WCBE

Health

Health

Steamy days, sultry nights and swarming bugs all make up the thrum of life in the heart of summer. But more and more, our summers are assaulted by the bloodsucking kind of bugs, namely mosquitoes and ticks.

More than a nuisance, new species can impact our health and indicate larger environmental trends.

Beautiful And Adaptable

One relative newcomer prowling the scene is the Asian tiger mosquito. Named for its unique markings, it is black with white stripes.

Come summertime, some of us here at Shots are reminded, as we lounge on decks and venture into overgrown gardens, that we are irresistible to mosquitoes. As we gripe about our itchy, pocked limbs, we can't help but wonder just why they unfailingly devour us and pass over our friends and loved ones. And when it comes to repellent, it's hard to tell just what works best.

Not so long ago, most people thought that the only good microbe was a dead microbe.

But then scientists started to realize that even though some bugs can make us sick and even kill us, most don't.

In fact, in the past decade attitudes about the bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microbes living all over our bodies has almost completely turned around. Now scientists say that not only are those microbes often not harmful, we can't live without them.

You probably don't think about tuberculosis much. Why would you? The number of cases in the U.S. is at an all-time low.

But TB has returned with a vengeance in some parts of world, and there have been some troubling outbreaks here at home, too.

Many of the cases come with a deadly twist. They're resistant to standard drugs and can take years of painstaking treatment to bring under control.

This summer was supposed to be a time to reintroduce the public to the Affordable Care Act and teach people how to sign up for benefits this fall.

But that's not what's happening.

Looking crisp and official in his khaki-colored sheriff's department polo shirt, Steve Steinhardt says Sheboygan, Wis., is a pretty good place to be a director of emergency services.

"Nothing bad happens here," he says, knocking on wood. Unless, that is, you count the tuberculosis outbreak that struck the orderly Midwestern city of 50,000 this spring and summer.

"I never expected TB to be one of the bigger emergencies I'd face when I got into this field," Steinhardt says.

West Nile virus looked like it was waning as a health threat, with the number of cases dropping each year. Then last summer, it roared back.

The number of people infected with the mosquito-borne illness suddenly spiked in 2012. And Dallas was hit hardest of all.

People showed up in emergency rooms with encephalitis and paralysis, unable to breathe on their own.

Sickle Cell Anemia Is On The Rise Worldwide

Jul 17, 2013

Sickle cell anemia may not be as well-known as, say, malaria, tuberculosis or AIDS. But every year, hundreds of thousands of babies around the world are born with this inherited blood disorder. And the numbers are expected to climb.

The number of sickle cell anemia cases is expected to increase about 30 percent globally by 2050, scientists said Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease is most common, will be the hardest hit.

The newest co-host for Barbara Walters' chatfest The View is a vivacious and outspoken model, actor and activist for children, seemingly a perfect person to have at the table of the successful network talk show.

But Jenny McCarthy is also one of the nation's leading skeptics about the safety of vaccines. And in that role, ABC's newest star has stirred consternation.

Uncle Sam wants your doctor to go digital. And the federal government is backing that up with money for practices that start using computerized systems for record keeping.

Nearly half of all physicians in America still rely on paper records for most patient care. Time is running out for those who do to take advantage of federal funds to make the switch. So practices like Colorado Springs Internal Medicine are scrambling to get with the program.

Every year more than a quarter of a million Americans have total hip replacement surgery. It's almost always a successful operation that frees patients from what's often described as disabling pain.

But in recent years, there's been lots of discussion on the Internet about "anterior approach" hip replacement, a surgical technique that's different than the standard procedure. It's one that proponents say can lead to quicker recovery, three to four weeks compared to six to eight weeks for typical surgery.

Anybody who has ever worn a cast knows that it can really cramp your style. You itch. After a while, you stink. At times, it seems like the cast needs even more care than you do. Keep it dry or else!

Other than the addition of garish colors of fiberglass, there hasn't been much innovation in cast technology in what seems like forever. But down in New Zealand, designer Jake Evill is bringing the latest in 3-D printing to orthopedics.

Do Diet Drinks Mess Up Metabolisms?

Jul 10, 2013

It may seem counterintuitive, but there's a body of evidence to suggest that the millions of Americans with a diet soda habit may not be doing their waistlines — or their blood sugar — any favors.

As the consumption of diet drinks made with artificial sweeteners continues to rise, researchers are beginning to make some uncomfortable associations with weight gain and other diseases.

