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Dangerous Drug-Resistant Infections on the March

A spreading threat: Drug-resistant infections are spreading across the globe and perhaps in a hospital near you. But you may not know about it. Matt Richtel and Andrew Jacobs write in The New York Times about the spread of a deadly fungus called Candida auris and how hospital executives and health care providers have worked to keep outbreaks secret, fearing it will affect their reputation and patient load. Even the nation’s top public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has agreed to protect the names of hospitals where such outbreaks occur, saying that confidentiality is essential in  persuading hospitals to report outbreaks to federal officials.  Meanwhile, drug-resistant germs are growing ever more common and more potent. Jacobs and Richtel write about how the availability of inexpensive generic antibiotics in poor regions of the world has saved millions of lives while also super-charging drug resistance. Consider this fact, from a study funded by the British government: If trends continue, many more people could die from drug-resistant infections in 2050 – as many as 10 million worldwide – than from cancer.

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Deadly pursuits: Many urban police police departments have enacted policies meant to avoid high-speed chases that can be deadly for the pursued, the police and bystanders. But the Border Patrol has taken no such action. In fact, an investigation by ProPublica and the Los Angeles Times found, the agency frequently engages in high-speed chases that often lead to injury and death. The reporters sorted through thousands of criminal complaints filed against human smugglers from 2015 through 2018. Over four years, Border Patrol agents engaged in more than 500 pursuits across four border states. Among those chases, 1 in 3 ended in a crash. At least 250 people were injured and 22 died. The Border Patrol declined to respond to the reporters’ findings. The Border Patrol policy advises officers to pursue only when the “benefit of emergency driving outweighs the immediate danger,” a policy that safety experts say should be changed. But Thomas Frank reported for FairWarning recently that even improved policies aren’t enough. He found that deaths resulting from police chases increased in 2017 for the fourth consecutive year, to at least 416. That’s up 22 percent over deaths in 2013, according to federal records. He detailed instances in which police officers have opposed new policies or a public push for reform.

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Consumer protection compromised?: House lawmakers are holding a hearing this morning to air concerns that the Republican-controlled Consumer Product Safety Commission may be shirking its mission in favor of protecting industry interests. The agency has faced pressure on multiple fronts. Myron Levin of FairWarning reported extensively on the relationship between the commission and lobbying firm Bracewell, which has succeeded in blocking mandatory safety standards for a wide variety of products, including recreational off-highway vehicles, window blinds whose cords pose a strangulation risk to young children, and portable generators involved in carbon monoxide poisoning deaths. Levin’s reporting prompted leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to request information from the acting head of the commission, Ann Marie Buerkle, regarding her industry ties and whether she has directed commission staff to delay work on safety standards. Meanwhile, The Washington Post has been reporting on how a big problem for stroller manufacturer Britax resolved itself when Republicans took control of the commission. Britax makes the popular jogging stroller known as the BOB. The commission had been collecting reports of serious crashes involving strollers whose front wheel fell off, resulting in injuries for the children inside and the adults pushing them. The agency aggressively pursued a recall on many strollers made before 2016, suing early last year to force the action. In an unusual move, the company refused to make a voluntary recall and then fought the lawsuit. As Todd. C. Frankel reports, control of the agency was about to change hands. The commission voted in November, along party lines, to approve a settlement that did not require a recall or formal correction plan. It did require Britax to notify consumers, retailers and resellers, such as Goodwill and eBay, of its safety campaign. Frankel reported this morning that the company did not send out timely notices as required. Several senators, including Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey, Democrats on the Senate subcommittee for consumer protection, also are investigating Buerkle’s industry ties.

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Power play: Idaho Power, which serves about 560,000 customers in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon, is the latest utility to announce a full transition to renewable power in the coming years. Six years ago, more than 40 percent of its power came from coal. Now it plans to be carbon-free by 2045, Rocky Barker reports for the Idaho Statesman. That’s the same target set by California and being considered in Idaho and other states. The city of Boise has set a more aggressive goal of clean electricity by 2035.

  • Also: President Trump wants to eliminate billions of dollars of federal investment in developing new clean energy technology, a cut that critics say could hurt jobs and make America less competitive on the global market, InsideClimate News reports. –– Under pressure from investors, regulators and climate lawsuits, Big Oil has invested in engineering research aimed at extracting carbon from the atmosphere, The New York Times reports. –– Sharon Lerner of The Intercept looks at how the Times, The Washington Post and other media companies are aiding fossil fuel producers by publishing greenwashing propaganda as sponsored content, paid for by the industry.

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Predator, prey: A federal judge has issued a $50 million summary judgment against the publisher of hundreds of scientific research journals, saying the company is guilty of deceptive business practices, including misleading researchers about the legitimacy of its journals, failing to disclose author fees, and staging advertising conferences using the names of star researchers who never agreed to participate, Gina Kolata of The New York Times reports. Academics and ethics experts cheered the decision against Omics International. While there are many, many more publishing companies using similar tactics, Omics is “the Walmart of predatory publishers and conference organizers,” one economist said. The company plans to appeal.

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They did what they were told: A preliminary report on the Ethiopian Airlines crash last month that killed 157 people concluded that the flight crew followed all Boeing procedures to manage the aircraft’s flight-control system but could not regain control of the plane, Ethiopia’s transport minister told reporters. That system has been the focus of scrutiny since the crash, the second of a Boeing 737 Max within five months. Boeing told The Washington Post last week that it has found a second software problem, related to the flaps and other critical flight-control hardware, and is working to fix it. The planes remain grounded. Over more than a half century, Jack Nicas and Julie Creswell of The New York Times write, Boeing has updated its 737 model rather than starting from scratch to save the company and its customers time and money. Current and former Boeing engineers and other employees told the Times that they knew, with this latest iteration, the company was stretching the abilities of the old model. “Nobody was quite perhaps willing to say it was unsafe, but we really felt like the limits were being bumped up against,” said one former engineer who worked on the 737 Max cockpit design.

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Poisoned range: An inspection of a gun range that trains hundreds of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents showed high levels of lead contamination throughout, “from the floor to the microwave to the coffee pot,” writes Jerry Zremski of The Buffalo News. The operators recently spent $45,000 to clean the range to federal standards. Still, the issue angered Paul Kwiatkowski, the union leader for officers in Western New York. “It shows the agency could care less about their employees,” he told Zremski. Niagara Gun Range is the same one where a federal firearms instructor in 2005 was found to have a blood lead level seven times higher than safety standards.

  • Also: Remington Arms Company faces proposed penalties of $210,132 for 27 health and safety violations, including inadequate machine guards and chemical hazards, discovered during an inspection after a worker at its Ilion, New York, plant suffered a fingertip amputation. –– Florida Roofing Experts faces proposed penalties of $132,598 after inspectors found workers on roofs without fall protection. –– Hiebert Bros Construction faces proposed penalties of $56,828 after a worker was injured by a 26-foot fall off a building in Gainesville, Florida. Investigators cited the company for inadequate fall protection and training.

Chelsea Conaboy is a FairWarning contributor and freelance writer and editor specializing in health care. Find more of her work at chelseaconaboy.com.