Friday Five: Merck for Mothers, Gates Foundation, mental health, antibiotics, housing

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Merck for Mothers expands to the US

The US’s high infant mortality rate is often cited as an indicator of our nation’s poor health. However, the maternal mortality rate is often ignored while the number of pregnancy-related deaths has doubled since 1990. Pharmaceutical giant Merck established its Merck for Mothers overseas to help reduce maternal mortality and has just announced it will import those programs to work with expectant mothers in the US. It will provide $6 million in funding for initiatives in ten states and three cities, including Baltimore and Philadelphia. The project will also work to standardize procedures for pregnancy-related emergencies.

Maternal mortality by GDP per capita. I've highlighted a few countries for comparison. While the US does have a comparatively low maternal mortality rate, it is far above other countries with similar GDPs. The size of the circles represent the size of the population, and the color indicates the geographic region. Source: Gapminder

 

The Gates Foundation funds all kinds of new public health ideas

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is dedicated to improving public health around the world, and its Grand Challenges Explorations is a way to promote innovation. This week, the Foundation announced the 81 winners of this year’s $100,000 grants. All of the grants awarded fall into these categories:

  • Increasing the interoperability of good data (ex: improving humanitarian information management in crises)
  • Develop the next generation of condom (ex: condom applicator that can minimize interruption)
  • Labor saving innovations for women smallholder farmers (ex: participatory reality TV show encouraging the use of draught animals)
  • New approaches for the detection and treatment of selected neglected tropical diseases (ex: artificial snail decoy to confuse a parasite)
  • The ‘One Health’ concept: bringing together human and animal health for new solutions (ex: new canine rabies vaccine)

Non-specialist health care workers in developing nations are successful at mental health care

A report published this week shows good news for mental health in low- and mid-income countries. Examining 38 studies, researchers found that non-specialists (such as doctors and nurses rather than psychologists and psychiatrists), who have some mental health training, have been successful in alleviating mental, neurological, and substance abuse issues. Compared to untrained health care workers, patients of trained workers had a positive affect on depression, youth PTSD, and problem drinkers. The researchers caution against making assumptions about what kinds of interventions might work. But the bright side is that training primary care workers to consider mental health needs could help get much-needed care to people who may otherwise go without. You can read the report—and a plain language summary—here.

Tonight’s nightmare is…bacteria that no antibiotic can kill

New Zealander Brian Pool died in July, but the specifics of his death were just reported this week. While in teaching in Vietnam, he underwent surgery and contracted KPC-Oxa 48, a strain of bacteria that is resistant to all antibiotics. That’s right, all of them. New Zealand authorities were strict about quarantine, so there’s little worry that the bug will spread from this particular incident. If you’d like to learn about all the things at risk if we lose the ability to kill bacteria, Maryn McKenna has a terrifying run down.

Why we need public housing

I’ve recently become interested in the importance of safe, stable, and affordable housing as a prerequisite for good health. Ensuring everyone has their basic needs met is perhaps the most important public health issue. How can anyone expect to have a successful smoking cessation intervention if participants don’t know where they’ll sleep tonight? Now that I’m paying attention to the issue, I’m seeing it everywhere. This infographic explains how public housing can be a part of the solution.

public_housing_info

Friday Five: Cigarettes, taxes, cancelled insurance, krokodil, pre-term births

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. This time, it's Bloomberg-heavy!  

New Yorkers have to be 21 to buy cigarettes

In what may be his last public health move before leaving office, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is set to sign a bill that will raise the purchasing age of nicotine products to 21. The bill covers cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos. About 90% of adult smokers become smokers before age 20, so I understand the public health rationale. However, I question whether it is ethical to make a product illegal for some adults to purchase based simply on the person’s age. The fallout from this soon-to-be law will help frame tobacco laws around the country, and I’m eager to see what happens next.

 

Mexico creates a junk food tax

Mexico has one of the highest rates of overweight and obese citizens—higher than even the United States. This week, the Mexican Congress approved a bill adding an 8% tax to all “high-calorie” foods like potato chips and sweets and a one peso/liter (about $0.08) tax to all soft drinks. The tax initiative was funded in part by Michael Bloomberg’s foundation. It is resolutely opposed by Femsa, the Mexican manufacturer and distributor of Coca-Cola, and Bimbo, which owns Sara Lee, Entenmann’s, and other processed food companies. Hopefully, when the costs inevitably are passed along to consumers, consumption of these items will fall and the population move toward a healthier weight.

