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Health Highlights: March 13, 2019


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

AMA Urges Social Media, Tech Companies to Combat Vaccine Misinformation

The United States' leading social media and technology companies need to ensure users have access to accurate and scientifically-proven information about vaccines, the American Medical Association says in a letter to the companies.

"At a time when vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly measles, are reemerging in the United States and threatening communities and public health, physicians across the country are troubled by reports of anti-vaccine related messages and advertisements targeting parents searching for vaccine information on your platforms," Dr. James Madara, AMA CEO and executive vice president, wrote in the letter to the CEOs of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Pinterest, Twitter and YouTube.

"As physicians, we are concerned that the proliferation of this type of health-related misinformation will undermine sound science, further decrease vaccinations, and persuade people to make medical decisions that could spark the spread of easily preventable diseases," the letter explains.

"With public health on the line and with social media serving as a leading source of information for the American people, we urge you to do your part to ensure that users have access to scientifically valid information on vaccinations, so they can make informed decisions about their families' health. We also urge you to make public your plans to ensure that users have access to accurate, timely, scientifically sound information on vaccines."

Some technology companies have announced measures to fight the spread of misinformation about vaccines.

"We applaud companies that have already taken action but encourage you to continue evaluating the impact of these policies and take further steps to address the issue as needed," the letter states.

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Head of U.S. National Cancer Institute Named Acting FDA Commissioner

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will temporarily be overseen by the head of the National Cancer Institute when FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb leaves the post next month.

The appointment of Dr. Ned Sharpless was announced Tuesday, a week after Gottlieb, who was in the position for two years, said he would step down in April. He has said he wants to spend more time with his family, the Associated Press reported.

Sharpless, who has led the National Cancer Institute since October 2017, is one of several government officials believed to be in the running to become the next FDA commissioner.

A candidate for the position is nominated by the president and must be confirmed by the Senate.

The FDA regulates the food, drug, medical device and tobacco industries, the AP reported.

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First Gene-Edited Food Being Used in U.S. Restaurant

Oil made from gene-edited soybeans is being used to fry foods at a restaurant somewhere in the Midwest, making it the first commercial use of a gene-edited food in the country, according to the company that makes the oil.

The first customer can't be revealed for competitive reasons, but the oil is "in use and being eaten," Calyxt CEO Jim Blome told the Associated Press.

The oil has no trans fats and a longer shelf life than other soybean oils, according to the Minnesota-based company.

It hopes the announcement about the commercial use of the oil will boost interest and demand for the oil. Gene editing may offer a less controversial option for altering foods than conventional GMOs (genetically modified organisms), according to the AP.

Mushrooms that don't brown, higher fiber wheat, better producing tomato plants, herbicide-tolerant canola, and rice that doesn't absorb soil pollution as it grows are among other gene-edited crops under research.

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Mumps Causes Quarantine of More Than 2,200 Immigrant Detainees

More than 2,200 people exposed to a mumps outbreak in two U.S. immigrant detention facilities have been quarantined, federal officials say.

The 25-day quarantine began March 7 at facilities in Pine Prairie, La., and Aurora, Col., Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

In the past year, 236 detainees have had confirmed or probable cases of mumps in 51 facilities, a spokesperson said. There were no reported cases of mumps between 2016 and 2018 at any ICE facilities.

In 2016, a measles outbreak at an immigrant detention center in Eloy, Ariz. contributed to a statewide outbreak after some workers refused to get vaccinated, the AP reported.

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228 Measles Cases Already in 2019: CDC

The number of measles cases in the United States increased by 22 since last week and now stands at 228, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says in an update.

Measles was once nearly eradicated in the United States, but the emergence of the "anti-vaxxer" movement may be allowing the highly contagious disease to stage a comeback, experts say.

New Hampshire -- with one patient as of March 1 -- joined 11 other states reporting measles cases this year, CNN reported.

The other states are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington.

The update includes cases reported by state health departments to the CDC through March 7, and does not include cases reported after that date, CNN reported.

As of Sunday, the number of measles cases in an outbreak linked to Washington state remained at 75, the same number as last week. The outbreak includes patients in Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Georgia who became infected in Washington.

The number of measles cases in the U.S. so far this year is climbing closer to the 372 cases nationwide in all of 2018, which was the second highest annual number of the highly contagious, vaccine-preventable disease in more than two decades, CNN reported.

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