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Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2006

Some Brain Regeneration Possible After Heavy Drinking, but Not All of It Company Played Down Anti-Psychotic Drug's Risk, Newspaper Reports Plenty of Flu Vaccine Available, But Not Many Takers Anti-Cyanide Poison Drug Approved by FDA 300 Reported Sick After Eating at Indianapolis Olive Garden FDA Warns of More Counterfeit Glucose Test Strips

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

Some Brain Regeneration Possible After Heavy Drinking, but Not All of It

The brain can indeed regenerate some of its function that disappears when too much alcohol is consumed, researchers have found. But, they warn, the longer you drink, the more brain capacity you lose, and you can never fully replace what you've lost.

The findings, made by scientists from Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland are published in the Dec. 18 online edition of the journal Brain.

The study was conducted on 15 alcohol-dependent patients and used scanning technology and computer programs to measure how much "brain volume, form and function changed over six to seven weeks of abstinence from alcohol," according to a news release from Oxford University Press, the journal publisher.

After 38 days of sobriety, the study subjects were found to have had their brain volume increased by about 2 percent, and two chemicals which measure how well the nerve cells and nerve sheaths work also rose significantly.

However, before heavy drinkers think these findings confirm that you can drink to excess on a regular basis and not do permanent harm, think again, says lead researcher Dr. Andreas Bartsch from the University of Wuerzburg, Germany. "... the longer you drink excessively, the more you risk losing this capacity for regeneration. Therefore, alcoholics must not put off the time when they decide to seek help and stop drinking; the sooner they do it, the better."

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Company Played Down Anti-Psychotic Drug's Risk, Newspaper Reports

Zyprexa, an anti-psychotic drug and the biggest-selling medicine for pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, may increase the risk of getting diabetes, a possibility downplayed by company executives for more than a decade, the New York Times reports.

Even though Eli Lilly already spent $750 million in 2005 to settle lawsuits brought in 8,000 cases, the Times reports the company continues to maintain that Zyprexa (generic name olanzapine) is safe and an important treatment for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and dementia. Zyprexa accounts for $4.2 billion in annual sales for Eli Lilly, the newspaper says.

The Times reported that internal company memos and e-mails it had received from a lawyer representing plaintiffs in lawsuits against the company show that Eli Lilly executives instructed sales representatives to "play down" research connecting Zyprexa to considerable weight gain. In doing so, the newspaper said, the drug played a role in patients' blood sugar levels rising, a major cause of diabetes.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said that anti-psychotic drugs can cause escalated blood sugar levels, the Times reports, but the FDA has never singled out Zyprexa.

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Plenty of Flu Vaccine Available, But Not Many Takers

There has been more than enough flu vaccine available this year, but that doesn't mean that everyone who needs a shot has been able to get one.

The New York Times reports that distribution delays in the late summer and early fall actually have caused a glut of influenza vaccine in some parts of the United States. The problem began in 2004, the Times reports, when only two companies produced flu vaccine, and there were production problems that caused a shortage. This resulted in long lines at health clinics and other facilities.

This year four companies are producing around 110 million doses, but the distribution delay prevented their availability in many places during September, October and early November, the months when most people get inoculated against the flu.

Now that the vaccine is available, the newspaper reports, there are few takers. One reason is that so far, this has been a mild flu season. Another reason may be that the holiday season has distracted people from getting a flu shot. "There's so many people out there that need it, and we know didn't get it yet," the Times quotes Dr. Henry H. Bernstein, a pediatrician and member of the infectious diseases committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as saying.

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Anti-Cyanide Poison Drug Approved by the FDA

It's hoped that it will never have to be used on a massive basis, but a drug called Cyanokit has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat cyanide poisoning.

Cyanokit, which is packaged with another drug, a spike and intravenous tubing, was effectively tested on animals and approved in conjunction with a special U.S. government provision that certain drugs can be approved without human trials in order to protect the nation in national emergencies.

In this case, "cyanide is a potent poison and one of the substances that could be used in a chemical attack," Dr. Steven Galson, director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a news release Friday. "Today's approval is yet another measure to counter the threat of terrorism, which is a critical component of FDA's public health mission," he added.

Cyanokit was tested in adult dogs to see if it diluted the amount of cyanide in their bodies, and it did dilute the poison by about 55 percent. The drug was then tested on adult humans to see how well they eliminated it in their urine. It was found to be well-tolerated.

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300 Reported Sick After Eating at Indianapolis Olive Garden

Three people have been hospitalized and more than 300 people claimed they became ill after eating at an Indiana Olive Garden restaurant last weekend on Indianapolis' north side, a health official said Friday.

Health officials said they have so far found no link to E. coli bacteria, which sickened patrons at East Coast Taco Bell restaurants recently, Marion County Health Department spokesman John Althardt told the Associated Press.

Patrons reported symptoms including nausea, vomiting, fever and diarrhea. Six restaurant workers also reported on Monday that they were feeling ill.

Health officials were collecting leftover food and stool samples from those stricken to try to pinpoint the source of the illness, Althardt said. A news release from the restaurant chain, based in Orlando, Fla., said the company is working with health officials to find the cause, according to AP.

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FDA Warns of More Counterfeit Glucose Test Strips

A updated warning about additional counterfeit blood glucose test strips being sold for use with the One Touch brand blood glucose monitors was issued Friday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The strips are used by people with diabetes to measure their blood glucose levels. An incorrect reading could result in a patient taking too much or too little insulin, potentially resulting in serious harm or death.

In October, the FDA issued an alert about several lots of counterfeit strips being sold in the United States. This additional counterfeit lot has the number 227078A on the outer carton, which is labeled as 50-count, and is being sold as One Touch, Basic, and Profile test strips.

Along with this newly identified counterfeit lot, the others are:

  • One Touch, Basic, Profile (lot numbers 272894A, 2619932, 2606340, 2615211)
  • One Touch, Ultra (lot numbers 2691191 and 2691261).

Consumers with counterfeit test strips should stop using them, replace them, and contact their doctor, the FDA said in a prepared statement. For more information about how to identify the counterfeit strips, the FDA said consumers should check the Web site of LifeScan, Inc. (www.lifescan.com), which makes the One Touch blood glucose monitors.

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