breastfeeding

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Policy News 

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People across the political spectrum continue to debate the merits of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. Since we now know that the political and judicial systems play such a large role in the health care of women, we’d all best pay close attention to this debate. 

Drug Shortages. We did not used to have them. Now it is common place on routine drugs, even IV fluids. No slight to third world countries, but sometimes it feels like we are in a third world country. The FDA is forming a new task for to more critically and quickly investigate and solve this problem. 

Companies that make formula are multinational. The Trump administration is avowedly pro business and this is particularly evident in the international sphere where of late, this had unsavory consequences. In its zeal to unfetter corporate interests, The Trump administration has taken an anti breastfeeding stance. At present advertisements of formula is limited regionally in areas where it could be misused or hazardous. The Trump administration has desired to “ reopen” these markets, under the auspices of free trade, seemingly oblivious to the perils of selling formula  in places where literacy (ability to mix correctly) and clean water is unavailable . The entire medical and public health establishment has reacted, concerned that breastfeeding continue to be encouraged as the safe and superior method that it is. Many are pointing out that formula manufacturers have no place at the health policy table. This baby feeding battle resurfaced last year when Ecuador proposed a resolution to the WHO (World health organization)  to support breastfeeding. The Trump administration through the US delegation at the World Health Assembly, tried to water down the resolution. When this did not work they threatened Ecuador with a trade war. Can you say “evil empire” ? ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) and AAP (American Academy of Pediatricians) have responded formally. 

Did you know as little as two months of breastfeeding reduces risk of SIDS ? 

Did you know breastfeeding reduces mom’s risk of breast and ovary cancer, heat disease, and endometriosis ? 

Did you know the US ranks 26th among industrialized countries in breastfeeding ? 

The Trump administration seems to want people off the ACA. They have reduced the “navigators” fund from 36 to 10 million per year. Navigators are those who help people enroll in the ACA. The Trump administration says private health insurance agent and brokers do a better job. Do private brokers and agents get a fee for this ? 

 

Medical News 

Abortion facts were highlighted by NBC this last week: 

Death by childbirth is 14 times greater than death by abortion. 

Banning abortion does not reduce its incidence. 

Free birth control reduces abortion rates. 

Before legal abortion, 5000 women per died through complications of illegal abortion. 

Depression is not the only feature of postpartum depression. A new review has highlighted the fact that anger is often a big component of post partum depression. 

Your microbiome is the population of microorganisms that you have on your body and in your gut. This is affected greatly by what you eat. In pregnant women this microbiome is passed to the baby. Thus, what pregnant women eat can influence the microbiome of their child, for better or for worse. Newer research in multiple fields are beginning to describe the role of a healthy microbiome to overall health. 

The US birth rate is at an all time low for the second year running. Some site child care expense, wanting to spend time with existing children and concerns about the economy as chief reasons to wait. Germany and Japan have addressed their falling birth rates by putting better child care policies in place. Falling birth rates are not necessarily a bad thing, as they are associated with greater savings and higher levels of educational attainment. It is certainly an oversimplified falsehood to think that a larger population means a better economy. 

 

Stay tuned for more interesting news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology this time next week on Medical Monday. 

 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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It is no secret by now that the Trump administration is systematically enacting policies to ban abortion and limit access to contraception. Medical experts have indicated their concern all along, saying these policies are likely to backfire, increasing unplanned pregnancies and abortions overall. 

Legal challenges to Trump administration policies are now coming from many quarters. Mississippi and Louisiana have pending legislation to ban abortion after 15 weeks. Both laws will now go to Federal court to be tested. Meanwhile, New Jersey is suing the Federal government against the exemption which permits corporations to purchase insurance without contraception coverage if they object to it on “moral” grounds. Since when can a corporation have morality ? People, owners, and board members can have morality or the lack of it.

The Federal Courts are going to have a big role in determining how much of this Trump era law stands. For example, a federal judge in Washington struck down the decision by the HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) to withhold funds for the teen pregnancy prevention program. The judge called the cancellation of funds “capricious”.  HHS actions have been struck down by federal courts four times to date. 

A survey of various health care groups has shown the 95% have strongly criticized the Trump administrations efforts to weaken the ACA (Affordable Care Act). The American College of Physicians has published a paper calling for recognition and addressing of the discrimination against women in health care. Health care disparities include those pertaining to reproduction, family and medical leave, domestic and sexual abuse and inclusion in clinical trials. 

Elsewhere in the world, Ireland has voted to repeal the countries ban on abortion. The popular vote passed by a margin of 2 to 1. To put things in perspective in this historically Catholic country, divorce was only legalized in 1995. Gay marriage has also been ratified in Ireland, and an openly gay man has served as Prime Minister. 

Medical News

We all know that genes influence our physical health. But they also influence our mental health. They are a number of genes which are associated with the development of Schizophrenia. However, even if they are present, the odds of actually developing schizophrenia are low. New research has indicated that pregnancy complications such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia increase the risk of schizophrenia in susceptible individuals, as can smoking. This is all thought to take place via epigenetics and the placenta. More research is needed. 

A new study indicates what we have often observed; that those women who introduce a bottle in the hospital are much more likely to give up breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is recommended as the sole food source for babies for six months. 

The Nurses Health Study has produced data about nutrition and healing loss. Turns out those who had a diet most closely resembling a Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet were 30% less likely to experience moderate or severe hearing loss later in life. 

You will hear all kinds of unscientific reasons from patients about why they will not get a certain vaccine. We all know vaccines stimulate the immune systems and we all know they can make you feel a bit flu like in the process- no fun. New research has now proven that HPV ( human papilloma virus) vaccine does not cause increased autoimmune activity in girls. This confirms two prior large cohort studies. Despite all this, there is still a lot of push back against vaccines. It is hard for a caregiver to persist when a patient or a parent declines a needed vaccine. However new research indicates that physician persistent leads to 94% of children being vaccinated against HPV. 

Many times I hear talk to the affect that obesity alone is not a problem. There must be other factors such as diabetes or hypertension for obesity to be a threat to health. FALSE.. Newer date now tells us that having obesity ALONE makes you 39% more likely to have heart disease. 

We have been finding a lot of vitamin deficiency up here in the North Country. This has been true in pregnancy. We have undertaken supplementation regimens with the input of Endocrinology and are tailoring better maintenance regimens for both diet and supplements. New research has now show some good news : that those who take vitamin D in pregnancy are 28 % less likely to have low birth weight babies or stillbirth. 

In other vitamin D related news, new research also indicated that women with sufficient levels of vitamin D are 10% more like to get pregnant after a miscarriage, and 15% more likely to have a live birth after a miscarriage. 

Folic acid is also important in pregnancy and is known to prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. New research indicates that poorer women rarely takeout before it during pregnancy. This is something that should have a really easy fix. 

 

Stay tuned for more news from the fascinating world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, here, next week on Medical Monday. 

Medical Monday: Beaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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We will start off with novel and beneficial new research. A think tank called “Center for American Progress” has released an analysis of the current state of "sex ed” in America. They found the states to be, as a whole, deficient in teaching about issues of healthy relationships, consent and sexual assault. Only a handful (10) of states programs even mentioned these things at all. 

Backlash continues across states and the nation. Last week, Iowa passed a law which bans abortion once a heartbeat is detected. This contradicts the law on the books at this time, Roe VS. Wade. Iowa is being sued by the ACLU and various abortion providers. 

The Trump administration intends to cut all Title X funding to any clinic which even counsels about or refers for abortion. Eighty-five separate groups have signed a letter to HHS Secretary (Health and Human Services) Alex Azar to restore Reagan era regulations. 

The Trump administration has shown political and financial preference toward family planning clinics who promote only abstinence for birth control, even though it is neither effective nor evidence-based. Since family planning clinics have been organized and staffed by those who endorse evidence-based effective contraception not including abstinence only, this effectively defunds all family planning clinics. The States have a serious interest in this since they realize the health and prosperity of their populace depends on such services. In that light, the States Attorneys General have come together to back family planning clinics nationwide to sue the Department of Health and Human Services over its policy. They argue that the current policy violates the terms of Title X enacted in 1970 with bipartisan support. 

Should Medicaid recipients have a lifetime limit on benefits? Certain states, in cost-cutting bids, have been lobbying for this. However, the Fed, via the Center for Medicaid Services (CMS) has rejected these requests. In doing so, the Fed has broken rank with party conservatives. 

Care for women, pregnant women and postpartum women is not just germane to women. The health of women extends to others in the way that the health of men simply does not. Pre-pregnancy health, we are learning, is more germane to a child’s health than we previously realized. During pregnancy our opportunities to intervene to prevent morbidity and mortality are obvious. Less obvious are the manifold opportunities in the postpartum period. New recommendations from ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, and the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine reflect a growing understanding that support in the extended postpartum period reaps many benefits. They now recommend that postpartum care should extend to 12 weeks and become a sustained period of support for the new mother and infant. It has come to light that for every 10 weeks pf paid job protected leave, infant mortality decreases about 5 percentage points. 

With the legalization of marijuana all around the country, more and more pregnant and breastfeeding women are using. Until recently, we had only vague warnings for these women. However, now new data indicate that using during pregnancy leads to a 50% increased chance of low birth weight. Use during breastfeeding is associated with decreased motor development in babies. 

The nation is indeed split on the issue of women and children. Part of the country is set on shifting away from collective responsibility toward women and children as they actually live. The current administration is intent on solidifying its base through supporting the explicit ideology of its voters, which gives women certain constraints in society:  abstaining from sex before marriage, using abstinence only for birth control, and rejecting abortion. The administration has combined these emblematic stipulations with their advertisement to cut taxes, and the result is that healthcare budgets for women have been slashed. And as if to add insult to injury, it is not at all clear if the money lost to the health care system will actually end up back in the hands of the taxpayer. 

The other part of the country is looking at the real problems of maternal morbidity and mortality. They are trying to solve problems with the best available science, rather than with ideology. States are beginning to realize that the lack of good routine health care, prenatal care, and postpartum care is expensive. It is expensive in the emergency room and in the workplace. Professional, scientific and legal groups are starting to fight back. 

ABC has just done what amounts to an exposé on the poor quality of pregnant and postpartum care in the US. This column has dealt extensively with the percentage statistics and trends on maternal morbidity and mortality. However, I have rarely included raw numbers. Here they are. In the US seven hundred women die each year in childbirth. Sixty five thousand more almost die. In a response to this program, ACOG has publicized its coordinated initiative to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality state by state. It is called AIM, Alliance for Innovation in Maternal Health. It has already been implemented in 18 states. 

Science marches on. 

New research indicates low levels of free t4 in pregnancy are associated with lower non-verbal IQ in children ages 5-8. Most caregivers are now including thyroid labs in their prenatal panels. Ask your doctor to be checked. 

BRCA genes are not the only genes pertaining to breast cancer. Newer multi-gene testing panels are now available for selected patients. Ask your doctor to speak with a geneticist if you are uncertain. 

Common sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in California.  New data indicate that chlamydia is most increased in women in their 30s, while men account for the majority of new syphilis and gonorrhea cases. 

Fertility rates in the US have fallen to record lows for the second straight year. The same is true for several other developed countries. What are we to think? We know that at present, 50% of births are unplanned. As women become more educated and have more autonomy, birth rates naturally decline. You hear environmentalists’ concern about overpopulation, and politicians bemoan declining birth rates. The devil is, as always in the details. Certain subgroups in our population are decreasing and others are increasing. All of this will add up to social and economic change. I have one main concern: that growth be sustainable. Since my life’s work is mainly done one woman at a time, I am concerned that my patient's health habits and healthcare are sustainable. I am concerned that she have the means to grow her family or finish her family's growth in a sustainable way. I am concerned that my town and my countryside have sustainable growth. However, for me, growth is not the right word. I’d rather my community mature, or flourish. We shouldn’t always need more people, more buildings or a larger economy. What we need is for the family size to be ideal as determined by the parents. We need our towns to function optimally and to improve the space we have until it is optimized. The same is true for our nation. But our financial institutions are geared toward growth: more consumers, more goods, more profit. But this comes a human, societal, economic and ecologic cost. When we think about family size, birth control, population statistics, and even prosperity in general, we have to think about what we want our future to look like. When women lack access to health care, we cannot craft our futures. 

