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Health Highlights: Oct. 17, 2009

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

FDA Approves Gardasil to Prevent Genital Warts in Males

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved use of the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil for the prevention of genital warts caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) types 6 and 11 in boys and men, ages 9 through 26.

Each year, about two out of every 1,000 men in the United States are newly diagnosed with genital warts, the FDA said.

Gardasil currently is approved for use in girls and women ages 9 through 26 for the prevention of cervical, vulvar and vaginal cancer caused by HPV types 16 and 18; precancerous lesions caused by types 6, 11, 16, and 18; and genital warts caused by types 6 and 11, the agency said.

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the United States and most genital warts are caused by HPV infection.

Earlier Friday, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline said the FDA had appproved its cervical cancer vaccine called Cervarix. The company expects to launch the vaccine in the United States later this year.

U.S. approval of Cervarix, already sold in nearly 100 other nations, was delayed since 2007 because the FDA wanted additional data from Glaxo, the Associated Press reported. Merck's cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil has been available in the United States since 2006.

Both vaccines block human papilloma virus (HPV) strains 16 and 18, which cause 75 percent of cervical cancers. Cervarix is also 70 percent effective in blocking other HPV strains that can cause cancer.

The price for Cervarix in the United States has not been discussed by Glaxo, the AP reported.

In 2008, nearly 4,000 women died of cervical cancer in the United States.


Placebo Effect Detected in Spinal Cord

The placebo effect isn't in your head; it's in your spinal cord, suggests a German study.

The study included 15 men who had the same ointment rubbed on two areas of their forearms. The men were told that each area had a different cream -- a "lidocaine" cream that was a strong local anesthetic and a non-medicinal control cream. After application of the creams, a hot stimulus was placed on both areas of the forearm and kept there for 20 seconds, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Even though both creams were identical, the men said the lidocaine ointment reduced pain by an average of 26 percent. Using MRI, the researchers detected less activity in the men's spinal cords when they believed they were being protected by the lidocaine.

The findings show that a painful stimulus just needs to get to the spinal cord, not all the way to the brain, to be influenced by the placebo effect, the researchers wrote, the Times reported.


Marijuana Used by Nearly 4 Percent of Adults Worldwide: Study

Nearly 4 percent of adults worldwide use marijuana, say Australian researchers who analyzed data from the United Nations' office on drugs and crime.

In 2006, 166 million people ages 15 to 64 used cannabis. Use was highest among young people in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Europe, but the drug is becoming increasingly popular in low- and middle-income nations, Agence France-Presse reported.

About 9 percent of people who ever use marijuana become dependent on it, said the study. The risk of addiction for nicotine is 32 percent, 23 percent for heroin, 17 percent for cocaine and 15 percent for alcohol, they noted.

The researchers listed suspected negative health effects associated with regular cannabis use, including breathing and cardiovascular harm, psychotic episodes, poor school grades and car accidents, AFP reported.

The study appears in The Lancet.


Special Bracelets Don't Help Arthritis Patients

They may be popular, but magnetic wrist straps and copper bracelets don't relieve arthritis pain, says an English study.

It included 45 osteoarthritis patients, aged 50 and older, who used a copper bracelet, two types of magnetic wrist straps and a demagnetized wrist strap. They wore each of the devices in random order over 16 weeks, BBC News reported.

None of the patients reported any improvements in pain, stiffness or physical function, said the University of York researchers. The findings appear in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

"It appears that any perceived benefit obtained from wearing a magnetic or copper bracelet can be attributed to psychological placebo effects," said study leader Dr. Stewart Richmond, BBC News reported.

"People tend to buy them when they are in a lot of pain, then when the pain eases off over time they attribute this to the device," he said. "However, our findings suggest that such devices have no real advantage over placebo wrist straps that are not magnetic and do not contain copper."

"The FDA is working with other groups to improve the use of several drug disposal methods, including drug take-back programs," said Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, UPI reported. "However, for some potent medicines ... the FDA currently recommends flushing them down the sink or toilet to immediately and permanently remove them from the home."

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Posted: October 2009