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Health Headlines

    A cyanide device for killing coyotes that spewed the poison on a boy and killed his dog was set up on public land in Idaho in February despite a decision months earlier by federal officials to halt use of the devices on all U.S.-owned land in the state, officials said Tuesday. The device activated March 16 when 14-year-old Canyon Mansfield and his dog checked it out 300 yards (275 meters) from their home on the outskirts of the small city of Pocatello. The boy has suffered headaches since he was exposed. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Erin Curtis told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the device that went off and another one were put there by the U.S. Agriculture Department in late February. An Agriculture Department document said the agency would stop using the devices last November on all federally owned Idaho land to reduce health risks to people and domestic animals. The department did not immediately comment Tuesday on why the device was placed on the land in an apparent violation of its policy, but said in an emailed statement to the AP that 'the unintentional lethal take of a dog is a rare occurrence.' It also said its wildlife services division is reviewing its 'operating procedures to determine whether improvements can be made to reduce the likelihood of similar occurrences happening in the future.' Mark Mansfield, the boy's father and a physician, said an emergency room doctor and a toxicologist who examined his son told him they were surprised that the boy did not die after he was sprayed with the cyanide powder emitted by the device. 'I'm panicking for my son,' he said in an interview. 'We're worried, and we just don't know. It's a miracle he lived in the first place.' The family is consulting with medical specialists about the boy's continuing headaches, his father said. The devices called M-44s look like water sprinkler heads and were put on the land as part of a federal effort to kill coyotes that target livestock. But Mansfield said the area where his son came across one is a hill that overlooks houses with barking dogs and children playing. M-44s are spring-activated devices typically smeared with bait that shoot cyanide into an animal's mouth when it tugs on the device. 'We're shocked that a human being, whether you work for the government or a private company, would put this near someone's home,' Mansfield said. The federal government uses the devices to control predator populations to limit losses for ranchers and other livestock owners. They killed about 12,500 coyotes, mostly in Western U.S. states, in 2016, the wildlife services division said on its website. The device that went off was put there by a worker with the wildlife services division who has not been identified and the Agriculture Department has not said why the worker did so. The area has a mix of public and private land, so it's not clear whether the worker accidentally ended up on public land. The ban on using the devices on public land does not apply to private land, and some private landowners want the devices put on their land to kill coyotes and other predators. Local officials are conducting a criminal investigation and plan to turn over findings to prosecutors in Bannock County who would decide whether to pursue charges. 'The problem we have is that we have houses in every direction from where the device was placed,' said Sheriff's Det. Lt. Andy Thomas. 'We know the boy got it on his eyes, arms and legs. We have no clue why he's not dead.' Thomas said he and other deputies initially thought the device was a pipe bomb, but found no external injuries on the dog, a Labrador retriever named Casey. After learning several hours later what the device actually was, Thomas was examined at a hospital with the Mansfield family members for cyanide exposure. All of their clothes were burned after they were examined to avoid spreading the toxin. Thomas interviewed the worker who set up the device but declined to provide details because the investigation is ongoing. The event is an example of how some Agriculture Department efforts to protect livestock are outdated at a time when hikers, bikers and others increasingly explore public lands, said John Freemuth, a Boise State University environmental policy professor and public lands expert. 'They're a symbol of the old West confronting the more diverse West,' he said.
  • Kansas' Republican-controlled Legislature approved an expansion Tuesday of state health coverage to thousands of poor adults under former President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, days after the collapse of GOP leaders' repeal effort in Washington. The bill would expand the state's Medicaid program for the poor, disabled and elderly so that it would cover up to 180,000 additional adults who aren't disabled. It now heads to conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. The collapse of efforts by President Donald Trump and top Republicans in the U.S. House to repeal the 2010 Affordable Care Act buoyed supporters of expanding Medicaid in Kansas. But the move's success in the GOP-leaning state also reflected elections last year that brought more moderates and liberals into the Legislature. 'I'm ecstatic! I am, and I'm high on happiness,' said state Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate Kansas City-area Republican and retired anesthesiologist. 'The citizens of this state took a stand in November and said we wanted change, and now you're seeing it.' But lawmakers on both sides of the debate expect Brownback to veto the measure. He has long been a vocal critic of Obama's health care law and endorsed a plan pursued by Trump and GOP congressional leaders. The term-limited governor declared in January that expanding Medicaid under the law would be 'airlifting onto the Titanic,' though he hasn't said whether he would veto this bill. The failure of Republicans in Washington to quickly repeal Obama's health care law has created speculation that more states will consider Medicaid expansion. Democratic governors are pursuing expansions in North Carolina and Virginia; an initiative is on the ballot in November in Maine. U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said Tuesday that he will give its Republicans another chance at passing a health care overhaul but did not offer a timeline. 