Archive for the ‘Medical News’ Category

West Nile Virus is Back in D.C. -Things You Should Do to Stop the Spread

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Last week, the D.C. Department of Health confirmed this year’s first case of West Nile Virus (WNV). WNV is a bird disease. However, infected mosquitoes can transmit the virus to humans. Otherwise, this disease cannot be transmitted directly from a human or a bird.  Persons infected with the West Nile Virus may experience severe headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, pain, and stiffness.

While the risk of a WNV infection is low, individuals who are immunocompromised should be particularly careful and seek medical attention if symptoms are present. Individuals with weak or suppressed immune systems include the elderly, young children and those prone to infections (e.g., HIV/AIDS patients).  The key is to implement measures to reduce exposure to mosquitoes. Individuals at risk should wear long-sleeved shirts and pants. Mosquito repellent should be used as well.

Every year, the Department of Health conducts WNV testing throughout the District, particularly in areas where infections have been reported. If you live in an affected area, you might receive additional information from the Department. Larvicide may be sprayed in your neighborhood. Should you require additional information about WNV, feel free to contact the D.C. Department of Health.

In the meantime, while mosquitoes are still flying around, here are a few things you could do stop the spread of the WNV:

1.  Dispose of cans, bottles and open containers properly.  Store items for recycling in covered containers.
2.  Remove discarded tires. Drill drainage holes in tires used on playground equipment.
3. Clean roof gutters and downspouts regularly.  Eliminate standing water from flat roofs.
4. Turn over plastic wading pools, wheelbarrows, and canoes when not in use.
5. Cover waste containers with tight-fitting lids; never allow lids or cans to accumulate water.
6. Flush bird baths and potted plant trays twice each week.
7. Adjust tarps over grills, firewood piles, boats or swimming pools to eliminate small pockets of water from standing   several days.
8. Re-grade low areas where water stands; clean debris in ditches to eliminate standing water in low spots.
9. Maintain swimming pools, clean and chlorinate them as needed, aerate garden ponds and treat with “mosquito dunks” found at hardware stores.
10. Fix dripping water faucets outside and eliminate puddles from air conditioners.
11. Store pet food and water bowls inside when not in use.

Please share this information with your friends and neighbors.

Service dogs in school — a fresh look

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
Service Dog and Boy

service dogs

A while back I wrote a piece on the topic of service dogs for kids and mentioned the use of service dogs in schools. A regular reader of our blog then wrote in with a number of comments and questions about the propriety of dogs in schools. To help answer her questions, I recently spoke with Nancy Fierer, who is the Director at Susquehanna Service Dogs in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which is an organization that trains and places service dogs. Susquehanna is the organization that placed two of the dogs mentioned in this NPR story.

The ADA and dogs in school

I also did a little more research on the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and its impact on the issue. The ADA requires that all public facilities allow a disabled person and his or her service dog (not pets) to enter the premises just the same as a non-disabled person. So is a school considered a public facility? It’s an interesting question. On the one hand it is accessible to the public in the sense that parents and students can freely enter a school. However, if you’re not the parent of a child at the school, can you just walk into a school and roam the halls like you might roam around a mall? I think if you tried that, you would get stopped pretty quickly and asked to leave if you had no valid business there. However, the law appears to be settled that schools are considered public facilities at least for those areas that are open to the public such as administrative offices, gymnasiums during sporting events, and auditoriums during public events. Therefore, schools must be accessible to service dogs in these public areas. For class rooms, however, it’s not so clear. While the law appears to favor allowing service dogs in class rooms, it is being decided on a case-by-case basis because there are other considerations as well – the age of the child, the disability at issue, the ability to control the dog, etc.

How much school assistance is necessary?

I have to admit that when I first wrote on this topic, I had envisioned that the dog and child were a self-contained unit that required little in the way of adult assistance. Ms. Fierer indicated that that is usually not the case. Depending on the age of the child and the level of disability, the child may be able to care for the dog independently. However, in most instances an adult (teacher’s aide or nurse perhaps) is required to pitch in with help giving the dog water and taking it out for bathroom breaks. Ms. Fierer indicated that the dog does need water breaks during the day (feeding can be done at home before and after school). This is usually accomplished by keeping a water bowl in a nearby room – perhaps a nurse’s office or a counselor’s office. Several times a day, either the child (if he/she is old enough) or an adult can take the dog for a drink. The same is true for bathroom breaks (pee only; No. 2 is usually taken care of at home). Again, service dogs do require assistance from the school but from what Ms. Fierer told me, the disruption is fairly minimal and can be worked out with proper planning.

Controlling a service dog

A larger issue is the child’s ability to control the dog. Even though service dogs are highly trained, the owner (in this case a child) must still be able to control the dog before being permitted to take a dog into school. These include such basic commands as making the dog sit, stay, come, leave it, and walk on loose leash. These are some of the common commands that all service dogs must know. In addition, a service dog also receives additional training in a particular disability and learns specific commands unique to that disability, e.g., retrieving specific items, pulling a wheelchair, responding to seizures, search and rescue. These commands must be mastered as well. For example, if an autistic child is in need of the dog to put its head in the child’s lap to help calm him/her down, the child (or a trained adult) has to be able to give the dog that command. If the child cannot give that command to the dog, then it undermines the usefulness of the dog in school.

