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Health Highlights: March 20 2008

Many Americans Self-Medicate Some Americans Question Private Health System Tuberculosis Disparities Persist in U.S. Medicare Cuts Trigger Concerns About Healthcare Access: AMA Immunization Information Systems Enroll More Children Allergies Affect Mood and Self-Image: Survey FDA Approves Artiss Medical Adhesive for Burn Treatment Cortisol May Benefit Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Patients

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

Many Americans Self-Medicate

According to a new survey, 76 percent of American adults use non-prescription drugs for themselves and their children to treat a variety of common illnesses, and many of them don't consult a health-care provider about the use of these medicines.

Many people self-medicate because it's more convenient (86 percent) or they don't believe their illness is serious enough to see a doctor (78 percent), according to the survey of 1,005 adults, which was conducted for the National Council on Patient Information and Education and released Wednesday. The survey received funding from drug maker Sanofi-Aventis.

Respondents who self-medicate were most likely to do so for colds (56 percent), coughs (37 percent), and seasonal allergies (29 percent), and year-round allergies (14 percent).

Of the nine of 10 adults who self-medicate a number of common conditions, many said they did so because they were familiar with how to treat their own (90 percent) or their child's illness (93 percent) due to past experience with the illnesses.

However, 76 percent said they recognized that self-medication can pose possible risks. About one in five adults who typically self-medicates said they have not used non-prescription drugs as directed, either by taking more than the recommended dose (20 percent) or be taking them more frequently than indicated (17 percent).

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Some Americans Question Private Health System

Many Americans aren't certain the country's private health-care system is better than public health care in Canada, France, and Great Britain, suggests a Harvard School of Public Health survey released Thursday, Bloomberg News reported.

The telephone survey of 1,026 people found that 45 percent believed the U.S. health system was generally the best, while 54 percent said they didn't know or thought the other countries' health systems were better.

"Most Americans still think that the quality here is relatively good, but they are concerned about cost and affordability. They don't have strong views on where it is better, however," Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis, told Bloomberg.

The survey found that 68 percent of people who identified themselves as Republicans, 32 percent as Democrats, and 40 percent as independents believed the U.S. system was superior. In terms of quality of care, 72 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of Democrats, and 48 percent of independents believed the U.S. system was best.

But only 40 percent of Republicans, 19 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents said the U.S. system was best in terms of affordable health care, Bloomberg reported.

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Tuberculosis Disparities Persist in U.S.

There are continuing disparities and a slowing decline in tuberculosis rates in the United States, says a report Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers analyzed 2007 national TB surveillance data and found that the nation's TB rate that year fell to an all-time low of 4.4 cases per 100,000 people. However, they also found that the average annual rate of decline in TB cases was 3.8 percent between 2000-2007, compared to 7.3 percent between 1993-2000.

The report said that TB -- which typically attacks the lungs -- continues to disproportionately affect foreign-born people and racial/ethnic minorities. The TB rate among foreign-born people was nearly 10 times higher than that of U.S.-born people (20.6 vs. 2.1 cases per 100,000).

Compared to whites, TB rates were 23 times higher among Asians, eight times higher among blacks, and seven times higher among Hispanics.

The rate of multidrug-resistant TB remained stable, accounting for 1.1 percent of all cases in 2006.

The continued disparities and slowing decline in TB rates threatens efforts to eliminate the disease in the United States, the report authors said.

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Medicare Cuts Trigger Concerns About Healthcare Access: AMA

Cuts in Medicare payments to doctors have eight out of 10 Americans concerned about access to care for seniors and baby boomers, according to a survey released Wednesday by the American Medical Association.

On July 1, there will be a 10.6 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. Over the next decade those cuts will grow to about 40 percent, while medical practice costs increase by 20 percent, according the AMA.

In response to this year's payment cut, 60 percent of doctors say they'll be forced to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat. Currently, about 30 percent of Medicare patients looking for a new primary care doctor are having difficulty finding one, and the payment cuts will make access even more difficult, the group said.

"As physicians, we are terribly concerned about how these Medicare cuts will impact our senior patients," AMA board member Dr. William A. Hazel said in a prepared statement. "Seniors and boomers are concerned too; our new poll shows that 88 percent of current Medicare patients are worried about how the cuts will impact their access to health care."

