Couple Treated for Plague in Beijing

Public Health

Last Tuesday, Chinese authorities reported that a married couple from Inner Mongolia was treated for the plague in a Beijing hospital.

According to the New York Times, news of the highly infectious and deadly plague “set off a panic.” Chinese officials are taking steps to prevent contagion and have warned citizens to take precautions to protect themselves while reassuring the public that the chances of an outbreak are extremely low. NPR reports that the government has censored Chinese-language news reports in an effort to restore calm.  

Pneumonic plague affects the lungs and is the only type of plague spread between humans by coughing. Bubonic plague and septicemic plague, which affect the lymphatic system and blood respectively, generally spread to humans via infected fleas or animals. All three types of the plague are caused by Yersinia pestis, a bacteria.

Bubonic plague, known as the Black Death, claimed 50 million lives in a 14th century European pandemic. In May of this year, a Mongolian couple died from Bubonic plague which they contracted from eating raw marmot kidneys, a local folk remedy.

Cigarette Smoking Falls to New Low as Vaping Rates Rise 

Research + Findings

According to new data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute, cigarette smoking fell to an all-time low of 13.7% in 2018, or nearly one in seven adult Americans 18 and over. This marks a 67% decline in smoking since 1965 when data collection first began. At that time, 42% of adults were smoking.

More good news: 55% of smokers attempted to quit in 2018 compared to 53% in 2009, while those who succeeded in permanently quitting increased from 52% in 2008 to 62% in 2018.

In contrast, e-cigarette use increased from 2.8% in 2017 to 3.2% in 2018, primarily driven by a 2.4% increase among young adults ages 18-24. This reverses a decline in e-cigarette use noted between 2014-17. In September, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar reported that about a quarter of teens had vaped in the past 30 days, a 20% increase over 2018.

Trump Administration Wavers on Proposed Flavored E-Cigarette Ban

Public Health

The Trump administration promised a sweeping ban of flavored e-cigarettes (excluding menthol) on Sept. 11 in an effort to protect America’s youth from the vaping-related lung disease ravaging the nation.

As of Thursday, the epidemic had caused 2,172 cases of illness and 42 deaths.

However, in a Senate hearing Wednesday, the director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products appeared noncommittal when asked about the flavor ban, telling lawmakers there was “no final answer” and referring them instead to the White House.

According to the Wall Street Journal, questions are “swirling” about when the ban will be implemented, what it will cover and if it will exempt independent vaping shops, who have protested that the ban will put them out of business.

Health advocates worry the administration will cave to pressure from the vaping industry, weakening their initially bold proposal.

FDA Holds First Advisory Meeting Addressing Impacts of Metals in Medical Devices

Medical Devices

The first meeting of the FDA’s Immunology Devices Panel of the Medical Devices Advisory Committee took place Nov. 13-14 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The open-to-the-public meeting was intended to provide the FDA with expert opinions and current data addressing the potential for patients to develop “unexpected or heightened biological responses” to metal-containing implanted medical devices and dental amalgams.

These reactions can occur near the implantation site or systemically, impacting a patient’s overall quality of life and sometimes requiring medical or surgical interventions.

Dental amalgams are combinations of metals used in dental fillings. Implanted medical devices are implanted on the surface of or inside the body either permanently or temporarily, such as joint replacements, breast implants, pacemakers, coronary artery stents and IUDs.

Using docket #FDA-2019-N-3767, public comments can be submitted at until 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 16. Comments by mail, courier or in person will be considered if postmarked or received by Dec. 16 or if the courier acceptance receipt date is on or before Dec. 16.