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Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said earlier this week that the Zika virus is “scarier than we initially thought” and that states need to be ready for potentially widespread infections.

And the agency confirmed for the first time on Wednesday that the virus causes birth defects.

The organization said the mosquito carrying the virus may be present in about 30 states. It was previously thought to be found in a dozen U.S. states.

Last month, Kentucky officials — led by Gov. Matt Bevin — held a news conference meant to reassure the public that Zika was not a threat in the commonwealth, and that they had been preparing for potential cases. There have been three confirmed cases in Kentucky. Two were people in Louisville, and each person had recently traveled to an area affected by the virus.

Here’s what state officials said then:

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Kentucky adults still have a hard time affording health care, according to a Kentucky Health Issues Poll.

In 2015, one in five Kentucky adults either didn’t get care or delayed care due to cost, according to the report. That’s down from 2014 and 2009, when 22 percent and 32 percent, respectively, went without needed care due to cost.

Susan Zepeda, president of Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said having insurance coverage is a great start, but it doesn’t always get the whole job done.

“Although more and more Kentuckians are able to get the care they need in a timely manner, they’re is still work to be done,” she said. “There are still people who are delaying care or finding that they’re unable to handle the medical bills after they receive care.”

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Even though it’s late in the season, the number of flu cases is on the rise in Kentucky.  State health experts are still encouraging vaccination.

For the ninth week in a row, the flu activity level is widespread, meaning that at least half of the state’s regions are reporting an increase in cases of the flu.  The traditional flu season lasts from October through May.  Increased flu activity began later this season than usual in Kentucky.  Due to the late peak in the season, both in Kentucky and nationally, increased flu activity is anticipated to continue well into May.

Teresa Casey, a registered nurse at the Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green, says people should think of others when they consider getting the vaccine.

"You may not decide to get the flu vaccine because you never get sick, but think about the people you are around, and if you did get the flu, who you would pass that on to," stated Casey.

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A new report shows nearly three-quarters of American adults report having at least one unhealthy behavior, such as smoking. But when it comes to multiple unhealthy behaviors associated with chronic disease, nearly 17 percent of Kentucky adults have three or more risk factors.

The report, America’s Health Rankings Spotlight: Impact of Unhealthy Behaviors, examines the prevalence of multiple unhealthy behaviors and inequities within groups. It was compiled by United Health Foundation.

The behaviors included smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, obesity and insufficient sleep.

Ana Fuentevilla, chief medical officer for United Health Care Community and State Program, said those five unhealthy behaviors, especially together, worsen the general population’s health.

“Just by working on one and eliminating that unhealthy behavior, you can really improve the health of that individual,” she said.

Community Action of Southern Kentucky

Social service providers in Kentucky are dealing with the rollout of the new Benefind system for public benefits. Those benefits include Medicaid and food stamps.

Across the state, there have been reports of long waits on the phone to update or change benefits with the Department for Community Based Services.

Melissa Grimes is Community Action’s program manager for Kynect. That’s the state’s health exchange that Governor Matt Bevin has promised to dismantle and replace with the federal exchange through Benefind.

Grimes says some of Community Action’s facilitators called Kynectors have had long telephone wait times.

“Some of the holds have been quite extensive for some of my Kynectors. I’ve heard up to three hours,” said Grimes. “But I think most are starting to get through now within an hour if not shorter.”

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The Kentucky Department for Public Health has confirmed the state’s third case of Zika virus.

The latest case of Zika has been diagnosed in a pregnant woman from Louisville who traveled to region of Central American affected by Zika.

The health department reports that the woman has recovered from the illness.

Scientific evidence is suggesting a link between the Zika virus and babies born with birth defects.

Kentucky health officials are advising anyone  traveling to areas affected by the virus to consult with their doctor. It’s important to avoid bites from mosquitos because they can carry the Zika virus.

The virus has not been found to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

The dean of the University of Louisville’s School of Public Health & Information Sciences is joining other university deans in urging the federal government to rethink its approach to fighting cancer.

The federal Cancer Moonshot Task Force was launched earlier this year with $1 billion to develop new ways to detect and treat cancer. But in a letter sent earlier this week to task force leader Vice President Joe Biden, U of L Dean Craig Blakely and 71 other deans said they were concerned the approach misses the mark.

“We urge you to pay careful attention to the balance between treatment and prevention-related investments,” the letter said.

Blakely said he supports the federal government investing in cancer research, but the initiative is missing a meaningful contribution to prevention.

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A new report shows Medicaid expansion in Kentucky would continue to save the state money were it to remain in its current form.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released the report Tuesday. It examines the financial effects of Medicaid expansion in 11 states and the District of Columbia.

Overall, the report found state spending in Medicaid expansion states grew by half as much as spending in non-expansion states between 2014 and 2015.

“There are a lot of examples of people whose care can be funded under Medicaid expansion,” said Kathy Hempstead, director of coverage for RWJF. “That’s sort of an easy way for states to save money on people they were providing services to anyway.”

