Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Health Highlights: April 12, 2006

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Massachusetts Gov. Signs Universal Insurance Law

Massachusetts is the first state to pass legislation designed to guarantee universal health insurance coverage. Gov. Mitt Romney on Wednesday signed the bill, intended to cover an estimated 550,000 residents who are now uninsured, the Associated Press reported.

Romney did veto a key provision that would have hit businesses that didn't provide health coverage with a $295-per-worker assessment, the wire service said. State congressional leaders have threatened to override this line-item veto and restore the assessment.

The bill provides subsidies and sliding-scale premiums designed to bring low-income residents into existing insurance plans. It will cost an estimated $316 million in its first year, and more than $1 billion by year three, the AP reported.

The law is seen as a national model for a way to offer universal health coverage without creating a single government-run system, the wire service said.
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Antipsychotic Drug Studies Favor Cos. Providing Funding: Report
In many studies comparing antipsychotic drugs, the findings favor drugs made by companies funding the studies, says a report in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
Psychiatrist Dr. John Davis and his colleagues analyzed every publicly available pharmaceutical industry-funded study comparing five new antipsychotic drugs against one another. They found that nine in 10 of the studies concluded that the superior drug was the one made by the firm funding the study, the Washington Post reported.
"On the basis of these contrasting findings in head-to-head trials, it appears that whichever company sponsors the trial produces the better antipsychotic drug," Davis and his colleagues wrote.
These studies are the main source of information used by U.S. doctors to prescribe $10 billion worth of antipsychotic drugs each year, the Post reported.

Davis said biases in clinical trial design and interpretation can produce these contradictory results, which can undermine the confidence that patients and doctors have in these drugs.

He estimated that about 90 percent of pharmaceutical industry-sponsored studies that list a well-known academic as the lead researcher are actually conducted by a drug company, which later recruits a university researcher to be the "author," the Post reported.
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Evista Doesn't Protect Heart
The drug Evista does not help protect the heart, according to early results from the Raloxifene Use for the Heart (RUTH) trial, drug maker Eli Lilly said Wednesday.

"Because Evista did not prevent coronary events, we want to reinforce for physicians that Evista should not be prescribed for cardioprotection," said Alan Breier, Lilly's vice president and chief medical officer. "Physicians should be aware that the modest reduction of LDL, or 'bad' cholesterol, previously seen in Evista's clinical trials and currently reflected in the label, did not translate into cardioprotection in the RUTH study."

But the RUTH study findings suggest that Evista, which is currently approved in the United States for the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis, may reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer in postmenopausal women, United Press International reported.
Lilly plans to submit the data on the drug's potential for lowering breast cancer risk to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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Cause of Eye Infections a Mystery: Bausch & Lomb
Even though its ReNu with MoistureLoc contact lens solution is a suspected cause of an outbreak of dangerous fungal eye infections, eye-care products maker Bausch & Lomb said Wednesday the cause of the infections remains a mystery.
"As far as speculation about theories, there's a lot of them, we've run a lot of them to ground and come up with nothing," Ron Zarella, the company's chief executive, said in a conference call with analysts, the Associated Press reported.
"Every additional test we've run suggests that the formulation is as safe and effective as anything on the market and in particular with regard to Fusarium," Zarella said.
Fusarium is the fungus that's caused 109 reports of eye infections in 17 states since last June. U.S. health officials investigating the outbreak have not made a direct connection between ReNu and the infections. However, most of the patients used the ReNu solution.
On Monday night, Bausch & Lomb stopped shipments of ReNu with MoistureLoc while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducts its investigation.
In February, the company halted shipments of ReNu in Singapore and Hong Kong due to a surge in fungal eye infections among contact lens wearers. That outbreak is still under investigation.
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Coroner Links Detective's Death to World Trade Center Cleanup
A New Jersey coroner has made the first known ruling that links a death to cleanup work at the World Trade Center site in Manhattan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The case involves the death of 34-year-old James Zadroga, a police detective who developed respiratory disease after spending 470 hours working at the site. He died on Jan. 6 of respiratory failure. The autopsy results were released Tuesday by Zadroga's family and union, the Associated Press reported.
"It is felt with a reasonable degree of medical certainty that the cause of death in this case was directly related to the 9/11 incident," Dr. Gerard Burton, a pathologist at the Ocean County medical examiner's office, wrote in the Feb. 28 autopsy.
Zadroga had inflammation in his lung tissue due to "a history of exposure to toxic fumes and dust," Breton wrote. He also detected material "consistent with dust' in Zadroga's lungs; the officer also had a damaged liver and enlarged heart and spleen, the AP reported.
Last week, a report released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that many survivors of the World Trade Center attacks are still suffering respiratory problems and psychological symptoms.
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Bird Flu May Be Limited Threat to U.S., Expert Says
Even if the dangerous H5N1 bird flu virus does make it to the United States, it's unlikely to be as serious a threat to U.S. poultry or people as it is in developing nations, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. bird flu expert.
"The surveillance is going to be so intense that it is very unlikely that there is going to be the type of situation we see everywhere from Nigeria to Indonesia," Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, told the Associated Press.
He noted that U.S. poultry farmers keep their birds isolated from wild birds and that most Americans have limited contact with poultry or their droppings.
"It won't be what you see in countries in which there is no regulation, in which there is no incentive to compensate farmers, in which the people, who are so poor, when they see their chickens are getting infected they immediately sell them or they don't tell anybody because they don't want them culled," Fauci told the AP.



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