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Health Highlights: Feb. 13, 2007

Circulatory Diseases Major Cause of Hospitalization in U.S. U.S. and Britain at Bottom of U.N. Ranking of Child Well-Being Leprosy Cases Increase in Indonesia Intestinal Twisting in 28 Infants Given Rotavirus Vaccine: FDA WTC-Related Health Problems Cost Nearly $400M a Year: Report Civet Cats Back on Menus in Southern China

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

Circulatory Diseases Major Cause of Hospitalization in U.S.

In 2004, heart disease, stroke, deep vein thrombosis and other circulatory system conditions accounted for nearly 7 million -- one of every six -- hospital stays in the United States, says the latest News and Numbers report released Wednesday by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Only pregnancy and childbirth accounted for more hospital stays.

The report said:

  • The five most common circulatory diseases that led to hospitalization were: hardening of the arteries (1.2 million stays); congestive heart failure (1.1 million); nonspecific chest pain (846,000); heart attack (695,000), and irregular heart beat (694,000).
  • Cardiac arrest with ventricular fibrillation was the deadliest condition, with 52 percent of patients dying in the hospital, followed by: stroke (11 percent); aneurysms (9 percent); heart attack (7 percent); and embolism or thrombosis (5 percent).
  • In terms of average cost per hospital stay, the five most expensive conditions were: heart valve disorders ($31,300); cardiac and circulatory birth defects ($29,600); aneurysms ($24,700); cardiac arrest with ventricular fibrillation ($16,700); and heart attack ($16,200).

Overall, it cost hospitals $71.2 billion in 2004 to treat patients with circulatory diseases, the report said.


U.S. and Britain at Bottom of U.N. Ranking of Child Well-Being

The United States and Great Britain were ranked second to last and last, respectively, in a UNICEF report released Wednesday that looked at the well-being of children in 21 industrialized countries, the Associated Press reported.

Countries at the top of the list were European nations with strong social welfare systems -- the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.

The rankings were based on six measures: material well-being, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and youngsters' own subjective sense of well-being, the AP reported.

In the health and safety category, the United States came last. That category looks at rates of infant death, low birth weight, immunization, and deaths from accidents and injuries.

The fact that the United States and Britain were ranked below countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary shows that a nation's overall wealth alone does not guarantee a child's well-being, the report authors said.


Leprosy Cases Increase in Indonesia

Indonesia is the only country in the world where cases of leprosy are on the rise, says the World Health Organization.

In 2005, there were 19,695 new cases of leprosy in Indonesia, compared with 16,549 new cases in 2004. However, the WHO said the prevalence of the disfiguring disease in Indonesia is less than one case per 10,000 population, which means leprosy is effectively eliminated in that country, Agence France Presse reported.

The disease has also been effectively eliminated in most other parts of Asia. Two exceptions are East Timor and Nepal. Both countries have repeatedly missed target dates to eliminate leprosy.

The WHO released the information after a meeting about eliminating leprosy and other tropical diseases. The meeting with donor agencies was held in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, AFP reported.

"We hope that this meeting will increase political commitment from the governments of the member states and result in the intensification of efforts towards elimination of the disease," which is associated with poverty, Jai Narain, WHO director of communicable diseases, told reporters.


Intestinal Twisting in 28 Infants Given Rotavirus Vaccine: FDA

There have been 28 cases of dangerous twisting of the intestines (intussusception) in infants who received a newly-approved vaccine against rotavirus, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

In 16 of those 28 cases infants required intestinal surgery. There were no deaths.

However, the FDA said it wasn't clear whether the vaccine, RotaTeq, actually caused the 28 cases of intussusception, which can occur naturally, the Associated Press reported. In fact, the reported cases don't exceed the number expected to occur naturally each year in the U.S., the agency said.

The FDA said it issued the public health notification in part to encourage reporting of any additional cases of intussusception in order to help the agency assess any risks associated with RotaTeq, which was approved by the FDA in February 2006.

The agency asked drug maker Merck & Co. to change the labeling on RotaTeq to mention the cases of intussusception, the AP reported.

A previous rotavirus vaccine, Wyeth's RotaShield, was taken off the market eight years ago after it was linked to intussuception. The rotavirus is the leading cause of diarrhea in early childhood.

RotaTeq co-inventor Dr. Paul Offit, of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the 28 reported cases were well below the hundreds that would be expected to occur naturally.

"I am actually encouraged by those data: 28 cases, when you would have expected at least 500 cases, that is really reassuring," he told the AP. "I don't see how those numbers suggest something's gone awry. If anything, they suggest nothing's awry."


WTC-Related Health Problems Cost Nearly $400M a Year: Report

A New York City report says that mental trauma, respiratory ailments and other problems suffered by emergency/recovery/cleanup workers after the Sept. 11 attacks are costing the U.S. health care system $393 million a year, the Associated Press reported.

The report was written by a panel created last year by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to examine Sept. 11-related health problems and treatment programs. Anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and respiratory conditions are among the disorders plaguing people who worked at the World Trade Center site.

The report also mentioned the troubling prospect of later-emerging diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis and cancer among the WTC workers, the AP reported.

In addition to the health costs, there are mounting liability expenses. The report said that WTC workers have launched at least 6,000 federal lawsuits, alleging that New York and its contractors were negligent in monitoring air quality.

Thousands more lawsuits are expected, the AP reported.

The U.S. Congress gave $1 billon to provide the city with liability coverage against claims made by WTC workers. Instead of using that money in court, the report said Congress should change the law so that the city can use the money to fund a compensation program for sick workers.


Civet Cats Back on Menus in Southern China

Even though the civet cat is a suspected cause of the deadly SARS outbreak a few years ago, it's showing up again on menus at some restaurants in southern China.

The civet cat is a mongoose-like animal regarded as a delicacy in southern China, the Associated Press reported.

The China Daily state newspaper said that officials caught several restaurants selling civet cat and other animals banned by health authorities after the SARS outbreak in late 2002, the AP reported.

During a recent check of restaurants in Guangdong province, officials found one live civet cat, 14 frozen civet cats, and 18 frozen pieces of other exotic wildlife that were destined for patron's plates.

"It seems that some people are determined to start eating civet cats again since no new SARS cases have been reported over the past two years in Guangdong province. It's a very dangerous sign," Huang Fei, deputy director of the Guangdong Health Department, told the China Daily.

The SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak began in Guangdong and then spread worldwide, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 800. The last reported case in China was in 2004, the AP reported.

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