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Health Headlines - March 3

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

U.S. Disposes of Last of Its Original Smallpox Vaccine

America's oldest smallpox vaccine is no more.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late last week that it had arranged for the elimination of the last of its 12 million doses of Dryvax, the vaccine that was largely responsible for eliminating the worldwide scourge of a disease that killed millions of people in the 1700s and 1800s.

The Associated Press reports that Dryvax, developed by the pharmaceutical company Wyeth in the late 1800s, was actually used quite recently -- in 2003 -- to help stem an outbreak of monkey pox in the United States. The last case of human smallpox was reported in Somalia in 1977.

No one in the United States gets smallpox vaccinations anymore, but because of concern about biological terrorism, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved replacing Dryvax with more than 200 million doses of a vaccine known as ACAM2000, made by Acambis Inc. of Cambridge, England, the wire service reports.

Despite its effectiveness, Dryvax had its problems, the AP reports, with evidence of heart attacks and heart inflammation in some cases.

But overall, the vaccine's importance can't be overlooked, Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of Vanderbilt University's department of preventive medicine, told the wire service. He called it a "historical moment, because it's our oldest vaccine."


Solution Offered for U.K. Binge Drinking: Smaller Bottles of Wine

A recent report of binge drinking among wine aficionados in some of the more affluent British circles has prompted a rather simple solution: offer wine in half bottles.

BBC News reports that Trish Groves, the deputy editor of the British Medical Journal, made the suggestion because people in the United Kingdom have little choice when buying wine. The amount of wine in a standard bottle is 750 milliliters, about 1.6 pints.

"It's no wonder Britain's middle classes are getting wasted," BBC News quotes Groves as saying. "It's all too tempting to finish the bottle there and then to avoid waste," she told the BBC.

Using her own experiences, Grove, said that her local wine store was typical of the problem throughout the United Kingdom - almost all wine is sold in full bottles.

The Wine and Spirit Trade Association was receptive to the idea, BBC News said. "As an industry, we're always keen to provide our consumers with a range of options to choose from," a spokesperson is quoted as saying.


Pills Reported Found in Recalled Frozen Fish

Gorton's frozen fish sold in 10 states is being recalled after unidentified pills were found in the product by a Pennsylvania family, the Associated Press reported.

The company ordered the precautionary recall of about 1,000 cases of the fish, as a laboratory worked to identify the pills. Results of the tests are expected early next week. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Pennsylvania authorities, and the company are investigating the incident.

A New Freedom, Pa., woman said she had bitten into one of the pills and her 9-year-old daughter found another pill in the fish, the wire service said. Neither got sick, and both were checked out at a local hospital. The pills were described as beige and about the size of an aspirin.

The recall affects Gorton's 6 Crispy Battered Fish Fillets in 11.4-ounce packages. The UPC code is 44400157770, with a date code of 7289G1 and a best-if-used-by date of April 2009.

In addition to Pennsylvania, the fish also was distributed in: Alabama, Delaware, California, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

For more information, contact Gorton's at 800-896-9479.


FDA: Inhaler Capsules Mistakenly Being Swallowed

Some consumers prescribed respiratory inhalers that include capsules full of medicine are mistakenly swallowing the capsules instead of inhaling the contents, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned.

The Spiriva HandiHaler and the Foradil Aerolizer are prescribed to people with asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases, the Associated Press reported. The FDA said it has received several reports of people swallowing the capsules, which will do nothing to assist breathing. The only proper way to use the capsules is to inhale the contents with the inhalers.

The FDA "indicated that not many of the patients who swallowed the capsules reported side effects," the AP reported.

The Spiriva product is produced and co-marketed by Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer; the Foradil inhaler is made by Novartis and marketed in the United States by Schering-Plough.


Wyeth's New Antidepressant Gets FDA OK

Drug maker Wyeth has received U.S. government approval to replace its successful antidepressant Effexor XR (venlafaxine hydrochloride), which is facing patent expiration within the next two years with a different drug that the company says has some added advantages.

The New York Times reports that Wyeth received approval Feb. 29 from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to market Pristiq (desvenlafaxine succinate). Effexor XR's patent expires in 2010.

Wyeth maintains that Pristiq has some new features, the Times reports. First, patients will be able to begin treatment at the therapeutic dose level of 50 milligrams (mg). Usually, a patient starting out on an antidepressant has to take a lower dose for a few weeks before working up to the therapeutic dose.

Second, the drug doesn't have to be broken down by the liver, as its predecessor does, the newspaper reports. This eliminates problems of drug interactions, the Times quotes a Wyeth spokesperson as saying.

Effexor XR's 2007 sales were $3.8 billion, the newspaper said.


Walker's Four Bean Salad Recalled

Potential contamination with Clostridium botulinum bacteria has prompted a recall of 16-oz., 5-lb., and 10-lb. containers of Four Bean Salad made by Walker's Food Products Company of North Kansas City, Mo., the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

This kind of bacteria can cause botulism, a serious and potentially fatal kind of food poisoning. Symptoms include general weakness, dizziness, double vision, trouble speaking or swallowing, difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, abdominal distension and constipation. Anyone with such symptoms should seek immediate medical help, the FDA said.

No illnesses have been reported in connection with the recalled Four Bean Salad, which was sent to distributors in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa for sale to retail stores and restaurants. The 16-oz. containers were packaged under the Kay's Gourmet brand name, while the 5-lb. and 10-lb. containers were packaged under the Walker's Food Products Co. brand name.

The recall includes salad with expiration dates 12/23/07 through 04/5/08. The expiration dates are stamped on the bottom of the round clear plastic containers.

Anyone who bought the recalled salad should return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. For more information, call Walker's Food Products at 1-800-725-2372.

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