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

Policy News 

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The Trump Administration will continue to use a bundled payment model for Medicare recipients. This means that the government will pay a certain lump some to cover all the inpatient and procedure related medical care given to Medicare patient rendered in a 90 day period of time. If the healthcare providers use less than that amount of money they can receive a bonus. This strikes me as a terribly perverse incentive. Hospitals and caregivers have every incentive to skimp on care so they can pocket the bonus. What if the amount of money allocated is not enough for all the care the patient needs within the 90 days? It is interesting to note that this bundled payment strategy was created under Obamacare (The Affordable Care Act or the ACA) and has been reincarnated in almost exactly the same form under the Trump administration.

Several women’s health organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), have instituted a program called"The Care Women Deserve”. Under this program, there will be an effort to educate all women regarding the health services to which, under the ACA which is current law, they are entitled, at little or no cost. Examples of these services include well woman visits, also known as annual exams, Pap smears, contraception, also known as birth control, HIV screening, mammograms and breast-feeding support. Not all women know that they are entitled to all these services.

The Trump administration has long tried to weaken the contraceptive mandate, the part of the Affordable Care Act which requires insurance companies to cover contraception without co-pay. They have received many legal challenges to these attempts. The Trump administration has paid out over 3 million dollars of taxpayer money to to settle these lawsuits.

For the first time in Medicaid's 50 year history certain states will be allowed to interpose work requirements on certain able bodied adult recipients. The National Health Law Center is preparing to challenge this in court.

Washington DC’s only pubic hospital has been closed due to quality concerns. 

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the GOP is scaling back plans to reform the ACA and social security type programs. They are focusing on basic problems like funding the government. They are even talking about increasing the debt limit and reaching a compromise on immigration. Since when has the GOP been interested in increasing the debt limit ? 


Medical News 


  • Once again our own immune system is at the heart of a disease process. Evidence from a mice model suggests that the damage caused from Zika virus infection is actually from the mother’s immune response against the virus in the baby. This was published in Science Immunology. 
  • A large retrospective study has indicated that pregnant women who take methylphenidate for ADHD have a higher likelihood of having a baby with a heart defect. 
  •  A new study published in the Journal Birth looks again at Texas maternal mortality rates. Between 2011 and 2015, there has been an 87% spoke in maternal mortality. The worst has been in mothers over, 40 with that group having a mortality rate 27 times that of women under 40. This is felt to be related to increasing rates on chronic and under treated disease including obesity, lack of insurance and lack of health care. 
  • A 172 woman study published in Menopause made the we-already-knew-this-department. They have shown that one year of postmenopausal hormone therapy prevented depressive symptoms more effectively than placebo. Postmenopausal hormone therapy is FDA approved for hot flashes and vaginal dryness, but not for mood disturbance. Maybe it should be. 
  • The Journal of Asthma has published a study linking prenatal exposure to PCBs ( polychlorinated biphenyls) to asthma and upper respiratory infections and eczema in children. 
  • A new study has indicated that women who work night shifts have a (gasp) 19% higher chance of getting cancer than those who do not work at night. This meta-analysis has shown that the risk is proportional to time worked at night, and that the risks  go up differently for different cancers. The most surprising is skin cancer with a 41% increase in risk. Next is a 32% increase in breast cancer, and an 18% increased risk in digestive cancers. Yikes ! I hope the exact reasons for this get figured out and dealt with ! 

We have a new department ! It is called the stupid and irresponsible department. Our inaugural feature is devoted to the TV show Black Mirror, whose writers decided to depict emergency contraction, aka “ Plan B” or “ the morning after pill” quite incorrectly. In particular, they portrayed a teen who took it as having nausea, which is not typical. A nurse in the show informs her she had taken it “ to terminate a pregnancy”. Basically the show confused the morning after pill with the abortion pill. The morning after pill is progesterone only, thus should not cause nausea. Plan B does not cause abortion of an established pregnancy. It prevents pregnancy. Thanks so much, TV,  thanks. 

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


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

Health and Political concerns for women have merged into one. Many of you have appreciated this for some time, but now the topic is mainstream. 

Last Wednesday leaders representing over half a million medical students and doctors gathered to lobby Senators against the so-called BCRA (Better Care Reconciliation Act).Among the leaders were the Presidents of The American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). They validated and reiterated widespread concerns that without the ACA (Affordable Care Act) or similar, people will delay or forgo care. For example, under the new proposal, older patients will have cost sharing reductions curtailed in 2 year. The leaders also voiced concern about allowing individual States to determine what constitutes essential benefits. Dr. Munger of the American Academy of Family Physicians indicated this compromising essential benefits would constitute a special threat to people with chronic, rather than acute conditions, since their essential health needs are ongoing. The President of the American Academy of Pediatrics indicated that there will be a calculable “ body count” associated with this proposed law. 

