Health Highlights: Jan. 30, 2018

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

Bill Gates Reveals His Father Has Dementia

Bill Gates has revealed for the first time that his 92-year-old father, Bill Gates. Sr., has Alzheimer's disease, NBC News says.

Gates is donating $100 million to research to find a cure for Alzheimer's, which affects about 5.5 million Americans.

"More and more people are getting Alzheimer's, and it's a tragic disease," Gates told Today show special anchor Maria Shriver.

In 2017, Americans spent $259 billion caring for loved ones with Alzheimer's and other dementias, NBC News reported. The cause is unknown and there are no effective treatments, but Gates is believes progress can be made.

"I really believe that if we orchestrate the right resources, it's solvable," he said.

Too much money is currently spent on mainstream treatments that aren't effective, according to Gates. Half of his $100 million will go to the Dementia Discovery Fund, a group that supports innovate research, NBC News reported.

"I'm an optimist. Bringing in new ideas, that's what we're gonna have to do, to have great drugs for this in the next 10 to 15 years," Gates said.

The other $50 million will fund a national patient registry to speed up recruitment for clinical trials, and an international research database so scientists can share data, and perhaps collaborate, with one another, NBC News reported.

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Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase to Create Health Care System for Employees

An independent health care initiative to serve their employees was announced Tuesday by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway and JPMorgan Chase, three of the United States' most influential companies.

The three companies said the new system will initially focus on technology to provide workers and their families with simplified, high-quality health care at a reasonable cost, The New York Times reported.

The initiative is in the early planning stages. It will be a long-term undertaking "free from profit-making incentives and constraints," the companies said.

Amazon is the largest online retailer in the world, Berkshire Hathaway is the holding company led by the billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, and JPMorgan Chase is the largest bank in the U.S. by assets, the Times reported.

"The health care system is complex, and we enter into this challenge open-eyed about the degree of difficulty," Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and chief executive, said in a statement.

"Hard as it might be, reducing health care's burden on the economy while improving outcomes for employees and their families would be worth the effort. Success is going to require talented experts, a beginner's mind, and a long-term orientation," according to Bezos.

"The ballooning costs of health care act as a hungry tapeworm on the American economy," Buffett said in the statement on Tuesday, The Times reported.

"Our group does not come to this problem with answers. But we also do not accept it as inevitable. Rather, we share the belief that putting our collective resources behind the country's best talent can, in time, check the rise in health costs while concurrently enhancing patient satisfaction and outcomes," Buffett said.

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Azar Sworn in as HHS Secretary

Former drug company executive Alex Azar has been sworn in as the new U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary.

His nomination was approved last week by the Senate, largely along party lines, the Associated Press reported.

Azar, who served in the George W. Bush administration, has said he wants to curb the cost of prescription drugs, make health insurance more affordable and available, and combat the opioid epidemic.

Azar replaces Tom Price, who resigned last fall after his use of costly private charter aircraft for official travel triggered outrage, the AP reported.

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Groups Call on Facebook to Scrap Messenger Kids App

Facebook should scrap its Messenger Kids app because it could pose health and development risks, 19 groups say in a letter to be sent Tuesday to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg.

The 19 groups, which include child advocates and medical experts, contend that children are not prepared for online relationships and don't have an understanding of privacy and the appropriateness of sharing texts, pictures and videos, the Washington Post reported.

The letter, organized by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said research suggests a link between social media use and higher rates of depression among teens, and said it's irresponsible to expose preschool children to the Messenger Kids app, which was launched late last year and is available to children younger than 13.

The letter also said increasing children's screen time could interfere with important development skills such as interacting with the physical world, delaying gratification and reading other people's emotions, the Post reported.

Children don't need their own social media accounts, according to Josh Golin, executive director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the Post reported.

"We are at a pivotal moment, and the tech companies need to decide if they are going to act in a way that is more ethical and more responsive to the needs of children and families, or are they gong to continue to pursue profits at the expense of children's well-being?"

Messenger Kids has no advertising and parents who use the app say it helps them stay in touch with their children when they're at work or away, according to Facebook.

