Beach horror: Can sandcastles make your kids sick?

Is there anything more wholesome than children building sandcastles on an American beach?

Guess again, vacationers. The Environmental Protection Agency and pediatricians have issued warnings that beach sand can contain pollutant and bacteria especially harmful to children.

The Palm Beach Post’s news partner, Channel 5, WPTV noted that beaches are occasionally closed because of poor water quality.

A study five years ago among some 5,000 beach visitors, found that those who dug in the most contaminated sand were twice as likely to fall ill with diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach aches.

And it came from the deep. EPA and health officials warn building sand castles can be dangerous to your child’s health. No kidding. (Photo by Suzanne LaGasa via Creative Commons.)

Those who had been buried in the sand showed an even greater tendency to get sick.

Brittany Schiro said she lives close to Galveston, Texas, but comes to Clearwater in Florida with her family for cleaner beaches.

“We have a lot of problems in the water, bacterial stuff going on there,” says Schiro, who lives close to Galveston, Texas.

So what can bad sand do to you? Symptoms can range from gastrointestinal illness to severe rashes.

Sand pollution is highest after heavy rains. Doctors urge parents to use sanitizer on tiny hands.

Schiro said there are limits to being the ever-cautious parent.

“You gotta let them be children, right?” she said.

(Featured image by Richard Leeming via Creative Commons)

ACLU: State failed to warn public of health dangers of toxic algae bloom

The American Civil Liberties of Florida is taking aim at the state, saying it failed to adequately warn the public of the health dangers related to toxic algae blooms on the Treasure Coast communities last year.

The ACLU on Wednesday issued the report, “Tainted Waters: Threats to Public Health and the People’s Right to Know,” concluding blue-green algae have not been sufficiently researched by the state.

The Palm Beach Post last year published a story on a group of prominent researchers have tied blue-green algae to neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s Disease and ALS. To read that story click here.

Algae formed around the Herbert Hoover Dam on Lake Okeechobee on Friday, July 8, 2016. The algae bloom from Lake Okeechobee has grown since it was first measured in May. Environmentalists believe it stretched more than 200 square miles. (Joseph Forzano / The Palm Beach Post)

The ACLU report was written by former Palm Beach Post investigative reporter John Lantigua.

“Open government means people have a right to be informed about what public officials and employees are doing, and that information is particularly crucial when it comes to public health issues,” Lantigua said. “What we found was a lack of urgency and transparency on the part of the state in reporting information about the crisis, caused by the release of tainted waters from Lake Okeechobee.”

The algae bloom in the St. Lucie River and its estuary certainly appeared and smelled toxic. It caused an overpowering, noxious smell, burning eyes, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and rashes. The local hospital weathered a spike in emergency room patients. People were forced to evacuate waterside properties and escape to more distant lodgings.

It caused an overpowering, noxious smell, burning eyes, headaches, flu-like symptoms, respiratory problems, and rashes. The local hospital weathered a spike in emergency room patients. People were forced to evacuate waterside properties and escape to more distant lodgings.

His report quotes scientists concerned that the state provided no public warning about the threat to downriver communities. The state tested waters where toxins where the algae were least concentrated, as well, the report states.

It also notes a task force created by state law in 1999 to monitor and mitigate the effects of algae blooms has not been funded since 1999.

The ACLU’s full report is available here: www.aclufl.org/taintedwaters

Could a Zika vaccine be too expensive?

One thing is for certain, where there is a pandemic, there is money to be made.

A French pharmaceutical company will do the final testing for a Zika vaccine developed last year by the U.S. Army at taxpayer expense, National Public Radio is reporting. If the testing goes well, the company will set the price for the U.S. market.

The question is: Will state governments be able to afford the French company’s asking price for a vaccine that U.S. Army helped bring to fruition?