Because of the demands that service dogs place on the child, very young children usually do not take dogs to school unescorted. Ms. Fierer said she would be surprised to see a six-year-old, for example, taking a dog to school alone. Older children can, with proper training, be permitted to take a dog to school alone. To ensure that the child is capable of caring for the dog, Susquehanna utilizes the Assistance Dogs International Public Access Test. This test requires the owner and the dog to perform multiple tests in a variety of settings to ensure that the dog is well-trained and that the owner can properly control the dog. For children, Ms. Fierer indicated that the testing is usually administered with the parent and child because she uses the team approach – the parent, child and dog are a team. For a child taking the dog to school, however, the parent is usually not there so the child must be able to control the dog independently. Only when a child is adept at controlling the dog should the child be permitted to take the dog to school. Even then, parents have to work closely with the child’s teacher and other school staff to coordinate the details of how the dog will be cared for.

Other concerns

Our reader also asked questions about whether service dogs are a distraction in school and whether they can pose a danger to other children. After talking to Ms. Fierer, it’s my opinion that these are not major concerns. As for being a distraction, Ms. Fierer said that is usually not the case. Service dogs are generally introduced into the school gradually, starting with maybe a half-hour per day and building from there. The children get accustomed to the dog and the novelty soon wears off. Also, the other children need to be educated that this is a service dog and not a pet to be played with. Children can easily learn this lesson. As for being a danger to other children, Ms. Fierer said she has never heard of a dangerous incident happening at school such as a dog biting a child. These dogs are amazingly well-trained and the trainers allow zero tolerance for aggressive behavior. If a dog shows any aggression, that dog does not make the cut for being a service dog. Therefore, I don’t believe this concern is a valid reason for denying a child a service dog.

Training a service dog

In terms of the actual training given to the dogs, Ms. Fierer said that when a puppy is eight weeks old, it starts living with a dedicated puppy handler who is responsible for teaching the dog basic manners.  This time includes classes at Susquehanna twice per month.  This arrangement goes on till the dog is 18 months old, at which time the dog receives about six months of intense training.  About 50-60 percent of training is the same for all service dogs. The rest is devoted to the unique needs of each disability. Before a dog is placed, Susquehanna spends about 2 and ½ weeks training the family that is receiving the dog. Even after placement, Susquehanna continues to do follow-up training – at first on a weekly basis and then gradually declining over the next six months. It even does annual re-testing.

I hope this follow-up addresses our readers’ concerns. Ms. Fierer emphasized that service dogs are not the solution for every child. Susquehanna actually does therapy sessions with families before even agreeing to place a dog to ensure that the dog and the family are a good fit. She indicated that it is a big responsibility to own a service dog and it is not a decision that is made lightly by the dog trainers. However, for the right child and the right family, a service dog can be an amazing asset.

Related Nash and Associates Links:

Service Dogs for Kids

 

photo from servicedogtraining.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coming Soon? Restored Breathing for Spinal Cord Injury Patients

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

image from msstrength.com

The online version of the journal Nature publishes an article today about a potential breakthrough in the treatment of spinal cord patients. While I do not have access to the full article, medicalnewstoday.com provides an overview of the research work. The highlight is that the researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine were able to restore breathing in rodents with spinal cord injuries.

This research provides optimism for similar success in humans (clinical trials with humans are hopefully forthcoming). In the recently released studies, the scientists combined “…an old technology a peripheral nerve graft, and a new technology an enzyme” to be able to restore 80-100% of breathing function in the rodents.

Using a graft from the sciatic nerve, surgeons have been able to restore function to damaged peripheral nerves in the arms or legs for 100 years. But, they’ve had little or no success in using a graft on the spinal cord. Nearly 20 years ago, [Jerry Silver, professor of neurosciences at Case Western Reserve and senior author,] found that after a spinal injury, a structural component of cartilage, called chondroitin sulfate proteoglycans, was present and involved in the scarring that prevents axons from regenerating and reconnecting. Silver knew that the bacteria Proteus vulgaris produced an enzyme called Chondroitinase ABC, which could break down such structures. In previous testing, he found that the enzyme clips the inhibitory sugary branches of proteoglycans, essentially opening routes for nerves to grow through.

In this study, the researchers used a section of peripheral nerve to bridge a spinal cord injury at the second cervical level, which had paralyzed one-half of the diaphragm. They then injected Chondroitinase ABC. The enzyme opens passageways through scar tissue formed at the insertion site and promotes neuron growth and plasticity. Within the graft, Schwann cells, which provide structural support and protection to peripheral nerves, guide and support the long-distance regeneration of the severed spinal nerves. Nearly 3,000 severed nerves entered the bridge and 400 to 500 nerves grew out the other side, near disconnected motor neurons that control the diaphragm. There, Chondroitinase ABC prevented scarring from blocking continued growth and reinnervation.

“All the nerves hook up with interneurons and somehow unwanted activities are filtered out but signals for breathing come through,” Silver said. “The spinal cord is smart.”

Three months after the procedure, tests recording nerve and muscle activity showed that 80 to more than 100 percent of breathing function was restored. Breathing function was maintained at the same levels six months after treatment”

From medicalnewstoday.com

This could be life-changing for those spinal cord injury patients who currently need ventilators to survive. If human studies prove the efficacy of such treatment, patients would have the hope of being able to breath on their own again. Not only would this dramatically improve these patients’ quality of life, but it would also provide a dramatically improved outcome for these patients. Currently, “[r]estoration of breathing is the top desire of people with upper spinal cord injuries. Respiratory infections, which attack through the ventilators they rely on, are their top killer.”

