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Health Highlights: March 22, 2003

Eastern Europe Bracing for AIDS Epidemic Marriage Isn't Necessarily 'Better' NYC Hospital Gets OK to Resume Liver Donor Program U.S. Companies Look at European Method of Controlling Drug Costs Antibiotics Reduce Miscarriage Risk Adapter Power Plug Recalled

Eastern Europe Bracing for AIDS Epidemic

Escalating drug use and unsafe heterosexual practices are being blamed for a near-epidemic rise in HIV and AIDS cases in European countries that were formerly part of the communist bloc controlled by the Soviet Union.

The British medical periodical Lancet says that Eastern Europe and Central Asia have the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world, according to BBC News. In the former Soviet Union alone more than a million HIV-positive cases have been reported, the study, which was sponsored by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, says.

The two major causes of this are the increasing numbers of people who use needles to inject drugs and the lack of any monitoring or control of prostitution and other forms of sexual activities that transmit the HIV virus.

According to the BBC, the HIV virus has spread in epidemic numbers in the past five years through Estonia, the Ukraine, The Russian Federation and Kazakhstan, because of intravenous drug use. But the report adds, "...what is worrying doctors is that HIV is now being transmitted through heterosexual sex - particularly as many HIV positive drug users have unprotected sex with multiple partners."

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Marriage Isn't Necessarily "Better"

It shouldn't be a big surprise that getting married is not always a road to happiness. In the United States about half of all marriages end in divorce.

But new research reported by the Los Angeles Times appears to confirm that marriage also can't be used as a mathematical or scientific predictor of happiness or well-being. In fact, says the newspaper, satisfaction with one's marriage is such an elusive and personal issue that it can't be used to determine how happy a person is with his or her life.

"We had this strong idea that people's sense of well-being would adapt pretty quickly to both positive and negative changes; it would go up or down, and then return to baseline levels," Richard Lucas, a psychologist at Michigan State University and lead author of the research paper, told the Times. "But it didn't quite turn out that way, especially when it came to widowhood... A person's life circumstances appear to determine their reaction to these changes."

The study appears in the current issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and it concluded the difference in life satisfaction scores shrank to one-tenth of a point between married and unmarried individuals. "Very close to zero," Lucas says.

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NYC Hospital Gets OK to Resume Liver Donor Program

New York City's Mount Sinai Hospital, who's liver transplant program was shut down a year ago after the death of a participant, has been given the go-ahead to resume the program's operations.

The New York Times reports that New York State health officials have found that the hospital has made the necessary changes in its program to better insure patient safety. Mount Sinai has been in the vanguard nationally in performing liver transplants.

The hospital had voluntarily suspended the program in January 2002 when one of its patients, Michael Hurewitz, died after donating part of his liver to his brother, the Times reports. Shortly thereafter, the New York State Health Department announced it was suspending the program for at least six months while it investigated what happened.

The health department and the hospital signed a letter of agreement that called for the hospital to pay $126,000 in civil penalties. In return, Mount Sinai agreed to increase staffing in the liver-transplant program, and this is expected to improve post-operative care. Record-keeping and staff education programs would also be improved, the newspaper reported. First-year medical residents would no longer be part of administering the liver transplant program.

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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.

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