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Health Highlights: Dec. 10 2009

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

Label Error Prompts Recall of Alka-Seltzer Cold Capsules

About 100,000 packages of Alka-Seltzer cold capsules have been recalled because of a labeling error, says Bayer Healthcare.

The company said about 4 percent of packages from a single lot of Alka-Seltzer Plus Day & Night Liquid Gels lack risk information about drowsiness, the Associated Press reported.

The recall is for packages from lot 296939L. Consumers who bought packages from this lot should stop using the product immediately and contact Bayer (800-986-3307) for a refund. Stores have been told to destroy products from the affected lot.

A Bayer spokeswoman said the labeling problem was caused by human error during the printing process, the AP reported.


Childhood Germ Exposure Offers Life-Long Protection: Study

A lack of exposure to germs in childhood could increase the risk of disease in adulthood, suggests a new study.

"Our research suggests that ultra-clean, ultra-hygienic environments early in life may contribute to higher levels of inflammation as an adult, which in turn increases risks for a wide range of diseases," including heart disease, said lead author Thomas McDade, of Northwestern University in Illinois, Agence France Presse reported.

He and his colleagues found that infants and toddlers in the Philippines had far more infectious diseases than those in the United States, but levels of C-reactive protein -- a marker of inflammation -- are at least 80 percent lower in Filipino adults than in American adults.

"CRP concentrations are incredibly low in Filipinos compared to people in the United States and that was counter to what a lot of people would have anticipated because we know that Filipinos have higher exposure to infectious diseases," McDade told AFP.

The study appears online in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society.


Drug, Health Care Costs Increase for Americans 18 to 44

Between 1996 and 2006, the average cost of a prescription drug for patients ages 18 to 44 doubled, from $79 to $161, according to a U.S. government report released Wednesday.

Prescription drugs now account for a much larger share of health care costs for this age group (10 percent in 1996, 18 percent in 2006), even though the proportion who purchased prescription drugs decreased from 60 percent to 54 percent over that period, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings for Americans ages 18 to 44:

  • Total health cares expenses in 2006 were $231 billion, about $40 billion more than in 1996, after factoring in inflation.
  • A smaller proportion incurred health care expenses in 2006 (77 percent) than in 1996 (80.5 percent). However the average per person expense for people who had health expenses was much higher in 2006 ($2,703) than in 2006 ($2,177).
  • Major increases in per visit costs were noted for some areas, including visits to physicians offices ($119 to $180), hospital emergency rooms ($393 to $638) and dental care providers ($181 to $247).


Senators Reach Deal on Health Bill Roadblock

A group of Democratic senators has reached a "broad agreement" to resolve an impasse over a proposed government-run health insurance plan, Senate majority leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.

The dispute over a government-run plan has been seen as a major threat to passage of health care reform legislation, which has been on the Senate floor for nine days, The New York Times reported.

The tentative agreement would allow people ages 55 to 64 to "buy in" to Medicare, and a federal agency would negotiate with insurers to offer national health benefit plans similar to those offered to federal employees, The Times reported.

If private plans don't meet specified targets for making affordable coverage available to all Americans, the federal government would offer a new public insurance plan, said Senate Democratic aides.

The Obama administration welcomed the Senate announcement. "Senators are making great progress, and were pleased that theyre working together to find common ground, said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer, The Times reported.


Antipsychotic Drugs May Carry Weight Gain Warning: FDA

Antipsychotic drugs may have to carry warnings about weight gain and diabetes, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drugs' labels currently include information about weight gain and associated problems, but the FDA is considering requiring that information be included in the warnings section.

The agency has asked manufacturers of antipsychotic drugs for all the information they have about metabolic side effects, such as increases in blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The drugs that may be affected by the label change include Seroquel, Abilify, Zyprexa, Risperdal and Geodon. These drugs are used to treat conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Studies have suggested that the weight gain impact of antipsychotic drugs is stronger in children than in adults, Dow Jones reported.


WHO Urges Stronger Action Against Smoking

Each year, smoking kills at least 5 million people worldwide, and that death toll could rise if nations don't do more to fight smoking, says the World Health Organization.

"People need more than to be told that tobacco is bad for human health. They need their governments to implement the WHO Framework Convention," said Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Tobacco-Free Initiative, the Associated Press reported.

In a tobacco use and control report released Wednesday, the WHO noted that nearly 95 percent of people in the world aren't protected by laws that ban smoking. And less than 10 percent of people are covered by any of six anti-smoking strategies introduced last year by the WHO.

The strategies include protecting people from smoke, raising taxes on tobacco products and enforcing bans on tobacco advertising, the AP reported.


FDA Lags on Recommended Drug Safety Changes: GAO

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't followed through on changes suggested in 2006 to help improve drug safety, say Government Accountability Office investigators.

The recommendations were made after the pain drug Vioxx was pulled from the market because of links to heart attack and stroke, the Associated Press reported.

While the FDA has made some changes to drug safety oversight, most of the decision-making powers remain with agency scientists who approve new drugs, rather than those who track the side effects of drugs on the market, the GAO said.

"It is not yet clear if or when FDA's decision-making process will be substantially improved as a result of its efforts," said the GAO report obtained by the AP.

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Posted: December 2009