Health Highlights: May 10, 2012

Words in Larger Fonts Cause Stronger Reaction: Study Common Bacteria Caused Flesh-Eating Disease in Georgia Woman Washington State Declares Whooping Cough Epidemic Pool Water Slides Recalled After Death, Serious Injuries Report Shows Questionable Billing by Thousands of U.S. Pharmacies FDA Should OK New Rheumatoid Arthritis Pill: Panel FDA Questions Long-Term Benefits of Bone Drugs

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

Words in Larger Fonts Cause Stronger Reaction: Study

Words in larger fonts trigger a stronger emotional brain response than those in smaller fonts, according to a new study.

German researchers monitored brain activity in 25 volunteers as they looked at 72 different positive, neutral and negative words in a variety of font sizes, ABC News reported.

Positive (e.g. holiday) and negative (e.g. disease) words printed in larger fonts prompted a stronger emotional brain response than the same words in smaller fonts. The font size of neutral words, such as chair, did not cause the same type of response.

"Our study showed that the effects of emotional meaning are boosted when words are presented in large fonts. In other words, more attention is captured by larger emotional words, probably explaining the power of large fonts in tabloid headlines or catchwords," lead author Mareike Bayer, of Humboldt University in Berlin, told ABC News.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.


Common Bacteria Caused Flesh-Eating Disease in Georgia Woman

A common bacteria that thrives in warm climates and fresh water caused the flesh-eating disease in a 24-year-old Georgia women who has had her leg amputated and is fighting for her life.

Aimee Copeland's case of necrotizing fasciitis was caused by Aeromonas hydrophila, a bacteria typically linked to intestinal disease.

"This bacteria is a common cause of diarrheal illness," Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, told ABC News. "For it to cause a deep wound infection that dissolves tissue, that's not common."

It's believed that Copeland became infected after she suffered a gash on her left calf while riding a homemade zip line. She was diagnosed with flesh-eating disease three days later and her left leg was amputated at the hip.


Washington State Declares Whooping Cough Epidemic

Washington state has declared an epidemic and is seeking federal help to deal with its worst outbreak of whooping cough in decades.

Officials are also urging residents to get vaccinated amid concerns that the number of cases of the highly contagious disease could climb much higher, the Associated Press reported.

About 1,280 cases of whooping cough, or pertussis, have been reported so far this year and there could be as many as 3,000 cases by the end of the year, according to state officials. Washington is the first state to declare a whooping cough epidemic since 2010, when California had more than 9,000 cases, including 10 deaths.

Wisconsin has had nearly 2,000 cases of whooping cough so far this year but has not declared an epidemic, the AP reported.


Pool Water Slides Recalled After Death, Serious Injuries

One death and two serious injuries have prompted the recall of about 21,000 inflatable Banzai in-ground pool water slides old by Walmart and Toys R Us stores, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday.

The slide can deflate during use and cause users to hit the ground underneath the slide. In addition, the slide is unstable and can topple over in both still and windy conditions and has inadequate warnings and instructions.

The CPSC said a 29-year-old Colorado mother died after breaking her neck going down a Banzai slide that had been placed over the concrete edge of a pool. She hit her head at the bottom of the slide after it had partially deflated.

Two other similar incidents resulted in a 24-year-old Springfield, Mo. man becoming a quadriplegic and an Allentown, Pa. woman breaking her neck.

The recalled Chinese-made slides were sold at Walmart and Toys R Us stores across the U.S. from January 2005 through June 2009 for about $250. The recalled slides have the barcode number 2675315734 and model number 15734. Both the barcode and model number appear on the original packaging but are not on the actual slide, the CPSC said.

The agency advised consumers to immediately stop using these slides and return them to their nearest Walmart of Toys R Us store for a full refund. Consumers can also cut the two safety warning notices out of the slide and just return them to a store.


Report Shows Questionable Billing by Thousands of U.S. Pharmacies

About $5.6 billion was paid by Medicare in 2009 to 2,600 pharmacies with questionable billings, according to a report released Thursday by the inspector general of the U.S. Health and Human Services department.

That included a Kansas drugstore that submitted more than 1,000 prescriptions each for two patients in that year, the Associated Press reported.

The analysis of more than 1 billion prescriptions submitted by the nation's 59,000 retail pharmacies in 2009 found that they're vulnerable to fraud. Part of the problem is that Medicare does not require private insurers that deliver prescription benefits to seniors to report suspicious billing patterns, the inspector general's report said.

"While some pharmacies may be billing extremely high amounts for legitimate reasons, all warrant further scrutiny," according to the document, which called for improved oversight, the AP reported.


FDA Should OK New Rheumatoid Arthritis Pill: Panel

A new rheumatoid arthritis pill called tofacitinib should be approved for sale in the United States, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended Wednesday.

However, several members of the panel expressed concerns about the drug's safety and urged the FDA to require Pfizer to conduct rigorous follow-up studies, The New York Times reported.

In an 8-2 vote, the panel decided that tofacitinib could provide patients with an alternative to injectable medicines already on the market and that it offered enough benefits to offset potential safety risks, including higher rates of lymphoma and other cancers, and serious infections.

"The observation of malignancy rates increasing over time was unexpected and is of major concern," said panel member Dr. Nikolay P. Nikolov, The Times reported.

The FDA, which is expected to make a decision by August, typically follows the advice of its advisory panels.


FDA Questions Long-Term Benefits of Bone Drugs

Bisphosphonate bone-strengthening drugs used to treat and prevent osteoporosis in older women may provide little long-term benefit, according to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration analysis of two previous studies that included more than 2,300 post-menopausal women.

The FDA found that the women "showed little benefit of continued bisphosphonate treatment beyond five years," Bloomberg News reported.

The agency didn't propose specific guidelines for doctors, but suggested that continued treatment with the drugs may provide some benefit to women with low bone-mineral density who have the highest risk of fractures.

The report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, renews debate about whether taking bisphosphonates for longer than three to five years provides any protection against the risk of fractures, Bloomberg reported.


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