Occupational Health News Roundup

The longer fighting in Iraq continues, the more disturbing news we get about the troops’ mental health.

The latest and most comprehensive study on veterans’ mental health to date (by the Rand Corporation) finds that nearly one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is suffering from depression or stress disorders, and that half of those suffering aren’t getting adequate care. Some avoid seeking care because of the stigma sometimes associated with it, or because they fear having treatment on their record will prevent redeployment. Another problem is an insufficient supply of healthcare providers with expertise in war-related mental disorders, which leads to long waits for treatment. 

Over the next two years, the economic costs associated with veterans’ PTSD and depression are likely to range from $4 – 6 billion.

Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) and Patty Murray (D-Washington) say that the Veterans Administration’s mental health director, Dr. Ira Katz, tried to cover up the rising rate of veteran suicides and should resign.

In other news:

CBS News: There are now 24 pork-plant workers who appear to share the same mysterious neurological illness. Doctors suspect that airborne pig-brain tissue (from the now-discontinued practice of using compressed air to blow pig brains from their skulls) triggered some kind of autoimmune response in the patients.

NIOSH Science Blog: Violence against teachers is a troubling problem, and NIOSH is undertaking a study to evaluate the effects of school-based violence prevention programs addressing student assaults on teachers and other school staff.

Reuters: Japan announced plans to vaccinate 6,000 health workers and quarantine officers with a bird flu vaccine (based on strains of the H5N1 virus from China and Indonesia) in order to check its effectiveness and side effects.

Washington Post: A review to be published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases found that 4.6% of healthcare workers in several countries carry the MRSA bacteria (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus); the authors recommend aggressive screening of healthcare workers in facilities with endemic MRSA to detect this dangerous bacteria.

Occupational Hazards: Confined space rescues account for a disproportionate share of injuries to emergency response personnel; proper respiratory protection, monitoring, and training are needed to avoid injuries.