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Health Highlights: April 3, 2019


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

New Plan Limits Out-of-Pocket Costs for Insulin

Out-of-pocket costs for insulin could be restricted to $25 a month for people under a drug benefit plan announced Wednesday by Express Scripts.

The average monthly savings for workers whose employers adopt the plan would be about $16 a month, The New York Times reported.

There is rising anger about steep rises in the cost of insulin in recent years.

The average price of insulin rose from about $234 a month in 2012 to about $450 a month in 2016, according to the Health Cost Institute.

It has become even more costly since 2016, leading some patients without insurance or with high deductibles to ration their doses or even do without the drug, The Times reported.

The cost of insulin has caught the attention of U.S. lawmakers. On Tuesday, patients and doctors testified about rising insulin prices before a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Next week, the issue is expected to come up when executives from the top pharmacy benefit managers are scheduled to testify before the Senate Finance Committee, the AP reported.

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Paralyzing Illness Could Become More Common in the U.S.

A rare, mysterious paralyzing illness called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) could become more common in the United States, according to the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Dr. Anthony Fauci said AFM may bear similarities to polio, which affected tens of thousands of U.S. children a year before a vaccine was introduced in the 1950s, the Associated Press reported.

While AFM is unlikely to become as widespread as polio once was, Fauci cautioned: "Don't assume that it's going to stay at a couple of hundred cases every other year."

He published a report about AFM Tuesday in the journal mBio.

U.S. public health officials are becoming concerned about AFM because it is affecting increasing numbers of children, the AP reported.

AFM cases have been reported in other countries, including Canada, France, Britain and Norway, but U.S. outbreaks have been more significant. More than 550 Americans have been diagnosed with AFM this decade. More than 90 percent were children, most around 4, 5 or 6 years old. The oldest patient was 32.

The first major U.S. outbreak occurred in 2014, when there were 120 confirmed cases. Most of them were in California and Colorado.

Since then, there has been a cyclical pattern, with 22 cases in 2015, 149 in 2016, 35 in 2017, and 228 last year. That number may rise because scores of possible cases are still under investigation. Only four cases have been confirmed so far this year, the AP reported.

But Fauci said it would be wrong to assume that surges will continue to take place every other year, warning that the next one "may be in 2019, for all we know."

A growing number of experts believe that an enterovirus called EV-D68 is linked with AFM because spikes in cases have coincided with surges of respiratory illnesses caused by EV-D68.

NIAID has urged researchers to apply for federal funds to study AFM, and is enlisting a network of pediatric research centers to work on the disease, the AP reported.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a scientific task force and plans to monitor AFM cases more closely.

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Low-Carb Diets Included in U.S. Dietary Guidelines Update Review

Low-carb diets will be among the eating styles reviewed for the 2020 update of U.S. dietary guidelines.

Low-carb diets have become increasingly popular in the United States and supporters of this style of eating say its inclusion in the guidelines could affect government school programs like school lunches and influence nutrition advice given by doctors, the Associated Press reported.

Current examples of healthy eating cited by the guidelines include the Mediterranean diet and vegetarian options.

The panel reviewing the guidelines held its first meeting last week and is expected to issue a report by next year, the AP reported.

Despite the popularity of low-carb diets, some nutrition experts note that evidence for the diets is new and that possible long-term effects are unclear.

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U.S. Measles Cases Already Top Last Year's Total

The number of measles cases in the United States so far this year has already surpassed the total for last year.

As of March 28, there had been 387 reported cases in 15 states, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday.

Last year, there were 372 cases nationwide, CBS News reported.

The number of cases so far this year is the highest since 2014, when there were a total of 667, and the second highest number since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000.

The high number of measles cases so far this year are due to outbreaks in a handful of states, including California, New York and Washington, CBS News reported.

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FDA to Hold Hearing on CBD in Consumer Products

A public hearing to gather more information on the use of CBD in consumer products such as cosmetics and foods will be held May 31, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

CBD is a cannabis compound from marijuana and hemp plants that does not cause a high. It's becoming more popular as people are attracted by its supposed calming effects, the Associated Press reported.

The science, safety and sale of cannabis compounds like CBD will be discussed at the hearing, the FDA said.

CBD is not approved for use in food, drinks and dietary supplements, but the FDA has said that could change. It also said any CBD products that make drug or treatment claims need to be approved by the FDA, the AP reported.

The agency has approved a pharmaceutical version of CBD to treat rare seizure disorders.

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