Health Highlights: Sept. 9, 2010

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

U.S. Traffic Deaths at 60-Year Low

Safer vehicles, increased use of seatbelts and tougher law enforcement are among the reasons why the number of traffic deaths in the United States last year was the lowest since 1950, federal officials reported.

The death toll on the nation's roads in 2009 was 33,808, a 9.7% decrease from 37,423 in 2008, according to the Transportation Department's annual report released Wednesday, the Associated Press said.

The report also said that the rate of deaths per miles traveled also dropped to a record low of 1.13 deaths per 100 million miles traveled in 2009, compared with 1.26 in 2008.

The decline in road deaths in 2009 occurred even though the number of miles traveled by motorists increased 0.2% from 2008, the AP reported.

The findings show that "America's roads are the safest they've ever been. But they must be safe. And we will not rest until they are," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.


Appeals Court Asked to Lift Stem Cell Funding Ban

A federal appeals court is the next move for the Obama administration as it fights an order preventing federal funding for some stem cell research.

The order blocking federal funding was issued by U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth. On Tuesday, Lamberth refused the administration's request to allow funding to continue while the government appeals the ban.

On Wednesday, government lawyers told a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., that Lamberth's order halts "funding for embryonic stem cell research in its tracks," the Associated Press reported.

Stem cells, which can turn into any type of body tissue, are believed to hold great promise for the treatment of many conditions, including Parkinson's disease and spinal injuries.


Most U.S. Public Hospitals Are in Rural Areas: Study

Even though two-thirds of the United States' public hospitals are in rural areas, these hospitals accounted for just 20% of the 5.6 million patients discharged from public hospitals in 2008, says a federal government study.

Urban hospitals accounted for 43% of discharged patients, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Rural hospitals average only 59 beds while urban hospitals average 285 beds, the researchers noted.

Among the other findings about public hospitals:

  • The average occupancy rate was 47% for rural hospitals and 61% for urban hospitals.
  • The percentage of patients who were 65 or older was 42% in rural hospitals and 23% in urban hospitals.
  • Patients in rural hospitals were twice as likely to be from the poorest communities in their areas than those in urban hospitals -- 52% vs. 26%.
  • Rural hospitals were less likely than urban hospitals to have high technology services such as intensive care units, MRI, cardiac surgery and advanced types of radiation therapy.


Cockroaches, Locusts Eyed as New Source of Antibiotics

The brains and nervous systems of cockroaches and swarming locusts contain powerful chemicals that could lead to new treatments for different types of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, say U.K. scientists.

They've identified nine different antibacterial molecules in the insects' brains and nervous systems that do not damage human cells, ABC News reported.

The findings were presented Tuesday at a meeting of the Society for General Microbiology.

"We hope that these molecules could eventually be developed into new treatments for E. coli and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections that are increasingly resistant to current drugs," said Simon Lee, a postgraduate researcher at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science at the University of Nottingham, ABC News reported.

Since cockroaches and locusts typically live in unsanitary environments, it's not surprising they have developed germ killing molecules, Lee said.

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