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Health Highlights: Oct. 5, 2007

Former U.S. Track Hero Admits Steroid Use Vaccine Caused Nigeria Polio Outbreak U.S. Meat Company Folds After Massive Recall Lead Danger Prompts Recall of Boy Scouts Badges 'Gay Bomb' Research Wins 'Ig Nobel' Prize Medicare, Medicaid to Gain $4 Billion From Part D Plans No Proof Common Knee Arthritis Treatments Work Canada Halts Prexige Sales

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

Former U.S. Track Hero Admits Steroid Use

Former American track star Marion Jones pleaded guilty Friday to lying to U.S. federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing steroids, The New York Times reported.

Jones pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements to federal agents about her use of performance-enhancing drugs. She was also to plead guilty to one count of making false statements to federal agents in connection with a separate check fraud case. She appeared Friday afternoon at the U.S. District Court in White Plains.

Jones, 31, won three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. She's been under a cloud of suspicion for years, but had repeatedly denied using banned substances, the Times reported.

An admission to using performance-enhancing drugs would likely result in Jones being stripped of her five Olympic medals.


Vaccine Caused Nigeria Polio Outbreak

A vaccine meant to protect poor Nigerian children from polio ended up triggering an outbreak in the African country, according to health officials.

At least 69 children are paralyzed and experts say a weakened form of live polio virus used in an oral vaccine appears to be the cause, the Associated Press reported.

Children in developed countries typically receive a polio vaccine with an inactivated strain of virus. But that vaccine is given by injection, is more expensive, and requires more training to deliver. For that reason, the cheaper oral vaccine -- containing a weakened live virus -- is used in many developing countries, the AP said.

Vaccinated children can excrete the virus, which can then end up in the water supply in countries with poor sanitation, experts say. Once ingested by non-immunized children, the weakened polio strain can, in rare cases, mutate into something more dangerous, health officials say.

Such vaccine-linked outbreaks have occurred before in countries such as China, Haiti and the Philippines, the AP noted.

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the cause of the Nigeria outbreak last week, although they said they have known about it for a year.

WHO's top polio official, Dr. David Heymann, said his organization felt the outbreak was a problem for scientists and not something that would impact on global immunization practices, so WHO did not immediately publicize the incident.

The outbreak comes as a further blow to global efforts to eradicate polio, which have succeeded in lowering polio rates by over 99 percent since 1988. However, in 2003, Nigerian politicians canceled vaccine campaigns for a year, claiming they were a Western plot to sterilize Muslims. Cases of polio soon shot up dramatically, the AP noted.


U.S. Meat Company Folds After Massive Recall

Topps Meat Co., a leading U.S. supplier of frozen hamburgers, announced Friday that it was going out of business after a massive recall in September of 21.7 million pounds of frozen beef, The New York Times reported.

The recall was linked to beef patties tainted with the E.coli 0157:H7 strain of bacteria. The burgers were made at the company's Elizabeth, N.J. plant, the Times said.

Health officials first reported a case of illness linked to the meat on July 5, when an 18-year-old girl in Pennsylvania was sickened. On July 8, another case surfaced in New Jersey.

"This is a tragedy for all concerned," Topps CEO Anthony D'Urso said in a statement. "In one week we have gone from the largest U.S. manufacturer of frozen hamburgers to a company that cannot overcome the economic reality of a recall this large."


Lead Danger Prompts Recall of Boy Scouts Badges

As many as 1.6 million Boy Scouts of America badges are being recalled because they may contain high levels of lead, the Associated Press reported.

Tests on the Chinese-made painted, plastic badges revealed high levels of lead in the paint. The recalled totem badges -- given to Cub Scouts, aged 7 to 8 -- have a yellow and blue border, a picture of a wolf and bear, and read "Progress Toward Ranks."

No illnesses linked to the badges have been reported, Boy Scouts spokesman Gregg Shields told the AP. The problem was discovered during testing of a number of Boy Scout products.

