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Health Highlights: Nov. 14, 2018

Last Updated: November 14, 2018.

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

Record Number of Tick-Borne Disease Cases in U.S. Last Year: CDC

The number of Americans with tick-borne diseases reached a record high of nearly 60,000 in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Most of those cases (42,743) were Lyme disease. There were 36,000 cases of Lyme disease in 2016, NBC News reported.

Other tick-borne disease cases in 2017 included: Ehrlichiosis (7,700); Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (6,200); babesiosis (2,300); tularemia (239) and Powassan virus (33), according to the CDC.

The 60,000 reported cases of tick-borne diseases last year is likely much lower than the actual number.

"The true number of cases is probably 10 times that," Dr. John Aucott, director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Research Center and chair of the federal Tick-Borne Disease Working Group, told NBC News.

A report issued Wednesday by the working group says that state and federal agencies need to increase funding to track, prevent and treat tick-borne diseases.

"There are more cases. Every year, the geographic distribution expands," Aucott told NBC News.

The working group was created in 2016 and this is its first report.

"There are so many questions out there that haven't been answered," Aucott said. "We heard comments from hundreds and hundreds of patients. It is obvious that this is a real problem, that people are really suffering."

The reasons for the rise in tick-borne diseases is unclear, according to the CDC.

"A number of factors can affect tick numbers each year, including temperature, rainfall, humidity, and host populations such as mice and other animals," the CDC said in its report on the number of new cases, NBC News reported.


Primary Care Doctors Should Screen Adult Patients for Unhealthy Drinking: Task Force

Primary care doctors should screen all adult patients for unhealthy drinking habits, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force says in new statement.

It also said doctors should provide brief counseling for those who drink more than the recommended limits, CNN reported.

The statement was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Among men aged 21 to 64, unhealthy alcohol use is defined as more than four drinks in a single day and 14 drinks in a week, according to the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

That definition for women and older men is more than three drinks in one day and more than seven drinks in a week. There is no safe level of alcohol use for pregnant women, because drinking during pregnancy increases the risk of birth defects and developmental problems in children, CNN reported.

Unhealthy alcohol use is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the task force.


AMA to Collect Data on Suicide Among Doctors-in-Training

By collecting data on suicides by medical students, residents and fellows, the American Medical Association (AMA) hopes to identify ways to reduce suicides among doctors-in-training.

The data collection policy was approved at a meeting Tuesday.

"Studies have shown that physicians face a higher rate of suicide than any profession in the United States. While we have been working hard to reduce burnout and increase access to mental health services for physicians and medical students, it is imperative that we also work toward fully understanding the problem," AMA Board Member Dr. Ryan Ribeira said in an association news release.

"We believe that collecting data on the incidence of suicide among physicians-in-training will help us identify the systemic factors that contribute to this problem, and ultimately save lives," Ribeira added.

As part of its efforts to reduce suicides among doctors, the AMA offers online modules meant to prevent burnout, increase resilience and boost wellness.


FDA Bans Six Artificial Flavors

Six artificial flavors that have been linked to cancer in animals must be eliminated from food products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

They have names like methyl eugenol, benzophenone, ethyl acrylate and pyridine and simulate cinnamon or spices, fruity or minty flavors, and even balsamic vinegar, according to the Associated Press.

Food makers have two years to stop using the artificial flavors. It's not clear which food products currently contain them.

When asked by the AP for examples of products in which the six ingredients are used, the FDA and the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association did not respond.

The FDA believes the six ingredients are safe in the small amounts they're used, but ordered them out of the food supply due to a lawsuit brought by consumer advocacy groups. They cited a rule prohibiting additives shown to have caused cancer in animals, even if that occurred at far higher amounts than what people would consume, the AP reported.

Critics of the rule say it's too strict.

But animal studies provide the strongest evidence about cancer risk in humans, and it is better to err on the side of caution, Christopher Kemp, a professor of cancer biology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, told the AP.

The Natural Resources Defense Council was one of the groups that sued over the six artificial flavors. Along with the cancer risk in animals, it's not known what effect the six additives might have when used combination with other ingredients, according to the council's Erik Olson.

He also noted that the six ingredients are listed on food labels only as "artificial flavor," which means there's no way for consumers to know in what concentrations they're used in specific products.

"It's all secret. You can't pick up an ice cream or chewing gum or a baked good and have any idea what chemicals are in there," Olson told the AP.

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