 

Stay tuned for more news from the exciting world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, right here next week on Medical Monday. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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Maternal mortality is a big topic nationwide. The rates are unacceptable in the US, and particularly bad in the South. Arkansas, in a reasonable move to triage women for eligibility for home birth, have established a screening process. That screening process for women helps the State determine who may legally delivery at home. Heretofore, this screening did not require a vaginal exam. Now it does, and this has brought fire from patients and home birth midwives. It has always been our position that a patient may decline anything for any reason. However, to qualify for certain program certain requirements must be met. My position would be that women who do not want vaginal exams will have to forgo participation in that particular program. And, I must ask, what is the problem with vaginal exams ? Women are not fragile and information is power. This type of overly precious attitude toward the female body, even by women, is counter to the interests of maternal and fetal health. It is case of putting philosophy over responsibility. 

Texas OB/Gyns are starting to speak out about what they see are the causes of excessive maternal mortality rates. They are identifying system errors such as failing to recognize risk, as well as more subtle phenomena, such as unconscious bias. Race is of course a factor as black women are four times more likely to die than white women. A rally in Boston highlighted the same cause of maternal mortality. The centerpiece of the rally was a billion the US Senate which will promote the formation of state review committees for maternal mortality. 

Pennsylvania is also taking measures to try to curb maternal mortality and has established a committee through the State Health Department to scrutinize the problem. 

In an effort to get more pregnancy women into prenatal care, Connecticut has approved a bill to make pregnancy a “ qualifying life event”. This means that pregnant patients in the state my enroll in insurance plans anytime, and need not enroll within the confines of the enrollment period. 

With all this talk on maternal mortality, one might take a moment and discuss maternal morbidity. Morbidity means serious complications short of death. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has indicated that for every 1 mother who dies, 70 nearly die. That is an astonishing statistic and goes a long way in my mind toward explaining why Obstetricians have such burn out, and why their numbers are decreasing. Maternal morbidity comes from all the same things maternal mortality: worsening maternal health, worsening access to evidence based care. poorly funded health care systems, unconscious bias, race, etc. 

The Trump Administration is considering implementing the so called “gag rule”domestically. This would prohibit the dispensation of Title X funding to any clinics which even mentioned abortion. I wonder how this reconciles with freedom of speech ? Can you imagine trying to enforce this ? All patient consultation and exam rooms would need to have audio recording equipment and someone would have to review the recordings. Dystopian much ? 

The Trump administration is reappropriating about $15 billion in unspent funds from CHIP (Children Health Insurance Program) and certain part of the ACA ( Affordable Care Act). Democrats feel this is not the time to cap these budgets or reduce rainy day funds. However the Trump administration budget is ballooning and they are trying to cut costs anywhere they can even for vulnerable groups. 

Iowa has banned abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is at around 6 weeks. However, similar measures have passed in North Dakota and Arkansas but they have both been struck down as being unconstitutional and inconsistent with Roe V. Wade. 

Louisiana has seen a quadrupling of the rate of neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS describes the condition of infants who are born to opioid addicted women. A recent feature in teh New You Times has reported that about 90% of pregnancies among addicted women are unintended. The reasonable inference here is that addicted women have a hard time using birth control effectively. 

ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists ) advises pregnant and breastfeeding women not to use marijuana for concerns about developmental delays. Nonetheless, a new study has shown that 69% of Colorado Dispensaries phoned do recommend it to pregnant women for nausea. Dumb and dumber. 

New data is coming out that induction at 39 weeks may be associate with fewer risks and lower C section rates. More research is needed. 

A new study on genetic testing for breast cancer has shown that those who do not meet the criteria for testing have harmful mutations AS OFTEN as those who do meet the screening criteria. Sounds like the screening criteria need broadening. 

In other genetics related news, we find that the number of genetics tests available is increasing. A new study has shown that only a small subset of physicians order genetic testing, and even fewer know how to interpret them. This appears to be a case of the technology moving faster than our understanding. 

The Human Genome Research Institute is developing “ preconceptual screening” for couples. Right now screening is piecemeal, meaning only for a selection of known genes. However, they are developing  a whole genome sequencing program, which has been made possible by NGS, or next generation screening. 3.5 % of participants had a medically actionable finding. As of yet, the majority of the information acquired does not have a clinical application. 

Yet more data has come out of a large study on the HPV (human papilloma virus). In a study of 73,000, it has been shown not only to prevent cervical cancer, it also prevents precancerous lesion of the cervix. Additionally it did not show any increased risk of side effects compared to control. 

Stay tuned for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology next week, here on Medical Monday. 

Medical Monday : Two Week Catch Up

 
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Happy Easter and Happy Passover. We have two weeks to cover. Thanks for reading ! 

 

Policy News

Much of the National Health Policy News this week deals with contraception and reproductive health. Can anyone remember any time in this or any other country when these private matters were ever so much on the national stage ? The politically conservative aspects of my nature questions why this degree of government intervention in private lives is necessary. My medical qualifications and medico-legal experience cause me to classify some of this meddling as practicing medicine without a license. 

Title X is a federal grant program whose purpose it is to promote positive birth outcomes and healthy families. It provides grants for family planning and health services. So here’s my first question: Why is it not run by health care professionals ? Trump administration officials are now contemplating new wording which would add additional criteria for clinics to receive Title X funding, namely the provision of primary preventive services. Sounds good right ? Well many clinics offer only reproductive health services. These clinics would have to expand or close. This measure seems like just another way of closing family planning clinics.  Now whether pap smears would qualify as preventive health is unclear, or whether paps would be classified as reproductive health, I don’t know. 

Texas is challenging the federal government’s withholding of funds for its family planning programs. They were withheld several years ago based on the fact that these providers, many of them through Planned Parenthood, also provided abortions.

Planned Parenthood itself is challenging the Federal Government on its withdraws of funds from the teen pregnancy program. Between this and two other plaintiffs, the Department of Health and Human Services has partially and temporarily restored some of the funding until litigation can be completed. 

Idaho has failed to solve the problem of insurance for those whose income falls between Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act coverage criteria. A proposal called Plan First Idaho would have funded family planing services for women in the gap. My question is, what rocket scientist designed the State’s the two programs such that their income qualifying criteria do not meet seamlessly ? This is a problem of their own making and it needs solving. Republicans in the Idaho House stalled this measure. 

Idaho Governor “ Butch” Otter has approved a measure by which prospective abortion patients must a told about “ abortion reversal” a procedure that does not exist. Additionally, he has signed legislation which will require abortion providers to collect personal and demographic information which, in de-identified form they intend to make public. I don't know what they think this will accomplish, but I have a feeling it may backfire, since they will be able to see how many and how diverse a group of women utilize the procedure.

The Supreme Court is hearing a case between the State of California and a group of "crisis pregnancy centers”, an actual chain of 130 outlets run by “ The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates”. These centers are anti-abortion counseling facilities, however they are licensed as family planning providers. California has a law requiring that all licensed family planning facilities to post notices of the availability of free or low cost birth control and abortion services and they are challenging it. They are arguing that this posting requirement violates their free speech.  So far the Court has expressed concern that these clinics not be singled out from other clinics. California has argued that their staff, many of whom are not medically qualified, present medical misinformation as truth, all to the end of dissuading patients from abortion. Apparently theses non-credentialed counselors actually wear white coats. 

Along with the opioid epidemic has come a hepatitis C epidemic. Kentucky, having seen a surge of the disease, has passed a law now requiring all pregnant women to be tested for it. Hepatitis C used to be very hard to treat. However, patients have much more hope nowadays due to the availability of effective therapy. 

Missouri has expanded Medicaid for pregnant women in drug abuse treatment. Their continued coverage will be contingent upon them staying in treatment, and could under those conditions, be continued up to 12 months.  

And now for more of a purple to blue state review:

Florida is considering a bill requiring HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination to be required as part of the vaccinations required of children attending public school. Human papilloma virus causes multiple illnesses most notably cervical cancer and genital warts, and the vaccine has not demonstrated any conclusive evidence of harm.

It is interesting to note that physicians are not prescribing HPV vaccine equally for female and male children. Doctors recommend the vaccine twice as often for girls as they do for boys. This puts the boys at increased risk for HPV disease, and puts all their future partners at increased risk too. 

Mississippi passed a law banning abortion after 15 weeks Of course this is unconstitutional based on Roe V. Wade which is still on the books. A Federal Judge over turned Idaho's ban. 

New Hampshire has passed a bill which will allow pharmacist to prescribe birth control. No doctors visit will be necessary. The medical establishment has concluded that vast majority of the birth control methods are safe for the vast majority of women. They certainly are when compared to pregnancy for those same women. Authorities believe this will eliminate yet one more barrier to contraception. Utah signed a similar law into place earlier in the week. 

On the other coastline, the state of Washington now has a bill that will require insurance to cover contraception, abortion and maternity care. Additionally, after the first of the year, all contraception has to be co-pay and deductible free. This includes voluntary sterilization. 

The new budget has failed to shore up the ACA ( Affordable care Act) marketplaces. States will have to tighten their belts and work on their budgets one by one. 

ProPublica has reported that the “US is the most dangerous country in which to give birth”. States all over the US are creating programs to quantify and address the problem of maternal morbidity and mortality, even as the Federal government under Trump is dismantling reproductive and maternal health care piece by piece. 

Do you ever get the feeling that the various States in America are becoming like the countries of the European Union with different values, cultures budgets and laws ? 

 

Medical News: 

 

Obstetrics: 

Striking research findings presented at Lancet Global Health conference have shown that the death risk is double among pregnant women who are anemic compared with those who are not. The lead study author also found the correcting anemia is not a sufficiently high enough priority among physicians. 

Research presented at Diabetes UK conference has shown that excess weight gain incurred during pregnancy by  gestational diabetics is associated with greater risk of cesarean section.

Women who exercise in pregnancy have shorter labors. This interesting news was published in the May issue of European Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. The study group attended a professionally led session of moderate exercise three days per week. Labor was shortened about one hour, mostly in the first stage, or dilating phase. ACTIONABLE ! 

Children who were breastfed exclusively for at least 6 mores were less likely to become overweight to obese than their counterparts. The conclusions were drawn by analyzing over 38,000 records from children South Korea. The finding were presented at the Endocrine Society Annual Meeting. 

Gynecology/General Medical News: 

There may be a male birth control pill on the horizon. Research at the Endocrine Society's annual conference has presented information on a new male birth control pill called DMAU. It contains androgen and progestin,  which is analogous to the contents of the female birth control pill, estrogen and progestin. Once daily tablets appear to be safe and effective. No period required. 

Menopause and aging in general is characterized by a loss of muscle mass and bone density as well as the deposition of fat. As suspected, the Mediterranean diet may have a positive impact on bone mineral density and muscle mass in postmenopausal women. The Mediterranean diet emphasizes the eating of high quality protein, large volumes of fruit and vegetables, healthy fats such as olive oil and a modest amount of complex carbohydrates such as whole grains. As a whole, the diet is lower in simple carbohydrates than the typical American diet and is also higher in protein and antioxidants.

There are now over 400 cases of a rare lymphoma which are linked, epidemiologically, to breast implants. Breast implants are not new. Lymphoma is not new. However our ability to collect and parse data is better than it has ever been. The FDA it's taken this ability and created a meaningful database for this type of information. While an association between breast implants and this rare lymphoma is being established through data collection, a causality between the two is not necessary implied. That said, nothing is more likely to lead us to understand the causes of this problem than amassing quality data about it. 

Federal funding support for cancers is disproportionately low for gynecologic cancers if you rank them by lethality. Cancer of the ovary and the uterus ranked near the bottom of the funding list. Contact your elected officials ! 