 

Some health insurance plans have been cancelled due to the ACA

Before the implementation of the ACA, about 5% of Americans purchased health insurance individually. Many of these plans are now being cancelled because they do not fit the requirements all plans must meet under the new law. There’s lots of outrage, particularly at President Obama, because people feel misled. It’s pretty clear what’s happening: there’s a combination of insurance companies ended “grandfathered” plans early (which is their decision, not mandated by the ACA) and plans being cancelled because they were purchased after the “grandfathering” date and therefore are not legal. For an excellent flowchart showing how and why this is happening, Jon Lovett made an intricate one.

 

Pre-term birth rates fall again

The US pre-term birth rate fell to a 15 year low of 11.5%, or 1 in 9, in 2012. Although we still have the worst pre-term birth rate of all the industrialized nations, this is a positive development. This is the sixth year in which the rates declined, but the reasons why are not clear. Pre-term, low birth weight, and very low birth weight babies can have developmental delays, need more care, and cost more—on average, about $51,600. For more detailed information, see the March of Dimes 2013 Premature Birth Report Card.

 

Appearance of krokodil may be a false alarm in the US

(Warning: DO NOT Google image search for krokodil. Trust me.)

A month or two ago, the internet was abuzz with reports of people losing body parts to a new drug, krokodil. This homemade heroin substitute popular in rural Russia causes horrible sores that lead to severe disfigurement. A few cases popped up in a number of states earlier this year, but now the DEA suggests these were heroin use-related problems, like staph or MRSA infections at the users’ injection sites. Compounding the skepticism is the fact that in some places, a dose of heroin costs only $5 (!!!), virtually eliminating the need for even the most desperate user to knowingly inject his or herself with krokodil. Here’s to hoping that it really hasn’t shown up here, and that this interest we now have leads to getting actual krokodil users help.

Friday Five: Marketplace, Olympians’ teeth, Wikipedia, sprinklers, McDonalds

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week.  

The Health Insurance Marketplace is open for business

The day is finally here: the Health Insurance Marketplace is open! I’d hoped to poke around a little and report on what I saw, but the site is so busy I haven’t yet been able to get past this page:

alot_of_visitors

The fact that the site has been overloaded with visitors for the past four days shows us that we are ready to buy insurance and are on board with the Affordable Care Act. We’ll still have to work through some bugs, I’m sure, but I’m glad to see so many Americans are excited about this new option. Once I get past the waiting page, I’ll be sure to let you know how things work in the Marketplace.

Brush and floss twice a day…even you, Olympians!

According to a study just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, athletes competing at the 2012 London Olympics who visited the athlete’s village dental clinic had surprisingly bad teeth. Of those people examined, 55% had cavities, 45% had lost some tooth enamel, 76% had gingivitis, and 15% had periodontitis. A full 40% of athletes were “bothered” by their oral health, and 18% admitted their dental problems caused issues with training and athletic performance. While we hold up these Olympians as paragons of health and fitness, their teeth tell us another story. Oral health is an indicator of overall health, and perhaps focusing intently on training is leading them to disregard other important aspects of their health.

Earn credit for editing Wikipedia at UCSF medical school

The medical school at University of California, San Fransisco (UCSF) is offering a unique course to its fourth year students: editing medical Wikipedia articles. They are working with Wikiproject Medicine to add citations and increase the accuracy of the 100 most popular medical articles on Wikipedia. Health care providers use Wikipedia often, and medical students have an abundance of information—so it makes sense for the students to contribute their knowledge for the good of site they’ll use frequently in their practice. UCSF is the first medical school to link Wikipedia’s education goals with course credit. Hopefully, the combined knowledge of the nation’s medical students can be used to help all of us understand the details of razor burn (the #1 most-viewed medical page).

Nursing homes need sprinklers

Medicare and Medicaid require all new nursing homes or additions to a nursing homes to have automatic sprinkler systems. Older nursing homes did not have any regulation regarding fire suppression or sprinklers until August 2008, and they were given five years to comply with the rule. Now that those five years have passed, approximately 1000 facilities have “partial” systems, and about 125 have no sprinklers at all. Considering nursing home residents often have mobility issues, an uncontrolled fire in one of the facilities would be devastating. If you know of a nursing home that does not have a proper sprinkler system, I suggest calling CARIE (I did my summer internship at CARIE; they’re wonderful) and talk with the ombudsmen there to help ensure the safety of the residents.

