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Health Capsules: June 7

Child healthcare grants available for Missouri families

For area families in need of financial assistance to pay for their children’s medical care, help may be available from the UnitedHealthcare Children’s Foundation [UHCCF]. In Missouri, more than 200 families have received UHCCF grants since 2013, and the foundation is encouraging more families to apply this year. Nationwide, UHCCF has awarded more than 13,000 grants valued at over $35 million so far, with the goal of surpassing 20,000 grants by 2020.

Qualifying families can receive up to $5,000 per grant with a lifetime maximum of $10,000 per child, to help pay for their child’s healthcare treatments, services or equipment not covered, or not fully covered, by their commercial health insurance plan. To be eligible, children must be 16 years of age or younger. Families must meet certain financial criteria, reside in the U.S. and have current coverage under a commercial insurance plan. However, families do not need to have their insurance through UnitedHealthcare in order to apply.

Some examples of medical conditions for which the funds may be used are ADHD, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, Down syndrome, hearing loss, muscular dystrophy and spina bifida. They may also be used for therapy and counseling services, surgeries, prescriptions, wheelchairs, orthotics, eyeglasses and hearing aids, among other medical needs. Funds may be applied toward expenses incurred 60 days prior to the date of application as well as toward a child’s ongoing and future medical needs. For more information or to apply for a grant, visit www.UHCCF.org.


Asthma update

Asthma is on the upswing nationwide, with children living in Missouri hit particularly hard by the disease.

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 25 million American adults and children currently are living with asthma – and its incidence has been increasing in recent years, resulting in millions of emergency room visits and missed days of work and school. Missouri is particularly hard-hit by asthma, especially the state’s children. Compared to a nationwide average of 8.6 percent of children under 17 who are diagnosed with asthma, 9.7 percent of Missouri children suffer from the disease, according to Missouri Department of Health statistics.

Throughout the U.S., efforts continue to better understand the causes and improve treatments for this chronic, and sometimes fatal, respiratory disease. One of the main theories explaining why asthma rates are increasing is the “hygiene hypothesis,” which states that oversanitizing a child’s environment and preventing exposure to germs and infections can lead to lowered disease resistance. The uptick in asthma also has coincided with increasing allergies, which are believed to be a main contributor to asthma and may be due to a combination of factors, including rising airborne pollen levels, a warming climate, the energy-proofing of homes and businesses [which makes them more airtight], urban air pollution and the overuse of antibiotics.

Many experts believe environmental factors are a main contributor to both allergies and asthma. A recently published study explores one such component implicated in widespread asthma attacks that’s particularly relevant in the Show-Me State: thunderstorms.

In the past, thunderstorms have often been linked to sudden outbreaks of asthma attacks requiring emergency care. One incidence of “thunderstorm asthma” occurred in fall 2016 when, as strong storms moved across southeastern Australia, a major asthma outbreak struck the Melbourne area, causing multiple deaths and hundreds of emergency medical visits.

What’s behind this phenomenon? According to experts, the high humidity, rainfall and electrical activity of a thunderstorm cause airborne pollens to rupture. Gusty winds quickly spread those pollen fragments ahead of the storm, causing asthma attacks in susceptible people which, under certain conditions, can reach epidemic levels.

In the U.S., the University of Georgia and Emory University researchers have been studying how the combination of rainfall, winds and lightning from thunderstorms, combined with airborne pollen or mold spores, can worsen asthma symptoms. They’re also exploring ways to predict thunderstorm asthma outbreaks that could eventually provide advance warnings for healthcare providers, emergency management officials and residents in affected areas. Their study, which was recently published in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, is one of the first to include forecasting tools used by meteorologists to measure the severity of developing storms.

“While this study does not yet provide the capability of predicting thunderstorm asthma outbreaks, our methodology may provide a key piece to the puzzle for alerting public health officials about what storms may trigger an episode and which ones may not,” said co-author J. Marshall Shepherd, Ph.D., director of UGA’s atmospheric sciences program.


Even smokers support larger cigarette pack warnings

[Shutterstock photo]

Legislation passed in 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, required cigarette manufacturers to enlarge the size of health warnings on cigarettes to cover half of the front and back of every pack. Lawsuits filed by those manufacturers have thus far prevented the legislation from taking effect. But a new phone survey conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center found widespread support, even among smokers, for making the warnings, which currently cover about 10 percent of cigarette packs, significantly larger.

The random survey of just over 5,000 U.S. adults asked whether they would support warnings covering either 25, 50, or 75 percent of cigarette packs. They found that more than 78 percent of all respondents, and 75 percent of smokers, supported a warning covering 25 percent of a pack. Seventy percent of respondents – and 58 percent of smokers – supported a warning covering half of the pack, and a nearly equal 68 percent of nonsmokers and 61 percent of smokers would support a warning covering 75 percent of each pack. The UNC researchers claimed that their findings reveal a high level of national public support for larger pack warnings. The study data was published in the journal PloS ONE.

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