Media Coverage

The work done by Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine faculty members (and even some students) is regularly highlighted in newspapers, online media outlets and more. Below you’ll find links to articles and videos of Feinberg in the news.

Though men remain the largest group of people diagnosed with HIV, Black women make up the majority of new HIV cases among women. Seven thousand women diagnosed with the virus in 2018, and Black women made up more than 4,000 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which reports transgender women in a separate category. Despite the staggering rates, experts say, there is less awareness of Black women’s burden of the virus, which is associated with men who have sex with men. One in 9 women are unaware they have the virus, the CDC reports. Numerous barriers contribute to the disparities in diagnosis and treatment, including structural racism, stigma, discrimination, homophobia and healthcare access. Those assigned female at birth, Black people and teens/young adults have the lowest percentage of HIV medical care. Epidemiologist Maria Nicole Pyra, PhD, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said researchers missed an opportunity to reach at-risk women because it wasn’t determined until later that PrEP therapy is safe for pregnant and breastfeeding women. “Information about safety during pregnancy was gathered later on in the process. We do a disservice to women, and we saw this in COVID as well, when we don’t find ways to safely include pregnant people because we don’t have the information to counsel them,” said Pyra, who teaches at the university’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Feinberg School of Medicine.

As the “tripledemic” maintains its hold on Chicago’s healthcare system, hospitals are fighting back. Anisha Kshetrapal, MD, emergency medicine physician at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital and professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine shared information on when to take your child to the ER. She said there are three signs that parents should be looking out for. These include difficulty breathing, dehydration (children not drinking liquids or no tears when they cry) and having difficulty waking your child up. Kshetrapal says we’ve been seeing higher numbers of infections in the ER due to children being masked for the past two years and not having been exposed to normal viral infections. With the upcoming holiday, Kshetrapal says it’s important to have received your flu shot and bivalent booster, especially if taking care of a child. Further, if attending any holiday gatherings, caretakers should ensure no one at the event has symptoms and tests themselves before attending.

As successful as the COVID-19 vaccines have been in curbing the pandemic, their benefits haven’t been enjoyed equally by people around the globe. Throughout the pandemic – and even now – vaccine development and distribution has been undeniably lopsided, skewed in favor of developed countries with the resources to create, test, manufacture and distribute shots when the need arises. In the third year of the pandemic, while nearly 70% of people worldwide have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, in low-income countries, only 24% have. In its latest report on the global vaccine market, which includes an assessment of vaccines against COVID-19 and a variety of infectious diseases, the World Health Organization (WHO) calls upon both governments and companies to reshape the vaccine market to equalize these discrepancies. However, governments can’t accomplish this alone. Companies should create new pathways for sharing intellectual property and opening doors that are currently closed by proprietary priorities, the report says. That’s a big ask, says Robert Murphy, MD, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Big pharma is not going to do this,” he says. “There has to be more technology transfer.” Murphy points to efforts by vaccine maker AstraZeneca, which developed a COVID-19 vaccine based on research from Oxford University, and took steps to share its technology with countries who were willing to capitalize on that knowledge. The company worked with a Brazilian research institute to allow scientists in that country to produce the vaccine for its citizens. WHO has also designated that institute as a hub for making mRNA vaccines in Latin America.

Emergency department waiting rooms are bursting at the seams with children suffering from fevers and difficulty breathing. This is the face of an out-of-season surge of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, compounded by an early start to the influenza season: sick children, worried parents, exhausted healthcare workers and a struggling pediatric health care system. Although RSV can infect people of any age, a record number of children are infected with this potentially deadly virus during the respiratory illness season. The CDC reports that RSV infections are leading to a high hospitalization rate of 13.0 patients per 100,00 people and 145 per 100,000 for babies younger than 6 months. “Given the lack of capacity, staff and funding for medical care and public health, we need to take measures to prevent people from requiring scarce hospital resources in the first place. Fortunately, we have two effective public health tools at hand: vaccines and masks,” say both Seema Shah, associate professor of pediatrics (advanced general pediatrics and primary care), and Michelle Macy, associate professor of pediatrics (emergency medicine) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Although the flu and COVID-19 have safe and effective vaccines, the CDC reports that fewer than 30% of children have received the seasonal flu vaccine and only 10% have gotten the bivalent COVID-19 booster. RSV has fewer options, with only an expensive monoclonal antibody treatment to prevent severe infection in children at high risk and unapproved vaccines that are still undergoing testing. The second tool is masking. With low rates of vaccination and high transmission rates, the most effective way to stay healthy is to wear high-quality masks in indoor settings, a response that a recent New England Journal of Medicine study shows was effective in public schools. This protects not only the wearer but also others, including people who are too young or who medically cannot receive a COVID-19 or flu vaccine.

