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Health Highlights: Sept. 18, 2020

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

Controversial COVID Testing Guidelines Posted on CDC Website Without Scientific Review

U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) officials wrote a controversial recommendation about COVID-19 testing that appeared on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website over the objections of CDC scientists, according to The New York Times.

The guidance -- which was posted on Aug. 24 and widely criticized by experts -- said it wasn't necessary to test people without symptoms of COVID-19 even if they'd been exposed to the virus, and was posted on the CDC website when public health experts were urging more testing, not less.

The recommendation originated with the CDC and was revised with input from the agency's director, Dr. Robert Redfield, according to Trump administration officials.

However, people familiar with the matter told the Times that HHS staff did the rewriting and then "dropped" the guidance into the CDC's public website without first going through the agency's scientific review process.

"That was a doc that came from the top down, from the HHS and the [White House] task force [on the coronavirus]," said an official with knowledge of the controversy. "That policy does not reflect what many people at the CDC feel should be the policy."

It's not clear why the recommendation on testing bypassed the usual CDC review, according to Adm. Brett Giroir, the Trump administration's testing coordinator and an assistant secretary at the HHS, the CDC's parent organization.

"I think you have to ask Dr. Redfield about that. That certainly was not any direction from me whatsoever," he told the Times, which couldn't reach Redfield for comment.

A new version of the testing guidance that's expected to be posted Friday also hasn't gone through CDC's review process and is being revised by HHS officials, a federal official told the newspaper.

"The idea that someone at HHS would write guidelines and have it posted under the CDC banner is absolutely chilling," Dr. Richard Besser, who served as acting director at the CDC in 2009, told the Times.

"HHS and the White House writing scientifically inaccurate statements such as 'don't test all contacts' on CDC's website is like someone vandalizing a national monument with graffiti," Dr. Thomas Frieden, CDC director of the agency during the Obama administration, told the newspaper.

"Suggesting that asymptomatic people don't need testing is just a prescription for community spread and further disease and death," Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the American Medical Association, told the Times.

It was recently revealed that Trump appointees at HHS interfered with the CDC's weekly scientific reports on the coronavirus pandemic.


Warning About Potentially Deadly Mosquito-Borne Virus in Michigan

Some Michigan residents are being told to stay indoors after dark and protect themselves from mosquito bites as the state tries to contain the spread of a rare but potentially deadly mosquito-borne disease called Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE).

A suspected case of EEE in a resident of Barry County was announced earlier this week by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, CNN reported.

The case "shows this is an ongoing threat to the health and safety of Michiganders and calls for continued actions to prevent exposure, including aerial treatment," Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the department's chief medical executive and chief deputy for health, said in a statement.

"MDHHS continues to encourage local officials in the affected counties to consider postponing, rescheduling or canceling outdoor activities occurring at or after dusk, particularly those involving children to reduce the potential for people to be bitten by mosquitoes."

EEE has been confirmed in 22 horses across 10 counties, which is twice the number of animal cases recorded in the state by this time last year, CNN reported.

Aerial treatment in several "high-risk areas" is underway to reduce mosquito populations, state officials said.


Moderna May Know by November Whether Coroanvirus Vaccine is Effective

Moderna says it should know by sometime in November whether its coronavirus vaccine is effective, its CEO said Thursday.

Stephane Bancel also told CNBC that the company -- the first drug firm to conduct human clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. -- could have enough late-stage trial data by October to evaluate its efficacy, but said that's unlikely, CBS News reported.

Along with Moderna's vaccine, there are six others in final Phase 3 testing that involves large-scale human tests.

"If the infection rate in the country were to slow down in the next weeks, (the vaccine) could potentially be pushed out in a worst-case scenario in December," Bancel told CNBC, CBS News reported.

On Wednesday, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield told Congress a vaccine wouldn't be widely available until the second or third quarter of next year.

Redfield also said a mask could be even more effective protection than a vaccine for people who don't have an immunity response from the vaccine, CBS News reported.

A "face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine," Redfield said. "... If I don't get an immune response, the vaccine's not going to protect me. This face mask will."


Trump-Appointed HHS Spokesman Taking Leave of Absence

Trump-appointed Health and Human Services Department spokesman Michael Caputo is taking a leave of absence after allegations that he tried to interfere with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports on the coronavirus pandemic because he felt they harmed Trump.

Caputo also posted a video on his Facebook page in which he compared government scientists to a "resistance" against Trump, and warned that shooting would break out if Trump won the election and Joe Biden didn't concede, the Associated Press reported.

HHS said in a statement that Caputo -- who was appointed the department's top spokesman in April despite having no experience in health care -- has decided to take 60 days "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family."

HHS also said that Paul Alexander -- brought in by Caputo as a policy advisor -- is leaving the department, the AP reported.

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The news stories provided in Health News and our Health-E News Newsletter are a service of the nationally syndicated HealthDay® news and information company. Stories refer to national trends and breaking health news, and are not necessarily indicative of or always supported by our facility and providers. This information is provided for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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