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Health Highlights: Feb. 7, 2008

Tobacco Could Kill 1 Billion People This Century: WHO FDA Panel Recommends Long-Acting, Injectable Zyprexa Meat Plant Workers Violated Animal Care Rules: USDA Pre-Chewing Infants' Food Can Spread HIV Tainted Pet Food Scandal Leads to Indictments FDA Moves to Stop Sales of Unapproved Gout Drug U.S. Adults Spent $127 Billion on Top Five Classes of Drugs Zinc, Vitamin A Supplements May Help Fight Malaria

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

Tobacco Could Kill 1 Billion People This Century: WHO

Smoking and other types of tobacco use killed 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century, and could kill as many as 1 billion people this century unless dramatic global action is taken to curb tobacco use, said a World Health Organization report released Thursday.

It said all countries must significantly boost efforts to prevent young people from starting to smoke, help smoker kick the habit, and protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, the Associated Press reported.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008 listed six specific tobacco-control policies that should be adopted by governments: raise tobacco taxes and prices; ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; protect people from secondhand smoke; warn people about the dangers of tobacco; help people who want to quit smoking; and monitor tobacco use to understand and reverse the epidemic.

"The tobacco epidemic already kills 5.4 million people a year from lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses,'' said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. ''Unchecked, that number will increase to more than 8 million a year by 2030.''

It's expected that more than 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries by 2030, the AP reported.

The WHO report said nearly two-thirds of the world's smokers live in 10 countries, with 30 percent in China and about 10 percent in India. Other countries with large numbers of smokers include Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.

Governments worldwide collect more than $200 billion in tobacco taxes a year, but spend less than one-fifth of 1 percent of that revenue on tobacco control, the WHO report said.


FDA Panel Recommends Long-Acting, Injectable Zyprexa

A long-acting, injectable form of the drug Zyprexa is "acceptably safe" for use in certain schizophrenia patients, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel recommended Wednesday.

But the group of outside medical experts did express concern that the drug was associated with "profound sedation" so severe that it caused loss of consciousness and coma in some people taking part in clinical studies, Dow Jones Newswires reported. This occurred in 24 of 2,045 patients who received the drug. All of these patients recovered and most went on to receive additional injections of the drug.

Use of long-acting, injectable Zyprexa should be limited to schizophrenia patients with a history of chronic non-compliance with oral medications, the panel said. Some of the experts also suggested the FDA approve the product as a second-line treatment, meaning that other treatments should be tried first.

While not required to do so, the FDA usually follows the recommendations of its expert panels.

The clinical studies also found that long-acting Zyprexa, made by Eli Lilly & Co., was associated with weight gain, changes in blood sugar, and high cholesterol. These side effects also are associated with the oral form of Zyprexa and similar drugs.

Currently, Zyprexa has FDA approval as an oral, once-daily medication to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There's also a short-acting injectable form of Zyprexa, used to treat agitated, non-cooperative patients with schizophrenia or bipolar mania, usually in an emergency setting, Dow Jones reported.


Meat Plant Workers Violated Animal Care Rules: USDA

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has concluded that workers at Hallmark Meat Packing in Chino, Calif. committed "egregious violations" of federal animal care regulations, the Washington Post reported.

On Monday, the agency formally withdrew its inspectors after it verified the mistreatment -- caught on video by an employee working undercover for the Humane Society of the United States -- and other problems at the plant, which is now closed.

The video shows workers using chains to drag cows that can't stand, using forklifts to shove and roll crippled cows, and extensive use of electric prods to force infirm animals to slaughter, the Post reported.

State and federal rules dictate that livestock must be treated humanely. Only animals able to walk under their own power can be slaughtered. This minimizes the likelihood that diseased animals will enter the food supply.

Westland Meat, a partner of Hallmark, has been a major supplier of beef for the U.S. school lunch program and other federal food programs. The federal government suspended that relationship Jan. 30, after release of the video. The company's products were quickly pulled by school systems and other outlets across the country, the Post reported.


Pre-Chewing Infants' Food Can Spread HIV

Three cases in the United States show that HIV can be spread when an infected mother pre-chews her infant's food, say U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientists. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

In a report presented Wednesday at a conference in Boston, CDC researchers said the three children in these cases (reported between 1993 and 2004) were infected with HIV at a time they would have been teething and had inflamed gums, the Associated Press reported.

The scientists believe that both a caregiver and a child must have wounds in their mouths for HIV to have a good chance of being transmitted from one bloodstream to another.

While few mothers in the United States pre-chew food for their infants, it's common practice in many developing nations, where there is no baby food or means of pulverizing food for toothless infants, the AP reported.

