Richard Knox

Since he joined NPR in 2000, Knox has covered a broad range of issues and events in public health, medicine, and science. His reports can be heard on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Talk of the Nation, and newscasts.

Among other things, Knox's NPR reports have examined the impact of HIV/AIDS in Africa, North America, and the Caribbean; anthrax terrorism; smallpox and other bioterrorism preparedness issues; the rising cost of medical care; early detection of lung cancer; community caregiving; music and the brain; and the SARS epidemic.

Before joining NPR, Knox covered medicine and health for The Boston Globe. His award-winning 1995 articles on medical errors are considered landmarks in the national movement to prevent medical mistakes. Knox is a graduate of the University of Illinois and Columbia University. He has held yearlong fellowships at Stanford and Harvard Universities, and is the author of a 1993 book on Germany's health care system.

He and his wife Jean, an editor, live in Boston. They have two daughters.

Pages

Shots - Health News
10:11 am
Wed April 9, 2014

WHO Calls For High-Priced Drugs For Millions With Hepatitis C

Advocates demonstrate in favor of cheaper generic drugs to treat hepatitis C in New Delhi on March 21. The disease is common among people who are HIV positive.
Saurabh Das AP

Originally published on Wed April 9, 2014 11:27 am

Authors of the first-ever global guidelines for treating hepatitis C went big Tuesday, advocating for worldwide use of two of the most expensive specialty drugs in the world.

The new guidelines from the World Health Organization give strong endorsement to the two newest drugs. Gilead Sciences' Sovaldi costs $1,000 per pill, or $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. Olysio, sold by Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceuticals unit, costs $66,360 for a three-month course.

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Shots - Health News
9:28 am
Thu March 20, 2014

Cholesterol Guidelines Could Mean Statins For Half Of Adults Over 40

If new guidelines are followed fully, half the medicine chests in America could eventually be stocked with cholesterol-lowering drugs such as atorvastatin, the generic form of Lipitor.
Bill Gallery AP

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 3:04 pm

When sweeping new advice on preventing heart attacks and strokes came out last November, it wasn't clear how many more Americans should be taking daily statin pills to lower their risk.

A new analysis provides an answer: a whole lot. Nearly 13 million more, to be precise.

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Shots - Health News
3:33 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Evidence On Marijuana's Health Effects Is Hazy At Best

C. Nash smokes after possession of marijuana became legal in Washington state on Dec. 6, 2012.
Ted S. Warren AP

Originally published on Tue March 4, 2014 9:23 am

Colorado opened its first pot stores in January, and adults in Washington state will be able to walk into a store and buy marijuana this summer. But this legalization of recreational marijuana is taking place without much information on the possible health effects.

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Shots - Health News
12:09 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Deadly MERS Virus Circulates Among Arabian Camels

Jockeys take their camels home after racing in Egypt's El Arish desert. The annual race draws competitors from around the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, where camels carry the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus.
Nasser Nouri Xinhua /Landov

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 4:15 pm

Scientists have gotten close to pinning down the origin of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, a dangerous respiratory disease that emerged in Saudi Arabia 17 months ago.

It turns out the MERS virus has been circulating in Arabian camels for more than two decades, scientists report in a study published Tuesday.

So far MERS has sickened more than 180 people, killing at least 77 of them — an alarming 43 percent. But scientists haven't been sure where the virus came from or how people catch it.

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Shots - Health News
1:17 pm
Sun February 16, 2014

Research Shows New Flu Viruses Often Arise In Domestic Animals

New research finds a close connection between the flu that devastated the horse population in North America in the 1870s and the avian flu of that period.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

As flu-watchers like to say, you can always count on influenza virus to surprise.

The latest revelation is that scientists have apparently been wrong about where new flu viruses come from. The dogma is that they always incubate in wild migratory birds, then get into domestic poultry, and then jump into mammals — especially pigs and humans.

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Shots - Health News
1:16 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Judge Dismisses Assisted Suicide Case Against Pennsylvania Nurse

Barbara Mancini with her father, Joseph Yourshaw.
Barbara Mancini via Compassion & Choices

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 3:39 pm

A Pennsylvania county judge has thrown out an assisted suicide case against a 58-year-old nurse named Barbara Mancini, who was accused of homicide last year for allegedly handing her 93-year-old father a bottle of morphine.

