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Researchers Find That Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Can Persist in the Body for Years

Study results from Switzerland come as clinical laboratory scientists seek new ways to tackle the problem of antimicrobial resistance in hospitals

Microbiologists and clinical laboratory scientists engaged in the fight against antibiotic-resistant (aka, antimicrobial resistant) bacteria will be interested in a recent study conducted at the University of Basel and University Hospital Basel in Switzerland. The epidemiologists involved in the study discovered that some of these so-called “superbugs” can remain in the body for as long as nine years continuing to infect the host and others.

The researchers wanted to see how two species of drug-resistant bacteria—K. pneumoniae and E. coli—changed over time in the body, according to a press release from the university. They analyzed samples of the bacteria collected from patients who were admitted to the hospital over a 10-year period, focusing on older individuals with pre-existing conditions. They found that K. pneumoniae persisted for up to 4.5 years (1,704 days) and E. coli persisted for up to nine years (3,376 days).

“These patients not only repeatedly become ill themselves, but they also act as a source of infection for other people—a reservoir for these pathogens,” said Lisandra Aguilar-Bultet, PhD, the study’s lead author, in the press release.

“This is crucial information for choosing a treatment,” explained Sarah Tschudin Sutter, MD, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology, and of the Division of Hospital Epidemiology, who specializes in hospital-acquired infections and drug-resistant pathogens. Sutter led the Basel University study.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Communications titled, “Within-Host Genetic Diversity of Extended-Spectrum Beta-Lactamase-Producing Enterobacterales in Long-Term Colonized Patients.”

“The issue is that when patients have infections with these drug-resistant bacteria, they can still carry that organism in or on their bodies even after treatment,” said epidemiologist Maroya Spalding Walters, MD (above), who leads the Antimicrobial Resistance Team in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “They don’t show any signs or symptoms of illness, but they can get infections again, and they can also transmit the bacteria to other people.” Clinical laboratories working with microbiologists on antibiotic resistance will want to follow the research conducted into these deadly pathogens. (Photo copyright: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

COVID-19 Pandemic Increased Antibiotic Resistance

The Basel researchers looked at 76 K. pneumoniae isolates recovered from 19 patients and 284 E. coli isolates taken from 61 patients, all between 2008 and 2018. The study was limited to patients in which the bacterial strains were detected from at least two consecutive screenings on admission to the hospital.

“DNA analysis indicates that the bacteria initially adapt quite quickly to the conditions in the colonized parts of the body, but undergo few genetic changes thereafter,” the Basel University press release states.

The researchers also discovered that some of the samples, including those from different species, had identical mechanisms of drug resistance, suggesting that the bacteria transmitted mobile genetic elements such as plasmids to each other.

One limitation of the study, the authors acknowledged, was that they could not assess the patients’ exposure to antibiotics.

Meanwhile, recent data from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic might have exacerbated the challenges of antibiotic resistance. Even though COVID-19 is a viral infection, WHO scientists found that high percentages of patients hospitalized with the disease between 2020 and 2023 received antibiotics.

“While only 8% of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 had bacterial co-infections requiring antibiotics, three out of four or some 75% of patients have been treated with antibiotics ‘just in case’ they help,” the WHO stated in a press release.

WHO uses an antibiotic categorization system known as AWaRe (Access, Watch, Reserve) to classify antibiotics based on risk of resistance. The most frequently prescribed antibiotics were in the “Watch” group, indicating that they are “more prone to be a target of antibiotic resistance and thus prioritized as targets of stewardship programs and monitoring.”

“When a patient requires antibiotics, the benefits often outweigh the risks associated with side effects or antibiotic resistance,” said Silvia Bertagnolio, MD, Unit Head in the Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) Division at the WHO in the press release. “However, when they are unnecessary, they offer no benefit while posing risks, and their use contributes to the emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistance.”

Citing research from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NPR reported that in the US, hospital-acquired antibiotic-resistant infections increased 32% during the pandemic compared with data from just before the outbreak.

“While that number has dropped, it still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels,” NPR noted.

Search for Better Antimicrobials

In “Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Killing More and More Humans. We Need New Weapons,” Vox reported that scientists around the world are researching innovative ways to speed development of new antimicrobial treatments.

One such scientist is César de la Fuente, PhD, Presidential Assistant Professor at University of Pennsylvania, whose research team developed an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can look at molecules from the natural world and predict which ones have therapeutic potential.

