E-cig epidemic enforcement incoming

The FDA is getting serious about e-cigarette enforcement. In a statement released last week, the agency announced a crackdown on 1,300+ retailers and five manufacturers who make up 97% of the US market. That includes JUUL, which has been widely criticized for making vaping cool (Editor note: LOL is this really that cool?) and itself accounts for over half the US market. The FDA says vape use has increased to epidemic levels in teens, and it is intent to not “allow a whole new generation to become addicted to nicotine.” The agency expects the manufacturers to submit plans within 60 days to explain how they’ll stop teens from getting addicted to their products. If not, the agency could pull e-cigs from the market, a move which Big Tobacco is a fan of.

#2 pencils and condoms

The rise in the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases has one Maryland, US county including condoms as part of a back-to-school goody bag. Nothing new, right? Plenty of school systems do that these days. The news is in the catalyst for the decision. According to the CDC, a record number—more than 2 million—cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were reported in 2017, up more than 200,000 over 2016—also a record at the time. 15- to 24-year-olds make up about half. Gonorrhea and syphilis were up 67% and 76%, respectively from 2013 to 2017. Wow. Compounding the issue is the CDC’s concern for an antibiotic-resistant strain of gonorrhea, which increased in incidence from 1% in 2013 to 4% in 2017. Here is a review of research on the effects of condom distribution in schools. In summary…chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis: difficult to spell, easy to catch.

Hacks that hurt

We’re used to vulnerabilities in data systems leading to massive personal data breaches (cool visualization of those here.) But there’s an even darker side to hacking that can put peoples’ lives directly at risk. We’re talking medical device hacks. Two “white-hat” (good) hackers identified vulnerabilities in pacemakers and insulin pumps which “black-hat” (bad) hackers could use to injure patients. One scenario put forth is a pacemaker being manipulated to deliver too many or too few electric shocks, which obviously could lead to negative patient outcomes. The researchers shared their findings with the device manufacturer and relevant regulatory bodies, but they say these authorities are playing down the risks. They apparently considered bringing in a pig they could kill with an app to make their point, so we should probably take them seriously.


Ready for a dip in the pool? Might want to wait until November. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, July is the peak month for sickness due to swimming in public places. Germs such as E. coli and cryptosporidium “…make people sick when they swallow water contaminated with poop,” the CDC inelegantly reported last week.  “Swimmers can be a source of fecal contamination if they have a fecal incident [a.k.a., “sh!##ing oneself”] in the water…” stated the researchers. Thanks, Captain Obvious. But fear not, if a “fecal incident” is suspected, Carl Spangler will take care of it. In the meantime, can we all just agree to not poop in the pool?

This lab in the hand is worth two in the clinic

Do you find yourself saying, “Gee, I sure wish I had a mass spectrometer here so I could run these diagnostic tests now instead of going to a lab to analyze these samples?” Lucky for you, there’s an app for that. Well, there’s a device that presumably comes with an app, and for the small price of $550 it’ll turn your smartphone’s camera into a portable mass spectrometer. The spectral transmission-reflectance-intensity (TRI)-analyzer can analyze blood, urine, and saliva samples as accurately as most clinic-based instruments, and can perform the three most common types of tests in medical diagnostics. This has really cool public health implications in terms of portability and cost. Great job, University of Illinois bioengineers!