Health Highlights: April 29, 2008

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

Nursing Home Costs Continue to Rise

For the fifth consecutive year, the costs of U.S. nursing homes, assisted living facilities and some in-home care services have increased, according to a study released Tuesday by Genworth Financial Inc. The survey also found that costs could rise further due to a shortage of long-term care workers.

Between 2004 and 2008, the annual average cost for a private room in a nursing home rose 17 percent, from $65,185 to $76,460, or $209 per day. The cost per day this year ranged from $125 in Louisiana to $515 in Alaska, the Associated Press reported.

    • Nursing Home Costs Continue to Rise
    • Chromosome 1 Linked With Triglycerides
    • American Women Concerned About Health Costs
    • FDA Rejects Merck Cholesterol Drug
    • White House Hinders EPA Action on Toxic Chemicals: Report
    • Daycare May Reduce Children's Leukemia Risk

The average annual cost this year for assisted living facilities is $36,090, a 25 percent increase from $28,763 in 2004. Per month costs this year ranged from $1,981 in Arkansas to $4,921 in New Jersey.

The cost of a Medicare-certified home health aide increased to an average of $38 an hour, while costs for in-home workers not certified by Medicare were an average of $18 an hour for homemaker services and $19 for home health aide services, the AP reported.

The study authors analyzed data from more than 10,000 nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and home care providers.


Chromosome 1 Linked With Triglycerides

A region on human chromosome 1 is linked with triglyceride levels, say researchers at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio. High levels of triglycerides increase the risk of heart disease.

The study appears in the Journal of Lipid Research.

Many factors influence levels of circulating triglycerides, including diet, exercise and smoking. But about 40 percent of triglyceride level variation among people is due to genetic factors, United Press International reported.

In this study of 714 people from 388 white families with premature heart disease, the Cleveland Clinic team identified an area on chromosome 1 that's linked with triglyceride levels. It contains 375 known genes, but the researchers have zeroed in on three genes.

The genes are: angiopoietin-like 3, which inhibits enzymes that break down fats; sterol carrier protein 2, which helps convert cholesterol into bile acids; and the receptor for the appetite hormone leptin, UPI reported.


American Women Concerned About Health Costs

Many American women are worried about rising health costs, suggests a survey conducted by Meredith Corp. and NBC Universal.

The survey of 3,000 women, ages 18 to 64, found that two-thirds of respondents felt financial strain was a major threat to the American family. In fact, they rated it a much greater threat than divorce, loss of faith/spirituality, both parents working, unwed mothers, couples living together, and liberal views on sex and sexuality, United Press International reported.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • 46 percent of respondents said they were extremely concerned about rising health care costs, and 18 percent said they didn't have health insurance. That rate was 24 percent among single mothers with minor children.
  • Among women with health insurance, 46 percent were worried about being able to afford healthcare when they retired, and 40 percent said their co-payments kept increasing and were becoming too expensive.
  • One-quarter of women with health insurance said they could only afford generic prescriptions and 22 percent said they sometimes didn't fill a prescription because it was too expensive.
  • 69 percent of mothers ages 18 to 34 had incurred medical debt, compared to 30 percent of all women in the United States.


FDA Rejects Merck Cholesterol Drug

An experimental cholesterol drug developed by Merck & Co. has been rejected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In issuing the "not approvable" letter, the agency said Monday that it needed more information about Cordaptive, also known as MK-0524A. The FDA also rejected Cordaptive as a brand name for the drug, the Associated Press reported.

The drug lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol and raises good (HDL) cholesterol, according to Merck officials, who said they'll make another application for FDA approval of the drug, but under the brand name Tredaptive.

"We plan to meet with the FDA and to submit additional information to enable the agency to further evaluate" the drug, Peter S. Kim, president of Merck Research Laboratories, said in a prepared statement, the AP reported. "We firmly believe that MK-0524A provides physicians with an important option to manage their patients' cholesterol."

Last week, an advisory committee recommended that European countries approve the drug, Merck noted.


White House Hinders EPA Action on Toxic Chemicals: Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's capacity to determine the health threat posed by toxic chemicals is being compromised by the Bush administration, which allows nonscientists to have a larger -- often secret -- role in the process, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.

The GAO said allowing the Defense Department, the Energy Department, NASA and other agencies to be involved in the early stages of the process adds years of delay to the EPA's ability to take action on dangerous chemicals and threatens the program's credibility, the Associated Press reported.

In many cases, discussions involving outside agencies "occur in what amounts to a black box" of secrecy because the Bush administration claims they're private executive branch meetings, said the GAO, which noted this kind of secrecy "reduces the credibility of the ... assessments and hinders the EPA's ability to manage them."

The GAO report will be the subject of a Senate Environment Committee hearing Tuesday.

"The (EPA) scientists feel as if they have lost complete control of the process, that it's been taken over by the White House and that they're calling the shots," said an EPA scientist who spoke on condition of anonymity, the AP reported.


Daycare May Reduce Children's Leukemia Risk

Children who attend daycare or playgroups are about 30 percent less likely to develop the most common type of childhood leukemia, according to University of California, Berkeley researchers who reviewed 14 studies involving nearly 20,000 children, including 6,000 who developed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

It's believed that early infections that prime the immune system may help fight off ALL, which accounts for more than 80 percent of leukemia cases among children, and most often occurs between ages 2 to 5, BBC News reported.

"Combining the results from these studies together provided us with more confidence that the protective effect (of social interaction and exposure to infection at a young age) is real," said lead researcher Professor Patricia Buffler.

The study was to be presented at a leukemia conference in London, England.

One expert cautioned against drawing firm conclusions from the study and emphasized there's no solid evidence of an association between infections and leukemia.

"What this study does say is that there is a need for further comprehensive research," Dr. Carole Easton, of the charity CLIC Sargent, told BBC News. "Until we have conclusive evidence then we cannot say for certain what causes childhood leukemia."