12/15/13 12:00pm
12/15/2013 12:00 PM

A new FDA study could help explain the re-emergence of whooping cough, a contagious disease that has claimed the lives of more children than scarlet fever, diphtheria or measles during its height, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

48,000 cases of pertussis were confirmed nationally last year, resulting in 20 deaths, according to the FDA report.

The East End is hardly immune, as cases of pertussis have been reported in the past month at both Riverhead High School and the district’s Pulaski Street School, according to school officials. The number of cases was not disclosed.

Several cases of whooping cough have been confirmed each year since 2011 — and possibly earlier — not only in Riverhead but in the Shoreham-Wading River, Southold and the Mattituck-Cutchogue school districts as well.

The FDA study, published Nov. 25, showed that the while the current vaccine for the pertussis prevents adults and children from contracting the illness themselves, it does not prevent people from becoming colonized with the bacteria that causes it – Bordetella pertussis.

And those who are colonized can pass on the bacteria – infecting others, particularly infants not yet fully immunized, the study found.

“[The vaccine] is not protecting us to the full degree. It is protecting us from not developing clinical symptoms but it doesn’t protect us from being carriers,” said Dr. Yuliya Vinnitskaya, a new internal medicine physician at East End Physician Services in Southold. “Those vaccinated can carry the bacteria in airways for up to six weeks and spread it to infants.”

Pertussis starts out with typical cold symptoms that slowly become more severe, eventually manifesting with spells of rapid, violent coughing followed a “whooping” sound as patients try to take a breath, according to the CDC.

Those infected can spread the bacteria while they are suffering from the cold-like symptoms and for about two weeks after the coughing starts. Infection develops 7 to 10 days following exposure to the bacteria and symptoms can last for up to three months.

Dr. Vinnitskaya said the FDA’s recent findings call for the development of a new vaccine.

The current vaccine is what’s known as an acellular vaccine – which only contains portions of the pertussis bacteria. The FDA approved it in 1991, replacing its predecessor, which contained dead, but complete, forms of the bacteria. Dr. Vinnitskaya said.

The FDA is also investigating the possibility of diminished immunity from childhood pertussis vaccines, which it says may also play a role in re-emergence.

Infants begin immunizations for the disease starting at two months old – receiving a series of five shots – but they do not achieve full immunity until their last shot, which is given between ages 4 and 6, according to the CDC. Preteens and teens also receive a booster shot between the ages 11 and 18.

Dr. Vinnitskaya said infants are most likely to contract the disease from a loved one, so parents, grandparents and even siblings need to be extra cautious around young children.

Should someone come in contact with an infected individual and develop cold-like symptoms, she recommends they visit their physician.

And, of course, lots of hand washing is essential. It’s also flu season, after all.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at cmiller@timesreview.com.


10/22/13 9:00am
10/22/2013 9:00 AM
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Spinners (front row from left) Liz McBurnie of Speonk, Devon Annabel of Cutchogue and Devora Walker of Riverhead.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Spinners (front row from left) Liz McBurnie of Speonk, Devon Annabel of Cutchogue and Devora Walker of Riverhead.

“I work fast.”

So says April Yakaboski, who since 2009 has now opened up three health and fitness locations in downtown Riverhead with the launch of Spin-sanity, a spin cycle room on West Main street.

The studio opened the second week of October in space previously occupied by The Hamptons Furniture Co. on West Main Street, and features 29 RealRyder stationary bikes, which she purchased from a Westhampton Beach fitness studio that closed its doors recently.

Going for a “very Manhattan” feel, mocking the design of an urban street inside its walls, the studio will add to Yakaboski’s Aerial Fitness studio, and hot yoga studio, each of which are also located on West Main Street within a stone’s throw of Spin-sanity. All three businesses – in addition to stand-up paddleboard courses she started offering as well – cater to a niche audience, looking for something a little different when they step up get in shape, Yakaboski said.

“I try to do what the bigger gyms aren’t doing,” she said recently. With Ultimate Fitness opening a new 20,000 square-foot gym downtown, she added, “I hope they don’t try and do it.”

High Gear Fit in Westhampton closed up shop in mid-September, opening the doors for Yakaboski to capitalize on some secondhand goods that still offered high value to her customers. RealRyder-style stationary bikes, says Spin-sanity instructor Roland Walker, “offers more of a core and upper body workout.” The bikes – which go for about $2,000 a piece – pivot from side to side, offering a more real-life experience, he said.

“It takes power to take the bike over to the right or left,” said Walker, a Riverhead resident and state parks policeman who also teaches at a Real Ryder studio in Amagansett. ” You have to engage your core just to get the handlebars straight.”