'I don't think it makes any sense to jump on expanding Medicaid when the rules could change significantly,' said Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a conservative Kansas City-area Republican. The bill would not have passed the Kansas Legislature last year. At least eight new state senators replaced Republicans who were likely to have opposed expanding Medicaid. In the House, the same could be said for at least 20 members. But the 25-14 vote Tuesday in the Senate was two votes shy of the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto. The House approved the bill last month on an 81-44 vote , three votes short of a two-thirds majority. Obama's Affordable Care Act encouraged states to increase the number of people eligible for Medicaid by promising to pay most of the costs. Thirty-one states, including some led by GOP governors, have expanded Medicaid. Kansas critics argued that expanding Medicaid still would be too expensive for the state, which is facing projected budget shortfalls of more than $1 billion through June 2019 following massive personal income tax cuts championed by Brownback. Kansas' Medicaid program covers about 377,000 poor, disabled and elderly residents, but poor adults under 65 who aren't disabled and don't have children aren't eligible. Brownback's administration projected the extra costs of expanding the program at $66 million total for the state's 2018 and 2019 budgets. 'There's no question in my mind that this would be a huge cost to the state,' said Shawn Sullivan, the governor's budget director. But the Kansas Hospital Association projects a net gain for the state, arguing in part that an influx of federal dollars would ripple through the state's economy. Hospitals were a crucial part of the lobbying for the bill; supporters believe the expansion would prevent some hospitals from shuttering. 'What I saw were people who couldn't afford insurance using emergency rooms, not getting adequate care,' said freshman Republican state Sen. Ed Berger, a former central Kansas community college president who led his local hospital's board. 'Those hospitals were having to absorb a lot of that.' ___ Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zalidvar in Washington and Allison Kite in Topeka, Kansas, contributed to this report. ___ Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna
  • Senate Republicans and the White House sounded ready to abandon efforts to repeal and replace the nation's health care law, at least for now, even as House Republicans insisted on Tuesday they were not ready to give up on their years-long quest. The intraparty dispute came in the wake of last Friday's collapse of health care legislation in the House, a GOP humiliation at the climactic moment of seven years of promises to get rid of former President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made his views clear after a closed-door lunch with fellow Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence. 'It's pretty obvious we were not able, in the House, to pass a replacement. Our Democratic friends ought to be pretty happy about that because we have the existing law in place, and I think we're just going to have to see how that works out,' McConnell said. 'We believe it will not work out well, but we'll see.' 'I want to thank the president and the speaker, they went all out to try to pass repeal and replacement. Sorry that didn't work,' McConnell added. White House legislative affairs director Marc Short also emerged from the Senate GOP lunch indicating the administration was moving on despite President Donald Trump's promises as a candidate to immediately get rid of Obama's law. 'We understand there's probably members in Congress who feel like 'Look, we probably need to revisit this, and we need to make an effort to get it done,' and if that's the case, if the legislation reaches the president's desk, I'm sure he'll look to sign it,' Short told The Associated Press. 'But at this time, at this time today, there are other things that we have on our priority list that we're moving on to.' Short pointed to the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, whose nomination will be on the Senate floor next week, as well as a looming funding deadline on April 28 that must be met to keep the lights on in the government. Short said that 'of course' the White House hopes to avoid a shutdown. And, senior Republicans and the White House are eager to move on to tax overhaul legislation. The comments on health care from Senate Republicans and the White House were a cold reality check on the newly revived hopes of House Republicans. Just this Friday, House Republicans couldn't muster the votes for their marquee legislation to repeal and replace the health care law and pulled it off the floor in an embarrassing setback for Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan. But Tuesday morning, they exchanged pledges of unity in a closed-door meeting and emerged eager to continue their efforts on health care, although they provided no specific plans or timeline for how they would proceed. Ryan proclaimed, 'We are going to work together and listen together until we get this right. It is just too important.' House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said: 'We promised that we would repeal and replace Obamacare, and that's exactly what we're going to do.' And House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., claimed: 'I think we're closer today to repealing Obamacare than we've ever been before.' Those comments landed with a thud on the Senate side. Asked if it were realistic for the House to try to revive its health care legislation, Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said: 'No. I'm about health cared out.' The discussion on health care came with a hard deadline looming to pass legislation by the end of next month to keep the government running. GOP leaders in Congress and at the White House were trying to take steps to avoid stumbling into a shutdown. Ryan said Tuesday that any provision to 'defund' Planned Parenthood didn't belong in the catchall measure, while Senate GOP leaders like Roy Blunt of Missouri made clear they'd like to avoid a showdown over Trump's border wall, which is loathed by Democrats and disliked by some Republicans as well. Keeping Planned Parenthood and the border wall out of the spending bill would greatly improve its chances to get necessary Democratic votes in the Senate, although conservatives in both chambers might object. ___ Associated Press writer Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.
  • U.S. health officials say the rapidly expanding industry of e-cigarettes and vaping caters to children with a new unhealthy habit, tantalizing them with flavors such as Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream and brands like Devil’s Juice. >> Read more trending news But those who vape say health officials are just carrying water for the tobacco and pharmaceutical companies, which make money from selling cigarettes and products that help people quit smoking. Representatives of the vaping industry -- a phenomena in its own right estimated to be worth $10 billion -- said it has been unfairly disparaged and that their nicotine delivery system is far safer than traditional tobacco, pointing to studies in England. “This is a revolution,” Ryna Schalk of Wellington, Florida, told The Palm Beach Post. “There are people giving out misinformation about vaping because of Big Government, Big Tobacco and Big Pharma. Vaping is taking money out of their pocket.” Read more about the growing vaping debate at the Palm Beach Post.
