April 16, 2014

Report: Iowa could be better prepared to battle superbugs & the flu

Iowa ranks in the middle of the pack in a report that rates the states’ ability to prevent, control and treat outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Rich Hamburg, deputy director of the Trust for America’s Health, says the study finds many gaps in efforts to keep ahead of so-called superbugs, salmonella, the seasonal flu and more.

“Iowa received five out of ten points on this report,” Hamburg says. “What we’ve seen is that a majority of states scored five or lower out of ten possible points.”

Iowa’s among 14 states with that half-and-half rating. Among the areas where the report found Iowa lacking, the state does not cover routine H-I-V screening under Medicaid. Iowa also doesn’t mandate that health care facilities report infections.

On the plus side, he says Iowa is proactive in educating the public about the HPV vaccine for teens and didn’t cut the level of funding for public health services in the past fiscal year.

Hamburg says, “Iowa and the other states are addressing some of the policies that need to be addressed in order to be more adequately prepared to respond to and prevent infectious diseases but there’s still a long way to go.”

In one area where the state was lacking, the report says Iowa failed to meet the recommendations of having most young children, between 19 and 35 months, vaccinated against whooping cough.

“The Centers for Disease Control recommends a 90% rate of vaccination,” Hamburg says. “Iowa had 88.2% so it didn’t receive a point on the report.”

The CDC also recommends a state vaccinate at least 50% of its population for influenza. Iowa had 50.4% vaccinated for the flu, so it met the recommendation, but just barely.

While Iowa scored five out of ten on the report, as did most states, the highest-ranked state was New Hampshire with eight out of ten, and three states only scored two out of ten — Georgia, Nebraska and New Jersey.

See the full report at: www.healthyamericans.org


Most older Iowans say they won’t give up their driver’s licenses

Iowa’s youngest Baby Boomers are turning 50 this year and the Hawkeye State has one of the nation’s largest populations of elderly residents by percentage.

Jodi Olshevski, a corporate gerontologist, says a new survey shows most drivers who are now between the ages of 50 and 68 see themselves staying behind the wheel for many more years.

“The majority of them, about 76%, told us they plan to drive into their 80s, 90s or some think they’ll never stop driving,” Olshevski says. “Boomer men are more likely to say they’ll never stop driving than women, and we asked them to tell us what they thought their driving patterns will be over the next five to ten years, and they said, essentially, they think it’ll be about the same.”

Olshevski has some tips for older Iowans who are still driving and want to keep that independence.

“Adjust to the changes in your driving skills so as you’re aging, be tuned in to changes that are occurring,” she says, “and don’t forget about maintaining your vehicle. That is so important and it’s something that usually can be fairly simple to keep on top of.”

Besides keeping your car in good shape, Olshevski suggests it’s also important to keep yourself in top running order.

She says, “We know that exercise is important for so many aspects of aging but we found out in a study we conducted that it’s also very important for driving and that it can enhance flexibility and range of motion.”

Familiarize yourself with the many features of the vehicle which can help to strengthen your ability to drive and also, consider taking a refresher course in driver’s education.

Olshevski is executive director of the Hartford Center for Mature Market Excellence, based in Hartford, Connecticut.


Iowa Donor Network begins work on new facility

Officials with the Iowa Donor Network broke ground this morning on a new facility in Altoona. It’s scheduled to be completed in January of 2015 and will replace the current facility in Johnston.

Iowa Donor Network spokesperson Tony Hakes credits the “generous nature” of Iowans for the necessary move into a bigger building. “We have 1.8 million people registered as organ and tissue donors. Our tissue donation has been on the rise for the last 10 years and organ donation was on the rise last year. As a result, we have just outgrown our current facility,” Hakes said.

The Iowa Donor Network administrative headquarters are located in North Liberty and will remain there, according to Hakes. The new facility in Altoona will include two recovery rooms, as opposed to just one, and will include upgraded equipment. “We’ll also have a state-of-the-art communications center which will allow us to make and take more phone calls,” Hakes said. “The end result will be we’ll be able to carry out the wishes of more Iowans and help more donor families.”

The communication center is staffed 24 hours a day and currently handles over 65,000 calls a year. Approximately 60 employees will work in the new building. Hakes said the three acres site will eventually include a memorial garden for donors and their families. The Iowa Donor Network is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

More movement at statehouse over medical marijuana issue

The Iowa Senate’s Democratic leader says he’s willing to co-sponsor a bill that would allow the very limited use of medical marijuana in Iowa.

