Nearly 1,000 sick with norovirus at 32 schools in northern California's Yolo County

Google Maps(NEW YORK) -- Nearly 1,000 students, teachers and staff in 32 schools in northern California's Yolo County have contracted the gastrointestinal illness norovirus, the county announced Friday.

"Over 952 students, teachers and staff are sick with stomach cramps, vomiting and/or diarrhea in schools throughout Yolo County," the county said in a press release, citing the findings of the Yolo County Health & Human Services Agency.

"The number of sick people is increasing every day at a very alarming rate," the release continues. "The outbreak has been identified and confirmed by specimen testing to be the norovirus which is highly contagious. norovirus commonly spreads through touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, close contact with someone who is infected or eating contaminated food or drink."

Aside from public schools, the University of California, Davis, is also affected. Yolo County includes the area west of Sacramento.

Dr. Ron Chapman, Yolo County's Public Health Officer, is urging residents to stay home if there is any sign of illness such as stomach pain, fever, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. He is also urging people to stay home for an additional 48 hours after symptoms are gone.

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One fourth of Medicare recipients spend 20 percent of income on medical costs

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For many older Americans, Medicare can be a lifeline. But a new study finds that more than one fourth of Medicare recipients still spend a significant portion of their income on health care.

The study by The Commonwealth Fund found that 27 percent of Medicaid recipients pay 20 percent or more of their income on medical costs, including monthly premiums. On average, recipients spend $3,024 on medical costs every year.

“Medicare is a critical lifeline for older Americans, whose health needs tend to increase as they age,” said Commonwealth Fund President Dr. David Blumenthal. “With one-fifth of the U.S. population projected to be enrolled in Medicare by 2024, it is vital for Medicare to keep evolving to make health care for seniors more accessible and affordable.”

The researchers examined the 2012 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) that projected population and spending through 2016 based on the national health expenditure accounts. The 11,299 respondents are weighted to be representative of the entire population of Medicare recipients.

Medicare does not cover vision, dental or long-term care for seniors. Not does it cover prescription drug costs, unless people buy Medicare Part D. While people can purchase additional insurance, or "Medigap" supplemental insurance at an average cost of $2,000 per person, the extra coverage can be out of reach for many, especially because 45 percent of Medicare recipients earn less than $24,000 annually.

"Unless you buy supplemental insurance you are extremely exposed," lead author Cathy Schoen, a senior scholar in Residence at the New York Academy of Medicine, told ABC News.

Without supplemental insurance, Medicare beneficiaries would have to pay $1,300 each time they are hospitalized.

"The burdens are particularly high for people which are low and middle income," said Schoen. "They get squeezed."

She said some Medicare recipients end up spending so much on health care they eventually qualify for Medicaid insurance as well.

The 5.4 million Medicare recipients who do not have supplemental coverage paid an average of $5,374 on out-of-pocket expenses in 2016, according to the report. Those with supplemental coverage paid about half that, or $2,587.

Schoen and her co-authors urge lawmakers to be cautious when making changes to the Medicare program. While some costs have come down, they anticipate overall costs to rise as more people join the program.

"Access and affordability remain key concerns. In any discussions of potential Medicare reform, it will be important to pay particular attention to consequences for those vulnerable because of poor health or low income," the authors wrote.

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New 'exoskeleton' technology can help protect seniors from slips and falls 

Monaco et all/Scientific Reports(NEW YORK) -- For seniors stuck using a cane or walker to stay on their feet, there soon may be a new way to get around without falling: an exoskeleton.

Researchers in Italy have created a wearable robotic system designed to use torque to help prevents people from slipping and falling, according to a report published yesterday in Scientific Reports.

The teams at from the Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies, Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation Mission studied a small group, including eight elderly people and two amputees, and the preliminary results were promising.

"Our study revealed that a wearable robotic platform can effectively interact with humans during reactive motor responses, such as accidental slipping," Dr. Vito Monaco, lead author of the study and expert in locomotion biomechanics at the Don Carlo Gnocchi Foundation Mission said in a statement. "These results open new perspectives for researchers who are expected to develop robotic platforms for enhancing human capabilities all day long."

Falls may seem like a small risk, but they are the number one cause of injuries and deaths from injury among older Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Older Americans experienced 29 million falls causing seven million injuries in 2014. Those falls cost an estimated $31 billion in annual Medicare costs, according to the CDC.

To test if the robotic exoskeleton they developed could help reverse falls, the researchers had the subjects wear the device and walk on the treadmill while wearing a safety harness. The treadmill would start normally and periodically jerk forward, causing the subjects to slip.

The device worked by recognizing that a person was falling and then applying counteracting "torque" to the body to help a person regain their balance.

They found that those wearing the exoskeleton when it was activated were better able to keep their balance without losing their center of mass as much as if they were not wearing it.

