Health Highlights: Feb. 27, 2011
CDC Tracking Potential Measles Transmission at 3 U.S. Airports Lift OTC Age Restrictions on Morning-After Pill: Company Transplant Patient Now Has Two Hearts Kidney Transplant Changes Could Favor Younger Patients
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
CDC Tracking Potential Measles Transmission at 3 U.S. Airports
A young woman who traveled from the U.K. to 3 different U.S. airports last Tuesday while infected with measles may have passed the virus on to others, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The agency is scrambling to track down other passengers and workers potentially exposed to the highly communicable virus, ABC News reported. "Public health authorities consider this a medical urgency, if not an emergency. They will do everything they can to track down everyone to see if they are indeed protected," William Schaffner, chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt Medical School, told ABC.
The 27-year-old woman in question landed in Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., after flying from the U.K. She then transited to Denver, where she spent 3 hours before flying to Albuquerque, N.M., the CDC said. Since the measles virus is highly transmittable via the air, anyone in her vicinity could potentially have been exposed to the bug.
Measles has been largely eradicated in the United States, and only about 60 cases are reported to the CDC each year. The agency says that children who did not get vaccinated against the virus, and adults who said no to immunization are at highest risk. The woman traveler in question had declined immunization on religious grounds, the CDC said.
Measles takes about 18 days to develop, so the actual extent of exposure remains to be seen. According to ABC, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a warning Friday advising people who had been in Denver International Airport's concourse C to look for early symptoms of measles, such as runny nose, fever and cough, with onset expected between March 1 and March 12.
Lift OTC Age Restrictions on Morning-After Pill: Company
A request to make the Plan B One-Step morning after birth control pill available to women of all ages without a prescription has been filed with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Currently, women 17 and older can buy the drug over-the-counter, but those younger than 17 require a prescription for the high-dose hormone pill that needs to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, ABC News reported.
Drug maker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. says Plan B One-Step meets FDA scientific criteria for OTC products.
"Label comprehension and safety data show that all women are able to safely and effectively take this product. It is not typical for any women's health product to have age restrictions," said Denise Bradley, senior director of corporate communications at Teva Pharmaceuticals, ABC News reported.
Transplant Patient Now Has Two Hearts
An American man with two beating hearts -- a transplanted one and his own -- is expected to be released from hospital Friday and should be able to resume normal activities within a few months, according to his doctors.
Tyson Smith, 36, underwent the "piggyback transplant" Feb. 13 at the University of California San Diego Center for Transplantation. The new heart helps his damaged heart keep beating, FoxNews.com reported.
"This is a very rare procedure, but one worth having in the tool kit of options in cardiac replacement. It's a safe operation with an average survival of 10 years," Dr. Jack Copeland, a professor of surgery and director of cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health System, said in a news release.
Smith's heart was enlarged to more than three times its normal size and he had just two options, FoxNews.com reported.
The choices were a "mechanical left ventricular assist device (LVAD), which would replace the function of his left heart and allow him to then go on to a standard heart transplant in a few months; or the so called piggyback transplant, which replaces the patient's left heart and allows the patient's right heart to continue the right-sided pumping through the lungs," Copeland said. "This way, Mr. Smith needed only one operation rather than two, which saves the patient time, inconvenience, and pain, and reduces medical costs."
Kidney Transplant Changes Could Favor Younger Patients
Changes that would direct the best kidneys to younger healthier people instead of giving priority to patients who have been on the waiting list longest are being considered by U.S. organ transplant network officials.
The new guidelines would put more emphasis on matching recipients and organs based on factors such as age and health in order to maximize the number of years that a transplanted kidney would last.
"It's an effort to get the most out of a scarce resource," Kenneth Andreoni, an associate professor of surgery at Ohio State University, told the Washington Post. He chairs the committee that is reviewing the kidney donation system for the United Network for Organ Sharing.
Some experts worry that the changes could unfairly penalize middle-aged and elderly patients.
"The best kidneys are from young adults under age 35 years. Nobody over the age of 50 will ever see one of those," Lainie Friedman Ross, a University of Chicago bioethicist and physician, told the Post. "There are a lot of people in their 50s and 60s who, with a properly functioning kidney, could have 20 or more years of life. We're making it harder for them to get a kidney that will function for that length of time. It's age discrimination."
More than 87,000 Americans are on the waiting list for a kidney, but only 17,000 get kidneys each year. More than 4,600 die because they did not get a kidney in time.