Courses at Spin-sanity go for $22 a piece just to drop in, and Yakaboski said group rates for 10 to 30 courses can drop the per-course price down to $12.50. In addition, she said, a limited number of six-month memberships will be available starting in November.

07/05/13 5:00pm
07/05/2013 5:00 PM

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | An ice cream dispensing machine in the cafetorium at Riverhead Middle School.

Junk food and sugary drinks will be banned from school vending machines across the U.S. by the 2014-15 school year in an effort to promote healthier daytime eating habits among children, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials announced last week.

The new “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards stem from the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The legislation passed by Congress was created through a bipartisan package designed to ensure that students have healthy food options in school.

The law, which tasked USDA officials with setting new standards for food and snacks offered in schools across the country, is also a component of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity.

“Many parents are working hard every day to make sure they provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks to their kids,” Ms. Obama said in a statement issued to the press Monday. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over the snacks our kids have access to when they’re away from home. That’s why, as a mom myself, I am so excited that schools will now be offering healthier choices to students and reinforcing the work we do at home to help our kids stay healthy.”

Standards limiting sodium, calorie and fat content will affect many items found in school vending machines, such as snacks, chips, cheese puffs and flavored popcorn.

In addition, the USDA will ban many sugar-heavy cereal bars, cookies and cakes from machines.

School districts must also remove regular cola, fruit-flavored candies and chocolate bars and replace them with healthier options, such as fruit cups made with 100 percent juice, light popcorn and no-calorie flavored water.

The vending machine announcement comes about five months after the USDA announced new standards for school cafeteria food.

And while elementary and middle schools will be caffeine-free, the USDA is still looking into how much caffeine can be contained in drinks sold at high school cafeterias and vending machines.

Under the new guidelines, schools will also have to offer more fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy items, as well as healthier versions of chips, such as baked tortilla and potato chips and reduced-fat corn chips, and pizza, which will be made from whole-grain crusts.

Officials said the “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards take into considerations about 250,000 comments the USDA received on the proposal earlier this year.

Nonfat flavored milk is still allowable under the new standards.

Not all gooey and unhealthy treats will be banned from schools under the new law, however.

Bagged lunches and foods brought from home for birthday parties, holidays and other celebrations, as well as fundraisers and bake sales, would not be affected. Foods sold after school, during sporting events, plays and other activities, would also be exempt.

Local school officials have embraced the new standards and most North Fork districts have already begun promoting good eating habits through their network of school vegetable gardens.

For more information about “Smart Snacks in School,” visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/allfoods.htm.


04/04/13 1:35pm
04/04/2013 1:35 PM
Autism Awareness Day

Children in this Baiting Hollow neighborhood gathered on the front lawn of Christine and Chris Springer’s house with blue glow-sticks just after sunset Tuesday for ‘World Autism Awareness Day.’

A Baiting Hollow neighborhood was lit blue Tuesday night thanks to the work of Chris and Christine Springer.

Autism in Baiting Hollow

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Savannah Springer, 11, wears a T-shirt her mother made.

The couple led efforts to decorate their block to recognize the sixth “World Autism Awareness Day.”

Ms. Springer started promoting the annual event locally about five years ago, inspired by the couple’s own child who has special needs.

The family has lived in Baiting Hollow for seven years.

For this year’s event, Ms. Springer went to Home Depot to purchase special blue light bulbs, from which the proceeds goes to “Autism Speaks,” and distributed the bulbs in her Nicholas Way neighbors’ mailboxes, asking them to participate by lighting up their houses blue.

The note also read, “No pressures. No worries.”

All 19 households on the dead-ended block happily complied.

Mr. Springer also purchased blue glow-sticks for area children to wear around their necks or to carry.

Ms. Springer was happy about the turnout to her house just after sunset Tuesday evening.

“In this neighborhood everybody supports everyone in everything we do. We all watch out for one other and the kids watch out for one other. It’s almost like family. You don’t have to worry.”

April 2 was World Autism Awareness Day, but April is also Autism Awareness Month.

The Empire State Building also glowed blue Tuesday night, as did bridges, tunnels and other landmarks all over the world.


12/13/12 8:00am
12/13/2012 8:00 AM

FROM NEWS 12 REPORT | Karen Serva delivers a speech on pediatric care to the Legislature’s health committee earlier this year/

Six months after a task force was formed to examine the issue of long-term care for pediatric patients, Ed Romaine, the lawmaker behind the initiative, has left the Suffolk County Legislature to become Brookhaven Town supervisor.

So what happens to the effort to bring a facility to Suffolk County to help families that now have to travel off Long Island to visit ailing children?

On Tuesday, Legislator William Spencer, who chairs the health committee on which Mr. Romaine served, said he is committed to keeping the task force on target. “Even though Mr. Romaine is gone, there’s definitely some transition there,” Dr. Spencer said. “We are definitely trying to take up the slack on some of the important things he was working on.”

