human health

Inside the doctor's office.
Jennifer Morrow / Flickr

We're all hearing about concern over a rare respiratory virus that is affecting kids in the Midwest.

So far the virus has been detected in Illinois and Missouri. Medical professionals in several other states, including Michigan, are now testing patients for the virus.

This week, Mark Pallansch, director of the Center for Disease Control's Division of Viral Diseases, spoke with NPR's Robert Siegel about what they're seeing.

user: vitualis / flickr

LANSING – Michigan health officials say they are investigating severe respiratory illnesses in children but haven't confirmed if the cases are associated with a national outbreak.

The Michigan Department of Community Health said Tuesday it's received reports of an increase in such illnesses and is working with local health agencies. Officials are forwarding samples to the Centers for Disease Control.

Cases of the suspected germ known as enterovirus 68 have been confirmed in Missouri and Illinois. The CDC is testing to determine if the virus caused illnesses reported in 10 states, including Michigan.

The virus is an uncommon strain of a common family of viruses that typically hit from summertime through autumn. The virus can cause mild coldlike symptoms but officials say these cases are unusually severe with serious breathing problems.

Outside the Community Health and Social Services Center in Detroit.
CHASS / Facebook

Part of the Affordable Care Act calls for big investments in community health care centers to increase access to primary health care services. The health care law calls for a total investment of $11 billion over a five-year period “for the operation, expansion, and construction of health centers” throughout the country.

Today, Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced that $35.7 million in Affordable Care Act funding will go to 147 health centers in 44 states.

The funding will support 21 new construction projects and 126 renovation projects.

Seven of those health centers are in Michigan. These seven centers will split close to $1.7 million to support construction and facility improvements.

Here’s the list of health centers receiving funding:

Rep. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho, delayed the U.S. EPA's health assessment on arsenic.
wikimedia commons

Arsenic occurs naturally, and Michigan is one of a handful of states with unusually high arsenic concentrations in groundwater.

Arsenic was also used in insecticides for many years and it's still being used in some weed killers.

David Heath is a senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, and he investigated why a health assessment on arsenic from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been delayed.

Why does this health assessment matter?

Heath said when the EPA first wants to determine how dangerous a toxic chemical is, they first do the science. These assessments can take a long time and the arsenic assessment has been going on for more than a decade.

"It's not until they have done the science to figure out exactly how dangerous a chemical is that they can really take action on it," Heath said. "So it really does come down to 'this is how they protect your health.'"

A single member of Congress, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, was able to intentionally delay the EPA's health assessment for years.

FDA

All this week, we’ve been talking about the potential for elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater in Michigan.

The upshot of our reports:

  1. Arsenic levels in Michigan’s groundwater can be high.
  2. Arsenic is bad for you.
  3. Scientists are finding health effects at lower exposure levels.
  4. If you’re on a well, test it for arsenic.
  5. If the levels are high, you should consider doing something about it.

This one chart published by the Center for Public Integrity shows you why (the blue bar is arsenic):

Bushen Well Drilling. / Facebook

Parts of southeast Michigan – especially in the Thumb – have higher than average levels of arsenic in the groundwater.

Arsenic can cause cancer. It’s been linked to bladder, lung and kidney cancer, and other serious health effects.

If you’re on city water, there’s a federal regulation that limits the amount of arsenic in it, but if you’re on a private well, it’s up to you to find out whether there’s too much arsenic in your water.

Those who want to opt out of DTE Energy’s smart meter program now face a fee.

According to MLive, the Michigan Public Service Commission “ruled that DTE can charge customers an initial fee of $67.20 and a monthly fee of $9.80 to opt out of the smart meters.”

Melissa Anders reports that:

Felix de Cossio / White House

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) - A Grand Rapids hospital has broken ground on a $54 million expansion and renovation project and the establishment of a cancer program named after former first lady Betty Ford.

The Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital announced plans Tuesday to double space for patients. The project also includes renovating three buildings and adding about 300 jobs in nursing, therapy and other specialties.

Ford's daughter Susan Ford Bales announced the creation of The Betty Bloomer Ford Cancer Rehabilitation Program in honor of her mother and grandmother, Hortense Neahr Bloomer. Both women were active supporters of the hospital and Betty Ford brought such previously taboo subjects as breast cancer into the public arena by candidly discussing her battle with it.

