Avatar of John Lundy

About John Lundy

John Lundy covers health and health-related issues for The Duluth News Tribune. He's a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.

Not dependent, just drinking a lot

People who drink too much are alcoholics, or at least are alcohol-dependent.

Right?

Usually not, according to a study that appears today in Preventing Chronic Disease, the journal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nine out of 10 adults who drink too much alcohol are not alcoholics and aren’t alcohol-dependent, the study concluded.

The study found that almost one out of every three of us drinks excessively. Most are binge drinkers, usually on multiple occasions. But only about one in 30 adults is classified as alcohol-dependent.

The study defines excessive drinking as:

  • Binge drinking — four or more drinks on an occasion for women; five or more drinks for men
  • Consuming eight or more drinks within a week for women or 15 or more drinks for men
  • Any alcohol use by pregnant women
  • Any alcohol use by individuals younger than 21.

This doesn’t explain why a lot of people who aren’t alcohol-dependent nonetheless drink more than they should. But whatever the cause, the cost is enormous. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, and it takes a $223.5 billion annual toll on the economy.

The study was conducted by scientists from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They analyzed data on 138,100 U.S. adults ages 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009, 2010 or 2011.

Contact John Lundy at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

 

Ebola hysteria

Confusion seems to continue to circle around Ebola. When I interviewed Dr. Johan Bakken, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s, earlier this week, he placed the blame on — ahem — the media.

“As a reporter you know that sensations sell better than plain facts,” he told me.

Touche.

My guess is that misinformation has been spread much more through the Internet than through traditional media. And since we are here on the Internet, perhaps this is a good place to share some plain facts about Ebola, as provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  1. Ebola is NOT spread through casual contact, air, water or food grown or legally purchased in the United States.
  2. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids of someone who is already showing symptoms of the disease.
  3. The symptoms of Ebola include: fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite and abnormal bleeding. They may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus.
  4. If a person does not have symptoms, they are not contagious. To receive the virus, an individual would have to have direct contact with an individual who is experiencing symptoms or has died of the disease.

It’s reasonable to conclude from the above that a person riding a bicycle cannot possibly be a public health threat, even if she did recently return from West Africa.

It’s also reasonable to conclude that Dr. Craig Spencer of New York, who later was diagnosed with Ebola, was not a threat to public health¬† before his symptoms appeared.

“He went bowling, he rode the subway — but he was perfectly well, placing no one at risk,” Bakken said. “And the minute he noticed the onset of fever, he contacted public health officials and put into quarantine, and appropriately so.”

Contact John Lundy at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

 

The salty 10

Question: What are the 10 biggest sources of sodium in the diets of American schoolchildren?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention named the salty 10 as part of a “Vital Signs” report, released today, on sodium consumption among U.S. kids.

CDC graphic

The report concludes that more than 90 percent of U.S. children, ages 6 to 18 years, eat more sodium than recommended. This puts them at risk for developing high blood pressure and heart disease later in life, the CDC says.

Those schoolkids consume an average of about 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day even before adding salt at the table, the CDC says. The recommended amount is less than 2,300 mg per day.

About 65 percent of their sodium comes from store foods, 13 percent from fast food and pizza restaurant foods and 9 percent from school cafeteria foods.

So here’s the list of foods responsible for 43 percent of the sodium American children consume, according to the CDC:

  1. Pizza
  2. Bread and rolls
  3. Cold cuts/cured meats
  4. Savory snacks
  5. Sandwiches
  6. Cheese
  7. Chicken patties/nuggets/tenders
  8. Pasta mixed dishes
  9. Mexican mixed dishes
  10. Soups

Contact John Lundy at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

Are residents paid enough?

The website Medscape wondered how medical residents were faring, so it asked them.

To compile its Residents Salary & Debt Report 2014, Medscape used an online survey. More than 1,200 residents representing 25 specialties responded between June 20 and July 7, the website reported in an email.

The bottom line: The average resident is paid $55,300. It’s a bit less in the Great Lakes states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio — where the average is $54,000.

