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Health Highlights: Dec. 15 2009

FDA Opens Mexico City Office Fewer U.S. Seniors Hospitalized for Preventable Conditions Coalition Opposes Kidney Transplant Drug Payment Strangulation Risk Prompts Recall of Shades and Blinds BPA Affects Intestines: Study

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

FDA Opens Mexico City Office

A Mexico City office opened this week by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is the agency's 10th international post in a program meant to improve the safety of food and medical products imported into the United States.

FDA staff at the Mexico City post will work with counterparts in the Mexican government on a number of initiatives, including harmonization of regulations and guidance standards, collaboration on the use of the latest laboratory techniques, and joint training on food-borne illness and food oversight.

In addition, FDA experts will educate Mexican industries that ship food and medical products north of the border about U.S. safety and product quality expectations.

"The opening of this office represents an important step as we re-design our product safety strategy. We, like our partners in the Mexican Government, realize that prevention is the key. For example, more than a third of the fresh fruits and vegetables we eat come from Mexico as do a large amount of our medical devices. Having FDA experts located permanently there will be mutually beneficial to both our countries and respective citizens," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in an agency news release.

The FDA's other posts include China, India, Europe, Chile and Costa Rica.


Fewer U.S. Seniors Hospitalized for Preventable Conditions

Between 2003 and 2007, many fewer U.S. seniors age 65 and older were hospitalized for potentially preventable conditions, such as angina, pneumonia and uncontrolled diabetes, says a federal government report.

Patients ages 18 to 64 had less of a decrease in the 11 chronic and acute conditions that can usually be controlled outside the hospital if patients have access to good outpatient care and follow doctors' instructions, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Here are the conditions and the rates of declines for older and younger patients:

  • Angina -- 43 percent vs. 39 percent.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes -- 21 percent vs. 5 percent.
  • Dehydration -- 20 percent vs. 16 percent.
  • Short-term diabetes complications, such as hypoglycemia -- 19 percent decline vs. an increase of 10 percent.
  • Amputation of the feet or legs, usually because of diabetes -- 17 percent vs. 3 percent.
  • Bacterial pneumonia -- 16 percent vs. 8 percent.
  • Congestive heart failure -- 14 percent vs. 9 percent.

Rates of hospitalization for high blood pressure increased at roughly the same for older and younger patients, while rates of hospitalization for urinary tract infections increased by 15 percent for older patients and by 1 percent for younger patients.


Coalition Opposes Kidney Transplant Drug Payment

A coalition that includes the National Kidney Foundation opposes a Congressional proposal to help pay for the anti-rejection drugs that kidney transplant recipients need because it would reduce government reimbursements for kidney dialysis patients.

Under the proposal, Medicare would extend coverage of immunosuppressant drugs beyond the current limit of 36 months after a kidney transplant. In order to pay for the extra drug coverage, the formula used to reimburse kidney dialysis patients would change, The New York Times reported.

In a letter to senators, the Kidney Care Partners coalition said "the kidney care community strongly objects" to the proposed changes. Along with the National Kidney Foundation, the coalition includes dialysis providers, drug companies and nephrologists.

The proposal has created a split between those involved in dialysis and those involved in transplants, The Times reported. The American Society of Transplantation supports the provision.


Strangulation Risk Prompts Recall of Shades and Blinds

All 50 million Roman shades and roll-up blinds in U.S. homes with small children need to be repaired in order to prevent the risk of strangulation, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Since 2001, the agency has received reports of eight children who died and another 16 who nearly strangled in window covering cords, NBC News and reported.

"Parents need to understand that these are hidden dangers, that a child can get entangled or strangled on these cords very quickly," said CPSC chair Inez Tenenbaum.

Consumers with small children should remove these blinds and contact the Window Covering Safety Council (800-506-4636) to receive a free repair kit to make the window coverings safe.


BPA Affects Intestines: Study

A chemical used in baby bottles, plastic containers and food and beverage cans affects the functioning of the intestines, say French researchers.

In tests on rats and human intestine cells, the scientists found that bisphenol A (BPA) lowered the permeability of the intestines and the immune system's response to digestive inflammation, Agence France Presse reported.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings show "the very high sensitivity on the intestine of Bisphenol A and opens new avenues for research," including reassessing acceptable levels of the chemical for humans, said the researchers at the National Institute of Agronomic Research in Toulouse, AFP reported.

Earlier this year, six major U.S. baby bottle makers said they would stop using BPA.

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