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Health Highlights: Feb. 4, 2009

Children's Health Bill Gets House Approval FDA Reviews Sepsis Drug Xigris Ancient Snake Longer Than City Bus Ethex Expands Drug Recall Zimbabwe Cholera Cases Surpass 65,000 Divorce Causes Face to Age: Study

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

Children's Health Bill Gets House Approval

Four million more U.S. children will be eligible for government-sponsored health coverage under legislation approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives. President Barack Obama signed the measure into law late Wednesday afternoon.

Voting 290-135, the House approved spending an additional $32.8 billion for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), the Associated Press reported. The program, with about 7 million children now enrolled, includes children whose family income is too high for Medicaid but whose families have difficulty affording private insurance.

According to The New York Times, the new law permits states to cover legal immigrants -- among them, children under 21 and pregnant women.

Previously, legal immigrants had been barred from Medicaid and SCHIP for five years after arriving in the United States. The states may now cover those immigrants without the five-year delay, the newspaper said.

The U.S. Senate passed the SCHIP measure last week. To cover adding the additional children, the measure raises federal excise taxes on cigarettes by 62 cents, to $1.01 a pack, the wire service said.

Former President George W. Bush twice vetoed similar legislation.


FDA Reviews Sepsis Drug Xigris

U.S. health officials are reviewing cases of serious bleeding in patients taking the drug Xigris, which is used to treat severe sepsis (bloodstream infection).

A recently published study showed that the injectable drug increased the risk of dangerous internal bleeding when taken by patients with a recent history of hemorrhages, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

The study of 73 patients treated with the Eli Lilly drug found that serious bleeding occurred in 35 percent of patients with a history of bleeding problems, compared with 3.8 percent of other patients.

Xigris already carries a warning that internal bleeding is a serious effect, but the FDA plans to work with Eli Lilly to reassess the drug's risks, the AP reported.

Patients taking Xigris should not stop taking the drug, the FDA said.


Ancient Snake Longer Than City Bus

The biggest snake ever discovered was 42 to 45 feet long and weighed more than 2,500 pounds, say scientists who pulled the creature's fossil remains from an open-pit coal mine in the Cerrejon region of Columbia.

"This thing weighs more than a bison and is longer than a city bus," Jack Conrad, a snake expert at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told the Associated Press. "It could easily eat something the size of a cow. A human would just be toast immediately."

Conrad wasn't involved in the find but was familiar with the discovery.

The snake, Titanoboa cerrejonensis, lived 58 million to 60 million years ago and likely hunted ancient relatives of crocodiles. The fossil specimen is about 11 feet longer than the previous snake record holder, which lived in Egypt about 40 million years ago.

Titanoboa cerrejonensis is related to modern boa constrictors but behaved more like an anaconda and spent most of its time in the water, the AP reported.

An article about the discovery was published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature.


Ethex Expands Drug Recall

Prescription prenatal vitamin and iron supplements have been added to previous recalls of a large number of generic drug products distributed by Ethex Corporation, a subsidiary of KV Pharmaceutical.

In total, more than 60 generic drug products have been recalled to wholesalers and two generic drug products, Hydromorphone HCI and Metoprolol Succinate, recalled to retailer level, according to a company news release.

The products are being recalled, because they may have been made under conditions that didn't comply with good manufacturing practices.

Patients taking these drug products should continue taking them in accordance with their prescriptions, because the risk of suddenly stopping needed medication may endanger their health, Ethex said.

People who've experienced any problems that may be related to taking or using the recalled products should contact their physician or health care provider. More information is available at


Zimbabwe Cholera Cases Surpass 65,000

The number of recorded cholera cases in Zimbabwe is now 65,739 and more than 3,323 people have died since the start of the outbreak in August 2008, the World Health Organization said in its daily update Wednesday.

About 1,038 new cases and 28 deaths were added since Tuesday's update, Agence France Presse reported.

The cholera epidemic is being blamed on poor health, water and sanitary services.

Earlier this week, UN chief Ban Ki-moon said President Robert Mugabe had agreed to allow a high-level UN team to visit Zimbabwe in an attempt to identify ways to deal with the cholera epidemic and a hunger crises, AFP reported.


Divorce Causes Face to Age: Study

Divorce can add years to your face, according to U.S. researchers who studied 186 pairs of identical twins.

Twins who'd been divorced looked two years older than their siblings who were married, single or even widowed, United Press International reported.

Antidepressant use also contributed to an older appearance, the researchers reported. Weight was another major factor. Among twins younger than 40, the heavier twin was perceived as looking older. But among twins older than 40, the heavier twin was judged to look younger.

"The presence of stress could be one of the common denominators in those twins who appeared older," study author Dr. Bahaman Guyuron, of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said in a news release, UPI reported.

The study was published online in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

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