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Monday, July 24, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to the start of the week, and welcome to Morning Rounds. 

Hospital troubles in Gaza grow increasingly dire

Electricity shortages in Gaza are throwing the region’s already under-resourced medical facilities into dire straits. The residents of Gaza are caught in the middle of a political battle between the three governments that run the region, and for months residents have suffered from regular power outages. Hospitals don’t have consistent access to clean water and air and are relying on back-up generators most of the day. 

That's particularly devastating for newborn children who need to be kept in incubators, says Dr. Ala’am abu-Khadera, who runs the neonatal unit at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City. If the incubators lose power, the prematurely-born infants can quickly develop hypothermia, potentially leading to long-term disabilities. The hospital receives six hours of electricity per day from the government, and makes up the difference with an on-site generator — which doesn’t always work and requires copious amounts of fuel to operate. Even when the incubators are working, there aren't nearly enough — sometimes two infants share the same incubator, Khadera says.

U.K.'s health service hits the brakes on homeopathy

The U.K.’s National Health Service has taken a big swing at homeopathy, announcing it no longer plans to pay for homeopathic remedies or herbal medicines. As their main motivation NHS officials cite a lack of evidence that the treatments offer anything other than a placebo effect. The health service shelled out more than $750,000 for homeopathic treatments such as herbal supplements and ointments over the past five years. Simon Stevens, the chief executive of the NHS in England, called the treatments “a misuse of scarce NHS funds” in a statement announcing the decision. 

Nation with highest HIV rate cuts new infections in half

Swaziland — which has the highest prevalence of HIV in the world — nearly halved the rate of new infections between 2011 and 2016, according to data just released by Swazi health officials and the CDC at a scientific meeting. New health surveys also show that the rate of viral load suppression, an indication of effective HIV treatment, doubled during that same time frame. The new numbers mark a significant success for Swazi public health officials and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a U.S. initiative launched in 2003. 

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Food allergies are frequently overdiagnosed

Food allergies among kids are frequently misunderstood by the medical profession, and that’s led to both inaccurate and missed diagnoses that put patients at risk, experts warn in a paper published in Pediatrics this morning. Here’s a rundown:

  • Health care providers and the public often misinterpret symptoms of food allergies. In many cases, what’s diagnosed as an allergy could actually be anything from a food intolerance to a viral illness. That could drive overdiagnosis, as doctors and parents without definitive results err on the side of caution.

  • There isn’t a simple, accurate way to diagnose food allergies. Doctors can use skin or blood tests to diagnose food allergies, but those tests aren't always accurate. 

  • We need to make food allergy research more of a priority. Right now, food allergies are a bit of a black box, the authors say. They’d like to see more data on food allergy prevalence and the development of evidence-based diagnostic, prevention, and treatment tactics.

Inside STAT: Supporting patients who survive the ICU

In a hospital’s intensive care unit, survival can seem like the only goal. The aftermath, though, can be just as harrowing for many patients. “There’s this broad world that exists between surviving and recovering,” says Dr. Daniela Lamas, a critical care doctor in Boston. Some patients return home unable to work or care for themselves, while others are traumatized by their experience on life support. Their families, too, often need help. A new international initiative has started support groups to help patients and their families after they’ve left the ICU — if they can be persuaded to come in and talk about their challenges. I have the story here

Your body could one day power a smart material

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a little movement could one day go a long way. (michael todd / vanderbilt university)

All those push-ups you squeezed in before reading your favorite morning newsletter could, one day, power a device. Engineers layered nanosheets of black phosphorous to create a new material that can harvest energy from its wearer. Every time the material is bent, it converts that mechanical strain into a small amount of electricity. Right now, it’s an early-stage concept — the material can generate electricity, but can’t store it for later use — that could potentially be used in fabric. "It could be used for rehabilitation purposes for patients who have had an injury and need constant feedback about their body movements to help them heal," Cary Pint, a mechanical engineer at Vanderbilt who created the fabric, tells me. 

U.S. hospitals are vulnerable to cyber warfare

National security experts are warning in a new report that the electric grid in the U.S. remains vulnerable to natural disasters, physical attacks, and cyber warfare  — and health care could easily end up in the crosshairs. The warning comes amid ongoing concern about potential cyberattacks on hospitals after a massive attack affected U.K. health care providers in May. Among the report's recommendations: Invest in ways to restore power to hospitals immediately after the electric grid takes a hit.

What to read around the web today

  • Female athletes are closing the gender gap when it comes to concussions. NPR
  • New CDC chief saw Coca-Cola as an ally in the fight against obesity. New York Times
  • Music therapy program for children established in Chris Cornell's name. Los Angeles Times

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks, as always, for reading! Back tomorrow, 

Megan

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