"We worked to create Messenger Kids with an advisory committee of parenting and developmental experts, as well as with families themselves and in partnership with National PTA. We continue to be focused on making Messenger Kids the best experience it can be for families," Facebook's global head of safety, Antigone Davis, said in a statement, the Post reported.

The criticism of Facebook's Messenger for Kids is the latest example of opposition to the companies promoting the use of digital technology by children and teens.

Earlier this month, two major Apple investors said the company's products could cause long-term physical or mental harm to children and needs to change how it approaches some of its young customers, the Post reported.

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Parasitic Worms Infest Couple's Feet After Caribbean Holiday

A young Canadian couple discovered dozens of parasitic worms in their feet after a recent holiday in the Dominican Republic.

Eddie Zytner, 25, and Katie Stephens, 22, of Windsor, Ontario, returned home in mid-January with itchy feet. A few days later, the itching turned into painful swelling and blisters, CNN reported.

The pain became so severe that the couple could not wear socks or shoes and had to use crutches to walk.

After a number of visits to the hospital, the couple was diagnosed with cutaneous larva migrans, caused by hookworm larvae that likely entered their skin while they were barefoot on the beaches of Punta Cana, CNN reported.

The parasites typically live in the intestines of dogs, cats and other wild animals. The larvae burrow into human skin that comes into contact with sand or soil that has been contaminated with animal feces, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The larvae typically don't survive more than six weeks in humans, but can be treated with antiparasitic drugs, the CDC says.

The couple began treatment last week and said there has been significant improvement in their symptoms, CNN reported.

Zytner offered advice for people planning a trip to the Caribbean: "Call the resort they're staying at and see if they clean up all the beaches." He added: "Wear shoes."

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Flu Prevention Measures Being Taken At Super Bowl Events

Steps are being taken to reduce Super Bowl visitors' risk of catching the flu, event organizers say.

Staff are using sanitizing wipes to clean all Super Bowl Experience exhibits at the Minneapolis Convention Center numerous times a day, and virtual reality equipment at the United Way's Super Bowl Experience is cleaned between each use, Fox News reported.

Fans are being urged to get flu shots.

Minnesota officials believe 1 million people will attend Super Bowl-related events in the week before the game. Of those, about 125,000 will come from outside the state, Fox News reported.

Flu-related hospitalizations are down in Minnesota, but there has been a sharp rise in flu cases at doctor's offices, urgent care and community health clinics. There has also been an increase in flu outbreaks at schools in the state, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this flu season is on track to be similar to or surpass the 2014-2015 flu season, when 34 million Americans got the flu, 710,00 were hospitalized and about 56,000 died, Fox News reported.

Along with the flu shot, people in crowded areas should wash their hands often and avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, health officials say.

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Human Genome Can Now Be Mapped Using Handheld Device

Scientists who created a handheld device that can sequence the human genome say their achievement could pave the way for using genetics in day-to-day medicine.

The new device highlights the rapid progress in this field. The first sequencing of the human genome began in 1990 and took 13 years. It involved laboratories worldwide and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, BBC News reported.

An article about the device -- which the developers say is 99.5 percent accurate -- was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

"We've gone from a situation where you can only do genome sequencing for a huge amount of money in well equipped labs to one where we can have genome sequencing literally in your pocket just like a mobile phone," researcher Nicholas Loman, a professor at the University of Birmingham, U.K., told BBC News.

"That gives us a really exciting opportunity to start having genome sequencing as a routine tool, perhaps something people can do in their own home," Loman added.

Sequencing technology could change the practice of medicine. For example, it could help improve cancer treatment or detect antibiotic resistance early. Loman used the new device to track the spread of Ebola during the recent outbreak in West Africa, BBC News reported.

"Our ability to sequence whole genomes quickly and cheaply continues to improve," according to Sobia Raza, head of science at the PHG Foundation genomics think tank.

"But short-term patient benefits also depend on how well and how fast we can analyze and make sense of the genomic data, and that is still quite a challenge," Raza told BBC News reported.

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