Health stories we missed in 2010

    Coverage of the Affordable Care Act dominated health news in 2010. But at what cost?  We asked a few experts which important stories they think got short shrift last year while healthcare overhaul was hogging the spotlight.

    Art Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, nominated pertussis, commonly called whooping cough. An epidemic in California led to the deaths of ten infants, and infection rates in the suburbs of Philadelphia increased four-fold last summer.

     “It just jumps out at you that whooping cough is back,” Caplan said. “That’s a disease from your grandparents or great grandparents, what’s that doing back?”

    Caplan says more media coverage of pertussis infections would encourage people to get the cheap and easy vaccination that can save lives.

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    After virtually being eliminated, whooping cough infection rates have been on the rise in the U.S. since the 1980s, likely because the effectiveness of the vaccine decreases years after it is administered. Efforts are under way to encourage teens and adults to get booster shots to protect them from the disease.

    Albert Wertheimer, a professor with the Temple University School of Pharmacy, said the growth in personalized medicine was his biggest newsmaker of 2010.

    The term refers to the tailoring of medical treatments to each patient. Wertheimer said tools that allow doctors to test the DNA of patients and look for molecular markers to determine which medicines will work for them got much cheaper in recent years. Until 2010 he says they were used mostly for research, but doctors in many hospitals are doing the same thing now, and insurance is increasingly covering it.

    “No drug works for 100 percent of the people, most drugs work for 60,65,70 percent of people, and it’s a hit and miss game,” Wertheimer said. “But now the physician has the ability to test every one of his or her patients and find out which characteristics they have and they’ll know which drugs can be used, it’s wonderful.”

    Wertheimer said it is now easier to prescribe the right drug the first time and cut down on dangerous side effects for drugs that won’t work anyway.

    Other experts queried named increasing takeover of hospitals by for-profit companies, an ever-growing obesity epidemic, and climbing employee healthcare costs as other significant trends of 2010.

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