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India sets new global record of daily Covid-19 cases

India reported a record number of Covid-19 cases yesterday, setting a new global record with nearly 315,000 new cases. As cases have surged in recent weeks, experts have called into question the central government’s failure to call off political rallies and major Hindu festivals. Hospitals around the country are also swiftly running out of oxygen, a situation that’s complicated by malfunctioning equipment. In one incident Tuesday, a faulty valve caused an oxygen leak in a hospital in the western state of Maharashtra, killing 22 Covid-19 patients and leaving many others without air. In response to the oxygen shortage, India’s health ministry yesterday said it would look into importing 50,000 metric tons of oxygen from abroad. 

New study links poor air quality from wildfires to skin conditions

A new study finds that the California Camp Fire of 2018 — the deadliest wildfire in the state's history — may have also led to an increase in skin conditions such as eczema and itch. Looking at data from more than 4,100 patients — both kids and adults — researchers found that there was nearly a 50% increase in pediatric visits to UCSF dermatology clinics for eczema during the Camp Fire compared to weeks without a wildfire. Adult visits for eczema were 15% higher compared to non-fire weeks. For visits for itching, pediatric visits were up 82% during the 2018 fire, while adult visits increased by 29%. The findings suggest an adverse relationship between poor air quality and skin health, which could guide future public health interventions for wildfires. 

Global survey outlines pandemic's impact on the mental health of pregnant and lactating women

A large, new survey of pregnant and breastfeeding women from around the world finds that many of them report significant levels pandemic-induced loneliness and depression. Here's more: 

  • The survey: Nearly 7,000 pregnant and breastfeeding women across 64 countries were surveyed between May and June 2020. 
  • The findings: About 30% were found to have elevated levels of depression/anxiety, and more than half reported loneliness. Majorities also reported delivery-related worries when it came to Covid-19, including family being unable to visit and the baby becoming infected.
  • The takeaway: Public health messaging about the mental impact of pandemic-related stressors ought to explicitly target pregnant and breastfeeding women, the authors suggest. 

Inside STAT: More surveillance is coming to the operating room. Surgeons warn that’s risky


(ALEX HOGAN/STAT; ADOBE)

When things go wrong in the operating room, there are few avenues to find out what really happened. But technology, aided by artificial intelligence, may change that. Laparoscopic cameras, a mainstay in many operating rooms, are being leveraged to record surgeries as they're unfolding, for instance, and the resulting video could be used to credential surgeons. As promising as the technology is, experts are also urging caution. “You pretty much can kill somebody’s career, so you better be very, very confident that what you measure and how you measure it is done extremely well,” Teodor Grantcharov, founder of video review platform Surgical Safety Technologies, tells STAT's Mario Aguilar, who has more for STAT+ subscribers here

Lab Chat: The test case for an alternative to DNA-based information storage? A Jane Austen quote

DNA's primary function is information storage – after all, it contains the code of life. In recent years, scientists have leveraged DNA's ability to store knowledge to encode other information, including books. In a just-published study, scientists describe a new method of similarly encoding information — they chose a quote from a Jane Austen novel — into basic units of plastic as an alternative to DNA-based storage. I spoke to Eric Anslyn, a chemist at the University of Texas in Austin and the senior author of the paper, to learn more. 

Why do we need alternatives to DNA-based storage?
DNA can only write in 4 letters — A, T, G, and C — so you need lots of space to store information within DNA. You can have a far shorter strand of information if you write in something with more characters.

So what did you encode in this first experiment, and how? 
I love Jane Austen, and have read every novel at least three times. A graduate student in my lab helped me choose a quote from "Mansfield Park" that he thought was particularly uplifting for this difficult time we're all in: "If one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: We find comfort somewhere."

Like with DNA-based storage, we first converted the quote into binary, the way a computer would understand it. That long string of 0s and 1s get converted into a language — a hexadecimal system — that uses 16 different symbols. You can have a far shorter strand of writing. Each one of them is now assigned to a chemical building block. The resulting product looks like any chemical, it's just a white powder. Working backwards to read it, we run that through a basic organic chemistry process called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. It analyzes which compounds are in there, and that data gets run through a computer program that converts from binary back to English. 

What's next? 
The Jane Austen quote, while long, is only a single sentence, so we're working on writing far more complex quotes into chemicals. 

Cancer journal names new editor-in-chief

Cancer, a biweekly, peer-reviewed journal from the American Cancer Society has a new editor-in-chief. Suresh Ramalingam is an oncologist and researcher at Emory University and will take on the role as the Cancer's top editor from Fadlo Khuri, who held the position for the past decade. Ramalingam, who also serves as Emory University School of Medicine's assistant dean for cancer research, has worked to develop personalized therapies for patients with small and non-small cell lung cancer. Ramalingam will assume his new position in July this year for an initial appointment of five years.

Covid-19 in the U.S.

Cases yesterday: 62,857
Deaths yesterday: 842

In this week’s episode of STAT’s “First Opinion Podcast,” First Opinion editor Pat Skerrett talks with Lubab al-Quraishi, a Baghdad-trained physician, about her difficulty getting licensed to work as a physician in the U.S. Listen here

What to read around the web today

  • ‘We can’t protect them’: Mothers on what it means to have Black children in America. The 19th
  • With $12 million in new funding, data-syncing platform Seqster takes aim at health records. STAT+
  • How a tiny media company is helping people get vaccinated. MIT Technology Review
  • Worried drug pricing reform might be left behind, Democrat pushes Biden to make clear his support. STAT+
  • We are turning Covid-19 into a young person’s disease. The Atlantic

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,

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