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Who was hit hardest in Sacramento by fatal flu?

Why is your Sacramento ZIP code related to your lifespan, flu intensity rate, housing density, air quality, or food quality, and healthcare insecurity? In Sacramento, the poorest air quality zip codes also have the highest unemployment, air pollution, density, and poverty rates. So has the highest numbers of flu deaths and severe flu intensive-care type illnesses hit these same ZIP codes, with the exceptions of others in wealthier or middle-class areas who simply worked in contact with other people. The key word connecting these facts is density.

Who was hit hardest in Sacramento by fatal flu?
Photo by Lam Yik Fei/Getty Images

No area has been slammed harder than south Sacramento, with at least 22 intensive care unit cases and 11 flu fatalities, according to a data map that county officials circulate among hospitals, according to the March 4, 2014 Sacramento Bee news article by Cynthia H. Craft and Phillip Reese, "Sacramento County’s high-poverty areas hit hardest by fatal flu." If you read that article and look at the graphics of the ZIP code map, you'll find that the most cases of fatal flu emerged in areas of densest population and highest poverty rates.

Some people worry so much about breathing the air inside clinics and hospitals when they wait in line for a flu shot, that they avoid getting vaccinated. Others have adverse reactions to the vaccine, and still others, particularly seniors found they caught the flu after being vaccinated, just by riding in buses or trains because in past years the vaccine was for a different type of flu then what appeared in the flu season. And others are waiting for the new flu patch so they won't have to line up in a clinic and get a needle in the arm. For more information on the flu patch, see, "Flu Patch - New Transdermal Flu Vaccine Patch."

Others worry that if they get immunized in October, the flu vaccine would only last a few months and not all the way through the year if the flu season lasts until the end of April. The 2009 flu season was active all summer long before the larger outbreak in the fall. See, "During the summer 2009 outbreak of "swine flu"- BioMed Central."

The H1N1 flu virus came back again this winter. But on April 15th and 17th 2009, a novel swine-lineage influenza A (H1N1/2009) infection was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. The virus was detected in two children from adjacent counties in southern California presenting with febrile respiratory illness, according to the CDC: "Update: infections with a swine-origin influenza A (H1N1) virus--United States and other countries, April 28, 2009." And this winter, people were still not immune to this severe virus.

This year, so many deaths and hospitalizations in intensive care units happened to people who live in densely-packed neighborhoods of Sacramento, ride public transit, where you can sit near someone coughing and sneezing, not into the inner bend of his or her elbow or sleeve, but either into the air or next to his or her fist, where the invisible droplets of virus simply bounce off the knuckles and into the air, infecting everyone else on the bus or light rail.

The issue is the clear pattern that emerged where the illness has been highest

It's in the zip codes with the highest poverty, unemployment, and densely-populated areas and in the places where people are more likely to be uninsured, have less access to healthcare, and to rely on public transit. It's also the same areas of high unemployment. For example, your lifespan is lowest based on your ZIP code in Sacramento. The pattern on a graphic map of images appeared in today's Sacramento Bee, showing who was hardest hit by the flu, resulting in death and/or intensive care hospitalization.

What's also startling is the high unemployment rates of working-age adults in those zip codes where the flu has been fatal

Poverty is pernicious. The highest number of influenza ICU cases in the Sacramento Bee article are listed according to ZIP code. The highest area is zip code 95823. Next is 95821. In the ZIP code 95823, the unemployment rate or working-age adults is a whopping 19%. And the poverty rate is 29%. Next is the ZIP code 95820 with a poverty rate of 25%, and an unemployment rate of 17%.

Another example is Arden Arcade with those lovely, modest homes surrounded by beautifully-managed lawns and gardens where many of the senior citizens bought homes between 1951 and the 1970s and still live there, rimmed by densely-packed apartment houses with families living in poverty? For 95821, the unemployment rate is 17%, and the poverty rate is 24%. The key word is density.

Density is a key issue when it comes to flu cases and flu deaths. In the past five years or so, what disappeared from the neighborhood was Tower Books, where retired teachers and authors used to gather for book club meetings to discuss self-publishing, replaced by Goodwill Thrift Shop, where crowds of families now pick the used clothing and other items, priced for a few dollars.

And across the street, the Country Club shopping mall recently lost many of its stores such as Hallmark Cards, Claire's, and before that Gottschalk's Department store, Bed Bath and Beyond, and other businesses. Across the street from that mall is Wal-Mart with its crowds of shoppers who are able to buy clothes for less. Again, the key word is density and a high number of people riding public transportation, poor people packed into numerous apartments living around the corner from more densely packed modest private homes interweaved with senior citizens living alone in modest homes, next to senior apartment complexes and buildings in Arden Arcade where outbreaks of norovirus in dining halls of some senior complexes that seem to happen every year or two in the winter.

