Health Highlights: Dec. 16, 2014

Health Highlights: Dec. 16, 2014

Health Highlights: Dec. 16, 2014

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

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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U.S. Teens Now More Likely to Use E-Cigarettes Than Traditional Cigarettes

The use of electronic cigarettes by American teens has surpassed their use of traditional cigarettes, according to a federal government study.

Among Grade 8 students, nearly nine percent said they'd used an e-cigarette in the last month, while four percent smoked traditional cigarettes. The rates were 16 percent and seven percent among 10th-graders and 17 percent and 14 percent among high school seniors, the Associated Press reported.

The National Institutes of Health survey of more than 41,000 students also found that between four and seven percent of teens who tried e-cigarettes had never smoked a traditional cigarette.

"I worry that the tremendous progress that we've made over the last almost two decades in smoking could be reversed on us by the introduction of e-cigarettes," survey leader Lloyd Johnston, a University of Michigan professor, told the AP.

In 2013, an estimated 4.5 percent of high school students had tried e-cigarettes during the previous month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That's three times higher than in 2011.

While the Food and Drug Administration has proposed prohibiting sales of e-cigarettes to minors, there is no timetable for when such a ban might take effect, the AP reported.

The survey also looked at drug use and found that marijuana use appeared to level off after recent increases. Past-month use of marijuana was reported by 6.5 percent of eighth-graders, 17 percent of 10th-graders, and 21 percent of 12th-graders. Nearly six percent of 12th-graders reported daily use of marijuana.

The number of high school seniors trying synthetic marijuana fell to six percent this year, from eight percent last year and 11 percent in 2012, the AP reported.

Six percent of 12th-graders said they abused prescription painkillers this year, compared with 9.5 percent in 2004. Nearly 20 percent of high school seniors reported binge drinking this year, down from 25 percent in 2009.

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Vivek Murthy Confirmed as U.S. Surgeon General

Vivek Murthy was confirmed Monday evening as the next U.S. Surgeon General, after a confirmation process that lasted more than a year and a half due to concerns about his experience and opposition from the gun lobby.

The U.S. Senate voted 51 to 43 to confirm Murthy, a 37-year-old Harvard and Yale-educated doctor at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. He replaces Boris Lushniak, who has served as acting surgeon general since July 2013, the Washington Post reported.

After President Barack Obama nominated Murthy for the position, senators in both parties expressed concerns that he might be too inexperienced for the role. There were also worries that Murthy's work in helping Obama get elected and his support for the health care overhaul made him too divisive a figure.

Murthy also faced strong opposition from the National Rifle Association because he supports tighter gun control laws, the Post reported.

However, at a hearing on Capital Hill earlier this year, Murthy said as surgeon general he would focus on public health issues where there is wide agreement, such as the country's obesity epidemic.

"I do not intend to use the surgeon general's office as a bully pulpit for gun control," he said at hearing.

Among Murthy's supporters are a large number of medical and public health groups, as well as former Surgeon General David Satcher, the Post reported.

In a statement, President Obama said Murthy will bring "his lifetime of experience promoting public health" to his role as surgeon general and help guide the nation's response to the Ebola crisis.

"Vivek's confirmation makes us better positioned to save lives around the world and protect the American people here at home," Obama said.

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Ruling Blocking Arizona Abortion Law Stands: Supreme Court

A lower court ruling temporarily blocking an Arizona law limiting the use of an abortion drug was upheld Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Under the 2012 law, abortion providers must adhere to a 2000 Food and Drug Administration protocol for mifepristone, also called RU-486, that calls for the drug to be given in higher doses than is common today, and only in the first seven weeks of pregnancy, The New York Times reported.

Since the FDA protocol was released, doctors have found that a lower dose of RU-486 is effective and that the drug is safe to take through the ninth week of pregnancy.

Arizona officials said their law was meant to "protect women from the dangerous and potentially deadly off-label use of abortion-inducing drugs," The Times reported.

The Supreme Court gave no reasons for its decision.

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