meningitis is a severe illness caused by several kinds of bacteria. During the 2000s, changes in the treatment and vaccination for this condition had changed in the US. For the study, data on 50,822 bacterial meningitis cases from the HealthCare Cost Utilization Project network database was analyzed.
On analysis, the researchers found that overall bacterial meningitis rates fell during the course of the study. Rates of the disease caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumonia, which is the most common cause, fell from 0.8 to 0.3 cases per 100,000 people. Also, rates of the disease caused by Neisseria meningitides, another common cause for the disease, fell from 0.721 to 0.123 cases per 100,000.
According to the researchers, the study’s findings support the use of proper vaccinations to combat the bacterial disease. Vaccines against this disease are a common element of routine immunization in the US, according to the CDC.