Articles Posted in Travel Risks

cdc-logo-300x226When it comes to the nation’s health, the Trump Administration and the GOP-dominated Congress seem determined to prove they know how to do penny-wise and pound-foolish. They’re amply demonstrating this with proposed slashes in the nation’s basic budget for public health. They’re calling for a $1 billion cut for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, notably in the agency’s funding to combat bioterrorism and outbreaks of disease, as well as to battle smoking and to provide critical medical services like immunizations. Their target is the Prevention and Public Health Fund, set up under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. With the ACA under fire by partisans who want to repeal and replace it, the fund was already imperiled. GOP lawmakers, determined to cut domestic spending, seem disinclined to come up with substitute sums.

Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican congressman, physician, and House appropriations health subcommittee member, has been quoted as calling the public health money, “a slush fund.” He argued that, “It’s been used by the secretary [of health and human services] for whatever the secretary wants. It’s a misnomer to call it the Prevention and Public Health Fund, because it’s been used for other things, and it’s about time we eliminated it.”

The Obama Administration did embarrass Congress by tapping the fund to provide emergency aid last summer to Florida, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and other states battling tropical infections, including Zika and dengue fever. Congress took a long recess vacation, as states clamored for help for mosquito eradication and vaccine development to deal with Zika, a virus that can cause severe birth defects and other harms.

Because the holidays should be filled with abundant joy, here are a few ways to safeguard the health and well-being of you and yours in the days ahead:

house fireDon’t ignore deadly fire dangers

The tragic Oakland, Calif., warehouse-concert hall blaze that claimed at least 36 lives has provided a timely reminder: Fires remain a huge concern, and, especially as cold weather sets in and families add seasonal lighting displays, caution needs to be a watchword. Yes, building codes have improved admirably over time, and fire fighters and many inspectors do a public service that deserves a salute. But affordable housing, especially in big cities like Washington, D.C., remains in crisis shortage. This has forced many, including young people, into overcrowded, substandard housing—some as little more than squatters in dangerous, vacant, or dubious buildings. Meantime, many homeowners resort to space heaters or other devices (including turning on kitchen stoves and ovens) as temperatures fall. Or they’re putting up flashy holiday light displays or even Christmas trees with risky electricals. These excesses can overwhelm safety systems, and not every property owner does due diligence to maintain now common household alarms.  The National Fire Protection Association reports that firefighters across the country in 2015 responded to more than 1.3 million blazes, which killed more than 3,200 Americans and injured almost 16,000, and caused more than $14 billion in damages.  U.S. fire departments, between 2010 and 2014, responded to an estimated average of 210 home fires per year that began with Christmas trees. These blazes caused an annual average of six civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, and $16.2 million in direct property damage. Common sense doesn’t change: Be careful while cooking holiday feasts. Think super safety when setting up holiday displays. Reconsider if portable heaters make sense in your home. Ensure your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms are working. Click here for some seasonal fire safety ideas.

aedes-aegyptiThe 2016 Summer Olympic Games are about to launch, and who would have guessed that Miami, and not Rio, is the city that officials are buzzing about because of the tropical malady Zika?

State and local officials say they are stepping up the battle against the mosquito-borne scourge after confirming four locally contracted Zika cases in a neighborhood not far from downtown Miami; none of the cases can be tracked to those who might have traveled outside the United States or engaged in unprotected sex with a Zika carrier−the means by which the infection has occurred, thus far, in the American mainland.

The confirmation of a localized spread of Zika has prompted a major push for pest detection and control in the Wynwood area, a bohemian neighborhood with many restaurants and art galleries.

stemcellBeneficial therapies can topple over to medical nightmares in a blink, especially when regulators seem to have looked askance or even shut their eyes and slumbered. The Food and Drug Administration may need to look into what  is going on with the burgeoning business of so-called stem cell treatments.

Two academics took to the Internet and found “at least 351 businesses in 570 locations …marketing stem cell therapies that have not been fully vetted by medical researchers or blessed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration,” they reported in the peer reviewed, academic journal Cell Stem Cell.

To be sure, they did not visit the facilities in person, and they use care not to describe any of them as violating state or federal laws or regulations. They used rigorous, robust online means, though, to look at the operations’ Internet pitches, which, as The Los Angeles Times notes:

Health officials and parents in Brazil are grappling with a surge of birth defects traced to mosquitoes. In the last year, more than 2,700 infants have been born with microcephaly, tiny heads and brains that leave children permanently disabled. That rate is about 20 times higher than recent years.

