The Week That Wasn't: Synthetic Blood, Superbug Machine, Breastfeeding Allergies

Donavyn Coffey

Disclosures

October 04, 2019

This week, stories of synthetic blood that matches any blood type, a superbug that is spreading via washing machines, and an unexpected downside to breastfeeding captivated the Internet. Here's why you didn't see those headlines on Medscape Medical News.

Synthetic Blood for Rabbits

A cohort of scientists from multiple Japanese universities developed a synthetic blood equipped with "hemoglobin vesicles" intended to mimic the oxygen-carrying protein. They describe their experiments in the journal Transfusion. They intend for the surrogate blood to be a universal donor, which doctors could transfuse into patients with any blood type.

In the past, Medscape has covered the shortages in global blood supply and research efforts to circumvent the limitations of blood type. This new study tested the synthetic blood in 10 rabbits that were hemorrhaging as a result of a liver injury. Six of them survived after the transfusion. Because the study is small and does not provide any data from humans, it'll be a long time before this synthetic blood is available in hospitals, if it ever is. Data from 10 rabbits are not ready for primetime on Medscape.

Superbug-Spreading Washing Machine

A washing machine was to blame when 13 newborns and one child in a German children's hospital tested positive for the superbug Klebsiella oxytoca, according to a case report published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology. The pathogen spread via hats and socks that were used to keep the infants warm. None of the children developed a serious infection. Investigators believed the cold water rinse cycle in combination with humidity in the room allowed the bacteria to thrive. After removing the washing machine, the Klebsiella colonies were eliminated.

Last year, Medscape covered a study about how Clostridium difficile spores on hospital bed sheets can survive laundering, even when hospitals follow national protocol. However, we didn't cover the incident in Germany because it was a single, special case. The washing machine in question was a household machine that did not meet the national hygiene requirements. Because the situation in which the pathogen spread was uncommon, this case study is unlikely to be relevant to hygiene practices at Medscape readers' institutions.

Breastfeeding Increases Food Allergy Risk?

Exclusive breastfeeding doubles infants' risk of developing food allergies compared with never breastfeeding, according to a Japanese cohort study that began in 2001. The researchers evaluated three infant diets: exclusive breastfeeding, partial breastfeeding, and no breastfeeding. They quantified allergy-related doctor visits for children aged 6 months to 18 months and for those aged 6 months to 5.5 years. The researchers also assessed the relationship between food allergies, eczema, and breastfeeding and found that breastfeeding increased the risk for food allergies in children who did not have eczema but was protective against allergies for children who did have eczema.

However, the absolute risk for food allergies in the population was relatively small: 3.6% in the never-breastfed infants, and 6.3% in those who were exclusively breastfed at 18 months, according to an analysis later published by the UK's National Health Service (NHS). Risk for allergy-related hospitalization was only 3 percentage points higher at 18 months and at 5.5 years. The research article does not mention what types of food allergies patients presented with, only that they were treated at a clinic. The NHS calls the study's findings "confusing and unhelpful."

Although a cohort study can identify relationships between two variables, it cannot confirm cause and effect. Moreover, even if the increased risk is real, it may be so small that it does not outweigh the many known benefits of breastfeeding, the NHS article says. At this point, there is no evidence that clinicians should change their infant nutrition recommendations, so we didn't cover this story.

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