Happy Meals just got a little happier

This week, McDonalds announced major changes to its menus—value meals can now be accompanied by salad, fruit, or vegetable in lieu of fries, Happy Meals will no longer be promoted with soda but instead with milk, juice, or water, and advertising and packaging for children will encourage wellness and good nutrition. The changes will be made in McDonalds’ 20 major markets across the world, which comprise 85% of global sales. The most important part of these changes is the addition of choice. Adults and children alike will be able to choose salad instead of fries, water rather than soda. Having these choices available—and encouraged—will help fulfill the public health goal of making the healthy choice the easy choice.

Friday Five: 9/11, tobacco in India, painkiller labels, Chobani recall, child abuse & neglect

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week.  

9/11 responders are suffering from cancer

While we remember the 12th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, another attack is being waged upon the responders: cancer. So far, 1,140 people have been certified by NIOSH to have 9/11-related cancer. The types of cancer are varied—from non-melanoma skin cancer to non-Hodgkins lymphoma to colon cancer—and thankfully, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund will cover all related medical and mental health expenses. However, an important deadline approaches: if a person knew of their related medical condition before October 2011, he or she must sign up with the Fund before October 3, 2013 in order to have their treatment covered. If you know anyone who may be eligible for this benefit, please (1) thank them for their selflessness and (2) tell them to sign up ASAP.

 

Tobacco + India = Bad News

Approximately 275 million people out of India’s 1.2 billion population use smokeless tobacco or cigarettes. According to a report from the International Tobacco Control Project, the country could see 1.5 million deaths annually if the number of tobacco users is not reduced by 2020. What’s even more alarming is that 94% of tobacco users surveyed said they had no plans to quit, despite government efforts to curb consumption and self-reported regret for beginning the habit. Citizens groups also advocate for tobacco-free living. This ad from Cancer Patients Aid Association is an example of the kinds of messaging Indians receive.

 

Source

 

New labels for some, but not all, narcotic painkillers

The FDA has announced updates to the labels for extended release narcotic painkillers to remove the idea that the painkillers should be prescribed for “moderate-to-severe pain.” Instead, opiates like OxyContin (oxycodone) and MS Contin (morphine sulfate) should be prescribed only when a patient’s pain cannot be controlled by other methods. These changes do not apply to fast-acting painkillers like Percocet (acetaminophen and oxycodone) or Vicodin (acetaminophen and hydrocodone) because the FDA sees that class of opioids to be less susceptible to abuse and overdose. Hopefully the new label will encourage doctors to think carefully about which painkillers they prescribe. The misuse of these drugs is out of control, and as doctors are the gatekeepers of prescriptions, their cooperation is essential to reducing addiction and unintentional deaths.

 

Chobani yogurt is moldy

Beloved and wildly popular Chobani brand Greek yogurt has been recalled. The problem of bloated, exploding containers is said to be due to contamination by the mold Mucor circinelloides. Although this kind of mold is not known to cause gastrointestinal problems, 89 people have reported nausea and vomiting after eating the recalled yogurt. That said, if your breakfast is fizzing through the lid, please don’t eat it. Let’s have some common sense, okay?

 

New child abuse and neglect report demands changes to the system

A report released this week from the Institute of Medicine described the fractured, underfunded, and unevaluated way the US researches and addresses child abuse and neglect. There are more than three million reports of abuse each year, involving at least six million children. The most common form of mistreatment is neglect, or when a caregiver fails to provide food, supervision, protection, medical care, education, or nurturing and affection. The full report gives a sense of how poorly the US manages child abuse and neglect, and this infographic also gives the basics. Children who are victims of abuse or neglect are far more likely to have serious health problems, including mental health issues, so eliminating violence against children should be at the forefront of public health efforts.

 

This week’s Friday Five is extra-depressing, so I’m going to leave you with a bonus uplifting story:

Wearing a sandwich board may help you find a kidney donor

Larry Swilling of South Carolina has been walking around wearing a sandwich board asking for a kidney donor for his wife Jimmie Sue. A complete stranger, a woman named Kelly Weaverling from Virginia Beach, decided to get tested and was found to be a match. The transplant happened on Wednesday and both Jimmie Sue and Kelly are doing well. Bonus: Larry’s efforts have led to 125 new registered kidney donors in South Carolina.

