Appalachia Health News

Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton covers topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Her reports document the health-related innovation, improvement and success within the Appalachian region.

Follow her on twitter at @KaraLofton and #Appalachiahealth

Appalachia Health News is produced with support from the Claude Worthington Benedum FoundationCAMCMarshall Health and WVU Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton will be covering topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Kids in Charleston play soccer at the 25th annual Healthy Kids Day while volunteers from the WV State football team supervise on Saturday, April 21, 2018.
Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

At the YMCA in Charleston, friends Jaidyn, Ceaira, Shayla and Tyra have just gotten down from the mobile rock wall. They’re all 12 and are a little giggly about being back down on the ground.

“My favorite part of today was climbing that rock wall because -- that was scary,” Tyra said.

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A new study has found cigarette smoking and other environmental pollutants may increase the likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis, as well as cause the disease to be more severe in those who do get it.

Scientists have known for decades that people with a particular gene have an increased risk for rheumatoid arthritis. More recent studies have found that smoking further increases the likelihood that people with that gene will get rheumatoid arthritis and that it will be more severe.

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The National Institute for Early Education Research released its annual State of Preschool report today.

The report found that more young children in the United States are enrolled in public pre-K programs than were in 2002, but that not all of those programs are preparing young learners for kindergarten.

West Virginia, though, is one of 10 states that the report said has both expanded access to pre-K while maintaining high quality standards. West Virginia is also one of 10 states with the highest number of 3- and 4-year-olds enrolled in preschool.

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The Journal of the American Medical Association published a 26-year study on the burden of diseases and injuries in the U.S. The report found that West Virginia has the lowest healthy life expectancy years of any state in the union. West Virginia’s rate is almost 18 years lower than the healthiest life expectancy state - Hawaii. The greatest disease burden was caused by heart disease and lung cancer.

The main risk factors associated with U.S. morbidity and mortality are poor diet, smoking, high blood pressure and obesity.

Erika Kapin Photography

Doctor Pamela Murray is is the chief of adolescent medicine at West Virginia University. In the next installment of our occasional series "Windows into Health Care," Kara Lofton talks with Murray about the role adolescent specialists play in West Virginia, and how treating the child most effectively, sometimes means getting the whole family on board.

LOFTON: When we think about medicine, we usually think about pediatrics and then we think about adult medicine. I mean, what is young adult and adolescent medicine and kind of, how does those differ from those other two ends?

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A new study found that major adverse life events, called fateful life events by the research community, such as divorce, conflict, death in the family or financial hardship can measurably accelerate aging in the brain in middle aged men. Just one fateful event could cause the brain to appear a third of year older than their chronological age, based on an MRI.

The researchers studied almost 360, primarily white men ages 57 to 66.

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A new study has found that childhood weight gain may have a negative impact on liver health in children as young as eight.

The study found that bigger waist circumference at age 3, raises the likelihood that by age 8, children will have markers for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat accumulates in the liver and triggers inflammation, causing liver damage. It’s the most common chronic liver condition in children and adolescents.

Kara Lofton

One West Virginia city is trying a new approach to persuade more overdose patients to seek treatment. The idea is simple: Within 24 to 72 hours of an overdose, a "quick response team" fans out into the community and tries to meet with the patient to discuss treatment options. A handful of similar programs exist around the country, but West Virginia's first team launched in December in Huntington with the help of two federal grants. Health officials said it already has been remarkably successful.

 


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Yesterday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources announced 48 Child Protective Services positions will be added across the state.

In a press release, the DHHR said the positions will primarily serve counties with extremely high caseloads.

Kara Lofton

During the teacher strike a couple weeks ago, West Virginia educators were asking for two main things: a pay raise and for legislators to “fix PEIA.” While the prorgam’s finance board ultimately agreed to freeze proposed changes to the plan that would have increased costs, truly fixing PEIA on the long term might not be that simple.

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The free clinic West Virginia Health Right held a press conference yesterday (Wednesday) in Charleston in response to a newspaper article that lumped Health Right’s Needle exchange program in with the City of Charleston. Charleston’s needle exchange program recently came under fire from Charleston Mayor Danny Jones and Police Chief Steve Cooper due to an increase in the number of needles found in public places.

The Kanawha-Charleston Health Department launched a needle exchange program in 2015 to reduce the risk of exposure to HIV and hepatitis C.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

“We have a problem that’s bringing us to our knees,” said West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Cabinet Secretary Bill Crouch at a press event in Charleston. A representative from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration visited West Virginia Monday to announce an additional $330,000 of funding for opioid abuse prevention and treatment.

“The opioid problem and substance abuse problem affects virtually every family in West Virginia,” he continued.

WVU

The Center for Disease Control’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health released a study on the largest cluster of complicated black lung cases ever reported. Kara Lofton spoke with WVU School of Public Health physicians Carl Werntz and Anna Allen about the study and what it means for West Virginia.

ALLEN: We actually have been noticing this trend over the last, about 18 years, that it has been going back up. And I think this might have just been the study that captured it in a, in the big picture.

