To seek shelter during a tornado, head to the basement, and some say grab your helmet on the way. Plus, news on whooping cough in Washington state, FDA tracking and ‘Julia’. Those stories and more topping public health headlines today, Friday, May 4, 2012.

USA Today – Helmets in tornadoes: OK — but still seek shelter, CDC says
People who die or get badly injured in tornadoes often have head injuries. So doesn’t wearing a helmet make good sense? It does to many safety advocates who, as NPR reported recently, have started telling people to wear helmets when they hunker down during tornado warnings. Now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is speaking up — with what might be described as a mild endorsement of helmet use. In a statement today, CDC said that while there’s no good research on the effectiveness of helmets in tornadoes, “we do know that head injuries are common causes of death during tornadoes, and we have long made the recommendation that people try to protect their heads.” If you decide to use a helmet for that purpose, the agency says, just make sure it doesn’t slow you down on your way to the basement or other shelter: “Looking for a helmet in the few seconds before a tornado hits may delay you getting safely to shelter.”

NPR – Why Do Bike-Share Riders Skip Helmets?
If you’ve ever shaken your head over urban bicyclists’ apparent unanimous decision to forgo helmets, you’re not far off the mark. Among users of bike-sharing programs, like Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C., the problem is obvious. Flag down a few helmetless riders on those distinctive firetruck-red cruisers, as we did this week, and you’re likely to encounter two kinds of people: tourists, who rented the bikes on a whim and didn’t have a helmet with them; or commuters, who’ll usually tell you they almost always wear a helmet, but just happen to have forgotten it today.

Reuters – Washington state on track for major pertussis epidemic
Public health officials in Washington state have confirmed more than 1,100 cases of whooping cough so far this year in what is on track to become the worst epidemic of the disease to hit the state in seven decades. No deaths have been reported from this year’s outbreak but 20 infants have been hospitalized with the bacterial infection, which poses a special risk to young children, said Tim Church, a spokesman for the state Health Department. – How does the FDA monitor your medical implants? It doesn’t, really
Each prescription drug you take has a unique code that the government can use to track problems. But artificial hips and pacemakers? They are implanted without identification, along with many other medical devices. In fact, the FDA doesn’t know how many devices are implanted into patients each year – it simply doesn’t track that data. The past decade has seen numerous high profile cases of malfunctioning medical devices, which have lead to injury or even death. Critics say the FDA’s minimal monitoring of devices contributes to these problems.

New York Times – ‘Julia’ Becomes Vehicle for Obama’s Messaging
Nearly 20 years ago, a multimillion-dollar ad campaign created a fictional couple — “Harry and Louise” — to dramatize the dangers of President Bill Clinton’s health care reforms. Now, President Obama is trying to use the same Madison Avenue-style technique to demonstrate how his policies would be better for women than would Mitt Romney’s. Mr. Obama’s campaign has invented “Julia,” a fictional woman whose life is chronicled in a slick infographic published on the campaign’s Web site on Thursday. Visitors to the site can watch as Julia grows up, receiving benefits from the president’s policies along the way.

Wall Street Journal – Health Blog – Oregon Gets Extra Funds to Test New Medicaid Method
Controlling costs is a major priority for virtually everyone involved in funding health care, including federal and state governments, employers and insurers. “Coordination” and “delivery-system reform” have become major buzzwords, though experts differ over how best to make them happen. One state, Oregon, reckons it can cut health costs by two percentage points within two years — and improve health outcomes — through a new way of delivering care under Medicaid, the state/federal program for the poor. The state announced Thursday that it got a green light from the Obama administration for an additional $1.9 billion in federal funds over five years to test this new method.