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Monday, December 12, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Monday, everyone, and welcome back from the weekend! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

FDA fires off warning letters over flavored cigarettes

The FDA has sent warning letters to four tobacco makers who’ve been selling flavored cigarettes labeled as “little cigars” or cigars. Cigarettes flavored like candy or fruit are illegal under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law in 2009. The law was designed to curb youth use of cigarettes and make the products less appealing. The four manufacturers — Swisher International Inc., Cheyenne International LLC, Prime Time International Co., and Southern Cross Tobacco Company Inc. — were selling their products as cigars, which could allow a manufacturer to skirt the ban on flavors. But the FDA has determined that those products meet the definition of a cigarette and were packaged and labeled to be purchased by consumers looking for cigarettes. The companies have 15 days to respond to the agency’s letter before the FDA takes action. The products will likely remain on store shelves during that time.

Check out vaccination rates where you live

The American Academy of Pediatrics is out with a new interactive tool to highlight state immunization rates for vaccine-preventable diseases. Users can stack those immunization rates up against state laws for vaccine exemptions. Almost every state allows parents to opt their kids out of mandatory vaccinations for religious reasons, while 18 states allow exemptions for personal or moral reasons, too. The map also pinpoints recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and mumps, which often crop up in places that have low rates of immunization. The AAP hopes parents and health care providers use the new tool to determine whether their communities are doing enough to stave off vaccine-preventable diseases.

Scientists develop model to study rare meningitis

A cluster of salmonella typhimurium bacteria. (Janice Haney Carr / cdc)

NIH researchers have developed a new way to study a dangerous nervous system inflammation caused by salmonella. Salmonella bacteria can infect the central nervous system and lead to bacterial meningitis, an inflammation of the membranes around the brain or spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis is fairly rare in the US — there are about 4,100 cases each year — and it's usually caused by strep or pneumonia bacteria. But salmonella meningitis is on the rise in parts of Africa, with individuals with advanced HIV/AIDS or sickle cell disease particularly at risk.

To better understand the condition, researchers developed a new mouse model that allows them to study how the bacteria infiltrates the spinal cord. That'll also give them a chance to parse out how Salmonella typhimurium — a subspecies of the bacteria — leads to damage in the brain. They’re also aiming to use that model to study potential treatments to prevent salmonella from reaching the nervous system in the first place.

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Inside STAT: Gearing up for marijuana laws to take effect

Four states legalized medical use of marijuana this year, with another four legalizing recreational use. Now, those states are getting ready to actually put those laws into effect. Nearly 20 percent of Americans will soon live in states where recreational marijuana use is legal. And while there’s been concern over the potential societal harms of the new laws, there’s also hope for how they might be able to help patients. In a new First Opinion, UCLA palliative care physician Dr. Thomas Strouse argues we need more clinical and basic research — and scientifically informed public policy — to maximize the potential medical uses of marijuana for patients like those he treats. Read his take here.

With 40 percent of US vaccinated, CDC pushes flu shots

Only 40 percent of people in the US have received this year's flu vaccine as of early November. That's about the same numbers seen at this time last year, but the CDC is concerned that that falls short of the goal of 70 percent coverage. Vaccination rates are slightly higher this year among adults than kids — 41 percent of adults have received their flu vaccine this year, compared to 37 percent of kids between 6 months and 17 years old. One positive data point: Compared to last year, flu shots are up 6 percent among pregnant women. The CDC is working to encourage more people to get their flu vaccine, and specifically kids and adults age 50 and over. The nasal-spray flu vaccine isn't recommended this year. 

Social isolation tied to breast cancer outcomes

Breast cancer survivors who are socially isolated have higher rates of recurrence and mortality than their peers looped into a larger social group, according to a new study published this morning in Cancer. Researchers at Kaiser Permanente analyzed data on more than 9,000 women with breast cancer, following those patients for around a decade after their diagnosis. Socially isolated survivors had a 40 percent higher risk of recurrence than survivors with loved ones to lean on. They also had a 60 percent higher risk of dying from breast cancer. But that effect depended on a woman’s age, race, and the type of personal connections she had — having a spouse was more beneficial for some populations, while having more friends showed greater benefit for others. The caveat with this type of study: It’s just an observed connection. There’s no evidence of a direct cause and effect. But the findings suggest that while social networks seem to benefit breast cancer survivors, those benefits aren’t the same across the board. Read the paper here.

How hard is a high school biology test? 

Another Monday morning, another pop quiz! This time, it's high school biology — we're talking Punnett squares, cytokinesis, macromolecules, and biochemical reactions. The National Center for Education Statistics says the US is still well below proficient when it comes to science scores for 12th graders. How much of those lessons do you remember? We’ve rounded up questions from standardized high school science exams across the country in a new quiz, which you can take here. (If you’re looking to ease your way into this, boost your self-esteem with our 8th grade test first.)

What to read around the web today

  • San Antonio became a national leader in mental health care by working together as a community. Boston Globe
  • Newborn screening saves babies, but lives can be shattered when state labs ignore science and common sense. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
  • The opioid epidemic is an immediate test for Donald Trump's administration. Wall Street Journal

More reads from STAT

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Megan

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