Health » Richard Besser The latest Health news and blog posts from ABC News contributors and bloggers. Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:29:20 +0000 en hourly 1 Exercises Aim to Reduce ACL Tears in Kids Tue, 25 Mar 2014 21:54:15 +0000 ABC News

ABC News’ Ann Reynolds reports:

Angela Owens said she was “shocked” when 9-year-old daughter Isabella blew out her knee while coming down from the high-bar during gymnastics practice.

Isabella spent a year in physical therapy after undergoing ACL surgery.

“It was something not even on my radar,” Owens said. “This is what happens to football players. … I thought she had a sore knee. I wouldn’t have even anticipated this was something that could have happened.”

The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear is an injury that professional athletes fear. It was the reason behind Lindsey Vonn’s absence from the Sochi Olympics, and it cost New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady most of the 2008 season.

RELATED: Tom Brady sheds light on rise in ACL tears in children.

Doctors say they are seeing more torn ACL cases in elementary schools, from children playing tackle football to doing gymnastics, and the numbers are so large that pediatric orthopedic surgeons like Dr. Daniel Green at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery are calling it an epidemic.

“We recently looked at the database in New York and found a five- to six-fold increase over the last 20 years of ACL surgeries in children,” Green said.

The ACL, the main stabilizing ligament of the knee, is not strong enough to take the strain of repeated movements by itself; the whole knee must be strong.

Children who play the same sport repeatedly – doing just a few moves over and over again – are at risk and girls even more so. They are six times more likely to tear their ACL than boys, according to the PEP Program: Prevent Injury and Enhance Performance, which has developed exercise routines to lower the risk.

New data says there’s a simple solution that reduces the risks: warm-up exercises to strengthen the muscles around the knee, no matter what sport.

They involve jumping, stretching and flexing, simulating the movements that children used to do on playgrounds and in backyards.

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ABC News

Isabella, now 10, has been working with a physical therapist at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

“The physical therapists that I’ve had. … They noticed when I landed, instead of … using my hips, I used my knees so they gave me some exercises so I wouldn’t do that,” she said.

The exercises take about 15 to 20 minutes and can be done before practice, according to the PEP program, which was developed by the Santa Monica Sports Medicine Research Foundation, and the FIFA 11+ warm-up program.

Such warm-ups, according to one study, reduce childhood ACL tears by 74 percent. Now the goal is persuading coaches across the United States to adopt them.

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Sneezing 101: Which Contains Germs Better — Tissue or Elbow? Tue, 28 Jan 2014 01:14:47 +0000 ABC News

On the flu season battlefield, everyone is a potential enemy, firing their germs like ballistic missiles.

ABC News set out to answer the following question once and for all: How can you best stop the spread of germs when sneezing and not get everyone around you sick?

Is it by using your hand or sneezing into your elbow? What about a tissue?

ABC News did a demonstration. A paper ruler was laid down, high-speed cameras were set up and participants rinsed their mouths with food coloring so testers could track where the sneezes landed. To keep the dye off their clothing, participants also wore protective suits.

1. Sneezing in the open. ABC News found that one participant’s sneeze landed as far as almost 11 feet away.

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ABC News

2. Covering the mouth with hands when sneezing. When the participant sneezed and attempted to cover her mouth, some particles landed 3.5 feet away. Much of the sneeze was found on the hands. If you use your hands, find a place to wash them.

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ABC News

3. The “Dracula” sneeze. It’s considered a “newer” move that many have been advised to use — sneezing into the elbow. But even with the elbow, much of the sneeze still got through and some particles landed 8.5 feet away.

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4. Tissue time. When the participant sneezed into the tissue, ABC News found that nothing had gotten through.

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ABC News

Of course, however, if you feel that sneeze coming on and you don’t have a tissue, sneeze into your elbow.



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Higher Risk of Death From Heart Attack Linked to Hospital Hours Wed, 22 Jan 2014 03:48:15 +0000 ABC News When it comes to a heart attack, the difference between life and death may hinge on timing, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Researchers found a 5 percent higher chance of death — almost 2,000 more deaths a year — within 30 days of the heart attack if a person arrived at the hospital at night or on the weekend.

