Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Welcome to Wednesday, folks — we're halfway through the week! I'm here to get you ahead of the day's news in health and medicine. 

The new public health measures on Congress's plate

A House committee is convening this morning to talk about a handful of new, bipartisan public health measures. Here’s what the four bills aim to do:

  • Establish a national database to track the prevalence of cancer among firefighters. A longitudinal study from the CDC found that firefighters face a higher risk of cancer.
  • Train health care providers how to recognize signs of human trafficking and treat victims.
  • Fund oral health promotion and disease prevention programs at the CDC, and give the CDC permission to dole out grants on the local level to reduce barriers to dental care. 
  • Protect health care providers from liability if something goes wrong while they’re volunteering their services in response to a disaster. Volunteers working for a nonprofit or a government organization are protected for acts of negligence, but doctors and nurses working on their own aren’t. 

You can tune in to their conversation live starting at 10:15 ET here.

Troops discharged for misconduct often have mental health issues

More than 60 percent of troops dismissed from the military for misconduct between 2011 and 2015 had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other mental health concerns while serving, according to a new government report. The Government Accountability Office examined data from the more than 91,000 service members who were dismissed from service. Anything other than an honorable discharge can make veterans ineligible for health care through the VA.

The decision to discharge troops didn't necessarily take mental health diagnoses into account — the report found that Navy policy didn't line up with Department of Defense guidelines to screen troops for PTSD or brain injury before discharging them for misconduct. The office also found the Army and the Marines aren't always sticking to their own screening policies. The defense department disputes the report's findings, arguing it overestimates the number of discharged troops affected by a lack of screenings. 

An infectious flash mob and a surprising bacterial strain

a close-up look illustration of a k. pneumoniae bacteria sample. (CDC)

Scientists in Houston have discovered that a rare strain of a common bacteria is showing up in a surprisingly high proportion of patients with infections. Researchers sequenced the genomes of more than 1,700 strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae in Houston Methodist health system patients over a four-year period. They found an uncommon strain showed up in samples from one-third of patients. Fortunately, that strain isn’t resistant to antibiotics, but others are. It's still not clear why, exactly, that single strain seemed to be so abundant. 

Meanwhile, a group of activists looking to call attention to the growing threat of superbugs are staging a bacterial flash mob at a pharma convention this morning. Dancers dressed as bacteria will swarm attendees at the conference in Philadelphia. The goal: Get company execs to pay attention to how pollution from pharma manufacturing can exacerbate the spread of superbugs. 

Inside STAT: Bill Cassidy's health care track record

A bipartisan group of senators seems to be making progress in talks over health care reform. At the center of that group: Bill Cassidy. Louisiana’s senior senator and a former liver doctor. The first-term Republican has spent much of his life working in health care. And with the GOP running Washington and intent on replacing Obamacare, he could play a key part in health care reform. But Republican leaders have excluded him from the Senate working group officially tasked with re-writing the health care bill. STAT's Lev Facher has more.

Steroid shots don't relieve knee arthritis

Steroid injections don’t make a big dent in knee pain for patients with osteoarthritis and actually might cause greater cartilage loss, researchers report in a new study in JAMA. More than 30 million people in the US have osteoarthritis, which happens when the bones and cartilage in a joint such as the knee start to break down. Doctors have tried injecting corticosteroids into the joint to reduce symptoms. In a new trial of the treatment, researchers gave 140 patients with knee osteoarthritis either a steroid shot or a placebo injection every three months for two years. There wasn’t any significant difference in pain between the two groups, and the patients who received steroid shots lost more cartilage over time. The authors say their findings don’t support using the injections in the clinic.

I keep track of negative trial results in this newsletter — if you see one, send it my way at 

These senators want to make your shampoo safer

Two senators are trying to bolster the FDA’s authority to regulate the chemicals found in personal care products such as shampoo and soap. The ingredients in those products aren’t independently evaluated for safety before they hit the market, and the laws governing the products haven’t been updated since 1938. California Senator Dianne Feinstein and Maine Senator Susan Collins are looking to give those policies a makeover. They’ve introduced the Personal Care Products Safety Act, which would require the FDA to evaluate at least five ingredients each year to determine whether they’re safe to use. The agency would also determine whether consumer warnings are needed for a particular ingredient, like if it isn’t safe to use in products for kids. Feinstein and Collins say the bill would make consumers safer and give manufacturers more regulatory certainty.

Significant strides in improving death records

Death records — long a problem in keeping tabs on disease data — are finally getting more thorough. Half of all deaths now have a cause recorded, the World Health Organization reports this morning. That’s a significant improvement since 2005, when just one-third of deaths were recorded with a cause. Iran, in particular, has made massive progress. Just 5 percent of deaths were recorded with information about the cause in 1999; now, 90 percent are. The WHO says collecting information on cause of death is critical to tracking public health, finding interventions that could improve outcomes, and measuring whether those policies are actually helping.

What to read around the web today

  • A whistleblower tells of health insurers bilking Medicare. New York Times
  • Why are Americans drinking less cow's milk? Its appeal has curdled. NPR
  • FDA warns of foot and leg amputations with Johnson & Johnson diabetes drug. Reuters

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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