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Health Highlights: March 31, 2011

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

Pharmacies OK'd to Make Cheaper Version of Pre-Term Birth Drug: FDA

Special pharmacies won't be forced to stop making a cheaper version of a new drug used to prevent preterm birth in high-risk women, says the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency recently gave KV Pharmaceuticals exclusive rights to produce the new drug, called Makena, which costs $1,500 per dose and went on sale this month. The high price shocked many because special pharmacies have long been making the drug for $10 to $20 a dose, the Associated Press reported.

KV Pharmaceuticals told special pharmacies if they didn't stop making the cheaper version of the drug they could face FDA action.

Not true, the FDA said Wednesday. Pharmacies can continue producing the less expensive version of the drug, the AP reported.


Medicare Should Cover Costly Prostate Cancer Drug: Officials

An expensive vaccine for men with advanced prostate cancer should be covered by Medicare, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced Wednesday.

Provenge, which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in April 2010, costs $93,000 a patient. The drug appears to extend patients' lives by about four months, the Washington Post reported.

"The evidence is adequate to conclude that Provenge improves health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries" with metastatic prostate cancer "and thus is reasonable and necessary for that indication," CMS said in its announcement.

The proposal will be open to public comment for 30 days, with a final decision issued another 60 days after that, the Post reported.


Radiation Levels High Outside Japanese Nuke Plant Exclusion Zone

Radiation levels outside the exclusion zone around Japan's damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant are about two times higher than levels at which the International Atomic Energy Agency would recommend evacuations, say officials with the U.N. nuclear agency.

The IAEA readings were taken at the village of Iitate, which is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the nuclear complex that was crippled in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, the Associated Press reported.

Japanese officials have said that people living within 12 miles (20-kilometers) of the Fukushima plant should evacuate and residents within 18 miles (30 kilometers) of the plant should stay indoors.

But U.S. officials have advised Americans to stay at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) away from the damaged facility, the AP reported.

A senior IAEA official said the agency had advised Japanese authorities to "carefully assess the situation."


Report Assesses Health in U.S. Counties

There can be stark differences in the health of Americans living just a few miles apart, finds a new report that examined wellness in nearly all of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States.

For example, Kendall is the healthiest of the 102 counties in Illinois. But right next door is LaSalle, which is ranked 65th in the state. Smoking rates in LaSalle are double the national average and twice as many residents of LaSalle are in poor or fair health than in Kendall, the Associated Press reported.

Kendall is located on the edge of Chicago's metropolitan area, while LaSalle is more farming-based. The differences between the counties show how health levels in counties are partly affected by being suburban or rural and proximity to large cities and high paying jobs, said the authors of the second annual health rankings report from the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It was released online Wednesday.

"Affluent suburbs tend to have higher paying jobs, often in the cities, whereas rural communities often are dealing with loss of business," and shrinking populations of young people, who tend to be healthier, Dr. Patrick Remington, of the Population Health Institute, told the AP.

He also noted that people in rural communities also tend to have less access to health care and higher rates of smoking and substance abuse.

Another Batch of Tylenol Recalled

Thousands more bottles of Tylenol are being recalled due to customer complaints about a strange, musty odor, says Johnson & Johnson's McNeil Consumer Health division.

The latest recall covers about 34,000 150-count bottles of Tylenol 8 Hour Extended Release Caplets, ABC News reported. The company believes the odor is caused by trace amounts of chemicals produced by the breakdown of a fungicide treatment on wooden pallets used to store the drugs.

The new recall follows a series of larger recalls in 2010 triggered by the same odor problem.

There was a recall last October of about 128,000 bottles of the same Tylenol caplets. Last July, McNeil recalled 21 different product lines, including Children's Tylenol, Benadryl and Motrin. In April, the company recalled more than 136 million bottles of Tylenol, Motrin, Zyrtec and Benadryl, ABC News reported.


Fewer U.S. Adult Diabetics Having Annual Tests

The percentage of poor and middle-income adults age 40 and over with diabetes who are having their blood sugar, eyes and feet checked at least once a year is declining, says a U.S. government report.

The three tests are done to prevent diabetes-related complications such as kidney failure, blindness and amputation.

The proportion of poor adults who had the tests fell from 39 percent in 2002 to 23 percent in 2007, while the rate dropped from 41 percent to 33 percent among middle-income adults, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The rate of high-income adults who had all three tests remained steady at 52 percent.

The percentage of adults who had all three tests fell from 43 percent to 32 percent among those with a high school education, from 34 percent to 29 percent among those who didn't finish high school, and from 51 percent to 47 percent for those with at least some college education.


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Posted: March 2011