Yosemite Officials Say 1,700 Visitors May be at Risk of Hantavirus
Officials at Yosemite National Park told 1,700 people on Tuesday that they may have been exposed to a potentially fatal rodent-borne disease. Four people who stayed in one of the park's low-cost lodging areas this summer have died from hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, and two others were infected and expected to survive. "This is certainly an issue and we're getting word out," park spokesman Scott Gediman told the Associated Press. "We're very concerned about visitors and employees, but we feel we are taking proactive steps in both cleaning the affected areas and in public education. But it's absolutely impossible to eliminate all risk." Hantavirus is a rare disease spread by coming into contact with the urine, droppings, or saliva of infected rodents—specifically, deer mice. Symptoms, which show up one to six weeks after exposure, are flu-like at first such as fever, headache, and muscle pains. After two to seven days, many have severe breathing difficulty.
Medical Errors Harm Huge Number of Patients
Early in July, Mary Brennan-Taylor stepped to the head of a class of medical students at the University at Buffalo–SUNY and proceeded to describe the cascade of events that killed her mother. Alice Brennan, 88, was independent and anything but frail when she was admitted to the hospital on July 13, 2009, with a mild case of gout. "I figured she had 10 more years as the life of the party," her daughter says. But doctors prescribed a muscle relaxant that isn't used for gout—and in fact is prominently displayed on a list of drugs that should be avoided in the elderly. Unsteady on her feet as a result, Brennan suffered a scary fall in rehab and lost the ability to walk. Back in the hospital, poor infection control measures led to a series of infections, each one nastier and harder to treat than the last. On August 29 that year, Brennan died in a hospice of sepsis, a systemwide reaction to severe bloodstream infections.
"Dear God, you shouldn't go into a hospital a fairly robust 88-year-old woman with gout and die 48 days later of sepsis," says Brennan-Taylor, who directs a number of social services programs for a YWCA in the Buffalo area. "It shouldn't happen."
Brennan-Taylor's subsequent crusade to eliminate medical errors—besides lecturing to medical students, she has also shared her mother's story at a federal government hearing on medical data—places her at the forefront of one of the most urgent movements in medicine: a nationwide effort to rethink the risk-ridden and chaotic medical system and place safety and quality at its heart. It is a gargantuan task. In 1999, the Institute of Medicine report, "To Err is Human: Building a Safer Health System," charged that mistakes and unsafe practices in U.S. hospitals kill at least 44,000 patients a year and possibly twice as many, a number likened to the carnage that would occur if a jumbo jetliner went down daily in the country. [Read more: Medical Errors Harm Huge Number of Patients]
IBS? Could be the FODMAPs
You've always had a sensitive stomach. The morning after a big meal out, you pay the price. Or perhaps your symptoms come out of the blue; painful stomach aches, cramps, or worse—the big "D"— that you can't ever associate with any one particular food. Your doctor has poked you, scoped you, scanned you, taken your blood, and determined that everything looks normal. It must be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), he declares, and you'll just have to live with it.
If this sounds familiar, there's reason to be optimistic, writes U.S. News blogger Tamara Duker Freuman. It's possible that FODMAPs could hold the key to unlocking a hidden food intolerance.
FODMAP is an acronym that describes a group of poorly-digested carbohydrates which, for a variety of reasons, may trigger symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea in susceptible people. When carbs go undigested in the small intestine, they continue their journey southward into the colon, where the resident bacteria are pleased as pie to digest them on your behalf. As the bacteria feast—a process called fermentation—they produce gas as a byproduct. Additionally, large amounts of intact, undigested sugars hanging around in the colon tend to attract water (remember osmosis from eighth grade biology class?); this is what causes diarrhea.
The term FODMAP was coined by scientists at Monash University in Australia, whose pioneering research resulted in an experimental elimination diet that's now being used by clinicians worldwide to help pinpoint specific food-intolerance triggers for which there are no empirical diagnostic tests. The low-FODMAP diet has thus far shown very promising results in helping alleviate digestive symptoms among people with IBS. Emerging data suggest that upwards of 70 percent of people with IBS may experience symptom relief on a low-FODMAP diet, though larger studies are needed to validate these numbers. [Read more: IBS? Could be the FODMAPs]
Angela Haupt is a health reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow her on Twitter or reach her at email@example.com.