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Shots - Health News
10:52 am
Fri February 7, 2014

Maker Of $1,000 Hepatitis C Pill Looks To Cut Its Cost Overseas

A girl with hepatitis C holds a medical report while being treated at a hospital in Hefei, China, in 2011. China has one of the greatest burdens of hepatitis C, but it's still not clear whether a deal for lower prices for a new drug from Gilead Sciences will apply there.
Barcroft Media/Landov

Originally published on Mon February 10, 2014 11:25 am

An effective new medicine is developed as a cure for a major disease. The drug company prices the medicine at tens of thousands of dollars for a course of treatment. How can the disease-curing medicine be made accessible to patients who need it, most of whom live in low- and middle-income countries?

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Shots - Health News
10:13 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Popular Testosterone Therapy May Raise Risk Of Heart Attack

Some men take testosterone hoping to boost energy and libido, or to build strength. But at what risk?
iStockphoto

Originally published on Thu January 30, 2014 12:06 pm

There's new evidence that widely prescribed testosterone drugs — touted for men with flagging libidos and general listlessness — might increase the risk of heart attacks.

A study of more than 55,000 men found a doubling of heart attack risk among testosterone users older than 65, compared with men who didn't take the drug.

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Shots - Health News
5:02 pm
Mon January 27, 2014

Worries About Bird Flu Curtail Chinese New Year Feasts

A vendor sells chickens at the Kowloon City Market in Hong Kong last month. As a precautionary measure against the deadly H7N9 virus, Hong Kong has temporarily stopped importing poultry from mainland farms.
Lam Yik Fei Getty Images

Originally published on Tue January 28, 2014 1:56 pm

As China gets ready to usher in the Year of the Horse on Friday, millions of them will find it hard to buy chicken for traditional Lunar New Year feasts. That's a mark of the nation's growing anxiety about a poultry-borne flu virus called H7N9.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong agricultural workers will begin destroying 20,000 chickens. The bird flu virus H7N9 was found in a single live bird from a farm in neighboring Guangdong Province.

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Shots - Health News
3:35 am
Mon January 27, 2014

Silencing Many Hospital Alarms Leads To Better Health Care

Amanda Gerety, a staff nurse at Boston Medical Center, checks monitors that track patients' vital signs. Fewer beeps means crisis warnings are easier to hear, she says.
Richard Knox NPR

Originally published on Mon January 27, 2014 9:46 am

Go into almost any hospital these days and you'll hear a constant stream of beeps and boops. To most people it sounds like medical Muzak.

But to doctors and nurses, it's not just sonic wallpaper. Those incessant beeps contain important coded messages.

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Shots - Health News
2:42 pm
Fri January 10, 2014

Half Of A Drug's Power Comes From Thinking It Will Work

iStockphoto

Originally published on Fri January 10, 2014 3:37 pm

When you take a pill, you and your doctor hope it will work — and that helps it work.

That's not a new idea. But now researchers say they know just how much of a drug's effect comes from the patient's expectation: at least half.

When patients in the midst of a migraine attack took a dummy pill they thought was a widely used migraine drug, it reduced their pain roughly as much as when they took the real drug thinking it was a placebo.

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Shots - Health News
6:03 pm
Tue January 7, 2014

50 Years After Landmark Warning, 8 Million Fewer Smoking Deaths

Tobacco companies incorporated doctors in their ads, such as this 1930 Lucky Strike campaign, to convince the public that smoking wasn't harmful.
Stanford University

Originally published on Wed January 8, 2014 3:22 pm

Saturday marks an important milestone in public health – the 50th anniversary of the first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health.

Few if any documents have had the impact of this one — both on the amount of disease and death prevented, and on the very scope of public health.

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Shots - Health News
3:22 am
Mon December 30, 2013

$1,000 Pill For Hepatitis C Spurs Debate Over Drug Prices

Originally published on Thu February 6, 2014 3:43 pm

Federal regulators this month opened a new era in the treatment of a deadly liver virus that infects three to five times more people than HIV. Now the question is: Who will get access to the new drug for hepatitis C, and when?

The drug Sovaldi will cost $1,000 per pill. A typical course of treatment will last 12 weeks and run $84,000, plus the cost of necessary companion drugs. Some patients may need treatment for twice as long.

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Shots - Health News
10:15 am
Thu December 12, 2013

Tagging Along On A Wisconsin Man's Odyssey To Buy Insurance

Doug Normington is 58, self-employed, and has diabetes.
Courtesy of Doug Normington

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 2:47 pm

Enrollment is picking up in new health insurance marketplaces. But the 365,000 who've signed up as of November 30 is a fraction of just one high-visibility group – those whose previous insurance has been cancelled because it didn't meet Affordable Care Act standards.

They're people like Doug Normington, a 58-year-old self-employed videographer in Madison, Wis., who has struggled to buy new insurance since late October.