The BBC is reporting that “[r]esearchers hope to begin trials in humans. They are also investigating whether bladder function can be restored, which can be lost when the lower spine is damaged.”

The CDC’s most recent statistics, which are a few years old, suggest that there are currently about 200,000 people in the United States who are living with spinal cord injuries. This number increases by approximately 12,000-20,000 new patients annually. If some portion of these individuals could be provided hope for breathing on their own and or regaining bladder function, their lives could be dramatically improved.

Related Articles:

Spinal Cord Injury Updates: More Reasons for Optimism?

New Treatment Holds Promise for Patients With Spinal Cord Injuries

New Microchip Promises to Make Life Much Easier for Paraplegic Patients

Can Copper Surfaces and Duct Tape Reduce Hospital Infections and Deaths?

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Image from medgadget.com

How many times have you heard about someone entering the hospital healthy, or relatively so, and developing a dangerous infection while hospitalized? What about the number of times that you may have visited your own doctor’s office or your child’s pediatrician’s office and wondered whether the cold you got a few days later was coincidence or the result of having been in the waiting and exam rooms following other sick patients? Have you ever considered what cleaning procedures are done in hospital rooms when one patient is discharged before another takes their place?

In the past, Brian Nash and the other legal bloggers here at Eye Opener have written posts and made mention of the importance of hospital cleanliness and sterility, see the related posts below. We have been involved in cases involving the devastating results of infections. However, everyone knows that there are going to be germs in hospitals. Even the best hospitals have to work to keep the patients, rooms and visitors clean and safe.

Well, there is news that may make keeping hospitals and other health care environments less germy in the future. Two recent articles have focused on seemingly simple solutions, copper and duct tape, that may have major impacts on infection control.

Copper Surfaces Dramatically Reduce Infections by Killing Bacteria

A Reuters’ article reports that a recent study “presented at the World Health Organization’s 1st International Conference on Prevention and Infection Control (ICPIC) in Geneva, Switzerland” shows that “replacing the most heavily contaminated touch surfaces in ICUs with antimicrobial copper will control bacteria growth and cut down on infection rates.” According to the Reuters’ article:

[a]ntimicrobial copper surfaces in intensive care units (ICU) kill 97 percent of bacteria that can cause hospital-acquired infections, according to preliminary results of a multisite clinical trial in the United States. The results also showed a 40 percent reduction in the risk of acquiring an infection.

This news could have a profound impact on health-care costs, disease spread, and most importantly lives lost. If hospitals are able to replace some of their current surfaces with copper surfaces, at least in the parts of the hospital that are most frequently the source of infections, there could be a dramatic improvement in hospital-acquired infections.

Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are the fourth leading cause of death in the United States behind heart disease, strokes and cancer.

According to estimates provided by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in every 20 hospitalized U.S. patients acquires an HAI, resulting in 100,000 lives lost each year.

From Reuters

Perhaps even more infections could be prevented if these changes could be made outside of just ICUs. For instance, perhaps copper surfaces could replace highly touched surfaces on sink handles, the doors to hospital rooms, hospital bed rails, or in out-patient surgery centers and long-term care facilities that are not housed within hospitals.

Duct Tape Warnings Keep Others Far Enough Away from Infected Patients

Image from ducttapesales.com

An article from Medicalnewstoday reports that some hospitals are using plain duct tape – just colored red – to achieve a reduction in infection rates from highly infectious patients without having to deal with the hassle and expense of all visitors or hospital personnel who enter the room having to rescrub and use new gowns every time they enter the room of an infected patient. The study looked at highly infectious diseases like C. diff that require isolation of patients and very careful hand washing to avoid spreading the infection. So how does duct tape help?

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) commissioned a study to corner off a three foot perimeter around the bed of patients in isolation. Medical personnel could enter the room unprotected if they stayed outside the perimeter. Direct patient contact or presence inside the perimeter meant a redo of the cleansing process. The concept, called “Red Box” employs red duct tape, a color used as it provides a strong visual reminder to those who enter the room to be aware.

The study found that 33% of all who entered the rooms could do so without the addition of gowns and gloves, saving the environment, hospital and patient costs, and time without compromising the patient or the medical personnel.

From Medicalnewstoday

How Else Can We Reduce Infections?

What ideas do you have for the use of copper surfaces? Do you think that copper surfaces or duct tape could make a dramatic difference in the safety of hospital admission? What about the cost? Do you think that hospitals would pay the upfront costs of replacing surfaces with copper to be able to dramatically cut infection rates? What about other low cost solutions like duct-tape around the perimeter of the bed? Can you think of other low-cost solutions that could minimize infections and maximize safety?

Related Posts:

New federal study finds ‘lax infection control’ at same-day surgery centers

FDA warning to healthcare professionals: use sterile prep pads!

Week in Review: (June 27 – July 1, 2011) Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Monday, July 4th, 2011

Eye Opener’s Week in Review

From the (guest) editor:  Good morning!  With the morning workout complete, I thought now would be a good time to take a look back.  We had a sneaking suspicion that with the excellent weather forecast you might spend some time outdoors.  Before you do, make sure you read our Summer Series.  This week we gave you what you need to know before you (and your little ones) head to that family BBQ.  Enjoy your Independence Day, drink a tall glass of fresh squeezed lemonade and enjoy!

