Identifying your flu type and other health stories you may have missed

This week, we launched a CBC Health newsletter called Second Opinion. 

It will include some of the fascinating stories that cross our desks but don’t make it into the daily news. And it’s an opportunity to recap some original CBC reporting and analysis from the past week, as well as to point you to other excellent medical science journalism that caught our eye.

Want this in your inbox? Get the Second Opinion newsletter every Friday.

What’s your flu type? It could depend on when you were born

influenza virus

New research suggests we’re all imprinted for life by whatever influenza A virus infects us first. (CDC)

New research suggests we’re all imprinted for life by whatever influenza A virus infects us first. It could mean lifelong protection against one subset of viruses and lifetime vulnerability to another. The theory helps explain the mystery of why some strains of flu hit young people harder than older people. So, a bad flu year doesn’t necessarily mean the virus is extra nasty. It could just be that most of the people getting sick were exposed to a different flu strain when they were infants.

So what’s your flu type? If you were born before 1968, you were probably imprinted by influenza A viruses in the H1, H2 or H5 family. After 1968, you were probably imprinted by the H3 or H7 family. It won’t keep you from becoming infected by those strains. But it could give you a 75 per cent reduced risk of serious illness and up to 85 per cent reduced risk of death, said University of Arizona professor Michael Worobey, one of the study authors.

The birthday flu hypothesis could help decide which groups to vaccinate first in a flu pandemic. “We can now say something quite sensibly and generally about which age groups will end up in hospital and dying as a pandemic unfolds,” said Worobey.

The hypothesis might one day prompt public health officials to abandon the one-size-fits-all approach to seasonal flu vaccination and use the history of exposure in different age cohorts to target those with weak protection against the circulating virus, he said.

Who decides whether organs are donated?

If you want to donate your organs — and you’ve submitted a consent form — you probably expect your wishes will be respected. It turns out that might not be the case.

A commentary posted on the CMAJ website this week points out that many provinces and territories are leaving the decision up to family members even though an individual’s consent is supposed to be legally binding. It means that if you agree to organ donation, your family members could effectively veto that decision. And that’s exactly what happened in 21 per cent of cases where individuals consented to organ donation in Ontario last year.

The authors advocate for aligning policies with the law as a way to increase the number of available organs for transplant.

How one pharmacy made $ 31,000 for dispensing a few pills

Why health insurance premiums are rising0:54

It’s not just drug companies that like high drug prices. Pharmacies and insurance companies also get a piece of the action. This week, CBC health reporter Vik Adhopia revealed how one pharmacy made over $ 30,000 for dispensing a few pills. It happens because pharmacists can charge a mark-up on top of the dispensing fee, based on the price of the drug. The private insurers who manage employee drug claims also take a fee that increases with the value of the claim. It’s one reason why employee insurance premiums are likely to rise.

A personal take on a national story 

As journalists, we try to stay out of our stories. But every once in awhile, a big story hits close to home. This week, the fifth estate‘s Bob McKeown wrote about his years as an all-star centre with the CFL’s Ottawa Rough Riders, and about the concussions he, and many of his fellow players, suffered. The NFL has acknowledged the link between repeated blows to the head and brain damage and finally settled with its former players this year. But what about the CFL? Bob went looking for answers and made a big personal decision.

P.S. You can watch Bob’s full story on this week’s episode of the fifth estate. Click here to find out when.

Think like a doctor

Each month, the New York Times runs a Think Like a Doctor contest that presents a real-life medical problem, complete with X-rays and patient charts and invites readers to make the diagnosis.

For 26-year-old Adrian Budhram, it’s easy. He is a third-year neurology resident at Western University in London, Ont., and has won the contest three times.

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The New York Times runs a monthly Think Like a Doctor contest that asks readers to diagnose real-life medical problems. A third-year resident at Western University in London, Ont., has won the context three times, prompting the contest organizers to jokingly suggest he sit out a few rounds and let others have a chance. (Courtesy of the American Cancer Society via Getty Images)

So far, Budhram has solved the mysterious case of a painter with excruciating headaches (a dural-arteriovenous fistula), a  woman with severe abdominal cramps who lost a dramatic amount of weight in a few weeks (median arcuate ligament syndrome) and a woman with vomiting, weakness and confusion months after having weight loss surgery (Wernicke’s encephalopathy caused by vitamin B1 deficiency).

What’s his secret? He just asks the right questions, he said. Any tips? Don’t count on Google. It’s not specific enough and will probably make the case even more confusing.

The author of the column, Dr. Lisa Sanders, has playfully suggested that Budhram sit out a few rounds to give someone else a chance. And luckily for other contestants, he’s got a gruelling couple of months of hospital rotations ahead of him, so he’ll be too busy thinking like a real doctor to practice being a newspaper doctor on the side.

Rounds

Here are some other stories we found interesting this week:

  • Studies show little benefit in supplements | New York Times
  • From America’s Healers: A letter to our patients in the Trump era | Medium
  • For one condition, the drugs came before the disorder | Journal Sentinel

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