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Health Highlights: Oct. 13, 2010

Most Expensive Hospital Stays Average $18,000 Per Day: Study U.S. Issues New Rules For Synthetic DNA Change White House Policy On Military Condolence Letters: APA Childhood Vaccine Case Divides Supreme Court Justices

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

Most Expensive Hospital Stays Average $18,000 Per Day: Study

The top 5 percent most expensive patients stays in U.S. hospitals in 2008 cost an average of $18,000 per day, says a federal government study released Wednesday.

Blood infection, hardening of the arteries and heart attack were the most common conditions among these patients. Their hospital stays lasted an average of 19 days, said the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

For the other 95 percent of patient stays in 2008, the average cost was just under $7,000 and the average stay was 4 days. Childbirth, pneumonia and heart failure were the most common reasons for hospitalization.

Compared to patients with less expensive stays, those with the most expensive stays were more severely ill, at greater risk of dying (28 percent vs. 3 percent), and older (and average age of 59 vs. 48), said the study.


U.S. Issues New Rules For Synthetic DNA

New regulations designed to reduce the risk that synthetic DNA will be deliberately used to create dangerous organisms were issued Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The agency said that its Screening Framework Guidance for Providers of Synthetic Double-Stranded DNA supports national biosecurity objectives while balancing the potential benefits and risks of synthetic DNA, which is becoming a key material in life sciences and biotechnology.

For example, synthetic DNA is being used in efforts to develop or improve existing methods of fighting disease. However, synthetic DNA could also be used to create dangerous organisms.

"This guidance is an important step in ensuring that synthetic DNA is used to promote, not threaten, public health," HHS Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Nicole Lurie, said in an agency news release. "The guidance also recognizes the steps industry has taken proactively to address potential biosecurity risks and seeks to minimize negative impacts on research and business."

Change White House Policy On Military Condolence Letters: APA

The White House should reverse a policy that prohibits the president from sending condolence letters to the families of military personnel who commit suicide, says the American Psychiatric Association.

"The contributions of these men and women to their country are not less for having suffered a mental illness. A reversal of this policy to allow condolence letters to family members will not only help to honor the contributions and lives of the service men and women, but will also send a message that discriminating against those with mental illness is not acceptable," APA President Dr. Carol A. Bernstein said in an association news release.

Suicide is a growing problem in the U.S. military.

Other groups calling for a change in the policy include Mental Health America and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.


Childhood Vaccine Case Divides Supreme Court Justices

U.S. Supreme Court justices appeared divided Tuesday as they heard arguments about the pros and cons of allowing lawsuits by people allegedly harmed by vaccines.

Federal law offers vaccine makers a great deal of protection from such lawsuits. But the justices must decide whether people hurt be vaccines should still be allowed to sue vaccine makers if they can prove a safer vaccine was available, the Washington Post reported.

In questions put to lawyers, some justices seemed to favor this right while others felt allowing such lawsuits would expose drug makers to so much risk that they would stop making vaccines, thus putting public health at risk.

The case involves parents who say their 18-year-old daughter suffered developmental problems after receiving a vaccine at age six months to protect against diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus.

The outcome could have a major impact on the future of thousands of pending lawsuits by families who claim the use of the mercury-based preservative thimerosal in vaccines is linked to autism.


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