Health Highlights: April 4, 2016
Philippines Launches World's First Public Dengue Vaccination Program Blue Ribbon Panel Appointed to Help U.S. Anti-Cancer Initiative DEET Safe for Pregnant Women: Experts Medicare Being Overcharged for Hospice Care: Report
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Philippines Launches World's First Public Dengue Vaccination Program
The first public dengue vaccination program in the world began Monday in the Philippines.
Nurses started injecting the first group of a million children with a vaccine against the sometimes deadly mosquito-borne disease, Agence France-Presse reported.
"We are the first country to introduce, adopt and implement the first-ever dengue vaccine through the public health system and under public school settings," according to Philippine Health Secretary Janette Garin.
The vaccine from Sanofi -- approved by the Philippines in December -- is the first to be licensed worldwide to protect people ages 9-45 from dengue, AFP reported.
Blue Ribbon Panel Appointed to Help U.S. Anti-Cancer Initiative
A blue ribbon panel has been created to help guide U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's initiative to make significant advances in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced Monday.
The panel -- a working group of the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB)-- includes scientific experts, patients advocates and cancer leaders who will provide scientific guidance for Biden's National Cancer Moonshot Initiative.
In coming months, the panel will consider how to make progress on initiative themes such as the development of cancer vaccines, highly sensitive methods for early cancer detection, advances in immunotherapy and combination therapies, cancer cell genetic research, improved data sharing, and new ways to treat childhood cancers.
A forum will be available for members of the public and others to post comments relevant to the panel's work. The panel's findings will be given to the NCAB, which in turn will make recommendations to the NCI.
DEET Safe for Pregnant Women: Experts
With the growing threat of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States, health officials are urging the use of insect repellants with DEET, even by pregnant women.
There is increasing evidence of a strong link between the Zika virus and birth defects, but many women wonder about the safety of using insect repellants with DEET when they're pregnant, The New York Times reported.
While there are few published studies about the effects of DEET in pregnant women and their children, most experts say it is safe to use the chemical during pregnancy, as long as women avoid using too much.
"DEET is safe, including for pregnant women at any stage," according to a statement from Jack Housenger, director, Office of Pesticides Programs, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The Times reported.
About 104 million Americans use DEET every year and reports of harmful side effects are "relatively small by comparison," according to an EPA safety review.
Only tiny amounts of DEET get into a pregnant woman's bloodstream, which suggests that their fetuses are exposed to very little of the chemical, The Times reported.
Despite the fact there is not "a lot of" research, "it makes sense to use DEET to protect yourself from something we know is truly unsafe, like Zika," Dr. Laura Riley, a high-risk pregnancy and infectious disease specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Times.
Pregnant women can use a repellent with a lower concentration of DEET to limit how much gets in their blood, Dr. Sarah G. Obican, a maternal fetal specialist and part of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists, suggested.
"Using a 6 percent DEET product will last you two hours, and 20 percent one will last close to four hours," she told The Times. "Why not use the lower concentration and apply more often?"
Medicare Being Overcharged for Hospice Care: Report
Higher-than-necessary hospice care for dying patients costs Medicare more than $260 million a year, according to federal investigators.
They found that Medicare paid hospices nearly four times as much as it should have for patients who received inpatient care when all they required was less-costly routine care in their homes, The New York Times reported.
Currently, Medicare pays hospices an all-inclusive rate of $720 a day for inpatient care and a maximum of $187 a day for routine home care.
"Many hospices have been billing far more than they should have," according to investigation leader Nancy Harrison, a deputy regional inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services.
In response to the findings, top Medicare officials Andrew Slavitt said supervision of hospices is being increased due to his concerns about "care being billed for but not provided, long lengths of stay and beneficiaries receiving unnecessary care," The Times reported.
"There are no real objective standards to determine when people need inpatient care. Some hospices tend to use it much more than others," William Dombi, a vice president of the National Association for Home Care and Hospice, a trade group, said in response to the federal government report.
Hospice care was used by 48 percent of Medicare beneficiaries who died in 2014, compared with 23 percent in 2000, according to the Medicare payment commission, The Times reported.