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Health Highlights: Sept. 30, 2009

Swine Flu-Related School Closings Could Cost $47 Billion: Report Many More Patients Receiving AIDS Drugs Distracted Driving Takes Heavy Toll on U.S. Roads Cervical Cancer Vaccine Didn't Cause Girl's Death: Health Official

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

Swine Flu-Related School Closings Could Cost $47 Billion: Report

It would cost between $10 billion and $47 billion to close U.S. schools and day-care centers because of swine flu, according to a new report.

Keeping children home from school would mean that parents would have to stay home from work, including some who are health-care workers, said the paper issued by the Brookings' Center on Social and Economic Dynamics, the Associated Press reported.

Among the other estimates:

  • The value of lost class time would be $6.1 billion.
  • The cost of sweeping school closures in specific cities would be $65 million for Washington, D.C., $1.5 billion for Los Angeles, and $1.1 billion for New York City.
  • Large-scale school closures would cause 12 percent of workers to be absent from their jobs. Workplace absenteeism could be higher in lower-income households with only one employed person.

Schools are being told to close only as a last resort, such as when large numbers of students or staff have swine flu, the AP reported. As of Monday, at least 187 schools across the United States had closed, affecting nearly 80,000 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education.


Many More Patients Receiving AIDS Drugs

The number of people worldwide receiving AIDS drugs has increased 10-fold in five years -- to about four million. But five million other HIV/AIDS patients still don't have access to the life-saving medicines, says a report released Wednesday.

"Even though some of the data are not fully clear and there are some unanswered questions, this is a dramatic improvement. It shows that all this money that has gone to treatment has made some difference," Daniel Halperin, an AIDS expert at Harvard University, told the Associated Press.

The 2008 statistics -- contained in an annual AIDS report jointly published by the U.N. AIDS program, UNICEF and the World Health Organization -- show a major increase in the availability of AIDS drugs to patients across Africa, which has been particularly hard hit by the AIDS epidemic.

"We have invested a lot of funds into HIV/AIDS, but it has been a worthwhile investment because we have saved lives," said Dr. Teguest Guerma, WHO's acting AIDS director, the AP reported.


Distracted Driving Takes Heavy Toll on U.S. Roads

Last year, 5,870 people were killed and 515,000 injured in vehicle crashes caused by such driver distractions as talking on cell phones or texting, according to a U.S. Transportation Department report released Wednesday.

The document, which noted that driver distraction was involved in 16 percent of all fatal crashes in 2008, was introduced prior to the start of meeting of experts who'll spend two days discussing distracted driving, the Associated Press reported.

At the end of the meeting Thursday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to announce recommendations that could lead to new laws and other ways to reduce distracted driving.

"You see people texting and driving and using cell phones and driving everywhere you go, even in places where it's outlawed, like Washington, D.C. We feel a very strong obligation to point to incidents where people have been killed or where serious injury has occurred," LaHood said, the AP reported.


Cervical Cancer Vaccine Didn't Cause Girl's Death: Health Official

It's highly unlikely that a cervical cancer vaccine caused the death of a 14-year-old girl, a British health official said Tuesday.

Natalie Morton died in hospital Monday a few hours after she received an injection of the Cervarix vaccine, which protects against the virus that causes cervical cancer. Morton appeared healthy before the shot and her death sparked a wave of concern across the U.K.

But it appears she had a "serious underlying medical condition which was likely to have caused death," Caron Grainger, the director for public health at Coventry City Council, said in a statement, the Associated Press reported.

"We are awaiting further test results which will take some time. However, indications are that it was most unlikely that the .... vaccination was the cause of death," Grainger said.

Cervarix isn't approved in the United States. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration decision about whether to approve Cervarix was expected Tuesday but was delayed because the agency decided to extend its review of the vaccine. The death in Britain didn't influence that decision, according to Cervarix maker GlaxoSmithKline.

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