Dr. Haywood Brown, President of ACOG, stated the legislation represented an “ assault on women’s health”. He elaborated, saying BCRA could result in women and men paying differently for health care. It would end the guarantees on preventive care, i.e screening tests like paps and mammograms. Dr. Haywood also noted that fully 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. The BCRA bill would end guaranteed coverage of contraception and maternity services. These changes would worsen the already terrible trends in maternal mortality in the United states. He states he feared going back to the time when having a baby could lead to bankruptcy, and when treatments for cancer were not always within reach. Indeed, the Journal Cancer has published a study containing projections of the numbers of increased cases of late-stage breast cancer that will be diagnosed during to loss of access to screening mammograms. As if to drive home the point ,the Journal Cancer Epidemiology contains new research indicating that breast cancers appear to have been diagnosed earlier after the ACA was implemented. 

California has its own contraceptive requirement, a goal that many States are now have accomplished or are working toward. The California policy, in place since the first of the year, requires that insurers cover contraception. It also requires that they cover 12 months of it at a time. It is estimated that in California, it will reduce the number of unintended pregnancies by 15,000, the number of miscarriages by 2000, and the number of abortions by 7000. Health care costs will be reduced by 43 million dollars annually. 

Low income women are at particular risk if the BRCA goes through, since it would phase out the Medicaid expansion in a more permanent way than the ACA would. Of note, half of all births in the US are covered by Medicaid. One fifth of all American women use Medicaid. 

Many observers have noted that BCRA healthcare bill disproportionately affects women, since it targets maternity, screening, and contraception. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) has come forward to say that the law should include provisions for all insurance plans to include prenatal care and for laws that require employers to grant maternity leave for both parents. Hooray for Republicans standing up for women’s health ! I did a little research and found that Senator Cassidy and his wife are physicians who feel this aligns with their Christian values. Why is this so rare ? 

Another group is at risk of losing affordable insurance: Those who obtain their health insurance through their work. The Affordable Care Act currently mandates that businesses of a certain size offer their employees health insurance. That requirement is due to go, all or in part, by the wayside. 

Modifications to the BCRA plan are under consideration. GOP senators had considered scrapping the “ wealth tax” on those families making more than $275,000, but now they are considering keeping it to help pay for extra funds to combat the opioid epidemic. Furthermore, GOP senators have conceded, at the urging of insurance officials, that the individual mandate be kept indirectly in that a penalty fee will be levied against all those who do not maintain health insurance at all times. Insurance industry representatives have asked for this to help stabilize the insurance market. Personally, I think it is an important part of any health care plan, since it requires people to prioritize their health, it enables people to comPlanned Parenthoode in for care especially screenings, and it protects patients, caregivers, hospitals and the rest of us paying insurance against direct or indirect financial loss due to health mishaps. 

Two GOP Senators, both women, have criticized the BCRA over its defunding of Planned Parenthood. 

Personally I think it would be just fine if the GOP scraps the ACA then puts it all back together piece by piece, gives it a different name, and takes full credit for it. I just hope that, being Republicans, they find a fiscally responsible and sustainable way to fund it. I favor heavy vice taxes. Why ? Because they discourage vices ( true and documented !) and they make lots of money for the public coffers. Cigarettes are heavily taxed, but they could get taxed even more. Alcohol could be further taxed. Soda taxes could be tried but have not been popular… too bad !  Finally, in my opinion, marijuana should be taxed in those States where it is legal, for all but those with legitimate cards. FaIling these, I favor increased gas taxes and increased sale taxes on luxury items. 

On to the medical news. 

Zika precautions for pregnant and potentially pregnant women are still in place. Travelers heading anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line should inquire on the CDC.gov website about regional risk. 

Opioids. These are the pain pills or IV drugs, the morphine derived compounds that are so addictive. It turns out they are not really that much help with actual pain. It turns out they work less and less well over time, and that eventually, they need to be taken just to feel “ok”.  Patients often begin them for legitimate reasons, but then end up taking them just to cope. They may not even realize they are addicted. Doctors give them for legitimate reasons, but also because they are lazy. It is hard to say no, especially when you think that saying no will cause your patient to leave your practice and medical care altogether. A new study has found that about half of opioids are given for mental health disorders rather than pain. Physicians and patients need to be educated. It is estimated that half a million people will die in the next decade due to opioid abuse, unwitting or otherwise. 

