Appalachia Health News

Appalachia Health News tells the story of our health challenges and how we overcome them throughout the region. 

Reporter Kara Leigh Lofton covers topics such as women’s health, chronic disease and substance abuse.

Her reports document the health-related innovation, improvement and success within the Appalachian region.

Follow her on twitter at @KaraLofton and #Appalachiahealth

Appalachia Health News is produced with support from CAMC, and Marshall Health.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Almost all major holidays around the world revolve around eating special foods together.

And for many people, food and the act of preparing certain foods call up memories from bygone years

As Chris Wharton, a professor of nutrition at Arizona State University put it: “Food represents a sort of defining narrative about us” and connects us to our families our  culture.

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A new study from Duke Medical Center has found that just three days a week of moderate aerobic exercise may improve thinking skills in older adults with cognitive impairments.

 

 

 

The study looked at older adults who were having trouble concentrating, making decisions or remembering -- but didn’t have severe enough symptoms to be diagnosed with dementia.

 

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A new study from the West Virginia University School of Nursing suggests that loneliness may be making it harder for middle-aged Appalachians to manage chronic health conditions.

The study looked at 90 Appalachians ages 45-64, each with at least one chronic illness, such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Using surveys, researchers tracked how lonely or socially supported participants were and then measured levels of anger, depression and how those related to their physical and mental health.

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A new study has found that cardiology patients with opioid use disorders have more complications, longer hospital stays and costlier surgeries.

The study looked at 5.7 million patients who underwent cardiac surgery and compared outcomes of those who had opioid use disorders and those who didn’t. While there wasn’t a significant difference the rate of death between the two groups, patients with opioid use disorders had more complications, longer length of stay in the hospital and higher costs.

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When the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department closed its harm reduction programs, one of the biggest criticisms of the program was that it led to an increase in crime, vagrancy and homelessness. Those claims are not without merit.

 

 


Ashton Marra

Current best practices for harm reduction programs include a couple provisions: No retractable needles should be distributed, patients should get as many needles as possible regardless of how many they bring back, and barriers to accessing needles should be as low as possible. But sometimes those recommendations are at odds with community acceptance for the practices.

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Less than two years after it began, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department shut down it’s harm reduction program. Among other things, the program provided thousands of clean needles to drug users with the goal of reducing needle borne diseases, but faced significant pushback from some in the community.  

Todd Huffman via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

Best practices for harm reduction programs call for flooding a community with clean hypodermic syringes. Research shows that in addition to reducing the prevalence of blood-borne pathogens in the community, well-run programs help remove potentially infectious syringes from the community. But some people say that wasn’t happening in Charleston.


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In December  2015, with support from the city of Charleston, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department launched a harm-reduction program that included a needle exchange. The primary goal was to reduce the risk of diseases commonly spread by sharing needles.

Kyle Mandler

West Virginia's youth obesity rates have soared over the years, and a new report found that more than 35 percent of teens here are overweight or obese. A new statewide youth development organization is trying to address the problem, and teach resilience, by encouraging kids to enjoy their native hills -- on a mountain bike.

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West Virginia is in crisis. As the opioid epidemic grows, we are producing a generation of children impacted by addiction. In October of 2018, more than 6600 children were in the foster care system. And as of May 2018, 83% of open child abuse/neglect cases involved drugs.

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West Virginia University has been awarded 11.2 million dollars to establish a center that focuses on what might make a tumor more likely to grow.

The National Institutes of Medicine awarded WVU a five-year grant to study microenvironments surrounding tumors. The idea is that just as a plant is likely to grow in a sunny garden, a benign tumor may be more likely to grow or become cancerous if its surroundings are primed for growth.

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Research from West Virginia University School of Medicine suggests that if teenagers vape into adulthood, the cardiovascular effects may be as bad as if they’d smoked cigarettes.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting

After a recent round table discussion about West Virginia Kids Health as it relates to the opioid epidemic, Harrison County prosecuting attorney Rachel Romano spoke with Kara Lofton about her work, the juvenile justice system and potential solutions for keeping West Virginia’s kids out of the court. 

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An epidemiology professor at West Virginia University School of Public Health is studying the potential benefits of simple meditation or music listening for improving memory and cognitive functioning in adults exhibiting warning signs for Alzheimer’s.

Warnings sign for Alzheimer’s can include losing one’s train of thought, forgetting the content of a movie soon after the credits roll and feeling overwhelmed when making plans or coordinating events.

Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Rahul Gupta, MD has resigned from his post as commissioner and state health officer for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, effective Nov. 5. Gupta is moving to the March of Dimes as its senior vice president and chief medical and health officer.