Rebekah Gee, Louisiana’s secretary of health, told NPR that her state is in the middle of a financial crisis and is looking at cutting money allocated to fight the Zika virus carried mainly by the Aedes aegypti — the B-52 of mosquitos.

“God forbid we have a Zika outbreak,” she told NPR.

The virus can inflict devastating birth defects for fetuses, including microencephaly, in which babies are born with underdeveloped brains and small heads. More birth defects related to the virus are expected in 2017 in Florida and throughout the U.S.

The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida in 2016 was 1,384. The total number of Zika cases reported in Florida for 2017 so far is 18.

Mosquito spraying was stepped up last summer once Zika hit Florida. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention suggest that because the full effects of the virus are unknown, all pregnant women infected with Zika should receive postnatal imaging and a comprehensive newborn physical exam and hearing screen until a vaccine can be marketed.

The U.S. Army plans to grant an exclusive license to Sanofi Pasteur, Inc. to manufacture and sell the vaccine after it testing. Gee said the French pharmaceutical giant could set a price that is too high for states like Louisianna.

NPR reports that Gee is just one among a growing number of public officials and activists expressing concern. They want Sanofi to agree in writing to show restraint when it sets the price for the vaccine.

Doctors without Borders and Knowledge Ecology International have asked the Army to delay granting Sanofi the exclusive license until the company agrees to reasonable price terms. Former Democratic Presidential candidate, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have

Former Democratic Presidential candidateU.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards have also asked the Army to get such a guarantee.

“If the American public funds the life-saving intervention, we need price protections for states that have to foot the bill,” Gee says.

Louisianna is in such a tight financial bind, Gee says, lawmakers will have to choose between funding for K-12 education and the Zika vaccine.

Jamie Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a non-profit public interest group, said the inventors of the vaccine are all federal employees whose salaries are paid by the U.S. taxpayer. Furthermore, the U.S. Army did all the Phase I research and testing so there is no research and development cost to Sanofi.

Sanofi told NPR that it has incurred a substantial cost, dedicating 60 scientists full time to the Zika vaccine.

If plans remain, the Department of Health and Human Services will give Sanofi $43 million for a Phase II trial. This will determine the success rate of the vaccine and any side-effects. If the vaccine passes, then the agency will then give another $130 million to Sanofi for a Phase III trial.

To read all of the NPR story on the Health News Florida website, click here.

FAU Study finds lack of U.S. sick leave leads to illness, health care costs

It’s a classic case of cutting your nose off despite your face.

Employers who don’t offer their workers sick leave actually make us all sicker, according to a new study by Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Not only do workers who get ill end up coming to work and spreading diseases like the flu, the time they would take for preventative measures – such as a yearly physical – is not there.

The Affordable Care Act tried to remedy this by allowing the 20 million Americans now with insurance to get free preventative screenings. Yet, many do not utilize these lifesaving screening because they don’t have sick time to take to go to the doctor.

As a result, they are contributing to the nation’s soaring health care costs, which reached $3 trillion in 2014.

General illustration to go with Doctors project content. Illustration by Richard Watkins

Researchers at FAU and Cleveland State University in their study in Preventative Medicine, illustrate the role of paid sick leave and how it contributes to overall public health.

Compared to 22 similarly developed countries, the United States is the only country that does not mandate employers to provide paid sick leave benefits or include paid sick leave in a universal social insurance plan.

“Our findings demonstrate that even when insured adults are provided with free preventive screenings, paid sick leave is a significant factor associated with actually using the screenings,” said LeaAnne DeRigne, Ph.D., lead author and an associate professor in the School of Social Work within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry.

“American workers risk foregoing preventive health care, which could lead to the need for medical care at later stages of disease progression and at a higher cost for workers and the American health care system as a whole.”

