Friday, September 2, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Happy Friday, everyone! Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. I'll be out on Monday for the holiday, but back Tuesday with your daily dose of news. 

California sends surprise medical costs bill off to governor

California lawmakers have sent legislation to protect patients from surprise medical bills off to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. Earlier this week, the state's Senate passed the measure and sent it on to the state assembly, which overwhelmingly approved the bill last night. The contentious bill would mean patients only had to pay in-network rates if, for example, they had a surgery covered by insurance but were put under but an out-of-network anesthesiologist. Opponents to the bill face in uphill battle in convincing the governor to veto the measure; there wasn't a single dissenting vote in the state assembly. 

South Africa to provide free treatment to all HIV patients

South African health officials say they’ll start providing free treatment for all HIV patients in the country. Up until now, only individuals with white blood cell counts at a certain level were eligible for no-cost care. The decision comes after the WHO updated its HIV treatment guidelines last year on the basis that it’s best to treat HIV patients as early as possible. South Africa has the highest burden of HIV in the world — around 7 million people in the country had HIV in 2015, with 3.4 million receiving treatment. But health officials also warn that expanding the free treatment program could lengthen waiting times.

HHS cites EpiPen in defending its drug price experiment

The EpiPen scandal could give the Obama administration some leverage in the fight over its ambitious Medicare drug-price experiment. The proposal has been attacked by the drug industry and doctor groups, with even some Democrats on the Hill expressing their concern. STAT's Dylan Scott asked HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell about it Thursday. She wouldn't comment on the final proposal, citing federal rules, but she alluded to the EpiPen story as further evidence of the need to rein in drug costs. "I think the last weeks hopefully have reinforced for everyone the importance of downward pressure on drug prices," Burwell said. "We see this as an important part of taking a step forward in that space."

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Inside STAT: Kratom users react to the DEA's big decision

(Eros dervishi for stat)
Earlier this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced it'd put a drug called kratom in the same legal category as heroin and meth for the next two years. From the agency's perspective, it's a dangerous, addictive drug that has created a public health crisis. But to daily kratom users — many of whom used the drug to wean off opioids or manage chronic pain — the agency has it all wrong. The DEA announcement has revealed an intricate underground network of advocates, educators, and kratom devotees — Eric Boodman has more here

Dolly the Sheep's big day, part two

Dolly the Sheep — the first cloned adult animal — is getting another 20th birthday party today. Scientists are gathering at the UK’s University of Edinburgh to talk about Dolly’s legacy. The event will be a regular barn party: Panel titles include “The sheep got the glory but now the pigs are doing the work” and “Eggcellent therapeutics: chicken bioreactors for the production of pharmaceutical proteins.”

Lab Chat: How to create clothing that keeps humans cool

Not quite runway ready. (Yi Cui / STanford)

Good news for those battling late summer heat — scientists have created a fabric that allows body heat out while also reflecting sunlight. It’s designed to keep you cool in the sweltering summer months or while you’re out for a jog. Here’s what lead researcher Yi Cui of Stanford told me about the work, published in Science.

How do our clothes trap heat close to us? 

The human body has a temperature of 34 degrees Celsius, and anything with temperature will radiate out heat. Our body cools down through infrared radiation. But our regular clothing doesn’t allow infrared to go through, so our clothes aren’t effective for cooling. The fabric blocks visible light but can trap in the heat from the human body, so our clothes aren’t effective for cooling.

How does the new fabric fix that?

The heat we radiate out has longer wavelengths, but visible light has shorter wavelengths. So we used a nanoporous structure that scatters visible light and does not let it through — so that people cannot see through your clothing — but lets the infrared rays from the body out. If people wear this in their office buildings, it could help save energy because the AC doesn’t need to be so cool in the summer. It’d also be helpful for exercise by helping to dissipate heat while sweating.

Why gonorrhea is skyrocketing among Utah women

The prevalence of gonorrhea among women in Utah has increased 715 percent since 2011, according to data just published by the CDC. But it’s actually data that the Utah Department of Health has been keeping an eye on for awhile — state health officials reported the spike last year and began investigating what’s driving it. In the months since, the state health department has been examining every new gonorrhea case that’s reported, Dr. Angela Dunn of the Utah Department of Health tells me.

Local health officials have begun more extensive outreach efforts to prevent the spread of the sexually transmitted disease, while state health officials have been working to identify common risk factors in new cases. They've been following up with patients to gather information on everything from sexual history to religious beliefs to determine what populations are most vulnerable. That data is expected out in the coming months, according to Dunn. 

What to read around the web today

  • Hundreds of pounds lighter, and now shedding another burden of the past. New York Times
  • Organic Gatorade is still loaded with sugar. NPR
  • For a 6-year-old with cancer, a future is staked on medicine's hottest field. Washington Post

More reads from STAT

  • How Boston stamped out a TB outbreak with the help of bartenders and barbers. 
  • Here's where obesity rates are highest in the US. 
  • Hurdles abound in race to bring customized cancer treatments to the masses. 

Thanks for reading! Have a great long weekend,


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