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Updated: 1 hour 3 min ago

The WHO Finally Sounded Its Loudest Alarm Over Ebola in the Congo

3 hours 1 min ago

(The Atlantic) – More than 2,500 people have become infected since the outbreak was officially declared on August 1, 2018. Almost 1,700 of those have died, while more than 700 have been cured. A few hundred cases are still being investigated, and new ones arise on an almost daily basis. These numbers make the outbreak worse than all of the Congo’s nine past encounters with Ebola put together, although they are still well below the scale of the West African epidemic of 2014 to 2016, which infected 28,000 people and killed 11,000.

What Happens When Reproductive Tech Like IVF Goes Awry?

3 hours 29 min ago

(Wired) – Accidents happen: Freezers fail. Samples are mislabeled. Embryos get switched. These may be first-world problems. But they’re not innocent, or harmless. We have no idea precisely how often such mishaps happen. A 2008 survey of US fertility clinics found that more than one in five misdiagnosed, mislabeled, or mishandled reproductive materials. States require hospitals to report any surgery mistakenly performed on the wrong body part or patient, but no one tracks these errors in family planning services. Most embryo swaps probably go unnoticed. No one tests for genetic connection between newborns and birth parents unless a racial mismatch gives them reason to. All we know for sure is these mix-ups have happened before—and there still aren’t any rules or constraints to keep them from occurring again.

Do Elon Musk’s Brain-Decoding Implants Have Potential? Experts Say They Just Might

3 hours 39 min ago

(STAT News) – The immediate aim of the San Francisco startup is a system enabling people who are paralyzed to use their thoughts to operate computers and smartphones. That has been done before, including by Schwartz’s group and one at Brown University, where in 2011 two tetraplegic patients who had been implanted with the “BrainGate” neural interface system were able to control robotic arms with their thoughts, including lifting a bottle of coffee and drinking it. But despite decades of research, the systems have so many drawbacks they’re still not in widespread use. That’s where Neuralink’s tech acumen might make a difference.

Skin Sensors Are the Future of Health Care

July 17, 2019

(Nature) – Thin, soft electronic systems that stick onto skin are beginning to transform health care. Millions of early versions of sensors, computers and transmitters woven into flexible films, patches, bandages or tattoos are being deployed in dozens of trials in neurology applications alone; and their numbers growing rapidly. Within a decade, many people will wear such sensors all the time. The data they collect will be fed into machine-learning algorithms to monitor vital signs, spot abnormalities and track treatments.

Scientists Find New Way to Kill Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes

July 17, 2019

(STAT News) – Scientists say they nearly eliminated disease-carrying mosquitoes on two islands in China using a new technique. The downside: It may not be practical for larger areas and may cost a lot of money. In the experiment, researchers targeted Asian tiger mosquitoes, invasive white-striped bugs that can spread dengue fever, Zika, and other diseases. They used a novel approach for pest control: First, they infected the bugs with a virus-fighting bacterium, and then zapped them with a small dose of radiation.

U.S. Overdose Deaths Post Annual Drop for First Time in Two Decades

July 17, 2019

(Reuters) – U.S. overdose deaths dropped last year for the first time in nearly two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday, in a sign that a nationwide epidemic of drug-related deaths is abating.  About 68,500 Americans died of a drug overdose in 2018, compared with about 72,000 the year prior, a 5% decrease, according to the CDC’s provisional data.The drop marks the first time that the number of overdose-related deaths has fallen since 1999.

WHO Sounds Ebola Alarm as Risks Intensify

July 17, 2019

(Reuters) – The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared Congo’s Ebola outbreak an international health emergency, sounding a rarely used global alarm after the virus threatened to spread to a major city and into neighbouring countries. Despite a highly effective vaccine and a swift international response after it was declared 11 months ago, the outbreak has proved tenacious in an unstable region beset by violence, becoming Congo’s worst ever, with almost 1,700 dead. 

Head of Planned Parenthood Groups Departs, Cites Differences over Abortion

July 16, 2019

(Reuters) – The leader of reproductive services provider Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its political arm said on Tuesday that she was leaving both organizations over philosophical differences in their approaches to abortion rights. Dr. Leana Wen, the first physician in nearly 50 years to lead the federation and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said she took the job last September intending to advocate for a broad range of public health policies, not just abortion. 

Malta’s Fledgling Movement for Abortion Rights

July 16, 2019

(The Atlantic) – Malta is the only European country that outright bans abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or in some cases, where the woman’s health is at risk. It has some of the strictest abortion laws in the world; a woman who terminates her pregnancy and the doctor who facilitates that procedure can each face up to three years in prison. Other places in Europe with restrictive reproductive-rights laws, such as Northern Ireland and Poland, allow abortions in certain situations where the woman’s health is at risk (in Poland, the law also allows abortions in cases of rape and incest).

NIH Begins HIV Vaccine Trials in North America, South America, Europe

July 15, 2019

(UPI) – The National Institutes of Health announced plans to begin a phase of trials on Monday on a new HIV vaccine. The agency’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will start Phase 3 HIV vaccine efficacy trials to assess if a vaccine regimen can safely and effectively prevent HIV acquisition among men who have sex with men and transgender people.

