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Health Highlights: Nov. 22, 2019


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

Hepatitis A Outbreak in 3 States May be Linked to Fresh Blackberries: FDA

An outbreak of hepatitis A that's sickened 11 people in Indiana, Nebraska, and Wisconsin may be linked to fresh non-organic blackberries sold at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market grocery stores in the three states, U.S. health officials say.

The last person to become sick with the contagious virus that can cause liver disease was Nov. 5, 2019. Six people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Investigators have determined that the berries came from a distribution center that ships fresh berries to Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in 11 states: IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, MO, MN, NE, OH, PA, and WI.

Consumers should not eat any fresh non-organic blackberries bought between Sept.9-30, 2019, from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in those 11 states, the FDA said. That includes berries that were frozen for later use.

People who bought fresh non-organic blackberries from Fresh Thyme Farmers Market stores in the 11 states between September 9-30, ate those berries in the last two weeks, and have not been vaccinated for the hepatitis A virus (HAV), should talk with their healthcare provider to determine whether they require post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), the FDA said.

PEP is recommended for unvaccinated people who have been exposed to HAV in the last two weeks. Those with evidence of previous hepatitis A vaccination or previous hepatitis A infection do not require PEP.

Contact your healthcare provider if you think you may have become ill from eating these blackberries, or if you believe that you have eaten these berries in the last two weeks, the FDA said.

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Massachusetts Passes Bill to Ban All Flavored Vaping Products

A bill banning flavored vaping and tobacco products was passed by the Massachusetts Senate on Thursday and could become the first such statewide legislation in the United States.

The bill -- which would also put a 75% excise tax on vaping products and force health insurers to cover tobacco cessation counseling -- was previously passed by the state House of Representatives and now goes to Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, the Associated Press reported.

It's not clear whether Baker will sign the bill, but in September he declared a public health emergency and ordered a temporary ban on the sale of vaping products.

The bill would immediately ban sales of flavored vaping products and sales of menthol cigarettes would be banned as of June 1, 2020, the AP reported.

"This legislation is a critical step to help end the worsening youth e-cigarette epidemic and stop tobacco companies from using appealing flavors to lure kids into a lifetime of addiction," Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, said in a written statement.

"It would make Massachusetts the first state in the nation to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products," he noted.

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Medicare's New Online Drug Plan Finder Might Lead to Higher Costs

Medicare's newly-overhauled prescription plan finder can direct unsuspecting users to coverage that's much more expensive than necessary, experts say.

The plan finder -- which recently got its first major update in a decade -- serves about 60 million Medicare recipients and is the most commonly used tool on Medicare.gov, the AP reported.

Government officials say the revamp will help beneficiaries take advantage of their insurance options, but program experts and people who help with sign-ups say the tool can obscure out-of-pocket costs that seniors should factor into their choices.

"I want to make sure people are given the most accurate information and they're making the best decision -- because they are the ones stuck with it," Ann Kayrish, senior program manager for Medicare at the nonpartisan National Council on Aging, told the AP.

"If they pick the plan based solely on the premium they are likely getting a plan that could cost them thousands more in a calendar year," Christina Reeg, heads of an Ohio Department of Insurance program that helps Medicare enrollees find the right plan, told the AP.

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