And as seniors visit other seniors in skilled nursing homes, where norovirus breaks out, they bring the virus back to other seniors who aren't visiting the nursing homes. Even though seniors fear the flu virus more than other viruses each autumn and winter, flu deaths weren't reported for those over age 65, and the flu this year hit hardest at middle-aged and younger healthy adults. Among some seniors, you find some people becoming reclusive for the winter, unless they're vaccinated and hope they're immune to the flu. The question is whether they are, since the flu shot is only effective 60 to 80 percent of the time as far as immunity.

Often numerous senior shoppers complain about the medley of petitioners asking for signatures who sometimes single out the senior shoppers by loudly calling attention to their advanced age at a time when they want to just be anonymous shoppers blending in with the crowd as they push their utility carts from mall to bus stop, which seniors encounter in parking lots or as they approach the front of the big-box stores where there's more affordable shopping.

High unemployment concentrations of working-age adults are seen in neighborhoods that are hardest hit by fatal cases of the flu

The only issue is that you don't have to live in a poor area to get the flu. You have cases of healthy middle-aged and young adults dying from the flu who don't live in any specific pocket of poverty, professional people such as nurses and teachers catching the flu. The point is where the cases are highest.

The cases concentrate in areas where families share housing or are crowded into small homes, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of ZIP codes along with the U.S. census demographics. What the areas have in common are poverty and densely-packed living spaces. You can't point to any one issue. For example, many of the cases flared up among the foreign born. But you can't say that just being an immigrant puts you at risk to getting not just the flu, but a fatal case of it, or a case where you spent weeks in the intensive care unit.

You have to dig deeper in the facts

The problem are the health disparities in underserved communities. You can see a history of articles and a few years ago even a museum exhibit in Sacramento in past years on how your ZIP code can be a predictor of how long and how healthy a life you will live. In some neighborhoods, there are no supermarkets, or food that's the healthiest is not affordable to families. The issue is poverty. The higher the poverty, the higher the rates of chronic illnesses.

Sometimes it has to do with standard of living. If you're in poor health to begin with, if you're unemployed, crowded into a small room with other family members, use public transportation where so many people cough and sneeze into the air without covering their mouth and nose, and the stress each day is very high, you probably don't have access to or can't afford healthier nutrition.

Communities with high rates of poverty get higher rates of chronic disease.

Standard of living is related to chronic health issues. One area of Sacramento stands out when it comes to flu activity. It's ZIP code 95823, encompassing the Parkway and Valley Hi/North Laguna neighborhoods. The flu activity rate is not related to your ethnicity. It's about population density.

The 11-square-mile area has the highest population density – 6,269 people per square mile – of all the ZIP codes flagged by county health officials tracking influenza activity. Here, 29.2 percent of individuals live below the poverty level, defined by the federal government as one person living on $11,490 a year, or a family of four living on $23,550 annually, says the Sacramento Bee article.

Why are foreign-born residents singled out as having more flu cases?

The article also mentions that Parkway and Valley Hi/North Laguna also have the distinction of being home to the highest number of foreign-born residents in the region, reflecting widespread diversity, with near equal numbers of white, black, Latino and Asian residents. But why should that matter? Is it about the link between being foreign and being poor or uninsured? What happens to discussion of wealthier foreigners who live in areas such as Placer and Yolo counties where no flu deaths were reported this year? So the issue is density and poverty not only ethnicity.

If you look at the local community clinic, patients have been coming in with vomiting and high fevers. That's what happens with the H1N1 virus. It's not like other types of flu where you only get a cough and a fever for a few days, maybe the desire to sleep a lot during the day, but no vomiting spells. You may not want to eat, but you don't feel nausea. So it's not the type of flu symptoms that college students used to complain about back in the 1970s.

Another issue is the lack of vaccination. People may feel invincible

Many families vaccinate their children, but not themselves, as if it costs too much money, even if the vaccinations offered are free. You have a mass media campaign to vaccinate, and suddenly, by the end of January, you have some of the clinics that people living in poverty go to, and the clinic runs out of vaccines for adults. But that's only one scenario, mentioned in the Sacramento Bee article.

Another problem is people living very close to one another in the same home and using public transportation. How do you avoid catching viruses if you're riding public transportation? You may have more than one person sharing a bedroom, and you're breathing the air in buses and trains such as the light rail or buses where the windows are closed and people are breathing and coughing into the air.

You have the issue of more than one family living in one house or apartment

South Sacramento has had more flu cases. All it takes is putting your hand on a railing to get off of a bus or light rail, and you're infected if you put your hand near your ears, eyes, nose, or mouth without realizing it. The bus and light rail railings are full of the droplets from people breathing, talking, sneezing, and coughing as is the air in general. If you're a science student, take a swab of the hand rails and seats or the air and check for flu virus, if you have access to such types of microscopes that can see something smaller than bacteria like viruses.

