Joy Diaz, KUT News

The holiday shopping season is here. But a consumer advocacy group wants to make sure you don’t buy toys that could endanger the health of children.

One example is the Fisher‑Price Dora the Explorer Guitar pictured above, according to Ilya Slavinski with the Texas Public Interest Research Group. 

“The National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders recommends that no toy should be above 85 decibels. And this Dora Guitar clocked in at 93 decibels,” Slavinski said. “It’s dangerous and can lead to hearing loss.”

Online insurance markets set to begin selling health coverage to consumers next October may be hampered by software delays.

State regulators learned late last week that an electronic system most insurers will use to submit their policies for state and federal approvals won't be ready for testing next month, as originally planned. The lag is being blamed on the wait for several regulations from the Obama administration that are needed to update the software.

Update: Nov. 11, 1:09 p.m.:

Dr. Philip Huang is the Medical Director for Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services. He says there are still some people in the county who are very sick from the virus but he’s hopeful the death total won’t continue to rise.

Dr. Huang says it’s not clear if West Nile will be as big of a problem next year.

“This particular season with the warmer winter and then some of the spring rains seemed to be sort of the conditions that really promoted West Nile activity," Huang says. "So we don’t know how things are going to be next year. But I think there’s certainly some concern that there is going to be for the future continued increase in some mosquito activity and things in the Austin-Travis County area.”

Huang says the county has found mosquitoes testing positive for West Nile as recently as late October.

Photos: Texas Health and Human Services Commission, Background Image:

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission has appointed a new head of the Department of Family and Protective Services.

The previous commissioner resigned last week as an Abilene office of the department is under criminal investigation.

Abilene Police say employees at the Child Protective Services office were not cooperative in the investigation into a toddler’s death in August. Police believe some employees may have tampered with evidence.

Kelly Connelly for KUT News

Travis County voters passed Central Health Proposition 1 this week, which increases property taxes to help bring a medical school to Austin.

But a group of citizens is trying to stop the vote from being certified or canvassed.

A lawsuit filed by the Travis County Taxpayers Union (TCTU) says the ballot language of Prop 1 was misleading and made promises that the health care district is not legally able to fulfill.

“We want a federal judge to agree with us that the misleading and illegal ballot language contributed to the victory of Prop 1 at the polls. So the point being, if they had told the truth, we thing the voting outcome would have been different,” Don Zimmerman, TCTU Treasurer, says.

Credit, Lizzie Chen for KUT News

Update: Planned Parenthood received a temporary injunction against the state today. You can read more here

Original Post: Planned Parenthood is awaiting a judge’s ruling on their request to extend an injunction against the State of Texas banning its clinics from the Women’s Health Program. The program provides basic screenings and other health services for 130,000 low-income Texas women.

Texas is trying to enforce a law that says state money can’t go to clinics affiliated with abortion clinics. That would exclude Planned Parenthood, which has been the program’s largest provider.

Two weeks ago, Planned Parenthood won a temporary restraining order allowing its clinics to stay in the program. Now, Planned Parenthood is trying to extend the time its clinics can stay in the program.

With Obama's Victory, Health Law Stays On Track

Nov 7, 2012

After a shaky few years, President Obama's health care legacy looks secure.

His health overhaul law barely made it through Congress and to his desk. Then there were the legal challenges, launched when the ink of his signature was barely dry, that were resolved by a surprising Supreme Court ruling in June.

Vampires and monsters will be out in force tonight, but some of the darkest creatures out there might be your little angels inside those Halloween costumes.

You can barely listen to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney make a speech or give an interview without hearing some variation of this vow:

"On Day 1 of my administration, I'll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states. And then I'll go about getting it repealed," he told Newsmax TV in September 2011.

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center is partnering with Baylor College of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study Alzheimer’s and similar neurodegenerative diseases.

Together, the researchers are forming the Neurodegeneration Consortium (NDC). The researchers plan to take what they say is a new approach to studying Alzheimer’s. Most previous research has been based primarily on one theory, which posits that Alzheimer’s and the related degeneration are caused by the build-up of a specific chemical in the brain.

But NDC investigators believe recent medical research and advances indicate that many factors may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. They plan to study and identify these factors and hope the knowledge they gain can be used to create better diagnostics and treatments for Alzheimer’s and similar conditions.

Update: 1:25 p.m.:

Planned Parenthood isn't giving up the legal fight over whether the state can ban its clinics from the Women's Health Program.

In a lawsuit filed today in state court, Planned Parenthood claims the “Affiliate Ban Rule” that bars its clinics from the program is "invalid" under state law.

Original Story: 6:43 a.m.:

Governor Rick Perry says the state is moving to immediately to cut off funds to Planned Parenthood.

The announcement came after a federal appeals court said Thursday it will not reconsider a decision that says Texas can withhold funds under the Women’s Health Program.

Homeowners never relish the idea of a skunk in their yard, but some western Travis County residents have even more reason to be wary.

The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says there’s been two cases of rabid skunks in western Travis County, one of which was documented  just days ago.

