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Health Highlights: August 12, 2002

FDA Gives Quick Approval to Colon Cancer Drug Group Claims the Quorn Has Turned Bioweapons Expert Denies Anthrax Role Traffic Deaths Among Children Plunge Emergency Care Improving: Study 2 More West Nile Deaths Reported; CDC Chief Predicts Spread Coast-to-Coast

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

FDA Gives Quick Approval to Colon Cancer Drug

In the fastest review ever, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of a drug to fight colon cancer, the nation's second-leading cause of cancer death.

Eloxatin is a last-ditch treatment, to be used when all other treatment options have failed. And, according to the Associated Press, its success rate hasn't been stellar. Only 9 percent of patients who received the drug had their tumors shrink measurably. Even then, the treatment was good only for about two months, when the tumors resumed their growth.

That's the not-so-good news.

The hopeful news is that the clinical trials were performed on patients who were hard-to-treat and had exhausted other chemotherapy. The FDA anticipates that results from ongoing trials may show that Eloxatin will work better when administered when colon cancer is at an earlier stage.

Dr. Richard Pazdur, who heads up the FDA's cancer research, stressed that the agency is willing to work around the clock to find whether a drug is suitable when lives are at stake.

"We want to send a message,'' Padzur told the AP, emphasizing that FDA employees worked overtime and canceled vacations to speedily review Eloxatin because the science behind the drug was so strong. "We're willing to do that if we think the drug is worth that.''


Group Claims the Quorn Has Turned

A fungus used as a meat substitute has caused enough illness that a health advocacy group has asked that it be removed from the market.

Trademarked as Quorn, the fungus is used to substitute for ground beef and chicken. It's scientific name is mycoprotein, and it's "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

But the Associated Press reports, "The Center for Science in the Public Interest says it had received reports from 33 people who had suffered vomiting, diarrhea and other ailments after eating Quorn." A North Carolina man broke out in hives and had trouble breathing, the wire service says.

The company that makes Quorn responded: "Consumer health and wellness is the number one priority at Quorn Foods,'' the company said today. The AP reports that labels identify mycoprotein as the main ingredient and describe it as being "mushroom in origin.'' The company says this helps consumers relate it to other foods, and alerts anyone who might be affected by mushroom ingredients.

But the Center for Science in the Public Interest claims the federal government should have studied the substance more thoroughly before allowing it to be sold to consumers.


Bioweapons Expert Denies Anthrax Role

A Virginia bioweapons expert vehemently denies he was behind last fall's anthrax mail attacks, saying that law enforcement and the media have destroyed his life and career.

Dr. Steven Hatfill says he's done nothing but cooperate with the investigations into the deadly attacks, which killed five people 10 months ago and forced hundreds more to seek medical treatment. The result is that authorities have continually leaked information about him as a potential suspect to the news media, he charges.

The FBI and other law enforcement agencies have described Hatfill, 48, as a "person of interest" in the investigation, not a criminal suspect. Hatfill's name, however, is the only one of some 30 possible suspects whose name has been revealed publicly.

The bioscientist says he never dealt with anthrax during his work at the Army Medical Research Institute at Fort Detrick, Md., once home to the U.S. biological warfare program. He says he hasn't even been vaccinated against the deadly bacteria since 1999.

Hatfill says his house has been searched twice -- and that media helicopters were hovering above both times. The FBI denies he's received treatment different from that of any other potential suspect, the Associated Press reports.


Traffic Deaths Among Children Plunge

Car crashes claimed fewer children under age 15 last year that at any time in history, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says in its annual report of crash data.

However, the total number of highway deaths rose in 2001 to 42,116 from 41,945 a year earlier. An agency press release says 60 percent of those killed in traffic accidents last year were not wearing seat belts.

Among the report's additional findings:

  • The number of fatalities for children under 5 dropped 8.6 percent to 649 in 2001. The number of deaths among children ages 5 to 15 also dropped 8.6 percent to 1,939 in 2001. Those are the lowest figures since the agency began keeping records in 1975.
  • Motorcycle deaths rose for the fourth straight year to 3,181 in 2001 -- the highest total since 1990.
  • Young drivers (16 to 20) were involved in slightly fewer fatal crashes, 7,598, in 2001 compared to 7,671 in 2000.
  • Passenger deaths in single vehicle rollover crashes rose 2.3 percent in 2001 to 8,400.


Emergency Care Improving, Study Finds

Improved emergency care over the past four decades has led to a 70 percent decline in deaths among assault victims, reports the Associated Press. This, in turn, has led to a significant drop in the nation's murder rate, according to a study published in a recent issue of the journal Homicide Studies.

Harvard Medical School researchers estimate that without the medical advances, the nation's homicide numbers could have jumped from some 15,522 deaths in 1999 to between 45,000 and 70,000.

The report cites medical advances including the development of 911 services, rapid stabilization and transportation of trauma victims, better emergency training, and an increase in the number of hospitals and trauma centers, notably in rural areas.


2 More West Nile Deaths Reported; CDC Head Predicts Coast-to-Coast Spread

The sometimes-fatal West Nile virus probably will spread all the way to the West Coast, according to the director of the U.S. government's Centers for Disease Control and Pollution.

Appearing on CBS News' "Face The Nation" Sunday, Dr. Julie Gerberding said birds and mosquitoes infected with West Nile are now in most states east of the Mississippi River and some to the west of it. And, she predicted, the birds and mosquitoes, through their migration, will carry the virus all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, another two people were reported to have died in Louisiana, bringing the death toll to seven, and Mississippi officials are investigating a death they say appears to be linked to the virus. The virus has been detected in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

Another 14 cases have been confirmed in Louisiana, bringing to 85 the total number of cases of the mosquito-borne disease now reported. That makes the Louisiana outbreak the largest since West Nile first appeared in the United States in 1999, reports the Associated Press.

Officials in neighboring Mississippi suspect a death there may be the eighth West Nile death in the U.S. this year. As a result, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has declared a state of emergency, clearing the way to seek federal funding to fight a potential outbreak.

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