Thursday, August 17, 2017

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Thursday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine this morning. We're doing a quick survey of Morning Rounds readers to get your thoughts on the newsletter and what you'd like to see more of. Please take two minutes to fill it out here.

Measles continues to spread amid drought in Somalia

Somalia is facing a continued measles outbreak amid the country’s devastating drought. There were nearly 15,000 suspected cases of measles between January and July, more than 80 percent of which occurred in kids under age 10. Earlier this year, global health organizations vaccinated nearly 600,000 young kids against measles in remote areas and regions where measles transmission was high. But the disease has continued to spread. The WHO and its partners in Somalia are planning another vaccination campaign in November to rein in the outbreak, but don't yet have the funding to carry out that plan. 

A new push to address opioid abuse in rural regions


the new project will target the eight counties highlighted here. (David Siderovski / west virginia university)

The federal government is doling out new grant funding to rural communities to address the opioid epidemic and, with it, hepatitis C and HIV infections from injected drug use. Among the recipients: Dr. Judith Feinberg of West Virginia University, who's working on a new project to pinpoint possible micro-epidemics of HIV and hepatitis C in Appalachia. The state hasn't yet had an HIV outbreak, but Feinberg says high drug overdose and hepatitis rates suggest it's a possibility, and she wants communities to be prepared.

Feinberg wants to create a new protocol for quickly identifying an emerging HIV outbreak and collaborate with area hospitals and public health agencies to put that plan into action. "The idea would be to contain a cluster while it's still small," she tells me. "We want to cut this off as soon as it happens." 

Dementia care costs more than $320,000 per patient

Dementia care can take a massive financial toll — and the bulk of those costs are covered by patients' families. Researchers used Medicare records and Alzheimer’s data to create a new model that estimates the cost of dementia care over time. The answer: $321,780, stretched out over five years on average. That includes the value of informal care, like the time caregivers take off work. Families pay for the biggest chunk of those care costs: They shoulder about 70 percent of the financial burden, with Medicaid and Medicare covering the rest. 

Inside STAT: An ambitious bet on brain modems

California startup Paradromics is trying to squeeze a device the size of a cell phone into a chip that's small enough to stick in the human brain. The goal: "Read" nerve signals and replaces senses and abilities that've been lost due to injury or disease. The company's young scientists, working on a mockup of a machine-brain interface in a warehouse district, scored an $18 million contract with the Pentagon last month. It adds to the growing excitement that brain interface products will some day help the blind to see and patients with ALS to speak, which was Paradromic's initial aim. But there are huge challenges ahead. STAT's Charles Piller has more here

The pigs at your local fair could pose a flu threat


racing to stop the spread of swine flu. (apstock)

Hold on to your deep-fried Oreos, folks — health officials are warning that the friendly pigs at your local fair can pose a unique risk of passing infectious diseases to humans. Pig exhibitions, in particular, have become a primary source of cases of swine flu  — specifically, the H3N2 flu strain — among people in the U.S. Infectious disease researchers swabbed dozens of pigs at fairs in Michigan and Ohio and found that influenza A virus turned up in pigs at least one day before the virus was detected in humans, many of whom were exhibitors spending a fair amount of time around pigs. Health officials say that it’s important to keep a close watch on animal populations at fairs to detect new strains of viruses and bacteria that could threaten human health.

Helping tribal epidemiologists study health hazards

American Indians and Alaskan Natives are often underrepresented in federal health data, and now, officials are trying to fix that to better understand how the environment shapes public health in tribal populations. Data on disease among American Indians and Alaskan Natives often comes from tribal epidemiology centers, which work to fill in gaps and fix issues with racial misidentification with health data. Federal health officials want to harness those centers to study environmental exposures and chronic disease, but there currently isn't a way to feed tribal health data to the CDC's Environmental Public Health Tracking Network. The IHS is now looking to create a new tool to fix that problem to make it easier to study environmental public health in tribal communities.

What to read around the web today

  • At last, a big, successful trial of probiotics. The Atlantic
  • A startup suggests a fix to the health care morass. New York Times
  • U.S. court rules Arkansas can block Planned Parenthood funding. Reuters

More reads from STAT

The latest from STAT Plus

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