In fiscal year 2014, Kentucky saved $2.4 million on coverage for medically needy enrollees, which accounts for six months of savings, according to the report. In the next fiscal year, the state is expected to save $14 million.

In Louisville Visit, McConnell Touts Anti-Opioids Bill

Mar 23, 2016
Abbey Oldham, WKU Public Radio

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell visited a Louisville organization Tuesday to talk about federal legislation that would help boost substance abuse treatment programs across the country.

McConnell met with officials from the Louisville chapter of Volunteers of America to discuss the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA.

The bill would authorize the U.S. Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use, which have hit Kentucky and Southern Indiana particularly hard. The Senate overwhelmingly approved the legislation earlier this month, with both McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul voting in favor.

“People like myself and other members of our delegation will be backing up grant applications that will be made from organizations like this to try to help them expand and treat more people,” McConnell said Tuesday.

Grayson County schools

Chefs are working with schools in eight Kentucky counties to increase the use of fresh food from local farmers. The goal is to create healthier and more appealing meals for students. 

The project is called the Chefs in Schools Collaborative.

Grayson County’s six schools have a chef working with food service staff during the month of March.

School district food service director Kristy Hodges says chef Chris Byrd has helped create lower sodium and less processed food with more natural seasonings.  

“In the past we had used a prepackaged mix for our taco seasoning and he’s helped some of the ladies in the schools come up with their own seasoning recipes,” says Hodges. “He’s doing the same thing with the chili recipe. We used to order spaghetti sauce.”

The students are confirming that the healthier recipes are proving the value of the visiting chef.

Second Confirmed Case Of Zika Virus In Kentucky

Mar 22, 2016
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A western Kentucky man has tested positive for Zika virus, according to the Kentucky Department of Public Health.

The man became infected with the virus after traveling in a Caribbean country, according to DPH. The agency did not identify the country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the test results to DPH Monday.

The agency said the man has fully recovered from the illness.

Zika, an infectious viral illness, is primarily spread through the bite of a mosquito that carries the virus. Zika is not known to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky – or any other part of the United States.

The virus is linked to the birth defect microcephaly, a congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development and abnormal smallness of the head. It has also been associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause paralysis in individuals who have been infected.

Earlier this month, a Louisville man who had recently been traveling in a Central American country tested positive for the virus. DPH said they expected him to fully recover.

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The health care industry in Kentucky continued to add jobs in 2015, according to newly revised data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Kentucky Center for Economic Policy analyzed the data and found 10,500 more people work in the health care industry in January 2016 than in the same month two years prior. Jobs in health care were up nearly 5 percent over 2014, while the overall economy in Kentucky saw 3.1 percent job growth in that period.

Jason Bailey, executive director of KCEP, said employment in health care and social assistance sectors picked up after the implementation of the Medicaid expansion, which former Gov. Steve Beshear did under the Affordable Care Act.

“So many more people have health care coverage and are going to the doctor, and that’s very likely having a strong influence on the job growth that we’re seeing,” he said.

More than 500,000 Kentuckians have gotten health coverage via expanded Medicaid and the state’s insurance exchange, Kynect, since the program began. The rate of uninsured in Kentucky has dropped from 20.4 percent before Kynect to 7.5 percent today, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

J. Tyler Franklin, WFPL

Gov. Matt Bevin and officials from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services discussed Kentucky’s first confirmed case of Zika virus on Thursday.

A Louisville man who had recently been traveling in a Central American country tested positive for the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the test results March 9.

Bevin said the best way to prepare for more potential cases of the virus is through education, knowledge and forward thinking.

“As people are thinking about service projects and mission trips and any number of other things that may take them into Zika virus-infected areas, it’s important for Kentuckians to start to think about what the impact might be in our state,” he said.

Vickie Yates Glisson, secretary of CFHS, said the agency — through the Department of Public Health — has been preparing for a potential Zika case for several months.

First Confirmed Case of Zika Virus in Kentucky

Mar 10, 2016
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The Kentucky Department for Public Health has confirmed the state’s first case of Zika virus.

A Louisville-area man who had recently been traveling in a Central American country tested positive for the virus, according to a press release from DPH. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the test results March 9.

The agency said the man, who is back in Louisville, is doing well and expected to fully recover from the illness.

Zika, an infectious viral illness, is primarily spread through the bite of a mosquito that carries the virus. Zika is not known to be circulating in the mosquito population in Kentucky – or any other part of the United States.

Ruth Carrico, clinical director of Vaccine and International Travel Center at University of Louisville, said it was only a matter of time before the virus made its way to Kentucky.

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Kentucky health officials are urging parents of college students to make sure their children are up-to-date on their mumps vaccination.

A statement from the Kentucky Department of Health on Wednesday says recent cases at the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville underscore the need to keep immunizations current.

Officials say the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine should be given in two doses at least 28 days apart. If college students don’t have documentation showing they have had both shots, they are advised to update their vaccinations.

Mumps is an infectious disease known primarily for swelling of the parotid glands, which results in puffy cheeks and swollen jaws.