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Health Highlights: June 30, 2002

Rezulin Makers Hid Risks From FDA: Report Firefighters Facing Various Health Risks E. coli Sensor Could Detect Bacteria in Minutes Antidepressants' Popularity Waning Some Personality Disorders Fade With Time: Study Measles Cases Increasing With Vaccine Fears in Britain

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

Rezulin Makers Hid Risks From FDA: Report

The diabetes drug Rezulin, pulled from the market in 2000 after causing scores of liver-related deaths, initially received Food and Drug Administration approval only after its maker concealed evidence of the drug's potentially deadly side-effects, says an article in today's Los Angeles Times.

According to the article, documents show numerous efforts by Rezulin's makers, Warner-Lambert, to get the drug to market despite its risks, including the use of an unorthodox method to count the number of patients who developed liver injuries while taking the drug, while different criteria was used to tally liver injuries among those taking a placebo.

The result was that the numbers of cases of liver problems from the drug were under-reported to regulators, and the drug appeared to have fewer risks than was accurate.

The information reportedly comes from company documents turned over by Pfizer Inc., which now owns Warner-Lambert, to plaintiffs' lawyers in more than 2,000 lawsuits that have been filed on behalf of about 5,100 Rezulin users or their survivors.

Before being pulled from the market, Rezulin generated $2.1 billion in sales for Warner-Lambert. The FDA is reportedly investigating the allegations.

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Firefighters Facing Various Health Risks

Firefighters battling the forest fires in Colorado are facing health hazards beyond the expected burns and smoke inhalation.

Several nasty viruses are making the rounds in camps housing the firefighters, and altitude sickness has sent home at least 2 percent to 3 percent of firefighters working in the higher elevations around Durango, Colo., reports the Associated Press.

The Durango firefighting camp has also been hit with a virus that causes nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, and which caused fire meteorologist Mike Chamberlain to be hospitalized for a day.

The firefighters are being reminded to wash their hands, take vitamins and drink plenty of water.

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E. coli Sensor Could Detect Bacteria in Minutes

It's now an invisible but deadly bacteria that is difficult to detect in foods, but scientists with Cornell University say the detection of the deadly E. coli strain, as well as other harmful agents in foods, may soon be much easier with a handheld sensor that is in development, reports the Associated Press.

The new device reportedly has the ability to detect the lethal E. coli 0157:H7 in as little as eight minutes. Current methods include a dipstick test that can take a full day to show results.

Field tests of the new device are due to begin in July. Researchers hope the device could be used by inspectors at beef plants or by investigators at restaurants, food services and public events.

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Antidepressants' Popularity Waning

When antidepressants first hit the market in the 1990s, they were dubbed 'miracle drugs' and prescribed to millions suffering from depression and anxiety. But 10 years later, with many users bothered by unpleasant side effects, usage of drugs has dropped off significantly, reports the New York Times.

As many as 55 to 65 percent of users of Prozac and other antidepressants either are not helped enough or complain that unpleasant side effects, including sexual dysfunction, emotional numbing, insomnia, weight gain, restlessness or memory lapses, make the drugs unusable.

Meanwhile, sales of Prozac have dropped more than 80 percent since its maker, Eli Lilly's, patent on the drug ran out last August, opening the door for a bevy of generic equivalent drugs to hit the market.

And after expanding by 24 percent as recently as 1998, the market for antidepressants is expected to grow by just 5 percent this year, according to the Times.

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Some Personality Disorders Fade With Time: Study

For people with personality disorders, getting better -- or worse -- may truly be just a matter of time, according to new research.

A study published in the latest issue of the journal The Lancet looked at 178 patients suffering from one of three types of personality disorders -- those considered "flamboyant" -- exhibiting histrionic or antisocial behavior, odd and eccentric, and anxious or fearful.

In reassessing the patients 12 years later, the researchers, with the Imperial College School of Medicine in London, found that those who displayed histrionic or antisocial behavior became better over time. The behavior in the other groups, however, got worse, reports the BBC.

The researchers say the results should discourage the "labeling" of some as having personality disorders and indicate that with treatment and time, a condition can indeed subside.

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Measles Cases Increasing With Vaccine Fears in Britain

British health officials are reporting a dramatic increase in cases of measles that is alarmingly coinciding with a drop in childhood vaccinations against the disease due to parental fears.

The Public Health Laboratory Service reports that the number of confirmed measles cases in England and Wales amounted to 126 between January and March 2002. That's more than four times the mere 32 cases reported in the last quarter of 2001.

Most of the cases were attributed to an outbreak at several nurseries and schools in south London. The outbreak has reportedly subsided, but doctors in London are predicting an epidemic of the potentially fatal disease within the next two years, reports the BBC.

The problem is being largely blamed on what health officials call a "media hysteria" over a suspected link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella)vaccination and cases of autism and Crohn's disease. There is much debate and ongoing research on a possible link.

Meanwhile, the number of children receiving the MMR vaccine has fallen to about 70 percent in England and Wales - well below the government's target of 95 percent.

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