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Health Headlines - December 4

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Indonesian Woman Dies of Bird Flu

Indonesian health officials have confirmed that a woman who died last week was killed by bird flu, making her the country's eighth victim of the disease.

Tests done in Hong Kong showed that the 25-year-old woman died from the lethal H5N1 strain of bird flu, BBC News reported Saturday.

The woman had had contact with dead chickens before being admitted to a Jakarta hospital, the news service said.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has killed nearly 70 people in South East Asia -- most of them in Vietnam and Thailand -- since the outbreak began in 2003.

Meanwhile, officials in Ukraine acknowledged Saturday that country's first outbreak of bird flu, discovered among some 1,500 dead chickens and geese in the Black Sea region of Crimea, the Associated Press reported.

The dead birds, mostly domesticated chickens and geese, tested positive for the H5 type of bird flu, the Agriculture Ministry said. Samples would be sent to laboratories in Italy and England for tests to determine whether it is the H5N1 strain, the AP said.

While person-to-person transmission of the H5N1 strain is rare, health officials are worried that the germ could mutate, making human transmission much easier, leading to a global pandemic of the disease.

FDA Approves Test for West Nile Virus in Donated Blood, Tissues

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the first West Nile Virus blood test to screen donors of blood, organs, cells and tissues.

The Procleix WNV Assay detects viral genetic material called ribonucleic acid, or RNA. This new test will help protect patients who receive blood and other such products against West Nile infection, the FDA said. So far, there have been 30 documented cases of people who probably acquired West Nile Virus from a blood transfusion, including nine who died, the agency said.

West Nile Virus is typically transmitted to humans by mosquito bites. It was first detected in the United States in 1999, and has reemerged each year for seven consecutive years, causing close to 20,000 human cases of disease and at least 762 deaths since 2002. It is estimated that between 1 million and 2 million people have been infected with the virus, the FDA said.

In 2002, it was discovered that West Nile Virus could be transmitted in blood. The new test was developed by Gen-Probe Inc. and is marketed by Chiron Corporation, the FDA said.

"To develop an investigational test to screen blood, tissue and organ donors, and to get this test in blood banks throughout the country, and then licensed this quickly is a remarkable achievement for public health and patient safety," said Dr. Jesse Goodman, director of the FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Massachusetts Company Recalls Blood-Filter Device

Boston Scientific has recalled a device designed to filter clots out of the bloodstream. The move, done in concert with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, came after eight complaints, including two serious injuries and one patient death, the Boston Globe reported.

The Massachusetts company is recalling 18,000 Greenfield vena cava filters made before March 10, 2004, the newspaper said.

The filter is a cone-shaped steel device that is installed in one of the body's largest veins to catch clots before they can reach the lungs. The recalled filter was made with a defect that occasionally allowed the device to detach before it had been implanted, blocking blood flow itself, according to the newspaper.

People with a filter already implanted aren't at risk because the problem was in the delivery system and not the filter itself, said company spokesman Charles Rudnick.

The company had detected a problem with the filter and changed its manufacturing process in March 2004, but did not issue a recall at the time. Eight months later, a patient died when the filter became detached, the Globe said.

The firm waited another year to recall the product because not enough information was available about the incident, said Rudnick. "We only recently obtained the information we needed to assess what happened," he said.

According to Boston Scientific's Web site, more than 600,000 people have had a Greenfield filter implanted. The product has been on the market since 1972, the Globe said.

The recall affects only filters made before March 10, 2004; the updated version of the filter remains on the market, according to the Globe.

Heparin Antibodies May Pose Risk for Heart-Surgery Patients

Patients who develop antibodies to the anti-clotting drug heparin nearly double their risk of death or serious complication after heart surgery, a new study suggests.

"Complications after heart surgery are typically attributed to the surgery alone," said Dr. Thomas Slaughter, co-principal investigator on the project and a professor of anesthesiology at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. "Our study examined whether development of heparin antibodies before surgery poses an independent risk."

The study, which involved 466 patients scheduled to undergo either coronary artery bypass or valve replacement surgery, was done by investigators at Wake Forest University Baptist and Duke University medical centers. It's the first study to demonstrate a relationship between heparin antibodies and complications after cardiac surgery, the researchers said.

Heparin is administered intravenously during many procedures, including kidney dialysis, heart catheterization or angioplasty, as well as during heart and vascular surgeries. Estimates suggest that nearly half of patients treated with heparin develop the antibodies, which may last for months.

The researchers theorized that in patients with heparin antibodies, subsequent treatment with heparin activates blood components that cause clotting and inflammation, increasing the risk for heart attacks, heart rhythm problems, strokes and other complications.

The study results appear in the December issue of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

Face Transplant Patient's First Word Was 'Merci'

The first word spoken by a French woman who had the world's first partial face transplant was "merci," one of her doctors said at a news conference Friday in Lyon.

The surgeons, Dr. Jean-Michel Dubernard and Dr. Bernard Devauchelle, said that the 38-year-old woman regained consciousness 24 hours after Sunday's transplant and there were no post-surgical problems, the Associated Press reported.

The woman, whose identity hasn't been disclosed, suffered severe facial injuries in May when she was attacked by a dog. The damage made it difficult for her to speak and eat. Doctors transplanted a section of nose, lips and chin that were taken from a brain-dead woman.

The transplant triggered a debate over ethics. One French surgeon charged that the transplant team violated advice from the French medical ethics panel because they didn't first attempt reconstructive surgery on the woman's face.

However, a member of the committee said that at long as the face transplant was not total, it was not unethical, the AP reported.

Food Fact:
Got your bacteria?

Yogurt is crawling with bacteria -- and the more of it you eat, the better. Be sure to buy yogurt with a seal that guarantees it has live, active cultures. These cultures -- especially acidophilus and bifida -- colonize the lower intestines with beneficial bacteria while muscling out disease-causing bacteria. Eating yogurt may help prevent diarrhea in people taking antibiotics. Yogurt is easy to digest, especially for those who are lactose-intolerant, and is an excellent source of calcium, protein, riboflavin (a B vitamin), vitamin B-12 (which may be low in vegetarian diets) and vitamin A. To avoid unwanted saturated fat, choose nonfat or low-fat yogurt.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Pre-wedding vows.

Instead of gifts of jewelry for your wedding party, give the gift of health. Buy short-term health club memberships for your bridesmaids and groomsmen. Just don't lose too many inches before the fitting!

FAQ of the day:
Should I worry about eating proteins at each meal?

Pairing foods to provide all essential amino acids at one meal is no longer considered critical for vegetarians. Plant proteins are not as complete in all essential amino acids as animal proteins, so it became common advice for vegetarians to eat a food low in one essential amino acid in tandem with another that was high in that particular amino acid. But as scientists learned more about protein metabolism, they discovered that the body maintains a pool of amino acids it draws from to fill any gaps from meal to meal. There's no need to worry about matching foods at meals, as long as you eat a varied diet. Soy foods in particular are excellent sources of essential amino acids.
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