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Health Highlights: April 27, 2011

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

One-Fourth of U.S. Children Live in Single-Parent Families: Report

The United States has a higher percentage of children being raised by a single parent than other developed nations, according to a report released Wednesday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The OECD looked at 27 industrialized countries and found that 25.8 percent of children in the U.S. are being raised by a single parent, compared to an average of 14.9 percent in the other nations, the Associated Press reported.

After the U.S., the next highest rates were in Ireland (24.3 percent) and New Zealand (23.7 percent). The lowest percentages were in Greece, Spain, Italy and Luxembourg.

The study also found that single parents in the U.S. are more likely to have jobs than those in other countries (35.8 percent vs. an average of 21.3 percent), but also have higher rates of poverty, the AP reported.


Chronic Illnesses Are World's Leading Cause of Death: WHO

Chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer are the leading causes of death worldwide, accounting for more than 36 million deaths in 2008, says a World Health Organization report.

It said that 80 percent of the deaths occurred in low and middle income countries and that chronic illnesses pose a greater threat than infectious diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis and malaria, BBC News reported.

Policies that promote healthier diets and restrict or ban smoking could prevent many of these deaths, according to the WHO.

"The rise of noncommunicable diseases presents an enormous challenge," said WHO Director General Margaret Chan, BBC News reported. "For some countries, it is no exaggeration to describe the situation as an impending disaster; a disaster for health, for society, and most of all for national economies."


Doctors Perform Second U.S. Full-Face Transplant

The second full-face transplant in the United States was performed last week by surgeons at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The transplant was performed on 30-year-old Mitch Hunter of Indiana, who suffered serious facial injuries from a high-voltage electrical wire following a car crash in 2001, the Associated Press reported.

The procedure took more than 14 hours and went smoothly, according to lead surgeon Dr. Bohdan Pomahac.

The first full-face transplant in the U.S. was performed last month at the same hospital. The patient was a Texas construction worker, the AP reported.


Ban Latex Medical Gloves: Group

Surgical and patient examination gloves that are made of natural rubber latex or have cornstarch on them pose a serious threat to patients and health care workers and should be banned, says the advocacy group Public Citizen.

In a petition filed Monday with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the group notes the availability of safer alternatives such as powder-free, non-latex gloves.

"For health care workers, the major risk posed by the gloves is allergic reactions to latex, some of which can be serious or life-threatening. These allergic reactions can occur when health care workers wear latex gloves or when they inhale cornstarch powder bound to latex proteins that has been released from latex gloves worn by others. Breathing in cornstarch powder bound to latex proteins can cause acute asthma attacks and anaphylactic shock in health care workers sensitized to latex," a Public Citizen news release said.

"For patients, the danger is also grave. Patients can experience the same types of allergic reactions that occur in health care workers. Also, when cornstarch is deposited in tissues during surgery, it can promote infections, delay healing and cause inflammation, among other injuries," the release said.


Doctors' Prescription Data Case Being Heard by U.S. Supreme Court

The issue of free speech may prove important in a legal fight over the sale of doctors' prescribing habits being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The case pits the state of Vermont against companies that sell individual doctors' prescribing information to drug companies, which use the data to personalize their sales pitches to doctors, the Associated Press reported.

Vermont passed a law that bans the sale of prescribing information without a doctor's permission. The Vermont law was struck down by a federal appeals court and the case then moved to the Supreme Court.

At one point, Chief Justice John Roberts said the Vermont law seemed to be "censoring" what doctors could hear, the AP reported.

Similar laws in Maine and New Hampshire have been upheld by a federal appeals court.


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Posted: April 2011