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Health Highlights: June 1, 2011

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

Clot Risk Spurs FDA Review of Birth Control Pills

U.S. regulators will assess the safety of Bayer birth control pills as a result of two new studies suggesting they pose a higher-than-expected risk of serious blood clots.

Expressing concerns about the hormone drospirenone -- found in Bayer's Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz and Safyral products -- the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Tuesday it has commissioned an 800,000-person study to review the risks . Drospirenone is a type of progestin used in combination with another female hormone, estrogen.

Women taking the drospirenone-containing birth control pills had a two to three times greater risk of blood clots compared with women taking pills containing a different type of progestin, according to the studies published in BMJ, the FDA said. Because other studies have had conflicting results, the agency said it wants to conduct its own review. It expects to have the results this summer.

All birth control pills carry some clotting risk. Symptoms include leg or chest pain or sudden shortness of breath. Women with concerns should talk to their doctor, the FDA said.

In Europe last week, regulators announced they would update the contraceptives' prescribing information to include the new findings.

Bayer's analysis of the overall body of available scientific evidence continues to support its current assessment about the safety of its oral contraceptives, Bayer said in a statement, according to Boomberg News.


Hospitals Facing More Drug Shortages

Medication shortages in the United States tripled over the past five years, reaching a high of 211 last year and delaying or altering treatment for illnesses such as cancer, infertility and heart attack, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

"It's just a matter of time now before we call for a drug that we need to save a patient's life and we find out there isn't any," Dr. Eric Lavonas of the American College of Emergency Physicians told the AP.

The problem is getting worse, experts said. In the first three months of this year, 89 shortages occurred, with injectable medications used in emergency rooms, cancer treatment and intensive care units most often in short supply, according to the University of Utah's Drug Information Service, which tracks drug availability for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Causes of the shortage include difficulty importing raw materials, increased demand, and recalls of contaminated products. Also, fewer pharmaceutical companies make the cheaper, older generic drugs, especially the injectable ones, leaving fewer drug makers available to fill any gaps, Valerie Jensen, who heads the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's shortage office, told the AP.

A shortage of a sedative used for executions has been widely publicized, but other drugs in short supply include: injectable nutrients needed by some premature babies and critically ill patients; thiotepa, used for bone marrow transplantation; norepinephrine injections for septic shock; the cystic fibrosis drug acetylcysteine; injections for certain types of cardiac arrest; and leuprolide hormone injections used to treat infertility, the news service said.


Europe's E. Coli Outbreak Claims 2 More Lives

An E. coli outbreak in Europe claimed two more lives in recent days, bringing to 16 the total number of deaths attributed to tainted vegetables in Germany, officials reported Tuesday.

In all, more than 1,150 people are reported infected. Germany's national disease center said 373 people had hemolytic uremic syndrome -- the most severe form of the infection that is typically associated with the bacteria E. coli. On Monday that figure was 329, the Associated Press reported.

Another 796 people have become ill with enterohaemorrhagic E. coli, also known as EHEC bacteria, said Susanne Glasmacher, a spokeswoman for the Robert Koch Institute. In other European countries, hundreds of people have gotten sick, but no deaths had been reported outside of Germany until Tuesday.

In Bora, Sweden, a woman in her 50s who had traveled to Germany reportedly died of the bacterial infection, and an 87-year-old woman in Paderborn, Germany, also died from the outbreak, the AP said.

Cucumbers from the Spanish regions of Almeria and Malaga, as well as some originating in the Netherlands or in Denmark, are considered possible sources of the outbreak. Consumers in Germany have been warned to avoid cucumbers, lettuce and raw tomatoes.

The same strain of E. coli was responsible for a 1994 outbreak in Montana, and a related strain caused the 1993 deaths of four children in the western United States after they ate Jack in the Box hamburgers. The European outbreak, which is mainly striking adults, is much larger and deadlier, the news service said.


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Posted: June 2011