Health Highlights: Jan. 8, 2010

By on January 8, 2010

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

More Seniors Qualify for Prescription Drug Help

As of Jan. 1, a change in rules made it possible for more than one million low-income elderly Americans to newly qualify for improved prescription drug benefits under the low-income subsidy (extra help) program.

The new law benefits seniors with life insurance polices and those who regularly receive money from relatives to help cover household expenses, but previously couldn’t get more generous drug benefits because they had too much income or too many assets, the Associated Press reported.

To qualify, seniors’ incomes must be no more than $16,245 a year for singles and $21,855 for married couples living together. The limit on assets such as bank accounts, stocks and bonds is $12,510 for singles and $25,010 for married couples. Home and automobile values aren’t considered.

Extra help benefits are determined by income. For many seniors, the program frees them of premiums and annual deductibles. Copays can be as low as $1.10 for generic drugs and $3.30 for brand names.

“The safety net is frayed and this is a way to start stitching it back together again,” Hilary Dalin, associate director for benefits at the National Council on Aging, told the AP.


Soda Fountains Dispense Fecal Bacteria: Study

The drinks you get from soda fountain machines in restaurants and fast food outlets could contain fecal bacteria, suggests a new study.

U.S. researchers found that nearly half of all sodas dispensed from 30 machines in the Roanoke Valley in Virginia had coliform bacteria, which indicates the possibility of fecal contamination, ABC News reported.

“About 70 percent of the beverages had bacteria and 48 percent of them had coliform bacteria,” said study co-author Renee D. Godard, a professor of biology at Hollins University.

The study appears in the January print issue of the International Journal of Food Microbiology.

Godard said it’s not clear where the bacteria come from, but noted that just one contamination of the soda fountain nozzle could enable bacteria to grow into the plastic tubing and start colonizing within the machine, ABC News reported.

The problem could be prevented if soda fountains were rinsed out more often.


Shorter People More Likely to Develop COPD

Shorter people are more likely to have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), say British researchers who looked at more than one million people over age 35.

The study found that COPD patients were 1.12 centimeters shorter on average than those without the lung disease, BBC News reported.

This shorter stature may be a “marker” that these patients come from a poorer background, said the University of Nottingham researchers. Historical studies have shown a strong association between adult height and COPD risk.

People who grew up in poor families may be more likely to have had poor nutrition during their early years, which has a negative effect on lung development and general growth, the researchers said, BBC News reported.

In addition, people from poorer backgrounds may be more likely to have had mothers who smoked and are more likely to live in smoking households and to smoke themselves. Smoking is a major cause of COPD.

The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

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