A new modification of the current device used for pap smears can identify cells from endometrial (uterine lining) and ovarian cancer. The investigational PapSEEK uses an analysis of 18 genes and analysis similar to that used in prenatal screening for Down’s syndrome to identical the genetically abnormal cancer cells. THIS IS SO COOL ! 

A new study on postmenopausal hormone therapy has shown that it does help maintain thinking and memory skills. This is the case IF it is initiated shortly after the onset of natural menopause. This study was presented in the Journal Neurology and was a high quality randomized controlled trial of 75 women between the ages of  42 and 56. 

In my mountain state, there is not a great deal of sunlight or seafood. As a result we have a high prevalence of vitamin D deficiency. New research indicates that vitamin D deficiency increases a post menopausal women’s risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes the unholy triad of diabetes, high blood pressure, and abnormal serum lipids ( cholesterol and triglycerides) which together increase cardiovascular risk. Vitamin D levels are checked by a simple blood test. Ask your doctor about this ! 

 

Stay tuned for more news from the exciting world of Obstetrics an Gynecology, next week, here on Medical Monday ! 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetric and Gynecology

POLICY NEWS :

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From the “back in my day” department we have the following dispatch: If one of us residents were to refuse to care for a patient out of moral objection or fear for our safety, we would have gotten in big trouble. We would have been told to get cracking or get packing. I remember being horrified one day after I had taken care of a beautiful young Moslem woman who had endured the severest from of ritual Female Genital Mutilation. (FGM) Not only had her labia and clitoris been removed, but her skin had been sewn together to barely leave enough opening, on stretch, to have intercourse.  She had just had a normal vaginal delivery and it was all broken open. Despite the fact that she had frequent urinary tract infections and and constant pain with intercourse, she insisted that I put it all back together after the birth. I spent a great deal of time trying to reason with her about the medical inadvisability of this procedure. Despite my personal and professional objections, I had to do it. The patient explained to me that she would have felt humiliated in the eyes of her family if it were not repaired. It was an awful situation for me. I wonder now what would be the requirements for me in the same setting, given that “moral objections" are playing a role in medical care.

A new Harris Poll based study has revealed that 8 in 10 Americans “ do not believe doctors, nurses, pharmacists….” “ should be allowed to use their conscience or beliefs to refuse care.” Of course this pertains to many issues in Obstetrics and Gynecology, where one might be facing requests for routine abortion, or for abortion for grave anomalies not compatible with life outside the womb. Some people do not believe in birth control. Some do not believe that welfare mothers should have large numbers of children. Some people do not believe in women having multiple partners. Some people do not believe gay couples or single people should be able to use assisted reproductive technologies. The list goes on. 

A recent paper described a possible option of 12 weeks of paid family leave secured in a fiscally responsible way. Parents would have a choice to trade 6 weeks of delay in the disbursement of their Social Security checks later in life in exchange for 12 weeks of family leave earlier in life. We’ll see if the idea gets any takers Washington. 

As of this last Wednesday the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has stated Family Planning will continue to be refunded. The grant money for the program is called Title X and amounts to 260 million dollars. 

North Carolina is connecting the dots. A bipartisan program, YES let me repeat that- BIPARTISAN program in the state, Carolina Cares, is advocating to expand Medicaid. The fetal and infant mortality in the state is unacceptable and available data indicates that expansion of Medicaid can decrease fetal and infant mortality simultaneously. Care through Medicaid targets exactly what places mothers and infants at risk: poverty, violence, lack of education, nutrition, and prenatal care. 

Several States are considering lifetime caps on Medicaid for those who are not children, pregnant, or disabled. If you are not any of these things, why should you need Medicaid ? The Conservative in me says you wouldn’t since you would simply work and earn and pay for insurance. The Liberal in me says, insurance is expensive, and there will always be people who are just poor, and they need comprehensive medical care more than anyone for them to even stand a chance at a decent life and productivity. 

Several States are leaving the Federal Government behind, and beginning work on their own versions of the Individual Mandate. These include Maryland, California, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington, and DC. As reported previously, even more states have begun or finished work on laws guaranteeing contraceptive coverage for their citizens. 

 

MEDICAL NEWS: 

 

In the "we already knew this" department, new research has shown that induction may lower complication rates. But the devil is in the details…angels too. It turns out inducing at 39 weeks was associated with less need for C section and fewer complications for mother and baby. However, dates must be accurate and the cervix must be soft and favorable to even consider it. The quality of the study was good and it was presented at the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine. 

Think only old women lose urine? Think again. One third of women leak urine before thier first pregnancy. Talk to your doctor if you think there is a problem. Urine loss may signal infection or other medical conditions. Most of the time it is just de-conditioned muscles and bad habits. 

Ever have preeclampsia ? This disorder, also called toxemia, will go away after delivery. However, mothers who had it either had a pre-existing tendency to high blood pressure beforehand or retain this tendency to high blood pressure afterward. If you had preeclampsia, check your BP regularly and know that you are at risk. I hear they make smart phone connected BP cuffs! 

The Journal of the American Medical Association has published a report indicating that as many as 10% of US babies are affected in some measure by fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). This has been unearthed by interviewing mothers of neurologically or behaviorally abnormal children. What was once believed to be primary neurological disorders are now felt to be related to maternal alcohol consumption in pregnancy. Likewise, I am very concerned about what we suspect but have not yet conclusively proven about the effect of marijuana on the brains of the unborn. 

Syphilis is on the rise, and herpes on the decline. Both infectious diseases are easy to detect, manageable to treat, and potentially catastrophic in pregnancy. Get screening if you have any doubts. 

Probiotics for babies? Experts are beginning to focus on the neonatal microbiome. That is the group of organisms in and on the baby which are considered to be normal and beneficial. Many of these come from mother, via delivery and breastfeeding. But what if a C section takes place and what if breastfeeding is curtailed? While amateur “seeding” of the flora has been tried, ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) does not recommend it. However, research interest in this topic is increasing. We do know that pregnant women should eat a pre-biotic diet rich in fruit vegetables and probiotic foods such as plain yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, and even Kombucha in moderation. 

Stay tuned next for more exciting news from teh workd of Obstetrics and Gynecology, here on Medical Monday. 

 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetric and Gynecology

Policy

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The GOP appears to be giving up on repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Those who support the patient care aspects of the ACA may cheer, but they should not breathe a sign of relief, since the funding mechanisms of this plan remain somewhat undetermined. Encouragingly, there is increasing GOP interest in crafting legislation which will make the plan more fiscally stable. The goals in this case would be to guarantee Federal subsidies to insurers, and to reduce patient premiums while keeping essential benefits.

Do you think that people realize that the more people sign up for the ACA, the more stable it will be ? Well, it's true. It's easy. Go to heathcare.gov to see if you qualify. 

South Carolina has argued that a “ human being is a person at fertilization”. They have created a legal category “preborn humans” which incidentally my spell check refuses to recognize, and they propose these preborn humans be afforded due process and all protections under the law. ACOG, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, opposes the bill since it is not based on science. 

A 20 week ban on abortion failed the Senate. The bill’s proponents advanced the bill on the basis of their belief that 20 week fetuses can feel pain. ACOG has gone on record saying “ the fetus does not have the physiological capacity to perceive pain until at least the 24th week of gestation.”. We as a medical culture have a great deal of experience with 24 week babies since they routinely come to any large newborn ICU. Had the bill passed, it would have been challenged under the standing Roe V. Wade. 

Idaho has introduced a bill which introduces misinformation into the informed consent language for medical (pill based) abortion. The bill’s language asserts that medical abortion can be halted after the first of two pills is taken. The bill further requires providers to provide a list of other providers who can advise about “ abortion reversals”. None of the bills assertions are based in fact. A patient contemplating a medically induced abortion should not proceed if she has any doubts, since there is no evidence reversal is possible. I feel angry on behalf of distraught women who may be told this misinformation and who try to rely on it. 

A group of private donors has bankrolled the provision of medical abortion services for all public universities in California. A bill is under debate which will require public universities to provide this service. 

Another bill proposed in California would require larger businesses with new construction to provide space for breastfeeding. The bill stipulates these areas need to be be in place by 2019. 

The Utah bill which will require the offering of IUDs through Medicaid has passed the House and is heading to the Utah Senate. Republican lawmaker Ray Ward, has proposed the measure to decrease unplanned pregnancies, teen pregnancies, and abortions. 

Medicaid expansions may be able to move forward in several traditionally red states if they are paired with work requirements. What do you think ?

 

Medicine

 

Researchers out of UC San Francisco have come out highlighting the adverse effect of marijuana on the unborn. Dr. Dana Gossett has cited several recent studies which indicate marijuana increases risk of still birth and adversely affects how the babies brain develops. ACOG has already come out formally warning pregnant women not to use. This could potentially turn out to be a huge generational problem if these children, as a generation, have significant delays. This research also raises the question of what is marijuana does to the brains of children and adults who use. This research also raises the issue that state policy on marijuana has been made without any reference whatsoever to available science. 

Preliminary date from a Dutch population based study indicate that women with implants may be somewhat more likely to develop anaplastic large cell lymphoma. Further studies are needed to clarify the risk. 

It has been well established that obese women have an increased incidence of breast cancer based on weight aone. However it is now becoming clear that even fat/skinny women are also at increased risk. This means even a woman of normal overall weight with a high body fat percentage has increased risk. 

 

TDAP stands for tetanus diphtheria and acellular pertussis. This vaccine is given to children and to pregnant women. It turns out that that protection is afforded to the baby through the mother no matter when mother gets the vaccine in her pregnancy. Upshot: It is never too late to get a TDAP in pregnancy. Babies first vaccinations are not until 2 months, so baby needs passively acquired immunity from mom getting her shot in pregnancy. 

 

This season’s flu is on tract to be the worst of the decade. already it has surpassed the 2009 “ swine flu” epidemic. As f this writing, flu has led to 37 pediatric deaths nationwide. You may have heard that this year’s vaccine is only partially effective. This is true, but some protection is better than none. Get you and your loved ones vaccinated. Do not go to work of you are sick. Ask sick co-workes to go home. Do not take sick children to day care. Wash you hands twitch soap when you arrive at home. Be assertive ! If you think you have been exposed to flu, call your health care provider. You may be eligible for preventive medication, and certainly are if you are pregnant or immunocompromised. 

 

A new Zika vaccine has been fast tracked by the FDA. It is called TAK-426 and is currently being tested on 240 people between the ages of 18 and 49. 

 

Women have autoimmune disease 9 times more often then men. I will therefore report on two news items of interest to those with autoimmunity. The first pertains to Rheumatoid Arthritis. A new study has shown that women with Rheumatoid Arthritis tend to deteriorate after menopause. This hints at a relationship between autoimmunity and reproductive hormones. Unfortunately the relationship is not yet clear. Meanwhile, those with these issues should talk to their Gynecologist about navigating through menopause in a way that minimizes difficulty and risk. 

 

The second has to do with lupus, a condition which I have. New research indicates that a gene called “ Toll Like Receptor 7 (TLR-7) ” may be involved. Normally, only one copy (allele) a gene is active in a given individual. However, in lupus patients the second copy of TLR-7 does not deactivate as it should. The normal role of TLR-7 involves activation of type 1 interferon signaling which is critical to antiviral immunity. However too much of this powerful immune response can be damaging. Lupus nerds stay tuned with cautious optimism. 

 

Stay tuned next week, here, for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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I’d like to take a moment to thank readers for their continued attention to this blog and this site. The Women’s March drove home the point of how important it is for all of us to be aware, and for us to make our voices heard. The beginning is simple: learning what is going on. 

Policy

Up to date policy includes one Alex Azar, who will be the new HHS ( Health and Human Services) secretary. As such he will be in charge of health policy in the nation. He has vowed to consider the interests of both parties. 

