Health Highlights: April 8, 2010

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

Increase FDA Inspections of Domestic Food Producers: Report

Oversight of domestic food facilities in the United States has "significant weaknesses," and the Food and Drug Administration needs to boost the number of inspections in order to prevent outbreaks of food-borne illnesses, says a federal government report.

The document says that some domestic food producers with a history of violations have sometimes refused to give the FDA access to their food records, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

"This lack of access to records might impede FDA's ability to determine the most appropriate action to take to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations," said the report.

It noted that more than 300,000 people are hospitalized and about 5,000 die each year in the United States after consuming contaminated foods and beverages.

"The findings demonstrate that more needs to be done to protect public health and to ensure that FDA has the necessary tools to prevent outbreaks of food-borne illness," Health and Human Services Inspector General Daniel R. Levinson said in the document, Dow Jones reported.

A bill that would give the FDA more power to ensure food safety is stalled in the Senate.

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Health Data Included in 'Open Government' Plans

Community health data is included in the "open government" plans for all U.S. Cabinet agencies announced Wednesday by the Obama administration.

"Now that these plans are published online we hope the American people will play their part and collaborate with us to provide oversight and improve upon this information," Obama said in a statement, USA Today reported.

A large-scale Community Health Data Set from the Department of Health and Human Services will offer easily accessible, downloadable information on community health care costs, quality, access and public health. Through this data, HHS will collaborate with citizens and outside experts to increase awareness of community health performance and make improvements.

In its plan, the Department of Veterans Affairs invites VA workers, private sector entrepreneurs and academic leaders to offer ideas to improve veterans' access to VA services, enhance the services provided to veterans and their families, control or reduce the costs of patient services, and improve the performance of VA operations, USA Today reported.

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Tennis Great Martina Navratilova Diagnosed With Breast Cancer

Tennis great Martina Navratilova has been diagnosed with breast cancer but her prognosis is believed to be excellent, according a story posted on the People magazine Web site Wednesday.

The article said the nine-time Wimbledon women's singles champion was diagnosed with a noninvasive type of breast cancer called ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), the Associated Press reported.

Navratilova received the diagnosis following a routine mammogram. She's undergone a lumpectomy and next month will begin six weeks of radiation therapy.

Each year, about 70,000 American women are diagnosed with DCIS. A surgeon at the University of California, San Francisco said "there's only a one percent chance anyone with this diagnosis would die of breast cancer," the AP reported.

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Teens With Lung Problems Use Risky Inhalants

American teens with respiratory problems are just as likely to use dangerous inhalants as those without lung problems, says a federal study released Wednesday.

The analysis of 2006-08 data collected from 67,850 young people found that about 4.4% of 12- to 17-year-olds with asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia and other breathing problems used inhalants in the past year, compared with 4.1% of young people without lung conditions, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

Otherwise healthy people who use inhalants (huffing) can develop breathing problems resulting in unconsciousness or death, and the risk may be even greater in those with respiratory problems, experts warn. Inhalants are easily accessible and can be highly addictive.

The study also found that American Indian and Alaskan Native teens are more than twice as likely as black teens to engage in huffing, Dow Jones reported.

"No one should engage in huffing. The consequences can be deadly," Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said in a news release about the study, which was sponsored by SAMHSA.

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Con Artists Using New Health Law to Sell Bogus Policies

American consumers are being warned about scam artists trying to use the new health insurance law to sell fake policies.

Since the health reform bill was signed March 23 by President Barack Obama, some hustlers have been going door-to-door misleadingly telling people there's a limited open-enrollment period to purchase health insurance, while others have set up toll-free lines to sell phony policies, the Associated Press reported.

In a letter Tuesday, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urged state insurance commissioners and attorneys general to investigate and prosecute such scams to the fullest.

The issue is also on the radar of federal health-care fraud investigators.

"Unfortunately, scam artists and criminals may be using the passage of these historic reforms as an opportunity to confuse and defraud the public," Sebelius wrote in the letter, the AP reported.

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