Health

U of L Gearing Up In Fight Against ALS

Sep 17, 2014

A fund has been started in Louisville to support research into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The fund will help back research at the University of Louisville Physicians ALS Clinic. The clinic was named a Recognized Treatment Clinic by the ALS Association on Tuesday, becoming one of 50 in the U.S. to earn the designation.

The fund will also help support the clinic as it pursues its goal of becoming a Certified Center for Excellence.

Four Kentucky children remain hospitalized after suffering an apparent E. coli infection. The cluster of cases is being investigated by the Lincoln Trail District Health Department based in Elizabethtown. 

The first illness was reported in mid-August. Health Department Public Information Officer Wendy Keown says investigators are trying to determine if there is a common cause. 

"We thoroughly investigate activities such as recent travel, exposure to animals, food histories. You know, have they been swimming anywhere? And try to find any commonality between those to determine a source.  As of right now, there has not been a confirmed source of infection identified," said Keown.

The five children sickened with hemolytic uremic syndrome range in age from 18 months to six years. 

Keown says they are suffering kidney related problems. She says three of the children are from Hardin County and one each from Oldham and Boone Counties. 

The most severe form of black lung disease is at levels not seen since the early 1970s, according to new data from the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety.

NIOSH has been testing underground coal miners in Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia for the disease for 40 years.

In the data letter published today in a scientific journal, researchers say there has been a startling resurgence of complicated black lung.

This is despite federal laws that were supposed to control dust in coal mines and eradicate the disease. 

Evan Smith is an attorney with the Appalachian Citizens Law Center in Whitesburg.

With a new school year underway, students and their parents are being warned about the effects of too much caffeine in the body.  Students might turn to energy drinks, caffeine tablets, or caffeine powder while playing sports or studying for tests. 

Poison control centers around the country are seeing an increased number of calls related to caffeine poisoning. 

"The most common symptoms we see early on in caffeine poisoning are nausea and vomiting, but if enough caffeine is consumed, we can see a rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and in worst case scenarios, seizures, heart arrhythmias, and death," says Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center Director Ashley Webb.

The highly-concentrated caffeine powder, sold primarily online, is perhaps the most dangerous.  According to the FDA, just one teaspoon of the powder is equal to drinking about 25 cups of coffee. 

Although death from caffeine poisoning is rare, it has occurred.  Earlier this year, a high school student in Ohio died after consuming the powder.

Health Costs Inch Up As Obamacare Kicks In

Sep 12, 2014

Doctors and hospitals treated more patients and collected more payments in the spring as millions gained insurance coverage under the health law, new figures from the government show.

But analysts called the second-quarter increases modest and said there is little evidence to suggest that wider coverage and a recovering economy are pushing health spending growth to the painful levels of a decade ago.

WKU Student Develops App Used to Track Ebola Outbreak

Sep 12, 2014
Bryan Lemon, WKU

A WKU student has come up with a way to track the Ebola virus outbreak.

Armin Smailhodzic developed a smartphone app that uses Twitter data to track the virus. Western says the app could predict the spread of the virus.

Smailhodzic began working on the app as part of his Master's thesis in the Homeland Security program at WKU. Initially, he wanted to track Twitter data to gather information about political unrest in the Middle East. Then, WKU chemistry professor Cathleen Webb suggested using the idea to track Ebola.

Smailhodzic, a Bosnian native, says they were surprised to find so much information being shared on Twitter.

The Ebola Project app is available in the app store for Ios and the Google store for android devices.

Tonya Ratliff’s 15-year-old son Tyler has been living with diabetes for 10 years.  Two years ago, doctors told the Owensboro family they’d have to start replacing the insert in Tyler’s diabetes pump more frequently.

“It already was a lot, and that would double it," she said. "So I was like ‘I don’t think I can do that,'."

With three sons, it would be an extra financial burden the Ratliff family. Their doctor told them about a foundation that helps pay for medical expenses not covered by a healthcare plan.  

Since 2007, the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation has given 7,500 grants across the country. In the last three years, 90 of them have been in Kentucky, providing nearly $300,000 for families with children 16 and under. The organization is trying to increase the number of Kentucky families who receive assistance.

“It was a life-changing experience for us, because we literally lived paycheck to paycheck and this was a great burden off of us,” said Ratliff.

The program can cover up to $5,000 dollars in expenses, and each child can receive a maximum of $10,000 over a lifetime.

An experimental Ebola vaccine is now being tested in people, according to scientists who say the drug has shown promising results when it was tested on monkeys. The small clinical trial is using healthy human volunteers in the U.S.

The Ebola vaccine is the subject of a study published Sunday in the journal Nature Medicine. Researchers say the vaccine treatment includes a booster shot to help the immune system fight off the virus for months after it's first administered.

Americans crave information about diets, even as our national weight keeps rising. New studies are highlighting that there is still a lot that we don't know.

Tobacco and e-cigarettes will soon be banned from many Kentucky state properties under the executive cabinet. The new policy announced by Governor Beshear  Thursday covers  state buildings, vehicles and other designated locations.

The announcement adds onto previous legislation aimed solely at cigarettes. Beshear said his executive order aims to combat Kentucky’s number one ranking in cancer and smoking deaths.

“You know, this year is the 50th anniversary of the first U.S. Surgeon General’s report alerting Americans to the deadly consequences of smoking. That’s five decades. Five decades of warnings," Beshear said.

"But warnings by themselves, as we know, are not enough.”

Many Kentuckians who lack health insurance can receive free colon cancer screenings through their local health department. The program is jointly funded through the state and private donations, and targets Kentucky residents who meet certain age and income guidelines.

Madeline Abramson, wife of Lieutenant Governor Jerry Abramson, is speaking out on behalf of colon cancer awareness in Kentucky. Mrs. Abramson is honorary chair of the Kentucky Cancer Program’s “Dress in Blue Day”, a program aimed at educating the public about colon cancer.

She says the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the nation can often be detected and treated through screenings.

“It’s unusual to have a screening test where the cancer or pre-cancerous node can be taken care of at that time," Abramson told WKU Public Radio.

Abramson says some people are embarrassed to talk about the disease in the same way many refused to openly discuss breast cancer decades ago.

Kentucky Researcher Creates Nasal Spray that Could Lower Number of Overdose Deaths

Aug 7, 2014

A nasal spray developed a Kentucky researcher is designed to reduce the number of heroin related overdoses. The invention by University of Kentucky pharmacy professor Daniel Wermeling has been fast-tracked by the Food and Drug Administration and is in its final round of clinical trials.

Wermeling’s goal was to create an easier way to administer the drug Naloxone, which can reverse potentially fatal heroin overdoses. He has been working on the nasal spray since 2009, with support from a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, with additional funding from the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp.

If the F.D.A gives final approval to the product, it could be available by prescription as early as next year.

Wermeling believes the nasal spray will be a much easier way to treat patients, as opposed to injecting them with the drug.

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.

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