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Health Highlights: May 6, 2006

U.S. Buys More Anthrax Vaccine New Guidelines for Cancer Therapy FDA Issues Warning on Bowel-Cleansing Products No Aspartame-Cancer Link, Says Expert Panel California Bill Targets Personal Use of Ultrasound Machines Kaiser Permanente Bungled Kidney Patient Transfers: Report

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

U.S. Buys More Anthrax Vaccine

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it has purchased five million additional doses of Anthrax Vaccine Adsorbed (AVA), a licensed anthrax vaccine, for $120 million.

This supply of AVA anthrax vaccine, from the BioPort Corporation of Lansing, Mich., is in addition to the five million doses of AVA vaccine purchased from BioPort last year. It will be kept in the nation's Strategic National Stockpile, where it will be available in the event of a bioterror anthrax attack, HHS said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Coupled with an existing supply of antibiotics -- the nation's first line of defense against an anthrax attack -- the additional AVA vaccine should further diversify the nation's stockpile of medical treatments, the statement said.

"We are committed to protecting the nation from the consequences of an anthrax attack," said Stewart Simonson, HHS assistant secretary for public health emergency preparedness.


New Guidelines for Cancer Therapy

The American Society of Clinical Oncology has developed revised guidelines for the use of white blood cell growth factors -- also known as hematopoietic colony stimulating factors, or CSFs -- to prevent a potentially dangerous side effect from cancer treatment called febrile neutropenia.

White blood cell growth factors are proteins that help the body produce the white blood cells that help fight infection. Some cancer treatments can destroy white blood cells, leading to a condition called neutropenia. Febrile neutropenia -- or neutropenia with a fever -- is a dangerous condition that often requires hospitalization.

ASCO's 2006 Update Committee agreed that reduction in febrile neutropenia is an important goal that justified the use of CSFs when the risk of febrile neutropenia is 20 percent or higher, and no other effective chemotherapy regimen with a risk of febrile neutropenia lower than 20 percent is available. The previous guideline had recommended CSF use when the risk of febrile neutropenia was 40 percent or higher, the society said in a prepared statement.

"CSFs are supportive medications, which means they are not intended to treat the cancer, but rather to prevent patients from developing dangerous side effects from cancer treatment," said Dr. Thomas J. Smith, lead author of the guidelines and a medical oncologist with Virginia Commonwealth University's Massey Cancer Center.

The guidelines also include new recommendations for the use of CSFs for patients receiving radiation treatment and for older patients; and updates on recommendations for patients with specific diseases, such as acute leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, and for pediatric patients.


FDA Issues Warning on Bowel-Cleansing Products

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned Friday of potential kidney failure associated with certain products used to clean the bowel before colonoscopies and other procedures, the Associated Press reported.

Agency officials, in an alert to doctors and patients, said they had documented 22 cases of acute phosphate nephropathy, a rare but serious form of kidney failure linked to the use of oral sodium phosphates. The products cleanse the bowel by causing patients to loose large amounts of fluid through bowel movements, the AP said.

Twenty-one of the cases involved patients given products such as Fleet Phospho-soda or Fleet Accu-Prep. One patient had taken Visicol tablets. None had taken OsmoPrep tablets, a recently approved oral sodium phosphate product, the FDA said.


No Aspartame-Cancer Link, Says Expert Panel

The popular artificial sweetener Aspartame does not increase the risk of cancer, an independent panel of European food-safety experts said Friday.

They reviewed an Italian study released last year that concluded that aspartame was linked to higher rates of lymphoma and leukemia in rats. But the expert panel for the European Food Safety Authority said the number of tumors did not increase in relation to the amount of aspartame given to the rats, the Associated Press reported.

Many of the rats used in the Italian study had suffered from chronic respiratory disease, which was the most likely cause of the tumors, the panel concluded.

"There is no reason ... to undertake any further extensive review of the safety of aspartame," said toxicologist Iona Pratt, who headed the panel.

The findings come a month after the release of a study of half a million Americans that found no link between aspartame and cancer, the AP reported.

Aspartame is used in thousands of products, including chewing gum, sodas, and many medicines.


California Bill Targets Personal Use of Ultrasound Machines

Call it Cruise Control: The California Assembly voted 55-7 in favor of a bill to restrict the sale of ultrasound machines only to licensed professionals, a move meant to prevent personal use of the medical devices.

The bill, which now moves to the Senate, was introduced after movie star Tom Cruise bought an ultrasound machine to see images of his unborn daughter, who was born last month in Los Angeles, the Associated Press reported.

Doctors criticized Cruise for his actions, noting that improper use of ultrasound can harm a fetus. Technologists and doctors typically receive years of training to conduct ultrasound exams.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says laboratory tests have shown that certain diagnostic levels of ultrasound can affect human tissue, the AP reported.


Kaiser Permanente Bungled Kidney Patient Transfers: Report

U.S. regulators were overwhelmed and some patients lost out on new kidneys after Kaiser Permanente launched a massive, new kidney-transplant program in 2004, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The HMO started the program without first discussing with regulators how to safely transfer up to 1,500 of Kaiser Permanente's patients to its San Francisco center from two medical centers -- UC San Francisco and UC Davis -- where they were receiving care paid for by Kaiser.

Officials with the United Network for Organ Sharing told the Times that they weren't informed about the need to move hundreds of kidney patients until September 2004, after Kaiser had already opened its new kidney-transplant program. The United Network is the federal contractor that oversees the U.S. transplant system.

The poor planning and paperwork led to long delays in hundreds of patient transfers. Many patients weren't informed that their transfers had not been processed, which effectively put a new kidney out of reach, the Times reported.

Earlier this week, the newspaper reported that 56 transplants had been performed at Kaiser's transplant center, but about twice as many patients on the waiting list had died.

Kaiser has launched an investigation and will not comment until it's complete, a spokesman said.

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