Health Highlights: March 9, 2008

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

Are Mothers 'Hard-Wired' to Protect Their Babies?

The same instinct that makes mothers in the animal kingdom protect their offspring against danger appears to be a part of the human mother's brain as well.

The New York Times reports that researchers in Tokyo made magnetic resonance images (MRIs) of 13 mothers, each of whom had a child about 16 months old. The mothers were taken out of the room where they had been with their babies, and a videotape was made of the toddlers crying and reaching for their mothers, the newspaper reports.

When each mother saw the image of her child in distress, the MRI showed a markedly different neural reaction than when she was watching other mothers' babies, the Times says. This dramatic brain pattern reaction seems "to be biologically meaningful in terms of adaptation to specific demands associated with successful infant care," the newspaper quotes the study authors as noting in the study.

No similar study has yet been done with fathers, the Times says. The research was published in the February 2008 issue of the journal Biological Psychiatry.

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Texas Closes Three Shellfish Beds After Detecting Red Tide Organism

The microbe that produces what is known as red tide in coastal waters has been detected in some Texas shellfish beds, causing the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) to close a number of bays to shellfish harvesting.

In addition to closing the shellfish beds at Aransas, Corpus Christi and Copano bays, the state has also issued a recall of oysters, clams and mussels because of an algae bloom of the Dinophysis organism, which can poison the shellfish and cause sickness in humans if they eat them.

According to a DSHS news release, all shellfish harvested from the affected bays since March 1 have been recalled from stores and restaurants. Texas state health officials say that anyone who recently bought shellfish and think they may have come from the affected areas should call the stores where they were purchased to determine their origin.

The Dinophysis organism produces okadaic acid, which permeates shellfish and can cause diarrhea, nausea and cramping in humans. Boiling the shellfish will not remove the contamination, Texas officials said. The symptoms can begin within 30 minutes of consumption and can last for up to three days. The contamination usually is not fatal in humans.

Texas DSHS officials are monitoring the affected coastal shellfish beds to determine when they can be re-opened for harvesting. No cases of okadaic acid poisoning had yet been reported by March 8, the state said.

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More 'Black Box' Warnings Added to Anemia Drugs' Labels

The manufacturer of three popular anemia drugs -- erythropoiesis-stimulating agents (ESAs) -- has expanded each medication's "black box" warning to include information about tumor growth and death in patients with early stage breast cancer and cervical cancer.

The Associated Press reports that California-based Amgen has added the warnings about accelerated tumor growth on each container of Aranesp, Epogen and Procrit (Procrit is made by Amgen but sold by New Jersey-based Johnson & Johnson). There are already similar alerts about other types of cancer on the drugs' labels, the wire service said.

The decision to expand the warning comes less than a week before the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was scheduled to review the risks of using the drugs, which increase the production of red blood cells at a rapid rate, restoring a patient's energy, at least temporarily.

On Nov. 8, 2007, the FDA approved new black box warnings on labels of the three ESAs. The warnings detailed the dangers to patients with cancer and patients with chronic kidney failure. Those dangers include heart attack, stroke, heart failure and cancer tumor growth and shortened survival, the FDA said.

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Drug Maker Withheld Diabetes Link to Schizophrenia Drug, Expert Witness Says

The pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly knew about serious side effects from its best selling anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa as early as 1998 and should have warned physicians that using the drug could cause diabetes, an expert witness testified in an Alaska lawsuit March 7.

According to the New York Times, Dr. John Guriguian, a diabetes specialist and reviewer for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for more than 20 years, said that Lilly had evidence of the link between Zyprexa, introduced in 1996, and diabetes, but put "profit over concern of the consumer."

The State of Alaska is suing Eli Lilly in an attempt to recover Medicaid costs it incurred by treating schizophrenia patients who developed diabetes after taking Zyprexa, the newspaper reports.

Alaska claims that although the drug company knew by 1998 that Zyprexa caused weight gain and blood sugar changes in many schizophrenia patients, the company deliberately withheld the information from the FDA, the Times reports.

In fact, a 2002 company internal memo specifically instructed its sales representatives not to discuss diabetes concerns with U.S. doctors, the newspaper reports. "We will NOT proactively address the diabetes concerns," the Times cites an internal Lilly memo as saying.

Lilly denies that it withheld any information from the FDA and that the issue of linking Zyprexa's use with diabetes is still subject to clinical review and debate, the newspaper reports.

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Many Later-Stage Premature Babies Require Long-Term Care

About a third of premature babies born between 29 and 33 weeks still need specialist care at age 5, says a French study that looked at 400 full-term babies (40 weeks) and 1,800 born before 33 weeks.

It was already known that very early birth greatly increases the risk of physical and learning problems later in childhood. But this new study suggests that many children born at a later stage of prematurity still require long-term care, BBC News reported.

All the children in the study underwent physical and mental assessments at age 5. As expected, those born before 28 weeks had the highest disability rate (195 children/49 percent), but the actual number of children with disabilities was highest among those born between 29 and 33 weeks -- 441 children/36 percent.

When the researchers examined the specialist health services (such as physiotherapy, psychology, occupational therapy) required by the children, they found that these resources were used by 42 percent of children born at 24-28 weeks, 31 percent of children born at 29-32 weeks, and 16 percent of children born at 39-40 weeks.

The study appears in The Lancet.

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New Anesthesia Recovery Drug Appears Effective: FDA

A new injectable drug designed to reverse the effects of anesthesia in patients after surgery appears effective, but there are still questions about its safety, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration analysis posted Friday on the agency's Web site.

The Schering-Plough Corp. drug, called Bridion, will be the subject of a review next Tuesday by an FDA panel of experts, the Associated Press reported. The panel's recommendation will be an important factor as the FDA considers whether to approve Bridion.

In its analysis, the FDA said the drug appears safe in healthy adults, but said more studies may be needed to investigate concerns about allergic reactions and Bridion's effects on children's teeth.

While there are already similar drugs on the market, Schering claims that Bridion is unique because it reverses the effects of mild and serious anesthesia, the AP reported.

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Posted: March 2008


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