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Archive for May, 2007

Thursday, May 31st 2007

XDR TB Probably Shouldn't Equal Freakout

By now you’ve heard of the Atlanta attorney who, despite knowing he was positive for tuberculosis, hopped on a commercial flight to Europe. Then, after learning he had a particularly nasty form of the infection, hopped a commercial flight back to the U.S.; as the CDC says it, he took the flight against their instructions.

Dr. Martin S. Cetron, [a CDC official,] said he reached the man on his cellphone while he was in Italy to inform him that tests performed before he left for Europe showed that he had a form of tuberculosis that was extremely resistant to standard antibiotics. Dr. Cetron said that he advised the man not to take commercial flights home from Europe and that a United States Embassy would provide assistance, including examination by a tuberculosis expert.

While the agency began to explore ways to bring the man home, he flew to Montreal and drove into the United States. Then, after agency officials made contact with him, he followed their instructions to drive safely into New York without risk to the public.

The news story is understandable and necessary. Despite the “low” risk of him having infected others on the flight, public health officials are looking for those he was in contact with. They need to spread the word, and the media is the best way to do that. But the continual coverage afforded this story is an example of the oft criticized ‘state of fear’ reporting which drives a whole host of science stories (public health stories, global warming studies, etc.)

It is true extensive drug resistant tuberculosis can be a scary thing. Typical TB infection is treated with isonazide and rifampin (and pyrasinamide and ethambutol). Multidrug resistant tuberculosis doesn’t respond well to treatment with rifampin and isonazide. Second line drugs have to be used. They’re less effective, more toxic, and have more side effects. All happy things.

But it can get even better. Tuberculosis can mutate to be resistant to those second line drugs and, as in this case, you get extensive drug resistant (XDR) tuberculosis.

It is true, by some counts XDR – even in this country – has somewhere upwards of a 30% mortality. Between 1993 – 2002:


XDR TB MDR TB
Cured Cases 20 828
Mortal Cases 21 375
Total Cases* 64 1513

*Total cases encompasses more than those “cured” or those leading to death.

It is a bad disease to get ahold of. But the coverage of it and the public…fear that such media coverage has promoted, belies a faulty belief of just how big a public health risk this disease poses. XDR TB isn’t easier to spread than typical tuberculosis. And, perhaps more importantly, in this particular case Andrew Speaker doesn’t appear to have been very infective (listen to the NPR story).

Dr. Gwen Hewitt, who is treating Speaker at National Jewish, says he expects Speaker to recover fully. Speaker has an active case of TB, but is healthy and not likely to be infectious.

“He would be considered of low infectivity at this point in time,” Hewitt says. “He’s not coughing, he’s healthy, he does not have a fever, so he is of low communicability at this point in time.”

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Tuesday, May 29th 2007

Memorial Day Grand Rounds

Welcome to Grand Rounds Volume 3, Number 36. Before we jump into it, for those Americans visiting (or anyone with such an inclination): no matter how you honored the fallen yesterday, no matter your politics, please take another moment to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

It has been a real honor to put together Grand Rounds this week. There were, as usual, a ton of great submissions.

In the debate over whether to filter Grand Rounds, I stand on the populist side. I think I’ve included everything that was submitted. Even the submissions that ended up in my spam box. Hopefully, despite that, it isn’t terribly verbose.

The categories this week are as follows:



Joe Wright over at Hemodynamics has an eloquent post on how his understanding of life and death changed through medical school; how that long awaited moment of “spiritual catharsis” never came for him.

The Pioneering Portfolio of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has a great blog up called Pioneering Ideas. Amongst their posts is an excellent series on health care courts.

There is a wonderful post over at Unique But Not Alone celebrating the third birthday of Jen’s daughter, Meghan, and recounting the trial of her premature birth.



Dr. Descartin over on The Story of Healing tries to sort out how that answer choice on a pharmacology test became a reality, as her sister is diagnosed with breast cancer.

We’ve passed the fourth anniversary of Amy’s diagnosis with diabetes. She details how you know you’ve reached a milestone when you start dreaming about diabetes. In case somehow you don’t know, she is writing over at Diabetes Mine.