The Mayo Clinic examined the records 2 million heart attack patients from 42 studies.

What made the difference: The time it took from entering the hospital’s door to having a balloon procedure – in which a balloon is threaded into a blood vessel and inflated to restore flow in a clogged artery.

Researchers found that during “off hours” — described as late night, early morning and weekends — patients overall experienced close to a 15-minute longer wait to get the procedure than those who went to the ER during what’s considered regular business hours.

The doctors who worked on the Mayo Clinic report said a fix might be as simple as staffing.

“There are fewer staff and resources at night and on weekends — that’s true,” said Dr. Atsushi Sorita, the study’s lead author.

Of course, experts say, a person cannot choose when to have a heart attack, but they said the important factor in any heart attack is speed of treatment.

No matter when a person suspects a heart attack, cardiologists said not to wait and to call 911. They said to get to the hospital fast and in the meantime, chew an aspirin.

ABC News’ Ann Reynolds contributed to this story.

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The Flu: Everything You Need to Know This Season Tue, 14 Jan 2014 11:00:11 +0000 Richard Besser GTY flu kab 140113 16x9 608 The Flu: Everything You Need to Know This Season

                        (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

“It’s just the flu.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that expression. Yet each time I hear it, I cringe.

“Just the flu” is responsible every year for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.  It is a disease that makes those of us who work in public health very nervous.

JOIN: Flu Tweet Chat Today at 1 p.m. ET

The only real certainty is that there will be a flu season each winter. Other than that, there are many unknowns: When will it start? What strains will be circulating? Who will be at greatest risk? How severe will it be? How well will the vaccine work?

This year’s flu season is now in full swing so we have some of the answers to such questions.

We know that the number of flu cases started to spike first in the southeastern United States. Visits for flu-like illness started to rise in December and have continued to rise and spread. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 states have high levels of flu activity and all regions of the country are now seeing flu cases.  The website, Google flu trends, which tends to be more up to date, reports that 33 states are seeing high levels of flu.

More than 90 percent of disease is caused this year by the H1N1 strain of the flu virus.  This is the same strain that also caused the so-called swine flu pandemic in 2009.  It has been included in all flu vaccines since then.

READ: This Year’s Flu Hitting Young and Healthy

H1N1 tends to hit adults between the ages of 18 and 64 harder than other flu strains. But  groups traditionally at high risk – the very young, the elderly, those with chronic diseases, pregnant women – haven’t been spared.

Although the flu season is in full swing, it often continues into March. It is too soon to know how severe this flu season will be, how long it will last and how well the vaccine will work. We can only tell these sorts of things when the flu season has ended.

The best flu prevention? Get vaccinated. Flu vaccination is recommended for everyone older than 6 months. Getting vaccinated does two things: It reduces your chance of getting the flu and helps protect those around you from getting it by creating something called “herd immunity.” This means that even those who don’t get vaccinated are protected because the virus has fewer ways of spreading in a population of mostly vaccinated people.

There are more vaccine choices this year than ever before. One shot will cover you for four strains of flu, rather than the usual three. There is a high-strength vaccine specially developed for the elderly, a group for whom standard vaccines have typically been insufficiently effective. There is a nasal spray vaccine for people 50 and younger. There is now even a vaccine made without the use of eggs for anyone with egg allergies.

You can also prevent the spread of the flu by covering your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or with your elbow. Washing your hands frequently with soap and water for a full 20 seconds also helps gets rid of those viruses. If there’s no sink around, alcohol-based hand sanitizer is a suitable substitute.

WATCH: 2 Already Dead from Flu Strain

And if you’re sick, stay home. Set an example so maybe others will do  the same.

And please, whatever you do, don’t say “it’s just the flu.”

Flu Tweet Chat Today at 1 p.m. ET

Join me today for a tweet chat to find out everything you need to know to protect you and your family from the flu this year. We’ll be joined by numerous experts from top hospitals and research centers all over the country including the CDC and the Mayo Clinic.

Joining the chat is easy. Find out how you can participate in 3 easy steps.

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How to Greet People During Flu Season: Handshake, Fist Bump or High Five? Tue, 14 Jan 2014 02:09:10 +0000 ABC News

In the cold and flu season, how we greet each other greatly affects how we spread germs.

