December 18, 2014

State continues testing for Chronic Wasting Disease in deer

The shotgun deer season is well underway and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is again monitoring for signs of Chronic Wasting Disease in the animals taken by hunters. DNR wildlife research supervisor Willy Suchy says they’ve been testing for CWD since 2002. “We’ve had a couple of positives now, one in a wild herd and a couple in captive situations, so we are doing enhanced surveillance in those areas to see if there’s anything on the landscape that we need to look for,” Suchy says.

The main effort will concentrate on portions of northeast and eastern Iowa near Wisconsin and Illinois, south-central Iowa near Missouri, as well as in Pottawattamie, Cerro Gordo and Buchanan counties. The one positive in the wild population came in Allamakee County in 2013.

“The good news is that we’ve sampled up there for 12 years and this is the first positive. We’ve had over thousand samples within five miles of where this deer was detected, and when we look at the genetics — Iowa State examined it — and it looks likely, you can’t say 100 percent for sure, but it looks likely that it was a Wisconsin deer that actually emigrated into Iowa,” according to Suchy.

While CWD is fatal to deer, Suchy says it is not a concern for hunters. “If a deer tests positive, the CDC does encourage people to not eat those deer, but there is no proven health risk,” Suchy says. The CWD sampling involves removing and testing the brain stem and lymph nodes of the deer. Hunters willing to provide samples may contact a DNR regional office to arrange collection.

For more information, check the Iowa DNR’s website.



Group will push legislature for medical marijuana law

Sally Gaer (file photo)

Sally Gaer (file photo)

A group of Iowans announced a campaign Tuesday at the state capitol dedicated to promoting regulated access to medical marijuana for patients suffering from a variety of medical conditions. Lawmakers passed, and the governor signed a very limited bill into law that allows the use of cannabis oil for patients with chronic epilepsy.

Sally Gaer is the mother of a child with the form of epilepsy and now is a member of the group Iowans 4 Medical Cannabis. “We have more folks who would like access to cannabis as medicine to use for their medical conditions…they’ve been in contact with us and so we decided to form this group, and it encompasses more than intractable epilepsy,” Gaer explains.

Founding members of the group include Easter Seals of Iowa, National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Iowa Chapter; Epilepsy Foundation of North Central Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska; Epilepsy Families for Medical Cannabis.

Gaer says one of their objectives is to change the classification of marijuana from a schedule 1 designation. “Schedule 1 says that marijuana has no medicinal value, which is quite untrue and inaccurate,” Gaer says. The also want to create a Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee within the Department of Public Health. “That are physicians and pharmacists and scientists and law enforcement and drug enforcement, so everybody is on the same page,” Gaer explains. “And they would make the decisions as far as processing, growing and dispensing the cannabis medicine in the state so that the legislature is not making every little minuscule decision.”

One of the arguments against approving medical marijuana is that critics say that will then lead to approving recreational use of the drug. “None of us are really for recreational marijuana in any way, shape or form,” Gaer says. “My story has been all along, they already get it. They can walk outside and in five minutes get their hands on illegal recreational marijuana, to their detriment. I still don’t have access to medicine for my daughter.”

Gaer says even with the law allowing Iowans with intractable epilepsy to treat their conditions legally with medical cannabis oil, Iowans still cannot safely, affordably, and legally get medical cannabis in other states. She says part of the problem is that the state-issued medical cannabis “cards” needed are still not available. And although 23 states have legalized the sale of medicinal cannabis, it’s sold almost exclusively to in-state residents. “Drug abusers still get it, and the people that need it still can’t,” she says.

Gaer says the extra support could help get something more done in the upcoming legislative session, and that’s why they are making their support know now. “I think there are some legislators working and figuring out what this should look like, and if we can get a bill introduce right away this session and get work going on it, so we are further ahead than we were last year,” Gaer says.

Last year’s legislature was working with the knowledge that many members would be on the ballot in the fall, and she hopes with the election over, there’s more chance of getting the issue moving. “You know, that was what we heard from the get go last year, well this is an election year, this probably won’t happen. And our thought was exactly it’s an election year this should happen,” Gaer says. “So, hopefully we won’t have that oh my gosh what will this do to the election in the fall if I do anything about this, hopefully it will more about helping people.”

