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Health Highlights: Nov. 19, 2006

Hemophilia Drug Linked to Blood Clots in Wounded U.S. Iraq SoldiersDevice Detects Those Most Susceptible to Post-Surgical Infection Potency of U.S. Avian Flu Vaccine Supply is Deteriorating M.D. Affiliated With Anti-Contraception Group Named to Head U.S. Family Planning Agency Dioxin May Affect Reproductive System in Men Chocolate Milk May Boost Exercise Stamina

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

Hemophilia Drug Linked to Blood Clots in Wounded U.S. Iraq Soldiers

A drug used to stop bleeding from hemophilia has been injected in more than 1,000 wounded soldiers in Iraq, and medical evidence shows that this procedure has created life-threatening blood clots, the Baltimore Sun reports.

In a detailed investigative report, the newspaper documents the link between the use of the drug, Recombinant Activated Factor VII, and a number of incidents of sometimes fatal blood clots appearing in the lungs, hearts and brains of U.S. soldiers who had undergone surgery in Iraq. While not being able to get military doctors to acknowledge that any specific case of blood clotting was caused by using Factor VII, the Sun reports that the U.S. military command in Iraq has recommended the drug's use to stem heavy bleeding in wounded soldiers.

"When it works, it's amazing," the newspaper quotes Col. John B. Holcomb, an Army trauma surgeon and the service's top adviser on combat medical care, as saying. "It's one of the most useful new tools we have."

This decision apparently was made despite many scientific reports warning that using the drug in people with normal blood could cause blood clots and strokes. Researchers from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reported last January that 43 blood clot deaths had resulted from injections of Factor VII.


Device Detects Those Most Susceptible to Post-Surgical Infection

A "completely non-invasive" scanner may hold the answer to reducing the number of infections that occur in post-surgical patients while they're recovering in the hospital.

BBC News reports that doctors at University Hospital in North Durham, England, have developed a hand-held device that uses an infra-red light to detect whether the blood going to the incision in a patient recovering from an operation has enough oxygen. Lack of oxygen in the blood is a key contributing factor to infection, the BBC reports, and this can lead to a particularly nasty invasion, methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of the most persistent bacterial hospital infections.

The BBC cites a study done by the hospital in which the scanner detected poor oxygen supply in the blood of 17 out of 59 post-surgical patients. All 17 subsequently developed infections, the BBC reports.

Lead researcher Dr. David Harrison is quoted as saying, "To be able to identify those patients most at risk of infection at just 12 hours after surgery gives you the opportunity to actually do something about it."


Potency of U.S. Avian Flu Vaccine Supply is Deteriorating

Not that there is all that much vaccine to protect against a major outbreak of avian flu, but the U.S. supply of about 3.75 million doses is losing its potency.

Bloomberg News reports U.S. government officials saying the original batch of 3.75 million doses against H5N1 avian influenza has started to deteriorate. The revelation came after the vaccine's maker, Sanofi-Aventis SA, discovered the reduction in strength after routine testing.

There are now fewer than 3 million full strength doses, Bloomberg News quotes Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman, as saying. Nevertheless, if a major outbreak of avian flu were to occur in the U.S., the wire service quotes Hall as saying, it "would still most likely be used if we needed it tomorrow or next week. We would use the full- potency vaccine first."

While concern about an worldwide human pandemic of bird flu -- which has infected tens of millions of fowl -- has eased somewhat, World Health Organization statistics show that H5N1 has killed 153 people and infected a total of 258. So far, there have been no confirmed cases of avian flu being transmitted from human to human.


M.D. Affiliated With Anti-Contraception Group Named to Head U.S. Family Planning Agency

A Massachusetts doctor who is the medical director of an organization that opposes abortion, contraception and most family planning methods is President Bush's choice to head the federal department that finances most of the programs the doctor's organization opposes.

The appointment of Dr. Eric Keroack to head the U.S. Office of Population Affairs, whose annual $283 million budget is used to fund family planning programs, met with Congressional criticism and angered one of the nation's largest family planning groups. Keroack is affiliated with A Woman's Concern, a Marblehead, Mass. Organization that the Associated Press quotes from its statement of faith as designed "help women escape the temptation and violence of abortion." The organization also opposes contraception, according to the wire service.

The Office of Family Planning, one of the Office of Population Affairs' divisions, "is designed to provide access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them," according to its statement of purpose.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, (D-Mass.) and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America have called for the President to withdraw Keroack's appointment, which does not need Congressional approval.


Dioxin May Affect Male Reproductive System

Exposure to TCDD, the most toxic dioxin in the herbicide Agent Orange, may disrupt the male reproductive system in a number of ways, says a study of 2,000 U.S. Air Force veterans who served in the Vietnam War.

Researchers at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found evidence that TCDD may lower testosterone levels and limit the growth of the prostate gland. The study appears in the November issue of the journal Environmental Health.

"Until now, we did not have very good evidence whether or not dioxins affect the human reproductive system," urologist and lead author Dr. Amit Gupta said in a statement. "Now we know that there is a link between dioxins and the human prostate leading us to speculate that dioxins might be decreasing growth of the prostate in humans like they do in animals."

The study found that veterans exposed to TCDD had lower rates of an enlarged prostate disorder called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH).

"It may be construed that a decrease in the risk of BPH is not a harmful effect, but the larger picture is that dioxins are affecting the normal growth and development of the reproductive system. Moreover, several effective treatments are available for BPH and thus reduction of BPH by a toxic compound is not a desirable effect," Gupta said.


Chocolate Milk May Boost Exercise Stamina

Chocolate milk may boost athletic endurance, suggests an Indiana University study that was partly funded by the Dairy and Nutrition Council.

Researchers had a small group of fit athletes do hard workouts on a stationary bike, then drink either low-fat chocolate milk, a fluid replacement drink (Gatorade), or a carbohydrate replacement drink (Endurox R4). A few hours later, the athletes were told to ride the bike again until they were exhausted, the Associated Press reported.

The test was repeated three times, once with each type of beverage. The study found participants exercised up to 54 percent longer after drinking chocolate milk than when they drank the carbohydrate drink. There was no significant difference between the milk and the fluid-replacement drink.


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