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Health Highlights: Aug. 16, 2010

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

Gulf Seafood Undergoes Extensive Safety Testing: Officials

As more areas of the Gulf of Mexico are reopened for commercial fishing, government officials are using extensive testing to ensure that seafood from the Gulf waters is safe.

But it's unclear whether this extra effort will convince consumers to start buying seafood from the Gulf in the wake of the massive BP oil spill, the Associated Press reported.

Different species clear oil contamination out of their bodies at different rates, which means some species may be declared safe before others. For example, fish are the fastest, crabs and oysters the slowest, and shrimp are somewhere in the middle, the news service said.

"I probably would put oysters at the top of the concern list and I don't think there's a close second," marine scientist George Crozier, director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, told the AP.

Officials begin testing seafood when there's no longer visible oil in a particular area. The first step is to smell seafood samples for any scent of oil. The next step involves chemical testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or state laboratories.

An area is only opened for commercial fishing if samples test below FDA-established "levels of concern" for 12 different polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are oil contaminants that are potential cancer-causing substances, the AP reported.

The seafood is not tested for the dispersant chemicals used to break up the oil spill. The FDA said that some ingredients in the dispersant chemicals are FDA-regulated compounds used in skin creams and even foods, and the stronger ingredients degrade too quickly in water to accumulate in fish flesh.

Some critics say a test for dispersant chemicals is needed, and the FDA is still trying to develop a good test, the AP reported.


Take Statins With Junk Food, U.K. Experts Suggest

Handing out cholesterol-lowering statin drugs with fast food may help reduce heart disease risks caused by the fatty meals, suggest U.K. researchers.

"Statins don't cut out all of the unhealthy effects of burgers and fries. It's better to avoid fatty food altogether," said Dr. Darrel Francis, of the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College London, Agence France-Presse reported.

"But we've worked out that in terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast food meal increases it," he added.

Francis and colleagues say their proposal is similar to asking people wear seatbelts when in a car.

But the idea was questioned by Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, who noted that eating junk food has a number of unhealthy effects beyond raising cholesterol, AFP reported.


Diabetes Involved in About 20 Percent of Hospitalizations

In 2008, diabetes was involved in nearly one in five hospitalizations in the United States and hospitals spent $83 billion caring for diabetes patients, says a federal government report.

That amount is 23 percent of the total spent by hospitals to treat all conditions in 2008, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The $83 billion in diabetes care included costs associated with more than 540,000 hospital stays specifically for diabetes and 7.2 million stays for patients with diabetes and diabetes-related conditions such as heart disease, kidney damage, infection, or foot or leg amputation.

On average, hospital stays for people with diabetes cost 25 percent more than for patients without diabetes -- $10,937 vs. $8,746, said the report. The highest hospitalization rate for diabetes was in the South (2,829 per 100,000 people) and the lowest was in the West (1,866 per 100,000).

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Posted: August 2010