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Health Highlights: Sept. 3, 2006

Medicare Director McClellan to Resign: Report Boredom Drives Binge Drinking in U.S. West Journal to Clarify Paper on Stem-Cell Research FDA Offers Food-Safety Advice for Storm Victims

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

Medicare Director McClellan to Resign: Report

Mark McClellan, the Texan doctor and economist who has managed federal Medicare/Medicaid programs since early 2004, will resign from the post, the Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.

Sources close to McClellan said the decision could be announced as early as Tuesday.

McClellan is brother to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, and son to Texas comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn of Austin. Strayhorn, a Republican, is running as an independent for governor of that state.

The Morning News said McClellan was not available for comment, nor was there any comment on the move from the White House or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

President George W. Bush appointed McClellan to the top post at Medicare/Medicaid after a short stint as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. McClellan oversaw the often-controversial launch of Medicare's 'Part D' drug-coverage program.

Sources close to McClellan told the Morning News that he had been mulling a move to the private sector or academia for some time, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

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Boredom Drives Binge Drinking in U.S. West

A recent survey found that 7 of the top 10 areas for under-age binge drinking in the U.S. lie in the country's northern plains states such as Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. Speaking to the New York Times, local residents and experts say boredom among young people is to blame.

"I think so many kids drink because the state is barren, desolate and boring to some people, and there's not really anything to do," Isaiah Springer, a recent high school graduate from Cheyenne, Wy., told the Times.

The all-night beer parties that break the tedium for kids often turn deadly, however. "Had a kid, drunk, flipped his car going 80 miles an hour, and that killed him; and another kid, drink, smashed his boat up against a rock just a couple months ago, killing two; and then there was this beating after a kegger -- they clubbed this kid to death," said Scott Steward, sheriff of Wyoming's Park County.

One federal survey, conducted three years ago, found that south-central Wyoming led the nation in alcohol abuse by people 12 years of age or under. The same survey found that rural 12-and-13-year-olds were twice as likely as urban youth to drink and abuse alcohol. Experts say drug abuse -- especially methamphetamine -- is also rampant in small towns in the north and west central plains.

Others point to an ingrained culture in the region that may encourage also drinking. "We're a frontier culture, and people say, 'I work hard and I'll be damned if I'm not going to have a beer or two on the way home,'" Rosie Buzzas, a Montana state legislator who oversees alcohol counseling services in the western part of the state, told the Times. "There's a church, a school, and 10 bars in every town."

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Journal to Clarify Paper on Stem-Cell Research

The editors of the journal Nature said they will clarify a research paper published last week that described a way to create embryonic stem cells without destroying human embryos.

Many newspapers, TV stations and Web sites around the world portrayed the embryos' survival as the study's main innovation, the Associated Press reported.

In the paper, researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., described their historic success in developing stem cells using single cells taken from early embryos. But none of the embryos that the researchers used to harvest cells was left intact.

In the study, the researchers took up to seven cells from 16 human embryos, then tried to grow stem cells from each individual cell. The researchers said this was done to maximize the number of cells they could test and improve the chances of obtaining stem cells. The scientists hope to show they can make stem cells from intact embryos that have had just one or two cells removed, the AP said.

Although the study's main findings remain unchallenged, the journal may modify the paper and a potentially misleading diagram, a Nature spokeswoman said.

Study leader Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology said the clarification "doesn't change the scientific point of the paper."

Scientists believe stem cells have the ability to develop into any cell type in the body, potentially leading to medical advances in which the cells might help replace diseased or injured tissue, thereby treating a host of diseases and conditions.

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FDA Offers Food-Safety Advice for Storm Victims

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers about the food-safety risks that could arise from power outages and flooding as storms threaten the coastal United States this time of year.

"Foods that are inadequately refrigerated during storm-related power outages, and foods or bottled water contaminated by flood waters, present a potential health risk to consumers," said Robert E. Brackett, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Some of the safety steps recommended by the FDA include:

In advance of storm-related power outages and flooding:

  • Freeze refrigerated items such as leftovers, milk, fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately.
  • Have coolers on hand to keep refrigerated food cold if the power will be out for more than four hours. Have ice or gel packs ready for use in coolers.
  • Keep a supply of bottled water stored where it will be safe from flooding.
  • Purchase an appliance thermometer to monitor refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Make sure your freezer is at or below 0 F and the refrigerator is at or below 40 F.

In the event of a power outage:

  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours, and a half-full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 24 hours, if the door remains closed.
  • Buy dry or block ice to keep refrigerators as cold as possible during prolonged power outages. Fifty pounds of dry ice will keep an 18-cubic foot, fully-stocked freezer cold for two days, or a half-stocked freezer of the same size cold for one day.
  • Throw out meat, poultry, seafood, milk and eggs that are at room temperature for more than two hours.

If flooding occurs:

  • Don't eat any food that may have come in contact with flood water.
  • Use bottled drinking water that has not come in contact with flood water.
  • Boil tap water to kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. Filter cloudy tap water through clean cloths, or allow it to settle and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.
  • Discard food that is not in a waterproof container if there is any chance that it has come in contact with flood water. Food containers that aren't waterproof include those with screw-caps, snap-lids, pull-tops and crimped caps.

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