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Health Highlights: March 21, 2003

U.S. Companies Look at European Method of Controlling Drug Costs Antibiotics Reduce Miscarriage Risk Adapter Power Plug Recalled Most Americans Support Cloning to Prevent Disease: Poll TB Cases Decline by Almost 6 Percent Flu Season Said to Be Mild

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

U.S. Companies Look at European Method of Controlling Drug Costs

In an effort to control rising costs of employee health benefits, some U.S. companies are examining a method used in Europe to manage prescription drug prices.

Some European countries use a method called "therapeutic MAC." It stands for maximum allowable cost. This method puts a cap on the amount that health insurers pay for certain groups of prescription drugs, the Associated Press reports.

Under this approach, also called reference pricing, people who choose cheaper drugs may not have to pay any out-of-pocket costs. But people who want more expensive, name-brand drugs have to fork over the difference between the specified cap and the actual cost of the drug.

Therapeutic MAC has been shown to save money by encouraging health-plan members to act as price conscious consumers when buying prescription medicines, the AP reports.

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Antibiotics Reduce Miscarriage Risk

Treating mild vaginal infections in pregnant women may help lower their risk of miscarriage or premature birth, says a study by researchers at St. George's Hospital in London, England.

The study included 480 pregnant women who tested positive for bacterial vaginosis or early signs of infection, BBC News Online reports.

The women were given either a placebo or were treated with a 5-day course of the antibiotic clindamycin. Women who received the clindamycin had 10 per cent fewer miscarriages or premature births than the women who received the placebo.

There were 13 miscarriages or premature births in the group that received the antibiotic and 38 in the group who received the placebo.

The study appears in the journal Lancet.

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Adapter Power Plug Recalled

There's a voluntary recall to replace about 125,000 detachable plugs on power adapters. The plugs can break open and expose live wires, posing an electrocution or electric shock hazard, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The recall is being done by Comarco Inc., of Irvine Calif. The company has received 12 reports of the plugs breaking open. There have been no reported injuries.

The AC plugs were sold with 70-watt AC power adapters and have the word "ChargeSource" printed on top of the plug. The black power adapters have the model name "Targus" and the model number is PA-AC-70W-2.

The adapters were sold for between $90 and $120 in major retail stores across the United States between July 2002 and March 2003.

Consumers are advised to stop using the AC plugs and contact Comarco for a free replacement plug. Phone Comarco at 1-800-859-7928 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

Most Americans Support Cloning to Prevent Disease: Poll

Some 67 percent of Americans polled favor so-called "therapeutic cloning" for the purpose of harvesting cells for research that could lead to prevention of diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, according to a new survey.

The poll, conducted by Opinion Research Corporation International, also finds that 55 percent of Americans oppose "reproductive cloning" -- for the purpose of cloning people, reports United Press International.

The survey of more than 1,000 Americans comes as the U.S. Senate begins debate shortly on new anti-cloning legislation. Two competing bills both would ban reproductive cloning, but the Senate is divided over whether to approve a ban on all types of cloning -- even for research -- as the House has already done.

A bill by Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) would ban cloning of any kind, while competing legislation by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) would allow therapeutic cloning under strict oversight, UPI reports.

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TB Cases Decline by Almost 6 Percent

The number of American cases of tuberculosis fell by about 6 percent last year to an all-time low, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Citing better public-health prevention services, the CDC says cases of TB fell to 15,078 from 15,989 in 2001, a drop of 5.7 percent. And last year's national TB rate of 5.2 cases per 100,000 people was the lowest since record keeping began in 1953.

But the news isn't all good, reports the Associated Press. TB rates among blacks are still almost eight times higher than among whites, and twice that of Hispanics.

If the contagious, airborne disease is going to be eliminated in the United States, the gap must be closed, Dr. Kenneth Castro, director of the CDC's tuberculosis elimination program, tells the AP.

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Flu Season Said to Be Mild

Though there were a number of severe influenza outbreaks in the United States, the nation's 2002-2003 flu season was relatively mild, CDC officials say in their weekly report.

The season, which runs from October to April, appears to have peaked in early February. Cases have been below the epidemic threshold each week from Sept. 29 through March 8, according to an MSNBC analysis of the agency's weekly summary.

But the CDC did note a number of serious outbreaks of both A(H1) and B influenza among school children, resulting in an unspecified number of deaths.

About 20,000 Americans die and 114,000 are hospitalized from flu every year.

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