What you can go to are statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After March, the flu season usually simmers down to regionally active instead of widespread in Sacramento. You can check out Sacramento County’s data show that the flu peaked in the first weeks of January. That’s when the largest number of people sought treatment from doctors or were admitted to intensive care units. But people are still dying from the flu here.

What's been reported at this time is that 28 Sacramento County residents under age 65 have died in the 2013-14 influenza season. For the first time since the season became active, there were no new deaths reported last week in the county, says the Sacramento Bee article.

Placer and Yolo counties had no flu deaths reported this year

Now look at the wealthier areas where the pricey homes are. Placer and Yolo counties have reported no flu deaths, and El Dorado County recorded just two dead of the flu. But unless you have money to buy those relatively expensive homes, you're not going to be living large in Placer, Davis, or El Dorado areas.

If you look at California beyond Sacramento, the number of people who died from flu-related causes rose to 302 last week, according to state reports. You can check out the statistics of 19 more influenza deaths reported to the Department of Public Health that may be added to the list. Most of the hospitalized patients didn't get their flu shot. But even if you do get vaccinated, the vaccine is only effective 60 to 80 percent of the time.

And unless you get a special vaccination for seniors, there's the issue of senior citizens having more issues with getting immunity after vaccination. That's why it's important that a flu vaccine patch be developed and available to the public without having to get a needle, which frightens many people from coming to a clinic and getting an injection. Some people just wait until someone in their family gets sick before they get a flu shot, but it takes several weeks to gain immunity.

The poorest, most densely packed ZIP codes have lower rates of immunization. But in areas with less poverty such as Citrus Heights and Carmichael, an area of many middle-class homes around the corner from apartment houses on streets where heavy traffic pollutes the air all day, all have seen intense flu activity this winter. You have middle-class affluence packed in with high density of housing. Homes near apartments, for example, with a lot of people living in a small area, whether it's in their house or their apartment, or the apartments are built near the houses. The issue is density of population rather than income levels.

On the other hand, flu-related deaths have occurred in high-income areas of Sacramento. You have instances where the person took a long walk in a public park, visited people such as family members, or was at work outside the home where there were other employees, and still died after contracting the flu.

And several of the county’s flu-related deaths have involved people from higher-income areas who were otherwise healthy. You have executives, nurses, and others who died from the flu, even though they didn't dwell in the poor areas of town. But they did work with other people outside the home.

Another issue in Sacramento is food insecurity and how it relates to health issues

People move to certain ZIP code areas because they're affordable. But some flu deaths had no relationship to the area where the people lived. What some of these people had in common was that they worked outside their home in offices or other buildings where there were other employees, and where they spent time walking on weekends, such as in parks or seeing other people.

You also have some senior citizens, such as those who usually ride public transportation so afraid of the flu and of vaccines, that they shut themselves in for the winter flu season every two years when the flu seasons hit hardest, avoiding public transportation and ordering groceries online. They may take the chance of visiting supermarkets at a time when the fewest people are in there.

Every part of Sacramento needs to have access to food

There shouldn't be any areas known as urban food deserts. You also can have a situation where someone lives in an apartment next to a supermarket and still can't afford the food, including the healthier foods, simply because the money available to people on fixed incomes runs out 10 days before the end of each month.

People working at the food bank also are working to locate space to open a satellite center, according to the February 21, 2014 Sacramento Bee news article by Darrell Smith, "Elk Grove Food Bank expanding its reach into south Sacramento." Families living in that ZIP code not only have poor access to food unless they grow produce themselves in their yard, but also a different life expectancy statistic and a different chronic disease statistic from those in Sacramento who live in other ZIP code areas.

Food insecurity exists in Sacramento and its suburbs

Do you live in the south Sacramento area with the 95828 ZIP code boxed by Fruitridge Road to the north, Elk Grove-Florin Road to the east, and Calvine Road to the south? Nobody who has to buy food to feed the family wants to live in what's often called an urban food desert where affordable food markets are too distant for many families, whether you're a senior or a single parent family, or any type of family that often runs out of money to buy food in the middle of each month. The nonprofit food bank, Elk Grove Food Bank Services is focusing its expansion to south Sacramento because too many hungry families are falling through the cracks when it comes to access to food.

The statistics tell you that about 3,300 families and seniors a month are served in some capacity by Elk Grove Food Bank. Nearly 35,000 people used the food bank’s services during the 2012-2013 fiscal year. You have the working poor, people laid off from jobs, senior citizens on very low fixed incomes, single parents, and anyone else struggling to put food on the family table and keep people together.

