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Second wave of the flu: What you need to know

Although the flu season may be winding down, an uptick of another flu strain is setting the scene for a possible second wave of flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

>> Read more trending news

The strain of flu that has dominated this season, influenza A (H3N2), is on the decline, but cases of influenza B have increased, according to the CDC's weekly statement ending on March 11. The report notes that 58 percent of all laboratory-confirmed cases of flu were caused by the B strain.

>> Related: CDC warns of second wave of flu virus

Here are 6 things you need to know about this late-season rise in influenza B.

1. It’s not a total surprise. This second wave of influenza B cases is not unexpected. A late-season surge of influenza B often takes place when H3N2 is dominant in the beginning of a season.

2. Influenza B is less associated with severe illness but CDC says don’t take this strain lightly. 

H3N2 is associated with more severe illness, complications, hospitalizations and deaths, especially among children, people older than 65 and those with chronic conditions. But CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund urged vigilance."We know that illness associated with influenza B can be just as severe as illness associated with influenza A," Nordlund told CNN. "We also know that influenza B tends to be more severe for younger children."

3. There’s been an uptick of influenza B in Georgia, but overall numbers continue to fall. 

As of the week ending March 17, the Georgia Department of Public Health said 3.5 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu, down from 3.7 percent of patient visits the week before. A month ago, 11.9 percent of patient visits to doctors were for the flu. In Georgia, influenza A cases continue to represent a larger portion of laboratory-confirmed cases of flu: 8.9 percent for influenza A, and 3.9 percent for influenza B.

4. Believe it or not, it’s still not too late to get a shot if you haven’t. 

The CDC recommends vaccination “as long as flu viruses are circulating” and the season can run as late as May. In Georgia, there is “moderate” intensity of influenza, according to the most recent report. Influenza B viruses tend to respond better to vaccines than influenza A viruses. This season’s vaccine is believed to be about 36 percent effective overall, with lower effectiveness against the H3N2 strain, according to a mid-season estimate by the CDC. But even partial protection can help reduce the severity of illness.

5. Don’t let your guard down. Continue to take steps to protect you and your family from catching and spreading the flu. Wash your hands - before and after eating, after using the restroom, after coming home from work and school, after touching your mouth or nose. Hand-hygiene is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stop the spread of germs.

6. Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and stay home if you are sick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (except to get medical care or other necessities). Your fever should be gone for at least 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, such as Tylenol. You should stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings. Check with your child's daycare or school before sending your child back. Many have rules and it’s generally at least a full day after they don't have any fever without medication.

Dangerous ibuprofen-like pills linked to 4 overdoses, authorities warn

Authorities in Coweta County, Georgia, are warning the public about dangerous pills that have been linked to four overdoses, one of which resulted in death.

>> Watch the news report here

The pills, that are unmarked and a pinkish brown, resemble ibuprofen. Authorities say it's a powerful underground version of benzodiazepine, commonly known as benzos.

Jacob Baswell, 17, is in jail on six charges of narcotics possession with intent to distribute. He's being held on a $20,000 bond.

>> CDC warns of second wave of flu virus

Police told WSB-TV's Tom Regan they believe his father overdosed and later died after taking some of these pills.

Coweta County fire rescue rushed to three overdoses within hours of each other just this past Sunday. The victims were teens ages 16 to 21.

Paramedics scrambled to help the young men who overdosed on Sunday.

>> CVS accused of revealing HIV status of thousands of customers 

"When we found these subjects, they had depressed respiratory and cardiac," said Robby Flanagan, division chief.

When first responders tried to revive the young men with Narcan, there was little response.

>> Read more trending news 

Authorities say they are concerned there could be more victims.

"We worry there may be more out there. We know he ordered 50, and we can't account for them all this time," said Col. James Yarbrough with the Coweta County Sheriff's Office.

Baswell told investigators he bought the pills online.

New treatment tested on mice could hold hope for Alzheimer’s patients, families

While scientists have been focusing on plaques that build up in brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients, a new treatment that has been recently tested on mice could lead to new hope for the patients and their families.

>> Read more trending news 

Earlier this year, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute reversed the development of BACE1, the Journal of Experimental Medicine reported. BACE1 is an amyloid plaque that builds up in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.

But now doctors in Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have targeted another plaque called APOE, UPI reported.

>>Read: Research shows reversal of Alzheimer's disease in mice

Researchers found that giving the mice used in the study anti-APOE injections reduced the amount of the plaque in the brain by as much as half, UPI reported.