Health and Human Services shares the following four tips to avoid contact with rabies, which it notes is “almost always fatal in humans once symptoms occur:”

  • Avoid feeding, touching or adopting wild animals, such as bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes.
  • Report suspicious animals to animal control by calling 3-1-1.
  • Vaccinate your family pets or livestock against rabies.
  • If you are bitten or if saliva from a suspected rabid animal comes in contact with your eyes, nose, mouth or a wound, wash the exposure site and seek medical attention immediately.
Callie Richmond, Texas Tribune

In a peace offering of sorts to medical and women's groups on Thursday, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Kyle Janek announced rules for the new state-run Women's Health Program that permit doctors to discuss abortion with their patients and practice alongside physicians who provide abortions.

“What we wanted was to allow for the one-on-one, private, non-directive counseling between a physician and her patient,” Janek said.

But the new rules have done little to stem the frustration of family planning providers: They come as the state's Republican leaders prepare to run the Women's Health Program on their own — without the federal support the state has received for years, and without Planned Parenthood clinics.

“Once and for all, we implore Texas to put politics aside and put women’s health first," said Ken Lambrecht, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. "The Women’s Health Program and Planned Parenthood have worked together to provide women with essential health services, including cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams, for the past five years." 

Giving the human papillomavirus vaccine to teenage girls doesn't increase the likelihood that they will be sexually active, according to a new study.

That may help put parents at ease; the notion of vaccinating 11- and 12-year-old girls for a sexually transmitted virus has made some uncomfortable, and is one reason why only a little more than half of teenage girls have had the vaccine.

As part of our coverage leading up to the elections, KUT News is taking a closer look at each of the seven bond propositions Austin voters will see on their ballots in November. Prop 17 shores up the city’s Health and Human Services efforts.

The $11 million outlined in Prop 17 would pay for several facilities-related projects, including renovations at Austin’s women’s and children’s shelters.

The Austin Resource Center for the Homeless offers showers, laundry facilities, counseling and shelter to Austin’s homeless population – men, women, and children. But overnight accommodations are only available to men. That’s where Prop 17 comes in.

“The bond proposition put forth will allow for construction or the expansion of an existing shelter over on the East Side,” says Jennifer Denton. She’s with Front Steps, which runs the ARCH via a contract with the city. “That will provide a space not only for more women and children, but for the single women on the street that at the moment have nowhere to go.”

Lately, we've been learning more and more about the teeming masses of bacteria inside our bodies - essentially trillions of tiny organisms that make us sick and keep us healthy.

Now two scientists at the University of Colorado have dared to ask what kinds of bacteria lives inside our mouths. And they're finding some pretty surprising things in there.

Debora Cartagena for Centers for Disease Control

State health officials are confirming Texas’ first case of meningitis linked to contaminated steroid injections.

The Department of State Health Services says a Central Texas woman was hospitalized with symptoms of fungal meningitis.

She was treated for back pain at one of two Dallas-area facilities that gave injections of steroids from the Massachusetts pharmacy linked to the outbreak.

The fungal infection associated with the tainted drugs cannot be passed from person to person.

A financial shot in the arm is coming for people living with AIDS in Austin. As much as $5 million in federal funding is on the way, spread out over five years. But the federal funding comes as local AIDS assistance groups wrangle with funding cuts of their own. 

The announcement came at a city council meeting yesterday. The grant funds come from federal awards called Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS, funds. For Austin that means about $1 million each year for two Austin non-profits, AIDS Services of Austin and Project Transitions. The money is intended to help people with HIV and AIDS with housing need – short-term rent and mortgage assistance, help with utilities and other related expenses. 

According to Josh Allen, executive director of Project Transitions, housing is an area of incredible need for Austin. “As quickly as we can move someone into housing, there are two other folks on the waiting list.”

This grant money comes at a time when Project Transitions is struggling to fill a $45,000 gap left by reduced funding from the United Way. In July, the United Way for Greater Austin eliminated $1.2 million in grants to local nonprofits. “We’re seeing it across the board generally with fund raising efforts,” says Allen. “Specifically, with grants and foundations. It’s just a much more competitive environment.”

Starting in 2013, San Antonio will be one two cities debuting new vending machines aimed at providing healthier beverages to consumers.

According to the American Beverage Association, San Antonio and Chicago will feature the first line of soda vending machines labeled with a prominently labeled calorie count, along with flashing messages asking consumers to think before they drink.

The program is an attempt by the association to get ahead of  upcoming government regulations in the Affordable Care Act requiring calorie counts to become more visible. The idea is to make Americans pay closer attention to the calorie counts in what they consume, thereby improving heath (and lowering health care costs over time). The program comes after hamburger giant McDonald's began posting calorie counts on its menus. 

New machines will also feature electronic displays reminding customers that “Calories Count.” The displays will also stream slogans like “Check then Choose,” and “Try a Low-Calorie Beverage.”

The Texas Department of State and Health Services (DSHS) has failed to comply with a directive from the state legislature – but not without good reason.

Last session, the legislature asked DSHS to review proposals from companies interested in privatizing a state hospital, with the provision it be run at ten percent savings for four years. The agency was told to bring an approved proposal to the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s Office of Budget, Planning and Policy by Sept. 1. Instead, yesterday DSHS submitted a letter to those two agencies explaining why they were empty handed.

There was only one proposal submitted, by GEO Care for the Kerrville State Hospital. DSHS graded the proposal a 64 out of 100.

“Savings in the proposal were achieved primarily through reductions in staffing and benefits,” DSHS Commissioner David Lakely wrote, “to a degree that would put both our patients and the State of Texas at risk.”