The first wave of baby boomers will be eligible for Medicare in three years when they turn 65.

Nearly three-quarters of the 1,006 telephone survey respondents, aged 18 and older, said they believe Congress should stop the cuts so that doctors can continue to treat Medicare patients, the AMA said.

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Immunization Information Systems Enroll More Children

The number of U.S. children ages 6 years old and younger who participated in an Immunization Information System (IIS) increased from 56 percent (13 million) in 2005 to 65 percent (15 million) in 2006, a new federal report found.

In addition, IIS private health care provider site participation increased from 44 percent in 2005 to 47 percent in 2006, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's 2006 Immunization Information System Annual Report.

IISs can provide accurate data for making informed immunization decisions in order to better protect against vaccine-preventable diseases. Most IIS grantees (70 percent) reported that they have the capacity to track vaccinations for people of all ages.

While data on vaccinations were entered within 30 days of vaccine administration for 69 percent of children ages 6 years old and younger, results for several data completeness measures were low, said the report authors, who added that the findings highlight the need to continue efforts to overcome barriers to full participation and to ensure high quality immunization information.

The study findings were published Thursday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Allergy Symptoms Affect Mood, Self-Image: Survey

In addition to physical symptoms such as sneezing, sniffling and watery eyes, allergies can have a major impact on a person's mood and self-perception, according to a survey of 1,000 allergy sufferers, 1,000 consumers, and 300 physicians.

The Harris Interactive phone survey, released Thursday, found that 62 percent of allergy sufferers said allergies affected their mood, 51 percent of sufferers said they felt annoyed, 48 percent felt irritable, 42 frustrated, 22 percent said allergies made them feel less attractive, and 19 percent felt self-conscious.

Among the other findings:

  • About 48 percent of allergy suffers felt their spouse or significant other didn't consider their allergies to be a serious health condition, and that relatives (81 percent), friends (86 percent), and coworkers (78 percent) viewed their allergies as somewhat serious or not serious.
  • About 34 percent of allergy sufferers said they see a doctor when symptoms are bothering them.
  • Most physicians considered insomnia (83 percent) and osteoarthritis (69 percent) to be less serious or equally serious as allergies. They viewed diabetes (90 percent) and hypertension (84 percent) as more serious than allergies.
  • Many consumers viewed diabetes (81 percent), hypertension (76 percent) and arthritis (57 percent), as more serious than allergies. About 29 percent said insomnia was more serious than allergies.
  • While 78 percent of consumers felt sorry for allergy sufferers, 36 percent believed sufferers overstated the severity of their symptoms.

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FDA Approves Artiss Medical Adhesive for Burn Treatment

The medical adhesive Artiss has been approved for use in attaching skin grafts to treat burn patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

Artiss is a fibrin sealant, which is a tissue adhesive that contains the proteins fibrinogen and thrombin, which are essential to the clotting of blood. Artiss is different from other fibrin sealants in that it contains a lower concentration of thrombin, which gives surgeons more time to position skin grafts over burns before the graft starts to adhere to the skin. In addition, Artiss contains aprotinin, a synthetic protein that delays the breakdown of blood clots, the FDA said.

A study of 138 patients concluded that Artiss was as good as surgical staples in attaching skin grafts on wound sites. Artiss is made by Baxter Healthcare Corp. of Deerfield, Ill.

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Cortisol May Benefit Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue Patients

The stress hormone cortisol may provide significant symptom relief to people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, says a U.S. researcher who reviewed the findings of 50 published studies.

The review author said the adrenal glands -- which produce cortisol and sex hormones -- don't function properly in chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia patients, CBC News reported.

"My review of existing studies suggests that a treatment protocol of early administration of cortisol may help improve and reduce the symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia," Dr. Kent Holtorf, medical director of the Holtorf Medical Group Center for Endocrine, Neurological and Infection Related Illness in Torrance, Calif., said in a prepared statement.

He also conducted a study of 500 patients who received cortisol and found that by the fourth treatment, 75 percent of patients showed significant improvement and 62 percent reported substantial improvement, CBC News reported.

The research appears in the Journal of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

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