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Last winter’s flu season was even more deadly than you can imagine

For many people, flu season is little more than annoyance, but every single year thousands of people die from whatever strain of the disease is making the rounds. Sometimes the number is relatively small, with only around 12,000 to 15,000 deaths, while other years see 40,000 or 50,000 deaths, many of whom are either small children or elderly. 2018 was different.

The flu season which peaked in around the start of February of this year took approximately 80,000 lives. This figure, as reported by the Associated Press, comes from Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s the latest overall estimate that really puts the most recent flu epidemic in proportion.

The CDC regularly reminds everyone to get their flu shots and to get them early, but many people choose not to or simply decide they don’t have the time. The revelation that a whopping 80,000 people died from the disease this past year alone was a punctuation on a plea by Redfield to schedule flu vaccinations as soon as possible.

“I’d like to see more people get vaccinated,” Redfield reportedly told journalists. “We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu.”

It’s important to note that tracking cases of the flu and even deaths as a result of the disease is a very tricky thing. Doctors can report statistics and offer a broad glimpse at how bad the flu season is — and last year those warnings came swift, with cases piling up rapidly — but it’s hard to nail down an exact number.

As Huffpost points out, the CDC actually uses statistical models based on the information available to estimate the number of cases of the flu and the deaths that result from it. Death reports don’t always cite the flu as the cause, complicating the cataloging process, and many flu cases simply go entirely unreported.

The CDC has been doing everything in its power to ensure we don’t have a repeat of the previous flu season, and recently issued a bulletin emphasizing the importance of being vaccinated.

Man’s death linked to consumption of squirrel brains

Hunting for your own food can be a rewarding and liberating thing, but knowing where to stop when preparing wild game for consumption is obviously pretty important. A case of a 61-year-old from Rochester, New York, is getting some attention lately as a stark reminder of that fact, as the man’s consumption of squirrel brains ultimately resulted in his death.

The man, who first complained of symptoms in 2015, was ultimately found to have an extremely serious and very rare brain disorder as a result of loving squirrel meat. The man was, as Live Science reports, an avid hunter and may have inadvertently mixed some contaminated brain matter from a squirrel he had killed with the rest of the meal.

The man’s case, which was reported as part of a larger analysis in IDWeek, is extremely unique. It’s thought that the man had contracted a form of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (vCJD), which affects a scant 1 in one million people per year across the world.

The symptoms are incredibly dire, and those diagnosed with the disease almost always die within a year of showing symptoms. Those symptoms include psychosis as well as impaired movement, and there was nothing that could be done for the man before the disease took his life.

As the disease progresses it fundamentally changes how a certain protein in the brain functions, causing lesions in brain tissue that rapidly spread and ultimately consumes the individual’s mind. This obviously explains the psychological and physical symptoms of the disease, but it also makes the disorder extremely difficult to stop.

The case report urges doctors to consider the disease when making future diagnoses, as pinpointing it as a cause of symptoms is so often delayed to the point where there’s no time to even consider treatment.

Google’s AI is now better than doctors at spotting breast cancer

Cancer researchers are constantly advancing the technology that doctors use to screen for, detect, and treat all kinds of cancers, and the survivability prospects have greatly improved over the past few decades. Now, AI is giving scientists another tool in the fight against the disease, and one of the biggest names in the AI game is Google.

In a new blog post, Google researchers explain that their AI known as LYNA — short for Lymph Node Assistant — has reached a level of sophistication that it can now tell the difference between cancer and non-cancer on slides with a stunning 99% accuracy.

Google explains that, in a pair of recently-published research papers, the LYNA tool demonstrated incredible accuracy in determining whether breast cancer had spread to a patient’s lymph nodes. Determining this is a major factor in deciding how a cancer patient might proceed, and can change the treatment options and approach that doctors take when handling a particular case.

