public health
September 19, 2018

In clinical trials for the majority of FDA-approved cancer drugs, fewer than 5 percent of the patients were black, Stat News and ProPublica reported Wednesday.

Out of the 31 cancer drugs approved since 2015, 24 of them have had single-digit proportions of black patients during trials, the analysis found. In one trial for a multiple myeloma treatment, just 1.8 percent of participants were black, even though black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to be diagnosed with the blood cancer and there may be "meaningful differences" in how the condition affects the two races.

The Food and Drug Administration has not established any rules that would require drug makers to test treatments on minority patients, and many manufacturers don't diversify their trials voluntarily, reports Stat News.

Drug companies often say it is challenging to enroll minorities, reports ProPublica. The clinical trials with the highest black participation, up to 12 percent, were from Johnson & Johnson, a company that uses an internal group to improve trial diversity. Advocates have called on the FDA to implement similar standards across the industry, but the agency has demurred.

Minorities are also often not properly incentivized or are not able to participate: Financial barriers, logistical challenges, and distrust of the medical community are all factors that sometimes discourage minorities from joining trials, even though they could be "life-extending opportunities," said Dr. Kashif Ali, research head at Maryland Oncology Hematology. Read more at Stat News. Summer Meza

August 28, 2018

Cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis reached a record high in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday, with 2.3 million diagnosed cases.

The rapid rise may be in part due to a decrease in condom use and mutating strains of infections that resist antibiotics. "We have seen steep and sustained increases over the last five years,” Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention, told NBC News. "Usually there are ebbs and flows, but this sustained increase is very concerning."

Gonorrhea diagnoses increased 67 percent between 2013 and 2017, while syphilis diagnoses increased 76 percent. The rate of chlamydia, the STD most often reported to the CDC, has remained fairly steady, but the prevalence of all three diseases broke previous 2016 records. The most recent data showed an increase of more than 200,000 cases in just one year.

"We are sliding backward," said Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention. "It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point." Read more at NBC News. Summer Meza

July 18, 2018

Most school districts in the U.S. are not testing their drinking water for lead, a Government Accountability Office report published Tuesday found.

The finding, reported Wednesday by Stat, paints an alarming picture for water safety. Just 4 in 10 school districts conducted tests in 2016 and 2017, but 37 percent of the schools that ran tests found elevated levels of lead in drinking water.

While 43 percent of schools conducted lead tests, 41 percent of schools did not, and 16 percent didn't know whether the water had been tested. Congressional Democrats, who requested the report, called the findings "disturbing and unacceptable" and called for "immediate action" from the Trump administration.

"The administration should finalize a stronger Lead and Copper Rule and issue protective guidance requiring lead testing for all public schools," said the lawmakers in a press release. The GAO also recommended that the EPA implement new guiding rules on how schools test lead levels.

Elevated lead exposure is linked with numerous health concerns, reports Stat, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says lead can have severe consequences on brain development and children's nervous systems. Summer Meza

July 30, 2015

In New York City, two people have died in a Legionnaires' disease outbreak, with 31 cases reported in the South Bronx since mid-July.

In the Bronx, water cooling towers at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center and a commercial complex have tested positive for the disease, Capital New York reports. Legionnaires' disease is a respiratory bacterial infection that is not transmitted from person to person but rather through water mist from showers, cooling towers, and air conditioning. A 1976 outbreak in Philadelphia, which mostly affected people attending an American Legion convention, led to its name. Symptoms include fever, chills, and a cough, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that five to 30 percent of those who come down with the disease die.

Officials will test the water from other potential sources in the area, CNN reports, but Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Health Department, said the city's water supply "does not pose a risk, so people should continue to feel confident in drinking tap water to stay cool during this period of hot weather." Mayor Bill de Blasio recommends that those who have symptoms get tested, and assured the public that most New Yorkers are not at risk Catherine Garcia

May 11, 2015

After two babies died and 29 became ill within hours of receiving vaccinations for tuberculosis, rotovirus, and Hepatitis B, the Mexican Social Security Institute suspended vaccines for infants on Saturday.

The babies were taken to a hospital in the impoverished area of Simojovel, Chiapas, on Friday, The Associated Press reports, and six of the 29 sick babies are in grave condition. Investigators say they do not yet know what caused the adverse reactions. Catherine Garcia

February 18, 2015

At least seven patients treated at UCLA's Ronald Reagan Medical Center between October to January have been infected by the drug-resistant superbug CRE, and two deaths have been linked to the outbreak.

Nearly 180 were potentially exposed, the Los Angeles Times reports, and the number could go up as more people are tested. UCLA said it discovered the outbreak in late January, and started notifying patients this week. The superbug can stay on a specialized endoscope that that is used to treat cancers and digestive system issues and is hard to disinfect due to its design. In a statement, UCLA said that it had been cleaning the scopes "according to standards stipulated by the manufacturer," but once it found out about the infections began to disinfect them "above and beyond" regulations and removed the two scopes involved with the infections.

Once the infection spreads to the bloodstream, it is estimated to kill 40 to 50 percent of patients, and CDC epidemiologist Dr. Alex Kallen said these outbreaks are a serious threat. "This bacteria is emerging in the U.S. and it's associated with a high mortality rate," he told the Times. "We don't want this circulating anywhere in the community." Catherine Garcia

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