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Health Highlights: July 7, 2004

Mentally Ill Teens Locked in Detention Centers Report Calls for International HIV/AIDS Corps Star Trek's Scotty Has Alzheimer's Medicare Chief Broke No Laws in Threatening Employee: Probe Avian Flu May Be Spread by Wild Birds, China Says FDA Approves Appendicitis Diagnostic Test

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

Mentally Ill Teens Locked in Detention Centers

A House committee report says that thousands of mentally ill youths in the United States are being kept in juvenile detention centers while they wait to be treated for their mental health problems.

The report, released Wednesday by the Democratic staff of the House Government Reform Committee, said that these juvenile detention facilities are usually not equipped to treat mental illness, the Associated Press reported.

Some of the youths kept in the detention facilities haven't been charged with a crime, the report noted.

"The use of juvenile detention facilities to house youth waiting for community mental health services is widespread and a serious national problem," the report said.

"This misuse of detention centers as holding areas for mental health treatment is unfair to youth, undermines their health, disrupts the function of detention centers, and is costly to society," the report added.


Report Calls for International HIV/AIDS Corps

A large-scale international effort along the lines of the Peace Corps is needed to help combat the spread of HIV/AIDS around the world, says an Institute of Medicine (IOM) report issued Wednesday.

The report from the institute, a health advisory panel that's an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, urged international aid groups and governments to take immediate action to assist developing countries in dealing with HIV/AIDS, the Associated Press reported.

There have been recent cuts in the price of AIDS drugs, and Western government promises of billions of dollars in aid to fight HIV/AIDS. But the IOM report said there aren't enough qualified health-care workers in poor nations hardest hit by the epidemic.

In order to address this problem, the IOM recommended establishment of a corps of HIV/AIDS technical specialists who can go to these poor countries to help treat people with HIV infection and AIDS.


Star Trek's Scotty Has Alzheimer's

James M. Doohan, the actor who beamed to fame as Scotty the chief engineer in the original Star Trek series, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

The 84-year-old, Canadian-born actor was diagnosed with Alzheimer's within the past few months and is in the early stages of the disease, CBC News reported. He was already suffering from diabetes and Parkinson's disease.

Doohan, who now lives in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, is scheduled to appear at a Star Trek farewell convention and to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Aug. 31.

He appeared in 100 films and television series. He's most famous for his portrayal of Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery Scott, chief engineer of the starship Enterprise, in the original 1966-69 Star Trek TV series and in several feature-length Star Trek movies.


Medicare Chief Broke No Law in Threatening Employee: Probe

An internal investigation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services concluded that former Medicare chief Thomas Scully threatened the program's chief accountant if the subordinate told Congress that the landmark prescription drug benefit would cost more than the White House had projected, according to the New York Times.

But the investigators concluded that Scully broke no laws in ordering that the information be withheld. The report reflected the U.S. Department of Justice's finding that Scully had "the final authority to determine the flow of information to Congress," the newspaper reported.

Scully's order to chief actuary Richard Foster came as Congress was considering historic changes to Medicare. Foster estimated that the drug benefit would cost up to $600 billion over 10 years, while White House estimates given to Congress said the cost would not exceed $400 billion over the same span, the Times said.

As a result of Scully's order, Foster's estimate did not become known until after the legislation was passed last year, according to the Times.

Scully resigned last December to become a health care company lobbyist. The HHS probe speculated that Scully might be subject to disciplinary action for possibly violating departmental ethical standards if still working for the federal government, the newspaper said.


Avian Flu May Be Spread by Wild Birds, China Says

Wild birds may have sparked the return of avian flu to China's poultry industry, the Beijing government speculated Wednesday. The new cases, confirmed among chickens in China's eastern Anhui province, involve the same bird flu strain that led to the deaths of tens of millions of Asian birds and 24 people earlier this year, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, Thailand has ordered the mass slaughter of thousands of chickens near two provincial farms that also appear to be affected by new outbreaks, the AP said.

The Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health said it supported the Beijing government's theory that migratory birds may have reintroduced the disease to chickens.

The organization said more than 8,000 birds had already been slaughtered in Anhui in an attempt to keep the disease from spreading, according to the AP.


FDA Approves Appendicitis Diagnostic Test

About half of the 700,000 cases of suspected appendicitis in the United States each year lack the condition's telltale symptoms -- lower abdominal pain and fever, according to nuclear medicine researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just approved the researchers' diagnostic test that they say should make it easier for doctors to spot and treat these elusive cases.

The NeutroSpec system involves use of a radioactive antibody that binds to the type of infection-fighting white blood cell that is often present in people who have inconclusive symptoms of appendicitis, the researchers said. Doctors can then locate the antibody and infection site by using a device called a gamma camera.

In human trials, NeutroSpec was 60 percent accurate in detecting appendicitis in less than five minutes, and nearly 100 percent accurate in diagnosing the condition within an hour, the researchers said in a statement.

The test could significantly reduce the 15 percent to 30 percent of all appendectomies that prove unnecessary because the organ is actually normal, the scientists said.

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