–Jason Penn, guest editor

Cancer: HIV/AIDS Patients At Increased Risk

By Jon Stefanuca

As if life with HIV/AIDS is not difficult enough, researchers have also found that HIV/AIDS patients are also more prone to developing various malignancies when compared with the non-infected population. In fact, cancer is one of the leading causes ofmortality in the HIV/AIDS  population. It is estimated that 30%-40% of HIV patients will develop some type of cancer during their life time.  Read more

Skin Cancer: Types, Causes and How to Protect Yourself

By Sara Keogh

We can all agree that “skin cancer” is bad.  When we refer to skin cancer, what do we mean?  Most often we are referring to squamous cell, basilar cell or malignant melanoma.  On Tuesday, Sara described the different types of skin cancer and the  associated rates and survival statistics.  Read more

Skin Cancer Prevention: Will new FDA Rules Help?

By Sara Keogh

So Sara’s piece on Tuesday convinced you that sunscreen is necessary?  But how do you pick one?  Last week, the FDA announced new regulations of sunscreen. If sunscreens meet the new legal standards, they can use certain marketing phrases so that consumers know what level of protection will be provided by the product.  Read more

Diseases of Summer: Ticks and Lyme Disease

By Theresa Neumann

Summer is heating up, and there are lots of outdoor activities in which to participate. Along with the thermostat, however, there is also a rise in the deer tick population! This equates to an increase in Lyme disease, the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in America! Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey all all“hotbeds” for this disease, comprising 5 of the top  12 states comprising 95% of all Lyme disease cases nationwide. Before you leave for the family picnic, you should read more

Skin Cancer Prevention: The Dangers of Tanning Beds

By Sara Keogh

It is popular to “pre-bake” before hitting the beach.  A tanning bed is often the The use of tanning beds or “indoor tanning” greatly increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer. It is a completely voluntary exposure to UV radiation, and yet many people choose to expose themselves despite all of the risks.  Before you opt to “fake and bake,” you should read more

Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead:

The Eye Opener and its writers are excited about the week ahead too!  Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in store for you:

  • Service dogs for children:  more than just a pet
  • Legal Boot Camp is back in session and Part IV of our Cerebral Palsy tutorial.
  • And more!

 

Images courtesy of:

www.news.getaroom.com

www.topnews.net.nz

www.dsf.chesco.org

www.magazine.ayurvediccure.com

www.frenchtribune.com

 

 

Summer Vacation Checklist: Add Vaccination to Your List!

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Photo from guardian.co.uk

Ahhh, summer vacation is coming. Passport? Airline tickets? Three 1oz containers? Zipper-lock bag? Sunblock? Camera? Vaccination status?

Summer is typically the busiest time for vacationers to explore new territories, or even old ones. Granted, the economy has replaced some travelers’ grand plans with much more modest ones, but many are still planning trips to Mexico and other foreign destinations. The summer is also a big time for missionary groups to head to underserved areas to provide assistance and medical care. The events of September 11th have forever changed travel for the United States and countries all over the world. There is now a new concern…..your vaccination status!

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States is experiencing its largest outbreak of measles in 15 years! USA Today reported a record 118 cases of confirmed measles in the USA between January 1 and May 20 of this year, mostly acquired abroad by unvaccinated individuals and brought back to the States. Measles was reported to have been “eradicated” from the USA as of the year 2000 due mostly to the efforts of immunization, but measles is still prevalent in other parts of the world.

Over 42,000 cases were diagnosed in an outbreak among young adults in Brazil in 1997! Third-world countries are not the only ones affected; over 7,500 cases have been diagnosed in France between January and March of this year, according to the CDC! And the outbreaks continue across most countries of Europe. Failure to vaccinate and receive periodic “booster shots” to provide immunity allows the virus to infect that individual who then gets sick. Since the virus is spread via respiratory droplets (coughing and sneezing), public modes of transportation allow for contact with infected individuals.

Measles is NOT just a rash!

According to the Associated Press, 2 of every 5 of these 118 patients required hospitalization; none died, but measles can have deadly consequences. Worldwide, measles causes nearly 800,000 deaths annually, mostly in small children. Some of the bad consequences include encephalitis characterized by vomiting, seizures, coma and even death; of those who survive this, approximately one-third are left with permanent neurologic deficits.

Once the spots are gone…

Interestingly, there is a late complication of measles infection, called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE), that occurs from 5 to 15 years after the acute infection; the virus causes a slow degeneration of the brain and central nervous system long after the initial infection. Measles can also cause bronchiolitis or bronchopneumonia, and it can be associated with secondary bacterial infections due to the depleted immune system that occurs while fighting the virus.

Measles is NOT the only vaccine-preventable disease available for infection!

There have been recent outbreaks of mumps, another viral disease that has potential complications of pancreatitis, orchitis and even meningitis and encephalitis.

There have been outbreaks of Bordetella pertussis (part of the DPT vaccine), otherwise known as “whooping cough.” Pertussis can severely affect young children under 2 years, but it affects adults as well. Since the vaccine does not impart lifelong immunity, adults become a reservoir for this disease, unless a booster shot is given, and the adults spread the disease to unvaccinated children.