The UPenn researchers have already developed an antimicrobial treatment derived from guava plants that has proved effective in mice, Vox reported. They’ve also trained an AI model to scan the proteomes of extinct organisms.

“The AI identified peptides from the woolly mammoth and the ancient sea cow, among other ancient animals, as promising candidates,” Vox noted. These, too, showed antimicrobial properties in tests on mice.

These findings can be used by clinical laboratories and microbiologists in their work with hospital infection control teams to better identify patients with antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria who, after discharge, may show up at the hospital months or years later.

—Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Resistant Bacteria Can Remain in The Body for Years

‘Superbugs’ Can Linger in the Body for Years, Potentially Spreading Antibiotic Resistance

Superbug Crisis Threatens to Kill 10 Million Per Year by 2050. Scientists May Have a Solution

Drug-Resistant Bacteria Are Killing More and More Humans. We Need New Weapons.

How the Pandemic Gave Power to Superbugs

WHO Reports Widespread Overuse of Antibiotics in Patients Hospitalized with COVID-19

US Hospitals Continue to Be Squeezed by Shortage of Nurses, Rising Salaries

It is more than a shortage of nurses, as most clinical laboratories report the same shortages of medical technologists and increased labor costs

Just as hospital-based clinical laboratories are unable to hire and retain adequate numbers of medical technologists (MTs) and clinical laboratory scientists (CLSs), the nursing shortage is also acute. Compounding the challenge of staffing nurses is the rapid rise in the salaries of nurses because hospitals need nurses to keep their emergency departments, operating rooms, and other services open and treating patients while also generating revenue.

The nursing shortage has been blamed on burnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but nurses also report consistently deteriorating conditions and say they feel undervalued and under-appreciated, according to Michigan Advance, which recently covered an averted strike by nurses at 118-bed acute care McLaren Central Hospital in Mt. Pleasant and 97-bed teaching hospital MyMichigan Medical Center Alma, both in Central Michigan.

“Nurses are leaving the bedside because the conditions that hospital corporations are creating are unbearable. The more nurses leave, the worse it becomes. This was a problem before the pandemic, and the situation has only deteriorated over the last three years,” said Jamie Brown, RN, President of the Michigan Nurses Association (MNA) and a critical care nurse at Ascension Borgess Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan Advance reported.

Jamie Brown, RN

“The staffing crisis will never be adequately addressed until working conditions at hospitals are improved,” said Jamie Brown, RN (above), President of the Michigan Nurses Association in a press release. Brown’s statement correlates with claims by laboratory technicians about working conditions in clinical laboratories all over the country that are experiencing similar shortages of critical staff. (Photo copyright: Michigan Nurses Association.)

Nurse Understaffing Dangerous to Patients

In the lead up to the Michigan nurses’ strike, NPR reported on a poll conducted by market research firm Emma White Research LLC on behalf of the MNA that found 42% of nurses surveyed claimed “they know of a patient death due to nurses being assigned too many patients.” The same poll in 2016 found only 22% of nurses making the same claim.

And yet, according to an MNA news release, “There is no law that sets safe RN-to-patient ratios in hospitals, leading to RNs having too many patients at one time too often. This puts patients in danger and drives nurses out of the profession.”

Other survey findings noted in the Emma White Research memo to NPR include:

  • Seven in 10 RNs working in direct care say they are assigned an unsafe patient load in half or more of their shifts.
  • Over nine in 10 RNs say requiring nurses to care for too many patients at once is affecting the quality of patient care.
  • Requiring set nurse-to-patient ratios could also make a difference in retention and in returning qualified nurses to the field.

According to NPR, “Nurses across the state say dangerous levels of understaffing are becoming the norm, even though hospitals are no longer overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.”

Thus, nursing organizations in Michigan, and the legislators who support change, have proposed the Safe Patient Care Act which sets out to “to increase patient safety in Michigan hospitals by establishing minimum nurse staffing levels, limiting mandatory overtime for RNs, and adding transparency,” according to an MNA news release.

Huge Increase in Nursing Costs

Another pressure on hospitals is the rise in the cost of replacing nurses with temporary or travel nurses to maintain adequate staffing levels.

