Health Highlights: April 20, 2007

Surgeons Remove Woman's Gallbladder Through Vagina Rabies Treatment Failed to Save 3 Children Increasing Hypertension Rates Could Cause Heart Disease Epidemic 132 Million Flu Vaccine Doses for U.S. Next Season Flu Can Increase Heart Attack Risk: Study

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

Surgeons Remove Woman's Gallbladder Through Vagina

In a procedure that required only minimal external incisions, surgeons used a flexible endoscope to remove a woman's gallbladder through her vagina. This new procedure, which is being used in an ongoing clinical trail, may help reduce pain, visible scarring and recovery time.

The NOTES (natural orifice translumenal endoscopic surgery) procedure was performed by doctors at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. They inserted the endoscope through the woman's vaginal wall and into her body cavity. Using the endoscope, along with laparoscopic instruments inserted through the abdomen, the surgeons detached the gallbladder and removed it through the vagina.

"Advances in minimally invasive surgical techniques over the last 15 years have dramatically reduced the number of open abdominal surgeries necessary -- eliminating a great deal of the associated discomfort. This latest revolutionary advance -- abdominal surgery through a natural orifice -- represents the culmination of this progression," Dr. Marc Bessler, who led the surgery, said in a prepared statement.

"This technique allows us to make smaller and fewer skin incisions. And, in the future, some abdominal surgeries will be possible without any external incisions," said Bessler, director of laparoscopic surgery and director of the Center for Obesity Surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia and assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

Bessler is scheduled to make a presentation on the procedure this Sunday at the annual meeting of the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons in Las Vegas.

New York Presbyterian/Columbia is also using the NOTES technique for appendectomy, abdominal exploration and biopsy. In the future, NOTES may be performed through the mouth or rectum.

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Rabies Treatment Failed to Save 3 Children

A combination of drugs used to save the life of a teen infected with rabies did not help three other infected youngsters, says an article published Friday in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In 2004, 15-year-old Jeanna Giese of Wisconsin was infected with rabies after she was bitten by a bat. She had not been vaccinated against the disease. Doctors in Milwaukee used drugs to induce a coma and then treated Giese with antiviral drugs, including ribavirin, ketamine and amantadine, the Associated Press reported.

She survived and the successful treatment was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

However, the MMWR article said that the so-called Wisconsin protocol failed to save the lives of three U.S. children infected with rabies last year, the AP reported.

Reasons for the failure in those cases could include the strain of rabies virus, the drug dosing, and the time between infection and treatment, said Dr. Charles Rupprecht, co-author of the MMWR report and chief of the CDC's rabies program.

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Increasing Hypertension Rates Could Cause Heart Disease Epidemic

Increasing rates of high blood pressure caused by modern lifestyles threaten to create a global epidemic of cardiovascular disease, warn international experts in a study unveiled at the European Parliament in Brussels.

Currently, about 25 percent of adults have high blood pressure and that figure could increase to 60 percent over the next 20 years if nothing is done to tackle the issue, such as encouraging people to adopt healthier, less-hectic lifestyles, BBC News reported.

Rates of hypertension are increasing most rapidly in emerging nations with westernized economies, such as China, India, Russia and Central European countries.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for developing heart disease. Each year, high blood pressure contributes to an estimated 7.1 million deaths worldwide, the researchers noted.

They said that public policy efforts need to focus on earlier diagnosis of high blood pressure and addressing its underlying causes, BBC News reported.

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132 Million Flu Vaccine Doses for U.S. Next Season

A record 132 million doses of flu vaccine are expected to be ready for the 2007-08 flu season in the United States, according to estimates announced Wednesday at a meeting in Atlanta of flu vaccine makers, public health officials, and health professionals.

Sanofi Pasteur Inc. said it will have 50 million doses ready, Novartis Vaccines plans to have 40 million doses, and GlaxoSmithKline expects to have 30 million to 35 million doses. All those doses are in the form of flu shots, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, MedImmune Vaccines says it will produce about seven million doses of FluMist. This nasal spray product, which contains a live flu virus and therefore carries a slight risk of causing flu symptoms, is recommended only for healthy people ages 5 to 49.

But even this large number of flu doses falls short of U.S. guidelines that call for 218 million Americans to get flu vaccinations, noted Dr. Anne Schuchat, director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Disease.

The number of flu doses available for the next flu season may increase if another company, CSL Biotherapies, receives federal approval to sell its vaccine in the United States this fall, the AP reported. The company has asked for expedited FDA approval.

Nearly 121 million flu vaccine doses -- the most ever -- were produced for the United States during the 2006-07 flu season, but more than 18 million doses weren't used and are to be destroyed after their June 30 expiration date.

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Flu Can Increase Heart Attack Risk: Study

Having the flu can increase the risk of heart attack, and doctors need to make sure that people at high risk of heart disease get annual flu shots, says a study by U.S. researchers who examined 1993-2000 autopsy reports from St. Petersburg, Russia.

The researchers found that people 50 and older were one-third more likely to die of a heart attack during peak flu season than in non-flu weeks, CBC News reported.

Few people in St. Petersburg receive flu shots or take anti-cholesterol drugs, the study authors noted. Their findings appear in this week's online issue of the European Heart Journal.

"My public health message is that flu is an important killer in cardiac patients," study leader Mohammad Madjid, a professor at the University of Texas, said in a prepared statement. "If people can recognize that the flu vaccine has specific cardio-protective effects, then high-risk people will be more likely to make sure they receive the influenza vaccine every year."

The researchers noted that flu-related inflammation in the body can destabilize arterial plaque, which can then block arteries in the heart and cause a heart attack, CBC News reported.

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