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Health Highlights: Feb. 7, 2011

Safety Restrictions Added to Avandia Labeling Universal Flu Vaccine Effective in Humans FDA Investigates Early Failure of Jaw Implants Cholera Confirmed in NYC Residents Winter a Downer for Many: Survey New Clue About Cause of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

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

Safety Restrictions Added to Avandia Labeling

Labeling of the diabetes pill Avandia has been updated to include safety restrictions ordered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, says drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.

The FDA ordered the action because of Avandia's link to heart attack, the Associated Press reported. The updated labeling says the drug is only intended for diabetes patients whose blood sugar cannot be controlled with any of the other available diabetes drugs.

Avandia, which was approved by the FDA in 1999, became the top-selling diabetes drug in the world by 2006. But it's use has sharply dropped since a 2007 analysis linked it to heart attack.

Avandia has been banned in Europe and is the subject of thousands of lawsuits and a Department of Justice investigation, the AP reported.


Universal Flu Vaccine Effective in Humans

For the first time, scientists have shown that a universal flu vaccine is effective in humans.

Unlike current flu vaccines, the universal vaccine does not need to be changed every year to match the latest flu strain, the team at Oxford University in the U.K. told The Guardian newspaper, reported.

They infected 22 healthy volunteers with a flu virus. Half of them had been given the universal vaccine and half were not vaccinated.

"Fewer of the people who were vaccinated got flu than the people who weren't vaccinated," team leader Dr. Sarah Gilbert told the The Guardian, according to

She said a universal vaccine would make it easier to protect people against the flu.

"It would become a routine vaccination that would be manufactured and used all the time at a steady level. We wouldn't have these sudden demands or shortages -- all that would stop," Gilbert said.


FDA Investigates Early Failure of Jaw Implants

Reports about early failure of some makes of jaw implants are being investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The agency said the devices made by three companies are expected to last five years but a "substantial number" of patients have had to have the implants replaced after three years or less, the Associated Press reported.

The implants, which connect the lower jaw to the skull, are used in patients with severe arthritis, injuries or other problems that limit their jaw movement.

The FDA said it will require the three companies -- Biomet Microfixation, TMJ Solutions, and TMJ Medical -- to track the life cycle of the jaw implants, the AP reported.

After it has gathered more information about the devices, the agency may recommend changes.


Cholera Confirmed in NYC Residents

Three New York City residents contracted cholera when they went to the Dominican Republic last month for a wedding, say health officials.

All three people have since recovered from the disease, a medical epidemiologist for the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene told The New York Times on the weekend, the Associated Press reported.

Typically, New York city averages about one cholera case per year, said Dr. Sharon Butler.

The Dominican Republic is next to Haiti, where thousands of people have died in a cholera outbreak, the AP reported. Only three cholera deaths have been reported in the Dominican Republic.


Winter a Downer for Many: Survey

Weather affects the mood of about 40 percent of Americans and winter is the season most likely to make them feel blue, according to a new survey.

Respondents in the Midwest (83 percent) and the Northeast (76 percent) were most likely to say winter gets them down, found the Associated Press-Weather Underground online poll of 1,125 adults.

Only 15 percent of respondents said they had more sex than usual when they stayed inside due to cold weather, two-thirds said their sex lives didn't change, and 15 percent said they had less sex than normal.

But winter seemed to be a good time for beginning a romance. Among respondents who were in serious, committed relationships but not married, 29 percent began dating in winter, 26 percent in fall, 26 percent in spring and 19 percent in summer, the AP reported.


New Clue About Cause of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

A clue to the cause of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) may help lead to a cure for one of the leading causes of blindness, according to an international team of scientists.

They discovered that an enzyme called DICER1 is less active in the retina of patients with the more common "dry" form of AMD. In experiments with mice, the team found that turning off the gene that makes DICER1 resulted in damage to retina cells, BBC News reported.

Further investigation showed that DICER1 is needed to destroy small pieces of genetic material called Alu RNA. Accumulation of this material leads to the destruction of the retina.

The study appears in the journal Nature.


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