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Health Highlights: Oct. 21, 2002

Lung Cancer Drug Results DisappointingWest Nile in 2003 Impossible to Predict Driving Doesn't Cause Disc Damage Bush Backs Moves to Speed Generic-Drug Approval Johns Hopkins Plans Bioterror Network for Doctors FDA Seizes Supplements That Purport to Treat Autism

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

Lung Cancer Drug Results Disappointing

The results weren't what scientists hoped for when they combined the experimental lung cancer drug Iressa with traditional chemotherapy.

Iressa had been very impressive in early studies, according to the Associated Press, but the findings issued today from Nice, France, didn't keep the momentum going in the right direction. "The drug had no effect when combined with chemotherapy and given as first-line treatment to more than 2,000 patients in two large trials," the wire service reported.

But the researchers aren't giving up. At a meeting of the European Society of Medical Oncology in Nice, many doctors said they were still searching for a way to use Iressa to fight lung cancer. "The opinion is that drug does have a role," the AP quotes Dr. Paul Bunn Jr., director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center, as saying.

Bunn is president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. "It's possible that the negative results with the combination included some patients who benefited and some patients who had a detrimental effect from the combination," Bunn concluded, adding that more clinical trials were needed.

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West Nile in 2003 Impossible to Predict

Has the United States seen the worst of the West Nile virus?

The experts say they don't know for sure. But they believe the disease, which caused 173 deaths and more than 3,100 cases of illness across the nation this summer, will ebb and flow in severity in the future.

According to an ABC News report, the mosquito-borne virus is going to be part of the American disease landscape for some time. "I don't have a crystal ball," Dr. Lyle Petersen, an infectious disease specialist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the television network. "If I had to predict, I would say there will be continuing outbreaks of varying size throughout the country, so the incidence of disease could vary tremendously from year to year."

This was West Nile's most destructive year in the United States. It was confirmed in 42 states, as opposed to being confined mainly to the Eastern United States in 2000 and 2001. The most dramatic statistic is the increase in the number of cases. In 2001, only 66 cases were reported. This year, there were 3,174 confirmed cases.

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Driving Doesn't Cause Disc Damage

After a long road trip, the pain in your lower back may indeed be associated with how you sat behind the wheel.

But British researchers say they've found no evidence that there's any relationship between driving and lumbar disc damage.

What brought on the study, according to the Oct. 15 edition of The Lancet, is the scientists' desire to find out whether whole-body vibration -- often associated with driving a car or truck -- caused lumbar disc degeneration. To validate their findings, the researchers used 45 adult "male monozygotic twins with very different histories of occupational driving."

They didn't find any acceleration of lumbar degeneration related to occupational driving. The conclusion: "Although occupational driving might be associated with higher rates of back-related symptoms, it probably does not cause irreparable damage of lumbar discs and vertebrae."

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Bush Backs Moves to Speed Generic-Drug Approval

President Bush supports a plan to contain rising brand-name prescription drug costs by giving Americans faster access to lower-priced generics, reports The New York Times.

The plan would limit the ability of the world's pharmaceutical giants from filing repeated patent-protection lawsuits against the generic manufacturers. Such suits have become routine and can delay the introduction of generic drugs for years.

Bush's measure would allow for only one 30-month delay for approval of generic equivalents. Brand-name drugs typically plunge in price upon introduction of a generic, which in most cases is chemically equivalent to the brand-name medicine.

The Democratic-led U.S. Senate approved a plan similar to Bush's three months ago, which at that time was opposed by the White House.

Bush is scheduled to announce his support for the generic-drug plan at a news conference this evening.

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Johns Hopkins Plans Bioterror Network for Doctors

Johns Hopkins University is establishing an electronic network to deliver rapid treatment information to doctors in the event of a bioterrorism attack.

The privately funded Clinician's Biodefense Network will provide physicians and other health care workers with information about recognizing and treating agents like smallpox, anthrax and botulism, reports United Press International.

Many doctors found it difficult and frustrating to obtain information during last fall's anthrax-by-mail attacks, UPI says.

The university hopes to launch the network by year's end with about 1,000 physicians, with the goal of ultimately serving 20,000 subscribers or more, the wire service reports.

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FDA Seizes Supplements That Purport to Treat Autism

At the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Marshals have seized hundreds of bottles of a dietary supplement that its manufacturer says can treat autism.

The supplies of "Kirkman's HypoAllergenic Taurine Capsules," produced by Humphrey Laboratories of Lake Oswego, Ore., violate the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic act, the FDA alleges. The act mandates that all dietary supplements may not include claims that they "cure, mitigate, treat or prevent disease," the agency says.

The seizure came after an investigation of the firm's Internet site, the FDA says. No illnesses have been reported by people who have taken the product.

Autism is a mysterious childhood brain disorder that typically affects a person's ability to communicate, form relationships with others, and respond appropriately to the environment. In its more severe forms, it can cause mental retardation, speech and language difficulties, and compulsive repetitive behaviors.

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