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Health Highlights: May 12, 2006

Disgraced Korean Stem Cell Scientist Indicted for Fraud Asthma Attack, Not Peanut Kiss, Killed Quebec Girl World Cup Fans Warned About Measles Paxil May Increase Risk of Suicide Attempts, Drug Maker Warns Merck Study: No Increased Heart Risk in Year After Stopping Vioxx

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

Disgraced Korean Stem Cell Scientist Indicted for Fraud

Discredited South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk was indicted Friday on charges of fraud, embezzlement and bioethics violations in connection with faked research.

Prosecutors also indicted five members of Hwang's research team on lesser charges, the Associated Press reported.

If convicted, Hwang faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. It's expected the first hearing will take place in mid-June.

When Hwang's research was published it was regarded as a stem-cell breakthrough and raised hopes for new treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer's. However, it was revealed late last year that he had fabricated key data.

Hwang is also alleged to have committed fraud by accepting $2 million in private donations based on the outcome of his faked research, as well as embezzling nearly $900,000 in private and government research funds. It's also alleged that Hwang bought human eggs for research -- a violation of South Korea's bioethics law, the AP reported.


Asthma Attack, Not Peanut Kiss, Killed Quebec Girl

A severe asthma attack, not a peanut-contaminated kiss from her boyfriend, killed a 15-year-old Saguenay, Quebec girl last year, a coroner announced Thursday.

Christina Desforges was severely allergic to peanuts but that had nothing to do with her death.

Coroner Michel Miron said she died of asthma-linked respiratory failure. He also noted that traces of the active ingredient of marijuana were found in her system, suggesting that she may have smoked some of the drug before she collapsed, CBC News reported.

Her boyfriend had eaten toast with peanut butter about nine hours before kissing her, but there was no way traces of peanut would have remained in his saliva for that long, Miron said.

Desforges' death was reported worldwide after officials speculated she may have died as a result of a peanut-tainted kiss. Miron went public in March to deny that account because he was concerned that misinformation was circulating about peanut allergies, CBC News reported.

He did not release Desforges' cause of death at that time because he was still waiting for test results and had not filed his final report.


World Cup Fans Warned About Measles

Soccer fans heading to Germany for the World Cup are being advised to get measles vaccinations to protect themselves against an outbreak in the state that will host 11 matches.

More than 1,100 people in North Rhine-Westphalia have been hit with measles in the past 10 weeks, state health officials said. The epidemic has caught the attention of the World Health Organization, which is said to be "concerned" about the situation, Agence France Presse reported.

Since measles is an airborne disease, there's a high risk of catching it in crowded soccer stadiums and at post-game celebrations, warned expert Emil Reisinger of Rostock University.

All World Cup visitors who haven't been vaccinated against measles should get vaccinated before they attend the tournament, said Heinz-Josef Schmitt, of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany's leading center for disease control.

The World Cup runs from June 9 to July 9.


Paxil May Increase Risk of Suicide Attempts, Drug Maker Warns

Data from clinical trials indicates that the antidepressant drug Paxil appears to increase the risk of suicide attempts in some young adults, drug maker GlaxoSmithKline warns in a letter sent to doctors.

The labeling on Paxil has been changed to reflect the finding of the Glaxo study, which analyzed data from clinical trials involving about 15,000 people, the company said. The analysis found that 11 of 3,455 people taking Paxil for treatment of depression reported an attempted suicide, compared to 1 in 1,978 of those who took a placebo, The New York Times reported.

Most of those who reported an attempted suicide were ages 18 to 30. Overall, the analysis found no increased risk of suicidal behavior in people over 30.

Among the people taking Paxil in the clinical trials, there was one suicide, the Glaxo researchers said.

Glaxo sent the warning letters out voluntarily and said that it believes that Paxil's benefits outweigh the risk for people with depression, The Times reported.

"We are now advising doctors to monitor all patients to make sure their symptoms don't worsen," during the full course of treatment with the drug, company spokeswoman Mary Anne Rhyne said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is still evaluating the data and, "we are recommending that consumers and prescribers follow current advice to carefully observe adults being treated with antidepressants for worsening of depression and for increased suicidal thinking and behavior," the agency said in a statement.

"It is essential that patients taking Paxil do not suddenly stop taking their medication," the FDA statement said.


Merck Study: No Increased Heart Risk in Year After Stopping Vioxx

According to drug maker Merck & Co., patients who used its painkiller drug Vioxx weren't at increased risk for stroke or heart attack a year after they stopped taking the drug.

The findings come from the study that led to the withdrawal of Vioxx from the market. This new data comes from a "preliminary safety analysis" of an additional year of follow-up, the Associated Press reported.

This follow-up, part of the original study plan, found no statistical difference in the rate of strokes and heart attacks among people who took Vioxx and those who took a placebo.

The study included a three-year treatment phase. In the 12 months after the end of the study, 28 patients who took Vioxx suffered heart attacks or strokes caused by blood clots, compared with 16 patients who'd been given a placebo, the AP reported.

"We believe that the data don't provide for a claim for a patient who had an event after they stopped taking their medicine," Merck general counsel Kenneth Frazier said during a conference call with reporters.

Merck is facing about 10,000 lawsuits over Vioxx.


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