In “Hospital Temporary Labor Costs: a Staggering $1.52 Billion in FY2022,” the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association noted that “To fill gaps in staffing, hospitals hire registered nurses and other staff through ‘traveler’ agencies. Traveler workers, especially RNs in high demand, command higher hourly wages—at least two or three times more than what an on-staff clinician would earn. Many often receive signing bonuses. In Fiscal Year 2019, [Massachusetts] hospitals spent $204 million on temporary staff. In FY2022, they spent $1.52 billion—a 610% increase. According to the MHA survey, approximately 77% of the $1.52 billion went to hiring temporary RNs.”

It’s likely this same scenario is playing out in hospitals all across America.

Are Nursing Strikes a Symptom of a Larger Healthcare Problem?

In “Nurses on Strike Are Just the Tip of the Iceberg. The Care Worker Shortage Is About to Touch Every Corner of the US Economy,” Fortune reported that nationally the US is facing a shortage of more than 200,000 nurses.

“But the problem is much bigger,” Fortune wrote. “Care workers—physicians, home health aides, early childhood care workers, physician assistants, and more—face critical challenges as a result of America’s immense care gap that may soon touch every corner of the American economy.”

Clinical laboratories are experiencing the same shortages of critical staff due in large part to the same workplace issues affecting nurses. Dark Daily covered this growing crisis in several ebriefings.

In “Forbes Senior Contributor Covers Reasons for Growing Staff Shortages at Medical Laboratories and Possible Solutions,” we covered an article written by infectious disease expert Judy Stone, MD, in which she noted that factors contributing to the shortage of medical technologists and other clinical laboratory scientists include limited training programs in clinical laboratory science, pay disparity, and staff retention.

We also covered in that ebrief how the so-called “Great Resignation” caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on clinical laboratory staffs, creating shortages of pathologists as well as of medical technologists, medical laboratory technicians, and other lab scientists who are vital to the nation’s network of clinical laboratories.

And in “Clinical Laboratory Technician Shares Personal Journey and Experience with Burnout During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” we reported on the personal story of Suzanna Bator, a former laboratory technician with the Cleveland Clinic and with MetroHealth System in Cleveland, Ohio. Bator shared her experiences in an essay for Daily Nurse that took a personalized, human look at the strain clinical laboratory technicians were put under during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Her story presents the quandary of how to keep these critical frontline healthcare workers from experiencing burnout and leaving the field.

Did Experts See the Shortages Coming?

Hospitals across the United States—and in the UK, according to Reuters—are facing worker strikes, staff shortages, rising costs, and uncertainty about the future. Just like clinical laboratories and other segments of the healthcare industry, worker burnout and exhaustion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic are being cited as culprits for these woes.

But was it predictable and could it have been avoided?

“One of the big things to clear up for the public is that … we saw the writing on the wall that vacancies were going to be a problem for us, before the pandemic hit our shores,” Christopher Friese, PhD, professor of Nursing and Health Management Policy at the University of Michigan (UM), told NPR. Friese is also Director of the Center for Improving Patient and Population Health at UM.

Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and staffing shortages exasperated by it, will be felt by clinical laboratories, pathology groups, and the healthcare industry in general for years to come. Creative solutions must be employed to avoid more staff shortages and increase employee retention and recruitment.

Ashley Croce

Related Information:

Amid Burnout and Exhaustion, Nurses at Two Mid-Michigan Hospitals OK New Contracts

‘Everyone Is Exhausted and Burned Out’: McLaren Central Nurses Authorize Potential Strike

New Poll Shows a Nurse-to-Patient Ratio Law Could Be Key to Addressing Staffing Crisis

42% of Michigan Nurses Say High Patient Load Led to Deaths

Michigan Nurses Report More Patients Dying Due to Understaffing, Poll Finds

COVID-19’s Impact on Nursing Shortages, the Rise of Travel Nurses, and Price Gouging

Survey of Registered Nurses Living or Working in Michigan

This Nursing Shortage Requires Innovative Solutions

Nurses on Strike Are Just the Tip of the iceberg. The Care Worker Shortage Is About to Touch Every Corner of the US Economy

Workers Stage Largest Strike in History of Britain’s Health Service

Nursing Shortage by State: Which US States Need Nurses the Most and Which Ones Will Have Too Many?