Google notes that pathologist diagnosis of lymph node metastases (determining whether or not the cancer has spread) can be quite inaccurate, often due to time crunch and fast-moving decisions in the early stages of treatment. Accuracy of an individual slide can be as low as 38 percent, Google notes while referencing past research.

LYNA, on the other hand, is incredibly accurate right out of the gate, improving accuracy to 99 percent on a per-slide basis, like the one seen above.

“LYNA was able to accurately pinpoint the location of both cancers and other suspicious regions within each slide, some of which were too small to be consistently detected by pathologists,” Google writes. “As such, we reasoned that one potential benefit of LYNA could be to highlight these areas of concern for pathologists to review and determine the final diagnosis.”

Going forward, AI could ultimately be the most important tool for cancer detection yet, aiding doctors in diagnosis and allowing their expertise to be honed for finding the right treatment options that will save patient lives. That would be good news for all of us.

Prescription drugs keep popping up in dietary supplements

If you choose to take an over-the-counter supplement for weight loss, muscle building, or even sexual enhancement you probably trust what it says on the bottle. The labels are often filled with vitamins, minerals, and other substances meant to make you look or feel better, but you might also be getting something you never intended.

A new study published in JAMA Network Open offers an all-encompassing look at instances of prescription drugs being found in many different supplements, and it happens with startling regularity. A shocking 20% of supplements tested by the Food and Drug Administration was found to contain prescription medications that had no business being included.

The study focused on various warnings and alerts put forth by the FDA from 2007 through 2016 regarding tainted supplements. A total of 776 supplements were found to be tainted with pharmaceutical ingredients often associated with the claims made by the supplement manufacturer.

For example, some muscle-building supplements were found to include actual steroids or similar ingredients, while sexual enhancement supplements were found to contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra. Over 150 of the tested supplements contained more than one unapproved ingredient.

The study goes on to explain that some of the supplements which received warnings from the FDA were found to still contain unapproved prescription drugs long after the discovery was made. The drug inclusions were often different than the ones previously discovered, suggesting that the manufacturers were knowingly altering their formulation with new additions that still broke the rules.

Aside from the regulatory issues associated with selling a drug in a supplement’s clothing, there’s a very real risk of harm to consumers who choose to put these pills in their bodies. Some of the drugs found, like steroids, stimulants, and anti-depressants can have serious adverse effects, causing symptoms issues that medical professionals wouldn’t suspect a supplement as causing. Additionally, patients who take prescription medications already and then add a supplement without their doctor’s knowledge could be at risk of drug interactions without even knowing it.

Overdose of erectile dysfunction drug turns man’s vision red

Erectile dysfunction medications are nothing new — you’re unlikely to make it through an evening of prime time television without seeing at least a couple ads for various chemical cocktails that enhance male virility — an neither are the side effects. The humorous warning to seek medical attention if you experience an erection that lasts hours on end always produces a giggle or two, but one 31-year-old man found it hard to laugh when his erection meds actually changed his vision.

In a new case report published in Retinal Cases & Brief Reports, doctors from Mount Sinai Hospital describe the bizarre case of an otherwise healthy man whose vision turned red after drinking some internet-bought erectile aid.

“A 31-year-old white man with no medical history presented with complaints of bilateral multicolored photopsias and erythropsia (red-tinted vision), shortly after taking sildenafil citrate—purchased through the internet,” the researchers write.

Sildenafil is the drug that gives medications like Viagra and others their potent kick, and most of the time the recommended dose does its job without damaging anything. However, in some cases the drug can cause changes in vision that last less than a day.

In this particular case, the doctors determined that the man took more than the maximum dose, leading to retinal toxicity. The damage that resulted gave his vision a red hue which lasted a whole lot longer than 24 hours.

“Patient was found to have cone photoreceptor damage, demonstrated using electroretinogramoptical coherence tomography, and adaptive optics imaging,” the study reads. “The patient’s symptoms and the photoreceptor structural changes persisted for several months.”