Bias raises risk of hospital infections in kids

 Systemic racism and bias can put some children at higher risk of bloodstream infections while they’re receiving hospital care, a new study finds. 

Researchers examined records from 2012-2019 at a Seattle pediatric hospital, finding that Black children were more likely to get central line-associated bloodstream infections than white children while under hospital care for an unrelated medical issue. Children who spoke a language other than English also had a higher infection rate, though not as high as Black children, according to the study, which was published May 30 in JAMA Pediatrics. 

After interventions designed to counter systemic racism and bias were put into place at the hospital, infection rates fell among Black children and children who did not speak English.

Thousands of central line-associated bloodstream infections — which can occur when a tube is placed into a patient’s central veins to deliver medicine or fluids but is not kept clean — are reported annually in U.S. hospitals. The infections can be prevented with careful hygiene practices.

Flint missing deadlines on lead pipe replacements, groups say

The government of Flint, Michigan, has again fallen behind in its work to replace lead pipes that supply drinking water to residents and should be held in contempt, plaintiffs in a case against the city assert.

On May 26, Concerned Pastors for Social Action, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others filed a petition in a U.S. District Court alleging that the city has not met deadlines it most recently agreed to in February. Among the delays, the city is lagging at tracking its pipe restoration work and does not know how many properties still require repairs, the groups said. They called on Judge David M. Lawson to assess a daily fine of $500 until the problems are fixed. 

In 2016, the NRDC, Concerned Pastors for Social Action and partners filed a lawsuit against Flint and Michigan officials for exposing city residents to lead-contaminated drinking water. A 2017 settlement in the case required Michigan to pay for lead service line removal in the city.

Flint officials had originally agreed to replace all leaded drinking water pipes by 2020, but have repeatedly missed its targets. This spring, Lawson issued an Aug. 1 deadline for the city to complete the work.

Negative social determinants shorten Black lives

The gap in life expectancy between Black and white Americans comes down to just eight factors that influence health and well-being, a new study finds.

Black adults in the U.S. have a 59% higher risk of premature death than their white peers, prior research shows. The new study, published in the June issue of The Lancet Public Health, found that the gap is attributable to eight social determinants of health: employment, income, food security, education, health care access, health insurance quality, home ownership and marital status.

People who experience just one negative determinant, such as low food security or problems with access to care, have double the risk of an early death. Adults with six or more negative determinants have eight times the risk.

While the Black-white life expectancy gap has been linked to socioeconomic factors, they explain only half the difference, the study found. When life expectancy estimates are weighted to take the impact of all eight social determinants into account, the gap disappears, the Tulane University researchers said. That suggests that working to improve the determinants for Black Americans in real life could significantly improve their life spans. 

Disabilities more common in low-wage service jobs

Less-skilled, lower-wage occupations have the highest proportions of workers with disabilities, who often are limited in their job choices.

Researchers with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reviewed survey data from about two dozen occupational categories, finding that almost 20% of workers in the food-preparation and service category had a physical, mental or emotional disability. Disabilities were also common among people working in the personal-care and service occupational category, which includes hairstylists, recreational staff and child care workers.

People with disabilities often face barriers to employment, including discrimination, lack of workplace support and transportation problems. Only about 38% of people ages 18-64 with disabilities who live outside institutions are employed, noted the study, which was published May 19 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Occupations with higher rates of disabilities also tended to be those with some of the lowest wages. Only 11% of workers in higher-wage industries such as engineering, financial operations and health care reported having a disability. Almost a third of workers with disabilities who shared their salary information had incomes of under $25,000 annually.

Workplace training and education programs, particularly for computer-based jobs, could widen employment opportunities and increase earnings for people with disabilities, the researchers said.

Chocolate maker urged to remove heavy metals from product

A nonprofit watchdog group is calling on the Hershey Company to remove potentially hazardous heavy metals from its chocolate products.

On May 25, Consumer Reports delivered a petition to the company with signatures of people who want lead and cadmium removed from Hershey’s dark chocolate bars. The move comes five months after a Consumer Reports analysis found high levels of lead and cadmium in many such bars, including those sold under the Trader Joe’s, Godiva, Lindt and Scharffen Berger brand names. 

Of the tested candy, Hershey’s Special Dark Mildly Sweet Chocolate had the highest levels of lead, at 265% of California’s maximum allowable dose. Another Hershey product, Lily’s Extremely Dark Chocolate with 85% cocoa, had high levels of both lead and cadmium. 

Both of the heavy metals pose risks to human health. Lead exposure is especially harmful for children, who can develop learning and behavior problems, but adults can suffer nervous-system damage and other health issues as well.

Chocolate can be contaminated with lead and cadmium from soil during the growing and processing of cocoa beans. More than 75,000 people have signed the Hershey’s petition, Consumer Reports said.

The Watch is written by Michele Late, who has more than two decades of experience as a public-health journalist.