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Health Highlights: April 17, 2013

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

Surgical Complications Profitable for Hospitals: Study

Surgical errors help boost hospitals' profits and some would end up losing money if they took better care of patients, according to a new study.

The researchers explained that mistakes can add cash to hospitals' coffers because insurers pay them for the longer patient stays and extra care associated with surgical complications that could have been prevented, The New York Times reported.

Altering the payment system so that poor care is not rewarded could help reduce surgical complication rates, said the study authors from the Boston Consulting Group, Harvard's schools of medicine and public health, and Texas Health Resources, a nonprofit hospital system.

The team analyzed the records of more than 34,000 patients who had surgery in 2010 at one of 12 hospitals operated by Texas Health Resources. Of those, 1,820 had one or more preventable surgical complications, such as blood clots, pneumonia or infected incisions, The Times reported.

The median length of stay for patients with these complications was 14 days, about four times longer than for patients without complications. Hospital revenue averaged $49,400 for a patient with complications and $18,900 for a patient without complications, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers said they are not suggested that hospitals are trying to make money by deliberately causing surgical complications or refusing to remedy the problem. But they said the current payment system makes it difficult for hospitals to make changes because improvements in patient care can end up costing them money, The Times reported.

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Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Common in Raw Meat: FDA Report

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are present in a significant amount of raw meat sold in the United States, according to a Food and Drug Administration report.

Tests conducted by the agency found antibiotic-resistant bacteria in 81 percent of raw ground turkey, 69 percent of pork chops, 55 percent of ground beef and 39 percent of chicken, CNN reported.

In addition, there were significant amounts of salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria, which cause millions of cases of food poisoning a year in the U.S. Of the chicken samples tested, 53 percent had an antibiotic-resistant form of E. coli.

In livestock, antibiotics are used to prevent disease and to boost growth. In 2011, nearly 30 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in meat and poultry, compared with nearly 8 million pounds for human use, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

"Antibiotic use in animals is out of hand," Dr. Gail Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer for the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, told CNN. The campaign's goal is to curb the overuse of antibiotics in food production.

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Pet Hedgehogs Linked to Salmonella Outbreak: CDC

Pet hedgehogs have been identified as the cause of a salmonella outbreak that sickened 23 people in 9 states and led to one death, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

The illnesses were reported between December 26, 2011 and March 5, 2013 and occurred in: Alabama (1), Idaho (1), Illinois (1), Indiana (1), Michigan (3), Minnesota (3), Ohio (5), Oregon (1), and Washington (7).

Thirty-five percent of people who became ill were hospitalized and one death was reported in Washington. Children age 10 and younger accounted for 39 percent of patients, the CDC said.

Investigators linked the outbreak to contact with pet hedgehogs bought from a number of breeders in different states.

The CDC said people should wash their hands thoroughly with soap and water immediately after touching hedgehogs or anything in the area where the animals live and roam. Adults should supervise young children as they wash their hands.

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FDA Should Have Been Tougher With Compounding Pharmacies: Commissioner

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration should have taken stronger action against compounding pharmacies like the one linked to a meningitis outbreak last year, agency commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg admitted to Congress Tuesday.

Because it had become overly concerned about avoiding lawsuits, the FDA did not control compounding pharmacies as effectively as it could have, Hamburg said at a hearing before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, The New York Times reported.

"I think we allowed ourselves to be far too cautious because of fears of litigation that might further undermine our authority," she explained. "That should not happen. Public health should not be impeded by those kinds of legal regulatory ambiguities."

Hamburg added: "We weren't as aggressive as we could have been, and I regret that," The Times reported.

The commissioner also repeated concerns that the FDA still lacked the authority to force compounding pharmacies to follow tougher safety standards, but some committee members expressed doubts about that claim.

In the outbreak last fall, more than 50 people died and 680 more became ill with fungal meningitis after receiving injections of a contaminated steroid made by the New England Compounding Center.


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