Healthcare Experts See Links Between COVID-19 and RSV as Tripledemic Pressures Ease on Hospitals and Clinical Laboratories

Some medical experts suggest an ‘immunity gap’ related to COVID-19 mitigation measures, while others point to alternative theories

Surge in fall/winter SARS-CoV-2, influenza (flu), and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) hospitalizations and ensuing clinical laboratory test referrals—dubbed by some public health experts as a “tripledemic”—appear to have eased in the US, according to stats from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Becker’s Hospital Review reported. However, scientists are still left with questions about why the RSV outbreak was so pronounced.

Some healthcare experts point to an “immunity gap” tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others suggest alternative theories such as temporary immunodeficiency brought on by COVID-19. In most cases, RSV causes “mild, cold-like symptoms,” but the CDC states it also can cause serious illness, especially for infants, young children, and older adults, leading to emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and an increased demand for clinical laboratory testing.

Pulmonology Advisor reported that the disease typically peaks between December and February, but hospitalizations this season hit their peak in November with numbers far higher than in previous years. In addition to infants and older adults, children between five and 17 years of age were “being hospitalized far in excess of their numbers in previous seasons,” the publication reported.

Asuncion Meijas MD, PhD

“Age by itself is a risk factor for more severe disease, meaning that the younger babies are usually the ones that are sick-sick,” pediatrician Asuncion Mejias, MD, PhD (above), a principal investigator with the Center for Vaccines and Immunity at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, told MarketWatch. Now, she added, “we are also seeing older kids, probably because they were not exposed to RSV the previous season.” Clinical laboratories in hospitals caught the brunt of those RSV inpatient admissions. (Photo copyright: Nationwide Children’s Hospital.)

Did COVID-19 Cause Immunity Gap and Surge in Respiratory Diseases?

CDC data shows that hospitalization rates linked to RSV have steadily declined since hitting their peak of 5.2 per 100,000 people in mid-November. In contrast, hospitalizations linked to the flu peaked in late November and early December at 8.7 per 100,000. Hospitalizations linked to COVID 19—which still exceed those of the other respiratory diseases—reached a plateau of 9.7 per 100,000 in early December, then saw an uptick later that month before declining in the early part of January, 2023, according to the CDC’s Respiratory Virus Hospitalization Surveillance Network (RESP-NET) dashboard.

Surveillance by the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD) revealed a similar pattern: An early peak in weekly numbers for emergency room visits for RSV, followed by a spike for influenza and steadier numbers for COVID-19.

So, why was the RSV outbreak so severe?

Respiratory diseases tend to hit hardest in winter months when people are more likely to gather indoors. Beyond that, some experts have cited social distancing and masking requirements imposed in 2020 and 2021 to limit the spread of COVID 19. These measures, along with school closures, had the side effect of reducing exposure to influenza and RSV.

“It’s what’s being referred to as this ‘immunity gap’ that people have experienced from not having been exposed to our typical respiratory viruses for the last couple of years, combined with reintroduction to indoor gatherings, indoor venues, indoor school, and day care without any of the mitigation measures that we had in place for the last couple of years,” infectious disease expert Kristin Moffitt, MD, of Boston Children’s Hospital told NPR.

Term ‘Immunity Debt’ Sparks Controversy

Other experts have pushed back against the notion that pandemic-related public health measures are largely to blame for the RSV upsurge. Many have objected to the term “immunity debt,” a term Forbes reported on in November.

“Immunity debt is a made-up term that did not exist until last year,” pediatrician Dave Stukus, MD, wrote on Twitter. Stukus is a Professor of Clinical Pediatrics in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

An article published by Texas Public Radio (TPR) suggests further grounds for skepticism, stating that “the immunity debt theory doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny.”

Pediatrician and infectious disease expert Theresa Barton, MD, of UT Health San Antonio noted that there was also a big RSV surge in summer of 2021.

“That was sort of the great unmasking, and everybody got viral illnesses,” she told TPR. “Now we’re past that. We’ve already been through that. We should have some immunity from that and we’re having it again.”

She added that “the hospital is filled with babies who are less than a year of age who have RSV infection. Those children weren’t locked down in 2020.”

The story also noted that not all Americans complied with social distancing or masking guidelines.

“We’re not seeing [less viral illness in] states in the United States that were less strict compared to states that were stricter during mask mandates and things like that. All the states are being impacted,” Barton told TPR.

