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Health Highlights: Oct. 24, 2013

FDA Urges Tighter Controls on Certain Prescription Painkillers CDC Issues Guidelines for Use of New TB Drug New High-Dose Flu Vaccine Better Protects Seniors Many Parents Concerned About Football Brain Injury Risk: Survey

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

FDA Urges Tighter Controls on Certain Prescription Painkillers

On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration called for tighter controls on prescription painkillers containing the narcotic hydrocodone.

The action comes after years of disagreement over how much leeway doctors should have in prescribing the often-abused drugs.

The New York Times reported that the move indicates a major policy shift on drugs including Vicodin, Lortab or generics that combine hydrocodone with over-the-counter pain medicines like aspirin or acetaminophen.

Currently, hydrocodone painkillers are less tightly monitored than more powerful painkillers such as OxyContin, the Times noted.

The FDA-proposed changes would decrease the number of refills patients could receive before returning to their doctor, with supplies lasting 90 days at the most. Doctors would not be able to call in refills -- patients would have to take prescriptions to the pharmacy in person.

The regulations would go into effect after approval from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The U.S Drug Enforcement Agency has pushed for the new recommendation, while some medical groups and pharmacy organizations have opposed it because of the effect on patients, the Times reported.


CDC Issues Guidelines for Use of New TB Drug

Guidelines for the use of a new tuberculosis drug were released Thursday by the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The drug Sirturo (bedaquiline fumarate) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration late last year and belongs to the first new class of TB drugs approved by the agency in more than 40 years.

Sirturo may be used in the first 24 weeks of treatment in adults with laboratory-confirmed pulmonary multi-drug resistant TB, when there are no other effective treatment options. Due to the potential for serious adverse events, the drug is not recommended for all TB patients, the CDC said.

The drug may also be used on a case-by-cased basis for other patients or for durations longer than 24 weeks when no other effective treatments are available. Sirturo should be part of combination therapy administered by directly observed therapy.

Patients taking the drug must be closely monitored for adverse reactions, the CDC said.

The guidelines appear in the latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the CDC.

Overall TB rates in the United States are at an all-time low (9,945 cases in 2012), but drug-resistant TB is a growing threat. The new drug is an important advance in the fight against TB, but more new treatment options are needed to eliminate the disease in the U..S., the CDC said.


New High-Dose Flu Vaccine Better Protects Seniors

A new high-dose flu vaccine for seniors is more effective than the standard shot, according to a study by vaccine manufacturer Sanofi Pasteur.

People 65 and older generally have weaker immune systems and regular flu shots tend to be only 30 to 40 percent effective in them, according to experts. The study found that the new Fluzone High-Dose vaccine was 50 percent effective in seniors, the Associated Press reported.

In other age groups, the effectiveness of the regular flu vaccine can be 60 percent.

The Sanofi study of 32,000 seniors in the U.S. and Canada during the last two flu seasons found that the high-dose vaccine was 24 percent more effective than the regular vaccine at preventing flu.

"I wouldn't call it great," flu vaccine researcher Dr. Edward Belongia, of the Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation in Wisconsin, told the AP. He was not involved in the study.

But Belongia added that any improvement in protecting seniors from the flu is welcome.

A Sanofi executive was scheduled to present preliminary study findings on Thursday at a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which advises federal health officials, the AP reported.


Many Parents Concerned About Football Brain Injury Risk: Survey

About 1 in 3 American parents say the link between football-related concussions and long-term brain injury would make them less likely to allow their son to take the field, a new poll finds.

But 39 percent said that reports of such risk hasn't changed their level of concern about the game, according to CBS News.

Seventy percent of respondents believe the benefits of playing football outweigh the risks, while 24 percent say the risk of injury is too high, the HBO Real Sports/Marist survey found.

"It's a dilemma. It is a tough decision for a parent to make. But the good news about the study is that it creates real public awareness," Liz Giordano, of the Head Injury Association, told CBS News.

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