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Health Headlines - November 1

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Generic Drug Could Stretch Tamiflu Supply

A generic drug called probenecid could help "double" the supply of the influenza drug Tamiflu, which is in high demand due to fears about a potential global outbreak of avian flu, says a report released Tuesday by the journal Nature.

Administering probenecid alongside Tamiflu prevents Tamiflu from being excreted in urine, meaning that half-doses of Tamiflu would provide sufficient protection, according to an emergency medical specialist who reviewed safety data on Tamiflu.

Probenecid appears to double the number of hours that Tamiflu's active ingredient remains in the blood and doubles its maximum blood concentration.

Probenecid prevents many drugs, including antibiotics, from being removed from the blood by the kidneys. It was used during the Second World War to stretch penicillin supplies and is still widely used alongside antibiotics in hospital emergency rooms and in treating patients with syphilis and gonorrhea.

Because probenecid is already widely used, there are few safety considerations, some doctors told Nature. However, others noted that even with the use of probenecid, a major increase in flu drug production is still required to cope with an influenza pandemic.

Diabetic Black Men Have Less Heart Disease, Researchers Say

Black men with diabetes have dramatically lower amounts of coronary artery disease than diabetic white men, a surprise outcome announced by investigators at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center Tuesday.

Dr. Barry Freedman and colleagues report in the December issue of Diabetologia that African-American men had significantly lower levels of calcified atherosclerotic plaque in the coronary arteries and the carotid arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain.

"This striking result was observed despite black subjects having higher levels of conventional risk factors for heart disease," said Freedman in a prepared statement. "These risk factors would normally be expected to promote coronary artery disease in the black participants."

The results came from the Diabetes Heart Study, made up of North Carolina families in which at least two siblings have type 2 or non-insulin-dependent diabetes. The Wake Forest investigators recruited 1,000 white participants from 369 families and 180 blacks from 74 families for the research.

Freedman pointed out that the study was the first to compare blacks and whites who had type 2 diabetes for differences in atherosclerosis. The amount of plaque was measured using high-speed computed tomography (CT) scans.

"Hardening of the arteries appears to be a different disease in blacks and whites. We have demonstrated this in diabetic subjects; other groups have shown it in people with hypertension," said Freedman. "We should be studying what causes these biologic differences. Perhaps inherited or genetic influences may contribute to these differences."

2nd Vioxx Trial Goes to Jury in New Jersey

A state court jury in New Jersey began deliberating a closely watched Vioxx product liability case Tuesday, capping a seven-week trial in which drug manufacturer Merck & Co. was accused of knowingly misrepresenting the safety risks of the arthritis drug, the Associated Press reported.

The six-woman, three-man jury started the day by hearing the closing argument of a lawyer for an Idaho postal worker who blamed Vioxx for his heart attack. Lawyer Chris Seeger called Merck a "monster" and told jurors their verdict would send a message about what is acceptable when marketing drugs, the AP reported.

The jurors got the case after Superior Court Judge Carol E. Higbee finished instructing them on the laws at issue in the case of Frederick "Mike" Humeston. The 60-year-old Boise, Idaho, resident took the drug for about two months before suffering a non-fatal heart attack in September 2001.

Humeston's is one of about 7,000 lawsuits brought against Merck, the Whitehouse Station, N.J.,-based company that removed the prescription painkiller, which once had annual sales of $2.5 billion, from the market a year ago after a study showed it doubled the risk of heart attack and stroke after 18 months' use.

In August, a Texas jury hearing the nation's first Vioxx case found in favor of a widow who blamed the drug for the death of her husband from an abnormal heartbeat. The jury awarded the woman $253 million, although the award was reduced to about $26 million because Texas law caps punitive damages at about that number in malpractice cases.

Chlamydia Bacteria Linked to Eye Cancer

Infection with a form of chlamydia bacteria called Chlamydia psittaci may play a role in the development of a type of lymphoma called ocular adnexal lymphoma (OAL), which affects tissue around the eye, says a South Korean study.

The finding raises hopes that antibiotics may one day offer an alternative to radiation or chemotherapy for OAL patients, the Associated Press reported.

Chlamydia psittaci can be contracted from infected birds, such as parrots. Cats also carry the bacteria and may be a source of infection in humans. The bacteria also causes a lung infection called psittacosis.

In the study, researchers compared chlamydia infection in 33 people with OAL and 21 people with a similar non-cancerous condition called non-neoplastic ocular adnexal disease, the AP reported.

Chlamydia psittaci was present in 78 percent of the OAL patients, compared with 23 percent of the patients in the comparison group, according to the findings presented Monday at the European Cancer Conference in Paris.

A previous Italian study found Chlamydia psittaci in 80 percent of OAL patients and in none of a comparison group of healthy people.

TB Blood Test Better Than Skin Test: Study

A new blood test called ELISPOT is more effective at detecting latent tuberculosis (TB) than the traditional tuberculin skin test, says a University of Texas Health Center study in the November issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

The study included 413 people who had contact with TB patients. All the study participants were given both the skin test and the blood test. The blood test returned positive results for 39 percent of the participants, compared with 50 percent for the skin test.

The researchers contend that the blood test offers more accurate results because it reduces the risk of error in test administration and interpretation. They also noted that certain types of vaccinations can trigger incorrect results from the skin test.

"Unfortunately, the standard method of diagnosing latent TB infection is the tuberculin skin test, which has many shortcomings," researcher Dr. Peter F. Barnes of the Center for Pulmonary and Infectious Disease Control at the University of Texas Health Center, said in a statement.

"Two visits are required and skilled personnel are essential for proper placement and interpretation of the test. In addition, because purified protein derivative of tuberculin contains many antigens that are shared with other mycobacteria, the skin test does not reliably distinguish latent TB infection from prior immunization with bacilli Calmette-Guerin, or BCG vaccination, or from infection with environmental bacteria," Barnes said.

Food Fact:
Slice of heaven?

Is pizza healthy any way you slice it? No, but you can make it so... To make healthy pizza, you've got to attack the fat. Instead of full-fat mozzarella, sausage and pepperoni, increase the variety and quantity of vegetables and use a small amount of flavorful cheese, such as feta or Parmesan. Given the amount of pizza Americans eat, any choice to cut calories helps; collectively, we eat about 100 acres of pizza each day, which works out to 46 slices of pizza for every man, woman and child over the course of a year.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Make it a "cardio commute."

We've got an easy tip for giving yourself an energy boost in the morning. Walk or ride your bike to the train station or bus stop. Or, try hopping off the bus a few blocks from your normal stop and walk the rest of the way. You'll arrive awake, alert and ready for work.

FAQ of the day:
Can soy save me from prostate cancer?

Soy's isoflavones exhibit several cancer-protective effects, but one relates directly to reducing prostate cancer risk. Isoflavones inhibit an enzyme that converts testosterone into an active form (dehydrosterone) associated with prostate cancer risk. Dehydrotestosterone, made primarily in the prostate, regulates the prostate cell's growth. Soy isoflavones have little effect on testosterone itself.
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