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Health Highlights: June 2, 2006

Scios to Conduct Safety Review of Heart Drug Natrecor Clot-Busting Drug Helps Revive Cardiac-Arrest Patients Genital Cutting Raises Death Risk by 50% for Mothers, Babies: Study Restaurants Urged to Trim Portion Sizes Medicare Posts Hospital Payment Information

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

Scios to Conduct Safety Review of Heart Drug Natrecor

Scios Inc., a division of Johnson & Johnson, said Thursday that it would spend more than $100 million to conduct a safety study of its controversial heart-failure drug, Natrecor.

The trial seeks to address safety issues concerning the drug since last year. Other studies had suggested that Natrecor, an intravenous drug approved in 2001 and designed to treat breathing problems that can accompany heart failure, could lead to increased risk of kidney problems and a higher risk of mortality within the first month of treatment than traditional medicines, the Associated Press reported.

Patient enrollment is expected to begin early next year and involve 7,000 people in the United States, Canada and Europe, according to Scios. The company has yet to select the lead researchers and said it doesn't know how long the trial will take to complete, AP reported.

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Clot-Busting Drug Helps Revive Cardiac-Arrest Patients

Emergency room doctors were able to double the number of patients who could be revived from cardiac arrest after using a "clot buster" drug normally reserved for treating patients during a heart attack, according to a study in the June issue of the journal Resuscitation.

The pilot study involved patients with cardiac arrest who didn't respond to standard therapy. Of 50 patients who received the clot-buster tenecteplase, known medically as a fibrinolytic agent therapy, 26 percent were revived, compared to 12 percent of patients who got standard therapy alone. However, not all patients who were revived lived long enough to be discharged from the hospital, according to the study.

Sudden loss of heart function occurs in more than 260,000 people a year nationwide and at least 93 percent of them die, according to the report. Standard treatment for cardiac arrest is Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) measures, which include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), drugs such as adrenaline, and defibrillation, an electric shock to the heart.

"Clot-busting agents show promise as a new therapy for this abrupt and catastrophic loss of heart function," said Dr. William P. Bozeman, an emergency medicine specialist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., and lead author of the study. "We are in dire need of additional treatment options for sudden cardiac arrest, because there is only a 5 percent to 7 percent survival rate using interventions we now have."

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Genital Cutting Raises Death Risk for Mothers, Babies: Study

The practice of female genital cutting -- also called female circumcision -- raises the likelihood by more than 50 percent that the woman or her baby will die, according to research published Friday in The Lancet.

Serious medical complications surrounding childbirth, such as bleeding, also rose substantially in women who had undergone the procedure, the report added. More than 100 million women worldwide have undergone genital cutting, mostly in childhood. Often performed without anesthesia or sterile technique, its immediate results are pain, bleeding, infection and a risk of urinary infection, according to doctors.

"Finally, we have data to prove what health workers have long known: That female genital mutilation is a health issue, a killer of women and children, as well as a human-rights issue," Adrienne Germain, president of the International Women's Health Coalition, told The New York Times.

Female genital cutting varies in severity, from full removal of the clitoris and labia to a lesser procedure in which only the clitoris is removed. In some African cultures, genital mutilation is considered a coming-of-age ceremony. Its supporters have contended that it is a cultural practice -- like male circumcision among Jews -- with few long-term health consequences.

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Restaurants Urged to Trim Portion Sizes

A U.S. government-commissioned report released Friday suggests restaurants are in prime position to both improve diets and combat obesity by serving smaller portions and adding more fruit and vegetable dishes to their menus.

Funded by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the 136-page report said Americans now consume fully one-third of their daily intake of calories outside the home in the nation's nearly 900,000 restaurants and other establishments that serve food, the Associated Press reported.

The top three restaurant favorites? Burgers, fries and pizza.

An estimated 64 percent of Americans are overweight, including the 30 percent who are obese, according to the report. It pegged the annual medical cost of the problem at nearly $93 billion.

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Medicare Posts Hospital Payment Information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services posted information online Thursday on what Medicare pays for 30 common elective procedures and other hospital admissions.

Available to consumers, providers and payers through the HHS Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services -- at http://www.cms.hhs.gov/HealthCareConInit/01_Overview.asp#TopOfPage -- the figures show the range of payments by county and the number of cases treated at each hospital for a variety of therapies provided to seniors and people with disabilities in fiscal year 2005. The data include 30 common elective procedures, including heart operations and implanting cardiac defibrillators; hip and knee replacements; kidney and urinary tract operations; gallbladder operations and back and neck operations, and for common non-surgical admissions.

In addition, CMS said it will post payment information for common elective procedures for ambulatory surgery centers later this summer, and common hospital outpatient and physician services this fall.

"Once people gain better information, they become better consumers of health care and that helps get health-care costs down and quality of care up," HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt said. "The federal government is the biggest single purchaser of health care in America, and by taking steps to post prices and quality data, we hope to encourage more insurance companies, hospitals, clinics and doctors to do the same."

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