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Morning Rounds Shraddha Chakradhar

Good morning from D.C., where we just celebrated four years of STAT in our nation's capital! Just a reminder to STAT Plus subscribers to register for and tune in to today's live chat with Sharon Begley and Matthew Harper on the landscape of Alzheimer's treatments. 

Overdose deaths fall for the first time in three decades

New preliminary statistics from the CDC show that deaths from drug overdoses likely fell last year for the first time in three decades. Some 68,000 people died in 2018, and although that number may go up, officials don’t expect it to exceed 2017’s total of more than 70,000. Still, the overdose rate is about seven times higher than it was a generation ago. “While the declining trend of overdose deaths is an encouraging sign, by no means have we declared victory against the epidemic or addiction in general,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement. The current drop is due to fewer deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers, but deaths from fentanyl and cocaine are still increasing.  

WHO declares Ebola outbreak an international health emergency

Almost a year after Ebola broke out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the WHO yesterday declared it a public health emergency of international concern. The declaration is likely to bring more global attention — and funding — to the ongoing crisis, the second largest outbreak of the disease in history. Some 2,500 people have become sick with the disease and nearly 1,700 people have died. The declaration came after an emergency committee met for the fourth time to consider the seriousness of the outbreak. In recent weeks, isolated cases have cropped up in a large city south of the outbreak zone as well as in neighboring Uganda. And although response efforts, including a vaccination campaign, are underway, attacks on treatment centers and its workers have impeded work to contain the outbreak. 

Living with diabetes for at least a decade increases chance of eye disorders, vision loss

About a third of adults over the age of 45 with diabetes have cataracts, according to new CDC data. Eye disorders, and vision loss from these disorders, is more common in adults with diabetes, and scientists found that these disorders were more common in those who had been living with diabetes for a decade or more. For instance, three times as many people who had diabetes for 10 years or longer had diabetic retinopathy compared to those who were more recently diagnosed. The percentage of people who lost their vision due to diabetes-induced glaucoma — albeit only around 3% — was also nearly twice as high in those who had the disease for a decade or longer. Researchers also observed a similar trend when it came to other disorders, including macular degeneration. 

Inside STAT: Do Elon Musk’s brain implants have potential? Experts say they might


(Dom Smith/STAT)

At a big event on Tuesday night, Elon Musk’s company Neuralink revealed a new brain-computer interface. A sewing machine of sorts, the device will use an insertion needle to implant thousands of electrodes into the brains of rats, monkeys, and eventually people, so that robot limbs can be maneuvered using thoughts alone. But there are other such devices that have been in development — and for decades longer. And because this new piece of technology hasn’t been peer-reviewed, STAT’s Rebecca Robbins and Sharon Begley asked five experts to weigh in with their thoughts. “A lot of this still seems to be conceptual,” says Andrew Schwartz, a brain-computer interface pioneer at the University of Pittsburgh. “It’s hard to tell what’s aspirational and what they’ve actually done.” Read more from the other experts here

Despite monitoring and risks, many still become pregnant while on acne drug

The acne drug isotretinoin — formerly sold as Accutane — is known to cause miscarriages and birth defects. But a new study finds that many women on the drug still become pregnant. Looking through the FDA’s adverse event reporting system, researchers found that between 1997 and 2017, more than 6,700 women became pregnant while taking isotretinoin, and some 11% of these pregnancies ended in miscarriages. The year with the highest number of pregnancies — 768 — was 2006. That same year, the FDA mandated a program known an iPledge to make women aware of the drug’s risks and require them to take contraceptives or vow abstinence. The rate of women on isotretinoin getting pregnant then dropped by more than half by 2010, although other factors — including the use of IUDs and other long-term contraceptives — could have contributed to the dip in pregnancies. 

1 in 20 patients exposed to preventable harm in health care

Roughly 1 in 20 patients experience health care harm that's preventable — and some of those experiences can lead to death or long-term disability, according to a new analysis published in the BMJ. Researchers looked at data from 70 observational studies that included more than 337,000 patients, most of whom were adults and lived in developed countries. Nearly a quarter of the cases of preventable medical harm were related to medication or other treatments. The study also showed preventable harm is more common in ICUs and surgical units. In a related editorial, health experts say the research "serves as a reminder of the extent to which medical harm is prevalent across health systems, and, importantly, draws attention to how much is potentially preventable."

What to read around the web today

  • Deadly disease is treatable, but newborn screening patchwork leaves many vulnerable. Bloomberg
  • Scientists find new way to kill disease-carrying mosquitoes. The Associated Press
  • ‘Climate grief’: Fears about the planet’s future weigh on Americans’ mental health. Kaiser Health News
  • Intensive anti-HIV efforts meet with mixed success in Africa. The New York Times
  • An experimental AI system can predict when pancreatic cysts will become cancerous. STAT

Thanks for reading! See you tomorrow,

Shraddha

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

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