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Health Highlights: June 9, 2010

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

WHO Chief Defends Swine Flu Planning

The World Health Organization's decisions about swine flu responses weren't influenced by advisers' financial links to drug companies, according to WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.

"At no time, not for one second, did commercial interests enter my decision-making," she said Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, a report in the British Medical Journal said the WHO failed to disclose potential conflicts of interest among some advisers who helped write pandemic flu preparation guidelines, which recommended that countries stockpile antiviral drugs and vaccines. Three of the 22 experts who wrote the guidelines had previously been paid by drug makers for things such as speaking at meetings sponsored by the companies.

WHO did nothing wrong, according to Michael Osterholm, a flu expert at the University of Minnesota who has advised the U.S. government on pandemic preparations.

"There was nothing in those guidelines that was not based on the best science available," Osterholm told the AP.

A 29-member expert panel is reviewing WHO's handling of the swine flu outbreak and their findings will be released next year.


Pet Health Costs a Concern for Many Americans: Poll

Most pet owners say cost is a consideration in their decisions about health care for their animals, a new poll finds.

About 62 percent of respondents said their pet would likely get veterinary care if the bill was $500, but that dropped to below half if the cost was $1,000, to 35 percent if the cost was $2,000 and 22 percent if the cost was $5,000, according to the Associated survey of 1,112 pet owners nationwide.

Among the other findings:

  • About 20 percent of dog owners worry whether they'll be able to afford to take their pet to the vet.
  • Dog owners are more likely to fret about costs than cat owners. Women and low-income pet owners are among those who worry the most.
  • While about 27 percent of respondents said pet insurance is a good way to save money on vet bills, only about 5 percent have pet insurance.


FDA Considers New MS Drug

A potential new drug for multiple sclerosis appears effective but causes a number of side effects, including eye, heart and lung problems, say U.S. Food and Drug Administration reviewers.

Novartis wants the FDA to approve the drug Gilenia to treat patients with relapsed multiple sclerosis. The drug, taken as a daily pill, would offer an alternative to older injectable drugs, the Associated Press reported.

While two studies of Gilenia "provide substantial evidence for an effect," there are a number of side effects with the pill, according to the FDA reviewers. At least 8.5 percent of patients taking Gilenia suffered serious side effects, compared with 5.8 percent of patients taking older types of MS drugs.

The reviewers also noted that there's little data on the long-term effects of using Gilenia, the AP reported.

On Thursday, an FDA advisory panel of experts will determine whether additional safety studies should be required and vote on whether Gilenia should be approved by the FDA. The agency usually follows the advice of its expert panels.

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Posted: June 2010