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Health Highlights: Dec. 17, 2002

Pap Test Guidelines Revised Stroke Victims Need Quicker Care Airport Metal Detector Finds Surgical Tool in Woman's Abdomen Bush Admin. Seeks Pediatric Drug Testing Marine Recruit May Have Died of Strep A FDA OKs Cipro XR for Urinary Tract Infections

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

Pap Test Guidelines Revised

The American Cancer Society has revised its guidelines on Pap tests, recommending for the first time that women at low risk for cervical cancer don't need them.

The revisions are designed to spare women from unnecessary, invasive medical procedures, according to an Associated Press report.

The new guidelines say testing isn't needed for young women who are not sexually active; women 70 or older who have had normal Pap tests in the past; and women who have had hysterectomies for non-cancer-related reasons. They also recommend that sexually active women begin getting Pap tests within three years of the start of sexual activity, but no later than age 21.

The problem with Pap tests, according to the experts who wrote the new guidelines, is that they detect non-cancerous lesions, causing doctors to perform additional tests that needlessly worry patients, cost money and sometimes have harmful effects, such as reduced fertility.

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Stroke Victims Need Quicker Care

The clot-busting drug TPA is vital for the treatment of stroke, yet only two out of every hundred ischemic (blocked arteries) stroke victims in the United States receive it.

The reasons are varied: TPA must be given within three hours of the first symptoms, only a quarter of patients get to the hospital on time, and many emergency department workers don't know how or when to give TPA nor are they well-versed in stroke symptoms, the Associated Press reports.

In an effort to provide faster and more efficient care, the National Institute of Health (NIH) has sought advice from group of doctors whose mission is to get TPA to more stroke victims. The physicians, who call themselves commandos, race to emergency rooms whenever stroke victims arrive. And in the few cities where they work, patients are 10 times more likely to receive the drug.

They advised the NIH that, within the next year, all hospitals should designated whether they have state-of-the-art facilities for stroke care. Ambulances should then take possible stroke victims directly to those institutions, even by-passing closer but ill-equipped emergency rooms.

Over 700,000 Americans will suffer strokes this year. Symptoms include: weakness or numbness on one side of the body, slurred speech, and loss of balance.

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Airport Metal Detector Finds Surgical Tool in Woman's Abdomen

A Canadian woman learned that a 33-centimetre surgical retractor had been left in her abdomen after it triggered a metal detector at an airport.

The woman, who has refused to be identified, underwent surgery last June at Regina General Hospital. Soon after she complained about chronic stomach pain but doctors couldnt identify its cause, The Canadian Press reports.

In October, prior to boarding a Calgary-bound flight, the woman set off a metal detector when she passed through security. A few days later, she demanded an X-ray.

I've been in this job for 16 years, and I don't think I've ever heard of an instrument of this size being left in," Dr. Dennis Kendel, registrar for Saskatchewan's College of Physicians and Surgeons, said.

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Bush Administration Seeks Pediatric Drug Testing

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will work with Congress to devise new legislation that requires drug companies to conduct clinical trials on medications for children, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson says.

In October, the U.S. District Court in Washington declared the so-called "pediatric rule" invalid, saying the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lacked the authority to impose mandatory pediatric drug testing rules on manufacturers. The original law had been passed in 1998.

Thompson's announcement coincided with the government's decision not to appeal the October court ruling.

Thompson says any new law devised must include clear FDA authority to require pediatric data to be provided by the manufacturer during the drug-approval process. The law should also mandate studies on children of drugs that are already on the market, he adds.

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Marine Recruit May Have Died of Strep A

Marine Corps officials at a San Diego recruit depot have suspended physical training until they receive autopsy results on an 18-year-old recruit who died from a rash that spread quickly over his entire body, CNN reports.

Doctors say the recruit may have died of Group A streptococcal pneumonia -- better known as Strep A -- a rare and dangerous bacterial infection. In rare cases, it can lead to necrotizing fascitis, the so-called "flesh-eating bacteria." There is no vaccine to prevent the disease.

Pvt. Miguel Zavala, who had completed 23 days of training, sought medical help Sunday after he developed a rash on his left ankle. He died only three hours later while being treated at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego.

Doctors have since dispensed precautionary antibiotics to the 5,000 other recruits and supervisors at the base. A Marine medical spokesman says there is one other confirmed case of Strep A at the base, though that recruit has pneumonia and is not showing any skin problems, CNN reports. About 100 others have shown symptoms of strep A infection recently.

Streptococcal infections are transmitted by close contact and thrive in confined quarters like those in which the Marines live, the spokesman adds.

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FDA OKs Cipro XR for Urinary Tract Infections

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved an extended-release version of the antibiotic Cipro (ciprofloxacin) to treat uncomplicated urinary tract infections (UTIs).

The recommended dose for the 500-mg. Cipro XR tablet is once daily for three days, Bayer Corp. said in announcing the FDA action. Regular-strength Cipro is normally taken in 250-mg strength twice daily.

UTIs are caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and travel up the urinary tract. Affecting millions of Americans annually, they are the second most common infection, behind those of the respiratory tract. Women are especially prone to UTIs, and their risk increases with age.

FDA approval of Cipro XR followed clinical trials among 891 adult women who had clinical signs of UTI. The study compared the once-daily medication with its older twice-daily counterpart. The company says 95 percent of UTI patients were cured with Cipro XR, versus 93 percent of patients who used regular-strength Cipro.

Cipro XR will begin shipping to U.S. pharmacies on January 2, the company said. Side effects include nausea and headache. The drug should not be taken concurrently with the asthma medication theophylline.

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