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Health Highlights: Oct. 6, 2002

Budget Woes Hamper World TB Control Efforts Colored Discs May Reveal Rotting Frozen Food N.J. Prisoners Left in Dark About Hepatitis C Infection FAA Calls for Safer Plane Seats N.Y. Psychiatric Patients Locked Away in Nursing Homes Old Age Hearing Loss More Prevalent Than Thought

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

Budget Woes Hamper World TB Control Efforts

Unlike other diseases that plague countries worldwide, tuberculosis is one disease for which a cure has been developed, but experts say there's still face a big obstacle in treating the worst affected countries: money.

The World Health Organization says its effort to detect 70 percent of TB cases and cure 85 percent of them by 2005 faces a "funding gap" to the tune of $300 million.

WHO experts say they are hoping for extra money from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, but they aren't certain those funds will be available, reports the BBC.

TB is typically treated with a cocktail of antibiotics that have to be taken over a course of many months, so setting up programs to offer initial and follow-up treatment is expensive. Among the 22 countries that have the worst problems with TB are Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Kenya, South Africa, and Thailand.

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Colored Discs May Reveal Rotting Frozen Food

Determining whether your frozen food has gone bad may soon be as easy as glancing at the color of a small polymer disc inside the package.

Researchers with the U.S. National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas developed the discs or tags, which contain organic dyes that drastically change from clear to telltale pink, blue, or yellow, reports the New Scientist.

The first discs -- expected to be launched within two years -- would react to the unpleasant odors trimethylamine, dimethylamine, and ammonia produced by rotting fish and shrimp.

Tags detecting the odors of rotting meat are likely to come next, followed by those for vegetables.

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N.J. Prisoners Left in Dark About Hepatitis C Infection

Prison officials in New Jersey failed to tell hundreds of prisoners that they were infected with the potentially deadly hepatitis C virus, and some inmates did not learn of their infection for more than a year, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The inmates reportedly were notified only after the newspaper launched its investigation, according to a medical audit.

In total, more than 1,100 prisoners have now been informed that they have the disease. Meanwhile, 21 inmates were released from prison without being told they were infected.

Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease that can be spread through such means as shared drug paraphernalia, sex, and possibly even blood droplets on shared toothbrushes. In about a third of those infected, the virus will clear up on its own. Among the rest, one in five will develop liver disease, but by the time a patient shows serious symptoms, it is usually too late for treatment.

And notification that they have the infection likely won't make a difference for the prisoners' treatment. New Jersey prisons currently do not treat prisoners for hepatitis C, even though some inmates die from the disease.

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FAA Calls for Safer Plane Seats

Newer, safer airline seats may be in store for travelers if the Federal Aviation Administration has its way.

A proposed new rule calls for new seats that would increase the chances of passengers' surviving plane accidents to be installed within 14 years, reports the Associated Press.

More than 95 percent of passengers survive such accidents, according to a 2001 report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The seat changes would reportedly cost airlines an estimated $519 million. The FAA will solicit public comment on the planned rule through Dec. 3.

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N.Y. Psychiatric Patients Locked Away in Nursing Homes

Upon being released from state psychiatric hospitals, hundreds of New York patients find themselves being placed in locked, isolated units of nursing homes that are unlicensed to operate such facilities, reports the New York Times.

A four-month investigation by the Times reportedly found that many patients, typically in their 30s and 40s and physically healthy, were given minimal rehabilitative therapy and barred from going outside on their own. Most patients were instead mainly left to wander the halls or languish in their rooms.

In one nursing home in Queens, locked elevators and fire doors with alarms prevented about 50 mentally ill people from going outside. Residents at a nearby home were outfitted with electronic bracelets that trigger an alarm should they try to leave. In yet another home in Nassau County, the Times learned that residents had broken windows in a desperate attempt to free themselves. In all of the cases, the patients had not been considered violent or committed to institutions by a court.

The administration of Gov. George Pataki approved the establishment of these units in 1996, but they have gone unregulated and typically lack staffs with appropriate medical expertise, says the article.

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Old Age Hearing Loss More Prevalent Than Thought

Research looking at hearing loss among 3,753 older residents of a small Wisconsin town offers some surprising findings on the causes and nature of hearing loss.

Among the findings of the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study, conducted by the University of Wisconsin, are that men have poorer hearing than women, even when they've been exposed to much more noise throughout life. Hearing tends to deteriorate rapidly after retirement age and about 90 percent of the population over age 80 has trouble.

In addition, the study found that about half of older Americans have the problem, whereas experts have estimated the figure to only be about one-third of Americans, reports the Associated Press.

Interestingly, the study of residents of Beaver Dam, in central Wisconsin, found that people who had a drink or two per day were about 40 percent less likely than nondrinkers to have hearing loss, yet smokers were about 70 percent more likely than nonsmokers to have hearing loss.

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