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Health Highlights: April 22, 2016

San Francisco Bans Smoking in Parks to Protect Animals Major Changes Needed to Protect Patient Safety at NIH Research Hospital: Experts Zika Has Baseball Players Concerned About Games in Puerto Rico

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

San Francisco Bans Smoking in Parks to Protect Animals

Citing a health threat to animals, smoking has been banned in 65 parks by the East Bay Regional Park District in the San Francisco area.

The move is meant to help keep the air clean and keep beaches, bays and wild lands free of cigarette butts that can harm animals and fish, the Associated Press reported.

While smoking will still be allowed in overnight camping areas, the district made it illegal to smoke medical marijuana anywhere in parks. That was previously allowed in some areas.

During an initial grace period, violators will be given verbal warnings, according to Parks spokeswoman Carolyn Jones, the AP reported.


Major Changes Needed to Protect Patient Safety at NIH Research Hospital: Experts

Significant changes are needed to protect patient safety at a U.S. government hospital where groundbreaking medical research is conducted, a panel of experts says.

They found that the emphasis on research at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center sometimes takes priority over the safety of seriously ill patients treated there, the Washington Post reported.

The center also has many "outdated or inadequate facilities" and there is a lack of expertise on rules that apply to the hospital and its research and drug-manufacturing units, according to the task force report released Thursday.

While clinical research is integral to the hospital's mission, "it suffers from shortcomings that potentially impact patient safety and research outcomes," concluded the task force appointed by National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, the Post reported.

There is no evidence that any patients were harmed, Collins said in a statement. But he added that he was appointing an outside board to advise about numerous aspects of the hospital's operations, including ways to promote patient safety.

The advisory board will be led by Laura Forese, chief operating officer of New York-Presbyterian, which includes six hospitals in the New York City area, the Post reported.

Two outside consuting firms will also be hired to review all hospital facilities that make "sterile or infused products" give to patients taking part in NIH research, Collins said.


Zika Has Baseball Players Concerned About Games in Puerto Rico

The Zika virus has players with the Miami Marlins and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball teams concerned about a two-game series next month in Puerto Rico.

It's expected the games will be played as scheduled May 30-31, but the teams, the player union and Major League Baseball are in ongoing discussions about the series, the Associated Press reported.

The health and safety concerns surrounding Zika are serious, union head Tony Clark said.

"We recognize the importance of the trip," Marlins pitcher Craig Breslow said, the AP reported. "But at the same time, our health and the health of our families is paramount."

Zika - which can cause a birth defect where infants are born with unusually small heads -- is most often spread by mosquitoes, but also can be spread through sexual intercourse. A man exposed to the virus should not have sex or should use condoms if his partner is pregnant, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises.

Breslow noted the CDC also recommends that couples trying to get pregnant should wait six months if the man was diagnosed with Zika or in an area with a Zika outbreak.

"There are guys who are uncomfortable engaging in the lifestyle changes being recommended by the CDC," he told the AP. "I'm not sure that's fair to ask of 20- to 30-year-old men who are potentially looking to start families or expand families."

The union is collecting as much information from experts, according to Clark.

"As is the case with any international event, there are steps that have to be taken procedurally as we work towards a solution," he wrote in an email to the AP.

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