TIME Infectious Disease

The Vast Majority of U.S. Kids Are Vaccinated

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Less than 1% of children received no vaccinations in 2014, but pockets of low vaccination rates put kids at risk

Vaccines are one of the most effective tools for preventing serious diseases in childhood and later in life, and new data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows most children in the U.S. are vaccinated.

CDC researchers looked at national, regional, state and local vaccine coverage rates and found that overall coverage remains high, and hasn’t changed much between 2013 and 2014. The data shows that the national target of 90% coverage was reached for poliovirus (three or more doses of the vaccine), measles, mumps and rubella (one or more doses of the vaccine), hepatitis B (three or more doses of the vaccine) and varicella (one or more dose of the vaccine).

Overall, children below the federal poverty level had the lowest coverage for nearly all types of vaccinations.

A second report published Thursday from CDC researchers found that most kindergarteners entering the 2014-15 school year were vaccinated, and the exemption rate for vaccines nationwide was about 1.7%.

That’s the national picture at least. The data also shows that state-exemption rates range pretty significantly, with Mississippi at less than 0.1% and Idaho at a high of 6.5%. There were five states that did not meet the CDC’s reporting standards for providing vaccine exemption data. Pockets of children who miss vaccinations exist in our communities and they leave these communities vulnerable to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in a press conference.

Pockets of low vaccination rates have proven problematic this year. In the new report, the researchers write that in 2015, measles outbreak cases included 68 unvaccinated Americans, and among those people, 29 cited philosophic or religious objections to vaccines. The CDC says the U.S. experienced a record number of measles cases in 2014 at 668 cases. That’s the highest number of measles cases since the disease was eliminated in the U.S. in 2000. Between January to August 21, 2015, there have been 188 cases of measles so far.

“We always worry about children and others with leukemia and other similar medical problems who can’t actually receive the [measles, mumps, and rubella] vaccine themselves,” said Schuchat.

The CDC reports in its latest study, that among the 49 reporting states and the District of Columbia (DC), the median vaccination coverage rate was 94% for the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, and approximately 94% for local requirements for the diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis vaccine. Varicella coverage was 93.6% among the 39 states and DC that have a 2-dose varicella vaccine requirement.

Some states are strengthening their requirements for exemptions. In 2015, California removed religious and philosophic exemptions for kids in public and private schools and Vermont removed philosophic exemptions. Schuchat recommended parents find out what their states’ vaccination exemption rates are.

Getting routine vaccines in childhood is estimated to prevent 322 million cases of disease and 732,000 early deaths among kids, the CDC points out in its report. The benefits of vaccination are not just for health. Routine vaccination could save $1.38 trillion.

TIME public health

This Technology Tracks Antibiotic Resistance In Food

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Danny Kim for TIME

Federal officials have created a new public database that tracks superbugs

On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rolled out a new interactive tool that allows users to follow the spread of antibiotic resistant bugs nationwide, called NARMS (National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System) Now: Human Data. According to the CDC, every year there are two million reported illnesses and 23,000 deaths associated with antibiotic resistant bacteria. Bacteria in our food accounts for 440,000 of those illnesses.

The CDC has long tracked the travel routes of four of the common types of bacteria transmitted through food: Campylobacter, E. coli O157, Salmonella, and Shigella. The data has already helped researchers investigate the distribution of multi drug resistant strains of salmonella and track down trends in resistance. For instance, the FDA withdrew approval for Enrofloxacin (a fluoroquinolone) in chickens after NARMS data revealed growing fluoroquinolone-resistant bacterial infections among Americans. Now the interactive database is free to the public to examine how these bugs have changed through the past 18 years.

“This is an educational tool for people who want to learn more about foodborne pathogens,” says Regan Rickert-Hartman, senior epidemiologist and program coordinator for NARMS. “This is [also] a good tool for health departments that are looking to compare their data to other states.”

Interactive maps, some of the most consumer-friendly aspects of the database, allow users to watch the spread and growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria like Salmonella and Campylobacter over time through the United States.

The database was launched partly in response to calls from academics, Congress and consumer groups for more transparency and better access to data on antibiotic resistance, the CDC says. Rickert-Hartman says the database is part of the agency’s response to President Obama’s Open Government Initiative to establish more participation and open collaboration.

Though the current data only goes through 2013, Rickert-Hartman says the CDC hopes to add 2014 and 2015 data by the end of the year.

TIME Health Care

Nearly 90% of Americans Now Have Health Insurance

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Rates of uninsured Americans has dropped in the first three months of 2015

The number of uninsured Americans has continued to decrease in 2015, according to new federal data released Wednesday.

According to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, in the first three months of 2015, 29 million Americans were uninsured, which is down 7 million from 2014. For adults between the ages of 18 to 64, the uninsured rate dropped from 16.3% in 2014 to 13% from January to March 2015.

