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Health Highlights: Oct. 7, 2003

Researchers Predict 1 in 3 Americans Will Get Diabetes Most Drivers Disobey Stop Signs: Survey NY Hospital Heart Transplant Program Being Probed Whooping Cough Outbreak Tied to Lack of Vaccination Conn. Mother Had Hand in Son's Suicide, Jury Finds

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

Researchers Predict 1 in 3 Americans Will Get Diabetes

An estimated one in three Americans born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes at some point in their lives.

If anything, that estimate is a conservative one, says Dr. K.M. Venkat Narayan, lead author of the study and head of the diabetes epidemiology section at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Even so, the numbers were higher than expected, HealthDay reports. The research appears in the Oct. 8 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Diabetes is a large and growing public health problem. In the last decade, the disease's prevalence has increased 40 percent, from 4.9 percent of the U.S. population to 6.9 percent. Between 2000 and 2050, it is estimated that the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes will increase by 165 percent. If not adequately controlled, the disease can cause people to lose limbs, eyesight, kidney function and, eventually, their lives.

Narayan and his colleagues analyzed data on almost 360,000 individuals collected between 1984 and 2000 as part of the National Health Interview Survey. They calculated that the estimated lifetime risk of developing diabetes for males born in 2000 is 32.8 percent and for females, 38.5 percent. Women had a higher lifetime risk at every age. The highest risk was among Hispanics, with males having an estimated lifetime risk of 45.4 percent and females, 52.5 percent.

The upshot is that the risk of developing diabetes is equal to or higher than the risk of developing many other diseases.

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Most Drivers Disobey Stop Signs: Survey

Two-thirds of motorists monitored by a child safety group either failed to come to a complete stop at stop signs or stopped after their vehicles entered a crosswalk, the Associated Press reports.

The nonprofit National Safe Kids Campaign says it observed 25,660 vehicles at 288 different intersections in 39 states. A bit more than half of the intersections were within school zones, and the others were in areas where children tended to gather.

Some 37 percent of vehicles didn't come to a complete stop, 7 percent didn't stop at all, and 25 percent more didn't stop until their vehicles were within a crosswalk, the group's survey found. Only 29 percent came to a legal stop.

Stop sign infractions cause about 17,000 injuries and 200 deaths each year, the group says.

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NY Hospital Heart Transplant Program Being Probed

New York State health officials are probing a prominent hospital's heart transplant program, which was abruptly suspended late last week amid concerns that doctors exaggerated patients' conditions to get them organs that might have gone to sicker people.

Inspectors arrived at Albany Medical Center in the state capitol Monday to begin their review of the three-year-old program in order to determine whether doctors or other staff violated rules governing organ distribution and transplantation, the Times Union reports. Two doctors were suspended when the program shut down Friday.

Hospital officials claim they were alerted to potential problems in the program on Sept. 25, when Richmond, Va.-based United Network for Organ Sharing pointed out record-keeping discrepancies that suggested some patients' conditions were made to appear worse than they were -- allowing them to jump above others on state and national lists to receive donated hearts. UNOS oversees transplant policies and procedures across the country.

An attorney representing transplant surgeon Dr. Charles Canver, one of the two suspended doctors, called the hospital's actions "bizarre" and unjustified.

Since Albany Med performed its first heart transplant in April 2000, more than 80 patients have received new hearts there. The program was hailed as a success as doctors performed more heart transplants than bigger hospitals and had survival rates above the national average. Patients waited on average just more than two months for a heart, compared with the national average of almost 11 months, the newspaper reports.

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Whooping Cough Outbreak Tied to Lack of Vaccination

An outbreak of whooping cough in a suburban-New York City county has been traced in part to a group of children whose parents consciously refused to have their kids vaccinated, The New York Times reports.

The Westchester County Health Department says 17 children and two adults in Cortlandt and Peekskill have come down with the contagious bacterial infection. Officials have traced the outbreak to some or all of four children whose parents refused to have them immunized because of vaccine-safety concerns, the newspaper says.

About 100 people exposed to those infected have been given precautionary antibiotics. None of the victims' names has been released.

Once a common killer of infants and young children, whooping cough became rare in developed nations after the introduction of the vaccine in the 1940s. The immunization is administered over five shots.

In recent years, many parents have begun to question the safety and need for vaccines, citing possible links to autism and other conditions, the Times reports.

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Conn. Mother Had Hand in Son's Suicide, Jury Finds

A Superior Court jury in Connecticut says a Meriden mother's neglect played a role in her 12-year-old son's suicide.

Following Monday's verdict, Judith Scruggs faces 10 years in prison when sentenced Nov. 20 -- the day Joseph Daniel Scruggs would have turned 14, the Hartford Courant reports.

Judith Scruggs, 52, was found guilty of risking injury to a minor. The jury concluded that she "willingly" and "unlawfully" provided a "home living environment that was unhealthy and unsafe" for her son.

The boy hung himself at home with a necktie in January 2002. Prosecutors said the Scruggs home was so cluttered and filthy that there was no place for him to wash, sleep or eat, and that his mother failed to help him with his body odor and bad breath.

While jurors didn't doubt Scruggs' claims that her son's being bullied at school helped lead to his death, they said they couldn't ignore the graphic testimony about his home life, the newspaper reports. The jury deliberated for barely an hour.

Scruggs' lawyer says he plans an appeal.

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