Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Tuesday! Welcome to Morning Rounds, where I bring you the news in health and medicine each morning. 

What's driving the rise in drug poisoning deaths? 

There’s been a steady rise in drug poisoning deaths in the US, and now, one researcher has parsed out what drugs are driving that increase. Christopher Ruhm of University of Virginia dove into the data behind drug poisoning deaths over the past two decades and found it’s often not just one drug implicated in a drug poisoning death, but a combination of several. Take prescription opioids, the class of drugs most commonly involved in drug poisoning deaths. They are often found alongside psychotropic drugs in cases of deadly overdose. “Although we have been aware of combination drug use, it has received too little attention in our efforts to combat drug poisoning death,” Ruhm explained to me. Read his analysis here.  

Florida Keys considers trial of genetically modified mosquitoes

Local government board meetings don't typically catch our eyes at STAT, as scintillating and important as they may be. But today’s meeting of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District stands out: The agenda includes a discussion of the Food and Drug Administration's recent decision that releasing genetically engineered mosquitoes for a field trial is safe for both people and the environment. The Aedes aegypti mosquitoes from the company Oxitec mate with mosquitoes in the wild and create offspring that die before reproducing, reducing the mosquito population.

Some residents have protested the field trial, and the Keys will hold a nonbinding referendum on the trial in November. But the recent local spread of Zika in another part of the state has fueled calls for the trial to commence. Some district board members have said they would support launching the trial before the referendum, but according to the agenda for the meeting, the board won't vote on the trial quite yet.

Europe moves to expand medical requirements for pilots

European aviation regulators have rolled out a new set of proposals to expand medical screenings for potential pilots. The proposal is part of a response to Germanwings Flight 9525. A co-pilot of that flight — who'd previously displayed suicidal tendencies and had been declared unfit to work by a doctor — intentionally crashed the plane and killed 150 people. The new proposals include comprehensive mental health assessment, drug and alcohol screening, and recurring medical examinations of pilots. The recommendations now head to the European Commission for formal adoption later this year.  

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Inside STAT: The history of doping at the Olympics

Natalia Bronshtein/STAT

Russia’s doping scandal has been the talk of the Rio Olympics, but the competition’s history of banned drugs traces back to a Swedish athlete who’d downed a few beers before the pentathlon at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. In the decades since, drugs like amphetamines and anabolic steroids have turned up at the Games. We’ve got a new data visualization that’ll let you see which country has had the most athletes test positive and which events are most prone to doping — explore it here.

An outspoken patient's death sparks new conversation about patient-centered care

The head of Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Andy Slavitt, joined patient advocates, health care professionals, and others to talk about patient-centered care after the death of 29-year-old Jess Jacobs, who died Saturday in California. Jacobs — who had a rare disorder called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome — wrote openly about her experience as a patient, including a detailed breakdown of the amount of time she’d wasted in the health care system. Slavitt said it’s an issue that the PACE program for the elderly and other chronic care models are trying to address. To read more about Jacobs and the discussion around patient-centered care, check out #UnicornJess on Twitter.

Indoor trampoline parks aren't all fun and games

Experts are warning about a new public health threat in town: indoor trampoline parks. A new paper in Injury Prevention points to a UK trauma center where 40 kids turned up with injuries from playing at an indoor trampoline park in just six months. Half of the children had bruising or sprains, while another third fractured bones. There’s no large-scale data on the prevalence of trampoline injuries, meaning the high number of cases could be unique to that hospital. But still, the authors say, the preliminary findings warrant a look at the safety regulations for indoor trampoline parks. 

Scientists consider CRISPR to treat sickle cell disease

A sickle cell near other red blood cells. (EM Unit, UCL Medical School, Royal Free Campus)

Scientists have drummed up a new way to potentially treat sickle cell disease and other blood disorders by using CRISPR. Sickle cell disease is marked by low levels of a compound called hemoglobin that’s responsible for carrying the oxygen in red blood cells. Humans have a potentially beneficial mutation that elevates levels of hemoglobin — but it's only active in utero. Scientist think they can use gene-editing to sustain those elevated levels of hemoglobin in adult red blood cells to prevent the damage of sickle cell disease. They proved the concept could work on cells in a dish, but it’ll need to be tested much more to determine whether it’s safe and effective in people. Read about the idea in Nature Medicine

The reimbursement rate gap between male and female doctors 

Female doctors were reimbursed nearly $18,700 less than their male counterparts in 2012, with the greatest pay gaps showing up in nephrology, rheumatology, and pulmonary medicine. New research looks at Medicare data for more than 3 million reimbursement claims made by physicians in 2012, breaking those claims down by gender and speciality. Nephrology had the largest pay gap by gender, while critical care saw the smallest — which was still $4,360. The study took productivity, hours worked, and years of experience into account, too.

What to read around the web today

  • At least 11 dead after airstrike hits Yemen hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders. Los Angeles Times
  • Fine print in insurance plans may leave gaps in women's care. Kaiser Health News
  • Death by medical error: Adding context to scary numbers. New York Times

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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