The totem badges are supplied to the Boy Scouts of America by Kahoot Products Inc., based in Roswell, Ga. Under the voluntary recall, the company is advising parents to take the badges away from children. Kahoot supplies about 39 products to the Boy Scouts of America.


'Gay Bomb' Research Wins 'Ig Nobel' Prize

A "gay bomb" designed to make enemy troops sexually irresistible to each other, a study on the side effects of sword swallowing, and the discovery that impotence drugs can help hamsters recover from jet lag are among the winners of this year's Ig Nobel Prizes ceremony, held at Harvard University.

All the research honored by the Ig Nobel Prizes is real and published, BBC News reported. The awards were created in 1991 by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research, and are intended to "celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine and technology."

Genuine Nobel laureates hand out the Ig Nobel awards to the winners, who receive a handmade prize and certificate, but no cash.

The "gay bomb" research was conducted by the U.S. military but none of the scientists involved attended the ceremony because they couldn't be tracked down, BBC News reported.

Among the other winners: researchers who figured out how bed sheets become wrinkled; a scientist who developed a method to extract vanilla fragrance and flavoring from cow dung; and a team that showed that rats can't tell the difference between somebody speaking Dutch backwards and somebody speaking Japanese backwards.


Medicare, Medicaid to Gain $4 Billion From Part D Plans

Due to lower-than-expected drug costs in 2006, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) expects to collect $4 billion from Part D drug plan sponsors, the agency said Friday.

The collections results from the payment reconciliation that CMS has completed for 2006, the first year of the Part D drug program. The actual drug costs that year for almost all Part D plans were well below expected levels in their 2006 bids.

The CMS said a number of factors contributed to the lower-than-expected costs, including the fact that 2006 was the first time plans were bidding on the new Part D program, and the fact that there was higher-than-anticipated use of generic drugs in the program.

As plans gain further experience with the Part D program, their bid submissions in future years will likely more accurately reflect their actual costs to provide prescription drug coverage, the CMS said. For example, 2007 bid submissions were significantly lower than those submitted in 2006.


No Proof Common Knee Arthritis Treatments Work

There's no evidence that many common treatments for knee osteoarthritis benefit patients, according to a scientific review released Thursday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The review authors analyzed 23 studies. They failed to find any convincing evidence of benefit from arthroscopic surgery to clean the knee joint, with or without removal of debris and loose cartilage.

An analysis of another 53 studies found no benefit from glucosamine and chondroitin -- over-the-counter dietary supplement ingredients widely purported to relieve osteoarthritis-related knee pain and improve physical functioning.

The review authors also concluded that there's no convincing evidence that injections with hyaluronan preparations (substances intended to improve knee joint lubrication) benefit patients with knee osteoarthritis.

"Millions of Americans seek relief from the pain and reduced mobility caused by osteoarthritis of the knee. However, they should work with their clinicians to decide the best course of treatment for them based on what has and has not been proven to work," AHRQ Director Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy said in a prepared statement.

It's believed that one in ten Americans 64 and older has knee osteoarthritis.


Canada Halts Prexige Sales

Due to concerns about serious liver damage, Health Canada said Thursday that it will no longer allow the sale of the anti-inflammatory medicine Prexige. The Cox-2 selective inhibitor drug, used to treat osteoarthritis in adults, has been on the market in Canada since November 2006, CBC News reported.

"As a result of its review, Health Canada has concluded that the risk of serious liver-related adverse events with Prexige cannot be safely and effectively managed at the 100 milligram daily dose," the agency said in a news release.

Four incidents of hepatitis, including two cases in Canada, have been linked to Prexige (generic name lumiracoxib), CBC News reported. The drug, made by Novartis AG of Switzerland, was taken off the market in Australia in August 2007 after incidents of serious liver damage were linked to the 200 milligram and 400 milligram daily doses of the drug.

Health Canada advised patients who take Prexige to contact their doctor to discuss other treatment options and to return remaining doses of the drug to their pharmacy for proper disposal.

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