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.


Shots - Health News
10:39 am
Tue March 19, 2013

Sorting Out The Mammogram Debate: Who Should Get Screened When?

A woman gets a mammogram in Putanges, France.
Mychele Daniau AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 2:21 pm

Mammography outcomes from nearly a million U.S. women suggest which ones under 50 would stand the greatest chance of benefiting from regular screening: those with very dense breasts.

That's been a bone of contention ever since a federal task force declared nearly four years ago that women younger than 50 shouldn't routinely get the test.

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Shots - Health News
1:22 am
Mon March 18, 2013

To Control Asthma, Start With The Home Instead Of The Child

Maria Texeira-Gomes holds a photo of her 5-year-old son, Matheo, who has struggled with asthma nearly all his life.
Richard Knox NPR

Originally published on Tue March 19, 2013 8:36 am

Nothing sends more kids to the hospital than asthma.

So when doctors at Children's Hospital in Boston noticed they kept seeing an unusually high number of asthmatic kids from certain low-income neighborhoods, they wondered if they could do something about the environment these kids were living in.

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Shots - Health News
10:57 am
Fri March 15, 2013

More Patients Keep HIV At Bay Without Antiviral Drugs

An electron micrograph of HIV particles infecting a human T cell. French researchers say they've found 14 patients with so little HIV virus in their blood that the patients have gone into "long-term remission."
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Originally published on Mon March 18, 2013 7:00 am

Just last week AIDS researchers were excited about a Mississippi toddler whose blood has remained free of HIV many months after she stopped getting antiviral drugs – what doctors call a "functional cure."

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Shots - Health News
10:04 am
Thu March 14, 2013

Cardiac Arrest Survivors Have Better Outlook Than Doctors Think

Students at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla., perform CPR on a mock patient.
Bruce Ackerman Ocala Star-Banner /Landov

Originally published on Sat March 16, 2013 7:48 am

Every day something like 550 hospitalized Americans suffer cardiac arrest. That's bad news. Only about one in five will live to leave the hospital.

But for the lucky 44,000 a year who are resuscitated and survive, the outlook is much better than expected, authors of a new study say.

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Shots - Health News
4:24 pm
Wed March 13, 2013

Why Relatives Should Be Allowed To Watch CPR On Loved Ones

A recent study finds that relatives present during resuscitation attempts suffer fewer psychological effects later.

Originally published on Wed March 13, 2013 4:32 pm

Picture this: Your spouse or child has collapsed and isn't breathing. You call 911, and the paramedics rush in and take charge. But you are banished to another room while the medical people try to bring your loved one back to life.

It's about the most stressful scene imaginable. And it's what usually happens.

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Shots - Health News
3:10 am
Mon March 11, 2013

Aspirin Vs. Melanoma: Study Suggests Headache Pill Prevents Deadly Skin Cancer

A doctor checks for signs of skin cancer at a free cancer screening day in New York City.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Tue March 12, 2013 8:22 am

It's not the first study that finds the lowly aspirin may protect against the deadliest kind of skin cancer, but it is one of the largest.

And it adds to a mounting pile of studies suggesting that cheap, common aspirin lowers the risk of many cancers — of the colon, breast, esophagus, stomach, prostate, bladder and ovary.

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Medical Treatments
2:43 pm
Mon March 4, 2013

Mississippi Toddler Could Be First Child Cured Of HIV

Originally published on Mon March 4, 2013 3:34 pm

A child born with HIV has been cured of the virus, researchers say. Audie Cornish talks to Richard Knox about what was different about this child among the millions who've been treated in the past and what it means for the prospect of an HIV cure in adults.

Shots - Health News
2:41 pm
Sun March 3, 2013

Scientists Report First Cure Of HIV In A Child, Say It's A Game-Changer

HIV particles, yellow, infect an immune cell, blue.

Originally published on Thu March 20, 2014 2:35 pm

Scientists believe a little girl born with HIV has been cured of the infection.

She's the first child and only the second person in the world known to have been cured since the virus touched off a global pandemic nearly 32 years ago.

