Health Highlights: July 27, 2007

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

Cheney Needs New Defibrillator Battery

Vice President Dick Cheney will have minor surgery Saturday to replace the battery powering his implanted defibrillator, the Associated Press reported.

Cheney spokeswoman Megan McGinn said the need to replace the aging battery had been determined at a physical examination in June. She said the vice president, 66, would have the procedure at George Washington University Hospital, located a few blocks from the White House.

The defibrillator was implanted in 2001 to counter an irregular heartbeat. At last month's checkup, Cheney also had a stress test, which found nothing unexpected, the AP said.

Cheney has a history of cardiovascular problems, including a clot in his left leg discovered in March; a weak spot in an artery called an aneurism that was surgically repaired in 2005; four prior heart attacks; and quadruple bypass surgery, the wire service said.

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FDA Permits Limited Use of Irritable Bowel Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it will allow restricted use of the irritable bowel syndrome drug Zelnorm (tegaserod maleate) among certain women younger than age 55.

In a statement issued Friday, the agency said use of the drug would be permitted in certain female patients with irritable bowel syndrome with constipation, and chronic idiopathic constipation.

On March 30, the FDA asked the maker of Zelnorm, Novartis, to suspend U.S. sales after a safety analysis found users had an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and unstable angina (chest pain that can signal a heart attack).

At the time, the FDA said it would work with Novartis to develop guidelines for patients in whom the benefits of Zelnorm outweigh its risks.

"These patients must meet strict criteria and have no known or pre-existing heart problems and be in critical need of this drug," said Dr. Steven Galson, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "Zelnorm will remain off the market for general use."

Zelnorm was first approved by the FDA in 2002 for the short-term treatment of irritable bowel with constipation. Two years later, it was approved to treat chronic constipation in men and women under age 65.

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Gene Therapy Study Suspended

A Seattle company's gene therapy study involving people with advanced arthritis has been suspended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration after the death of a participant, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The FDA said it was investigating to what degree, if any, gene therapy played a role in the unidentified patient's death on Tuesday. The agency also was reviewing the safety of 28 other gene-therapy studies nationwide that used the same virus, called an adeno-associated virus (AAV), the AP said.

While the FDA said it wasn't aware of any serious issues in the other studies, it was reviewing them as a precaution, the AP said.

The Seattle company involved in the suspended study, Targeted Genetics Corp., notified the FDA of the patient's death this week.

More than 100 people had been enrolled in the study. The patient who died became sick after a second gene-therapy injection into an arthritic joint, the wire service said.

A National Institutes of Health advisory committee on gene therapy was scheduled to meet in September in response to the patient's death, the AP said.

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Toro Electric Blowers Recalled

Some 900,000 electric blowers produced by the Toro Co. of Bloomington, Minn., are being recalled because the rotating portion inside them -- called the impeller -- could break and force plastic pieces out the front, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

Toro has 154 reports of broken impellers, including 21 incidents of minor cuts and bruises, the agency said.

The recall involves model number 51586, produced between January 2000 and December 2002. Affected serial numbers range from 000055100 to 220255609.

recalled toro blower

Toro dealers and other retailers, including Home Depot, Lowes, Target and K-Mart, sold the product for about $32, the CPSC said.

For information about getting a replacement, contact Toro at 888-279-3191.

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Products Recalled for Botulism Risk Still Available

Cans of recalled chili, stew, hash, and other products are still being sold across the United States, despite the possibility they could be contaminated with deadly bacteria, the Associated Press reported Friday.

More than a week after Castleberry's Food Co. recalled more than 90 products for possible botulism contamination, thousands of cans are still being pulled from store shelves as quickly as U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors can find them.

The last two years' worth of inventory produced at Castleberry's Augusta, Ga., plant are now on the recall list -- which could add up to tens of millions of cans. Of more than 3,700 stores visited nationwide by the FDA at one point, roughly 250 still sold the recalled products, the wire service said.

A list of the recalled products is available from the FDA. Any consumer who has a recalled can should immediately double bag the product and throw it away, the agency advised.

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West Nile Season Off to Fast Start

If this year's early tally of West Nile virus cases is any indication, the United States is on pace to have its worst season in years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday.

Nearly four times as many cases of the mosquito-borne virus have been reported nationwide as the same time last year, the Associated Press said.

Nineteen states, predominantly west of the Mississippi River, have reported 122 human cases this year, compared with 33 cases by late July 2006. This year's total includes three deaths, the AP said.

The start of the season isn't always a good indicator of how bad the entire year will be, a CDC spokesman noted.

The agency advises people to use mosquito repellant, to make sure window and door screens are working properly, and to eliminate any pools of standing water that the insects might use to breed.

Posted: July 2007


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