News for Healthier Living

Health Highlights: Feb. 8, 2019

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

Measles Outbreak Triggers Sharp Rise in Demand for Vaccine in Washington State

Health clinics in Clark County, Washington are scrambling to meet the sharply increased demand for measles vaccination as people seek protection during an outbreak of the highly contagious virus.

State health department data show that orders for two types of measles vaccines in the county were nearly 500 percent higher in January than in the same month last year, spiking from 530 doses to 3,150, Kaiser Health News reported.

One facility, the Vancouver Clinic, said it gave 1,444 measles shots in January, compared with 263 last January, a nearly 450 percent increase.

There have been more than 50 confirmed cases of measles and 11 suspected cases in Clark County this year.

Only 76.5 percent of kindergartners in the county had all the required immunizations for the 2017-18 school year, and health officials have long been concerned about the risk of an outbreak in the region.

State-wide, orders for measles vaccine rose about 30 percent in January compared with the same month last year, from 12,140 doses to 15,780 doses, Kaiser reported.

The measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest also includes one confirmed case in King County, where Seattle is located, and four in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, Ore.

Washington and Oregon are among 17 states that permit non-medical exemptions from vaccination requirements for school entry, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A measure introduced by Washington state Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) would remove personal belief exemptions for the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine, Kaiser reported.

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Johnson & Johnson to Provide Drug Prices in TV Ads

In a drug industry first, Johnson & Johnson will start giving the list prices of its prescription drugs in television ads.

The new policy will begin in late March with the popular blood thinner pill Xarelto, said Scott White, head of the company's North American pharmaceutical marketing, the Associated Press reported.

The drug's list price and typical out-of-pocket costs will appear on screen at the end of the commercial, along with a website where patients can enter insurance information to get more specific costs.

Each month in the U.S., about 1 million prescriptions are filled for Xarelto, which costs $450 to $540 per month without insurance, depending on the pharmacy.

The Trump administration has proposed requiring drug list prices in TV ads, but the drug industry opposes that because it says few people pay the high list prices. However, some patients' out-of-pocket costs are based on list prices, the AP reported.

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Care Facility Where Incapacitated Patient Gave Birth to Close

The company that operates a long-term care facility in Arizona where an incapacitated patient gave birth after being sexually assaulted says the facility will be closed, but state officials oppose the decision.

In a statement, Hacienda HealthCare said its board of directors "has come to understand that it is simply not sustainable to continue to operate our Intermediate Care Facility for the Intellectually Disabled," NBC News/Associated Press reported.

The company said it is working with state agencies to transfer patients in the facility to other locations. There are 37 patients in the facility, according to NBC affiliate KPNX of Phoenix.

In late December, a 29-year-old woman with significant intellectual disabilities who had been a patient at the facility for years gave birth.

A former nurse at the facility was arrested Jan. 22 and charged with sexual assault. Nathan Sutherland, 36, has pleaded not guilty.

The decision to close the facility is "disturbing news" and not in the best interest of patients, state regulators said. The state had ordered Hacienda to hire a third-party management team to oversee daily operations, but Hacienda and the outside party weren't able to reach a long-term agreement, NBC News/AP reported.

"We encourage Hacienda to work with the state to find a path forward," the Arizona Department of Economic Security said in a statement, the AP reported. "State agencies are exhausting all efforts to bring this to a conclusion that is beneficial to the patients, some of whom have been at this facility nearly their entire lives."

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Walgreens Worst Pharmacy in Tobacco Sales to Minors, FDA Says

Walgreens' high rate of violations for selling tobacco products to minors has led U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb to ask for a meeting with the company to discuss the issue.

He said in a statement Thursday that he is "deeply disturbed that a single pharmacy chain racked up almost 1,800 violations for selling tobacco products to minors across the country," CNN reported.

Gottlieb said he requested a meeting with Walgreen Co. to discuss whether there are company-wide violations of the restrictions on selling tobacco products to minors and warned the company that it may face "additional enforcement avenues."

The FDA is examining data on large national retail chains to identify those that have high rates of repeat violations of selling tobacco products to minors, CNN reported.

Walgreens is the leading violator among pharmacies that sell tobacco products, with 22 percent of inspected stores having illegally sold tobacco products to minors, the FDA said.

In an email, Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso said the company takes this matter "very seriously," and welcomes "the opportunity to meet with the FDA Administrator," CNN reported.

Walgreens has taken a number of steps to address this issue, including now requiring "identification for anyone purchasing tobacco products regardless of age in all of our stores nationwide," Caruso said.

"In addition, we are training all of our store team members on the new requirements and strengthening disciplinary actions against store employees who violate the policy."

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Scientists May Have Made Significant Advance in Adult Gene Editing

In what may be the first successful gene editing inside the body, two patients with a rare genetic disorder now have a corrective gene at very low levels, researchers say.

Even though those low levels may not result in successful treatment of the two men, this is a significant advance in efforts to alter DNA in adults to treat diseases caused by defective genes, the Associated Press reported.

The preliminary results were presented Thursday at a conference in Orlando, Fla.

"This is a first step," said Dr. Joseph Muenzer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who helped test the treatment and presented the results. "It's just not potent enough."

He consulted for the gene therapy's California-based maker, Sangamo Therapeutics. Efforts to develop a stronger version of the treatment are underway, the AP reported.

Sangamo's research involves men with Hunter or Hurler syndrome, who are missing a gene that makes an enzyme to break down certain sugar compounds. Without this gene, sugars accumulate and damage organs, and patients often die by their teens.

February 8, 2019
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