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Health Highlights: March 16, 2020

Iran May Have Far More Coronavirus Cases Than Reported: Researchers Cyber Attack on U.S. Health and Human Services Department U.S. Distilleries Making Hand Sanitizer N.Y. and Colorado Ask Former Health Care Workers to Return to Workforce Visitors Banned from U.S. Federal, State Prisons

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

Iran May Have Far More Coronavirus Cases Than Reported: Researchers

There may be many more cases of coronavirus in Iran than the few dozen that have been publicly reported, researchers say.

Between February 19-23, 2020, Iran reported its first 43 cases with eight deaths, and three cases originating from Iran were identified in other countries -- Canada, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates.

However, University of Toronto researchers concluded that Iran would need to have about 18,300 cases of COVID-19 to export just three cases to those countries, which have low levels of travel from Iran.

The findings are cause for concern because a large epidemic in Iran could further fuel the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, according to the paper in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

The lack of identified coronavirus cases in countries with far closer travel ties to Iran -- such as Iraq, Syria, and Azerbaijan -- suggests that cases in these countries are being missed, according to the authors. Public health initiatives in this region are urgently needed, they said.


Cyber Attack on U.S. Health and Human Services Department

A cyber attack on the U.S. Health and Human Services Department occurred Sunday night as the federal government struggles with the coronavirus pandemic, sources say.

Three people familiar with the attack who wanted to remain anonymous said it appeared to have been meant to slow down HHS systems, but didn't have a significant impact, CNN reported.

In a tweet just before midnight, the National Security Council said: "Text message rumors of a national #quarantine are FAKE. There is no national lockdown. @CDCgov has and will continue to post the latest guidance on #COVID19."

One of the people told CNN that the NSC tweet was linked to the hacking and the release of disinformation, and that the government realized Sunday that there had been a cyber attack and false information was circulating.

The source of the attack-- which involved overloading the HHS servers with millions of hits over several hours -- has not been confirmed, U.S. officials said.

It doesn't appear that any data was taken from the HHS systems, one of the people told CNN.


U.S. Distilleries Making Hand Sanitizer

Some U.S. distilleries have started using their alcohol to make free hand sanitizer for Americans.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to panic buying of hand sanitizers and high prices for the products in stores. While it's possible to make hand sanitizer at home, some ingredients have become difficult to find, CBS News reported.

That's led some distilleries to use their in-house alcohol to make hand sanitizer.

For example, Atlanta's Old Fourth Distillery is offering free hand sanitizer to anyone who stops by its facility, and said that more than 600 people visited with empty bottles to fill up on Friday, causing a temporary shortage of the sanitizer, CBS News reported.

North Carolina's Durham Distillery said it will use its alcohol to create a sanitation solution that will be donated to local businesses in need.


N.Y. and Colorado Ask Former Health Care Workers to Return to Workforce

Former health care workers in New York State and Colorado are being asked to return to the workforce to help health systems under pressure due to the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that having health care facilities well staffed is "just as important" as ensuring those facilities have enough equipment and tests. Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he's "particularly concerned" about how the coronavirus will affect health care workers "who are already being put to the test. CBS News said.

Former health care workers include anyone who's currently working in another occupation or is retired, but whose medical license is still active or can be reactivated, Polis said.

New York is asking former doctors and nurses to "reconnect" with their past employer to create a reserve workforce of health care professionals who are "on call" for coronavirus response, Cuomo said.


Visitors Banned from U.S. Federal, State Prisons

Visitors and volunteers have been banned from the United States' 122 federal prisons and many of the 1,700 state prisons in an attempt to prevent coronavirus outbreaks among inmates and staff.

The ban was announced Friday by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, matching actions taken by most states and some counties in their own prisons and jails, CNN reported.

Federal prisons have also generally banned lawyer visits for 30 days, a measure not taken by most state facilities. However, federal prisons will allow confidential legal calls and lawyers can request exceptions.

The coronavirus could spread rapidly inside prisons, as seen in 2019 mumps outbreaks in Texas and New Jersey jails, CNN reported.

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