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Health Headlines - September 26

Posted Oct 03 2008 11:31am

European Union Bans Chinese Milk Products

Baby food products that contain milk imported from China were banned Thursday by the European Union in response to the deaths of four Chinese infants who ingested locally made tainted formula.

The European Commission also called for tighter controls on other foods imported from China, the Associated Press reported.

In addition to the four deaths, Chinese formula tainted with the plastics chemical melamine has caused more than 54,000 Chinese babies to become sick. The chemical, which can lead to kidney stones and kidney failure, is considered particularly harmful to children.

Melamine has been detected in products from 22 Chinese dairy firms, the AP reported. It's thought that suppliers used the chemical to mask the watering down of various milk products.

The practice may now be affecting animals, the wire service reported, as a lion cub and two baby orangutans have developed kidney stones at a zoo near Shanghai.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF issued a joint statement Thursday condemning baby-food makers that deliberately contaminate their products.

"Whilst any attempt to deceive the public in the area of food production and marketing is unacceptable, deliberate contamination of foods intended for consumption by vulnerable infants and young children is particularly deplorable," the statement read.

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Standardized Color Plan for Hospital Wristbands Faces Hurdles

A new standardized system for color-coded wristbands in hospitals to prevent potentially dangerous mistakes is essential to patient safety, proponents say, but others fear they may compromise patient privacy, The New York Times reported.

The movement to standardize color coding of the hospital bands gathered steam, in part, because of a 2005 Pennsylvania case where a patient nearly died when a nurse mistakenly used an incorrect band. The plan is to have the wristbands designate patient conditions so treatment can be checked: Purple, or amethyst, means Do Not Resuscitate (D.N.R.); red, or ruby, indicates allergies; and yellow, or amber, identifies someone at risk for falling, according the Times.

But the Joint Commission, the nation's leading hospital-accreditation agency, has cited concerns about branding patients by their end-of-life choices, or inadvertently broadcasting those choices to family and friends not involved in those choices, the newspaper said. The commission even pointed out that children sometimes unknowingly trade the wristbands like baseball cards. And some hospitals have had problems with colored bracelets that patients bring with them, such as the yellow Lance Armstrong Livestrong bracelets. Most hospitals ask patients to cut these other bands off or cover them up with tape instead, the Times said.

"You need to strike a balance between the need for patient safety and accuracy and the whole privacy concern and sensitivity and compassion for the patient, Roxanne G. Tena-Nelson, executive vice president of the Continuing Care Leadership Coalition, a group of long-term care providers in New York, told the Times.

In most places, the newspaper reported, the new bracelets replace colored ones that have been used for decades without uniformity. A survey by the Greater New York Hospital Association last year found nine different colors used to denote patients with D.N.R. orders, five to indicate allergies, and nine to highlight risks of falling, but there is still some variation.

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Health Insurance Premiums Rise 5%

Health insurance premiums in the United States rose about 5 percent this year, a modest rise compared to the 119 percent jump overall since 1999, according to a report released Wednesday.

Premiums for family coverage rose to an average of $12,680 during the past year, while premiums for single coverage increased to an average $4,704, according to the analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

While about 75 percent of each premium is still absorbed by employers, the trend in recent years has been to require workers to pay a higher percentage, the Associated Press reported.

In the past year, employees who paid deductibles of $1,000 or more rose to 18 percent from 12 percent, the wire service said. About one in three people employed by a small business now pays at least a $1,000 deductible.

Only about 62 percent of companies with fewer than 200 employees offer a health insurance benefit, the AP said. By comparison, 99 percent of larger businesses offer coverage.

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Armstrong, Stressing Cancer Project, Returning to Cycling

Lance Armstrong, who despite a battle with cancer won seven straight Tour de France bicycle races before he retired three years ago, will return to the sport in January, he said Wednesday.

At a New York City press conference, Armstrong also said that shortly after a race next year in Australia, he would hold the first global meeting of the Livestrong campaign to raise cancer awareness, The New York Times reported.

The 37-year-old Armstrong said he also would try for an eighth straight Tour de France victory next July.

He promised that his anti-cancer campaign would "touch all aspects of our society, all continents of our society, and certainly touch all the different aspects of cancer," the Times quoted him as saying.

Armstrong formed his foundation after a well-publicized bout with testicular cancer in the late 1990s.

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Hospital Blood-Thinner Rules Need Tightening: Commission

Rules that govern hospitals' use of heparin and related medicines need to be tightened after at least 28 deaths resulted from drug errors involving the blood-thinners over the decade ending in 2007, a regulatory group said Wednesday.

The Joint Commission said hospitals should consider preventive measures including bar coding and computer technology to prevent similar errors, the Associated Press reported. A highly publicized example was a dangerous heparin overdose given to the newborn twins of actor Dennis Quaid at a Los Angeles hospital in November.

In all, 59,316 errors involving blood thinners were reported from 2001 to 2006 to a company that tracks such errors, the commission said. About 1,700, or almost 3 percent, of those cases led to patient harm or death, the wire service reported.

Too much of a blood thinner can lead to bleeding that's difficult to control, and too little after surgery or an injury can result in dangerous blood clots.

The commission is a privately run organization that accredits most U.S. hospitals -- a measure of prestige that also influences federal funding, the AP reported.

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Experts Warn of Caffeine Levels in Energy Drinks

Caffeine intoxication is possible from so-called energy drinks that can contain as much of the stimulant as 10 cans of Coca-Cola, experts warn.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine want caffeine doses prominently displayed on the drinks' labeling, which the scientists say also should include a warning of the products' potential risks, the CanWest News Service reported.

Children and adolescents who aren't habitual caffeine consumers are particularly vulnerable to caffeine intoxication, they wrote in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Symptoms could include nervousness, restlessness, anxiety, upset stomach, tremors and rapid heartbeat.

"Many of these products are not labeled with the amount of caffeine. There are no cautionary notes," the news service quotes Roland Griffiths, a professor in the Hopkins departments of psychiatry and neuroscience, as saying.

Griffiths added that younger people who seek the caffeine high from energy drinks could be more likely to abuse prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin, recent research indicates.

Some 906 million gallons of the drinks -- with brand names including Red Bull, Full Throttle, and AMP Energy -- were consumed worldwide in 2006, the researchers said.

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