TIME Infectious Disease

There’s a Vaccine Against Cancer, But People Aren’t Using It

The only vaccine to protect against cancer, the HPV shot, isn't being used by young people who could benefit most

In a new report on immunization rates among young people, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports relatively low numbers of adolescents getting the HPV vaccine, the only vaccine that can protect against cancers — in the cervix, anus and mouth — caused by the human papillomavirus virus.

The new data, published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, shows that only about one-third of adolescent girls between the ages 13 and 17 got all three doses of the HPV vaccine, which the CDC says is about the same as last year. The shot is recommended to protect adolescents before they become sexually active. Only about 57% of adolescent girls and 35% of adolescent boys for whom the shot is recommended received one or more doses.

The vaccine continues to face challenges from parents concerned that it would promote sexual activity among pre-teens and adolescents, despite data showing that immunized teens aren’t more promiscuous. The CDC data also shows that doctors can play a critical role in discussing the shot with parents and improving vaccination rates. Among parents whose daughters were vaccinated against HPV, 74% said their doctors recommended the vaccine. But the data also showed that among parents who did not vaccinate their girls, nearly half were never told by their doctor that they should consider it. The effect was even greater among boys, where only 26% of parents who did vaccinate their son received any advice from their doctor about it.

To boost vaccination rates, some researchers are investigating whether fewer doses of the vaccine could be effective, and so far those studies look promising.

TIME Infectious Disease

CDC Lab Director In Anthrax Incident Resigns

MED CDC Anthrax
A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2013. David Goldman—AP

The lab director is now permanently out of the job

The director of the bioterror lab involved in an incident which caused over 80 lab workers to be potentially exposed to anthrax has resigned.

Michael Farrell, head of the Centers for Disease Control’s Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory had submitted his resignation on Tuesday. The resignation was first reported by Reuters and has been confirmed by TIME.

Last month, the CDC reported that procedures to deactivate anthrax when leaving a lab were not followed and that while the workers were protected, the bacteria was passed to other labs. When it was determined that anthrax had not been deactivated, the labs and CDC building were shut down and decontaminated. Lab workers have not contracted the disease.

Last month, Dr. Farrell was reassigned as the CDC conducted its investigation. Earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said the incident was due to a lack of oversight, and that the CDC would increase safety precautions.

 

TIME Obesity

Most Overweight Kids Don’t Think They’re Overweight, a New Study Finds

New data from the CDC shows many kids and adolescents misperceive their weight status

About 81% of overweight boys and 71% of overweight girls believe they are about the right weight, according to recent data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Overall, the survey, which collected data on the weight of U.S. adolescents between the ages of 8 and 15 from 2005 to 2012, found that about 30% of children and adolescents perceive their weight status incorrectly. That’s estimated to equate to about 9.1 million young people.

While the majority of overweight kids incorrectly classified their weight status, general weight misperception in the study also meant that kids who were not obese could think that they were, or that they could incorrectly consider themselves underweight.

The data also shows that weight misperceptions tended to be slightly higher among boys than girls, and had a higher prevalence among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American kids. Weight misperception was significantly lower among kids and adolescents in higher-income families compared with kids in lower-income families.

Sadly, these are the same populations whose parents are more likely to be overweight, Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director for the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, tells TIME. That suggests the possibility that overweight kids view their weight status as normal because that’s what they see in their own families. “As our country gets heavier, children don’t necessarily see it as abnormal,” he says. (Neides was not involved with the survey.)

The trouble is also that parents often don’t want to hear that their child is overweight. Prior research has shown that only about a quarter of parents of overweight kids say a doctor has told them that their kids were overweight. “People are very sensitive to weight and to growth charts, and [parents] will argue it hasn’t been updated in years,” says Neides. “We feel like young people are immortal and will be fine, and that population also doesn’t see the long-term implications.”

But overweight children is serious business. Kids are increasingly being diagnosed with diseases that usually only appear in adults, like Type 2 diabetes. A 2013 Harvard Medical School study also found a 27% increase in the proportion of children ages 8 to 17 with elevated blood pressure. “I am seeing people younger and younger coming into my office with osteoarthritis from weight,” says Neides. “We weren’t learning about kids with these problems when I was in medical school.”

The new data should serve as a warning to families and physicians that young people are confused about their weight status, and that if overweight kids continue to believe they’re the right weight, it could have detrimental effects on progress being made against the obesity epidemic.

TIME

Chikungunya in Florida Man Is First Case Acquired in the U.S.

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WS photography—Getty Images/Flickr RF

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the first case of the mosquito-borne virus chikungunya infection picked up in the U.S. occurred in a Florida man who had not recently traveled abroad.

This year, 243 people in the U.S. became infected, but this is the first case of a disease believed to originate from a mosquito in the U.S.

Chikungunya is a disease caused by a virus that leads to fever, joint pain, headaches, swelling and rash. The infection is usually not fatal, but the pain can be debilitating.

“The arrival of chikungunya virus, first in the tropical Americas and now in the United States, underscores the risks posed by this and other exotic pathogens,” Roger Nasci, chief of CDC’s Arboviral Diseases Branch said in a statement.