Flu vaccine may be delivered by a painless patch in the future. A new study published in The Lancet reports on this research. I wonder if this will enhance vaccination rates. 

Increased rates of air pollution are associated with shortened life spans. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that “ safe” levels may be lower than previously imagined. Indeed, there may be no “safe” level at all. 

ACOG recently held its annual meeting. New research presented there focused on media representations of female genitalia. Dr. Cheryl Iglesia noted that images of female genitalia are “highly-curated, and extensively retouched” before being presented on the internet, “ leaving men and women little idea of the real range of normal efface genitalia”. She has suggested that this distortion is associated with a sharp rise in labioplasty surgery in the last year. Ten thousand such surgeries were done in the past year, a rise of 23% compared to the previous year. ACOG has issued a Committee Opinion document “...expressing concern about the lack of data and deceptive marketing practices surrounding a number of cosmetic vaginal surgeries”.

So much news ! Stay tuned here next week … for Medical Monday. 

Meanwhile contact your elected officials at Congress.gov !! It's Independence Day ! Exercise your freedom !! 

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

It turns out that Dr. Peter Hotez, the Dean of that National School for Tropical Medicine has been thinking about the interplay between Hurricane Matthew and the Aedes mosquito which spreads Zika. His informed speculations were that the Hurricane could provide an initial respite from the mosquitos, being essentially blown away by the tremendous winds. However, the enormous amount of standing water afterwards would provide ideal breeding ground for the virus carrying mosquitos. 

Though the Federal government has passed a limited Zika funding measure, the bulk of the costs have fallen on States. The 1.1 billion dollars recently approved requires the development of a spending plan which the Department of Health and Human Services are required to complete by the end of the month. One hundred and fifty two million will go toward vaccine development. The rest will go to local labs to speed up testing, as well as for prevention efforts like mosquito control, and education campaigns. 

Much of the press about Zika focuses rightly on its effects on pregnant women, namely microcephaly and other severe effects on the fetal and neonatal brain and nervous system. However, Zika virus effects non- pregnant women and men by increasing their chances of Guillain Barre Syndrome, post viral paralysis. In the recent new wave of such patients, 97% of these patients had symptoms of Zika 4 weeks prior, further cinching the relationship of the virus to the syndrome even further. 

At least 808 pregnant American women have Zika. It is likely that there are many more since the infection can be asymptomatic, and testing results are much delayed. Physicians and Institutions are trying to ready themselves for the increase in special needs children which will come as a result of the Zika epidemic. 

New Zika recommendations indicate that both men and women wait six months to get pregnant after Zika exposure. 

In other virus related news, studies have shown that parents are more likely to ask for HPV ( Human Papilloma Virus) vaccine to be given to their children if their child’s caregiver discusses it with them in a certain way. In particular, if caregivers highlight the parent’s role in preventing HPV infection, parents are more likely to agree to the administration of the vaccine. HPV vaccine is grossly underutilized. Researchers and physicians are trying to increase HPV vaccine utilization rates by funding the vaccine with others and by giving it in school based programs. HPV is a virus which causes serious and sometimes fatal disease processes ( cervical cancer)  for which there is an effective vaccine. Yet many will not utilize it. Once we are fortunate enough to have a Zika vaccine, I wonder if some will decline that too. 

Speaking of inadequate utilization of vaccine, over half of millennials do NOT plan to get the flu vaccine this year. Half of these people do not believe it is effective and 29% think it will give them the flu. The data do not bear out these concerns. 

Here is some bad news that is, at the same time, interesting and useful. First, people in most modern countries gain weight during the holidays. The amount and time frame varies by country. In the US, our weight is at its lowest in October, right after summer, and increases in the ten days preceding the holidays. It appears that holiday related weight gain, regardless of country, takes about FIVE months to lose. That’s right people, gain it in ten days, lose it over five months. 

In other bad but fascinating and hopefully helpful news, stress contributes to aging in a very particular and profound way. A large human DNA study has demonstrated that “ adverse events in childhood ...hasten …telomere tear down." I once read telomeres are the protective shoelace tips to our DNA shoelaces. Telomeres keep DNA from fraying as it were, and this prevents premature aging. They were able to determine that each significant stressful event in a person’s life increases the risk of shorter telomeres by 11 percent. DNA codes for what we are… in a very immediate tissue sense of the word. Damaged DNA leads to all kinds of diseases including cancer, and basically the failure to heal and renew properly. We have to start taking the prevention of childhood stress much more seriously. 

