Health Highlights: Sept. 20, 2003

Feds Offer Post-Isabel Health Tips 7 Charged With Defrauding Medicare of Tens of Millions of Dollars AP: No Evidence of Smallpox in IraqIV-Drug Risk Increases With Age, Study Finds When It Comes to Diet, Better Late than Never Fewer Americans Get Insurance Through Work

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

Feds Offer Post-Isabel Health Tips

At least 24 people are dead in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, which knocked out power to some 6 million people from North Carolina to New York.

President Bush declared disasters in North Carolina and Virginia, pledging federal aid to both. State emergencies were declared by the governors of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.

For those who have lost power, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers this advice:

  • Keep the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain the cold temperature. The refrigerator will keep food cold for about four hours if it is unopened. Buy dry or block ice to keep your refrigerator as cold as possible if the power is going to be out for a prolonged period of time. Fifty pounds of dry ice should hold an 18-cubic foot full freezer for two days.
  • If you'll be eating your refrigerated or frozen meat, poultry, fish or eggs while they are still at safe temperatures, be sure they are thoroughly cooked to the proper temperature to assure that any food-borne bacteria that may be present is destroyed.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables with water from a safe source before eating.
  • For infants, if possible, use prepared canned baby formula that requires no added water. When using concentrated or powdered formulas, prepare with bottled water if the local water source is potentially contaminated.


7 Charged With Defrauding Medicare of Tens of Millions of Dollars

Seven people -- two of whom are doctors -- have been charged with defrauding Medicare of at least $46 million by filing claims for thousands of motorized wheelchairs that were either never delivered or not needed.

The U.S. attorney in Houston said the doctors and equipment dealers had submitted more than $84 million in phony claims during the past two years, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Motorized wheelchairs -- some of which can cost more than $5,000 -- are among the most expensive pieces of equipment that Medicare will purchase for patients, the newspaper reports.

"There were holes in the system. These holes were exploited," U.S. Attorney Michael Shelby said. "This was a relatively easy and quite lucrative crime to commit."


AP: No Evidence of Smallpox in Iraq

American scientists assigned to hunt out weapons of mass destruction in Iraq say there's no evidence that Saddam Hussein stockpiled smallpox, the Associated Press reports.

Fears of the deadly virus being used against American interests were among the reasons cited for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Among the only items found so far are disabled lab equipment and a laboratory covered in cobwebs, the wire service reports. In addition, Iraqi researchers interviewed by the American scientists have given no indication that they had ever worked with smallpox.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, fears of a bioterror strike using smallpox led the Bush administration to order 500,000 military troops to receive the dangerous smallpox vaccine, and to order enough vaccine for the entire country.

President Bush himself was vaccinated against the disease, which kills about one-third of its victims, the AP reports.


IV-Drug Risk Increases With Age, Study Finds

Older men who inject drugs are up to six times more likely to die from the practice than are younger men, British researchers conclude from a new study.

Among 20,000 Scottish IV-drug users, men over 34 were two to six times more likely to die than were men under 25, according to the scientists at Cambridge and Strathclyde universities.

"The public health message of 'stop injecting' and 'never start injecting' are as important as ever," study researcher Prof. Sheila Bird tells BBC News Online."But we have shown that cessation of injecting, as a goal, might be particularly critical for older drug users."

The study appears in the Sept. 20 issue of The Lancet.


When It Comes to Diet, Better Late than Never

If you've wanted to diet for years but never quite found the drive or willpower, there still may be hope. A new study finds that lowering dietary intake later in life still reduces the likelihood of death -- at least in fruit flies.

The British study, published in the Sept. 19 issue of Science, found that fully-fed flies lived about 32 days, while flies on a restricted diet lived an average of nearly 50 days, HealthDay reports.

The restricted diet contained about 35 percent fewer nutrients than the fully-fed diet, according to researchers who led the study at University College London.

The researchers concede they don't know why restricting the diet had such a dramatic effect on mortality. They've hypothesized that dietary restriction increases life span because it slows down the damaging effects of processes, like oxidation, that occur as food is digested, HealthDay reports.


Fewer Americans Get Insurance Through Work

Some 45 percent of all American workers receive health insurance from their employers, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says in a new survey. That's down from about two-thirds of the workforce a decade ago, reports the Boston Globe.

Experts cite soaring premiums that have decimated small businesses and forced employees to kick in higher and higher contributions from each paycheck. The federal analysis cites a 75 percent increase in premiums paid by employees in the past decade, far outpacing wages or inflation, the Globe reports.

The average premium paid today by a single employee is $60.24 a month, versus $34.09 a month in 1993, the report says. The average family plan soared to $228.98 a month from $130.65 over the same period.

In addition, many workers have shifted into service-oriented jobs like waitresses, dental assistants, security guards, and childcare workers -- all occupations that traditionally are less likely to provide employees with health coverage, the newspaper reports.

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