Health Highlights: Sept. 28, 2006

ADHD Drug Use a Family Affair: Study MS Drug Helps Prevent Relapses Bird Flu Virus Able to Mutate Most Uninsured U.S. Children Have Working Parents Group Studies Link Between TV Ads, Childhood Obesity New Anthrax Vaccine Shows Promise

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

ADHD Drug Use a Family Affair: Study

Taking attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drugs seems to be a family affair in the United States, according to an analysis of prescription claims filed in 2005 for more than 107,000 children ages 5 to 19 and their parents.

The study found that parents of children on ADHD drugs were nine times more likely than other parents to be taking the drugs themselves, the Associated Press reported. It's long been recognized that ADHD runs in families.

The study was conducted by Medco Health Solutions, Inc. Among the other findings:

  • In families where a parent and child both started taking ADHD drugs last year, the parent started taking the drug first nearly 50 percent of the time.
  • Among children taking ADHD drugs, 7 percent had a parent also using such drugs.
  • The average age at which children started taking ADHD drugs was 13 for children and 43 for adults.

The study also found that mothers accounted for 60 percent of cases where a parent and child started taking ADHD drugs last year, even though ADHD is two to three times more common in males.

The explanation is that more women are being examined for attention-deficit problems, one expert told the AP.


MS Drug Helps Prevent Relapses

An investigational multiple sclerosis (MS) drug called FTY720 appears effective in preventing disease relapse, according to mid-stage clinical trial results released Thursday by the company that developed the drug.

The study showed that 77 percent of MS patients who received the drug were free of relapses for more than two years and more than 80 percent of them were found not to have active inflammation, the Associated Press reported.

It also found that patients who received a placebo during the first six months of the study showed marked improvement after being switched to FTY720 and that improvement was sustained through to end of the second year of the study.

The data was released by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., the U.S. unit of Swiss drug maker Novartis AG, the AP reported. The drug is currently being tested in late-stage clinical trials.


Bird Flu Virus Able to Mutate

The H5N1 bird flu virus is showing indications of being able to mutate and develop resistance to anti-viral drugs and potential vaccines, a World Health Organization (WHO) scientist said Thursday.

Mike Perdue, a team leader with WHO's influenza program, said that the H5N1 virus is splitting into genetically different groups, the Associated Press reported. He took part in a two-day bird flu conference earlier this week.

Scientists have yet to develop a vaccine against the H5N1 virus but are confident they'll be able to do so. However, Perdue said that will be more difficult if the H5N1 virus can mutate as seasonal flu viruses are known to do.

"We are going to have to come to the realization that these viruses are genetically variable. The vaccines that we have predicted to be protective today may not be protective a year from now," Perdue said.

He also said that there have been cases of H5N1 resistance to the two most effective anti-viral drugs -- Tamiflu and amantadine -- used to fight the virus, the AP reported.

In related news, Indonesian officials said Thursday that they've ruled out human-to-human transmission of the H5N1 virus in a case involving two brothers and a sister. Both brothers died.

One brother was diagnosed with H5N1. The other brother had H5N1-like symptoms before he died, but was buried before any test samples were collected. It's believed both brothers caught the virus from the same source, Agence France Presse reported.

The sister was diagnosed with ordinary influenza, health officials said.


Most Uninsured U.S. Children Have Working Parents

The majority (about 88.3 percent) of the 9 million U.S. children with no health insurance coverage live in homes with at least one working parent, concludes a report being released Thursday by the group Families USA, which promotes universal health coverage.

The report also found that 70 percent of uninsured children age 18 and under live in homes where a parent works full-time throughout the year, the Associated Press reported.

Families USA said the findings contradict the stereotype that many people have about those who don't have health insurance.

"I think they believe these are low-income people who don't work, who are very different from themselves," Ron Pollack, the group's executive director, told the AP.

But many of the uninsured are "people who work, who are doing the right thing," Pollack said.

The report said the five states with the highest rates of uninsured children are: Texas, 20.4 percent; Florida, 17 percent; New Mexico, 16.7 percent; Nevada; 16.4 percent; and Montana, 16.2 percent.

The states with the lowest rates of uninsured children include: Vermont, 5.6 percent; and Hawaii, Michigan, and New Hampshire at 6.4 percent. The U.S. national average is 11.6 percent, the AP reported.

The Families USA study noted that about two-thirds of uninsured families would qualify for government-sponsored coverage of their children if the parents applied for it. However, many parents don't know about this assistance and the enrollment process is cumbersome, Pollack said.


Group Studies Link Between TV Ads, Childhood Obesity

The link between television ads, youngster's viewing habits, and rising rates of childhood obesity in the United States will be the focus of a study by a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) task force.

The task force will start meeting early next year and produce a report that includes recommendations on how the food and media industries can work to combat childhood obesity, the Associated Press reported.

"Small children can't weed out the marketing messages from their favorite shows. Especially when the marketing campaigns feature favorite TV characters like SpongeBob or Scooby-Doo," FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Wednesday at a news conference.

He noted that research shows that the average American child sees about 40,000 TV ads a year. The majority of those are for fast food, cereal, candy, and toys.

The task force will include FCC officials, health experts, members of consumer advocacy groups and representatives from the food, television and advertising industries, AP reported.


New Anthrax Vaccine Shows Promise

Scientists are making progress in the development of a new anthrax vaccine designed to work faster and have fewer side effects than the current vaccine, according to study results released Wednesday.

Researchers conducted the first round of human tests in 111 healthy adults. The volunteers received two doses of the investigational vaccine in a single month. There were no signs of safety problems and the vaccine produced responses that suggested recipients were developing immunity to anthrax, the Associated Press reported.

The findings were reported Wednesday at a meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. A larger test of the Avecia vaccine involving more than 600 people is currently underway.


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