More study about this method of HIV infection is needed, but the CDC scientists said parents and caregivers with HIV should not pre-chew infants' food.


Tainted Pet Food Scandal Leads to Indictments

A U.S. company and its owners, along with two Chinese nationals and their businesses, have been indicted in connection with last year's pet food scandal in which imported wheat gluten contaminated with a toxic chemical contributed to the deaths of at least 14 cats and dogs and sickened hundreds more.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Wednesday that a federal grand jury indicted the defendants for their roles in importing the pet food ingredient, which was contaminated with melamine, a chemical commonly used to make plastics.

Melamine has no approved use in either pet or human food, the FDA said. Wheat gluten typically is used as a way to thicken certain pet foods.

According to an FDA statement, indicted were: ChemNutra, Inc., a Las Vegas company that buys food ingredients from China to sell to U.S. companies; along with ChemNutra owners Sally Qing Miller and her husband, Stephen Miller. Sally Qing Miller, a Chinese national, is controlling owner and president of ChemNutra; Stephen Miller is an owner and CEO of the U.S. firm.

Also indicted were: Xuzhou Anying Biologic Technology Development Co., LTD. (XAC), a Chinese firm that processes and exports plant proteins to the United States; Mao Linzhun, a Chinese national who is the owner and manager of XAC; Suzhou Textiles, Silk, Light Industrial Products, Arts and Crafts I/E Co. LTD. (SSC), a Chinese export broker that exports products from China to the United States; and Chen Zhen Hao, president of SSC.

More than 800 tons of the questionable wheat gluten, worth nearly $850,000, were imported into the United States between Nov. 6, 2006, and Feb. 21, 2007, the indictments allege. The FDA also said that SSC falsely declared to the Chinese government that those shipments were not subject to mandatory inspection by the Chinese government prior to export.


FDA Moves to Stop Sales of Unapproved Gout Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it will take enforcement action against any company that markets unapproved injectable colchicine, a drug sanctioned to treat gout.

The drug is highly toxic and can easily be given in excessive doses, especially when delivered intravenously, the agency said Wednesday. It has 50 reports of reactions to use of intravenous colchicine, including 23 deaths. Dangerous warning signs of misuse may include low blood cell count, cardiac problems, and organ failure.

The FDA warned companies that are producing and distributing unapproved colchicine products to stop making them within 30 days and to stop shipping them within 180 days. Failure to do so could lead to seizure, injunction, or "other legal action deemed appropriate by the agency," according to an FDA statement.

Injectable colchicine is sometimes formulated by so-called "compounding pharmacies" to treat back pain, which constitutes an unapproved use, the agency said. It cited three deaths last year that stemmed from compounded colchicine that, due to an error in preparation, was eight times more powerful than stated on the label.

Colchicine products in pill form, also approved to treat gout, aren't affected by the agency's edict, the FDA statement added.


U.S. Adults Spent $127 Billion on Top Five Classes of Drugs

In 2005, U.S. adults spent nearly $36 billion on prescription drugs to lower blood sugar, reduce cholesterol, or treat other metabolic problems, according to the latest News and Numbers summary from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The four other classes of drugs that topped spending among U.S. adults were:

  • Cardiovascular drugs, for reducing high blood pressure and treating heart conditions -- $33 billion
  • Central nervous system drugs, including pain killers, sleep aid medications, and attention deficit disorder medications -- $26 billion
  • Antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs -- $17 billion
  • Gastrointestinal drugs, including antacids and laxatives -- $15 billion.

In 2005, purchases of these five top classes of drugs totaled $127 billion, which was nearly two thirds of the total $199 billion spent on all outpatient prescription drugs, the News and Numbers summary said.

Data in this summary came from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which collects information about the health services used by Americans, the frequency with which those services are used, the cost of those services, and how those costs are paid.


Zinc, Vitamin A Supplements May Help Fight Malaria

Inexpensive dietary supplements -- zinc and vitamin A -- may help protect young children against malaria, says a French study in Nutrition Journal.

The study included children, ages 6 months to 6 years, in Burkina Faso. Zinc and vitamin A were added to the diets of some children, while others received a placebo. After six months, there was a 34 percent decline in the rate of malaria among the children who received the supplements, BBC News reported.

When they did contract malaria, children who received the supplements were more resistant to the disease and had fewer fever episodes than those in the placebo group, the study said.

The supplements likely boosted the immune system, making the children more naturally resistant to malaria, said the researchers from Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé, BBC News reported. The supplements could offer an effective long term strategy to reduce the impact of malaria, the researchers suggested.

Malaria is a major cause of death in many parts of the world. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, it's estimated that malaria kills 1 million children a year. Malnutrition is a problem for many people living in areas in which malaria is endemic.

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