Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

Food Poisoning: Understanding How Bacteria Come Back from the ‘Dead’


English: Salmonella

Image via Wikipedia

From the 3 February 2012 Science Daily article

almonella remains a serious cause of food poisoning in the UK and throughout the EU, in part due to its ability to thrive and quickly adapt to the different environments in which it can grow. New research involving a team of IFR scientists, funded by BBSRC, has taken the first detailed look at what Salmonella does when it enters a new environment, which could provide clues to finding new ways of reducing transmission through the food chain and preventing human illness.

Bacteria can multiply rapidly, potentially doubling every 20 minutes in ideal conditions. However, this exponential growth phase is preceded by a period known as lag phase, where no increase in cell number is seen. Lag phase was first described in the 19th Century, and was assumed to be needed by bacteria to prepare to exploit new environmental conditions. Beyond this, surprisingly little was known about lag phase, other than bacteria are metabolically active in this period. But exactly what are bacteria doing physiologically during this period?

To fill in this knowledge gap researchers at IFR, along with colleagues at Campden BRI, a membership-based organisation carrying out research and development for the food and drinks industry, have developed a simple and robust system for studying the biology ofSalmonella during lag phase. In this system, lag phase lasts about two hours, but the cells sense their new environment remarkably quickly, and within four minutes switch on a specific set of genes, including some that control the uptake of specific nutrients….

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Public Health | , , | Leave a comment

The Dark Path to Antisocial Personality Disorder

From the 7 February 2012 Science Daily news item

With no lab tests to guide the clinician, psychiatric diagnostics is challenging and controversial. Antisocial personality disorder is defined as “a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood,” according to the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) of the American Psychiatric Association….



February 8, 2012 Posted by | Psychology | , , , , | Leave a comment

Mild Alzheimer’s Might In Fact Be Mild Cognitive Impairment


Alzheimer's Disease

Alzheimer's Disease (Photo credit: AJC1)

From the 7 February Medical News Today article

New revised criteria could mean that a considerable number of patients currently diagnosed with mild or very mild Alzheimer’s, might in fact be reclassified as having MCI (mild cognitive impairment), John C. Morris, M.D., of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, wrote in Archives of Neurology.

The Alzheimer’s Association, along with the NIA (National Institute of Aging) revised the criteria for MCI after convening a work group. The new criteria have considerably widened the meaning of functional independence, Dr. Morris explained. Mild problems are now permissible for an MCI diagnosis, such as some daily chores and activities, which may include paying bills, cooking and shopping. Needing assistance or aids to perform such tasks are also permissible in the criteria for an MCI diagnosis.

Morris evaluated the functional ratings of 17,535 individuals who had been enrolled at federally funded Alzheimer’s Disease Centers – their clinical and cognitive data were stored at the National Alzheimer’s Coordination Center. They had been diagnosed with either Alzheimer’s disease, MCI or normal cognition. Their average age was 74.6 years…..


February 8, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health | , | Leave a comment

Stress in America 2011

From the 3 February Full Text Report summary

Source:  American Psychological Association
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) newly released report, Stress in America™: Our Health at Risk, paints a troubling picture of the impact stress has on the health of the country, especially caregivers and people living with a chronic illness such as obesity or depression.
The Stress in America survey, which was conducted online by Harris Interactive on behalf of APA among 1,226 U.S. residents in August and September, showed that many Americans consistently report high levels of stress (22 percent reported extreme stress, an 8, 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale where 1 is little or no stress and 10 is a great deal of stress). While reported average stress levels have dipped slightly since the last survey (5.2 on a 10-point scale vs. 5.4 in 2010) many Americans continue to report that their stress has actually increased over time (39 percent report their stress has increased over the past year and 44 percent say their stress has increased over the past 5 years). Yet stress levels exceed people’s own definition of what is healthy, with the mean rating for stress of 5.2 on a 10-point scale— 1.6 points higher than the stress level Americans reported as healthy.
While 9 in 10 adults believe that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity, a sizeable minority still think that stress has only a slight or no impact on their own physical health (31 percent) and mental health (36 percent). When considered alongside the finding that only 29 percent of adults believe they are doing an excellent or very good job at managing or reducing stress, APA warns that this disconnect is cause for concern.
“America has a choice. We can continue down a well-worn path where stress significantly impacts our physical and mental health, causes undue suffering and drives up health care costs. Or we can get serious about this major public health issue and provide better access to behavioral health care services to help people more effectively manage their stress and  prevent and manage chronic disease,” says psychologist Norman B. Anderson, PhD, APA’s CEO and executive vice president. “Various studies have shown that chronic stress is a major driver of chronic illness, which in turn is a major driver of escalating health care costs in this country. It is critical that the entire health community and policymakers recognize the role of stress and unhealthy behaviors in causing and exacerbating chronic health conditions, and support models of care that help people make positive changes.”