  • The Justice Department has joined a California whistleblower’s lawsuit that accuses insurance giant UnitedHealth Group of fraud in its popular Medicare Advantage health plans. Justice officials filed legal papers to intervene in the suit, first brought by whistleblower James Swoben in 2009, on Friday in federal court in Los Angeles. On Monday, they sought a court order to combine Swoben’s case with that of another whistleblower. Swoben has accused the insurer of “gaming” the Medicare Advantage payment system by “making patients look sicker than they are,” said his attorney, William K. Hanagami. Hanagami said the combined cases could prove to be among the “larger frauds” ever against Medicare, with damages that he speculates could top $1 billion. UnitedHealth spokesman Matt Burns denied any wrongdoing by the company. “We are honored to serve millions of seniors through Medicare Advantage, proud of the access to quality health care we provided, and confident we complied with program rules,” he wrote in an email. Burns also said that “litigating against Medicare Advantage plans to create new rules through the courts will not fix widely acknowledged government policy shortcomings or help Medicare Advantage members and is wrong.” Medicare Advantage is a popular alternative to traditional Medicare. The privately run health plans have enrolled more than 18 million elderly and people with disabilities — about a third of those eligible for Medicare — at a cost to taxpayers of more than $150 billion a year. Although the plans generally enjoy strong support in Congress, they have been the target of at least a half-dozen whistleblower lawsuits alleging patterns of overbilling and fraud. In most of the prior cases, Justice Department officials have decided not to intervene, which often limits the financial recovery by the government and also by whistleblowers, who can be awarded a portion of recovered funds. A decision to intervene means that the Justice Department is taking over investigating the case, greatly raising the stakes. “This is a very big development and sends a strong signal that the Trump administration is very serious when it comes to fighting fraud in the health care arena,” said Patrick Burns, associate director of Taxpayers Against Fraud in Washington, a nonprofit supported by whistleblowers and their lawyers. Burns said the “winners here are going to be American taxpayers.” Burns also contends that the cases against UnitedHealth could potentially exceed $1 billion in damages, which would place them among the top two or three whistleblower-prompted cases on record. “This is not one company engaged in episodic bad behavior, but a lucrative business plan that appears to be national in scope,” Burns said. On Monday, the government said it wants to consolidate the Swoben case with another whistleblower action filed in 2011 by former UnitedHealth executive Benjamin Poehling and unsealed in March by a federal judge. Poehling also has alleged that the insurer generated hundreds of millions of dollars or more in overpayments. When Congress created the current Medicare Advantage program in 2003, it expected to pay higher rates for sicker patients than for people in good health using a formula called a risk score. But overspending tied to inflated risk scores has repeatedly been cited by government auditors, including the Government Accountability Office. A series of articles published in 2014 by the Center for Public Integrity found that these improper payments have cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars. “If the goal of fraud is to artificially increase risk scores and you do that wholesale, that results in some rather significant dollars,” Hanagami said. David Lipschutz, senior policy attorney for the Center for Medicare Advocacy, a nonprofit offering legal assistance and other resources for those eligible for Medicare, said his group is “deeply concerned by ongoing improper payments” to Medicare Advantage health plans. These overpayments “undermine the finances of the overall Medicare program,” he said in an emailed statement. He said his group supports “more rigorous oversight” of payments made to the health plans. The two whistleblower complaints allege that UnitedHealth has had a practice of asking the government to reimburse it for underpayments, but did not report claims for which it had received too much money, despite knowing some these claims had inflated risk scores. The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said in draft regulations issued in January 2014 that it would begin requiring that Medicare Advantage plans report any improper payment — either too much or too little. These reviews “cannot be designed only to identify diagnoses that would trigger additional payments,” the proposal stated. But CMS backed off the regulation’s reporting requirements in the face of opposition from the insurance industry. The agency didn’t say why it did so. The Justice Department said in an April 2016 amicus brief in the Swoben case that the CMS decision not to move ahead with the reporting regulation “does not relieve defendants of the broad obligation to exercise due diligence in ensuring the accuracy” of claims submitted for payment. The Justice Department concluded in the brief that the insurers “chose not to connect the dots,” even though they knew of both overpayments and underpayments. Instead, the insurers “acted in a deliberately ignorant or reckless manner in falsely certifying the accuracy, completeness and truthfulness of submitted data,” the 2016 brief states. The Justice Department has said it also is investigating risk-score payments to other Medicare Advantage insurers, but has not said whether it plans to take action against any of them.
