Today’s Headlines: CDC Warns of Infection Risk During Heart Operations, Benefits of Mammograms Overstated, And Scientists Detail New Method To Prevent Harmful Drug Combinations

The CDC has asked doctors to warn patients set to undergo open-heart surgery that devices commonly used to regulate the temperature of a patient’s blood and organs throughout the procedure, might have been contaminated during manufacturing. Health officials are concerned about mycobacteria, usually found in soil and water, and they worry that the number of patients who’ve been exposed to this bacteria is larger than initially estimated. For patients with a weakened immune system, the bacteria could lead to a potentially deadly infection. The CDC noted that, while some patients in the investigation died, “it is unclear whether the infection was a direct cause of death.” Dr. Michael Bell, who directs the CDC’s Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion, urged “clinicians and their patients to be aware of this risk so that patients can be evaluated and treated quickly.” (CBS)

A new study suggests that, in the US, more than half of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer after a mammogram were misdiagnosed. Published in The New England Journal of Medicine, the study concludes that, contrary to the belief that widespread screening has played a primary role in the lowering of mortality rates for those diagnosed, such advances are due primarily to improvements in treatment. Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, a professor at Dartmouth University who led the study, said that the medical community and the media “quite simply have overstated the value” of widespread screening. Still, the researchers note that mammography can be lifesaving. In 20% of cases in which a small tumor was detected by a mammogram, those small tumors were dangerous, and would’ve grown had they gone undetected. (LATimes)

Scientists at Columbia University have successfully used a data-oriented approach to identify dangerous drug combinations. Using this method, the scientists found that Rocephin, a common antibiotic, and Prevacid, a common heartburn medication, can be deadly when taken together. Nicholas Tatonetti, who led the project, explained why this methodology marks a step forward for the medical community. “What’s most surprising,” Tatonetti said, “is that you can go from a database of billions of data points to making a prediction that two molecules together can change the function of a protein in a single heart cell.” Tal Lorberbaum, the lead author, hopes that this data-centric approach will preclude researchers from having to “evaluate every possible combination of drugs,” and thereby save them time and money. (FOX)