Reported cases of tuberculosis jumped 17 percent in Connecticut from 2014 to 2015, mirroring a national and global trend and prompting federal officials to ask primary care providers to be on the alert for at-risk patients. The state Department of Public Health (DPH) said 70 people, in 29 towns, were reported with active TB, the contagious form of the disease, in 2015, compared with 60 the year before. About 80 percent of Connecticut patients were foreign-born, many from Asian countries. Nationally, TB cases totaled 9,563 last year, an increase of 157 over 2014. It was the first jump in cases after more than two decades of annual declines, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.
Nearly 1,500 children under the age of 6 tested positive for lead poisoning in 2014, according to the latest numbers from the state Department of Public Health. Overall, the number of lead-poisoned children in Connecticut was about the same in 2014 as in 2013, with the total rising by 9 children. In 2014, 2,284 children under 6 were diagnosed as lead-poisoned, compared with 2,275 in 2013. The numbers are roughly equal because some children diagnosed with lead poisoning are cleared after being treated for it, they turn 6 and so are no longer followed by the state, or their families leave the state. But at a combined hearing of the legislature’s Committees on Children and Public Health on Monday, a state Department of Public Health official conceded that those numbers and other state lead statistics may be misleading because of the deficiencies of lead screening in Connecticut.
Noting that 60,000 Connecticut children have been exposed to the toxin lead – and that more than 2,000 have levels high enough that they are lead-poisoned — U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro and Elizabeth Esty unveiled a bill Monday to help homeowners make their homes safer and better protect children. “We cannot kick the can down the road and hope the problem goes away. It will not,” DeLauro, a Democrat who represents the 3rd Congressional District, said at a press conference at the New Haven Health Department. In a May 7 story, C-HIT reported that figures from the state Department of Public Health show that tens of thousands of children are being regularly exposed to lead paint and lead dust – and that tens of thousands of children are not being properly tested for exposure to the toxin.
Nearly 60,000 Connecticut children under age 6 were reported with lead exposure in 2013, and an additional 2,275 children had high enough levels of the toxin in their blood to be considered poisoned. While those numbers, the latest available from the state Department of Public Health, may seem high, health experts say they actually must be higher because of significant gaps in state-mandated testing. Even though Connecticut has some of the strictest lead-screening laws in the country – requiring every child to be tested twice, before age 3 – DPH figures show that only half were screened twice, as mandated. Unlike in Flint, Mich., whose residents were poisoned when a corrosive water source was directed through aging lead-lined pipes, the main culprit in Connecticut is lead paint. Though banned in 1978, lead-based paint is present in countless older apartment buildings and homes, especially in urban centers, such as Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport.
Nearly 40 percent of all black kindergartners are overweight or obese, and nearly 40 percent of all Hispanic kindergartners in Connecticut are, too. A new policy brief by the Child Health and Development Institute says the best way to fight numbers like these is to “require action in a child’s earliest years — from birth to 2.” The numbers also indicate that 25 percent of all white kindergartners are overweight or obese also. “The numbers are staggering, and the health implications are so big,” said Judith Meyers, president and CEO of the Farmington-based CHDI, whose brief is based, in part, on research by UConn’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. “Connecticut’s rates [of childhood obesity] are among the highest in the country,” she said.
A Norwalk-based exterminator was called to an apartment building in the New Haven area and, entering one unit, he found the walls “dripping with bed bugs.”
The same company, Bliss Pest Control of Connecticut, answered a call from a Greenwich resident who had recently returned from one of his frequent business trips. His family was regularly waking up with bites. The culprit? Bed bugs. “Bliss gets calls all the time for that very story,” Michael Lawrence, area district manager of Bliss, wrote in an email.
During their childbearing years, many women view their obstetrician-gynecologists as primary care physicians, seeing them for preventive health care as well as for reproductive-related issues. Several studies, including one published in 2014 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), indicate that women may be shortchanging themselves by consulting only an OB-GYN for preventive health care visits. The national study of 63 million preventive health visits by non-pregnant women found that those “of reproductive age who see OB-GYNs only for preventive care may not be receiving the full spectrum of recommended screening and counseling.”
A number of Connecticut OB-GYNs and other women’s health care specialists said, however, that they are aware of the unique role they play, and that they make a point of addressing patients’ broader needs, especially when meeting a new patient. These needs vary, of course, depending on a woman’s lifestyle, risk factors and age. “If you’re young, in your 20s, don’t smoke and are healthy, you’re very low risk,” said Dr. Susan Richman, a Branford OB-GYN. “What [those patients may] have is very treatable, and I’m comfortable treating them.”
The JAMA study of “well-woman” visits from 2007 to 2010 showed that while OB-GYNs generally screened for cervical and breast cancers, chlamydia and osteoporosis, general practitioners more often screened for colorectal cancer, cholesterol counts and diabetes.
Yale cancer scientist Melinda Irwin says that the connection between obesity and cancer are so strong — as are recent findings about the effectiveness of exercise and diet in treating cancer — that pharmaceutical companies should be required to include these two lifestyle components in drug trials. A mandate is needed, Irwin said, because the pharmaceutical industry, which funds most large-scale drug trials, “has no incentive to fund lifestyle behavioral interventions. Why would they? There’s no pill to take.”
Irwin studies the effects of weight loss and exercise on breast cancer survivors. Her comments echo those by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which has issued a new position paper calling obesity “a major unrecognized risk factor for cancer.’’
“As many as 84,000 cancer diagnoses each year are attributed to obesity, and overweight and obesity are implicated in 15 percent to 20 percent of total cancer-related mortality,” the group says in its position paper published in the online version of the Journal of Clinical Oncology Oct.
Dr. Erin Hofstatter, a young research scientist and breast cancer specialist at Yale’s Smilow Cancer Hospital, often prescribes tamoxifen, raloxifene and similar drugs to her patients. The drugs “reduce your risk (of cancer recurring) by half … but they come with baggage,” she tells her patients, “hot flashes, night sweats, leg cramps, small risk of uterine cancer, small risk of blood clots, small risk of stroke, you have to get your liver tested.”
Hofstatter’s unease with standard treatments for breast cancer has spurred her to seek alternative, safer ways to treat breast cancer. To this end, she has begun a study of black cohosh, in the pill form of an herb from the buttercup family, used for thousands of years by Native Americans to treat menopausal symptoms.
“There’s data to suggest that [black cohosh] is protective,” she said, “both in breast cancer survivors and potentially preventive in women who’ve never had breast cancer, based on a few large observational trials.”
Just as practices like acupuncture and meditation – once considered, at best, nontraditional are now widely used to help patients cope with the side-effects of cancer treatments and other illnesses, natural products – foods (blueberries, walnuts, soy), herbs like black cohosh and plant-based anti-oxidants like capsaicin (which makes hot peppers hot) have become accepted subjects for research. But far from simply embracing these practices or foods, scientists now apply rigorous scientific methods to what are considered non-traditional medications to determine just how effective – or ineffective — they are. A similar scientific focus is being directed at exercise, diet, and meditation.