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Health Headlines - February 5

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.

Women's Groups Urge Wal-Mart to Stock Emergency Contraception

A coalition of women's groups and family-planning organizations is urging Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to reverse its policy and start selling emergency contraceptive pills in its pharmacies, the Associated Press reported.

The groups, claiming a total membership of 10 million women, include the National Organization for Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Women's Organizations, the news service said.

Their joint statement, issued Friday, followed by several days a lawsuit filed by three Boston women who said Wal-Mart violated Massachusetts law by failing to stock emergency contraceptives, also known as "morning-after" pills, the AP said.

"Wal-Mart's actions are clearly an outrageous intrusion into the health and privacy of all U.S. women. When a doctor prescribes emergency contraception for a woman, Wal-Mart does not have the right to overrule that decision," the coalition's statement said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail giant had not sold the pills in the past, except where required by law, due to lack of customer demand.

"However, women's health is a high priority for Wal-Mart, so clearly there are broader considerations and we are giving this a lot of thought," Williams told the AP.

Kansas' Highest Court Blocks Attempt to Review Abortion Records

Kansas's highest court on Friday temporarily stopped the state attorney general from examining records at two abortion clinics, saying such a review could violate patient privacy, the Associated Press reported.

The Kansas Supreme Court instructed a lower court judge to first make sure that Attorney General Phill Kline has the right to view the records. Kline is investigating possible violations of state restrictions on abortion and suspected rapes of children, the news service said.

If Judge Richard Anderson rules that Kline does have that right, he must still ensure that the patients' privacy is protected, the high court said.

In 2004, Anderson issued subpoenas, at Kline's request, for the records of clinics operated by a doctor in Wichita and by Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb. The records involve 90 women and girls, the AP said.

The Supreme Court said the subpoenas could infringe on the patients' rights to privacy about personal and sexual matters, to receive confidential health care, and to obtain a lawful abortion without an undue governmental burden, 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.

Food Fact:
Herbal essence.

Herbs add discreet flavor to a dish, if you handle them just right. When buying fresh parsley, basil, thyme or chives, the stem ends should look freshly cut, not dried out or wilted. Don't wash herbs until you're ready to use them. Store sturdier herbs in an open plastic bag in the refrigerator. Delicate herbs such as cilantro and tarragon should be placed in a glass of water and stored on the counter for a couple of days. Except for parsley which is dreadful dried, you can substitute dried herbs for fresh, but remember that drying intensifies the flavor. In general use one-fourth to one-third of the amount of fresh herbs called for in the recipe.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Stretch it, baby!

Nothing stops a workout quicker than a pulled muscle; follow a simple routine to stay flexible. Stretching will improve your range of motion, enhance performance, and help reduce the severity and frequency of injury. Be sure to give your muscles a quick warmup before you start to stretch.

FAQ of the day:
What is a healthy level of body fat?

Healthy adult males' generally accepted range of body fat is from 15 - 22%; healthy women range from 20 - 25%. Elite athletes may lower their body fat through exercise, but they also tend to be genetically lean. Women who reduce their body fat by 1/3 or more through intense exercise and/or restricted eating may depress their estrogen production too far to sustain a normal menstrual cycle. Not only is this likely to cause infertility, it's known to cause bone loss and osteoporosis in young women.
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