Health Highlights: June 2, 2011

People With Mental Illness Risk Problem Drinking New Strain of E. Coli May Have Triggered Outbreak: WHO Clot Risk Spurs FDA Review of Birth Control Pills

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

People With Mental Illness Risk Problem Drinking

A new U.S. government report finds that adults who suffer with mental illness are four times more prone to alcohol dependence compared to those without such conditions.

The report, released Thursday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), was based on a 2009 nationwide survey. It found that nearly 10 percent of adults diagnosed with a mental illness were also alcohol-dependent, compared to just 2.2 percent of those without such issues.

The rate of alcohol dependence also rose alongside the severity of mental illness, the report said.

"Mental and substance use disorders often go hand in hand. This SAMHSA study adds to the evidence of that connection," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release.

"Co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders are to be expected, not considered the exception," she added. "Unfortunately, signs and symptoms of these behavioral health conditions are often missed by individuals, their friends and family members and unnoticed by health professionals. The results can be devastating and costly to our society."


New Strain of E. Coli May Have Triggered Outbreak: WHO

The E. coli bacteria outbreak in Europe that has killed 18 people and made hundreds more ill appears to be a new, unusually severe strain, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

"This is a unique strain that has never been isolated from patients before," Hilde Kruse, an expert on food safety at the WHO, told the Associated Press. She said it has "various characteristics that make it more virulent and toxin-producing" than the numerous E. coli strains that people normally live with in their bodies.

As of Thursday morning, the bacteria had infected more than 1,500 people, mostly German residents or people who had traveled recently to Germany, setting off widespread panic throughout Europe. Almost one-third of the patients suffered a severe and potentially fatal kidney complication called hemolytic uremic syndrome.

The source of the outbreak remains a mystery, but German health officials have advised consumers to avoid eating cucumbers, lettuce or raw tomatoes.

Early research suggests that the new lethal strain evolved from two different E. coli bacteria with aggressive genes. "There's a lot of mobility in the microbial world," Kruse told the AP, explaining it's not unusual for bacterial strains from humans and animals to mutate.

Unlike other E. coli outbreaks, this seems to hit adults harder than children and the elderly.


Clot Risk Spurs FDA Review of Birth Control Pills

U.S. regulators will assess the safety of Bayer birth control pills as a result of two new studies suggesting they pose a higher-than-expected risk of serious blood clots.

Expressing concerns about the hormone drospirenone -- found in Bayer's Yaz, Yasmin, Beyaz and Safyral products -- the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement Tuesday it has commissioned an 800,000-person study to review the risks . Drospirenone is a type of progestin used in combination with another female hormone, estrogen.

Women taking the drospirenone-containing birth control pills had a two to three times greater risk of blood clots compared with women taking pills containing a different type of progestin, according to the studies published in BMJ, the FDA said. Because other studies have had conflicting results, the agency said it wants to conduct its own review. It expects to have the results this summer.

All birth control pills carry some clotting risk. Symptoms include leg or chest pain or sudden shortness of breath. Women with concerns should talk to their doctor, the FDA said.

In Europe last week, regulators announced they would update the contraceptives' prescribing information to include the new findings.

Bayer's analysis of the overall body of available scientific evidence continues to support its current assessment about the safety of its oral contraceptives, Bayer said in a statement, according to Boomberg News.


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