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Health Headlines - January 11

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
2 Bird Flu Patients in Turkey Have No Symptoms

Two young brothers in Turkey who tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu virus have shown no symptoms.

Doctors say they're not sure if this is a sign that infection with this virus does not always result in illness or if the doctors are for the first time witnessing the earliest stages of the disease, the International Herald Tribune reported.

"The two brothers are a very interesting finding that may for the first time give us a chance to monitor the human response to the disease," said Dr. Guenael Rodier, head of a World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the bird flu outbreak in Turkey.

Experts are still trying to learn more about the outbreak in Turkey, the first outside of eastern Asia to have human cases and the first one in the world to have so many separate domestic poultry outbreaks simultaneously.

In a single week, Turkey announced bird flu outbreaks in 16 areas. Outbreaks in Asia have been more sporadic. Experts haven't yet determined exactly how the outbreaks are occurring in Turkey, the International Herald Tribune reported.

On Wednesday, the WHO tried to calm fears of a massive bird flu outbreak in Turkey. It told citizens not to panic but urged them to avoid contact with sick or dead poultry, the Associated Press reported.

It's believed that 15 people in Turkey have been infected with the bird flu virus within the last week. That's the largest number of human cases in one week since the virus first appeared in Asia in 2003. Two children in Turkey have died of bird flu and the virus is suspected to have killed another child, the AP said.

So far, the worldwide death toll from bird flu is 78.

Watch for Early Signs of Meningitis: Study

Parents and doctors need to be aware of the early symptoms of meningitis, which include leg pain, cold hands and feet, and abnormally pale or mottled skin color. These symptoms can appear within eight hours of infection, says an Oxford University study in the online edition of The Lancet medical journal.

These earlier signs differ from the "classic" signs -- including a red rash combined with headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light and impaired consciousness -- which can take an average of 13 to 22 hours to appear. By then it may be too late for doctors to act, researchers said.

The study noted that watching for the earlier symptoms may help doctors make a quicker diagnosis, begin treatment and save lives, London's Daily Mail reported.

The Oxford team studied 448 children who contracted the most dangerous bacterial form of meningitis. Most of the children had only mild symptoms in the first four to six hours after infection, but were close to death within 24 hours.

The researchers said that doctors are too reliant on the classic symptoms when diagnosing meningitis and that, in many cases, children with meningitis are only admitted to a hospital after being initially misdiagnosed, the Daily Mail reported.

Congress Investigating Drug Industry Educational Grants

Educational grants given by U.S. drug companies are growing rapidly and are sometimes awarded to doctors and groups who advocate unapproved uses of drugs, a U.S. Congressional investigation has found.

The Senate Finance Committee said that 23 drug makers spent $1.47 billion in 2004 on educational grants. That works out to an average of $64 million per company, The New York Times reported.

The 2004 amount is a 20 percent increase from the $1.23 billion spent on educational grants in 2003.

The committee didn't offer an estimate of what percentage of those supposed educational grants was actually used for marketing. However, in a letter sent to drug maker Johnson & Johnson, the Senate Finance Committee suggested the practice was widespread in the drug industry, the Times reported.

"If drug companies are crossing the line with these grants and influencing providers to make treatment decisions they might not otherwise make, that's a problem and we're going to tackle that," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), the committee's ranking minority member.

7 Percent of U.S. Employees Drink on the Job, Survey Says

Slightly more than 7 percent of American workers drink on the job and 9 percent have nursed a hangover at work.

Those are the findings of a national survey of 2,805 adult employees, which showed that 15 percent reported being directly affected by alcohol at work -- either by drinking on the job, drinking just before going to work, or suffering a hangover while at work, the Associated Press reported.

For 19 percent of the workers, this type of behavior was a monthly habit, while 11 percent of the survey respondents reported weekly alcohol use or impairment. Lunch was the preferred time to drink.

The study, conducted by the University of Buffalo's Research Institute on Addictions, appears in the current issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol.