  • Cynthia Brownfield was lucky. When her daughter, then 2 years old, tested for high levels of lead in her blood, she could do something. Brownfield, a pediatrician in St. Joseph, Miss., got her home inspected and found lead in the windows. She got them replaced and had her pipes fixed, too. Her daughter, now 12, was probably affected, says Brownfield. But quick action minimized the exposure. Her daughter is now a healthy, fully-functioning preteen. “We were in the financial position where we could hire a plumber and change the windows,” she said. But others — even her own patients — may not be so fortunate. This reality may have implications even more far-reaching than generally accepted. Findings published Tuesday in JAMA break new ground by suggesting the effects of childhood lead exposure continue to play out until adulthood, not only harming an individual’s lifelong cognitive development, but also potentially limiting socioeconomic advancement. Specifically, Duke University researchers tracked a generation of kids based on data collected through a nearly 30-year, New Zealand-based investigation known as the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. They studied the development of more than 1,000 New Zealanders born between April 1972 and March 1973. Because at that time gasoline still contained lead, exposure was common, creating a sizeable sample that included people across class and gender. More than half in that data set had been tested for lead-exposure at age 11, and the study tracked brain development and socio-economic status over the years — making for “a natural time” to use them to study lead’s health effects, said Aaron Reuben, a PhD candidate in neuropsychology at Duke University, and the study’s first author. By the time study participants reached age 38, a pattern emerged: Children who were exposed to lead early in life had worse cognitive abilities, based on how their exposure level. The difference was statistically significant. They were also more likely to be worse off, socioeconomically, than those who had not been exposed to lead. The study found that no matter what the child’s IQ, the mother’s IQ, or the family’s social status, lead poisoning resulted in downward social mobility. That was largely thanks to cognitive decline, according to the research. “Regardless of where you start out in life, exposure to lead in childhood exerts a downward pull to your trajectory,” Reuben said. Though this research was set in New Zealand, it offers insight into a problem experts said is fairly ubiquitous in the United States and across the globe. The CDC estimates that as many as half a million children between ages 1 and 5 had blood lead levels high enough to cause concern: 5 micrograms per deciliter and up. At least 4 million households across the country have children experiencing significant lead exposure. Last year’s water crisis in Flint, Mich., brought lead exposure front and center as a public health concern. Meanwhile, a Reuters investigation published this winter found elevated lead levels in almost 3,000 communities around the country. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention recently changed its guidelines to suggest that any childhood exposure to the chemical is harmful, and is pushing to get rid of lead poisoning in kids by 2020. In the U.S., children at risk are typically poorer and racial minorities — in part because they more often live in older houses with lead paint. This is a stark difference from the research population, which tended to be white. However, because the study spanned a period of time in which lead was still used in gasoline, the lead exposure measured in the study spanned a wider class spectrum. That adds greater consequence to these findings, many said. “Kids who are poor, or who have some of these other social determinants of health that are negative — they end up with a double whammy. Whatever health consequences they have from being poor, those are added to the additional consequences of being exposed to lead,” said Jerome Paulson, an emeritus professor and pediatrician at George Washington University. Paulson has researched lead’s effects on children, although he wasn’t involved with this study. “If you want to talk about ‘breaking out of poverty,’ kids who have lead exposure are probably going to have more difficulties,” he added. That said, these conclusions aren’t perfect. For instance, the research doesn’t account any variation in how the children who were tested may have been previously exposed to lead, or how their continued lead exposure through adulthood may have differed. Those who worked in jobs like construction, for instance, may have had greater lead exposure than those in white-collar jobs, Paulson noted. But on the whole, he said, it makes a strong case for the long-term impact of childhood lead exposure. Pennsylvania, Maryland and Massachusetts, which all have cities with concentrated areas of older housing, have identified lead poisoning as a major child health hazard. The CDC has also embraced “primary prevention” — testing homes for lead and removing it before people move in and risk exposure. But securing resources for lead testing, screening and abatement poses its own set of challenges. The JAMA study illustrates, in part, one such difficulty. Lead poisoning happens over years, not overnight. So illustrating the impact, even if it’s ultimately significant, is hard to do. “Prevention doesn’t have a lot of pizzazz. If you prevent something from happening, it’s a wonderful thing, but it’s hard to measure and take credit for,” said David Bellinger, a neurology professor at Harvard Medical School and a professor in the environmental health department of the university’s public health school, who wrote a commentary that ran alongside the JAMA paper. And funding for such programs is often unreliable, said Donna Cooper, the executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit that advocates on behalf of young people. For instance, the White House’s initial budget plans would boost some lead abatement funds but slash other grants used for similar purposes. And for many states, she said, even what’s long been available isn’t enough to meet the scope of the concern. “We have very clear CDC guidance on what should be done, and no money to back it up,” Cooper said. “It ebbs and flows with the headlines.”
  • U.S. regulators have approved the first powerful, injected medicine to treat serious cases of the skin condition eczema. The Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved Dupixent for moderate or severe eczema, which causes red, fiercely itchy rashes on the face, arms and legs. In three studies of the drug including a total of 2,119 participants, one-third to two-thirds achieved clear or nearly clear skin after 16 weeks of treatment. About 4 in 10 had itching decrease sharply, bringing better sleep and reducing anxiety and depression, which affect many patients. Dupixent will have an initial list price of $37,000 per year, according to Paris, France-based Sanofi SA and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals of Tarrytown, New York, which developed the drug. Side effects can include cold sores and inflammation of the eye and eyelid. The drug is an antibody that patients inject just under the skin every two weeks. It binds to a specific protein to inhibit the immune system's inflammatory response. That's why in many study participants, Dupixent also improved the asthma and hayfever common in eczema patients. It's now in late-stage patient testing as an allergy treatment. Eczema treatments have generally been limited to topical medications, steroid creams, moisturizers and ultraviolet light, plus antihistamines to relieve itching. Those work fairly well for mild eczema, but not the severe — and most common — form, also called atopic dermatitis. Because of that, analyst Jeffrey Holford of Jefferies LLC wrote Tuesday that 'market expectations for Dupixent are high given the unmet need in this patient group,' with sales expected to climb slowly to about $3.4 billion in 2025. Eczema often begins in young children, and most grow out of it, said Dr. Lisa Beck, a dermatology professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York. For others, the condition persists throughout adulthood, tormenting patients with relentless itching that triggers scratching, and with that, skin swelling, cracking, 'weeping' of clear fluid and, eventually, thickening of the skin, according to the FDA. 'Many of these patients gave up on health care because we offered them nothing new for years and years,' said Beck, a member of the National Eczema Association's scientific advisory board who participated in patient tests of Dupixent, also called dupilumab. 'It was a true game-changer' for many patients, Beck said, greatly improving their skin and quality of life. Ashley Blua, 29, of Hermosa Beach, California, participated in one study and still gets Dupixent in an ongoing follow-up study. Blua, who's had eczema her whole life, said her eczema became much worse three years ago, covering most of her body. She had trouble focusing at work due to sleep deprivation, despite numbing her body with ice packs at night to reduce itching. She tried every topical cream, kept multiple changes of clothes in her car for when her skin bleeding seeped through blouses, and had frequent visits with dermatologists, allergists, a therapist and a psychiatrist. Several months after entering the study nearly two years ago, symptoms started easing. Now she only has only a few eczema patches — and no more itching. 'Now that I can live a normal life again, I've gotten engaged and we're getting married in August,' says Blua. She's even planning to wear a white, strapless wedding gown. ___ Follow Linda A. Johnson at https://twitter.com/LindaJ_onPharma
