Health Updates 10 May 2012

  • Wheelchair breakdowns on the rise, study finds: “An increasing number of wheelchair breakdowns are causing people with spinal cord injuries to be left stranded, hurt or unable to keep their medical appointments, according to a new study.  In the report, published online in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, University of Pittsburgh researchers suggested that changes in Medicare reimbursements may be contributing to this growing problem.  The researchers found that more than half of wheelchair users had a breakdown within six months.  A growing number of these breakdowns resulted in injuries and other health and safety concerns….’It is possible that this increase in the number of repairs is the result of a decrease in wheelchair quality resulting from changes in reimbursement policies and a lack of enforcement of standards testing,’ the study authors noted in a journal news release.  The researchers also found the rate of adverse consequences of breakdowns jumped to 30.5 percent in 2006-2011 from 22 percent in 2004-2006.  The total number of consequences per wheelchair user was also twice as high.  Power wheelchairs, particularly those with power seats, were more problematic than manual models, accounting for almost two-thirds of all problems reported by users.  Racial and ethnic minorities reported a greater number of breakdowns…these patients were also less likely to have a backup wheelchair available to them….The study [also] warned that lenient requirements for testing do not ensure that wheelchairs meet certain safety or performance standards.” (HealthDay)
  • Really?  Using an iPad can strain your neck: “More and more people are getting hooked on tablet computers like the iPad.  By 2015, there may be as many as 80 million tablet users in the United States alone.  The simplicity of the sleek hand-held devices can make life easier.  But for some, a tablet can literally be a pain in the neck.  In a recent study, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at whether using a tablet in various seating configurations can cause head and neck strain.  They found that using a tablet on your lap for extended periods may raise the risk of neck and shoulder discomfort and potentially musculoskeletal problems. The scientists studied 15 experienced tablet users in their natural viewing positions.  Placing a tablet on the lap created the greatest strain, the researchers found, because it forces the user to look down at a steep angle, causing head and neck flexion and potentially more head and neck strain.  One way to minimize the problem is to use a case that props up the screen to a better viewing angle when you don’t need to type.  Even better would be to prop it up on a table.  The more elevated the tablet, the less you have to strain your neck to see the screen.  The bottom line: Keeping a tablet like the iPad in your lap can tax neck muscles, but propping it up on a case or table can lessen the strain.” (Anahad O’Connor, NY Times)
  • Some support for quit-smoking alternatives: “Acupuncture and hypnosis are touted as drug-free ways to help smokers kick the habit, and there is some evidence that they work, according to a new research review.  There are still plenty of questions – including exactly how effective the alternative therapies might be, and how they measure up against standard quit tactics.  But researchers say the alternatives should stand as options for smokers who want them. …Overall, smokers who got real acupuncture were more than three times as likely to be tobacco-free six months to a year later.  Similarly, across four trials of hypnosis, smokers had a higher quit rate with the therapy compared to people who had minimal help – like an educational booklet on kicking the habit.  In general, smokers who want to quit should first try the standard approaches…But some people are not interested in medication….And in many other cases, the standard quit therapies do not work.”  No matter what, the benefits of quitting are tremendous, “and smokers should keep trying to find a way that works for them.  The American Lung Association (ALA) says that although some smokers can successfully quit ‘cold turkey’, the best bet for most is to try a combination of medication and some type of behavioral counseling”. (Reuters Health)
  • Norovirus outbreak traced to reusable grocery bag: “A case study showing how a grocery bag and its contents caused an outbreak of the stomach bug norovirus highlights the role that inanimate objects can play in such outbreaks, researchers say.  The study appeared online May 9 in The Journal of Infectious Diseases.  Noroviruses are highly contagious and the leading cause of gastroenteritis (commonly called stomach flu) worldwide.  They are also the most common cause of food-borne outbreaks in the United States, according to a journal news release.  In this study, researchers examined a norovirus outbreak that occurred in a group of 17 girls, aged 13 or 14, and their four adult chaperones attending a soccer tournament in Washington state.  There were eight cases of norovirus infection in the group, including the patient who was believed to have been infected prior to the trip.  This girl had no contact with her teammates after her initial symptoms began.  She moved into a chaperone’s room and then began vomiting and having  diarrhea in that bathroom.  Several days later, other members of the group began having symptoms.  The researchers concluded that they were infected by norovirus after handling a bag of snacks that had been stored in the bathroom where the first girl got sick.  Airborne norovirus within the bathroom likely settled onto the open grocery bag and its contents…The findings confirm the high risk of contamination of surfaces in norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships, in nursing homes and in other group settings”.  Experts stress that all areas were any airborne exposures may have occurred must be thoroughly disinfected to control the spread of infection. (

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