The CDC is teaming up with the Florida Department of Health to confirm how the Florida man became infected and is monitoring the area for additional cases. The CDC believes that chikungunya in the U.S. will follow a similar pattern to that of the dengue virus, in which imported cases cause some local transmission, but did not cause a widespread outbreak. Public health officials are investigating how the mosquitoes were infected with the virus, including whether the insects acquired the virus by biting infected individuals. Since 2006, there have been an average of 28 cases a year of chikungunya infection; none of those cases have prompted an outbreak, however. Countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, India, the Middle East, and the French side of the Caribbean island of St. Martin have experienced outbreaks in the past and 23 countries have experienced local transmission of the virus in recent years.

The best way to stay protected from the virus is to keep mosquitoes at bay by wearing repellants and creating a physical barrier from being bitten, with long sleeves and pants when possible. Health officials also recommend getting rid of any standing water outside the home, where mosquitoes generally breed.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

1 in 4 Americans Admit Doing No Exercise At All

Overweight man using remote controls
Overweight man using remote controls Geri Lavrov—Getty Images

The 10 most sedentary states in America are as follows

The CDC released a new report Tuesday that looks at how states across the country support physical activity, revealing one in four people across the U.S. admit doing no voluntary exercise at all.

The research is intended to show how some states are much more active than others. But to really drill in the point, the CDC included a table that tracks the percentage of adults by state who participate in zero physical activity in their free time.

A total of 25.4 percent across the U.S. admitted making no time at all for leisure-time physical activity, according to the report. Just over half of those surveyed said they met the CDC’s 150-minute weekly guideline for aerobic activity.

The 10 states with the highest percentage of inactivity were as follows:

Mississippi: 36%
Tennessee: 35.1%
West Virginia: 35.1%
Louisiana: 33.8%
Alabama: 32.6%
Oklahoma: 31.2%
Arkansas: 30.9%
Kentucky: 29.3%
Indiana: 29.2%
Missouri: 28.4%

The report states that data on physical activity behavior was gathered using data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (which was used to track youth physical activity.)

While some of the above numbers might look bad, all hope isn’t lost. The CDC’s report suggests strategies states can employ to encourage physical activity. Those include:

1) Creating or enhancing access to safe places for physical activity
2) Enhancing physical education and physical activity in schools and child care settings
3) Supporting street-scale and community-scale design policy.

The CDC found that 27 states are tying to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists with Complete Street policies to get people up and moving.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Nearly 60% Of People Use Nutrition Info on Menus

a fast food tray full of hamburgers
A CDC report shows nearly 6 out of 10 people use menu labels Sian Kennedy

New report suggests people are paying attention to menu labels

A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows 57% of U.S. adults over 18 use menu labeling information like calorie counts to make their orders.

The researchers looked at surveys from 17 states and found that women were more likely to use menu labels, and that labeling helps customers pick lower-calorie options. A 2010 federal law requires restaurants that have at least 20 locations to list calorie information on their menus (though regulations to implement the law have still not been finalized).

The new study is important, because it shows that Americans actually do care about menu labels, though perhaps only by a slight majority. Several earlier studies have shown the opposite. For instance, a 2012 study concluded calorie listings would have little impact on the obesity epidemic. Another 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, examined the receipts of 1,100 McDonald’s diners. Some of the participants were given calorie information as well as education about how many calories are recommended for men and women and others were given no information. Both groups ate more than the recommended amount of calories, and there were no differences between the groups, suggesting people underestimate what they’re eating, even with calorie numbers.

All of which means that while it’s great consumers are looking at calorie counts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are acting on the information.

There are a few criticisms of nutrition labeling in fast food restaurants. Two Johns Hopkins obesity experts wrote an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine last year arguing that without any context, people have no idea how many calories they should be eating, making the data essentially meaningless. Some researchers have suggested that health authorities use other measurements, like how much physical activity it would take to burn off a 550 calorie burger. Finally, a focus on calories, say some experts, misses the point, since a small Coke could have the same calories as a handful of almonds, though to say they are the same nutritionally would be absurd.

The researchers conclude that the data could help create more targeted health communication strategies that could help up awareness for menu labels and benefit Americans. With more education, diners may at least realize just how much junk is their fast food.

TIME Research

Teens Are Spending a Ton of Time In Front of Screens, CDC Says

The majority of young people spend a lot of time in front of the TV or computer

A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows 98.5% of young people between ages 12–15 report watching TV daily, and 91.1% report using a computer every day outside of school. And the vast majority of them were getting more than two hours a day of screen time, which is the upper limit recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Girls were slightly more likely to follow that guideline than boys.

The study also found that obese and overweight kids were more likely to have more screen time.

Spending excessive time using a computer and watching TV has been linked to higher blood pressure, higher cholesterol, and being overweight or obese. We also know how bad sitting is for your health, and most screen time happens in people who aren’t moving around. That’s why adolescent groups recommend a two-hour cap. You can see the data break-down below.