  • A Democratic senator is seeking marketing information, sales records and studies from manufacturers of the top-selling opioid products in the United States to determine whether drugmakers have contributed to an overuse of the pain killers. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri said that sales of prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999, taking a financial toll on the government and a deadly toll on thousands of consumers. McCaskill said previous government and media reports show an industry not focused on preventing abuse but on fostering addiction. She is investigating whether such practices continue today. Some of the records she is asking for from the five companies include the sales rep expenses for entertaining physicians, payments made to health care advocacy groups, as well as marketing and business plans. 'We have an obligation to everyone devastated by this epidemic to find answers,' McCaskill said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday. 'All of this didn't happen overnight. It happened one prescription and marketing program at a time.' More than 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015, and roughly two-thirds of them had used prescription opioids like OxyContin or Vicodin or illegal drugs like heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those overdoses have jumped 33 percent in the past five years alone, with some states reporting the death toll had doubled or more. Last September, The Associated Press and Center for Public Integrity published an investigation outlining how makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids. The industry and its allies spent more than $880 million nationwide on lobbying and campaign contributions from 2006 through 2015 — more than 200 times what those advocating for stricter policies spent and eight times more than the influential gun lobby recorded for similar activities during that same period, the investigation found. McCaskill is the ranking Democratic lawmaker on the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. The Republican chairman, Sen. Ron Johnson, did not sign the letter seeking the information from the drug manufacturers, and an aide said Republicans weren't given time to join the investigation. Brittni Palke, spokeswoman for the committee, said McCaskill waited until the last minute to notify Johnson of the probe. She said Johnson was disappointed by McCaskill's decision to 'get headlines instead of results.' 'Contrary to the committee's longstanding bipartisan traditions, Senator McCaskill chose to make her requests unilaterally despite widespread interest in coming together to address the root causes of America's opioid addiction,' Palke said.
  • A Pakistani health official says a special anti-polio drive has been launched in Islamabad after traces of the virus were found in the city's sewage system. The virus was detected weeks ago but so far no cases have been reported in Islamabad. Dr. Rana Safdar, who coordinated Pakistan's polio eradication center, says the three-day vaccination campaign started on Monday. Safdar says police have taken steps to protect the polio workers. The Taliban and other militants have in the past attacked vaccination centers and health workers because they perceive the vaccination drives as part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize Pakistani children or collect intelligence. Pakistan is among a few countries in the world where polio is endemic. Islamabad registered its last polio case 10 years ago.
  • You’d think that a vaccine that protects people against more than a half-dozen types of cancer would have people lining up to get it. But the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which can prevent roughly 90 percent of all cervical cancers as well as other cancers and sexually transmitted infections caused by the virus, has faced an uphill climb since its introduction more than a decade ago. Now, with a new dosing schedule that requires fewer shots and a more effective vaccine, clinicians and public health advocates hope they may move the needle on preventing these virus-related cancers. In December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended reducing the number of shots in the HPV vaccine from three to two for girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 14. The recommendation was based on clinical trial data that showed two doses was just as effective as a three-dose regimen for this age group. (Children older than 14 still require three shots.) The study was conducted using Gardasil 9, a version of the vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration in late 2014. It protects against nine types of HPV: seven that are responsible for 90 percent of cervical cancers and two that account for 90 percent of genital warts. In addition, the new version of Gardasil improved protection against HPV-related cancers in the vagina, vulva, penis, anus, rectum and oropharynx — the tongue and tonsil area at the back of the throat. An earlier version protected against four types of HPV. From the start, clinicians have run into some parental and political roadblocks because the vaccine, which is recommended for preteens, protects against genital human papillomavirus — a virus transmitted through sexual contact. Many physicians are also reluctant about discussing the need for the vaccine, and for many parents, the vaccine’s cancer-prevention benefits were overshadowed by concerns about discussing sexual matters with such young kids. Yet for maximum protection, the immunizations should be given before girls and boys become sexually active. The focus should not have been on sexually transmitted infections, some say. “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” said Dr. H. Cody Meissner, a professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on infectious diseases. “This vaccine should have been introduced as a vaccine that will prevent cancer, not sexually transmitted infections.” The HPV virus is incredibly common. At any given time, nearly 80 million Americans are infected, and most people can expect to contract HPV at some point in their lives. Most never know they’ve been infected and have no symptoms. Some develop genital warts, but the infection generally goes away on its own and many people never have health problems. However, others may develop problems years later. There are approximately 39,000 HPV-related cancers every year, nearly two-thirds of them in women. In addition to cervical cancer, more than 90 percent of anal cancers and 70 percent of vaginal and vulvar cancers are thought to be caused by the HPV virus. Recent studies show that about 70 percent of cancers in the oropharynx may also be linked to HPV. A 2015 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute estimated that earlier versions of the HPV vaccine could reduce the number of HPV-related cancers by nearly 25,000 annually, and the new version of the vaccine could further reduce the number of such cancers by about 4,000. The vaccine is estimated to prevent 5,000 cancer deaths annually, said Dr. Paul Offit, professor of pediatrics and director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. But compliance is an ongoing problem. “They’re not getting the one vaccine that protects against diseases from which they’re most likely to suffer and die,” Offit said, noting that deaths from pertussis and meningococcal disease, for which adolescents are also vaccinated at that age, are minuscule compared with HPV-related cancers. In 2015, 87 percent of 13-year-olds were up-to-date with the Tdap vaccine that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and 80 percent had received the meningococcal vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But just 30 percent of girls and 25 percent of boys at that age had received all three doses of the HPV vaccine. In contrast to other vaccines, however, the HPV vaccine is required only in a few states for secondary school. Public health advocates say they think the shift to a two-dose regimen could make a big difference in the number of adolescents who get all the necessary doses of the HPV vaccine. For one thing, the fewer shots the better, in general, they say. In addition, because the second HPV shot is supposed to be given anywhere from six months to a year after the first one, “parents can fit it into a routine regimen when people go in for their 12-year-old’s regularly scheduled visit,” said Dr. Joseph Bocchini Jr., chairman of pediatrics at Louisiana State University Health in Shreveport who is president-elect at the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Please visit khn.org/columnists to send comments or ideas for future topics for the Insuring Your Health column.