Haemophilus influenza type B, known as HIB, can cause typical cases of upper respiratory infections, sinusitis and otitis media (common ear infection); it can also cause epiglottitis, a potentially fatal infection of the epiglottis. The epiglottis is a flap of tissue that acts like a valve, protecting our airway when we eat and swallow food. This “valve” swells up so large from the infection that it can totally obstruct the airway and prevent a child from breathing; it is a medical emergency that can require emergent tracheostomy! An HIB vaccine has been available for years, and this infectious culprit had nearly been eradicated, as well, in the USA. The anti-vaccine movement has produced many children, adolescents and even young adults who have never received this vaccine  - et voila….there is a resurgence of HIB and Haemophilus epiglottitis.

Hepatitis B is a virus (HBV) for which a vaccine has also been available for over 20 years. It is a 3-shot regimen, but it also requires that titers be drawn after vaccination to prove immunity. HBV can be transmitted through sexual contact or any exchange of body fluids, including contaminated food in rare instances. Although the human body can fight some cases of HBV, other cases become chronic and lead to liver failure and/or liver cancer. Wouldn’t you know it? May is “Hepatitis Awareness Month” for the CDC!

There are plenty more vaccines available for a multitude of viral, bacterial and other infectious agents. Additionally, there are immunoglobulin shots that can address other infectious conditions and act as prophylaxis during your time abroad.

The Moral of the Story

Check your own vaccination status first. If you are not sure, your doctor can do blood tests to determine if you are immune to specific infectious agents…even the chicken pox virus! Secondly, take the time to check the CDC website (www.cdc.gov) for infections endemic to the area to which you are traveling. Follow guidelines offered for disease prevention and possible vaccines, medications or immunoglobulins available.

Be aware and be prepared! Protect yourself and those near and dear to you!

 

Week in Review (April 16 – 20, 2011) The Eye Opener Health, Law and Medicine Blog

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

From the Editor (Brian Nash)

Another week of great posts (IMHO) by our blawgers. Apparently, I’m not the only one who thinks so since we have now surpassed 21,000 page views in the last 30 days. The number keeps rising. Our sincere gratitude to all our readers!

Our topics were once again quite varied. They spanned the law, health, science and medicine. We even had a piece on a local event – Marathon Kids. This piece is part of our new program to promote charities and civic organizations in our own backyard – Baltimore and Washington.

We try week in and week out to find topics of interest for you, our readers. If you ever have any suggestions for topics of interest to you, please leave a comment or send us an email or fill-out the contact form with your thoughts and suggestions. We’d love to hear from you.

Let’s get to it then. What did we cover this past week that you might be interested in reading? Take a look -

Why early settlement is a win-win for all

By: Michael Sanders

There is an old adage in the law that cases settle on the courthouse steps. There is a reason for that. When the parties are actually walking into court to try their case, they seem to suddenly recognize that there are significant risks to going to trial, and that there is serious money at stake. When you go to trial, only one side can win. The other side goes home a loser. Faced with such a stark outcome, both sides tend to become more reasonable in their assessment of their case and more willing to talk settlement. After all, despite all the years of experience that trial attorneys amass, no one can ever predict what a jury is going to do in any specific case. As one mediator I know likes to tell the litigants, going to court is like going to Vegas:  you roll the dice and you take your chances. Read more….

Milk from Mom: Effective in preventing common infant complication (NEC)

By: Jason Penn

The debate among parents regarding the use of human milk vs. formula wages on, but according to a recent study, you can chalk one up for the human body.  That study, headed by the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, concluded that premature babies fed human donor milk were less likely to develop the intestinal condition necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).  Both sides has its advocates, willing to do battle at any time. When it comes to NEC, Mom’s milk has the decided advantage. Read more….

H.I.V. treatment advances, but what are the implications of terminating research early?

By: Sarah Keogh

Last week, I read some exciting news about H.I.V. treatment and transmission. A New York Times article reported that a large clinical trial found that “[p]eople infected with the virus that causes AIDS are far less likely to infect their sexual partners if they are put on treatment immediately instead of waiting until their immune systems begin to deteriorate…” The study found that “[p]atients with H.I.V. were 96 percent less likely to pass on the infection if they were taking antiretroviral drugs…” These findings are overwhelmingly positive and the implication for public health is huge. Read more….

A Windy, Rainy but Fabulous Day in Baltimore: Marathon Kids Final Mile Celebration

By: Rachel Leyko

Despite the wind and rain, this past Saturday I volunteered at the Marathon Kids Final Mile Celebration Event at Western Polytechnic High School in Northwest Baltimore.  I learned of the event through the Junior League of Baltimore and to be honest, prior to Saturday, I did not know much about the organization, its purpose or effect on the children it sought to serve.  However, after Saturday’s event, not only was I impressed with the purpose of Marathon Kids, but I saw firsthand the positive effect this program has had on the children who have participated. Read more….

Acquired Brain Injuries: Causes and Impact

By: Theresa Neumann

On the heels of Jason Penn’s blogregarding calling “911″ for signs of a possible stroke, I decided to introduce a variety of acquired brain injuries for further discussion in future blogs since damage to the brain results in some of the most catastrophic injuries possibly sustained by the human body with significant “collateral damage” for all of the friends and family involved in the individual’s life. Read more….


