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

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.

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.

Nathan Bernier, KUT News

The Travis County hospital district appears interested in the idea of going it alone on the potential expansion of Medicaid, but says there are no plans in the works. The Washington Post reported this weekend that the six largest counties in Texas could seek to expand Medicaid independently of the state, effectively making an end run around Gov. Rick Perry's opposition to the program. 

“We’re not actively involved at this point in time [in those talks]," says Christie Garbe with Central Health, the Travis County hospital district. "We are watching closely as it’s an interesting possibility. But Central Health is already interested in exploring local solutions to expand health care for the uninsured who live in Travis County.”

Central Health estimates the Medicaid expansion would save $7- to $8 million dollars a year by providing health insurance to people who would otherwise just show up at the emergency room.  

If you're going to take a walk on the wild side and get a tattoo, it could get even wilder than you planned.

Federal and state health investigators have identified five clusters of skin infections linked to tattoos.

Now it's true that infection risks from tattoos are not exactly new or unknown. In fact, tattoo parlors are licensed and regulated in many jurisdictions to minimize the risk of trouble for people getting "inked."

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.


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.