Health Highlights: Feb. 2, 2011

Back Problems Spur Millions of ER Visits a Year U.S. Officials Hold National Bedbug Summit FDA Inspections Find Salmonella at Egg Producer EPA to Set Perchlorate Standard for Drinking Water Drug Czar Warns About 'Bath Salts'

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

Back Problems Spur Millions of ER Visits a Year

Back problems were responsible for about 3.4 million visits to U.S. emergency departments in 2008, says a federal government report released Wednesday. That works out to an average of 9,400 visits per day.

That same year, there were more than 663,000 back-related hospital admissions, mostly for back surgery or other treatments for back problems. That's an average of nearly 1,820 per day, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The analysis of 2008 data also showed that:

  • Adults ages 18 to 44 were most apt to need just emergency department care (no hospitalization) for back pain, while adults ages 65 to 84 were least likely -- 1,569 vs. 1,084 visits per 100,000 people.
  • Adults ages 18 to 44 were much less prone to be hospitalized for back pain than those ages 65 to 84 -- 130 vs. 607 per 100,000 people.
  • Rates of emergency department visits and hospitalization for back pain were lower for men (1,005 visits and 209 admissions per 100,000) than for women (1,244 visits and 225 admissions per 100,000).
  • Hospital admissions for back problems cost more than $9.5 billion overall, making it the ninth most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals.


U.S. Officials Hold National Bedbug Summit

New ways to eliminate bed bugs are being sought by U.S. officials.

The blood-sucking insects are becoming such a problem across the country that the Federal Bed Bug Working Group held a two-day national summit in Washington, D.C. beginning Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

The tiny bugs live in the folds and crevices of mattresses and sheets.

While there have been some advances in bed bug control, the insects are difficult to kill. Researchers have found that bedbugs are developing resistance to pesticides, the AP reported.


FDA Inspections Find Salmonella at Egg Producer

Ongoing inspections at America's largest egg farms have so far found salmonella at one of them, says the Food and Drug Administration.

Following a salmonella outbreak in eggs last summer, the agency began inspections of the country's 600 largest egg producers. So far, 35 inspections have found 76 positive swabs of salmonella in facilities owned by one egg producer, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA did not name the egg producer and an agency spokeswoman said it is not yet known if the contamination caused any illnesses. The producer has taken action to correct the problem, according to the FDA.

The agency said its inspections of the 600 farms, which produce about 80 percent of the nation's egg supply, will be completed early next year, the AP reported.


EPA to Set Perchlorate Standard for Drinking Water

The U.S. government will establish the first drinking water standard for levels of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient called perchlorate, says the Environmental Protection Agency.

The standard for perchlorate -- linked to thyroid problems in pregnant women and young children -- will lead to new technologies to cleanse drinking water, said EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Associated Press reported.

It could take up to two years to develop the standard for the chemical, which is also used in fireworks and explosives.

Monitoring conducted between 2001 and 2005 indicates that 153 drinking water sources in 26 states contain perchlorate. Most cases of water contamination are the result of improper disposal at rocket testing sites, military bases and chemical plants, the AP reported.


Drug Czar Warns About 'Bath Salts'

Americans are being warned not to use new types of synthetic stimulant drugs that are often marketed as "bath salts."

"They pose a serious threat to health and well-being of young people and anyone who uses them," White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske said in a written statement, the Associated Press reported.

He said the drugs -- which are sold legally on the Internet and in drug paraphernalia shops and mimic the effects of cocaine, ecstasy and LSD -- can cause increased blood pressure and heart rate, chest pains, extreme paranoia, agitation, hallucinations and delusions.

So far this year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers has received 251 calls related to "batch salts," compared to 236 such calls in all of 2010, the AP reported.

The drugs contain the synthetic stimulants mephedrone and 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), neither of which are controlled by the Drug Enforcement Administration or approved for human consumption by the Food and Drug Administration.

Federal officials met Tuesday to discuss the issue. Some state and local lawmakers are taking action to ban the drugs.


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