Doctor Housecalls Blog

Healthcare related news and updates



Extreme Heat in Arizona Causes a Public Health Hazard

Rising temperatures are causing more and more deaths every year. It is happening all over the country, but the rates are even more extreme in Arizona. The Phoenix area has already experienced extreme heat warnings from the state’s Department of Health Services this summer. Exactly how many people are dying from extreme heat in Maricopa County?

The New York Times reported that in 2016, 130 Maricopa county residents died of heat related causes.  AZ Central claimed that while it is difficult to calculate heat related deaths due to varying definitions, Maricopa County contributed to about 25% of the US’s heat related deaths in 2015. Many of these deaths occur when people do not have functioning air conditioners, especially the elderly and economically disadvantaged. “People who are economically disadvantaged have a harder time paying for increased electricity bills or keeping their water on throughout the entire year and those factors can predispose you to heat-related illness,” Kate Goodin, epidemiology and data services program manager at the Maricopa County Department of Public Health, told NBC News.

It is not just heat related illnesses that have increased with the rising temperatures in Arizona. The extreme temperatures are also contributing to natural disasters, such as wildfires. Governor Ducey stated that “since April 2017, Arizona has experienced more than one dozen large wildfires, aided by high temperatures, winds, and available fuels.”



CBS Evening News is reporting that this year’s flu strain is sending seniors to the hospital in record numbers.  While the flu spread appears to have peaked, the numbers of seniors being hospitalized is the highest in a decade.  NBC Nightly News reported that the alarming numbers are due to the severity of the strain in addition to a low effectiveness rate for this year’s flu vaccine.  The vaccine has been shown to be only about 23% effective.  Bloomberg News is reporting that some areas of the country are facing new surges in the spread of the flu.  This includes regions of the West Coast, New England, and the Northeast.   The CDC has issued a warning to healthcare providers to quickly treat patients with antivirals without waiting for tests to confirm a positive flu diagnosis.  The letter explained that the flu may spread for several more weeks, and anti-viral treatments can help keep high-risk patients from being hospitalized.

We are happy to provide patients with all necessary care and prescriptions to treat this epidemic outbreak.  Call us anytime at 480-948-0102!



Life Threatening Flu Strain

Doctors are warning families this year about a potentially life threatening flu strain.  Mayo Clinic infectious diseases physician Dr. Pritish Tosh explains that this year’s strain of flu can be fatal for even healthy children.  The virus works by entering the blood stream first and eventually the brain, resulting in symptoms such as shortness of breath and a very high fever.  The body may then overcompensate by sending white blood cells into the lungs, resulting in serious complications.  Three children in Minnesota have died due to complications from the virus, with another seven currently in the ICU according to the Minnesota Health Department.  Nationwide, the total deaths for children from this flu is reported to be 15.

This particular strain of flu, H3N2, has accounted for approximately 90% of flu cases this year, according to the CDC.  And while this year’s flu vaccine does not appear to match this particular strain, doctors are advising that patients, especially those in high-risk groups, continue to get the flu shot as some cross-protection may occur



Study: Medical marijuana may help rein in painkiller overdoses.

by Dr. Steven J. Lipsky MD, FACEP

The legalization of medical marijuana has been sweeping the nation. As of June 2014, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana with several others pending legislation. Recent research has sparked a new debate over whether medical marijuana could be the answer to help stem the rising tide of prescription painkiller overdoses. In an article published by USA Today (8/25, Hughes), federal officials pointed out that prescription painkillers are among the most abused prescription medicines in the U.S., responsible for the deaths of more than 15,000 Americans annually

The study  published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine received national media coverage in major newspapers and at least one prominent news agency. While several media outlets highlighted that states that have medical marijuana laws in place reported declining deaths due to opioid overdoses, others suggested more studies were needed, quoting experts who cautioned against drawing a direct causal link.

In August, the Washington Post (8/25, Millman) picked up the study in their “Wonkblog.” Research found that states with medical marijuana laws saw 24.8% fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses compared to states that didn’t have such laws. This translated into 1,729 fewer deaths than expected in 2010 alone, and an improvement in overdose rates with medical marijuana laws.

The Los Angeles Times (8/26, Healy) also reported on the study, highlighting the decline in deaths linked to opiate drugs after legalizing medical marijuana in 13 states. In fact, the study points outs that states with formal laws allowing legal medical marijuana experienced a steady drop in opiate-related overdoses, reaching, on average, that 33%, five and six years after the states’ medical marijuana laws were implemented.