Sneak Peak of the Week Ahead

Some topics we’ll be covering next week…and then some…

  • You or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, now you have to deal with the horror. Jon Stefanuca will be writing a piece based on our experiences with a number of clients “living with cancer.”
  • Mike Sanders and I have both recently resolved cases involving families who have lost a child. Mike’s involved the death of a fetus very near term. He’ll share that story and the experience of the case with you.
  • Maybe those of you who have children with special needs are familiar with the local (Maryland and Washington, D.C.) resources to help you and your child. For those who may not be or just want to learn more, Jason Penn will be providing information on this next week.
  • You may have heard the recent news about labeling of certain medications for children. Sarah Keogh will report on this and also delve into some practical problems and issues that parents face every day in terms of medicating their children.
  • We’re going to begin a new series on exactly what is recoverable in our jurisdictions (Washington, D.C and Maryland) under what is known as the Survival Act and the Wrongful Death Act. We’ll be paying particular attention to issues involving what’s known as pecuniary benefits, loss wages and diminished earning capacity. Should be educational. We hope you enjoy it.

Have a great weekend, Everyone!

H.I.V. treatment advances, but what are the implications of terminating research early?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Scientific Method; image from: scifiles.larc.nasa.gov

Last week, I read some exciting news about H.I.V. treatment and transmission. A New York Times article reported that a large clinical trial found that “[p]eople infected with the virus that causes AIDS are far less likely to infect their sexual partners if they are put on treatment immediately instead of waiting until their immune systems begin to deteriorate…” The study found that “[p]atients with H.I.V. were 96 percent less likely to pass on the infection if they were taking antiretroviral drugs…” These findings are overwhelmingly positive and the implication for public health is huge.

The study details are fascinating, particularly in regards to the results. For example:

The $73 million trial, known as HPTN 052, involved 1,763 couples in 13 cities on four continents. One member of each couple was infected with H.I.V.; the other was not. In half the couples, chosen at random, the infected partner was put on antiretroviral drugs as soon as he or she tested positive for the virus.

In the other half, the infected person started treatment only when his or her CD4 count — a measure of the immune system’s strength — dropped below 250 per cubic millimeter.

In 28 of the couples, the uninfected person became infected with the partner’s strain of the virus. Twenty-seven of those 28 infections took place in couples in which the partner who was infected first was not yet getting treatment.

What I found most interesting, however, was that the study was not completed. The reported findings were the preliminary results from the clinical trials. In fact, the article explained that “[t]he data was so convincing that the trial, scheduled to last until 2015, is effectively being ended early.”

The way these results were discovered and released during the course of the study was what intrigued me. Here’s how the study data was described:

“[U]nblinded” to an independent safety review panel, which is standard procedure in clinical trials. When the panel realized how much protection early treatment afforded, it recommended that drug regimens be offered to all participants. Although participants will still be followed, the trial is effectively over because it will no longer be a comparison between two groups on different regimens.

This means that the clinical trial was stopped before reaching completion so that all of the participating couples could receive treatment.

The implications of ending this trial short are complicated. For the participants, the decision can be nothing but positive since it may provide the study participants with the opportunity to receive treatment that could hopefully lead to a dramatically decreased likelihood of infection with a potentially deadly disease. For many others around the world who have a partner with H.I.V., the implications are likewise a boon for public health. The release of these early results may impact treatment of H.I.V. infected individuals around the world who may now be able to protect their partners from infection. However, the end of this study is not as clear-cut in terms of research and ethical implications as it might seem.

I originally became aware of the idea that clinical studies are sometimes cut short in the mid 1990s. My father, an occupational health doctor who died in 1999, was involved in the CARET studies during the 1990s. This large-scale double blind study was looking at whether beta-carotene and retinyl palmitate would be able to prevent lung cancer in heavy smokers and workers who had been exposed to asbestos.  However, the study was ended prematurely based on interim results that suggested an adverse affect on the study participants. Since I was only a high school student at the time that the trial was ended, I did not know many of the details at the time. I understood the basic idea that if a medical research study was causing harm to the participants, that it must be ended. When I read the recent news about the H.I.V. treatment study, it prompted me to try to learn more about how and when clinical studies are interrupted.

There was an article published called “Stopping the active intervention: CARET” that I found enlightening about how and why the CARET studies were ended.  The article provides an overview that I found helpful in thinking about the current H.I.V. study:

The optimal design of a randomized clinical intervention trial, where the outcome is a disease endpoint, includes a set of criteria for stopping the active intervention before planned. These criteria, called “stopping rules,” guide the review of findings by key study scientists and an independent set of reviewers. If the pattern of outcome, effect or harm, is large enough to be attributed to the intervention, the trial is halted, regardless of the planned completion date or the readiness of staff to end the trial.

While in the H.I.V. study, the impact was positive, rather than negative as in the CARET study, the procedure seems to be similar. A procedure in the study allowed for data to be unblinded and examined by an independent panel which then recommended that the trial be stopped early.

However, this does present two potential problems. One is that the study, scientifically speaking, did not reach its full conclusions. It may not provide as much evidence of implications as it might have if it had continued or if the study population had been larger. For example, the New York Times article mentioned the following:

Although the trial was relatively large, there are some limitations on interpreting the data.

More than 90 percent of the couples in the trial, who lived in Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the United States and Zimbabwe, were heterosexual.

“We would have liked to have a substantial number of men as potential study subjects, but they just weren’t interested,” Dr. Cohen said.

