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Health Highlights: June 10 2008

Virginity Pledge May Help Delay Sexual Activity Incentives Offered For Use of Electronic Health Records Airline Passengers At No Greater Risk of Infectious Disease White House Offers More Money For Food and Drug Safety New HIV Infections Outpace Treatment

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

Virginity Pledge May Help Delay Sexual Activity

A virginity pledge may help some young people postpone the start of sexual activity, according to RAND Corp. researchers who interviewed 1,461 virgins, ages 12 to 17, in 2001 and followed up with them one and three years later.

During the initial interview, about one-fourth of participants said they had made a virginity pledge. Thirty-four percent of those who made the pledge reported having sexual intercourse within three years, compared with 42 percent of those who didn't make a virginity pledge.

The findings appear online in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"These findings do not suggest that virginity pledges should be a substitute for comprehensive sexual education programs, or that they will work for all kinds of kids. But virginity pledges may be appropriate as one component of an overall sex education effort," lead author Steven Martino, a psychologist at RAND, said in a prepared statement. RAND is a nonprofit research organization.

"Making a pledge to remain a virgin until married may provide extra motivation to adolescents who want to delay becoming sexually active," Martino said. "The act of pledging may create some social pressure or social support that helps them to follow through with their clearly stated public intention."

It's estimated that 23 percent of female adolescents and 16 of male adolescents in the United States have made a virginity pledge, the RAND statement said.


Incentives Offered For Use of Electronic Health Records

Twelve sites across the United States will participate in a Medicare demonstration project that will offer incentives to doctors who switch to electronic health records (EHRs), Health and Human Service Secretary Mike Leavitt announced Tuesday.

Once the five-year, $150-million project is fully implemented, as many as 1,200 small- and medium-sized primary care practices will receive incentive payments in exchange for getting rid of paper records and adopting certified EHRs. The goal is to reduce errors and improve health outcomes for patients.

Total payments under the demonstration for all five years may be up to $58,000 per physician or up to $290,000 per practice.

Communities selected to work with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on the EHR demonstration project include: Alabama; Delaware; Jacksonville, Fla. (multi-county); Georgia; Maine; Louisiana; Maryland/Washington, DC; Oklahoma; Pittsburgh, Pa. (multi-county); South Dakota; Virginia; Madison, Wis. (multi-county).


Airline Passengers At No Greater Risk of Infectious Disease

Worries about being at high risk of catching the flu or other infectious diseases while traveling on airliners may be overblown, according to an Australian Transport Safety Bureau study released Tuesday.

"The risk of transmission of infection on board an aircraft is probably no greater than, and perhaps less than, other environments where large numbers of people are gathered together," according to study conclusions cited by Agence France-Presse.

Many people mistakenly believe air in passenger planes is laden with infectious germs and viruses because it's continually recycled with limited fresh air from outside, the bureau noted.

However, the study found that if an aircraft's recirculation and filtration systems are working properly, the risk of catching an infection while flying is no greater than eating in a restaurant or traveling by bus, AFP reported.

Most people who do contract an illness on a flight are seated close to a sick passenger and exposed to droplets from coughing and sneezing, rather than from contaminated re-circulated air, the study found.


White House Offers More Money For Food and Drug Safety

A significant boost in U.S. government funding to ensure the safety of food and drug imports was proposed Monday by the Bush administration. It wants to add $275 million to the $2.4 billion budget it initially proposed for the Food and Drug Administration during the next fiscal year. That would make the 2009 FDA budget 18 percent higher than the 2008 budget, the Baltimore Sun said.

Federal officials said the extra money would help pay for basing inspectors abroad, increasing the number of inspections, and modernizing computer systems, the Sun reported.

In a conference call with reporters Monday night, FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach said the agency would be able to hire 490 more employees with the new funding.

The Bush administration has been under pressure from Democrats and a coalition of industry, consumer and medical groups to increase the FDA budget. In March, the Senate voted to give the FDA an added $375 million, the Sun reported.

Democrats have alleged that White House underfunding of the FDA was responsible for the lethal contamination of imported pet food ingredients and a widely-used blood-thinning drug.


New HIV Infections Outpace Treatment

The number of people becoming infected with HIV is far higher than those beginning treatment with antiretroviral drugs, according to United Nations officials. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

Last year, 2.5 million people were infected with HIV, while 1 million started using antiretroviral drugs, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told world leaders on the first of several days of U.N. debate on AIDS prevention, the Associated Press reported.

"Unless greater and swifter advances are made in reaching those who need essential services, the epidemic's burden on households, communities and societies will continue to mount," Ban said.

According to U.N. figures, at least 33 million worldwide are infected with HIV and about 2.1 million people died of AIDS last year, the AP reported.

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