Health Highlights: April 27, 2008


April 28 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

VA Official Denies Cover-Up of Veterans' Suicide Statistics

A Department of Veterans Affairs official has testified that his agency has not tried to cover up the number of suicides committed by veterans, the Associated Press reports.

Testifying last Thursday at a trial in a San Francisco federal court, VA undersecretary for health Dr. Michael Kussman said the discrepancy in the number of suicides his agency reported to Congress and the number found in VA documents was because of different veteran categories included in the statistics.

VA Secretary James Peake had reported in February that 144 combat veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide between October 2001 and December 2005, the A.P. reports. But the plaintiffs' lawyer produced internal VA e-mails indicating that 18 veterans a day were committing suicide, the wire service says.

The discrepancy, Kussman testified is that the internal emails included all 26 million veterans, and that Vietnam veterans were killing themselves in increasing numbers, possibly because of having more health problems as they age. The lawsuit was brought by two veterans groups who allege government neglect in providing timely and adequate health care for returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq, the A.P. reports.

"I disagree with the premise that there was some effort to cover something up," the wire service quotes Kussman as testifying. "We don't obfuscate."


Blood Vessel Laser Scanner Gets U.S. Government Approval

After its initial submission for approval more than two years ago, a cardiac catheter using a laser to scan for the best place to implant a stent has received U.S. government approval, the New York Times reports.

The LipiScan laser catheter, made by InfraReDx of Burlington, Mass., will be able to show images of arterial walls and help doctors keep from placing coronary stents in arteries that could actually cause a heart attack, the newspaper reports.

Stents are thin, metal mesh tubes placed in a blocked blood vessel -- usually an artery -- in a procedure called angioplasty that opens up the artery, providing better blood flow. One of the problems in stent implanting, the Times reports, is that an improperly placed stent could cause the rupturing of vessel walls called lipid pools. When a lipid pool ruptures, a heart attack is likely to occur, the newspaper reports.

The LipiScan emits a laser light that can give a clearer image of lipids in blood vessel walls, which should help surgeons determine where to place a stent or to decide whether angioplasty is actually necessary, the Times says.


Lexington, Ky. Tops 100 Spring Allergy Capitals


Lexington, Ky., sits atop the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's 2008 ranking of the leading 100 spring allergy capitals.

Trailing Lexington on the annual list are: Greensboro, N.C.; Johnson City, Tenn.; Augusta, Ga.; and Jackson, Miss.

Least likely to make you sneeze and wheeze among the top 100 is Spokane, Wash, preceded by the California cities of San Francisco and Bakersfield, Sarasota, Fla; and Lancaster, Penn.

Spring is the worst season for many of the more than 35 million Americans with hay fever, medically called allergic rhinitis. The AAFA said it based the rankings on criteria including seasonal pollen counts, use of over-the-counter and prescription allergy drugs, and the number of board certified allergists in each city.


Public Smoking Snuffed in Beijing Before Olympics

In a country where cigarettes are so popular that more than half of all male doctors smoke, China has put the kibosh on public smoking in the capital city of Beijing, USA Today reports.

The crackdown, in advance of the Olympic Games that begin in August, affects most public buildings. But restaurants, bars, and hotels will still allow smoking, assuming they also provide areas that are smoke-free.

Second-hand smoke kills some 100,000 Chinese annually, according to government estimates cited by the newspaper.

Earlier this month, experts raised concern over Olympic athletes' health amid Beijing's pervasive air pollution problem. A senior health official in Beijing acknowledged this week that China has 320 million smokers, or close to one-quarter of the world's total, USA Today said.


Tablets to Treat Gonorrhea Available in U.S.

Tablets for first-line treatment of gonorrhea are now available in the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday. The prescription cefiximine 400 milligram tablets are available as of this month.

In April last year, the CDC updated its recommendations for gonorrhea treatment, no longer recommending fluoroquinoline antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, ofloxacin and levofloxacin) due to data that indicated widespread resistance in the United States to these drugs.

That left a single class of antibiotics called cephalosporins as the single recommended treatment for gonorrhea. Within this class, the only recommended treatment for all types of gonorrhea (urogenital, rectal and pharyngeal) is an injection form called ceftriaxone. However, for uncomplicated gonorrhea (which hasn't spread to the blood or central nervous system), the CDC now also recommends cefiximine tablets. Since 2002, it's only been available in liquid form, which limited its use because it's not as convenient as a tablet.

"The availability of cefiximine tablets this month will have a tremendous impact in fighting gonorrhea. This oral option expands a physician's arsenal to combat this serious disease, while giving patients a drug that is easier to take," Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said in a prepared statement.

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States, after chlamydia.


Doctors Need to Improve Bedside Manner: Poll

Some 78 percent of American adults want their doctors to improve their bedside manner, a new survey finds.

The poll of 1,000 people also found that less than half described their doctor's recent conduct as attentive, and just 32 percent described their doctor as compassionate during their most recent appointment, United Press International reported.

Among the other findings from the survey conducted for the Arnold P. Gold Foundation:

  • Less than half of doctors cited displayed an interest in their patients' overall well-being, rather than focusing on specific ailments.
  • 40 percent said their doctor made them feel rushed.
  • 36 percent said their doctor didn't provide enough opportunity to discuss their concerns.
  • 36 percent said their physician was outright rude or condescending.

"Many past studies have shown a strong correlation between patient and doctor satisfaction and better overall patient outcomes when doctors develop a relationship with their patients," Dr. Arnold P. Gold, founder of the foundation, said in a prepared statement.

"What this survey shows us is that patients are still craving for their physician to see the 'person' behind the prognosis and really want a 'connectedness' with their doctor," UPI quoted Gold as saying.


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