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Health Highlights: Aug. 5, 2009

Novartis Starts Swine Flu Vaccine Test in Humans U.S. Gov't Boosts Funding of Suicide Crisis Centers Ghostwriters Produced Journal Articles Promoting Hormone Therapy

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

Novartis Starts Swine Flu Vaccine Test in Humans

The first human trial of a swine flu vaccine made by Swiss drugmaker Novartis started about 10 days ago when a person in Britain received the first shot.

The year-long trial will include 6,000 participants of all ages in Britain, Germany and the United States, drug company spokesman Eric Althoff told the Associated Press. He added that the vaccine will likely be on the market before the trial is completed.

The trial is designed to test the safety of the vaccine and to determine whether people require one or two shots.

"Our assumption is that two doses will be required," Althoff told the AP.

Since swine flu was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization in June, drug companies have been striving to get their vaccines ready. In July, Australian drugmaker CSL became the first to start testing a swine flu vaccine in humans.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday that 338 people died from swine flu in the last week.

The H1N1 virus is now responsible for at least 1,154 deaths since it emerged in Mexico and the United States in April, the AP reported.

Last week, the official WHO death toll was 816.

WHO said Tuesday that laboratory-confirmed cases of the disease have now reached 162,380.


U.S. Gov't Boosts Funding of Suicide Crisis Centers

The tough economic situation in the United States has apparently contributed to a sharp increase in calls to suicide crisis centers, so the federal government is offering the centers increased funding.

In July, there were more than 57,000 calls to suicide prevention lines and about one-quarter of them were related to economic worries, said Richard McKeon, lead health adviser for suicide prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the Associated Press reported.

This year, SAMHSA will provide more than $1 million in additional money to help as many as 20 crisis centers cope with the increasing number of calls, as well as possible cuts in state and local funding.

"We know that every single day, there are people calling who are in the midst of a suicide attempt," McKeon told the AP. "Any delay in getting that call answered could be tragic."

Normally, SAMHSA provides a grant of about $2.9 million a year to help fund the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which directs calls to about 140 crisis centers across the country.


Ghostwriters Produced Journal Articles Promoting Hormone Therapy

Drug maker Wyeth paid a medical communications firm to help produce 26 studies supporting the use of hormone replacement therapy in women, which were published in 18 medical journals between 1998 and 2005, The New York Times reported.

The articles were typically review articles, in which authors analyze a large body of medical research in order to recommend how best to treat a medical problem. None of the papers disclosed Wyeth's role in initiating and funding the work.

Documents about Wyeth's use of ghostwriters for the medical journal articles were uncovered by lawyers suing the drug company, The Times reported.

Sales of Wyeth's hormone replacement drugs, Premarin and Prempro, reached nearly $2 billion in 2001. But sales of all HRT drugs fell after a U.S. government study was halted in 2002 when researchers found the drugs increased the risk of invasive breast cancer, heart disease, stroke and dementia.

The ghostwritten articles were scientifically accurate, a Wyeth spokesman told The Times.

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