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Health Highlights: Oct. 1, 2002

House Passes West Nile Spending Bill AIDS Epidemic Could Pose U.S. Security Threat: Report Breast Self-Exams Don't Save Lives: Study No More Gifts to Doctors, Feds Tell Drugmakers Tainted Painkiller Proves Deadly Child Pedestrian Deaths Decline

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

House Passes West Nile Spending Bill

The House has responded to this year's unprecedented outbreak of West Nile virus by passing a bill that would authorize providing $100 million in grants to help communities develop mosquito-control programs.

Under the measure, funds would be targeted to areas with the highest rates of mosquito-borne diseases and spent on such improvements as updating laboratories and purchasing equipment, reports the Associated Press.

The House still must take up the issue of passing actual funds for the measure during its budget process.

The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the West Nile virus show there have been 2,477 confirmed cases and 124 deaths so far this season.


AIDS Epidemic Could Pose U.S. Security Threat: Report

Soaring rates of AIDS in five of the world's most populated countries could wind up presenting security threats to the U.S., according to an advisory report to the Central Intelligence Agency.

The report says that China, Ethiopia, India, Nigeria and Russia -- which contain 40 percent of the world's population -- could have higher rates of AIDS than any other five countries, reports the New York Times.

The threat to security could be seen in the impact the epidemic could have on the economic, social, political and military structure in each of the five countries, according to the National Intelligence Council's report.

Political bickering over AIDS spending priorities could result in problems ranging from weakening Russia's military services to weakening Nigeria's peacekeeping role for the United Nations in Africa, says the report.


Breast Self-Exams Don't Save Lives: Study

Teaching women the technique of examining their own breasts does not decrease the number of deaths from breast cancer, new research contends.

The controversial finding comes from a study involving 266,064 Chinese factory workers, half of whom were taught breast self-examination (BSE), and half who weren't, reports HealthDay. The women were followed over a period of 10 or 11 years, and the researchers found no difference in breast cancer deaths between the two groups. The group that did BSE didn't find cancers any earlier, but they did find more benign lesions, which lead to more testing.

The study appears in tomorrow's Journal of the National Cancer Institute, and is accompanied by an editorial carrying the headline: "Routinely Teaching Breast Self-Examination Is Dead."


No More Gifts to Doctors, Feds Tell Drugmakers

The federal government is warning drugmakers that the practice of giving gifts to doctors in exchange for a preference for a particular prescription drug could violate federal fraud and abuse laws, reports The New York Times. The rule also applies to pharmacists and others in a position to recommend specific drugs.

The warning comes from Janet Rehnquist, inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services. While the agency doesn't have the ability to enforce the rule, the new standard is seen as a warning that drugmakers that engage in such conduct are more likely to be investigated and prosecuted by legal authorities, the newspaper reports.

The practice of drug companies rewarding health care providers has gone on for years, the Times says. A common practice is to reward pharmacy benefit managers for adding drugs to lists of recommended medications, known as formularies. And treating doctors to Broadway shows, trips and expensive meals in exchange for switching patients to a specific drug also has been commonplace, adds the newspaper.


Tainted Painkiller Proves Deadly

A contaminated batch of the painkiller methylprednisolone has been linked to the death of an elderly North Carolina woman and cases of meningitis among two others, the Associated Press reports.

As many as 1,000 patients at three North Carolina clinics may have been injected with the contaminated medication, used to treat joint pain, the AP says. The three affected patients were injected between April and July of this year. The steroidal drug was contaminated with Wangiella dermatitidis, a type of mold, state health officials say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating how the contamination may have taken place. Remaining supplies of the tainted batch were recalled by the manufacturer on Sept. 17.


Child Pedestrian Deaths Decline

Pedestrian deaths among children under 15 years of age declined 49 percent in the year 2000, compared to a decade ago, the National Safe Kids Campaign says in a new report.

Some 475 young walkers were killed in 2000, compared to 861 in 1990. The non-profit child safety group says more worried parents are either driving their children to school or putting them on a bus, rather than allowing them to walk to school.

Still, nearly 44,600 kids under 15 went to the emergency room for pedestrian injuries in the year 2000, the Safe Kids report says. Among its other findings:

  • Children under age 10 are 20 percent more likely to be killed while walking than children ages 10 to 14.
  • Boys under 15 have a pedestrian death rate that's 57 percent higher than girls of the same age group.
  • 43 percent of child pedestrians killed are hit between the hours of 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.
  • 81 percent of child pedestrian deaths don't happen at intersections.
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