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Health Highlights: June 15, 2007

First OTC Weight Loss Drug Goes on Sale in U.S. Counterfeit Toothpaste Poses Low Health Risk: Colgate Rotavirus Vaccine to Carry Warning About Rare but Serious Disease Many Pancreatic Cancer Patients Not Offered Surgery Surgeons Plan to Remove Section of TB Patient's Lung NYC Health Department Urges 4,500 People to Get Hepatitis C Test Company Warns of Malfunction in Brain Cancer Radiotherapy Units

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

First OTC Weight Loss Drug Goes on Sale in U.S.

The first FDA-approved over-the-counter weight loss pill goes on sale across the United States Friday. The drug, called alli, prevents the absorption of fat in the intestine. It's a lower-dose version of the prescription weight-loss drug Xenical.

While some welcome the arrival of the OTC pill -- which will cost about $1.80 a day -- others have reservations or are openly critical, Newsday reported.

Weight loss specialist Dr. Dennis Gage, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, isn't impressed with alli.

"The reality of weight loss pills is that people rarely lose weight when they take them. And when they do lose weight, it comes back," he told Newsday. Gage noted that Xenical produces only moderate weight loss.

Dr. Irwin Klein, chief of endocrinology and metabolism at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., noted that alli causes the same side effects as Xenical, including frequent bowel movements.

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Counterfeit Toothpaste Poses Low Health Risk: Colgate

Counterfeit toothpaste imported from South Africa poses a low health risk to consumers, Colgate-Palmolive Co. said Friday.

Colgate said it analyzed samples of the counterfeit toothpaste and said its findings match the results of tests by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Associated Press reported.

The counterfeit toothpaste, labeled as Regular, Gel, Triple and Herbal versions of Colgate toothpaste, were recalled in the United States because they may contain a poisonous chemical called diethylene glycol, which is used in antifreeze.

The toothpaste was sold in discount stores in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. It was imported by MS USA Trading Inc. of North Bergen, N.J.

Colgate is currently collecting suspected counterfeit toothpaste at discount stores and is also scrutinizing all accounts that handle Colgate toothpaste to ensure that they do not have any counterfeit versions, the AP reported.

The FDA has posted an update list of recalled toothpaste products and toothpaste products that tested positive for diethylene glycol at http://www.fda.gov/oc/opacom/hottopics/toothpaste.html.

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Rotavirus Vaccine to Carry Warning About Rare but Serious Disease

A vaccine for rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in young children, has been linked to isolated reports of a serious illness called Kawasaki disease in children who got the oral vaccine, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

The vaccine, called Rotateq and made by Merck & Co., was approved in February 2006. Its adverse reactions section on the label will now carry a warning about the potential risk of Kawasaki disease.

There have been five cases of Kawasaki disease among the 36,150 infants who received the vaccine and one case among the 35,536 infants who received a placebo, the FDA said in a prepared statement.

Kawasaki disease is a serious but uncommon illness in children that is poorly understood, and the cause is unknown. Symptoms include high fever and inflammation of the blood vessels. The illness can affect the lymph nodes, skin, mouth and heart, the FDA said.

The cases of Kawasaki disease reported so far are no more frequent than would be expected by chance, the agency said.

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Many Pancreatic Cancer Patients Not Offered Surgery

A U.S. study found that nearly 40 percent of early-stage pancreatic cancer patients who qualified for surgery did not get it, greatly reducing their life expectancy.

The researchers noted that about 30 percent of patients with early stage pancreatic cancer who have surgery live at least five years, compared with less than five percent of those who don't have surgery, the Associated Press reported.

The analysis of national cancer data revealed that 3,644 (38 percent) of 9,559 early-stage pancreatic cancer patients were not offered surgery. Those least likely to be offered surgery were: blacks, patients older than 65, and those with less education and lower annual incomes.

There may be a number of reasons why so many patients aren't offered surgery, said study co-author Dr. Mark Talamonti, a cancer surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago and chief of surgical oncology at Northwestern University's Medical School.

He said the factors include: lack of access to centers with experience in doing the surgery; lack of doctor awareness about improvements in the surgery; and the fact that many doctors view pancreatic cancer as a virtual death sentence, the AP reported.

The findings were published in an early online edition of the August issue of the journal Annals of Surgery.

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Surgeons Plan to Remove Section of TB Patient's Lung

Surgeons plan to remove a tennis-ball sized section of lung from the 31-year-old Atlanta lawyer with extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR TB), the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

The targeted lung tissue contains most of the bacteria responsible for Andrew Speaker's TB and its removal will eliminate a breeding ground for the bacteria and enhance the effectiveness of antibiotics, doctors say.

The surgery is scheduled for sometime in July at the University of Colorado Hospital's Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora. Speaker is currently in isolation at National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver and will return there after the lung surgery, the Times reported.

In related news, Speaker's case has prompted leading TB experts in the United States to call for more federal funding of TB research, tighter travel restrictions on TB-infected people, and better education for TB patients about their risk of infecting other people, The New York Times reported.

Speaker caused a panic when he went to Europe for his wedding in May, even though he'd been diagnosed with TB and advised by public health officials in Georgia not to travel. After his trip to Europe, he returned home by first flying to Canada and then crossing into the U.S. by car.

Since then, public health authorities have been searching for passengers who sat near Speaker on his flights to and from Europe in order to test them for TB.

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NYC Health Department Urges 4,500 People to Get Hepatitis C Test

About 4,500 patients treated by a Manhattan anesthesiologist are being contacted by New York City's health department after three patients were found to have hepatitis C, a virus that can harm or destroy the liver, The New York Times reported.

The anesthesiologist administered pain-deadening drugs by needle to the 4,500 patients at 10 Manhattan outpatient centers (including doctors' offices and clinics) between Dec. 1, 2003 and May 1, 2007. None of the procedures took place in a hospital.

"The common risk factor is the doctor, not the medical procedure," said Dr. Marcelle Layton, assistant commissioner of the bureau of communicable diseases, who noted that the three infected patients received the painkilling drugs at three different times.

The health department has sent letters to the 4,500 patients (who were identified using medical records from the 10 treatment sites) telling them to get tested for the virus, which can have an incubation period of six months or longer, The Times reported.

There are a number of effective treatments for hepatitis C.

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Company Warns of Malfunction in Brain Cancer Radiotherapy Units

A German company has issued a warning about a malfunction in one of its radiotherapy machine models used to treat brain cancer patients, but says it's a small targeting error that's unlikely to pose a threat to patients.

However, a notification sent by Munich-based BrainLAB to a U.S. clinic warned that the problem could cause "injury or death," the Associated Press reported.

Four hospitals in France, two in the United States and one in Spain have the affected models. BrainLAB would not release the name of the two U.S. hospitals but a company official did say they were located in Ohio and Washington state.

The Cleveland Clinic in Ohio confirmed that it does have a BrainLAB unit and stopped using it after it was alerted about the problems last week, the AP reported.

Radiotherapy expert Dr. Georges Noel, of the Paul Strauss cancer center in Strasbourg, France, said this kind of malfunction was potentially harmful.

"A mistargeted machine could irradiate healthy brain tissue ... It could kill healthy tissue," he told the AP. The impact on a patient would depend on the part of the brain affected, Noel said.

A BrainLAB official said a software update should correct the problem.

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