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All Posts in Category: Health News

Bumps, Lumps, and Mumps

With the temperatures finally cooling, the smell of fall in the air, and Halloween just around the corner, the word “mumps” may induce ideas of spooky grandeur: bumps on a warted toad or lumps on a disfigured zombie. But when a news headline reads “Arkansas Battling Mumps Outbreak With Over 400 Possible Cases,” these conjurings are hardly grandeur but rather cold, hard facts. Arkansas has been hit with an unparalleled scare of a potential mumps outbreak in the northwest regions of Madison, Benton, and Washington counties. Hundreds of cases are being investigated and people are learning the harsher realities of contracting the mumps.

But what exactly are the mumps? And are the mumps potentially lethal? According to the CDC, the mumps is a contagious viral disease affecting the salivary glands. The mumps, caused primarily by the rubulavirus family, is spread easily from infected individuals through moisture droplets in the air (i.e. sneezing or coughing) and is especially contractible in congested areas such as playgrounds and classrooms. The virus multiplies during the 14-24 day incubation period with symptoms including swelling of the salivary glands, fever, headache, muscle ache, malaise, and loss of appetite quickly following. Temperatures can even reach a Tmax of 104°F. Once the virus hits the bloodstream, its effects can spread throughout the body’s systems. Men and boys sometimes see an enlargement and inflammation of the testicles and, in severe cases of the mumps, serious complications can include deafness, encephalitis, meningitis, and nerve damage (all due to inflammation caused by the presence of this unwanted foreign pathogen).

The mumps are no joking matter and antibiotics won’t do the trick (since this is a viral infection). If infected, medications can help alleviate symptoms but the virus will simply have to run its course. On the other hand, the mumps can easily be prevented. The CDC recommends the MMR vaccination series of at least four injections with the first dose given after 1 year of age and the second dose given before entering school (around 4-6 years old). MMR stands for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella and is part of the standard vaccination calendar for any child born after 1957, as those adults born before 1957 are considered immune. Mumps were actually one of the leading causes of deafness in children prior to the implementation of the MMR vaccine.
The current situation in Arkansas is investigating almost 400 cases of the mumps. This bump in mumps, if you will, has increased the total number of cases up nearly to 2,000 for this year alone- a dramatic increase from the reported 229 cases back in 2012. Know the signs, know the symptoms, and get to know the MMR vaccine if this has not been part of your immunization history. Mumps are not just a thing of the past anymore.

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Kevin King on Daytime Doc

The Importance Of Plasma And Blood Donations

Kevin King, found of PPA, was featured on Daytime Doc this past week discussing the importance of plasma and blood donations. The segment highlights a unique laboratory procedure called leukapheresis that collects and processes white blood cell components. This procedure is unique to the area and facilities that are capable of carrying out this type of research are few and far between. PPA Research Group is equipped for the challenge and invite all interested donors to contact us for more information.

Click on the link above to view the TV and thanks to Performance Medicine for hosting! Make sure to be on the lookout for PPA’s Guide to Leukapheresis- a comprehensive look at the procedure. Coming to you soon!

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Get Your Head in the Game

A long-standing debate on the safety of football has garnered some recent media coverage from the upcoming Will Smith film Concussion, based on the true story of Dr. Bennet Omalu, the man who discovered the link between American football and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a disease of the brain found in athletes, military veterans, and others with a history of repetitive head impacts. Research has dominated the subject of contact sports with brain injurie. Doctors, researchers, and family members have cast concern on the viability of these athletes in high risk sports because of how often each player receives a blow to the head, whether protected by a helmet or not.

The Stern Lab, in affiliation with Boston University, studies the presence, effects, and causes of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). According to Dr. Stern, repetitive head impacts (RHI) can trigger progressive degeneration of the brain tissue, including the build-up of an abnormal form of a protein called tau. The brain degeneration is associated with memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, parkinsonism, and eventually progressive dementia. Concussions also play an important role in the progression of the disease. Concussions, sometimes left untreated on the field, are mild brain injuries with the following signs and symptoms according to the Mayo Clinic, include Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head: Temporary loss of consciousness, confusion or feeling as if in a fog, amnesia surrounding the traumatic event, dizziness or “seeing stars”, ringing in the ears, nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, delayed response to questions, appearing dazed, and fatigue.

