Paris has found itself in the midst of an infestation. Of rats. While all large cities — and most smaller ones — are home to a certain number of the rodents, the rat population on the banks of the Seine seems to have reached frightening levels.
Caused partially by the Seine’s record high flooding and partially by an apparent immunity to poison, the rats have come to the surface and multiplied. Hordes of them have been seen in parks causing portions of those parks to be closed to the public and horrified waste collectors have opened dumpsters to find them full, not of garbage, but of rats.
Experts hypothesize that there are about two rats in the city per every Parisian, equivalent to about 4.4 million rats in the inner city alone–each rat the potential host of upwards of a dozen parasites.
Steps have been taken to reduce these numbers, including cordoning off certain areas and using various poisoning methods, but none seem to have taken hold.
As of now, the famous City of Lights offers both romance…and many, many rodents.
🆘‼😱🐭 #France: the current state of #Paris. A garbage man explains that a rat jumped on his neck. At the moment, the Seine has a lot of high water, and when the water level drops, many more rats will appear. via @PorteTonAme pic.twitter.com/cNJU7vkUW8
— Onlinemagazin (@OnlineMagazin) January 21, 2018
OK, that was disgusting. Makes you wish for the old days when we had wholesome rodents like Pizza Rat:
A $17,850 Bill for a Urine Test? It Happened to This Student
Elizabeth Moreno, then a student at Texas State University, got a huge shock when she opened a medical bill.
This is the debut of a monthly feature from Kaiser Health News and NPR that will dissect and explain real medical bills in order to shed light on U.S. health care prices and to help patients learn how to be more active in managing costs. Do you have a medical bill that you’d like us to see and scrutinize? Submit it here and tell us the story behind it.
Do you have an exorbitant or baffling medical bill? Join the KHN and NPR’s Bill-of-the-Month Club and tell us about your experience. We’ll feature a new one each month.
In her late 20s and attending college in Texas, Elizabeth Moreno suffered from debilitating back pain caused by a spinal abnormality. “I just could not live with the pain,” she said. “I couldn’t get dressed by myself, I couldn’t walk across my house, let alone to class, and nothing, no drug that had been prescribed to me, even dulled the pain.”
Moreno says she also tried chiropractic medicine and acupuncture, but they didn’t make the pain go away. Finally, a doctor at the student health center referred her to an orthopedic specialist who performed tests and concluded a disc was blocking nerves down her legs and needed to be removed. Moreno’s father, a retired Ohio doctor who had seen many failed back surgeries over his career, agreed it was the best course.
In late 2015, Moreno had the operation in Houston, which she described as “a complete success.” She gave it little thought when the surgical office asked her to leave a urine sample for a drug test.
Then the bill came.
Patient: Elizabeth Moreno, then 28, a student at Texas State University in San Marcos.
Total bill: $17,850 for a urine test in January 2016
Service provider: Sunset Labs LLC of Houston
Medical treatment: Moreno had a disc removed from her back in December 2015. Her surgeon prescribed an opioid painkiller, hydrocodone. At a follow-up office visit in mid-January 2016, the staff asked her to leave a urine sample, which she figured was routine. In March 2017, over a year later, the lab sent her a bill for $17,850 for testing her urine for a slew of drugs, including cocaine, methadone, anti-anxiety drugs and several other drugs she had never heard of.
What gives: Urine drug testing has exploded over the past decade amid alarm over rising opioid overdose deaths. Many doctors who prescribe the pills rely on the urine tests to help reduce drug abuse and keep patients with chronic pain safe. Yet the tests have become a cash cow for a burgeoning testing industry, and critics charge that unneeded and often expensive ones are sometimes ordered for profit rather than patient care. Doctors can decide whether to test patients who take opioids for short periods, such as after an operation. Moreno’s surgeon would not discuss her urine test — why he ordered it and why the sample was tested for so many substances.
Three experts contacted by Kaiser Health News questioned the need for such extensive testing and were shocked to hear of the lab’s prices. They said these tests rarely cost more than $200, and typically much less, depending on the complexity and the technology used. Some doctors’ offices use a simple cup test, which can detect several classes of drugs on the spot and could be purchased for about $10. Bills can climb higher when labs run tests to detect the quantity of specific drugs and bill for each one, as the lab did here.