Could a handshake mean a higher chance of getting a cold? Would a fist bump or high-five be better?

ABC News asked a group of volunteers at the International Food Safety Training Laboratory at the University of Maryland to find out.

Dr. Richard Besser covered his hands with thousands of harmless E. coli bacteria for the experiment.

The bacteria transfer just like the dangerous kinds of germs that can get people sick.

When the experiment began, the volunteers used alcohol wipes so that their hands were completely free of E. coli.

Our first test: handshakes.

Besser shook hands with one volunteer who then shook hands with another volunteer. This continued down the line like in the telephone game to include many volunteers. They then pressed their hands into special plates that were incubated overnight.

When the results came back, the first volunteer had almost as many bacteria as Besser. Each of the other volunteers also had E. coli on their hands. It wasn’t until the fourth volunteer that the number of E. coli appreciably declined. But even the last person in line got enough bacteria from the original E. coli ridden hands to get sick.

A fist bump told a different story.

Drastically fewer germs were passed on in the fist bump than in the handshake.

Fist bumps minimize the surface area and protect the fingers and palms from germs but they also reduce the length of time hands are in contact.

So what about a high-five?

The hands fully touch like in a handshake but the contact time is very short.

The transfer of germs ended up being just about the same as the fist bump. Both were much better than handshakes.

So during flu season think of mixing up the way you say hello. For those who want to be really careful, an elbow bump is even better.


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Outrage at the Increasingly High Cost of Cancer Drugs Wed, 18 Dec 2013 23:00:36 +0000 Richard Besser

Cancer drug prices have doubled in the past decade, from an average of $5,000 per month to more than $10,000.

Eleven of the 12 cancer drugs the Food and Drug Administration approved for fighting cancer in 2012 were priced at more than $100,000 per year, double the average annual household income, according to a report by the Journal of National Cancer Institute.

RELATED: Doctors Excited by New Cancer Treatment

Patricia Thomson, a married, working mother whose leukemia is in remission, is one of the many cancer patients struggling to pay for her medication.

One of her prescriptions, Sprycel, is helping to keep her alive but it costs at least $106,000 a year. Even with Medicare payments, Thomson would have to pay about $10,000 a year out of pocket.

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                           (Photo Credit: ABC News)

“I have 30 pills left,” said Thomson, 65. “About seven weeks’ worth.”

If her pill bottle goes empty, she fears she will die, yet she can’t afford the high payments. “It’s like, ‘Why is this happening?’ and it just all seems so unfair,” Thomson told ABC News.

Bristol-Myers Squibb, a global biopharmaceutical company, produces Sprycel.

Thousands of cancer patients, even many with insurance, face the same dire decision: Go bankrupt or die.

Dr. Hagop Kantarjian, chief of the Lukemia Center at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, is leading a protest by more than 100 cancer specialists demanding pharmaceutical companies lower their drug prices. “Patients who cannot afford the drugs are forgoing the treatment and dying,”  Kantarjian said.

Pharmaceutical companies say it costs on average more than $1 billion to research a new drug and bring it to market, but critics put the costs at less than $90 million.

“The pharmaceutical industry is the second most profitable industry in the United States, after the oil and gas industry,” Kantarjian told ABC News.

Sprycel and other top-tier cancer drugs cost twice as much in the United States as they do in parts of Europe, China, Canada and the United Kingdom, where the government sets a limit on pricing.

As the cost of the pills has more than doubled since 2007, the CEOs earned tens of millions of dollars.

Thomson said she doesn’t believe it’s ethical for the pharmaceutical companies to charge so much for the drugs. “I don’t know that you need a gazillion dollars’ worth of profit,” she said.

Bristol-Myers Squibb said in a statement to ABC News, “We take great care to price our medicines based on the cost to develop them, the scientific innovation they represent, and the value they deliver to patients and physicians. … For Sprycel, we have robust patient assistance programs in place.”

READ Bristol-Myers Squibb full statement here.

Still, nearly one in five cancer patients can’t afford their medication. Thomson applied to a reimbursement support program and she was denied.

She is now down to 30 pills and has little hope.

