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Health Highlights: Oct. 14, 2010

Childhood Vaccination Rates Decline: Study White House Goes Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Chelation Therapies Dangerous: FDA Canada Declares BPA Toxic Substance WHO Tackles 'Hidden' Diseases Insurers Can Charge More for Sicker Children: White House

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

Childhood Vaccination Rates Decline: Study

Experts say that parents' fears about possible side effects may be one reason why vaccinations declined among 2-year-olds with private health insurance, according to National Public Radio.

A study released Wednesday by the National Committee on Quality Assurance found the following decreases in vaccination rates from 2008 to 2009:

  • Measles, mumps and rubella: from 93.5 percent to 90.6 percent.
  • Chickenpox: from 92 percent to 90.6 percent.
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough: from 87.2 percent to 85.4 percent.

Some experts suggested the decline may be due to a fierce debate about whether childhood vaccines may linked to autism, even though studies have found no association, NPR reported. It may also be due to the fact that parents "feel overwhelmed at the current schedule of immunizations," suggested Dr. Roberta Herman, chief medical officer for Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, a Massachusetts-based health plan.

Despite the decrease, vaccination rates for children in private health plans were still mostly higher than for children covered by Medicaid, the study said.


White House Goes Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness

In a visible show of support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the White House will be lit pink at 6:30 pm Thursday.

The announcement was made by deputy White House press secretary Bill Burton on his Twitter feed, Agence France-Presse reported.

Every year, public service groups, medical professionals and government agencies designate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month in order to promote knowledge about the disease.

About 207,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year and nearly 40,000 women will die from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society, AFP reported.


Chelation Therapies Dangerous: FDA

Eight companies were told to stop marketing toxic metal-flushing chelation therapies as miracle treatments that cure everything from Parkinson's disease to autism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The agency warned that the Internet-marketed products -- which include sprays, capsules and drops -- can cause dehydration, kidney failure and death, the Associated Press reported. At least one death, involving a child with autism, has been reported, the FDA said.

"These products are dangerously misleading because they are targeted to patients with serious conditions and limited treatment options," said Deborah Autor, FDA's director of compliance. "The FDA must take a firm stand against companies who prey on the vulnerability of patients seeking hope and relief."

The companies were told to immediately stop marketing and selling their products or face legal action, the AP reported.

The only chelation therapies approved for use in the United States are for patients with mercury and lead poisoning, the FDA said.


Canada Declares BPA Toxic Substance

The chemical bisphenol A (BPA) - widely used in food and beverage containers -- has been declared a toxic substance by the government of Canada.

The decision to list BPA as being toxic to both the environment and human health comes two years after Canada said it would eliminate BPA from polycarbonate bottles used by infants and children, The New York Times reported.

BPA -- which is used to create clear, hard plastics and some epoxies that line cans used for fruits, vegetables and soft drinks -- has been shown to disrupt the hormone systems of animals. The chemical is under review in Europe and the United States.

The toxic designation will likely bring an abrupt halt to a number of food-related uses for BPA, Rick Smith, executive director of Environmental Defence, the Canadian group that pushed for the designation, told The Times.

The chemical industry condemned the Canadian government's decision.


WHO Tackles 'Hidden' Diseases

About 1 billion poor people worldwide suffer from "hidden" diseases such as leprosy, rabies and dengue, says the World Health Organization.

The agency said these diseases have been mostly eliminated from many parts of the world but remain concentrated in remote rural areas and urban slums, the Associated Press reported.

On Thursday, WHO announced a campaign to prevent these often overlooked conditions, which include 17 diseases and disease groups present in 149 countries. Thirty countries have six or more of the diseases.

"They cause massive but hidden and silent suffering, and frequently kill, but not in the numbers comparable to the deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis or malaria," said WHO director general Margaret Chan, the AP reported.

The serious toll taken by these diseases "anchor large populations in poverty," she added.


Insurers Can Charge More for Sicker Children: White House

If state laws permit it, health insurers can charge higher premiums for coverage of children with serious medical problems, the Obama administration announced Wednesday.

The goal is to encourage insurers to offer child-only policies, The New York Times reported.

The higher premiums can be charged outside the open-enrollment period, something that is allowed under many state laws.

Insurers "can adjust their rates based on health status until 2014, to the extent state law allows," said Jay Angoff, director of the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight at Department of Health and Human Services, the Times reported.

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