Local News

  • Rabun County authorities are seeking a missing 28-year-old woman who has her three sons with her, officials said. According to a post on the sheriff’s Facebook page, Brittany Rebecca Stewart has been missing since Thursday. Her children are 7 months to 7 years old. She’s believed to be driving a maroon 1999 Ford Explorer with Georgia tag RCP0743, the sheriff’s office said in the post. Anyone with information about the whereabouts of Stewart and her children is asked to call 911 or Rabun dispatch at 706-782-6226.
  • A dinner meeting is set for tonight for Clarke County School Board members and the first of three finalists to be the next Clarke County School Superintendent: the Board is looking for a replacement for the departed Dr. Phil Lanoue. The United Way of Northeast Georgia holds its annual meeting and awards banquet, 5:30 this afternoon at the downtown Holiday Inn.  Another meeting of the Envision Athens steering committee is on tap for today, underway at 4 o’clock at the Classic Center.  There is an afternoon meeting of the Classic Center Authority: 4 o’clock at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. There is a jobs fair today in Athens: the Benson Hospitality Group is setting up shop at the downtown Holiday Inn at 5 o’clock this afternoon.  Tonight’s Oconee County Commission meeting gets underway at 7 o’clock at the Oconee County Courthouse in Watkinsville. It’s an agenda setting session.  Barrow County Commissioners meet tonight, 7 o’clock at the Historic Courthouse in Winder. 
  • Police in Winder have released the name of the man whose body was found in a car in a shopping center parking lot. Todd Davis was 52 years old, from Winder. His body was discovered Sunday in a vehicle parked in the Holly Hill shopping center on West Athens Street in Winder. Police say there are no immediate indications of foul play; also still no word on the exact cause of death. Hall County authorities have released the name of the husband and wife killed in what is believed to have been a murder-suicide: the bodies of 75 year-old Larry McGinness and 69 year-old Shelly McGinness were found last week at a home in Gainesville. The GBI is in on the ongoing investigation. 
  • State Rep. Tommy Benton believes the history of the Confederate army is part of Southern cultural heritage and should be recognized formally in the state. Benton, a Republican from Jefferson, sponsored House Resolution 644 along with state Reps. Alan Powell, Steve Tarvin and Jesse Petrea to commemorate the “brave” men who fought on the Confederate side in the Civil War by recognizing April as Confederate History Month and April 26 as Confederate Memorial Day. His resolution, however, makes no mention of the “Civil War,” instead referring to it as the “four-year struggle for states’ rights, individual freedom, and local governmental control, which they believed to be right and just.” But when asked whether the resolution, which is written to “encourage our citizens to learn about Georgia’s heritage and history and to observe the occasion with appropriate ceremonies,” includes the need to understand the role that slavery and systemic exploitation and oppression of African and African-American people played and an acknowledgement of what the war was fought about, Benton declined to answer. “Next question,” Benton said Monday during a press conference about the resolution. A former schoolteacher and unapologetic supporter of preserving Georgia’s Confederate heritage, Benton has previously backed a measure that would protect state monuments from being moved or removed. He has also said the Ku Klux Klan, though he didn’t agree with all its methods, “made a lot of people straighten up.” Benton said the intentions of his proposal, which isn’t expected to gain any traction in the final days of the legislative session, have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. “It should never have been a controversy,” Benton said. “We’re not honoring slavery.” After a gunman and avowed white supremacist shot and killed nine people praying in an African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, S.C., many Southern states came under fire for their embrace of Confederate memorabilia and traditions. The fourth Monday in April had for decades been known in Georgia as Confederate Memorial Day. But in 2015, Gov. Nathan Deal quietly struck that reference, as well as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday, from the official state calendar and renamed each date as a “State Holiday.”
