Health care funding to feel effects of sequester; budget cuts “not the end of the world,” says one congressional leader; and blocked heart arteries may negate genetic predisposition to avoiding strokes. These stories and more top public health news on Friday, March 1, 2013.

Los Angeles Times‘Sequester’ cuts to hit healthcare hard
As the Obama administration begins to implement $85 billion in cuts to federal spending this year, no part of the budget other than defense will take a bigger hit than healthcare. And the so-called sequester appears likely to have a disproportionate effect on areas of the health system already hobbled by years of retrenchment or underfunding, including public health and medical research. Although the Medicare program will account for the largest chunk of dollars cut from healthcare simply because of its great size, the scheduled 2% reduction in its payments to doctors and hospitals is significantly smaller than what many public health and research programs face. Laboratories at major universities and medical centers are already laying off scientists, even before the latest round of cuts is scheduled to take effect. And local public health officials, hit by years of cutbacks, are scaling back immunization campaigns and other efforts to track and control infectious diseases.

New York TimesParties focus on the positive as budget cuts draw near
With time running short and little real effort under way to avert automatic budget cuts that take effect Friday, substantial and growing wings of both parties are learning to live with — if not love — the so-called sequester. “It’s going to happen,” said Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a leading conservative voice in the House. “It’s not the end of the world.” For weeks, President Obama has barnstormed the country, warning of the dire consequences of the cuts to military readiness, educators, air travel and first responders even as the White House acknowledges that some of the disruptions will take weeks to emerge.

Medical News TodayBlocked heart arteries may presage stroke
Even if you are considered to be at low risk for stroke, having blocked heart arteries can mean you are more likely to have one, says new research published online this week in Stroke, a journal of the American Heart Association. The researchers suggest blocked arteries should be taken into account to the same extent as other known risk factors such as atrial fibrillation when assessing patients’ stroke risk. Lead author Dirk M. Hermann is professor of vascular neurology and dementia at the University Hospital Essen in Germany. He says in a press statement their findings reveal “that stroke risk is tightly aligned with coronary atherosclerosis, showing the closely related nature of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.”

ForbesThe confusion over a pair of diabetes drugs and pancreatitis
Will yet another study about the risk of pancreatitis spell trouble for some diabetes drugs? The latest instance involves a paper that was published in JAMA Internal Medicine and indicates that Merck’s Januvia and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Byetta can double the risk of developing pancreatitis. Yes, this is the same issue that, over the past few years, has plagued drugs that increase the GLP-1 hormone. The study, which examined insurance records for more than 2,500 diabetics between February 2005 and December 2008, found that patients hospitalized with pancreatitis were twice as likely to be taking one of these drugs, as opposed to a control group of Type 2 diabetics who did not have pancreatitis. The study did not examine other meds that were not yet available at that time (here is the abstract). “This is the first independent confirmation of the suspected link between GLP 1 based therapies and hospitalizations for acute pancreatitis, and demonstrates a significant two-fold increased risk with these drugs,” says Sonal Singh, lead study author and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. “Clinicians and patients need to balance the benefits of glucose lowering with these risks.”