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Health Highlights: Dec. 23, 2008

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

Michael Jackson's Publicist Says Illness Rumors False

Singer Michael Jackson's publicist says reports that the "King of Pop" is seriously ill "are a total fabrication."

"Mr. Jackson is in fine health, and finalizing negotiations with a major entertainment company and television network for both a world tour and a series of specials and appearances," Dr. Tohme Tohme, identified as Jackson's "official and sole spokesperson," told CNN Monday night

Tohme was responding to reports Monday in the London's Sun newspaper that quoted writer Ian Halperin, author of an upcoming book on Jackson, as saying the singer was suffering from Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, a potentially fatal disease that required a lung transplant. Major media outlets picked up the story, and the report also spread through Internet message boards, CNN reported.

Halperin originally said that Jackson's illness had robbed him of 95 percent of the vision in one eye and that he needed the lung transplant "but may be too weak to go through with it." A photo earlier this year of Jackson in a wheelchair seemed to bear out the rumors.

Halperin has written previously about Hollywood scandals and the troubled lives of various celebrities, CNN reported.


Approval Given for New Use of Cancer Drug Gleevec

Gleevec, a "miracle drug" in curing certain types of adult leukemia, has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to stop cancer growth after gastrointestinal cancer surgery.

According to an FDA news release, Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) can be used after removal of a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). While this is a fairly rare form of cancer (5,000 - 6,000 new cases annually), the malignancy is particularly nasty because it can interfere with the flow of food and liquids through the intestines.

This latest approval " illustrates how the continued study of a once novel drug throughout its product lifecycle can yield new and important uses," Dr. Richard Pazdur, the FDA's director of the Office of Oncology Drug Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in the news release.

Gleevec, made by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis AG, was first approved by the FDA in 2001 to treat chronic myeloid leukemia.


Anti-Flu Drug May Not Work Against This Year's Strain, CDC Says

This year's version of the flu just threw a monkey wrench into the effectiveness of a leading flu medicine, the Associated Press reports.

At a news conference Friday, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the prescription drug Tamiflu isn't working against the virus strain that is causing this year's influenza in the United States.

The good news, Gerberding added, was that this year's vaccine is proving effective against the flu. The 2007 vaccine was only partially effective.

Because it's early in the flu season, the A.P. reports, and health experts aren't certain the Tamiflu-resistant strain will continue to dominate the influenza cycle. There is also the anti-viral drug marketed under the name Relenza that could be prescribed.

Only about 30 percent of the U.S. population has received a flu vaccine this year, the wire service reports. About 36,000 Americans die from the flu annually, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized. The vaccine is especially recommended for children between 6 and 18 months and adults over age 50.

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Posted: December 2008