Perfect Storm of Demand for Clinical Laboratory Testing

Barton suggested that COVID-19 might have compromised people’s immune systems in ways that made them more susceptible to other respiratory diseases. For example, a study published in Nature Immunology, titled, “Immunological Dysfunction Persists for Eight Months following Initial Mild-to-Moderate SARS-CoV-2 Infection,” found that some patients who survived COVID-19 infection developed post-acute long COVID (LC, aka, COVID syndrome) which lasted longer than 12 weeks. And that “patients with LC had highly activated innate immune cells, lacked naive T and naive B cells, and showed elevated expression of type I IFN (IFN-β) and type III IFN (IFN-λ1) that remained persistently high at eight months after infection.”  

Experts speaking to The Boston Globe said that multiple factors are likely to blame for the severity and early arrival of the RSV outbreak. Pediatric hospitalist and infectious disease specialist Chadi El Saleeby, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said the severity of some cases might be tied to simultaneous infection with multiple viruses.

Clinical laboratories experienced a perfect storm of infectious disease testing demands during this tripledemic. Hopefully, with the arrival of spring and summer, that demand for lab tests will wane and allow for a return to a normal rate of traditional laboratory testing.

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

This Year’s RSV Surge: Bigger, Earlier, and Affecting Older Patients than Previous Seasonal Outbreaks

Experts Explain the ‘Perfect Storm’ of Rampant RSV and Flu

Flu, COVID-19 and RSV are All Trending Down for the First Time in Months

COVID, Flu, RSV Declining in Hospitals As ‘Tripledemic’ Threat Fades

COVID-19 May Be to Blame for the Surge in RSV Illness Among Children. Here’s Why.

Is Immunity Debt or Immunity Theft to Blame for Children’s Respiratory Virus Spike?

Don’t Blame ‘Immunity Debt’ If You Get Sick This Winter

Claims of an Immunity Debt in Children Owe Us Evidence

Some are Blaming ‘Immunity Debt’ for the ‘Tripledemic’—But Experts Disagree

Rapid Tests for COVID, RSV and the Flu are Available in Europe. Why Not in the US?

Disgraced Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes to Serve 11 Years, Three Months in Prison, Ending the Latest Chapter in the Story of the Failed Clinical Laboratory Company

Judge will decide the restitution Holmes must pay to defrauded Theranos investors at future court date; Ex-COO Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani to be sentenced next month

Clinical laboratory leaders and anatomic pathologists who closely followed the fraud trial of Elizabeth Holmes may have wondered how the Theranos founder and ex-CEO would be punished for her crimes. Now we know.

On Friday, a federal court judge sentenced Holmes to 135 months—11.25 years—in prison in the culmination of her conviction on three felony counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy, according to NBC Bay Area News.

Late into the four-hour sentencing hearing, Holmes tearfully spoke, according to a twitter post by NBC reporter Scott Budman, who was in the courtroom. “I am devastated by my failings,” Holmes said. “I have felt deep pain for what people went through because I have failed them … To investors, patients, I am sorry.”

Davila ordered Holmes to surrender to authorities on April 27 to begin her time behind bars. She is free until that time. Her upcoming prison term caps off one of the biggest downfalls ever of an American entrepreneur.

[We first published this article in our Dark Daily E-Briefings newsletter. Sign up for free here to stay informed on the lab industry’s most important news and events.]

Elizabeth Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes (above), founder and former CEO of Theranos, the now defunct clinical laboratory company, as she enters the federal courthouse in San Jose, Calif., prior to her sentencing on Friday. In January, Holmes was convicted on three counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy. Last summer, Theranos’ former CLIA laboratory director, pathologist Adam Rosendorff, MD, expressed remorse over his testimony which led to Holmes’ defense team requesting a new trial. The judge denied that request and allowed the sentencing of Holmes to proceed as scheduled. (Photo copyright: Jim Wilson/The New York Times.)

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Defense Lawyers Plan to Appeal

Dean Johnson, JD, a California criminal defense lawyer, told NBC Bay Area News during live coverage of the hearing on Friday that Holmes’ defense team will appeal her conviction.

“I have no doubt there will be an appeal in this case,” Johnson said.

Judge Edward Davila, who oversaw Holmes’ trial and sentencing hearing in US District Court in San Jose, Calif., estimated that the total loss for Theranos investors was $121 million. Investors had committed funds to support the company’s flawed Edison blood testing technology. A separate restitution hearing for Holmes will be scheduled for a later date.

