Articles Posted in Statistics

flu1918-300x209Although shots carry their own risks, just as any medical treatment does, new data from 2017’s killer flu season shows the folly of patients ignoring influenza’s wrath and skipping the vaccination for it. Youngsters and seniors, especially, need to get these inoculations.

The federal Centers for Disease and Control reported that 80,000 Americans died last winter due to the flu, the infectious disease’s highest toll in 40 years, far exceeding the previous peak of 56,000 such deaths recorded decades earlier.

Youngsters were hit hard in the most recent season, as the Washington Post reported:

theater-228x300What’s an internist to do when an 81-year-old patient, already in failing health with advanced emphysema, seeks a second opinion because he’s been told his prostate specific antigen (PSA) levels are unacceptably high? This senior also has been advised to schedule a prostate biopsy urgently to determine if he has cancer. Can this discussion with both a scared patient — and his bright, concerned personal doctor — be any tougher?

For Andrew Lazris, who is also a geriatric specialist practicing in Maryland, this was a hard, complicated case because it involved his dying dad.

It also exemplified for him the work that he has undertaken with Eric Rifkin, an environmental scientist and adjunct researcher at Johns Hopkins University, in ensuring that patients retain their fundamental and critical right to have a say in their care. And, in doing so, they have developed what they argue is a clear, comprehensible way to help patients grasp and deal with the inevitable uncertainties, risks, and complexities of the array of medical treatments they can get overwhelmed with by doctors, hospitals, Big Pharma, medical device makers, and others in health care.

cdcnytopioidtoll-300x262In 2017, drug overdoses killed 72,000 Americans, a 10 percent increase over 2016 and yet another record, according to the latest provisional federal estimates.

That single year toll would be more than double the American deaths attributed to the Korean War, and almost 1.25 times those  caused by the Vietnam War. The New York Times reported that 2017’s overdose deaths were “higher than the peak yearly death totals from HIV, car crashes or gun deaths.”

The newspaper said experts, analyzing the numbers, blamed them on a few reasons (see NYT chart above): “A growing number of Americans are using opioids, and drugs are becoming more deadly. It is the second factor that most likely explains the bulk of the increased number of overdoses last year.”

alslat-254x300The National Football League, which long has resisted the growing reality that game-related head blows can cause major harms to its players, may be providing yet new and unintended warnings about the sustained damages of concussions.

The Los Angeles Times reported that pro football’s pay-outs, as part of its billion-dollar head-injuries settlement with NFL players and their union, have been surprisingly high in cases where retirees have claimed damages due to Parkinson’s and ALS.

Parkinson’s, the newspaper noted, is a “progressive movement disorder that produces tremors, impaired movement, and slurred speech.” It is “marked by the buildup of proteins called Lewy bodies in brain cells.” ALS, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a condition affecting “nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord and ultimately results in a fatal inability to initiate and control muscle movement.”

mock-high-school-car-crash-300x169How outraged and motivated to political action might you be if an avoidable disaster in a week claimed the lives of all the youngsters in your kids’ school?  How upset might Americans be if a calamity wiped out in 24 hours  seven NBA professional basketball teams, or two pro NFL squads?

David Leonhardt, associate editor of the New York Times Editorial Page, threw a powerful jab in his Op-Ed at lawmakers and regulators who, as always, seem to be shrugging off not only the summer deadliest season but also the rising annual toll of road deaths. The carnage has made America’s streets and highways the most dangerous in the industrialized world.

As Leonhardt points out, federal data show that 100 people die daily in US vehicle wrecks. Many are young. They’re killed by drunken, distracted, and drugged drivers, or they die due to their own bad decisions, including poor maintenance of their vehicles, or because of bad luck.

medpricehikes-210x300With Americans spending more than $3 trillion annually on health care, the corrosive and crazy effects of all that big money can become almost common place. Even still, hospitals, doctors, and Big Pharma still manage to come up with plenty of, Aw, really, c’mon kinds of financial situations.

Recent news reports, for example, have focused on such dubious dollars and cents concerns like: bedside loans, disparities (price gouging) in cancer care, and, of course, skimpy health insurance plans.

Caveat emptor? Not already infuriated by some recent visual depictions of the upside-down state of costs in the U.S. health care system (see figures*) Read on:

belts-300x163Preventive measures, even small ones, can be life changing and lifesaving. They can safeguard drivers and passengers in car wrecks, protect young folks during a bad flu season, and ensure that fewer Americans still take up one of the proven, major health harms — smoking.

Let’s start with a simple, often overlooked vehicular precaution: Buckle up that seat belt, please. As New York Times columnist David Leonhardt noted in a recent Opinion section roundup, the number of Americans killed on the roads who fail to wear vehicle restraints, notably seat belts, has hovered “between 48 percent and 51 percent in each of the past five years.”

Yes, that’s a correct figure: Roughly half of those killed didn’t use one of the most publicized, almost reflexive safety steps around.

us-cash-184x300Here’s something that many Americans likely would want to think twice about letting happen: Should good health and long lives be just another of the spoils reserved to the rich?

Vox, a news and information site, has posted a provocative dig into national data on longevity — a measure that has raised experts’ concern with its recent rare, two-years-in-a-row dive, notably due to fatal overdoses of opioid drugs, including prescription painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl.

Experts scrutinizing the data, Vox says, keep finding that “what’s often lost in the conversation about the uptick in [U.S.] mortality … is that this trend isn’t affecting all Americans. In fact, there’s one group … that’s doing better than ever: the rich. While poor and middle-class Americans are dying earlier these days, the wealthiest among us are enjoying unprecedented longevity.”

alcohol-248x300When topics like booze and health flow together, common sense seems to disappear. So let’s give credit to the context-restoring efforts of Aaron Carroll— a pediatrics faculty member at Indiana University medical school, a health policy researcher, and a writer for the New York Times’ “Upshot” column—and healthnewsreview.org, a health information watch dog site.

Both addressed a “panic” in certain quarters generated by a new caution issued by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists. The respected organization of cancer medical specialists said that even light alcohol consumption can add to drinkers’ cancer risks.

As Carroll summarized the cancer experts warning:

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