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Health Highlights: May 1, 2015

Medicare Data Breaks Down Spending on Generics, Brand Name Drugs German Measles Eliminated From the Americas: WHO

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

Medicare Data Breaks Down Spending on Generics, Brand Name Drugs

While generic medications are prescribed most often for Medicare patients, the most money is spent on brand name drugs, U.S. government data released Thursday shows.

Experts think the findings could point to ways to save money under the Medicare Part D prescription drug program, according to the Associated Press.

In 2013, $103 billion worth of medications were prescribed by more than 1 million health care providers to Medicare patients. A total of 3,000 different drugs were prescribed that year, the AP reported.

The heartburn drug Nexium, made by AstraZeneca, accounted for $2.5 billion of that total. Not far behind was GlaxoSmithKline's asthma drug Advair Disckus, which accounted for $2.3 billion in prescriptions in 2013. And AstraZeneca's cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor accounted for $2.2 billion of all prescriptions that same year, the wire service reported.

Meanwhile, the 10 most-prescribed drugs were less-expensive generics, with far more patients taking them. Six of the 10 drugs treat heart disease risks such as blood pressure and cholesterol, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. They include the blood pressure medication lisinopril and the cholesterol-lowering drug simvastatin.

Medicare is the government-run insurance program that provides coverage to older Americans.


German Measles Eliminated From the Americas: WHO

German measles, which was declared eliminated from the United States in 2004, has now been eliminated from all of North and South America, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO officials said it has been more than five years since a case of German measles originated in the Americas. Now, the only cases are brought in from other parts of the world, the Associated Press reported.

German measles -- or rubella -- is an infection caused by a virus that produces a red rash. Symptoms are usually mild, with fever, aching joints, swollen glands -- and a rash.

But German measles can pose serious risks to pregnant women because it can cause miscarriage or birth defects, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

German measles isn't the same as measles (rubeola), which triggered a widespread outbreak earlier this year with 166 people infected from 19 states and the District of Columbia, according to U.S. health officials.

While German measles and measles share some characteristics, including the red rash, German measles is caused by a different virus than measles, and it's not as infectious or severe as measles, according to the Mayo Clinic.

German measles is the third infectious disease to be eliminated from North and South America. The other two are smallpox and polio, the AP reported.

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