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Health Highlights: Sept. 20, 2006

Surveys Find Outright Hunger Among N.C. Latino Immigrants FDA Advisers Support Spinal Disc Device Acne Drug Linked to Depression in Mice Third Preemie Dies After Blood Thinner Mishap 1st Penis Transplant Reversed After 14 Days

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

Surveys Find Outright Hunger Among N.C. Latino Immigrants

Latino immigrant families in North Carolina and parts of southwestern Virginia live with hunger at a rate up to eight times the national average, according to four new U.S. health studies released Wednesday.

The studies, paid for by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, were conducted by Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers. They found that about 40 percent of the respondents in each study reported "food insecurity," which was worrying that food would run out and that food bought would not last.

The overall U.S. hunger rate is 4.3 percent, but the Wake Forest surveys found that hunger among Latino immigrants ranged from almost twice the national rate (8 percent) to more than eight times the national rate (35.6 percent). The results are reported in the October issue of the Journal of Nutrition.

"Although the United States enjoys a relative lack of hunger, there are segments of the N.C. population -- Latino immigrants -- with hunger more severe than areas of persistent poverty like Appalachia," Sara A. Quandt, lead author from the department of family and community medicine, said in a prepared statement.

Quandt and her colleagues found that "food insecurity" ranged from 35.6 percent to 41.8 percent in the four surveys, compared to 13.3 percent in the United States in general.

In addition, more than 25 percent of the respondents in each study reported that their children were not eating enough because of lack of money to buy food, the researchers added. Immigrants who lived in the mountain counties were better off because of the year-round nature of the Christmas tree industry, but specific data on overall participation in food programs wasn't collected, the authors said.

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FDA Advisers Support Spinal Disc Device

A two-part stainless steel device meant as an artificial alternative to spinal fusion surgery in patients with degenerative disc disease should get government approval, U.S. health advisers said Tuesday.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Orthopaedic and Rehabilitation Devices panel unanimously recommended the agency approve the device with conditions, including a requirement that the company continue to study the device after it's marketed. While the FDA isn't required to follow the advice of its advisory committees, it usually does.

The manufacturer of the Prestige Cervical Disc System, Medtronic Inc., said the apparatus could replace natural but diseased shock-absorbing disks in the neck and help maintain motion and flexibility while relieving pain, the Associated Press reported. The device is surgically implanted between the bones of the spine, with plates screwed into the vertebrae. The ball-and-socket connection between the device's two plates allows for movement.

An FDA review of the device found it just as safe and effective as the surgical fusing of vertebrae in the neck area of the spine, AP reported.

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Acne Drug Linked to Depression in Mice

Roaccutane, a treatment for severe acne used by some 13 million people worldwide, has been found to produce depressive behavior in mice, British scientists reported Tuesday.

Working with colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin, British researchers from the University of Bath gave Roaccutane to adolescent mice over a six-week period and monitored the animals' behavior. While there was no change in their physical abilities, the rodents spent more time being immobile in response to stress tests, which was interpreted as a sign of depression. The drug's maker, Roche, does include a warning about depression in packets, BBC News reported.

"Without more research, it is difficult to say for sure whether the same link applies to people taking the drug," said researcher Dr. Sarah Bailey of the University of Bath. Bailey said teenagers should not stop taking the drug, but should seek medical advice if they start to feel depressed. Parents should also watch out for any mood changes in their children, she added.

From 1992 until this month, Britain's drug regulatory agency has received 1,588 reports of suspected adverse events among people taking Roaccutane, including 25 people who died from suicide, the BBC reported.

The mouse study was published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

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Third Preemie Dies After Blood Thinner Mishap

A third premature infant who was inadvertently given an adult dose of a powerful blood thinner has died at an Indianapolis hospital, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The latest death came at a different institution, where the infant was transferred after being born at Methodist Hospital, the wire service said.

Methodist officials say a total of six premature infants were mistakenly given adult doses of the blood thinner heparin, used to prevent blood clots from clogging I.V. tubes. Two other infants died before the latest fatality, and three infants remain hospitalized, the AP said.

Adult doses of the drug -- similar in look and size to child doses -- were mistakenly stored in a drawer normally reserved for preemies, the hospital said. A spokesman said the hospital has taken unspecified steps to prevent a recurrence.

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1st Penis Transplant Reversed After 14 Days

Doctors in China said Tuesday that they had successfully transplanted a penis on a man who had lost his own in an accident, but were forced to remove it only two weeks later because of psychological problems experienced by the man and his wife.

Surgeons at Guangzhou General Hospital in southern Guangdong Province performed the transplant in September 2005, a hospital spokesperson said. The penis came from a 22-year-old brain-dead man whose parents had agreed to donate the organ. But the report did not explain how the 44-year-old man lost his own penis, saying only that "an unfortunate traumatic accident" left him with a small stump, unable to urinate or have sex normally, the Associated Press reported.

Fourteen days after the penis transplant, the recipient and his wife asked that the organ be removed "because of the wife's psychological rejection as well as the swollen shape of the transplanted penis," the surgeons reported in the journal European Urology, published by the European Association of Urology.

The doctors said lab examinations showed no sign of rejection. The procedure was believed to the first such transplant reported in a medical journal, according to the AP.

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