Health Buzz: Meningitis Kills 14, Suing Begins

The latest outlook on Alzheimer's; soda, calories, and a full accounting

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Meningitis Update: 14 Dead, One Person Suing Steroid Maker

The meningitis death toll has risen to 14 people, and roughly 14,000 may have received the contaminated steroid linked to the condition. One of those patients—a woman who received the steroid injection and is now experiencing meningitis symptoms—filed a lawsuit against the steroid maker yesterday in a Minnesota federal court. Reuters reports that this woman's actions may ignite a wave of lawsuits against the company who made the contaminated steroids, New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts. NECC recalled the contaminated product, suspended its operating license, and has become the target of a heated investigation—to the point that some health officials say the company broke a Massachusetts law, reports Health Day.

Yesterday, the number of people who have contracted this fungal meningitis reached 169, Reuters reports. "We are not out of the woods yet," Todd Weber, incident manager of the meningitis outbreak for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a briefing yesterday. The CDC is encouraging patients who received the steroid to look out for symptoms of meningitis over the months ahead. Meningitis symptoms include severe headache, dizziness, nausea, and fever, and possibly slurred speech and difficulty walking and urinating.

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  • The Latest Outlook on Alzheimer's

    More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer's disease, and the nonprofit Alzheimer's Association projects that, barring major advances, 11 million to 16 million will have it by 2050—at an annual cost of $1.1 trillion in today's dollars. In May, the government announced the first national plan to combat Alzheimer's, and one focus is the role of beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, a leading suspect in this form of dementia. U.S. News spoke about progress against the disease with a leading researcher in the field, Reisa Sperling, head of the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an associate professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. Excerpts:

    Q: What do you see unfolding over the next couple of decades?

    A: What we have now is what I would term "symptomatic therapy." Drugs that are FDA-approved for Alzheimer's disease help people stay functional a bit longer, but they're not really slowing the underlying disease process. I actually am optimistic about the outlook over the next 10 to 20 years, because I think we are realizing that Alzheimer's disease can be detected a decade before people have symptoms. That will allow us to move into the same type of prevention strategy that has been successful in cancer and heart disease.

    Q: Has anything proven effective yet in either staving off or slowing the disease?

    A: Unfortunately, no. There are several anti-amyloid agents in large-scale trials that are due to report out this fall. However, those trials are being done at what we now recognize is probably the late stage of a 20-year disease process. And I'm afraid that may be too late for these particular mechanisms. The good news is that the agents are increasingly showing evidence that they have biologic activity, that they can lower amyloid in the brain and even affect what we call downstream processes, such as another key protein called tau. The issue is that we need to start both of those types of therapies, anti-amyloid and anti-tau, much earlier. [Read more: The Latest Outlook on Alzheimer's]

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    • Soda, Calories, and a Full Accounting

      The American Beverage Association (ABA) announced this week, with predictable fanfare, its plans to put calorie counts on soda vending machines in San Antonio, Texas, and Chicago, Ill. In principle, national expansion will follow, but those details are not yet in place. For now, the program can only do good so far as it goes geographically. The question then is: What good is that? What, exactly, will soda calorie counts do for the San Antonians and Chicagoans, as the rest of us watch from the sidelines?