Health Highlights: March 30, 2011

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

Low Health Literacy Linked to Poorer Health: Report

Older Americans with low health literacy are more likely to have poor health and to have a higher risk of death, says a federal government report. Health literacy refers to the ability to understand and use basic health information.

The analysis of findings from more than 100 studies conducted in recent years also revealed that more than 75 million English-speaking adults in the United States have limited health literacy, and that there’s an association between low health literacy in adults of all ages and more frequent use of hospital emergency rooms and inpatient care, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings:

  • Low health literacy is associated with a lower likelihood of getting flu shots and understanding medical labels and instructions, and an increased risk of taking medicines incorrectly.
  • Poor health literacy among women is linked with underuse of mammograms.
  • Differences in health literacy levels are related to ethnic and racial disparities in health care.

“Ensuring that people understand health care information is critical to a high-quality, safe health care system,” AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, said in an agency news release. “Improving health literacy will be a major step in the nations efforts to enhance health care quality and safety.”


Disease Clusters Require More Research: Report

Since 1976, there have been at least 42 disease clusters in 13 U.S. states and more research is needed to learn more about the causes of these health problems, says a report released Monday by environmentalists.

“Communities all around the country struggle with unexplained epidemics of cancers, birth defects and neurological diseases,” said report co-author Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the National Resources Defense Council, USA Today reported. “The faster we can identify such clusters, and the sooner we can figure out the causes, the better we can protect residents living in the affected communities.”

In their report, Solomon and her colleagues said the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976 does not do enough to regulate toxic chemicals in industrial, commercial and consumer products.

An oversight hearing on the matter is scheduled to be held Tuesday by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. In January, Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, proposed legislation to fund research to examine whether there’s a connection between environmental contaminants and clusters of health problems such as birth defects and cancer, USA Today reported.


High Lead Levels Found in Philly Chinatown Ceramics

Ceramic cooking and eating utensils sold in Philadelphia’s Chinatown contain high levels of lead and the problem likely exits in other Chinatowns across the United States, say researchers.

They analyzed 87 ceramic pieces purchased from stores in Philadelphia’s Chinatown and nearby neighborhoods and found that more than a quarter of them tested positive for lead, The New York Times reported.

Further testing revealed that three plates and two spoons released lead in quantities far above limits set by the Food and Drug Administration.

“What we’ve demonstrated is that there’s a problems in Philadelphia’s Chinatown,” Dr. Gerald F. O’Malley of Jefferson Medical College, told The Times. “We’ve conclusively shown that. If it’s happening in Philadelphia, it’s happening in other Chinatowns in other cities.”

It’s not known where the ceramics were made or the extent of their distribution. The researchers have sent their findings to the FDA.


Radiation Detected in Massachusetts Rainwater

Small amounts of radiation have been detected in a sample of rainwater in Massachusetts, say state public health officials.

The very low concentrations of radioactive iodine in the rainwater likely originated in Japan but should have no impact on state drinking water supplies, Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach told the Boston Globe, according to United Press International.

“The drinking water supply in Massachusetts is unaffected by this short-term, slight elevation in radiation. However, we will carefully monitor the drinking water as we exercise an abundance of caution,” Auerbach said.

No increase in radiation levels in the air has been detected, he said.

The Globe reported that Auerbach said similar levels of radiation in rainwater samples have been found in a number of other states, according to UPI.


Mislabeled Citalopram and Finasteride Recalled

Certain batches of citalopram and finasteride are being recalled in the United States because they may have been incorrectly labeled by a third-party manufacturer, says Pfizer Inc.’s Greenstone LLC unit.

Citalopram is an antidepressant and finasteride is used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia (enlarged prostate). Some bottles of citalopram may be labeled as finasteride and vice versa, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The voluntary recall includes citalopram 10 mg tablets (100-count bottle) and finasteride 5 mg tablets (90-count bottle) with lot number FI0510058-A on the label.

Consumers with these products should return them and patients who believe they may have taken the wrong medication should contact a doctor as soon as possible, the FDA said.