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Health Highlights: Feb. 21, 2008

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

CDC Investigating First U.S. Cases of Ciprofloxacin-Resistant Meningitis

The first known U.S. cases of meningitis bacteria resistant to the front-line antibiotic ciprofloxacin are being investigated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A report in this week's issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describes one case in Fargo, North Dakota, and two others cases in Moorhead, Minnesota, that occurred between January 2007 and January 2008.

The ciprofloxacin-resistant meningitis bacteria appears to be restricted to thes North Dakota/Minnesota border area, the CDC said, cautioning that ciprofloxacin should not be used as a preventive measure for people in close contact with infected patients in this area. There are a number of alternative medications -- Ceftriaxone, rifampin, and azithromycin.

Ciprofloxacin-resistant meningitis has been reported in other countries, but these are the first such cases to be reported in North America.

Laboratory tests detected the drug resistance. There have been no apparent cases of infection due to failure of preventive antibiotic treatment, Minnesota Health Department spokesman Doug Schulz told the Associated Press.

Meningococcal disease infects about 2,600 people and kills 10 percent to 15 percent of them yearly in the United States. About 10 percent of those who recover suffer long-term nervous system problems, including seizures and hearing loss.


More Americans Buying Prescription Drugs Through Mail

Between 2000 and 2005, the percentage of Americans who bought their prescription drugs from mail order pharmacies increased from just under 9 percent to just over 13 percent, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

During that same period, the percentage of Americans who bought their prescription medicines from drug stores decreased from 65 percent to 61 percent. Prescription drug purchases from pharmacies in clinics, HMOs, and hospitals decreased from 15 percent to 13 percent, and from 32 percent to 28 percent from pharmacies inside supermarkets and super stores.

Among those who bought drugs from mail order pharmacies in 2005:

  • About 37 percent were age 65 and older.
  • Almost 88 percent were white.
  • Almost 87 percent had private health insurance.
  • About 75 percent had at least one chronic illness.

Data in the summary was taken from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which gathers information on Americans' health service use and costs.


Heaters Recalled for Fire Hazard

About 152,000 portable electric heaters from Aloha Housewares Inc., of Arlington, Texas are being recalled because they can overheat, melt plastic parts, and pose a fire hazard to consumers, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The company has received 29 reports of heaters melting, smoking or catching fire, including 18 reports of property damage and one report of a person who suffered minor burns to the hands and feet.

The recall involves Aloha Breeze oscillating tower heaters, model number 02044, with date codes 06/06, 06/07, 06/08 or 06/09. They were sold nationwide from August 2006 through November 2007 for between $35 and $45.

Consumers should stop using these heaters and contact Aloha Houswares at 800-295-4448 to receive a replacement product, the CPSC said.


FDA Panel Recommends Approval of Rotarix Vaccine

Rotarix, a vaccine designed to help protect infants from rotavirus-caused gastrointestinal illness, is safe and should be approved for sale, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of outside medical experts.

The FDA -- which is not required to follow the advice of its expert panels but usually does -- is expected to decide whether to approve Rotarix by April 3, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Rotavirus infections, which mostly strike children before age 5, don't cause many deaths in the United States, but do lead to about 50,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations a year.

Rotarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is designed to protect infants against rotavirus during the first two years of life, when infection with the virus is likely to cause the most severe symptoms, the Wall Street Journal reported.

A similar vaccine called RotaTeq, made by Merck & Co., has been on the U.S. market since 2006.


States Making Progress in Emergency Preparedness: CDC

American states and cities have made a strong effort and good progress in preparing for emergency health crises such as a bioterrorism attack or a flu pandemic, but major challenges remain, a new government report has found.

The report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first federal assessment of what has been achieved with more than $5 billion spent on public health emergency preparedness since 2001, the AP reported.

Among the CDC's findings:

  • In 2007, there were 47 labs able to detect chemical agents, compared to zero in 2001. And the number of state and local health departments able to detect biological agents increased from 83 in 2002 to 110 in 2007.
  • There's been a large increase in information-sharing between labs and public health professionals, and the number of illness-investigating epidemiologists assigned to emergency response increased from 115 in 2001 to 232 in 2006.
  • All states are now doing year-round influenza surveillance, which could prove crucial if the H5N1 bird flu virus mutates into a form that's easily transmitted between humans.

But the CDC also noted a number of areas that need improvement, the AP reported. For example, a number of states don't have enough epidemiologists or are having trouble attracting qualified lab scientists, and at least 16 states appear to have inadequate disease surveillance data exchange.


Targeted IVF Method Reduces Multiple Births

A targeted in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technique that uses older embryos may significantly lower the likelihood of risky multiple births without reducing the overall odds of achieving pregnancy, says a U.K. study in the journal BJOG.

Researchers at Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital in London found that the use of a single, slightly more mature blastocyst (five-day-old fertilized egg) significantly reduced the rate of multiple births and increased pregnancy rates, compared to the use of multiple two-to-three-day-old fertilized eggs, BBC News reported.

Being able to select from blastocysts enables doctors to choose those with the best chance of implanting in the womb.

Currently, doctors doing IVF often place more than one embryo in the womb in order to boost the likelihood of achieving pregnancy, but this approach frequently results in twin or triplet births, which can threaten the health of the mother and children, BBC News reported.

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Posted: February 2008