Category Archives: Conference

The Monkeypox threat and what we have learned from the COVID-19 pandemic

An electron microscopic (EM) image depicting a monkeypox virion. (Image courtesy of the CDC Public Health Image Library.)

The world isn’t done with the SARS-CoV-2 virus pandemic, and now another pathogen has public health officials on high alert: the monkeypox virus.

Monkeypox is a rare viral disease seldom detected outside of west and central Africa, where the disease is endemic. Recently, it has emerged in places globally where it isn’t endemic and impacted populations that aren’t typically vulnerable to the virus, which causes a rash, skin pustules, fever and body aches.

As of May 21, the World Health Organization reported 92 laboratory-confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases in 12 countries where the disease isn’t endemic, including the United States. On May 23, the CDC said there has been one laboratory-confirmed case in Massachusetts and four suspected cases in three U.S. states — Florida, New York and Utah. Those infected are mostly men, but in the past, monkeypox cases have mostly occurred in children.

Monkeypox showing up in places where it isn’t endemic and affecting a different population is concerning public health officials. The initial sequencing of the monkeypox cases shows the strain is similar to the endemic virus in west Africa — raising questions about how it was transmitted — as many of those who have become sick never traveled to Africa.

“The emergence of the virus in separate populations across the world where it doesn’t usually appear has alarmed scientists — and sent them racing for answers,” wrote Max Kozlov in a  May 20 Nature article. Much of what scientists know about monkeypox is based on 1,500 cases as of 2018.

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Brain-computer interfaces translate thoughts to actions

A student in Dr. José del R. Millán’s lab at the University of Texas at Austin, demonstrates a brain-computer interface project during one of the Health Journalism 2022 field trips. The cap is outfitted with electrodes. When an external magnet is placed near the cap, it produces an electric current that moves the student’s finger. The technology could potentially be harnessed toward recovery for stroke or other patients following brain injury.

Imagine if a computer or assistive technology could process the thoughts of a person paralyzed or lacking the ability to speak and respond. That’s the burgeoning field of brain-computer interfaces, a world that journalists covering Health IT may want to learn about and explore to further enhance their reporting.

brain-computer interface (BCI) is a technology system that collects and interprets brain signals and transmits them to a connected machine that outputs the commands, panelists explained during “The electric brain: How technology can unite minds and machines” session, moderated by AHCJ Board President Felice Freyer at Health Journalism 2022. During the panel, researchers from Massachusetts, Texas and Michigan highlighted their work in BCIs as potential therapies for people with physical and/or speech limitations.

“When I see somebody in the neuro ICU who yesterday was able to walk and speak without any difficulty, but suddenly today is unable to move with cervical spinal cord injury, I’d like nothing more than to be able to tell that person, ‘I’m sorry this happened, but you’re going to be able to move again tomorrow,’” said Leigh Hochberg, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of engineering and senior lecturer in neurology with Brown University, Massachusetts General Hospital and the Providence VA Medical Center in New England. 

That’s one of the goals of a project he directs called BrainGate, an effort funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health, among others, to develop BCI technologies to restore communication, mobility and independence for people with neurologic disease, injury or limb loss. 

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Going beyond umbrella statistics when covering health in LGBTQ communities

Photo by Katherine GilyardDaniel Downer, executive director of The Bros in Convo Initiative, addresses attendees during the “Covering the LGBTQ+ communities: Anti-LGBTQ+ measures, COVID-19 and reporting insights” panel.

Reporters covering LGBTQ people are encouraged to go beyond umbrella statistics, become familiar with appropriate terminology and avoid framing stories in ways that further stigmatize the community. 

Those are just a few of the key takeaways from the  “Covering the LGBTQ+ communities: Anti-LGBTQ+ measures, COVID-19 and reporting insights” panel at Health Journalism 2022. The presentation also focused on health care inequities and discriminatory legislation like Florida’sDon’t Say Gay” bill. 

