Health Highlights: July 15, 2009

House Bill Would Make Health Care a Right Air Force Academy Cadets Hit by Swine Flu Girl's Heart Heals Itself: Report Kidney Transplant Drugs Must Carry Infections Warning: FDA

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

House Bill Would Make Health Care a Right

As part of the overhaul of the U.S. health-care system, Democrats in the House of Representatives want to make health care a right and a responsibility for all Americans.

Under the $1.5 trillion proposal, the federal government would be responsible for ensuring that all people have access to an affordable health insurance plan. Employers and individuals would have new obligations to obtain coverage or be hit with major penalties, the Associated Press reported.

The House and Senate are under pressure from the White House to pass health-care reform bills before the August recess. President Barack Obama wants legislation that would slow rising health-care costs and extend coverage to about 50 million uninsured Americans.

"There's going to be a major debate over the next three weeks," Obama said during a speech in Warren, Mich., the AP reported. "And don't be fooled by folks trying to scare you saying we can't change the health-care system. We have no choice but to change the health-care system because right now it's broken for too many Americans."

On Wednesday, the Senate health committee chaired by Sen. Edward Kennedy, (D.-Mass.), passed a bill to overhaul health care, becoming the first congressional committee to act on Obama's goal of reforming the system this year.

The Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted 13-10 along party lines to pass a $600-billion measure that would expand coverage to nearly all Americans by requiring individuals to get insurance and employers to contribute to the cost, the AP reported.

Kennedy, who is being treated for brain cancer, wasn't on hand for the vote.


Air Force Academy Cadets Hit by Swine Flu

Swine flu has been confirmed in 67 cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and test results are pending for dozens of others, an academy spokesman said Tuesday. Cadets with confirmed or suspected swine flu have been isolated in a dormitory.

All of the cases were described as "moderate" and none of the sick cadets has been hospitalized, said spokesman John Van Winkle, The New York Times reported.

"Our priority right now is treating those that are ill, limiting the spread and educating our entire base population about what we have done and will continue to do," Van Winkle said.

The Air Force Academy outbreak is the single largest in Colorado. State health officials said that up until last week, there were 146 confirmed cases of the H1N1 virus, the Times reported.

About 37,000 cases of swine flu have been confirmed so far in the United States and its territories.


Girl's Heart Heals Itself

If doctors can determine how a British girl's heart healed itself, it may lead to new ways to treat cardiac patients.

In 1995, Hannah Clark had a donor heart implanted directly onto her own failing heart. After 10 years, her original heart had healed itself to the point that doctors could remove the donated heart, the Associated Press reported.

Since her donor heart was removed in 2006, the 16-year-old has started playing sports, taken a part-time job, and plans to return to school in the fall. Her case history was published online Tuesday in The Lancet medical journal.

"This just shows that the heart can indeed repair itself given the opportunity," Dr. Douglas Zipes, past president of the American College of Cardiology, told the AP. "The heart apparently has major regenerative powers, and it is now key to find out how they work."

Another expert said Clark's case offers encouragement to both patients and doctors.

"It reminds us that not all heart failure is lethal," Dr. Ileana Pina, a heart failure expert at Case Western Reserve University, told the AP. "Some heart failure patients have a greater chance of recovery than we thought."


Kidney Transplant Drugs Must Carry Infections Warning: FDA

Certain drugs used to prevent rejection of transplanted kidneys must carry a warning about the risk of serious infections, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday.

The drugs include CellCept (mycophenolate mofetil) and generics, Myfortic (mycophenolic acid), Rapamune (sirolimus), Sandimmune (cyclosporine) and generics, and Neoral (cyclosporine modified) and generics.

The drugs, which already carry the FDA's most serious boxed warning outlining their various risks, must now also mention the increased risk of "opportunistic infections," including activation of dormant viral infections such as one caused by the BK virus, the Dow Jones news service reported.

Infections associated with the immunosuppressive drugs may lead to serious problems, including kidney graft loss, said the FDA. The agency noted that a warning about the increased risk for opportunistic infections already is included in the labeling of the immunosuppressive drug Prograf (tacrolimus).

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