Monthly Archives: June 2016

Jewelry Can Pose Danger

Foreign-made jewelry is a potential source of lead exposure, according to public health officials.

A 1-year-old boy living in New York City had a rapid increase in blood lead levels, and the likely source of the exposure was traced to a Cambodian amulet made from knotted string and metallic beads, according to researchers from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the CDC.

Testing revealed that the beads contained 45 percent lead, the researchers reported in Jan. 28 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The boy had worn the amulet — “something to protect him,” his father said — since he was 3 months old, and had been seen putting it in his mouth.

“Healthcare providers and public health workers should consider traditional customs when seeking sources of lead exposure in Southeast Asian populations,” the authors wrote.

Healthcare professionals should ask parents — particularly from Southeast Asian families — about the use of amulets, they added, noting that educational efforts about the risk of lead poisoning from jewelry are needed for immigrant families.

An accompanying editorial note pointed out that the CDC recommends blood lead testing for internationally adopted and refugee children and that the New York City health department recommends testing all children with recent travel to foreign countries.

Although the most common source of lead exposure in young children is paint, other sources have been increasingly identified.

That is particularly true in immigrant communities because of the use of lead-containing products from their country of origin, such as spices, food, candy, cosmetics, health remedies, ceramics or pottery, and jewelry.

For the case of the 1-year-old boy, routine lead testing showed an elevated blood lead level of 10 micrograms/dL.

According to the National Institutes of Health lead concentrations in blood should be less than 10 micrograms/dL in children and less than 20 micrograms/dL in adults.

Because he lived in a household with a cousin who had had lead poisoning, he had also been tested at 6 months. His blood lead level was just 1 microgram/dL then.

A risk assessor from the Environmental Protection Agency visited the home to look for potential sources of the lead exposure. The boy’s father denied using any imported products, and the assessor failed to find any potential sources of exposure.

Three months later, the boy’s blood level doubled to 20 micrograms/dL.

The boy’s father again denied that the child wore jewelry or charms, but eventually admitted that the child had worn an amulet acquired at a Cambodian market since he was 3 months old.

A second home inspection identified one area of paint with an elevated lead level, as well as imported spices and rice. Testing revealed that the food products did not have elevated lead content.

Within eight days of the amulet being removed from the home, the boy’s blood lead level decreased to 14 micrograms/dL.

About five weeks later — after the lead paint was reported to be removed — the boy’s blood lead level was 10 micrograms/dL, and five months after the amulet was removed, the level was down to 5 micrograms/dL.

“Although other factors might have contributed to the child’s overall lead burden,” the researchers wrote, “the most likely source identified was the amulet, based on its high lead content, statements that the child had been observed mouthing it, and the rapid decrease in the child’s blood lead level after its removal.”

Healthcare Reform Law

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, siding with the 26 states that sued to block enforcement of the law.

The lawsuit, filed by 26 states that sued to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is considered likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson, of the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., stopped short of directing the federal government to stop implementing the law. Still, the ruling is the harshest legal action yet against the ACA.

Unlike a ruling last month by a judge in Richmond, Va., stating that the individual mandate portion of the ACA violates the Constitution, Vinson ruled the entire law “void” because the individual mandate provision can’t be separated out from the rest of the law.

Congress “exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate,” Vinson wrote in his 78-page ruling, which was released Monday afternoon. The mandate requires all citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” he concluded.

He did contend that Congress has the power to address the “problems and inequities in our health care system,” but that Congress overstepped its power in passing the ACA.

“There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford,” Vinson wrote. “This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”

While it was widely expected that Vinson would side with the states, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that he declared the entire law “void.”

The original lawsuit — which filed just hours after Obama signed the ACA into law on March 23, 2010 — alleged that the “individual mandate” in the law exceeded Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, but didn’t argue that the whole of the law is unconstitutional. The Commerce Clause permits the federal government to regulate interstate commerce.

In October, when Vinson ruled the case could proceed, he said the states “had a plausible claim” in their argument that the law’s individual mandate violated the Commerce Clause.

The states argued that the government cannot force individuals to participate in the stream of commerce — in this case, the health insurance market.

The federal government responded that at some point, every U.S. citizen will seek medical care, and if that person chooses to not have insurance, the cost of his or her medical care is passed on to those with insurance. Thus, a choice to not participate in the commerce of healthcare doesn’t actually exist.

Two other judges have rejected challenges to the law, ruling that the ACA’s individual mandate provision is constitutional.

Other states that have joined the lawsuit are: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Heart and Brain

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

The study showed that overall the walkers had a 2 percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, compared with an average loss of about 1.4% in the control participants.

The researchers also found, improvements in fitness, measured by exercise testing on a treadmill, were significantly associated with increases in the volume of the hippocampus.

On the other hand, the study fell short of demonstrating a group effect on memory – both groups showed significant improvements both in accuracy and speed on a standard test. The apparent lack of effect, Kramer told MedPage Today, is probably a statistical artifact that results from large individual differences within the groups.

Analyses showed that that higher aerobic fitness levels at baseline and after the one-year intervention were associated with better spatial memory performance, the researchers reported.

But change in aerobic fitness was not related to improvements in memory for either the entire sample or either group separately, they found.

On the other hand, larger hippocampi at baseline and after the intervention were associated with better memory performance, they reported.

The results “clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” the researchers argued.

Men More Likely to Show Up in ER

Researchers followed 367 men and 370 women for 30 days after they were discharged from the Boston Medical Center to determine if gender played a role in the need for follow-up urgent care, including readmission to the hospital.

The study was published April 18 in the online journal BMJ Open.

Men in the study were an average of about four years younger than the women, and tended to have better-paying jobs and more access to private health insurance. Women were more likely than men to have a family doctor and to have been diagnosed with depression at some time in the past, with twice as many women taking antidepressants.

The study found that the return rate for urgent care within 30 days of discharge was 29 percent for women and 47 percent for men. Men were twice as likely to go to the emergency room, according to a journal news release.

Many key factors predicted men’s return to hospital. They were 72 percent more likely to return if they were unmarried or retired, 64 percent more likely if they had not seen their family doctor since their discharge and 53 percent more likely if they were depressed.

“Our findings raise the possibility that social isolation — as illustrated by the positive association with being retired or unmarried, and [having] symptoms of depression — may be important factors to target for intervention,” wrote Dr. Suzanne Mitchell, of the department of family medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, and colleagues, in the release.

The researchers noted that previous studies found that men’s social isolation tends to contribute to poorer health results for them, and that women are better at using health services.