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Health Headlines - September 12, 2005

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
Bats May Be Source of SARS Virus: Report

Chinese researchers say they've found a virus in some wild bats in Hong Kong that's closely related to the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in humans.

In 2003, Chinese health officials first found the SARS coronavirus in caged civets in animal markets, suggesting these weasel-like mammals were the source of the SARS epidemic. But, subsequent studies suggested that while civets have served to host the virus, they may not have been the original host.

To investigate further, the Chinese research team studied wild animals in the Hong Kong countryside that may have come in contact with civets. The researchers found a coronavirus similar to the SARS virus in nearly 40 percent of wild Chinese horseshoe bats they examined. A genetic analysis of the bat coronavirus showed the virus is closely related to the human SARS coronavirus. And it probably shares a genetic ancestor with the civet SARS coronavirus, the researchers said.

Their findings appear in the online early edition the Sept. 12-16 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The researchers said they couldn't determine how the bats were originally infected or whether this species was responsible for transmitting the SARS coronavirus to other mammals, including civets. However, since bat feces are used in Chinese traditional medicine, and bat meat is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, the researchers urged caution in handling these animals.

SARS first appeared in southern China in late 2002. It has killed 774 people around the globe, most of them in Asia, according to the World Health Organization. More than 8,000 people were sickened before the initial outbreak was brought under control through such measures as quarantines and travel restrictions. But health officials worry about the potential for another outbreak.

FDA Panel Backs Diabetes Drug, Despite Heart Risks

Experts advising the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted Friday to recommend FDA approval of the Bristol-Myers Squibb diabetes drug Pargluva (muraglitazar), despite an increased risk of heart failure among users, the Bloomberg news service reported.

Pargluva is among a new class of non-insulin drugs that allows diabetics to control blood sugar levels. It's also designed to help patients maintain healthy blood cholesterol levels. But there were 17 cases of heart failure among Pargluva users in clinical trials, compared with two cases of heart failure among those who took a different drug, Bloomberg said.

The consumer group Public Citizen warned against FDA approval, citing the drug's heart failure risks and two other common side effects, fluid retention and weight gain. Bristol-Myers argued that the drug's benefits outweigh its risks.

A company spokesman told Bloomberg that the company would address the heart failure risks in the drug's label and in its marketing materials to doctors.

The full FDA normally follows the recommendations of its expert panels but isn't bound to do so.

On Thursday, an FDA advisory panel 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, developed by Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis, and Nektar Therapeutics, be approved by the full FDA.

Senate Passes Bill Restricting Cold Medicine Access

Sales of cold medicines that can be used to make the addictive street drug methamphetamine would be restricted under legislation passed Friday by the U.S. Senate.

The measure, approved unanimously, would require cold medicines containing the decongestant pseudoephedrine to be sold only from behind pharmacy counters, the Associated Press reported.

Buyers would have to show a photo ID and sign a log, and would be limited to about 7.5 grams worth of the medicine per month. Purchases would be tracked to prevent the same consumer from buying larger quantities at different stores.

The House of Representatives has yet to consider the bill, the AP said.

Study Shows 900,000 Teens Planned Suicides While Depressed

Approximately 900,000 American teens had made a plan to commit suicide during their worst or most recent episode of major depression, and 712,000 attempted suicide during such an episode, a new federal study reports.

The findings are contained in a study on children ages 12 to 17 that was released Friday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The data came from the 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which asked teens about symptoms of depression, including thoughts about death or suicide. The report defines a major depressive episode as a period of at least two weeks in which a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities and had at least five of the nine symptoms of clinical-diagnosed depression.

The report, "Suicidal Thoughts Among Youths Aged 12-17 With Major Depressive Episode," found that more than 7 percent of teens, or 1.8 million children, had thought about killing themselves during their worst or most recent episode of major depression.

The data also showed that about 3.5 million teens had experienced at least one episode of major depression in their lifetime. Almost 20 percent of females in this age group and 8.5 percent of males had at least one of these depressive episodes. Rates of major depressive episodes were similar among racial and ethnic groups and increased with age, the study found.

British Researchers Look to Create Embryos From 2 Women

British authorities have approved experimental research by University of Newcastle scientists that could lead within a few years to the first genetically altered babies being born in Britain.

The goal of the research, according to the scientists: To eliminate 50 or so metabolic disorders, including muscular dystrophy, that are linked to faults in a small set of genes outside the nucleus of cells, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The Newcastle researchers hope that in as few as three years, they will be able to combine in-vitro fertilization with cell and genetic surgery to "wipe out diseases caused by the equivalent of faulty batteries in cells," the newspaper said.

