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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Ousted BARDA chief who claims his Covid-19 warnings were ignored to testify before House

Vaccine expert Rick Bright, who was ousted from the federal agency BARDA late last month, will be questioned by a House committee this morning. It will be his first time publicly speaking out after filing a whistleblower complaint accusing the Trump administration of ignoring his warnings about the looming Covid-19 pandemic and doling out lucrative contracts to companies with personal ties to top Trump officials. The biggest fireworks of today’s hearing may come from Republican lawmakers, who have publicly questioned Democrats’ decision to invite Bright to testify and will likely grill Bright on the details of his story. The Office of Special Counsel, which is investigating Bright’s complaint, has already recommended he be reinstated to his position pending the full investigation. He has since been transferred to a lower position within the NIH.

Here's what else is the new with the pandemic: 

  • Cats can pass the coronavirus to each other, according to new research. It's still unclear whether felines can pass the virus to humans, but researchers are nonetheless suggesting that pet owners keep cats away from those sick with Covid-19. 
  • 23andMe announced that it was expanding a large study it launched last month to investigate the role of genetics in Covid-19 infections. The company will partner with hospitals around the country to recruit up to 10,000 new people. 
  • In a new column, STAT's Ed Silverman writes that the NIH should immediately release the full data from its big remdesivir trial and supplement the preliminary analysis that has been available. "[U]ntil the data are released, doctors are left with a mix of facts and assumptions" with which to make decisions for their patients, he writes.
  • In a new video debuting at STAT, students at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism chronicle some of the testing problems that have plagued the U.S., including the delays and flaws in the CDC's test and moving goalposts for who ought to get tested.

More than 25% of popular YouTube videos on Covid-19 are misleading

A small analysis of popular Covid-19 videos on YouTube finds that more than a quarter contain information that's inaccurate or otherwise misleading. Scientists examined 69 of the most viewed YouTube videos on Covid-19 that were in English, were shorter than an hour's length, and contained audio and visual content. The videos had a combined nearly 260 million views, and scientists found that around 28% of them contained inaccurate information, including conspiracy theories about the pandemic, the (false) belief that pharmaceutical companies already had a cure for the infection and were refusing to sell it, and racist or other discriminatory remarks about the crisis. "As the current Covid-19 pandemic worsens, public health agencies must better use YouTube to deliver quality content and minimize the spread of misinformation," the authors write. 

The average cost of childbirth is almost $14,000

A new report from the Health Care Cost Institute finds that the national average for the cost of childbirth among those with employer-sponsored insurance in 2016 and 2017 was a little under $14,000. This cost — which included out-of-pocket payments to the birth facility and provider — ranged widely across the country, from around $8,000 in Arkansas to nearly $20,000 in New York and Oregon. When considering only out-of-pocket spending, however, analysts found that the costs per birth ranged from around $1,000 in Washington, D.C., to more than $2,400 in South Carolina. Overall, two-thirds of births were vaginal births, while the rest were C-sections. California and several states in the Northeast had higher spending for both vaginal and C-section births compared to the rest of the U.S., and also tended to have larger cost differences between the two procedures (with C-sections being more expensive). 

Inside STAT: Ethics questions swirl around historic Parkinson's experiment

George Lopez, the Parkinson's patient who gave $2 million to underwrite research that led up to his first-of-its-kind surgery. (SCREEN GRAB VIA YOUTUBE)

This week's reveal of a secretive experiment that transplanted brain cells into a Parkinson's patient was not only a medical first, but the project was also littered with ethical landmines that scientists had to navigate. Bioethicists are taking issue with the fact that much of the preclinical work for the therapy was funded by a rich patient who ended up being the first recipient of the intervention. “When individuals paying to fund research leading to a therapy are also the first to receive it, there are concerns,” Brian Fiske, vice president for research at the Michael J. Fox Foundation, tells STAT's Sharon Begley. Some ethics experts are also uneasy about bending science to the will of a wealthy individual and with the yearslong lag between when the surgeries were performed and when they were publicly announced. Read more here

‘Good’ bacteria could help fight a common vaginal infection, new data show

The findings of a new study suggest that microbiome-based interventions may be used to fight a common condition that affects women known as bacterial vaginosis. Infections often recur with the current interventions of antibiotics or probiotics. In the 228-person trial, women who used the experimental therapy — a powder that is applied directly into the vagina and is made up of the Lactobacillus crispatus bacterium — only saw their vaginosis return 30% of the time, compared to 45% of the time in the control group. Still, Osel, the company behind the therapy, will have to conduct larger trials to see if this finding holds up. “There’s so much that goes into the microbiome, it seems implausible that a single agent is going to work the same for every single person,” OB-GYN Caroline Mitchell tells STAT's Kate Sheridan. STAT Plus subscribers can read more here

Chronically ill patients often exceed recommended alcohol limits

Although patients with chronic conditions consume less alcohol compared to those without these illnesses, a new study finds that many still exceed recommended drinking limits. Looking at data from more than 2.7 million patients, researchers found that those with diabetes, high blood pressure, or COPD were more likely to exceed daily limits (defined as more than four drinks per day for men and three for women). Those with atrial fibrillation or cancer were more likely to exceed weekly drinking limits (14 drinks for men and seven drinks for women). Those with high blood pressure, COPD, and chronic liver disease were more likely to exceed both daily and weekly limits. The study only represents associations, but the authors suggest that the findings could be used to tailor public health messages about alcohol consumption. 

What to read around the web today

  • Gawande says leaving Haven CEO job will allow him to focus on Covid-19. STAT
  • Reversing history, Indian Health Service seeks traditional healers. Kaiser Health News
  • Emails offer look into whistleblower charges of cronyism behind potential COVID-19 drug. Science
  • How Virginia juked its Covid-19 statistics. The Atlantic
  • Wisconsin Supreme Court strikes down governor’s extension of stay-at-home order. The Washington Post

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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Thursday, May 14, 2020


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