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Spinal cord regrowth oserved in hurt rats

In experiments that could eventually help enhance recovery for some people with injured spinal cords, researchers have documented how rats with severe spinal cord injuries can regrow nerves from small uninjured remnants.

In a study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, neurologists at the University of California, San Diego, report that rats with as little as 3 percent of nerve fibers spared from injury can spontaneously regrow connections sufficient to recover movement of their forepaws.

Roughly 40 percent of humans who suffer spinal cord injury, stroke or head trauma also show spontaneous recovery of motor function, probably from the same sort of rewiring phenomena. Understanding the mechanics of such recovery could help doctors take steps to encourage regrowth in human patients.

Emergency rooms called

much too crowded

WASHINGTON _ Visits to emergency rooms are booming even as hospitals are closing, raising fears that some patients may not get urgent care as fast as they need it, the American Hospital Association reported Thursday.

The hospital trade group suggests the crowding may only worsen because of financial problems. Federal law requires hospitals to care for patients who come to emergency rooms. But there is no federal program to reimburse hospitals for the care of poor, uninsured people. Additionally, Medicaid reimbursement is low for emergency services and managed care plans sometimes deny payment for ER visits, the report says.

Emergency room visits rose by 15 percent in the 1990s, hitting 99.5-million in 1999, the AHA reported. One of every five Americans has been to the ER at least once, visits accounting for 40 percent of all hospital admissions, the report says.

Yet the number of emergency departments dropped as 493 hospitals, particularly in rural areas, closed from 1990 to 1999, the report says.

Study: Vaccine not linked

to bowel disease

CHICAGO _ A U.S. study found no link between the measles vaccine and inflammatory bowel disease, contrary to British research that raised fears about the vaccine's safety.

Immunization rates dropped in Britain after studies published in 1995 and 1998 that implicated measles vaccines.

Dr. Robert L. Davis of the University of Washington, who led the new study, said he hopes the research will boost public confidence and help prevent measles outbreaks.

His study appears in the March issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Flu shots could save

$1.3-billion, survey says

ST. PAUL, Minn. _ Giving flu shots to all working Americans could save the nation as much as $1.3-billion annually, a researcher at the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis has found.

Unlike previous studies, which looked at single groups during a single flu season, this one based its findings on a number of studies conducted during various seasons. That's important because the severity of flu outbreaks varies widely from one year to the next, making it difficult to accurately estimate a cost-benefit ratio based on a single season.

"(This study) gives a better estimate of what the average benefits might be over 10 years," said the study's author, Dr. Kristin Nichol of the Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research at the VA Medical Center.

Nichol, who also is a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, has the results of her study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, an American Medical Association publication.

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