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Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(1):29

A “virtual” bar can help college students learn about the effects of drinking alcohol. The Associated Press reports that the Century Council, an organization funded by distillers, is distributing Alcohol 101 Plus to many college campuses. Using this CD-ROM program, students can visit virtual bars and fraternity houses, where they click on drinks and watch their blood alcohol levels rise, depending on their weight and gender, and how much they choose to “drink.” Alcohol 101 Plus is an update of a CD-ROM that already is being used on more than 1,200 college campuses. Targeted populations include freshmen, sorority and fraternity members, and students who have been caught violating college alcohol policies

Jails can be dangerous to the surrounding community. According to a study published in the Southern Medical Journal, two years after an outbreak of tuberculosis (38 inmates and five guards) at a jail in Shelby County, Tenn., a Mycobacterium tuberculosis strain was more prevalent in the community than it had been at the time of the jail outbreak. A total of 156 community cases of tuberculosis were reported to the county health department between January 1998 and August 1999. Sputum cultures were positive for M. tuberculosis in 86 of the pulmonary cases. DNA fingerprinting was performed on 81 isolates: 19 (23 percent) had the fingerprint pattern of strain J, which was the strain found in the jail two years earlier. Twelve of the people (63 percent) infected with strain J had no recent history of incarceration. This study highlights the importance of monitoring incarcerated populations for tuberculosis.

Almost one half of Americans 65 years of age or older use five or more different medications per week. A cohort study published in JAMA shows that preventable adverse drug events are quite common among older persons in the outpatient setting. During a 12-month study period, 1,523 adverse drug events were identified in Medicare patients at a multispecialty group practice. Of these adverse events, 421 (27.6 percent) were preventable. Most of the events occurred because of errors at the monitoring and prescribing stages. Errors involving patient adherence also were common.

The common cold is nothing to sneeze at. According to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, viral respiratory tract infections not related to the flu cost the United States nearly $40 billion every year. Researchers analyzed telephone survey responses from more than 4,000 adults and collected statistics on missed workdays for patients and caregivers to determine the direct costs ($17 billion) and the indirect costs ($22.5 billion) of colds. The total cost of viral respiratory tract infections greatly exceeds that of other acute conditions, such as allergic rhinitis, and is comparable to that of many chronic conditions.

Nearly seven in 10 parents say “no” to toy guns, according to a survey published in Pediatrics. Parents and guardians filled out a survey on child-rearing practices and sociodemographics while they were waiting at one of three sites: a suburban private practice, an urban managed care clinic, and an urban children's hospital. In all, 67 percent of the 830 parents who completed the survey responded that it was never “OK for parents to let their children play with toy guns.” The survey also found that parents who thought playing with toy guns was acceptable were more likely to be white, to be male, and to have male children.

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