Health Highlights: March 18, 2010

By on March 18, 2010

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

Loneliness Boosts Blood Pressure

Loneliness and lack of connection with others can increase the risk of high blood pressure in people age 50 and older, says a new study.

It included 229 people, ages 50-68, who answered questions about loneliness and their connections to others. Over four years, the loneliest participants’ blood pressure increased 14.4 millimeters of mercury more than those who were most socially satisfied, United Press International reported.

The researchers also looked at the effects of depression and stress, but found they didn’t fully explain the increase in blood pressure among the lonely people.

“Loneliness behaved as though it is a unique health-risk factor in its own right,” study author Louise Hawkley, of the University of Chicago, and colleagues wrote in the study, published in the journal Psychology and Aging.


More Multigenerational Households in U.S.

The number of multigenerational households in the United States has increased significantly in recent years as young adult children return to the nest and more people care for aging parents or grandchildren.

A Pew Research Center study found that about 6.6 million households had at least three generations of family members in 2009, a 30 percent increase since 2000, the Associated Press reported.

The study also found that a record 49 million people lived in households with at least two adult generations.

The recession is a major reason why there are more multigenerational households, the AP reported. Many young adults (so-called boomerang kids) are moving back in with their parents because of a poor job market and a housing crunch.

Other factors include extended life spans and increased options in home health and outpatient care for the elderly.


Blood Infections Boost Hospital Costs

From 1997 to 2007, U.S. hospital costs for treating potentially deadly blood infections (septicemia) increased nearly 12 percent each year and rose from $4.1 billion in 1997 to $12.3 billion in 2007, says a federal government report.

Other conditions that saw high annual increases in hospital costs over those years were:

  • Osteoarthritis — up 9.5 percent each year ($4.8 billion to $11.8 billion).
  • Back problems — up 9.3 percent each year ($3.5 billion to $8.5 billion).
  • Acute kidney failure — up 15.3 percent per year ($1 billion to $4 billion)
  • Respiratory failure — up 8.8 percent per year ($3.3 billion to $7.8 billion).

Overall, the most important factor in hospital cost increases was the greater intensity of services provided during a hospital stay. This area saw a 3.1 percent annual increase and accounted for 70 percent of the total increase in hospital costs, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.


Significant Decline in Reported TB Cases: CDC

The number of reported tuberculosis cases in the United States decreased 11.4 percent from 2008 to 2009, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers are reviewing the reasons for this significant change, which may be caused by factors ranging from better disease control measures to possible under-reporting of TB cases. Over the past eight years, the average annual decline in reported TB cases was 3.8 percent.

Despite the decline in reported TB cases, public health officials must maintain efforts to protect groups of people disproportionately affected by TB, including minorities and foreign-born residents of the United States, the study authors said. They also said appropriate precautions must be taken to prevent a resurgence of TB and the development of drug-resistant TB.

The article appears in the current issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

Another article in the same issue of MMWR says that TB case management in the United States has improved in five of seven indicators including: recommended initial therapy; genotyping; human immunodeficiency virus status; sputum culture reporting; and culture conversion.

There was no improvement in treatment completion rates for people with active TB, and a decline was noted in the reporting rate of initial drug susceptibility test results.

In related news, a World Health Organization report says not enough information exists to determine if the fight against drug-resistant TB is being won, the Associated Press reported.

“The country data reported to WHO make it impossible at this time to conclude whether the (drug-resistant TB) epidemic worldwide is growing or shrinking,” the agency says in the document.


Graco Harmony High Chairs Recalled

About 1.2 million Graco Harmony high chairs are being recalled because they pose a fall hazard, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The agency said screws holding the front legs of the chair can loosen and fall out, and cracking plastic brackets can cause the chair to tip over without warning, the Associated Press reported.

There have been 464 reports of high chair tip-overs resulting in 24 reported injuries to children, including bumps and bruises to the head, a hairline fracture to the arm, and cuts, bumps and bruises to the body, the CPSC said.

Consumers should stop using the chairs and obtain a free repair kit by contacting Graco Children’s Products of Atlanta toll-free at (877) 842-3206.