Friday Five: Non-fatal illness, Medicare, gay blood donors, e-cigarettes, infographic

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Q: What’s the most prevalent form of non-fatal illness in the world? A: Mental illness and substance abuse disorders. That’s right—mental and emotional issues such as depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and schizophrenia account for 22.8% of all non-fatal illnesses. This isn’t just in the US, but across 187 countries and 30 years. It’s time to stop pretending these disorders don’t exist. The authors of the study presenting these findings say it best: In view of the magnitude of their contribution, improvement in population health is only possible if countries make the prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders a public health priority.

Doctors still take Medicare beneficiaries Rumor has it that in light of the Affordable Care Act’s changes to Medicare reimbursement, doctors are fleeing the system and leaving seniors without medical care. But a report from the Department of Health and Human Services showed that in 2012, 90.7% of doctors accepted new Medicare patients, compared to 87.9% in 2005. Furthermore, more doctors are accepting new Medicare patients than are accepting those with private insurance. If you have Medicare, nearly all doctors will accept you. ACA myth debunked.  

Banned4Life wants the FDA to allow gay blood donors Men who have sex with men cannot donate blood. The FDA reasons that because gay men comprise 2% of the US population but in 2010 accounted for 66% of all new HIV infections, and because HIV goes through an “undetectable” period just after initial infection, keeping gay men out of the donor pool maintains the safety of the blood supply. The newly formed Banned4Life group seeks to change this policy. Banned4Life is urging the FDA to consider sexual behaviors, rather than sexual preference or orientation, when deciding who cannot donate blood. Life-threatening illnesses, gay rights, and government regulations can rile up lots of people, and I hope the FDA looks carefully at its policy and is transparent about the decision it makes.  

E-Cigarettes are getting popular among teens Combining two of their favorite things, rebellion and new technology, teens are adopting the newest form of nicotine on the market, electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes). Nearly 10% of high schoolers have tried them, doubling the rate from 2011 and far exceeding the 6% of adult smokers who have given e-cigarettes a puff or two. This finding from the CDC raises some interesting questions: are e-cigarettes safer than regular ones? Are the anti-smoking campaigns aimed at teens intended to be anti-cigarette or anti-addiction? Hypothetically, if e-cigarettes carry no risk of disease, would it be okay for teens to use them? Will indoor smoking bans apply to e-cigarettes? These will be crucial questions to address as e-cigarettes gain popularity.

Just how imperfect is US health care, anyway? This colorful, informative, and slightly dizzying infographic from the MPH program at George Washington University shows us how not-so-well our health care stacks up to the rest of the world. Interesting points to consider:

  • 79% of Americans use some kind of contraceptive, one of the only times we’re mostly ahead of the pack, trailing only Russia, the UK, and Canada.
  • Ghana, Algeria, Mexico, and many more countries have higher measles vaccination rates among one year olds.
  • There is 1/3 of a general practitioner for every 1000 Americans, while there is just over two specialists for every 1000 people (87.5% of practicing doctors are specialists).

US vs World Infographic

Friday Five: Manning, Uganda, beer, Spanish screenings, wellness programs

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Chelsea Manning comes out

After being sentenced to 35 years in military prison for handing classified documents to be published on the infamous WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning came out as a transwoman (someone assigned “male” at birth but who identifies as “female”), asked to be called Chelsea and referred to as a woman. She will still be imprisoned at the all-male Ft. Leavenworth and the facility does not offer hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery. Her incredibly high profile is sparking conversations about pronouns, Gender Dysphoria, and health care within the military. Furthermore, Manning’s announcement highlighted the fact that transgender people are not allowed to serve in the US military, despite the fact that transwomen join the military at twice the rate of the general population. Politics aside, Manning is about to embark on a difficult journey, and I hope the Army treats her with the human dignity to which she is entitled.

Confused about trans terminology? GLAAD has a great glossary here.