Key findings from the study reveal that American workers without paid sick leave had odds that were:

  • 30 percent less likely to have had a blood pressure check in the last 12 months
  • 40 percent less likely to have had a cholesterol check in the last 12 months
  • 24 percent less likely to have had a fasting blood sugar check in the last 12 months
  • 61 percent less likely to have had a flu shot in the last 12 months
  • 19 percent less likely to have seen or talked to a physician or health care provider in the last 12 months
  • 23 percent less likely to have had a Pap test in the last 12 months

 

Health Care District looks to take on heroin epidemic

As opioid drug overdose deaths increase exponentially, the Health Care District of Palm Beach County — the taxpayer-supported safety net for medical services here — plans to partner up with first responders to help drug abusers in crisis.

Hypodermic needles mixed with cigarette butts and empty prescription bottles found in the trash at a cottage apartment rented by Jean Thomas, 83, in West Palm Beach's Prospect Park neighborhood. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

It’s a big first step for the district that already runs the Trauma Hawk air ambulance, Lakeside Medical Center in Belle Glade and primary care clinics and school nurses, among other services.

The opioid epidemic has been fueled by prescription pill abuse and the mixing of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl with heroin by traffickers and dealers to increase potency and profit.

The district this week applied for a $10 million state grant over five years from the Department of Children & Families that would allow it initially to provide services to addicts at their most vulnerable: right when they overdose and are taken to hospital emergency rooms.

The district will partner up with Southeast Florida Behavioral Health Network, the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office, Palm Beach Fire-Rescue, as well as hospital emergency rooms.

The first stage of the plan is to get addicts in crisis who have been stabilized to an open bed at a local detox or drug recovery center.

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Darcy Davis, CEO of the Health Care District of Palm Beach County, says it is time to tackle the heroin epidemic.

The Health Care District is also not just focusing on poor and homeless drug abusers, aiming to help any community drug users who needs to navigate the drug rehabilitation and insurance industries to get treatment, as well as providing those without means an avenue for recovery.

But the district’s CEO Darcy Davis says the second phase of the plan will establish a “centralized receiving facility” that would not only provide treatment for addicts but also mental health services.

“We recognize the opioid crisis is significant and we need to act as quickly as possible to respond,” she said. “And you have to start somewhere. It’s a huge problem. We feel like we need to get involved.”

Read more about the Health Care District’s plans to expand into addiction services this weekend in the Palm Beach Post.

And read our coverage of the heroin epidemic by clicking here.

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Marketing over common sense? May be better to wait on flu shot

The marketing of the flu vaccine has become an almost year-round effort as drug store chains urge their customers to get a shot earlier and earlier.

But a story by CNN says that may not be the wisest thing to do to combat the flu.

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When should you get a flu shot? It may be better to wait despite retailers’ claims.

Some experts say marketing may be overtaking medical wisdom since it’s unclear how long the immunity imparted by the vaccine lasts, particularly in seniors.

An early flu shot is better than no flu shot at all, but the science is uncertain how long your immunity will last if you get the shot in late summer as opposed to early fall. Flu season generally peaks in mid-winter or beyond.

“If you’re over 65, don’t get the flu vaccine in September. Or August. It’s a marketing scheme,” said Laura Haynes, an immunologist at the University of Connecticut Center on Aging.

Tom Charland, founder and CEO of Merchant Medicine, said medical services on demand appeals to millennials but when it comes to late summer flu shots, “It’s a way to get people into the store to buy other things.”

Read the whole debate on the issue at CNN by clicking here.

Researchers: Five-second rule is a myth – or is it?

The “five-second rule” that states you can eat food after it fell briefly on the floor is a myth, researchers at Rutgers University say.

This study contradicts research done at Aston University in England two years ago that found the less time food spends on the floor, the less germs it gets.food-dropped

CBS New York reports that the Rutgers brainiacs  say they’ve “disproven” the notion that it’s OK to eat food that’s fallen on the floor, as long as you do it within five seconds.

Time is relative when it comes to eating that donut you just dropped in the parking lot.

