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Health Highlights: Sept. 25, 2009

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

Toxins In Drinking Water at Thousands of U.S. Schools

Unsafe levels of lead, pesticides and other types of toxins have been found in drinking water at thousands of schools across the United States over the last decade, according to an analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data by the Associated Press.

Toxic contamination of drinking water is most common in schools with wells, which account for up to 11 percent of the 132,500 schools in the country. About 20 percent of schools with their own water supply violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in the past decade.

The number of violations increased over that time because of stricter standards for such contaminants as arsenic and some disinfectants, the EPA told the AP. The EPA doesn't have the power to require drinking water testing for all schools.

"It's an outrage," Marc Edwards, an engineer at Virginia Tech who has been honored for his work on water quality, told the AP. "If a landlord doesn't tell a tenant about lead paint in an apartment, he can go to jail. But we have no system to make people follow the rules to keep school children safe?"


Many U.S. Parents Underestimate Swine Flu Risk for Kids: Survey

Only 40 percent of American parents plan to have their children vaccinated against the H1N1 swine flu virus even though the flu has become more active now that children are back in school, a new survey found.

A vaccine against the H1N1 virus has been tested and is expected to be available in October.

Among the parents who don't plan on having their children vaccinated against H1N1 flu, 46 percent said they're not worried about their children getting swine flu and 20 percent said they believe the flu isn't serious, according to the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, which surveyed 1,678 parents from Aug. 13 to 31.

"This information about parents' plans to vaccinate their kids against H1N1 flu suggests that parents are much less concerned about H1N1 flu than seasonal flu for their kids. That perception may not match the actual risks," Dr.Matthew Davis, director of the poll and associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a news release.

The survey found racial/ethnic differences. More than half of Hispanic parents said they've have their children vaccinated against H1N1 flu, compared with 38 percent of white parents and 30 percent of black parents.

Rates of illness and hospitalization related to H1N1 flu are higher for children than for other age groups, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But the survey found that only one-third of parents believe H1N1 flu will be worse for children than seasonal flu.


House Passes Bill to Halt Medicare Part B Premium Hike

A bill to eliminate all premium increases next year for Medicare coverage of doctor visits was passed by the House Thursday in a 406-to-18 vote.

Supporters noted that older Americans aren't expected to get a cost-of-living increase from Social Security next year and therefore shouldn't have to pay higher Medicare Part B premiums, the Associated Press reported. In most cases, Medicare premiums are deducted from Social Security payments.

Most Medicare recipients are already exempt from Part B premium increases when there is no increase in Social Security payments. But the bill would prevent monthly premium increases of $8 to $23 for several million people.

The bill, which wouldn't affect scheduled premium increases for the Medicare prescription drug plan, now goes to the Senate, the AP reported.


Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg Hospitalized Briefly

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized overnight Thursday after she fell ill at work after receiving a treatment for anemia.

Ginsberg, 76, was released Friday morning from Washington Hospital Center and was expected back in her office later in the day, the Associated Press reported.

On Thursday, Ginsberg received an iron sucrose infusion to treat an iron deficiency anemia that was diagnosed in July. About an hour later, she became lightheaded and fatigued. She was found to have slightly low blood pressure, which can occur after the type of treatment she'd received earlier, the court said.

In February, Ginsberg underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer. At the time, doctors said they found no spread of the cancer elsewhere, the AP reported. Ginsberg later said the surgery completely removed the cancer but that she was to undergo chemotherapy. Anemia is a common side effect of chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer.


Tylenol Maker Recalls Some Products for Kids

The manufacturer of Tylenol is voluntarily recalling more than 20 liquid medications for children and infants because some ingredients in the medicines didn't meet the company's testing standards.

McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a division of Johnson & Johnson, which makes the products, reported that there were no injuries associated with the recall, according to Dow Jones. The company also said all of the medicine that reached store shelves meet qualifications.

The recalled products, made between April and June 2008, include about 50 batches of children's and infants' liquid Tylenol products. The company began recalling the products in August from warehouses and retail stores after bacteria was detected in an inactive ingredient that was not used in the final products but was manufactured at the same time.

Consumers with questions about the recall should call the company at 1-800-962-5357.


FDA Advisers Back New OxyContin Pill

U.S. health advisers on Thursday recommended approval of a new version of the painkiller OxyContin that is designed to lessen its misuse.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's panel of experts voted 14-4 in favor of the reformulated Purdue Pharma drug, which has a plastic-like coating that makes it harder to crush or dissolve in water.

But the experts also recommended the company be required to conduct a follow-up study to track patients taking the drug over the long term, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA is not required to follow its experts' advice, though it usually does.

OxyContin was hailed as a breakthrough treatment for severe chronic pain when it was introduced in 1996. But drug abusers quickly discovered they could get a heroin-like high by crushing the pills and snorting or injecting them.

On Tuesday, FDA scientists called the new version's resistance to abuse "limited," but said that "may provide an advantage over the currently available OxyContin."

Last year, an FDA advisory panel told Purdue that it needed to conduct more tests to demonstrate the tamper resistance of the new version.

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Posted: September 2009