US Highlights – 8 October 2010

Fiona GodleeWe’ve been working on how to help specialists make better use of our content. So this week we’re launching the first of what will be a series of specialty portals available on These three new portals focus on diabetes, oncology, and clinical trials, pulling together everything we’ve published on those topics in the BMJ, our specialist BMJ Journals, BMJ Learning, and our clinical community doc2doc. They also provide links to relevant specialty jobs from BMJ Careers.

More specialty portals are planned as part of our relaunch of next year, when you can also expect a gorgeous new improved design.

As always, we’d like to hear what you think about the new portals. If you have suggestions for additional clinical or non-clinical specialties that would make useful portals or collections please do let us know.

Latest research
Effectiveness of earlier antenatal screening for sickle cell disease and thalassemia in primary care
Offering antenatal screening for sickle cell disease and thalassemia as part of consultations to confirm pregnancy in primary care increases the proportion of women screened before 10 weeks’ gestation, say the authors of this cluster randomized trial. However, they found that even when using this intervention, only a minority of women were screened before 10 weeks. They suggest considering additional interventions to achieve testing early in pregnancy so that couples with affected pregnancies are under less time pressure to decide whether to continue with their pregnancy.

Read this research article and others at

Latest from the BMJ

Depressed about depression

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has just published state based population rates for current depression in the United States in 2006 and 2008. The data were published with an advertisement for and to coincide with “national depression screening day,” an event that takes place every autumn in the US during mental illness awareness week. In his Observations column in the BMJ, Douglas Kamerow, chief scientist at RTI International in Washington D.C., wonders about the value of screening for depression: “Not to be a grinch, but where is the evidence that this type of activity makes any difference at all? Screening for health problems at health fairs and such is largely a worthless endeavor, mainly identifying people who already know they have a problem (such as hypertension or hypercholesterolemia) and generally failing to supply follow-up or even referrals for ongoing care and evaluation. Since Don Berwick first wrote about this 25 years ago, mass screening at health fairs has remained unproved and largely discredited … Screening people at one day themed events, let alone on the web, strikes me as both a waste of everyone’s time and a misleading promise of diagnosis and treatment that probably won’t be delivered.”

Quick links—a selection of recent stories

Confusion and delays beset WHO’s management of H1N1 pandemic

Study comes up with 41 definitions of what “having sex” means

Ig Nobel awards honour salutary effects of cursing, roller coasters, and bat fellatio

President Obama apologizes to Guatemala over 1940s syphilis study

Court allows US human embryonic stem cell research to continue, for now

Latest poll

Last week’s poll asked: “Should all athletes have ECG screening?”
236 (72%) of you voted “yes” and 94 (28%) “no.”

This week’s poll asks: “Should NHS mental health services fear the private sector?”
Vote at

Latest podcast

Safety 2010, the international conference on preventable accidents, took place on 21-24 September 2010. We hear from some of the speakers why safety comes second when it comes to global health. Also featured in this week’s podcast: is female sexual dysfunction fact or fiction? To mark a BMJ debate on the topic, we get to the heart of the issue.
Listen to this podcast and others at

Latest blog

The BMJ’s US based clinical epidemiology editor, Elizabeth Loder, attended the Ig Nobel awards in Harvard University and found that several of them had medical relevance: “The prize committee showed its usual combination of humor and ingenuity in coming up with the list of winners. The medicine award went to two Dutch doctors “for discovering that symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller-coaster ride.”  Attention to the symptoms of dyspnea is modulated by the positive or negative “emotional valence” of a situation, they suggested, although it occurred to me that the catecholamine release prompted by a scary ride might also make a difference.

The Peace Prize had some medical relevance. Richard Stephens and colleagues were honored for showing that swearing decreases pain perception—unless, that is, you are a man with a tendency to catastrophize. Manuel Barbeito and colleagues bagged the Public Health Prize for showing that bearded men in a laboratory are hazards to their “family and friends” because of the micro-organisms they might bring home in their beards. As a commentator pointed out, a shortcoming of the work was its failure to consider whether bearded women pose a similar hazard. I’m sure the editors of the journal Applied Microbiology, where the work was published, are suitably embarrassed that this oversight was not detected during their peer review process.”   

Read this blog and others, and leave your own comments, at