 

Hemorrhagic fever outbreak in Uganda

Late last week, Ugandan health officials announced an outbreak of Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic Fever (CCHF), which has killed at least one person. CCHF has no known cure or vaccine and an up to 40% case fatality rate, meaning that up to 40% of people who contract it will die. CCHF is zoonotic, which means that the virus lives in animals or insects and is somehow transferred to humans; CCHF is spread through tick bites or exposure to the blood or tissue of animals infected by tick bites. CCHF and other viral hemorrhagic fevers are characterized by bleeding under the skin, sudden high fevers, and kidney or liver damage, among other symptoms. Thankfully, hospitals have leftover protective equipment and disinfectants from 2010’s yellow fever outbreak, and Ugandan officials are watching the outbreak carefully.

 

Stay away from the Bud Ice (not just because it’s gross)

A few months after turning 21, I was headed to a friend’s house and didn’t want to arrive empty handed. Being new to the beer-purchasing demographic, I was overwhelmed and reached for the cheapest option, Steel Reserve…and it was one of the most repulsive beverages I’ve ever tried to consume. Little did I know that six years later, Steel Reserve would be tagged as a beverage highly likely to land drinkers in the ER, along with other gems like Bud, Bud Light, Bud Ice, and Colt 45. These five brands accounted for the majority of alcohol consumed among Baltimore ER patients. They’re cheap, potent, and highly popular: a dangerous mix that can quickly lead to unhealthy drinking behaviors. (PS: I’m no booze snob, but Steel Reserve is forever on my no-buy list.)

 

Autism screenings are rarely conducted in Spanish

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) at 9, 18, and 24 or 30 months of age. However, a study released this week showed that only 29% of California primary care doctors surveyed provided these screenings in Spanish. Considering that as of 2010, 14 million Californians identified as Hispanic, this finding may illuminate another reason why Spanish-speaking children are diagnosed with ASD at lower rates and later ages than their white non-Hispanic peers. While it’s premature to assume the low rates of Spanish-language screening exist across the country, and to assume that all Hispanic people would require a screening in Spanish, the study does tell us about the cultural competence of these particular doctors. Systemic exclusion of these children from the recommended process puts them at a disadvantage—this is a health equity issue that needs to be quickly addressed.

 

Employers provide lots of wellness options for employees

Kaiser Family Foundation released a report this week about employer based health benefits, and the headlines strewn across news sites noted a 4% increase in family health insurance premiums, which is modest but higher than inflation and wage increases. When I read the report, I found something even more interesting: employers are providing an astonishing number of wellness programs. Nearly all large employers (200+ employees) provide at least one wellness program such as gym memberships, flu shots and vaccines, and smoking cessation counseling. Smaller employers are less likely to have these programs in place, but even so, 76% of them do. This is a win-win for employers and employees: keeping workers healthy cuts costs for employers not only on health insurance, but on lost work days and presenteeism.

 

 

Friday Five: National Immunization Awareness Month

national immun awareness monthThis week’s Friday Five focuses on five important or interesting facts about vaccines in honor of National Immunization Awareness Month. Most of the sections are adapted just slightly from other sources. You can find the original source material by clicking the link next to each subheading.  

How do vaccines work? (History of Vaccines)

Vaccines work to prime your immune system against future “attacks” by a particular disease. When a pathogen enters your body, your immune system generates antibodies to try to fight it off…Vaccines work because of this function of the immune system. They’re made from a killed, weakened, or partial version of a pathogen. When you get a vaccine, whatever version of the pathogen it contains isn’t strong or plentiful enough to make you sick, but it’s enough for your immune system to generate antibodies against it. As a result, you gain future immunity against the disease without having gotten sick: if you’re exposed to the pathogen again, your immune system will recognize it and be able to fight it off.

 

What is herd immunity? (Vaccines Today)

Herd immunity is a form of immunity that occurs when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population (or herd) provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity. It arises when a high percentage of the population is protected through vaccination against a virus or bacteria, making it difficult for a disease to spread because there are so few susceptible people left to infect…These include children who are too young to be vaccinated, people with immune system problems, and those who are too ill to receive vaccines (such as some cancer patients)…The proportion of the population which must be immunized in order to achieve herd immunity varies for each disease but the underlying idea is simple: once enough people are protected, they help to protect vulnerable members of their communities by reducing the spread of the disease. However, when immunization rates fall, herd immunity can break down leading to an increase in the number of new cases.

