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Health Highlights: Jan. 4, 2007

Meningitis, Encephalitis Scare Shuts R.I. Schools Maker of Schizophrenia Drug Agrees to Fines FTC Fines Weight-Loss Product Distributors Couple Fights to Stunt Daughter's Growth Cervical Cancer Admissions Fall More Than One-Third

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

Meningitis, Encephalitis Scare Shuts R.I. Schools

More than 20,000 Rhode Island students missed a day of school on Thursday as investigators searched for a possible connection between a youngster's death from encephalitis two weeks ago and a newly suspected case of meningitis.

Classes were cancelled for students in Warwick, Coventry and West Warwick on Thursday. But officials were quick to say that it was premature to label the illnesses as an outbreak, the Associated Press reported.

The suspected case of meningitis was reported late Wednesday at the Hopkins Hill School in Coventry. Meningitis involves an inflammation of the lining that covers the brain and spinal cord.

Encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain, is being cited as the cause of death of a Warwick second-grader last month. At least two other students have contracted the illness, the AP said.

Health investigators are exploring if there's any connection between the two sets of illnesses, or whether either is related to a recent upswing in so-called "walking pneumonia" in these communities. In rare cases, this type of pneumonia can progress to either encephalitis or meningitis, the wire service said.

There are no plans to close schools in other parts of Rhode Island, a state public health official told the AP.


Maker of Schizophrenia Drug Agrees to Fines

Eli Lilly has agreed to pay up to $500 million to settle 18,000 lawsuits from users who claim the schizophrenia drug Zyprexa (olanzapine) caused diabetes and other health problems, The New York Times reported. The drug is also prescribed for bipolar disorder.

These new agreements and earlier settlements bring Lilly's tab in defending Zyprexa lawsuits to at least $1.2 billion, the newspaper said. Some 20 million people have taken the drug since its introduction in 1996.

The settlements do not affect other ongoing civil or criminal investigations by state attorneys general and federal prosecutors, the Times said.

Clinical trials have shown that Zyprexa can cause severe weight gain and rises in cholesterol and blood sugar, the newspaper said. The drug is designed to reduce psychotic hallucinations and delusions.

The newspaper said it had obtained documents purporting that Lilly marketers knowingly downplayed the drug's risks, and that the company allegedly marketed the drug for uses other than those sanctioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


FTC Fines Weight-Loss Product Distributors

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has levied $25 million in fines on the distributors of four products touted to help people lose weight, saying the marketers made false advertising claims.

The agency said the products could remain available to the public, but that the marketers would have to cease making the false statements, the Associated Press reported.

The products, including "Xenadrine EFX" and "One a Day Weight Smart," have been touted as producing rapid weight loss and even reducing users' risks of osteoporosis, Alzheimer's disease and cancer, the FTC said.

The two other products involved are "Cortaslim" and "TrimSpa," the wire service reported.

The largest fine was imposed on the marketer of Xenadrine EFX, New Jersey-based RTC Research and Development, LLC. The fine is expected to range between $8 million and $12.8 million, the AP said.

Some of the fines could be levied as civil penalties that could ultimately find their way back to consumers, FTC Commissioner Deborah Platt Majoras told the wire service.


Couple Fights to Stunt Daughter's Growth

A Washington State couple is fighting to continue a deliberate effort to medically stunt the growth of their severely mentally disabled daughter, the Bloomberg news service reported.

Nine-year-old Ashley, whose last name is being kept confidential, has the mental capacity of a 3-month-old infant, the wire service said. She must be fed through a tube, and cannot walk, talk or support the weight of her head.

Her parents -- who have fought to remain anonymous -- argue that stunting her growth will make her more comfortable and make it easier to care for the child, who is bed-ridden.

Treatments to keep her at the present size of approximately 4 1/2 feet long and 75 pounds began in 2004, Bloomberg reported. They included high doses of estrogen and a hysterectomy. Doctors at Seattle Children's Hospital who had been consulted on the treatments revealed details of the girl's case in a medical journal article last October.

The article has sparked a heated debate over whether stunting the growth of a severely retarded person is medically ethical, the wire service said.


Cervical Cancer Admissions Fall More Than One-Third

Hospitalization rates for cervical cancer cases declined 36 percent between 1994 and 2004, according to the latest News and Numbers issued Wednesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The statistical breakdown showed that during those 10 years, the number of admissions dropped from 25.9 patients to 16.6 patients per every 100,000 women, and the number of admissions per year fell from 34,600 to 24,800.

The study also found that in 2004:

  • Cervical cancer hospitalizations were more than 40 percent higher in the South than in the West (19.0 vs. 13.2 admissions per 100,000).
  • Women aged 18 to 44 accounted for half of all hospitalizations for cervical cancer; women aged 45 to 64 accounted for 37 percent.
  • Hysterectomy was performed in 60 percent of all hospital stays for cervical cancer. Women in the West were almost 40 percent more likely to have a hysterectomy than women in the Northeast.
  • Private insurers were billed for half of the hospital stays for cervical cancer. Medicaid was billed for 28 percent, Medicare got the bill for 11 percent of the stays, and 7 percent were uninsured.
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