Health Highlights: Jan. 31, 2006

FDA Approves Drug for Chronic Constipation European Union Approves Tamiflu for Children Moderate Exercise Boosts Depressed People Teflon Chemical a 'Likely' Carcinogen: EPA Panel Half of U.S. Kids Don't Have Regular Dental Checkups 160 Human Bird Flu Infections To Date: WHO

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

FDA Approves Drug for Chronic Constipation

The drug Amitiza (lubiprostone) has been approved for treatment of chronic constipation in adults with no known cause for the condition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday.

This drug, the first of its chemical type, will be available as capsules to treat chronic idiopathic constipation, defined as infrequent or difficult passage of stool. It's one of the most common disorders suffered by Americans. It affects women more often than men and is more common in people older than 65. Abdominal pain and discomfort, bloating, straining, and hard stools are symptoms of the condition.

Amitiza increases intestinal fluid secretion, which helps ease passage of stool and alleviate symptoms associated with chronic idiopathic constipation, the FDA said.

The agency's approval is based on two clinical trials of the drug that concluded that taking the drug was associated with higher frequency of bowel movements. Side effects included headache, nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and distention.

The drug is taken twice a day with food, the FDA said.

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European Union Approves Tamiflu for Children

The anti-influenza drug Tamiflu, regarded as a potential defense against bird flu, has received European Union approval for use as a preventative measure in children ages 1 to 12, the Financial Times reported.

Last December, the United States gave the same kind of approval for Tamiflu, which is being stockpiled around the world in anticipation of a global flu pandemic. The antiviral drug is made by Swiss company Roche.

Children are three times as likely as adults to get influenza and those under 2 with influenza are twice as likely to be hospitalized as people over the age of 65, the company said.

"The influenza season is just starting in the northern hemisphere and Roche plans to make Tamiflu available to prevent influenza in very young children who are particularly vulnerable during an outbreak of the disease," William Burns, Roche chief executive, told the Financial Times.

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Moderate Exercise Boosts Depressed People

A single session of moderate-intensity exercise -- such as a 30-minute walk -- improves important mood markers of depression, says a U.S. study of people with major depressive disorder.

The 40 study volunteers, aged 18 to 55, were divided into two groups to compare the effects of 30 minutes of quiet rest to 30 minutes of treadmill walking at 60 percent to 70 percent of maximum heart rate, the Washington Post reported.

Following their 30 minutes of rest or exercise, both groups reported reductions in negative feelings such as anger, tension and depression. However, only the people in the exercise group reported improvements in the positive mood markers vigor and well-being. The beneficial effects of exercise were most evident five and 30 minutes after exercise, the Post reported.

The exercise-induced boost in vigor and well-being was likely the result of "perceived accomplishment" among those who used the treadmill, said study lead researcher John B. Bartholomew, associate professor, department of kinesiology and health education, at the University of Texas at Austin.

The study was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport & amp; Exercise.

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Teflon Chemical a 'Likely' Carcinogen: EPA Panel

A chemical used to make Teflon and other nonstick products should be regarded as a "likely" carcinogen, according to a draft report by an independent scientific review panel that advises the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The panel's conclusions, released Monday, contradict an EPA draft risk assessment that determined that animal studies provided only "suggestive evidence" that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and its salts are potential human carcinogens, the Associated Press reported.

"The predominant panel view was the descriptor 'likely to be carcinogenic' was more consistent with currently available data, while a few panel members reached the conclusion that the current evidence fails to exceed the descriptor 'suggestive,' of carcinogenicity," the panel wrote.

The conclusion was challenged by Delaware-based DuPont, the only North American producer of PFOA.

"We disagree with the panel's recommendation on the cancer classification, and we continue to support the EPA's draft risk assessment," Robert Rickard, DuPont's director of health and environmental sciences, told the AP.

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Half of U.S. Kids Don't Have Regular Dental Checkups

Only about half of all American children between 2 and 17 years old regularly get a dental checkup at least once a year, says a new Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report.

The analysis of 2003 data found that 32 million children (49 percent) did not usually get annual dental checkups. Hispanic and black children were far less likely to usually have annual dental checkups (34 percent and 42 percent, respectively) than non-Hispanic white children (59.5 percent).

The report also found that health care professionals often fail to inform parents about the importance of routine dental checkups.

Parental education and income also had an impact. Children in households where at least one parent attended college were almost twice as likely to have an annual checkup than children whose parents were, at most, high school graduates (60.9 percent vs. 33.2 percent).

When children did not get necessary dental care, or there was a delay in getting that care, lack of money was the main reason 56 percent of the time.

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160 Human Bird Flu Infections To Date: WHO

The number of people worldwide who have been infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu now stands at 160 people, and 85 people have died from the disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Tuesday.

The figures were updated after laboratory tests confirmed that at least 12 people in Turkey were infected by the virus. Samples from nine other people in Turkey are currently being tested to verify the presence of the H5N1 virus, the Associated Press reported.

Until human cases began appearing in Turkey earlier this year, all human cases of bird flu had been limited to eastern Asia. The virus appeared in poultry in Asia in 2003 and has since spread to poultry in eastern Europe and the Middle East.

The first human case of bird flu in Iraq was confirmed this week after the death of a 15-year-old girl in the northern area of the country. The WHO is sending a team to that area of Iraq to investigate possible bird flu cases, the AP reported.

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