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Health highlights: March 30, 2011

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

Fewer U.S. Adult Diabetics Having Annual Tests

The percentage of poor and middle-income adults age 40 and over with diabetes who are having their blood sugar, eyes and feet checked at least once a year is declining, says a U.S. government report.

The three tests are done to prevent diabetes-related complications such as kidney failure, blindness and amputation.

The proportion of poor adults who had the tests fell from 39 percent in 2002 to 23 percent in 2007, while the rate dropped from 41 percent to 33 percent among middle-income adults, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The rate of high-income adults who had all three tests remained steady at 52 percent.

The percentage of adults who had all three tests fell from 43 percent to 32 percent among those with a high school education, from 34 percent to 29 percent among those who didn’t finish high school, and from 51 percent to 47 percent for those with at least some college education.


Company Stops Production of Contaminated IV Bags

An Alabama company has stopped making intravenous feeding bags that were contaminated with Serratia marcescens bacteria and linked to infections in hospital patients.

Nine patients who were hooked up to contaminated bags have died and 10 more were sickened, state health officials reported. However, they added that they have not definitively connected the deaths to the bacterial outbreaks at six hospitals, the Associated Press reported.

“There is nothing to suggest the deaths were directly related to the bacterial infections,” according to State Health Officer Dr. Donald E. Williamson.

After receiving reports of increased cases of Serratia marcescens from two hospitals on March 16, the Alabama Department of Public Health linked the infections to the IV-delivered nutritional supplement TPN, the AP reported.

The IV bags were made by one pharmacy, Meds IV in Birmingham. The company has halted production of the IV bags.


Expand Availability of Anti-Radiation Drug: U.S. Politicians

The drug potassium iodide should be made available to all people living within 20 miles of nuclear power plants in the United States, instead of the current 10-mile radius, say a number of politicians from both parties.

And the American Thyroid Association says the drug should be offered to everyone with 200 miles of a nuclear power plant, the Associated Press reported.

If taken within a few hours of radiation exposure, potassium iodide (also known as KI) helps reduce the risk of thyroid cancer. Currently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission makes potassium iodide available to states for distribution to residents within 10 miles of a nuclear plant.

Expansion of the distribution radius to 20 miles was included in a 2002 bioterrorism law but the Bush administration waived the requirement in 2007. President Barack Obama has not reversed that decision, the AP reported.

In separate letters to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Reps. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Bill Young, R-Fla., have urged her to fully implement the 20-mile radius provision in the 2002 law.

“The exercise of presidential power to distribute KI is now long overdue, leaving many Americans living near these plants needlessly at risk, as sadly evidenced by the disaster in Japan,” Markey wrote in his letter to Sebelius, the AP reported.


Company Urged to Reconsider Preterm Birth Drug Price Hike

A number of medical groups are trying to convince a drug maker to reconsider its plans to increase from $10/$15 to $1,500 the price of a progesterone shot to prevent premature birth in high-risk mothers.

In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted KV Pharmaceuticals exclusive rights to produce the drug. The company then announced the 150 percent price increase, which would lead to an estimated total of $30,000 per pregnancy, ABC News reported.

The huge price hike caused widespread outrage, and a number of organizations and public officials have sent letters to KV Pharmaceuticals.

Charging $1,500 per shot “seems like highway robbery,” Dr. Jacques Moritz, director of gynecology at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, told ABC News.

On Tuesday, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine, the March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology met with KV Pharmaceuticals to urge the company to rethink its pricing.


Attractive People Happier: Study

Good-looking people are generally happier than less attractive people and a good measure of that happiness is due to the economic benefit of being beautiful or handsome, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from five large surveys conducted between 1971 and 2009 in Britain, Canada, German and the United States and found that people in the top 15 percent of looks were more than 10 percent happier than those in the bottom 10 percent of looks, USA Today reported.

“The majority of beauty’s effect on happiness works through its impact on economic outcomes,” said lead author Daniel Hamermesh, an economist at the University of Texas-Austin.

He said better-looking people generally have higher incomes and marry people who are better looking and earn more money, USA Today reported.

The study was published by the German-based Institute for the Study of Labor.

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