The experts KHN interviewed said that the lab’s prices for individual tests were excessive, such as charging $1,700 to check for amphetamines or $425 to identify phencyclidine, an illegal hallucinogenic drug also known as PCP. They also criticized a charge of $850 for two tests to verify that her urine sample had not been adulterated or tampered with.
Moreno’s insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, refused to pay any of the bill, arguing that the lab was out-of-network and thus not covered. Had it chipped in, it would have covered the service at $100.92, according to an explanation of benefits the insurance company sent to Moreno.
Sunset Labs says its list prices were “in line” with its competitors in the area. It also said doctors treating pain agree extensive urine testing is “the best course of action” and that a lab “is not in the position” to question tests ordered by a doctor.
Resolution: Fearing damage to his daughter’s credit rating, Moreno’s father, Dr. Paul Davis, paid the lab $5,000 in April 2017 to settle the bill. A retired doctor, he also has filed a formal complaint about the bill with the Texas attorney general’s office, accusing the lab of “price gouging of staggering proportions.” The lab’s attorney said he was not aware of the complaint. A Texas attorney general’s spokesperson confirmed to KHN that the office had received complaints about the lab, but declined further comment.
The takeaway: When a physician asks for a urine or blood sample, always ask what it’s for. Insist that it be sent to a lab in your insurance network.
Source: AG complaint; interviews
Arizona Woman Wakes Up With British Accent
45 year-old American likely suffers from a rare medical condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome.
Michelle Myers went to bed with a relentless headache and woke up the next day speaking in a British accent that hasn’t gone away since.
“Myers suffers from a rare medical condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) in which patients develop a foreign accent without needing to ever spend time overseas,” Smithsonian.com reported.
FAS usually occurs after traumatic brain injuries or strokes that affect the part of the brain that deciphers language.
Myers also is diagnosed with Ehlers-Danlos, a condition in which a person has elastic skin, painful joints and potential rupturing of blood vessels, which can often lead to bruising.
Although why Myers developed FAS is still a mystery, doctors believe it could be due to a hemiplegic migraine, which produces symptoms mimicking a stroke.
This is also not the first time this has happened to Myers. Two times earlier, she woke up speaking in an Australian and Irish accent, each only lasting about two weeks.
“The big thing is to know that she’s not faking it,” Toby Yaltho, a neurologist at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Neurology Associates, told ABC in 2016 after treating another case of FAS.
The Flu Isn’t Playing Around This Year. Here’s How to Fight Back
This is shaping up to be the worst season since the 2009 pandemic.
It’s no surprise that the flu spreads every year, however, the timing, severity and length of the season varies. And clearly, this year’s flu season is not holding back.
This year’s influenza is made up of the most dangerous of the four strands, H3N2. An average flu season combines two Type A strands (H1N1 and H3N2) with two Type B strands (Victoria and Yamagata).
According to Fortune, the flu is killing almost 4,000 Americans a week.
The average flu season begins around October, peaks during the months of December through February and can last as long as May. Experts also say this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective as in the past, as it doesn’t match the deadly strain particularly well.
If other news about this year’s flu season has you paranoid about coming down with the flu, here are a few tips on how you can help combat the virus:
1. Get your flu shot, like now.
Regardless of what your excuse was for not getting a shot earlier, it’s not too late.
2. Stay away from sickos if you can.
Limit contact with individuals who are under the weather to avoid catching any viruses.
3. Take antiviral flu medicine as soon as possible if you do get sick.
These drugs (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) are different from antibiotics and are prescribed by a doctor. Ideally, they should be taken within 48 hours of noticeable symptoms. The most well-known is a drug called Tamiflu.
4. Prepare to self-care.
Wash your hands, cover your nose and mouth when sneezing, avoid touching your face and disinfect surfaces and objects around you. Take your vitamins and exercise regularly to help boost your immune system.
Nothing guarantees complete immunity, but that’s not something we weren’t aware of before. So why does this season’s flu seem more ruthless than others? That’s because it is.
The New York Times is reporting, hospitalization rates are higher than the CDC has ever recorded this point in the season and flu activity has been marked as “high” throughout the majority country.
Flu symptoms hit suddenly, but even then, it’s best to go to the doctor for an examination. The CDC says symptoms might include having a fever, chills, a cough or sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and tiredness.
The CDC anticipates weeks of flu activity to come.
“For the 2017-2018 season, manufacturers projected they would provide between 151 million and 166 million doses of injectable vaccine for the U.S. market.” AKA get yours while supplies last if you haven’t already.
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