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Health Headlines - January 4

Posted Jan 07 2009 4:40pm

Blood Clot Drug Causes Higher Death Rate in Elderly Patients, Maker Says

A drug used to treat blood clots formed primarily from deep vein thrombosis or in kidney failure increases the death rate among elderly patients, its maker has warned physicians.

According to the Associated Press, the biotech company Celgene Corp. has alerted doctors in a letter also posted on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site, stating that clinical trials using the drug Innohep showed a death increase incidence in patients over age 70 of 13 percent, compared to a death rate of 5 percent when another anti-clotting drug, Heparin, was used.

Celgene had warned doctors in a July 2008 letter that the incidence of death among patients over age 90 was higher when Innohep was used, but the latest letter expanded the warning to "all elderly patients," the A.P. reported.

The study involved 350 patients with deep vein thrombosis who were getting Innohep, and it was stopped in February, 2008, after the mortality results were analyzed. The Innohep group died of various causes, the wire service reported, so no single cause of death stood out.

The FDA stated that it had asked Celgen to revise the information on the Innophep package "to better describe the overall study results which suggest that, when compared to (heparin), Innohep increases the risk of death for elderly patients" with failing kidneys, the A.P. said.

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Family History Doesn't Impact Prostate Cancer Treatment

The outcomes of prostate cancer patients treated with brachytherapy (seed implants) were not affected by patients' family history, a new study finds.

Researchers from the Departments of Radiation Oncology and Urology at New York City's Mount Sinai School of Medicine tracked 1,738 prostate cancer patients, of which 187 had a family history of the disease. The scientists found that among all risk groups, family history had no significance on outcome among prostate cancer patients treated with brachytherapy.

Study results were reported in the Jan. 1 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology *Biology* Physics.

Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer in men, next to skin cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that 186,320 new cases of prostate cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2008, and some 28,660 men died of the disease.

While family history does increase a man's risk of developing prostate cancer, "there is conflicting data on how family history impacts treatment outcomes," the researchers wrote in a news release.

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One Way to Thwart Disease: Make Mosquitoes Die Earlier

Since older mosquitoes are more likely to harbor diseases that can be passed to people, Australian researchers say they may have found a way to stem the process: make the mosquitoes die younger.

Dengue fever and malaria are examples of mosquito-borne diseases that have stricken millions of people worldwide. It takes about two weeks for mosquitoes to acquire and incubate the pathogens that cause these diseases and then spread them to people, the Associated Press reported.

So scientists at the University of Queensland tried introducing mosquitoes to a bacterial parasite that wound up cutting the insects' lifespan by about half, to an average of 21 days from 50 days, the wire service reported.

Writing in the journal Science, lead researcher Scott O'Neill said the discovery could prove to be a safer alternative to the widespread use of insecticides.

If the parasite could spread among enough disease-carrying mosquitoes, the method "may provide an inexpensive approach in dengue control," he wrote.

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New Immunization Recommendations for Children Unveiled

Updated immunization recommendations for flu shots for children have been unveiled by three leading U.S. health groups.

The revised 2009 schedule calls for routine annual flu shots for children aged 6 months through 18 years. The previous recommendation applied to children from 6 months to 59 months of age. The new recommendation increases the number of eligible children by approximately 30 million.

"Vaccination is the best protection against influenza," Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease, said in a news release issued Wednesday. "This important update to the childhood immunization schedule helps us extend protection from influenza and its complications to all children between the ages of 6 months and 18 years, not just those at highest risk of complications from influenza."

The other health groups announcing the new vaccination schedule were the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Recommendations for inoculation against rotavirus -- a disease that causes diarrhea in young children -- include changes for the maximum ages for vaccination. The first dose should be given by 15 weeks of age. The latest age any dose may be given is 15 months. If the vaccine Rotarix is administered at ages 2 and 4 months, a dose at 6 months is not needed, the news release said.

The revised schedule also clarifies vaccination against human papillomavirus, the leading cause of cervical cancer in women. Routine dosing intervals should be used for series catch-up -- i.e., the second and third doses should be administered two and six months after the first dose. The third dose should be given at least 24 weeks after the first dose, the release said.

You can read the full immunization schedule at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

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New Year's Resolution: Restock That Medicine Cabinet

To get the new year off to a safe and healthy start, the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) suggests cleaning out and then restocking your medicine cabinet.

"You should do this once a year, at least," said Dr. Nick Jouriles, president of the ACEP. "A year's worth of showers and baths create heat and humidity that can cause some drugs to lose potency. It's good to get rid of them and replace them if they need to be replaced."

If a pill loses potency, you may not be getting the necessary dosage of medication. Holding on to several old prescriptions can also increase the risk of taking the wrong pill, Jouriles said in a news release.

Actually, a bathroom medicine cabinet isn't always the best place to keep medications, whether prescription or over-the-counter. Instead, keep them in a linen closet or a dark area, especially away from children, the release said.

According to ACEP, here are some essentials for your medicine cabinet:

  • Up-to-date prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • Adhesive bandages of assorted sizes for minor cuts and scrapes.
  • Gauze pads for larger cuts and scrapes. And adhesive tape to keep gauze in place.
  • Alcohol wipes and hydrogen peroxide to disinfect wounds. Antibiotic ointment to disinfect and protect wounds from infection.
  • A thermometer -- but not a mercury-based thermometer.
  • Antihistamine -- for allergic reactions.
  • Hydrocortisone cream to relieve irritation from rashes.
  • Acetaminophen, ibuprofen and aspirin, but aspirin should not be taken by children or teens under age 19.

For more health and safety information, visit emergencycareforyou.org.

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Drug Companies Agree to Voluntary Ban on Doctor 'Freebies'

The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to a voluntary moratorium on giving doctors branded items that advertise some of the country's most prescribed drugs, The New York Times reported.

Starting Jan. 1, doctors will see supplies of trinkets such as Viagra pens, Zoloft soap dispensers and Lipitor mugs cut off in a move that proponents of the moratorium say is a step toward eliminating influencing doctors' prescribing habits. But skeptics say the move is only a superficial measure, doing little to curb the far larger amounts of money that big drug companies spend to try to influence physicians.

About 40 drug makers, including Eli Lilly & Company, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer have signed on to the code, the Times reported.

Drawn up by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the new code bars companies from giving doctors branded pens, staplers, flash drives, paperweights, calculators and the like, the Times said. The new guidelines reiterate the group's 2002 code, which prohibited firms from giving physicians expensive gifts such as tickets to sporting events or resort stays, and asked drug companies that finance medical courses, conferences or scholarships to let independent experts choose study materials and scholarship recipients.

In a statement, Diane Bieri, executive vice president of the manufacturers' group, said the updated guidelines were not an admission that gifts could influence doctors, but were meant to emphasize the educational nature of the industry-doctor relationship, the newspaper said.

According to the Times, big firms last year gave away almost $16 billion in free drug samples to doctors and spent an estimated $6 billion more on sales visits and other promotions.

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