Health Highlights: April 19, 2006

Americans Find Eating Less Enjoyable: Survey U.S. Plans Fast Action Against Flocks With Suspected Bird Flu U.S. Backs 2 Free Drug Programs for Needy No 'Katrina Cough,' Health Officials Say WHO Completes Tamiflu Stockpile

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

Americans Find Eating Less Enjoyable: Survey

Americans are eating more but enjoying it less, says a new Pew Research Center survey that found only 39 percent of respondents said they greatly enjoy eating, compared with 48 percent in a 1989 Gallup survey.

This year's telephone survey of 2,250 adults found an especially large decline in enjoyment of food among people who consider themselves overweight -- from 56 percent in 1989 to 42 percent this year, the Washington Post reported.

Among people who feel their weight is "about right," there was a drop from 44 percent in 1989 to 38 percent in the new survey.

Guilt may be the reason why fewer people enjoy eating, said Thomas Wadden, director of the Weight and Eating Disorders Program at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine.

"People are feeling guilty" about what they eat, Wadden told the Post. "Two-thirds of women report they're dieting. One-third of men say they want to lose weight. They're forever checking their conscience before digging into that ice cream sundae."

The survey found that nearly 60 percent of respondents said they sometimes or often eat more than they should and 55 percent said they eat more junk food than they should.

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U.S. Plans Fast Action Against Flocks With Suspected Bird Flu

If a commercial turkey or chicken flock in the United States is suspected of being infected with bird flu, the flock will be killed off immediately, even before tests confirm the presence of the virus, federal officials said Wednesday.

The birds would be killed with carbon dioxide gas and their carcasses would be composted inside the building where they're killed, the Associated Press reported. Putting the dead birds in landfills or incinerating them can be expensive and create bureaucratic problems.

For composting, the carcasses would be layered with mulch, hosed down and left alone for four to six weeks. The intense heat generated by the composting process is more than adequate to kill the bird flu virus, Richard Lobb, spokesman for the National Chicken Council, told the AP.

While commercial farms account for most of America's chickens, there are many free-ranging chickens and small, backyard flocks that pose more of a challenge in terms of detecting and controlling bird flu, which is expected to arrive in the United States this year.

People who keep chickens in their yards or producers with free-range flocks are encouraged to keep their birds inside and watch for any signs of bird flu, such as dead birds, lack of appetite, coughing or sneezing, diarrhea, and purple wattles, combs and legs.

These symptoms should immediately be reported to state or federal officials.

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U.S. Backs 2 Free Drug Programs for Needy

Two programs that permit pharmaceutical companies to provide free drugs to needy Medicare beneficiaries were approved Tuesday by the inspector general at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Last November, Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson warned that such programs carried a high risk of fraud and abuse and would increase costs for Medicare. As a result, many drug companies told Medicare patients that free drug programs would no longer be available, The New York Times reported.

In his advisory opinion released Tuesday, Levinson approved two specific free drug programs that are designed to lower the risk of fraud and abuse. The programs will operate entirely out of the Medicare drug plan and none of the drugs' costs will count toward the $3,600 out-of-pocket threshold for catastrophic coverage.

Eligibility for the programs will be based solely on patients' financial need, regardless of which Medicare plans they choose, the Times reported.

Levinson's opinion did not identify the sponsor of the two approved free drug programs. However, Schering-Plough said it was the sponsor and had requested the inspector general's advisory opinion.

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No 'Katrina Cough,' Health Officials Say

There is no such thing as "Katrina cough," according to an analysis of more than 50,000 visits to New Orleans-areas emergency departments from October 2005 to March 2006.

The Louisiana Office of Public Health did the study after news reports quoted some doctors as saying that residents returning to the area were suffering increased colds, coughs and other respiratory conditions, the Associated Press reported.

However, the study found no significant increase in emergency-department visits by people with cough, sore throat, chest congestion, wheezing, or sinus drip, said state epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard.

"The rates of respiratory illness occurring here are not different from the rates of these illnesses occurring in other parts of the state and the country," he said in a prepared statement.

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WHO Completes Tamiflu Stockpile

Swiss drug maker Roche said Wednesday that it has completed a stockpile of three million courses of the antiviral drug Tamiflu that it's donating to the World Health Organization (WHO). This "Rapid Response Stockpile" is now ready to be flown to the site of any future major influenza outbreak.

About 1.5 million Tamiflu treatments are being stored in Switzerland and the rest are in the United States, Agence France Presse reported.

"The idea of such stock is to use the medicine as a fire blanket, to contain a pandemic where it starts," and slow or prevent the spread of influenza within an affected country or to other nations, Roche said.

Tamiflu is regarded as a frontline drug in dealing with a possible human flu pandemic caused by bird flu.

Roche has another agreement to donate two million more courses of Tamiflu to the WHO for use in developing countries. Those will be available for delivery by the end of the year, AFP reported.

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