Health and health care news

Gov. Paul LePage has signed into a law a bill that supporters say will make it easier for first responders to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Until now, police, firefighters and EMTs in Maine who sought workers compensation benefits for PTSD had to prove that they developed the disorder from their work. This new law no longer puts the onus on first responders; instead, it creates a presumption that if they’re diagnosed with PTSD, it’s work-related.

Consumer advocates are concerned about a proposal by two insurance companies to offer benchmark plans on Maine’s health insurance market that provide skimpier coverage.

Anthem initially sought permission for what’s known as a Silver-level plan at a cheaper rate with fewer benefits, and now Community Health Options wants to offer something similar to stay competitive.

Steve Butterfield of Consumers for Affordable Health Care says if the Maine Bureau of Insurance grants approval, it would be harmful for consumers.

Patty Wight / Maine Public

It’s been a year since Maine enacted the toughest opioid prescription limits in the country, which came in response to an addiction epidemic where, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription painkiller.

More Maine Parents Refusing Vaccines, as Measles, Whooping Cough Cases Increase

Jul 20, 2017
Troy R. Bennett / Bangor Daily News

A greater percentage of Maine kindergarteners entered school last year without being fully vaccinated, according to new data released as the state faces a surge in whooping cough cases and its first measles case in decades.

Five percent of kindergarteners, or about 620, were exempted by their parents from immunizations during the 2016-17 school year, according to updated data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 4.5 percent the prior school year.

This week Maine lawmakers will consider whether to make it easier for first responders to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

If approved, PTSD would be considered a work-related injury for police, firefighters and EMTs. Supporters say it would reduce stigma and make it easier to receive treatment. But the Maine Municipal Association says it’s a mismatched solution that fails to prevent PTSD.

HAMPTON BEACH, N.H. - New Hampshire health officials are warning the public about potential exposure to measles at one of its most popular beaches on the Atlantic Ocean.
State officials say an out-of-state resident with measles visited Hampton Beach on July 9 and spent time there at several outdoor locations.
 They say people who are vaccinated shouldn't be concerned, but any beachgoers should still monitor for symptoms.

AUGUSTA, Maine - New data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that more children are entering kindergarten without vaccinations for diseases like measles, chicken pox and whooping cough.
The Portland Press Herald reports that the number of parents opting their children out of immunizations for nonmedical reasons rose from 4 percent to 4.8 percent.

Maine is a clinical site for a landmark study about autism. 

Maine Behavioral Healthcare was recently selected as the northern New England recruiter for the SPARK study, which is trying to obtain 50,000 genetic profiles of people with autism. 

Dr. Matthew Siegel, the principal investigator in Maine, says collecting such a large amount of genetic information will help researchers better understand different forms of autism.

Boxed mac and cheese is a source of comfort food, but it's also a source of toxic chemicals called phthalates, according to food safety advocates.

The Environmental Health Strategy Center is among the members of a coalition that had 30 cheese products tested, from sliced and shredded to 10 major brands of mac and cheese. 

Executive Director Mike Belliveau says phthalates were detected in all mac 'n cheese powders. "The phthalate levels in the mac and cheese were more than four times higher than any other cheese product."

Joaquim Alves Gaspar / via Wikimedia Commons

The Maine Center for Disease Control is advising residents to protect themselves from mosquitoes, following an identified case of Jamestown Canyon virus in the state. 

An adult from Kennebec County is now recovering at home after being hospitalized with the virus, which can cause fever and flu-like symptoms, as well as encephalitis and meningitis.  

Two other more well-known mosquito-borne diseases - Eastern Equine Encephalitis and West Nile Virus  - cause similar symptoms. 

Bangor Birth Center Aims to Put Women in Control of Their Babies’ Births

Jul 10, 2017
Gabor Degre / Bangor Daily News

Beatrix Cronin is due to have her second child any day now. But she’s not prepping for a hospital visit.

Instead, on a recent Wednesday, she was looking for a lake to swim in, an exercise that helps pregnant women strengthen their pelvic floor for labor. And when her body tells her she’s going into labor, it won’t be a hospital that her husband, Robert, is putting into the GPS.

A Bangor community college is working to fill a nursing gap in some of the most rural counties in the state with the launch of a nursing program in Dover-Foxcroft.

Piscataquis County, like many places in Maine, is facing a critical shortage of qualified nurses.

“This is just the first of hopefully many thinking-outside-the-box programs that we’re going to unroll,” says Jennifer Khavari, director of advancement at Eastern Maine Community College.

Keith Shortall / Maine Public file

Facing a critical blood shortage, the American Red Cross is issuing an emergency call for donations.

Blood donations have fallen short of expectations for the last two months in northern New England, resulting in about 2,200 fewer donations than needed.

Red Cross Northern New England spokesperson Mary Brant said, right now, the agency has less than a 5-day blood supply on hand.

“We always strive to keep a 5-day supply on hand to meet the needs of patients every day. As well as to be prepared for emergencies,” she said.

Felipe Dana / Associated Press

It may feel like the number of mosquitoes in Maine this year is way up, but it’s just getting back to normal.

Maine Medical Center vector ecologist Chuck Lubelczyk says the dry weather over the last two summers led to an unusually low number of mosquitoes, but this year is more normal and the population is rebounding.

Lubelczyk says they’re a particular problem on the coast, where this year’s very high lunar tides have flooded salt marshes and created a mosquito baby boom.

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Senate Republicans on Thursday unveiled their plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare. The long-awaited plan marks a big step toward achieving one of the Republican Party's major goals.