Health Highlights: Sept. 11, 2009

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

World's Oldest Person Dies at 115 in Los Angeles

Gertrude Baines, the world's oldest person at 115 years of age, died Friday in a Los Angeles hospital, the Associated Press reported.

Her physician, Dr. Charles Witt, said Baines probably died of a heart attack but an autopsy will be conducted to confirm the cause of death.

Baines was born in Shellman, Ga., in 1894 and received a letter from President Obama when she turned 115 on April 6, the wire service said. She held the title of world's oldest person after 115-year-old Maria de Jesus of Portugal died in January.

    • World's Oldest Person Dies at 115 in Los Angeles
    • Battery Warning Issued on Implanted Defibrillators
    • Ghostwriting Rampant in Medical Journals: Study
    • Prescription Drug Abuse Declines, Survey Finds
    • U.S. Uninsured Reaches 46.3 Million: Census

The newest oldest person is now 114-year-old Kama Chinen, of Japan, according to Dr. L. Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group at UCLA Medical Center, which assesses claims of extreme old age.


Battery Warning Issued on Implanted Defibrillators

The batteries in about 6,300 Medtronic implanted defibrillators may fail before their scheduled depletion time, but not without warning users well in advance, the company said on Friday.

Medtronic spokesman Chris Garland told Dow Jones that the defect affects "Concerto" cardiac resynchronization therapy defibrillators, as well as "Virtuoso" defibrillators.

Medtronic already guarantees users a 90-day advance warning from such devices, letting patients know that the battery is running down. And although the battery in the devices in question may have a shorter life than was expected, patients will still receive this advance warning, and they should not change their regular check-up/device monitoring schedule.

"There's no safety concern at all, there's been no reports of injury," said Garland, who noted that Medtronic had sent doctors notification of the matter earlier this week.


Ghostwriting Rampant in Medical Journals: Study

Leading medical journals contained a significant number of articles in 2008 that were written by "ghost" reporters paid by pharmaceutical companies, a new study finds.

The findings, published Thursday by editors of the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported by The New York Times, cite a ghostwriting rate of 10.9 percent in the New England Journal of Medicine, the highest reported; 7.9 percent in the Journal of the American Medical Association, 7.6 percent in The Lancet, 7.6 percent in PLoS Medicine, 4.9 percent in The Annals of Internal Medicine and 2 percent in Nature Medicine.

Responding anonymously to an online questionnaire created for the study, 7.8 percent of authors of 630 articles admitted other people had made contributions to their papers that qualified them to be named as authors but who were not listed.

Bias on the part of industry-funded writers has the potential to influence doctors' treatment decisions and patient care, the researchers noted.

"These journals are the top of the medical field," Joseph S. Wislar, lead author of the study, told the Times. All contributors should at least be listed in acknowledgments if they are not named as authors, he said.

Ginny Barbour, chief editor of PLoS Medicine, the journal of the Public Library of Science, told the Times she was disturbed by the report. "We are a journal that has very tough policies, very explicit policies on ghostwriting and contributorship, and I feel that we've basically been lied to by authors," she said.


Prescription Drug Abuse Declines, Study Finds

Abuse of prescription drugs such as the painkiller Oxycontin declined last year from 2007, reversing an upward trend, a U.S. drug survey finds.

About 6.2 million Americans -- 2.5 percent of the population -- said they abused prescription drugs in the past month in 2008, a decrease from 2.8 percent of the population in 2007, the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health released Thursday found, USA Today reported.

People are responding to health reports that emphasize the dangers of misuse, said Eric Broderick, acting administrator of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which conducted the survey of 67,500 people age 12 and older.

Methamphetamine use also declined, with people who reported using it the previous month dropping from 529,000 people in 2007 to 314,000 in 2008.

But illegal drug use by 50 to 59 year olds increased from 2.7 percent in 2002 to 4.6 percent in 2008, probably a result of baby-boom drug-users getting older, the report noted.

Also, the survey found that 8 percent of the population used an illegal drug in the past month, the same as in 2007.

Marijuana is the most common illicit drug: 6.1 percent of the population reported use the prior month, up from 5.8 percent in 2007. Among adolescents 12 to 17, 6.7 percent reported past-month use of marijuana in both 2008 and in 2007.


U.S. Uninsured Reaches 46.3 Million: Census

Because of the recession, the number of Americans without health insurance reached 46.3 million last year as workers lost jobs and employers cut coverage, according to a U.S. Census report released Thursday.

In 2008, the first full year of the recession, the report found 15.4 percent of the U.S. population had no health insurance, but that number has probably grown in 2009, President Barack Obama said from the White House, the Associated Press reported.

"The situation's grown worse over the last 12 months," he said. "It's estimated that the ranks of the uninsured have swelled by at least six million."

Although higher than in 2007, the uninsured figures fall short of the peak of 47 million people in 2006 because of the expansion of government insurance programs, such as Medicaid, for the poor.

The poverty rate inched up too -- to 13.2 percent from 12.5 percent in 2007, the AP said. That meant 39.8 million Americans, or nearly one in seven, were living in poverty in 2008. For a family of four, the official poverty level is $22,025.

Geographically, most of the uninsured were in the West (17.4 percent) and the South (18.2 percent). In the Northeast and the Midwest, 11.6 percent were uninsured.