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Health Highlights: Feb. 19, 2010

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

Put Safety First, Crib and Toy Makers Told

Companies that make and sell cribs, toys and other children's products must make safety a priority or face strong government action, says the head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"If you resist our efforts to recall children's products, be forewarned: This commission stands ready to be creative in the use of our enforcement authorities," Inez Tenenbaum said Wednesday in a speech to the International Consumer Product Health and Safety Organization, CBS News reported.

Under product safety legislation passed in 2008, the CPSC has new powers "and we are not afraid to use them," Tenenbaum said in her most pointed warning since becoming the agency's chairwoman eight months ago.

The new law includes strict limits on lead paint, lead and phthalates (chemicals used to soften plastics), as well as tighter regulation of certain products, CBS News reported.

In her speech, Tenenbaum also pledged new safety rules for cribs. CPSC mandatory standards for cribs haven't been updated since 1982. About seven million cribs have been recalled in the United States since 2007, and there have been a number of crib-related infant deaths.


Medical Marijuana Benefits MS, Spinal Cord Patients: Report

Marijuana helps ease muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis and pain caused by certain neurological illnesses or spinal cord injuries, says a report released Wednesday by the Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research at the University of California, San Diego.

The document includes the findings of five studies that included participants who were randomly selected to receive either marijuana or placebos, the Associated Press reported.

"There is good evidence now that cannabinoids may be either an adjunct or a first-line treatment," psychiatrist Igor Grant, the director of the research center, said at a press conference where he presented the study results.

The California Legislature created the center in 2000 to investigate claims about the effectiveness of medical marijuana. California is the only state to sponsor such research, the AP reported.


Exjade to Carry Warning

A boxed warning will be added to Exjade (deferasirox), a drug used to treat chronic iron overload caused by blood transfusions in patients 2 years of age and older, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The new boxed warning will alert patients that Exjade may impair kidney or liver function or cause gastrointestinal bleeding. In some cases, these problems could be fatal, said the FDA, United Press International reported.

In addition, the new information has been added to the contraindications, warnings, precautions and drug interactions sections of the prescribing information for physicians, the FDA said.

Exjade is marketed by Novartis Oncology, UPI reported.


Fake Pills Can Have Real Effect: Experts

Evidence is mounting that placebos (fake treatments) have an actual biological effect in the body, say international experts who conducted a review of the latest research.

The review authors said things such as the expectation of recovery and the doctor-patient relationship may sometimes trigger changes in a patient's brain, body and behavior, the Associated Press reported.

For example, some studies found that giving dummy pills to Parkinson's disease patients caused their brains to release the feel-good chemical dopamine. They also showed other changes in brain activity.

The review appears in The Lancet.

"When you think youre going to get a drug that helps, your brain reacts as if its getting relief," Walter Brown, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University School of Medicine and Tufts University School of Medicine, told the AP. "But we dont know how that thought that youre going to get better actually translates into something happening in the brain."


Denture Creams Pulled Because of Nerve Damage Claims

Because of reports linking excessive use of its denture creams to neurological damage and blood problems, GlaxoSmithKline plans to reformulate the products without zinc.

In the meantime, Super Poligrip Original, Ultra Fresh and Extra Care products will not be sold in the United States, the British firm said Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Zinc, which is thought to improve adhesion, may have caused severe nerve damage in patients who used the denture cream over a long period of time.

Hundreds of lawsuits about to be heard in Miami allege that Poligrip led to balance problems and loss of feeling in the hands and feet, so severe in some cases that patients couldn't walk.

Used as directed, the products are safe, the company said, but it noted some patients apply extra cream to help poorly fitting dentures adhere, according to the AP report.

The FDA approved denture adhesives containing zinc 15 years ago and, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, it has not issued a safety warning on the products, the AP said.

Two years ago, a possible link between denture-cream zinc and nerve damage was publicized by researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Too much zinc can deplete the body of copper, which is needed for normal brain functioning, they said.

Glaxo also makes some zinc-free denture creams, including Super Poligrip Free.


Study Pinpoints Narcolepsy Trigger

Scientists have identified a key player in narcolepsy, a disorder that causes sudden daytime attacks of sleep or tiredness.

The Swiss study of 120 narcoleptic patients found that high levels of Trib2 antibodies destroy neurons that produce hypocretin, a substance that helps keep people awake, Agence France Presse reported.

Narcolepsy disappeared in most patients after they were given immunoglobulin, which is often used to treat autoimmune diseases of the nervous system, said the researchers.

They said their findings could improve understanding about sleep and may lead to new treatments for narcolepsy, AFP reported.

The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.


Blood Transfusion Monitoring System Launched

The first national surveillance system to monitor problems in patients who receive blood transfusions was announced Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hospitals are being encouraged to join the surveillance network, which will summarize data in order to learn more about how to prevent adverse events such as reactions to blood products, medical errors, and process problems.

The Hemovigilance Module -- which is part of the CDC's Internet-based National Healthcare Safety Network (NHSN) -- was developed by the CDC in collaboration with AABB, an international association representing organizations involved in transfusion and cellular therapies.

"Healthcare facilities that join the Hemovigilance Module will now have a yardstick by which to measure their current safety initiatives and their future efforts," Dr. Dan Pollock, chief of the branch that leads CDC's NHSN, said in a news release. "Through this system, healthcare facilities can also see how their performance stacks up to similar facilities nationwide, with a goal of designing the best processes to protect patients' health and reduce healthcare costs."

The Hemovigilance Module will be provided at no cost to hospitals and healthcare facilities, the CDC said.

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Posted: February 2010