But here’s the rub: 36 percent of those residents said they owed more than $200,000 in medical school debt. Another 22 percent owed between $100,000 and $200,000. Those numbers didn’t surprise me, but I was mildly surprised to see that 25 percent of residents reported no debt.

Male residents, on average, make $56,000, compared with $54,000 for female residents. But when asked if they were satisfied with their pay, 57 percent of the women said yes; only 48 percent of the men said yes.

There’s a conclusion to be reached from that, but I’m not sure what it is.

All of this makes me wonder about the pay, debt and satisfaction of medical residents in the Northland. I’m not going to do an online survey, but if any residents would be willing to talk — and to be quoted — I’d be interested in talking to you.

You can respond to this post, email me at jlundy@duluthnews.com, or call me at (218) 624-2906.

The truth about ticks

About the time I wrote my annual story about the Minnesota Department of Health’s annual warning about ticks, an email arrived from someone representing insectshield.com.

The company called Insect Shield makes apparel designed to keep ticks and other vermin away.

If this blog were wearing insect-repellant clothing, it wouldn’t have a deer tick attached to it.

But the information they provided was from the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center.Their website is tickencounter.com.

Here are their top 10 facts you need to know about ticks, only two of which might lead you to patronize the Insect Shield folks:

  1. Ticks crawl up. They don’t jump, fly, or drop from trees.
  2. All ticks, including deer ticks, come in small, medium and large sizes.
  3. Ticks can be active even in winter. Deer ticks aren’t killed by freezing conditions and will be active any winter day that the ground is not snow-covered or frozen. This, of course, excludes almost all winter days in northern Minnesota.
  4. Ticks carry disease-causing microbes.
  5. Only deer ticks transmit Lyme disease bacteria.
  6. For most tick-borne diseases, you have at least 24 hours to find and remove a feeding tick before it transmits an infection.
  7. Deer tick nymphs look like poppy seed on your skin.
  8. The easiest and safest way to remove a tick is with a pointy tweezer.
  9. Clothing with built-in tick repellant is best for preventing tick bites.
  10. Tick bites and tick-borne diseases are preventable. “Reducing tick abundance in your yard, wearing tick repellant clothing every day, treating pets every month and getting into a habit of doing a quick body scan are all great actions for preventing tick bites,” tickencounter.com explains.

You can reach John Lundy at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

 

Fewer teens smoking

Bits and pieces from the world of health:

  • Cigarette smoking among U.S. high school students is at its lowest level since a survey began in 1991, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.

In 2013, 15.7 percent of U.S. teens smoked cigarettes, according to the CDC’s annual National Youth Risk Behavior Survey. That means the country has achieved its Healthy People 2020 objective of 16 percent or fewer teens smoking cigarettes, the CDC reported. But 23 percent of male high school seniors smoke cigars.

Fighting has continued to decline as well. The percentage of high school students who reported having been in a physical fight within the past 12 months was 25 percent last year. In 1991, it was 42 percent. Fights on school property have been cut in half during the past two decades, the CDC’s survey said.

Sexual activity declined, too, since 1991, but not by a lot — from 38 percent to 34 percent.

For the first time, the survey asked teens about texting or emailing while driving. Among those who had driven a vehicle within the previous 30 days, 41 percent said they had sent texts and/or emails.

  • Six thousand steps or more a day can protect those with or at risk of knee osteoarthritis from having difficulty getting up from a chair or climbing stairs.

So says a study published on Thursday in the journal Arthritis Care & Research.

In the study, led by Daniel White of Boston University’s Sargent College, researchers measured daily steps taken by 1,788 people with or at risk for the condition. At 6,000 steps or more, participants experienced benefits, according to a news release from Wiley, the journal’s publisher.

Osteoarthritis of the knees is the leading cause of functional limitation among older adults, the news release stated. Previous medical evidence shows that two-thirds of U.S. adults with arthritis walk less than 90 minutes a week.

  • Online enrollment on MNsure.org won’t be available this weekend, the agency announced. The shutdown will last from 9 this evening (Friday, June 13) and continue to 6 a.m. Monday.