Beyond the sentencing, Holmes, 38, will be saddled by infamy for the rest of her life, with her past reputation as a charismatic innovator ruined.

In “Theranos Ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes Convicted on Three Counts of Wire Fraud and One Count of Conspiracy to Commit Fraud after Seven Days of Jury Deliberations,” we covered how a jury convicted Holmes in January on four charges of investor and wire fraud after a four-month trial. She faced up to 20 years in prison on each of those counts.

Another Theranos executive, former Chief Operating Officer and President Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani, faces sentencing on Dec. 7. A jury found Balwani guilty of two counts of conspiracy and 10 counts of wire fraud in July.

“The judge [said] evidence shows Elizabeth Holmes was leader of the company, but not necessarily the leader of the criminal acts,” Budman tweeted. Those words clearly pointed to Balwani, who Holmes’ defense team had painted as exerting control over her and the company.

Prosecutors Sought a Stiffer Sentence for Holmes

Prosecutors had asked Davila to sentence Holmes to 15 years in prison, arguing that her conviction represented “one of the most substantial white collar offenses Silicon Valley or any other district has seen,” according to NBC Bay Area News, which cited court documents. The government also wanted her to pay $803 million in restitution.

Holmes’ defense team, however, wished for no prison time at all, instead asking that Holmes serve time under house arrest. “If a period of confinement is necessary, the defense suggests that a term of 18 months or less, with a subsequent supervised release period that requires community service, will amply meet that charge,” her lawyers wrote in a court filing.

Prior to the sentencing, Davila received 130 letters supporting Holmes and asking for leniency, NPR reported. Among them was a note from William “Billy” Evans, Holmes’ partner.

“If you are to know Liz, it is to know that she is honest, humble, selfless, and kind beyond what most people have ever experienced,” Evans wrote, NPR reported. “Please let her be free.”

Holmes and Evans have a 16-month-old son together, and she is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Her first pregnancy caused her trial to be rescheduled. Prior to last week’s sentencing, some reporters covering the trial speculated that because Holmes was the mother of an infant—and now pregnant again—the judge might be more lenient in sentencing. The 11-year, four-month sentence indicates that the judge was not much influenced by that factor.

Last Minute Pitch for New Trial Failed

Holmes’ legal wranglings continued until the very end.

On Nov. 7, Davila denied her motion for a new trial. Holmes’ lawyers had argued that key prosecution witness Adam Rosendorff, MD—a pathologist who was former laboratory director at the company—expressed remorse about his own 2021 testimony during an attempt to visit Holmes’ residence on August 2022. Dark Daily covered this event in “Clinical Pathologist Once Again at the Center of a National News Story as Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Seeks New Trial.”

However, Rosendorff later told the court that he stood by his testimony about problems with Theranos’ blood testing technology.

In denying the request for a new trial, Davila wrote, “The court finds Dr. Rosendorff’s statements under oath to be credible,” according to The Washington Post.

From Teen Founder to Disgraced Entrepreneur

Holmes founded Theranos in 2003 at age 19 while she was attending Stanford University as a chemical engineering major. She dropped out of Stanford as a sophomore to focus on her new company.

Theranos claimed its technology—known as Edison—could perform diagnostics tests using a finger prick and a micro-specimen vial instead of a needle and several Vacutainers of blood. The company said it could return results to patients and clinicians in four hours for about half of the cost of typical lab test fees.

However, the promise of this technology began to unravel in 2015 following an investigative article by The Wall Street Journal that revealed the company ran only a handful of tests using its technology, instead relying on traditional testing for most of its specimen work.

Following The Journal’s exposé, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) sanctioned Theranos and Holmes in 2016. Meanwhile, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigated Holmes for raising hundreds of millions from investors by exaggerating or making false statements about the company’s technology and financial performance.

In 2018, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted Holmes and Balwani, and Theranos closed shortly after.

Convictions Validated Pathologists’, Hospital Lab Leaders’ Concerns

Fortunately, the Theranos saga has not stunted investment in healthcare technology startups. Spending was in the tens of billions in 2021, although that number has dropped this year as the COVID-19 pandemic has waned, according to TechCrunch. Nevertheless, it is safe to assume that healthcare tech investors are scrutinizing scientific data from startups more thoroughly because of the Theranos fraud case.

