Health Highlights: Sept. 13, 2008

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Approved to Combat Two Related Cancers China Says Milk Powder Caused More than 400 Cases of Kidney Stones in Babies Japan Has 36,000 Centenarians Boss Gender Affects Worker Health Brain Infection Kills Patient Who Took Rituxan Children's Death Rates Remain High in Africa, South Asia

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

Cervical Cancer Vaccine Approved to Combat Two Related Cancers

Gardasil, the vaccine used to guard against cervical cancer, has been approved for similar use against two more gynecological malignancies.

According to the Associated Press, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug, manufactured by Merck Pharmaceuticals, to guard against cancers that attack the vagina and vulva.

Gardasil fights most of the strains the papillomavirus (HPV) that cause cervical cancer. About 20 million Americans carry HPV, but not all of them develop cancer. About 5,000 women get vulva and vaginal cancer annually, according to the wire service.

"Anytime we have evidence of additional cancer protection, that's a really important piece of information," the A.P. quotes Rick Haupt, Merick's executive director for HPV vaccines, as saying.


China Says Milk Powder Caused More than 400 Cases of Kidney Stones in Babies

China's latest health problem was acknowledged Friday when its health minister said 432 babies had developed kidney stones from drinking a contaminated milk powder, the Associated Press reports.

At a news conference, Health Minister Gao Qiang said the chemical melamine had been found in the powder, the wire service reported. Melaminie is the same involved in the massive pet food recall last year, according to the wire service.

The production plant that makes the powder has been shut down, the A.P. said. The chemical had been added to increase protein content, but earlier information that it produced kidney stones had apparently been ignored by the manufacturer, according to wire reports.

Meanwhile, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is warning American consumers not to use any infant formula made in China. The warning came as China began a nationwide investigation into all its infant formula following the death of one baby and reports of more than 400 other babies being hospitalized with kidney stones.

The FDA said late Thursday that the China formulas are apparently suspected of being contaminated with melamine.

But Janice Oliver, deputy director of the FDA's food safety program, added that no U.S. formula manufacturer has received any ingredients from China, so "there is no threat of contamination to the domestic supply."

However, she said, "We're concerned that there may be some infant formula that may have gotten into the United States illegally and may be on the ethnic market." FDA officials are particularly concerned about places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Boston, which have large populations of Chinese immigrants, the AP reported.

On Friday, the FDA issued a formal health advisory to caregivers not to give infants China-made formula.

In addition, the agency said in a news release, "The following manufacturers have met the necessary FDA requirements for marketing milk-based infant formulas in the United States: Abbott Nutritionals, Mead Johnson Nutritionals, Nestle USA, PBM Nutritionals, and Solus Products LLC. Also, one manufacturer, SHS/Nutricia, Liverpool, England, markets an amino acid-based exempt infant formula that does not contain any milk-derived ingredients.

Agence France Presse reported Thursday that China's state news agency Xinhua said reports of seriously ill babies first emerged in the northwestern province of Gansu and have now appeared in six other provinces. In Gansu, there were at least 59 cases of babies with kidney stones, including one who died, AFP reported.

The news agency said the suspect formula bore the label of the Sanlu Group, a leading dairy products company, AFP reported. The company says that the product was produced by counterfeiters and that it has sent investigators to Gansu.


Japan Has 36,000 Centenarians

The number of Japanese living past 100 has more than doubled over the past six years to a record high of 36,000 this year, the country's Health and Welfare Ministry said in an annual report released Friday.

By the end of this month, there will be 36,276 people aged 100 and older in Japan and 86 percent of them will be female, the Associated Press reported. Life expectancy in Japan is almost 86 years for women and 79 years for men, among the highest in the world.

The highest concentration of centenarians in Japan is in Okinawa, with 838 centenarians, or 61 for every 100,000 people., while the national average is just over 28 per 100,000. There are about 10 centenarians per 100,000 people in the United States.

The number of centenarians in Japan has been increasing for nearly 40 years and is expected to reach nearly 1 million -- the most in the world -- by 2050, according to United Nations' projections, the AP reported.


Boss Gender Affects Worker Health

The gender of your boss may affect your physical and mental health, according to University of Toronto researchers who analyzed data on 1,800 working adults in the United States.

The study found that women who worked under both male and female supervisors had higher levels of distress and physical symptoms than women with one male manager, while women who worked under a lone female supervisor reported more distress and physical symptoms than women who worked under a male supervisor, United Press International reported.

Men who worked under either a lone male or female supervisor had similar levels of distress. Men who were supervised by both a male and a female manager had lower distress levels and fewer physical symptoms than men who worked for a lone male supervisor.

The study was published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.


Brain Infection Kills Patient Who Took Rituxan

A woman who took the arthritis and cancer drug Rituxan died of a rare viral brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday. The woman died more than a year and a half after she stopped taking the drug for arthritis.

The FDA said this is the first reported cases of PML in a patient who took Rituxan for an approved use. The drug is also approved for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. There have been previous reports of PML in patients who took Rituxan for unapproved uses, such as treatment of blood cancer, the Associated Press reported.

The patient in this latest case had chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer in the months before she developed PML, according to information on the FDA Web site.

Rituxan is marketed in the United States by Genentch and Biogen Idec. Genentech sent a letter about the woman's death to doctors earlier this month and a company spokeswoman pointed out that the drug's label already mentions risks of the infection.

"The patient had a number of confounding factors that make it difficult to assess the potential role, if any, that Rituxan exposure may have played," said Tara Cooper, the AP reported.


Children's Death Rates Remain High in Africa, South Asia

There have been major declines in young children's death rates in many parts of the world but they remain "grossly' high in much of Africa and parts of South Asia, says a UNICEF study released Friday.

Between 1990 and 2007, the number of deaths of children under age five decreased from 12.8 million to 9.2 million, including a drop of 200,000 between 2006 and 2007, Agence France Presse reported.

The 2007 death rate for young children in rich nations was six deaths for every 1,000 live births, compared with 68 deaths worldwide, and 147 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and 78 deaths in South Asia.

Between 1990 and 2007, death rates for young children declined by 52 percent in the East Asia and Pacific region, and by 53 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, Central and Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, UNICEF said. But the rate declined just 21 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, AFP reported.

The study appears in The Lancet.


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