In the past year alone, the health industry has seen mounds of reports of security breaches and data leak in their systems that have compromised confidential patient data. However, a report has revealed that hospitals and other healthcare institutions only allocate around five percent of their Information Technology (IT) budget to cybersecurity.
A healthcare institution – hospitals, clinics, insurance companies – hold a massive amount of patient data and records including names, address, social security number, insurance information, and even credit card numbers. However, it appeared that hospitals fall behind banking and financial services which spent 7.3 percent of their IT budget, as well as, retail and wholesale services which paid 6.1 percent for cybersecurity.
This meager allocation of funds to cybersecurity is amidst the growing number of incidents and reports of data breaches in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. In fact, according to the report, 82 percent of hospitals and similar institutions have reported a “significant security incident” in the last 12 months, according to the 2019 Health Information of Management System Society cybersecurity survey.
As hospitals and other healthcare institutions keep a plethora of rich confidential information, breaching their database is nothing new at all. According to Mark Greisinger, president of NetDiligence, a cybersecurity firm, hospitals, clinics, and healthcare insurance companies have been victims of ransomware and phishing attacks for decades because they are the “holy grail of personal data.”
Of those institutions that have reported incidents on cyber attacks and data breaches, 20 percent of the victims have blamed the attack on vendors, consultants, or other parties. More than 50 percent said that the attacks were malicious. “They probably haven’t been taking this seriously until recently,” said Patrick Florer, co-founder of Risk Centric Security, which researches cyber security and cyber insurance.
Last week, an additional five more hospitals reported that they are affected by a vendor data breach. They were notified that thousands of their patients’ data might have been compromised in a ransomware attack on Health Alliance Plan and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
In addition to HAP and BCBS, Grand Blanck, Michigan-based McLaren Healthcare, Three Rivers (Mich.) Health, North Ottawa Community Health System in Grand Maven, Michigan, Warren General Hospital, and UPMC Kane were reported to be affected by a massive breach of data. According to Darryl English, president of Wolverine Solutions Group, the estimated number of affected patients in the said data breach is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
The attack to the WSG happened on Sept 23, 2018, where ransomware has locked the company out of its servers and workstations. However, an investigation reveals that the data that have been stolen were encrypted. No updates yet as to whether the encryption was bypassed to gather the said patient information or not fully.
It is, however, understandable for the hospital to allocate less on data security when their funding goes mostly to patient care and facility, especially that most of them have very limited resources. Doug Brown of Black Book Research, a market research company said that “there are so many other things healthcare systems need and people are begging you for and yelling you for. They’re not really putting the attention on cybersecurity because it’s a really boring issue.”
Just recently, the Singaporean government has announced that they were able to identify the culprits in the massive data breach against SingHealth that has become one of Singapore’s biggest information heist. A private cybersecurity firm has identified the perpetrators as the group named Whitefly and said that the SingHealth attack is just one of the grander worldwide attacks orchestrated to steal data across industries around the world.
But hospitals don’t only face online data breaches. Data leak can also happen offline especially that many hospitals are yet to have a state-of-the-art database and are still relying on manual written and printed data safekeeping. In New Zealand, thousands of patient data were leaked after a hospital employee mishandled printed documents containing confidential information leaving them to be blown by the wind.
Furthermore, data breaches also happen even when cybersecurity protocols have been streamlined, but human resources are not. Singapore also faces a data breach of its HIV registry when disgruntled Mikhy Farrera-Brochez has intentionally leaked them on his Facebook account after he was angered by his deportation. He is now facing a trial for the said data leak.
As a silver lining, hospitals and healthcare facilities have started to understand the importance of cybersecurity in light of the growing reports of an attack. The report by HIMSS cyber security survey, also said that about 38 percent of healthcare organizations had increased their cyber security spending from 2017 to 2018.
Sexually Transmitted Disease ‘Syphilis’ Highest In Alberta Since 1948
Syphilis cases in Alberta jump at 1,546 cases in 2018, a sharp increase from 2014’s 161 cases, making it a provincial outbreak.
A total of 1,546 cases of infectious syphilis has been reported in 2018, according to a report published by the Alberta government, making it the highest number recorded since 1948. The numbers have prompted the province’s chief medical officer of health to declare a provincial outbreak.
Furthermore, the medical team from Alberta reported that the 2018 statistics is a sharp increase since there were only 161 cases back in 2014.
“This is not just a small fluctuation; this is a significant change in a single year. And it’s getting worse. We’re expecting even higher rates in 2019,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer, said at a news conference Tuesday to address the outbreak.
In the Central Zone, there were 88 cases of syphilis in 2018, an increase of 266.7 percent compared to 2017.
Meanwhile, in the Edmonton area, there were a staggering 977 reported cases of infectious syphilis in 2018, an increase of 305 percent compared to 2017, which officers also deem as the center of the outbreak comprising over half of the total reported cases in the province, according to Alberta Health.
