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Health Highlights: June 28, 2007

Tainted Chinese Toothpaste Widely Distributed in U.S.: Report Respiratory Disorders Common Among Young ER Visitors All U.S. Hospitals Privy to Infection Tracking System New Vaccine Prevents Precancerous Lesions in Women: Study Psychiatrists Get More Drug Company Gifts: Report

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

Tainted Chinese Toothpaste Widely Distributed in U.S.: Report

Toothpaste imported from China that was tainted with the poisonous chemical diethylene glycol was more widely distributed in the United States than first thought, The New York Times reported.

Some 900,000 tubes containing the chemical used in antifreeze products have been found in institutions for the mentally ill, hospitals, prisons, and juvenile detention centers in Georgia and North Carolina, the newspaper said Thursday. Officials in those states have no reports of illness from the tainted tubes, which have been replaced with domestic products.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has warned Americans not to use any Chinese-made toothpaste, regardless of brand. Even small amounts of the chemical could be toxic, especially in children and people with liver problems, FDA officials told the Times.

Panamanian government officials first discovered the tainted products in May, leading a host of nations to seize the toothpaste. Diethylene glycol is commonly used in Chinese toothpaste as a substitute for a more expensive yet safer chemical cousin, the Times said. Regulators in China have insisted that the international uproar over the tainted products is unjustified.

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Respiratory Disorders Common Among Young ER Visitors

Nearly three of every 10 children and teens admitted to a U.S. hospital after visiting the emergency room have a significant respiratory disorder, including asthma, pneumonia or acute bronchitis, the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reported Thursday.

Of all child admissions with respiratory problems in 2004, asthma accounted for more than one-third of them, the agency said in a statement.

Among children ages 5 to 9, respiratory illness accounted for 26 percent of ER visits that led to a hospital admission. Among children 10 to 14, the rate fell to 12 percent, and among teens ages 15 to 17, the rate was 8 percent, AHRQ said.

Overall, about half of the 2.3 million hospital admissions involving children and teens each year begin in hospital emergency departments, the agency said.

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All U.S. Hospitals Privy to Infection Tracking System

All hospitals in the United States now have access to a system that lets them track institutional infections, including a deadly form of staph called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MSRA), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

In a statement, the agency said it expected nearly 1,000 facilities to take advantage in the coming months of the National Healthcare Safety Network.

Eight states -- California, Colorado, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia -- have designated the network as a way to help comply with legislation requiring hospitals to report healthcare related infections.

To date, more than 600 institutions in 45 states participate in the network, the CDC said.

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New Vaccine Prevents Precancerous Lesions in Women: Study

An investigational vaccine to prevent cervical cancer protected at least 90 percent of women from precancerous lesions, maker GlaxoSmithKline says.

Cervarix prevented the lesions associated with two strains of human papillomavirus that are responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer cases, according to study results published in The Lancet medical journal. The vaccine also protected women against infections from two other HPV strains that cause an additional 10 percent of cervical cancers, the Bloomberg news service reported.

The study enrolled more than 18,000 women, ages 15 to 25, for an average of 15 months.

In a comment accompanying the study, however, Jessica Kahn of the University of Cincinnati and Robert Burk of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City noted that the study did not establish the long-term effects of the vaccine.

Some 250,000 women die each year from cervical cancer, the second most common form of cancer to affect women, according to World Health Organization statistics cited by Bloomberg. About 500,000 cases are diagnosed worldwide each year, 80 percent of them in developing nations.

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Psychiatrists Get More Drug Company Gifts: Report

Drug makers give more money for lectures and other services to psychiatrists than physicians in any other specialty, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

As an example, the newspaper cited this week's announcement by Vermont officials that drug company payments to psychiatrists more than doubled last year to an average of $45,692 from $20,835 in 2005. A similar trend in Minnesota was reported earlier by the newspaper.

Drug firms spent $2.25 million on marketing payments, fees, and travel expenses to Vermont doctors, medical institutions, and universities last year, an increase of 2.3 percent over 2005, the newspaper said.

Those numbers, however, do not include free drug samples given to physicians, or the salaries of marketing sales representatives, the Times said.

The Vermont analysis found that endocrinologists received the second-largest amount from drug makers, an average of $33,730.

Revelations like these have fueled calls from federal and state legislators to track and limit drug maker payments to doctors, the Times said. The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging was to begin hearings Wednesday on federal legislation to do just that. And more than a dozen states are considering similar bills, the newspaper said.

The consumer advocacy group Public Citizen issued a statement saying it was prepared to testify before the federal committee on the need for a strong national disclosure law.

"While physicians may argue that these interactions do not affect them, much research suggests otherwise. Pharmaceutical companies would not pay such exorbitant sums (to physicians) if they did not think they could influence prescribing practices," Public Citizen said.

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