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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Efficacy of this year's flu vaccine is on par with previous seasons

We're more than halfway through this year's flu season, and new CDC data find that this year's vaccine has been 45% effective in protecting people and keeping them from visiting the doctor's office for the flu. The effectiveness of flu vaccines in past years has been between 40%-60%. The protection for kids this year was higher: Researchers estimate that the vaccine offered 55% protection against those aged 6 months to 17 years. Researchers were concerned that the seasonal flu vaccine wouldn't be as effective against influenza type B, especially in kids, and the new data found that the vaccine was still about 50% effective against this flu type. At the same time, the flu shot has been largely ineffective against flu type A in youth. Both flu types are considered especially dangerous for kids, but not so much for the elderly. So far, there have been 92 pediatric deaths and 14,000 deaths among adults this flu season.

Machine learning finds a novel antibiotic able to kill superbugs in mice

The hunt for new antibiotics has gotten a modern upgrade. Searching for new antibacterial drugs has traditionally meant digging through soil for microbes that harbor bactericidal properties that could be isolated for drugs. In a new study, scientists report using machine learning to identify a new molecule that could one day prove effective against pathogens. The structurally distinct molecule, called halicin, was tested in mice and treated the gastrointestinal bug known as C. diff, which is responsible for more than a third of fatalities due to antibiotic resistance. The researchers also used machine learning to find eight other antibiotic compounds, which were also distinct from other drugs that are currently available.

ACA health care exchanges see more insurance provider participation

A new report from McKinsey & Company looked at trends in insurance providers participating in individual health care exchanges, and found that participation increased in 2019 compared to previous years. Here's more from the report: 

  • Carrier participation: In 2019-2020, there were 245 individual insurance providers (although some may have been owned by a larger company) on healthcare.gov. This was an increase from 218 carriers in the year before that, and 194 carriers in 2017-2018. 
  • Expanded coverage: The proportion of U.S. counties with only a single insurance provider decreased from 36% in 2019 to 25% in 2020. 
  • Expanded choice: Only about 1 in 10 consumers have the choice of only one insurance provider in their county, while about two-thirds have a pick of at least three providers. 

Inside STAT: Wuhan quarantine bought the world time to prepare for Covid-19


A doctor looks at a lung CT scan at a hospital in the quarantine zone in Wuhan, China. (STR/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

As China and other countries quickly implemented containment measures in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak — quarantine, travel restrictions, and border closures — experts also quickly criticized these steps as going too far and doing more harm than good. Nearly three months into the outbreak, it seems these measures may have actually bought countries vital time by slowing down the spread of the coronavirus. "Measures on movement restriction have delayed the dissemination of the outbreak two or three days within China and a few weeks outside China,” Sylvie Briand, WHO's director of Infectious Hazard Management, told reporters. Still, more than 76,000 have been diagnosed with the illness and 2,246 have died. And there's reason to believe that the way China is counting cases may make it difficult to know the true spread of the outbreak. STAT's Sharon Begley has more here

More than 1 in 5 Americans are unpaid caregivers

A large, national survey conducted by the CDC in 44 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico finds that more than 20% of Americans are unpaid caregivers. Here's more: 

  • Overall trends: Between 2015-2017, nearly 21% of people who responded to a phone survey on health risks were classified as unpaid caregivers. An additional 17% said they expected to become caregivers in the two years following the survey. 
  • Demographics: Nearly 60% of caregivers were women, and nearly 45% of caregivers were aged 45 and younger. 
  • Regional trends: 14% of those in Puerto Rico reported being caregivers, compared to more than 28% of those in Tennessee. Unpaid caregivers were most common in Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Louisiana, all with a 25% or higher prevalence. 

Internet searches about rare disease spike after 'Stranger Things' season releases

Popular media can be a good way to raise awareness of health issues, and new research finds that the Netflix show "Stranger Things" may have helped people become more familiar with the rare disease known as cleidocranial dysplasia. The disease, which affects the development of bones and teeth, affects 1 in every 1 million people around the world. One of the show's actors, Gaten Matarazzo III, has the condition, and his character, Dustin Anderson, talks with his friends on the show about CCD to help them learn more. Looking at Google search trends, researchers found that searches for CCD increased increased by nearly 95% in the week after the season 3 release, with previous season releases seeing searches increase by between 11%-13%. AboutKidsHealth, a health education website, also saw website views for their CCD page increase from 5-80 views per week to 10,000 after the release of season 3 of "Stranger Things." 

What to read around the web today

  • The next chapter for African genomics. Nature
  • In a cramped Kendall Square, biotech startups sublet desks and squeeze into shared labs. STAT Plus
  • ‘The spark has ignited.’ Latin American scientists intensify fight against sexual harassment. Science
  • Rising out-of-pocket costs for dementia and neuropathy drugs lower patient adherence. STAT Plus
  • Neuroscientist Phil Haydon sets sail to talk about epilepsy. The Scientist

Thanks for reading! See you Monday,

Shraddha

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Friday, February 21, 2020

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