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Health Headlines - November 30

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Some Health Providers Unable to Get Flu Vaccine

The United States' supply of flu vaccine will reach 80 million doses by early December, federal experts say. But many health-care providers say they can't get enough vaccine to meet patient demand -- or can't get any at all, the Associated Press reported.

Some flu vaccine shortages have occurred because one manufacturer will produce less vaccine than expected. Chiron Corp. was expected to deliver 25 million to 30 million doses of vaccine, but will likely produce fewer than 18 million and may only provide 11 million to 12 million doses, said Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Immunization Services Division.

Santoli, who briefed a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services advisory committee on Tuesday, said there was also a delay in distribution of Chiron flu vaccine, the AP reported.

It was expected that the Chiron supplies would be distributed in late September, but they were actually distributed about a month later. By that time, some health-care providers had cancelled flu shot clinics for their patients, the news service reported.

Some members of the advisory committee expressed concern that reports of flu vaccine shortages might discourage some people from getting a flu shot. They noted that getting a shot later in the season was better than not getting one, the AP reported.

Taking Vioxx for a Month Caused Fatal Heart Attack: Lawyer

Taking Vioxx for a month was enough to cause a Florida man's fatal heart attack, his widow's lawyer said in an opening statement Tuesday in a federal liability lawsuit against drug maker Merck.

However, the drug company's lawyer countered that heart disease, not Vioxx, led to the man's death. The Merck lawyer said that extensive studies conducted before the drug was introduced in 1999 found no evidence that short-term use of the drug caused heart attacks, the Associated Press reported.

Evelyn Irvin Plunkett's husband, Richard Irvin Jr., was 53 years old when he died in May 2001. This is the third trial so far over the cardiovascular risks posed by Vioxx. Merck has lost one case and won another. More than 7,000 state and federal lawsuits have been filed over Vioxx, which was pulled from the market last year after studies showed that long-term use of the drug increased the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Plunkett's lawyer, Andy Birchfield, quoted from internal Merck e-mails to support his contention that the company knew about Vioxx's safety problems before the drug was introduced to the market in 1999. Birchfield charged that Merck made a "premeditated, financial decision" not to warn patient's about the risks of taking Vioxx, the AP reported.

Merck lawyer Philip S. Beck countered that Merck acted responsibly in developing and marketing the drug, and said Vioxx did not cause Irvin's heart attack.

China Reports 30th Bird Flu Outbreak

China announced its 30th confirmed outbreak of bird flu this year, in the westernmost region of Xinjiang County. This is the ninth outbreak to hit the county this year, making it one of the regions hit hardest by bird flu, Agence France Presse reported.

This latest outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu strain killed about 300 poultry and led to the culling of about 1.18 million farm-raised birds within a 1.8-mile radius of the outbreak, AFP said.

Chinese officials also said there was no SARS-like cover-up surrounding bird flu in the country, and that the nation was capable of preventing the disease from spreading easily from person to person.

In 2003, local governments in China did not openly report accurate figures about the extent of SARS until months after outbreaks.

"There's no such covering up of bird flu transmission in China," Health Minister Gao Qiang told reporters at a news briefing. "Once there is an outbreak, we will inform the public immediately and tell the public to be more prepared."

As of Nov. 25, China had reported three human cases of bird flu and two deaths. The virus has infected a total of 132 people in Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and China and killed 68 people in those countries, Bloomberg news reported.

Safety Alert Issued for Off-Label Use of Breast Cancer Drug

The drug letrozole (brand name Femara), which is often prescribed as a fertility aid, may cause birth defects and miscarriages, according to a Health Canada safety alert issued Monday.

The drug is approved to treat breast cancer in post-menopausal women. However, doctors in Canada and the United States often prescribe letrozole "off-label" to promote ovulation as part of fertility treatments, Knight Ridder Newspapers reported.