Meanwhile, the saga of Theranos continues to leave a bad taste in the mouths of many clinical laboratory managers and pathologists. That’s because, during the peak period of adulation and spectacular news coverage about Elizabeth Holmes and her plans to totally disrupt the clinical laboratory industry, hospital and health system CEOs believed that they would be able to downsize their in-house medical laboratories and obtain lab tests from Theranos at savings of 50% or more. Consequently, during the years 2013 through the end of 2015, some hospital lab leaders saw requests for capital investment in their labs denied or delayed.

One example of how hospital CEOs embraced news of Theranos’ blood testing technology took place at the Cleveland Clinic. Elizabeth Holmes did such a good job selling the benefits of the Edison technology, then-CEO, Toby Cosgrove, MD, placed Theranos at number three on its list of top ten medical innovations for 2015.

In later years, Cosgrove admitted that no one at Cleveland Clinic or its pathologists were allowed to examine the analyzers and evaluate the technology.

It was for these reasons that the demise of Theranos was welcomed by many hospital lab administrators and pathologists. The fact that two of Theranos’ senior executives have been convicted of fraud validates many of the serious concerns that medical laboratory professionals had at that time, but which most major news reporters and media ignored and failed to report to the public.

Scott Wallask

Related Information:

Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Sentenced to More than 11 Years in Prison

Elizabeth Holmes Is Sentenced to More than 11 Years for Fraud

Theranos Ex-CEO Elizabeth Holmes Convicted on Three Counts of Wire Fraud and One Count of Conspiracy to Commit Fraud after Seven Days of Jury Deliberations

Prosecutors Push 15-year Sentence for Theranos’ CEO Holmes

Elizabeth Holmes Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison for Theranos Fraud

Clinical Pathologist Once Again at the Center of a National News Story as Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes Seeks New Trial

Bid for New Trial Fails, Elizabeth Holmes Awaits Sentencing

Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani Convicted by a Jury on 12 Counts of Fraud in Theranos Trial

Hot Startup Theranos Has Struggled with Its Blood-Test Technology

Monkeypox Outbreak Subsides in US, Europe, But Public Health Concerns Remain

Experts cite high vaccination rates and behavioral changes among at-risk groups, but warn about complacency; clinical laboratories should remain vigilant

In July, Scott Gottlieb, MD, Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from May 2017 to April 2019, wrote an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “Monkeypox Is About to Become the Next Public Health Failure.” In it, he wrote, “Our country’s response to monkeypox has been plagued by the same shortcomings we had with COVID-19.” But has it improved? Clinical laboratory leaders and pathology group managers will find it informative to find out what has taken place since Gottlieb made his stark prediction.

The global monkeypox outbreak that emerged last spring appears to have subsided in the US and Europe, though it remains to be seen if the disease can be completely eradicated, according to multiple media reports. As of Oct. 26, 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported a 7-day rolling average of 30 cases per day in the US, down from a peak of nearly 440/day in early August.

Cases are also down in cities that earlier reported heavy outbreaks. For example, the New York City Health Department reported a 7-day average of just two cases per day on Oct. 25, compared with 73/day on July 30.

And the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced on Oct. 20 that it would end the city’s public health emergency on monkeypox (MPX) effective on Oct. 31. “MPX cases have slowed to less than one case per day and more than 27,000 San Franciscans are now vaccinated against the virus,” the agency stated in a press release.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD

“Once again, we caution that a declining outbreak can be the most dangerous outbreak, because it can tempt us to think that the crisis is over and to let down our guard,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, in an Oct. 12 global press briefing. “That’s not what WHO is doing. We are continuing to work with countries around the world to increase their testing capacity, and to monitor trends in the outbreak.” Clinical laboratories should not assume the outbreak has passed but continue to be vigilant and prepared for increased demand in monkeypox testing. (Photo copyright: ITU Pictures.)

Changing Behavior Lowers Infection Rates

In addition to high vaccination rates, public health experts have attributed the decline to behavioral changes among at-risk groups. “There were really substantial changes among men who have sex [with] men,” infectious disease physician Shira Doron, MD, of Tufts Medical Center in Boston, told ABC News.

On September 2, the CDC published the results of a survey indicating that about half of men who have sex with men “reported reducing their number of sex partners, one-time sexual encounters, and use of dating apps because of the monkeypox outbreak.”