Among people under the age 65, the researchers found that the percentage of people with private insurance coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or state-based exchanges increased from 6.7 million in the last 3 months of 2014 to 9.7 million in the first 3 months of 2015.

Overall, from January through March, the percentage of people in the U.S. who were uninsured was 9.2%. During that time period, adults ages 25 to 34 were twice as likely as adults between ages 45 to 64 to not have health insurance coverage.

The researchers note that since 2013, the greatest declines in the number of uninsured Americans were among adults who were poor (family income below poverty threshold) or near-poor.

TIME Health Care

U.S. Infant Mortality Rates Drop Slightly

Disparities still exist, and the U.S. rate remains higher than other developed countries

New federal data reveals that the U.S. infant mortality rate has dropped very slightly in the one year since it was last measured.

The report, published by the National Center for Health Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that in 2013 (the most recent data available) the infant mortality rate was 5.96 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. That’s slightly lower than the 2012 rate, which was 5.98. In total, the number of infant deaths in 2013 was 23,446 which was 208 deaths lower than the year before. The leading cause of death in 2013 was congenital malformations, deformations and chromosomal abnormalities.

The researchers note that the U.S. infant mortality rated hit a plateau that lasted from 2000 to 2005, fluctuated for a couple years, then started to decline again in 2007. The mortality rate reached a high 2005 of 6.86 per 1,000 live births; 13% higher than the 2013 rate.

Still, the study also shows great disparities in infant mortality rates exist among racial groups. The rate is highest among non-Hispanic black mothers at 11.11 per 1,000 live births. Cuban mothers had the lowest rate at 3.02, and non-Hispanic white mothers had lower rates than infants of non-Hispanic black, American Indian or Alaska Native, and Puerto Rican mothers. “The disparity in the infant mortality rate between non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white women has more than doubled over the past decade,” the study authors write.

Despite declines, other data from the World Bank shows the United States still has higher infant mortality rates compared to other developed countries like Norway, France and Germany.

TIME Infectious Disease

Contaminated Mexican Cilantro Sickens Hundreds Across the U.S.

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This is the fourth time in as many years

Cyclosporiasis, a painful and uncomfortable parasitical stomach ailment, has affected more than 380 people in 26 states after a batch of Mexican cilantro was found to be contaminated with human waste, the Centers for Disease Control and FDA says.

According to the two federal agencies, the outbreak began on May 1 and is likely caused by “contact with the parasite shed from the intestinal tract of humans” in the fields where contaminated cilantro plants were grown in Mexico’s Puebla state, al-Jazeera America reports.

The news comes after the FDA placed a partial ban on cilantro from the region in late July. Authorities investigated up to 11 farms and found toilet paper and feces in many of the fields. They also found that many of these farms lacked adequate toilet facilities, AJAM says.

According to AJAM, it’s not the first time cilantro from Mexico’s Puebla state has caused widespread illness. The herb has been linked to outbreaks of the stomach condition in 2012, 2013 and 2014 as well.

[AJAM]

TIME Health Care

Many Teens Are Still Not Getting The HPV Vaccine

Even though the HPV vaccine prevents cancer, the number of teens who get vaccinated is still lower than desired

New federal data shows that despite public health efforts, the number of teen boys and girls receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine only increased slightly in 2014.

The new numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Thursday show that four out of 10 adolescent girls and six out of 10 adolescent boys have not started the HPV vaccination series. Without vaccination, young people are at a greater risk of developing HPV-related cancers down the line.

Overall, 60% of girls in the age group and 42% of boys have received one or more doses of the vaccine which the CDC reports is 3% higher for girls and 8% higher for boys compared to data from 2013.

Currently it is recommended by the CDC that girls and boys ages 11 to 12 get the HPV vaccine. While the new numbers are an improvement from prior years, medical experts would like to see greater HPV vaccine use, especially since the vaccine prevents cancer.

HPV is not an uncommon infection. Other data from the CDC shows sexually active men and women will get at least one type of the virus at some point during their lives. Each year around 27,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with HPV-caused cancer.

We are missing crucial opportunities to protect the next generation from cancers caused by HPV,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases in a statement.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Fewer Teens Are Having Sex Than in the Past

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Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

New data shows the number of teenagers who have sex continues to drop

The number of teenagers who have had sex has significantly dropped over the last quarter century, new federal data shows.

The number of teens from ages 15 to 19 who have had sex dropped 14% for females and 22% for males over the past 25 years, revealed new data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics. According to the new report, which uses national survey data from 2011-2013, 44% of female teens reported having sex at least one time and 47% of men reported the same.

MORE: The Teen Birth Rate Is Now At an All-Time Low

The report shows that in the early teenage years, male teens were more likely than female teens to report having had sex, but by age 17, the rates were similar. Most teenagers said they used contraceptives. From 2011-2013, 79% of females and 84% of males said they used a contraceptive when they had sex for the first time and condoms were used most often. The data also shows that 60% of female teens said they had used withdrawal as a contraceptive method and 54% had used the pill. The CDC also reports that teenage women who did not use a contraceptive during their first sexual intercourse were twice as likely to become teen mothers compared to their peers who did use birth control.