What urban food deserts need most is commitment to make people more secure when it comes to access to basic foods

Some seniors are based at home and of low mobility and need donated food delivered to their homes, rooms, or apartments. Also, you have people coming to food banks also looking for donations of pet food for their cat or dog. See, "Elk Grove Food Bank Services Opens Pet Pantry - Elk Grove News." There are different food banks for different areas of Sacramento and its suburbs. Check out, "Food Bank Locator - Together we Can Solve Hunger‎."

Some people are simply walking away from conventional medicine and turning to food as medicine. Others have to make choices. For example, this year, there has been a 40 percent increase in people over the age of 60 asking food banks for help, and the year is only two months old at this date. The big problem is food insecurity. Compound that with healthcare insecurity, and where to live, and you have a need for food banks in urban food deserts.

Sacramento, including Elk Grove, and other areas such as south Sacramento is seeing a very fast increase in people over age 60 who have so little income, that they have to choose between rent or prescription drugs

If you live in the Sacramento area, you also can check out the website of the California Emergency Foodlink. At no charge to recipient agencies, Foodlink delivers more than 120 million pounds of food per year throughout California. Foodlink delivers government commodities from The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) as well as fresh produce collected under the statewide agricultural food rescue program, Donate-Don’t Dump (DDD). Through innovative programming and an intense desire to create change, Foodlink has been fighting hunger in California for nearly two decades. There are several food banks operating in Sacramento.

As far as the Elk Grove Food Bank, it has just announced that it's expanding its services to south Sacramento, particularly the ZIP code area 95828 that before now has been falling through the cracks as far as access to food to feed the area's families, including single parents, seniors, and anyone else living in the area's affordable neighborhoods.

The nonprofit food bank now based in Elk Grove plans to dispatch mobile food pantries in the coming weeks to serve low-income seniors and struggling families who cannot get to the food bank

See the UC Davis Health "article, "2013 Community Health Needs Assessment and the Sierra article, "The Chronic Disease Experience of Sacramento County Residents." So how do you help bring healthier food to this ZIP code area so that people who must eat don't fall through the cracks? You could start with a food bank to help close the hunger gap in local neighborhoods.

More people in Sacramento are learning about what it means to live in the ZIP code that ends in 828. It's about living in an area where there is not nearby access to enough food markets. To live in Sacramento's ZIP code 95828 means you're dwelling in the ZIP code with the highest jobless rate in Sacramento County outside of rural Walnut Grove, according to the state Employment Development Department. U.S. census figures estimate that more than one-fifth of its residents live below the poverty level.

The goal of a food bank is to provide essential resources to overcome the many faces of hunger and human need

Elk Grove Food Bank Services, operating for the past 40 years in Elk Grove, is responding to increasing hunger in the Sacramento area community by bringing food to those who need it the most. The food bank is expanding to serve South Sacramento neighborhoods.

All you have to do is cross over Calvine Road, and you've landed in ZIP code 95828. What the number symbolizes to many Sacramentans and some of the people living there is not so good access to affordable food for families. The issue is that south Sacramento neighborhoods bordering Elk Grove are not as close as they'd like to be to large grocery stores with affordable wide food choices.

At the same time, people living in ZIP code 95828 area don't have access to the closest food bank, located in Elk Grove

Who lives in the ZIP code 95828 are many single-parent families who by the 20th (of each month) are out of food and money. That's why Elk Grove Food Bank Services is expanding its reach into South Sacramento areas. North of Elk Grove city limits sits south Sacramento neighborhoods. People living there because of the affordable prices of homes and rentals are there because it's not an expensive area in which to reside. It's affordable. That's the point.

And a lot of people don't want to live in urban deserts where the nearest supermarket is miles away. When a family runs out of money in the third week of each month, they often turn to food banks. The nearest food bank is Elk Grove Food Bank Services. After 40 years operating in Elk Grove, the food bank finally is expanding to serve south Sacramento neighborhoods, where there is a great need for help with feeding families.

Sacramento's air pollution is ranked by zip code. In fact, Central Valley communities are among the hardest hit in California under a unique new misery index that provides statewide mapping on community pollution, health and well-being, according to an April 24, 2013 Sacramento Bee news article by Peter Hecht.

On April 24, 2013 the state Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new environmental screening tool that reveals – by ZIP code – how neighborhoods are affected by pesticides, truck fumes, hazardous waste and other toxic factors. The index also tracks community health and well-being, based on such things as the number of residents living in poverty, their education levels and rates of asthma.

Minority communities in Sacramento are crowded into the areas of highest air pollution

The reason for the ranking is that under state legislation passed last year, disadvantaged communities afflicted by pollution can reap grants and investments – indirectly funded by polluting industries – to help neighborhood and environmental health. Sacramento is highly pollution, but higher on the list is Fresno's zip code area 93706. That Fresno neighborhood ranks poverty at the 97th percentile. If that's not enough, the area's residents' asthma rates rank in the 99th percentile, and pesticide pollution ranks in the 91st percentile of 1,769 ZIP codes in the state.

