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Health Highlights: Feb. 21, 2019

Last Updated: February 21, 2019.

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

Eight More U.S. Communities to be Assessed for PFAS Toxin Exposure

Eight additional communities near current or former U.S. military installations that will be included in assessments of human exposure to chemicals called per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were announced Thursday by federal officials.

The assessments, expected to begin this year and continue through 2020, will lay the groundwork for a future study examining the health effects of PFAS, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Some studies have suggested that PFAS pose a number of health risks, including: affecting the growth, learning, and behavior of infants and older children; lowering a woman's chance of getting pregnant; interfering with the body's natural hormones; increasing cholesterol levels; affecting the immune system; and increasing the risk of cancer.

The communities of Bucks and Montgomery County, Pa. and Westhampton, N.Y. were chosen for a pilot project of PFAS exposure assessment.

The additional communities selected for assessments are: Berkeley County, West Virginia, near Shepherd Field Air National Guard Base; El Paso County, Colorado, near Peterson Air Force Base; Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska, near Eielson Air Force Base; Hampden County, Mass., near Barnes Air National Guard Base; Lubbock County, Texas, near Reese Technology Center; Orange County, N.Y., near Stewart Air National Guard Base; New Castle County, Delaware, near New Castle Air National Guard Base; and Spokane County, Washington, near Fairchild Air Force Base.

Since the 1950s, PFAS have been used in industry and consumer products such as non-stick cookware; water-repellent clothing, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets; some cosmetics; some firefighting foams; and products that resist grease, water, and oil.

The main goal of the exposure assessments is to provide information to communities about levels of PFAS in their bodies. The results of these assessments will help communities better understand the extent of their environmental exposures to PFAS, officials said.

People in the selected communities will be randomly chosen to participate in the assessments. Blood and urine samples will be used to check participants' PFAS levels.

"The assessments will generate information about exposure to PFAS in affected communities and will extend beyond the communities identified, as the lessons learned can also be applied to communities facing similar PFAS drinking water exposures. This will serve as a foundation for future studies evaluating the impact of PFAS exposure on human health," Patrick Breysse, director, CDC's National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, said in an agency news release.

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Government to Shoulder Half of U.S. Health Care Costs by 2027: Report

Federal, state and local governments in the United States will be paying nearly half of the nation's health care costs in less than 10 years, according to a new Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) report.

It said the three levels of government will be paying 47 percent of the nation's health care costs in 2027, compared with 45 percent currently, the Associated Press reported.

That rise is being driven by increasing Medicare enrollment by aging baby boomers switching from private coverage, CMS said.

Medicare's trustees have said the program will be insolvent in seven years because the trust fund for inpatient care will no longer be able to fully cover projected medical bills, the AP reported.

The CMS also said that health care spending will grow to more than $5.9 trillion in 2027, accounting for more than 19 percent of the nation's economy.

It's predicted that health care spending will increase slightly more quickly than overall economic growth from 2018 to 2027, causing affordability issues for government, employers and households, the AP reported.

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U.S. Agencies Investigating Johnson & Johnson Over Asbestos in Baby Powder

Johnson & Johnson is being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over possible asbestos contamination of the company's baby powder and other talc-based products.

In a securities filing, the company said it was "cooperating with these government inquiries and will be producing documents in response" to subpoenas it had received, The New York Times reported.

In a separate statement, Johnson & Johnson said that "the inquiries are related to news reports" about numerous lawsuits by consumers who claim the company's talc products caused cancers.

Johnson & Johnson has been hit with about 13,000 lawsuits linking the company's body powders with ovarian cancer or mesothelioma, the Times reported.

In December, news reports said internal documents revealed decades of communications within Johnson & Johnson about the risk of asbestos in its talc products even as the company tried to keep the issue secret.

On Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson said "decades of independent tests by regulators and the world's leading labs prove Johnson & Johnson's baby powder is safe and asbestos-free, and does not cause cancer," the Times reported.

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FDA Head Says Feds May Intervene to Cut Vaccine Exemptions for Kids

The U.S. government may have to take steps to reduce vaccine exemptions for children if states don't do it, the head of the Food and Drug Administration suggested. His comments come as measles outbreaks rage in a number of states.

Those outbreaks could have been prevented if children had all been vaccinated. But nearly all states allow kids to attend school even if their "anti-vax" parents opt out of inoculation programs, CNN reported.

"Some states are engaging in such wide exemptions that they're creating the opportunity for outbreaks on a scale that is going to have national implications," FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said.

If "certain states continue down the path that they're on, I think they're going to force the hand of the federal health agencies," he told CNN.

At least 67 people have been sickened in a measles outbreak in Washington and three neighboring states. It began in Washington, where vaccine exemptions are especially popular. New York state is struggling with its largest measles outbreak in decades. It began in October and there have been more than 200 cases so far.

The federal government could "mandate certain rules about what is and isn't permissible when it comes to allowing people to have exemptions," Gottlieb told CNN.

He expressed hope that the current measles outbreak would make state officials realize that they need to tighten vaccine exemptions for children.


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