Feds issue alert to health threat of new mosquito disease
As if West Nile virus weren’t bad enough, now U.S. health officials are on the lookout for another mosquito-borne disease, fearing it could become a permanent part of the American landscape if it entered the country. Rift Valley fever, which originated in Africa, is the only disease at the top of both human health and agriculture lists of dangerous diseases. Rift Valley fever is one of several emerging viruses being studied by the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas. One focus is better vaccines, since there is no approved vaccine for people or livestock in case of an outbreak. The military developed a vaccine that has been approved for testing in people. “It would really be hard to control this without a vaccine,” said C.J. Peters, director for biodefense at the Center for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases at UTMB in Galveston.
—Associated Press story appeared June 23, 2004, in
USA Today (circulation 2,280,716).
Women finding satisfaction, opportunity in medicine
While the health care field has always been hospitable for women who are nurses, techs, and aides, it is only in the last twenty years that women have looked en masse to medicine for entry into the industry. As a profession, medicine is still dominated by men, however. In 2003, according to the Texas Board of Medical Examiners, of 29,405 physicians in the state, 29.3 percent were females. “We’re getting there,” boasted Barbara Thompson, chairman of the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.—Appeared on May 17, 2004, in Women’s Enterprise (circulation 30,000).
Comptroller’s office investigates overmedicated foster children
The comptroller’s office asked Ben Raimer, a specialist in neglected children at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, to review the Medicaid prescription records for 6,000 foster children. Medication helps many traumatized foster children, Raimer said, but he believes what he saw in the state’s records was outrageous. “I was stunned. I truly was,” he said. “I reviewed one chart that had eleven different medications—eleven different psychotropics. This has to be a mistake. By any physician’s standards, these children are overmedicated.”—Shelley Kofler reporting for ABC affiliate KVUE in Austin on June 24, 2004 (52,759 impressions).
New Galveston lab fights bioterrorism
The threat of terrorism is something with which Americans are learning to deal. But Houston-area residents have a powerful new weapon in the arsenal against bioterrorism. It’s a state-of-the-art lab in Galveston. In 1918, the flu caused an epidemic, killing more people in a single year than all four years of the bubonic plague. “Many scientists believe influenza will return with the same vengeance sometime in the near future, and we need to be prepared to have the kind of facility that would allow virologists and immunologists to work with those viruses safely,” then-Dean of Medicine Stanley Lemon said.—Aired on NBC affiliate KPRC in Houston on July 1, 2004 (198,004 impressions).
Fading social life may signal trouble in diabetes
Older diabetic patients who withdraw from their normal social activities may be showing early signs of deteriorating health, new study findings suggest. Researchers found that among more than 5,200 people with diabetes, age sixty-five and older, those who said they had recently curtailed their leisure activities were more likely than others to die or develop a disability over the next two years. None of the study participants had any apparent disabilities at the outset, suggesting, the authors say, that a diabetic person’s withdrawal from social life may be one of the first signs of declining health. Disability develops over time, lead study author Yong-Fang Kuo told Reuters Health, and this study suggests “social disengagement” happens early in the process. She and her colleagues at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston report the findings in the July 2004 issue of the journal Diabetes Care.—Amy Norton, writing July 13, 2004, in Reuter’s Healthcare.
Medicaid denied transplant money, doctors worked for free
It is a battle that most of us fear, and no one wants to be in the middle of. For more than a year, Medicaid has said “no” when asked to pay for an area woman’s pancreatic transplant. Some doctors decided her condition had become life threatening, and they took action and made a stand. The sad reality is that to Nikki Murphy, the surroundings at John Sealy Hospital are like home now. She and her mom wave to nurses and doctors and everyone else who has watched over the years as diabetes has destroyed her life. It didn’t matter how sick she was, it didn’t matter that her doctors gave the recommendation. Medicaid said it wouldn’t pay for it. Her mother began writing senators and congressmen—not that it really mattered. Medicaid officials said that transplanting a pancreas was still experimental. Besides, there were only 1,500 patients waiting on a pancreas, and 57,000 waiting on kidneys––implying that pancreatic transplants were not worth their trouble—and they denied coverage. “I just didn’t understand why,” says Murphy, as her eyes fill with tears. Apparently for the doctors at UTMB, that was enough. They decided to waive the hospital’s fees, and their own, and they performed the transplant.—Dan Lauck reporting for CBS affiliate KHOU in Houston on August 3, 2004 (231,078 impressions).
Hardy West Nile survives Gulf Coast winters
Nearly a dozen dead birds and two batches of mosquitoes collected in western Louisiana and the Houston area last winter have provided proof that the deadly West Nile virus is active year-round along the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast. The findings were reported in the September 2004 issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases, a journal published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The team, financed by the National Institutes of Health, was led by Robert Tesh of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “There’s always been a question whether these viruses survive locally, or whether they’re introduced every year by birds migrating from warmer climates,” Tesh said.—Mark Schleifstein, writing September 3, 2004, in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (circulation 260,720).
Supplements lessen damage of extended bed rest
Nutritional supplements may help prevent muscle-wasting during extended bed rest, says a study in the September 2004 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study by scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston included 13 healthy male volunteers who were confined to bed rest for 28 days. “We thought it was the most astounding thing that even though our subjects did no exercise, they were able to maintain muscle mass,” lead author Douglas Paddon-Jones said.—Appeared on Discovery Health on September 17, 2004.
Patients not politics: UTMB’s Dr. Ping Wu trades practicing medicine for performing stem-cell research
Ping Wu threw herself into stem-cell research so she could save lives. It didn’t occur to her she would be slowed by a rancorous national debate that has pitted scientists and patients against politicians and religious leaders. These are hot times for stem-cell researchers and Americans divided about their work. Stem-cell research, pro and con, came up repeatedly during the presidential campaign. The recent death of actor Christopher Reeve, a tireless advocate, fueled the fire. On Election Day, Americans chose a president advocating tight control, but California voters kept the issue burning by approving a $3 billion, state-run research effort. Wu says she’s focused on patients, not politics. “Christopher Reeve was an inspiration to me,” says the associate professor of neuroscience and cell biology at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “I am more motivated than ever to harness the potential of stem cells into a therapeutic approach.”—Claudia Feldman writing November 17, 2004, in the Houston Chronicle, (circulation 553,018).