That cat poop can pose a health risk to humans no longer surprises us.

Some cats carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii. Infected cats shed embryonic T. gondii, called oocysts, in their feces.

The Major League Baseball season is now half over, and some fans are already starting to think about the World Series in October.

October is also a big month for the Obama administration.

That's when millions of Americans can start signing up for new health insurance policies through health exchanges established in each state under the Affordable Care Act.

The Renaissance Garden at the New York Botanical Garden, a re-creation of a 16th-century medicinal garden, is so lush and colorful, it takes only a stroll through to absorb its good medicine.

The garden, part of a summer exhibit called Wild Medicine: Healing Plants Around the World, is a small-scale model of the Italian Renaissance Garden in Padua, Italy, Europe's first botanical garden.

Dr. Linda Smith walks into a room at Providence Alaska Medical Center, ready with a stethoscope and a huge grin. She teases her patient, Dawn Dillard, saying that her spiky hair recently resembled a "faux hawk."

Dillard found out she had uterine cancer a year ago. Her oncologist gave her a year to live. The 57-year-old has beaten those odds, but now her kidneys are failing. After the laughs are over, Smith sits down on the edge of Dillard's bed, leans in, and starts talking about a procedure Dillard will have.

Japanese scientists have cracked open a freaky new chapter in the sci-fi-meets-stem-cells era. A group in Yokohama reported it has grown a primitive liver in a petri dish using a person's skin cells.

The organ isn't complete. It's missing a few parts. And it will be years --maybe decades — before the technique reaches clinics.

In 2011, the state of California created a problem for the soda industry.

The caramel color that Coke and Pepsi used to give colas that distinctive brown hue contained a chemical, 4-methylimidazole — 4-MEI — that is listed as a carcinogen by the state.

And in accordance with California's Proposition 65 law, the levels of 4-MEI found in sodas would have warranted a cancer warning label on every can sold in the state.

David Green is a man on a mission to drive down the cost of medical devices and health services.

His tactic: Use market forces and slightly tweaked business strategies to make health care accessible to even the poorest people. And he's had some amazing success.

I caught up with Green (no relation to NPR's David Greene) at a company he is launching in Chicago that's taking on the high cost of hearing aids. He's demonstrating how to program his company's new hearing device on a cellphone.

As many as 300 million people around the world need hearing aids. The vast majority of the 7 million people who get them annually are in the U.S. and Europe.

One big reason is cost. On average, a set of hearing aids rings up a tab of about $4,000. Most insurance policies don't cover them.

A company called Sound World Solutions is trying to do something about the limited reach of hearing aids by creating a high-quality hearing device that costs less than a tenth the normal price.

Doctors have been putting in a lot of ear tubes. It's the most common outpatient surgery in children.

Despite how common the tubes are, it's been hard for parents to know if and when a child should get them. "Pediatricians are confused about it too," says Dr. Richard Rosenfeld, chairman of otolaryngology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. "And ENT doctors."

The biggest changes in health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act are set to begin less than three months from now. Oct. 1 is when people can start signing up for coverage in new state health exchanges. The policies would kick in on Jan. 1, 2014.

It can all be a little confusing, we agree. So two weeks ago, we asked what you wanted to know about the health law.

Test-Driving The Obamacare Software

Jun 27, 2013

All the outreach in the world won't count for much if the Obamacare ticket counter doesn't work.

When students show up at college in the fall, they'll have to deal with new classes, new friends and a new environment. In many cases, they will also have new roommates — and an intriguing new research study suggests this can have important mental health consequences.

This weekend marks 100 days until people can begin signing up for new health insurance coverage under the federal health care law. It also marks another milestone: the launch of an enormous public relations effort to find people eligible for new coverage and urge them to sign up when the time comes.

But like everything else about the health law, even this seemingly innocuous effort has been touched by controversy.

The House has passed one of the most far-reaching abortion bills in decades. But it's unlikely to ever become law.

By a mostly party-line vote Tuesday of 228-196, lawmakers passed the "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act," which would ban nearly all abortions starting 20 weeks after fertilization.

A dapper older gentleman spurns his mate of a certain age to take a fresh-faced young lover. You've seen that movie before, right?

Well, this choice of youth may turn out to be more than a Hollywood trope. Researchers say decisions like that one may have been the evolutionary source of menopause.

The human voice appears to trigger pleasure circuits in the brains of typical kids, but not children with autism, a Stanford University team reports. The finding could explain why many children with autism seem indifferent to spoken words.

Pages