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Health Highlights: July 8, 2006

Pain Patch Lawsuit Verdict Goes to PlaintiffStopping Pain Meds May Increase Older Farmers' Accident Risk Spain Records 1st Case of Bird Flu Government Eases Citizenship Rules for Medicaid Johns Hopkins Named Best Hospital for 16th Year Magazine Tees Up Top 100 Golfer-Doctors

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

Pain Patch Lawsuit Verdict Goes to Plaintiff

Score one defeat and one victory for major pharmaceutical companies within the past few days.

The defeat came for Johnson & Johnson, when a Texas jury ruled July 7 that the company had to pay $772,500 in actual damages to the family of a woman who died because of leakage in a pain relief patch.

The Associated Press reports that a Houston jury found that Johnson & Johnson was responsible for the death of Michaelynn Thompson, who had used two patches called Duragesic to manage pain she had suffered after an automobile accident.

The jury didn't award any punitive damages, the wire service reported, and Johnson & Johnson maintains the Duragesic patches are safe. According to the A.P., the company is examining its legal options for an appeal. For the past year The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been investigating a reported 120 deaths tied to pain patches made by Johnson & Johnson and Mylan Laboratories.

Meanwhile, international pharmaceutical giant Roche has been given clearance to continue clinical trials in the United States of an anemia drug known as Cera, or peg-EPO.

The Ventura County Star reports that a challenge by the biotech company Amgen to keep Cera testing out of the United States was denied by an administrative law judge with the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Amgen makes drugs similar to Cera and is currently suing Roche for patent infringement. An Amgen spokesman told the newspaper that the administrative judges ruling would have no impact on the patent lawsuit.

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Stopping Pain Meds May Increase Older Farmers' Accident Risk

An unusual relationship may exist between discontinuing pain medications and an increase in accidents among older farmers.

A study from Alberta Canada reveals that farmers over the age of 66 had a higher risk of having an accident after they stopped taking pain or anti-inflammatory drugs.

The research, conducted in part by the University of Alberta in Edmonton, revealed some heretofore "unknown relationships" between discontinuing anti-pain medication and the risk of accidents. For example, they said, when farmers stopped taking medications within the 30 days prior to the date they were injured, there was a higher risk of injuries related to farm work. Injuries included falls, being struck by an object, or wounds inflicted while working with farm machinery or livestock, the researchers said.

More than 8,000 male farmers over age 66 were part of the study. A significant number 282 had farm-related injuries relating to the use of pain medication.

Why is this happening? Three possible reasons, speculated Dr. Don Voaklander, one of the study's authors in a news release, are that "Pain, unmasked when they stop using medication, distracts the farmer when he's doing his work. A second possibility involves limitations on mobility for farmers who are in pain or who are guarding their movements as a result of pain." And the third reason, Voaklander says, is that there may be withdrawal symptoms.

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Spain Records 1st Case of Bird Flu

Spain's Agriculture Ministry said it had recorded its first case of the deadly H5N1 bird flu, found in a migratory water bird in a marsh area outside the northern city of Vitoria.

A two-mile protective zone was declared outside the area where the bird -- a great crested grebe -- was found, the Associated Press reported Friday.

Spanish officials had said last year that it was only a matter of time before the disease made its way to their country, which is on the route of northern-bound migratory birds from Africa.

Officials have so far banned outdoor poultry farming within a 6-mile radius of marshlands where migratory birds gather, AP said.

Bird flu has killed at least 130 people worldwide since late 2003, and forced the destruction of tens of millions of poultry, many of them in Asian nations, according to the World Health Organization. Most human cases have been linked to contact with infected birds, but experts fear the virus could mutate, making it more easily transmissible among humans.

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Government Eases Citizenship Rules for Medicaid

Federal officials are relaxing a requirement for about 8 million Medicaid recipients to prove they're citizens before they can receive benefits.

The rule, which took effect Saturday, requires Medicaid recipients to prove U.S. citizenship with a passport, birth certificate, or similar record.

It was intended to keep illegal immigrants from receiving benefits. Critics, however, said that many older Americans, the mentally ill and the poor might be unable to produce the paperwork needed. At least two lawsuits have been filed to block the requirement, the Washington Post reported Friday.

Under the newly relaxed rule, citizenship won't have to be proven by Medicare recipients who have already provided documentation to receive Medicare or Supplemental Security Income.

Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, called the exemptions "a commendable development," but said that the action still will not help beneficiaries such as foster children and the homeless. "This should be corrected," he told the newspaper.

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Johns Hopkins Named Best Hospital for 16th Year

Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Hospital earned top spot for the 16th consecutive year as "Best of the Best" in the U.S. News & World Report annual survey of American hospitals.

Hopkins placed first in five of 16 ranked medical specialties, according to the survey, to appear on newsstands Monday. The survey ranks the top hospitals nationally based on reputation, mortality rates and other care-related factors.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

  • Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.
  • Cleveland Clinic
  • Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • UCLA Medical Center, Los Angeles
  • New York-Presbyterian University Hospital of Columbia and Cornell, New York City
  • Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.
  • Barnes-Jewish Hospital/Washington University, St. Louis
  • University of California, San Francisco Medical Center
  • University of Washington Medical Center, Seattle

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Magazine Tees Up Top 100 Golfer-Doctors

A Savannah, Ga., pulmonary specialist and a San Francisco hematologist were named top male and female winners in the Golf Digest "Top 100 Golfer-Doctors in America" list, due on newsstands Tuesday.

To make the rankings, doctors were required to have a United States Golf Association (USGA) Handicap Index of 6.0 or better.

Ranked highest was Dr. Doug Hanzel, 49, who has qualified eight times for the U.S. Amateur and was a prominent junior and college golfer in his native Ohio and while at Kent State.

Hematologist/oncologist Dr. Patricia Cornett, seventh overall on the list, led the women's field. She played on the Stanford University golf team and has competed in more than 60 USGA events.

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