 

Do children get too many shots? (from CHOP Vaccine Education Center)

Newborns commonly manage many challenges to their immune systems at the same time. Because some children could receive as many as 25 shots by the time they are 2 years old and as many as five shots in a single visit to the doctor, many parents wonder whether it is safe to give children so many vaccines…From the moment of birth, thousands of different bacteria start to live on the surface of the skin and intestines. By quickly making immune responses to these bacteria, babies keep them from invading the bloodstream and causing serious diseases. In fact, babies are capable of responding to millions of different viruses and bacteria because they have billions of immunologic cells circulating in the bodies. Therefore, vaccines given in the first two years of life are a raindrop in the ocean of what an infant’s immune system successfully encounters and manages every day.

 

What do vaccine preventable illnesses look like? (Immunization Action Coalition)

Most people in the US have never seen a case of polio or diphtheria. This photo gallery may help remind us why immunizing against these diseases is so important.

 

How can we lessen the pain of getting shots? (CHOP Vaccine Education Center)

(This is important for scaredy-cats like me.)

For most children, getting vaccines simply means the pain of getting a shot. Although pain is to some extent unavoidable, there are a few things worth trying in older children.

Blowing away the pain

One technique is called "blowing away the pain." Just before the shot, take out a feather, tell the child to take a deep breath, closing his eyes if he wants, and then to blow out...blow, and blow on the feather until you or the nurse tells them to stop. The distraction of blowing on the feather has been shown in one study to lessen the amount of pain perceived by the child.

Cold versus pain

Another idea is to swab a small amount of alcohol on the forearm of the opposite arm that will receive the vaccine. The child then blows on the alcohol before and during the shot. Our bodies don't feel cold and pain in the same place at the same time. Rather, when confronted with the choice of cold or pain, the body picks cold. So the feeling of pain from the shot will be reduced.

EMLA cream

For older children with severe phobias to needles, you might consider the use of an EMLA patch applied to the skin. The limitation of this technique is that the patch (which helps to numb the area) must be applied at least one hour before the injection. Also, EMLA cream works to decrease pain caused by injections under the skin (called subcutaneous injections), but doesn't lessen the pain of vaccines given in the muscles.

Health Communicators should be Podcasting!

I have the honor of co-organizing (with the wonderful Nathan Kuruna) the first ever Philadelphia Podcast Festival, happening August 1-3 at PhilaMOCA and PhillyCAM. As a talkative kind of gal, I’ve been doing a few interviews to promote the Festival. This means I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of independent media to give voice to anyone who wants to tell a story. And then it hit me: public health professionals should be podcasting. First, let’s define a podcast. From the Philadelphia Podcast Festival’s site:

A podcast is a bit like a radio show that you download from the internet. A lot of podcasters use them purely to entertain people but any business, organization or individual can use a podcast to share information. This keeps their fans, customers, members or friends updated on what they’re up to. You can use it to broadcast any message you want into the world. Audio is recorded, posted online and retrieved on demand by listeners. Some listen to podcasts at their computers, others put them on an mp3 player and listen to them while doing other things (jogging, driving, etc.).

Podcasters generally release new episodes on weekly or monthly basis. A listener can manually download each episode or subscribe to a podcast and have it automatically download to a computer or device as new episodes are released.

People really do listen to podcasts. As of 2011, there were 91,000 podcasts. In 2012, Edison Research found that 29% of Americans polled had listened to a podcast at least once, and 26% had viewed a video podcast (sometimes called a vodcast) at least once. This shows a shift from early adopters of the medium into a more general audience. Not to mention, iTunes just reached 1 billion subscriptions.

Since jumping into the public health world, I’ve learned that this field is learning to love social media. We’re learning how to use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the like for public health messaging. (Shout out to Jim Garrow’s social media for public health twitter chat #sm4ph for teaching me about all kinds of social media I never would have tried on my own!) However, there’s a steep learning curve for health departments and organizations to get used to making content specifically for networks like Vine or Pinterest. We're still learning how to increase the efficacy and reach of that content.

