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Health Headlines - February 18

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Merck Wins Another Vioxx Lawsuit

Pharmaceutical giant Merck is batting .666 with a victory in federal court Friday concerning its controversial pain-killing drug Vioxx.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a jury in New Orleans U.S. District court found that Merck & Co. did not have any responsibility in the death of a Florida man who had a heart attack after taking Vioxx for only a month.

This was the second time around for the family of Richard "Dicky" Irvin. His widow sued Merck after Irvin, 53, suffered a fatal heart attack. Vioxx and other prescription pain-killers, known as cox-2 inhibitors, had come under medical scrutiny after evidence surfaced showing there might be an association between their use and increased heart attack and stroke risk.

Merck had voluntarily pulled Vioxx, used for severe pain, from distribution in the autumn of 2004. Even though an FDA panel narrowly recommended its use in 2005, the drug has remained off the market.

Since the medical evidence became public, thousands of legal actions have been filed against Merck. Last year, Merck lost a multi-million dollar suit in a Texas court, but it won a similar case in New Jersey. The New Orleans case is the first federal case to be concluded.

Egypt Confirms First Bird Flu Cases

Egypt confirmed its first cases of bird flu and France reported its first probable case Friday, the Associated Press reported.

Egyptian officials said 18 to 20 dead birds tested positive for the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus and the country's health ministry was preparing the declare a state of emergency. The dead birds were found in Cairo, Giza and in the southern cities of Minya and Qena.

France's probable case of bird flu was in a dead wild duck found in the southeast Ain region. Further tests are being conducted to confirm whether the bird had the H5N1 virus, the AP reported.

In Germany, 10 more cases of bird flu on a northern island were confirmed Friday. Federal officials warned state governments to prepare for the spread of bird flu throughout the country.

In other news, United Nations officials said they were growing increasingly concerned about the likelihood that bird flu will spread from Nigeria to other West African countries. In an attempt to control the outbreak in Nigeria, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization proposed paying farmers to report possible outbreaks early, the AP reported.

UN experts are especially worried about bird flu outbreaks in Africa because poor countries are not equipped to handle such a crisis. Experts worry that the more bird flu spreads, the greater the risk it will mutate into a form easily transmitted between humans.

Since 2003 bird flu has killed 91 people in Asia and Turkey.

Don't Overthink Difficult Decisions: Study

If you need to make tough decision, stop thinking about it.

That's the advice from Dutch researchers who concluded that it's more difficult to make a wise choice -- such as what house or car to buy -- if you spend a lot of time consciously weighing the pros and cons, the Boston Globe reported.

Instead, the best approach is to pull together all the important information -- such as price and features -- and then put it out of your mind for a bit. Then, when it comes down to decision-making time, go with your instinct.

"It is much better to follow your gut," said research leader Ap Dijksterhuis, professor of psychology at the University of Amsterdam.

He and his colleagues conducted a series of studies on shoppers and students and concluded that the conscious mind can only consider a few facts at a time and that the unconscious mind may be better at balancing the pros and cons and reaching a sound conclusion, the Globe reported.

However, a conscious, rational approach is better when making simple decisions, the researchers said. The findings appear in the journal Science.

Countries Agree to Strengthen Anti-Tobacco Treaty

More than 100 nations agreed Friday to give more teeth to an international anti-tobacco treaty meant to reduce smoking-related illness and death, Agence France Presse reported.

The 113 nations at the first formal conference on the anti-tobacco treaty pledged to find ways to boost crackdowns on cigarette smuggling and radio and television tobacco advertising beamed from countries that haven't signed the accord.

They decided to hold a follow-up conference early next year to decide how to begin negotiations to strengthen the treaty's provisions, AFP reported. The representatives also agreed to begin a pilot program to assess each other's progress in implementing the accord and to single out countries that are doing too little.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, which came into force in early 2005, has been ratified by 124 countries. Holdouts include the United States, Switzerland and a number of developing countries.

The treaty calls for bans on tobacco advertising and sponsorship, along with public smoking restrictions and larger health warnings on cigarette packages. It also advocates taxation as a way of reducing tobacco consumption and says the tobacco industry should be excluded from government policy-making.

Governments that ratified the treaty must implement its provisions by 2010, AFP reported.

Device Approved Over FDA Staff Objections: Review

Ignoring the advice of scientific staff, a top U.S. medical official last year approved a pacemaker-device for treatment of persistent depression, says a Senate committee report released Thursday.

Dr. Daniel G. Schultz, director of the Center for Devices and Radiological Health at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, approved the vagus nerve stimulator even though a single clinical trial offered no evidence that the device was effective in treating depression, The New York Times reported.

FDA scientists had repeatedly and unanimously recommended rejecting approval of the device for treatment of depression. Despite that, Schultz gave his approval to the application by Cyberonics Inc. to sell the device as a treatment for depression, the newspaper said.

The vagus nerve stimulator, approved by the FDA in 1997 for treatment of epilepsy in some patients, is surgically implanted in the upper chest. Wires from the device are threaded into the neck and the device stimulates a nerve leading to the brain.

The Senate report revealed that many FDA reviewers were puzzled by Schultz's support for the device, the Times reported. "In my opinion, they do not have adequate data, and I don't understand how this can move forward," one FDA reviewer wrote in an e-mail to a colleague.

Schultz could not be reached for comment on Thursday, the Times reported. But Robert P. Cummins, Cyberonics chairman and chief executive, issued a written response that said Senate investigators had failed to interview many experts on serious depression.

Food Fact:
Sweeter pineapple

Know what kind to buy, and you can triple the vitamin C. Golden Pineapple, a new variety tagged with a Golden label, is making a splash -- it's sweeter, juicier and contains 3 times as much vitamin C as other varieties of the tropical fruit. When choosing a pineapple, look for fresh, green leaves and be certain they are not wilted or brown. The pineapple should smell sweet and be firm with no soft spots. Diced or sliced fresh pineapple is the perfect way to end a meal. Toss it with some chopped candied ginger if you like.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Food for thought.

If weight loss is part of your plan, you've got good reasons to watch your portions. Don't deny yourself your favorite foods, but don't go overboard, either. Keep track of what you eat and each day focus on small successes. They can add up to a new you, and a lifetime of feeling better about yourself and your weight.

FAQ of the day:
Are dried fruits safe if I'm sensitive to sulfites?

Sulfites that are added to many dried fruits can cause allergy-like reactions in some individuals -- in some cases these can be life-threatening. That's why the FDA now requires that any foods with sulfites say so on the label. If you are sulfite-sensitive, look for "unsulphured" dried fruits, sold in some supermarkets and natural food stores.
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