  • The Georgia DOT is holding an afternoon meeting on plans to widen Highway 441 in Oconee and Morgan counties. The first session with the Oconee County Citizens Advisory Committee is set for 5 o’clock in the Community Center at the Oconee County Veterans Park. It is expected that plans for a Bishop bypass will be up for discussion at today’s meeting.  Your drive through Madison could be disrupted again this week: more movie work is taking place in Morgan County, with production of a film that stars Reba McIntire. Southbound lane closures on I-85 in Franklin County are scheduled for tonight, as the DOT continues work on the Interstate weigh station near Lavonia. 

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS – For years, Georgia’s head football and basketball coaches used to go on an extensive spring speaking tour, answering questions and shaking hands with fans who paid a small fee at the door. Those days of extensive touring around Georgia appear to be over. At least for now. The university has planned five events this spring featuring Kirby Smart, but they will be private donor events – and for now only one will be in the state of Georgia. The school will host events in Nashville, Charlotte, Jacksonville and Houston, with the lone in-state event being in Atlanta in July. These events will be closed to the public and the media, open only to donors. But there will also be two additional in-state events featuring Smart, athletics director Greg McGarity said Monday afternoon. Those events will just be branded differently. “We’re still working through two in-state events that would be branded under the Georgia Bulldog Club, or under UGA athletics,” McGarity said. In the past, Georgia football and basketball coach did as many as 12 spring tour stops, almost all in the state, from Columbus to Macon to Augusta and even smaller stops. But those tours have gradually dissipated: In Mark Richt’s final year, he only went to seven stops. Last year Smart went to five stops, though four of the were in-state, the exception being a donor event in Dallas. This year it’s going all-private, which someone with knowledge said evolved from Smart coming in with a new approach, and UGA wanting to do fundraising. There’s a feeling they don’t need the old model, where fans get a chance to hear from coaches and ask them questions, because of social media and other factors. Crowds at these events had also been going down. “The university is trying to be strategic to generate the money that everybody needs to generate right now,” McGarity said. “The purpose of these events have changed, they’ve morphed over the years.” The athletics department did seem to anticipate some fan blowback. “As for our donors, I realize there may be some sensitivity to the majority of the events being out of state this year,” associate athletics director for development Matt Borman wrote in an internal e-mail earlier this month. “If donors bring this up to you please just say that we are excited to be in Atlanta with an event in July and we wanted to take an opportunity this year to visit some of our supporters who don’t have the opportunity to make it to Athens on a regular basis. “After this year of events we will reevaluate and definitely consider bringing some of these events back into Georgia.” There are other speaking events for Smart that aren’t directly affiliated with the school. For instance, he is speaking Monday night at the Athens Touchdown Club, and spoke last month at the Macon Touchdown Club.
  • ATHENS, Ga. --- The University of Georgia women’s tennis team extended its win streak to six matches with a commanding 4-0 victory over Mississippi State Sunday afternoon at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex.   The Bulldogs (13-3, 7-1 SEC) continued to roll in doubles as they grabbed the point for the seventh-consecutive match. The 28th-ranked duo of Elena Christofi and Kennedy Shaffer clinched it on court two for the sixth time in the streak. In singles, Mariana Gould blew by her opponent 6-0, 6-1 followed by a Shaffer win at No. 3 and a clincher at the net by Christofi on court two.   “We are in the middle of this conference race and it's been tough every time we play all these schools,” Georgia head coach Jeff Wallace said. “I keep saying in the SEC we have 11 in the top 25 rankings and everybody comes ready to play. Mississippi State was another one of those teams. I thought the doubles point was great. Getting that 1-0 lead is critical for us. It was a good match and a great day and now we hit the road for the next three before we conclude our season here at home.” The shutout was Georgia’s fifth of the season. The Bulldogs have now rallied off six straight conference wins with four of those against teams in the top-25.   In doubles, the No. 2 court sat at 4-3 before Christofi/Shaffer finished the last two games strong to win 6-3 over Khrystyna Vozniak and Jennifer Brown. The Georgia twosome showcases a 6-1 record playing No. 2 and an 11-2 slate on the year.   Mississippi State (11-5, 4-4) started doubles with the lead after 11th-ranked tandem of Jasmine Lee and Lisa Marie Rioux edged No. 18 Ellen Perez and Caroline Brinson on court one. However, Gould and Marta Gonzalez evened up the score on court three winning 6-3 before Christofi and Shaffer secured the point.   In singles, junior Mariana Gould, ranked at No. 102, overpowered her opponent 6-0, 6-1 on the last court to put Georgia up 2-0. Gould, of Boise, Idaho, ups her win streak to five on court six where she has a 10-2 dual record.   The remaining singles matches featured two first-set tiebreakers and four that spilled into the third set. On court No. 3, Kennedy Shaffer edged Madison Harrison in the first-set tiebreaker 7-2, then carried that momentum into the second set winning 6-2.   In the battle of freshmen on court two eighth-ranked Christofi defeated Rioux in the deciding third set 6-1 to seal the win for the Bulldogs. The clincher was Christofi’s fourth on the season en route to a team-best 26-4 record.   