Monday, February 5, 2018

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone. Here's what you need to know to get ahead of the day's health news.

This year's flu season isn't letting up

This year’s flu season is growing worse. Nationwide, 42 states say they’re seeing high levels of flu activity, according to the latest numbers from the CDC, which cover the week ending Jan. 27. That week, one out of every 14 visits to health care providers was for symptoms of the flu. Health officials say there have been nearly 14,700 hospitalizations tied to confirmed cases of the flu, and 53 children have died of flu-related causes this season.

The intensity of this year’s flu season has sparked calls for a better flu vaccine. Early research from Canada suggests the H3N2 component of this season’s vaccine is 17 percent effective at preventing infection. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) is calling on the country to shell out $1 billion to create a universal flu vaccine.

But is a universal vaccine actually within reach? STAT's Helen Branswell is hosting a live chat Wednesday to talk about the idea, along with why this year's flu season has been so difficult and how current flu vaccines fall short. Sign up for free here.

Two Senators on health committee tied to tobacco investments

Two high-ranking lawmakers on the Senate health committee disclosed that they or their families have traded in stock in tobacco companies while on the committee, STAT’s Ike Swetlitz reports. Financial disclosure forms show that while the senators were serving on the committee, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) bought stock in Philip Morris International, while the husband of Patty Murray (D-WA) bought shares in Reynolds American, which he sold in May. The revelations come hot on the heels of Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald’s resignation as CDC director. Fitzgerald stepped down on Wednesday, the day after Politico reported she had bought and sold stock in Japan Tobacco.

Get the details here.

Millions of unapproved antibiotics sold in India each year

A new study finds that as the antibiotic resistance crisis grows, millions of unapproved antibiotics are still being sold in India each year. Researchers dug into the country’s regulatory records and drug sales data and turned up some troubling findings. There were 118 different kinds of fixed-dose combination antibiotics — which include two or more active drugs in a single dose — for sale in India between 2007 and 2012, compared to just 5 in the U.S. and the U.K. Of those, 75 percent hadn’t been approved by India’s regulatory agency, and some were manufactured by multinational companies. The authors of the new report are calling on those companies to explain why they were selling unapproved drugs in India and also say say governments need to step up their work to prevent such sales. 


Breaking the statin switch cycle

Did you know that at least 50 percent of people stop taking their prescribed statin within one year of starting it, despite the proven impact of statins on lowering cholesterol? With several different statins on the market and more than 100 million U.S. adults living with high cholesterol, prescribing the right statin for each patient can be challenging.

When patients complain about their statin, shouldn’t one switch be enough?

Inside STAT: Could virtual reality help 'super-aging' nations?


tama has far more vr skills than i ever will (Shiho fukada)

The world is rapidly aging — by 2050, the global population of those age 65 and older is projected to nearly double to 1.6 billion. That global graying has produced a new phrase: “super aging,” or when more than 20 percent of people in a country are age 65 or older. The U.S. hasn’t hit that point yet, but Japan — where 27 percent of citizens are 65 or older — is already there. That demographic shift is spurring new, high-tech innovation in elder care, like the virtual reality technology that’s let 95-year-old Tama see the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and the cherry blossoms in her home country. STAT contributor Shiho Fukada has more in the first part of a special video report — watch here.

The health gap among teens who identify as transgender or non-conforming

Kids who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming report poorer health status than their cisgender peers, according to a new study published this morning in Pediatrics. The researchers looked at data from more than 8,000 high school students in Minnesota. Of those students, 62 percent who identified as transgender or gender non-conforming reported their overall health as poor or fair, compared to only 33 percent of cisgender youth, whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth. The study’s authors say health care providers should be screening young people who are transgender or gender non-conforming for health risks and to identify barriers that prevent them from getting health care.

What to read around the web today

  • In the U.S. Virgin Islands, health care remains in a critical state. NPR
  • Flu patients arrive in droves, and one hospital rolls out the 'surge tent.' New York Times
  • Health sharing ministries are growing fast. Politico

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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