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Health Highlights: Feb. 4, 2010

First Quake-Injured Haitians Arrive for Treatment in U.S. Few Uninsured U.S. Workers Get Needed Substance Abuse Treatment Large Rise In Prescription Drug Use For Digestive Ailments Program Offers Free Health Text Messages To Moms Ground Pepper Could Be Culprit in Salmonella Outbreak 40 Percent of Cancers Preventable: Report

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

First Quake-Injured Haitians Arrive for Treatment in U.S.

Five severely injured Haitian patients were transported by air and ambulance to Atlanta-area hospitals beginning late Tuesday -- the first quake victims to be treated in the United States since the federal government's decision Monday to reimburse hospitals for their care, the New York Times reported.

"These people have nowhere else to go," Kenneth Wheeler, an emergency manager from the Department of Veterans Affairs who helped organize the evacuations, told the Times. According to federal and local health officials, the five patients include an 18-month-old with brain trauma and two adults, one with a fractured pelvis and the other with spinal injury.

According to the Times, dozens more Haitian quake victims are expected to be treated in hospitals in Atlanta and Tampa, Fla. Centers in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia and Lyon, N.J., have also been alerted that they may be asked to take in patients.

All of the patients have injuries that cannot be cared for in Haitian hospitals, many of which have been severely damaged or destroyed.


Few Uninsured U.S. Workers Get Needed Substance Abuse Treatment

About 3 million full-time workers in the United States without health insurance needed substance abuse treatment in the past year, but only 12.6 percent of them received treatment at a specialty facility, says a new federal government survey.

It also found that more than 80 percent of uninsured full-time workers who needed treatment in the past year didn't acknowledge that they required treatment, while 6.6 percent of workers in this group did recognize the need for treatment but didn't receive it.

The need for substance abuse treatment among uninsured full-time workers was particularly high among those aged 18-25 (24.4 percent) and among males (19.2 percent), according to the survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

"This tremendous unmet need for substance use disorder treatment among this workforce has a devastating public health and economic effect on our nation," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a news release.

"We cannot afford to ignore this problem -- substance abuse disorder treatment has proven to be a cost-effective investment for promoting safe and productive workplaces as well as renewed hope for those affected by this disease," she said.


Large Rise In Prescription Drug Use For Digestive Ailments

Between 1997 and 2007, the number of Americans buying prescription drugs to treat digestive disorders rose more than 50 percent, from 18.1 million to 29 million, according to a report released Thursday.

During that time, total annual spending on these drugs went from $7 billion to nearly $19 billion a year (in 2007 dollars), according to the latest News and Numbers from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings:

  • When broken down by age groups, the use of at least one prescription drug to treat digestive disorders increased from 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent among children 17 and younger, from 18.6 percent to 26.6 percent among seniors, and from 6.4 percent to 8.9 percent among those ages 18-64.
  • The total number of purchases of prescription drugs for digestive conditions more than doubled, from 77.8 million in 1997 to 158.4 million in 2007.
  • During that time, the average cost per digestive prescription drug purchase increased 33 percent, from $90 to $120 (in 2007 dollars).

The figures don't include over-the-counter drugs or prescription drugs given to patients in inpatient, doctor's office or clinic settings, the report said.


Program Offers Free Health Text Messages To New Moms

A free program that texts pregnancy and baby health tips to the cell phones of expectant and new mothers is expected to be announced Thursday by U.S. health officials.

Under the text4baby campaign, mothers-to-be who text "BABY" to 511411 will receive weekly text messages that are timed to the mother's due date or their baby's birth date, the Associated Press reported. The text messages will continue until the baby is one year old.

The messages used in the program have been checked by government and nonprofit health experts and offer advice about a number of topics, including birth defect prevention, nutrition and immunization.

This is the first free health education campaign in the U.S. to use mobile phones. Organizers say texting is an effective way to conduct this type of program because 90 percent of people in the U.S. have cell phones, the AP reported.


Ground Pepper Could Be Culprit in Salmonella Outbreak

A strain of salmonella that's sickened hundreds of people in the United States in the last seven months has been found in closed containers of imported ground black pepper used by a meat company in Rhode Island.

Last month, Daniele Inc. recalled more than 1 million pounds of salami after at least 203 people in 42 states and the District of Columbia became ill. Many of those who got sick said they'd eaten the salami, the Associated Press reported.

However, about half of those who got sick didn't eat any salami, said state health department spokeswoman Annemarie Beardsworth.

"That maybe tells you that we're not done looking for a source of the outbreak yet," she told the AP.

Two suppliers provided the pepper to Daniele and federal investigators are tracing the origin of the pepper in order to determine if it's been distributed elsewhere in the U.S.


40 Percent of Cancers Preventable: Report

Lifestyle changes and vaccines could prevent about 40 percent of all cancers, according to a new report by the International Union Against Cancer.

The document said rates of many leading types of cancers -- such as lung, breast and colon -- could be reduced if people quit smoking, limited alcohol intake, avoided too much sun, and maintained a healthy weight through diet and exercise, the Associated Press reported.

The report authors also noted that about 21 percent of all cancers are the result of infections, such as those caused by human papillomavirus (cervical cancer) and hepatitis (stomach and liver cancer). Vaccines to prevent these infections and cancers are widely available in developed nations but almost unobtainable in poor countries.

"Policymakers around the world have the opportunity and obligation to use these vaccines to save people's lives and educate their communities towards lifestyle choices and control measures that reduce their risk of cancer," Cary Adams, chief executive officer of the International Union Against Cancer, said in a news release, the AP reported.

The document was released to mark World Cancer Day on Thursday.

Cancer causes one out of every eight deaths worldwide -- more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, according to the World Health Organization. If major prevention action is not taken, the number of cancer deaths worldwide will rise from about 7.6 million this year to 17 million by 2030, the AP said.


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