Health Highlights: Sept. 27, 2018

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

80,000 Americans Died From Flu Last Year

Influenza was deadlier last season than it has been for at least four decades, killing 80,000 Americans. So said the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention late Tuesday in an interview with the Associated Press.

As autumn brings another flu season, CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield told the AP that “I’d like to see more people get vaccinated.”

The agency recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months get the annual flu shot.

Last year’s flu season made headlines for its scope and severity, but the new number still surprised experts.

“That’s huge,” Dr, William Schaffer, a vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, told the AP. He said that 80,000 deaths is more than double the number expected in a typical “bad” flu season. In recent years, the annual flu death toll has ranged from 12,000 to 56,000 deaths, the CDC said.

The 2017-2018 flu season was made worse by two factors: strains that hit the very young and elderly especially hard, and a poor matchup between those strains and those in the flu vaccine.

Still, even the relatively weak flu shot probably saved many lives, CDC experts say, so everyone should avail themselves of the shot again this season.

The flu typically kills by triggering other deadly conditions such as pneumonia, stroke and heart attack. The most deadly flu season on record remains that of thew 1918 pandemic, when upwards of 500,000 Americans are thought to have died.

As for the coming season, the CDC says that, so far, at least the circulating strain seems to be a milder one, and there are preliminary signs that the vaccine match is good.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen, but we’re seeing more encouraging signs than we were early last year,” CDC flu expert Dr. Daniel Jernigan told the AP.


Opioid Bill Gets Bipartisan Support

In a rare bipartisan move, both the House and Senate have reached a compromise on legislation to address the opioid epidemic.

Containing a mix of law enforcement and public health measures, including one that aims to block deadly fentanyl from being imported through the mail and one that will allow more nurses to prescribe medication for opioid addiction, the bill is 653 pages long, the New York Times reported.

Yet another part of the legislation could make it easier for Medicaid recipients to get inpatient care for substance abuse over the next five years, the newspaper said.

“While there is more work to be done, this bipartisan legislation takes an important step forward and will save lives,” a group of Republican and Democratic committee leaders said in a statement Tuesday.

But addiction experts say that while many of the measures will help incrementally, the investment still falls short of what is needed to stem the tide of opioid abuse. Nearly 50,000 Americans died in opioid-related deaths in 2017, the Times reported.

Both chambers still need to vote on the compromise bill. The House could vote this week, before its members adjourn to hit the campaign trail, and the Senate could take it up next week.