The culprit receiving tentative blame is Zika, a tropical virus named for the Ugandan forest where it was first found decades ago. The infection can cause microcephaly. Its presence was detected in the amniotic fluid of two mothers with microcephalic babies. Health officials also are finding that other moms who delivered malformed children reported Zika symptoms during their pregnancy.

Brazilians have stepped up their long-running and sometimes successful war on aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries Zika and other diseases, including dengue fever, yellow fever, and chikungunya. Before the Zika outbreak, Brazil already was waging a pitched battle against dengue fever, which in 2015 had infected 1 million — twice the number of infections from the year previous. Dengue fever killed at least 839 Brazilians in 2015, an 89 percent increase in fatalities over the year previous.

Here’s a buzz-kill alert: Although I’m wishing all the very best for the season, for those headed to vacation in sunny, tropical climes, I’m also hoping to put a tiny bug in your ear — be aware of local health conditions and protect yourself from tiny nipping critters, because tropical diseases continue to surge in new ways.

If you’re headed to Hawaii, the Big Island in particular, you should know the 50th state is coping with an unusual outbreak of dengue fever, with 157 cases confirmed already of an illness that is not endemic and is believed to have been spread by a visitor to local mosquitoes that have carried the disease further.

Dengue afflicts its victims with fever, sweats, headache, and a wracking, deep pain in the eyes and joints that gives rise to its nickname as a “bone fever.” It also is a hemorrhagic disease, meaning in its more severe instances it can cause capillaries to leak, leading to circulatory failure. Although a dengue vaccine has won regulatory approval in Mexico, there are no effective treatments for the illness, which typically runs its course in a week or two, after which the fever and pain subside and patients usually fully recover. There are four strains of dengue and those who recover from one do not necessarily get immunity from the others.

At this time of year, many people are in vacation mode, and some purchase travel insurance. But if you don’t have pre-existing medical conditions, should you insure your trip with medical coverage?

According to KaiserHealthNews.org, “Most comprehensive travel insurance policies cover pre-existing conditions if you buy coverage within 14 to 21 days of making your first trip payment, says Lynne Peters, insurance product manager at insuremytrip.com, a website that offers plans from 25 companies.”

But if you’re traveling sooner than that, you can still get coverage if you haven’t needed medical attention recently for a chronic issue such as diabetes or back trouble.

It seems like every month brings another story about some dire medical problem aboard a cruise ship where the subjects’ misery is compounded by their inability to seek legal relief. But after more than a century, it looks as though cruise passengers now might be able to sue for medical malpractice.

As reported last month by the Associated Press (AP), a federal appeals court ruled that the exemption to malpractice liability that cruise lines were given through a series of court cases no longer should apply. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that the most recent such ruling, known as “Barbetta,” is outdated law. Previous rulings had said that cruise passengers shouldn’t expect the same level of medical care on a ship as they get on land, and that ships’ doctors and nurses were private contractors beyond the cruise lines’ direct control.

So if you got sick or suffered an injury while taking a cruise, it was your bad.

Travel can be challenging enough without the added difficulty of getting sick. One way to prevent this unfortunate circumstance, or to minimize its effect once it happens, is to visit the travel website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) before you go.

In addition to general consumer information, such as how to find a clinic when you’re on the road, travel medicine resources (books, journal articles, etc.) and websites for state department offices where you’re headed, the CDC also offers direction about how to prepare specifically for your destination, such as what vaccinations are required and/or suggested.

It also helps refine your planning by:

At this high-travel time of year, looking around the cabin at all the passengers coughing and sneezing, you might wonder how likely you are to contract an infectious disease from a fellow air traveler.

Good news: You’re pretty well protected against dire disease, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times. It recalled how, a few weeks ago, more than 70 passengers on a US Airways Express plane were greeted onboard a jet in Phoenix by police and paramedics, who announced that a fellow flier might have tuberculosis, causing much consternation among both passengers and health authorities.

As it turned out, testing by the local county health department later confirmed the passenger was not infected with TB, and that his fellow travelers were safe from that contagious airborne disease. Even better, it’s extremely rare for a passenger with a highly contagious disease even to be able to board a commercial plane, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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