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Health Highlights: May 9, 2006

Report Examines U.S. Hispanic Birth and Fertility Rates U.S. Government Issues Viewer's Guide for Bird Flu Movie CDC to Propose HIV Testing for All U.S. Adults and Teens U.S. Has Poor Newborn Survival Rate: Report U.S. Employees at Smaller Firms Pay More in Health Insurance FDA Argues to Restore Ephedra Ban

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

Report Examines U.S. Hispanic Birth and Fertility Rates

Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee are the U.S. states with the fastest growing Hispanic populations and lead the nation in increases in the number of total live births among Hispanic mothers, says a report released Tuesday by the U.S National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report is the first-ever comprehensive look at birth and fertility rates among the U.S. Hispanic population. It compares U.S. Census Bureau data from 1990 and 2000.

Mexican mothers had the highest fertility rate among Hispanics in the United States, followed by Puerto Rican mothers and Cuban mothers. North Carolina and Georgia are the states with the highest fertility rate among Mexican mothers.

Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are the states with the highest fertility rate among Puerto Rican mothers.

Among all populations, Cuban mothers have the lowest total fertility rate -- an average of 1. 5 births in their lifetimes, compared to an overall average in the country of 2.1, the report said.

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U.S. Government Issues Viewer's Guide for Bird Flu Movie

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has released a viewer's guide for Tuesday night's airing on the ABC television network movie "Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America."

The movie traces an outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus that begins in a Hong Kong market and mutates into a virus that's easily transmitted from human to human, resulting in a worldwide pandemic.

The viewer's guide is meant to provide factual information about bird flu. Here's some of what the guide says:

  • The movie is not a documentary. It's a work of fiction designed to entertain and is not a factual accounting of a real world event.
  • There is no influenza pandemic in the world at this time.
  • It's important to remember than, at this time, the H5N1 avian influenza is almost exclusively a disease of birds. The H5N1 virus has not yet appeared in the United States.
  • Viewers should remember that the next influenza pandemic could be substantially less severe than what's depicted in the movie or the one that occurred in 1918.
  • The movie does serve to raise awareness about avian and pandemic flu, and should inspire preparation, but not panic.
  • The film highlights the importance of individual and community planning and cooperation that would be vital during an extended pandemic.

For more information about the viewer's guide, go to the Health and Human Services Web site.

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CDC to Propose HIV Testing for All U.S. Adults and Teens

Guidelines for voluntary testing for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, for adults and teens are expected to be released this summer by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The guidelines would cover testing for every American ages 13 to 64 and, if adopted by physicians, could become a routine part of physical examinations, the Associated Press reported.

Recommendations made by the CDC aren't legally binding but do influence doctors and health insurance coverage.

Under the new guidelines, patients would be tested for HIV as part of a standard series of tests done when they seek urgent or emergency care, or even during routine physicals, the AP reported.

The CDC isn't recommending annual testing for everyone. Only people considered at high risk for HIV infection would receive repeated, yearly testing.

This standardized approach to HIV testing would reduce the stigma of being tested, as well as help lower rates of HIV transmission, according to the CDC.

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U.S. Has Poor Newborn Survival Rate: Report

The United States has the second highest death rate for newborns among industrialized nations, according to a new global report.

The death rate for U.S. newborns is 5 per 1,000 live births, the same as Hungary, Malta, Poland and Slovakia, the Save the Children report released Monday showed. Latvia had the worst rate -- 6 per 1,000 -- among industrialized countries, the Associated Press reported.

Japan had the lowest newborn death rate -- 1.8 per 1,000 -- among the 33 industrialized nations. The Czech Republic, Finland, Iceland and Norway tied for second place with 2 per 1,000.

Racial and income disparities are factors in the poor U.S. ranking. Among black Americans, the newborn death rate is 9 per 1,000, which is closer to rates in developing nations than rates in industrialized countries, the AP reported.

A lack of national health insurance and short maternity leaves in the United States may also be factors, the report authors said.

Liberia had the highest newborn death rate among all nations -- 65 deaths per 1,000 live births.

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U.S. Employees at Smaller Firms Pay More in Health Insurance

Workers at the smallest U.S. businesses (1 to 9 employees) pay an average of 18 percent more in health insurance than people who work at the largest companies (1,000 + employees) when the percentage of total medical expenses paid by the health plan (actuarial value) is taken into account, says a Commonwealth Fund-supported study released Tuesday.

The type of health plan is a major factor in determining actuarial value and adjusted cost. Adjusted premiums are 25 percent higher for indemnity plans and 18 percent higher for preferred provider organization (PPO) plans than HMOs, the study said.

Factors that contribute to the differences in premiums include: higher administrative costs from marketing; medical underwriting (the process of assessing medical risk), and greater risks.

The study also found that workers in states with large urban populations -- such as California, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania -- tend to get more value for their premium dollar than workers in rural states like Maine, West Virginia, Wyoming and Wisconsin.

The findings appear in the May/June issue of the journal Health Affairs.

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FDA Argues to Restore Ephedra Ban

As part of its legal fight to restore a ban on dietary supplements that contain low doses of the weight-loss aid ephedra, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday that the federal judge who lifted the ban misunderstood the law.

The ban was successfully challenged last year by Utah-based Nutraceutical Corp. when U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell in Salt Lake City ruled that the ban couldn't be enforced against supplements that contained up to 10 milligrams of ephedra, the Associated Press reported.

But Campbell didn't understand the law or the FDA's duties in regulating dietary supplements, a lawyer for the FDA told a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday.

Lawyer Christine Kohl also argued that Campbell ignored scientific information on ephedra's effects on the body, the AP reported.

The FDA banned ephedra two years ago. It has been linked to dozens of deaths and thousands of reports of health problems, including increased blood pressure and heart attacks.

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