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Health Highlights: Dec. 31, 2007

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

Authorities Search for Passengers Who Sat Near TB Victim

Health officials continued a 17-state search for airline passengers who may have been exposed to a woman who was diagnosed with a drug-resistant form of tuberculosis, yet flew from India to San Francisco with a stopover in Chicago earlier this month, USA Today reported.

The 30-year-old Nepal native, who lives in Sunnyvale, Calif., took American Airlines flight 293 from New Delhi, India, to Chicago on Dec. 13, then flew on to San Francisco. She had been diagnosed with TB in India and showed symptoms of TB on the flight, including a fever, the newspaper said.

About a week after the flight, she checked into Stanford University Hospital. A spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the woman "was at the extreme end of the severity of the disease."

The woman is now said to be "stable and doing well," a hospital spokesman told the newspaper.

She was seated in row 35 on the India-to-Chicago flight. The CDC said 44 passengers may have been close enough for potential exposure, though their risk is considered small. The agency recommended that all of them be tested for TB now and again in about 10 weeks.

A CDC spokesman said that between June 2006 and June 2007, the agency was involved in about 100 similar investigations, USA Today reported.

In May, an Atlanta attorney with TB triggered an international health scare after flying to and from Europe for his wedding, despite warnings from U.S. health officials not to fly. In November, officials announced that they didn't think Andrew Speaker had infected any fellow passengers. Speaker was released from a Denver hospital in July after completing treatment.


Drug Makers Investigated Under Alleged Iraqi Kickback Scheme

Global pharmaceutical giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca are being investigated by Britain's Serious Fraud Office as part of an investigation into alleged bribes paid to the government of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

A third international drug firm, Eli Lilly, also is being investigated over alleged breaches of a United Nations humanitarian program that allowed Iraq to trade oil for food, Agence France Presse reported.

All three companies, denying any wrongdoing, said they were cooperating fully with the investigation.

A 2005 U.N. audit, led by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, found that the Saddam regime demanded bribes from as many as 2,000 foreign firms doing business in Iraq under the oil-for-food program, AFP reported.

The Iraqi regime allegedly swindled millions of dollars from the program, the news service said.


Bush Signs Extension of Child Health-Care Program Into Law

President Bush on Saturday signed legislation that would extend a controversial children's health insurance program, after twice denying attempts to expand its reach.

The extension of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) should provide states with funds to cover those enrolled through March 2009, the Associated Press reported. Bush and Republican legislators contend the program will cover families that currently fall into a coverage gap -- earning too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private insurance.

But Democrats, with the support of some Republican legislators, were pushing hard for an expansion of the program to cover an estimated four million more children, the AP said. Their proposal, which would have added $35 billion to SCHIP coffers, was to have been paid for by an increase in the tobacco tax.

But Bush claimed that the Democrats' plan ignored the nation's neediest children. He also objected to the tax increase and what he described as a move toward more government-funded health care.

The current program covers about 6 million children, but Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday said her party won't stop "until 10 million children receive the health-care coverage they deserve."


FDA Warns of Norovirus in Louisiana Oysters

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers to avoid eating raw oysters harvested from the West Karako Bay area of Louisiana between Dec. 3 and 21 because they may carry a potentially deadly pathogen called norovirus.

"FDA has received reports of norovirus infection in seven individuals who ate raw oysters on Dec. 13 at a restaurant in Chattanooga, Tenn.," the agency said in a statement released Saturday. "Test results from two of the ill patients were positive for norovirus," they add, and tests of oysters harvested from West Karako Bay and served at the restaurant also tested positive for the virus.

Norovirus infection presents with symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps, along with fatigue, fever, chills, and headache. The illness usually passes within 48 hours but can be serious for the very young, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems.

According to the FDA, the infected oysters were distributed by Bon Secour Fisheries in Alabama to the restaurant in Chattanooga, and the shellfish may "still [be] available in other retail and food service settings."

The agency notes that cooking (boiling or steaming) oysters destroys norovirus.


FDA Warns About Supplements Marketed to Treat Impotence

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning consumers not to buy or use products marketed as dietary supplements to treat erectile dysfunction because they could reduce blood pressure to dangerous levels in some men.

The products, produced in China, are marketed for the treatment of erectile dysfunction and for sexual enhancement. Although they're marketed as dietary supplements, they don't qualify as supplements because they contain "undeclared" active ingredients of FDA-approved prescription drugs for erectile dysfunction. That makes the products illegal because they lack FDA approval, the agency said in a statement released Friday evening.

The products are marketed as Super Shangai, Strong Testis, Shangai Ultra, Shangai Ultra X, Lady Shangai, Shangai Regular and Shangai Chaojimengnan products, the FDA said.

The agency said it performed chemical testing that showed that Super Shangai, Strong Testis, Shangai Ultra, Shangai Ultra X and Lady Shangai contain sildenafil, the active ingredient in Viagra, an FDA-approved drug for impotence. Shangai Regular, also marketed as Shangai Chaojimengnan, contains an unapproved substance with a chemical structure akin to sildenafil that may cause similar side effects and drug interactions.

These undeclared ingredients could interact with nitrates found in some prescription drugs -- such as nitroglycerin -- and can lower blood pressure to dangerous levels. People with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or heart disease often take nitrates. Erectile dysfunction is a common problem in men with these medical conditions.

"Products like these put consumers at considerable risk because they contain undeclared active ingredients in FDA-approved drugs that require a prescription to obtain," said Dr. Janet Woodcock, the agency's deputy commissioner for scientific and medical programs, and acting director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. "An unsuspecting consumer with underlying medical issues may buy and take these products without knowing that they can cause serious drug interactions."

The products are packaged and distributed by Shangai Distributor Inc. of Coamo, Puerto Rico, the FDA said.


Here's to a Happy and Healthy New Ear -- and Nose and Throat

The American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery is offering some tips to protect the health of your ears, nose and throat in the new year.

"Ear, nose, and throat health problems are some of the most common ailments that Americans face," Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, associate professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at the Boston University School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement. "From colds and the flu in the winter to allergies in the spring, a few simple tips can help people enjoy a more productive, healthful 2008."

More than 37 million American adults suffer from the common respiratory condition sinusitis, and 45 million children and adults struggle with recurring seasonal and perennial allergies. Each season can bring a variety of ear, nose, and throat problems, the academy said.

The otolaryngologists -- doctors trained to treat conditions of the ear, nose, and throat -- recommend following these tips:

  • Track your symptoms. Each winter, many people assume they're only suffering from a one-time bout with a cold or flu when they develop symptoms like a stuffy nose or watery eyes. But, they may have a chronic condition like sinusitis or allergies that can be easily controlled with proper treatment. If you suffer from the same symptoms time after time, or they occur at the same time every year, see an otolaryngologist for a diagnosis.
  • Enjoy leisure time, but be aware. During the summer and fall, kids are at their most active. After a day at the pool, check with your kids to make sure they aren't suffering from symptoms of swimmer's ear. It's easy for water to get trapped in the ear canal after a swim or even a bath.
  • Turn the volume down. Most people are exposed to noise 365 days a year, but they can help their hearing health by turning down the volume when they listen to music, watch TV, or use their cell phones. More than 20 million Americans have suffered permanent damage to their hearing from too much loud noise.
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Posted: December 2007