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Consumer Health, Psychology | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why we need to go from e-patient to i-patient (insurance savvy patient)

From the 3 February 2012 KevinMD column  by Jackie Fox

I found a recent Associated Press article on an aspect of the new health care law that many of us may have overlooked. It requires consumer-friendly summaries of what insurance plans cover, a provision that now seems to be at risk. The insurance industry is up in arms about implementation costs and added regulatory burdens. (There’s a good story at NPR, which includes a link to an example of what the language would look like.)


My initial thought was what a shame it would be to lose that provision. But then my mind flipped to the e-patient movement and how it’s teaching people to be active participants in our medical care. That means learning as much as we can about our conditions and treatment options and sometimes questioning our doctors’ recommendations.

It occurred to me that when we focus only on doctors, we’re missing a very sizable forest for the trees.  One of the overriding concerns of health care reform is getting costs under control. …

This is where I think the “i-patient” needs to step up: “i” for insurance-savvy. We should be demanding to know what insurance companies’ decisions are based on when they deny a claim. My oncologist told me one of his denials was based on the assessment of a general practitioner hired by the insurance company. Without the specialized knowledge of blood markers an oncologist has, this doctor didn’t realize that the normal marker used as a basis for denial wasn’t a good indicator. Where does that leave my oncologist and his decades of experience?  Like he told me, “Medicine is not like taking a car to a shop.” Patients need to know about this. When selecting an insurance company, we should know which ones have the worst record of denying claims.

We also should be keeping a close watch on electronic medical records, beyond simply demanding access to our own records. I recently read a fascinating post by Adam Sharp, MD, founder of par80 & Sermo, called “Why EMR is A Four-Letter Word to Most Doctors.” He explained how EMRs were largely a top-down effort, allowing third parties to implement policies by simply removing options from the EMR.  “If you can’t select a particular treatment option, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t exist or the red tape to choose it is so painful that there is little incentive to fight the system.”…

…We need an i-patient movement to make sure our voices are heard and our choices are preserved. We need to ensure those choices are made in partnership with our doctors, not handed down to both of us by some invisible third-party payer. We have a Society for Participatory Medicine (I’m a member); maybe it’s time we had a Society for Participatory Insurance. Because our doctors can’t fight this battle alone.



February 8, 2012 Posted by | health care | , , | Leave a comment

FCC seeks to change regulation of corporate interests disclosures on TV news (including local hospital segments on the news)

Those health news segments on the local news might not be as unbiased as they appear!

From the 3 January 2012 Washington Post article by Paul Farhi

V newscasts are increasingly seeded with corporate advertising masquerading as news — and the federal government wants to do something about it.

Concerned that subtle “pay-for-play” marketing ploys are seeping into the news, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed a regulation that would require the nation’s 1,500 commercial TV stations to disclose online the corporate interests behind the news….

“Unless you stick around for the end credits, you’re unlikely to know it’s payola,” said Corie Wright, senior policy counsel for Free Press, a media watchdog group backing the FCC proposal. “If broadcasters were required to put it online, you could check to see if it was actually sponsored or not.”

The proposed regulation is aimed at news programs that appear to viewers to be the work of independent journalists, but in fact sponsors have shaped or even dictated the coverage.

