Monday, January 22, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Monday, everyone! Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's news in science and medicine. 

The government is shut down today. What does that mean for health care?

It's the third day of the government shutdown, and Congress is still battling over how to get the government back up and running. Lawmakers worked through the weekend but weren't able to come to a compromise. The Senate is slated to vote at noon today on a stopgap spending bill. In the meantime, federal employees whose work isn't deemed “essential” aren't allowed to work. Roughly half of employees at HHS will be furloughed until there's a firm funding deal. 

The shutdown coincides with one of the worst flu outbreaks in recent memory. Late last week, a senior administrational official told reporters that the “CDC will specifically be continuing their ongoing influenza surveillance." The FDA says it'll continue "mission critical" work including monitoring for the flu and foodborne illness outbreaks, dealing with high-risk recalls, and addressing the ongoing IV saline shortage. 

Here's why so many health leaders are in Switzerland this week

Switzerland is a hopping place for health care this week. The World Health Organization’s executive board is convening in Geneva this week to talk about the agency’s approach to some of the biggest global health issues. On the agenda: the worldwide shortage of vaccines and medicines, polio eradication, and the public health response to climate change and air pollution. The board is also tasked with coming up with the to-do list for the World Health Assembly in May.

Meanwhile, top biopharma leaders are headed to Davos for four days of meetings with politicians, CEOs, and some of the world’s wealthiest people at the World Economic Forum. NIH Director Francis Collins and FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb will be there, along with execs from companies like Pfizer and Novartis. More here.

The opioid crisis is still a national emergency, HHS says

Acting HHS secretary Eric Hargan has extended the emergency declaration on the opioid crisis, which was set to expire tomorrow. The emergency declaration gave federal health agencies more tools to tackle the crisis — like hiring more treatment providers and shifting resources toward substance abuse prevention — but it didn’t provide any significant funding. When the declaration was first made back in October, senior administration officials said they expected the opioid crisis to figure heavily into negotiations for a government spending bill — which, as you might’ve heard, took longer than expected. 

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Inside STAT: Predicting when clinical trials won't work

If researchers were better at forecasting the results of clinical trials, they might be able to avoid testing ideas that ultimately don't work — and in turn, might have more time and resources to run research where the results can't be so easily predicted. But scientists don't always have that skill. McGill bioethicist Jonathan Kimmelman and his colleagues asked cancer experts to take an educated guess about the likelihood that certain clinical trials would hit their primary endpoints. Their finding? The predictions weren't very accurate, and if anything, they were pessimistic. STAT's Andrew Joseph chatted with Kimmelman about the importance of clinical trial forecasting — read their conversation here

Watch out for raw sprouts

Health officials are investigating a salmonella outbreak tied to raw sprouts served on sandwiches at Jimmy John’s in Illinois and Wisconsin. The FDA and the CDC are trying to nail down the source of the outbreak, which has sickened eight people. For a healthy food, sprouts make a lot of people sick. There have been a series of raw sprout-related outbreaks in recent years, including more than half a dozen that point back to Jimmy John’s. The CDC says no one has been hospitalized in the current outbreak, but warns that salmonella can cause digestive problems and can be particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems. 

Unstable housing impacts children's health

Housing instability can have an impact on the health of kids and their caregivers, according to new research published in Pediatrics. Researchers followed more than 22,000 low-income families who rented their home over five years. One-third of those families reported some kind of housing instability, such as falling behind on rent or losing their home. There were higher rates of poor health for both kids and their caregivers and higher rates of food insecurity among kids in families that had experienced housing instability. The authors of the new analysis say it might help to include questions about housing stability in health screenings to identify families in need of help.

What to read around the web today

  • One son, four overdoses, six hours. New York Times
  • The FDA's stance on tobacco is facing a test. Reuters
  • CDC to scale back work in dozens of foreign countries amid funding worries. Wall Street Journal

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