And the vaccinations not only target APOE, they actually remove it from the patient’s system, Science Daily reported.

Grilling meat could raise your risk of high blood pressure, study says

Grill lovers beware. Before you fire up the grill, a new report says that barbecue may increase your risk of high blood pressure.

Researchers from the American Heart Association presented a report Wednesday that explored whether foods cooked at high temperatures affect blood pressure. 

To do so, they examined more than 100,000 people from various long-term health studies. Researchers gathered information about the individuals’ cooking methods and the development of high blood pressure among those who regularly ate beef, poultry or fish. 

>> Read more trending news 

After analyzing the results, researchers found that none of the participants had high blood pressure, diabetes or cancer at the start of the program. About 37,000 of them had developed high blood pressure during the followup 12 to 16 years later.

When the scientists took a closer look, they discovered that those who reported eating two servings of red meat, chicken or fish a week were at higher risk for hypertension. 

The risk was 17 percent higher for people who grilled, broiled or roasted beef, chicken or fish more than 15 times a month, compared to those who did it less than four times a month. 

Related: How barbershops can help trim high blood pressure in black men

Furthermore, the risk was 15 percent higher for those who liked their meats well-done as opposed to rarer. High blood pressure risk was also higher for those estimated to have consumed the highest levels of heterocyclic aromatic amines, a chemical found on meats that are charred or exposed to high temperatures.

“The chemicals produced by cooking meats at high temperatures induce oxidative stress, inflammation and insulin resistance in animal studies, and these pathways may also lead to an elevated risk of developing high blood pressure,” Gang Liu said in a Wednesday news release

“Our findings suggest that it may help reduce the risk of high blood pressure if you don’t eat these foods cooked well done and avoid the use of open-flame and/or high-temperature cooking methods, including grilling/barbequing and broiling.”

Find out more about the report at the American Heart Association website.

Woman’s $12,000 bee sting bill shows how high emergency room costs have climbed

How can a two-hour treatment for a bee sting end up costing a patient $12,000? Prices can soar when the patient goes through a barrage of tests and insurance doesn’t cover the bill, but Sylvia Rosas’ case is shining a light on the cost of health care in the country.

It all started with a simple bee sting in her yard in Florida. Rosas had allergic reactions to stings in the past, but didn’t have an EpiPen, so she went to the emergency room, CNN Money reported. Several doctors looked at her sting and ordered blood tests and an EKG to ensure she wouldn’t have a reaction. The visit, which took less than two hours, happened to be at an out-of-network hospital, so her insurance wouldn’t cover it. Rosas had to pay the bill out of pocket.

Now, she’s second-guessing when she needs to see a doctor so she won’t wind up with the bill later.

>> Read more trending news 

Rick Brown found himself in a similar financial situation, CNN Money reported.

He twisted his ankle. After trying to treat it at home to no avail, he went to his local emergency room, on his own crutches, and was seen by a physician assistant. Brown had an X-ray done on him and was given a splint and a prescription, with a suggestion to see a specialist for the fracture. 

He was billed $2,600 for the ER visit. Then, he received a separate bill for $5,700 from the doctor’s office. Insurance paid half of the ER bill, but denied the doctor’s charges because the person who saw him was out-of-network.

Brown said that if he would have known that the bill wouldn’t be covered, he would have waited a few days longer to see someone else.

Officials with the Health Care Cost Institute say ER visits cost an average of $1,917 in 2016. That’s more than 31 percent higher than it did four years before.

The amount billed by the hospital usually covers the facility fee and some tests and services, CNN Money reported. But it usually doesn’t include the cost patients incur for actually seeing a doctor, which is usually billed separately.

The big question is: Why does it cost so much?

Emergency rooms are seeing more patients, and those patients have severe medical problems.

People with cuts and fevers will more likely go to urgent care locations. Patients with chest pain and those suffering from asthma attacks are seen in emergency rooms, and those conditions are more expensive to treat, CNN Money reported.

Emergency rooms also have access to expensive equipment, like CT scans and MRIs.

So where does that leave patients who need care, but don’t want to gamble with their finances?

First, experts told CNN Money that patients don’t need to sign paperwork with the ER that promises to pay in full just to be seen. Federal law says ERs have to screen and stabilize anyone who comes in.

Second, if you’re stuck with a bill, speak with the health care providers. Prices can be negotiable, CNN Money reported. A professor of surgery and health policy at Johns Hopkins University found that hospitals mark up some services as much as 340 percent more than Medicare allowances.

