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Health Highlights: Nov. 2, 2018


Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Opioid Overdose Deaths Reach New Record

The number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States reached a new record last year with 72,000 deaths, which works out to about 200 a day, says a Drug Enforcement Administration report being released Friday.

It comes just over a week after U.S. health secretary Alex Azar said overdose deaths have started to level off.

Heroin, fentanyl and other opioids are the main threats, but use of methamphetamine and cocaine has become much greater in areas where these drugs haven't historically been common, according to the DEA's National Drug Threat Assessment, the Associated Press reported.

Heroin overdose deaths rose nationwide between 2015 and 2016, with increases of nearly 25 percent in the Northeast and more than 22 percent in the South.

A major concern for the DEA is fentanyl and other related opioids, which are often cheaper and much stronger than heroin, the AP reported.

China is a main source of fentanyl and other synthetic opioids in the U.S., according to the DEA.

The DEA report also noted concerns about people exploiting marijuana legalization to traffic the drug into the illicit market or to states that don't allow medicinal recreational use of marijuana, the AP reported.

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Artificial Antibody Protects Mice Against Most Flu Strains

An artificial antibody created using a combination of immunotherapy and gene therapy protected mice against dozens of flu strains, researchers say.

It could be an important advance in efforts to develop a flu vaccine that shields people against a wide number of flu strains, The New York Times reported.

The effectiveness of current flu vaccines varies from year to year because flu viruses are constantly mutating. At best, a flu shot may reduce the risk of flu by 60 percent. Last year, the rate was just 40 percent.

If a pandemic flu strikes, it could take months to develop an effective vaccine while the death toll mounts, according to The Times.

This new antibody protected mice against 59 of 60 flu strains, according to the study published in the journal Science.

"There's no one study that's going to be the Holy Grail," Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told The Times. "But there are going to be key studies upon which others can build. And this is one of them."

Just because the antibody was successful in mice doesn't mean it will be effective in people, and much more research needs to be done.

But flu kills as many 646,000 people worldwide each year, so it's to be hoped that this study will trigger further investigation, said Kevin Hollevoet, a bioengineer at Leuven University in Belgium who was not involved in the study.

"I hope it doesn't take them ten years to push it forward," he told The Times.

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Sign-Up Season Begins on HealthCare.gov

The federal government website where Americans can sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act is up and running, officials said Thursday morning.

Before HealthCare.gov went live for the sixth sign-up season, it had to be updated with thousands of changes in plans and premiums, the Associated Press reported.

"Prior to every open enrollment, final preparations must take place ahead of the start of the open enrollment period to ensure the website runs smoothly for consumers," said a statement from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Nationally, average premiums for 2019 are limited to low single-digit percentages, but premiums will decrease in some states and for some types of plans, the AP reported.

Insurers are expanding their participation in the program.

Copyright © 2018 HealthDay. All rights reserved.