Health Highlights: Oct. 19, 2007

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

Impotence Drugs to Carry Hearing Loss Warnings

New warnings about the potential risk of sudden hearing loss will be added to the labels of Viagra and other drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

While it's not clear whether the drugs actually do cause hearing loss, the FDA said that since 1996 there have been 29 reports of hearing problems among users of these kinds of drugs, the Associated Press reported.

The new warnings will be carried by the impotence drugs Viagra, Cialis and Levitra, as well as the pulmonary hypertension drug Revatio, which contains the same ingredient as Viagra.

In the 29 reports noted by the FDA, hearing loss occurred within hours to two days after patients took one of the drugs, said FDA ear-and-nose specialist Dr. Robert Boucher.

"We don't know enough to say that it's ironclad caused by the drugs, but we see enough to say we can't ignore it either," he told the AP.

People who take the drugs and experience hearing loss or ringing in the ears should stop the medications and contact their doctor, the FDA said.

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San Francisco May Consider Safe-Injection Site

In what may turn out to be the first step toward opening a safe-injection site, San Francisco officials co-sponsored a symposium Thursday on a facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, the only such program in North America, the Associated Press reported.

At the Vancouver site, about 700 intravenous drug users shoot up heroin, cocaine and other narcotics under the supervision of nurses. San Francisco health officials may consider a safe-injection site as a way to reduce the city's high rate of fatal drug overdoses.

"Having the conversation today will help us figure out whether this is a way to reduce the harms and improve the health of our community," said Grant Colfax, director of HIV prevention for the San Francisco Department of Health, the AP reported.

However, a federal official said the city's consideration of a safe-injection site was "disconcerting" and "poor public policy."

"The underlying philosophy is, 'We accept drug addiction, we accept the state of affairs as acceptable. This is a form of giving up," Bertha Madras, deputy director of demand reduction for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the AP.

There are 65 safe-injection sites in 27 cities in eight countries. So far, San Francisco is the only U.S. city to consider creating a legal safe-injection site, said Hilary McQuie, Western director for the nonprofit Harm Reduction Coalition, which promotes alternative drug treatment methods.

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CDC Redesigns Spanish Web Site

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's redesigned its Spanish Web site, CDC en Espanol, with a new look and features meant to make it more usable and functional.

The redesigned site has a more useful and powerful search engine, quick access to the 20 most-requested topics of information, a user-friendly A-Z index, and other features that will make it easier for people to find the health and science information they seek, the CDC said.

The site, which provides information in Spanish on health issues of special interest to Hispanic communities, has more than six million visitors a year and its weekly distribution list includes almost 6,000 members in more than 40 countries.

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Sunlight May Decrease Risk of Advanced Breast Cancer

Exposure to sunlight -- which boosts levels of vitamin D in the body -- may reduce the risk of advanced breast cancer, according to a U.S. study published online this week in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study of 1,788 breast cancer patients and 2,129 women who didn't have the disease found that women with high sun exposure had half the risk of developing advanced breast cancer than women with low sun exposure. However, this effect was noted only in women with naturally light skin color.

"We believe that sunlight helps to reduce women's risk of breast cancer because the body manufactures the active form of vitamin D from exposure to sunlight," lead researcher Esther John, of the Northern California Cancer Center, said in a statement. "It is possible that these effects were observed only among light-skinned women because sun exposure produces less vitamin D among women with naturally darker pigmentation."

John and her colleagues emphasized that women should not sunbathe in an attempt to reduce their breast cancer risk.

"If future studies continue to show reductions in breast cancer risk associated with sun exposure, increasing vitamin D intake from diet and supplements may be the safest solution to achieve adequate levels of vitamin D," co-researcher Gary Schwartz, of the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, said in a statement.

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Bad Habits Increase Osteoporosis Risk

Smoking, excess alcohol consumption, being underweight, lack of exercise, and poor nutrition are factors that could increase the risk of osteoporosis later in life, says an International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) report released to mark World Osteoporosis Day on Oct. 20.

Osteoporosis risk factors fall into two main categories, modifiable and fixed. People can't control fixed risk factors -- such as age, gender, and family history -- but they can do things that may lessen their effects.

Following a bone-healthy lifestyle -- including eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding smoking and excess alcohol consumption -- can help build strong bones and prevent fractures, the IOF said.

By 2050, it's estimated that the incidence of hip fracture (a major consequence of osteoporosis) will increase by 310 percent in men and 240 percent in women, according to IOF Chief Executive Officer Daniel Navid.

Report author and IOF board member Professor Cyrus Cooper said if "people recognize osteoporosis risk factors when they are young and take appropriate action, it can have enormous positive impact on their bone health in later years."

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Millions of American Teens Smoke, Drink, Use Drugs Each Day: Report

On an average day in 2006, 1.2 million American teens smoked cigarettes, 631,000 drank, 586,000 used marijuana, almost 50,000 used inhalants, 27,000 used hallucinogens, 13,000 used cocaine, and 3,800 used heroin, according to a government report released Thursday.

It also found that on an average day, almost 8,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 drank alcohol for the first time, about 4,300 used an illicit drug for the first time, about 4,000 smoked cigarettes for the first time, almost 3,600 used marijuana for the first time, and about 2,500 abused pain reliever for the first time.

The report, by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is based on national surveys conducted and analyzed by the agency's Office of Applied Studies.

"While other studies have shown that significant progress has been made in lowering the levels of substance abuse among young people in the last few years, this report shows many young people are still engaging in risky behavior," SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline said in a prepared statement.

"By breaking the data down and analyzing on a day-to-day basis, we gain fresh perspective on how deeply substance abuse pervades the lives of many young people and their families," Cline said.

Posted: October 2007


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