Health

Caleb Miller for KUT News

Good morning! Grab your galoshes and umbrella, it's raining! After a dry couple of weeks, that's our top story in today's AM Update:

Rain and More Rain

The rain will continue to fall across Central Texas this morning. Most of the showers are expected to be light to moderate but downpours are possible.

Leander has received more than 7.6 inches in the past 24 hours. Marble Falls has received more than 5 inches and Dripping Springs seen more than 2 inches.

Our rain chances will stay at about 70 percent throughout the day and then fall to about 40 percent overnight.

flickr.com/GammaMan

Another Central Texan has passed away from West Nile disease, bringing the total of deaths in Travis County to three. 

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department says this afternoon that after a two-week hospitalization, an unidentified individual passed away from West Nile neuroinvasive disease.

As KUT News has previously reported, while there is only one form of West Nile virus, there’s two forms of illness:

One is West Nile fever, a passing, flu-like illness. (The majority of West Nile cases have been just those.) But those with compromised immune systems may be susceptible to a stronger form of the illness – West Nile neuroinvasive disease, which can be deadly. 

Judy Schmidt, Centers for Disease Control

A good Friday morning. Record high temperatures are still expected today, before a Saturday cold front brings decreased temperatures and an elevated fire risk. Here's some of the area's top overnight stories. 

Most Texas Whooping Cough Deaths Since 2005

The Texas Department of State Health Services says there have been more whooping cough deaths this year than in the past several years. The department says six children in Texas have died from whooping cough (aka pertussis) and more than 1,000 people have gotten sick.

Travis County leads the state in the number of whooping cough cases with 163 as of the end of August – that's about 14 percent of the state total. No one in Travis County has died from the illness. The Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says it is "highly aggressive" in seeking out whooping cough cases so the numbers could be somewhat misleading. The department works with local health providers to identify whooping cough cases and alert them of clusters of incidents.

CDC/Cynthia Goldsmith

More than half of the confirmed West Nile virus cases in the country this year have been in Texas – over 1,000 Texans have contracted the disease. And local authorities have surprising figures about how prevalent the virus is in the Austin area.

The outbreak was so severe in the Dallas area that officials decided to spray insecticide from airplanes to kill mosquitoes carrying the disease. Officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the plan worked and that the worst may be over the area. But the same is not true in Central Texas.

“If you look at Texas as a whole, the percentage of infected mosquitoes has gone down in the North Texas area but is staying up in the Central Texas area. We’re still seeing about 28 percent of the mosquitoes that we test, as of earlier this week in Travis County, about 28 percent are still positive for the virus," Texas Department of State Health Services Commissioner Dr. David Lakey says.

In Dallas County, only six percent of mosquitoes are now testing positive for West Nile.

flickr.com/calafellvalo

Austin's highest recorded temperature – 112 °F – occurred on this day in 2000. That makes today’s high of 101°F sounds a little more manageable. Here’s some of the region’s top overnight stories. 

Second West Nile Death in Travis County

West Nile virus is being blamed for a second death in Travis County. The person was over 50. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says age increases the risk of becoming very sick from West Nile.

As of yesterday, Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services says there have been a total of 48 confirmed West Nile virus cases in the county. Two people have died. One person has also died in Williamson County.

Close to half of the cases of West Nile virus in the U.S. have been in Texas this year. The CDC reports more than 700 confirmed cases of West Nile virus in the state.

KUT News

A Stanford University study published today doubting the health benefits of organic fruits, vegetables and meats has some Texas farmers raising questions.

The study, authored by Dena Bravata, MD, MS, was published in today’s issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. It found no consistent differences in the vitamin content of organic food versus the cost-cutting, conventionally grown alternative.

“That study doesn’t really look at a lot of very important factors,” says Judith McGeary, founder of the Texas-based Farm and Ranch Freedom Alliance. “Vitamin content isn’t the only issue, even for adults. One issue is the exposure to pesticides, which are to be blunt, poison. And the study did show that there was significantly less exposure to pesticides from organic produce than from conventional."

CDC/ James Stewart

The Texas Department of State Health Services say the number of West Nile virus cases and deaths in the state have more than doubled over the past two weeks.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Texas continues to lead the country in the number of cases of West Nile. According to the CDC, nearly 800 people across the state have been infected. More than 30 have died.

The outbreak continues to be centered around the Dallas area but Travis and Williamson counties have seen a combined total of 42 confirmed cases including two deaths.

Flickr user Images_Of_Money, bit.ly/LeSsiT

State lawmakers want to know what would happen if Texans were allowed to go across state lines to buy health insurance. It’s an idea some politicians say could reduce healthcare costs.

Today, the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs looks at the feasibility and fiscal impact of changing the insurance code to allow that.

Senators will also talk about whether volunteer firefighters should be protected from being fired for missing work because they were responding to an emergency.

Laura Rice, KUT News

Austin economist Jon Hockenyos says bringing a medical school and teaching hospital to Austin could add about 15,000 permanent jobs to the community.

Hockenyos says nearly 7,000 of those jobs would be directly connected with the medical facility and research. The other 8,000 or so would be indirectly created.

“The impact of this facility and the operation of this entire complex is going to create ripple effects through the whole community and so we’ll raise the overall level of economic activity here and that will in turn create opportunities in restaurants and dry cleaners and for people supplying things to the medical complex – all those different, related, ancillary activities will then, in turn, have to hire workers,” Hockenyos says.