Allison at Lemonade Life, stretches into her archives and pulls out a very moving piece on her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes and the passing of her pediatric endocrinologist who helped her through her early years with the disease.

There’s some pondering going on over at Episcopal Chaplain at the Bedside. Marshall doesn’t understand why physicians studying family grieving wouldn’t consult the research of those who often provide the console – chaplains, social workers, and nurses.

What is wrong with the title Chronic Babe? Nothing says Jenni, who very nicely defends her decision to take a negative term associated with her disease – chronic – and redefine it as something positive for herself.

Kerri from Six Until Me writes about a pretty funny screw up from Drugstore.com. She orders a glucose meter and gets…well, you really need to go read it to find out.

Rachel wonders what the news on Avandia’s heart risk potentially means for her as a type II diabetic. She’s writing over at Tales Of My Thirties.

Following Elizabeth Edwards and Tony Snow’s public battles, Laurie asks if some cancers are the new chronic diseases. She’s posting at A Chronic Dose



Inside Surgery presents info on Sentinel Lymph Node Dissection in breast cancer patients. The procedure aims to potentially spare the patients more dramatic axillary lymph node dissection.

Tara over on Aetiology, goes over Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever after a number of recent cases in Wyoming and her recent run-in with a dog tick.

It is always fun when, as a medical student, you get clinical stories of something you read in a textbook. Roy at Shrink Rap provides just that, with a post on valproic acid induced hyperammonemia and the ensuing encephalopathy.

I never knew there were so many online resources on genetic diseases. Bertalan has laid out a beautiful collection of them over at Science Roll. It really is an impressive set of websites.

Going over one of their weekly visual diagnosis quizzes, NY Emergency Medicine interviews the Director of Emergency Ultrasound at Bellvue Hospital who lays out what to look for on U/S in emphysematous cholecystitis.

Dr. Sinclair uses a Pallimed post to go over the mainstream media’s coverage of new research of the addictive properties of opiates.

A tough way to be reminded of a lesson. Always think about giving fluids before giving vasopressors in septic shock. So says a submission from Clinical Cases & Images as Dr. Dimov looks at the story of a $30 million dollar malpractice award to a woman who lost her legs and several fingers to pressor related peripheral ischemia.



Medical tourism. I’m not sure I ever expected those two words to come into mainstream use. They have though. In the first post on the topic, David Williams of Health Business Blog has an interview with the author of Patients Beyond Borders.

In the second post, InsureBlog takes on the topic of medical tourism by going over the issues of state side follow up care, costs and liability.

Healthline Connects has a discussion of some rumblings that Medicare may stop reimbursing for medical errors.

On the topic of medical errors, Behavioral Ecology Blog says that recent tragedy at MLK/Harbor Hospital in Los Angeles had no undertones of racism.

The woes of HIPPA are well known to some medical professionals. Nurse Ratched details how HIPAA’s requirements strain her relations with patient’s families.

It seems a pertinent time to discuss patient privacy issues in light of the recent population reduction of the medical blogosphere. Mexico Medical Student thinks the recent shuttering of some prominent blogs due to privacy issues is merely an acute thing as people get acclimated to medical blogs.

Highlight Health does a recap of the blogosphere’s response to the disappearance of so many of its own. Walter includes some proposals for how to improve the ethics of medical blogging.

Dr. Trofatter at Fruit of the Womb bemoans how the U.S. lags behind in defining contraception as a basic human right.

Off the discussion of contraception being guaranteed, and onto a discussion of pooled funding for medical care in pregnancy. Louise, writing on Colorado
Health Insurance Insider
argues for guaranteed maternity care coverage through pooled insurance company resources.



Over at Agraphia: two parents (one a doctor) + a baby + a rash + Nair = pretty funny. Zac is the author.

Aaron Singh, writing on The Differential, has a hero in medicine…his just happens to be the cousin of my comedic hero, Sasha Baron-Cohen.

If you haven’t heard – the basic science years of medical school are basically just learning vocabulary. A post on Idiopathic Iatrogenesis spells out the parallels of learning a language and medical school.



