Health Highlights: Aug. 20, 2007
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Loneliness Can Speed Up Physical Decline: Study
Being lonely, especially as you age, can speed up the natural physical decline that occurs as you get older, a new study finds.
University of Chicago psychologists studied people of two age groups: those of college age, and middle-age people in their 50s and 60s. Loneliness had a more profound effect on the older people than the college-age crowd, the researchers wrote in the August issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science.
"The lonely people in the older group have significantly higher blood pressure than the non-lonely," study author Louise Hawkley told the Calgary Herald in a phone interview. "That wasn't true in the younger group, so it speaks to the decline. You don't see it in young adults, but it's accumulating over time and showing up later in life."
Hawkley said loneliness represented more than the mere fact of being alone. "People can be alone and not be lonely. People can be surrounded by other people and yet feel lonely. What we're getting at is a sense of discontent with their social relationships," she told the newspaper.
Her solution was to recommend volunteering to help others. "Instead of trying to fill your own needs, you might ironically find your needs met by meeting somebody else's," she said.
Psychologists May Assist U.S. Military Interrogators
The American Psychological Association (APA) won't forbid its members from assisting interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. military detention centers, the group's policy-making council has decided.
The council voted Sunday against a proposal to ban any involvement in interrogations of detainees. But it did pass a resolution that reaffirms the APA's opposition to torture and prohibits members from assisting interrogators who use sleep deprivation, forced nudity and similar practices, the Associated Press reported.
APA members who violate the rules could be expelled from the association and lose their state licenses to practice.
Critics of the proposal to ban any involvement in interrogations said the presence of psychologists helps insure interrogators don't abuse prisoners. Proponents of the ban said psychologists shouldn't be working in facilities where prisoners are detained indefinitely without being charged with a crime, the AP reported.
Painkiller Sales Soar in U.S.
Between 1997 and 2005, there was a 90 percent increase in U.S. retail sales of five major painkillers, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration statistics.
The data revealed that more than 200,000 pounds of codeine, morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone and meperidine were sold at retail stores in 2005 -- enough to give more than 300 milligrams of painkillers to every person in the United States.
The largest increase in sales (nearly six-fold between 1997 and 2005) was noted for oxycodone, which is used in OxyContin, the AP reported.
Reasons cited for the increased use of painkillers include: an aging population, increased marketing by drug companies, and doctors' increased emphasis on pain management.
Unsafe Sex Now Leading Cause of HIV Infection in China
For the first time, unsafe sex has overtaken intravenous drug use as the main cause of HIV infection in China, state media say. The news raises concerns that HIV infection is moving from high-risk groups into the mainstream population, BBC News reported.
According to an official report, there were about 70,000 new cases of HIV in China in 2005 and nearly half of those new infections occurred during sexual intercourse. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.
In the past, China has focused HIV prevention programs on high-risk groups such as drug users. But it now appears that more emphasis will have to be placed on mainstream sexual behavior, BBC News reported.
This could prove challenging in a country that still has conservative attitudes about sex and where many people have difficulty discussing the topic.
Sexual behavior in China is changing, as pre-marital sex becomes more acceptable. Many of the millions of male migrant workers in Chinese cities live far from their homes and wives. According to some surveys, one in 10 sexually active men in China today has bought sex from a prostitute, BBC News reported.
The Chinese government says there are about 650,000 people with HIV, but it's believed that there is widespread under-reporting of HIV cases.
Billy Graham Recovering from Intestinal Bleeding
Evangelist Billy Graham, 88, was reported in fair condition Monday morning after being admitted to hospital Saturday with intestinal bleeding, said a spokeswoman for Mission Health and Hospitals in Asheville, N.C.
"He had an excellent night," spokeswoman Merrell Gregory said Monday morning. No date had been set for Graham's release from hospital, the Associated Press reported.
The bleeding may have been caused by diverticuli, small pouches that form in the lower intestine, according to hospital officials. This type of bleeding can begin suddenly and may stop on its own.
Graham had a similar bout with intestinal bleeding in 1995, the evangelist's spokesman, Larry Ross, told the AP.
Medicare Won't Pay for Preventable Hospital Errors, Injuries or Infections
Medicare is changing its coverage so that it will no longer pay for hospital incidents that could have been prevented, according to The New York Times.
These conditions are caused by negligence or improper medical practice, the Times reports, and the Bush administration has decided that Medicare will no longer pay the additional costs for treating them. Included are conditions and infections such as bedsores (pressure ulcers), injuries caused by falls in circumstances where they could have been prevented, and infections resulting from use of catheters for long periods.
Private insurers, too, are considering following Medicare's lead, which may cause hospital officials to emphasize reducing staph infections and medical errors and replacing health workers who are neglectful of patients' needs.
According to the Times, figures from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that almost 100,000 people a year -- about 270 a day -- die in U.S. hospitals from improper treatment or neglect.
Some of procedures have been termed "serious preventable events," such as leaving a sponge in a patient during surgery or giving a transfused patient the wrong blood type. Medicare says it will no longer reimburse hospitals for these mistakes, the newspaper reports.
"If a patient goes into the hospital with pneumonia, we don't want them to leave with a broken arm," Herb B. Kuhn, acting deputy administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, told the Times.
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