“Prices are highly fluctuant and often negotiable,” Martin Makary told CNN Money. “As with new cars, people are not expected to pay the sticker price.” 

Death penalty for some drug dealers part of Trump opioid plan, report says

President Donald Trump's proposal to fight the nation's growing opioid epidemic reportedly includes pursuing the death penalty for some drug traffickers. 

According to Reuters, Trump will detail his plan – which calls for stronger penalties for dealers, fewer opioid prescriptions, and improvements to drug education and access to treatment – Monday in New Hampshire.

>> Read more trending news 

Andrew Bremberg, Trump's domestic policy director, said the Justice Department "will seek the death penalty against drug traffickers when it's appropriate under current law," Reuters reported. The death penalty currently can be sought for some drug-related murders, the news service reported.

Read more here or here.

Americans binge 17 billion drinks a year, CDC estimates

College students have a reputation for binge drinking, but it’s not just them. Americans drink massive amounts of alcoholic beverages, according to a new report

>> On AJC.com: Even one drink per day can increase your risk of cancer, study warns

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, to determine how much booze United States citizens down. 

To do so, they examined information from the CDC’s 2015 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, which included self-reported data on individuals’ liquor consumption habits over 30 days. They calculated the annual binge drinking by “multiplying the estimated total number of binge drinking episodes among binge drinkers by the average largest number of drinks consumed per episode,” the authors wrote. 

>> Read more trending news 

After analyzing the results, they found the Americans guzzled 17 billion drinks in 2015. That equals 470 total binge drinks per binge drinker.

“This study shows that binge drinkers are consuming a huge number of drinks per year, greatly increasing their chances of harming themselves and others,” co-author Robert Brewer said in a statement.

>> On AJC.com: Do you drink too much? Here's what a new study says

The prevalence of binge drinking was more common among young adults ages 18-34, but more than half of the binge drinks consumed annually were by adults 35 and older.

Furthermore, about 80 percent of the drinks were consumed by men. And those who made less than $25,000 a year and had educational levels less than high school drank “substantially more” a year than those with higher incomes and educational levels. 

The researchers said the results “show the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to prevent binge drinking, focusing on reducing both the number of times people binge drink and the amount they drink when they binge.”

>> On AJC.com: Alcohol better than exercise to live past 90, study says

With their findings, the researchers hope to implement prevention tactics such as reducing the number of alcohol outlets in a geographic area and limiting the days and hours of sale.

How barbershops can help trim high blood pressure in black men

Black men hoping to lower their high blood pressure may want to pay their favorite barber a visit — and bring a pharmacist along.

>> On AJC.com: Half of US adults now have high blood pressure, based on new guidelines

That’s according to new findings from the Smidt Heart Institute published Monday in the New England Journal of Medicine, for which a team of scientists studied 319 African-American men at high risk of heart attack and stroke recruited from 52 barbershops in the Los Angeles area.

>> Read more trending news 

For the study, the men were randomly assigned to two groups. Men in the first group met with barbers who encouraged them to speak with specially trained pharmacists during their monthly barbershop appointments.

During their visit to the barbershop, the pharmacists would assess the participants and prescribe appropriate medication. Any monitored blood tests and progress notes were sent to the patron’s primary care provider.

>> 7 ways to lower your blood pressure without medication

In the second group, barbers encouraged the men to seek advice from their respective primary care providers on treatment and lifestyle changes. Patrons were given pamphlets and blood pressure tips while getting their haircuts. There were no pharmacists involved inside the barbershop.

At the start of the study, the average top pressure number (or systolic blood pressure) averaged 154. After six months, it fell by 9 points for customers just given advice and by 27 points for those who saw pharmacists.

Two-thirds of the men who met with both their barbers and pharmacists were able to bring their unhealthy systolic blood pressure levels into the healthy range at that six-month mark.

Only 11.7 percent of the men in the second group experienced a similar difference in the same time period.

>> On AJC.com: Is your medical provider taking your blood pressure all wrong? Experts say probably 

Black men have especially high rates of high blood pressure — a top reading (systolic) over 130 or a bottom one over 80 — and the problems it can cause, such as strokes and heart attacks. Only half of Americans with high pressure have it under control; many don't even know they have the condition.

Marc Sims, a 43-year-old records clerk at a law firm, was a participant of the barbershop and pharmacist group. He didn't know he had high pressure — 175 over 125 — and when he came into the barbershop, the pharmacist said he was at risk of having a stroke.

"It woke me up," said Sims, who has a young son. "All I could think about was me having a stroke and not being here for him. It was time to get my health right."

