Tag Archives: cdc

Uninsured Population Holding Steady at About 10%

Mother Jones

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The latest CDC numbers on the uninsured population are out, and as of September 2016 the number of uninsured in the US had dropped from about 17 percent before Obamacare to 10.3 percent. That continues to be below the original CBO estimate of 11 percent for the full year.

For all of Obamacare’s faults, this is a tremendous achievement at a surprisingly modest cost. It’s beyond belief that Republicans want to destroy it instead of making it better.

NOTE: As always, I’m using the CDC’s figures for the nonelderly population. This is because (a) this is what CBO used for its estimates, so I need to use comparable numbers, and (b) it’s the number we actually care about. The overall figure for all ages is currently 8.8 percent.

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Uninsured Population Holding Steady at About 10%

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Raw Data: If Obamacare Is Repealed, 17-37 Million People Will Lose Health Coverage

Mother Jones

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As Republicans merrily head down their stated path of repealing Obamacare without bothering to replace it, here are the latest CDC numbers on the uninsured:

Let’s put that into raw numbers. There are currently 273 million people in America under the age of 65. If we abolished Obamacare and returned to the 2013 percentage of uninsured, 17 million people would lose health coverage.

And that’s optimistic. If Republican recklessness caused the insurance industry to abandon the individual market altogether, the number of people who would lose coverage is somewhere in the range of 32-37 million. That’s about 22 million people who are currently in the non-group insurance market and another 10-15 million who benefited from Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Repealing Obamacare makes a great campaign slogan, but now Republicans have to actually govern. Do they really want to be responsible for 17-37 million people losing health coverage? Really?

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Raw Data: If Obamacare Is Repealed, 17-37 Million People Will Lose Health Coverage

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Spraying Pesticides May Not Kill Zika Mosquitos

Mother Jones

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In Miami Beach, daily crowds have been gathering outside city hall to protest a program to spray a potent pesticide called naled, in an effort to combat mosquitos carrying the Zika virus. After delays, officials began periodic naled sprayings Friday morning at 5 a.m.

People are concerned about the spraying because like other organophosphates, naled is a neurotoxin, or a poison that works by attacking the nervous system. Even at tiny doses, naled kills adult Aedes mosquitos—which, in parts of Miami, including Miami Beach, are known to carry the Zika virus. In South Carolina last week, aerial spraying of naled inadvertently killed millions of bees.

The EPA reports that naled is regularly sprayed on 16 million acres of land in the mainland United States “as part of routine mosquito control,” including in “highly populated major metropolitan areas.” That’s a lot of land—California, for comparison, occupies 100 million acres.

Here’s what we know about naled, its toxicity to people and ecosystems, and its potential as a tool to limit the spread of Zika.

• Is naled spraying toxic to humans? The European Union banned naled in 2012, citing “potential and unacceptable risk showed for human health.” But the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Environmental Protection Agency disagree. The chemical is used at such a low rate as a mosquito spray—about two tablespoons for each area the size of a football field—that it “does not pose a health risk to people or pets in the area that is sprayed,” the CDC says. Also, “Naled starts to degrade (break down) immediately on surfaces, in water, and in sunlight,” the CDC adds, meaning it doesn’t linger after spraying.

I asked Dana Barr, a research professor at Emory who has done extensive research on the ill effects of organophosphate exposure on kids’ neural development, whether people should worry about health effects from spraying. “Likely the small amount sprayed won’t pose significant risk,” she said. Barr added, though, that people who live in sprayed areas “need to consider their exposures from other sources as well,” like through garden insecticides and residues on food. A 2015 study by University of Washington, Harvard, and University of Texas researchers found that people who eat organic food have significantly lower levels of organophosphate traces in their urine than people who don’t.

Barr added that infants and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to harm from organophosphate exposure, and should “take precautions to stay inside during spraying”—which won’t be too hard, since the spraying are scheduled for early mornings (5 a.m.).

• Is spraying naled effective at slowing the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses like Zika? This one is surprisingly hard to answer. The CDC stresses it’s just one part of an “integrated mosquito control program” that includes “eliminating mosquito habitats, such as discarded containers and rain gutters” and other actions. But the agency insists that spraying is the “one method that can rapidly reduce the number of mosquitoes spreading Zika in a large area,” like Miami beach.

