Medieval plague bacteria strain probably extinct
This flea, X. cheopis, is responsible for transmitting the bacteria strain that causes plague.
August 30th, 2011
05:34 PM ET

Medieval plague bacteria strain probably extinct

Modern  outbreaks – swine flu, bird flu, SARS – have been scary and deadly, but they don't hold a candle to a plague called the Black Death. The disease killed an estimated one-third of Europe's population, perhaps 100 million people.

It's been a while, but scientists are now figuring out what caused the Black Death - at least, the one that swept through Europe from 1347 to 1351. They found evidence of the bacterium Yersinia pestis in the teeth of some of the medieval victims of the plague. Results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


What the Yuck: Does flying make me sick?
July 8th, 2011
12:23 PM ET

What the Yuck: Does flying make me sick?

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

I have to travel a lot for my new job. Will I get sick more often if I'm a frequent flyer?

That's a good question - more and more of us worry about coming down with something from the recycled air on planes. But actually, that air is probably better for you than most air in office buildings. It's well filtered before it's blown back out, so it shouldn't make you sick.

What the Yuck: Gym machine germs
June 24th, 2011
08:02 AM ET

What the Yuck: Gym machine germs

Too embarrassed to ask your doctor about sex, body quirks, or the latest celeb health fad? In a regular feature and a new book, "What the Yuck?!," Health magazine medical editor Dr. Roshini Raj tackles your most personal and provocative questions. Send 'em to Dr. Raj at whattheyuck@health.com.

Q: What's the worst thing you can catch from the machines at the gym?

Probably the worst thing is the staph bacteria MRSA (short for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), the "superbug" that can cause a very aggressive and difficult-to-treat skin infection, which can invade the blood.

This bug, which is resistant to most kinds of antibiotics, is spread through close contact - athletes on a sports team sometimes spread it to each other. What's scary is it can survive on gym machines between users. Wipe the equipment off with an antibacterial wipe before using it.

And if you have any open sores or wounds or skin irritation, stay away from the machines because your broken skin will make you more vulnerable to contracting something.

The gruesome math of hospital infections
April 14th, 2011
05:29 PM ET

The gruesome math of hospital infections

A column in yesterday’s New York Times by Maureen Dowd about how her brother died after acquiring infections in the hospital certainly struck a nerve – it was No. 1 on the paper’s website for much of the day.

No wonder, considering the number of people who die of infections as her brother did.

“The simplest way to say this is that about 100,000 people die each year from infections we give them in the hospital,” says Dr. Peter Pronovost, director of the Quality and Safety Research Group at Johns Hopkins  University. “That’s enormous.” FULL POST

Michigan squashes infections, saves thousands of lives
January 31st, 2011
07:30 PM ET

Michigan squashes infections, saves thousands of lives

By using an intensive system of training and safety reminders, hospitals in Michigan have eliminated about one in five patient deaths, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.

The pilot program in Michigan started in 2003, an effort to reduce infections among elderly patients in intensive care. In 95 participating hospitals, doctors and staff took part in regular safety meetings and held consultations with infection-prevention experts at Johns Hopkins University. The hospitals also followed formal, five-point checklists of infection control measures – some as simple as remembering to wash hands before a procedure. Other checklist items include frequent adjustments to the position of patients on respirators, and removing catheters that are not absolutely necessary.

“We wanted it to be simple,” said Dr. Allison Lipitz-Snyderman of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the study’s lead author. “These aren’t new ideas. They were already proven to work. They just weren’t disseminated as widely as you’d think.”

Previous studies found the program did reduce infections, but the new analysis goes further, showing it cut the number of actual deaths. While death rates fell in surrounding states as well, the difference was larger in Michigan. There’s no way to calculate the precise number of lives saved, but Dr. Peter Pronovost, the Hopkins physician who led the project, says it’s likely a few thousand Michigan deaths were prevented each year.

Intriguingly, the death rate for elderly ICU patients started to fall during the study period in hospitals throughout the Midwest, not just the Michigan hospitals that implemented the program. After the end of the study period, the death rate continued to drop – even faster than before – in the Michigan hospitals, only.

