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Health Headlines - October 14

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Indian Drug Maker to Produce Generic Version of Tamiflu

Cipla, the third largest drug maker in India, says it plans to start making a generic version of the anti-influenza drug Tamiflu to be ready for a possible avian flu pandemic.

However, Cipla could face a court challenge from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche, which holds the patent for Tamiflu, The New York Times reported.

Generic drug makers can't legally sell patented drugs in the West. However, all national patent laws allow nations to cancel drug patents during emergencies and either buy generic drugs or compel drug patent holders to license their drug formulas to other companies.

"Right or wrong, we're going to commercialize and make oseltamivir (the generic name for Tamiflu)," Dr. Yusuf K. Hamied, chairman of Cipla, told the Times.

He said the generic drug would be sold only in developing nations.

"God forbid the avian flu should strike India. There is no line of defense," Hamied said.

Roche spokesman Terry Hurley wouldn't say whether the company would take Cipla to court. But Hurley told the Times, "If we determine that there has been an infringement, we'd move to protect our rights and interests."

Due to fears of a possible flu pandemic, the United Nations and several countries have been pushing Roche to license generic versions of Tamiflu, which eases the worst symptoms of flu.

Roche just announced it's increasing Tamiflu production to create stockpiles of the drug, but it said governments may have long waits for their orders to be filled.

FDA Seizes Medicine Pumps

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has seized more than 6,000 medicine-dispensing pumps from Baxter International Inc. facilities in northern Illinois.

The seized devices include 6,000 Colleague infusion pumps that have been linked to patient deaths and 850 Syndeo syringe pumps that are used to administer pain medication, Bloomberg News reported.

Earlier this year, defects in the pumps prompted Baxter to suspend shipments to hospitals and acute medical care facilities.

There have been three recalls of Colleague pumps this year. The latest involves a potential fault in the battery on more than 250,000 of the pumps. This and other flaws may be linked to seven patient deaths, Bloomberg News reported.

Yale Team Finds Gene Linked to Tourette Syndrome

Yale University scientists have identified a gene that may contribute to some cases of Tourette syndrome, a study in the journal Science says.

The Yale team identified the SLITRK1 gene on chromosome 13 in a young child with Tourette syndrome. They then checked 174 other people with the syndrome and found that two of them also had the same gene,BBC News reported.

While this study may help explain only a small number of cases of Tourette syndrome, it does offer valuable information, the scientists said.

"The finding could provide an important clue in understanding Tourette's on a molecular basis and cellular level," said study lead author Dr. Matthew Slate. "Confirming this, even in a small number of additional Tourette's syndrome patients, will pave the way for a deeper understanding of the disease process."

It's already known that Tourette syndrome has a strong family pattern, indicating that genetics play at least some role, BBC News reported.

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

U.S. Considers At-Home HIV Test

U.S. federal drug regulators will consider allowing the first U.S. sales of an at-home test for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, The New York Times reported.

The proposal for the OraQuick Advance Rapid HIV-1/2 Antibody Test, made by OraSure Technologies of Bethlehem, Pa., is scheduled to be discussed Nov. 3 by a federal advisory board. The company said that after the advisory board meeting it would likely apply formally to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for permission to sell the at-home HIV test over-the-counter.

Currently, the test is sold only to clinics and doctors and has proven effective, safe and easy to use, the Times reported. The FDA would need to decide whether approving the test for at-home use is a good idea and whether ordinary people can understand the test's label well enough to use it themselves.

If the FDA approves the at-home HIV test, it would end 18 years of controversy. A 1987 application for an at-home HIV test was opposed by public health officials and AIDS advocates, who feared that an at-home test would lead to panic, widespread suicides and a rush to public health clinics, The Times reported.

However, improved drug treatments for AIDS now mean in many cases it's a chronic disease that can be managed for years. That means that there's less risk that a diagnosis of HIV/AIDS might prompt people to commit suicide.

In addition, U.S. federal officials are now more open to the idea that an at-home HIV test may help prevent the spread of the disease.

"If we're going to win the war against AIDS, we need to make HIV testing as easy as pregnancy testing," Dr. Freya Spielberg, a researcher at the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Washington, told the Times.

Male Breast Cancer Often Overlooked: Study

Male breast cancer is often ignored or misdiagnosed, says a Canadian study of 20 men with the disease.

The University of Alberta-sponsored study tracked the treatment of the men, ages 44 to 85, and also examined the way that men and women cope with breast cancer, CBC News reported.

"There is a general lack of awareness on male breast cancer both on the part of health professionals and the population at large," said researcher Edie Pituskin, who suspects that many cases go undiagnosed or untreated.

