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Top news stories from AMA Morning Rounds®: Week of Jan. 20, 2020

Read AMA Morning Rounds®’ most popular stories in medicine and public health from the week of Jan. 20, 2020 – Jan. 24, 2020.

ICU death rate higher at hospitals with large numbers of minority patients, study suggests

Reuters (1/20, Rapaport) reports, “Death rates have been declining for critically ill patients in intensive care units (ICUs), but a new U.S. study suggests gains have been limited at hospitals with large numbers of minority patients.” According to the story, “data on almost 1.1 million ICU patients at more than 200 hospitals from 2006 to 2016 show a steady annual 2% decline in ICU death rates at hospitals with few minority patients, but not at hospitals where at least one-fourth of patients were Hispanic or African-American.” The study was published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Healio (1/17, Foster) reported that “the researchers used the Philips Healthcare eICU Research Institute Database to glean information on ICU outcomes at more than 300 hospitals in the United States,” while “census data were also used to identify minority-serving hospitals.”

Sunscreen chemicals may be absorbed into the bloodstream, study suggests

Reuters (1/21, Steenhuysen) reports scientists at the FDA found “that active chemicals in sunscreens can readily soak into the bloodstream, confirming the need for more testing on whether these products are safe.” The findings were published in JAMA replicating the “findings of a pilot study by FDA scientists in May.”

CNN (1/21, Lamotte) reports Dr. Janet Woodcock, the director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said that just because an ingredient is absorbed into the bloodstream does not mean it is unsafe, “Rather, this finding calls for further industry testing to determine the safety and effect of systemic exposure of sunscreen ingredients, especially with chronic use.” Experts agree that “the sun’s link to cancer and aging is real, so don’t abandon sun protection.”

Healio (1/21) reports that the researchers at the FDA tested six active ingredients and found that all of them were absorbed through the skin into the bloodstream. The six ingredients tested in the study were: avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.

CDC activates Emergency Response System for 2019-nCoV

Newsweek (1/22, Gander) reports on the efforts of the CDC to prevent the virus from spreading in the U.S. On Tuesday, the CDC “activated its Emergency Response System” and “said it had been preparing for the possibility of 2019-nCoV entering the U.S. ‘for weeks.’”

Meanwhile, Politico (1/22, Ehley, Roubein, Owermohle) reports that “officials still don’t know how infectious this particular virus is.” According to Politico, “Major professional associations, like the American Medical Association...are sending information so doctors and other health workers know how to respond.”

U.S. surgeon general calls for greater use of smoking cessation tools that have been proven effective

The New York Times (1/23, Kaplan) says that on Thursday, the U.S. Surgeon General’s office released a report (PDF) on smoking cessation highlighting the variety of proven smoking cessation tools available to smokers. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams “urged smokers to use a range of cessation methods that have been proven effective – and cautioned that e-cigarettes have not.” In an interview, Dr. Adams said, 40% “of smokers don’t get advised to quit. That was a shocking statistic to me, and it’s a little embarrassing as a health professional.” The report also “recommended that doctors and public health officials devote more attention to offering smoking cessation assistance to gay and transgender people, Native Americans, people with mental illness diagnoses and several other groups with high smoking rates.”

CNN (1/23, Howard) reports Dr. Adams said that physicians need to encourage their patients to quit smoking and that the number of smokers who do not receive such counsel from their physicians “jumped out” at him. The article says that “behavioral counseling has been found to increase chances of quitting smoking and seven medications have been approved for helping adults quit smoking: five forms of nicotine replacement therapy and two non-nicotine medications, varenicline and bupropion, according to advice from the surgeon general.”

MedPage Today (1/23, Frieden) reports that “the percentage of Americans who smoke – 14%, or 34 million people – is at an all-time low, but smoking still remains the number one cause of preventable disease, death, and disability” in the U.S., according to the report from the Surgeon General.

Bills introduced to prevent physicians from treating transgender teens with surgery or hormones

The Washington Post (1/22, A1, Wax-Thibodeaux, Schmidt) reports, “Republican state lawmakers have filed a wave of bills that ban medical professionals from treating transgender teens with hormones and sex reassignment surgery, reigniting a polarizing national debate over the rights of transgender youth and the government’s reach into doctors’ offices.” Legislation has been filed “that would penalize medical professionals — and, in at least one case, parents — who give young people access to puberty-blocking medicines and other treatments.” Legislators “argue that they are protecting vulnerable children,” while “advocates for transgender youth” call the bills “a dangerous overreach.” Legislation has been filed in Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and South Dakota, and is expected to be introduced in Georgia, Kentucky, and Texas.

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