Health Highlights: April 30, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
U.S. Breast-Feeding Rate Hits 20-Year High
More than three-quarters of new mothers (77 percent) are breast-feeding their infants, the highest rate in at least 20 years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in report issued Wednesday.
Experts cited by the Associated Press attributed the rise to public education campaigns stressing that breast milk better protects infants against disease and childhood obesity than formula.
The percentage of black infants who are breast-fed rose most, to 65 percent from 36 percent in 1993-1994, the report said. Among whites, the rate rose to 79 percent from 62 percent, and among Mexican-Americans, the figure rose to 80 percent from 67 percent, the wire service said.
Breast-feeding rates were lowest among women who weren't married, were poor, rural, younger than 20, and had no greater than a high school education.
FDA Warns Merck to Correct Vaccine Plant Issues
Merck & Co. has been warned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to clean up problems cited at the drug maker's West Plant, Pa., vaccine plant, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday.
The agency's warning, posted on its Web site, addressed 45 "areas of concern" at the plant, including unwanted fibers found on the stoppers of vaccine vials. The company has 15 days to inform the FDA of its plans to correct the issues, said the newspaper, which first reported the FDA's inspection findings last week.
The plant produces the popular vaccine, Gardasil, designed to protect against cervical cancer, according to the Associated Press. The facility also makes a number of children's vaccines.
Last year, Merck recalled 1.2 million vaccine doses produced at the plant because of a sterility problem, the wire service said.
A Merck spokeswoman told the Inquirer that the company was working to correct the issues noted in the FDA report. She added that the problems were caught by Merck workers "before contaminated vaccines were released to the public," the newspaper said.
1 in 5 Returning Soldiers Reports Mental Illness: Survey
Almost 20 percent of American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are reporting symptoms of mental illnesses including post-traumatic stress and major depression, the Bloomberg news service says, citing a new survey sponsored by the American Psychiatric Association.
Most of the returning vets said they were reluctant to seek psychological counseling, fearing it would jeopardize their careers, Bloomberg said.
The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive and involving 191 members of the military and their spouses, took place from March 5 to March 18.
Mental health conditions -- including lost productivity and suicides -- have cost the nation an estimated $6.2 billion in the two years after deployment, according to a recent Rand Corp. analysis cited by the news service.
Heparin Deliberately Contaminated: FDA
The contaminant detected in the blood thinner heparin that killed 81 Americans and sickened hundreds others was added deliberately, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration believes.
"FDA's working hypothesis is that this was an intentional contamination, but this is not yet proven," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the agency's drug center, said in written testimony presented Tuesday to the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, The New York Times reported.
She noted that one-third of the materials in some of the heparin batches were contaminants, "and it does strain one's credibility to suggest that might have been done accidentally."
The FDA has identified Changzhou SPL, a Chinese subsidiary of Scientific Protein Laboratories of Waunakee, Wisc., as the source of the contaminated heparin material. Scientific Protein supplied the heparin material to Baxter International of Deerfield, Ill., which manufactured and distributed the finished drug.
David G. Strunce, chief executive of Scientific Protein Laboratories, called the contamination "an insidious act" that "seems to us an intentional act upstream in the supply chain," the Times reported.
"We're alarmed that one of our products was used in what appears to have been a deliberate scheme to adulterate a life-saving medication," Robert L. Parkinson, Baxter's chairman and chief executive, told the subcommittee.
Gene Deletion Helps Some Male Athletes Cheat Doping Test
Male athletes with a certain natural gene deletion can take testosterone and escape detection by the standard urine test to screen for doping with the hormone, according to a new study that included 55 Swedish men.
All the men were injected with the same amount of testosterone, but 17 of them tested negative. Their urine showed no excess testosterone. The 17 men can build muscle mass in response to testosterone, but they're missing both copies of a gene that converts testosterone into a form that dissolves in urine, The New York Times reported.
This gene deletion is especially common in Asian men, noted study first author Jenny Jackobsson Schulze, a molecular geneticist at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. About two-thirds of Asian men are missing both copies of the gene, compared to nearly 10 percent of Caucasian men.
The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Dr. Don Catlin, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based Anti-Doping Research Institute, called the finding disturbing. "Basically, you have a license to cheat," he told the Times.
Survey Shows Many Americans Struggling to Stay Happy, Healthy
About 49 percent of Americans are thriving, 47 percent are struggling to stay happy and healthy, while about four percent are suffering, according to a survey of more than 100,000 people.
The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index asked respondents how well they feel about their lives and where they think they'll be in five years, the Associated Press reported.
The survey found that people who are thriving tend to have higher incomes, more education and less illness, while those who are suffering have trouble meeting their basic needs, including food, shelter and medical care.
Healthways, which works with companies to improve worker health, hopes the index will help employers better understand what they can do to help workers be happier and healthier, the AP reported. The index can be broken down by occupation, commute time and exercise habits.
More than 1,000 people a day are still being interviewed for the index, which is projected to cost more than $20 million a year to maintain.
More Americans Covered by HSA Insurance Plans
Since last year, the number of Americans covered by Health Savings Account (HSA)-eligible insurance plans increased 35 percent (1.6 million) to more than 6.1 million people, according to a new census released Wednesday by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).
The federal government authorized HSA plans in January 2004. Since then, AHIP has conducted a periodic census of members participating in the HSA market. There were 4.5 million people enrolled in HSA plans in January 2007, 3.2 million in January 2006, and one million in March 2005.
Among the findings in the latest census:
- 30 percent of people in an HSA plan were in the small-group market, 45 percent were in the large-group market, and 25 percent were in the individual market.
- HSA products accounted for 31 percent of new coverage issued in the small-group market, and 27 percent of the individual market.
- HSA enrollment as a percentage of people with private insurance is estimated to be highest in Minnesota (9.2 percent), Louisiana (9.0 percent), Washington, D.C. (8.7 percent), Vermont (7.5 percent) and Colorado (7.1 percent).
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