Health Highlights: May 15, 2007

Too Few Women Discuss Gender-Linked Drug Differences with Docs Indonesia Sending Bird Flu Virus Samples to WHO World Must Take Action Against High Blood Pressure: Study FDA Considers Use of Flumist in Young Children U.S. Last in Health Care Rankings

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

Too Few Women Discuss Gender-Linked Drug Differences with Docs

While 58.1 percent of American women always or frequently read the labels of prescription or over-the-counter medications to see if they work differently in women than in men, 63.5 percent rarely or never talk about such gender differences with their doctor and 73.5 percent rarely or never talk about it with their pharmacist, says a survey released Tuesday.

The survey of more than 1,500 women 18 and older was released by the Society for Women's Health Research, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

It also found that 46.7 percent of the women believe that drugs can work differently in women and men, while 37.5 did not believe that such gender differences exist. In addition, 68.4 percent of respondents said drug side effects occur about equally in women and men, while 20.7 percent said they believe side effects are more common in women.

"An increasing number of studies show that the safety and effectiveness of many widely used drugs vary depending on the sex of the user," Phyllis Greenberger, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research, said in a prepared statement.

The reasons for those gender differences remains unclear but the varying rates at which women and men metabolize drugs may play a role, Greenberger said. In addition, women have lower body weight, smaller organs, reduced blood flow and a higher proportion of fat than men.

"Doctors don't have all the answers and researchers have yet to identify and explain all sex differences affecting medical treatment, but a dialogue with your care providers is important to ensure that you have all of the information possible and to push your doctors to think more carefully about your care in these terms," Greenberger said.


Indonesia Sending Bird Flu Virus Samples to WHO

After a five-month halt, Indonesia last week resumed sending bird flu virus samples to the World Health Organization, the country's health minister said Tuesday.

Indonesia stopped sending samples because it said multinational drug companies were using them to develop expensive patented vaccines to be sold in Western countries, while poorer developing nations would be unable to afford the vaccines, Agence France Presse reported.

"Such practice violates the spirit in which the virus was given. The providers of the viruses were acting in the interests of humanity, but the recipients failed to safeguard that trust," said Indonesian Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari.

While Indonesia is again sending bird flu virus samples to the WHO, Supari said the agency needs to make changes to the global flu surveillance system in order to ensure that developing countries are treated fairly, AFP reported.

Supari said the WHO needs to draft guidelines for the "equitable and appropriate distribution of effective pandemic influenza vaccines that will be applied if a pandemic occurs."


World Must Take Action Against High Blood Pressure: Study

Nearly one billion people worldwide have high blood pressure and 1.56 billion will have it by 2025, increasing rates of heart disease and death, concludes a study by researchers from Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

High blood pressure is also a leading cause of stroke and kidney failure and is a factor in blindness and dementia, the Associated Press reported.

The study authors hope their findings convince governments around the world to tackle high blood pressure in the same way they've joined together to fight bird flu and other infectious diseases.

Getting older, being overweight and inactive, and eating too much salt increase the risk of developing high blood pressure. While rates of high blood pressure are expected to increase in rich/developed nations, the study found the largest increases are expected in developing countries and those rapidly adopting Western-style economies, the AP reported.


FDA Considers Use of Flumist in Young Children

Even though it may increase the risk of respiratory problems, the nasal spray flu vaccine Flumist is effective for children under age five, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Currently, the drug is approved for use in healthy people ages five to 49. MedImmune, the company that makes Flumist, wants the FDA to approve the use of the drug in children under age five, the Associated Press reported.

In documents posted to its Web site Monday, the FDA said studies show that Flumist appears to prevent influenza in children as young as six months. However, children taking Flumist were more likely to develop wheezing problems than children who received an injectable flu vaccine.

The FDA noted that one study found that about three percent of children ages six months to one year who took Flumist were hospitalized for respiratory problems, compared to one percent of children who received a flu shot, the AP reported.

A panel of outside experts is scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss whether the side effects of Flumist warrant limiting its use in young children. The FDA does not have to follow a panel's recommendations, but the agency usually does.


U.S. Last in Health Care Rankings

In terms of health care quality, access and efficiency, the United States ranks last among major rich countries, say two studies released Tuesday by the Commonwealth Fund, a U.S.-based health care think tank.

The studies said that the U.S. has the most expensive health system in the world, but consistently underperforms compared to the other countries in the studies -- Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany, and New Zealand.

The U.S. ranked last in a number of areas, including access to health care, patient safety, timeliness of care, efficiency and equity, Agence France Presse reported.

The lack of universal health insurance coverage in the U.S. is a major issue. More than 45 million Americans (15 percent of the population) have no health insurance.

Britain was first in the overall ranking, followed by Germany, Australia and New Zealand, Canada and the U.S., AFP reported.


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