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Health Highlights: July 28, 2005

FDA Bans Use of Antibiotic in Poultry One-Third of U.S. Troops From Iraq Have Mental Problems Senate Panel Approves Bill to Limit Cold Medicines Gaps in Health Insurance Impact Children House Passes Bill for National Medical Error Reporting Network

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

FDA Bans Use of Antibiotic in Poultry

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday that it would ban use of the antibiotic Baytril (enrofloxacin) to treat infections in poultry, saying the medication was promoting a drug-resistant form of bacteria called Campylobacter.

The decision only affects the Bayer Corp. drug's use in poultry, not other approved uses, the agency said. Campylobacter is the leading bacterial cause of food poisoning in the United States. HealthDay reported in 2000, when the FDA first proposed banning the drug for treating poultry, that nearly 18 percent of a common Campylobacter strain that infects people were immune to antibiotics in the same class as Baytril.

Baytril belongs to a class of animal antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, which chicken and turkey farmers have used since 1995.

People with compromised immune systems, including the elderly, the very young, and people with chronic illness, are particularly susceptible to Campylobacter infection, the FDA said. Complications can include arthritis and, more rarely, bloodstream infections.

Bayer, which in 2000 resisted FDA efforts to limit the drug's use, has 60 days to appeal the FDA's decision, the agency said.

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One-Third of U.S. Troops From Iraq Have Mental Problems

A new Pentagon survey finds that 30 percent of U.S. troops returning from Iraq developed mental health problems within three or four months of coming home, the Army's surgeon general said Thursday.

The mental disorders include anxiety, depression, nightmares, anger, and an inability to concentrate, the Associated Press reported. A smaller group has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), characterized by more severe forms of many of these same symptoms.

Earlier surveys have found 3 percent to 5 percent of Iraq veterans were diagnosed with a significant mental health issue immediately after they left the war zone, the AP reported. The Army only now has begun evaluating veterans three to six months after they leave combat.

Only about 5 percent of troops returning from combat actually have PTSD, though significantly more have problems adjusting, an Army spokesman told the wire service.

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Senate Panel Approves Bill to Limit Cold Medicines

A bill to restrict sales of cold medicines that could be used to make the street drug methamphetamine ("meth") was approved Thursday by a U.S. Senate panel, the Associated Press reported.

The bill, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee by voice vote, would require stores to sell medicines containing pseudoephedrine from behind the pharmacy counter. Consumers who wanted to buy non-prescription drugs including Sudafed and Nyquil would have to show a photo ID and sign a log.

Buyers would be limited to about 250 30-milligram pills over a 30-day period, the wire service said. A computerized tracking program would make sure they didn't go to other stores to buy the medicines.

Groups representing retailers, which initially opposed the legislation, have been won over with compromises including an exception for stores like groceries that don't have a pharmacist on duty.

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Gaps in Health Insurance Impact Children

A new study of U.S. government data indicates that for every child who doesn't have health insurance, there is another child who has coverage gaps that make them just as likely as an uninsured child to not see a doctor or have a prescription refilled.

The study, published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, found that about 80 percent of children with insurance gaps have parents who work and that about 66 percent of them live with both parents. More than 50 percent of children with insurance coverage gaps are white.

"There is an oversimplified view of what is uninsured. We should be measuring who is uninsured in multiple ways in order to understand what the true burden is," study leader Lynn Olson, of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told the Associated Press.

She and her colleagues analyzed U.S. national health survey data collected in 2000 and 2001. They found that about 7 percent of U.S. children were uninsured and another 8 percent lacked coverage for a portion of the year.

The study found that 13 percent of the children with intermittent insurance missed doctor appointments and 10 percent didn't have their prescriptions refilled due to cost. Those percentages are nearly the same as for uninsured children, the AP reported.

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House Passes Bill for National Medical Error Reporting Network

A bill to create the first U.S. national network for reporting, analyzing and correcting medical errors was passed Wednesday by the House in a 428-3 vote.

The bill would guarantee confidentiality for healthcare workers who report medical errors, which cause an estimated 40,000 to 98,000 preventable deaths each year in the United States.

Reports about medical errors would not be allowed to be used in malpractice suits or in workplace professional disciplinary proceedings. But the bill would not prevent patients and families from using other medical records as evidence in lawsuits, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The bill will now go to President Bush, who's expected to sign it.

Supporters of the bill say it will help encourage doctors and other healthcare workers to report mistakes and hazards, leading to improved patient safety, the Times reported.

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