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Shots - Health News
10:03 am
Sat December 7, 2013

Gene Therapy Keeps 'Bubble Boy' Disease At Bay In 8 Children

David Vetter was born without a functioning immune system and spent his life in a bubble that protected him from germs. He died at age 12 in 1984. Scientists are using gene therapy to treat the disorder so that children can live normally.
Science Source

Researchers say they are achieving success in curing the genetic defect that causes some children to be born without immune defenses, a rare condition made famous in the 1970s by a Texas boy who lived most of his short life in a sterile "bubble."

Scientists now report that 8 out of 9 young children given gene therapy for a type of severe combined immunodeficiency disease, called SCID-X1, are alive and living amid the everyday microbial threats that would otherwise have killed them. The oldest is just over 3 years old.

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Shots - Health News
12:33 pm
Fri December 6, 2013

Hoped-For AIDS Cures Fail In 2 Boston Patients

The HIV virus has proven once again that it can evade detection in the body.
BSIP UIG via Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 6, 2013 1:15 pm

HIV has reappeared in the blood of two Boston patients who scientists had hoped had been cured of their infections.

This disappointing development, reported by The Boston Globe's Kay Lazar, is yet another cautionary tale of how researchers can never afford to underestimate the human immunodeficiency virus's ability to hide out in patients' bodies and overcome their most ingenious efforts to eliminate it.

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Shots - Health News
5:06 pm
Mon December 2, 2013

Obama Launches HIV Cure Initiative, Ups Pledge For Global Health

President Obama walks into an auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building Monday for a speech about World AIDS Day.
Carolyn Kaster AP

Originally published on Mon December 2, 2013 5:45 pm

Commemorating the 25th World AIDS Day a day late, President Obama announced an initiative Monday to find a cure for HIV infections that would be funded by $100 million shifted from existing spending.

"The United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries into how to put people into long-term remission without requiring lifelong therapies — or better yet, eliminate it completely," Obama said at a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House.

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Shots - Health News
6:51 pm
Tue November 26, 2013

2009 Flu Pandemic Was 10 Times More Deadly Than Previously Thought

PLOS Medicine/Michaeleen Doucleff/NPR

Originally published on Tue November 26, 2013 10:10 pm

By the World Health Organization's official tally, the flu pandemic of 2009-10 killed 18,449 people around the world. Those are deaths of people who had laboratory-confirmed cases of the so-called swine flu.

But a fresh analysis says the real toll was 10 times higher — up to 203,000 deaths. And maybe it was twice that, if you count people who died of things like heart attacks precipitated by the flu.

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Shots - Health News
5:43 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

Shift In Cholesterol Advice Could Double Statin Use

Statin drugs to lower cholesterol have become among the most widely prescribed prescription medications in the United States.
Bill Gallery ASSOCIATED PRESS

Originally published on Thu November 14, 2013 2:57 pm

After decades of cajoling Americans to know their cholesterol level and get it down as low as possible, the nation's leading heart specialists are changing course.

Cholesterol is still important. But new guidelines published Tuesday afternoon throw out the notion that a specific blood cholesterol level should automatically trigger treatment with cholesterol-lowering drugs.

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Shots - Health News
3:01 am
Tue November 12, 2013

WHO Rates Typhoon's Medical Challenges "Monumental"

A woman comforts a pregnant relative suffering labor pains at a makeshift birthing clinic in typhoon-battered city of Tacloban, Philippines on Nov. 11.
Erik de Castro Reuters /Landov

Images of the swath of devastation wrought by Typhoon Haiyan in the central Philippines are reminiscent of the tsunami's aftermath in Banda Aceh, Indonesia nearly a decade ago.

And indeed, the World Health Organization grades the great typhoon of 2013 as a Category 3 disaster – its most severe category.

"The scale [of the typhoon's damage] is huge," Dr. Richard Brennan of the World Health Organization tells Shots. "It's monumental. This is one of the biggest emergencies we've dealt with in some time."

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Shots - Health News
10:32 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Insurance Cancellations: The Price Of Mending A Broken System?

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 12:36 pm

Lisa Dieckman, a retired psychologist in Los Angeles, likes the Affordable Care Act's promise that everybody can get health insurance. But she's not happy about being told she can't keep her own coverage and will have to pay considerably more for a policy she doesn't consider any better.

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Health Care
4:02 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Insurance Firms Forced To Cancel Many Individual Policies

Originally published on Tue November 5, 2013 5:08 am

More than 12 million Americans buy health insurance on their own, and many are getting cancellation notices because their individual coverage does not meet the standards of the Affordable Care Act. This is causing anxiety and anger — especially since most of these people can't get onto the healthcare.gov website to figure out their options for 2014.

