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Health Highlights: Oct. 10, 2007

Pollution Cuts Life Expectancy: Study Medicare Web Site Offers Tools to Help Select '08 Drug Plan U.S. Hospital Death Rates Declining ConAgra Pot Pies May Be Linked to Salmonella Outbreak FDA Approves Generic Versions of Trileptal Free Mental Health Screenings Across U.S. Oct. 11

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

Pollution Cuts Life Expectancy: Study

The average European's lifespan has been cut by nearly a year due to air and water pollution and the environmental effects of global warming, the European Environment Agency says.

In a 400-page report released at an environmental conference in Serbia, the agency said governments must move rapidly to control the emission of greenhouse gasses, and to improve air and water quality, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Due to air pollution alone, "the estimated annual loss of life is significantly greater than that due to car accidents," the agency's report said. And more than 100 million Europeans don't have safe drinking water, it added.

European men currently have a life expectancy of 70, versus 74 for women, the wire service said.

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Medicare Web Site Offers Tools to Help Select '08 Drug Plan

More than 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in 2008 will have access to at least one Part D prescription drug plan with premiums lower than what they are paying now, the U.S. government said Wednesday.

Open enrollment to select a 2008 plan begins Nov. 15. To help Medicare recipients make sense of each plan, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says its Web site at www.medicare.gov offers a host of new tools and services.

The site's enhanced Plan Finder offers expanded information about each plan, including out-of-pocket costs, pharmacy networks, and formularies, the agency said in a statement.

People without Internet access can get the same information by calling 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

More than 4.75 million Medicare beneficiaries have enrolled in a drug plan since the program began in 2006, acting administrator Kerry Weems said.

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U.S. Hospital Death Rates Declining

Steep drops in the death rates of hospitalized patients mean that 136,000 people who would have died a decade earlier survived their hospital stays in 2004, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said Wednesday.

The agency said it compared the death rates for 2004 and 1994 for people hospitalized for heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, pneumonia, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and hip fracture.

For every 1,000 people hospitalized for their condition, heart attack deaths fell by 43; deaths from congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and stroke each fell by about 30; gastrointestinal hemorrhage fell by 21; and hip fracture declined by 16.

The numbers were adjusted to account for how ill patients were over time, the agency said.

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ConAgra Pot Pies May Be Linked to Salmonella Outbreak

U.S. food and health officials have issued a warning about a possible link between 139 salmonella cases in 30 states and pot pies made by ConAgra Foods.

The company has stopped production of Banquet and store-brand pot pies at its Marshall, Mo., plant and advised consumers not to eat the chicken or turkey pot pies until investigations are complete, the Associated Press and USA Today reported.

ConAgra isn't recalling the pot pies but is offering store returns and mail-in refunds. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is advising consumers to toss the pies in the garbage, said the exact source of the outbreak isn't known. The affected pies have "P-9" printed on the side of the box as part of the code above the use-by date.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking the salmonella outbreak since last Wednesday, the AP and USA Today reported. Earlier this year, salmonella in peanut butter made by ConAgra was linked to the illnesses of more than 625 people in 47 states.

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FDA Approves Generic Versions of Trileptal

The first generic versions of the anticonvulsant drug Trileptal (oxcarbazepine) have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The generic versions are approved for use alone or in combination with other medications in the treatment of partial seizures in adults and children ages four and older.

The generic tablets in three strengths (150 milligrams, 300mg, and 600 mg) are made by Roxanne Laboratories Inc., Glenmark Pharmaceuticals Ltd., and Sun Pharmaceutical Ltd.

The FDA noted that the labeling of the generic versions may differ from that of Trileptal because parts of the brand name drug's labeling are protected by patents and/or exclusivity.

In 2006, Trileptal was the 74th best selling brand name drug by retail dollars in the U.S., according to the publication Drug Topics.

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Free Mental Health Screenings Across U.S. Oct. 11

On Thursday, Oct. 11, more than 1,000 sites across the United States will offer free, anonymous mental health screenings as part of the 17th annual National Depression Screening Day. Online screenings will also be available.

This year's free screenings, developed by the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health, Inc., are meant to educate people about symptoms of depression and warning signs of suicide, and what to do in such cases. As part of the program, mental health professionals will be available, free of charge, to speak to people regarding their concerns.

To locate the nearest screening site or to take an online screening, go here.

"As with other illnesses such as cancer or hypertension, the early detection of mental health disorders greatly increases the chances that an individual will receive the appropriate treatment and experience a better quality of life," Dr. Douglas G. Jacobs, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and founder of Screening for Mental Health, Inc., said in a prepared statement.

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