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Health Highlights: Feb. 24, 2020

Last Updated: February 24, 2020.

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

Coronavirus Not Yet a Pandemic: WHO

The novel coronavirus outbreak has the potential to become a pandemic but has not yet reached that point, the World Health Organization says.

"For the moment, we are not witnessing the uncontained global spread of this virus and we are not witnessing large-scale severe disease or deaths," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press briefing Monday, CNN reported.

"Does this virus have pandemic potential? Absolutely it has. Are we there yet from our assessment? Not yet," he said.

"So how should we describe the current situation? What we see are epidemics in different parts of the world, affecting countries in different ways and requiring a tailored response," Ghebreyesus explained.

As of Monday, more than 79,000 people worldwide have been infected and more than 2,600 people have died in the outbreak, according to WHO, CNN reported.

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Purdue Launches Ad Campaign for OxyContin Claims

An ad campaign to inform people harmed by the prescription opioid OxyContin as to where they can file claims against maker Purdue Pharma was launched Monday by the company, as part of bankruptcy proceedings.

Notifying those who may have claims against a company is standard in bankruptcies, and Purdue is seeking to resolve close to 3,000 lawsuits over its role in the U.S. opioid crisis, the Associated Press reported.

The $23.8 million ad campaign from the Stamford, Connecticut-based company was developed with input from a committee of creditors and other interested parties, and approved by a bankruptcy judge.

Purdue has proposed a settlement that could eventually be worth more than $10 billion, including the value of drugs it's making and a contribution of at least $3 billion in cash from the Sackler family, which owns the company, the AP reported.

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Ryan Newman Suffered Head Injury in Daytona 500 Crash

Race car driver Ryan Newman says he suffered a head injury when he crashed on the last lap of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 16.

"I was fortunate to avoid any internal organ damage or broken bones. I did sustain a head injury for which I'm currently being treated," Newman wrote in a statement read before a race Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the Associated Press reported.

"The doctors have been pleased with my progression over the last few days," according to the statement.

It provided no more details about Newman's head injury, and there is no timetable for the 42-year-old's return to racing, the AP reported.

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New Cholesterol Drug Approved by FDA

A new type of cholesterol-lowering drug that works differently than statins has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Esperion Therapeutics Inc.'s Nexletol will provide an alternative for people who can't tolerate or don't fully respond to statins such as Lipitor and Crestor, the Associated Press reported.

Nexletol is a daily pill approved for people with a genetic predisposition for high cholesterol and for heart disease patients who need to further reduce their bad cholesterol. The drug is to be taken at the highest dose patients can tolerate and used in conjunction with a healthy diet, according to the FDA.

"This is a nice alternative" to statins, but statins will still be the first choice, Dr. Christie Ballantyne, Baylor College of Medicine's cardiology chief, told the AP. He consults for Esperion and helped test Nexletol.

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Author to Fight Journal's Retraction of Study Linking Vaping With Heart Attack Risk

A journal's retraction of a study linking electronic cigarettes with an increased risk of heart attack is being challenged by the author.

The U.S. government-funded study in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded that vaping doubles the risk of heart attack, but it was retracted by the journal last week.

Questions about the study were raised after another researcher concluded that the majority of heart attacks occurred before people started to vape, USA Today reported.

Study author Stanton Glantz, a University of California, San Francisco, medical school professor, said he and co-author, Dharma Bhatta, told the journal that they dealt with that concern by limiting their data to heart attacks that occurred after 2007, when vaping began in the United States.

The journal asked them to verify their findings but the researchers said they were no longer able to access the data, USA Today reported.

"Given these issues, the editors are concerned that the study conclusion is unreliable," the journal said when it retracted the study.

In a blog post, Glantz accused the journal of caving "to pressure from e-cig interests" and not adhering to usual protocol when journal articles are questioned. He said he stands by the study and threatened to sue the journal, USA Today reported.

New York University professor David Abrams was among a group of 16 academics, scientists and public health experts who called for study' retraction, and is now drafting letters to the U.S. National Institute's of Health's Office of Research Integrity and UCSF's president asking them to investigate other Glantz research.

Glantz said that Abrams has links to the Phillip Morris Foundation for a Smokefree America and that some of the other academics who called for the study's retraction have connections with the industry.

Abrams told USA Today that he offered free advice to the nonprofit foundation on reviewing grants on getting people to quit smoking, and that he and the other 15 experts who called for the study's retraction are senior scientists who don't receive any industry funding.

The National Institute of Health's Office of Extramural Research said in a statement that it "does not confirm or discuss any reviews, whether they are being considered, planned, ongoing, or completed, regarding specific individual investigators supported by NIH."


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