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Health Highlights: March 27, 2020

Last Updated: March 27, 2020.

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

Zuckerberg, Gates Donate $25 Million to Fight Coronavirus

A donation of $25 million for research into possible COVID-19 treatments will be made by the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others.

The Chan Zukerberg Initiative is the charitable group of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Dr. Priscilla Chan.

The groups will create what they're calling the "therapeutics accelerator to fight coronavirus," Chan said on CBS This Morning.

The collective's goal is "to fund a group to screen all the drugs that we know have potential effects against coronavirus," Chan said.

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Has Coronavirus

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has contracted the coronavirus and is experiencing mild symptoms.

He said he was tested on Thursday after he developed a temperature and persistent cough, The New York Times reported.

Johnson said he would isolate himself in the PM's official residence at 10 Downing Street, but would continue to lead the government.

He is the first leader of a major Western nation known to have contracted the coronavirus, The Times reported.

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U.S. Autism Diagnoses Rise, Racial Gap Closes

While the United States has had a slight increase in diagnosed autism cases, the gap between white and black children has closed due to increased screening, a new federal government study shows.

The rate of children with autism was 1 in 68 in 2010 and 2012, 1 in 59 in 2014, and 1 in 54 in 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, the Associated Press reported.

The findings are based on data from 8-year-olds. Most cases of autism are diagnosed by that age.

The CDC also said there is now no difference in rates of diagnosed autism among white and black children by age 8, but black children still get diagnosed at older ages than white children, the AP reported.

White children had long been diagnosed with autism far more often than black children, who were more likely to be diagnosed with other problems, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or just bad behavior, experts have said.

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Ethanol Producers Want FDA Permission to Make Alcohol for Hand Sanitizer

U.S. ethanol producers want the Food and Drug Administration to relax regulations that prevent them from making alcohol that can be used to produce hand sanitizer to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Most ethanol plants make food-grade ethanol, which is a rung below the highest pharmaceutical grade, and most plants don't meet production standards for producing medicines, so the FDA doesn't want alcohol from those plants to be used in a product applied to the skin, the Associated Press reported.

Another issue is that alcohol produced by ethanol plants is not denatured or mixed with a bitter additive to make it undrinkable, something the FDA says is "critical" in order to reduce the risk of poisoning of young children by accidental ingestion of hand sanitizer.

The ethanol industry says it's possible to distribute undenatured sanitizers and keep them away from children, but the FDA is unconvinced.

"It is unclear what, if any, measure could be instituted to ensure that the product does not make its way into consumer hands, where children could have access," the FDA's Jeremy Kahn said in a statement to the AP.

Hospitals and nursing homes are running short of hand sanitizer and many in the health care industry support the ethanol producers' push to get the FDA to permit them to produce alcohol for hand santizers.

"Hand sanitizer is a big part of our lives," Eric Barber, CEO of Mary Lanning Healthcare, a hospital in Hastings, Neb., told the AP. "We can't get any. We order it and it's just not available."

"You're talking about alcohol. Does it matter if it's fuel grade or whatever the stuff is they're trying to price gouge now? I think it's common sense," he said.

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VA Health System Swamped by Coronavirus Patients

Coronavirus patients are swamping Department of Veterans Affairs health facilities across the United States.

The nation's largest health care system had nearly 500 cases as of Thursday, a 60% increase since Tuesday, CBS News reported.

The average VA patient is older than 60, and many have underlying health problems that put them at high risk for respiratory complications from the coronavirus.

When their patients get sick, "they get really sick," Dr. Lewis Kaplan, a surgeon at the Philadelphia VA medical center, told CBS News.

"Our typical patient might have heart disease and peripheral arterial disease" Kaplan said. "So we worry [...] when they need care that they're going to be a challenging patient to look after, and some of them really are."


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