Georgia was leading in two of the three remaining third-set matches that went unfinished. At No. 4, Brinson was on the verge of victory leading Anastasia Rentouli 5-0. After Perez dropped the first-set tiebreaker, she took the second set over 32nd-ranked Jasmine Lee and was up 2-1 when play was called.   “This year is going fast we got to keep working and stay excited and continue to compete like we're competing,” Wallace added.   The Bulldogs are back in action Saturday, April 1st at No. 23 Tennessee. First serve is slotted for 1 p.m. ET.    ## Tennis Match Results Mississippi State vs. Georgia Mar 26, 2017 at Athens, Ga. (Dan Magill Tennis Complex)   #3 Georgia 4, #25 Mississippi State 0   Singles competition  1. #26 Ellen Perez (UGA) vs. #32 Jasmine Lee (MSU) 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 2-1, unfinished 2. #8 Elena Christofi (UGA) def. Lisa Marie Rioux (MSU) 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 3. #57 Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Madison Harrison (MSU) 7-6 (7-2), 6-2 4. #59 Caroline Brinson (UGA) vs. Anastasia Rentouli (MSU) 6-4, 1-6, 5-0, unfinished 5. Marta Gonzalez (UGA) vs. Khrystyna Vozniak (MSU) 4-6, 6-3, 0-1, unfinished 6. #102 Mariana Gould (UGA) def. Sara Lizariturry (MSU) 6-0, 6-1   Doubles competition  1. #11 Jasmine Lee/Lisa Marie Rioux (MSU) def. #18 Ellen Perez/Caroline Brinson (UGA) 6-2 2. #28 Elena Christofi/Kennedy Shaffer (UGA) def. Khrystyna Vozniak/Jennifer Brown (MSU) 6-3 3. #68 Marta Gonzalez/Mariana Gould (UGA) def. Sara Lizariturry/Madison Harrison (MSU) 6-3   Match Notes: Mississippi State 11-5, 4-4; National ranking #25 Georgia 13-3, 7-1; National ranking #3 Order of finish: Doubles (1,3,2); Singles (6,3,2) UGA Rankings: ITA #3, USTA #T6 Official: Karen Badger-Mabry T-2:15 A-460 
  • FROM UGA SPORTS COMMUNICATIONS  Athens, Ga. — For the second straight year, Georgia’s J.J. Frazier has been named the state of Georgia’s Men’s College Basketball Player of the Year by the Atlanta Tipoff Club. The club announced its annual award winners on Thursday. Frazier, 5-10, 155-pound senior from Glennville, Ga., led the Bulldogs and ranked among the SEC’s top-10 performers in scoring (third at 18.8 ppg), assists (fifth at 4.1 apg), steals (third at 1.9 spg) and playing time (first at 34.6 mpg). He finished the 2016-17 season with 640 points, the fourth-best mark in school history. Frazier set the Georgia career record for free throw percentage (.841). He had a school-record streak of 45 consecutive made free throws during his senior season, which is also the second-longest streak in SEC history. Frazier has collected a long list of accolades this season. He was named SEC and National Player of the Week on Week on Feb. 27 after averaging 28.5 points in wins over Alabama and LSU in a 49-hour span. Frazier was also voted first-team All-SEC by both league coaches and the Associated Press. He was named to All-District teams by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) and the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC). UGA players have won Tipoff Club’s statewide honor 10 times since its inception in 1984. Frazier is just the second Bulldog to earn Georgia Player of the Year honors twice. Jarvis Hayes was honored following both the 2002 and 2003 seasons.  Vern Fleming was the award’s initial recipient in 1984, followed by Litterial Green in 1992, Jumaine Jones in 1999, Hayes in 2002 and 2003, Rashad Wright in 2004, Trey Thompkins in 2011, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2013 and Frazier in 2016 and 2017. 
  • There will be a new policy in place for football fans who go to games at Sanford Stadium later this year. The University of Georgia says it will be following Southeastern Conference guidelines and requiring fans to bring items into the Stadium and other athletic venues in clear plastic bags. UGA says the policy will be in place for the April 22 G-Day spring football game.  From the University of Georgia…   In the interest of public safety and to expedite entry into its venues, the UGA Athletic Association will begin to implement the Southeastern Conference Clear Bag Policy in 2017. This policy will be in effect at the annual G-Day intrasquad football game on April 22. It will go into effect permanently for the 2017-18 competition season and will include all UGA venues that host ticketed events: Sanford Stadium (football), Stegeman Coliseum (men’s & women’s basketball, gymnastics) and Foley Field (baseball). Following are the basics concerning the Clear Bag Policy: > These bags will be permitted inside UGA athletic events: Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC and do not exceed 12”x6”x12”. One-gallon clear plastic freezer bags. Small clutch bags, with or without a handle or strap, that do not exceed 4.5” x 6.5”. Bags that contain necessary medical items, which must be inspected and approved at a designated gate. > Each ticket holder is allowed one large clear bag such as a one-gallon Ziploc style bag or clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag that does not exceed 12” x 6” x 12”, plus a small clutch purse > Prohibited bags include, but are not limited to: purses larger than a clutch bag, briefcases, backpacks, cinch bags, fanny packs that are not clear and/or exceed the size restriction, luggage, computer bags/cases, camera bags/cases, binocular bags/cases, or any bag larger than the permissible size. > Several SEC schools began implementing this policy in the 2016 school year. All SEC schools will have this policy in place by the 2017-18 school year. > Fans can still carry items such as binoculars, smart phones, tablets and cameras (with lenses shorter than four inches), so long as they are not in a bag or carrying case. > Seat cushions -- without arms or pockets -- will still be permitted into the venues. Fans may also bring in blankets during cold weather events, provided they carry them in over an arm or shoulder to allow for easy screening upon entry. > More information on this new policy can be found at the following website: http://georgiadogs.com/clear-bag-policy/
  • The Clear Bag Policy will be in effect in Sanford Stadium, Stegeman Coliseum and Foley Field.