Although common sense suggests the results would be similar in the contexts of homosexual sex and sex between people who are not couples, strictly speaking, the results apply only to the type of people studied, Dr. Fauci said.

Another implication is that the results may not be as scientifically accurate if the trials are stopped early.  A study published in JAMA entitled “Stopping Randomized Trials Early for Benefit and Estimation of Treatment Effects: Systematic Review and Meta-regression Analysis” explains:

Although randomized controlled trials (RCTs) generally provide credible evidence of treatment effects, multiple problems may emerge when investigators terminate a trial earlier than planned, especially when the decision to terminate the trial is based on the finding of an apparently beneficial treatment effect. Bias may arise because large random fluctuations of the estimated treatment effect can occur, particularly early in the progress of a trial. When investigators stop a trial based on an apparently beneficial treatment effect, their results may therefore provide misleading estimates of the benefit. Statistical modeling suggests that RCTs stopped early for benefit (truncated RCTs) will systematically overestimate treatment effects, and empirical data demonstrate that truncated RCTs often show implausibly large treatment effects.

(internal footnotes omitted)

So, perhaps, if the trial were continued, the results would not have been as overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps the percentage of partners infected in the two groups would not have been as widely divergent. But perhaps they would – and would you want to gamble with someone’s life?

Have you ever been involved in a clinical research study that has been ended early? Was it for positive or negative results? What should be done to maximize public health and safety while still providing the benefits of full blind research studies?

 

Brother, will you help me? If you don’t this stroke might kill me.

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

[Writer’s note:   It is my goal to write at least one blog entry each week.  The largest percentage of my time is spent looking for source material.  I want to provide the reader with timely and topical information.  In any given week I review dozens of research studies, medical advances, and cautionary tales.  Every once in a while I read an extraordinary piece that truly hits home.  So much so, I wonder whether or not I should write about it.  An element of vulnerability is revealed.  Maybe this can help someone…]

Mother’s Day is in the rearview mirror.  This past Mother’s Day someone told me a story about how their grandmother fell ill.  It was the holiday season, and as she climbed the ladder to decorate the tree, things took a tragic turn. She stumbled, lost her balance and fell.  She seemed “off.” A few short hours later, at the hospital, it was revealed that she had suffered a stroke.

I am college educated.  I have a law degree too.  I have been trained by some of the best and the brightest. Countless thousands of dollars have been spent on my education.  I am African American, and therefore at an increased risk of stroke. My profession has brought me very close to the medical profession and injured people.

As I listened to that story, I was stymied. Not only because of the shocking nature of the story, but because despite my education and experience I was not sure what I would have done. I am embarrassed to tell you that until a few minutes ago, I might not have acted quickly enough to save my friend’s grandmother. I would like to think that I wouldn’t take the situation lightly and that I would call 911 immediately.  But maybe not, because – simply put – I didn’t know the signs or symptoms of a stroke. Do you?  What would you do?

A recent study says that I am not alone:

Researchers interviewed 230 African Americans in the Washington DC metropolitan area and found that nearly 90 percent said that they would call 911 first if faced with a hypothetical stroke. However, when 100 acute stroke patients (or those who accompanied them to the hospital) were interviewed 75 percent said they called someone else first instead of 911 when they realized something was wrong.  Even more reported they waited a significant amount of time before seeking any medical attention.

Of course 230 people is a small sample set, but these numbers are certainly disturbing. The actual responses of persons confronted with seriously ill people suggest that maybe I wouldn’t act as diligently as I think.

According to the American Stroke Association, someone in the United States is having a stroke every 40 seconds.  It is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. In the United States, the rate of first strokes in African Americans is almost double that of whites, researchers say, because of higher incidences of risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. Also strokes tend to occur earlier in life for African Americans. Studies have also shown that fewer blacks than whites receive a treatment that breaks-up the blood clot in the brain causing the stroke, in part because blacks are not getting to the hospital in time.

So what should you do?  First, start by knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke. According to the American Heart Association, the signs are:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

What else?

  • Not all the warning signs occur in every stroke. Don’t ignore signs of stroke, even if they go away!
  • Check the time. When did the first warning sign or symptom start? You’ll be asked this important question later.
  • If you have one or more stroke symptoms that last more than a few minutes, don’t delay! Immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical service (EMS) number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can quickly be sent for you.
  • If you’re with someone who may be having stroke symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1 or the EMS. Expect the person to protest — denial is common. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Insist on taking prompt action.

So what is the take-home lesson here?  When in doubt, call.  When I say call, I don’t mean to phone a friend.  This isn’t Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Uncle Stephen might know the answer to Meredith Viera’s question, but he probably can’t help you if I am having a stroke. Please. Please.Please. Pick up the phone.  Call 911. With appropriate intervention, a fully recovery is possible for some. A delayed response time, however, can be life altering.  Please, do not delay.  The life of your mother, brother, father, or spouse can depend on your reaction time.

It doesn’t say “leave a response” down below for nothing. Feel free to let us know YOUR thoughts.

Question: What would you do? Are you certain that you would call 911? Have you ever been faced with a life or death situation?

 

Ovarian Cancer – five tips to make sure you get the medical care you need

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Did you know that more than 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S. each year? An astonishing 15,000 women die from ovarian cancer each year. Despite numerous advances in healthcare, the mortality rate for ovarian cancer has not improved in the last 30 years. Simply put, ovarian cancer is the deadliest of all gynecologic cancers. If the cancer is diagnosed in its early stages (i.e. before it spreads to other organs), the five-year survival rate is about 93.8%. However, if it the cancer is diagnosed in its later stages, the five-year survival rate is about 28.2%.