The legislature is gearing up to vote on a 20 week abortion ban. I’m not sure how much effect this will have since most elective abortions are far earlier than this. Since Roe versus Wade was based 45 years ago, making abortion legal, approximately, twelve hundred restrictive state laws have been passed. 

The Trump administration is crafting a program called “ Conscience Rights” which would allow a health care provide to deny a patient care based on their beliefs. This care would obviously include controversial procedures like abortions and assisted suicide, but would also extend to providing contraception and sterilization. Numerous physician groups including ACOG have raised substantial objections. I would not like to see health care devolve this way. I already know physicians who disapprove of people who get abortions, and physicians who disapprove of people who don’t practice birth control to have large families “ as many as God will give”, or people who drink, or people who smoke, or people who get fat or get sexually transmitted infections. Is there no end to our judgmental mentality ? I though we were in this to teach, comfort and cure. 

Utah is where I went to medical school. It is also the center of governance for the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints, aka the Mormon Church. In general I found the people there an attractive mix of family oriented, strictly religious, and yet interested in and respectful of science and the diverging views of others. So in this progressive atmosphere it comes as no surprise to me that a Republican legislator Representative Ray Ward, has proposed HB 12, which will enable Utah Medicaid to provide birth control, which it currently does not. He is proposing this to save money by decreasing unplanned pregnancies, abortions and reducing all costs associated with those. Brilliant ! 

Texas lost $35 million in federal funds which it voted to exclude Planned Parenthood from the recipients list. It basically lost $35 million worth of care to Texas women. Could this be related to the astounding increase in Texas Maternal Mortality ? Now Texas legislators are trying to get that money back. They are proposing their own program which will still exclude Planned Parenthood; They are calling it Healthy Texas Women. If they get their money back for their new program, there is concern that other states will similarly overhaul how federal money is delivered to women’s health clinics. 

Meanwhile, nationwide, women continue to flock to clinic to obtain long acting IUDs ( intrauterine devices) to give them birth control in case the contraceptive mandate of  Affordable Care Act is revoked. 

The Trump administration is trying to find more ways to “ excuse” people from the mandatory requirement to have health insurance, the so called “ individual Mandate” part of the ACA ( Affordable Care Act).  For all the world, you would think they want fewer people insured. Oh wait ! They do want fewer people using federally sponsored health insurance plans, since those cost the government money which they would prefer to keep for items on their own agenda. They justify this stating consumers should have freedom of choice, meaning the freedom to save for health care expenditures, as if that is common practice, or you could reasonably expect to do it for a large 5 figure expenditure. Last year, there were 3.2 million more people uninsured compared to the year before. Most of this is reckoned to be people who simply chose not to pay for health care. I cannot understand why it is not simply like car insurance. If you are on the road, you must have insurance. If you do not, and something happens, you will cost others a great deal of money and yourself a great deal of trouble. The same is true if people are too irresponsible to obtain health insurance. 

Medical News

Hip fractures among women are on the rise. This new study shows what I have considered inevitable. The women of the Diet Coke, Tab and too much coffee age are upon us. Many were smokers, and few drank milk, let alone ate leafy greens. No wonder bones are breaking. Here in Montana, where winter is 9 months long and there are 3 months of bad sledding, vitamin D deficiency is rampant. Vitamin D is crucial to bone metabolism and is manufactured in the skin by sunlight. Pacific Northwesterners and many of us in the Rocky Mountains inland should consider getting checked and supplemented. 

Breastfeeding may protect against type two diabetes in women. The longer the breastfeeding, the greater the reduction in risk. We have always advised that breastfeeding helps moms lose unwanted weight, and of course that in and of itself lowers risk for diabetes. 

Placental insufficiency is just what it sounds like it is. All placentas are not created equal. Placentas deliver oxygen and nutrients to a growing baby. However, various medical conditions or just bad luck will result in a poorly functioning placenta. Just about any pregnancy complication such as high blood pressure, poor nutrition, or smoking will result a placenta of  poor quality and a higher risk of complications for baby. The worst complication is of course stillbirth. A new study has suggested that nearly a quarter of stillbirths could be preventable. Placental insufficiency is usually the culprit, and with standard prenatal care it is not hard to diagnose. When we identify the problem, we increase the surveillance with monitoring and Ultrasound. Any problems with access to good prenatal care will interfere with identifying and treating complications that lead to stillbirth. 

Texas continues to be in the news as researchers and policy people probe the appalling maternal mortality figures. As of this writing we know that many factors are to blame including access to prenatal care, prevalence of black women in the data set, especially those who are underserved, or who have hypertension. Most interesting to me is the contribution of stress from chronic societal discrimination. 

The spotlight is now on my state, Montana. In the case of 14 child deaths in Montana this year, 3/4 of them took place when an infant slept in the same bed as a mother who was using drugs. Our hospital has addressed this by have an active department of Social Services, an Addiction Specialty service, and the Baby Box program. This is modeled after a common European practice wherein a family with a newborn is sent home with a baby box full of safe supplies. The box itself is made to evidence based standards, having a flat firm mattress , a fitted sheet, and no covers. Baby is kept warm in a sleep sack, a kind of gown in which they cannot get tangled or suffocate. In Finland, for example this has been done for over 75 years with good results. Some say it has helped Finland achieve one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world. The Baby Box program also includes extensive education about safe separate sleeping practices, but it remains challenging to change people’s behavior of keeping baby with them in the bed. 

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22751415

A County Attorney in Big Horn County, Montana has announced a crackdown on pregnancy women who use drugs or alcohol. That office plan to seek civil restraining orders and even incarceration to meet their goals. ACOG has come out against this, indicating it basically keeps high risk women away from prenatal care. Handmaid’s Tale, much ? 

When medicine and policy collide: More women received indicated mammograms when Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act, banned copays. If that does not tell you copays are a barrier to screening, I don’t know what does. 

Women skip mammograms for money. But, a new study says women skip paps for embarrassment. Young women in particular could identify embarrassment due to body shape, shape of vulva, or smell. We need to do more to help women and girls feel comfortable in their own bodies. 

A new study reveals that increased long use of oral contraceptive pills confers better and better protection agains endometrial (uterine) and ovary cancer. It also confirms that long term use does not seem to affect risk of colon or breast cancer. You may have in the past heard other studies which have contradicted this. The good news is that our methodologies improve and computing power increases every year, making the quality of our data better and better as time goes by. 

Not-so-fun-fact: New research incites that a women's risk of dying from childbirth is 14 times higher than her risk of dying from an abortion. 

Finishing today in the SUPER COOL department, we have two entries. 

First, those Scandinavians are once again on the forefront of progressive perinatal care, this time using the power of probiotics. A new study shows probiotics consumed in pregnancy lowers the risk of preeclampsia and preterm birth. These Scandinavian countries provide comprehensive prenatal care and keep thorough databases on all patients, enabling them to glean meaningful information of good quality. More research is needed on how to implement this finding. 

Lastly, Apple has roiled out a new feature in the Health App enabling users, meaning patients, to control and transfer their own medical records. Twelve large medical institutions have begun beta testing. This is great for patient empowerment. It is also partakes of the open data movement, which says that in an ideal world, data should be fully shared, without fear of discrimination. When patient and research data can be shared, we can expect a great acceleration of medical progress on the topics which matter most. 

 

Stay tuned until next week, for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Happy new year ! Hopefully this year we will benefit from the upheaval of 2017. Many of us became more political. The issues about which we care came into distinct focus. Perhaps we clarified our priorities. Hopefully health and quality time are high on your list. 

In that spirit, I am going to try to streamline what I hope has already been a streamlined blogging format, and go to what could perhaps be called “ bullet blogging”. Perhaps you have heard of “ bullet Journalling”  or “dot journalling”? I had been doing it for some time without realizing it. Instead of journaling in full sentences and paragraphs, I journal in bullet lists, small graphics and graphs. It is fun, fast, and lets me indulge my visual nature. 

If you have been into any Michaels, Joannes or any other craft store lately, you may have seen prominent displays showing fancy little bound or three ring journals, sticker sets, small format markers, washi tape, and specialized fill pages - all for such enhanced journaling. There are also many cool online resources for bullet journalling. 

I am an incredibly digital oriented person, and so it may seem a surprise that I would be interested in such analog things. I believe that for every person’s life or work management system, there is a particular optimal balance between digital and analog. Everyone one needs a little paper. In my office, I have suggested that my employees keep “ one notebook to rule them all”. Instead of a proliferation of sticky notes and other scraps to get mangled or lost, the one notebook, complete with dates and legible writing, held everything. I gave them some beautiful starter notebooks, and they took it from there. They seem to enjoy it. One co-worker in particular has made hers into what I would call an art form. That is the idea ! It is to take some joy and satisfaction in even the smallest things, like note taking and scratch calculations at work.

And so it has occurred to me to try “ bullet blogging”. It is my hope it will be faster, simpler and easier on the eyes. I’m going to give it a go. 

Policy News 

Via CMS( Center for Medicaid Services) : 

  • 8.7 million signed up for Obamacare, federal health insurance made possible by the Affordable Care Act, likely underestimated 
  • 95% of last years level, despite half the signup period and deep cuts to advertising
  • Final figures due out in March

 

CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS ? 

Employees of the CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) and other federally funded health and science organizations were “discouraged" from using seven words in budget reports: 

  • Vulnerable

  • Entitlement

  • Diversity

  • Transgender

  • Fetus

  • Evidence-based

  • Science-based

#RESIST 

Two separate letters have been issued from > 300 public health organizations urging the HHS ( Health and Human services) to ignore this. The second letter included signatures from

ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists)

AAP (American Association of Pediatrics) 

APHA ( American Public Health Association) 

 

Blocking the blockers 

  • Last week  Federal Judge in Northern CA blocked the Trump administration’s loophole which let’s objecting employers out of providing insurance with contraception to employees. 
  • The Justice Department is “ evaluating” LOL. 
  • Comment: No one ever has, because of Obamacare, made anyone else use contraception. 
  • Fact: Contraception reduces teen pregnancy and abortion. ALOT. 

 

Kick the can

GOP has kicked the real budget and real health care bill into January. Stay tuned. 

 

Medical News

 

ACOG President-Elect Lisa Hollier, MD MPH, Houston, Texas, brings a new clear focus: the rising maternal mortality in America. 

  • Missouri ranks high is maternal mortality, in the worst ten. 
  • Oregon is creating a special commission on rising maternal mortality.
  • One in four pregnancies in central Oregon are drug affected. 
  • Mississippi has the highest rate of preterm birth, which is high cost in both human and financial terms. The CEO of Magnolia Health in Mississippi is taking aim at this problem. 
  • Infant mortality in Kansas is about three times higher for black babies than it is for all babies. 
  • Dr. Hollier's own state of Texas takes the cake, with the highest maternal mortality this side of the third world. 

 

STUDIES: 

 

Study: Breast pain is not a symptoms of breast cancer. Neither lack of pain nor lack or palpable lumps means lack of breast cancer. Upshot: Get your mammograms ! 

Study: Cervical Pessary may be of use in preventing preterm birth. 

Study: at home STI ( sexually transmitted infection) test kits may increase detection rates. 

Study: Post menopausal Estrogen therapy may protect against some forms of memory loss. 

Study: Income and weight are inversely related for women. This is not true for men. Contemplate. 

FDA (The Food and Drug Administration) plans to increase regulation of homeopathic remedies. Because there are no real studies on these. Contemplate. 

Marijuana update 

  • Mj use in pregnancy has increased in CA from 4 to 7%. In pregnant teens it has increased from 10 to 19%. 
  • ACOG recommends discontinuation of MJ for those who are or who are contemplating pregnancy. For reasons, see HERE: Marijuana Use During Pregnancy and Lactation 
  • It's clear that we as a nation do not value science. Do we value drug induced relaxation over clear thinking or the cognitive development of our children ? Very little contemplation needed. 

Male Contraceptives ? 

