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Before they headed off to their holidays, Congress and President Obama wrapped up what many hope will be a helpful fiscal package to benefit Americans’ health: The 2016 omnibus budget bill, which got so much attention, also provided some of the strongest health care funding in more than a dozen years, news reports say. This should better support efforts to address an array of concerns, including fighting cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, improving food safety, and the bolstering initiatives to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics.

The director of the National Institutes of Health issued a statement praising the $2 billion boost to his agency’s budget, the best he said he had seen in years. The health-related funding took significant bipartisan lobbying, particularly to overcome what has been a tide of partisan, rancorous, and downright anti-scientific activity in Washington.

Compared with what other national needs get funding when Uncle Sam figures how to spend more than $4 trillion annually, the increased healthcare spend might not seem sizable. But the added money is expected to:

Scientific research can move with such speed that it can be tough to keep up with it, as steady  advances pile on each other until progress once thought unheard of becomes commonplace. That’s why it can be enlightening to find timely, long-form reporting for savvy but not necessarily technical audiences on topics like human gene editing and the new importance some experts are giving to the role of inflammation in overall health.

In news terms, of course, there have been big developments in Washington about gene editing:  Global experts just gathered and decided that, for now, it would be scientifically possible but irresponsible to introduce changes that can be passed on in the human geonome.

As the New York Times reports, the DC session, which included, in a diplomatic-scientific coup, representatives from China, was convened to allow august research academies to weigh in on a critical controversy caused by:

Just in time for Friday the 13th: Tired of the office jocks chin-wagging all day long about the Skins, Nats, Caps, and whatever? Weary of hearing other colleagues chatter about Kardashians, haute coture, or activities in trendy clubs with names that can’t be mentioned in family settings? Here’s a bizarre health-related topic that’s guaranteed to cause some jaws to drop around the water cooler. Don’t talk about this at the lunch or dinner table. But, curiously, there are two, bona fide recent reports on the skin-crawling topic of tapeworms and the harms they can cause. Ick, we know.

The first news item comes from no less than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the New England Journal of Medicine about a curious case out of Colombia where an HIV-immune compromised patient presented with unusual tumors in his lungs and lymph nodes. Rounds of tests finally revealed that his cancer-like growths were tied to the 41-year-old man’s infection with Hymenolepis nana, the dwarf tapeworm. The tiny bug, which infects as many as 75 million globally (but rarely in the U.S.), had its own cancer and appears to have given it to its host, who, by the way, died of HIV complications — restricting further study on this odd case. Researchers, for example, don’t know if they had detected the worm-cancer linkage if killing the parasites would have helped.

Enough? Well, how about this report from the Los Angeles Times about a Napa, Calif., student who was suffering debilitating skull pain and was hours from death when surgeons discovered the cause of his affliction: a tiny cyst in a ventricle in his brain, encapsulating a still live scolex — the sucker portion a tapeworm uses to attach itself to its human host. How that varmint tissue survived and traveled deep into the young man’s brain isn’t known, the paper says, but the patient had complained for weeks of increasingly worsening symptoms, including dizziness, blackouts, and crushing headaches so severe they made him vomit.

The gap between black and white Americans in life expectancy is shrinking, for good reasons and bad ones.

Good: Heart and blood vessel disease is not killing African Americans quite as lethally as before, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. There is also good news of  improvements in black Americans’ deaths due to cancer, HIV, unintentional injuries, and health problems during infancy.

Bad: Part of the declining gap is due to whites losing ground in their own battle for longer lives. Last week, we reported on findings by a Nobel economics laureate and his colleague of  a jarring jump in the death rate for middle-aged whites, most notably men and women ages 45-54 with high school educations or less.

If Americans hadn’t already gotten a clue from books like Fast Food Nation and films like Super Size Me about just how harmful fast-food eating can be to health, they can look now to the latest outbreak of food-borne illness to raise further red flags, this time an E. coli outbreak tied to Chipoltle fast-food outlets: 40 people have been sickened, with a dozen needing hospital care, and now the chain has shut 43 of its outlets in Oregon and Washington in what it calls an abundance of caution.