Health Canada and drug maker Novartis sent letters to doctors in Canada warning them about unapproved off-label use of the drug. Copies of the letter were posted on Health Canada's Web site.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't instructed Novartis to alert U.S. doctors but the Swiss drug company plans to send cautionary letters to U.S. fertility specialists. The letters will remind them that the drug is approved only for treatment of breast cancer.

Novartis has received 13 reports of adverse reactions in women who were exposed to letrozole during pregnancy. Of those 13 reports, four involved harm to babies, Knight Ridder reported.

Eye-Drop Maker Required to Sign FDA Consent Order

Eye-drop maker MBI Distributing Inc. has signed a consent decree with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to stop making and distributing drugs until the company corrects manufacturing problems and other violations at its Benicia, Calif., facility.

Among other problems, MBI lacked manufacturing controls to ensure that its eye drops were sterile, the FDA said. MBI's eye-drop product line includes Oxydrops, Bright Eyes, Bright Eyes II, Clarity Vision for Life, Visitein, and Can-C. The company also makes several over-the-counter pain relievers, the federal agency said.

The FDA also determined that two of MBI's eye-drop brands, Visitein and Clarity Vision for Life, are unapproved drugs. In addition, three of MBI's pain relievers -- Biogesic, Bio-Ice, and Bio-Heat -- don't provide adequate warnings for their safe use, the agency said.

Consumers, health-care providers, and caregivers should dispose of these MBI eye drops and pain relievers, the FDA said. Any adverse events related to these products should be reported to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.

Health Tip: Getting Your Zzzzs at the Wrong Time?

Narcolepsy is a sleep disorder associated with uncontrollable sleepiness and frequent daytime sleeping.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, narcoleptic episodes often occur after meals, but they may also come at dangerous inopportune times, such as while driving.

Symptoms of the condition include extreme drowsiness, difficulty staying awake during classes or work, hallucinations before or after an episode, and sudden loss of muscle function.

There is no known cure, but planned naps, eating light meals, and some prescription medications may help ease symptoms.

Health Tip: Wear a Helmet

Helmets can prevent serious injuries on the football field, and from bicycles, skateboards, and scooters.

But for the helmet to work, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons says, it must fit properly.

To find a proper fit, you may need to try several sizes and models. Helmets should be worn flat on your head and low on your forehead, with the bottom edge parallel to the ground. Side straps should form a V shape around the ear, and the buckle should fasten tightly.

The device should also contain pads that can be removed or installed for a perfect fit. Most important, the helmet should not move in any direction when you shake your head, or interfere with vision, movement or hearing.

Helmets should be replaced when they are damaged, outgrown or at least every five years.

Food Fact:
Tea for tumors.

Research shows one kind of tea can be up to 100 times more potent at blocking growth of cancer cells than another. While all tea (green, oolong or black) contains antioxidant compounds called catechins that protect against cancer (especially of the lung, breast, colon, stomach and skin) by neutralizing free radicals, green tea contains about 7 times more catechins than black tea. Green tea also has unique catechins that block an enzyme involved in breast, prostate and colon cancers. Green tea is 10 to 100 times stronger than black tea in blocking the growth of cancer cells. Catechins also prevent heart disease and stroke, primarily by defending against the harmful effects of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.

Fitness Tip of the day:
Battling exercise "burnout."

To keep your enthusiasm up, it may pay to put a few exercises down for a while. Changing your exercise program every couple of months may help beat boredom. Besides, after a while, your body adapts to the exercise stressors your current program had introduced, and craves new challenges.

FAQ of the day:
What is a "serving?"

All the nutrition information on a food label is based on one serving, the amount most typically eaten of that food. For example, a serving of salad dressing is 2 tablespoons. These serving sizes are not necessarily the amount you eat at a typical meal. Take breakfast cereal. The box may define a serving as one cup, but if you typically pour twice as much into your bowl; that's two servings, which means you'll be taking in twice the calories listed. Always consider the portion size when you read the nutrition information on the label.
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