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Health Highlights: May 18, 2011

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

FDA Panel to Discuss Cholesterol Drug Trilipix

A meeting to discuss whether a key indication should be removed from the cholesterol drug Trilipix will be held Thursday by a panel of expert advisors to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Trilipix is approved for use with statins, the most widely-used class of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Trilipix, a type of drug called a fibrate, lowers blood fats called triclycerides and increases levels of "good" cholesterol, the Associated Press reported.

A large government study released in March found that taking Trilipix plus a statin didn't reduce heart attacks among diabetic patients, compared with taking a statin alone.

The FDA panel will consider a number of options for Trilipix, including adding information about the study findings to the label or revoking the drug's approval for use with statins, the AP reported.


Security Problems Persist for Online Patient Records

Security gaps that put patients' information at risk are not being addressed as the federal government pushes to computerize medical records, according to the inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department.

Investigators warn that the effort to connect hospitals and doctors to enable them to share patient data electronically is being built on a system that already has major privacy problems and could provide hackers and snoopers with new pathways to get patient information, reported.

Health care records can be used to create false identities or to send bogus medical bills to Medicare.

Investigators found 151 security weaknesses in online patient records at seven large hospitals in different states.

The findings "raise concern" about the effectiveness of security measures for personal health information and these problems "need to be addressed to ensure a secure environment for health data," the inspector general said, reported.


U.S. Will Keep Smallpox Stockpiles at Least 5 Years

The world's last known stockpiles of smallpox virus in the United States and Russia won't be destroyed for at least another five years, U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen Sibelius said Tuesday.

The U.S. is "committed to the eventual destruction" of the stockpiles, but there are concerns that smallpox could be released unintentionally or be used as a bioweapon, Sibelius said at a press conference at the United Nations' European headquarters, where a World Health Organization assembly was discussing the issue, the Associated Press reported.

In order to fight an outbreak, scientists would need the smallpox virus to create a vaccine.

A number of countries want the remaining stockpiles of smallpox virus destroyed. The WHO will review the situation in another five years, the AP reported.

The last known case of smallpox was in Britain in 1978. In previous centuries, about one-third of the people who became infected with the highly contagious disease died.


Experts Question Usefulness of Test to Gauge Life Span

Some experts are questioning the usefulness of a blood test that may reveal whether people are biologically older or younger than their age.

The test, set to be made available in Britain later this year, measures the length of telomeres, which are short pieces of DNA at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres become shorter over time and some scientists believe their length reveals a person's biological age, ABC News reported.

People who take the 500-euro ($700) test and find out that their telomeres are shorter than expected may be motivated to adopt healthier lifestyle habits, according to proponents.

But others are skeptical about the test's usefulness, noting that many factors affect a person's longevity.

"Research has shown that lifespan is determined by both genetic and environmental factors and therefore a test examining one measurement, may not accurately predict this process," Heidi Tissenbaum, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, told ABC News. "More research is needed to show the connections between telomere length and a person's life span."

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Posted: May 2011

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