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Health Headlines - September 10

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
FDA Panel Backs Inhaled Insulin

A group of experts advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday voted to back an inhaled form of insulin that's designed to end or supplement the need for injections that control diabetics' blood sugar levels.

The FDA's Endocrinologic and Metabolic Drugs Advisory Committee voted 7-2 to recommend that Exubera be approved by the full FDA, which usually follows its panels' recommendations but isn't bound by them.

The drug's developers include Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, and Nektar Therapeutics. Safety concerns prompted them to delay seeking FDA approval for three years, the Bloomberg news service reported. Concerns about Exubera include its long-term effects on the lungs, and whether it poses a danger to smokers and people with lung disease, the Associated Press reported.

Human trials have shown the drug to be generally as effective as injected insulin. But some users have complained of coughing and a minor decrease in breathing capacity. Pfizer said it would monitor the long-term effects of the drug, the first diabetes treatment to be absorbed through the lungs, Bloomberg said.

Inhaled insulin wouldn't replace the need for longer-acting injections for people with type 1 diabetes, typically taken in the morning or before bed, according to FDA documents cited by the AP.

Drug Use by U.S. Teens Continues Decline

Illicit drug use among American teens fell 9 percent from 2002 to 2004, the government said Thursday.

Use of marijuana, the most popular illicit drug, fell 7 percent among young adults 18 to 25 during the same period, according to the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Overall, 19.1 million Americans ages 12 and older -- about 7.9 percent of the population within that age group -- conceded to using at least one illicit drug in the month before the survey, SAMHSA found. This rate was similar to those seen in 2002 and 2003, the agency said in a statement.

SAMHSA said it was concerned about an increase in non-medical use of prescription drugs, particularly narcotic pain relievers in the hydrocodone and oxycodone classes. Lifetime non-medical use of these products rose to 24 percent from 22 percent among respondents ages 18 to 25 between 2002 and 2004, the survey found.

Some 22.8 percent of respondents ages 12 and older conceded to binge drinking -- defined as having at least five alcoholic drinks on the same occasion -- at least once in the 30 days prior to the 2004 survey, about the same as in the prior two years. Smoking rates, however, fell to 29.2 percent from 30.4 percent between 2002 and 2004, the poll found.

Child Mercury Poisoning Costs U.S. $2 Billion Annually: Study

The impact of mercury poisoning on children's brain development costs the United States $2 billion each year, scientists at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City concluded in research released Thursday.

More than 1,500 babies each year may suffer mental retardation stemming from fetal mercury exposure, the researchers wrote in the online version of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified coal-fired power plants -- producing 41 percent of U.S. mercury pollution -- as the largest industrial source, the authors said in a statement. The plants alone account for 231 cases of mental retardation at an annual cost of $289 million, the scientists said.

In March, the EPA relaxed rules that will now permit 26 tons of mercury to be released each year into the atmosphere through 2010, the researchers' statement said.

Post-Traumatic Stress Can Be Deadly: Study

U.S. Army veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had twice the death rate within 30 years of service as veterans who didn't have PTSD, according to new study results from researchers at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

Causes of death included cardiovascular disease, cancer, and "external causes" like suicide or traffic accidents, the researchers said in a statement. About half the 15,000 male veterans surveyed served in the Vietnam War, and the rest in wars in Europe or Korea.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can follow life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or violent personal assaults like rape, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. People who have PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and flashbacks, have difficulty sleeping, and feel detached or estranged. Symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person's daily life.

The researchers, whose results were published in the journal Annals of Epidemiology, said the study was relevant not only to veterans, but to others with PTSD, including victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Ways to minimize a PTSD sufferer's risk of dying include getting treatment, following a good diet, exercising, quitting smoking, and avoiding substance abuse, the researchers said.

Junk Food Competes With Nutritional Fare in Most Schools

Junk food, including candy, soda, and pizza, competes with nutritious meals in nine of 10 U.S. schools, a new government survey found.

"Parents should know that our schools are now one of the largest sources of unhealthy food for their kids," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the Associated Press. Harkin, who asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct the study, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee.

The less-healthy fare is often available in vending machines and in school stores, the AP said. It is largely unregulated, although many schools raise substantial funds from sales of these types of food.

Of 656 schools sampled, vending machines were available in almost all high schools and middle schools, but in fewer than half of elementary schools, the GAO found.

Three-quarters of high schools and 65 percent of middle schools had exclusive soft drink contacts, the GAO said. The figure in middle schools was up from 26 percent five years ago, the AP said.

Health Tip: Prevent Testicular Cancer

Testicular tumors are among the more common cancers occurring in men under 40. Seton Hall University in New Jersey advises men to conduct regular self-examinations. Here's how:

Support the testicles in one hand and feel each with the other hand.
Gently roll each testicle between the thumb and the fingers. You'll feel a smooth tubular structure that covers the top, back and bottom of each testicle.
With your finger, delicately separate this tube from the testicle to examine the testicle itself.
Feel for any swelling or lumps.
If you detect anything unusual, see your doctor without delay.

Health Tip: When Your Glands Are Swollen

If your child has swollen glands, it could be a sign of an infection. Swollen glands are part of the body's defense system to prevent an infection from becoming more serious, according to The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Your child should see the doctor if the swollen glands:

Are present for more than two weeks.
Are getting bigger or more numerous.
Are red, hot, tender, or discharging pus.
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