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Health Highlights: Feb. 26, 2019

Last Updated: February 26, 2019.

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

U.S. House Committee Discusses Measles Outbreaks

U.S. lawmakers held a hearing Wednesday to discuss the rising number of measles cases across the nation. Those outbreaks are often occurring in locales with high numbers of parents who've decided not to vaccinate their children against measles or other common childhood infections.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing was to include discussions about response efforts to what has been called "a growing public health threat," CNN reported.

So far this year, there have been 159 cases of measles confirmed in 10 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Oregon, Texas and Washington, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Monday.

Measles was declared eliminated the U.S. in 2000 after a measles vaccination program. Elimination is defined as more than 12 months of no continuous disease transmissions, CNN reported.

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After Gene-Edited Babies, China Proposes New Rules

Draft regulations on gene editing and other controversial biomedical technologies were announced Tuesday by the Chinese government.

The move comes after outrage in the worldwide scientific community over a Chinese scientist's claim of helping create gene-edited babies, the Associated Press reported.

The proposed rules would classify technology involving gene editing, gene transfer and gene regulation as "high-risk" and be managed by the health department of the State Council, China's Cabinet.

Gene editing for reproductive purposes is effectively banned in the U.S. and most of Europe, the AP reported.

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Obama Era Air Pollution Standard Stands: EPA

An air quality standard for sulfur dioxide pollution from coal-powered power plants and other industrial sources will remain unchanged, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday.

The American Lung Association and other groups wanted the EPA to lower emissions from 75 parts per billion of sulfur dioxide in ambient air to 50 parts per billion, the Associated Press reported.

The current standard was established in 2010. The American Petroleum Institute wanted it relaxed.

The EPA's decision puts millions of people at increased risk of asthma attacks, warned Janice Nolen, vice president of the American Lung Association, the AP reported.

In its decision, the EPA said research shows that people with asthma can suffer problems after just five minutes of exposure to air with elevated sulfur dioxide levels, but the agency said the current standard provides "an adequate margin of safety" for the risk to health, the AP reported.

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Senators Grill Drug Company CEOs Appear on High Drug Prices

The CEOs of seven major drug companies faced questioning Tuesday from U.S. Senators about high prescription drug prices.

Some of the companies had asked for a private meeting to explain their pricing policies, but lawmakers insisted the CEOs appear in public or risk subpoenas, the Associated Press reported.

"You pharma executives are here because the way you do business is unacceptable and unsustainable. Ten companies accounted for half of all profits in the health care sector last fall. Nine of those ten were drug manufacturers," ranking Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon said in his prepared statement.

In statements submitted to the committee, the CEOs said drug development is a risky and expensive process and that prices reflect investment in research and development, the AP reported.

Tuesday's hearing is the first time lawmakers have called on top drug company executives to account for rising prices that cause difficulties for millions of Americans and are a drain on Medicare and Medicaid.

The public hearing suggests that Congress and the White House are moving toward legislation this year to control drug costs, according to the AP.

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Roundup Cancer Lawsuit Could Be 'Bellwether' Case

A "bellwether" trial to determine whether a California man's cancer was caused by Roundup weed killer is underway in San Francisco.

Attorneys for Edwin Hardeman, 70, say his case could help determine the fate of hundreds of similar lawsuits involving Monsanto's weed killer, the Associated Press reported.

The case in federal court began on Monday and will be decided by a jury.

In August, a San Francisco jury in awarded another man $289 million after deciding that Roundup caused his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. A judge later cut the award to $78 million, and Monsanto has appealed.

Hardeman's trial is before a different judge, U.S. Judge Vince Chhabria, who is overseeing hundreds of Roundup lawsuits and considers Hardeman's case and two others "bellwether trials," the AP reported.

"If we are able to succeed here then it really sends a signal to Monsanto and specifically to Bayer that they have a real problem," said Hardeman's attorney, Brent Wisner.

Thousands of other Roundup lawsuits are pending in state courts nationwide, the AP reported.


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