Medicines lowered his pressure to 125 over 95.

>> On AJC.com: Suffer from hypertension? Sauna baths could help reduce it, study suggests

"Barbershops are a uniquely popular meeting place for African-American men," Dr. Ronald Victor, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and author of the study, told the Associated Press. “And many have gone every other week to the same barber for many years. It almost has a social club feel to it, a delightful, friendly environment" that makes it ideal for improving health.

Victor’s own hypertension was diagnosed by a barber in Dallas during his first barbershop-based study in the 1990s, he said in a news release. That study incorporated 17 Dallas shops, but no pharmacists. The results were modest at best.

But for the new research, the team “added a pharmacist into the mix" so medicines could be prescribed on the spot, he said. "Once you have hypertension, it requires a lifetime commitment to taking medications and making lifestyle changes. It is often challenging to get people who need blood pressure medication to take them, even as costs and side effects have gone down over the years. With this program, we have been able to overcome that barrier."

Victor and his team are now onto the next step: to determine if the benefits they found can be sustained for another six months and in black men with more moderate blood pressure levels.

Read the full study at nejm.org.

– The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Allergic reaction to granola bar kills 12-year-old girl, family says

A Georgia family is in mourning after an allergic reaction to peanuts led to the death of a 12-year-old girl.

>> Watch the news report here

Amanda Huynh had been hospitalized before for allergic reactions to peanuts, but it's still surreal for her brother that she's gone.

"She meant a lot, to me, and i feel like she means a lot to the community," said her brother, Dillon Huynh.

The honor roll student at Lee Middle School in Coweta County was on her way home Tuesday on a school bus when she took a bite of a granola bar.

It was a snack that her family says she had eaten before.

"She would always check everything and make sure it was right," Dillon said.

>> Read more trending news 

But she started to feel sick and school officials were able to call 911 for an ambulance to take her to the hospital.

Her brother shared pictures from her hospital bed where doctors told the family even if she woke up she would have permanent brain damage.

Amanda died Thursday, and her family held her funeral on Sunday.

The principal at Lee Middle School sent a letter to parents about how grief counselors will be at the school in the coming days.

Amanda's brother said he hopes her story will educate others about food allergies.

"(I want people to) live with her in their hearts and really know how serious this is," he said.

>> See a GoFundMe page for the family here

Heart attack sufferers more likely to survive if doctor is away, study says

If you are recovering from cardiac arrest, doctors are essential to the healing process, right? According to a new report, you’re more likely to survive if your cardiologist is away.

>> On AJC.com: You may be able to better avoid heart attacks with this common snack, study says

Researchers from Harvard University recently conducted a study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, to determine the possibility of survival for people who suffer heart attacks when their doctors are away.

To do so, they examined the 30-day survival rate of Medicare heart attack sufferers admitted to the hospital while their doctors were at the five-day Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting.

>> Read more trending news 

After analyzing the results, they found that 19.5 percent of patients died within 30 days of admission when the doctor was present. It was just 16.9 percent when the cardiologist was away.

Some heart attack sufferers require stents, which are tubes inserted into the heart blood vessels to help clear passageways. About 15.3 percent of heart attack patients, who needed stents and were admitted on meeting days, died within 30 days. About 16.7 percent admitted on non-meeting dates died within the month.

>> On AJC.com: You can avoid strokes and heart attacks with these two household fruits, study says

“Which doctor treats you does matter. The types of doctors who attend these meetings seem to provide different care, at least for a subgroup of patients,” coauthor Aunupam Jena said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate paradox given that professional conferences are designed to actually makes us better physicians and improve the care we deliver.”

The scientists said doctors who attend the conferences perform more stents. They’re also more focused on publishing research and more likely to run clinical trials, compared to their peers who do not go to the meetings.

“If doctors focus their attention on a particular kind of procedure, they might not develop other clinical skills that are as important to influencing outcomes as is knowledge of a specific procedure,” Jena said. “Treating a cardiac patient isn't just about cardiac issues—it's about other factors that the patient brings to the hospital.”

Although the researchers have drawn conclusions about cardiac specialists who attend conferences and those who don’t, they said the true differences are still unknown.

That’s why they hope to continue their investigations to explore how a variety of physicians develop their nonprocedural skills over time.

>> On AJC.com: Got heart disease? You may have a better chance of survival if married

“The fact that mortality actually falls for heart attack patients during these conference dates raises important questions about how care might differ during these periods,” Jena said. “What we really want to know is how we can close the gap in outcomes and save more lives.”

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