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Health Highlights: April 7, 2008

Hispanic Toddlers at Greater Risk of Iron Deficiency 2 Mad Cow Deaths Reported in Spain Stuffed Insect Toys Recalled for Choking Hazard Hospitalized Kids Often Victims of Drug Mishaps Millions Endangered by Global Climate Change Some Teaching Hospitals Cost More Than Others: Study

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

Hispanic Toddlers at Greater Risk of Iron Deficiency

Hispanic toddlers have double the rate of iron deficiency as white toddlers, concludes a new study published in the current issue of the journal Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine.

In analyzing iron deficiency data from 1976-2002, researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that overweight toddlers also were at greater-than-average risk.

Over the span, iron deficiency rates dropped among some groups, from 23 percent to 12 percent in 1-year-old children, from 22 percent to 9 percent among poor toddlers, and from 16 percent to 6 percent in black toddlers, the school said in a prepared statement.

The researchers attributed the decreases to ongoing efforts to fortify infant formula and foods with iron, and to the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. They recommended stepped-up efforts to provide nutrition education at clinics and community outreach programs, and that all overweight toddlers be screened for iron deficiency.

Lack of dietary iron can lead to iron-deficiency anemia, where the body does not have enough iron to form sufficient hemoglobin, a blood protein that carries oxygen to the body's cells.

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2 Mad Cow Deaths Reported in Spain

Two people in Spain have died from the human variant of mad cow disease, Spanish officials reported Monday.

The two deaths from Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease occurred in Spain's Castilla-Leon region in December and February. The victims, aged 40 and 51, represent the nation's first deaths from the brain-wasting illness since 2005, the Associated Press reported.

A health official from the region, north of Madrid, told the wire service that the victims apparently contracted the disease before 2001. Preventive guidelines on livestock and meat production are considerably stricter now, the official said.

Mad cow, first reported in Britain in the 1980s, has been attributed to the use of recycled meat and bone meal in cattle feed. The human variant appears to be acquired by eating meat from infected animals.

Unidentified officials in Spain, appealing for calm, insisted that it was safe to eat domestic beef, the AP said.

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Stuffed Insect Toys Recalled for Choking Hazard

Some 300,000 "Cuddly Cousins" plush insect toys are being recalled because they contain small parts that could pose a choking hazard to small children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Monday.

The toys, made in China, were available in six designs: a lady bug, bumble bee, caterpillar, snail and two butterflies. The product number is 903995, and the UPC code is 6 39277 03995 8 with a date code of 71.

insect toy recall

The toys were sold for about $1 at Dollar Tree, Dollar Bill$, Dollar Express, Greenbacks, Only One $1, and Deal$ stores nationwide from March 2007 through December 2007.

Consumers should take the toys away from children immediately and return them to the place of purchase for a refund. For more information, call Dollar Tree Stores at 800-876-8077.

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Hospitalized Kids Often Victims of Drug Mishaps

About one of every 15 hospitalized children is the victim of a drug mix-up, accidental overdose, or medication reaction, a new study estimates.

That number far exceeds earlier estimates, the Associated Press reported. The finding follows the well-publicized case of actor Dennis Quaid, whose newborn twins were accidentally overdosed at a Los Angeles hospital with the blood thinning drug, heparin. The infants have recovered from the life-threatening incident.

In the new study, Dr. Charles Homer of the National Initiative for Children's Healthcare Quality used new detection methods to conclude that 540,000 hospitalized children each year are victim of a drug-related harmful event.

More than half of the problems cited involved overdoses or allergic reactions to painkillers.

Homer and his colleagues, writing in the April issue of the journal Pediatrics, said their findings confirm the need for "aggressive, evidence-based prevention strategies to decrease the substantial risk for medication-related harm to our pediatric inpatient population."

Experts cited by the AP said the problem could well be bigger than the study concluded, since researchers reviewed only selected cases and hospitals.

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Millions Endangered by Global Climate Change

Global climate change -- including rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns -- could expose millions of people worldwide to poverty, disease and hunger, the World Health Organization said Monday.

A rise in malaria-carrying mosquitoes, notably in the cooler climates of South Korea and portions of Papua New Guinea, is an ominous sign that global warming has already begun to impact human health, the WHO said.

Hotter weather tends to shorten the breeding cycle of mosquitoes, allowing them to breed much faster and increase the risk of disease, the Associated Press quoted WHO Director Shigeru Omi as saying.

"Without urgent action through changes in human lifestyle, the effects of this phenomenon on the global climate system could be abrupt or even irreversible, sparing no country and causing more frequent and more intense heat waves, rain storms, tropical cyclones and surges in sea level," he predicted.

Residents of poorer countries are particularly vulnerable, since they already face widespread malnutrition among other serious health issues, Omi said.

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Some Teaching Hospitals Cost More Than Others: Study

The U.S. government is paying nearly four times the price to care for chronically ill people at certain teaching hospitals than at other teaching institutions, new research concludes.

The evaluation of Medicare spending to care for chronically ill elderly and disabled people was done by researchers at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

The authors concluded that the government could save billions if some hospitals practiced more efficiently, USA Today reported Monday.

Teaching hospitals usually are associated with medical schools and allow new doctors to deal with complex medical cases and use new technologies.

The researchers evaluated cases that ended in death involving 192,242 Medicare patients between 2001-2005. All had at least one of nine chronic ailments such as heart disease or diabetes. Factors evaluated included the length of hospitalization, the number of doctors involved, and time spent in the intensive care unit.

Among the 93 teaching hospitals included, the average cost for hospitalization over a patient's last two years of life was $67,369, the study found.

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