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Health Highlights: Dec. 25, 2006

Medicaid Whistleblower Law Goes into Effect Jan. 1 New Antibiotic Could Cut Dosage Time First Lady Talks About Her Treatment for Skin CancerHealth Care Shortage in L.A Jail System Leads to Death, Newspaper ReportsOlive Oil May Protect Against Cancer-Causing SubstanceHypertension Problems Can Occur in Black Children as Early as Age 10

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

Medicaid Whistleblower Law Goes into Effect Jan. 1

Whistle-blowing in the U.S. healthcare industry is now a law, and with that novel accomplishment comes some serious challenges, the New York Times reports.

Managers of most hospitals and nursing homes will have to develop programs to teach their employees how to detect fraud and other illegal activities and to report them, the newspaper says. Not all health organizations are aware of the new law.

According to the Times, many health care organizations, such as hospitals and nursing homes, didn't know about the law when the newspaper contacted them last week.

The new provision is part the Deficit Reduction Act, signed into law last February. According to the newspaper, companies that do at least $5 million a year in Medicaid business as of Jan. 1, 2007 must teach employees waste and fraud detection, explain to them that they are bound by law to report anything they find, and promise them that they will be protected and possibly receive a monetary reward.

Is there much Medicaid fraud going on? According to the Times, the government recovered a record $3.1 billion in fraud and malfeasance paybacks this year, which was a record. Of that amount, health care paybacks were 72 percent.


New Antibiotic Could Cut Dosage Time

British scientists are close to testing on humans an antibiotic they hope will reduce the amount of time a patient has to take a drug to get rid of a bacterial infection.

BBC News reports that London researchers have developed an antibiotic they call HT61, and it has shown good laboratory results against one of the most antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the hospital superbug methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Clive Page, professor of pharmacology at King's College London, one of the researchers, is quoted by BBC News as saying, "It [HT61]may lead us to providing a combination of drugs -- one to target the dividing bacteria and one to target the persistent form.

"If you take something like penicillin, and put this with it, you might be able to get a treatment course which lasts one or two days, rather than the current five to seven," Page concluded.

The scientists say they hope to start human testing next year, and if the trials are successful, offer the antibiotic to the public in five years.


First Lady Talks About Her Treatment for Skin Cancer

"I was never sick. I never felt badly."

Appearing on the CBS News show "Face the Nation" Sunday, that's how First Lady Laura Bush described her experience with squamous cell skin cancer.

In fact, Mrs. Bush told host Bob Shieffer, "... it never occurred to me to make it public. I thought it was an insect bite, actually, when I first got it, and then it just didn't get well."

In late October Mrs. Bush said she had a biopsy done on a sore on her right shin after it didn't heal on its own. The results, she said, turned out to be a malignant squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer. It is more aggressive than basal cell cancer, the most common type. The most serious skin cancer is melanoma, which can spread quickly throughout the body and can cause death if not treated quickly.

The malignancy was surgically removed during a doctor's office visit, Mrs. Bush said.

She attributed the cause to spending a lot of time in the Texas sun when she was younger, and that she had fair skin. "I didn't tan, really," she told Shieffer. "But I would spend afternoons at the swimming pool and did those things that we all did growing up in Texas, and so I was out in the sun a lot."


Health Care Shortage in L.A Jail System Leads to Death, Newspaper Reports

Medical professional staffing shortages in the Los Angeles County jail system have resulted in the lack of proper health care for hundreds of inmates and resulted in at least 14 deaths since 1999, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The newspaper says that the jail system, which houses an average of 18,000 people every day, is estimated to need almost twice the number of doctors, nurses and other medical workers to help avoid the delays in treating illness and injury that seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

In a review of medical records, including autopsies, the Times says it found that 20 percent of inmates seeking a doctor's attention never received it before they were released.

In one case cited by the newspaper, a 55-year old diabetic man arrested for drunk driving never had the medication he needed entered on his medical record when he was first incarcerated. He died a few days later after collapsing while cleaning latrines.

Sheriff's Lt. Stephen Smith, who oversees the L.A. county jail system's medical services bureau, told the Times that he was aware that there staffing shortages and that "bad outcomes" can occur. But, "we face unique challenges, and we do the best we can," the newspaper quotes Smith as saying.


Olive Oil May Protect Against Cancer-Causing Substance

A little more than a couple of tablespoons of olive oil daily may be able to stave off the introduction of too many free radicals, substances that promote the growth of cancer cells, BBC News reports.

The broadcast news agency says a study of 182 European men found that the subjects who consumed as little as 25 milliliters (five teaspoons) of olive oil per day showed a reduced level of a substance that creates free radicals in their systems.

Olive oil contains monounsaturated fat that lowers HDL (bad) cholesterol levels. It also contains antioxidants called phenols, which based on the latest study, can help retard the accumulation of free radicals in a person's body.

The study showed that those who took olive oil during the course of the trial had a 13 percent reduction in the damaging substances, the BBC reported.

But more study is needed, scientists add. The BBC quotes Dr Anthea Martin, science information officer at Cancer Research UK, as saying, "Although this study suggests that olive oil can reduce DNA damage that could lead to the development of cancer, more long-term research is needed to confirm these effects."


Hypertension Problems Can Occur in Black Children as Early as Age 10

Signs of elevated blood pressure in African Americans can be evident as early as age 10, according to new research from the Medical College of Georgia.

By percentage, blacks in the United States have more hypertension than whites, and the latest research, published in the Dec. 19 edition of the journal Circulation,, offers more information as to how early high blood pressure problems can occur.

In an article written by the Medical College of Georgia, Dr. Xiaoling Wang, a genetic epidemiologist and the study's lead author is quoted as saying, "... this 15-year study allows us to look at one population over an extended period of time, [helping] us identify the age that these problems begin to occur -- as early as age 10."

The research team found that by age 10, some black children already had escalated blood pressure at night, which can signal heart disease problems later in life. Over its 15 year span, the study also found the gap of nighttime high blood pressure between blacks and whites widened.


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