The mothers of children with severe epilepsy have been lobbying legislators to decriminalize possession of cannabis oil and allow their childrens’ doctors to recommend its use. Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs has the power to co-sponsor policy bills in the closing hours of the legislative session.

“I have agreed to provide my signature to a bill that would move a limited bill on medical cannabis oil forward,” Gronstal says.

But for the bill to be eligible for senate consideration, it must also have the signature of the Senate’s Republican Leader, Bill Dix. Dix is not ready to say whether he’ll support it.

“There have been some discussions about that, but that’s as far as it’s gone,” Dix says. “Members, people who are working on that continue to work on a proposal and there’s not yet one that’s been determined.”

Governor Branstad said earlier this week that he is willing to work with legislators to draft a bill allowing the limited use of a non-hallucinogenic oil derived from marijuana if the bill mimics new laws in states like Utah, where a Republican governor approved the move.

Cornell student runs to raise money to help cancer patients

A college student in eastern Iowa is putting himself through a grueling workout in an effort to help cancer patients. Jacob Fields is running a mile for every dollar he collects from donations. So far, he’s raised over $550 and has been running about 25 miles a day since late last month. It’s hard work, but Fields says his family provides motivation.

Both his mother and grandmother have been diagnosed with different types of cancer. “It’s definitely a lot (of pain), but compared what my mom went through and what my grandmother is going through now, it’s nothing,” Fields said. The senior at Cornell College in Mount Vernon has set a goal of running 1,000 miles and raising $1,000.

The money will go to the American Cancer Society for cancer research. “My friends have given me 10 dollars here, a dollar here,” Field said. “They’re like, ‘here’s five bucks, go run five miles.’” Fields started late last month and has lost more than 10 pounds, worn through a pair of shoes, and used up five tubes of lip balm. Fields is running in conjunction with Cornell’s Relay for Life, which starts Saturday, April 26.

(Reporting by Forest Saunders, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids)

Governor Branstad says he would consider a very limited medical marijuana law

Governor Terry Branstad is giving his first indication that he would be open to signing a limited medical marijuana bill into law this legislative session. Branstad recently met with parents who want to use an oil derived from marijuana to help their children who have seizures.

Branstad, a Republican, says he’s talked with the governor of Utah, who approved such a law. “One of our big problems today is people abusing prescription drugs that are meant for somebody else. We don’t want to create more problems –we don’t want unintended consequences,” Branstad says. “But, it looks like we could end up with something that is very limited in focus like was passed recently in Utah and Alabama.  And I’m certainly working with legislators to see if there’s the possibility of working something out on that before the legislature adjourns.”

Branstad made the comments during Monday’s “River to River” show on Iowa Public Radio. Branstad says the Utah and Alabama laws relate to a non-hallucinogenic oil extracted from cannabis, and are very limited. “It doesn’t legalize it, but it means that you wouldn’t prosecute somebody that has it strictly to meet their health needs,” Branstad says.

The governor would consider signing such legislation. “I would, if it is, I have a lot of respect for the Governor of Utah, and what they’ve done, and I want to visit with the Governor of Alabama. And I’m working with the legislature to see — I want to talk with law enforcement and the people who deal with drug abuse to make sure this is not something that is going to create problems for them,” Branstad says.

The governor up to now has called for more documentation on the benefits – and the possible abuse of marijuana — if it was approved for medical use in the state.

Bill seeks survey to find out about radon in school buildings

The Iowa Senate has given final legislative approval to a bill that calls for a survey of Iowa schools to see if buildings are being tested for radon contamination. Senator Matt McCoy, a Democrat from Des Moines, says Iowa has the highest concentration of the cancer-causing gas of any state in the nation.

“Data indicates that five out of seven homes have elevated radon levels in Iowa, so we’re leading the nation in levels of unsafe radon gas in our homes,” McCoy says. “It stands to reason that our school buildings are in the same kind of condition as our homes.”

McCoy has been pressing for legislation that would require schools to test for radon and take steps to rid buildings of any unsafe levels of the gas, but House Republicans balked, citing the costs districts would face if tests found unacceptably high levels of radon in school buildings.

“We’re going to be back working on this issue next year and hopefully next year we’ll be able to do the right thing,” McCoy says.

The bill calling for a survey of school districts to find out which have tested buildings for radon now goes to the governor for his approval or veto.