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Health Headlines - September 8

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:24pm
FDA Panel Gives Nod to New Arthritis Drug

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee on Tuesday recommended approval for a new drug to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

The drug, abatacept, is designed to be given intravenously and suppresses part of the immune system. Drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb is recommending it as an alternative for those who don't respond to existing treatments.

The FDA's Arthritis Advisory Committee voted 7-0 that the benefits of the drug outweigh any risks, the Associated Press reported.

Abatacept will sell under the trade name Orencia if it wins approval. Rheumatoid arthritis is a sometimes disabling condition that affects an estimated 2.1 million Americans, most of them women.

Study Questions Clot Busters for Angioplasty Patients

A new study from Belgium calls into question the common practice of giving heart attack patients a clot-busting drug before they undergo angioplasty, an artery-clearing procedure.

More patients who got the clot-dissolver in the month following angioplasty died than those who weren't given the drug, according to research presented Tuesday at the annual European Society of Cardiology conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Experts cited by the Associated Press said the results would probably prompt many doctors to stop administering the drug to all angioplasty patients, at least temporarily.

During angioplasty, doctors thread a wire through a person's blood vessels to break up a clot, then inflate a balloon to squash the sticky substance that formed the clot against the artery walls. A wire mesh tube called a stent is commonly implanted afterward to keep the artery propped open.

In the Belgium study, Dr. Frans Van De Werf at the Catholic University of Leuven looked at 1,667 patients, half of whom were given the clot-busting drug and the other half, a non-medicinal placebo. About 6 percent of those given the drug died within 30 days of the angioplasty, while only 3.8 percent of those in the angioplasty-only group died, the AP reported.

U.S. Mad Cow Rule Relaxed for Human Foods, Cosmetics

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has relaxed a new rule that will allow the use of certain material derived from cattle to be used in human foods and cosmetics, the agency said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The rule prohibits the use of cattle-derived materials that could carry the infectious agent for "mad cow" disease, medically called bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). The preliminary rule, to become final and take effect in October, had prohibited use of a cow's entire small intestine. But the agency said recent research indicated that removal of a part of the cow's digestive tract called the distal ileum was enough to prevent the disease's spread to people.

The agency said it also changed its preliminary rule to allow the use of milk and milk products, hides, and derivatives from certain solid fats called tallow in products meant for human use.

The rule changes, the agency said, were based on scientific information provided during the preliminary rule's comment period.

British Docs Testing Spray-on Skin

British doctors have received ethical approval to conduct the first major trial of a "spray-on" skin for burn victims and others with disfiguring skin problems, the Times of London reported Tuesday.

The treatment involves taking actual skin from the victim and making a mesh that can cover a larger area. This is placed over the wound and acts as a structure on which cultured skin cells are sprayed using an aerosol, the newspaper said.

The technique removes the need for painful skin grafts, and is thought to reduce healing time and scarring, the Times said. The trial was approved after preliminary tests on 12 patients, including one man who was burned on over 90 percent of his body.

The technique, developed at Royal Perth Hospital in Australia, can also be used for cosmetic surgery and pigmentation abnormalities, the newspaper said.

Vitamin B May Be Harmful for Heart Patients

Vitamin B does not prevent heart attacks and strokes, and may even increase the risk, new research presented in Europe suggests.

A large Norwegian study found heart attack survivors had no benefit from vitamin B supplements, even though they did have lower levels of homocysteine, a blood substance that has been linked to heart risk.

The research, presented Monday at the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, showed that those taking folic acid (a B vitamin) and vitamin B6 had a 20 percent increased risk of heart attack and stroke, the BBC reported.

The Norwegian Vitamin Trial (NORVIT), by researchers from the University of Tromso, looked at 4,749 heart attack survivors who had been divided into four groups. In addition to their standard heart medicines, the groups received either daily folic acid or daily vitamin B6, both folic acid and vitamin B6, or a dummy drug for three years.

After three and a half years, those who had been taking either folic acid or vitamin B6 alone had only a small increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack or stroke), compared with those who had received the placebo.

The results also showed there was a 40 percent increase in the risk of new cancers in the group taking folic acid, which the researchers said warranted further investigation.

Almost 2 Million Kids Live in Homes With Guns, U.S. Survey Shows

In what is described as the first comprehensive look at gun storage in U.S. homes, a federal survey found that about 1.7 million U.S. children live in homes that have loaded and unlocked guns.

The study, published in the September issue of Pediatrics, showed that 2.5 percent of children live in homes with loaded and unsecured firearms. Estimates from the early 1990s had put the percentage at 10 percent.

The new results suggest a decline, but that doesn't mean there's cause for celebration, said study co-author Catherine Okoro, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study is based on a 2002 telephone survey of about 241,000 adults, and is the first to provide data on gun storage in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, its authors told the Associated Press.

Nationally, 33 percent of adults said they kept firearms in or around their home. The highest percentage was in Wyoming, with 63 percent saying they had firearms. The lowest percentage was reported in the District of Columbia, where 5 percent reported having guns at home.

Alabama had the highest proportion -- 7.3 percent -- of homes in which children lived and guns were kept loaded and unlocked. The next highest states were Alaska (6.6 percent), Arkansas (6.6 percent), Montana (6.4 percent) and Idaho (5.2 percent). The lowest was Massachusetts, with 0.3 percent.

Folic Acid Is Helping Reduce Birth Defects

Folic acid fortification of foods, mandated since 1998 in the United States, continues to help reduce the incidence of severe birth defects such as spina bifida, researchers report.

Well Water a Danger to Infants

Formula and food prepared with well water can cause nitrate poisoning in infants, leading the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to issue a warning for families using wells for their drinking water.

Health Tip: Recovering After Vasectomy

If you're scheduled for a vasectomy, you can expect some soreness for a few days after the procedure.

Norwalk Hospital in Connecticut offers these postoperative care tips:

Apply ice packs, covered with a towel, on and off during the first eight hours.
Rest in bed for at least one day and at home for a couple of days.
You can shower the day after the procedure.
Check with your doctor about wearing an athletic supporter.
Keep the area clean and dry, and cover the incision with clean gauze for three days.
A small amount of blood on the gauze pads is normal.

Call your doctor if you experience:

Excessive bleeding or if you have to change gauze pads more than three times a day.
Signs of infection, including fever and chills.
Difficulty urinating.

Health Tip: Remembering Your Medicine

Do you keep forgetting to take your medication?

If so, use these tips from The U.S. National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute to jog your memory:

Put a picture of yourself on the refrigerator with a post-it-note saying, "Remember to take your medication."
Keep your medication on the night stand next to your side of the bed.
Take your pills right after you brush your teeth and keep them with your toothbrush.
Ask a friend to leave a reminder on your answering machine and don't erase the message.
Place your medicine in a weekly pill box.
Establish a buddy system with a friend who's also on daily medication and arrange to call each other every day.
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