Doctors Hope to Remove Sharon From All Sedatives

Doctors said Wednesday that they hope to remove Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon from all remaining sedatives that are keeping him in a coma, but hospital officials also said people shouldn't be overly optimistic about Sharon's chances for recovery from the massive stroke he suffered a week ago.

Sharon is no longer in immediate danger, but it will be days before doctors can assess the full extent of brain damage, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, doctors began to decrease the amount of sedatives being given to Sharon, who started breathing on his own and showed slight movement in his right arm and right leg in response to pain stimulation.

On Tuesday, there was increased movement on his right side and his left arm also moved in response to stimulation, the AP reported.

Sharon suffered an initial stroke on Dec. 18 and doctors put him on blood thinners. It was later discovered that Sharon has cerebral amyloid angiopathy, a disease that can cause brain bleeding. That has raised questions about the doctors' decision to put Sharon on blood thinners. Hospital officials defended the treatment decision.

FDA Drug Approvals Down in 2005

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 20 new drugs in 2005, a sharp decline from the 36 approved in 2004. This is only the second time in the last 10 years that the number of newly approved drugs was lower than the number approved in the previous year, The New York Times reported.

Another rare situation last year saw several major drug companies -- including Eli Lilly, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson -- fail to gain FDA approval for drugs the companies invented in their own labs.

Even though drug approvals were down, research spending by the pharmaceutical industry in 2005 hit a new high: more than $38 billion.

According to some experts, the drug industry is in a cyclical trough. They predict the number of new drugs receiving FDA approval will increase over the next few years as drug company research investments begin to pay off, the Times reported.

Both the FDA and the drug companies say improvements are needed in the process for testing and developing new drugs.

H ealth Tip: Cross the Street Safely

Parents and educators must remember to teach children the safe way to cross a street.

Here's a list of suggestions, courtesy of the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh:

Teach children what traffic signs mean.
Before they cross, make sure children stop at the curb. Never run into the street.
Teach children to look left, right, and left again before they cross.
Teach children to cross at the street corner and always walk within the painted lines.
Make sure children are aware of their surroundings while crossing.
Warn children not to run or walk between parked cars.

Health Tip: Using a Rectal Thermometer

New parents may cringe at the thought of taking a child's temperature through the rectum. However, the Nemours Foundation advises, this is the most convenient way to receive a quick and accurate reading for children younger than 3 months.

Here are some suggestions:

Lubricate the tip of the thermometer.
Place the child facedown across your lap while supporting his head, or lay the child down on a firm surface.
Place one hand on your child's lower back.
Use the other hand to insert the thermometer through the anal opening, about an inch into it. If you feel resistance, stop.
Steady the thermometer between your second and third fingers as you cup your hand against the baby's bottom.
Soothe your child by speaking calmly.

Food Fact:
Citrus alert.

If you're taking certain medications, your doctor will want to know if you're a grapefruit juice drinker. There's a chemical in grapefruit and grapefruit juice that inhibits the enzyme needed to break down many drugs, including antihistamines, calcium-channel blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), immunosuppressants (taken by organ-transplant patients), sedatives and protease inhibitors (treatment for AIDS). As a result, blood levels of these drugs may stay high, with serious side effects.

Fitn ess Tip of the day:
Highway to health.

Wellness doesn't have to be expensive -- walking is an economical first step. It's easy, too. What better way to make exercise feel less like a chore and more a part of daily life? Some of the benefits of daily walks include reducing your risk of developing high blood pressure, lowering existing high blood pressure, lowering your risk of developing colon cancer, and reducing your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

FAQ of the day:
Is fish less nutritious if it's handled poorly?

Extended cooking, or cooking at a very high heat, can destroy heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, as can exposure to light and air. Try not to overcook fish, and stay away from the deep-fat fish fry. It's better to bake, broil, poach, steam or grill until the fish is just done, no more.
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