Traumatic Brain Injury Major Cause of Death in U.S.

About 1.7 million traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) occur each year in the United States, say Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers who analyzed data from 2002 to 2006.

They found that TBIs lead to 52,000 deaths and 275,000 hospitalizations each year and contribute to 30.5 percent of injury-related deaths in the United States.

Among the other findings:

  • Those most likely to suffer TBI are: children from birth to 4 years old, teens ages 15 to 19, and adults aged 65 and older.
  • Falls are the leading cause of TBI (35.2 percent). Fall-related TBIs are highest among children from birth to 4 years old and adults aged 75 and older.
  • Traffic crashes are the second leading cause of TBI (17.3 percent) in all age groups and result in the largest percentage of TBI-related deaths (31.8 percent).
  • In all age groups, TBI rates are higher for males than for females.

The report was released Wednesday.


EPA to Tighten Flea, Tick Product Regulations

Stricter testing and evaluation rules for flea and tick treatments that are applied to pets’ skins are being developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to consumers complaints that the products have harmed or killed dogs and cats.

The agency also plans to review the products’ labels in order to identify which ones need to better explain how to use them properly, the Associated Press reported.

In 2008, the EPA received 44,263 complaints of harmful reactions — such as skin irritations, vomiting, seizures and about 600 deaths — associated with topical (skin-applied) flea and tick products. There were 28,895 complaints in 2007.

Even though “adverse reactions can occur with all flea and tick products, most effects are relatively mild and include skin irritation and stomach upset,” Dr. Steven Hansen, a veterinary toxicologist and senior vice president of Animal Health Services at the
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, told the AP.

He recommended pet owners continue using the products as directed when dealing with a flea infestation.


Kraft Reduces Salt in Food Products

Over the next two years, Kraft Foods Inc. will cut the amount of salt in its North American products by an average of 10 percent.

The changes will affect more than 1,000 products and remove more than 10 million pounds of salt, Kraft said Wednesday. The company is the largest U.S. food maker, the Associated Press reported.

The salt reductions include a 17 percent cut in Oscar Mayer bologna, a 20 percent decrease in Easy Mac Cups, and a 10 percent drop in Velveeta.

“We are reducing sodium because it’s good for consumers and, if done properly, it’s good for business,” Rhonda Jordan, president of health and wellness at Kraft, said in a news release, the AP reported. “A growing number of consumers are concerned about their sodium intake, and we want to help them translate their intentions into actions.”


California May Ban Smoking in State Parks

A bill to ban smoking in all state parks will be considered Thursday by California lawmakers.

The move is seen as a way to reduce the threat of wildfires, address the problem of unsightly cigarette butts on beaches, and eliminate second-hand smoke. Campsites and parking areas would be exempt from the ban, the Associated Press reported.

If the bill is passed, California will have what is believed to be the nation’s most restrictive smoking ban in state parks.

“It is very clear that the garbage that is created as a result of smoking on beaches — butts and wrappers — are polluting our water,” bill author Democratic State Sen. Jenny Oropeza of Long Beach, told the AP. “In terms of the state park system, we have a major fire hazard when cigarettes are smoked in parks.”

The American Cancer Society says similar state park smoking bans are being considered in Hawaii, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York.


Philadelphia VA Center Fined for Radiation Treatment Errors

The Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center was fined $227,500 for an “unprecedented number” of radiation errors in treating prostate cancer patients, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced Wednesday.

Officials said this is the second-largest NRC fine ever against a medical institution and is justified by the magnitude of the failure at the hospital, The New York Times reported.

From 2002 to 2008, the hospital misplaced radioactive seeds in 97 of 116 procedures involving prostate cancer patients.

“The lack of management oversight, the lack of safety culture to ensure patients are treated safely, the potential consequences to the veterans who came to this facility and the sheer number of medical events show the gravity of these violations,” said Mark Satorius, a regional administrator for the commission, The Times reported.

While there were problems, hospital staff discovered “these potential dosing issues almost two years ago, closed the program, self-reported to the NRC, cooperated fully with multiple investigations and have been transparent throughout the entire process,” said Richard Citron, director of the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

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