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Top health issues you need to pay attention to in 2016

Activists hold signs containing the image of Turing Pharmaceuticals CEO Martin Shkreli in front the building that houses Turing's offices, in New York, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015, during a protest highlighting pharmaceutical drug pricing.  (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

Runaway drug prices. "Pharma bro" Martin Shkreli became the most hated man in America in 2015 after he raised the price of an old drug and called a journalist a "moron" on Twitter for asking why. The issue so inflamed the public that a number of presidential candidates joined in the outcry, and a Senate committee launched an investigation into four companies – including Shrkeli's — for their pricing practices. While Shrekli has been let go from his position as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, the issue of drug pricing continues to be a major concern among consumers. Since then, a number of different interest groups have come up with proposals for different types of pricing schemes, from more federal subsidies for those in need, increasing things like coupons or programs offered by companies to discount prices or even something very radical like tying prices to outcome — meaning that those that extend life the longest would be most expensive.

Is the public outcry so strong that 2016 will be the year when the government or industry comes up with a way to ease the burden on patients?

[CEO who raised price of old pill more than $700 calls journalist a ‘moron’ for asking why]

[Most popular Washington Post health stories of 2015]

"Post-Ebola syndrome"/Other globe-trotting viruses. It turned a doctor's eye from blue to green months after he was cleared of the virus, and it was responsible for sending a Scottish nurse back to the hospital not once, but twice after she was thought to be cured. In Africa, people who survived the Ebola epidemic have experienced blindness, headaches, joint, muscle and chest pains among other symptoms. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed it could live in semen for as long as nine months — alarming public health officials who have mounted a campaign to educate survivors about safe sex.

If all continues to go well, international health officials will likely declare the epidemic over sometime in mid-January but have warned there may be continued flare-ups. How serious will these be and will our health system be able to handle them — and any other infectious diseases that nature throws our way?

[British nurse's rehospitalization, reports of blindness and other 'post-Ebola syndrome' complications haunt survivors]

Global public health officials are closely monitoring the spread of Zika virus, a pathogen first discovered in Africa 70 years ago and that is suspected of being responsible for thousands of babies being born in Brazil with brain damage. No one has been infected in the United States, but the virus has been found as close as in Panama and Honduras in recent months. Will Zika be the next West Nile?

[Brazil declares emergency after 2,400 babies are born with brain damage, possibly due to mosquito-borne virus]

Personalized medicine/diets. President Obama kicked of 2015 by announcing an ambitious new scientific initiative that would focus on more personalized treatments and drugs for Americans that turns the old "one-size-fits-all" approach on its head. We now have a handful of targeted therapies for various cancers, and the biotech industry has many more drugs in development. The new thinking has been boosted by breakthroughs in genetic sequencing technology that make it faster and cheaper to know what mutations you carry than ever before.

[Obama touts ‘lifesaving’ potential of personalized medicine]

The centerpiece of the plan involves creating a $130 million national database that contains the genetic profiles, medical histories and other data of a million or more Americans. Through high-speed computer algorithms, researchers hope to identify why some people respond well to certain treatments while others don't at all.

While nothing will change overnight, the idea of more tailored treatments will likely make its way to more community physicians and patients in 2016 transforming the way we think about our own health care.

Ever wondered why that diet plan that helped your girlfriend lose so much weight is actually making you gain weight? There's also increasing evidence that points to the need for a more tailored approach to dieting. Some researchers are experimenting with algorithms that take hundreds of factors about a person and turn them into individualized meal plans.

[This diet study upends everything we thought we knew about ‘healthy’ food]

You tracking. Companies are planning to roll out dozens of new gadgets that go far beyond counting steps. You'll soon be able to order new wearables for asthma management, back pain, and checking the impact on your knee, and your doctor will be able to prescribe patches that help them track indicators about your health.

One major issue that will continue to be debated in 2016 is the role of government oversight in this exploding market of devices and tests that are aimed at empowering consumers. The issue made some headlines in 2015 after the Wall Street Journal reported that Theranos, the Silicon Valley darling estimated to be valued at a whopping $9 billion, may have overhyped its pinprick blood test technology that its founder had promoted as a way for consumers to learn more about themselves without having to go through a doctor.

[The revolution will be digitized: Spearheaded by the flood of wearable devices, a movement to quantify consumers’ lifestyles is evolving into big business with immense health and privacy ramifications]

Read more:

Beware the rule-following co-worker, Harvard study warns

Happiness won’t help you live longer (but unhappiness won’t kill you either)

The myth of sugar-free drinks, candy: Study shows they can wreak havoc on teeth, too

Neighbors file ‘extraordinary, unprecedented’ public nuisance lawsuit against autistic boy’s family

Most popular Washington Post health stories of 2015: A mother tells her story of how she lost her darling daughter a few weeks short of her 29th birthday when she stepped in front of a train in Baltimore.

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