WVU

Antar Jutla is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at WVU. Jutla has been instrumental in developing a computer program that has helped predict and prevent the spread of cholera in war-torn Yemen. Kara Lofton spoke with Jutla about how super computers and data can impact the spread of waterborne diseases after both natural and manmade disasters.

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A West Virginia University researcher has been awarded a $13.3 million from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to compare three treatment strategies for rural depressed patients.

Rates of depression tend to be higher in rural areas, and accessing treatment is more difficult.

WVU professor Robert Bossarte will compare three treatment options: prescribing antidepressants alone, antidepressants combined with unguided online cognitive behavior therapy, and antidepressants combined with guided online cognitive behavior therapy. 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court began Tuesday, Sept. 4. Kavanaugh is considerably more conservative than the justice he would replace — a fact celebrated by the anti-abortion advocacy group the Susan B. Anthony List.

The organization has been touring several states during the past few weeks, urging democratic senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.

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An analysis of 130 metropolitan areas found that Appalachia has some of the highest rates of pre-existing health conditions in the nation. The report comes in the midst of continued federal proposals to weaken pre-existing condition requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

Among other things, the ACA guaranteed people access to insurance regardless of how healthy they are. Prior to the ACA, insurance companies could decline to provide insurance to people with type two diabetes or cancer, for instance.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

For friends, Becka, Holly and Katie, findings spaces where they feel safe to speak, act and think the way they want can be hard to find.

 

 

Getting outdoors, often with one another or other female companions, is one place the can do that.

During a recent two-day backpacking trip in the Dolly Sods Wilderness in Tucker County, they recounted some of the freedoms they feel afforded in the wilderness.

 

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is stepping in to help the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health track data and investigate a 2018 Hepatitis A outbreak.

The DHHR reports that as of mid-August, West Virginia has had 975 cases of Hepatitis A in 2018. The majority of these cases have been in Kanawha followed by Putnam counties. Therefore, the CDC will focus its efforts in these areas as well.

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A new study found checking work email during nonwork hours may be detrimental to your health.

The report out of Virginia Tech found that when employers expect personnel to monitor work email after hours, the result was increased employee anxiety, which affected not only the worker themselves, but their families as well.

The study found that employees don’t actually need to spend time on work in their off hours to experience harmful effects – just the expectation of availability was enough to increase strain for employees and their significant other.

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If you are night owl struggling with your weight, you may want to consider becoming early bird instead. A new study has found people with prediabetes who have an “evening preference,” have a higher body mass index than those who do things earlier in the day.

 

Prediabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet type 2 diabetes.

 

The study compared patients with prediabetes who go to bed, eat meals, and are more active and alert later in the day with those who do things earlier in the day. 

 

Jesse Wright / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Some medications used to treat opioid use disorders can be abused if taken in large amounts or injected. Others, such as suboxone, prevent the effect of the opioids. Two WVU researchers are studying whether this drug could be used to treat pregnant women with opioid use disorders. Kara  Lofton spoke with researcher Laura Lander about the findings and the challenges of treating pregnant women.

LOFTON: Your research focuses on treating opioid use disorders in pregnant women. What are the challenges with working with this particular patient population?

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States, including West Virginia, have seen a spike in death rates from drugs, alcohol and suicide, commonly known as “deaths of despair.”

Research from the private health care research organization the Commonwealth Fund found that nationwide, while drug deaths were the smallest contributor to deaths of despair in 2005, they were by far the largest in 2016. In the same time period, deaths from suicide and alcohol rose 25 percent.

Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Studies have found that American millennials lead the country in pet ownership, fueling the $69 billion pet industry — an industry that has grown three times since the mid 90s.

 

 


Kara Lofton / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

A few weeks ago, community members  and physicians gathered for a town hall in Beckley, West Virginia. On the agenda? Whether a new psychiatric clinic downtown should be allowed to do medication-assisted treatment from their building.

“What matters is – it’s our neighborhood,” said community member Patty Teubert. “I don’t understand why you don’t hear that.”

Teubert was acting as the spokeswoman for others opposed to the facility, which seemed to be in the overwhelming majority in the meeting.

Angie Gray, Nurse Director for the Berkeley-Morgan County Health Department, shows a box of sealed, sterile syringes given to participants in her harm reduction program.
Liz McCormick / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Across West Virginia, people are fighting back against the opioid epidemic and pushing the message of recovery. Some of these people run harm reduction clinics – which sometimes include needle exchanges. We meet a nurse in the Eastern Panhandle who runs one of these programs.

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One recent evening at Blackwater State Park, naturalist Paulita Cousins was leading about two dozen visitors on a night hike by the lake.

“When it’s dark we’re naturally supposed to be ...?” she asked.

“Sleeping,” the group responded in unison.  

“And light,” she warned, “is actually messing up a chemical in our body to make us be healthy individuals.”

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