“It is vitally important that everyone who is sexually active in Alberta take responsibility for having safer sex and get tested, especially if you have new or multiple partners,” said Dr. Laura McDougall, senior medical officer of health at Alberta Health Services.
Planned Parenthood defines syphilis as a prevalent sexually transmitted disease. Moreover, it can spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Syphilis causes sores on your genitals called chancres, in which is the disease’s way of transmission to an uninfected individual. The lesions are usually painless, but they can quickly spread the infection to other people.
Mainly, syphilis is a disease that is easily treated. In specific, primary and secondary syphilis are easy to manage with a penicillin injection. Penicillin is one of the most widely used antibiotics and is usually effective in treating syphilis. For people who are allergic to penicillin, a different medicine such as doxycycline can be administered. However, infectious syphilis that is remained untreated can lead to serious long-term health complications.
Another risk factor that people should watch out for is congenital syphilis. This can occur when a child is born to a mother with syphilis, which can result in severe, disabling, and life-threatening disease for the child.
While congenital syphilis cases were rare before the outbreak, there were 22 congenital syphilis cases between 2014 and 2018, one of which was stillborn. Of those, 13 were reported in the Edmonton area, eight in 2018 alone.
“We need to emphasize for all Albertans: sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a risk to anyone [who is] sexually active, particularly people who have new sex partners and are not using protection,” said Hinshaw.
For syphilis, there are not always symptoms in the early stages; it can present as a painless ulcer, progress to general symptoms like a fever, and even lead to eye problems or dementia in late stages. That is why, if there is the slightest doubt that a person is infected, it is always wise to visit a doctor and get a test.
“Sexual health is an important part of overall health,” said Dr. Laura McDougall, said. “We are working with community partners to remove the stigma and increase awareness about STI testing services throughout Alberta. If you are sexually active, make regular STI testing part of your health routine.”
In general, young people between the ages of 15 to 29 are most at risk, but all ages are represented in rates of reported cases, said Hinshaw. Common challenges such as homelessness could also be risk factors, but the stigma following a positive test result for STI is also another problem that Alberta Health has noted.
As of the moment, a provincial outbreak coordination committee composed of Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other rural health officials has been activated. The province says that over the next three months, the committee will develop a coordinated strategy and determine concrete actions to increase STI testing, promote public awareness and reduce the overall number of syphilis cases in Alberta.
“This is a trend that [we see] across Canada and the world. The question of exactly why – there’s not one single factor. When an infection gets into a network of people, it can spread quite quickly. It’s hard to understand why it is higher at the moment in Edmonton and the north than in Calgary,” said Hinshaw.
Health officials say correct and consistent condom use is essential in protecting against STIs. Health experts recommend sexually active people, regardless of gender, age, or sexual orientation, get tested every three to six months if they:
- Have a sexual partner with a known STI
- Have a new sexual partner or multiple or anonymous sexual partners
- Have the previous history of an STI diagnosis
- Have been sexually assaulted
Drugs Flushed Down The Toilet Affect Wildlife — And Humans Too
Improper disposal of drugs and other medicinal paraphernalia down the toilet affect wildlife but, ultimately, humans too.
Police officers from Tennessee are urging residents to put an end to flushing down their drugs in their toilets, as it may easily affect nearby wildlife once the sewer system meets animal habitats.
The warning came via a Loretto Police Department Facebook post after a suspected person was found trying to flush meth and several items of paraphernalia
The Loretto Police Department discovered the incident upon entering the suspect’s home on Saturday. The suspect reportedly tried to improperly dispose of 12 grams of meth and several items of drug paraphernalia via his lavatory.
The suspect was charged with drug possession with intent for resale, possession of drug paraphernalia, and tampering with evidence.
In light of the situation, police warn that if drugs make it far enough, it will end up being consumed by gators in Shoal Creek. “They’ve had enough methed up animals the past few weeks without our help,” police wrote in the post. They even jokingly added that “meth-gators” could be created in Tennessee and Alabama if the meth made it far enough downriver.
According to the post, the Tenessee government are doing their part in ensuring that they are processing the sewer system properly with great consideration to the nearby wildlife that greatly impacts from both the treatment pods and farther down the streamline.
“Now our sewer guys take great pride in releasing water that is cleaner than what is in the creek, but they are not really prepared for meth,” according to a Loretto Police Department post. “Ducks, Geese, and other fowl frequent our treatment ponds and we shudder to think what one all hyped up on meth would do.”
Particularly, the Loretto Police are not only raising awareness specifically on illegal drug disposal but in all drugs in general as they all contain potentially harmful ingredients that could disturb the natural habitats.
“When you send something down the sewer pipe it ends up in our retention ponds for processing before it is sent downstream,” police said. Instead, the Loretto Police urge residents to bring in any drugs, including prescription medication, into their offices for proper disposal instead of flushing.
Furthermore, the issue goes on to a much broader issue regarding improper drug disposal such as flushing them down the toilet. For example, a recent report last June said that the world’s rivers are found to have unsafe levels of antibiotics. For some, rivers exceed 300 times than the recommended level.
