Health Highlights: Sept. 26, 2008

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

U.S. Halts Chelation Study Enrollment

The U.S. government has stopped enrolling participants in the largest alternative medicine study it's ever funded to assess whether candidates were properly informed of the potential risks, the Associated Press reported Friday.

More than 1,500 people who had survived a heart attack had been enrolled in the $30 million study of chelation, a controversial method most often used as a remedy for lead poisoning. Despite the halt to new enrollees, existing participants are still being treated.

The study is meant to test the use of high doses of vitamins, minerals, and chelation -- a therapy that involves injection of a drug (disodium EDTA) that proponents claim helps rid the body of calcium-causing plaque that's built up in artery walls. The therapy hasn't been proven safe or effective in treating heart disease.

At least two of the participants have died, although the study's lead physician denied the deaths were related to the therapy.

"We think we have a safe and ethical trial and we're protecting our patients," the AP quoted Dr. Gervasio Lamas of the University of Miami as saying.

Lamas couldn't say precisely how many study enrollees had died. He also conceded that some participating physicians who had been disciplined by state boards or who had criminal records had been asked to withdraw from the study, the wire service said.

Study critics said the research, approved in 2002, represented a conflict of interest for more than half of the physicians involved, since they made money by selling chelation treatments to patients, the AP reported.

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Tainted Food From China Found in Hong Kong

The government of Hong Kong says it has detected traces of the plastics chemical melamine in baby foods imported from China, according to the Associated Press.

Melamine is at the center of a baby-formula scandal in China, in which at least four youngsters have died and more than 54,000 others have been sickened.

Baby food products that contain milk imported from China were banned Thursday by the European Union in response to the deaths of the four Chinese infants who ingested locally made tainted formula. The European Commission also called for tighter controls on other foods imported from China, the AP reported.

Melamine has been detected in products from 22 Chinese dairy firms, the AP reported. It's thought that suppliers used the chemical to mask the watering down of various milk products.

The practice may now be affecting animals, the wire service reported, as a lion cub and two baby orangutans have developed kidney stones at a zoo near Shanghai.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF issued a joint statement Thursday condemning baby-food makers that deliberately contaminate their products.

"Whilst any attempt to deceive the public in the area of food production and marketing is unacceptable, deliberate contamination of foods intended for consumption by vulnerable infants and young children is particularly deplorable," the statement read.

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Standardized Color Plan for Hospital Wristbands Faces Hurdles

A new standardized system for color-coded wristbands in hospitals to prevent potentially dangerous mistakes is essential to patient safety, proponents say, but others fear they may compromise patient privacy, The New York Times reported.

The movement to standardize color coding of the hospital bands gathered steam, in part, because of a 2005 Pennsylvania case where a patient nearly died when a nurse mistakenly used an incorrect band. The plan is to have the wristbands designate patient conditions so treatment can be checked: Purple, or amethyst, means Do Not Resuscitate (D.N.R.); red, or ruby, indicates allergies; and yellow, or amber, identifies someone at risk for falling, according the Times.

But the Joint Commission, the nation's leading hospital-accreditation agency, has cited concerns about branding patients by their end-of-life choices, or inadvertently broadcasting those choices to family and friends not involved in those choices, the newspaper said. The commission even pointed out that children sometimes unknowingly trade the wristbands like baseball cards. And some hospitals have had problems with colored bracelets that patients bring with them, such as the yellow Lance Armstrong Livestrong bracelets. Most hospitals ask patients to cut these other bands off or cover them up with tape instead, the Times said.

"You need to strike a balance between the need for patient safety and accuracy and the whole privacy concern and sensitivity and compassion for the patient, Roxanne G. Tena-Nelson, executive vice president of the Continuing Care Leadership Coalition, a group of long-term care providers in New York, told the Times.

In most places, the newspaper reported, the new bracelets replace colored ones that have been used for decades without uniformity. A survey by the Greater New York Hospital Association last year found nine different colors used to denote patients with D.N.R. orders, five to indicate allergies, and nine to highlight risks of falling, but there is still some variation.

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Health Insurance Premiums Rise 5%

Health insurance premiums in the United States rose about 5 percent this year, a modest rise compared to the 119 percent jump overall since 1999, according to a report released Wednesday.

Premiums for family coverage rose to an average of $12,680 during the past year, while premiums for single coverage increased to an average $4,704, according to the analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

While about 75 percent of each premium is still absorbed by employers, the trend in recent years has been to require workers to pay a higher percentage, the Associated Press reported.

In the past year, employees who paid deductibles of $1,000 or more rose to 18 percent from 12 percent, the wire service said. About one in three people employed by a small business now pays at least a $1,000 deductible.

Only about 62 percent of companies with fewer than 200 employees offer a health insurance benefit, the AP said. By comparison, 99 percent of larger businesses offer coverage.

Posted: September 2008


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