Health Highlights: June 12, 2003

Wisconsin Reports 1st Person-to-Person Monkeypox Case in U.S. Company Pleads Guilty to Hiding Defects in Heart Surgery Devices U.S. Speeds Up Generic Drugs for Consumers Global SARS Outbreak May be Ending Farmer Slices Off Fingers After Being Stuck in Machinery for 3 Days Handheld Scanner Detects Tumors

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

Wisconsin Reports 1st Person-to-Person Monkeypox Case in U.S.

The first human-to-human transfer of monkeypox virus in the United States may have occurred between a health-care worker and a patient with the disease in Wisconsin, the Associated Press reports.

State health officials said Thursday that they suspect, but haven't confirmed, monkeypox virus in the health-care worker. Testing on tissue specimens from the health-care worker was being done.

As of Wednesday, there were nine confirmed human cases of the disease in the United States -- four in Wisconsin, four in Indiana, and one in Illinois. In addition, there were 54 possible cases reported in Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey and Wisconsin. No one in the United States has died of the disease.

The federal government has taken aggressive steps to curb the first outbreak of monkeypox in the United States or anywhere in the Western Hemisphere. The government has banned the sale of prairie dogs, which are believed to have spread monkeypox to humans in this outbreak.

Other measures include a ban on imports of African rodents and a recommendation that people exposed to monkeypox get a smallpox vaccination. A smallpox shot can prevent monkeypox up to two weeks after exposure to the virus, but is most effective in the first four days after exposure, the AP reports.

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Company Pleads Guilty to Hiding Defects in Heart Surgery Devices

A U.S. company pleaded guilty Thursday to covering up problems with its heart surgery device, a move that may have resulted in 12 deaths and many other patient complications, the Associated Press reports.

The company is Encovascular Technologies of Menlo Park, Calif., a subsidiary of Guidant Corp., based in Indianapolis. Along with pleading guilty, the company agreed to pay $92.4 million in criminal and civil penalties.

The malfunctions occurred in a device called an Ancure "stent-graft." It's used during operations to treat heart aneurysms. The device is inserted through the groin and was designed to allow doctors to do heart surgery without opening the chest, the AP reports.

The company said the problems with the device were fixed after the device was voluntarily recalled in March 2001 and reintroduced five months later. The company was charged with failing to report as many as 2,600 malfunctions of the device. It reported only 172 malfunctions.

Federal prosecutors also charged that the company asked doctors to use the device in ways not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and failed to report that additional, more invasive surgeries were necessary in patients after the device malfunctioned.

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U.S. Speeds Up Generic Drugs for Consumers

Generic drugs will get to U.S. consumers a lot quicker as a result of new government rules that will make it harder for the makers of brand-name versions to block their competitors.

The change, which was announced Thursday and becomes effective on Aug. 18, limits brand-name companies to only one 30-month stay blocking a generic drug's entry into the market, the Associated Press reports.

Companies frequently sue when generic competitors file an application for their product with the Food and Drug Administration, claiming the generics infringe on their patents. Such a lawsuit automatically triggers a 30-month stay delaying FDA consideration of the generic -- and brand-name companies can file repeated lawsuits, meaning multiple 30-month stays.

The administration said the move will save consumers $35 billion over 10 years by making less-expensive generic alternatives available more quickly. A generic version of a $72 average brand-name prescription costs about $17, according to administration figures.

The FDA is also planning to shave another three months off its review of a generic application, which is currently a 20-month process.

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Global SARS Outbreak May be Ending

The worldwide SARS outbreak may be nearing its end, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

While Taiwan is still struggling with the sometimes-fatal respiratory disease, it appears to be under control in China, CBC News Online reports.

And in Canada, a suspected cluster of new SARS cases just east of Toronto may turn out not to be SARS. Health officials say that seven out of 15 people who appeared to have SARS symptoms do not have the disease.

While the number of new cases reported daily in China is declining, WHO officials say it's too soon to say whether they'll lift a travel advisory against Beijing, CBC News Online reports.

For the first day since March, Hong Kong on Thursday reported no new SARS cases or deaths, the Associated Press reports.

As of Thursday, there have been more than 8,300 reported SARS cases around the world and 791 people have died. China and Hong Kong have had the most infections and deaths.

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Farmer Slices Off Fingers After Being Stuck in Machinery for 3 Days

A farmer in Saskatchewan, Canada, used a dull jackknife to cut off his thumb and a finger to free himself from a piece of machinery that had trapped his hand for three days.

Bruce Osiowy became trapped last Thursday while using a rock picker on his farm field. The rock picker jammed, so he climbed underneath to fix it. That's when his hand became stuck, CBC News Online reports.

Osiowy was dressed in a short-sleeved shirt and jeans. He had no food or water. But he did have his dog Gopher for company.

On the third day, Osiowy said, he started to hallucinate and imaged he was at a barbeque. That's when he realized he was cutting through his thumb and finger, CBC News Online reports.

After freeing himself, Osiowy returned to his farm house and called an ambulance. When he got to the hospital, doctors had to amputate his entire left hand because it was badly infected.

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Handheld Scanner Detects Tumors

A handheld scanner developed at the University of Bologna, Italy is able to detect tumors, say the researchers who developed the device.

Different types of body tissue resonate in different ways when they're exposed to a fluctuating frequency of microwaves emitted by the scanner, BBC News Online reports.

Tumor tissue resonates at different frequencies than healthy tissue, enabling the handheld scanner to detect the presence of tumors.

A study found that the device successfully identified tumors in 93 percent of prostate cancer patients. It had a lower success rate -- 66 percent -- when used on breast cancer patients.

But the handheld scanner can't provide information about the exact location or size of tumors, BBC News Online reports.

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