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Health Highlights: Oct. 2, 2009

U.S. Poisoning Deaths Nearly Double Since 1999 No Scientific Evidence for Probiotic Health Claims: EU Panel Texas City Tops Fall Allergy List Kidney Cancer Drug May Cause Liver Damage: FDA

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

U.S. Poisoning Deaths Nearly Double Since 1999

Drugs played a major role in the near doubling of poisoning fatalities in the United States between 1999 and 2006, according to a U.S. government report.

During that time, poisoning death increased from almost 20,000 to more than 37,000, said the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2006, more than 90 percent of poisoning deaths involved drugs, United Press International reported.

Opioid analgesics were involved in about 20 percent of poisoning deaths in 1999 and almost 40 percent in 2006. Methadone-related poisoning deaths increased nearly seven-fold, from 790 in 1999 to 5,420 in 2006. That rate of increase is far greater than for other opioid analgesics, cocaine, or heroin.

The government report said poisoning is the second leading cause of injury death overall in the United States, and the leading cause of injury death for people ages 35 to 64, UPI reported.


No Scientific Evidence for Probiotic Health Claims: EU Panel

General health claims for probiotic yogurts and drinks aren't backed by science, say European Union experts who studied 523 health claims related to 200 foods and food components, including fiber, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, botanical substances and probiotic bacteria.

Of those claims, about two-thirds (350) were rejected, CBC News reported. Nearly half were rejected because they lacked information about the component on which the claim was based, including probiotic bacteria and botanical substances.

While those claims were dismissed, the EU expert panel said they found sufficient scientific evidence to support claims related to vitamins and minerals, dietary fibers or fatty acids for maintenance of cholesterol levels, along with the use of sugar-free chewing gum for dental health, CBC News reported.

The general health claims review was the first stage. Next, the panel will examine more specific health claims made by individual companies.


Texas City Tops Fall Allergy List

McAllen, Texas is the most challenging U.S. city for people with fall allergies, according to rankings announced Friday by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

The other cities in the top five of the 100 cities included in the 2009 rankings are: Wichita, Kan., Louisville, Ky., Oklahoma City, Okla. and Jackson, Miss.

"Whether a city is ranked number 100 on the Allergy Capitals list or number 1, it's essential for allergy sufferers to take the appropriate steps to manage their allergies," Mike Tringale, director of external affairs at AAFA, said in a news release. "Allergy sufferers should know what allergens trigger their symptoms and how to manage them."

Many Americans know that spring is a difficult time for allergy sufferers, but fewer people are aware that fall brings new allergy triggers that aren't present in the spring, such as ragweed, according to the AAFA.

More than 35 million Americans suffer from seasonal allergies.


Kidney Cancer Drug May Cause Liver Damage: FDA

An experimental kidney cancer drug called pazopanib may cause liver damage that outweighs the its ability to slow the cancer, according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration documents posted online.

GlaxoSmithKline is seeking FDA approval of pazopanib for treatment of advanced kidney cancer. However, the FDA documents say there have been three liver damage-related deaths among patients taking the pill, and other patients have shown elevated levels of enzymes that often predict liver damage, the Associated Press reported.

These cases "strongly suggest that pazopanib may be associated with a significant risk of severe idiosyncratic hepatic injury if used in a large patient population," FDA reviewers said in the documents.

It was also noted that the drug causes side effects common to other cancer drugs, including blood clots, internal bleeding and hypertension, the AP reported.

An FDA panel of experts will decide Monday whether to recommend approval of the drug. The agency isn't required to follow the advice of its expert panels, but usually does.

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