Health Buzz: Expected Primary Care Shortage and Other Health News

Air pollution and heart disease, colon cancer treatment troubles, and a campaign against MRSA.

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Few Graduating Medical Students Choose Primary Care

Just 2 percent of nearly 1,200 graduating medical students surveyed say they plan to work in primary care or internal medicine, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. That number was 9 percent in a 1990 survey, the Associated Press reports. The new report raises concerns about a possible shortage of doctors who can be the primary gatekeepers in handling patient care in the future. The graduating students surveyed said that what discourages them about primary care is the paperwork involved, the demands of those who are chronically ill, and the idea of bringing work home. Pay may be another issue. Family medicine doctors earned the lowest average salary last year, at $186,000. Orthopedic surgery, in comparison, paid $436,000, the AP reports.

U.S. News's Nancy Shute reported on the shortage of primary-care doctors in March. She also provided seven tips for finding a doctor.

Air Pollution Can Hurt Those with Heart Disease

Air pollution may harm people with coronary artery disease by impeding the heart's ability to conduct electrical signals, according to a new study. Researchers learned that black carbon from traffic fumes and tiny air pollution particles may result in ST-segment depression, a condition that reflects changes in the heart's electrical conductivity that may indicate inflammation of the heart muscle or inadequate blood flow to the heart. Forty-eight patients with coronary artery disease from the Boston area participated in the study, which was published online yesterday in the journal Circulation. They were monitored for 24 hours with portable electrocardiograph machines that were looking for ST-segment depression. All had been hospitalized previously for heart attack, unstable angina, or worsening coronary artery disease symptoms.

The study showed that increased levels of black carbon and small airborne particles called PM 2.5 were linked to an increase in ST-segment depression. And sulfur dioxide (a product of combustion that's not from cars) was also tied to an increase in ST-segment depression. Patients recovering from a heart attack were particularly susceptible, the researchers said.

In July, Katherine Hobson explained how athletes can breathe a little easier about air pollution. Earlier, U.S. News reported on the real dangers of air pollution and why cleaner air leads to healthier lungs. In May, Adam Voiland described how particulate air pollution damages veins, too.

Improvements Needed in Colon Cancer Treatment

Two new studies bring discouraging news for those who've had colon cancer treatment. One study, published online yesterday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, found that only 38 percent of U.S. hospitals sampled were testing enough lymph nodes after colon cancer surgery to accurately determine the extent to which the disease had spread. The other study, to be published in the October 15 issue of the journal Cancer, found that just 40 percent of people who'd received successful colon cancer treatment were getting all recommended follow-up tests.

U.S. News's Avery Comarow offers details on the colon cancer controversy. In March, Michelle Andrews reported on paying for colonoscopies and Katherine Hobson presented the case for virtual colonoscopies and other alternatives in screening.

CDC Launches Anti-MRSA Campaign

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched a national campaign this week to help protect kids from skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which is resistant to some antibiotics and can cause severe infections. The new National MRSA Education Initiative informs parents of steps they can take to protect their families from MRSA. The effort will include websites, fact sheets, brochures, posters, public service announcements, mom blogging sites, Web banners, and mainstream media interviews. Professional organizations, faith-based groups, school and community groups, and national health conferences will also be involved.