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Health Highlights: March 13, 2008

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

More Americans Getting Colorectal Cancer Screenings

The percentage of Americans age 50 and older who had a colorectal cancer screening test increased from 53.9 percent to 60.8 percent between 2002 and 2006, a new report found.

However, while rates of colorectal cancer screening increased among all racial and ethnic groups, minority groups continued to have lower screening rates than whites. In addition, rates continued to be lower among those with no health insurance, low income, and less than a high school education.

The findings are reported in the March 14 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Lack of awareness of the need for colorectal cancer screening, lack of doctor recommendations for screening, lack of health insurance, and lack of a usual source of health care are among the factors that may contribute to disparities in colorectal cancer screening rates, the study authors said.

Previous studies found that men were more likely than women to be checked for colorectal cancer, but data in this new study suggest a narrowing of that gender gap.

"While we are encouraged to see an increase in colorectal cancer screening rates, certain groups are still not getting screened as recommended," report lead author Dr. Djenaba A. Joseph, medical officer in the CDC's division of cancer prevention and control, said in a prepared statement. "We need to ensure that all adults have access to these life-saving tests because there is strong evidence that screening can prevent colorectal cancer deaths."

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In 2004, nearly 145,000 people in the country were diagnosed with the disease and more than 53,000 died from it, the CDC said. Regular colorectal cancer screening is recommended for everyone age 50 and older.


Violence-Related Injuries Led to 308,200 Hospitalizations in 2005

In 2005, U.S. hospitals treated 308,200 people for attempted suicide, assault, rape, abuse, and other violence-related trauma, at a cost of $2.3 billion, says the latest News and Numbers report from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The number of violence-related hospitalizations increased by 24,000 between 2002 and 2005, the report said. In 2005, about 23 percent of violence-related hospitalizations involved uninsured patients and 27 percent involved Medicaid recipients.

Among the other findings:

  • About 66 percent of all violence-related hospital patients had attempted suicide or injured themselves on purpose; about 31 percent were victims of attempted murder, fights, rape or other assaults; and about four percent were victims of sexual or other abuse.
  • More than half the patients admitted for self-inflicted injuries had mixed or overdosed on drugs.
  • Crushing and internal injuries, skull and facial fractures, and head injuries were the main reasons for admitting half of the assault victims.
  • Nearly 52 percent of abuse cases involved children. About one-third of them were victims of child neglect, physical and psychological abuse, or physical assault such as shaken baby syndrome.


Toy Sundae Sets Pose Choking Hazard

A potential choking hazard has prompted the recall of about 22,000 Play Wonder toy sundae sets distributed by Battat Inc. of Plattsburgh, N.Y., and sold at Target stores from December 2006 through December 2007.

The recalled toy includes six wooden scoops of ice cream, three cherries that attach to the top of the ice cream scoops, banana slices, a spoon and bowl. The wooden cherries pose a choking hazard to young children, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. The recall affects model number DPCI-204-12-0526, which can be found on the packaging.

There have been no reports of injuries, the CPSC said.

Consumers with the recalled toy sundae sets should take them away from children and return the toy to any Target store for a full refund. For more information, phone Battat Inc. at 1-800-247-6144.


EPA Announces Modest Tightening of Smog Standards

Ignoring its own scientific advisory panel's recommendation for a much stricter smog standard, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced only a modest tightening of the standard.

Currently, the standard for average concentrations of ozone at ground level over an eight-hour period is 84 parts per billion. The EPA's expert panel recommended a new level of 60 to 70 parts per billion. The EPA decided to lower it to 75, but implementation of that less ambitious standard could take decades, The New York Times reported.

The EPA's decision was criticized by many environmental and health groups.

"The EPA's own risk estimates show that between 75 and 70, there will be hundreds more deaths and thousands more visits to emergency rooms, and hundreds of thousands of more lost school days," Dr. John M. Balbus, the chief health scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Times.

"The Environmental Protection Agency has missed a real opportunity to protect children's health with (its) decision to reduce the ozone standard from its current 0.08 parts per million (ppm) to 0.075 ppm," American Academy of Pediatrics President Dr. Renee R. Jenkins said in a prepared statement. "While any reduction in air pollution is a step in the right direction, EPA's new ozone standard, the first in a decade, fails to go far enough."

"The science is clear: ozone pollution harms children," Jenkins said.


FDA Criticized for Oversight of Spinach Facilities

Even though serious sanitation problems were found in nearly half of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspections since 2001 of facilities that package fresh spinach, the agency took no "meaningful" enforcement action, according to report released Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Litter piles, inadequate restroom sanitation, indoor condensation that posed a risk of food contamination by microorganisms, workers with uncovered hair and poor hygiene, and buildings vulnerable to rodent infestation were among the problems noted by FDA inspections of 67 facilities, the Washington Post reported.

None of the problem facilities were referred to FDA enforcement authorities, and the FDA didn't send any warning letters to, or seek injunctions against, the facilities. The House committee report also found that the FDA inspected spinach facilities about once every 2.4 years, even though federal guidelines state that most of the facilities should have been visited at least once a year.

"The inspection reports ... raise serious questions about the ability of the FDA to protect the safety of fresh spinach and other fresh produce," committee investigators wrote. "It appears the FDA is inspecting high-risk facilities infrequently, failing to take vigorous enforcement action when it does inspect and identify violations, and not even inspecting the most probable sources of many outbreaks."

Since 1995, 20 serious outbreaks of E. coli contamination in the United States have been traced to fresh spinach or lettuce. One of the most serious outbreaks occurred in 2006, when bagged spinach processed by California-based Natural Selection Foods sickened more than 200 people and was linked to three deaths, the Post reported.


Dementia Diagnosis May Provide Relief: Study

Telling patients they have Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia may actually give them a measure of relief, suggests a study by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis.

Some doctors are reluctant to deliver this kind of diagnosis because they fear it may overwhelm patients. But this study found that giving a dementia diagnosis didn't increase anxiety or depression among patients or caregivers. In fact, most were relieved to have symptoms explained and to learn where they can find help, the Associated Press reported.

The study, which included 90 patients and caregivers, appears in the March issue of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"No one is pleased to find out they have dementia," study co-investigator Brian Carpenter, associate professor of psychology, told the AP. "But some people find comfort in getting resolution to their anxiety and concerns, and knowing people can help them."

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Posted: March 2008