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A new study has found that women with high physical fitness at middle age were nearly 90 percent less likely to develop dementia decades later, compared to women who were moderately fit.

 

The study measured women’s cardiovascular fitness based on an exercise test. When the highly fit women did develop dementia, they developed it an average of 11 years later than women who were moderately fit, or at age 90 rather than 79.

 

WVU

LOFTON: So, you are the new director of the Drug Control Policy Office. Previously, you were executive director and health officer of the Kanwaha-Charleston Health Department. You did deal with a lot of opioid issues at the Health Department previously. Will your strategy change in this new position?

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The 2018 County Health Rankings report was released today. It found significant health disparities across the state, particularly between the north and south.

Kara Lofton

The new Public Employee’s Insurance Agency task force met today at the Capitol. The task force was mandated by the governor in response to recent striking by teachers who demanded the state Legislature to “fix PEIA.” Teachers protested increased premiums and health costs, as well as a pay raise.

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A new survey of women from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that coverage rates for women are at all-time highs, but many women still face affordability and access challenges.

In 2013, nearly one in five women were uninsured. In 2017, after the Affordable Care Act was implemented, that number dropped to one in ten. Nationally, more than 60 percent of women were insured through private insurance. 14 percent of women were insured through Medicaid. More than a third of West Virginians – male and female - are on Medicaid.

Kara Lofton

A West Virginia prevention program targeted at high risk diabetes patients is showing almost immediate results for participants such as Selena Hanshaw, a working mom of four kids ages 6 to 20.

“As a mother of four, I know for myself, you just kind of forget about yourself. You’re just so worried about care for everyone else, you kind of neglect yourself,” said Hanshaw. “I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I had diabetes. I wanted to pretend that it didn’t exist.”

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A Charleston-based law firm has filed a class action suit against 21 medical companies, including the opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma to sue for damages incurred by prenatal exposure to opioids

The suit was filed this week by the firm Thompson and Barney. Kevin Thompson said the intent is to create a fund for babies born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, meaning infants born dependent to opioids.

“In this case the equitable relief would be a medical monitoring fund,” Thompson said.

Kara Lofton

Several West Virginia health organizations, including West Virginia Prevention First and the state's Department of Health and Human Resources have joined together to launch the Health & Hope WV Initiative. Prevention First is a conglomeration of organizations that collect and disseminate information and facilitate communication, according to a press release.

Organizers say they hope the new site and media content will both serve as a comprehensive resource and help combat some of the stigma addiction still faces.

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Analysis of recent hospital billing records across the country found that charges for outpatient cancer services vary widely from facility to facility, but on average, exceed what Medicare patients are charged by two to six fold.

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A new study from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health has found that a significant number of e-cigarette devices generate aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and/or nickel. Chronic inhalation of these metals has been linked to lung, liver, immune, cardiovascular and brain damage, as well as cancers.

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Taking as little as a 15-minute walk after each meal can help you lose weight, lower blood sugar, improve circulation and aid in digestion among other things, according to Mon Health family medicine doctor Gabrielle Sakellarides.

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A group of Marshall University students, faculty and staff have assisted in stopping child trafficking cases in Latin America. The work was done through a partnership with the nonprofit Operation Underground Railroad.

The work involved sex trafficking cases in Latin America, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia. Select students in Marshall’s Open Source Intelligence Exchange program worked to provide open source intelligence collection and analysis for law enforcement and other clients. Open source refers to data collection from publicly available sources.

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Outside of a 4th Avenue bus stop in Huntington, Ronni Stone is smoking a cigarette. She started when she was 15 years old and has been smoking for 35 years. She says she’s tried to quit about four times but was only able to last for about a week before the withdrawal symptoms made her light up again.

Marshall University
Wikipedia / en.wikipedia.org

A Marshall University physician has been awarded a five-year almost 11 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate obesity and obesity-related conditions in West Virginia.

Uma Sundaram, vice dean for research at the Marshall University School of Medicine and a gastroenterologist, will be the grant’s principal investigator.

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West Virginia will be the first state in the nation to allow Medicaid to fund treatment for newborns exposed to opioids in the womb.

When their exposure to opioids ends at birth, infants with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome experience withdrawal symptoms. They include tremors, vomiting, seizures, excessive crying and sensitivity to loud noises, lights and colors. Infants are weaned from opioid dependence by using small doses of morphine or methadone.

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Eight years ago, Chelsea Carter was facing up to 20 years in federal prison for burglary and conspiracy charges. Instead, her judge sent her to drug court where she was able to get treatment.

 

She has since completed a master’s degree in counseling and earlier this month, petitioned the Boone County court to expunge her record, a request that was granted. Here’s Carter telling her own story of addiction and how drug court, “saved her life,” as she puts it.

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About 700 women across the United States die each year from pregnancy or pregnancy-related complications. A new report has found that most of those deaths are preventable. 

The report published by the CDC Foundation used data from nine maternal mortality review committees. The committees estimate more than 60 percent of pregnancy-related deaths were preventable. Nearly 50 percent were caused by hemorrhage, cardiovascular conditions, or infection, but the conditions causing death varied widely by race.

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