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Traumas haunt 1 in 5 from war zones, study finds

WASHINGTON — Roughly one in every five U.S. troops who has survived the bombs and other dangers of Iraq and Afghanistan now suffers from major depression or post-traumatic stress, an independent study said Thursday. It estimated the toll at 300,000 or more.

As many or more report possible brain injuries from explosions or other head wounds, said the study, the first major survey from outside the government. Only about half of those with mental health problems have sought treatment. Even fewer of those with head injuries have seen doctors.

Army Surgeon General Eric Schoomaker said the report, from the Rand Corp., was welcome. "They're helping us to raise the visibility and the attention that's needed by the American public at large," said Schoomaker, a lieutenant general.

The researchers said 18.5 percent of current and former service members contacted in a recent survey reported symptoms of depression or post-traumatic stress. Based on Pentagon data that more than 1.6-million have deployed to the two wars, the researchers calculated that about 300,000 are suffering mental health problems.

Nineteen percent — or an estimated 320,000 — may have suffered head injuries, the study calculated. Those range from mild concussions to severe, penetrating head wounds.

The mental toll will cost the nation as much as $6.2-billion over two years, according to the Rand report.

The 500-page report warned of "long-term, cascading consequences" for the nation — ranging from a greater likelihood of drug use and suicide to increased marital problems and unemployment — if the problems go untreated.

"There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Terri Tanielian, the project's co-leader and a researcher at Rand.

Nation's flu season worst in four years

The current flu season has been more severe than the last three, with more doctor visits and more deaths from flu and pneumonia, federal health officials reported.

The season peaked in February, when flulike illnesses accounted for 5.9 percent of doctor visits. Overall, visits for these illnesses were higher than normal for 13 consecutive weeks.

The death rate related to flu and pneumonia was also higher than usual for 13 consecutive weeks; at the worst point, in March, the illnesses were listed as underlying or contributing causes of death in 9.1 percent of deaths. Any rate over 6.9 percent is considered unusually high.

The deaths included 65 children. The youngest was a month old, and the median age was 4.5 years.

The season was more severe partly because the vaccine didn't work well against the viruses that made most people sick, the worst match since 1997-1998. Each year, health officials — making essentially an educated guess — formulate a vaccine against three viruses they think will be circulating. They guess well most of the time, and the vaccine is often between 70 and 90 percent effective.

The statistics were published online Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Incontinence drugs tied to memory loss

Commonly used incontinence drugs may cause memory problems in some older people, a study has found.

"Our message is to be careful when using these medicines," said Navy neurologist Jack Tsao, who led the study. "It may be better to use diapers and be able to think clearly than the other way around."

Urinary incontinence sometimes can be resolved with non-drug treatments, he said, so patients should ask about alternatives. Exercises, biofeedback and scheduled frequent bathroom breaks work for many.

U.S. sales of prescription drugs to treat urinary problems topped $3-billion in 2007, according to IMS Health, which tracks drug sales. Bladder control trouble affects about one in 10 people age 65 and older, according to the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the study. Women are more likely to be affected than men. Causes include nerve damage, loss of muscle tone or, in men, enlarged prostate.

The findings, released Thursday at a meeting of the American Academy of Neurology, come from an analysis of the medication use and cognitive test scores of 870 Catholic priests, nuns and brothers who participated in the Religious Orders Study at Chicago's Rush University Medical Center. The average age was 75.

Ghostwriting common, research scientists say

The news this week that Merck & Co. conducted research on its own drug and paid prominent scientists to lend their names to the studies came as no surprise to many people in medicine.

Researchers and ethicists say scientists are often paid to be listed as authors of ghostwritten studies in scientific journals, a practice they say undermines the public's already sagging confidence in research.

"We've got to stop this," said Dr. Catherine DeAngelis, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, which published an article on the topic this week. "We've given away our profession."

Articles in JAMA this week charged that Merck conducted its own studies on the pain pill Vioxx, then hired a company to ghostwrite reports for medical journals that appeared under the names of scientists who did little of the research.

Merck didn't disclose the involvement of the ghostwriters, according to the articles, which were based on company documents that surfaced in Vioxx lawsuits. The arthritis drug went on the market in 1999 and became a blockbuster before Merck withdrew it in 2004 after studies showed it was linked to risk of heart attack and stroke.

Traumas haunt 1 in 5 from war zones, study finds 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 10:38am]
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