Deadly car accidents remind of teen “texting-while-driving” problem; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that American teens drive and text more than Europeans; and early diagnosis of HIV may control the symptoms. These stories and more top public health news Friday, March 15, 2013.

USA TodayRash of teen wrecks puts focus on parents
Twenty teenagers dead in five automobile crashes in five states. All within one week. A rash of deadly wrecks in Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Indiana and North Dakota, is a jarring reminder that vehicle crashes are still the No. 1 killer of U.S. teenagers, and that teen road deaths are rising fastest of all as the improving economy draws more traffic. The crashes during the week that ended Tuesday, hammer home an overlooked reality of teenage driving: The risk of a teen driver dying in a crash rises sharply with teen passengers in the car. Details vary in the recent crashes, but each involved a teen driver with teen passengers. That fact highlights both the pivotal role of parenting in the treacherous maze that is learning to drive, and the need for states to do more in implementing stronger graduated driver licensing (GDL) programs that phase in privileges for novice drivers as they gain experience, some safe driving advocates say.

Los Angeles TimesAmerican drivers text more than European motorists
OMG! Far more Americans use a cellphone and text while behind the wheel than their European counterparts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Nearly a third of U.S. drivers aged 18 to 64 admitted they had read or sent a text message while driving during a 30-day period, compared with 15% in Spain, according to a CDC weekly morbidity and mortality report. Portugal tied the U.S. in texting, at 31%, according to the report. And more than two-thirds of Americans admitted they gabbed on cellphones while driving, compared with a low of 21% in Britain. “The cellphone can be a fatal distraction for those who use it while they drive,” said CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. “Driving and dialing or texting don’t mix. If you are driving, pull over to a safe place and stop before you use your cellphone.”

ReutersRapid HIV treatment points to functional cure for AIDS
Treating people with HIV rapidly after they have become infected with the virus that causes AIDS may be enough to achieve a “functional cure” in a small proportion of patients diagnosed early, according to new research. Scientists in France who followed 14 patients who were treated very swiftly with HIV drugs but then stopped treatment found that even when they had been off therapy for more than seven years, they still showed no signs of the virus rebounding. The research, published in the journal PLoS Pathogens, follows news earlier this month about a baby girl in Mississippi in the United States being effectively cured of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) after receiving very early treatment.

Kaiser Health NewsSmall businesses pursue health law ‘loophole’
NorthBay Adventure is the kind of small business that could be expected to buy medical insurance for workers under sweeping health-act rules taking effect in 2014. But executive director George Comfort says that’s not likely to happen. Instead, NorthBay became self-insured last year, paying most of its workers’ health costs directly, a practice more typical of large employers.  The decision to self-insure was about free choice, savings and what’s best for his company, Comfort says. But others see it as a threat to the Affordable Care Act. As more small employers like NorthBay avoid the health act’s requirements through self-coverage, small-business marketplaces intended to cover millions of Americans could break down and become unaffordable, they say.