Nation roundup for October 5


Warning on drug tied to meningitis

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. health officials ramped up warnings Thursday about a Massachusetts specialty pharmacy linked to a widening outbreak of a rare kind of meningitis, urging doctors and hospitals not to use any products from the company.

Investigators this week found contamination in a sealed vial of the steroid at the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., according to Food and Drug Administration officials.

Tests are under way to determine if it is the same fungus blamed in the outbreak that has sickened 35 people in six states. Five of them have died. All received steroid shots for back pain.

“Out of an abundance of caution, we advise all health care practitioners not to use any product” from the company, said Ilisa Bernstein, director of compliance for the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research.

The company recalled the steroid medication last week and has shut down operations. The recalled steroid had been shipped to facilities in 23 states since July.

The type of fungal meningitis involved is not contagious like the more common forms. It is caused by a fungus often found in leaf mold. Health officials suspect it may have been in the steroid.

Investigators said they are still trying to confirm the source of the infection, but the one common theme in all the illnesses is that each patient got the steroid medication.

Free birth control lowers abortions

WASHINGTON (AP) — Free birth control led to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births, a large study concluded Thursday, offering strong evidence for how a bitterly contested Obama administration policy could benefit women’s health.

The project tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor or uninsured. They were given their choice of a range of contraceptive methods at no cost — from birth control pills to goof-proof options like the IUD or a matchstick-sized implant.

When price wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives — the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result, reported Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis in a study published Thursday.

The effect on teen pregnancy was striking: There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010.

There also were substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region, Peipert calculated.

States failing on sex offender law

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Nearly three dozen states have failed to meet conditions of a 2006 federal law that requires them to join a nationwide program to track sex offenders, including five states that have completely given up on the effort because of persistent doubts about how it works and how much it costs.

The states, including some of the nation’s largest, stand to lose millions of dollars in government grants for law enforcement, but some have concluded that honoring the law would be far more expensive than simply living without the money.

“The requirements would have been a huge expense,” said Doris Smith, who oversees grant programs at the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration. Lawmakers weren’t willing to spend that much, even though the state will lose $226,000.

The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, named after a boy kidnapped from a Florida mall and killed in 1981, was supposed to create a uniform system for registering and tracking sex offenders that would link all 50 states, plus U.S. territories and tribal lands.

Chicago teachers approve contract

CHICAGO (AP) — Members of the Chicago Teachers Union overwhelmingly have approved a new three-year contract that includes pay increases and a new evaluation system, union officials announced late Wednesday.

Union spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin said the contract was ratified by 79 percent of the union’s membership. The contact was ratified by a vote Tuesday of 16,428 to 4,337. The contract now must be approved by the Chicago Board of Education, which is scheduled to meet later this month.

“This shows overwhelming recognition by our members that this contract represents a victory for students, communities and our profession,” said CTU President Karen Lewis in a statement. “Our members are coming out of this with an even greater appreciation for the continued fight for public education.”

We thank our parents for standing with their children’s teachers, paraprofessionals and clinicians.”

Teachers walked off the job Sept. 10, idling 350,000 students in the nation’s third-largest school district for seven days before the union’s delegates agreed to suspend the strike and return to classes, pending the outcome of Tuesday’s vote.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called the settlement “an honest compromise” that “means a new day and a new direction for the Chicago public schools.”

The contract includes 3 percent raises in its first year and 2 percent for two years after that, along with increases for experienced teachers. There also is an option of another 3 percent raise if teachers agree to a fourth year of the contract.

The school district also agreed to reduce the percentage of teachers’ evaluations based on test scores, down from a proposed 45 percent to the 30 percent set as the minimum by state law. It also includes an appeals process to contest evaluations. The district will be required to give some preference to teachers who are displaced, and will maintain a pool of qualified teachers with the goal of filling half of all new positions with displaced teachers.

The walkout, the first for a major American city in at least six years, drew national attention because it posed a high-profile test for teachers unions, which have seen their political influence threatened by a growing reform movement. Unions have pushed back against efforts to expand charter schools, use private companies to help with failing schools and link teacher evaluations to student test scores.

The teachers walked out after months of tense contract talks that for a time appeared to be headed toward a peaceful resolution.

Emanuel and the union agreed in July on a deal to implement the longer school day with a plan to hire back 477 teachers who had been laid off rather than pay regular teachers more to work longer hours. That raised hopes the contract would be settled before the start of fall classes, but bargaining stalled on other issues.

With an average salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are already among the highest-paid in the nation. The district’s final proposal included an average 7 percent raise over three years, with additional raises for experience and education. But the evaluations and job security measures stirred the most intense debate.

 

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