Doctors aren't releasing the child's name, but we know she was born in Mississippi and is now 2 1/2 years old — and healthy. Scientists presented details of the case Sunday at a scientific conference in Atlanta.

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Shots - Health News
1:35 am
Wed February 27, 2013

Younger Women Have Rising Rate Of Advanced Breast Cancer, Study Says

Blend Images/Jon Feingersh Getty Images/

Originally published on Wed February 27, 2013 6:19 am

Researchers say more young American women are being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer.

It's a newly recognized trend. The numbers are small, but it's been going on for a generation. And the trend has accelerated in recent years.

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Shots - Health News
7:23 am
Thu February 21, 2013

Medical Waste: 90 More Don'ts For Your Doctor

Scans shouldn't be ordered routinely for kids with minor head injuries, new advice to doctors says.

Originally published on Fri February 22, 2013 2:54 pm

Doctors do stuff — tests, procedures, drug regimens and operations. It's what they're trained to do, what they're paid to do and often what they fear not doing.

So it's pretty significant that a broad array of medical specialty groups is issuing an expanding list of don'ts for physicians.

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Shots - Health News
1:34 am
Mon February 18, 2013

Targeted Cancer Drugs Keep Myeloma Patients Up And Running

Don Wright runs at an indoor track at the Maplewood Community Center in North Saint Paul, Minn.
Ariana Lindquist for NPR

Originally published on Tue February 19, 2013 1:13 pm

Don Wright got diagnosed with multiple myeloma at what turned out to be the right time. It was 10 years ago, when he was 62.

That was at the beginning of a revolution in treating this once-fearsome blood cell cancer, which strikes around 20,000 Americans every year. The malignancy can literally eat holes in victims' bones, which can snap from the simple act of bending over to pick up a package.

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Shots - Health News
4:13 pm
Tue February 12, 2013

World's Most Popular Painkiller Raises Heart Attack Risk

The painkiller diclofenac is sold under several brand names in the U.S. and abroad, including Voltaren.
Wikimedia Commons

Originally published on Thu February 14, 2013 7:35 am

The painkiller diclofenac isn't very popular in the U.S., but it's by far the most widely used non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, in the world.

A slew of studies, though, show diclofenac — sold under the brand names Voltaren, Cambia, Cataflam and Zipsor — is just as likely to cause a heart attack as the discredited painkiller Vioxx (rofecoxib), which was pulled from the U.S. market in 2004.

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Shots - Health News
8:37 am
Mon February 4, 2013

Experimental Tuberculosis Vaccine Fails To Protect Infants

Nurse Christel Petersen inoculates a child in the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative study in 2011.
Rodger Bosch AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon February 4, 2013 4:03 pm

Researchers are disappointed in the results of a long-awaited study of the leading candidate vaccine against tuberculosis, one of humankind's most elusive scourges.

But, pointing to more than a dozen other TB vaccines in the pipeline, they say they're not discouraged.

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Shots - Health News
1:40 am
Thu January 24, 2013

Female Smokers Face Greater Risk Than Previously Thought

Women smoke in New York City's Times Square.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 24, 2013 11:19 am

There's still more to learn about the risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting.

Studies in this week's New England Journal of Medicine show that the risk for women has been under-appreciated for decades. New data also quantify the surprising payoffs of smoking cessation — especially under the age of 40.

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Shots - Health News
9:55 am
Wed January 23, 2013

Old Drug Extends Life For Pancreatic Cancer Patients

A CT scan showing an adenocarcinoma of the pancreatic head.
Wikimedia Commons

Originally published on Wed January 23, 2013 1:55 pm

A large study is providing a rare glimmer of hope for patients with pancreatic cancer, perhaps the deadliest of all malignancies.

By the time they're diagnosed, most patients with pancreatic cancer have advanced disease that's spread to the liver and lung. And the primary tumor may be inoperable because it's wrapped around vital blood vessels and nerves.

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Shots - Health News
1:48 am
Thu January 17, 2013

Bad Flu Season Overshadows Other Winter Miseries

People line up at a Duane Reade pharmacy in New York behind a sign announcing the recent flu outbreak.
Andrew Kelly Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Thu January 17, 2013 9:11 am

Dr. Beth Zeeman says she can spot a case of influenza from 20 paces. It's not like a common cold.