The panel — moderated by Naseem Miller, senior health editor for The Journalist’s Resource — also included Brad Sears, executive director and associate dean of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law,  Daniel Downer, executive director of The Bros in Convo Initiative, Dallas Ducar, CEO of Transhealth Northampton, and Jen Christensen, a CNN producer and immediate past president of the National Association of LGBTQ Journalists.  

Panelists urged reporters to get it right. “As health journalists, we have an opportunity to educate people in a really straightforward way,” said Christensen, “It’s exciting to think that you get a chance to talk about something a lot of your audience hasn’t heard about before.”

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Gaps in medical, legal systems may allow other ‘Dr. Deaths’ to practice, panelists say

Panelists of “Dr. Death” session (from left to right): Matt Grant of KXAN, Kay Van Wey, an attorney of medical malpractice at Van Wey Law PLLC; Laura Beil, an independent journalist and award-winning host and reporter of “Dr. Death” podcast; Lisa B. Robin of the Federation of State Medical Boards and Ware Wendell of Texas Watch (Photo courtesy of KXAN and Chris Nelson.)

Journalists must draw attention to the failures in the U.S. medical and legal systems that allowed Christopher Duntsch, the subject of journalist Laura Beil’s well-regarded “Dr. Death” podcast series, to injure dozens of patients, members of an expert panel said at the “10 years after ‘Dr. Death’: Are patients any safer from bad doctors?” panel at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Despite the publicity generated by Beil’s work and that of other journalists about this case, there’s still too little protection for patients against doctors who already have been proven incompetent, said speakers at the April 30 session. Doctors may change hospitals or even states and continue to practice after harming patients, due in large part to a reluctance among physicians and hospital administrators to report harms, they said.

Matt Grant of KXAN Austin presented highlights from his “Still Practicing” series, which looked at how doctors with problematic histories have been able to transfer to new hospitals.

In the website that houses the videos from the series, Grant and colleagues note that February 2022 marked the fifth anniversary of the conviction of Duntsch for injury to an elderly person, which resulted in a life sentence.

Grant and KXAN colleagues pulled thousands of physician disciplinary records from medical boards across the United States. The records were then checked against the Texas Medical Board’s physician portal one name at a time. The KXAN team said they found at least 49 doctors who had disciplinary actions in other states — including having their medical licenses suspended, revoked or surrendered — who were still practicing or able to in Texas. Some of the physicians were repeat offenders with actions in multiple states. Criminal charges previously filed against doctors included ones for driving drunk, domestic violence, possession of a controlled substance and operating a firearm while intoxicated.

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How to cover opioid lawsuits and settlement money

Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter and moderator of the “Following the opioid settle money” panel session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

Billions of dollars are soon to be rolling out in the states to settle thousands of lawsuits filed against opioid manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Journalists will play an essential role in shedding light on whether the dollars will actually go towards addressing the opioid crisis, which killed an estimated 80,816 Americans in 2021, and more than 500,000 since 1999, according to CDC data. Overall drug overdose deaths were 107,622 in 2021, up 15% from 2020.

To help reporters cover this topic, Taylor Knopf, a North Carolina health news reporter, Shelly Weizman, a lawyer at the Georgetown University O’Neill Institute for National and Global Law center and Albie Park, an addiction counselor, offered resources and tips during a May 1 session at Health Journalism 2022 in Austin.

“If we are going to get this right with these opioid settlements, it’s going to take a great deal of accountability and transparency and staying on top of this,” said Weizman, who is also associate director of addiction and public policy initiative at the O’Neill Institute.

Earlier this year, the nation’s three largest drug distributors and a drug manufacturer agreed to pay $26 billion to settle thousands of state and local lawsuits, while Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay as much as $6 billion to settle lawsuits and emerge from bankruptcy protection. Other lawsuits are still pending, but money from the cases settled are expected to begin flowing in 2022.

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