Health

The percentage of people without health insurance in Kentucky has dropped at the second biggest rate in the nation.

According to a Gallup poll released this week, the  number of uninsured dropped from over 20 percent in 2013 to about 12 percent as of July 2014, reflecting an eight-and-a-half percent decline since the federal Affordable Care Act took effect. The only other state to experience a sharper decline was Arkansas, whose uninsured rate dropped about 10 percent.

The states rounding out the top five after Kentucky are Delaware, Washington and Colorado.

Gov. Steve Beshear touted the news in a press release, attributing the new data to the state’s implementation of the ACA via kynect, the state’s health insurance exchange.

The poll also reported that the rate of uninsured in 21 states like Kentucky that expanded Medicaid coverage under the ACA and set up their own  exchanges declined “more significantly” than those states that did not.

As of July, over 520,000 Kentuckians have enrolled in health care through the state exchange, with three-quarters of the newly insured enrolled in Medicaid.

Kentucky will receive over $1 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to combat prescription drug abuse.

The money will be spread out over three years and used to enhance the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. Kentucky has the third highest rate of drug overdose deaths in the nation, and has recently seen a surge in the number of deaths related to heroin.

The funding was announced Tuesday in Paintsville by CDC Director Thomas Frieden. He was joined by Rep. Hal Rogers, a Somerset Republic who represents the state’s 5th District. During his announcement, Frieden lauded efforts made by the commonwealth to crack down on the illegal prescription drug trade.

In recent years, state lawmakers have passed legislation cracking down on pill mills, which are clinics that abuse their prescription-writing authority for people seeking pain medication for recreational use. Kentucky also requires controlled substance prescribers to use KASPER, the state’s prescription monitoring program.

The CDC says the number of KASPER reports has more than tripled since those laws went into effect, and there has been a nine-percent decline in the amount of controlled substance dispensing in the commonwealth.

While VA hospitals are dealing with long wait times, Fort Campbell’s health system has excess capacity. Blanchfield Army Community Hospital has reopened its facilities to a limited number of retirees for the first time in a decade. Enrollment was cut off to veterans in 2004 because so many doctors and nurses were deployed to the Middle East.

This week, NPR Ed is focusing on questions about why people play and how play relates to learning.

When it comes to brain development, time in the classroom may be less important than time on the playground.

Kentucky BioProcessing

An experimental drug used to treat two Americans infected with the Ebola virus was created in Owensboro.

Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol are reportedly showing significant improvement after being treated at an Atlanta hospital with a drug called ZMapp.

Compounds used in the drug are grown in genetically modified tobacco plants in an effort overseen by the Owensboro-based Kentucky BioProcessing. The Herald-Leader reports that KBP received a federal contract in 2007 to work on a drug that could treat those exposed to the Ebola virus.

An Ebola outbreak in west Africa has claimed nearly 900 lives, with many more victims infected. Brantly and Writebol, who were giving medical treatment to Ebola victims when they fell ill, are the first known humans to receive Z-Mapp.

A spokesman for the company that runs the Owensboro operation says production of the drug was already being ramped up for approval testing later this year, and that schedule may accelerate given the magnitude of the current Ebola outbreak.

KBP is also involved with the Owensboro Cancer Research program, which this week was given a federal grant to further its research into a possible HIV vaccine using tobacco plants.

Scratch one more simple explanation for autism off the list. This time it's the idea that children with autism have low levels of oxytocin, often called the "love hormone" because it can make people more trusting and social.

The University of Louisville

HIV vaccine research being conducted in Owensboro is getting a boost from a federal grant. The National Institutes of Health Monday announced a five-year, $14.7 million dollar grant for a project being led by the Owensboro Cancer Research program.

The goal is to create a gel-based vaccine that involves tobacco plants.

Researchers in Daviess County have been extracting a protein found in red algae, injecting it into tobacco plants, growing the tobacco on a massive scale, and then extracting the protein for use in a gel. Lab tests show the protein blocks HIV cells from entering uninfected cells.

Researchers have developed a gel using the protein that they hope can be used to stop the spread of HIV during sexual intercourse.

Owensboro Cancer Research program director Kenneth Palmer says the irony of using tobacco plants to possibly create a medical breakthrough isn’t lost on him.

Health officials should learn this week where two Barren County residents recently contracted Legionnaires disease. 

Teresa Casey is the Communicable Disease Coordinator for the Barren River District Health Department.  She says water samples taken from a potential source are being tested in a lab in Louisville.  She declined to name the facility, which she says voluntarily shut down its pool and hot tub. 

"Legionnaires Disease is a bacteria naturally found in an environment usually in water sources," Casey tells WKU Public Radion.  "It prefers warmer waters, so hot tubs, sprinkler systems, public fountains can be sources of Legionnaires Disease."

Casey says those with a weakened immune system are most likely to get sick from the bacteria, which can be deadly.  Symptoms include fever, cough, chills, and most often results in pneumonia.  Legionnaires Disease is treated with antibiotics and cannot be transmitted between people.

A western Kentucky dermatologist says he sees multiple cases of skin cancer a day as the U.S. Surgeon General is warning of a steady increase of people with the disease.

The number of overdose deaths related to heroin continues to climb in Kentucky.

A new report from the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy shows that while the number of total overdoses remained steady in 2013, deaths caused by heroin increased by more than 12 percent.

In 2012, 19.6 percent of drug related deaths recorded by the state were due to heroin. That number increased to 31.9 percent in 2013.

Overall, the number of drug deaths in Kentucky leveled off last year, increasing by only three from 2012.

Van Ingram, the Executive Director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy, said one way to combat the rising number of heroin deaths would be to increase the availability of narcan, a drug used to halt the effects of opioid overdose. Narcan is currently found in emergency rooms and carried by paramedics.

“We’d like to see it in the hands of police officers, we’d like to see it in the hands of families of people who are at risk, and just as widespread as we can make it, because we can’t get people into treatment and we can’t help them turn their lives around once they’re lost,” Ingram told WKU Public Radio.

Pages