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Health Highlights: July 14, 2010

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

Suicide Attempts Common Cause of Drug-Related ER Visits

Suicide attempts accounted for more than one in 12 drug-related hospital emergency department visits made by American adolescents in 2008, according to U.S. government research.

That 8.8 percent rate among adolescents is higher than the rate among those ages 18 to 25 (6.6 percent) and more than double the rate among those age 25 and older (4.4 percent), said the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The majority of adolescent drug-related suicide attempts were made by females (72.3 percent). Females also accounted for the majority of cases of drug-related suicide attempts among those ages 18 to 25 (57.6 percent) and over age 25 (57.7 percent).

Pharmaceutical drugs were involved in more than 90 percent of drug-related suicide attempts among people of all ages. Acetaminophen products were most often used by adolescent females (28.5 percent), while anti-anxiety drugs were the most commonly used substances in cases involving females age 25 or older (49.9 percent). Adolescent males where three times more likely than same-age females to have used anti-psychotic drugs (14.3 percent vs. 4.3 percent).


U.S. Seeks to Cut HIV Infection Rate

The U.S. HIV-AIDS strategy announced Tuesday by the Obama administration aims to reduce new HIV infections by 25 percent over the next five years.

Each year, about 56,000 people in the United States are infected by HIV, a rate that has remained unchanged for about a decade, the Associated Press reported.

"We've been keeping pace when we should be gaining ground," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said at a White House event to announce the new plan.

Among the other main points of the strategy: focusing HIV prevention efforts on the highest-risk populations, which include gay and bisexual men, as well as blacks; increasing access to care, with the goal of getting 85 percent of patients into treatment within three months of being diagnosed with HIV infection; and increasing public education about HIV, even in communities with low infection rates.

"The progress we've made in the past 30 years has come with an unintended side effect -- Americans have become less fearful of HIV and AIDS. We can't afford the kind of complacency," said Sebelius, the AP reported.

Currently, about 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV.


White House Plan Pushes Computerized Medical Records

Greater patient safety and lower costs are among the promises in a five-year White House plan to get more doctors and hospitals to use computerized medical records.

The plan, announced Tuesday, will offer money to help pay for the systems. Doctors' offices will eligible for as much as $44,000 through Medicare and $63,750 through Medicaid, while hospitals will be eligible for millions, the Associated Press reported.

The incentives could reach $27 billion over 10 years, but it's hoped that more efficient delivery of medical care will lead to long-term savings for the health system.

Health providers who don't have computerized medical systems by 2015 will face cuts in Medicare payments, the AP reported.


Do More to Cut Blood Infections In Hospital Patients: Survey

A lack of resources and attention to the problem are why deadly but easily preventable bloodstream infections continue to be a problem for American hospitals, according to a newly-released survey of medical professionals.

Each year, about 80,000 hospital patients in the U.S. develop catheter-related bloodstream infections (CRBSIs) and about 30,000 die, accounting for nearly one-third of all deaths from hospital-acquired infections, says the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Washington Post reported.

The survey, conducted by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, included 2,075 respondents, most of whom were infection control nurses who work at hospitals.

The survey found that: 70 percent of the respondents said they aren't given enough time to train other hospital workers on proper procedures; more than half said they have to use a paper-based patient condition tracking system that can make it difficult to spot infections in real time; nearly one-third said their greatest challenge was enforcing best practice guidelines; and 20 percent said hospital administrators aren't willing to spend the money needed to prevent CRBSI's, the Post reported.


New Type Of Smallpox Vaccine Added to U.S. Stockpile

The first one million doses of a next-generation smallpox vaccine have been added to the U.S. national stockpile.

The federal government has ordered 20 million doses of the new vaccine, called Imvamune. These doses are reserved for people with weakened immune systems because conventional smallpox vaccine isn't safe for them, the Associated Press reported.

Imvamune, made by a Danish company, was developed in part with U.S. research money as part of the nation's efforts to prepare for a possible bioterrorist attack.

The conventional smallpox vaccine is made with a live virus that's related to the smallpox virus. Imvamune is made with a different strain of the virus that can't multiply in human cells, the AP said.

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Posted: July 2010