Penrose launches first atrial fibrillation center

Filed under: Health Care |

Penrose-St. Francis Health Services has launched Southern Colorado’s first Atrial Fibrillation Center.

The center will provide diagnosis, medication, ablation, implantation, surgery and patient follow-up. Atrial fibrillation is characterized by an irregular heart rhythm in which abnormal electrical signals are generated through the upper chambers of the heart. It often accompanies other heart conditions.

About 2.4 million Americans suffer from atrial fibrillation. Previously, it was thought to be harmless, but now is known to be a leading cause of stroke.

“An estimated one in four men and one in five women will develop atrial fibrillation over the course of their lifetimes,” said Christopher Cole, medical director of the Colorado Cardiac Alliance Research Institute and a partner in the new center.

“A problem of this magnitude requires multiple strategies to treat. These strategies cross specialty barriers between the cardiologist, internist and cardiothoracic surgeon.”

Atrial fibrillation is a disease of aging and is becoming more common as people live longer. But as detection techniques improve, doctors are diagnosing the condition more often in younger people.

Doctors working at the center create individualized treatment plans because of the diversity among patients. They said plans allow for a streamlined treatment.

New legislation to close drug coverage gap

The Colorado legislature will consider a bill that could significantly reduce the cost of prescription drug coverage for more than 500,000 Coloradoans without health insurance.

“This program is a huge step forward for Colorado’s uninsured citizens,” said Rep. Jerry Frangas, co-sponsor of the legislation.

Known as “Colorado Cares Rx,” the bill is modeled after a successful Ohio program that is saving patients about 34 percent on their prescription medicine. Rhode Island also is considering similar legislation.

The Colorado legislation is the result of collaboration between the AFL-CIO and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the trade association representing pharmaceutical research companies.

A Colorado Cares Rx card would lower the cost of medications for uninsured people who have a total family income of less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or are 60 or older. That means a family of four could earn $50,000 and still quality for the program.

An individual could earn $24,500 and a family of two could earn up to $33,000. It is estimated that more than 500,000 Coloradans would be eligible for the discount card.

Whooping cough on rise in El Paso County

Cases of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, have almost doubled in El Paso County since 2004, according to the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.

Medical officials at the department attribute the increase to a variety of factors, including under-vaccination of infants, misdiagnosis and increased transmission from older children, adolescents and adults to susceptible infants and young children.

“The majority of reported cases affect children in middle and high schools,” said Dr. Sonja Anic, director of the communicable disease program. “It is extremely important that parents be on the lookout for symptoms of pertussis to prevent older children from bringing it home to younger siblings, who could experience a very serious illness.”

The total number of cases in El Paso County in 2005 was 66, up from 38 in 2004, and the trend is continuing in 2006. The majority of cases are in children ages 10-14, an indicator that adolescents have little protection left from their childhood vaccinations.

Pertussis can be life-threatening for infants, who are not fully vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.3 percent of babies less than a month old who get pertussis will die as a result the disease.

During the first week or two of pertussis, symptoms can include a low-grade fever, runny nose and mild cough. Later symptoms, perhaps a month or more into the infection, can include attacks of severe coughing and a high-pitched “whoop” upon inhaling. Attacks are typically worse at night. Difficulty breathing can cause lips and fingernails to turn blue, vomiting, seizures and death.

Often symptoms can go unrecognized, Anic said.

“Patients and health care providers may assume a cough illness is a cold, bronchitis or pneumonia and adults don’t always have the ‘whoop,’ so they may not seek care,” Anic adds. “And sadly, they can be a source of infection for their children.”

According to the CDC, 90 percent of un-vaccinated children living with someone who has pertussis will contract the disease.

While antibiotics do not stop the progression of pertussis in patients, they do prevent a patient from infecting others after five days of treatment. That is only one reason why vaccination against pertussis is essential for children and adults, Anic said.

Vaccination for pertussis is commonly given to infants and young children up to age 7, but immunity wanes five to 10 years after the last dose. Two new vaccines for ages 10-18 and 11-64 became available in 2005.

“It is critical that we work together as a community to control the spread of pertussis,” Anic said. “Right now, we have isolated cases, and with appropriate control measures, an outbreak is not expected to occur.”

Amy Gillentine covers healthcare for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.