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Health Headlines - May 24

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Man's Death May Be 1st Human-to-Human Transmission of Bird Flu

An Indonesian man who died Monday appears to be the first case of the H5N1 bird flu virus being transmitted from human to human, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

The 32-year-old man belonged to a family in which five people have recently died of bird flu.

However, officials with the health agency added that this latest death doesn't necessarily mean the H5N1 virus has mutated into a strain that can easily be passed between humans, The New York Times reported.

WHO spokeswoman Maria Cheng said, in this case, it's a "definite possibility" that the virus jumped more than once inside a group of family members in the village of Kubu Sembilang in northern Sumatra, Indonesia.

While the second jump does sound alarming, "It doesn't look like the trend has changed. Each case was in very close contact with the previous one," Cheng told the Times.

She said 33 other people in Kubu Sembilang who had contact with the family have been quarantined or treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu.

There have been at least three previous possible cases of human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus. All those cases involved family members who had spent many hours in close contact with a sick relative and likely inhaled large amounts of virus-contaminated droplets, the Times reported.

Young Adults Largest Group of Uninsured in U.S.

Young adults are the largest and fastest-growing group of people in the United States without health insurance, says a Commonwealth Fund report released Wednesday.

The report said 13.7 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 don't have insurance, an increase of 2.5 million from 2000. The rate of uninsured people in this group is twice that of those ages 30 to 64.

Young adults comprise 17 percent of the under-65 population, but account for 30 percent of the uninsured non-elderly population, the report said.

This lack of health coverage puts them at increased risk for poor health. The report said that 57 percent of young adults without health insurance said they'd had to do without needed health care, such as not seeing a doctor or specialist when needed, skipping a recommended medical test or treatment, or failing to fill a prescription.

There's also a financial toll. Forty-six percent of uninsured young adults said they were paying off a medical debt or had trouble paying medical bills.

U.S. Online Pharmacy Prices Increase, Non-U.S. Prices Fall

Drug prices at U.S. online pharmacies increased an average of seven percent over the past year, compared to a two percent decline in prices at Canadian and other non-U.S. online pharmacies, according to an analysis by

The changes mean that prices on non-U.S. online pharmacies are now an average of 40 percent lower than those on U.S. online pharmacies. The analysis compared prices of 10 top-selling drugs from the first quarters of 2005 and 2006.

Here's one example. In 2005, the average price for the popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (90 20mg tablets) was $202.94 at non-U.S. online pharmacies. In 2006, the average price was $188.15. The average U.S. online price for the same drug went from $295.67 in 2005 to $319.15 in 2006. said the decline in non-U.S. online drug prices may be due to tough competition among Canadian online pharmacies that have lost many U.S customers to Medicare Part D drug plans. In response, the Canadian online pharmacies are increasingly filling orders through other countries with lower prices.

NSAIDs Increase Risk of 1st Hospital Admission for Heart Failure

Commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) painkillers, such as ibuprofen, are associated with a slightly increased risk of first hospital admission for heart failure, says a study in the journal Heart.

The study of more than 228,660 patients concluded that there would be one extra first hospital admission for heart failure for every 1,000 people ages 60 to 84 who take NSAIDs, United Press International reported.

However, the researchers said this could increase to three additional cases per 1,000 among patients 70 and older who have chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or kidney failure.

Overall, 14 percent of patients were taking NSAIDs at the time of their first hospital admission for heart failure, compared with 10 percent of a comparison group of randomly selected people. Half of those admitted to hospital were ages 70 to 79.

The data used in the study came from the General Practice Research Database, which contains the medical records of millions of patients of family doctors in Britain, UPI reported.

No Difference Between 2 Anemia Drugs for Cancer Patients: Report

There is no clinically significant difference in effectiveness between two drugs -- epoetin and darbepoetin -- used to manage anemia in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, says a report released Tuesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The report said the two drugs show no difference in improving hemoglobin concentration or in reducing the need for transfusion. Both drugs do reduce the need for transfusion by about 20 percent, but there is no evidence that either drug, when added to cancer treatment, improves patient survival.

In addition, there are many unanswered questions about the safety and best use of both drugs, the report said.

"This report is a synthesis of studies performed so far regarding epoetin and darbepoetin, including unpublished findings as well as published reports," Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy, AHRQ director, said in a prepared statement.

"The authors have analyzed and weighed all of the evidence available in order to obtain the fairest possible understanding of these two alternative treatments for managing anemia in cancer patients. In addition, an important role for our comparative-effectiveness reviews is to identify research gaps where new evidence is needed. Their report finds that significant questions remain unanswered about both of these drugs," Clancy said.

U.S. Soldiers With PTSD More Likely to Suffer Poor Health

A year after leaving Iraq, American combat soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to be in worse physical health, experience more pain, and are more likely to miss work than those who don't have PTSD, says a U.S. military survey of nearly 3,000 Iraq war veterans.

The survey found that about 17 percent of the respondents had PTSD symptoms and they were more likely than those without symptoms to report various kinds of pain -- from backaches to headaches -- and gastrointestinal problems such as indigestion and nausea, USA Today reported.

Anxiety may contribute to these physical symptoms, said Dr. Charles Hoge, chief of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C.

He also noted that nightmares, flashbacks and other symptoms of PTSD can interfere with sleep, resulting in a negative impact on health. About 50 percent of the soldiers who reported PTSD symptoms rated their health as fair to poor.
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