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Health Highlights: Jan. 14, 2016

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

West Africa Ebola Outbreak Is Over: WHO

The two-year Ebola outbreak in West Africa that claimed more than 11,300 lives is over, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

The agency made the announcement after determining that Liberia was Ebola-free. The two other West African nations at the heart of the outbreak -- Sierra Leone and Guinea -- were previously declared free of the deadly disease.

However, the WHO warned that risks remain, the Associated Press reported.

"While this is an important milestone and a very important step forward, we have to say that the job is still not done," Rick Brennan, WHO director of emergency risk assessment and humanitarian response, told reporters. "That's because there is still ongoing risk of re-emergence of the disease because of persistence of the virus in a proportion of survivors."

"The risk of re-introduction of infection is diminishing as the virus gradually clears from the survivor population, but we still anticipate more flare-ups and must be prepared for them," Dr. Bruce Aylward, WHO's special representative for the Ebola Response, said in a statement, the AP reported.

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CDC May Warn Pregnant Women Against Travel to Regions With Zika Virus

Pregnant women in the United States may be warned against traveling to Latin American and Caribbean countries where mosquitoes are spreading a virus that may cause brain damage in newborns.

Experts say a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning against travel to areas with the Zika virus is warranted. The agency could make a final announcement Thursday or Friday, according to a CDC spokesperson.

"We can't make these decisions in a vacuum," Thomas Skinner told The New York Times. "We're consulting with other experts outside."

It could be the first time the CDC advises pregnant women to stay away from a specific region during an oubreak, officials said.

The Zika virus first appeared in South America in May. Pregnant women infected with it may be at increased risk to have babies with small heads and damaged brains, a condition called microcephaly, The Times reported.

So far, local transmission of the Zika virus has been confirmed in 14 countries and territories in the Western Hemisphere: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Martinique, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Paraguay, Suriname and Venezuela.

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More Medical Device-Related Infections Than Previously Thought: Senate Report

More people than previously estimated contracted life-threatening infections from contaminated medical scopes in recent years, according to a U.S. Senate committee report released Wednesday.

It said at least 250 people developed "superbug" infections in at least 25 outbreaks linked to devices called duodenoscopes. The infections occurred in the United States and three other countries between 2012 and early 2015, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said contaminated duodenoscopes were associated with 142 patient infections.

The infections were caused by bacteria that remained on the scopes even after they were cleaned according to manufacturers' instructions, the AP reported.

A number of legislative and regulatory changes were recommended in the report from the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

It said the FDA should assess whether the devices require design modifications and, if so, have companies make repairs through a phased recall. The committee also said Congress should mandate unique medical device identifiers in insurance claims, electronic health records and device registries, the AP reported.

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FDA Advisers: Approve Implant for Opioid Addiction

An implant for opioid addiction should be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an agency advisory panel of medical experts says.

Opioids include heroin and powerful prescription pain drugs such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine and codeine.

The implant is a rod about the size of a small matchstick that is placed in the arm and delivers daily doses of buprenorphine -- a drug widely used to treat opioid addiction -- for six months, The New York Times reported.

While the drug can help treat opioid addiction, buprenorphine can also be addictive. That risk is heightened because buprenorphine has to be taken by mouth, requiring patients to manage their daily doses.

In voting 12 to 5 Tuesday to recommend approval of the Probuphine implant, the advisory panel concluded it was about as effective as the oral form of buprenorphine and could help combat the national epidemic of drug overdoses, the Times reported.

"There is not evidence of significant risk using this agent, but there is evidence of significant benefit," Dr. Thomas Grieger, a staff psychiatrist at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said.

Dr. David Pickar, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, said: "I think this will save some folks' lives. From a safety point of view I think we're in good shape."

There was a record number of opioid overdose deaths in the United States in 2014, according to federal health officials, the Times reported.

Among concerns expressed at the advisory meeting about the implant: there is no way to adjust the daily dosage delivered, and patients with the implant might not follow through with counseling and other important parts of treatment.

While not required to do so, the FDA typically follows the recommendations of its advisory panels.

The implant is made by Princeton, N.J.-based Braeburn Pharmaceuticals.


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