Health Highlights: April 29, 2014
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Supreme Court Upholds EPA Rule to Fight Cross-State Air Pollution
The U.S. government has won an important legal battle in its effort to reduce power plant pollution that originates in certain states and drifts to others.
In a 6-2 decision Tuesday, the Supreme Court upheld a 2011 Environmental Protection Agency rule to limit emissions from plants in 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states that travel to East Coast states and foul their air, the Associated Press reported.
The ruling means that polluting states will have to cut smokestack pollution. The EPA has struggled for decades to deal with the issue of cross-state air pollution and this rule was its third attempt to solve the problem, the AP reported.
The legal challenge to the rule was launched by power companies and several states. In 2012, a federal appeals court ruled in their favor.
The Supreme Court's ruling Tuesday is "a resounding victory for public health and a key component of EPA's efforts to make sure all Americans have clean air to breathe," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, the AP reported.
"The Supreme Court today laid to rest the well-worn issue of how to regulate air pollution that is transported hundreds of miles throughout the eastern U.S. and that makes it nearly impossible for states acting alone to protect the health and welfare of their citizens," said Bill Becker, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies. It represents air pollution control agencies in 45 states and territories and 116 major metropolitan areas across the United States.
While the new rule will boost costs for power plant operators, it will save hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs related to air pollution, according to the EPA. It estimated that the rule will prevent hundreds of thousands of illnesses and more than 30,000 premature deaths a year, the AP reported.
Opponents of the EPA rule said it violated the intent of the federal Clean Air Act. However, the Supreme Court ruled that the act permits the EPA to implement federal rules in states that had not done enough to reduce air pollution that drifts to other states.
E-Cigarette Restrictions Take Effect in New York, Chicago
Laws that place the same restrictions on electronic cigarettes as tobacco products take effect in New York City and Chicago Tuesday. Similar rules were recently implemented in Los Angeles.
Health officials and other supporters of the new rules say they're meant to prevent the re-acceptance of smoking as normal behavior. There are also concerns that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to eventually start using cancer-causing tobacco products, the Associated Press reported.
Allowing e-cigarettes in bars and restaurants would undermine current bans on tobacco products, explained Dr. Thomas Farley, the New York City health commissioner under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Imagine for a moment you're at a bar and there are 20 people who are puffing on something that looks like a cigarette and then somebody smells something that smells like tobacco smoke," Farley told the AP. "How's the bartender going to know who to tap on the shoulder and say, 'Put that out'?"
Sellers and users of e-cigarettes oppose the new rules. One of their arguments is that the devices help people quit using tobacco cigarettes, but there is no clear evidence of that, the AP reported.
While ingredients in e-cigarettes are not as dangerous as those in tobacco products, they do contain highly addictive nicotine, noted Robin Koval, chief executive officer of the anti-smoking Legacy Foundation.
Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released proposed regulations for e-cigarettes.
White House Unveils Plan to Curb Sexual Assaults at Colleges
The Obama administration has announced plans to pressure colleges and universities to fight the growing problem of sexual assaults on campuses more aggressively.
A recent series of high profile rape cases prompted the White House to create a special task force to look at the issue, but sexual assault is not something new to college campuses. Nearly one in five women and one in 16 men are victims of an attempted or completed rape while in college, according to a 2007 study commissioned by the U.S. National Institute of Justice.
In a report by the task force and released by the White House Monday night, new recommendations call for colleges to conduct anonymous surveys among students, craft better anti-assault policies and to work to guarantee that confidentiality is maintained for the victims who report these crimes, The New York Times reported.
"Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault," Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said in a statement. "No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn't exist. We need to give victims the support they need -- like a confidential place to go -- and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice."
The White House plans to ask Congress to pass measures that would back the recommendations and institute fines for universities that fail to follow the new guidelines.
A new website, called NotAlone.gov, will also be created to publish information on enforcement of the new guidelines and to give victims access to information on sexual assault. Campus counselors will also get backing from the U.S. Department of Education that allows them to talk to victims in confidence.
GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips Recalled
GenStrip Blood Glucose Test Strips are being recalled because they may report incorrect blood sugar levels, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.
The strips are made by Shasta Technologies LLC. During a recent inspection of the company, the FDA found numerous violations of federal quality control regulations, the agency said in a news release.
The strips are advertised for use with the LifeScan OneTouch family of glucose monitors, which includes Ultra, Ultra 2 and Ultra Mini, the FDA said.
Anyone with the recalled glucose test strips should stop using them and switch to other strips meant to be used with the LifeScan OneTouch family of glucose meters, the FDA advised.
Camels Likely Source of MERS: Study
Scientists have concluded that camels are almost certainly the source of the MERS respiratory virus plaguing the Middle East.
The team conducted genetic tests on camels and found that many, if not most, are infected with a strain of the virus that's almost identical to the one found in people, NBC News reported.
The findings, published in the journal mBio, are being followed up with an investigation into potential routes for human infections through products such as camel milk and meat.
There have been more than 250 confirmed cases of MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and 93 deaths since the virus was first identified in 2012, according to the World Health Organization.
However, Saudi Arabia announced more cases over the weekend, bringing the total to more than 300, with more than 100 deaths, NBC News reported.