State Medicaid expansions are most costly than previously anticipated. This is because more qualifying patients have signed up, and they are sicker than had been anticipated. This should be cause for increasing the funding to the expansions, says this fiscal conservative. Why ? It is because preventive care and treatment that is earlier rather than later ALWAYS is cheaper in the long run. Never mind that it is more humane and the ethical thing to do. 

Stay tuned for more fascinating news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology, next week, on Medical Mondays.

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

Zika again dominates the news in Ob/Gyn. As of Friday, a storm system was approaching the subtropical state of Florida, where 43 are confirmed infected with the Zika Virus. Authorities think the storm may help spread the virus which is transmitted by mosquitos and sex. Meanwhile, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) does not have enough Zika testing resources. I myself experienced this last week when I was told a specimen we sent to the CDC would take “weeks” to result. We Ob/Gyns are not able to effectively work in time frames like this, and so this week we will have being having some words with the powers that be. 

A new study published in Radiology has shown that Zika can cause many other brain defects besides microcephaly. They have thus far identified 8 major defects. One of the most common was ventriculomegaly, or enlarged ventricles and thinning cortex. 

Thus far the Florida outbreak has been clustered around Miami. However Thursday, an isolated case showed up some 250 miles to the north in Tampa Bay, Pinellas county. It is still unclear how this occurred. On the bright side, modeling done by researchers at the University of Florida has indicated that the total outbreak should limited to under 400 individuals or less, considering all the southern states. They also believe winter will stop the outbreak, which would then recur next summer the same way. It is estimated that 20,000 pregnant women in the Miami area are taking extreme measures such as confinement indoors or moving to avoid Zika infection. 

NewYork officials are noting that travel restrictions to Zika affected area not being properly observed by pregnant or pre conceptual women. How do they expect people to take these restrictions seriously when they gave full sanction to people traveling to the Olympics in Rio? 

Dr. Kristyn Brandi writes that Zika is spreading more rapidly than anticipated in Puerto Rico, and that resources of information and contraception are not adequately available. 

The chair of ACOG (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) has written a strongly worded piece which has criticized how politics has prevented the funding of an adequate Zika response. He and co author, Dr. Didi Saint Louis of Morehouse School of Medicine have called for the full funding of comprehensive reproductive health care to allow women to avoid or delay pregnancy. They have called on Congress to reconvene to deal with this. 

In the non-Zika news, HPV virus is in the spotlight. This virus is responsible for abnormal paps, and cervical cancer, among other things. It has an effective vaccine which is meant for young people between the ages of 9 and 26. However parents remain wary to give it to their children. Research is being done regarding the prospect of putting it on the list of already mandatory vaccines which must be done before school entry. Surveys show that parents would accept this as long as there was an opt out provision. As of 2014, only 40% of girls and 20% of boys were vaccinated. It will be interesting to see if there will be those who decline the Zika vaccine once it gets developed. 

Breastfeeding is practiced by about 80% of all American women when they leave the hospital. However less than a third keep it up for the recommended time. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that infants should get nothing but breast milk for six months, and that breastfeeding should continue one year. 

Co-sleeping beyond six  months has been shown to produce significant stress on women. Researchers at Penn State note this may be related to fragmented sleep and less time with partner. Perhaps this is related to the falloff in breastfeeding. 

In the everyone-already-knows-this department, researchers at UCLA have discovered that menopause accelerates aging. In all fairness, what they have determined is that methylation increases in menopause, accelerating cellular aging about 6 %.

And in the we-should-have-known department, the “ baby simulator” program in high schools designed to deter teen pregnancy may actually be encouraging it. Graduates of the program with over third more like to have a teen pregnancy. 

Stay tuned next week for more news from the amazing world of Obstetrics and Gynecology.  

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

The news this week is dominated by virus science.

The first United States baby with Zika related microcephaly has been born in New York City. While this is not surprising, the fact that many women are ignoring Zika related travel warnings is. This summer, over 2000 pregnant women traveled to Zika affected areas and have com back requesting testing. In many cases, they are traveling to the Dominican Republic. AS f the present, cases from the Dominican Republic account for more than a fifth of all US cases. The CDC(Centers fro Disesase Control) and the American Academy of Pediatrics are grappling with how to develop protocols to care for infants who will be born with microcephaly. These infants have serious mental and physical disabilities since the higher portions of the brain are underdeveloped. 

