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Health Highlights: Sept. 17, 2006

DDT Endorsed by World Health Organization to Fight MalariaUK Scientists Report New Test to Detect TBOnce-a-Year Injection for Osteoporosis Revealed AARP Campaigns for Foreign Drug PurchasesTeenage Cancer Patient Seems Better Even After Discontinuing Chemo Depression a Major Risk Factor for Suicide: Report

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

DDT Endorsed by World Health Organization to Fight Malaria

DDT, the pesticide long banned in the United States, has received a limited endorsement from an unlikely source - the World Health Organization (WHO).

In order to combat the growing scourge of malaria, which kills more than 800,000 African children annually, the health expert leading WHO's effort to combat malaria in Africa "unequivocally declared" that DDT should be used in small amounts on the inner walls of people's homes to kill the mosquitoes that carry the disease, according to the New York Times.

WHO's Dr. Arata Kochi was joined at a news conference by Adm. R. Timothy Ziemer, representing the Bush administration's $1.2 billion anti-malaria project. The Times quotes Ziemer as saying that spraying with insecticides was a method "that must be deployed as robustly and strategically as possible."

For almost 45 years, DDT's use as an insecticide has been questioned -- and sometimes banned -- after Rachel Carson's 1962 book "The Silent Spring" documented how massive sprating allowed DDT to enter the food chain and suggested it might be a cause for cancer and genetic damage.

According to the Times, an international nonprofit group, Beyond Pesticides, distributed news releases on Friday opposing WHO's change in direction. Dependence on pesticides like DDT "causes greater long-tem problems than those that are being addressed in the short-term," the group said.


UK Scientists Report New Test to Detect TB

A new blood test to detect tuberculosis has been developed by scientists in the United Kingdom. It is hoped that the test will be particularly effective in developing countries where TB still kills millions of people, BBC News reports.

According to the BBC, researchers from George's Hospital and the Medical Research Council National Institute for Medical Research say the serum test is 94 percent accurate. Results of the study were published in the latest issue of Lancet.

This isn't the first time scientists have tried to come up with an alternative to the standard examination of sputum from the lungs under a microscope. This test requires equipment that may not be available in many parts of the world, and it takes a long time to get results. According to BBC News, the blood test looks for indicators of infection, and these results could out-perform alternatives.

The World Health Organization estimates that there were 1.4 million deaths from tuberculosis in 2004, with Southeast Asia and Africa particularly hard-hit. In 2003, 14,000 new cases of TB were reported in the United States. The United Kingdom has about 7,000 new cases annually.


Once-a-Year Injection for Osteoporosis Revealed

A once-a-year injection of a drug designed to treat osteoporosis may eventually eliminate the need for taking a pill daily or monthly to combat the bone-thinnning disease.

The Associated Press reports that Reclast, made by the pharmaceutical firm Novartis, appears to prevent spine and hip fractures, according to a presentation given at the annual meeting of the American Society of Bone and Mineral Research in Philadelphia.

Novartis paid for the international research of 7,736 postmenopausal women with osteoporosis into the effects of the drug, known chemically as zoledronic acid. The results showed that spine fractures were reduced by 70 percent and hip fractures by 40 percent, the wire service reported.

"This is very good news," the A.P. quotes Dr. Ethel Siris, president of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and director of the Osteoporosis Center at Columbia University, as saying. "Because it can be given once a year, it's going to be terrific for women who like that option," she added. Siris has consulted for Novartis and other drug companies, the wire service reported.


AARP Campaigns for Foreign Drug Purchases

Starting Sunday, AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, will unveil a $500,000 advertising campaign in 14 states, designed to persuade the U.S. Senate to pass legislation that would let consumers buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and other countries.

The Associated Press reported that the ads will appear in newspapers and on radio stations in cities such as Anchorage, Alaska; Baltimore; Des Moines, Iowa; and Indianapolis. AARP said the campaign will zero in on the home states of senators who've shown some support for cross-border purchases of U.S.-made medicines.

Price controls in other countries mean the drugs often cost less than in the United States. Drug companies say such price controls limit profits, threatening future drug development.

The bill backed by AARP, written by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has bipartisan support from 31 co-sponsors. It would allow consumers to buy U.S.-made prescription drugs from Canada and eventually from other countries, including Australia, Japan and nations within the European Union, the AP said.

While the new Medicare drug benefit has helped millions of seniors, AARP said millions more aren't yet eligible for the benefit.


Teenage Cancer Patient Seems Better Even After Discontinuing Chemo

A month after he won a court battle to discontinue chemotherapy as part of his cancer treatment, 16-year-old Starchild Abraham Cherrix says he's feeling fine and has "a tremendous boost of energy."

The Associated Press reports that Cherrix, a Virginia resident with Hodgkins disease, which attacks the lymphatic system, appears to be improving since a court ruled in his favor in August and allowed him to pursue alternative therapies. Cherrix had been taking an alternative organic diet and herbal supplements from Mexico to treat the disease, but neither he nor his parents would comment Friday on what medicines he was now taking, the wire service reported.

"His tumor is shrinking very nicely and he's gaining energy and stamina," the A.P. quotes Dr. Arnold Smith, medical director and radiation oncologist at the North Central Mississippi Regional Cancer Center in Greenwood, as saying.

Cherrix and his parents had endured a series of court battles over his desire to discontinue chemotherapy. He claimed the chemo made him nauseated and weak. At one point in July, a Virginia judge had ordered the teenager to report to a local hospital to resume chemotherapy treatment, but that order was overturned in August.


Depression a Major Risk Factor for Suicide: Report

Depression, particularly if combined with substance abuse, is a major risk factor for suicide, according to a new study by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

About 10 percent of surveyed adults who had a major depressive episode actually attempted suicide, 14.5 percent made a plan to commit suicide, 40.3 percent thought about committing suicide, and 56.3 percent thought it would be better if they were dead, the agency said in a statement.

Add alcohol abuse to the equation, and the percentage of people who attempted suicide rose to nearly 14 percent, and nearly 20 percent among those who engaged in illicit drug use.

In 2004, 106,000 visits to the emergency room were attributed to suicide attempts, and if a mental disorder was diagnosed, depression was chief among them, SAMHSA said.


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