Fitness, well-being, disease, medical research and issues related to Seton and St. David's Healthcare, Austin Regional Clinic and other health care providers in Austin and Central Texas

Marjorie Kamys Cotera/Texas Tribune

The Texas Women’s Health Program that excludes clinics like Planned Parenthood that are affiliated with abortion providers will not launch on Thursday as the state planned.

Despite comments Wednesday morning from Texas Health and Human Services Commission executive director Kyle Janek indicating the program would be ready to start on Nov. 1, an agency spokeswoman confirmed that the state-led program would not begin until ongoing court controversy over the issue is clarified.

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 And then I'll go about getting it repealed," he told Newsmax TV in September 2011.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.

Nathan Bernier/KUT News

The head of the state’s $3 billion cancer fighting agency sought to reassure some of its biggest supporters today after a recent wave of resignations at the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT’s executive director Bill Gimson delivered an opening address at a three-day conference that started today in northwest Austin.

It was Gimson’s first public speech since 33 scientific peer reviewers resigned in protest over funding decisions and accusations of favoritism. Gimson acknowledged the setback but defended the agency’s process.

“It’s my promise that CPRIT will maintain that gold-standard peer review process, always pick the very, very best game changing projects, do our best to get life-saving products to Texas cancer patients as quickly as possible,” Gimson said from the podium.

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." 

Todd Wiseman, Texas Tribune

The state’s $3 billion effort to battle cancer was delivered a major blow this month when 18 scientific reviewers resigned. (You can read most of their resignation letters here.) Many quit in solidarity with their Nobel Prize-winning scientific director, who has also quit. Most of them allege that the organization was favoring politics, rather than science, when picking which projects to fund.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas was born five years ago when Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the state to issue $3 billion to fund cancer research and prevention. It was championed by Austin cyclist Lance Armstrong on shows like Texas Monthly Talks with Evan Smith.

“I think it will pass,” Armstrong said then. “But I think it needs to pass with a lot of success. I think it needs to pass big.”

The ballot proposition did “pass big,” with 61 percent approval. Millions of dollars started flowing to universities and private companies for research, commercialization and prevention projects.

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.

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.”

Three Austin charities are finalists vying for a $100,000 grant from the Humana Foundation, the philanthropic branch of health insurance company Humana, Inc. Humana will make the award to a nonprofit that serves Central Texans in "dire need of assistance," ranging from seniors to children.

The finalist include Family Eldercare, Foundation Communities, and the Marbridge Foundation.

Todd Wiseman via Texas Tribune

At a morning hearing on the implementation of Medicaid managed care in South Texas, lawmakers got a much bigger earful on the consequences of difficult budget decisions they made in the last legislative session.

Southeast Austin resident Maria Del Rasario Ramirez has lived and worked in the United States for twenty years, and she is one of 162,440 people in Travis County at risk of hunger, according to an estimate by Feeding America. As an undocumented immigrant, she is ineligible to receive food stamps, but she does receive benefits for her granddaughter, whom she is raising.

The food stamps program – officially called the Supplemental Food Assistance Program (SNAP) – makes up the largest portion of the trillion dollar Farm Bill, which expires at the end of the month. The Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-controlled House have been debating how much to cut the program. The Senate wants $4.5 billion in SNAP cuts. The House is calling for $16.5 billion.

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. 

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.