Florida is one of the most vulnerable states in the Union to the Zika virus. Authorities estimates over a quarter of a million women are at risk in Florida. Various research indicates that a Medicaid expansion there would help reduce the risk of pregnancy women to Zika. There is also a push to require employers to take measures to limit their pregnant employees exposure to mosquitos. 

As of mid July the CDC is tracking around 1300 cases of pregnant women with Zika. Fourteen were sexually transmitted, and the rest acquired through travel. 

There is also a Utah case on record this week of a man who acquired Zika through close family contact. He was taking care of an elderly man who had acquired Zika due to travel. 

Hepatitis C is on the rise, both in women of reproductive age, and not surprisingly, in their children under 2. There is no vaccine yet for Hepatitis C, but very recently, a very good treatment has been released. 

In other viral news, work has been done showing that certain vaginal flora (Prevotella BIVIA) make it easier to transmit HIV. However, a silicone ring imbued with antiviral drug may help reduce the risk of transmission. Pregnant women with HIV have now been shown to do better if their therapy is continued postpartum. 

Finally, in some other good news pertaining to viruses, the American Cancer Society has endorse the vaccination of all preteens, boys and girls against HPV (Human papilloma virus.). 

Say tuned for more riveting news from the word of Ob/Gyn next week on Medical Monday. 

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

Zika funding. It comes down to this. Even as Congress has reached its planned seven week summer break, there is still no Zika budget, the United States faces its first couple deaths from Zika virus, one in Utah, and the other in Puerto Rico. The AP ( Associated Press) reports that the main hang up was Democratic objections to GOP language which would block Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money to fight the virus. Shame on them all. 

The Imperial College in London has presented a bad news/good news scenario. Their modeling has indicated that Zika will likely last in Latin America for another two to three years. At that stage, herd immunity will hopefully develop. 

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) is working on preparing a protocol for the first locally transmitted cases of Zika. One of the biggest challenges is that 80 percent of Zika infections area symptomatic. Almost all stars of the Union are at risk including the northernmost United States of Michigan, New Hampshire, Washington state and Minnesota. There are currently 346 pregnant women with Zika in the United States. 

Half a million people are excepted to travel to Brasil this year for the Olympics. However experts at the CDC are projecting that this will not spread Zika internationally. They have explained their position by saying that this half million represents only about 1% of all international travel to Brasil. 

HERE is the link to the excellent CDC pages on Zika. 


Happily much of the other news this week is good, though a fair amount of it falls in the "we already knew this" category. 

One thing we did not even suspect was that a mouse could have a menstrual cycle. The spiny mouse has a tiny nine day menstrual cycle. Researcher hope the mouse will provide a model to study the reproductive cycle in women. 

Moderate exercise in pregnancy has been shown to benefit both mother and baby. In particular, mothers who do moderate regular exercise in pregnancy have lower rates of hypertension, gestational diabetes, and C section. 

Both mothers and fathers weight during  pregnancy affect the weight of children later in life. This is believed to be true not only by virtue of lifestyle but by genetics. It appears that both mothers and fathers weight influence gene expression in the unborn, which postnatally can affect weight. This knowledge may help us counsel prospective parents and spare their children unnecessary risk and struggle from obesity. 

The Journal of Pediatrics has published research indicating that breastfeeding reduces the incidence of diarrhea and otitis media (ear infections) in infants. At the same time, the USPSTF (US Preventive Services Task Force) used US taxpayer dollars to create recommendations which support but no longer promote breastfeeding. ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) has sent their objections in writing regarding this important change. The breastfeeding discussion needs to be continued, and very publicly, since we all have a stake in the outcomes. 

Stay cool this week, and take precautions from mosquitos. Remember, DEET is safe, and safe in pregnancy. 

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

Women in Latin American are more likely to get Zika than men. We presume they are exposed equally to Zika carrying mosquitos. This difference appears once girls become sexually active. How do you put it together ? Here is what doctors and researchers think. They believe sex may spread Zika more than was previously believed. Furthermore, getting Zika though sex is easier for a woman than for a man. Other sexually transmitted infections follow this pattern and in their case, it is because sex in women causes undetected micro abrasions which allow greater access to the bloodstream. 

President Obama has come out and said that Congress should not recess for summer until Zika funding is secured. With this funding, a vaccine will be produced sooner. Some speculate that the issue of Zika calls to mind issues of contraception and abortion, and that is why Congress is unable to deal effectively with it. Zika is bringing reproductive rights into focus. ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) representatives have noted that the southern states likely to have the most Zika are the same ones which have high unintended pregnancy rates and poor access to family planning resources. But Texas is taking a different angle anyway. They are trying to scratch up enough funds on its own to provide mosquito repellant to it’s poor women, budgeting 2 bottles per month per women.  

