DNA may dictate your development, but you also wouldn’t be you without the unique mix of bacteria that make their home on your body. This week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers say that the very moment of your birth can decide for a lifetime what kind bacteria live in your body, and even whether you’ll be at a higher risk for conditions like asthma.
The uterus is a sterile environment. So, in the womb, babies don’t have any bacteria to call their own. It’s only once they enter the world that they begin to collect the microbes that will colonize their bodies and help shape their immunity [Scientific American].
How babies enter the world is the key, the team says. The studied surveyed the bacterial colonies of 10 mothers just before birth; four of those women gave birth traditionally and six did through cesarean section. When the scientists then checked up on the bacteria living in the newborns, they found that the difference in birth method decided what microbes the baby would get. Those born vaginally tended to pick up the bacteria from their mother’s vagina, while those born via C-section harbored bacterial colonies that tend to come from skin.
July: a time of sweltering heat, fireworks-related injuries, and newbie doctors roaming the halls of teaching hospitals, ready to learn medicine by practicing on you. The “July Effect”—the idea that medical mistakes spike in that month because new, inexperienced residents are on the scene— has become the subject of repeated studies trying to sort out whether it’s real or just conventional “wisdom.” Those studies have reached differing results. So, should we believe the newest one, which attributes a 10 percent July spike in fatal medical errors to those freshmen docs?
The study by David Phillips and Gwendolyn Barker, to be published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, has a large sample size going for it. Phillips says that many prior “July effect” studies have examined just a single hospital’s population. But:
He and Barker, by contrast, probed a national database of more than 62 million death certificates that spanned from 1979 (when hospital status was first recorded in those records) through 2006 (the most recent year for which data were available). They turned up almost a quarter-million deaths that were coded as having not only occurred in a hospital setting, but also been due to medication errors. Both in-patient and out-patient cases were included [U.S. News & Report].
Last night, President Obama issued a memo that will change hospital visitation rights around the country. The administration will draft new rules declaring that any hospital participating in the government’s Medicare and Medicaid programs—which is most of them—will no longer be allowed to bar visitors that patients desire to have access to them.
This has been a particular hardship for gay Americans, who have been turned away from visiting sick loved ones because of policies that allow visiting rights solely to spouses or family members. They aren’t the only ones, either, Obama argues. He cited widows or widowers without children, members of religious orders as examples of people who have been unable to choose the people they want to be at their side [Reuters].
The changes won’t take effect right away. The Department of Health and Human Services must draft the new rules, then put them in place and police them. But in addition to expanding visitation rights, the order also requires that documents granting power of attorney and healthcare proxies be honored, regardless of sexual orientation. The language could apply to unmarried heterosexual couples too [Los Angeles Times]. You can read Obama’s memo here.
The President was particularly inspired by the case of a Florida couple, Janice Langbehn and Lisa Pond. When Pond suffered an aneurysm, Langbehn was denied visiting access at the hospital, despite the fact that she carried power-of-attorney and the couple had adopted four children. Pond died before Langbehn was allowed access. On Thursday night, Mr. Obama called her from Air Force One to say that he had been moved by her case. “I was so humbled that he would know Lisa’s name and know our story,” Ms. Langbehn said in a telephone interview. “He apologized for how we were treated. For the last three years, that’s what I’ve been asking the hospital to do” [The New York Times].
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“Killing season,” a term used to describe the time when junior doctors take over at hospitals, was thought to be just an unsettling joke. However, British researchers found hospital mortality rates rise by 6 per cent on the first Wednesday in August. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also the day newly qualified doctors, fresh from medical school, are let loose on the wards of [England’s National Health Service] hospitals [Daily Mail]. There could be lots of explanations for the increase, so the authors say their data doesn’t mean people should shy away from hospitals during this week, but they do say the increase is statistically significant. The report was published recently in the journal PLoS ONE.
To arrive at their result, an Imperial College team looked at 300,000 emergency patients admitted to English hospitals between 2000 to 2008. They compared death rates between the first week of August, when new doctors arrive, and the previous week in July [BBC News]. The study’s authors note that past studies looking at mortality rates before and after junior doctors take over did not find any difference. The results could be due to the different types of patients being admitted, but if it turns out to that there is some merit to the “killing season” myth, it could have large implications for how young doctors are turned loose.
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Image: flickr / [lauren nelson]
Under a new law, California hospitals are supposed to report all serious medical errors to the state, and the first batch includes stories that will scare anyone with a looming hospital admission date. [D]uring a 10-month period ending in May, doctors performed the wrong surgical procedure, operated on the wrong body part or on the wrong patient 41 times, records show. During the same period, hospitals reported that foreign objects were left in surgical patients 145 times [AP].
Officially called “adverse events,” those accidents are also known as “never events” because they are considered preventable, and many safety experts say they should never happen [Los Angeles Times]. The new disclosures listed 1,002 cases that caused serious medical harm; under the new law, the public health department must begin to post all these cautionary tales on the Internet by 2015.
Little electronic chips called radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs) have been popping up everywhere in hospitals, and for the most part that’s a very good thing. The small devices are attached to all sorts of objects to help hospital staff keep track of their equipment–the chips are even implanted in surgical sponges so doctors can make sure they haven’t left any inside their patients.
But a new study suggests that RFIDs may not be entirely safe in a hospital setting, and that the wafer-thin chips could interfere with critical hospital equipment like pacemakers and mechanical ventilators. When a team of Dutch researchers tested the chips’ effects on various medical devices, they found potentially dangerous interference in more than 15 percent of cases.
It may make you feel better to see a hospital orderly wiping down every surface in your room with an anti-bacterial wipe. But according to a new study, that wipe isn’t killing bacteria on contact, and may be simply picking up bacteria from one surface and distributing it to others.
In an era where antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” like MRSA are a growing threat in hospitals, nurses and orderlies have understandably been wielding the wipes diligently. But when a team led by microbiologist Gareth Williams tested wipes after their use at several hospitals in Wales, they found that MRSA in particular could easily be spread by those handy little moist towelettes.