Health Highlights: April 18, 2006

Injuries Inflict Huge Costs in U.S. Chernobyl Disaster Will Cause 93,000 Cancer Deaths: Greenpeace 3 Convicted in Medical Products Diversion Scheme Nebraska Reports 110 Mumps Cases Katrina Survivors Suffering Physical and Mental-Health Problems

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

Injuries Inflict Huge Costs in U.S.

The lifetime cost of injuries that occur in a single year in the United States total about $406 billion in medical expenses and productivity losses, such as lost wages and fringe benefits and the inability to fulfill normal household responsibilities, a new federal study says.

Of the $406 billion in lifetime costs associated with nearly 50 million injuries that required medical treatment in 2000, medical expenses will account for nearly $80.2 billion while lifetime productivity losses will add up to $326 billion, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The analysis did not include costs associated with police services, caregiver time, or pain and suffering.

"The financial and economic impact of injuries in the United States is serious. However, by expanding our science-based, injury-prevention programs, we can drastically reduce these costs and even more importantly help people live longer and healthier lives," Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director, said in a prepared statement.

The research is included in the new publication The Incidence and Economic Burden of Injuries in the United States. Other findings include:

  • Males account for about 70 percent ($283 billion) of the total costs of injuries each year. This is due mainly to higher rates of fatal injury and the amount of lost wages.
  • People ages 25 to 44 account for 30 percent of the U.S. population and 40 percent ($164 billion) of the total costs of injuries.
  • Motor vehicles account for 22 percent ($89 billion) and fall injuries for 20 percent ($81 billion) of the total costs of injuries.

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Chernobyl Disaster Will Cause 93,000 Cancer Deaths: Greenpeace

Contradicting a United Nations' estimated death toll of about 4,000 people, a report released Tuesday by Greenpeace said that about 93,000 people will likely die of cancers caused by radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster 20 years ago.

When a reactor in the plant in Ukraine exploded on April 26, 1986, it spewed radioactive clouds over much of Europe. The northern areas of Ukraine, western Russia, and Belarus experienced particularly severe fallout.

Last year, the Chernobyl Forum -- a group that included the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and several other U.N. groups -- released a report that said only 56 deaths to that point could actually be connected to the Chernobyl disaster. The report said about 4,000 deaths would ultimately be caused by the accident.

However, the Greenpeace report said its analysis of data from Belarus, Russia and Ukraine indicates that the eventual death toll will be much higher, and charged that the Chernobyl Forum report was deliberately misleading, the Associated Press reported.

"It is appalling that the IAEA is whitewashing the impacts of the most serious nuclear accident in human history. Denying the real implications is not only insulting to thousands of victims but it also leads to dangerous recommendations and the relocation of people in contaminated areas," Ivan Blokov, of Greenpeace's Russia office, said in a statement.

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3 Convicted in Medical Products Diversion Scheme

Three people have been convicted of an illegal medical products diversion scheme that defrauded the Medicare and Medicaid programs of more than $45 million, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Office of Criminal Investigation (OCI) announced Tuesday.

Martin J. Bradley III and Martin J. Bradley Jr. -- officers of the Florida pharmaceutical wholesale distributor Bio-Med Plus Inc. -- were convicted in late March of more than 247 criminal counts, including wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy, and racketeering.

Another person, Albert Tellechea, president of Infustat Inc., was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud for paying kickbacks to health-care providers.

An OCI investigation uncovered illegal schemes in which the defendants bought and sold millions of dollars of illegally obtained medications, primarily blood derivative drugs used to treat a number of conditions, including AIDS, cancer, and hemophilia, federal officials said.

One of the schemes involved paying kickbacks to doctors who wrote fake prescriptions for injectable blood-based medicines, many of which cost thousands of dollars per treatment. These prescriptions were then submitted for payment to Florida and California Medicaid and Medicare programs while the drugs were diverted to Bio-Med Plus, which then sold the drugs in the open pharmaceutical wholesale market.

The convictions came after a six-week trial. The Bradleys face major penalties, including jail time, fines, and restitution. Their company was the fourth-largest wholesaler of blood-based drugs in the United States. It had annual sales of more than $200 million, mostly to hospitals.

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Nebraska Reports 110 Mumps Cases

Nebraska, one of nine states affected by the first mumps epidemic to hit the United States in about 20 years, is reporting 110 cases -- 32 of them confirmed -- in 22 counties, state health officials said late Monday.

Most of the Nebraska cases are in the southeastern part of the state and are among people ages 10 to 18 and 35 to 45, the Associated Press reported. However, cases are being reported in children as young as 2 and adults up to age 64, said Dr. Anne O'Keefe, epidemiologist for the state Health and Human Services System.

About 600 suspected cases of mumps have been reported in Iowa, and cases have also been reported in Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. There have been no reported deaths.

This is the largest outbreak of mumps in the United States since 269 cases were reported in Kansas from late 1988 to early 1989, the AP reported.

Health officials suspect that two airline passengers may have spread Iowa's mumps epidemic. It's believed the two people were potentially infectious when they traveled by airliner in late March and early April.

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Katrina Survivors Suffering Physical and Mental-Health Problems

Many adults and children displaced by Hurricane Katrina are suffering chronic health problems and mental disorders, says a survey of more than 650 families living in trailers and hotels.

A lack of prescription medicine and higher-than-average health insurance rates are also issues for the displaced families, say researchers from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and the Children's Health Fund.

The survey, conducted in February, found that 34 percent of displaced children suffer from conditions such as asthma, anxiety and behavioral problems, compared with 25 percent of youngsters in urban Louisiana before Katrina, The New York Times reported.

Fourteen percent of the displaced children went without prescribed medication at some point during the three months prior to the survey, compared with 2 percent before Katrina.

Among adults, 44 percent said they had no health insurance (mainly due to the fact they lost their jobs after the hurricane), and nearly half said they were coping with at least one chronic condition, such as cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure, the Times reported.

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