In other news, US maternal mortality rates have doubled in the last 25 years. Black women fare the worst, with mortality rates quadruple that of white women. 

The president of ACOG has come out stating that we should have a much more critical attitude toward chemicals in the environment which may cause birth defects. Project TENDR has been created from a variety of expert disciplines to advocate for greater government oversight on the chemicals. TENDR stands for Targeting Environmental Neurodevelopmental Risks. 

Newborns get about two months of flu protections from a shot given to mom during pregnancy. 

Despite the demonstrates efficacy of the HPV vaccine, it is still woefully underutilized. Moreover, HPV related cancers are on the rise. Between 2008 and 2012, they have increased about  17 %. HPV cancers are not just cervical cancer in women. They also include head and neck cancers in both men and women. 

Finally, in the good news department, an eight study meta-analysis out of Europe has shown that obese infertile women who have trouble ovulating do better with lifestyle intervention than fertility drugs. Six months of interventions resulting in weight loss were four times more likely to conceive than their counterparts who used fertility drugs alone.  

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

The CDC( Centers for Disease Control has revealed that there are 6 cases of Zika related birth defects in the mainland US. These  are those that have delivered so far. Overall, there are 234 cases of confirmed Zika in pregnancy women in the US. All of these Zika infections were acquired elsewhere and brought here. Accordingly, New York has the most cases of Zikaa in the US, being a port of entry. So far there have been no cases of Zika infections transmitted by mosquitos in the US, though Aedes mosquitos are due to being bitting in the Southern states this week. 

Another preliminary study has come out suggesting that contracting Zika later in pregnancy confers less risk of perinatal malformations. This study was done in Columbia where there are over 12000 pregnant women who have the virus. It is interesting to note that about 80% of Zika infections are asymptomatic. These asymptomatic cases cause microcephaly all the same. 

The WHO (World Health Organization) has come out stating that there is little risk that the Olympics will case Zika to spread around the world. I personally question this, but hope they are correct. 

In other news, California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill potentially allowing illegal immigrants to buy insurance coverage on the state’s exchange. This seemingly radical idea is interesting to consider, since these people do come in for care. Without this coverage this care goes unreimbursed but still costs the taxpayer money. With the coverage, these people would presumably come in for preventive care or at least for earlier treatment which would mean a savings in both money and human suffering. 

A study released this last week predicts that if the next president repeals the ACA (Affordable Care Act) the  24 million Americans will lose health insurance coverage. Most doctors feel this would cost us more than the insurance in the long run. Speaking of the ACA, premiums may rise as much as 10% next year. 

CMS(Center for Medicaid Services) has adopted a policy encouraging the use of LARCs (Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives). They have concluding that this is good way to reduce the incidence and cost of unintended pregnancy. An article this week in the Atlantic has highlighted how many communities in the south the so-called “ Bible Belt” discourage discussion of contraceptives, especially IUDs, preferring instead “ abstinence curriculums” .

New research published in Obstetrics and Gynecology has indicated that most websites and apps for fertility are inaccurate in predicting fertility window. Really ? This is not rocket science. 

In the good news department, there may finally be some help to prevent vertical ( mother to child) transmission of Hepatitis B. When Tenofevir is used before birth, infant’s viral load and 7 month infections rates are lower than those who did not get the treatment. 

Stay tuned next week for more news from the world of Obstetrics and Gynecology. And don’t forget…. DEET is safe in pregnancy !! 



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

Zika infections in the US have taken sharp uptick of late, presumably due to the weather and mosquito activity. Zika infections in American pregnant women now number around 300, the largest number of which are located in Puerto Rico. Numbers are also up since the initially reported numbers did not reflect asymptomatic infections, which can affect fetuses as well. The CDC ( Centers for Disease Control) estimate about 80% of Zika virus infections are asymptomatic. 

The Zika virus is transmitted by mosquito bite and by sexual contact. Consumer Reports has studied the so called natural mosquito repellants and, sadly, found that they last no more than an hour. DEET is much more effective, and has been found to be safe in pregnancy. 

The CDC and Harvard Public Health have analyzed preliminary data. Women who get Zika in section in the first trimester have about a 13% chance of having a baby with microcephaly. The background incidence of microcephaly is on the order of .02 to .12% in the US. So far, it appears that infection in the second or third trimesters is not as consequential.

I wonder if Zika related brain damage is either present or not present, versus a spectrum of damage. If it is spectrum, what do the other 87% of babies have that we should know about ? 

