Headlines: April 7, 2011
by Meg Larkin
First, in global health news, the World Health Organization has called for collective action against antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’. So-called ‘superbugs’ like NDM-1 are forms of bacteria that are strongly resistant to all antibiotics currently on the market. The danger posed by antibiotic resistant bacteria is acute because there are very few new antibiotics under development. The Wall St. Journal reported that, “Over the past three decades only two new classes of antibacterial medicines have been discovered, compared to 11 in the previous 50 years.” The lack of new antibiotics may be due in part to poor development incentives for drug companies. In order for an antibiotic to remain effective against resistant bacteria, it can only be used rarely in extreme cases, which makes it difficult for manufacturers to recoup initial research and development investment and make a profit. Without effective antibiotics, much of modern medical practice, from routine surgery to cancer treatment could be compromised.
On the national health policy scene, lawmakers in Virginia have moved to limit the ability of health insurers to offer abortion coverage. An amendment passed by State lawmakers on Wednesday would ban private insurers from covering abortion services if they participate in the state insurance exchanges that are set up by the health reform law. Abortion coverage for low income women that receives government funding is already restricted by the 1977 Hyde Amendment, which prohibits certain federal funds for paying for abortion services. The Virginia amendment would go further and limit the ability of women who purchase their own insurance to obtain coverage for abortion services. The amendment was passed as a part of the state bill setting up the insurance exchanges that are required by the new federal law.
In public health news, the annual national report on cancer has reported that fewer women are dying of lung cancer in the United States. Lung cancer deaths among women fell by almost one percent per year between 2003 and 2007 according to the survey. According to the New York Times, “Lung cancer death rates for women dropped by 0.9 percent a year on average from 2003 to 2007. The absolute death rate from lung cancer dropped to 39.98 per 100,000 women in 2007 from 41.24 per 100,000 women in 2003.” The authors of the report see the decline as the result of a decrease in smoking among women, and it follows a similar decline in lung cancer rates among men.
In other cancer news, a new study has found that strawberries may be able to prevent some forms of esophageal cancer. Researchers from Ohio State University found that consumption of freeze-dried strawberries for six months slowed the growth of precancerous lesions in the esophagus. The study involved, “38 people in China who had mild-to-moderate dysplasia in the esophagus.” Study participants “were instructed to consume 30 grams of freeze-dried strawberries dissolved in a glass of water twice daily for a total of 60 grams a day for six months.” After six months 29 of 36 participants experienced slowed growth of precancerous lesions. Larger randomized-controlled trials will be needed to confirm the effect.
Finally, in research news, a progesterone gel has been found to decrease the risk of pre-term delivery. A new study by the National Institutes of Health has found that progesterone gel can significantly reduce the risk of pre-term delivery in women with a short cervix. A short cervix has long been identified as an important risk factor for pre-term delivery, and by using the gel, the risk of premature birth was cut by 45%. The study’s results are raising questions about whether women should be routinely screened for a short cervix as part of prenatal care.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.