Geena and Code Blog have a really tragic tale about dancing the line between reassuring patients and lying.

Keith spells pretty special lengths he goes to, to try to get a scared patient to a hepatologist. The post is on Digital Doorway.

One reason ERnursey knows she can trust her docs in the emergency room? I’ll let her tell the story.

I’m going to try to refrain from nodding my head in agreement so much that I strain my neck. Dr. RW, of Notes From Dr. RW thinks the NEJM is becoming a tabloid.

What is a two-fer? Kim, in a very funny post, explains over at Emergiblog.

Rickety Contrivances has a post wherein a volunteer chaplain gets cornered into a debate on abortion with a patient’s family he was very close to.

Dr. Val, of Revolution Medicine, writes about her experience with sexism in medicine. Her story is pretty shocking…maybe I’m just naive.

Donorcycle wonders what is so difficult for health care professionals about the idea of brain death.

A mother with a beard prompts Neonatal Doc to start blogging again.

Dr. George’s medical officer does some amazing work after he witnesses a traffic accident. It is all spelled out in a post on Odysseys of George.

Bongi is a surgeon in South Africa. On Other Things Amanzi he details how the level of violence in Mpumalanga forces him to confront his own mortality.



Dr. Lei wonders about the benefits of personalized nutrition plans based off commercial DNA tests. Very good questions and concerns over at Eye On DNA.

Mt. Everest has become too much of a tourist attraction. At Medicine For The Outdoors, Dr. Auerbach urges the Nepalese and Tibetan governments to limit climbing permits to those with the experience to try for the summit.

Universal Health details the American Nursing Association’s pandemic flu planning and also provides a great link to the Department of Health & Human Services’ pandemic flu blog summit.

Dr. Brown breaks down a new study in the journal Contraception which tries to document the reasons Americans have unprotected sex. The explanation and analysis on Teen Health 411 is excellent.

Stretch. Stretch. Stretch. But do it the right way says Dr. Bookspan. She’s posting on The Fitness Fixer.



What Tech Medicine is hyping is too cool. An Enclyclopedia of Life. You really need to go read what Dr. Schwimmer has to say about it.


This Is Going To Be Amazing When It Is Up And Running

The funny thing isn’t that a therapeutic robotic pet exists, as Dr. Deb informs us. It is that the Guinness Book of World Records has a category for World’s Most Therapeutic Robot.

Disorganized, dysfunctional meetings stink. I think we can all agree with LMF over at Ad Libitum.

The police come to Dr. Bishara’s aid after a flat tire. In praise of all men and women in any sort of uniform over at The Doctor Blogger.

Med Journal Watch wonders why we’re wasting fish oil on dairy cows when a study says it doesn’t improve their milk prediction.

Wow. You made it all the way through. I’m proud of you. It has been great putting this together this week…largely because it was a distraction from studying.

It is hard to give Dr. Genes enough credit for the work he puts into making Grand Rounds run every single week. It really is incredible.

Next week Grand Rounds will be over at Inside Surgery (who had a very good clinical submission this week, which you should go read).

Sunday, May 27th 2007

Wear Your Seatbelt

Governor Corzine learned the lesson the hard way; don’t follow suit.


I Like This Public Service Announcement…


…Better Than The NHTSA’s Commercials

But my opinion on the two is probably biased by view on mandatory seat belt laws.

Be smart and buckle up…no matter if the law dictates it or not.

Friday, May 25th 2007

When Holism Fails (All The Time?)

An Ohio child has passed away, five years out from being diagnosed with ALL which his parents decided to treat holistically.

Eleven-year-old Noah Maxin’s funeral is today after losing his struggle with leukemia, a fight that included the court battle his parents won for the right to decide how to treat their son’s disease.

In 2002, doctors diagnosed Noah with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Abnormal white blood cells were gathering in his bone marrow, crowding out red blood cells, platelets and healthy white cells and leaving him at risk of infection, anemia and bleeding.

Noah began a treatment plan that included a blood transfusion, drugs and other measures. The cancer went into remission.