The CDC director has made an impassioned plea to Congress. The House and Senate each have separate Zika funding plans, but they cannot agree. Meanwhile days could make the difference as summer approaches. 

A new study out of U Penn indicates that pregnant women who use marijuana increase their risk of preterm labor by five times. I am more interested in what it may be doing to the brain of both the mothers and the babies, and would be glad to see more research done on this important topic. 

The whole pelvic mesh situation is seemingly going from bad to worse. Mesh sheets are used in surgery to reinforce tissue. Various types of mesh in sheets or ribbons are used for hernias and for urinary incontinence. Johnson and Johnson developed mesh for use in pelvic prolapse patients. However, complications started arising including migration or erosion of the mesh. People were indeed injured, and lawsuits arose.  Washington and California are filing lawsuits against Johnson and Johnson, alleging that the company misrepresented the risks of its use. 

Now some of those same pelvic surgeons who installed mesh are removing it. Is is fitting and customary for a surgeon to handle any of her or his post op complications However in this instance, American Medical Systems has recently alleged that some physicians and lawyers are “ persuading” women to remove their mesh implants in order to make money and inflate damage claims. They also explain that there are now lending companies who work with physicians to fund these mesh removal cases. For shame !!! I will be following this story closely.

I have used Monarc “ ribbon” to suspend the bladder to help incontinence. It has an acceptable complication rate. However, years ago, when a fellow doctor friend of mine and I went to get trained on Monarc insertion, we were also asked if we wanted to train on mesh. I distinctly remember that moment when she and I looked at each other and made bad faces. It gave us both the creeps. We said no because our gut impression told us it seemed prone to complications. Lucky guess. Or maybe it was that the idea of having a piece of screen door sewn just under your vagina skin did not sound OK to us. 

The Republican Governor of Oklahoma Mary Fallin has ignored the party line, and vetoed the recent bill making abortion a felony. This brave politician described herself as “ the most pro-life governor in the nation” but vetoed the bill on the basis that it was “ambiguous and vague" and “ would not survive a constitutional challenge” , i.e. it would be illegal. The Governor was under great pressure from the Christian right to pass the bill. She also received information and pressure from the Oklahoma State Medical Board, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Acting this presidential could get you a nomination. Similar bills are being put forth in South Carolina and Louisiana. 

Many of you have read my rants about various and sundry public health generated guidelines about women’s health screening tests. These would include mammograms, paps, annual exams and the like. My rants have generally been about the more lax approach seen by generalist governing bodies like the American College of Physicians, and the American Academy of Family Physicians. ACOG guidelines are more stringent, and I believe this is because we rely on more rigorous data produced by specialists in the field. Even so, generalist guidelines hit the press just the same as ACOGs, and it is difficult for a layperson let alone a community physician to understand why the recommendations are so different. 

As an example, ACOG believes the evidence supports mammograms in the 40s for women of average risk, whereas the American Preventive Services Task Force does not advise them until the 50s. In a nutshell, this is because the APSTF did not choose their study endpoints in the most meaningful way. Their harms included trivial things like fear of mammograms, and their endpoint was death rather than years of life. The public and many providers were thrown into confusion. 

Fast forward to the present for some good news.. ACOG will now be partnering with these same organizations to develop what will hopefully be an evidence based rigorous set of Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines. 


Stay tuned for more news next week on Medical Monday. 





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

Good Monday. The administrative wheels are beginning to turn in response to the Zika virus. In particular, the CDC(Centers for Disease Control) and OSHA( Occupational Health and Safety Administration) have issues interim guidelines for employers and workers who are in settings which increase their risk for contracting Zika virus. This includes workers in outdoor settings, travel or health care settings. Guidelines deal primarily with protective clothing and the correct use of EPA approved insect repellent. Additionally the CDC has activate the Emergency Operations Center to Level 1. This means the CDC assigns the largest number of staff possible to work 24/7 on the response. To date so far, there have only been three other Level 1 responses, to Ebola, H1N1, and Hurricane Katrina. Experts in Brazil have come to understand that the perinatal consequences ot Zika go beyond microcephaly. It has been found to " erode the fetal brain"...destroying the lobes which control vision and thought an other basic functions. Moreover, Zika appears to prevent formation of areas of the brain "not yet formed". 

Meanwhile the House and the Senate continue to debate about what is the “ right number” for money to fund the efforts to handle the Zika crisis. 

