Friday, September 23, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks. STAT reporter Melissa Bailey here, filling in for Megan with your daily dose of health and science news. 

Syphilis hits hard in the South

Syphilis, which has been on the rise nationally, is taking a toll on men who have sex with men (MSM), especially in the South and the West, according to a new state-by-state breakdown out yesterday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Four of the five states with the highest rates are in the South: Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, and North Carolina, where the rates climbed to 748 per 100,000 MSM in 2014. If there's good news, it's that more people are getting tested: In 2014, 49 percent of MSM reported being screened for syphilis in the previous year, compared to just 37 percent in 2008.

Clinton, Trump health care plans have opposite outcomes

A new study out from the Commonwealth Fund this morning finds that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump's health care proposals would have drastically different effects on the number of insured Americans: 9 million people would gain coverage under Clinton; 20 million people would lose coverage under Trump. The difference primarily hinges on Trump's plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has brought America's uninsured rate to historical lows. The report also found that both candidates' plans could add to the federal deficit.

Inside STAT: Willpower at the end of life 

(Armella Leung for STAT)

Marjorie Severance lived over 91 years before she decided she had reached the end. She took a last glimpse of her son, then passed away after he left the room. Hospice and palliative care clinicians say they often have patients who, nearing life's end, seem to will themselves to hold on until a certain point, after which time they let go.

"People in end-of-life care wouldn't bat an eye if you asked if they think people can, to a certain degree, control those final moments,” Dr. Toby Campbell told STAT's Bob Tedeschi. “But it's inexplicable." Read the full story here

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Who wants to lead WHO?

Eyes are turning to Geneva today as the World Health Organization reveals who wants to be its next leader, STAT reporter Helen Branswell tells me. Nominations for the job closed yesterday. Today sealed envelopes will be opened to reveal who is in the race. Only three names — Philippe Douste-Blazy of France, Sania Nishtar of Pakistan, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of Ethiopia — have been disclosed so far, but some last-minute additions could squeak in under the wire. Check STAT's homepage later this morning to see who they are.

Lab chat: Eye bacteria and contact lenses

Why do contact lens-wearers get so many eye infections? It might have to do with the delicate balance of the microbes living in our eyes, according to new research in PLOS Pathogens. I talked with Mihaela Gadjeva, a microbiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, about her research on mice.

What did you set out to discover?

The surface of the eye was traditionally considered devoid of bacterial organisms. … But there are actually organisms there. [We thought:] If it's there, maybe it has some function. Maybe if we remove them, we will see alteration in the function.

What did you do to the mice?

We depleted the ocular surface bacteria by antibiotic eye drops and ointment. Then we did an infection using Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which is frequently found as a pathogen in people that wear contact lenses, causing keratitis. … What's the consequence of clearing away the normal microbes [before the infection]? In mice that we treated with antibiotics, there were higher bacterial presence and worse infection. 

What implication might this have for humans?

For a long time, there has been a question: Why do contact lens-wearers develop keratitis? Is it just that the contact lens functions as a vehicle to place Pseudomonas aeruginosa onto the eye? Our research suggests that potentially, the wearing of contact lenses may interfere with the good bacteria on the eye, and therefore make the eye more sensitive to infection.

Itch relief oddity wins Ig Nobel

Andreas Sprenger, left, accepts an Ig Nobel Prize (Michael DwyeR/AP)

If one arm itches, try looking in the mirror and scratching the other arm. What? It actually brings relief, according to researchers at the University of Luebeck in Germany. Their research — which may help people with severe skin conditions — was among the offbeat scientific achievements honored last night at the Ig Nobel Prizes at a quirky, costumed ceremony at Harvard. Other winners put pants on rats, interviewed liars, and spent months living in a badger hole.

What to read around the web today

  • Sen. Joe Manchin defends his daughter over EpiPen crisis. CNN
  • Hallucinogen therapy is coming. Nautilus
  • Science be damned, football players are drinking pickle juice to try to ward off cramps. Washington Post

More reads from STAT

Correction: In Thursday's newsletter, overeager about all the predictions buzzing around, I misstated when the Nobel Prizes will be announced: It's the week after next, not next week.

Thanks for reading! Have a great weekend,


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