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Health Highlights: March 17, 2020


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

Medicare Expands Telemedicine Coverage During Coronavirus Pandemic

Medicare is expanding coverage for telemedicine nationwide so that millions of American seniors can get health care at home and avoid the coronavirus, officials said Tuesday.

Seniors and people with underlying health problems such as lung conditions, diabetes or heart problems have a greater risk of serious illness from the coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

"Providers will be allowed to use everyday technologies to talk to telehealth patients, more telehealth services will be covered ... and providers will be allowed to offer these telehealth benefits to Medicare beneficiaries at a lower cost than traditional services," Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a statement.

Doctors' groups and hospitals had been pushing for the move, the AP reported.

The expansion of telemedicine coverage "helps us prevent the spread of the virus," said Medicare administrator Seema Verma.

Relatives or friends can help seniors who aren't comfortable with technology, she suggested.

"If it's your mom, you may need to go over to her house to help her do this," Verma said, but don't visit if you feel sick.

If telemedicine proves valuable in the coronavirus pandemic, it could lead to permanent changes that expand its availability to seniors, the AP reported.

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12 Coronavirus Infections, One Death at New Orleans Retirement Home

Twelve residents of a New Orleans retirement home have the coronavirus and one has died.

The 84-year-old male resident of the Lambeth House retirement home was the third person in Louisiana to die from the new coronavirus, the Associated Press reported.

The coronavirus is spreading much faster in New Orleans than in other U.S. cities, according to Dr. Jennifer Avegno, head of the city health department.

"This is a rapidly changing situation," she said, the AP reported. "There is substantial community spread."

Bars, gyms and movie theaters in Louisiana have been ordered to close and restaurants have been restricted to delivery and takeout. There have been 136 positive tests for the coronavirus in the state.

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Fake Text Messages Warn of Martial Law in U.S. Due to Coronavirus

False text messages warning that martial law would be implemented in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic were received by many Americans on Sunday and Monday, forcing federal officials to refute the rumors.

It's difficult to stop or trace the false messages because they're shared in texts and often forwarded by well-meaning family and friends, NBC News reported.

Late Sunday, the National Security Council tweeted: "Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown. @CDC.gov has and will continue to post the latest guidance on #COVID19."

One of the fake test messages read: "Please be advised. Within 48 to 72 hours the President will evoke what is called the Stafford Act. Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two week supply of everything. Please forward to your network."

Last week, a false text message about plans to quarantine New York City circulated among residents, so police had to reassure the public that there weren't any such plans, NBC New reported.

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Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson Released From Hospital After Coronavirus Treatment

Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson have been released from an Australian hospital and will remain in self-isolation after treatment for the coronavirus, according to their son.

"They're still self-quarantined obviously, but they're feeling a lot better so that's a relief," their son Chet Hanks said in a video posted on Instagram on Monday, The New York Times reported.

Hanks and Wilson, both 63, said they tested positive for the coronavirus last Wednesday. Hanks was in Australia filming a movie about the life of Elvis Presley.

"We felt a bit tired, like we had colds, and some body aches," and "will be tested, observed and isolated for as long as public health and safety requires," Hanks said last week, The Times reported.

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Experts Skeptical of France's Stance Against Ibuprofen as Treatment for COVID-19

Some experts are questioning French health officials' announcements that popular anti-inflammatory painkillers such as ibuprofen could worsen the effects of the coronavirus.

In a tweet Saturday, Health Minister Olivier Veran, who has worked as a neurologist, said that "taking anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, cortisone...) could be an aggravating factor of the infection. If you have a fever, take paracetamol. If you are already on anti-inflammatory drugs or in doubt, ask your doctor for advice," CNN reported.

The same day, the French government said "grave adverse effects" linked to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- the class of drugs that includes ibuprofen -- have "been identified with patients affected by COVID-19, in potential or confirmed cases."

Instead, the health ministry advocated the use of acetaminophen for fever or pain linked to COVID-19.

But some health experts criticized the French stance, noting that there is no publicly available evidence suggesting a link between ibuprofen and adverse effects of the coronavirus, CNN reported.

"Deeply concerned about this bold statement," tweeted Muge Cevik, a researcher at the University of St Andrews Infection and Global Health Division, CNN reported. "There's no scientific evidence I am aware of that ibuprofen [causes worse] outcomes in #COVID19."

"I don't think we've had any firm evidence to suggest that [ibuprofen aggravating COVID-19] is a concern at this point," said Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, professor of pediatrics and infectious disease epidemiologist at Stanford University in California, CNN reported.

"There is a good reason to avoid ibuprofen as it may exacerbate acute kidney injury brought on by any severe illness, including severe COVID-19 disease," Rupert Beale, group leader, of Cell Biology of Infection at the Francis Crick Institute in the U.K., told the U.K.'s Science Media Center, CNN reported. However, he added that "there isn't yet any widely accepted additional reason to avoid it for COVID-19."

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