The worse rankings also include two other Fresno ZIP codes. Three of the worst zip codes also come from Stockton. These all make the list of the top 10 most unhealthy ZIP codes in the environmental index. Seven of the 10 worst come from the San Joaquin Valley.

Poorest air quality zip codes also have the highest unemployment and poverty rates

The problem with pollution in Sacramento is that it's located in the Central Valley, home of the poorest air quality as well as high unemployment and poverty. Notice that the neighborhoods in Sacramento with the worse air quality and waste pollution also have the highest poverty rates. At the same time, these neighborhoods are where most minorities live as well as those with the lowest incomes.

Why should this trend continue of seeing so many minority, low-income areas cornered in neighborhoods with the highest air and waste pollution? And why does the minority neighborhoods have to be linked so closely with low-income rankings and high pollution scales?

Community health mapping, CalEnviroScreen ranks one south Sacramento County neighborhood as the state's 34th unhealthiest ZIP code.

It's you guessed it -- a minority area and also an area of low income. That area, ZIP code 95828, is located east of Stockton Boulevard, south of Elder Creek Road and north of Calvine Road in Sacramento. Population, 58,000. Sadly, it includes industrial sites sporting a carbon fiber plant.

The problem is that Zip Code area ranks in the 96th percentile for hazardous waste pollution, in the 67th percentile for poverty and the 90th percentile for asthma. The air is polluted, and people living there, including many children, have high rates of asthma.

On the other hand, the Sacramento Bee article, mentions a February 2013 letter to the state EPA, and the California Farm Bureau Federation that noted the new state indexing program and maps "incorrectly portray that the adverse health conditions in a community are a result of direct exposure from pollution."

Why don't the data show where the pollution originates?

Industry may be afraid that if anyone has an illness such as asthma or cancer or what's frequently caused by air pollution, thickening of the carotid arteries leading to strokes and heart attacks, the sick person might point a finger at the high traffic density, solid waste storage, pesticide use, or industrial waste spewing into the air, water, or soil. But data is difficult for the average consumer to locate giving numbers, statistics of what's going into the air, water, or soil that makes the areas polluted.

Ultrafine particles in the air is associated with heart disease, asthma, and premature mortality. And they can be indoors as well as outdoors. In the Sacramento area with its high air pollution, the University of California, Davis released a new study February 20, 2013 that pins down precisely what emits the worst toxicity.

The environmental health screening index compiles ZIP code data on 11 types of pollution and seven socio-economic factors

What the mapping is doing is looking at the effects of a whole array of pollutants, not only air pollution, a compounding of stressor upon stressor. The idea is identifying communities with vulnerabilities. But who will change the quality of the air and any other sources of pollution unless someone comes up with the money to make changes? For more information, check out the Sacramento Bee article, "Central Valley fares poorly in new California pollution index."

Pollutants in the air, water, and the rest of the environment are now able to be traced to their sources. In February 2013 researchers at UC Davis found for the first time a link between toxic substances that cause air pollution and what causes the problem. Read the study and check out the February 19, 2013 UC Davis news release, "Scientists trace particulate air pollution to its source."

The UC Davis study on air pollution

Anthony Wexler, the principal investigator and director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis, says the study will help regulators control only the sources that are toxic, which saves money. Scientists at the University of California, Davis, have, for the first time, developed a system that can determine which types of air particles that pollute the atmosphere are the most prevalent and most toxic. Watch the seminar webcast.

Previous research has shown that air pollution containing fine and ultrafine particles is associated with asthma, heart disease and premature death. This new study, released today by the California Air Resources Board and the Electric Power Research Institute, marks the first time that researchers have conducted source-oriented sampling of these particles in the atmosphere.

Particulate emissions are the most toxic

For example, the researchers found that particulate emissions from vehicles, wood burning and residential cooking exhibited the most toxic effects at the study site in Fresno, which has among the nation’s highest rates of adult and childhood asthma. “Right now, air quality standards are based on the mass of particulate matter and don’t distinguish between natural sources, like sea spray, and known toxic sources, like diesel exhaust,” said Anthony Wexler, the principal investigator and director of the Air Quality Research Center at UC Davis, according to the UC Davis news release. “This study will help regulators control only the sources that are toxic, which saves money.”

The scientists present their research yesterday, February 19, 2013 at a public seminar hosted by the state air board, at the Cal/EPA Building in Sacramento

Check out Details about yesterday's February 19, 2013 seminar. In Fresno, ambient particle samples were collected in both summer and winter to account for seasonal differences in the atmosphere. The researchers used a single particle mass spectrometer, co-developed by Wexler, and 10 particle samplers to collect, analyze and separate ambient particles.