What matters, Donald Schaffner, a food science professor at Rutgers, is the amount of moisture present, as well as the type of surface. Time does play a factor, but is just a part of the “can I still eat it” question.

He said the study may seem light-hearted but is worthwhile because the practice is so widespread.

According to Rutgers Today, the test objects were  watermelon, bread, bread and butter and gummy candy. They were dropped on four surfaces:  stainless steel, ceramic tile, wood and carpet – and four different foods.

Watermelon garnered the most contamination, while gummy candy had the least. Carpet also had the lowest bacteria transfer rate.

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Are you going to eat that? Is the five-second food on the floor rule a myth? Rutgers researchers say yes. (Photo courtesy of Creative Commons)

“Transfer of bacteria from surfaces to food appears to be affected most by moisture,” Schaffner said. “Bacteria don’t have legs, they move with the moisture, and the wetter the food, the higher the risk of transfer.”

Though, he did say food contact times usually result in the transfer of more bacteria from each surface to food.”

So the debate continues, but we all know you are going to eat that Oreo you just dropped on the office break room floor.

 

Gov. Scott calls on federal government to handle Zika like a hurricane

Gov. Rick Scott said today that the federal government must address the Zika virus threat like an incoming hurricane.

He made the statement prior to travel to Washington D.C. next week to meet with congressional leaders on the issue. Treating Zika like a catastrophe triggers triggers specific preparation and response efforts by the federal government.

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Aedes aegypti is the mosquito that carries the Zika virus.

“Florida has now had more than 100 documented cases of the Zika virus,” he said. “We are now headed into summer, when heat and rainfall cause our mosquito population to grow.”

South Florida remains a likely place in the U.S. for a Zika virus outbreak by the mosquito Aedes aegypti.

The Zika virus has been linked to a range of birth defects, including a condition which causes children to be born with abnormally small heads and underdeveloped brains and Guillain-Barré syndrome, which can lead to paralysis.

Currently, there are no native-borne cases in Florida. All infections involve travelers to South America.

Gov. Scott expressed concern that the Olympic summer games in Brazil will heavily increase travel to a country where the Zika virus is spreading rapidly.

Governor Rick Scott holds a brief press conference at Palm Beach International Airport announcing his order for Florida National Guard recruiters to work from nearby armories after attacks in Tennessee on July 18, 2015. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Governor Rick Scott says the federal government needs to address the Zika virus like a natural disaster.

“Like the movements of a hurricane, many things about the Zika virus are still unknown,” he said.

“We don’t yet know for certain what will happen with this virus, but we owe our citizens a vigorous and thorough preparation effort at the federal level to best protect their health.”

 

Senate holds fate of Florida Surgeon General

It’s been a tough year for Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong.

Gov. Rick Scott’s head of the Department of Health is having trouble getting reconfirmed.

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Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong

A Senate’s Ethics & Elections Committee is scheduled Tuesday to consider again the confirmation after a previous hearing was postponed partly out of fear Armstrong didn’t have enough votes.

It looks a bit better for him today as in the last week some medical groups have offered a show of support. Of particular concern among  AIDS groups  was Armstrong’s response to a spike in HIV cases in the Sunshine State. Armstrong has made HIV prevention a priority issue in the last few months.

He has also received questions about a drop in the number of people receiving services from county health departments as staff has been slashed.

Armstrong narrowly escaped an earlier panel – the Senate Health Policy Committee – when it voted 5-4 to approve the surgeon general’s nomination

Late last year, Armstrong announced he had colon cancer, undergoing surgery. Gov.  Scott issued a statement of support on Monday:

“Dr. John Armstrong is a fighter. Not only is he currently fighting against colon cancer, but he has continued to fight for the well-being of everyone in our state – whether it is against epidemics like Ebola and Zika, or illnesses like cancer or AIDS that are still affecting far too many in our state.”

The 2016 session is the final opportunity for confirmation or he will be forced to step down. Armstrong was appointed in 2012.