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Health Highlights: Sept. 10, 2008

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

Few U.S. Medical Students Plan to Work in Primary Care

Hard work and lower salaries may be among the reasons why only 2 percent of graduating medical students in the United States plan to work in primary care internal medicine, according to a survey of almost 1,200 fourth-year students at 11 medical schools.

A similar survey conducted in 1990 found that 9 percent of graduating medical students planned to go into primary care internal medicine. The new survey indicates that more medical students, many burdened with large debts, are deciding to go into higher-paying medical specialties, the Associated Press reported.

The findings were published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A related study in the same issue of the journal suggests that graduates from international medical schools are filling the primary care gap in the United States, the AP reported.

Compared to 2002, there were 2,600 fewer U.S. doctors training in primary care specialties in 2007, but nearly 3,300 more foreign medical school graduates pursuing careers in primary care field such as family medicine, pediatrics and internal medicine.

"Primary care is holding steady but only because of international medical school graduates. And holding steady in numbers is probably not sufficient when the population is growing and aging," said study co-author Edward Salsburg, of the Association of American Medical Colleges, the AP reported.


Chronically Ill Children Want More Say in Treatment

Children with chronic illnesses often feel left out of medical decisions and want more say in their treatment, including learning how to talk to doctors, says a researcher who interviewed children ages 7 to 11 at Alberta Children's Hospital in Canada.

"What these children are saying is that it's not that they would be making the decision alone. But it's showing them and role-modeling for them and inviting them to have a voice at the table because it is their body," Andrea Pritchard told CBC News.

The children she interviewed suggested three ways to help them be involved in their care: an online game to guide them through making choices; a treasure map to lead them through what's going on; and workshops to teach children and doctors how to talk with each other.

Children with chronic illnesses need to learn how to manage their condition before they're adults, said Pritchard, CBC News reported.


New Cystic Fibrosis Drug Shows Promise

An experimental drug to treat cystic fibrosis (CF) shows promise in early trials, according to British researchers who presented their findings at the BA Festival of Science.

Cystic fibrosis patients who received 150 milligrams twice a day of VX-770 showed a 10 percent improvement in lung function and a nearly 50 percent decrease of the concentration of salt in their sweat, BBC News reported. One of the most recognizable symptoms of cystic fibrosis is salty sweat, the news service said.

The tests were conducted on cystic fibrosis patients with a genetic defect known as G551D. Additional clinical trials are needed to determine exactly which patients may benefit from the drug.

"The early results with VX-770 suggest that drug therapies which target defects at the root of the disease have the potential to improve greatly the quality of life of CF patients," said lead researcher Dr. David Sheppard of the University of Bristol, BBC News reported.


Computerized Reminders Boost Colon Cancer Screenings

Colorectal cancer screenings increased by about 9 percent when patients received printed reminders from a computerized system developed at the University of Michigan Health System, United Press International reported.

The ClinfoTracker system, created to help track and manage primary care, encourages physicians and patients to follow guidelines for managing chronic diseases or for prevention screenings.

The system was used by 12 primary care practices for nine months, UPI reported. From the start to the end of the study, average colorectal cancer screening rates increased from 41.7 percent to 50.9 percent.

The findings were published in the journal Medical Care.


Women as Likely as Men to Cheat on Partner: Studies

There's a 40 percent to 76 percent chance that someone will cheat in a relationship, and women are as likely as men to step out on their partner, according to a University of Montreal researcher.

"Contrary to popular belief, infidelity isn't more prevalent in men," Genevieve Beaulieu-Pelletier said in a news release, United Press International reported.

One study of 145 students, average age 23, found that 68 percent had thought about cheating and 41 percent had actually cheated. A second study of 270 adults, average age 27, found that 54 percent had thought about cheating and 39 percent had actually cheated.

In both studies, people with an "avoidant attachment style" were more likely to cheat. People with avoidant attachment styles are uncomfortable with intimacy, UPI reported.

"The emotional attachment we have with others is modeled on the type of parenting received during childhood," Beaulieu-Pelletier said.


States Should Raise Driving Age: Insurance Institute

In order to reduce crashes and save lives, states should raise the driving age to 17 or even 18, suggests the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group funded by the auto insurance industry.

The idea may prove a "tough sell," but car crashes are the leading cause of death among American teenagers, said institute President Adrian Lund, who plans to present the proposal Tuesday at the annual conference of the Governors Highway Safety Association. Each year, more than 5,000 U.S. teens die in car crashes.

"The bottom line is that when we look at the research, raising the driving age saves lives," Lund told the Associated Press.

New Jersey is the only state that issues licenses at age 17. The overall rate of New Jersey teens killed in car crashes has been consistently lower than in some nearby states, according to data compiled by institute researchers.

Many countries in Europe and elsewhere issue licenses at ages 17 or 18, the AP reported.

In the United States, the rate of fatal and nonfatal crashes per mile driven for 16-year-old drivers is nearly 10 times higher than the rate for drivers ages 30 to 59, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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Posted: September 2008