Mary Free Bed is a nonprofit hospital providing rehabilitation for children and adults.

Dan Bobkoff / Michigan Radio

Democrats in the Michigan Legislature and a nurses’ union are calling for a state law that would require hospitals to maintain staff levels without resorting to mandatory overtime.

Sixteen states currently have rules regarding staff-to-patient ratios.

Right now, California is the only state with a law that sets minimum staffing levels in hospitals.

State Representative Jon Switalski (D-Warren) is about to introduce legislation to set staffing requirements in emergency rooms and other hospital wards.

“Nurse staffing can literally be a life-or-death issue and affects families from Detroit to the Upper Peninsula,” said Switalski.

Scott Nesbit is a registered nurse from Muskegon. He says he and other nurses have experienced mistakes or a “very near miss” caused by short-staffing.

“I don’t think people realize that when your nurse is handling far too many patients, or working a double-shift or been mandated to stay over, it’s probably because the hospital wants it that way,” said Nesbit.

Similar legislation has failed in previous sessions of the Legislature.

The Michigan Health & Hospitals Association opposes the idea.

The group says a law that sets staffing requirements would rob administrators of the flexibility they need to meet different situations. The association says the bigger problem is a shortage of trained nurses.

mconnors / morguefile.com

This is the second in a two-part series. Click here to hear part one.

More than 240 people in Michigan are sick with fungal meningitis after receiving contaminated back pain injections. 

Now, the victims want justice. They’ve spent weeks in the hospital, racking up massive medical bills.

Those are the lucky ones: 15 Michiganders have died so far in this epidemic.

Kate Wells / Michigan Radio

This is the first in a two-part series. Click here to hear part two.

Fifteen people from Michigan have died from fungal meningitis, more than in any other state.

It’s tough to know for sure why Michigan wound up with a full third of all cases nationwide. Bad luck? A graying population seeking pain relief medication that, in this case, turned out to be contaminated? Or a bustling, privatized network of pain clinics spread across the state?

user clarita / morguefile

Many Republicans in the Michigan Legislature want to allow health care providers, or insurers to deny service to patients based on religious, moral or ethical objections.

The "Religious Liberty and Conscience Protection Act" passed the state Senate last Thursday during the tumultuous 'right-to-work' debate.

Now a House Committee has approved the bill, which will allow it to go before the full House. The Michigan House could vote on the measure today, which would send it to Gov. Snyder's desk.

More from the Detroit Free Press:

On a straight party-line vote, the state House insurance committee voted Wednesday to approve a bill that would allow health care providers and facilities to refuse service based on a moral objection, religious reasons or matters of conscience.
The bill now moves to the full House, where it could be considered as early as this afternoon and, if approved, would move to Gov. Rick Snyder for his signature.

Christy Barnes / University of Michigan

University of Michigan researchers are developing a new use for an old drug.

Small doses of medicine already used to treat cancer may reduce inflammation in patients after a bone marrow transplant.

These transplants can save a cancer patient's life, but many recipients suffer from a life-threatening side effect called Graft-versus-host disease. It occurs when the donated cells attack their new host's tissues.

The drug Vorinostat could help reduce that risk. For the first time, researchers at U-of-M's Comprehensive Cancer Center are testing that possibility on human patients.

Stateside: Walking with a purpose

Nov 1, 2012

For several years, Koerner Gray Buchta, a 20-year-old man from Grand Rapids, has battled an illness that’s commonly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or Myalgic Encephalomyalitis (often abbreviated to ME/CFS).

There is no known cure for ME/CFS. The illness is difficult to manage because there is no consistently effective treatment.

Lead in text: 
There have been calls for a criminal investigation. Now news of a raid from Reuters.
Health
Current case count from the fungal meningitis outbreak. Michigan has reached 46 cases.
CDC

The Michigan Department of Community Health said the number of meningitis cases associated with the recent outbreak reached 46 yesterday. Three deaths in Michigan are linked to the outbreak.

In the meantime, the New York Times reports the FDA warns other drugs could be involved:

Weekly influenza activity across the U.S. and its territories. Michigan is listed as "sporadic."
CDC

Flu season is officially underway.

