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Health Highlights: May 11, 2002

AIDS Rising Among Older People AIDS Drug Mix-up Prompts Warning Fast Foods Making Us Fat Folks Family 'Chips' In for Health FDA Warns About Blood Plasma

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

AIDS Rising Among Older People

Safe sex precautions and AIDS prevention warnings are nearly always targeted, logically, towards the segment of the population deemed the most sexually active -- youth.

But experts say AIDS is meanwhile quietly becoming a problem faced by the elderly as well, due to everything from a more sexually active older population, fewer concerns about pregnancy (and, hence, protection), and the introduction of Viagra, reports the Associated Press.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the number of Americans over 50 with AIDS has in fact increased from 10 percent in the early 1990s to 13.4 percent in 1999, the most recent figures available.

Part of the problem, say experts, is that most doctors don't even ask about older patients' sex lives, let alone offer safe sex advice.

Meanwhile, AIDS can cause countless additional problems in older people, not the least of which are possible adverse reactions between HIV/AIDS medication and drugs that aging people usually take.

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AIDS Drug Mix-up Prompts Warning

Patients who take a drug to treat AIDS called Combivir are being warned to check to make sure their prescription bottles contain the right medication. The warning comes after some patients expecting Combivir wound up with a different AIDS drug called Ziagen.

The mix-up could be serious, says the drugs' maker, GlaxoSmithKline, because about 5 percent of people who take Ziagen can have potentially life-threatening allergic reactions and would not have been warned they were taking the drug if it was labeled as Combivir.

In addition, taking Ziagen when a patient needs Combivir could seriously reduce the effectiveness of the treatment. No illnesses from the mix-up have been reported.

Four bottles containing the wrong drugs have been purchased so far -- in Connecticut, Maryland, Florida and California, reports the Associated Press.

Patients can identify Combivir as a white capsule-shaped tablet engraved with "GX FC3" on one side. Ziagen, on the other hand, is a yellow capsule-shaped tablet engraved with "GX 623" on one side.

If a mistake is found, patients are advised to take the drugs back to the pharmacist. Pharmacists, meanwhile, are being advised to open new bottles in front of the customer so both can make sure it's really Combivir before the patient leaves the store.

Since Combivir costs about $200 more than Ziagen and manufacturing errors have been ruled out, the manufacturer is investigating the possibility that it may have been sold Ziagen with a counterfeit Combivir label.

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Fast Foods Making Us Fat Folks

Blame Americans' ever-expanding waistlines on a growing penchant for eating out more often and snacking on high-calorie foods such as soda, salty snacks, and candy.

That's the conclusion of a new study published in Obesity Research that says Americans in all age groups are snacking more and chowing down more at restaurants -- especially fast-food joints.

A HealthDay report says researchers with the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health studied data from national food consumption surveys from 1977 through 1998, as well as surveys of 63,380 people over age 2. The participants were asked where they got their food (at home, vending machines, fast food restaurants, other types of restaurants, stores or schools) and what types of food they ate.

They found that fast food consumption was up dramatically. In 1977, 9.6 percent of all meals were fast food. By 1996, that number had soared to 23.5 percent.

Snacking was up more than 50 percent. In 1996, snacking represented 17.7 percent of the average American's daily calories, up from 11.3 percent in 1977.

Foods that increased the most in consumption were pizza, french fries, soda, salty snacks, and candy. On the other hand, consumption of high-fat beef, pork, and medium-fat milk was down.

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Family 'Chips' In for Health

A Florida family 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.

VeriChip, designed by Applied Digital Solutions, is similar to the type of chip 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.

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 Warns About 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 deaths 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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