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Health Headlines - September 28

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm
Jury Rejects Vioxx Lawsuit

A federal jury ruled Tuesday there was insufficient evidence to blame a Kentucky man's heart attack on the now-banned painkiller Vioxx.

Robert Garry Smith, 56, had taken Vioxx for knee pain for about 4 1/2 years. His lawsuit claimed the drug contributed to a heart attack he suffered in 2003 while shoveling snow, the Associated Press reported.

However, after deliberating for about three hours, the jury rejected Smith's claim.

Merck & Co. Inc., which made Vioxx, has now won five such cases and lost four. There are at least 14,200 Vioxx-related cases pending in the United States.

The painkiller went on sale in the U.S. in 1999 but was pulled from the market two years ago after a study concluded that the drug increased the risk of heart attack in people who took it for more than 18 months or longer.

Overcrowding Common in U.S. Emergency Departments

Between 40 percent and 50 percent of U.S. hospitals experience crowded emergency departments (EDs), according to a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of the report's other findings:

* Nearly two-thirds of metropolitan hospital EDs experienced crowding at times.
* Crowding in metropolitan EDs was associated with a higher percentage of nursing vacancies, higher patient volume, and longer patient waiting and treatment times.
* More than half the EDs saw fewer than 20,000 patients a year, but 10 percent handled more than 50,000 patients a year.
* About a third of hospitals reported having to divert an ambulance to another hospital's ED due to overcrowding or staff shortages.

U.S. Communities Not Ready for Rise in Elderly

Fewer than half of the communities in the United States have started to prepare for the expected rapid increase in the population of elderly over the next few decades, a new study warns.

Only 46 percent of the 1,790 towns, counties and other municipalities surveyed said they are looking at strategies to deal with an aging population of baby boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964), the Associated Press reported.

By 2030, there will be more than 71 million Americans over age 65 -- double the number in the year 2000, noted the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

The Washington, D.C.-based group was one of the sponsors of the report, titled The Maturing of America -- Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population.

The study looked at health care, nutritional programs, transportation, public safety and emergency awareness, volunteer opportunities and other services for older adults, the AP reported.

More Family Doctors Needed in U.S.

At least five states -- Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Nevada and Texas -- could experience a serious shortage of family doctors by 2020, warns a report to be released Wednesday by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

While the report says more doctors will be needed all across the United States in coming years, population growth and increasing numbers of older people will make the need most critical in those five states, the AP reported.

From 1997 to 2005, the number of U.S. medical graduates going into family practice has declined by more than 50 percent. Many young doctors prefer to become specialists to get better pay and have more control over their work hours.

In order to meet demand, the number of family doctors in the United States must increase by 39 percent over the next 14 years, according to the report. There are currently about 100,000 licensed family doctors in the country, the AP reported.

To address the issue, Congress should increase Medicare payments to family physicians, the academy says.

New York City Moves to Limit Trans Fats Served in Restaurants

Artificial trans fats may soon be severely restricted in New York City restaurants.

The city's Board of Health voted unanimously Tuesday to move ahead with plans to forbid the Big Apple's 20,000 restaurants from serving food that contains more than a minute amount of artificial trans fats, The New York Times reported.

Artificial trans fats are chemically modified ingredients believed to increase the risk of heart disease. This plan would set a limit of a half-gram of artificial trans fats per serving of any menu item.

The health board will accept written comments on the proposal and plans to hold a public meeting on Oct. 30. It will take a final vote on the plan in December. The health board can adopt the plan without the consent of any other agency.

Many of the city's restaurant owners oppose the move, saying it would increase their costs and change the taste of some food items, the Times reported.

Tuesday's Board of Health vote comes about a year after it conducted an unsuccessful campaign to persuade restaurants to voluntary eliminate trans fats from their menu items. If the plan is approved, New York would become the first major U.S. city to strictly limit such fats in all restaurants.

French Doctors Perform First Zero-Gravity Surgery

French doctors on Wednesday said they had completed the world's first zero-gravity surgery, successfully removing a cyst from a man's arm during flight maneuvers that created near-weightless conditions.

The experiment is part of an effort to design surgical robots for use in outer space, the Associated Press reported. While prior surgeries conducted under zero-gravity conditions had been performed on a rat in 2003, this is the first such operation on a human.

A team led by Dr. Dominique Martin removed the cyst in about 10 minutes, while in an airplane that was soaring and diving in order to create a weightless environment. The five-member surgical team was strapped to the walls of the airplane as it made 25 roller coaster-like maneuvers (parabolas) to simulate zero gravity.

The patient chosen for the surgery, Philippe Sanchot, is an avid bungee jumper and therefore accustomed to dramatic changes in gravity, the AP reported. Cyst-removal surgery is relatively simple and requires only a local anesthetic.

The surgery went "exactly as we had expected," Martin told reporters gathered near Merignac airport outside Bordeaux. He said the doctors' experiences so far "allow us to think that operating on a human in the conditions of space would not present insurmountable problems."
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