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Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2014
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Alcoholic Drink Calorie Info to be on Menus
The amount of calories in alcoholic drinks will have to be listed on the menus of chain restaurants with 20 or more locations, under new U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules.
The calorie information has to be on menus by next November, but the rules don't apply to drinks ordered at the bar, drinks that aren't listed on the main menu, or to the wine list, the Associated Press reported.
Public health advocates have long lobbied to get more nutritional information on alcoholic drinks and said having calorie information on menus is a first step.
"Alcoholic beverages are a key contributor to the calories Americans are consuming, and most of the time when people have a drink they have absolutely no idea what its caloric impact is," Margo Wootan, Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the AP.
Tax-Free Savings Accounts for Disabled Americans
Americans with disabilities will soon be able to open tax-free bank accounts to pay for housing, health care, education and other long-term needs.
The legislation received final approval from Congress on Tuesday and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. Beginning next year, as many as 54 million disabled people and their families could open accounts, the Associated Press reported.
This is the most significant legislation for disabled Americans in a quarter century and was described as a "monumental, landmark bill," by Sara Hart Weir, interim president of the National Down Syndrome Society.
"This bill will change the way that families can save for all their children and adults with Down syndrome and will ease the unnecessary burdens that are placed on families -- all while allowing people with Down syndrome to work and save for the future," she said, the AP reported.
Those who qualify include people who are diagnosed by age 26 with a disability that causes "marked and severe functional limitations," and people already receiving Social Security disability benefits.
Up to $14,000 a year can be put into an account, and the accounts would be able to grow to $100,000 without the disabled person losing eligibility for Social Security and other government aid. The current asset limit is $2,000, the AP reported.
The disabled person would continue to have Medicaid coverage no matter how much money was in their account.
New Brain Injury Treatment Program for NFL Players
Professional football players with brain injuries will be treated in a program originally designed to help military veterans with brain trauma.
The Eisenhower Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. will be the primary facility used by the NFL Players Association for treating players with brain damage and other neurological problems, the Associated Press reported.
The After the Impact program offers treatment for soldiers and athletes recovering from conditions such as concussion, mild traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Nearly 6,000 (28 percent) of nearly 20,000 retired NFL players could eventually suffer from moderate dementia or Alzheimer's disease, the AP reported.
FDA Approves System to Make Donated Blood Safer
The first system that destroys viruses and bacteria in donated blood plasma has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Intercept Blood System provides an extra measure of protection against viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C and could make transfusions safer, The New York Times reported.
However, some experts point out that the blood supply in the United States is already considered safe and using the Intercept system would be an extra, unnecessary cost.
"The nonprofit blood collection industry can't afford it," Dr. Michael Busch, director of the nonprofit Blood Systems Research Institute and a professor at the University of California, San Francisco, told The Times. "Blood is extraordinarily safe now."
Compounding Center Owners Arrested in Connection With Deadly Meningitis Outbreak
Several people have been indicted in connection with a 2012 meningitis outbreak that affected hundreds of Americans and killed 64. Federal agents started arresting people Wednesday morning.
The outbreak was traced to the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. Among those taken in to custody were compounding center owners Barry Cadden and Greg Conigliaro, CBS News reported.
The outbreak of fungal meningitis was caused by steroid shots contaminated with black mold. The shots, distributed to medical facilities in at least 23 states, are believe to have been made at the New England Compounding Center.
U.S. Doctor Cured of Ebola Says He'll Return to Liberia
Dr. Richard Sacra, a Massachusetts physician who was cured of Ebola earlier this year after contracting it in Liberia, says he will return to the West African country to resume working in a clinic there.
Sacra spent weeks at a treatment center in Omaha, Neb., and was released back home on Sept. 25. He is one of 10 people treated for Ebola in the United States.
He spoke about his plans after a Tuesday news conference at the Massachusetts Statehouse, following an announcement of a $1 million grant to help speed the development of a faster, better test for Ebola infection.
According to the Associated Press, Sacra said that he "feels great" and physicians say his brush with Ebola has effectively rendered him immune to the disease.
Sacra is a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and has worked in Liberia for more than two decades, AP reported. He said he plans to resume work at Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) hospital in the Liberian capital of Monrovia. The clinic was founded by the North Carolina-based charity SIM.
According to the World Health Organization, there have been almost 18,500 cases of Ebola in West Africa in the current outbreak, including almost 6,900 deaths.
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