"People think they've had the flu when they've had colds," Zeeman, an emergency room specialist at MetroWest Medical Center in Framingham, Mass., tells Shots. "People use the word 'flu' for everything. But having influenza is really a different thing. It hits you like a ton of bricks."

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Shots - Health News
1:18 am
Mon January 14, 2013

As Hepatitis C Sneaks Up On Baby Boomers, Treatment Options Grow

Hepatitis C patient Nancy Turner shows Kathleen Coleman, a nurse practitioner, where a forearm rash, a side effect of her treatment, has healed. Turner is one of many patients with hepatitis C experimenting with new drugs to beat back the virus.
Richard Knox NPR

Originally published on Mon January 14, 2013 1:27 pm

A smoldering epidemic already affects an estimated 4 million Americans, most of whom don't know it.

It's hepatitis C, an insidious virus that can hide in the body for two or three decades without causing symptoms — and then wreak havoc with the liver, scarring it so extensively that it can fail. Half of all people waiting for liver transplants have hepatitis C.

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Shots - Health News
3:34 am
Sat January 12, 2013

After Bringing Cholera To Haiti, U.N. Plans To Get Rid Of It

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

Originally published on Sat January 12, 2013 9:11 pm

Not quite 10 months after Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, a more insidious disaster struck: cholera.

Haiti hadn't seen cholera for at least a century. Then suddenly, the first cases appeared in the central highlands near a camp for United Nations peacekeeping forces.

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Shots - Health News
3:49 pm
Wed January 9, 2013

U.S. Ranks Below 16 Other Rich Countries In Health Report

Originally published on Wed January 9, 2013 4:46 pm

It's no news that the U.S. has lower life expectancy and higher infant mortality than most high-income countries. But a magisterial new report says Americans are actually less healthy across their entire life spans than citizens of 16 other wealthy nations.

And the gap is steadily widening.

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Shots - Health News
3:13 am
Tue January 1, 2013

Breast Cancer: What We Learned In 2012

Betty Daniel gets a routine yearly mammogram from mammography tech Stella Palmer at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago in 2012.
Heather Charles MCT/Landov

Originally published on Wed January 2, 2013 8:08 am

The past year has seen more debate about the best way to find breast cancers.

A recent analysis concluded that regular mammograms haven't reduced the rate of advanced breast cancers — but they have led more than a million women to be diagnosed with tumors that didn't need to be treated.

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Shots - Health News
12:59 pm
Thu December 20, 2012

Merck: Niacin Drug Mix Fails To Prevent Heart Attacks, Strokes

Niacin, a B vitamin that raises "good" cholesterol, has failed to benefit heart disease patients when taken in tandem with a statin drug that lowers "bad" cholesterol, according to drug maker Merck.

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Shots - Health News
11:20 am
Tue December 18, 2012

Dangers of 'Whoonga': Abuse Of AIDS Drugs Stokes Resistance

A whoonga smoker near Durban, South Africa, shows a crushed AIDS pill in the palm of his hand before mixing the drug with marijuana.
John Robinson AP

Originally published on Thu December 20, 2012 2:01 pm

Opportunists who market street drugs may be undermining the global struggle against AIDS.

In South Africa, two mainstay HIV drugs have found their way into recreational use. That may help explain why some HIV patients are resistant to these front-line medicines even if they've never been in treatment before.

It can happen in two ways.

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Shots - Health News
1:23 am
Mon December 10, 2012

As Childhood Strokes Increase, Surgeons Aim To Reduce Risks

Maribel Ramos, 13, has both sickle cell disease and an abnormality of blood vessels called moyamoya. Both put her at risk of stroke, and, together, they add up to a 95 percent chance of a major stroke.
Richard Knox NPR

Originally published on Mon December 10, 2012 1:08 pm

Boston brain surgeon Ed Smith points to a tangle of delicate gray shadows on his computer screen. It's an X-ray of the blood vessels on the left side of 13-year-old Maribel Ramos' brain.

