FDA to Expedite Release of Recall Information


Among other actions, FDA assures that the public is warned when products present the most significant public hazards, including those recalls associated with an outbreak.

Now, as part of a larger effort to increase transparency, empower consumers, and enhance public health, the FDA is working to alert the public sooner whenever a product has been recalled.

However, recall classifications can sometimes take weeks – or even months when FDA needs to conduct a complex evaluation. Such analysis can involve determining whether any diseases or injuries have already occurred, the likelihood that a hazard might occur, or whether vulnerable segments of the population, such as children, are more at risk.

FDA has decided that the public would benefit by having recall information about FDA-regulated products as soon as possible, even though further evaluation remains to be done. Moving forward, FDA will include “not-yet-classified” recalls of human drugs, foods, and veterinary products in the weekly Enforcement Report, even while classification work is still ongoing.

Fed Up With Drug Companies, Hospitals Decide to Start Their Own


A group of large hospital systems plans to create a nonprofit generic drug company to battle shortages and high prices.

For years, hospital executives have expressed frustration when essential drugs like heart medicines have become scarce, or when prices have skyrocketed because investors manipulated the market.

Now, some of the country’s largest hospital systems are taking an aggressive step to combat the problem: They plan to go into the drug business themselves, in a move that appears to be the first on this scale.

“This is a shot across the bow of the bad guys,” said Dr. Marc Harrison, the chief executive of Intermountain Healthcare, the nonprofit Salt Lake City hospital group that is spearheading the effort. “We are not going to lay down. We are going to go ahead and try and fix it.”

Understand the Quality of Care at Michigan Hospitals

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How can VerifyMICare help me make smart healthcare decisions?

Being informed can help improve your healthcare experiences, and it allows you to focus on what’s most important – your health. When making these decisions, you should use many tools to help you decide – and VerifyMICare is one of those tools. 

VerifyMICare can help you to understand how a hospital is doing on things like infection prevention. But it should not be the only factor in making healthcare decisions. You should always talk to your doctor(s) and your family about the option that is best for you.

What information is available through VerifyMICare?

VerifyMICare provides information about quality and safety measures for Michigan hospitals and allows you to compare them side by side. Future updates to the site will add information about hospital pricing and other topics that are important. 

How to Die of the Flu


The flu stalking us in Australia right now should scare you.

Every year the flu virus does an annual migration across the world, hitting the Southern Hemisphere during its winter, the Northern Hemisphere right about now, and hanging out in the tropics in between — especially in parts of Asia. That means we look to Australia to know what is coming to us... and Australia is seeing one of its worst flu years on record, with over 2½ times more infections than in the same period last year. Influenza A (H3N2) is the predominant circulating influenza A virus this year, and 81% of the confirmed flu deaths have been due to this strain.

U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network data for the 2016–2017 influenza season showed this year’s flu vaccine is 48 percent effective in preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza A and B viral infection associated with medically attended acute respiratory illness.

The exact effectiveness estimates are 43 percent against the predominant influenza A (H3N2) viruses and 73 percent against influenza B viruses.

When older people die from flu, it is usually due to complications like pneumonia. But young healthy people get to die of the flu in special ways. Influenza A just loves young, healthy people, taking them down within days of exposure. In fact, it is more deadly to healthy young adults than to the elderly and infants.

Flu Season Is Shaping Up To Be A Nasty One, CDC Says


The United States appears to be in the midst of an unusually severe flu season, officials at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday.

The flu season started early, which is never a good sign, and the flu is already widespread throughout the country, the CDC's latest report shows. Half of states are reporting especially intense flu activity.

"We are currently in the midst of a very active flu season with much of the nation experiencing widespread and intense activity," CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald told reporters during a briefing.

Based on the latest available data, the United States could be experiencing one of the most severe flu seasons in years, possibly similar to the severe 2014-2015 flu season, officials say.

"Flu is everywhere in the U.S. right now. There's lots of flu in lots of places," says Dan Jernigan, director of CDC's influenza division.

Microsoft Wants To Diagnose Disease By Building Massive Database Of The Human Immune System


Imagine making a spreadsheet of every meal you've ever eaten, every hand you've ever shook, every bit of dust that's ever gotten in your eye - and multiply it by about a million times. Then you begin to get a sense of the size of the data problem that is your body's immune system. Through a new AI project, Microsoft hopes to solve this data problem and make diagnosing nearly any disease as simple as a single blood test.

You see, stored within your immune system is a record of virtually every threat to your health that you've ever encountered. When an invader shows up -- be it the flu, cancer, or something weird you picked up while showering without flip-flops at the gym -- your body identifies it and launches a targeted attack. This works the the help of special cells called T-cells, which each carry a corresponding surface protein called a T-cell receptor with a genetic code designed to target a specific disease, signalled by what's called an antigen.

So if the immune system's T-cells each contain genetic markers of every pathogen the body has encountered, then decrypting those markers could theoretically give you a log of every threat you have ever faced. That's what Microsoft is hoping. In a new research effort with the Seattle biotech firm Adaptive, the company is working to decode the human immune system so that it can diagnose disease.

"Your immune system should know what you have before your doctor does," said Adaptive CEO Chad Robins at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco on Wednesday.

The idea is, in essence, to make a map of the human body's immune responses -- of its T-cell receptors sequences and the codes of the antigens they have fought against. And using that map, eventually, the idea is to be able to diagnose practically any disease from a sample of blood.

Remember the massive spreadsheet we imagined earlier? That spreadsheet is the reason this problem calls for artificial intelligence.