However noble and necessary these efforts have been, certain obstacles have emerged from opening this can of worms that some would like to keep a tight lid. The original story behind Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist, whose autopsy discovery of CTE from the famed NFL star, Pittsburgh Steelers Mike Webster sparked a controversy, hit a raw nerve with the NFL and the convictions that repetitive head trauma caused this newly discovered disease. The NFL has made efforts to improve the protection of its players by updating protective gear such as helmets and shoulder pads, but the sport has some concerned parents choosing not to let their kids participate and casting a negative connotation with the contact sport.

In addition to the invisible red tape, CTE can only definitely identified posthumously, making the prevention and management of the disease difficult to tackle. The Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University conducted a study that identified 87 out of 91 deceased football players (who had their brains donated to the center for research): that’s 96% of players who played professionally! Furthermore, the identified CTE in 131 out of 165 individuals posthumously who played football at the high school level or above.

This is all to say that research is important. It helps to identify, treat, and prevent diseases and ailments with scientific proof. Knowledge in this case is power and knowing the risks involved with your daily activities will help navigate what you choose to do with your time. Check out the research that PPA is currently conducting and get involved today!

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Gene Editing in Animals a Reality

Animals hit health news heavily this week with the reveal of two, genetically altered calves born last spring that are born without horns. The idea behind this innovation was to prevent the very painful, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, process of dehorning, a procedure that removes the horns of calves to prevent injuries in the pasture later in life for these animals. According to the New York Times, the genetic alteration, performed by a scientists at the start-up company Recombinetics, removes the portion of genetic code that makes calves grow horns and swaps it for the portion of genetic code that makes Angus cows have none.

This prolific movement in editing an animal’s genes for preventative measures as well as personal, more aesthetic pleasures has caused some controversy in the ethical dilemma concerning the modification of human embryos to fit our liking. The intention is key here: are we modifying to prevent diseases or to choose eye color for our future children? And what are the implications of genetic alteration? These questions may be on the back burner while genetic editing in animal production now has some FDA backing.

The FDA just gave its seal of approval for genetically altered salmon, where the fish now grows faster, for human consumption. These salmon, along with genetically modified mosquitoes that will no longer be able to carry malaria, show that this editing technique is widely being used because it is easy, according to Bruce Whitelaw, a professor of animal biotechnology at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. Using an enzyme that are directly targeted at a specific gene splice can alter that animal’s genetic profile and easily spread the gene sequence through conventional breeding.

But when will it be enough? Many consumers are concerned about the potential side effects of consuming genetically modified animals, much like the controversy and now regulation of foods with GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) found in corn and soy.

What this boils down to is cost and ethics. On one side of the issue, this research is helping farmers bypass the cruelty of dehorning calves to prevent livestock devastation but also preserve a livestock that will subsequently bring more money to the intended dairy industry. But do we consume genetically modified animals? Chickens that produce more protein with less feed and pigs that resist swine fever thus eliminating a disease that would devastate that particular faction of animal could become commonplace sooner than we think.

Research is important and desperately needed in order to improve quality of life. What is even more important is to know the ethics behind the research and its intentions. In any case, this article proves to be incredibly interesting in the scientific research realm and we will be sure to see how these calves are doing once studied at the University of California, Davis.

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I Thought RA’s Were For College Dorms…

When you’re on a college campus or climbing your way up the corporate ladder in the professional realm, acronyms become commonplace talk amongst your colleagues. Did you get that TPS report from our RBD referring to our COE award? Did our EOC grades get posted by our TA? You have to be careful though when speaking in acronyms because some may have multiple meanings. Such is the case with RA. No, we’re not talking about your resident advisor from your glory days in the freshman dorm. We’re talking about a more serious matter with the chronic inflammatory disorder known as Rheumatoid Arthritis, a chronic disease that affects over a million people usually over the age of 40 and more common among women.

Your immunological cells, your fighter cells, usually ward off foreign pathogens like bacteria and viruses that would cause harm to your body. These natural defenses sometimes make mistakes and start attacking your own, vital cells, causing inflammation and even complete destruction of certain cells. This “mistaken identity” causes autoimmune diseases, such as RA. With RA, the immune system attacks the body’s joints, creating inflammation that causes the tissue lining the inside of your joints, called the synovium, to thicken and swell. The synovium is where lubrication is produced to help joints move smoothly in motion.

