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IOM urges increased awareness of viral hepatitis

Some 3 million to 5 million people in the United States are chronically infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C, a number far greater than those carrying the AIDS virus, yet there is little attention paid to screening and treatment for viral hepatitis, according to a Jan. 11 Institute of Medicine report. About 15,000 people die from liver diseases caused by HBV or HCV each year, yet most people are unaware they are infected until they develop liver cancer or liver disease, according to the report. The infections also lead to about half of the nation's liver transplants necessitated by end-stage liver disease. "Although hepatitis B and C are preventable, rates of infection have not declined over the past several years, underscoring the conclusion that we have allowed gaps in screening, prevention and treatment to go unchecked," said R. Palmer Beasley, MD, chair of the IOM panel that drafted the report. Dr. Beasley is a professor and dean emeritus of the University of Texas Healt ...

Maryland high court upholds medical liability cap

An attempt to undo Maryland's liability cap failed before the state's highest court in a ruling physicians say preserved not only the law but also access to care. A trial court in April 2009 found that the state's award limit applied only to cases that go to arbitration. As a result, the court refused to reduce a $5.8 million jury verdict for Barbara Semsker to the $812,500 cap for wrongful death cases. Awards in other medical liability cases are capped at $650,000. But the Maryland Court of Appeals, in a unanimous Jan. 12 ruling, called the lower court's interpretation "a considerable leap in reasoning." Noting that arbitration is voluntary, justices said the trial court's reasoning essentially would render the cap ineffective ( When the General Assembly revised the cap in a 2004 special legislative session, it intended for the cap to apply to all medical liability cases, including those that are arbitrated, the court said. The who ...

Obesity could negate health gains from decline in smoking

America's smoking rate dropped 20% from 1990 to 2005, but the obesity rate rose nearly 50% during the same period. If those trends continue through 2020, the health benefits of the nation's clearer lungs will be offset by damage done by thicker middles, according to a new study. Researchers forecast that life expectancy and quality of life will continue to rise, thanks to medical progress and other factors. But smoking and weight gain both could deprive patients of even longer lives, said a study in the Dec. 3 New England Journal of Medicine ( The continued drop in smoking could improve the life expectancy of a typical 18-year-old by an additional four months by 2020, the study said. But rising obesity rates could mean that theoretical 18-year-old instead will be deprived of an added eight months of life. Researchers based their estimates on nationally representative patient interviews and federal government data. If current ...