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Health Highlights: March 7, 2011

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

Psychiatrists Abandoning Talk Therapy: Report

Health insurance changes are a main reason why many of the 48,000 psychiatrists in the United States now focus on prescribing medications instead of providing talk therapy to their patients, according to The New York Times.

For example, Dr. Donald Levin of Philadelphia treated 50 to 60 patients in once- or twice-weekly talk therapy sessions of 45 minutes each when he first established a private practice in 1972. His goal was to keep patients happy and fulfilled.

But Levine now treats 1,200 patients in short office visits that focus mainly on prescription adjustments. The objective now is just to keep patients functional, the Times reported.

This type of brief consultation is now common in psychiatry, according to Dr. Steven S. Sharfstein, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association and the president and chief executive of Sheppard Pratt Health System in Maryland.

"Its a practice that's very reminiscent of primary care," Sharfstein told the Times. Psychiatrists "check up on people; they pull out the prescription pad; they order tests."


Recalled Hazelnuts May be Linked to E. Coli Cases

Hazelnuts and mixed nuts that may be linked to seven cases of E. coli infection in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin have been recalled by DeFranco & Sons of Los Angeles, according to U.S. health officials.

The hazelnuts and mixed nuts with hazelnuts were sold across the United States and in Canada in November and December. No E. coli has been found in the products, the Associated Press reported.

The recalled products -- sold under the brand names Sunripe, George Packing, Firestone Farms, and Northwest Hazelnut -- were available in a variety of packages as small as 1 pound.

Fifty-pound bags of hazelnuts and mixed nuts with hazelnuts may have been repackaged in smaller containers or sold from bulk containers, the AP reported.


FDA Warns of Birth Defects Tied to Epilepsy Drug

The epilepsy drug Topamax (topiramate) and its generic versions increase the risk for the birth defects cleft lip and cleft palate in babies born to women who use the medication while pregnant, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

Before prescribing topiramate, which is approved to treat certain types of seizures in people who have epilepsy, health-care professionals should tell women of childbearing age about the potential risk, the agency said in a news release.

Topiramate is also approved to prevent migraine headaches, but not to relieve migraine pain.

"Health-care professionals should carefully consider the benefits and risks of topiramate when prescribing it to women of childbearing age," said Dr. Russell Katz, director of the FDA's Division of Neurology Products. "Alternative medications that have a lower risk of birth defects should be considered."

Cleft lip and cleft palate are birth defects that occur when parts of the lip or palate don't completely fuse together early in the first trimester of pregnancy, a time when many women don't know they're pregnant. Surgery often is performed to close the lip and palate and most children do well after treatment, the FDA said.

Citing new data from the North American Antiepileptic Drug Pregnancy Registry, the FDA noted an increased risk of oral clefts in infants exposed to topiramate during the first trimester of pregnancy.

As a result, topiramate will have a stronger warning on its label, and the patient medication guide and prescribing information for Topamax and generic topiramate will be updated with the new information, the agency said.

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Posted: March 2011