Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, folks! Welcome back from the long weekend, and welcome to Morning Rounds. Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. 

Yemen's cholera outbreak is growing worse

The massive cholera outbreak in Yemen is continuing to spread. Nearly 1,600 people have died from the bacterial disease, with another 262,000 new cases reported in the past two months, a WHO official tells me. All but one of Yemen’s 22 provinces have been affected. The ongoing war has shuttered health facilities and some ports, making it difficult to get medical care and supplies to treat patients. Late last week, though, global health groups delivered hospital equipment, cholera kits, and 128,000 bags of IV fluids into the country. Yemeni health officials expect 10 ambulances to be delivered in the coming weeks, too. 

On another front, the WHO is weighing whether it's possible to mount an emergency polio vaccination effort in the Syrian city of Raqqa. Health officials have discovered a second Syrian child in the city paralyzed by polio, which suggests the outbreak might be spreading in the self-proclaimed capital of the Islamic State. More here

How flower pruning could prevent malaria

Researchers in Mali have come up with an interesting new idea to cut down on malaria transmission: Prune the flowers off shrubs. Mosquitoes get much of their energy by chowing down on flower nectar. So scientists decided to cut off the flowers of an invasive species of shrub in three villages. Then they set up mosquito traps in those villages, along with three others that still had flowers on the plants and another three villages that didn’t have the shrubs at all. The number of mosquitoes fell by nearly 60 percent after the flowers were pruned, and the number of older female mosquitoes — which are more likely to spread malaria — dropped to the same level as in villages without the shrub. The researchers say their finding might be a lesson in the public health impacts of invasive plant species.

How well do you know the human body's quirks?


(hyacinth empinado / stat)

The human body is full of oddities. (I have a whole video series about it!) How well do you know the peculiarities of your own body? Take our new quiz to test your knowledge.

Flint health officials get $15 million to address lead crisis

Local health officials grappling with the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich. just got a big financial boost. HHS has awarded $15 million in new funding for the Genesee County Healthy Start Program, which provides health and social services for area residents who experienced or are at risk of lead exposure from the local water supply. Lead exposure can lead to miscarriage and developmental delays in children. And because lead can stick around in the bones for years after exposure, the health harms in Flint may continue even after the water is cleaned up. The new funding will help health officials identify affected residents and coordinate medical screenings and care.

Inside STAT: Is a bipartisan health care bill possible?

Federal lawmakers are returning from their July 4 recess to an ongoing battle over the health care bill. But lately, it seems there’s been a faint scent of bipartisanship in the air in Washington. Legislators have started hinting at long-ignored policy ideas that, under the right circumstances, could be the basis of a bill that gains support in both the Senate and the House. There’s no guarantee a bipartisan health care bill could succeed, and it’s entirely possible there might not be a need for one, if the GOP plan passes. But Democrats at least claim they are willing to compromise. STAT’s Erin Mershon and Lev Facher have the story here.  

Zaps of electricity don't improve back pain

Zapping a nerve with electric currents doesn’t do much of anything to treat lower back pain, according to new research published in JAMA.  Patients with low back pain sometimes get a treatment called radiofrequency denervation that targets the nerve responsible for their pain, but the evidence to back it up is thin. So researchers ran three randomized clinical trials to test the idea on different joints and disks in the back; 681 patients who hadn’t responded to standard care participated. A year out, there wasn’t any clinically significant improvement in low back pain between the two groups.

I keep tabs on negative trial results, which often fly under the radar, in this newsletter. If you see one, send it my way at

The potential tie between SIDS and serotonin levels

A new study finds that some infants who died of sudden infant death syndrome also had high levels of serotonin in their blood. SIDS is a blanket diagnosis that’s given when an infant’s death doesn’t have an explanation. In the latest research, researchers found that 19 of the 61 infants in the study had elevated levels of serotonin, a chemical that carries signals from one nerve to the next. The same group of researchers has previously observed other irregularities in serotonin levels in some SIDS cases. Their conclusion: It’s possible that abnormalities in serotonin could be a sign of SIDS risk, and testing serotonin levels might be a way to identify SIDS deaths. But, they add, much more research is needed to back up those ideas.

What to read around the web today

  • The fine art of mental illness: What paintings can tell us about someone's psyche. Washington Post
  • Without medical support, DIY detox often fails. WHYY
  • The Senate GOP’s health care stalemate, in one chart. Vox

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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