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Doctors Group Backs Tougher Rules Targeting Prescription Drug Abuse Tue, 10 Dec 2013 11:00:19 +0000 Ann Reynolds GTY medicine cabinet nt 131209 16x9 608 Doctors Group Backs Tougher Rules Targeting Prescription Drug Abuse

Getty Images

Drug overdoses — largely fueled by the wild rise in prescription painkillers — are now killing more Americans per year than car accidents on U.S. highways, according to the CDC.

The American College of Physicians, one of America’s largest medical societies for doctors, announced on Monday its support of programs to cut back on the deadly dangers that sit in U.S. medicine cabinets.

Related: More women overdosing on painkillers, CDC report finds

Accidental overdoses from prescription painkillers have quadrupled in just a decade — from about 4,000 in 1999 to about 16,000 in 2010, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts say that one reason for the increase is that doctors are prescribing more Percocet, Vicodin and OxyContin — and that Americans can’t seem to stop taking them.

Almost all of abused pain medication starts as legitimate prescription medicine for diagnosed pain, according to the CDC.

A growing number of Americans become addicted and then buy leftover pills, get them from friends or relatives, or steal them from other medicine cabinets.

Related: Officials see doubling of prescription drug overdose deaths

In Monday’s report, the doctors group supported the tougher rules that the Food and Drug Administration has suggested — some of which are coming — that may include fewer pills per prescription and mandatory visits to the doctor for refills on medication. Laws now exist in some states but the doctors group said it would like to see the rules become standardized and national.

Experts suggest that people get rid of prescription painkillers as well as other unused medications. Police departments have drop boxes where you can leave medication. Click here to find where.

When tossing medications, don’t put them in the trash or flush them down the toilet, experts said. Empty medicine bottles into a plastic bag and add water and coffee grounds, which make the medication unusable.


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CDC Brings Back 10 Furloughed Staff Members to Address Salmonella Outbreak Tue, 08 Oct 2013 22:38:47 +0000 ABC News  

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Harkin Global Communications Center in Atlanta. (Image credit: James Gathany/Centers for Disease Control)

A sweeping salmonella outbreak has become so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called back 10 furloughed staff members to monitor this and other outbreaks.

Since March, almost 300 people have become sick in 18 states — mostly in California — and 42 percent have had to be hospitalized.  That’s a higher percentage of cases than what most salmonella outbreaks cause.

The CDC told ABC News that seven different strains of salmonella had been identified, and that some are resistant to drugs.

The salmonella was linked to raw chicken from three facilities of a California company called Foster Farms.

The US Department of Agriculture has not ordered a recall of the chicken.

The USDA has advised consumers to check all Foster Farms packages for these numbers: P6137, P6137A and P7632.

While salmonella is common, it can be deadly, particularly in young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.

Tara Lounsbury said she’d served fried chicken to her family Monday night. After news of the outbreak, she checked the code number on the chicken package and found that it matched one of three package codes that the USDA ID’d as contaminated.

“Just wondering, what if my kids get sick?” Lounsbury said.

Foster Farms said it was taking additional steps to control salmonella and that its chicken was “safe if it’s fully cooked and properly handled.”

Since the government shutdown, now in its eighth day, only two of 80 CDC staffers usually assigned to food pathogens have not been furloughed.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Tropical Diseases Infect 1 in 6 People Worldwide Tue, 02 Apr 2013 11:00:02 +0000 Richard Besser ht besser mi 130401 wblog Tropical Diseases Infect 1 in 6 People Worldwide

A nurse works to treat patients in Bangladesh. (Credit: Dr. Richard Besser)

There are so many things we take for granted in America. One of them is that our children are not regularly infected by one of the tropical diseases so common among the world’s poorest people.

When I was just starting my career in medicine, I worked for a year in Bangladesh studying the polio vaccine. I spent several months serving as the doctor in a clinic run by the Marist sisters. I kept a journal of my experiences that I came across when I was cleaning out my desk the other day.

Flipping through the pages reminded me why I went into public health in the first place: the opportunity to address some of the health inequity that I saw.