The combination of reduced lubrication and increased inflammation causes pain in and around the joints and can even lead to more serious damage to the cartilage, the elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint and in the bones themselves. Joints can become loose with damage from RA and become unstable due to lack of mobility. Even joint deformity, an irreversible condition, can occur.

Think about the hardships of living with RA. It affects everything in your body dealing with motion: hands, feet, wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles. This means each keystroke on the computer, every twist of a bottle cap, every time you sit and stand at your desk, and each button you pull through your shirt comes with a jolt of pain that came from something out of your control. The causes of RA and many autoimmune diseases are still not fully understood, although the mechanism of action for the abnormal response in the body is understood. The Arthritis Foundation points out that genes, hormones, and environmental factors are involved, but nothing has been pinpointed as the ultimate culprit.

The environmental factors that cause physiological ailments aren’t the only problem: it’s actually intertwined with the emotional factors that cause the social ailments of living with RA and other autoimmune diseases. The physical pain of dealing with a chronic condition, meaning something you deal with that persists for a long time or constantly reoccurs, can cause serious changes in your mood and outlook on life. Even the thought of living with a debilitating illness can be just as debilitating as the illness. That may seem like a small play of words, but it actually plays out with patients struggling with RA. A study from the behavioral health department at Penn State University and published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that a positive attitude linked to fewer rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, showing that one’s mood can be associated with pain fluctuations. Basically, patients with more negative moods experienced greater pain or discomfort while those with more positive moods experienced fewer moments of pain or discomfort

This link, this binding connection, between one’s emotional state and physical well-being is key! Healthcare providers can help alleviate symptoms of RA by targeting depression and negative emotions associated with the diagnosis or progressed disease state. It puts just as much focus on the emotional component of living with chronic illnesses as it does the actual bodily harm that comes with the chronic illness, which further plays into the theme that patients are people too… not just lab values or disease condition.

CNN Health News recently published a report on alternative therapies for Rheumatoid Arthritis in combination (not as a replacement) with regular drug medications. Dr. Christopher Iliades points out that dietary supplements like Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Gamma-Linolenic Acids, flexibility and calming exercises like Yoga and Tai Chi, holistic remedies like ginger, green tea, tumeric, and boswellia, and even Acupuncture can help fight inflammation to relieve symptoms and reduce future flare-ups.

You see, there’s more that meets the eye to RA and it does have multiple meanings aside from those pesky nerds waiting to get catch you sneaking into the dorms after hours. RA represents a mass of people, with goals, dreams, and feelings that should never be diminished nor put in a box. Find strength in your weaknesses and get a positive outlook on life! There’s much to be gained with research, support groups, and online communities. You can find more information for support and education with the Arthritis Foundation or check out PPA’s website for research opportunities.

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Rise in Breast Cancer Incidence Among African American Women

News from the National Cancer Institute’s SEER program (Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Report) shows that the incidence of breast cancer in black women is now equal to that of white women. Although this may seem trivial at first glance, this dramatic increase poses a higher mortality rate for the African American race according to the New York Times. Overall, a black woman is 42 percent more likely to die from the disease than a white woman. With this same percentage of mortality and a higher incidence of breast cancer occurrence, more black women are at risk.

But why the dramatic increase? SEER and expert epidemiologists like Carol E. DeSantos of the American Cancer Society report that several factors could be contributing to this increase. The first factor investigated was the type of breast cancer factors common to each race. Black women are more likely to develop a less-treatable form of breast cancer called triple negative cancer while they trail behind white women in the diagnosis of the more-treatable form of breast cancer called estrogen-receptor positive disease. Obesity also plays a part in the presence of these estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer occurrences. Although more white women tend to have this diagnosis when compared to black women, black women have a much higher obesity rate (58% in 2012 compared to 33% in white women), which leads to an overall increase in cancerous tumors.

However, a societal shift may also lead to a later diagnosis of breast cancer, leading to more fatalities. There is a distinct schism in the amount of uninsured and insured within the African American community that delays the detection of breast cancer. According to Dr. Steven Whitman, director of the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago, although drastic advances in healthcare became widely available in the early 1990’s, white women gained access to those advances while black women did not. Economic disparities and even mistrust of the medical establishment contribute to the complicated web of racial pressures that affect access to quality care.

