Medical Monday: Breaking News from the World of Obstetrics and Gynecology

Zika is still in the news this new year, but this is definitely the off season. In good news, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) has released $184 million dollars to the states and territories to fight to Zika virus. The funds will be used to improve testing and to enable the states to track pregnancies and births affected by Zika. In other good news, two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that the risk of Zika associated microcephaly maybe less than previously estimated. Microcephaly is one of the more severe side effects of perinatal infection with the Zika virus. However it is not the only side effect as Zika affects many other organs and many other aspects of the central nervous system, many of which are yet be fully quantified. It may be that while microcephaly is less prevalent than previously estimated, serious less well defined or obvious side effects are more common than previously estimated.

New research published in the Journal Gynecologic Oncology indicate that there is a new up-and-coming ovarian cancer drug. In this small study, progression free survival was increased from 6.8 months to 15.4 months. This may not sound like much but it's a step in the right direction which, ultimately, may be combined with other such steps.

Republican Representative from Georgia Tom Price has been nominated for Health and Human Services Secretary. This has been a controversial nomination. Dr. Price is an orthopedic surgeon, and as such has been endorsed by the American Medical Association. At the same time, many in the medical field voiced their opposition to this nomination. Several thousand physicians have signed a  petition indicating their displeasure and stated that the American Medical Association does not speak for them. Meanwhile, the President of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dr. Thomas Gellhaus, has expressed concerns that some of the bills supported by Dr. Price would “…not serve women's health well”.

In other political news the GOP is divided on the issue of the ACA (Affordable Care Act). Basically, the two camps are as follows: repeal and do not replace versus revise and rebrand. GOP leaders have tried to assuage concerns about the repeal or revision of the ACA promising that "no one is worse off". There is concern however that ensuring that "no one is worse off" will be difficult to accomplish, given that the GOP intends to repeal certain taxes which have been used to fund the ACA.

In sobering news, alcohol consumption, bingeing and alcohol related deaths are up sharply among American women. This is the case as reported by the Washington Post on analysis of Federal health data. Analyzing the data has revealed that this is particularly true among American white women. At the same time, findings published in the current issue of the Journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence show that between 2005 and 2013 binge alcohol use and alcohol use disorders are increasing among older adults.

The Journal of the American Medical Association has produced new research which has broken down how we spend on healthcare. Not terribly surprising are the first two diseases that cost us the most as of 2013: coming in at number one for $101 billion dollars is diabetes, number two at $88 billion is heart disease and a surprising tie for number two is back and neck pain at $88 billion. These are nontrivial numbers which are generally spent in the hospital setting. Therefore it comes as no surprise that hospitals have been voicing their warnings to the incoming  administration about the possible repeal of the ACA. They have calculated that they stand to lose $165 billion if the estimated 20 million people lose their insurance they gained under the ACA. They warned of “an unprecedented public health crisis" and possible collapse of the whole healthcare sector.

In perhaps the most interesting news of the week the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is going head-to-head with the FDA over the issue of anesthesia for pregnant women. The FDA recently issued a warning against the extended or repeated use of "general anesthetic and sedation drugs in infants and toddlers and pregnant women in their third trimester”, indicating these "might damage children's developing brains”.  Their recommendation is based on observational studies on animals. ACOG has issued a statement indicating that they are unaware of data on pregnant women that support the FDA's claims. They go on further to state that these warnings may cause patients and providers to inappropriately reject the use of these medically indicated drugs.” As a practicing Obstetrician, I can imagine the difficulties this warning is going to cause with pregnant women who need surgery for trauma, gallbladder removal, appendectomy, or even C section where spinal blocks or epidurals do not work or are contraindicated. 

Back in the good news department, Texas, of all places, has produced seven lawmakers that have filed bills for the upcoming legislative sessions seeking to "eliminate the sales tax on feminine hygiene products". The state of Texas has a 6.25% sales tax on all retail sales. Additionally certain local entities can impose an additional 2% tax. Currently certain hygiene products such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups are designated as luxury items and as such are subject to the retail tax. Changing this law would repeal this so-called"Tampon tax" which is considered unjust because it targets only women. Besides, everybody knows these items are not luxuries, they are necessities.

Stay tuned for more breaking news from the exciting world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week on Medical Monday.