But podcasting is simple: just hit record and start talking. Public health communicators should be doing what they do best—communicating—by taking advantage of podcasting’s unique qualities:

  • Anyone can make a podcast.
  • Anyone can listen to a podcast.
  • Podcasts are portable so you don’t have to be in front of a screen to enjoy them.
  • People without home internet access can download episodes at the library or Keyspot, load it onto a smart phone or iPod and listen any time.
  • Sensitive issues like sexual health or mental illness are perfect topics for podcasts because listening to them is usually a private activity.
  • Podcast listeners often develop a relationship with podcasters through repeated exposure to their ideas and information. Regularly scheduling frequent episodes helps build trust between listener and podcaster, which is especially important for health topics.
  • Podcasts don’t have to be just informative. The medium does best with a casual tone and a steady infusion of humor and lightheartedness.

I poked around a little and found that there are some active public health podcasts. I made this handy chart of the ones I found that are still active (there are plenty of defunct podcasts—looking at you, WHO and EPA), so you can check them out. I deliberately excluded anything called a podcast simply made non-internet-based audio or video available online, such as NPR stories or recordings of lectures. There’s also a great listing of additional podcasts from academic journals at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Ebling Library.

 

Organization

Name

Latest Episode Topic

Sample Topics

Approximate Episode Length

American Public Health Association Get Ready Report July 11, 2013: Travel Safety Preparedness: hurricanes, flu, pets & disasters, healthy stockpiling 3-21 minutes
Centers for Disease Control

 

CDC Podcast July 17, 2013: Healthy Corner Store Initiative HPV vaccine, foodborne illness, zoonotic disease, history 1-20 minutes
Department of Health and Human Services HHS HealthBeat July 29, 2013: Kid Jitters and Emergencies Daily tips on asthma, preparedness, smoking, kidney stones 59 seconds
Helen Osborne Health Literacy Out Loud July 30, 2013: Stages of Change and Health Communication Poetry and health, communicating screening test results, jargon 15-25 minutes
Jigsaw PSPH I’m a Public Health Professional Get Me Out of Here! July 26, 2013: The royal baby Air quality, bogus health inspectors, local health departments 8-10 minutes
Johns Hopkins School of Public Health Public Health: On the Inside July 2013: The Consumer’s Scientist Flu, trauma, injury prevention 10-13 minutes
Harvard School of Public Health HSPH Podcast July 25, 2013: Breakfast and Heart Disease Risk Health disparities, history, new research, ACA 5-10 minutes
National Institutes of Health NIH Research Radio July 26, 2013: Evening chronotype and eating behavior Diabetes, heat safety, depression, hypnosis and sleep 15 minutes
Nina Martin Public Health United July 3, 2010: What does mosquito season mean for you? Interviews, BRCA genes, health communication 40 minutes-1 hour

I hope that as the field learns more about social and new media, we can start to embrace podcasting. Do you listen to podcasts? Have you considered starting one for public health or in another field? (If you are, be sure to come to our FREE panel discussion with podcasting experts on August 2 at 2pm at PhillyCAM.)

Find out more about the Philadelphia Podcast Festival by following us on Twitter and check us out on Facebook. You can also get the schedule of events and purchase tickets.

Friday Five: heat, Bloomberg, Texas, heroin, ACA

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Let’s all do the heat wave! Just in case you’ve ignored the Facebook status updates, tweets, and complaints from co-workers, I want to inform you that it is Very Hot Outside. Growing up in Florida gives a person a skewed sense of the appropriate level of summertime heat and humidity, but this week has been tough even for me. In all seriousness, the heat is severe and dangerous, especially because so many people in the affected areas (map) don’t have air conditioning. So follow the heat advisory instructions: stay inside, run that AC (if you have it), drink water, and check in on seniors—they’re especially susceptible to high temperatures. And remember, we’ll all look back fondly this week while we wait for snow plows in January.

Bloomberg’s at it again But this time, he just wants New Yorkers to bypass the elevator and take the stairs instead. Mayor Bloomberg signed an executive order on Wednesday that requires all government building to be laid out using “Active Design” principles in order to promote physical activity like taking the stairs. We often talk in public health about making the healthy choice the easy choice and changing the built environment to encourage physical fitness. Bloomberg’s latest move may spark an interest in healthier buildings. Could Active Design be the new LEED certification?

You haven’t heard the whole story about Texas This was a big week for abortion controversy in Texas, and there’s already extensive coverage of what happened, so here’s some news you may have missed:

  •  You can now purchase Rick Perry voodoo dolls (cultural appropriation isn’t just for Miley Cyrus)
  • Texas Democrat Rep. Harold Dutton introduced a bill that would ban all abortion legislation until the state abolishes the death penalty.
  • The pink running shoes Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster have over 280 positive reviews on Amazon, and not all of them extol the arch support.

