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Health Highlights: Dec. 20, 2011

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

New Safety Warning for Multaq Heart Drug

New safety warnings have been added to the heart rhythm disorder drug Multaq after a study linked it to increased risk of heart attack, stroke and death in certain patients, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.

The study by drug maker Sanofi found that Multaq doubled the risk of heart-related complications in patients with permanent atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the heart's chambers don't pump in sync, the Associated Press reported.

The new boxed warning emphasizes that Multaq is only approved for short-term atrial fibrillation and a related disorder called atrial flutter. It also advises doctors to check patients' heart rhythm least once every three months and to discontinue the use of Multaq if patients appear to have permanent atrial fibrillation.

When used appropriately, Multaq is a beneficial drug, the FDA said.

A number of safety concerns about the drug have been raised both before and after it was approved in the United States in 2009, the AP reported.


Lipitor Sales Plummet After Generics Hit Market

Barely a week after generic versions became available in the United States, sales of the cholesterol drug Lipitor have fallen by half, according to new data.

The plunge in sales of Lipitor occurred despite aggressive efforts by drug maker Pfizer Inc. to keep patients on the pill, including patient subsidies and large rebates to insurers, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. patent protection for the world's top-selling drug expired on Nov. 30.

There are two generic versions of Lipitor. One is made by Ranbaxy Laboratories of India and the other is an authorized generic made by Pfizer and sold by its partner, Watson Pharmaceuticals Inc., the AP reported.


Chickenpox Stymied by Sunlight: Study

Sunlight may help prevent the spread of chickenpox, a new study says.

U.K. researchers compared the findings of 25 previous studies conducted worldwide with climate data and determined that chickenpox is less common in areas with high ultraviolet light levels, BBC News reported.

This suggests that sunlight may inactivate the chickenpox (varicella-zoster) virus on the skin, making transmission between people more difficult.

The University of London researchers noted that the finding may explain why chickenpox is less common in and less easily passed from person to person in tropical countries, BBC News reported.

The study appears in the journal Virology.


Organic Celery Seed Recalled

The threat of potential salmonella contamination has led to the recall of organic celery seed distributed by Swanson Health Products.

The company was told about the potential contamination by its supplier, B&M Inc. of Mount Vernon, Mo., the Associated Press reported.

The recall involves Swanson Organic Celery Seed (Whole) packaged in plastic bottles with a net weight of 1.4 ounces. They were sold between June 16 and Dec. 16.

The celery seed was sold at Swanson Health Products' retail store in Fargo, N.D., held for pickup at the company's headquarters, or shipped directly to online or mail-order customers, the AP reported.


Sperm Donor Warned by FDA

A California man who has been donating his sperm to women who want children has been told to stop by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Trent Arsenault, 36, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he's been donating cups of his sperm for five years to women he meets on the Internet, the Associated Press reported.

He said he decided against donating to sperm banks, which offer money and donor anonymity, because he wanted to meet the future parents. So far, he's fathered 14 children.

The FDA told Arsenault he faces a $100,000 fine or up to a year in prison for violating federal laws that require screening for communicable diseases, the AP reported.


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Posted: December 2011