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Health Highlights: Nov. 16, 2006

EPA Phasing Out AZM Insecticide Brain Tumor Vaccine Shows Promise Stomach Virus Sickens 700 on Cruise Ship Bill Would Improve U.S. Drug Safety Survey Queries Smokers on Why They Should Quit Falls Leading Cause of Fatal Injuries Among Elderly Wal-Mart Expands Discount Drug Program

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

EPA Phasing Out AZM Insecticide

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced its final decision to phase out the 10 remaining approved uses for the organophosphate insecticide azinphos-methyl (AZM) over the next five years.

The use of AZM on brussels sprouts and nursery stock will end in September 2007; on almonds, pistachios and walnuts by October 2009; and on apples, blueberries, cherries, parsley and pears by September 2012.

During the phase out period, the EPA said it is decreasing AZM application rates.

All other uses of the insecticide have been voluntarily discontinued by the registrants, the EPA said. In addition, AZM manufacturers have agreed to develop training materials to instruct farm workers and others on how to avoid unnecessary exposure.

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Brain Tumor Vaccine Shows Promise

A vaccine for glioma brain tumors is showing promising results, according to preliminary data from a clinical trial at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

These early findings from the first group of six patients showed that the vaccine vitespen (trademark name Oncophage) was associated with tumor-specific immune responses in patients with recurrent, high-grade glioma.

The vaccine is derived from each patient's own tumor.

"This is the first documentation of a glioma-specific immune response after vaccination with vitespen," and further research is warranted, principal investigator Dr. Andrew T. Parsa, assistant professor in the department of neurological surgery, said in a prepared statement.

The findings were presented Thursday at a meeting of the Society of Neuro-Oncology.

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Virus Sickens 700 on Cruise Ship

A highly-contagious stomach virus sickened more than 700 passengers and crew during a trans-Atlantic cruise from Rome to Florida.

The Carnival Cruise Lines ship Liberty, carrying 2,804 passengers and 1,166 crew members, began its 16-day voyage on Nov. 3. Carnival officials said the number of new cases has dropped significantly in the last few days and the ship will complete its cruise, The New York Times reported.

"The majority of affected guests have already recovered," the cruise line said a statement. It offered a hint about a possible cause of the outbreak.

"After the start of the voyage, it was determined that at least two guests were sick with gastrointestinal illness just prior to the cruise and sought medical treatment in Rome before boarding the ship," Carnival said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will send three environmental health experts to the Liberty. The specialists will oversee cleaning of the ship and help pinpoint the outbreak's cause, The Times said.

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Bill Would Improve U.S. Drug Safety

U.S. lawmakers are being urged to support a bipartisan bill to improve drug safety, the Associated Press reported.

The bill's provisions include: a temporary ban on consumer advertising of drugs newly approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; drug company-devised safety plans for new drugs; more disclosure of the results of human drug trials; and giving the FDA the power to order drugmakers to conduct safety studies of drugs after they're on the market.

The bill, which also calls for the drug industry to pay higher user fees to the FDA, was introduced in August by Senators Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in the wake of a number of drug recalls and safety alerts.

Witnesses in Congressional hearings testified that the bill would improve safety and boost public confidence, the AP reported.

"The initiative now before you represents the best opportunity in many years to fix these chronic [drug safety] problems," Dr. Steve Nissen told lawmakers. Nissen was a member of an FDA advisory panel that in 2001 recommended new warnings be added to the now recalled painkiller Vioxx.

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Survey Queries Smokers on Why They Should Quit

Health concerns and the welfare of a child or grandchild are key motivators for people to quit smoking, says an American Cancer Society survey released Thursday.

The survey of 454 former smokers and 281 current smokers who have tried to quit at least once also cited not smelling like smoke as a key reason to kick the habit.

Among the survey's findings:

  • 86 percent of former smokers and 70 percent of current smokers cited health concerns as the most important reason for quitting, while 55 percent in each group said the welfare of a child or grandchild was the second most important reason.
  • More than a third of former smokers and 43 percent of current smokers said the cost of cigarettes also was a key reason to quit.
  • Respondents cited other reasons to stop smoking, including reducing the risk of cancer, feeling a sense of accomplishment, being able to exercise more, and improving relationships with family and friends.

The survey was released on the 30th anniversary of the Great American Smokeout, when people are encouraged to give up cigarettes for at least a day.

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Falls Leading Cause of Fatal Injuries Among Elderly

Fall-related deaths among people 65 and older in the United States rose by more than 55 percent from 1993 to 2003, says a report released Thursday in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Falls are now the leading cause of injury deaths for elderly Americans, the report said.

In 2003, more than 13,700 older adults died from falls, nearly 1.8 million seniors were treated in hospital emergency departments for nonfatal fall-related injuries, and more than 460,000 elderly people were hospitalized for injuries caused by falls.

The report also said that, in 2000, direct medical costs for falls among seniors totaled some $19 billion.

Between 1993 and 2003, fatal falls increased for all races and both sexes, but men were more likely than women to die from falls. Women, however, averaged 48 percent more non-fatal fall injuries than men.

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Wal-Mart Expands Discount Drug Program

Wal-Mart is adding 17 more medications to its list of $4 generic prescription drugs and is expanding the program to 502 more stores in 11 additional states, the Associated Press reported. Once implemented, the program will involve 3,009 stores in 38 states.

Consumers will be able to pay $4 for a 30-day supply of any of 331 drugs, the company said Thursday.

New states added to the program are: Idaho, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia, the AP reported.

Wal-Mart started the discount generic drug program in Florida in September and had planned to expand it early next year. However, the company said it decided to move up its timetable and expand the program as soon as possible.

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