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Health Highlights: Nov. 15, 2018

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

Newer Nonstick Coating May Pose Health Threat: EPA

A chemical compound used to make newer nonstick coatings could be dangerous, according to draft findings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

It said that animal studies show the so-called GenX nonstick compound could affect the kidneys, blood, immune system, liver and developing fetuses following oral exposure, the Associated Press reported.

"The data are suggestive of cancer," the draft document said.

GenX is a newer, supposedly safer version of older versions of stick- and stain-resistant compounds that are being found at dangerous levels in drinking water supplies nationwide, the AP reported.

The EPA's findings suggest that chronic exposure to GenX is dangerous at levels as low as a few hundred parts per trillion, according to Lee Ferguson, an environmental analytical chemist and associate professor at Duke University.

This would mean "the compounds that we're replacing toxic compounds for are also toxic," Ferguson told the AP.


Name-Brand Meds Driving Spike in U.S. Drug Spending

Rising drug spending in the United States is being fueled by expensive name-brand prescription medicines, a new study shows.

"Total prescription drug spending increased 10 percent annually since 2010," and 82 percent of prescriptions were for cheaper, generic drugs, according to the Blue Cross Blue Shield study, NBC News reported.

But the study also found that expensive "branded prescription drugs accounted for only 17 percent of total prescriptions filled, but 79 percent of total prescription drug spending [$79.5 billion]."

"More expensive branded prescription drug spending is up 4 percent since 2016," and costs "for single-source drugs with no generic alternatives increased at more than double the rate of average annual drug spending," the study found.

The biggest costs were from three rheumatoid arthritis drugs -- Humira, Remicade and Enbrel -- a quick-acting insulin called Novolog, and Neulasta, an immune system-strengthening treatment for cancer patients, NBC News reported.

Rising drug prices are a major concern among patients and policy makers.


Record Number of Tick-Borne Disease Cases in U.S. Last Year: CDC

The number of Americans with tick-borne diseases reached a record high of nearly 60,000 in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Most of those cases (42,743) were Lyme disease. There were 36,000 cases of Lyme disease in 2016, NBC News reported.

Other tick-borne disease cases in 2017 included: Ehrlichiosis (7,700); Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (6,200); babesiosis (2,300); tularemia (239) and Powassan virus (33), according to the CDC.

The 60,000 reported cases of tick-borne diseases last year is likely much lower than the actual number.

"The true number of cases is probably 10 times that," Dr. John Aucott, director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center and chair of the federal Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, told NBC News.

A report issued Wednesday by the working group says that state and federal agencies need to increase funding to track, prevent and treat tick-borne diseases.

"There are more cases. Every year, the geographic distribution expands," Aucott told NBC News.

The working group was created in 2016 and this is its first report.

"There are so many questions out there that haven't been answered," Aucott said. "We heard comments from hundreds and hundreds of patients. It is obvious that this is a real problem, that people are really suffering."

The reasons for the rise in tick-borne diseases is unclear, according to the CDC.

"A number of factors can affect tick numbers each year, including temperature, rainfall, humidity, and host populations such as mice and other animals," the CDC said in its report on the number of new cases, NBC News reported.


Primary Care Doctors Should Screen Adult Patients for Unhealthy Drinking: Task Force

Primary care doctors should screen all adult patients for unhealthy drinking habits, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says in new statement.

It also said doctors should provide brief counseling for those who drink more than the recommended limits, CNN reported.

The statement was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among men aged 21 to 64, unhealthy alcohol use is defined as more than four drinks in a single day and 14 drinks in a week, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

That definition for women and older men is more than three drinks in one day and more than seven drinks in a week. There is no safe level of alcohol use for pregnant women, because drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects and developmental problems in children, CNN reported.

Unhealthy alcohol use is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the task force.

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