Health Highlights: March 6, 2008

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

U.S. Agrees to Make Payment in Vaccine Injury Case

U.S. health officials have agreed that childhood vaccines given a young Georgia girl worsened an underlying disorder that led to autism-like symptoms and say she should be compensated from a federal vaccine-injury fund, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

The decision is significant because, while the government has not conceded that vaccines cause autism, parents and advocates for children with the disorder see the decision as a victory that may help thousands of other families with claims that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once widely used in vaccines, may cause autism.

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The government "has not conceded that vaccines cause autism," Linda Renzi, the lawyer representing U.S. officials, told the AP. Federal health officials have consistently maintained that childhood vaccinations are safe, and several studies have discounted any link between thimerosal and autism, despite other pending claims.

According to documents obtained by the AP, five vaccines the girl received on one day in 2000 aggravated a previous condition, predisposing her to problems that manifested as worsening brain function "with features of autism spectrum disorder." The term "autism spectrum disorder" was created in the 1990s to encompass autism and a group of milder, related conditions.

The documents, the AP said, do not address whether it was the thimerosal -- or something else in the vaccines -- that was at fault.

The compensation fund, which is run by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, lists problems with brain function, such as the girl had, as a rare side effect of certain vaccines. Those problems are enough by themselves to warrant compensation, the AP reported, even without autism-like symptoms. The fund has already made payouts in such cases, the wire service added.

The girl's parents have declined to comment, because the case is not final, and the payment amount has not been set, the AP said.

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Substance Abuse and Mental Health Patterns Vary Among States: Report

There are wide variations between states in behaviors such as illicit drug use, underage drinking and psychological distress, says a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report released Thursday.

For example, past month underage drinking (by those ages 12-20) ranged from a high of 38.3 percent in Vermont to a low of 21.5 percent in Utah. However, Utah had the highest level of adults reporting serious psychological distress in the past year (14.4 percent), while Hawaii had the lowest rate (8.8 percent).

The State Estimates of Substance Use report is based on data from the 2005-06 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Among other findings in the report:

  • Past month underage binge drinking was highest in North Dakota (28.5 percent) and lowest in Georgia (15.2 percent).
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