While the research is in the early stages, this could help researchers develop an assistive device that could help the elderly stay on their feet -- or at least be an upgrade from current walkers, canes or wheelchairs.

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Ebola outbreak reported in Democratic Republic of Congo

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new Ebola outbreak has been detected in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the World Health Organization.

Since April 22, there have been nine suspected Ebola cases and three deaths, the WHO said. One out of the five blood samples tested at the DRC's National Biomedical Research Institute tested positive for the disease.

Six people remain hospitalized with the dangerous virus, which can cause hemorrhagic fever.

The cases were found in the Likati district. Teams of epidemiologists and biologists are expected to arrive at the scene soon, according to the WHO.

"The Likati health district is in a remote area, but contact tracing is essential to contain the epidemic in its focus; the DRC can rely on very experienced health workers for this purpose," Dr. Yokouidé Allarangar, the WHO representative in the DRC, said in a statement Friday.

This marks the eighth outbreak of the deadly virus since it was first discovered 1976. Starting in March 2014, a massive Ebola outbreak spread through multiple countries including Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Nearly 29,000 people were suspected of having been infected and 11,325 people died from the virus.

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Couple loses nearly 600 collective pounds for their wedding

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Ask these two the secret to love and, they’ll tell you, “A couple that trains together, stays together.”

Ronnie Brower and Andrea Masella are getting married on Saturday in Syracuse, New York -- healthier and considerably thinner than when they met. The couple has lost nearly 600 pounds collectively.

“I often thought before I met Ronnie, ‘What am I going to do? I hope I meet someone that lives healthy too, because otherwise I could just go backwards,’” Masella, 24, told ABC News.

Four years ago, Brower was single and weighed 675 pounds.

“My doctor told me, ‘Ronnie, if you don’t do something, you are going to die before you are 30,’” he recalled.

Taking charge of his health, Brower started working out at his local gym, Mission Fitness, where he met Masella, who was also trying to trim down from 250 pounds.

“Her working out and living the same lifestyle as me definitely attracted me to her,” said Brower, 32, who has since lost more than 450 pounds.

“I just loved that Ronnie took care of himself,” Masella added. “He just got healthy and shed all of this weight.”

The soon-to-be newlyweds said they used the Ketogenic Diet and intense cardio training to shed the pounds. They’ve supported each other the entire journey, keeping the weight off together, and are now ready to start a new life as a healthy, happy husband and wife.

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Eighth-graders help create 3D prosthetic hand for farmer

ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Thanks to a group of middle school students, an Illinois farmer who lost his hand in a 2013 machinery accident will have a new prosthesis to show off around town.

On Wednesday, Jake Hubbard, 30, met with some of the 20 or so people who helped create his 3-D prosthetic hand, including eighth-graders at Rochelle Middle School in Illinois and their tech-lab teacher Vic Worthington.

"This is going to fill that void in my life so I have something to wear when I'm with my family and we go places and do things," Hubbard said. "It's very exciting."

Hubbard told ABC News Wednesday that although he already had one prosthetic hand, he carried it in his toolbox.

"It's an everyday tool," said the father of three. "I don't wear it in public because it's beat up. It's rough."

Worthington said the effort began in August 2016, after he'd struck up a conversation with Hubbard at church. He said he got to know more about Hubbard's life and how he'd lost his hand.

In 2013, Hubbard was moving a large wheel from a machine when he slipped in the mud. The wheel fell on his arm, leaving him pinned overnight. He was found by another farmer the next day but his arm below the elbow could not be saved.

After chatting with Hubbard, Worthington said he came across prosthetic arms that had been made via 3-D printers. Although the school had gotten a 3-D printer with a STEM grant, Worthington had yet to find a use for it.

So Worthington, who teaches sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders at Rochelle in a STEM-based class, asked Hubbard whether his students could try to make him a hand and Hubbard said OK.

Worthington said that 10 to 12 students had been involved in the project. The project took the entire school year.

On Wednesday, the students met with Hubbard for the first time so he could try on the prosthesis. Worthington credited the students and Rochelle residents and businesses as well as an Ohio engineer that had worked to design and create the prosthetic hand.

"This was never a charity case for the kids or for us or anybody else," he said. "This is a working man who's trying to take care of his family. The guy just never stops and I thought, 'Man, if there's something we can do to make his life better, let's go for it.' It's so exciting to see people care."

The team still has more work to do on the hand. Hubbard said he would be working with the students to make tweaks and fine-tune it.

Student Keanon Voss told ABC News he planned to return to the middle school next year to continue perfecting the prosthesis for Hubbard, even after he'd graduated.

"I'm not going to stop until we get to that point," Voss said. "I started this. Why not finish it?"