A common form of advertiser-supplied content, documented in a recent Washington Post article, is a live interview segment in which a seemingly neutral reviewer recommends a series of products that the “reviewer” has been paid by sponsors to mention. Stations across the country have also brokered “exclusive” relationships with local hospitals in which the hospitals pay the station to be featured in health stories.  [my emphasis] Other stations have aired “news” programs that feature interviews with sponsors who’ve paid for the privilege.

According to an FCC report, many stations also use “video news releases,” footage produced by a sponsor or corporate interest that looks like it was shot by the station.

Under current law, such arrangements aren’t illegal,


February 8, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Medical journal news releases shouldn’t just try to make news but to make news reporting better

Medical news press releases do strongly affect health/medical news items in the “popular press”.
All the more reason, as this article points out, that these press releases need to be as complete and accurate as possible!

From the 31 Janauary 2012*** article

Not to be missed:  last week’s BMJ published an analysis by a team at Dartmouth Medical School led by Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz – “Influence of medical journal press releases on the quality of associated newspaper coverage.”***

This is an important contribution to our understanding of the food chain of the dissemination of research news to the American public:  medical journals feed journalists who feed the American public what they get out of journals – sometimes driven largely by what’s in journal news releases.  If the information at the source is complete and high quality, the flow of information from journalists to the public is more likely to be complete and high quality as well.  But this analysis also suggests that “low quality press releases might make (associated newspaper stories) worse.”


Higher quality press releases issued by medical journals were associated with higher quality reporting in subsequent newspaper stories. In fact, the influence of press releases on subsequent newspaper stories was generally stronger than that of journal abstracts. Fundamental information such as absolute risks, harms, and limitations was more likely to be reported in newspaper stories when this information appeared in a medical journal press release than when it was missing from the press release or if no press release was issued. Furthermore, our data suggest that poor quality press releases were worse than no press release being issued: fundamental information was less likely to be reported in newspaper stories when it was missing from the press release than where no press release was issued at all (although the findings were generally not statistically significant).

Reporting on medical research is challenging:…

*** is a group of independent professional journalists who review medical stories in newspapers, magazines, etc

Health News Review
Please see my earlier blog posting for a fuller description

***Influence of medical journal press releases on the quality of associated newspaper coverage: retrospective cohort study

  • Source:  British Medical Journal
    To determine whether the quality of press releases issued by medical journals can influence the quality of associated newspaper stories.
    Retrospective cohort study of medical journal press releases and associated news stories.
    We reviewed consecutive issues (going backwards from January 2009) of five major medical journals (Annals of Internal Medicine, BMJ, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, JAMA, and New England Journal of Medicine) to identify the first 100 original research articles with quantifiable outcomes and that had generated any newspaper coverage (unique stories ≥100 words long). We identified 759 associated newspaper stories using Lexis Nexis and Factiva searches, and 68 journal press releases using Eurekalert and journal website searches. Two independent research assistants assessed the quality of journal articles, press releases, and a stratified random sample of associated newspaper stories (n=343) by using a structured coding scheme for the presence of specific quality measures: basic study facts, quantification of the main result, harms, and limitations.
    Main outcome
    Proportion of newspaper stories with specific quality measures (adjusted for whether the quality measure was present in the journal article’s abstract or editor note).
    We recorded a median of three newspaper stories per journal article (range 1-72). Of 343 stories analysed, 71% reported on articles for which medical journals had issued press releases. 9% of stories quantified the main result with absolute risks when this information was not in the press release, 53% did so when it was in the press release (relative risk 6.0, 95% confidence interval 2.3 to 15.4), and 20% when no press release was issued (2.2, 0.83 to 6.1). 133 (39%) stories reported on research describing beneficial interventions. 24% mentioned harms (or specifically declared no harms) when harms were not mentioned in the press release, 68% when mentioned in the press release (2.8, 1.1 to 7.4), and 36% when no press release was issued (1.5, 0.49 to 4.4). 256 (75%) stories reported on research with important limitations. 16% reported any limitations when limitations were not mentioned in the press release, 48% when mentioned in the press release (3.0, 1.5 to 6.2), and 21% if no press release was issued (1.3, 0.50 to 3.6).
    High quality press releases issued by medical journals seem to make the quality of associated newspaper stories better, whereas low quality press releases might make them worse.

February 8, 2012 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , | Leave a comment


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