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Health Highlights: Nov. 2, 2008

Tests for Dangerous Gut Bug Unreliable: Study FDA OKs New Drug for Overactive Bladder Consumer Group Questions Safety of Nanoparticles in Sunscreens China Widens Melamine Investigation

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

Tests for Dangerous Gut Bug Unreliable: Study

Screening tests currently used by hospitals to detect C. difficile, a potentially lethal gut infection, are unreliable, according to a study by researchers in the United Kingdom.

C. difficile is a hospital-acquired infection that can lead to severe inflammation of the bowel, as well as diarrhea; it is fatal in up to 15 percent of cases. The bacteria is especially dangerous in patients receiving antibiotics, because these drugs upset the gut's normal balance, allowing the bug to thrive.

Reporting early online and in the December print issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases, researchers led by Sanjeev Krishna, of St. George's University of London and St. George's Healthcare NHS Trust, reviewed the accuracy of currently available test kits used to spot C. difficile.

They found that the tests had a rate of false-positive results ranging from 3 percent to 45 percent, while the rate for missing a true positive ranged from 5 percent to 24 percent. Misdiagnosis can have severe consequences for patients, the researchers noted, including the inappropriate cessation of antibiotics in patients fighting other illnesses, or inappropriate treatment for C. difficile.

To remedy the situation, the researchers propose a new two-stage testing system: First, a highly sensitive stool sample would quickly identify nearly all positives, and then a second test would be conducted to rule out any false-positive result. "We are currently evaluating such a testing scheme in our department," the scientists said.


FDA OKs New Drug for Overactive Bladder

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved a new drug to help people who struggle with an overactive bladder.

The drug, Toviaz (fesoterodine fumarate), made by German manufacturer Schwarz Pharma, works by relaxing the smooth muscle tissue of the bladder, reducing frequent urination, the urge to urinate, and sudden urinary incontinence, the Associated Press reported.

"Patients who suffer from overactive bladder face quality of life issues that can hamper their ability to enjoy life to its fullest," Dr. George Benson, deputy director of the FDA's Division of Reproductive and Urologic Products, said in a news release. "This new drug will provide an additional treatment option to help them manage problems with an overactive bladder."

Toviaz, to be taken once a day by adults only, will be available by prescription only.

The FDA said it approved Toviaz based on the results of two studies involving more than 1,000 people with the disorder. Common side effects were dry mouth and constipation; less frequently reported side effects were dry eyes and trouble emptying the bladder, the AP said.


Consumer Group Questions Safety of Nanoparticles in Sunscreens

Four out of five mineral-based sunscreens that claim not to contain nanoparticles actually do contain them, says a report released Friday by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

The organization urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct a full-scale safety review of nanoparticles in sunscreens.

"The widespread use of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sunscreen is involving consumers in a vast experiment as to the safety of these products," Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, said in a news release.

"These very tiny nano-sized particles are known to have different properties than the conventional versions of these chemicals and could be harmful to health. The FDA should require safety data for all these nanoparticles, and at the very least, they should require companies to be truthful about whether or not they are using nano-ingredients," Hansen said.

According to Consumers Union, the four sunscreens that claimed not to contain nanoparticles, but did contain them, were: Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 25 Green Tea Protective Sunscreen; Badger SPF 30 Sunscreen; Kiss My Face SPF 30+ Sun Screen with oat protein complex; and Mexitan SPF 30 Sunscreen. Zinka Colored Nosecoat was the only one of the five that contained no nanoparticles, the group said.


China Widens Melamine Investigation

The investigation into melamine-contaminated food in China is being widened, Chinese officials said Friday as there was more evidence that the toxic industrial chemical is widespread in the nation's animal feed supplies.

Earlier this week, food safety tests showed the eggs produced in three different provinces were contaminated with melamine, which has been blamed for causing kidney stones and renal failure in infants who consumed milk products tainted with the chemical. The egg test results triggered recalls and consumer warnings, The New York Times reported.

Hong Kong officials announced earlier this week that a wide variety of Chinese-produced foods -- including vegetables, flour and meat products -- would be tested for melamine.

The reports of contaminated Chinese foods are causing concern worldwide, the Times reported.

Also Friday, BBC News reported that the addition of melamine to animal feed in China is likely routine and an "open secret," according to reports published in several state newspapers.

As a whole, the animal feed industry in China seems to have decided to use melamine to reduce production costs while maintaining the protein count for quality inspections, said an editorial in the state-run China Daily.

The Nanfang Daily said the practice of mixing melamine into animal feed was an "open secret."

Experts noted that the articles in the Chinese newspapers were unusual and may amount to a tacit government admission that melamine contamination could affect a large portion of the nation's food supply, BBC News reported.

Melamine-tainted milk killed at least four babies in China and sickened tens of thousands.


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