Over the last 10 years of available data, the number of teenage girls who have used emergency contraception has also increased from 8% in 2002 to 22% in 2011–2013.

MORE: U.S. Teen Trends In Sex, Bullying, Booze and More

The new findings fall in line with other recent federal data showing the U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rate is on the decline, possibly due to a drop in sexual activity and an increased use of contraceptives. Why teenagers are reporting less sexual activity is not fully understood, but public health experts have credited the increase in contraceptive use to more education and lower costs for methods thanks to the Affordable Care Act. Still, the CDC notes in the new report that America’s rates remain higher than other developed countries.

TIME public health

Lyme Disease Has Surged 320% in America

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Climate change is among the reasons blamed

Lyme disease is not only becoming more rampant in its normal hotspot of the northeast United States, it’s spreading across the country, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns.

“Over time, the number of counties identified as having high incidence of Lyme disease in the northeastern states increased more than 320 percent,” researchers write in the report. They also note that the disease is appearing in states where its never been recorded before.

One big reason why Lyme disease is spiking, according to the CDC report: climate change.

Ticks tend to live in densely-forested areas and are preyed on by white mice. But forest clearing has killed off many mice, leaving ticks without a predator to keep them in check. With humans crossing this terrain, it means ticks have a fresh crop of victims to attack. And thanks to warmer temperatures, ticks are spreading their terrain into America’s heartland from their normal stronghold on the East coast.

Lyme disease is an infection caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria found on blacklegged deer ticks. The disease was identified in 1975. Symptoms include a high fever, headaches, fatigue, and a skin rash. If untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system. In some instances, Lyme disease can be fatal.

New Jersey is typically considered the capital of Lyme disease in America, but it’s spreading across the Mid-Atlantic to the Midwest, with high-risk counties in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New York, Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota.

Click here to see what to do to prevent yourself against Lyme disease—and what to do if you have it.

TIME Drugs

Some Antidepressants Linked to Higher Risk of Birth Defects

Drugs Prozac and Paxil are linked to certain defects in a new study

A new study finds women who used certain antidepressants could be more likely to have babies born with rare birth defects.

According to the study of 28,000 women by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain birth defects were more common among users of antidepressants Prozac and Paxil.

Prozac usage was linked to defects like misshapen skulls and Paxil was associated with defects such as intestines growing outside of the baby’s body and missing parts of the brain and skull. Both drugs were linked to heart defects, according to the study.

The study’s authors note that the risks are very small and that there is no proof that the drugs cause defects, but they did discover a link between using the drugs in early stages of pregnancy and some defects. Women were asked if they used certain antidepressants in the time just before they conceived and during the first three months of pregnancy.

The study, which was published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal, follows several studies that linked the entire class of antidepressants to defects. The study, however, did not find links with birth defects in antidepressants Celexa, Lexapro or Zoloft.

 

TIME Research

90% of Americans Eat Too Much Salt

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A new report sheds light on Americans' sodium habits

Consuming too much sodium can be a risk factor for heart problems, and new federal data shows more than 90% of Americans eat too much.

The findings show that from 2011 to 2012, the average daily sodium intake among U.S. adults was 3,592 mg, which is well above the public health target set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of 2,300 mg. The data comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2013 survey of 180,000 American adults in 26 states, D.C. and Puerto Rico. The findings were published Thursday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Some Americans, however, are taking action to cut back, the report shows. About half of the U.S. adults surveyed said they were monitoring or reducing their sodium intake, and 20% said they had received medical advice to do so. People with high blood pressure were more likely to report they were doing something about their sodium consumption, and overall, people in Southern states were more likely to report such action or advice from medical providers.

Public health experts argue that people without high blood pressure could also benefit from cutting back. “Among adults without hypertension, most did not report taking action to reduce sodium intake, and an even smaller proportion reported receiving professional advice to reduced sodium,” the study authors write. “These findings suggest an opportunity for promoting strategies to reduce sodium consumption among all adults, with and without hypertension.”

Sodium intake recommendations have been the focus of controversy, with some researchers arguing that sodium levels are safe and that cutting back to very low recommended levels could be harmful. Others argue that high sodium consumption is related to serious health complications and contributes to millions of deaths every year. Some groups recommend limits that are even lower than the HHS; for instance, the American Heart Association recommends less than 1,500 mg a day.

In the new CDC report, researchers say that a high sodium habit doesn’t come cheap; medical costs for cardiovascular disease are predicted to triple from $273 billion to $818 billion between 2010 to 2030, and cutting back on sodium intake by 1,200 mg a day could save $18 billion in costs each year, they say.

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