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Health Highlights: Nov. 18, 2010

Many Americans Say Marriage Obsolete: Survey Older Adults Most Likely to Use Hospital ERs: Study Food Safety Bill Passed by Senate Bird Flu Case Confirmed in Hong Kong New Drug Fights Bone Tumors in Prostate Cancer Patients

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

Many Americans Say Marriage Obsolete: Survey

Four in ten American adults believe marriage is becoming obsolete, but about half of unmarried adults still want to tie the knot, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The finding that many consider marriage less relevant is echoed in U.S. Census data released in September that showed only 52 percent of adults age 18 and over are married, an all-time low, the Associated Press reported.

The Pew survey also found that most Americans agree that a married couple, with or without children, constitutes a family. But 80 percent also said a family can be an unmarried, opposite sex couple with children or a single parent, and 60 percent said a same-sex couple with children is a family.

"Marriage is still very important in this country, but it doesn't dominate family life like it used to," Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University, told the AP. "Now there are several ways to have a successful family life, and more people accept them."


Older Adults Most Likely to Use Hospital ERs: Study

Women, low-income, older, and rural adults were most likely to use U.S. hospital emergency departments in 2008, says a federal government study released Thursday.

The analysis of the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample database also showed that adults age 18 and older accounted for 98 million (78 percent) of the nearly 125 emergency departments visits in 2008, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The most frequently seen acute conditions were injuries and abdominal pain, while heart problems and diabetes were among the most common chronic conditions.

The analysis also found that rates of emergency department visits were:

  • 90 percent higher for adults in low-income areas than for those in areas with the highest incomes -- 544 visits versus 287 visits per 1,000 people.
  • 39 percent higher for those in rural areas than for those in urban areas -- 515 vs. 372 visits per 1,000 people.
  • 26 percent higher for women than for men -- 477 vs. 378 visits per 1,000 people.
  • 24 percent higher for adults age 65 and older, compared to those ages 18 to 44 -- 550 visits vs. 444 visits per 1,000 people.


Food Safety Bill Passed by Senate

A bill that boosts the Food and Drug Administration's ability to prevent foodborne illnesses in the United States was passed Wednesday by the Senate.

The bill, passed 74-25, gives the FDA more power to recall tainted products, require food producers to follow tighter food safety standards, and increase inspections of food processing facilities, the Associated Press reported.

A similar bill was passed by the House more than a year ago.

The push to improve the FDA's oversight of food safety comes in the wake of a number of outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated food, the AP reported.


Bird Flu Case Confirmed in Hong Kong

Hong Kong's first human case of bird flu in seven years was confirmed Wednesday by health officials.

The 59-year-old woman tested positive for H5N1 bird flu after she returned to Hong Kong from the Chinese mainland, said Health Secretary York Chow. The woman was hospitalized and is in serious condition, the Associated Press reported.

The confirmation of the illness prompted officials to raise the bird flu alert to "serious."

Hong Kong officials planned to meet Thursday to discuss whether additional measures are needed to protect residents of the territory, said the AP.


New Drug Fights Bone Tumors in Prostate Cancer Patients

An experimental drug called XL184 appears effective in treating prostate cancer that has spread to bones, according to early test results.

Researchers found that the treatment benefited 19 of 20 prostate cancer patients. In some cases, scans could no longer detect any cancer in the bones and patients were able to stop taking narcotics to control bone pain, The New York Times reported.

The findings were to be presented Thursday at a cancer conference in Berlin. The drug is made by California-based biotechnology company Exelixis.

In related news, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel said Wednesday there was adequate evidence that the prostate cancer drug Provenge prolongs lives, The Times reported.

The drug is already approved in the U.S. but the panel's finding makes it more likely that Medicare will pay for the drug.


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