Health Highlights: June 20, 2015
Hawaii Raises Legal Smoking Age to 21 Ebola Drug Trial Halted South Korea MERS Outbreak Easing: Official World's Oldest Person, 116, Dies in Michigan Hundreds Arrested Nationwide for Medicare/Medicaid Fraud
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Hawaii Raises Legal Smoking Age to 21
Hawaii has become the first state to raise the legal smoking age to 21.
The bill, which was signed into law by Gov. David Ige on Friday, is designed to keep youths and teens from buying or smoking both cigarettes and e-cigarettes, the Associated Press reported.
Eighty-six percent of adult smokers in Hawaii start the unhealthy habit before they reach the age of 21, according to the governor's office.
"Raising the minimum age as part of our comprehensive tobacco control efforts will help reduce tobacco use among our youth and increase the likelihood that our keiki [children] will grow up tobacco-free," Gov. David Ige said.
"I think it's going to have a tremendous impact," said Jessica Yamauchi, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free Hawaii. "By really limiting the access it will really help to curb the prevalence."
The bill has its critics, according to the AP.
"I can't stand cigarette smoking. It's disgusting," said Democratic Rep. Angus McKelvey, who voted against the bill. "But to tell somebody you can go and fight for your country and get killed but you can't have a cigarette, that's the thing. You can enter a contract. You're an emancipated adult in the eyes of the Constitution but you can't have a cigarette anymore."
Once the law goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, , a first offense caries a $10 fine and successive violations can bring a $50 fine or mandatory community service, the AP reported. A second bill was signed Friday that makes Hawaii's state parks and beaches smoke-free.
Several city and county governments in the United States, including New York City, have raised the legal smoking age to 21, the AP reported.
Ebola Drug Trial Halted
A clinical trial of an experimental Ebola drug was halted after researchers determined the drug wasn't helping infected patients.
The clinical trial of Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corp.'s drug was being conducted in Sierra Leone. The company did not reveal how many patients had been enrolled, how many it had planned to enroll, or how patients did on the drug, Wall Street Journal reported.
"The drug has not demonstrated an overall therapeutic benefit. But we need time to look at all the data to interpret that in the context of the patient mix and other variables," study leader Peter Horby, a professor with the University of Oxford, said in an emailed message.
He added that a full analysis must be completed before final conclusions about the efficacy and tolerability of the drug -- called TKM-Ebola-Guinea -- can be made, WSJ reported.
South Korea MERS Outbreak Easing: Official
The Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak in South Korea seems to be easing, according to a government official.
In an update Friday, Kwon Deok-cheol said there had been just one new case of MERS, as well as the 24th death from the disease, The New York Times reported.
"As things stand now, we believe that the outbreak is easing," Kwon, a top coordinator of policy for the government's response to the outbreak, said. "But we need to watch those hospitals under our scrutiny to see if there will be further transmissions."
The MERS outbreak in South Korea is the largest outside Saudi Arabia. Since May 20, there have been 166 confirmed cases of MERS in South Korea, with the number of new cases a day peaking at 23 on June 7. Since then, the number of new cases has generally declined, The Times reported.
World's Oldest Person, 116, Dies in Michigan
A Michigan woman who was the world's oldest person died Wednesday.
Jeralean Talley, who turned 116 last month, died at her home in Inkster, a suburb of Detroit. Her death was confirmed by her daugher, Thelma Holloway, NBC News reported.
Talley -- born in Montrose, Ga. in 1899, was recently hospitalized and treated for fluid in her lungs, but had returned home, "just where she wanted to be," Holloway said.
Susannah Jones, of Brooklyn, N.Y., turns 116 in July and the Gerontology Research Group believes she is now the world's oldest person, NBC News reported.
Hundreds Arrested Nationwide for Medicare/Medicaid Fraud
Hundreds of people have been charged after health care fraud sweeps were made across the United States, the federal government said Thursday.
The 243 doctors, nurses, pharmacy owners and others who were arrested are accused of defrauding Medicare and Medicaid of about $712 million, the Associated Press reported.
The crackdown ranged from Dallas to Brooklyn, N.Y. and from Miami to Los Angeles, with the arrests made earlier this week.
Prescription fraud was a main focus of the investigation. More than 40 of those arrested were alleged to be involved in scams focused on Medicare's drug benefit, the AP reported.
Some of the accused also billed for care that wasn't needed, services that weren't rendered, and equipment that wasn't provided.
The sweeps included the Health and Human Services inspector general's office, the FBI, U.S. attorneys' offices across the country, and state Medicaid fraud units, the AP reported.