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Health Highlights: April 28, 2016

Wide Variation in Health Care Costs Across the U.S.: Study Smokers Should Switch to E-Cigarettes: U.K. Medical Group Hawaii Reaches Milestone in Dengue Fever Outbreak

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

Wide Variation in Health Care Costs Across the U.S.: Study

Health care prices vary widely across the United States, a new study says.

Cost differences for the same procedures can be huge, according to the Health Care Cost Institute study of the prices paid by patients with private insurance, NBC News reported.

For example, the national average cost of a knee replacement is $33,098, but the cost is nearly $39,000 in Indiana and Minnesota, $40,000 in New Hampshire and Wisconsin, $43,000 in Oregon, but just $24,000 in New Jersey.

Even within a state, there can be large differences in price. The California average for a knee replacement is just under $40,000, but costs $57,000 in Sacramento, NBC News reported.

The national average price of a pregnant woman's ultrasound is $268, but the procedure costs $895 in Alaska and $201 in Arizona. The national average for removal of a cataract is $3,300, but costs $8,000 in Alaska and $2,300 in Florida.

The study was published in the journal Health Affairs.


Smokers Should Switch to E-Cigarettes: U.K. Medical Group

Smokers should switch to electronic cigarettes because it is the best way to help them quit smoking, according to a report released Thursday by the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K.

The paper summarizes available evidence on e-cigarettes and concludes that their benefits far outweigh potential risks, The New York Times reported.

"This is the first genuinely new way of helping people stop smoking that has come along in decades," John Britton, director of the U.K. Center for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies at the University of Nottingham, and head of the committee that wrote the report.

He said e-cigarettes, "have the potential to help half or more of all smokers get off cigarettes. That's a huge health benefit, bigger than just about any medical intervention," The Times reported.

In the United States, most public health officials and organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, emphasize the potential dangers of e-cigarettes. These concerns include the possibility that the devices could extend smoking habits, could be a gateway to regular cigarettes for children, or that their vapor could be found to have long-term health effects.

"These guys, in my view, are going off a cliff," Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California and opponent of e-cigarettes, told The Times. "They are taking England into a series of policies that five years from now they all will really regret. They are turning England into this giant experiment on behalf of the tobacco industry."

Other experts in the U.S. support the U.K. paper, saying the emphasis on reducing smokers' risk of harm could save lives.

"This is two countries taking pretty much diametrically opposed positions," Kenneth Warner, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, told The Times. "One is focused exclusively on the hypothetical risks, none of which have been established. The other is focusing on potential benefits."

"The British are saying, 'Let's see how we can help the main smokers today, who by the way are largely poor and less educated, and let's not focus so much on kids, who may or may not be sickened by this 40 years down the line,' " Warner noted.


Hawaii Reaches Milestone in Dengue Fever Outbreak

Hawaii has reached an important point in its efforts to control a dengue fever outbreak, according to state officials.

They said 30 days have passed since the last person known to be infected with the mosquito-borne disease was contagious, the Associated Press reported.

"As we celebrate this milestone today, I think it's critical that everyone understand this is not the end," Virginia Pressler, director of the state Department of Health, said in a news conference Wednesday.

"This is just the beginning of a new phase where we need to be prepared every day for a new mosquito-borne disease outbreak," she added, the AP reported.

Pressler noted that dengue fever and the Zika virus are spread by the same mosquitoes.

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