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Chinese health officials confirm human-to-human spread of new virus

Chinese health officials just confirmed incidents of person-to-person transmission in the outbreak of a new pneumonia-like virus. Two people who hadn’t traveled to Wuhan, where the bulk of cases have occurred, caught the virus from family members. Fourteen medical workers have also tested positive. The WHO says it will now hold a meeting to discuss whether the outbreak constitutes an international health emergency. The case count spiked over the weekend: More than 200 people have been infected, up from around 40 late last week, and six people have died, according to local media. As the disease has spread to Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, the CDC said Friday that it would screen passengers arriving from Wuhan in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Australia said it would similarly screen those coming from Wuhan. 

Major physician group calls for single-payer system

The American College of Physicians, which is the largest physician-specialty organization and made up of internists, is calling for comprehensive health care reform in the form of a single-payer system. In a series of policy statements and papers, the organization argues for universal, affordable coverage and more price transparency among its recommendations to address the high cost of health care in the U.S., as well as other inequities that translate to poor health outcomes for many patients. At the same time, in an ad published in today’s New York Times, more than 2,000 doctors with Physicians for a National Health Program iterated their support for “Medicare for All,” saying the single-payer system would “curb soaring prices” and “bring welcome relief to patients.” 

Judge allows new liver transplant rules to go into effect 

A judge lifted an eight-month hold on new liver transplant rules late last week, saying there were no legal grounds for granting a permanent injunction against the rules put forth by the federal government. Last May, the United Network for Organ Sharing system enacted rules to expand where patients could get donor organs: Instead of being limited to organs from within their own region, the most seriously ill patients within a 575-mile radius of a donor hospital will be the first offered a liver, a change that may make wait times shorter for many on the liver transplant list. The rules were blocked a day later as some hospitals and patients in the Midwest and South contested the rules, arguing they would disadvantage rural patients. The regulations will go into effect in the coming weeks. 

Inside STAT: Will the FDA give the go-ahead to a prescription video game?

An image taken from an early version of the video game being developed by Akili Interactive Labs. (AKILI)

It’s been a year and a half since Akili Interactive Labs asked the FDA to approve the health tech startup’s video game, one that physicians could prescribe to kids with ADHD. That green light has yet to come through, spurring questions about the delay. It’s unclear, for instance, whether the agency has asked Akili to make changes or run a new study — although the company’s CEO, Eddie Martucci, tells STAT that he believes Akili has studied its game rigorously, and that the data speak for themselves. Still, the delay could be a sign of the complexity of the FDA’s task at hand: There is no precedent for evaluating a medical product that’s played on a tablet and whose delivery system is much more ambitious and targeted than other digital products that have come before it. STAT’s Rebecca Robbins has more here

People with inadequate food access are up to 37% more likely to die prematurely

Inadequate access to food carries with it a risk of premature death, according to a new study. Researchers looked at data from more than a half a million Canadian adults and found that more than 25,000 of them died prematurely — meaning they died before the age of 83, the average age at death for that population. The death rate was up to 37% higher among adults who reported they had marginal to severe levels of food insecurity than those who didn’t have trouble accessing food. Those with severe food insecurity also died, on average, nine years earlier, and were more than twice as likely to die by suicide. These findings only represent an association, but warrant a closer look at food insecurity as a determinant of health, the researchers suggest. 

The U.K. should allow posthumous sperm donation to strangers, ethicists argue

Ethicists in a new paper argue that the U.K. ought to let men volunteer to posthumously donate their sperm to strangers. Some cases in recent years have sought posthumous sperm retrieval from loved ones, but the ethicists argue more broadly for sperm to be considered another human tissue that can be donated after death. The U.K. is facing a shortage of sperm donors, the authors argue, and the process could help meet a critical need in the same way as organ donation. Society often sees organ donation as altruistic, the ethicists write, adding that sperm donation could be viewed similarly, including by donors’ families. Still, there are outstanding questions, the authors say, including about who would pay for sperm retrieval and whether donors’ families could veto their loved one's decision. 

What to read around the web today

  • Federal regulators: Newark Beth Israel put patients in “immediate jeopardy.” ProPublica
  • A Q&A with Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann. STAT Plus
  • The unexpected diversity of pain. Knowable Magazine
  • Diagnosed with dementia, she documented her wishes. They said no. Kaiser Health News
  • Pfizer’s big data exec on pharma’s ‘arms race’ to partner with companies like Fitbit, 23AndMe, and others. STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Tuesday, January 21, 2020


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