Health Highlights: Dec. 7, 2006

Consumer-Driven Health Plans Not Attracting People: Survey Keep Toys with Magnets Away From Young Kids, CDC Warns EPA Announces Final 9/11 Testing and Cleanup Program Schizophrenia Drug Shows Promise Brain Scans Could Help Predict Schizophrenia

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

Consumer-Driven Health Plans Not Attracting People: Survey

Americans are not attracted to new consumer-driven health plans, according to a survey released Thursday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and the Commonwealth Fund.

Enrollment in the plans, which feature reduced premiums but higher annual deductibles, remains low, and consumer satisfaction with the plans is lower than with more comprehensive health insurance, the survey of 3,158 adults showed.

The survey defined consumer-driven and high-deductible plans as having deductibles of $1,000 or more for employee-only coverage and $2,000 or more for family coverage.

As of September 2006, 1 percent of privately insured people ages 21-64 (1.3 million people) were in consumer-driven health plans. That percentage was unchanged from the previous year. Another 8.5 million people had plans with deductibles high enough to qualify for a health savings account but didn't have an account.

The survey appears in the December 2006 EBRI Issue Brief.

"Despite their tax benefits, consumer-driven health plans are not attracting large numbers of adults without insurance coverage, relative to other insurance. New strategies are needed to provide affordable and meaningful insurance to the nation's 47 million uninsured," Karen Davis, president of the Commonwealth Fund, said in a prepared statement.


Keep Toys with Magnets Away From Young Kids, CDC Warns

U.S. health officials are warning parents to keep toys with magnets away from small children because swallowing the magnets can lead to digestive tract blockages and other problems.

Since 2003, one child died and 19 others have required surgery after they swallowed magnets found in toys, according to a report released Thursday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Magnets in separate sections of the bowel can become magnetically attached, resulting in obstructions, perforations, and a life-threatening bloodstream infection (sepsis). Initial signs and symptoms are non-specific, which can result in delayed diagnosis and greater harm to the child.

A radiological examination cannot tell a doctor whether swallowed objects are magnetic or whether they have trapped tissues between them, the report, from the noted. It did suggest that doctors pass a compass close to the abdomen in order to help them determine whether an unidentified object in a child's bowel is a magnet.

Parents should not let children younger than 6 years old play with toys that have magnets or allow younger children in areas where older children are playing with such toys, the report said. In addition, healthcare providers should be aware of the potential complications caused by ingestion of magnets.


EPA Announces Final 9/11 Testing and Cleanup Program

The final 9/11 contamination testing and cleanup program in New York City will be launched next month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday.

Under the $7 million program, workers will test the air and dust in commercial buildings and apartments near the World Trade Center site. The tests will look for four contaminants -- asbestos, lead, man-made fibers and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons -- associated with the collapse of the twin towers, the Associated Press reported.

In 2002 and 2003, the EPA checked more than 4,000 units in the area.

"The vast majority of occupied residential and commercial spaces in lower Manhattan have been repeatedly cleaned, and we believe the potential for exposure related to dust that may remain from the collapse of the World Trade Center building is low," said EPA official Dr. George Gray.

The agency has been criticized for not doing enough to protect public health following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D.-N.Y.) called the new program "incredibly frustrating and disappointing," the AP reported.

"EPA has now acknowledged that additional testing is necessary, but the program announced today is totally inadequate," Clinton said in a statement released Wednesday.


Schizophrenia Drug Shows Promise

The investigational schizophrenia drug iloperidone was effective in a late-stage clinical trial, Vanda Pharmaceuticals Inc. said Thursday.

During the four-week trial of 604 patients, the drug was tested in two doses. The data showed that patients who took iloperidone, an atypical antipsychotic, showed statistically significant symptom improvement compared to those who took a placebo, the Associated Press reported.

Patient responses to the drug and a placebo were measured on the Positive and Negative Symptom Scale (PANSS), which lists hallucinations, delusions, racing thoughts and other psychotic symptoms as positive symptoms. Negative symptoms include moodiness, inability to feel pleasure, difficulty concentrating, and sleeping and eating disturbances.

The results of this study increase the likelihood that Vanda will file a new drug application for iloperidone with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in late 2007, the AP reported.


Brain Scans Could Help Predict Schizophrenia

MRI brain scans could help predict schizophrenia, researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland say.

They found that MRI can detect key changes in the brain's gray matter before a person develops symptoms of schizophrenia. The researchers said that tracking these changes over time, combined with traditional assessments, could help doctors predict the mental health disorder, BBC News reported.

In this study, the researchers analyzed a series of MRI brain scans (taken, on average, 18 months apart) of 65 young people at high risk of developing schizophrenia because two or more members of their family had been diagnosed with the illness.

Within about 2.3 years of the first scan, eight of the 65 participants had developed schizophrenia. The MRIs of those eight people showed they had experienced changes in their brain gray matter before they developed symptoms of schizophrenia, BBC News reported.

The changes involved a reduction of gray matter in an area of the brain that's linked to the processing of anxiety. The findings appear in the journal BMC Medicine.

"Although there are no preventative treatments for the illness, an accurate predictive test could help researchers to assess possibilities for prevention in the future," said lead researcher Dr. Dominic Job.

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