News Trends Analysis

March 1, 2011

Travelers contract cholera in Dominican Republic. Massachusetts health officials have confirmed that six state residents contracted cholera after attending a wedding in the Dominican Republic, according to the Jan. 28 Boston Herald. All affected patients attended a wedding in January in the Dominican Republic, where cholera has spread from Haiti. Dozens of wedding guests have fallen ill, including some who traveled home to Venezuela with the same strain of cholera that has killed more than 3,000 Haitians. Venezuelan authorities reported on Feb. 1 that 135 Venezuelans who traveled to the Dominican Republic are being treated for cholera.

Blood test to detect a single cancer cell. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, along with corporate partner Johnson & Johnson, have announced that a simple blood test may be able to diagnose cancer. This “liquid biopsy” can isolate cancer cells from the blood to spot a single cancer cell among a billion healthy ones. The researchers say the test could revolutionize the diagnosis and treatment of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancers. They say the test would avoid painful tissue sampling and offer faster screening, monitoring, and evaluating methods than the more invasive mammograms, colonoscopies, and needle biopsies.

One in 16 women hospitalized for childbirth has diabetes. More than a quarter-million women who gave birth in U.S. hospitals in 2008 had pre-existing diabetes or developed it during their pregnancy, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In 2008, the 35,500 women with pre-existing diabetes and the 232,300 with gestational diabetes who delivered during their stay were much more likely to undergo cesarean-section surgery (64% and 46%, respectively) than women giving birth who did not have diabetes (32%). Hospital costs associated with deliveries by women with pre-existing diabetes were 55% higher ($6,000), and for women with gestational diabetes they were 18% more expensive ($4,500) than for women who did not have diabetes ($3,800).

Infectious diseases

Study suggests screening for MRSA in the nose. A new study finds that people with high levels of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria in the nose are more likely to have other areas of the body colonized by MRSA. Researchers at Rhode Island Hospital found that MRSA was more likely to be found in the nose than under the arms, the groin, or the perineum. They also determined that people with high levels of MRSA in the nose were more likely to have MRSA in the other three locations. The study was released Jan. 5 in the online version of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

MRSA screening in ICU cost effective. MRSA screening of patients in the intensive-care unit (ICU) produces cost savings for the whole hospital, according to a study published in the February 2011 issue of the American Journal of Infection Control, the official publication of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC). Researchers at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that, even under the most conservative assumptions, screening would be cost-neutral if early detection of MRSA led to a reduced rate of infection and transmission within the hospital. Under optimal assumptions, screening could result in savings of almost $500 per hospital admission. A 2006 survey conducted by APIC showed that 46 out of every 1,000 inpatients were infected or colonized with MRSA.

Spread the word, not the flu. Two-thirds of Americans admit to going about their daily activities despite experiencing flu symptoms, according to a survey conducted on behalf of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID). The poll found that 68% are not aware that flu viruses can travel five to six feet from a sneeze or cough. The NFID launched a flu-awareness campaign called “Are You That Guy?” showing people working and riding public transportation while sick ( The NFID's campaign also includes an iPhone application, a symptom checklist, a zip-code flu tracker, and other background materials for healthcare professionals. Visit

New studies

Early detection possible for prion diseases. A fast test to diagnose fatal brain conditions — such as mad-cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans — could be on the horizon, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). A blending of previous test concepts by NIAID scientists has led to the development of a new prion-detection method, called real-time quaking-induced conversion assay, or RT-QuIC, which can detect when miniscule amounts of infectious prions initiate the conversion of large amounts of normal prion protein into an abnormal form in test-tube reactions. This approach is described in the Dec. 2010 issue of PLoS Pathogens.

Down-syndrome blood test could cut invasive testing. A new blood test may help pregnant women who are at high risk for having a baby with Down syndrome avoid more invasive tests such as amniocentesis and chronic villus sampling, WebMD Health News reports. The blood test analyzes components of genetic material from both the pregnant woman and her fetus that is present in the mother's blood. There were no false-negative results with the test, suggesting it can help avoid 98% of follow-up invasive tests in women whose tests show that their babies do not have Down syndrome, according to the study, which appears in British Medical Journal.

Albumin in urine predicts cognitive decline. A new study has found that low amounts of albumin in the urine, at levels not traditionally considered clinically significant, strongly predict faster cognitive decline in older women. The six-year study involved women age >70 years who were tested for general cognition, verbal/word memory, verbal fluency, and working/short-term memory. Researchers found that participants with a urinary albumin-to-creatinine ratio of >5 mcg/mg at the start of the study experienced cognitive decline at a rate two to seven times faster in all cognitive measures than that attributed to aging alone. The strongest association was seen with a decline in the verbal-fluency score, which has been attributed to progressive small-vessel disease in the brain.