Health Highlights: Feb. 21, 2008
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
FDA Panel Recommends Approval of Rotarix Vaccine
Rotarix, a vaccine designed to help protect infants from rotavirus-caused gastrointestinal illness, is safe and should be approved for sale, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel of outside medical experts.
The FDA -- which is not required to follow the advice of its expert panels but usually does -- is expected to decide whether to approve Rotarix by April 3, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Rotavirus infections, which mostly strike children before age 5, don't cause many deaths in the United States, but do lead to about 50,000 to 70,000 hospitalizations a year.
Rotarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline, is designed to protect infants against rotavirus during the first two years of life, when infection with the virus is likely to cause the most severe symptoms, the Wall Street Journal reported.
A similar vaccine called RotaTeq, made by Merck & Co., has been on the U.S. market since 2006.
States Making Progress in Emergency Preparedness: CDC
American states and cities have made a strong effort and good progress in preparing for emergency health crises such as a bioterrorism attack or a flu pandemic, but major challenges remain, a new government report has found.
The report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the first federal assessment of what has been achieved with more than $5 billion spent on public health emergency preparedness since 2001, the AP reported.
Among the CDC's findings:
- In 2007, there were 47 labs able to detect chemical agents, compared to zero in 2001. And the number of state and local health departments able to detect biological agents increased from 83 in 2002 to 110 in 2007.
- There's been a large increase in information-sharing between labs and public health professionals, and the number of illness-investigating epidemiologists assigned to emergency response increased from 115 in 2001 to 232 in 2006.
- All states are now doing year-round influenza surveillance, which could prove crucial if the H5N1 bird flu virus mutates into a form that's easily transmitted between humans.
But the CDC also noted a number of areas that need improvement, the AP reported. For example, a number of states don't have enough epidemiologists or are having trouble attracting qualified lab scientists, and at least 16 states appear to have inadequate disease surveillance data exchange.
Targeted IVF Method Reduces Multiple Births
A targeted in-vitro fertilization (IVF) technique that uses older embryos may significantly lower the likelihood of risky multiple births without reducing the overall odds of achieving pregnancy, says a U.K. study in the journal BJOG.
Researchers at Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospital in London found that the use of a single, slightly more mature blastocyst (five-day-old fertilized egg) significantly reduced the rate of multiple births and increased pregnancy rates, compared to the use of multiple two-to-three-day-old fertilized eggs, BBC News reported.
Being able to select from blastocysts enables doctors to choose those with the best chance of implanting in the womb.
Currently, doctors doing IVF often place more than one embryo in the womb in order to boost the likelihood of achieving pregnancy, but this approach frequently results in twin or triplet births, which can threaten the health of the mother and children, BBC News reported.
Supreme Court: FDA-Approved Medical Devices Not Subject to State Lawsuits
State courts are not the proper place to sue medical device companies if their product has federal approval, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.
According to the New York Times, the top court overwhelmingly rejected an appeal by a man who claimed that a defective catheter used on him during a 1996 angioplasty violated New York state law.
The device, made by Minneapolis-based Medtronic, had received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, making it exempt from liability under individual state laws, the Times reported. The Wednesday U.S. Supreme Court ruling confirmed federal appeals courts' decisions that denied the plaintiff's standing to sue in the NY state court system.
Charles Riegel was severely injured in 1996 while undergoing an angioplasty when the catheter burst. Riegel and his wife maintained that the device's design violated New York State law. Riegel died a number of years after the injury, but his wife continued the lawsuit, the Times said.
Medtronic was protected under the Medical Device Amendments of 1976, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority decision, according to the Times. The federal law keeps states from imposing on medical devices "any requirement which is different from, or in addition to, any requirement applicable under this chapter," Scalia wrote.
The reason for this, Scalia added, was because the FDA sometimes has to weigh some possible bad outcomes against a device or drug's overall benefits, the newspaper said. "It may thus approve devices that present great risks if they nonetheless offer great benefits in light of available alternatives," he wrote. He cited one case where the F.D.A. approved a ventricular device for children "even though the survival rate of children using the device was less than 50 percent."
Bird Flu Outbreak Puts Vietnam on High Alert
A new H5N1 bird flu outbreak that has killed thousands of birds in three northern provinces in Vietnam has put the country on high alert. Seven of Vietnam's 64 provinces and municipalities that have reported H5N1 virus outbreaks within the past 21 days are now on the watchlist, Agence France-Presse reported.
"We will go on nationwide red alert on the risk of bird flu over the next few days," Bui Ba Bong, Vietnam's Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, was quoted as telling the Thanh Nien daily newspaper.
"Preventing and fighting H5N1 outbreaks in poultry is extremely urgent and important in preventing and curbing H5N1 outbreaks among humans," he said, AFP reported.
Vietnam's government also reported the country's third human victim of bird flu this year. The 27-year-old man from northern Ninh Binh province died Feb. 14. That brings Vietnam's human death toll to 50 since the virus first appeared in the country a few years ago. Worldwide, it's believed the H5N1 virus has killed 228 people.
Luxembourg Poised to Legalize Euthanasia
Luxembourg appears poised to become the third European country to legalize euthanasia, which is currently legal in the Netherlands and Belgium.
In a close vote, Luxembourg's parliament passed a bill to allow doctors to help patients end their lives. The bill still has to be approved in a second reading to take effect, Agence France-Presse reported.
The bill places strict regulation on the use euthanasia. For example, a doctor will have to consult with a colleague to confirm that a patient is suffering from a "grave and incurable condition."
Under the bill, a national commission dominated by doctors and officials would conduct a case-by-case review to ensure adherence to all legal conditions and procedures, AFP reported.
The country's medical community was mostly against the bill, which sparked passionate debate in Luxembourg, where Catholic values remain strong.
Study Identifies Emerging Infectious Disease Hot Spots
Latin America, tropical Africa and South Asia are the most likely locations for the emergence of infectious diseases in the future and require closer monitoring, says a study by American and British researchers.
They made the conclusion after analyzing a database of 335 emerging infectious disease events that occurred between 1940 and 2004, CBC News reported. The study appears in the Feb. 21 issue of the journal Nature.
The researchers wrote that "that human population density was a common significant independent predictor of emerging infectious disease events," and noted that this finding "supports previous hypotheses that disease emergence is largely a product of anthropogenic and demographic changes and is a hidden cost of human economic development."
They recommended that richer developed countries provide resources to ensure proper infectious disease monitoring in poorer, less-developed nations, CBC News reported.
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