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Health Highlights: June 22, 2009

U.S. Study Will Target Vitamin D, Fish Oil Drug Makers To Help Close Gap In Medicare Drug Coverage Swine Flu Infections, Deaths Surge In Recent Days VA Center Botched Prostate Cancer Treatments: Report

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

U.S. Study Will Target Vitamin D, Fish Oil

The effectiveness of two popular dietary supplements, vitamin D and fish oil, will be put to the test in a large, five-year U.S. government-sponsored study, the Associated Press reported.

The study is designed to determine whether either supplement reduces the risk of developing heart disease, cancer or stroke, as proponents claim.

One quarter of the participants will be black, the AP said, noting that dark-skinned people can't produce much vitamin D from sunlight. Some experts believe this is why blacks suffer higher rates of stroke, heart disease and cancer than whites.

Fish oil, or omega-3 fatty acid, is widely touted for improving heart health, but previous studies haven't established its safety or benefits.

Noting that other supplements, such as vitamins E and C, have fared poorly in recent tests, a study leader advised restraint. "We should be cautious before jumping on the bandwagon to take mega-doses of these supplements," said Dr. JoAnn Manson, who will co-lead the study with Dr. Julie Buring of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, according to the AP.

Set to start later this year, the new study will include 20,000 older adults who will be assigned to take vitamin D, fish oil, both supplements or placebo pills, the AP said


Drug Makers To Help Close Gap In Medicare Drug Coverage

U.S. drug makers promise to spend $80 billion over the next decade to help close the so-called "doughnut hole" in Medicare's drug coverage, the White House announced Monday.

Under the deal, drug companies will pay part of the cost of prescription drugs for lower- and middle-income Medicare recipients, the Associated Press reported. Currently, beneficiaries have to pay the full cost of prescriptions after their initial coverage ends but before they qualify for catastrophic coverage.

The pact should lead to at least a 50 percent discount on prescription drugs for some Medicare recipients, according to the president.

"This is a significant breakthrough on the road to health-care reform, one that will make a difference in the lives of many older Americans," Obama said, the AP reported.


Swine Flu Infections, Deaths Surge In Recent Days

The United States leads countries that have seen a dramatic increase in the number of swine flu cases since Friday, the World Health Organization said Monday.

Since Friday, 7,873 more people worldwide were reported infected with the H1N1 virus and 51 more deaths were noted, for a total of more than 52,000 people infected and 231 dead in the pandemic, Agence France Presse reported.

The United States has reported 3,594 new cases since Friday, for a total of 21,449 with 87 deaths, the WHO said. Mexico was stable (7,600 cases and 113 deaths), while there were 805 new cases in Canada (5,710 cases and 13 deaths).

Figures that have yet to be incorporated into the WHO's official statistics may drive the worldwide number of infections and deaths even higher. The disease has now been reported in 100 countries and territories, AFP reported.


VA Center Botched Prostate Cancer Treatments: Report

In the latest blow to the image of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, it's been revealed that 92 veterans with prostate cancer received incorrect radiation doses at the VA Medical Center in Philadelphia.

The New York Times reported that a procedure in which radioactive seeds are implanted to kill cancer cells (brachytherapy) was done incorrectly in 92 of 116 procedures over six years. The medical team involved kept performing the procedure for a year even though medical monitoring equipment wasn't working.

Of the 92 cases, 57 involved implants that delivered too little radiation to the prostate and 35 had excessive levels of radiation that affected nearby tissue and organs, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission report published in the Federal Register this month, the Associated Press reported.

All the affected patients received follow-up care, including eight who got additional radioactive seed implants at a Seattle VA Center, said Dale Warman of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center.

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