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Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2010

Drugmaker Recalls Millions of Diabetes Testing Strips Oldest Americans Make Up One-Fifth of Hospitalizations: Report FDA OK's Gardasil to Thwart Anal Cancer Senators Want Tap Water Standard for Hexavalent Chromium Combined Tests Reveal Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease: Study Healthy Eating Helps Older People Live Longer

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

Drugmaker Recalls Millions of Diabetes Testing Strips

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that Abbott Laboratories is recalling as many as 359 million diabetes testing strips because they may give falsely low blood sugar results.

The testing strips are used to help diabetics check their blood sugar levels. But the FDA said the falsely low blood glucose results can lead patients to try to raise their blood sugar levels when it isn't necessary, or to fail to treat elevated blood glucose due to a falsely low reading. Both scenarios pose health risks.

The FDA said the problems are caused by a defect that limits the amount of blood absorbed by each strip.

Abbott is recalling 359 lots marketed under these brand names: Precision Xceed Pro, Precision Xtra, Medisense Optium, Optium, OptiumEZ and ReliOn Ultima.

The test strips, which were manufactured between January and May 2010, are sold both in retail and online settings directly to consumers, but are also used in health-care facilities, the FDA said.

Abbott said it will replace the test strips for free.


Oldest Americans Make Up One-Fifth of Hospitalizations: Report

Patients born in 1933 or earlier accounted for 22 percent of the 40 million admissions to U.S. hospitals in 2008, says a federal government report.

Patients ages 75 to 84 accounted for almost 14 percent of admissions and patients age 85 and older made up another eight percent. Together, those two age groups accounted for 8.7 million admissions, while seniors ages 65 to 74 accounted for 5.3 million admissions, says the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The report also said that in 2008:

  • Treatment of patients age 75 and older cost hospitals more than $92 billion, compared with $65 billion for those ages 65 to 74.
  • Patients age 85 and older were more than twice as likely to be hospitalized than those ages 65 to 74 (577 vs. 264 admissions per 1,000 people), and were nearly three times more likely to require nursing home or other type of long-term care after leaving the hospital.
  • The leading reason for hospitalizing people age 85 and older was congestive heart failure (44 stays per 1,000 people), followed by pneumonia (36), blood poisoning (27), urinary tract infections (24) and heart rhythm disorders (23).
  • Among people ages 75 to 84, the top causes of hospital stays were: congestive heart failure (23 stays per 1,000 people), pneumonia (20), heart rhythm disorders (17), blood poisoning (16), and osteoarthritis (15).


FDA OK's Gardasil to Thwart Anal Cancer

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday approved the vaccine Gardasil for the prevention of anal cancer and associated precancerous lesions due to human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6, 11, 16, and 18. The approval covers people ages 9 through 26 years old.

Gardasil already is approved for the same age group for the prevention of cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancer and the associated precancerous lesions caused by HPV types 6, 11, 16, and 18 in females. It's also approved for the prevention of genital warts caused by types 6 and 11 in both males and females, the agency said in a news release.

"Treatment for anal cancer is challenging; the use of Gardasil as a method of prevention is important as it may result in fewer diagnoses and the subsequent surgery, radiation or chemotherapy that individuals need to endure," said Dr. Karen Midthun, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

While anal cancer is not common, the incidence is increasing. HPV is associated with approximately 90 percent of anal cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 5,300 people are diagnosed with anal cancer each year in the United States, with more women diagnosed than men.

Gardasil's ability to prevent anal cancer and the associated precancerous lesions [anal intraepithelial neoplasia (AIN) grades 1, 2, and 3] was studied in a randomized, controlled trial of gay men. The vaccine was shown to be 78 percent effective in the prevention of HPV 16- and 18-related AIN. Since anal cancer is the same disease in both males and females, the effectiveness findings were used to support the vaccine's use for females as well, the news release said.

Gardasil won't prevent the development of anal precancerous lesions associated with HPV infections already present at the time of vaccination, the agency said.


Senators Want Tap Water Standard for Hexavalent Chromium

Two U.S. Senators plan to introduce legislation to set a deadline for the Environmental Protection Agency to establish an enforceable tap water standard for a probable cancer-causing chemical called hexavalent chromium.

Barbara Boxer and California colleague Dianne Feinstein outlined their intentions in a letter to EPA chief Lisa Jackson, the Associated Press reported.

Boxer chairs the Senate environment and public works committee, which will hold a hearing on the issue in February.

The Senators' call for an EPA tap water standard for hexavalent chromium (also called chromium 6) come after the release of an Environmental Working Group study that found the chemical in the drinking water of 31 of 35 cities across the country, the AP reported.

Currently, there are no enforceable federal standards for chromium 6, commonly discharged from leather tanning facilities, steel and pulp mills, and metal-plating plants.


Combined Tests Reveal Early Signs of Alzheimer's Disease: Study

A lumbar puncture test combined with an MRI brain scan can detect signs of Alzheimer's disease years before a person develops symptoms, say U.K. researchers.

This method, which checks for brain shrinkage and lower than normal levels of amyloid protein in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), could be used to select patients to try new drugs that may slow or stop the disease, BBC News reported.

In Alzheimer's patients, there is an unusual accumulation of amyloid in the brain and less amyloid in the CSF, explained the team at the Institute of Neurology, University College of London.

They tested the lumbar puncture test/brain scan approach in 105 healthy volunteers. The brains of the 38 percent of those with low levels of amyloid in their CSF shrank twice as quickly as those with normal amyloid levels, BBC News reported.

The participants with low amyloid levels were also five times more likely to have the APOE4 gene, which increases the risk of Alzheimer's, and had higher levels of another Alzheimer's-related protein called tau.

The study appears in the journal Annals of Neurology.


Healthy Eating Helps Older People Live Longer

Older adults who eat a healthy diet may live longer, according to a new study.

Researchers compared the diets of 2,500 U.S. adults ages 70 to 79 over 10 years and found that those who ate a low-fat diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables had a lower risk of death, BBC News reported.

The risk of death was highest among those who ate a high-fat diet with lots of whole milk, cheese and ice cream.

The study also found that people who ate healthy foods also had healthier lifestyles. For example, they were more physically active and smoked less, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Health Insurance Premium Hikes May be Reviewed

Health insurance companies will have to disclose and justify any premium increases of 10 percent or more next year, under regulations proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The increases would be reviewed by state or federal officials to assess whether they are unreasonable, The New York Times reported.

The review of premiums would "help rein in the kind of excessive and unreasonable rate increases that have made insurance unaffordable for so many families," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The new federal health care law calls for an annual review of "unreasonable increases" in health insurance premiums but does not define unreasonable, the Times reported.

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