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Health Highlights: March 27, 2015

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

White House Announces New Plan to Fight 'Superbugs'

The White House wants to reduce the use of antibiotics in people and livestock as part of new plan to reduce rates of drug-resistant "superbug" infections.

Doctors who accept Medicare and Medicaid will have to report their antibiotic prescription patterns, and will be provided with real-time data about antibiotic resistance in their area in an effort to reduce over-prescription of the drugs, Bloomberg News reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will also develop new rules to limit the use of medically important antibiotics in livestock.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will boost screening of people arriving in the United States from countries with high rates of drug-resistant tuberculosis, Bloomberg reported.

The federal government will also fund new antibiotic research, require hospitals to improve infection control, and create a regional public health network to test and store strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The new effort to fight superbugs would cost $1.2 billion, which is nearly twice the amount currently spent on the effort, Bloomberg reported.

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause about 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year in the United States, according to the CDC.

The new plan to fight superbugs comes in the wake of outbreaks earlier this year at two Los Angeles hospitals that were linked to medical devices called duodenoscopes, which are used to diagnose and treat problems in the liver, pancreas and gallbladder.

The superbug outbreak at the University of California, Los Angeles Health System included seven serious infections and two deaths. The outbreak at Cedars Sinai Hospital included four infections.

On March 12, the FDA issued final recommendations for the cleaning and sterilization of duodenoscopes and other reusable medical devices used in invasive procedures.


Medicare Overhaul Bill Passed by House

A Medicare overhaul bill that would create a new formula for payments to doctors was passed by the House on Thursday in a 392-to-17 vote.

Under the bill, Medicare payments to doctors would be based on performance, rewarding them for high-quality care rather than the volume of services, The New York Times reported.

The bill would also extend the Children's Health Insurance Program for two years, rather than the four years sought by Democrats. More money would be provided for community health centers, with a restriction for abortion services.

To cover some of the costs of the bill, some higher-income Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay higher premiums for coverage of prescription drugs and doctors' services, The Times reported.

The bill, which has President Barack Obama's support, now goes to a vote in the Senate. That vote could be delayed until after a two-week recess scheduled to start Friday.

Unless Congress takes action, doctors face a 21 percent cut in Medicare fees on April 1. However, Medicare officials could extend the deadline and delay the cuts for about two weeks, The Times reported.


Non-Beating Heart Transplant Recipient in U.K. Doing Well

The U.K. patient who underwent the first heart transplant in Europe using a non-beating heart is doing well.

London resident Huseyin Ulucan, 60, had a heart attack in 2008. He received his new heart at Papworth Hospital in Cambridgeshire, BBC News reported.

Donor hearts typically come from people who are brain dead, but whose hearts are still beating. Ulucan's new heart came from a donor whose heart and lungs had stopped functioning.

The heart was re-started in the donor five minutes after death and kept supplied with blood and nutrients. "We had the heart beating for about 50 minutes, and by monitoring its function were able to tell that it was in very good condition," lead transplant surgeon Stephen Large told BBC News.

The heart was then removed from the donor's body and kept nourished and beating for another three hours by a special machine, before being transplanted into Ulucan.

"Before the surgery, I could barely walk and I got out of breath very easily. I really had no quality of life," Ulucan told BBC News. "Now I'm feeling stronger every day, and I walked into the hospital this morning without any problem."

The use of non-beating hearts could increase the number of hearts available for transplant by at leat 25 percent, according to Papworth Hospital.

The world's first transplant using a non-beating heart was performed last year in Australia.


Homeopathic Drugs to be Reviewed at Meeting: FDA

The safety and effectiveness of homeopathic medicines will be the subject of a two-day meeting next month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

Like dietary supplements, homeopathic medicines do not have to prove they are safe or effective before they're sold in the United States. Unlike supplements, homeopathic medicines claim to treat specific medical conditions, the Associated Press reported.

In a notice posted online Thursday, the FDA said experts attending the meeting on April 20 and 21 will be asked if there is data to "better assess the risks and benefits" of homeopathic medicines. The agency also wants to assess the appropriateness of selling some homeopathic drugs without a prescription.

The FDA noted that many of the medical conditions listed on homeopathic medicines "have never been considered for over-the-counter use under a formal regulatory process," the AP reported.


Controversial Abortion Requirement Passed by Arizona Lawmakers

A bill that requires abortion providers to tell women they can reverse the effects of a drug-induced abortion was passed Wednesday by Arizona lawmakers. There is no science to support the requirement, critics say.

It's the first time such a reversal requirement has been passed in the United States, but Arkansas is considering similar legislation, the Associated Press reported.

The bill also blocks women from buying any health care plan through the federal insurance marketplace that included abortion coverage.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, who hasn't expressed an opinion about the legislation, the AP reported.


Needle Exchange Program Approved to Fight Indiana HIV Outbreak

A short-term needle exchange program has been introduced to combat an HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana, where a health emergency was declared Thursday by Gov. Mike Pence.

He said the needle exchange will last for 30 days before being re-evaluated, the Indianapolis Star reported.

The "sole purpose" of the needle exchange is to halt the spread of HIV and needle exchanges will not become an "anti-drug" policy, Pence said. He added he would veto any broad-based needle exchange program sent to him by the legislature.

There have been 79 HIV cases linked to injection drug use in Scott County. Normally, there are about five such cases a year in the county, according to Pence.

The needle exchange program will be supervised by the state department of health, the Star reported.

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