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Health Highlights: Jan. 8, 2004

Health-Care Spending Soars Farmed Salmon Contain Pollutants Migraine Sufferers Would Prefer Root Canal FDA Nixes Plan to Bring Back Silicone Breast Implants China Identifies 2nd Suspected SARS Case New Drug Said to Work Better for Cardiac Arrest

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

Health-Care Spending Soars

Spurred by hospital and prescription drug costs, health-care spending rose 9.3 percent in 2002, to about $5,440 for every American, a new report says.

The Associated Press says that spending on health care far outpaced spending in other areas of the U.S. economy for the fourth consecutive year.

Leading the surge was the money spent on prescription drugs, which was 15.3 percent higher than in 2001, according to the new study from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It appears in the current issue of the journal Health Affairs. According to the AP account, the growth in drug costs was falling slightly, although it is still expected to be the driving force behind health spending for the next 10 years.

Hospital spending rose 9.5 percent, in part because of higher wages, a higher use of hospital services, and hospitals' ability to negotiate prices with health plans.

"This continued acceleration injects pressure into the health care system, and everyone -- from businesses, to government, to consumers -- is affected," Katharine Levit, a CMS official and the lead author of the report, is quoted by the AP as saying.

Levit also expected some cooling off on spending because of the recession.

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Farmed Salmon Contain Pollutants

Chemical contaminants in farm-raised salmon are at unacceptably high levels and may dramatically increase the risk of cancer, a new report claims.

The key contaminant, polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB), has been banned in the United States since the late 1970s, HealthDay reports. It is among the "dirty dozen" chemical contaminants to be eliminated under the United Nations treaty on persistent organic pollutants. PCBs have been linked to cancer and impaired fetal brain development.

In the new study, the largest to date, Carpenter's team tested more than 2 metric tons of farmed and wild salmon from around the world, according to the HealthDay account..

They found farm-raised salmon had significantly higher PCB levels and many chlorinated pesticides than wild Pacific salmon. The researchers report the finding in the Jan. 9 issue of Science. High PCB levels in farmed salmon result from the fish meal and fish oil they are fed.

While these levels of PCBs are far below those called dangerous by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they are unsafe by the standards used by the U.S. Environmental Agency.

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Migraine Sufferers Would Prefer Root Canal

A new survey of people with migraines finds that nearly one in three sufferers would prefer a root canal to the tremendous headaches they get.

The survey, conducted by the National Headache Foundation, also found that 32 percent of people who say they have migraines have not been properly diagnosed by a doctor.

"These data illustrate the debilitating nature of migraines and highlight the issue of under-diagnosis and misdiagnosis of migraines in the U.S.," the foundation said in a prepared statement.

The majority of sufferers, which the foundation calls "migraineurs," said their pain affects their work and time with their families. Two-thirds said they relied on rest and meditation to relieve symptoms, and two-thirds also said they took over-the-counter drugs. The foundation said over-the-counter drugs aren't always the best way to treat migraines.

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FDA Nixes Plan to Bring Back Silicone Breast Implants

The controversy over silicone breast implants took a surprising new turn Thursday with the announcement that the Food and Drug Administration would not follow an advisory panel's recommendation to allow the devices back on the market at this time, HealthDay reports.

Inamed Corp. of Santa Barbara, Calif., which makes the implants, said that it had received a "not approvable" letter from the FDA.

"The letter outlines the additional information that Inamed must provide prior to the FDA's further review of its premarket approval application (PMA) for silicone gel-filled breast implants," a company statement said. "According to the letter, submission of this requested information and data will place the PMA in approvable form and allow the FDA to conduct further review of Inamed's PMA."

Nick Teti, Inamed's chairman, CEO, and president said in a statement, "Although we are disappointed with the current outcome, we appreciate the serious and thorough review of our PMA by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA letter that we received provides directions for us to follow, and we intend to work cooperatively with the agency to place the PMA in approvable form."

Silicone gel implants were taken off the market in 1992 amid fears that leaking might be responsible for autoimmune diseases and even cancer. Other problems included the fact that many women needed repeat operations to deal with painful scar tissue. Inamed was seeking approval to start selling the devices again for aesthetic purposes.

The FDA's move came three months after an advisory panel narrowly recommended, by a 9-6 vote, allowing the implants to return to the market.

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China Identifies Second Suspected SARS Case

On the same day that China's first recent victim of SARS was released from the hospital, health officials have identified a second suspected case: a 20-year old waitress in the southern city of Guangzhou, the Associated Press reports.

The young woman, hospitalized Dec. 31, works at a restaurant that is said to serve civet cat, a Chinese delicacy that may be responsible for passing SARS to humans. In response to the nation's first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome in seven months -- involving a 32-year-old male television producer -- Chinese authorities have begun slaughtering thousands of the animals held in captivity. This despite the fact that the man insists he has never eaten civet.

About 50 people who have come in contact with the newly suspected case have been quarantined as a precaution, the AP reports. None has shown any symptoms of the highly contagious disease, which has an incubation period of about 10 days.

On a positive note, the Philippines government says that a woman recently quarantined as a suspected SARS case does not have the disease. She had recently visited Hong Kong and showed symptoms of SARS upon her return. Philippines officials say tests have determined that she is actually suffering from pneumonia.

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New Drug Said to Work Better for Cardiac Arrest

A naturally occurring hormone called vasopressin appears to be better than the century-old standard -- epinephrine -- in treating the worst cases of cardiac arrest, HealthDay reports.

A European study found vasopressin raised the odds of surviving cardiac arrest in those cases by as much as 50 percent when compared to epinephrine. The findings appear in the Jan. 8 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some 600,000 people die from sudden death every year in North America and Europe, according to the study. The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that 95 percent of people who have cardiac arrest die before they even get to the hospital. Those lucky enough to be treated with a defibrillator in the first five to seven minutes fare considerably better.

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