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  Health Highlights: March 23, 2018

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

AIDS Researcher Robert Redfield to Lead CDC

Leading AIDS researcher Robert Redfield is the new head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the University of Maryland professor of medicine is widely respected for his clinical work, critics say the 66-year-old virologist and physician has no experience leading a government public health agency and had controversial ideas on HIV testing during the first decade of the AIDS crisis, the Washington Post reported.

Redfield's appointment was announced Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who said in a statement that Redfield's scientific and clinical background was "peerless."

During Redfield's two-decades at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, he made "pioneering contributions to advance our understanding of HIV/AIDS," said Azar, who also highlighted Redfield's more recent role as head of a treatment network in Baltimore for HIV and hepatitis C patients, the Post reported.

Redfield's background prepares him "to hit the ground running on one of HHS and CDC's top priorities, combating the opioid epidemic," according to Azar.

Redfield's appointment as head of the CDC does not require Senate confirmation and he is expected to be sworn in and begin his new position within a few days, the Post reported.

While many applauded Redfield's appointment, critics noted that he supported controversial HIV testing policies during the first decade of the AIDS crisis.

When he was chief Army AIDS researcher in the 1980s, Redfield backed mandatory HIV screening, and recruits who tested positive for HIV were not allowed to serve in the military, the Post reported.

Redfield was closely linked with a controversial and failed effort in Congress in 1991 to require HIV testing for health-care professionals who perform invasive procedures.

While at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in the early 1990s, Redfield was accused of misrepresenting data about the effectiveness of an experimental and ultimately unsuccessful AIDS vaccine. An investigation cleared him of scientific misconduct charges, the Post reported.

Also in the 1990s, Army investigators noted that Redfield had close ties with a conservative AIDS group that strongly backed the vaccine and received scientific details about it "to a degree that is inappropriate," according to a 1993 Science article based on an Army report, the Post reported.

Redfield's "lack of public health credentials and his history of controversial positions regarding the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDs" along with his pattern of "ethically and morally questionable behavior leads me to seriously question whether Dr. Redfield is qualified to be the federal government's chief advocate and spokesperson for public health," Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, wrote in a letter to the White House.

Putting Redfield in charge of the CDC would be "disastrous," according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

"What one wants in a director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a scientist of impeccable scientific integrity," the group said in a statement Wednesday, the Post reported.

"What one would get in Robert Redfield is a sloppy scientist with a long history of scientific misconduct and an extreme religious agenda," the center said.

Public health experts inside and outside the CDC expressed concerns about Redfield's limited governmental public health experience, especially when it comes to emergency responses, the Post reported.


Medical Costs May Trigger Fewer Bankruptcies Than Thought: Study

Medical bills may not cause as many bankruptcies in the United States as previously thought, according to a new study.

Researchers looked at more than half a million adults under age 65 in California who were hospitalized between 2003 and 2007 (childbirth-related hospital stays were not included) and found that hospitalizations were linked with only about 4 percent of personal bankruptcies among the patients, the Associated Press reported.

The study was published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Previous research has suggested that medical costs are behind more than 60 percent of U.S. bankruptcies, the AP reported.

The new study included a wider range of people than earlier studies, which looked at people who already had filed for bankruptcy protection, the researchers noted.

"What causes bankruptcies is still somewhat unknown, but it appears that medical expenses are responsible for a much smaller share of them than previously thought," said study co-author Raymond Kluender of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the AP reported.

He noted that the new study was limited in that it only looked at adult patients from one state who were hospitalized, and that hospital stays often are the first in a "chain of struggles with medical expenses and medical debt."


More Cases of Breast Implant-Linked Cancer: FDA

The number of reported cases of a cancer linked to breast implants increased from 359 to 414 over the past year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a website update Wednesday.

The number of deaths recorded by the FDA remained at nine, but a professional society of plastic surgeons says there have been 16 deaths from the cancer, The New York Times reported.

The FDA's numbers include cases in the U.S. and other countries.

The disease -- breast implant-associated anaplastic large-cell lymphoma -- is not breast cancer. It's an immune system cancer that can usually be cured by surgery alone if detected early, The Times reported.

Women with implants that have a textured coating are more likely to develop the disease than those with smooth implants. No link has been found between the disease and the implant contents -- salt water or silicone, according to the FDA.

The agency also said that the disease is not associated with breast cancer. The risk is the same for women who get breast implants for cosmetic reasons and for those who get them during reconstructive surgery after breast cancer, The Times reported.

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