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Health Headlines - August 17

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Crocodile blood may yield powerful new antibiotics

Scientists in Australia's tropical north are collecting blood from crocodiles in the hope of developing a powerful antibiotic for humans, after tests showed that the reptile's immune system kills the HIV virus.

The crocodile's immune system is much more powerful than that of humans, preventing life-threatening infections after savage territorial fights which often leave the animals with gaping wounds and missing limbs.

"They tear limbs off each other and despite the fact that they live in this environment with all these microbes, they heal up very rapidly and normally almost always without infection," said U.S. scientist Mark Merchant, who has been taking crocodile blood samples in the Northern Territory.

Initial studies of the crocodile immune system in 1998 found that several proteins (antibodies) in the reptile's blood killed bacteria that were resistant to penicillin, such as Staphylococcus aureus or golden staph, Australian scientist Adam Britton told Reuters on Tuesday. It was also a more powerful killer of the HIV virus than the human immune system.

"If you take a test tube of HIV and add crocodile serum it will have a greater effect than human serum. It can kill a much greater number of HIV viral organisms," Britton said from Darwin's Crocodylus Park, a tourism park and research center.

Britton said the crocodile immune system worked differently from the human system by directly attacking bacteria immediately an infection occurred in the body.

"The crocodile has an immune system which attaches to bacteria and tears it apart and it explodes. It's like putting a gun to the head of the bacteria and pulling the trigger," he said.

For the past 10 days Britton and Merchant have been carefully collecting blood from wild and captive crocodiles, both saltwater and freshwater species. After capturing a crocodile and strapping its powerful jaws closed the scientists extract blood from a large vein behind the head.

"It's called a sinus, right behind the head, and it's very easy just to put a needle in the back of the neck and hit this sinus and then you can take a large volume of blood very simply," said Britton.

The scientists hope to collect enough crocodile blood to isolate the powerful antibodies and eventually develop an antibiotic for use by humans.

"We may be able to have antibiotics that you take orally, potentially also antibiotics that you could run topically on wounds, say diabetic ulcer wounds; burn patients often have their skin infected and things like that," said Merchant.

However, the crocodile's immune system may be too powerful for humans and may need to be synthesized for human consumption.

"There is a lot of work to be done. It may take years before we can get to the stage where we have something to market," said Britton.

AARP: Wholesale Drug Prices Top Inflation

Wholesale prices for the brand-name prescription drugs widely used by older Americans rose at more than twice the rate of inflation during the year that ended March 31, the AARP says.

The price charged by manufacturers climbed 6.6 percent for a sample of 195 drugs. That's down from the 7.1 percent increase in the year that ended Dec. 31 but still well ahead of the 3 percent general inflation rate, the organization said in a report for release Tuesday.

"We are very disappointed that brand name manufacturers have failed to keep their price increases in line with inflation and we will continue to educate our members and the public about how best to find the most affordable prescription drugs to suit their needs," AARP chief executive William Novelli said.

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America accused AARP of using "fuzzy math."

Prescription drug prices have risen less than overall medical costs, the trade group said. And, PhRMA vice president Ken Johnson added, starting next January seniors will get savings on medicines by enrolling in Medicare's new prescription program.

The study by AARP's Public Policy Institute and the University of Minnesota found price increases for 110 brand-name drugs sampled.

For a typical older person taking three prescription drugs daily, the increase for the year ended March 31 translates to an extra $144.15 cost per year, if they use brand name products and the full price increase is passed along to the consumer, according to AARP,

Looking at the first three months of this year, the study found the biggest price increase, 6.1 percent, was for insulin sensitizing drugs for diabetics. Tied for second with 5.9 percent increases were two types of blood pressure drugs, angiotensin II receptor antagonists and calcium channel blockers.

The single largest increase was 9.5 percent for Combivent, an aerosol drug that improves breathing by helping open bronchial tubes.

The researchers also looked at generic prescription drugs. Overall costs were up 0.7 percent in a check of 75 drugs for the year ended March 31. Only three of the drugs had an increase in the first three months of this year, the report said.

Study: Painkillers Linked to Hypertension

Women taking daily amounts of non-aspirin painkillers — such as extra-strength Tylenol — should monitor their blood pressure, doctors say following a new study suggesting a link between the drugs and hypertension.

"If you're taking these over-the-counter medications at high dosages on a regular basis, make sure that you report it to your doctor and you're checking your blood pressure," said Dr. Christie Ballantyne, a cardiologist at the Methodist DeBakey Heart Center in Houston who had no role in the study.

While many popular over-the-counter painkillers have been linked before to high blood pressure, acetaminophen, sold as Tylenol, has generally been considered relatively free of such risk.

