What We’re Reading: US Autism Prevalence; Coverage for At-Home COVID-19 Tests; Pollutants May Affect Birth Ratios

New data suggest more children are being diagnosed with autism in the United States; Biden pushes for coverage of at-home COVID-19 tests; different pollutants may affect the ratio of boys to girls born.

Autism Diagnosis Rates Increase in US

An analysis of CDC data from 2018 revealed more US children are being diagnosed with autism and at younger ages, the Associated Press reports. Among 8-year-olds in 2018, 1 in 44 had been diagnosed with autism, while in 2016, that rate was lower at 1 in 54. According to experts, the rise reflects more awareness of the developmental condition and wider availability of treatment services as opposed to a true increase in those affected. Additional CDC data showed that children up to age 4 were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with autism in 2018 compared with 2014. However, rates vary depending on geographic locations, with 1 in 26 children diagnosed in California and 1 in 60 in Missouri.

Private Health Insurance to Cover COVID-19 Tests

As part of President Joe Biden’s strategy to track the Omicron variant of COVID-19 and tackle a potential winter surge, the administration announced it would seek to require private health plans to cover at-home COVID-19 tests, POLITICO reports. If enacted, more than 150 million Americans with private health plans would be reimbursed for the tests if they submit expenses to their insurance provider. Some authorities within the Families First Coronavirus Response Act direct private insurers to provide coverage and prohibit them from imposing cost sharing of the diagnostic tests during the public health emergency, according to POLITICO. HHS and the Labor and Treasury departments have yet to issue official guidance on the reimbursement requirement.

Pollutants May Impact Birth Ratios

Study findings published in PLOS Computational Biology suggest lead, mercury, and other pollutants could affect the ratio of boys to girls born each year, NBC News reports. The study included data from around half of the US population and the entire Swedish population and found that pollution in different geographic regions could affect children before they are born. Different pollutants may prevent some pregnancies from being carried to term, which could result in imbalances in how they affect each sex, experts said. According to authors, regions with higher mercury exposure produced a slightly higher ratio of boys; areas with lead in the soil were linked with higher proportions of girls born.