Health Highlights: Jan. 30, 2018

By on January 30, 2018

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

Azar Sworn in as HHS Secretary

Former drug company executive Alex Azar has been sworn in as the new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary.

His nomination was approved last week by the Senate, largely along party lines, the Associated Press reported.

Azar, who served in the George W. Bush administration, has said he wants to curb the cost of prescription drugs, make health insurance more affordable and available, and combat the opioid epidemic.

Azar replaces Tom Price, who resigned last fall after his use of costly private charter aircraft for official travel triggered outrage, the AP reported.


Groups Call on Facebook to Scrap Messenger Kids App

Facebook should scrap its Messenger Kids app because it could pose health and development risks, 19 groups say in a letter to be sent Tuesday to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The 19 groups, which include child advocates and medical experts, contend that children are not prepared for online relationships and don’t have an understanding of privacy and the appropriateness of sharing texts, pictures and videos, the Washington Post reported.

The letter, organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said research suggests a link between social media use and higher rates of depression among teens, and said it’s irresponsible to expose preschool children to the Messenger Kids app, which was launched late last year and is available to children younger than 13.

The letter also said increasing children’s screen time could interfere with important development skills such as interacting with the physical world, delaying gratification and reading other people’s emotions, the Post reported.

Children don’t need their own social media accounts, according to Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Post reported.

“We are at a pivotal moment, and the tech companies need to decide if they are going to act in a way that is more ethical and more responsive to the needs of children and families, or are they gong to continue to pursue profits at the expense of children’s well-being?”

Messenger Kids has no advertising and parents who use the app say it helps them stay in touch with their children when they’re at work or away, according to Facebook.

“We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families,” Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis, said in a statement, the Post reported.

The criticism of Facebook’s Messenger for Kids is the latest example of opposition to the companies promoting the use of digital technology by children and teens.

Earlier this month, two major Apple investors said the company’s products could cause long-term physical or mental harm to children and needs to change how it approaches some of its young customers, the Post reported.


Parasitic Worms Infest Couple’s Feet After Caribbean Holiday

A young Canadian couple discovered dozens of parasitic worms in their feet after a recent holiday in the Dominican Republic.

Eddie Zytner, 25, and Katie Stephens, 22, of Windsor, Ontario, returned home in mid-January with itchy feet. A few days later, the itching turned into painful swelling and blisters, CNN reported.

The pain became so severe that the couple could not wear socks or shoes and had to use crutches to walk.

After a number of visits to the hospital, the couple was diagnosed with cutaneous larva migrans, caused by hookworm larvae that likely entered their skin while they were barefoot on the beaches of Punta Cana, CNN reported.

The parasites typically live in the intestines of dogs, cats and other wild animals. The larvae burrow into human skin that comes into contact with sand or soil that has been contaminated with animal feces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The larvae typically don’t survive more than six weeks in humans, but can be treated with antiparasitic drugs, the CDC says.

The couple began treatment last week and said there has been significant improvement in their symptoms, CNN reported.

Zytner offered advice for people planning a trip to the Caribbean: “Call the resort they’re staying at and see if they clean up all the beaches.” He added: “Wear shoes.”


Flu Prevention Measures Being Taken At Super Bowl Events

Steps are being taken to reduce Super Bowl visitors’ risk of catching the flu, event organizers say.

Staff are using sanitizing wipes to clean all Super Bowl Experience exhibits at the Minneapolis Convention Center numerous times a day, and virtual reality equipment at the United Way’s Super Bowl Experience is cleaned between each use, Fox News reported.

Fans are being urged to get flu shots.

Minnesota officials believe 1 million people will attend Super Bowl-related events in the week before the game. Of those, about 125,000 will come from outside the state, Fox News reported.

Flu-related hospitalizations are down in Minnesota, but there has been a sharp rise in flu cases at doctor’s offices, urgent care and community health clinics. There has also been an increase in flu outbreaks at schools in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this flu season is on track to be similar to or surpass the 2014-2015 flu season, when 34 million Americans got the flu, 710,00 were hospitalized and about 56,000 died, Fox News reported.

Along with the flu shot, people in crowded areas should wash their hands often and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, health officials say.


Human Genome Can Now Be Mapped Using Handheld Device

Scientists who created a handheld device that can sequence the human genome say their achievement could pave the way for using genetics in day-to-day medicine.

The new device highlights the rapid progress in this field. The first sequencing of the human genome began in 1990 and took 13 years. It involved laboratories worldwide and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, BBC News reported.

An article about the device — which the developers say is 99.5 percent accurate — was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

“We’ve gone from a situation where you can only do genome sequencing for a huge amount of money in well equipped labs to one where we can have genome sequencing literally in your pocket just like a mobile phone,” researcher Nicholas Loman, a professor at the University of Birmingham, U.K., told BBC News.

“That gives us a really exciting opportunity to start having genome sequencing as a routine tool, perhaps something people can do in their own home,” Loman added.

Sequencing technology could change the practice of medicine. For example, it could help improve cancer treatment or detect antibiotic resistance early. Loman used the new device to track the spread of Ebola during the recent outbreak in West Africa, BBC News reported.

“Our ability to sequence whole genomes quickly and cheaply continues to improve,” according to Sobia Raza, head of science at the PHG Foundation genomics think tank.

“But short-term patient benefits also depend on how well and how fast we can analyze and make sense of the genomic data, and that is still quite a challenge,” Raza told BBC News reported.

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