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Health Headlines - February 4

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
FDA Orders Human-Tissue Broker to Close

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ordered a New Jersey-based company that brokered human tissue to close, following accusations that the company harvested body parts from cadavers without family permission and did not always screen the parts for disease, The New York Times reported.

The body parts, which included tissue taken from "Masterpiece Theater" host Alistair Cooke, were used in hospitals in Illinois, North Carolina, Texas, Canada and possibly Europe and Asia, the Chicago Tribune reported.

As a result, dozens of patients who received tissue transplants at at least five Chicago-area hospitals have been advised to undergo precautionary testing for possible infection, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. health officials said there's little risk of infection from possibly diseased tissue, the news service said.

New York authorities have opened an investigation into the harvesting company, Biomedical Tissue Services of Fort Lee, N.J., as well as scores of funeral homes, the AP said.

On Friday, the FDA said it had ordered the company to "immediately cease all manufacturing operations. All tissue products initially recovered from human donors by [Biomedical Tissue Services] were recalled. FDA is carefully monitoring these recalls to account for all of the tissue distributed."

The attorney for Biomedical Tissue Services, Mario Gullucci, confirmed the company had stopped operating. But he said his client, Michael Mastromarino, the firm's chief executive, denied the allegations and planned to go to court so he could reopen, the AP said.

U.S. Approves Vaccine to Protect Young Children From Rotavirus

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Friday the approval of a live, oral vaccine -- called RotaTeq -- to prevent rotavirus gastroenteritis in infants. It's the only vaccine approved in the United States that can help protect against rotavirus, a viral infection that may cause diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and dehydration.

"This vaccine gives health-care providers an important new tool that can effectively prevent an illness that affects almost all children within the first few years of life," said Dr. Jesse L. Goodman, director of FDA's Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

Rotavirus infection is a leading cause of severe diarrhea in infants and young children in the United States and worldwide. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that rotavirus infection causes about 55,000 U.S. hospitalizations annually of infants and young children. While death from rotavirus is rare in the United States, in developing countries it is believed to cause up to several hundred thousand deaths each year, the FDA said.

In studies, RotaTeq prevented 74 percent of all rotavirus cases and 98 percent of severe cases. In addition, the vaccine prevented approximately 96 percent of hospitalizations due to infection, the FDA said.

In 1998, the FDA approved a different live vaccine against rotavirus that was later withdrawn from the market because it was linked with an increased risk of intussusception, a rare, life-threatening blockage or twisting of the intestine. Studies of RotaTeq, which is manufactured by Merck & Co., was not associated with an increased risk of the condition, the FDA said.

EPA Misled Public About Air Quality After 9/11 Attack: Judge

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency misled the public about air-quality safety after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City and may have put people's health in danger, a federal judge said Thursday.

Judge Deborah A. Batts of Federal District Court in Manhattan singled out former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman for criticism, saying she made "misleading statements of safety" about air quality, The New York Times reported.

The judge's ruling came in a lawsuit against Whitman and other former and current EPA officials and the agency itself. The lawsuit alleges that they failed to warn people of dangerous materials in the air near the destroyed World Trade Center and then failed to conduct an adequate cleanup.

The plaintiffs, residents and schoolchildren from downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn, are seeking monetary damages and a thorough cleaning of the area around the World Trade Center site.

The judge's ruling established that the lawsuit's charges were well documented and serious enough for the lawsuit to proceed, the Times reported.

Access to Care Affects Black Lung Cancer Patients' Survival

Less access to care may explain why black American lung cancer patients have lower survival rates than non-blacks, says a study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

It has long been known that black lung cancer patients had worse survival rates but the reasons for this have been unclear. Potential explanations included differences in treatment, a later stage of cancer at diagnosis, and differences in the biologic aggressiveness of the disease.

This study of 995 advanced lung cancer patients at 41 treatment centers found that when black lung cancer patients received equivalent therapy, they had the same outcome as non-black patients.

"From our analysis, we concluded that equal treatment in patients with advanced lung cancer yields equal outcome among patients with the same stage of disease regardless of race or ethnicity," principal investigator Dr. A. William Blackstock said in a prepared statement.

"Although other factors may be important, perhaps the most relevant is access to standard cancer care," Blackstock said.

Mosquito-Borne Disease Spreading at Alarming Rate

There have been about 15,000 new cases of the crippling mosquito-borne disease called chikungunya on the French island of Reunion in the past week, bringing the total to about 50,000, BBC News reported.

Hundreds of troops have been deployed to the Indian Ocean island in an effort to spray the entire island and eradicate mosquitoes. The outbreak began in February 2005 but has only started to spread rapidly since December.

While the disease is not fatal, it causes high fever and severe pain. There is no cure or vaccine for the disease.

Neighboring countries are mobilizing to fight the disease, BBC News reported. The Seychelles has had about 2,000 cases in the past four weeks and officials in Madagascar fear the disease may have reached their island.

Ohio Doctors Perform Rare 'Domino' Transplant

Doctors in Ohio have performed a rare transplant procedure in which they gave a 4-month-old boy a new heart and set of lungs, and gave his healthy heart to a 3-month-old girl.

The boy, Jason Wolfe, had been diagnosed with a rare lung disorder and placed on a lung transplant list. His heart was healthy, but doctors at Columbus Children's Hospital wanted to replace it because the combined heart/lung transplant is safer in young children, the Associated Press reported.

The girl, Kayla Richardson, was born with a rare heart condition. During the Jan. 14 transplants, she was in a nearby operating room and received Wolfe's healthy heart after doctors removed it from his body.

Both children should go home within a week.

Food Fact:
Ginger, no ail.

Want a neat trick for making health-giving ginger easier to grate? Freeze it first. You'll be glad you did: Spicy, lively, fresh ginger has a way of waking up all the other flavors around it. Look for large, firm, buff-colored knobs when buying fresh ginger. Traditionally used in Asian cooking, it's making its way into all sorts of savory dishes and delivering loads of healthful antioxidant compounds. Ginger may also decrease your heart attack risk. A few studies have found that both fresh and dried ginger inhibits blood levels of thromboxane B-2, a compound that promotes dangerous blood clots. It also has a longstanding folk reputation as a remedy for nausea. Clinical studies have found it useful in treating motion sickness, as well as post-surgical nausea.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Bring the kids!

Your children will pick up your attitudes about exercise -- make it a positive one! If you see exercise as a chore, your children will, too. Think of activities that you can do with your kids. Get them off to a good start -- and off the fast food -- with fun activities that make the whole family more active.

FAQ of the day:
Can I be fit and fat?

While obesity is strongly associated with increased health risks, recent population studies suggest much of that risk may stem from poor fitness. Increased physical activity makes a difference when combined with a calorie-controlled diet. As your fitness improves, you'll boost your health and feel better, even with only modest weight loss.
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