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Health Highlights: July 27, 2006

Landis Fails Drug Test After Tour de France Win Most Seniors Satisfied With Medicare Drug Plans: Survey FDA Warns Against Drinking High-Strength Hydrogen Peroxide Japan Lifts Ban on U.S. Beef Imports Sun Exposure Kills 60,000 Per Year: WHO Report One in 5 Hispanic Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs U.S. Approves Massachusetts Universal Health Insurance

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

Landis Fails Drug Test After Tour de France Win

Floyd Landis, the U.S. cyclist whose dramatic comeback over three grueling Alpine passes propelled him to victory in the Tour de France last week, tested positive for a banned steroid substance after winning that stage of the race, his team announced Thursday.

Landis, 31, returned a positive "A" sample for an "unusual level of testosterone/epistosterone" after the grueling ride on July 20, according to the Phonak Cycling Team. The team said it was notified of the finding Wednesday by the International Cycling Union, the sport's governing body, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

Landis has been suspended pending the results of a second test, and if that sample confirms the initial finding, he will be fired from the team, the Times reported.

Landiss mother, Arlene, told the newspaper that her son was taking medicine for his degenerative hip condition, for which he planned to have hip-replacement surgery this fall.

This year's Tour was overshadowed earlier by a doping scandal that left four of the top five finishers from last year's race out of the event, the Times reported.

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Most Seniors Satisfied With Medicare Drug Plans: Survey

More than 80 percent of seniors enrolled in Medicare drug plans say they are satisfied with their plan, but almost two in 10 say they have encountered a major problem in using it, a new survey shows.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey released Thursday tracked 1,585 seniors, including 623 who are enrolled in the Part D drug plan. The findings showed that, for most seniors, initial experiences were positive, and almost three in four seniors who are enrolled in a drug plan would choose the same plan again.

Among seniors who have used their drug plans, those in fair or poor health were more likely to report major problems with their plan (27 percent) than seniors in excellent or very good health (12 percent). Higher rates of problems were also reported by seniors who took six or more prescriptions daily (29 percent) and seniors with incomes of less than $20,000 annually (26 percent).

The survey also found that among seniors who have used their Medicare drug plan, 46 percent say they are saving money on prescription drugs. Thirty-four percent reported paying about the same as they did last year for drugs, while 17 percent said they were paying more.

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FDA Warns Against Drinking High-Strength Hydrogen Peroxide

Drinking high-strength hydrogen peroxide for medicinal purposes_-- even at just 35 percent strength -- can lead to serious health risks, including death, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Thursday.

The FDA has issued warning letters to two Texas-based companies whose web sites, it said, make illegal medical claims about products containing the high-strength peroxide.

The agency added that high-strength hydrogen peroxide has never been approved to be taken internally and that it considers products at 35 percent strength dangerous, even if handled according to the manufacturer's directions. That's because the high-strength hydrogen peroxide is more than 10 times stronger than the solution used in over-the-counter drugs to disinfect minor cuts, can be highly corrosive and can cause gastrointestinal irritation or ulceration, the agency said.

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Japan Lifts Ban on U.S. Beef Imports

The Japanese agriculture ministry on Thursday lifted the country's ban of U.S. beef imports, ending a boycott imposed earlier this year due to concerns about mad cow disease, the Associated Press reported.

Only beef from selected U.S. facilities will be allowed into Japan. Inspectors from that country toured 35 U.S. plants to determine whether they met Japanese standards designed to guard against mad cow disease in beef.

A problem was found at one of the plants, which will not be immediately allowed to resume shipments to Japan, according to ministry official Hiroaki Ogura. A second plant will remain under surveillance because it was found to have previously violated import rules, the AP reported.

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Sun Exposure Kills 60,000 Per Year: WHO Report

Overexposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation (UVR) kills 60,000 people a year, but most of these deaths are almost entirely preventable through simple protective measures, according to the World Health Organization.

UVR causes sunburn, triggers cold sores and ages the skin, according to its report, the first to outline the global health burden of sun exposure. Simple measures, such as covering up when in the sun, could cut the deaths, the BBC reported on Thursday. "We all need some sun, but too much sun can be dangerous -- and even deadly," said Dr Maria Neira, Director for Public Health and the Environment at WHO.

Of the 60,000 deaths, 48,000 are caused by malignant melanomas and 12,000 by other skin cancers, the report found. Small amounts of UVR are needed for good health and play an essential role in the production of vitamin D by the skin.

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One in 5 Hispanic Teens Abuse Prescription Drugs

One in five U.S. Hispanic teenagers reported trying prescription drugs to get high, according to federal drug prevention officials who on Wednesday announced a national campaign to curb the problem.

A 2005 survey by Partnership for a Drug-Free America found that while use of illegal drugs among Hispanics is typically lower than other groups, family practices can both complicate and help solve the problem. Families that normally buy medications without prescriptions at Latin American pharmacies often stock up on them, then return to the U.S. with the drugs, making the medications easily available to teens, Carlos Ugarte, a senior public health adviser for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy group, told the Associated Press.

Ugarte said that parents also hold the key to education about prescription drug abuse by emphasizing family values and respect for elders. Only one-third of parents in the partnership's study said they had discussed the risks of prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

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U.S. Approves Massachusetts Universal Health Insurance

A new Massachusetts health plan, the first in the country that requires all residents to have medical insurance, was approved by the federal government Wednesday.

The state's universal health insurance program will use a combination of subsidies and penalties to make coverage more affordable for its poorer residents and to encourage people to buy it. Gov. Mitt Romney signed the health care law in April, and since then it has been under review by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Associated Press reported.

Federal approval means Massachusetts will continue to receive $385 million annually for the next two years to help provide premium assistance to insure the working poor. The program is expected to affect an estimated 500,000 people.

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