She hopes her study will encourage doctors to pay more attention to male breast cancer. Pituskin also said more men need to take part in clinical trials of breast cancer drugs and treatments, CBC News reported.

The study's preliminary results will be released at the National Conference for Men's Health in Atlanta.

Liver Transplant Switch Led to Man's Death: Report

A liver transplant deception at St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles proved fatal for a 59-year-old Saudi man, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

Saad Al-Harthi was near the top of the liver transplant list. But when the hospital accepted a liver in his name on Sept. 8, 2003, it was transplanted into another Saudi national who was 50 places behind Al-Harthi on the transplant list, the Times said.

When the transplant occurred, Al-Harthi was at home in Saudi Arabia. He died less than a year later after liver cancer spread through his body.

All liver transplants at St. Vincent were suspended two weeks ago after a routine audit detected the transplant switch. The hospital has launched an investigation into the matter and is also looking into whether other organs may have been improperly diverted, the Times reported.

Hormone May Be Key to Fat Digestion

Researchers say they've identified a hormone that plays an important role in the digestion of fat, cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, E and D.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center researchers report that the hormone, called fibroblast growth factor 15 (FGF15), helps keep bile acids under control. FGF15 sends a signal to the liver that controls the production of bile acids, which emulsify fats and enable them to be broken down and absorbed by the digestive system.

In research with mice, the scientists determined that the intestine senses the level of bile acids and then triggers secretion of FGF15, which limits further production of bile acids by the liver.

"Bile acids are powerful detergents whose concentrations must be tightly regulated," study author Steven Kliewer explained in a prepared statement. "The body needs enough to absorb fat and other nutrients, but too much can damage tissues and organs. We've found a new mechanism by which a hormone produced in the intestine protects against the overproduction of bile acid."

The findings suggest FGF15 plays an important role in signaling between the gut and liver, and also raise questions about what other roles FGF15 may play in other parts of the body.

Health Tip: Hair Loss in Women With Cancer

For women, a diagnosis of cancer often signals the possibility of losing their hair. While hair loss varies in different women, it is often lost within two weeks of starting chemotherapy.

The American Cancer Society offers these tips for women who are upset about hair loss:

Shop for a wig before the start of treatment in order to match the texture and color of your natural hair.
Get a prescription for the wig because it may be covered by health insurance.
If your hair is long, consider a wig made from your own hair.
Choose scarves as an alternative to wearing a wig.

Before women wear a wig, they should gently brush and wash their own hair, and avoid using heat-styling products. The scalp should be protected when going outside in extreme weather conditions.

Health Tip: Too Much Fluoride Can Harm Young Children

Although touted as an essential part of daily tooth care, fluoride can harm some children, according to Health Canada.

If children under 6 years old ingest high levels of fluoride while their teeth are forming, they can develop dental fluorosis, white areas or brown stains on the teeth. This may also damage the tooth enamel, causing tooth pain.

To minimize risks, parents shouldn't give fluoridated rinses to children under 6, and they should monitor the amount of toothpaste their child uses. Children should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste and avoid swallowing it. Parents should brush the teeth of children under 3 years old without using toothpaste.

The risk of fluorosis decreases when children reach the age of six, since their teeth have finished forming.

Food Fact:
Zest for life.

If you throw away an orange peel, you're discarding material that could guard your health. Zest - the grated citrus skin - is rich in health-protective limonene. To grate zest, start with organic fruit, since the skin of non-organic citrus may contain pesticides. Press a piece of wax paper or baking parchment over the grater's smallest holes. Scrub the fruit and rub the rind over the paper-covered grater. When you've finished grating, carefully remove the paper, scrape off the zest and add it to vegetable dishes, tomato sauce and desserts.

Fitness Tip of the day:
The 100-yard sale.

The gym isn't the only place to burn calories; you can find lots of ways to get in shape at the mall, if you know where to look. Start by parking an extra 100 yards away and walking to the mall entrance. Take a few laps around the shopping center when you go window shopping. Bring some friends; you'll have so much fun, you may not even realize how much of a workout you're all getting.

FAQ of the day:
If I'm taking a blood thinner, should I avoid fish?

Eating fish or shellfish is not only safe in your case -- it's a good idea. But stay away from fish-oil capsules, which may give you higher doses of blood-thinning omega-3s than you'd get even from very fatty fish. The capsules might interfere with your medication, which has been prescribed at a certain dose based on your medical needs. (The same goes for any other blood-thinning medication.) Too much blood "thinning" can be as dangerous as too little, possibly increasing the risk of stroke.
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