Shots - Health News
11:47 am
Thu October 31, 2013

AIDS Scientists Encouraged By Antibodies That Hit Monkey Virus

These HIV viruses even look a little like bull's-eyes.
A. Harrison and P. Feorino CDC

Originally published on Thu October 31, 2013 3:15 pm

Scientists have a new idea for beating HIV: Target the virus with guided missiles called monoclonal antibodies.

At least in monkeys infected with an experimental virus similar to the human AIDS virus, the approach produced what researchers call "profound therapeutic efficacy."

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Shots - Health News
5:21 pm
Wed October 23, 2013

A Toddler Remains HIV-Free, Raising Hope For Babies Worldwide

HIV-positive babies rest in an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya. Treatment right after birth may make it possible for HIV-positive newborns to fight off the virus.
Brent Stirton Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 23, 2013 6:31 pm

A 3-year-old girl born in Mississippi with HIV acquired from her mother during pregnancy remains free of detectable virus at least 18 months after she stopped taking antiviral pills.

New results on this child, published online by the New England Journal of Medicine, appear to green-light a study in the advanced planning stages in which researchers around the world will try to replicate her successful treatment in other infected newborns.

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Shots - Health News
3:12 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Haitian Cholera Strain Spreads To Mexico

A nurse treats a cholera patient at the Juan Pablo Pina Hospital in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic, in August. Health officials say that the strain of cholera circulating in the country— the same one that first appeared in Haiti three years ago — has also caused outbreaks in Cuba and now Mexico.
Erika Santelices AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 23, 2013 1:21 pm

A South Asian strain of cholera that was introduced into Haiti three years ago this month has now spread to this continent's mainland.

Mexico is the fourth Western Hemisphere country to experience the cholera outbreak. It's a disease that's very hard to stamp out once it gets into an area with poor water and sanitation.

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Shots - Health News
12:01 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

To Prevent HIV Infection, Couples Try Testing Together

David Lozano (left) and Kevin Kreinbring stand in front of a painting created by Lozano. The couple says they get tested for HIV together every six months.
Courtesy of David Lozano

Originally published on Fri October 18, 2013 12:56 pm

Getting tested for HIV in the U.S. is almost always private, sometimes even secretive. Ditto for disclosing the results.

But some say the approach is outmoded at a time when many at risk for HIV — gay men — are in committed relationships.

Research shows as many as two-thirds of new HIV infections among gay men these days are within committed couples. That's very different from the days when promiscuity fueled the epidemic.

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Shots - Health News
4:08 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

Activists Sue U.N. Over Cholera That Killed Thousands In Haiti

Haitians protest against United Nations peacekeepers in Port-au-Prince in 2010.
Hector Retamal AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 10, 2013 8:32 am

Human rights activists are suing the United Nations on behalf of five Haitian families afflicted by cholera — a disease many believe U.N. peacekeeping troops brought to Haiti in the aftermath of the devastating 2010 earthquake there.

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Shots - Health News
6:37 pm
Thu October 3, 2013

Some Online Journals Will Publish Fake Science, For A Fee

You could do all that brain work. Or you could make it up.
iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Fri October 4, 2013 10:34 am

Many online journals are ready to publish bad research in exchange for a credit card number.

That's the conclusion of an elaborate sting carried out by Science, a leading mainline journal. The result should trouble doctors, patients, policymakers and anyone who has a stake in the integrity of science (and who doesn't?).

The business model of these "predatory publishers" is a scientific version of those phishes from Nigerians who want help transferring a few million dollars into your bank account.

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Shots - Health News
3:23 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Lessons For The Obamacare Rollout, Courtesy Of Massachusetts

Then-Gov. Mitt Romney signs the Massachusetts health care bill in Boston on April 12, 2006.
Brian Snyder Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Tue October 1, 2013 9:23 am

Today marks a milestone on the nation's long march toward universal health coverage: the launch of online marketplaces, called exchanges, designed to help people find insurance they can afford.

It's an idea pioneered by Massachusetts seven years ago. People here call their program a success, and say the state's exchange was an indispensable factor.

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Shots - Health News
12:39 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

For A Price, Volunteers Endure Scientists' Flu Spritzes

How much would a scientist have to pay you to get sick with the flu?
F.T. Werner iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Thu September 26, 2013 3:01 pm

What would it take to persuade you to allow government researchers to squirt millions of live flu viruses up your nose?

A recently concluded project at the National Institutes of Health found, among other things, that $3,400 each was enough to attract plenty of volunteers.

"I am happy I could contribute in some way," says Kelli Beyer, 24, one of 46 healthy people who volunteered for the project. To get the money, the research subjects had to commit to several days of testing, then nine days in a hospital isolation ward once the virus was administered in a nasal spray.

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