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Health Highlights: Oct. 15, 2006

U.S. Population to Hit 300 Million Costly Medicare Drug Plan Hike Seen for 2007 FDA Warns of Fake Glucose Test Strips Methamphetamine Lessens Stroke Damage in Rodent Brains

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

U.S. Population to Hit 300 Million

The population of the United States is expected to hit 300 million on Tuesday.

The number will be reached at precisely 7:46 a.m. EDT, according to U.S. Census bureau projections of births, deaths and net immigration.

The projections also add up to one new American every 11 seconds, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

America is still a land of wide-open spaces: there are about 84 people per square mile, compared with 300 people per square mile in the European Union and almost 900 people per square mile in Japan.

But a little more than half of the U.S. population is clustered along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

The fastest growing county is Flagler County, Fla., north of Daytona Beach; the fastest growing city is Elk Grove, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento; and the fastest growing metropolitan area is Riverside, Calif., about 50 miles east of Los Angeles, the Census Bureau reports.

An estimated 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants are included in the official U.S. population estimate, which reached its last milestone, 200 million, in 1967. That translates into a 50 percent increase in 39 years, the AP reported.

During that same period, the number of households nearly doubled, the number of motor vehicles more than doubled and the miles driven in those vehicles nearly tripled.

In addition, the average household size has shrunk from 3.3 people to 2.6 people, and the share of households with only one person has jumped from fewer than 16 percent to about 27 percent.

The United States is the third largest country in the world, behind China and India. It is also the fastest growing industrialized nation, adding about 2.8 million people a year, or just under 1 percent.

About 40 percent of the U.S. population growth comes from immigration, both legal and illegal, according to the Census Bureau. The rest comes from births outnumbering deaths.

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Costly Medicare Drug Plan Hike Seen for 2007

The cheapest plans under Medicare's new prescription drug program are expected to cost elderly and disabled Americans 44 percent more next year, new reports suggest.

Bloomberg News reported Saturday that the average monthly outlay for the least expensive plans will rise to $13.58 from $9.46, according to data compiled by Medicare. Humana, the largest provider of low-cost drug plans, raised its prices as much as fivefold, and Medicare cut its monthly subsidy by 15 percent, to $80 a person, according to Medicare spokesman Peter Ashkenaz.

Insurance companies last year charged as little as $1.87 for the Plan D policies that provide discounts on medicines. For next year, the cheapest plan will cost $9.50, Bloomberg reported.

The biggest jump will take place in the seven states with the lowest 2006 premiums. The minimum monthly cost of the cheapest Humana plan will jump to $10.60 from $1.87 in Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

Humana spokesman Tom Noland told Bloomberg that the company never meant to offer such a bargain price and that it had misjudged what other companies would bid.

"Many people are going to feel that they are victims of a bait-and-switch tactic," said Ron Pollack, executive director of the nonprofit Families USA, told Bloomberg. "There's no question that it will be an extraordinary disappointment."

Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, refused to comment on the numbers, according to Bloomberg.

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FDA Warns of Fake Glucose Test Strips

Counterfeit test strips for use with Lifescan's "One Touch" blood-glucose monitors are circulating in the United States and may provide false blood sugar readings that could lead to injury or death, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Friday.

False readings could encourage diabetics to inject themselves with too little or too much insulin, the agency said in a statement, although no incidents have been reported so far.

The counterfeit test strips are labeled:

  • One Touch Basic/Profile 50-count packages (lot #s 272894A, 2619932 or 2606340).
  • One Touch Ultra 50-count packages (lot #2691191).

The strips were distributed to pharmacies and stores nationwide, but primarily in Florida, Maryland, Missouri, New York and Ohio. The distributors were Medical Plastic Devices Inc. (Quebec, Canada) and Champion Sales Inc. (Brooklyn, N.Y.).

Lifescan alerted the FDA to the problem, the agency said. Consumers who have these strips should stop using them immediately and contact a physician.

For more information, call Lifescan at 866-621-4855.

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Methamphetamine Lessens Stroke Damage in Rodent Brains

In rat and gerbil brains, low doses of the drug methamphetamine appeared to lessen damage caused by stroke, says a University of Montana study that suggests the possibility that the drug may someday be used to reduce stroke damage in people.

The study will be presented at a Society of Neuroscience conference in Atlanta Oct. 14-18, the Associated Press reported.

"Methamphetamine is a drug that has been shown to exacerbate stroke damage or make it worse when administered before a stroke," Dave Poulsen, a research assistant professor in the university's department of biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences, said in a prepared statement. "But we have seen roughly 80 to 90 percent protection of neurons when administered after a stroke."

The scientists found that low doses of methamphetamine helped reduce brain damage up to 16 hours after a stroke. The current leading clot-busting drug used to treat stroke patients must be administered within three hours of the start of symptoms, Poulsen noted.

In one experiment, Poulsen and his colleagues mimicked stroke conditions in thin slices of rat hippocampus (the part of the brain used for memory and learning). They found that low doses of methamphetamine helped protect the brain slices, while high doses increased stroke damage, the AP reported. Another experiment found that low doses protected the brains of gerbils that had strokes.

This is preliminary research and more work is needed to confirm and expand the findings, Poulsen said.

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