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Health Highlights: May 24, 2010

FDA Approves 1st Permanent Swine Flu Test Doctor Behind Autism-Vaccine Scare Can't Practice in U.K. Drop-Side Crib Ban Goes Before Congress Gunfire a Problem for Rural Kids in U.S., Too Health Reform Law Could Penalize One-Third of U.S. Employers: Report

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

FDA Approves 1st Permanent Swine Flu Test

The first diagnostic test for 2009 swine flu has been approved for permanent use, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Monday.

Several tests were cleared on a limited basis during the swine flu-related public health emergency, but the new Simplexa Influenza test from Focus Diagnostics in Cypress, Calif., is the first to come though the traditional approval system, the Associated Press said.

To detect the H1N1 virus, the Simplexa test analyzes specimens from nasal swabs.

The FDA approval means the test will still be available when the H1N1 public health emergency expires, said Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's center for devices.

Between 43 million and 88 million swine flu cases occurred in the United States between the spring of 2009 and March 2010, the government estimates.

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Doctor Behind Autism-Vaccine Scare Can't Practice in U.K.

The doctor who linked autism to childhood vaccines, causing a massive anti-vaccination movement, has been banned from practicing medicine in Great Britain.

Britain's General Medical Council announced the ruling Monday, saying it found Dr. Andrew Wakefield guilty of "serious professional misconduct." The council reviewed the methods involved in Wakefield's research, but not the science behind it, the Associated Press reported.

Because of Wakefield's research, which was published in 1998, many British parents stopped allowing the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella to be given to their children. Britain subsequently experienced a resurgence of measles.

Later studies have found no connection between autism and the vaccines.

The ruling doesn't affect Wakefield's right to practice medicine in the United States, where he moved several years ago, the AP said.

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Drop-Side Crib Ban Goes Before Congress

Drop-side baby cribs could no longer be manufactured, sold or resold in the United States under congressional legislation being proposed this week.

Since 2000, 32 infants and toddlers have suffocated or been strangled in drop-side cribs, which have sides that move up and down to make lifting children in and out easier. Another 14 deaths are suspected, the Associated Press reported.

"There still are thousands and thousands of children who are sleeping every night in drop-side cribs and we need to protect them," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., sponsor of the proposal that would also ban the cribs from day-care centers and hotels.

Seven million of the cribs have been recalled in the past five years and many stores stopped selling them because of safety concerns. Safety pegs, screws or tracking for the side rail can loosen or break, causing the side to drop and trap a child's head between the rail and the mattress, safety experts say.

Inez Tenenbaum, chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, has said the agency intends to make fixed-side cribs mandatory by the end of the year. But it could be well into 2011 before the ruling becomes effective, which is why Gillibrand is involved, the AP said.

Gillibrand described her bill Sunday at a news conference in New York. Two N.Y. counties -- Nassau and Suffolk, on Long Island -- already ban the sale of drop-side cribs, the news service said.

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Gunfire a Problem for Rural Kids in U.S., Too

For American children, death by gunfire isn't just a city problem. Kids from rural areas are as likely to die from firearms as their urban peers, according to a report published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

A study of nearly 24,000 gun-related deaths found suicides and accidental shootings more common in rural regions, and murder by gunshot more prevalent among city youngsters. But the total numbers were roughly even, the Associated Press reported.

"This debunks the myth that firearm death is a big-city problem," said lead author Dr. Michael Nance of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Analyzing data from 1999 through 2006 for youths under 20 years old, the researchers looked at 15,000 homicides, about 7,000 suicides and about 1,400 accidental shootings.

"Prevention strategies need to be targeted to youth in rural areas as well as urban areas," said Dr. Elizabeth Powell of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, a firearms researcher who was not involved in the new study, the AP reported.

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Health Reform Could Penalize One-Third of U.S. Employers: Report

A little-noticed provision of the new U.S. health care law could subject one-third of employers to tax penalties for providing health insurance deemed unaffordable by some employees.

Starting in 2014, an employer would be fined if it offered health insurance but required full-time employees to pay premiums totaling more than 9.5 percent of their household income, The New York Times reported.

Mercer, an employee benefit consulting company, surveyed almost 3,000 employers and found that one-third had some employees for whom the premiums would be "unaffordable" on that basis, the Times said.

Those employees could then qualify for a federal tax credit to buy into a state-based insurance exchange, but employers would pay a $3,000 penalty for every worker who receives the federal assistance, the newspaper said.

Knowing which workers would fall into that category is difficult to predict, said Tracy Watts, a partner in Mercer's Washington, D.C., office. Employers rarely have access to information on their employees' household income, Watts said.

Retailers and restaurants with many low-wage workers could be most affected, the Times said.

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