At the same time, the call center will be closed on Saturday and Sunday and again on Saturday, June 21. Beginning June 23, its summer hours will be 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.

System updates will be performed on both the online and phone systems, a MNsure news release said.

Although open enrollment is closed, individuals with qualifying life events, Native Americans, small businesses and those in Medical Assistance or Minnesota Care can enroll throughout the year.

John Lundy is the health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

 

What do they make?

It’s not a huge difference, but on average doctors in the Great Lakes region make more than doctors in any other part of the country.

So says the annual Physician Compensation Report compiled by Medscape, a medical information website designed for health professionals.

The average pay last year for a physician in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana and Ohio was $258,000, Medscape reports. Just behind that was the $257,000 annual pay in the North Central states — the Dakotas, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri.

The lowest average pay — although not a lot lower — was $239,000 in the Northeast and $240,000 in the Mid-Atlantic states.

Keep in mind that while most of us are accumulating wealth, would-be doctors still are working their way through medical school. They’re accumulating unimaginable student loan debts in the process. And let’s face it: Most of us aren’t cut out to be physicians. It’s not surprising or illogical that they’re compensated fairly well.

In fact, some doctors don’t feel they’re paid well enough. Only 37 percent of plastic surgeons feel they’re compensated fairly, according to the Medscape report (average yearly pay for the specialty: $321,000).

On the other hand, 64 percent of dermatologists are satisfied with their pay. (Average pay: $308,000, just behind plastic surgeons.)

By far, the best-compensated specialty is orthopedics, an average of $413,000. At the bottom: HIV/ID specialists: $174,000.

You can reach me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.

 

Medical marijuana advocates elevate battle with Dayton

The advocacy group that’s leading the charge for medical marijuana legislation in Minnesota is taking to the airwaves in its ongoing battle with Gov. Mark Dayton.

Minnesotans for Compassionate Care announced this morning that a 30-second TV commercial “slamming Gov. Mark Dayton for blocking effective medical marijuana legislation” will premiere during the “Tonight Show” on Minnesota stations tonight.

The commercial features Angela Garin of St. Paul and her 5-year-old son, Paxton. Garin says her son’s seizures were reduced by 88 percent when he was given medical marijuana during a trip to Oregon, where it is legal.

The Duluth News Tribune in January portrayed a Hibbing couple, Josh and Angie Weaver, who also are involved in seeking passage of the legislation. Their daughter, Amelia, has a form of epilepsy known as Dravet syndrome and suffers frequent seizures.

The bill was authored by Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing. Proponents say they’ve compromised to the point that it would be the most restrictive medical marijuana act in existence.

For his part, Dayton has proposed legislation under which medical marijuana would be studied at the Mayo Clinic. He has said he would not support a measure that didn’t have the backing of law enforcement. But medical groups such as the Minnesota Medical Association and the Minnesota Psychiatric Association also have concerns about medical marijuana, he said in a statement. And the Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota supports his bill, he said.

The medical marijuana advocates say they plan to deliver a petition to Dayton’s office on Thursday calling on him to “stop blocking” Melin’s bill.

You can contact me at jlundy@duluthnews.com.

 

MNsure gets its own day

Tomorrow is “MNsure Day” in Duluth and the Twin Cities.

So says a news release from MNsure, the Minnesota agency entrusted with implementing the Affordable Care Act’s online health insurance marketplace in this state.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman signed proclamations making it thus, the news release says.

Parade marshals?

I envisioned a MNsure Day Parade led by Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox, the program’s erstwhile spokeslegends. I looked forward to attending the MNsure Day picnic.

Sadly, no such events appear to be in order.

Instead, the mayors’ proclamations say the day is all about beginning “the final weekend push for Minnesotans to obtain quality, affordable health coverage.”
That’s because the enrollment period for this year ends at the end of the day on Tuesday. Except that it doesn’t really, since the state and the Obama administration have extended the deadline.

You can contact me at: jlundy@duluthnews.com.