U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Health Highlights: Jan. 28, 2014

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

Shortage of Saline IV Bags a Problem for U.S. Hospitals

There's a shortage of saline IV bags across the United States, according to federal health officials and hospital pharmacists. The bags are widely used in hospitals.

The problem is the result of higher demand for IV fluids in the last month due to a bad flu season and production problems caused by holiday closures of factories, USA Today reported.

Eighty to 90 percent of all hospital patients are given IV saline at some point during their stay, noted Dean Parry, director of clinical pharmacy programs for Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania. It's the nation's largest rural health services organization.

The shortage -- which has led to huge leaps in prices for saline IV bags -- began around the end of the first week in January but appears to improving now, Parry told USA Today.

An FDA spokesman said the agency recognizes there is a problem and is doing what it can.


Antibiotics in Livestock Feed Linked to Drug-Resistant Infections in People

Many antibiotics used in farm animal feed are likely contributing to the growing problem of drug-resistant bacterial infections in people, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration analysis released Monday by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

FDA scientists examined 30 penicillin and tetracycline additives in animal feed and found that 18 of those antibiotics posed a high risk of exposing people to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through food, The New York Times reported.

The scientists were unable to make any firm conclusions about the other 12 drugs due to a lack of data.

The analysis -- which covered the years 2001 to 2010 -- was contained in internal FDA records that the nonprofit environmental advocacy group obtained through a Freedom of Information Act and follow-up legal action, The Times reported.

Each year, at least two million people in the United States become ill and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many experts believe that widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed is a major contributor to the problem.

Livestock are given small amounts of antibiotics over their lifetimes to protect them from disease while living in crowded conditions. This can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are passed on to people through the environment or eating meat from the animals, The Times reported.

In 1977, the FDA proposed revoking approvals for animal feed additives containing penicillin and most tetracyclines, but it never took action, according to Avinash Kar, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council. In 2012, the group sued the FDA in an attempt to force it to implement the 1977 proposal.

"This is an agency that has repeatedly found, since the 1970s, that these drugs pose a risk to human health, but it has not done anything meaningful with those conclusions," Kar told The Times.

The FDA says it is taking action on the issue.

"In December 2013, the FDA began formal implementation of a strategy to phase out the use of all medically important antimicrobials," the agency said. "The FDA is confident that its current strategy to protect the effectiveness of medically important antimicrobials, including penicillins and tetracyclines, is the most efficient and effective way to change the use of these products in animal agriculture."


Sentencing For Owners of Cantaloupe Farm Linked to Listeria Outbreak

Sentencing is scheduled Tuesday for two Colorado cantaloupe farmers who pleaded guilty to charges linked to a 2011 listeria outbreak in 28 states that led to 147 hospitalizations and 33 deaths.

Brothers Ryan and Eric Jensen, who owned and operated Jensen Farms in Holly, Colo., last year pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of introducing adulterated food into interstate commerce, the Associated Press reported.

The listeria outbreak was traced to tainted fruit from the brothers' farm.

The Jensens could receive up to six years in prison and $1.5 million in fines. The brothers are seeking probation, contending that jail time is excessive because justice has been served with the implementation of new food guidelines, the AP reported.


Many American Families Burdened by Medical Bills

Medical bills are a financial burden for many American families, a new study finds.

National Center for Health Statistics researchers examined data from a national survey of 43,000 families that included a total of 108,000 people, NBC News reported.

"In 2012, 26.8 percent of families in the United States experienced any financial burden of medical care," the investigators wrote. "Almost 1 in 6 families (16.5 percent) had problems paying medical bills in the past 12 months."

The study also found that nearly nine percent of respondents said they had medical bills they couldn't pay, NBC News reported.

Having children increased the likelihood of having large medical bills. Thirty-six percent of families with children had a financial burden from medical care, compared with 25 percent of families with two adults and no children, according to the study.

Difficulty paying medical bills was reported by 46 percent of families in which some members had health insurance, 40 percent of families with no health insurance, and 21 percent of families where everyone had private insurance, NBC News reported.


Hong Kong Poultry Market Closed Due to H7N9 Bird Flu Virus

Hong Kong officials have banned sales of live chickens and will kill about 20,000 birds at a wholesale market after the H7N9 bird flu virus was discovered in a chicken that came from mainland China.

The market will be closed for 21 days for cleaning and disinfection, Hong Kong's government announced Jan. 27. Imports from the farm where the infected chicken came from will be suspended for the same period of time, Bloomberg News reported.

So far this year, the H7N9 bird flu virus has infected about 96 people in China and killed 19, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Cases of people infected with virus were first reported in China in March 2013 and peaked in April before officials temporarily closed live poultry markets. Currently, the H7N9 virus is not easily passed from person to person, Bloomberg reported.

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