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Health Highlights: Feb. 4, 2019

Last Updated: February 04, 2019.

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

Sen. Bernie Sanders Questions Huge Drug Price Hike

The previously low-cost drug Firdapse now costs $375,000 a year, and Sen. Bernie Sanders has demanded that drug maker Catalyst Pharmaceuticals explain the huge price increase.

"Catalyst's decision to set the annual list price at $375,000 is not only a blatant fleecing of American taxpayers, but is also an immoral exploitation of patients who need this medication," Sanders wrote in a letter to company president and CEO Patrick McEnany, CNN reported.

"Simply put, it is corporate greed," wrote the independent senator from Vermont.

Firdapse is used to treat a rare neuromuscular disease called Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome, which affects about 1 in 100,000 people in the United States. The disease weakens and fatigues muscles, CNN reported.

"I am profoundly concerned that Catalyst's actions will cause patients to suffer or die," Sanders wrote in the letter asking the company to explain the factors that led to dramatic price increase. He asked for a reply by Feb. 18.

Sanders also noted that the company has said many Firdapse patients will pay about $10 out of pocket each month, and asked for more detail about that claim, CNN reported.

Catalyst said it had no immediate response when contacted by CNN.


Experts Ask WHO to Declare Ebola Outbreak in Congo an International Health Emergency

The World Health Organization should hold a meeting to consider declaring the Ebola outbreak in Congo an international public health emergency, experts say.

Writing in The Lancet medical journal, the international group of public health experts said such a declaration would help galvanize "high-level political, financial, and technical support to address the Ebola outbreak that started last May," the Associated Press reported.

The outbreak is the second largest recorded worldwide.

"The epidemic is not under control, and has a high risk of spread to the region, perhaps globally," said lead author Lawrence Gostin, faculty director of Georgetown University's O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, the AP reported.

"Taking bold measures to prevent the spread of the disease in this country where violence is prevalent, and a famine is predicted, is critical to preventing a humanitarian disaster," Gostin said.

On Monday, the WHO said it and its partners in Congo and neighboring countries continue to closely monitor the outbreak for signs that an expert committee meeting would be required, the AP reported.


Washington State Measles Cases Now at 48 Since Jan. 1

There have been 48 confirmed cases of measles in Washington state since the start of the year as health officials struggle to stop the spread of the infectious disease.

Since Jan. 1, there have been 47 confirmed cases in Clark County and at least one confirmed case in King County, home of Seattle, CNN reported.

Thirty-four of the cases involved children ages 1 to 10, and 41 patients were not vaccinated against measles, according to Clark County officials.

Measles have also been reported in eight other states this year: Hawaii, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Colorado, California and Georgia, CNN reported.

In New York, the measles outbreak is within observant Jewish communities and linked with from travel to Israel.

There have been at least 209 measles cases since October: 64 cases in Brooklyn and 145 cases in Orange and Rockland counties, according to the New York State Department of Health.

Public health officials have talked with parents, pediatricians and rabbinical leaders in the United States and Israel to encourage measles vaccination, CNN reported.


Recall Expanded for Warfarin Test Strips

Certain lots of Roche Diagnostics test strips should not be used with CoaguChek test meter devices to check levels of the blood thinner warfarin because patients may get inaccurate results and be at risk for serious injury or death.

The updated guidance was issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Last November, Roche recalled more than 1.1 million packages of CoaguChek XS PT Test Strips that were distributed across the United States from Jan. 12, 2018 to Oct. 29, 2018.

Last month, medical product distributor Terrific Care/Medex Supply LLC issued a voluntary recall of certain Roche Diagnostics test strip lots used with CoaguChek, the FDA said.

The CoaguChek XS PT Test Strips announced in the latest recall were made by Roche, but distributed by Terrific Care/Medex Supply, and were not included in the recent Roche recall because these strips were not labeled or authorized for sale in the United States.

They were only distributed by Roche Diagnostics outside the country. Terrific Care/Medex Supply bought the Roche test strips from an unknown source and imported and sold them in the United States, the FDA explained.

Monitoring warfarin dosing is a critical part of using the drug properly to prevent and treat blood clots. Using faulty strips can lead to errors in medication dosage that could cause serious harm or death in some patients.

"That's why it's so concerning that this distributor continued to sell these test strips in the U.S., even though domestic sales had been stopped due to safety concerns. To reduce risks to patients, we're warning health care providers and the public about the dangers associated with this product," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said in an agency news release.


Nutrition Diet, Science Diet Canned Dog Food Recalled

A number of Nutrition Diet and Science Diet canned dog food products are being recalled by Hill's Pet Nutrition because they may contain elevated levels of vitamin D.

Consuming high amounts of vitamin D can cause health issues in dogs and trigger symptoms such as vomiting, loss of appetite, increased thirst, increased urination, excessive drooling, and weight loss.

Consumption of very high levels of vitamin D, can lead to serious health issues in dogs including kidney dysfunction.

Owners whose dogs have consumed any of the recalled products listed and have any of the listed symptoms should contact their veterinarian, the company said.

For more information, consumers can call contact Hill's at 1-800-445-5777 or go to the company's website.


Internet Craze Highlighted in Super Bowl Ad

An internet craze known as ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) was highlighted in a Super Bowl commercial that's already attracted more than 10 million views.

The ad featured calming images of actress Zoe Kravitz whispering into a pair of microphones and softly tapping on a bottle, the AP reported.

Some people spend hours watching ASMR videos of activities such as slow and quiet talking, hair brushing, pages being turned in a book or paper crinkling because they claim it makes their brains tingle in a relaxing way, and some use it to help them get to sleep.

While scientists are studying ASMR, there is no proof that it is an effective treatment for depression, anxiety, insomnia or any of the other problems proponents claim it solves, the AP reported.

Only about a dozen studies on ASMR have been published, which is a small number in the field of medical science, the AP reported.

In one study, researchers at the University of Winnipeg in Canada conducted brain scans of 11 people who experience ASMR and 11 people who don't, and discovered unexpected "teams" of neurons firing together in the brains of those who feel ASMR.

This suggests ASMR may be similar to synesthesia, a condition where people describe seeing music or numbers as specific colors, the AP reported.

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