Our weekly roundup of the latest news in the world of health.
Cases of meningitis linked to tainted steroid shots climbed to more than 184 this week, U.S. officials said. At least 14 people have died. The infections were caused by a fungus. A panel appointed by the President said this week that more privacy safeguards are needed for gene information. The panel said that "mapping" a person's DNA soon will be cheaper and more widely done. Germany's government this week proposed a law that would allow circumcision for young boys. In May, a regional court banned the procedure after a boy developed problems from it.
This Issue: More Meningitis Cases Linked to Shots Panel Calls for DNA Privacy Protections Germany Moves to Legalize Child Circumcision
In the News:
More Meningitis Cases Linked to Shots
The number of meningitis cases linked to steroid shots for back pain continued to climb this week. The total number of cases reached 184 by the end of the week. At least 14 people have died. The shots were contaminated by a fungus, officials said. Fungal meningitis does not spread from person to person. The shots were distributed by a compounding pharmacy called the New England Compounding Center. The company has recalled 17,700 single-dose vials of the steroids. It also issued a voluntary recall of all of its other products. This was described as just a precaution. Compounding pharmacies mix medicines for individuals based on prescriptions from a doctor. This week, 2 members of Congress called for stronger regulation of compounding pharmacies. The Associated Press wrote about the outbreak. Health officials have said that as many as 13,000 people received the steroid shots. Most were given for back pain. The drug, methylprednisolone acetate, is not approved for this use. But doctors widely prescribe it, the New York Times News Service reported. U.S. law allows such "off-label" use. A recent review of research found no strong evidence for or against using these injections for back pain. But advocates say they can help some groups of people.
Panel Calls for DNA Privacy Protections
Sequencing a genome means to look at and "map" all of a person's DNA. Today, it's done mostly in research studies. But soon it may be so cheap to do that people will need protections for their privacy, a panel appointed by the President said this week. For example, the panel found that in about half the states it would be legal to secretly obtain and sequence a person's DNA. This could be done using saliva from a discarded cup or piece of dental floss. The cost soon could be as low as $1,000, the panel said. The knowledge gained could be harmful in the wrong hands. DNA sequencing can find out that people have a high risk of some diseases. U.S. law bans bias in the workplace or in health insurance based on gene information. But there's no similar protection for long-term-care or life insurance. Or, the panel said, DNA evidence could be used in a custody battle. The commission called for a ban on sequencing anyone's DNA without permission. It also endorsed standards governing who can get access to the information. Consent forms should spell out all of this and more, the panel said. The Associated Press wrote about the report.
Germany Moves to Legalize Child Circumcision
The German government this week proposed a law that would allow circumcision of young boys. A regional court in Cologne issued a ruling in May that banned the practice. The case involved a 4-year-old Muslim boy who had complications after being circumcised. The decision provoked outrage among Jews and Muslims in Germany. Both groups practice circumcision as a religious ritual. Germany's constitution guarantees religious freedom. The proposed new law would allow circumcision of young boys if it is done by trained experts. Parents also must consent after being told about any potential risks. The German parliament is expected to pass the law by the end of the year. Deutsche Presse-Agentur wrote about the bill.
Used with the permission of the copyright owner. All rights reserved. The above summaries are not intended to provide advice on personal medical matters, nor are they intended to be a substitute for consultation with a physician.