This is not the Mexican food purveyor’s first such incident, as CBS News points out:  “Last July, five people became sick with another strain of E. coli after eating at a Seattle area Chipotle. Then in August, 64 cases of salmonella illness were linked to tainted tomatoes served up at two Chipotle locations in Minnesota. That same month, 80 customers and 18 employees of a Chipotle in southern California became ill, and some tested positive for norovirus.”

If you’re keeping track, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that multistate outbreaks involving food, which has been contaminated before it gets served, are on the upswing, with 24 occurring annually and crossing the borders of anywhere from two to 37 states; they caused 56% of deaths in all reported food-borne outbreaks, although they accounted for just 3% of all such outbreaks from 2010 to 2014.

Like every other body part, our eyes change as we age. Mostly, the changes are unwelcome, but some are more annoying than threatening. But some changes, as explained in Healthbeat, a publication from the Harvard Medical School, are serious and require immediate attention.

Normal age-related changes include increasing difficulty focusing on close objects — many people need to use reading glasses sometime in their 40s to address their eyes’ diminishing elasticity in switching from far to near vision.

Other aspects of getting older include thinning eyelashes, and less lubrication. The former might be aesthetically objectionable, but the latter can leave your eyes feeling dry, sticky or gritty. Your vision often is less acute when you get older, and can make driving more difficult.

Aging brings many unwelcome but normal challenges to health and fitness, including possible lapses in memory. But some such problems can be the result of common behaviors you can alter to improve your brain’s ability to remember things, and retrieve them more easily.

Here, courtesy Harvard Health Publications, are six common contributors to memory impairment.

1. Fatigue

It probably has happened to you or someone you know: A patient chooses the doctor and the facility where the procedure occurs mindful of his or her insurance plan’s network, then later receives a surprise bill showing, sometimes, thousands of dollars owed for out-of-network care. The services were provided, but the patient never knew about them and/or that they weren’t in-network.

The New York Times described this situation in stark terms in its series “Paying Till It Hurts.” (See our blog.) And a recent survey by Consumers Union further quantified it, showing that almost 1 in 3 Americans with private insurance got a big surprise on a medical bill in the last two years when their insurance covered less than expected. Almost 1 in 4 of those surprises got billed by a doctor from whom they did not expect a bill. Fewer than 3 in 10 people were satisfied with the ultimate outcome of the issue.

As described by Modern Healthcare, “Consumers get especially upset when they go to an in-network hospital for an emergency and later get a bill from an emergency physician who was not in their plan’s network.” It mentioned a report last year from Texas, where more than half the in-network hospitals for one major underwriter had no in-network emergency physicians; another major insurance carrier offered in-network ER docs barely half the time, and another major player averaged an in-network ER provider about 1 in 5 times.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Its Patient Safety Primers are topical resources for people seeking information on everything from Adverse Events After Hospital Discharge to Wrong-Site, Wrong-Procedure, and Wrong-Patient Surgery

Because it’s a government compilation replete with acronyms and abbreviations, and because each explanation is evidence-based, it’s rather wonky reading. As the introduction says, “Patient Safety Primers guide you through key concepts in patient safety. Each primer defines a topic, offers background information on its epidemiology and context, and highlights relevant content from both AHRQ PSNet and AHRQ WebM&M.”

But each topic is explained clearly enough to get your arms around without Too Much Information, and if you want to pursue a topic further, the site offers links to additional resources.

Surgery to remove cataracts is a common procedure accompanied by, apparently, an equally common preoperative routine of testing that appears to be wholly unnecessary.

According to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine, (NEJM) “preoperative testing is not recommended for patients undergoing cataract surgery, because testing neither decreases adverse events nor improves outcomes.”

You can’t get much clearer than that: Testing doesn’t lower the rate of complication, and it doesn’t elevate the rate of success. So why do eye surgeons seem to love it so much?

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