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Health Highlights: Nov. 2, 2006

Preteens Should Get Meningitis Shots: U.S. Health Officials U.S. Primary-Care Doctors Lag Behind Colleagues Abroad: Report NYC Residents Warned About Illegal Rat Poison Low Folic Acid Intake Linked to Colorectal Cancer in Mice Medicare Payments to Doctors Cut by 5 Percent for 2007 Lawsuits Allege Birth-Control Patch Caused Health Problems

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

Preteens Should Get Meningitis Shots: U.S. Health Officials

U.S. health officials said Thursday that a meningitis vaccine shortage is over and they have put preteens back on the priority list for vaccination, the Associated Press reported.

The Menactra vaccine -- made by Sanofi Pasteur -- was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended it for children aged 11 to 12, teens entering high school, and college freshmen.

However, in May, it appeared that demand for the vaccine was exceeding supply. To deal with that situation, U.S. health officials took preteens off the priority list. They said that college freshmen living in dorms were at higher risk for the infectious disease, the AP reported.

CDC officials said doctors who deferred vaccinations for 11- and 12-year-olds in the spring and summer can now call them back in for the shots.

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U.S. Primary-Care Doctors Lag Behind Colleagues Abroad: Report

Primary-care doctors in the United States are less likely than their counterparts in several countries to offer patients access to care outside of regular office hours or to have systems that alert the doctors to potentially harmful drug interactions, says a report released Thursday.

The Commonwealth Fund 2006 International Health Policy Survey of more than 6,000 primary-care doctors in Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States also found that the U.S. doctors are less likely to receive financial incentives for improving patient care.

The report authors said their findings reveal that U.S. primary-care doctors don't have the tools or support they need to provide the best possible care to patients. The U.S. primary-care system trails other countries in several ways, the authors contended:

  • Only 28 percent of U.S. primary-care doctors use electronic medical records, compared with 98 percent in the Netherlands, 92 percent in New Zealand, 89 percent in the United Kingdom, and 79 percent in Australia. Canada was at 23 percent.
  • Just 23 percent of U.S. primary-care doctors receive computerized alerts about potentially harmful drug doses or interactions, compared to 93 percent in the Netherlands, 91 percent in the United Kingdom, 87 percent in New Zealand, 80 percent in Australia, and 40 percent in Germany. Canada had the lowest rate at 10 percent.
  • Only 40 percent of U.S. primary-care doctors offer care to patients outside of regular office hours, compared to 95 percent in the Netherlands and 87 percent in the United Kingdom.

"In era of advanced computer systems, it's disturbing that the vast majority of primary-care doctors in the U.S. don't have the tools to electronically prescribe medications, access patients' test results, or know when patients are overdue for essential care," report lead author Cathy Schoen, Commonwealth Fund senior vice president, said in a prepared statement.

"The data show that U.S. primary-care doctors find it difficult or impossible to perform tasks that doctors in other countries find easy; they also practice without basic decision supports that could improve health outcomes and reduce costs," Schoen said.

The report was published online by the journal Health Affairs.

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NYC Residents Warned About Illegal Rat Poison

New York City health officials on Thursday warned residents not to use the illegal rat poison Tres Pasitos, which has poisoned a number of people.

So far this year, 15 people, including three children, have been poisoned. Most of the cases occurred in Washington Heights in Manhattan. In 2005, there were five cases of poisoning linked to Tres Pasitos, which can easily be mistaken for food because it's made of small brown grains.

The highly toxic rat poison is made in the Dominican Republic and Mexico and sold illegally in New York City. It's sold in unlabeled containers or clear plastic bags.

Tres Pasitos (Three Little Steps) is often made with the chemical aldicarb, a potent pesticide that is not approved for use in the United States because of its potentially toxic effects on people and pets.

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Low Folic Acid Intake Linked to Colorectal Cancer in Mice

People who don't get enough folic acid in their diet may be at increased risk for colorectal cancer, a Canadian study of mice suggests.

The one-year study of 137 mice found that those fed a diet deficient in folic acid -- a B vitamin that's also called folate -- were more likely to develop colorectal cancer than mice fed a balanced diet that included adequate amounts of folate, the Canadian Press reported.

About 25 percent of the mice fed the low-folate diet developed intestinal tumors.

The study authors suggested there's a link between a lack of folic acid and DNA damage, which can lead to cancer. The study was published Wednesday in the journal Cancer Research.

The recommended daily amount of folate is 400 micrograms a day. Folate is found in leafy, green vegetables; citrus fruits; and in multivitamins.

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Medicare Payments to Doctors Cut by 5 Percent for 2007

There will be a 5 percent cut next year in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday.

The 5 percent figure is an average for the 7,000 services that doctors are paid for, the Associated Press reported. Payments for some services will be reduced more than 5 percent while payments for other services will be increased.

For example, doctors will get an increase in pay for counseling Medicare patients on how to improve their health.

Doctors were not happy about the announcement and warned that lower rates could mean that fewer doctors would be willing to treat Medicare patients, the AP reported.

Federal officials also said hospitals will get a 3 percent increase next year in reimbursement rates for outpatient care, and home-health agencies will get a 3.3 percent increase.

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Lawsuits Allege Birth-Control Patch Caused Health Problems

Two lawsuits filed in the United States Wednesday allege that the popular birth-control patch Ortho Evra caused serious illnesses and at least one death.

The skin patch is one of the fastest-growing types of contraception in the United States.

One lawsuit charges that 43 women experienced blood clots and other health problems after using the patch, the Associated Press reported. A second lawsuit alleges that a 25-year-old Maryland woman died of blood clots in her legs and lungs after she began using the patch.

The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified monetary damages.

The lawsuits were filed in San Francisco Superior Court. The defendants named in the lawsuits are: patch maker Ortho-McNeil Pharmaceutical Co., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson; and distributor McKesson Corp. of San Francisco, the AP reported.

Ortho Evra was approved in 2001 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The patch delivers the hormones estrogen and progestin through the skin directly into the bloodstream.

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