In a recent editorial in the medical journal JAMA, CDC Director Tom Frieden wrote that a spraying program in New Orleans, similar to the current one in Miami Beach, had reduced both indoor and outdoor adult mosquito populations by 90 percent.

However, the New Orleans figure cited by Friedan comes from an informal study that never underwent peer review, and some experts are skeptical of it. The Aedes mosquito, the variety that hosts Zika and other nasty pathogens, tends to live indoors, making it a tough target for spraying. “I know of no published reports that support Friedan’s figure,” Yale University professor emeritus of microbial diseases Durland Fish told Kaiser Health News. He added: “This is a domestic mosquito, meaning they live inside the house—in closets, under the bed, in the sink. Spraying outside won’t be very effective.”

A recent news report by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Disease Research and Policy also casts doubt of the efficacy of spraying, echoing concerns raised by Fish.

Will the spraying kill other bugs? While Aedes mosquitos live mainly indoors, protected from pesticide droplets falling from the sky, other critters aren’t so lucky. The South Carolina incident demonstrated how vulnerable honeybees are to an ill-timed naled spraying.

And a Florida International University team has published three papers since 2011—in the journals Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Science of the Total Environment, Chemosphere—finding that butterflies are even more susceptible to naled than bees. South Florida’s butterfly populations have declined dramatically in recent years. The Florida International University research, funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, prompted South Florida officials to scale back routine naled spraying last year. Butterflies are a key part of the food chain, serving as prey for birds and bats; they’re also important pollinators.

When naled degrades, it turns into another potent organophosphate called dichlorvos, which in turn can linger in water, a 2014 study by University of California at Davis researchers found. Once there, it’s highly toxic to aquatic species at the “low end of the food chain,” including insects and frog larvae, one of the study’s authors, Bryn Phillips, recently told CNN.

So while people probably don’t have much to fear from naled spraying, bees and butterflies do. As for Zika-carrying mosquitos, the jury is still out.

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Spraying Pesticides May Not Kill Zika Mosquitos

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The Devastation of the Opioid Epidemic, in One Chart

Mother Jones

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The opioid epidemic in America is taking its toll on a class of victims who have received relatively little attention in the crisis: babies. The rate of babies born in drug withdrawal has quadrupled over a 15-year stretch, according to data released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report looked at the prevalence of babies born between 1999 and 2013 with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), an illness caused by exposure in the womb to addictive drugs, primarily opioids—including heroin, methadone, and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone (known by brand names OxyContin and Vicodin, respectively).

NAS isn’t known to have long-lasting effects, but babies going through it can suffer from tremors, seizures, gastrointestinal problems, and fevers. The increasing rates mirror the skyrocketing use of opioids across the country. In 2014, more than 47,000 Americans died from drug overdoses—a similar number to the fatalities during the HIV epidemic at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. (According to the CDC, NAS can also be caused by non-opioid drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and barbiturates, but opioids are detected in the vast majority of cases.)

Only 28 states currently collect data on NAS, and some of those states have kept figures on the condition only for the past few years. But as the chart below shows, the number of babies born dependent on drugs varies drastically by state, with West Virginia, Vermont, and Maine showing the highest rates. That’s due in part to different use rates of opioids. West Virginia and Maine have some of the highest prescription opioid rates in the country, while Vermont is struggling with a spiraling heroin problem.

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In an attempt to curb the opioid crisis, the CDC released the first national standards for prescribing painkillers this spring. The recommendations, which are not binding, call for doctors to first try ibuprofen or aspirin to treat pain, limit short-term opioid treatment to three days, monitor patients’ drug use with regular urine tests and prescription tracking systems, and advise patients—particularly those who are pregnant—about the addictive effects.

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The Devastation of the Opioid Epidemic, in One Chart

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We Have Terrible News For Anyone Who Eats Chicken

Mother Jones

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One of the US Department of Agriculture’s main tasks is to ensure that the nation’s meat supply is safe. But according to a new peer-reviewed study from the department’s own researchers, the USDA’s process for monitoring salmonella contamination on chicken—by far the most-consumed US meat—may be flawed.