NIH ( National Institute of Health) and the Population Council are sponsoring a clinical trial of a hormonal male contraceptive gel. Don’t expect it on the shelves for at least 5 years. I wonder how the GOP will attempt to regulate male methods of contraception. 

It’s best if you follow up on these leads to put together your view of women’s health care in this country. What I have given you should contain enough key words so you can google your way to the source material. Remember to seek out reputable sources like the NIH, the CDC, ACOG, AAP, APHA, or major academic medical centers like Mayo Clinic or Stanford.

2018 is a new year, and a new approach is needed to ensure the best for women’s health care. Get involved. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obststetrics and Gynecology

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The word must be out that the ACA (Affordable Care Act) is alive and well. In the first four days of enrollment, November 1st through 4th, over 600,000 Americans enrolled. That is to be compared to the 1 million who enrolled in the first 12 days last year. This year so far, 22% were new enrollees whereas last year approximately 24% were. These figures do not include enrollees in independent state exchanges created since last year. Insurance companies corroborate that, at this point, enrollment is up compared to last year.

The Congressional Budget Office has revised its estimate of how much the repeal of the individual mandate would it affect the national debt. Initially it was thought that removing the Individual Mandate (the requirement in the ACA that all people maintain some form of health insurance) will result certain number of people not buying insurance through the ACA. Savings would occur because the ACA would not have to spend money to cover these individuals. The initial estimate of these savings was $416 billion. The new estimate of the savings has been reduced $338 billion which still sounds like a lot of savings. 

I wanted to know if these big sounding ”savings" included an economic analysis the savings or expenditures outside of the coffers of the IRS. They did not. The actual letter from the Congressional Budget Office to Richard Neal of the Committee on Ways and Means in the US House of Representatives is here: 

 

https://www.cbo.gov/system/files/115th-congress-2017-2018/costestimate/hr1deficitsanddebt.pdf

 

It clearly states that while their calculation indicates a savings to the Federal Government by repealing the Individual mandate, it does "not include the macro economic effects of enacting the legislation”. What are “macroeconomic effects” ? These are the economic effects downstream resulting from poorer health and it’s consequences. Have these macroeconomic consequences been precisely defined ? No. But the general trends are clear and overwhelming. Losing health care coverage depresses individual and nationwide economic well being. 

Repealing the Individual Mandate leaves more money in government coffers, yes. But so would something ludicrous like ending Medicaid and Medicare altogether. Data from multiple disciplines shows us that money spent on health care is well spent, and results in a saving in the long term. Yes there is a savings in human suffering, and that is paramount. But if you are the sort of person who only wants to speak in dollars and cents, you too will realize a monetary savings. We as a society will realize higher levels of educational and vocational attainment, less unemployment, and greater individual and national economic productivity if we pay now for health insurance. You’ve heard of pay now or pay later ? This is a perfect example of this adage. We pay for health insurance for all, covering prevention and health maintenance, OR we pay later, in more unemployment, more welfare recipients, and the unreimbursed cost of advanced diseases and disability. So do not get too exited about that $338 billion in savings. It is not going to jump right back into your pocket as lower taxes. 

The state of Maine is currently a battleground between the people and the Governor's office. Despite a popular vote supporting the Medicaid expansion, the Governor plans to stop it based on his department's analysis of fiscal consequences. He estimates the cost of Medicaid expansion to be somewhere between 63 million and a hundred million dollars, whereas the nonpartisan budget office estimates that the expansion will cost 54 million and bring in an additional 525 million dollars of annual federal aid. I always find these large factual discrepancies disturbing because it seems clear that some of them are informed primarily by party politics. It seems to me that some sort of double-blind research could take place using a high degree of computational analysis. With this, a sound human-free estimate could be generated on pretty much any question. I doubt either side wants this though because it would take away their ability to play politics. 

The Massachusetts House has voted 136 to 16 to approve legislation which would protect birth control coverage for women. The law will require health insurers operating in the state continue offering birth control coverage without copayments for prescription contraceptives regardless of changes in federal policy or repeal the Affordable Care Act. The bill also goes further and mandates coverage for over-the-counter emergency contraceptives without a doctor's prescription. The Governor of Massachusetts, Charlie Baker supports this bill. It will be taken up by the Senate this Tuesday. The Senate is expected to approve the measure. 

A House bill under consideration would the eliminate medical expense deduction. About 9 million households or 6% in our country utilize this deduction. This is interesting because this deduction could apply to anyone who pays their deductible. I am embarrassed to say that when I was a new business owner in the 1990s I was not aware that my medical expenses not paid by insurance were tax deductible. I later learned this from my accountant. I still find that a lot of people are unaware of this deduction. My total family out of pocket currently sits at about $5000 and we seem to utilize it every year. I can easily document how much of it we utilize through my insurance company's website where I can access my EOBs (explanation of benefits). I simply submit this information to my accountant and it counts as a sizable deduction. 

Why the federal government wants to tax expenditures related to health I do not know. You would think they would encourage responsible spending of this nature. You would also think that there are plenty of other things to tax. For example, we already tax vices like alcohol, and tobacco. But we could tax them more. I am a strong proponent of vice taxes because they work. Those intent on buying the substances are willing to pay more to get what they want, and those who are on the fence and want to use less say they appreciate the additional financial disincentive which ultimately results in them using less. 

Americans are known for their consumerism. One could argue that we all have far more stuff than we need, and that we are not adequately responsible for repurposing, repairing, reusing, donating, giving, or recycling what we have before we buy something new. What if these such discretionary items were taxed ? What if we made sure that items like food, hygiene products, cleaning products and other necessities like over the counter medications, were not taxed, while so called luxury items, which we do not necessarily need, are taxed. Wait ! We have this already, and in some states it is called a sales tax. It applies to everyone, people can chose to pay it or not, and it does not disincentivize spending on health. Think about it. Government should incentivize individual spending on health and education. In my opinion, this could happen far more than it is. 

Doulas. By now you’ve heard of them. They are people, usually women, who help pregnant women during labor. They are espoused by all levels of Obstetric care because of their association with better outcomes. However, they are now being utilized in the postpartum period. We are increasingly focused on postpartum depression and its risk factors. We are also focusing on supporting women as they initiate breastfeeding. Postpartum doulas can help with all of this. They can address some of the exhaustion and sleeplessness that new mother experience by helping with nighttime feedings and infant care. They can help with meals and housekeeping. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has recently formalized its support for such postpartum care in its recommendations. 

For women, the association of moderate to vigorous physical activity and longevity persists even into old age. A recent study where the average age of participants was 72 has shown that those who log an average of 70 minutes of regular exercise a day had a 70% lower risk of death compared to the least active women who move just eight minutes a day. This research is important to me because I have many older women in my practice who feel certain that exercise consists of a leisurely walk. It is true that you cannot take such patients and insist that they suddenly start a program of moderate to vigorous exercise. But you can recommend that they start gradually with supervision, and work their way up to what is actually appropriate. Is high time to stop treating middle-age and older women as fragile.

In sobering news, new data indicates that women treated for early breast cancer still face a risk of recurrence to 20 years later. This data comes from a meta-analysis including 88 smaller clinical trials. The patients surveyed were believed to be disease free. These are patients who completed five years of post cancer therapy with tamoxifen or aromatase inhibitors as recommended. So this study result is an unhappy surprise, but one that should quickly prompt further research, and may even change therapy for such patients in the very near future.

It is interesting to think about this new data in light of the current findings published recently in the Journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. This study revealed that "many breast cancer patients skip recommended treatment after surgery because they lack faith in the healthcare system”. While these patients did not report distrust of their doctors, they reported a general distrust of medical institutions and insurers. These women were more likely to skip follow-up treatment such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy, or radiation, statistically worsening their outcomes. 

Finally in the we-already-knew this department, the International Journal of Public Health has published a study concluding that sexual harassment whether verbal or physical, can “cause psychological harm”. While this seems entirely within the realm of common sense and conventional wisdom, readers should realize that it is critical that studies like this be performed and published. On the basis of studies like these, tangible harms can be demonstrated in a court of law, and justice can be pursued in a more definite way.

 

Stay tuned next week for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, right here on Medical Mondays. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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The big policy news is the ACA (Affordable Care Act). It is still in force. Furthermore, As of November 1st, it is enrollment time again, the fifth so far. Apparently 76% of Americans did not know that enrollment started last Wednesday. This is year is different, with uncertainty and confusion abounding. The public needs to be aware that the ACA is still in force, and that those eligible should enroll. A recent poll indicates that 18% of Americans do not think the ACA is still in force. They must be aware they may not see much about it in the media, since the Trump administration slashed funds for advertising by 90%. Moreover, they should be aware that the time for enrollment has been was cut in half, to 6 weeks, with no service for 12 hours on Sundays. The bottom line is that many consumers MISTAKENLY BELIEVE they will not get insurance the next year. 

Those that do sign up will find premiums have risen by 37 % on average. This is because of fears, loss of subsidies, and fewer insurers who are participating. All would do well to realize, though, that while there were 167 insurers in 2017 participating, there are still 132 this year. While the Trump administration has cited rising premiums as evidence that the ACA has failed, 80% of consumers can get a plan for less than $75 per month after tax credits. 

The States have generally recognized the long term and short term value of the ACA. Accordingly Governors, as a rule, have objected to its weakening. There are, however 12 States, who have taken matters in to their own hands, and run their own marketplaces. These plans will advertise normally, and have appropriate infrastructure to help consumers enroll. They realize that more enrollees makes a more stable market, and one that will run at the least possible cost. 

Preeclampsia has made the medical news this week. A new study has focused on the all too common disease process which pregnant women and their babies. An official at the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has called it the most common severe problem for women in pregnancy. It leads to morbidity for both mother and baby. It has a price tag of over 2 billion dollars annually. And yet it’s exact cause remains unknown. We do know that it is more common in the very young and the very old who are pregnant, as well as the obese, the hypertensive, and those with certain autoimmune disorders. We do not that daily aspirin can help prevent recurrence, but that many patients are not receiving this simple, safe and inexpensive therapy. More research is needed. 

Contraception is again in the news. Columnist Bryce Covert has rightly summarized a large body of scientific literature in his opinion piece about the relationship between the availability of contraception and the strength of the economy. He points out that the Trump administration’s curtailment of access to contraception is likely to be associated with a gradual slowing of the economy. If women are able to easily chose the size of their family, they are more likely to chose a size they can afford. If they can put off childbearing until they are finished with education, their educational and professional attainments will be higher before bearing children, should they chose to do so. The pool of workers will be larger, and it will be more skilled. Families will be more solvent and have bigger savings. All these things contribute to the strength of the economy in very real terms. 

More good news for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding has numerous benefits to mother and baby. For mother, it helps slow post partum bleeding. It helps loss of pregnancy weight gain. It fosters bonding. It is convenient and hygienic. For babies, it enhances dental health, immunity, and growth of the newborn brain. It fosters bonding. New research also indicates that just two months of breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS, sudden infant death syndrome. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a minimum of one year of breastfeeding. 

Preterm birth rates are creeping up in the US, disproportionately affecting minority women. Complicating matters, is that the one proven preventive, 17- hydroxy progesterone, brand name Makena, is expensive, and is greatly underutilized nationwide, especially in underserved area. And here, I’d like to speak to insurance companies: Think Makena is expensive ? Try comparing that with a long stay in the Newborn ICU ! 

 

Stay tuned for more amazing news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, here on Medical Mondays ! 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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In policy news, President Trump has publicly declared the Opioid Crisis a “Public Health Emergency”. In concrete terms, this means that Medicaid money can be used to combat the problem. Trump also explained it also meant there would be money spent in an effort to develop non-addictive painkillers. Thirdly he indicated that there would be an advertising campaign to address the problem. 

The idea about non-addictive pain killers is interesting to me. I do not view the opioid crisis as an issue of pain control. I view it as an issue of coping with life. Opioid use may start with need for pain control, but then abuse and addiction develop later from different factors. The FDA( Food and Drug Administration) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb as recommended MAT, or Medication assisted therapy, which combines medication treatment of addiction with counseling. 

