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Health Highlights: April 6, 2011

Many Believe They Still Drive Well When Distracted: Poll Medical Emergencies From 'Synthetic' Illicit Drugs Increasing USDA Proposes New Meat Safety Rule Human Gene Patents Subject of Appeals Court Hearing Updated Guidelines to Prevent Bloodstream Infections

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

Many Believe They Still Drive Well When Distracted: Poll

Many American drivers who've nearly had an accident because they were distracted while driving say they will continue the same distracting behavior while they're behind the wheel, finds an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons-Harris Interactive Survey released Wednesday.

The poll of more than 1,500 driving-age adults also found that they know distractions such as talking on a cell phone, eating or drinking, or reaching in the back seat of the car while driving interfere with other people's ability to drive safely, but 20 percent believe they are good enough drivers that they can do these things without compromising their own driving ability.

Among the participants who reported distracted driving behaviors, those ages 30-44 seem to be the worst offenders, according to the survey.

Among the other findings:

  • Ninety-four percent of respondents believe that distracted driving is a problem in the U.S. and 89 percent believe it is a problem in their communities.
  • None of the respondents believed their own driving is unsafe and 83 percent said they're safe drivers. However, they believe that only 10 percent of other people on the roads are safe drivers.

The survey was released to mark the launch of a national anti-distracted driving campaign by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the Orthopaedic Trauma Association.


Medical Emergencies From 'Synthetic' Illicit Drugs Increasing

So far this year, at least 2,700 people in the United States have become ill after using synthetic substances that mimic illegal drugs, according to an Associated Press investigation.

There were fewer than 3,200 such cases in the U.S. over the whole of 2010. If the current trend continues, the synthetic drugs could cause nearly five times more medical emergencies this year. The figures were provided by the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The products -- which are packaged as bath salts or incense and sell for as little as $10 -- are suspected in at least nine deaths in the U.S. since last year, the AP reported.

Health problems caused by the synthetic drugs include breathing problems, rapid heartbeat, delusions and paranoia.

"Many of the users describe extreme paranoia," Dr. Mark Ryan, director of the Louisiana Poison Center, told the AP. "The recurring theme is monsters, demons and aliens. A lot of them had suicidal thoughts."


USDA Proposes New Meat Safety Rule

A proposal to require meat producers to delay shipments to grocery stores while federal inspectors complete tests was announced Tuesday by the Obama administration.

Periodic checks for dangerous bacteria are conducted by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at thousands of meat-packing and processing plants across the United States each year, the Wall Street Journal reported.

In a news release, the USDA said it "inspects billions of pounds of meat, poultry and processed egg products annually," and believes that "44 of the most serious recalls between 2007 and 2009 could have been prevented" if the proposed "test and hold" rule had been in place.

The tests usually take 24 to 48 hours to complete and many large meat producers already delay shipments while the tests are conducted, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Officials believe the new regulation would "result in fewer products with dangerous pathogens reaching store shelves and dinner tables," according to Elisabeth Hagen, USDA undersecretary for food safety.


Human Gene Patents Subject of Appeals Court Hearing

A legal case that could affect the patenting of human gene sequencing is being heard by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington.

The case involves Myriad Genetics Inc. patents for identifying people's risk for breast and ovarian cancer. The patents make the company the exclusive U.S. provider of genetic screening tests for the diseases, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last year, a federal judge invalidated Myriad's patient claims after the American Civil Liberties Union launched a lawsuit challenging the patenting of gene sequences.

A decision by the appeals court is expected in the coming months, the Journal reported.


Updated Guidelines to Prevent Bloodstream Infections

Health care worker education/training and cleaning a patient's skin with an antibacterial scrub are among the major recommendations included in updated guidelines to protect American hospital patients from bloodstream infections.

The use of maximal sterile barrier precautions and avoiding routine replacement of certain catheters are also among the main areas of emphasis in the health care provider guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee.

The guidelines were created by a working group led by clinical scientists from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center Critical Care Medicine Department, along with 14 other professional organizations.

"Preventing these infections is an excellent example of how hospitals and other health care facilities can improve patient care and save lives, all while reducing excess medical costs," CDC Director Dr. Thomas R. Frieden said in a CDC news release.

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