There is no question that ovarian cancer is quite deadly and that early diagnosis and treatment is key for survival. There is an abundance of information about ovarian cancer online and in other written sources. Simply put, take the time to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of this terrible disease. Let’s share with you some information, which I believe can make a difference. Call it a male lawyer’s perspective, if you will. I’ve seen what happens when early detection should have happened, but tragically did not.

1. Examine Your Medical History

Whenever the possibility for ovarian cancer exists, consider your medical history as you discuss your symptoms with your physician. If you are having symptoms consistent with ovarian cancer, take the initiative and discuss your symptoms and history with a gynecologist as opposed to your primary care physician. Make sure to tell your physician if you have any cancer history. Don’t forget to include information about any family history of cancer (parents, siblings, etc.). Of particular importance is any history of breast or ovarian cancer, although any cancer history is relevant. Unfortunately, women with a personal or family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer are at a higher risk.

2. Understand and Appreciate Your Symptoms

Although your physician is likely to talk to you about ovarian cancer, it is always a good idea to familiarizer yourself with the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer before your doctor’s appointment. Many of the symptoms of ovarian cancer overlap with the symptoms of cervical cancer. Therefore, if you are experiencing symptoms of cervical cancer, you and your physician should also discuss the possibility of ovarian cancer. We have seen cases were a physician will consider one or the other but not the possibility of both cancers. Here are some of the more common symptoms of ovarian cancer:

-          Irregular uterine bleeding

-          Abdominal  and/or pelvic pain

-          Abdominal fullness or bloating

-          Fatigue

-          Unexpected weight loss

-          Fatigue

-          Headaches

-          Frequent urination

-          Low back pain

Watch this video for more information about symptoms of ovarian cancer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fH9N4auMblE

 

Watch this video for more information about symptoms of cervical cancer:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HHA_0HsjeBI&feature=related

3. Is it a solid mass?

If your radiographic studies reveal a mass, make sure that you get a clear answer as to whether the mass is solid or fluid-filled.  A fluid filled mass will typically turn out to be a cyst. It could also be a blocked fallopian tube (i.e., hydrosalpinx, hematosalpinx, pyosalpinx). Generally speaking, a fluid filled mass is less likely to be malignant. However, if your radiographic studies reveal a solid mass, especially one that arises from an ovary, the possibility of ovarian cancer must be seriously considered. If you are found to have a solid mass, talk to your gynecologist or primary care physician about consulting with a surgical oncologist.

4. Should you have a CA 125 blood test?

CA 125 is a protein. It is a tumor marker or biomarker for ovarian cancer because it is more prominent in ovarian cancer cells. The CA 125 test is a test designed to test the levels of CA 125 in a patient’s blood. Elevated CA 125 levels can be indicative of ovarian cancer. If your CA 125 levels are elevated, you and your physician should seriously consider the possibility of ovarian cancer. An elevated CA125 should prompt your physician to order additional radiographic studies, including a CT of the abdomen and pelvis, an ultrasound of abdomen and pelvis, a PET scan or even a CT pyelogram. You should also consider consulting an oncologist or a surgical oncologist. If you are found to have a solid mass and your CA 125 level is elevated, time is of the essence for further investigation and surgical intervention.  Ask your doctor about other tumor markers that can be tested.

5. Who is reading your ultrasound?

Many patients who present to their gynecologist with symptoms of ovarian cancer will initially undergo an ultrasound. A great number of gynecologists will themselves perform and interpret the ultrasound. Here is the problem. With all due respect to gynecologists, they are not trained ultrasonographers or even radiologists! Ultrasounds can be particularly difficult to read. This can be due to the patient’s position and, more frequently, the size of the patient. In heavier patients, a pelvic ultrasound can be quite limited if one is trying to visualize the ovaries, discern the presence of mass, or determine whether the mass is solid or fluid-filled. So, if your gynecologist is the only person to read your ultrasound, the result is potentially quite devastating. The mass could remain undiagnosed, and you may be told to come back if your symptoms get worse. The ultrasound may be interpreted as limited, and, for whatever reason, your gynecologist may simply neglect to order a more sensitive study (i.e. a CT scan). Instead, he or she may choose to monitor you for any further deterioration of symptoms.

In yet another instance, if the ultrasound is limited, a solid mass may be confused for a fluid-filled mass. Under these circumstances, you may be asked to follow-up in six months. The problem with all of these permutations is delay, and you cannot afford delay with ovarian cancer. Make sure that your radiographic studies, whatever they may be, are read by a skilled specialist in the interpretation of whatever study you undergo.

As we always say, be your own patient advocate and be an informed patient. Be an active participant in your medical care by being informed and by demanding the care you require. Having an understating of the types of mistakes that can be made during medical treatment is simply prudent.

Please share your familiarity or experience with ovarian cancer treatment. What do you think women should watch out for should they find themselves afflicted by this terrible disease?

For more information, see our other blogs:

Ovarian Cancer – Early Intervention is Key, What You Must Know…

New study links gene to ovarian cancer and may assist in early detection 

Ovarian Cancer – The Smear Test Won’t Tell You Much

 

Image from cancersyptomspage.com