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Health Highlights: Feb. 12, 2019

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

A.I. May Help Diagnose Patients

Artificial intelligence (A.I.) could help doctors pinpoint patients' health problems, researchers report.

The American/Chinese team created an A.I. system that diagnoses common childhood conditions based on information such as symptoms, history and lab results, The New York Times reported Monday.

The system is highly accurate and could eventually help doctors diagnose complex or rare conditions, according to the authors of the study published in the journal Nature Medicine.

The A.I. system was created using the medical records of nearly 600,000 young patients who were seen at a pediatric hospital over 18 months.

Each year, millions of Americans are misdiagnosed, according to the Times.


Out-of-Pocket Costs for Employer Health Insurance on the Rise

Out-of-pocket costs for Americans with employer health insurance averaged nearly $1,200 in 2017, a 15 percent increase from five years earlier, a new study shows.

That spending includes deductibles, copays and co-insurance, CNN reported.

The study from the Health Care Cost Institute also said that total spending for people with employer health insurance reached an average all-time high of $5,641 per person in 2017, which includes payments by employers and insurance companies.

"Working Americans and their families are using the same or fewer health care services, yet the costs of those services keep increasing," said institute CEO Niall Brennan, CNN reported.

In related news, a study released last week by the Commonwealth Fund, a health care think tank, said that about 28 percent of American adults with employer health insurance were underinsured in 2018, compared with 20 percent in 2014 and 10 percent in 2003.

Underinsured is defined as having deductibles that are at least 5 percent of household income or when annual out-of-pocket costs, excluding premiums, are at least 10 percent of household income, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

Low-income people are considered underinsured if either their deductibles or their out-of-pocket costs are more than 5 percent of their income.

The average deductible was $1,350 in 2018, an increase of 212 percent since 2008, according to the Kaiser Family Foundations' Employer Health Benefits Survey. That's eight times faster than wage growth, CNN reported.


'Ultraprocessed' Foods Tied to Higher Death Risk: Study

They may be convenient, but eating ultraprocessed foods could increase your risk of early death, a new study warns.

"Ultraprocessed foods are mostly consumed in the form of snacks, desserts, or ready-to-eat or -heat meals," and their consumption "has largely increased during the past several decades," wrote the authors of the study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, CNN reported.

The study included more than 44,000 adults, 45 and older, in France who were followed for two years.

The researchers found that each 10 percent increase in the amount of ultraprocessed foods consumed was associated with a 14 percent higher risk of early death, CNN reported.

Ultraprocessed foods accounted for more than 14 percent of the weight of total food consumed by the participants, and about 29 percent of their total calories.

Further research is need to confirm the study findings, said the authors, who suggested that additives, packaging (chemicals get into the food during storage) and the processing itself (including high-temperature processing) may be why ultraprocessed foods can harm health, CNN reported.

The "findings make sense, given what we know to date about the deleterious effects of food additives on brain function and health, but the effects observed are very small," Molly Bray, chairwoman of the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, told CNN.

She was not involved in the study.

There are many kinds of ultraprocessed foods and the study could not pinpoint exactly what might make them a threat to health, according to Nurgul Fitzgerald, associate professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers University. She was not involved in the study.

"Some factors may be more harmful or less harmful than others. It's really too complex," Fitzgerald told CNN, and added that we can't "run with" these results.


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. On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that there have been at least 101 measles cases nationwide, NBC News reported.

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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