Health Highlights: Sept. 9, 2006

Ibuprofen Can Lessen Aspirin's Cardiovascular Benefits, FDA SaysPolio Vaccination Effort Begins in Parts of Africa Major Changes in NYC Healthcare Use After 9/11: Study Physical Cleansing May Ease Guilt Drug-Coated Stent Increases Blood Clot Risk

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

Ibuprofen Can Lessen Aspirin's Cardiovascular Benefits, FDA Says

Taking the pain relievers aspirin and ibuprofen at the same time may lessen aspirin's effects in preventing a heart attack, a U.S. government agency warns.

The Food and Drug Administration says that combining low dose aspirin (usually 81 mg) with 400 mg of ibuprofen (e.g., Advil, Motrin) reduces the antiplatelet effect on the heart the low dose aspirin provides.

In its Sept. 8 report to consumers, the FDA said there is no evidence that taking the two anti-pain medications is harmful, but that ibuprofen has been shown to reduce aspirin's cardio-protective benefit.

But, says the FDA, you can take the two drugs within a reasonable time of each other, under certain circumstances. The research showed that a person could take ibuprofen 30 minutes after taking aspirin. Or aspirin could be taken 8 hours after taking ibuprofen.

Most important, the agency says, check with your physician, especially if you're taking aspirin as part of a daily heart regimen.


Polio Vaccination Effort Begins in Parts of Africa

Attempting to counter claims by some Islamic clerics that the polio vaccine is part of a U.S. plot, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) have embarked on a campaign to immunize almost 3 million children in the Horn of Africa this year against polio.

According to the Associated Press, the crippling disease has re-emerged in parts of Africa in recent years, and WHO officials are targeting children under 5-years-old in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. According to the health organization, Somalia has reported 215 cases, Ethipia has 37 reported cases since 2004, and Kenya has had no reported cases in 22 years.

The problem is that many people in Africa are nomadic, so the possibility of polio spreading is a real threat, the wire service reports. "Nomadic people move between these countries all the time, so the idea is to try to get to these children and protect them," the A.P. quotes Dr. Mohamed Dahir Duale, a Kenya-based doctor with WHO, as saying.

In 2003 some radical Islamic clerics claimed that the polio vaccine, first developed Dr. Jonas Salk in the United States in the 1950s, was part of a U.S.-led plot to render Nigeria's Muslims infertile or infect them with AIDS. The vaccination program was stopped for more than a year, and cases of polio began to appear.


Major Changes in NYC Healthcare Use After 9/11: Study

There was a sharp decline in healthcare usage in the New York City region during the three weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but usage then rose above expected levels over the following months, concludes a study in the September issue of the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism.

Researchers analyzed health insurance claims from January 2000 to March 2002 for more than two million residents of the New York City region.

The greatest decline in healthcare usage in the weeks after Sept. 11 was among people who lived closest to the World Trade Center (WTC) site. For example, there was an overall 11 percent decline in visits to doctors' offices in the three weeks after 9/11, but a 15 percent decline in office visits by people who lived within a 10-mile radius of the WTC.

The decline in office visits in those first few weeks was likely related to disruptions in access to healthcare services or transportation, the researchers said. In addition, many people may have decided to postpone healthcare visits in order to take care of more immediate issues.

Insurance claims for mental health services were lower than expected for the six months after 9/11. The researchers suggested a number of possible reasons, such people taking advantage of free mental health services, or many not recognizing their need for mental health care. Mental stress may have also manifested as physical illness, which resulted in increased healthcare use for conditions such as chest pain, ulcers, fainting, and irregular heart beats.

Between October 2001 and March 2002, the number of visits to doctors' offices was more than 200,000 over expected levels, the study found.

In related news, residents living near the World Trade Center site said the U.S. federal government has ignored health problems they have suffered as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

At a meeting held Thursday, accountant Tom Goodkind, 52, said that while there are programs for rescue/cleanup workers, little has been done for area residents, the Associated Press reported.

"I don't think that any of these groups have looked at the children of our neighborhoods," Goodkind said.

"Collateral damage, that's what I feel like," said tenant group leader Diane Lapson.

Also on Thursday, the Bush administration said it would provide $75 million for health programs for sick Sept. 11 rescue/cleanup workers.

It's the first federal money for health problems related to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Critics said the funds fall far short of expected expenses.


Physical Cleansing May Ease Guilt

Lady Macbeth's determined attempts at spot removal weren't so crazy after all.

A University of Toronto study says that washing your hands or having a shower after impure thoughts or actions can help cleanse your subconscious mind of guilt, the Toronto Star reported.

"We showed that physical cleansing alleviates the upsetting consequences of unethical behavior and reduces threats to one's moral self-image," the study authors wrote. "Daily hygiene routines such as washing hands, as simple and benign as they may seem, can deliver a powerful antidote to threatened morality."

The study results are based on a series of experiments with 165 undergraduate students. The findings appear in the journal Science.

The researchers labeled this link between physical cleansing and easing of guilt the "Macbeth Effect," the Star reported. The label refers to Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, who became obsessed with removing that "damned spot" of blood on her hands after her role in the murder of the Scottish king.


Drug-Coated Stent Increases Blood Clot Risk

Patients with Boston Scientific Corp.'s newer drug-coated Taxus stent have a higher risk of potentially fatal blood clots than patients with older bare-metal stents, a company study finds.

The company reviewed clinical data collected from 3,500 patients and found those with the drug-coated stent had a statistically significant higher rate of clotting in a period beginning six months after surgery, the Associated Press reported.

But there was no increased risk of heart attack or death in patients with the drug-coated stent.

The findings were presented to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration shortly after the analysis was completed in late June. The company met with FDA officials August 1 to discuss the findings, Boston Scientific spokesman Paul Donovan said Thursday. He said the findings will be published once complete data are available.

The Taxus stent is one of just two drug-coated stents on the U.S. market, the AP reported.

Stents are used to prop open coronary arteries after surgery to clear them of blockages. The drug coatings on the stents are meant to help prevent formation of scar tissue that can cause new blockages in the arteries.


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