An undocumented 17 year old at 16 weeks of gestation has succeeded in her appeal to obtain an abortion. Since September, this undocumented immigrant has been detained in a federally funded shelter and has been requesting an abortion. Her case has highlighted the fact that the Trump administration has quietly changed policy on the matter, and now denies abortions to minors in custody. The particular memo is in an email from E. Scott Lloyd, director of HHS (Health and Human Services) Office of Refugee Resettlement. It states “…government funded shelters… should not be supporting abortion services pre or post release; only pregnancy services and life affirming options counseling. “ The position of the Justice Department on the matter was that it did not dispute the Constitutional Right to abortion. However, it asserted that it was not obligated to facilitate abortion by releasing her from federal custody. In order to obtain an abortion, she could either leave the country or find a custodial sponsor. Some accused HHS "anti-abortion zealots" of “holding her hostage” to prevent her from obtaining an abortion. E. Scott Lloyd was an avowed and zealous anti-abortion activist before he was appointed by the Trump administration to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

The lawsuit against the Trump administration over the plan to end insurance subsidies was denied by a US District Judge Vince Chhabria. At issue was whether the cessation of subsidies would cause immediate harm to consumer. Somewhat ironically, the Judge argued that since many States had, on an emergency basis, anticipated and provided for shortfalls, that no immediate harm would come to pass. This decision, of course, simply sanctions the transfer of insurance expenses from the Fed to the States, who are variably able to afford them. The Judge also wrote that it was a “close case” and that it was in an “early stage”. 

In medical news, it is once again confirmed that the teen birth rate and the US abortion rate fell during the years of the ACA (Affordable Care Act). The US teen birth rate has fallen to its lowest rate since the 1940s. The abortion rate fell the fastest among American teens. Evidence points to contraceptive availability as the cause of the decreases. 

At the same time, use of fertility treatments has doubled in the past decade. Twelve percent of reproductive aged women use these services. 

Yet another case has been added to a list of cases of babies who have developed a life threatening infection after water birth. While ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) supports water labor, it does not support water birth where there is  potential for babies to inhale not only water, but particulate matter such as non-sterile blood clot and fecal material, not to speak of whatever else in is the pool. Readers should remember that human lungs are not made to accommodate water, even sterile water or saline. Amniotic fluid may look like water, but its chemical composition and properties are far different. 

In the troubling and should-be-easy-to-fix department, we consider US Maternal Morbidity and Mortality. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) identifies maternal deaths through death certificates. Death certificates are very short documents and do not allow for elaboration. This limited source of information does not allow us to calculate the true rates of maternal mortality or late complications, much less to determine which deaths were preventable. Being simple and brief, these forms foster a gross under-reporting. Surely a more informative digital cloud based solution could be devised. 

Texas continues to struggles with a crisis in maternal morbidity and mortality. In particular, African American women are dying or pregnancy and birth related complications at an alarming rate. These women account for 11.8% of Texas births, but 29% percent of Texas pregnancy and birth related deaths.  Experts believe potential causes relate to obesity, poverty, diabetes, delayed prenatal care, higher C section rates which result form these other factors, drugs, hypertension and related cardiovascular problems. 

In major scientific news, result of the OncoArray Consortium have been published. This is a global project wherein 550 researchers shared genetic data from 300 institutions and 275,000 women, 146,000 of whom have had breast cancer. The work, published in Nature and Nature Genetics, has identified many more previously unknown genetic mutations associated with breast cancer. We have long suspected and counseled patients that BRCA1 and BRCA 2 are probably not the only cancer mutations. Now we have specific confirmation on this. While these results may initially seem daunting, they are the kind of data that can lead to better “precision" methods of diagnosis, prevention and treatment in the not so distant future. 

Reader should take note of the multilaterally of this OncoArray Project. The non-academic person understands that research studies take money, time and test subjects. They also understand that more money, subjects and time mean higher quality results. One might ask then why has it taken this long for researchers the world round to combine resources to get truly powerful results ? Indeed perverse incentives have, until recently, been in place to silo, hoard or hide data, one researcher from the next, or one institution to the next, in a climate of competition for research dollars and accolades. Even at present, the open date movement is not mainstream among researchers, nor is the idea of sharing medical record information including genetic information popular among patients. There are costs to sharing data, but the benefits may well prove to be greater. 

Did you know that there are various sizes and types of IUDs ? There is most likely one that is suitable for everyone, including teens, women who have not had children, and women near menopause. Many misconceptions about IUDS arise among patients and caregivers. For example, we used to believe that IUDs prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. However, ACOG now recognizes that IUDs prevent fertilization. Many who oppose a method which fosters non-implantation of the fertilized egg will be comfortable using this method knowing its mechanism of action. 

“Vaginal seeding” is the deliberate transfer of a mother’s vaginal flora to the infant’s nose mouth or skin. This procedure is under research investigation and should not be attempted at home. Women who undergo C section may have an interest in this as their newborns have not been exposed to vaginal flora like an infant born vaginally would have been. There are very real risks to vaginal seeding, because, as with many things, the devil is in the details. It turns out that vaginally born and cesarean born babies microbiota are slightly different, but that they equalize after about 6 months. It also turns out that breastfeeding provides the best and safest transfer of flora.

 

Stay tuned next week for more fascinating news from the world of Obstetrics an Gynecology.   

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

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The Graham-Cassidy Bill leads the policy news this week. This is the GOP's last ditch attempt to repeal the ACA (Affordable Care Act). It has been simplified down to one key point : redistributing Federal funds for Medicaid expansion and insurance subsidies as State block grants. The bill was introduced by two GOP Senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, and with support from others. 

During the week that the Graham Cassidy bill has been around, it has been scrutinized. The Kaiser Foundation has determined that the redistribution of funds in those plan would be quite unequal between States. Consider that different States expanded Medicaid more than others, and some did not expand it at all. What States would stand to have taken away would therefore vary. Overall Federal spending on health care would drop by more than 100 billion dollars between 2020-2026 under this plan. Many physician groups have also criticized the plan. Most notably, ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists). Eleven Governors including some from the GOP have come out against the bill as well. 

It is unclear if there will be enough votes to pass this bill. More than 50 are needed. Toward the end of the week Senator John McCain has stated he will not support it, and that alone may doom it. Remember that Senator McCain was recently diagnosed with brain cancer this last year, and is therefore deeply involved in the health care world. 

The deadline to pass this bill is September 30th. But it will only be brought to the floor if it is determined beforehand that it will pass. This deadline is needed in part because insurance companies and insurance commissioners need to settle on rates which the commissioners will approve and that will keep the insurers solvent. 

The Iowa legislature voted to forego Federal Funding just so they could deny funding to Planned Parenthood. Now the Iowa Department of Health and Human Services is beginning a collection of data about the effects that this is having. They are trying to determine if defunding Planned Parenthood has reduced access to reproductive health services for Iowans. Seems bass ackward to me. 

In a interesting and positive turn, State Senator Ray Ward, a Republican out of Bountiful, Utah  has proposed a bill that would allow Utah Medicaid recipients to have a postpartum IUD placed while they are still at the hospital. This would bring the red state in line with all but 6 other states which lack this law. 

On to the medical news. 

How bad is the opioid crisis ? It is so bad that death from opioid overdoses is skewing our life expectancy gains statistics. 

Women and opioids are a special case. It turns out opioid addiction and sexual violence are closely linked. In these cases, police are seldom called due to the presence of the drugs and fear or retaliation. 

Speaking of drugs, ACOG has come out with a new Committee Opinion. In this latest document, they have stated clearly that pregnant and breastfeeding women should not use marijuana. 

In the this-makes-perfect-sense department, a new study out of Harvard has shown that adequate sleep and adequate support protect against postpartum depression. That said, even those with high levels of support can get postpartum depression. For example, Ivanka Trump has recently shared her story of postpartum depression. 

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An insulin pump may give better control to pregnant diabetics than conventional prick and inject methods.We currently use insulin pumps in non-pregnant diabetics, but have not until now, seen evidence about their use in pregnancy. 

There was a recent Apple event with new product announcements. In it, mention was made of the Apple watch, and the app called Health Kit, and their potential for ultimately helping patients like diabetics. Fast forward only a few days later when I attended Stanford MedX conference. We heard from a young diabetic woman who solved her own problem. Using small cheap components and a little home built computer set up called raspberry pi, she combined a blood glucose sensor with some dosing software and an insulin pump to create her own “ artificial pancreas”. We heard her presentation as an example of what an empowered patient could do. Empowerment plays a huge role in healing. 

The opposite of empowerment is psychological trauma, with resultant PTSD. It turns out that this sort of thing significantly increases one’s risk of being diagnosed with lupus. Lupus is a serious autoimmune disorder characterized by inflammation of the joints and many other tissues. According to a study published in the Journal Arthritis and Rheumatology, trauma even without PTSD are than doubles the risk of getting the disease. Those with PTSD are three times more likely than their peers to get lupus. Nearly 55,000 women’s questionnaires were examined over a 24 year period. This news reinforces the already widespread advice that stress management is important. 

 

Stay tuned for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, on Medical Monday. 

 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

In policy news, it is no secret that Senate Republican bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act was a failure. Their proposals included many measures that would curtail health care for women in the form of either provision of contraception, for health screening for condition such as sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer or cervical cancer and access to prenatal and maternity care. The failure of this bill led many of us who care for women to breathe a sigh of relief. 

However there is a new threat to women's healthcare. The House Appropriations Committee is responsible for setting the federal governments spending priorities for the upcoming year. These budgetary items come in the form of bills. Most of the bills concern essential services such as the military but included with these budgetary plans are several add on provisions or riders which contain potential law related to women's healthcare and it's funding. For example, the bland and harmless sounding "Financial Services and General Government Bill" would prevent people from purchasing insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange which includes comprehensive reproductive coverage. As another example, the "labor, health, and education" bill would eliminate funding for Title 10 family planning clinics which provide a low income women and men with cancer screenings birth control tests for sexy transmitted diseases. The Republican plan for this care is to reroute it to community health centers. However many question the ability of community health centers to meet this increased demand.

 MATERNAL MORTALITY BY COUNTRY FROM THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK VIA indexmundi.com

MATERNAL MORTALITY BY COUNTRY FROM THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK VIA indexmundi.com

Representative Nita Lowey (Democrat from New York) is the top ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee. She and several colleagues have offered alternative amendments to guarantee that women have access to these health services. They include provisions for birth control without co-pay, Title X family-planning funding, rescinding the Global Gag Rule, and re-instituting funding for the United Nations Population Fund. Without control of Congress these are likely doomed, but at least drafts are in place and the issues are on the table.

Last week, Senate leaders passed some bills that stand to help patients. The first is a bill that will help fund the FDA review of prescription drugs and medical devices.  The second bill, called the”Right to Try” Act, it will help the FDA to “…speed review generic drug applications”.

Even those of us who applauded the Affordable Care Act realize that it needs some more robust Federal funding for the the upcoming years. Republican Senator from Tennessee Lamar Alexander has “...organized bipartisan hearings next month" to help fund ACA a insurance marketplaces next year. Governors from both parties have urged the Trump administration to act continue to making ACA subsidy payments. President Trump has tried to characterize these federal contributions to defray the cost of healthcare as an insurance company "bailout". 

The expanded health care that the Affordable Care Act provided was beneficial in human and longer-term economic terms. However instituted immediately in the then insurance marketplace, it would have been financially unaffordable without federal subsidies. That is the reason why the federal government subsidies were designed in the first place. Consumers would contribute, States would contribute, and the federal government would contribute through the taxpayers, in what amounted to an elaborate cost sharing plan. The implicit and explicit philosophy was that the healthcare of the American people was a shared responsibility and a worthwhile financial investment for the future. 