CDC

Texas has seen more than 600 West Nile Virus cases so far this year. That’s more than any other state in the country and almost of half of the total cases in the nation.

The Dallas area has seen by far the largest number of infections and deaths related to the disease. Eleven people have died from West Nile Virus in Dallas County alone.

But there’s no clear reason why the outbreak has been so severe in North Texas.

“The available information indicates that the numbers of reported cases are trending upward in most areas, including Texas,” says Dr. Lyle Peterson with the Centers for Disease Control.

With one confirmed West Nile virus-related death in Travis County, and spraying for mosquitos in Dallas, many Central Texans are wondering what they can do to keep mosquitos away.

Some have turned to some quirky alternatives to make sure mosquitos keep away – including a bracelet makers say acts as a mosquito repellent.

According to one product’s website, these bracelets essentially work by producing an “aura” of plant-based oils that act like a protective shield – something they say mosquitos won’t like at all. But according to Dr. Phil Huang, the medical director for the Travis County Health and Human Services, such bracelets might not be that effective.

As state officials prepare to take full control of the once federally funded Texas Women’s Health Program on Nov. 1, they’re running into a series of unexpected challenges, from controversy around proposed rule changes to questions about how to cover the 130,000 enrolled clients within the confines of a tight state budget. 

The state has pledged to forgo $35 million in annual federal funding — a 9 to 1 match — in order to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from the program, clinics that have used Women's Health Program dollars to provide contraception and cancer screenings, but not abortions. Two separate courts have blocked Texas from ejecting those clinics ahead of legal hearings scheduled for the fall.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry has directed the Health and Human Services Commission to find a way to fund the 6-year-old program exclusively with state dollars. 

flickr.com/gammaman

Starting today, Dallas County and the City of Dallas will begin spraying for mosquitos in an attempt to combat West Nile virus.

Officials in Dallas County have declared a public health emergency after the virus has killed nine people and infected more than 180 in the area.

Local leaders resisted spraying at first but now the mayors of Dallas, Highland Park and University Park all agree with truck spraying and additionally support aerial spraying. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is urging surrounding cities to approve these safety measures.

Janice Haney Carr, Centers for Disease Control

There’s been a new case of so-called “flesh eating bacteria,” this time in Texas.

44-year-old Keith Korth was fishing last weekend at Port O’Connor on the Gulf Coast. According to reports, an infected blister needed medical attention, and was diagnosed as a fast-moving bacterial attack called necrotizing fasciitis, better known as flesh-eating bacteria.

(You can read more about necrotizing fasciitis, but be warned – the pictures are gruesome.)

Korth is recovering at a Houston hospital after having much of his leg amputated. A family member, reached by phone this afternoon, says he’s feeling much better. The infection has apparently been stopped, she says, and the family expects him to go home to Brenham, Texas, on Monday or Tuesday.

flickr.com/steveritchie

A San Antonio scientist looking for possible causes of autism is taking an unusual approach. University of Texas Health Science Center epidemiologist Dr. Raymond Palmer is using baby teeth to try to root out some answers.

The project is nicknamed “the tooth fairy studies” because to conduct his research, Dr. Palmer collects old, donated baby teeth from kids with and without autism. He is trying to discover how environmental effects  -- from as early as conception – can determine whether a child develops autistic traits.

Bryant Miller, KUT News

University Medical Center Brackenridge announced its re-designation as a Level I Trauma center for adults today.

The designation reaffirms the original Level I designation the hospital received in 2009. Every three years the center goes through a stringent re-designation test by The Texas Department of State Health Services.

flickr.com/jamesjordan

The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department says one local person has died from the West Nile virus. It's the first reported case of death from the virus in Central Texas since 2003.

To date, a total of five people in the area have had the virus this year. One has fully recovered from it.

The virus is in the Travis County mosquito population and health officials say everyone should take precautions to prevent mosquito bites.

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

As if perfectly cued to election season, multimillion-dollar rebates are being doled out across America by insurance companies thanks to a new rule in the federal Affordable Care Act, or ACA. Although the much-maligned “Obamacare” remains a prime target for Texas Republicans on the campaign trail, Democrats and other political consultants say the tangible benefits of the ACA now taking effect could change voters’ perspectives on President Obama's signature legislative package. 

“The hardest part politically for ACA has always been that it will take a while for the program to kick in and even longer for people to realize benefits,” Mark McKinnon, a political consultant and former media strategist for George W. Bush, said in an email. “These rebates will be a welcome surprise to a lot of consumers and help reduce angst about ACA.”

Pascal Dolémieux/flickr

The Austin-Travis County health department has released its Critical Health Indicator Report, which examines the community’s major health problems.

The report shows a sharp rise in the cases of whooping cough disease — also known as pertussis — from 2006 to 2010. There were 908 reported whooping cough cases in 2010 in the Austin-area. 

While these statistics might make it look like Austin is on the edge of epidemic, Dr. Philip Huang with the Austin-Travis County Health and Human Services Department says pertussis numbers are likely part of the disease’s natural cycle.

A new report from the Congressional Budget Office finds that the Supreme Court ruling on President Obama's health care law will save the government $84 billion over the next 11 years.

While the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Healthcare Act, it also said it was up to states to choose whether to participate in an expansion of Medicaid.

That $84 billion in savings, the non-partisan CBO explained, comes from predictions that fewer states will enroll in the program.

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