Gaer says medicinal marijuana is widely supported by most Iowans, as a 2014 Des Moines Register poll found that 59 percent of Iowans support its use. A follow-up poll by Quinnipiac found that 81 percent of Iowa voters support legal access to medical cannabis under a doctor’s treatment plan.


State designates facilities to handle any Ebola cases

Health-Dept-logoThe Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) has designated facilities to handle any testing, screening, or treatment of an Ebola patient if a case is discovered in Iowa. Health Department director, Gerd is quick to point out no Ebola cases have been detected here, and none are likely to be found.

“The chance of a confirmed or suspected case of Ebola is highly unlikely. With that, we obviously want to be prepared if we had a case occur in the state,” Clabaugh says. The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City has agreed to serve as an Ebola treatment facility. Mercy Medical Center and Iowa Methodist Medical Center in Des Moines have both agreed to be screening facilities for an Ebola patient. The Area Ambulance, Cedar Rapids; Medic EMS, Davenport; and Iowa EMS Alliance in West Des Moines will provide transportation for patients.

The State Hygienic Lab has been certified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to test for Ebola. Clabaugh says having the facilities designated is an important part of planning ahead. “In public health particularly that’s something we do I think a very good job of, and that is as unlikely as it is, we certainly want to be prepared for the possibility of a case arriving in the state,”according to Clabaugh.

He is very confident in all the organizations designated to handle any Ebola cases. “They have highly trained personnel, they’ve got very sophisticated equipment, these are some of our finest facilities in Iowa,” Clabaugh says. “The burden on these facilities to manage the cases is substantial in terms of staff effort, the personal protective equipment that is necessary to protect their staff.”

Clabaugh says his department works closely with the federal government to track travelers returning from Ebola-affected West African countries. “We do have people coming into the state from the West African area who have been in that area of the world, so there are folks at various time who are being monitored for that,” Clabaugh says. “For the last several months the public health system has been involved locally in the monitoring cases, so over that period of time we’ve had a handful individuals over that period of time who have been under active monitoring public health orders.” The public health orders rank the amount of risk from low to high, and are designed to give an early warning of the potential symptoms that might require health care.

For more information on Ebola, visit the Iowa Department of Public Health’s website at: or the CDC’s website .


Former Hawk star Chuck Long now CEO of Iowa Sports Foundation

Chuck Long with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

Chuck Long with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad.

Former Iowa quarterback Chuck Long is taking over as CEO of the Iowa Sports Foundation, the organization that runs the Iowa Games, the Senior Games and the Live Healthy Iowa challenge.

“I’m excited. I’m honored to be here. It’s all come fast and furious, but this is a foundation that realy fits me or I fit it,” Long says. “When they came and approached me about it, I knew right away that I wanted to be a part of it.”

The Iowa Sports Foundation also runs an adaptive sports program to provide recreation opportunities to Iowans with physical disabilities.

“This one is near and dear to my heart ’cause I grew up with a brother with cerebral palsey, so I was part of his programs throughout his life and this is a very special program that I would like to grow now and in the future,” Long says.

Today is the opening day of enrollment in the foundation’s 10-week Live Healthy Iowa Wellness Challenge.

“It’s a program that I actually was involved with last year in another company — and any community or business or any Iowans that can get a team together of between two and 10 people and register on It’s $20 a person,” Long says. “It’s a really inexpensive way to be part of a wellness program.”

Long says last year he and his teammates kept track of their activity and nutrition — and wound up losing a “significant amount of weight.” This year’s Live Health Iowa Challenge begins January 26 and ends April 3.

Jim Hallihan, a former Iowa State assistant basketball coach who served 17 years as the foundation’s executive, retired in 2011 and Clarence Hudson, a former football coach and executive in Ruan Transportation, took over. Long, the new Iowa Sports Foundation CEO, was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 1985 and he played professionally for the Detroit Lions and the Los Angeles Rams.

Long has more recently been a college coach and an analyst for the Big Ten Network.

Over 10 percent of Iowans remain uninsured, urged to consider ACA subsidies

A liberal advocacy group today released a report about how the Affordable Care Act or “ObamaCare” is “working in Iowa.” Matt Sinovic of “Progress Iowa” says 83 percent of the Iowans who got insurance through the federal exchange last year received tax credits which significantly decreased the cost of their inurance plan.

