Health Highlights: June 12, 2014

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

First Chikungunya Case Confirmed in U.S. Virgin Islands

The first locally transmitted case of a mosquito-borne virus called chikungunya has been confirmed in the U.S. Virgin Islands, health officials said Wednesday.

They did not provide any information about the patient, and said a second patient with the virus was infected elsewhere, the Associated Press reported.

Local authorities are working closely with U.S. government officials to "raise awareness and prevent the spread of the virus," said Darice Plaskett, health commissioner for the three-island territory.

Chikungunya has been spreading rapidly in the Caribbean. The virus causes symptoms such as headache, fever, and joint pain, but is rarely fatal. There is no vaccine for the virus, the AP reported.

Some U.S. states are investigating cases of chikungunya among people who recently traveled to the Caribbean.

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Barbra Streisand Calls for More Funding, Research to Fight Heart Disease in Women

More funding and research is needed to combat heart disease in women, Barbra Streisand told members of Congress on Wednesday.

She noted that heart disease is the leading killer of American women but most heart disease research focuses on men, the Associated Press reported.

"A woman's heart is different from a man's, yet women's hearts are under-researched, go untreated and are misdiagnosed," Streisand said in a statement. "Together, we can change that."

"The time is now. We cannot let another year pass when another 400,000 of our fellow women die because these disparities aren't addressed," she said.

She and two cardiologists had a closed meeting with the House Bipartisan Women's Caucus and also met with the Senate women's caucus and other lawmakers, the AP reported.

Streisand is the founder of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.

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Graphic Cigarette Packs Help Cut Smoking in Australia

Plain packaging, grim warnings and disturbing images of sick or dying smokers on cigarette packs appear to be reducing smoking in Australia.

The new rules took effect 15 months ago and are the most restrictive in the world, The New York Times reported.

Household consumption of tobacco fell 4.9 percent during the year that ended in March, according to the country' Bureau of Statistics. Cigarette and tobacco consumption decreased 7.6 percent in the first quarter, according to a research note by Commonwealth Bank economists.

"We are seeing a very encouraging trend," Mike Daube, professor of health policy at Curtin University in Perth, Western Australia, told The Times. "The numbers are heading in the right direction."

However, British American Tobacco Australia claimed that tobacco sales are up, and that the decline in the rate of new smokers had slowed. The company refused to release the sales data.

A number of other countries are considering similar cigarette pack warnings and packaging.

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Congress Moves to Help Veterans Get Care, FBI Launches Investigation of VA

The U.S. Senate voted 93-3 on Wednesday to approve a measure that would enable veterans facing long waits for initial visits at VA medical centers to get VA-paid care from local doctors instead.

The bill is similar to a bill approved unanimously Tuesday in the House, and lawmakers from both parties believe that a compromise version could soon be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, the Associated Press reported.

One senator said Congress is moving at "lightning speed" to correct long wait times faced by veterans seeking VA care.

"Maybe we can show the United States of America that people can come together on a very, very important issue and do it in rapid fashion," said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the AP reported.

"We have a bipartisan veterans bill negotiated the way we used to do business in the Senate, with members of both parties, ready to go," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said.

In related news, the AP reported that the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into allegations that the VA falsified records and followed inappropriate scheduling practices. The agency will review materials provided by VA acting Inspector General Richard Griffin.

In his report, Griffin confirmed claims of long waiting times at VA health facilities and inappropriate scheduling practices. The inspector general launched an investigation after allegations that 40 veterans died while waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA hospital, and that staff there kept a secret waiting list to conceal delays, the AP reported.

The inspector general's report said that 1,700 veterans at the Phoenix center were at risk of being "forgotten or lost." An internal VA audit released this week revealed that more than 57,000 new applicants for VA care had to wait at least three months for initial appointments, and another 64,000 newly enrolled veterans who sought appointments never got them.

The scandal has rocked the VA, which serves nearly 9 million veterans, and led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. The Senate bill would make it easier to fire top VA officials, but would provide more protection for VA employees than the House bill.

At its annual meeting, the American Medical Association urged Obama to take immediate action to allow veterans to get care outside the VA system. It also said that state medical societies should create and provide registries of non-VA doctors willing to treat veterans, the AP reported.

Posted: June 2014


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