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Health Headlines -March 31

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:25pm
Pope Treated for Urinary Tract Infection

Pope John Paul II's condition worsened Thursday night as the 84-year-old pontiff developed a high fever due to a urinary tract infection.

"The Holy Father today was struck by a high fever caused by a confirmed infection of the urinary tract," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told the Associated Press, confirming earlier reports from two Italian news services.

The pope was being given antibiotics at the Vatican, Navarro-Valls said. There were unconfirmed reports that the pontiff had been given the sacrament for the sick and dying, known as the "last rights."

The sacrament does not necessarily mean that the pope is dying. Last rites are commonly given to people who are seriously ill, CNN reported.

CNN said there were no immediate plans to take the pope to the Rome hospital where he was treated twice in the past month for breathing problems.

On Wednesday, the Vatican said a feeding tube had been inserted in John Paul's nose to improve his nourishment.

New Therapy Appears Effective Against Melanoma

A new immunotherapy technique significantly reduced the size of cancer in patients with advanced melanoma who didn't respond to previous treatments, says a U.S. National Cancer Institute study.

The immunotherapy included a combination of chemotherapy and reintroduction of autologous activated lymphocytes, which are white blood cells that have been removed from the patient, re-educated to attack the tumor, and then put back into the patient.

This therapy shows promise as a way to use a patients' own immune system to fight tumors. The study included 35 people with melanoma that had spread throughout the body. Of the 35 patients, 18 (51 percent) experienced improvement in the amount of cancer at various locations in the body -- lung, liver, lymph nodes, brain and skin.

Of the 18 patients who showed improvement, 15 had a partial response that lasted from two months to more than two years.

The findings appear in the April issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Organ Rejection Drug Fights Skin Cancer: Study

An immunosuppressive drug used after organ transplants reversed a form of skin cancer sometimes experienced by kidney transplant recipients, says an Italian study in the March 31 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The University of Bari study found that the drug sirolimus, which suppresses the body's immune system to prevent organ rejection in transplant patients, completely reversed Kaposi's sarcoma skin cancer in 15 kidney transplant patients.

The patients developed the skin cancer within months or a few years of their transplants. But all of them saw their cancer vanish three months after they stopped using standard immune suppression therapy and starting taking sirolimus, The New York Times reported.

The drug also prevented rejection of the patients' new kidneys.

Little Change in Youth Smoking Rates: CDC

There has been little change in smoking and other tobacco use rates by middle and high school students in the United States since 2002, says the 2004 National Youth Tobacco Survey released Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The report said that in 2004, 11.7 percent of middle school students reported current use of any tobacco product and 8.1 percent reported current tobacco use. Among high school students, 28 percent reported current use of any tobacco product and 22. 3 percent reported cigarette use in 2004.

Youth smoking has declined since the late 1990s, reversing a pattern of increased youth tobacco use that occurred in the early 1990s, the report noted. The 2004 figures suggest that health officials determine if there's a slowdown in progress toward meeting the Healthy People 2010 objectives to reduce cigarette and tobacco use among students.

Judge Blocks Rule Allowing Corporate Health Benefit Cuts

A U.S. District Judge has blocked a new federal rule that would have allowed companies to cut or eliminate retirees' health benefits when they reached age 65 and became eligible for Medicare, The New York Times reported Thursday.

The new rule, adopted last April by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), could have affected some 10 million retirees, the newspaper said.

On Wednesday, Judge Anita Brody of Federal District Court in Philadelphia issued a permanent injunction that bars federal officials from enforcing the rule. She said it violated a 1967 law that bans age discrimination in the workplace.

AARP had brought the action, saying the rule would have illegally accelerated the erosion of retiree health benefits. An EEOC spokeswoman said her agency would ask the U.S. Justice Department to appeal the decision.

U.S. Bans CFC Propellants in Asthma Inhalers

Makers of metered-dose asthma inhalers that contain chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) must begin using more environmentally friendly propellants by the end of 2008, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

CFCs have been proven to damage the earth's ozone layer that protects people from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Scientists say the depleted layer is likely to result in more cases of skin cancer and other harmful effects.

The FDA said the makers of asthma inhalers that now use the propellant should be able to produce enough non-CFC inhalers within 3 1/2 years.

Multiple Sclerosis Drug Tied to Another Death

A third patient's death has been linked to the multiple sclerosis drug Tysabri, which its makers stopped selling last month after it was tied to a deadly nervous system disease, the Bloomberg news service reported Thursday.

Tysabri won U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in November as a treatment for multiple sclerosis. Manufacturers Biogen IDEC and Elan Corp. also had been studying use of the drug for other conditions, Bloomberg reported.

The latest death, which occurred in 2003, involved a patient who had the digestive disorder Crohn's disease and had been taking Tysabri in a clinical trial, Biogen told the news service.

Some 5,000 people had taken Tysabri since it was approved, Biogen said. The deaths were caused by a rare but usually fatal nervous system disease called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy.

More Petting Zoo Illnesses Reported in Florida

Five new cases of E. coli-related illness have been reported among people who visited central Florida petting zoos, the Associated Press reported.

The number of confirmed and suspected victims, mostly children, now stands at 22, the wire service said. Some have tested positive for E. coli bacteria, and others have developed a related kidney disease called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

Investigators are leaning more toward petting zoo animals than food or drink vendors as the source of the problem, the AP said.
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