The process works like this: After birds are slaughtered, plucked, and eviscerated, the carcasses are sprayed with a variety of antimicrobial chemicals designed to kill pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter, and then plunged into a cold bath (which also includes antimicrobial chemicals) to lower their temperature. At that point, a few of the birds are randomly selected, rinsed, removed from the line, and put into plastic bags filled with a liquid that collects any remaining pathogens. The liquid is then sent to a lab for testing within 24 hours. (The test birds go back into the production line.) If a large number of them test positive for salmonella, the USDA knows there’s a problem and takes steps to address it.

According to the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which oversees safety protocols in the nation’s slaughterhouses, the salmonella system works great. The agency’s latest numbers show a steadily falling incidence of positive tests for salmonella on chicken carcasses: just 3.9 percent in 2013, down from 7.2 percent in 2009.

But a new study by scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) paints a less rosy picture. The researchers simulated the FSIS’s method for testing collecting pathogens from chicken carcasses, and found it can turn up negative results even when salmonella is present.

Here’s why: When those birds are plucked off the line for testing, they’ve just been bombarded with antimicrobial chemicals, and traces of those chemicals can collect in the testing bags along with remaining microbes. In order for tests to be accurate, the germ-killing chemicals have to be quickly neutralized by the testing liquid. If they’re not, they can keep killing bacteria and, as the study puts it, “lead to false-negative results due to sanitizer carryover into the carcass.” And that’s exactly what happened in the simulation the researchers conducted. The authors concluded that their study “suggests that current procedures for the isolation and identification of Salmonella on poultry carcasses may need modification.”

But the FSIS disagrees with this conclusion. “FSIS is confident that our testing results yield accurate outcomes,” an agency spokesman wrote in an email. He emphasized that the ARS study was a simulation, and “did not evaluate the same practices as our in-plant personnel utilize.”

Salmonella poisoning remains a huge problem. Starting in March 2013, a salmonella outbreak traced back to chicken sickened more than 600 people in 29 states, 38 percent of whom had to be hospitalized. And—unlike the FSIS’s tests for salmonella on chicken carcasses—salmonella poisoning rates have not shown any steady decline pattern over the past 15 years. Here’s a chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Chart: Centers for Disease Control

Not all of those infections come from contaminated chicken, of course. The CDC doesn’t break down salmonella poisoning by food source, and doing so is tricky, said Mansour Samadpour, a food safety expert and chief executive of IEH Laboratories and Consulting Group. Most chicken-related salmonella infections come from not from eating undercooked meat, but rather from cross-contamination, he said—like cutting vegetables for a salad with the same knife used to slice raw chicken. As a result, the source of a given salmonella-triggered food poisoning is hard to trace. But chicken is the “item in the supermarket most likely to be contaminated with salmonella,” he said.

And also, while the FSIS’s numbers show impressively low rates of salmonella on chicken carcasses from its carcass testing—3.9 percent in 2013, 4.3 percent in 2012—other numbers from the agency suggest the problem may be worse. In another report, based on tests conducted in 2012, the FSIS gathered chicken samples from the very end of production lines, after they’d been cut into parts, the way consumers typically buy them. They found a positive rate for salmonella of 26.2 percent—about six times the rate found the same year on the FSIS’s testing of carcasses.

For Samadpour, that huge discrepancy suggests that the carcass testing may indeed be generating lots of false negatives. That means consumers could be being exposed to salmonella-contaminated chicken at much higher rates than the FSIS’s carcass numbers suggest.

The solution is pretty clear, Samadpour told me. Instead of testing whole carcasses just after they’ve been bathed in antimicrobials, while they’re still in the middle of the processing line, the tests should happen at the end of the processing line, when the carcasses have been cut up and are ready for packaging. He said Big Chicken could learn something from the beef industry, which began testing its finished products in that manner for a virulent E. coli strain called O157:H7 in the 1990s: Rates of poisoning from that often-deadly bacteria have plunged since.

In the meantime, I’m taking extra care when prepping chicken. Here‘s how the CDC says consumers should handle it.

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We Have Terrible News For Anyone Who Eats Chicken

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