“It’s important to look past all of the heated rhetoric and take a look at what the law is actually doing,” Sinovic says, “particularly here in the state of Iowa where we have seen incredible benefits from the Affordable Care Act.”

Sinovic cites another study which indicates Iowa hospitals saved $32 million this past year because more uninsured Iowans were enrolled in Medicaid.

“So our hospitals are saving, our health care consumers are benefitting and Iowans are benfitting,” Sinovic says.

Sinovic says 10.3 percent of Iowans are still uninsured and he’s urging those Iowans to see what kind of insurance subsidies they might qualify for under the Affordable Care Act. The enrollment period is now open, through February 15th.

Critics of “ObamaCare” say it will overload the nation’s health care system with previously uninsured patients demanding care and bankrupt the federal government. About 10 million Americans acquired subsidized insurance coverage last year due to the Affordable Care Act. Supporters of the law say it’s reducing health care costs, which went up less than three percent in the past year compared to double-digit increases before the law took effect.

Iowa drops in healthiest state rankings


This chart shows Iowa’s annual health rankings.

Iowa has dropped several more notches on the latest report that ranks the states for their health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, spokeswoman for the United Health Foundation, says the list is compiled by comparing 30 different criteria in four main categories: behaviors, community environment, public policy and the clinical care system.

“This year, Iowa is ranked 24th,” Dr. Randall says. “Last year, they were ranked 18th, so a decrease by six ranks. In 1990, when we started this report, Iowa was ranked number-six, so over the course of the 25 years, it’s an 18-rank decrease and it’s been a fairly slow, steady decrease over the last 25 years.” She says Iowa had poor showings in several categories this year.

“You’re ranked 47th in the nation for binge drinking, where 22% of the adult population is reporting that they binge drink,” Randall says. “You’re also ranked 46th for access to primary care physicians, and then a high incidence of infectious diseases, ranked 41st in the country there.” Iowa also had a poor showing in rates of smoking, obesity and inactivity.

While Iowa now ranks in the middle of the national pack at 24th overall out of the 50 states, she says Iowa still did very well in some categories. “There’s some areas to be very proud of,” Randall says. “(Iowa) ranked 4th in immunization coverage for children, that’s great to see many preventable illness and infectious diseases with vaccinations. Also, a high rate of high school graduation, ranked 5th in the nation there. Those two together show you’re doing right by the kids.”

Iowa also had the 5th highest rank in the country for people with health insurance. Hawaii ranked first this year, Mississippi was last. See the full list of the rankings at:


Winter’s lack of sunlight can lead to health issues


A lack of sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Cold weather rolled into Iowa weeks early this fall and lingered, forcing many people indoors much sooner than usual. Kevin Gabbert, a social worker and counselor at the Iowa Department of Public Health, says being deprived of exposure to the sun can bring on the blues and make people feel moody and lethargic.

Gabbert says the early onset of winter may bring an uptick in cases of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. “It really kind of depends,” Gabbert says. “If it’s a longer winter, if there’s less sunlight, those types of things tend to play a role in SAD and we could experience more cases. It’s a little early for us to say yet.”

On the plus side, Gabbert says a little counseling can go a long ways for SAD sufferers. “Talking about what’s going on with you, talking about your feelings,” Gabbert says. “It may be to the point where counseling would be beneficial. For those symptoms that are a little more advanced, it may be something you want to talk about with your physician. It may be that medication would be beneficial for you. Also, light therapy or phototherapy could be very helpful as well.”

Dr. David Towle, a Cedar Falls psychologist and director of the University of Northern Iowa Counseling Center, says light therapy is a simple solution that really helps some people get through the Midwestern winter. “We typically think about exposure of about 30 minutes per day of a full spectrum light,” Dr. Towle says. “Often, people will get up in the morning and sit and read the newspaper, listen to the radio, drink their coffee, and sit in front of a light for 20 or 30 minutes and that’s a pretty effective intervention.”

Towle says another option is what’s called “negative air ionization,” which uses a device like an air purifier. “It is like that and it’s something that people use while they’re sleeping,” Towle says. “It seems not to be quite as effective as the full-spectrum light exposure but it’s pretty effective for a lot of people.” Studies find that between ten and 20-percent of Americans report feeling tired or sad when there are fewer hours of daylight during the winter months.