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Health Highlights: Feb. 18, 2007

Chronic Back Pain Linked to Changes in Brain ProcessHearing Loss a Big Problem Facing the Next Generation 18,000 Kids Die of Hunger Daily, U.N. Exec Says Moscow Records Positive Bird Flu Samples Bogus Internet Drugs Contained Powerful Antipsychotic: FDA Roche Seeks Approval of Child-Sized Tamiflu Capsules

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

Chronic Back Pain Linked to Changes in Brain Process

Chronic pack pain has been linked to changes in the way the brain processes pain, according to BBC News.

The research, done by scientists from Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, found a connection between those whose back pain is continuous and microstructural changes in the way the brain translated pain, the news service reports. The research was presented at the Radiological Society of North America's annual meeting, in Chicago.

But the primary issue hasn't yet been resolved: Is the change in the brain -- a more complex and active microstructure -- caused by the back pain, or is the back pain caused by the change in the brain?

According to the BBC News report, that question is key in determining how a chronic back patient will be treated.

Co-author Gustav Schelling is quoted as saying "It's difficult to know whether these are pre-existing changes in the brain that predispose an individual to developing chronic pain, whether ongoing pain creates the hyperactivity that actually changes the brain organization, or if it is some mixture of both.

"DTI [diffusion tensor imaging -- the method used to find the brain changes] may help explain what's happening for some of these patients, and direct therapeutic attention from the spine to the brain."


Hearing Loss a Big Problem Facing the Next Generation

The Baby Boomer generation and its progeny are facing a malady probably caused by their times and lifestyles -- hearing loss -- according to estimates given at a science convention over the weekend.

The Associated Press reports that members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science were told by audiologists and other scientists that by the year 2050, as many as 50 million Americans could be suffering from some degree of hearing loss.

Steven Greenberg of Silicon Speech in Santa Venetia, Calif., is quoted by the wire service as saying that research already shows young people with an impaired hearing rate 2 1/2 times that of their parents and grandparents.

The reason? Loud music and a noisy environment are two main factors, the A.P. quotes Stanford University scientist Stefan Heller as saying. Laboratory stem cell research has had some success, Heller said, but there hasn't been an absolute breakthrough. Restoration of damaged hearing cells is very much at the beginning and "it's still a long, long road," he is quoted as saying.


18,000 Kids Die of Hunger Daily, U.N. Exec Says

Hunger and malnutrition kill 18,000 children daily around the world and 850 million people go to bed every night with empty stomachs, according to the leader of the U.N. food agency.

James Morris, executive director of the Rome-based World Food Program, said that while the percentage of people who are hungry and malnourished has decreased from a fifth of the world's population to a sixth of the population, the actual number of hungry people is growing by about 5 million people a year because of the rising population.

"Today, 850 million people are hungry and malnourished. Over half of them are children. 18,000 children die every single day because of hunger and malnutrition," Morris told the Associated Press. "This is a shameful fact -- a terrible indictment of the world in 2007, and it's an issue that needs to be solved."

Morris said the largest number of malnourished children are in India -- more than 100 million -- followed by almost 40 million in China. Elsewhere, there are probably 100 million hungry children in the rest of Asia, another 100 million in Africa where countries have fewer resources to help, and 30 million in Latin America, he added.

Morris, an American businessman who is leaving the agency in April, called for students and young people, faith-based groups, the business community and governments to join forces in a global movement to alleviate and eliminate hunger -- especially among children.


Moscow Records Positive Bird Flu Samples

Poultry found dead in two suburban Moscow suburbs have tested positive for the H5N1 bird flu strain, an agriculture official announced Saturday.

In the first such outbreak to be recorded so close to the Russian capital, Alexei Alexeyenko, a spokesman for the federal agricultural oversight agency, said that laboratory results showed the strain of the virus in the Odintsovo and Domodedovo districts, west and south of Moscow respectively, where two dozen birds died this week.

According to an Associated Press report, Russian officials were still awaiting results on tests taken in a third suburban district, Podolsk, where 44 birds were reported to have died on Saturday.

Russia had its first reported cases of the H5N1 strain in Siberia in 2005, and outbreaks have since occurred farther west, but mostly in southern areas distant from the capital. There have been no human transmissions so far.

Earlier this week, however, Egypt reported that another person has died from H5N1 bird flu, the 13th death in that country.

The latest victim was a 37-year-old woman from Fayyum province, south of Cairo, who was admitted to a hospital Monday complaining of a high fever and bronchitis, Agence France Presse reported. The woman was treated with Tamiflu before she died.

Before this case, the last person to die in Egypt from bird flu was a teenage girl who was also from Fayyum.

Egyptian health ministry officials also reported that a 5-year-old child from the Sharqiya governorate north of Cairo had been diagnosed with bird flu. That's the 22nd case of bird flu in humans in Egypt, the hardest-hit country outside of Asia, AFP reported.


Bogus Internet Drugs Contained Powerful Antipsychotic: FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reiterating warnings about buying drugs over the Internet after the agency learned that a number of Americans who ordered certain drugs online (Ambien, Ativan, Lexapro, and Xanax) instead received products that initial tests indicate contain a powerful antipsychotic drug called haloperidol.

Haloperidol can cause agitation, sedation and muscle spasms and stiffness. There have been several reports of people in the United States who've sought emergency medical treatment for symptoms such as breathing problems, muscle spasms and stiffness after using the suspect medications they bought over the Internet, the FDA said.

The origin of these potentially dangerous drugs is unknown, but the packages were postmarked in Greece. The consumers in these cases identified a number of Web sites where the drugs were purchased and the FDA said it has launched an investigation.

However, due to the deceptive practices used by these outfits, it may be difficult to identify the vendors of the bogus drugs, the agency said.

Consumers should review information on the FDA Web site before they buy any drugs over the Internet, the agency said.


Roche Seeks Approval of Child-Sized Tamiflu Capsules

Drug maker Roche Holding AG is seeking European and U.S. approval for smaller child-sized capsules of the antiviral drug Tamiflu, considered a front-line defense against a bird flu-triggered pandemic.

The Swiss drug company has filed an application with the European Medicines Agency for approval of two smaller capsules (30 mg and 45 mg) and said it will soon seek U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, the Associated Press reported.

Currently approved Tamiflu capsules are 75 mg. There is a liquid Tamiflu available for children, but Roche said the smaller capsules will be easier to use and have a longer shelf life than the liquid.

The lower-dose capsules were designed primarily for children, but Roche said they will also be useful in the elderly and other adults who have trouble swallowing the 75 mg capsule, the AP reported.

Experts believe that if patients infected with the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus are given Tamiflu within two days of the onset of symptoms, they have a much better chance of survival. Many countries are stockpiling Tamiflu in preparation for a possible pandemic.


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