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Health Highlights: July 30, 2008

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

Alzheimer's Drug Shows No Benefit in Most Patients

The experimental Alzheimer's drug bapineuzumab showed no benefit for most patients and was linked to a brain-swelling condition called vasogenic edema, says a study presented Tuesday at the International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease in Chicago.

The drug, made by Elan Corp and Wyeth, did slow memory loss in some patients better than existing treatments, but it had no effect in people with the ApoE4 gene, which is found in about half of all Alzheimer's patients, Bloomberg news reported.

Bapineuzumab is designed to remove clumps of protein that accumulate in the brains of Alzheimer's patients.

Twelve cases of vasogenic edema occurred in the trial of 234 patients, and 10 of those cases occurred in patients with the ApoE4 gene, Bloomberg reported. Both cases of vasogenic edema in patients without the gene were in the highest-dose group, as were eight of those with the gene.


Routine EKG's Not Needed For Kids Taking ADHD Drugs: AAP

Children prescribed attention-deficit drugs don't need routine electrocardiogram heart screening, according to a new policy from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) that appears to contradict American Heart Association (AHA) advice.

The drugs, which can increase blood pressure and heart rate, carry a warning about risks for sudden death in patients with heart problems. However, the pediatricians' group said the AHA was overzealous earlier this year when it recommended EKGs for children prescribed ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall and Concerta, the Associated Press reported.

Children starting treatment with the drugs should be given a thorough physical exam and be checked for family history of heart problems, but routine EKGs aren't needed in most cases, the AAP said.

The new statement appears in the August edition of the journal Pediatrics.

More than half of the 4 million U.S. children diagnosed with attention-deficit disorders are taking stimulant drugs, the AP reported. Each year, sudden heart-related deaths occur in about four of 2.5 million U.S. children taking stimulants, compared to between eight and 62 deaths a year among all U.S. children, according to the AAP.


No New Fast Food Restaurants Allowed in South LA

In an effort to fight obesity in South Los Angeles, the city council has voted to place a one-year moratorium on new fast food restaurants in that lower-income area of the city. It's believed this is the first action of its kind taken by a major city.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, 30 percent of adults in South Los Angeles are obese, compared to 19.1 percent for the metropolitan area and 14.1 percent for the Westside, the Associated Press reported.

Fast food outlets account for 73 percent of restaurants in South Los Angeles, compared to 42 percent in West Los Angeles, a Community Health Councils report found.

During the year-long moratorium, the city will try to encourage restaurants that serve healthier food to open in South Los Angeles, the AP reported.


FDA Experts Recommend Approval for Experimental Arthritis Drug

The experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra should be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an expert panel advising the agency recommended Tuesday.

The advisors voted 10-1 in favor of approval, despite the drug's serious side effects including possible infections, liver damage and cancer, the Associated Press reported. Last week, the FDA posted documents on its Web site that said Actemra appeared effective in treating moderate-to-severe RA, including symptoms such as disabling joint damage and pain.

RA differs from typical age-related arthritis, which involves wear and tear on the joints as people get older. In RA, by contrast, the body's immune system actually attacks the joints. About 2.5 million Americans have the condition, and most people get it in early adulthood or middle age, the AP said.

While most arthritis medications are designed to relieve pain, Actemra is a genetically engineered drug that blocks a protein called IL-6, which has been linked to the body's inflammatory response.

Actemra is made by Hoffman-La Roche Inc.

The full FDA generally follows the suggestions of its advisory panels, though it isn't bound to do so.


Global AIDS Deaths Declined Again in 2007

For the second year in a row, deaths worldwide from AIDS-related diseases fell in 2007, due mainly to increased distribution of anti-HIV drugs, says a UNAIDS report released Tuesday.

There were an estimated 2 million AIDS-related deaths last year, about 200,000 fewer deaths than in 2005, Agence France-Presse reported.

About 33 million people were living with HIV last year across the globe, compared with 32.7 million in 2006, according to UNAIDS. About 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2007.

The rate of people worldwide with HIV has remained around 0.8 percent since 2000. While this suggests the AIDS pandemic has stabilized, UNAIDS said more funding and a breakthrough in prevention are needed if progress against the disease is to continue, AFP reported.


Mediterranean Diet Becoming Less Popular in Countries of Origin

People in countries where the Mediterranean diet originated are abandoning it for food that's higher in salt, sugar and fat, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

The Mediterranean diet, based on fresh fruit and vegetables, is becoming less popular in several countries including Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Hailed by experts as keeping people slim, healthy and long-living, the Mediterranean diet has followers all over the world -- but is increasingly disregarded around the Mediterranean," the Food and Agricultural Organization said.

The effects of that switch are readily apparent, the news service said. Greece now has the highest average body mass index in the European Union and the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity, AFP reported.

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Posted: July 2008