Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

West Nile virus on the rise in the U.S.

A new CDC report finds that cases of West Nile virus are on the rise. There were more than 2,600 cases of the mosquito-borne disease in 2018, the highest number of cases since 2012. Overall, 2018’s case count was 25% higher than the median incidence of the disease between 2008 and 2017. People from 48 states — including Alaska for the first time — and D.C. last year were diagnosed with the disease, which is asymptomatic in most people but can cause more serious side effects like fever and muscle weakness. And a high number last year experienced serious conditions: 63% had a neurological side effect, the majority of which was encephalitis. Physicians should be more aware of conditions caused by viruses like West Nile, the report’s authors suggest. 

No more ‘manels’ for Lancet journal editors

The editors of the Lancet journals write in a new commentary that they are no longer going to appear on all-male panels, or “manels.” They also pledged their commitment to representing more women and people from low- and middle-income countries in the articles that are published across the 18 Lancet journals. Earlier this year, the journals committed to having at least 50% of each publication’s editorial board be women. Eight have already done so, and the rest plan to do so by the end of 2019. “[W]e are committed to be the change we want to see, and to playing our part in helping create diversity and inclusion in health research and publishing,” the editors write. The move comes as many — including NIH Director Francis Collins — have criticized ‘‘manels” and the lack of gender parity in academia. 

Nearly 6 in 10 children are prescribed opioids after a tonsillectomy

Some 60% of children receive a prescription for at least one kind of opioid pain medication after a tonsillectomy, according to new research. Here’s more: 

  • The design: Researchers looked at 2016 and 2017 claims data from one large private health insurer to get a sample of nearly 16,000 children under 18 who underwent tonsillectomies and who had prescriptions for opioids. 

  • The findings: The average duration for prescriptions was eight days, and Vicodin was the most commonly prescribed drug. Some 3% had prescriptions for codeine, even though a 2013 black box warning recommended against taking the drug following tonsillectomies in those under 18. 

  • Some caveats: The sample did not include children with public insurance, and the sample overrepresented children from the South and Midwest. And just because children were prescribed opioids doesn’t mean they necessarily took the drugs. 

Inside STAT: Can Congress safeguard what health tech companies do with your DNA?


With the brave new world of apps and other technologies that constantly access — and sometimes sell — our data to other companies, the government is still contemplating how it can help protect the privacy of its citizens. Privacy concerns are also present in the field of biomedicine, especially as more and more people take consumer DNA tests. Congress is now slowly moving to address such thorny issues. Two Silicon Valley lawmakers, for instance, are drafting a bill with limits on what DNA testing companies can do with customer information. Others, including presidential hopeful Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), are calling for more research into understanding how to anonymize DNA data. STAT Plus subscribers can read more from Andrew Joseph here

Timing of genes expressed in schizophrenia could help explain the disease

The timing of when genes are expressed — whether they’re turned on or off — in the brain may help explain schizophrenia, according to new research. Scientists looked at gene expression data in the brains from 92 people, half of whom had schizophrenia when they were alive, and the other half who had been neurotypical. Specifically, they looked at samples from a part of the brain responsible for cognition and memory. Genes in the samples from neurotypical brains were expressed on a different schedule, on average, than the genes in the samples from the schizophrenia brains. In the schizophrenia samples, genes impacting immune function showed the most disruption in their schedule, as did genes controlling the function of mitochondria in cells. The work could help explain the differences observed in schizophrenia, but more research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms.

U.S. agencies spend $42 million in research and surveillance for tobacco control 

A new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office finds that American agencies spent nearly $42 million for global tobacco control efforts in recent years. The GAO reviewed federal spending between 2015 and 2018 and found that U.S. funding for tobacco control — most of which came from HHS agencies — largely went toward research and surveillance efforts. Tobacco use kills more than three times the number of people worldwide than tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS combined, the report states. Although the WHO has outlined concrete measures to curb tobacco use including higher taxes on cigarettes, it also considers rigorous surveillance to be an important part of tobacco control efforts. The report did not make any recommendations on other funding allocations for tobacco control.

Clarification: The item yesterday on major medical groups calling for action on gun violence was unclear about the description of a loophole the groups want closed. Current law prohibits those with a history of domestic violence against spouses and parents from purchasing guns, but leaves open a loophole for those with a history of such violence against partners and other family members.

What to read around the web today

  • Better birth control could exist, but it wouldn’t pay for Big Pharma. Bloomberg
  • New life of lab equipment makes science possible for researchers returning to their home countries. STAT
  • Opinion: Evolution gave us heart disease. We’re not stuck with it. The New York Times
  • China approves ethics advisory group after CRISPR-babies scandal. Nature
  • Drug shortage leaves patients without immune-disorder treatment. The Wall Street Journal

Have a great weekend! See you Monday! 


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Friday, August 9, 2019


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