Slowly—but perhaps surely—the country is beginning to address maternal mortality, both through legislation and through initiatives on the part of health care providers. This is critical. We have lost countless women to pregnancy and childbirth, and the majority of those deaths didn’t have to happen. This holds true especially for mothers of color. Black and American Indian/Alaska Native women are about three times as likely to die from pregnancy as white women, according to a study released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Betty Williams says giving up crack cocaine was easier than her ongoing struggle to quit cigarettes. “A cigarette is a friend,” said Williams, who lives with schizophrenia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. People with mental illness account for 44% of the cigarette purchases in the United States, and they are less likely to quit than other smokers. High smoking rates among people with mental illness contribute to poorer physical health and shorter lifespans, generally 13 to 30 years shorter than the population as a whole. About 37% of men and 30% of women with mental illness smoke.
The United States’ maternal mortality rate is abysmal, and women of color are particularly vulnerable. No amount of fame or fortune can run interference when it comes to mothers dying or at-risk during pregnancy, childbirth, or early motherhood. And that holds especially true for African American women. At 26.4 per 100,000 live births, the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal death in the developed world—by several times over. Even more disquieting, the U.S. rate rose by 136 percent between 1990 and 2013.
Cancers linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV) rose dramatically in a 15-year period, even as the rates of young people being vaccinated climbed, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. The 43,371 new cases of HPV-associated cancers reported nationwide in 2015 marked a 44 percent jump from the 30,115 cases reported in 1999, according to a CDC analysis. HPV vaccination rates have improved over the years, but not fast enough to stem the rise in cancers, the CDC said. Oropharyngeal (throat) cancer was the most common HPV-associated cancer in 2015; accounting for 15,479 cases among males and 3,438 among females, the CDC data show. HPV infects about 14 million people each year and between 1999 and 2015 rates of oropharyngeal (throat) and vulvar cancer increased, vaginal and cervical cancer rates declined, and penile cancer rates were stable, according to the CDC.
Connecticut hospitals ranked fourth from the bottom nationally for timely treatment of sepsis, new data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) show. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection and occurs when an infection you already have triggers a chain reaction throughout your body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Without timely treatment, sepsis can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and even death, the CDC reports. In 2015, CMS decided to start assessing hospitals’ treatment for sepsis. The first treatment statistics were released recently. A high percentage score means that a hospital has been following sepsis treatment protocols; a low score indicates poor sepsis care. Connecticut’s average score was 43 percent, compared with a national score of 49 percent, the data show. C-HIT has updated its Hospital Infections easy-to-use searchable database to include the sepsis ratings for each hospital.
New Haven resident Kimberly Streater was pregnant with her third of six children when she called her friend for a ride to the hospital after sustaining a hit to her stomach by her then-husband. When she reached the hospital, Streater, not yet 28 weeks pregnant, alerted personnel that her baby was coming—now. “They said, ‘No, no, he’s not coming,’ after I told them he was,” she recalled. Minutes later, Howie was born at 3 pounds and 1.5 ounces in the admitting area of the hospital, just as Streater had predicted. Statistically, the preterm birth of Streater’s baby does not come as a surprise.
Why do so many pregnant women and young mothers die? Your guess is as good as our government’s. We simply don’t know. Even the statistics we have aren’t current, though from all indications the U.S.’s mortality rate is rising, as it is in Afghanistan and Sudan. But in the U.S., the rate has risen by 136 percent between 1990 and 2013.
As fertility rates fall nationwide, Connecticut continues to rank among the lowest in the country—a trend doctors attribute to women here delaying childbearing. In 2016, the most recent year for which state-level data is available, Connecticut had 53.4 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44, compared with a national average of 62 per 1,000 women, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Just four states had lower rates than Connecticut in 2016, and all are in New England: Vermont at 50.3 births per 1,000 women, New Hampshire at 50.9, Rhode Island at 51.8 and Massachusetts at 51.9. The states with the highest fertility rates in 2016 were South Dakota at 77.7, North Dakota at 77.3, Utah at 76.2 and Alaska at 76.1, the CDC reports. Unlike birth rates, which take an entire population into account, fertility rates reflect the share of babies born to women of childbearing age. Connecticut typically ranks low on the list, along with other “high achievement, high education states,” said Dr. Harold J. Sauer, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale New Haven Health’s Bridgeport Hospital.
A growing number of reproductive-age women are taking prescription medication to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), data show, but doctors warn the effects of such drugs on pregnancies are largely unknown. The number of privately insured women nationwide between the ages of 15 and 44 who filled a prescription for an ADHD medication soared 344 percent from 2003 to 2015, from 0.9 percent to 4 percent, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ADHD medication use increased among all age brackets within that group and in all geographic regions, data show. The biggest spikes were seen in women ages 25 to 29, among which medication use jumped 700 percent, from 0.5 percent in 2003 to 4 percent in 2015. The second-largest increase was among women ages 30 to 34, which had a 560 percent increase from 0.5 percent to 3.3 percent, according to the CDC.
For nearly nine years, scientists inside the boxy brick Western Connecticut Health Network Research Center have been working to develop a more accurate test to diagnose the scourge of the Connecticut woods: Lyme disease. Lyme disease is carried by the tiny blacklegged tick, commonly known as a deer tick. When a blacklegged tick infected with Lyme bites a human, it can transmit a tiny microscopic organism, called a spirochete, that moves around the human body, evading easy detection. Researchers in Danbury have been trying to detect that spirochete, similar to those that cause syphilis and other diseases, in people’s blood. Pathology research scientist Donna Guralski powered up her microscope and computer recently to show the culprit: a fluorescent green corkscrew-shaped organism that twisted around the screen, just as it would burrow through a person’s blood vessel walls and into tissue.