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Health Highlights: Oct. 9, 2007

Patients Have Died Due to Crowded Emergency Rooms: Survey Major Gaps in European Flu Pandemic Plans Power Co. Agrees to Massive Cut in Air Pollution Depression Common Among Japanese Teens Verbal Abuse by Teachers Linked to Early Sexual Activity Health 'Report Cards,' Counseling Cut Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke

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

Patients Have Died Due to Crowded Emergency Rooms: Survey

Patients have died because of crowded conditions in U.S. emergency departments, according to some doctors who took part in a survey released Tuesday by the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) at its annual meeting.

The survey of 1,496 emergency physicians found that nearly 80 percent (1,200) expressed grave concerns about overcrowding in their emergency departments. Half of the respondents said they'd personally encountered a patient who'd suffered due to "boarding" -- a practice in which admitted emergency patients wait (often in hallways) for an inpatient bed in the hospital. And 200 doctors said they knew of patients who'd died because of boarding.

The poll also found that 80 percent of respondents said crowded conditions have worsened in the past year, while 21 percent said their hospitals actively support ending or reducing the problem of boarding.

The ACEP is calling for an Emergency Patients' State of Rights that would include: the right to emergency care; the right to privacy; the right to be treated in a reasonable amount of time; the right to health plan coverage based on symptoms; the right to move out of the emergency department to an inpatient area once admitted to the hospital; and the right to access on-call specialty consultants.

The organization also wants Congress to pass the proposed Access to Emergency Medical Services Act, which would provide more funding to emergency departments.

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Major Gaps in European Flu Pandemic Plans

There are major weaknesses in European plans to deal with a possible flu pandemic, says a study published Tuesday in the October issue of the WHO Bulletin.

Problems with vaccine and antiviral drug distribution, insufficient stockpiles, and jumbled plans for border controls were among the shortcomings identified by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who looked at pandemic planning in 29 European countries, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Our findings show that even in Europe, which may be better prepared than some regions, considerable gaps and inconsistencies persist and several areas of operational planning have not been addressed," the study authors wrote. They concluded that "the remaining gaps and inconsistencies need urgent attention."

Since 2003, 329 people worldwide have been infected by the H5N1 bird flu virus. Of those, 201 died. Most of the infections were due to close contact with infected poultry. But experts fear that the H5N1 virus may mutate into a form that's easily transmitted among humans and trigger a pandemic that could threaten millions, AFP reported.

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Power Co. Agrees to Massive Cut in Air Pollution

In the single largest environmental enforcement settlement in U.S. history, American Electric Power has agreed to reduce air pollution by 813,000 tons a year at an estimated cost of $4.6 billion, pay a $15 million penalty, and spend $60 million to lessen the effects of its past excess emissions.

The settlement was announced Tuesday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice. The federal government's partners in the settlement included eight states and 13 citizen groups.

The agreement imposes caps on emissions of pollutants from 16 power plants in five states: West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia, Ohio and Indiana. New pollution control measures mean the plants will emit 79 percent less sulfur dioxide and 69 percent less nitrogen oxides than they did in 2006.

"Today's settlement will save $32 billion in health costs per year for Americans," Granta Nakayama, assistant administrator for EPA's enforcement and compliance assurance program, said in a prepared statement. "Less air pollution from power plants means fewer cases of asthma and other respiratory illnesses."

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Depression Common Among Japanese Teens

About 10.7 percent of Japanese youth aged 12 to 13 suffer depression, according to a survey conducted by researchers at Hokkaido University. The finding comes at a time of growing concern about a recent rash of youth suicides in the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

"It is surprising that the prevalence rate is that high," said research team leader Professor Kenzo Denda. "Cases of depression among children have been overlooked until now. But we should consider measures seriously in view of the fact that such depression has a causal relationship with suicides."

The researchers, who conducted face-to-face interviews with young people, also found that about 4.2 percent of children aged 9 to 13 suffered from depression and the rate increased as children got older, AFP reported.

Bullying at school has been pinpointed as a major factor in the recent wave of child suicides in Japan.

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Verbal Abuse by Teachers Linked to Early Sexual Activity

Verbal abuse by teachers is associated with an increased risk that children (especially girls) will have sex before the age of 14, concludes a Canadian study in the October issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers, who followed 312 children in a rural Quebec town from kindergarten to age 23, found that those who were subjected to shouting, harsh criticism or embarrassment by elementary school teachers were more likely to have early sexual intercourse, the Canadian Press reported.

Students who were most disruptive in the classroom were most frequently targeted by teachers. The study also found an association between peer rejection and girls engaging in early sexual intercourse, perhaps as a way to boost self-esteem.

About 10 to 15 percent of students are regularly subjected to verbal abuse by teachers, and about the same percentage experience peer rejection, said study lead author Mara Brengden, a psychology professor at the Universite du Quebec in Montreal. She said teacher training should include the potential consequences of negative behavior toward students.

"Teachers need to have a lot more training, but also a lot more support in dealing with problem children," Brengden told the CP. "On the side of children, it is also important to maybe think about targeted interventions to help them develop positive relationships with their teachers and with their classmates."

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Health 'Report Cards,' Counseling Cut Risk of Heart Disease, Stroke

Health "report cards" and telephone counseling reduced the risk of heart disease and stroke in high-risk patients, according to the results of the first year of a study of hundreds of people, ages 45-64, in British Columbia, Canada.

The study found that receiving health risk profiles from their doctors and having follow-up telephone sessions with a lifestyle counselor resulted in a "statistically significant" reduction in risk among patients, CBC News reported.

In preparing the health risk profiles, doctors looked at a number of factors, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, diabetes, smoking status, physical activity, and body mass index. In the telephone sessions, the lifestyle counselors discussed the health risk profiles with patients and encouraged them to set goals, such as reducing blood pressure and losing weight.

The findings were published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. The researchers plan to continue the study for two more years, CBC News reported.

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