Thursday, 09 February 2006 00:00

Health Highlights: Feb. 9, 2006

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

Alcohol Leading Problem for Retirees Battling Substance Abuse

Four out of five retirees undergoing substance abuse treatment listed alcohol as their primary substance of abuse in 2003, according to data from 29 states and other jurisdictions, says a report by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In comparison, 44 percent of younger people enrolled in substance abuse treatment said alcohol was their primary substance of abuse.

Just five percent of retirees in treatment reported the use of opiates -- heroin or prescription narcotic pain medications -- as their primary substance of abuse, compared to 13 percent of other people admitted for treatment.

Retirees were also less likely to report cocaine (4 percent vs. 14 percent); marijuana (3 percent vs. 18 percent); or stimulants, including methamphetamines (1 percent vs. 6 percent) as their primary substance of abuse.

The report also found retirees to be less likely than other people to report a second substance of abuse -- 17 percent vs. 52 percent.

"Alcohol abuse among older adults is something few want to talk about or deal with. Too often family members are ashamed of the problem and choose not to address it," Charles Curie, SAMHSA administrator, said in a prepared statement.

"Health care providers tend not to ask older patients about alcohol abuse if it wasn't a problem in their live in earlier years. Sometimes the symptoms are mistaken for those of dementia, depression, or other problems common to older adults," Curie added. "Unfortunately, too many older persons turn to alcohol as a comfort following the death of a spouse, a divorce, retirement, or some other major life change, unaware that they are markedly affecting the quality of their lives."

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CDC Issues Guidelines for Healthcare Worker Flu Shots

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations Thursday to better protect healthcare workers and patients from seasonal influenza.

The CDC recommends that:

  • Facilities offer influenza vaccine annually to all eligible personnel, including students.

  • Vaccine be offered at the workplace, during all shifts and at no cost to employees.

  • Hospitals use strategies proven to improve vaccination coverage, including education to correct fears and misconceptions about flu and vaccinations; reminders to staff; and having hospital official set an example by getting being vaccinated.

  • Facilities obtain a signed form from staff who decline flu vaccinations for other than medical reasons. This approach helps facilities better monitor who is offered vaccine, employee concerns, and barriers to vaccination. This information can help in the development of strategies to improve vaccination coverage.

The recommendations were drafted by the CDC's Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee.

"Currently, fewer than half of healthcare workers get vaccinated for flu each year. When people who work in hospitals and healthcare facilities don't get vaccinated, they can pose a serious health risk to their patients," CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding pointed out in a prepared statement.

"These recommendations are designed to highlight the importance of healthcare personnel getting vaccinated each year," she said.

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Chemical Prevents HIV from Infecting Cells

A chemical called CSA-54 is capable of disabling HIV's ability to infect cells, a Vanderbilt University study finds.

Researchers say the chemical attacks HIV in a new way -- by targeting the membrane of the virus in o