Noah’s parents stopped the chemotherapy three months into a 31⁄2-year plan favored by doctors at Akron Children’s Hospital. The Maxins said they were concerned about the long-term effects of chemotherapy and wanted to treat Noah with a holistic approach that emphasized improved diet and strengthening the body’s immune system. Another doctor took over his care.

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia is the most common cancer of childhood. As such there are an amazing number of summary resources available on the disease. The National Cancer Institute hosts a great site, eMedicine provides a run down for ALL both in adults and in children, both the New England Journal of Medicine (available for free with registration) and the Lancet Oncology have published amazing summaries on current pediatric ALL and its treatment.


Immature Lymphocytes In ALL

Being the way in general with leukemias and lymphomas, ALL is a really heterogeneous disease. As such, we don’t know a whole lot about what Noah Maxin was facing. What was his circulating blast count a week out? What about blast % in his marrow after a week in remission induction therapy? After two weeks? What about minimal residual disease? Good prognostic measurements. What was the cell line and the cytogenetics or possible chromosomal abnormalities? Even if we did we wouldn’t be able to say whether he would’ve survived (longer) with a traditional therapy plan.

On top of that, personally I know even less. All that laid out though, I still think Noah’s death is made a little bit more tragic by the positive signs in the story. At 6 or 7 Noah was in a pretty good age range to get ALL (if he had to). As an independent factor Noah’s age probably heralded a chance for 5 year survival greater than 80%.

As the story makes it sound the numbers associated with the ‘remission’ of Noah’s leukemia were good enough to encourage his parent’s to abandon chemo. And he apparently achieved that remission within the first round of remission induction therapy.

Noah’s parents feared the side effects of the chemotherapy. Long term consequences of acute lymphoblastic leukemia treatment, including secondary malignancies, are decreasing as therapy regimens improve, but they’re still a major concern:

Recent improvements in treatment have clearly reduced the risk of adverse sequelae in children with ALL who have completed treatment. In contrast to the cumulative risk of approximately 25% at 5 years among patients treated in the early treatment era at our center or elsewhere only 14% of patients developed any adverse event at 5 years (17% at 10 years) in this large cohort receiving treatment in the modern era.

But while that explains their actions, it is far from excusing them. The question of course is, should his parents have been allowed to move him onto such unconventional treatment?

Orac has taken up the case, and I think the following is an important point:

[From the Canton Repository:] In his seven-page opinion, Stucki wrote: “The court declines to venture a medical opinion on the efficacy of the chosen treatment. These are not parents who refused medical treatment or who elected to take Noah to a witch doctor or shaman or (chose) some other method of treatment which is not recognized by the medical community as legitimate.”

[Orac's Response:] I don’t know exactly what sort of woo Noah’s parents chose for him, but I would argue that using naturopathy against cancer is not all that different in efficacy from the treatments that a shaman or witch doctor would provide. In any case, even though Noah was off his chemotherapy for only four months, his tumor returned. By the time his parents turned back to conventional medicine, it was apparently too late.

The choice made for Noah by his parents was almost certainly a death sentence. Untreated, even after induction achieved remission, Noah’s leukemia was going to be fatal, wasn’t it? And whatever holistic plan his parent’s jumped on was no different than forgoing treatment altogether or as Orac says, going to a witch doctor or shaman.

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Thursday, May 24th 2007

Avian Flu Samples For All


Indonesia Takes Their Stuff And Heads Home


China and Indonesia will give up bird flu samples to the WHO
, under guarantees that they’ll have affordable access to any vaccines that are developed.

Indonesia – one of the countries most affected by the avian influenza outbreak – only recently began sharing its latest strain samples again, having blocked them since December.

It had argued that the pharmaceutical companies would use the samples to produce a commercial vaccine that was beyond the country’s economic reach.

I mean, I’m all for poorer nations playing hard ball to better their footing in the world economy. There’s no doubt some of the third world’s troubles are based on exploitation by the west.

But we’re not talking about loan repayments here or a trade agreement.

True, I think the media coverage of avian flu was overblown, and created an unnecessary level of fear initially. But this is still a major worldwide public health concern.

But WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan has accused countries that refused to provide timely samples of crippling the fight against a possible flu pandemic.

