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Health Highlights: Oct. 26, 2006

Wal-Mart Expands Low-Cost Generic Drug Program Ohio State Researcher Studies Student-Athletes' Hearts Take Steps to Prevent Fires During Home Heating Season Many Americans Wouldn't Follow Flu Pandemic Restrictions AstraZeneca Halts Development of Stroke Drug 'Off-Pump' Bypass Surgery Cuts Stroke Risk

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

Wal-Mart Expands Low-Cost Generic Drug Program

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced Thursday that it's expanding its $4 generic prescription drug program to 12 more states, bringing the total to 27 states.

A total of 2,507 Wal-Mart, Sam's Club and Neighborhood Market stores will offer the program, which charges $4 for a one-month supply of one of 314 different prescription medicines, the Associated Press reported.

Customer demand was the reason the company accelerated the launch of the program, which was introduced in Florida three weeks ago. Last week, Wal-Mart added 14 states to the list.

The states added Thursday were: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota and Virginia, the AP reported.

States that were already in the program were: Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas and Vermont.

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Ohio State Researcher Studies Student-Athletes' Hearts

An Ohio State University researcher plans to study athletes at the university to catalogue warning signs that could help predict sudden heart disease-related deaths in young athletes.

One in 200,000 athletes dies from heart disease while playing sports and there hasn't been enough research into the problem in the United States, Dr. Christine Lawless, of OSU's College of Medicine, told the Associated Press.

This month, a University of Toledo basketball player collapsed and died of a ruptured blood vessel to the heart during training.

"We're trying to prevent events like this from happening. They occur in people with undetected heart disease," Lawless said.

For the study, about 900 OSU athletes are being asked to volunteer to have physical exams, electrocardiograms and echocardiograms to determine if they have any heart abnormalities or defects, the AP reported.

Lawless is also trying to persuade high school and professional sports teams to take part in the study.

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Take Steps to Prevent Fires During Home Heating Season

It's home heating season and people need to take steps to prevent carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and fires in their homes, say the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Consumers are urged to schedule a professional inspection of all fuel-burning heating systems, including furnaces, boilers, fireplaces, wood stoves, water heaters, chimneys, flues and vents.

"The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to have a professional inspection every year and install working CO alarms in your home," Nancy Nord, CPSC acting chairman, said in a prepared statement.

"Carbon monoxide is a silent killer. This colorless, odorless, poisonous gas kills nearly 500 U.S. residents each year, five times as many as West Nile virus," Dr. Howard Frumkin, director of the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health, said in a statement.

Heating systems are the leading cause of CO poisoning in the United States, followed by vehicles that are left running in garages. Gasoline-powered generators that are used during power outages are another source of CO poisoning.

The CPSC also noted that home heating equipment is the second most common cause of residential fires. Cooking fires are the leading cause. Portable heaters, including space heaters, are the top cause of deaths in home heating equipment-related fires.

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Many Americans Wouldn't Follow Flu Pandemic Restrictions

A new survey suggests that many Americans would not be willing or able to stay at home during a flu pandemic to help slow the spread of infection.

Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed 1,697 adults. About 25 percent said they could not afford to miss work for even a week and about 20 percent said they fear their bosses would force them to come to work even if they were sick and contagious, the Associated Press reported.

One in four respondents also said there's no one at home to care for them if they did get sick.

The findings suggest that these everyday concerns have to be factored into government plans to deal with a flu pandemic.

"If you want to contain the flu, you have to make it livable for people," to adhere to infection-control measures, study author and health policy specialist Robert Blendon told the AP.

"This is really a Catch-22 here. If you can't help the people make it at home, then the epidemic's going to get much more severe," he said.

Initially, about 94 percent of the respondents said they would stay home, away from other people, for seven to 10 days if they were sick during a flu pandemic, and 85 percent said they'd do so if there was a sick person in the household, the AP reported.

But doubts about their ability to adhere to such measures began to surface as the survey questions probed deeper.

The findings were to be presented Thursday at a meeting of public health officials.

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AstraZeneca Halts Development of Stroke Drug

Drug maker AstraZeneca said Thursday that it's halted development of an experimental drug designed to reduce stroke-related disabilities because the drug -- NXY-059 -- failed the final stages of clinical trials.

The drug was a neuroprotectant meant to protect brain cells from damaging agents, Agence France Presse reported.

In a statement, AstraZeneca said NXY-059 failed on two key measures.

"These clinical trial results, while not without precedent given the challenging nature of the science, are disappointing for patients looking for new treatments for stroke and for AstraZeneca as we seek to build our research and development pipeline," said John Patterson, the company's executive director of development.

He said the results effectively dashed hopes that this kind of neuroprotectant approach would lead to an effective treatment for stroke, AFP reported.

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'Off-Pump' Bypass Surgery Cuts Stroke Risk

"Off-pump" coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery reduces the risk of complications such as stroke and atrial fibrillation, says a report released Wednesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Traditionally, CABG has been performed using cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB) but, in recent years, many cardiac surgeons have become interested in avoiding the use of CPB and doing off-pump CABG. About 280,000 CABGs are done each year in the United States.

The researchers analyzed data from 41 clinical trials that included nearly 4,000 patients who underwent CABG after 1999. They concluded that the off-pump method reduced the risk of certain complications. For example, the off-pump approach was associated with a 50 percent reduction in stroke; a 30 percent reduction in atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm); and a 48 percent reduction in wound infection.

The study appears in the November issue of the journal Stroke.

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