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Health Highlights: Dec. 13, 2007

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Drug-Related Poisonings Boost Some Death Rates

Unintentional drug-related poisonings are the main reason why certain death rates among adults in the United States have started to increase after a long period of decline, says a study in the current Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Between 1979 and 1999, so-called "injury death rates" in the U.S. declined, but then increased 5.5 percent between 1999 and 2004.

Death rates for unintentional injury, suicide, and undetermined intent injury increased between 1999 and 2004, while homicide rates remained relatively stable.

Increases in poisoning deaths accounted for 61.9 percent of the increase in unintentional injury, 28 percent of the increase in suicide, 81.2 percent of the increase in underdetermined intent injury, and 55.7 percent of the increase in total injury deaths.

Increases in poisoning deaths are most likely being driven by increases in drug-related poisonings, the study authors said.

Adults ages 45 to 54 had the largest increase (25 percent) in total injury death rates, with an additional 8,000 deaths in 2004. By comparison, adults ages 20 to 29 had an 8 percent increase in total injury death rates. Unintentional poisonings accounted for more than 50 percent of the increase in each group.

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CDC To Test Formaldehyde Levels in Katrina Victims' Trailers

Testing of formaldehyde levels in trailers and mobile homes that provide temporary housing for Hurricane Katrina victims will begin Dec. 21, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday.

The testing is being done in response to concerns raised by residents and community members. The CDC plans to test air samples from 500 trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi, and a summary of the findings will be released in early 2008. Residents who take part in the testing will be notified of the results for their individual trailers or mobile homes. Formaldehyde is used in the manufacturing of a number of building products.

"We are mindful of the importance of this information to people who have been living in temporary housing for such a long time," Dr. Henry Falk, director of CDC's Coordinating Center for Environmental Health and Injury Prevention, said in a prepared statement.

"This is a complex task," he said. "Knowledge about health effects of formaldehyde on long-term residents of temporary housing is limited. Levels we find in these tests will help everyone involved in this process make better informed decisions about what steps to take."

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FDA Approves Drug for PKU Patients

A drug called Kuvan (sapropterin dihydrochloride) has been approved for treatment of a rare genetic disorder called tetrahydrobiopterin (BH4)-responsive phenylketonuria (PKU), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday.

The disorder, which causes mental retardation, smaller brain size, delayed speech and other neurological problems, occurs in one of every 12,000 to 15,000 live births in the United States. Kuvan is the first drug approved to slow the effects of PKU.

The FDA approval was based on the results of four short-term (up to 30 weeks) clinical studies that included a total of 579 patients. Common adverse effects reported in the studies included headache, diarrhea, abdominal pain, upper respiratory tract infection and throat pain.

People with PKU aren't able to break down phenylalanine (Phe), an amino acid found in foods that contain proteins, such as meat, dairy and egg products. As a result, PKU patients can develop high blood levels of Phe, which are toxic to the brain.

Kuvan must be used in combination with a Phe-restricted diet, and patients on the drug must have blood levels of Phe checked frequently, the FDA said.

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Many Incontinent Adults Suffer in Silence

One in four American adults will experience incontinence at some point in their lives, but fewer than half of those with the condition -- the inability to control urination or bowel movements -- will voluntarily disclose symptoms to a doctor, says a panel of experts convened by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Women are most likely to develop incontinence. Growing older, being overweight, and lack of exercise are among the risk factors for both women and men, the Associated Press reported.

The panel called for more research to find better ways to prevent incontinence and to ease the stigma so that more people with condition will seek help. The experts noted that there are a number of effective treatments, ranging from exercise to medications to surgery.

"We as a society need to get over our discomfort with this subject so that incontinence sufferers receive the compassion, acceptance and care they need, and our aging population can take steps to prevent incontinence in the future," said panel leader Dr. C. Seth Landefeld, chief of geriatrics at the University of California, San Francisco.

Regular physical activity and weight control can help prevent incontinence. The experts recommended that obstetricians should end routine use of episiotomy, an incision to enlarge the vaginal opening during childbirth, the AP reported.

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U.S. House Committee Investigating Zetia Trial

The handling of a key clinical trial of the cholesterol-lowering drug Zetia by drug makers Merck and Schering-Plough is being investigated by a U.S. Congressional committee, The New York Times reported.

The House Committee on Energy and Commerce this week sent a letter to the two drug companies demanding more information about the Enhance trial. It was completed in April 2006, but results have yet to be released.

The letter requested that officials at Merck and Schering-Plough agree to discuss the matter with investigators and said the drug makers should retain important documents about the trial, The Times reported.

Independent experts consider the Enhance trial results as vital because they may answer lingering questions about Zetia's safety and about whether the drug's ability to reduce cholesterol has any real biologic benefit for patients.

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Bush Again Vetoes Children's Health Insurance Legislation

U.S. President George W. Bush on Wednesday again vetoed legislation to expand the State Children's Health Insurance program by $35 billion over five years and to increase enrollment to about 10 million children, the Washington Post reported.

Bush, who vetoed a similar version of the bill on Oct. 3, said he opposed the latest bill because it boosted cigarette taxes and provided coverage for children of middle-class families, instead of concentrating on children of the working poor.

But Democrats and Republicans who supported the bill said the revised version addressed Bush's major concern by capping eligibility at 300 percent of the federal poverty line, which works out to about $60,000 for a family of four, the Post reported.

Supporters of the legislation couldn't muster enough support to override Bush's first veto. It's unclear whether they'll attempt to override this latest action.

Posted: December 2007


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