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Health Highlights: Sept. 30, 2020

Last Updated: September 30, 2020.

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

Trump Administration Blocks CDC No-Sail Order for Cruise Ships

Extension of a no-sail order for U.S. cruise ships until mid-February has been blocked by the Trump administration.

The current order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is set to expire Wednesday and the agency recommended it be extended to prevent cruise ships from becoming coronavirus hot spots, as they were at the start of the pandemic, The New York Times reported.

But the extension was overruled at a meeting of the coronavirus task force on Tuesday, and cruise ships will be allowed to sail after Oct. 31.

The extension of the no-sail order was rejected because it would have upset the politically powerful tourism industry in the crucial swing state of Florida, The Times reported.


First Person to be Cured of HIV Dies of Cancer

The first person known to be cured of HIV infection died of cancer Tuesday at age 54.

Timothy Ray Brown died at his home in Palm Springs, California, from a recurrence of leukemia, according to a social media post by his partner, Tim Hoeffgen, the Associated Press reported.

Leukemia was the reason that Brown had bone marrow and stem cell transplants in 2007 and 2008, which for years cured both his blood cancer and HIV infection.

Brown was working in Berlin, Germany when he was diagnosed with HIV and then later, leukemia. Transplants can treat leukemia, but Berlin physician Dr. Gero Huetter sought to cure Brown's HIV infection as well by using a donor with a rare gene mutation that gives natural resistance to HIV, the AP reported.

While he remained HIV-free, Brown's leukemia returned last year.

He told the AP he was glad he had the transplant because it "opened up doors that weren't there before" and inspired scientists to work harder to find a cure for HIV.

"Timothy symbolized that it is possible, under special circumstances," to rid a patient of HIV -- something that many scientists had doubted could be done, Huetter said.

"It's a very sad situation" that Brown's cancer returned and took his life, because he still seemed free of HIV, Huetter told the AP.

Another man, Adam Castillejo, also is believed to have been cured of HIV by a 2016 transplant similar to Brown's.


Neanderthal Genes Linked With Higher Risk of Severe COVID-19: Study

Genetic variants inherited from Neanderthals are associated with a higher risk of severe COVID-19, researchers say.

But that's just one of many risk factors -- including older age and being male -- for severe COVID-19, noted the authors of a study in the journal Nature.

Previous research identified a gene cluster on chromosome 3 that's associated with respiratory failure in COVID-19 patients.

In the new study, researchers found that the genetic variants in this region are derived from a large group of genes (a haplotype) inherited from Neanderthals. This haplotype is present in around 16% of the population in Europe and 50% of people in South Asia, but almost non-existent in East Asia and Africa.

"It turns out that this gene variant was inherited by modern humans from the Neandertals when they interbred some 60,000 years ago," Hugo Zeberg, one of the study authors, said in a statement. "Today, the people who inherited this gene variant are three times more likely to need artificial ventilation if they are infected by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2."

The highest rate of this haplotype occurs in Bangladesh, where 63% of the population may carry at least one copy of it.

The findings may help explain variations in COVID-19 severity between different groups of people, according to the researchers. For example, people of Bangladeshi descent in the U.K. are about two times more likely to die from COVID-19 than the general population.

The study did not say why this genetic variant puts people at higher risk for severe COVID-19.


Helen Reddy Dies at Age 78

Singer Helen Reddy died Tuesday at age 78.

The Australian-born singer became a star with her 1972 hit song "I Am Woman," which became the feminist anthem of the decade, The New York Times reported.

Her death in Los Angeles was confirmed by her children on Reddy's official fan page on Facebook. She struggled for decades with Addison's disease and had a kidney removed when she was 17.

Since at least 2015, Reddy has suffered with dementia, The Times reported.


NYC Will Fine People Who Don't Wear Masks

People in New York City who aren't wearing a mask will first be offered one, and then fined if they still refuse to cover their face, Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday.

His warning comes as the city's positive test rate for the new coronavirus went above 3% for the first time in months, CBS News reported.

"Our goal of course is to give everyone a free face mask and get them to wear one," he said. "We don't want to fine people. If we have to, we will. And that will be starting on a large scale today."

The city's positive test rate is 3.25%, but the seven-day rolling average is 1.38%, according to de Blasio. Indoor dining will be reassessed if that average exceeds 2%, and public schools will be closed if it rises above 3%, the city has said, CBS News reported.


Surgeon Charged With Aggravated Assault Over Windpipe Transplants

Charges of aggravated assault have been filed against a surgeon once hailed for creating the world's first windpipe partially made from a patient's own stem cells, a Swedish prosecutor says.

The surgeon wasn't named in the indictment, but Swedish news agency TT said the surgeon was Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, who claimed in 2011 to have conducted the world's first stem-cell windpipe transplants, the Associated Press reported.

However, an independent commission in Sweden found numerous problems in Macchiarini's work. In 2016, Macchiarini was fired from Sweden's Karolinska Institute for breaching medical ethics after he was accused of falsifying his resume and misrepresenting his work.

Mikael Bjork, director of Public Prosecution, decided in 2018 to reopen a previously discontinued investigation into three windpipe transplants conducted by Macchiarini and said in a statement that it "has become clear to me that the operations were carried out in conflict with science and proven experience," the AP reported.

Bjork said the operations caused the patients "serious physical injuries and great suffering," and "have been carried out with absolutely no legal basis."

"I have made the assessment that the three operations are therefore to be considered as aggravated assault," Bjork said. "It is the former surgeon at Karolinska University Hospital who alone should bear the criminal responsibility."

Macchiarini has previously disputed the accusations, calling them false.

His study was published in The Lancet medical journal, which has not yet retracted it, the AP reported.

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