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Health Headlines - May 2

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
U.S. to Unveil Pandemic Response Plan

If a flu pandemic reaches the United States, workers should be kept at least three feet apart, colleges would need to designate dormitories to quarantine the sick, and coughing airline and ship travelers should be made to wear surgical masks, according to a federal government draft pandemic flu plan.

The undated draft was obtained by the Associated Press. The White House is scheduled to release a pandemic response plan on Wednesday.

As many as 40 percent of American workers could be off the job if a pandemic strikes and all segments of U.S. society must be prepared for the effects of a pandemic.

"The collective response of 300 million Americans will significantly influence the shape of the pandemic and its medical, social and economic outcomes," says the 228-page draft version of the plan. "Institutions in danger of becoming overwhelmed will rely on the voluntarism and sense of civic and humanitarian duty of ordinary Americans."

The government predicts massive disruptions in the event of a pandemic and a worst-case scenario of up to two million deaths in the U.S., the AP reported.

Restrictions on movement in and around the country, a limit on the number of international flights, and quarantining exposed travelers are among the possible responses to a pandemic.

However, the federal government doesn't plan to close U.S. borders in order to fight the spread of an international influenza pandemic. Such a move would only slow a pandemic's spread into the U.S. by a few weeks, but would have a major impact on the economy and in foreign affairs, the AP reported.

Fears of a worldwide flu pandemic are focused on the H5N1 bird flu virus, which has infected about 200 people since 2003, killing about half of them. Experts are concerned that the H5N1 virus may mutate into a form that is easily transmitted between humans.

Studies Test Diabetes Drug's Effect on Alzheimer's

The new theory that there may be a link between Alzheimer's disease and diabetes will be tested in research to determine whether giving Alzheimer's patients the diabetes drug Avandia will slow cognitive decline.

The three Phase III studies of thousands of patients, which begin this summer, follow a preliminary study of 511 Alzheimer's patients that suggested the drug may help those patients who lack a gene that spurs more aggressive Alzheimer's, the Associated Press reported.

Diabetes, which damages blood vessels that supply the brain, has long been listed as a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. However, this new theory suggests a more direct link -- that Alzheimer's can be triggered when brain cells aren't able to properly use their main fuel -- sugar. This is similar to Type II diabetes, which occurs when insulin loses its ability to process sugar in the entire body.

Avandia (rosiglitazone) treats Type II diabetes by resensitizing the body to insulin. The Phase III studies will be conducted by Avandia maker GlaxoSmithKline.

"I don't think this is hype for rosiglitazone," Dr. Sam Gandy, director of the Farber Institute for Neurosciences at Thomas Jefferson University, and an Alzheimer's Association spokesman, told the AP. "This does dovetail with some existing knowledge."

Company Pulls Antibiotic Tequin Off The Market

The antibiotic Tequin, which has been linked to serious blood sugar complications, is being taken off the market, drug company Bristol-Myers Squibb said Monday.

The company will stop making and selling the drug and return its rights to Kyorin Pharmaceutical Company in Japan, the Associated Press reported.

Stocks of the drug currently available will not be recalled, said Bristol-Myers Squibb spokesman Eric Miller. People taking Tequin should not stop using it until they've discussed alternatives with their doctor, he said.

The drug was approved for sale in the U.S. in 1999. In February, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered Bristol-Myers Squibb to place stronger warnings on the drug's labeling, the AP reported.

The company's announcement Monday came on the same day that the public interest group Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to ban Tequin. The petition said that, since Jan. 1, 2000, 388 patients have suffered blood sugar irregularities associated with the drug, resulting in 20 deaths and 159 hospitalizations.

The drug had been prescribed for a variety of health problems, including chronic bronchitis, sinusitis, pneumonia, and urinary tract infections.

Bacterial Contamination Threat Prompts Recall of Dental Rinses

The risk of bacterial contamination has led to the recall of all lots and all flavors of NeutraGard 0.05 percent Neutral Sodium Fluoride Anticavity Treatment Rinse and NeutraGard Plus 0.2 percent Neutral Sodium Fluoride Anticavity Treatment Rinse in clear 16-ounce plastic bottles, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

The products, made by Pascal Company Inc., may be contaminated with Burkholderia cepacia and Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria.

B. cepacia poses little risk to healthy people but may affect people with certain health problems, including weakened immune systems and chronic lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis. In these people, this kind of bacteria can cause severe respiratory infections, the FDA said.

P. aeruginosa can cause urinary-tract infections, respiratory-system infections, dermatitis, soft-tissue infections, bacteremia, bone and joint infections, gastrointestinal infections, and a variety of systemic infections, particularly in people with severe burns and in AIDS and cancer patients.

Dental offices and consumers with these products should stop using them and destroy or return the product to the place of purchasem, the FDA said.
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