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Black women fight their silent killer, heart disease

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After her mother and sister died within 30 days from heart disease, Stephanie Johnson made it her mission to fight against the killer often brought on by high blood pressure.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 killer of Black women, with an annual toll of nearly 50,000, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Nearly half of Black women aged over 20 have heart disease, but most are unaware of the risks.

Johnson created Release the Pressure (RTP), a coalition to raise awareness among Black women.

“African Americans, Black Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites,” said Johnson, American Medical Association’s vice president of communications and product strategies.

“High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease because the heart is working harder,” explained Dr. Peggy Roberts, founder and chief executive of Trust Women’s Healthcare.

Stroke, heart attack, aneurysm and heart arrhythmia are major risks. Stress from racism can raise blood pressure.

“On top of all the social stressors that we have to deal with being Black in America, it’s too much,” Johnson said.

Nutritionist Coach Gessie Thompson, founder of TheDetoxNow.com, nearly died in 2020 after her blood pressure spiked from stress. She is providing digital heart health kits and helping with RTP’s goal to send out 100,000 free validated blood pressure cuffs to Black women by 2027.

Home testing can be more accurate than in a doctor’s office where nerves and other factors can skew a reading.

Despite years of headaches and multiple miscarriages, Nichola Hamilton, 38, only knew she had high blood pressure on her first visit with Dr. Roberts. She got a reading of 160 over 100. Less than 120 over 80 is considered normal but pressure above 130/80 requires focused treatment.

“It’s really important that we have the information as a community to be able to advocate for ourselves,” said Dr. Aletha Maybank, chief health equity officer and senior vice president of the American Medical Association.

 

(The story corrects organization name in fifth paragraph.)

 

(Reporting by Alicia Powell; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)

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Canada’s first two monkeypox cases confirmed in Quebec, others under investigation

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MONTREAL — The Public Health Agency of Canada says two cases of monkeypox in Quebec are the first confirmed cases in the country.

The agency said in a release late Thursday that it is working with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and public health officials in Quebec to investigate potential exposure and contacts of a case of monkeypox recently identified in the U.S.

It says a U.S. citizen recently travelled to Canada by private transportation and may have been infected before or during his visit to Montreal.

“Tonight, the Province of Quebec was notified that two samples received by the National Microbiology Laboratory have tested positive for monkeypox,” the release said. “These are the first two cases confirmed in Canada.”

The agency said the investigation into monkeypox is evolving and ongoing in Canada and around the world.

“More information is needed to assess if there are increased health risks to people in Canada.”

Earlier Thursday, the Quebec Health Department confirmed the province’s first two cases of monkeypox and said 20 other suspected cases are under investigation.

In a news release, the department said people should be alert to symptoms of the rare disease but stressed that it is spread through prolonged close contact with someone who is infected.

“Its contagiousness is thus considered limited compared with other viruses (flu, COVID-19, etc.),” the release said.

Montreal public health authorities urged calm as they confirmed they are investigating 17 suspected cases of monkeypox, saying the disease isn’t likely to spread through the community.

Montreal’s public health director said that based on recent outbreaks in Europe and a case reported in the United States, there is a “strong possibility” that the infections in the city involve the virus linked to monkeypox.

“We do not have to panic. At the time that we are speaking, it is not something that is going to go to community transmission that is going to be sustained,” Dr. Mylène Drouin told a news conference.

Drouin said the first suspected cases in Montreal were reported on May 12 from clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases, although symptoms had begun appearing around April 29. She said the cases are seen mostly in men between the ages of 30 and 55 years old who have had sexual relations with other men.

Most cases identified in the city are not severe, and symptoms involve a period of fever and sweating followed by the appearance of a painful rash in the genital area, Drouin said. All of the suspected cases are isolating and they have been instructed to cover their lesions until they heal. Those considered significant contacts — people in the same household or sexual partners — have been asked to monitor for symptoms for 21 days.

“There is no specific treatment currently available,” Drouin said. “It is painful, but mainly the forms we have right now are not severe forms of the illness.”

Drouin said the disease is transmitted by prolonged close contact and by droplets, adding that there is no risk from activities such as taking public transit, eating at a restaurant or shopping.

“This is not something we can acquire by going to the grocery store,” she said.

Although the infections were likely acquired through sexual activity, monkeypox is not considered a sexually transmitted disease.

“We do not want to stigmatize any segment of the population,” said Dr. Geneviève Bergeron, the medical officer for health emergencies and infectious diseases at Montreal public health. “We want people to be aware of the concern but also to keep it in perspective that what we’re worried about is prolonged close contact, and that can happen in any sort of different type of setting.”

She said there are likely other cases in the city that haven’t been identified, and she called on people who are showing symptoms to contact a doctor.

Monkeypox is typically limited to Africa, and rare cases in the United States and elsewhere are usually linked to travel there. A small number of confirmed or suspected cases have been reported this month in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.

On Wednesday, health officials in Massachusetts reported a monkeypox case in a man who had recently travelled to Canada. The man was in Montreal at the end of April to meet friends and returned home in early May.

Montreal health officials initially thought they were dealing with cases of chancroid, a sexually transmitted bacterial infection, until they received word of the U.S. case and changed the focus of their investigation.