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Shots - Health News
1:54 pm
Thu November 29, 2012

Clinton Reveals Blueprint For An 'AIDS-Free Generation'

United Nations Aids Executive Director Michel Sibide hugs Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after they they presented the a road map for stopping HIV around the world.
Jim Watson AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri November 30, 2012 6:52 am

Before Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton passes the reins to her successor, she's got a few loose ends to tie up. One of them is mapping out the U.S.'s continuing efforts to combat AIDS around the world.

So today she unveiled a "blueprint" for what she called an "AIDS-free generation."

Now Clinton isn't talking about ending the HIV pandemic altogether. Rather, she hopes to prevent most new infections from occurring in the first place and to stop HIV-positive people from developing AIDS.

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Shots - Health News
4:01 pm
Wed November 21, 2012

With Routine Mammograms, Some Breast Cancers May Be Overtreated

A mammographer prepares a screen-film mammography test for patient Alicia Maldonado at a hospital in Los Angeles.
Damian Dovarganes AP

The endless debate over routine mammograms is getting another kick from an analysis that sharply questions whether the test really does what it's supposed to.

Dr. H. Gilbert Welch, coauthor of the analysis of mammography's impact, which was just published in The New England Journal of Medicine, tell Shots that the aim was to "get down to a very basic question."

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Shots - Health News
1:19 am
Fri November 9, 2012

Experimental Malaria Vaccine Disappoints, But Work Continues

A mother dresses her baby after doctors examined him during the malaria vaccine trial at the Walter Reed Project Research Center in Kombewa in Western Kenya in October 2009.
Karel Prinsloo AP

Originally published on Fri November 9, 2012 10:59 am

The public health world has waited for the results for more than a year. After a half-billion dollars in R&D, would the front-runner malaria vaccine protect the top-priority targets: young infants?

The results are disappointing. The vaccine — called RTS,S for its various molecular components — reduced infants' risk of malaria by about a third.

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Shots - Health News
4:13 pm
Sat November 3, 2012

Despite Antifungal Treatment, More Woes For Some Meningitis Patients

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 6:21 am

The news for patients who had injections of fungus-tainted steroids just keeps getting worse.

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Shots - Health News
4:12 pm
Fri November 2, 2012

Home Health Care Proves Resilient In Face Of Sandy Destruction

Barbara Fleming is evacuated from Bellevue Hospital by Victor Rivera in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy in New York on Oct. 31.
Carlo Allegri Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Fri November 2, 2012 7:57 pm

One lasting image of Superstorm Sandy will be very sick patients being evacuated from flooded hospitals. But less visible are thousands of patients who rely on visiting nurses and home health aides for care ranging from bathing and feeding to oxygen and ventilators.

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Shots - Health News
4:13 pm
Wed October 31, 2012

Before Sandy Hit U.S., Storm Was A Killer In Haiti

Hurricane Sandy's tear across the Caribbean left at least 54 dead in Haiti, where many people still live in tents because of damage from the 2010 earthquake.
Thony Belizaire AFP/Getty Images

Hurricane Sandy only sideswiped Haiti during its early days. But reports so far suggest that even this indirect hit led to nearly as many deaths there as in the U.S. after the storm made landfall on the Mid-Atlantic coast.

As of Wednesday, Haiti had documented 54 deaths caused by Sandy — most in the nation's southern peninsula, which points toward Jamaica. Another 21 Haitians were still counted as missing, and many fear the death toll will rise as officials reach affected areas isolated by impassable roads and ruined bridges.

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Shots - Health News
2:58 am
Wed October 24, 2012

Meningitis From Tainted Drugs Puts Patients, Doctors In Quandary

Matthew Spencer receives intravenous infusions of a potent antifungal drug at home twice a day for an indefinite period to treat a suspected case of fungal infection linked to a contaminated steroid drug that came from New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts.
Richard Knox NPR

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 8:58 am

Two weeks after Matthew Spencer got a spinal injection for his chronic back pain, he felt "not quite right." Nothing too specific: worsening headache, nausea.

Then he saw a TV report on a recall of contaminated steroid medication used for back pain.

"I thought, well, I don't know if I had that medicine or not, but maybe I'd better go check it out," Spencer says.

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