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Health Highlights: Jan. 16, 2015

Supreme Court Agrees to Rule on Gay Marriage Bans 2014 Warmest Year on Record Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Stepping Down New Cases of Ebola Declining: WHO More Measles Cases Linked to Disney Park Outbreak

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

Supreme Court Agrees to Rule on Gay Marriage Bans

In a decision that will determine whether states can ban same-sex marriage under the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court announced Friday that it will answer that question before its term ends in June.

The case the Supreme Court will hear, which involves gay marriage bans in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, will be argued in April, according to NBC News. The Court will rule on whether those states can refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples or refuse to recognize such marriage licenses from other states.

"It's impossible to overstate the historic significance of a decision on such a fundamental piece of our social fabric," Tom Goldstein, a Washington lawyer who argues frequently before the Supreme Court, told NBC News.

A slew of lower court rulings have struck down gay marriage bans in nearly 60 separate decisions in more than half the states over the past 18 months, NBC News reported.

Thirty-six states now allow gay marriage, accounting for about 70 percent of the U.S. population. In five other states, court decisions that struck down gay marriage bans are on hold, NBC News reported.


2014 Warmest Year on Record

Scientists say 2014 was the hottest year worldwide ever recorded.

Alaska and much of the western United States experienced extreme heat last year, several European countries set temperature records, and ocean surfaces were unusually warm except around Antarctica, The New York Times reported.

Last year was the warmest globally since the start of temperature data collection in 1880. The 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997.

The newly-released findings dispel claims by climate change deniers that global warming has somehow stopped, The Times reported.


Medicare and Medicaid Administrator Stepping Down

The administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid announced Friday that she is leaving the post.

"February will be my last month serving as the administrator for C.M.S.," Marilyn Tavenner said in an email to agency employees, The New York Times reported.

Prior to the announcement, there had been no public indications she would be stepping down.

Tavenner joined the Obama administration in February 2010, a few weeks before the president signed the Affordable Care Act. She was at the center of the problem-plagued launch of the federal insurance marketplace in October 2013, The Times reported.


New Cases of Ebola Declining: WHO

Numbers of new cases of Ebola are declining in the three hardest hit West African nations, according to a World Health Organization report released Wednesday.

However, there are still many hotspots of the disease, a U.N. official said.

As of the week ending Jan. 11, Liberia had it lowest weekly total of new cases since the first week of June, Guinea had its lowest total since mid-August, and Sierra Leone had it lowest total since the end of August, the Associated Press reported.

As of Sunday, there had been 3,538 Ebola deaths in Liberia, 3,062 deaths in Sierra Leone and 1,814 deaths in Guinea, according to the WHO. In total, there have been 21,000 cases and 8,300 deaths.

The decline in new cases "is very good news," and this Ebola outbreak will be stopped, but "there are still numbers of new cases that are alarming, and there are hotspots that are emerging in new places that make me believe there is still quite a lot of the disease that we're not seeing," U.N. Ebola chief Dr. David Nabarro told the AP.

There are "at least 50 micro-outbreaks" of Ebola that still remain in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, according to Nabarro.


More Measles Cases Linked to Disney Park Outbreak

Six more measles cases have been connected to an outbreak at Disney theme parks in California, state health officials said Thursday.

The cases, which were reported in Los Angeles County and San Diego County, bring the total number of illnesses reported as linked to the outbreak to 32. And health officials told the Associated Press that they are awaiting test results on five more possible cases seen at a clinic in a suburb east of San Diego.

In those five cases, people showed up at the Sharp Rees-Stealy Urgent Care Center with fevers and rashes, at which point the clinic closed for six hours, the AP reported. All were released a few hours later, and the clinic reopened after allowing fresh air to circulate because measles is a highly contagious, airborne disease.

Measles symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and a rash that usually first appears on the face and spreads over the body, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the patients involved in the measles outbreak had visited Disneyland or Disney California Adventure between Dec. 15 and Dec. 20, the AP reported, but some may have contracted the illness from others who had visited the parks.

Health experts say vaccination is the best protection against measles. Although it was declared eliminated in the United States back in 2000, foreign visitors or unvaccinated Americans can still bring measles into the country, the wire service reported.

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