Health Highlights: Sept. 5, 2007
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Mattel Recalls Thousands of Additional Toys
Mattel is recalling 848,000 Chinese-made Barbie and Fisher-Price toys that may contain excessive lead, the third huge recall by the world's top toymaker in five weeks, the Bloomberg news service reported Wednesday.
The latest recall includes Barbie kitchen and furniture accessories, Fisher-Price trains, and Bongo Band drums. The number of recalled toys since August now tops 21 million, Bloomberg said, although no injuries have been reported. Mattel produces 65 percent of its toys through China.
Mattel said consumers should visit its Web site to learn if they have any of the recalled products.
"We apologize again to everyone affected and promise that we will continue to focus on ensuring the safety and quality of our toys," Mattel chief executive officer Robert Eckert said in a statement.
Last month's recalls of more than 20 million toys involved Barbie, Pollie Pocket, Batman, Sesame Street, and Dora the Explorer items, Bloomberg reported. Most were for containing excessive lead-based paint, but others involved small magnets that if swallowed could clump together and cause intestinal damage.
Lead can be toxic if ingested by children, causing brain damage, behavioral and learning problems.
Popcorn Fumes Could Be Dangerous: Expert
People who are frequently exposed to fumes from butter-flavored microwave popcorn could be in danger of acquiring a pulmonary disease often called "popcorn lung," a lung specialist has warned in a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Dr. Cecile Rose said she and her colleagues at Denver's National Jewish Medical and Research Center have identified what's believed to be the first case of a consumer who developed the disease after microwaving popcorn several times daily for years, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
"We cannot be sure that this patient's exposure to butter-flavored microwave popcorn from daily heavy preparation has caused his lung disease. However, we have no other plausible explanation," the wire service quoted Rose as saying.
Popcorn lung, a potentially fatal respiratory disease, has been the focus of lawsuits from hundreds of workers at popcorn factories who are heavily exposed to the chemicals used to produce buttery flavoring, the AP said. Symptoms include coughing and shortness of breath.
In response to Rose's letter, written in July but made public this week, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturer's Association issued a statement recommending that popcorn producers limit the amount of the chemical diacetyl in butter flavorings. One national popcorn maker, Indianapolis-based Weaver Popcorn Co., has already said it was working to replace the chemical, the wire service reported.
The FDA said it was still evaluating Rose's letter and "carefully considering the safety and regulator issues it raises," the AP said.
New Drug Effective in Fighting Cholesterol: Study
Clinical testing of the new anti-cholesterol drug Cordaptive finds it is safe and effective in raising users' good cholesterol and lowering bad cholesterol, the drug's maker says.
Merck & Co.'s Cordaptive combines an extended-release form of the B-vitamin niacin with a chemical to limit a common side effect of niacin use called flushing, the Associated Press reported. Flushing is characterized by redness of the face and a burning and tingling of the area.
Merck said its 24-week study of 1,600 patients found that compared with patients who took a placebo, Cordaptive led to an 18 percent drop in LDL (bad) cholesterol and a 20 percent increase in HDL (good) cholesterol. The company also reported a 26 percent decline in another type of harmful blood fat called triglycerides.
Results stayed about the same regardless of whether trial participants also took cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, the AP said.
New Study Finds Risks in Drug-Coated Stents
Drug-coated stents aren't the best treatment for all heart patients, even those at risk of heart attack, new research finds.
Heart attack patients who had the expensive devices installed to prop open arteries in an emergency situation were five times more likely to die after two years than similar patients who received bare-metal stents, according to results presented Tuesday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Vienna.
Previous studies had found risks for using drug-lined stents, but mostly among non-emergency heart cases, the Associated Press reported.
Stents are wire mesh tubes used to prop open arteries, notably after a common artery-clearing procedure called angioplasty. Drug-coated stents are also used in as many as 30 percent of Americans having heart attacks, the AP said.
Dr. Gabriel Steg, of the Hospital Bichat-Claude Bernard in Paris, studied almost 2,300 patients from 94 hospitals in 14 countries. Some 75 percent of patients had bare metal stents, and 27 of those died. By contrast, of the 25 percent who had drug-coated stents, 49 died, the wire service reported.
Experts cited by the AP said there were differences among these patients that could have affected their outcomes. However, the findings were cause enough to re-evaluate drug-coated stents, they added.
The study was funded by Sanofi-Aventis, which makes anti-clotting drugs that could also be used to treat these heart problems, the AP noted.
Genome Pioneer Mapping Own DNA
Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has just finished publishing about 96 percent of a person's genetic code, the most comprehensive publishing of the human genome to date.
He's quite familiar with the owner of this DNA blueprint, because it's his own, reports CNN.
"Our genes can tell us probabilities of what might happen and give us a chance to do something about it," the billionaire biologist told the network.
Venter just published almost all 6 billion letters of his genetic code in the journal PLoS Biology. His father died of a heart attack, and Venter said he found at least three genes linked to increased heart attack risk. He said he now takes a statin drug to lower his blood cholesterol.
Venter said he also found a gene linked to Alzheimer's disease, for which there is no known family history. He's also found genetic links to blindness, alcoholism, lactose intolerance, substance abuse, high blood pressure, and obesity, CNN said.
Venter stressed that the findings are not proof that he will go on to develop the conditions, only that he may be at increased risk.
Depressed Often Underserved by Primary Care Doctors: Study
Most clinically depressed people who are treated by their primary care doctors do not receive care "consistent with quality standards," a new Rand Corp. study concludes.
For the 1,131 people with depression studied, physicians showed low rates of adherence to nearly half of 20 standard treatment recommendations, the non-profit research organization said in a statement.
Fewer than half of the patients in the study completed the minimal course of treatment for either antidepressant drugs or psychotherapy, the researchers found. The lowest quality of care was given to patients with the most serious symptoms, including evidence of suicidal thoughts or substance abuse, Rand said.
"These findings are important for patients since most cases of depression are diagnosed and treated in primary care settings," said study lead author Dr. Lisa Rubenstein, a Rand scientist. "This shows that additional efforts are needed to improve the treatment of depression."
Study results are published in the September issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
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