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Health Highlights: May 11, 2006

Few U.S. Troops Get Referred for PTSD Treatment: GAO Asians in NYC Have High Hepatitis B Infection Rate UCSF Receives $16 Million Donation for Stem Cell Research Center U.S. Health Experts Discuss Safety of Abortion Pill FDA Approves New Replacement Hip New Artificial Knee Joint Specifically for Women

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

Few U.S. Troops Get Referred for PTSD Treatment: GAO

Few U.S. troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are being directed to treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a Government Accountability Office report that was to be released Thursday.

The report found that only about one in five members of the U.S. military who, through a screening program, were found to be at risk for PTSD were referred by government doctors for further help, the Washington Post reported.

Defense Department officials couldn't explain why so few troops were referred for treatment, the report said.

Some veterans groups have charged that the U.S. government is playing down the risk of PTSD because it's concerned about the cost of dealing with it, the Post reported.

Of 9,145 service personnel at risk for PTSD, 22 percent were referred for help. The Army and Air Force each referred 23 percent of personnel at risk, compared with 18 percent for the Navy, and about 15 percent for the Marines, the report found.


Asians in NYC Have High Hepatitis B Infection Rate

About 15 percent of Asians living in New York City have chronic hepatitis B infection, a rate that's 35 times higher than the general U.S. population, says a study in the May 12 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Chronic hepatitis B infection often leads to liver inflammation and can progress to cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Researchers screened 1,836 people at 12 healthcare centers and community sites in New York City. Nearly all the participants were born in Asian, mainly in China and Korea.

The infection rate was highest (more than 30 percent) among men ages 20 to 39 who were born in mainland China.

"These rates are extraordinarily high and underscore the need for more intensive screening in this population," study lead author Dr. Henry Pollack, associate professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Hepatitis B is transmitted through unprotected sex, contact with infected blood, needle sharing, or from mother to child at birth. It cannot be transmitted through casual contact such as coughing or hugging.


UCSF Receives $16 Million Donation for Stem Cell Research Center

The University of California, San Francisco has received a $16 million donation to help create a stem cell research center that will operate without U.S. government funding.

The donation, from sound pioneer Ray Dolby and his wife, will support the Institute for Regeneration Medicine, which was previously called the Institute for Stem Cell and Tissue Biology, the Associated Press reported.

More money is still needed to build the center, which will conduct research on stem cells extracted from human embryos after August 9, 2001. That's the date that President George W. Bush cut off eligibility for U.S. government funding of human embryonic stem cell research.

Bush is among those who believe this kind of stem cell research is immoral because human embryos are destroyed during the research. Internal ethics and scientific boards at UCSF recently gave approval to scientists to being cloning human embryos for their research, the AP reported.


U.S. Health Experts Discuss Safety of Abortion Pill

Scientists from the top U.S. public health agencies are meeting Thursday to discuss the safety of the RU-486 abortion pill.

A bacterial infection caused by Clostridium sordellii led to the deaths of at least five women in the U.S. who took RU-486. The bacterium is also suspected in the death of a sixth women who took the drug, The New York Times reported.

The experts from the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration will consider whether the method of administering abortion drugs may make women more susceptible to Clostridium sordelli.

They're also expected to discuss whether the women's deaths may be an indication of a new, more virulent strain of the bacterium that's a threat to all pregnant women, not just those who are given RU-486, the Times reported.

In 2004, the FDA ordered that strong warnings about the risk of Clostridium sordelli infection be put on RU-486 labeling. There are no indications that the FDA is considering tighter restrictions on the use of the abortion pill.


FDA Approves New Replacement Hip

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a replacement hip that preserves more of a patient's bone than traditional artificial hips. The new Birmingham Hip Resurfacing System should be available in the United States this summer.

The FDA said this new system uses a cap to replace only the head or ball atop the thigh bone, and adds a cup to replace the damaged surface of the hip socket. The cap moves within the cup to mimic the natural movement of the hip, the Associated Press reported.

Since it conserves more of the patient's original bone, the Birmingham Hip allows hip replacement in younger and more active arthritis patients, while still leaving them with the option of more traditional hip replacement surgery later in life, the FDA said.

The Birmingham Hip has been implanted in 60,000 patients in 26 countries, says Smith & Nephew Orthopaedic Reconstruction, the Memphis, Tenn.-based division of the British company that makes the device.


New Artificial Knee Joint Specifically for Women

The first artificial knee designed specifically for women has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But there may be some debate as to whether the knee is simply a clever marketing angle or an actual medical advance, the Associated Press reported.

Zimmer Holdings, a leading maker of artificial joints, said the knee is "the first replacement knee to fit a woman's anatomy." But there is no actual evidence that the knee will be a better fit for women than traditional artificial knees.

To get FDA approval, Zimmer only had to prove the female-specific knee would not perform worse than the current artificial knees made by the company, the AP reported.

There are no patient studies of the new knee. The first eight Gender Solutions knees were implanted this week.

"It's known that women have more problems with knee implants than men, but who knows if this is an adequate way of dealing with these issues?" Jan D. Wald, an orthopedics industry analyst at A.G. Edwards & Sons, told the AP. "It's a marketer's dream to distinguish a segment of the market and claim you have the only approved product."

Average male and female knees do have a number of differences. For example, the end of the thigh bone where it meets the knee is narrower in women and also attaches to the shin bone at a different angle, due to women's wider hips, the AP reported.

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