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Health Highlights: May 10, 2002

Family 'Chips In' for Health FDA Issues Warning On Blood Plasma CDC Recommends Annual HIV Testing for Gay Men Smallpox Awareness Low Among Doctors, Public: CDC Ear Ventilating Tube Complications Increase in Older Kids: Study Antibiotics' Futility Against Bronchitis Confirmed

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

Family 'Chips In' for Health

A Florida family today became the first to be implanted with computer chips that researchers hope will someday become an easy way to provide emergency room staffers with patients' medical information.

According to the Associated Press, Jeff and Leslie Jacobs and their 14-year-old son, Derek, had a chip about the size of a rice grain implanted in their arm. Each chip is about the size of a grain of rice and contains phone numbers and information about previous medications. The data can be read by a hand-held computer and printed out.

The chips, called the VeriChip, were designed by Applied Digital Solutions and are similar to chips implanted in pets to identify them if they are lost.

The family wanted the implants in case of future medical emergencies. "We're doing this as a security for us, because we've worked so hard to save my husband's life,'' said Leslie Jacobs, 46.

Her 48-year-old husband has suffered through cancer, a car crash, a degenerative spinal condition, chronic eye disease and abdominal operations. His injuries have forced him to quit his dental practice.

VeriChip is expected to sell for about $200. A scanner used to read information contained in the chip would cost between $1,000 and $3,000.

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FDA Issues Warning On Blood Plasma

A rare form of blood plasma -- one that most hospitals no longer even carry -- is the object of a warning by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA has issued an alert against the use of "solvent-detergent plasma," made by Massachusetts-based V.I. Technologies and distributed by the American Red Cross, according to a story by the Associated Press. The reason: Six liver transplant patients who got this plasma about three years ago at Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center died between April and December 1999. FDA investigators weren't able to establish a direct link between the deaths and the plasma, mainly because the patients were so ill to begin with.

Between August 2000 and March 2001 four more death occurred. The FDA issued its warning in March 2001, but didn't make it public until this week when a suburban New York newspaper, Newsday, wrote about the plasma.

FDA hematology director Dr. Mark Weinstein said the warning took so long to reveal publicly because "... this is a very difficult area to assess.

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CDC Recommends Annual HIV Testing for Gay Men

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has for the first time recommended that gay and bisexual men get tested for the AIDS virus annually.

The recommendation, announced yesterday, was prompted by the concern that better HIV treatments have caused many gay men to take fewer safe sex precautions and become complacent about preventing the spread of the virus, reports the Associated Press.

Previous guidelines urged only that doctors recommend HIV tests for patients they suspected had behaviors placing them at risk for infection.

But a rise in rates of syphilis and gonorrhea among gay and bisexual men in many U.S. cities has raised concern that an HIV increase may come next.

The CDC has also recommended annual screening for all other major sexually transmitted diseases and said some in higher risk groups may even need to be tested more often.

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Smallpox Awareness Generally Low: Feds

When it comes to smallpox, what we don't know can hurt us, and what we don't know is a lot, say federal health officials.

Speaking before a panel assembled by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee in Atlanta yesterday, officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said both doctors and the public still poorly understand the risks of the smallpox vaccine and need to be much better informed if a vaccination program is to be reinstated.

The CDC said the evaluation of focus groups unveiled many common misconceptions about smallpox, including many doctors' beliefs that the disease still occurs naturally, and younger doctors expressed little awareness about how to use the two-pronged needles to administer the vaccine, reports the New York Times.

Many non-physicians in the focus groups had such misconceptions as belief that the smallpox virus is always fatal (the death rate among those infected is only about 30 percent) and the vaccine is safe, when in fact resumption of the vaccine could lead to hundreds of deaths and thousands of serious complications.

The CDC is to report to the panel by June 20 on whether the smallpox vaccine should be offered to anyone who wants it, or used only in the case of a bioterrorism attack or if the disease returns.

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Ear Ventilating Tube Complications Increase In Older Kids: Study

Tiny plastic ear ventilation tubes have become a highly common way of resolving problems with recurring ear infections in children, but new research says that once a child hits age seven, the complications of such tubes can outweigh the benefits.

The research, being presented next week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Pediatric Otolaryngologists, in Boca Raton, Fla., concludes that since the risk of recurring ear infections is much greater in children under 7, the benefits of having the tubes justify their use.

But after age 7, not only does the frequency of ear infections typically drop, but the complications from extended use of the tubes increases.

Complications from use of the tubes include problems such as ear discharge and the formation of granulation tissue.

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Antibiotics Futile Against Bronchitis

A new study hammers home a message experts have been trying to send to physicians and patients for years: When someone has the wheezing, breathlessness and sputum-producing cough that are the hallmarks of acute bronchitis, taking an antibiotic won't do any good, reports HealthDay.

The new study was necessary, says Dr. Arthur T. Evans, co-director of the Cook County Hospital Collaborative Research Unit in Chicago, because 60 percent of people with acute bronchitis are prescribed antibiotics -- often at a high cost -- despite a long list of previous trials showing no particular benefit.

Adults who showed up with acute bronchitis at hospitals participating in the study were assigned at random to get either an antibiotic called azithromycin or vitamin C. The vitamin served the purpose of a placebo, or inactive substance, because "it has been studied carefully for other respiratory conditions such as the common cold and has not been effective, and the doses we used were unlikely to have any effect," Evans says.

All the patients were also given a cough medicine and an aerosol preparation of albuterol, a standard bronchodilator that opens airways. Their condition was checked a week after treatment began. The trial was stopped after 220 people were treated because there were no detectable differences between those who got the antibiotic and those who got vitamin C.

The study appears in the latest issue of The Lancet.

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