Join the ABC News Tweet Chat About Neglected Tropical Diseases Today at 1 p.m. ET

One of the diseases I treated while working at the clinic was ascaris, also known as roundworm infection. As many as one billion people around the world are infected with this parasite, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Along with hookworm, trachoma, elephantiasis, whip worm, snail fever and river blindness, roundworm is considered one of the seven parasitic and bacterial infections that together have a higher health burden on the world’s poor than malaria and tuberculosis.

In medicine, we refer to these as the “neglected tropical diseases.” They infect nearly one in six people worldwide, including half a billion children, and lead to tremendous suffering and loss of life. Yet, the estimated cost to treat these diseases is less than 50 cents per person.

Roundworm is spread through contact with soil contaminated with feces containing eggs or early worm forms.  Symptoms may be mild — but long-term infections with worms can cause micronutrient deficiencies that impair growth and stunt brain development.

Each year, an estimated 60,000 people die from roundworm infection. These are preventable deaths.

I am still haunted by one little boy  I treated in  Tuital, a rural village that is six hours by boat from Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh. He must have been 9 or 10 years old.  Like most of the children I saw, his family brought him to the clinic as a last resort. Travel was difficult and local remedies were trusted more than conventional medicine.

Here is what I wrote in my journal at the time:

Jan. 28, 1990. “There is a little boy I’m caring for who has an intestinal obstruction from worms. I’m quite worried about him. After one enema, he passed a few worms. That was yesterday.  I am afraid he will perforate his bowel and die. In the morning we may try again to convince the family to go to Dhaka. I would love to do an abdominal x-ray and then scope him. It is truly a cruel world if this child dies needlessly.”

Jan. 30, 1990. “The little boy is hanging in there but in the morning we are sending him to Shishu Hospital in Dhaka……

March 5, 1990. “I met the family of the boy with worms that we sent to Dhaka. He died three days ago after two operations for resection of dead bowel. He was obstructed from worms as we thought. I can’t help but wonder whether we had kept him here for too long…..”

The World Health Organization has a plan for eliminating intestinal worms transmitted by contact with contaminated soil:  treat all children with a cheap medication to “deworm” them; provide clean water and proper sanitation to prevent new infections.

Sounds pretty simple right? On my weekly tweet chat today, I’ll explore why this hasn’t happened yet and what it will take to get it done.

The one-hour chat takes place on Twitter today from 1-2 p.m. ET. This week, I’ll be joined by the not-for-profit groups End 7, The Carter Center and Every Mother Counts, as well as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, plus dozens of hospitals and caring citizens from around the globe.

I realize that the average American isn’t likely to encounter a deadly tropical disease. But for the rest of the world, these diseases have devastating consequences. Won’t you join me to learn more about this important issue and what you can do to get involved in the fight to the needless suffering caused by these diseases?

Participation is simple.  Here’s how. Follow the conversation or jump in with comments and questions of your own.

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Doctors Warn of New Stomach ‘Superbug’ Hitting U.S. Sat, 26 Jan 2013 11:00:17 +0000 Richard Besser ht norovirus ll 130125 wblog Doctors Warn of New Stomach Superbug Hitting U.S.

Image credit: Charles D. Humphrey/CDC

A new strain of norovirus that wreaks havoc on people’s stomachs is so vicious that it’s being called a “superbug” by doctors.

Though it was first identified in Australia, this norovirus — also called the Sydney strain — is quickly spreading across the United States.

In an average year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 21 million Americans get the norovirus, with classic stomach flu symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea.

Eight hundred die. Symptoms come on very suddenly, within hours after a person has been exposed to it.

Because no one has immunity to this new strain, more Americans — perhaps 50 percent more, the CDC says — could become violently ill.

While the flu is spread mostly in the air by sneezes and coughs and a person needs to breathe in as many as 1,000 virus particles to get sick, the norovirus is far more contagious. Just 18 norovirus particles can make a person sick.

The flu can last two to four hours on hard surfaces outside your body, but the norovirus can survive and remain infectious for weeks.

To keep the norovirus away, medical experts suggest cleaning the house with bleach, not just regular detergents. They also say that while hand sanitizers kill the flu virus, they are not effective at getting rid of the norovirus.

Medical experts suggest washing your hands with soap and water repeatedly to keep the norovirus off them.

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