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Health Highlights: Sept. 4, 2009

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

ADHD Drug Approved for Children and Teens

The drug Intuniv (guanfacine) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in people aged 6 to 17, drug maker Shire Plc said Thursday.

The once-daily drug, to be available in 1-to-4 milligram strengths, is expected on pharmacy shelves in November, the company said in a news release. The way it works is unclear, but the drug is thought to directly engage receptors in the brain's prefrontal cortex, an area that has been linked to the disorder.

Intuniv is not a controlled substance and "has no known potential for abuse or dependence," Shire said. It cited statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that some 4.4 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD.

In clinical testing, the most common adverse reactions to Intuniv included tiredness, abdominal pain, dizziness, a drop in blood pressure, dry mouth and constipation, the company said.


One-Dose Swine Flu Vaccine Looks Promising

Hopeful news in the battle against the H1N1 swine flu emerged Thursday as European and Chinese researchers said they have developed swine flu vaccines that work with one dose, rather than two, potentially increasing the supply available for distribution.

Novartis, the Swiss drug maker, found that in a British trial of 100 people between 18 and 50 years old, participants had adequate protection two weeks after just one injection, the Associated Press reported.

In China, a swine flu vaccine was approved on Thursday, which also works with one dose, according to its maker, Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

"The pilot results are encouraging," Andrin Oswald, CEO of Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, said in a statement. "This is important information for public health authorities who prepare for vaccination in the coming months with limited vaccine supply."

Scientists previously thought two doses would be necessary, which could have contributed to a vaccine shortage. The World Health Organization declared swine flu a pandemic in June, and last month it said efforts to create an effective vaccine were progressing slowly, which could limit supplies this fall, when a resurgence of swine flu is expected.

Although encouraged, health experts said additional trials of both vaccines are needed to determine if a single dose is enough. How these developments will affect the worldwide supply is still unclear, because Novartis' vaccine relies on cell culture, while most flu vaccines use chicken eggs.

The Novartis formula, like most European vaccines, also uses adjuvants, a chemical component intended to make the vaccine more efficient. Neither the United States nor Canada has licensed flu vaccines with adjuvants, and limited information exists on how they affect pregnant women and children, two groups considered at high risk in a pandemic, the AP said.

The Sinovac vaccine and some others being tested in China and the United States do not use adjuvants.


Many Employer-Based Health Plans Now Cost $20,000-Plus

In 2008, one in 10 workers in three states -- Alaska, Indiana and Minnesota -- was in employer-based family health insurance plans with costs that topped $20,000, according to new data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In a new release, the agency said these costs were at least $7,000 more than the national average. And for the nation as a whole, 10 percent of workers (about 2 million people) had a family health insurance plan costing $17,000 or more. Overall, the average American family paid premiums totaling $12,298 in 2008, the AHRQ said.

Other 2008 data from the agency's analysis of private, employer-based plans:

  • One in 10 workers ended up paying $6,700 out of pocket; the national average was $3,394;
  • 10 percent of workers in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Washington spent at least $8,100 to obtain health coverage for their family;
  • More than 3 million American workers had health insurance premiums at $6,200 or more, 41 percent higher than the national average of $4,386;
  • One in every 10 workers enrolled in single person coverage plans paid $1,900 or more -- more than twice the national average.
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Posted: September 2009