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Health Highlights: May 25, 2006

Indonesian Woman May Have Infected Family with Bird Flu: WHO Health Experts Urge Crackdown on Counterfeit Drugs Scientists Identify Source of HIV ADHD Drugs Send Thousands of Children to Hospitals

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

Indonesian Woman May Have Infected Family with Bird Flu: WHO

An Indonesian woman likely contracted bird flu from sick or dead chickens and then may have passed the virus on to members of her family, a World Health Organization (WHO) official said Thursday.

Six of the woman's seven family members who caught bird flu have died. The woman was the first to be infected. Officials have not found any evidence that the other family members were exposed to birds with the H5N1 virus. That leads them to conclude that human-to-human transmission of the virus may have occurred, the Associated Press reported.

"We believe she may have had some contact either with dead or dying chickens in her household or through her activities as a vegetable grower and a seller in a market," Steven Bjorge, a WHO epidemiologist in Jakarta, told the AP.

The woman also used chicken feces as garden fertilizer.

The deaths of the family members in the village of Kubu Sembelang is the largest cluster ever reported. However, WHO officials emphasize that the H5N1 virus has not mutated into a form that's easily transmitted between humans, and there's no sign that the virus has spread outside the family, who lived in close contact with each other, the AP reported.

Experts are baffled by test results that show no sign of the H5N1 virus in birds in Kubu Sembelang.

The majority of human bird flu cases in the world have been caused by contact with infected poultry. However, there is some previous evidence of limited human-to-human transmission among people who live in close contact with each other.

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Health Experts Urge Crackdown on Counterfeit Drugs

Governments and the drug industry need to do more to fight the growing number of potentially dangerous or deadly counterfeit medicines, say health experts attending the World Health Organization's annual assembly.

The experts said politicians and business leaders are doing more to halt the trade in counterfeit CDs than to tackle the problem of counterfeit drugs. A concerted international effort is required to deal with the problem, BBC News reported.

"There is a growing threat to patient safety in the developed and developing world. Currently the low penalties for counterfeits are shocking. Countering supply chains is vital," said Jo Harkness of the International Alliance of Patients' Organizations.

"Up to 25 percent of medicines used in developing countries are counterfeit or substandard," noted Judith Oulton of the International Council of Nurses.

Last year, authorities carried out 781 seizures of counterfeit medicines in 89 countries, compared with about 312 seizures in 67 countries in 2004, according to figures from the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations (IFPMA).

Russia, China, South Korea, Columbia, the United States, and Britain topped the list of countries where seizures of counterfeit medicines took place, BBC News reported.

"The source of counterfeit products seems to be largely from two countries, China and India. They are trying to address the problem because it poses a considerable danger to their own populations," said IFPMA Director General Harvey Bale.

Counterfeit medicines may contain little or no active ingredients, incorrect doses, or active ingredients not found in legitimate versions of the drugs.

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Scientists Identify Source of HIV

HIV -- the virus that causes AIDS -- originated in wild chimpanzees in southern Cameroon, say a team of international scientists whose finding appears Friday in the journal Science.

"We're 25 years into this pandemic. We don't have a cure. We don't have a vaccine. But we know where it came from. At least we can make a check mark on one of those," research team leader Dr. Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, told the Associated Press.

As part of their research, she and her colleagues tested more than 1,300 samples of feces from wild apes. They were looking for antibodies to simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV), the nonhuman primate version of HIV.

They found SIV in a subspecies of chimps in southern Cameroon. Some of the chimp communities there had infection rates as high as 35 percent, while other communities showed no sign of infection, the AP reported.

Hahn said that every chimp infected with SIV had a common base genetic pattern that indicated a common ancestor. The SIV strains found in the chimps in southern Cameroon are closely related to the most common subtypes of HIV-1, which is responsible for most of the worldwide epidemic.

The HIV epidemic may have started when a person in rural Cameroon was bitten by a chimp or was cut while butchering a chimp and became infected with SIV, and then passed it on to another person, beginning the cycle of human transmission.

The first recorded case of HIV was a man in Kinshasa, Congo, whose blood was stored in 1959 as part of a medical study.

"How many different transmission events occurred between that initial hunter and this virus making it to Kinshasa, I don't know. It could have been one, it could have been 10, it could have been 100," Hahn told the AP. "Eventually, it ended up in an urban area, and that's where it really got going."

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ADHD Drugs Send Thousands of Children to Hospitals

In 2004, more than 2,500 children taking drugs to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) had to go to U.S. hospital emergency departments and most of the cases involved accidental overdoses, says a federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Thursday.

The study said about 25 percent of the children seen at the emergency departments had serious heart or blood pressure events, including chest pain, fainting, or palpitations, Bloomberg news reported. Many other cases involved children who accidentally took someone else's medication.

The findings were released as U.S. regulators are considering whether to require the drugs to carry stronger warnings about a possible link to sudden death and heart risks.

"Clinicians should recognize that unintentional overdoses of stimulant medications are an important cause of injury to patients," said Adam Cohen, of the CDC. He said it was the first time the CDC had analyzed this kind of data, so it's not possible to say whether such problems are new or how common they may have been in previous years, Bloomberg reported.

An estimated 3.3 million children and 1.5 million adults take ADHD drugs, and 25 deaths linked to the drugs -- 19 involving children -- were reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 1999 through 2003. There were also 54 reported cases of serious heart problems, including heart attacks and strokes.

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