In an email to Reuters (8/26, Doyle) lead author of the study, Dr. Marcus A. Bachhuber commented on the studying saying, “Most of the discussion on medical marijuana has been about its effect on individuals in terms of reducing pain or other symptoms. The unique contribution of our study is the finding that medical marijuana laws and policies may have a broader impact on public health.” Dr. Bachhuber and his team at the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, examined state medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths using death certificate data from all 50 states from 1999 to 2010. While overdose deaths continued to fall in states with medical marijuana law, overdose deaths across the US rose sharply, from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010, according to data from the CDC.

ABC News (8/25, Zimmerman) also covered the story in its “Medical Unit” blog quoting that the researchers who conducted the new study suggest “that because legalizing medical marijuana makes it more available to chronic pain patients, it provides a potentially less lethal alternative to pain control on a long-term basis.”

The Boston Globe (8/25, Rice), however, wonders whether Massachusetts is an anomaly because in that state, where Gov. Deval Patrick (D) has “declared a ‘public health emergency,’ the number of deaths due to opioid overdoses has increased by 90 percent from 2000 to 2013.” The article notes that “voters legalized medical marijuana in a November 2012 ballot initiative.”

Criticism and skepticism surrounds the study, even from those closely tied to it. The strongest criticism of the study came from Kevin Sabet, director of the Drug Policy Institute at the University of Florida College of Medicine. In an interview with USA Today (8/25, Hughes) Sabet expresses his concerns about how the study’s authors collected and analyzed the data. “They failed to differentiate between states with strict and lax medical marijuana laws, and didn’t examine emergency-room admission and prescription data, and failed to see what impact methadone clinics might have had.” Sabet finds it hard to believe there has been such an across-the-board reduction in predicted deaths.

The study was also covered by CNN (8/26, Young), TIME (8/26, Sifferlin), Vox (8/26, Lopez), The Hill (8/26, Al-Faruque), Newsweek (8/26, Main), HealthDay(8/26, Thompson), Medscape (8/26, Anderson) and Modern Healthcare (8/26, Johnson, Subscription Publication).



Phoenix Sky Harbor Tuberculosis ScareUnsuspecting passengers of a US Airways flight from Texas to Arizona were given the shock of a lifetime when told that they had been exposed to the potentially deadly illness known as tuberculosis (TB).  Just minutes from deplaning, passengers witnessed a man being removed from the airplane by paramedics.  Minutes later, firefighters announced the reason why.

 

What Is Tuberculosis?

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease, known as TB for short.  It’s caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis.  It usually impacts your lungs and indeed, that’s how most people know of the disease.  However, it can also affect organs, the circulatory system and lymphatic system, amongst others.

During its peak, it was often referred to as “consumption”.  This is due to the disease’s devastating capabilities of ‘consuming’ the body from within.  Not exactly the most pleasant way to go, is it?

 

Phoenix Flight with Tuberculosis Scare: Why Is It So Dangerous?

After the patient was given a ‘no fly’ status, the situation heightened very quickly.  Once US Airways Express Flight 2836 landed, it was immediately taxied to a separate section of the tarmac.

Sky Harbor Airport staff contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and first responders arrived at the scene soon after.  The man in question was given a medical mask and was quickly escorted off the plane.

So why did paramedics deal in such a cautious manner?  Was it necessary to quarantine the aircraft while dealing with the situation, or was this an exaggerated measure?

Even though tuberculosis is not as common as it once was, it’s still extremely contagious and potentially deadly to those exposed. It was once the leading cause of death in the United States and one of the main reasons is the fact that it’s spread through the air.  It also takes just a few particles to become infected, so it’s a very contagious disease.

It’s still one of the major killers in the third world, with many African and Asian countries still feeling its destructive effects.  The disease is the cause of around 2 million deaths per year.

It’s no surprise that those on the flight were more than a little jaded after the experience. However, it’s not an absolute guarantee that exposure will lead to infection.  If you have a strong immune system, there is every chance that your body will naturally fight off the disease.

Considering the role of the immune system in the body’s ability to remain healthy, tuberculosis often affects AIDS and HIV patients.  The elderly or those suffering from malnutrition are also particularly vulnerable.

 

What Are the Symptoms?

The symptoms can start off as quite light, with a bad cough and chest pain being the initial warning signs.  Once the disease develops, suffers will start coughing up blood, experiencing severe fever and chills.  Weight loss and weakness are also common symptoms. Symptoms become more severe over time.

However, most people don’t show any signs right after infection.  That’s why all passengers on the Phoenix flight with the tuberculosis scare were told to take tests in three months time. Only then can you get the proper ‘all clear’ from your doctor.


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