Dr. Spencer said the committee will hear a presentation today, Thursday, by county health commissioner Dr. James Tomarken, on finding a way to see the task force through.

Mr. Romaine did not return calls seeking comment.

For the families of young children in need of long-term medical treatment, Long Island offers few options, according to a News-Review special report in February.

Many of those children — like Riverhead teenager Michael Hubbard, who suffered severe burns and brain damage after a gel candle explosion last year — must be cared for elsewhere, sometimes hours away from their Long Island homes, the report showed.

Dr. Spencer said the issue is a serious one, not just on Long Island, but nationwide. And, he said, few statistics exist to show exactly how many Long Island families are affected by the dearth of long-term care options for kids.

“We know that there’s a need, but it’s identifying the extent of that need,” Dr. Spencer said. “Is it 100 kids? Is it 50 kids?”

One of the topics Dr. Tomarken’s presentation will address, Dr. Spencer said, will be how to make progress on the long-term pediatric care task force.

The task force, staffed by medical experts, will determine how many families are affected and identify potential solutions and their costs. Dr. Spencer said the county will have a better chance of convincing state agencies to assist in the solution if they can document a “critical mass” of children in need.

“We have to connect with the state, show we have a need here and find out the best solution for reducing the strain on these families,” he said.

In the meantime, Michael Hubbard is close to finding a new home, as a nonprofit group called New Beginnings is forging ahead with plans to renovate and open a small group home in Riverhead for young people suffering from traumatic brain injury.

The facility will be called Brendan House, after a young TBI victim who died in his sleep last June.

Construction and cleaning work has begun at the Sound Avenue property and, as of last month, the nonprofit had raised about 20 percent of the $200,000 needed to fully outfit the operation.

Karen Serva, the mother of a child named Caroline who needs long-term care after she suffered brain damage during a premature birth, has been an outspoken supporter of the task force. Like Michael, Caroline receives treatment at a hospital in Westchester, hours away from her home. Caroline was scheduled to come home this fall when a home through the nonprofit Angela’s House was completed, but the facility isn’t finished yet, she said.

Ms. Serva said it is important to continue to look for a solution to bring medically-dependent children home.

“It’s good that [the Legislature is] still talking about it,” she said. “It’s necessary to keep moving with it and to make sure the children aren’t forgotten.”


12/13/12 7:59am

PAUL SQUIRE FILE PHOTO | New Beginnings Brendan House on Sound Avenue in Riverhead.

Members of the Suffolk County Legislature must not take their eyes off the ball when it comes to finding a way to help children in need of 24-hour medical care outside the home. Lawmakers should stay focused on the issue — especially with Ed Romaine, who had championed the cause, now gone from the Legislature. Parents and siblings, some of whom are our neighbors, should not have to live hours away from the children who need them most. Not here; not anywhere.

According to a News-Review special report in February, no major facilities exist in Nassau or Suffolk, or even New York City, where children with serious injuries or other medical issues can get round-the-clock care and live long-term. (Plenty of such facilities, however, are available for the elderly, paid for through Medicare or Medicaid.) For such a populous area, that situation is unacceptable, although its remedy is admittedly financially challenging. Keep in mind, with advances in life-saving technologies, children today often survive accidents that would have been fatal in the past. Such incidents, experts say, are becoming more and more common, so it’s vital that we as a region stay ahead of the curve.

The Legislature’s health committee chairman, Legislator William Spencer (D-Huntington), told the newspaper Tuesday that he will make sure the newly formed pediatric care task force stays focused on the task at hand. First and foremost, he said, officials will have to figure out just how many children and families in Suffolk County find themselves in the most unfortunate situation of being split apart due to medical issues.

An estimated 600 children deemed “medically fragile” live on Long Island. While many are cared for at home, others need ventilators and other pricey equipment to keep them alive and therefore need to live in a facility like Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla, N.Y. If the task force finds the numbers in Suffolk aren’t large enough to impress the state and get help on the issue, it is important for our elected leaders to somehow get the ear of officials in neighboring counties to boost the count of children in need of such care. Surely a facility in either Nassau, Suffolk or Queens would be of great benefit to all these children.

The trick is finding a motivated lawmaker to do all this now that Mr. Romaine has moved on. The affected families live through enough day-to-day hardship to keep up the fight, and keep applying pressure on elected leaders. But who? Maybe William Spencer — a physician — is that person. Or perhaps state Senator Ken LaValle can push for a new wing at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Although Stony Brook University Medical Center opened a state-of-the-art children’s hospital in 2010, the only such facility on Long Island, it does not offer long-term care for medically fragile children.