Laboratory mice then inhaled particle samples from the separate sources. Kent Pinkerton, a professor of pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine, monitored their responses for signs of toxicity. “This demonstrates that particles of different sources have different degrees and kinds of toxicity,” said Pinkerton in the UC Davis news release. “We need to use this information to better understand the health effects of particulate matter. If we don’t, we’ll never really come up with a solution.” The California Air Resources Board and the Electric Power Research Institute funded this new study.

Sacramento's indoor air pollution in some office buildings

Sacramento may have indoor air pollution in some office buildings, but what about the indoor air pollution--small particulates in your home? The indoor air pollution as well as the outdoor small particle air pollution in Sacramento, especially in areas where there is heavy traffic and unhealthy outdoor air may cause a rise in blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases due to the small air pollution particulates in the outdoor as well as the indoor air. Air pollution also can raise your blood pressure.

One problem focuses on public schools built when there was little traffic less than 500 feet from where there now is heavy traffic and intense, hazardous air pollution. What might help a little to temporarily solve the problem is perhaps planting enough greenery around your house to absorb some of the air pollution--small particulates, for example, such as bushes, hedges, or wide canopy trees. What's the air quality like in your home?

A few years ago the air pollution in Sacramento near a middle school near Arden Way and Watt Avenue registered such a high reading of air pollution that more trees and green plants were placed near the school to absorb some of the air pollution. The outermost school building lies close to roads. See the June 23, 2011 news article, Sacramento Bee - UC Davis News & Information: In the News.

Air pollution around public schools

A state law passed in 2010 requires school districts to analyze and address the effects of vehicle pollution on school sites proposed within 500 feet of a freeway or thoroughfare. According to the article, Sacramento Bee - UC Davis News & Information: In the News, in addition to school congestion, high traffic levels along Watt persist throughout the day. Arden Middle's unfortunate location has caught the eye of the local American Lung Association's Health Effects Task Force.

In 2002, the task force enlisted Tom Cahill, an atmospheric physicist and international expert on air pollution at the University of California, Davis, to measure the particulates coming from Interstate 5. Out of curiosity, the task force also asked Cahill to put a monitor at Arden Middle School. The results surprised and alarmed them: The traffic at Arden and Watt subjects the school to levels of particle pollution comparable to or greater than the levels seen from I-5.

The exposure is worsened by the fact that at its nearest point, the outmost middle school building is just 45 feet away from traffic, by Cahill's measure. According to the article, one rule for avoiding direct exposure to street pollution is to move 500 feet or more away. At that distance, studies have shown, the effects of traffic exhaust fade to background levels.

Years ago, there was little air pollution when builders constructed Arden Middle school in 1914, when the only traffic that passed did so on hoof or foot. That's the problem with homes in the Arden Arcade area, where rows of homes went up in 1951, when at that time the traffic didn't produce heavy air pollution as it does today.

On top of that pollution, you have the cell phone towers and the smart meters with electronic and radio wave pollution added to the air pollution. And if you hide indoors as do many seniors, your indoor air pollution could be as bad or worse than outside, except on days when the newspaper tells you the outdoor air is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as older adults or people with allergies, or even unhealthy for everyone on certain days. So what is Sacramento doing to solve the problem and get measurable results when funding, resources, and budgets are so tight?

The University of California, Davis operates an Air Quality Research Center

See the website, Facts: UC Davis Air Quality Research Center. UC Davis's close proximity to Sacramento and San Francisco has afforded researchers and faculty the opportunity to develop working relationships with federal, state and local environmental and air pollution agencies over a long period of time. Thus, the AQRC supplies a substantial network of researchers, a technical knowledge base and a general understanding of stakeholder perspectives.

In Fact, UC Davis offers a PhD degree in air quality. The PhD degree program emphasizes Atmospheric Aerosols and Health Program and supports upwards of 20 PhD students per year at UC Davis and Merced. The program helps mentor PhD students throughout their research and teaches PhD students how to translate their research into policy.

The Center currently hosts projects with funding totaling about $10M for multi-collaborator research. UC Davis faculty host a total of about $50M of air quality and climate research across campus, about 10% of the total $550M in research funding on campus. With all this research, Sacramento's heavy traffic and polluted air, especially during the summer months still provides residents with indoor and outdoor air full of small particulates.

Reduce your exposure to those small toxic particulates in the air

The only place to take a walk or run for exercise in Sacramento may be alongside the curb in the midst of heavy traffic for some people, such as walking from Watt Avenue to Fulton Avenue along Marconi when the sidewalk stops to get to the shopping mall. If you're a nondriver, you walk in the curb when the weather permits, and with no sidewalks, you share the curb with the bicycle lane and people on scooters, power chairs, bikes, and even roller skates.

