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Health Highlights: Aug. 31, 2007

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

Ground Beef Recalled for E. Coli Contamination

As one of the most popular holidays for grilling approaches on Monday. some 20 tons of ground beef are being recalled in four states due to possible E. coli contamination, the Seattle Times reported Friday.

At least nine people in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho were sickened by the meat, which was processed between July 19 and July 30. The meat was also sold in Alaska.

While the sell-by dates have expired and the meat is no longer believed on store shelves, federal and state officials issued a consumer alert in case any of the meat remained in consumers' freezers.

Affected products included 16-ounce packages of "Northwest Finest 7% Fat, Natural Ground Beef" with UPC code label "752907 600127" and 16-ounce packages of "Northwest Finest 10% Fat, Organic Ground Beef" with expiration dates between Aug. 1 and Aug. 11, the newspaper said. Packages also bear the establishment number "Est. 965" inside the U.S. Department of Agriculture mark of inspection.

The beef, produced by Oregon-based Interstate Meats, was sold by grocers including Safeway, QFC, Fred Meyer, and possibly other stores.

E. coli can cause mild-to-severe intestinal illness including possible symptoms of bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.


New Drug Effective Against Resistant HIV: FDA

The new Merck & Co. HIV drug Isentress (raltegravir) is effective in suppressing the AIDS-causing virus in people who haven't responded to other therapies, the Bloomberg news service reported Friday, citing staff reviewer documents on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Web site.

An FDA expert advisory panel is slated to meet Sept. 5 to decide whether to recommend approval of the drug.

Isentress uses a different method than existing drugs to combat HIV. It blocks the process that the virus uses to insert genetic material into a person's DNA, which allows the virus to reproduce, Bloomberg said.

In two recent trials, the drug "reduced the virus to almost undetectable levels" after four months in as many as 62 percent of patients who took it in combination with other HIV medications, the news service said. That compared with up to 36 percent of patients who took a non-medicinal placebo along with the other HIV treatments.


Medication Approved for Rare Growth Hormone Disorder

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved Somatuline Depot (lanreotide acetate injection) to treat a rare growth hormone-related disorder called acromegaly, the agency said Friday.

The disorder, caused by an abnormal secretion of the hormone, is characterized by enlarged hands, feet, facial bones, and internal organs such as the heart and liver. If untreated, people with the disorder often die prematurely because of heart and respiratory problems, diabetes, or colon cancer, the FDA said. The disorder affects about 15,000 people in the United States and Canada.

The drug's safety and effectiveness were evaluated in two clinical trials involving 400 people. The most frequent side effects were diarrhea, gallstones, skin reactions, slow heart rate, and changes in blood sugar levels.

Samatuline Depot is marketed by Beaufour Ipsen, based in Paris, France.


Girls Who Diet More Likely to Smoke

Teen girls who diet are twice as likely as their peers to begin smoking, a new University of Florida study finds.

The survey of almost 8,000 adolescents found that the same link did not apply to boys, who are less likely to diet than girls, the school said in a prepared statement. The findings were published in the Aug. 31 issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

"Dieting was a significant predictor of initiation of regular smoking among females," said Mildred Maldonado-Molina, the study's lead author, who is an assistant professor of epidemiology and health policy research. "We were expecting that this relationship was going to be strong among females."

The study also found that girls who frequently dieted were more likely to smoke. While smoking to suppress the appetite may be a reason that some girls start to smoke, it may not be the only one. Animal studies have shown that if food deprived, they will use more drugs, the researchers said.

Despite the findings, a dieting child is not necessarily going to begin smoking, and parents shouldn't automatically go on "red alert" if their child starts a diet, the scientists said.


10% of 4th-Graders Have Tried Alcohol: Study

As many as 10 percent of 4th-graders have already had more than a sip of alcohol and 7 percent have had an alcoholic drink in the past year, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The rate of those who have tried alcohol doubles between grades four and six, according to lead author John Donovan, associate professor of psychiatry and epidemiology. The research is published in the September issue of the journal Prevention Science.

"Children are drinking, and our concern with underage drinking needs to start in elementary school, not in high school or college," Donovan said in a prepared statement. "Knowing how many children have had experience with alcohol would serve as an indicator of the number potentially at risk for later use of marijuana and other illicit drugs."

Early drinking also is associated with a greater risk of other behavioral problems, "including absences from school, delinquent behavior, drinking and driving, sexual intercourse and pregnancy," he added.


Use of Angioplasty to Clear Blocked Arteries Soars

Use of angioplasty to open blocked arteries nearly doubled between 1993 and 2005, to 800,000 procedures each year from 418,000, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said Thursday.

By contrast, more invasive heart bypass surgeries declined from 344,000 a year to 278,000 over the span, the agency said. Angioplasty is now used nearly three times more often than bypass surgery.

Angioplasty involves inflation of a balloon at the end of a catheter to open a blocked vessel and restore proper blood flow to the heart.

The AHRQ said its analysis also found that while the average hospital stay for angioplasty fell to 2.7 days in 2005 from 4.6 days, hospital charges for angioplasty rose to $48,000 (adjusted for inflation) from $31,300.

With 1.1 million hospitalizations in 2005, coronary artery disease was the third most common reason for a hospital stay, behind childbirth and pneumonia. It was the second leading reason for men and the seventh for women, the agency said.

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Posted: August 2007