Illinois has seen a recent surge in the number of kids arriving in the emergency room for suicidal thoughts — both during and shortly before the pandemic, according to a new study. Experts said that while the findings come from one state, they reflect what’s been going on nationally. They also highlight a sobering fact: U.S. children and teenagers have been showing a deterioration in their mental health for years. “It’s absolutely not the case that this started with the pandemic,” said senior researcher Joseph Feinglass, PhD, and research professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Over the past two decades, suicide deaths have risen by more than 50% among U.S. teens and adults younger than 25. And a 2019 government study found that about one-third of high school students said they felt persistently sad or hopeless — a 40% increase from a decade before. He speculated that school-related stress could be one reason behind the national trends in suicide deaths of the past couple decades. But there could be many other things going on, too, Feinglass said. He pointed to the economic downturn and housing crisis that began in 2008, because when families suffer those strains, kids are affected, too. Social media is another potential culprit, Feinglass said. One way it could affect kids’ mental well-being is through the constant comparisons they make between themselves and others — not only with the peers they know, Feinglass noted, but with countless strangers online. Kids are not alone in their worsening mental health. Feinglass noted that so-called “deaths of despair” — from suicide, drugs and alcohol — have been rising for years among U.S. adults, particularly those who are working class and lack a college degree. That also means more kids living with parents or other family members with substance abuse problems and other mental health conditions, Feinglass said. “I do think there’s something about the broader American culture contributing to this,” he said. “There’s a social disintegration factor.” Both experts said it’s critical for kids to have caring adults in their lives. And that’s something many may lack, Feinglass said. “We need to surround kids with a community of adults who support them,” he said.

Researchers at Lurie Children’s and Northwestern University Feinberg medical school report that back in the fall of 2019, Illinois emergency departments experience a spike in visits from youth ages 5 to 19 with suicidal thoughts. While there was another uptick in 2020 when the pandemic began, the authors note that the Illinois data shows a pre-COVID crisis and is representative of a nationwide population. “A lot of people have talked about mental health problems in youth during the pandemic, but it was happening before the pandemic,” corresponding author Audrey Brewer, MD, MPH, instructor of pediatrics at Feinberg and a pediatrician at Lurie Children’s said in a statement. “This has been an issue for so long, and it’s getting worse.” Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the U.S. and has increased over 45% between 1999 and 2020, when more than 47,000 adolescents ages 10 to 19 died, the statement said. Although the data used in this study do not shed light on the reasons that suicidal ideation has spiked in recent years, senior author Joe Feinglass, PhD, research professor of medicine at Feinberg, surmised in the statement that it could be a combination of school-related stress, social isolation, including heavy social media exposure, growing hopelessness about climate change, political discord and gun violence, and family adversity, neglect or abuse, “This is like smoke,” Feinglass said of the study findings. “And there’s definitely a fire, but we don’t yet know and are not yet addressing what is causing the fire.”

A study from the National Institutes of Health last month showed women who use chemical hair relaxers or straighteners may have a higher risk of the cancer. A Missouri woman, Patrice Yursik is now suing five beauty companies — including L’Oréal — claiming the relaxers caused her uterine cancer at the age of 28. That diagnosis eventually led to a hysterectomy. Yursik says the need to chemically relax hair begins at a young age. “Many of us are taught from an early age that our hair is unmanageable or unprofessional or untidy, or of course it must be therefore tamed by these caustic chemicals and this is not just an American issue, this is global,” she said. June McKoy, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine and cancer researcher at Northwestern University, says the study’s findings are a big deal. “There are three or four components that are definite carcinogens. We know that the scalp absorbs things very well and it gets right into the system, and we know that we already know that this is a product people use repeatedly over time,” McKoy said. “ … We see high cancer rates among older adults over time exposure leaves cancer in some form.” McKoy is direct when it comes to the use of hair relaxers. “I would advise women strongly to stop using them. The association is so strong that I would advise not to use it,” she said.

The prospect of rising deaths from the flu coming in December and January, combined with a drop in the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccinations among children has a Northwestern Medicine infectious disease doctor worried about the cost of vaccine fatigue. “This is all going in the wrong direction. Not only are we having this bump up in flu cases and hospitalizations, but we are having fewer people get vaccinated. It’s the wrong time to slack off,” Robert Murphy, MD, executive director of the Robert J. Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine said in a statement. Murphy warns that while people are tired of vaccines, with the most recent availability of what would be the 5th shot of COVID-19 vaccine to be recommended by the CDC, now is not the time to give up on them. “We have barely seen the influenza virus for the last one or two years, due to COVID-19 restrictions. We might have lost some of our previously acquired immunity due to the lack of viral circulation. Additionally, we now have pediatric populations that have never experienced this virus,” Ramon Lorenzo Redondo, PhD, assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, added in the statement.

After decades of failure, weight loss drugs seem finally poised to become big pharma’s newest blockbuster category. The enthusiasm is merited. These newer drugs offer more profound and sustained weight loss than any of the medicines that came before them. People are eager to try the new treatments. “The demand is overwhelming the workforce,” says Robert Kushner, MD, who specializes in obesity medicine at Northwestern Medicine. Also worth considering: The story about the long-term safety of this new generation of drugs is still being written. Past experience in the weight-loss arena has shown that side effects can emerge after the drugs hit the market. That worry is compounded by the drugs being potentially used in situations where there’s no evidence for their efficacy or safety.

Mindfulness mediation worked as well as a standard drug for treating anxiety in the first head-to-head comparison. The study tested a widely used mindfulness program that includes 2 1/2 hours of classes weekly and 45 minutes of daily practice at home. Participants were randomly assigned to the program or daily use of a generic drug sold under the name Lexapro for depression and anxiety. After two months, anxiety as measured on a severity scale declined by about 30% in both groups and continued to decrease during the following four months. The study “is reaffirming about how useful mindfulness can be when practiced effectively,” said psychologist Sheehan Fisher, PhD, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine who was not involved in the study.

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