Health Highlights: June 24, 2008

U.S. House Votes to Stop Medicare Cut for Physicians Some Premature Babies Don't Show Obvious Pain Response Poor Children More Likely to Develop Diabetes as Adults STDs Increase Risk of Serious Birth Defect FDA Approves 5-in-1 Children's Vaccine

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

U.S. House Votes to Stop Medicare Cut for Physicians

With less than a week to go before a 10.6 percent cut takes effect in the amount Medicare reimburses participating doctors, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Tuesday to reverse the cut, the Associated Press reported.

Despite a threatened veto from President Bush, the bill passed 355-59. While the measure has the support of doctors, hospitals, and pharmacists, insurers oppose it. Under the legislation, the funding shortfall would be made up by cutting payments to private health insurers, the wire service said.

About 600,000 U.S. doctors care for Medicare participants. Payments had been set to drop by 10.6 percent on July 1, the result of a formula that triggers cuts after spending exceeds certain budgetary limits.

Under the bill passed Tuesday, payments to private insurers would be cut by almost $14 billion over five years.

Without its passage, many in Congress feared that medical care for seniors and the disabled on Medicare would be compromised as a growing number of doctors refused to see them, the AP reported.

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Some Premature Babies Don't Show Obvious Pain Response

Even if they do have pain while undergoing medical procedures, some premature babies may not show any obvious signs of discomfort, according to a study by researchers at University College London, U.K.

The scientists observed the brain activity of 12 babies while they had heel prick tests. Most of the babies displayed both brain and physical responses. However, some of the babies had a brain response to the pain but no obvious physical response, BBC News reported.

"Although the study is small, it does raise concerns about the tools normally used by doctors to establish whether a baby is feeling pain," lead researcher Dr. Rebeccah Slater said in a prepared statement. "Infants may appear to be pain free, but may, according to brain activity measurements, still be experiencing pain."

The study appears in the journal Public Library of Science.

There's debate about premature babies' ability to feel pain and how much painkiller is needed to make them comfortable, BBC News reported.

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Poor Children More Likely to Develop Diabetes as Adults

People who grow up in low-income households are more likely to develop diabetes than those who grow up in better-off homes, according to a study of adults, ages 17 to 94, in Alameda County, Calif. from 1965 through 1999.

Of the 5,913 participants, 307 developed type 2 diabetes. Of those who developed the disease, almost 65 percent lived in poor households during childhood, United Press International reported.

The findings appear in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Our study, among others, shows a strong, persistent effect of childhood socioeconomic position on the development of diabetes in adulthood, even after taking later-life socioeconomic position into account," lead author Siobhan Maty of the Portland State University School of Community Health in Oregon, said in a prepared statement, UPI reported.

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STDs Increase Risk of Serious Birth Defect

Women who have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) or urinary tract infection just before or during pregnancy are four times more likely than normal to have babies with a severe birth defect called gastroschisis, in which the intestines and other organs develop outside the abdomen.

The University of Utah study also found that age appears to be a major factor, United Press International reported. Women younger than age 20 are 11 times more likely than women over age 25 to have babies with gastroschisis.

The study appears in the British Medial Journal.

"If teens are having sex and getting pregnant, they're at risk of sexually transmitted diseases. They're not thinking about the consequences, so that's a huge problem with this age group," lead investigator Marcia Feldkamp said in a prepared statement, UPI reported.

She noted that women with an STD sometimes don't know they have it.

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FDA Approves 5-in-1 Children's Vaccine

The 5-in-1 pediatric combination vaccine Pentacel has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in infants and children ages 6 weeks through 4 years, maker Sanofi Pasteur announced.

Pentacel -- which includes immunization against influenza type B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough (pertussis) and poliomyelitis -- was approved for administration as a four-dose series at 2, 4, 6 and 15 to 18 months of age, United Press International reported. The first dose can be given as early as 6 weeks of age.

Currently, children in the United States receive up to 23 injections by the time they're 18 months old, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The use of Pentacel could reduce that number of shots by as many as seven, said Wayne Pisano, president and chief executive officer of Sanofi Pasteur, UPI reported.

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