Health Highlights: July 15, 2014

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

Pregnant Workers Get More Protection Under New U.S. Guidelines

New guidelines to protect pregnant employees from workplace discrimination have been issued by the U.S. government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The first updated guidelines in 30 years say that any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant employees is illegal, the Associated Press reported.

"Discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is a prohibited form of sex discrimination," the guidelines state.

"Despite much progress, we continue to see a significant number of charges alleging pregnancy discrimination, and our investigations have revealed the persistence of overt pregnancy discrimination, as well as the emergence of more subtle discriminatory practices," EEOC Chairwoman Jacqueline Berrien said in a statement, the AP reported.


1,500-Year-Old Skeleton Is Oldest Known Case of Down Syndrome

The oldest known case of Down syndrome has been identified in a 1,500-year-old skeleton found in eastern France.

The child's skeleton has telltale signs of Down syndrome, including a broad skull with flattened base, according to the study in the International Journal of Pathology, ABC News reported.

The researchers also said the child did not appear to be mistreated by the community.

"This Down syndrome child was not treated differently at death than others in the community," study lead author Maite Rivollat wrote, ABC News reported. "We interpret this as meaning that the child was maybe not stigmatized during life, the first time a Down syndrome individual has been so viewed in the context of the ancient community."


High Cost of Hepatitis C Drug Investigated by U.S. Senate

An investigation into the pricing of the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi has been launched by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee.

The drug -- made by Gilead Sciences Inc. -- costs about $1,000 a pill, or about $84,000 for a patient on a standard, 12-week treatment schedule, the Wall Street Journal reported.

On Friday, the senate committee sent a letter to Gilead announcing the investigation and requesting documents on how the company decided on the price, which has been widely criticized.

"Although Sovaldi has the potential to help people with HCV, at $1,000 per pill, its pricing has raised serious concerns about the extent to which the market for this drug is operating efficiently and rationally," the letter stated. "Given the impact Sovaldi's cost will have on Medicare, Medicaid and other federal spending, we need a better understanding of how your company arrived at the price for this drug."

The letter noted that Sovaldi is offered at steep discounts in some other countries. For example, it can be up to 99 percent cheaper in Egypt than in the United States, WSJ reported.

Gilead has received the letter and will cooperate with the investigation, a company spokeswoman said. Previously, Gilead has said Sovaldi's high price reflects its effectiveness at curing hepatitis C infection.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

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