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Hepatitis C rates nearly double in pregnant women amid opioid epidemic, CDC says

sarathsasidharan/iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Rates of the viral disease hepatitis C have risen sharply in recent years, nearly doubling in pregnant women, according to a new report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Rates of maternal hepatitis C infection increased 89 percent from 1.8 to 3.4 women per 1,000 live births, according to the study published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Certain states reported particularly high rates of infants born to mothers who test positive for the viral disease.

In West Virginia, where the ongoing opioid epidemic has hit hard, the infection rate was 22.6 women per 1,000 live births. In Tennessee, the rate was 10.1 women per 1,000 births

Dr. Stephen Patrick, lead author on the study and a neonatoloigst at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said the study findings point to an "emerging public health issue."

"The worry is that with our current system [patients] don't know they're infected and our systems that follow infants are pretty poor," he said. Since hepatitis C often doesn't cause symptoms for years, Patrick said patients may not seek supportive medical care or may spread the disease without realizing it.

Patrick and the other researchers reviewed data from birth certificates from the National Vital Statistics System between 2009 and 2014 and the Tennessee Department of Heath vital records. The national data was used to study overall rates of hepatitis C infections in pregnant women and the Tennessee data was used to examine individual characteristics and outcomes associated with the infection.

The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) is a blood-borne infection that can cause chronic inflammation of the liver.

While the disease is more common in the baby boomer population, Patrick said the new infections have increased among women in their reproductive years revealing one new effect of the opioid epidemic. The viral disease can be easily transmitted if people share needles and via sexual contact.

He pointed out that rural areas where the opioid epidemic had been centered have now been hit particularly hard by the increasing hepatitis C rates.

"We found that some counties -- particularly rural counties in Tennessee -- where eight percent of infants were exposed to hepatitis C," said Patrick. The infants were exposed to the virus by being born to mothers who tested positive for the disease.

In one West Virginia county, one out of every 50 births involved a woman who tested positive for hepatitis C, Patrick said.

Patrick said he hoped the findings may lead to additional screening for pregnant women, especially if they live in areas with high levels of opioid abuse. He also called for more assistance to get these women into treatment and to better understand opioid addiction to treat these patients.

"It continues to call for public health approach," Patrick said.

While there are medications that can resolve hepatitis C infections, they are not approved for pregnant women or children at this point.

The study joins other evidence pointing to the devastating effects of opioid abuse on hepatitis C rates. In a preliminary study released by the CDC today, rates of hepatitis C infection that were reported reached a 15-year high.

The annual numbers of hepatitis C reported to the CDC have nearly tripled, rising from 850 in 2010 to 2,436 in 2015. CDC researchers estimate this is likely just a fraction of the true numbers, since many people may not know they are infected. They estimate 34,000 new hepatitis C infections occurred in 2015 alone.

"By testing, curing and preventing hepatitis C, we can protect generations of Americans from needless suffering and death," said Dr. Jonathan Mermin, M.D., director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention in a statement released today. "We must reach the hardest-hit communities with a range of prevention and treatment services that can diagnose people with hepatitis C and link them to treatment."

The CDC said the data show the increase was primarily a result of intravenous drug use.

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CDC: Teen student drinking at 25-year low but binge drinking persists

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- Teen drinking appears to have reached a new low, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The percent of teens who reported drinking at least one drink per month dropped from 50.8 percent in 1991 to just 32.8 percent in 2015.

However, those who reported drinking tended to also report what is considered binge drinking: 57.8 percent of teens who reported drinking said they have had five drinks in a row.

"Despite progress, current and binge drinking remain common among high school students, and many students who binge drink do so at high intensity," the authors wrote. Of the students who reported binge drinking, 43.8 percent said they had consumed at least eight drinks in one sitting.

Overall, rates of teen binge drinking dropped from a high of 31.5 percent of teens in 1999 to 17.7 percent of teen students in 2015 according to the report.

The CDC researchers examined data from the national Youth Risk Behavior Survey, where students complete a self-administered questionnaire. Between 1991 and 2015, the sample size of the students studied ranged from 10,904 to 16,410. The researchers acknowledge one limitation of the study is that it does not include teens who aren't enrolled in school.

The researchers said one of the reasons for the decline in drinking rates is likely the increase in state policies designed to prevent underage drinking. But there is more to be done.

Despite the apparent downward trend for teen student drinking, excessive alcohol consumption remains a danger, according to the CDC and advocacy groups. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services characterizes underage drinking as a "a considerable public health challenge."

Approximately 4,300 deaths among underage people were recorded annually between 2006 and 2010, according to the CDC report.

There is also a financial cost to excessive drinking. A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, cited by the CDC, showed the costs for medical care associated with excessive drinking, including underage drinking, was more than $24.3 billion in the U.S.

To deter more teens from picking up the bottle, the CDC said some policy changes based on evidence-based studies could help. Strategies to help curb teen drinking could include raising taxes on alcohol and passing laws that regulate the number of places to buy or consume alcohol in a specific area. Additionally, they advise implementing more rules around alcohol advertising to prevent marketing that appeals to teens.

