Health Highlights: March 13, 2006

Mad Cow Case Confirmed in Alabama High Dose of Lipitor Helped Kidney Disease Patients: Study Exercises Help Ward off Fainting Stem Cell Mobilization Doesn't Heal Heart Attack Damage: Study Myanmar Reports First Bird Flu Outbreak New Medicare Drug Plan Hurting Pharmacists

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

Mad Cow Case Confirmed in Alabama

An Alabama cow has tested positive for mad cow disease, the U.S. Agriculture Department confirmed Monday.

A routine test last week had indicated the presence of the disease. Results were confirmed by more detailed testing at a government laboratory in Ames, Iowa, said the department's chief veterinarian, John Clifford, according to an Associated Press report.

The cow, a beef cow that was at least 10 years old, spent the past year at one Alabama farm, he added, noting the department is investigating where the animal was born and raised.

The animal hadn't entered the food supply for people or animals, Clifford said.

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 in a Canadian-born cow in Washington state and June 2005 in a cow born and raised in Texas. Since then, the government has increased its level of testing.


High Dose of Lipitor Helped Kidney Disease Patients: Study

A high dose of the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor provided significant improvement to kidney disease patients, according to new research involvong almost 8,000 men and women in 14 countries.

The five-year study found that normal kidney function was restored in 50 percent of patients with kidney dysfunction who took the highest dose (80mg) of Lipitor, atorvastatin. Overall, kidney function in the patients taking the 80 mg dose improved by 8.5 percent over five years, compared with a 5.6 percent improvement in patients taking a 10 mg dose, United Press International reported.

The findings were released Monday at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta. The patients in the study were between the ages of 35 and 75.

"We anticipated that atorvastatin might provide a protective effect and slow the typical decline in kidney function in this patient population, but we didn't expect to see this level of improvement," said Prof. James Shepherd of the University of Glasgow Medical School.

High cholesterol increases the risk of kidney disease.


Exercises Help Ward off Fainting

Simple muscle-tensing exercises can help prevent fainting, say researchers in the Netherlands who studied 223 frequent fainters, ages 16 to 70.

The study volunteers were divided into two groups. One group received standard counseling about avoiding stress and other fainting triggers, along with increasing their salt and water intake in order to raise their blood pressure, the Associated Press reported.

The other group were taught to do three exercises when they felt a fainting spell coming on: crossing their legs at the ankles while squeezing their thighs together and tensing their abdominal muscles; a hand gripping exercise that involves interlocking the fingers and pulling arms in opposite directions; and tensing the arms by rhythmically squeezing a soft ball while also tensing thighs and abdominal muscles.

Both groups were tracked for 14 months and about a third of the people in the exercise group suffered a fainting spell during that time, compared with about half of the people in the standard care group, the AP reported.

Study leader Dr. Nynke van Dijk of the University of Amsterdam said this is the first scientific study to test specific exercise techniques to prevent fainting.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta.


Stem Cell Mobilization Doesn't Heal Heart Attack Damage: Study

A new study appears to contradict earlier research in animals and humans that injections of stem cell-mobilizing granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) may promote repair of heart muscle damaged by heart attack.

It had been hypothesized that G-CSF would increase the release of adult stem cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream and that these stem cells would enter the heart wall and turn into new heart muscle cells.

The new Danish study of 78 patients found that patients who received injections of G-CSF less than 12 hours after the onset of heart attack symptoms did show increased stem cell counts but had no greater improvements in their hearts' pumping efficiency than patients who received placebo injections.

The findings were presented Sunday at the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta.

Despite the results, the researchers said their study does not eliminate the potential usefulness of G-CSF in heart attack patients.

"Our trial only settles the question regarding G-CSF injections initiated soon after an acute heart attack and using one specific dose without accompanying angiogenic therapy to increase blood vessel growth," senior author Dr. Jens Kastrup said in a prepared statement.

"We did not test another dose at another time, such as three weeks after an attack when some angiogenic factors in the blood have reached peak concentration."


Myanmar Reports 1st Bird Flu Outbreak

Myanmar has reported its first outbreak of the H5N1 bird flu virus and it's highly likely that the virus has been found in Afghanistan for the first time, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) officials said Monday.

The virus was confirmed in 112 chickens that died in northern Myanmar while an H5 bird flu virus subtype was found in poultry in Kabul and Jalalabad in Afghanistan. The U.N. officials said there was a "high risk" that further tests would identify H5N1 as the virus found in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

On Sunday, Cameroon became the fourth African nation to announce that it had been hit by the H5N1 strain.

Myanmar officials said there was no evidence of human infection in that country and that measures were being taken to control the outbreak among poultry.

Bird flu first appeared in Asia in 2003 and has recently spread to Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Tens of millions of poultry have been slaughtered to control the spread of the disease, which has claimed the lives of at least 97 people.


New Medicare Drug Plan Hurting Pharmacists

Some independent pharmacists may have to close their doors because they're losing too much money under the new U.S. Medicare prescription drug plan. The pharmacists say they're not being paid adequately or promptly under the new plan, The New York Times reported.

A group of Texas pharmacists met last week with White House officials to discuss the issue. They claim that pharmacists have given away millions of dollars worth of prescription drugs over the last two months -- medications that should have been covered by the new Medicare plan.

"If pharmacists don't receive immediate relief, some will go broke. Others are hurting so bad that they will choose not to participate in Medicare or Medicaid," Bill C. Pittman, former president of the Texas State Board of Pharmacy, told The Times.

Consumer News