Michigan Department of Community Health officials said today that 12 influenza cases are the first seasonal flu reports they have confirmed in Michigan during the 2012-2013 season.

They  said the illnesses occurred in children and adults in lower Michigan.

Two people were hospitalized. Nine cases have been confirmed as influenza B viruses, two as influenza A (H3N2) virus and one as influenza A (H1N1) 2009 virus.

Officials say it's too early to tell what influenza viruses will circulate this influenza season or how severe it might be.

Officials recommend flu shots as a way to prevent the disease.

Michigan's flu activity is listed as "sporadic," the lowest of four levels of influenza activity.

Several years ago I interviewed Peter Palese, a microbiologist and Chair of the Department of Microbiology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.

They were researching why the flu virus spreads in cold weather.

They found that once the flu virus is airborne, it survives longer in cold air and low humidity. It doesn't survive as long in higher temperatures and higher humidity.

Palese said age old maternal advice held up in their research:

They tested guinea pigs infected with the flu virus - and found that the animals are more contagious when they're in a colder environment. They believe that's because their bodies don't get rid of the virus as fast in cold temperatures...

"So that makes sense when your grandmother told you 'don't go out when it's cold, and stay warm and you might get the flu,' she was probably right," said Palese.

Kellogg's

Three days ago, Battle Creek cereal maker Kellogg's announced a voluntary recall of Frosted and Unfrosted Mini-Wheats.

From Kellogg's:

We have initiated a voluntary recall due to the possible presence of fragments of flexible metal mesh from a faulty manufacturing part. Recalled products include only Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite Size Original and Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite Size with the letters KB, AP or FK before or after the Best If Used Before date.

You can see a list of UPC codes on the Kellogg's website.

The Wall Street Journal reports on how much the recall will cost the company:

Kellogg Co. K +0.54% said Wednesday it would take a charge of up to $30 million to cover the recall of Mini-Wheats cereal in the U.S. due to possible contamination by pieces of metal mesh.

Retailers have been contacted about the recall of 2.8 million packages of Frosted Mini-Wheats Bite-Size Original and Mini-Wheats Unfrosted Bite Size, which are being pulled from store shelves. Kellogg blamed the contamination on "a faulty manufacturing part," and said no injuries had been reported.

The WSJ reports the metal mesh problem comes after the company went through another recall in 2010 for a variety of cereals.

The paper reports the company is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fix its supply chain, "which suffered deep cost cuts, leaving several manufacturing facilities overworked and too few people overseeing operations."

Map of Healthcare Facilities which received three lots of Methylprednisolone Acetate (PF) recalled from New England Compounding Center.
CDC

News about the meningitis outbreak continues this morning. The outbreak has been linked to patients receiving steroid injections for back pain. The steroid shots could be contaminated with a meningitis-causing fungus.

From the CDC:

At this point, there is not enough evidence to determine the original source of the outbreak, however there is a link to an injectable steroid medication.

The company responsible for the medication, New England Compounding Pharmacy, Inc., announced a recall on Oct. 6 "of all products currently in circulation that were compounded at and distributed from its facility in Framingham, Massachusetts."

Ed White of the Associated Press reports on the heartbreaking case of 67-year-old Lilian Cary of Howell, Michigan.

Late last month, Cary had been responding to treatment at the University of Michigan hospital:

"She was responding to medication. Her spirits were up. Her fever was broken," George Cary said. "She was walking the hallway and Skyping with grandsons."

But she became unresponsive Sept. 26, and eventually was removed from life support after suffering a stroke, he said.

Cary said he was informed Saturday that his wife had been treated with tainted steroids for back pain. The doctor at Michigan Pain Specialists in Brighton, one of four Michigan clinics to get shipments from the Massachusetts pharmacy, said Cary also was at risk.

George Cary is now waiting to hear whether he was exposed when he received an injectable steroid shot.

The CDC reports that as many as 13,000 people received steroid shots suspected in the outbreak, but who is in danger is unclear.

From the Associated Press:

About 17,700 single-dose vials of the steroid sent to 23 states have been recalled. Inspectors found at least one sealed vial contaminated with fungus, and tests were being done on other vials.

The first known case of the rarely seen fungal meningitis was diagnosed last month in Tennessee.

