Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone! Welcome to Morning Rounds, where I get you ahead of the day's news in science and medicine. 

Clinton heads to Miami health center to talk Zika

Hillary Clinton will visit a Miami health care clinic today to talk about the public health threat posed by Zika virus. So far, Florida has tallied 17 people who are suspected to have contracted the virus locally. The CDC is urging pregnant women to avoid the area of Miami where those cases are concentrated.

Bombings hit hospitals in Syria and Pakistan

At least 54 people were killed and another 50 wounded Monday in an attack on a hospital in Quetta, Pakistan, while another 13 people were killed over the weekend in an attack on a Syrian hospital specializing in pediatric care. The attacks are the latest in a series of strikes against health care facilities worldwide. “As the norm of protecting hospitals and clinics is undermined in places such as Syria, Yemen, Gaza, et cetera, perpetrators of attacks such as that in Quetta won’t think twice about setting off a bomb outside an emergency room,” Widney Brown of Physicians for Human Rights tells me. For more about what it’s like to be one of the few doctors left practicing in war-torn Syria, read this.

Teen birth rate continues to tumble in 2016

How birth rates stack up by age. (CDC)

The teen birth rate is continuing to drop, per new data out from the CDC this morning. That number has fallen each year since 2007, dropping nearly 50 percent in the past eight years. In the first quarter of 2016, there were 20.8 live births per 1,000 teens between ages 15 and 19.

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The Largely Unknown, but Most Common, Inherited Bleeding Disorder

Nearly 1 in 100 people suffer from von Willebrand disease (VWD), a hereditary bleeding disorder caused by deficiency or dysfunction of the von Willebrand factor. This means that blood does not clot properly, resulting in heavy menstrual periods, easy bruising, or frequent nose bleeds. One may think the signs can be easy to spot, but VWD is difficult to diagnose due to variability in symptoms, among other reasons. Learn more at

Inside STAT: Planned Parenthood's president hits the campaign trail

Cecile Richards is no stranger to hardball politics, but this year, Planned Parenthood has been juggling a seemingly endless series of controversies from all directions. So it shouldn't be a surprise that she's campaigning so hard for Hillary Clinton: It's her group's best chance of heading off the defunding efforts in Congress and the states. But Richards — the daughter of Ann Richards, the last Democratic governor of Texas — also sees a “generational shift” in women’s health that could help build broader support for Planned Parenthood in the future, and maybe even discourage some of the attacks. More here from DC's David Nather. 

A former FDA commissioner's competing ties to industry and federal policy

A New York Times investigation has dug up dozens of examples of think tank scholars who also get paid by corporations to help inform government policy, including a familiar face in the health care field. Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Mark B. McClellan worked on health care reform at the Brookings Institution, where he defended a pricey hepatitis C treatment from Johnson & Johnson. At the time, he also served on J&J's board of directors, a position that paid him $264,899 last fiscal year.

First gene therapy comes with a money-back guarantee

The first ever gene-therapy cure will come with an equally novel pricing concept: A money-back guarantee. GlaxoSmithKline announced last week that the treatment, which inserts a missing gene in patients with a rare immune disorder known as SCID, would be offered at a hospital in Milan, Italy — and priced at $665,000. 

That's a steep bill, but this morning, MIT Tech Review reports that GSK has pledged to refund the cost for patients who don't benefit from the treatment. (In a clinical trial, it cured 15 out of 18 children.) Anna Padula, a GSK spokeswoman, told the Tech Review that GSK recognizes "the industry will need to adapt the way in which medicines are priced and funded."

Nearly a third of adults worldwide have high blood pressure

More than 30 percent of adults worldwide have high blood pressure, finds a new report out this morning in Circulation. Public health experts looked at medical records of more than 968,000 people in 90 countries. Surprisingly, they found that 75 percent of those with high blood pressure are living in low- and middle-income countries — the opposite of what’s been seen in past research. In recent years, the rate of hypertension has begun to tumble in wealthy nations while simultaneously increasing in low- and middle-income countries. The researchers speculate that wealthy countries have been able to prevent and control more cases of hypertension, while health care systems in other nations might be overburdened or lacking the resources to keep the problem in check.

ICUs at risk of overtreating patients

New research points toward a continuing problem plaguing ICUs — the potential for overtreatment. Researchers analyzed nearly 157,000 hospitalizations nationwide for four common conditions: diabetic ketoacidosis, pulmonary embolism, congestive heart failure, and gastrointestinal bleeding. Patients treated in the ICU underwent more invasive procedures at a much higher cost than those treated in regular hospital units, but there was no significant difference in mortality rates. That finding suggests hospitals might want to assess the factors that lead doctors to admit patients to the ICU in the first place. Read the paper in JAMA Internal Medicine.

What to read around the web today

  • Federal officials seek to stop social media abuse of nursing home patients. ProPublica
  • Beyond CRISPR: A guide to the many other ways to edit a genome. Nature
  • Why you should keep your heart rate, sleeping patterns, and other personal data to yourself. Slate
  • Watch the best PSA for organ donation of all time. Vox

More reads from STAT

  • Pharma should not be allowed a loophole for reporting financial ties to docs. 
  • Can music enhance brain waves and improve Olympic wrestling performances?
  • The race for a Zika vaccine is intense. But it may be missing the most important players. 

Thanks for reading! More tomorrow,


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