Another likely factor is the disease’s limited transmissibility. “Initially, there was a lot of concern that monkeypox could spread widely at daycares or in schools, but, overall, there has been very little spread among children,” NPR reported.  

But citing multiple studies, the NPR story noted “that often there isn’t very much virus in the upper respiratory tract,” where it might spread through talking or coughing. “Instead, the highest levels of virus occur on sores found on the skin and inside the anus.”

These studies, along with earlier research, “explain why monkeypox is spreading almost exclusively through contact during sex, especially anal and oral sex, during the current outbreak,” NPR reported.

Monkeypox Could Mutate, experts say

Despite the promising numbers, public health experts are warning that monkeypox could remain as a long-term threat to public health. According to an article in Nature, “At best, the outbreak might fizzle out over the next few months or years. At worst, the virus could become endemic outside Africa by reaching new animal reservoirs, making it nearly impossible to eradicate.”

In addition to the limited transmissibility of the virus, Nature noted that the outbreak stems from a relatively mild form of the pathogen and is rarely fatal. As of Oct. 28, the CDC reported a total of just six confirmed deaths in the US out of a total of 28,302 confirmed cases since the first infections were reported in May.

It is possible that the virus could mutate into a more contagious form, but Nature noted that monkeypox is a DNA virus, and that they tend to mutate more slowly than RNA viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 and HIV. Nevertheless, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine bioinformatician Elliot Lefkowitz, PhD, warned that a “worrisome mutation” could arise if the outbreak continues for much longer.

Another expert, Jessica Justman, MD, infectious disease specialist, epidemiologist, and associate professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, cautioned that declining case numbers might not reflect the true prevalence of the disease.

“I have no confidence that all the people who need to be tested are being tested,” she told Nature. She expressed concerns that people could resume risky behavior if they think the danger has passed.

Another question is whether currently available vaccines offer long-lasting protection. And though reported case numbers are down in the US and Europe, they are rising in parts of Africa and South America, Nature noted.

Gottlieb’s Dire Prediction

The decline in new infections followed dire warnings last summer about the possible consequences of the outbreak. In his New York Times op-ed, former Gottlieb criticized the CDC for being slow to test for the virus. He wrote, “[I]f monkeypox gains a permanent foothold in the United States and becomes an endemic virus that joins our circulating repertoire of pathogens, it will be one of the worst public health failures in modern times not only because of the pain and peril of the disease but also because it was so avoidable.”

At the time of his writing, Gottlieb was right to be concerned. On July 29, the CDC reported a seven-day moving average of 390 reported cases per day. According to the federal agency, a reported case “Includes either the positive laboratory test report date, CDC call center reporting date, or case data entry date into CDC’s emergency response common operating platform, DCIPHER.”

Quashing the outbreak, Gottlieb estimated, would have required about 15,000 tests per week among people presenting symptoms resembling monkeypox. But between mid-May and the end of June, he noted, the CDC had tested only about 2,000 samples, according to the federal agency’s July 15 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

As a remedy, Gottlieb called on the Biden administration to re-focus the CDC’s efforts more on disease control “by transferring some of its disease prevention work to other agencies,” including the FDA.

Perhaps his suggestions helped. Confirmed monkeypox case are way down. Nevertheless, clinical laboratory leaders should continue to be vigilant. Growing demand for monkeypox testing could indicate an increase in reported cases as we enter the 2022 influenza season, which is predicted to be worse than previous years. Dark Daily covered this impending threat in “Australia’s Severe Flu Season Could be a Harbinger of Increased Influenza Cases in US and Canada Straining Already Burdened Clinical Laboratories.”

Stephen Beale

Related Information:

Monkeypox Cases in the US Are Way Down—Can the Virus Be Eliminated?

What Does the Future Look Like for Monkeypox?

NYC Has Almost Eliminated Monkeypox. An NYU Biology Prof on What the City Needs to Reach Zero

New York and Nevada Announce First Monkeypox Deaths as Official CDC Tally Rises to Four

Monkeypox Update: FDA Takes Significant Action to Help Expand Access to Testing

Gottlieb Predicts Monkeypox Will Become Public Health Failure

Monkeypox Is About to Become the Next Public Health Failure

Australia’s Severe Flu Season Could be a Harbinger of Increased Influenza Cases in US and Canada Straining Already Burdened Clinical Laboratories

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