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Health Highlights: Feb. 27, 2008

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

Non-Specific Chest Pain Major Cause of Emergency Department Visits

In 2005, 23 states had 1.6 million hospital emergency department visits for non-specific chest pain that didn't appear to be a heart attack, says the latest News and Numbers analysis from the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In about 20 percent (345,000) of those 1.6 million cases, patients were admitted to hospitals for observation or treatment, said the report, which looked at statistics from 23 selected states.

Non-specific chest pain was the fourth leading cause of emergency visits to hospitals in 2005, the report said. The top three were: sprains and strains (2.4 million visits); bruises and other superficial injuries (2 million); and abdominal pain (1.7 million). In each of these categories, less than five percent of patients were admitted to hospitals.

Other highlights of the report:

  • The rate of emergency department visits by people in the poorest communities was nearly two times higher than that of people from the wealthiest communities -- about 481 per 1,000 vs. 261 per 1,000.
  • Other leading causes of emergency visits were: back problems (1.4 million); leg and arm open wounds (1.3 million); headaches, including migraines (1.2 million); nose and throat infections (1.1 million); and skin and urinary tract infections (1 million). Of these problems, urinary tract infections were most likely to require hospitalization (18 percent).
  • The emergency department complaint most likely to result in hospitalization was pneumonia -- two-thirds of 669,500 patients.
  • Uninsured emergency department patients were less likely (7 percent) to be admitted to hospital than those with private insurance or Medicaid (about 14 percent each) or Medicare (nearly 40 percent). Uninsured patients accounted for about 18 percent of emergency department visits.


Sports Officials Attend Steroids Hearing

Commissioners and union leaders of Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA and the NFL, along with other sports officials, will be at Wednesday's House subcommittee hearing on steroids, as the subcommittee chairman plans to write legislation governing the use of drugs in sport, the Associated Press reported.

In related news, star pitcher Roger Clemens may find out by the end of the week whether Congress will seek a criminal investigation of whether the seven-time Cy Young Award winner lied under oath about alleged use of steroids and human growth hormone.

In a joint appearance with Clemens, his ex-trainer Brian McNamee said he injected the pitcher with steroids and human growth hormone at least 16 times between 1998 and 2001, the AP reported.

If Congress does call for a probe, and the Justice Department agrees, investigators would try to determine which of the men told the truth.


Botox Seeps Beyond Target Area: Study

Botox (botulinum toxin) can seep beyond the target area and is harder to control than previously thought, says a Canadian study.

Botox is used to smooth out wrinkles and is also used to relax spastic muscles in cerebral palsy and stroke patients. University of Calgary kinesiology professor Walter Herzog used Botox in a study of how muscle weakness contributes to joint degeneration, CBC News reported.

Herzog and his colleagues discovered that Botox easily moved from the targeted muscle into surrounding ones and weakened all the muscles in the area. The findings were published in the Journal of Biomechanics.

"Many people believe that when Botox is injected into a single muscle, it stays there. This research shows that it is not that easy to control," said Herzog, CBC News reported.

The next step is to find out how long it takes Botox to move from the target site to other areas and to determine the ideal dose for safely targeting a specific muscle while minimizing seepage, Herzog said.


Drug-Resistant TB Cases at Record High

Cases of multi-drug resistant (MDR) tuberculosis around the world have reached a new high, according to a World Health Organization survey of more than 90,000 TB patients in 81 countries.

Patients with MDR-TB don't respond to the standard six months of treatment and must take more expensive and toxic drugs for up to two years, BBC News reported. The survey also found that virtually untreatable MDR-TB is present in 45 countries.

The findings surprised the WHO, which called for a major boost in efforts to fight drug-resistant TB.

"TB drug resistance needs a frontal assault," said Dr. Mario Raviglione, director of the WHO Stop TB Department, BBC News reported. "If countries and the international community fail to address it aggressively now, we will lose this battle."

Along with specifically targeting drug-resistant TB, "programs worldwide must immediately improve their performance in diagnosing all TB cases rapidly and treating them until cured, which is the best way to prevent the development of drug resistance," Raviglione said.


FDA Warns About Allergic Reactions Caused by Denture Cleansers

Allergic reactions to denture cleansers have killed one person and sickened 72 others, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday. In some of those cases, consumers misused the products.

InformatIon posted on the agency's Web site said a bleach called persulfate -- an ingredient in the cleansers -- caused the allergic reactions. The FDA said doctors and patients need to know the symptoms of an allergic reaction and to use the cleansers as directed, Bloomberg News reported.

The FDA said the person who died and some of those who became sick misused the denture cleansers.

"Some patients have gargled or swallowed it, resulting in abdominal pain, vomiting, seizure, hypotension and difficulty breathing," the agency noted. But it added that some people who suffered allergic reactions did use the cleansers as directed, Bloomberg News reported.

All makers of denture cleansers should add a warning about the risk of allergic reactions and include better patient instructions on package labeling, the FDA said.


Canada Confirms Another Case of Mad Cow Disease

Another case of mad cow disease has been confirmed in a six-year-old diary cow from Alberta, says the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). No part of the cow's carcass entered the human food or animal feed systems, the agency said.

Officials didn't reveal exactly where the cow came from in Alberta but said its age and location are consistent with previous cases, the Canadian Press reported.

This is the 12th case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) confirmed in Canada since the first one was discovered in a cow from Alberta in May 2003.

The CFIA said this latest case won't affect the country's surveillance and eradication program for BSE, the CP reported.

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Posted: February 2008