On the other hand, if you stay indoors on days when the outdoor air is unhealthy for everyone or for sensitive groups, you can at least reduce your exposure to the small particulates in the outdoor air from raising your risk of cardiovascular diseases, irregular heart beats, perhaps a rise in your blood pressure, and other health issues of small particulate-polluted air. Other countries, too, have polluted air, especially indoor air polluted with small particulates--perhaps from unhealthy cooking stoves.

Check out the July 2011 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives and also on July 8, 2011 in a news release, "Indoor air pollution linked to cardiovascular risk." In a study just published online in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have associated indoor air pollution with increased blood pressure among older women.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison study, "In a remote area of Yunnan Province, China, 280 women in an ethnic minority called the Naxi wore a portable device that sampled the air they were breathing for 24 hours. The Naxi live in compounds including a central, free-standing kitchen that often has both a stove and a fire pit, says Jill Baumgartner, who performed the study with National Science Foundation funding while a Ph.D. student at UW-Madison, according to the news release, "Indoor air pollution linked to cardiovascular risk."

Blood pressure rise and indoor air pollution levels

"By correlating exposure over 24 hours with blood pressure, Baumgartner and colleagues associated higher levels of indoor air pollution with a significantly higher blood pressure among women aged 50 and over. Small-particle pollution raises blood pressure over the short term by stimulating the nervous system to constrict blood vessels. In the long term, the particles can cause oxidative stress, which likewise raises blood pressure."

Maybe it's time for other countries to use solar cookers or cleaner fuels in areas where there is little use of stoves or the traditional stove is an indoor or outdoor tandoori-type oven or other device that releases minute particles of polluted air indoors.

Other studies have shown that improved stoves or cleaner fuels can cut indoor air pollution by 50 to 75 percent. In the Baumgartner study, that reduction in pollution level was linked to a four-point reduction in systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading). Such a change "may be of little consequence for an individual," says co-author Leonelo Baustista, an associate professor of population health sciences at UW-Madison, according to the news release, "Indoor air pollution linked to cardiovascular risk." "However, changes of this magnitude in a population would have a significant, large impact on the risk of cardiovascular disease in the population."

In fact, the researchers concluded, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison July 8, 2011 news release, "that this reduction would translate into an 18 percent decrease in coronary heart disease and a 22 percent decrease in stroke among Asian women aged 50 to 59. These benefits would save the lives of 230,900 Chinese women each year."

Can Sacramento's high air pollution at times possibly raise your risk of developing Parkinson's disease?

What environmental factors in Sacramento raise your risk of getting Parkinson's disease? It's air pollution. And Sacramento's heavy air pollution also raises your risk of heart disease and other heart problems if you live near a freeway or any area of heavy traffic.

You'll see in Sacramento quiet little streets that seem silent, but only a block away is heavy traffic such as living near the bumper-to-bumper traffic off of Watt Avenue or Marconi or where El Camino Avenue intersects Watt Avenue, or where Howe Avenue meets Fair Oaks Boulevard. The heavy traffic pollutes the air, which then wafts to those silent little streets with private homes and many trees. The trees fool you, making you think you're safe and out among greenery, perhaps near a creek. Then you're surprised when the air pollution's tiny particles get between your cells or into your blood and organs.

The cause of Parkinson's disease remains unknown, but, according to November 4, 2010 Los Angeles Times article by Mary Forgione, For the Los Angeles Times, "Studies examine environmental factors that may be linked to higher risk of Parkinson's," it's pollutants in various urban areas that may increase the risk.

According to the LA Times article, the Health Notes blog of the Newport News Daily Press reports on a new analysis that identifies high levels of manganese and copper pollution as potential risk factors for some city dwellers. For example, people living in areas with higher levels of manganese pollution had a 78% greater risk of having Parkinson's than those who didn't, according to the Washington University in St. Louis report.

It's not just copper and manganese excesses in the polluted air of some urban areas, but pesticide exposure also raises the risk of getting Parkinson's disease. And people working on farms, ranches, or in rural areas can get exposure just living out in the country, working on farms, or drinking well water that's full of pesticides running off of farms.

You might want to find out more about Parkinson's research. Michael J. Fox is funding various projects. Fox is the founder of the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research,. The Foundation recently launched a five-year study to identify biomarkers of the progression of Parkinson's disease.

Michael J. Fox has had Parkinson's for almost 19 years, since he turned 30. Check out the article reporting how the Chicago Tribune explores one hospital's participation in the new study in "Northwestern seeks clues to Parkinson's."

Also check out the Los Angeles Times' Greenspace blog which notes that: "Rural residents who drink from private wells are up to twice as likely to develop Parkinson's from certain pesticides, including methomyl, chlorpyrifos and propargite, according to a recent UCLA. People with Parkinson's were more likely to have consumed water from private wells, and had done so for 4.3 years longer on average than people who did not have the disease, the study revealed.

