Health Highlights: Oct. 11, 2007

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

Arthritis Limits Ability to Work

About one-third of working-age American adults with arthritis say the chronic condition limits their ability to work, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Thursday.

The 2003 survey, the latest data available, found that 33 percent of U.S. workers ages 18 to 64 with arthritis experienced limitations in doing their jobs, the Associated Press reported. Rates ranged from a high of 51.3 percent in Kentucky to a low of 25.1 percent in Nevada.

    • Arthritis Limits Ability to Work
    • Cochlear Implants Might Heighten Meningitis Risk: FDA
    • Scientists Map Genome of Deadly Drug-Resistant TB
    • FDA Panel Supports Approval of New Drug-Coated Stent
    • California Bans Smoking in Vehicles Carrying Children
    • Curious George Doll Has High Lead Levels

The survey, published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, is the first to give a state-by-state overview of the problem, the AP reported.

"These findings show that large numbers of workers in every state are affected by arthritis," Janet Collins, director of CDC's National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in a prepared statement. "With the increasing number of older Americans in the nation's workforce, it is important that employers, health departments and others take steps that help people with arthritis stay employed or become employed.

Arthritis is the most frequent cause of disability in the United States.


Cochlear Implants Might Heighten Meningitis Risk: FDA

In response to the deaths of two children within the past year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday warned doctors and consumers that the cochlear implant device used in profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing patients is associated with increased risk of bacterial meningitis caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Children with cochlear implants with a positioner component are at greatest risk.

The meningitis deaths involved two children, ages 9 and 11, who had cochlear implants with positioners. Neither child was fully vaccinated, and one died because of the lack of vaccination, the FDA said.

The agency reminded healthcare providers and consumers that people who receive cochlear implants must by fully immunized according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Because children with cochlear implants are at increased risk for pneumococcal meningitis, they should receive pneumococcal vaccination under the same schedules that apply to others at high risk for invasive pneumococcal disease, the CDC recommends.


Scientists Map Genome of Deadly Drug-Resistant TB

In what may prove an major breakthrough, South African scientists have sequenced the genome of a highly deadly strain of drug-resistant tuberculosis, Agence France-Presse reported.

Using special technology, scientists at a government-sponsored research center decoded and sequenced the genome of Extreme Drug Resistant (XDR) TB, which was first discovered in Kwazulu-Natal, one of the areas worst hit by HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

This achievement may lead to better diagnosis of XDR TB and improved understanding of the mechanisms that make it so resistant to current drugs, knowledge that could help in the development of new treatments, AFP reported.

To date, 300 people in Kwazulu-Natal are known to have contracted XDR TB and 188 of them died. In one instance, all but one of a group of 53 people infected with XDR TB died within 25 days of diagnosis.


FDA Panel Supports Approval of New Drug-Coated Stent

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should approve Medtronic's new drug-coated heart stent, Endeavor, but also require follow-up safety studies on the artery-opening device, an FDA advisory panel unanimously recommended Thursday.

The panel's decision was based on trial data from Medtronic that suggests that the new stent is less prone than other stents to having clots form inside it years after it's implanted, The New York Times reported.

However, the apparent safety advantage of Endeavor, which is based on relatively short-term data, also suggests that the stent releases its drug relatively quickly (95 percent of it within 10 days) and is less effective at keeping blood vessels open than the Taxus stent from Boston Scientific or the Cypher from Johnson & Johnson, The Times reported.

Stents are inserted into coronary arteries in order to keep them open after blockages have been cleared. Drug-coated stents are more effective than bare-metal stents at preventing reformation of blockages.

Although it's not required to follow the advice of its advisory panels, the FDA usually heeds their recommendations.


California Bans Smoking in Vehicles Carrying Children

California became the third state to protect children in vehicles from secondhand smoke when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday signed a bill that makes it illegal to smoke if someone under age 18 is present in a vehicle. The ban takes effect Jan.1.

Violators will face fines of up to $100. But police will only be able to hand out a citation for the offense if they've already pulled someone over for another violation, such as speeding or an illegal turn, the Associated Press reported.

Currently, Arkansas forbids smoking in vehicles when children age 6 and younger are present, and Louisiana doesn't allow smoking in vehicles carrying children 13 and younger. Overall, at least 20 states and municipalities have considered limiting smoking in vehicles when children are present, the AP reported.

Secondhand smoke in cars can be up to 10 times more of a health risk than secondhand smoke in a home, according to a Harvard School of Public Health study released last year.


Curious George Doll Has High Lead Levels

A Curious George doll that had 10 times the U.S. federal government limit for lead has prompted Marvel Entertainment Group to halt all new shipments of Chinese-made Curious George products, the Boston Herald reported.

The test on the doll, which found high lead concentrations in paint on the doll's plastic face, was conducted by the California-based Center for Environmental Health. The lead levels were 6,000 parts per million.

"I was quite shocked. We have never seen a toy with (lead) levels so high," Caroline Cox, the group's research director, told the Herald.

While Marvel has halted shipments of new products, company spokesman David Collins said the company doesn't plan to pull the Curious George items off store shelves until it does its own testing.

He promised quick action if the company's tests confirm high lead levels.

"If we find a problem, we will do a recall, it's the only appropriate thing to do," Collins told the Herald.


Pollution Cuts Life Expectancy: Study

The average European's lifespan has been cut by nearly a year due to air and water pollution and the environmental effects of global warming, the European Environment Agency says.

In a 400-page report released at an environmental conference in Serbia, the agency said governments must move rapidly to control the emission of greenhouse gasses, and to improve air and water quality, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

Due to air pollution alone, "the estimated annual loss of life is significantly greater than that due to car accidents," the agency's report said. And more than 100 million Europeans don't have safe drinking water, it added.

European men currently have a life expectancy of 70, versus 74 for women, the wire service said.


Medicare Web Site Offers Tools to Help Select '08 Drug Plan

More than 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries in 2008 will have access to at least one Part D prescription drug plan with premiums lower than what they are paying now, the U.S. government said Wednesday.

Open enrollment to select a 2008 plan begins Nov. 15. To help Medicare recipients make sense of each plan, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services says its Web site at offers a host of new tools and services.

The site's enhanced Plan Finder offers expanded information about each plan, including out-of-pocket costs, pharmacy networks, and formularies, the agency said in a statement.

People without Internet access can get the same information by calling 1-800-Medicare (1-800-633-4227).

More than 4.75 million Medicare beneficiaries have enrolled in a drug plan since the program began in 2006, acting administrator Kerry Weems said.


U.S. Hospital Death Rates Declining

Steep drops in the death rates of hospitalized patients mean that 136,000 people who would have died a decade earlier survived their hospital stays in 2004, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said Wednesday.

The agency said it compared the death rates for 2004 and 1994 for people hospitalized for heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, pneumonia, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, and hip fracture.

For every 1,000 people hospitalized for their condition, heart attack deaths fell by 43; deaths from congestive heart failure, pneumonia, and stroke each fell by about 30; gastrointestinal hemorrhage fell by 21; and hip fracture declined by 16.

The numbers were adjusted to account for how ill patients were over time, the agency said.