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Health Highlights: March 19, 2019

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

Third of Uninsured Skimp on Meds to Save Money

High drug prices prompt about one-third of uninsured American adults to not take their medicines as prescribed to save money, a new government report shows.

In 2017, nearly 60 percent of adults aged 18 to 64 said they'd been prescribed drugs over the past 12 months, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Overall, 11.4 percent of them said they did not follow doctor's orders on taking the drugs to lower their costs, CNN reported Tuesday.

The study said that 8.4 percent of people with private insurance did this, compared with 12.5 percent of Medicaid enrollees. Women were more likely than men to try to reduce drug costs.

Nearly 1 in 5 of those prescribed drugs asked their doctors for less expensive options. The rate was highest -- 40 percent -- among people without insurance, CNN reported.

Just over 5 percent of people used alternative therapies, including nearly 14 percent of those without insurance, according to the study.


Herpes Viruses Can Reactivate In Astronauts While in Space: Study

Reactivation of herpes viruses is more likely to occur in astronauts the longer they are in space, a new study says.

NASA researchers checked for eight human herpes viruses in blood, urine and saliva samples from astronauts before, during and after shorter space shuttle flights and longer International Space Station missions, CNN reported.

Four of the herpes viruses -- including oral and genital herpes, chickenpox and shingles -- were reactivated in more than half of the astronauts, according to the study recently published in the journal Frontiers in Microbiology.

"To date, 47 out of 89 [53 percent] astronauts on short space shuttle flights, and 14 out of 23 [61 percent] on longer ISS missions shed herpes viruses in their saliva or urine samples," said study author Satish Mehta at Johnson Space Center, CNN reported.

"These frequencies -- as well as the quantity -- of viral shedding are markedly higher than in samples from before or after flight, or from matched healthy controls," Mehta said.

Shedding refers to reactivation of a virus. Herpes viruses take up residence in nerve and immune cells, so they are never really gone and can "wake up," CNN reported.

Reactivation of the viruses doesn't necessarily mean that the symptoms return. "Only six astronauts developed any symptoms due to viral reactivation," Mehta said. "All were minor."

However, if viruses reactivate while astronauts are in space, they could infect others when they return to Earth, CNN reported.

The reason why herpes viruses can reactivate while astronauts are in space is the same as on Earth -- stress.


Expandable Heart Valves Could Mean Fewer Surgeries

Expandable heart valves that can be placed in the heart through a minimally invasive procedure appear to be as safe or safer than those implanted through surgery, according to two news studies.

That means many more patients might be able to avoid risk heart surgeries and get the expandable valves instead, experts say.

Expandable aortic valves are guided to the heart through a catheter into a blood vessel and placed inside the old valve. They were developed about a decade ago but are used only in patients at high or moderate risk of dying from surgery to implant a new valve, the Associated Press reported.

These two studies assessed the use of expandable heart valves in people who were at low risk from surgery, which is most patients.

One study included about 1,000 patients who underwent standard surgery or received an expandable Edwards Lifesciences valve. After one year, 15 percent of the surgery group and 8.5 percent of the expandable valve group had died, suffered a stroke or needed to be hospitalized again, the AP reported.

The second study included 1,400 patients who had standard surgery or received a Medtronic expandable valve. Estimates based on partial results suggest that after two years, 6.7 percent of the surgery group and 5.3 percent of the expandable valve group had died or suffered a disabling stroke.

In that study, 17 percent of expandable valve recipients later required a pacemaker, compared with 6 percent of people who had surgery, the AP reported.

However, in both studies, problems such as major bleeding and the development of atrial fibrillation were more common among those who had surgery.

The studies were published in the New England Journal of Medicine on March 16 and were to be discussed at an American College of Cardiology conference in New Orleans on Sunday, the AP reported.

Price was an issue: Expandable valves cost about $30,000, compared with $5,000 for surgical valves.

However, prior research suggests that overall costs for expandable valves are lower because they cause fewer complications and require much shorter hospital stays, according to ACC spokesman Dr. Joseph Cleveland, a University of Colorado heart surgeon who was not involved in the studies and does not have any links to the companies that sponsored them.

Cleveland and other experts also said long-term studies are needed to determine if expandable valves are as durable as surgical valves, the AP reported.

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