Monthly Archives: October 2016

The dangerous bacteria Clostridium

C. difficile is a deadly diarrheal infection that poses a significant threat to U.S. health care patients,” Ileana Arias, principal deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a morning news conference. “C. difficile is causing many Americans to suffer and die.”

The germ is linked to about 14,000 deaths in the United States every year. People most at risk from C. difficile are those who take antibiotics and also receive care in any medical facility.

“This failure is more difficult to accept because these are treatable, often preventable deaths,” Arias said. “We know what can be done to do a better job of protecting our patients.”

Much of the growth of this bacterial epidemic has been due to the overuse of antibiotics, the CDC noted in its March 6 report. Unlike healthy people, people in poor health are at high risk for C. difficile infection.

Almost 50 percent of infections are among people under 65, but more than 90 percent of deaths are among those aged 65 and older, according to the report.

Previous estimates found that about 337,000 people are hospitalized each year because of C. difficile infections. Those are historically high levels and add at least $1 billion in extra costs to the health care system, the CDC said.

However, these estimates might not completely reflect C. difficile’s overall impact.

According to the new report, 94 percent of C. difficile infections are related to medical care, with 25 percent among hospital patients and 75 percent among nursing home patients or people recently seen in doctors’ offices and clinics.

Although the proportion of infection is lowest in hospitals, they are at the core of prevention because many infected patients are transferred to hospitals for care, raising the risk of spreading the infection there, the CDC said.

Half of those with C. difficile infections were already infected when they were admitted to the hospital, often after getting care at another facility, the agency noted.

The other 50 percent of infections were related to care at the hospital where the infection was diagnosed.

The CDC said that these infections could be reduced if health care workers follow simple infection control precautions, such as prescribing fewer antibiotics, washing their hands more often and isolating infected patients.

These and other measures have reduced C. difficile infections by 20 percent in hospitals in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, the CDC said.

In England, infections have been cut 50 percent in three years, the agency said.

Patients get C. difficile infections mostly after taking antibiotics, which can diminish the body’s “good” bacteria for several months.

Helps Heart and Brain

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

The study showed that overall the walkers had a 2 percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, compared with an average loss of about 1.4% in the control participants.

The researchers also found, improvements in fitness, measured by exercise testing on a treadmill, were significantly associated with increases in the volume of the hippocampus.

On the other hand, the study fell short of demonstrating a group effect on memory – both groups showed significant improvements both in accuracy and speed on a standard test. The apparent lack of effect, Kramer told MedPage Today, is probably a statistical artifact that results from large individual differences within the groups.

Analyses showed that that higher aerobic fitness levels at baseline and after the one-year intervention were associated with better spatial memory performance, the researchers reported.

But change in aerobic fitness was not related to improvements in memory for either the entire sample or either group separately, they found.

On the other hand, larger hippocampi at baseline and after the intervention were associated with better memory performance, they reported.

The results “clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” the researchers argued.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the Pittsburgh Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. The authors said they had no conflicts.

Healthcare Reform Law

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, siding with the 26 states that sued to block enforcement of the law.

The lawsuit, filed by 26 states that sued to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is considered likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson, of the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., stopped short of directing the federal government to stop implementing the law. Still, the ruling is the harshest legal action yet against the ACA.

Unlike a ruling last month by a judge in Richmond, Va., stating that the individual mandate portion of the ACA violates the Constitution, Vinson ruled the entire law “void” because the individual mandate provision can’t be separated out from the rest of the law.

Congress “exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate,” Vinson wrote in his 78-page ruling, which was released Monday afternoon. The mandate requires all citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” he concluded.

He did contend that Congress has the power to address the “problems and inequities in our health care system,” but that Congress overstepped its power in passing the ACA.

“There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford,” Vinson wrote. “This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”

While it was widely expected that Vinson would side with the states, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that he declared the entire law “void.”

The original lawsuit — which filed just hours after Obama signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010 — alleged that the “individual mandate” in the law exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but didn’t argue that the whole of the law is unconstitutional. The Commerce Clause permits the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

In October, when Vinson ruled the case could proceed, he said the states “had a plausible claim” in their argument that the law’s individual mandate violated the Commerce Clause.

The states argued that the government cannot force individuals to participate in the stream of commerce — in this case, the health insurance market.

The federal government responded that at some point, every U.S. citizen will seek medical care, and if that person chooses to not have insurance, the cost of his or her medical care is passed on to those with insurance. Thus, a choice to not participate in the commerce of healthcare doesn’t actually exist.

Two other judges have rejected challenges to the law, ruling that the ACA’s individual mandate provision is constitutional.

Other states that have joined the lawsuit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Common Among NFL Players

Retired National Football League players who abused opioid painkillers while active were most likely to use and abuse the same drugs after leaving the sport, the results of a telephone survey and analysis found.

The survey found more than half of the retired NFL players interviewed used opioid painkillers during their career. Of those, 71 percent reported misusing the drugs while playing, and 15 percent said they still abuse the prescription medication, Dr. Linda B. Cottler, of Washington University School of Medicine, and colleagues reported online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

The former broadcaster and NY Giants great, Frank Gifford, said, “pro football is like nuclear warfare. There are no winners, only survivors.”

The findings from Cottler’s survey support Gifford’s assessment.

An analysis of survey data showed the rate of opioid misuse while the retired players were active in the NFL was roughly three times greater than the lifetime rate of nonmedical use of opioids in the general population of approximately the same age.

Misuse in the past 30 days in retired players was seven percent, versus less than two percent in adults 26 and older in the general population. Looking only at men in the general population, the abuse rate is about two and half percent.

The final sample included 644 former players listed in the 2009 Retired NFL Football Players Association Directory who had retired from 1979 to 2006 and had at least one phone number listed.

They completed a phone interview that discussed general demographic data, health status, pain, impairment, alcohol use, prescription opioid use, and illicit drug use. Prescription opioid use was measured for while a player was active as well as over the past 30 days. Participants were categorized into users and nonusers. Users were subcategorized as having used the drugs as prescribed, or having misused them.

Misuse was defined as taking more of the drug than prescribed, using it in a way other than prescribed, using it after a prescription ended, using it for a different reason, or using it without a prescription.

When compared against players prescribed opioids while in the NFL and with those who were non-users during their NFL careers, 17 percent of those who misused while playing used as prescribed in the past 30 days, 15 percent misused in the past 30 days, and 68 percent reported no use.

In a multivariate analysis, moderate to severe pain, undiagnosed concussions, and drinking 20 or more alcoholic drinks a week were the strongest predictors of misuse. Undiagnosed concussions were reported by 81 percent of misusers.

“This association might have been due to the fact that those who choose not to report concussions are the same players who choose not to reveal their pain to a physician, thus managing their pain on their own,” the researchers wrote. “They may believe that if they report a concussion, they will be pulled from active play.”

The researchers noted the study may have been limited by lack of detailed pain information from while a player was active, a small sample size, a more inclusive definition of misuse that included abuse of opioids a player was prescribed, and a sample that included potentially more-healthy-than-average retired footballers — the researchers noted interviews with former players not in the Retired Players Association uncovered “multiple examples of serious and heavy opioid abuse.”

They added that future research could measure number of alcoholic drinks and level of pain while active in the NFL against opioid use and abuse.