Health Highlights: June 24, 2010

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

CT Scans Pose Growing Health Threat: Experts

CT scans pose a growing threat to public health, and tighter rules for the imaging tests are needed to improve their safety, experts write in articles published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

CT scans use far more radiation than ordinary X-rays, and potential threats include radiation overdoses and long-term cancer risks. Each year in the United States, about 10% of the population undergoes a CT scan, and the use of this type of imaging test is growing by more than 10% a year, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates medical imaging equipment but can't tell doctors how to use it or what tests are appropriate. No federal standards exist for how much radiation a CT scan can use. One study found a 13-fold variation in the CT radiation dose received by patients at four California hospitals.

"The doses are much higher and much more variable than people realize," said Dr. Rebecca Smith-Bindman, a radiologist at the University of California at San Francisco, who led the study.

"It's time to make it safer," said Smith-Bindman, who wrote one of the articles in the New England Journal of Medicine.

She said manufacturers' efforts to reduce CT overuse and lower radiation doses have had little effect, the AP reported.


Safety Concerns Prompt Recall of Millions of Cribs

A recall of more than two million cribs from seven companies was announced Thursday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Most of the cribs, which pose a suffocation, entrapment or fall hazard, are drop-sides -- they have a side rail that moves up and down to make it easier for parents to lift their baby from the crib. But these drop-sides can malfunction or detach from the crib, leaving a gap where an infant's head can get trapped, leading to suffocation or strangulation, the Associated Press reported.

The CPSC hasn't received any reports of deaths associated with the cribs, but knows of at least 16 reported entrapments of infants, including one child who was found unconscious and had to be hospitalized.

The brands of the recalled cribs include Evenflo, Delta Enterprises Corp., Jardine Enterprises, Child Craft, Simmons Juvenile Products Inc., LaJobi, and Million Dollar Baby, the AP reported.

Delta and Child Craft also admit there are problems with fixed-side cribs, the CPSC said.


California Declares Whooping Cough Epidemic

A whooping cough epidemic has been declared in California after the deaths of five infants.

State health authorities are urging residents, particularly those of Latino background, to get vaccinated against the highly contagious disease, which is often mistaken for a cold or the flu, The New York Times reported.

So far, 910 cases of whooping cough (pertussis) have been confirmed, and several hundred more cases are under investigation, says the California Department of Public Health. If the outbreak continues at the current pace, it could be the largest in the state in 50 years.

Compared with 2009, there has been a four-fold increase in the number of whooping cough cases so far this year, said Dr. Gilberto Chavex, deputy director of the public health department's Center for Infectious Disease. The worse may be yet to come, he added.

"The peak season starts in summer. And we expect to see a much larger number of cases if we don't intervene quickly," he told The Times.


Medicare Proposes New Hospital Visitation Rules

Proposed new rules that would protect hospital patients' rights to choose who visits them were announced Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The initiative was ordered by a presidential memorandum issued in response to reports that some hospitals would not allow visits between same-sex domestic partners.

Under the proposed rules, every Medicare- and Medicaid-participating hospital would have to create written policies and procedures detailing patients' visitation rights, as well as instances when the hospital might restrict visitor access to patients for clinical reasons.

"Every patient deserves the basic right to designate whom they wish to see while in the hospital," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a government news release. "Today's proposed rules would ensure that all patients have equal access to the visitors of their choosing -- whether or not those visitors are, or are perceived to be, members of a patient's family."

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