Also, if you live in Sacramento near a freeway, (or any other area near a freeway) your risk of heart disease may go up. Check out the article, Study: Living Near Freeway May Be Hard On Heart -

Air pollution thickens your carotid artery, raising risk of strokes and heart attacks as it speeds the development of atherosclerosis

Wondering why living next to heavy traffic is aging you from the inside out, or why one generation living in a very low air-pollution-wracked area of the world lives so much longer than those living in the highest neighborhoods of wafting air pollution? If you live in a polluted part of town, you may have a two percent higher risk of stroke as compared to people residing in a less polluted part of the same metropolitan area says a new study.

Researchers found in this latest study that long-term exposure to air pollution may be linked to heart attacks and strokes by speeding up atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries," according to an April 2013 study, reported University of Michigan public health researchers and colleagues from across the nation, according to an April 24, 2013 news release, "Air pollution linked to hardening of the arteries."

There's another issue besides strokes and heart attacks from small particulate air pollution, which is a frequent problem in Sacramento as in other areas. That's road rage and hair-trigger tempers as well as just plain all-around agreeableness. In a different study of 5,614 residents of the Italian island of Sardinia, those ranking in the lowest 10 percent of agreeableness were 1.4 times as likely to have thickening in their lining of their carotid artery, those researchers found.

This held true even after the researchers adjusted for cholesterol levels, smoking status and other risk factors. Now in a new study, air pollution, again is linked with hardening of the arteries, including the carotid artery in the neck.

Sara Adar, the John Searle Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the U-M School of Public Health, and Joel Kaufman, professor of environmental and occupational health sciences and medicine at the University of Washington, led the latest study that found higher concentrations of fine particulate air pollution (PM2.5) were linked to a faster thickening of the inner two layers of the common carotid artery—an important blood vessel that provides blood to the head, neck and brain.

Fine particulate air pollution is linked to a faster thickening of the carotid artery

Conversely, the researchers found that reductions of fine particulate air pollution over time were linked to slower progression of the blood vessel thickness. Their research is published in this week's (April 24, 2013) issue of PLOS Medicine. And those tiny particulates in the Sacramento air is an expensive health problem, particularly here and in the Central California Valley (and any other place with high air pollution).

Check out the original study's article here. It's "Fine Particulate Air Pollution and the Progression of Carotid Intima-Medial Thickness: A Prospective Cohort Study from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution." The thickness of this blood vessel is an indicator of how much atherosclerosis is present in the arteries throughout the body, even among people with no obvious symptoms of heart disease.

"Our findings help us to understand how it is that exposures to air pollution may cause the increases in heart attacks and strokes observed by other studies," Adar said in an April 24, 2013 news release, "Air pollution linked to hardening of the arteries." The researchers followed 5,362 people ages 45-84 from six U.S. metropolitan areas as part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and Air Pollution (MESA Air).

The researchers were able to link air pollution levels estimated at each person's house with two ultrasound measurements of the blood vessels, separated by about three years. After adjusting for other factors such as smoking, the authors found that on average, the thickness of the carotid vessel increased by 14 micrometers each year.

The vessels of people exposed to higher levels of residential fine particulate air pollution thickened faster than others living in the same metropolitan area

"Linking these findings with other results from the same population suggests that persons living in a more polluted part of town may have a 2 percent higher risk of stroke as compared to people in a less polluted part of the same metropolitan area," Adar said in the news release, Air pollution linked to hardening of the arteries. "If confirmed by future analyses of the full 10 years of follow-up in this cohort, these findings will help to explain associations between long-term PM2.5 concentrations and clinical cardiovascular events." Check out the original study or its abstract at PLOS. Or for general information on the university, see the website of the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Can a thickened carotid artery, hardened with plaque caused from small particulate air pollution give you a nasty, hair-trigger temper?

There's a study that shows that having a bad temper, being short-tempered, selfish, or a nasty attitude thickens the inside of your carotid arteries and dramatically raises your risk of strokes and heart attacks.

The problem worsens when people stress out if they can't control another person's behavior, such as getting their way from a store employee when a product is defective, verbally dominating a spouse, or getting the last word. The study published in August 2010 shows that individuals with antagonistic or disagreeable personalities have or soon develop thicker arterial walls that may make them more prone to heart attacks and strokes, researchers said. But there's something you can do about it.

Some Sacramento and Davis researchers have known for decades the largely unappreciated role of psychological factors in cardiovascular disease risk. It's food and psychological issues that matter in many cases. Another study reported by John Gever, MedPage Today Senior Editor, on the August 17, 2010 ABC Health news site, "Heart Attack, Stroke-Prone Arteries More Common in Nasty People: An Antagonistic Personality Might Increase Your Risk For Cardiovascular Disease," also features an ABC News video.

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