Ultimately, our health systems seems to have a racial divide that creates disparities in quality of care and promotes the increase of diseases and conditions that may be treatable otherwise. In this case, knowledge is power and getting a regular mammogram and health physicals with subsequent, consistent follow-up appointments with appropriate treatment could be the key to turn this figure around. Also, the New York Times article points out the lack of research studies involving African-American women with breast cancer adds additional fuel to the fire. Without their involvement and enrollment in these studies, it not only puts the researchers at a disadvantage to see if the proposed drugs actually work across racial boundaries but also puts less of an emphasis for proactive treatment and innovations within the community. The more people feel like they are contributing to research, the more involved and informed people will get.

PPA is currently recruiting patients who have been diagnosed with all types of cancer to participate in research. Also, East Tennessee’s chapter of the Cancer Society of America is located right here in Johnson City. Support research and support those in need.

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Hepatitis C: Cures, Costs, and Connotations

There’s a new drug on the market that is making headlines in the Hepatitis C spectrum: Harvoni, made by Gilead Sciences Inc. has made a massive impact this past year. 99% of patients taking one pill QD (once daily) for twelve weeks were completely cured of Hepatitis C according to a recent study of 865 patients with genotype 1 Hepatitis C with or without advanced liver disease. In a separate study, 96% of patients were completely cured, meaning that no detection of the hepatitis C virus could be found in the blood after 3 months post treatment.

Before delving further into the innovations of Harvoni and its associated drive in Medicare costs, let’s discover a little more about this particular viral infection. Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can be transmitted through exposure to infectious blood usually by needle stick or sex (“Viral Hepatitis- Hepatitis C Information”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Viral Hepatitis, 2015).

There are also certain stigmas associated with Hep C. Lucinda K. Porter, RN describes the stigmas surrounding patients living with Hepatitis C (HCV) in her article “A Guide to: Stigmas & Hepatitis C” from the HCV Advocate. She eloquently reports how hepatitis C patients feel as if the disease is misunderstood and people misinterpret why it happens and how it is prevented. Two stigmas associated with HCV are that HCV is easily transmittable and HCV patients have a history of injection drug abuse. These damaging stigmas lead to HCV patients with “reduced self-esteem, diminished mental health, less access to medical care, and fear of disclosing a positive status (“Stigma: Hepatitis C and Drug Abuse”, Janetta Astone-Twerell, Ph. D., Shiela M. Strauss, Ph.D., and Corrine Munoz-Plaza, M.PH. National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. 2006).”

Instead of nurturing these negative connotations of living with HCV, patients with HCV are able to support research by donating blood. Physicians Plasma Alliance has strong ties with research facilities at East TN State University that continuously conduct HCV research. Dr. Moorman and Dr. Yao lead this research through cell isolation laboratory technology and strive to make a difference in the treatment and prevention of HCV. They focus on the role of the immune system in the pathogenesis of hepatitis C infection. The goal of this research is to explain the mechanisms by which hepatitis C can enter the immune system and further investigate its specific pathology in infected patients. An additional goal is the translational application of research findings to patient care, thus studies involving patients infected with hepatitis C as well as co-infected with HIV are ongoing (“Immune Evasion by Hepatitis C Infection”, Department of Internal Medicine Research, 2015).

Making the lives of patients suffering from HCV is a common thread among advocates as well as researchers and healthcare providers looking for easier and more effective treatments. Unlike Hepatitis C treatments in the past, Harvoni combines two drugs- ledipasvir and sofosbuvir- without the addition of interferon and rivaviron treatment. This oral combination targets Hep C proteins to keep the virus from reproducing.

However, the cost of producing such drugs has skyrocketed. According to the Washington Post, Medicare’s prescription drug program spent almost $4.6 billion just this year alone on hepatitis C treatments, a cost which reflects the breakthrough of a cure. The market leaders for hepatitis C cures have a list price of $95,000 for the twelve-week treatment, averaging $1,100 for the once daily pill. An astronomical price that researchers are comparing to the long-term estimated costs of living with Hepatitis C (i.e. failed treatments, hospital stays, liver transplants, etc).

But who is picking up the tab? Taxpayers are the majority funder for Medicare Part D Program and a translated spike in higher deductible and maximum out-of-pocket spending will help cover the cost of this breakthrough. However, many patients are already seeing the benefits. A recently cured hepatitis C, Medicare patient in Texas reported that spending a monthly $35 co-pay for the treatment, a price well worth it.

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