Health Highlights: June 9, 2010

By on June 9, 2010

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

First Beach Warning Signs for Oil Posted in Florida

Signs warning people not to fish or swim were posted Tuesday on six miles of Florida beach near the Alabama state line. It’s the first restriction placed on any Florida beaches due to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster.

The signs were posted by the Escambia County Health Department, which also told people to avoid any skin contact with oily water or dead sea animals, FoxNews reported.

The warnings apply to beaches stretching from Perdido Key to the Gulf Islands Seashore national park.

“Young children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems and individuals with underlying respiratory conditions should avoid the area,” the health advisory warns, FoxNews reported.

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Slightly Early Birth Can Cause Learning Problems: Study

Babies born a bit early or late are at increased for learning-related problems ranging from autism to poor vision, say U.K. researchers.

They studied 400,000 schoolchildren and determined that those born between 37 to 39 weeks were 16 percent more likely to develop problems than those born at 40 weeks. The risk was also higher for those born at 42 weeks, BBC News reported.

It’s long been known that disabilities and learning difficulties are common among premature babies (24 weeks), but this is the largest study of its kind to look at how slightly early or late births may affect children.

“Early term births – between 37 and 39 weeks gestation – are becoming more common, because more mothers are electing to be delivered early for non-medical reasons – so-called birth scheduling,” wrote lead author Jill Pell, an expert in public health and health policy at Glasgow University, BBC News reported. “These findings have implications for clinical practice in relation to undertake elective delivery and the timing of elective deliveries,” Pell added.

The study appears in the journal Public Library of Science Medicine.

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Blood Infections Lead Treatment Cost Increases: Report

The cost of treating U.S. hospital patients with the blood infection septicemia increased 174 percent between 2001 and 2007, making it the condition with the biggest surge in treatment costs, a federal government study finds.

In total, hospitals spent $12.3 billion treating blood infections in 2007. Uninsured patients accounted for just three percent of that total, but they had the highest average increase (228 percent) since 2001. The average cost to hospitals of treating blood infections in Medicaid patients increased 192 percent, in Medicare patients by 172 percent, and in privately-insured patients by 152.5 percent.

Other conditions with rapidly increasing costs, as grouped by payer, were:

  • Medicare — intestinal infection, 205 percent; acute kidney failure, 154 percent.
  • Uninsured — acute kidney failure, 179 percent; respiratory failure, 154 percent.
  • Medicaid — acute kidney failure, 160 percent; leukemia and other white blood cell disease, 127 percent.
  • Privately insured — osteoarthritis, 120 percent; acute kidney failure, 119 percent.

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WHO Chief Defends Swine Flu Planning

The World Health Organization’s decisions about swine flu responses weren’t influenced by advisers’ financial links to drug companies, according to WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.

“At no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making,” she said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, a report in the British Medical Journal said the WHO failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest among some advisers who helped write pandemic flu preparation guidelines, which recommended that countries stockpile antiviral drugs and vaccines. Three of the 22 experts who wrote the guidelines had previously been paid by drug makers for things such as speaking at meetings sponsored by the companies.

WHO did nothing wrong, according to Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota who has advised the U.S. government on pandemic preparations.

“There was nothing in those guidelines that was not based on the best science available,” Osterholm told the AP.

A 29-member expert panel is reviewing WHO’s handling of the swine flu outbreak and their findings will be released next year.

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Pet Health Costs a Concern for Many Americans: Poll

Most pet owners say cost is a consideration in their decisions about health care for their animals, a new poll finds.

About 62 percent of respondents said their pet would likely get veterinary care if the bill was $500, but that dropped to below half if the cost was $1,000, to 35 percent if the cost was $2,000 and 22 percent if the cost was $5,000, according to the Associated Press-Petside.com survey of 1,112 pet owners nationwide.

Among the other findings:

  • About 20 percent of dog owners worry whether they’ll be able to afford to take their pet to the vet.
  • Dog owners are more likely to fret about costs than cat owners. Women and low-income pet owners are among those who worry the most.
  • While about 27 percent of respondents said pet insurance is a good way to save money on vet bills, only about 5 percent have pet insurance.

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