It is the only one that is not a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID, a class of medications the federal government just required to carry stricter warning labels because of the risk for heart-related problems. Those include ibuprofen (sold as Advil and Motrin) and naproxen (sold as Aleve). Many had turned to those painkillers in the wake of problems with prescription drugs, such as Vioxx.

However, the new study found that women taking Tylenol were about twice as likely to develop blood pressure problems. Risk also rose for women taking NSAIDS other than aspirin.

The research found that aspirin still remains the safest medicine for pain relief. It has long been known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems and was not included in the government's requirement for stricter labels for NSAIDs.

The study involved 5,123 women participating in the Nurses Health Study at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. None had had high blood pressure when it began.

Results were published online Monday in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension.

"It certainly sets the basis for more studies," said Dr. Stephanie Lawhorn, a cardiologist at St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City. "Most of the time we think that things like acetaminophen are fairly safe drugs."

The study found that women ages 34-77 who took an average daily dose of more than 500 milligrams of acetaminophen — one extra-strength Tylenol — had about double the risk of developing high blood pressure within about three years.

Women 51-77 who take more than 400 mg a day of NSAIDS — equal to say two ibuprofen — had a 78 percent increased risk of developing high blood pressure over those who didn't take the drug. Those ages 34-53 had a 60 percent risk increase.

"We are by no means suggesting that women with chronic pain conditions not receive treatment for their pain," lead author Dr. John Phillip Forman, of Harvard Medical School and associate physician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said in an e-mail. "By pointing out risks associated with these drugs, more informed choices can be made by women and their clinicians."

Previous research linking these drugs to blood pressure problems did not look at dose.

The results in this study held up even when researchers excluded women who were taking pills for headaches, something that could itself be a result of very high blood pressure, said Dr. Gary Curhan, another study author also of Harvard Medical School.

As for why aspirin didn't raise risk, it might be because "aspirin has a different effect on blood vessels than NSAIDS and acetaminophen have," said Dr. Daniel Jones, dean of the school of medicine at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

U.S. seeks massive stock of smallpox vaccine

The United States has issued a tender for up to 80 million doses of a smallpox vaccine to guard against terrorist attack, worth over $1 billion, vaccine-makers said on Tuesday.

Health Tip: Tongue Piercing Has Its Risks

If your child is into body piercing and is talking about having his or her tongue pierced, make sure he or she knows the risks.

According to the University of Manitoba, they include:

The transmission of diseases such as hepatitis, HIV, herpes simplex virus, and tetanus.
Prolonged bleeding if blood vessels are punctured.
Blockage of the airway if the tongue swells.
Loss of taste, mobility, and numbness of the tongue.
Constant irritation to the oral tissues.
Difficulty with chewing, speech and swallowing.

Health Tip: Symptoms of Yeast Infection

Yeast infections, while uncomfortable, are not dangerous. They're caused when the balance between the yeast organisms normally present in the vagina and other organisms is upset, according to Baystate Health System.

Common triggers are:

Lowered resistance as a result of infection, stress, or illness.
Pregnancy or birth control pills.
Drugs or antibiotics taken for other infections.

Symptoms of a yeast infection include:

Severe burning and itching.
Swelling in the vulva.
A white discharge.
Painful intercourse.

If you think you have a yeast infection, see your doctor. The condition can be cured with antifungal medications taken over a period of three to seven days.

Food Fact:
Billions and billions served.

We're not talking about Big Macs; it's the number of people around the world who eat tofu. Tofu is an excellent source of protein and health-supportive soy isoflavones. It's also an excellent starting point for culinary creativity. Tofu comes in a range of densities: silken, soft, firm and extra firm. Firm or extra-firm tofu holds its shape when sliced. Use it for stir-fries, stews and braises. Soft and silken tofu is creamier. When pureed, tofu adds richness to dips and dressings like hummus and baba ghanoush. Smoked pressed tofu is very convenient -- it can be sliced and eaten as is in salads or sandwiches, or cooked in stir-fries and braises, and it comes in several flavors. Look for plain smoked, Thai seasoning, barbecue or lemon-garlic at your supermarket or whole-foods store.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Crunch time.

Great abs gives you more just a flat stomach. Here's how to get them. Develop your abdominal muscles by starting with basic sit-ups (knees bent) and work your way up to using an incline bench or ball. This powerful core of muscles provides strength for all of your other activities.

FAQ of the day:
What's the best breakfast cereal?

Oddly enough, not necessarily the one with the most fiber. Breakfast cereals range from 0 to 14 grams of fiber. But you'll want one that not only contains whole grains, but has little sugar; is fat-free or low in fat; and is moderate in sodium.
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