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Doctor seeks to ease vaccine fears amid Minnesota measles outbreak

iStock/Thinkstock(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Weeks into Minneapolis' worst measles outbreak in more than 25 years, public health experts are still struggling to get some families in the Somali community to vaccinate their children.

Currently, 51 people have been infected with measles in Minnesota, 46 of whom are Somali-Americans. For years, public health officials have been trying to increase the vaccination rates in the Somali community, which dropped precipitously in the mid 2000s over fears about the now-debunked theory that vaccines were linked with autism.

In 2008, the Minnesota Department of Health found that Somali children in Minneapolis were more likely to take part in services for autistic children, although it was unclear if that was because more children in the community had the disorder or because there was better outreach to the community.

Dr. Mahab Ururshe, a pediatrician at Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, is originally from Somalia and says he still sees many parents afraid of vaccines, even though numerous studies have shown no link between autism and vaccines.

The parents say, "I know measles, I have had it and my mom had it -- better to have measles than autism," Ururshe told ABC News.

In order to convince some parents that vaccines are safe, Ururshe has spent long periods of time explaining that studies have found no link between vaccines and autism. He also has to point out that the disease can be deadly and that, in Somalia, there was no accurate data compiled about measles complications.

Severe complications from measles include pneumonia and inflammation of the brain and a condition called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE) that is fatal and more common in infants, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates one to two of every 1,000 infected children dies from the disease.

Ururshe also tells parents that despite dramatically lowered rates of vaccination in the Somali community in recent years, rates of autism have continued to rise. While parents often believe him, Ururshe said some remain too frightened to act.

"They say 'OK, I know they think it doesn't cause it,'" Ururshe recalled. "[But] I cannot gamble on my son or daughter.'"

While the overall vaccination compliance rate for Minnesota kindergartners is around 90 percent, it is only about 40 percent in the Somali community, according to Kris Ehresmann, director for infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health. Ehresmann said with such low levels of vaccination, public health officials have been worried about an outbreak for some time.

"We've known it's going to be a matter of time before something happens," she told ABC News in an earlier interview.

Ururshe said he's seen more and more parents are coming in, asking for their children to be vaccinated. Some other parents come in worried, but are willing to consider vaccination.

That last group "is undecided and confused" Ururshe said, explaining that some parents waffle between accepting the vaccine and fearing it.

"They decide to come in the morning and in the morning they've changed their minds," he said.

Ururshe said it's an asset to be from Somalia when talking to these patients, since he understands the culture and language. When some parents argue that autism only happened when they arrived in the U.S., Urushe has answered that there wasn't a vocabulary to identify the same condition in Somalia.

"There is more trust between the parents and a Somali-speaking or Somali doctor than non-Somalis," he said. "They say 'OK, I trust you, should I give my son or daughter [the vaccine]?"

At least 11 patients have been hospitalized during this most recent outbreak, which is the largest since 1991. The measles virus is spread through infected mucus and is often transmitted to others through coughing or sneezing, but can also live in infected airspace for up to 2 hours, according to the CDC. It is a highly contagious diseases, able to infect 90 percent of unimmunized people who are exposed to it, the agency says.

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Report links painkillers to increased risk of heart attack

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A new report in the British Medical Journal appears to link commonly used painkillers to an increased risk of heart attack.

The painkillers that the team of researchers from Canada, Finland and Germany studied included naproxen, celebrex, ibuprofen, voltaren and rofecoxib, which are all classified as oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs. NSAIDs are available both with a prescription and over the counter.

Researchers examined over 450,000 cases of "myocardial infarction," or heart attacks, from four databases in Canada, the United Kingdom and Finland. The group found that more than 60,000 of the patients they observed were taking NSAIDs near the time of their cardiac event.

The team also found that patients were most vulnerable during the first month of their NSAID treatment, and that those who were taking higher doses of NSAIDs were at the highest risk.

Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' chief women's health correspondent, said the new report, published Tuesday, should raise people's awareness but also needs "a lot more data" to draw more definitive findings.

"This study was based on observation. It didn’t explain a mechanism or cause or effect," Ashton said Thursday on Good Morning America. "There were other factors that could have also increased the risk of heart attack in those people which weren’t taken into account."

Any over-the-counter or prescription medications taken to treat ailments like fever, pain and injury come with their own unique risks and benefits, Ashton said.

"They can be safe and effective but it’s not one size fits all, and I think that’s the key message here," she said. "People need to individualize that risk and have the awareness that it could be increased."

Ashton recommended people take steps on their own to reduce the risk of a heart attack, including not smoking, being active daily and limiting alcohol intake.

"It’s not going to completely remove the risk of death from heart attack,” she said, “but it can lower it and it’s in your control.”

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