As has been previously reported, Texas has a maternal mortality crisis. The maternal mortality rate is 35.8 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2014 where is the rest of the nation sits at 23.8 deaths per 100,000 live births. Texas's rate is characteristic of a third world country Robinson United States of America which has state-of-the-art medical care. This issue has been on the table for several months now in a large study is underway to fully understand the reasons why. Meanwhile editorials in Texas newspapers abound to the effect that the crisis is no mystery. Various pieces of legislation large and small, State and federal, over the last decade have resulted in curtailment of access to women's healthcare, including reproductive health care, general women's healthcare, and prenatal care. Could there be a connection?

In the medical news, we begin with the opioid crisis. According to new research publishing the animals of internal medicine, approximately 2,000,000 Americans self report that they are addicted to opioids. There are likely many more. 11 million admit to misusing opioids. Opioid addiction is surprisingly dangerous and hard to treat as it becomes enmeshed with behavior and Biology. There are specialists who treat opioid addiction but they are few and far between even in sophisticated medical communities. Doctors who will treat pregnant women with opioid addiction correctly are even more scarce.

Do you think cultural factors matter in health? Do you think behavior is ”catchy” ? I just learned that pregnant women in Florida smoke at double the rate of women in the rest of the country. I think such outliers are very interesting and provide potentially informative subjects for study.

I am the sort of person who is very interested in maps and infographics. The idea of regional variations in health behaviors is fascinating to me and can be portrayed in maps. See todays' illustration lifter from indexmundi.com who lifted it from the CIA World Factbook   The case of Florida and smoking, the case of Texas and maternal mortality, and indeed the case of the entire south and rates of obesity should constitute low hanging fruit for any interested researcher. 

The FDA is taking a powerful step in the battle against smoking. We have had warning labels. We have had higher taxes on cigarettes. We have had educational campaigns. However now, the FDA will lower the amount of nicotine in tobacco products. There is good reason to believe that lower nicotine in cigarettes will lead to smokers quitting and enable them to quit more easily.

In the odd and frightening department we see the new research published in the Journal Cancer Epidemiology, which suggests that postmenopausal women with gum infections are more likely to get many common cancers than their peers. Ladies, use those electric toothbrushes, that thick floss, and those peroxide and fluoride mouthwashes. Check in with your dentist. More research is clearly necessary.

Mothers across the world are missing a great opportunity. This is breast-feeding. According to the World Health Organization and UNICEF, only 40% of babies were exclusively breast fed for six months, which is the undisputed recommendation. Rates in the United States are considerably lower with  25% of mothers exclusively breast-feeding for six months. The report included research on the key reason why mother stop breast-feeding. It is the need to return to work. Solving this problem would be a matter of addressing culture, policy pertaining to postpartum leave, paid postpartum leave, and breast-feeding in the workplace.

Breast-feeding has numerous benefits for babies, mothers, families, and society at large. A new study documents that breast feeding may be linked to a lower risk of breast cancer. This study was a meta-analysis of 18 prior studies. 13 of which showed that breast cancer risk dropped 2% for every five months a women breast-fed.

News continues to filter in regarding the use of CRISPR to edit genes in human embryos. At present CRISPR has been used to edit out the single gene mutation that causes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. The most logical next candidates are other single gene mutations which cause disease. Examples of single gene diseases are cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, fragile X syndrome, muscular dystrophy, also known as Huntington's disease. Hope is on the horizon ! 

 

Stay tuned next week for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Medical Monday: Delayed Edition

After I got my diagnostics squared away, I discovered ACOG’s ( American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology) news site was down. Members like me have access to their news and research paper aggregator. I use it as my starting point for creating your news digest blog post page Medical Monday. Finally, all is well and we have some catching up to do. 

GOP leaders have once again announced a deadline for a vote on their health care plan, the American Health Care Act (ACHA). The deadline is to be the end of June. However, as of this writing, there are still significant disagreements over the particulars. Moreover, the drafting of the bill has now gone behind closed doors. This has met with consternation not only from Democrats but from Republicans too, since such interested stake holders cannot have a say or even see what is going on. 

The Department of Health and Human Services, (HHS) has a nonpartisan economic unit called The Office of the Actuary. According to a recent analysis done by this office, adoption of the ACHA would cause out of pocket expenses to rise about 61%. This means premiums and deductibles would rise 61% for the consumer. While the real cost of the premiums would be somewhat lower, the government subsidies to defray them would diminish, leaving the consumer to pay the difference. The current administration wants to pay less, and wants we consumers to pay more. Remember that the government’s money is really our money, collected in the form of our tax dollars. While about 29% of the American public supports the ACHA, it is not formally supported by a single State government. This is because the Fed is trying to do to States what it is doing to us. It is trying to shift more of the financial cost of health care off of itself and onto the States. If the current administration succeeds in shifting health care costs to the consumer and the States, it will claim it is saving taxpayer money.

Many of you are already aware that Texas is facing a crisis in maternal morbidity and mortality. Concern is mounting that the crisis will only get worse if the ACHA is passed, since it will reduce already limited funds for the care of women and pregnant women. 

Business leaders are starting to register concern about the looming changes in health care. In particular, the cancellation of the contraceptive benefit is projected to have huge economic and social repercussions for American families, such as spikes in unplanned pregnancies, and ripple effects though the workplace. A statement by Allan Peace of Trillium Asset Management notes that “ institutional investors… see compelling evidence that widespread access to sexual and reproductive health care benefits” promotes  the “interrelated outcomes” of women having greater control over their lives and the facilitation of economic growth. I would add that this has been demonstrated not only domestically, but around the world. Yes, prosperity and the status of women are directly related. 

In the good news department, Maine is the next in a line of States taking matters into their own hands. They have passed legislation requiring insurers to pay for up to 12 months of birth control at a time, and have prohibited insurers from charging copays for birth control. They cited data from California indicating that the unintended pregnancy rate fell by 30% when they enacted similar measures. Twenty eight states now have some sort of contraceptive equity law, aiming to make contraception very affordable or free. Let’s hope we get 50. 

The Royal College of General Practitioners has presented research again confirming that oral contraceptive use does not confer increased long term cancer risk. 

In further good news, the City of San Francisco has spelled out clearer rights for breastfeeding women in the workplace. This includes the stipulation that employers provide a clean private space with electricity, a surface and a chair. 

In medical news, Zika is back. Zika is a virus carried by the Aedes Aegyptae mosquito found from the southern US southward. When contracted by pregnant women, it causes serious malformations in the nervous systems of developing babies. 1900 women in the US have had confirmed Zika infections. The proposed White House budget proposes an emergency fund for Zika but would also cut billions from budgets of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) where work is underway on a vaccine. The first cases of the 2017 Zika season have come in from … Texas. 

A new study confirms from JAMA Pediatrics indicates that even small amounts of alcohol in pregnancy may result in babies with slight facial abnormalities. 

Obesity (BMI of 30 or more) is a huge problem. However being overweight (BMI 25-29) takes its toll as well. New research published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that, worldwide,10% of people are overweight. Altogether 30 % of the world are affected by weight problems. The US leads the world in obesity in children and young adults. The US also has the greatest number of obese adults. Excess weight accounts for 4 million deaths worldwide, seventy percent of which are from cardiovascular disease. 

A new and large study from Sweden indicates that the risk of major birth defects increases proportional to the severity of a mother’s obesity. These patients are also at greatly increased risk of hypertension ( high blood pressure ) and diabetes. 

That gets us up to date with the news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Medical Monday: Part Two

Medical Monday: Medical News Section 

Pregnancy related death continues to rise in at a fairly steady rate in the US. As of 2013, we sit at 17.3 women per 100,000 live births with a rage of about 12 per 100,000 for whites and 40 per 100,000 for blacks. Cardiovascular diseases of various kinds accounts for about 40% if these deaths. About 9% are due to pulmonary embolism, and 7% are related to high blood pressure and preeclampsia. The rest pertain to infection, hemorrhage and rare disorders like amniotic fluid embolism. 

Teen births are statistically high risk. It turns out that high teen birth rates cluster in certain cities. Analysis of the data shows these clusterings are not random and are not related to poverty to education. Most generally, the clusters are in the southern states, but they also exist in Denver, Fresno, and Yakima. San Antonio has the distinction of being the number one urban center with a teen pregnancy cluster. These findings my begin to help shed light on what is no doubt at least partly a cultural phenomenon. 

Breastfeeding has been touted has having numerous benefits, including health benefits to the mother. It turns out that prevention of uterus (endometrial) cancer is one of those benefits. Breastfeeding EVER confers an 11% reduction of risk. The longer the breastfeeding the more the risk was reduced, until risk reduction peaked at somewhere around 6-9 months of breastfeeding. 

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (See PCO section HERE) is a complex of problems which include problems with ovulation (producing an egg), as well as obesity, excess male hormone, and difficulty metabolizing carbohydrate. A given patient may have one, all, or just a selection of the features of this varied disease. Generally, doctors have assumed that obesity and carbohydrate intolerance goes together. However new research has shown that even normal weight patients with PCO have have significant insulin resistance. This points for the need to counsel normal weight patients to eat a very high quality diet rich in protein, vegetables and fruit, and healthy fats. 

The overall incidence of depression in teens in higher than once previously believed, coming in at about 14% for those between 12-17. Of note, by 17, girls had a three fold higher incidence than boys. 

In the vice department, the news is sobering. New research from the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence has shown that children born to women who smoke as few as 10 cigarettes per day have problems later in life. In particular, they have increased problems “learning and thinking”. 

The British Medical Journal has published research showing that even small amounts of alcohol produces changes in brain function which play out as poorer performance on language related tests. This data comes from research on 550 men and women over a 30 year period of time. 

Hard data is in from last year’s mosquito season in America (including Puerto Rico). Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquito, produced birth defects in about 5% of babies who’s mothers became infected in pregnancy. This number was higher for those infected early, and lower for those infected late. We should learn even more this  year, and hopefully get one season closer to a vaccine for this dreaded disease. 

For those in Zika- vulnerable states: Remember, DEET is safe in pregnancy. Zika is not. 

 

Stay tuned next week for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the Wrold of Obstetrics and Gynecology

In this week’s policy news, focus is on The Contraceptive Mandate. This is the part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) which requires all insurance companies to cover birth control at no cost to the insured. The New York Times has reported that the Trump administration is working on broadening the criteria through which employers and insurers may refuse to provide contraception as a benefit within their health insurance.

Initially, one company, Hobby Lobby, went all the way to the Supreme Court to argue that based on their religious principles, they had a right to decline to provide insurance which covered contraception for their employees . They argued that contraception is against their religious principles. The Trump administration would like to expand the criteria for which companies can claim a moral or religious objection to the provision of contraception.

The President of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has spoken out in multiple ways against this trend and has added his objection to discussions pertaining to the elimination of the necessity to cover maternity care. Can you believe it? Attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union have begun to elucidate a very powerful argument that these policy trends violates the separation of church and state. Moreover they constitute discrimination based on sex.

At the present time approximately 55,000,000 women receive contraception through this no cost benefit. The scientific data supports the Democratic assertion that there is a clear and evidence-based correlation between The Contraceptive Mandate of the Affordable Care Act and the historically low unintended pregnancy rates, teen pregnancy rates, and abortion rates.

Women are not the only target in the latest round of discussions on healthcare policy. A certain group of GOP senators I'm working on a revision of the Affordable Care Act which will no longer classify employer purchased health insurance as a tax deductible expense. This appalling antibusiness and anti-healthcare piece of legislation threatens the 177 million Americans who have their health care coverage through their employers. Additionally anybody who has a pre-existing condition or who has to watch their health care expenses is at risk if any of these GOP draft revisions to the health care bill are enacted. 

On to the medical news. Did you know that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption pregnancy? People widely assumes that the rule of moderation applies to alcohol and pregnancy but this is not at all the case according to the CDC, (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the National Institute of health, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. No alcohol should be consumed in pregnancy. Not a popular message. 

