Health Highlights: March 12, 2006

Plavix, Aspirin Combo Not Always Safe New Device Helps Treat Heart Failure Possible Mad Cow Case Found Cameroon Fourth Country to Report Bird Flu Platelet Donation Restrictions Shelved By Panel Measles Death Toll Cut by 48 Percent

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

Plavix, Aspirin Combo Not Always Safe

Taking the blood thinner Plavix and aspirin to try to prevent a heart attack could be a dangerous treatment strategy, a new study suggests.

Not only did the combination have little effect in most patients, it raised the risk of death, heart attack and stroke in those who didn't have clogged arteries but who did have other risk factors for cardiovascular trouble, such as hypertension and high cholesterol, the Associated Press reported.

The startling finding was presented by Cleveland Clinic researchers Sunday at the American College of Cardiology meeting, in Atlanta.

"They actually were harmed," said study co-author Eric Topol, who is now with Case Western University. "This was a trial to determine the boundaries of benefit, and it did. You don't use this drug for patients without coronary artery disease."

The trial involved more than 15,000 people in 32 countries, the wire service said.


New Device Helps Treat Heart Failure

A new twist on an old idea seems to be safer than water pills at removing excess fluids from the bloodstream in heart failure patients, new research finds.

The discovery could affect the 5 million American who have heart failure and often find themselves in the hospital, unable to breathe, the Associated Press reported. A Minneapolis-based company used a device that is already on the market, but employed a simpler way to administer it. A tube is inserted into a vein in the arm, leg or neck for eight hours while excess fluids are drained.

"It's really pretty exciting," Dr. Clyde Yancy, from UT-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, told the AP. "You could use this right now... based on this information." Yancy had no role in the study, which was presented Sunday at the American College of Cardiology meeting, in Atlanta.

The method was tested against water pills in 200 people at 28 hospitals around the country. Two days later, the group that got the device had lost more fluid and more weight than those in the pill group, the wire service said.


Possible Mad Cow Case Found

A possible case of mad cow disease has been found during routine testing by the U.S. Agriculture Department, the Associated Press reported Sunday.

The cow did not enter the human or animal food chain, said USDA Chief Veterinarian John Clifford. More detailed tests are being conducted at the department's laboratory in Ames, Iowa, and the results should be available within four to seven days.

"This inconclusive result does not mean we have found a new case of BSE [mad cow disease]," Clifford said in a statement. "Inconclusive results are a normal component of most screening tests, which are designed to be extremely sensitive."

Eating meat products contaminated with mad cow disease has been linked to more than 150 deaths worldwide from variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a rare and fatal nerve disease for humans. A majority of those deaths were in Britain, where there was an outbreak of mad cow disease in the 1980s. There has been only one confirmed case in the United States, although the federal government believes the person got the disease in Britain. U.S. agricultural investigators found two cases of mad cow disease, in December 2003 and June 2005. Since then, the government has increased its level of testing.


Cameroon Fourth African Country to Report Bird Flu

Cameroon became the fourth African country to report the deadly bird flu virus, the government announced Sunday.

The Associated Press reported that a laboratory in Paris confirmed the finding.

The H5N1 bird flu strain was found in a duck on a farm near the northern town of Maroua. That town borders Nigeria, which was the first African country to be struck by the virus when it was discovered on a commercial poultry farm in February. The virus has since been reported in Niger and Egypt.

Experts are worried that the virus is spreading undetected in Africa, where there are no laboratories set up to test for the virus and officials are poorly equipped to deal with such a crisis.

Since 2003, the H5N1 virus has spread from Asia to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. It has decimated poultry flocks in many countries, and has killed more than 90 people. Experts worry that the continued spread of the virus increases the likelihood that it will mutate into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, resulting in a pandemic.

The virus has already been transferred to two species of mammals, including a stone marten (a type of weasel) in Germany, and cats in Germany and Austria.


Platelet Donation Restrictions Shelved By Panel

Personal donations of platelets shouldn't be limited, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel has ruled, the Associated Press reported Friday.

The federal proposal, which first surfaced as part of a tightening of donation guidelines, suggested limiting each person to 24 pints a year. Platelets -- the component in blood that makes clotting possible -- are scarce in the United States because they only last five days after they are collected, the AP said. For some, including certain cancer patients, regular transfusions are necessary because they can't make their own platelets.

The current guidelines limit platelet donors to 24 times a year, which would average roughly 72 pints, the wire service reported. The new proposal set off a firestorm among donation centers, which argued that healthy donors can quickly replace lost platelets, the wire service said. The FDA advisory panel apparently agreed. The full agency doesn't have to follow a panel's recommendations, but usually does.

The panel did recommend that if people donate two to three pints at one time, they shouldn't donate again for at least a week, the AP reported. During donation, platelets are removed through a process called apheresis, where the blood is drawn through one arm, put into a centrifuge to remove the platelets, and the remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm.


Measles Death Toll Cut by 48 Percent

The number of people killed by measles around the world has declined by 48 percent since the late 1990s, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The global measles death toll went from 871,000 in 1999 to 454,00 in 2004. The largest reduction was in sub-Sahara Africa, where measles cases and deaths declined by 60 percent, BBC News reported.

The two organizations, which pledged in 2001 to cut measles deaths in half by 2005, say that vaccination programs are the reason for the success.

Under an umbrella organization called the Measles Initiative, a number of groups targeted their prevention efforts in 47 countries that account for 98 percent of measles deaths. Between 1999 and 2005, nearly 500 million children received measles vaccinations, BBC News reported.

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