What did I miss?

Heroin’s popularity is growing in Northern New England In New Hampshire, the number of fatal heroin overdoses jumped from just seven in 2003 to a surprising 40 in 2012. The increase has also been observed in Vermont, with a 40% increase in heroin addiction treatment, and Maine, which had three times the heroin overdoses in 2012 as in 2011. There are a few factors that may contribute to this growing problem: increased control over prescription painkillers, the relative cheapness of heroin compared to painkillers, and because heroin can be sold at a higher price in rural areas than in urban centers, distributors are incentivized to sell more. Heroin is now taking up most of drug enforcement agents’ time in the area. Controlling infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C will be the next challenge for the area’s public health community.

Curious about what’s happening next with the ACA? Kaiser Family Foundation released a new ACA video starring its charming YouToons. This one, a follow up to 2010’s “Health Reform Meets Main Street,” explains how to “Get Ready for Obamacare.” (Interesting, the change in terminology over three years!) This easy to understand breakdown of the complicated law is accessible to all audiences. Anyone talking to the public should be emulating this kind of clear communication. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZkk6ueZt-U

Friday Five: sterilization, pain robot, brains, surgeons, Sharknado

Each Friday, I use five sentences to summarize and comment on five important, interesting, or just plain amusing health stories from the week. Rural women are more likely to be sterilized

Tubal ligation, also known as sterilization or “getting your tubes tied,” is far more common among rural women as compared to urban women. Of rural women, 23% said they had been sterilized; urban women, 13%. There is only speculation about why this difference exists. Some of the theories floating around are: less access to other forms of birth control; piggybacking tubal ligation onto post-partum Medicaid coverage; lower educational level. Importantly, 39% of those rural women regret their decision. We should be asking why they didn’t choose a long-term, reversible birth control such as an IUD or an implant (like Implanon) instead.

Somewhat cute robot helps reduce kids’ pain and suffering during injections

As a needle phobic myself, I was very excited to learn that there’s an innovation in helping kids’ distress during shots. The robot not only talks to the child in order to distract him or her from the scary needle, but encourages exhalation during the injection to help with muscle relaxation (video here). There are two reasons why reducing pain and anxiety for children receiving immunizations is important: excessive worry can make other parts of the exam difficult, and in the future, an adult who had a bad medical experience as a child may be more likely to avoid care. These both have significant health implications. If this robot can help, I say let’s get one in every pediatrician’s office—and maybe in internist’s offices too, for ‘fraidy cats like me.

Brain pathways involved with learning and changing behavior charted

This week the NIH published a study identifying neural pathways associated with learning and changing behavior in mice. The nerves associated with the switch from moderate to compulsive drinking were found to also have a role in learning and decision making. Researchers hope that their insights will be helpful in understanding alcoholism and addiction. Learning more about why some people can use substances in moderation while others become addicted is crucial to improving mental and physical health. Hopefully, these findings will also apply for humans.

Surgery residents operate less often under new rules

Medical residents (doctors who are done with medical school and are completing their practical training) work notoriously long shifts and even longer workweeks. Restrictions created in 2011 limited shifts to 16 hours for first-year residents and 28 hours for the more advanced doctors and everyone’s week is limited to 80 hours. Surgical residents have in turn participated in fewer hours of surgery because of the limits on working hours. Many doctors are concerned that this will put the budding surgeons at risk for not gaining enough experience. There has to be a balance between allowing doctors to get enough rest while also learning enough to practice on one’s own—the question is, how

Kathleen Sebelius may in fact have a sense of humor

Twitter blew up last night with references to Sharknado, a horribly wonderful movie about a tornado that blew sharks into a city. (I don’t know how that works, I didn’t watch it!) Buzzfeed immediately wrote an article claiming “There is no Obamacare coverage for pre-existing Sharknado injuries.” Kathleen Sebelius replied: https://twitter.com/Sebelius/status/355766513334108160 Hey, an ACA joke!

I leave you this weekend with an excellent infographic explaining pretty much everything you need to know about gender, sexual orientation, and the like…The Genderbread Person!

Genderbread-Person