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Health Highlights: July 1, 2004

Celiac Disease Much More Common Than Thought Report: 4.5 Million Schoolchildren Face Sexual Misconduct Dangerous Dogs in Colo. to Get Microchip Implant 1st Suspected Mad Cow Case is Negative Groups Call for Consumer Fireworks Ban Drug Price Hikes Tied to New Medicare Law

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

Celiac Disease Much More Common Than Thought

A panel convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that celiac disease is "considerably under-diagnosed" in the United States, and that 10 times as many people have it as originally thought.

Celiac disease, which researchers once thought was rare, probably affects as many as 3 million Americans, the NIH now concludes. The panel, whose conclusion isn't official, urged that doctors get more information on screening and treating the disease.

Celiac is a digestive disorder in which the small intestine has a toxic reaction to gluten, a protein commonly found in wheat and other grains. People with it need to avoid foods with gluten, a difficult but manageable process that lasts a lifetime.

"We know that celiac disease is caused by an immune response to the gluten in certain common grains, so we have a very effective treatment -- a gluten-free diet -- but if physicians don't recognize when to test for the disease, patients are going to suffer needlessly," Dr. Charles Elson, chair of the consensus panel, said in a statement. "Because the disease has been thought to be rare, testing for it may not occur to many physicians. We hope that this conference will help to increase physician awareness."

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Report: 4.5 Million Schoolchildren Face Sexual Misconduct

A report issued to Congress finds that as many as one in 10 schoolchildren, or 4.5 million, have endured sexual misconduct at the hands of school employees.

The Associated Press reports that these children will face this misbehavior -- which ranges from dirty jokes to forced sex, and from the unprofessional to outright criminal -- sometime between kindergarten and high school graduation.

"Most people just don't think this can really happen," the AP quotes Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft as saying. "We imagine that all teachers are like most teachers, in that they've gone into teaching to help children. Most do, but not all."

Shakeshaft was commissioned by the Education Department to study the prevalence of sexual abuse in schools. The report was mandated by the No Child Left Behind act, according to the AP.

Critics said it was unfair to pool every misdeed into one report. "Lumping harassment together with serious sexual misconduct does more harm than good by creating unjustified alarm and undermining confidence in public schools," said Michael Pons, spokesman for the National Education Association.

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Dangerous Dogs in Colo. to Get Microchip Implant

Colorado authorities have come up with their own version of an electronic leash for dangerous dogs: an implanted microchip.

A state law that takes effect Thursday will force the owner of any dog who has injured someone to have the computer chip placed under the animal's skin, USA Today reports.

The chips are the same that helps owners identify and find lost dogs; millions of the devices, the size of a grain of rice, have been implanted.

Doug Kelley, Denver's animal control director, told USA Today that owners of dangerous dogs sometimes try to disguise the pets to avoid fines or having the animal destroyed. The new law will let officials positively identify a dog in case it attacks again. In some cases, officials told the newspaper, the dog will be destroyed unless there were mitigating circumstances, such as a child sneaking up from behind.

In addition to paying to have the procedure done, owners will also have to pony up a $50 registration fee.

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1st Suspected Mad Cow Case is Negative

The first of two cows singled out this week as potentially having mad cow disease has turned out to be uninfected, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.

Following an inconclusive preliminary screening test that is designed to be super-sensitive, more sophisticated testing on the animal's carcass revealed the cow wasn't infected with the brain-wasting disease, the USDA said Wednesday.

Follow-up tests on a second animal that has been identified as potentially infected are still pending, the Washington Post reported. Results are due in four to seven days.

The USDA began an expanded rapid-testing program in June following December's first-ever diagnosis of a U.S. cow with mad cow disease. The Washington state bovine remains the only confirmed case in the United States to date.

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Groups Call for Consumer Fireworks Ban

Ten leading consumer, physicians, and safety groups are renewing an annual call to ban consumer fireworks, which they say cause more fires on Independence Day in the United States than all other causes of fire combined.

In 2002, eight of nine firework-related trips to hospital emergency rooms involved fireworks that were legal for consumers to use, according to a statement from the groups, which include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

They offer these additional statistics:

  • Some 8,800 people ended up in the emergency room for firework injuries in 2002, mostly for burns to the hands, feet, head and eyes. Four victims died.
  • About 71 percent of victims are male, mostly between the ages of 10 and 19. Children 10 to 14 have a fireworks injury rate that's three times the general population.
  • In 1999, the latest year for which there are statistics, 24,200 fires were reportedly started by fireworks. This led to $17.2 million in property damage.

According to the groups, only seven states now ban consumer fireworks: Arizona, Delaware, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island.

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Drug Price Hikes Tied to New Medicare Law

The new Medicare drug benefit may have spurred the most recent hike in prescription medication costs for older Americans, according to a new AARP report cited by HealthDay.

Manufacturer prices for brand-name prescription drugs rose 3.4 percent, or nearly three times the general inflation rate, during the three-month period from Dec. 31, 2003, through March 31, 2004.

According to the report, those increases came after President Bush signed the Medicare prescription drug benefit into law on Dec. 8, 2003.

"We can't say for sure why it's happening, but there certainly seems to be an association," said David Gross, first author of the report and a senior policy advisor at the AARP Public Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), representing the prescription drug industry, disputed the findings and decried the "politics" of the new report.

According to AARP, the typical older American taking three prescription drugs is likely to have experienced an annual average increase of $191.10 in the most recent 12 months, if the drugs weren't generic and if the full price increases were passed to the consumer.

Overall, more than half of the drugs surveyed, 106 out of 197, had price increases during the first three months of 2004. All of these increases were at least twice the rate of general inflation for that period.

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