Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2017

Fewer NFL Player Concussions in 2016: League Mumps Outbreak in Washington State New Dialysis Financial Aid Rule Blocked by Judge Computer Software Able to Detect Skin Cancer Nations Must Alert for Bird Flu: WHO

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

Fewer NFL Player Concussions in 2016: League

The number of concussions in the National Football League this season are down from the previous year, the league says.

There were 244 diagnosed concussions in preseason and regular season games in 2016, compared with 275 in 2015. There were 167 concussions in regular season games in 2016, which is 16 fewer than in 2015, the Associated Press reported.

The NFL said it has implemented improved concussion detection and examination protocols.

Players' willingness to report injuries is a major factor in the reduced number of concussions, according to Dr. Robert Heyer, president of the NFL Physicians Society and team internist for the Carolina Panthers.

"I have been a team physician 22 years, and in the past three years I think we've seen a cultural change regarding concussions," Heyer told the AP.

"As result of ongoing education, players are more likely to speak up if they believe they might have a concussion. I know what we are doing is making a difference, but we must continue to do more," he said.

An unaffiliated neurological consultant working NFL games says there has been a change in his interactions with players on the sidelines.

"When we started the program, there was a significant amount of resistance from the players in terms of just being evaluated," Dr. Mitchel Berger told the AP.

"But now, I would say uniformly this past season, none of the players ever resisted. They are much, much more aware of the whole concussion situation and want to actively be engaged in the interview process on the sideline as well as in the locker room. They really are much more aware of and interested in their safety," Berger said.


Mumps Outbreak in Washington State

There have been 278 confirmed and probable cases of mumps in Washington state since October, officials said Wednesday.

Mumps is spread from person to person through saliva and mucus, and state health officials are urging people to take steps to halt the spread of the disease, CNN reported.

"The best protection against mumps is the MMR vaccine," according to state health department spokesman Dave Johnson.

Children get two doses of the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella, though it is not 100 percent effective, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

"We are telling folks if you're sick or you think you have mumps, stay home," Johnson said, CNN reported.


New Dialysis Financial Aid Rule Blocked by Judge

A federal judge has blocked implementation of a rule requiring companies that provide dialysis to disclose financial aid given to patients.

The last-minute Obama administration rule was opposed by dialysis providers because they feared that insurers would use the information to deny dialysis coverage to patients who received such aid, CNBC reported.

Under the rule, insurers would have been required to accept third-party financial aid for their customers.

In his restraining order against the rule, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant said the Health and Human Service Department's issuance of the rule had been "arbitrary and capricious," CNBC reported.

He also said there is a good chance that the opponents of the rule will get it scrapped because the HHS may not have given proper the public proper notice and an opportunity to comment on the proposed regulation.

The Justice Department, which is defending the rule, declined to comment, CNBC reported.


Computer Software Able to Detect Skin Cancer

Computer software that can detect skin cancer has been developed by scientists.

The research could lead to a day when a simple cell phone app helps patients self-diagnosis skin cancer, according to CNN.

The Stanford University team designed the computer to identify images of cancerous moles and lesions as accurately as a dermatologist. Their research appears in the journal Nature.

"Our objective is to bring the expertise of top-level dermatologists to places where the dermatologist is not available," said study senior author Sebastian Thrun, CNN reported.

Dermatologists typically identify possible skin cancer by appearance, and diagnosis is made through follow-up biopsies and tests. This computer system is able to accomplish the first part -- detecting skin cancer at a glance.

While the study is "encouraging," much more research is needed before a device that would enable people to self-diagnose skin cancer might become available, Thrun told CNN.


Nations Must Alert for Bird Flu: WHO

All countries should monitor for bird flu outbreaks in poultry flocks and immediately report any human cases, the World Health Organization says.

The warning is in response to a number of bird flu cases and deaths among people in China, The New York Times reported.

Several strains of bird flu are spreading in Asia and Europe, but the greatest concern is over an H7N9 strain that has circulated in China the past few winters.

Since September, there have been more than 225 human cases. In the last four years, China has had more than 1,000 human cases, with a 39 percent death rate, according to WHO Director General Dr. Margaret Chan, the Times reported.

"All countries must detect and report human cases promptly," she urged. "We cannot afford to miss the early signals."

Since November, nearly 40 nations have found potentially dangerous bird flu strains in wild birds or poultry flocks. That includes the H5N1 strain, which has a 60 percent death rate in people and has caused nearly 400 confirmed deaths since 2003, the Times reported.

Since the worldwide swine flu epidemic in 2009, "the world is better prepared for the next influenza pandemic, but not at all well enough," Chan said.

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