In the meantime, it’s incumbent on our local governments to help establish smaller facilities such as Brendan House, now in the works on Sound Avenue, and to support existing facilities like the seven-bed Angela’s House in East Moriches. Aid can come in the form of tax abatements or land donated through forfeitures to the county over back taxes.

We cannot fail the very children who need us most.

10/03/12 3:13pm
10/03/2012 3:13 PM

TIM GANNON FILE PHOTO | Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, center, and Legislator Jay Schneiderman, right, at a press conference earlier this year.

East End lawmakers are divided over County Executive Steve Bellone’s recent recommendation that more county health centers transition to a federally operated model.

Touting the “successful” transfer of the county’s Elsie Owens Health Center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare earlier this year, Mr. Bellone’s preliminary 2013 budget proposes to shift three East End county health centers into the Federally Qualified Health Centers program, known as FQHC.

County officials said Hudson River HealthCare — a federally operated, not-for-profit group with a network of 18 community health centers throughout the state and an office in Greenport — is being considered to take over county health centers in Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton as well as The Maxine S. Postal Tri-Community Health Center in Amityville.

There are currently no plans to move remaining western Suffolk county health centers out from under the county’s jurisdiction.

Mr. Bellone said the move will save the county money because it will shift the overall cost of medical malpractice to the federal government. He maintained it will also improve the level of care by offering longer hours and providing dental services.

The executive said budget limitations prevent the county from achieving these types of offerings and believes expanding additional health centers to FQHCs will enhance services at a lower cost.

South Fork Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), whose district includes the Riverhead, Southampton and East Hampton county health centers, said he agrees the county should look into the FQHC model because it will save the county money while increasing the quality of health care.

If approved, he said, the plan could go into effect as early as March.

“I like the federal model much better than what we have now,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think it will improve the level of service to our residents.”

North Fork Legislator Ed Romaine (R-Center Moriches) said he’s opposed to moving quickly because he hasn’t seen any information that warrants such a change.

He said the decision to transfer the county’s health center in Coram to Hudson River HealthCare was a special case because it was the only alternative to keep it open. Former County Executive Steve Levy cut the funding for that facility in his 2012 budget and a partnership with Stony Brook University Medical Center didn’t come to fruition.

Mr. Romaine said an evaluation of how well the Coram health center is doing under Hudson River HealthCare hasn’t been completed and he hasn’t seen any information showing that the Riverhead health center and the two South Fork satellite offices face the same financial peril.

“I haven’t seen any information showing the Riverhead health center isn’t financially viable,” he said. “I have grave concerns because, at first blush, [Mr. Bellone] hasn’t provided any compelling information.”

County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Mr. Bellone’s office held a conference call June 28 with legislators to discuss the county health center overhaul recommendation.

Although an official evaluation of the Hudson River HealthCare takeover of the Coram site six months ago hasn’t been completed, Ms. Baird-Streeter said a steering committee will help the county decide the feasibility of switching other health centers to the federal model.

Other recommendations in Mr. Bellone’s proposed $2.77 billion spending plan, which freezes general fund taxes and doesn’t call for any layoffs, include increasing the county police district budget by $12.4 million next year to fund a new police class of 75 officers in September. Only households in western Suffolk County towns will see the $27 hike in their tax bill to support the increase, since East End towns run their own police forces. The county passed a similar tax increase last year to pay for a new police recruiting class of 80 officers.

Earlier this year the county laid off 658 employees and approved two controversial deals to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility and surplus land in Yaphank. Mr. Bellone said those decisions will help the county close its budget gap. Financial experts estimated in March that the county’s three-year shortfall will be large as a $530 million.

“While we are making the tough choices to address the problems that have accumulated over the years, we must remain vigilant,” Mr. Bellone said in a press release. “My proposed 2013 budget is balanced, holds property taxes under the New York State tax cap, includes no general fund tax increase and will not lay off any additional employees … I look forward to working with the Suffolk County Legislature to enact this fiscally responsible budget.”

Mr. Romaine, who is the GOP candidate in this year’s race for Brookhaven Town supervisor, said he plans to draft amendments to restore funding for East End Arts’ annual Winterfest event and for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County programing. Those amounts weren’t immediately available.

The Legislature is expected to vote on the preliminary budget Nov. 7, the day after Election Day.


10/01/12 10:45am

The 14th Annual 5k Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness was held Sunday to benefit the North Fork Breast Health Coalition. The annual loop around Tanger I and II drew hundreds of supporters.

The largest group to take part in the walk Sunday was Team Randi, the family and friends of Randi Spero, who lost her battle with the deadly disease two years ago today.

“It’s great to see so many people from our community and beyond come out to support such an important effort,” said Amy Spero, Randi’s daughter. The Spero family served as grand marshals for the event.

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