An increasing number of states have legalized the use of marijuana. Accordingly pregnant women have gotten the skewed message that this sends and have been using marijuana in record numbers. No one seems to be listening to the repeated messages coming out of scientific circles such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology indicating that marijuana use in pregnancy is associated with brain development problems in the fetus. A whopping 14% of pregnant teenagers ages 12-17 use marijuana. Dumb and Dumber. That is my fear. Also not a popular message. 

It is Zika virus season again in North America. To date 64 babies have been born in the US with Zika related birth defects. Diagnosing infections and tracking the spread of the virus is of paramount importance, together with enacting virus prevention measures such as spraying and education. All this costs money, and funding is tighter than ever this year, pursuant to the policies of the current administration. Zika virus, when contracted by pregnant women, produces a high risk of severe brain damage in the baby. Zika virus is spread by certain species of mosquitoes which live in the southern portion of the United States and points further south, most notably Central and South America. Florida already has 43 documented cases of Zika virus infection in pregnant women. 

Finally, in the good news department, women who breast feed their children for at least six months reduce their risk of endometrial cancer by over 10%. Of course they do their babies an infinite number of goods from improving their teeth to improving their brain development, but who knew there could be such tangible and profound effects on the health of the mother. 

Stay tuned next week for more sensational news from the world Obstetrics and Gynecology, right here on Medical Mondays.

 

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

This Monday the world has become a different place. A new Administration has taken office in the United States. But more importantly, women across the country and across the world have become galvanized. Many marches of hundreds of thousands each took place on Saturday. These were largely demonstrations by and for women to make a statement against sexism, misogyny and against the loss of health benefits in the US. I’m not sure the world has ever seen political activism for one goal on such a large scale. 

Democratic lawmakers made a last ditch appeal on Friday, urging that the GOP halt the repeal. They cited the many clauses of the ACA which prohibit practices which are discriminatory to women, such as denying coverage of contraception and coverage for women-only health screenings such as mammograms. They cautioned that this, along with defunding Planned Parenthood, would harm women in every state. 

It is becoming clearer and clearer that many Republican governors do not favor a wholesale repeal of the ACA. They know that repeal would cause chaos in health care, as well as increasing costs for their state programs. 

In the shocking numbers department, it has been determined that HALF of all men have genital infections caused by HPV. One in four of those have viral strains which can cause cervical cancer. 

Meanwhile, New York State is reporting a 50% decline in cervical cancer deaths since 1976. This is attributed to women obtaining regular paps to detect precancerous conditions and the introduction of the HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccine Gardisil. 

It is interesting to note that abortions are at a new low since the institution of Roe versus Wade case law in 1973. Researchers attribute this new low to the increased availability of affordable and longer lasting contraceptives. 

If the ACA is repealed, both these important gains might likely be lost since the ACA has covered contraception and health screening for women. 

As if to add insult to injury, repeal of the ACA would also strip breastfeeding protections from the workplace. These protections are in place through the ACA. 

The ACA deals with more than women’s health issues. The ACA contained provisions to authorize a fund to combat the costliest of our chronic diseases: diabetes and heart disease. Repeal of the ACA could eliminate this fund, which is for state public health programs.

Americans may be divided, but 40% across both sides of the aisle agree that health care should be a top priority for the new administration. Meanwhile, the popularity of the ACA is steadily climbing in the polls. Forty eight percent of Americans strongly approve of the ACA. Of those 22% of respondents who want it repealed, half want to do so only when a replacement is in place. The Congressional Budget Office itself has calculated that if the ACA is repealed, 18 million people will lose their insurance in the first year. Over a decade, 32 million would lose insurance. They also estimate that individual premiums would double. 

In Zika news, officials have been debriefing from the season. They feel the greatest failure has been of prevention in the areas most affected by Zika. They have emphasized that the toll taken has scarcely been counted. 

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS)  is still a scourge. Over a hundred thousand babies are born yearly with this condition. Britain has one of the highest rates of FAS in the world, with 40% of British pregnant women drinking during pregnancy. 

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has continued to take issue with the FDA on their overly conservative and out of context warnings on anesthetics in pregnancy. Their concern is that caregivers and patients will be reluctant to have critical procedures such as appendectomies and gall bladder removals in pregnancy should they become necessary. Surgical illnesses such are these are very much threats to both mother and babies in pregnancy and should be dealt with in the standard fashion. To put theoretical concerns from animal studies ahead of clear and present dangers is missing the forest for the trees. 

Contact your elected officials with your concerns. It is not enough to march. 

Stay tuned next week for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Greetings from the heart of Silicon Valley. Please excuse the blog silence over the last few days as, believe it or not, I have suffered from sporadic Internet connection. I have been attending a very busy conference, Stanford MedX, on which I will fully brief you later. I could not blog at the conference but I took a lot of notes and pictures and they will serve as the basis for my reports to you sometime late on Wednesday. Where I stayed was a beautiful residence deep in a grove of old-growth trees so dense that it interfered with us cellular and local Wi-Fi coverage. So I right now without pictures, I will make this dispatch to you because I think medical Monday is so important. Text will go, but pictures will have to wait.

 

Some continue to doubt the association of the Zika virus infection with the development of microcephaly. However this latest study should put this to rest. The Journal Lancet Infectious Disease reported work that studied newborn Zika babies both with microcephaly and without. It turns out that babies with microcephaly we're 55 times more likely to have been infected with the Zika virus in utero. However, none of the 62 newborns in the comparison group who appeared normal showed any sign of infection.

 

Of chilling significance is another story published the Journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases. Those authors note that "for infants about four months and up to eight months of age" babies were "born on average on measures of weight length and head circumference" but "fell even further below average as time passed".

  

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has now indicated that Zika virus can spread through "contact with bodily fluids such as tears, discharge from infected eyes, saliva, vomit, urine or stool." This has obvious implications for those living with and caring for those affected by the Zika virus.

 

Florida may offer free Zika virus testing, but that does not mean women are getting results. Apparently results that take a private lab a few days to report are taking weeks for the state run service. Time is of the essence when inquiring about Zika virus infection in pregnancy, since many women consider the option of abortion if there is evidence that their baby could be or is infected. Access to abortion is more restricted in what now could be called the Zika belt of our country.  Women consider this drastic measure because central nervous system manifestations of Zika virus in pregnancy are often devastatingly severe. We now know they're also potentially progressive even after the baby is born.

 

A recent poll suggests that the risks of Zika virus to pregnant women have caused some Americans to soften their view on abortion. 62% of voters living in the 10 battleground states in the south and along the Gulf Coast have said that they "support abortions after 24 weeks if a doctor believes there is a serious possibility that a woman's fetus could have severe birth defects from the Zika virus."

 

As of this writing the funding to combat the Zika virus is virtually spent. The Obama administration as well as the CDC, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and others have appealed to Congress to put aside partisan politics and fund the fight against the crisis

 

It is worth reiterating news from last week coming to us from the Zika belt state of Texas. Texas maternal mortality spiked from 18.6 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2010 two more than 30 per 100,000 into thousand and 11 and remains at that level through 2014. This statistic may not seem huge but it has increased dramatically and is a higher rate than anywhere else in the country. It is also higher maternal mortality rate than in most other industrial countries. Numerous writers, ACOG and the State Heath Services of Texas maternal mortality task force all recommend an increase in health care services to women as the solution.

 

Global maternal mortality rates are not where they should be. The United Nations sustainable development goals (SDG) indicate the rate would have to fall by nearly 70% to meet the target globally of 70 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. It is felt that this should be accomplished by adding an estimated 18 million Women's Health workers including midwives and obstetricians.

 

A new study by the Urban Institute has indicated that only 31% of women know about the most effective forms of birth control, the LARCs, the long acting reversible contraceptives. ACOG has said that such IUDs and implants are the most effective reversible contraceptives available and are safe to use by almost all women of reproductive age. Of note, weeks ago it was reported that Puerto Rico, which is greatly affected by the Zika virus, had been given a large supply of IUDs but was unable to fully utilize them due to the lack of providers trained to insert them. LARC use in Texas is on the rise.

 

The rest of the news in brief:

 

US preventive services task force recommend screening all nonpregnant adults and adolescents at risk for syphilis, which is on the rise.

The British medical Journal reports that pregnant women with higher ambient glucose levels who are not meeting the criteria for gestational diabetes still have an increased risk of complications. These complications would include preeclampsia and overly large infants (macrosomia). Additionally, related complications are noted, such as shoulder dystocia, which is the condition where babies are dangerously difficult to deliver due to a larger girth at the shoulders.

 

The national Cancer institute is once again encouraging all children adolescents and young adults 26 years of age or younger to obtain the vaccine against the human papilloma virus, HPV. Only 40% of eligible girls and 21% of eligible boys have received the vaccine. Vaccination rates in Australia and the United Kingdom are in the range of 75 to 92%

 

In the good news and we already knew this department, an article in the Annals of Oncology has reminded us that use of oral contraceptives decreases ovarian cancer risk by 50%. For the record, having children and breast-feeding them also decreases this risk.

 

In the good news department, The number of Americans without health insurance has fallen to a recent level of less than 10%. This is attributed to people buying insurance on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) exchange.

 

Stay tuned for more exciting news from the world of Obstetrics , Gynecology, and Women's Health, next week on Medical Monday.

Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology 

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) predicts Zika will spread along the Gulf States of the US this Summer. The CDC has also said that since mosquito control in Florida is good, the risk there should be relatively low. As with regard to South America, and in particular Mexico, the CDC has noted that the Aedes mosquito, vector for the virus, is rarely seen above 6500 feet. 

Researchers studying a Zika outbreak in French Polynesia have identified a 1% risk of microcephaly among children born to mothers infected in the first trimester. Observers of the Brasil outbreak think the figure is too low given what they are seeing. It will take several more months to draw any conclusions.

As of Friday, there are 450 people in the United States who are infected by Zika. This does include Puerto Rico, where the Puerto Rican section of ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) are providing IUDS free of charge. (So proud of my brothers and sisters in ACOG ! )

In other news, concerns have been raised in an opinion piece in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology that media coverage of controversial medical technologies may prevent certain women from getting the best treatment for their particular needs. They site the recent reluctance of doctors to use mesh implants, morcellators, or Essure sterilization even in patients for whom they are well suited. 

In the no-good-reason department, new research shows that sexually active teens with LARCs ( Long acting reversible contraceptives such as IUDs) are 60 percent less likely to use condoms that similar girls taking the pill. Birth control use in teens is distributed as follows: 2% use LARCs, 6% use Depo Provera injection, patch or ring. 22% use the pill. 

Also in the no-good-reason department, new research indicated 50% of pregnant women who quit smoking start again after childbirth. What percent of smokers quit during pregnancy ? 13 %. 

What about smoking pot in pregnancy ? One thing’s for sure, Ob care givers are not consistently counseling patients about it. These are the findings of new research published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology. I will say that as a caregiver, It is challenging to counsel against something that is so widely used, and for which people will rally. Neither the popular media and the research community  give us much in the way of support here. In fact, the facts on MJ use in pregnancy are not encouraging. If you are interested you can read the definitive information HERE, which is a summary document from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to its members. This is an area needing further attention. That is, if we value the brain power of the next generation. 

Steroids are given to mothers at high risk for preterm delivery. At this time, we give them from 24-34 weeks of gestation. However, new evidence indicates they may be helpful given even as early as 22 weeks. Hopefully the demand for this will be small. 

A new study published in JAMA ( Journal of the American Medical Association) reveals that vaccine aversion may be beginning to manifest in increasingly rates s measles and pertussis (whooping cough) in the United States.  No surprise here. 

Also In the vaccine department, there is good news. Chicken pox, also called Varicella, is now nearly 100% preventable. Think that’s no big deal ? Try telling that to someone like me who got it at the age of 24 ( and got seriously ill) or someone with a terrible case of shingles, which is reactivated chicken pox. New data says getting two shots instead one, one at age one, and the second around 4-6 years of age, confers near 100% protection. 

Stay tuned for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, here, (or hopefully in your inbox) next week, on Medical Mondays.