Holding progress on a vaccine partially hostage because you want to make sure your people get a piece of it…is selfish. End of story. It literally is saying: we’re afraid we won’t benefit, so everyone will suffer. At least they’ve accepted whatever guarantees they got about the vaccine and have come around.

Thursday, May 24th 2007

To Each Their Own?

A Los Angeles Times piece looks at medical students considering abortion work as obstetricians.

Each spring, the advocacy group Medical Students for Choice brings several hundred students — nearly 90% of them women — to a weekend convention to nudge them into considering abortion work. One of the most effective tools: introducing them to veteran providers.

[Y]oung doctors-in-training have found their own motivation to enter a field that they know will put them at risk of isolation, harassment and hatred. For them, doing abortions is an act of defiance — a way of pushing back against mounting restrictions on a right they’ve taken for granted all their lives.

“It’s like when your big brother says you can’t do something,” [Fourth Year Megan] Lederer said. “That just makes you want to do it even more.”

Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures in the U.S., terminating about one in four pregnancies, not counting miscarriages. Yet the number of providers has fallen steadily for decades, dropping 37% between 1982 and 2000, the last year a census was taken. (During the same period, the number of abortions fell 17%.)

Coming to terms with doing this as part of your practice must be…tough…

Lederer does not know how she will handle such emotion; the closest she’s come to performing an abortion was suctioning the seeds out of a papaya to learn a first-trimester technique. She may, in the end, restrict her practice to early abortions. But that’s not an easy solution to accept. She can’t see how she could ever justify taking one woman as a patient while turning away another because her pregnancy is a few weeks more advanced.

She also knows that the few doctors who perform late second- and third-trimester abortions are mostly in their 60s or 70s. “Who’s going to do this when they leave? Someone has to,” Lederer said. “I feel in my heart of hearts that it’s the right thing to do.”

Tuesday, May 22nd 2007

Trusting Patients

Even I – in just the short steps I’ve taken towards joining the physician fraternity – have grown a bit cynical to some patients’ complaints. But this is an utter reminder of how much respect doctors need to treat each and every complaint. Even if some patients make such difficult.

This story from Drew/MLK in Los Angeles is tragic, disgusting, and, obviously unacceptable.

How [Edith] Rodriguez came to die at a public hospital, without help from the many people around her, is now the subject of much public hand-wringing. The county chief administrative office has launched an investigation, as has the Sheriff’s Department homicide division and state and federal health regulators.

The triage nurse involved has resigned, and the emergency room supervisor has been reassigned. Additional disciplinary actions could come this week.

Having recently been seen in the ER, Miss Rodriguez was found wallowing on the ground outside the hospital and taken back to the ER by the police.

“Thanks a lot, officers,” an emergency room nurse told Los Angeles County police who brought in Rodriguez early May 9 after finding her in front of the Willowbrook hospital yelling for help. “This is her third time here.”

The 43-year-old mother of three had been released from the emergency room hours earlier, her third visit in three days for abdominal pain. She’d been given prescription medication and a doctor’s appointment.

Turning to Rodriguez, the nurse said, “You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do,” according to a report by the county office of public safety, which provides security at the hospital.

She falls out of her wheel chair in the waiting room where the police leave her, and writhes around on the floor without any help. Finally, her boyfriend shows up, and starts trying to find assistance for her.

Jose Prado, returned to the hospital after an errand and saw her on the floor, he alerted nurses and then called 911.

According to Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Peavy, the dispatcher said, “Look, sir, it indicates you’re already in a hospital setting. We cannot send emergency equipment out there to take you to a hospital you’re already at.”

Prado then knocked on the door of the county police, near the emergency room, and said, “My girlfriend needs help and they don’t want to help her,” according to the police report. A sergeant told him to consult the medical staff, the report said. Minutes later, Prado came back to the sergeant and said, “They don’t want to help her.” Again, he was told to see the medical staff.

Finally, the presumably annoyed police, run her name and find she has an outstanding warrant. They arrest her as she iscurled up on the linoleum floor of the waiting room. By the time they get her out to the police car she has no pulse.