"We're searching for patterns in a giant space," Peter Lee, vice president of AI Research for Microsoft, told Gizmodo. "In machine-learning, a problem this big is exotic."

Your body is constantly coming into contact with foreign invaders and having immune reactions to them. Because many T-cell receptors bind to different antigens, the presence of one T-cell receptor could indicate a host of different diseases. That's a lot of complicated data to crunch. The information is all there, but right now, we just can't read it.

Alphabet spinoff Cityblock raises $20 million to help low-income Americans get health care


Here's a story that bucks the idea that the tech industry is selfish and myopic: A technology start-up raised more than $20 million this week to help low-income Americans, including the elderly and the homeless, access basic health services.

Cityblock Health, which spun out of Alphabet's urban innovation unit, Sidewalk Labs, will use its funds to open up or partner with community health centers in Brooklyn, New York, and other urban hubs across the country. That's coupled with the development of a technology product, which it calls Commons.

It aims to treat low-income patients who qualify for Medicaid, which accounts for about 1 in 5 Americans, including many with complex and costly needs.

Its team includes a mix of technologists from companies such as Google, as well as nonprofit and community health experts. The company named to its board some big names in health and technology, including former CMS administrator Andy Slavitt, Rock Health co-founder Halle Tecco and Cloudera co-founder Jeff Hammerbacher.

Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs is moving ahead with its own plansto redevelop Toronto's waterfront, an effort that will include sensors and other technologies.

Cityblock was initially based at Sidewalk's offices, but will now operate as an independent company.

Cityblock isn't yet treating patients. But Iyah Romm, the company's CEO and co-founder, explained on Wednesday that the company is hoping to provide a range of resources, including social services, access to affordable housing and more.

Cancer: Virus fuels immune system to attack brain tumors


Researchers at the University of Leeds and the Institute of Cancer Research in London, both in the United Kingdom, found that the naturally occurring virus was able to cross the blood-brain barrier in all who took part in the study.

These findings are significant because it was previously thought that the only way to use the virus to treat brain cancer was to inject it directly into brain tissue. But this approach is limited; it cannot be repeated very often and does not suit all patients.

Reporting in the journal Science Translational Medicine, the researchers explain how the virus — a member of the reovirus family — not only infected cancer cells without affecting healthy cells, but it also helped the immune system to find and attack the cancer cells.

They believe that their study shows how reoviruses might enhance a type of immunotherapy called checkpoint therapy for cancers that start in the brain or spread to the brain from another part of the body.

"This is the first time it has been shown," explains co-lead study author Dr. Adel Samson, who is a medical oncologist at the University of Leeds, "that a therapeutic virus is able to pass through the brain-blood barrier, and that opens up the possibility [that] this type of immunotherapy could be used to treat more people with aggressive brain cancers."

Fiber Is Good for You. Now Scientists May Know Why.


He and other scientists are running experiments that are yielding some important new clues about fiber’s role in human health. Their research indicates that fiber doesn’t deliver many of its benefits directly to our bodies.

Instead, the fiber we eat feeds billions of bacteria in our guts. Keeping them happy means our intestines and immune systems remain in good working order.

In order to digest food, we need to bathe it in enzymes that break down its molecules. Those molecular fragments then pass through the gut wall and are absorbed in our intestines.

But our bodies make a limited range of enzymes, so that we cannot break down many of the tough compounds in plants. The term “dietary fiber” refers to those indigestible molecules.

But they are indigestible only to us. The gut is coated with a layer of mucus, atop which sits a carpet of hundreds of species of bacteria, part of the human microbiome. Some of these microbes carry the enzymes needed to break down various kinds of dietary fiber.

The ability of these bacteria to survive on fiber we can’t digest ourselves has led many experts to wonder if the microbes are somehow involved in the benefits of the fruits-and-vegetables diet. Two detailed studies published recently in the journal Cell Host and Microbe provide compelling evidence that the answer is yes.

Afraid of Falling? For Older Adults, the Dutch Have a Cure


The shouts of schoolchildren playing outside echoed through the gymnasium where an obstacle course was being set up.

There was the “Belgian sidewalk,” a wooden contraption designed to simulate loose tiles; a “sloping slope,” ramps angled at an ankle-unfriendly 45 degrees; and others like “the slalom” and “the pirouette.”

They were not for the children, though, but for a class where the students ranged in age from 65 to 94. The obstacle course was clinically devised to teach them how to navigate treacherous ground without having to worry about falling, and how to fall if they did.

“It’s not a bad thing to be afraid of falling, but it puts you at higher risk of falling,” said Diedeke van Wijk, a physiotherapist who runs WIJKfysio and teaches the course three times a year in Leusden, a bedroom community just outside Amersfoort, in the center of the country.

The Dutch, like many elsewhere, are living longer than in previous generations, often alone. As they do, courses that teach them not only how to avoid falling, but how to fall correctly, are gaining popularity.

This one, called Vallen Verleden Tijd course, roughly translates as “Falling is in the past.” Hundreds of similar courses are taught by registered by physio- and occupational therapists across the Netherlands.

Yet falling courses — especially clinically tested ones — are a fairly recent phenomenon, according to Richard de Ruiter, of the Sint Maartenskliniek in Nijmegen, the foundation hospital that developed this particular course.

Virtually unheard-of just a decade ago, the courses are now common enough that the government rates them. Certain forms of Dutch health insurance even cover part of the costs.

While the students are older, not all of them seemed particularly frail. Herman van Lovink, 88, arrived on his bike. So did Annie Houtveen, 75. But some arrived with walkers and canes, and others were carefully guided by relatives.