Top Healthcare News Stories of the Week 13/04

The Top Medical/Health News Stories of the Week

Here’s our round-up of the medical and healthcare news stories of the week – and what a week it’s been! We’ve scoured the news for the stories we think are important to know about. Every week, we’ll bring you a fresh batch of healthcare stories for you to feast on.

Use these stories to help boost your knowledge of the healthcare sector and the biggest health topics affecting us.

Woman Infected with 2 Variants within Record 20 days

A Spanish healthcare worker was infected with two different variants of Covid within 20 days, the shortest-known gap between infections.

The 31-year old woman caught the Delta variant in late December, and the Omicron variant in early January. Her PCR tests were analysed, showing that she had been infected with two different variants. This situation highlights that the Omicron variant can evade previous immunity gained from past exposure to the virus or from vaccines.

The ongoing pandemic serves as a great lesson for future healthcare professionals that health situations often change over time; scientists and researchers are still learning new things about Covid. 

Around 12,000 men die from prostate cancer annually in the UK, but many afflicted with the cancer have slow-growing tumours that don’t necessarily cause problems. The challenge, then, is diagnosing and treating the men with more aggressive forms of prostate cancer while sparing individuals from unnecessary treatment. 

Researchers identified five types of bacteria that were associated with aggressive prostate cancer through examining prostate tissue and urine samples from men with and without prostate cancer. Men who had one or more of the bacteria were nearly three times more likely to experience advanced stages of the disease. 

Although these findings are too premature to draw a causal link, this discovery could lead to new, more sensitive tests that detect potentially aggressive prostate cancer. 

The rate of prostate cancer is high: 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer in the UK during their lifetime. This new finding is incredibly exciting in the progression of reducing the impact prostate cancer has on society. 

A team of researchers at King’s College London have identified key genetic codes, mRNAs, which produce proteins that can give rise to healthy heart cells. During a heart attack, up to one billion heart cells die.

This new RNA therapy, which uses the same technology as the Pfizer and Moderna jabs, delivers the mRNA to the heart muscle directly after a heart attack. Lead researcher Professor Mauro Giacca shared that the new cells would replace the dead ones, thereby creating new muscle tissue. 

The heart is incapable of repairing itself following a heart attack, and lost cardiac muscle is replaced by scar tissue. These thrilling findings suggest that the dream of finding a way to regenerate heart tissue could soon be a reality. 

Higher than usual cases of hepatitis, or liver inflammation, have been detected in children in the UK.

Hepatitis cases have also been reported in Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, and the US, although the UK has the highest number of cases (74). The cause of the illness is not yet known, as the usual viruses that cause infectious hepatitis have not been detected in the UK cases. The current hypothesis among investigators is that the common adenovirus, which causes mild illnesses, could be the underlying cause of the hepatitis cases. 

Although mild hepatitis is commonly seen in children, these cases of hepatitis are quite different, particularly because they are not the result of the expected causes. 

Calorie labeling has recently become a requirement for most eateries in the United Kingdom. This intervention comes as a response to data showing that nearly two-thirds of the UK population is obese. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) claims displaying the caloric content of menu items will help UK residents in making healthier choices.

The affected eateries have expressed their concern with this new regulation, as they believe it could serve to harm their businesses, which are in a recovery period following the early shut-downs during the pandemic. Experts also seem to be on the fence about whether providing caloric information will indeed lead to long-term success in reducing obesity rates. 

Some mention that quality of foods is more important than calorie counts and that there is more to healthy eating than just calories. Further, calorie counts on menus may distress those vulnerable to eating disorders. Conversely, caloric labeling could also incentivise positive changes, by influencing restaurants to perhaps reformulate their more unhealthy meals.

Overall, most experts agree that understanding the multitude of factors involved in healthy eating and lifestyle, aside from purely calories, will be the most promising pathway to better choices. 

As a healthcare professional, you will be tasked with promoting healthy behaviours. It is important to consider the external factors that influence health, such as this new policy, in addition to individual patient behaviours. It is also important to critically think about the consequences of potential interventions aiming to increase healthy choices.

