health

While researching the book Cure, science writer Jo Marchant wanted to understand how distraction could be used to nullify pain, so she participated in a virtual reality experiment.

During the first part of the experiment, Marchant sat, without distraction, with her foot in a box of unbearably hot water. "It felt like a very intense burning pain on my foot when I just experienced it on its own," Marchant tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross.

The World Health Organization says it expects the Zika virus to spread to every country in the Western Hemisphere except Canada.

It says the virus has already "spread to 21 countries and territories of the Americas."

"Canada is off the list simply because it's too cold for the type of mosquito that transmits the Zika virus," NPR's Jason Beaubien reports to our Newscast unit.

For many people struggling with opioid use, a key to success in recovery is having support. Some are getting that support from an unlikely place: their health insurer.

Amanda Jean Andrade, who lives west of Boston in a halfway house for addiction recovery, has been drug- and alcohol-free since October. It's the longest she's been off such substances in a decade. She gives a lot of the credit for that to her case manager, Will — who works for her insurance company.

Steve Miller has some customers on offer. Millions of them in fact.

The chief medical officer at Express Scripts, the largest pharmacy benefit manager in the U.S., has been essentially auctioning off his 80 million customers to the drug companies that will give him the best deal.

"Who wants my market share?" Miller says. "Whoever will give me the best price, I will reward you with an enormous amount of market share."

If you pictured a dancer, you probably wouldn't imagine someone with Parkinson's disease. Worldwide, there are 10 million people with the progressive movement disorder, and they struggle with stiff limbs, tremors and poor balance.

Something new — and quite frightening — appears to be happening with the Zika virus.

For decades Zika was a virus that turned up in monkeys and occasionally in humans in Africa and Southeast Asia. Its symptoms were mild and the number of confirmed human cases was low.

The first big outbreak was on the island of Yap in Micronesia. Three quarters of the island's population were infected — about 5,000 people. But few of them reported any symptoms.

On the surface, Flint, Mich., and Kabwe, Zambia, don't seem to have a lot in common.

They're half a world away from each other. One is a city of 99,000 in one of the richest countries in the world. The other is a city of 203,000 in a lower-middle-income country.

Jamie Steeb, a former nursing assistant at Overlake Hospital, filed a complaint with the Department of Labor about the 2010 nursing mothers law.
Courtesy of Jamie Steeb

Jamie Steeb’s breasts hurt.

Steeb was a nursing assistant at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue. She had returned from maternity leave and needed time to pump breast milk; when she didn’t get breaks, her breasts throbbed with pain. After a while, she said she developed an infection.

Editors' note, Feb. 1, 2016: On Jan. 20, we reported on a statement from the American Psychological Association that a research paper, "Chronic Adolescent Marijuana Use as a Risk Factor for Physical and Mental Health Problems in Young Adult Men," had a statistical error. The APA now says that statement, which was titled "APA Corrects Article Regarding Teen Marijuana Use," should not have said there was an error in the paper. Jim Sliwa, a spokesman for the APA, told NPR: "There was no error.

The cure for a doctor shortage: primary care and teamwork

Jan 21, 2016
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Lauren Silverman

By 2025, the U.S. could face a shortage of as many as 90,000 physicians. That’s according to the latest report from the Association of American Medical Colleges. The lack of doctors – particularly primary care doctors –  is a concern across the country, but it’s particularly severe in southern states. But filling the patient-doctor gap is not as simple as training more doctors.

Maybe it was last January's big measles outbreak at Disneyland that scared more California parents into getting their kids vaccinated. Or maybe health campaigns have become more persuasive. Or maybe schools getting stricter about requiring shots for entry made a difference.

Whatever the reasons, childhood vaccination rates last fall went up in 49 of 58 counties in California, according to data released Tuesday by state health officials.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is renewing his push to raise the smoking and vaping age to 21. The Democrat announced the bipartisan effort Wednesday at a Capitol news conference.

The Senate Agriculture Committee has voted in support of a compromise plan that will preserve key school nutrition standards enacted after the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010.

Yep, that's the law that requires schools to serve up more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. It also paved the way for major reductions in salt.

"We are alone. We have been abandoned by the state," says Marilia Lima, cradling her 2 1/2-month-old son, Arthur, against her chest.

Arthur is one of some 3,500 babies born with microcephaly, a birth defect that has been linked to Zika virus, since the virus was identified in Brazil in May. Although a definitive cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven, both Brazilian and international doctors believe there is indeed a connection.

Three decades ago, the treatment Michele Zumwalt received for severe headaches involved a shot of the opioid Demerol. Very quickly, Zumwalt says, she would get headaches if she didn't get her shot. Then she began having seizures, and her doctor considered stopping the medication.

"I didn't know I was addicted, but I just knew that it was like you were going to ask me to live in a world without oxygen," she says. "It was that scary."

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