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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks, and welcome back from the long weekend. Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. 

Congress is back to tackle its health care to-do list

Congress is back in session after a monthlong recess, and September is shaping up to be a busy month for health care. On tap this week: The first in a series of Senate hearings on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the insurance markets, along with a hearing to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP, which provides coverage to millions of kids in the U.S. and is almost out of federal funding. But first, Congress is expected to tackle funding for the emergency response to Hurricane Harvey. The White House is seeking an initial $7.85 billion to bolster response efforts currently underway.

The latest on the health response to Hurricane Harvey

Meanwhile, health officials in Texas and Louisiana are still scrambling to deal with the immediate impact of Hurricane Harvey, though some health facilities are now able to return somewhat to their routines. Here’s a rundown of the latest:

  • Texas is allowing out-of-state doctors to treat patients in need. The state’s medical board is allowing licensed health care workers who are in good standing in their home states to practice while there’s still a disaster declaration in place.

  • MD Anderson Cancer Center is up and running. The hospital was forced to cancel appointments for days due to flooding. Today, all of MD Anderson’s clinics are open for regularly scheduled appointments and treatments.

  • Federal health officials are scaling up help. HHS has deployed more than 1,000 staffers to treat patients and support doctors and public health workers on the ground. The CDC has also deployed six medical stations — two set up in Houston, and two ready to be set up if needed in each Dallas and Baton Rouge — with 250 beds each. 

A potential new treatment for Lassa fever

Scientists from the University of Texas Medical Branch and elsewhere have devised a monoclonal antibody cocktail to treat Lassa fever, a major cause of illness in parts of West Africa that's to blame for more than 100,000 infections and about 5,000 deaths a year. There’s no vaccine to prevent it and little that doctors can do to treat it, but that could change. The antibody cocktail — similar to ZMapp for Ebola — cured non-human primates that had been infected with what would have been a fatal dose of Lassa, even if the start of treatment was delayed until eight days after the macaques were infected.

Inside STAT: Trolling the ‘Vaxxed’ anti-vaccine road trip

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Craig Egan, right, protests at an anti-vaccination event. (courtesy craig egan)

When anti-vaccine activists gather around the “Vaxxed” tour bus, Craig Egan is there holding up a homemade sign that declares vaccines says lives. He often sports a T-shirt with the name of polio vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk styled to look like a rock band’s logo. Egan estimates he’s put 7,000 miles on his Toyota Prius this summer chasing down the "Vaxxed" bus tour — which grew out of a controversial anti-vaccination documentary with the same name — from the Pacific Northwest to Missouri. The producer who’s running the bus tour calls Egan “an irritation” undertaking “an absolutely pointless exercise,” but the 42-year-old Uber driver hasn’t been deterred. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins has the story — read here.

Why are yawns contagious?

Scientists think they might’ve discovered a clue about what makes you want to yawn when you see someone else yawn. Participants in the study were shown videos of other people yawning, and then were told either to try not to yawn or to let it out. The researchers found that it’s much tougher to resist yawning when you’re watching someone else yawn, and the urge to yawn seems to only get stronger when someone tells you not to do it. When they used electrical stimulation to increase a participant’s excitability, the person's propensity for yawning increased, too. The researchers say their findings could inform studies on other conditions tied to increased cortical excitability, such as epilepsy and Tourette syndrome.

Scientists study the memory problems of schizophrenia

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a look at neurons during memory formation in mice engineered to mimic symptoms of schizophrenia. (Jeffrey Zaremba/Losonczy Lab/Columbia's Zuckerman Institute)

Disruptions in a specific spot in the brain’s hippocampus seem to cause some of the severe memory problems seen in patients with schizophrenia, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience. Schizophrenia can cause serious memory impairment, including problems with episodic memory, or the brain’s stash of information from the past that helps us navigate everyday life. The researchers studied a brain region called CA1 — which maintains spatial reference points for episodic memory, like where you stored your sweaters you didn’t need once spring came.

Researchers engineered mice to mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia, and saw they found it more difficult to remember familiar environments and didn’t adapt as well when parts of their surroundings changed. The study’s authors say their discovery about that lack of adaptability could serve as a jumping-off point for new research on treating memory problems in patients with schizophrenia.

What to read around the web today

  • Cancer's invasion equation. New Yorker
  • Meet the scientists using FOIA to see each others' grants. Buzzfeed
  • For vulnerable older adults, a harrowing sense of being trapped. New York Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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