Health Highlights: May 16, 2007

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007; 12:00 AM

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

West Nile Virus Decimates Several Bird Species

Mosquito-borne West Nile virus is the suspected cause of a dramatic decline in the populations of several North American bird species, including robins, blue jays and crows, says a study in the journalNature.

Researchers led by Shannon LaDeau of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center found that the affected species all experienced large drops in numbers in conjunction with human outbreaks of West Nile virus infections in 2002 and 2003,Agence France-Pressereported.

Crows were most severely affected, losing about 45 percent of their population across the United States, said the researchers, who found that 13 of the 20 bird species they studied hit 10-year population lows after outbreaks of West Nile in humans.

Since the declines in 2002 and 2003, only two of the seven hardest-hit bird species have recovered to their previous levels,AFPreported.

West Nile virus first appeared in North America in 1999. Since then, there have been more than 24,000 human cases and about 1,000 deaths in the United States. Headaches, skin rashes, eye pain and extreme fatigue are among the symptoms of West Nile infection. Some people develop encephalitis or meningitis.

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Drug Spending Jumped Dramatically Over 7-Year Span

Money spent for medications prescribed in outpatient settings increased from $72 billion in 1997 to $191 billion in 2004, according to a new study by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

During the period 1997 to 2004, the average annual expenditure for prescription drugs for people age 65 and older increased 130 percent -- rising from $819 in 1997 to $1,914 in 2004. The average out-of-pocket cost more than doubled for this group, increasing from $483 in 1997 to $1,027 in 2004. The average annual amount spent on prescription drugs by people under age 65 who purchased prescription medications rose 140 percent from 1997 to 2004 -- climbing from $347 in 1997 to $838 in 2004. From 1997 to 2004, the average annual amount this group spent out of pocket on prescription drugs rose from $143 to $304. From 1997 to 2004, total purchases of outpatient prescription drugs increased from approximately 2 billion to nearly 3 billion prescriptions. This increase was driven, in part, by a rise in the average number of prescription drug purchases annually by the elderly age 65 and older, which increased from 22 to 31 purchases a year, according to the study.

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