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Health Highlights: Jan. 31, 2008

U.S. Army Suicides Increased in 2007 People Displaced by Hurricanes at Increased Risk for Psychological and Substance Problems Critics Pan Swiss Report on HIV/Unprotected Sex Chinese Maker of Abortion Pill Accused of Tainted Drug Cover-Up Eli Lilly May Face $1 Billion Fine IVF Twins May Have Increased Risk of Congenital Heart Disease

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

U.S. Army Suicides Increased in 2007

In 2007, as many as 121 U.S. Army soldiers committed suicide, compared to 102 suicides in 2006 and 87 in 2005, according to the Associated Press, which cited internal briefing papers prepared by the Army's psychiatry consultant early this month.

The papers showed there were 89 confirmed suicides last year and 32 suspected suicides that are still under investigation, the AP reported.

Last year, more than a quarter of the confirmed and suspected suicides occurred during deployments in Iraq.

The number of attempted suicides and self injuries also increased from fewer than 1,500 in 2006 to about 2,100 in 2007. There were fewer than 500 such incidents in 2002.

The 2007 rate of suicides per 100,000 active duty soldiers has not yet been calculated, Army officials said. The 2006 suicide rate of 17.5 per 100,000 was the highest since the Army started counting in 1980, the AP reported.


People Displaced by Hurricanes at Increased Risk for Psychological and Substance Problems

Adults displaced from their homes for two weeks or more by Hurricanes Katrina or Rita were much more likely to have mental health and substance abuse problems than people who didn't leave their homes, says a U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) report released Thursday.

An analysis of data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that use of illicit drugs in the past month was reported by 10.5 percent of adults displaced for two weeks or longer, compared to 4.9 percent among those who hadn't left their homes.

The report also found that 25.7 percent of people who had been displaced for long periods suffered from serious psychological distress, compared to 9.2 percent of adults who hadn't left home. People displaced for two weeks or longer by either storm had far higher levels of unmet mental health treatment needs than those who had not been displaced (9.0 percent vs. 3.5 percent).

Overall, however, most adults affected by the hurricanes did not have increased incidence of mental health problems or substance abuse, the report said.

"This report shows that most people are resilient -- that they can overcome tremendous adversity," SAMHSA Administrator Terry Cline said in a prepared statement. "But it also shows that when people are displaced from their homes it can be devastating, and that mental health resources can play a critical role in enabling them to fully recover from such a trauma."


Critics Pan Swiss Report on HIV/Unprotected Sex

Skepticism and downright alarm greeted a report released this week by Swiss health experts, who concluded that HIV-infected people who take certain retroviral drugs don't pass the virus to partners during unprotected sex, Agence France-Presse reported. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The Swiss Federal AIDS Commission report, which looked at the findings of four studies, concluded that couples in which one partner has HIV don't need to use a condom to prevent transmission of the virus, as long as there is proven adherence to regular retroviral therapy and it's suppressed the virus in the blood for at least six months.

But critics pointed out the four studies analyzed in the report focused on heterosexual couples and vaginal sex rather than anal sex, AFP reported.

"The real thing missing (from the Swiss report) is about anal sex and getting a new sexually transmitted infection," said Roger Peabody of the Terrence Higgins Trust AIDS charity in England.

"We don't feel the scientific evidence is conclusive and there are some key issues that are not covered in this advice," Peabody told AFP.


Chinese Maker of Abortion Pill Accused of Tainted Drug Cover-Up

The sole Chinese manufacturer of the RU-486 (mifepristone) abortion pill sold in the United States has become embroiled in a major scandal after nearly 200 Chinese cancer patients were paralyzed or suffered other harm after taking contaminated leukemia drugs.

Chinese officials have accused the state-owned drug maker, Shanghai Hualian, of a cover-up involving the tainted leukemia drugs and have closed the factory that made the medications, The New York Times reported.

In December, China's Food and Drug Administration said police had launched a criminal investigation and detained two company officials.

Shanghai Hualian makes the abortion pill for the U.S. market at a factory about an hour's drive from the one that made the leukemia drugs. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it's not aware of any problems at the plant that makes the abortion pill, the Times reported.

But the FDA should be concerned because of accusations that the Chinese drug maker was involved in a cover up of tainted drugs, said Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe of the consumer group Public Citizen, a frequent critic of the FDA.

"Every one of these plants should be immediately inspected," Wolfe told the Times.

In other news out of China, the government said Thursday it had stopped a company from producing and exporting frozen dumplings that are believed to have made at least 10 people sick in Japan, the Associated Press reported.

The products from Tianyang Food Processing were believed contaminated with a phosphorus insecticide called methamidophos, which caused severe abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea among consumers, the wire service said.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said it had tallied more than 400 people who complained of illness, although Kyodo said the consumers had eaten additional products by the same company, the AP reported.

Chinese exporters have been cited in a number of cases of chemical contamination during the past year in everything from pet foods to toothpaste and toys.


Lilly May Face $1 Billion Fine

Eli Lilly and Co. could face a fine of more than $1 billion to settle a civil and criminal investigation into the company's marketing of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa (olanzapine), The New York Times reported.

A fine of that size would be the largest ever paid by a drug company for disobeying U.S. federal laws governing how drug makers can promote their products.

Several anonymous sources told the Times that settlement discussions between Lilly and federal prosecutors began last year and intensified this month. The sources said the company may also plead guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge as part of an agreement. Lilly officials wouldn't confirm or deny the settlement talks.

The FDA approved Zyprexa for treatment of people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. But company documents show that from 2000 to 2003, Lilly encouraged doctors to prescribe the drug to treat age-related dementia and patients with mild bipolar disorder who also had been diagnosed with depression, the Times reported.

It's illegal for a drug maker to promote their medicines in the United States for any uses not formally approved by the FDA.


IVF Twins May Have Increased Risk of Congenital Heart Disease

The rate of congenital heart disease (CHD) among in vitro fertilization (IVF) twins may be higher than among IVF singletons, says a U.S. research abstract to be presented Thursday at the annual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

The rate of CHD among IVF singletons was similar to that of the general population.

Yale School of Medicine researchers used fetal echocardiography to examine nearly 2,000 pregnant women, including 250 who became pregnant through IVF. The researchers conducted 357 fetal echocardiograms on 347 fetuses among these 250 women. Of those women, about 30 percent were pregnant with twins.

"We found that twin pregnancies conceived through IVF have a higher prevalence of CHD than singletons," study author Dr. Mert Ozan Bahtiyar, assistant professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences, said in a prepared statement. He saw a three-fold increase in CHD among IVF twins.

"IVF twins are usually fraternal, but past studies of identical twins also showed up to a 13-fold increase in congenital heart defects," Bahtiyar said.

He and his colleagues plan to increase the size of the study and see if they can confirm these preliminary findings.

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