The woman ended up having a perforated colon. Related to what it isn’t clear.

LA County’s Chief Administrative Officer, David Janssen, had this to say,

[H]e said, the preliminary investigation suggests that the fault primarily rests with the nurse who resigned. “I think it’s a tragic, tragic incident, but it’s not a systemic one.”

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Tuesday, May 22nd 2007

Grand Rounds @ ImpactED Nurse

Go check out this week’s Grand Rounds.

That is all.

Monday, May 21st 2007

We Know What's Good For You: No Trans Fat


NYC Prepares For Its Ban Limitations On Cooking With Trans Fat

The sad thing about trans fats being dictated out of New York City is that no one probably cares. Whatever outrage there is, is ageless, and is certainly not addressed in this interview with Dr. Thomas Frieden – who can only muster that it is no different than the government cleaning up the water supply.

But, in reality it doesn’t rise to the government’s responsibility for the water supply at all, does it?

No one denies that stupid double bond in the trans configuration is bad for health. If you read only one article read this review of the literature – “Trans Fatty Acids and Cardiovascular Disease” – which is free on the NEJM website. Or you can read one of the seemingly innumerous studies which point to the health consequences of TFA consumption. Such include the Seven Nations Study, the Zutphen Elderly Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, or this BMJ published study looking at dietary fat in men and the risk of CHD.

While there’s still some questions out there about specific trans fats and the risks of heart disease the amount of congruency between the studies, in terms of TFAs contribution to coronary heart disease, is pretty impressive. But that is beyond the point. The level of the scientific acceptance of the fact alone shouldn’t determine public policy. As with all choices in life we need to weigh the consequences. Which include trying to quantify TFAs health impact.

Trying to quantify the contribution of trans fat to heart disease is difficult in some ways.


Relative Risk Of Coronary Heart Disease With 2% Trans Fat Diet

Supposedly low estimates contribute more than 30,000 American deaths a year to a diet with 2% of its calories coming from trans fatty acid. And that is only the contribution to deaths related to heart disease.

But while 30,000 is a shocking figure – and admitting the number may be much higher – it needs to be put into perspective.

Consider the relative risk of coronary heart disease with a sedentary lifestyle is likely higher than a diet in which you get 2% of your energy from trans fats. Because sitting on your ass watching television probably contributes to even more fatalities, are we on our way towards forcing mandatory exercise?

While the gut reaction is to sit there and claim a huge distinction between denying people something which is bad for them and forcing them onto a treadmill, philosophically is it really that much of a stretch?

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Monday, May 21st 2007

Futile Care

Emilio Gonzalez, a 19 month old in Austin, has been taken off life support amid controversy,

Doctors wanted to invoke a state law allowing the hospital to stop life support after a 10-day notice for patients deemed medically futile.

Emilio’s mother, Catarina Gonzales, said she knew her son would die but wanted doctors to continue care, pointing out that he smiled and turned his head when he heard voices. Her lawyer argued the state law was unconstitutional. In April, a judge agreed to temporarily block the hospital’s move to end life support.

“We mourn the death of Emilio Gonzales,” Michael Regier, senior vice president of legal services for the Seton Family of Hospitals, said in a statement. “We pray that in the days and weeks to come, Emilio’s mother and family will be comforted by God’s loving presence and by the knowledge that Emilio’s earthly suffering is now ended.”

The ongoing hustle prompted the Texas Senate to recently pass a law expanding the time a hospital must give a family to find another care facility to continue the futile care. The law, if it squeezes through the House before the end of this session, would expand the time from 10 days to 48 days.

This is a tough issue. I’m very close to pediatric intensivists who sincerely, utterly believe that continuing the suffering of a child who will not get better through artificial respiration goes against the Hippocratic Oath and is immoral. There is certainly an argument, under such reasoning, that allowing the family to even look into other options of continuing the suffering of their family member is immoral.

I don’t know what the answer is. I will say I’m offended by any generalized contentions about the ulterior motives of health care providers in these cases. There is huge sincerity, amongst all physicians I know, in trying to do what they think is right for their patient in these cases. Even if such puts enormous, unimaginable stress on the families.