At the same time researchers at NASA and NCAR ( National Center for Atmospheric Research) have made themselves exceptionally useful and, lacking an adequately absorbing space mission, have created a month to month map model which plots risk of Zika in US cities. The map does this by taking into consideration climate and population factors and how they affect the prevalence of the carrier of Zika, the Aedes Aegyptae mosquito. These maps really brings the situation into focus. Have a look HERE

Beast cancer risk prediction may be about to improve. New research presented at the American Cancer Society annual research meeting suggests that adding  “ genetic risk score” together with mammography density and hormone levels to current models will improve predictions. Improved predictions are help us devise tailored screening regimens for individual patients of varying risk. Hormones will be assessed only in postmenopausal women not taking andy hormone therapy. In these women, they plan to sample estrogen, testosterone and prolactin. Adding these markers improved risk prediction somewhere between 6 and 10 fold. 

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has recommended that there is a possible new link between flucaonazole (Diflucan) and miscarriage. This possible link is restricted to high dose or extended therapy regimens, not the 150 mg single dose most commonly prescribed. However, in response to this warning, the CDC is recommending the use of topical products only in pregnant woman. 

All you moms know it , I know it, and now science knows it. Mom brain notwithstanding, healthy new mothers are smarter, faster and more resilient than their pre-pregnancy selves. Older research has demonstrated this. Now the journal Behavioral Neuroscience has published research using sequential MRI studies of new mothers’ brains. They have found increases in grey matter in the prefrontal cortex and the parietal lobes and others between about 2 weeks postpartum and 3 months postpartum. These are areas which have to do with emotional regulation, survival instincts and hormones. 


Stay tuned for more breaking news from the world of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Heath.  

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

The CDC has finally given some time bound recommendations to prevent the spread of Zika virus. In particular, they are advising women to wait 8 weeks after Zika infection to attempt pregnancy. Men are advised to wait 6 months before having unprotected sex. Imagine, there is nearly an entire continent of people who are being asked to strictly observe these rules. 

Knowledge about Zika is diffusing northward. Nonetheless, about 1 in 3 people in the US think Zika is spread like a cold. Furthermore, 42% do not realize it is sexually transmitted, and 29% do not realize it can be spread through blood transfusions. Seventy five precent do not know of its association with Guillaine Barre syndrome, post viral paralysis. They have obviously not been reading this blog. You know that it can be acquired through a bite from the Aedes Aegyptae mosquito, from sexual contact with an infected person, vertically from mother to child, and also in any manner that is blood borne. 

The CDC is working hard to get sources of contraception to Puerto Rico, which is under dire threat from the Zika virus. The CDC has recently ramped up their presence on the island and estimates that 138,000 women there do NOT wish to become pregnant but do NOT have access to birth control. 

Democrats in the Colorado House have moved to take away copays for birth control in their state. It still has to pass the House where the GOP holds a one seat majority. 

The Governor of Virginia Terry McAuliffe has vetoed a bill which would have blocked Planned Parenthood Funding in his state. Apparently the bill as written would not affect the ability to provide abortions but would have blocked small state grants for health services like cancer screening and sexually transmitted infections. 

The FDA is altering the labelling for the use of “ Mifeprex” the so called abortion pill. It can now be used for up to 70 days after a missed period rather than 49. The new criteria have been approved by the WHO ( World Health Organization), the AMA ( American Medical Association) and ACOG ( American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.) These governing bodies have all cited the need to bring legislative practice into line with available scientific evidence, and this meets this requirement.

I can not help but wonder if this change was hastened by the Zika crisis plaguing the Americas. Because of the specter of the complication of microcephaly in babies born to Zika infected mothers, abortion is under more consideration there than ever before. 

Smoking is has been a scourge to all, but it is arguably harder on women than it is on men. Many people do not realize it’s role in fostering cervical cancer. The reason for this is that HPV ( human papilloma Virus) causes cervical cancer by inserting its DNA into the DNA of our cervical cells. Chemicals from smoking makes DNA fragile so that it breaks ( and admits the virus) easily and makes more errors in replication. That is one of the main ways it causes disease including cancer all over the body. A shocking new report has found that smoking while pregnant produces the same DNA mutations in babies as it does in adult smokers. This study was large and considered very authoritative. 

New research published in the Journal Circulation has indicated an association between endometriosis and cardiovascular disease. This was an observational study with large numbers, so it does not speak to causality or mechanism. It is nonetheless useful information in that it may prompt more investigation, and even at this early junction, prompt more targeted screening of possibly at risk patients. 

Wow this week’s news is rather sobering and somehow all connected. Here’s hoping the week will bring some good news to the world of Women’s Health.