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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Hey, I'm back! Many thanks to my colleague Liz Cooney for filling in while I was away. Now, to today's news. 

Lawmakers set to press for answers on vaping crisis

A House subcommittee is holding a hearing today about the connection between a recent spate of lung illnesses and e-cigarettes. It's the second such event just this week and signals growing pressure from government authorities when it comes to regulating vaping devices. Already, some 530 people have become sick and nine have died. CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat told lawmakers at a hearing yesterday that “hundreds more” such cases had been reported since last week. Something to note for today’s hearing: FDA acting Commissioner Ned Sharpless will testify, as will officials from states that reported vaping-related illnesses. 

The U.S. is not alone in scrutinizing e-cigarettes: China is expected to impose new regulations and India has already banned the sale of the products. 

Rockland County, N.Y., to declare measles outbreak over 

Rockland County, N.Y., will announce today that its nearly yearlong measles outbreak is over. The county has gone through two incubation periods — 42 days — without a new case. The county recorded 312 cases since last October, and notably placed an emergency ban on unvaccinated children in public spaces to help contain the outbreak. Today’s news signals a dwindling of the country’s measles outbreaks: Earlier this month, New York City declared its protracted measles outbreak over, and before today, Rockland County was one of a few remaining places with an ongoing outbreak. The news comes just in time. According to the CDC, any new case in the state after Oct. 2 would mean the U.S. would join Venezuela and Brazil as countries in the Americas where the measles virus is considered endemic.

Babies born in the Delta region have the worst outcomes among U.S. infants

A new CDC report looking at infant and maternal characteristic across Appalachia and the Delta regions of the U.S. found that babies born in these two areas were more likely to be born preterm and to younger mothers compared to the rest of the country. Here’s more: 

  • Mortality rates: Infants in the eight Delta region states — including Missouri and Louisiana — had a higher mortality rate than infants in the 13 states in Appalachia or elsewhere in the U.S. 

  • Other infant trends: Infants in the Delta region were more likely to be born prematurely or with low birth weight than infants elsewhere. 

  • Maternal characteristics: Women in the Delta and Appalachian regions gave birth to about 10% of all infants in 2017, with infants born to Appalachian women accounting for more than half of these births.

Inside STAT: California man pleads with scientists to 'CRISPR me'


Malakkar Vohryzek walks to his post office box after applying SPF 60 sunblock. (DANIA MAXWELL FOR STAT)

For 43-year-old Malakkar Vohryzek, whose daily life involves multiple risks, experimenting with CRISPR may not seem daring. The California man has struggled with an unnamed condition all his life, one that makes him especially sensitive to sunlight and has meant regular physician visits to get moles removed, high-SPF sunscreens, and night shifts at jobs to protect his alabaster skin from the sun. The federal “right to try” law that allows patients to request unapproved therapies has inspired people like Vohryzek to seek out experimental treatments. He has begun appealing to scientists all over the world — including in faraway Japan — to use CRISPR to give him genetic protection against the sun's rays. “I just want to live,” Vohryzek tells STAT’s Sharon Begley, who has the full story here.

Wellcome Photography Prize puts spotlight on mental health

The Wellcome Trust just launched the next round of its Photography Prize, and this year’s theme is mental health. Now in its second year, the award — which recognizes images that depict common health challenges — is open to people from all over the world and all skill levels and backgrounds. Of the five submission categories, two will be dedicated to the 2020 theme — one of these categories will recognize a single image that dispels commonly held myths about mental illness, while the other category will award a photo series that tells a mental health-related story. The overall winner among the five categories will receive a £15,000 ($18,700) prize at a ceremony next summer, while the winners of each category will be awarded £1,250 ($1,500). 

AI may be as good as humans when it comes to medical diagnoses

Artificial intelligence is increasingly being used in the clinic, and a new study finds that the technology may be as effective as humans when it comes to diagnoses. Researchers reviewed 14 studies that compared AI-based diagnoses to those made by health professionals and found that when it came to correctly diagnosing people who were sick, AI algorithms and people were correct roughly 86% of the time. Algorithms and health professionals were also evenly matched when it came to correctly identifying those who didn’t have a specific condition. Still, the authors of the review found only a small number of studies sufficiently comparing AI diagnostics to those conducted by people — fewer than 1% of the more than 20,500 studies that were initially reviewed — and call for more thorough research to better evaluate the emerging technology.  

What to read around the web today

  • The mysterious “sonic attacks” in Cuba might have actually been caused by Zika pesticides. BuzzFeed News
  • Paging Dr. Robot. The New Yorker
  • How anti-vaxxers target grieving moms and turn them into crusaders. NBC News
  • To pay attention, the brain uses filters, not a spotlight. Quanta
  • Amazon launches Amazon Care, a virtual medical clinic for employees. CNBC

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

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