“The case that we have in Boston was linked to a few of the suspected cases (in Montreal) but not all of them,” Bergeron said, noting some had travelled to Mexico and Belgium, while other cases weren’t linked to travel at all.

Bergeron said there is evidence that those who received the smallpox vaccine as children may have better protection against monkeypox. It was routinely offered to those born before 1972 in Canada. Drouin said any decision about reviving vaccination would come from the federal and provincial governments.

Monkeypox typically begins with a flu-like illness and swelling of the lymph nodes, followed by a rash on the face and body. In Africa, people have been infected through bites from rodents or small animals, and it does not usually spread easily among people.

Monkeypox comes from the same family of viruses as smallpox. Most people recover from monkeypox within weeks, but the disease can be fatal for up to one in 10 people, according to the World Health Organization.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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Quebec coroner says many people share blame for high death toll in COVID first wave

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MONTREAL — Quebec authorities share blame with the owners of a private Montreal-area long-term care home where 47 residents died during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province’s coroner said Thursday.

The owners of the home, the Quebec government and a Montreal health authority “passed the ball around” while vulnerable people died alone, coroner Géhane Kamel told reporters.

“There were a lot of emails that were sent, but during that time, people died,” Kamel said. “There were people who were dehydrated; there were people who were in their excrement and no one came …. Everyone failed.”

Thursday’s news conference was the first time Kamel spoke publicly since she released her report on Monday regarding her investigation into 53 deaths at several long-term care homes during the pandemic’s first wave.

She said that on March 29, 2020, officials at the local health authority were sending lawyer’s letters to the owners of the Herron care home, writing to the Health Department and deciding whether to call the police.

“While all this was happening, people were dying,” she said.

In August 2021, Quebec’s Crown prosecutor’s office says the Herron’s owners wouldn’t face criminal charges. The office said that after an “exhaustive” investigation, the evidence did not meet the high bar for criminal charges, adding the decision not to lay charges did not minimize the “tragic events” that took place at the home, nor did it rule out that civil or ethical violations could have been committed.

Kamel said one death in particular at the Herron still haunts her — that of Leon Barrette, who died March 29, 2020, two days after he had been transferred to the facility. His body was cold when it was found, according to her report. He had died alone, apparently forgotten in his room.

“Did we leave the people to die without care?” she said.

While Kamel said her mandate wasn’t to blame specific people, her report was highly critical of Lynne McVey, the CEO of the health authority. Kamel refused to comment on an announcement that McVey would step down at the end of her mandate in July.

The coroner thanked Seniors Minister Marguerite Blais for her honesty at the inquest. Kamel said Blais’s testimony made it clear how little was done to protect older people living in long-term care.

Kamel’s report said that residents of Quebec long-term care homes were kept in a blind spot while the provincial government focused on protecting hospitals as it prepared for the first wave of the novel coronavirus in the spring of 2020. Almost 4,000 long-term care residents died between March and June of that year.

Her report included 23 recommendations intended to prevent future deaths. “Ultimately, what I hope we remember is that this report is supposed to be used so that this never happens again,” she said.

Patrick Martin-Ménard, a lawyer who represented some of the families of people whose deaths were investigated by Kamel, said her report is a good first step but that a full public inquiry is needed.

“We know that there were a number of shortcomings by a number of people in decision-making positions, from the top to the bottom of the health-care system, that led to significant casualties during the pandemic,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s not so much about pointing the finger, it’s about learning the lessons of what went wrong.”

Martin-Ménard said long-term care facilities are still seen as a place where elderly people are sent to die and that “sustainable” change is needed.

“There was an issue with the culture, the approach with which we take care of our most vulnerable elderly people, and this approach, unfortunately, has not changed; we’re seeing the same mentality prevail today,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Health minister pledges support for Ukraine as WHO confirms attacks on health care

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OTTAWA — Canada’s federal health minister has pledged to rouse support from his international colleagues for rebuilding the besieged health-care system in Ukraine, where facilities and ambulances have come under attack during the Russian invasion.

“I know not just Canadians but everyone around the world are shocked and distressed about the devastating impact the invasion is having on Ukraine’s vital health-care workers, health infrastructure, and access to medical supplies,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos wrote Thursday to his Ukrainian counterpart, Dr. Viktor Liashko.

Duclos also wrote that Ukraine will have Canada’s support at the ongoing G7 health ministers meeting in Berlin, and next week at the World Health Assembly in Geneva.

“We will discuss how the G7 can assist in the future rebuilding of Ukraine’s health system.”

The letter was also directed to G7 health ministers and Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization, the international health agency at the United Nations.

Earlier this week, the WHO called for an investigation into Russian attacks on health facilities in Ukraine, having confirmed more than 200 such attacks since the conflict began.

“I am so disheartened, as a medical doctor myself, to hear the doctors telling of how the health-care facilities, all of them have been touched by heavy fire,” WHO European regional director Hans Kluge said of his recent visit to Chernihiv Oblast in Ukraine.

“Health care should never be a target.”

Duclos told the Ukrainian health minister that he would co-sponsor his resolution to underscore the importance of protecting the health-care workforce, medical aid and health infrastructure in Ukraine.

While Canada has already provided health services and aid to Ukraine, Duclos says it must do more.

“We can and must continue to provide support and assistance,” he wrote.

Duclos has also asked for a bilateral meeting with Liashko to discuss details.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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