To Pronovost, this suggests that a shift in hospital culture, rather than specific infection-control measures, was the crucial factor. “I’m convinced that changing the mindset, from thinking these infections were inevitable, to seeing them as preventable, is what made the big difference,” Pronovost told CNN. “Culture takes a while to change.”

Infections acquired in hospitals and other medical settings cause 1.7 million infections and 99,000 deaths each year, according to federal statistics. The Hopkins researchers, the Michigan Health and Hospital Association and the American Hospital Association are now overseeing a project to expand the infection-control program to all 50 states. So far all but three have signed on, with California the big holdout.

August 11th, 2010
06:32 PM ET

U.S. hospital-acquired MRSA infections drop

The United States made dramatic progress in fighting aggressive infections acquired in health care settings  from 2005 through 2008, a new study sh0ws. While various types of infections are common in health care settings, the study by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers focused on studying health care associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus areas (HA-MRSA) infections.


August 11th, 2010
05:12 PM ET

Medical tourists bring home new superbug

Medical tourists seeking treatment in Asia are bringing home a dangerous type of bacterial infection that’s resistant to nearly all known antibiotics, according to a new report in the journal the Lancet.

Doctors identified 29 patients in the United Kingdom with the new infections. Most had traveled to India, Pakistan or Bangladesh for medical procedures, including elective cosmetic surgery. Dozens of patients from Asia also got the infections, according to the researchers, from Cardiff University.


June 28th, 2010
03:25 PM ET

FDA urges less use of antimicrobials in food production

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday called for  more judicious use of antimicrobial drugs in the production of animals that end up on our dinner tables. The goal is preventing drug resistance both in animals and in humans.

Antimicrobial drugs have been widely used for more than 50 years, benefiting both human and animal health, according to the FDA. The drugs prevent diseases from developing in food animals, and from being passed on to humans. Over time, a serious public health threat has developed because many of the drugs have lost their effectiveness due to the the development of drug-resistant microbial strains.


June 23rd, 2010
11:46 AM ET

Athletic trainers set infection-fighting guidelines

By Val Willingham
CNN Medical Producer

At any given time, one out of every three people in the U.S. suffers from a skin infection. Athletes are particularly vulnerable to contracting skin problems, because of the close quarters they work in–locker rooms–and their proximity to skin to skin contact and bodily secretions. Many of these infections, such as MRSA, can be serious, even life-threatening.

In an effort to provide information for avoiding, identifying and treating skin infections in athletes at all levels, a panel of experts unveiled guidelines to combat skin outbreaks in competitive sports.


May 7th, 2010
10:13 AM ET

What you should know about E. coli

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

In the latest food poisoning scare, Freshaway Foods says it's voluntarily recalling certain romaine lettuce products because they may be contaminated with E. coli, bacteria that can be lethal. Read about it on CNN's This Just In.

Most E. coli strains are harmless, but there are strains that cause severe illness. Diarrhea, urinary tract infections, pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses are just some of the consequences of ingesting certain kinds of the bacteria.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that cases of E. coli 0157, which can lead to sickness, decreased in 2009, CNN reported. But the strain in the latest outbreak is E. coli 0145, a different strain. There are about 76 million cases of food-borne disease in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

During the last year there have been E. coli outbreaks in foods such as ground beef and Nestle Toll House cookie dough.

Contaminated food, unpasteurized milk, water that hasn't been disinfected, cattle, and human feces can all pass E. coli onto you. It's actually small, usually invisible amounts of human or animal feces that spread the infections.

How do you know if you have E. coli? Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, severe stomach cramps, and vomiting. In some cases, there can be life-threatening complications. Web developer Dan Kruse spoke with CNN in 2008 about how he almost died of E. coli as a teenager - read the story.

To prevent the spread of food-borne illness, it's crucial to wash your hands, separate your raw meats and produce from each other, cook to proper temperatures and refrigerate leftovers. Here are more tips from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation

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About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.