The result would be a baby who would be a combination of genes from one man and two women. If a girl were born in this way, her genetic alterations would be passed to future generations to free them of potentially deadly disorders, the paper said.

Pro-life advocates are denouncing the research as efforts to create "designer babies."

But Prof. John Burn, of the department of clinical medical sciences at Newcastle University, said, "I would use the analogy of simply replacing the battery in a pocket radio to explain what we are doing. You are not altering the radio at all, just giving it a new power source."

Give Hay Fever the Heave-Ho This Fall

Allergy sufferers, prepare yourselves -- ragweed pollen season is upon us, delivering bouts of sneezing and itchy, watery eyes for the more than 36 million Americans with hay fever.

Ragweed starts blooming in mid-August and is responsible for more than $3 billion annually in lost production, medications and doctor visits, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology.

But the allergic can do more than just rage against ragweed. The academy recommends that sufferers:

Commence taking medication 10 to 14 days prior to the onset of ragweed season.
Consult with an allergist before using herbal supplements or other alternative therapies, as they can have potentially serious side effects.
Consider allergy shots if medications do not provide adequate relief.
Continue treatment for two to three weeks after the season ends, to decrease nasal hyper-reactivity that may persist after pollen exposure has ended.
And if allergy symptoms still get out of control, don't wait -- see an allergist/immunologist.

"Studies have shown that those who get prompt medical attention make fewer visits to emergency rooms and are better able to manage their symptoms," Dr. Bruce S. Bochner, director of the division of allergy and clinical immunology at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, said in a prepared statement.

Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor Visit

When you're feeling sick -- really sick -- you might yearn for the good old days when a Marcus Welby-like doctor strode up to your door with a black bag and fixed you up in no time.

Those days may be long gone, but you can learn how to get the most out of a doctor's visit when you or a loved one are sick.

Here are some tips from experts on what you should do, say, and bring with you when you drag yourself to the doctor.

Take along helpful information.

"Patients need to have a list of their medications," said Dr. Jim Martin, a family physician and director of the residency training program at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. If you're seeing your regular family doctor, he or she probably has that list on file, but it doesn't hurt to take it along anyway. Include when and how often you take the medicines, and at what strength. Also, discuss any allergies or reactions you have had to medicines.

Similarly, if patients "have a history of medical problems, they should make a list of those medical problems," Martin said. This would be particularly valuable if you don't wind up seeing your regular doctor, but someone else in the practice.

Be specific about what's wrong.

Before leaving for the doctor, think about your symptoms and make a mental -- or written -- list of what's bothering you, said Dr. Michael Fleming, a family physician in Shreveport, La., and immediate past president of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

"We're like detectives; we work on clues," Fleming said. "If you aren't telling the whole story, that may limit my ability to figure out what is wrong."

Suppose you have a cough. Your doctor will want to know if it is "productive" -- that is, does something come up when you cough? Does your chest hurt when you are hacking away? Are you short of breath?

"Give us a time frame," Fleming added. Tell your doctor how long you've been feeling lousy.

"The physician wants the story of the illness," agreed Martin. "When did it start, what was it like, how have the symptoms changed or progressed, what have you attempted yourself, to treat it?"

Fess up to self-treatments.

Some patients will root around in the medicine cabinet in an effort to rediscover a treatment that may have worked in the past for, say, a troublesome stomach. If you diagnosed yourself -- even with an over-the-counter medicine -- your doctor needs to know that. "Some patients have gone to the drug store and gotten something that has made it worse," Fleming said.

"It is important to let your doctor know what you have been taking," Fleming said. It might interact with what he is planning to give you, or make it less effective.

When your child is sick.

When it's your child who's ill, all the information-sharing that applies to an adult office visit applies as well, Fleming and Martin said.

With children, especially ones so young they aren't very verbal, it's important for the parent to let the doctor know of any chronic diseases such as asthma. That way, the doctor can separate out disease symptoms from new and unrelated aches and pains, Fleming said.

Also, be prepared to tell the pediatrician how well your child is sleeping and eating and how long the symptoms have persisted, Fleming said.

But don't expect to do all the talking. "By the time a child is about 3, I try to have as much conversation with them as possible," Martin said. He tries to allow the child to describe the symptoms, at least initially, so he can get a first-hand account of the problem. Then, he turns to the parent for the additional information he needs.

Finally, don't leave the office without a clear idea of when you -- or your loved one -- should expect to feel better, and what to do if you don't.
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