Percentage of youth aged 12–15 reporting 2 hours or less of TV viewing and computer use daily, by sex: United States, 2012

SOURCES: CDC/NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey, 2012. CDC National Center for Health Statistics

Percentage of youth aged 12–15 reporting 2 hours or less of TV viewing and computer use daily, by weight status: United States, 2012

SOURCES: CDC/NCHS, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) and NHANES National Youth Fitness Survey, 2012. CDC National Center for Health Statistics
TIME Addiction

America Has a Painkiller Problem, CDC Says

A new CDC report shows some states prescribe more painkillers than others

In the United States, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers every day, according to a recent report from the CDC.

The report, which looked at opioid prescriptions in the U.S. found that physicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, which is enough for every adult in the U.S. to have a bottle of pills. The states with the highest number of painkiller prescriptions are in the South. The CDC reports that in 2012, health care providers in the states with the highest number of painkiller prescriptions wrote nearly three times as many prescriptions per person as the state with the lowest number.

The number of prescriptions are very alarming, considering that the high prescriptions is linked to more deaths from overdose.

IMS, National Prescription Audit (NPATM), 2012 CDC
SOURCES: NY, TN: PDMP Center of Excellence at Brandeis University, 2014. FL: Vital Signs Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report, July 1, 2014. CDC

The CDC says states should increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs that track painkiller prescriptions by state. ProPublica has created a database that shows the doctors and providers who prescribe the most painkillers.

TIME Research

One in 10 Deaths Due to Excessive Drinking

A group of girls drinking. Lineker's Bar, Playa de las Américas in Tenerife, Canary Islands in 2007.
A group of girls drinking. Lineker's Bar, Playa de las Américas in Tenerife, Canary Islands in 2007. PYMCA/UIG/Getty Images

The CDC says it's probably best to pass on another round

Excessive drinking accounts for one in 10 deaths among adults between ages 20-64 years, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data on alcohol-related deaths from 2006 to 2010 and found drinking too much is one of the leading causes of preventative death.

Death from alcohol abuse can happen in a variety of ways. Excessive drinking (4 or more drinks on an occasion for women, 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men) can threaten people’s health in the short term, such as by drunk driving or alcohol poisoning, but can also lead to long-term health consequences like heart disease, breast cancer and liver disease.

Excessive drinking led to 88,000 deaths per year from 2006-2010 and shortened the lives of those who died by 30 years. That equates to about 2.5 million years of potential life lost to drinking. Premature deaths due to excessive drinking costs the U.S. about $224 billion a year, or $1.90 a drink, the researchers report in the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease.

About 70% of alcohol-related deaths occurred among men. Discrepancies were also noticed state to state, with New Mexico having the highest rate of death from excessive drinking, and New Jersey the lowest.

“Excessive alcohol use is a leading cause of preventable death that kills many Americans in the prime of their lives,” said Ursula E. Bauer, director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion in a statement sent to reporters. “We need to redouble our efforts to implement scientifically proven public health approaches to reduce this tragic loss of life and the huge economic costs that result.”

TIME

Nasal Flu Spray Better Than Shot For Young Kids, CDC Panel Says

Kids who use the nasal flu vaccine are half as likely to get sick as those who get the shot

Needle-phobic kids, rejoice!

U.S. health officials say the nasal spray flu vaccine is more effective than a traditional shot for children ages 2 to 8.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, a group of experts that makes recommendations to the Centers for Disease Control for which vaccines children and adults should get, voted to recommend the spray over the shot late Wednesday. The panel said studies show children who had the spray are half as likely to get the flu as those who had the shot.

So far, there is only one nasal spray flu vaccine available — AstraZeneca’s FluMist, which was approved in 2003 for people ages 2 to 49.

The spray differs from the needle-based vaccine in another important way — it’s made from a live, weakened influenza virus, while the shot drums up an immune response using killed virus. Studies have shown the spray can lead to a stronger immune response in children who have not had the flu before, but the same may not hold true for adults.

Not everyone agrees with the panel’s recommendation, however. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the nation’s largest pediatric group, does not think any one vaccine should be given preference for kids, since both are effective. One concern they cite is the fact that FluMist is typically more expensive than the flu shot, according to the Associated Press. AstraZeneca’s product costs about $23 while shots range from $8 to $22.

Other experts say that the spray isn’t for everyone. “Some kids can’t take the mist, namely those with compromised immune systems and kids with asthma, who could have a respiratory response,” Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told HealthDay. “So when in doubt, get the shot.”

The committee’s advice, which government pubic health officials usually follow, also comes too late for the upcoming flu season in the fall. Doctors have already ordered their vaccine doses, so if approved, most pediatricians won’t be able to follow the advice until next year.

Still, according to the AP, AstraZeneca may have anticipated the decision and made more of the spray for the coming flu season. The company will manufacture 18 million doses to distribute globally, up from 13 million made for the U.S. last year, Kathleen Coelingh, the company’s senior director of U.S. medical affairs told the news agency.

While not everyone agrees on the panel’s advice, public health experts do agree on the fact that every child should be immunized. If the nasal spray is not immediately available, children should get the flu shot so that they do not miss or delay an opportunity to get vaccinated.

 

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