New research has explored the consequences of cardiovascular risk factors on the development of depression for individuals ages between 55 and 75. The persons in the study had metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that occur alongside each other, including elevated cholesterol and high blood pressure. 

These conditions increase an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease. The authors found no significant link between risk of heart disease and depression. However, the work adds to a body of evidence suggesting the existence of a link between the two factors. 

Mental health is an important facet of an individual to consider when dealing with their overall health, as there is potential for influence. For example, individuals with depression may have a harder time maintaining a healthy lifestyle. An unhealthy lifestyle, in turn, is linked to increased risk of myriad diseases. 

NHS England is giving smartwatches to thousands of people with Parkinson’s disease in an effort to treat patients from home. The watch contains sensors that detect excessive movement, sleep disturbances, and immobility, all of which can help healthcare providers to adjust physiotherapy and prescriptions according to individual patient needs. 

Patients will no longer need to remember their concerns and symptoms for their next appointment and can confidently rely on the watch for accurate recordings instead of their own perceptions. Although the watch is not intended to completely replace face-to-face time between patients and practitioners, the invention will help improve efficiency in the NHS. 

This smartwatch is a cutting-edge innovation in healthcare and Parkinson’s specifically, which is really exciting considering the severity of the condition. 

Number of People on NHS Waiting Lists in England at Record High

Covid has caused major disruption in the NHS and continues to do so, as evidenced by the 6.2 million people waiting to start treatment. This figure is the highest number since records began 15 years ago. 

This backlog is the result of high demand for urgent and emergency care coupled with Covid-related issues, like staff absences and large volumes of patients in the hospital with Covid. A&E department and ambulance waits are also soaring; in March, the proportion of people waiting longer than four hours was the highest ever.

The average response time for ambulances called for urgent incidents in England has increased to nine minutes and 35 seconds, the longest average since the records began in August 2017. 

The data highlights the pressures placed on NHS patients and staff, and is important to be aware of if you are interested in pursuing a healthcare profession. 

Antibiotic Resistant Acne: Phage Therapy Could be an Alternative Treatment

The main bacterium that causes acne, Cutibacterium acnes, is becoming increasingly resistant to the antibiotics used against it. However, an animal study suggests that adding viruses to current acne treatments could restore effectiveness. 

Rimon and colleagues used different types of bacteriophages, viruses that infect and kill bacteria, to treat strains of C. acnes in culture. When multiple phages were combined, the antibiotic-resistant C. acnes was eradicated.

The experiment was then conducted with mice, and similar results were found. Thus, Rimon and colleagues believe this foundational research could be used to develop a treatment for people with acne. 

This article is of particular interest because antibiotic resistance is often only thought of in the context of common bacterial infections, like pneumonia. 

Excess Weight Nearly Doubles Risk of Womb Cancer, study finds

One in 36 women are affected by womb cancer, and a new study funded by Cancer Research UK suggests that excess weight almost doubles a woman’s risk of developing the illness. The researchers used genetic samples from 120,000 women from Europe and the US to look at markers of 14 traits that could link obesity and womb cancer. 

They found the hormones fasting insulin and testosterone to be associated with diagnosis of womb cancer, but do not precisely know the mechanism with which they increase the risk. 

Although the link between womb cancer and obesity has previously been explored, the relationship has never been examined on a molecular level, as these researchers have done. This work can also serve as the first step to understanding what can be done to tackle obesity in an effort to reduce the prevalence of womb cancer. 

That’s a wrap on this week’s news round-up, before you leave, pick one that you found the most interesting out of our selection.

Stay tuned for next week’s roundup. Who knows what will happen in the next seven days?

Before you leave, take 5 mins and reflect on what you’ve learnt from this

  • What surprised you? What was expected?
  • How has this improved your knowledge of healthcare developments?

Make a quick note of these reflections (bullet-points are fine) in your reflective diary. You might find it useful when answering medical interview questions!

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