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Health Highlights: Jan. 15, 2020

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

One Downside to High U.S. Employment Rate: More Flu

A rising employment rate in the United States could have an unexpected consequence — greater spread of the flu, an expert says.

Each 1-percentage point increase in the employment rate correlates with a 16% rise in flu-related doctors’ visits, according to Erik Nesson, associate professor of economics, Ball State University in Indiana, CBS News reported.

The rising employment rate combined with a severe 2019-2020 flu season could convince employers to loosen their sick day policies, Nesson said in a statement this week.

“Since a person may be infectious while experiencing mild symptoms, this greatly increases the probability that the virus will spread to other workers in the firm,” he said. “This implies that firms should consider more generous sick day policies, particularly during the flu season.”

His study was published last year in the journal Economics & Human Biology.

The U.S. November employment rate was 71.7%, just below the pre-recession high of slightly more than 72%, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, CBS News reported.

Flu activity is high in the U.S., with at least 9.7 million flu cases, 87,000 hospitalizations and 4,800 deaths from flu so far this season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

It said there’s a 15% chance that flu season will peak in late January and a 25% chance it will peak in February, CBS News reported.


Wealthy People Have More Years Of Healthy Life: Study

Wealthy people in the United States and United Kingdom have an average of nine more years of healthy, disability-free life than those who are poor, a new study says.

It found that from the age of 50, the wealthiest men could expect another 31 healthy years of life, compared with 22-23 years for the poorest men, CNN reported.

Among women age 50, the wealthiest could look forward to 33 more years of good health, compared with 24 for the poorest.

“While life expectancy is a useful indicator of health, the quality of life as we get older is also crucial,” study lead author Paola Zaninotto, public health specialist, University College London, U.K., said in a statement, CNN reported. “By measuring healthy life expectancy we can get an estimate of the number of years of life spent in favorable states of health or without disability.”


Weight Control Drug Belviq May Raise Cancer Risk: FDA

The prescription weight control medicine lorcaserin (Belviq, Belviq XR) may increase the risk of cancer, according to the results of a clinical trial assessing the safety of the drug, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The agency said “we cannot conclude that lorcaserin contributes to the cancer risk,” but “wanted to make the public aware of this potential risk. We are continuing to evaluate the clinical trial results and will communicate our final conclusions and recommendations when we have completed our review.”

Health care providers should weigh the benefits of taking lorcaserin against the potential risks when deciding whether to prescribe or continue patients on the medication, the FDA advised.

It said that patients currently taking lorcaserin should talk to their health care professionals about the potential increased risk of cancer with use of the medication.

Lorcaserin is approved for use with a reduced-calorie diet and increased physical activity to help weight loss in adults who are obese or are overweight and have weight-related medical problems.

Lorcaserin increases feelings of fullness so that people eat less. It’s available as a tablet (Belviq) and an extended-release tablet (Belviq XR).


Americans Drinking More Than Before Prohibition

Alcohol consumption by Americans has been on the rise for two decades and is now greater than when Prohibition was enacted in the late 1910s, federal data shows.

The average amount of alcohol downed by adults and teens before Prohibition was just under 2 gallons a year and it is now about 2.3 gallons. That works out to nearly 500 drinks, or about nine a week, the Associated Press reported.

The heaviest drinking in the United States was in the early 1800s, and it’s estimated that average consumption by an adult in 1830 was 7 gallons a year.

The new data also show increases in alcohol-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths, the AP reported.

“Consumption has been going up. Harms [from alcohol] have been going up,” Dr. Tim Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University, told the AP. “And there’s not been a policy response to match it.”

One bit of good news is that drinking among teens has declined.


Risk of Human-to-Human Transmission of New Coronavirus Appears Possible: Chinese Officials

Human-to-human transmission of a virus causing an outbreak in central China may be possible, but the risk appears to be low, health officials said Wednesday.

In the city of Wuhan, 41 people have received a preliminary diagnosis of a new coronavirus, and a 61-year-old man died from the coronavirus last weekend, the Associated Press reported.

Most of the patients worked at or visited a particular seafood wholesale market, preliminary investigations suggest. However, one woman may have contracted the virus from her husband. He worked at the market but she had no exposure to the market, according to a Wuhan Municipal Health Commission public notice.

But Wuhan authorities added that there is no definitive evidence of human-to-human transmission of the virus.

Coronaviruses include types that can cause the common cold and others that can cause serious diseases, the AP reported.

Copyright © 2019 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

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