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Health Highlights: March 11, 2011

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

Doctors to Update Giffords' Progress

A public update on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' recovery was expected Friday by her doctors.

The congresswoman's continuing recovery from a gunshot wound to the head has her family and friends making plans for her to attend astronaut husband Mark Kelly's space shuttle launch in April, a family friend told the Associated Press.

But while people close to Giffords have been providing regular updates, doctors have said little about her condition since she was moved to TIRR Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston on Jan. 26.

Giffords was shot in the head Jan. 8 while she hosted a political event outside a grocery store in Tucson, Ariz. The attacker killed six people and wounded 12 others.

Tidbits offered by the congresswoman's family and friends suggest that she is making steady progress, such as showing emotion, singing, and pushing a shopping cart down the hospital corridor as she works to regain the ability to walk, the AP reported.

Rabbi David Lyon visits Giffords three times a week and says her speech is improving.

"There are words that are becoming clearer and opportunities to communicate are increasing," he told the AP.

These encouraging signs have led family and friends to express optimism in recent weeks that Giffords will be able to attend the upcoming scheduled launch of the space shuttle Endeavour, which will be commanded by her husband.

However, doctors have been cautious about such plans. A decision will be based on Giffords' ability to move independently, how much assistance is available to her, and whether she is capable of handling the hectic setting of an airport, said Dr. Gerard Francisco, the head of the team overseeing Giffords' rehabilitation, the AP reported.


Deal Increases FDA Oversight of McNeil Plants

Greater federal oversight at three plants involved in recalls of children's Tylenol and other widely used over-the-counter medicines is part of an agreement reached between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and McNeil Consumer Healthcare, a unit of Johnson & Johnson.

The deal was reached Thursday and covers plants in Fort Washington, Pa, Lancaster, Pa., and Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, The New York Times reported. The FDA said manufacturing practices at the plants failed to comply with federal law.

The agency said the agreement requires Johnson & Johnson to hire an independent expert to assess whether operations at the plants meet federal standards and to ensure that quality systems are in place.

The FDA would also have the authority to force McNeil to halt manufacturing of medicines or to launch recalls. The agreement needs to be approved by a federal judge.

"Weve had a long engagement with McNeil over the last year with regard to their quality system," Douglas Stearn, an FDA official who helps oversee compliance by drug makers, told The Times. "We think this represents necessary important steps to assuring quality across the board."


Adverse Drug Reactions Common Among Older Adults

More than half (51.5 percent) of U.S. emergency department visits prompted by adverse reactions to medications involve patients aged 50 and older, according to a federal government study.

Of the visits made by these older patients, 61.5 percent involve patients aged 65 or older and 60.9 percent involve women, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported Thursday.

Among the other findings:

  • Nearly 80 percent of emergency department visits by older patients involved adverse reactions to just one medication.
  • Central nervous system drugs, such as narcotic and non-narcotic pain relievers, accounted for the largest share of these visits (24.3 percent). Other types of drugs included blood modifiers, cardiovascular system medications, metabolic disorder treatments, and psychotherapeutic drugs.
  • Hospitalization was required in 32.9 percent of emergency department visits involving adverse reactions to medications among older adults. There was considerable difference in the rates of hospitalization for patients ages 50 to 64 (25.5 percent) and those aged 65 and older (37.6 percent).

"Individuals taking medications need to take personal responsibility and not assume that just because the medications are legally prescribed that they are without risk," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release. "People should monitor how they feel when on medication, ask their doctor about what signs to look out for, and not hesitate to contact a doctor if they feel the medication is having adverse effects on their health."


WHO Criticized for Handling of Swine Flu Pandemic

An expert committee says the World Health Organization made crucial errors in its handling of the 2009 swine flu pandemic and also warned that tens of millions of people could die in a future severe global outbreak.

The committee was established by WHO to review its efforts during the swine flu outbreak. The findings will be presented during a meeting at WHO later this month before being finalized, the Associated Press reported.

While it performed well in many areas, WHO's handling of the pandemic and its phases was "needlessly complex," and the U.N. health agency should not have kept secret the identities of pandemic advisory committee members, some of who had links to drug companies, the committee said.

It also said that under WHO's supervision, the world can't handle a major health emergency, the AP reported.

"The world is ill-prepared to respond to a severe influenza pandemic or to any similarly global, sustained and threatening public health emergency," the committee wrote. They added that "the unavoidable reality is that tens of millions of people would be at risk of dying in a severe global pandemic."

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Posted: March 2011

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