Meningitis is an inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. It can be caused by a bacteria or virus. Exposure from fungi is a less common way to contract meningitis.

A CDC graph showing the number of people infected by the current Salmonella outbreak by date. 28 cases on shown on this graph.
CDC

Michigan state health officials are warning consumers that Trader Joe's Valencia Creamy Peanut Butter made with sea salt and a variety of almond butter and peanut butter products from Sunland Inc. might be  linked to a multi-state bacterial outbreak of "Salmonella Bredeney."

The Michigan Department of Community Health says so far, one child in Michigan has been affected along with 28 people in 18 other states (as of Sept. 22). 

More from a press release from the Michigan Department of Community Health:

The product comes in a 16 ounce, plastic jar and was sold in Trader Joe’s stores nationwide as well as on the Internet. Testing of the product is under way. Customers with questions may contact Trader Joe’s Customer Relations at (626) 599-3817 Monday through Friday, 7 am to 5 pm Pacific Time....

Most individuals infected with Salmonella bacteria often experience diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12-72 hours after infection.  The duration of illness is typically 4-7 days and most people recover without treatment. Sometimes a Salmonella infection can be more severe and may spread to the bloodstream, resulting in hospitalization. Young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems are more likely to have a severe illness from Salmonella infection.

You can also check the Sunland Inc. recall online. The PDF document contains a list of products, the UPC codes, and best-if-used-by dates. Or consumers can contact Sunland Inc. at (866) 837-1018.


The Food and Drug Administration encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD or consult the www.fda.gov website.

The CDC has more about the ongoing CDC investigation on its website.

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So far this year, Michigan has seen four times as many cases of West Nile virus as it did in all of 2011.  The reason is the dry Michigan weather. 

Angela Minicuci is with Michigan’s Department of Community Health, and says the problem is worse in urban areas, like Metro Detroit particularly, and Kent county which have seen higher case numbers.  Urban areas are where this particular mosquito thrives.

People over 50 are most at-risk for infection, along with people with weakened immune systems, and children.

To minimize exposure, it's recommended that people drain standing water around their homes, repair any holes in screens, and wear insect repellent or avoid the outdoors around dusk and dawn.

- Chris Edwards, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user trebol-a / Flickr

Update Aug. 30, 10:30 a.m.

Michigan health officials say an 87-year-old woman from Kent County is the fifth person to die from the West Nile virus in the state this year.

State Department of Community Health spokeswoman Angela Minicuci confirmed the death this morning.

She had no other details on the woman.

Aug. 29, 2012

Reports of West Nile virus cases keep coming in, and now Michigan health officials say the illness has reached epidemic proportions in the state.

Michigan State University entomologist Ned Walker recently told Michigan Radio's Rina Miller that the intensity of the virus is very alarming.  "I haven't seen anything that is this intense in my career," said Walker.

Officials said today an 86-year-old woman from Wayne County is the fourth person to die from the West Nile virus in the state this year.

Former Marine Adam Fields, 27, of Modesto, Calif., has been waiting since November 2010 for a ruling on his claim for benefits for traumatic brain injury.
Michael Short / Center for Investigative Reporting

We've written before about the "unfinished business" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan... caring for thousands of vets who are coming home after multiple tours with symptoms of PTSD or other disabilities.

Vets seeking benefits to help with their disabilities can face long wait times.

Thanks to a new analysis released today by the Center for Investigative Reporting, we can get a sense for how long those wait times are.

User apoxapox / Flickr

Michigan is out of time to create its own health care exchange, according to Gov. Rick Snyder's office.


The federal health care law requires that states set up a website to assist residents when purchasing health insurance. The online exchange would be designed to help individuals and small businesses comparison shop for insurance policies.


November 16 is the deadline for state governments to show how they intend to operate these exchanges in 2014.

user xpistwv / MorgueFile.com

Michigan officials say a second person has died from the West Nile virus, and 18 more cases have been reported this week.

Today, the Michigan Department of Community Health released figures (see chart) showing two deaths and 41 cases this season.

Officials last week said an elderly woman in Washtenaw County died from West Nile. Details of the most recent death were not released.

The data shows cases span several counties, including nine cases in Wayne, eight in Macomb, six in Oakland and seven in Detroit.

