health news
January 21, 2020

The Wuhan virus, which broke out in China last month and has so far infected more than 300 people and killed six, has reportedly reached U.S. shores, a federal source told CNN.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to announce Tuesday that a person in Washington state has been infected, making the U.S. the sixth country to experience the outbreak of the respiratory illness, along with China, Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea. The patient was hospitalized with pneumonia last week after having traveled to eponymous Wuhan, China, where the outbreak appears to have originated at a seafood and poultry market, The New York Times reports.

A lot remains unknown about the virus, although the latest development strengthens the hunch that it spreads from person to person. One of the most pressing questions, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventative medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the Times, is how frequent that human-to-human transmission is. Read more at The New York Times and CNN. Tim O'Donnell

March 19, 2019

Postpartum depression affects as many as 400,000 women in the United States every year, and on Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug specifically created to treat the disorder.

Brexanolone, also known as Zulresso, is delivered intravenously. The infusion takes 60 hours, and during a clinical trial, most participants showed improvement within 24 hours of receiving the drug, reporting they still felt the effects 30 days later. Brexanolone contains a synthetic form of allopregnanolone, a derivative of progesterone, which increases during pregnancy and drops dramatically after giving birth. It is thought allopregnanolone could contribute to postpartum depression.

Women with postpartum depression often feel profound sadness, anxiety, or despair. Many are treated with antidepressants that take weeks to kick in or sometimes don't work at all, as they do not address the hormonal changes that happen during and after pregnancy. Each Zulresso infusion is expected to cost $20,000 to $35,000, NBC News reports, and it's unknown how much insurance will cover. Researchers said each patient will likely only need one infusion. It is expected the FDA will soon decide if the drug is safe for women to use while breastfeeding. Catherine Garcia

September 27, 2018

Last winter, about 80,000 people in the United States died of the flu and its complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

This was the highest death toll in at least 40 years. Experts said it was such a deadly season because it was driven by a strain of the flu that typically sends more people to the hospital and particularly hits children and the elderly hard, and the vaccine did not work very well against that strain. The flu season peaked in early February, and was basically over by the end of March.

The CDC said in recent years, between 12,000 and 56,000 people have died annually from the flu and its complications, including pneumonia, stroke, and heart attack. Experts told The Associated Press people should get vaccinated because it lessens the severity of the illness and saves lives. Catherine Garcia

August 16, 2018

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first generic version of the EpiPen, used to treat severe allergic reactions to everything from food to insect bites.

Teva Pharmaceuticals is now authorized to sell the generic versions of EpiPen and Epi Pen Jr., made by Mylan. "This approval means patients living with severe allergies who require constant access to life-saving epinephrine should have a lower-cost option, as well as another approved product to help protect against potential shortages," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.

EpiPen is the most widely prescribed epinephrine auto-injector in the U.S. Mylan has come under fire for charging as much as $600 for a package of two pens. Teva has not said how much its generic version will cost. Catherine Garcia

August 6, 2018

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic have discovered five genetic mutations linked to a high risk of triple-negative breast cancer, and the finding should help doctors treat the aggressive form of cancer.

Their study was published Monday in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. The researchers looked at the genetic panels of nearly 11,000 patients who had been diagnosed with the form of cancer, and they found five genetic mutations — BARD1, BRCA1, BRCA2, PALB2, and RAD51D — that were associated with triple-negative breast cancer. The course of treatment for this type of cancer is typically extensive chemotherapy, and it still has a lower five-year survival rate than other kinds of breast cancer, the researchers said.

Dr. Fergus Couch, a Mayo Clinic geneticist and the study's lead author, told NBC News this study "is the first to establish which genes are associated with high lifetime risks of triple-negative breast cancer." Doctors will now be able to screen patients diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer for these genes, and if the mutations are found, they would be closely monitored in case of a recurrence. More than 30 percent of patients in the study did not have a family history of breast cancer, and "unless we start testing everyone for these genes, it's unclear how we can effectively screen for first-time cases," Dr. Sandra Swain from Georgetown University Medical Center told NBC News. Catherine Garcia

September 9, 2016

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported the fourth human case of an antibiotic-resistant superbug. The latest case was found in a 2-year-old in Connecticut, who may have contracted the superbug during a trip to the Caribbean in June. The child had a strain of E. coli that contained the gene mcr-1, which scientists have found to be resistant to the antibioitic colistin, which is the treatment administered as a last resort when patients aren't responding to other antibiotics.

Luckily, the girl's case proved treatable with drugs other than colistin, and health experts do not believe the germs were passed along to anyone else. Still, the case is alarming for health experts who have been carefully tracking the gene; if the gene spreads to other bacteria, scientists believe that it could eventually morph into a superbug invincible to all known antibiotics. Becca Stanek

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