Health Highlights: Aug. 25, 2014

Health Highlights: Aug. 25, 2014

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

Two Confirmed Ebola Deaths in Congo

Two Ebola deaths have been confirmed in Congo, but officials say the deaths are not linked to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The two confirmed deaths occurred in the Boende region of Congo’s northwest Equateur province. Officials believe Ebola has actually killed 13 people in the region, including five health workers, the Associated Press reported.

Eleven people in the region are sick and in isolation and 80 people who had contact with infected patients are being traced, Felix Kabange Numbi, Congo’s health minister, said.

The outbreak in Congo “has nothing to do with the one in West Africa,” according to Kabange.

He noted that this is the seventh Ebola outbreak in Congo since 1976 and said the “experience acquired during the six previous epidemics of Ebola will contribute to the containing of this illness,” the AP reported.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa has so far caused 2,615 illnesses and 1,427 deaths in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

In related news, a British man who contracted Ebola in Sierra Leone was flown back to the U.K. on the weekend and is now in an isolation unit in a London hospital, BBC News reported.

The patient is “not currently seriously unwell”, a Department of Health spokesman said. The department said the decision to bring the man back to the U.K. was made after receiving “clinical advice.”

The Ebola risk to the U.K. remains “very low,” health officials emphasized, BBC News reported.


Rating System for Nursing Homes May Mislead Consumers

A Medicare rating system for nursing homes can mislead consumers about the actual level of care provided in the homes, according to The New York Times.

For the last five years, Medicare has used a hotel-like five-star rating system to grade nearly every nursing home in the United States, with five stars being the top level. About one-fifth of more than 15,000 nursing homes nationwide have five stars.

However, The Times found that many five-star facilities received their high ranking based largely on self-reported data that is not confirmed by Medicare officials.

There are three criteria used to rate nursing homes, but only one — annual health inspection findings — relies on assessments from independent inspectors. The other factors — staff numbers and quality statistics — are reported by the nursing homes and, for the most part, accepted by Medicare with no verification.

The rating system does not take into account negative data such as complaints filed with state agencies, or fines and other enforcement actions take by state, rather than federal, officials, The Times reported.

The rating system gives nursing homes incentives to do better, according to federal officials, who added that there is room for improvement and that they are trying to do so.

“We have seen improvements,” in the care provided by nursing homes, Dr. Patrick Conway, the chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told The Times.

He noted that the use of physical restraints by nursing homes has decreased, as has the number of reported bedsores among patients at a high risk of developing them.

This year, Medicare plans to start introducing similar five-start ratings for hospitals, dialysis centers and home-health-care agencies.