Surging Cases Have Dashed All Hope That Polio Might Be Eradicated in 2019

July 15, 2019

(Science) – The global initiative to eradicate polio is badly stuck, battling the virus on two fronts. New figures show the wild polio virus remains entrenched in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, its other holdout, where cases are surging. In Africa, meanwhile, the vaccine itself is spawning virulent strains. The leaders of the world’s biggest public health program are now admitting that success is not just around the corner—and intensively debating how to break the impasse.

The Metamorphosis

July 15, 2019

(The Atlantic) – Humanity is at the edge of a revolution driven by artificial intelligence. It has the potential to be one of the most significant and far-reaching revolutions in history, yet it has developed out of disparate efforts to solve specific practical problems rather than a comprehensive plan. Ironically, the ultimate effect of this case-by-case problem solving may be the transformation of human reasoning and decision making.

Congo Rules Out Using Additional Trial Vaccines to Combat Ebola

July 12, 2019

(Reuters) – Congo will not permit the use of further experimental vaccines as it combats an Ebola outbreak because doing so risked “confusing the population,” the government said on Friday. Health workers have vaccinated more than 130,000 people during the nearly year-long epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo with an experimental vaccine manufactured by Merck that has proven highly effective.

IVF Mix-Ups Have Broken the Definition of Parenthood

July 12, 2019

(The Atlantic) – Until the advent of IVF, the mother of a child was unquestionably the woman who gave birth to that child. The ability to create embryos in a petri dish and then transfer them into the womb—any woman’s womb—made gestational surrogacy arrangements possible and introduced new nuances.* But occasional mistakes by IVF clinics have also created scenarios, like this one, of essentially involuntary surrogacy, which do not merely add nuance to traditional definitions of parenthood, but utterly confound them.

The Death of a Patient and the Future of Fecal Transplants

July 12, 2019

(Wired) – That iffy legality is what is worrying the patients and doctors who practice the procedure now. The FDA has allowed fecal transplants to take place, even though they’re not an approved procedure, because they work extraordinarily well—and because, to this point, there were no bad consequences to make the agency rethink its permissiveness. Now that there’s been a death, the agency might have to reconsider, and one consequence could be that a still-grassroots procedure based on donations moves into the realm of pharma companies, intellectual property, and much higher costs.

Hospital Fires 23 Workers in Case of Excessive Doses, Deaths

July 11, 2019

(ABC News) – The Ohio hospital system where excessive painkiller doses were given to dozens of patients who died fired 23 more employees Thursday and said it is changing leadership, a sign that professional fallout from the scandal has expanded far beyond the intensive care doctor accused of ordering the drugs. The announcement by the Columbus-area Mount Carmel Health System comes five weeks after William Husel pleaded not guilty to murder charges in 25 of the deaths, marking one of the biggest cases of its kind against an American health care professional.

No Limit: AI Poker Bot Is First to Beat Professionals at Multiplayer Poker

July 11, 2019

(Nature) – Machines have raised the stakes once again. A superhuman poker-playing bot called Pluribus has beaten top human professionals at six-player no-limit Texas hold’em poker, the most popular variant of the game. It is the first time that an artificial-intelligence (AI) program has beaten elite human players at a game with more than two players.

Five Couples Lined Up for CRISPR Babies to Avoid Deafness

July 11, 2019

(New Scientist) – Five Russian couples who are deaf want to try the CRISPR gene-editing technique so they can have a biological child who can hear, biologist Denis Rebrikov has told New Scientist. He plans to apply to the relevant Russian authorities for permission in “a couple of weeks”. The case for using CRISPR for this purpose is stronger than for trying to make children HIV-resistant, as attempted previously, but the risks still outweigh the benefits, say other researchers.

Maggots, Amputations and Naked Thieves: Government Watchdog Details Hospice Deficiencies

July 11, 2019

(CNN) – Maggots growing around a dying man’s feeding tube. Staff failing to treat the wounds of a patient with Alzheimer’s disease, forcing the amputation of a leg. Caregivers unable to recognize injuries on a woman’s pelvic area as signs of sexual assault and repeatedly trying to insert a urinary catheter instead, sending the woman to a hospital. These are just a few of the graphic details revealed in two reports on US hospice care released Tuesday by the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services. More than 80% of end-of-life facilities in the United States had at least one deficiency, the report found, and more than 300 — about 18% — were poor performers with serious problems that jeopardized patient health and safety.

A Gruesome Case Study Points to the Hazards of Stem Cell Tourism

July 11, 2019

(Los Angeles Times) – Medical regulators have been warning that the downside of unproven stem cell treatments isn’t merely that they won’t work, but that they can be life-threatening. A team of Canadian physicians has just reported an especially gruesome example of what can go wrong when desperate patients chase after last-ditch cures in what’s known as stem cell tourism. Their subject is a 38-year-old Newfoundland man who became a paraplegic after a trampoline accident at the age of 20 injured his spinal column.