Health Buzz: Rare Type of Meningitis Kills 4, Sickens 22 in U.S.

Many insurance plans heap healthcare costs on consumers; is 'smellvertising' sabotaging your diet?

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Four Dead and 22 Sick from Meningitis Likely Spread Through A Contaminated Steroid

A rare form of meningitis has left four people dead and sickened 22 others, NBC News reports. Health officials suspect that a tainted batch of steroid injections could be to blame, since everyone affected fell ill after receiving shots, typically given to relieve back pain. The type of meningitis involved is not contagious like the more common forms. It's caused by a common fungus, found in leaf mold, that likely contaminated the steroids, which were made by a specialty pharmacy in Framingham, Mass. A Nashville clinic received the largest shipment of this steroid, and correspondingly, Tennessee residents have been hit hard by the outbreak, with 18 infections and two deaths. Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia have also reported cases of meningitis, and health officials nationwide expect more people to become ill in days ahead.

Meningitis symptoms include severe headache, dizziness, nausea, and fever. Some patients also experienced slurred speech and difficulty walking or urinating, the Associated Press reports. "Some [of the Tennessee patients] are doing well and improving," David Reagan, chief medical officer for the Tennessee Department of Health, told AP. "Some are very ill—very, very seriously ill and may die."

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  • Many Insurance Plans Heap Healthcare Costs on Consumers

    A first-ever U.S. News analysis of nearly 6,000 health insurance plans marketed to individuals and families reveals that many of the consumers who enroll in these plans may confront budget-wrecking out-of-pocket costs that deplete their savings. Large numbers of plans severely limit coverage for such services as prescription drugs, maternity coverage, mental health treatment, and rehabilitation therapy. To help consumers make more informed choices, U.S. News today launched Best Health Insurance Plans, an interactive consumer tool, to help those who are not covered by an employer or a government plan find a health plan that best meets their individual or family needs.

    Each of the plans in the U.S. News database was scored and assigned a rating of one to five stars; plans available to both individuals and families were rated separately for each. A plan's score depended on completeness of coverage in as many as two dozen benefit categories and subcategories—hospitalization, outpatient surgery, name-brand prescription drugs, and emergency room visits are just a few examples—and how much of the cost consumers have to pay. A one-star plan may cover a limited set of services, a broader array of services but less of their cost, or both. A five-star plan provides a larger, thicker security blanket.

    Plans are regulated by states and sold within their borders, so U.S. News took the additional step of comparing the characteristics of plans available in different states. Massachusetts plans consistently offered broad coverage and protection against a potential flood of medical bills. [Read more: Many Insurance Plans Heap Healthcare Costs on Consumers]

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    • Is 'Smellvertising' Sabotaging Your Diet?

      Bacon frying. Buttery popcorn. Warm brownies fresh from the oven. Many a healthy eating pledge has flown out the window at first whiff of one of these mouthwatering aromas. Of course, we saw—or rather, smelled—it coming, writes U.S. News blogger Chelsea Bush.

      But what about other, sneakier ways our sniffers might be leading us to indulge?

      Thanks to "smellvertising" and other nosey ploys—from artificial aromas that make us think a food is nutritious, to scents that trigger subconscious cravings (the toughest kind to resist, experts say)—companies are increasingly recruiting our nostrils to get us unwittingly hooked on not-so-healthy foods.

      Here's how.

      1. Smells permeate our primitive brain: Smells have a funny way of wafting under the conscious radar. Unlike our other senses, the olfactory system is closely linked to the brain's centers for emotion and memory, and smells head straight there instead of being processed via the thalamus (that conscious radar), according to the Monell Chemical Senses Center, a Philadelphia-based non-profit that researches taste and smell.