Yesterday, federal officials reported four times the usual number of cases in the current U.S. West Nile outbreak.

So far, 1,118 illnesses and 41 deaths have been reported nationwide. Typically, fewer than 300 cases are reported by mid-August.

Prevention tips include draining standing water in your yard, avoiding skin exposure to mosquitos, wearing mosquito repellant and reporting sick or dead animals to authorities.

-Elaine Ezekiel, Michigan Radio Newsroom

CDC / wikimedia commons

Health officials have confirmed a case of  tuberculosis at a high school in suburban Detroit.

WXYZ-TV reports that a student at Northville High School was diagnosed with an active case of the disease and local health officials are working to determine the extent of possible exposure.

From WXYZ:

Parents were notified Monday by a letter from Principal Robert E. Watson, “The protocol followed by the Health Department is to identify other individuals who may be at higher risk of exposure to Tuberculosis during the infectious time period… and to provide an opportunity for testing the identified individuals. ” The infectious time period in this case was January 2012 through April 2012.

Active TB, unlike the latent form of the disease, causes symptoms, is transmittable, and can be fatal if untreated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, TB bacteria are primarily spread through the air from person to person (e.g. through coughing or sneezing and inhaling bacteria) but not through physical contact like shaking hands.

Data from the CDC show Michigan as having a relatively low incidence rate of TB - 184 cases in 2010 (or 1.9 per 100,000 people). That compares to 11,182 cases nationwide (or 3.6 per 100,00o).

U.S. rates, which have declined steadily for the past 20 years, are dwarfed by the roughly 9 million global cases  in 2010 estimated by the World Health Organization.

-John Klein Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

user chkpnt / YouTube

These helmets are not for kids with medical conditions, but for your run-of-the-mill little snappers who take a dive every now and again.

Sue Toms on MLive asks whether these helmets are necessary on their "Question of the day."

I can’t help but feel sorry for parents of small children trying to figure out how much to protect and how much to let go in a world where their fears are fodder for profit-making marketing campaigns.

Do infants need 3.2 ounces of foam and Lycra, with little bunny ears, strapped on their heads as they crawl or walk in their living room? The doctors, paramedics and psychiatrists endorsing the product on the website say they do.

But watching a YouTube video of a toddler cruising along a coffee table wearing a Thudguard on his head is a little unnerving...

Here's the video... complete with a close call with a sandal.

Too much?

Cheyboygan Memorial Hospital

The Cheboygan Memorial Hospital (CMH) is closing today leaving 300 employees without a job.

From the  Cheboygan News:

“With this closure, we will have to close our emergency room,”said Shari Schult, Chief Executive Officer of CMH. “We will need to coordinate with area EMS services and local law enforcement to divert all ambulances to the most appropriate hospital. This closure also means all of our other services are closed, including outpatient clinics, x-ray, lab, cardiac rehab and physical therapy. “It also means all of our employees are without a job,” she added.

9 & 10 News reports the hospital had filed for bankruptcy on March 1.

In an announcement, CMH officials said today's closing came after a proposed sale to McLaren Health Care fell through.

The long-awaited proposed sale of CMH to McLaren Health Care was set to be finalized today. But now, federal regulations are causing it to come to a halt. CMH officials say the problem is with recertification and licensure under Medicare. And now, the organization is running out of money. CMH is only authorized and budgeted to operate as an organization through April 3rd, today, which is the day the proposed sale agreement was to be finalized.

Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan is making little progress toward creating a statewide health exchange required by federal law, held up by House Republicans who want to wait until the U.S. Supreme
Court decides if the law is constitutional.

The high court will hear arguments over the Affordable Care Act starting Monday.

Justices could uphold the law, strike it down completely or get rid of some provisions. House Republicans say the state shouldn't spend $9.8 million in federal funds on planning the exchange until
the court rules this summer.

But state and federal officials say Michigan could run out of time to put a state-run health exchange in place by Jan. 1.

They warn the federal government then would install its own exchange where consumers could compare private health insurance plans online.

As part of the Environment Report's week-long series, Cancer and Environment: Searching for Answers, we'll be highlighting some powerful stories of hope and loss in the words of those touched by cancer in Michigan. You can read more Michigan cancer stories here. How has cancer affected your life?

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