Health Buzz: Blood Substitute Risks and Other Health News

The use of hemoglobin-based blood substitutes may raise patients' risk of heart attack and early death.

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Risks Seen in Use of Blood Substitutes in Surgery, Trauma Care

Hemoglobin-based blood substitutes have a long shelf life, don't need to be refrigerated, and don't carry infection risks—but their use may increase patients' risk of heart attack and early death, according to a new Journal of the American Medical Association study being released online today. Other studies, completed as early as 1996, have raised questions about the safety of blood substitutes and haven't found enough clinical benefit to warrant their use. But at least one blood substitute is approved for use outside the United States, and additional research is in progress or planned. Experts had hoped for a blood substitute that could safe lives by averting blood-loss-related shock in surgical and trauma patients, particularly in military settings and rural areas.

The new study was an analysis of previous research, intended to look at the association between using blood substitutes and the risk of heart attack and death in surgical, trauma, and stroke patients. Use of the blood substitutes was associated with a 30 percent increased risk of death during the study, the researchers found. And heart attack risk increased by a factor of 2.7.

The Food and Drug Administration is holding a public workshop on the safety of blood substitutes tomorrow and Wednesday. U.S. News reported on the state of the blood products in 2001.

HPV and Measles Linked to Lung Cancer in Smokers

Getting the measles or human papillomavirus may boost a smoker's already high risk of developing lung cancer, suggests a pair of new studies presented Friday at the European Lung Cancer Conference. The viruses may not directly cause the illness, researchers said, but they seem to aggravate the harmful effects of tobacco. Both studies looked at non-small-cell lung cancer, which accounts for about 85 to 90 percent of all lung cancers.

A vaccine can reduce your risk of getting HPV, which can cause cervical cancer, according to the U.S. News On Women blog. The blog provides advice on what to do about HPV. U.S. News also has discussed the safety of the measles vaccine.

FDA Reviews Safety Data on Plastic Chemical BPA

The Food and Drug Administration is reviewing available evidence on bisphenol A, or BPA, to determine if the chemical is safe for use in consumer products like baby bottles, certain reusable water bottles, and even containers for canned foods, USA Today reports. The agency is not suggesting that people stop using BPA-containing products, but it may eventually require that companies change the way such products are made or limit how much BPA is used.

The federal government's National Toxicology Program expressed concern earlier this month that BPA exposure could cause neural and behavioral abnormalities in fetuses, infants, and children. Canada has since proposed a BPA ban, and several U.S. retailers and companies have said they'll stop selling or making products containing the chemical. In addition, a California woman is suing Nalgene, which makes plastic water bottles that contain BPA, claiming that the company didn't do enough to warn consumers of BPA risks. (Nalgene recently announced it intends to stop using the chemical.) U.S. News offers consumers tips on how to avoid contact with BPA.

Bush Could Sign Genetic Nondiscrimination Bill This Week

The Senate unanimously passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act last week, Deborah Kotz reports. The bill is expected to be signed by President Bush as early as this week, after going back to the House of Representatives for final approval. This law will ensure that anyone who gets genetic screening tests will be protected from having that information shared with health insurers or employers. Until now, women who tested positive for, say, one of the breast cancer genes could be denied insurance coverage or employment based on her predisposition for developing a health problem years down the road.

Since the bill had been in the works for years, as U.S. News's Bernadine Healy explained in November, consumer health advocates greeted last week's news with a sigh of relief. "It's an extraordinary step forward and essential if we ever want to see the potential of genetic research," says Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit advocacy group that has been lobbying for GINA's passage. "There are people afraid to enter research studies or get genetic testing, and we hope this legislation will alleviate those fears."