Health and health care news

In April this year, Katie Herzog checked into a Boston teaching hospital for what turned out to be a nine-hour-long back surgery.

The 68-year-old consulting firm president left the hospital with a prescription for Dilaudid, an opioid used to treat severe pain, and instructions to take two pills every four hours as needed. Herzog took close to the full dose for about two weeks.

About 3.5 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis C. New, blockbuster drugs have transformed the treatment and prognosis for the deadly disease. But there’s a catch — they’re expensive.

A single course of treatment, which lasts about three months, can cost as much as $90,000. The sheer volume of patients combined with the price tag for treatment limits access.

Patty Wight / Maine Public

Treatment for hepatitis C was at one time complicated, requiring weekly visits to specialists and harsh drugs that often came with severe side effects. And the cure rate was less than 50 percent.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

We know that hepatitis C is an increasing problem, and that it’s closely tied to intravenous drug use. But what is it, exactly? How does it work in your body? Let’s find out.

Hepatitis C kills more Americans than HIV and AIDS, and the number of people who are infected with the disease is growing. Dramatically.

Patty Wight / Maine Public

The White House has declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency. But it’s also fueling another epidemic: a rise in hepatitis C.

Mary Esch / Associated Press

This week, the Food and Drug Administration issued an advisory about kratom, an herbal supplement that’s used to treat pain, anxiety, depression and addiction.

The FDA warns that kratom has similar effects to the narcotics in opioids, and carries similar risks of abuse. But those who use the botanical say it’s a safe, alternative treatment that helps people.

About 50,000 Mainers would lose health insurance under the proposed Senate Republican tax bill, according to progressive-leaning state and national policy organizations. They say the tax bill’s provision to eliminate the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate tugs at a thread that would significantly unravel the federal health law.

Aisha Faquir / World Bank

Nearly half of adults in Maine likely have high blood pressure under new guidelines announced Monday. A national physician task force has changed the definition of hypertension, and is recommending more patients receive treatment earlier.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control / via Associated Press

The tick-borne disease anaplasmosis on the rise in Maine.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control, the number of cases of the disease has grown from a little more than a dozen about a decade ago to 500 so far this year. Public health officials say the increase mirrors the movement of Lyme disease into Maine years ago.

As state epidemiologist Dr. Siiri Bennett runs through the reported cases of anaplasmosis year by year, the numbers at first hold steady in the teens.

“In 2008 there were 17. 2009, 15,” she says.

But then, they start to grow.

Why Delivering Babies Is Draining Maine’s Small Hospitals

Nov 13, 2017
Courtesy Celia Geel / via Bangor Daily News

Celia Geel of Calais would have much preferred to deliver her second baby in the familiar, hometown hospital where she gave birth to her daughter, Cora, 2½ years ago. Instead, after Calais Regional Hospital closed its labor and delivery department in August, Colton Scott Geel came into the world — a wailing, 8 pounds, 7 ounces of healthy baby boy — at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, nearly 100 miles from home.

Jose Navarro / Flickr/Creative Commons

If you’ve ever experienced a migraine headache, you probably think of it as something bad. But a University of Maine psychology professor has a new theory about migraine attacks: that they may actually be the body’s natural way of protecting and repairing itself from toxins in the brain.

Maine voters voted overwhelmingly to expand Medicaid. But how long will it be before the 70,000 or so Mainers who qualify are covered? It could be months.

Maine Public State House Reporter Mal Leary and Maine Things Considered Host Nora Flaherty discussed the implementation of Maine’s Medicaid expansion. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Flaherty: I think when people heard the news that the referendum had passed many thought coverage would start shortly. Why is it going to take so long?

Patty Wight / Maine Public

While hundreds of thousands in southern Maine lost power due to Sunday night’s storm, the state’s largest hospital was still up and running — but Maine Medical Center isn’t completely immune from power outages.

At any given time, Maine Medical Center cares for hundreds of patients. From moms giving birth to patients who need surgery and those with emergency health problems.

“Today, for instance, we have about 500 patients that are in the hospital, right now,” says spokeswoman Caroline Cornish.

Patty Wight / Maine Public

Next month, voters will decide whether the state should expand Medicaid. At stake is health coverage for an estimated 70,000 Mainers as well as financial stability for hospitals.

With flu season ahead, researchers at University of Maine say they've uncovered another reason to get a flu shot - especially for those with muscle disorders.

"The flu virus actually gets into your muscle cells," says Associate Professor Clarissa Henry, "so this is the first time it's been shown in a live animal."