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Health Highlights: Dec. 22, 2008

Michael Jackson Said to Need Lung TransplantApproval Given for New Use of Cancer Drug GleevecAnti-Flu Drug May Not Work Against This Year's Strain, CDC Says New Federal Rule Poses Threat to Women's Health: Critics

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

Michael Jackson Said to Need Lung Transplant

Michael Jackson, the self-proclaimed King of Pop, needs a lung transplant because he's suffering from a rare respiratory condition, according to the author of a new Jackson biography.

Author Ian Halperin told In Touch magazine and Britain's Sunday Express newspaper that the reclusive performer may even be fighting for his life, the Houston Chronicle newspaper reported on its Web site.

Halperin said Jackson has been diagnosed with Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, an occasionally fatal genetic condition.

"He's had it for years, but it's gotten worse,'' Halperin told In Touch. "He needs a lung transplant but may be too weak to go through with it. He also has emphysema and chronic gastrointestinal bleeding, which his doctors have had a lot of trouble stopping. It's the bleeding that is the most problematic part. It could kill him,'' according to the Chronicle.

Jackson "can barely speak" and "the vision in his left eye is 95 percent gone," Halperin said.

Jackson's spokesman was unavailable for comment Sunday. But the singer's brother Jermaine didn't deny the reports, telling Fox News, "He's not doing so well right now. This isn't a good time," the Chronicle reported.

Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, treated Jackson at Lenox Hill in 1999.

"Alpha-1-anti-trypsin deficiency is a relatively rare genetic disorder that becomes apparent in young adulthood and early middle age, especially if smoking is added to the equation," Horovitz said in a hospital news release. "The liver can also be affected, causing cirrhosis. The disease produces an early-onset emphysema, just as one might see in an older smoker. Treatment for mild or moderate cases involves infusions of a specific medication. In advanced stages, a lung transplant may be necessary.

"Since this is a genetic disorder, other members of the Jackson family must be tested for this genetic variant," Horovitz added.


Approval Given for New Use of Cancer Drug Gleevec

Gleevec, a " miracle drug" in curing certain types of adult leukemia, has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to stop cancer growth after gastrointestinal cancer surgery.

According to an FDA news release, Gleevec (imatinib mesylate) can be used after removal of a gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST). While this is a fairly rare form of cancer (5,000 - 6,000 new cases annually), the malignancy is particularly nasty because it can interfere with the flow of food and liquids through the intestines.

This latest approval " illustrates how the continued study of a once novel drug throughout its product lifecycle can yield new and important uses," Dr. Richard Pazdur, the FDA's director of the Office of Oncology Drug Products, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in the news release.

Gleevec, made by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis AG, was first approved by the FDA in 2001 to treat chronic myeloid leukemia.


Anti-Flu Drug May Not Work Against This Year's Strain, CDC Says

This year's version of the flu just threw a monkey wrench into the effectiveness of a leading flu medicine, the Associated Press reports.

At a news conference Friday, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the prescription drug Tamiflu isn't working against the virus strain that is causing this year's influenza in the United States.

The good news, Gerberding added, was that this year's vaccine is proving effective against the flu. The 2007 vaccine was only partially effective.

Because it's early in the flu season, the A.P. reports, and health experts aren't certain the Tamiflu-resistant strain will continue to dominate the influenza cycle. There is also the anti-viral drug marketed under the name Relenza that could be prescribed.

Only about 30 percent of the U.S. population has received a flu vaccine this year, the wire service reports. About 36,000 Americans die from the flu annually, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized. The vaccine is especially recommended for children between 6 and 18 months and adults over age 50.


New Federal Rule Poses Threat to Women's Health: Critics

A new regulation the Bush administration says is designed to protect federally funded health care providers who refuse to perform procedures, such as abortion, that conflict with their religious and moral beliefs will seriously hinder millions of women's ability to get reproductive health services, critics charge.

The new rule gives federal health officials the power to halt federal funding for any state or local government, hospital, clinic, health plan, doctors' office or other body that fails to accommodate staff who exercise their "right of conscience." The regulation would apply to more than 584,000 health care facilities, the Washington Post reported.

The regulation, which was sought by conservative groups and abortion opponents, goes into effect in 30 days. Not only does it protect healthcare professionals, it also covers a range of workers, including support staff, trainees and even volunteers.

A wide range of groups are outraged by the new rule.

There are more than 17 million women across the country who will bear the burden of this harsh regulation, a disproportionate number of them low-income and women of color. Both groups rely heavily on public health programs as their only access to reproductive health services. But the new regulation allows almost any worker in a health care facility -- even a receptionist -- to turn them away, withhold information, and refuse to refer them elsewhere," Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said in a statement released Thursday.

"As it is, low-income women and women of color already face tremendous barriers getting health care, including racial discrimination, inadequate funding of medical assistance programs, logistical obstacles such as inflexible work schedules and inadequate child care," said Northup, who called on President-elect Obama to immediately rescind the regulation when he takes office in January.

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