Health Highlights: Feb. 15, 2008

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

Maker of Blood Thinner Used Chinese-Owned Firm in Wisconsin

The maker of recalled batches of the blood thinning drug heparin used the Chinese operations of a Wisconsin firm to produce the drug, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.

Earlier this week, Baxter International suspended production of heparin after acknowledging that the blood thinner may be linked to allergic reactions among more than 50 dialysis patients in 12 states. Baxter used Waunakee, Wisc.-based Scientific Protein Laboratories (SPL) to ship the drug's active ingredient, the newspaper said. U.S. federal health inspectors reportedly never visited the plant outside Shanghai before the drug's production.

On Thursday, SPL stated that it produced heparin at its plant near Shanghai, then shipped the blood thinner to Baxter. Baxter then sterilized and packaged the heparin.

It's not clear which stage of production may be responsible for the problems that apparently led to the allergic reactions, the Tribune said. Heparin is made from an enzyme produced in pig intestines, and Baxter said a "central part of the investigation" was focusing on production of the active ingredient.

In November, health workers in Missouri first noticed an increase in allergic reactions among users of heparin, which is commonly prescribed to thin blood among patients undergoing kidney dialysis or heart surgery. Baxter recalled suspected lots in January, and suspended shipments earlier this week.

The Chinese link to the heparin problems added to the nation's growing tally of confirmed and suspected cases of tainted goods supplied to the United States. Over the past year, numerous instances have surfaced of potentially unsafe Chinese-made toys, toothpaste, pet foods and other products bound for U.S consumers.

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555 Americans Killed in All-Terrain Vehicle Accidents in 2006

At least 555 people died in 2006 from accidents involving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday.

More than 100 children were among the fatalities, the agency said. It expects the numbers to climb as additional data arrive from hospitals and coroners across the country, the Associated Press reported.

While groups representing consumers and parents have said for years that the vehicles are unsafe, the industry that makes ATVs cites driver error, the wire service reported.

"ATVs have never been shown to be an unsafe product, but there have been bad decisions made by people sitting on the seat," said a spokesman for the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America.

In its annual analysis released Thursday, the CPSC said Pennsylvania has led the nation in ATV deaths since 1982, followed by California, West Virginia, Texas and Kentucky. At least one ATV fatality was reported in each of the 50 states.

In 2005, 666 confirmed ATV deaths were reported. And because the CPSC said it is still analyzing data for that year, the toll could rise to as high as 870, the AP reported.

On the day the report was released, the CPSC announced the recall of 95,000 Polaris-brand ATVs that had potentially defective control panels that could ignite, the wire service said.

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Nearly 1 in 3 U.S. Births Are C-Sections: Report

Nearly one in three American women who gave birth in 2005 did so by Cesarean section, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said Thursday in its latest News and Numbers report.

The ratio was about one in five in 1995, the agency said in a prepared statement.

The report also noted that:

  • Some 1.3 million women had C-sections in 2005, a 38 percent jump over the 800,000 performed in 1995.
  • Vaginal deliveries in hospitals fell from about 3 million in 1995 to 2.9 million in 2005.
  • Hospitals charged a combined $21.3 billion for patient stays involving vaginal deliveries in 2005, compared to $17.5 billion for those involving C-sections.

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Government-Issued Trailers for Hurricane Victims Pose Risks: CDC

Many of the trailers used to house Gulf Coast victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita contain toxic levels of formaldehyde fumes, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

Officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people living in the government-issued trailers should be moved out as soon as possible because tests showed that fumes from 519 trailers and mobile homes in Louisiana and Mississippi averaged about five times higher than levels found in most modern homes. In some trailers, the levels were nearly 40 times higher, prompting concerns that the residents could come down with breathing problems, the Associated Press reported.

The CDC urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which supplied the trailers, to move people from the trailers as quickly as possible, with priority given to families with children, elderly people, or anyone with asthma or other chronic respiratory problems.

"We do not want people exposed to this for very much longer," said Mike McGeehin, director of a CDC division that focuses on environmental hazards.

FEMA provided about 120,000 travel trailers to victims of the 2005 hurricanes Katrina and Rita. In 2006, some occupants began reporting headaches and nosebleeds. The complaints were linked to formaldehyde, a colorless gas with a pungent smell used in the production of plywood and resins, the AP said.

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Month on Fast-Food Diet Damages Liver: Report

Otherwise healthy people who were asked to eat mainly fast food for four weeks and cut down on their physical activity quickly developed signs of liver damage and pre-diabetic insulin resistance, Swedish researchers report.

In the study, 18 slim, healthy men and women were asked to reduce their daily physical activity to 5,000 steps per day and to consume at least two fast-food meals per day, preferably from well known chain restaurants.

The goal: to double daily caloric intake and boost body weight by 10 to 15 percent and then observe the effects on the liver.

A second group of healthy adults were asked to continue on their normal diet.

As reported in the journal Gut, researchers at the University of Linkoping found that the participants' levels of a particular liver enzyme called alanine aminotransferase (ALT) spiked within a week of being on the fast-food diet and more than quadrupled during the four-week study period.

In fact, ALT levels reached concentrations that indicated liver damage in 11 of the 18 participants, the researchers said. One participant also developed signs of a condition called "fatty liver," where unhealthy levels of fat collect in the organ.

The participants on the fast-food regimen also showed a sharp rise in the fat content of their liver cells, which is commonly associated with insulin resistance. Cellular resistance to insulin boosts risks for diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the researchers noted.

None of these unhealthy effects were noted in participants who ate normal diets, the researchers added.

Overall, people on the fast-food/low exercise regimen gained an average of more than 14 pounds within 4 weeks, and one person gained more than 26 pounds in just two weeks, the researchers said.

Posted: February 2008


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