Health Highlights: Jan. 4, 2003

Company Claims to Have Cloned Second Baby FDA Approves Prozac for Use in Children FDA Also OKs Asthma Drug for Hay Fever Study: Air Ionizers Fight Infections Houston Three-Peats as Fattest U.S. City Study Planned on Effects of Trade Center Debris

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

Company Claims to Have Cloned Second Baby

The company that stunned the world last week by claiming to have produced the first cloned baby says it has created a second human clone.

But Clonaid, the company created by a one-time French journalist who leads a sect that believes visitors from outer space created life on earth, provided only sketchy details about the second alleged clone, the Associated Press reported.

The parents are said to be a lesbian couple from the Netherlands, and the baby was supposedly born Friday night, a Clonaid spokeswoman said. The clone was created from DNA from one of the women, the spokeswoman said, but she declined to offer few additional details, including the baby's gender and name, the AP said.

Scientists are skeptical of Clonaid's claims that its scientists have produced cloned humans.

Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive of Clonaid, said the first clone was born to a 31-year-old American woman and was named "Eve." Boisselier initially said the woman and her husband had agreed to genetic testing to prove the infant had been cloned from her mother.

But earlier this week, Boisselier said the couple was reluctant to agree to genetic testing because they felt pressured by a Florida lawyer's lawsuit that asked a state court to appoint a legal guardian for "Eve."


FDA Approves Prozac for Use in Children

Doctors can now prescribe the popular antidepressant Prozac to children suffering from depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has ruled.

The decision, which covers children and teens seven to 17 years of age, marks the first approval of one of the newer types of antidepressants -- called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs -- for treating depression in children.

Depression affects up to 25 percent of children and about eight percent of teens in the United States. Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, affects about two percent of the population, and typically begins during adolescence or childhood. At least one-third of the cases of adult OCD begin in childhood, the National Institute of Mental Health says.

Clinical trials revealed that the side effects of Prozac use in children and teens were similar to those typically experienced by adults, including nausea, tiredness, nervousness, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating, the FDA says.

However, one trial in children and adolescents eight to 17 years old found that after 19 weeks of treatment with Prozac, the study participants gained, on average, about a half an inch less in height and about two pounds less in weight compared to children taking a placebo.

The drug's maker, Eli Lilly, has agreed to conduct a follow-up study to further evaluate any potential impact of Prozac's use on long-term growth in children, the FDA says.


FDA Also OKs Asthma Drug for Hay Fever

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Merck asthma drug Singulair to treat seasonal hay fever, medically known as allergic rhinitis. The approval of the once-daily medication extends to children as young as two years of age.

Unlike most anti-allergy medications that block a chemical called histamine, Singulair blocks leukotrienes, compounds that influence lung inflammation and allergic reactions. Singulair, which Merck says is now the most widely prescribed asthma controller among allergists and pediatricians in the United States, has been on the market since 1998.

Some 26.1 million Americans suffer from hay fever and 14.6 million Americans have asthma, the American Lung Association says. Other estimates put the number of U.S. hay fever sufferers as high as 50 million.

In clinical trials, Singulair was effective in treating hay fever symptoms, including nasal congestion, itchy nose and eyes, and sneezing. While it was not associated with sleepiness -- a common result of many antihistamines -- Singulair's most frequent side effects included headache, ear infection, sore throat and upper respiratory infection, Merck says.


Study: Air Ionizers Fight Hospital Infections

Hospital infections caused by the bacterium acinetobacter have been eliminated by installation of negative air ionizers, British researchers tell the magazine New Scientist.

"We were absolutely astounded to find such clear cut results," reports researcher Clive Begg at the University of Leeds.

Ionizers produce negative ions that collide with suspended germs in the air, causing the charged germs to clump together and fall out of the air, and stopping the transmission of infection, the researchers speculate.

Acinetobacter infections are difficult to treat because the bacterium is often resistant to many antibiotics, the magazine reports. The germ poses no real threat to healthy people but can cause serious infections in people with weakened immune systems.

The team is expanding its research to see if ionizers can be used against other airborne germs, including tuberculosis, New Scientist reports.


Houston Three-Peats as Fattest U.S. City

Houston, we still have a weight problem.

For the third straight year, Houston leads the United States as the fattest city, according to Men's Fitness magazine. Next on the 2003 list of America's 25 "fat cities" are Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, St Louis, and Cleveland.

The magazine ranked 16 factors, including fruit and vegetable consumption, junk-food habits, participation in exercise/sport activities, and the number of overweight/sedentary residents.

"We do not relish the title bestowed upon us by Men's Fitness," Houston mayor Lee Brown told the Associated Press in a statement. Brown vowed to "improve the overall health and fitness of the city's residents."

On the flip side, the magazine's top five fittest cities for 2003 are: Honolulu, Seattle, San Francisco, Colorado Springs, and San Diego.


Study Planned on Effects of Trade Center Debris

The U.S. government and New York City are planning a study of some 200,000 people exposed to the ash and dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center, The New York Times reported.

The long-term study -- its duration hasn't been specified -- will explore patterns in illness and recovery that individual doctors can't establish. But even its supporters say delays in beginning the study are proving detrimental.

"People move away," says U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), a study backer. "How are we going to track down these people after so much time [has passed since Sept. 11, 2001]."

Another sensitive issue is how to account for the different levels of exposure, the newspaper reported, from a single day's worth to that experienced by rescue personnel and volunteers who worked at Ground Zero for weeks after Sept. 11.

Finally, there's the inevitable issue of money. Some $20 million has been pledged to launch the effort, but it's unclear where funding for future years may come from, the Times said.

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