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Health Highlights: May 8, 2006

Get Morning-After Pill in Advance, Ob-Gyn Group Urges U.S. Women Despite Laws, Many Pregnant Women Not Tested for HIV Surgery Relieves Pressure in Keith Richards' Head Gene Variant Increases Prostate Cancer Risk U.S. Experts to Discuss Abortion Pill/Infections Pfizer Drug Test on Children Violated International Law: Report

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

Get Morning-After Pill in Advance, Ob-Gyn Group Urges U.S. Women

Women in the United States should get an advance prescription for the morning-after pill so they'll have it on hand if they need it, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) advises in a new "Ask me" campaign.

The effort is meant to increase access to the emergency birth control after the Bush administration refused to allow over-the-counter (OTC) sales of the contraceptive, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, senior Food and Drug Administration officials overruled their own scientists' decision that OTC sales of the morning-after pill would be safe. The FDA indefinitely postponed a decision on the issue.

The "Ask me" campaign includes distribution of waiting-room posters to the ACOG's 49,000 members. The posters urge women of childbearing age to ask about getting a prescription for the morning-after pill that they could keep on hand in case they need it, the AP reported.

The morning-after pill reduces the risk of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if it's used within 72 hours of sex. However, it can be difficult -- especially on weekends or holidays -- to find a doctor to write a prescription in time.

The morning-after pill is sold without a prescription in Britain, Canada and in a few U.S. states, the AP reported.


Despite Laws, Many Pregnant Women Not Tested for HIV

Despite state laws requiring that all pregnant women be offered HIV testing multiple times during pregnancy, about 20 percent of Florida women reach their third trimester without being tested for HIV, according to a review of Florida women conducted from 2004-04.

The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Rapid HIV testing of more than 1,300 women who lacked proof of HIV testing when they reached the delivery room identified one HIV-positive mother. Doctors were able to preventively reduce the baby's risk of infection, said Dr. Andrew W. Helfgott, chief of the section of maternal-fetal medicine at the Medical College of Georgia who previously worked in a high-risk pregnancy program in Pensacola, Fla.

"The problem we found in Pensacola is the women either didn't get offered testing in the third trimester or -- and this will remain a problem all over the country until we go totally to electronic medical records -- we had trouble getting prenatal care records while women were in labor and delivery," Helfgott said in a prepared statement.


Surgery Relieves Pressure in Keith Richards' Head

Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards was up and talking shortly after surgery Monday to relieve pressure in his head due to an injury he suffered April 27. Conflicting news reports say he fell out of a palm tree or from a jet ski.

The surgery was done at The Ascot Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand. Richards, 62, is expected to take several weeks to recuperate, the Associated Press reported.

"Last week Keith was under observation in Auckland following a fall in Fiji and was feeling well after being examined by doctors last week," said a statement released Monday by LD Communications. "However, after complaining of headaches yesterday, doctors thought it prudent to move ahead with a small operation to remove the pressure."

The Rolling Stones had been scheduled to begin a tour later this month, but it will be postponed until June, the AP reported.


Gene Variant Increases Prostate Cancer Risk

A variant gene that greatly increases the risk of prostate cancer has been identified by a team of scientists who say their finding may lead to a test to help doctors determine which patients would be the best candidates for aggressive treatment of their cancer.

This variant is more common in black Americans, which may explain why they have a greater incidence of prostate cancer, The New York Times reported.

The researchers at DeCode Genetics, a gene-finding company in Iceland, said that men with the variant have a 60 percent increased risk of prostate cancer, compared to men without the variant. About 26 percent of black American men and 13 percent of men of European ancestry carry the variant, The Times reported.

The findings were published online Sunday in the journal Nature Genetics.

This newly identified variant was first detected in men in Iceland, then among Swedish men and in two populations of males in the United States.


U.S. Experts to Discuss Abortion Pill/Infections

Rare but deadly infections among women who took the abortion pill mifepristone (brand name Mifeprex) will be the topic of a meeting Thursday involving the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Experts will discuss the origins, causes and need for future research about infections caused by the bacterium Clostridium sordellii, which resulted in the deaths of four young U.S. women who took mifepristone (also called RU-486). The drug is given in combination with another drug -- misoprostol -- in order to induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Another infection -- involving a woman in Colorado -- is still being investigated.

It's expected that scientists at the meeting will analyze the five cases, along with other Clostridium sordellii infections that occurred in women who didn't take the abortion drug. They'll also discuss the bacterium Clostridium difficule, which has no link to the drug, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The meeting's agenda won't include discussion of possible regulatory actions regarding mifepristone. The FDA has already ordered that warnings to be added to the drug's label. An FDA official told the Wall Street Journal that the agency may consider further action, but first wants more scientific information.


Pfizer Drug Test on Children Violated International Law: Report

Drug company Pfizer Inc. violated international law when it tested the unapproved drug Trovan on children with meningitis during a 1996 epidemic in Nigeria, according to a Nigerian government report that was never released.

The report, obtained by the Washington Post, said Pfizer gave the unapproved oral antibiotic to nearly 100 children and infants at the Infectious Diseases Hospital in Kano.

The report, written by a panel of Nigerian medical experts, concluded that Pfizer violated the International Declaration of Helsinki that governs ethical medical research and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The oral form of Trovan had never been given to children with meningitis, said the report, which also noted that there are no records to indicate that Pfizer informed the children or their parents that this was an experimental use of the drug, the Post reported.

Five children died after being treated with Trovan and others developed signs of arthritis. However, there is no evidence that the antibiotic was responsible. Six other children died after receiving a comparison drug.

Pfizer says it conducted the experiment with the full knowledge of the Nigerian government and in a way that was consistent with that country's laws.

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