Scientist: ‘A Virus Saved My Husband’s Life’; Methotrexate an Abortion Drug?

Scientist: ‘A Virus Saved My Husband’s Life’; Methotrexate an Abortion Drug?

July 14, 2022 0 By Jennifer Walker

Welcome to the latest edition of Investigative Roundup, highlighting some of the best investigative reporting on healthcare each week.

Epidemiologist Finds Cure to Husband’s Deadly Bacterial Illness

When doctors told Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, an infectious disease epidemiologist, that her husband would likely not survive a deadly superbug, she did the unthinkable — she found him a cure.

Strathdee’s husband was infected with Acinetobacter baumannii, a bacterium resistant to nearly all antibiotics. When she learned that antibiotic treatment wasn’t an option for her husband, the scientist raced to study phages, which are viruses that destroy bacteria, according to a report from CNN.

The epidemiologist worked with other scientists who study phages to collect samples in sewage, bogs, and ponds, searching for the viral strain that was capable of destroying the bacteria that was killing her husband.

When they found the unique viral strain, Strathdee’s group presented it to the FDA, which authorized the treatment. Three weeks later, doctors injected the virus into Strathdee’s husband and saved his life.

“We have been caught for the last 2 1/2 years in this terrible situation where viruses have been the bad guy,” Strathdee said. “I’m here to tell you that the enemy of my enemy can be my friend. Viruses can be medicine.”

After Roe, Autoimmune Patients Lose Access to “Gold-Standard” Treatment

Patients with rheumatic illnesses may lose access to methotrexate, a cheap drug prescribed to millions of Americans each year, since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, according to an investigation by the Los Angeles Times.

Methotrexate is used to treat diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, psoriasis, and cancer. But it’s also prescribed off-label to end ectopic pregnancies, and can be restricted by doctors and pharmacists even in states that do not restrict abortion.

In Texas, for example, dispensing methotrexate to patients who use it to induce a miscarriage after 7 weeks is a felony. Even Virginia, which does not currently restrict abortion, confusion about who is permitted to prescribe drugs “qualified as abortifacients” could be blocking access to the medication.

State laws have made doctors hesitant to prescribe and pharmacists wary to dispense methotrexate to patients who could get pregnant. Cuoghi Edens, MD, a Chicago-based rheumatologist who treats adults and children, told the LA Times that in some cases, she has heard of children being denied methotrexate for their juvenile arthritis until they prove they are not pregnant.

The legal confusion around methotrexate has caused distress for patients. For those with complex illnesses, any delay in access to the medication could make them sicker.

“As a physician I took an oath to do no harm,” Edens said. “To me, this is doing harm.”

Simple Solution to Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia?

Many U.S. hospitals have a pervasive “blind spot” when it comes to preventing hospital-acquired pneumonia — brushing patients’ teeth, reported a Kaiser Health News investigation.

Pneumonia is one of the most common infections that occur in healthcare facilities, with a majority of cases occurring in patients who were not on a ventilator. Non-ventilator hospital-acquired pneumonia, or NVHAP, kills up to 30% of people infected with the disease.

Unlike other hospital-acquired infections, however, the federal government doesn’t require medical facilities to report NVHAP cases. Because hospitals aren’t required to report the illness, few understand its origin or actively try to prevent it, experts said.

“I’ll tell you that today the vast majority of the tens of thousands of nurses in hospitals have no idea that pneumonia comes from germs in the mouth,” Dian Baker, a Sacramento State nursing professor who studies NVHAP, told KHN.

While NVHAP has historically been a largely ignored threat, researchers are aiming to bring it to the forefront of patient safety efforts. Evidence showing the benefits of oral care in NVHAP prevention has produced staggering results, with one study showing a 90% reduction in cases.

“Sometimes we are searching for the most complicated intervention,” said Michelle Lucatorto, a nursing official involved in the study. “We are always looking for that new bypass surgery, or some new technical equipment. And sometimes I think we fail to look at the simple things we can do in our practice to save people’s lives.”

  • Amanda D’Ambrosio is a reporter on MedPage Today‚Äôs enterprise & investigative team. She covers obstetrics-gynecology and other clinical news, and writes features about the U.S. healthcare system. Follow