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Health Highlights: Nov. 29, 2007

Vaccination Campaign Slashes Global Measles Deaths Utah Most Depressed State: Study Smokers Cost Medicaid $9.7 Billion a Year Worst U.S. Nursing Homes Listed on Web Site Sleep Drug Needs Stronger Warning Against Use in Children: FDA 'Superbug' Infections Increase in the U.S.

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

Vaccination Campaign Slashes Global Measles Deaths

An international immunization drive has cut measles deaths in Africa by a dramatic 91 percent since 2000, according to a report released Thursday by the Measles Initiative, which includes the American Red Cross, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and UNICEF.

In Africa, the number of measles deaths went from an estimated 396,000 in 2000 to 36,000 in 2006. Worldwide, measles deaths fell from an estimated 757,000 to 242,000, a 68 percent reduction, the Associated Press reported.

South Asia remains a challenge. About 178,000 people died from measles there in 2006, a 26 percent decline from 2000.

Between 2000 and 2006, about 478 million children, ages nine months to 14 years, were vaccinated against measles in campaigns that targeted 46 of 47 priority countries were measles was a major problem, the AP reported.


Utah Most Depressed State: Study

Utah ranks the poorest of any state when it comes to levels of depression and outcomes for people seeking help for depression, according to a Mental Health American study released Wednesday.

The other lowest ranking states in terms of depression and suicide were Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and West Virginia, while Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland and New Jersey were the healthiest, the Deseret Morning News reported.

The study isn't meant to point fingers at any particular states when it comes to depression levels and treatment, said a Mental Health America spokesman. It was released to highlight the country's need for mental health resources, preventive treatments, and federal legislation that would put mental health services on par with physical health services on medical insurance plans.

The study was funded by drug maker Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, the Morning News reported.


Smokers Cost Medicaid $9.7 Billion a Year

Current smokers cost U.S. Medicaid $9.7 billion a year, or about 5.6 percent of total Medicaid expenditures, says a report released Thursday by RTI International researchers who analyzed data from 2000 through 2004 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys.

"Reducing the number of smokers in the United States could save taxpayers billions of dollars in Medicaid costs," RTI health economist Justin Trogdon said in a prepared statement. "Policy makers looking for ways to reduce health costs in America would be wise to look at areas of health behaviors that both improve health and reduce health care costs."

New York smokers cost Medicaid the most ($1.5 billion a year), while Wyoming smokers cost the least ($15 million a year).

Current 24-year-old smokers in the United States will cost Medicaid a total of almost $1 billion over the course of their lifetimes. Most of those costs are due to female smokers. The researchers found that taxes paid by young male smokers make up for most of their Medicaid costs.


Worst U.S. Nursing Homes Listed on Web Site

The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Web site listed on Thursday 54 nursing homes considered among the worst in the country. The move is an attempt to push the nursing homes into improving patient care, the Associated Press reported.

The 54 targeted nursing homes are in 33 states and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, there are about 16,400 nursing homes that care for about 1.5 million elderly and disabled people.

The nursing homes listed on the CMS Web site are among more than 120 designated as a "special focus facility," a designation used by CMS to identify nursing homes that require additional oversight, the AP reported. Such homes undergo state inspections every six months, rather than once a year.

The 54 homes have failed to show improvement.

"Very, very poor quality nursing homes do not deserve to be left untouched or unnoticed," said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, the AP reported. "This is not to be punitive. That's not our goal. Our goal is to see to it that the people in these nursing homes get better quality care or that they get the opportunity to move somewhere else."


Sleep Drug Needs Stronger Warning Against Use in Children: FDA

The sleep disorder drug Provigil should carry a stronger warning to discourage physicians from prescribing it to children, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended Wednesday.

Provigil, approved by the FDA for treatment of certain sleep disorders in adults, already has labeling that says the drug isn't approved for use in pediatrics patients. However, it's sometimes used "off-label" to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in youngsters, the Associated Press reported.

The panel said the drug's labeling needs to carry clear language that it's not recommended for use in children, along with the current statement that it's not approved for use in pediatric patients. Provigil is marketed by Cephalon Inc.

The FDA is not required to act on the recommendations of its advisory panels, but usually does follow their advice.

Recently, Provigil's label was updated to warn about the risk of serious skin reactions associated with the drug, along with psychological problems such as anxiety, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts, the AP reported.


'Superbug' Infections Increase in the U.S.

Between 1999 and 2005, the number of patients hospitalized in the United States with "superbug" (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus -- MRSA) infections more than doubled, from 127,000 to nearly 280,000, says a study in the December issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Superbugs have evolved resistance to the most commonly used antibiotics, which makes them more difficult and expensive to treat. The authors of this study said antibiotic-resistant infections are reaching epidemic proportions in some health facilities and communities. Infection control needs to be a national priority, the researchers said.

The researchers at Resources for the Future and the University of Florida also found a 62 percent increase in the number of hospitalizations of patients with general staph infections between 1999 and 2005.

This is the first study to examine recent rates and trends related to staph and MSRA infections. The researchers said they found dramatic increases in the rate of minor skin and soft tissue infections caused by staph and MRSA that are commonly spread outside of hospitals.

There's been "a change in the ecology of the disease," senior study author Ramanan Laxminarayan of Resources for the Future, said in a prepared statement. "Antibiotic-resistant infections are spreading more rapidly in the community while the epidemic of drug-resistant infections in hospitals continues unabated."

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