As a repercussion, Prof William Gaze, a microbial ecologist at the University of Exeter who studies antimicrobial resistance said that “a lot of the resistance genes we see in human pathogens originated from environmental bacteria.” He also said that even faint traces of antibiotics could have big effects on the development of resistance.
In other words, wildlife exposed to improper doses of antibiotics can easily develop resistance from various infections which they can easily transfer to the human population. This is a grave threat since antibiotics provide a safety blanket against most, if not all, infections that could easily cause life-threatening circumstances if untreated.
As of 2014, around 80% of aquatic pharmaceutical pollution comes from domestic medicines—those taken at home rather than the hospital. A large contributor of which is due to human excretion but it cannot be denied that deliberately flushing down these drugs also make a significant impact especially because they’re in larger doses as compared to those already processed by the human body.
Other than antibiotics and its risk of resistance in the wildlife, antidepressants in sewage are also known to disrupt the reproduction of molluscs and crustaceans. Meanwhile, anti-inflammatory painkillers such as diclofenac have contributed to the deaths of millions of vultures. In 2013, the EU added diclofenac and the hormones 17α-ethinylestradiol and 17β-estradiol to an environmental pollutant “watch list,” meaning that their levels in surface water are now being monitored – though not yet controlled, The Guardian reported.
In other cases, medicinal waste products flushed down the toilet also contribute to the rapidly growing pollution. Furthermore, these products can also affect their physiology in different ways as an example is from the contraceptive pills that skew sex ratios in fish.
In the end, people are not completely getting rid of their waste by simply flushing them down the toilet since they still find a way back to bite human society back.
Ketamine Drug To Lower UK Suicide Rate
This drug called ketamine could reduce the UK’s suicide rate.
Suicide remains to be a leading cause of death for younger people in the United Kingdom and has grown to be an issue that needs immediate attention. Suicide is often linked to mental illnesses such as depression, which is one of the most significant causes. Researchers are looking at a drug named ketamine to try and minimize people committing suicide.
In the UK, rigid and thorough supervision and access to healthcare have allowed its suicide statistics to see an annual decrease from the past three years. However, a total of 5,821 suicides were registered in 2017 alone, the UK Office of National Statistics posted.
The statistic was an age-standardized rate of 10.1 deaths per 100,000 population or one death by suicide every two hours and many more who attempted within the same period. Furthermore, it showed to be more prevalent in younger generations aged 20-34 years old.
From the same report, the UK’s Mental Health Organization noted that suicide is considerably higher in men, with around three times as many men dying as a result of suicide compared to women. In fact, it is the leading cause of death for men under 50 in the UK. Those at highest risk are men aged between 40 and 44 years old.
Significantly, suicide has long been linked to depression. Depression is a common mental disorder that causes people to experience a depressed mood, whereas it can include a loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, low energy, and poor concentration. In worse cases, people suffering from severe depression tend to isolate themselves from others such as friends, family, and even people who can help alleviate the illness–ultimately making the situation even worse.
Fortunately, a drug called ketamine is looking to be a favorable solution in addressing suicide by providing a more immediate remedy to the negative effects of depression.
Basically, ketamine is the popularly known drug that is raved at parties and other drinking scenes because of its hallucination and other psychedelic effects but, formerly, the drug was used as an anesthetic in battlefields and operating rooms, especially during the Vietnam War.
Researchers found that ketamine can be a new and effective way of addressing depression since it targets brain functions through brain pathways that other drugs don’t usually use. Furthermore, it is lauded as a fast-acting drug that could take effect within hours after taking a dose, as compared to conventional anti-depressants that need up to 8 weeks of continued intakes.
Also, ketamine is consumed via a nasal spray that is supposedly meant to reach the brain faster; add that to the part where the drug only needs to be consumed in lesser doses compared to others, which significantly affects the experiences for people going through a severe depression.
According to Harvard Health Publishing, one likely target for ketamine is the NMDA receptors in the brain. The drug binds to these receptors and appears to increase the amount of a neurotransmitter called glutamate in the spaces between neurons. Glutamate then activates connections in another receptor, called the AMPA receptor. Together, the initial blockade of NMDA receptors and activation of AMPA receptors lead to the release of other molecules that help neurons communicate with each other along new pathways. Known as synaptogenesis, this process likely affects mood, thought patterns, and cognition.
At the moment, critics are still arguing over the other side-effects of the drug that could potentially affect other brain functions such as it to cause hallucinations. Others are also saying that it could become a gateway drug to stronger medications such as opioids. But what medical providers are looking to implement with the drug is strict supervision at least two hours after intake before patient release.
As soon as November, ketamine could be available for sale in the UK through private clinics. The drug recently gained attention after selling fast in the US, which Johnson & Johnson sells in under the brand name Spravato.
The Harvard Medical School’s publishing also noted that “if a person responds to ketamine, it can rapidly reduce suicidality (life-threatening thoughts and acts) and relieve other serious symptoms of depression. Ketamine also can be effective for treating depression combined with anxiety.”
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