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Health Highlights: June 18, 2021

By Robert Preidt HealthDay Reporter

EU Opens Doors to American Travelers

The European Union announced Friday that it will no longer ban U.S. tourists from traveling to Europe.

The move will undoubtedly be welcome news to Americans who are hungry to travel to the continent after more than a year of tight restrictions.

The reopening should also help southern European countries that are highly dependent on tourism, including Italy and Portugal. Those countries pressed the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, to act so that the entire summer tourism season would not be hurt by the absence of American visitors, The New York Times reported.

The decision -- which comes after more than a year of strict restrictions due to high COVID-19 case numbers in the United States -- is non-binding and each EU nation can decide how to regulate visitors, the Times reported.

Countries like Greece and Spain have already reopened to tourists from outside the European Union, including from the United States.

The U.S. has now been added to a list of countries the EU considers safe. Travelers from those countries have the green light to enter the bloc even if they're not fully vaccinated, but they require a negative PCR test for an active coronavirus infection, the Times said.

Even as the EU has opened the doors to Americans, Europeans are still barred from nonessential travel to the United States, even if they've been fully vaccinated, the Times reported.

TB Outbreak May Be Linked to Bone Repair Product

A tuberculosis outbreak that may be linked to a product used to repair bones is being investigated by U.S. health officials.

More than 100 patients may have been infected after having spinal surgery or fracture repairs with a bone product contaminated with the bacteria that causes TB, the Washington Post reported.

Aziyo Biologics Inc. has recalled 154 containers of the bone putty that includes human cells and is used in a range of orthopedic procedures. The products were sent to 37 facilities in 20 states between March 3 and April 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The company said the product came from a single donor, or cadaver, the Post reported.

Of the 154 recalled containers, 136 were implanted into 113 patients, the CDC said.

Eight patients died after their procedures, but the cause of death hasn't been determined, CDC spokeswoman Martha Sharan said Thursday, the Post reported.

It's unlikely that TB was the cause of death because the disease is slow-growing, CDC officials said.

Patients in Bind as Brain Cancer Drug Price Rises to $1,000 Per Pill

The maker of an expensive brain cancer drug called Gleostine has removed it from the Medicare drug rebate program, a move that could have dire consequences for some patients.

The drug from NextSource Biotechnology is used to treat glioblastoma and other brain cancers and can cost as much as $1,000 a capsule. Gleostine's patent has expired, but there is no generic version, CBS News reported.

The company's decision -- which means there is one less option in a limited number of approved chemotherapies -- was criticized by brain tumor experts and patient advocates.

"There are lots of people right now who are not getting the drug," and some will likely die as a result, Henry Friedman, a neuro-oncologist and professor of neurosurgery at Duke University School of Medicine, told CBS MoneyWatch. "There are patients who can't afford the drug, and other drugs may not be as effective."

"The decision by the company to withdraw from public health insurance programs weakens the safety net for vulnerable brain cancer patients who already have few treatment options," David Arons, CEO of the National Brain Tumor Society, told CBS Moneywatch.

"We urge NextSource to rejoin these programs and help reduce barriers for patients who require access to this therapy as well as for researchers and clinical trial participants participating in critical, ongoing brain cancer studies," Arons added.

"Lomustine [Gleostine] is one of only three FDA-approved chemotherapies for patients with glioblastoma and the one that most patients receive when their tumor progresses on first line temozolomide chemotherapy. The median age for patients with glioblastoma is 65, meaning the decision to no longer participate in the Medicare program affects half of the glioblastoma population," Dr. Patrick Wen, director of the Center for Neuro-Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told CBS Moneywatch.

"The only other treatment is avastin. Lomustine is also the standard-of-care treatment used in the control arm of most recurrent glioblastoma clinical trials, and not having easy access to this drug has an important impact on research to find better treatments for this devastating cancer," Wen added.

If they choose to, states can pay for Gleostine through their Medicaid programs.

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